Thursday, 17 December 2009
Monday, 14 December 2009
Which is what brings me to my latest play, Featherweight. Set in a post-apocalyptic future it deals with Thadd, a Featherweight scout (as in small and useful for recon rather than fighting, although the boxing-savvy will have already grasped the inferrence) for the humans in the war against the machines. And for everyone who's mind immediately sprang to California's current governor, this is like Terminator but it isn't Terminator. The two plots are similar, but Featherweight has more than enough individuality and flair about it to define itself separately. This is helped by the amazing scenery; Ben Chandler (or Ben304) pulls out all the stops in immersing us in the world of Featherweight, and it gives the game a fantastic edge. Debris, burned out cars, cracked architecture and more are used to achieve the desired effect, yet are also functional to the puzzles.
But back to the story. A young female scout has been captured by the robots and Thadd, disgusted by the complacency of his partner, goes on a one-man crusade to rescue his compatriot. Using ingenuity and stealth, Thadd must brave the dangers of the robot base.
A wildly inventive plot and gorgeous and oppressive artwork are two of the main reasons this game works so well, but they're not the main positive. Featherweight is in a similar standard of difficulty to Robbing the Princess, although the puzzles are different. I found myself sympathising fully with Thadd as he cursed himself for failing to advance. Featherweight features wonderfully crafted puzzles designed in logic and cruel problem-solving. There's a massive emphasis on trial and error; it took me five tries to disable the bars to my makeshift cell before dispairingly turning to a walkthru. Even though we're only dealing with two buttons, I would have been trying combinations for days. Despite the emphasis on trial and error, the game is particularly unforgiving in terms of the latter part. Detection is rewarded by having to catch yourself up via a gruelling journey from your cell, something that extends the game but frustrates, no doubt to the intense glee of the designer.
Despite all these great things there is a criticism to make, and it is a big one. While I'm sure it's recieved mixed reviews by players, I have to admit disliking the music intently. It's suitably futuristic, but is bizarrely light-hearted and perky. I perceived Featherweight to be a particularly dark game; in this critic's humble opinion it would have been benefited so much with a grittier, more oppressive tune.
But that's just one aspect. Featherweight is an extremely well made game and creates a futuristic setting that is both original and believable. I'd recommend it more to MENSA members than casual gamers, but to both groups it's incredibly entertaining.
Final Score: 8/10
Saturday, 12 December 2009
Instead of reviewing a new game I'm going to devote this post to the top ten games that have made me consider signing off on CD games, the ones that have made me gasp, laugh, cry (err...did I say cry? I...meant shout. Yeah. A big manly shout) and cast my mind into eternity.
Note: No pictures this time. It proved too much of a bugger to drag them down to the appropriate entry.
10. Pleurghburg: Dark ages
Pleurghburg was one of the first games I played on AGS. And I can unreservedly say that I love it, even all these years later. The futuristic setting is clever and inspired. The puzzles are great. Frankly, I love the main character. Pleurghburg might not have engaged me as much as the others on this list, but it's a great game that I look on fondly.
9. SawSaw was one of those uniquely difficult games that pushed you to the readily-available walkthrus every time, yet made you feel guilty for not taking the time to think it out. Even using the Spanish-English translation pack was difficult for me! Saw was one of the great examples of technical game making. I know that if I played it now, I would have the exact same struggle as I did last time. And it's faithful to the films. That really can't be undervalued. http://www.bigbluecup.com/games.php?action=detail&id=1215
8. La Croix Pan
This game had everything for me. It was an adventure game. It was a first person shooter. It was an authentic WWII experience. And you got to kill Nazis. Short yet sweet, this game is and was incredible. http://www.adventuregamestudio.co.uk/games.php?action=detail&id=892
7. Rob Blanc
I didn't want to include different games by the same author in this list because it would be full of Yahtzee (and Grundislav) titles, but I didn't feel I could let the Rob Blanc trilogy go without a mention. While I first got familiar with the lead characters in the epic Yahtzee takes on the World I felt them come into their own during the three games. They're fun and funny in equal measure and I find myself still playing all of them from time to time. http://www.adventuregamestudio.co.uk/games.php?action=detail&id=10
6. Frank the Farmhand
It's probably best to mention that this list is devoted to the first episode of Frank, because I wasn't as impressed with the second. Frank the Farmhand (part 1) is a fast paced and witty tale of government conspiracies, deep-South racism and friendship that charmed me right from the word go. http://www.adventuregamestudio.co.uk/games.php?action=detail&id=376
5. The McCarthy Chronicles: Episode 1
I guess all my reasons for this are on my page! http://www.adventuregamestudio.co.uk/games.php?action=detail&id=1243
4. Ben Jordan Case 7: The Cardinal Sins
As I mentioned, I wanted to avoid over-emphasising developers. But Ben Jordan has to grace this list more than once, and you'll see why. While the number one slot personifies the rest of the series, BJ7 deserves a mention of its own. And why? Voices. Music. Great storytelling. Awe-inspiring plot. Commentary. I've made myself clear. http://www.adventuregamestudio.co.uk/games.php?action=detail&id=1065
3. Lost in the Nightmare
Playing Lost in the Nightmare: Save our Souls doesn't have the same effects as playing other games. It's the closest AGS has ever got to a full-on psychological experience. Terrifying and haunting, it was a challenge to both #2 and #1. http://www.adventuregamestudio.co.uk/games.php?action=detail&id=642
2. Five Days a Stranger
Do I really need an explanation? This is possibly the most famous AGS game out there, created an epic series to follow it and defined point n' click horror for generations. This is the Pink Floyd of adventure games; not just brilliant in terms of quality but for the influence its had on the genre. http://www.adventuregamestudio.co.uk/games.php?action=detail&id=269
1. Ben Jordan Case 3: The Sorceress of Smailholm
So we come to the end of our list with my favourite AGS game of all time. Don't get me wrong, BJ1, 2, 4, 5, 6 and (obviously) 7 each had a fantastic appeal of their own, but number 3 always holds top trumps for me. Maybe it's the spooky plot, the incredibly detailed (real) setting, the clever character study of everyone's favourite stuffy English professor, Percival Quentin Jones. But either way, this is my favourite. And I'll be playing it for a long, long time. http://www.adventuregamestudio.co.uk/games.php?action=detail&id=454
Wednesday, 9 December 2009
Sometimes, however, the alternative can prove refreshing. Alec and Suzy have tracked a stolen crate to a ship called the Princess. They have to find a way to get on board to recover its contents. Who are Alec and Suzy? Who knows! Empirical logic suggests they're not the rozzers (they have to break in) so we have to guess that the theft of the crate impacted them. Who stole it? Search me. And what's in the crate? It's a mystery. Not a Pulp Fiction-style 'what's in the suitcase?' mystery but a 'why do you care, just recover the darned thing' type mystery.
But the intention of creator OneDollar was not to skip massive story elements and hope the players filled things in. The intent is obvious; it does not matter why you want this crate, who you are, and why you find it acceptable to semi-poison sailors for their clothes. A back story is futile. Your objective is clear.
And thus, the reviewer then has to rate the game by its content. And, ladies and gentlemen, Robbing the Princess is hard. This critic is ashamed to admit he referred to the walkthru more times than he should for such a short game. The puzzles are fiendishly intricate, and for such a short game there's a lot to puzzle over. The game feature of switching between two player characters not only shows a high level of initative on OneDollar's part, it also creates an opportunity for complicated and challenging puzzles as Alec and Suzy have to swap items that the other can successfully operate.
The game was made in 25 days (a MAGS entry) and the workmanship is evident. And the total lack of music is not as much of an issue as it could be; music is essential to edgy horror and epic fantasy games, but for puzzle games ordered around challenge rather than storytelling it's not exactly missed. The artwork is crisp and looks impressive on the window size.
So to conclude, Robbing the Princess is a fun, challenging and extremely well-made game. The comparable length means that it won't get massive replay value, but I certainly enjoyed myself.
Final Score: 7/10
Tuesday, 8 December 2009
The Investigation, the latest episode of Marion's story of dark Jedi Shai-la, has truly earned itself a place in the above list by combining Cluedo and Star Wars. Forget the current spate of inane film/TV board game tie-ins, (Disney Monopoly anyone?) what if you had a game that promised both a crime to solve and an authentic Star Wars experience? That's just what Marion offers in the game that promises a replay value far extending your usual AGS game.
While the best content the software has produced is invariably of the point-and-click variety, so much respect is due to the few innovators who dare to experiment beyond adventure games. In the last few months we've seen war games, shooters, RPGs and a whole variety of creative efforts. A fully-functioning board game is the next step, and I for one welcome the future.
But let's focus on what makes it an unmistakeably Star Wars experience. The story starts with an assassination attempt on everyone's favourite black-hooded baddie, Emperor Palpatine. Palpy's been so traumatised by the attempt that he's forgotten completely about it. Cue returning series hero Shai-la to investigate the most likely suspects. In come the more familiar Cluedo elements: was it Darth Vader with the lightsaber in the Sith Meditation Room? Was it Mara Jade with the blaster in the TIE docking bay? You get the idea.
At the time of playing and reviewing, there are a few nasty bugs in the game that deserve a mention. For a start, I wasn't able to find out if I was right at the end once I'd made my accusation, because I started flying around and the game wouldn't progress. Secondly, the 'yes' button doesn't work when trying to quit; I had to exit the game via the keyboard. But I'm not considering bugs into the game's review because it's still undergoing updates and patches. While there could have been more beta testing, it'd be cruel to mark down a great game because of some temporary snags.
And it is a great game. The game manages to avoid the inevitable boredom of the space in any computerised board game when the other six players are making their turns with smooth character animation. As a bonus, your suspect sheet does not tick off names are they're disproved, forcing the player to concentrate on the action rather than twiddling their thumbs and minimising to check Twitter until it's their turn again. I was originally going to include the lack of cross-offs as a criticism, but it's a good way to keep people involved.
The graphics are artfully done and give the game a feel that's pleasantly close to the trilogy. Palpatine's facial animations could be described as a minor part of the game, but you see him on every turn and it's good to see how well it has been done. The animation of the dice and the moving characters is a fun touch and although the character movement is stationary, watching Darth Vader's turn still gives you all the excitement you got when you first saw him in A New Hope. The music is faithful to the films and engaging, making a refreshing break from the banal tunes in computerised board games that makes you want to rip your speakers out before passing go.
To put it simply, this is an incredibly fun game. Having never played the first instalment of Shai-la I can't compare it to its predecessor but you'd better believe I'm playing that next. And whatever the incredibly inventive Marion develops next, one thing is for sure. The force is strong with this one.
Final Score: 8/10
Which is where we come to voice acting. Calin Leafshade has made a gutsy move making one of his first games with full voices, and it heightens the experience tenfold. The designer voices Rick McCarthy himself, giving the character considerable depth. All characters have highly believable voices, with special mention for the housekeeper Sarah. Not since Ben Jordan 7 have I seen such a realistic portrayal of a real person; out of all the leads, I'm sure many could imagine actually meeting her the most.