Category: Reviews

Walk This Way – Walking Dead Episode 1 Review

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It seemed last year that Telltale Games may have lost some of their goodwill by releasing Jurassic Park which was for the most part lukewarmly received by critics and fans. They shifted their style for that from the classic Telltale adventure game format which has made their Sam and Max seasons as well as Monkey Island and Back to the Future great episodic content. Having completed the first episode of  The Walking Dead I can say fear no more Telltale has produced a worthy companion to the comic.

One thing that Jurassic Park was maligned for was relying too heavily on Heavy Rain esque non stop quick time events. Walking Dead really only borrows this for some of the more tense moments (such as backing away from and evading zombies) and for the most part it works pretty well. It seems to me that Walking Dead is the best parts of Back to the Future and Jurassic Park mechanics put together. Most of the time in controls like an adventure game you click on things and pick them up and use them with something else. The puzzles are not really abstract and for the most part are really easy by adventure game standards. Ultimately it helped keep the plot going so that was probably for the best. There are a couple really good sequences that barely count as puzzles but feature some brainpower. Combat sometimes happens a little fast to even notice and it can be out of no where your mouse is now a large crosshair that has to go on a zombie’s head to punch it. Having it be sudden and quick is kind of the way action is in the Walking Dead you think you’re safe and boom a zombie is there for a second and eats your family.

 


I have to say I didn’t think the story was going to be much good but it was surprisingly entertaining and has me looking forward to the next episode. You play as Lee a man who may or may not have really committed a crime and like most police transfers which never seem to go too well he’s getting transported and it’s zombies that break up this one. You come across Clementine, a little girl waiting for parents who as one could guess aren’t probably coming back. You of course meet up with different groups of survivors in different areas (some places and people of course you will recognize for them to justify the Walking Dead license). Much like what happens in zombie movies you find yourself displaced often and scrounging. Naturally as we go people turn out to be jerks, people get eaten, and those people probably become zombies. The plot is good and works this episode really more sets up Lee and Clementine and begins to give us our group. So far I like em, it’ll be too bad to watch them die and come back.

When you boot up the game it tells you that it changes based upon your decisions. I have to give it credit character choices do influence how people treat you as you run into them and get into sticky most likely zombie filled situations. I lied to a character and he caught me in and called me on it. I was nice to one and he called me a friend (I’m totally invited to his bday party). While some of these choices seem like the are just going to act as accents to dialogue and character treatment through the series you will also have to pick who lives and dies in some scenarios. It’s going to be interesting to see if my choices with this much more serious matter play a big role. I certainly hope so because having to do things like that is kind of what makes Rick Grimes the protagonist in the Walking Dead comic awesome, he has to deal with messed up stuff and in sometimes messed up ways. While Rick isn’t featured at all in the game other cast members seem to drift in and out. It’s a little unnecessary but for the most part unoffensive. I don’t need to have a stop at Hershel’s farm but sure why not I’ll hang out there for a day. They don’t seem to milk which is the best case scenario.

Walking Dead has a neat cell shaded art style that is a nice bit of a departure from Telltale’s usual cartoony look. Sadly on the PC not all the textures looked great, there would be dull blocky textures right next to really goodlooking hi res shaded ones. Also some character models look much better than others. The zombie models themselves aren’t the best but at least stay close to the source material. I had a few framerate hiccups running on the highest setting here and there once there were more than a few characters on screen.

 


Much like a zombie I am hungry but rather than brains I would like the next episode of the Walking Dead (I completed this one in two hours). It’s not 100% adventure game or 100% quick time events and that’s a good thing. Everything seems to fit well for the universe. The new characters even when tropes feel deep and have some genuine moments. The decision making mechanic cinches it though and actually makes you feel like you are having an impact in the world. It was great too that in the end they showed what percentage of places picked what. This of course is just episode one and hopefully the momentum keeps going. If you are a fan of Walking Dead or any kind of thinking man’s zombie entertainment you’ll do well to give this a shot, in the brain.

Touched and went our seperate ways: The Journey Review

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When I was in the desert first getting my bearings I had a stranger run across the sand and signal for me to follow him. I was new here and lost but he looked just like me so I went.  Thus we not only started thatgamecompany’s new psn exclusive “Journey” we also began our own; and it was a voyage I won’t soon forget.

Like much of thatgamecompany’s work it can be hard to know what or how or why the game is. I know it seems like I review only artsy games but “Journey” is something everyone should try go experience. They go more for the emotional side of games to propel you through the storytelling. “Flower” had an interesting environmentalist story but the way it made it matter from from the beauty you brought from spreading your flowery joy. “Journey” takes something that feels like a mythic quest and puts you smack in the middle of it and doesn’t give you a princess or a carrot like that. It’s more open to interpretation through the short cut scenes and it really doesn’t matter because everything that happens along the way feels so magical.

Who you are isn’t explained exactly either. You are a cloaked person of sorts that has no arms who just begins the adventure. For controls you have two buttons that do anything; the circle button will let out a chirpy piano tone while x is a jump. These end up being the two main mechanics.  Jumping isn’t something you can just always do though. Jumps are collected in the world by using your speak at certain ribbon like objects and the world. There are other ways to get them and this is where my friend comes in.

Besides just for rudimentary communication the “speak” button gives back the other player jumps. Which makes working together an added bonus. There isn’t much that you can’t do without another person but as the world changes and as new challenges come up I liked having someone come along with me. It made the jumping puzzles easier and kept me on track with where to go. Again with this being the most game like game developed by thatgamecompany there are power ups that when using the speak button near makes your scarf grow longer allowing you to accrue more jumps. This of course all makes much more sense in the world when it organically is explained to you. That’s why this worked for me things felt so organic. There wasn’t the sense of “Now its time for the stealth mission or turret sequence” things that happened felt it was the next step on my voyage to fulfill some sort of destiny.  “Journey” just really nails that sense of discovery. When you work together and repair a bridge and see the world come to life it feels astonishing, when the world changes for the darker you feel the dread

More so though rather than trying to cobble together the story or worry about where or why   we are going “Journey” is best enjoyed for what it is. The graphics look beautiful (the sand effects are really something) the music is fitting and at times minimal. But what was special was going through this world with someone else, learning to talk to them through non verbal means and try to make it to the end together. I finished it in about 2 hours in one sitting and I recommend anyone else do the same. Try to remember too, its not about the destination…

 

The best content in life is free but you can save it for DLC: The DLC Quest Review

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As Discussed in the previous episode of the Griefed Podcast DLC is part of the gamer’s life now. Love it or hate it many of us ask ourselves everyday “is this complete?” The games we buy sometimes feel piecemeal, codes inundate us when we purchase new games. The marketplace online is packed with cosmetics, guns, extra XP and even the prospect of proper endings can be dangled over our eyes. “DLC Quest” decides to hold a mirror up to this and show us what a world with DLC gone wild could look like. Going Loud Studios act as our guide through their personal dystopia. It’s kinda like Mad Max but with more downloads and less Tina Turner.

As the Player we must rescue a Princess from the bad guy, something we all should be very familiar with by now. Then the twist comes right as one starts and it’s that everything in this game is DLC. Jumping is DLC, swords, and even pausing! Keep your credit card stowed, all the “dlc” is just unlockables via in games coins. But as the unlocks get more kooky you want to get coins to unlock everything just to see what silly, stupid thing you can add to the world. The platforming isn’t quest the best, neither is the sword you have at hand. But that’s not the point of the game, it’s in the message as weird as it sounds. The writing is also filled with jokes ranging from random encounters to Mass Effect character references. All definitely good for a chuckle or two. The visuals are retro and charming and the music (once unlocked) also does a good job of providing a nice throughback.

Coming from Xbox Live Indie many people have low expectations or may miss it entirely. But I do think this one is worth a look. “DLC Quest” is a goof, but a great one. Yeah the game itself is short and can be completed in much less than an hour. There are “awardments” to keep you going back a bit. For a dollar I don’t mind giving some money to a really clever indie developer. The subject is ripe for satire and they nail it. Sadly this reality could be closer than we think which makes me hope that the bigwigs see this somewhere out there. Needless to say if available I look forward to purchasing additional episodes and content soon over Xbox Live.

Official Going Loud Studios Site

Dear Sir or Esther Will You Play My Game? The Dear Esther Review

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Sometimes you will feel like indulging in a Michael Bay adventure other days to keep up some culture maybe you’ll pop in Fellini’s 8 1/2 . Dear Esther by thechineseroom is like an art house film in game form. Chances are a good amount of the audience will walk out annoyed and some will walk out smug with witty retorts such as “oh you didn’t get it did you?”This first person non shooter available now on Steam is destined to garner both of these kinds of reactions.
Dear Esther began its life as a Source mod from a project at the University of Portsmouth. Admittedly I hadn’t played the original incarnation from about four years ago but it seemed to get enough attention that they got help from the Indie Fund to finance the project. Given the level of involvement from all these different areas of the industry it’s a nice moment showing people coming together to help fund and publish more of the artistic sides of video games.

In Dear Esther we are the narrator, well we may be to be honest it’s not really all that clear. We speak directly to Esther in a poetric prose which sounds great coming from the seemingly well trained voice actor.  Things as we have found out didn’t end too well for Esther or any of the other about two people the narrator mentions. As you wander through the island you see reflections of the things that you say in the environment. There is no picking up, no “use” button, no directly interative means of the sort. In fact even your flashlight isn’t controlled by you.

The game looks great though. Source has struggled to stay afloat as graphics have progessed the last few years but the vistas here as well the small touches along the way (weeds, stalagmites, graffiti) all come together to make journey a nice looking feast for the eyes. The score by Jessica Curry can be minimal for most of the time but when it builds its effective and keeps you engaged. Thinking that things could pop out at any moment even if they don’t.

Much like To The Moon much of what happens is hard to construe as a game. This however is a step ever further than that. The story is abstract but I can say that it kept me going. I completed all of the game’s four chapters in one sitting totally around 2 hours.  An experience which is walking around an island may not be for everyone. I think that  these kind of games coming out are important. As an industry it continues the escalation of video games as something diverse and beautiful. Thechineseroom did a great job using environmental storytelling much like Portal did before. If you want a calm thoughtful experience give it a try.  Those thirsty for blood will not be satisfied by the slow moving prose and exploration . There isn’t too much more reason to return though I am curious if there are story bits  I have missed along the way. I can say though during my walkabout I was completely invested. There were times shadows moved in the distance, my curiosity was peaked and I was visually and audibly engrossed. Releases like this make me happy games are evolving and we need benchmarks like this along the way.

Thechineseroom online

http://thechineseroom.co.uk/

Under the Crying Moon. A To The Moon Review

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It’s finally happened! Alex has gained access to Adam and Tigs’ fortress of solitude and man does it smell funky in here. Now without further ado here is my Shortwave premiere, a review of To The Moon for PC! Thanks Adam and Tigs.

If you saw me when I was done playing To The Moon from Freebird Games I would have claimed I was cutting an onion or I just stubbed my toe while thinking of the end of Old Yeller. OK maybe it isn’t all waterworks but it is refreshing how the PC indie devs can find ways besides detached action or flashy graphics to pull one in to a game and this is a gem of an example of that.

Again the term “game” still has to be used lightly. What designer / composer Ken Gao did was create a tableau for the story and all the weepy feelings associated. The elements that can be construed as gameplay for most of the experience are point and click pixel hunt style for the exploration with very few puzzle elements.

But it comes down to the story and that’s what matters. You follow two employees of the quasi futuristic Sigmund Corp Dr. Eva Rosalene and Dr. Neil Watts. One is uptight the other is a video game referencing slacker! Uh oh! OK that premise could be a terrible ABC sitcom but in reality together they do a mix of reverse Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind with a twist of Eternal Sonata. In layman’s terms they take someone who is dying and make their last wish come true at least virtually in someone’s noggin. So these virtual make a wishers journey into the head of a dying man named Johnny to fulfill his dying dream  to (ready for it?) go To the Moon! Over the rest of the 4 – 5 hour long journey you have to figure out why and how that’s going to happen. Working backwards through his life you piece together the puzzle and what comes is something I found truly unique.

A sad old man and a lighthouse, now lighthouses will make you cry

The art and music really help tie the package together. It’s presented similar to that of a mid 90s pixilated RPG with drawn scenes used occasionally for some key plot moments. They all look great and while there is no voice acting it would probably feel out of place with the retro look. Music plays a big part throughout the story with reoccurring piano pieces punctuating scenes. I found myself revisiting the soundtrack over the following days and meditating on those particular moments in the game. They are very pretty and from my untrained eye well composed for the situations to bring us in the sadness party.

Not everything is perfect. What puzzles do exist are not challenging, really at all. This way there is no barrier between you and the story but I think having more of a feeling of agency in what happens or making things happen could have made it even more rewarding. An element of choice besides what character you control in specific sections could have been a possible route to take but again this was their story to tell and that’s what they did, with little other frills.

That option to "pass" with the soccer ball is not as active as you think it woud be.

If you are looking to go into a game and have guns blazing this won’t be the right experience for you. To The Moon resides somewhere special for me though. Sure it ends up little more than a pixilated movie. But it’s a good one. It has the rare ability to care about the characters and want to accompany them on the journey.  Just pack a hankie.

B+

Buy To The Moon direct from Freebird Games!

http://freebirdgames.com/to_the_moon/