Author Topic: Bobdog's Mini-Reviews Thread  (Read 90487 times)

Offline bobdog

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Re: Bobdog's Mini-Reviews Thread
« Reply #555 on: May 20, 2019, 09:40:08 AM »
Here’s another round-up of free games on Steam that I’d recommend at least playing. Most are relatively short with an hour or less of gameplay.

Gizmo is a single-level proof of concept for a 3D platformer. Gizmo is a robot who can jump, spin his arms, double-jump with a spin, and even convert into a rolling pin to speed up and knock over opponents. Apparently, humans have been asleep for 35 years, and a robot master wants to build the frozen world into his image. It’s never explained, but maybe you’re not wanting that to happen, as all the robot forces are now after you! As you traverse the icy wastes of this level, you can look for special information capsules. Gameplay was pretty fun, in a Mario/Sonic sort of way.

Session Seven is a standard point-and-click in the old pixelated LucasArts vein, with movement and actions used via cursor and words (like Use, Pull, Open, Look, etc.). You have an inventory, and can combine words and objects to progress. For this story, you are trapped in a basement, with no idea how you got there. As certain key events transpire, you’ll be flipped into a psychiatrist’s office, where you are regaling your tale to him. Then you’ll flip back to continue the next part of your adventure. The story is darker than I would have imagined, and there are multiple endings depending on what you tell the psychiatrist.

FrostRunner is essentially a proof-of-concept game but I was delighted with it. Each of these “proof” levels are very short and seek to test a new concept, consisting of movement through the environments (including ice-covered areas), jumping, grappling crystals, and flinging yourself through the air. Each level was only like 15 seconds, but I could definitely see a longer game made out of these elements strung together. Stick around for the credits, as you can play through those as well.

What Never Was uses the point-of-view of a granddaughter who is clearing out her grandfather’s attic. While there, we come across written notes and a tape recording from Grandfather, entreating us to follow his path and seek out the secrets. Even though the location of the attic is small, we find several secrets, and once pieced together, something magical happens. Voice-acting is great, and as a prologue for a larger game, this concept works really well.

Offline bobdog

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Re: Bobdog's Mini-Reviews Thread
« Reply #556 on: July 15, 2019, 10:37:02 AM »
The indicator to me personally of whether a game is “great” is if I can’t wait to strike it up, even if only to play for an hour or so, and when the actual gameplay is fun. And to me, Assassins Creed Syndicate meets those positive criteria. I look forward to playing it, and I have a lot of fun when I do. I played the GOLD version, which included the main game plus the season pass with all the DLCs.

Yes, Syndicate follows the standard AC (and really, most open-world) formula: districts to liberate, lots of diverse tasks to accomplish, towers to climb and open the world map a little further, etc. But it never feels like empty busywork (i.e. a “job”), because it all ties in to the overall storyline. This time, we’re in London at the height of its industrial expansion, with the Templar Order in control of everything: gangs, whorehouses, fighting rings, and even much of the legislative branch. Unfortunately, we never get to leave London proper for the game, so you’re mostly surrounded by buildings rather than natural habitats.

Ubisoft did listen to AC fans and players and made some significant tweaks to their formula after all the negative attention to AC Unity, which I called “probably the worst of the major AC games to date.” Here’s some of what I noticed:

  • Unlike AC Unity, there are no pesky micro-transactions right in the midst of gameplay.
  • The game features two interesting and likeable dual leads – the Frye Twins – with the opportunity to play as either through most of the game, depending on certain scenarios. Jacob is impetuous and a rogue, while Evie is contemplative; their play-styles reflect that, with Jacob able to learn skills and use weapons emphasizing his rough nature, while Evie can actually learn how to become invisible if she stays still long enough.
  • Probably the best addition to an AC game ever, you have been gifted with a zipline that allows you to jump up buildings quickly or to soar between open spaces. Just point to another building and off you go through the air! Don't forget that you can drop-assassinate your foes too!  :onethumb:
  • If you need to move around London and its environs quickly, you can Fast Travel to previously unlocked Viewpoints. Or, you can simply hijack wagons and cabs (a la GTA) and run around the city, mowing down pedestrians and posts alike!
  • Side missions are generally fun and allow you to earn experience and gear from a diversity of characters including Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin, the Maharajah of India, the Queen of England, and more. You also can assist Scotland Yard, a young “Artie” Conan Doyle, local children, and a bookie – all for more experience and gear.
  • Solve mysteries using your Eagle-senses and investigate various locations until you have enough clues and have spoken to enough witnesses that you can actually make an accusation and choose the perpetrator of the crime. If you get it right on the first try, you get more experience.
  • When the time comes that you do need to assassinate someone, you are presented with a variety of options: maybe you get a key to open a locked door, maybe you can take someone’s place and do an instant kill, maybe helping someone else will allow them to assist you. Or you can do it all on your own – there’s no single way to do it.
  • Late in the game, a rift opens up on the main map that allows Evie to enter the London of World War 1. This was a nice nod to fans who have wanted to see a WW interpretation for the AC series. It also features some exposition related to the First Generation.
  • One of the best DLCs for the game is a 6-hour offering about the famed murderer Jack the Ripper. This DLC follows on 15 years after the main mission, with new types of missions and new “Fear” skills to learn and items to use; you’ll also visit two new locations. I wish they had actually gone to a different place with the conclusion, so that Jack's identity was actually someone we knew from the first game, maybe driven a little mad over the years – that would have made it very “Fight Club” in flipping the narrative. But overall this was a really great option.

One thing I did miss was the pure navigational puzzles, where you figure out how to get from Point A to Point B; think of the large cathedrals from AC2, where you had to climb the walls, flip backward to catch poles, etc. This is mostly negated by use of the zipline, and the London city setting, but I still miss it.

I also missed getting to play in the modern-day. Instead, we are relegated to a few cut-scenes detailing the current iteration of Assassins, and what they’re doing to try and recover some Pieces of Eden before the Templars can extract them. I know some folks find these annoying, but I actually appreciate the opportunity to be an Assassin in the modern day.

So with those caveats, AC Syndicate really is a great game and one I heartily recommend. At about 60 hours of play-time, you’ll have plenty to do, but you shouldn’t get bored before you get to the end. 9.3 out of 10

Offline bobdog

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Re: Bobdog's Mini-Reviews Thread
« Reply #557 on: July 22, 2019, 10:42:57 AM »
I attempted and quickly removed The World of Goo some years back, but when I got a freebie through the Epic Games store, I thought I’d give it another shot. I actually made it through a quarter of the game before getting bored and a little frustrated with the process. That more than likely shows my own shortcomings as a player, rather than any design behind the game itself. But that I was both bored and frustrated is part and parcel of whether a game is worth playing in the first place.

The World of Goo is a physics-based game in the same vein as Lemmings. You have to get a certain number of Goo droplets from one area to the removal zone. Once that happens, you can move to the next map. Different Goo can be used in a variety of ways: building anchored structures, floating, dripping, exploding, etc. Your goal is to use the Goo appropriately to build a structure that will last long enough to exit the area. It does take a little bit of design, as well as some potentially fast movement to switch between Goo.

I was able to figure out how to do everything in the first fourth of the game, but it was all a bit too frustrating for my own personal taste. Frustration is a useful tool in a puzzle game -- IF solving the puzzle releases that anxiety (even momentarily) and gives you a rush of endorphins, confidence, relief, whatever to show you that you can do the task on your own. With this game, I was just wondering how many more levels I'd really want to play before quitting entirely. 7.4 out of 10

Offline bobdog

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Re: Bobdog's Mini-Reviews Thread
« Reply #558 on: July 29, 2019, 09:47:54 AM »
Another Epic Game freebie, Stories Untold offers a series of four episodes. Supposedly they are linked but I didn’t really find the common denominator.

I conquered the first episode, which is a text adventure like the old Zork games from the 90’s, and which takes place in a haunted house. However, I was somewhat dissatisfied with the poor parsing available for the game, especially compared to the old games. Like you might write “LOOK” and the old games would describe the area around you. For this first episode, typing “LOOK” will give you an error message, so you have to be very specific like “LOOK AT ROOM”. The ending is a bit eerie, so I did appreciate that.

The second episode is set in a lab, and you are trying to discover the truth about an object in your possession. You are provided a “guide” for the equipment in the room, and how to use them appropriately. After the 3rd step (of 6 or 7), I got bored and moved on to the third episode. This one too has you using specific equipment in an arctic setting, but you also have to decipher coded messages. I again got bored and decided to call this one quits, uninstalling in total.

This one is more for logic puzzle enthusiasts, rather than us reptile-brains! 7.1 out of 10

Offline bobdog

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Re: Bobdog's Mini-Reviews Thread
« Reply #559 on: August 05, 2019, 09:12:36 AM »
Sort of a mix of Portal and The Talos Principle, The Witness is a thought-provoking 3D adventure set in a gorgeously realized island setting. I’m not sure what you’re supposed to “witness”, but you will definitely have to engage your brains for a diversity of logic, environmental, landscape, audio, mirror and other puzzles.

I’m pretty pleased that I made it through maybe half the puzzles across the island, but then I had to start using an online walkthrough nonstop for the last quarter of the game. By this time, it wasn’t worth continuing. If I can’t complete the game on my own, I might as well just watch the YouTube playthrough video, and that doesn’t appeal to me. So I again didn’t complete this game.

The settings are really incredible, with vibrant but not necessarily realistic colors and landscapes. But the puzzles are truly where the game designer has placed his efforts. Early puzzles in each area start off simple to give you a handle on what you’re doing, and then slowly proceed to harder and harder. By the end of the game, you are mixing and matching different puzzle types. I tip my hat to folks who can complete these puzzles without walkthroughs, because they truly do become ultra-challenging by the end.

Requires lots of brainpower to be a pleasing experience. 8.1 out of 10

Offline bobdog

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Re: Bobdog's Mini-Reviews Thread
« Reply #560 on: August 12, 2019, 09:17:16 AM »
As the follow-up game to the dark side-scroller Limbo, Inside integrates all the lessons learned from that first game and delivers a heck of an atmospheric experience. The final section of the game is the biggest WTF I think I have ever encountered, and I was absolutely blown away by what happens.

Inside is a 2.5D side-scroller with platforming, whose camera angles primarily focus on your protagonist – a boy in a red shirt – but occasionally change based on the overall story. The game starts immediately, with Red stumbling in from stage left and collapsing into a dark forest. Dark gray tones permeate the scene, but Red stands out. As we enter the forest, we see several scenes of people being rounded up. Once someone catches sight of Red, we are chased remorselessly, barely escaping their clutches. We may be able to catch a breath, but then dogs start chasing us and we can’t every really stop.

From the forest, we enter an agricultural district, where people seem to be acting like zombies – all parading in a single line and doing whatever is asked of them. We later learn that specific helmets are being used to control these people and make them more docile workers. The agricultural zone leads to a city, where robot sentries stand watch. Eventually, we find a very watery domain, with its own denizens. And finally, a laboratory shares a number of atrocities practiced on other humans.

Throughout each environment, you’ll need to master a variety of skills. You can only move in the four cardinal directions, jump, and interact with objects, so each case is specific. You might need to move a box so that you can later jump on it. Maybe you need to pull that lever to open a door. There is some trial-and-error involved to smoothly navigate this world, generally resulting in your death, but then you almost immediately resurrect very near to where you last appeared, so that you can try again.

Inside fascinates with its world-building. Obviously, some catastrophe struck the earth – maybe a huge flood or meteor?? – so lots of changes had to be made. And probably, those in power wanted to ensure they remained so, developing a mind-control option to exploit regular folks. Those tests may have led to other ways to open humanity’s genetic potential to continue to prosper in the changing planet.

The surrounding environment is meticulously designed, and certain elements return again and again to better build the world, without saying a word. Feel free to look for some explanation videos on YouTube, as they’re kind of enlightening, but in the end, it’s probably up to individual interpretation. 9.5 out of 10

Offline bobdog

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Re: Bobdog's Mini-Reviews Thread
« Reply #561 on: August 19, 2019, 10:29:27 AM »
Phantaruk is a sci-fi first-person game that takes equal parts inspiration from Alien Isolation and SOMA, but doesn’t overstay its welcome.

After stumbling out of a cryo-pod, you somehow must figure out how you got into that situation and why you’re on a seemingly deserted starship. You can find various tablets, notes and verbal diaries as you scour the ship to help piece together the full story, with one situation in particular requiring you to have some knowledge to get into a new zone. The verbal diaries are from the ship’s captain, detailing his descent into possible madness.

Early on, you realize that you need to consistently search for and gather items including staff keycards, batteries for your flashlight, and most especially an antigen to the disease that is coursing through your body. One chalkboard demonstrates how your wrist monitor works, and how you can assess the state of your health. You must find more antigen for injections because if you don’t, the screen is flooded with green “clouds,” making it nearly impossible to navigate because you can't physically see.

But you also learn that you AREN’T alone after all. Occasionally, your vision will be covered by black “clouds” and you’ll hear some strained breathing as a humanoid with small lights passes by. If you look directly at the creature – which the Captain dubs the “Phantaruk” – then your heartbeat increases in fear. You quickly learn that if you stay in darker corners, so that an “eye” on your screen doesn’t show, than the Phantaruk can’t see you. But once they track you, it’s nearly impossible to get away.

Apparently Phantaruk is also the culmination of a religion that took over after 3 billion people died of smallpox. People gave up on the other religions for allowing such a catastrophe to occur, and began following the practices of Phantaruk, which would inevitably lead to changes in your body to allow you to survive disease and other earthly misfortunes. In practice, it appears that at least one corporation was genetically modifying humans to this end.

I definitely got the willies several times while playing, so the game does have a nice horror feel to it. At only 3 hours, it’s just long enough to give you a decent story without regurgitating the same gameplay, which I felt Alien Isolation did. However, it’s still not the best example of the FPS horror genre, so I’ll give it 6.8 out of 10.

Offline bobdog

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Re: Bobdog's Mini-Reviews Thread
« Reply #562 on: September 02, 2019, 10:53:36 AM »
Morningstar: Descent to Deadrock is a quick (2-hour), decent adventure point-and-click (P&C), with some nice cut-scenes. Your starship has malfunctioned, awakening you from hypersleep as you plummet to a nearby planet. What caused the malfunction, and how you’ll escape will occupy your next few hours.

As a P&C game, you view the scene before you but don’t actually exist in-screen. This is much cleaner than your character having to physically move from one locale to another on-screen. By scrolling over the screen, pop-ups appear to indicate interactive elements, with which you can get more information or interact. You first have to fix your ship, ascertain what works or doesn’t, support your captain, and then figure out next steps.

As an in-board hint system, you can radio your captain, and he’ll generally send you in the right direction. You’ll also have some banter back and forth over the game, which was appreciated to provide some humanity to the atmosphere.

After fixing your ship as much as possible, you then have to trek out into the wastes of the planet (named Deadrock) and find possible supplies, an answer to why your ship crashed, and maybe something new. It’s a nice adventure, the puzzles are relatively simple without requiring a walk-through, and your character has a nice personality. 7.3 out of 10

Offline bobdog

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Re: Bobdog's Mini-Reviews Thread
« Reply #563 on: September 09, 2019, 10:17:52 AM »
Yet another 3D adventure point-and-click (P&C) game, Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller has elements of murder mysteries such as
Still Life wrapped hand-in-hand with the gory Saw franchise. But your character Erica also has a special gift – she can sometimes touch an object and get an echo of its past.

First, the biggest negative to the game – the horrific character models. I’m not sure who created these and their animations, but they did an awful job. When we get close-ups, the jaw/mouth area looks like the Joker’s grin, and any attempts at trying to showcase the character smiling or even worse, laughing, make them look like a maniac. It’s beyond unsettling, to say the least. The models’ really poor wireframes cause the wankiest animations. When your character is pointing north, and you want them to go east, the bottom half of their body starts walking east while the top torso half slowly spins around and catches up with the same direction about when you arrive. Really awful, awful stuff.

Which makes the game’s other attributes much more critical to ensure a positive experience. And Cognition manages to do so, for the most part. The voicework is mostly good, although the early episode has several actors that … seem … to … be … reading … like … this. And although the game is set in Boston, I never felt like Erica’s voice really sounded authentic. But the storyline is incredibly well done, with writing assistance by the horror adventure queen Jane Jensen.

Cognition was originally delivered as four short episodic mystery adventures – all with a binding focus – and all four episodes take place almost immediately after one another. Episode 1 – The Hangman – starts with a prologue, where you and your partner John are trying to find the Cain Killer, a serial murderer who targets brother-sister duos with some really disturbing deathtraps. To date, only one person has ever escaped, and now you are tracking him down because your brother Scott has been taken. What you find will haunt you forever. Three years later, Erica has to close the case on the Cain Killer because Boston is now reeling from another serial murder that kills their victims by hanging, with the M.O. as apparent suicide.

Episode 2 – The Wise Monkey – follows immediately afterward, but this serial killer takes the ears, tongue and/or eyes of their victims to “punish” them for not acting in their best interests while they were alive. It’s a horrific act that again cuts close to Erica when a man she has dated is taken.

Episode 3 – The Oracle – takes a different twist as Erica follows the leads from both these cases to a swanky high-rise apartment complex. Are the killers who we assumed, or is something more dire at stake here?

We finally end with Episode 4 – The Cain Killer – as it seems this murderer is back in our lives again. Or is it a copycat? You’ll play as two separate individuals to find out the final answers that have haunted you the past 3 years. And the final end-credits scene – absolutely classic, and made so much sense as to why one of the characters acts so particular throughout the game.

Cognition really succeeds on its story, which is interesting and realistic enough – even with a person who can touch objects and sense the past. You are surrounded by helpful people, including your work partner John, your father, and Rose, who is able to assist your burgeoning psychic skills. The villains are truly despicable, but you also understand their pain – at least enough to see why they would cause so much suffering on others.

If you can get past the poor character models, the rest of the game will suck you in. I, for one, would certainly like to see more Erica Reed adventures. 8.4 out of 10

Offline bobdog

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Re: Bobdog's Mini-Reviews Thread
« Reply #564 on: September 16, 2019, 10:27:36 AM »
Some more recommendations from Steam’s Free Games selections.

Backbone Prologue is a pixelated side-scroller adventure that packs one heck of a story. Set in a world where animals walk and talk and do things like shopping, going to strip clubs, and paying the bills, you play as a raccoon detective. Your latest case has you trying to find an otter whose wife thinks he is cheating on her. As you investigate a little closer, you become embroiled in a world of drugs, sex and crime. The artwork is detailed and the puzzles are well-designed. I really enjoyed this one and look forward to the full game!

Bone Voyage is reminiscent of Grim Fandango, with your character a newly-dead skeleton in a world of skeleton people. This bright attractive 3D adventure takes place on a ship, where you can visit the bridge, a café, and more locations. Interestingly, the game allows you to take off your head, so that you can reach tighter locations, such as a crab’s stronghold in the air ducts. I encountered a few bugs, but overall, this was a fun game to play.

Burning Daylight is more of a 2.5D side-scroller walking simulator, but it does have a few light puzzle elements. But where it truly shines is in the integration of story through the visuals. You wake up among thousands of other bodies, and are somehow able to move. Your world seems to be a dystopian nightmare where robots control everything, but as you continue walking, you make your way back to humanity. Level design is incredible but even more awesome is the overall cinematography – the “camera” (i.e. your view via the screen) uses a variety of shots besides just a regular side-scroller: angles, long-distance, wide-angle, etc. It was really cool to see all that, even as you basically just walk right for the whole game. Highly recommended for the story and camera-work.

I’ve been keeping an eye on the game Die Young for a while now, and they just released the Die Young Prologue as a teaser for how the full game will play out. This was a really intense 2-hour offering, with the option to sneak around, bash people in the face with a pipe, use a crossbow, leap over large gaps, craft some stuff, and more. This was definitely a thinking person’s game – you can’t just waltz in and think you can overpower your foes. Strategy and craftiness are key to keeping yourself alive. Definitely recommended to try the demo, and I can’t wait for the full game’s release – which is now available!

Code S-44: Episode 1 allows you to guide a spiderbot around a couple of diverse levels. Your bot can go any direction, including upside down and along the sides of areas – just the thing to keep from being noticed by your enemies. The actual movement is a little challenging to get right, but luckily you can move the camera all around to ensure you’re going in the correct direction. Not a bad game and an interesting take on the stealth genre.

The Sorrowvirus: A Faceless Short Story is a free demo in the Faceless “universe”. Apparently the full game, whenever it releases, will be multi-player, but this gives you a single-player opportunity to try it out. Storywise, you are a sick child, and the only way to cure you is to send you to an alternate realm called Purgatory, where you can hopefully figure out how to bring a cure back with you. You can go back and forth between the “real” world and Purgatory, and little things change on each side. There also are a bunch of dolls that you have to save for some reason. Gameplay has a few logic puzzles sprinkled throughout, but as I reached a later area, I was tasked with doing three major things to open the next area – all under a timer that will kill you when it runs out. I tried this part 5 different times and although the tasks remained the same, the order, and the location to find random objects would keep changing. Possibly if I could have seen a little better, it would have helped, but as the timer ticks down, so does the ambient light until you’re literally running around in darkness. I did NOT complete this area after 5 tries, so I quit for good. I’m not sure I’d be interested in playing further in this universe (and I think the multi-player would probably suck), but it was worth the free demo.

The Designer’s Curse is a smallish game where you have to escape your surroundings. The game operates on realistic physics, kind of like Amnesia, so you have to “pull” open drawers and doors, etc. Unfortunately, as you enter a second area, an antagonist appears, and is extremely random and overpowered. You’re supposed to crouch, sneak past when he goes by, flip a switch at one end of the level, and then sneak past and flip a switch at the other side, before then trying to sneak past yet again and exit back where the first switch was located. I could usually get the first switch turned on, but then when I’d try to sneak to the 2nd switch, the enemy would inevitably spot me and start chasing. You can run too, but it’s slightly faster, and with 2 hits, you’re dead. I managed on two occasions to slide under the half-opened door, but the enemy just bashes through and kills you right away. If the enemy were set on a certain patrol route, you could more easily get past it, but because it’s absolutely random, you never know when it might be turning back around. I understand that this randomization makes the foe more challenging and even human-like, but I don’t play games to keep dying right away.

Estranged: Act 2 is a direct continuation of the first Act’s Half-Life 2 mod, but has been ported to the Unreal 4 engine. It essentially consists of three distinct areas: a cave system with small marsh, an office complex, and a beachside satellite facility. The cave and beach were extremely linear, but the office complex did have a few branching paths when you snuck through ventilation shafts. Overall, it had the HL2 feel through-and-through, even in the new engine. I wasn’t necessarily bored, but I don’t think I need to boot up Act 3, if one ever arises. Still, worth playing for free.

 

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