Dark Disciples II

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Dark Disciples II

Freeware CRPGs are less common that -say- freeware adventure and platform games, mostly due to the fact that they need to be bloody big to be any good; a simple fact that translates into tons of content, detailed mechanics and buckets of Tolkien-esque words. Enter, Dark Disciples II, the honestly named and vastly improved sequel to the original Dark Disciples.

Dark Disciples II Dark Disciples IIDark Disciples II

 

 

 

It impressively is a rather huge freeware, tile-based, non-linear RPG sporting an impressive number of quests, characters, monsters and areas, that let’s players freely explore its four continents and even come up with some interesting characters. I suggest you give it a try. I did.

Phenomenon 32

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Phenomenon 32 is an incredibly immersive experience, designed to be savored slowly and carefully. It is after all a hard and demanding game, that simply cannot be completed in one sitting.~Konstantinos Dimpoulos

Phenomenon 32

I’ve been meaning to write about Phenomenon 32 for quite some time now, but hurdle after hurdle, combined with the fact that this is an impressively vast game, shamed this very Lair to a belated coverage of the game. Still, better late than ever, eh? After all, the thing is still around, freeware as ever.

phenomenon 32

So, uhm, let’s start with some basic facts first. Phenomenon 32 was developed by Jonas Kyratzes, the immensely (multi) talented, inventive and controversial developer of The Strange and Somewhat Sinister Tale of the House at Desert Bridge and The Museum of Broken Memories, and can briefly be described as a black and white, 2D, exploration, platform game, albeit one with quirky RPG and strategy elements. The game can be downloaded here.

phenomenon 32 - PC - Indie Game - Screenshot-2

Phenomenon 32, being Kyratzes’ most ambitious project so far, is much more than the sum of its parts. Besides the beautiful black and white visuals, its atmospheric soundscape and a deeply depressing and simultaneously surreal game world, Phenomenon 32 is an incredibly immersive experience, designed to be savored slowly and carefully. It is after all a hard and demanding game, that simply cannot be completed in one sitting. It also is a game filled with surprises and little touches of excellence, that go far beyond what you might expect from a free game.

phenomenon 32 - PC - Indie Game - Screenshot-3

As for the plot, well, it’s one of the best I’ve ever encountered in a video game ever and a key part of Phenomenon 32. Set in an alternate version of the 70s the game is engrossing, deeply political, truly unique and thought-provoking, and is supported by some quality writing and impressive voice-work. You really have to play it. Really.

Warhammer 40k: Fire Warrior

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The problems with Fire Warrior, you see, are firmly rooted in its dirty console past. The game sports an incredibly annoying auto-save/checkpoints feature that forces you to replay levels again and again (only to be killed seconds before beating them), has pretty clumsy controls, very poor AI, astonishingly few tweaking options and an obviously tacked-on online multi-player side. ~Konstantinos Dimopoulos

Warhammer 40k: Fire Warrior

Now, why would you dear readers care for a review of a spectacularly unremarkable 5 year old game, that was released to public apathy and less than stellar reviews? And why would I bother with a game that dared tempt the PC crowd without a proper save feature, while offering only lackluster multi-player options? Why should we even care about the existence of another generic FPS instead of, say, the joys of Blue Lacuna? Well, simple really. It’s all happening because I’m oddly enjoying playing through Fire Warrior, that’s why. Shockingly for the second time in my life too.

warhammer 40k - fire warrior - pc

Better start at the beginning then. Warhammer 40,000: Fire Warrior is -as you might have already guessed- a pretty standard FPS set in Games Workshop’s dark and gritty sci-fi/Gothic world of Warhammer 40,000, where -as is customary with these things- there is only war and apparently many interesting stories to be told. You, the player, assume the role of a young warrior of the Tau Empire and set out to fight for the greater good in general and, in a more specific way, against the rather fascist Empire of Man. Actually, you get to live through the frenetic first 24 hours of your service while battling through 21 hour-long levels, essentially making this a properly real-time FPS in the strictest of senses. Interesting innit? Regardless. It still is longer than the average shooter and that sort of makes up for the fact that the game is definitely showing its age. It was after all a 2003 release.

warhammer 40k - fire warrior - pc

Fire Warrior also was the first pure action game set in the Warhammer 40k universe and, frankly, this must have been why I actually decided to give it a chance in the first place. Let me explain my train of thought like this: Shooting Space Marines? Yes, please. Walking through Tau spaceships in glorious 3D? Definitely. Being a nameless grunt in a war-torn universe? Sure. Playing a lazy PS2port on the PC? Well, uhm, not that I’m thrilled with the prospect, but guess I could put up with it.

warhammer 40k - fire warrior - pc

The problems with Fire Warrior, you see, are firmly rooted in its dirty console past. The game sports an incredibly annoying auto-save/checkpoints feature that forces you to replay levels again and again (only to be killed seconds before beating them), has pretty clumsy controls, very poor AI, astonishingly few tweaking options and an obviously tacked-on online multi-player side. Then, it doesn’t even try to add anything new to the genre and its sole innovation is a rather failed copy of HALO’s shield system. And don’t get me started on the extreme linearity of the thing or the truly archaic need to collect color-coded keys…

warhammer 40k - fire warrior - pc

On the plus side -and besides the setting- Fire Warrior does manage to do some things rather well. Or at least, well enough to help you relax, turn your brain off and enjoy many hours of frenetic shooting a la Serious Sam. You get 15 different weapons to experiment with, an impressively balanced difficulty curve, a great (or at least engrossing for FPS standards) plot, a variety of well-presented locations, bits of horror, a couple of smart set-pieces, boss battles and tons of enemies. What’s more, there are more than a few fantastic cinematic sequences and I bloody love fantastic cinematic sequences. I am quite fond of them unlockable WH40K artwork goodies too.

So, and in order to reach some sort of a verdict, should you grab a copy? Well, if you don’t mind Fire Warrior’s flaws and lack of originality, care for a simple though highly atmospheric and extremely addictive FPS to last you for a week or so, then, by all means, I think you should. After all, Warhammer 40,000 Fire Warrior is indeed dead cheap. Oh, and Warhammer 40k maniacs that can forget their miniatures for a while will definitely appreciate it too. Mind you, Amazon has quite a few well priced copies lying around last time I checked.

Red Baron

Red Baron

What you’re about to read, is an excellent guest post by Bill, who is a blogger for think SMART, that came up with some rather intriguing educational DS games and even a little something for the Wii. Bill lives in Hell’s Kitchen, once game-tested for Dynamix, and was eaten by a Grue many, many times. You can read more of his material here.
Stomping on turtles? Watching gravity win out against science with the help of fire and lead? Barrel rolls? Spinning hedgehogs doing loop-de-loops?
Red Baron

All of them fun, but limited in a sense. In the early 90s, games played out in little capsules. I could win the battle, build the city, save the princess, but it all disappeared the moment I flipped off the computer. Even the occasional game that told a story through the progression of levels felt hollow – there wasn’t much of a world behind whatever obstacles I’d been tasked to overcome. It was like some perverted version of Descartes: I play; therefore, the world exists.

Red Baron

Then along came a little company named Dynamix, a game maker determined to challenge my little philosophy. Red Baron was the first game I can remember that convinced me I was playing inside a “real” video game world, and that my actions had both immediate and broad implications on its future. The world, of course, was the Western Front of WWI. And from the moment you first signed on to join the fight against the German menace, the game kept a clock running on that world. Time crept forward between battles; as you moved along history’s timeline, battles were fought, world leaders met to make big decisions, and the war machine turned out technological advancements like faster planes, or machine guns that wouldn’t overheat as quickly.

Red Baron

Whether or not you got to use those cool new toys depended on how you flew, and Red Baron did a great job of rewarding good play. It kept track of your kills, how many times you’d been shot down, and if you’d managed to down one of Germany’s many “real-world” Aces. Rack up the kills, move into a better aerodrome. Better aerodromes meant better planes, and the chance to fly alongside one of the Allies’ elite Aces. Nothin’ wrong with some smarter AI piloting your wingman.

Red Baron

Between battles, you’d keep up with the “real world” through the game’s newspaper. I can’t tell you how proud I was (or how embarrassed I ought to be, today) when the newspaper’s lead story was on my bravery in shooting down some minor German Ace, or the stoic countenance I’d sported upon receiving my first medal. There was my teenage pride when, mouse in hand and Mountain Dew nearby, I’d read that my squadron’s efforts had led to a break in the lines, or frustration in reading about the Red Baron’s exponential kill-count. The newspaper was a (virtual) tangible anchor for the game’s sense of reality. Brilliant, really.

Red Baron

Reality didn’t begin and end with the in-game world, however. The various flyable planes each had their quirks, strengths and limitations. Guns would jam, often at the worst possible moment. One of the planes’ wings could literally rip off if you banked too hard, too often. You might parachute out of a plane and pray you avoid getting hit with flack.

Then there was the nightmare of your pilot taking a bullet from an enemy machine gun – as you lost blood, you’d begin to black out. Lose too much without finding an aerodrome or crash-landing (and hoping for a sympathetic farmer), adios. Game over. You’d have one last chance to read about your remarkable achievements and regrettable death in the aforementioned newspaper, and that was it. Reality was pretty harsh in WWI.

Red Baron

All of this would be for nothing if the gameplay wasn’t fun; luckily, it was amazing. The dogfights were edge-of-seat serious business, dodging around flack while emptying a machine gun into a zeppelin was the pinnacle of fun gaming. The game stomped its left foot in the muddy history of The Great War and placed its right foot in the shifting ground of an adjustable-reality flight simulator.

Red Baron put its feet down and straddled a line called “Best Game of Its Time,” and I’d dare anyone to try and knock it off.

Which is why I’m confused. It’s a strange phenomenon: Red Baron was – at the very least – the best flying game of its time, if not one of the best flight sims ever. In my opinion, it was the best game to come out around that period of gaming, beating out the likes of Civilization. For whatever reason, however, it’s also a game that today often goes un-remembered when bloggers and game magazines come up with “best of” lists. Strange.

Well, this is my little scream into the ether, for all it’s worth. Red Baron was and is one of the best games ever made, and God help you if you disagree.

Snakes of Avalon

snakes of avalon
Let’s start with the easy bits. Snakes of Avalon is a freeware adventure game that comes with a traditional point-and-click interface and is the creation of Igor Hardy and Alex van der Wijst, who apparently employed the musical talents of Thomas Regin and the acting of Drew Wellman. It also is quite an excellent offering that happens to take place in a single room. Well, sort of, as this is where Snakes of Avalon stops being your average AGS game.
snakes of avalon

It is, you see, set in a bar named Avalon starring a hopelessly drunk, obviously unshaven, very confused and quite alcoholic character in what can only be described as a trippy (near) murder mystery. Actually, make that a deeply surreal (near) murder mystery, sporting a variety of all powerful hallucinations, ugly babies, beer, sinister wives, tons of toilet humour, a perpetually occupied toilet, dirty glasses, at least one time-machine, living posters, love, murder, obscure movie references, a Lucasarts logo and a majestic, yet sadly stuffed, talking moose. As you might imagine such an intoxicated design makes sure the game feels much bigger than your average one-room offering. Or is it actually bigger than that? Better play it and find out.

snakes of avalon

Space and even time in Snakes of Avalon is a most relative thing after all, and the protagonist’s warped perception of everything makes sure the game is actually much longer and quite a bit more challenging than its excellent and confined location would imply. As for the puzzles themselves, well, they are at times taxing, enjoyable and -impressively- make sense in the demented game world.

Oh, and the thing does look delightfully odd too, with its deeply cartoon-like art, smart animation, brilliant cut-scenes and lovely background art, though admittedly the music is what will really blow you away. Provided you enjoy your Jazz, that is. And if you prefer listening to it from a dear old scratched record than say one of those mp3 thingies, you’ll be in musical heaven.

Hector: Badge of Carnage: Episode 1

Hector Badge of Carnage
I’m not a particularly cynical gnome. No, not really. I’m just a realist who -admittedly- spends the odd day firmly believing that cynicism and the subsequent nihilism are nasty things, while trying to figure out ways to make this poor planet a better place. Then again, I just can’t help but enjoy the more cynical side of satire, and definitely can’t help but enjoy those rare cynical games. They seem so refreshing in the dire landscape of tired fantasy cliches, gun-ho militarism and vacuous cuteness that mainstream gaming seems to have created, and the first episode of Hector: Badge of Carnage is (probably) as cynically satirical as it gets.
Hector Badge of Carnage
It also is a rather traditional point-and-click adventure, which is always nice and despite coming from Telltale it’s both cynical and -shockingly- actually challenging. Now, don’t get me wrong,Telltale have done some wonderful things for adventure gaming. I can’t deny that, but it seems that after the excellent Tales of Monkey Island and the refreshingly odd Puzzle Agent they have become more, well, formulaic. And pop-centered. And, really, who cares for Jurassic Park games? I for one don’t. I definitely care about Hector though (to cunningly and subtly change the subject).
Hector Badge of Carnage

Hector, you see, the eponymous Badge of Carnage protagonist is a (shockingly and spontaneously anti-authoritarian) cop in what can only be described as Britain’s most run-down town. His moral compass is all over the place, his remarks biting, his humour dark and his pants struggling. He’s also more than willing to negotiate with terrorists, as this game’s full title is none other than Hector: Badge of Carnage – Episode 1: We Negotiate With Terrorist, in which Hector seems hell-bent on fulfilling the ultra-conservative, yet at times rather sensible, demands of a deeply frustrated and particularly murderous terrorist.

Hector Badge of Carnage

What’s more, Hector does this in the most unconventional way imaginable, while inhabiting a beautifully illustrated 2D world and remaining true to the best of point-and-click traditions. He’ll have to combine inventory items, engage in brilliantly penned discussions, use everything on everything, explore the seedier parts of the urban fabric and even use a heroin-addict as a sex doll (oops, spoiler, sorry about that), while sounding both brilliant and very British. The voice-overs are after all excellent, as are the games graphics, music and most of the puzzles.
Hector Badge of Carnage

The only thing that’s not quite so excellent is the control method (click to look, double-click to interact), that simply doesn’t feel that intuitive, especially if you are a seasoned adventurer. Then again, this episode’s hefty size, challenging puzzles and overall quality more than make up for this minor hick-up. Oh, and yes, the humour does actually work.

Verdict: A humorous and gritty breath of fresh, episodic, adventure gaming air. Adventurers should apply here and Hector will definitely amuse them.

Little Computer People

little computer people
It might have inspired The Sims and that happily forgotten Tamagotchi craze, but David Crane’s Little Computer People was far from a commercial success back in 1985. Surely the atrocious cover art couldn’t have helped much…
little computer people
The game itself though remains fresh, unique, innovative, pretty brilliant and beautiful in a way only those chunky Commodore 64 games can be.
little computer people
And did you know that its complete title is Little Computer People Discovery Kit and that it was also known as a House-on-a-Disk? Oh, I see…

The Dig

the dig

The Dig

The Dig was released -after many a delay- in 1995 by Lucasarts and, despite failing to be a spectacular critical and commercial hit, should be considered one of the company’s most impressive offerings. Actually, I’d easily classify it as one of my all time favorite adventures and one of the few truly successful attempts at proper video game science fiction. What’s more, it still looks stunning and even has a whole museum (which, among other things, details The Dig‘s incredible development history) dedicated to its glorious, digital self.

Dead Hotel

As I am semi-randomly and very slowly going through the Interactive Competition entries, I couldn’t help but notice that Dead Hotel is the only game that has been specifically programmed to run as a proper executable for Windows using its very own engine. Out of respect for the extra and, for all I know, difficult effort I decide to give it a look. Didn’t regret it, mind.
Dead Hotel
The game itself is a menu-driven affair, not dissimilar to Snatcher (sans graphics of course), that puts gamers (or should I say interactive readers?) in the shoes of a former policeman trapped in a hotel and facing a zombie apocalypse. Rather banal, I know, but it is pretty well written, though admittedly very short and obviously not quite complete. It’s more of a demo really. A demo with some interesting and i-f compatible combat mechanics.
More importantly, it’s like a demo of something really promising. The engine, you see, sports a lovely, retro-esque, chunky font, looks fine, can support such things as hit-points, combat and inventories, is fast and already features sound. With a few modifications and additions such as maps and graphics, it could end up being able to produce something really amazing, and I’m definitely looking forward to this. Not that I didn’t enjoy the 15 minutes I spent with Dead Hotel
You can download Dead Hotel, as well as the other IF Competition games, for free over here. Actually, you really should. There are more than a few gems waiting for your attention.

Delve Deeper: Treasures and Tunnels

Delve Deeper
Delve Deeper is an excellent game. It’s smart, unique, easy on the retro-loving eye and, now that the Treasures and Tunnels DLC has been released, pretty huge too. Fresh off the indie forges of Lunar Giant and costing less than one (rapidly devaluating) dollar, Treasures and Tunnels extends the game with 10 new levels -including the brilliantly named Big Orc Candy Mountains- and 25 brand new relics; that is 50% more Delve Deeper maps, 30% more treasure and absolutely no extra fat. Oh, and apparently each level is custom-tailored to be tackled by different teams of dwarfs, whereas each new relic is designed to influence both new and old maps.
Delve Deeper
You can download Treasures and Tunnels via Steam; it does obviously require that you own Delve Deeper. As for the people still wondering what Delve Deeper is (besides -as already mentioned- excellent and a game), let me just say it’s a turn-based, strategy/RPG affair with lovely pixel-art graphics and board-game influences. Here are a couple DLC piccies to further entice you:

Dead Meets Lead

Dead Meets Lead
One of the reasons I don’t usually review games I haven’t particularly enjoyed is that I often can’t be bothered to properly play them, let alone take the time to actually write the review. Apparently then, Dead Meets Lead is quite an exception. I never particularly enjoyed it, didn’t play it exhaustively, yet here I am writing about it. Why? Because it does have some redeeming features, you see.
Dead Meets Lead
Dead Meets Lead is -at heart- an indie and definitely innovative arena shooter, that might not feature much shooting, but does try to make up for it by sporting both pirates and zombies. Sadly though, innovation isn’t a priori a good thing; some things haven’t been attempted for the simple reason that they just don’t work. Melee arena combat is apparently one of those ideas. Then again, things could have been better if the controls, the camera and the hits each enemy can take were balanced in a better way, but this is not the case. Enemies can take ages to defeat, more often than not the action takes place hidden behind a building or something, and the WASD-mouse combination isn’t ideal for sword-based arena shooters. Oh, and don’t get me started on the zombies that restrict your movement by ensnaring you in the most frustrating of ways…
Dead Meets Lead
To the game’s defense though one could add that by featuring a shotgun it does turn itself into a rather lovely yet more traditional arena-shooter. One would of course be only partly correct, as the ammunition for the shotgun (and the rest of the firearms that are eventually unlocked) is far too sparse and in certain levels simply absent, which is a crying shame. Shooting the zombie hordes as a cursed pirate on a bleak exotic island is immensely enjoyable and goes on to show how great Dead Meets Lead could have been; especially if it had bothered to include a few save-points in its brutally hard levels.

Sadly, as it is, all it manages is to more or less waste the potential its setting, plot, graphics, music, interesting upgrade mechanics and overall polish had created. Still, I’m pretty sure that you dear reader might just enjoy Dead Meets Lead more than I did. Guess you should have a look then; click here. The demo should help you decide whether this is for you or not.

Verdict: A quality indie production with some interesting touches, that has sadly been let down by its core gameplay mechanic.

Update: The game has since gone freeware: Here is the statement from their website:

We’ve had a great time with Dead Meets Lead, but since we’re shutting down operations (or rather, they’ve been down for a while now) we’d like to do one last thing for the community. Starting from today, we’re making Dead Meets Lead a freeware so that those who haven’t tried the game yet get a chance to play it too. Everyone is free to download and play the game, just use the product key below and go to the download section to get your copy. Hope you’ll have a good time with the Captain and his adventures!

17ad0e29-d567-4455-a7a3-108541e01558

Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale

Dungeons & Dragons - Daggerdale
When I originally previewed Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale I was pretty excited about it, what with it being the first DnD 4th edition CRPG to hit PCs and consoles; an interesting choice supported by its advertised modular system and episodic, thus manageable, lenght. Then the first reviews came -hitting sites a few days before the review copy hit my door- and they were less than stellar. Everyone complained about something and I decided to stop reading before actually playing the game, though the damage was done.
 Dungeons & Dragons - Daggerdale
I installed the PC version of Daggerdale with the lowest of expectations, only to have them sink further when I was asked to either join or log into gamespy. Now, I’m not a multiplayer fanatic, but I have come to expect to enjoy such overtly social modes of gaming without having to sign up with any service. Always thought that Steam was more than capable and more than enough for this sort of things, and seeing Daggerdale run via Steam yet still requiring me to remember one more password, well, I simply couldn’t be bothered. Then again, in CRPGs it’s the solo experience that counts, isn’t it? Of course it is dear.
Dungeons & Dragons - Daggerdale

On to the single-player campaign it was then and I went on to choose among the four available characters (a Halfling wizard, a Dwarven cleric, an Elven rogue and a Human fighter), customize him/her and go on and travel to the Dalelands of the Forgotten Realms. There I would get to explore the catacombs of Tethyamar under the Desrtmouth Mountains (I’m not making those names up you know; and, yes, I haven’t played any proper DnD for years now), where a dwarven community is having troubles with goblins, undead things, an assortment of nasties and the malicious deity Bane. So far, so generic, I know, but playing through this story felt oddly refreshing and reminiscent of the things a seasoned DM would come up with.

Dungeons & Dragons - Daggerdale

 The game itself is a pure hack-and-slash affair sporting some great combat mechanics, deeper character customization than one would expect and -impressively- some lovely and pretty varied graphics. What’s more, the thing is properly entertaining and really addictive, meaning that, yes, Daggerdale did manage to endear itself. At heart it’s a great action-RPG with some good ideas and an apparently powerful engine behind it. Even the lack of a proper save function doesn’t completely destroy the experience, despite it being incredibly frustrating.
Dungeons & Dragons - Daggerdale
The varied bugs, visual glitches, lack of overall polish and shoddy camera, on the other hand, do border on infuriating and keep Daggerdale from becoming the game it could be, which is frankly a shame, especially considering it gets so many things right. Then again, there’s always hope that the first patch will fix things up considerably… Oh, and the game’s length is longer than I expected, without it ever becoming boring.


Verdict: A traditional hack-and-slash CRPG that’s too buggy for its own good. Definitely worth a try if you are into this sort of thing and don’t mind the generic plot.

Cthulhu Saves the World

Cthulhu Saves the World
I was never particularly fond of JRPGs you know; never even cared for Link’s 16-bit adventures on the SNES. Cthulhu, on the other hand, now that is another matter entirely. The lovable Great Old One has always been among my, let’s say, top five mythical beasts, a fact that combined with an incredibly cheap price and a high-flying indie flag led to my playing of Cthulhu Saves The World. Oh, and the Breath of Death VII CRPG the developer kindly bundled with it made the choice of buying said bundle even easier. Apparently and after 15 hours of playing with the thing I can say it was a wise choice indeed.
 Cthulhu Saves the World
Cthulhu Saves The World is, happily, much more than a retro-styled, top-down RPG with turn based combat. It is a truly funny retro-styled, top-down RPG with turn based combat. It’s one of the few games and possibly the only RPG I’ve played on a PC that sports humour that is actually any good. Really. I verified this with the help of at least three (they were four) male and female test-subjects; they all laughed and thought that the heroic version of Cthulhu the game so obviously enjoys ridiculing is a great idea indeed.
Cthulhu Saves the World
What’s more the game itself is rather good too, though definitely not exactly my kind of CRPG. It’s pure hack-and-slash with minimal exploration, only slightly confusing dungeons and simplistic combat. If it weren’t for the demented plot, the brilliantly hilarious cut-scenes, the hundreds of hidden jokes, the excellent and deep combat system, and the fact that the game wisely rewards gamers with something different every hour or so, I’d have probably given up on it, and would have lost one of the most ridiculous game finales this side of Monkey Island 2.
 Cthulhu Saves the World
Oh, yes, also the chance to discover one single gold piece in well hidden chest in one of the later dungeons. How very silly eh? Almost on the same level of silliness of not sporting an in-game map…
Cthulhu Saves the World
As an added bonus the graphics are excellent in their retro, pixel-artsy way and the music will definitely evoke that 80s console music feeling; not that I particularly adore it, but, well, some do. And after you beat the game, you’ll unlock a ton of extras and new game-modes to make sure your purchase lasts you another 10 to 15 hours. Now, that definitely is what I’d call value for money.

Verdict: A hilarious, rich, incredibly cheap and actually good RPG. Get it.

Thunder Fleets

thunder fleets
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear… Not the most encouraging way to start a review, I know, but I simply didn’t want to sound overtly optimistic really. Wouldn’t want anyone to get instantly excited about Thunder Fleets and recklessly stampede over to the game’s site now, would we? Of course not, for as you might have guessed Thunder Fleets isn’t a particularly good game and all this stampeding around might result to some sort of broken web-things.
thunder fleets
Still, the game does initially sound vaguely interesting, or at least it did before I actually loaded it. It is after all supposed to be some sort of naval warfare RTS taking place in the WWII-torn Pacific Ocean, where gamers have to wrestle the interface and act both strategically and tactically in order to either subdue the Japanese Imperial Fleet or the American one.Well, in theory at least, as I just can’t see how anyone could stick with Thunder Fleets for more than a couple of hours; the time needed to fully realize that this is as sub-par an offering as they go.
thunder fleets
Mind you, I really do hate writing nasty stuff about aspiring indie developers and the fruits of their work, and I’ve already fought and won a titanic battle against sarcasm. Frankly, that would have been cheap and uncalled for. Let’s just say that Thunder Fleets starts off with a lacking yet boring tutorial that fails on far too many grammatical levels and manages to exclude key information, goes on to provide with some incredibly dull and visually poor battles, only to end up in what can only be described as an explosion of frustration. Now, I’ll have to admit there’s a chance I didn’t give the game the attention it deserved, but two hours of wrestling with the scrolling mechanics and enduring impressively uninspired grey ship-like things firing at other grey things was too much, even though I did sense that some interesting ideas and mechanics were struggling to make themselves felt…
thunder fleets
I could go on and try to ridicule the thing, but I wont. Sadly knowing that the developers are reading this, I’ll humbly suggest a few things to vastly improve the game and give it a fighting chance in the rich world of commercial indie games, where it will apparently have to compete with such acclaimed games as AI WarVVVVVVEufloriaThe Dream Machine and Revenge of the Titans. I also promise that should Thunder Fleets get an update in the correct direction, I’ll be more than willing to re-review it.
thunder fleets
Here goes then: 1) Make sure the screen scrolls properly when the mouse hits its side; 2) add some music and proper sound effects; 3) make the thing playable in windowed mode; 4) fix all spelling and grammatical errors; 5) redo the tutorial from scratch; 6) redesign the interface and, above all, make sure the buttons that select tactics indicate whether they have been pressed or not; 7) add more tactical options and let players -at least- control the facing of their ships; 8) make sure the graphics are passable; 9) polish the thing; 10) add some historical bits of info; 11) add a simple intro and 12) drop the price, as an asking price of 11 euros for a game like this does feel rather outrageous.


Verdict: Almost passable for a freebie I’m afraid.

The Dream Machine

the dream machine
Plato, Jung, Freud, a young ordinary couple and some exquisite visuals are the true stars of The Dream Machine; an episodic, indie point-and-click adventure game I have already enthusiastically previewed and now finally get to properly review. Well, properly review its first two chapters to be precise, as apparently the third and far from final one is just around the corner and not quite available yet. Besides, reviewing unreleased stuff can be quite tricky. Impossible some might say.
Now, following my urge to simply instruct you dear reader/minion-thing to immediately hop over to the Dream Machine site and grab it -for it is a great game indeed- would be way easier, but something tells me this wouldn’t be much of a review then.
the dream machine

Anyway, let us now focus on the picture posted above. How could we describe it? Well, beautiful I suppose. Unique might come in handy too. And stylish. Yes, yes, deeply atmospheric also. Slightly ominous is another one. Definitely nice. Then again the word we are indeed looking for here ishandcrafted. Yes, as in properly, physically, manually crafted using traditional non-digital components. Everything you’ll see in the game -every backdrop, every character, every animation- was actually created by hand and photographed. This dear friend is 3D, but not of the 3D Studiokind:

the dream machine

Stunning visuals aside, the Dream Machine is an impressively good and rather traditional indie game of the point-and-click sort, that is less traditionally played via a browser and somehow manages to save your process in a cloud; or was that clouds? I frankly wouldn’t know. Steam also sports some sort of a cloud they tell me, but I’m pretty sure I was once taught clouds are made of steam and, well, did I mention it’s a great game? It is. And it’s got a great and appropriate soundtrack to go with it too.

The puzzles, though relatively easy, are varied, excellently integrated in the plot and -importantly- never feel out of place or immersion-breaking. In the surreal and perfectly paced story of the game, after all, oddness feels integral. Besides, and without wanting to spoil anything from the plot which slowly progress from helping a likeable young couple find its way around a new apartment to discovering some rather disturbing truths, I really wouldn’t care much for another vaguely disguised take on Tolkien and/or Stoker, let alone another half-baked adventure pathetically apeing genre classics. This actually is a truly original game that manages its characters, storytelling and twists way better than your average Hollywood movie.

Oh, and The Dream Machine is also one of those rare few game that constantly evoke the sense of wonder and excitement the games of yore used to. One simply can’t expect the wonderfully wonderful wonders awaiting around the next corner and I can’t help but feel this is what games were supposed to be all about.
Verdict: A wonderful, smart, visually stunning, polished and downright brilliant adventure game.Buy it. Now.

The Syberia Collection

Syberia-Collection

The Syberia Collection

With the advent and admitted affordability of downloadable games one can easily forget just how lovely a properly packaged offering can actually feel. Yes, even by today’s meager standards, the physicality of a box, a modest manual, a sleeve and an actual DVD can be rather satisfying. Especially when sporting a most affordable price tag, which, oh so conveniently, happens to be the case of the Syberia Collection.
Syberia-Collection
Said collection of the almost classic and definitely well known SyberiaSyberia II and Amerzone adventures, you see, is much cheaper to grab in a DVD-case than its online/download only equivalents, which does indeed confuse my vaguely economological mind, but definitely sounds great. Being thus confused and all, I do also believe the thing should have been called The Benoit Sokal Collection, as Amerzone most emphatically is not a Syberia game.
Syberia-Collection
Now, as most adventurers know, all three games are fine point-and-click specimens that managed to make an impression during the darkest period of the genre and are still absolutely worth playing and owning. Especially if one is into this sort of thing (i.e. considers oneself an adventure gamer), as all three have been designed with the traditonal point-and-click gamer in mind. The re-mastered versions included in the collection seem pretty much identical to the original ones, though I must admit I haven’t played those since their respective releases and can’t be absolutely sure whether minor enhancements have been included or not. What does matter though is that everything runs lovely and glitch-free under both Windows 7 and Vista, meaning that these are indeed the versions to own.
Syberia-Collection
As for the misguided souls that haven’t tried any of the games on offer yet, let me just say they all feature excellent art -Mr. Sokal is after all a most talented comic artist- classic gameplay mechanics, great soundtracks, mostly easy but well-integrated puzzles, traditional interfaces, brilliant settings and pretty decent plots. The two Syberias in particular are played from a third person perspective and take place in a whimsical clockwork-operated world, whereas the first-person Amerzone is set in a fantastical version of a thinly disguised Amazon rainforest.
Syberia-Collection
What’s more and judging by the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed replaying all three of the games on offer, I must admit they have all aged gracefully. Might even have to accept the fact they are, despite their flaws, great adventures I would probably had appreciated more weren’t I comparing them to Grim Fandango and Gabriel Knight III.

Verdict: A collection of three classic and traditional adventures at an excellent price. Genre lovers shouldn’t miss it.

Roar Rampage

roar rampage

Roar Rampage

Following the excellent blogging style of both freeindiegam.es and OW Videogames I’ll simply urge you to play Roar Rampage. You’ll play as a pixel-art and very green version of Godzilla in a brilliant, physics-based, side-scrolling take on the Rampage! formula. Expect to be entertained.

The Button Affair

The Button Affair
Do you remember The Cat That Got The Milk and what it did with/to Kandinsky? Excellent! The Button Affair has absolutely nothing to do with it, apart from the fact that it’s vaguely in the same wide genre of action games, looks absolutely stunning itself and is the work of the very same, very talented developers. As a further way to differentiate itself from its predecessor it even sports a plot that goes a bit like this:
The Button Affair is the story of Enzo Gabriel. His quest. To steal the priceless Button Jewel from the infinitely wealthy business tycoon Victor Meirelles.
Yes, that definitely does sounds like something taken straight from a ’70s action movie and is perfectly complemented by the game’s beautifully stylized visuals that can’t help but remind me of the elegant aesthetics of Another World. Just have a look at this trailer and you’ll see for yourself dearest reader:

Oh, and if you simply have to know, The Button Affair is one of those fashionable runners that seem to be cropping up everywhere. Only not boring. And actually enjoyable. And very well done too. Also, innovative. Helps charity too and will happily run on both Mac and Windows PCs.

More Excellent Freeware Games

Ah, yes, freeware games. How we all love them, don’t we? Even more so when they are of the indie persuasion, brimming with quality, polish and innovation. You know, just like the following seven offerings that have been hand-picked for you quality gaming entertainment. There’s something for everyone mind; enjoy!

Warthogs

Warthogs: People that not necessarily hate but, well, dislike Harry Potter and love adventure games should probably love this little gem. It’s a short, sweet, beautifully pixelated, impressively crafted and occasionally sarcastic AGS offering. Interestingly, Warthogs is a also a very good adventure game too, and one discovered by the ever brilliant Indie Games Blog.

Reprisal

Reprisal: Only a demo one has to admit, but such a promising one (one has to also admit). Oh, and everybody will have to further admit that Reprisal is an incredibly intriguing take on Populous, which itself hasn’t been properly remade for ages. Not that I’m talking about a remake; what we have here is more of something inspired by Populous. Obviously something that let’s you raise mountains and destroy virtual lives too.

Ultima IV

Ultima IV: A gog.com freebie that will let you enjoy (relatively speaking that is) the Quest of the Avatar on modern PCs complete with a PDF assortment of manuals, maps and spellbooks. Just don’t expect to be overly thrilled. This is an archaic and badly aged roleplaying offering with an infuriating morals mechanic and a demented parser; still, it’s somehow considered a classic so there.

Forget Me Not

Forget Me Not: You could of course pay and grab this psychedelic Pac-Man-esque thing for youriDevice (should you own one), but the free PC version is just so much better. And rather unique too, as you get to blast an impressive menagerie of vaguely recognizable baddies. Excellent fun for the extended family this one! Besides, grandpa would never get to manage them touch-screen controls.

Cryptozookeeper

Cryptozookeeper: A huge, polished, well-written and lavishly illustrated piece of interactive fiction I have yet to finish. Should you enjoy its weird animals, tons of characters, lovely soundtrack, odd visuals and splatterpunk-iness, you’d be better off grabbing the boxed version available. You’d also be helping the rise of a new era of text adventures, which would be really nice.

Maldita Castilla

Maldita CastillaLocomalito, that amazing indie developer, plays with the Ghosts ‘n’ Goblinsformula. Why? For love, culture and glory of course, and in order to create a pretty brilliant action platformer with a distinct retro feel. The game is short, looks spectacular and sounds like a proper arcade machine. It’s not too hard either.

Hero's Adventure

Hero’s Adventure: Disturbing and over in 30 seconds, that’s what it is, yet I love it. It reminds me of certain teen experiences I might have had. What’s more, Hero’s Adventure is a truly smart and cynical take on top-down CRPGs. And Terry Cavanagh created it. And I love it, but I already said so, didn’t I?

A Valley Without Wind

A Valley Without Wind
Arcen Games, the creators of the amazing AI War, have never been afraid to try radical new ideas and wildly innovate while offering deep gameplay and unique visuals. Their latest offering though, the brilliantly named A Valley Without Wind, does indeed surpass anything they have dared to dream, and even more impressively actually create, so far. Now, the best way to describe AVWWwould be as the spaced-out spawn of MidwinterTerraria and Lords of Midnight after a chemically altered night everyone is trying to forget everything about, but I simply can’t see how anyone besides me would be able to comprehend a description of this sort.
That’s why I’ve wisely come up with an alternate description too: it is a procedurally generated, side-scrolling, 2D arcade adventure, with strong exploration, RPG and strategic elements, that is sort of infinite. Is this better? Does it make sense? Well, I sure hope so, for I have only entered the still-in-BETA world of AVWW for a couple of hours and am incredibly impressed. I’m also pretty certain that it’s only by playing AVWW that one can properly understand and  fully appreciate the thing, but here’s another try:

A Valley Without Wind

Did the picture help at all? Right. Better provide you with the developer’s description then:
Environ has been shattered in the wake of an unknown cataclysm, with only small pockets of humanity left in its wake… What will you do in this strange new world? 
The creators of AI War bring you a procedurally-generated 2D side-scrolling adventure of limitless proportions. Survive and explore a vast persistent world filled with dangerous creatures, powerful magic, and ancient technology. Do so while helping other survivors establish settlements, gathering resources to craft, fending off evil invaders, and more.

Intrigued? Excellent. On to the news bits then, as you too can now have a taste of A Valley Without Wind by downloading a pretty fantastic AVWW demo. What’s more and for a mere $10 (that’s a hefty 50% discount on the launch price, that is) you can also pre-order the game and gain instant access to its current version, which, incidentally, is getting constant updates. As for me, well, I’ll be playing said BETA and will soon let you know all about my slightly more coherent thoughts on AVWWAVWW is available both for Mac and PC. You can purchase the full version for $14.99.

Fracuum

fracuum
Like a psychedelic version of the Atari 2600 Adventure on steroids, Fracuum is a brilliantly designed and utterly mind-bending maze game. It has you navigating a complex and expertly designed labyrinth that feels quite a bit like a zoomable fractal, while avoiding baddies and collecting points and power-ups. Play it and have your mind messed with.

A Thousand Free Games

Okay, one thousand free games would be a tad excessive, but half a dozen ones would be more than appropriate for this most interesting of springs. Besides, I hadn’t done one of those freeware lists for quite some time now and the voices were rather angry; they also insisted on being as eclectic as possible…

 

Vidiot

Vidiot

Vidiot: Described by its creator as Halo meets Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing, this is a truly demented offering and a delightfully weird collection of mini-games. Oh, and it can easily be used do emotionally scar your kids and/or pets.

 

Poacher
Poacher

Poacher: Metroidvania done by wise game critic and accomplished adventure designer Yahtzee and done right. Also, with a healthy does of humour. Also, also, one of the very few games pitting you against rabbits. Fluffy ones too.

 

Unga needs Mumba
UNGA needs MUMBA

UNGA needs MUMBA: Hunt a mammoth! Be a successful stone age hunter! Feel like Unga! Meet Mumba! Love Nonga! Enjoy the excellent graphics and voices! Solve puzzles! Explore caves! Point! Click!

Orbiter 2010

Orbiter 2010

Orbiter 2010: Still haven’t managed to buy Mass Effect 3? Well, I wouldn’t worry. Orbiter is here and it will let you explore space in a much more realistic and cost-effective way. Should probably last longer too, as this is a proper simulation.

Masters of Constantinople

Masters of Constantinople

Masters of Constantinople: Text away in a tale of intrigue, mystery and Byzantine betrayals while the Empire crumbles and knowledge has to be preserved. It’s a very interesting choose-your-own-adventure affair with more than a few meaningful choices.

 

[vimeo width=”560″ height=”420″]http://vimeo.com/36934912[/vimeo]
Epic Sax Game

Epic Sax Game

Epic Sax Game: Because it almost sounds rude and is the most brutally hard rhythm game I’ve ever encountered. Still, persevere and you’ll be rewarded.

Egress: The Test of STS-417

Egress - The Test of STS-417
I really do love freeware (and not-so-freeware), indie, AGS-crafted adventures. I enjoy their imaginative takes on the genre, their unexpected themes, their wild puzzles, their sheer variety and their pixel art visuals that so nostalgically remind me of my gaming youth. It’s only rarely though that I’m blown-away by their (relatively, to be precise) high-res graphics and lavish animated intros, and the newly released Egress has a pretty stunning opening cinematic. It sports some lovely, hand drawn, frame-by-frame 2D animation, and though short, it’s even more impressively accompanied by a few ending sequences, to go along with the game’s multiple endings.
 Egress - The Test of STS-417
Eye candy aside, and there’s quite a bit of it as Egress is very good looking first-person adventure indeed, this short sci-fi offering is a also a good and atmospheric game. Set in the outer reaches of space, it follows you, the commander of a two man recon team attacked by a weird black blob, as you explore a mysterious planet, search for you partner (his screaming is rather annoying apparently), try to figure out what’s going on and, quite obviously, save yourself. All this with the help of a pretty standard interface and against some mostly easy but definitely enjoyable puzzles.
You can download Egress either from its very own, lovingly crafted site over at Krams Design(where you can also show your appreciation by donating and getting some excellent wallpapers as a reward) or via the AGS forums. The game is of course happily freeware.

At A Distance

at a distance
Terry Cavanagh is a brilliant game designer, an inspired artists and -from what my dark sources tell me- a very good person too. Following the release and well-deserved success of the second best platformer of all time, he has been coming up with some incredibly wild designs while, hopefully, working on a very intriguing CRPG. Anyway, following the release of American Dreamand Hero’s Adventure Terry has finally unleashed the ground-breaking At A Distance. A game that has already confused, frustrated and brilliantly entertained visitors of more than a few gaming exhibitions.
At A Distance - indie game - gameplay screenshot

At A Distance, you see, is a psychedelic two-player puzzle game that’s been designed to be played on two computers running side by side. It is a game sporting unique visuals, an amazing atmosphere, fantastic mechanics and an uncanny ability to feel like a collaborative board game that has somehow made it inside a computer. It is thus an original and very much indie offering in which the right player will be looking at something like this:

At A Distance - indie game - gameplay screenshot
whereas the left player will be admiring this:

At A Distance - indie game - gameplay screenshot

Both players will have to try things out, discuss, think, navigate, jump and come up with puzzle solving ideas all the while looking at each others screens. Intrigued? Good, you should be, for I’m not saying anything else, besides pointing out that though you could tackle the game by yourself, really reader, don’t.

Simply visit the At A Distance site and download the game for free for it has finally been publicly released.

Kinky Island

kinky island - pc game - indie game - gamplay screenshot
Kinky Island is most definitely not a game about alien invasions and will not replace Mass Effect 3. It is, or more accurately will be, an indie point-and-click adventure with a sexy twist. Actually, it will be a game about sex. Just like the original Larry. Or, well, obviously inspired by the Land of the Lounge Lizards but set on the aptly named Kinky Island.
kinky island - pc game - indie game - gamplay screenshot
Basically, Kinky Island will be a game created with the ever-handy and very freeware AGS development tool. It will most obviously be a pretty naughty offering too (rumors speak of -wait for it- full frontal nudity), sporting quite a bit of humor, lovely pixel-art graphics, traditional gameplay, over 30 locations, 20 fully animated characters and some hopefully interesting puzzles.
kinky island - pc game - indie game - gamplay screenshot
Problem is the game was supposed to happen ages ago. Its intriguing, not particularly safe for work and most playable demo has been around since 2006 and can still be downloaded from the AGS forums. But, after that cheeky peek at a smart and properly sexy game and for almost five years nothing much seemed to happen; until, that is, the original team decided to revive, expand, improve, polish and eventually publish the project.
kinky island - pc game - indie game - gamplay screenshot
What’s more and as this new attempt at Kinky Island will be a vastly more ambitious take on the naughty, humorous point-and-click sub-genre, the game will apparently be commercially available. Provided, that is, you too dear reader help it out via its IndieGoGo campaign. You will find there a ton of exciting goodies and all the relevant info you might ever need.

Atom Zombie Smasher

Atom Zombie Smasher
Killing zombies is part of a gamer’s daily routine, which is all fine and apparently dandy, but I simply can’t stomach another undead infested FPS. Bombing thousands of undead along with some unfortunate not-quite-dead-yet citizens, on the other hand, is another matter entirely and as Atom Zombie Smasher emphatically showed me, a most refreshing and enjoyable, if not downright noble, pass-time. Oh, and it’s a novel way to battle stuff too, though you probably know all about it already, what with Atom Zombie Smasher being a part of the biggest and least humble of Humble Indie Bundles so far.
Atom Zombie Smasher
Anyway, as simply reminding you of its existence wouldn’t do anyone any good, let me just point out that in Atom Zombie Smasher you get to evacuate yellow and blue dots (civilians and scientists apparently) while destroying pink dots (those would be the zombies), in what can only be described as an unholy fusion of RTS, action, orbital bombing and tower defense mechanics in one impressively coherent whole.  Add the between levels strategic and slightly reminiscent of RISK portions and you have a deep, satisfyingly difficult and unique game; yes, with zombies. In a nutshell, it is thus an engaging, addictive and downright fun affair that had me using my upgraded artillery throughout more than a few nights.
Atom Zombie Smasher
Admittedly though, dots of varying colors and, after a certain point, bigger dots don’t sound like much when it comes to visuals, but this lovely indie game manages to look good in a way vaguely reminiscent of the original GTA, only with some added pyrotechnics. Besides, it does feature an utterly brilliant soundtrack, that puts much grander productions to shame.
Atom Zombie Smasher
What’s more, the dozens of extra game modes, unlockable, brilliantly illustrated vignettes and a multitude of little touches add a polished feel to Atom Zombie Smasher, which more than makes up for its minor shortcomings. Only a couple of different enemies and a handful of playable units would have made a lesser game feel pretty poor indeed… And the difficulty curve is far from perfect too, which does admittedly make for a more rewarding first, uhm, dozen of hours.

Verdict: Orbital terror at its best and least terrifying. Also, a zombie murder simulator to cheer you up while perfecting those tactical skills.

The Adventures of Willy Beamish

The Adventures of Willy Beamish - PC - gameplay screenshot

The Adventures of Willy Beamish

From all the games I have ever played, there is only one I have firmly associated with Christmas and the whole wintery festive period (I sadly don’t seem to particularly care for this one much anymore, what with me being an apparently empty/logical shell of a gnome and all). Said game is none other than The Adventures of Willy Beamish; a game designed by Jeff Tunnell, developed by Dynamix and published by Sierra back in the too distant sounding 1991. A game I was reading about in every gaming mag of the era, an expensive VGA offering in a big box, and a most excellent Xmas present by my parents.
The Adventures of Willy Beamish - PC - gameplay screenshot
I distinctly remember being incredibly excited about it, yet somehow carefully opening its box to discover a ton of 5.25″ disks, one of the best manuals ever designed, a Sierra catalog, some feelies of sorts and those amazing, colourful Willy Beamish stickers that ended up on my room’s door. I also remember waiting impatiently for what felt like ages for the game to install itself on my 40MB hard-drive and playing it for hours to the sounds of an old Platters LP. Hmm, this must be why I also associate this kind of music with the holiday season and, apparently, why I was listening to 50s music while photographing my dearest of all game boxes:
The Adventures of Willy Beamish - PC - gameplay screenshot
Interestingly though, I have never played the game since finally beating it later in 1992, admittedly with the help of a learned, yet younger, friend who I am sure must have gotten his hands on some sort of rare at the times walkthrough. But, why haven’t I played it again after all those years, then? Why have I abstained from its many charms? Well, truth is, I somehow feel I might just spoil its memory and have decided to only periodically re-read the manual. Besides, I do actually remember Willy Beamish pretty vividly.
 The Adventures of Willy Beamish - PC - gameplay screenshot
I remember its fantastic Dragon’s Lair-esque graphics; they were the first of their sort in a point-and-click adventure. I remember the stunning animations and (low-res, I’m afraid) cartoon quality cut-scenes. I remember the way it showcased the capabilities of my very first PC soundcard. I remember how the story of a nine year old boy trying to competitively play video games while avoiding parental troubles and getting the girl, somehow turned into a ghost infested attempt at foiling an evil corporation. I remember getting sent off to military school and dying a dozen lushly animated deaths. I remember cajoling my in-game parents and entering my frog into competitions. I remember exploring the sanitised darkness of 90s American suburbia and being both shocked and delighted. I remember enjoying the subtle humour. I remember getting hopelessly stuck, but, above all, I warmly remember loving it.
The Adventures of Willy Beamish - PC - gameplay screenshot
I also remember things I didn’t quite notice back then. I remember that Willy Beamish sported an incredibly simple (or elegant if you prefer) interface, one of the first ones to feature a smart cursor, yet remaining incredibly difficult. I remember the dead ends and pointlessly punishing arcade sequences too. And the fact that the trouble-meter was a very smart way of letting players know whether they were on the right track.

Then again, that’s enough with my memories. Anyone else care to reminiscent on the festive joys of gaming? Well, that’s what comments are for I suppose.

Fate of the World: Tipping Point

Fate of the World - Tipping Point - indie - pc gameplay screenshot
Fate of the World: Tipping Point is a unique, deeply political, scientific and thus truly rare beast. It also is an indie game that plays a lot like a card game and is tasking you, the player, with saving the world. Well, humanity to be precise, as I’m pretty sure that the world will do just fine without us. Shockingly though, saving humanity does not involve fighting aliens with ridiculously sized guns or destroying hordes of zombies while exposing nefarious conspiracies. No. This time around it involves tackling real societal problems and their environmental and political consequences in a frighteningly realistic manner.
Fate of the World - Tipping Point - indie - pc gameplay screenshot
Fate of the World is after all based on the scientific and political theories of Prof. Myles Allen, and does an incredible job in transforming an apparently complex set of ideas into a game; not that I’m aware of the good professor’s theory mind, but I’ve apparently been exposed to quite a few similar ones. The EU’s official environmental policies do, for example, spring to mind: environmentalism mixed with moderate free market doctrines and capitalist developmental ideas…
Fate of the World - Tipping Point - indie - pc gameplay screenshot

Problem is that such a profoundly political game cannot simply be judged as a mere piece of entertainment software. It should and will have to face political and scientific criticism and -happily- what with me being a geographer, there are a ton of things I disagree with. Now, I could tire both you and myself by providing an extensive critique, but I will simply stick to my key problems: a) the game seems to ignore the political importance of the masses, b) it considers capitalism as a natural and unchangeable socioeconomic reality, c) it fails to see such facts as the strong relationship of services and production and d) it is incredibly deterministic.

Fate of the World - Tipping Point - indie - pc gameplay screenshot
Now, this doesn’t mean that the game isn’t good or that it doesn’t base itself on a sound scientific base. It’s just that I couldn’t help but notice a few things I strongly disagree with and mainly that generally irritating bourgeois, supposedly technocratic school of thought. It does make quite a few decent and generally accepted points though and I can’t help but admit that some of the game’s ideological problems might be attributed to the fact that turning a theory into something enjoyable, let alone playable, is very difficult indeed. But I really don’t want to sound negative. Really. Fate of the World: Tipping Point is a great, deviously educational, rich and incredibly thought-provoking game.
Fate of the World - Tipping Point - indie - pc gameplay screenshot
I am, after all, most impressed with what Fate of the World actually achieves. It’s an astoundingly simple to play strategy game that manages to be both deep and educational. Let me give you an example of play: you have to make sure that the living standards of Africa rise, while its carbon emissions fall; you thus buy agents for northern and southern Africa (each agent allows one card to be played in the region he/she is stationed); you buy and play an equal number of cards to your agents (cards are usually certain policies); you click the end turn button and hope for the best. Sadly Africa gets destroyed. Well, the first few times you tackle its problems at least.
Fate of the World - Tipping Point - indie - pc gameplay screenshot
Playing, you see, is easy and the mechanics straightforward. Understanding the consequences of your choices is another matter entirely and this is what makes the game such a brilliant offering. You could help industry, but damage the environment and them wages. You could go for supposedly eco-friendly fuel and somehow kill off the panda. You could educate people only to have them revolt (which does make a lot of sense) and so on and so forth. What’s more you have a ton of scenarios and cards to play around with and a multitude of connections to discover.
Fate of the World - Tipping Point - indie - pc gameplay screenshot
Oh, and if you already own the original Fate of the World, you should really upgrade it to Tipping Point. It features some apparently important updates and fixes, and two whole DLC packs. You can get the game and the upgrade pack right here.

Verdict: Despite some political shortcoming only a few will notice, this is an excellent strategy game, that can indeed educate on certain environmental truths. Definitely worth your time.

The Book of Unwritten Tales

The Book of Unwritten Tales - pc game - gameplay screenshot
It’s been quite some time since I last played an adventure game that took me over 15 hours to finish, and, admittedly, that was an (apparently undisclosed) offering released over 10 years ago. Seems that expansive point and clickers are so passé these days… Shockingly and quite unexpectedly then, The Book of Unwritten Tales entertained me for quite a bit more than that, while remaining a brand new game. A rare kind of brand new adventure game actually: the epic kind!
The Book of Unwritten Tales - pc game - gameplay screenshot -
Then again, everything epic isn’t by definition a great idea. Epic can easily turn into dull, though that definitely is not the case with The Book of Unwritten Tales. I already mentioned it entertained me, didn’t I? It is after all such a varied, engaging, wisely paced and well-crafted game that it never feels padded, tedious or boring and will, as soon as you finish it, leave a big gaping, err, gap in your psyche in a way only, well, epic, fantasy novels and a rare few games manage. Thankfully, said gap is easy to heal, but you get the point.
The Book of Unwritten Tales - pc game - gameplay screenshot
 We are not talking Tolkien, Martin and Moorcock here, we are talking Terry Pratchett. We are talking light-hearted fantasy with more than a few humorous touches, that is neither satire nor farce. The Book of Unwritten Tales, you see, is set in a more or less proper fantasy world. There are mages, there are trolls, there are gnomes (yay!), there are knights and castles, there are undead, there are hidden artifacts, there are heroes, there are elves, there are dragons and there’s a battle between good and evil going on. On the other hand, everything feels like it’s taking place in some sort of tongue-in-cheek version of a standard MMORPG setting. The gnomes’ machines never seem to properly work, the orcs are organizing battles in order to support their weapons industry, mystical rings are trusted to little creatures, dragons get fearsome with the help of manuals and Death himself is despairing over the genre’s lack of dead bodies.
The Book of Unwritten Tales - pc game - gameplay screenshot - 1
Intrigued? Well, you really should be, as King Art (the game’s developers) have nailed both the setting and the writing. Even better, they have nailed the humour and have created an atmosphere not wholly dissimilar to the one prevalent in Monkey Island 2The Book of Unwritten Tales (hence BoUT; sorry, can’t be bothered otherwise) can be both (moderately) dark and hilariously funny. And that scene with the forgotten mummy has easily squeezed itself into my funniest gaming moments ever; it’s that good, it is, but not as funny as a certain later segment in the game where a gibberish-talking yet oddly playable character tries to provide with descriptions using only noises and gestures.
The Book of Unwritten Tales - pc game - gameplay screenshot
BoUT, as you may have already guessed, does provide with more than one playable characters; it provides with four. There’s a young gnome that craves for magic, a slightly under-dressed elf, a Han Solo inspired rogue and his blobby sidekick. Each one has different abilities and is utilized for solving different kinds of puzzles.
The Book of Unwritten Tales - pc game - gameplay screenshot
Speaking of puzzles, they are generally easy, brilliantly integrated in the plot and quite varied, as they do let gamers mix potions, talk their way out of situations, combine items, solve mechanical problems and even navigate maps based on vague and ancient writings. Admittedly a few of them (only a couple I believe) are not particularly well designed, but I do suppose that coming up with dozens of puzzles and expecting each and every one to be brilliant is simply impossible. Even Gabriel Knight 3 and Grim Fandango had their moments of pointless frustration…
The Book of Unwritten Tales - pc game - gameplay screenshot - 1
Then again, for every minor flaw one might discover, there’s at least one beautiful (and very dynamic) background, one brilliantly voiced character, one original puzzle or, at least, one smart joke to set things right. BoUT is, tiny problems aside, destined to become classic.
[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kpv9L64PsdU[/youtube]
Verdict: A fantastic, stunning, humorous, fantasy adventure for people that can appreciate humour. Grab it now (here) or -at the very least- try its demo.

Metal Dead

Metal Dead - indie games - gameplay screenshot
Even though one of the loudest clubs of my youth is no more, metal music is far from dead. Just like the demise of Sierra and the sad Star Wars-fueled downward spiral of Lucasarts never really spelled the end of the adventure game as a popular genre and a quality alternative to the mindless, militaristic shooting of things, heavy metal is still happily around. And no, I’m neither talking about that Kickstarter thing nor about Brutal Legend. I’m talking about Metal Dead.
My dear reader shouldn’t be surprised to find out that Metal Dead (by shiny, new indie developers Walk Thru Walls) is indeed a 2D point-and-click adventure created with AGS. We both, after all, do love a good adventure and Metal Dead is a very good one indeed. And it feels fresh and funny too.
Metal Dead - indie games - gameplay screenshot
Metal Dead is, you see, the closest we’ve come to the brilliance of Maniac Mansion since, well Maniac Mansion. It’s the Shaun of the Dead of adventure gaming. It’s a tongue-in-cheek take on the zombie genre that’s more surreal and smart than an open, and usually clumsy, parody. It’s odd, smart, funny, delightfully weird and capable of taking the tired zombies theme and turning it into something smart and quirky (admittedly with a little help from heavy metal music and the assorted stereotypes).
The game, a very traditional inventory-based and dialog-driven point-and-clicker, manages to masterfully weave the essentially non-violent and slow paced nature of the adventure game around an action-packed and ultra-violent theme, while impressively maintaining the light-hearted and surreal feel of the finest of Lucasarts and Sierra offerings. Happily, the blood-splattered humorous feel is also to be found in the game’s puzzles, which, though generally easy, are logical, well integrated and actually fun.
Metal Dead - indie games - gameplay screenshot
Though pretty short (stopping the zombie apocalypse shouldn’t take more than 5 hours), Metal Dead stays refreshingly silly and engaging throughout and never outstays its welcome, while constantly offering a response for absolutely anything you might think of doing and, of course, something surreal to do. You’ll be talking with the severed zombified head of your best mate (an ingenious hint system), killing zombies, saving doctors, unlocking hilarious achievements and murdering mutated cannabis plants, all the while combining items, engaging in brilliant dialogues and even guessing passwords.
On the audiovisual side of things, well, things are simple but effective. There is no voice-over and only a few tracks of music, but you’ll probably never complain. Imagining the sound of the characters’ voices is something I always enjoyed… Oh, and I do quite love the graphics. Simple, clean, unique and very expressive.
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NCfeBoLnMRs[/youtube]
Verdict: You’ll love the bloody humor. You’ll love the plot. You’ll love the characters. You’ll love the puzzles. You’ll love the price. Buy it.

Thomas Was Alone

Thomas Was Alone - indie gaming - gameplay screenshot
Having already covered the release of Thomas Was Alone over at the IndieGames blog (see? that’s where newsbits go these days) I thought I’d take my time and finish the game before reviewing it for my very own, very cozy place. But first a bit of history.
Thomas Was Alone is a game by Mike Bithell and Mike Bithell is one of the first indie game designers I started writing about sometime six years ago. He was still a student back then, but had already come up with more than a few intriguing ideas and was more than capable of creating beautiful games. Games like Reunion if you remember, which I deeply enjoyed and (hint, hint) would love to see evolved.
Then, things and games happened and Mike went on and crafted a particularly successful flash game named Thomas Was Alone which you can no longer play online. It was an utterly lovely game. A refreshing puzzle-platformer that provided you with rectangle characters and a geometric world, in which said characters could climb and bounce on top of each other in order to solve platformer puzzles.
Thomas Was Alone - indie gaming - gameplay screenshot
Then, even more things happened (mainly glowing press and, apparently, brave choices) and Mike decided that Thomas Was Alone simply had to realize its full potential and become a full-blown, downloadable and thus logically commercial indie game. Following a modest IndieGoGo campaign the game was released and you can (and frankly should) buy it now for Mac and PC over at its very own and most aptly URLed site. There’s even a demo available to help you make the right choice.
History lesson over. Time for a review.
Well, the official description of the game goes a bit like this: a minimalist game about friendship and jumping and floating and bouncing and anti-gravity, which is pretty accurate, but fails to add the words terrific, story-heavy and brilliantly narrated somewhere. A grave marketing mistake surely, as what we are talking about here reader is easily one of the very best platformers ever. A game that has earned its place among classic platformers Manic Miner and VVVVVV; a rare action offering that can proudly sit next to Alphaland (an inspiration perhaps?) and claim it really knows its storytelling.
Thomas Was Alone - indie gaming - gameplay screenshot
The plot and its delivery, you see, are central to Thomas Was Alone, which does force me to namedrop a bit more. Remember that Portal game? Good. Now, do the math and find out what I want to say, by keeping in mind that I easily preferred Thomas‘ take on interactive storytelling.
As for the gameplay itself, things are both straightforward and innovative. You get to control a variety of subtly yet brilliantly animated rectangles, each with its own unique personality, set of abilities, shape and color  and guide them through an excellently designed set of levels that will mainly tax your brain, but also -a bit- your reflexes. What’s really lovely is just how well each rectangle’s defining ability is tied to its character; what’s downright impressive though is that said rectangles are so much more interesting than your average multi-polygonal mainstream hero. They have a soul and that’s coming from a person who simply doesn’t believe such things exist.
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YDaa3Cq6c7M[/youtube]
So, uhm, as I said earlier, buy it will you? Don’t make me go on about how lovely the stylized graphics are or how addictive the game can get. I’m very busy these days, you know, and am pretty confident the less I tell you about it, the more fun you’ll have discovering the many graces of Thomas Was Alone.

Ten Indie Games that Should be on Steam

In its first day Greenlight, the cunning Steam scheme that lets mainstream gamers vote on indie games and saves Valve the trouble of promoting its service, has gathered over 500 submissions. It is of course quite the mess, though a mess that will ensure that only well-known games with built-in communities make it to Steam, thus bringing Valve even more money. Hoorah!
Or, well, not.
Anyway. I too did spend a few hours navigating the Greenlight entries and here are the 10 games I would like to see make it on the service. They are of course games I was already aware of, but that’s how things work, isn’t it?

The Sea Will Claim Everything

The Sea Will Claim Everything; it’s the only game that will make you a better person. Also, it looks and sounds wonderful and sports thousands of lovely words that are lovely.

Death Ray Manta

Death Ray Manta; it’s by Rob Fearon and it’s the most psychedelic, colourful, enjoyable and modifiable arena shooter we’ll ever play. Besides, DRM eh?

Dark Scavenger

Dark Scavenger; because everyone should love excellent, verbose adventure/RPG hybrids with a demented sense of humour.

Project Zomboid

Project Zomboid; yes, zombies can still be fun, interesting and actually innovative. Here is where I confess my love for the thing.

Neocolonialism

Neocolonialism; seems to have involved since I first covered it for the IndieGames Blog. BesidesSteam could easily use a couple more political games.

Wyv and Keep

Wyv and Keep; I do love co-op games played on one PC. Even more so when they are weird and pixel-artsy. Mind you, I did preview this particular game some time ago.

Cognition An Erica Reed Thriller

Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller; crafted with a little help from Jane Jensen AND using the power of post-cognition: the most useless sounding super-power of late, that does though make perfect sense from a gameplay point-of-view.

Fibrillation

Fibrillation; from Russia. With horror.

Call of Cthulhu The Wasted Land

Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land; WWI turn-based strategy and Cthulhu. Better yet, Call of Cthulhu of the Chaosium variety. Did review it some time ago.

Octodad Dadliest Catch

Octodad: Dadliest Catch; the trailer, the TRAILER.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=03rP_O2k8XM[/youtube]

And if you feel I haven’t posted enough links, well, here’s another one. It will take you to myGreenlight Collection thingy, which, provided I don’t get bored, will generally include some pretty intriguing games.

Da New Guys: Day of the Jackass

Adventure gaming has covered a staggering variety of themes, plots and characters, has toyed with a multitude of ideas and has come up with some truly wild stories, but has never dabbled with professional wrestling. Well, not until Da New Guys: Day of the Jackass (and admittedly it’s less known prequel) it hadn’t, for the latest Wadjet Eye Game and Icebox Studios release does indeed enter the ring of b-grade professional wrestling (with its eyebrow emphatically raised) and points and clicks its way to gaming victory.
Da New Guys - Day of the Jackass - gameplay screenshot
Now, truth be said, ever since I reached the mature and enlightened age of 10 I’ve discovered that wrestling is simply not for me and moved on. It was far too silly and not funny enough to keep me interested, a fact that makes the achievements of Da New Guys: Day of the Jackass all the more important, as it effortlessly and despite an overburdened schedule kept me glued to the monitor for hours. Also, I laughed.
Being a sequel of sorts to 2004 indie darling Da New GuysDay of the Jackass is a traditional point-and-click adventure sporting some decidedly non-traditional protagonists and a delightfully dry sense of humour. It plays with its plot, distorts its setting and actually comes up with an enjoyable story that serves its gameplay well.  Brain, you see, the worst and most irritating brawler in wrestling has won the title belt and gotten himself promptly kidnapped. It is thus up to his mates, tough-guy Simon and soft-spoken Defender, to rescue him.
This of course is easier said than done, as this game not only looks old fashioned, but actually plays the old fashioned way, meaning that, yes, it is indeed tough. Da New Guys took me hours to beat and, unlike most recent adventures, actually demanded I consulted a walkthrough and even used a pen to note and sketch stuff. It can actually be difficult to the point of frustration and at times overtaxes ones ability for lateral thinking.
Da New Guys - Day of the Jackass - gameplay screenshot
Still, after the first relatively subdued yet difficult act of the game is over, Da New Guys reveals what it’s really made of and that’s a huge variety of taxing, innovative, fresh and fun puzzles. Yes, they are tough, but not all games need to cater to all tastes. What is after all the point of being indie if you are afraid to take a few risks?
As for the game’s graphics, well, they too are a matter of personal taste. They are far too idiosyncratic to please everyone, but they definitely have a certain charm, are very well animated indeed, and do grow on you. Besides, we adventurers do appreciate consistency, depth and production values and Da New Guys is bound to please the hardcore gamer hiding inside you and me reader.
Oh, and it’s got a lovely soundtrack and sports some excellent voices too. The included achievements and unlockable art should also be considered signs of care and affection for a truly unique project.
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AkWir830bGk[/youtube]

Verdict: A great adventure game that successfully and hilariously challenges the hardcore point-and-clicker.

Waves

Waves - Banner
It’s been over a week since the last time I loaded Waves and did thus have all the time one could ask for to calmly look back at the game. Hadn’t I been so wise in my decision to wait before writing this review all I’d be able to come up with would be something along the lines of best game ever, which would frankly be silly. Or at least over the top. Monkey Island 2 hasn’t been bested yet. Neither has Manic Miner.
Waves - Gameplay Screenshot
Besides, I can see clearer now. The destructive addiction is most probably over and I have even stopped dreaming of glowing platonic shapes. I will thus say that Waves is merely the best twin-stick arena shooter I have ever played and, believe it or not, I loved arena shooters ever since I first played Robotron. And have  constantly been reminded of their greatness with a little help from Smash TVGeometry Wars and my favorite single-stick shmups included in the Bundle of Wrong.
Waves, now, was actually good enough when played with the humble mouse and keyboard combo to force me to buy an Xbox (eeerk, I know) controller for my PC; an act bordering on sacrilege while simultaneously trigerring a revelation. Those newfangled console controllers are pretty amazing beasts aparently! And they can make games like Waves even better. They can actually make them brilliant. And elegant exercises in moving, shooting and on-the-fly tactical thinking.
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HxxOdqKvnpA[/youtube]
Having played with Waves for over 30 hours (quite an achievement for a game without a single line of plot) I have come to deeply appreciate what Squid in a Box and the ever talented Rob Fearon have managed to pull off. Waves is a beautiful and expertly designed game, sporting excellent controls, intricate yet easy to grasp scoring mechanics, psychedelic graphics, smart smart-bombs, a ton of impressively varied game modes, a brilliant soundtrack and some lovely touches of anarchic humour. It’s even got achievements that will force you to play it in truly imaginative ways.
Oh, and as beating a friend’s high-score can be too enjoyable to be considered healthy, please do join me in having some Waves fun on Steam. You must have by now understood what a fantastic indie offering it really is.

Verdict: A gloriously addictive psychedelic drug without any side-effects whatsoever. It will though give you neon nightmares. Grab it and let it grab you back.

J.U.L.I.A.

 [youtube id=”ETqeakFb6bI” width=”633″ height=”356″]

J.U.L.I.A.

I am so glad I decided to not provide you with review scores reader dear; so absolutely delighted. Summing up J.U.L.I.A. in a simple score would have been utterly impossible. Even deciding on what I really thought about it turned out to be pretty taxing. Better though to start at the beginning.
J.U.L.I.A. is a science-fiction game, casting you as Rachel Mannors, the sole survivor of a space expedition gone spectacularly wrong. Rachel, an awkwardly 3D modeled yet decently voiced character,  is woken up from cryo-sleep by J.U.L.I.A., the spaceship’s AI, only to discover she’s all alone in a malfunctioning ship light-years away from Earth and apparently stranded in a solar system with dully named planets. What’s more, something has gone spectacularly wrong on said planets. Something that eventually led to the death of the rest of the crew and the endangerment of alien life.
gameplay screenshot
Truth be said, J.U.L.I.A., and that’s the last time I bother with these fullstops, has a very interesting, if slightly melodramatic, plot. A proper science fiction story to be precise, that isn’t afraid to touch upon important matters and never fails to be atmospheric. What’s more, JULIA is one of those very rare games you can’t simply describe with a screenshot and a genre categorization. You’ll have to go on and play it (its demo at the very least) in order to fully understand its gameplay; you know, just like back in the old days, when reading a review and looking at some pics in a magazine simply left you bewildered…
At its core though the game can be described as a choose-your-own-adventure styled piece of interactive fiction with an interesting graphical GUI and a ton of mini-games thrown in. Needless to say, the text adventure-y parts of the game are by far the best. They are well written, brilliantly supported by the graphics and cut-scenes and -especially towards the end- by a fantastic map system. The problem though is that these section are pretty short and essentially without any challenge to speak of.
gameplay screenshot
Most of the challenge is to be found in the aforementioned mini-games and, sadly, this is where JULIA‘s main problem lies. The vast majority of mini-games on offer are ridiculously easy and feel largely unconnected to the game’s setting and the situations at hand. What’s more, the difficult ones are usually both too hard and badly explained, making for a gaming experience that ranges between dull and frustrating.
On the other hand, I am really glad I played JULIA. Despite its shortcomings, it’s a very brave, very ambitious and definitely innovative game with a strong focus on telling a story that’s actually worth sharing. I do believe it’s the first step in the right direction; a diamond in the rough, an impressive new way of approaching interactive fiction and an idea that has to be nurtured and supported, if only to give the devs a chance at perfecting their formula.

Verdict: A flawed but unique gem.

Waveform

waveform banner
Waveform, the soothing indie game I previewed some time ago, is an elegant and incredibly simple to play offering that has just been released for the PC (with a little help from Steam), though I’m pretty sure it would make a killing over at them touch-based mobile devices. Now, don’t take this wrong reader; I don’t consider Waveform simplistic or shallow – far from it. I’m just pretty confident its unique game mechanics would greatly benefit from touch controls.
Anyway. On to the game proper. Waveform has you using the mouse to control the wavelength and amplitude of a light wave that looks and behaves suspiciously close to a sine wave. Moving your mouse cursor right or left will modify the former and up or down the latter, thus hopefully plotting a route that will help your circular avatar thingy avoid obstacles and grab a ton of points. It’s this simple really or, as some would wisely point out, a triumph of minimalist design.

waveform banner

 

Happily, said simplicity doesn’t mean that the game is boring. It means instead that this is one traditionally easy to learn yet hard to master offering. Also one that actually affords gradually building up its complexity with a steady introduction of new gameplay elements, new mechanics, new enemies and new ways to treating them, meaning that you will definitely have something fresh to look forward to every few levels. And there’s over 100 well designed of them.
Not all is perfect though. Especially as things get more hectic the controls can feel a tad unresponsive. Oh, and despite the variety on offer and even them hidden levels, said things can actually get repetitive, especially when you are frantically trying to play through the game for a review… Then again, and in what can only be considered a showcase of spontaneous dialects, it remains both fun and addictive; a bit like Tetris actually. What’s more, Waveform is indeed something one has to definitely try in order to experience an oddly relaxing yet essentially arcade game.
waveform banner

 

As for the game’s graphics, well, they are all spacey and slightly psychedelic and nice, and help that overall feel of a properly polished game. As, of course, does Waveform‘s amazing soundtrack. And the ton of little touches, black hole levels, achievements and extras that the devs have kindly packed in this rather lovely and bravely original game.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o9K85eS0cxY[/youtube]
Verdict: A refreshing and actually successful attempt at a spectacularly innovative arcade game. Definitely worth a try, if only to experience how something truly new feels like.

Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land

Call of cthulhu wasted land
Sometimes the truths of the universe are too shocking for us to accept and some other times cosmic realities simply cannot be understood. Still, I just can’t comprehend why Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land is the only (and thus first) Lovecraftian, turn-based, tactical game I’ve ever encountered; let alone one of the few games to use the trenches of WWI as a dark and desperate setting.
On the other hand, ignorance is bliss and creative people get strange dreams courtesy of the Outer Gods, who have been slumbering and waiting for an ambitious take on X-Com that will actually feature Dark Youngs, undead soldiers, mad mages, hints of Reanimator and the spawn of Cthulhu. Happily, said dreams spawned The Wasted Lands, which, as should have already been made blatantly obvious, is a lovely turn-based, tactical affair with a few RPG touches.

Call of cthulhu wasted land

You get your characters, your action points, your experience points, your oppressive 3D terrains, your campy but delightful plot, your spells, your otherworldly monstrosities, your cultists and your zombified soldiers in one of the most honest (and cheap) strategy games I’ve recently played. What you also get is a truly elegant adaptation of Chaosium‘s Call of Cthulhu rules, the first ever sanity mechanics to actually work in a wargame and a most successful atmosphere.
On the downside, this is a really short game sporting ten or so missions, that will last you for roughly ten hours, and, irritatingly, a game with a few control problems. Apparently, its iOS roots haven’t been ironed out, but trust me when I say that you’ll very soon be used to its, uhm, eccentricities. Oh, and you can only grab it over at the universally unknown Intel AppUp online store, meaning that more middleware will have to be installed on your ever-encumbered PC.
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gU_7aj1bp8g[/youtube]
Still though, hadn’t had this much fun with a turn-based strategy game, since, well, X-Com and that should be all you need to know.
Verdict: Cthulhu would smile and devise new tactics.

Oil’s Well

oil's well - sierra - gameplay screenshot
I thought I’d let you know just what a visually stunning, additively fun and mostly forgotten little gem this 1990 Sierra production is.
oil's well - sierra - gameplay screenshot
Well, it is, and its VGA version for our ageing DOS boxes is most probably the best arcade/puzzler this developer ever came up with, though admittedly they did have to remake its earlier 1983 version.
oil's well - sierra - gameplay screenshot
Oh, and it would be fair to call this one abandonware. Have a play/look.
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-JQS3iWjVA[/youtube]

Independent Adventure Games for the masses

paris
Independent video game developers are like the artisans of yore. They aren’t wage slaves, they don’t exploit anyone else’s work, they are neither masters nor slaves, but creative people who strive for the quality of their product and don’t have to succumb to whatever ridiculous market realities managers can come up with. In short, they are to be supported, fiercely guarded even, as they’re (more or less) involuntary combating dominant modes of consumption and production. Oh, and let’s not forget the fine games the indy/bedroom developers have historically come up with. Games like Another World, Skool Daze, Darwinia, Simon the Sorcerer and countless others that are all the proof you should ever need…

Then again, I simply refuse (i.e. can’t be bothered) to let this post deteriorate into a quasi-political rant with artistic tendencies. We’ll hopefully have time for this at a later date. For now, I think I’ll stick to the news. The indy adventure gaming related news to be precise.

XiiGames

Well, for starters (not that there’s much more on the menu, mind you), xii games of What Linus Bruckman Sees When His Eyes Are Closed, Anna and Spooks fame are working on a brand new adventure game set in a not-so-distant future when a particle physicist’s mysterious and spectacular death sparks a race to find his hidden vault and claim his terrifying new discovery. An indy dream team has already been assemble, but despair not. xii games is still hiring.

Fatman

On to some SOCKO! Entertainment news. Remember them? How about the first commercial AGS adventure ever released, the cunningly named Adventures of Fatman? Ah, lovely, I knew you would (pssst, if not, the game has been released as a freeware memory stimulant; get it here). Well, seems that the seemingly defunct SOCKO! team was just that: seemingly defunct. Behind the scenes they’ve been working on Fatman S.O.S. (Save Our Superheroes) their second game, which they hope to fund by selling a brilliant and particularly deluxe re-release of the original Fatman game. Give ’em a hand.


The Blackwell Convergence

 

blackwell convergence-screenshot

It has come to my deeply shocked attention that despite the recent Gnome’s Lair reviews of both Blackwell Legacy and Blackwell Unbound, there are still gamers, adventure gamers even, that have yet to try a Blackwell game. How very odd. I mean, it’s not everyday a fully indie, retro-styled, well written and impeccably produced adventure gets made, is it? Of course not. And The Blackwell Convergence is the latest in the Blackwell series, which, as you should have already guessed or known, is an indie, retro-styled, well written and impeccably produced series of adventure games, with Convergence being the third installment.

Convergence, just like the Blackwell games before it and -hopefully- the Blackwell games that will follow, is all about getting the restless dead (in their ghostly form) to actually rest. In New York. Interestingly, New York is as much a character as any of the protagonist duo: Rosa the psychic and Joey the 30s ghost.

the blackwell convergence gameplay screenshot

Now, point-and-clickers that have already enjoyed the previous games in the series, will definitely have to also play this installment, as it feels bigger and more lush than ever, while sporting the best graphics in the series yet and a truly fascinating plot. As for the characters animated portraits, well, they make a welcome return, as does the excellent voice-acting and writing. Oh, and it’s got horror bits in it too.

Newcomers to the series -the genre, even- on the other hand will appreciate the built-in tutorial and the fact that no previous Blackwell experience is required to fully enjoy the delights of Convergence. Besides, its puzzles are very simple and generally enjoyable, and the game is relatively short, clocking in at roughly 5 hours.

Verdict: Oh, come on. You must have guessed that. Blackwell Convergence really is a great adventure game.

Versus: Games for the Ages

versus - A Compoetition for the ages
I know you know dear reader, but I simply had to blog this. I do love pretty screenshots, outrageous indie game mechanics and TIG Source competitions you see. Versus, the latest competition of the sort, the one cunningly subtitled Games for the Ages, is all about crafting games that pit at least one human player versus another human player. What’s more all the entries have been uploaded to the compo site and are freely available for you to download, enjoy and -should you feel so inclined- rate.
versus - A Compoetition for the ages
There are 81 wildly innovative (and plain wild) games available to try, including the incredible AGI Combat for the trigger happy adventure gamer, the rather unsettling A Cure for Friendship, the deeply spiritual Jesus vs. Dinosaurs and even the particularly silly Macig – The Gambling. Expect surreal genre mixes, visuals any indie gamer would love and some truly frightening sounds; all in glorious multiplayer!
versus - A Compoetition for the ages
Here are a few screenshots to spice things up:
versus - A Compoetition for the ages

Aquaria

Aquaria screenshot
Not every game can win an IGF Grand Prize (actually only one game per year can, and that’s ..uh.. not many games and definitely not every; yes) and only one game ever managed to grab the 2007 version of said illustrious prize. It was none other than Aquaria and happily this indie masterpiece is available, meaning you too, and yes that does indeed mean you, can grab a fairly priced copy here or download the incredibly hefty demo there.
Aquaria screenshot
Now, before going off downloading and/or wisely buying stuff, before even enjoying the sheer beauty of Aquaria‘s video teaser, better read a bit of the official word:
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G40cXjcz-9c[/youtube]

Aquaria was the winner of the Seumas McNally Grand Prize at the 2007 Independent Games Festival, features over 175 strange and wonderful creatures (including several massive and ancient “bosses”), 8 magical forms with unique abilities, 50 original music tracks, and over 2000 pieces of hand-painted 2d artwork.


You Shall Support An Indie Gaming Artist

jonas art
Between us, oh wise and generous reader, the truth is that Jonas Kyratzes is a truly rare breed of indie game developer and all around artistic type; the kind of breed that simply refuses to sell out or dumb down. And he’s prolific too, having already given us -and by given I do really mean given in the most selfless of freeware ways- seven excellent, incredibly written, beautiful, meaningfully innovative, deeply satisfying and actually unique games, while simultaneously providing us with more than a few (digital) pages of prose and theory, the Wikileaks Stories project and some most intriguing short films. Oh, and he’s even preparing, with the help of his wife Verena and composer Helen Trevillion, a beautiful and promising point-and-click adventure game: The Book of Living Magic. Here a making-of  video to inform you further on said project:

Thing is though, that Jonas, following a series of problems, really needs our help to keep being creative, as, quite obviously, money is still necessary for people to survive and properly indie art isn’t as edible as the mainstream sort. Then again it’s not as common either, but the few that support it have to be themselves supported. So, if you’ve enjoyed You Shall Know The Truth, Phenomenon 32, The Infinite Ocean or any other of Jonas’ creations you should really consider answering his call for help and donating some of your earth money to the cause of quality gaming and proper interactive art. Just click your way over to www.jonas-kyratzes.net and then click on that donate button. Just don’t forget to try some excellent games while you’re there.

Fish Fish Bang Bang

fish fish bang bang - screen

Aha! So, you never expected Rob Fearon would create an arena shooter using only one key… Well, it’s quite understandable really, as nobody (ever) expects Rob to create an arena shooter using only one key. His chief weapon is, after all, surprise. Surprise and an incredible ability to create games that are immensely fun, weird and look as psychedelic as a cartoon version of the Yellow Submarine (a truly odd example admittedly, as the Yellow Submarine was quite a bit a cartoon). Oh, well…

Important thing is Fish Fish Bang Bang is -unexpectedly- almost here and you’ll very soon be able to play its demo and (very soon after that) the complete version in all its indie glory. As for me, I did try the rather impressive early preview build of the thing and can confirm that, yes, this is a single-key arena shooter with surreal melt-o-vision graphics, outrageous sounds, addictive gameplay, unique mechanics and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope. It also is fantastic little game, that can even play itself.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=odHWuUbwZCU[/youtube]

Find out more about Fish Fish Bang Bang by clicking here.

Java Based NES Emulator

nes
This post could have been a rant about Nintendo’s censoring policies of yore, focusing for example on the convenient paradigm of Maniac Mansion (for NES, apparently). Of course, it’s not.It’s a simple, albeit glorified, post about a link. A link to a Java-based NES (or Famicom, accordingly) emulator, wisely code-named Andre’s NES Emulator. Visit it and play such classics as Super Mario Bros., Donkey Kong, Punch Out, Metroid, The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, Mega Man and Castlevania. Each one of them a piece of gaming history. Each one of them quite free and without the need for any downloads.

Oh – it almost slipped my mind – here’s the link. Have fun, but don’t break anything.


Pathologic: The Demo

pathologic

Pathologic

Pathologic is a game with a pretty interesting official site. Then again, it also is a breathtakingly unique game developed in Russia and one best described in this Eurogamer review. As for me and Pathologic, well, I’ve been playing it for quite some time now and the only thing I can compare it to is Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy in the US). Thus, I’m in awe. Quite confused too. Think I might try writing a review or a something on it someday.

You, on the other hand, should better try its hefty demo. Get the roughly 650MB file here.

I Fought the Law, and the Law One

Airwave
Ben304 has done it again, lucky reader. Yes, he has. This incredibly talented crafter of indie adventure games has just released the first part of the apparently episodic Airwave. You can download the first episode, the brilliantly named and Clash-referencing I Fought the Law, and the Law One for free by following this very link.
The game is a pretty traditional point-and-click adventure with a simplified and intuitive interface, the usual spectacular art and animation we have come to expect from Ben, a fully and rather excellently voiced introduction, an amazing soundtrack and the mandatory and always enjoyable puzzles. Interestingly, this first Airwave installment also sports a unique and -dare I say- fantastic plot. The player is cast as Elodie Major, a tiny indie radio station producer, that has managed to inspire the people of a small town called, well, Wave. All is not rosy though and Elodie has to fight powerful mainstream record labels and keep the station pure and loyal to quality music, while discussing the math behind quality metal songs.

Related @ Gnome’s Lair:

King’s Quest III Redux – To Heir Is Human

king's quest iii redux

King’s Quest III Redux

Finally, the time has come for you, oh adventure-loving and most precious reader, to download and enjoy one of the best freeware adventure games ever released, for King’s Quest III Redux has -as was indeed quite elaborately foretold– been released. And though it sadly is the last game the incredibly talented AGD Interactive will release, you uncaring, heartless, game-obsessed bastard will be lucky enough to play through a true gem (and so will the rest of us). Download it right now from this place and don’t forget to thank the people responsible for it.
In case you are still wondering what the fuss is all about, know that King’s Quest III Redux is a PC/Mac remake of the original KQ3: To Heir is Human by Sierra, that adds a beautiful soundtrack, an excellent voice-over, a sleek point-and-click interface, amazing 256-colour VGS graphics and a ton polish to an already great game. And is it really that good? Well, of course it is! Having already played its review build, I can guarantee its quality, but this very post will not be a review. Oh, no. The review will appear within the week, just to give you time to savor the experience. Go on, get downloading. Here are a couple of tasty pics to further excite you…

 

king's quest 3 redux boat
kings quest 3 redux castle

Related @ Gnome’s Lair:

Gemini Rue: A Noir review

[youtube id=”foZp9ToBewA” width=”633″ height=”356″]

Gemini Rue

You should have heard of Gemini Rue by Wadjet Eye Games by now. It is, after all, the indie, AGS-authored, point-and-click adventure that has actually (well, finally) made it to a more mainstream gaming audience, earning glowing reviews left and right. Then again, being of a more indie persuasion, you, precious reader, might remember Boryokudan Rue by  Joshua Nuernberger, the dystopian, neo-noir sci-fi adventure with a thing for both action and mystery that won the 2010 IGF Student Showcase award; well, they are both the same game, though publisher Wadjet Eye have added a full voice-over and helped with polishing things over.
Gemini-Rue
Gemini Rue titleGemini Rue title
The result is a truly impressive game, that, interestingly, has one of the best plots I’ve recently seen. Oh, and lots and lots of beautifully rendered 2D rain. Anyway. The two playable characters of Gemini Rue, Azriel and the aloof Delta-Six, star in a mature adventure that sits somewhere between Blade Runner, Rise of the Dragon and Beneath a Steel Sky. The pace of the realistic sci-fi plot is excellent and the storytelling itself quite remarkable, as Gemini Rue follows Azriel, the rogue police officer with a dark past and Delta-Six, the inmate at the Center 7 facility who has had his memory wiped, in a mostly dark story taking place in a beautifully noir setting.
Azriel’s attempts to locate his brother take him to the dark city of Pittsburg on the unnaturally rainy planet of Barracus, where the Boryokudan, an organization not unlike the mafia, are running things and engaging in a most destructive, yet apparently exotic, drug trade. Delta-Six, on the other hand, spends his days in the aforementioned rehabilitation facility, where he attempts to discover his true allies and his true identity while trying to escape. As you should have guessed, those seemingly disconnected stories collide in the dramatic and definitely climactic final part of the game, that leads to a pretty brilliant finale. Mind you, these are not happy Sierra characters in a fairy-tale land and they most definitely are not people you’d invite over for tea and biscuits.
Gemini-Rue
The game setting, the game world if you prefer, feels both big and interesting. It’s a labour of love that you’ll love to explore, especially if you care for its decidedly retro aesthetic. What’s more, it’s mostly evenly split between the gritty, rainy planet Barracus and the sterile Center 7 facility. A deep visual contrast, that helps highlight the differences between the two playable characters and the situations they are in.
The characters in Gemini Rue, though not all of them extensively developed, are for the most part well-written and believable, with the two leads being by far the best and more elaborately developed. Gemini Rue does after all  focus on them protagonists, and has them face a dark setting, more than a few, uhm, unhappy scenes, betrayal, death, and their dark pasts. This, you see, could also be described as a game about identity; also as a game that treats amnesia as punishment.
The Gemini Rue controls follow, for the most part, a pretty standard point-and-click system, but do sport a few intriguing new mechanics and additions. You, beside fiddling with your traditional inventory, get to shoot stuff in a tactical-arcade manner, control two characters, use a handy phone/digital organizer thing, access terminals and even physically manipulate other characters. The puzzles themselves are mostly easy, yet highly entertaining, very well implemented, and feel perfectly integrated into the plot, and, before everyone starts screaming against the shooting sequences, let me just remind you that combat systems appeared in quite a few Sierra games too. What’s more, the action sequences work, fit nicely into the setting, help change the game’s pace, and are perfect for the sluggish reflexes of the average adventurer.
Gemini-Rue
I did really enjoy playing through said shoot-outs, (almost) as much as I enjoyed playing through the game without a walkthrough and getting only mildly -and, importantly, very briefly- stuck; never in a truly old-fashioned hair-pulling way mind. There’s nothing in there that can’t be solved with a bit more exploration and some thinking, whereas the only part I disliked was a pretty tedious mechanical little puzzle that was both generic and not that well explained. Oh, and this is wisely sized game too -should take you anything from 6 to 8 hours on the first playthrough- without any boring and/or filler parts. The fact that Wadjet Eye have implemented a fantastic in-game commentary makes a second playthrough necessary…
As this review is finally coming to its conclusion, I know I just have to mention the visual retro glory of Gemini Rue with its deeply atmospheric VGA graphics, the impressive character portraits, the weather effects, the tons of top-quality animation, the successful framing of each room, and the lively yet hand-painted backgrounds. The sound consists of some lovely ambient effects, mostly rain apparently, a very impressive -in most cases- voice over, and some atmospheric, subtle and slightly bleak music, that sadly doesn’t play throughout the game. All in all, Gemini Rue is a brilliant mix of old and new on every level, that manages to be entertaining and even (mildly) thought-provoking. If this were released sometime during the nineties it would now be considered a major classic.

Verdict: One of the very best commercial indie adventures I have ever played. It’s beautiful, gripping, seamlessly combines the old with the new and I would thus describe it as an absolute must-buy for adventure gamers of all persuasions. Get it here. Now, please

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Skin & Bones

skinandbones
It’s been a while since I played through the truly enjoyable and immensely colourful demo of the newly released Skin & Bones offering, and, well, I thought I’d let you know. It is, after all and as far as I can judge, a lovely platform/puzzle game with a distinct retro 16-bit feel to it and two playable characters. Definitely one to bring back those memories from the Amiga era, then, though should you try it, you’ll probably notice the obvious Head over Heels influences too. Worth a try.
[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J6CwxcYvc7I[/youtube]