Monthly Archives: February 2016

ICY

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ICY on Steam

MSRP: $12.99

Platforms: Windows, Mac

Release: 7/27/15


 

It’s really hard to tell you why I’m enjoying ICY as much as I am without burying you in spoilers.  The game is almost entirely about the story.  Yes, it’s a survival game, and you need to scavenge for food and fuel (pro-tip: do not let yourself run out of fuel) and medicinal herbs, but in ICY, that’s a means to an end, not the end in and of itself.  This game requires reading, and careful attention, and it’s one of the rare games that I really really want to play with my headphones on.

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There are some light RPG elements; you are given starter points to flesh out your character, and having different skill levels can open up different paths throughout the game. Not having reached the end of the story as of yet, I’m not sure how replayable it will really be, or if I’ll be motivated to try different skill combinations.

The graphics are mostly pretty stills given as backdrop.  ICY will make you read. It will make you read a lot.  Sometimes, you might be reading so intently that you almost forget that you’re playing a game.  I think this was a deliberate choice.  If you don’t think to open up your character panel every now and then, you may forget to spend your experience.  If you don’t go looking for something in your backpack, you may forget to put on some new equipment you picked up. In fact, if you get lost in the story, you might not even notice what you’ve looted.

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Some of the characters you meet in your journeys are absolutely fantastic.  Some really could have done with being a little less cardboard, but I suspect that was also deliberate.  When you’re doing everything you can to survive in a post-apocalyptic wasteland and trying to lead a group of survivors, you don’t really have a whole lot of time for the niceties of playing getting-to-know-you.

Normally, I give myself about an hour to sink into a game before I give an opinion. I got caught up enough in ICY that I played for twice that and hardly noticed the time pass. It’s not often I regret buying a game on sale instead of paying full price, but this is one of those times.

 

Inspector Parker

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Inspector Parker on Shockwave

MSRP: $6.99 (or play free in browser)

Platform: Windows, Browser-based

Release: 2003


I think the biggest problem with casual games is that there are so many that are just variations on the same theme, and some of those themes are pretty well used and abused at this point.  Then there’s the fact that if you have 100 clones of the same game, one must be the best, and therefore the other 99 you could pick up and play are going to be in some way inferior.

Inspector Parker is definitely a casual game, but it’s also a smart one, and although I have stumbled across other similar games, I think that this was the original as far as mechanics are concerned.

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Using the relational cues on the right side of the screen, it’s your job to figure out what people and/or items are in each room in order to help solve the mystery.  Of course, you don’t actually solve the mystery – the whodunit aspect seems to be nearly completely irrelevant to the puzzle.  But the puzzle is fantastic.

If you choose to play through the campaign mode, you will see puzzles first increase in difficulty, and then in complexity several times one the way up.  By the end, the puzzles are super complex, with multiple items per room and with some rooms also lacking one or more items.  At that point, there may be as many as five pages of clues.

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The downloadable game has more levels and options than the browser-based one, so it’s probably best to look at the browser version as a demo.  The other great thing about the download version is that you can right click objects if you are sure they don’t belong in a given room. Since the screen can get quite cluttered, as you can see, this is invaluable.

In addition to the campaign mode, you can also choose any level to play independently. There are two modes – puzzle and timed – and three difficulty levels.  And since clues are always randomized, there is endless replay value here, provided you enjoy the style of play.

And just a hint – timed mode is fairly serious even on medium difficulty.

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Iron Snout

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Iron Snout on Steam

MSRP: Free

Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, Windows Phone

Release: 1/27/16


This little piggy is mad, and he’s not going to take it anymore.  Iron Snout is a fighting game, played using only the arrow keys (at least on the computer; I have no idea how it translates to mobile).  It’s super fast-paced, silly, and gory as all get out. And it’s totally free, so we forgive it’s little flaws.

Like the fact that Steam achievements are completely borked.

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I assure you, I wasn’t good enough to kill 9,001 wolves simultaneously.

There are two main modes, classic and 1 HP.  Start with classic because unsurprisingly, in 1 HP mode, a single hit means game over. And it takes a little bit to get used to knowing when to duck with the down arrow or jump with the up arrow.  Sometimes, you catch weapons, but so far, it seems to be completely a matter of luck – you cannot actually move your pig.

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So far, most games for me are over in just a couple of minutes, making this a perfect quick play game.  Also, do you see the health bars. They’re BACON. Come on now, Iron Snout, you’re killing me.

Download this.  It takes literally seconds to download on any modern connection.

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The Occult Chronicles

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The Occult Chronicles

MSRP: $19.99

Platform: Windows

Release: 8/20/13


The Occult Chronicles has proved to me yet again that no matter how much I pay attention to gaming news & releases, there’s always something amazing that will slip under my radar. Unfortunately, since this game was released, the developer has decided to move away from creating PC games to work on board games instead.  Which is great for people who prefer board games I suppose.

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The Occult Chronicles plays like a cross between Arkham Horror and Elder Sign, two quirky, Lovecraftian board games from the same developer.  Playing on the default “Reaper” difficulty means permadeath – lose all your health or sanity, and your game is over and your save file deleted.

The demo is fairly full-featured, giving you access to even the random mission mode.  You are limited only in number of turns; the demo caps you at 75.  There are many different character creation choices, so unlimited replays, even with the turn limit, gives you adequate chances to experience the nuances of the game and decide for yourself if it’s worth the full retail price.

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Spots on the map containing question marks are areas of interest – they will result in some manner of encounter.  Successfully completing an encounter will earn you chances to improve your character, while failing will cause you to risk sanity, health, courage and even your life. Encounters are resolved via a card game (using Tarot-inspired cards, instead of typical playing card suits).  You earn points towards success by taking tricks and playing face cards.  This whole mechanic is confusing and poorly explained within the game, but well-explained in the downloadable PDF manual.

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The Occult Chronicles was Greenlit on Steam in April 2015, however, given that the developer has moved on from PC games, it is unlikely to ever be available there.  Currently, it can only be purchased from the developer’s website, and continued support for all of Cryptic Comet’s games has been promised. Even still, it’s likely to be a future purchase for me at full price, and that’s really the best endorsement I can give.

That said, I still plan to look into Elder Sign: Omens, which is available both on PC and mobile devices, as I expect the game play will be similar, to see which I prefer.

 

 

Orcs Must Die!

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Orcs Must Die! on Steam

MSRP: $9.99

Platforms: Windows, XBox 360

Release: 10/11/11


It’s too simplistic, I think, to call Orcs Must Die a tower defense game. There are absolutely a whole mess of traps you can build – a familiar spin on the traditional tower construction. At the same time, it’s a first person shooter, but if you were to treat it only as such, you’d be overwhelmed far too quickly.

So let’s start by saying it’s a hybrid game. If you don’t place traps, you will lose.  If you don’t shoot some enemies your damn self, you’re going to lose.

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The concept is simple. Keep all the orcs from reaching the rift at the end of the level.  You are given a set number of slots for weapons, spells and traps, and then limited currency to build your starter defenses.  As the orcs die, your currency will increase, allowing you to place more traps. The crossbow is the default item selected, and I have yet to use anything but that for direct, non-magical attacks.  The sword may come in handy later on, but really, I don’t want to hug the orcs so I’m going to stick with arrows as long as I can.

The orcs come in pretty sizable swarms, and all the traps have some sort of recharge time, so one trap won’t wipe out the wave.  Feel free to shoot the orcs in the head (or somewhere else, I guess) if they make it past your traps.  The first few levels are pretty simple, but it won’t be long before you want more & stronger traps.

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The base game includes 24 levels, split into three acts, and three difficulty levels.  Apprentice, the lowest difficulty level, restricts you to earning no more than 2 skulls per level. This is quite a trade-off for a lower difficulty, because you use the skulls you earn (up to five per level on default “War Mage” difficulty) to upgrade your spells and traps.  And you’re likely going to want to do that as quickly as you can.  The third difficulty only opens after being the campaign on normal.

Having purchased the game through Steam, I also can see the top scores of my Steam friends. As soon as I can figure out exactly what improves your score, there’s that additional motivation to keep playing to beat those scores. There’s a lot of replay value here.

This isn’t the type of game I normally gravitate towards, but it’s definitely fun in small doses, and I have no regrets picking this up as part of the franchise pack that includes all the DLC for the original game, and the sequel with its DLC. It’s on sale for 90% off on Steam through 10am Pacific on Friday, the 26th, and for that price, it’s a total steal.

The Sacrifice

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The Sacrifice

MSRP: Free

Platforms: Windows, Mac

Release: 8/24/15


Before I talk too much about the game, I want to tell you about this cool thing I just found out about.  It’s called Ludum Dare and it’s a regular event that invites people to create a game in just 72 hours on a pre-determined theme. Mind. Blown. The Sacrifice was an entry into LD33; the theme was “You Are the Monster”.

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The game is simple & yet you have to see from the start that it’s unwinnable. There is no end. Survive for as long as you can.  Each season, you need to decide how to utilize the five families – they can forage, build, or evangelize, and each choice affects either food, shelter or happiness. Once you’ve allocated your resources, you click the button on the bottom to end your turn.

And that’s when things get really, really disturbing.

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I was drawn in by the developer’s choice of two-color artwork, and for a game created in a weekend, I’m impressed. It’s not a game that you’ll spend tons of time on, but since it’s available for free, cost per entertainment hour isn’t part of the equation. It will make you uncomfortable, and your discomfort will likely increase the more you play. It’s not a happy game, but for what it is, it’s a damn good one.

The 7th Guest

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The 7th Guest

MSRP: $5.99

Platforms: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android

Release: 4/28/93


When I was a teenager, The 7th Guest was the most impressive video game I’d ever played.  There were puzzles and voice acting and parts of it even looked like a movie. But the years have not been kind and my nostalgia goggles aren’t powerful enough to push me to play it through a second time.

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Now, I really couldn’t tell you if it’s just my PC, the version that I bought from GOG or what, but it looks absolutely horrid.  I’ve seen plenty of screenshots which are at the very least somewhat clearer, but I could not find any options in the game to tweak anything. So trying to play it was a dark, dreary, and frustratingly slow experience.

I think that the slow movement and awkward controls were what was passed for immersion in the early nineties.  However, modern systems can handle far more than this game needs, and some optimization for PC would have been nice (especially since the edition released for Android was cleaned up when touch controls were added). This may be the first time I’ve ever regretted buying a game for my PC instead of my tablet.

If you do decide to do a play through, plan to spend immense amounts of time looking at the skeletal hand of nope – this is not a pixel hunter, and most of the scenery is just that.  In fact, you’re likely to find no more than one or two spots per room that are important.  Mostly, you’ll be wandering around and empty house, and scooping up tiny bits of story between puzzles that range from ridiculously simple to insanely hard.  Any experienced puzzle gamer is going to find very little that’s challenging without being frustrating.

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The story – what I remember of it – is convoluted, and just rewatching the prologue to the game reminded me of just how screwy it was from the get go. A drifter becomes murder becomes toymaker becomes murderer again – maybe – and then builds a big scary house and invites some people for a party and they’re never heard from again? This is like Clue on shrooms, friends.

The 7th Guest was absolutely groundbreaking at the time, and it’s the game I credit with getting me interesting in both horror and adventure games. That alone makes me want to recommend it. But if you have the ability to purchase it on Android rather than the other platforms, there’s a good chance that some of the worst features got edited out.  The story? Well, that’s still going to be a hot mess, but at least it’s an interesting hot mess.

Her Story

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Her Story on Steam

MSRP: $5.99 / $4.99 on iOS

Platforms: Windows, Mac, iOS

Release: 6/24/15


There are a million ways that Her Story is not a game for everyone (and some would argue, not even a game), but it’s one of the most unusual games in recent memory. It is in some ways a puzzle game, in some ways, a narratively experimental interactive novel. It is also absolutely fascinating, if you take the time to really watch, listen, and lose yourself in it.

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You’re given an old school computer interface with a couple of readme files, and a database you can use to search for video clips of a series of police interviews from 1994. The first search term is entered for you – MURDER – and as you watch the clips, you learn more about what’s going on, which should lead you to search for new keywords that you’ve come across.

In many ways, Her Story is a cerebral experience, which makes it all the more irritating that your searches are hindered by the artificial limitation of only allowing you to see the first five clips that come up as results. Some of the clips are ridiculously short – a word or two – which can sometimes feel like they exist only to slow your progress in figuring out what actually happened.

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And even if you manage to watch every clip in the game (there are ways to track your completion as well as percent completion achievements), you still won’t 100% know the truth.  The game’s creator has said he’s not telling.  If you’re not comfortably with ambiguity, you may not be thrilled with the conclusion of the story.

I personally found the game fascinating and somewhat challenging.  The itch to find the missing pieces to confirm what I thought I knew was almost compulsive. I think this is probably a game best played in a single sitting – having to step away and come back to it threw me off. I also recommend doing as little pre-searching as possible; it’s a game you want to come into with no idea what you’re going to see.  There’ll be plenty of time afterwards to search out a YouTube that will show you all the clips in order.

 

24 Hours ‘Til Rescue

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24 Hours ‘Til Rescue on Steam

MSRP: $3.99

Platform: Windows

Release: 2/19/16


Games like this make me think one of two things: (a) that there’s a subset of people out there who like their games to be so challenging that there’s a market for seemingly unwinnable games or (b) there’s some seriously sadistic developers out there.  That said, you can’t say they didn’t warn us.

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In less than 20 minutes, I managed to rack up close to a dozen deaths.  I’d have more in less time, but the game starts you in a safe space with lots to loot, and silly me, I ran through looting every single time. Y’know, just in case I survived long enough to need any of that stuff.

The premise of the game is that the zombie apocalypse happened, and it didn’t waste any time.  Within a few hours of the first case, 95% of the population of the city were either turned or dead.  You play one of the few survivors with the goal of staying alive for 24 hours until rescue comes.

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There are 10 playable characters, with only two unlocked initially.  You are able to unlock other playable characters once you find them in the game world.  You either begin as Sara, who isn’t very fit but is ok in combat, or Mathew, who is overall in okay shape, but has poor combat skills. What a choice.

The game looks like it has the potential to be a lot of fun – there seems to be the ability to craft items from looted pieces, although I can’t imagine how you’d find the time.  Lootable items are represented either by boxes or by sparkles on furniture and walls.  If something looks like it might be a lootable, pressing the space bar will loot if able.

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However, the crafting system isn’t really explained.  When I press space while standing in front of the stove, I am given the option of trying to craft a bunch of snack foods (which I assume are used to restore health), but when trying to craft, I get the message “not enough fuel” which would be fine, but the game doesn’t explain how to add fuel or where to get it.  So I have no choice but to exit the room into the city with pockets full of things like bags of flour and fresh fish, which I don’t believe can be eaten.

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Not that it matters much. As soon as you walk outside, you’re surrounded on all sides. Go back inside, and instead of the empty space you started in, there are zombies everywhere.  They much have snuck by while you were zoning, because there’s only one way in or out, but whatever. I don’t need that much realism from a zombie game, but it still irks.

The controls, at least to me, feel a little wonky.  People who are used to the combination of WASD movement and still using the mouse for some key abilities (y’know, like ATTACK) may fare better, but I also had the problem where I frequently fat fingered the X button which threw me into a menu.  That was a little disorienting, and I could ill afford any kind of distraction.

I expect I could be more patient with the game if the difficulty was entirely a product of design.  But I can’t help feeling like that already formidable difficulty is compounded by the lack of information. Once, I tried to pass a spot that was on fire, and a message popped up about needing a fire extinguisher, I think.  I’m not sure, because in the time it took me to read the first few words, I was eaten by the hungry mob I’d been running from, which means game over.

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I have no idea what a good score is, but I’m guessing it’s not 24. I will likely dabble in this from time to time when I’m feeling like I’ve got a pretty high threshold for frustration, and I don’t regret the $4 I spent to satisfy my curiosity. But it’s certainly not a game that will appeal to everyone.

Plague Inc.

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Plague Inc. on Steam

MSRP: $14.99 (PC / XBox One), $0.99 with in app purchases (mobile platforms)

Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, XBox One, iOS, Android, Windows Phone

Release: 5/26/12


Plague Inc. has been through about as much evolution as the infections in the game – originally designed for iPhone, it was a success out of the gate. It was then ported for other mobile devices, and finally, in 2014, a computer version was released in early access on Steam and for XBox One.  Finally, after more than a year, it officially launched on Steam on February 18th, 2016 with the addition of the co-operative mode.

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The premise is simple – you play as a plague, and your goal is to destroy humanity.  You decide where your plague will begin, and you use DNA point to evolve your plague in order to increase its infectivity, severity, and lethality.  Increase severity too quickly, and the people of the world will be racing to find a cure. Increase lethality to quickly, and you risk all your carriers dying off before the infection spreads to the whole world.  There’s a decent amount of strategy here, with the mutations you select (or don’t select) with your limited DNA points determining how the plague is spread and what symptoms it causes.

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Single player options include a tutorial mode, a fairly lengthy main campaign (where you need to successfully complete a game with a given plague type in order to unlock the next) with four difficulty levels, more than a dozen official scenarios, and the ability to import custom scenarios through the Steam workshop. There is also a “speed run” mode where the goal is to eradicate humanity as quickly as possible.

There are also two multiplayer options – a versus mode where your goal is to infect the world before your opponent, and a cooperative mode where each player controls their own plague, but humanity is stronger than in single player. For those who enjoy competitive or co-operative play, this is reason alone to purchase the computer or console version over one of the mobile options.

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Plague Inc. is a rare game for me, in that I’ve paid for it twice. I purchased it through the Amazon appstore for my Kindle tablet (as well as paying separately for the additional scenarios), and I purchased it again for PC. It’s a surprisingly fun game considering the entire purpose is to kill everyone. It was well-made enough that the Center for Disease control invited the game’s creator to speak on the way that video games can help draw attention to public health issues on a larger scale.

Oh, and you’re going to want to keep a close eye on Greenland. Trust me.