SOMA

I completed this first-person science fiction adventure in a little over 12 hours, and it was magnificent.

After a surprising start mostly in a contemporary apartment, my protagonist self was switched to the 22nd century on PATHOS-II, an oceanic underwater research complex. From then on the game felt like the little brother to Alien: Isolation with a smattering of BioShock mixed in.

This is probably the closest I have ever seen a game be an FPS without actually being an FPS. It had all the elements of a good AAA level FPS – a good story, great details, roaming monsters to avoid, audio logs to be found, and computers to be searched and operated. Sometimes I felt the influence of both Half-Life and Doom 3 as well. And it’s all compliments on my part. I don’t necessarily need to shoot stuff too.

SOMA made me feel at home, back when video games did so much more for me.

The game switched to PATHOS-II after a peculiar time jump explained by the brain data of our protagonist having been recorded and then reused. The game then takes place among several ocean complex buildings that I had to explore, and sometimes walk across the ocean floor to reach the next complex.

Screenshot

After a few eerie encounters with robots believing they’re humans, I found one self-aware exception in the form of Catherine, which I uploaded to a handheld omnitool I was always carrying around. From then on I could sometimes attach the omnitool to a computer panel and she would appear on a monitor, complain a little about the sensation of awakening like this, and then talk to me about what to do next.

The game was pretty much linear, with many doors to open and obstacles to bypass. Sometimes monsters appeared roaming a dark area, and just like in their previous game, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, I then had to stealth around it. Luckily I had chosen the safe difficulty setting so they wouldn’t be able to just kill me over and over. I never once regretted this decision.

The overall goal was to find a vehicle (or an alternative way of transportation) to reach the deep abyss and launch something called the ARK into space using a rocket. Yes, from the bottom of the sea.

Trifles: Click

Going into details. There are spoilers here.

  • Meeting real humans was very rare. The only “real” encounter was in the beginning, back in our time, where a guy in a blue shirt instructed me to take a seat.
  • Just as in Amnesia, I had to click and hold things like doors and drawers then move the mouse to open them. It quickly felt so natural that I was wondering why this wasn’t more common in video games.
  • Sure were a lot of chairs in my way when approaching desks that I had to move away. I get why they had to be there, though. I guess it couldn’t have been any different.
  • Sometimes windows had to smashed through, and only a fire extinguisher could be used for this.
  • Lots of audio logs. Sometimes by “sensing” past dialog when clicking corpses or on wall recorders. At other times there were audio logs on the computer, or an old fashioned tape recorder in a drawer.
  • In the beginning of the game I sometimes had problems understanding when I could jump and crouch versus clicking the edge of something that the protagonist would then climb.
  • Most of the ocean floor sequences were pretty much walking simulator territory. Sometimes a cute spheroid-type robot would tag along and open a door by welding it. It reminded me of ABZÛ.
  • Tables or desks in the more “important” rooms typically had a few photos or documents I could zoom up and rotate with the mouse. Almost all of them were only to satisfy the player’s curiosity.
  • Being exposed to the water of the ocean was a surreal experience at first. I was wondering why I suddenly had some sort of diving suit on. It later turned out I was kind of a cyborg, but still.
  • Health rechargers sometimes occurred as organic sphincters that I had to put a hand into. I did that after e.g. a drop, but I’m not sure if it was ever necessary because of the safe difficulty setting.
  • Did those surveys really matter or were they just a waste of time?
  • In the flooded vessel complex I had a hard time bypassing a monster type with light dots scattered on his face. I decided “starface” would be a lovingly fitting name.
  • Sometimes the game made me feel bad by turning off life support to a “human” connected up with fungus and electronics. At one point I even had to use a stun baton to zap a robot and get its chip.
  • I liked the puzzle where I had to turn an antenna to match up lines on a radar panel in order to call a zeppelin. The rail track area itself was a bit confusing at first, though.
  • Searching Catherine’s room (while she could comment on it from a computer panel in another room) brought a smile to my face. I bet she was secretly furious about it.
  • The first attempt at entering the abyss was by using a vehicle called the DUNBAT, but when we finally found it, it had merged with human intelligence and agonizingly destroyed itself. Think Robocop.
  • There was a cute part where we had to put the chip of a human consciousness into a computer, then also simulate his surroundings and his girlfriend. He wouldn’t calm down and give us info until then.
  • That computer where modules had to be toggled and rebuilt really had me confuzzled at first. In hindsight I don’t even think it was a bad puzzle. Just… so very unexpected.
  • In a maze of rooms, a “humpback” monster was roaming around. A computer could lock doors and I tried for a long time to lure it into a room. However, I think it was cheating with teleportation.
  • In the meantime, I was stuck for too long in that maze because of not understanding how to plug a chip into a door panel. For some reason I didn’t catch at first that it had to sit behind two small levers.
  • There was as a part in the game with a bit too many blind monsters around for my liking. I was afraid the rest of the game would then be like this, but luckily the developers backed out of it.
  • Nice touch with those spheroid ocean floor cages.
  • After collecting three important components, I had to sit in a chair and transfer my consciousness to a deep dive suit. This let to a duality problem with great philosophical implications. I loved that part.
  • After a long elevator ride into the abyss, I had to follow blue lights in a “storm” of rivers featuring a big fish monster. When I finally got inside, the hero said, “Never been happier to be inside.” So very true.
  • In the abyss complex, I met a roaming “oil human” that just followed me around in a creepy manner. I also found the very last human, a woman tied to a machine that I turned off. She asked me to do it.
  • I found the ARK container and sent it away on a monorail. I tried to follow it but the corridor was blocked. I was stuck here for way too long before I found a small opening to a cave.
  • This led to an organic “heart” where “starface” wanted me to put a hand into it and kill it. It’s was not even a boss fight, but it did eat my mechanical hand. Then “starface” got eaten by the fish monster.
  • Another nice touch was how I climbed ladders with only one good hand. Lots of rung hugging.
  • I sat in a chair, moved the ARK into a rocket tube, then launched it into space while transferring our consciousnesses to it. I think it was meant to gain speed through a tube all the way up to the surface.
  • Then came another duality situation I probably should have anticipated coming. We were still left behind while our second selves were in the ARK too. Our hero was absolutely not happy. Bad ending.
  • After the surprisingly short credits, a good ending had me in control of my ARK counterpart walking out of a cave and into grassy surroundings with birds singing – then finally meeting Catherine.

I had problems switching to a lower resolution. The game took up part of the screen with the desktop still being visible in the rest of it. I had to override a high DPI scaling in the compatibility settings to fix this.

TitleLengthDatesDiff / ChtSaveScore
SOMA
2015 Frictional Games

12.3h

5

2019-02-12
2019-02-18
9

To see a page with all the PC games I have played – along with an explanation of the abbreviations – click here.

Into The Gloom

It took me a shade under 1½ hours to reach the first ending of this one.

It was a first person horror adventure game with exploration and puzzles. As you can see in the screenshot, the graphics were very lo-res and sparse, but to make up for that it was incredibly atmospheric. The scary ambient background sounds and the dark corridors did a splendid job at that.

Another positive surprise was that jump scares were actually very minimal. The developer relied mostly on the atmosphere and the puzzles, which was a sensible choice. However, not all was awesome. Too much time was spent checking locked doors ad infinitum. A visual hint there would have been nice.

Apart from exploring and finding tablets with info, or keys and cards to open locked doors, there were a few puzzles too. A safe in the beginning had a 3×3 slider puzzle I had to solve using a riddle. The inventory could even combine two items, which actually felt a bit much for such a simple looking game.

Screenshot

A surprisingly exhaustive puzzle, the one that took up most of the playing time, was flipping tiles on a wall table using buttons to change the layout of a maze. Connecting the corridors to go from top to bottom was only part of this puzzle. I had to connect to obscure dead ends too in order to find an item I needed elsewhere. Good thing a tip on another wall mentioned this, or I would have been stuck.

I guess the developer knew it was a bit of a stretch and needed a solid hint.

I finally left the hospital and entered the second floor of an apartment complex where I had to get an elevator going. This led to a basement parking where I was handed both my ass and a bad ending – the first of five. The title screen had an overview of the five endings available, showing that I had unlocked one.

Had this been 15-20 years ago, I would have been all over getting all endings. Luckily I’m a bit more casual about this today. Besides, there’s still a lot of other games in my Steam backlog to check out.

TitleLengthDatesDiff / ChtSaveScore
Into The Gloom
2015 earrgames1h 26m 1
2019-02-11
2019-02-11
8

To see a page with all the PC games I have played – along with an explanation of the abbreviations – click here.

Lucy -The Eternity She Wished For-

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Completed this visual novel in three sittings and about 4-5 hours, including a small extra story.

Apart from a brief experience with a Phoenix Wright attorney game some years ago, I’ve never really tried a visual novel before. I always wanted to though, to see what all the fuss was all about. I finally decided upon this one because of its science fiction theme, and because it had received a user rating of overwhelmingly positive on Steam. Also, I bought it cheap in a sale.

I must say right away that although the story and dialog was well written, the game itself was too easy and non-existent for my general liking. I want some more influence over my games. I think this visual novel was close to be called kinetic, i.e. you just advance the dialog and make no choices. This one did have a rare choice once in a while, but it felt like 98% pure storytelling, advancing self-typing dialog lines.

Click, click, click, click, click, click, choose option #2, click, click, click, click, click, click.

The story was about me, a teenager in 2050 (which looked exactly like today only with androids) who finds a hi-tech female android in a garbage dump, gets it repaired, and brings it home to spend some time with it. Originally he hates androids just like his father, but Lucy Valentine, as the android is called, is remarkably well engineered and soon changes his mind.

Screenshot

It’s only a superficial dating simulator and doesn’t have any sex. There’s even some philosophical dialog at times, usually as the teenager thinks to himself, or in long debates with the android so eager to please her master. The father, however, absolutely despises androids and instigates several quarrels with his son. Without spoiling too much, the story has a sad ending that even moved a mountain like me.

Dreamfall Chapters: Book One

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Completed the first book of five which took less than 5 hours. Maybe I’ll settle with that. Not sure yet.

I completed The Longest Journey and Dreamfall back in the day, but it’s been way too long. 12 years. I could barely remember the cliffhanger in the end of the previous one. The beginning with Zoë Castillo in a coma made me question why she ended up like that, as did Kian Alvane in jail.

At least I remembered April Ryan’s fate all too well. I was hoping she somehow survived that. 🙁

Book One was a relaxing and very easy third person game with mouse look. There were few inventory items, and they could be combined. Dialog choices were floating words with thoughts read out loud when hovering on them. There were also decisions to make that were clearly inspired by Telltale Games. Lots of finger-shaking indications about how this earth tilting choice would be remembered for all eternity.

I had a journal where experiences were dotted down, a sheet with profiles (which wasn’t updating quite as much as I would have liked it to) and RPG style goals in the side. Beautiful music too.

The graphics were excellent. Most of the first book took place in an open small city section of the cloudy Europolis where I could walk around and marvel at the busy life. No detail was spared, from colorful neon ads to overhearing discussions and wishing I could walk further than the force fields at the end of certain streets. It almost felt like being dumped into Deus Ex Light.

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If anything, I was almost missing some more interaction in the city. I could access a cowboy street map or get a few words out of vendors, but not much more than that outside of quest tasks. It’s funny how this is a balancing act. Lots of things to do – Assassin’s Creed – and it’s too much. Too little and the city could risk getting stale and boring fast. It must be difficult getting this just right.

ABZÛ

Completed this one yesterday. It was short – just shy of two hours.

It was a marvelous underwater diving adventure, swimming among fish, whales, squids, jellyfish – all the ocean can offer, and lots of it. I was often more or less engulfed in an explosion of color and life. It was also very easy. If it didn’t happen 99% underwater, many might call it a walking simulator.

Apart from exploring the oceanic areas, I could free small bots that could later help me remove an organic net to a passage. I could click on ocean floor pools to free a specific species, or collect shells. Even meditate on a statue. The only action marginally resembling using my brain was that some areas needed me to use two gadgets to open a door. Typically spinning chains attached to each side.

Sometimes I could also hang onto a larger creature for a bit of speed (usually wasn’t much of an advantage) or hit schools of fish in the flow of a tunnel. These tunnels popped up between areas from time to time.

Screenshot

One thing that surprised me a little was that it actually had a shred of a story and purpose. It wasn’t just an ocean floor simulator. I found portals leading to a ghost temple where offering a light sphere grew a coral stalk and opened a door, I started encountering mechanical triangle structures, and I even befriended a big white shark. It was all subtle and fit in well with the rest of the game.

Except perhaps the exploding triangle mines. I could have done without those.

Apart from the nature of our hero – which I won’t spoil here – probably the biggest surprise in the entire game was that I could get up and walk around in temples toward the end of the game. Not much – typically just to activate something and then back into the water. But still. Didn’t expect that one.

The music was absolutely flawless. Symphonic and often with choirs. Sometimes the strings reminded me of old Tomb Raider games, at other times I thought of the adventurous encounters in The Abyss.

I completed it using a mouse and keyboard. Sometimes I fumbled up and down, but otherwise it was fine.

TitleLengthDatesDiff / ChtSaveScore
ABZÛ
2016 Giant Squid1h 52m 1
2018-12-08
2018-12-08
9

To see a page with all the PC games I have played – along with an explanation of the abbreviations – click here.

Closure

Played a few hours of this one.

It’s a colorless puzzle platform where only stuff being lit has substance. Darkness means falling and dying. The goal is simple – reach a door somewhere else, and sometimes bring a key to unlock it too. To help me out with lighting I can bring light orbs, place them in pedestals that sometimes move the orb somewhere else, turn hinged spotlights to shine elsewhere, and more. No enemies to dodge.

And sometimes I had to swim through water, but no oxygen was required.

After a brief tutorial with a four-legged creature, I came to sort of a hub with a choice between 3 x 24 doors with levels. Some static, some bigger and thus scrolling when needed. For each hub, the creature turns into someone else. One looks like a miner, one a woman, and one a small girl that even starts out in her room in a house. Music was much better than I expected – no chiptune stuff here.

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I had trouble running it in 3840×2160. It showed a quarter of the screen with menu controls out of reach and I had to edit a configuration file to fix it. I then settled with a resolution of 2560×1440.

Most of the levels were reasonably easy and could be completed in a minute while some had me stumped for a few minutes. The game had a creepy atmosphere and I was constantly afraid of exploring with a light orb and suddenly falling. Hitting a lower level never meant death (no matter how far down) but falling into the black abyss meant retrying. It was also possible to lose a key or a barrel, forcing me to restart.

One thing I thought was very cute – definitely the charming gimmick about the game – was the way I could walk or stand on wall structures that were only partly lit. Because the continuation of the wall piece was in darkness, it didn’t exist and I could pass through. It took some getting used to, especially when having to follow an orb transitioning to somewhere else.

I never found out what the clock I sometimes found meant.

TitleLengthDatesDiff / ChtSaveScore
Closure
2012 Eyebrow Interactive

8h

2

2018-12-05
2018-12-06
8

To see a page with all the PC games I have played – along with an explanation of the abbreviations – click here.

Consortium

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This was an FPS+ on a big plane promising to be somewhat akin to Deus Ex, with multiple paths and dialog choices. I pledged $20 for its failed Kickstarter back when it was announced in 2014.

It turned out to be sort of a virtual reality game where I inhabited the body of a soldier on a hi-tech plane in the future, already flying high above the ground. Everything took place on this plane and it took me just over 4 hours to play through it, making it feel like a DLC for another game. In truth, the game is to be construed as an intro for a trilogy of games – the next one taking place around a big tower.

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But truth be told, I’m pretty sure I’ll stop after this introduction as there were quite a number of things I didn’t like about it. The ironic thing is, bugs are actually not on that list. Playing this game so many years later means patches must have ironed out most of them.

Anomaly 1729

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This was a third person puzzle game with inspiration from games such as Portal and Fez. At times it also felt like a distant sibling to Tron 2.0. I controlled a robot finding my way through chambers of blocks. A hub area filled with blocks led to secluded chambers where I had to puzzle my way to an exit door.

There were three major areas in the game, each concentrated around a hub. The first was dominantly blue with square or rectangular blocks. The second was more cyan with pentagon blocks. And finally the third was blood red, surrounding a big structure with ability-draining fields that had to be turned off.

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The robot could shoot orange or blue energy from each hand (mouse buttons) and jump on the blocks. Red jump pads boosted me away or blue gravity wells sucked me in, and their type could be switched with a shot. Later, blocks and platforms also floated on beams. Platforms of this kind had a certain pattern they went through, while the blocks could be started and stopped with a shot. Smoldering platforms were also used although thankfully sparingly, as they disappeared in seconds and always made me frantic.

Inside

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Spoiler warning! I will pretend that you have already played the game.

This game was so permeated in atmosphere it was almost dripping from it, but it also helped that it was the very first game I played on my new 32″ Acer Predator XB321HK monitor, and in 4K of course.

It was very similar to Limbo, the previous game by the same developer. So much so that it almost felt like Limbo II. Again it was a platform puzzle game mostly scrolling to the left, and again I sometimes had to run for my life from evil men in a story without a beginning. It even started in exactly the same way – here’s the kid; now go. No backstory or tutorial for you.

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Where Limbo was almost all black and white, Inside had a very faint use of color. The kid in my control was wonderfully animated, especially considering that he didn’t have a face. Music was rare. Most of the time it was a humming ambient sound to complete the feeling of an amazing atmosphere. And the controls were incredibly sparse. Move, jump and interact. Sometimes interacting in a direction.

Papo & Yo

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This third person adventure game was completed in less than four hours, but somehow it felt a little longer than that. It was for the most part easy but also charming, and with many original puzzle ideas. The closest thing I can find to compare it with is the American McGee’s Alice series, only without the combat. It had the same level of surrealism and also felt like it could maybe sort of fit into that universe somehow.

The game touches upon a light story of the small kid Quico and his alcoholic father in a few brief cutscenes, but by far most of the game is spent solving puzzles in arena after arena with metaphorical substitutes. In the beginning there’s another kid that teases you, and it doesn’t take long before you get the small robot Lula on your back as a jet to make double jumps possible. Lula can also be asked to fly over and activate a circle by clicking the right mouse button.

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A general style of puzzle design is that white chalk lines means interactive stuff. Animated cogwheels drawn on walls can be clicked to make a building walk to a different place so you can jump across roofs. Handles can be pushed or pulled to tip over a stack of buildings into a “snake” you can run across. Keys can be turned to open up a passage, typically by walls and buildings being lifted away.