Fallout 4: Part 1

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Developer: Bethesda Game Studios | Released: 2015 | Genre: RPG, First Person

I’ve played almost 8 hours now. My first impression of it is that it somehow feels like Fallout 3: Remastered. True, the graphics are much better (especially the lighting) and there are some new elements such as the settlement crafting – but turn a corner, and you’ll find the same hacking and lockpicking mini games, even some of the same posters and radio songs. It has been refined in many areas, but it also disappoints by still offering a crap UI that Bethesda should have been able to improve upon ages ago.

Still, it’s hard to not get caught up by the magnificent open world atmosphere and the way it pulls you in, wanting to explore the seemingly desolate buildings. I loved Fallout 3 for the very same reason and it feels like Fallout 4 will deliver in spades as well. But will it turn into too much familiarity; “been there, done that” at a later point? Maybe. The danger is certainly there. Both feelings are dragging me from opposite directions. It will be interesting to see which one of them wins.

DreadOut

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Developer: Digital Happiness | Released: 2014 | Genre: 3PS, Horror

It was really a shame coming from such a nice surprise as Lifeless Planet to this frustrating mess of bad design. If I could have gone back in time and told my older self what not to play, this would definitely have been one of them. DreadOut was a horror adventure that borrowed a lot from Silent Hill – even the dark style of the inventory, with big images of inventory items. The saddest thing is that the horror atmosphere was actually quite well done. Although cliche of course, it had just the right amount of disturbing dread and jump scares, supported by a marvelous ambient background sound.

The heroine, a teenager on a trip with her teacher and school mates in a car, used a smartphone camera and its flash to scare ghosts and monsters. A red vignette on the screen indicated that a spiritual being was close (sometimes invisible so the camera had to be held up to see it) and a blue vignette that an item or interaction was nearby. Being pummeled could lead to death, and this was shown as a limbo sequence running towards the light. To make matters even worse, some monsters were “camera bullet sponges” and had to be continuously snapshot. In between there were also mild puzzles and keys to find.

Lifeless Planet

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Developer: Stage 2 Studios | Released: 2014 | Genre: 3PS, Adventure

I really liked this one. No enemies to fight, just a lot of astronaut exploration in epic surroundings on a strange and alien planet. At first I thought it had much of the same style and atmosphere as Evolva meets the planet exploration levels of the first Mass Effect. Then later, as the epic alien structures arrived, I thought about The Dig too. The long stretches and most of the frequent jumping puzzles didn’t bother me as I like that stuff. And this game sure had a ton of it. There were a few sadistic exceptions, but most of the time it was a great fun jumping across enormous chasms on house-sized boulders.

The astronaut had a default double jump ability almost from the start. Tap jump, then at the peak tap it again to jet a bit higher. In a few selected areas of the game, a pressure bottle gave me a temporary jet pack boost, making it possible to cross wider chasms with about five timed jump taps. It felt just right and I loved most of those sections. I was always a bit sad when I got to the point where the game told me the extra boost had run out. Later I also got a mobile crane arm. A first person view then made it possible to grab an item and drop it elsewhere , or tap buttons out of normal reach with the crane claw.

The Cave

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Developer: Double Fine Productions | Released: 2013 | Genre: Platform, Adventure

This was much more of a platform game than I thought it would be. Descriptions of it led me to believe it was very much an adventure game with just a tiny bit of rare platform action required, kind of like some of the first polygon versions in the Broken Sword series. But platform action turned out to not only be quite prevalent, it also made the levels feel bigger than they really needed to be. The platform action was very light, as in definitely not difficult, but there was a lot of walking up and down ladders, jumping ropes, and pushing objects. It often felt a little overwhelming.

Three switchable characters had to be navigated independently, adding a lot of backtracking. Sometimes the two others automatically joined across certain level thresholds, but most of the time I was yearning for some kind of “recall party” or “follow me” function. The collaboration between them was quite good, though. There were lots of puzzles where two or three characters were required in different locations to make it work. Because of the big levels and the abundance of ladders and corridors, there was a long stretch between the few NPC that lined up what needed to be done in that particular area.

Monochroma

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Developer: Nowhere Studios | Released: 2014 | Genre: Platform, Puzzle

This was one of those artsy platform puzzle games with a very distinct style and music. LIMBO was clearly the main inspiration, maybe too much so (it even started immediately too without a title screen) but it didn’t really bother me since it had its own industrial foundation and additional gameplay elements carrying a little brother. The little brother, who broke a leg early, added another layer of complexity to some of the puzzles and also tasted a little bit like the fantastic old PlayStation 2 platform game ICO. The side-scrolling graphics was mostly black and white with a hint of red here and there. Sometimes another color could be seen, like yellow for fire or hot metal.

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The gameplay had surprisingly long stretches of barely running and climbing, then a room with a puzzle to break it up. Typically of the sort with platforms to raise or slide along with switches. Darkness and rain was prevalent, and it added another gameplay element regarding the little brother. He was afraid of the dark and could only be parked temporarily below a strong ray of light from a lamp. Trying to drop him in the dark just made him shake his head. The big brother could run and jump higher without carrying him, so that could make a big difference in puzzles. There were also ladders to climb, ropes to swing or shimmy along, boxes and small wagons to push or pull, and buoyancy puzzles.

Broken Age

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Developer: Double Fine Productions | Released: 2014 | Genre: Adventure, Point & Click

I’m tweaking the format once again. Although I’ll keep it organized it in the same way as the last time, I’ll refrain from using headers to split up the review. I’ll also try to keep the smaller paragraphs in the minutia list only.

Here’s an adventure game that really succeeded in warming up and grabbing me in spite of a lackluster first impression. At first I thought it felt too much like a kids game. Bright colors, toys everywhere and a childish dialog. But as the first few hours passed by, not only did it manage to come up with a lot of great dialog, it also had that type of equivocal quality that Pixar animation movies also have – something of value for both kids and adults alike. The adventure game atmosphere became very solid across part 1 and 2, and the art style and animation was truly unique. In my mind there was no doubt about it – when compared to Broken Sword 5 or the Deponia trilogy, this was clearly the superior game. I didn’t even think I had it in me to like an adventure game this much anymore. I thought I had become irrevocably jaded.

As you can see in the screenshots, the art style truly was quite unique. It was also supported by a lot of excellent animations. Eyes blinking and gazing just like in Pixar movies (I love that stuff) and lots of extra details, such as only catching hold of a thing after fumbling around, almost dropping it. One thing I thought they overdid was the head scratching animation when choosing a dialog tree question.

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The engine scrolled with detailed parallax and also zoomed very frequently, sometimes excessively when entering a new scene. The music was fully symphonic and of equally high quality. Orchestral music. Voices were delivered by a lot of top actors such as e.g. Elijah Wood, Jack Black, Wil Wheaton and Jennifer Hale. All in all, the presentation was top notch. If I had to put my finger on one thing, it would be the zoom level of characters in cutscenes. It was close up, as if it wanted to cater for the tablet people. On my big widescreen PC monitor, this was a bit much.

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Singularity

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Developer: Raven Software | Released: 2010 | Genre: FPS

I’ll try to change the format a bit starting with this review. There will be a short summary in the beginning followed by two lists of minutia – one safe to read, and another with the usual spoiler-ridden stuff. Everything will also be in past tense. To be honest, I’ve never been comfortable with writing a “real” review and I’m trying to figure out how to put my own personal touch to these gaming posts.

After arriving in a crashed helicopter on a Russian island, this FPS felt a lot like BioShock with movie projectors, big statues, and the same level of dilapidation and dread. It didn’t last long before this feeling crossfaded into solid Half-Life 2 vibes instead. After completing it, that’s what I think the developers really wanted it to be. There was even the athletic girl saving your ass and the old scientist that you visit in his own laboratory. Add to this time travel, weird weapons with unique powers, a blatant copy of the gravity gun from said game, enemy soldiers mixed with zombie-style monsters, and self-opening shop lockers. In the first half, I often found myself completely out of ammo for my starter gun. But the good thing about the game was the way it added new powers and weapons a good once in a while, thereby often changing the way I played it. In the last half of the game, I had no problems defending myself anymore.

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The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

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Developer: The Astronauts | Released: 2014 | Genre: Adventure, First Person

This sure was a pretty game. I ran it with everything set to high on my new monster PC and still it ran fluently. Lots of details, high resolution textures, wind in the leafs, although some stuff in the distance far away seemed to be affected by an LOD algorithm in a somewhat aggressive manner. I also had a little bit of mouse lag when turning the view. Still, I quickly acknowledged that this kind of modern adventure game was much more up my sleeve than the previous point-and-click adventure game with its 2D retro graphics and pixelated characters. I’ve been spoiled by modern technology, as was probably inevitable.

The game starts with no difficulty selector and no direct save option other than its own autosaves. And boy, is the autosaving indeed rare. Often I had to go through a lot of exploration and solve a multi-step puzzle before I saw it saving my progress. I sure understand the gamers that are miffed about this. However, you can’t die or be caught up in a way that can’t be escaped, so if your system is stable and you can play relatively uninterrupted, there’s nothing to be afraid of. Except perhaps the open and unrestricted nature of the gameplay. It’s possible to completely bypass a puzzle section and later have to backtrack a long way to solve it, as it turns out that it was actually mandatory to complete the game. This could have been improved with some clever gating. For example, there’s a stone bridge across a dam that could have had an iron gate or something. Solve the local puzzle and the iron gate is suddenly opened up for you. This have worked well in other games with puzzles, so why not here?

I Have No Mouth (Cover Art)

I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream

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Developer: The Dreamers Guild | Released: 1995 | Genre: Adventure, Point & Click

I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream is a point-and-click adventure game based upon Harlan Ellison’s short story of the same title, developed by The Dreamers Guild, co-designed by Ellison and published by Cyberdreams in 1995. The game’s story is set in a world where an evil computer named AM has destroyed all of humanity except for five people, whom he has been keeping alive and torturing for the past 109 years. Each survivor has a fatal flaw in its character, and in an attempt to crush their spirits, AM has constructed a metaphorical adventure for each that preys upon their weaknesses. To succeed in the game, the player must make choices to prove that humans are better than machines, because they have the ability to redeem themselves. Woven into the fabric of the story are ethical dilemmas dealing with issues such as insanity, rape, paranoia and genocide.Wikipedia

I started this game after a recommendation on Extra Credits. I have completed my fair share of adventure games and are quite picky about them these days (I thought the new Broken Sword 5 was downright boring) but I must confess that this classic has some quite interesting adult themes to spice things up. The dialog is well written and it doesn’t hold back from putting you through dark and disturbing issues. There are lots of tasks that are optional or branch out into two or more solutions, and they are of course often based on a moral choice. But even though the game has wonderfully bizarre backgrounds and quite logical puzzles, it still bored me a little in the end. This is very much an adventure game of its time, in spite of the adult theme and the interesting dialog. It’s very possible to get into the dreaded trial-and-error loop where you try inventory items on everything and scrutinize the screen for overlooked hotspots.