Transistor

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Imagine if you took an isometric action RPG with a smattering of Robotron, changed the action to be mostly like V.A.T.S. from e.g. Fallout 4, added great Art Deco parallax graphics, a sword with staccato comments, and atmospheric music that often have singing on top as well – and you basically have Transistor.

It took me about 6 hours to complete this one but I was seriously considering abandoning it after an hour or two. The combat was innovative and polished but was still problematic for me. The gist of the game is a turn-based part where you stack “functions” (abilities) in a limited queue and them fire them off with super speed, making you feel like The Flash. Then comes the sour part. The queue needs some time to recharge itself and you are extremely vulnerable as things are now real-time. Because of the huddling nature of the confined combat areas, it’s easy to get pummeled left and right, even when zapping around with a teleport ability I earned early in the game. This goes back to me wanting to kill as many off fast as possible, and if my queue doesn’t deliver enough damage, I may take too much damage in the real-time part. Emptying the health bar temporarily burns out an ability slot, forcing me to use other means of attacking. Burning out all attacks of course means death.

For most of the game, this system just didn’t click with me.

Botanicula

Developer: Amanita Design | Released: 2012 | Genre: Adventure, Point & Click

I absolutely loved this one. Irresistibly cute and easy on both ears and eyes. Made by the creators of the Samorost series and Machinarium, I controlled a small team of five weird inhabitants of a tree culture, walking along branches to solve puzzles or collect items for a broader purpose. The game is filled to the brim with hilarious animals animated in an even more hilarious manner, and the sound effects performed by humans match perfectly.

Each of the half dozen of levels consists of a large number of flip screens to traverse. Some of the screens just have weird creatures to interact with for entertainment, others would eventually reward me with an important item or open up a new passage. Pointing and clicking is not the only thing, I also had to nudge floating or swaying items. Sometimes I even had to choose one of my team members for a specific task. Everything is shown with animations or signs, there is no language involved in the gameplay.

The game generally felt easier than Machinarium, but some of the later levels had quite a few screens or items to collect, such as 14 chickens from small huts all over. The penultimate level contains a staggering amount of screens, so many that the developers felt it necessary to put helpful icons on each exit. There was a leaf in my inventory that functioned as sort of a map, but I didn’t find it necessary to refer to it.

Without spoiling too much, I only controlled one of five in the last level of darkness. There was one section here that kind of simulated a shoot’em up by alternating clicks on a floating character versus incoming enemy icons, but it wasn’t difficult. Not a lot of dexterity was required to get through this game.

It took me about four hours to get complete it. I got 104 out of 123 cards and 42 out of 53 achievements. Fraps wouldn’t grab any screenshots as it was essentially a Flash game.

TitleLengthDatesDiff / ChtSaveScore
Botanicula
2012 Amanita Design

4h 30m

3

2012-10-02
2012-10-04
10

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

Spate

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Developer: Ayyo Games | Released: 2014 | Genre: Platform, Adventure

Another Saturday, another shorty. This one lasted barely two hours and turned out to be one of those art games with more mood and style than gameplay. It was constantly raining hard, the grass was waving, and the 3D engine added multiple layers of surrealistic shapes. I was controlling an alcoholic detective yearning for his lost daughter, and he was narrating both this story as well as various findings on my way.

There are several good things to be said about balancing tough challenges with streaks of nothing to gear down, but this game felt like it was overdoing it a lot. The game was for the most part easy and only offered more or less dexterous jump puzzles. Sometimes a cannon had to shoot a seesaw to get it in position or I could fly a small airship for a while, pressing one button to thrust it upwards past the saw blades.

But then as a sequence of this was done, our hero was merely wandering along for minutes and minutes, no jumps, no nothing. Maybe a very long bridge or past a small town. This is typically where he started narrating a lot about his miserable past and how he deserved his fate. These passages were so long that it made the game feel like part platformer, part walking simulator. It was too much of a good thing.

Pneuma: Breath of Life

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Developer: Deco Digital | Released: 2015 | Genre: Adventure, First Person

I spent this Saturday morning playing through this charming first person puzzle adventure game. It took only about 2 hours to get through it, but I was fine with that. I’ve actually been yearning for shorter games lately. Of course, the length depends on the genre but especially platform, puzzle and adventure games can easily overstay their welcome in my book. (Maybe it’s because I’ve completed so many of them?)

One thing that puzzled me about this game was a warning I was shown when starting it up. Fraps has been known to crash D3D11. Okay. I’ve been using Fraps as my loyal companion for years on end, snapshotting screenshots for hundreds of games without trouble – but that message was probably pointed towards video recording (which I almost never do).

Warning

Either way, the message felt out of place. It almost looks like a personal vendetta against Fraps.

As a first person puzzle it used the recent fad of having an eloquent narrator comment on a lot of findings, sometimes philosophizing his existence as the god he clearly believes he is. He reminded me quite a lot of the narrator in The Stanley Parable. Sometimes entering a room triggered a long debate which went on a bit too far, but for the most part he was entertaining. Especially towards the end, where he became extremely paranoid. I won’t spoil it for you, but it was certainly interesting.

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.

SiN Episodes: Emergence

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Developer: Ritual Entertainment | Released: 2006 | Genre: FPS

I didn’t really like this one all that much. Although I’m fully aware that I played it 9 years too late, it still felt somewhat uninspired. I played the original SiN and its expansion pack back in 2002 – didn’t John Blade used to come with snappy wisecracks? In the less then 3 hours it took me to complete the game, I think he barely said 10 confirming words. The level design was the typical oldskool linear style where the level itself sort of tangled into itself. That corridor or the room I barely saw past that fence or through that window earlier? I knew that eventually I was going to be there in 10 or 20 minutes.

Screenshot

The worst part was the difficulty, though. It was not only rock hard, it was extremely punishing. I was never a fantastic FPS player, but this game certainly made me feel like the worst of beginners. The type of FPS where the enemies always hit you perfectly and drain a good chunk of health each time. Later, bad ass bullet sponge armor soldiers popped up with miniguns, just as I thought it couldn’t get much worse. About halfway through I had enough of that nonsense and turned on GOD mode. It’s funny, because the game did have two of the most intricate difficulty selectors I have ever seen.

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.

Screenshot

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.

The Deer God

Developer: Crescent Moon Games | Released: 2014 | Genre: Platform, Adventure

This was one of those I pledged to on Kickstarter. I played about an hour of this game before I had seen enough. The retro pixel graphics had a wonderful depth of 3D parallax and the atmosphere was generally excellent, held up by weather effects and some nice music. It reminded me a little bit of Forbidden Forest on Commodore 64, and quite a lot of Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP.

Screenshot

I was surprised about the level of complexity. Although the deer was mostly running and double-jumping, there were blocks to push, skills to put on an invisible action bar, even a quest about finding a monocle for an old man. I had to speed into bushes to see if it popped out of one. Speeding head on into things was also how most animals were killed. Hedgehogs, foxes, pigs, even human hunters – same attack. Or I could just jump over and outrun them. The deer grew older, the longer I went along without dying.

But dying is exactly where the game went wrong and I eventually didn’t bother to complete it. Although it did autosave here and there (mostly at the old mans huts) the distance back was way too long. At the end of the hour I continuously retried the same long trip half a dozen times, and I don’t consider myself all that much of a slouch when it comes to platform jumping. Okay, maybe sometimes, but not enough to warrant being punished by sending me that far back each time.

TitleLengthDatesDiff / ChtSaveScore
The Deer God
2014 Crescent Moon Games(0h 49m) 1
2015-10-04
2015-10-04
6

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