Partial Review: “Alien Shooter: Complete Pack” (Computer Game)

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A while ago, I reviewed a game called “Zombie Shooter“. This game made me curious about a similar game called “Alien Shooter” – so, I decided to check that out too.

Like with “Zombie Shooter” (and a few other games I may review in the future), this game was on sale on GOG at the time of originally writing this review. So, it only cost me 99p. I think that it’s about five quid at full price.

As the title suggests, this is only a partial review. Basically, I’ve played this game for a couple of days and am completely stuck still grappling with a particularly challenging level.

Yes, this really ISN’T one of those easy modern games…

So, this is more than just a “first impressions” article and less than a full review, if that makes sense.

Like with my “Zombie Shooter” review, I should probably warn you that this review contains (unrealistic) GRUESOME IMAGES/ BLOODY IMAGES. But, if you think that the game looks too gory, then it apparently also contains a “green blood” option too.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Alien Shooter”:
alien-shooter-logo

“Alien Shooter” is a 1990s-style third-person action game from 2003. The story behind the game is pretty simple, a facility has been overrun with alien creatures and it is up to you to shoot them all. Like all great retro action games, the gameplay matters a lot more than the story.

Before I shower effusive praise on the gameplay, I should probably preface this with the caveat that I started playing this game shortly after completing “Zombie Shooter”. In other words, I’d already had a lot of practice with the controls and was totally used to the slightly strange isometric perspective that the game uses. Because of this previous practice, playing “Alien Shooter” was almost intuitive to me.

However, if you’re new to this game, then the controls and the perspective can take a bit of getting used to. It’s worth getting used to them, but it can be a little annoying at first.

That said, this game is the perfect example of how to make an action game! After the eerily empty first level, the aliens come at you thick and fast, the weapons pack a mighty punch and – once you get the minigun – you’ll feel like you’re Ripley from “Aliens”!

Seriously, a game hasn't made me feel THIS badass in ages!

Seriously, a game hasn’t made me feel THIS badass in ages!

If you want to feel like a badass, play this game! Seriously, despite being older than “Zombie Shooter”, it surpasses that game in so many ways.

For example, it also includes a turret section. However, instead of just remotely controlling the turret from a distance, you actually get to sit inside it. Plus, if I remember rightly, the screen actually judders dramatically whenever you fire the turret.

YES!! Why wasn't this in "Zombie Shooter"? It would have been even MORE epic!

YES!! Why wasn’t this in “Zombie Shooter”? It would have been even MORE epic!

Since it is a slightly older game, “Alien Shooter” contains fewer RPG elements than “Zombie Shooter” does. Whilst you can still choose from two characters at the start of the game, there’s no weapon upgrade system and your character’s stats can’t be upgraded as many times. However, this actually works really well. Because the weapons can’t be upgraded, they have to be more powerful from the moment you get them.

Plus, the novelty weapon in this game is a Duke 3D-style freeze gun. It looks cool, but it isn't worth wasting credits on.

Plus, the novelty weapon in this game is a “Duke 3D”-style freeze gun. It looks cool, but it isn’t worth wasting credits on.

Yes, there’s still resource management between missions, which adds some strategy to the game. But, unfortunately, this game still uses the dreaded checkpoint saving (and lives system). However, since there are fewer options available between missions, you have to be a lot more careful with your choice of weapons and items. This is both good and bad.

Yes, like in "Zombie Shooter", what you do on this screen can make the difference between success and failure.

Yes, like in “Zombie Shooter”, what you do on this screen can make the difference between success and failure.

For example, at the time of writing, I’m stuck on a level because I only found about 30,000 credits during the previous level (and, thanks to the saving system, there’s no quick way to go back and replay it).

This means that, every time I start the level, I have to choose between giving my character the most powerful weapon in the game (but less armour, running speed, accuracy and lives), or giving my character a lot more armour and better stats, albeit with weaker weapons.

Since this level is crammed with powerful monsters, it’s the kind of level where having any kind of weakness will doom you to almost certain failure.

Yes, this level may actually cross the line from "enjoyably challenging" to "borderline unfair"!

Yes, this level may actually cross the line from “enjoyably challenging” to “borderline unfair”!

This brings me on to the difficulty – this game is even more challenging than “Zombie Shooter”. But, it contains a better difficulty curve. Even so, the better variety of monster types means that the combat in “Alien Shooter” is a lot less repetitive and monotonous than it was in “Zombie Shooter”.

For example, in one of the earlier levels, you run into various types of palette-swapped alien insects. The green ones are just generic cannon fodder monsters. However, the yellow ones will quickly cover the ground in pools of radioactive acid. They’re kind of like the “Spitter” monsters from a game that came out six years after this one called “Left 4 Dead 2“.

This might not seem like a powerful attack but, since you’ll be fighting large numbers of these monsters, it’s often easy to forget that you’re standing in an acid pool if you try to fight them in the same way as you would fight the green ones. So, you actually have to use different tactics (eg: running backwards whilst firing the grenade launcher, rather than just standing in the middle of a group of monsters and using the minigun).

In terms of length, this game seems to be better than “Zombie Shooter”. Since at least one level is ultra-difficult, even by the standards of an experienced gamer like myself, you’re likely to be spending a lot more time with this game. Plus, the version available on GOG also features two expansion packs too (“Fight For Life” and “Experiment”).

I’ve only had a brief chance to check these out but, although they have cool-looking text-based introductory cutscenes, they both seem to be slightly flawed.

Yes, the intro to "Experiment" might look cool, but...

Yes, the intro to “Experiment” might look cool, but…

I got stuck on the second level of “Fight For Life” because there seemed to be nowhere to place the dynamite you find in an early part of the level. Likewise, the first level of “Experiment” throws too many monsters at you when you are armed with nothing more than a pistol and a shotgun.

 I got stuck on this level in "Fight For Life" because of a possibly missing dynamite point, rather than because of the combat. I'm not sure if this was just a glitch or not though.

I got stuck on this level in “Fight For Life” because of a possibly missing dynamite point, rather than because of the combat. I’m not sure if this was just a glitch or not though.

In terms of music, this game has a fairly good soundtrack, mostly consisting of the kind of heavy and fast-paced metal and/or synth music you would expect in a sci-fi action game. Plus, if you get the game on GOG, you’ll also get a MP3 copy of the soundtrack (which also includes the menu theme to “Zombie Shooter” as a bonus).

However, and this might just be my old computer, but the MP3 tracks refused to play on my old version of Windows Media Player (although they played perfectly in VLC Media Player). This could just be a technical issue, or it could be a DRM issue of some kind.

This game’s code also seems to be more stable than “Zombie Shooter” too. In other words, I was able to minimise the game (whilst it was running/paused) quite a few times, without my computer freezing up.

All in all, this game is almost a perfect action game. Yet, even experienced gamers are likely to get stuck on the more difficult later levels. Plus, the controls/perspective can take a bit of getting used to too.

But, these problems aside, this is what an action game should be. It’s the kind of game that makes you feel like a badass when you’re playing it. It’s the kind of game that forces you to play strategically. It’s an almost perfect action game, which comes close to the high standard set by the classic “Doom” games.

If I had to give this game a rating out of five, it would get at least four and a half.

Review: “Zombie Shooter” (Computer Game)

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Well, it’s been way too long since I last played a zombie game! So, when I saw that a game called “Zombie Shooter” was on special offer on GOG (it had been reduced from £4.99 to 79p) a few days before I originally wrote this review, I just had to check it out.

Plus, since this is a review of a zombie game, it almost goes without saying but I should probably warn you that this review will contain (unrealistic) GRUESOME IMAGES / BLOODY IMAGES.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Zombie Shooter”:

zombie-shooter-logo

“Zombie Shooter” is a low budget third-person perspective shooting game from 2007. It takes a fairly old-school approach to both the graphics and the gameplay, and is the kind of timeless 2D game that could easily have been released any time from the mid-late 1990s onwards.

Seriously, the minimum processor you need for this game is a Pentium III (unlike some modern 2D games that can require a dual-core!) and the download is only a slender 56mb in size (again, why are modern 2D games sometimes over 1gb in size?). Modern indie developers take note, this is how “retro-style” games should be made!

In many ways, the gameplay in “Zombie Shooter” is a little bit like a cross between “Serious Sam” and modern-style “Doom II” WADs. In other words, it’s the kind of game where you will be faced with ludicrously large hordes of monsters on a regular basis. Yes, there are also some mild RPG-like elements, but these never get in the way of the gameplay.

These RPG elements take the form of a limited character selection option at the beginning of the game, and the ability to use bonus items you find in the game (there’s none of this modern “pay to win” rubbish here 🙂 ) to buy new weapons , buy more ammo, upgrade your weapons, buy extra lives and/or upgrade your character’s stats between levels.

Yes, this screen matters a LOT more than you might think. And, unlike in modern games, it ISN'T trying to swindle you out of real life cash either :)

Yes, this screen matters a LOT more than you might think. And, unlike in some modern games, it ISN’T trying to swindle you out of real life cash either 🙂

Often, the best option isn’t to buy a shiny new gun, but to upgrade a few key weapons (pistols, rocket launcher and flamethrower) repeatedly. Likewise, max out your health stats first- you’ll need all the extra health points you can get!

For example, there’s a disc gun that can slice through lines of zombies. But, you’re still better off focusing on a few weapons rather than trying out novelty weapons like this one.

Since this game uses the dreaded checkpoint saving (albeit with a lives system), this also means that if you fail a level then you can try again using a different combination of weapons and/or upgrades. This helps to introduce an extra level of strategy to what would otherwise be a fairly standard action game.

And, yes, you'll be failing levels quite a bit. This isn't one of those ultra-easy modern games!

And, yes, you’ll be failing levels quite a bit. This isn’t one of those ultra-easy modern games!

This, of course, brings me on to the gameplay. One of the first things that I will say is that the controls take a bit of getting used to. Although the game uses modern-style keyboard/mouse controls, the character movement isn’t always as predictable as it might initially seem – due to the isometric perspective that the game uses. Plus, the mouse aiming can take a while to get used to too.

This isometric perspective can also mean that your view is occasionally blocked by walls too. So, expect a bit of frustration during about the first hour or so of gameplay whilst you get used to the perspective. It would have been better if this game had used a top-down perspective, but I can see why they went with the isometric perspective, since it allows the graphics to contain a lot more detail.

Not only can your character be obscured by walls, so can the zombies!

Not only can your character be obscured by walls, so can the zombies!

Likewise, due to the high number of monsters and the game’s zoomed-out perspective, it’s possible to lose track of where your character is during gameplay. Some kind of glowing outline would have really helped to make certain parts of the game a lot less confusing. Still, like with the controls, this is something that you’ll probably get used to after a while.

Problems aside, this game is fun! It’s fast, action-packed and thrilling. It’s kind of like a third-person version of all the great classic FPS games. You can find secret areas, you have to explore levels that are at least slightly non-linear (though much more linear than old FPS games) and you’ll need to use strategy sometimes.

As you would expect from a 1990s-style zombie game, this game is gruesome! In fact, this is probably one of the goriest games that I’ve ever played – with the levels literally being awash with blood at various points in the game. Seriously, it’s up there with “Brutal Doom” and “Left 4 Dead 2”! But, if you’re squeamish, then you can apparently change the blood colour in the options menu.

Although the gameplay can get slightly repetitive sometimes, the game helps to keep things interesting by introducing multiple monster types. The most inventive of these is probably a type of enemy who looks like a soldier at first glance but, when killed, will transform into a fast-moving mutant creature that resembles the “Tyrant” bosses from the old “Resident Evil” games. Although this game isn’t particularly scary, this certainly caught me by surprise the first time I saw it…

Yes, there's actual CREATIVITY with some of the monster designs!

Yes, there’s actual CREATIVITY with some of the monster designs!

The game’s difficulty curve is a little bit inconsistent too. The early levels will be surprisingly challenging, due to your character’s weak weapons. However, when you’ve upgraded the pistols to the point where they’re basically dual uzis, the game gets easier for a while….

Yes, the upgraded pistols are actually BETTER than the shotgun! Heresy!!!

Yes, the upgraded pistols are actually BETTER than the shotgun! Heresy!!!

And, just when you’ve been lulled into a false sense of security, you’ll find yourself playing a level which would be considered “excessive”, even by the standards of the modern “Doom II” modding community. But, like a challenging “Doom II” WAD, the game isn’t quite “unfair” though (eg: the levels are hard, but winnable).

Despite it’s relatively short length (it took me about 4-6 hours, spread over two days, to beat the main campaign), “Zombie Shooter” makes up for this by giving you an enjoyable, but occasionally frustrating, challenge on a regular basis. This also means that it never really feels like a “short” game either.

Yes, even THIS level can be beaten with enough perseverence.

Yes, even THIS level can be beaten with enough perseverence.

In addition to this, the game also includes a few cool set-pieces, like allowing you to control an automated gun turret in a nearby room.

Although this might seem a little bit boring at first, this segment is made more interesting by the fact that – if you don’t protect two doors near the turret’s controls, the monsters can actually attack you. If you stop using the turret to fight them, then the number of monsters surging towards the doors will began to increase…

Yes, this part is a bit more complex than it initially seems.

Yes, this part is a bit more complex than it initially seems.

The game’s final boss battle is worth a mention too. It’s as punishingly difficult as you might think (a fully-upgraded flamethrower is a must!) but, like in old-school FPS games, the boss can also be damaged by parts of the environment too.

In other words, if you turn on two generators and then lure the boss between two large tesla coils, then you can demolish about a fifth of his health bar in a few seconds.

Yes! This is gloriously retro :)

Yes! This is gloriously retro 🙂

However, every time you do this, the game spawns in another horde of low-mid level monsters. So, as I said, make sure that your flamethrower is fully upgraded before you start playing this level.

From what I gather from the menus, this game also includes a couple of other gameplay modes (“Survive” and “Gun Stand”). I haven’t really checked these out at the time of writing – but, given the game’s short length, I guess that they add some replay value to the game.

In terms of stability, this game can be a little bit unstable. Basically, if you hit the “Windows” key whilst playing, then (on older PCs like mine at least) there’s a chance that you’ll need to restart your computer. But, apart from this (and a couple of temporary sound problems when I started the game for the very first time), it seems to be fairly stable and reliable. Even on my computer, which is a little over a decade old, the game only ever slowed down very briefly during the most intense sections.

In terms of music, the best track in the game is probably the main menu theme (which is suitably dramatic). However, the rest of the music isn’t really that memorable.

All in all, this game isn’t perfect, but it’s a lot of fun. It’s a low-budget action game which is resolutely old-school, and it is a joy to play. Yes, the controls and perspective can be awkward. Yes, it’s a little bit short (but it never really feels “short” when you’re playing). And, yes, you’re likely to ragequit a few times whilst playing. But, if you can get this game when it is on special offer, then you’ll get more than your money’s worth. Plus, it’s one of those games that “does what it says on the tin” too.

If I had to give this game a rating out of five, it would probably get somewhere between three and four. It’s really fun, if somewhat imperfect.

First Impressions: “Shadow Man” (Retro Computer Game)

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First of all, this is (for reasons I’ll explain later) more of a “first impressions” article than a full review. At the time of writing, I’ve played this game for a few hours and have possibly looked at somewhere between a fifth and a third of it.

Although I’d vaguely heard of “Shadow Man” in the games magazines that I read during my childhood, I didn’t really discover it until a sale on GOG a few days before originally writing this article. Although there were mixed reviews on the site, the fact that it was a late 1990s gothic horror 3D platform game that had been reduced to something like 70p made the decision to buy it something of a no-brainer.

So, let’s take a look at “Shadow Man”:

shadow-man-logo

One of the first things that I will say about this game is that it has one of the most impressive introductory cutscenes that I’ve ever seen. I usually don’t care about introductory cutscenes, but this one really knocked me off my feet. As soon as you start the game, Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” thunders in the background and you are treated to an ominous monologue from none other than Jack the Ripper:

Trust me, this is WAY more dramatic in-game.

Trust me, this is WAY more dramatic in-game.

Jack laments that his crimes have not produced the results that he desires and that, to continue his occult experiments, he must end his own life. However, before he can plunge a knife into his chest, he is interrupted by a rather suave fellow called Legion who asks him to design a temple to pain and suffering in the afterlife. Gleefully, Jack agrees and stabs himself.

Then, we flash forward to 1990s America where a man called Michael LeRoi is talking to a Voodoo priestess called Nettie. Michael is a “shadow man”, imbued with powers that allow him to cross between the worlds of the living and the dead. Nettie tells him that something terrible is happening in the world of the dead, and it is up to him to stop it.

Although it may not sound like much, the voice-acting, writing and gothic atmosphere of even the intro movie alone is astonishingly good. This is the kind of epic intro movie where you’ll easily ignore the slight clunkiness of the late-1990s 3D graphics because of the sheer strength of the writing and atmosphere.

The game itself is, as you would expect, an action/puzzle-based 3D platform game. You fight lots of monsters and solve occasional movement/item-based puzzles (for example, locked doors require you to collect a certain number of souls in order to open them).

The locked doors ALSO look like something from "Stargate" too :) The 1990s was TRULY a great decade!

The locked doors ALSO look like something from “Stargate” too 🙂 The 1990s was TRULY a great decade!

Unlike in similar games released at a similar time (eg: “American McGee’s Alice” etc..), you don’t progress through the levels in a linear order. In fact, there’s a rather large hub level and a fast-travel system.

You'll be visiting this place quite a lot between levels.

You’ll be visiting this place quite a lot between levels.

The only problem with the fast-travel system is that the game will also respawn all of the monsters whenever you revisit somewhere you’ve already been. Given that this is a game from the golden era of gaming, the combat is more on the challenging side of things.

In fact, the earlier levels are actually more difficult for the simple reason that you are only equipped with a weak pistol that requires something like ten shots just to defeat even one low-level undead creature. Yes, when you learn to use some of the game’s features (like the lock-on strafe feature), the difficulty drops slightly, but this is a game where every fight is a tense fight to the death.

Yes, even this small two-headed creature from the early part of the game is still a legitimate threat.

Yes, even this small two-headed creature from the early part of the game is still a legitimate threat.

But, although this game is a PC port of a console game, there’s a proper saving system which helps to mitigate the game’s high difficulty level. In other words, you can save whenever and wherever you need to. I honestly don’t know how people played this game on consoles, where there were probably fixed checkpoints or something like that.

In terms of the controls, this game is surprisingly (and refreshingly) old-school. Although you can (and should!) customise the controls, the game is exclusively keyboard-only. Even the combat uses a traditional “Doom/Doom II”-style vertical auto-aim system. Whilst this filled me with 1990s nostalgia, the lack of mouse controls might be disconcerting if you’re more used to modern games.

The gameplay and environment design in “Shadow Man” is both brilliant and not so brilliant at the same time. There are some really cool-looking areas in this game and, like all great games from the 1990s, the levels are the kind of non-linear things that actually require you to explore.

Dammit, why don't games look like this any more? Seriously, I love this style of lighting :)

Dammit, why don’t games look like this any more? Seriously, I love this style of lighting 🙂

For some bizarre reason, this part of the game reminded me of both "American McGee's Alice" and the first "Jak And Daxter Game", which is never a bad thing :)

For some bizarre reason, this part of the game reminded me of both “American McGee’s Alice” and the first “Jak And Daxter Game”, which is never a bad thing 🙂

 And THIS looks like something from the imagination of Clive Barker too!

And THIS looks like something from the imagination of Clive Barker too!

However, although you’ll have a lot of fun exploring the game’s world for a few hours, you might get completely and utterly stuck when you start encountering the first two of the game’s five bosses. These bosses reside in the world of the living and, from what I’ve seen, they’re demented serial killers who will often shout cheesy one-liners at you:

Yes, as the subtitles show, this guy is somehow hilarious and creepy at the same time.

Yes, as the subtitles show, this guy is somehow hilarious and creepy at the same time.

From what I’ve been able to gather from walkthroughs, you actually need a specific three-part item to beat these bosses. But, I haven’t been able to find out how to get two pieces of this item. In other words, the main reason why this is only a “first impressions” article is because I got completely stuck.

Yes, although the challenging parts of the game are usually extremely enjoyable, this part crosses the line from “fun” to “frustrating”. For example, the game itself only hints that you need an item to defeat the bosses after a long battle with said bosses. You’ll think that you’ve almost defeated the bosses, only for them to get back up and for Michael to make some cryptic comment about how he wished he could use his shadow powers in the world of the living.

All in all, despite the high likelihood of getting completely and utterly stuck after a few hours, I’d still recommend checking this game out for everything before that part of the game. It’s atmospheric, it’s thrilling and it shows off some of the reasons why the 1990s were such a creative and imaginative decade in the history of gaming. Plus, old-school 3D platform games on the PC are something of a rarity, so this game is well worth checking out for this alone.

If I had to give what I’d played so far a rating out of five, it would get just under a five. It’s almost perfect.

Review: “The Last Door Season 2: Collector’s Edition” (Computer Game)

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Although I played the first season of “The Last Door” a while ago, the second season was too expensive at the time. Fortunately, sometime around last Halloween, I noticed that it was on sale on GOG, so I picked it up – eager to see how the second season would end.

Before I go any further, I should point out that although this game contains a short recap at the beginning, you should really play season one of “The Last Door” before playing this game. Likewise, ideally, you should probably play both games directly after each other. Since I waited a few months between the two seasons, I probably forgot a few smaller plot details.

This review will also contain some SPOILERS.

Anyway, let’s take a look at: “The Last Door Season 2: Collector’s Edition”:

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“The Last Door: Season 2” is a retro-style point-and-click horror game that has been clearly inspired by the works of H.P.Lovecraft. In the second game, you (mostly) play as a psychiatrist called Dr. Wakefield, who is searching for Jeremiah DeVitt from the first season.

Like with the first season, this game is divided into four 1-3 hour “episodes”, although you can’t select them individually in the way that you used to be able to in season one. But, like in the previous game, each episode starts with a short playable segment that often doesn’t make sense until later in the episode.

Yes, episode one starts with an old woman boarding up some windows. Why does she do this? Well, you'll have to play the rest of the episode.

Yes, episode one starts with an old woman boarding up some windows. Why does she do this? Well, you’ll have to play the rest of the episode.

Episode one is titled “The Playwright” and it takes place in Victorian London. You get to explore a creepy old insane asylum and search the seedier parts of London for DeVitt’s friend DuPre.

This episode is fairly similar in tone to the first game, although there are slightly fewer dramatic scares. Likewise, from what I can remember, the puzzles in this episode are (mostly) fairly logical and self-explanatory.

Yes, even THIS puzzle in episode one isn't too difficult to work out if, like me, you're terrible at adventure game puzzles.

Yes, even THIS puzzle in episode one isn’t too difficult to work out if, like me, you’re terrible at adventure game puzzles.

Episode two is titled “My Dearest Visitor” and it takes place in a seaside town called Wickport. Joined by his colleage, Kaufmann, Wakefield travels to the home of his old professor in the hope of finding some answers.

But, the years have not been kind to the professor and he is suffering from dementia. It is up to you to find things to jog his memory and to unveil clues to the many puzzles in his strange mansion.

Yes, puzzles! Lots of them! And that’s just the mansion (you also get to explore the town, a graveyard, some ruins and some caves too). As regular readers of this site know, I am terrible at adventure game puzzles. So, I had to look repeatedly at more than two walkthroughs to get through this chapter.

The globe puzzle especially *glares evilly at globe*!

The globe puzzle especially *glares evilly at globe*!

Ironically though, none of the walkthroughs told me the solution to one of the puzzles. I was literally about to give up in frustration when I suddenly thought “Four spheres! Four statues! Duh!“. Trust me, it makes sense in context. Still, the puzzles in this episode are occasionally of the classic nonsensical “point and click” variety.

For example, in order to reveal a hidden message in a bathroom mirror, you have to cover it in steam. The game gives you a clue about this. So, you explore the mansion and notice a gilded pipe leading from the bathroom to a wood-burning stove in the kitchen. Simple, you think, just light the stove and then turn the hot tap on (after all, the bathroom contains a radiator, so it should have hot water too). But, no, this does nothing.

Yes, if there's a (possibly historically inaccurate) radiator, then there should probably be a working hot tap which is capable of generating steam.

Yes, if there’s a (possibly historically inaccurate) radiator, then there should probably be a working hot tap which is capable of generating steam.

After a few minutes of frustration, you’ll probably check a walkthrough and learn that you have to go pixel hunting for a kettle (which is a collection of pink, red or blue pixels on one of several shelves that just give generic descriptions when you look at them). Once you’ve found the kettle, it then has to be heated on the stove and taken upstairs (quickly) to the bathroom. Oh joy!

Although episode two isn’t quite as creepy as what I can remember of the first season, it certainly has it’s moments. I don’t want to spoil too much, but the ending to this episode is probably one of the scariest moments in the game.

 Hmmm... part of the wall has just collapsed and the music has just got creepier, but I'm sure I'll be able to leave this accursed cavern without incident..

Hmmm… part of the wall has just collapsed and the music has just got creepier, but I’m sure I’ll be able to leave this accursed cavern without incident..

Episode three is titled “The Reunion” and it takes place on a small Irish island. This is probably the most atmospheric episode of the game and it has clearly been inspired by “The Wicker Man”.

Well, *ahem* heavily inspired.

Well, *ahem* heavily inspired.

This episode is probably the creepiest of the four, with mysterious statues, fog-shrouded villages, masked people, creepy children, lurking horrors and spooky ancient legends. Likewise, the puzzles in this episode aren’t that bad. Yes, I had to use a walkthrough a few times, but I actually managed to work out a couple of them without a walkthrough.

Episode four is titled “Beyond The Curtain” and it is probably the most visually spectacular of the four episodes. Just look at this cool Salvador Dali-inspired location:

Now, where did I leave my watch?

Now, where did I leave my watch?

Taking place in a strange realm, you get to revisit a couple of locations that look like something from the first season. Creepy shadows lurk in every corner, giving you flashbacks to some of the first season’s backstory. This episode is probably closest in tone to the first game and there are some brilliantly creepy moments here:

 Long live the new flesh!

Long live the new flesh!

Woooooooo!

Woooooooo!

WHY isn't MORE of the game like this?!

WHY isn’t MORE of the game like this?!

But, although this is more of a ‘storytelling’ episode, the designers have insisted on adding a few ridiculously challenging puzzles. Luckily, I had a walkthrough on hand, but if you hated loved the fog puzzle from the first game, then you’ll get to see something similar here. Likewise, knowing how to play the piano and read sheet music is possibly a requirement for one of the puzzles if you don’t have a walkthrough.

This episode also has two possible endings, which revolve around a decision that you have to make at the end of the episode. From what I can gather, both endings are intentionally ambiguous – with no clear “good” or “bad” ending. Plus, as you might expect, the ending leaves more questions than answers.

The collector’s edition also includes a very short “minisode”. This contains little more than two or three minutes of gameplay, and only a tiny amount of interactivity. It’s a cool addition, although it pales in comparison to the larger number of minisodes in the first season.

Like with the first season, the sound design in season two is absolutely spectacular. Not only is there lots of brilliantly ominous classical music, but a lot of the horror in this game comes from the astonishingly realistic creepy sound effects (eg: mysterious whispering, foreboding footsteps, screeching birds etc..).

All in all, the second season of “The Last Door” isn’t quite as good as the first one. Yes, you get a lot of answers to questions that the first game poses, but it isn’t quite as scary or atmospheric as the first game was. Yes, there are more areas to explore and each episode actually feels like a small adventure game in it’s own right (complete with fast-travel maps in a couple of episodes). But, it lacks some of the drama, scariness and thrills of season one.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would maybe just about get a four.

Mini Review: “End Point” (WAD For “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/ “ZDoom”)

The evening before I wrote this review, I had a couple of hours to spare – so, I thought that I’d check out another “Doom II”/”Final Doom” WAD. In the end, I found one called “End Point” that looked like it could be interesting.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD. However, it will probably work on most other modern source ports too.

So, let’s take a quick look at “End Point”:

screenshot_doom_20161029_163507

“End Point” is a seven-level WAD that contains new textures and music. One of the very first things that I will say about this WAD is that you shouldn’t let the very beginning of level one lull you into a false sense of security. Although it starts out like an old-school ‘ Doom 1’ level, the difficulty level of almost all of this WAD is probably closer to “Final Doom”.

Whilst I was glad that this WAD wouldn’t be too easy, one thing that really surprised me is exactly how this WAD makes itself enjoyably challenging. Unlike many other challenging WADs that throw large numbers of Revenants, Barons etc… at you, quite a lot of the challenge in this WAD comes from the clever use of chaingun zombies.

Yes, you don't always see too many of THESE in 'challenging' Doom II WADs.

Yes, you don’t always see too many of THESE in ‘challenging’ Doom II WADs.

Sure, each level contains at least one arch-vile and there are also a fair number of mid-level monsters, but “End Point” is a showcase for how much of a formidable foe the chaingun zombie can be. After all, he often tends to be a slightly under-used monster in modern WADs.

In fact, in the final level, a long-distance encounter with a group of about ten chaingun zombies is actually more challenging than the obligatory cyberdemon encounter later in the level – since the cyberdemon’s rockets can be easily dodged, but the chaingunners can shoot accurately at long distances. So, you are forced to actually fight them.. and as quickly as possible!

Yes, believe it or not, this is MORE challenging than....

Yes, believe it or not, this is MORE challenging than….

 .... THIS!

…. THIS!

In terms of the level design, it’s really good. As you would expect, each level is very non-linear and each level walks a fine line between requiring the player to explore and being self-explanatory/streamlined enough to stop the player from getting stuck.

In terms of pure design, these are “Doom II” levels done right. They’re thrilling and they’re challenging, but they aren’t needlessly frustrating. There’s also a good balance between corridor-like areas and larger areas, which sometimes include cool set-pieces too.

Like this "graveyard" in level two that spawns lots of zombies when you find the key at the end of it.

Like this “graveyard” in level two that spawns lots of zombies when you find the key at the end of it.

Likewise, the length of each level is just about right too. This WAD probably took me something like 2-3 hours in total to complete and none of the levels really outstayed their welcome or felt too rushed.

Visually, this WAD is really good. Each level has a very slightly different ‘look’ to it, whilst also being fairly consistent with the general 1990s-style look of “Final Doom”. This is especially surprising, since the WAD actually includes a few new textures. Although one or two cool-looking textures are immediately noticeably, many of them are surprisingly consistent with the look of classic “Doom”:

 I don't know if this is a new texture or not, but the lighting in this part of level four is AMAZING!

I don’t know if this is a new texture or not, but the lighting in this part of level four is AMAZING!

Dammit! WHY didn't the old "Doom" games include rooms that look like THIS?

Dammit! WHY didn’t the old “Doom” games include rooms that look like THIS?

 Don't ask me why, but I really love this blue version of the classic 'Doom' switch.

Don’t ask me why, but I really love this blue version of the classic ‘Doom’ switch.

In terms of the music, it’s something of a mixed bag. Some of the music, like a brilliantly gothic percussion track in level two and the end screen music after each level, sounds really cool. But, some of the music in a couple of the levels can sound a little bit annoying and/or repetitive.

All in all, “End Point” is a really good classic-style WAD, which also shows off how criminally under-used the chaingun zombie is in a lot of other WADs. If you enjoy “Final Doom”, then you will enjoy this WAD. It’s mildly-moderately challenging, the level design is of a professional standard and it’s just a fun way to spend a couple of hours.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a four.

Review: “Doctor Who – The Doctor Falls” (TV Show Episode)

Well, it’s time to review the twelfth (and final) episode in the new series of “Doctor Who”. All in all, this series has certainly been one of the best series of “Doctor Who” that I’ve seen in quite a while.

So, that said, let’s take a look at “The Doctor Falls”. Needless to say, this review will contain MAJOR SPOILERS.

“The Doctor Falls” is an hour-long episode that concludes the story arc that began in the previous episode. However, unlike the spectacular science fiction and eerie horror of the previous episode, this episode is more of a science fantasy/ serious drama-based episode that focuses mostly on The Doctor’s attempts at defending an idyllic farming community on one of the upper decks of the spaceship from an attack by the cybermen below.

Expelliarmus!

Up until the final few minutes, the episode is a slightly slow-paced, tense and sombre episode that is filled with emotional drama and dramatic conversations (in between brief, but gloomily understated, action sequences). In other words, it’s a far cry from the thrillingly epic “next week” trailer at the end of the previous episode. Never trust a trailer, I guess.

Even so, Nardole gets to be something of a badass in this episode though.

Even so, the level of drama and characterisation here is absolutely stunning. Not only are there lots of interesting conversations between Missy and The Master (and, yes, Missy is a future regeneration of The Master), but their complicated love/hate relationship with The Doctor is explored in more depth too.

However, depressingly, despite all of the characterisation that Missy has had over the past couple of years (or even just during the course of this episode), she dies during this episode.

Initially, I thought that the scene was left ambigious (and that Missy would just return, like she did during this series) – although, looking on Wikipedia, Michelle Gomez apparently isn’t returning to perform in any subsequent episodes of the show. So, yes, “Doctor Who” has just lost one of it’s best characters (if not THE best character).

Even so, Missy’s final scene in the episode is both brilliantly ironic and incredibly depressing at the same time, with Missy and the Master mortally wounding each other for different reasons, and then finding the whole situation hilarious.

Dammit! This is supposed to be “Doctor Who”, not a George R. R. Martin novel!

Still, despite the “war with the cybermen” background of the episode, this is much more of a character-based episode than a thriller episode.

This episode has a level of seriousness, depth and maturity to it that really took me by surprise. It is an episode about identity, about death, about hope, about the meaning of life etc.. Seriously, there is so much stuff here.

But, the most fascinating theme of the episode is the theme of identity. Whether it is Bill’s horror at the fact that she looks like a cyberman on the outside (with the show alternating between how she sees herself and how others see her), or the myriad similarities and differences between The Master and Missy (eg: two sides of the same person), or the fact that the grim events of the episode force The Doctor to be really clear about who he is and what he stands for (and how this affects his later refusal to regenerate, because he doesn’t want to change who he is), the episode’s treatment of the subject of identity is detailed, nuanced and profound.

It’s also chilling and somewhat depressing at times too.

However, the set design and lighting in this episode didn’t really impress me as much as they did in the previous episode. However, this is mostly because large parts of the episode are set on a rather ordinary-looking farm.

*yawn*

Yes, I understand that the set designers probably chose to use a more understated and dull background in order to place the emphasis on the characters, but it still makes me miss the more dystopian and futuristic settings of the previous episode. Even so, there are still a few cool-looking locations that are glimpsed briefly throughout the episode. Likewise, the lighting during some scenes is suitably gloomy, eerie and/or dramatic, so it isn’t all bad.

Such as some early scenes that take place on the roof of the hospital from the previous episode.

Or this scene of the cybermen preparing to attack.

Or some of the scenes set within the farmhouse.

However, some of the episode’s serious drama is undercut somewhat by a “WTF?” deus ex machina ending.

Basically, Bill is suddenly rescued (and turned into a ghost of some kind) by the pilot from the first episode of the series, who just suddenly materialises from a nearby puddle whilst Bill is tearfully mourning beside The Doctor’s motionless body. Yes, the episode tries to explain this sudden last-minute plot twist by showing clips from the first episode, but it still feels like a deus ex machina ending.

In the space of one minute, Bill goes from the depths of abject despair…

…to joyous romantic bliss. Seriously, talk about a sudden change in the episode’s emotional tone!

Yes, this random plot twist gives this otherwise depressing episode something of a happy ending – and this is a refreshing change from the rest of the episode. But, it also seems like this ending has been bolted on to the episode, rather than being an organic part of the story. The emotional tone of the ending is so different to the rest of the episode, that it almost feels like the ending is a scene from another episode that has been edited into this episode by mistake. Even so, it’s good to see that Bill’s story arc gets a happy ending though.

Even so, this is kind of slightly similar to how Clara left the show at the end of the previous series. So, it isn’t the most original of endings…

As for The Doctor, he surprisingly doesn’t regenerate at the end – mostly because he just doesn’t want to. Still, the episode ends mysteriously with him possibly meeting one of his past (?) incarnations on a frozen planet. No doubt that, in the traditional fashion, this is also the set up for this year’s Christmas episode too.

Apparently, he’s supposed to be the first Doctor (played by a different actor). However, I’ve mostly only seen episodes of Doctor Who from 2005 onwards, so I can’t be certain.

So, yes, the ending is in part mysteriously intriguing and in part contrived. Still, this is probably one of the most “serious” episodes of Doctor Who that I’ve ever seen. Although it didn’t quite turn out to be the thrillingly epic episode that last week’s trailer seemed to imply that it was, I can hardly call this a bad episode either. It’s a serious piece of sombre, mature, emotional drama and a reasonably decent ending to an absolutely spectacular series of “Doctor Who”.

If I had to give this episode a rating out of five, it would get a four.

Mini Review: “VeryHard” ( WAD For “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/ “ZDoom”)

2017-artwork-veryhard-doom-wad-review

Before I begin, I should probably point out that this will be more of a “first impressions” article than a full review of “VeryHard“. I’ll explain more later in the article, but I felt like this was important to point out first.

As usual, I played (some of) this WAD using the “ZDoom” source port. Interestingly, this WAD actually requires version 2.8.1 of “ZDoom” – which, by delightful coincidence, is fairly similar to the version (a slightly old experimental version that was obviously a precursor to version 2.8.1) that I use.

Anyway, let’s take a quick look at “VeryHard”:

screenshot_doom_20161021_125138

“VeryHard” is a set of seven “Doom II” levels. As the name suggests, these levels are meant to be evilly, fiendishly, diabolically difficult.

This is a WAD for people like myself who find borderline-unfair levels to be somewhere between absolutely hilarious and brilliantly fun. If you’re a new “Doom II” player, don’t even think about playing these levels. But, if you enjoy WADs like “Stardate 20X6“, “XXXI Cybersky“, “Swim With The Whales” or “Infernal Fortress” then you might enjoy this one.

From my experiences with this WAD, level one is actually beatable but level two appears to be (probably) impossible – not because of the quantity of monsters, but because an essential key seems to be nowhere to be found. Hence why this is a “first impressions” review, rather than a full review.

So, let’s start with level one. This level begins outside a giant underground train station and, once you are trapped in the station, the monsters start pouring towards you:

So far, so easy.....

So far, so easy…..

Of course, you’ll soon find yourself in a larger room that is filled with more monsters and several small kiosk-like rooms, which contain buttons that you need to press. Sounds pretty easy, right?

Oh, I forgot, these rooms are filled with Arch-viles..... and you'll need a blue key for one of the switches.

Oh, I forgot, these rooms are filled with Arch-viles….. and you’ll need a blue key for one of the switches.

Once you’ve managed to run, dodge and fight your way through this room and press the required switch, it’s time to get the blue key. This key is at the end of another corridor that contains, you guessed it, three arch-viles and virtually no cover!

Oh, hey there :)

Oh, hey there 🙂

When you’ve managed to press the button and hide behind the pillar, you might notice that – between cautious pot shots at the arch-viles – the pillar is descending. Once it’s descended fully, you’ll be able to grab the blue key.

The only problem is, of course, you won’t have any cover left. Likewise, the corridor takes more than three seconds to run away from. And, as any “Doom II” player will tell you, three seconds is about the amount of time it takes for an arch-vile to incinerate you.

So, after dying and restarting more times than you can remember, you’ll end up waiting for that one lucky moment when the arch-viles are too distracted by the monsters from the room you left earlier (and vice versa with the monsters) to bother attacking you.

But, when you’ve sneaked out of the corridor, you’ll be faced with a choice. You can either go back to the room with the blue switch the way you came from, or you can take advantage of a newly-opened shortcut near the station entrance….

 ...Which is also filled with monsters.

…Which is also filled with monsters.

After a lot of trial and error, plus some clever strategy, you’ll finally use the blue key on the blue switch and open a gate behind the room. Wow, what an exciting level! What? It isn’t over yet? That was only…. the easy introductory segment?

Oh yes! *Grins evilly* We haven't even STARTED the difficult part of the level yet!

Oh yes! *Grins evilly* We haven’t even STARTED the difficult part of the level yet!

Yes, the rest of the level is significantly more difficult. It’s a little bit reminiscent of the train station level from “Painkiller“, but with literal armies of revenants, tens of arch-viles and more than five times your recommended daily allowance of Vitamin C(yberdemon).

I wasn't exaggerating about the revenants, there must be at least 200 of them in this part of the level.

I wasn’t exaggerating about the revenants, there must be at least 200 of them in this part of the level.

Yes, luckily there's an invulnerability sphere hidden somewhere vaugely near here. You DID remember to find it, right?

Yes, luckily there’s an invulnerability sphere hidden somewhere vaugely near here. You DID remember to find it, right?

Yes, even this deadly close-quarters duel with a cyberdemon at the very end of the level is beatable if you are sneaky about it. You actually have to use the chaingun to ... wait a minute, you should probably work this out for yourself

Yes, even this deadly close-quarters duel with a cyberdemon at the very end of the level is beatable if you are sneaky about it. You actually have to use the chaingun to … wait a minute, you should probably work this out for yourself

Interestingly, this part of the level is also beatable. But, you’ll need a lot of determination, a willingness to experiment with different strategies, a habit of saving very often, a good knowledge of the “rules” of “Doom II” and perhaps a bit of luck too.

All in all, the first level is an absolute blast. It’s just about fair, despite looking extremely unfair at first glance. It’s an example of modern “slaughtermap” level design at it’s finest.

This level contains so many areas where good strategy and fast reflexes are more important than whatever weapons you happen to be carrying at any one time. Despite the often claustrophobic locations and the generic standard textures, it’s an utterly epic level that will have you quite literally cheering with joy when you finally manage to beat it.

The second level, on the other hand, isn’t so sophisticated. Sure, you’ll get to hear the soul-shaking sound of 10-20 cyberdemons roaring simultaneously. Sure, you’ll get to use the BFG a lot. You’ll even get to crowdsurf over six different armies of Hell Knights and Barons…

 Woo hoo!! This is awesome!

Woo hoo!! This is awesome!

And, yes, these sorts of epic things happen too. BUT....

And, yes, these sorts of epic things happen too. BUT….

.. In order to progress past the starting area of level two, you need to find a red skull key. Despite repeated replays of this area, using different strategies and lots of careful searching, I still haven’t been able to find this skull key. It might be there somewhere, but I certainly haven’t found it. In fact, it even eventually made me abandon this WAD out of pure frustration.

All in all, I’ve only played maybe just under a quarter of this WAD and, yet, the first level is absolutely spectacular. Yes, it certainly isn’t for everyone. But if ludicrously “unfair” levels make you laugh, or if you want a real challenge, then the first level of this WAD is absolutely perfect! It’s just a shame about the second level though.

If I had to give what I’d played so far a score out of five, it would get five for the first level and two for the second.