Review: “Saints Row: The Third” (Computer Game)

Well, although I hadn’t planned to review a computer game today, I’ve just completed the main campaign of “Saints Row: The Third” (2011) and absolutely had to talk about it.

This was a game that I found during a sale on GOG last October (I write these reviews quite far in advance) and decided to get because it has been ages since I’ve played a 3D “GTA”-style game (the last time was “GTA: Vice City”… On the Playstation 2). And, after waiting for the hefty 8.5 gigabyte download to finish, I was eager to take a look at it.

Note: I should probably point out that the DRM-free version of the game I played was the “full package” edition of this game. This is a version that – in a level of honesty that would shame some modern game companies – includes literally all of the paid DLC. I’ll be talking about the DLC in this review, but it isn’t an essential part of the game 🙂

Edit: Since a remastered version of this game has been released in the time between preparing this review and posting it, I should probably also point out that I am reviewing the non-remastered version here.

So, let’s take a look at “Saints Row: The Third”. Needless to say, this review will contain some gameplay and story SPOILERS.

It’s a bank robbery where the robbers are wearing giant masks based on one of them and the customers sometimes pose for photos with them too. This isn’t your typical “gritty crime” videogame…

You play as the leader of The Saints, a criminal gang who have become celebrities. After a bank heist goes spectacularly wrong, you and your associates – Shaundi and Johnny Gat – are captured by the leader of an organisation called The Syndicate. This is an alliance of three smaller gangs – the satanic/mafia-style “Morningstar”, the Lucha Libre-inspired “Luchadores” and an awesome cyberpunk goth gang called “The Deckers”.

In case you haven’t guessed, this character is the villain. Or one of the villains anyway…

The Syndicate leader takes you onto his private plane and makes a proposition. You and your associates refuse it – with bullets. In the chaos that follows, Johnny Gat is killed and both you and Shaundi have to make a daring aerial escape from the plane. When you land, you find yourself in the American city of Steelport. A city controlled by these three gangs. A city that you decide should belong to The Saints instead….

No, this isn’t the ending of a movie. It is literally the second mission in the game 🙂 This is so epic 🙂

One of the first things that I will say about this game is that it is a hell of a lot of fun 🙂 For the first hour or so of it, I quite literally had a huge grin on my face. And, although some parts of it can get a little dull or repetitive at times, this is probably one of the most enjoyable games that I’ve played in a while. Not only is it a game with an actual personality and a sense of humour, but it is filled with so many awesome moments and elements that really help to make it more than just a clone of the “GTA” games.

Exhibit one: The “sonic boom”. A sound-based rocket launcher type thing that can smash through doors and liquefy zombies.

In terms of the gameplay, it is fairly similar to the “Grand Theft Auto” games. In other words, it is set in an open world and played from a third-person perspective. You can explore the city, carry out missions whenever you choose to, steal cars to get around, get into gunfights and earn in-game currency (through gameplay and gameplay alone 🙂 ) which can be spent on various things. And, although this game includes the dreaded regenerating health and checkpoint saving (albeit with a limited manual save option too), the gameplay here is really solid.

This is a gloriously open-ended game where you can either follow the main story, explore at your own pace and/or cause random mayhem just for the hell of it. You’ll probably be doing a combination of all three of these things but, to my surprise, the main story was a more interesting part of this game than I’d expected. Usually in these types of games, the “do whatever you want” element is a lot more fun than following pre-structured missions – but, barring a few repetitive combat and escort missions, the main story was a lot more fun than I’d expected.

Surprisingly, this was more due to the actual story more than anything else. Although the premise is incredibly stylised and knowingly silly, I still found myself gripped by the game’s epic – and often hilarious – storyline. It is completely “over the top” in the most fun way possible. In addition to telling the story of The Saints’ battle for Steelport, it also includes elements from so many other genres (eg: Cyberpunk, zombies, professional wrestling etc..) too. Yes, the story is utterly silly and “unrealistic”, but the game knows this and uses it to deliver a funny and compelling romp that is worth playing for the story alone.

The game’s story is extremely random, yet surprisingly gripping.

And, as mentioned earlier, this game actually has a sense of humour too 🙂 Yes, it is a very immature and “edgy” sense of humour, but it is still incredibly funny. In addition to lots of sarcastic, cynical and/or funny dialogue between the characters, the game also includes all sorts of gloriously surreal things like a rather “not safe for work” chariot chase, an area where you turn into a laser-wielding toilet, a hilariously rude baseball bat-style weapon, a mission where you have to ride across town with an angry tiger in the passenger seat etc…

It’s grrreat!

Whilst the game’s main plot also includes a small amount of political satire too, the game’s comedy elements are so surprisingly and consistently funny because a good number of the jokes are things that would only work in the medium of videogames. This style of transgressive and surreal humour relies heavily on interactivity in a way that only games can. Although your character also does a few traditional things like shouting out corny “Duke Nukem 3D”-style one liners (eg: “I always win my arguments!” etc..) during combat, a lot of the really funny parts of the game take full advantage of the fact that literally anything can happen in the artificial world of a game.

Another awesome thing about this game is the sheer amount of customisation and self-expression that is available to the player too 🙂 Not only are there numerous character design options available to you, but you can also mix-and-match numerous outfits, get various tattoos, create your own “mixtape” (albeit from a list of pre-selected songs) for one of the in-game radio stations and choose which weapons/abilities you want to upgrade. Yes, some costumes are DLC, but there are still quite a few non-DLC ones that can be earned and/or unlocked through gameplay. Seriously, I cannot praise the sheer amount of customisation on offer here enough – and I probably spent at least 1-3 hours on all of this stuff throughout my playthrough of the game 🙂

Seriously, you can even wear “Blade Runner”-style ’80s sci-fi’ make-up! This game has a lot of customisation 🙂

Literally my only complaint about the customisation is that the game doesn’t allow you to choose which gang you belong to. You quite literally have to be in The Saints – which seems like a little bit of a missed opportunity. I’d have absolutely loved to play a more cyberpunk-themed version of the game as a member of The Deckers instead. Plus, although some missions are themed around the other gangs, you don’t always really get to learn a huge amount about them.

Yes, the leader of The Deckers is quite literally a gothic cyberpunk character 🙂 Remind me, why am I in the *yawn* Saints?

And this virtual reality mission is gloriously cyberpunk too 🙂 Again, why can’t I play as a member of The Deckers?

As mentioned earlier, I played the “full package” edition of the game which includes all of the DLC. I have very mixed feelings about this extra stuff. On the plus side, two of the three extra mission packs (“Genkibowl VII” and “Gangstas In Space”) are reasonably fun – especially when you’ve upgraded your character enough. Likewise, the DLC also includes cool stuff like a gun that summons a hungry shark, a couple of really awesome motorbikes and several extra costumes.

On the downside, some of the DLC messes with the game’s progression and difficulty curve by giving the player some fairly powerful weapons and vehicles very early in the game (in addition to automatically unlocking some stuff that is meant to be unlocked via gameplay). So, I imagine that this game is probably a slightly more fun, focused and consistent experience without the DLC. Which, in this greedy modern age, is something that I actually have to praise 🙂

Plus, even without the DLC, the game still provides a decent amount of replay value after completing the main story thanks to a large number of optional “Saints Book” side-quests and the fact that there are numerous collectable items littered across the map too. You can also re-play many of the game’s various activities and challenges too. Plus, after completing the main story, the game gives you the chance to re-play the final segment in order to see the other ending (but, it will only let you choose that ending the second time round!).

As for the game’s combat, it is fairly standard console-style third person combat. Although the regenerating health drains some of the suspense and reduces the level of challenge a bit, the game makes up for this in a number of ways. Not only does it throw realism out of the window and include some creative enemy designs (eg: large tough “brute” enemies, zombies, armoured soldiers, tanks etc..) and also includes a large range of upgradeable weapons too. Although some of the more imaginative weapons are DLC, there are at least a couple of creative weapon designs (like the “sonic boom”) in the main game.

Yes, you can literally fight zombies with sci-fi weaponry. This is so epic!

In terms of the game’s vehicle segments, they are really good. As you’d expect from a “GTA”-inspired game, there are a wide variety of cars and motorbikes for the player to steal and you’ll quickly work out which ones are worth choosing. Plus, in addition to a few armoured vehicles, the game also contains segments that involve flying helicopters and VTOL planes (with reasonably intuitive controls) and even a few brief boat-based and skydiving segments too.

In the classic “GTA” fashion, there are several radio stations you can listen to when you’re in a vehicle. These include a refreshingly large variety of music and there is nothing better than roaring down the freeway at warp speed with the “William Tell Overture” thundering through your headphones or listening to some “edgy” Marilyn Manson music during a car chase.

Plus, there’s actually a radio station that plays heavy metal 🙂 I want to live in Steelport!

Plus, during at least a couple of missions, the game will also play some very well-chosen background music too. Whether it is Kanye West’s “Power” playing during a thrilling aerial raid on a penthouse flat or the way that Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out For A Hero” serves as a hint during a crucial decision that you have to make in a later part of the game, I cannot praise the music in this game highly enough 🙂

The game’s world design is fairly interesting too. Not only is the city large enough to encourage exploration, but it is small enough to ensure that you’re never too far away from where you need to be (and, yes, the game includes a “GPS” feature too). Plus, although a lot of the areas are the kind of generic Chicago/New York-style city locations that you’ve seen in “GTA” games before, there are still some brilliantly creative flourishes too.

Time to go to church! Just a shame that the doors are always locked 😦

This is a mission-specific area but, wow, this is so gloriously cyberpunk 🙂

All in all, this game was a hell of a lot of fun to play 🙂 Yes, it isn’t quite 100% perfect (eg: regenerating health, a limited saving system, DLC that messes with the difficulty curve, annoying escort missions etc…), but it certainly comes close. This is a game that is simultaneously a thrillingly epic action movie and a hilariously immature comedy at the same time. Although it was released in 2011, it is closer in spirit to the classic “edgy” games of the 1990s than most modern games. It is a game that is made to be fun and, for the most part, it achieves this in spectacular fashion 🙂

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

Mini Review : “Can You Save The World?” (Computer Game)

Well, although I wasn’t planning to write a computer game review today, I thought that I’d take a quick look at a rather interesting topical browser game called “Can You Save The World?” after reading this BBC News article about it and being vaguely curious about actually playing it.

Unlike older browser games, this one actually uses Unity and has 3D graphics too. Although the loading time will obviously depend on your internet speed, I’m guessing that this game will probably run on almost any vaguely modern computer. Not to mention that the game itself also only has to load when you start it up for the first time too 🙂

So, let’s take a look at “Can You Save The World?”:

“Can You Save The World?” (2020) is a social distancing themed game created by a small team of four people (Prof. Richard Wiseman, Martin Jacob, Julia Martinez Baiardi and Charlene Hedreville) in the space of about two weeks. Although it is primarily meant to be an educational game for younger players, the topical subject matter and the enjoyable gameplay meant that I ended up playing it more times than I’d initially expected to.

The main reason for this is that, although this game does make a point about social distancing in a number of clever ways, it actually works well as a game too 🙂

It’s a bit like a more realistic and non-violent version of those old scrolling space shooter games like “Tyrian 2000” or possibly an old obstacle course game like “Frogger” or “SkyRoads“, where the screen moves along at a constant speed and you have to dodge oncoming pedestrians and cyclists whilst picking up power-ups.

Plus, although it isn’t mentioned in the tutorial, you can also play using WSAD too 🙂

The gameplay is simple enough for pretty much anyone to jump into (especially since there is an optional tutorial segment) and yet also skill-based and fast-paced enough to give you enough of a challenge to make you want to have another go.

As you would expect from a game of this style, there is also a good difficulty curve too – with the street becoming more crowded and also featuring a good variety of dangers too.

This is from an earlier part of the game. Later on, the street gets a bit more crowded (although, interestingly, all of the other pedestrians still follow the 2 metre rule with each other too).

Not only are there ordinary pedestrians (with a 2-metre exclusion zone around them) who can easily be dodged in lower numbers – but turn the game into a fast-paced maze when more of them appear on screen, but there are also turret-like sneezing pedestrians and faster-moving cyclists that help to add some variety to the gameplay too.

The sneezes also happen at regular intervals too, allowing you to work out when to dash past.

Like the monsters in old-school games, both of these dangers will clearly telegraph their “attacks” a second or two in advance, which helps to keep the game fair.

Plus, to my delight, the cyclists also have a 2-metre exclusion zone around them too. Seriously, it was so refreshing to see the game actually showing the fact that sitting on a bicycle doesn’t magically exempt you from the 2-metre rule. And, in a wildly unrealistic display of game logic and artistic licence, the cyclists in the game also actually ring their bells to alert pedestrians to their presence too!

Now, if only someone could invent a way to place glowing blue warning lines in front of bicycles in real life…

In addition to all of this, you still have to watch out for obstacles like trees and benches – which can stagger/slow you down for a few seconds if you collide with them.

The distribution of dangers is also good enough that there isn’t really a way to “cheat”. For example, whilst the edges of the street are slightly safer, other pedestrians will occasionally get the same idea as you and this part of the street also offers no protection from sneezes either.

The gameplay is also kept interesting thanks to the fact that there are a variety of power-ups you can find too [Edit: Playing the game some more, I noticed a couple of power-ups that I missed in this list, such as a power up that slows everyone else down and a carrot that increases your speed].

There is protective equipment that increases your score (when you drop it off at a checkpoint), apples that give you extra health, egg cartons that increase the amount of PPE you can carry and – most hilariously of all – toilet roll. When you find this rare and precious item, it functions a bit like the stars from the old “Mario” games – playing jaunty music as you fly across the screen more quickly, picking up extra bonuses in complete safety for a few seconds.

Seriously, this made me laugh out loud the first time I saw it.

Another interesting thing about this game is it’s scoring and health system. Unlike many games, the scoring system represents the number of transmissions avoided by keeping your distance from people and – since viruses spread exponentially – your score also increases exponentially over time too. And, whilst the goal of the game is to “save the world” by getting a score of seven billion – the extreme difficulty of this (my highest score so far is about 7000) makes a very valid point about how, even with social distancing, going out too much can still be dangerous.

Who would have thought that spending lots of time in the middle of a busy street might be a bad idea?

And, yes, the game also gives a brief explanation about how viruses spread exponentially too.

The game’s health system is also interesting too – in classic fashion, there are a small number of hearts in the top corner of the screen which decrease whenever you get too close to someone. Although this is probably mostly there for gameplay reasons, it also makes a rather interesting point about risk too.

It makes a subtle real-life point about how, although a near-miss whilst walking (with, for example, someone cycling too close to the kerb or someone suddenly walking out of a blind corner) may or may not be “safe” on any one occasion (depending if anyone has the virus or not), the risk of getting ill increases the more often these types of things happen. So, this game’s health system teaches a valuable lesson about staying alert and being aware of any possible dangers in the vicinity.

One other interesting element of this game is that fact that, every time you play it, you play as a different character. This not only subtly makes the point that everyone has to be vigilant about social distancing (and hints that all of the game’s pedestrians – including you – are basically playing the same “game”), but it also adds some seriousness and dramatic weight to every “game over” too, since you can’t just restart as the same character.

I’m not sure if the characters are randomised or whether there is a fixed order, but having a new character after every “Game Over” is a really brilliant – if somewhat chilling – way of making a point.

In terms of graphics, this game is fairly timeless. Not only does the bright and cartoony aesthetic (which reminded me a bit of old Nintendo Wii games) cover up a lot of the more basic 3D modelling needed to keep loading times down – but it also contrasts really well with the game’s more serious subject matter too.

All in all, for an educational browser game made by four people in two weeks, this was a lot better and more well-designed than I’d expected 🙂 Not only does it work really well as a game – but it also makes a lot of very good points through subtle gameplay design choices too. In addition to the fact that it was surprising to play a game that feels so realistic, this is also one of those games that – like a lot of classic games – may have initially been designed for younger audiences but is fun, challenging and complex enough to still be enjoyable for older players too.

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

Review: “Ion Fury” (Computer Game)

Well, since I’ve been distracted from reading the next book I plan to review (“Warhol’s Prophecy” by Shaun Hutson) for the few days before preparing this article, I thought that it was time the review the game responsible for this. I am, of course, talking about the one and only “Ion Fury” (2019).

This game was previously known as “Ion Maiden” but, alas, the best modern game referencing the best heavy metal band of all time was just too awesome for the miserable trademark lawyers of the music industry to handle. Hence the name change.

Anyway, when a new 1990s-style “Build Engine” game was announced a year or two ago, I pre-ordered a copy on GOG as soon as I had a modern enough computer (and, yes, “Ion Fury” has higher system requirements than actual 1990s games do) and played the preview demo more times than I could remember. And, even though the game’s release was delayed until August 2019, it was well worth the wait 🙂

Note: Since I prepare these reviews very far in advance, this review will cover V1.00 of the game – since it is the one I played. So, although I’ll mention a technical bug I found (with the “chapter select” screen), it has probably been patched by the time that this review goes out. Even if it hasn’t, the presence of manual saves means that this small bug isn’t exactly game-breaking.

I also played the game using software rendering, rather than Open GL, since I’m using integrated graphics. So, if you’ve got a graphics card, the lighting will probably look better than the screenshots here.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Ion Fury”:

Seriously, even the main menu looks really cool 🙂

“Ion Fury” is a spiritual successor to “Duke Nukem 3D”. Set in a vaguely “Blade Runner”-inspired cyberpunk future, you play as a bomb disposal expert for the Global Defence Force called Shelly “Bombshell” Harrison.

She is relaxing in a neon-lit bar when suddenly the window explodes and she spills her drink. Robed cyborgs suddenly start marching the streets. On a nearby viewscreen, the cackling face of the maniacal cyberneticist Dr. Jadus Heskel appears and announces that he is taking over the city. In retribution for her spilled drink, Shelly swears to spill Heskel’s blood.

Seriously, more games need to be set in cool-looking “1980s futuristic” cities like this 🙂

Yes! Heskel is an evil scientist who cackles and delivers moustache-twirlingly silly villain dialogue 🙂 This is so 1990s 🙂

One of the first things that I will say about this game is WOW! If someone made a FPS game specifically for me, it would look a lot like this one 🙂 In addition to lots of cool cyberpunk stuff, an actual personality and robed cultists like the ones from “Blood“, this game is a hell of a lot of fun to play too 🙂 Seriously, it’s so good to see a modern FPS game that is firmly focused around actual gameplay and old-school level design too 🙂

And what gameplay it is! As you would expect, the bulk of the gameplay revolves around combat and this feels suitably dramatic, responsive, fast-paced and impactful.

On the “Ultra Viscera” difficulty setting, the combat is also brutally unforgiving in the best possible way 🙂 Even the “weakest” cyborg monster is still a mortal threat to you, and you’ll need both quick reflexes and a tactical mind if you want to survive. And, wow, what a thrill ride it is 🙂 There is something inherently satisfying about getting through a tough battle by the skin of your teeth, relying on nothing but your own skills and quick thinking.

And, in classic 1990s fashion, this game has difficulty settings with cool-sounding names 🙂

But, if you haven’t played any actual mid-late 1990s FPS games before, then I would strongly recommend choosing one of the lower difficulty settings (“First Blood” or “Wanton Carnage”) for your first playthrough. These difficulty modes are probably what is considered “fair” by modern standards, with fewer enemies (who do less damage) and more supplies for the player. But, “Ultra Viscera” is closer to the “normal” difficulty settings of actual mid-late 1990s games like “Duke Nukem 3D”, “Shadow Warrior”, “Blood”, “Final Doom”, “SiN” etc…

This challenge is complemented by a brilliantly balanced health and ammo system. Unlike modern FPS games, there’s no regenerating health here and you’ll have about nine weapons (eight of which have separate ammo types). This adds a strategic element to the game, forcing the player to not only manage their resources but to balance caution and bravado too.

Unlike many modern games, the levels here (about twenty-seven of them), are complex non-linear things that require both exploration and backtracking 🙂 This is an integral feature of the game. Not only will you be required to search for switches and keycards in pretty much every level, but exploration is pretty much the only way to get a decent amount of health and ammo on higher difficulty settings too. Each level contains more than enough of both to see you through, but only if you actively go and look for them 🙂 In other words, there are lots of cleverly hidden items and areas that are there to both encourage and reward exploration 🙂

Literally the only criticisms I have of the level design are a lack of visual variety in some levels (for every cool-looking location, expect at least one extremely generic-looking “lab”, “office”, “sewer” or “industrial” level too) and a slight over-reliance on small spider-like robots that are difficult to hit. This aside, the level design here is absolutely superb 🙂

It’s an 1980s neon-lit sci-fi version of a 1990s shopping centre 🙂 This is so cool 🙂

And when the game actually shows you the world outside of it’s generic-looking factories, labs and underground bases, it is really amazing 🙂

In a vague concession to modernity, the game also includes an “auto-save” feature. But, fear not! There is no checkpoint saving here 🙂 Yes, the auto-saves function like checkpoints but – like in any proper computer game – you can also save literally whenever you want 🙂 Interestingly, the game also includes a “chapter select” feature – however, it didn’t work properly in the version (V 1.00. Again, I write these reviews very far in advance) that I played, but this might have been fixed by the time this review goes out.

In terms of weapons and monsters, this game is brilliant. Earlier, I mentioned how even the “weakest” monsters can be a serious threat and, as you would expect, there’s a decent variety of monsters to fight here.

Like in “Blood” and “Shadow Warrior”, the most common type are basic “soldier” enemies with different types of weapons. But, there are also small robot spiders, acid-spitting robot centipedes, two types of zombies and a variety of both larger monsters (including one inspired by the Fiend from “Quake”) and bosses to keep you on your toes. These all have different attack patterns and each one has an optimum tactic and/or weapon you’ll want to use to defeat them. Seriously, this adds a lot of depth and variety to the almost constant combat 🙂

Oh, and did I mention that the zombies actually attack in a proper horde at one point too 🙂 Seriously, this is so cool 🙂

The weapons are really good too – with even the basic pistol being a thunderously powerful three-barrelled revolver and the default weapon being a futuristic electro-baton that is literally called “The Electrifryer” that can also be used to recharge generators too. Although many of the other weapons are fairly standard “classic” FPS weapons (eg: Shotgun, minigun, SMGs, grenade launcher etc…), they still have enough quirks to set themselves apart from the crowd.

In addition to genuinely useful alternate fire modes and really dramatic sounds/animations, literally every weapon in this game is useful. Whether it is the “bowling bombs” that auto-target enemies or a seemingly useless flat grenade called a “Clusterpuck” – which suddenly becomes very useful when you realise how incredibly powerful it’s alternate fire is (provided that you’re far enough away to use it safely), the weapons here are really well-balanced.

Plus, the basic shotgun’s alternate fire is also the game’s grenade launcher, allowing for a lot of flexibility during battles.

Even the “boring” laser crossbow suddenly turns into something truly spectacular when you hold the alt fire button down for long enough. My only criticism of the weapon design is the lack of a rocket launcher. However, this limitation does make you play more strategically and also helps to focus the gameplay on more intense and frantic close-mid range battles too 🙂

As well as this great gameplay, this game actually has personality too 🙂 Seriously, I miss when this was an integral part of the FPS genre. Not only will Shelly shout out all sorts of hilariously badass one-liners during combat (including a couple of Offspring references and the “Yippie Ki Yay…” line from Die Hard 🙂 ), but Heskel’s villain monologues – voiced by none other than Jon St. John- are gloriously cheesy in the best possible way too 🙂

This humour also extends to the game’s visual design too. Like in “Duke Nukem 3D”, the lavish pixel art environments are absolutely crammed with small visual jokes, parodies and pop culture references. I’ve probably missed at least a few of them and there are far too many to even think about listing here, but almost everything in this game has some level of creativity or humour to it.

Yes, there are one or two outdated “jokes” that aren’t really funny (eg: the controversial “moisturiser bottle” sprite that appears in at least a couple of the levels) and may briefly lessen your enjoyment of the game. But, most of the time, the game’s humour works reasonably well.

Plus, so many objects in the environment can also be interacted with and/or are made from voxels (anyone remember those?) too. And, unlike “Duke Nukem 3D” and “Shadow Warrior”, there are a lot more voxels and interactive items thanks to slightly more powerful modern computers. Seriously, I’d love to see the parallel universe where this was the visual direction that “AAA” FPS games took 🙂

You can even play darts. Darts!

In terms of the music, this game includes lots of dramatic 1980s-style synth music which really fits in with the retro sci-fi atmosphere of the game. Whilst is it less distinctive than the famous music of actual 1990s FPS games like “Duke Nukem 3D” or “Doom”, it fits in really well with the game’s world and really helps to add some extra atmosphere.

All in all, although this game has a few flaws, these things are easily eclipsed by the sheer awesomeness of almost everything else. This is a modern 1990s-style FPS game that is filled with personality, humour, enjoyably challenging gameplay and creative level design 🙂 It is like “Blood” meets “Duke Nukem 3D” meets “Final Doom” meets “Blade Runner” meets “Ghost In the Shell” 🙂 It is a low-mid budget game that puts most “AAA” games to shame 🙂

If I had to go through the formality of giving it a rating out of five, it would get a very solid five 🙂

Mini Review: “Alisa (Demo)” (Computer Game)

First of all, apologies for breaking my usual rule about placing articles between reviews. Although there was originally meant to be an article here, I wasn’t satisfied with it and had originally planned to replace it with an art preview – but then I happened to stumble across a “let’s play” video for something which I just had to review instead. I am, of course, talking about the “work in progress” demo version of a modern indie survival horror game by Caspar Croes from 2019 called “Alisa“.

Of course, being a demo, this won’t really be a full review. Still, one of the cool things about this demo is that not only does it have ultra-low system requirements that are actually appropriate for a retro-style game but it is actually a proper old-school demo too (which is technically free, albeit with an option for donations).

So, let’s take a look at the demo version of “Alisa”:

“Alisa” is set in the 1920s and begins with a Royal Armed Defences agent called Alisa waking up inside a creepy old mansion. She has no clue how she got there or why she is wearing a bizarre Victorian “Alice In Wonderland”-style costume.

Curioser and curioser…

After finding a door key, a pistol and a mysterious note, she decides to look for a way out. What could possibly go wrong?

Eerily inhuman porcelain doll automatons? Whew! I thought I’d ended up in a zombie mansion for a moment there.

Not only is the mansion filled with creepy murderous automatons and a hulking brute, but scattered notes leave ominous references to scientific experiments and someone has placed bizarre puzzles around the mansion too.

But, everything isn’t doom and gloom – there’s a friendly puppet called Pol who wants you to scavenge cogs from the broken corpses of fallen automatons. What a nice fellow.

Just try to not think about what could be on the other end of that arm.

One of the first things that I will say about this demo is WOW! The best way to describe “Alisa” is that it is like a cross between the original “Resident Evil”, “Alone In The Dark” and “American McGee’s Alice” 🙂

It is a totally new 1990s-style survival horror game and you have no clue how long I have been waiting for something like THIS! If you enjoyed playing the first three “Resident Evil” games when you were younger, you will feel at home here 🙂

And, yes, if the idea of themed door keys elicits a sudden moment of nostalgia, then you will love this game.

In terms of the game’s horror elements, they are brilliantly creepy 🙂 Although this isn’t the kind of game that will make you jump and clutch your pounding heart, it is the kind of game that will leave you feeling decidedly unsettled after you’ve played it for a while. In other words, this game achieves a deeper and more subtle form of horror through atmosphere, setting and story. Not only are Victorian porcelain dolls inherently creepy, but the ominous hints about the nature and purpose of the “dollhouse” are also fairly disturbing too.

Unlike a lot of classic survival horror games, this one is completely bloodless. Although this might sound like it would make everything less frightening, the opposite is true. The complete lack of gore just adds to the eerily uncanny and inhuman atmosphere of the giant dollhouse. Plus, it places much more emphasis on the other types of horror in the game – whilst also denying the player the cathartic comfort blanket of “Resident Evil”-style cartoonish blood clouds too. Add to this some exquisitely disturbing background music, a couple of well-placed eerie set pieces and an ominously mysterious plot and you get a game that will leave you feeling haunted after playing it for a while.

This game also sometimes does the classic survival horror thing of not showing you everything in a room after you step through the door.

This is the kind of game that wears its influences on it’s sleeve and yet also manages to be it’s own unique and distinctive thing at the same time.

There’s the “zombie mansion” style premise and gameplay of “Resident Evil”, the twisted gothic Victoriana of “American McGee’s Alice” and the early 20th century Lovecraftian eeriness of “Alone In The Dark”. Yet, as I mentioned earlier, this game is very much its own distinctive thing at the same time. Like many classic games, it actually has it’s own personality – with a “creepy old dollhouse” theme and some wonderfully twisted moments of quirky humour too.

And, yes, the first conversation between Alisa and Pol somehow manages to be both funny and unsettling at the same time.

And, whilst this may look like Alice has ended up in the Spencer Mansion instead of Wonderland, this game is very different from both things.

As for the gameplay, this is an old-school 1990s style survival horror game 🙂 If you grew up with the classic “Resident Evil” games, you’ll instantly feel at home here and will relish the chance to finally play this type of game again. But, if you are a modern gamer, then you might find both the camera and controls to be a bit confusing or awkward at first. But, don’t give up – this is the whole point of the game!

This game makes expert use of well-framed fixed camera angles to build suspense and 1990s-style “tank” movement controls to unsettle and disorientate the player. In classic “Resident Evil” fashion, the aiming system is also deliberately slow and imprecise – requiring the player to stand still, raise their weapon and carefully pivot towards the enemy.

Not only does this make the monsters more of a threat to the player, but the combat is also made slightly more user-friendly thanks to a small icon (which is easily missed) that shows you whether your shot is lined up properly. This extra help is balanced out by the fact that you have to reload manually, which can add extra tension to each fight too.

You actually need to read the tutorials! And, yes, despite the picture of a controller, you can play with a keyboard instead 🙂

Although the game doesn’t use a limited inventory system for puzzle and health items, this is made up for by the fact that you can only carry one weapon at a time (and have to use an item box to change it).

Yes, the menus and controls can take a bit of getting used to – but this is part of the fun of the game. It is evocative of the very first time you played “Resident Evil” and it is also a homage to the days when survival horror was a new genre that was still finding its feet.

It’ll take you a while to work out how to use this menu – just like in the good old days 🙂

The game’s monster design is really cool too. Although there are only three types of monster here, each has it’s own distinctive movement and attack patterns that add some variety to the gameplay.

There are basic “Resident Evil” style slow-moving enemies, there are faster crawling enemies (that are difficult to shoot and are best run away from) and there is a giant hulking monster who seems to be pretty much invincible and therefore has to be avoided rather than fought. In addition to all of this, I cannot praise the monster design enough too – not only are all of the monsters consistent with the game’s theme/atmosphere, but they all look genuinely creepy too because of this.

As for the two puzzles in the demo, they’re reasonably good too. Although I’m not a fan of puzzles in games (and had to use a “let’s play” video as a walkthrough for the second one), both are reasonably well-designed and consistent with the sort of thing you’d expect from an old-school survival horror game. One is a traditional slider puzzle – albeit with a slightly unintuitive U.I – and the other is an item/combination puzzle that, to be fair to the game, does give you a clue about how to solve it when you find one of the puzzle items.

Puzzles? We meet again, old foe!

This game is “old-school” in the most loveable and awesome way possible. Everything from the low-poly/pre-rendered graphics to the tank controls to the endearingly fun voice-acting just oozes 1990s nostalgia 🙂 This is a game that gets the style and atmosphere of this part of videogame history absolutely right. It looks and feels like an actual Playstation One game from the mid-late 1990s.

Yes, without this historical context, it is easy to point at this game’s flaws (and expect to be frustrated by the controls/user interface once or twice) – but this misses what makes this game so awesome. By also recreating some of the technical flaws of older games, “Alisa” feels less like a modern indie game and more like a “lost” game from the 1990s 🙂

The demo is very short – but you will have an incentive to replay it a couple of times thanks to how the game handles weapons and upgrades. Whenever you kill an automaton, they spew several cogs which can be collected and used to “buy” weapons, ammo, health and stat-altering alternate costumes. Since there are only about seven monsters in the demo, you won’t find enough cogs to get both the tommygun and the gothic alternate costume in a single playthrough. So, this encourages replayability.

Finally! Some dark clothes! Those *ugh* bright pastel clothes were really starting to freak me out.

All in all, although this is only a small demo, it is a “quality over quantity” type thing 🙂 I have been waiting for a modern game like this for so long 🙂 Yes, this is the type of game that you’ll probably get the most out of if you grew up in the 1990s/early-mid 2000s – but, if you fall into this group, then you’ll love it. It is literally like a “lost” mid-late 1990s survival horror game 🙂

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

Review: “Devil Daggers” (Computer Game)

Well, since I’m still reading the next novel I plan to review (“Ice Station” by Matthew Reilly), I thought that I’d take a look at a computer game that I’ve wanted to play for a while. I am, of course talking about an indie game from 2016 called “Devil Daggers” (V.3, I think), which I happened to notice was on special offer on GOG several days before I prepared this review.

So, let’s take a look at “Devil Daggers”. However, I should probably warn you that this review will contain some mild gameplay SPOILERS and some (unrealistic) BLOODY IMAGES.

“Devil Daggers” is a minimalist 1990s-influenced first-person shooter game and, in true ’90s tradition, there isn’t much of a story. You play as an unnamed person who finds a mysterious hovering dagger in a gloomy room. When you pick it up, you are transported to an arena in hell where skeletal monsters constantly attack you. There is no end, no victory. Only survival until cold, inevitable death.

One of the first things that I will say about this game is that it is a hell of a lot of fun 🙂 Yes, it probably isn’t for everyone, but if you’re a fan of 1990s/ early-mid 2000s FPS games then you’ll really enjoy it. Not only does it do some innovative stuff with a familiar formula, but it is also a game in the truest sense of the word. In other words, like a lot of great classic games, the emphasis is very firmly on the actual gameplay.

: Image of a hand shooting magical dagger-like projectiles at a group of floating skeletal monsters in a dark, blood-spattered arena. Text in the upper left corner reads New High Score.

Yes! Gameplay! In a modern FPS game! Who would have thought it?

And what gameplay it is! In essence, this game is a stripped-down version of a classic ’90s shooter, with the player only having a small number of attacks (eg: a continuious fire mode and a shotgun-like blast attack) at the beginning of the game – both of which are accessed via the same mouse button. These attacks become more powerful after collecting a certain number of crystals dropped by fallen enemies (and there’s an incentive to stop shooting occasionally, since they float towards you when you do).

In the classic fashion, you can also run and turn very quickly. You only have one health point. Various skeletal monsters keep spawning endlessly (in a predicable, pre-set fashion that you’ll have to learn). There is no way of “winning” and, instead, you are scored on how long you managed to survive. At the time of writing, my personal best is 149.7742 seconds.

This took me way too much practice. Not to mention decades of playing old FPS games before finding this game.

All of this adds up to an incredibly fast-paced, frenetic, thrilling and streamlined game that also feels a lot like learning a skill 🙂 It is a game where, every time you fail, you’ll want to pick yourself up and practice some more. Not only do you need quick reflexes but, like in many of the classic FPS games of the 1990s, there are tactics and strategies you need to learn in order to stand a chance.

Whilst avid 1990s FPS gamers will probably be very familiar with some of them (eg: circle-strafing etc..), each of the game’s monsters have different weak points, attack patterns etc… that you’ll need to learn if you want to do better than you did last time.

Image of a hand shooting magical dagger-like projectiles at the middle of a giant floating eight-legged skull creature. A smaller skull, the creature's weak point, is glowing from being struck by the daggers.

For example, you need to hit a very specific spot in order to harm this monster.

For example, one of the game’s monsters is a horned skull. After you’ve died a few times, you’ll realise that if you don’t see one of these on screen then it often means that it is right behind you and you have less than a second left to live! So, you need to fight these horned skulls before fighting other types of monsters.

:  Image of an outstretched hand in front of a horde of levitating skeletal monsters. A horned skull looms large in the close foreground.

Yes, this is actually a good thing. It’s when you can’t see the horned skulls that you have to worry.

Plus, since you only have one health point, literally all of the game’s monsters are a serious threat to you – although this is balanced by the classic “bullet hell” technique of giving the player a tiny hitbox. All of this brilliantly replicates the suspenseful and challenging fun of old FPS games like “Blood“, where every battle actually feels like a genuine struggle for survival.

Like in a classic FPS game, there’s a really good variety of monsters too. Like in “Doom” and “Quake”, most of these have a skeletal, hellish and/or Lovecraftian theme to them. And, as mentioned earlier, they all have different attack patterns, weak spots etc.. that you have to learn too. This really helps to prevent the game from becoming monotonous and also sets it apart from famous horde-battle games like “Painkiller” and “Serious Sam“, in that mindless shooting won’t really get you very far.

Although this game doesn’t have a saving system, it doesn’t actually need one. Since you are scored on how long you survive, the game only needs to save your highest score. Plus, like in old-school FPS games, there is a very fast iteration time too (which helps prevent your numerous deaths being too frustrating). Once you die, you can just click “retry” and start a new game less than a second later.

Of course, this can easily lead to a fairly bad case of “just one more go…” where a quick five-minute session can turn into half an hour or more without you even really noticing or caring. So, yes, this game is a serious time-guzzler – which is either a good or a bad thing, depending on how you look at it.

The game has a lot of options too. In addition to a field of view slider, you can also enable/disable various flickering effects etc… and even better, you can actually choose to play as a left-handed character. It’s a tiny thing, but is still really cool to see (given that I’m left-handed) and it also places the game in the tradition of the original “Doom”, “Quake II” (you have to choose it in the options though), the old “Zelda” games and a few others 🙂

Image of an outstretched left hand, the thumb little more than bone, in front of a giant hovering centipede like creature made out of bones.

Seriously, it’s so cool to play as a left-handed character 🙂

One of the cool things about the DRM-Free GOG version of this game I played is that it actually contains an optional “offline mode” 🙂 So, if you believe that single-player games shouldn’t require an internet connection and that the best form of competition is against yourself, then the GOG version of this game is well worth playing 🙂 I haven’t tested the online mode but, from what I’ve read, it seems to involve competing for a place on an online leaderboard.

In terms of the graphics and art style, this game is very heavily influenced by both the hellish atmosphere of the original “Doom” and the creepy Lovecraftian aesthetic of “Quake”, whilst also being it’s own thing too. The game contains deliberately old-school 3D models that still somehow manage to look cooler, creepier and just generally more awesome than the most “realistic” modern “AAA” graphics. Seriously, the moment where the giant skull-spider appears for the first time is something that you’ll never forget. This game is a work of art, and proof that a distinctive aesthetic beats hyper-realistic graphics every time 🙂

An image of the game, but the colours are bright, highly-saturated yellows, reds and pinks.

Plus, whenever you gain a weapon upgrade from collecting crystals, time slows down for a second or so and this cool effect plays.

Plus, like in a lot of great older games, there is a lot of emphasis placed on lighting too. Whether it is all of the various glowing projectiles or the fact that the game tells you that you’re getting dangerously close to the edge of the arena (which, of course, has a bottomless pit behind it) by how dark the floor is, it is so awesome to see a game that uses light and darkness in such a conscious and cool-looking way 🙂

In terms of the music and sound design, this game is really good 🙂 The sound effects are all suitably crunchy, which really helps to add a lot of atmosphere and weight to the game. The music is the kind of ominous, creepy ambient soundtrack that wouldn’t be out of place in the original “Quake”. But, whilst this certainly adds a creepy atmosphere to the game, it is slightly at odds with the fast-paced and frenetic gameplay. So, after a while, I just went through my music collection and put some heavy metal music on in the background instead.

All in all, this is a really cool tribute to classic 1990s/early-mid 2000s FPS games like “Doom”, “Quake”, “Blood” and “Painkiller” 🙂 Not only is it enjoyably challenging and incredibly thrilling, but it also sticks to the traditions of innovation and creativity that used to be standard in the FPS genre. It is both very similar and very different to the classic games that it takes inspiration from. It is unique. Just don’t expect to get anything productive done after you’ve installed it though. It’s a time-guzzler, but in the best possible way.

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

Review: “Hard Reset Redux” (Computer Game)

Well, since I’m still reading the next novel I plan to review (“The End Of The Day” by Claire North), I thought that I’d review a rather cool-looking “AA” cyberpunk first-person shooter game from 2016 called “Hard Reset Redux” (made by the same people who made the modern remake of “Shadow Warrior) which I’ve been meaning to play for ages, but only ended up getting a few weeks before writing this review when it went on special offer on GOG.

Interestingly, this game is an altered/expanded version of another game from 2011 called “Hard Reset”. Since I haven’t played that game I can’t really compare the two properly but, from what I gather, the “Redux” edition includes a new katana-style weapon, possibly an integrated expansion pack and at least one new enemy type.

So, let’s take a look at “Hard Reset Redux”:

Neon lights? Flying cars? Sprawling mega-city? THIS looks interesting 🙂

Set in a neon-lit cyberpunk future, you play as an official CLN operative who has been tasked with protecting the sprawling metropolis of Bezoar City from evil robots and cyborgs who want to gain access to a database of stored consciousnesses in the centre of the city. Of course, in a shocking twist, the robots break into the city and the game begins….

One of the first things that I will say about this game is that, although the gameplay isn’t anything too surprising, I was absolutely gripped during the early-middle parts of it. If you’re a fan of the film “Blade Runner” and thought that “Deus Ex” didn’t include enough fast-paced combat, then the early-middle parts of this game will absolutely astonish you. It’s basically “Blade Runner, but a FPS game” and you have no clue how long I have been waiting for something like this 🙂

Oh my god! YES!!!!

And, yes, there is a “Blade Runner” reference or two 🙂

You’ll notice how I’ve only mentioned the early parts of the game so far. This is because – although I have completed the game – this awesome “Blade Runner” style aesthetic, lighting and location design fades slightly as the game progresses, with everything becoming a bit more grimy, industrial and/or post-apocalyptic in a way vaguely reminiscent of early-mid 2000s FPS games like “Quake 4”, “Killzone”, “Red Faction II” and “Doom 3”. This is really cool, but I’d have loved to see the really cool cyberpunk cityscapes appear more consistently throughout the game. Even so, I can’t praise the general style and atmosphere of the first half or so of the game highly enough 🙂

Although this isn’t to say that there aren’t some cool-looking places later in the game too.

Even so, the later parts have much more of a post-apocalyptic look to them (probably due to the “Redux” edition also containing an expansion).

But, visuals and location design aside, what about the actual gameplay? If you’ve played the “Shadow Warrior” remake, you’ll know what to expect here. This is a “Serious Sam“/”Painkiller”-style FPS game where you have to fight waves of monsters in an arena-like room/area before moving on to the next one to do the same (and so on…), with the occasional boss battle to spice things up. This results in lots of thrillingly fast-paced and frenetic combat-focused gameplay that is also a lot more streamlined than the traditional FPS games of the 1990s.

However, one side-effect of this is that the level design is a lot more linear than you’d expect in a traditional 1990s FPS. Yes, the game does try to compensate for this by having a few “hidden” areas (though easily-findable by 1990s standards) where you can find extra stuff, not to mention that there were at least a couple of moments where I had to spend a minute or two working out where to go next. But, since this game is heavily combat-focused and is part of a well-established (and very fun) sub-genre of FPS games, I can’t criticise the linear level design here too much.

Yes, the levels are fairly linear but thanks to the fact that this game focuses almost entirely on intense, frantic combat , the level design actually sort of works here.

In terms of the combat, it is kept interesting by a good variety of small, mid-level and large monsters in the way that you’d expect from an old-school FPS game. Some of these monsters have different behaviours or attack patterns, which helps to add a slight element of strategy to the combat. Likewise, whilst you’ll rarely be fighting giant “Serious Sam”-style hordes, the monsters still attack in good enough numbers to keep the combat feeling suitably fast-paced and badass.

The design of the cyborg enemies is also strongly reminiscent of the Strogg from the second and fourth “Quake” games, which helps to add an extra level of 1990s/early-mid 2000s nostalgia to the game 🙂 But, that isn’t even the coolest part! There are also “Doom 3”-style zombies too 🙂 Seriously, cyberpunk sci-fi and zombies, it doesn’t get cooler than this 🙂

Woo hoo! Zombies! In a cyberpunk game 🙂

The boss battles are fairly interesting, although they don’t really follow a consistent difficulty curve. The first and second bosses that you encounter are “Painkiller”-inspired giant monsters that, like in the “Shadow Warrior” remake, require you to shoot their weak spots between battles against waves of smaller monsters.

These two bosses present a formidable challenge and, when you begin getting lots of hints and foreshadowing about the final boss, you’re ready for a truly epic battle… Only to fight a smaller robot that, whilst there are a couple of extra puzzle elements (eg: you have to get it to swallow barrels in order to lower its shields), isn’t anywhere near as much of a challenge to defeat. Yes, the final boss battle took me 10-15 minutes to complete, but I didn’t even die once during it! Again, this could be due to the “Redux” edition also including an expansion, but it still ruins the pacing/progression a bit.

This giant, towering behemoth is the first boss. And, yes, he presents quite a bit of a challenge.

This little tin can isn’t the first boss. It’s the final one. Expect a long, but not that challenging, battle 😦

In terms of the weapons, you only get three – an assault rifle-style gun, an energy weapon and a futuristic katana. However, this limited roster of weapons works surprisingly well, because you can collect in-game items (and there are absolutely no micro-transactions here 🙂 ) that allow you to choose and unlock upgrades and/or numerous alternate fire modes for two of them (the katana isn’t upgradable, and isn’t really that useful. But it looks cool) and for your character too. What this means is that the game actually includes something like 11-20 selectable attack types, which makes this game much more like a classic 1990s FPS than a modern-style two-weapon shooter 🙂

The katana looks cool (and is a cool reference to the “Shadow Warrior” remake too), but don’t expect to actually bother using it that often.

However, once you get the “Smartgun” upgrade (and its alternate fire modes) for the energy weapon, there really isn’t much reason or point to using anything else. So, for the later parts of game, expect to stick to just this one weapon almost all of the time.

Another cool 1990s-style element is that, like any proper computer game, you can save anywhere 🙂 Yes, the game auto-saves too and you only seem to get about one quick-save slot per segment/area of the game (and these quick-saves didn’t always load on my computer, although it was cool to see a proper loading menu where you could go back to some older saves). Even so, it is still very refreshing to see a proper “save anywhere” system in this miserable age of console-centric checkpoint saving 🙂

Likewise, another cool thing about this game is that it doesn’t fully use the dreaded regenerating health. Yes, your character’s armour and ammo regenerate slowly to an extent, but this is a game that requires you to actually find health and ammo. But, although the fact that these are dropped by fallen monsters encourages you to play in a more fast-paced and aggressive way, there is also no shortage of random health/ammo items just lying around. So, don’t expect to run out of either that often (compared to, say, a challenging 1990s FPS game).

Yes, this element of the game is wonderfully retro and helps to make things a bit more fast-paced and fun. But, on medium difficulty at least, don’t expect quite the same level of enjoyable challenge here though.

As for music and sound design, this game is pretty cool. In addition to the kind of fast-paced futuristic music you’d expect from a cyberpunk game, the sound design is fairly good. Yes, some of the weaker weapons deliberately sound a bit weedy, but this is probably an intentional design choice. Plus, in the earlier parts of the game, there is also lots of hilarious robotic dialogue from the many random vending machines that you’ll walk past. Seriously, it’s always good to see actual humour in a FPS game.

In terms of the game’s story, it is “so bad that it’s good” in the best 1990s-style way. There are some rather cool comic book-style cutscenes between segments of the game and, not only do these feature lots of gloriously cheesy and over-the-top moments, but the dialogue also uses a hilariously large number of four-letter words (in a way that comes across as immature/ “edgy” in the most ’90s way possible 🙂 ). And, yes, the actual story itself is generic as hell… But, this just adds to the 1990s-style charm.

And, yes, the cutscenes also include comic book-style titles and speech bubbles too.

As for length, this is probably a medium-length game at the least. Although I wasn’t really timing how long I was playing for, it wouldn’t surprise me if it took me at least 8-13 hours to complete it. Like with FPS games of this style, it is at its most enjoyable in relatively short 1-2 hour sessions. This game has a reasonably decent number of levels (again, I wasn’t counting. But, at a guess, probably at least 10-15, if not more). In other words, this game still felt like a full length FPS game, albeit one that was slightly shorter than the classics of the 1990s.

All in all, whilst this game is just another “Serious Sam”/”Painkiller”/ “Shadow Warrior (2013)”-style game, it’s still a really cool one. It has a really awesome aesthetic that is inspired by things like “Blade Runner” and mid-2000s FPS games, which is always awesome to see 🙂 The combat is reasonably fun, even if there are some difficulty curve issues with the bosses and the level design is (as you would expect) fairly linear. Still, for what it is, it is really cool 🙂

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

Review: “Neverending Nightmares” (Computer Game)

Well, although I’m still planning to review “Hard Reset Redux” in the future, I haven’t completed it yet. And, since I’m also still reading the next novel I plan to review (“An Argumentation Of Historians” by Jodi Taylor) and wasn’t in the mood for finding a “Doom II” level to look at, I decided to get a really intriguing-looking short indie horror game from 2014 called “Neverending Nightmares” that was on special offer on GOG when I prepared this review.

It actually took me a while to decide whether or not to buy this game and, since I looked at a few reviews and parts of “let’s play” videos whilst making my mind up, I went into it partially knowing what to expect. Although the game is still scary if you do this, I’d strongly advise avoiding as many spoilers as possible for the scariest experience with this game. But, although I’ll try to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, expect a few mild SPOILERS.

However, I should probably point out that this review may contain some (unrealistic) GRUESOME/ DISTURBING IMAGES. But I’ll avoid the creepiest or most gruesome ones in the game.

So, let’s take a look at “Neverending Nightmares”:

“Neverending Nightmares” is a 2D horror game, with mild survival horror/ stealth/ puzzle elements. It is set in the late 19th/early 20th century and it follows a man called Thomas who finds himself trapped in a series of increasingly disturbing nightmares. Whilst it isn’t a perfect game, it is fairly inventive and also works fairly well as a horror game despite some gameplay and design limitations.

In terms of this game’s horror elements, there’s a fairly good mixture of gory horror, psychological horror, gothic horror, monster horror, taboo-based horror, tragic horror, body horror, suspense and jump scares. Whilst this game will certainly make you jump a few times, this thankfully isn’t the main type of horror here. Unlike a typical modern jump scare game, the game also includes lots of slow-burn Victorian-style gothic psychological horror that is reminiscent of games like “The Last Door” and “American McGee’s Alice”. In other words, it is often more likely to make you feel nervous, tense, unsettled or slightly disturbed than outright terrified.

Seriously, it’s so good to see more subtle types of horror included too, like these creepy paintings in the background.

This is also one of those wonderfully creepy games where reality itself cannot be trusted. In classic horror game fashion, the world that Thomas finds himself in is slightly wrong and it gradually becomes more and more wrong. If you’ve ever actually had a nightmare-within-a-nightmare (and I once had five layered dreams, gradually turning more nightmarish with every false awakening), then the game captures this experience fairly well – albeit in a rather stylised and gothic way. Seriously, it is so cool to see a game based around this premise.

Although knowing that you’ll wake up after anything too horrific drains some of the tension, the fact that you sometimes wake up somewhere else and/or are immediately plunged into another nightmare helps to add a wonderfully bleak and claustrophobic atmosphere.

Likewise, although this game certainly isn’t for the squeamish, some of the game’s gory horror is handled in a surprisingly creative and intelligent way. Leaving aside the areas where blood spatter has been lazily added to the walls to add extra “horror”, many of the game’s most effectively shocking gruesome moments are well-designed enough that they would still be disturbing even without all of the blood and guts. In other words, like with great horror games such as “Silent Hill 3“, these moments are disturbing thanks to things like visual storytelling, the uncanny, symbolism etc..

For example, this is one of the game’s least gruesome “shock” moments, and it’s still creepy thanks to the situation, the psychological/religious symbolism etc..

The game’s suspense elements are reasonably good. A fair amount of the game involves wandering through empty rooms and occasionally hiding from/sneaking past monsters. Although this will probably make you sweat and it is probably one of the creepiest elements of the game, it unfortunately isn’t anywhere near as nerve-wrackingly heart-poundingly terrifying as something like “Remothered: Tormented Fathers” due to both the game’s level design and location design.

Whilst this game does have non-linear segments where you can actually explore a bit (like in a classic survival horror game), a fair amount of this game has fallen prey to the modern trend of funnelling the player along a single linear path. Yes, the game’s story branches depending on various things but you still sometimes get the feeling that you’re playing an interactive horror movie rather than actually exploring a creepy location. Another thing that discourages exploration is the fact that there are relatively few items (often highlighted via colour) that the player can examine/interact with, which makes many of the interesting-looking locations feel a bit hollow and also makes the game’s story and characters feel a bit limited/minimalist too.

Occasionally, you can actually examine non-highlighted items (like this portrait), but it doesn’t happen that often. And there’s no commentary/descriptions when you examine stuff, which slightly reduces the level of characterisation and immersion.

In terms of the actual gameplay, it is mechanically simple – which is both a good and a bad thing. In essence, you can walk around, interact/look at a few things and run short distances. Likewise, there is one simple inventory puzzle, one segment (in the story branch I played) involving searching for a bottle of milk and some fairly simple stealth segments that usually involve finding ways to get past creepy monsters (either by finding hiding places or by learning their behaviour patterns).

Although it is really refreshing not to see any of the convoluted inventory puzzles or ultra-difficult stealth segments that can make an enjoyable survival horror game grind to a screeching halt, this simplified gameplay reduces the player’s immersion slightly and – again – makes everything feel a bit more like an interactive horror movie than a traditional game. Still, if you want a more streamlined and forgiving survival horror-inspired game, then this might work well. Just don’t expect too much of a challenge though (eg: I got stuck for ten minutes on one stealth puzzle and also had to check a walkthrough for two mildly confusing/counter-intuitive parts of the game, but that was it).

Still, one cool thing is that – like any real computer game should – this game allows you to save anywhere 🙂 Yes, this takes the watered-down modern form of having just one quick-save slot (accessed via the “Save & Exit” feature in the game’s menu) and it will only save the room you are in (so, if you save in the middle of a long corridor, you’ll have to restart the corridor), but it is still cool to see in this age of console-centric checkpoint saving. Likewise, once you’ve completed a “chapter” of the game, you can also go back and select/replay it too 🙂

In terms of the visual design, this game is really brilliant 🙂 As an artist/cartoonist myself, this game’s art style and the detailed hand-drawn backgrounds were an absolute joy to look at 🙂 Not only do the backgrounds look like the etchings from an old Victorian “Penny Dreadful“, but the more innocent and cartoonish character design (reminiscent of something like Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis” comics) also contrasts really eerily with these detailed backgrounds too 🙂 Another cool thing is that, because most of this game is in monochrome, anything in colour stands out a lot more – which is used to both highlight stuff that you can interact with and to make the copious amounts of blood etc.. stand out a bit more.

Seriously, the art style really helps to give this game a unique atmosphere.

My only criticism of the game’s art is that fact that a lot of visual details, backgrounds etc… are re-used quite often. But, although this can make the game feel a little monotonous/padded out at times, I can easily imagine that everything in the game probably took longer to draw than it looks and – given that this is a low-budget game made by a small team of indie developers – I can’t really criticise the re-used artwork too much.

In terms of sound design, this game is excellent 🙂 One of the most important things that makes a horror game scary is the sound design – and this game excels here, with creepy whispering, disturbing noises, Thomas’ heavy breathing, creaking footsteps, thunderclaps, jump scare noises etc… that really help to add a lot to this game’s chillingly suspenseful and gothic atmosphere. As for the voice-acting, there isn’t that much of it and – for a low-budget indie game – it is reasonably good (or at least not glaringly bad).

As for length, this is a short game – which took me a total of about 2-3 hours to complete (and, even then, some mid-late segments of the game felt a little padded). However, the game contains several branching paths that affect the locations/story and will not only show you which ones you followed, but will actually allow you to select chapters you’ve completed in order to find new paths more easily. So, it has a bit of replay value. And, given that I bought this game when it was on special offer and when I was in the mood for a short game, I didn’t have too many problems with the length. Still, don’t expect a giant game.

And, yes, this is where my playthrough of the game ended up going…

All in all, whilst this isn’t a perfect game, it is still a fairly interesting one that is possibly worth taking a look at when it is on special offer. If you want a slightly more creative short modern horror game that relies on more than just jump scares, if you don’t mind slightly simplified gameplay/level design, if you like the game’s art style and if you can forgive some of the low-budget limitations, then you’ll have a wonderfully creepy couple of hours with this game.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get three and three-quarters.

Review: “Dreamfall Chapters: The Final Cut” (Computer Game)

Well, since I’m still reading the next book I plan to review (“The Damnation Game” by Clive Barker), I thought that I’d take the chance to review a game that I’ve wanted to play for literally years 🙂

Back in the early 2010s, I discovered both “The Longest Journey” (1999) and “Dreamfall: The Longest Journey” (2006). These intelligent, profound, story-driven sci-fi/fantasy adventure games absolutely astonished me at the time. So, you can imagine my delight when I heard that this series would become a trilogy thanks to an episodic, crowdfunded third game called “Dreamfall Chapters” starting in 2014.

There was, of course, one problem. The vintage mid-2000s computer I had back then couldn’t run “Dreamfall Chapters”. So, for several years, I didn’t play it. Then, a couple of months before preparing this review, I ended up getting a vaguely modern refurbished computer. And, when a DRM-free version of the 2017 “Final Cut” edition of “Dreamfall Chapters” was on special offer on GOG a few weeks later, the decision to get it was an absolute no-brainer.

However, I should probably point out that because my computer’s Intel HD 2500 integrated graphics were just below the minimum system requirements, I not only had to turn the graphics settings to minimum but also had to tweak the game’s registry entries to lower the resolution to 800 x 600 in order to get a playable framerate (which worked a bit like a resolution scaling does). So, the screenshots in this review don’t reflect how the game probably looks with a proper graphics card and/or using the default widescreen resolutions.

I should also point out that, unlike most game sequels, “Dreamfall Chapters” should only be played after you’ve played both “The Longest Journey” and “Dreamfall: The Longest Journey” (in that order). Although the game contains an optional recap video for the events of “Dreamfall: The Longest Journey”, certain important characters, important story events and at least one puzzle will make no sense whatsoever if you haven’t played “The Longest Journey” first. So, play the trilogy in order!

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Dreamfall Chapters”. Needless to say, this review may contain some mild SPOILERS for “Dreamfall Chapters” and will contain MAJOR SPOILERS for “Dreamfall: The Longest Journey”.

The game begins directly after the events of “Dreamfall: The Longest Journey” with a short scene showing April Ryan’s body being cremated. Then, in a small house, a man waits nervously outside a door whilst his wife gives birth to their daughter.

Meanwhile, Zoe Castillo is trapped in the Storytime whilst her body remains in a coma. In this dream-world, she has several powers that she didn’t have in the waking world and she needs them. The Storytime has become filled with people trapped in nightmares by WATI Corp’s dream-machines and it is up to Zoe to rescue them. After rescuing a child from a nightmare, Zoe meets a mysterious old man who tells her that she needs to wake from her coma because she is needed elsewhere.

After waking up, Zoe’s story flashes forwards several months to the year 2200. She is living in the neon-drenched European mega-city of Propast, still suffering from amnesia despite regular sessions with a psychologist. But, this aside, her life is going reasonably well. She has a low-paying tech job and is still in a relationship, albeit a slightly rocky one, with Reza. The only problem is that there are troops on the street and Propast seems to be gradually turning into more and more of a police state.

A dystopian police state? In a cyberpunk mega-city? Who would have thought it?

Meanwhile, in the city of Marcuria in the magical parallel universe of Arcadia, Kian Alvane is imprisoned in a tower awaiting execution for betraying the Azadi. But, the night before he is scheduled to die, there is a prison riot. A mysterious man knocks on his cell door and tells him that the riot is to disguise his escape. The magical resistance needs his help….

Well, it would have been a fairly short game if he hadn’t been rescued at the last minute….

One of the first things that I will say about this game is that I really enjoyed it 🙂 Yes, it’ll only really appeal to avid fans of the first two games and it is often more like an interactive TV show than a traditional adventure game. But, if you’ve played the previous two games, then this is still an absolutely brilliant conclusion to one of the most epic, powerful and just generally intelligent stories to ever be told through the medium of computer games.

And, yes, this is very much a story-based game. It tells an epic, complex and emotionally-powerful story, with interesting characters, that blends both the cyberpunk and fantasy genres in a unique way whilst also exploring themes of fate, technology, social media addiction, politics, morality, dreams/imagination, life and death etc… If you like intelligent stories or wish that something like a HBO-style TV series also had interactive elements, then this game is well worth playing. Or, to put it another way, whilst the game’s numerous cutscenes aren’t skippable, they’re usually interesting enough that you won’t want to skip them.

Seriously, there’s probably a small DVD boxset worth of cutscenes here and they’re worth watching.

Seriously, I absolutely loved the story, characters, worldbuilding etc… in this game 🙂 Yes, I could probably pick a few holes in parts of the story (eg: the lack of foreshadowing for some later plot twists etc…), but my overall impressions of it were extremely good. This entire trilogy is gaming’s equivalent of masterpieces like like Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” comics, the film “Blade Runner” or Frank Herbert’s “Dune” novels.

This game tells a story that will make you laugh out loud, that will make you think, that will make you gasp, that will make you smile, that will make you cry and which will probably linger in your imagination for a long time after you’ve finished each gaming session. I’m wary of spoilers, so I won’t say too much more about it but, if you’ve played the first two games, then this is a fitting end to such a beautiful and profound tale 🙂

Seriously, this game is a really brilliant conclusion to the trilogy’s epic sci-fi/fantasy story 🙂

Still, since it is a game, then I should probably talk about the actual gameplay. Although it is frequently broken up by a lot of cutscenes, there is actually gameplay here. It consists of exploration, puzzle-solving and decision-making. Like with “Dreamfall: The Longest Journey”, this is a modern-style adventure game which uses real-time “WSAD” movement controls rather than the traditional “point and click” controls. This helps the game to feel a bit more fluid, immediate and interactive whilst also giving it a very small hint of the role-playing genre too.

Although there are only two large locations (Propast and Marcuria) to explore, I absolutely love the exploration elements of this game. After the extremely linear first hour or so of the game, the fact that the game drops you into a “Blade Runner”/”Ghost In The Shell” style cyberpunk city and then gives you the ability to actually explore it is an absolute joy 🙂

Woo hoo! Some actual exploration 🙂

Even so, there are a fair number of more linear gameplay segments too.

Yes, this isn’t exactly an open-world game and quite a few parts of the game can be a bit linear, but the fact that the two main locations are large enough to require you to use maps and/or memory to get around really help to add some intriguing exploration to the game 🙂

In terms of the puzzles, although I’m terrible at adventure game puzzles (and had to use a walkthrough frequently), they are – by adventure game standards- very logical and probably not too taxing for experienced adventure gamers.

Not only that, some of the puzzles – like this one involving testing out a second-hand robot called “shitbot” (which only apparently appears in one story branch) – are absolutely hilarious too 🙂

In other words, there isn’t really any “moon logic” (unlike the dreaded rubber duck puzzle in “The Longest Journey”) – although one puzzle requires you to know the story of “The Longest Journey”- and the things you need to solve each puzzle are usually reasonably easy to find. Even so, there are a few annoying puzzles – such as “treasure hunt” puzzles where you have to look for hidden items (and it doesn’t help that most of the walkthroughs online are written for the original episodic release of the game, since the game devs changed some item locations in the “Final Cut” version…).

Even so, the otherwise annoying “treasure hunt” puzzles (where you play as a character during the early stages of her life) include some really cool references to “The Longest Journey” 🙂

Finally, the gameplay also consists of decisions. At several points in the game, you’ll be given a choice between two options. What you choose will have an effect on how the rest of the story plays out and some of these decisions may not be as simple or straightforward as you might think (eg: sometimes doing something “good” can have bad effects etc..). This theme of unforeseen consequences is one thing that really helps to make these segments feel meaningful and the game’s world/story feel more realistic.

And, after each decision, there’s also a really dramatic “The Balance Has Shifted” animation too 🙂

These choices are given added weight via the use of the dreaded checkpoint saving, albeit with fairly frequent checkpoints/auto-saves. Whilst I can see why the developers didn’t want people going back every five minutes and trying out all of the different options, it is still a bit annoying not to have that option (especially since I’m sure the first game in the series had a proper “save anywhere” saving system). Then again, given that this game was also released on consoles, this might also explain the more primitive saving system.

Plus, if you’re into social media, then the GOG version of the game (I’m not sure how this works in the Steam version) contains an optional feature where you can connect to Facebook in order to see “helpful” statistics about what choices other players made during crucial story moments. Naturally, I didn’t use it – mostly because I wanted to actually think for myself.

Plus, the optional social media connectivity is a bit ironic in a game that is extremely critical of social media addiction.

In terms of the visuals, this game is brilliant 🙂 Even with all of the graphics settings turned down to minimum and the resolution lowered/scaled to 800×600 (via some registry edits), the game’s locations still manage to look intriguing, beautiful, detailed, unique and/or fascinating. In other words, this game is a great example of the difference between actual art and mere graphics. You can tell that a lot of actual thought and creativity has gone into some parts of the game and it is an absolute joy to behold 🙂

Even on low graphics, this area still looks absolutely epic 🙂

Plus, it’s always awesome to see neon-drenched cyberpunk cities in games too 🙂

And check out this awesome “Riven”-inspired mountain city too 🙂

In terms of sound design and voice-acting, the sound effects are reasonably good, the music adds atmosphere to the story and the voice acting is a reasonably good fit with the characters too (although Kian’s voice reminded me a bit of Sean Bean at times). One intriguing thing about the voice acting is that, unlike in many games, there’s a really good variety of accents here that really helps to make the game’s worlds feel realistic.

As for length, this is a surprisingly long game. Thanks to both it’s original episodic structure and the fact that there are a lot of compelling cutscenes, this game will take you quite a few hours to complete even if – like me – you use a walkthrough for almost all of the puzzle segments. Given that this game is the long-awaited conclusion to an epic trilogy that began over a decade before it was made, the game’s extended length feels more than justified 🙂

All in all, this is a really good game 🙂 Yes, it is more of a story-based game than a gameplay-based one and you need to have played the other two “Longest Journey” games before this one, but given the kind of story that it is telling, then this is more than justified 🙂 As long as you go into this game expecting it to be like an excellent TV series with some interactive elements, then you’ll have a lot of fun here 🙂 As I mentioned earlier, this entire trilogy of games is gaming’s equivalent of masterpieces like Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” comics etc… and “Dreamfall Chapters” is a fittingly epic ending to such a beautiful story 🙂

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

Review: “Dex: Enhanced Version” (Computer Game)

Well, since I’m still reading the next book I plan to review (“Tower Hill” by Sarah Pinborough), I thought that I’d review a computer game that I’ve wanted to play for at least a couple of years. I am, of course, talking about an indie cyberpunk 2D platformer/role-playing game from 2015 called “Dex”.

I first heard about “Dex” in either 2016 or 2017 and I really wanted to play this cool “Ghost In The Shell”, “Deus Ex“, “Blade Runner” etc… inspired game back then. But, then I saw the system requirements. Although I had an old computer that could play modern 2D “point and click” cyberpunk games like “Technobabylon” and “Gemini Rue“, this 2D platformer required a dual-core processor. So, it got added to the long list of “games I wish I could play, but can’t thanks to bloated modern system requirements“.

But, shortly after getting a vaguely modern refurbished computer a few weeks before preparing this review, I decided to download the free demo of “Dex” (yes, unlike many modern games, it actually has a demo 🙂 Albeit one that was released two years after the game) to test it out.

And, when the game went on sale on GOG last winter (I prepare these reviews very far in advance), the decision whether to buy a copy was an absolute no-brainer. Interestingly, the version available on GOG at the time of writing is the “Enhanced Version” which apparently includes some content (eg: various cybernetic suits etc..) that was previously released as DLC, in addition to the usual GOG extras like the game’s soundtrack, wallpapers etc….

So, let’s take a look at “Dex: Enhanced Version”. Needless to say, this review may contain some PLOT SPOILERS.

Set in a neon-drenched cyberpunk mega-city called Harbor Prime, you play as a mysterious blue-haired woman called Dex who wakes up after having a strange dream. Seconds later, you get a call from a mysterious internet person called Raycast telling you that people are coming to get you and you need to run. After dashing across the rooftops and making your way through a gang hideout in the sewers, you emerge in a part of the city called Fixer’s Hope.

Raycast tells Dex to head to a local bar that is popular with hackers. But, after talking to the owner for a while, it is raided by corporate henchmen and Dex barely manages to escape to the hideout of a local hacker called Tony. To Tony’s surprise, it quickly becomes obvious that Dex can access cyberspace without having to jack into a computer. Not only that, Raycast delivers a message saying that Dex is humanity’s only hope of destroying a malicious A.I. called GSV-2 controlled by an ominous group called The Complex who want to take over the world….

Powerful artificial intelligences? A character with “Deck” in his name? A hacker cave? Yes, this is cyberpunk 🙂

One of the first things that I will say about this game is that it is basically a modern low-budget 2D version of the kind of cool immersive sim/action RPG games like “Deus Ex” and “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” that were popular in the early-mid 2000s. In other words, this game has atmosphere and depth 🙂 Plus, although this game wears it’s many influences on it’s sleeve, it still manages to be something refreshingly new and interesting at the same time too 🙂 Although it probably isn’t a perfect game, it is certainly a really cool one 🙂

I should probably start by talking about the gameplay. Although the game does feature some limited 2D platforming and a combat system, these aren’t the most compelling parts of the game. No, this is a game where you’ll probably be more interested in talking to people, building your stats, looking for side-quests, drinking in the atmosphere, choosing augmentations, making decisions, solving puzzles, hacking computers, managing your inventory and exploring the city for loot.

So, yes, this is more of a RPG than a traditonal 2D platformer, but what a RPG it is. It has the same immersive, detailed worldbuilding that you’d expect to find in games like “Shadowrun: Dragonfall“, “Deus Ex”, “VTM: Bloodlines” etc… and it is an absolute joy to experience. There are lots of interesting side-characters, multiple ways to solve problems, optional side-quests, hidden items, amusing item descriptions and of course the kind of neon-drenched, run-down atmosphere that you’d expect from a cyberpunk game 🙂

Yes, not every location looks like this (and there’s lots of post-apocalyptic rubble and/or utilitarian concrete in other areas), but this game certainly looks very cyberpunk 🙂

Seriously, I love the general style and atmosphere of this game 🙂 Imagine everything cool in the cyberpunk genre, and you’ll find some hint of it here 🙂 It has “Deus Ex”-inspired gameplay, a lot of thematic and visual inspiration from both “Ghost In The Shell” and “Blade Runner”, it sometimes has the kind of vaguely anarchist atmosphere of something like “Shadowrun: Dragonfall”, there is at least one reference to the ICE from “Neuromancer” etc… I could go on for a while but, if you are a fan of cyberpunk, then this game is for you 🙂 Yet. as mentioned earlier, it still manages to be it’s own unique thing in addition to all of these cool influences.

The game’s roleplaying elements are really cool too 🙂 This is the kind of game where you’ll probably want to do as many of the optional side-quests (which involve things like taking down gangs, dealing with a stalker, rescuing a man from a brothel, finding antiques, investigating a closed restaurant etc..) as possible, and not just because you’ll get cash or experience from them. They’re interesting. Although the game’s RPG elements (eg: character stats, dialogue trees, damage scores appearing in combat etc..) are nothing new, they really help to give the game the kind of immersive depth that you’d expect to see in something like a “point and click” game 🙂

Seriously, it’s almost like a point-and-click game, but with faster-paced and more varied gameplay 🙂

Seriously, I love the writing and art style in this game. The dialogue and voice-acting feels like a reasonably “natural” part of the game’s world, and all of the in-game text has the kind of personality and subtle humour that you’d expect from a game of this type 🙂 Whilst the game’s main story isn’t anything too surprising, it is still delivered in a very compelling way and there’s enough background details, optional stuff etc.. to make the game’s world feel real.

Likewise, this game looks really cool too 🙂 Not only does it use a timeless 2D art style, but there are some cool-looking locations (albeit with some fairly drab concrete ones too) and the player character animations are really cool too (seriously, it’s difficult not to feel a little bit like a Blade Runner whilst drawing your weapon or running around the city etc..). The animation for the background characters tends to be a little bit more limited but, overall, this game looks really cool 🙂

Not to mention that some of the backgrounds look really cool too.

Even so, expect a lot of understated, utilitarian and/or concrete locations too.

The game’s puzzles are reasonably decent too. I’m terrible at puzzle games and I only had to use a walkthrough twice whilst playing and, on one of those occasions, I’d almost solved the puzzle in question but made one stupid mistake (eg: forgetting that the alphabet only has 26 letters). In other words, the puzzles are reasonably forgiving, logical and relatively infrequent too 🙂 They add an extra layer of variety to the game without really getting in the way of the gameplay too much.

Plus, the game will actually reward exploration too since you can usually find puzzle hints if you look for them. However, you might need to increase the screen resolution in order to read them if you’re playing on a lower resolution.

Likewise, I love how this game encourages you to explore. Although the city isn’t that large (there are maybe 10-15 different parts of the city to explore), there are hidden items/areas to find and everywhere looks really cool too. Not only that, there is also a fast-travel system that helps to remove a lot of the “back and forth” drudgery that comes from some parts of the game. And, yes, this game can sometimes involve a bit of this, so the fast-travel (and the fact that this game has a fairly traditional “save almost anywhere” saving system) really helps a lot 🙂

Seriously, this is so useful 🙂 Without it, the game would get a bit tedious at times.

Still, I should probably talk about the game’s action and platforming elements. They are…functional, I guess.

As you would expect from a RPG, you’ll be fairly weak in both ranged and melee combat until you upgrade your stats and/or find enough in-game money (no micro-transactions here 🙂 ) to buy decent weapons and, more importantly, enough ammo for them. Although the combat is made a bit more forgiving via the inclusion of things like stealth takedowns, the fact that you can run away from most enemies and, if you complete one side quest, get a thermo-optic camouflage stealth suit (in the “Enhanced Version” of the game) too, it still feels like one of the weaker parts of the game.

If you want an action game, then play something else. The combat here does it’s job, but it isn’t the best or most interesting part of the game.

Then again, given the inclusion of a basic stealth system and the ways that combat can be avoided (eg: hacking cameras, running etc..), this isn’t too much of an issue. Even so, it’s more like a 2D version of the combat in the original “Deus Ex” (eg: ranged and melee combat feel a little weak and/or inaccurate) and/or the combat in the original “Resident Evil” (eg: you have to draw your gun before firing. However, unlike “Resident Evil” you can move with a drawn weapon) than the thrillingly streamlined combat in something like a traditional FPS game.

Interestingly, the best action-based parts of the game are probably the computer hacking mini-games. They are these surprisingly challenging bullet hell style mini-games that are played from a top-down perspective and they are reasonably fun. Unlike the more abstract-feeling weapon combat segments, the hacking sections actually feel a little bit more like a thrilling, streamlined action game.

Yes, the combat is actually more fun in these mini-games than in the actual main game.

Likewise, the platforming works reasonably well – with Dex having the ability to grab onto ledges and to buy an augmentation that allows her to jump higher. Even so, it isn’t really a major part of the gameplay in the way that it would be in a traditional 2D platformer. In other words, the platforming is a bit more “realistic” and, although there are a couple of places where you have to dodge environmental hazards or leap over bottomless pits, these are very much the exception rather than the rule.

Yes, this moment of traditional old-school toxic-waste dodging is very much the exception rather than the rule with this game’s platforming elements.

As for the game’s length, this depends a lot on you. If you do all of the side-quests etc… then you can get a few decent 2-4 hour gaming sessions out of this game. But, if you ignore as much of the interesting optional stuff as possible, then I’d imagine that the game could theoretically be completed in a few hours at most. Still, given that the optional quests allow you to gain more experience, skills, resources etc… that you’ll need later in the game, maybe not.

Another interesting thing about this game’s length is that it is actually longer than it initially appears to be – in short, there is a point where it seems like the game has finished (eg: a “boss battle”-like segment, followed by a dramatic cutscene) only for there to be at least a couple of hours of gameplay after this. Given how compelling I found this game to be and how dramatic these extra couple of hours of gameplay are, this felt a lot like an encore at a concert and it was really cool to have more of it than I’d expected.

In terms of sound design and music, ths game is fairly decent. Although the music isn’t that memorable, it still fits in well with the game and the sound effects also do their job well enough too.

All in all, whilst this isn’t a perfect game, it is a really cool one 🙂 If you love the immersive depth of games like “Deus Ex” and “VTM: Bloodlines” and/or you’re a fan of the cyberpunk genre, then you’ll have a lot of fun with this game. Yes, the combat and platforming aren’t the game’s strongest points, but this is still a really compelling, atmospheric and just generally interesting game 🙂

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

Review: “Remothered: Tormented Fathers” (Computer Game)

Well, after a marathon gaming session, I finally completed a modern survival horror game that I’d been playing for several weeks before I prepared this review. I am, of course, talking about an “AA” indie game called “Remothered: Tormented Fathers” (2018) which I’ve been meaning to review for a while.

This was the first new game I bought for my modern refurbished computer (after seeing that, late last year, it was on sale on GOG) and, to my delight, it would actually just about run on my computer’s integrated IntelHD 2500 graphics.

However, in order to get an even vaguely playable framerate, I had to turn most of the graphics settings down to the absolute minimum … and then both reduce the FOV and lower the resolution scaling to 40%. So, the screenshots in this review won’t reflect how the game will look on a computer with an actual graphics card.

Interestingly though, this game contains pre-rendered cutscenes (which show what the game looks like on high graphics) – so, if you want an old-school 1990s/early 2000s-style experience, then the difference between cutscenes and gameplay just adds to the charm when playing on ultra-low graphics.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Remothered: Tormented Fathers”. Needless to say, this review will contain some PLOT SPOILERS.

The game begins with a journalist talking to a mysterious old woman called Madame Svenska. The story then flashes back to 1970s Italy. Dr. Rosemary Reed has driven to the rural mansion of an old man called Richard Felton in order to ask about his missing daughter Celeste. Needless to say, the meeting doesn’t go well and Dr. Reed is thrown out of the mansion by Felton’s nurse, Gloria.

Hiding nearby, Dr.Reed waits for Gloria to leave for the night, before finding a hidden key and sneaking back into the mansion to find Richard’s reclusive wife, Arianna. However, when she gets to Arianna’s bedroom, she is horrified to find a decaying corpse on the bed. Not only that, Richard Felton is nearby – wearing nothing but an apron, carrying a sharp sickle and muttering ominously. Even worse, the front door to the mansion has been blocked by an iron grille. Needless to say, Dr.Reed needs to find a way out of the mansion before it is too late….

One of the first things that I will say about this game is that it is the scariest computer game I’ve ever played. Seriously, even “Silent Hill 3” seems only moderately creepy in comparison to the literal adrenaline-rushing, heart-pounding and, on one occasion, insomnia-inducing terror that I felt literally every time I played this game. But, this isn’t a linear jump scare game designed for “Let’s Play” Youtube videos, this is a modern old-school survival horror game of the type that hasn’t been made for ages 🙂 Yes, it isn’t perfect, but it’s still one hell of a game 🙂

YES! It’s a survival horror game from 2018 🙂

However, unlike many classic survival horror games (except possibly the “Clock Tower” games, which I haven’t played), the emphasis here is not on combat but on sneaking past and/or hiding from powerful killers who, at most, can only be briefly stunned, temporarily distracted or, if you’re good enough at running away, left far enough behind you to give you a brief chance to hide.

Although I normally loathe and despise stealth games, the fact that this is a modern old-school survival horror game more than makes up for this 🙂 Even if, like me, you might spend literally weeks of gaming sessions cowering in one of the cupboards near the beginning of the game until you learn how the killers’ AI works and how to sneak around properly, this game is still really compelling. If you dare to play it.

Yes, it’s a stealth game. But, the utterly terrifying horror elements more than make up for this 🙂

Still, this game is a really cool homage to so many classic games. Although the main inspirations were apparently “Clock Tower” and various horror movies, fans of classic survival horror will see many familiar inspirations. Whether it is the “Silent Hill 3”-style way the soundtrack will become more intense when danger is nearby, the vaguely “Alone In The Dark” style main character and location design or the “Resident Evil 2”-style way that health levels are shown via injuries to the main character etc… Yet, despite all of these inspirations, the game is still very much it’s own thing too.

Plus, as I mentioned before, this is an extremely scary horror game! Not only does this game include lots of suspense, atmosphere, psychological horror, some moments of gory horror and even a few jump scares, but the whole game is designed to impart a terrifying feeling of vulnerability too. Whether it is the small number of save points, the frantic quick-time events, the slightly unpredictable enemy movement paths, the weak single-use weapons, the restricted view from hiding places etc… this is pretty much abject terror in game form.

Seriously, don’t play this at night. You probably won’t be able to get any sleep afterwards…

Unlike modern linear Youtube-focused horror games, this is very much a game of skill too 🙂 Not only will you gradually get accustomed to listening out for the killers, but doing things like memorising hiding places and learning how to use single-use defence weapons and throwable distraction items are pretty much essential too. Likewise, you’d better get to know the layout of the mansion like the back of your hand, since it’ll come in handy when you’re fleeing in terror. Though, of course, running makes noise. Noise attracts attention. This is a bad thing.

Ok, this is from a cutscene. When the killers appear in-game, there’s usually no time to take screenshots. Running and hiding is more important.

When it is at it’s best, this game is a heart-poundingly thrilling game of cat and mouse. At it’s worst, it can be a little bit of a waiting simulator though – especially if, like me, you find yourself too scared to emerge from a hiding place.

Yes, you’ll become quite familiar with these. Eventually, you might even work up the courage to leave them. Until then, expect lots of scary boredom.

Still, although the stealth in this game is fairly well-handled, it is brutally unforgiving at times. The killers often linger near hiding places for long periods of time and there are some fixed distraction items placed in positions where pretty much the only way to leave the area after you’ve activated them is also the only path that the killer will take to find them. Yes, there are time-delayed distraction items too – but these can’t be remotely activated from other parts of the house (so they’re less useful than you might think. You just kind of place them and then wait).

Although there were moments when I found myself wishing for an “easy mode” or some cheat codes, I can respect the decision not to include difficulty settings or cheats in this game. Yes the game’s challenging stealth system takes a while to learn and get used to – but the challenging difficulty also helps to add extra horror, adrenaline and suspense to the game too.

Yes, this isn’t your usual “walking simulator with jump scares” modern indie horror game. You actually need skill to beat this game.

Of course, like in all classic survival horror games, this one also includes item puzzles too. Although these are relatively easy in principle, they will often send you back and forth across the mansion (which, in case you’ve forgotten, is aslo populated by vicious killers). So, the puzzles are more challenging than they may initially seem.

Yes, the puzzles may not be that difficult. But, you have to solve them whilst also hiding from scary people too.

In fact, I ended up using a walkthrough for most of the puzzles so that I could focus more attention on hiding, sneaking etc.. However, I actually had to restart this game at one point because I found two items (the film and the projector battery) before reading the piece of paper that tells you to collect them and formally gives you the objective. This caused the game to get stuck in an unwinnable state. So, don’t sequence break if you’re using a walkthrough.

In terms of the story and characters, they’re both brilliant and terrible. Although the voice-acting can be a little bit corny during some of the cutscenes, the killers’ in-game dialogue often walks a brilliantly fine line between disturbing and hilarious (with, for example, Mr.Felton sounding like a cantankerous old man, one of the other villains reciting Bible verses in a croaky voice, one sounding like an evil version of Meg from “Family Guy” and another sounding like a “wicked witch” character from a fairytale).

Plus, unlike the military protagonists and/or well-armed civilians of many classic survival horror games, Dr.Reed actually comes across as a realistic character who is also genuinely afraid of the game’s many scary things.

Another interesting thing that I’ve noticed is that, unlike most classic-style survival horror games, the main character never carries a gun. This makes the game about ten times scarier.

Plus, whenever you hide, you’ll hear Dr.Reed mutter exclamations of dread and breathe heavily, which really adds to the suspense.

Not only that, the game’s story is better than it initially seems to be 🙂 Even though the plot is a little convoluted at times, even though the game’s ending is a clear set up for a sequel (although many parts of the game’s story are resolved) and even though some story elements are fairly standard “evil experiments” stuff, the game knows when to tell you stuff and when to leave stuff to your imagination. Plus, the characterisation is reasonably good too.

Not only are all of the characters’ backstories both explained enough to make sense and left mysterious enough to be intriguing, but you’ll probably also eventually end up feeling sympathetic for the house’s evil residents too.

Plus, there are also loads of subtle character details that will only make sense later in the game. To give you an example, Felton will occasionally sing a nursery rhyme in the early parts of the game. When you first hear this, you’ll just assume that it’s there because it is creepy. When you learn more backstory, this detail makes a bit more sense (even if it isn’t explicitly spelled out).

Seriously, I cannot praise the character design in this game highly enough. There are so many small details that only make sense later in the game.

In terms of music and sound effects, this game absolutely excels 🙂 A lot of what makes this game so nerve-frayingly terrifying is the ominous ambient music and all of the sound effects that you’ll constantly be listening out for. Seriously, expect to jump whenever you hear footsteps or opening doors for a while after each gaming session. However, one small problem with the sound design is that sometimes the killers can sound closer than they actually are (eg: they may technically be near you, but the game can’t tell that there’s a wall in the way etc..) – then again, this might have been an intentional choice to make the game even scarier.

In terms of level design and visual design, this game is really good. Even at the kind of low graphics settings which reduce the textures to Playstation One levels of blurriness, the mansion is still incredibly atmospheric, not to mention that the mansion also contains a really good mixture of both scary open areas and scary claustrophobic areas too. It’s also large enough to feel daunting, whilst being small enough that it won’t take you too long to learn where everything is. Plus, it goes without saying, but it’s always awesome to see old-school non-linear level design in a modern game too 🙂

Plus, creeping around evil mansions somehow never gets old either 🙂

As for length, this is probably a short to medium-length game. If you’re an expert at stealth games, have nerves of steel and are using a walkthrough, then you’ll probably be able to complete it in a few hours. But, if you are of even a vaguely nervous disposition or have more practice at action-packed games than stealth games, you can get weeks of terrifying gaming sessions out of this game.

All in all, whilst this isn’t a perfect game, it is still a really awesome one 🙂 It’s a real survival horror game from 2018 🙂 If you want a modern horror game that will leave you a nervous wreck after every session, if you miss the “Silent Hill” and/or “Clock Tower” games and/or if you want something a bit more imaginative and skill-based than linear jump-scare based Youtube-focused horror games, then play this one. Yes, it requires practice and it can get stuck in an unwinnable state if you don’t do some things in the correct order, but it’s still a really brilliant – and very, very scary- horror game 🙂

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