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.

Review: “Shadow Warrior (2013 Remake)” (Computer Game)

Well, since I’m still reading the next book that I plan to review (“The Sinner” By Tess Gerritsen), I thought that I’d review a computer game I’ve been waiting quite a few years to play. I am, of course talking about the 2013 remake of the classic 1997 first-person shooter game “Shadow Warriror” 🙂

When I first heard about this remake back in 2013, I was really amazed. After all, growing up in the 1990s/early-mid 2000s and being a fan of FPS games, the original 1997 “Shadow Warrior” game evokes a lot of nostalgia for me (even if, by modern standards, some elements of that game haven’t aged well). However, back in 2013, I had a very old and low-end computer and I was uncertain about whether it could run the modern remake of “Shadow Warrior”.

Of course, about three or four weeks before I prepared this review, I got a modern refurbished computer and, since “Shadow Warrior (2013)” was on special offer on GOG at the time, I had to get a copy. To my delight, it still ran fairly well and also looked good on medium to low graphics settings with my computer’s integrated Intel HD 2500 graphics.

However, I had problems taking gameplay screenshots using my usual method (eg: using “print screen” and pasting the image into MS Paint didn’t work [Edit: And, no, I didn’t know what the Windows 10 “Game Bar” was when I prepared this review]). So, apologies about the lack of screenshots in this review.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Shadow Warrior (2013)”.

The game begins with a mysterious animated cutscene about demonic creatures in another world. Then we see Lo Wang, a top assassin for a powerful man called Zilla, rocking out to some classic ’80s hair metal whilst he drives through the forest to meet a man called Mizayaki.

Mizayaki has an ancient sword called the Nobitsura Kage and Zilla wants it. So, Lo Wang makes Mizayaki an offer, two million in cash or death. Mizayaki, of course, chooses the third option – commanding his henchmen to kill Lo Wang. Needless to say, this doesn’t end well for the henchmen. But, when Lo Wang confronts Mizayaki, he is captured after Mizayaki summons a mysterious supernatural creature.

After escaping, Lo Wang decides to get revenge on Mizayaki and his henchmen. However, there is just one problem, the henchmen are already dead and the surrounding area is filled with hideous demonic monsters….

One of the first things that I will say about this game is that, even though it’s a bit different to the 1997 classic, it is still a hell of a lot of fun 🙂 In essence, this game is like a “Shadow Warrior”-themed version of something like “Painkiller” or “Serious Sam” – with much more of an emphasis on fast-paced combat than on exploration or puzzle-solving. Even so, this game still keeps a lot of what made the original game enjoyable, whilst also adding some more modern features and drastically improving both the story and characters too.

As mentioned earlier, the gameplay focuses heavily on fast-paced combat – with Lo Wang having to clear arena-like portions of each level before he can progress. This combat is a really cool mixture of the original game’s combat (eg: you can carry lots of different weapons, battles are ludicrously gory, you can use some monster body parts as weapons etc..) and some more modern innovations.

In addition to being able to upgrade your weapons (eg: alternate fire modes etc..) and/or melee attacks with bonuses/coins you find in-game (no micro-transactions here 🙂 ), there is also a lot more emphasis on melee combat than in the original game. Lo Wang’s katana becomes more powerful throughout the game and remains a surprisingly useful weapon in even the later levels – plus, you get a higher score after each battle if you use it.

In addition to this, there are a few “standard” FPS game weapons (eg: shotgun, machine gun, rocket launcher etc..) and some creative 1990s-style weapons like a crossbow, throwing stars, magical abilities (that require button combos), a flamethrower and a couple of monster body parts. Plus, the basic pistol reminded me a little bit of Deckard’s revolver from “Blade Runner” too 🙂

Given the more combat-focused nature of the game, a lot of effort has been put into this part of the game. Many battles will be frenetic, crunchy and blood-drenched things where you’ll be dodging, healing and fighting in equal measure. Not only does the game help you out with generous ammo caches (and the option to “buy” ammo with coins you find in-game), but it also has a really cool health system too.

In addition to finding 1990s-style health kits lying around and being able to take health from some defeated monsters, you can also replenish health at any time using a special ability. However, to avoid the unfair boredom of *ugh* regenerating health, this ability actually requires skill to use.

In other words, you have to tap a button combination and hold the right mouse button to heal. Doing this quickly in the middle of a fast-paced battle can be a challenge in it’s own right and is made a little bit more forgiving by the fact that Lo Wang can still fight (with reduced accuracy etc..) whilst healing. Likewise, Lo Wang’s attacks also become more powerful when he drops below a certain health percentage. It’s a really good middle-ground between the mercilessly unforgiving health systems of old and ludicrously over-protective modern ones.

The game also keeps the constant combat interesting via a fairly decent difficulty curve and – more crucially- excellent monster variety too 🙂 In classic 1990s style, there are several types of low-level monsters with different attacks, there are teleporting and shield-bearing mid-level monsters and there are also about three types of larger monsters that pose a serious challenge to the player. The toughest of these are stone creatures that can only be harmed by shooting a weak spot on their back. They only appear in about four or five moments in the game, but each one of these moments is practically a boss battle in it’s own right.

And, yes, there are boss battles too. In the style of a game like “Painkiller”, the bosses are absolutely gigantic – and, in true 1990s fashion, they have to be defeated in a very specific way too 🙂 Yes, the game tells you what to do and keeps feeding you a steady supply of ammo, but it’s still really cool to see this style of boss battle in a modern FPS 🙂

As for the level design, it is very linear – to the point where most of the “secret areas” are practically in plain sight. After each battle, the game will quite literally tell you where to go next via glowing doors/gates. Although it’s sad to see a remake of something like “Shadow Warrior” succumbing to this dreary modern trend, this is mitigated quite a bit by the “Serious Sam”-inspired gameplay.

In other words, the game uses linear level design as a way of placing the player in lots of fun fast-paced arena battles. Not only that, the levels all look really beautiful and have a decent variety between urban, rural, industrial, snow and hell-like areas to keep things interesting too. Seriously, it’s so nice to see 1990s-style visual variety in this game 🙂

Following on with my comments about how this game balances 1990s and modern features, the saving system is a really strange mixture of the dreaded checkpoint saving and the proper “save anywhere” system that should be mandatory in FPS games on the PC. Although you only have one save file per profile and the game will auto-save after every level segment, the game’s menu includes a “save” button that functions a lot like the quicksave feature in many older games.

Best of all, in true 1990s FPS fashion, this game actually has personality and a sense of humour 🙂 Unlike the 1997 original, the game’s humour is a lot more sarcastic and, although some of the things that Lo Wang will shout during battle seem a bit generic, there are still quite a few funny lines, a few pop culture references (eg: I’m sure I heard Eddie Izzard’s “cake or death?” referenced at one point 🙂 ), easter eggs and loads of comedic dialogue exchanges.

And, in true modern fashion, this game actually has a story and characterisation. Although Lo Wang’s character arc is the classic “a badass becomes even more of a badass” one, he is more of a “realistic” character than he was in the 1997 game. He also spends most of the game accompanied by a supernatural character called Hoji – who has a much more complex and interesting backstory that is slowly revealed throughout the game. Not only does this make Hoji a more complex character, but it also means that the events of the game end up taking on a truly epic level of drama and significance too 🙂

The voice-acting is really good and fits in well with the characters, giving them personality whilst also being much more “realistic” than the cartoonish/stereotypical voice-acting in the 1997 game. However, the game’s background music is the kind of ambient instrumental music that you’d expect from a modern game. It adds atmosphere to the levels, but isn’t really as memorable as the more distinctive tunes (eg: Doom’s E1M1 music, Duke 3D’s “Grabbag” theme etc..) that used to be a mainstay of the FPS genre in the 1990s.

As for length, this is a full-length game consisting of about seventeen or eighteen levels. And, in terms of actual gameplay time, it didn’t differ that much from a re-play of the original 1997 game. Of course, your mileage may vary, but this is still a decent medium to long game. Plus, things like a survival mode and an unlockable “Ex mode” (where you can start the game with everything you ended it with) also add some replay value to the game too.

All in all, even though there are some major gameplay differences, this is a really great mixture of the old and the new 🙂 Plus, it’s great to see a modern FPS that has been designed primarily for PC gamers rather than ported over from a console. Yes, it has more in common with something like “Serious Sam” or “Painkiller” than the original “Shadow Warrior”, but if you want a modern FPS game that contains things that used to be standard in the 1990s (eg: personality, creativity, fun, humour, ludicrous gibs etc..) then this one is well-worth playing 🙂

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

Review: “Skylar And Plux: Adventure On Clover Island” (Computer Game)

Well, since I’m still reading the next novel I plan to review (“A Wanted Man” By Lee Child) and am also still playing the other modern games I planned to review, I thought that I’d take a look at an indie 3D Platform game from 2017 called “Skylar And Plux: Adventure On Clover Island” that I completed shortly before writing this review.

This was a game that I ended up buying on a whim after I noticed that it was on sale on GOG last Christmas (and, yes, I write these reviews very far in advance). Since I have a lot of nostalgic memories of playing old 3D platform games (eg: “Jak and Daxter”, “Ratchet And Clank” etc..) on the Playstation 2 when I was a teenager, getting this game seemed like a no-brainer.

Although my refurbished modern computer – with it’s Intel HD 2500 integrated graphics- seemed to be slightly below the system requirements, I decided to take a chance. And, with low graphics settings, the game mostly ran at a playable speed (apart from a few infrequent moments of slowdown and some pop-up scenery). Although I should point out that these low graphics settings will be reflected in the screenshots in this review.

So, let’s take a look at “Skylar And Plux: Adventure On Clover Island”:

Woo hoo! It’s one of these games 🙂

The game begins on a space station. You play as Skylar, a cyborg cat who has had her memory wiped by an evil robot villain called CRT who wants to turn her into one of his minions. However, due to a series of mishaps in the station’s training course, Skylar ends up in an escape pod.

When she crash lands on the planet below, a talking owl called Plux rushes towards the pod, hoping that it is his father returning from outer space. Although he is disappointed, he decides to team up with Skylar. It also soon becomes obvious that CRT has started taking over the planet, with three parts of an ancient artefact missing, evil robots patrolling the planet and many of the planet’s adorable creatures, called L’oa, trapped in cages….

One of the first things that I will say about this game is that, even though it has some flaws, it is a really fun and nostalgic game in a genre that doesn’t appear on the PC that often. If you don’t go into it with “AAA” expectations, then you’ll find it a surprisingly compelling experience. Seriously, it’s so cool to see a modern PC game that is influenced by things like “Ratchet And Clank”, “Jak And Daxter” etc…

Seriously, why do hardly any of these games appear on the PC?

In terms of the gameplay, it consists of platforming, puzzles, exploration and combat. The emphasis here is on platforming and exploration, which are also the best elements of the game. The platforming segments are challenging enough to be fun, but reasonably forgiving too (thanks to things like double-jumps, a jetpack power-up, a time-slowing power-up etc..). Seriously, if you loved old-school PS2 3D platformers, then you’ll be in your element here 🙂

The design/layout of the platforms is really good. However….

However, one problem with the platforming is that, because this game was primarily designed to be played with a controller (which I don’t have), there is not only no option to customise the keyboard controls (which can be a bit counter-intuitive, like pressing “F” to interact with things etc..) but, more critically, I couldn’t find a mouse sensitivity option either.

Given that the default mouse sensitivity is absolutely sky-high, you’ll sometimes find yourself fighting with the camera during some fast-paced platforming segments. That is when the camera doesn’t freeze upon respawning (and only becomes moveable again after pressing “Esc” twice). Still, once you get used to these small annoyances, the platforming is really enjoyable.

In terms of exploration, this game is really cool. Although the levels are mostly typical 3D platform levels that have one “correct” path, a few parts are slightly more non-linear and there’s also a really interesting hub level too.

Not only are there a few interesting side-areas to explore in the hub area, but you can also meet rescued creatures too 🙂

The player is also given an incentive to explore because every level -except for the tutorial and final boss battle- contains several imprisoned L’oa that can be rescued. Not only do they make the most adorable crying and celebration sounds you’ll ever hear but, for every five that you rescue, you can return to the hub level and increase your maximum lives too.

The sound effects here are adorable. Only someone with a heart of stone wouldn’t rescue this creature.

The game’s lives system is fairly interesting. Although you’ll lose one whenever you take damage or fall off of a platform, they can be easily recovered by picking up enough of the plentiful in-game gems (which you’ll also need to rescue the L’oa). Likewise, although the game uses the dreaded checkpoint saving, this is reasonably forgiving and you’ll also have access to a fast-travel map at many checkpoints too (even if you have to move the cursor on it using the WSAD keys instead of the mouse).

Another cool thing about the game’s exploration elements is the art design. Even at low graphics settings, this game still looks really wonderful. It has the kind of whimsical, cartoonish and vaguely cel-shaded art style that made me really nostalgic for the days when games could be a bit more cheerful and stylised 🙂 Seriously, this game looks like a modern version of some of the best PS2 platformers I’ve seen 🙂

And, even on the lowest graphics settings, it still looks more spectacular than the PS2 too 🙂

The game’s combat is less frequent than I’d expected, and this is a good thing because it’s one of the weakest elements of the game. In addition to Skylar having no ranged attacks (and just three melee attacks), you’ll be fighting groups of tiny robots and a few annoying projectile-firing robots too. Although these combat segments become significantly easier, and more satisfying, once you’ve got the power-ups that can slow time and/or magnetise Skylar, expect a bit of frustration earlier in the game.

Plus, the game also includes an old-school puzzle-based boss fight too. Like in many classic games, there is a very specific way to defeat the boss and it is up to you to work it out. Likewise, although the final boss battle is the most challenging part of the game, it is still forgiving enough that you’ll probably be able to beat it after six or seven goes once you’ve worked out what you’re supposed to do.

Plus, given the lack of boss battles in the rest of the game, this part really caught me by surprise when I thought I’d finished the game.

In terms of the puzzles, this game is mostly ok. Although I’m not really a fan of puzzles in games, and aren’t that good at them, it’s an integral part of this genre. Many of the puzzles here are relatively easy and can be solved with a little bit of thought.

However, there were two frustrating slider-based puzzles (in the vaguely Zelda-inspired temple level, which also includes a cool “turning back time” mechanic) that led to me consulting a walkthrough on Youtube. Even so, puzzles are more of an occasional part of this game and most of them are reasonably straightforward.

Except for this one and the one directly after it….

Although the gameplay has some flaws, this is still a really fun game once you get used to them. Not only that, like the 3D platformers of old, this game also has personality too. Although a lot of this is done through the art style and gameplay, a fair amount is also done through dialogue.

The voice-acting and script in this game is quite literally “so bad that it’s good”. This is impossible to describe fully in a text review, but the game’s voice cast ham it up and/or phone it in majestically. Likewise, the script also contains so much cheesiness, corniness, cliche and random comedy (with the best examples being an early 2000s-style Limp Bizkit reference, almost all of CRT’s dialogue and the fact that Plux’s squeaky voice briefly drops several octaves when you find an artefact piece), that it actually becomes fun after a while.

Add to this the hilarious PG-rated “edginess” (eg: “Let’s get the funk out of here!” etc…) and the hilariously predictable, earnest and/or melodramatic “serious” parts of the story and this game’s narrative elements are some of the funniest things I’ve seen in a while.

As for the game’s sound design, there is some wonderful acoustic background music (with the highlights being the Ancient Egypt-style music and the hub level music) and the sound effects are also fairly decent too, with the highlight being the rescued/trapped L’oa creatures that I mentioned earlier. Seriously, the sound design in this game will make you nostalgic for the glory days of the Playstation 2.

I should probably also mention the game’s length too. Although I’ve seen this game described as “short”, this is mostly in comparison to the gigantic “AAA” 3D platformers of old. This game took me about 7-9 hours to complete (if you’re an expert at 3D platformers and/or are using a controller, then YMMV) and felt like a fairly satisfying short-medium length experience that never really seemed padded or rushed. It’s sort of a quality over quantity thing. Basically, if you remember that it’s a lower-budget “AA” game, if you want a game you can actually complete in a couple of days and/or if you wait until it is on sale, then the game’s relatively short length won’t be an issue.

All in all, whilst this game isn’t perfect, I had a lot of fun with it. If you can get over the clunky mouse/keyboard controls, the less than perfect combat, the occasional frustrating puzzle and the “so bad that it’s good” voice-acting/script, then there’s a really enjoyable game to be found here. It’s a really awesome, if somewhat rough around the edges, low-budget love letter to the early 2000s heyday of the 3D platfomer genre and this is really cool to see 🙂

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