Review: “SiN: Wages Of Sin” (Expansion Pack For “SiN”)

As regular readers of this site know, I reviewed a very nostalgic cyberpunk-influenced FPS game from the late 1990s called “SiN” recently. And, because I bought a direct download of the “SiN Gold” collection (when it was on special offer on GOG last summer), it also came with an expansion pack from 1999 called “Wages Of Sin” too.

If you’re too young to remember expansion packs, they’re kind of like modern “DLC” but larger and more impressive. Often, they would be anything from one to two thirds the length of a full game (but, there are exceptions) and they would originally be sold as boxed CDs. So, yes, “Wages Of Sin” is pretty much almost a full-length game (with 15-20 levels or so). In fact, I’d even go so far to call it a sequel to the original game.

Still, you might possibly need a copy of the original “SiN” to play “Wages Of Sin” (although the in-game menu gives you the option to play the original game) but if you get the “SiN Gold” collection on GOG, then this is included anyway.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Wages Of Sin”:

Taking place a while after the events of the original game, John Blade is still hunting for Elexis. However, he has other things on his mind.

And not just dramatic car chases!

There have been reports of strange creatures killing people on a construction site, not to mention that it seems like the local Mafia boss – Manero – seems to be up to something too…..

One of the very first things that I will say about “Wages Of Sin” is that it is way better than the original game in so many ways! The difficulty curve is fairer, the combat is more enjoyable, there’s a greater degree of visual variety between levels, there’s even more humour, there’s better level design, there’s a much greater variety of enemy types and it’s just, well, cooler.

Even some of the loading screens look more badass too!

You also get some cool night vision goggles in one level too!

To give you an example, the first level or two of the expansion are genuinely creepy horror-themed levels that take mostly place in gloomy, claustrophobic subterranean tunnels (but, unlike the gloomy areas in the original game, you actually have a torch this time!).

Seriously, this one little change improves the game so much! No more stumbling around aimlessly in the dark! Plus, although the torch has a limited battery, it’s so large that you’re unlikely to run out.

Not only are there monsters that are reminiscent of the “Licker” monsters from Resident Evil 2 but, when you shoot some of the bloated “zombie” enemies that you encounter, a mutant spider crab creature will sometimes burst out of their chests in a very “Alien“-like fashion. Seriously, this expansion starts out really well. These early levels even reminded me a little bit of “Doom 3” in some parts.

And “Resident Evil 2” too πŸ™‚

And those are just the first few levels- there’s also an art gallery, a laboratory, a nightclub, an opulent casino, a swanky penthouse, a shipping terminal that is split into three segments etc…

Seriously, the variety of locations here is so much better than in the original “SiN”. Yes, I’d have liked to have seen more neon-filled cyberpunk locations, but the focus on more opulent locations helps to give the expansion a slightly “Duke Nukem“-style atmosphere too.

Always bet on Duk… I mean, Blade.

Unfortunately, this cool-looking nightclub really doesn’t appear for anywhere near as long as it should!

Amusingly, there’s actually a silly cutscene if you jump out of any of the windows in this room.

There’s even possibly a slight nod to the “Blood” games here too, with a level where Blade witnesses an ominous robed man giving a dramatic speech to a horde of mutants. The level that precedes this cutscene is fairly short, slightly repetitive (since you sort of revisit an earlier area) and kind of random – but it features some astonishgly epic music that reminded me a little bit of the original “Blood“.

He doesn’t appear anywhere else in the game and seems to be part of the set up for a sequel that never really came to fruition, but this part of the game is still really cool πŸ™‚

Plus, true to the original game (and 90s FPS games in general), there’s a good dose of humour here too.

Not only does Blade get a few new lines of dialogue when he defeats his adversaries (eg: “Barney Miller is back!”, “Cleanin’ up the gene pool” etc..), but the hilariously sarcastic radio conversations between Blade and his assistant JC also return in abundance too πŸ™‚ One stand out comedic part of the game is probably the art gallery level, where Blade and/or JC will make comments when you stand near many of the paintings:

And I’m guessing that this is probably a cameo from the developers. JC seems to think that they’re rock musicians though.

Not only that, the levels also seem to be far more well-designed too, with most of them being non-linear enough to require exploration but linear enough to prevent you from getting lost or stuck too often. Yes, I got stuck once or twice – but it didn’t happen nearly as often as it did in the original game, not to mention that it wasn’t that hard to work out what to do (which is just as well, given the near-total lack of walkthroughs for the expansion on the internet at the time of writing).

Likewise, the enemy placement in “Wages Of Sin” is much fairer than in the original game. Yes, there are a couple of “trial and error” segments but this expansion avoids many of the cheap tricks used in the original game (eg: placing snipers behind the beginning of a level etc…) and the combat just feels fairer. Yes, it’s still thrillingly challenging – but it rarely becomes frustrating. Likewise, the couple of levels that could be *ugh* stealth levels actually make the stealth parts totally optional too πŸ™‚

For example, if you get spotted by a camera in this level, Blade will just shout some (bleeped) dialogue and you’ll have to fight a few more henchmen, but you DON’T automatically fail the level.

The combat in this game is also improved by the fact that “Wages Of Sin” is a bit more generous with both health and ammo placement too, which also helps the game to feel a little fairer (without reducing the challenge too much either).

Not only that, the larger variety of enemies (various mutants, Mafia members and a few enemies from the original game) helps to add some much-needed variety to the combat.

Yes, THESE guys return – but there are only a few of them and plenty of other types of mutants, robots and henchmen too.

However, there is one “cheap” new enemy here – in the later parts of the expansion, you’ll encounter tiny flying robot drones. They blend into the shadows slightly and have a powerful laser attack (which you only have about a second to dodge at most). Given that your health will probably be below fifty for large parts of the game, trying to shoot small, rapidly-moving flying robots whilst also dodging their powerful attacks can be frustrating to say the least.

And, if they’re difficult to see in this screenshot, then imagine what it’s like in game!

The boss battles in “Wages Of Sin” also follow a much better difficulty curve than in the original “SiN” too. In the first one, you have a large monster and a medium-large arena. In the second one, you have to fight two waves of large monsters in a medium-sized arena.

Although I don’t know whether this really counts as a “boss battle” or not. Still, given that you don’t encounter these monsters anywhere else in the game, I’d say that it does.

The final boss battle, against Manero, is the most challenging boss battle in the game – as it should be. Not only do you have to shoot down his helicopter, you also have to fight him when he’s wearing a “photonic shield”, when he is using a cloaking device and when he isn’t.

And yes, the “Photonic Shield” just happens to make him look like the T2 from the second “Terminator” film…

Still, even this fiendishly difficult boss battle is beatable if you use the right strategy (hide under the platform at the beginning of the level, crouch and shoot at his helicopter with rockets. Once he’s left the helicopter, jump off the platform when he gets near you, wait for him to jump off, then run up the ramp and wait for him to run up the ramp – whilst he’s doing this, shoot at him. Rinse and repeat.)

This strategy even works when he’s using the cloaking device. Although JC annoyingly tells you to use the night-vision goggles you found earlier in the game – however, I didn’t have them during this level!

“Wages Of Sin” also introduces a few new weapons too, some of which are useful.

The stand-out weapons are probably the dual pistols and a plasma crossbow that can be used to either one-shot enemies or as a device for laying timed plasma mines (eg: the crossbow bolts explode after a couple of seconds if they get stuck in the floor or a wall).

There’s also a mediocre flamethrower, a recharging concussion gun, a nuclear rocket launcher (which you get to use three times and that’s it!) and a remote control that fires a burst of about five small missiles. These weapons are cool, but you probably won’t be using them that often. Still, it’s good to see an array of creative new weapons on offer.

Not only does this weapon look cool, but you also get a decent amount of ammo for it too. However, it’s lack of accuracy and the fact that the rocket launcher is a better long-range weapon mean you probably won’t use it that often.

All in all, compared to the original “SiN”, “Wages Of Sin” is a major improvement – it’s fairer, more spectacular and just generally more fun. On it’s own merits, it’s a reasonably solid late 1990s FPS game that takes heavy influence from mid-1990s FPS games (like “Duke Nukem 3D” etc..) in terms of humour, location design etc…

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

Advertisements

Review: “SiN” (Retro Computer Game)

Like with “Blood II: The Chosen” and “Shogo: Mobile Armor Division“, “SiN” is one of those games that I first discovered on a magazine demo disc when I was a lot younger – but only got round to actually getting the full version nearly two decades later. If I remember rightly, I thought that the demo was kind of cool, but didn’t really get into it that much. Then again, I was playing it on a Pentium 166 computer, so it was probably a bit slow…

Still, when I noticed that the “SiN Gold” collection (which also contains the expansion “Wages Of Sin” that I’ll review in early April) was on special offer on GOG last summer, I just had to get the full version of this half-remembered game. Although the extras for the GOG version of this game aren’t spectacular, the manual is definitely worth reading just for the hilariously immature 1990s style humour. Yes, even the manual contains comedy!

Plus, although I rarely directly recommend one game site over another, the version of this game that is available on GOG is closer to the original game than the version available on Steam. This is because the Steam version apparently contains some censorship (eg: the removal of suggestive content, marijuana references and/or pop culture references from some of the game’s textures), whereas the GOG version seems to be the original uncensored version.

Anyway, this review has been nearly two decades in the making. So, without any further ado, let’s take a look at “SiN”:

“SiN” is a first-person shooter game from 1998 by Ritual Entertainment, which uses a modified version of the “Quake II” engine. Set in a dystopian cyberpunk future, you play as John Blade – an elite member of a private security organisation called HardCorps (pronounced “Hardcore”, because it’s from the 1990s).

Being from 1998, Blade only looks THIS realistic during the game’s few pre-rendered cutscenes though!

After a report of a robbery at the local bank, Blade goes to investigate – with a sarcastic ex-computer hacker called JC providing remote support for him. Of course, what begins as a routine “shoot the bad guys” mission quickly turns into something much larger and much more menacing…..

One of the first things I will say about this game is that it contains some of the best and some of the worst elements of 1990s FPS gaming. It is a game that you will hate to love, or love to hate or both.

For everything it gets right, it also gets something wrong. For every moment of gameplay that is brilliantly fun, there will be another one that will frustrate the hell out of you. Let’s just say that I’m glad I got another two decades of FPS gaming experience before playing the full version of this game!

Seriously, don’t let the easy on-rails turret segment at the beginning of the first level fool you, this is a challenging game!

Yes, this isn’t an easy modern FPS game! Even on “standard” difficulty, this game is hard. HardCorps, even! Sometimes, this challenging difficulty is achieved in enjoyable and fair ways (which fans of other challenging old FPS games like “Final Doom”, “Blood”, “Duke 3D” etc.. will love). When it is at it’s best, the combat in this game is thrillingly challenging, and well within the traditions of 1990s FPS gaming.

Yay! Late 1990s FPS gaming πŸ™‚ Seriously, there will be very few combat-based screenshots in this review because the game’s combat requires your full attention and reflexes!

Plus, this game contains a proper saving system – with none of that annoying modern “checkpoint saving” rubbish either! So, remember to save regularly! Seriously, save your game once every minute at least! I’m not joking here…

Seriously, you’ll be seeing this death animation (and hearing the accompanying voice-over from JC) a LOT! So, save often!

But, for all of the “good” difficulty, a fair amount of the game’s difficulty is also achieved in all sorts of cheap, borderline unfair and/or annoying ways.

This can include things like placing long-distance snipers directly behind the beginning of a level (and it’ll take you several deaths before you work out where they’re shooting from), sending infinitely respawning waves of henchmen at you during one level, extremely gloomy areas with few to no light sources, a *ugh* stealth level, a (thankfully optional) vehicle segment, occasionally stingy ammo/health/weapon distribution etc…

Yes, a stealth level! One of those boring, frustrating, slow-paced levels that has no place within a thrilling FPS game!

The game’s difficulty curve is also a little bit uneven too – with earlier boss battles being considerably more difficult than the final boss battle at the end of the game, to give one example. Likewise, some of the game’s more difficult levels occur earlier or during the middle of the game, rather than consistently towards the end.

So, yes, you will need the kind of perseverance and determination that can only be gained by playing other fiendishly difficult retro FPS games and/or modern fan-made levels for “Doom II” in order to complete this game. And, yes, it can be completed! Just don’t expect to do it in a single weekend though!

Like a lot of old FPS games, “SiN” is a full-length game! It’s up to you whether you consider this to be either “good value for money” or “Oh my god! This game is so long! I’ll never finish it!“, but it contains something like 20-30 challenging levels – with some larger levels being split into two halves.

However, the quality of the level design is extremely variable. For every great, interesting-looking, thrillingly fun and/or inventively non-linear level – there’s also a level that you will probably get completely and utterly stuck on.

Often, you’ll be able to work out what to do after you’ve spent 10-80 minutes wandering around in circles. But, occasionally, you’ll find yourself so stuck that you’ll actually have to look online for a walkthrough – only to find that the solution is seemingly “obvious”, but implemented in a way that doesn’t make it obvious to the player.

For example, all you need to do to lower this lift is to press a little button. Yes, that tiny little thing shrouded in shadows that is really, really easy to miss if you don’t know to look for it! *shakes fist angrily*

I almost had to check a walkthrough for this bit. Fortunately, I eventually happened to look upwards and notice a crane on top of a tall building nearby that I was supposed to shoot.

Still, that said, some areas of this game look really cool. Yes, there are a lot of generic-looking levels, but this game can get really creative sometimes – including locations such as an oilrig, a vaguely “Goldeneye”-style jungle segment, a surprisingly good underwater segment, futuristic areas with cool lighting, a creepy mansion etc..

Seriously, more of the game should look like this!

Finally! An underwater level that I DON’T hate!

The weapon and enemy designs in this game are acceptable, but not quite as creative as many FPS games from the mid-late 1990s. Although the later levels give you some slightly more interesting weapons and include a greater variety of enemies to fight, many of the early levels mostly involve just fighting almost identical henchmen (who are very vaguely similar to the Strogg from “Quake II” but with different graphics) with the standard pistol, shotgun and assault rifle. *yawn*

Still, there is a certain element of skill to the combat, since this game allows for headshots (which you’re going to have to use regularly, since the henchmen are bullet sponges otherwise). Likewise, in the earlier parts the game, enemies will occasionally shoot your weapon out of your hands.

However, you have to manually pick up any ammo etc.. that enemies drop by pressing the “use” button. Yes, you’ll get used to doing this after a while, but it can be confusing at first.

Even so, the later parts of the game are certainly better, and the monsters on offer include robot spiders, robotic zombies (the Strogg again?), large muscular mutants and even a monster who reminded me a bit of the Bandersnatch mutants from an early 2000s Playstation 2 game called “Resident Evil: Code Veronica X“:

Yay! Survival horror πŸ™‚

“SiN” also comes from an age where FPS games weren’t dreary, “realistic”, ultra-serious things. In other words, this game actually contains some creativity and humour! Whether it’s the numerous sarcastic conversations that Blade and JC have over their radio or lots of silly background details, this game doesn’t take itself ultra-seriously.

For example, the bad guys in the first level quite literally kiss their asses goodbye when they die.

Yes, this humour might not be to everyone’s taste, but it really helps to add some light-hearted fun to the game, not to mention that it also keeps the player’s spirits up during some of the more frustrating and/or annoying parts of the game. For example, whenever Blade kills one of the monsters, robots, mutants or identical henchmen you’ll face throughout the game, he’ll sometimes say a vaguely “badass” line such as “Ha! Schooled ya!” etc… Seriously, this is wonderfully 90s πŸ™‚

However, I should probably also point out that this game is a bit “politically incorrect” by modern standards. I have mixed views about this.

On the one hand, the game’s immature humour can still be absolutely hilarious at times. However, some other parts of the game do seem a little uncomfortable by modern standards – such as the game’s “men vs women” theme (eg: Elexis’ speeches, Blade’s frequent use of the word “bitch” etc..). So, yes, this game can be somewhat eyebrow-raising when played these days.

In terms of music, this game is reasonably good. Although some of the music is kind of forgettable, some of the music – especially in the later levels – is fairly good, and it really helps to add some atmosphere to the game. Seriously, I’m kind of annoyed that GOG didn’t get the rights to include a MP3 copy of the soundtrack for this game as a bonus (like they’ve done with some other games).

The voice-acting in this game is absolutely brilliant too. Whether it’s Blade’s gloriously cheesy “tought grizzled action hero” dialogue, or JC’s constant sarcasm over the radio or Elexis’ melodramatic “sophisticated villain” dialogue, the voice acting is wonderfully fun πŸ™‚

All in all, this is both a great and a terrible game. If you’re looking for 1990s nostalgia, you’ll find it in abundance here. But, don’t even think about playing this game unless you’ve had a couple of decades’ worth of FPS gaming experience! This is a game that demands perseverance, and which will barely play fair with you sometimes. Likewise, the level design is of varying quality too. Still, it’s imaginative and silly and creative and… well… FPS games don’t really do this kind of thing any more.

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

Review: “Hotline Miami [Original Version]” (Computer Game)

Well, it’s been a while since I last played a game that was made this decade. Still, during a sale on GOG last summer, I happened to spot a rather interesting-looking indie game called “Hotline Miami” which seemed like it might actually run on my classic mid-2000s computer.

During the sale on GOG, the DRM-free direct download of this game I bought was reduced to Β£1.19. Although, at the time of writing, the full price for it is Β£7.79 on GOG and Β£6.99 on Steam (albeit with Steam’s DRM). In terms of length, I’d say that this game took me about 7-10 hours (over about two days) to complete. Still, if you aren’t used to “challenging” old school-style games, then it might take you longer.

Surprisingly, the GOG version doesn’t come with that much in the way of extras. However, if you have VLC media player (or anything that will play “.ogg” audio files), then the game’s soundtrack can be listened to if you’re willing to go poking around in the game’s directory.

Likewise, if you’ve got an older machine, the GOG version of this game comes in two versions. There’s the default “GL Version” of the game and another version called the “original version” that can be found in the game’s directory. The “original version” was the only version that would actually run on my vintage computer, albeit with over a minute of loading time before the program began. Still, once it loaded, it ran fairly smoothly.

I should also warn you that this review will contain some (unrealistic) GRUESOME IMAGES. I’ll try to keep them to a minimum but, since this is a commercial game, I feel an obligation to show you at least a small part of what to expect if you buy it.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Hotline Miami”:

“Hotline Miami” is a surreal retro-style action/ dark comedy/ horror/ combat-based puzzle game from 2012, which is set in Florida during the late 1980s. For the bulk of the game’s 20 chapters, you play as a man called Jacket who gets mysterious answering machine messages that tell him to visit various buildings around the city.

Oooh, a message!

Whenever he arrives, the buildings are almost inevitably filled with heavily-armed members of the Russian Mafia. Instead of running away like a sensible person, Jacket merely puts on a mask and decides to kill all of the gangsters instead. At best, he’s some kind of creepy brainwashed vigilante and, at worst, he’s a serial killer of some kind. Seriously, you’ll have to come to your own conclusions about this.

And, yes, his grip on reality isn’t entirely solid either…

One of the first things that I will say about this game is that it looks like it was designed under the influence of some fairly serious mind-altering substances. Still, everything from the hilariously bizarre dialogue to the glowing psychedelic backgrounds really help to give the game a sense of personality. Likewise, the surreal humour of the game is also welcome comic relief from the more disturbing and/or ultra-violent elements of the game.

And, make no mistake, this is a violent game! Although it isn’t the most violent game I’ve ever played, it is probably somewhere between Zombie Shooter and Brutal Doom in terms of sheer brutality.

Although the gory violence in this game is somewhat cartoonish, it sometimes has a rather sadistic edge to it that will make your character seem little better than the gangsters he is fighting. Likewise, after completing each level, you have to walk back through the entire level and gaze with disgust upon the grisly bloodbath that your character has created.

This element of the game is probably designed to undermine the sense of victory that a player is usually expected to feel after each level. And, yes, the levels will often be CONSIDERABLY more grisly than the example in this screenshot!

The game’s story is kept intriguingly mysterious, with plenty of gaps for you to fill with your own imagination. Some story elements are barely explained and some are left deliberately unexplained. Likewise, between levels, your character will do mundane things like getting a pizza or renting a video, which contrasts heavily with the grisly events of the rest of the game. However, these scenes can get a little repetitive though.

Still, the game is set somewhere where you can still get movies on VHS! Awesome πŸ™‚

As for the gameplay, the game contains a surprisingly innovative combat system. Yes, innovation. In a modern game. The main twist in this game is that, despite the cartoonish graphics, the combat system is surprisingly “realistic”. What this mostly means is that you have exactly the same amount of health points as each of your adversaries do.

In other words, if you get shot once or struck with a heavy object, you’re done for! So, instead of mindlessly shooting your way through waves of adversaries, you actually have to think and play strategically. You have to figure out the “rules” that the game’s AI follows, you have to know when to retreat and when to fight, you have to memorise enemy locations, you have to choose and use any available weapons carefully and, most importantly, you have to attack the gangsters before they attack you.

And, yes, there’s even a “combo” system too. You can unlock extra stuff at the end of each level if you get a high score. And, best of all, NO micro-transactions πŸ™‚ If you want cool stuff, you actually have to win it yourself!

It’s kind of like how the most thrilling parts of old early-mid 1990s FPS games are the parts where you’ve only got one health point left and you have to figure out how to get past a horde of monsters. This game is basically that, for almost the entire game πŸ™‚ In other words, although this game is filled with ultra-violent combat, it’s actually more of a puzzle game than an action game.

For example, you have to work out how to fight these six guards (and an adorable guard dog), with only one “health point” left.

This is helped by the fact that, like in 1990s FPS games, the iteration time is incredibly quick. Once you die (and this will happen a lot!) you just tap “R” and you’ll instantly re-start that segment of the level. Although this sounds repetitive, it allows you to quickly learn each level and to form new plans and strategies. Plus, to keep things interesting, the weapons and enemy behaviour are randomised slightly between restarts.

In keeping with the theme of your character being pretty much the same as the gangsters he fights, you can only carry one weapon at a time. However, since most adversaries drop weapons, this usually means that you’ll not only be switching between weapons fairly quickly but that you’ll also have to make strategic decisions about which one of the nearby weapons you want to use.

Likewise, you can also do a few extra things like throwing empty weapons at enemies and performing brutal “execution” moves on unconscious foes (albeit with the risk that another enemy might spot you doing this).

Aside from the top-down perspective, the only real concession in favour of the player is that – before each mission – you are given a choice of animal masks to wear. These masks are unlocked throughout the game and each one will give you some kind of special ability (eg: fast movement, silent weapons etc…). This element of the game can really come in handy, not to mention that it really adds to the surreal atmosphere of the game too:

Needless to say, all of the masks have silly names too.

In addition to the “everyday life” segments I mentioned earlier in this review, the standard combat gameplay is also broken up by several puzzle-based boss fights that will often require you to discover and use one particular strategy. But, if you played a lot of games from the 1990s, then you’re probably more than familiar with this type of boss battle.

The only other major gameplay variation is the fact that one level is an *ugh* stealth-based level. This level involves sneaking around a hospital, whilst trying to stay out of sight from the doctors and policemen who wander the halls. In addition to this, you’ll also get random headaches (that mean you can’t move or hide for a few seconds) if you walk too quickly or too far. Seriously, I absolutely loathe and despise this type of slow, dull, nerve-wracking gameplay and, if it wasn’t for walkthroughs on Youtube, I’d have probably stopped playing there and then!

Yes, 19 of the game’s 20 levels are awesome. THIS is the one that ISN’T!

In terms of level design, this game is surprisingly good. Many levels are split into 2-4 segments and each one of these is like a small combat-based puzzle.

The segments are often long enough to be challenging, but short enough that having to restart them numerous times won’t feel like too much of a chore. The level design is occasionally mixed up with the addition of new elements, such as windows that can be fired through or – at one point – a booby trapped door.

And the scene where you figure out how to deal with it is truly epic!

Likewise, there’s a point where you think that you’ve finished the game, only to be presented with another 3-4 levels featuring a different character. These levels include a few gameplay tweaks (such as only allowing you to use one specific weapon) but their appearance after a credits sequence can sometimes make it feel like the game has outstayed it’s welcome a little.

In terms of the art design, this game is outstanding! Seriously, I cannot praise it highly enough. The game uses a very distinctive art style that has been heavily influenced by the 1980s (and possibly various hallucinogens too). In contrast to the dull and gritty settings of many modern games, everywhere here is bright and vivid – and the game uses a more limited colour palette to beautiful effect in so many ways.

Seriously, it looks gloriously ’80s in the best possible way πŸ™‚

The game’s music is also outstandingly brilliant too! Whether it’s the frantic new retro wave synth music from Perturbator or the eerily distorted 1960s hippie music that plays in the main character’s apartment, the music is an absolutely perfect fit with the themes and visual style of the game. One of my favourite background tracks has to be one that has obviously taken heavy influence from the end titles music from “Blade Runner”.

All in all, although “Hotline Miami” isn’t a perfect game, it’s still astonishingly fun and brilliantly unique. In addition to frantic, strategic combat-based gameplay, it also includes lots of interesting art and hilariously bizarre humour. It’s a modern retro game in all of the right ways. Yes, the game’s surreal nature and ultra-violent content might not be for everyone. But, if you aren’t easily shocked and you love things like old FPS games, Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, the 1980s etc.. then you’ll be right at home here.

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

Review: “Deus Ex: Invisible War [PC Version]” (Retro Computer Game)

Although the original “Deus Ex” is widely regarded as a masterpiece, it’s sequel from 2003 – “Deus Ex: Invisible War” – doesn’t seem to have gained this stellar reputation. So, when I saw that this game was on special offer on GoG last spring (it had been reduced to a little over Β£2), I just had to get a copy to see if it was really as bad as people have said that it is.

In short, it both is and isn’t a bad game. I’ll obviously go into more depth in the rest of the review. But, like with the original “Deus Ex”, it’s important to point out that you shouldn’t judge this game purely based on the early parts of it. However, unlike the first “Deus Ex” game, this sequel takes a lot longer to start turning into something a bit better.

That said, let’s take a look at “Deus Ex: Invisible War”. Needless to say, this review will contain some PLOT SPOILERS:

The events of “Deus Ex: Invisible War” take place two decades after the events of the first game. Regardless of the ending you chose in “Deus Ex”, a catastrophic event called “The Collapse” happens sometime between the ending of that game and the beginning of “Invisible War”.

This event sets technological progress further back, leading to the world becoming a less centralised place. Like in the original game, the world quickly ends up being run by a series of mysterious and secretive organisations (the WTO, the Order and the Templars).

The intro cinematic looks really cool, and wonderfully cyberpunk. The rest of the game, on the other hand…

The introduction to “Invisible War” begins with a nanotechnology-based terrorist attack that devastates Chicago. Luckily for you, you are many miles away in the Tarsus Academy training centre in Seattle.

You play as a nanotechnology-enhanced soldier called Alex D (you can choose whether you are male or female) who has been in training for years. However, the centre is soon attacked by armed terrorists and you have to escape….

Unfortunately, some of your fellow recruits don’t seem to have enhanced intelligence. Seriously, “more demolition”?

Once you escape the academy, you find yourself on the (mostly) grey and boring streets of Seattle, bombarded by messages from several competing organisations, all wanting you to do stuff for them….

And, yes, these messages can get in the way of the gameplay! Likewise, this is pretty much the only vaguely cyberpunk-looking area in the whole of the Seattle segment of the game.

Before I really get into all of the technical details of the game, I want to talk more about the story and the atmosphere. When you start playing this game, you’ll probably be wondering how this is a “Deus Ex” game.

Apart from the occasional info-dump in the dialogue, a few background details, a greasel or two, and several amusing pieces of wooden voice-acting, there seem to be barely any connections between this game and it’s predecessor. Don’t let this put you off!

This might look more like a low-budget episode of “Star Trek”, but keep playing and it will turn into a “Deus Ex” game… eventually.

Yes, you’ll have to wait a while, but I can assure you that this is very much a “Deus Ex” game when it comes to the story!

Even though the earlier and middle parts of the game often seem like a totally different game altogether, you’ll eventually start to see a few familiar faces and locations again. These are – by far- the best parts of the game! Yet, you’ll only see them for a few hours at most. Seriously, this game would have been so much better if the rest of it was more like those parts.

Yes, JC Denton is back! But, only after you’ve played several hours of what can sometimes seem like a totally different game!

Still, the new stuff isn’t entirely bad. Yes, the fictional world of the game is less expansive and atmospheric than the original “Deus Ex”, but there’s still a fair amount of complexity and detail here. Suddenly being thrown into a confusing web of clandestine politics near the beginning of the game helps to give the game a conspiratorial cyberpunk atmosphere in a much more vivid way than in in the original “Deus Ex”.

Likewise, the game still includes a lot of interesting background details. Yes, the in-game documents are a lot shorter and the locations are often smaller or simpler, but there’s still a lot of background stuff. There are two competing coffee chains (who turn out to be run by the same company), there’s a famous pop star called NG Resonance who also exists as a friendly AI construct who will reward you for giving information to the authorities (although, if you meet her later in the game, the actual NG Resonance acts exactly like you’d expect a rich pop star to – which is hilarious!) etc…

Interestingly, if you don’t explore, you can go through the whole game thinking that NG Resonance is just a friendly hologram..

Rather than a thoroughly annoying celebrity.

Still, at the beginning, it’s a game that will barely feel like a “proper” cyberpunk game, let alone a “Deus Ex” game. But, as it goes on, it gradually becomes more like the cyberpunk “Deus Ex” game that it should have been from the very beginning.

Anyway, onto the technical details and the gameplay…

One of the very first things that I should say about this game is that it was primarily designed for consoles. What this means is that certain aspects of the gameplay have been simplified slightly (which is both a good and a bad thing) and that the various areas of the game are split up into smaller segments that cause a loading screen to appear between them.

Whilst these segments aren’t quite as tiny as some reviewers might have you believe (and some of them are relatively large), they’re a far cry from the vast expansive levels of the original “Deus Ex”.

From what I’ve read on Wikipedia, this is mostly because the designers created artificial parity between the Xbox and PC versions of this game – so, the game is coded to only use 64mb of RAM. There don’t seem to be any mods on the internet that can correct this defect either. So, the loading screens can take longer than you expect:

Yes, you’ll get used to THESE after a while. But, they can be frustrating at first, especially if you’ve played the original game.

Likewise, one thing that I noticed when I started playing “Invisible War” is that it’s surprisingly demanding for a game from 2003. After all, the vintage mid-2000s computer (1.8ghz single core, 2gb RAM, GeForce 6100) I played this game on can run games like “Doom 3”, “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines“, “Far Cry”, “Red Faction II“, “Quake 4”, “Dreamfall: The Longest Journey” and “Half Life 2” on low graphics settings perfectly well. Yet, even with the settings turned down to minimum, this game ran slightly sluggishly during quite a few parts. However, it was still just about playable.

Anyway, in terms of the gameplay, it’s relatively close to the original “Deus Ex”. In other words, it’s an action/role-playing game that is played from a first-person perspective. But, whilst the gameplay is strongly reminiscent of the original “Deus Ex”, there’s less versatility in many areas. It’s kind of like “Deus Ex lite”, which is cool – but it might temporarily annoy you if you are a fan of the original game.

On the plus side, the multi-tools now have a vaguely “Harry Potter”-like animation. Expelliarmus!

For example, whilst there are sometimes multiple ways of doing the same thing (eg: bypassing a door by using a multi-tool, climbing through a vent or finding a key etc..), there don’t seem to be as many as there were in “Deus Ex”.

You also still have nanotechnolgy-based abilities that can be upgraded and chosen (plus, unlike in “Deus Ex”, the repair bots/medical bots have no recharge time). Likewise, although you can still find hidden stuff by exploring – there aren’t as many places to explore.

Still, you can sometimes find interesting places if you explore, like this dubious underground greasel fighting arena.

Plus, although you often get coflicting objectives (in addition to a fair number of optional side-quests), you can switch your allegiances fairly often during the game and, until the later parts of the game, there isn’t really a sense that you have to follow one path.

In some ways, this is actually a good thing though – since the predominant emotion in the early parts of the game is a confused sense of not knowing who to trust. So, the lack of a firm allegiance system is a forgiving way to let players make their own decisions. Plus, of course, it adds replay value to the game too.

However, the game will sometimes channel you along a particular path. For example, I’d originally planned to ignore the WTO chairman’s orders. But, you have to follow them here in order to progress easily.

The most significant gameplay change is probably to the ammunition system. Basically, all of your weapons share a single pool of universal ammunition. This is both a good and a bad thing.

On the one hand, it can easily result in you running out of ammo in the middle of a fight. However, when you get your hands on the more powerful weapons (eg: the sniper rifle and/or rocket launcher), it also means that ammo is a lot more plentiful. But, fallen enemies have a habit of falling on top of any ammunition that they drop – which means that picking up extra ammo in during or after a battle can be a little bit annoying.

Even so, if you use the sniper rifle, then you’ll be able to fight from a distance – especially since, if you aim it properly, it will one-shot most enemies who aren’t wearing heavy armour.

In addition to this, one good gameplay change is the fact that – when someone gives you a passcode – the game stores and uses it automatically. One of the frustrating things about the original “Deus Ex” was having to physically write down lots of 3-5 digit passcodes (or trawl through in-game menus to find records of them). So, this change is extremely welcome πŸ™‚

Plus, although this game was originally designed for consoles, it has a proper saving system too … and none of that modern “checkpoint saving” rubbish πŸ™‚ Plus, even more joyously, the only “regenerating health” you get in this game is an upgradable special ability that costs resources every time you use it.

However, the combat in this game can be clunky at times. Although this is something that you’ll probably get used to after playing for a while, don’t expect this to be a slick, intuitive FPS game with totally accurate aiming and perfect AI.

Still, you CAN use this to your advantage sometimes. If you climb a ladder, not only will any pursuing foes not follow you, but they also won’t think to shoot upwards at you either.

Whilst the original “Deus Ex” excused the few deficiencies of it’s combat system by occasionally encouraging the player to take a pacifist path, there isn’t really much of this in “Invisible War” (you get a few non-lethal weapons and there are some basic stealth mechanics, but that’s about it). The only example I can think of is possibly one part of the game which seems like a stealth segment at first, but the objective requires you to “neutralise” some troops guarding a plane.

Still, if like me, you loathe and despise stealth segments in games, the fact that this area is more “use tactics” than “use stealth” is wonderful πŸ™‚

In terms of the graphics, this game is fairly decent for something from the early-mid 2000s. But, the improved graphics aren’t taken advantage of as often as they should be. What I mean by this is that although “Invisible War” contains some really cool lighting and a few awesome-looking cyberpunk areas, these are relatively few and far between. A lot of the game takes place in generic buildings, city streets etc… Likewise, thanks to the limitations of the level size and level complexity, don’t expect to see anything too expansive or dramatic.

Yes, there’s a very short Hong Kong-based segment. But, looking at the city through a window is as close as you’re going to get to it.

And, sometimes, the game looks as cool as THIS πŸ™‚

But, the locations willl also sometimes look as dull as THIS too 😦

In terms of the voice acting and music, this game is acceptable. The game’s soundtrack is nowhere near as distinctive or memorable as the soundtrack from the original “Deus Ex”, but it isn’t exactly bad either. The voice-acting varies a bit and can sometimes be a little bit wooden, although this is part of the charm of the classic “Deus Ex” games.

All in all, this is one of those games that is something of an acquired taste. No, it isn’t as good as “Deus Ex”. But, the fact that they tried to make a “lite” version of the game that will run on early 2000s consoles is absolutely adorable. So, I have to applaud the effort, even though the PC version should have received more love (eg: resolving the RAM allocation limit problem I mentioned earlier)

Yes, there are a lot of clunky elements to this game. But, no, you shouldn’t judge it by the first few hours. The later parts of this game are actually good, even if you have to trawl through a fair amount of the game to get to them. Even so, if you can get used to this game’s many flaws, then there is a good game lurking in there. Or at least a “so bad that it’s good” game. So, it’s probably worth waiting until it goes on special offer before buying it.

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

Review: “Killing Time [PC Version]” (Retro Computer Game)

Well, for today, I thought that I’d take a look at a mostly-forgotten FPS game from 1996 called “Killing Time” that I finished a few hours before writing this review.

Although “Killing Time” apparently started life as a console game (from 1995), the PC port is apparently so different that it’s pretty much it’s own game (modern developers, learn from this!). So, this is what I’ll be reviewing today.

When I bought a DRM-free direct download of this game on GOG last spring, it was on sale and had been reduced to about Β£2. At full price, it’s about Β£7-8 or so on GOG. The Steam version, at the time of writing, seems to be marginally cheaper (at a little under Β£7). Both versions also include a MP3 version of the game’s soundtrack too.

But, due to both my computer and the slightly old-fashioned graphics system in the game, this review won’t contain any gameplay screenshots – since any in-game screenshots I took tended to glitch out like this when I took them, and didn’t reflect my actual experience of playing the game. This is kind of a shame since the best way to show what the gameplay looks like is to.. show what it looks like. But, written descriptions and a screenshot from the intro movie’s video file (from the game’s folder) will have to suffice.

So, that said, let’s take a look at “Killing Time”:

Note: This is a screenshot from the intro movie. As mentioned above, the gameplay screenshots glitched out to the point of unusability. Still, as intro movies go, this game has a really cool one πŸ™‚

“Killing Time” is a horror-themed FPS game which revolves around an unnamed archaeologist visiting a mysterious island near Maine. His Egyptology professor mentions that the owner of the estate, Tess Conway, took an artefact from an expedition she sponsored and that the artefact’s last known location was her private island. However, ever since a “roaring twenties”-style party on the island in 1932, no-one has been seen there since…..

One of the first things that I will say about this game is that it is something of an acquired taste. But, like a lot of FPS games from the time, it was incredibly innovative and also included features that were at least slightly ahead of their time (eg: an open world environment, in-game FMV etc..).

The best way to describe this game is that it’s a bit like “Realms Of The Haunting” in that it actually contains a story and a large explorable environment. But, in terms of gameplay and graphics, it’s a bit more like “Doom” or “Duke Nukem 3D“.

The gameplay in “Killing Time” is something of a mixed bag. A large part of the game inovolves exploring the island and finding both keys and spirit vessels (you need something like eight of them to unlock the final boss).

One innovative feature here is that there are no real level boundaries – you can explore about half of the island from the very start of the game. Each segment of the island loads instantly (without needing a loading screen) when you enter it and, for the time, this was really innovative. The only vaguely similar thing from the same year is possibly “Realms Of The Haunting”, but even that had defined level areas in some parts. Seriously, “Half-Life” wouldn’t come out until two years after this game – and “Half-Life” did have loading screens between areas!

But, as cool as this is, it is also one of the game’s main flaws. Since you have to search for lots of keys and items, you literally have to search the entire game for them sometimes! And, as much as I love non-linear FPS games, this can get a little frustrating sometimes. At least when games like “Doom” or “Duke Nukem 3D” make you search for something, you only have to search a relatively small level, rather than an entire island.

This problem is compounded by the fact that the only walkthrough I could find at the time of playing the game was a series of videos on Youtube, rather than a more easily-navigated text walkthrough. Although you probably won’t get completely and utterly stuck that often, it happened to me at least four or five times throughout the course of the game.

On the plus side, the game actually features real time in-game FMV! Basically, there are glowing blue ghosts scattered around the game’s world and, if you walk into one, you’ll be treated to a very pixellated FMV movie that takes place in-game (eg: instead of displaying a full-screen video, the “video” consists of an “.Avi” file that has been converted into an in-game sprite). Or, you’ll get an error message. Or the game might crash. All three have happened to me. Still, for something made in 1995/6, this is ridiculously ahead of it’s time!

These movies deliver hints occasionally and, more often, they tell parts of the game’s story. The acting in these videos is relatively good and they really help to bring the game’s locations to life. One cool feature is that, in two locations, you can move the hands of a clock to see what happened in an area at different times of the day. However, the game isn’t exactly averse to including the same video in two or more different locations, which can get repetitive.

In terms of the combat, this game is reasonably good and as enjoyably challenging as you would expect from a 90s FPS game. The game’s various monsters attack often and in groups, and the amount of ammo available to you can vary throughout the game. It’s fun, furious and frenetic! Likewise, although the game features a vertical look system, it also includes a “Doom”-style vertical auto-aim system too.

Plus, if you use the default “Duke Nukem 3D”-style keyboard-only controls, the combat will probably bring back a lot of memories of playing FPS games during the 1990s πŸ™‚

Although the game apparently includes options for mouse and gamepad controls, I haven’t tested either of these. Still, since this is an official version of the original closed-source game that has been made compatible with 2000s & 2010s – era PCs, it doesn’t include the features (such as modern-style controls etc..) that you would expect from a fan-made source port for an open-source game like “Doom” or “Duke Nukem 3D”.

However, the difficulty can get slightly cheap sometimes. The first half of the final boss battle is a case in point.

Although this boss battle features something vaguely similar to the Nemesis in “Resident Evil 3” (again, this game is ahead of it’s time here!), where you are chased through the mansion by a teleporting monster who can only be temporarily slowed rather than killed, it’s one of those puzzle-based boss battles that 90s developers were so fond of. But, rather than solving a puzzle in the room where the boss appears, you have to find and traverse several monster-filled towers throughout the mansion… whilst being chased by the boss (who gloats at you the whole time).

In terms of the weapons, they aren’t really that creative by the standards of the time. Yes, they have a 1920s/30s theme (like in “Blood) but they’re mostly just a copy-paste of the weapon scheme in “Doom”.

The default weapon is a crowbar (yes, before “Half Life”!) and you can get two pistols but, apart from that, they’re pretty much just the “Doom” guns with different sprites, sounds etc.. (eg: there’s a flamethrower instead of a plasma cannon, a BFG-like ankh etc..). You’ll probably be using the shotgun most of the time, on account of the fact that, although the tommygun is the coolest weapon in the game, it guzzles ammunition at a prodigious rate.

However, the weapon sprites are based on pictures of 3D models, which look slightly out of place when compared to the slightly more cartoonish aesthetic of the rest of the game. Yes, the monster sprites are also based on 3D models, but they have a less “realistic” look than the weapons do.

In terms of movement, this game is a little bit of a disappointment. Not only is there no auto-run option, but the running speed is relatively slow (especially given the distances you have to traverse!). Likewise, if you walk along the edge of a tree or a wall, you slow down slightly. Plus, the less said about the jumping system, the better! It’s more accurate to describe it as a “hopping” system than a jumping system.

Likewise, the game’s map screen is zoomed in so much (even when you zoom out) that it is virtually useless, which is especially annoying in a game that relies so much on exploring large areas.

As for the graphics, I really liked them. Although 1996 is most famous for “Quake“, which introduced proper 3D graphics to the FPS genre – this game uses good old-fashioned sprite based graphics, like in “Doom” and “Duke Nukem 3D”. I really miss this graphics style in games, so it was great to see it again. The game also has an art deco/ ancient Egypt-style aesthetic in many locations too, which looks really cool. However, there are also a fair number of rather generic-looking forests, corridors, caverns and sewers here too.

As for the level design, it’s something of a mixed bag. The game’s one gigantic level contains some fairly well-designed areas which show how cool 90s FPS games were.

These include areas where you’ll have to use your brain in order to work out what you’re supposed to do (eg: a clever hedge maze-style area where you have to follow a series of clues given by a ghost). These include areas which are perfect for more strategic combat. These also include areas where monsters can leap out at you when you least expect it. Some parts of the level design here are really cool.

But, that said, there are also some really annoying areas too. Several corridor-based areas can get confusing, one of the keys is hidden in a way more befitting a secret area (eg: a moveable pillar that is hidden amongst lots of non-moveable pillars. Good luck finding it without a walkthrough!) and there are even one or two parts that require you to use the game’s horrible jumping system. Plus, with important items spread out across the game’s map, the item placement and extreme backtracking can feel like padding sometimes.

In terms of the music and the voice-acting, this game is surprisingly good. The game’s soundtrack is filled with lots of roaring twenties-style jazz/swing music and more ominous horror-movie style ambient music. Both of these things really add a lot of atmosphere to the game, and there’s nothing quite like tommygunning zombie monsters to the sound of jaunty swing music.

But, one slight problem with the music system in the game is that the background music changes very abruptly when you move between areas, which can break the immersion slightly. Likewise, the voice-acting in this game is a little cheesy, but it fits in well with the vintage atmosphere of the game.

All in all, this game is an acquired taste. If you stick with it, then you’ll have a lot of fun. But, it has a fair number of flaws too. Still, compared to the generic military-themed FPS games of the modern age, this game has an actual personality. It’s imaginative and unique and, as I said, a lot of fun once you’ve learnt to put up with it’s shortcomings. At full price, it’s worth thinking carefully before buying this game. But, on special offer, it’s a no-brainer.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would probably get three and a half. It has flaws, but there is a good game hidden in there!

Review “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines [With Unofficial Patch]” (Classic Computer Game)

2017-artwork-vampire-the-masquerade-bloodlines-review-sketch

Well, with Halloween approaching, I thought that I’d review a classic computer game from 2004 called “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” that I only played for the first time this year.

I bought a digital copy of this game when it was on special offer on GOG earlier this year and, although it seemed to be slightly on the pricier side of things for a game of that age (even when it was on offer), it was money well spent πŸ™‚

Interestingly, the version of this game available on GOG comes with an unofficial patch pre-installed. From what I can gather, this patch fixes many bugs and problems with the original version of the game. I’m not sure if this patch is included in versions of the game sold on other sites (eg: Steam), but it’s probably fairly easy to find on the internet if it isn’t.

One other thing that I should probably point out is that at least some of the minimum system requirements listed for the game on GOG (eg: a 2.4 ghz processor) seem to be somewhat over-inflated, especially considering that this game uses an early version of the Source Engine! I was able to get this game to run on a 1.8 ghz single core processor (with the graphics settings on low). Although, if you’re obsessed with framerates, you’ll probably be dismayed to hear that I only got about 20-30 FPS – but the game was still very playable.

Finally, I should probably warn you that this review may contain some minor SPOILERS.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines”:

vampire-the-masquerade-title-screen

“Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” is an action role-playing game which takes place in Los Angeles.

You play as a freshly-created vampire who is due to be executed because the person responsible for turning you into a vampire didn’t get permission from the city’s vampiric elders. However, the aristocratic Prince LaCroix is feeling unusually merciful, and spares your life on the condition that you serve him.

As you can probably tell from the public executions, these vampires are a rather old-fashioned lot.

As you can probably tell from the public executions, these vampires are a rather old-fashioned lot.

Soon, you find yourself thrown into a web of conspiracies, politics and crime. To say too much more would be to spoil the game’s brilliantly complex story, but – like in any role-playing game – you get to have a certain degree of influence over how the events of the game play out.

The character creation options in this game are slightly strange. In addition to choosing your character’s gender and stats, you also have to choose from one of seven “clans” – each one has different specialities and abilities. However, each clan only has two character models – but your character can find alternate outfits (which also serve as a type of armour) throughout the game.

From everything that I’d read before playing this game, it’s apparently best to avoid the “Malkavian” and “Nosferatu” clans on your first playthrough since these choices cause quite significant gameplay changes.

Although there is also a quiz that you can take which will help you choose your clan, I ended up going for the Tremere clan for the simple reason that I got to play as a cool goth character who wears shades at night and can use magic spells.

 This game is amazingly badass :)

This game is amazingly badass πŸ™‚

One of the first things that I will say about this game is that it is atmospheric. Seriously, it’s been a long time since a game has made this much of an impression on me! The style and atmosphere of the whole game is vaguely reminiscent of a brilliant TV show called “Angel“, albeit with a gloomier and more cynical atmosphere.

Although “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” isn’t the kind of horror game that will literally make you jump out of your chair with fright, this isn’t to say that it doesn’t contain any horror.

Although there are small amounts of many different types of horror (eg: psychological horror, supernatural horror, startling horror, body horror, gory horror, implied horror, gothic horror, Lovecraftian horror etc…) sprinkled throughout the game, most of the horror is almost subliminally subtle and it comes from the bleak and amoral hidden world that your character lives in and the hard choices that you are forced to make.

Often, the “evil” choice in any situation is presented as being the easier and/or more rewarding of the two. So, expect to feel disgusted/disturbed/creeped out at yourself at least once or twice after you finish playing.

For example, you can annoy this character by taking the moral high ground and refusing to vandalise a local art gallery for her. Or you can vandalise it, get money, get experience points, end a blood feud and make a new ally. Your choice.

For example, you can annoy this character by taking the moral high ground and refusing to vandalise a local art gallery for her. Or you can vandalise it, get money, get experience points, end a blood feud and make a new ally. Your choice.

But, a lot of this gloom is offset with some truly brilliant moments of dark comedy, which help to prevent the game from becoming too depressing. Most of the time, the humour is kept fairly subtle, but it’s great to see a game that doesn’t take itself entirely seriously….

Like good old Officer Chunk, a heartwarming beacon of friendliness and goodwill.

Like good old Officer Chunk, a heartwarming beacon of friendliness and goodwill.

 Turning the corner and seeing THIS is pretty much the game's only jump scare. But, it's only an adorable statue, with a hilarious note next to it.

Turning the corner and seeing THIS is one of the game’s very few jump scares. But, it’s only an adorable statue, with a hilarious note next to it.

As for the location design, there are gothic areas that look like something from “American Mc Gee’s Alice”, there are nightclubs you can dance in, there are “film noir”-style city streets, there’s a creepy haunted house, there are… so many cool places.

 Curiouser and curiouser, this is like "American McGee's Alice" all over again :)

Curiouser and curiouser, this is like “American McGee’s Alice” all over again πŸ™‚

And, just look at that cityscape! It almost looks like something from "Blade Runner" :)

And, just look at that cityscape! It almost looks like something from “Blade Runner” πŸ™‚

And this pier :) The music that plays in this part of the game is really cool too :)

And this pier πŸ™‚ The music that plays in this part of the game is really cool too πŸ™‚

The gameplay in “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” is a really interesting mixture of things. You can switch between a first-person and third-person perspective at will, and this allows the game to include a dazzling variety of gameplay types like melee combat, first-person shooting, exploration, stealth segments, puzzles, moral choices etc…

In addition to this, the game includes some vampire-specific gameplay features. For example, you need blood in order to use your character’s special abilities. But, you have to be careful how you drink blood – if a passer-by sees you drinking someone’s blood, then you lose a “masquerade” point and, if you drink literally all of someone’s blood, then you lose a “humanity” point. These are two scores that you have to be very careful about preserving, since bad things tend to happen if either score gets too low.

Of course, you can avoid this risk by either buying blood from a rather dodgy guy who lives in the hospital basement, by consuming any rats that happen to be scurrying through the sewers or by either seducing or paying another character (and pretending to kiss them, whilst secretly drinking their blood). As I said earlier, it’s a game which will sometimes leave you feeling slightly disgusted at yourself after you play it.

The health system in this game is kind of interesting too. Although it includes the dreaded regenerating health, this game handles it in a fairly sensible way that actually helps to add some challenge to the game (rather than just turning it into a toned down “god mode” cheat).

Yes, this game has regenerating health. But, it’s the good kind of regenerating health..

Although your health regenerates, it does this very slowly – giving the player an incentive to avoid damage. Although health regeneration can be accelerated by drinking blood, there aren’t really any “health items” in the game (except possibly the “elder vitae” item). So, combat in the game can end up being more challenging than you might expect.

Although this game is a fairly non-linear thing, it also includes some truly brilliant set-pieces too – which also help to keep the gameplay interesting. For example, at one point in the game, there’s a “Timesplitters”-style area where you have to defend the gates of a cemetary against hordes of zombies for five minutes. This is so cool!

And, yes, there's even a "BRAINS" damage bar when the zombies attack you. This game is awesome!

And, yes, there’s even a “BRAINS” damage bar when the zombies attack you. This game is awesome!

Surprisingly, the huge variety of gameplay types here all work fairly well. Even though I normally loathe and despise stealth mechanics in games, this one isn’t too frustrating. Not only is there a meter that clearly tells you how much attention nearby henchmen are paying to you but, if you increase the right stats, then you can be right next to an adversary and they still won’t notice you as long as you are crouching.

Even though I'm literally crouching next to these two heavily-armed guys, they don't notice me. Finally! A non-annoying stealth system!

Even though I’m literally crouching next to these two heavily-armed guys, they don’t notice me. Finally! A non-annoying stealth system!

Seriously, the only flaws I found with the gameplay is that a few of the game’s puzzles confused me enough to make me check a walkthrough and that some of the quests involve a bit too much “back and forth”, which is especially annoying given the loading screens that appear whenever you enter or leave a defined area in the game.

Yes, some of the messages can be interesting. But, still, these screens can get annoying after a while.

Yes, some of the messages can be interesting. But, still, these screens can get annoying after a while.

Likewise, at two points, the game randomly froze up and demanded that I inserted a disc. Thankfully, closing the program and starting it again solved the problem on both occasions. But, since games sold on GOG are meant to be DRM free, this sudden intrusion from the malingering ghost of the game’s original DRM wasn’t exactly welcome.

Thankfully, this only happened twice and didn't happen when I restarted the program and reloaded my saved game. But, still... it was annoying!

Thankfully, this only happened twice and didn’t happen when I restarted the program and reloaded my saved game. But, still… it was annoying!

The game itself is split into four outdoor “hub” areas, various buildings and a fair number of mission-specific areas. The hub areas are large enough to be interesting to explore, but small enough that you won’t get lost for too long either. You can also travel at will between any hub areas you’ve unlocked by finding a taxi (which is a New York-style yellow taxi, despite the game being set in California).

The "Downtown" hub has a wonderfully 1990s-style "film noir" look to it :)

The “Downtown” hub has a wonderfully 1990s-style “film noir” look to it πŸ™‚

And, later in the game, you also get to visit Chinatown too.

And, later in the game, you also get to visit Chinatown too.

Although there are some missions that you have to complete in order to progress, there are also optional missions that you can accept in order to gain more money or experience points. Some of these are interesting, some required me to use a walkthrough, some I completely missed altogether and some of them can be repetitive and dull.

Interestingly, the later parts of the game switch to a much more action/stealth-based style of gameplay. Amongst other things, the level before the final boss battle bears a strong resemblance to something from “Deus Ex” or “Half Life”. Like in “Deus Ex”, this is a level that you can complete using either stealth or mindless violence. Or both.

In terms of the dialogue and voice-acting, this game is absolutely stellar. Not only is the dialogue realistic, witty and filled with fascinating background information, but it’s accompanied by the kind of voice-acting that seems so natural that you usually won’t even think of it as “voice-acting” (the only exception is a character called Brother Kanker, whose voice acting is unintentionally hilarious). This allows the game to carry off some truly spectacular dramatic moments that might leave you shocked and some moments that will make you laugh out loud:

Glad to see that the game devs haven't let financial considerations affect the game in any way...

Glad to see that the game devs haven’t let financial considerations affect the game in any way…

The game’s story is the kind of deep, complex compelling thing that will keep you playing even during some of the more boring missions. Although I won’t spoil any major plot points, it seems to be one of those games which – like the film “Blade Runner” – makes you feel like you’ve only scratched the surface of something much greater. As you would expect, this is also one of those games that contains multiple endings depending on the choices you make during the game.

In terms of length, this is a full-length game… and then some! Seriously, this is the kind of game that pretty much demands to be binge-played in 2-4 hour sessions. Not only that, you’ll probably have quite a few of these sessions before you eventually finish the game. Whilst the game does a good job with holding the player’s interest throughout it’s marathon-like length, there are a few parts (especially near the end) that feel like unnecessary padding.

The music in this game is, in a word, amazing. Although most of it is the kind of ominous instrumental music that you’d expect in a horror game, it also includes a really brilliant licenced soundtrack too. One of the most amazing moments in the game was near the beginning, when I entered a nightclub (whose lobby was plastered with Bella Morte and Ghoultown posters!) and was given the opportunity to dance to a really cool gothic rock song called “Isolated” by Chiasm.

Yes, I literally spent something like three minutes dancing. It was amazing!

Yes, I literally spent something like three minutes dancing. It was amazing!

Likewise, another outstanding musical moment is when you are standing on the beach with an assortment of other characters and, over the rain and the crashing of the waves, Darling Violetta’s “A Smaller God” plays on a radio in the background. This moment is both relaxing and bleak, mundane and breathtakingly sublime.

All in all, this is probably the closest thing to a “perfect” game that I’ve played in a while. Even though it has a few small flaws, it contains a brilliant mixture of exploration, atmospheric storytelling, dark humour, gothic horror, subtle horror and thrilling combat. It’s a complex, fascinating game that is more than worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as classic games like “Deus Ex”.

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

Review: “Shadowrun: Dragonfall – Director’s Cut” (Computer Game)

2017-artwork-shadowrun-dragonfall-review-sketch

Well, although I am stuck on the final boss battle at the time of writing, I thought that it was about time that I finally reviewed this game. Although this isn’t technically the full review I’d planned to write, I’m probably about 95% of the way through the game, so it’s pretty close.

I first heard of “Shadowrun: Dragonfall – Director’s Cut” from this video review that I saw on Youtube. Although it didn’t really look like my type of game, the fact that it was a highly-praised modern game in the cyberpunk genre (that would actually run on my computer) made me interested.

I bought a direct download of this game quite a while ago when it was on special offer on GoG, although it is also available on services such as Steam. However, the GoG version comes with some extra goodies, such as a complimentary MP3 soundtrack download. Likewise, the GoG version is – of course – DRM-free too.

However, expect to take a while to get this game running. Although it uses pre-rendered backgrounds, text-based dialogue and relatively simple 3D graphics, the game download is over a gigabyte in size! In the 1990s/early 2000s, a game of this type would have probably fit onto a CD ROM! It also takes up a surprising amount of disk space when installed too. Not only that, it also comes with a 20mb patch which, for some bizarre reason, takes almost as long to install as the actual game itself does!

This review may also contain some mild gameplay SPOILERS, but I’ll try to avoid major ones.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Shadowrun: Dragonfall – Director’s Cut”:

shadowrun-dragonfall-review-title

“Shadowrun: Dragonfall – Director’s Cut” is a cyberpunk fantasy role-playing game (with turn-based combat) that was released in 2014.

The storyline of the game is somewhat complicated, but the basic premise is that the game is set in a vaguely “Neuromancer“-like future where – due to various events – dragons, trolls, orcs, elves, magic etc.. have also become part of the world. Yes, it sounds hilariously silly, but the game actually handles this part of the story fairly well.

The game begins in Berlin with a team of mercenaries (or “Shadowrunners”) led by the legendary computer hacker, Monika SchΓ€fer. She’s also the closest thing to the leader of an anarchist mini-state called “the Kreuzbasar”, and you are her second-in-command.

It is a night like any other, and you’ve got a mission to raid a nearby stately house and grab some data for a client. What could possibly go wrong….

See! It's an easy introductory level that will help you learn how to play the game... Of course!

See! It’s an easy introductory level that will help you learn how to play the game… Of course!

Joking aside, as much as I grew to like this game, the first level almost put me off completely. Although the events of the level are essential to the game’s rich and detailed story, it is probably one of the more difficult levels in the game! Yes, this sudden difficulty spike forces you to actually learn the game’s combat system. But, it isn’t exactly the friendliest way to introduce new players to the game.

That said, most of the game plays fairly well. You, of course, begin by creating a character. I created a human computer hacker called “Molly Millions” (because ‘Neuromancer’). You can choose to play as a variety of races (eg: human, orc, troll etc…) and you can choose to specialise in a number of skills too (eg: magic, hacking, drones etc..). There are a reasonable (but limited) number of pre-set appearance options for your character, but the level of customisation is still fairly impressive.

Although you can customise your 3D avatar somewhat, there are a fixed number of character portraits to choose from

Although you can customise your 3D avatar somewhat, there are a fixed number of character portraits to choose from

The gameplay itself revolves around exploration, dialogue and turn-based combat. Between missions, your character can explore the Kreuzbasar alone, stock up on items and talk to the local residents. Although the Kreuzbasar is a relatively small place, this limited size (along with one or two side missions early in the game) quickly helps you to learn where everything and everyone who matters is.

Plus, it just looks really cool too :)

Plus, it just looks really cool too πŸ™‚

 Plus, at one point, you have to look for a DVD player. It's like that episode of "Cowboy Bebop" with the VCR :)

Plus, at one point, you have to look for a DVD player. It’s like that episode of “Cowboy Bebop” with the VCR πŸ™‚

However, there are also both compulsory and optional missions that you have to complete. During these missions, you’ll usually be accompanied by up to three team members of your choice. Each team member has a different specialisation, and you’ll have to work out who is best for each mission.

For example, Glory is a medic who also excels at close combat, Eiger is an ex-military troll who is an ace with a sniper rifle and Dietrich is a washed-up punk rocker who can use magic. Likewise, you can also expand the team by temporarily hiring other mercenaries and/or letting a character called Blitz join the team a bit later in the game.

Plus, surprisingly, these characters are actual characters. For example, after the first mission, one member of the team will be incredibly pissed off at you. You can try to talk to her about it and win back her support, you can ignore her or you can argue with her. Although this doesn’t seem to affect the actual gameplay too much, it was kind of surprising to see the supporting cast acting and reacting in such a realistic character-based way, rather than just unquestioningly admiring the player.

As I mentioned earlier, this game uses turn-based combat. In each round, every member of your team has a fixed number of actions they can perform. So, you have to make tactical decisions about whether to use your characters’ limited number of action points to move to more advantageous locations, to reload their guns, to heal their wounded comrades and/or to attack any nearby enemies. This system can take a while to get used to, but it lends the combat an almost chess-like level of strategy.

 It'll take you a while to learn the combat system, but it's relatively self-explanatory.

It’ll take you a while to learn the combat system, but it’s relatively self-explanatory.

One of the things that is both a benefit and a flaw is that this is a “slow” game. Thanks to the long loading times (on older computers at least) and the chess-like pacing of the combat, this isn’t the kind of game that you can just play for five minutes.

On the plus side, the loading screens contain written narration that helps to pass the time...

On the plus side, the loading screens contain written narration that helps to pass the time…

To make any progress, you have to sink at least an hour or two into it at a time. Likewise, the game has a somewhat inconsistent saving system (eg: the “save” button will work in some areas, and it won’t work in others). So, you sometimes have to keep playing for a while longer than you expect if you want to save your progress.

But, on the plus side, putting a bit more time into this game is worth it because it’s wonderfully immersive, satisfyingly relaxing and thrillingly cerebral. Even the dreaded “timed segments” in this game rely on you having a limited number of turns, rather than an actual timer (which is brilliant!). It’s an action adventure game that is as relaxing to play as a “point and click” game is.

Yes, the timed levels are suspenseful. But, thanks to the timer not being an actual timer, you actually have enough thinking time and planning time for these levels to be enjoyable too.

Yes, the timed levels are suspenseful. But, thanks to the timer not being an actual timer, you actually have enough thinking time and planning time for these levels to be enjoyable too.

This “slowness” also gives you time to absorb the story and the world of the game. And, yes, this is one of those intelligent games that will really fire your imagination. The game includes things like a nuanced portrayal of an anarchist society (which is neither a utopia nor a dystopia), complex moral decisions, detailed written descriptions, character backstories and things like that.

Even though I’ve probably put at least 10-20 hours into this game, a brief glance at the Wiki for this game shows me that there’s still tons of optional story stuff that I’ve missed.

 Plus, there are lots of brief mentions of fascinating pieces of backstory which are then partially left to your imagination. Like this futuristic German version of the Battle Of Cable Street that Dietrich talks about before an optional mission.

Plus, there are lots of brief mentions of fascinating pieces of backstory which are then partially left to your imagination. Like this futuristic German version of the Battle Of Cable Street that Dietrich talks about before an optional mission.

For the most part, the game is fairly linear – although there are a few optional missions and additional mission objectives that you can choose to follow. Plus, whilst it isn’t even vaguely close to the versatility of a game like “Deus Ex“, there are sometimes multiple ways to complete particular missions.

For example, I got stuck on a level called “Bloodline” for a while because I didn’t have enough charisma points to sweet talk an electrician who was working on a building that the characters were supposed to break into (and my previous “all guns blazing” approach to entering the building had ended in failure).

Worried that I was completely stuck, I consulted a walkthrough and learnt that there’s a slightly hidden area nearby which allows yet another way to enter the building. Yes, it isn’t quite “Deus Ex”, but it’s still good that there are multiple ways to complete some of the missions.

Plus, this is a level where you pretty much need to have Blitz come along for the mission if you want to take a particular approach to completing the level.

Plus, this is a level where you pretty much need to have Blitz come along for the mission if you want to take a particular approach to completing the level.

Plus, being a cyberpunk game, there are also the obligatory “cyberspace” areas too. Interestingly, you can only access these if you play as a hacker (or have one on your team) but they look really cool. Not only that, your character also gets more “turns” within cyberspace than he or she does outside of cyberspace. For example, in a round of combat, your character can perform the equivalent of 9-15 actions in cyberspace per turn, whilst the characters outside of cyberspace are limited to just 2-3 actions per turn.

Well, it IS a cyberpunk game. So, I'd have been more shocked if there WEREN'T cheesy  "Tron"-like cyberspace segments :)

Well, it IS a cyberpunk game. So, I’d have been more shocked if there WEREN’T cheesy “Tron”-like cyberspace segments πŸ™‚

Likewise, a few earlier parts of the game have knock-on effects later in the game. For example, in one optional mission, you have to investigate mysterious disappearances in the sewers beneath the Kreuzbasar. In the end, you have a choice between siding with the hungry ghouls who live in the sewers or exterminating them. If you side with them then, when you have to visit the sewers to fight some bad guys later in the game, they’ll join forces with you and help you out.

Yes, contrary to what many other games have taught me, NOT killing the zombies is by far the best approach!

Yes, contrary to what many other games have taught me, NOT killing the zombies is by far the best approach!

The game contains a couple of counter-intuitive parts like this. For example, earlier in the game, you find a hotel room with a warning message on the door. If you open it anyway, you are confronted with a giant mutant scorpion that attacks you. Once you’ve defeated the scorpion, you can investigate the room…. where you promptly learn that it was someone’s beloved pet scorpion. Needless to say, I quickly loaded a previous saved game out of shame and then promptly ignored the room.

Yes, YOU'RE actually the villain in this scene!

Yes, YOU’RE actually the villain in this scene!

In terms of length, this game is massive! When I heard that it was a low-budget indie game, I expected something relatively short. But, I’ve spent about a month playing this game every couple of days or so and I’m still stuck on the final boss battle at the time of writing. Make no mistake, this is a full-length game – of the type that was pretty much standard back in the 1990s.

On a technical level, this game is (mostly) good. It will run on a computer that is over a decade old! However, there are a few small glitches and flaws. I’ve already mentioned the unpredictable availability of the “save” button, but also expect to mess around with the camera options for a while when you start playing (eg: be sure to set the camera to “fixed”, otherwise you have to move it manually). Likewise, the game froze up once (but only once) when I was playing it.

Plus, the game obscures any areas of the map that are not directly within your characters’ vision. Normally, this adds some suspense to the game – but, especially if you’re using an older computer, the game can sometimes take a bit longer to reveal “new” areas that you’ve entered. So, you can end up standing around in a background-less void for a few seconds before the background loads:

Either that, or the game has a hidden "goth mode".

Either that, or the game has a hidden “goth mode”.

As for the sound in this game, it’s brilliant. Although all of the dialogue is text-only, the weapons sound suitably dramatic and the background music is absolutely sublime. It’s a little bit reminiscent of the soundtrack to “Deus Ex” and it has a very atmospheric, electronic kind of sound to it. Whilst the music isn’t quite up to Perturbator levels of retro-futuristic awesomeness, it still sounds suitably cyberpunk.

All in all, “Shadowrun: Dragonfall – Director’s Cut” is a brilliant cyberpunk game. It’s intelligent, atmospheric and imaginative. It’s the kind of game that has to be played for hours at a time and can’t be completed in a couple of days. It’s a brilliantly immersive game that will linger in your imagination after you’ve finished playing it. Yes, a few parts are a little bit flawed and it isn’t a “perfect” game. But, it’s still an extremely good game nonetheless.

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