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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Does Artistic And/Or Literary Inspiration Have In Common With Computer Game “Modding”?

2016 Artwork Modding and inspiration

Well, I thought that I’d take a break from talking about webcomics to talk about creativity in general. Although I’ll start by talking about computer games for a while, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

If you play a lot of computer games, then you’re probably familiar with the concept of “modding”. If you aren’t, then this is where fans of a game create alternative files for the game (which might change the graphics, add new levels, alter the “rules” of the game etc…) and/or programs that alter the game in some way or another. If a game has a good modding scene, then it’s pretty much infinitely re-playable since there are so many different ways to play the same game.

An example of a mod that I’ve been playing a lot recently is probably the famous/notorious “Brutal Doom” mod for the classic 1990s “Doom” games. Although this mod is only truly fun to play for a few weeks at a time (since the novelty value wears off after a while), it turns a familar game into something entirely different.

The combat goes from being an almost chess-like game of fast-paced, but careful, strategy, to being a much more aggressive, immediate and hyper-violent thing. The military themes from the original game (which are nothing more than a background detail) are also brought to the fore in “Brutal Doom”, lending the game a totally new atmosphere.

Far from being a silently enigmatic lone space marine fighting for survival against hordes of monsters in the distant future, the main character in “Brutal Doom” can shout insults at the monsters, he can meet (and rescue) other space marines etc.. Although most of these changes are fairly small, they lend this altered version of “Doom” a much more militaristic atmosphere when compared to the original game.

And, yet, it’s still very much recognisable as a version of “Doom”.

So, why have I spent the past few paragraphs talking about computer games? What does any of this have to do with art, fiction, comics etc…?

With the possible exception of fan fiction/ fan art, there has never really been that much of an overt tradition of modding in more traditional creative mediums. But, that’s not to say that modding is an entirely new thing. In fact, it’s existed for as long as stories and art have – it’s just done in a slightly more covert and abstract way in traditional mediums these days.

Back in the really old days, stories didn’t really “belong” to anyone. So, storytellers often told their own versions of the stories that they had heard. There wasn’t really the concept of a “modification” for the simple reason that there often wasn’t an “original” version – just lots of different versions.

Although, after the development of the printing press and of relatively modern ideas like copyright, we now have the idea that a story “belongs” to someone. Art, on the other hand, has often either been totally anonymous or it has “belonged” to the artist in question. Still, “modifcation” can only really exist if there’s an “original” to modify.

But, due to modern things like copyright, we can’t just re-tell the same stories or make slightly different versions of someone else’s artwork. These days, such ancient creative traditions are considered to be acts of unoriginal plagiarism rather than merely someone telling a story or making a well-known painting. And, yet, “modding” things is still a very central and essential part of creativity. After all, it’s nearly impossible to create an entirely “original” story or work of art.

So, how do artists and writers “mod” their favourite things these days? Simple, they tell new stories and make new works of art that evoke the thing that they’re trying to “mod”, but without actually copying any specific parts of it.

Since they can’t directly copy their favourite things, they have to take a careful look at them and work out which general elements (rather than specific details, like character names, specific plot details, an artist’s exact style etc…) make these things so good. Then they use these general elements to make something totally new.

To use a public domain example, if an artist is a fan of Caravaggio then they would look at as many Caravaggio paintings as they can and see which generic elements – that aren’t specific to any one painting- make them so appealing. Caravaggio’s paintings often play with light and darkness (with large parts of many of his paintings shrouded in darkness), his paintings often contrast religious themes and everyday life, his art uses a very realistic style etc…

So, an artist inspired by Caravaggio wouldn’t just copy a Caravaggio painting (even though said paintings are out of copyright). Instead, they’d find a religious story that interested them and try to find a way to make it look like a scene from everyday life. They’d add a lot of gloom to their paintings. They’d try to paint in a more realistic way. Their painting would probably look very different to an actual Caravaggio painting, but it would still be a new interpretation of Caravaggio’s art.

This is, of course, called “inspiration” rather than “modding”. And it’s an essential part of creativity.

———————————–

Anyway, I hope that this was interesting πŸ™‚

Review : “Deponia” ( Computer Game)

2015 Artwork Deponia review

A few months ago, I was looking at random stuff on the internet when I noticed that “Deponia” was on special offer on GoG. Since I’d heard of this game before and since the price had been briefly reduced to something like Β£0.40, I decided to check it out.

I should probably also point out that, at the time of writing this review, I’ve completed about two-thirds of the game – so this review will only reflect my experiences so far.

But, before I take a look at the game itself, I should probably briefly compare the different downloadable versions of this game available for purchase online.

If, like me, you buy this game from GoG- it doesn’t come with any DRM and you’ll also get a lot of free optional bonus stuff too (eg: downloadable manuals, downloadable artwork, a digital copy of the game’s soundtrack etc..). However, unlike the Steam version, it doesn’t contain an achieivements system.

Personally, I found that the extra stuff and the lack of DRM more than made up for the lack of achievements. But, even so, be sure to shop around if you decide to buy this game.

However, I should warn you that the download of this game is absolutely huge – not only is the game itself something like 3.5 gb in size, but you also have to download a 1.2gb patch for it too. This seems a little bit large for a cartoonish adventure game, so you might have to clear some space on your hard drive before you download this game.

Anyway, that said, let’s take a look at “Deponia”:

deponia title

“Deponia” is an old-style sci-fi/comedy point and click adventure game, released by Daedalic Entertainment in 2012. You play as a slacker, and general ne’er-do-well, called Rufus who lives in his ex-girlfriend’s house in a town called Kuvaq on a planet called Deponia (which serves as some kind of intergalactic rubbish dump).

Rufus has had a lifelong ambition to leave Deponia for a place called Elysium. However, his escape plans have never really worked out that well. But, he hopes that his latest plan will….

His latest escape plan involves getting into a rusty metal box attached to a giant firework-powered cannon, WHAT could go wrong?

His latest escape plan involves getting into a rusty metal box attached to a giant firework-powered cannon, WHAT could go wrong?

In terms of the gameplay, “Deponia” is a fairly classic “point and click” game. So, if you’ve played other games in this genre, then you’ll probably know what to expect.

The only slight criticism I have of the gameplay is the fact that the items menu is a pull-down menu that can get in the way of the gameplay sometimes. However, there are shortcuts that you can use in order to access it more quickly (the item menu can also be linked to the mouse wheel too, if you want).

Yes, this can be linked to the mouse wheel. But, the wheel on my mouse is kind of annoying, so I chose the pull-down menu option instead.

Yes, this can be linked to the mouse wheel. But, the wheel on my mouse is kind of annoying, so I chose the pull-down menu option instead.

Although there’s no “run” option, the game will automatically jump to the next screen if you double-click on the edge of a particular screen. Since you’ll be doing a fair amount of backtracking in this game, this feature prevents the game from becoming tedious.

The inventory puzzles in “Deponia” are as challenging (and sometimes as obscure) as you would expect from an old-school “point and click” game. Personally, I’m absolutely terrible at these kinds of puzzles, so I ended up using a walkthrough on a very regular basis.

Still, if you’re slightly more experienced with “point and click” games, “Deponia” also includes a hint system… of sorts. Basically, if you’re stuck, then you can hold down the spacebar and the game will show you what you can and can’t interact with:

This is useful, but I STILL needed a walkthrough...

This is useful, but I STILL needed a walkthrough…

Plus, several of the non-inventory puzzles in this game have a “skip” option (it’s a little “x” button on the right side of the screen), which was really cool.

But, even if you cheat your way through almost every puzzle in “Deponia”, there’s still a lot of stuff that makes this game enjoyable.

Like these mind-bending hallucinations!

Like these mind-bending hallucinations!

For starters, like many older games, “Deponia” actually has something of a personality to it. Although this game was released in 2012, it’s as unique and innovative as anything from the 1990s.

The backgrounds in this game are absolutely brilliant and they are some of the most unique ones that I’ve ever seen in a computer game (the closest thing to it that I’ve seen in another game are probably the settings in another adventure game called “Machinarium“, or possibly the locations in one of the old “Jak and Daxter” PS2 games). Everything in the game is made from junk, rubbish and random objects and this really adds a lot of atmosphere to the game:

Even the town's mechanical bull is cobbled together from random things.

Even the town’s mechanical bull is cobbled together from random things.

Like in all great adventure games, many of the characters in “Deponia” are absolutely brilliant too.

Not only is Rufus’ dialogue hilariously sarcastic (especially his conversations with his ex-girlfriend), but many of the background characters are wonderfully eccentric too. Seriously, there aren’t really any boring characters in “Deponia”:

This is the mayor of the town, in his traditional resting place...

This is the mayor of the town, in his traditional resting place…

This is Toni, Rufus' ex-girlfriend. She even makes ME look ..whatever the opposite of "cynical" is.. by comparison

This is Toni, Rufus’ ex-girlfriend. She even makes ME look ..whatever the opposite of “cynical” is.. by comparison

The only slight problem with the background characters is (and I don’t want to sound preachy here, but I probably will) that the only transgender character in the game is something of a horrible stereotype. Yes, it’s good that the game actually includes a transgender character, but I wish that she hadn’t been so badly-designed.

She has a five-o-clock shadow, occasionally shouts in a deep voice (when she isn’t speaking in falsetto) and she wears a rather old-fashioned pink dress. Whilst this didn’t ruin the game for me, this terrible example of character design was kind of annoying nonetheless:

*Facepalm*

*Facepalm*

On the plus side, one hilariously ironic (if somewhat subtle) thing in “Deponia” is that, although almost everyone in the game criticises Rufus for being unemployed, whenever you actually meet anyone with a job, they’re almost always slacking off or doing nothing.

Yay! Irony!

Yay! Irony!

Apart from the badly-designed character I mentioned earlier, I cannot praise the humour in this game highly enough.

Because this game was originally made in Germany (German is possibly my third language at most, but my understanding of it is fairly limited), I can’t really say how well the verbal humour was translated from the original game.

But, from the clips of the German version that I’ve seen on Youtube, the English translation may even contain more humour than the original version.

For example, only one of Toni’s sarcastic post-it notes at the start of the game has an alliterative title in the German version (it’s called a “mistige memo” – which, according to Google, translates to “crappy memo”), compared to the “severe slip, “chafing chit” and “malicious memo” in the English version.

Yes, this cool little alliterative joke wasn't in the original version of the game.

Yes, this cool little alliterative joke wasn’t in the original version of the game.

Another cool thing about “Deponia” is that it has musical narration during a few of the cutscenes. The rhyme scheme in some of these songs is a bit strange (probably due to the translation), but the songs are still hilariously enjoyable nonetheless (even if there are only four of them).

This is also one reason why I’d personally recommend getting this game on GoG, rather than Steam, since all of these narration songs are included on the downloadable soundtrack album.

 Seriously, how many OTHER games have a musical narrator?

Seriously, how many OTHER games have a musical narrator?

As for the graphics, I absolutely love the cartoonish art style in “Deponia” and the whole game looks like something from a comic book, which was really cool. There are also about nine animated cutscenes in the game (I’ve unlocked about eight of them so far). However, I’m still at a loss to explain how a game with cartoonish 2D graphics can be over three gigabytes in size though.

In terms of length, “Deponia” seems to be fairly reasonable. From what I can gather, I’m about two-thirds of the way through the game and – even though I used a walkthrough quite often – it took me a few hours to get there. However, since “Deponia” also has two sequels that apparently follow on directly from each other, it seems likely that this game might have a cliffhanger ending of some kind.

All in all, “Deponia” is an absolutely hilarious and unique game that is certainly worth checking out if you’re a fan of old-school “point and click” games. Even if you’re terrible at these types of games and end up cheating on a regular basis, then there’s still loads of great stuff here.

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

Review: “Blood” (Retro Computer Game)

2015 Artwork Blood review sketch

Blood? Blood! Blooood! As horror game titles go, you can’t get more dramatic than this! And I’ll be reviewing an absolute horror classic today.

A classic which, up until recently, I’m ashamed to admit that I’d never really played properly. Sure, I’d found a copy of the shareware version last year and really enjoyed it, but I still somehow didn’t have a copy of the full version.

Luckily, thanks to a website called “GoG” (which sells legal downloads of vintage games ), I was able to get a DRM-free copy of the full version of “Blood” – along with the two official expansion packs that had been released for it (“Plasma Pak” and “Cryptic Passage”) – all for about four quid.

You can also get this game for the same price on Steam too, although I don’t know whether the Steam version is any different (since the GoG version uses “DOSBox” in order to allow the game to run on modern computers).

I’ll probably stick to just reviewing what I’ve played of the main game here and I’ll possibly review “Cryptic Passage” and the extra episode that the “Plasma Pak” adds (called “Post Mortem”) at a later date.

I should also probably point out that, at the time of writing this review, I’m near the end of episode two (and I played the first episode last year) – so this review will only reflect my experiences so far. But, damn, did this game make an impression on me!

Likewise, I should probably warn you that this review will contain some (fairly cartoonish and unrealistic) gory images. Then again, what else would you expect from a game called “Blood”?

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Blood”:

blood title screen

Blood” is a horror-themed FPS game by Monolith Productions that was released in the late 1990s and it is also one of the last games to use Ken Silverman’s “Build” engine (of “Duke Nukem 3D” and “Shadow Warrior” fame).

Unfortunately, because other games with much flashier graphics were released at the same time as “Blood” was, this game ended up being somewhat overlooked and forgotten by gamers.

In “Blood”, you play as an old west gunslinger called Caleb, who has risen from the dead in order to wreak bloody vengeance on the mysterious cult that was responsible for his death.

Yes, there’s more backstory than this, but backstory was never really that important in 1990s FPS games. No, back in the good old days, the emphasis was firmly on level design and gameplay.

 Technically speaking, both you AND the guy behind you are zombies!

Technically speaking, both you AND the guy behind you are zombies!

One of the first things that I will say about “Blood” is that it is one of the most atmospheric FPS games that I have ever played. Even with the vintage graphics, this game oozes creepiness. Yes, this game may not scare you senseless, but it’ll certainly send chills down your spine every now and then.

Not only that, as the title suggests, “Blood” was also one of the most gruesome games to come out of the 1990s. It’s fairly tame by modern standards – but, compared to other games from the time, it was ludicrously gory:

This is about as gruesome as the game gets. Which, in 1997, was a lot more shocking than it probably is today.

This is about as gruesome as the game gets. Which, in 1997, was a lot more shocking than it probably is today.

But, like all “Build” engine games – “Blood” also has something of a sense of humour too. Yes, it’s a very dark and twisted sense of humour, but it’s still there:

Hmmm... The inhabitants of this creepy old mansion only seem to have ONE skeleton in the closet

Hmmm… The inhabitants of this creepy old mansion only seem to have ONE skeleton in the closet

Seriously, one of the many things that makes classic FPS games so brilliant is the fact that they never really took themselves entirely seriously – and “Blood” is no exception to this rule.

Not only will Caleb make the occasional sarcastic remark (in a wonderfully creepy voice) during gameplay, but the game is absolutely crammed with classic horror movie references too:

THERE'S Johnny!

THERE’S Johnny!

But what about the gameplay? Well, it’s as brilliantly fun as you would expect from an old “Build” engine game.

In other words, even on “medium” difficulty, this game is still fiendishly difficult. If you try to play “Blood” like a modern FPS game, then you will die within about five seconds. Repeatedly.

No, in order to survive each level, you will need to actually use your brain. It’s a novel concept but, back in the 1990s, FPS games required the player to actually think strategically rather than to just mindlessly charge through each level with all guns blazing.

Yes, he's laughing at you because you mistook "Blood" for a 'Call Of Duty' game...

Yes, he’s laughing at you because you mistook “Blood” for a ‘Call Of Duty’ game…

To give you an example of what I mean, one of the enemies you encounter during this game are the cultists. These are robed men with tommyguns who scream something that sounds like Latin at you and will riddle you with bullets within a second or two of spotting you.

Crudox Cruo!!!!!!

Crudox Cruo!!!!!!

Not only that, the cultists also tend to hang out in groups too. What this means is that if you want to stand a reasonable chance of defeating them, then it’s usually best to hide behind a nearby wall and throw dynamite at them rather than to just charge at them with your shotgun.

Other enemies in the game also require you to use strategy too. For example, one of the monsters is a really cool-looking ghost who bears more than a passing resemblance to a certain well-known man in a black robe that everyone eventually meets.

Hi there!

Hi there!

Anyway, when you first encounter these ghosts, they are translucent and cannot be harmed by any of your weapons. However, in order to attack you, they must briefly take physical form.

So, as you may have guessed, you can only actually fight them when they’re attacking you. What this means is that you have to get close enough for them to start swinging their scythes at you and then back away as fast as possible whilst shooting whatever weapon you are holding at the time.

It’s little things like this that make old FPS games from the 1990s so much better than modern ones. So, if you want a game that actually challenges you and makes you think, then you can’t go wrong with “Blood”

Another great thing about “Blood” is the creatively interesting array of weapons on offer to you throughout the game.

Unlike in modern shooters, where the weapons have to be drearily “realistic”, in “Blood” – you can shoot zombies with flare guns, strafe hordes of monsters with a tommygun, curse a cultist with a voodoo doll or incinerate the undead with nothing more than a spray can and a zippo lighter:

Don't try this at home!

Don’t try this at home!

Not only that, each weapon has an alternate fire mode too. For something made in the 1990s, this was extremely innovative. Many of these alternate fire modes are fairly inventive too and they can be extremely useful (since it means that you essentially have twice as many weapons as you are carrying).

However, I would warn against using the alternate fire for the tommygun. Since this gun chews through ammunition at a fairly quick rate, every shot has to count. So, I fail to see the point of an alternate fire mode where Caleb just swings the gun around randomly whilst firing. It looks cool, I guess?

As for the level design, it’s as brilliant as you would expect from a classic 1990s FPS game. In other words, the levels are large and they will require you to actually explore them in order to progress to the next level.

 Remember when levels used to look like this?  Remember when FPS games actually had level maps? I miss those days...

Remember when levels used to look like this? Remember when FPS games actually had level maps? I miss those days…

Even though this means that you will occasionally end up getting stuck until you find the right key, it also means that this game has a longer lifespan and more replay value than most modern games do.

In other words, each 7-9 level episode of the game is pretty much an entire game in it’s own right. Seriously, each episode contains at least 8-10 hours of gameplay. So, this game is absolutely excellent value for money too.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve only played the first episode and most of the second episode at the time of writing this review. Personally, I prefer the first episode for the simple reason that it contains a much wider variety of different settings (a funeral home, a train, an evil carnival etc..) than the second episode does.

Would YOU buy a carnival ticket from this guy?

Would YOU buy a carnival ticket from this guy?

The second episode is really good, but most of the settings in it are either desolate icy wastelands, creepy gardens, old mansions or underground caverns.

Because Monolith never released the source code for “Blood”, there are no modern source ports for this game. Although it runs really well in DOSbox, what this means is that there are no additional features that you would expect from a modern source port. In other words, you can’t really use modern FPS controls with this game.

So, you’ll probably be playing this game using nothing more than the keyboard (eg: you will have to use the num pad to look up and down etc..). Yes, you can activate mouse aiming, but it isn’t that great and it’s little more accurate than keyboard aiming. So, you’re probably better off with the keyboard controls.

If you played “Duke Nukem 3D” back in the day, then this will be a fun trip down memory lane – but, if you’ve only played modern FPS games then this will take a bit of getting used to.

All in all, “Blood” is one of the best 1990s FPS games that I’ve ever played. It’s challenging, it’s innovative, it’s hilarious, it’s creepy and it’s absolutely huge. My only regret is that I never discovered this game when I was a kid, because I’d have probably thought that it was ten times cooler if I’d played it back then.

So, if you like horror and if you’re one of the few people who believes that playing FPS games shouldn’t require you to leave your brain at the door, then get thee to GoG or Steam and pick up a copy of “Blood”!

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

Review: “Harmony” (Freeware Computer Game)

2014 Artwork Harmony Review Sketch

Note: Since (at the time of writing this review) I’ve only had the chance to play about the first third of “Harmony”, this review will only really reflect my first impressions of this game.
——————————————————-

Harmony Title Screen

Harmony is a freeware FPS game created by Thomas Van Der Velden. Although this game seems to have been made in 2010, Van Der Velden made the sensible choice to use the greatest FPS game engine ever created.

I am, of course, talking about the Doom engine from the 1990s. Seriously, it’s great to see a modern game which uses this timeless piece of gaming technology. Call me a grumpy, cynical and old-fashioned retro gamer – but modern games companies could learn a lot from “Harmony”.

I already love this game...

I already love this game…

However, although this game is technically a total conversion/very extensive mod for “Doom”, it comes with it’s own stand-alone executable (using the “ZDoom” source port, which allows mouse aiming amongst other things) and you do not need a copy of the original “Doom” or “Doom II” in order to play this game. So, in this respect, it’s a game in it’s own right.

Another thing that sets “Harmony” apart from many other “Doom” mods is the fact that it has it’s own story. Yes, it actually has a story. Although this story is only referenced a few times in what I’ve played of the game so far, there’s a short comic on the “Harmony” website which explains the backstory.

To sum it up, in the near future, there has been another world war which has led to the destruction of large parts of the earth.

In the aftermath of this war, a virus begins to spread. This virus turns men into mutant creatures but somehow doesn’t affect women. The mutated men form an army called “The Pax Pox” to eliminate any uninfected humans. Of course, the remaining women form their own army called “The Amazons” and fight back against the Pax Pox. However, when the leader of the Amazons (Amira) is captured, it is up to her friend Harmony to save her….

Although this story is kind of cheesy, it’s certainly different to any other FPS backstories that I’ve ever seen. Not only that, it’s pretty clear that Van Der Velden has put a lot of thought into everything surrounding this game. For starters, not only does this game feature completely new enemies – these were actually animated the old-fashioned way from physical models, just like in the original “Doom”. Now, that’s dedication.

Yes, this cute little creature actually exists as a physical model too.

Yes, this cute little creature actually exists as a physical model too.

The weapons in “Harmony” are completely different too and, whilst I haven’t seen all of them yet, they aren’t quite your standard “Doom” weapons (although the shotgun and chaingun look and act like cooler futuristic versions of the original “Doom” weapons).

One cool feature is that you actually get grenades in this game. Yes, actual grenades that you can throw (or fire out of a pump-action rocket launcher, it’s up to you). Whilst I don’t know if this is the first time grenades have ever appeared in a Doom Engine game, they’re a welcome addition. These grenades look like purple crystals (well, it’s one of my favourite colours anyway) and are surprisingly cool.

You can't get more retro AND badass than this!

You can’t get more retro AND badass than this!

But you have to be careful because, if you see a flashing grenade on the ground, you can’t pick it up. In fact, the flashing grenades are armed and they will explode if you try to pick them up or shoot at them. This caught me by surprise the first time that I found one.

In addition to this, the deafualt weapon is a rather weak “Quake II”-style infinite-ammo pistol with a slow rate of fire. Whilst I’m normally cynical about infinite-ammo pistols, this one fires three energy projectiles which are vaguely reminiscent of the laser sights in “Predator”. So, it gets a pass based on this alone.

Yes, it's just like "Predator", but it's PURPLE :)

Yes, it’s just like “Predator”, but it’s PURPLE πŸ™‚

This is a good thing because, especially during the first two levels, you’ll be using this pistol a lot. Although I played this game on “medium” difficulty, ammunition for the other weapons is surprisingly scarce for a FPS game. So are health power-ups too ( well, until I realised that the stimpacks had been replaced by mushrooms [of all things]. Seriously, I just thought that they were decorative). There are lots of enemies and fairly large levels too…

This is part of level three. *sigh* I miss level maps in FPS games...

This is part of level three. *sigh* I miss level maps in FPS games…

So, yes, “Harmony” is a game which is aimed at more experienced “Doom” players and, despite it’s relatively short length (it’s apparently only 11 levels long), each level will take you a fair amount of time to complete.

Due to the large numer of enemies and relatively low amounts of health and ammo, you’ll also have to play in a more strategic way than usual. In other words, there are at least a few areas where you pretty much have to use monster infighting in order to even stand a fighting chance.

The level design itself is fairly good and, from what I’ve seen of the first four levels, Van Der Valden uses very different textures to the ones found in the original “Doom”. The quality of the textures is probably closer to those in “Duke Nukem 3D” than those in “Doom” and, although there is a fair amount of variety (there’s even a bowling alley and nightclub in level four), a few parts of the early levels look slightly generic.

Even so, there’s quite a few cool posters and pieces of art on the walls and I also absolutely loved these purple textures too:

More games need settings like this :)

More games need settings like this πŸ™‚

There are cool paintings too!

There are cool paintings too!

In terms of the general atmosphere and “feel” of this game, the experience of playing it kind of feels like playing some kind of cross between “Heretic” and the original “Half Life”, this is about the only way I can describe it. It took me a while to get used to the atmosphere of this game (since it’s fairly different to “Doom”), but it’s certainly starting to grow on me.

All in all, “Harmony” is more than just a simple “Doom” mod – it’s a complete game in it’s own right. And if, like me, you miss the golden era of FPS games (where innovation, gameplay and originality mattered more than graphics), then there’s no excuse not to download this game and give it a chance. But, if you’re new to classic-style FPS games, then you might want to play this on “very easy” difficulty.

If I had to give “Harmony” a rating out of five, from what I’ve played so far, it would get at least a four.

Review: “The Maze Of Halls” (Freeware Computer Game)

2013 Artwork Maze Of Halls Review Sketch

I was actually introduced to this game by a really cynical review of it on Youtube by “stanburdman”. Yes, I watch cynical reviews for amusement, don’t judge me.

Whilst I found the review rather amusing, I was morbidly curious about whether the game was actually as bad as he said it was. Seeing as there was a download link in the description, I decided to check it out myself.

[ If you’re interested in playing it yourself, the download is about 23 megabytes and it can be found here. But be careful, since some of the adverts on this site occasionally consist of large fake “download” buttons.]

maze of halls title

“The Maze Of Halls” is a rather short freeware first-person horror game and the game basically involves stealthily navigating your way around a randomly-generated maze with only a torch and an unloaded pistol, searching for three pieces of treasure and trying to avoid the skeletal guardians of the maze and the occasional giant spider. Yes, it’s basically another version of the infamous “Slenderman” game.

I know that this is probably some form of heresy, but I actually enjoyed “The Maze Of Halls” more than I enjoyed “Slender: The Eight Pages”. Well, for the entire ten minutes that I played it.

Yes, I only played “The Maze Of Halls” for about ten minutes and this is actually a good thing.

Not because the game is bad, which it isn’t (considering what it is). But because I was too nervous to play any more of it.

The one thing I will say about this game is that it is scary. It isn’t gruesome and there isn’t a disturbing story behind this game, but there are a lot of jump scares and lots of creepy ambient background noise too (especially if you are using headphones whilst you’re playing it). This doesn’t really come across that well unless you’re actually playing the game, but being spotted by one of the guardians is terrifying every time that it happens.

The guardians carry large lanterns and you can see them from a fair distance away, which gives you a chance to avoid them. You will want to do this. A lot.

RUN!!!!

RUN!!!!

However, if one of them is behind you (and you don’t realise until it’s too late) or you inadvertently get within even the vaguest proximity of one of them, then this happens. Very suddenly.

BOO!!!

BOO!!!

It may not look like much, but I pretty much jumped a foot in the air when this first happened to me. Even though this is the only scary part of the game, it works astonishingly well.

As for the giant spiders, they aren’t particularly scary or threatening. Not only do they look fairly unrealistic, but their only type of attack involves firing a fairly slow (and very easily dodged) projectile at you. Seriously, if you see one, you can pretty much just walk past it and ignore it.

According to the video review I saw on Youtube, you can occasionally find ammunition for the pistol (and you can presumably use it against the spiders) and apparently there are no firing animations for the pistol either.

I haven’t had a chance to test this out for the simple reason that, during my few attempts at this game, I didn’t find so much as a single bullet. Anyway, since the spiders can be easily dodged and since you shouldn’t even so much as look at one of the guardians (let alone stand there and aim a gun at them), the pistol seems fairly redundant anyway.

The main reason that I enjoyed “The Maze Of Halls” more than I enjoyed “Slender: The Eight Pages” was that you can actually see where you’re going. Yes, I understand that darkness is atmospheric, but “The Maze Of Halls” manages to be gloomy enough to be creepy without being so dark as to be almost unplayable.

I should probably point out that it is best to play “The Maze Of Halls” in windowed mode rather than fullscreen mode. Not only does this make it slightly less creepy, but there is no “exit” button in the game (and closing a window is a lot easier than holding “ctrl+alt+del” and manually ending the program every time you want to quit the game).

Likewise, once you’ve lost the game once, the cursor just completely disappears from the title screen and you pretty much just have to keep waving the mouse around randomly until the “play” button lights up. This might just be an issue with my computer, but it’s probably a good idea to play “The Maze Of Halls” in windowed mode in case this happens to you.

As for the graphics, I thought that they were fairly good considering that the full game is only 56 megabytes in size (uncompressed).

Yes, every wall uses the same texture, but this doesn’t really matter since lots of fancy textures would probably be a distraction from the suspenseful gameplay. Not only that – it’s a creepy underground maze! Of course it’s going to be utilitarian and featureless!

All in all, “The Maze Of Halls” isn’t really a full game. If you play it expecting a “proper” game, you’re going to be disappointed. But if you’re looking for a few minutes of suspenseful and terrifying fun, then it might be worth giving “The Maze Of Halls” a go. In other words, it’s a casual game for horror fans. Nothing more. Nothing less.

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