Review: “Alien Shooter 2: Reloaded” (Computer Game)

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Well, after playing quite a bit of the first “Alien Shooter” game (and completing “Zombie Shooter”), I was curious about what the second “Alien Shooter” game would be like.

Thankfully, there was still a sale running on GOG a few days before I originally prepared this review (in late 2016), so I was able to pick up a copy of “Alien Shooter 2” for 79p. I think that it costs about a fiver at full price though.

And, since I completed “Alien Shooter 2” a few minutes before I started writing this review, this will actually be a full review, rather than a partial review or a first impressions article.

Plus, like with the other games in this series, I should probably warn you that this review contains unrealistic/cartoonish GRUESOME IMAGES and BLOODY IMAGES.

So, let’s take a look at “Alien Shooter 2”:

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“Alien Shooter 2” is an isometric third-person perspective action game from 2009. One of the very first things that I will say about this game is that, unlike the first “Alien Shooter” game, this one actually has something of a story to it. In other words, there’s actual voice-acting, NPCs and even the occasional set piece.

Of course, some of the voice acting is kind of funny, such as the voice acting for this character. I literally laughed out loud when he said “deep in the bowels of this place” in a serious voice.

And, yes, there are set pieces like this one too.

And, yes, there are set pieces like this one too.

In other words, this is more like a “mainstream” game in some subtle ways. A few of the levels are somewhat more linear than usual and all of the levels are vaguely story-based. Whilst this detracts from the timelessly thrilling gameplay slightly, it’s something that you can get used to after a while. Even so, most parts of this game are just as thrillingly fast-paced as the first “Alien Shooter” was. And, thankfully, this game isn’t as easy as your typical mainstream game is 🙂

However, before I go any further, I should probably point out that the controls/perspective can take a bit of getting used to. Whilst I’d had a lot of practice with the previous games, one annoying feature in this game is the inclusion of vehicle-based segments (including at least one vehicle-only level).

The vehicles use a totally different control scheme to that used for normal character movements (eg: directions are from the perspective of the vehicle itself, rather than from the perspective of the overhead viewpoint) which can confuse the hell out of you and cause you to swerve around wildly until you finally get used to another set of controls…. only to then have to get used to the “normal” controls again once you leave the vehicle.

Seriously, why couldn’t the vehicles have used the same movement controls as the rest of the game?

The difficulty curve in this game is kind of strange too. Ironically, some of the earlier levels and one level in the middle of the game are more difficult than the later levels. This is mostly because, by the end of the game, you have such powerful weapons and such impressive stats that you may as well be playing with “god mode” enabled.

Yes, as soon as you get one of the better rocket launchers, the difficulty drops from "hard" to "easy" LOL!

Yes, as soon as you get one of the better rocket launchers, the difficulty drops from “hard” to “easy” LOL!

 Yes, even though the last two levels contain five bosses [well, sort of...], it only took me two attempts to beat both levels. Whereas, one level in the middle of the game took me at least six tries to get through!

Yes, even though the last two levels contain five bosses [well, sort of…], it only took me two attempts to beat both levels. Whereas, one level in the middle of the game took me at least six tries to get through!

Another reason why some levels are almost unreasonably difficult is because of the game’s saving system. Whilst this game now allows you to replay previous levels, it still uses the dreaded checkpoint saving system (only saving when you’ve completed a level). Given that one difficult level in the middle of the game is literally half an hour long, having to replay the whole thing every time you fail will probably cause you to ragequit more than a few times.

Yes, getting to this part of the level isn't too difficult after a couple of attempts. But, unless you picked up the hidden rocket launcher (or found enough in-game bonuses to buy it) earlier, then you won't stand a chance in the last part of the level.

Yes, getting to this part of the level isn’t too difficult after a couple of attempts. But, unless you picked up the hidden rocket launcher (or found enough in-game bonuses to buy it) earlier, then you won’t stand a chance in the last part of the level.

On the plus side, this game has received some fairly cool upgrades. Not only are there more characters, weapons and stats available, but you also get to choose an upgradeable ‘perk’ at the beginning of the game. The best one to go for is probably the “vampirism” one (which gives you health every time you destroy a monster) since it complements the aggressive playing style that you’ll need to use. Not to mention that it makes the final boss battle a lot easier too.

Plus, the perk selection screen actually has a sense of humour. Seriously? Humour? In an action game from 2009? Maybe there's hope for games after all....

Plus, the perk selection screen actually has a sense of humour. Seriously? Humour? In an action game from 2009? Maybe there’s hope for games after all….

But, unlike other games in this series, you can’t use bonus items you find whilst playing to buy extra lives. You only get extra lives on the rare occasions that a monster drops a “+1” power-up. I don’t know why they left this feature out, since it makes a couple of the levels more difficult than they should have been. But, for the most part, it doesn’t affect the game too much.

Graphically, the game has been given a huge upgrade compared to the previous game. The lighting in this game looks beautiful, and most of the locations, animations and monsters are more detailed too. Whilst this gives the game a lot more atmosphere and allows some parts of it to be even more ludicrously gruesome than the first “Alien Shooter” game, it does come at a cost. If you’re using an older computer, then expect some fairly long loading times both between missions and when you load up the game itself. Still, if you set the graphics to minimum, then the actual gameplay itself will still run at a decent speed.

Fun fact: This game came out at least a year BEFORE “Brutal Doom” did, and yet this one monster death animation somehow manages to be more splatterific than all of “Brutal Doom” combined.

And just check out this awesome lighting! Yes, there are some parts of the game that are set during boring daylight, but the gloomy corridors are the best parts of the game.

And just check out this awesome lighting! Yes, there are some parts of the game that are set during boring daylight, but the gloomy corridors are the best parts of the game.

The game also contains the usual survival modes etc… too. I didn’t really have much of a chance to check these out but from, what I saw, they seemed to be pretty much what you would expect.

All in all, this is still an absolutely brilliant action game. Whilst it lacks some of the pure thrilling simplicity of the first “Alien Shooter” game, it’s still a fairly solid action game.

Yes, some of the changes in the sequel don’t work that well (vehicles especially!) and the difficulty curve is a bit strange, but it’s still the kind of thrilling action game that could probably put most modern mega-budget games to shame. It may look a little bit more like a “mainstream” game, but it’s still pretty much the same thrilling action-fest that the first “Alien Shooter” was.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: “Zombie Shooter” (Computer Game)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes! This is gloriously retro :)

Yes! This is gloriously retro 🙂

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: “The Last Night” (Free Cyberpunk Computer Game)

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As regular readers of this site probably know, I’m a massive fan of the cyberpunk genre. To be more specific, I’m a massive fan of gloomy, rainy, neon-lit, film noir-inspired “Blade Runner“-style cyberpunk. This is, perhaps, the coolest genre ever invented and, yet, things in it can often be surprisingly difficult to find. Then again, we live in a strange world where radio stations play pop music instead of heavy metal music, so this probably shouldn’t surprise me.

So, whilst waiting for an interesting-looking indie cyberpunk game called “Technobabylon” to go on special offer, I decided to do yet another Google search for games in this genre. And, to my absolute delight, I stumbled across a free flash game called “The Last Night(note: the site will start playing music automatically once it’s loaded).

So, let’s take a look at “The Last Night”:

the-last-night-titlescreen

“The Last Night” is a game created by Tim & Adrien Soret for an event called “Cyberpunkjam” in 2014. This was one of those “game jam” events where people make games in a ridiculously short amount of time. In fact, this entire game was created in just six days! And, wow, it looks amazing!

Yes! This is the very beginning of the game and it looks AMAZING!!

Yes! This is the beginning of the game and it looks AMAZING!!

Seriously, why don't MORE games look like THIS?

Seriously, why don’t MORE games look like THIS?

Even though the pixel art graphics look fairly minimalist, they still seem impressively detailed and atmospheric (seriously, if you’ve ever even done research into how to make pixel art, you’ll understand how challenging making all of this detailed art must have been).

But, whilst I could probably spend several paragraphs talking about how astonishingly good this game looks and how it’s graphics put most large-budget games to shame, I should probably actually – you know – review the game.

Since it was only made in six days, this game is very short. It can be finished in three minutes or less. As befitting a game of this length, the story is fairly simple- you play as a nameless assassin who has been tasked with shooting someone.

Although this might sound like a ludicrously simplistic plot, it actually works really well since it sums up a lot of the gritty moral ambiguity that makes the cyberpunk genre so interesting. After all, one of the things that makes “Blade Runner” such a compelling film is the fact that Deckard probably isn’t the “hero” of the film. Likewise, the fact that we are told very little about both the assassin and his victim leave a lot of room for us to “fill in the gaps” with our imaginations.

Yes, in just a few seconds, this game manages to create a mysteriously compelling story. Now, THIS is good storytelling!

Yes, in just a few seconds, this game manages to create a mysteriously compelling story. Now, THIS is good storytelling!

In terms of the actual gameplay, it’s nothing spectacular. You walk around slightly slowly, you have to shoot flying robots before their searchlights touch you, you have to scare or kill (the graphics leave this fairly ambiguous) some guards by firing your gun near them and you have to carry out an assassination.

But, given the game’s tiny length, it doesn’t really have time for complex, detailed gameplay mechanics. So, the simple “walk around and shoot” gameplay actually works really well. In fact, it’s far more well-implemented than the clunky combat system in another cyberpunk game called “Gemini Rue” which is an actual commercial game!

 The gun fires surprisingly quickly and has suitably dramatic sound effects too.

The gun fires surprisingly quickly and has suitably dramatic sound effects too.

However, one interesting (albeit chilling) thing about the gameplay is probably the final scene of the game. Once you’ve shot the character that you’re supposed to shoot, he staggers off to a nearby balcony, where you have to shoot him again. This is in stark contrast to the “clean” violence found in most action games and – in this one little scene – the game is almost more “Blade Runner” than “Blade Runner”.

After all, one of the things that makes “Blade Runner” such a unique film is the fact that it isn’t an action movie. Whenever violence is shown, it is subtly shown to be an ugly, horrific, immoral thing rather than the kind of “heroic” violence that is common in Hollywood movies. This game is able to re-create this complex portrayal of violence in less than thirty seconds, using 1980s-style graphics. Now THAT is an achievement!

 Yes, I cannot praise the storytelling in this game highly enough!

Yes, I cannot praise the storytelling in this game highly enough!

As for the music and sound design, most of it is really good. All of the sound effects (eg: rain, gunfire etc..) are all suitably thunderous and dramatic.

Likewise, the game’s background music is the kind of ominously relaxing 1980s-style synth music that is pretty much synonymous with the cyberpunk genre. The only criticism I have of the music is the fact that the song that plays in the nightclub sounds a little bit too much like 1970s disco music.

Disco? In the cyberpunk genre?!?! Still, for something made in six days, the fact that they actually managed to get an actual song - with vocals - into the game is really cool.

Disco? In the cyberpunk genre?!?! Still, for something made in six days, the fact that they actually managed to get an actual song – with vocals – into the game is really cool.

All in all, despite a couple of really tiny flaws, this game is AMAZING! Seriously, in just three minutes of gameplay, it contains better graphics, more atmosphere and a more compelling storyline than many large-budget games probably have. It’s like “Blade Runner”, “Cowboy Bebop” and the Hong Kong level of “Deus Ex” all rolled into one game. And it was made in just six days! Seriously, play it! Right now!

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

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

2017 Artwork The Last Door Review Sketch

Well, it’s been a while since I played a horror game – so, I thought that I’d check out an indie game from 2014 called “The Last Door: Collector’s Edition”.

Before I go any further, I should probably point out that this game is the first half of a continuous two-part series (I haven’t got the second game yet [Edit: I write these articles/reviews quite far in advance, so the second game will be reviewed in July]), so don’t expect it to contain a complete story.

I bought a DRM-free download of this game last summer during a sale on GoG for £1.39. However, at the time of writing, the game costs £7.99 at full price. The GoG version also comes with downloadable extras (eg: a MP3 copy of the soundtrack etc..) too. For comparison, the game costs £6.99 on Steam at the time of writing, but it obviously also comes with all of Steam’s “internet connection required” DRM.

I should probably also warn you that this review might contains some SPOILERS and some (unrealistic) DISTURBING AND/OR GRUESOME IMAGES.

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

The last door - Title screen

“The Last Door: Collector’s Edition” is a four-part point-and-click horror game set in Victorian England.

You play as a man called J.Devitt who is investigating the mysterious suicide of his old friend Anthony Beechwood. This investigation takes him on (the first half of) a disturbing journey, where madness is only inches away and malevolent forces lurk just out of sight….

Yes, when the opening scene of a game looks like THIS, then it probably isn't going to be one of those "cheerful" horror games.

Yes, when the opening scene of a game looks like THIS, then it probably isn’t going to be one of those “cheerful” horror games.

The first thing that I will say about this game is that it is actually a horror game! Don’t be fooled by it’s cartoonish pixellated graphics, this game is a proper, old-school horror game!

It's Forest! He's been pecked to death by ... Ooops! Wrong game!

It’s Forest! He’s been pecked to death by … Ooops! Wrong game!

Unlike some modern “designed for ‘Let’s Play’ videos” horror games, “The Last Door” actually contains a variety of different types of horror. Yes, there are a few well-placed jump scares, but they are merely the icing on a very bloody and very disturbing cake.

As well as a gradually building atmosphere of tension and mystery, the game also includes a variety of genuinely disturbing events, creepy background details, gruesome tableaux, ominous locations and chilling in-game documents. This is how you make a horror game!

So, yes, scenes like this AREN'T the only type of horror in the game...

So, yes, scenes like this AREN’T the only type of horror in the game…

The main inspirations for this game are H.P.Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe, and the developers do a good job at emulating these writers (thematically, the game is closer to Lovecraft – but many of the game’s events are closer to Poe) whilst also giving the horror in the game a slightly bloodier and more modern twist too.

Although the bloody writing looks like it's been drawn in MS Paint (using a mouse), this scene is significantly creepier in-game! Especially now that I've looked at the screenshot again, remembered the backstory, connected the dots and suddenly realised that it wasn't JUST a random "shock value" scene.

Although the bloody writing looks like it’s been drawn in MS Paint (using a mouse), this scene is significantly creepier in-game! Especially now that I’ve looked at the screenshot again, remembered the backstory, connected the dots and suddenly realised that it wasn’t JUST a random “shock value” scene.

One interesting feature in the game is that each one of the game’s four episodes begins with a short interactive scene where you control another character, who performs some kind of incomprehensible and/or disturbing sequence of actions (eg: you actually play as Beechwood in the first scene of the game).

Not only does this create an ominous sense of mystery, but it also helps to show that there are events that happen outside of the main character’s knowledge or control.

Some of the horror in this game is also counterpointed with rare moments of dark humour. Although most of these are fairly subtle Poe/ Lovecraft references (as well as a cynically hilarious fable about a rabbit), one stand-out moment is an old-timey film that you’ll see during one of the cutscenes, which somehow manages to be both extremely gross and extremely hilarious at the same time (probably due to the combination of jaunty piano music with the events of the film):

Yes, this is probably the only screenshot from it that I can show without spoiling the gross hilariousness of it.

Yes, this is probably the only screenshot from it that I can show without spoiling the gross hilariousness of it.

However, as creepy as the game is – the first half of the game is probably slightly creepier than the second half. Although the latter half of the game certainly has it’s fair share of creepy, disturbing and/or shocking events, they lack of some of the ominous sense of mystery that the first two episodes have.

The fact that the game’s Lovecraftian elements also get slightly more convoluted and “mysterious for the sake of mysterious” in the later parts of the game doesn’t exactly help either.

 Yes, when words like "zha'ilathal " start appearing, some of the horror turns into silliness!

Yes, when words like “zha’ilathal ” start appearing, some of the horror turns into silliness!

As for the gameplay, it’s fairly standard “point and click” gameplay. You talk to people, read documents, find items and solve puzzles. Nothing out of the ordinary here.

In the first episode, the puzzles are reasonably straightforward and logical. As someone who is terrible at adventure game puzzles, I took this as a good sign. However, by about halfway through episode two, I found that I had to consult a walkthrough on a regular basis.

Yes, some of the later puzzles can be solved without a walkthrough (and some of them made me think “duh!” when I looked at the walkthrough) but there are at least a couple of puzzles that border on moon logic:

Fun fact: To get this tree to grow to this size, you have to use a musical instrument in an unusual way in another part of the level.

Fun fact: To get this tree to grow to this size, you have to use a musical instrument in an unusual way in another part of the level.

However, THIS puzzle is the kind of annoyingly cryptic thing that used to turn up in the original "Silent Hill". Seriously, you'll probably need a walkthrough here...

However, THIS puzzle is the kind of annoyingly cryptic thing that used to turn up in the original “Silent Hill”. Seriously, you’ll probably need a walkthrough here…

The visual style of this game is fairly interesting though. Although the ultra-large pixels make the game’s occasional moments of “pixel hunting” significantly easier, they were initially one of the things that made me mildly wary about this game. Although I really love cartoonish 1990s-style pixel art, I vastly prefer this art style when it contains lots of visual detail (eg: with slightly smaller pixels). So, ironically, I was mildly reluctant to play this game because of it’s ultra-primitive graphics.

However, thanks to the game’s compelling and chilling story, I soon ended up ignoring the super-blocky graphics because I was too immersed in the story. In addition to this, I have to admire how the game’s designers can create the impression of some fairly detailed landscapes using only a relatively small number of pixels:

Yes, this somehow manages to look both extremely blocky AND extremely detailed!

Yes, this somehow manages to look both extremely blocky AND extremely detailed!

Wow! Just wow! Art made with gigantic pixels should NOT look THIS detailed!

Wow! Just wow! Art made with gigantic pixels should NOT look THIS detailed!

In terms of length, this game is certainly on the shorter side of things. Each of the game’s four episodes can be completed in an hour or less (possibly slightly longer if you don’t use a walkthrough).

Although the “Collector’s Edition” of the game also includes four additional semi-playable, non-playable and/or fully-playable vignettes in the “extras” menu, which help to flesh out some of the backstory, they are all extremely short too (each one is three minutes long at most). So, for length reasons, I’d recommend waiting until this game goes on special offer if you’re buying games on a budget.

For example, this bonus scene is literally nothing more than one medium-sized dialogue tree.

For example, this bonus scene is literally nothing more than one medium-sized dialogue tree.

I should probably also mention the game’s soundtrack too, which is the kind of wonderfully ominous and opulent classical soundtrack that you would expect to see in a game like this (despite the game’s visual style, the music is high-quality recorded music, rather than MIDI/ Chiptune music). It really helps to add a lot to the creepy atmosphere of the game. Plus, if you get the game on GoG, then it comes with a MP3 copy of the soundtrack too.

All in all, this is a much better game than I expected! Yes, it is only the first half of a larger story, but it is probably one of the creepiest horror games that I’ve played in a long time. Even though some of the puzzles are a bit too convoluted and/or tricky for my liking, it’s still an extremely compelling and disturbing game. It’s proof that you don’t need a large budget, lots of jump scares and/or flashy graphics to make a genuinely chilling horror game.

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

Review: “The Shivah” (Computer Game)

2016 Artwork The Shivah Review Sketch

As regular readers of this blog probably know, I’m a massive fan of Dave Gilbert’s excellent “Blackwell” series. Although I finally bought the fifth game in that series during a sale on GoG earlier this year (you can see my review of it here), I also bought a DRM-free download of another game by Dave Gilbert called “The Shivah” at around the same time.

Before I go any further, I should point out that I’ll be reviewing the revamped 2013 version of “The Shivah” here (although the original version from 2006, as well as the soundtrack are included as extras in the GoG version of this game ). At the time of writing, this game costs £3.49 at full price, although you can get it for less than £1 when it is on sale.

One minor technical point that I should also mention is that this game doesn’t run in fullscreen mode by default. So, if you want to play it in fullscreen, then you’ll need to select this in the “settings” program that comes with the game before you play, since there’s no way to change the screen size in-game.

I should also warn you that this review may contain some SPOILERS, but I’ll try to avoid major ones.

So, let’s take a look at “The Shivah”:

The Shivah Title screen

“The Shivah” is a short 1990s-style film noir detective “point and click” adventure game.

You play as Rabbi Stone, the rabbi of a small synagogue in New York that has certainly seen better days. After finishing a sermon early because the sole remaining member of his congregation has fallen asleep, Rabbi Stone retires to his office. However, it isn’t long before there is a knock on the door.

Yay! It's Detective Durkin :)

Yay! It’s Detective Durkin 🙂

The Cantor tells Rabbi Stone that a detective wants to see him. It is none other than Detective Durkin (from the “Blackwell” games). According to Durkin, a former member of Rabbi Stone’s congregation has died and bequeathed him $10,000.

Although Rabbi Stone needs the money to keep the synagogue running, he feels morally conflicted about accepting it and, since Durkin has his suspicions about the bequest too, Rabbi Stone decides to investigate the matter himself….

Well, it'd be a very boring game if he didn't.

Well, it’d be a very boring game if he didn’t.

In terms of the story of this game, it’s a reasonably good film noir-style detective story. However, the story is rather slow to start and the game doesn’t really start to get dramatic or thrilling until somewhere between halfway and two-thirds of the way through the story.

Again, it wouldn't be a very dramatic game if the investigation didn't ruffle a few feathers.

Again, it wouldn’t be a very dramatic game if the investigation didn’t ruffle a few feathers.

When the story finally picks up the pace, it’s almost as dramatic and compelling as the final “Blackwell” game is, which is to say that it’s very compelling. However, you have to wait quite a while to get to this point in the story and, thanks to the game’s short length (I completed it in about an hour and a half), the dramatic parts of the game don’t last that long.

As for the characters, they’re reasonably good. Due to the short length of the game, there isn’t a huge amount of time to seriously develop the characters – although this actually works in the game’s favour, given that it takes heavy inspiration from the film noir genre (where characters are often intriguingly mysterious). Still, you’ll learn a reasonable amount about some of the characters over the course of the game.

Interestingly, the villainous characters in this game are actually made more menacing by the fact that you get a few hints about their backstories, but the worst parts are mostly left to your imagination.

One cool thing about this game is that, although it isn’t a “Blackwell” game, it takes place in the same universe as these games do and there are at least a few subtle references and familiar faces. I love it when different stories take place in the same universe, so it was really cool to see this here. However, you don’t need to have played the “Blackwell” games to enjoy this one.

Yay! It's Rosa Blackwell! And, technically, Joey Mallone too. Unfortunately, and accurately, Rabbi Stone can't see him though.

Yay! It’s Rosa Blackwell! And, technically, Joey Mallone too. Unfortunately, and accurately, Rabbi Stone can’t see him though.

As for the gameplay, it was slightly more challenging than I expected. Although there thankfully aren’t any inventory puzzles, I had to check a walkthrough at least a couple of times. Like in the earlier “Blackwell” games, most of the puzzles are dialogue/clue based puzzles that require careful observation, deduction and internet searches.

Most of these puzzles are fairly well-designed and reasonably logical. They also fit in with the detective-based storyline of the game really well. So, be sure to read everything carefully, take notes during the dialogue and remember that the characters in this game are terrible at choosing secure online passwords.

In addition to this, one cool feature is that if you hold down the right mouse button, all of the hotspots in each room will be highlighted.

Yes, there's no pixel hunting in this game :)

Yes, there’s no pixel hunting in this game 🙂

I’ve only even seen this feature in a couple of other adventure games and it can come in handy occasionally.

This game also includes an achievement system and, although this is a rather cool feature, the achievement notifications are fairly prominent and they can break up the flow and tone of the gameplay slightly (especially when a cheerful achievement message pops up after or during some sombre dialogue).

Yay! At least SOMETHING good has come out of this terse conversation with a mourning widow.

Yay! At least SOMETHING good has come out of this terse conversation with a mourning widow.

One interesting thing is that this game contains multiple endings and these are also slightly affected by some of your actions earlier in the game. When I played the game for the first time, I got one of the many bad endings. When I re-loaded a saved game and made some different decisions during the final scenes, I got another bad ending. It was only after I consulted a walkthrough and that I was eventually able to find the good ending. Even then, it took several attempts. Seriously, the ending is the most challenging puzzle in the game.

As for the religious theme of the game, I can’t really comment about how accurate the religious details are (and there are probably some religious/cultural references that went completely over my head too). But the game also includes some explanatory text too (eg: Rabbi Stone carries a Yiddish dictionary, which acts as a glossary for some of the dialogue.)

Even though he uses words from it in the dialogue, he still carries the dictionary. Not that I'm complaining though, since I only knew a couple of the words from the dictionary.

Even though he uses words from it in the dialogue, he still carries the dictionary. Not that I’m complaining though, since I only knew a couple of the words from the dictionary.

As for how Judaism is portrayed in the game – it’s portrayed in good, neutral and bad ways at various points in the game. Since this is a film noir-style game, many of the characters (regardless of their religious beliefs) are morally ambiguous in some way or another.

In terms of the graphics, the 1990s-style pixel art graphics here are fairly detailed and it’s always great to see this awesome graphical style in modern games 🙂

In terms of the voice acting, it’s reasonably good. The best voice actor is probably Abe Goldfarb, who does a fairly good job as Rabbi Stone. Plus, it’s always cool to hear him in a game (given that he voiced Joey in the “Blackwell” games). Rabbi Stone sounds like a fairly cynical guy, almost more of a classic detective than a religious leader.

The music in this game is reasonably good and it sounds totally appropriate for all of the settings and situations that you encounter. Peter Gresser’s soundtrack is also included with the GoG version of the game as a complimentary MP3 download too, which is a really cool bonus.

All in all, “The Shivah” is an ok adventure game. Although it takes quite a while to really get going, there are certainly some dramatic moments in this game and it also does the whole “film noir” thing fairly well too. It’s reasonably short and it isn’t perfect, so it’s probably best to wait until it’s on special offer if you’re unsure about whether you’d enjoy it or not.

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

Review: “The Blackwell Epiphany” (Computer Game)

2016 Artwork Blackwell Epiphany Review Sketch

Earlier this year, I reviewed the first four “Blackwell” games (my reviews can be found here, here, here and here) after buying them in a collection called “The Blackwell Bundle” during an online sale.

However, I foolishly didn’t get a copy of the fifth and final game – “The Blackwell Epiphany”- at the time. By the time I realised the error of my ways, the game had gone back up to full price.

However, thanks to another sale on GoG a few months before this article will be posted, I was able to pick up a DRM-free digital copy of “The Blackwell Epiphany” for a little over two quid.

If you buy “The Blackwell Epiphany” at full price then, at the time of writing, it costs a little over a tenner though. Judging from the two times I’ve seen this game on offer, there seems to be about a three-month gap between the times it goes on sale.

Although I’ll get on to the review in a bit, I should probably point out a couple of things first. The first is that you need to have played the first four “Blackwell” games for the events of this game to make any sense to you. It isn’t a stand-alone game! The second thing is that, at the time of writing (mid-February), the GoG release of “The Blackwell Epiphany” doesn’t really come with any extras, unlike the “Blackwell Bundle”.

Finally, it almost goes without saying, but this review may contain SPOILERS. I’ll try to avoid major ones, but there might be some here.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “The Blackwell Epiphany”:

Blackwell Epiphany Title screen

“The Blackwell Epiphany” is a 1990s-style paranormal detective/ horror/ thriller “point and click” adventure game by Dave Gilbert that was released in 2014.

Like the previous “Blackwell” games, you play as both a medium called Rosa Blackwell and her ghostly companion, Joey. Their job is to help ghosts pass into the afterlife by convincing them that they are no longer alive.

 Trust me, this makes sense if you've played the other games.

Trust me, this makes sense if you’ve played the other games.

The game begins in modern-day New York during a particularly harsh winter. After the events of the previous game, detective Durkin has hired Rosa to investigate strange cases off the books.

However, what starts out as a simple investigation of a haunted building quickly spirals into something much larger and more menacing. I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but this game is as much of a plot twist-filled thriller game as it is a horror game.

Hmmm.... He looks friendly, we should say hello...

Hmmm…. He looks friendly, we should say hello…

However, I should probably warn you that the story of this game is a lot creepier and a lot darker in tone than a couple of the earlier games are.

There are plot twists that will make you gasp. There are bittersweet scenes that will make you cry. There are also a few scenes that literally made me take a deep breath and say “wow, that’s really f**king dark!” Although this depressing stuff is leavened by a decent amount of humour, don’t expect this to be a cheerful game. However, the plot is so compelling that you’ll probably want to keep playing regardless.

In addition to this, the game also provides a satisfying resolution to many of the long-running plot threads that have appeared within the previous four games. We also get to learn more about pretty much all of the characters too. For example, two playable segments in the game even allow you to see some of the countess’ backstory.

 This would make an absolutely awesome prequel game. Unfortunately, it's only two short segments....

This would make an absolutely awesome prequel game. Unfortunately, it’s only two short segments….

In terms of the gameplay, the gameplay mechanics are fairly similar to what I remember of the fourth game. You can switch between Rosa and Joey at any time (and you’ll need to do this to solve many of the puzzles) and Rosa still uses her smartphone for note-taking, clue combining and internet searches:

 Damn it, the notebook and the computer are literally RIGHT THERE! Why can't I just use them instead?

Damn it, the notebook and the computer are literally RIGHT THERE! Why can’t I just use them instead?

One subtle gameplay change is that, when you’re playing as one of the characters, you can walk to another screen and then press a button in order to call the other character to your present location. This saves a lot of time and is a rather cool feature. Another cool feature is that, if you’re playing as Joey, you can leave one of the game’s locations without having to switch back to Rosa again.

That little button in the corner of the screen might not look like much, but it can come in handy.

That little button in the corner of the screen might not look like much, but it can come in handy.

Talking of locations, this game has more of them than in any other “Blackwell” game. Although you still have to jump between locations using a world map, the larger variety of places to explore helps to make this game feel a bit more like a traditonal adventure game than some of the previous games do.

Plus, the world map looks really cool in this game too.

Plus, the world map looks really cool in this game too.

However, this game is somewhat more difficult than many of the previous “Blackwell” games are. Although all of the puzzles still make logical sense, they can be somewhat more challenging than you might expect. For example, even the introductory segment involves finding a hidden key, solving a complex puzzle involving a fuse box and solving a couple of clue/dialogue-based puzzles.

Even so, I’m not really very good at adventure game puzzles and I was still able to work out the solution to all but about three or four of the puzzles without consulting a walkthrough. So, by adventure game standards, it’s probably still a bit on the easy side. Although, by the standards of the “Blackwell” series, it’s fairly difficult.

This was one of the parts that I ended up using a walkthrough for.

This was one of the parts that I ended up using a walkthrough for.

Whilst the additional difficulty helps to increase the length of the game somewhat, “The Blackwell Epiphany” only took me between four and six hours to complete (I played it in two sessions and used a walkthrough infrequently).

Even though this is fairly long by “Blackwell” standards, it’s still a bit on the short side when compared to other classic “point and click” games.

Although the game’s relatively short length is more than made up for by the extremely high quality of the story, voice acting, characters, dialogue etc… it may be worth waiting for this game to come down in price or to go on special offer.

In terms of graphics, the “Blackwell” series has consistently got better and better, and this game is no exception. I absolutely love 1990s-style pixel art graphics and it’s great to see that the character sprites have received something of an upgrade in the game. The digitally-painted background and character artwork in this game is, once again, even better than in the previous game. Seriously, this game is a work of art:

Not to mention that it's wonderfully atmospheric too :)

Not to mention that it’s wonderfully atmospheric too 🙂

As for the music, it’s absolutely stellar! As you would expect from a “Blackwell” game, there’s a decent variety of instrumental jazz music, ominous ambient music and even the occasional song too.

One of my favourite pieces of in-game music was the surprisingly epic theme tune to a MMO game that Rosa has to look at during one part of the game (don’t ask). This sweepingly dramatic music is also foreshadowed by a haunting piano version of the same song, which is surprisingly creepy in the context of the scene when you first hear it.

 It's a MMO game, on a smartphone. I SHOULD hate it, but the music is just too cool!

It’s a MMO game, on a smartphone. I SHOULD hate it, but the music is just too cool!

However, this excellent soundtrack is let down slightly by the fact that – at the time of writing – the GoG release of the game doesn’t include the soundtrack as a bonus download. The “Blackwell Bundle” is sold with a complimentary MP3 copy of the soundtrack, so why isn’t it included for this game?

All in all, this is the best game in the “Blackwell” series. It’s the stunning conclusion to one of the most dramatic, compelling, well-written and intelligent series of games that I’ve ever played.

“The Blackwell Epiphany” will make you gasp. It’ll make you think. It’ll make you laugh. It’ll make you cry. And it’ll make you wish that the “Blackwell” series was longer than a mere five games.

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