Top 5 Game Beginnings

A strong beginning can carry a game, it’s what will make someone excited for what to come while at the same time helping teach the player about the world, how to interact with it, and their role in it. For the purposes of this little article I’m being vague about my definition of the ‘beginning’ of a game. I’m mostly going for the opening sequences and that little tutorial section that exists in pretty much every modern game, where it teaches you what to do. So let’s go ahead with the top 5 beginnings:

 

Number 5

Fallout 3

Bethesda are pretty famous for the opening sequences to their games. They like to create a pretty dramatic starter and generally it does a good job of getting you into the story. Unfortunately they also have a tendency of creating some of the most boring tutorial sections ever. The opening to the fourth Elder Scrolls game, Oblivion, is excellent from a narrative view but oh my did I ever just download a mod to skip it as soon as I could.

Fallout 3, for me, is the exception to it. For those that don’t know the Fallout series is set in an alternate history post apocalyptic game where you’ll spend most of your time scavenging the wastelands of America shooting raiders, super mutants, and giant scorpions. Fallout 3 begins with your character being born, which is awesome! It the proceeds with your childhood growing up with your dad, played by Liam Neeson.

Although where Liam Neeson comes from will not revealed until you decide it.

Although where Liam Neeson comes from will not revealed until you decide it.

I think this is what makes Fallout 3’s opening better than it’s sequel, Fallout: New Vegas. It gives you a much greater attachment to your character because you are there during their life. Yes the same thing will happen all the time with only minor changes, the robot will always mess up the cake and you’ll always get a BB gun from your dad. But it just gives this real impetus to continue the story. When stuff inevitably goes wrong it does feel important and exciting. It also gives a very good reason why an adult knows so little of the world around them. It makes sense that you constantly have to ask who Three-Dog or the Enclave are if you’ve spent your life in a vault.

Fallout 3 is probably my favourite beginning to a Bethesda game, better even than Morrowind, and is probably the only one that I don’t try and find a way to skip. It’s fun, it’s interesting, and it sets a good tone, what more could you ask for?

But would it have killed you to maybe teach me a bit more about surviving in an apocalyptic wasteland, dad?

But would it have killed you to maybe teach me a bit more about surviving in an apocalyptic wasteland, dad?

 

Number 4

Dark Souls

I have struggled with Dark Souls, and not just because it’s meant to be very hard. I keep going back to it but I find it difficult to get my head around all the mechanics and working out exactly how I want to play the game. Before I started playing it (and watching Vinny from Giant Bomb play it) all I really knew about Dark Souls was that it’s hard. What I didn’t know was that it has an awesome opening cinematic! I’m serious I haven’t been so impressed by an opening cinematic for a long while.

This guy turns up and the whole thing kicks off into an epic tale of awesomeness!

This guy turns up and the whole thing kicks off into an epic tale of awesomeness!

I think I was just impressed by the lore involved in everything. The opening cinematic really kicks you into this hostile world and gives you an idea of exactly what sort of fantasy scale you’re dealing with here. Beyond the opening cinematic the tutorial area is pretty good at teaching you about the game but did not impress me as much as this first scene. That’s why I put it lower on this list, if the tutorial built on how amazing the opening scene is then it would have been one of the best beginnings ever. But as it stands I found the whole Undead Asylum thing didn’t quite grab me as much as I’d hoped.

I’m sure I’ll keep going back as I’m still trying to find my playstyle for Dark Souls which requires making lots of different characters. I don’t know what sort I’ll end up with but I do know that I will watch that opening scene in full every time.

I did have someone laugh out loud at that line.

And a shout out for the Furtive Pygmy, so easily forgotten!

 

Number 3

Alice: Madness Returns

So I’ve already reviewed Alice: Madness Returns so you may well know my opinion on it. Objectively it’s a pretty good game but has some glaring problems. Subjectively however I would consider it one of my favourite games of all time. Pretty much everything just works and I have so much fun with it. It’s also one of the few games that I am pretty determined to complete 100%. The beginning of the game gives you a very good idea of what to expect from it, it’s big, it’s confusing, it’s disturbing, and more than a little scary. It is a bit of a slow burning beginning, really letting you get into the setting and style before actually giving you any real gameplay.

For some people this may be a point against it but Alice pulls off the grimy setting of London, the bizarre nature of Wonderland, and the fear and unsettling images that Alice is suffering from. The very first scene is pretty disturbing and those not knowing what sort of game they’ve let themselves in for may be seriously unsettled but I think it fits the game perfectly.

Yeah it's only going to stay nice for another two seconds or so, then the blood starts flowing... I'm not joking.

Yeah it’s only going to stay nice for another two seconds or so, then the blood starts flowing… I’m not joking.

After this scene you get a fairly long sequence of Alice’s London which is gritty and dirty and full of grotesque character models. It’s pretty glorious and in a way reflects Alice’s disgust with the world around her. There are also a few very subtle clues to the game’s conclusion which, when looked at during a second playthrough, are pretty clever. When you get to the actual gameplay the game still does well at keeping a good tone and pace. People who didn’t play the original American McGee’s Alice may find references going over their heads and may well become confused by the references and character changes. But to these people I say that you should play the original game. Find some way to get it and play it because it is an excellent game as well and well worth it.

Well, time to head back to Wonderland and back to the old murderin'

Well, time to head back to Wonderland and back to the old murderin’

 

Number 2

XCOM: Enemy Unknown

The very first thing I reviewed on this site and another of my favourite games. The opening scene of XCOM sets up the admittedly simple story beautifully. You have aliens, scared people, and the para-military organisation set up to the stop the invaders from space. The opening cutscene is good enough but the great thing about XCOM is that the tutorial mission really builds on what you’ve already seen.

What's that? Most of the soldiers died on the first mission? ... Hands up for volunteers to go on the second I suppose.

What’s that? Most of the soldiers died on the first mission? … Hands up for volunteers to go on the second I suppose.

Yeah you shouldn’t get attached to the soldiers on the tutorial mission because XCOM is almost as punishing as Dark Souls. The first mission shows you exactly how vulnerable your soldiers are and how likely they are to die: very and very. The only real problem with the tutorial is that it’s a great scene that I want to see again but it does last for such a long time and beyond the first mission I just want to get on with the game. There is an option to just start with a random mission and forget the tutorial entirely but I really love that scene with the first contact and the sectoids appearing, it’s brilliant.

To be honest there’s not much more to say than that. XCOM’s opening really gets you in the mood of the commander and prepares you for a lot of tense moments and, of course, vast quantities of death to come.

 

Hidin' behind this pillar, mind controllin' yo friends!

Hidin’ behind this pillar, mind controllin’ yo friends!

 

And Number 1

Bioshock

Oh my but the Bioshock series is excellent. Good gameplay, thought provoking themes, fantastic environments. The Bioshock franchise has always been viewed with excitement and interest. To my shame I still have not been able to acquire a copy of Bioshock Infintie but I have heard excellent things about it. But it is the first Bioshock game that I want to talk about here. I remember seeing Bioshock for the first time, it was amazing. Going into the lighthouse and heading down into Rapture, hearing Andrew Ryan talk about the ideals behind the underwater city, only to discover the place in chaos and filled with some pretty terrifying enemies.

The opening to Bioshock is wonderful and it is creepy. The first introduction to the Splicers made me not want to leave the safety of the Bathysphere and it is only because of the comfortingly sane voice of Atlas that you feel at least a little safe leaving in search of ‘a crowbar or something…’ What you might call the tutorial section doesn’t last particularly long because most of the gameplay is pretty easy to explain. What Bioshock does better than many other games is how it draws you into its world.

This is also the game that taught me that I hate Ayn Rand.

This is also the game that taught me that I hate Ayn Rand.

The first view of Rapture is one of the most iconic parts of the series and this is a series with more than a few iconic moments. Then once you start playing you quickly learn that you’re pretty much alone here in Rapture and this is a very dangerous place. This doesn’t mean it’s as punishing as Dark Souls or XCOM. No, what Bioshock does well is that it keeps you tense but at the same time shows you exactly what to do to beat the game. There aren’t heaps of nuances to learn in order to master it. You don’t have to learn what Poise does or that not getting into cover is a death sentence. You learn that these are your plasmids, these are your weapons, those nasty looking people over there are the enemy, knock yourself, or preferably them, out.

It’s a game that’s very easy to pick up and that’s why the beginning is so streamlined, you’re not spending hours being taught exactly how to play the game because the mechanics are very easy to learn. The game teaches you as you go along by letting you experiment with plasmids and weapons and combinations of the two, it doesn’t lead you by the hand and it doesn’t leave you completely alone. You know enough to enjoy it. Add this to an absolutely beautiful art style and atmospheric introduction and you have, in my opinion, the best opening to a game.

If Big Daddy is watching you then it's probably best to just cut your losses and leave... until you learn how to shoot bees from your hands!

If Big Daddy is watching you then it’s probably best to just cut your losses and leave… until you learn how to shoot bees from your hands!

The Night of the Rabbit

Come with me for an adventure of such whimsy! Yes the whimsy is strong with this one! Magic! Adventure! Animal People! Vague environmentalist messages! …. WHIMSY!!!

Daedalic Entertainment are an interesting company that produces interesting games. It doesn’t always work but they’re always interesting one way or another. I’ve already reviewed A New Beginning which is, as far as I’m concerned, a complete disaster. I started Edna and Harvey: Harvey’s New Eyes but for reasons totally unconnected to the game I haven’t been able to do much of it. What I’ve seen, however, I’ve enjoyed. Daedalic have this very weird blend of excellent games paired with some pretty terrible ones. It’s always clear that a lot of work has gone into their world building but in A New Beginning this came at a serious price.

The Night of the Rabbit is a point and click adventure starring Jeremiah Hazelnut, a boy with a dream of one day becoming a magician. He seems to live this idyllic life in a little cottage with his mother just on the edge of a city and is quite obsessed with adventuring in the countryside. One day he receives a mysterious letter and, after performing a magical ritual, summons the Marquis de Hoto, an anthropomorphic rabbit with big red eyes, who says that he is a magician/wizard/treewalker who would like to take young Jerry on as an apprentice. Of course Jeremiah accepts and is taken to a world of other anthropomorphic animals. Jeremiah begins his training to become a magician but along the way discovers that the world is in danger and he must use his newfound magic to save it.

Yup, this is one trustworthy looking dude

Yup, this is one trustworthy looking dude

Now normally I have very little to say about the gameplay of point and click games because it’s always the same, it just depends on how well the puzzles are crafted. Daedalic seemed to decide that they wanted to do things a little differently and as such introduced quite a few mechanics to the game to break up traditional puzzle solving, they’ve also really streamlined how you interact with everything. There’s a day/night cycle for one thing that you can switch between in order to find new items and speak to people in different situations. There are also magic spells you can use to further the backstory as well as tools to solve puzzles. The unfortunate thing is that as the game goes on these mechanics become less and less useful to some of the later spells have one or two uses in the entire game. You would think that a spell that can create illusions would be fun and useful but it has about two uses in the whole game. The puzzles themselves are well crafted, with a few real headscratchers put in there for good measure.

The story is well told and there is a ton of backstory to find. The joke I made at the beginning about the amount of whimsy in it is quite apt. This game is absolutely full of whimsy. This is a game where the line “On a day in Summer Vacation anything is possible!” is said multiple times and is said seriously. But you know what? It really works, it’s not embarrassing, it’s just funny. Whether or not this is intentional is hard to know but if it works then why question it? The story itself is pretty well told and does build to a really epic conclusion. It’s a shame then that a lot of the ending is taken up with a massive, and I do mean massive, exposition dump. This is probably what the game does least well in terms of storytelling, there are some great long sections of explanation and exposition which could have been told in a more natural way.

Hang on, hang on! I think I've got the next bit of the story somewhere in this hat.

Hang on, hang on! I think I’ve got the next bit of the story somewhere in this hat.

Some of the earlier parts of the game don’t feel like they measure up to the epic nature of the ending. Particularly, I think, the relationship between Jerry and the Marquis. The Marquis is incredibly important to the plot but he and Jerry actually interact surprisingly little. You can talk to him through most of the game but he pretty much says the exact same thing each time and can remind you of your objectives. It feels like he and Jerry should have had more screen time and developed a relationship. For one thing I think it would have added deeper levels to the finale.

To be honest I think this is a criticism I have with many modern adventure games. They don’t tend to build up character relationships enough. The reason that The Walking Dead worked so well was that you actually cared about Clementine, she and Lee have a really deep relationship that the player is invested in. I think that many games want to create this sort of relationship but aren’t willing to put in the time it takes to actually pull it off.

This is probably the biggest complaint I have in the story, Jerry and the Marquis should have developed their relationship to a much deeper level in the story.

Oh and maybe less of a relationship with this little bastard.

Oh and maybe less of a relationship with this little bastard.

The art of the game is pretty brilliant, the sets are excellent and the characters look really interesting. It’s something that does make an adventure game that much more fun, actually enjoying what you’re looking at. I don’t think there was a single set that wasn’t interesting for one reason or another.

For those who enjoy collectibles there are a ton of them in this game, many of which have a bit of an impact on the story. Some of them are more frustrating than others and I did give up on some. Some of them tie directly into the story, giving hints and clues, while others are just collectibles. One such collectible are a series of playing cards which you can use to challenge pretty much everyone to a game of Quartets (basically Go Fish!). This does get boring very, very quickly, and has little to impact the plot. It’s just a little side thing that some people might find enjoyable but I thought fell flat.

Now I can’t finish my review without talking about the game’s environmentalist message. Yes, it has one. Don’t ignore it because of that, it’s not like A New Beginning. For the most part the game is pretty subtle about it and does a good job of critiquing many things about modern life, such as instant gratification and false spiritualism, and the environmentalist message plays into it. There are a couple of moments, however, when it becomes quite heavy handed and annoying. Some giant moths start talking about a terrible flood of stick grey fluid that is evil and destructive… yes, cement. They also talk about this foul smelling mountain that caused some creatures to start acting crazy… a landfill. It’s not bad but it gets a bit heavy handed at those points to an eye-rolling level. I think they could have left those bits out and kept the environmentalism stuff subtle.

Although I do enjoy giant hippy-looking wizard.

Although I do enjoy giant hippy-looking wizard.

The game is, in my opinion, a bit pricey for what it is, it’s $20 or £16.99. For an adventure game like this I would say that’s a bit much, it’s really a game to get when it’s on sale and I don’t doubt it will be sooner or later.

I enjoyed Night of the Rabbit, it’s fun and interesting and is taking point and click games into interesting directions mechanically. I really like the world that has been created and while I don’t know if a direct sequel would work I would really enjoy seeing more games in the same universe. The ending does turn into this spiral of awesomeness that I would like to see expanded upon but I doubt that we’ll see this sort of thing again. Daedalic like to create universes and then leave them unless there’s a direct sequel. So I would like to see more but I’m not holding my breath. Still, the game is good, if pricey, and I am glad I played it.

image011

Also is Churchmouse Jr. real or is Churchmouse Senior just insane? I just can’t tell!

 

The Last Door

I stepped back from the window, tearing my gaze from the forest before the house. The crows had settled once more, I could feel their beady eyes watching me. But I cared not for I am a great big polar bear. 

It’s been a little while since last I wrote. There are several reasons for this including mild depression and the fact that I will be moving house soon. But enough about that, let’s just get right back into the swing of things with The Last Door.

The Last Door is a point and click (I know, so unusual for me) horror game set in 1891 in Britain. In it you play as Jeremiah Devitt, a young man who receives a mysterious letter from an old friend from his boarding school telling him to come to his house at once. When Jeremiah arrives he finds the place oddly deserted and beings to uncover clues that talk of strange happenings. The beginning of each chapter also shows us a little hint of what is to come with the player controlling a different character who is in the throes of a disturbing act.

The game is episodic with chapters 1 and 2 already released and chapter 3 is in the works. It is very clear that the developers took influence from the contemporary horror writers of the era (There’s even a nice H.P. Lovecraft easter egg in the second chapter). It does a very good job of creating that sense of the Victorian horror story with underplayed tension and this constant air of mystery that keep you enthralled.

Despite the fact that it’s a comparatively tiny number of pixels it also manages to look pretty awesome

The game has a retro pixellated art style (Hey, I’m not sick of it, I think it looks good), yet has more modern lighting effects which to a fantastic job of building on this tense atmosphere. It’s not always obvious what an object may be but if you can’t work it out and if Jeremiah isn’t going to tell you then it’s really not important enough to merit it. Besides, it’s much easier to get lost in the sets and backgrounds than in the tiny details.

The sound is also fantastic with all the effects keeping the theme alive and an original score which is available to download for those who help support the game. The music is excellent and helps heighten the creepiness and the tension. It’s not a frustratingly difficult game and most of the puzzles are fairly logical, if occasionally esoteric. More attention has been given to the atmosphere and the lore.

But what’s more important in a horror game than the scares. The Last Door does well in evoking the older style of horror stories where unsettling creepiness is given priority over jump scares and gore. There are some gore-scare moments but they’re few enough that when they appear they are genuinely scary. If you like a more sophisticated sort of horror then you’ll enjoy the horror in this game.

When you’re on your own in a spooky cellar with only a lantern to see by, it’s always handy to grab a crowbar (Best tool in any game)

So are there any problems with it? Well nothing that really breaks the game for me. Some of the subtitle errors are distracting but considering it comes from a non-English developer that is easily forgiven. Other than that the only problem I have is the problem I have with all episodic games. There is always this need to build up the tension but there is little payoff since it is waiting for the next chapter to explain more.

For someone like me who enjoys getting sucked into a story it’s a little jarring to have to put it down and come back to it later. Yes you can make arguments about savouring a good thing and there are technical justifications, the game is still being made after all. Nevertheless part of me wishes that games like would just be released in one go to really keep you hooked to the story.

Creepy boarding schools/hospitals for the win!

The game is still being developed and they are asking for donations at their website (Link below). You can play the first chapter for free and can donate any amount to unlock the next chapter or there are a few reward schemes for higher donations including access to all future chapters and the excellent soundtrack.

If you enjoy classic horror then I really recommend giving it a go and sending some money their way. These developers have an excellent grasp on what makes a good adventure game and what makes something scary. The whole game has this oppressive, unsettling feel that only gets heightened as the chapters progress. Give it a go and I urge you to help fund more.

Link to the Website

Alice: Madness Returns

Remember, Alice, not all here is as it seems. I’m not even here, nor a I speaking right now. In fact, you’re saying everything you think I’m saying. And now I’m a giant hippo or something weird… wooooooo….

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll is amazingly recognisable. It’s one of the staples of childhood literature and has been adapted many times (even into a porn parody). People will probably have seen the Disney adaptation and it’s highly likely that you will have seen the Tim Burton adaptation of 2010 (which I hate but we can go into that another time). Because of the weirdness of the story it is almost always one that people like to twist, to make dark and scary. Surprisingly few manage to do it effectively.

Enter American McGee, an American game designer with an interesting childhood and just the right experience to make a dark and twisted version of Alice in Wonderland that actually keeps the ideas of the original story. The resulting product was a game called American McGee’s Alice. It’s still a pretty excellent game, though it has dated, and well worth the high reviews it received. The story is set after the events of Through the Lookinglass and features a slightly older Alice. A fire breaks out in Alice’s home, destroying everything and killing the entire Liddell family apart from Alice who is so wracked with survivors guilt she is institutionalised. To reflect Alice’s shattered psyche, Wonderland has become twisted and the Queen of Hearts has become even more tyrannical. Thus Alice is forced to return to Wonderland in order to help restore it, and in the process herself.

Wonderland's a little bit different

The sequel to American McGee’s Alice came some 11 years afterwards and is entitled Alice: Madness Returns. Alice is now 19 years old but is still haunted by her guilt and her insanity. Now, after her stay in Rutledge Asylum, she is being treated by Doctor Angus Bumby who is trying to hypnotise Alice into forgetting her trauma. But the treatment seems to be having little effect as Alice is hurled back into Wonderland where she is informed by the Cheshire Cat that there is a new evil destroying Wonderland and Alice must, once more, defeat it. Along the way she must piece her memory together so she can try and learn what really happened on the night of the fire.

The game itself is an third-person action puzzle platformer. As Alice the players must navigate the unusual environment of Wonderland, battle the various hostile creatures within, and mostly go from one character to another as they give her cryptic messages and, generally speaking, add greater confusion to the story. There is a real theme of industrialisation, with horrific mechanical monstrosities making up large areas of the environment. Many of the enemies themselves are made of Ruin, a sort of black, polluted sludge. The combat makes use of Alice’s agility as well as four weapons, which can be used for combo attacks.

She is not messing around with that Vorpal Blade

The combat is entertaining but can get a little stale. It’s mostly a matter of learning cues so you can dodge enemy attacks and then wildly swinging at them until it’s time to dodge again. There are quite a number of enemies with different forms of attack so there is variety and the animations on both Alice and her opponents look excellent. Even the designs are interesting to look at, from the sludge and machinery of the ruin to the Eye-Pot, a giant teapot with one red eye and sharp legs for stabbing and a nozzle for firing boiling liquids (maybe tea, who knows) at you. The platforming is well done, making use of Alice’s excellent manoeuvrability. There are some frustrating moments with the platforming but not usually anything that ends up with controller-snapping frustration.

But the best things about the game are the style and the art. This is a beautiful game with absolutely amazing environments. Each section you play through looks unique and incredibly imaginative, fitting the theme of Wonderland very neatly. But even the dreary look of Ol’ London Taaan is imaginative in a very bleak way.

No seriously, she is NOT messing around with that Vorpal Blade

Besides the moments of frustrating platforming the game’s biggest flaw is probably that the combat can get a little same-y. However people will experience this to different levels and it is somewhat lowered on higher difficulties. Playing on some the hardest difficulties makes an enemy’s attack very punishing meaning that you have to keep yourself focused. But even with this the limited number of weapons, attacks, and combos mean that players with a more action-oriented mind may find themselves a little tired of the hack n’ slash methods by the end.

Also, if you do not enjoy looking out for secrets and collectibles then this may not be for you. The game is full of things to collect, teeth for upgrades, memories to piece together the story, bottles for… well, bottles mostly. The environments are fun enough to explore and interesting enough to look at but trying to find that one last hidden memory in the entire level can be very frustrating.

Beware the Eye-Pot, my girl, the legs that stab, the spout that spits.

If you are a fan of Alice in Wonderland then you’ll enjoy the many interesting approaches to the characters. It’s true that many people try to darken the stories of Alice but this is one of the very few times that it’s done well. Why? Well it’s mostly due to how Alice is portrayed. She doesn’t stare in wonder and everything around her but is just generally quite annoyed at how silly it all is. Very few adaptations seem to realise that this is how Alice is supposed to act.

Anyway, as a game it works well but the repetition and collectibles may put some gamers off. But there are much worse ways to tell a story of Alice (I’m looking at you, Tim Burton).

 

Sorry this one was a bit late, friends, various stresses have been catching up with me and I completely forgot to upload yesterday. Will continue with regular article tomorrow.

 

The Book of Unwritten Tales

Quick, I shall gather the other panserbjørne so we can take the Alethiometer to Mount Doom so we can destroy the Death Star and save Narnia. Enough references yet?

Hot on the heels of my Top 5 Adventure Games here we have The Book of Unwritten Tales, a game by German developer King Art. It is set in a fantasy world with a very typical armies of good versus the armies of evil story going on. But The Book of Unwritten Tales very clearly knows about the fantasy genre, the game is full of tongue-in-cheek moments and references to other works of fantasy and science fiction.

The game starts with the capture of the gremlin McGuffin who has just discovered the location of an artefact that could end the war. To his rescue comes Ivo, a wood elf princess who really needs more suitable clothing for adventuring.  McGuffin also visits Wilbur Weathervane, a naive young gnome who dreams of being a mage and an adventurer, and charges him with possession of a magic ring (sounding familiar) which he must deliver to the arch-mage.

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness… make fourth-wall breaking jokes

It’s a point-and-click adventure game, what more is there to say about the mechanics? It has the nice feature of hotspot highlighting which can be a controversial thing but is always handy. The interface is well realised with hotspots disappearing once they are determined to be of no use. You might think that makes this a very easy game but the puzzles are just challenging enough to still keep it interesting. You can also play as multiple characters at various points of the game, adding an extra dimension to puzzles when you need to think about who can do what (think Gobliiins).

The characters are pretty fantastic with some excellent voice acting. Wilbur is almost certainly the best but the others can definitely hold their own. Having characters that are a lot of fun to play is a god-send in adventure games. It just makes the whole thing much more enjoyable. The plot isn’t deeply involved but has enough twists and turns to keep you interested. It’s a very standard good vs evil story with unlikely heroes that you’ll find anywhere. It’s really the game’s humour that is it’s draw. Beyond simple references to other works the game includes self-aware jokes about how no one dies in adventure games, characters playing role playing games in a ‘fantasy’ world full of tax forms and insurance salesmen, and where the undead are forming an anti-defamation league in order to integrate into society.

Oh elves, even at high altitudes on the back of a dragon it’s important to dress skimpy

Problems with the game? There aren’t that many but there are a few that are a little nagging. Mostly it’s a problem with some of the puzzles. The game frequently builds up some complicated object hunt puzzles that end very quickly when a character simply gives you what you were after. For someone who plays a lot of adventure games this is a little jarring. At first it seems like a joke about some of the ridiculously complicated puzzles in adventure games but very quickly starts feeling a like a cop-out. Especially when the characters start talking about how they always have to go through a series of unlikely tasks in order to get an item off someone (are self-aware characters in adventure games a thing now?). It’s hard not to feel that the character’s complaints are unjustified when they’ve just been given so many things.

This does actually become a bit of a plot point in the late game that is quite fun but for the most part it feels like there were ideas that just got cut. You could argue that it cuts out padding from a game (and this is one that I would say is about medium length) but it would have been nice to have something there. The other problem with this game is the ending. Usually in adventure games you end on one last puzzle that you complete before actually finishing everything. The last puzzle in this game amounts to walking up some stairs. Then it just sort of ends, quite abruptly. It’s a bit unsatisfying and makes all the effort you put in feel like it isn’t worthwhile.

Just call me King of Puzzle Breaking

If you’re a fan of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series then you’re probably going to get a lot out of this game as it has a very similar sort of humour. The fourth-wall breaking is quite fun, particularly to adventure game veterans, and the characters are absolutely brilliant. Most of the puzzles aren’t that tricky but there are enough challenges to keep it entertaining. If you like your high-fantasy to have deep plot then you might find it a bit dissatisfying but you could do a whole lot worse. Had I finished this game last week it may well have gone on my Top 5 Adventure games, so just consider this an honourary number 6.

Top 5 Adventure Games

So I’ve focused a lot on adventure games so far, unsurprising considering it’s quite possibly my favourite video game genre. So, what with me thinking it’s about time I did some articles other than reviews and publicising my novel, I’ve decided to generate a list of top 5 adventure games as voted for by me.

Number 5

Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars

Revolution Software was pretty well established in the 90s what with the success of their previous games Lure of the Temptress and Beneath a Steel Sky. But probably one of their most famous works, in adventure games circles, is the creation of the Broken Sword series. Specifically here I am talking about the first game which is by far the best. It is set in Paris and centres around an American tourist by the name of George Stobbart who witnesses the bombing of a cafe. Together with the assistance of journalist Nico Collard, George is drawn into a world of intrigue, conspiracy, murder, and enough Templars to make Dan Brown blush.

Did I mention terrifying clowns as well?

The game has a great sense of danger as it draws you in, being one of the number of adventure games where you can actually die, but it keeps this light-hearted tone as well such as being chased by mad kebab salesmen, the rivalry between George and a museum curator, and just George’s funny and often sarcastic musings on the situation. There are other games in the series but it’s a downward slope in my opinion, though the fourth game does improve on the third. The first has amazing characterisation and a pretty fun art style coupled with interesting puzzles and a gripping storyline. The Director’s Cut has also been released with some extra content and a fifth game is on the way.

That’s why his briefcase is so big, it’s full of secrets!

Number 4

The Blackwell Series

Ok so this is a little cheaty one since this is technically four games but it’s impossible not to lump them together. There is a bit of an overarching narrative and to be honest I couldn’t imagine playing one and not playing the others. I’ve already done quite an extensive article on this one so I’ll keep my point brief. The Blackwell games are not only fun in terms of puzzles but there is a real sense of growth with the characters. They change and develop as the story goes along and it’s really hard not to immediately move on to the next game when one finishes.

Moti the dog is also a reason this is awesome

It’s really great to go back to these games, especially with the commentary by Dave Gilbert, and it’s interesting to watch them develop. If I had to pick which game was my favourite out of them then I would probably just say “All of them” and change the subject. But if forced I think I would have to say the third one, Blackwell Convergence, this is where the overarching plot really starts and also where a lot of the gameplay mechanics really start coming together. Some of the set pieces are fantastic, who doesn’t love a metaphysical diner floating in space? This is not to sell the other games short as they are tons of fun and I couldn’t imagine someone liking adventure games and not liking these.

See ya soon for the next game, dollface

Number 3

Discworld

Oh my do I ever love Terry Pratchett and his Discworld series. The books are brilliant and the characters are classic. But what got me started with Discworld wasn’t any of the books but a point and click adventure game developed in 1995. When it was first released it was criticised for its difficult game mechanics but I never found it to be a problem. Maybe this is just me looking back with nostalgia but I don’t care, this was important stuff. I’m not going to fully explain the Discworld because that would take at least a whole article but to give a breif summary: The Discworld is flat and round and carried through space on the back of four giant elephants which stand on the shell of an enormous turtle. It’s a fantasy world but it’s a light-hearted one with very tongue in cheek comedy. In the game you play as Rincewind, a rather unexceptional wizard who gets roped in to deal with the issue of a dragon that has appeared and is terrorising the city of Ankh-Morpork.

Ridcully would do it himself but he’s got a lot of fishing, hunting, and shouting to do.

The game itself is a spin on the plots of a few of the books so it’s not as though it’s really spoiled for anyone that’s read them. But what’s really great about this game is the casting and the voice acting. With British veterans such as Tony Robinson, Rob Brydon, and Jon Pertwee making up various members of the cast it’s very entertaining. The casting of Eric Idle as Rincewind, the cowardly wizard with more skill in running away than in magic, is absolutely perfect. I couldn’t imagine another Rincewind. There are two sequels, Discworld II being a direct one and a standalone game entitled Discworld Noir, they are also excellent games but to my mind the first game is the best.

Though it can be an ache to get an old game running on a new PC

Number 2

The Chzo Mythos

Another bit of a cheaty one since this is a collection of games rather than one individual one. People frequenting gaming sites may already be familiar with the work of Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw and his Zero Punctuation videos on The Escapist. But Yahtzee has also done a bit of game development in his time and between 2003 and 2007 released four games that came under the heading of the Chzo Mythos. These are, in chronological order, Five Days a Stranger, Seven Days a Skeptic, Trilby’s Notes, and Six Days a Sacrifice. There are a few different protagonists but the most prevalent is Trilby, a gentleman thief of great notoriety, whilst attempting to rob a supposedly abandoned house he become trapped inside with a malevolent spirit. To say much more would spoil it and, considering they’re free on Yahtzee’s website, the full plot is far too complicated to summarise here.

Summarise in ten words or less

The games have a real sense of atmosphere and high stakes that does a fantastic job of drawing you into its universe. It is very clear that Yahtzee’s skill in design, development, and art increases dramatically as the games progress but it’s still fun to go back to the first game with its slightly clunky mechanics and art style, just so you can see how everything that happens later is linked. It’s a real homage to a complex, psychological horror in the style of Silent Hill with enough freaky, scary, and WTF moments to keep you entertained. Again if you were to force an answer out of me I would probably say that my favourite game is Trilby’s Notes. The great lore that’s in the game, the flashbacks throughout history, and the genuinely unsettling feeling you get while playing just makes it get under your skin. Pretty good for a game with no voice acting.

Oh Trilby, how innocent you were when you were just trying to stop a machete-wielding-welder-ghost-thing

And Number 1

The Walking Dead

This game is pretty much the reason I started this blog. It was going to be my first piece but I realised that I had nothing bad to say about it, nothing at all. There aren’t as many complex object puzzles as there are in some of the other games in this list, it’s not even a point and click like the others. But The Walking Dead is one of those games that makes you seriously consider games as art. For those that don’t know The Walking Dead is an adventure game by Telltale Games where the player takes control of Lee Everett, a former University professor on his way to prison just as the great zombie outbreak occurs. After his introduction to the living dead Lee comes across a young girl called Clementine and together the two try to survive in an increasingly hostile world.

And that’s no easy feat

The game is famous for the fact that choices the player makes impact the story quite significantly in later chapters, even down to which characters live or die. It makes every decision tense as you try to work out what’s the best thing to do. But what makes the game so great is the relationship between Lee and Clementine. I’m not a big fan of children, I don’t really know how to talk to them, and I’m not a fan of video game children since they tend to be crowbarred in to try and drum up sympathy with how pathetic they are. You know what makes Clementine different? She’s a person, an actual child and not a plot device. She’s competent and, over the course of the game, you end up thinking like Lee. Forget everyone else’s problems, just do what’s best for her. You start judging your own actions by how Clementine will react.

All this builds and builds as the game goes on and it gets more intense. The game is great and showing the problems created by this post-society zombie infested world. Believe me there’s things a lot worse than the Walkers out there. It builds to an emotion wrought ending that made me have to sit down for about five minutes in order to digest it. No other game has affected my like that and all I can say is that I’m sorry the game had to end.

Keep that hair short, sweetpea

So there you have my top 5 adventure games but before we go, a quick honourary mention.

Honourary Mention

Primordia

I couldn’t bring myself to put this on the list because, annoyingly, I haven’t been able to complete it yet. The copy I have  been playing is not actually my own and the person it belonged to moved away to France before I could complete it.

Another WadjetEye game, Primordia is set in the distant future when humans have died out and only machines remain. These robots worship humans like a religion in their wasteland. One such robot, Horatio Nullbuilt Version 5, is living a hermits life when he is attacked by another robot and has his power core stolen. Horatio gives chase with Crispin, his only companion, and together they make their way to Metropol, the city of glass and light, where many robots live together. But things are not right in the city and it’s up to Horatio to find out why.

The game, so far, has been amazing. The puzzles are challenging, the universe unique, the art is astounding, and the voice acting (with Logan Cunningham of Bastion fame as Horatio) is incredible. I only wished I could have completed it.

Damn this game is gorgeous

A New Beginning

Oh no. The future of the world is at stake here. Can’t you tell from my incredibly expressive voice? And the one thing that can save is is tedious dialogue… and algae, so much algae.

You don’t often find a game that would make Al Gore sit back and say “Woah there, aren’t you being a bit heavy handed?”. The problems with our environment are an ever-present problem and one that needs addressing. So why can no one in any form of media make any environmentalist film/game/book that isn’t about as subtle as just shouting “YOU WILL ALL DIE!!” 24 hours a day?

Enter Daedalic Entertainment’s A New Beginning, a point and click adventure game set in… actually there’s a fair amount of time travel and flashbacks so it’s hard to say exactly when. The gist of it, without spoiling too much, is this: In the future the climate is so heavily damaged as to wipe out most of the population of Earth. A group of survivors band together in order to create a time machine that will send them back in time to try and prevent climate change from happening. Meanwhile a Norwegian scientist by the name of Bent Svensson has retired after years of work on an alternative energy source powered by blue-green algae, but Bent is forced into a rather bizarre story as the time travelling Fay turns up to tell him he has to save the world.

No one has much luck on this mission into the past

To start with, this game is pretty beautiful, the graphic novel style art is amazingly well done with some really fantastic sets, the art is probably one of the best things about it. Almost every chapter has a unique look to it that really helps to separate the segments of the game.

At its core A New Beginning is a very typical point-and-click but I must admit the approach they have to gameplay is pretty good. Aside from options menus and saving (which I will come to later) you only use the keyboard if you want to highlight all the areas on screen with which you can interact. The game uses a series of menus rather than the standard left click to move/interact and right click to examine, which works quite well and allows for versatility in the puzzles. The puzzles themselves are, for the most part, quite logical (still uses adventure game logic though) and there aren’t too many points where one can become hopelessly stuck thanks to a very odd solution to a puzzle.

The game also features some actual puzzle puzzles but they aren’t as frequent, or as ridiculous, as The Testament of Sherlock Holmes’ puzzles and so I found myself quite enjoying them. There is also a handy skip button that pops up quite quickly so if the puzzles aren’t your thing it’s not going to cause too many issues.

No fuse puzzles in here, just a lady in a skin-tight uniform… what were you expecting the past to be like?

Unfortunately I didn’t get to enjoy the puzzles very much because the game is riddled with some pretty serious and game-breaking bugs. While playing I lost the ability to save the game at the beginning of Chapter 6 onwards (6 of 8 I should point out) so rather than losing quite a lot of progress I was forced to play the entire rest of the game in one sitting, and this is not a short game believe me. Twice I encountered a bug where my character couldn’t move or interact with anything. The first time was during Chapter 6 so I was forced to reload an old save and lose a fair amount of progress in order to get back to where I was. The second time was slap-bang in the middle of a puzzle that I was quite enjoying. This was in the last chapter and I had a moment of dread thinking that I would have to play the whole thing again. Thankfully the Skip Puzzle button came to my aid but I really did want to complete it. Very disappointing.

I wouldn’t have minded having to complete the game in one go if the game had a good story but unfortunately the narrative in A New Beginning breaks down so quickly that it is a chore to get through. The game’s environmentalist message is distractingly heavy handed, with cars being called contaminants and Fay’s disgust at absolutely everything  wasteful or polluting (even when she’s wrong, seriously the game needs a fact checker at some points). The game also suffers from the environmentalist media problem of a hilariously stupid villain. At first the villain raises good points about the lack of alternatives to his nuclear power industry but then quickly slides head first into “MUAHAHAHA! I will pollute the planet because I love pollution and it makes me money!” territory.

NUCLEAR POWER DESTROYED THE EIFFEL TOWER, CALLED YOUR MOTHER FAT, AND KILLED YOUR CHILDHOOD PUPPY! HATE IT WITH ALL YOUR MIGHT!

Near the end, however, the game does a complete 180 with twists and deceptions and sudden character shifts that could have been really good, in fact the whole plan that’s revealed is pretty ingenious and highlights humanity’s reaction to threats. But it’s executed so poorly and ends up asking more questions than it answers. It also makes quite a lot of the game feel pointless and that’s never good. I can appreciate a good deception of the player but the deception was so fruitless and led only to a really unsatisfying ending.

Also the game then seems to realise a big factual mistake it made about nuclear power, I’d been shouting about it for most of the game but the characters simply refused to listen to me. That they actually knew they were wrong is really, really bizarre because it is quite an important plot point.

But the absolute worst thing about the game is the dialogue. Not only is it poorly translated from German (hilariously so sometimes), not only does it frequently not match up with the subtitles, not only do notes for menus sometimes appear in Russian, but the voice acting is some of the worst I have heard in an adventure game. It is bad, it’s so bad. I may have complained a bit about the voice acting in The Cat Lady but this should take some special award. Many of the actors are mid to low when it comes to ability but the voice of Fay, one of the main characters, is so flat and bored sounding that nothing she says can be taken seriously. Considering the amount of drama this game tries to give us that is pretty bad. It’s not even entertainingly bad, you can’t just laugh at the pronunciation of Ashworth, it’s painful. Game breakingly painful.

A line delivered with all the emotion and energy of someone who still has three hours to go at the office and has exhausted all their breaks.

It looks pretty. That’s about the best thing that can be said. The worst that can be said is that it is so disappointing. Most of the characters have interesting starts but quickly become two dimensional, the plot meanders around in a rather bizarre way, the important message is so heavy handed as to just be annoying, and the voice acting just. keeps. getting. worse.

Daedalic Entertainment has done good things, I haven’t completed Edna and Harvey yet but I’ve really enjoyed it. But what they’ve produced here is just not worth it, try a different game