SolForge

Well it’s happened, I’m all moved in to my new place in a completely different part of the country and I have internet back. So now I think it’s time for me to tell you about a free to play game that I’ve been having a lot of fun with.

I’m a big fan of board and card games (if only I could find more people to play with) and I like being able to build a good deck. SolForge is a Collectible Card Game Video Game. For those who don’t know the difference between a Collectible Card Game (CCG) and a Living Card Game (LCG) a very rough guide to the differences between the two: Living card games are generally bought in large packs and with regularly released expansions. They contain the full set of cards required to play the game. Collectible Card Games normally release starter packs and then require you to buy booster packs and get lucky to get some of the cards you want. LCGs are more expensive as a rule but you have that certainty of knowing you’ll get all the cards you want while CCGs are cheaper but can work out quite pricey with bad luck.

Stone Blade Entertainment’s SolForge, however, is a free-to-play CCG and so is quite interesting. An overview of how it works: In SolForge the players have to play cards in order to defeat enemy cards and bring the opponent’s health from 100 down to 0. As you play the game your cards start out quite weak but every time you play one it levels up and the next time it appears in your hand to play it will be much stronger. These cards fall into two categories, creatures can be played in your lanes and act as your units, attacking the opponent and their cards whilst defending you. Secondly you have spells that you play to provide bonuses to yourself or weaken the enemy.

Rwaaaaaar! You will never defeat me and my deck full of legendary cards!

Rwaaaaaar! You will never defeat me and my deck full of legendary cards!

You can customize the decks you use quite freely, being able to choose thirty cards and two out of the four races available in the game. They each suit a different play style and can be combined to create some very interesting combinations. Some races can flood the battlefield with units, others can be levelled to become practically unkillable, some utilise spells more. It’s a game where you can really adjust your style. It’s a lot of fun to mess around with the races to try and work out what’s best for you.

Each race is pretty unique from the abilities to the art and let me tell you that the art in this game is pretty amazing. Each card has a little image that changes and advances as the creature levels. The design is impressive making it a lot of fun to look through the cards and their various forms.

The game is far from perfect, the wording on some of the cards can require a second or third reading before you actually understand what it means. It just makes it a little clunky which is unfortunate. There is also quite a heavy reliance on luck. Not only in getting the cards you want for your decks (which I’ll explain about later) but in having them show up at the right time. There is a skill in knowing how to level your deck but there are many times when the difference between winning and losing is just down to getting lucky with cards.

Pardon me a moment while I build some better cards

Pardon me a moment while I build some better cards

So how to get cards in a free-to-play? Well the free to play mechanic here is that you can spend real money to buy in-game gold which you use to purchase the various forms of booster packs. The more expensive the booster pack the more (and better) cards are inside. But you don’t have to fork over money if you want to get better cards. For those playing a purely free-to-play style then the game offers daily rewards for logging in, winning your first and third matches. You are rewarded for this in silver and in random cards or booster packs. Using silver you can only buy the basic booster packs and the skins for your game but the game is pretty generous with giving you the slightly upgraded booster pack too.

So the game can become more of a chore if you’re just trying to get some better cards. It’s like punching a time-card and waiting for the chance to get better things. If you’re looking for constant variety in your gameplay then you’ll either have to keep spending money or look elsewhere as the variety available without paying in SolForge may not be enough to keep you interested.

However the game is still in Beta with plans for a campaign and a tournament mode in the works. I look forward to the campaign because the lore that Stone Blade has created is very intricate but at the moment only available on their website. As it stands in current Beta you have the option of battling against the computer in three difficulties or against human opponents both off and online.

It’s free to play so there’s not much to lose by checking it out. If you’re a fan of deckbuilding games then you’ll probably have a fun time at least for a while. I look forward to seeing how the game develops and will keep trying to farm those booster packs.

SolForge will have your money! You will get the pretty cards!

SolForge will have your money! You will get the pretty cards!

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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

My Top 5 Scary Characters

Muahahahaha! Welcome, dear reader, to the chamber of horrors! Well, my chamber of horrors, because this is my personal top 5 scary characters. I doubt you’ll agree with most of them because, let’s face it, what’s scary is subjective. Plus a number of these are things that used to scare me when I was younger and have just stuck in my brain. As usual I’m keeping spoilers to a minimum but it depends on your idea of a spoiler. So without further ado:

Number 5

Game: Puzzle Agent

What? A harmless little puzzle game? A harmless little funny puzzle game? What could be scary in a very simple game about an FBI agent in charge of the Puzzles division going off to investigate a crime?

Character: The Hidden People

Do not mess with these gnomes

Besides everything?! The art in this game is pretty cool but goddamn it makes for some terrifying people when they scream. But even worse than that is the little red gnomes known as the Hidden People. I think most of the terror comes from the fact that you just aren’t expecting this game to be scary. Then suddenly killer gnomes everywhere! What’s worse is that they sometimes just appear while you’re doing a puzzle. So you’re concentrating very hard on the game and suddenly these creatures appear! Not cool, Puzzle Agent, not cool.

Number 4

Game: Condemned: Criminal Origins

Maybe the only genuine horror game on this list, Condemned: Criminal Origins puts you in the role of Serial Crimes Unit officer Ethan Thomas as he investigates a series of brutal, ritualistic murders in a city that is slowly going mad. Fighting your way through armies of mad homeless and drug addicts while making your way through various abandoned locations is bad enough but one of the scariest bits of the game…

Character: Serial Killer X

Get ready for death, Agent Thomas, it will come visiting again

There is a sequence towards the end of the game where you have been making your way through an old farmhouse, locating clues and solving riddles. Near the end you are confronted and get chased by a serial killer. This sounds pretty standard but this game does this scene so well. The killer is about the same strength as your character and he’s clever, much cleverer than the other enemies you fight. He’s also a little faster meaning that once he retreats and you chase after him he’s already gone. Now it’s a game of cat and mouse as you each try to find the other and get the upper hand, waiting for him to come behind you with a rusty pipe. Oh and it’s not in some dark, dank villains lair, it’s in a house. A normal house, just like one you might live in.

Number 3

Game: Space Quest IV

The Space Quest series is amusing, oddly charming, kinda freaky, and, quite frankly, a classic. So what, in these stories about an incompetent space janitor getting himself thrust into the role of reluctant hero, could possibly be so scary?

Character: the Cyborgs

The things are bad enough to look at, and then they scream.

Quite early on in this game you get introduced to the many different ways in which Roger Wilco can die. This game is so full of ways to die that the video showing all the possible methods is more than twenty minutes long. The first death shown on that video is what happens when one of the Cyborgs finds you. The mad lip twitch, raising their hand, and then screaming at you is terrifying and it’s so early in the game that you just aren’t expecting it. It’s pretty nightmarish.

Number 2

Game: King’s Quest VII

Like Puzzle Agent this game shouldn’t be scary, it’s  high fantasy and very cartoony with talking animals and a wicked witch and royalty saving the day. Yet this game has some incredibly freaky elements, from simple giant scorpions and trolls to living nightmares, murderous children, a woman who literally cried her eyes out, and…

Character: The Bo(o)geyman

Sadly there aren’t many good pictures of him. There are some videos on youtube that show you more.

I’m English so to me it’s always Bogeyman but the Boogeyman of King’s Quest VII is unlike any other. The level of the game with him is full of sadists and undead creatures but he is the worst. If you linger to long on one screen he’ll crawl up out of the ground, leap on top of you, and eat you. With his long, thin limbs, rotting flesh, and sharp teeth he’s scary enough but it’s worse to know that he’s always there, just waiting for you to be a little slow on a screen. There is a theme to warn of his coming that just ends up creating a Pavlovian response after a while and just causes panic.

And Number 1

Game: Thief: Deadly Shadows

The Thief series is probably the best example of a stealth game done right. Very few games have been able to implement stealth even half as well as these games, meaning that they have a pretty well deserved reputation. You play as Garrett, master thief, who is mostly just looking to rob enough people to keep himself in luxury for the rest of his life. Yet he seems unable to go even a few weeks without getting involved with zombies, trickster gods, cultists, and even robots. But there is one challenge that is probably the most memorable part of the third game.

Character: The Shalebridge Cradle

The Cradle remembers you now….

But wait, that doesn’t sound (or look) like a character. Well yes, you’d be right there. The Cradle isn’t like a character like the others in this list but it is a character in a very real sense. There is a malevolent presence there that manifests itself in a whole load of different ways. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The Cradle was originally an orphanage and then became an insane asylum, while still functioning as an orphanage. This is an abandoned orphanage/asylum, how is that not the best horror combo ever?

The house manifests itself through Puppets, the remains of the nine insane patients which are wrapped in linen bandages and wear cages on their hands and heads. There are schools of thought which sat they aren’t undead like zombies but are just plain dead. Except the Cradle is controlling them. Oh and they’re almost impossible to kill. If they detect you they will scream and run at you and beat you. So you’re practically always on the lookout for them, holding your breath in case they can somehow hear you in game. But the Puppets aren’t all the Cradle had to throw at you. Beyond spirits of the dead, and the silhouetted Cradle Staff, you have to contend with viewing the awful history of the place and it’s methods of treatment. Quite literally re-living them. But the worst thing *slight spoiler alert* once you have completed the level, once you’ve done all your objectives, you can’t leave. The Cradle won’t let you, it remembers you now and it’s not going to let you go. This is the main reason I can give for calling the Cradle a character in it’s own right. *Spoilers end*

You do not want it near you. Ever.

So there we have my top 5 scary characters. Hope you enjoyed them and next week I promise we won’t be looking at another adventure game.

So see you soon, and don’t have nightmares.

MUAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

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

Zeno Clash

I am the mighty polar bear! I will crush all of you with my mighty paws! So run in fear… strange chicken-human thing, living statues, creepy eye things… what the hell is a Corwid? … Father-Mother? I think you lost me somewhere.

Zeno Clash is a first person action game being primarily focused on melee combat. Most first person shooters have some elements of fighting up close as well as using guns, from the chainsaw of Doom to the knife of Call of Duty, but very few games use it as their core mechanic. It used to be considered a great challenge but in the past few years we have seen a number of first person games successful employ hand to hand fighting. The Condemned series and Chivalry: Medieval Warfare both gave us very gritty and hard hitting (har har!) looks at close quarters combat. Zeno Clash takes a slightly lighter route in terms of tone but then instantly sprints down the avenue of absolutely bizarre.

Says it all, really.

Zeno Clash is set in a strange fantasy world with bizarre hybrid creatures, most of whom are the children of Father-Mother, an odd bird-like humanoid creature that is both father and mother to its children. Or else the mysterious Corwids of the Free who have compulsions that they rigidly stick to, like Oxameter who only walks in a straight line, or Erminia who”Peed on herself and died anonymously”. You play Ghat, one of Father-Mother’s children who left the family and learned from Corwids. At the start of the game Ghat murders Father-Mother for unknown reasons. Aided by his companion Deadra, Ghat seeks to escape the wrath of Father-Mother’s children and along the way we learn more about Ghat and the secret purpose he had to murder Father-Mother.

As far as gameplay goes the game is a lot of fun. The fighting is well executed and simple enough to learn quickly and it gets very adrenaline pumping during the larger fights. The fact that the game tends to change to a first person shooter did throw me because the shooting mechanics are nowhere near as streamlined as the melee combat. It does provide an extra challenge while fighting hordes of enemies, you have to constantly keep an eye on that one bastard with the rifle, but in the end I found it more annoying than anything else.

Muahahaha! Let Father-Mother haunt your nightmares!

The game’s visual style is unique, I have never seen this vague tribal-punk-fantasy mashup before and it does create a world unlike any other in gaming. The problem, however, is that this world is never fleshed out enough for me to get involved in it. Occasionally you meet new and ever more bizarre creatures but we learn nothing about them or truly what most of them are. We get hints and impressions but they are few and far between. Clearly we’re just meant to go along with the characters who do know the world around them. While it is striking this does mean that the creepy imagery and little explanation makes Zeno Clash feel like a fever dream.

Another problem is that the voice acting is pretty damn awful. The characters that sound the best tend to be the ones with heavy alterations made to their dialogue: Golem, Father-Mother, and Metamoq. Ghat and Deadra, our protagonists, however are pretty dire with some genuinely cringey moments. It becomes slightly less noticeable as you go further into the game but that is mostly because you’re used to it and are too caught up in the fever dream to care.

Zeno Clash: The game about punching abominations of nature

Zeno Clash is the debut of developer ACE Team and so many things can be forgiven about it. It’s entertaining and the fist fighting is a lot of fun. But the number of problems with the gun fights, the voice acting, and the lack of any real knowledge about the world are very prominent. It only took me a few hours to complete and has been an interesting experience but I can’t say I would have bought it had it not been on a massive sale on Steam. I may well check out Zeno Clash II but it’s not very high on my list at the moment.

 

 

 

…YoU WEre mY SOn, GhAT!…

Alan Wake

The dark presence shifted before my eyes like a great swirling abyss, I could feel it gnawing at my mind like a rat on a scrap of bone. Then it turned out it just represented my father and I punched it to death whilst reciting the names of birds… What did you expect when this is heavily influenced by Stephen King?

My triumphant return! Yes I haven’t updated in a while, I’ve been working on a big project which may well appear within the next couple of weeks (at least I hope it does). But since it’s in the weekly Humble Bundle deal (Link at the bottom) I thought it would be fun to restart my regular features with a look at Remedy Entertainment’s Alan Wake.

Alan Wake is a third-person action psychological thriller where the player controls Alan Wake, a celebrity horror writer who, after a severe attack of writer’s block, takes a holiday with his wife Alice to Bright Falls, a small mountain town. It is meant to be a holiday but after a mysterious force drags his wife beneath a great lake, Alan is forced to battle against creatures composed of darkness to find his wife and rescue her. Along the way Alan find s a number of allies to help him but still has to contend with the great dark presence and its army of Taken.

Kill it with light!

While the game does have a few puzzles it is primarily an action game with a very heavy and, in some places, complex plot. As Alan you have two main weapons, guns and light. In order to even hurt the enemies with bullets you have to remove the shadowy shield around them with flash-lights, flares, and flash-bangs. The game mostly focuses around you following a linear path, holding off waves of enemies as Alan tries to make sense of what’s happening. It’s a simple style with some fun mechanics.

What it does very well, however, is the atmospheric experience it provides. While not the scariest game I have ever played it is certainly tense, frantically trying to get a generator working while enemies are only a few steps away from you makes for quite an experience. In fact the tone of the game is one of the best things about it, making for quite a cinematic experience. It has an interesting blend of horror, comedy, action, and drama that does make it feel like a film. But unlike other cinematic games the gameplay doesn’t take second place. The very streamlined and simple combat system is easy to learn but still challenging enough to be entertaining.

I wasn’t lying about the “Kill it with light!” thing.

The game is heavily influenced by the works of Stephen King and while King’s stories are iconic they tend to be prey to  a number of faults, at least in my opinion. Most of my experiences with King’s body of work has shown terrific build-up for the first half and then thorough disappointment in the second. Fortunately Alan Wake doesn’t suffer from this problem to the same extent but those who are looking for a satisfying ending may be annoyed at the number of questions left unanswered, and sometimes not even raised by the characters, as well as the rather annoying “The End…?” nature of the finale.

You’ve really got to get absorbed into the world to properly enjoy it, the Stephen King references, the Twilight Zone style television shows and this idea that anything could be happening and you don’t know who to trust. If you’re not the sort of person who likes to get absorbed in a game’s world then you may find you have some problems with Alan Wake, most likely due to cheesiness in some of the dialogue. There is also a strange disconnect when you start a new chapter in the game and it plays a Previously on Alan Wake as though you were actually watching a TV show. It’s a fun stylistic choice but sometimes odd.

He’s so intense and moody

So Alan Wake is good for those that like to get absorbed in a different universe, it’s got simple but often challenging combat systems and a very pretty art style. If you’re not the sort that enjoys heavy plot and a whole bucket o’ moodiness then you may find yourself a bit let down. But at the end of the day while it is on the Humble Bundle (for one week, link at the bottom) then you can pay whatever you like and get the collector’s edition, with a whole load of bonus features as well as the two DLC missions. You also get Alan Wake’s American Nightmare which I have yet to play but certainly seems worth giving it a shot.

 

Humble Weekly Bundle:

https://www.humblebundle.com/weekly