Film Rant Time: Kick-Ass 2

Despite the name I’m not always going to use this feature to talk about things I don’t like. There are a lot of ‘review’ shows and blogs about that mostly talk about how rubbish a particular thing is with maybe a last few words suddenly saying “I actually liked this.” It becomes less of a review and more a ‘how comically angry can I get about this?’ game. I already talk about many games that I like so I would like to extend this to films as well. I like the feature name but this will be less ranty and more… critiquey?

So let’s get down to business (to defeat…) and talk about Kick-Ass 2. 

The idea of superheroes in the real world is not really an original concept. It’s been done a number or times, most notably with Alan Moore’s excellent series Watchmen. Kick-Ass, created by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr., is this idea of realistic superheroes taken to gritty, dark, and depressing extremes. I say this mostly about the comic, for those who have only seen the film trust me when I say they lighten it up so much. 

Kick-Ass is about American high-school student Dave Lizewski, played in the films by Aaron Taylor-Johnson who one day decides that he wants to try and be a superhero despite no skills or real motivation. As is to be expected he is mostly a complete failure, getting beaten nearly to death a number of times while mostly only managing to help a small number of people on a very superficial level. But that’s okay because it’s more about the fantasy of the new persona for Dave, since in his normal life he is nerdy, unpopular, and has a hopeless crush on the token ‘hottest-girl-in-school’ (Yes it’s clichéd). Unbeknownst to Dave, however, there is in fact already a real superhero duo and they do have the skills, the equipment, and the training: Big Daddy and Hit Girl, played by Nicholas Cage and Chloë Grace Moretz respectively.

If you haven’t already seen the first film and you think you might enjoy it then I do recommend it. It’s not even nearly as depressing as the comic and has this interesting mix of horrific scenes, ironic humour, and straight up goofiness. It’s fun and it’s odd. I’m now going to talk about the sequel which takes place a little after the end of the first film and is, in part, about Hit-Girl attempting to regain her childhood and reintegrate into society. As with Elysium I will keep the spoilers to a minimum until I mark the spoilers section. Oh and if you’re offended by bad language then you may not want to read on as I will not be censoring any of the names.

They're here to fight crime and get beat up... at least one of them is.

They’re here to fight crime and get beat up… at least one of them is.

Visuals

Like the original the film has this blend of bright and dark in its visual style. The costumes of the many (and I do mean many) supporting heroes are bright, campy, and ridiculous. In normal Kick-Ass style this is set against more gloomy and dull images of the city and makes more a nice, if sometimes cringe-worthy, contrast. It’s meant to look realistic and as we all know realistic means gritty so that’s what most of the real world parts look like. 

The fight scenes (of which there are many) are well choreographed and interesting to watch, with the usual high intensity of blood that anyone who has seen the first film or read any of the comics should have come to expect. There’s also a surprising amount of bodily fluid scenes. Kick-Ass 2 definitely takes a leaf out of the adolescent and gross out humour which the first film lacked. There are numerous instances of vomiting and one of electrically induced diarrhoea, I’m not kidding. It’s a little bit cheap and it’s a shame. It’s one of the main differences between the humour of  first and second film, the first had a little bit of cringey humour but mostly derived it from the really odd circumstances being portrayed. The second goes much more for poop jokes, masturbation jokes, penis jokes, and impotence jokes too. It does certainly feel a lot cheaper than the first which was by no means high brow already.

One thing that I kept noticing throughout the film was how careful the film team had been in concealing Dave Lizewski’s body. Considering in part the film is about Kick-Ass actually training and becoming, you know, a superhero I was just waiting for the Captain America ‘Suddenly MUSCLES EVERYWHERE’ moment and it most certainly arrives.

But you'll have to wait and see it! Or... I don't know google it or something. If you put Kick-Ass 2 into google images it already comes up with 'Shirtless' as a possible refined search.

But you’ll have to wait and see it! Or… I don’t know google it or something. If you put Kick-Ass 2 into google images it already comes up with ‘Shirtless’ as a possible refined search.

Characters

Most of the characters in the sequel have been set up in the first film. Dave Lizewski is still a high-school loser to a degree (they play it up a bit more at random points) and Mindy Macready is still the Rorschach of this drama. Perhaps a bit more of an emotional one. Some of the characters from the first film get a bit more of a starring role, most notably Dave’s nerdy high school friends who get their own little character arcs. Some others drop off the map completely, in this case Dave’s girlfriend Katie who has one scene where she breaks up with Dave over a misunderstanding, makes a penis size joke and then promptly disappears from the plot.

The character of Red Mist/Chris D’Amico also returns, with Christopher Mintz-Plasse reprising his role. He gets promoted to the role of primary antagonist after an incident involving a tanning bed, a set of bondage toys, a couple of guns, and his mother, which leads him to become the world’s first supervillain, dubbing himself The Motherfucker… don’t ask. He recruits a number of henchman into his group known as the Toxic Mega Cunts, and he proceeds to generally give racially insensitive villain names to all of them. They are really enjoyable to watch and I can’t help but feel the actors protraying them were trying to have a lot of fun. Similarly the supporting hero cast also have a chance to shine with some bizarre and entertaining names and origins. Notable names include Donald Faison as the bat-wielding Doctor Gravity and Jim Carrey as the ex-mob enforcer turned born again Christian superhero Colonel Stars and Stripes.

The acting is pretty spectacular and remains entertaining throughout. It really does feel like people were having fun with their roles even during some of the more intense moments. I should also mention a little cameo appearance of Iain Glen who plays Chris D’Amico’s uncle and, technically, the leader of the D’Amico family now. For anyone not familiar with the name Iain Glen then you might remember him as Jorah Mormont from Game of Thrones. I kept waiting for his accent to slip and for him to say “Khaleesi”.

And so the crew of slightly pathetic superheroes marched off to battle.

And so the crew of slightly pathetic superheroes marched off to battle.

Plot

You know what, I was really surprised by the plot here. The trailers made me think that the plot was going to be Hit-Girl struggling to adapt to life in high-school while Dave Lizewski tries to turn her away from her past as Hit-Girl. Maybe that’s just me but that trailers certainly made me think that. Turns out I was wrong, it’s the reverse. Dave is bored with his life again and wants to go back to being Kick-Ass and is encouraging Mindy to stay as Hit-Girl. Most of the plot is about the consequences of trying to be superheroes in the real world, just like the first, but with the added danger of the creation of The Motherfucker, the world’s first supervillain.

It sounds, when written down, that it’s just a re-hash of the first plot but there’s enough variety and twists and new character development (and bodily fluid jokes) to feel like a very different beast from the original. The moments where Mindy manages to ingratiate her way into high-school life are very entertaining, mostly due to her reactions to the various situations.

Down this road leads only to spoilers, that and Castle Vampire

The main motivation of Chris D’Amico, aka The Motherfucker, is his hatred of Kick-Ass. After the events of the first film he wants revenge over the death of his father and is prepared to go to extreme lengths to get it. Kick-Ass himself has been training with Hit-Girl but she is forced to give up that life once again as her adoptive father does not want her to continue life as Hit-Girl but rather to try and grow up normal. Kick-Ass is despondent at losing his partner and thus starts teaming up with likewise “superheroes” many of whom are even more pathetic than he. As the film progresses we see Mindy try and live a Hollywood high-school life and, ultimately, pay the price. These bits are quite entertaining, particularly a brilliant scene with a One Direction rip off that is weirdly hilarious. But the main thing we want to see a Kick-Ass film is for are the superheroes. Kick-Ass 2 doesn’t disappoint here as Kick-Ass’ team quickly grows to a huge number, 

But The Motherfucker has also been creating an army and beings to wipe out police and costumed heroes alike, just to get back at Kick-Ass. As a result costumed vigilantes are all arrested in a very Keene Act way and Dave Lizewski’s dad admits to being Kick-Ass in order to protect his son. The Motherfucker, continuing his revenge plot, arranges to have Dave’s dad murdered while in custody. As a result Kick-Ass, Hit-Girl and the remaining superheroes team up once more to fight The Motherfucker and his henchmen.

It’s quite a standard superhero plot with the realism touches that really make it interesting. There are a few duff scenes, mostly the ones with the cheap jokes, and, bizarrely, the most unrealistic scene is the “revenge” scene of the popular high-school girls. It’s odd considering the subject matter that this is the most unrealistic scene.

You’ve survived the spoilers, well done.

The Motherfucker's costume... it's not subtle

The Motherfucker’s costume… it’s not subtle

Themes

Themes of a Kick-Ass film… well I know I’ve gone on about it so far but the main theme of the film is the realistic depiction of superheroes. Many characters start talking about how this sort of thing doesn’t work in “real life” and that people like Dave and Mindy should just try to lead normal lives. But ultimately the film is at odds with its own ideas as its portrayal of real life is pretty unrealistic. The high-school life is a complete Hollywood idea of high-school with all its fun archetypes. I’m not American so I don’t know how realistic these ideas are but I can’t imagine they’re particularly close to reality.

But Kick-Ass has always excelled when it comes to the reality of superheroism and the consequences of leading such a life. So the film does a very good job of showing that while it is cool, which is undoubtedly is, it has unique problems to do with how to merge your life with and without the mask, the dangers you face yourself, and ultimately how it affects your relationships with other people. Kick-Ass 2 does a good job of exploring these themes further, it just falls short when it comes to portraying normal life. Maybe that’s a bit strange but I think the film just does the bizarre better than the mundane.

This is Mother Russia, she's basically the Bane of the film

This is Mother Russia, she’s basically the Bane of the film

Final Impressions

If you really enjoyed Kick-Ass then you will probably enjoy the sequel but might find there are some real disappointments in store. It’s still entertaining and the fight scenes are brilliant but it’s a more heavily flawed gem than its predecessor. I wouldn’t call it bad, not at all, because I enjoyed it immensely but I think that for the potential third film they should stick mostly with the heroes and villains and stay away from the issues of ‘real-life’. Oh and they should move away from the vulgar humour. The only reason that I enjoyed those scenes was that someone in the front row of the cinema seemed to really enjoy them and had a very distinctive laugh. 

So it’s a good film that maybe needed a bit more polish before being sent out. Still enjoyable even for its flaws.

Oh all right, here you go.

Oh all right, here you go.

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!

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.

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

The Cat Lady

Oh, Miss Arshworth, you’re such an interesting person. You say your hobbies include playing the piano, killing parasites, looking after your cats, and returning from the dead? Well I’m sure we’ll get along perfectly.

I love horror games, despite the fact that I tend to be quite cowardly when I play them. In fact I love horror in general when it’s done well. The problem with horror is that it’s difficult to keep going and very easy to mess up. The Cat Lady is an indie horror adventure game by Harvester Games where the player takes control of Susan Ashworth, a severely depressed woman who is the archetype of the crazy cat lady (TV Tropes link for those five people who don’t know what this means here) in her little flat complex.

After struggling with years of depression, Susan decides to take her own life. In doing so, however, she comes to the attention of the Queen of Maggots who refuses to allow her to die but instead charges her with ridding the world of five Parasites (read: serial killers). Aided at times by the brightly optimistic yet mysterious Mitzi Hunt, Susan tries to deal with her multitude of mental problems while completing her odd quest.

Gonna have to get used to seeing some real weird stuff, Susan

The story does get more complicated as it goes on, with the player interacting more with other characters and leading and branching of paths to one of the game’s multiple endings. I don’t want to spoil much because it is a very compelling story. The game also has quite a unique art style with a great deal of black and white settings juxtaposed against odd colours in nightmarish scenarios. Even the movement and actions of the characters has this otherworldly quality to it that at first I mistook for bad design but ultimately saw the aesthetic appeal.

Despite the excellent art style I did find myself getting jolted out of my immersion by some of the animation effects. This is particularly noticeable with the cats, their movement uses very little animation so when they leap they just remain still object moving across the screen as though on a wire. Though I consider it must have been by design it was just silly enough to spoil some of the atmosphere. Nevertheless for the most part the game looks excellent and very creepy.

Creepy is this game’s middle name, in fact.

Though the game has seen critical acclaim for its voice work I must confess I don’t agree. Harvester Games are not an English developer and nor are a number of the actors but there are some odd inflections and accents that, like the cat animations, tended to kick me out of the moment. The character of Mitzi is probably the biggest offender for this. Her pronunciation has no fixed rules apart from her pronunciation of Ashworth (Arsh-worth). Susan herself, however, does an excellent job of conveying the attitudes of someone suffering from severe depression. It’s also fun hearing David Firth (think Salad Fingers) voicing not one but two characters, this is a man that knows how to sound creepy.

As far as the puzzles go there are a few pretty esoteric ones but you it’s not so fiendishly difficult, or requiring a particular way of thinking, that you’ll be reaching for the walkthrough every five minutes. There are a few puzzles that require some out of the box thinking but the game does a pretty good job of keeping you on track. The game does also give a good sense of drama through many of these, ramping up the tension despite having a main character that simply cannot die.

That and the eerie set-pieces.

I mentioned the difficulty with the horror genre at the beginning of this article because that is, unfortunately, the game’s main weakness. The tone of the game jumps around considerably to a very odd effect. The first few chapters are pretty terrifying in many different ways, with great build up to the parasites and some bizarre imagery. But this quickly falls away in the later chapters to the point that one chapter practically becomes a buddy comedy (Let’s pretend to be the babysitter, now let’s scare this man by acting out an urban legend). It goes from this horror/occult story into a mystery that ends up with a message about friendship. It’s an interesting character and story arc but the tone and the aura of tension from the first few chapters disappears.

Similarly there are some gameplay features that are a little bit of an issue. There is one scene where you have to balance Susan’s stress levels vs her relaxation. While this makes for an interesting sequence it never makes an appearance again.  It does have an effect on the ending but other than that is fairly pointless. When it first appeared I thought it was going to be a new gameplay feature throughout the rest of the game which would have been quite interesting but alas it disappeared as suddenly as it came.

One last point: Harvester Games did release another game prior to this one entitled Downfall and set in the same universe. The main character of Downfall does appear in this game and in fact has a fairly major role in one chapter. There are some interesting and bizarre sequences that did get me hooked… and then completely failed to develop. It’s fine to include characters from earlier games, certainly if they’re in the same universe, but to someone who never played the other game it just seemed to be another plot thread that got picked up and discarded with no real closure.

Clock kitty is watching you…

Despite these issues I did have fun playing The Cat Lady, the characters were interesting and it’s an experience I won’t forget. It is such a shame it has the issues it does because it feels like it could have been absolutely brilliant. But with the tone going all over the place, the odd gameplay features, and a very very heavy handed nod to Downfall, the game falls a bit far of achieving this goal.

I do have one point that I should stress very clearly about this game: I’ve kept the images I’ve uploaded as safe as possible but there are some very awful sequences during this game. Severe violence, extreme gore, child death, almost rape scenarios, suicide, if these are triggers for you then I would proceed with caution in this game. Because it will not hold your hand through the awful bits. Have fun!