Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Walking Dead: Episode 3 - Long Road Ahead

Long Road Ahead marks the third entry in Telltale's The Walking Dead series, continuing the story as Lee Everett and his band of survivors set out from the motel in search of safer lodgings. Compared to the previous episode, this one feels like its ambition is a little reeled in -- it's not as thrilling or exciting as Starved For Help, but it provides a satisfying experience that keeps the pace moving all the way through.

The story this time around seems pretty straightforward, but it manages to feature some of the most emotionally engaging sequences of the series thus far. A few moments were particularly shocking to me (much more so than the previous episode's twist with the St Johns), and others handled a somber, morose tone so well that they had me sincerely empathizing with the characters. As it turns out, I care a lot more about these people than I've cared for most other video game characters.

More of my review awaits after the jump.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Adventure Lantern - August Issue

Things are running a little behind schedule, considering it's currently September and we're heading into October pretty soon, but I'd like to take a moment to direct your attention to the August issue of Adventure Lantern, the online adventure gaming fanzine. As usual, this issue contains a hefty news section on upcoming adventure games, as well as reviews of Bell's Heart, A Grain of Truth, Deponia, as well as my own reviews of The Walking Dead: Episode 3 and Mirror's Edge. For those of you interested, you can read through it here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Demon's Souls vs Dark Souls

Now that I've played both games, it's time for the inevitable "Demon's Souls versus Dark Souls" discussion. When I played Demon's Souls back in April, I was immediately hooked. The combat just clicked for me, offering a far more satisfying and engaging experience than any other fantasy combat system I'd ever played. There was such a remarkable precision in every aspect of that game's design, making it one of the most unique and rewarding games of recent memory.

With Dark Souls came a promise of "more of the same" in a supposedly bigger and better package, complete with a new open-world design, more areas to explore with a greater variety of aesthetic themes, new online multiplayer mechanics, and an expanded range of weapons and armor. While Dark Souls does deliver in some aspects of the "bigger and better" promise, there are still a number of things I prefer about Demon's Souls. Detailed comparisons await after the jump.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Black Mesa Released, Rather Impressive

Black Mesa: Source, the fan-made source engine remake of the original Half-Life, has been in development for the better half of a decade now, and it finally saw an official release this past weekend. As I understand it, the last few levels are still yet to be completed, but what I've seen so far has really impressed me. The new visuals look just as good as (if not better than) the things Valve have been able to do with their own engine, with remarkable fidelity to the game's original designs but with all kinds of exciting new variations, as well.

It should be noted, however, that Black Mesa is not just a graphics overhaul -- it also spices up the gameplay by incorporating certain mechanics from Half-Life 2, such as a greater emphasis on physics manipulation and being able to light headcrab zombies on fire with flares. I've also spotted a number of retroactive continuity references to Half-Life 2 (such as a more prominent meeting with Eli Vance, among others), which help tie the two games together a little better and which serve as fun easter eggs for fans. 

Perhaps most importantly, it seems that the development team made a deliberate effort to fix some of the illogical architecture and engineering that bothered me so much in the original game. At the very least, I've noticed the tram ride from the start of the game is now designed so that lab operations no longer obstruct the path of the tram, so I'm especially impressed with that. So far I've only played up to the "We've Got Hostiles" chapter, but playing Black Mesa has been a wonderful treat for my nostalgia, because it's almost like playing Half-Life for the first time again.

Anyway, I have a bunch of comparison screenshots of the original Half-Life and the new Black Mesa scenes for you to peruse in the full article, to get a feel for just how much work went into recreating the environs of the original game. Note in particular several occasions where there's now something where there used to be nothing, meaning there's a whole lot of new stuff to see and experience. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Dark Souls Screenshots & Wallpapers

Dark Souls is a very pretty-looking game with great artistic direction and some really memorable environs. It looks even better with the 1080p resolution fix by Durante. I took over 400 screenshots of Dark Souls, all at 1920x1080 resolution -- I probably would've taken even more if the game didn't have me constantly occupied with fascinating things to do. Since I have so many screenshots, I figured I'd share some of my favorite ones from the PC version of the Prepare to Die Edition. Lots of pretty pictures await after the jump.

Friday, September 7, 2012

How the Community Ruins the Day Z Experience

Day Z is the sort of game that's really fun and interesting for a while, but then quickly loses its appeal. I played consistently for about a week and then lost interest, largely because I started to realize there was no real point to anything; it was just a never-ending cycle of spawn, scavenge loot, get killed, do it all over again. The whole point of the game is to survive long enough to assemble some ultimate set of equipment, but even once you accomplish that, there's not much to do with that equipment besides killing other players because there's just not enough actual content.

The longer Day Z has gone on, the more it's turned from an innovative survival game full of uniquely challenging and rewarding gameplay ideas, to a stupidly boring and pointless PVP deathmatch shooter. Don't get me wrong, the open PVP system is a crucial, integral element in making Day Z such a compelling experience, and I would never suggest scrapping it -- but it's gotten to a ridiculous point where people only play to grief other players. In the end, the survival mechanics create a vicious cycle where grief begets grief, to the point that even honest, honorable players end up devolving to a "shoot on sight" mentality which ultimately ruins the game experience.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Adam's Venture Episode 3: Revelations - Review

The third and final episode in the Adam's Venture trilogy, Revelations, brings closure to Adam's quest of uncovering the secret of the Garden of Eden and putting a stop to the Clairvaux Corporation's evil schemes. Left for dead in the crumbling tomb of King Solomon, Adam loses consciousness and experiences a flashback of how he met his partner, Evelyn, and how they came to be involved with the Clairvaux Corporation. When he comes to, he feels reinvigorated in his promise to protect Evelyn, and sets out to rescue her from the clutches of the Clairvaux leader.

The majority of Revelations takes place during the flashback, as Adam explores the hidden depths of the University of Oxford, the French town of Luz, and a Templar mausoleum. While the flashback offers some backstory to the game's premise, it doesn't offer much newfound depth to any of the characters. Interactions with Evelyn, Adam's father, and Professor Saint-Omair scarcely go beyond the mechanical necessities of what needs to be said or done to advance to the next puzzle or location. Learning how Adam met Evelyn doesn't prove to be all that interesting because their depictions remain as flat and shallow as cardboard cutouts.

Once the flashback has concluded, the rest of the game is over with so quickly that it leaves the entire experience feeling abrupt and underwhelming. After regaining consciousness, you watch a few cutscenes while solving the same two puzzles over and over again, and follow extremely linear paths to the next cutscene or puzzle. At one point the villain just flat-out tells you his evil plan in a matter of just a few sentences. Nothing in this episode really builds towards this big revelation -- it just comes out of nowhere for one fleeting moment, so it feels cursory and unsatisfying. To top things off, once you solve the final puzzle, the game's practically over with no real resolution to everything that's happened.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Walking Dead: Episode Two - Review

Much like its source material, The Walking Dead: Episode Two - Starved For Help is less about zombies and more about human relations in the wake of an inhuman apocalypse. Set three months after the conclusion of Episode One - A New Day, Lee Everett and his band of survivors have taken up residence in the Travalier Motel. With the walls barricaded, they seem set to survive until things blow over -- until they start running low on food. Forced to hunt the local wildlife, tensions mount on how to ration their remaining food supplies and whether or not to set out for a new location. As the group becomes more restless and malcontent with their situation, they meet a pair of brothers who own a dairy farm, and offer to trade gasoline for food.

The rest of Episode Two plays out like a suspense thriller as you try to gauge whether the St John family is trustworthy, and whether their farm (with its gasoline-powered electric fence) is really as safe from the zombies (and bandit raiders) as they claim it is. On the walk to their farm, the brothers ask oddly specific questions about your group, and once you arrive at the farm, they're rather selective of where you're allowed to roam. Are the St Johns up to no good, or are they just being overly cautious around a large group of heavily-armed strangers?

Besides trying to assess the potential for new living arrangements with the St Johns, with your group desperate for food and a safer shelter, you also have to contend with occasional zombie encounters as well as the mutual threat of bandit raiders. Human conflict takes center stage in this episode with even more tension dividing the group. All of your decisions from the previous episode carry over into this episode, meaning that characters will hold different opinions of you based on your prior actions within the group, and these tempered relationships get pushed to their limits in some of most tense and dramatic moments the series has offered thus far.