Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Walking Dead: Episode 5 - No Time Left

* Read this review as it originally appeared in the November issue of Adventure Lantern.

No Time Left marks the fifth and final installment of the first season to Telltale's The Walking Dead series. Throughout the entire series, the goal for Lee Everett and company has been to protect Clementine and their loved ones from the horrors of the zombie apocalypse, and to reach the coast in hopes of finding a seaworthy boat to escape the droning hordes of undead. With Clementine kidnapped by an unknown voice on the walkie-talkie and Lee bitten by a walker at the end of the previous episode, No Time Left commands an unprecedented sense of urgency going into the finale. Everything is at stake, no one is safe, and time is of the essence.

As another episode in the series, No Time Left is a fine experience, but as a series finale it leaves a little something to be desired. The final moments are easily some of the most emotional I've ever seen in a video game, but most of the other major things the series had been building towards were kind of anticlimactic, and the post-credits cutscene basically only serves as a teaser for season two without offering any conclusive resolution to this particular story arc. If you've been keeping up with the series, you pretty much have to play Episode Five, but I find it difficult not to feel conflicted over Telltale's handling of the final episode.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Reviewing Moment Games' Life in the Dorms

* Read this review as it originally appeared in the November issue of Adventure Lantern.

Ramen noodles, plastic lightsabers, frisbees, lumberjacks, black bears, psychotic resident assistants, and splenectomies -- these are all things you may or not encounter in college life, but they're certainly a major part of Life in the Dorms, a $1 adventure game currently available on Xbox Live Indie Games. You play as Dack Peeples, a college freshman experiencing his first few days in his new dormitory. Dack's time in college starts out reasonably enough as he adjusts to a new environment, but the situation quickly escalates as his RA comes up with increasingly devious and maniacal ways to get his new pupils to bond.

Life in the Dorms plays like any typical adventure game: you talk to characters, collect items, and solve puzzles to advance the story. Most of the puzzles are pretty creative, but what really makes the game enjoyable is the setting and its unique sense of humor. Not many games specifically focus on college life, and I frequently found myself laughing or smiling at the absurd situations happening around Dack. And for a $1 game, there's quite a bit of content to experience; it took me roughly 5.5 hours to finish the game, so you can definitely get your money's worth.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Killing Floor Twisted Christmas 2012

Christmas is just around corner, which means there's another "Twisted Christmas" event for Killing Floor. The folks at Tripwire Interactive have been holding these Twisted Christmas events annually ever since 2010, and it's always fun to get free content updates for one of your favorite multiplayer games. This year's event features a return of the usual Christmas-themed specimen skins, the chance to get all of the old Twisted Christmas achievements and character skins, a new map, three new weapons, and two paid DLC skin packs. 

The gimmick this year is that, after besting Evil Santa in his own lair, and then a year later in his ice cave, Evil Santa has set up a new base of operations on the moon. You follow him all the way to his moon base to fight Christmas specimen in low-gravity. The update itself is pretty good, but honestly, it's beginning to feel like Killing Floor has jumped the shark. I've been feeling less and less excitement about Killing Floor events lately as each one continues to add controversial, game-changing content and marketing policies. My full run-down awaits after the jump.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Impressions of Forge

Forge is a fantasy multiplayer action game (with light RPG elements) that recently launched on Steam. After failing to reach its fundraising goal on Kickstarter, Dark Vale took the project to the Steam Greenlight, where it succeeded and made its way to an official release. Described as an MMO FPS that blends the tactical combat of end-game PVP from MMORPGs with the typical action of an FPS, I was immediately intrigued once I saw the game in Steam's "new releases" tab. 

After playing about eight hours, I'm rather enjoying Forge. There are some shaky things going on with its launch, there's obviously a lot of content missing, and there are certain aspects of its current design that kind of bug me, but the overall experience has been satisfying despite these kinds of initial issues. The controls are tight and responsive, the combat is tactical and visceral, the classes are nice and varied, and the maps are really interesting. Dark Vale are still working on the game, and with the things they've promised, I have high expectations for the game to continue improving. More of my thoughts after the jump.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Insert Stairway to Heaven Reference: Skylight

Here's an interesting little game. Skylight is a first-person indie platformer by Moment Studios with a simple goal: ascend a flight of platforms to reach your home at the top. The arrangement of platforms is randomly generated each time, and landing on a platform causes it to play some kind of musical note, so that the soundtrack progressively generates itself as you go along. There's not a whole lot of complexity to the gameplay, besides landing your jumps and trying to build up a new high score, but the whole experience is pretty relaxing and enjoyable.

At least in theory. For as much potential as Skylight has to be a nice, relaxing game, I actually found it kind of frustrating. For whatever reason, I had problems consistently landing on platforms and controlling my momentum while using the first-person camera. It became much easier in third-person, but it was a little less immersing seeing my little robot character on screen. Even after a few dozen attempts I'd only managed to make it 30% of the way through the game, and it only gets harder the further you go, with platforms becoming more and more scarce and the sky becoming darker until you have to rely on the light of a headlamp to see.

I kind of wish, therefore, the game were a little easier to complete, with more complicated strategies for building high scores; as much as I enjoyed sailing through the air and generating random musical goodness as I went, it was incredibly frustrating for me to fail so badly (as the result of simple, easy mistakes) at what should be a relatively easy task. I feel like the purpose of the game is primarily to enjoy the aesthetics, rather than to master the nuanced challenge of platforming. Either way, whether you're interested in the aesthetics or the platforming, you can buy Skylight for $2.49 from the official site or on Desura, or as part of Kyttaro Games' current Bundle in a Box (provided you beat the current average price). 

Averse Reactions to Eversion

Seems like indie platformers are a dime a dozen, and indie platformers "with a unique twist" are even more common. Eversion is an indie platformer with a unique twist. Initially evoking nostalgic memories of the likes of Super Mario World, Eversion quickly takes a dark turn to the strange and twisted. The gimmick, here, is that you can use a special ability to "evert" into alternate dimensions -- essentially different versions of the same level with different graphical styles, background music, enemies, and hazards. Navigating to the end of the level and collecting all of the gems along the way requires clever use of the different dimensions.

Eversion is pretty short; it only took me about 45 minutes to reach the ending, despite spending a lot of time dying and replaying segments of each level. Despite being so simple, the game sometimes reaches levels of "Nintendo hard" that had me dying repeatedly because of stiff controls and unpredictable hazards that required me to die, learn the hazards, and memorize the layout in advance. Using the everse function to navigate the maps is a decent idea, but it's a little annoying when you know you have to evert but can't find the right spot in the level to do so. 

I wasn't terribly impressed with Eversion. Indie platformers have to be really special to stand out in my eyes, and Eversion seemed kind of average. When I reached the end, I was happy to be finished with it and didn't have any desire to go back collecting gems for extra secrets. If you're curious to give it a go, you can download it for free on the official site, or you can buy the upgraded HD version on Steam for $4.99 or as part of Kyttaro Games' current Bundle in a Box (pay what you want, minimum price of $0.99). 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Defibrillating Russian Mini-Horror: Fibrillation

Fibrillation is a short first-person psychological horror game by Egor Rezenov, currently available on Desura for $1.99 or as part of Kyttaro Games' Bundle in a Box (minimum price of $0.99). Officially dubbed a "mini-horror" game, Fibrillation takes about 20-30 minutes for a single playthrough as you wander about mysterious landscapes and locales, trying to figure out where you are and what's going on as you attempt to escape from a mysterious black cloud. 

Unlike other so-called horror games, the horror in Fibrillation isn't based on blood, gore, startle scares, menacing foes, or dark creepy environments. In fact, according to normal horror conventions, Fibrillation isn't much of a horror game, but it still manages to skirt the edge of the definition with enough bizarre content. The horror stems mainly from disorientation; you walk down a corridor and then suddenly find yourself in a completely different, unnatural area, trying to find a way out. It's a little unsettling, especially when compounded by the mysterious skull shrouded in a black cloud that seems to stalk you through the environments. 

All the gameplay really amounts to is walking. There's nothing to actually do in the game and there are no clear objectives. You just walk forward looking for the next new area, just so you can progress the game. When I first started playing, I really wanted a better motivating factor to continue going forward, at least some kind of basic explanation of who I was, where I was, or what was going on -- some kind of hook to lead me forward. It wasn't until the second half of the game that hints started cropping up and it finally became clear what was going on. The game became much more interesting at that point, and I really liked the gameplay mechanics of the final "decision," which didn't even seem like an option when I actually played it.

Unfortunately, parts of the game are intentionally boring and repetitive, in order to lull you into a state of complacency to make the disorienting changes and bizarre events effective. There was one part where I spent about seven minutes walking through a seemingly infinite span of corridor grids, my eyes glazed over from the sheer monotony, waiting for something to happen. Fibrillation is definitely not a game for people seeking instant gratification, and it has a couple kinks and flaws, but it can offer a decently cerebral experience for anyone seeking something a little different and out of the ordinary. 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Scarlett's Booty is Kind of "Meh"

The first DLC campaign for Borderlands 2, Captain Scarlett and her Pirate's Booty, sends you to the town of Oasis, a former beachfront resort, in the hopes of eventually finding the legendary lost treasure of Captain Blade. There you meet with Shade, the lonely and somewhat deranged sole survivor of Oasis, and eventually ally with Captain Scarlett in rebuilding the compass that will point the way to Blade's treasure. There are some interesting things going on in this DLC, but the whole thing is kind of "meh." Its best aspect is simply the fact that it's more Borderlands 2, but it's not all that invigorating for someone who's already exhausted their time with the base game.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Bundle in a Box: Eclectic Delights

Allow me to direct your attention to the third Bundle-in-a-Box by Kyttaro Games, a pay-what-you-want bundle including a nice variety of five DRM-free indie games, with the option to unlock four extra indie games if you pay more than the current average price. The minimum asking price for the bundle is $0.99, with a portion of the sales going to charity and $10 being donated to the Indie Dev Grant for every 100 bundles sold. There are a lot of games here for you to enjoy for a small asking price, and you can support some good causes in the process. As for the games included in the bundle, I'll just go ahead and quote the press release:
"Paying anything above $0.99 will get you:
-elegant RTS War of the Human Tanks
-Lovecraftian yet cute platformer Eversion
-gloriously pixelated adventure/strategy Delve Deeper
-Russian horror offering Fibrillation
-point-and-click mystery Shadows of the Vatican, Act: I 
Beating the average price will [also get you]:
-award winning platformer Adventures of Shuggy
-surreal horror game The 4th Wall
-FMV rhythm-action-fighter Stay Dead
-retro-tastique, hilarious maze-‘em-up Flibble"
So there you have it. Head on over to the website to check out game descriptions, screenshots, and videos, as well as the other bonus goodies that come with the bundle. I'll see if I can find the time to review one or two games in the coming week. The bundle is currently active and will be available until Tuesday, December 18th.