June 27, 2012

Be Mine 3 With a Little Help from My Friends

Hey there, bundle fans! The Be Mine 3 came out, and with quite a few interesting games in it to boot. Awesome, right? Indeed, except for one tiny problem. Backlogged as I was with a series of reviews I had to finish, there was no way I would be able to come up with timely and insightful thoughts about this package for you folks.

Not to despair! I know plenty of insightful, smart and all around talented people on Twitter, so I turned to them for help in crafting a guest review for the Backlog Journey, the site's first ever. Let me just say I was not disappointed.

Skip past the break for our very first guest bundle review. I'm as excited as you!

Oddworld: Abe's Odyssey and Abe's Exoddus
Developed by Oddworld Inhabitants
Steam, DRM-Free

The task of taking a trip to Oddworld's original releases fell to GroundChux, the artist and one of the writers for Monster Gamers, a cool webcomic with some great little blog pieces on the side. Check it out!

Oddworld: Abe’s Odyssey and Exoddus worked very, very hard to try and get me to not play them. Between eye-torture screen flickering bugs that apparently require copy-pasting source code to fix, to downright busted controller support in Exoddus, these games are a stark reminder as to how far PC gaming has come. They may launch from Steam, but they sure weren’t made for Steam as they don’t appear to even support Steam features like community or screengrabs.

After getting my bearings on how the games look and feel on PC (and they don’t feel great, with completely archaic menu systems that were clearly intended for Playstation controllers), I fled to the PSOne version on my PS3 to be free of the screen flicker bug. The good news is that you might not be affected by the screen flickering at all! In which case you can enjoy a slightly-ganky version of the Playstation-popular games, with a slightly better-looking resolution.

Following in the steady footsteps of Prince of Persia, Flashback, and Out of This World, these games are all about pacing animation patterns in 2D environments to overcome constant instant-death puzzles and obstacles. Your hand will not be held, nor will much of any nuance be explained. Everything will be learned through death and retries, and then more death and more retries.

If you can handle that (and the very thorough gross-cute art style), the Oddworld games do a lot of things that are now taken for granted. Things like transitioning from cinematics to gameplay, and how the HUD is actually kept organic and in the environment - even scoreboards that tally up how many fellow Mudokons you’ve saved and how many have been killed are only found in certain rooms. Indeed, most of the ground these games broke (and can still be appreciated for) are art and presentation based.

Both games also offer actual consequences - if you don’t save enough fellow Mudokons by the end, you’ll be killed in a thoroughly unsatisfying yet karma-bound way. I don’t think this ever gets explained, either: it’s a moral decision you make throughout the game, and something you’ll learn the hard way after hours of gameplay. It can prove incredibly frustrating, but I can’t help but appreciate this dedication to their story and world - which about sums up my feelings on the Abe games in general: frustrated with playing them, but appreciative of their creative goals.

Avernum: The Second Trilogy
Developed by Spiderweb Software
Steam (Windows only), DRM-Free (Windows and Mac)

Since I'm otherwise tied up doing a review for Indie Game Mag on Avernums 4 through 6, the wonderful David Colbert (Matthias720), a fan of the site, stepped in to offer his take. As a quick note (and David agrees), I wanted to add that the second trilogy is pretty much standalone and doesn't require any experience with the first three games.

If the name “Spiderweb Software” sounds familiar, odds are you have played one of their previously bundled titles, Avadon the Black Fortress. Spiderweb is known for taking the timeless gameplay of isometric RPGs, and mixing it with the classic appeal of graphics that look like they are straight from the mid 90's. They have mastered this style, managing to incorporate it into every game they have made. While all of Spiderweb's games appeal to a narrow audience, it has not stopped them from churning out new titles on a regular basis.

Avernum: The Second Trilogy reflects the gameplay of Spiderweb's other titles. Control your four person team around the underground country of Avernum as you fight strange creatures, collect and equip powerful weapons and armor, and struggle to save your world from destruction. It's not as easy as it sounds though. Each game starts you off with minimal weapons and gear, meaning you must work to become the heroic legend you are destined to be. The caves of this underground kingdom are sprawling and dangerous, but don't despair there is help to be had. The citizens of Avernum will offer assistance such as buying and selling equipment, training you with new spells, and healing your wounds when you are injured. And you will need healing , because combat comes fast and frequently as you push the storyline forward.

Despite what one might have to say about the graphical style of the game, it blends well with the moderate level of ambient sound design. But the real prize for style goes to the story, which appears to be crafted as lovingly as your grandmother's homemade chocolate chip cookies. If you removed the graphics from the game entirely, you might confuse the story for that of a text adventure game. However, on the other hand, your own character dialogue is a bit lacking. You all but choose every dialogue option before finally being given the information you need to continue. Fortunately, dialogue is only a small portion of the game and does not detract from the overall experience.

The only other thing to mention about Avernum is the level of customization available to you. From the characters on your team, to the skills you enhance with each level, it seems that the entire experience can be tailored to fit your tastes. This trilogy of games gives you the immersion of big name titles like Skyrim or Mass Effect, but does it in a way that doesn't hurt your schedule or your wallet. If you are looking for a summertime diversion while you escape the heat, why not do it with Avernum: The Second Trilogy?

Hamilton's Great Adventure
Developed by Fatshark

The review on Hamilton's Great Adventure was written up by Simon To (DubiousReason). He also writes on his blog sporadically, Dubious Reasoning, which is somewhat dormant now, but well worth checking out. Maybe he'll start writing again now that I called him out. Mwahaha.

Excelsior, true believers! Our mighty hero, the Crate Boxer has fallen into the clutches of the Nefarious Bundles Consortium! Only the combined might of the Blogosphere can help him out of the sea of games the bundles have trapped him in! As an ally of the Crate Boxer, I will take on Hamilton’s Great Adventure in his stead.

Hamilton’s Great Adventure is the tale of an adored grandfather spending the evening with his beloved granddaughter while her parents have a night on the town, leaving with a plea to try to keep her from making cardboard airships this time. Taking this to heart, Grand Pappy Hamilton immediately begins telling her about his Great Adventure back when he was Indiana Jones, but not a Professor, without Nazis and- okay, so not really Indiana Jones, but he’s got the outfit down. The game and plot have a distinctly pulp adventure feel, which at least partly responsible for my mind narrating everything in a Stan Lee voice (It’s probably mostly the use of the word ‘excelsior’.). We have “lost continents”, a stolen artifact powering a professor’s machine, not-so-fictional monsters and the like. It’s not original, but I found it engaging and it gives off a very cheerful, bright feel.

Hamilton is a puzzle game, nothing wrong with that. I expected a more action oriented puzzle game than it actually is though, so that may have colored my perceptions. The only goal necessary to advance is to get a golden key and take it to the door at the end of the level; in your way are falling platforms, enormous automatons, bespectacled piranha, running rivers, your OCD, a lack of a 5 button mouse and a buddy to play with. That sounds much more fast paced than the game is most of the time; Hamilton doesn’t have a time limit and you can generally take all the time you want to complete the levels and if you’re like me and feel the need to collect everything, you generally will take it pretty slowly, especially if you lack a friend to go through it with.

Though the only requirement is to reach the end with the golden key, that isn’t all there is: there’s treasure for you to collect and ‘mystic dust’ for your bird buddy Sasha to grab. The more important of the two is the treasure: getting all of it awards you a gold medal, which unlocks an extra level, but the mystic dust doesn’t seem to actually do anything. The game really eases you into things, as things don’t ever get very difficult until the last level of the first world (the Amazon) and even then it’s a fairly simple task.

Where most of the games flaws come to light is when you try and collect everything quickly; you have to control Hamilton and his bird simultaneously which I found impossible to do at any kind of reasonable speed, especially with the mystic dust being scattered everywhere. You can rotate the camera, but it always snaps back to the basic position and I couldn’t click on anything while it was off-center. It is also impossible to rebind any of Sasha’s controls to the keyboard to make things easier for the lone player. It basically necessitates a second player if one is to aim for the top of the leaderboards, though they do show if it was done alone or with a friend.

I found Hamilton to be a charming puzzle game with a sunny atmosphere but it probably only really shines when you play with a friend. It’s neither the best nor worst game; I’d place it higher than the average puzzle game as it gave me more than a few smiles and call me crazy, but I like being happy. Keep going ever higher, friends.

Red Orchestra Ostfront 41-45
Developed by Tripwire Interactive

The inimitable Ian Findlay (IDFinners) of Just Press Start was on hand to offer up some thoughts on Red Orchestra's initial outing. He writes many excellent indie game reviews over on Just Press Start, so you should really go check them out.

As unusual an addition as this is to a bundle, it is arguably an even more unusual multiplayer FPS. In a gaming landscape filled with regenerating health, spare ammo capable of spontaneously forming clips in your pocket and the perspective of a blinkered horse, Red Orchestra stands out despite its veteran status.

With guns that need to be manually re-bolted as well as reloaded and the only prominent tell of an empty magazine being your inability to shoot, this game strives for realism in a more brutal way than most. Political ideals aside, the only way to differentiate between the Allied and Axis forces is through the uniforms they wear, so one should be prepared for their arduous crawl behind enemy lines to result in nothing more than a bullet through the back of the head and an apologetic teammate behind the barrel. It's frustrating, but comes as a bi-product of the tense and unforgiving gameplay that yields so much in terms of reward. Being shot and surviving is rare, but you have never been so grateful to be able to hobble your way into a ditch somewhere and just cower there terrified for a few minutes.

Popping your head above the parapet and hearing bullets whistle past your ears is a familiar sound to the genre, but never has each thwack carried such weight. Similarly, each life you take feels particularly sweet, coming as it does after much personal grievance. However, not all of these struggles are edifying in nature - With default controls you will be at war with your keyboard, and you'll get frustrated at the inability of every tank driver to... well... drive the bloody tank!

The maps themselves present another issue. As large and well conceived as they are, they are also rather empty with servers failing to fill even with the inclusion of bots. The weapons feel distinct, and their report and recoil offer yet another satisfying learning curve - but with only a few people to shoot, your trigger finger will become unbearably itchy. The fact that it is still populated at all is a testament to just how good it can be, but those that can run Red Orchestra 2 would be much better served slaughtering under Stalingrad's banner.

Garshasp: The Monster Slayer
Developed by Dead Mage, Inc.
Steam, Desura

Jennifer Roger (missjendie) closes out our review with a look at Garshasp: The Monster Slayer. She contributes to the games section of Full Circle Magazine, and you can check out most of her great work on her personal blog.

What you might have heard is true - Garshasp: The Monster Slayer is a mediocre God of War clone. But it’s also an extremely ambitious game that deserves a solid A for effort. The storyline revolves around Iranian legend - a tale of revenge and Garshasp’s epic battle with the evil ogre, Hitsap. The narration is well paced, but did feel a little dull at times - especially when compared to the vast and impressive scenery.

As you traverse the landscapes of this mythological world, the camera follows much like a scene from an epic film. This cinematic effect is a really neat idea, but there are frequently odd bugs with the camera angles that make it difficult to see your destination, or force you to change direction when you least expect it. At times this really detracts from the overall mood of the game, and unfortunately there is no option to switch views.

The controls also suffer from problems that can make even the most patient folks go mad. For the PC gaming purists that prefer to use mouse and keyboard - good luck. The basic controls themselves are simple, until you have to do anything else but use WASD. Attempting to roll with the shift key while changing direction proved to be extremely frustrating. Unless you have the hands of an infant, this set up will feel completely cramped and unnatural. Alternatively, you can stop attacking with the mouse and use your right hand to evade with the right shift key. But that presents the new problem of not being able to attack your foe, which is pretty darn essential to the game.

Overall, Garshasp has a ton of potential - it has a unique story and the cut scenes look amazing, especially for an indie game. The fact that it heavily borrows from the God of War franchise isn’t entirely a bad thing, but the glitchy combat and awkward controls keep it from truly being standout game.

I want to thank each and every one of the guest reviewers for stepping up to the plate and helping me out a lot. If you want to pick up the Be Mine 3 bundle, get to it.

1 comment:

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