Archive for the ‘PC/Mac’ Category
There are a handful of games out there that are almost universally loved by gamers. Off the top of my head, two of these titles are Deus Ex and Skyrim, and the one thing they have in common is that they successfully blend the first-person perspective and elements from RPGs into a cohesive experience. Oddly enough, when we look back at the history of gaming you rarely have anyone mention Strife: Quest for Sigil, developed by Rogue Entertainment. It was one of the earliest games to combine these genres and it differentiated itself from many of its hybrid peers in that the game focused almost exclusively on gameplay and hid items like the map and the character’s inventory from the main HUD. The end result was a large field of view for the player and it all looked a lot less busy than the games that came before it. This probably had to do with the use of the Doom engine, but regardless of why this title utilizes the full screen for your adventuring or decided to rely much more heavily on combat than any other aspect is irrelevant. Strife did it and it did it well.
The basic premise of the game is that you play a mercenary in a time where a religious cult, The Order, has oppressed a society and is converting humans into cyborgs. Macil, a leader of the rebels combating this takeover, has hired you to seek out pieces of The Sigil, an artifact that can apparently rid the world of The Order. In the game you move about a central town hub, taking missions as you go, to continue this larger quest by going to branching levels. It has a surprising commonality to the way open world titles work today, although it of course modern games aren’t as transparent as they were back then. Each of these levels are diverse in terms of the look and scope of the area, but given that this title is from 1996 and confined to the limitations of the Doom engine, you will find little more than empty areas or a handful of enemies everywhere you quest. This also creates a more binary system as to how to handle each mission – to get the items that make up each quest requires you to either kill someone or attempt to talk them into giving it over, and then usually kill them when they react by attacking you. Your ability to speak with everyone in the game, many of them having different dialogue options, is alone a unique factor of any Doom clone of the time and I remember that it was mind blowing back then. Sure, often times not much comes of it, but I still take solace in a title that is focusing more on the plot and characters in it rather than simply making you a floating gun with killing as your sole purpose. Strife may not be doing a whole lot more than other shooters of the time, but it’s sure trying to hide that fact behind a lot of intriguing concepts.
That said it is still confined to the limitations and tropes of the time period it released. You will be exploring areas that have far too much real estate for the task at hand, the game will allow you to go anywhere (which includes backtracking an entire level) and waste hours searching a non-specific objective, and you can get into missions where your resources are too low and unless you have an earlier bailout save you might be stuck indefinitely. There’s even a red herring in the beginning of the game that if you collect it your progress is halted for the rest of the campaign (see our quick look video on how to avoid that). Some of these flaws can be a deal breaker if you’re not ready to put up with aspects that were commonplace almost two decades ago, and it’s a far stretch to say the average Skyrim fan will find a connection here. If you want to see the building blocks of modern titles and you can set your expectations appropriately, you may very well find a gem in Strife, especially if you found the more complex Deus Ex tolerable nowadays.
Publisher Night Dive Studios has updated this title and given it digital distribution on Steam in the new Veteran Edition, but this is an updated version of the original title and not a remaster or remake in any way. On Steam the game even lists 1996 as its release date, which is a touch that I was thankful to see. Most of the changes made are to allow you to play Strife on modern systems with little or no issues, and my Windows 7 64-bit modern rig booted it right up without so much as a hiccup. Now you can play the game in higher resolutions (like 1080p) and with that comes a widescreen format that does a great job of adapting the view without everything looking stretched. Night Dive didn’t stop there, Strife: Veteran Edition now adds lighting effects, texture options, anti aliasing, a choice between DirectX and OpenGL (and V-Sync), controller support (worked with 360 controller seamlessly), and the completion of a multiplayer mode. Don’t worry if you want to go all old school and have it look and act like the classic title, there is a classic mode that even re-introduces game bugs, so you too are covered. For those that have ever tried to screw around with DOSbox and other solutions to play Strife, it’s great to have a version that just works like all your other Steam games, and this is a particular perk for those of us who force gamepads upon all of our PC titles. It looks great, it runs great, and it feels great. If you want to play this game today, this is the version to have.
Strife did not get its day in the sun and while it was a somewhat innovative product of its time, there’s no incredible reason to pick it up now unless you want to peer into the golden days of modern game design. That’s not to say it isn’t significant, but that it skates the line of nostalgia and the ability to be appreciated by contemporary audiences. If you give it a chance, Strife has some fun times and impressive moments both in gameplay and plot that make saving the oppressed from The Order compelling, but if you need it to forget the time it came from and rise above the hassle, this won’t be for you. Strife: Veteran Edition makes replaying this game about as easy as it’s going to get, provided you remember that this still has the Doom engine as its platform. I don’t think it will get more appreciation now than it did back then, but hopefully it will find an endearing experience to budding gamers and those that let it pass the first time.
Final Score: 3 out of 5 (review policy)
Strife Veteran Edition was provided to our site via a Steam code from publisher Night Dive Studios. It was played for approximately twelve hours and the campaign can take as much as 20+ hours to complete depending on the player and whether or not you use a guide. Strife: Veteran Edition can be purchased on Steam for a current retail price of $9.99.
Today we look at the recently released Strife: Veteran Edition from Rogue Software. This game pre-dates many of the most popular games today that utilize both FPS and RPG elements as well as mild stealth themes. If you’re a fan of Thief, Deus Ex, or even Skyrim, you might want to check out this archaic but fun title. This is merely the first 90 minutes or so of gameplay with running commentary from Fred, expect a full review later today.
Viewer Warning: There may be occasional adult language from commentary/gamplay and consistent graphic violence depicted in gameplay.
Sorry this is going up on Sunday night. Normally Retro Game Night is recorded on Friday and goes up Saturday morning, but we had to delay recording a day and these HD videos take a lot longer to render and post to YouTube. Either way, the video speaks for itself, but Fred got a retail copy of Resident Evil HD Remaster on PS3 that will be coming to the US in “early” 2015 (according to Capcom). Well since there was another option, we grabbed it early. Enjoy!
Platform: Xbox 360, PC (Windows only)
Released: 2010 (360), 2012 (PC)
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Digital Release? Yes, this game is available on all released platforms digitally
Price: $8.55 (disc only), $10.00 (complete) per Price Charting
The wind howled violently outside, coupling with the darkness to generate an atmosphere of dread. Had it been raining the scene would be complete. On the other side of the window, a reviewer sat down and began to play a new video game in the dark. While the gentle glow of the television provided just enough light to see around him, it was as if he were transferred to the fictional location of Bright Falls along with the game’s protagonist Alan Wake. What unfolded over the next dozen or so hours was impressive. This game was not unlike others he had experienced in terms of what to do or how it looked and felt, however thanks to thoughtful plot progression and deep character development the reviewer was able to let other faults go. He was repeating the same steps over and over again, the algorithmic nature of the confrontations were drowned out by the need to proceed forward and see where the story went. He wasn’t even sure what was going on anymore because, in truth, the plot was convoluted. It didn’t matter, the experience was begging him to move forward. He hoped it would not end. This was Alan Wake.
If you have a flair for the over dramatic then you will feel right at home with Remedy’s action thriller that was recently featured in our vaporware podcast. So little was known about what to expect from Alan Wake that when everyone finally got their hands on it there was this mixed sense of familiarity with the type of game it was, coupled with intrigue to the way it handled being a video game. At its core Alan Wake is nothing more than a third person shooter with a so-so dodge mechanic where you use a combination of light and gunfire to absolve a haunted world of enemies. If that were all the game had to offer, you wouldn’t be reading this review. No, the soul of Alan Wake is the unique storytelling style that merges metaphysical realities with an unreliable protagonist and keeps you guessing over the course of the game. While Deadly Premonition ticked all the boxes to look and act like Twin Peaks, Alan Wake uses a more subtle approach to feel like Twin Peaks. It’s much closer to being a Max Payne game than the studio would care to admit – I wouldn’t be surprised if it started life as that – but much like those original titles its barrage of enemy encounters are just varied enough that the gameplay never gets tiresome. Barring that, there’s a larger layer of tone and aesthetic that work together to transform the world of Alan Wake from being more than just a simple video game, it’s an entertainment production.
Your first episode in the game is Alan and his wife arriving in Bright Falls, simple as that. It’s daytime, everyone is nice, everything is peaceful, and with the bright lights and vivid scenery there’s little pause as to what danger may be lurking. If you were fortunate enough to know nothing more about the plot, you might not even know this game is slated as a thriller or horror game above everything else, so when it takes a drastic turn you’re caught off guard. I referred to the game as an “entertainment production”, which trust me is not an attempt to oversell it. What I mean by that is this game is trying to blend media at an aggregate rate: the storytelling is that of a book, character development of the cast has an arc like a movie, the level progression is separated by “episodes” that even feature a “previously on” like television, each episode ends with credits and an official song that together make up a soundtrack well worth the extra money I paid for, and your traditional linear action gameplay well represents a video game. If you’re keeping track that means Alan Wake has hints of a book, movie, television show, audio album, and video game; something I felt could only be described as an entertainment production. It works, too, which is what I never expected.
Keep in mind this is still a video game through and through, so no matter how good the graphics are, how well the storytelling subtly foreshadows or develops, and how great the soundtrack is, you still spend a majority of your time playing a video game. That video game, while doing nothing really new, had the right mix of level design and encounter variety to keep me wanting to come back. If you look at a barebones list of what happens in the game or view a handful of random clips taken from it, I can see how you would deduce that everything is the same as everything else, which is probably true. Even the collectible pages come together to give more depth to events happening, it’s all part of the plan; well, except for those Twin Peak-esque thermoses that have no value to the game whatsoever, those should go. It’s perhaps that fact as to why the game delves so deeply into other media and styles for its soul that it took so long to come out and tweak just right. Whatever the reason, it’s a solid mix that fascinated me back then and continues to amuse me now. Without giving away any spoilers I can just say that Alan Wake is a full experience that will have you on edge from the creepy beginning to the frantic ending.
At the time of its release, Alan Wake didn’t quite feel finished once you beat the game. Some of the game’s stronger plot points get reconciled, but there’s no question that the most key concept was missing in action. This all eventually wrapped up in two supplemental episodes: The Signal and The Writer. While these episodes take a lot of time to wrap up a relatively basic concept, the gameplay of each drastically switches up the nature of how you had played the rest of the game. This is why I feel that the story was already complete in an earlier version of the game, but they had no good way to integrate DLC with more of a story unless they just stripped the end of the story out of the main game and used it for the plot points of the extra episodes. I only say this because the gameplay either gets harder or has you using styles or concepts absent from the main game that while the plot feels like it was stripped from the core product, the gameplay feels anything but. If you grab this game on PC, both extra episodes are integrated into the game and you enter into them after beating the main story, but if you grab this on Xbox 360 (disc or digital) you will want to plunk down the extra money for this DLC because the game and plot won’t feel complete without them. Kind of a cheap tactic if you ask me, but it’s a worthwhile amount of content for the price that I’m willing to let it go.
This download-only title released in 2012 around the time of the PC port for both PC and Xbox 360 that serves as a spin-off tale of the original. You can ditch everything you know about the plot, the characters, and to a certain extent even the gameplay rules of the original because despite being a shorter experience, American Nightmare is its own game. Remedy replaces the isolated New England town of Bright Falls with the isolated and desolate environment of a roadside town in the Nevada desert. If Alan Wake was Twin Peaks, American Nightmare is most definitely Stephen King. All of the different things I loved about the experience of Alan Wake‘s multimedia experience make a return, but that’s about the only thing that carries over. Whereas the original game was about a somewhat familiar setting that involved characters you didn’t know, American Nightmare takes a character and circumstance you are intimately familiar with and gives you a setting you don’t know. This one isn’t just shadow people, it contains larger than life creatures, foreboding abandoned warehouses, and even monsters from other worlds. They flip the unreliable protagonist nature of Alan Wake once again, but in a new way. I also have to commend the use of the model for Alan Wake in now real full motion video for a lot of the cutscenes, which makes it all feel more “real” while the events continue to be more “surreal”. It ends a bit too quickly, but I get the feeling Remedy was ready to put Alan Wake to rest for a while by the end.
If you decide to delve down the delightful rabbit hole that is Alan Wake, provided that you get intrigued by all of the unique things it does, you are in for a treat. By the time I was half way through the first game I wanted (and purchased) the book, the soundtrack, and watched the Bright Falls mini-series that should still be available on the Zune Marketplace video store for free. I wanted to become immersed in Alan Wake. Returning to the game after a few years had passed and now for this third time I am pleased to say that it’s all familiar but still delightful. It’s still a video game and you will find yourself having moments that come with any sort of challenge or annoyance that accompanies all video games, but it’s also unique enough that you will be glad you came. Did I mention that the fantastic soundtrack that includes the likes of Poe and Roy Orbison blew my mind when I heard them return for this game? When we look back at the wonderful games that defined the first HD generation of consoles, Alan Wake is going to be one of those fine examples that sadly seems to be locked in time and doomed to never return.
Final Score: 5 out of 5 (Review policy)
This week, and for the first time ever, we are using emulation to capture a Beats of Rage engine remake, Night Slashers X. This was originally a 1994 Data East arcade beat-em-up that got ported over with extra violence on the open source brawler engine, Beats of Rage. This also marks the first video in full 1080p HD! Watch for more HD videos, most of which should be in 720p or 1080p in the future.
Also Known As: Phantasmagoria 2, Phantasmagoria II: Fatal Obsessions (European title)
Platform: DOS/Windows PC
Digital Release? Yes, on Good Old Games (gog.com) for $5.99 (compatible with Windows XP, Vista, 7, and 8 only)
Price: $4.44 (5 discs only), $32.99 (complete), $69.00 (sealed) per Price Charting
Phantasmagoria, besides being a franchise with one of the most awesome names ever, is a psychological horror full motion video (FMV) game – a genre that was a hugely common in the 90’s thanks to the use of CD-ROMs as media. A Puzzle of Flesh is the sequel to the controversial original. Why was it controversial? Well, the original featured a crazy amount of graphic content including horrific death scenes for characters and adult scenes which caused quite the stir back in the day when it was released. This included sexual content and a rape scene, which is possibly not as controversial as the media makes it out to be. The sequel follows this trend, but on its own controversial level entirely. Being released just a year after the first game it was surprising to see this game did not receive the same attention as the original.
You play Curtis Craig, a man who loves his pet rat ‘blob,’ his girlfriend Jocilyn, and his taste in grey pocket t-shirts because he never seems to change his grey pocket T throughout the entire game. He’s living the American dream. Curtis has also been out of a mental hospital for a year and creepy things start to go down at his home and work at the suspicious WynTech Industries Corporation. Curtis very quickly starts to question his sanity, so it’s up to him to find out what’s going on or face another trip to the loony bin. It’s certainly a story I’ve not seen in a game before and contains a surprising amount of twists that most won’t see coming.
A Puzzle of Flesh features point-and-click gameplay and the entire game consists of watching scenes and solving fairly simple puzzles. There really isn’t many opportunities to fail the game until later on where a wrong decision could lead to you dying in usually a rather entertaining scene. Death carries very little consequence as continuing from a Game Over places you right back at the scene before you failed to try again. Puzzles are rarely challenging, save for one puzzle right at the end becomes quite the head-scratcher. A Puzzle of Flesh feels more of an experience as opposed to a game with any form of challenge; your drive to continue will depend on how much you get sucked into the story. If you dig the B movie horror scene this may be for you. Additionally the point-and-click gameplay is not the most solid. Sometimes you will reach areas of a game where you know how to progress but due to the games bizarre handling of combining items and how to use the inventory system the way forward may not be easily reached. I had to actually pull out a guide to figure out how to get through the game even though I knew the solution, only to find out the game wanted you to do some weird item combination that is far from clear both from an inherent and instructional perspective.
Graphics, well its FMV so it’s real actors doing some very bad acting which you will either adore because of its charm or just not feel very amused. Environments are fairly standard for a FMV game – some in an office, in a house, and later a secret lab and strange world. Unlike a lot of FMV games the scenes in this game were filmed on location which make the cost to create this game a lot more than its predecessor, which may also explain why a third game was never made. The game does handle the crazy very well specifically when Curtis trips out and goes all mental, locking in that B-movie feel. The music is quite hilarious, very ninties especially when you enter a club later on in the game. During moments of fear and tension the sounds used are appropriate and add to the imerrsion. The voice acting feels over done by most of the cast, but it works. Many of the characters come out with the oddest one-liners that you won’t be forgetting in a hurry including the “My ass!!!” line from a police detective. Hardly an Oscar winning script but definitely a good laugh.
It won’t take you too long to get through the campaign – you’re probably looking at around the five hour mark for a first timer, but the master of FMV point-and-click games that time will be a lot less. There is little reason to revisit the game, however a small incentive is to go Easter egg hunting. The game has various hidden scenes to find and if your hardcore enough to find all of them the game rewards you with a special congratulations.
Overall Phantasmagoria: a Puzzle of Flesh is a memorable experience even if you only play through it once. For fans of FMV games this is a must play, but anyone new to this type of game should be cautious. This game has mature adult content as well as graphic gore scenes (not for the squeamish) and is really only for those looking for a basic gameplay experience. At times the point-and-click controls will become a pain and the way ahead won’t be clear due to how the game handles its inventory system, you may have to seek help with an online guide. As a horror fan I really enjoyed this game and the story is nothing like anything I have seen before in game or film. Its one mental trip I won’t be forgetting anytime soon.
Final Score: 3 out of 5 (Review Policy)
Platform: DOS/Windows PC, Sega Saturn (only in Japan as Phantasm with Japanese text/subtitles)
Digital Release? Yes, on Good Old Games (gog.com) for $9.99 (compatible with Windows XP, Vista, 7, and 8 only)
Price: $7.50 (7 discs only), Complete not available, $20.49 (sealed) per Price Charting
In the mid 90s a change was afoot, especially on PCs: the compact disc (CD). Once CD-ROM drives were introduced to gaming technology and the 1.44 MB floppy disk was replaced by the 650 MB CD, you could create massive experiences without so much as a care as to how big your code was. In fact, developers cared so little that blatant wastes of space were created in the form of both full motion video (FMV) titles and multi-disc experiences that had voice integration and usually the first few hundred MB of each disc contained the same coding. I can’t think of any bigger example of this than the point-and-click FMV title from Roberta Williams (she made King’s Quest), Phantasmagoria. Weighing in at 7 full CDs (8 on the Japan-only Saturn version), you basically change discs at the end of each day in the game and the whole week tells a chilling tale not unlike Stephen King’s The Shining. With full video laughably integrated into computer generated images, lackluster gameplay, and a the goriest scenes ever portrayed in a game at the time, Phantasmagoria is a sight to behold.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before. A young writer moves into a spooky house with their spouse where strange occurrences happened in the past and someone becomes possessed and slowly goes insane with homicidal outcomes. Phantasmagoria is that tale with a twist. You play as Adrienne Delaney, a female paperback writer who’s rented the 19th Century house of a fabled magician, Zoltan Carnovasch (awesome name), who was also noted to be a serial killer and eventually taken out by his wife’s lover. Your husband, Don, is a photographer that must be so good at the profession he can sell images from just about anywhere and make a profit because this guy spends all day in his dark room and snapping photos around the New England-esque town without a care in the world. Naturally, as Adrienne you go exploring and eventually release the ghost of Zoltan, who promptly takes over your husband. From then on is a series of events that convey your husband partaking in acts of aggression, brutality, and even sexual assault against his wife before a concluding in a predictable ending riddled with gruesome death scene fail states that you owe it to yourself to experience.
Honestly while Phantasmagoria has always received more praise and attention than it’s better sequel, it is a true testament to the time. While Adrienne, Don, and the handful of other actors are live action, they are clearly captured on a green screen so everything looks like a bad SyFy channel movie. You will never mistake the areas around the actors as anything but a computer image so the end result comes off a lot more Who Framed Roger Rabbit? than Jurassic Park – there’s this scene where Adrienne falls off a ledge, grabs the stones of the cliff, and lifts herself up and you won’t be able to contain yourself at how fake it looks to watch a live actress pretend she’s lifting herself when she’s really just dragging across a floor. Not only do the graphics look like B-roll from Cool World but the point-and-click gameplay leaves much to be desired, especially when you consider this is part of one of the most hardcore genre’s that’s ever existed and led by one of the most notable progenitors of that genre. You don’t get that degree of care that is custom of known Sierra titles of the time and instead receive puzzles that are either lazy or obtuse, none of which are fun to figure out. There’s a Universal Hint System (UHS) that provides you with clues when you get stuck; on the first click it says something vague, on the second it gets rather specific, and on the third the skull flat out tells you what to do next with an annoyed voice. This is a common system for point-and-click games and to be honest it’s rather effective for most titles, but Phantasmagoria is so bi-polar with the degree of its puzzles that it’s the “okay I give up” button you won’t soon forget to use on a regular basis. Don’t get me wrong the puzzles aren’t very difficult but sometimes the manner in which you have to overcome them is, thus necessitating the UHS on a regular basis (feel free to just have a guide handy if you prefer). By the end of the game you are trying to navigate the halls of the mansion in a chase scene, but the way it’s all presented is so disorienting that you’re basically guessing where to go next with a gruesome cutscene as your reward for the wrong answer.
It’s really too bad because behind the hilarious visuals and wonky interface lies a compelling story. The only thing that feels real about the entire game is Adrienne and Don, who appropriately make up a brunt of the content and come off as a believable couple. This is core to buying into the scenario that someone you love and trust is changing before your very eyes and you are somewhat powerless to overcome it. While it may be an off-color topic and hard for some to imagine being in a game, the rape scene is effective and justified on the basis that it unfolds exactly as it could in real life. Don is the only person in the world to have Adrienne in the vulnerable position he does when it occurs and she is not denying of his physicality down to the fact that it begins as an apparent consensual lovemaking scene. All off the awkward and aggressive interactions between the couple in this game are handled the same way, where it’s subtle but apparent behavior that doesn’t act like the person you love. In addition there are scenarios that occur surrounding Adrienne’s investigation of Zoltan’s past that alert the audience to the presence of danger while Adrienne is left completely unaware. The fact that we control her as she proceeds with her questioning only further enhances that dread that we know she’s in danger but are forced to play along as if we have no clue. I also have to commend the bloody, brutal special effects that make up the later parts of the game and provide incredible rewards for splatter film fans that had never seen anything like that in a game before. Night Trap may have been blamed for violent realistic content but it didn’t much exist before Phantasmagoria flat out nailed it a couple years later.
Put it together and Phantasmagoria is an interesting story with the misfortune of being packaged as a game. Most of your gameplay elements are obstacles that stand in the way of the progressing story, which has to be the carrot on the stick otherwise you have no reason to proceed forward. Perhaps I am being a bit too harsh in that I don’t much care for classic point-and-click adventure, but those that do will be as turned off by the events and puzzles due to it trying too hard to play to the widest audience. Still, I’m glad I can say I’ve played it before and although I consulted a guide more times than I care to admit, I equally enjoyed replaying it recently for this review. There is something to be said and gained by the experience of Phantasmagoria, but don’t go in expecting it to live up to the hype because it’s nothing more than an interactive movie that disguises itself as a video game.
Final Score: 2 out of 5 (Review Policy)
Traditionally horror and comedy are entwined, faithfully representing a laughable moment of relief to accompany the graphic depictions of death that follow. Although more rare, there is also room for comedy with horror elements and this week Fred and Jam are celebrating the games that get it right. From some of LucasArts classic hybrids to bikini clad samurai warriors, there’s no lack of hilarity in gaming for those not looking for a scare.
Earlier this week I posted a review on All Games for the 20th Anniversary Edition of Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers completely redone by creator Jane Jensen’s own Pinkerton Road studio. For fans of the original or those that have never experienced one of the best examples of the point-and-click adventure genre, this version may well be worth checking out. Click here to be taken to the review.
This week Fred and Jam are joined by Kole Ross of the Watch Out For Fireballs (WOFF) podcast to discuss point-and-click adventure horror games. Whether it was your first go with early Mac titles like Uninvited, the eventual movement to traditional titles like I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, or the love of the FMV cult favorites like Phantasmagoria or Ripper, horror and adventure were quite the match. Combining graphic elements with deep storytelling (at least for games of the 80s and 90s) these titles certainly are a niche, but great, addition to video game history.