Saturday, April 30, 2011

Digital: A Love Story

Digital: A Love Story is first and foremost a love story but I do not think that it is as simple as that might imply or as one might deduce from reading a plot synopsis or depending on the person even playing the game. I think that this game is one of the few pieces of art that I actually understand and appreciate in a artistic sense. To me yes it is a love story in the traditional sense of boy meets girl, but it was also a love story in the sense of boy meets computer and the Internet, and that is a love story that I can relate to. Digital has also been accused of being a visual novel and while I admit that the only real thing you do in the entire game is type in phone numbers and click a few buttons occasionally when told to, to me it did not feel at all like a visual novel and actually felt like a very open and realistic world while I was playing it. And while I have to admit there is not very much interaction and visual novel is a accurate description, it is still a description that is devoid of the essence of the game.

This is a huge testament to the power of the writing that such a limited amount of interaction could draw the player into the story far more then in any previous literature or game I have ever played. There is just something to the game that surpasses all sandbox games in existence or any game designed to immerse the player in the role of the protagonist that I have played at their respective selling points. With respect to the open-worldness of Digital, this is partly achieved by imposing absolutely no artificial boundaries; While a normal sandbox game might try to give you the allusion of openness by giving you a huge world, eventually we all at some point come to an invisible wall or door that simple cannot open; But in Digital this simply does not happen, and you can go anywhere and do anything that you can conceive of. For putting you in the role of the protagonist there are two main features. The first feature I am going to talk about is total control such that for the most part the protagonist in the game does not really even exist; You never press a button to have him eat or another one to have him walk forwards, you move your mouse to have the in-game mouse move, or you type in a word/number to have it appear in game; The only thing that the in game you don't do is write messages. And the distancing these massages would have is almost completely mitigated by the second feature I want to talk about, and that is your messages. You never see them; You respond and send messages to people by pressing the reply button and while you can mostly deduce the general content of your messages by the replies, it still helps immensely to immerse you in the game by not seeing them.

I have already mentioned the open realistic world and how much I liked playing in it, so now I try to describe it. It is 1988 and your father has just purchased one of the earlier GUI PCs for you. You start off with simply a dialer, a program to connect to other computers, called BBSes, over the phone lines by dialing their number. These BBSes acted like web-pages of today but were very simple and for the most part were used for users to exchange messages and files. This is the world that you are thrown into and while you start off with a single number to a local BBS, you soon discover more BBSes and programs online. To learn more about BBSes I recommend watching this absolutely amazing documentary (trailer).

Another great aspect of the game is the fantastic and natural characters that inhabit its world. These characters do things and talk just like people you have probably already interacted with on the Internet and simply seem very realistic and believable. There are helpful knowledgeable people in many technical fields who help you improve your knowledge of computers and BBSes and provide patches and programs; As well as the occasional funnily outrageous troll and other general interesting characters.

The gameplay of Digital while always unique is not particularly varied but you will be doing a few interesting things. Other then typing in phone numbers and replying to messages you will be hacking private BBSes, updating software, and installing/building programs.

So if you liked this review and even if you didn’t you should probably go download and play Digital: A Love Story for PC, Mac, or Linux.

My mini-review of Digital: A Love Story.

Windowed Mode:
Supported by use of the options menu, but already windowed by default.

Works but a small portion on the bottom of the game screen does not refresh when this happens.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Hector Badge of Carnage ~ Episode 1: We Negotiate with Terrorists

Hector Badge of Carnage is the best game I have even received a review copy of.

It is also the only game I have ever received a review copy of (Ben304). Which marks it a pretty awesome milestone in my writing career and hopefully means I have my foot in the door now. But in all seriousness, it is the best Telltale game I have ever played, but I never did have as high an opinion of them as everyone else I know and have not played that many of their games.

Hector is a rude, crude, and sometimes even almost nude (there is no nudity in this game) cop who works and lives in Clappers Wreake which as he most eloquently puts it “takes the Great out of Britain”. The first episode of this episodic trilogy takes place during a hostage situation where the police are doing their normal stand-up job and piling up the bodies of their own fallen coworkers at an incredible rate. All other negotiators already in a pile on the floor, they send in Hector who inexplicably not only walks away with his life but also a list of strangely altruistic demands by the hostage taker. What follows is Hector's mission to accomplish these goals using only his head, his hands, his total disdain for the law, and the hostage negotiation fund (aka a jar of pocket change).

The game, like you would expect from any Telltale game, is a 2D animated point and click graphical adventure and is filled with every type of crude humour available. And while I did not find it particularly funny I did appreciate the adult themes found throughout the game world. Other then the humour you should also expect to find puzzles throughout the entire game which, while nothing special, are enjoyable and include all forms of inventory based as well as dialogue puzzles.

The only real problem I have with the game is its controls. Even ignoring the instructions that mention dragging which does not seem to do anything in the PC version of the game, and I can only a assume this was something overlooked for the PC version of the game and originally created for the Ipad; There is still the problem of not using the right mouse button and instead using single and double click for look and use respectively. This shows me a total lack of respect for the PC market, since it would not take any meaningful amount of time to remove the reference to dragging and add right mouse button support.

So if you like the sound of Hector Badge of Carnage and have either a PC, Mac, or Ipad then check out the first episode, We Negotiate with Terrorists, on its website.

My mini-review of Hector Badge of Carnage ~ Episode 1: We Negotiate with Terrorists.

Operating System: Windows XP / Vista / Windows 7
Processor: 2.0 GHz Pentium 4 or equivalent
Memory: 3 GB RAM
Video Card: ATI or NVidia card w/ 512 MB RAM
Direct X 9.0c
Audio card required

I am not sure what is with the high stats, the entire game could almost fit on the 512 MB VC and being a simple 2D game I very much doubt that it needs nearly that much on either the VC or RAM.

Windowed Mode:
Completely supported through the options menu.

Completely supported.

Gallery: 5 Color Pandora

My mini-review of 5 Color Pandora.

Gallery: Ranger

My mini-review of Ranger.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Dracula Resurrection

Dracula Resurrection is the first game in the Dracula trilogy (Dracula 2: The Last Sanctuary, Dracula 3: The Path of the Dragon). It is also the direct predecessor to The Last Sanctuary, but both these games do not seem to be set in the same universe as The Path of the Dragon. I have really enjoyed everyone of these games and it is now one of my favourite classical adventure series, but Dracula Resurrection is the obvious best title in the series.

Dracula Resurrection, like its sequel, is chock full of content but not nearly as big a game. And almost in direct opposition to its sequel it is very open world, and while for the most part you have to approach the puzzles in a linear fashion it never seems forced and you always seem to have many avenues to explore at the same time. In fact, the game is so open world that it is separated into just two main areas both of which are so big that I would be surprised if you did not get a little lost at times. This world features Dracula's castle as well as the surrounding village and underground tunnel system, with some parts of each being shown in both games. All of these locations with great looking horrific visuals.

One of the main things you will be doing, of course, is solving puzzles; And while there are no action sequences this time around there are still a wide variety of logic and inventory based puzzles. I found these puzzles to be simply fantastic, mostly understandable (with really no place I got stuck at in the entire game), challenging, and quite unique at times. Some puzzles are also obviously a little broken, but happily not in a way that should impede your progress (but as far as I know these puzzles could have been fixed in some patch).

Like its successor it has an unimaginable number of cut scenes, and for almost everything you do you will see a new one; Travelling to a new location, there is probably a cut scene; Opening a particularly important chest, another cut scene; Pulled some lever, even more cut scenes. Not that this is a bad thing, the cut scenes are great, with improved visuals and of course a different perspective giving the game the ability to better convey emotion and action. This time around there is the obvious improvement of less arm flailing, but with a slightly more corny dialogue. And the plot is not really anything to get excited about with far too much stereotypical over confidence by Dracula (expectantly considering how incredibly easy it is to defeat him and his minions at every turn).

The most important (and quite iconic) object
in the series and the best wallpaper I was
able to rip from the game.

Getting it to Run (on a Windows 7 x64):
Run it in Windows 98/ME compatibility mode.

Windowed Mode:
Not supported.

Hard to accomplish but no ill side effects. It seems that when the game senses that focus has been lost it automatically brings the game back into focus. To get around this you must have a window open behind the game (either setup beforehand or by opening Task Manager) and when focus is lost (by either Alt+Tabing or by opening the Task Manager Window) instantly click this window and then you should be able to use your computer like normal (just don't close the currently focused window or it might reopen the game). This can be tricky to pull off, I rapidly click almost instantly after initiating the focus loss, but if it does not work just try again.

The one area of the that Alt+Tabing does not work well is during change CD screens (only happens once). If focus is lost during this screen the game with crash.

My mini-review of Dracula Resurrection.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Paradise (Benoit Sokal)

Paradise by Benoit Sokal, developer of the Syberia series, is another point and click adventure featuring his unique fantasy visual flair and is particularly reminiscent of his earlier work Syberia in this department; So fans of this series, me included, should love this game. But as you would expect from a talented artist and director Mr. Sokal was not content to just create a clone of a successful game with new locations and new characters; Paradise, like all his previous work, is very unique, and very dissimilar in many areas to his other works.

The protagonist (Ann  Smith), as she travels across Maurania

The main divergence happens in the plot and is categorized by the sweeping sense of loss and of being trapped between a rock and a hard place; But then you think maybe all is not lost, maybe the glory of the past is being brought back to life, only to have reality crash back upon you; Not that there is no hope, there is always hope.

Starting off the game, you are flying over the country of Maurania, which is currently in the middle of a heated civil war between some outside forces, joined with willing civilians, fighting for a "free and democratic" Maurania verses the aged hereditary King. Your plane is shot down and you wake up in the harem of a prince without any memory of your past life, not even your name. What follows is a unique adventure in which you traverse the entirety of Maurania, get embroiled in the civil war, learn who you are, and potentially even decide the fate of a nation.

At first, after finishing the game, I had a lot of negative opinions of the plot, and it does not really rap anything up and ends very abruptly and surprisingly, but as more time goes on I respect Mr. Sokal's vision far more and (after much thought) come to understand why it was so powerful and simply excellent. This power is all the more poignant because you start off the game so subtly and sheltered from the war, the outside word, and even yourself, within the prince's harem. Which is possibly even to the detriment of the games success; The beginning is so subtle that many users might give up and pass off the game as mediocre before the game has really even begun, something I did a few years back the first time I attempted to play it.

This plot in addition to being told through beautiful, and numerous, cut scenes is worked into the background rather nicely. Their is always that side-note, or conversation you overhear that mentions how the war is going and some person's view on it; And by the end of the game I would be surprised if you have not decided one way of the other who you support, with people taking both sides. In addition to hearing the story and general news of Maurania from the people you will also get to listen to radio broadcasts, read news-papers, and even uncover some lintel reports from both sides; And more then that, the people these were particularly fascinating and like any good story left me wanting more. The one area that I wish was used more to tell the story was the environment, because except for the occasional newspaper you find lying around, the environment is rather devoid of interactive objects that are not used in some puzzle. But there is some consolation to fans who want more, and that is a four part graphic novel entitled The Lost Paradise of Maurania, which is a retelling and deepening of Paradise's story (I wish I could get my hands on a copy).

Like any game by Benoit Sokal, Paradise does not break any ground in the puzzle department. For the most part it is completely inventory based, pick up everything that isn't nailed down (and somethings that are), system with the occasional talk to some guy or go here to progress thrown in. The remainder are a few arcade sequences, such as fishing for Sand Dabs in a dessert and the Leopard night sequences. In these sequences you play as a leopard and must navigate a 3D environment. These sequences are by far the worst part of the game, with horrible graphics and buggy almost unusable controls, but thankfully they are fully skip-able.

The only real problem with the game is the numerous bugs. In addition to the aforementioned leopard night sequences, there are numerous navigational and interaction problems, some of them game breaking without the proper settings and patches applied. Almost every interactive object in the game can be somewhat hard to use and interact with because of badly defined interactive regions. Additionally the game is subject to crashing on occasion.

A image ripped from the games loading screen
that makes a great desktop wallpaper.

Now for a section that I am thinking of making regular, but is particularly needed for this review. A section dedicated all things technical and outside of the game play. Basically how to get it running on a modern systems and any info about its windowed mode and ability to be (Alt+Tab)ed.

Getting it to run (on a Windows 7 64-bit machine):
  • You will want to apply the 1.1 patch, as it fixes many bugs [recommended]
  • There is a 1.1.3 patch that seems to have been abandoned by all official channels. One reason for this might be that it changes the copy protection, and I have heard of it making legitimate people unable to play. But if you have run out of options you can try it, and the no-cd crack for version 1.1 of the game still works with this patch installed
  • For one section of the game I needed to change some settings, and a restart from earlier in the game (before I encountered the bugged section). These settings are: turn off anti-aliasing, turn off animated cursor, set shadows to 2D. One possible problem with these settings is I found that with them enabled sometimes the cursor would not show active even when over a interactive object, but when clicked would cause the correct action to be performed.
  • For some other sections of the game I needed to run the game in Windows XP SP3 mode [recommended]
Windowed Mode:
As far as I know this game does not nativity support any type of windowed mode.

Fully supports Alt+Tab with the only side-effect being blank sections of the screen when re-enabled. These sections persist until the screen is updated (moving to a new location, etc.).