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Occult Chronicles Review

Occult Chronicles Review

Cryptic Comet’s latest turn based video/boardgame hybrid, Occult Chronicles, is a game I should love. Basically it’s a mash up of Arkham Horror, Elder Sign, and “Roguelikes”.

But I can’t stand it.

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Gone Home Review

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You arrive at the doorstep of a mansion. Your parents recently moved there with your kid sister but you are seeing it for the first time because you have just arrived from your backpack trip across Europe. It’s dark, stormy, and the place looks like it’s been ripped out of a King novel (one of the good ones). No one is home. The lights flicker. The TV is on but it’s just white noise. You enter the house looking for signs of your family.

It’s difficult to talk about Gone Home without venturing into spoiler territory. The game, if you insist on calling it that, is all about the story. There are no controls to speak of, no inventory to rifle through, no health meters, no reflexes are required, your amazing hand eye coordination is meaningless, and there is nary a weapon in sight.

Ah, so it’s an adventure game!

No, it isn’t.

There is no “adventure” here, either; at least not in the typical way we tend to view adventure games. There are no “puzzles” to solve, no riddles to think your way through and no dialogue options from which to choose. If you thought a game like The Waking Dead was devoid of actual game mechanics then Gone Home will feel like a school project.

But that’s part of what makes the “game” work. In Gone Home you are merely along for the ride; a passenger on a ghost train that only reveals itself as you muddle your way through a seemingly abandoned mansion one room at a time.

Is that enough? Is sitting down in front of your PC for two hours (literally) and piecing together an interesting story worth your $20? We like to debate the merits of “value” of a game when discussing its critique and while I still strongly believe that price has no place in the evaluation process of a game, (then again neither do stars, ratings, or any other ridiculous measuring stick) but in this specific case you need to at least know what you are getting into.

Gone Home is short – two hours short, but that’s somewhat irrelevant. More than that, the writers know you are playing a videogame where you are wandering alone inside in a spooky abandoned mansion that looks like it should be a terrifying place to wander around alone – it plays on that emotion at every possible turn. And this is where it’s difficult to really talk about Gone Home without giving anything away, and I do think you should play the game, which is really all a “used to be game critic” can offer, right? I’m glad I played it, but I’m not nearly as happy that I spent $20 to do so.

That said, the writers and designers of this game deserve great praise for their ability to tell an engaging story via spoken dialogue (journal entries), sound effects and music, Post-It notes, and by strategically placing mundane objects around the house that help you slowly piece together what happened to the family that lives there. It’s an amazing achievement that the writers can tell such an emotional story via post cards, letters, and travel brochures. As far as pure storytelling is concerned Gone Home is equal to and in most cases is far superior to anything you see in today’s so-called blockbuster videogames. Of course since the game is all about the narrative – it better be damn good or it simply won’t work.

But I can’t help but feel a little manipulated by Gone Home. Not because of its length or its lack of any real gameplay, but because it knows…the game knows I play videogames and it knows it IS a videogame and it takes that fact that uses it against me; when you strip that away you are left with a sad, emotional and ultimately wonderfully told story trapped inside a mediocre game.

The Shadowrun Brain Dump

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Based on the campaign length I’ve seen bandied about in reviews, I’m assuming I’m about halfway through Shadowrun Returns. It’s too short for a finished review and too long for an initial impressions post so instead I’m just going to dump all of this info here and let you sort through it. I’m sure there’s a Shadowrun term for it to make it sound all cool and cyber-brainy but I’m just going to stick with brain dump. Come to think of it, Shadowrun would probably call it that too.

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The Occult Chronicles Preview

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Haunted house type horror board games like Mansions of Madness and Betrayal at House on the Hill tend to suffer from one overriding problem which is that they’re pulled in all sorts of different directions by their requirements. How do you create a game that’s full of both mystery and well-informed decisions? How do you give it variety and replayability with limited tile stock and table space? How do you make it competitive and exciting without giving one player too much power?

The answer, obviously, is to make it into a computer game instead, and have the CPU handle all the fiddly bits for you. Enter upcoming game The Occult Chronicles, currently available to purchase as a playable beta-test. But in a twist worthy of the dark and disgusting gods that inspired the game, developer Cryptic Comet (also responsible for indie strategy titles Armageddon Empires and Solis Infernum) has seen fit to breed in elements of a Rogue-like as well.

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Why Metro Last Light Disappoints

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First off, hey, remember me? I used to write here a lot! Good to see you too.

So…first BioShock Infinite and now this.

Metro 2033 was one of the smartest, original and most challenging shooters to appear on the scene in quite some time when THQ and 4A Games released it back in 2010. Flawed? Yeah, but its uncompromising design made for one of the best gaming experiences of the year.

Now, with Metro Last Light we get a drop dead gorgeous sequel set in the same bleak, worn out world but this time it seems…different. Milder. Safer. “Streamlined” and Corporate.

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Hotline Miami Review

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The first time you fire up Hotline Miami, you’ll swear your PC has gone wrong. It’ll likely hang for what seems like an age, and then take you to a title screen burnished with blocky text in Russian against an eye-straining dayglow backdrop. It’s the 80’s. It’s Acid House all over again.

What happens next most assuredly isn’t. An ugly, bearded man will swear at you repeatedly as he teaches you the basic concepts of the game. Sneak up on people by using the building topology to keep out of sight, then eviscerate them or shoot them, or just punch them to the floor and then brain them by smashing their heads repeatedly against a door frame.

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Papers, Please

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24.11.82 – Today was my first day working as an immigration official at the newly opened border checkpoint in Grestin. I am thankful for the opportunity to help our glorious Arstotzka and monitor the tide of immigrants into our land. It is tedious work, punctuated by brief moments of anxiety as the printer in my station spits out a report of my latest error. Luckily these moments were few and far between and I was able to process enough people to pay for food, heat and rent in our new lodgings. I even had enough left over to save up for the sweets that Piotr loves so much. I am hoping that once he is better, he will be able to appreciate them. Living near the smelting plant for so long may have damaged his lungs beyond repair, but I am hopeful that this position will mark a new start for all of us.

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Sword of the Stars: The Pit in Review

 

The other day, I was thinking “wow, I sure would like to play some kind of turn-based Roguelike…but with maybe a science fiction setting.” As if fate decreed, I got an email from thousandaire board game tycoon and AWOL NHS editor Bill Abner. It was a forward from the PR gentleman at Gamer’s Gate and on offer was a review code for their new $10 corker The Pit, from Kereberos Productions . It was exactly the game I wanted to play at exactly the right time. It reminded me of the time that I was dying to hear Soft Cell and I turned on a random stereo on display at a Best Buy literally right as the first notes of “Tainted Love” blared through the speakers. Continue Reading…

DmC: Devil May Cry in Review

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When you spend a lot of time covering games, either professionally or for a hobby, it becomes very easy to think that every fan of games falls into the same shrieking hell pits of frothing insanity brought about by this change or that ending. The reality is that most of the people who play games not only don’t know about the various “Insert game name here”-gate style brou-ha-has that pop up, seemingly every day, but they don’t care. They see games that they may like, buy them, play them and usually enjoy them. If they don’t, they move on to something else and live happy lives, unencumbered by the nautical miles of internet rage that accompany almost every release these days.

I mention this because, in playing DmC: Devil May Cry, Ninja Theory’s reboot of Capcom’s brawler, I had a brief shining glimpse of what it’s like to live in that rarefied air of  Not Giving A Crap Mountain. As I have mentioned here before, I have no connection to the Devil May Cry series, so I don’t care what Dante looks like, or what clothes he wears. I played DmC because I heard it was good and lo and behold, it was.

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Getting Down and Dirty with NFS:MW

For all of the open-worldedness of Need For Speed: Most Wanted it doesn’t take but a few races around a few blocks to realize that Fairhaven isn’t as random as it looks. Oh sure, while tooling around, traffic looks like it follows random patterns, but when you’re in a race and you scream through a sidewinder turn up in the mountains, that red van will always be there for your crashing needs. It may be up the road a piece or down the road a piece, but it will be there.

It makes sense, as part of learning a route is learning  more than just the turns and straightaways but also learning the obstacles, but it does take some of the magic away to know that when you crest that hill in the oncoming lane, you best switch lanes quickly lest you take out that hatchback that’s cursed to drive that stretch of road forever. One of the best things about Driver: San Francisco was how some of the events had to be completed within the random flow of traffic, meaning that when you had to cross those eight lanes of highway traffic, you may hit a blessed empty spot or you may hit a wall of buses.

Thankfully, NFS:MW still has plenty of ways to mess with you, and all of the memorizing in the world won’t help, not when it’s a windshield full of dust slowing you down.

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