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Penny Arcade's On The Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3

Full Review

Penny Arcade Rain Slick 3 CoverA few weeks ago, I acquired Breath of Death VII: The Beginning, Cthulhu Saves the World, and all three episodes of Penny Arcade Adventures for eight bucks on Steam. It seemed like a steal at the time: five brief RPG comedies for less than I spend on my daily commute.

I dropped Breath and Cthulhu after a few hours. Zeboyd’s nutty tributes to ‘80s JRPGs had their moments, but not enough to excuse dull battles, random encounters, and big empty dungeons.

The first two Penny Arcade games weren’t much better. My disgust for their fetch quest campaign structure smothered my fondness for the Mario RPG-style battles.

So when I saw that Penny Arcade’s Whatever 3 was the result of a Zeboyd/Penny Arcade team-up, I braced myself for some whole new amalgam of repulsive game elements. It turned out to be a roundly enjoyable seven-hour adventure, one that almost excuses the twelve hours I slogged through the other four games in the bundle. Almost.

Wizorb

Full Review

Wizorb CoverBreakout and Arkanoid and similar paddle games never resonated with me. Maybe because their Atari heyday ended before I started playing games, or maybe because I disliked the loose shot control. Whatever the case, the genre’s most polished and inspired entries still manage only a passing fancy.

So I’m flummoxed by my lingering affinity for Wizorb, a three-dollar, three-hour curiosity. I completed the brief game in a weekend fling and have no real desire to revisit it, yet it’s still on my mind. I do relish the lively lo-fi style and RPG window dressing, but the game is still a pretty standard brick breaker at its core.

I’m not terribly impressed by this new appstore era, this flood of amateur developments selling for less than a vending machine lunch and rarely lasting as long. But Wizorb is one of the few $3 games that’s more filling than its price tag and play time imply. A few thoughtful little gameplay functions that address the genre’s weaknesses are what make it shine among its Breakout-clone peers and its bottom-dollar indie competition both.

Dungeons of Dredmor

Indie Impression

Dungeons of Dredmor Cover_0Welcome to Indie Impression, a brand new type of article for 2012. As the name implies, these articles will be impressions on some of the numerous indie games that have been rapidly appearing recently. We here have built ourselves very large collections through cheap package deals via Steam, Humble Bundle, Indie Royale, and more. Some have amazing production values, some don't. Some are incredibly fun, some aren't. But without question, these indie games generally offer creativity vastly beyond anything you'll find in mainstream gaming and will likely be the main driver behind industry innovation for a long time.

And as our indie backlogs have grown exponentially, we've decided to start sorting through our games and trying them out to get a good impression of each. To add credibility to our impressions, we will try to have at least two people play each game until they feel they have a solid, concrete opinion for writing. Impressions may be from ten minutes of gaming to ten hours, but in this case, we feel like it's important enough to have multiple strong opinions on each game. With that out of the way, let's continue to our very first candidate, Dungeons of Dredmor.

Dungeons of Dredmor is a roguelike from Gaslamp Games, released in July, 2011. Each writer has written impressions independently from each other.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

First Hour Review

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade CoverFor being a rather popular film series, there sure haven’t been a lot of Indiana Jones video games released. Well, there have, but not in recent memory, the LEGO Indiana Jones game I played a few years ago is pretty much it besides a few unheralded titles here and there. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was released in 1989, that’s how far back we’re traveling today for a first hour review.

Developed by Lucasarts using their SCUMM adventure game engine, Last Crusade seemed like a slam dunk of a title to coincide with the release of the movie, especially as it had Ron Gilbert of pre-Monkey Island fame leading the development team. Indiana Jones wouldn’t be the first movie tie-in game ever, but it would probably be the first to follow the story so closely and carefully.

I’m making my way through my Steam backlog now, and I wanted to play a bunch of early Lucasarts titles since I’m a big Monkey Island fan and I seem to owe it to myself to play their other games. Last Crusade is essentially the oldest one available (Steam does not carry Maniac Mansion or Zac McKracken), so I’m starting here. I’m not sure if I’ll first hour their entire catalog, but here’s the review of the first hour of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Diablo II - History and Gameplay

Blog Post

Diablo 2 CoverOn November 30th, 1996 the world was rocked by the release of what is quite possibly the start of the isometric hack’n’slash genre: Diablo. It was renowned for its remarkably dark atmosphere, creative character customization, easy control scheme and extremely in-depth storytelling.

Not only did it have all of this, it also had online multiplayer via a free service called Battle.net that is also host to virtually all of Blizzard's games.

After a few years of garnering international success, it was announced that a sequel was in the works. Diablo II was released on June 29th, 2000. For me, educationally, it was all downhill from there.

This is part one of a multi-part review and historical remembrance of Diablo II. We also played the first hour of Diablo II a few years ago.

Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent

Full Review

Nelson Tethers Puzzle Agent CoverNintendo has made a killing packaging classic pen-and-paper activities into DS games. Picross,  Sudoku, Crosswords...but one of the major successes is the Professor Layton series. Developed by Level 5 and published by Nintendo outside of Japan, the franchise tasks players with solving puzzles and riddles in order to explore a storyline brimming with mystery. The puzzling travels of Professor Layton and his apprentice Luke are a hit with casuals and hardcore alike, selling over ten million units worldwide between the series' five titles.

Of the three titles available outside Japan, I've only played the first, Curious Village. It's certainly full of cranium-crunching riddles, but I wasn't as taken by the rest of the package as many were. Decent production values aside, there wasn't much that impressed me from the strange story of Layton, Luke, and the peculiar villagers. I'd almost wished the game was a more sterile package, like so many other brainy DS productions. Most would probably disagree, seeing the worth in framing these teasers within a narrative.

Enter Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent. I bought this budget PC title in -- what else? -- a Steam bundle during the holiday season. Nelson clearly took notes from one of the Professor's lectures, because Puzzle Agent's premise is very similar to Curious Village, having the player explore a mysterious little town by solving riddles for its puzzle-obsessed populace. But unlike Curious Village, I actually enjoyed the overall experience even more than the puzzles that pervade it.

Penumbra: Overture

Full Review

Penumbra Overture CoverAtmosphere. Danger. Environment. Expectation. These words are integral to any sort of horror-based media, and yet many have seemingly forgotten all about the reasons behind fear and instead rely on cheap tactics to do the job. Penumbra: Overture shows a much more sophisticated ability to keep players on edge without relying on grotesque visuals and cheap 'jump moments' to elicit responses. I was particularly curious as to how this game could effect me since I'm not easily frightened and cheap attempts at fear usually seem more humorous than scary. And overall, the game does a fairly good job at its goals. Let me explain.

Overture almost takes advantage of those modern media shortcuts to create a fully engrossing experience with the capability to be legitimately frightening. As a response to these movies, shows, and games, your mind now expects something to happen when you travel down a dark hallway, into a new room, or when encountering an enemy. Instead, nothing typically happens in Penumbra. In fact, very little "happens" throughout the whole game. Almost all of the happenings and story events involve Phillip sorting out the past of his forgotten surroundings instead of building the story himself or primarily creating a story. At heart, Overture is a first-person adventure game, with the atmosphere as really the only major demarker to the survival-horror tag. I can recall only a handful of actual "events" Phillip was directly involved in. And yet this feels perfectly fine in the context of the game.

Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars

Half-Hour Handheld

Broken Sword Shadow of the Templars CoverBroken Sword is not a new game. In fact, it was released back in 1996, a year so far gone that I barely remember anything about it. I know I did not experience Broken Sword then or even heard of it; I was just a lad with a PlayStation and a little RPG called Suikoden to occupy my time. Broken Sword only existed in my mainframe later on as a cult thing, something people talked about playing, but were never caught playing. I later played other point-and-click games like Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle and Escape from Monkey Island yet never got to try this “classic.” Then I discovered it in my mother’s DS collection (yes, she plays) a few weeks back and found my chance to try it out for the very first time, some 14 years later. And this is the Director’s Cut which, I guess, means something.

As it’s a story-heavy Nintendo DS game, this is only a half-hour review. I hope it hits all the points and really clicks! Um, I apologize for that…I know it was a stretch.

Half-Life 2

Full Review

Half Life 2 CoverIt's hard to find a gamer who doesn't have some experience with the Half-Life franchise. A champion of PC software when things started shifting heavily in the favor of consoles, the original Half-Life wowed critics with its pulse-pounding scripted sequences and seamless stitching of narrative and gameplay in first-person. The long-awaited full sequel, Half-Life 2, received just as many accolades, if not more, for its advances in artificial intelligence, character animation, and especially the robust physics engine powering the game's many objects.

And yet, it was only two weeks ago that I first experienced a game in Valve's flagship franchise myself. I've never been much of a PC gamer: I can count the number of games I've played on a computer monitor on one hand, and four of them begin with the words "Star Wars." I've had many consoles in my life, but rarely a PC with the power to play current games. I'm actually typing this on a Macbook right now, and as we all know, Macs just aren't for gamers.

That said, Valve has made an effort to bite into the Apple market with Mac versions of Steam and many of its own big games offered therein, just in time for the annual 4th of July sales on the incredible digital distribution service. And if Valve is willing to create a Mac version of Half-Life 2 and price it at an outrageously fair $3.39 just for me, then I guess I owe it to them to try the game that millions have gone headcrab-crazy for.

But for all its fame and glory, the bottom line is that Half-Life 2 is a six-year-old PC game in a genre I'm not terribly enthralled by. Did I hate it? Hit the jump, smash that caps lock key and ready your profane comments, PC fanboys, because I'm about to tear into your beloved Half-Life 2 like a shotgun into an antlion.

XIII

First Hour Review

Xiii CoverBargain bins. Sometimes they hold treasures, other times just stuff better left at the bottom where no one can see. Still, I'm poor and always hoping for the best so I can't help but look around. Surprisingly, I found XIII in one of these dumpster dive sessions, and for $1.99 at that. All I really knew of the game was that it was cel-shaded, likened constantly to an action-fused comic book, and a FPS.

A few weeks ago, Games for Lunch's Kyle Orland reviewed XIII's first hour. He died numerous times and was ultimately frustrated with the game's gameplay. Hopefully I'll have a better sixty minutes.

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