Category Archives: Review

Review – Nightmare of the Deep: The Cursed Heart

Artifex Mundi brings Nightmares from the Deep: The Cursed Heart to the table this month as they push for Greenlight approval, the game is already available outside of Steam but they’re pushing to reach that next audience. Adventure games are a secret love of mine, I used to play them for ages along the likes of Doom II and Duke Nukem, simple narrative driven stories that weren’t competitive but made your brain rage out anyway.  Is this one of those games? Lets take a look and see what Nightmares from the Deep packs and how it executes upon that goal.

The story introduces a loving duo, a mother and her daughter leading an exhibition on a legendary dreaded pirate. Recovered in scary levels of preservation and with a boatload of swag they’re able to put on a massive exhibition… well, until someone decides to start outfitting our dear pirate captain with enchanted accessories. Suddenly the story goes sideways and the deeper truth behind his amazing preservation and trinkets comes forward.  Cursed ships, undead pirates mysterious enchantments and a deal with the devil while the curator’s daughter pushes closer to her own ill-fate all emerge in the story.

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To some degree I enjoy the story, it’s honest and while a bit taxing to build it piece by piece to find the entire back story (there’s a challenge for that). That said, sticking it to the undead, there’s nothing better than that, they can run off some smart remark about how you’re incapable or you’ll fail and then you shove it in their face and it’s just majestic beyond words to throw at them.  What I didn’t care for, introducing a massive geographical change and then not resolving it, because it only happens once but it still bugs about why it’s unresolved. You’re introducing a story driven game with lots of thinking mechanics to a demographic that will think about everything you throw at them. It’s not a deal breaker but sometimes it’s just an extra moment spent on review of the plot where one would go “ooh… we should probably make a note about that”.

While the story may have some rough edges, it’s easy to get distracted while playing due to the detail levels of the art within Nightmare of the Deep. There’s something about just heavy illustrations with painterly style, watching these intense scenes of still ambience without relying on lighting elements to paint it in the moment.  It’s a crafted moment and easy to take a moment to appreciate the intense labor to develop each scene. To some degree I can really say I almost wish they even omitted trying to use mouth animations as it does remove some of the immersion (it’s not really in sync at all).

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Players have to piece together just about everything in The Cursed Heart, jump back to the mid-late 90’s adventure era where things were click based, arranged, mixed and so on and that’s where you go. Artifex Mundi actually accounts for this and created 2 modes to cater to new audiences and classic players.

Regular Mode:

  • No misclick penalty for hidden-object scenes
  • Active zones glimmer frequently
  • The hint and skip button recharge quickly
  • Locations with an available action are indicated on the map

Expert Mode:

  • There is a misclick penalty in hidden-object scenes
  • The hint and skip buttons take longer to recharge
  • Active zones, except hidden-object scenes, are not indicated
  • Locations with an available action are not indicated on the map

Odd facts about those:

  • I played on regular mode, I’m extremely defiant about click spam, I still focused on targeting those or playing the Mahjong mini game to finish out those I could not finish
  • Had no use for the hint or skip buttons, most of the challenges are very accessible
  • I did notice glimmer but honestly I figured that was just part of the atmosphere of a cursed pirated adventure, wasn’t my focus
  • I never used the map unless it was an interactive event

You can act completely oblivious in this game on either mode and still have a fun time and a challenging experience, I urge players who do attempt to take on Nightmare of the Deep to also ignore the skip and hint options as with a decent pace, the game is only about 4 hours long with full exploration and even some double backing.

It’s been ages since I really dove into an adventure game, with so much experimentation and hybrid design it became off-putting to really keep after the genre. The art and general design of Nightmare of the Deep: The Cursed heart make for an enjoyable experience, the story tackles pirate lore and a lighter supernatural layer without trying too hard. I’d suggest checking into it now or boosting it on Steam Greenlight if you’d rather have it managed in Steam.

The good:

  • Beautiful areas, just flat out stunning art to look at
  • Challenging but not to the point of pure rage and quitting
  • Applies itself to new and old players, pick your entry level
  • Story is reasonable, not overkill but easy to relate to
  • Low entry point at $6.99 currently through Artifex Mundi

The not so good:

  • CG actually is a disservice, blocky resolution not sure how to avoid it
  • Facial mouth movements aren’t remotely synchronized
  • Using the tip and skip feature could probably make this game about an hour shorter if used

As Nightmare of the Deep released in 2012, a lot of people might already have the game, regardless I think it’s still worth supporting to see on Greenlight, it would give an enjoyable experience to the genre and bring in some new players to the adventure genre. The flaws within the game are cosmetic and not game breaking which are easy to overlook in the overall picture.

Link: Nightmares from the Deep: The Cursed Heart (Steam)

Review – King of Fighters XIII – Steam Edition

The King of Fighters lands on Steam, bringing the latest engine packed with redrawn visuals, HD backgrounds and tons of goodies that make the game pretty exciting to play on the desktop, notebook or what keeps players gaming now. It pops in at $29.99 on the market and delivers online and offline competition to keep the challenges coming. For those wondering if it’s just a plain rehash, it’s not, the game also packs in Iori, Nests and Mr. Karate DLC to drive the roster to 36 characters. All the Xbox DLC in one spot for this celebratory installment so that really adds some extra value for a title I’m sure many didn’t see coming to the PC.

When KOF XIII launched on the 360 a while back, I enjoyed the game as it was a large improvement over XII which lacked in move variety and options. It’s not the perfect installment although they kept pushing to make up for it by including DLC characters to complete the fan requests and build a diverse lineup. My stance on KOF XIII remains the same, the story, AI, character moves and experience are memorable and are easy to return to. Players can beat the game with pure domination, come back a month later and get destroyed just because they were slow or missed a connection. It’s always fun, it’s always a challenge and learning new moves and combinations every time is just really rewarding.

The graphics are beautiful on the PC, crisp on my LCD’s and it scales surprisingly well in Eyefinity, character resolution in the art is able to scale heavily for the game it’s just fantastic. Those hoping for a vivid and crisp experience are in for a treat using classic 2D mechanics vs cell styling or a 3D engine trying to support classic fighting mechanics. The only flaw is a simple one, on my build I was unable to display subtitles, it made the cut scenes dry as those without knowledge of Japanese aren’t able to take note of the events unfolding.

Where it all gets a bit sideways is the online experience, SNK is working like mad to get this fixed and optimized but in the moment, it’s sketchy. The beta leading in had decent latency (not amazing but not awful) but at release I was unable to find players at all with the search stalling. People love competition, this is a huge item for SNK to tackle if they want KOF to really take off, it’s not the first game of the genre to launch on the PC and others have bridged this gap. If it’s a matter of days or week’s it’s hard to say, if they return to the netcode from the most recent branch it would return the game to an online playable state even if that includes some ghosting or glitching.

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Additionally, controls are suffering from issues when using specialty hardware, Hori sticks have reports of issues and those hoping to use custom keys for keyboard input face limitations in an awkward array.  Trying to use my arcade stick I wasn’t able to properly map buttons which neutralized the use of it in the review. I was able to use an old Logitech USB controller but that’s about it. Very unfortunate but it’s part of the ongoing patch list for KOF now, it is a hard disappointment but using at least some form of controller helped keep the delivery. Even having an ini file to manipulate would aid heavily.

I love KOF games, I have since they debuted in my hometown arcade, watching the series expand, experiment and evolve has been fun but gaming is moving into the personal space so KOF has to adapt to the times to survive. I just wish SNK was able to perfect a system that had suffered some setbacks even on the Xbox 360 for quality. Right now there are many hoping the net play to shape up again and that’s just a rough hit for everyone.

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King of Fighters XIII Steam Edition rewards players with DLC and a real arcade experience, unfortunately it now struggles to deliver on network experiences for online play and control. Fighting enthusiasts love their hardware and they love beating up on each other, both of those have obstructions and it’s hurting that word of mouth and hype train. I want to see the Steam Edition flourish with players and fans so we can see more installments but buyers need more than this and hopefully it comes through.

The good:

  • Beautiful visuals, detailed and crisp delivery
  • Fluid frame rate, 60fps solid with great response
  • Controls that work deliver quick movement and easy actions
  • Strong AI and challenges, keeping players on their toes constantly
  • Custom character options, design their look as desired

The not so good:

  • Netcode is buggy, matches are hard to find or lagging needs improvement still
  • Controller support is off, Hori, X-Arcade and other models are struggling to deliver
  • Subtitles enabled please? None available at 1920×1200.

Would I say it’s worth the investment? Yes, in general King of Fighters is a good bet, the SP campaign has lasted with the test of time and a full roster of 36 characters makes it extremely enjoyable. One can hope that SNK continues to heavily devote themselves to fixing the control and network issues and this release will stand out as a gem. Given their interactions with the community so far, it seems likely we’ll see brighter days ahead.

Link: King of Fighters XIII Steam Edition Product Page (Steam)

Review – Rise of the Triad (2013)

Rise of the Triad had a rebirth and it took enthusiasts and players in general by storm, the 2013 reboot is a project that brought a virtual studio together. The result is a comprehensive game playing homage to what made it a cult favorite all those years ago. From replicated enemy behaviors, lesser focus on hit boxes vs total enemy HP and genuine boss battles that weren’t just a series of “aim for highlighted weak points”, for once the game changed and it brought everyone back a step.

In many respects Rise of the Triad is a step back to old models with free updates, full mod support and retro game play that defies the expectations of today’s audience. Rise of the Triad is unapologetic, in presentation, in humor and in difficulty. There isn’t a shred of mercy for those who attempt to battle ludicrous settings in the game, health becomes fragile, enemies become real threats and it forces survival instinct for as long as one can stick it out. There is mercy of course but it’s still a sense of defeat that one can’t just take it to the limit and win.

Graphic details bring gibs to paint the screen with eyeballs, blood spatter and fields of obstacles and enemies in great detail. If there was a form of ballet for ultra-violence, Rise of the Triad would be a master of it in the space. There’s no shortage of blood and parts flying across the screen or suspended from the walls or ceilings. The experience has experienced shortcoming in the early play sessions after launch, weapon switching can stutter leaving players with weapons that won’t fire or just aren’t visible. Physics are also suspect to this, swinging blades come to mind as something where yes it makes sense to get throw 50 feet back, having it squish and then push you through into safety though is odd. I get collisions when put to the extreme can produce results like this but it’s still odd if you botch a passage and just wind up either safe or passed through for the next death. This also repeats at times with crushing obstacles, having a roof come down that you clip through and are left to reboot the game or just stand there in place. The team has pushed hard to adjust to errors found by the community but some of these are rough first impressions.

If these break the game for a player or not is a toss, part of Rise of the Triad is a wacky foundation that defies normal logic to gaming. Yes the physics are mad at times, does it break the game? Sometimes, although it is frustrating if players are in the 11th hour trying to beat the game, it’s a situation based frustration and the moment itself. Ultimately it’s a game that doesn’t attempt to cater itself to the player but instead works to keep the traits of the original that made it stand out in the period and today makes it stand out yet again.  Yes it is hard to get a jumping pattern on a series of stones correct, is it a deal breaker? No. Instead of holding W down trying to push through the keyboard, tapping and short quick gestures work so much better, not only does it teach control it improves the player. One thing I noticed about Rise of the Triad is that for those who have slowly grown out of practice it’s a huge refresher course on being precise while still being fast and it’s the closest we have to a genuine run and gun shooter.

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For those on the fence about a game locked back in the old times,  why not embrace the challenge of difference. In the early FPS days, the difference between Unreal, Quake, Doom, ROTT and CS are what made things a division and created specialists. It’s a welcome shift to see something genuine and not trying to make up for what it is to the gaming population. The only thing I wish is this team being a bit more attentive to control as the mouse input itself felt completely unnatural from the beginning, at stock settings my G9 felt like a mess trying to handle that game. After some community tweaks I can say the quick response has returned to my game as long as no ini changes happen in updates.

Rise of the Triad has a large mix of graphical goodness, challenges and experiences to offer. It also has its bugs and frustrations like the ever-changing online server availability, this might be a host issue with the main node or just having to rely on private IP’s a lot more than one might have done before but it’s frustrating to want to jump into a game to see that only a handful of servers far off are available at times. In an ideal world during the review phase it’s always a case of announced MP times for play but when it hits the wild those arranged situations drop heavily and it’s up to the ecosystem to either sustain that activity or die. Sadly many evenings are left with “refreshing” screens on the MP side while I skip out and try to complete the SP levels.

Interceptor has come a long way with essentially nothing, they had to take on a challenge that often reserves itself to modder circles where a virtual team develops and collaborates to get a product made over years. Given that and the limited access to testing and QA they’ve certainly done well for themselves, hopefully in the future they’ll be able to enlist more voices from the community to help them shape those titles to have an even tighter release. Rise of the Triad is by no means rough but it’s certainly in a turbulent time where people are struggling to recognize that differences and challenges are beneficial and giving the least amount of room to complain helps out.

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I hope the team is able to overcome the issues like the collision reporting as restarting a game from a checkpoint is frustrating especially if you’re not getting it right. Rise of the Triad is a genuinely fun game to experience but it does rely on a passionate community to keep it going strong. Player’s shouldn’t shy away from what essentially makes it so diverse and competitive, if you’re not good at a game, get better, don’t use excuses. ROTT doesn’t use any and it just tries to step up to the challenge as we’ve seen in their social campaigns.

Would I recommend the game solely upon its single player experience? Yes, it’s challenging and hilarious and some things they tucked away in there are genuinely priceless. The art and styling and character modeling are diverse with textures that don’t leave you cringing wondering if someone just forgot to remove a low-res placeholder. While there is repetition within the style it’s not frequent enough to act as a core distraction of the game experience, if one gets distracted, they’re not really doing it right (play a harder difficulty).

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Overall I commend the team on the effort and the product, their situation being challenging and ambitious. They doubled down and pushed to produce a product that users can enjoy and while it might have bugs or glitches, many are working hard to help report those and even troubleshoot them so everyone can enjoy a better experience. The biggest issue that I can find for a game like this is, online… I just need to see more servers online within a decent distance to actually know there’s a future beyond the next few months.

The good:

  • Unreal Engine 3 scales like crazy, this should run on most systems around
  • Single player maps are challenging and unforgiving
  • Details and design are tasteful and complex, don’t expect to get handed directions on a silver platter
  • Mechanics follow the original ROTT although it uses mouselook now (yaaay)
  • Pricing is extremely low at $15

The not so good:

  • Physics behave in a world of their own, collisions often result in glitching, not so awesome
  • Guns can appear properly or not at all (this has improved)
  • Online community is really sparse / dead at writing
  • Control settings at default are troubling, community tweaks fix this but mouse smoothing and general response need to come as an option

Review – Shelter

Might and Delight took a shot at platforming with p.i.d. and they’ve returned with Shelter, a game of a different scope, asking players to find a parental or guardian instinct within. The task presents difficulty, having to fend off flying predators, lurkers in the dark and brave the elements while trying not to let your family starve. The reward of course is simple, your family lives and you take the reward of having protected and saved them, that’s one of the best they could really distribute.

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Sadly, Shelter is really short, like an hour if you really push through and don’t get lost in the dark. The pathways are linear through most regions and fail to embrace the open world presentation, predators and challenges fail to repeat and instead greet players a step at a time. With a difficulty adjustment option maybe it could solve that issue, now though, once completing Shelter, there’s a general idea of where mistakes happened and how to overcome them.

Shelter 2013-09-03 01-41-08-52It’s a nice perk to learn from the past but to have that negate the experience is a bit rough, replay value does drop as players begin to count of turns or paces between zones until they’re on the next task. I really wish they would attempt to add some alternatives or options into Shelter, before you know it, you’re almost done and it’s too late. For $9.99 there’s a contrast in the experience between this and other Greenlight games, being able to revisit is a huge part of the experience now.

Conceptually I find Shelter as a fun start of an experience, crossing regions, protecting from predators and experiencing a world without guns, swords or other weapons. It falls short of taking the experience further, what about other shelter regions, paths, enemies or different level designs for each adventure. Variety is the biggest issue here, I just wish there was something available to generate that impression.

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The good:

  • Unique experience, focusing on protecting your kin
  • Challenges forcing preservation of self and the group
  • Design uses simplicity and rough illustration to paint a warm home

The not so good:

  • Good for about 1 experience
  • Lacks variety in enemy and layout options
  • Short, between 60-120 minutes depending on the player

Review – Game Developer Tycoon

Game Dev Tycoon is here and taking over by storm, the tycoon builder strives to poke at video game history and challenge players to critical decision-making and budget spending to survive the harsh pages of time in the video gaming industry. Odd enough, as Game Dev Tycoon opens, such a reality seems possible, the simple initial controls and guesswork to pair genres to themes give an easy first impression.

That is… until you play the game. Themes are random each play, they could be miraculous or some of the most punishing elements to pair up on a limited field. The use of this is a great incentive for players to take the game and start shaping. As hits come out of the garage studio, options to research new themes and expand details come and it’s critical to manage funding and points to avoid falling into massive bank debt. Unfortunately it’s not an exact science, pairing isn’t just slap what sounds good together, zombies and simulations aren’t a magic match despite what might be thought.

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The team made an effort to allow users to fail at an earlier level of the game by having product cycle releases earlier and staggered results of development. Botch that first game out of the studio and there’s a solid chance the finances slide until bankruptcy leers around the corner. Management requires anticipation for technology upgrades and changes based on console history, falling behind the curve limits appeal and puts fan relations in a bind when years go by and the same antiquated engine is still running the latest releases. Every PR decision, every single move to attend a show, to hire a new person to train them. It all has a subtle longer term impact in how the results pan out.

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Ultimately it rests on the player to create the right formulas, balances, teams and training schedule to keep the team ready for the future. While this might frustrate some, it’s a challenge mechanic that forces creativity and experimentation without just churning out carbon copy games. The only current issue that I’ve had with Game Dev Tycoon is save management. Having only one studio to manage at a time is frustrating, being 34 years in and unable to make Virtual Kitten Action RPG games without tanking the studio is troubling.

Hopefully items like multiple saves states come into the design, at $9.99 (7.99 currently) this Greenlight title grabs the Tycoon formula and cleverly mashes it into a digestible delivery where players hack away to reach the top at their own pace. My current progress is a testament to that as I run with a full office and yet lack a proper R&D facility simply because I keep investing in future tech. The experience is what you want to make of it and those who expect to make it rain 10/10 games are clearly delusional.

The good:

  • Scales on current hardware and old hardware without an issue
  • Resolution is forgiving even at Eyefinity levels
  • Variety of starting points and results available, no empire will be exactly the same
  • Stands as one of the easier Tycoon games in the market
  • Replay value in creating random titles to succeed or fail horribly

The not so good:

  • Tweaking settings can bring frustration
  • Options can blur focus on priority investments or upgrades
  • Lack of additional save states
  • Time moves exceptionally fast, leaves players to restart to develop on other platforms

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