Thursday, April 29, 2010

Runaway: A Road Adventure

If romance novels had a video game this game would come close to looking like it.  Runaway: A Road Adventure is an animated point and click adventure game with a very polished production.  It stars a goofy physics graduate, Brian Bracco, on his way cross country to Berkley from New York City to start his graduate research under a prominent professor in his field.  While taking a detour through the city to pick up a book he had on order from a local bookstore he hits a mysterious and beautiful damsel in distress, Gina, with his car by accident and rushes her off to the hospital.

At the hospital he finds out Gina is a club singer on the run from the mob.  The mobsters had targeted her father over a crucifix he had slipped her before being captured and tortured to death by the mobster's hit-men.  Being of course the dashing male lead he agrees to take Gina with him on his cross country trip and help her find the truth behind her father's death.

As I mentioned before the game has a very high production value.  Although the graphics are your cell shaded cartoon style the images are well drawn and meticulously detailed.  Cut scenes are very slick but stylish to the key of a romance novel told from the perspective of Brian.  The voice acting is melodramatic but done in humour.  The producers have also an original professional soundtrack reminiscent of 90's soap pop rock to support the dialogue-less parts of the story.

Unfortunately underneath the polished surface the game is not perfect.  Like most point and click games I have played up to this point I find myself resorting to brute force tactics at certain points of the game randomly clicking for that one spot and inventory combination to get me through the next event.  Already twice the essential item was just too small to notice or beside a lot of other non essential click areas.  I have as well encountered puzzle events which did not have a logical progression of thought.  There is (for example) an event that's triggered in scene 2 of the game when you cause a character to break something by accident.  I had no idea that this was the intention of Brian when you get him on this rather complicated chain of events.  I find these badly planned story arcs remove from the emmersiveness of story and detracts from the experience of feeling smugly clever - possibly one of the main reasons I play point and click games.  Runaway: A Road Adventure can be found on Steam for $9 USD.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Misfits (on E4)

The Misfits is a show that appeared fall last year on the UK channel E4 for 6 episodes.  The premise is essentially a raunchy "anti-Heroes" show about 5 juveniles on probation community service who are granted strange powers after a freak storm strikes their city.  The storm also grants powers to other people in the city which the kids encounter through out the series.

Now the twist is the powers that the kids have are not your typical superpowers we have seen other comic heroes before them wield and these kids are not even the type of people you would want to get them either.  These kids first of all are on probation for juvenile crimes they have for some reason or another have committed. Secondly, they are your extreme angst ridden, smart-assed variety struggling with identity issues, sexuality (or lack there of), anger and frustration.  The powers they have been granted vary and are somewhat tied to their deepest personality trait.  The group introvert character, for example, can turn invisible probably since he's constantly being ignored.  The group gossip and big sister type can hear the thoughts of everyone around her.  The group flirt can entice any one to have mad passionate sex with her by just touching them.  There's a group joker, wise ass but you don't get to know his power till end of the series (which I am but one short of watching).  The group jock has an interesting power to pull himself back through time at a point of regret and change what he can about a bad situation.

Other than dealing with their new found powers they must deal with others who have also been granted some power.  They unfortunately had to deal with their probation officer who went off in an insane, blind, "Incredible Hulk"-like rage and forced our heroes to kill him.  Being on probation they decide to hide the probation officer's body along with another kid that was killed by the probation officer to avoid being sentenced as full on criminals.  Their actions (of course) do not go unnoticed.  The probation officer's fiancee suspect the kids of something to do with the sudden disappearance of her betrothed and cause a few problems for our heroes through out the series.

The series is not for family and does have strong sexual content which is done in context and not only to show some ratings ass.  Misfits is, however, a fresh look at the hero genre done with slick footage, great alternative music, and worth a watch or download.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Nikopol: Secrets of the Ancients (revisted)

So the game which got me on a roll to upgrade my Windows 7 machine has got a few hours of play.  Nikopol: Secrets of the Ancients is a 3D rendered point and click adventure based on the European graphic novel series, Nikopol.  The game play is essentially a throw back to the Myst series where players navigate the playable character from scene to scene picking up and using items where appropriate to progress the story.  The game controls are pretty simple and can be manipulated from the 2 buttons on the mouse.  Left mouse click actions a clicked item and right cycles through your inventory. 

Though I am a fan of these games I get easily frustrated when the essential item you need to click on is placed in an odd place with respect to the scene and the only way to find this item is to hover and click at random places on the screen and then point and click each area you find with an item in your inventory.  I understand that not all puzzles can be well though out but the game's challenge should not digress to screen wack-a-mole.  This game has a few places where I had no idea what to do next because the item or area I needed to click on was either too small or illogically placed.
As for the graphics the game is beautifully rendered though shameful that such an eye pleasing environment was not interactable.  This is also annoying to me since if you are going to spend the time to code a 3D environment then why make it so static.  Your character (like in Myst) is set on a solid path through each scene and robs from this game the life which it deceivingly appears to have.

Negatives aside the story so far seems to be somewhat interesting drawing from Blade Runner for ambiance and some Egyptian mythology for plot and character story.  The story so far focuses on Nikopol - the playable character.  I am not quite sure what he is but he paints and sculpts stone for high paying celebrities and lives in a dump of an apartment.  His late father was involved with a religious group and he himself has taken up some involvement recently as a form of soul searching.  He lives in an oppressive state which appears to hold false democratic processes to placate a powerless unrest over their people. 

Upon finishing a request to bring with him a portrait of his late father to a meeting he has with his holy man at his new church he is accosted by a strange alien animal that wants him under arrest.  Nikopol escapes with the help of the player and heads for his church's hangout. At this point on the whole story is bent around finding out what has the government after him and how does his involvement with this new church have anything to do with it.

I have so far played my self out of the first area and cut scene and encountered a dreaded timed event where you are forced quickly to figure out your next life saving action.  Luckily, the game allows you to begin the sequence again if you should fail and consequently die.  The game is beautiful and stylish.  It has some disappointments but anyone who likes a good point and click should try this title.  You can find Nikopol: Secrets of the Ancients on Steam for $9 USD.

Call of Cthulu: The Dark Corners of the Earth

This game is an early Bethesda creation - the same people who churned out RPG hit video games such as Elder Scrolls: Oblivion and Fallout: 3.  Call of Cthulu: The Dark Corners of the Earth is an RPG with FPS elements based on the classic dice and paper RPG, Call of Cthulu.  The premise of both games is the investigation of the occult in the flavor of H.P. Lovecraft - a questionable turn of the century pulp sci-fi writer. 

The game has done a good job of incorporating much of the mechanics of the original RPG especially that of sanity checks.  What that translates into in game is a saving throw calculated at every encounter of the occult where if one fails the player loses control of his character as his character succumbs to insanity.  To counter insanity players can inject their characters with morphine which like real life has detrimental effects on the character's health.  Player can also navigate their characters around sources of the occult (i.e. dead bodies, satanic art, alien devices) but they also chance missing essential clues to their investigations.

The game follows a detective who in the prologue of the game is called out to a cult hangout where the cops have surrounded.  The cult seem to be fending off the cops from intruding but have called out your character to talk and negotiate a cease fire between them and the police.  Your character has no idea why they have called him out in particular but as the detective encounters more of the cult characters in the house he realizes that they recognize him on a personal level and that they have been tracking his movements prior to the shoot out.  Further investigations of the hangout lead him to the basement where he encounters what could be an alien being at which point he passes out.  The game continues six years later.  Your character has been in and out of the asylum and he has a vague recollection of his own whereabouts for the last six years.  It is at this point he is reluctantly hired by a store chain manager to go track down a missing store clerk in an isolated town.

The game is essentially a point and click game with a few instances of FPS-like combat.  Players must navigate the detective in each of the locations that his investigation takes him constantly managing what he focuses on for clues since every exposure to occult activity lowers his tolerance to insanity.  Should the character fail his insanity check the screen blurs and control of the character becomes even more difficult.  There are also some stealth elements to the game where the player must navigate his character to cover to avoid detection from NPCs to get to goals or in game events to progress the story as well as a few timed events where the player must navigate to an event point before he is intercepted by an NPC or an unfortunate accident.

Call of Cthulu: The Dark Corners of the Earth does a good job of bringing the the classical RPG to the PC.  The graphics are a little dated but still sets that eeriness you would expect from a game of this genre.  The sound track is low key and the voice acting of the detective is a throwback to post world war two detective fiction.  You can find the game on Steam for $9 USD.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Doctor Who 2-Parter in Session

The re-occurring Doctor Who character of River Song played once again by Alex Kingston returned last Saturday to Doctor Who for a 2 parter which also features the return of the deadly Weeping Angels.  Though focused on the set up of the two part episode we got a good run of action and plot development of the complicated relationship the Doctor has with River Song.  Still not confirmed is whether River Song is to be the Doctor's future wife since all of the dialogue regarding any further knowledge of this seemed to be answered tongue in cheek.  Fortunately where the story would leave you frustrated for further exploration on this topic we learn just how more deadly the Weeping Angels are.

In season three where they were first introduced in an almost Doctor-less episode the Weeping Angels were the perfect killing machine sentencing their targets to a one way trip back in time as they would feed off the energy of a probable future now absent of their prey's influence.  Sound complicated?  No worries since this time around they just kill.  Furthermore, the Weeping Angels have a special defense mechanism - they turn into lifeless stone when seen.  This translates into a creepy stop motion-like effect as they get menacingly close with every blink of an eye.  And to even improve on their creepiness the Weeping Angels can apparently now kill remotely with any image recorded of themselves.

There's one thing you never put in a trap, if you're clever, if you're smart, if you value your continuing existence, if you ever want to live to see tomorrow, there is one thing you never, ever put in a trap. ME. - the Doctor

In true fashion to the series we are left on a cliffhanger with the Doctor, Amy, and River surrounded by an horde of Weeping Angels.  Watch the exciting conclusion next Saturday on BBC-1 (er Sunday for us North American pirates on YouTube).

Adjustments to Posting Format

So I went back over my blog today and after some minor maintenance decided that my series/episode format had to go.  You will probably notice a re-post of certain reviews I have done in series now under their own entry which in a blog about everything is probably better suited.  In any case, for those who just started recently following it will give you a chance to catch up with some of the blog's earlier work.  Enjoy.

Prime Suspect

Actress Helen Mirren has been showing up on recent American films often playing the English woman in charge in her supporting roles.  What most people do not know about Helen Mirren's early career is her riveting portrayal of fictional police woman DCI Jane Tennison.  Prime Suspect is a 6 series show that centers on the conquests of Helen Mirren's iconic role.  Jane Tennison is a career police detective who in the first series is given the opportunity to take on a very public serial killer investigation.  She is a skilled intuitive investigator in a very male dominant role which many times throughout the series hinder or blind her progress on the case she is on.  Not only must she deal with her often deviously smart quarry but she often must put up with the many old fashioned detectives who undermine her authority.  Despite the many obstacles and the many bad decisions she makes up for them by her obsessive tenacity to get her prime suspect's conviction.

The show itself survived 6 seasons and covers the major murder investigations that high light the career of Jane Tennison from the case which jump starts her career to her retirement case.  Prime Suspect is definitely a must watch for fans of the police drama genre.

Culpa Innata

This game was a surprising discovery in the Steam RPG list and is a very immersive title in the 3D point and click adventures.  Off the hop I will admit the graphics are quite dated but once you get past that you'll see that the game shines in so many other aspects.  The game definitely succeeds in being a mystery adventure.  Your character, Phoenix Wallis, is charged with a career changing case of investigating a murder.  She has at her disposal an array of data processing technologies that she can implement from her office to extract information from various sources she picks up from her investigation. 

The twist is complicated.  She is first of all a futuristic immigrations officer normally assigned to evaluate citizenship applicants.  Secondly her victim was murdered on foreign soil in the rogue nation of Russia.  Thirdly she's in a utopic state where greed and scientific advancement are virtues they uphold.  So this in game explains why her society is unfamiliar with murder cases and also limits somewhat how she must deal with interviews and information collection.

On top of investigating the murder Phoenix Wallis must upkeep her status at work and society.  She can only work from 9ish AM to 7ish PM.  She has her usual duties of interviewing new citizenship applications, making reports of her progress to her superiors, and dealing with some office politics perpetrated by jealous opportunistic rivals.  Outside of work player must tend to her social needs and guide the conversation on dates and outings.

Culpa Innata is a slick futuristic point and click game.  Though the graphics at certain points are quite dated and could use a makeover the game makes up for it with its immersive story and environment.  Culpa Innata is currently on Steam for $9 USD.


In a day where we are inundated with 3D graphics it's nice to see a platformer done well.  Trine is an independent development that does a really good job of entertaining us with a platform style game that implements a good balance of action and puzzles in its game play and keeps the genre of game fresh by implementing innovative UI mechanisms and detailed beautiful graphics.  You play a selection of 3 characters which you can switch at any point of the game to utilize their very different play styles.  You have a knight that wields sword and shield for close quarters melee.  You have a rogue/thief character armed with bow and grappling hooks for ranged combat and climbing up high unreachable heights.  You have a mage character that can summon a variety of blocks and planks to block or climb up on.  The mage as well can magically lift loose objects off the ground and move them to anywhere provided he's not blocked by other elements and that he has mana available.  By switching up you cast of characters you find various ways to get past obstacles in each screen.  The game is definitely about figuring out progression through each screen since at every second screen a save point is automatically stored.  Should all you characters die you restart at your last passed way point.  Should you make it to the next save point characters who have died are restored.  I personally do not like platformers; however, Trine is unique enough for me to visit every now and then.  Trine is available on Steam for $9 USD. 


I got this game for Christmas last year.  It's basically another point and click puzzle-venture where you play this cute comical robot who has been put out of sorts by some evil robots.  You start in a junk pile to run through the interaction basics of the game and then are left to progress your way back to the home you have for some mysterious reason been evicted from.  You have an inventory to collect various objects in game and use them to trigger events in certain areas to progress to other locked areas.  Your objective is simple.  Find out what happened that got you in this mess and save your cute robot girlfriend from the clutches of the evil robots.  Other than the interesting mind bending puzzles that bar your progression, Machinarium scored points with me on the unique artistic look of the game, the wonderful new age lounge music that accompany the various areas of the game, and the occasional mini games that do a throw back to the simpler times of video games.  You can find Machinarium on Steam for $20 USD but I have recently seen it on special for $9 USD.

The Path

This game is definitely not for everyone but I did enjoy it despite some frustration over the game play.  I even got my girlfriend to play it.  The Path is more an interactive piece of art with very feminine overtones and by that I do not mean it's your "Hello Kitty Island Adventure".  What I do mean is that the imagery and abstractions relate to growing up as a woman and losing your innocence in every sense of the word.  So basically how The Path works is that you are presented with a selection of 6 different girls to play on start.  On selection you are given one task - go to grandma's house and spend some quality time with her.  After some credit screen roll and a simple explanation of the controls you are left on the road to grandma's house to follow.  The road runs straight through this forest which of course you can endlessly wander into.  If you do choose to walk on the road you eventually get to grandma's house with out any incident where you get to a room with your bed ridden grandma and (oddly) an out of place wolf.  The game ends and tells you you've actually failed at the whole point of the game.  The game is about exploration to the allegory of Little Red Riding Hood.  If you don't explore, you don't grow, and you fail (at life) put simply.  I like the atmosphere of the game but after possibly an hour or so (in this falsely immersive environment) it can get quite annoying on top of the frustration of figuring out how to engage in a game event that is triggered by being with in a proximity of a seemingly out of place object in the woods.  My advice - try the game twice and then maybe listen to an Indigo Girls album during the whole process.  You can find The Path on Steam for 9$ USD.

Mata Hari

Yes, even Mata Hari, the famous World War I exotic dancer, femme fatal, and even more infamous - suspected double agent, gets her own video game.  And though you may expect this game at first to be a cheap point and click erotic adventure, it to my surprise was not - well almost.  Mata Hari (the game) scored points with me on an innovative quest interface which is supported by your typical log book and simple drag and drop icons which represent items and goals to be handed off to characters you interact with.  The visuals are drawn 3D but are crisp, detailed, and beautiful.  The story itself is engaging, though I don't know if it's because it's loosely based on the Mata Hari legend or that there's some fun in going around and seducing French and German historical figures.  My only negative is like with all point and click games the one or two game events that are not so apparent and have to be found by pretty much pointing and clicking randomly on the display.  As for Mata Hari, if you are a fan of the original Myst and can do with some revisionist history give it a try on Steam for $9 USD.

Penumbra: Overture

 A survival horror, action / adventure, RPG, Penumbra : Overture is an all around innovative game scoring points on a intuitive interface, a rich dark atmosphere, and (so far on my 30 minute romp into Penumbra) very practical puzzles that can be figured out through common sense.  The game play itself is about survival and using the environment to progress.  The environment is intuitively easy to manipulate with mouse clicks and drags and one can also map inventory objects to number hot keys.  Movement is controlled by your typical FPS key punches. The game is not too combat oriented and stealth does play a larger role in game play.  Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Simon & Garfunkle's Greatest Hits

My dad played this album to death on our long family trips to Toronto.  I hated it at first, but I was young and didn't have hormones, alcohol, marijuana, and angst to understand what the hell they were singing about.  Now that I have lived those times twice over and suffered the heartaches of growing up I have this album handy for those rainy days I just want to be alone in a non-emo way.

Dead Space

This was apparently a must play title which I never heard of but what makes this game fun is that it is very playable by anyone who likes survival horror RPGs.  I do not normally like survival horror because I am quite the noob when it comes to the FPS twitch.  Most games do not forgive you if you miss that one shot which most of the time is your last bullet.  This game gives plenty of ammo and plenty of ways to dispatch on coming zombie alien infestations and if that's not enough you have difficulty levels that you can knock back a notch if you just want to bash aliens senselessly.

In any case Dead Space is a survival horror game set in a well rendered 3D environment of the hull of a massive futuristic space mining facility.  You play an engineer sent with a full military outfit to respond to a maintenance distress call from the space mining vessel which apparently is suffering from a massive power failure.  On top of it all there's a cute blond somewhere aboard the mining vessel waiting for you who appears to be frantic from the happenings aboard her ship.  The opening cut scene which appears to be seamlessly rendered with in the game environment explains that your ship has had a rude awakening and is also now stranded on the derelict mining vessel.  It does not take too much time to realize that something is terribly wrong aboard.  Most of the space mining vessel's crew is decimated brutally by an alien infestation that wanders the silent corridors and vents of the vessel's bulkheads; furthermore, your military outfit is reduced to you, a computer hacker, and a gun-ho military man in charge.

The controls are relatively easy to master.  Other than the fact you can't jump in the game the controls are your basic ASWD FPS action.  There are various other controls which toggle secondary functions of equipment and weapons and SPACE is actually mapped to stomp on stuff under foot (very important when conserving ammo in this game).  Weapons must be aimed with while holding the right button and fire by pressing the left hand simultaneously with the right.  A sole mouse left click will swing your character's held weapon as a melee device.  The character inventory (very key to a good RPG experience) is actually integrated as a projected display from your character's environment suit and various indicators such as life points, remaining ammo, and secondary device energy are indicated as integrated displays on the suit as well.  These details add to the game's overall emmersiveness and also allow for an easy learning curve to the game's interface.

The story is a mash up of various popular sci-fi horror stories that focus on making players feel the claustrophobic tight spaces and hopelessness one would feel in the reaches of deep space.  On top of it all are the cheesy formulaic character conflicts and relationships that are as well borrowed from the genre.  But if you can tolerate the throwbacks to pop sci-fi the game is fun and just challenging enough (even on easy) to warrant its $20 price tag on Steam.

Second Sight

This was another surprise purchase on Steam.  When I read previous reviews of this game It received an average rating.  Not that I did disagree with them totally but for someone who is not quite good with the twitch at FPS combat the controls were easy to master and surprisingly efficient at reducing the required number of keystrokes to play this game.  This is a good thing since the playable character has at his command many abilities and weapons players gain through the progression.

The story is quite unique (at least in the many games I have so far played).  The playable character is John Vattic.  From the get-go he's a psychiatric patient being wheeled in for experimentation at a science facility.  Heavily sedated and bounded the players are introduced immediately that he is gifted with telekinetic abilities which release him from his imprisonment.  Players must now navigate John through his escape.  As he progresses through the first chapters of the game story he flashes back and forth between what players perceive is the present where John is escaping the science facility to a past 6 years before where players learn that he was part of a special ops military operation to investigate a research facility in Siberia.  At their command is what ever weapons John finds lying around and (depending where in the story the players are) a selection of psychic abilities that range from telekinesis to psychic attacks.

Probably what I find most fascinating about the game is the story and the twist (which I must spoil here because I felt it was so original so be warned) when you realize that what John believes at first to be his present frame of reference is really not.  In the early flashbacks of his days in the covert operations players learn John is a doctor of psychiatry whose main obsessions included debunking claims of psychic phenomenon.  To his surprise during the progress of the covert operations he finds out that he has dormant with in him advanced psychic abilities that he quickly implores to survive what he vaguely remembers to be a failed military operation in Siberia.  As players navigate John through stealth like game play in both life times players realize that John's most powerful gift is his precognitive ability and that what they first perceive to be John's present is in fact John's probable future if he does not succeed in the true present which is his progression through the covert operation.  Sadly from the reviews I have read this original concept in the game's story did not receive the praise I thought it should have gotten (but that's just me).

Now for its negatives.  The game is slightly buggy especially in some of the camera modes.  I have not quite figured out what it is exactly.  But I feel sometimes I get the screen locked in a certain perspective that I can not readjust and and in turn become frantically frustrated since the whole point of stealth games is to out manoeuvre your targets.  I did not really like the random mob mechanisms.  At certain points there are cameras that can be taken out and if left unattended only spawn sets of three guards until they can no longer track you.  That style of mechanism works for games where you are expected to run through to get to the next check point but become annoyingly unrealistic in a game about exploration, studying your targets, and stealthing around.  I in fact came to certain points where for some odd reason guards were spawning because I was in the proximity of some alarm zone inside a vent and out of sight at which a ludicrous number of security guards were spawning in a room I had not even encountered.  If it is suppose to be a heavily guarded compound then put more guards but make the number finite and realistic.

Other than the minor glitches in game play the game does offer some re-playability since in a game like this there is often more than one way to approach each level and to get to checkpoints in the game.  Second Sight unlocks each story episode for replay upon reaching the next story marker.  For people like me it's added value to be able to try different tactics with every scenario.  Though very rare I'm hoping the developers of Second Sight think about updating this game with a better production quality and a rethought random mob AI because it is really that close to being a top ten game for me.  You can find Second Sight on Steam for $9 USD.


Logorama from Marc Altshuler - Human Music on Vimeo.

OMG funny.  This Oscar winning short is a work of art set to a stereotypical romp of action movies.  The computer animated short was put together by a French production crew by well scripted and well voice acted in English.  Definitely worth the 15 minutes you'll spend oohing and aahing over the artistic placement of pretty much all our iconic western world logos.