Wednesday, December 17, 2014

First Two Chapters of The Wolf Among Us Comic Available Now

The first and second chapters of Vertigo's comic adaptation of Telltale's The Wolf Among Us are available from digital comic retailer Comixology now.  The third issue is scheduled to be released on Christmas Eve, followed by the fourth chapter on New Year's Eve.  A print compilation is scheduled to be released in 2015.

CSI: Hard Evidence Review

Hard Evidence was the fourth game based on the original CSI television show, and the second developed by Telltale Games. While the last game was a large departure from the previous entries, with a presentation in three dimensional graphics for the first time, this entry was mostly the same as it's predecessor, though there were some noticeable improvements.

As this is Telltale's second game in the series, your character is no longer a treated as a rookie CSI, but it's left ambiguous as to whether you are the same character as before.  Grissom sometimes asks if you met someone that he introduced you to in the previous game, but the question is never answered. However, since he runs CSI, and you only worked one case each with each of the CSIs last time, it's not implausible that he doesn't remember exactly who you met before.  Because of this, you are treated as someone who is not completely new to the job, but are still new compared to the rest of the team.  However, even if you are not a rookie CSI this time, since you still have your superiors, the format from the previous game still works here.

This is Telltale's first game to incorporate a tutorial section.  It's a silly, yet fun case where you train by using the tools of the CSI crime lab to learn who stole and ate Grissom's donut.  This is a nice addition, as there are a lot of tools at your disposal.  It's nice to be shown what everything does, rather than having to read descriptions about tools and locations, and figuring it out as you go.   Plus, since the tutorial is completely optional, it doesn't get in the way for those who have played other games in this series before.

Since it was made only a year after the last game, the graphics haven't improved much.  Like it's predecessor, this game really shows it’s age graphically due to the realistic style chosen when the engine really wasn't capable of that yet.  Like 3 Dimensions of Murder, the characters do resemble their characters enough to be recognizable, but there’s definitely still some uncanny valley going on here.  There is also some obvious reuse of areas and character models.  The areas aren't bad, since it's said to be different rooms in the same hotel, but the character models are distracting, especially in one case involving four victims.  The blatant product placement in the series also really kicks into full gear here.  The Hewlett Packard computers are subtle, but all of the Visa advertisements really stand out in a bad way.

While the graphics could have used some improvement, the presentation still really feels like the show.  Like before, as you progress in the game, there are scenes with music from the show and establishment shots of Las Vegas when you move to a new location. The music in other locations was once again composed by Jared Emerson-Johnson, and, while being quite low-key, fits the game well.   Once again, all of the Hollywood-style CSI technology from the show is available for you to use in the lab, and the famous closeup shots when evidence is discovered are also once again present in the game.

However, sometimes the camera pans in on an item that is necessary to progress.  It's not quite as bad as in Back to the Future, since it only happens after a line of questioning relating to the item, and close-up shots are a big part of the CSI franchise.  However, the close-up shots still happen even if you already examined the evidence prior to questioning the witness about it, which makes the close-up shot feel redundant and unnecessary.

This game continues on from the last, requiring you to scan locations for evidence and then using various lab tools to run the evidence looking for clues.  However, this time, the tools are more streamlined, and less confusing.  You now have a PDA which can choose which location to visit, examine evidence, read the case file, and receive messages from supervisors.  But the best improvement is in the tools themselves.  When you choose the detection and collection menus, only the tools of a certain type are selectable based on your evidence.  You still have to select the right tool for the job, based on the tool's description, but since the only tools presented are the ones that can be used for what you're trying to do, chances are you'll hear the "that's not the right tool for that" line less often than before.  Computers now also flash when you are able to use a piece of evidence on them.  Usually you are told that you can't scan evidence because it hasn't been fully processed yet, which works well, and helps to alert you that you haven't completed everything necessary to move on.  However, sometimes you can't examine evidence, and you're told you don't have the warrant for that yet when that reasoning makes no sense in context, other than for plot necessity.

The repetitiveness of the "way to be thorough" line from the last game is solved in a clever way in this game.  You can still check areas with no evidence, but rather than repeating the line, it's only said once and the rest of the time an indicator comes up telling you that you got a thoroughness point.  These points are counted up, along with how well you did investigating and questioning witnesses with your final performance review by Grissom at the end of each case.

The collectables make their first appearance in a Telltale game here.  In the show, Grissom likes to collect bugs, so you can find bugs in the game.  Finishing each case, collecting all the bugs, and achieving master ranking on all the cases gets you trailers, storyboards, and concept art.  This is a precursor to things in later Telltale games like the stickers won in the bonus games in the Sam & Max seasons and the collectibles and awesomeness rankings in Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People.

Once again, they got most of the original voices to do the voices of the characters here, which again really helps to give it the feel of playing five episodes of the show.  The deliveries here are a bit better than in the first game, as the lines said by the show's cast are delivered in a slightly less dry manner, and seem more natural.  The suspects are are again voiced well too, with some later Telltale regulars appearing such as Gavin Hammon (who delivers an excellent performance as the new age hippy Ed Freeborn).  Most of the time, the dialog does a great job of drawing you into the game.  However, sometimes dialog cuts off early, particularly in the tutorial section.

The cases are interesting, and would fit right in with the show, though there's nothing quite as clever as the case involving a popular video game series that was in the previous game.  There's still no overarching plot, but the last case again connects to previous cases.  Though none of the cases quite hit the high of the best case of the previous game, the cases are all still interesting in their own right, and the improvements in the game design over the original make up for the lack of a real standout case.  The design is streamlined to make the game less confusing and more fun to play, the repetitive dialog is trimmed down, the original cast seems to be getting used to their voice roles, as they put in a more natural performance, and the supporting cast is good as well.  The game successfully uses music from the show, and the additional music by Jared Emerson-Johnson, while low-key, fits the game perfectly.

Once again, this game isn't for anyone.  All of the improvements did nothing to make this game more enticing to those who don't like the CSI franchise, or at least like Hollywood's style of exaggerated crime scene investigation techniques.  If you do like these kind of shows, you'll most likely enjoy this game.  If you don't like them, then you won't like this game either, since it follows the formula so closely.

Final Verdict:

3½ out of 5

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Kickstarter To Make Theresa Duncan Adventures Playable Free

There is a kickstarter campaign running now to make the three adventure games created by Theresa Duncan (Chop Suey, Smarty, and Zero Zero) available for free online, for a minimum of one year.  These games were pioneers of their time, but they are now obscure, and long out of print.  They targeted young girls in the mid-1990's when the market catered almost exclusively to young boys.  They were story based adventure games and revolve around search and discovery.  They were also well received when they were released.  Chop Suey was named the 1995 CD-ROM of the Year by Entertainment Weekly.

Sadly, Theresa Duncan passed away in 2007, but this Kickstarter aims to make sure that her games continue to be able to be enjoyed by the next generation of children.  If this sounds like a campaign you're interested in, head over to the Theresa Duncan CD-ROMs kickstarter and pick a pledge tier.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Sam & Max: Bright Side of the Moon Review

After a slow start, Telltale's first foray into the world of Sam & Max began picking up steam by the middle of the first season.  The first season finale wraps things up in spectacular fashion.

The episode picks up right where the final episode left off, with Sam finally piecing together who is behind the events of the season.  As it was revealed in the final shot of the penultimate episode, Telltale lets Sam go through a whole complicated, nonsensical reasoning as to who the villain could be when the clues are quite obvious. This dialog is the closest Telltale has ever gotten to the feel of the conversations in the comics, in my opinion.  However, although the hint towards the identity of the villain is supposed to be obvious, as it’s a mnemonic device that’s often taught in schools. If you don’t know it, Sam’s reasoning as to who the villain could be could be seen as too nonsensical.

In this episode, the duo travel to the moon, and experience one of the most bizarre, yet fun adventures of their career.  Their journey to the moon is not explained.  However, as Sam & Max often go through time and space without explanations in the comics, this fits perfectly in their universe.  This isn't their first journey to the moon, since these games are based on the comic universe. If you still wonder how they got to the moon after playing this episode, I suggest reading the comic (or watching the television episode based on the comic) Bad Day on the Moon (which was foreshadowed throughout the entire season by a picture from that comic story in the office).  I don’t personally feel that this explanation is necessary though (since explanations are often not given in the Sam & Max universe), and feel it worked fine as shown in the episode. Since the duo already know how to get there, having Max just point to the moon at the end of the credit sequence actually worked well, and was a fun little deviation from the norm.

The new environments on the moon are all done really well, and have a lot of personality to them. This is the furthest that Sam & Max have ever gone towards mysticism in the games, so the environments and puzzles don't conform to real world logic.  The puzzles are really fun, however, especially the puzzles involving the magical talismans and those involving Max.  The puzzles aren’t for everybody, because they don’t follow real life logic at all, but I felt they followed the logic of the Sam & Max universe well. Plus, it let the Telltale team think outside of the box, and get really creative. I personally thought they were all really enjoyable.

There are no new characters, but the returning cast is used well. I especially like the fact that Harry Moleman’s character is fleshed out here since we didn’t get to know him very well in his previous episode. The people that follow the cult of the villain are an unusual mix, but they’re reasons for being there all fit their personality. I especially liked Superball, as the dialog contrasts with his personality wonderfully. Sybil’s job here is the best of the season. It’s so off-the-wall, but it fits the absurdity of the Sam & Max universe perfectly. I liked Bosco the best here this season too. The deployment of his invention was among the funniest of the season.  The villain of the season was perfect as well. I like how Telltale did a bait-and-switch by having the first episode have a different villain than the rest of the season, but there are still clues throughout all the episodes as to who the real villain is. I always liked that character, but even more so as a villain.

The humor here is also really great, and the characters get a chance to be portrayed in a way they hadn't been before.  All of the voice actors were able to shine, voicing their characters in multiple ways.  William Kasten in particular did a great job doing subtly different voices of Max.  The music was equally excellent, including a superb end credits song that actually continued the plot of the game into the credits. The War Song may be my favorite musical number of the season, but World of Max is my favorite song. Jared Emerson-Johnson and Bay Area Sound did a great job with all of the music in this season, and they finished it off wonderfully in this episode.

Bright Side of the Moon is my favorite episode of the first season.  The quality of the episodes in Season One kept improving since episode 4, and that trend continued here. The puzzles were fun, and the new environments were fantastic.  The characters were the funniest they had been all season, thanks in no small part to the multi-layered portrayal by the voice actors.  The music was also fantastic, fitting into the plot of the game seamlessly.  This episode was an excellent way to end the season.

Final Verdict:

4½ out of 5

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Etheron, from the creators of Riven, is on Kickstarter

The Etheron Kickstarter seeks crowdfunding for a virtual reality adventure game for Oculus Rift and PlayStation 4, by the creators of the classic adventure game Riven.  There is a week to go, and they are just over $20,000 short of their $35,800 USD goal.  So, if this sounds like something you want to support, head over to the Etheron Kickstarter and choose a pledge level.

Kickstarter for Victor, a steampunk adventure game

The Victor Kickstarter is on now, crowdfunding a hand drawn point and click steampunk adventure game starring a wild boar Viktor who is on a quest to become the Emperor of Austria-Hungary.  There is 6 days left in the campaign, and they are a quarter of a way to making their $10,000 USD goal.  So, head over to the Victor Kickstarter to pick a pledge level and help make this game a reality.

The Crow's Eye Kickstarter Campaign

The Crow's Eye Kickstarter campaign is on now.  There are two days and $34,000 USD left to fund this first-person terror adventure game with hints of crafting, that is full of suspense and which rewards investigation.  Head over to The Crow's Eye Kickstarter to pick a pledge tier and help the team reach their goal.