Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Wolf Among Us: In Sheep's Clothing Review

The penultimate episode of The Wolf Among Us follows a beaten and battered Bigby as he comes to terms with the fact that even he has to be worried about his own mortality. The story delves deeper into the seedy underbelly of Fables, and continues to deliver the fantastic mystery and suspense that this season has been known for.

The story begins with Bigby dealing with his wounds from the last episode.  He was nearly beaten, but he's determined even more to catch the person responsible.  His prime suspect has powerful allies, who will give their lives in protection, and their lair is a secret that is shrouded in magic so no one knows exactly how to enter it.  Bigby has to go further into the shady parts of Fabletown in order to find the people that work for his suspect in order to solve the mystery and bring the criminal to justice.

Once again this story introduces a secondary villain from urban legend, who is not quite as formidable as the last, but is every bit as nasty.  The design of this character is wonderful, from the unassuming glamored human form to the disturbing reality of this fable's true self.  There are many returning characters as well, most of whom had only previously had brief roles in the story.  They are finally given their moment to shine, with the wonderful animation of the facial expressions that has been consistent this season, to the fantastic portrayals by the voice actors.  The music also continues to be a high point, once again setting the gritty mood of the seedy underbelly of Fabletown excellently.

By this point, it is obvious that nothing is going to change in regards to having more player interaction beyond the quick time events and player choices, but Telltale continues to handle the different reactions by characters based on Bigby's actions quite well.  The season is all about Bigby's quest for redemption over his actions against other fables when they were still in the old world.  The way that Bigby handles the fables is a big part of the charm of the choice system of this season, as they don't trust him and they all react quite differently based on how Bigby handles the situation.  As the investigations more intense, never before has the reactions been quite as disparate.  The story benefits as a result, no matter which way you choose to play.

In Sheep's Clothing is another fantastic episode. The story is exceptionally strong here, and the mystery and suspense is intensifying satisfyingly. Puzzles and direct controlled action sequences are once again eschewed in favor of choice based gameplay that changes the perceptions of characters to the protagonist.  However, this gameplay is used really well here, with the reactions of the characters and the way they treat Bigby being quite different based on the choices made.  The art, music, and exceptional voice acting also help to make this episode another shining example of a season that is one of Telltale's best examples of their cinematic story games.

Final Verdict:

4½ out of 5

Dreamfall Chapters Book One Is Out Now

The first book of Dreamfall Chapters, the sequel to The Longest Journey and Dreamfall, is out now on Steam. Those who backed it on Kickstarter or Paypal will be receiving a code to access the game through Humble Bundle. Those who prefer DRM-free versions won't have to wait long, as Dreamfall Chapters is going to be available from GOG.com tomorrow.

Grim Fandango Remastered To Be Playable At Day of the Devs

Double Fine is going to be holding a free to attend Day of the Devs event again this year, on November 1st at the Old Mint Building in San Francisco from 4PM to 11PM. They'll have lots of recent and upcoming Double Fine games to play, like Costume Quest 2, Massive Chalice, Grim Fandango Remastered, and more. There will also be a lot of games available to play from the other developers that are part of the event. To see the full list of games and to make a reservation for the event if you plan to attend, check out their Facebook event page.

While we're on the subject of Double Fine, the beta for Massive Chalice (which is a near-complete version of the game that can be played from start to finish) is out now for people who pledged $50 or more. If you're one of those people, you should have received your codes from Humble Bundle. If not, contact Humble Bundle support and they'll get you sorted.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Loom Mega Review

Loom is an easier adventure than the other games in the LucasArts adventure game catalog, and it has a unique musical based interface that serves as the means for solving puzzles in lieu of an inventory, but it still manages to be a pretty satisfying adventure.

Loom is set in a magical world that is inhabited by several guilds of people with unique magical abilities.  The game follows Bobbin Threadbare, a young member of the guild of the weavers, who spin magic through the mystical Loom. Bobbin has never been allowed to be trained in the ways of his people, although the weaver Hetchel has been training him in secret.  On his 17th birthday, he discovers that he was born of the Loom itself, and the elders fear him, as they believe that his birth has brought chaos.  The elders attempt to punish Hetchel, by turning her into a young swan, but the spell backfires and all the weavers are changed into swans, who fly away.  Bobbin, now the only remaining weaver, goes on a quest to find the flock of swans and find out what happened to his people.  It's an intriguing story that was supposed to be a part of a three game series.  Because of this, it does end on a cliffhanger, but it's still a satisfying story on its own.

Unlike the other games in the LucasArts adventure library, Loom doesn't have an inventory system or use action verbs.  Instead, puzzles are solved through Bobbin's magical distaff, which is powered by musical melodies known as drafts.  Throughout the game, Bobbin points his distaff at objects to learn new drafts that contain the power of those items, from tasks ranging from opening things, to changing the colors of certain objects.  The puzzles aren't too difficult, making Loom one of the first casual adventure games, as it was a short adventure with puzzles that weren't too difficult, but it wasn't aimed at children.

The game has an art style reminiscent of other LucasArts adventure games of that period, and contains excellent backgrounds that really show the vastness of the game's world.  There are several versions available.  The original 16 color EGA version and the 256 color FM-Towns version have character close-ups, whereas the 256 color DOS CD version lacks these close-ups due to the inability to properly lip-synch the voices of characters at the time of release.  Because of the lack of close-ups, the DOS CD version also omitted several lines of dialog that was present in the close-up scenes of the EGA and FM-Towns versions.  The DOS CD version did have excellent voice overs, which were recorded in the style of a radio play (the original version did come with an extended radio play) and complement the game's style immensely.  All versions also have an excellent soundtrack that is comprised of several classical music compositions by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.  The FM-Towns and DOS CD versions have improved digital versions of the soundtrack. The FM-Towns version has tracks that are directly from the EGA original, whereas the DOS CD version has tracks that have been re-arranged by George Sanger.

Loom is a departure from the usual LucasArts adventure in many ways.  It's a casual adventure game, with easier puzzles than the rest of the LucasArts adventure library, and it throws out the traditional action verb and inventory based system to a system where puzzles are solved through musical drafts.  However, Loom does have an excellent story and charming art style.  The best way to experience Loom differs for many people due to the differences in the versions.  The best two versions to experience Loom are the DOS CD version, which has improved 256 color VGA artwork and a rearranged and improved version of the original classical music score and voices but cuts a lot of the dialog from the original release due to the lack of character close-ups, or the hard to find FM-Towns version which also has 256 color artwork, has an improved digital version of the music from the EGA version, and retains the extra dialog, but lacks voices.  It's also best to play on ScummVM, as there is a shortcut available that will show the musical drafts that you have learned throughout the game.  If you're willing to experience it despite the differences from usual adventure games, you'll find that Loom is ultimately a unique and satisfying experience.

Final Verdict:

4 out of 5

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Wolf Among Us: A Crooked Mile Review

The third episode of The Wolf Among Us delivers another great episode as it takes us deeper into Bigby's investigation, as he realizes the scope of his investigation is bigger than he had previously thought.

The episode begins with Bigby having to confront the person who he had discovered had been committing crimes against Fabletown in the last episode.  The story is getting more intense than ever, and just as it seems Bigby is finally on his way towards finding out who is behind everything, another spanner is thrown into the works. 

On top of the excellent story, this episode introduces an excellent secondary villain that comes from a popular urban legend.  That character is delivered perfectly, from the sinister animations in the facial expressions, to the fantastic voice work.  The animation and voice work of the other characters also continue to be a high point here, with every character receiving just as much attention to detail, and every actor delivering their lines superbly.  The music is once again great, fitting the mood of the game perfectly.  The background art is also once again top notch, with the new locations showing all the dirt and grit that you'd expect from the lower rungs of a hidden community in New York City.

The lack of puzzles and direct controlled action once again isn't too much of a problem, as the choice based character interaction system is used to great detail here.  This episode also contains the game's first direct story based choice.  Midway through the season, the advertising tagline of Bigby either helping those around him or giving into his wolf side is in full force.

A Crooked Mile meets the high standards set by the first few episodes, and exceeds them.  The lack of puzzles and direct controlled action is overshadowed by the excellent use of the choice based character interaction system, and the first true story changing event of the season.  The new secondary villain is excellent, both in appearance and voice, and the depictions of the other characters are her equal in every way.  The backgrounds and music also continue to be exceptional, and add to the gritty atmosphere of the story.  The Wolf Among Us is truly shaping up to be a great season.

Final Verdict:

4½ out of 5

News Catch Up

There's been quite a few things that have happened lately that I've missed, mostly related to adventure game developers, but that aren't adventure games themselves, so I'll list them all in this post:

First of all, the actual adventure game news. The Walking Dead Season One and Season Two is going to be coming to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on the 24th of October, both in physical form at retail and digitally.  Additionally, The Wolf Among Us will be coming to retail for PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One in North America on the 4th of November and in Europe on the 7th of November.

The Wolf Among Us is also going to be adapted into a graphic novel, titled Fables: The Wolf Among Us. It will appear in digital form first in December of this year, with collected print issues following in early 2015.

Secondly, since this blog was at one point dedicated to Telltale, Double Fine, and Autumn Moon news, I feel like I should mention that there's quite a bit of Double Fine releases going on at the moment:

Costume Quest 2 is now available on Steam.  This sequel to Double Fine's 2010 role playing game Costume Quest and its downloadable content Grubbins on Ice is a time traveling romp to save Halloween.  Fans will be happy to know that it takes place right after the cliffhanger ending of Grubbins on Ice.

Costume Quest: Invasion of the Candy Snatchers is now available as well. In this graphic novel by Zac Gorman, the author of the webcomic Magical Game Time, the usual Costume Quest plot is reversed as it follows three Repugnian children who travel to the human world on Halloween in search of candy.

Brutal Legend: Limited Edition is a limited edition collector's boxset by Double Fine and Indiebox commemorating the 5th anniversary of the heavy metal themed action strategy game Brutal Legend.  Since Indiebox likes to keep its contents a surprise, nothing has been revealed about the contents, but they are said to contain "hand-painted artwork with DRM-free game copies, Steam keys, full color manuals, CD soundtracks, posters, collectibles, and much more".  For an idea of what to expect, check out the contents of September's Indiebox release.

Lastly, The Habitat Preservation Project is a non-profit project to get the world's first graphical massively multiplayer online game, Habitat, back online.  They managed to get a partial server working when they had a coding session in September 2014 with many programmers in attendance, including the original creators of Habitat, Chip Morningstar and Randy Farmer. The original Habitat, which had an interface and graphics similar to the adventure game Labyrinth, was released in beta form by Lucasfilm Games (now LucasArts) for the Quantum Link online service for Commodore 64 from 1986 until it was shut down in 1988. A sized down version was released as Club Caribe on Quantum link in January 1988. Fujitsu later licensed the code and released Fujitsu Habitat in Japan in 1990. Habitat and Club Caribe was highly influential, and it's code still lives on through WorldsAway, which premiered on CompuServe in 1995, and moved to the public internet in 1997. WorldsAway had multiple worlds, two of which survive today and are now known as Dreamscape and NewHorizone. Dreamscape was Fujitsu's first virtual world, and appeared when WorldsAway premiered in 1995. NewHorizone was originally Club Connect when it was launched by Fujitsu in 1998 and New Radio World when the WorldsAway worlds were sold and became part of an online world known as VZones in December 1998. New Radio World was renamed VZConnections in December 1999, and then newHorizone in September 2001. These two worlds are still a part of vZones, and the WorldsAway software has also recently been licensed for use in MetroWorlds.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 Chapter Two Review

The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 continues into book two.  This chapter doesn't quite hit all the high notes of the first, but nonetheless, it's an entertaining adventure that continues to make you excited for more when all is said and done.

The story begins with the human Nathaniel and his friend, the creature simply named Critter.  Their half of chapter two explains the events in that lead up to the prologue of chapter one.  The story is well done, but it is here that the game runs hits its few snags.  Playing as Critter has always been a matter of patience.  He speaks in a foreign language, and even his dialog choices are portrayed in this language, meaning that you have to click on objects to understand how he pronounces things before you can know what option you wish to select.  Luckily, Critter's part of Chapter Two is quite small, and it doesn't get to the point where this is too overused.  Another minor quibble is a mini game that requires you to watch a character and imitate his moves exactly.  The problem here is that the actions are presented in static pictures, which makes it difficult to tell which move you are supposed to mimic.  This mini game shows up again in the second part of chapter two, but it's much easier to follow here, as both the person you have to mimic and the actions you need to select are static, making the goal much easier to accomplish.

The second part of chapter two is the better part, as the story really begins to escalate here.  This part begins right where chapter one left off, with the gnome mage Wilbur trying to get to the lower city to meet the head of security to figure out how to accomplish his goals in the school.  Things end up being much more sinister than they had first thought however, and quickly escalate towards disaster.  The buildup of the story was one of the best things about the first chapter, and it's done even better here.

The puzzles, outside of the previously mentioned mini games, are as well done as those in the first chapter, and are slightly increasing in difficulty over the first chapter.    The art style of both the new locations and characters as well as those previously introduced is still a high point.  This game is pleasing to look at in screenshots, and even more so to watch it in action.  The voice acting also continues to be top notch, with both the characters who were previously introduced and the characters who are new to chapter two being voiced equally well.  The music continues to have a cinematic feel to it, with the newly introduced areas being an aural treat to visit, as well as hearing the excellent musical cues in the previously visited areas.  The previously visited areas also have new dialog attributed to them when you attempt to use or examine items in them, which is always a welcome touch in an episodic game.  The dialog continues to exhibit the whimsical humor that the series is known for, and the humorous inside references to fantasy literature and film, as well as other adventure games fly fast and furious here.

The Book of Unwritten Tales continues to be a memorable experience in its second chapter.  It's a bit let down by the confusing nature of the Critter language and hard to follow mini games, but the excellent art style, music, voice acting, memorable characters, humorous dialog, and fun puzzles makes up for it.  The best part is the plot continues to be excellent, ramping up the tension, and ending on a fantastic cliffhanger that makes you want to play chapter three that much more.

Final Verdict:

4 out of 5