Friday, October 24, 2014

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis Review

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis was the first Indiana Jones game created by LucasArts that had an original storyline, and it wound up being one of the best adventures Indy has experienced in any medium.

The game centers around the famed archaeologist and adventure seeker, Indiana Jones, as he tries to find the fabled lost city of Atlantis before the Nazis can get ahold of its fabled mystical power source. On the way, he meets Sophia Hapgood, a woman who researches the mystical side of Atlantis, and in the Atlantean god Nur-Ab-sal in particular.  Her belief that she can contact his spirit clashes with Indy's 'I'll believe it when I see it' attitude, and leads to a leading pair that is every bit as strong as Indiana Jones and Marion Ravenwood in the original Indy film, Raiders of the Lost Ark.

One of the strengths of the game is that the game caters to multiple types of adventure gamers. Those who like action in their adventures can choose to go on the "fists" path, where Indiana Jones uses his fists more often to make his way through obstacles, using a fighting system similar to the one in the last LucasArts Indy adventure, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  Those who don't like action in their adventures can choose to go one of two ways.  The "wits" path sees Indiana going through his adventure using his mind to solve puzzles in order to make his way through his adventure.  The last path is the "team" path, where he still uses his mind over his brute strength, however this time he joins up with Sophia.  On this path, the player will play as Sophia at certain points in the game at points where she is more suited with getting past the obstacles that stand in their way.

Of course, the multiple paths mean a branching story, and multiple endings.  The ultimate crux of the story remains the same, of course, as Indy's mission is always ultimately to stop the Nazis from gaining the power of Atlantis.  However, the path to get there, and the eventual way the goal is accomplished changes based on how you choose to play.  This is also one of the few LucasArts adventure games where death is possible, making it necessary to save your game whenever there is immediate danger. There is no fear of worrying about whether saving will stop your progress, however, as there are no dead ends. The deaths aren't arbitrary either, as they only occur when it's obvious that Indy is in a dangerous situation.

In all of the paths, the puzzles are well done, increasing in difficulty as the game goes on, but the solutions never go past the realm of believably.  The art style is dated today, but it still has a charm underneath those pixels, and still can draw you in to the beauty of the real world locations Indy visits as well as the wonder of the lost city of Atlantis.  The music is also well done, mixing the well known title song from the film series, to the excellent original music composed for the game that would feel right at home in any of the Indiana Jones adventures.  In the CD version of the game, the characters are also fully voiced.  Each character is well done, and any future regulars, such as Nick Jameson, make their LucasArts voice acting debut here.  Indy isn't voiced by Harrison Ford of course, but Doug Lee does an admirable job portraying the character.  The supporting characters are all voiced equally well, making the CD version the one to play, as the voice acting adds a lot to the atmosphere of the game.

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis is one of the best games in the LucasArts adventure game catalog.  Unlike most other LucasArts adventure games, death is possible, but it only happens when it is obvious that Indy is in danger. The multiple paths, excellent puzzles, art style that still manages to convey the wonder of the locations today despite the pixelization, great music, and fantastic voice acting in the CD version make this game a true classic.

(Side note: The story from this game was also adapted into a four issue comic series by Dark Horse Comics that was later collected in the Indiana Jones Omnibus Volume 1 trade paperback. The basic story line was also used in Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis: The Action Game, a little known isometric action game that has little else in common with its more well known sibling.)

Final Verdict:

4½ out of 5

Her Majesty's Spiffing Returns to Kickstarter

Her Majesty's Spiffing has returned to Kickstarter to try again after an unsuccessful Kickstarter attempt last year.  This time around, they have a demo available, which is of course an early development build and not reflective of the final product, but now people can try before they buy. They have a good chance to make it this time around, as they currently have made 1/3 of their total goal with 28 days to go.

The game is described as "a quaint point and click adventure game following the exploits of Captain Frank Lee English and his trusted regional accented colleague, Aled, as they travel through the cosmos in search of new planets to claim for a galactic British Empire." If you want to see this adventure get made, then head to Kickstarter and choose a pledge tier.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Wolf Among Us: Cry Wolf Review

The Wolf Among Us finale is here, and, despite some minor issues, it does manage to live up to expectations and end the season story arc well.

The story once again begins where the previous episode left off.  This time, Bigby finds himself confronting the person who is responsible for everything.  Of course, this person's powerful friends are not willing to let it end without a fight, so things remain tough for the sheriff of Fabletown. Ultimately, the season's premise comes to a head, as Bigby must decide how far to give into his primal wolf instincts towards those who are against him.

The new villain isn't as over the top as the secondary villains, but this person is every bit as conniving and heartless as you'd expect a kingpin of the underworld to be.  The facial animation has been great this season, and it continues here, on both the villains and the rest of the characters.  The animation for the climactic battle against the secondary villain introduced in the third episode is especially well done, and is a treat to experience for both players of the season as well as fans of the Fables comic itself.  People have waited the entire season to see Bigby in action like this, and the wait has been worth it because Telltale has delivered.

The rest of the presentation continues to shine as well.  The backgrounds for both the new and returning locations are as well done as ever, and the music continues to add to the atmosphere of the game admirably.  The voice cast also delivers in the finale, as they deliver their lines with as much raw emotion as you'd expect at the end of such an intense investigation.  The return of an early determinant character from episode one is a clear standout here.  The actor's performance is impeccable, as this character has lost so much, and you can hear it in his voice.  It is satisfying to hear him finally let his grief out.

The only slight drawback of the episode is the area in which other episodes of this season has shined. This season has eschewed puzzles and direct controlled action completely for choice based gameplay that affects the way characters are treated and to a latter extent directly affects the course of the story. For the most part, that continues here.  The choices that Bigby makes in this episode directly effect the way the finale unfolds,  However, some of the choices that have been made earlier don't feel like they have affected the story as much.  Some of the story feels railroaded, especially in one instance at the end, where it feels less like Bigby has affected those events, and more like the story was shifted in one direction in order to fit in with the established events of the the comic.  It's only in this one instance where that feeling is exceptionally strong, so it's not too much of a deterrent.  Overall, the season wrapped up satisfyingly.

The season finale of The Wolf Among Us manages to be a satisfying wrap up to an excellent season. The story continues to be strong, and the characters are as well portrayed as ever, both the new and the returning.  The animation continues to be excellent, especially in the climactic battle against the season's secondary villain.  The music and general art style of the game also continues to add to the atmosphere of the game.  The choice based gameplay isn't quite as strong here, so it doesn't quite alleviate the lack of puzzles and direct controlled action as much as previous episodes.  However, it is only really one choice that feels forced to adapt to the story, so in the end, most of the choice based gameplay has worked well this season.  There is also one plot string that is intentionally left open at the end,  which hopefully means that Telltale is planning more adventures in the Fables universe.    If it's as strong as this season, another adventure would certainly be welcome.

(Side note: If you don't like gameplay that utilizes choice based consequences but still want to experience the story, Vertigo will be releasing a graphic novel adaptation called Fables: A Wolf Among Us later this year.)

Final Verdict:

4 out of 5

Non Adventure Review - Costume Quest: Grubbins on Ice

Grubbins on Ice is downloadable content for Double Fine's role playing game Costume Quest that is a new story to experience with new artwork and locations and new costumes to use.  Since it runs on top of the main game, the gameplay is the same, but it manages to present enough new ideas to make it worth playing.

The game starts months after Costume Quest ended, after winter has arrived.  Lucy and Everett are looking for proof that Repugia actually exists, to prove that their last adventure actually happened. They stumble upon a portal to Repugia, and Lucy is soon kidnapped.  This time the twins Wren and Reynold team up together with Everett to save their friend.  Even though both twins are part of the team this time through, the player still chooses between them to pick who is the leader of the group.  Once the team is assembled, the trio heads through the portal to Repugia to get Lucy back.

This is where the charm of Grubbins on Ice comes into play, as the roles are switched.  Whereas in Costume Quest, the kids went around their neighborhood fighting monsters who had invaded their realm to take their candy, here they are the outsiders who are viewed by the residents as the monsters. Upon arriving, the trio learn that there are Repugians that are part of a revolution to overthrow the tyrant who has kidnapped Lucy.  Joining in on the revolution, the trio now knock on doors soliciting candy to support the revolution.  It plays the same as the original game, with this humorous monstrous twist, with the group fighting monsters in order to get stronger and collecting candy in order to buy battle stamps to increase their abilities in battle.  However, as this uses the same system as the main game, the drawbacks present in that game are still present here.  The turn based combat system with quick time events for increasing damage and dodging attacks are still here, and still do get repetitive after a while.  However, like the main game, the strengths of the game in other areas helps to alleviate this.

The Repugian world is covered in snow, and the charming art style of Costume Quest is put to good use here.  The new world is mysterious, and the white blanket of snow over everything helps to add to that.  As with the main game, the art of the characters and the backgrounds are charmingly whimsical, and really fit with the feeling of childhood that the game world is going for.  The humor is in full force here, as the developers seemed to have had a lot of fun playing around with the concept, as the main thrust of the story is actually slightly more creative and memorable than the main game.

The costumes from the main game are once again used here, both in battle and in some cases in Repugia itself.  But, there are actually three new costumes to be found here, one of which ties right into the winter theme.  Since there are only three to find here, all three of them have powers that can be used outside of battle, and all of them have interesting transformation animations when used in battle.  The new costumes are used well for the new puzzles, and once again there are many hidden things to be found using these new abilities.  There are still no voices in the game, but the humorous dialog once again makes up for it in spades. As with the main game, the excellent musical score adds to the atmosphere and also helps to pull you into the game world in lieu of voice work.

Grubbins on Ice succeeds in all the areas that the main game did, but it still has the same drawbacks as well.  The turn based combat system with quick time events still gets repetitive, and there is no voice acting.  However, the story here is slightly more original and memorable than the main game, and the humor that comes from showing the concept of trick or treating from the Repugian side with the human kids as the monsters is quite entertaining. The art style is still as charming as ever and the new costumes are fun, both in battle and out.  The game's excellent soundtrack and fun puzzles also help to make this game worth playing.  You have to buy it seperately on consoles, but it is free on computer platforms.  No matter what platform you get this for, however, it is well worth getting as it's a fun, but quite short, experience.

Final Verdict:

3½ out of 5

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Dreamfall Chapters Book One Review

Book One of Dreamfall Chapters, the long awaited sequel to The Longest Journey and Dreamfall, is finally here. It has a few shortcomings, but ultimately it still manages to be worth the wait.

The story picks up where Dreamfall left off. This chapter of the game alternates between the playable characters of Zoe Castillo and Kian Alvane, as they both are stuck in different ways, and both have to find their way out of their predicaments. That is merely a prologue to the main story, as we pick up the story from the points that have been built in the prologue, which are aptly referred to in-game as the characters being reborn.

Like Dreamfall, the game is once again a three dimensional adventure game where the player has direct control over the movements of the character. In Dreamfall Chapters, actions are performed by the mouse (or thumbstick), and you need to walk up to an object in order to be able to interact with it. Any object that can be interacted with snaps right into view, which is handled a bit clumsily as this quick motion can cause a bit of queasiness, or at the very least a feeling of separation from the game's world. It has a choice based system similar to those found in Telltale's games where characters remember the response that you made to them and will react accordingly when you encounter them next. It also has internal dialog from the characters that explains each choice, which really helps in letting the player know how the character is going to respond for each choice, making accidentally clicking something that you misunderstood pretty much impossible.

 However, unlike Telltale's recent offerings, here, you have a full inventory. Because of this, there are classic inventory puzzles that need to be solved. The game does a good job of handling both of these gameplay styles well. The puzzles are not too complex, but they aren't too easy either, which is a good balance for the first part of an inventory puzzle based adventure game. It also has branching paths with different storyline and different puzzles based on a choice near the beginning of the game.

The art style differs in quality in certain areas. The character models look fantastic, but the animation is quite stiff, in both the character's facial expressions and their movements. The background art also differs in quality based on the location. Some of it is quite well done, such as in Dream Time or in the city. However, other areas, such as the castle, are rather bland. The rest of the presentation is quite fantastic, however. The story is excellent as ever for this series, both in the main plot and in the additional lore which can be read optionally in places like Zoe's journal. The music and voice acting is exceptional as well, and really helps to bring you into the story. The city is also booming with life, with lots of non player characters walking around, and there is a lot of areas to explore, which really helps with the immersion. There are also maps placed throughout in case you get stuck.

Dreamfall Chapters is said to cover the chapters of life, and the first chapter is covered well, for the most part. The game's art style varies from the excellent character models to the sometimes bland locations, and the animation is a bit stiff. However, the excellent story, fantastic use of a mix of inventory puzzles and choice based gameplay, branching paths with a differing storyline and different puzzles to solve, ample areas for exploration, and great voice acting and music help to overcome the slight shortcomings in parts of the presentation.

Final Verdict:

4 out of 5

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

Update: It's now out on GOG.com too.

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.