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The Serpent’s Curse

September 12th, 2014

Written by: Rik

I’m a bit behind with FFG stuff at the moment after my holiday (lovely, thank you) but new content is on its way soon. In the meantime, I’ve been playing a bit of Broken Sword 5: The Serpent’s Curse on my Android tablet. I’ve only finished the first part, but if they’re going to break the game in two, then I think it’s fair enough to share some thoughts on it without getting through the second.

It’s been interesting to be able to play it so soon after completing my write up of its predecessor. There are loads of good and interesting reasons for not leaving a big gap between games in a series from a review point of view, but even if they’re old and it’s possible to do so, I tend to fancy a change and, before I know it, a couple of years have passed and the memories suddenly don’t seem so fresh.

As I’ve mentioned before, I didn’t feel particularly upset by the series’ move to 3D, but when presented with the lovely visuals on offer here, it does seem, in retrospect, a bit silly that it was ever deemed necessary. Broken Sword 5 looks great, and so do George and Nico, with their features – and dress-sense – finally returned to something like their former glory.

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The Paris setting also seems appropriate somehow. Even if could be seen as a cynical move designed to evoke memories of the earlier games, it’s a very effective one. I guess Nico does live in Paris, although what exactly George is doing there isn’t really adequately explained: he’s undergone another career change, working as an art insurance assessor, which just happens to mean that his and Nico’s paths cross again.

The locations feel a lot less empty than in The Angel of Death (even though they aren’t) and the jolly, cartoon-style presentation also makes the occasionally farcical moment much more palatable. (I didn’t even mind the pantomime version of London that features here.)

The difficulty level has been kept pleasantly low, providing the odd head-scratcher but nothing too bizarre. The script also seems better too, with fewer cringe-inducing moments from Stobbart, in particular.

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On the negative side, the story is again tricky to follow, with plenty of memorable individual moments but nothing that engages you to the extent that you’re ever really concerned about getting to the end and finding out what happens. Plus, there are some odd pauses in animation and speech at times that take some of the polish off and make things seem rather stilted.

Still, so far I rather like it. In fact, I think it has the potential to be the strongest game in the series. But I haven’t played the second part yet, and there have been enough uneven moments in previous Broken Sword games to caution me against getting carried away.

More indie games

August 23rd, 2014

Written by: Stoo

You know, I’m not above making the odd wisecrack about the indie gaming scene. I might say it’s populated by hipsters churning out titles with faux-retro graphics, yet more physics platformers and pretentious arty adventures where gameplay basically amounts to “click to continue”. This, however, is unkind of me! I should feel bad about being so snarky. The Indies do in fact do valuable work in producing innovative and imaginative games. That’s something we need as mainstream AAA stuff concentrates ever more on generic war shooters, MMOs and, I dunno, lots of Asassins Creeds?

So I thought I should take this time, in between my retro gaming adventures, to tell you of a couple of great indie games I’ve played lately. Both, for the record, on an android tablet.

One is Monument Valley, in which you navigate Princess Ida around a series of towers and other large structures. Various parts of the towers must be shifted and rotated to give her a clear path. The novel feature here is use of optical illusions and impossible level geometry, based on the sort of screwing around with perspective you can do when drawing a 3D space on a flat screen. It’s all a bit like walking around an MC Escher drawing. You can freely rotate your view of each level and, for example if it looks like two platforms are touching, then they are and you can walk across. Even if when looked at from another angle you know they’re nowhere near each other.

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It’s a very short and easy game; none of the puzzles are that difficult and there aren’t many levels either. Still, it’s all quite charming and relaxing. The artwork is abstract, lending the monuments a rather mysterious air. Sound, both ambient and little chords that play as you take actions, is used effectively to provide a soothing ambience. The only enemies are crows that just squawk and make a minor nuisance of itself. The game even manages to somehow make you feel attached to what’s basically a friendly chunk of Masonry. So altogether, a wonderful way to relax for an evening. Also at £2.50 I can hardly complain if it doesn’t keep me occupied for hours.

Also there’s The Room. This one is based around a series of wooden chests and boxes, each with multiple locks and elaborate mechanisms built in. Your goal is simply to get to the heart of each box. So you might be aligning sliding pieces on a panel, rotating dials to certain positions, or finding a key in a hidden compartment and trying to figure out where it goes. As you open one part of the box, some new puzzle is revealed. The interface maps finger movements to actions on the screen in an intuitive manner, so that you can easily open panels, push parts into place and so on.

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It’s the sort of thing where you have to be quite thorough, checking each part of the box for anything that can be interacted with. It’s not too frustrating though, just as long as you take the time to carefully check the boxes over from each side and work methodically. Ultimately it’s all quite satisfying when you figure something out, and hear the whirring noises as another part of the box unlocks.

Apart from the mechanisms being fascinating to fathom out, the game is also rather atmospheric. To begin with it’s a matter of the wood and brass chests and the dark, dusty rooms in which they sit. You can almost smell the varnish, and feel the aged oak under your fingers. There’s a sense of it all being rather old and forgotten, locked away in a basement for years.

Things then become even more mysterious when you put together a special eyepiece. This, when worn casts everything into shadow but also shows hidden markings such as fingerprints and occult-looking runes. This helps with certain puzzles, but also heigtens the feeling of something odd going on.

Then there’s the game’s backstory, which progresses through a series of handwritten note secreted around the boxes. Apparently the writer stumbled across a fifth Classical Element (ie to go with fire\earth\air\water). Honestly this aspect is kind of tacked on, but apparently the note writer was pretty scared of what he had discovered, and perhaps that’s why the boxes are so elaborate, to hide his findings. It probably also explains the eyepiece. So the story lends an extra layer of creepiness to the proceedings, as you follow the mysterious scientist down a path to something very strange.

Honestly I’m not sure that, at the end, I really knew much more about what’s going on than when I started. Then again, refraining from explaining too much is part of how the game becomes kind of unsettling. Your imagination is left to speculate in the gaps as to what exactly is going on, but you know whatever the truth is, it’s probably going to be disturbing. If that sounds inadequate and we still want more answers then, well, I’m guessing the sequel tells us a bit more.

If I have another criticism it would be that again the game isn’t especially long. However, it’s again cheap! So, a thumbs up to both games. Keep it up, industrious indie guys. Anyone reading, do feel free to comment and let us know of any other puzzles or adventures that are inexpensive and not too frustratingly difficult.

Touch My Tissue IV: “Did I show you my tissue?”

August 17th, 2014

Written by: Rik

Hello there.

From boldly going where no-one has gone before, I’m back on more familiar territory today, with the fourth game in the Broken Sword series: The Angel of Death.

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Captains log stardate 39395: The away team sucks. They’re all fired.

August 10th, 2014

Written by: Stoo

Hello everyone. We’re quite fond of our discussion pieces; they prompt us to try games we might not have otherwise noticed, they let us bounce ideas off each other and they also remind us is an amusing manner that we’re frequently actually pretty bad at videogames. Even though we spend a lot of time playing videogames. And we are, here, writing on a blog about videogames.

So here’s our latest offering: Star Trek: Away Team.

This beat is Mastertronic

August 7th, 2014

Written by: Rik

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Last week budget specialists Mastertronic announced they were moving away from the physical, retail market to focus on digital distribution. Essentially, this means the end of a number of boxed budget lines, including one of my own favourites, Sold Out.

I guess such a move is hardly surprising in the world of Steam and GOG megasales, and the bare bones, disc-only nature of the Sold Out releases mean that they don’t even have any appeal to collectors of boxed games who tend to want the original packaging, manual etc. (Incidentally, I remember the Replay line of budget games just having a yellow sleeve over the original packaging which you could remove and discard, and then pretend you paid full price, but I think they gave up on this after a while).

It is rather sad though for the generation of UK gamers who fondly recall impetuously taking advantage of the ongoing 3 for £10 deals (usually there was only one or two that you actually wanted, and you’d take a punt on something else to round out the deal). If the shop you were in didn’t have what you wanted, you could get the same deal ordering from Mastertronic direct.

It was great, particularly for the young, the hard-up, and the cheapskate – or anyone saddled with old technology, for whatever reason – for whom it gave an opportunity to sample ageing greats or unfairly-ignored games. Even as Sold Out titles were themselves discontinued, their re-release ensured a plentiful supply of second hand copies that could be snapped up on eBay for a reasonable price.

Going back further than that, of course, Mastertronic were masters of the 8-bit budget scene, offering games at a £1.99 price point, some of which were remarkably good despite never having been released previously (budget games weren’t always just old games for cheap, you know).

Are indie games the new budget games? What does the future hold for physical media? Who knows? Not me. All I want to offer now is a hearty thanks and farewell to the boxed budget title – it’s certainly given me a lot of gaming over the years – as well as the best of luck to the guys at Mastertronic themselves.

Favourite game intros: part deux

July 26th, 2014

Written by: Rik

Ok, so here I am shamelessly copying Stoo and looking back at some of my favourite game intros. I might just put a break in for those of you on the front page though, so all these embedded videos don’t slow the down site… *picks up hammer and chisel*
Favourite game intros: part deux continued »

Come and be a part of football

July 26th, 2014

Written by: Rik

Hi there!

You may have noticed that there’s a major international sporting event taking place at the moment. [Yes - the Commonwealth Games - FFG Reader]. Of course, it’s the World Cup of Football! Who will win? It’s so exciting!

With a review that’s as up-to-date and relevant as this mysteriously reduced-to-clear limited-edition bottle of Budweiser, here’s International Superstar Soccer 3.

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(P.S: I don’t see what’s so ‘limited edition’ about putting beer into a tin shaped like a bottle. All the metallic taste of a tin, at the increased price of a bottled beer!)

favourite game intros

July 24th, 2014

Written by: Stoo

A well crafted introduction captures your attention, and entices you to dive in and enjoy more of the experience on offer. Maybe it starts an alluring story with characters you want to see more of. It might give you an idea of action you can take control of, or inspire you to go on quest, or take control of an empire. Or maybe it just looks and sounds awesome.

Go back 20-odd years and an intro usually meant some kind of VGA sequence with midi music. Later, full motion video became popular, built out of pre-rendered 3D graphics and sometimes the use of live actors. In those days it was generally understood that these kinds of intro would be more visually impressive than the rest of the game, given the limitations of the sprites or boxy polygons that might make up in-game graphics.

In more recent years, though, game engines have increased in sophistication. So it’s more often the case that a game’s own graphics can be used to create a realistic and cinematic sequence, without the need for something created separately. The in-engine approach has in turn made it more popular to incorporate the intro into opening playable section of the game, rather than it being a purely passive experience.

This isn’t a list of Greatest Intros Ever because I don’t pretend to have widespread enough experience, and besides titles like that are rather clickbaity. Rather, this is just a few of my personal favourites in PC Gaming.

UFO – Enemy Unknown – 1994

This one is immediately eye-catching, drawn as a series of colourful, animated, comic book panels. Dynamic and action-packed, it’s not exactly representative of the tense, cautious turn-based game to which it’s attached. Still it’s one of my favourites of its day, and it does at least show us what in general terms UFO is all about – aliens terrorise the population, X-Com agents swing into action to save the day.

Half-Life – 1998

A defining example of a great introduction that is incorporated into beginning of the playable game itself. We begin with the start of another day at work for Gordon Freeman. He travels through the Black Mesa research complex on a monorail, listens to announcements, gets grumbled at by superiors, finds his gear and shows up at the lab.

It might seem rather mundane, but it’s doing vital work in setting the scene. When suddenly something goes horribly wrong with the experiment, we’re already immersed in Gordon’s world, and ready to try and get him out of the ensuing crisis.

Thief – the Dark Project -1998

Moody and atmospheric, this one features some great hand-drawn artwork at a time when others might have used pre-rendered CGI. It introduces us to Garrett’s city and shows him going about a typical heist, and also gives some brief glimpses of the supernatural forces at work. So it sets the tone for the game in a highly effective manner.

Cannon Fodder – 1993

Photos of the developers in uniforms, presented as the cast of a war movie, along with a cheerful song about war and killing. This doesn’t remotely tell us what to expect of the gameplay, but it does set up Cannon Fodder’s irreverent satire on the brutal meat-grinder that is warfare.

(I’m cheating slightly here, that’s the Amiga intro. The PC version, iirc, lacked the vocals).

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis – 1992

An early example of the in-game, interactive approach to an intro. You have to solve a basic puzzle to get from one room to the next, and with each new room some credits are displayed. The interface is simplified from that of the main game, making this a gentle but intriguing beginning to the adventure.

Shoot opponents for score

July 21st, 2014

Written by: Rik

This month’s Retro Gamer had a piece on the old arcade game RoadBlasters, and its many home ports, and since it always was a bit of an old favourite of mine, I was inspired to give it another go.

But first, I was moved to revisit another, similar, title, also mentioned in passing in the RG piece. Overlander was a home computer rival to RoadBlasters, based around similar themes of fuel scarcity and, well, the combination of driving, avoiding death, and blasting other road users to pieces. Retro Gamer reckons that, “A lot of computer owners prefer this to the home ports of RoadBlasters, and it’s easy to see why…consider it to be the thinking man’s RoadBlasters.”

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Hmm…well, that’s not how I remember it at the time, although the Atari ST version of RoadBlasters wasn’t really the best. Overlander was one of a number of games that came bundled with the family ST. I loved that pack of free games, because many of the included titles were the type that we never would have owned otherwise, with my parents favouring more critically-acclaimed and worthy efforts, such as graphic adventures, that the whole family could enjoy.

The main things I remember about Overlander are that a) it was pretty unforgiving and b) at various points you actually needed to conserve fuel by driving a bit more slowly (at least until you could buy the converter that made fuel more efficient). Revisiting it now, I don’t seem any better equipped to deal with the difficulty, to the extent that I haven’t even been able to verify whether my memories of the fuel conservation necessity are correct or not. It’s definitely not a patch on RoadBlasters though.

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I first played RoadBlasters on the Amstrad CPC and, by the standard of most 8-bit coin-op conversions, it was pretty good. My favourite version, though, was the Atari Lynx port, which was super-smooth, lightning fast, and generally pretty awesome (a fact acknowledged by the RG article). I think it was possibly my favourite Lynx game, in fact, but although I still have my old Lynx 2 somewhere, I wasn’t about to go digging around for it and dusting it off. By all accounts the MegaDrive version is the best (exluding the arcade original of course) and thanks to the power of emulation (and, er, those places on the internet where you can find the things you might need to make emulation useful and fun) I’ve been wasting a few evenings chasing green and red fuel blobs and blasting those pesky motorbikes off the road. And crashing. And running out of fuel.

A long time ago I thought about hunting down a copy of Midway’s Arcade Treasures so this seems like the perfect excuse. And it has Spy Hunter too!

Ten out of ten for power…lucky to get one for accuracy

July 6th, 2014

Written by: Rik

Good day.

As the festival of football continues in Brazil, we bring you coverage of a game that’s as terrible as England’s performances: Actua Soccer.

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