Thursday, 17 November 2011

Gaming Reviews

Hector: Badge of Carnage - Episode 3: Beyond Reasonable Doom
Straandlooper/Telltale Games
Available now on PC, iPad, Mac, iPhone/iPod Touch (Coming Soon to PSN)
Review by Rob Wade

The mastermind behind the dastardly events in Clappers Wreake is finally known to Hector and his well-meaning but useless partner, Lambert. The problem? They’re the only ones who know, and they’re currently at the mercy of their tormentor! As Hector, it’s up to you to escape your captivity, and save the town of Clappers Wreake!

From an opening scene, which parodies movies like Saw with the typical sense of humour that players will have come to expect from the series until now, the game gives you the impression that you’re off to a flyer, and indeed you won’t be disappointed in general. One nice thing about this section is how well it utilises both detectives in puzzle-solving, particularly as it relies on each detective for different things depending on their strengths and weaknesses.

The gags in this one are as strong as they’ve ever been in the series, with a lot of characters from previous episodes making a return for the series’ grand finale. As before, too, there’s the same quality of pop culture references, with a four year old baby called Kiefer with rotten teeth a particular highlight for me. Without going into too much detail, the gags during that particular exchange are pretty funny.

Of course, point and click adventure gaming depends so heavily on the quality of the puzzles available, and in this vein this episode performs pretty well. The puzzles are clever, without being so off-the-wall that it seems out of place. However, the puzzles in this one did seem a little easier than previous instalments, maybe because I’d become accustomed to the game’s storytelling approach. Either way, the game felt a little bit more simple, mainly because the puzzles seemed a little too easy to follow.

Also, the episode seems a little shorter than previous episodes, and I was able to breeze through this one in an evening of play. This may have been more of a sense than actually a shorter episode, as I didn’t actually keep track of my completion time on the previous two episodes, and may have been a symptom of the slightly easier-feeling puzzles. All in all, though, the episode ends really well, definitively while leaving many of the characters open for future returns. It should come as no surprise to regular readers that I’ve rather enjoyed this series, and as a result the fact that the episode is fun for me shouldn’t really be a shock either.

The Emotionally Fourteen Games Rating
Graphics
: Really sharp cartoon graphics that hold up even at top resolution, much like the other two episodes.
Sound/Music: Some excellent dramatic music and sound effects, and some good voice acting.
Gameplay: The same point and click gameplay expected from the first two instalments, with a sense of humour which makes things enjoyable.
Lasting Appeal: A few hours of gameplay, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll go back and play the set from start to finish again.
Summary: A strong end to what has been a great series. Roll on Hector’s next adventure!8/10
Aliens: Infestation
WayForward/Sega
Available Now on Nintendo DS
Review by Brad Harmer

Aliens: Infestation pits players against the overwhelming Xenomorph hive using a vast selection of iconic weapons and tools from the series. Featuring character designs by popular comic artist Chris Bachalo and equipped with an upgrade and collectibles system, Aliens: Infestation aims to allow players to explore large-scale versions of some of the most fan-beloved environments of the iconic films.

When I was a kid, Alien 3 had a video game-tie in. It had very little to do with Alien 3, and was obviously based on Aliens, as you ran around a platform game with a pulse-rifle, flame-thrower, grenade launcher, etc, blowing up wave after wave of Xenomorphs and rescuing cocooned colonists. Imagine my surprise when I booted up Aliens: Infestation to discover that it is almost exactly the same game.

Aliens: Infestation is so retro that – apart from some very nicely animated sprites – it’s like the past fifteen years never happened. It’s a side-scrolling platformer from the mid-nineties, with all the clichés, difficulty spikes and frustration that that entails. It’s a real shame, frankly, as the Aliens series deserves a good video game, and this certainly isn’t it.

Now, onto the things that really annoyed me about Aliens: Infestation. I would say I’m much more a fan of Aliens, than I am a fan of “video games”. So here’s the fan disservice:

The game starts with your marines investigating the Sulaco, left drifting in space, following the events of the opening sequence of Alien 3. As you board the Sulaco, you bump into a load of killer robots, with no real explanation (Another hangover of 90s video gaming. Hell, I was surprised they didn’t throw a construction site level in here...). After defeating them, you crawl into the ducting to discover, in the middle of the air-conditioning system...an Alien Queen! Difficulty spike ensues.

But where did this Alien Queen come from? One was blown out of the airlock, and one is inside Ripley. So, how did a fully grown Queen materialise, with no host body?

After that, you land down to investigate the Hadley’s Hope colony on LV-426.

You know...that one that exploded.

Scratch that...that one whose impending explosion was THE MAJOR PLOT POINT OF THE SECOND HALF OF THE FILM.

So, maybe it’s a prequel, right? I mean, that’s possible?

Except you investigated the Sulaco, earlier...

The Emotionally Fourteen Games Rating
Graphics:
The sprites are nicely animated, with a good comic-book feel to them, but the backgrounds are very 1990s.
Sound/Music: Nothing good. Nothing bad.
Gameplay: This is like a platformer from 1996. Some nice little touches don’t come even close to compensating for how outdated the bulk of it is.
Lasting Appeal: Pretty short, and you’ll probably be bored long before then, anyway.
Summary: Retro in all the wrong way, full of plot-holes and difficulty spikes, this really isn’t worth bothering with. 4/10
Serious Sam: The Random Encounter
Vlambeer/Devolver Digital
Available now on PC
Review by Rob Wade

Oh, gamers. I have such a hard time figuring many of you out. When Duke Nukem Forever was released earlier this year, it was met with such hate-fuelled vitriol that I wouldn’t be surprised if the game’s critical reception had put a serious dent in Gearbox’s ambition for the franchise. Incidentally, I played it all the way through (something I doubt many of the critics actually did, if many of them even *attempted* it – one thing the Internet seems to love is a good hate mob), and didn’t find it that bad at all. What’s more, many of the criticisms aimed at the game could be just as easily applied, in my view, to the Serious Sam franchise, which has irked me in the past for monologue reasons, specifically the inanity of many of his “catchphrases”.

Anyway, Serious Sam: The Random Encounter is part of an indie project to build some smaller games in the franchise to publicise the upcoming new release. Vlambeer have chosen to go for somewhat of a departure from the series’ traditional routes, going with a 2D RPG in the vein of some of the old classics. Players play as Sam (and eventually, a pair of companions) and explore a temple in search of Mental, the game’s enemy, while at the same time fighting off a considerable number of enemies. Pleasingly, this game is very easy to recommend, as it has turned out very enjoyable indeed.

The game’s controls couldn’t be simpler. Players manoeuver Sam through dungeons simply using the directional keys on the keyboard, and use Z and X to choose/cancel options. Sound familiar? Yeah, I thought it might, as it’s essentially a Game Boy RPG’s controls, the first that I can think of being Pokémon (tragic, eh?). It’s really easy to learn, and the game never pressures you into rushing your decision, which helps.

When the player enters into battles, which in true RPG fashion are random and appear at any time (usually when you don’t want them to), the menu system works in traditional RPG fashion, with the ability to fight and choose items. Players can also swap between a variety of weapons, all of which have different effects and strengths in different situations, at the cost of part of a turn (which lasts 5 seconds at a time before players can set up a new turn and choose some other options). What’s nice about this is that the game adds in a layer of strategy, as players having different weapon types and choices allows for many different approaches.

If I have one criticism of the game (and it’s more a result of the mechanics than anything technically poor), it’s that the random encounters can lead to the game becoming punishingly difficult in a random turn. If your turn loads up, and you find yourself facing 20+ enemies, 5 of which are really fast and powerful, you’re pretty much fucked. As a result of this, too, it’s possible to lose interest very quickly if the random encounters make the game “cheap” for a short while, as the game employs a 3-life system, which can be frustrating when the game stacks the odds against you. Ultimately, though, the game is pretty good fun, and should definitely be tried out, particularly as the price is cheaper than your average magazine.

The Emotionally Fourteen Games Rating
Graphics
: Looks like one of the classic top-down games of yesteryear, with graphics to match. Can be run in letterbox and full screen modes, the latter of which makes the blocky textures all the more noticeable. Still, suits the style well enough.
Sound/Music: Sounds like more retro stuff, quite enjoyable.
Gameplay: An enjoyable blend of RPG and shooter with a decent learning curve and a nice hint of strategy.
Lasting Appeal: A few hours worth, but has an “Endless Mode” which will undoubtedly add a few hours to it.
Summary: A good fun game, although it can be punishing. 7/10

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