enfrdeitptrues

Adventure

  • >observer_ (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    >observer_ 
    Developed By: Bloober Team SA
    Published By: Aspyr
    Released: August 15, 2017
    Available On: Linux, macOS, PlayStation 4, Switch, Windows, Xbox One
    Genre: Adventure
    ESRB Rating: M for mature: intense violence, blood and gore, partial nudity, sexual themes, strong language, use of drugs
    Number of Players: Single-player
    Price: $29.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Aspyr/Bloober Team SA for sending us a review code!

    I remember when I was a child, consuming media that came out in the ’80s and ’90s that would talk about the “distant future of 201X” or whatever—featuring flying cars, towers that would reach the clouds, and interstellar travel resembling the daily commute. I’m sure you can all feel the disappointment when we are still nowhere near the fantasies of our minds that came to life on paper or in a film. Usually, these forms of entertainment would look at the future in a positive and hopeful light. Our Polish developers, Bloober Team, take the cyberpunk approach of gazing into the future with >observer_.

    Set in 2084, >observer_ is a futuristic cyberpunk game where detective Daniel Lazarski is part of a corporate-funded police unit. Lazarski is a special case as his kind are known as Observers. An Observer has the ability to hack into a suspect’s mind. As you see, almost everyone in this distant future has augmentations to their body, such as robotic limbs or chips installed in their brain. Before the game begins, Lazarski narrates about how the current world came to be. A large-scale war broke out between the East and the West. It went horribly wrong. After the war, a disease broke out called the Nanophage that killed off a huge chunk of the population. Whoever is left in this crapsack world is now a broken shell of a human being. They desperately try to find any way possible to distract themselves—whether it is drugs, VR, or slapping on so many implants that you barely resemble a human. The world of >observer_ is already off to a bad start and doesn’t show any signs of getting better.

    After resting from a previous investigation, Dan is awoken by his dispatcher, who is checking up on him to see if he is keeping up on his daily medication. Dan is then interrupted by an unknown interceptor over the communications, who then identifies himself as Adam, Dan’s estranged son, who fell out of contact years prior, pleading for Dan’s help. The call was traced back to the Stacks (more or less the slums of this time) and Dan hurries along to see what the issue is. After interacting with the strange and heavily augmented landlord, Janus, Dan enters Adam’s apartment. Unfortunately, Adam is nowhere to be found, but a headless body is found on the floor. Immediately after finding the body, the entire complex goes under lockdown and now it is up to Dan to find out what happened to his son, as well as to why the building is under lockdown in the first place.

    >observer_
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Excellent world design, visuals, and aesthetics; solid voice acting
    Weak Points: Some of the gameplay portions feel tacked-on, and messy as a result; you have to replay the entire game from the beginning if you want to choose the other decisions
    Moral Warnings: Constant swearing and blasphemy, typically f**k and s**t in almost every fourth or fifth sentence, and characters saying things like “godd**mit”; blood and gore shown throughout, with decapitated heads, intestines, and a literal tub of blood being a few examples; some rather immoral decisions can be made during some optional sidequests; a poster is seen later in the game showing a woman’s bare breasts; some email messages read in the game talk about issues such as drugs and drug trafficking, organ harvesting, and other questionable actions; slight instances of racism and sexism in dialogue; Daniel Lazarski, our protagonist, is forced to break police protocol to continue his investigation

    >observer_ is entirely in first person where the majority of the plot takes place within the building. The overall gameplay is similar to “walking simulators” where the narrative and visuals take precedence over interactivity and feedback, with a first-person perspective to further immerse the player into. Dan is freely able to walk about and interact with objects and scenery while keeping up with his Synchrozine medication. Do not fret, there is more than enough of the medication scattered around to not be an issue to any player. Due to his augmentations, he also has the ability to see in three different vision modes. There is the electromagnetic vision that helps point out electronic devices, the bio vision that lets him see blood and wounds more clearly, and night vision. Dan also has the ability to hack into panels to unlock doors or other kinds of passages. Throughout the game, Dan will investigate areas, look into computers, and interrogate the residents to find more clues into his investigation. Even though it is not required to speak with every resident that you can, it’s well worth checking out to find out more of this depressing world and what the people do in it to get by. Also, each of the computers that Dan comes across contains a minigame called With Fire and Swords: Spiders, a rather simple 2D game where the goal is to collect all the 2D gold in a maze and deliver it to a wizard while avoiding or killing the spiders in the way.

    Inspired by Blade Runner, >observer_ looks very depressing, with the game introducing you in the rain, and most of the scenery looking worn and out of shape. Even though >observer_ takes place much farther in the future, it keeps itself rather grounded in the advancements of society, unlike its other futuristic cyberpunk brothers and sisters. It does have the excuse that the people are just coming out from a major war and a severe outbreak so, in hindsight, it does make sense as to why there aren’t flying cars about. The dark and dreary realistic landscape does look really nice, and the few human models in the game look good too.

    The visuals do not stop at the typical cyberpunk fare. As I mentioned previously, Dan has the ability to hack into people’s minds, as long as they are connected to the grid (which nearly everyone is). The moment Dan enters into someone’s mind is when >observer_ starts getting weird—very, very weird. This is also where the horror elements come into play. People hide many things in their subconscious—things that people would rather not have others look at if possible. There is a fine line between reality and the mind, and >observer_ plays with this concept. While the real world is spooky but grounded, the mind of these troubled and insane individuals is when it all breaks loose. The world of dreams is distorted, corrupted, and maddening, almost like a mixture of schizophrenia and a bad acid trip (not that I would know what either of those is like, mind you). The scenery of these dream sequences are not scary in the screaming kind of sense, but more of the unnerving kind that makes you feel like your skin is crawling. As Dan hacks further into the minds of these crazed individuals, it becomes harder for him to distinguish what is and isn’t real.

    When using the different visions, almost all other sounds are blocked out. For example, the electromagnetic vision gives off a digital hum, while the bio vision makes it so that Dan’s heartbeat is the only audible sound. There isn’t much in >observer_ when it comes to musical score, but it makes up for its sounds. The tapping of Dan’s feet when walking through the building, the flapping of wings by the pigeons—it brings the world of >observer_ to life, or, you know, what’s left of it. The sound in the dream sequences, like the visuals, is of a distorted mess—a cacophony of madness. The voice talent is well done, with almost all lines of dialogue spoken by a voice actor. The people sound familiar and real, especially Dan, portrayed by Rutger Hauer. (Blade Runner fans will recognize him as Roy Batty.) Hauer’s performance of Dan is very authentic and captures the role of an aged, beaten man fed up with what the world has become, biting back with sarcasm. There also seems to be a small hint in his voice that he is holding on to something in the world—like he made a promise to upkeep.

    I did come across some issues when playing. There was one moment where, in a dream sequence, Dan got stuck in place and I was forced to quit out of the game. Supposedly it isn’t the only case as other players have reported other instances of them getting stuck too. My biggest issue does actually come from the actual gameplay portions. In some dream sequences, there is a hide-and-seek mechanic. If you get caught, you get a game over. It took me by surprise at first because I thought the strong emphasis on narrative would mean there wouldn’t be any of these instances. It’s not like any of these game overs even mean anything as you immediately start at the point right before the hide-and-seek sections. There’s even one hide-and-seek section that puts you back to the starting point without a game over. It feels tacked-on to me, and the only reason it’s there in the first place (to my guess) is that it makes the achievement for not getting caught much easier to track.

    My second biggest issue is the autosave function, in a way. There is only one save file for the whole game, and it autosaves at most points. Autosaving in itself is not the issue more so than the numerous “points of no return.” >observer_ has collectibles, you see. Now when there is at least half-dozen of these points where you can’t return scattered throughout the game, you understand what the issue with this is? It doesn’t end there either. Once you beat the game, you have to start the entire game over from the beginning. Considering that this is a game where you can make choices to see different outcomes and that you only really have one chance to collect all collectibles, it’s a rather strange, and poor design choice to make. I’m glad I got through my completionist phase or I would have put my head through a wall.

    >observer_
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 45%
    Violence - 0/10
    Language - 1.5/10
    Sexual Content - 6/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 5/10

    As evident of basically everything mentioned above, >observer_ is not for children in any sense of the concept (not that most children would be interested in the narrative in the first place). Blood is present in rather large quantities throughout the game, either on the floor, on the walls, or in other places. There are dead bodies present, such as a headless body, one guy’s intestines spilling out of his body, a literal tub of blood, and another committing suicide via hanging. You’ll rarely encounter any of these in action—mostly the aftermath of the violence, but it doesn’t make the act any less gruesome. With the gritty atmosphere, there is also constant language and blasphemy uttered, with f**k, s**t, and godd**mit being the words said the most. A few characters aren't the nicest bunch and do say some slight racist and sexist overtones. There are a lot of immoral decisions made by characters in the game explained through text or the dream sequences, and Dan has the option of making a few himself during some of the sidequests. (I’m a good boy, so I made all the ethical ones.) Some of these actions go into organ harvesting and drug trafficking. I also came across a poster pretty late into the game that showed a woman’s bare breasts. At one point in the narrative, Dan is forced to break police protocol to go further in his investigation.

    When I think about cyberpunk films such as Blade Runner, Ghost in the Shell, The Matrix, or even cyberpunk games like the Deus Ex series, I never get that feeling from any of the mentioned that those situations can ever become real. The most frightening thing about >observer_ is that it really feels like a situation that can happen. With how grounded it keeps itself, how it adds commentary about relatable situations, and how it dives into the fears and worries that we push all the way in the back of our mind. It might, in fact, become our future if we’re not careful about our over-reliance of technology.

    With a boatload of moral issues and concerns, I implore most of you to take a second look at >observer_ before buying, renting, or borrowing from a friend. The story lasts about six to nine hours, and an extra two or four if you’re willing to do a second playthrough for the choices you missed or skipped out on. If you can manage to get past all that, the gameplay issues, and some rather idiotic design choices, you are in for an engrossing, spine-tingling narrative with great sound and visual design that feels all too real.

  • 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim (PS4)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim
    Developed By: Vanillaware
    Published By: Atlus
    Released: Sep 22, 2020
    Available On: PlayStation 4
    Genre: Adventure; Strategy
    ESRB Rating: T for Teen: Fantasy Violence, Language, Partial Nudity
    Number of Players: Single Player
    Price: $59.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is an interesting departure from the action games Vanillaware is commonly known for (while still retaining their distinct 2D art style), even though this isn’t their first foray into the strategy genre. This isn’t even their first time making a game with a strong narrative, but this is the first time where the story takes center stage. 13 Sentinels had an interesting and long development cycle, originally pitched by the developer as a low budget piece of media meant to accompany a toyline, but neither aspect would become of the final product. 13 Sentinels is the result of a ton of ambition and pure passion of the medium.

    Starring an ensemble cast of 13 characters, 13 Sentinels takes place across multiple timelines, from as early as 1945 to as late as the 22nd Century. The plotline is that the Deimos, robotic kaiju (giant monsters), attack Japan, and 13 individuals must call upon their giant mecha to save their country. Behind the scenes are three opposing forces who all have their ideas on how to avoid annihilation. They constantly butt heads against each other while using these 13 children for their noble and nefarious purposes. The main timeline and where most of the game is in the 1980s, with many characters from past and present coming to this central point.

    Split between three main modes, Remembrance, Destruction, and Analysis, 13 Sentinels constructs its non-linear narrative through these game variants. Remembrance is the adventure segment where the majority of the narrative and gameplay takes place. 13 Sentinels is told from a 2D perspective, showcasing Vanillaware’s iconic and beautiful set pieces. Because of the type of game 13 Sentinels is, Vanillaware chose to keep a more grounded approach with their character designs as all the humans have anatomically correct body proportions instead of the greatly exaggerated designs seen in their previous work. The character designs are stunning and the backgrounds are awe-inspiring. The mecha designs are also fantastic, seeming to take inspiration from both eastern and western. An immaculate amount of detail went into the setting and capturing the Shōwa era that the majority of the game takes place in. By the way each character is designed, their personalities shine through their physical appearance and mannerisms. Great care was put into the animations of the 13 playable characters. I adore looking at the unique ways each character moves and thinks throughout their environment.

    Similar to point-and-click adventure games, the Remembrance portion controls almost like one. When you choose a character, they’ll walk around the 2D plane interacting with other characters, objects, and scenery to progress through the story. 13 Sentinels lacks more of the cryptic puzzles that the adventure genre is known for, going for a streamlined progression. Exchanging dialogue or going through certain paths in a character’s story may unlock phrases or items in the Thought Cloud database, a special menu where the character’s inner monologue is accessed by pressing triangle. Sometimes, initiating these phrases or items with certain characters can unlock different pathways in the story. The paths and methods to reach them can be tracked through a chart with the press of the square button when playing as the character. Repeated segments can be fast-forwarded with R1 and a log of previous conversations can be referenced with the DualShock 4’s touchpad.

    Many segments are meant to be played “out of order” so it isn’t an issue when you find out something earlier than you’re supposed to. You’ll know when the narrative wants you to see a certain event at a specific time as there are certain prerequisites to be met to progress throughout many character’s stories. There are lots of twists and turns, and being able to find out the reasoning of certain events or seeing past events through another perspective is engaging and keeps you wanting to know more. I liked following all the characters' plotlines with my favorites out of the cast being Nenji Ogata's story with how an aggressive delinquent handles a Groundhog Day situation, and Ryoko Shinonome's story with how I sympathized and related to this mentally and physically fragile girl.

    13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Beautiful art; compelling and enjoyable characters; surprisingly fun “tower-defense like” combat; tons of references and homages to classic sci-fi media
    Weak Points: Some romance plots feel hokey; a few contrived moments to get the plot moving
    Moral Warnings: Depictions of murder; one portrait is “bloodstained”; mild and strong language ranging from ‘d*mn’ to ‘sh*t’; blasphemy such as ‘godd*mn’; loads of sexually suggestive dialogue with quotes such as “You want to follow her to bed?"; homosexual romance; skin-tight clothing and nudity (with no private areas shown); characters do commit unjust actions to get ahead

    Destruction is where 13 Sentinel’s combat takes place. Unlike Remembrance, Destruction is the strategy segment from a top-down perspective. The graphics are much more simplified as a method to showcase the hundreds of enemies that you’ll face on screen. Destruction plays more like a tower defense game. The main goal is to protect the Aegis in the city from the kaiju that attack it. Both your sentinels and the kaiju are represented as symbols and icons on the field, looking similar to 16-bit pixels. This may leave some players disappointed that it isn’t Vanillaware’s 2D art. However, previews for the sentinel’s attacks are all displayed in that wonderful 2D. With the amount that happens onscreen in battles (later ones leading to slowdown on a standard PS4), it’d be impossible to portray that all in the 2D art style.

    All 13 sentinels play a role on the field, but up to 6 are active. Those 6 are the ones you directly control, while the rest act as the Aegis’ defensive measures. The ones on defense have certain abilities such as auto-targeting kaiju that come too close or healing allies. There are four different types of sentinels portrayed through the 13 playable ranging from melee, long-range combat, support, and all-rounder, having qualities of the former three. Each sentinel has its own set of skills and abilities. Skills increase in efficiency with meta chips obtained through destroying kaiju. Abilities are earned through leveling up in increments of 5. Whenever a character is able to act, time freezes giving you a chance to plan out your strategies. Attacking lets you utilize the various skills the sentinels have, putting the sentinel on a cooldown period. Defending enhances the sentinel's armor and lets it recharge its energy points (EP) that are tied to the stronger skills. Repairing lets the sentinel retreat and heal up, but leaves the character in a very vulnerable state. Moving allows the sentinel to traverse the map and can be cancelled at any point to enact other actions. Grounded sentinels can only follow the projected paths on the map while aerial sentinels have free reign.

    Tied to this system is a mechanic called Brain Overdrive, in which after a character is used enough times, they must sit out one wave. You can circumvent this feature but that comes to the sacrifice of your score multiplier. With proper planning, one shouldn’t have to resort to this method, and keeping the score multiplier high not only earns you more meta chips, but also makes it easier to obtain S ranks, which are crucial in obtaining mystery files. Some people may find the Destruction segments the weaker portion of 13 Sentinels but I found them to be enjoyable with its mixture of both real-time and turn-based elements. The game mode might be easy to cheese as it isn’t difficult to find out which skills and abilities are above the rest and abusing them to lay waste to your enemies. It’s pretty fast-paced and does a good job letting you feel like you're wielding 200 tons of raw power. Shooting giant lasers across the city and littering a city block with hundreds of missiles never got old for me. The conversations and banter between the characters are engaging, funny, and even heartwarming.

    The last mode is Analysis and the one where you may either spend the least or most amount of time in. Analysis acts as an archive, keeping a log of the many things you’ll encounter through this story. It gives insight on characters, settings, items, and various other things, possibly filling out the loose ends or answering questions you may have. The events are archived here too so scenes can be replayed, all of them categorized by character.

    I played 13 Sentinels in Japanese audio, mainly because I typically like to experience the setting in the language that it matches. I feel it is appropriate to see and hear Japanese in something that takes place in Japan. I liked the casting overall. Of course, some people want to hear their media in English no matter what. (A day one patch is required for the English dub.) I have no issues with dubbing. I did listen to some scenes in English and from what I’ve heard, the English cast did well too. Considering it is Atlus who published 13 Sentinels and are well-known for their good English dubs, it’s to be expected. I liked the music too. There’s a lot of variety in the soundtrack. Some pieces are calming, others are tense, and some are energetic. When listening to the soundtrack, I do remember the scenes in which most of them play. The sound effects are also well done, especially in the Destruction segments, having lots of power behind them.

    Getting down to 13 Sentinels morally is a peculiar predicament. It manages to be one of Vanillaware’s least violent games. Many scenes of violence fade to black or white or a flash of white when a hit is made. Very few characters throughout the story are killed. However, there is one noticeable part where a character portrait of an injured person has splotches of what might be blood. It’s a strange moment because it’s the only instance of it in the game. Other than that, most other violent confrontations are in the Destruction segments where the kaiju explode into pixels.

    13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 94%
    Gameplay/Narrative 18/20
    Graphics 10/10
    Sound 9/10
    Stability 5/5
    Controls 5/5

    Morality Score - 62%
    Violence 6/10
    Language 2.5/10
    Sexual Content 5/10
    Occult/Supernatural 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical 7.5/10

    Language is plentiful. There is swearing both mild and strong ranging from ‘a*s’, ‘h*ll’, ‘d*mn’, ‘b*st*rd’ ‘a*s”h*le’, ‘b*tch’, and ‘d*ck.' Blasphemous language only consists of ‘godd*mn.'

    There’s a lot of sexual content and dialogue within. The first thing that many players will notice is that the characters inside of their sentinels are naked. Many characters get themselves into some embarrassing situations. One character mistakes the casual relationship between her friend and the boy she’s interacting with as a ‘casual sexual’ relationship. Other dialogue consists of quotes such as “You want to follow her to bed?”, and (paraphrased) “put two meatbuns under your shirt, and boom! Instant Morimura!” Speaking of Ms. Morimura, she is the most well-endowed member of the cast. She typically walks around in skin-tight clothing and many characters make comments on her curvaceous body.

    There’s also the relationship between Takatoshi Hijiyama and Tsukasa Okino. The whole thing is that it is a homosexual relationship and is the only instance of homosexuality that isn’t played for laughs. Okino is a crossdresser and Hijiyama falls for Okino when he believes him to be a female. A huge portion of Hijiyama’s plot is his conflicting feelings for Okino.

    As the plot is centered around war, there are questionable actions characters take, some of whom you directly control. There’s blackmail, brainwashing, emotional manipulation, and wanting to sacrifice one for another. Most of the characters that commit the more heinous acts are antagonists, but a few playable characters do go against authority and traditional values.

    Other miscellaneous moral concerns are stuff like in one scene, two people can be seen in the background that are visibly intoxicated. A Shinto shrine is one of the landmarks (it has plot relevance, but no Shinto gods are ever mentioned throughout the story),

    It took me around the 34-hour mark to complete 13 Sentinels, and I ended up enjoying it immensely. I’m not even much of a sci-fi kind of guy and I found it hard to pull myself away. Vanillaware managed to juggle a 13-person narrative very well. Most people have trouble focusing on one, let alone two. I was intrigued in finding out where each character’s plot would go. Some twists I could see coming and others generally surprised me. Looking back, many of the reveals even made sense as there are lots of foreshadowing and it is explained cohesively. Seeing these characters evolve into the role they were more or less forced into is powerful and I ended up rooting for this ragtag group. I loved seeing how at first, a few of the members who at first were openly antagonistic towards each other form a fire-forged bond through the hardships of war and battle. I just wanted to see all of them get out of the cruddy situation forced on them.

    13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim is a one of a kind game. This is something that only comes around once in a blue moon. It is easily Vanillaware’s best story and possibly Vanillaware’s best game period. I strongly believe years later people will look at it as Vanillware’s magnum opus. It’s a wonderful love letter to the sci-fi genre in general with many homages and callbacks to classic sci-fi such as The War of the Worlds and 2001: A Space Odyssey, and “modern” works such as Star Wars and Terminator. I know a game is special when I found myself so hard-pressed to find flaws with it. They’re pretty minor such as Renya Gouto's story acting more like an epilogue for the whole narrative than a dive into his character. The romance felt a bit hokey and not fleshed out as many characters fall for each other at first glance. I bought 13 Sentinels for half off and I think it’s worth that price. I even think it is worth the standard price. For people who find themselves drawn to the RTS gameplay, you'll be happy to hear that after the game is completed, it will treat you to at least 9,999 waves of kaiju-smashing action with new enemy variants and tactics that weren't available during the main story. When it comes to morality, the sexual content/dialogue and constant barrage of language may drive a few away as the dialogue is plentiful and the homosexuality is unavoidable. However, if you can get past that, this is a must-buy for a sci-fi fan. People who enjoy a strong narrative in their video games will also be drawn to it. Whatever the method may be, please consider 13 Sentinels as we’ll never see something like this from Vanillaware ever again.

  • A Plague Tale: Innocence (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    A Plague Tale: Innocence
    Developed by: Adobo Studio
    Published by: Focus Home Interactive
    Release date: May 14, 2019
    Available on: PS4, Windows, Xbox One
    Number of players: Single-player
    Genre: Action, Adventure
    ESRB Rating: Mature for Blood and Gore, Strong Language, Violence
    Price: $44.99
    (Humble Bundle Link)

    Thank you Focus Home Interactive  for sending us this game to review!

    A Plague Tale: Innocence takes place in France in 1349 during the Inquisition and the plague. You play as Amicia, a 15-year-old girl who is from the well-to-do De Rune family. She has a five-year-old brother, Hugo, who has been seriously ill for most of his life and their alchemist mother is trying to find a cure for him. With her mother tending to Hugo most of the time, Amicia has a closer relationship with her father who teaches her how to use her slingshot to hunt.

    It doesn’t take long for the soldiers of the Inquisition to arrive at the De Rune estate and slaughter everyone in sight. For some reason, they are specifically looking for Hugo and want him alive. I won’t spoil any details, but suffice it to say that the story is quite intriguing and is spread out into seventeen chapters.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Touching story; fantastic visuals; excellent voice acting and background music; frequent checkpoints/autosaves
    Weak Points: The AI characters can get stuck/left behind/killed at times
    Moral Warnings: Extremely gory and violent; with the Inquisition storyline, religion is shown in a negative light as religious figures are depicted as power-hungry and willing to sacrifice others for their gain; blaspheming and colorful language including several instances of the f-bomb; a couple of your party members are thieves

    Amicia, who hardly knows her brother, becomes his caretaker and they befriend other orphans later on in the game. Until then, there are plenty of Inquisition soldiers and rats to avoid making contact with. The rats are afraid of light sources so if you’re near fire or have a torch you’ll be okay. The problem with torches is that they don’t last very long, so you don’t have much time to waste while using one.

    Soldiers are a bit harder to avoid. If they are not wearing helmets you can sling a stone at their head to take them down. They will bleed when hit and may die as a result. Compared to seeing people burned at the stake or eaten alive by rats, the stone to the head is not that gory. There are non-lethal approaches like throwing a stone at a jar to break it or into some armor to get the guard’s attention elsewhere.

    Stones are a limited resource, but in boss battles, they tend to replenish after a short while. Along with stones are other resources laying around that can be used to upgrade Amicia’s equipment or concoct helpful potions that can put guards to sleep or make their helmets acidic so they take them off. Amicia will also learn how to start and douse fires with alchemy. Extinguishing the enemy’s torches makes them vulnerable to rat attacks.

    A Plague Tale: Innocence
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 90%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 50%
    Violence - 0/10
    Language - 0/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    If rats make you queasy, you may want to skip this game as they appear in swarms quite often. Other issues to take note of include foul language with every word imaginable and some blasphemy. The Catholic church is not shown in a positive light as one of their leaders is depicted as being power-hungry and willing to sacrifice other people’s lives for his goals. This church leader’s health is not the best as it appears that he’s suffering from the effects of a rat bite. You’ll see him getting blood injections from “volunteer” prisoners. As I mentioned earlier, there is a lot of bloodshed in this game.

    The visuals in this game are astounding. While there are plenty of grotesque images to make you wince, there are some truly beautiful sights to behold as well. Sadly, many of the towns you visit have been preceded by Inquisition soldiers and have left bodies of animals and townsfolk laying around the street. There are also battlefields covered in bodies. As realistic as this game looks, I’m glad that I didn’t have to smell what I imagined it would have been like.

    The audio portion is equally impressive with an exceptional musical score composed by Olivier Deriviere who has many AAA game titles under his belt. The voice acting with French accents is quite good too. I can see why many people are describing this game as a masterpiece.

    I completed the game in a little over ten hours. Though the story is linear, there are some Steam achievements available for keeping your eyes peeled for flowers and gifts to collect. I could have done a bit more exploring in my playthrough it seems. Even with my 63% Steam achievement completion rate, I’m very satisfied with my time in this title. As fun as this game is, it does deserve its Mature rating and should not be played by younger children as the imagery could be nightmare inducing.

  • A Rite from the Stars (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    A Rite from the Stars
    Developed by: Risin’ Goat
    Published by: Phoenix Online Studios
    Release date: July 19, 2018
    Available on: macOS, OUYA, Windows
    Genre: Adventure
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $14.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Phoenix Online Studios for sending us this game to review!

    A Rite from the Stars was successfully Kickstarted in 2015 and promised to bring to life a fresh and new 3D point and click adventure game. This title takes place on the island of Kaikala which is inhabited by the Makoa tribe. Although the island is fictional, the tribe is real and this game uses their language and voices for the dialogue in it.

    The main character is Kirm who is about to embark on his rite of passage with the help of his guiding star. His star can talk, but Kirm is mute. There are three paths that he must complete to be acknowledged as a man in his tribe and they are Courage, Spirit, and Wisdom.

    Each of the paths require different skills to complete them and new game mechanics are introduced as well to keep things fresh and exciting. In the courage path Kirm is accompanied by his spirit animal, a meerkat, who also is mute. Not only can the meerkat absorb poison, it can get to areas that Kirm can’t reach. Many of the obstacles require controlling both Kirm and his meerkat simultaneously using both mouse buttons. The spirit path requires avoiding the harmful spirits and receiving a revelation from the heavens. In this section, you have to switch between the spirit realm and the mortal world often. The wisdom path has many puzzles that are typical of point and click adventure games. Some of the puzzles are musical and a few still remain a mystery to me.

    A Rite from the Stars
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Each of the three paths provides new gameplay mechanics and variety
    Weak Points: Though there are plenty of Steam achievements, many of them are nearly impossible to achieve; not enough walkthroughs or discussion forums to provide help if you get stuck; odd game crashes and glitches
    Moral Warnings: This game revolves around the beliefs of the Makoa tribe and their guiding stars; a spiritual realm where the spirits kill mortals who enter it, and the ability to offer a sacrifice to one of their gods; Kirm gets called names by the chief and there is mild cursing (d*mn); males only wear loin cloths

     

    I was able to solve many of the puzzle on my own. If you get stuck, there is a built-in hint system though it usually repeats what the guiding star already told me so I didn’t find it very helpful or worth losing a Steam achievement over. While there are many Steam achievements available, most of them are nigh impossible to earn. There are a few video walkthroughs available but I couldn’t find any in the areas I got stuck in which makes me wonder if other gamers/streamers gave up like I did. It’s worth noting that my Steam discussion thread still remains unanswered so without any walkthroughs or assistance, I won’t be able to progress any further.

    The video walkthroughs I found did help me get through some pretty odd glitches I experienced. For example, there is an area where the meerkat has to climb onto a vine and if you don’t do it within two seconds of stepping on a poisonous flower, it can’t be done at all. While I appreciate the randomness of some of the puzzles, it can be detrimental at times. There are some boss battles that can go south quickly if the random attacks are working against you. During the sleeping dragon boss you have to stand still when its eyes are open. There are also falling rocks which you have to dodge despite the dragon’s eyes being open. So many times I had to choose between having my meerkat die by flaming dragon breath or falling rocks. And just when I got the meerkat safe, a rock would fall on Kirm instead.

    A Rite from the Stars
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 70%
    Gameplay - 12/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 67%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 8.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 0/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

     

    Thankfully, there are plenty of checkpoints that you can resume from at any time. You don’t have to complete a rite from start to finish and you can go back and replay a different area or one you already completed if you wish. Scattered through each of the areas are leaves and glyphs that you can find to earn some Steam achievements.

    Though you can die in this game, it’s not very gruesome or bloody. While I appreciate the tribal culture, I’m not a fan of their gods and prefer not to make sacrifices to them. The spirit realm has evil spirits that consume mortals who dare to enter it.

    A Rite from the Stars has a nice concept and it definitely shines when it comes to the audio and visuals in it. I think the controls could use some more polish and the lack of gamepad support is quite strange given the support for it on OUYA. It’s also a shame that the discussion boards seem to be inactive now as well. I only recommend this game if you enjoy point and click adventure games and don’t mind the heavy spiritual references in it.

  • Alice VR (Oculus Rift)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Alice VR
    Developed by: Carbon Studio
    Published by: Klabater
    Release date: October 27, 2016
    Available on: Windows, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive
    Genre: Adventure
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $24.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Carbon Studio for sending us this game to review!

    Unlike the fairy tale, Alice VR takes place in space on a ship experiencing a severe malfunction. The problems are severe enough to warrant being woken up from your cryogenic sleep. In order to make the necessary repairs you’ll have to access various areas of the ship and some of them require shrinking yourself and returning back to your normal size.

    Maneuvering throughout the game is simple enough using an Xbox One controller. The joysticks allow your character to look and move around. Keyboard and mouse support works just as well. The character moves very slowly and this is probably an attempt to avoid inducing motion sickness. Sadly, it doesn’t work. Thankfully, the game is still playable without a VR headset. There is a menu option for increasing the movement speed, and after getting nauseated twice, I opted to play the remainder of the game without VR.

    Alice VR
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Can be played without a VR headset; good graphics
    Weak Points: Gave me motion sickness in VR; game crashes; level and sound glitches
    Moral Warnings: Minor language (hell); women shown in revealing clothing on posters; drug references

    The gameplay is like a 3D first person adventure game. You have to walk around and explore your surroundings and work around various obstacles preventing you from completing your objectives. Once you get off your ship, you’ll need to start collecting a resource called graphene from a seemingly abandoned planet. Some graphene is lying around in canisters though the majority of it is earned by draining it from abandoned technology left behind on this planet. Another way to acquire graphene is by solving puzzles.

    The puzzles in this game are logical which is a pleasant surprise since many adventure games I’ve played have puzzle solutions that totally come out of left field. Since I was able to solve many of the puzzles with little or no effort, many people may find them to be too easy. A couple of the puzzles involve flipping switches in a certain order to unlock the next area. If you do get stuck, there are YouTube walkthroughs available online.

    Most of the gameplay is linear, though there are some collectibles and rewards for going off the beaten path. There are a dozen playing cards scattered throughout the game and if you collect all of them, you’ll get a Steam achievement. According to Steam, it only took me four hours to complete this game. In actuality, it was less than that since Steam doesn’t recognize when I exited out the game it thought I was playing it all through dinner one night. So I’m guessing a more accurate game time is 3-3.5 hours.

    Alice VR
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 68%
    Gameplay - 11/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 2/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 86%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 6.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

    Like many games, the story is told through voice recordings of the planet’s previous inhabitants and you’ll gradually learn about their struggles before you arrived. The AI giving you orders doesn’t appreciate insubordination, but it is possible. There is some replayability in making different choices, but with the nausea and game glitches, I think I’ll pass.

    Besides Steam not registering me leaving the game, I also ran into instances of the sound not working and missing story sequences as a result. Since the game relies on checkpoints and is linear, I was not able to backtrack and hear what I missed. My character has been stuck in place and I had to reload my save to get unstuck. I was also stumped on how to leave a certain level only to realize that it was actually glitched after watching a walkthrough. After reloading my save a couple of times I was able to progress in this hallucination themed level. Despite the hallucinations being triggered by a gas, there are still drug references in this title.

    Another issue worth noting is that there are several posters in the city with women wearing sexualized attire. The rest of the artwork and level design is well done and this game utilizes the Unreal 4 engine nicely. When the sound is working properly, the voice acting is well done too.

    Fans of Alice in Wonderland and adventure games will probably enjoy this title. The developers have been doing a good job patching the game, but it still needs some more tweaks. If you looking for a good VR experience you may want to look elsewhere or take some motion sickness medicine ahead of time.

  • Anamorphine (Oculus Rift)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Anamorphine
    Developed by: Artifact 5
    Published by: Artifact 5
    Release date: July 31, 2018
    Available on: HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, PSVR, Windows
    Number of players: Single-player
    Genre: Adventure
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Mild Violence, Mild Blood, Drug and Alcohol Reference
    Price: $19.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Artifact 5 for sending us this game to review!

    In Anamorphine you see the world through Tyler’s eyes as he witnesses his love interest dive into depression and addiction. There’s very little text and the story is mostly told through visual prompts that trigger memories that you get to revisit and interact in. Depending on your input, you can trigger one of two endings and then go back to try to experience the second one if desired.

    Given the unfinished state of the apartment with a double bed and boxes everywhere, it can be assumed that Tyler and Elena recently moved in together. I don’t recall seeing any wedding pictures of them so I don’t think that they are married. Elena is a cello player that plays in a symphony and teaches children on the side. Her musical career is on the up and up. It’s not clear what Tyler does for a living but he does enjoy bike riding.

    At Christmas, he gives Elena a bicycle and the bike riding sequences in this game are well done (especially in VR!) and break up the slow pace a bit. During a biking adventure, Elena crashes and badly breaks her arm. This severely hampers Elena’s cello playing abilities and she spirals into substance abuse and depression.

    Anamorphine
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Interesting story about depression
    Weak Points: Poor controls and game glitches
    Moral Warnings: Blood; substance abuse

    Most of this game is spent walking through the apartment looking for glowing items to interact with and progress the story. As the apartment falls into disarray, you’ll stumble across many beer, wine, and prescription bottles.

    There are some whimsical environments that are quite beautiful and gloomy at the same time. Other sequences take place at a hospital where you’ll get to walk through many corridors and see Elena’s X-rays and visitors. Other than Elena, everyone else in this title is portrayed as mannequins. Only the significant ones are wearing clothes like a doctor’s lab coat. It’s a unique art style, but it works.

    I was able to see one of the endings with less than three hours of game time. Half of the time was spent in VR and I finished the game without a headset on. Though the warp moving system and shadowing around the eyes helps with motion sickness, I still felt woozy after my first playthrough in VR. I highly recommend sitting versus standing with this game.

    Anamorphine
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 66%
    Gameplay - 12/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 2/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 78%
    Violence - 5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 7/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7/10

    As if motion sickness was not enough of an issue, I also ran into several glitches while playing Anamorphine. I have experienced my character getting stuck during a level transition and the loss of all sound effects. Thankfully, this title has many automatic save states so not much progress was lost in those scenarios. The movement can be a little tricky to navigate at times and it’s not always clear as to what you’re supposed to do at others. The levels that are flipped sideways or upside down are especially tricky and/or slow to maneuver through.

    The background symphony and cello music is well done and sets the mood nicely for the game. The soundtrack is available for purchase on Steam for $7.99 or you can buy it with the game for a slight discount.

    Before picking up the game or the soundtrack, I recommend holding off for a sale. With the stability issues and short amount of gameplay, it’s hard to justify the $20-$28 price tag. Along with the living together and substance abuse, there is some blood in this title, but it’s shown as white instead of red. If you like walking simulators and interesting stories, Anamorphine is worth picking up on sale.

  • Argonus and the Gods of Stone (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Argonus and the Gods of Stone
    Developed By: Azure Drop Studios; Zojoi
    Published By: Zojoi
    Released: October 8, 2019
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Adventure
    ESRB Rating: Not Rated
    Number of Players: single player
    Price: $19.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Zojoi for sending us a review code!

    Greek mythology is always an interesting subject to be tackled in media. It is one of the more known mythos out there, being as heavily documented as it is. Many companies and people also tend to take their creative liberties with Greek mythology ranging from the Percy Jackson series to DC Comics’ Wonder Woman. This time, to the ever-expanding list of Greek mythology in culture, is Argonus and the Gods of Stone.

    Argonus and the Gods of Stone has you take control of Argonus, son of Argus the shipbuilder. One day in 1270 B.C., Argonus finds himself washed up on a beach, the ship Argo wrecked beyond repair, and all of his fellow Argonauts missing. As Argonus explores the beach, he notices these stone statues littered all around—but some of these statues look very familiar. These so-called “statues” are the petrified remains of the residents of the isle, as well as his fellow Argonauts. Shortly after this realization, Athena appears before Argonus and informs him that a blight or scourge has swept this island, with only Argonus being unaffected. Athena gives him the task of finding out who or what caused this blight.

    Like many epics, an epic requires a narrator. The narrator, in this case, is Calliope, the Greek Muse of heroic poetry. Voiced by Betsy Brantley, this was a good casting choice for Calliope, as in Ancient Greek, Calliope literally means “beautiful voice.” Brantley’s performance is soothing to the ears and fits the character well (even though you never physically see Calliope in this epic). As Argonus explores the islands, he’ll come across temples where the inhabitants worship gods and goddesses like Poseidon, Hera, and Hades. Each god and goddess encountered are also voiced, with an echo and boom added to their vocals—fitting for their status.

    Argonus and the Gods of Stone
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: The first-person perspective is a nice change of pace to the typical point-and-click style; solid voice acting; interesting story about the folly of both man and god
    Weak Points: Frame drops and stuttering no matter what graphic setting you’re on; ending sequence peters out
    Moral Warnings: Bloodstains and beheaded creatures can be seen about; Athena isn’t the most modestly dressed goddess, showing of a lot of leg and only a cloth to cover her private area; dialogue between two characters in a flashback implies that they had a primarily sexual relationship; supernatural elements and creatures all around such as hydras, griffons, and harpies; Argonus later in the adventure gains the ability to free souls

    AatGOS is displayed through a 3D first-person view and plays like any first-person game would, with the H key bringing up a box at any time to remind you of the controls. Any object that can be interacted with has a circle over it; this can go from the petrified remains of people and creatures, the various scenery or items scattered, and other objects. Objects that have a translucent hand within the circle need an item to be interacted with and items that have a solid yellow hand instead can be stored in your inventory, that can be accessed with the E key.

    Every object that can be interacted with is described by Calliope, either talking about the situation at hand or even making references to other Greek mythos, such as Heracles and his Twelve Labors. Not all of the information she says, however, is useful. She’ll even comment on the irrelevance of certain things Argonus interacts with, having a variety of ways of saying “this item or creature serves no purpose,” something I found quite humorous. Like most adventure games, items will act as keys to access later parts and that you’ll need to visit previous places when you gain other items.

    Argonus himself rarely speaks, with the only time with him speaking is through Argonus’ diary entries as Argonus is a historian and cartographer. The diary entries can be accessed through the map with the press of the M key, in which Argonus goes into further detail of the events that unfold. Each entry is displayed through well-crafted hand drawings and it is very interesting to see how Argonus personally views this dreary situation. The Greek isle itself is of a fairly bland color pallet, with clouds covering the skies at nearly all times, the vegetation mostly being of flat brown colors and the lack of people and wildlife making the situation feel that much dire. Graphically, AatGOS does look nice but for a game of its status has an incredibly large draw distance—unnecessarily so. A GTX 970 far exceeds the minimal graphical requirements of a GTS 450 and when looking towards the distance (especially skyward) or any active movement like a waterfall, the frames would drop significantly. Unless you have a fairly modern and powerful graphics card, you might be spending a lot of time looking towards the ground, which is a shame.

    Argonus and the Gods of Stone
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 71%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 8.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 0/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The music is like what you would hear from other mythology games, with a dynamic score. During more passive moments, the music is calm, yet eerie. During the few hectic moments, the music matches in kind with loud, boisterous instruments.

    Language and dialogue are clean, although there are other aspects to keep watch of. Greek mythology has a lot of supernatural elements in their stories. You’ll encounter griffins, harpies, a petrified hydra, skeletons, and spirits. The latter mentioned in a way caused by Argonus as the second half of the game has Argonus trying to find a way to free the spirits so that they may travel to the afterlife. Since this is a Greek tale, there is the aspect of polytheism and for the gods and goddesses to help you out in your journey, you offer them a tribute in kind. Bloodstains on the ground can be seen on the ground, and early in the game, you’ll come across a decapitated hydra head. A character dies onscreen but the cause of the character’s injuries is unknown. In a flashback, it can be assumed through the conversation that the two characters (names withheld for spoiler reasons) had a sexual relationship. Athena shows off plenty of leg, and many of the female statues show off cleavage.

    Argonus and the Gods of Stone’s progress is separated by five books, not all books being equal in length. The fifth book, in particular, can be the shortest or the longest depending on how you played as it is 99% backtracking. The voice acting is solid and directed well, and the sense of worldbuilding makes you want to find out what happens next. Any fan of Greek mythology will find this decent-length journey (about 3-7 hours) worth the price of admission. People who are unfamiliar with Greek fables may want to wait for a sale as the ending segment dwindles and the requirement to see the ending is vague. While not nearly as crazy as the source material, AatGOS still has aspects to be mindful of. Even with its budget constraints and the lack of the more intricate adventure mechanics like item crafting or fusion, this Greek epic is an interesting story of how the mistakes of both man and god led these Argonauts to their grim fate.

  • Batman - The Telltale Series (Episodes 1 & 2) (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Batman - The Telltale Series
    Developed by: Telltale Games
    Published by: Telltale Games
    Release date: August 6, 2016
    Available on: iOS, PS3, PS4,
    Windows, Xbox 360, Xbox One  |
    Genre: Adventure
    Number of Players: Single-player
    ESRBR rating: Mature for violence, blood, gore and language.
    Price: $24.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Telltale Games for sending us a review code!

    Batman - The Telltale Series is a five-part adventure style game that adapts its story based on the choices of the player.  As of this review only the first two episodes are available and they are extremely well written with likable characters and good voice acting.  Like most adventure games you get to examine your surroundings and interact with various objects to gather clues and solve murder mysteries.

    This game earns its mature rating with gruesome crime scenes and harsh language and blaspheming.  Pretty much every cuss word but the F-bomb is used.  A new game mechanic is introduced that lets you link objects together to piece together murders or to plan Batman’s attack.  The battles use quick time events and you have to press the correct key at the right moment to either block or land an attack.

    Batman - The Telltale Series
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Excellent story that changes depending on the choices you make in the game; great character development and voice acting; new gameplay mechanics to set this series apart from previous Telltale entries.
    Weak Points: This game is not optimized well; even though I took the merciful route the dialogue with other characters suggested that I did otherwise.
    Moral Warnings: Extreme violence and language is unavoidable; the player can choose to be vengeful or merciful when dealing with criminals; Catwoman wears tight clothes.

     

    Those who are familiar with Batman’s story will recognize characters like Alfred and the Catwoman.  The main villain (who I will not reveal) looked nothing like the movie rendition I saw when I was growing up.  Bruce Wayne/Batman remains unchanged with his strong integrity and wide array of expensive technical gadgets at his disposal.  The gadget interface color is customizable and purple was the color that I chose.

    The tale of Batman is a grim one with a wealthy boy losing his parents at the age of nine.  As the story progresses, Bruce Wayne discovers that there was more to his parents’ death than a simple mugging.  He also learns that his family’s fortune is built on the suffering of others and that these revelations are hurting the campaign of his friend Harvey Dent.   Harvey wishes to save Gotham City by taking the Mayor title away from the corrupt Hamilton Hill.

    Throughout the story Bruce/Batman will have to answer questions from police, mobsters, and the press.  Silence is an option and it’s one that will be chosen for you if you don’t answer fast enough.  Sadly, that was done for me several times due to technical issues running this game.

    Batman - The Telltale Series
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 2/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 59%
    Violence - 0/10
    Language - 1/10
    Sexual Content - 8.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    On my Nvidia 660M powered laptop I noticed that this game ran poorly and that the voice acting was out of synch and that my mouse movement was sluggish at best and unusable at worst.  Because the cel-shaded graphics looked amazing, I didn’t want to lower them.  I utilized the cloud save feature and enjoyed this game on my more powerful AMD powered desktop.  There are many negative Steam reviews reflecting poor performance issues so make sure that you have a powerful enough system and the latest drivers installed before purchasing this game.

    If you have a powerful enough system and enjoy Batman and/or adventure games then Batman - The Telltale Series is worth picking up If you’re not put off by strong language and violence.  I never get tired of seeing my choices compared with everyone else’s after completing an episode and I'm eagerly waiting for the next three to be released!

     

  • Batman - The Telltale Series (Episodes 3-5) (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Batman - The Telltale Series
    Developed by: Telltale Games
    Published by: Telltale Games
    Release date: December 13, 2016
    Available on: iOS, PS3, PS4, Windows, Xbox 360, Xbox One 
    Genre: Adventure
    Number of Players: Single-player
    ESRB rating: Mature for Violence, Blood and Gore, Language, Sexual Themes, and Use of Drugs 
    Price: $24.99
    (Humble Store Link)

     

     

    Thank you Telltale Games for sending us this series to review!

    The first two episodes started to reveal the dark origins of Bruce Wayne’s wealth.  While Bruce is nothing like his parents, Gotham City is rather fickle and he loses the citizens' favor as his family name is being discredited left and right.  It doesn’t help that mayor Harvey Dent is jealous that the woman he cares for (Selena Kyle) is attracted to Mr. Wayne and abuses his power to go after Bruce directly.  

     

    Batman - The Telltale Series
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Excellent story that changes depending on the choices you make in the game; great character development and voice acting; new gameplay mechanics to set this series apart from previous Telltale entries.
    Weak Points: This game is not optimized well; even though I took the merciful route the dialogue with other characters suggested that I did otherwise.
    Moral Warnings: Optional sex outside of marriage; violence and gore is mandatory 

    The relationship between Selena and Bruce is determined by the player's choices and it is possible to sleep with her.  If that’s the route they take, they’ll be shown in their undergarments.  Bruce Wayne wears boxers, in case you were wondering.  As if losing his credibility and friendship with Harvey wasn’t bad enough, Wayne Enterprises responds to the allegations by asking Bruce to step down as CEO.  While Bruce is understanding of his forced resignation, he’s infuriated and rightly concerned about who they hired as his replacement.  

    Episode four begins after an eventful speech with Bruce Wayne waking up in Arkham Asylum.  As a patient!  Because of his family name he’s given a violent welcome and must choose his allies carefully.  A patient with green hair and a big smile is rather friendly towards Bruce and is willing to help him get out.  Bruce has the option of promising to return a favor in the near future.

    The final episode is not short on excitement as Alfred Pennyworth is kidnapped and Bruce has to locate and save him before he gets beaten to death.  There’s no shortage of blood and language in this finale and there’s plenty of blood splattered crime scenes to investigate to piece together what went down in Bruce’s absence.  

    Batman - The Telltale Series
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 2/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 56%
    Violence - 0/10
    Language - 1/10
    Sexual Content - 7/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

     

    Some difficult choices have to be made and I love how this series adapts to the choices you make. At the completion of every episode your choices are compared to everyone else’s and my choices were usually in line with theirs.  Some of the harder choices were choosing to attend events as Bruce or Batman.  Between the interactive choices, adventure style gameplay, and the crime scene investigations, there is little difference between these chapters and the previous ones.

    At $5 an episode this is a mature but fun series to embark on.  There’s a hint of a sequel, and I look forward to donning the cowl and cape again soon.  Hopefully the next Batman series will be better optimized for those running video cards that cost less than $250.  

     

  • Batman – The Telltale Series (Switch)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Batman – The Telltale Series
    Developed by: Telltale Games
    Published by: Telltale Games
    Release date: November 14, 2017
    Available on: iOS, Android, Windows, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch (reviewed)
    Genre: Adventure
    Number of Players: Single-Player
    ESRB rating: Mature for Violence, Blood and Gore, Language, Sexual Themes
    Price: $39.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Batman has had a number of successful video game titles through the Arkham series. But while the Arkham games have done a great job making you feel like Batman in a combat sense, they have not been able to give you the freedom to choose what kind of Batman you would like to be. Telltale Games has chosen to put their own spin on the Batman franchise, creating a truly immersive experience.

    Games developed by Telltale emphasize choice over action. Their titles are broken up into “episodes” that are released over several months. In each episode, you make a plethora of choices that alter the way the story plays out. Looking up the differences in stories on the internet, it can be staggering how important your decisions are. Though the story has a basic outline that cannot be altered, several important details change based on your actions. But that being said, some people have complained that you don’t really play a “game,” so much as watch a movie and make some choices. While there isn’t much physical activity for your character, there is still plenty of stuff in the game that is dependent on you.

    In this 5-part episodic series, Batman is still relatively new. He has gained a reputation for being aggressive, but very few of his iconic enemies actually exist. This, however, is not an “origin story.” We are given an account of how he became Batman, but for the most part, this is a straightforward (although very dark) modern Batman adventure.

    Bruce Wayne is having difficulty balancing the two lives he lives, as he finds himself regularly beaten and bloody. On top of this, he is funding a campaign for his friend Harvey Dent, who is running for mayor. What follows is an emotionally trying story for Bruce, as he learns over time that his parents were not as good-natured as he thought they were.

    Batman – The Telltale Series
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Truly immersive experience makes you feel like Batman; great story forces you to make difficult choices; three-dimensional characters; great music and voice acting; unique art style
    Weak Points: Technical issues with the Switch version; Telltale's graphic engine causes some weird animations; Some characters treat you as cruel even when you choose not to be
    Moral Warnings: Very graphic images, most of them not optional; swearing and blaspheming shows up throughout the dialogue; an optional sex scene; implied child abuse; the story is largely about a drug operation

    Telltale’s emphasis on choices and story over action allows for some truly memorable characters. Two-dimensionality doesn’t ever seem to be an issue for this game’s characters. Even though Batman: The Telltale Series is a game, it is written more like a movie or a TV series. The story might not work so well for the big screen, but it is excellent for putting you in situations that are morally grey. Several times I found myself wondering if I did the right thing or not. I tried to be a “moral high-ground” Batman, but oftentimes, being a better person made life harder. The game wants you to believe that sometimes playing in the dark side yields better results.

    For example, in one scene, Batman is interrogating a sniper by hanging him up. At one point, Batman begins to apply pressure to the sniper’s arm, causing him to slowly feel pain. If you stop, Jim Gordon (who’s a lieutenant in this game) will notice your “nonviolent” approach. But if you break his arm, you will gain more valuable information.

    Because this game emphasizes choices, there is not a lot of movement for your character. There are a few segments that are “point-and-click,” where you basically walk around and click on objects to examine them. This gameplay style is also applied to crime scene investigations, which involve you linking parts of the crime scene together so that you can figure out what actually occurred. As far as action sequences go, there are a number of fight scenes, but these are carried out through a series of "quick time events."

    Visually, the game is a mixed bag. On one hand, Telltale has crafted a beautiful style that looks like it jumped right out of a comic book. But on the other hand, the Switch version features lower-resolution models. This doesn’t seem to change the visuals too much, but it makes some of the side characters look rather ugly. The lower resolution also gives all the characters grey pupils instead of black, which at times can be distracting. Where the real problem comes in is that Telltale’s graphic engine causes some really weird animations. Though the action is, for the most part, well choreographed, sometimes the characters can move very stiffly. In the final episode, I went a whole five minutes where Bruce Wayne’s mouth wouldn’t move for some reason. These technical issues are a bit of a shame given how good the characters’ facial expressions often are.

    Though the visuals have some issues, the sound is fantastic. All of the actors give great performances that really help sell the drama. Some of the actors include Troy Baker as Batman (who, oddly enough, previously voiced him in the LEGO Batman games), Laura Bailey as Catwoman, and Travis Willingham as Harvey Dent. The music is very good, too. All of it is very orchestral and could easily be used as a film soundtrack.

    Batman – The Telltale Series
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 85%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 7.5/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 2/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 58%
    Violence - 0/10
    Language - 2/10
    Sexual Content - 7/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Unfortunately, the Switch version of the game has some technical difficulties outside of the graphics. It has been floating around the internet that a glitch can occur in Episode 4 that freezes the game. Shutting the console down and bringing the game back up will cause your previous choices to become void. I had the unpleasant experience of finding this glitch. The rest of the episode played out fine, but when I started the fifth episode, none of my choices remained the same. Telltale has released a temporary solution to the problem, but it didn’t help my situation. I had to completely restart the game, which was very frustrating. The Switch version does come with one particular benefit, however. Unlike its Xbox and PlayStation counterparts, it comes with all five episodes downloaded onto the cartridge. The other versions have the first episode downloaded, but you had to download the others as they released. Our review to the original release was split into two parts because of this. Outside of having all episodes downloaded, the Switch version allows you to play the entire game with its touch screen like the mobile version of the game, if you’re in to that sort of thing.

    Morally speaking, this game is M-rated for Blood and Gore, Language, Sexual Content, and Violence. I would say it definitely earns that rating. Harsh language is spread throughout the game, though most prevalent in the first episode. God***n is probably used more than any other curse word in the game, though there are other less common blasphemies such as “Jesus,” “God,” and “Christ.” The f-word is surprisingly not in this game. However, there are some occasional uses of “d**n,” "a**," “hell,” “s**t,” “p***k,” "b***h," and “b*****d.” Of course, that is all I found in one play through. There’s no guarantee that that is all that is in there as far as language goes.

    You might notice that the Switch version of the game is the only one rated for Sexual Content. This is because it is the only physical version of the game that was released after all five episodes had been finished. The game being rated for Sexual Content, however, is not as big of an issue as it might sound. In Episode 3, you can choose to have sex with Selina Kyle in a scene where Bruce Wayne is in her apartment. I avoided this scene by telling her that she “had the wrong idea” when she rests her head on Bruce’s shoulder. I don’t know if this is the only way to avoid this scene, but it seems to be the safest way to go. Outside of this one scene, there are a couple of innuendos in the dialogue, but nothing that would be deemed too inappropriate for an episode of Batman: The Animated Series. Also, both Selina and Bruce are shown underdressed regardless of what you choose. Selina wears a tank top and short shorts, while Bruce is shown in nothing but his boxers.

    This game’s M-rating seems to come primarily from the violence. The game is very dark and violent, though thankfully most of the violence is not caused by you. You can choose to be a violent monster, but you definitely don’t have to. It is a little annoying, though, that regardless of how nonviolent you are, some people will act like you’re brutal. As stated earlier, the game seems to encourage you to act harshly in order to get more immediate results. However, my more merciful approach seemed to have worked out well in the long run. Within fifteen seconds of the game, a security guard gets shot in the head. As the story progresses a few more people get shot in the head and blood shoots out. As you fight people at various points in the game, little bits of blood will fly out of their bodies, sometimes to an unrealistic degree. Perhaps the most disturbing parts of the game, however, involve the crime scenes. There are a few graphic crime scenes you investigate throughout the episodes, though easily the most disturbing is in the first episode. In this scene, we see a man’s exploded remains, a man who’s face has been slashed up, and a man who’s head has a bullet you end up digging out with a metal rod. In a later crime scene, a person is shown with their eyes gouged out.

    Personally, I don’t feel like the violent images are nearly as disturbing as they could have been. Thanks to Telltale’s graphic style, the blood effects will often look weird and the other violent elements will not look very realistic. I still would not encourage anyone under eighteen to play it.

    [spoiler]The entire story is centered around drugs. The drugs in question cause people to ignore their moral filters, which results in them acting violently. In Episode 5, you encounter a torture chamber at the bottom of a suburban house. Inside this chamber are violent drawings, whipping belts, and bloody shackles. You discover that a character was tortured there and left for long periods of time by herself when she was a child. Anytime you examine something, you hear faint cries and screams from this character. Of all the disturbing elements in this game, this was by far the one I had the most difficulty stomaching. Even though not much of this is actually shown, the plot point is of a subject matter I am very uncomfortable with.[/spoiler]

    It’s a shame that the game has so many moral issues, because it is such a fantastic game. The whole “be your own Batman” concept has a lot of appeal, and the game executes it incredibly well. I don’t play a lot of M-rated games, but this was one that I personally do not regret playing. Because of some of the technical issues, I would not recommend getting the Switch version over the others. I chose the Switch version because it allowed me to play it with headphones on a smaller screen. Though I was alright with listening to the language and seeing the graphic images, I didn’t want my younger siblings hearing and seeing those things. If you choose to purchase the Switch edition, make sure you maintain multiple save files so that if one corrupts, you can try again without having to restart completely. If you don’t have any issues with the aforementioned moral content, I cannot recommend this game enough! Telltale’s Batman is a fantastic experience that is unique among other superhero games.

  • Batman: The Enemy Within - Episode One (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Batman: The Enemy Within
    Developed by: Telltale Games
    Published by: Telltale Games
    Release date: August 8, 2017
    Available on: Android, iOS, PS4, Xbox One, Windows
    Genre: Adventure
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Mature for violence, blood and gore, mild language
    Price: $24.99 (season pass)
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Telltale Games for sending us a review code for this series!

    Batman: The Enemy Within takes place shortly after the previous Telltale Batman series. Bruce Wayne is atoning for his father’s crimes and is no longer the public face of Wayne Enterprises. The company has been doing well since he was forced to step down as CEO. Alfred still has trauma from his recent kidnapping by Lady Arkham, but he won’t let that get in the way of aiding Bruce/Batman any way he can.

    The enemies from the previous series are pretty quiet in this one. Lady Arkham is presumed dead, yet her body was never located. Harvey Dent was taken away by GCPD and is either in jail or in a mental institution for his crimes. John Doe/The Joker awkwardly appears at a funeral and depending on Bruce’s decisions he can be friendly or upset with him. John Doe and Bruce share a common foe, The Riddler.

    Batman: The Enemy Within
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Great story; tough decisions
    Weak Points: Lots of quick time events if you’re not a fan of them
    Moral Warnings: Extreme violence, blood, and gore; gambling; language and blaspheming

    True to his name, The Riddler demands answers to riddles in exchange for a chance to survive. One of his riddles is “What question can you never answer yes to?” The answer is "Are you dead?". His methods are cruel and often deadly if answered too slowly or incorrectly. Like the previous series, blood and gore is plentiful in this title. The Riddler likes to use torture/death chambers to trap his targets in until he gets the answers he seeks. In the beginning of this episode, a crime boss is in one of these chambers and takes too long to respond and you get to watch a saw blade remove the tips of a couple of his fingers. Many people get shot and one guy gets his throat cut open. Fortunately, not everyone dies as some people only get tased.

    Lives of people will depend on the decisions that Bruce/Batman makes. Because of some choices I made I spared the lives of some agents while causing deafness in another. Not all of the decisions are tough ones though. Besides being able to chose Batman’s gadget color, you can also select the music he listens to while working in the Batcave. I chose classical over ambient or jazz.

    Batman: The Enemy Within
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 92%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 62%
    Violence - 0/10
    Language - 1/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - -10/10

    I like how you can have Bruce tell the truth or lie to people. I often went the truthful route and actually made some people angry by being honest. Besides lying you’ll see some gambling, smoking, and drinking throughout the game. Gotham is a pretty dangerous town but lung cancer may kill Commissioner Gordon before a bullet does. Foul language is also prevalent in this game and some characters don’t hesitate in taking the Lord’s name in vain. I’ve already covered the violence earlier in this review and because of the gore alone, this game should not be played by or near young children.

    The background music, sound effects, and voice acting are all top notch as usual with Telltale’s games. Visually, this series is very similar to the previous one and it ran great on my GTX1070 powered laptop. The previous installment had performance issues which I have not experienced in this one.

    Overall, this series is off to a great start and I look forward to the next four episodes. If you don’t mind the moral issues in this series or the previous one, I recommend checking it out. Because of the gruesome violence, please don’t play this game around kids. As an adult I cringed several times.

  • Batman: The Enemy Within Episodes 2-5 (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Batman: The Enemy Within
    Developed by: Telltale Games
    Published by: Telltale Games
    Release date: Finale released on March 27, 2018
    Available on: Android, iOS, PS4, Xbox One, Windows
    Genre: Adventure
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Mature for violence, blood and gore, mild language
    Price: $24.99 (season pass)
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Telltale Games for sending us a review code for this series!

    The first of five episodes for Batman Enemy: The Enemy Within released back in August of 2017. We reviewed it here. I won’t spoil the ending of that episode, but I will say that the Riddler was working with several villains that Batman will get introduced to in the remaining chapters. The cast includes Mr. Freeze, Bane, Harley Quinn, and even Bruce Wayne’s potential love interest from the previous game, Catwoman. John Doe finally evolves into The Joker, but what type he becomes depends on the choices made in this story-driven 3D adventure game.

    The Joker I got was the vigilante one as I tried my best to keep John Doe in check. He’s got a big crush on Harley Quinn and easily gets jealous of Bruce Wayne when she flirts with him. Bruce can either reciprocate or deflect her sexual advances. I saw how jealous John got when taking a sip of her Icee so I didn’t push the envelope any further than that. I did, however, get another kiss from Selena/Catwoman. Though after some of the choices I made, I doubt she’ll ever like Bruce Wayne again. I love how at the end of each episode your choices are compared with everyone else’s and my decisions were usually in line with theirs, but not all of the time.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Great story; tough decisions
    Weak Points: Lots of quick time events if you’re not a fan of them; game crashed to desktop once
    Moral Warnings: Extreme violence, blood, and gore; drinking/drunkenness; language and blaspheming; suggestive dialogue

    A lot of the story revolves around revenge and grudges. You can forgive people or choose not to accept their apologies. Their relationship with you changes by your actions and words. In order to prevent the allied enemies from destroying Gotham City with a super virus, Bruce Wayne must go undercover and join their ranks and earn their trust. Of course, they don’t just take him at his word; they put Bruce through many loyalty tests and avoiding bloodshed is not always possible.

    Blood is unavoidable and along with several civilians, Batman takes quite a beating. While Alfred fixes him up most of the time, the player must assist in a patch-up job that involves removing debris, disinfecting the wound, and stapling it shut. I cringed at each staple put in place. Unfortunately, all of the violence and stress is taking quite a toll on Alfred and he’s on the verge of a mental breakdown if drastic changes are not made. There are lots of tough decisions to be made in the title. There is an option to let online players make the decisions for you if you wish.

    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 92%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 56%
    Violence - 0/10
    Language - 1/10
    Sexual Content - 7/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    This game looked great with the 3D cel-shaded visuals. There are a lot of action packed scenes and many quick time events where you have to press the Q, E, and/or the Shift key to make or dodge attacks. Thankfully, there are many save points so you won’t lose much progress if an enemy strikes a fatal blow to Bruce/Batman. I did experience one crash to desktop, but didn’t lose too much progress thanks to the generous save system.

    As always, the voice acting is stellar and each character has some great lines. The Joker’s antics cracked me up a lot. Unfortunately, many of the characters cuss and blaspheme throughout the game. One of the John Doe’s favorite hangouts is at a bar and naturally drinking and drunkenness are shown there. I do like how violence can be avoided, but no matter what actions Bruce or Batman takes, there will almost always be collateral damage.

    If you don’t mind the unavoidable blood, language, and difficult law bending decisions, Batman: The Enemy Within packs a lot of action and excellent storytelling in each of the two-hour episodes. The whole series can be unlocked for $24.99 and it also includes a few digital DC comics.

  • Bear's Restaurant (Switch)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Bear's Restaurant
    Developed By: Odencat
    Published By: Odencat
    Released: June 18, 2021
    Available On: Nintendo Switch, iOS, Android
    Genre: Adventure
    ESRB Rating: Rated T for Blood, Violence, Language
    Number of Players: 1 offline
    Price: $12.99

    Thank you Odencat for sending us a review code!

    The topic of death is something that many games have explored, with recent indie titles What Comes After and Spiritfarer offering a somber yet touching look at the afterlife. Bear’s Restaurant has recently hopped to the Switch from its mobile incarnation, and it’s a surprisingly deep and complex story with some very mature themes that older teens and adults may relate to.

    In Bear’s Restaurant, you control an amnesiac Kitty as she wakes up in an odd place: a restaurant handled by a chef only known as Bear. As you try and regain your memories, you find out that this is a peculiar place because it acts as a rest stop before one goes to heaven. The clientele are people who have recently passed away and want to experience one final meal before going on the train to heaven.

    The game features no difficult mechanics and acts like a mix of walking simulator and visual novel as you explore the restaurant. Sometimes, you’ll be given the opportunity to dive into a person’s memory to find out what they would like to eat; this will trigger a flashback sequence where you can explore how they lived. It’s a rather simple system that works well enough here, but I feel like it would have benefitted from it being a traditional visual or kinetic novel rather than an adventure game. That said, the music and art style work well here, with the game benefitting from the lush pixel sprites of the playable animal characters.

    Bear's Restaurant
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Thought-provoking and emotional story; cute pixel art
    Weak Points: Length is a bit short for the price; overly linear at times with limited interaction
    Moral Warnings: Frequent use of most common swears excluding f*** plus some instances of blaspheming; optional sequences where you can view characters’ final moments, some of them grisly; horrific crimes like rape and torture are mentioned (but those involved are punished accordingly); some scary imagery in the hell area; some choices can allow you to act rudely to superiors

    There are conversation trees and other optional dialogue you can engage with the patrons, but they feel a bit too limited to be engaging. However, finishing their requests will give you a memory shard, where you can see how a person died; these are all sad and emotional, and while the dialogue is voiceless, the writing is done in such a visceral way that you’ll tear up. From accidents (such as a mother and her unborn baby getting run over by a car) to suicides, these sequences show a darker yet emotional side to Bear’s Restaurant.

    However, the restaurant is only half of the story, as halfway in, you’ll need to go to hell as Bear in order to save someone during an event. Here, the game opens up a little bit more as you’ll interact with unsavory personalities and figure out what’s going on. This flips the game on its head, because now instead of fulfilling orders for good people who had the misfortune of dying unexpectedly, most of these people in this area are fully deserving of their punishments. The game subverts its adorable art style with some gritty storytelling and visuals near the end. In addition, this version is dubbed as a complete package, which includes all the content plus an exclusive epilogue after the true ending. This means the game clocks in at around 2 hours with everything considered. It’s a bit pricey at $12.99, but I would definitely recommend it if you’re interested in the premise. However, I should note that the fully mobile version can be unlocked for $4.99, which would be a better price even if it doesn’t come with the Switch-exclusive content.

    Honestly, I had a great time with this game and teared up a few times at some characters. While the game’s concept of heaven and hell is a bit distorted from a Christian worldview. The biggest point of contention comes from the idea that those who didn’t do too many bad things or regretted their decisions can be reincarnated after enduring challenges in hell (though the worst people are shown to be eternally erased). God is mentioned as a positive force and feared by some characters, which I thought was a nice touch. The train station motifs felt like C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce (which features a similar location), and I think it would be a great way to open the topic of life after death to an older audience.

    Bear's Restaurant
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 56%
    Violence - 2.5/10
    Language - 2/10
    Sexual Content - 8.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    For a game with a cutesy art style and initially innocuous premise, I was surprised at how much the game pushes its T rating. Every common swear word except for the f word is used at a PG-13 level, with a few instances of the blaspheming (the term “omg” and full utterances are used). The game doesn’t shy away from the brutal nature of some deaths, with some characters briefly shown to be bleeding to death or shooting themselves with a gun; these sequences end very quickly, but are still displayed on-screen. In addition, atrocities like rape and human torture are referenced, but nothing explicit sexually is shown here. These people are shown to be punished eternally. There is some frightening imagery during the second half of the game, and some dialogue options can allow you to be rude to people undeserving of the response.

    While it’s over a bit too quickly, Bear’s Restaurant is an interesting look at the afterlife. With some emotional moments and great characters, this is a great indie title if you’re looking for a short yet bittersweet look at a cozy restaurant at the end of it all.

  • Before Your Eyes (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Before Your Eyes
    Developed by: GoodbyeWorld Games
    Published by: Skybound Games
    Release date: April 8, 2021
    Available on: Windows
    Genre: Adventure
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $9.99

    Thank you GoodbyeWorld Games for sending us a review code!

    In an industry that has a lot of re-releases and repetitive content, I enjoy innovative titles with unique mechanics to set them apart from the rest. Before Your Eyes requires the use of a web camera to detect the blinking of the player’s eyes to progress the story. A mouse is also required to focus on particular objects so some motor skills are still required to fully enjoy this immersive gaming experience.

    In a sea full of floating souls, yours is plucked out of the water by a wolf-life creature who thinks you’ve led an interesting life. Unlike the Biblical judgement, you’ll have to impress the gatekeeper to see if you’ve led a life worthy of everlasting joy or being turned into a seagull that can detect lies. The wolf doesn’t have the best track record according to the seagulls that squawk at some of his statements, but he thinks he can retell your life’s story in a way that’s sure to impress the gatekeeper. With no other options, your soul is in his hands.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Unique controls that use your eye’s blinking to progress the (excellent) story
    Weak Points: A little over an hour long, but there are different choices you can make to change things up a bit to earn all of the Steam achievements
    Moral Warnings: Some potty humor and God’s name is used in vain 

    As a helpless soul, your only means of communication is by blinking. The wolf asks you to think back as far as you can remember and you’ll relive the many defining moments of your life, one blink at a time. Most of the time you’ll have to blink to progress the story, but there will be times where you’ll have to keep your eyes open so be prepared for some dry eyes!

    Since this game is a little over an hour long, I don’t want to give away too many spoilers. I will say that your character, Ben, is very artistic and is skilled in both painting and playing the piano. You get to influence the drawings/paintings/and piano playing with the mouse cursor.

    In class, the girl that sits next to Ben asks him to draw the teacher with a constipated look on his face. Besides potty humor, you can expect to hear a couple of OMGs. With the choices I made I saw Egyptian gods being discussed in Ben's history class. There is a scene where you’ll see some blood and carnivorous animals eating. Other than that, this game is pretty clean.

    Before Your Eyes
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 90%
    Gameplay: 18/20
    Graphics: 8/10
    Sound: 9/10
    Stability: 5/5
    Controls: 5/5

    Morality Score - 77%
    Violence: 6.5/10
    Language: 5/10
    Sexual Content: 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural: 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical: 10/10

    The art style is very colorful and I love how you get to look around and interact with various objects. There are times when your character is feeling pain and the screen will flash red.

    The voice acting in this game is phenomenal. I would get mad at myself for blinking and skipping the remaining dialog and progressing the game unintentionally.

    Though I don’t agree with this game’s spiritual evaluation, I found the story very engaging and well done. The different perspectives of the life in question are eye opening (pun intended). The web camera gameplay is unique and quite accurate, even if it progresses the story inadvertently. I highly recommend this experience if you have a webcam.

  • Beholder (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Beholder
    Developed by: Warm Lamp games
    Published by: Alawar Entertainment
    Release date: November 9, 2016
    Available on: Linux, macOS, Windows
    Genre: Adventure/strategy
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Violence, Blood, Drug References; Crude Humor, Alcohol
    Price: $9.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Alawar Entertainment for sending us this game to review!

    In a totalitarian state, Carl Stein has been chosen to become a landlord in a class-D apartment block.  To aid him in his duties, he’s been injected with an experimental drug that suppresses his need for sleep.   When entering the apartment complex for the first time, Carl and his family get a glimpse of the former landlord who was obviously beat up and battered for his poor performance.  The government isn’t messing around and they make their job requirements pretty clear. 

    Your job is to spy on, eavesdrop, profile, and report any suspicious behavior of your tenants.  Reporting criminals who make drugs is a no brainer, but what about people who break the sillier laws?   Do you report your wife who cries over your daughter’s illness?  What about those who are unlawfully reading books, buying apples, or wearing blue ties or jeans?

    On top of dealing with repairs and tasks from the government, you’ll have to find ways to stay afloat financially.  Paying for groceries, utilities, college and medicine is not cheap.  You’ll earn money from the government by profiling, reporting, and completing tasks from them.  There are other ways to make money as well.  You can blackmail, scheme with or against your tenants.  One of the tasks given to me by the government was to influence a recent lottery winner to invest in jellied meat.   Upon doing so I received a nastygram from him stating that he’d like to feed me all of this jellied meat he’s stuck with.  Other interactions with the tenants can turn deadly as I was killed for flipping one of them off and another time I was murdered for destroying a library book.

     

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: A fun game that revolves around spying and making tough decisions
    Weak Points: Long loading times; confusing reporting system
    Moral Warnings: Many opportunities to make unethical decisions, blood and violence; language, crass humor; alcohol, drug, and tobacco use

    Other than the blood, murder, and flipping people off, there is some language in this game as well.  The F-bomb isn’t used, but the rest of the words are.  This isn’t a game for children as it deals with many life and death situations.  Do you dare defy the government while risking the lives of your loved ones? 

    Throughout the game you’ll have the “opportunity” to house known resistance members.  If the government catches wind of this, you could be fined and wind up looking a lot like the previous landlord did when he failed his job performance review.  On the flipside, you’ll also be tasked with housing important government officials and will be persuaded by the resistance to make their stay there an unpleasant one.  Evicting tenants is sometimes necessary. If they don't leave willingly, you can plant illegal items in their apartments and then report them.

    Each decision you make has consequences and with the limited finances, the choices are even tougher.  The easier difficulty, Trainee, pays you more for your tasks and lowers the price of expenses.  The normal difficulty is called Government Elite.  

    The gloomy graphics and bleak atmosphere are fitting for this war themed game.  The characters have a shadow like appearance and their emotions are shown as thought bubbles above their heads.  There's not much voice acting, but the background music and sounds effects are well done.

    Beholder
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 63%
    Violence - 3.5/10
    Language - 6/10
    Sexual Content - 7/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 5/10

    Like many games, characters have an exclamation point above their head if they have a quest for you.  Though the quests usually don’t pay you, they can establish a relationship which can come in handy later down the line.  For example, you can help set up a doctor on a blind date and in turn he’ll examine your daughter when she gets sick.

    Besides money, you earn reputation points for completing quests and tasks.  Reputation points can be spent to influence tenants to reveal more information about themselves or they can be used to intimidate people to get what you want.  Some situations will require you to spend money or reputation points to smooth things over.  

    Though the tenants and main quests are the same, Beholder is replayable through making different decisions and unlocking various Steam achievements.  There are achievements for keeping your entire family alive or for being the sole survivor.  

    In the end, Beholder is a thought-provoking game that tests your morality and love for your family at the same time.  While there are moments of (occasionally crude) humor and silliness, the majority of the game is depressing with the constant warfare and overreaching government ruining the lives of its citizens.

  • Beholder 2 (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Beholder 2
    Developed by: Warm Lamp Games
    Published by: Alawar Premium
    Release date: December 4, 2018
    Available on: Linux, macOS, Windows
    Genre: Adventure
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $14.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Alawar Premium for sending us this game to review!

    In Beholder 2 you play the role of Evan Redgrave, the son of a recently deceased worker for The Ministry. It’s highly unlikely that your father fell out of a 37 story window on accident, so who murdered him and why? He was a well-respected ministry worker, but the totalitarian government is very heavy handed and does not tolerate any mistakes. In fact, you’ll get to witness the public executions of many of your co-workers. Your goal is to rise to the top and to find out what got your father killed. Climbing the corporate ladder will not be easy and you have to fight for your promotions either by backstabbing or by earning your boss' favor with menial tasks.

    Some of the jobs given are illicit in nature. One of my bosses had me throw a party by securing the food, liquor, and prostitutes for the occasion. During the party, you’ll see people drunk, using drugs, and partaking in orgies. Even with the blurred censor box, it’s pretty clear what is happening behind it. By doing your deskwork or boss’ tasks, you’ll earn reputation points. With reputation points, you can access conversation arcs that would not otherwise be available. As you get to know your coworkers, you’ll discover their dreams and weaknesses to use to your advantage. If you discover that they are doing something illegal, you can report them and earn favor with the leader while witnessing their public execution. The executions can be pretty bloody. For example, one of the floors has a giant shredder that grinds subordinates to a pulp.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Multiple options, paths, and endings; tough (often unethical) decisions to make
    Weak Points: Never enough time to do everything; autosaves don’t help if you make a bad choice and it saves after the fact; the desk job work can be confusing  
    Moral Warnings: Blood; violence; you can backstab your way to the top; every cussword imaginable is used; blaspheming; unavoidable and optional adultery; prostitution; drug and alcohol consumption; wild parties/orgies shown with a token censored box (you can still see what’s happening)

    If you do your job well you’ll earn some money and reputation points. However, with a new bill to pay arriving almost every day, your money doesn’t go very far. Illegal jobs are tempting if you want to be able to support your family. Another expense is paying to watch different television shows to open up starter conversions with your various co-workers. Alternatively, you can hack into their workstations to dig up some dirt on them. In order to hack into workstations, you’ll need to read books on hacking and that takes time.

    You have a limited amount of time per day to complete various tasks. It pays to check bushes, carts, and file cabinets as they often have useful documents and other valuable items in them. Eavesdropping on conversions can provide some helpful insight as well. Be sure to save time for getting work done to meet your quota and being able to pay your bills on time.

    Talk to everyone you can. Find out what shows they like and what their family situation is. Ask them about your coworkers and their aspirations. With the information gathered, you can backstab or convince them to leave voluntarily. There’s an office phone on every floor that will tell you how many more reputation points are needed for your next promotion. There is also a competition available on every floor to get promoted ahead of your coworkers.

    Beholder 2
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 32%
    Violence - 2.5/10
    Language - 0/10
    Sexual Content - 2/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 1.5/10

    Though this game autosaves, I highly recommend using multiple save files. I made the mistake of using one save file and did something that got me killed. The autosave happened after my poor choice and was not very helpful. I do like that there are multiple paths and options, but be sure to manually save when doing something new and risky.

    Visually this game is very similar to the previous game except that it’s now in 3D. At first, it’s black and white but other dreary colors gradually seep in. The dystopian atmosphere is well executed in this title.

    Though most of the dialogue is gibberish, there is some English voice acting. The bad ending I got was nicely narrated. With all of the language and blaspheming, I’m glad that the dialogue is mostly gibberish. Pretty much every curse word is used, even the f-bomb. God’s name is used in vain too and sometimes it’s not even capitalized.

    If you enjoyed the first Beholder game then you will probably like this one. The gameplay is similar yet fresh. Morally, this series has gone downhill and make sure that you’re okay with the sexual content, language, and blaspheming before considering it. Though there are plenty of choices to make, morally questionable ones are not always avoidable.

  • Can Androids Pray: Blue (Switch)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Can Androids Pray: Blue
    Developed By: Apriori Digital
    Published By: Strange Scaffold
    Released: April 16, 2020
    Available On: Nintendo Switch, PC, Xbox One
    Genre: Adventure, Role-playing
    ESRB Rating: Rated T for Blood, Language, Sexual Themes, Violence
    Number of Players: 1 offline
    Price: $6.99

    Ever since I experienced Numinous Games’ That Dragon Cancer over four years ago, I’ve been hopeful that we could get more games that explored the basis of Christian faith in a way that was heartfelt and entertaining. Available for a while on other platforms, Can Androids Pray: Blue analyzes the morality (and mortality) of two characters as they talk about death, regrets, and God in an interesting but short take on the adventure visual novel.

    Can Androids Pray: Blue puts you in the role of mech pilot Cortney as she is mortally wounded in an attack by enemy forces. You are accompanied by Beatrice, a jaded but talkative pilot caught in the attack that muses about her eventual fate. As you succumb to your wounds, you will get to understand more of the game’s world through branching discussion. From the pilots’ military involvement to philosophical topics and even some plot twists, it’s a somber and poignant take on reflecting in your final moments.

    Can Androids Pray: Blue
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Gripping story and characters; interesting discussion of faith-based elements
    Weak Points: Interactivity is limited; narrative clocks in short at 15 minutes
    Moral Warnings: Strong swears such as “f**k” and “s**t” are used often but censored in-game, lesser ones like “d**n” and “a**” are uncensored, offscreen death and violence is mentioned

    An interesting point of discussion here is the inclusion of faith-based topics. While Jesus isn’t mentioned explicitly, the game begins with the recitation of the Beatitudes. Beatrice confides in you as she begins wrestling with the presence of God and also mentions the story of Moses. Considering her perspective, it’s most likely that she’s agnostic, and you can reciprocate the sentiment or shut down the branches that delve into this topic more. In addition, a plot twist in the middle turns this analysis on its head, and makes you think about the story overall as it would pertain to a robot rather than a human.

    While it’s an interesting take on the sci-fi adventure genre, the overall package is quite lacking. The reason for the subtitle within Can Androids Pray: Blue is because the visual elements are mainly blue; the PC version also has a “Red” version. Graphically, the game looks solid with minimalistic models. The angles that change the scenery and line of vision make an otherwise static crash site visually diverse. The sound design is similarly minimal, and while it’s nothing remarkable, it works for the game. In terms of stability, the game works well; however, during my third playthrough, the UI locked up and I was having difficulty trying to select my choices as the option to highlight my answer disappeared. It came back after pausing a couple of times, but it was a bit jarring to say the least.

    Can Androids Pray: Blue
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 66%
    Gameplay – 10/20
    Graphics – 7/10
    Sound – 7/10
    Stability – 4/5
    Controls – 5/5

    Morality Score - 82%
    Violence – 9/10
    Language – 5/10
    Sexual Content – 8/10
    Occult/Supernatural – 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical – 9/10

    The whole experience is over in around 15 minutes, and while you’ll want to play again to experience the other branches in dialogue, the game feels like it should have been longer to continue to flesh out the surprisingly complex characters. While you can influence the conversation, the main decisions and ending are the same regardless. At $6.99, the game is sparse in content, which is a shame considering it has the potential to be so much more.

    Morally, Can Androids Pray: Blue contains a lot of strong language; while the two characters don’t blaspheme, most every other curse word is mentioned quite often. Considering the T rating and length of the game, it’s a bit surprising to say the least. The biggest offenders, “f**k” and “s**t” are censored, but anything lesser like “d**n” and “a**” are displayed uncensored. Death is inevitable, and there even is a deceased character that is mentioned in conversation (as he died during the attack with the robotic wreckage visible). There is nothing explicit that is shown onscreen, but mature topics are discussed, and pixelated blood can be seen.

    While the faith-based elements are appreciated, they’re not explored in a Christ-centered perspective; you’ll have to think of it like two agnostic or atheistic roommates having a conversation about their lives at 2 AM. Beatrice, for example, believes that God might not be all-loving, but you can offer her a rebuttal. If you’re looking for a grounded take on grief and processing it through following Jesus, I’d suggest you look elsewhere. While it does have some missteps, Can Androids Pray: Blue is a short but ambitious title that might be a bit too pricey for what it offers.

  • Captain Bible in Dome of Darkness

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Captain Bible in Dome of Darkness
    Developed By: Bridgestone Multimedia Group
    Published By: Bridgestone Multimedia Group
    Released: 1994
    Available On: MS-DOS
    Genre: Adventure/Educational
    ESRB Rating: None specified
    Number of Players: Singleplayer
    Price: Freeware (Special Edition, regular not sold anymore)

    Note: The Special Edition is recommended for those who wish to play this game, if only because it's confirmably freeware.

    A lot of Christians play video games, but not many video games are explicitly FOR Christians. Sure, a lot of games have Christian themes, and many have moral lessons suitable for Christians, but few explicitly adhere to the Bible.

    The problem is half practical and half for reasons of creativity. A strict hewing to the Bible makes it hard to make a lot of creative license regarding the source, and for practical reasons, games involving a strict reading of the Bible cannot introduce elements that would run counter to the morals of the Bible; otherwise they are merely Christian-themed, not Christian-specific. For example, most fantasy games are very hard to keep biblically aligned if you strictly follow God's laws on depictions of magic, which he explicitly forbids for humans to practice.

    Undeterred by this, Bridgestone Multimedia Group decided to make a game following the Bible as much as possible; hence, Captain Bible was created. Unconnected to the "Bibleman" series (save some common themes), it's a game that still features a hero whose weapons are spiritual and his enemies are the enemies of the Spirit in a literal Christian sense.

    The gameplay is simple enough. You are the main character, dispatched by the Bible Corps to infiltrate a city held siege by a tower holding the people inside under a deception field, which has turned them all astray from the Word of God. You must free the seven people inside the tower who can shut off the field while defeating the various robotically enhanced foes further augmenting the deception field.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Good usage of the Bible as in-universe material for better equipment and game progression
    Weak Points: Slightly wooden controls; Limited music; Samey environment detail
    Moral Warnings: Mild if bloodless violence against robotic beings

    The game is an isometric adventure game where you collect various Bible verses, and when you encounter the various "Cyber-Liars", you counter their deceptive responses with the right Bible verse to spike their lies. If you succeed, this triggers an over-the-shoulder combat mode where they try to lash out because their lies have been seen through, and utilizing a sword and shield (a game metaphor for spiritual warfare), you defend against the Cyber Liars' attacks and strike them down, allowing Captain Bible to progress further until you have brought down the tower.

    The game has rest points in chapel areas where your faith (health) can be restored, and some mild RPG elements can enhance your equipment (based on the Armor of God as described in Ephesians, and finding the proper verses to unlock them is required) to make the combat sections easier. The other half of the game is a clever mnemonic device for memorizing Bible verses in disguise, as you must use the best verse possible to counter the Cyber Liars. You will also have to use said verses to open up new areas, where your knowledge will be tested.

    By the standards of 1994 DOS games, the graphics were quite good and still hold up. The game has a sci-fi motif featuring a lot of crisp-looking colors, and the Cyber Liars feature a lot of interesting designs. The cutscenes feature a lot of well-animated sequences that resemble a lot of the better Sierra adventure games, though the exploration can get somewhat tedious and boring due to the prevalence of tight corridors and samey design in the exploration areas. These areas have a penchant for monochrome shades, which can also make evaluating your progress hard without frequently checking your map. There are a few hazards like electrical fields you have to navigate, and these sections are a tad hard to pass unless you get the timing down, though you can save anywhere to minimize the annoyance.

    Sounds are not very varied, and music is somewhat sparse and repetitive, though what you do hear does the bare minimum of setting the sci-fi atmosphere. Controls are a mix of adventure games and a limited-action RPG model, and while the latter is generally responsive, the former tends to be slightly stiff since your character moves between corridors every time you press a directional key, and this can be annoying in the more samey-looking areas, where it's possible to quickly get lost.

    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 72%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 106%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10 (+6 for teaching Christian morals and showing the wickedness of evil)

     

    Game stability is quite excellent for a 1994 MS-DOS game. While it runs fine on the actual OS it intended for, the age of the game means many will either be running it in a virtual machine, DOSBox, or via web browser (where this game has been embedded on some sites for play), and I am pleased to say it works well in all three cases provided you can easily run those mediums.

    Morally, this game has very few issues. Language and sexual content are entirely absent. There is some mild violence against robotic beings that is devoid of blood and gore but given they are a game metaphor of spiritual warfare, it still remains very tame in the depiction. Occult and supernatural influences are basically absent; this is a game designed to condemn such activities. Any elements deemed even remotely magical are shown either to be illusions meant to lead people astray or are gifts granted your character as a result of prayer to God, who is, given the theme, an explicit force for good. Culturally and ethically, this game lines up explicitly with Christian values, and Christian morals are a constant theme of both gameplay and narrative.

    It is worth mentioning, however, this not a game easy for non-Christians to get into. This game has a clear theme of teaching those who already believe in God common verses to defeat spiritual deceit. This doesn't mean a non-Christian would find it hard to play, but it's more aimed at the converted than a game for convincing the unconverted.

    It does have flaws, but from a gameplay perspective, it can be fun if the nigh identical corridors and wooden adventuring controls don't annoy you. Aside from the very mild violence mentioned, its basically as morally upright as it's developers could make it while adhering to a strict hewing to Biblical precepts.

    In essence, if you want a purely Christian-aligned game, this is a gaming classic worth giving a look, especially if you love old time-adventure games.

  • Corpse of Discovery (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Corpse of Discovery
    Developed By: Phosphor Games
    Published by: Phosphor Games
    Released: August 25, 2015
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: First-Person Exploration
    Number of Players: 1 
    Price: $7.99

    Thank you Phosphor Games fors ending us this game to review!

    As a medium of storytelling, video games are in a unique position to tell a tale bolstered by player interaction. Even without the potential for branching paths and different outcomes, a video game story that can mesh with its gameplay offers something potentially more memorable than just the story itself. The so-called “walking simulator,” a relatively recent genre, tends to swing heavily on the side of the narrative, often at the expense of the actual “game” part of “video game.” Occasionally, however, whether by design or by accident, a walking simulator can have its gameplay overshadow its story; Corpse of Discovery is one such example.

    A first-person exploration game, Corpse of Discovery has you assume the role of an unnamed Major in the semi-titular Corps of Discovery, a space-faring organization dedicated to exploring and cataloguing unknown planets. Stranded on the planet Tellurus after a heavy spaceship landing, the Major sets out to finish his mission, collect his payday, and return home to his family – assuming the Corps even knows he’s marooned.

    The basic gameplay is just that: the Major can walk, sprint, and jump as he moves to various indicated locations inside the home base and on the planet proper. To start, those three options, as well as a double-jump, are all you have available. Later, the game changes it up a little by giving you some new equipment as you progress – namely, a handheld holo-map that replaces your otherwise ever-present mission indicator, and a limited-use jetpack. Tellurus has low gravity, so the Major’s jumps cover a lot of distance and make platforming simple and enjoyable. Each set of tasks you complete on the planet ends with the Major passing out and reappearing at the base, only to find a new mission, a messier dwelling, and a radically transformed planet await him – whether it’s a dusty Mars-like wasteland or a lush rainy biome, he’s still on Tellurus and there’s still things to be done.

    Corpse of Discovery
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Looks great; more compelling gameplay than your average walking simulator
    Weak Points: Predictable, unsubtle story; major graphical pop-in; some stability issues
    Moral Warnings: Unsettling imagery; brief bouts of severe language; a neutral (if cynical) take on religion

    If the gameplay ended there, it wouldn’t be much of a game; thankfully, there are a few mechanics that make it much more engaging. While the planet itself gets more and more difficult to traverse with each variation, with natural barriers and dangers cropping up with greater frequency, the game also introduces enemies of a sort. After the first planet, the Major begins being hunted by giant, pitch-black, nigh-indescribable monsters that glide through the sky, projecting a searchlight out of their single eye. With no ability to combat them, and with their tendency to congregate around your destination, avoiding them becomes your main challenge. The game thus becomes a balancing act of avoiding the monsters and platforming around the planet, trying to find the best and safest route to your destination.

    The sound design is especially crucial to making the monsters feel like a threat, and is spot-on in that regard. While the music, usually in the form of a soft music box-style lullaby that’s underscored with a hostile droning, certainly adds to the tension, the noise the monsters make is especially effective. Their low-toned chaotic rumblings and wordless whispers start quiet but can be heard from quite far away; if one’s on top of you, it’s practically all you can hear. The Major moves quite fast normally, so the sprint option is mostly to get away quickly – he’ll start loudly panting almost immediately, which only heightens the sense of anxiety when combined with the monsters’ noises. Altogether, the game borders on being survival horror, and makes the gameplay more than the sum of its parts, even if the main premise isn’t exactly interesting.

    Oddly enough, especially in a game that bills itself as a walking simulator on the Steam page, its story brings down its serviceable gameplay. The narrative is presented in two ways: examining objects will flash unspoken subtitles on the screen detailing what the Major is thinking; and each main objective reached will draw comments from your floating, spherical robot companion AVA. The overall plot is rather predictable, and the lessons you’re meant to learn on each planet is presented with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. AVA goes on long-winded lectures at the drop of a hat, and her dry, cynical tone can get overbearing real fast. Her voice acting is great – all of the voices in the game are high quality, in fact – but the constant one-sided conversations quickly grow old. In case you still don’t grasp the moral of the section from AVA’s ramblings, it’s presented to you as a cover of a book in your room at the start and as an out-of-context subtitle at the end of each mission.

    In general, the game tells more than it shows. Each object carries a subtitle to plainly state what significance it has to the Major – for instance, optional objectives between each main one will have the Major hallucinating something, like a pizza or his bedroom on Earth, and rather than letting you extrapolate its meaning, the Major will tell you what it means to him. This will also get you berated by AVA, making this game one of the likely few exploration games on the market that will rebuke you for exploring it. By the end of the game, there are no more mysteries to think about, as everything has been explained – even the monsters, whose presence aren’t acknowledged by the Major or AVA outside of their introduction, are given a lengthy explanation, which is made even more unnecessary by the visuals at the time. In addition, there are a few spelling and grammar errors – the most egregious being, upon finding some cakes lying around, the Major declares his fondness for “deserts.” Even with its somewhat overdone but very salvageable concept, the story over-explains itself, and leaves you with very little to think about when all is said and done.

    Corpse of Discovery
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 70%
    Gameplay - 10/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 82%
    Violence - 9/10
    Language - 5/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    This is more of a shame considering how well done the visuals are. Each variation of Tellurus is beautiful in its own right, and the way the monsters look and move only add to their imposing presence. There are little details to enjoy as well: the most impressive might be the rain on the second planet, which streams down your view constantly but also splatters on your helmet if you look up. The main portions of the planets are not randomly generated, which is a boon in that it allows for coherent and consistently-traversable geography, though it does diminish the replay value. To the game’s credit, there are no artificial barriers in the form of invisible walls or insurmountable pits; you can walk in one direction forever, enjoying location-appropriate randomly generated landscape that can still hold some pleasant surprises.

    This does come with a tradeoff, mainly in the form of pop-in; even at the highest setting, portions of the landscape will constantly spring into view as you move around. The game doesn’t have to load very often, but it will freeze everything for at least five seconds when it does. Picking up the holo-map for the first time plunged the mostly-stable framerate into the single digits for a good half-minute, though it didn’t happen later in the game or on a replay. Finally, and strangely, opening the menu with the escape key, then closing it with escape rather than the “return” option, will leave the mouse cursor on the screen until you left-click. It all might be a good price to pay for such impressive graphical strength, but it’s a price nonetheless.

    There are a fair few moral warnings about this game as well. The monsters make for some unsettling imagery, along with a few frightening-looking alien creatures. One planet variation has you looking for the corpses of other Corps members, with various effects applied on a few that look like they’re being eaten by insects, though they’re still in their fully-intact spacesuits. AVA goes on a profanity-laden rant near the end of the game, with F- and S-bombs thrown around. The story touches on some heavy themes, death being the principal subject. There is also a section on religion – while neutral, with the moral coming down to encouraging thorough examination of your beliefs, AVA’s typical cynicism makes the tone appear more hostile than it really is. The main theme of the game is the importance of family, and indeed the well-being and happiness of his family is the Major’s ultimate goal, but again, it’s presented a little more aggressively than it needed to be.

    Overall, Corpse of Discovery comes closer to being survival horror than a walking simulator; if presented differently, it could have been a solid, thought-provoking experience. As it stands, however, the clumsily-told story interferes with the rich visual and aural information; sometimes, less truly is more, especially in storytelling. Still, there’s a decent game to be found in here that might be worth looking into during a sale, as long as those moral issues don’t scare you away.

    -Cadogan

  • Corpse Party: Sweet Sachiko’s Hysteric Birthday Bash (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Corpse Party: Sweet Sachiko’s Hysteric Birthday Bash
    Developer: Mages. Inc.
    Published by: XSEED Games
    Release Date: April 10, 2019
    Available on: Windows, macOS, Linux
    Genre: Adventure, Visual Novel
    Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: M for Mature
    Price: $19.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you XSEED for sending us this game to review!

    Here's the thing with games that rely on the story alone, they have to be reviewed in a much different sense than most games. I can name several games that have a cruddy story that have great gameplay to me as well as games that have a fascinating story but horrid gameplay. Corpse Party: Sweet Sachiko’s Hysteric Birthday Bash has no gameplay elements to speak of beyond basic visual novel fare and a story that's more niche than the main series games.

    Corpse Party: Sweet Sachiko’s Hysteric Birthday Bash, also known as Corpse Party 2U takes place during Sachiko Shinozaki's birthday. The vile child spirit that haunts this school grounds has decided to task all the poor souls she's captured with putting on a romantic comedy for her amusement. You go through different chapters, making choices to try and get to the clear end to progress to the final chapter. While these kinds of series usually should be played in order, you aren't really missing anything if you skip this game.

    Corpse Party: Sweet Sachiko’s Hysteric Birthday Bash
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: It is made for fans. If your invested in the series you'll enjoy it.
    Weak Points: If you're not a fan or you dont like the style of humor, despite being a cannon story for the series, you wont get any enjoyment. 
    Moral Warnings: Lewd and sexual jokes, language and images. Violent imagery, supernatural elements.

    There isn't any gameplay mechanics to speak of in this title. While the main Corpse Party games all have some kind of mechanic as you explore areas in the haunted school. This game is purely a visual novel. You can't progress to the next chapter without getting the right or clear ending either. While Corpse Party is famous for its shocking bloody endings if you mess up, the endings in this game are more tongue in cheek than shocking.

    If Japanese-style humor isn't your thing then you probably won't get much enjoyment out of this title. It’s also harder to put these characters in a comedy setting if you're a fan of the main games. At the end of the day, they are still stuck in an eternal loop of reliving death over and over. It's a bit weird to smile and laugh along to a break from a hellish torment. I appreciate Corpse Party as an intense horror story. If I was in the mood for anime comedy, I'd subscribe to Crunchyroll.

    Corpse Party: Sweet Sachiko’s Hysteric Birthday Bash
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 60%
    Gameplay - 5/20
    Graphics - 5/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 10%
    Violence - 0/10
    Language - 3/10
    Sexual Content - 0/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 0/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 2/10

    As far as morals go, it's a Corpse Party game so don't expect much. Plenty of supernatural elements and cruel violence at the expense of poor teenagers. Since this is the comedy game you can expect a few bikini shots and lewd or pervy jokes as well. Along with the lewd language is some cursing including the f-bomb.

    Corpse Party: Sweet Sachiko's Hysteric Birthday Bash is as niche as you can get. If your a hardcore fan of the series and you love Japanese comedy then maybe you'll get some enjoyment out of this? Yet for most people it's going to be wind up being a mediocre experience.

Latest Comments

Latest Downloads

2021-04-17
2021-03-02
2021-03-02
2021-03-02
2021-03-02

About Us:

Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

S5 Box

Login

Register