enfrdeitptrues

Stealth

  • Alder’s Blood (PC) (Preview)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Alder’s Blood
    Developed By: Shockwork Games
    Published By: No Gravity Games
    Released: Q1 2020
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Stealth, Strategy
    ESRB Rating: Not Rated
    Number of Players: single player
    Price: N/A

    Thank you No Gravity Games for sending us a review code!

    God is dead, and someone or something killed Him. That’s one way to start a narrative. Alder’s Blood immediately separates itself from other games with a daring premise. The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting but instead of the current state of the world being caused by nuclear warfare or invasion, it is by a “plague” of sorts caused by God’s death. Dark beasts of all manners lurk throughout the wasteland and humanity is barely clinging onto survival. The only thing stopping The Darkness from taking over everything are “hunters”; beings that are not fully human and skip between the edges of both light and darkness.

    Alder’s Blood is a turn-based strategy game with stealth elements and mechanics. Unlike many strategy games where you control a group of powerhouses slaying armies with little effort, you’re both outmanned and outmatched from the beginning. The creatures of The Darkness are plentiful and can overpower you very easily. As to them, humans and hunters alike are mere prey to the beasts and are forced to use their wits and a stealthy approach to either eliminate the beasts, sneak past them, or bring them to a knocked down and vulnerable state. Enemies can be instantly killed in this state as the character under your control is enveloped in a shadowy figure and can perform an execution, but using said feature also brings the individual closer to madness.

    Battles take place on a grid, all controlled via mouse. Much of the playing field is covered in darkness so one is unable to see any enemies beyond plain sight. Fortunately, there are many hiding spots littered across the field, such as tall grass, to help keep out of sight. Utilizing the tall grass and obstructions to deliver fatal blows is key to victory. For those familiar with the strategy genre, you may notice that a good amount of quality-of-life features as missing, such as an undo button to revert any decisions made. This may have been a purposeful design choice due to the stealth mechanics, but as misclicks can and will happen, a large mistake can mean a mission restart. It is completely fair that being spotted or uncovering more of the map should be a permanent choice but there are other moments where nothing of note happens in the decision and you are still otherwise punished for it as it cannot be reverse.

    Alder’s Blood
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Adding stealth mechanics is a nice change of pace from the standard strategy game
    Weak Points: Missing quality of life features that other games in the genre have, such as an undo feature
    Moral Warnings: Violence and blood aplenty; supernatural creatures of all kinds such as werewolves, ghouls, and vampires; language uttered from “d*mn” to “bulls**t”; some instances of blasphemy

    A stamina bar is one of the main features of Alder’s Blood as every action is determined by it. Every character has a set number of spaces they can move but can expend their stamina to move even further. Stamina is also used to attack, with stamina being replenished after your next turn. Poor usage of stamina can leave the characters in an exhausted state, which makes them unable to take any further action until the following turn. Exhausting your stamina isn’t always a bad thing as it can get you out of range of dangerous foes or be used to kill a threatening enemy, just make sure that you are in a safe spot before doing so.

    Outside of battles is where resource management takes place. Your group can set up camp to replenish supplies, heal up after battle, craft new weapons, take on missions, and travel to other areas. This is where you can also conduct a ritual sacrifice to those who fully succumb to the madness. The character is killed off while passing down their knowledge (experience) to the recipient. The resource management isn’t the most in-depth but is just a form of micromanaging to keep in mind, almost giving it an “Oregon Trail” feeling, except much more grim.

    The world of Alder’s Blood is a very dreary and dull setting—and rightfully so. The graphics are similar to games such as “Darkest Dungeon” (a 2D roguelike RPG with gritty hand-drawn 2D graphics and gothic aesthetics) and the design of the characters and world are a mixture of dark Victorian and the American frontier. The sky is bathed in a permanent red and the overall world is dry. The music accompanies the setting with sounds that are taken directly from a horror film. The unsettling instrumentals make the hopeless setting feel even more hopeless. On the contrary, the sound effects from the creatures themselves could use some work. The werewolves, in particular, are pretty laughable and can take you out of the feeling of dread as quickly as the atmosphere puts you in.

    Alder’s Blood
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 4.5/5
    Controls - 4.5/5

    Morality Score - 44%
    Violence - 0/10
    Language - 5/10
    Sexual Content - 6/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 1/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Blasphemy in Alder’s Blood is done differently than from other games (at least from what I’ve witnessed). Many would take the easy way and simply use God’s name in vain. Alder’s Blood approaches it differently. As stated in the beginning, God is dead, not “a” god, “the” God and the world is left in a very unfortunate state. With Him no longer around to protect and guide humanity, people’s worst fears have become a reality. With people barely clinging on to life while being mercilessly hunted down and slaughtered, this has caused a lot of individuals to lose their faith in God, with many believing that this whole situation is Him punishing humanity, while others simply gave up on Him ever coming back. Not every character is like this as there are a few characters that still hold on to their faith.

    Other things to look out for are language, ranging from mild swears like “d*mn” to stronger swears like “bulls**t.” As expected, blood and gore are shown with some animations and stills being rather graphic in nature. One graphic illustration depicts a person's skin melting off of their body and it is as grisly as it sounds. There are also a lot of supernatural creatures ranging from vampires and werewolves to ghouls and other sorts of monsters and beasts. One creature, in particular, resembles a human-shaped female. Although nothing graphic is shown, the creature is depicted as topless.

    The mixture of both stealth and turn-based tactics manages to work out well for itself as it presents a unique experience. There are some minor glitches here and there (none of them are game-breaking and are very easily fixed by simply saving and reloading the file) and controls can be a bit finicky in some places. Camera control is a bit too precise as it requires the mouse to be right at the edge of the screen, making it so that not playing in fullscreen is more trouble than it’s worth. As of its current state, Alder’s Blood shows off a lot of promise to the hardcore lovers of these particular genres and even has an “Ironman” mode for those who want it even harder—making it so that every decision is permanent. The nature of Alder’s Blood will probably turn away this general reading audience, but if you’re able to move past it and are a fan of strategy or stealth games, you’ll want to keep an eye out for this one.

  • Assassin's Creed III (Xbox 360)

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    Game Info:

    Assassin's Creed III
    Released: October 30, 2012
    ESRB Rating: M for blood, intense violence, sexual themes, and language
    Available On: PC, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U
    Genre: Stealth
    Number of Players: Single-player, multiplayer
    Price: $40

    To many Americans there is a mystical quality to the years of the American Revolution: the men and women who participated in the founding of America shed blood and tears as their lives were torn asunder in the name of something greater than themselves. Their names have become as legend, their beliefs and positions hotly debated by different political factions as the years have progressed, and society changed with that progression.

    Into this cauldron Ubisoft Montreal has leapt, and willingly, with its latest Assassin's Creed game, the fifth in as many years. In Assassin's Creed 3, they promised an evolution for the series, necessary since Assassin's Creed: Revelations launched to questionable quality and faltering mechanics. The series as a whole is built on a now-aging framework, and as of Revelations desperately needed an update.

    To the point: Assassin's Creed 3 is not the game that provides that update.

    There are some frankly brilliant sequences here, and the story takes risks that demonstrate Ubisoft's willingness to play with its characters and audiences. This is not new for the company, nor for this franchise. For a series born from the ashes of a Prince of Persia reboot, it is entirely unsurprising (see the Sands of Time trilogy and the 2008 reboot of Prince of Persia for more on this, but know that those games, for all of their faults, featured masterfully executed plot threads that resonate even today). 

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Gorgeous environments and representations of famous places and figures take the center stage here. The voice acting also deserves a nod: Assassin's Creed 3 features some of the best performances in a game in years, though the actor for Connor seems less than enthusiastic at times. Ship-to-ship combat is a welcome addition, and adds an extra element to pull players in. Some of the best sequences in the game take place on the water. The attention to detail is stunning, and actual knowledge of the history results in a greater understanding of the game.
    Weak Points: Despite wonderful visuals, Assassin's Creed 3 stutters, has graphical hiccups that affect gameplay, and has some of the worst anti-aliasing problems this side of the Playstation 2. A large number of glitches threaten to render the game unplayable, most of which should have been fixed by a rather large patch at this point. Some of the historical events here feel contrived, with the Paul Revere sequence ending up perhaps the most grievous offender. The "Desmond story", out of the Animus, is by now largely laughable, and has plenty of grimace-worthy moments because the writing is so unfortunately terrible. The good news is, it doesn't last forever; the bad news is, the ending is disrespectful to its audience, and ends up being worse than the Mass Effect 3 ending. No, seriously.
    Moral Warnings: Plenty of violence, gore, and gory, violent executions. Combat fills this game, and ends up being a core focus here. There's an explicit murder shown, sequences involving the gallows, use of axes and swords and tomahawks, and the ability to hang enemies. Also shown is at least one dismembered leg as the result of a heavy artillery shelling, and plenty of sequences depicting war. There's occasional profanity (generally, s*** and f*** are the words of the day), blaspheming, and sexual dialogue, though no sexual content actually makes it into the game.

    For most of the game, players don the now-trademark Assassin gear as Connor (real name, Ratonhnhaké:ton), a half-British member of the Iroquois Confederation, specifically a tribe of Mohawk. That's part of where Ubisoft takes risks here. The other part is that you don't even play as Connor, let alone meet him, until a good six hours in.

    To that end, Assassin's Creed 3 delivers more of the same gameplay throughout. However, because of the setting, things feel different: instead of darting across rooftops (as in previous games), players find themselves taking to the streets. This was never one of the highlights of the series, and serves to illustrate some of the main problems with the franchise as a whole.

    The first Assassin's Creed game, released in 2007, used crowds as a form of stealth: the idea was that an assassin could blend into the crowd, kill his mark, and disappear into a group of strangers. I can remember only one or two sequences where this was functionally relevant, and those came from the still-brilliant Assassin's Creed 2. The following games lessened crowds and provided more open terrain to move across, which has always been a point of tedium in this series. The third numbered entry in the series has an expansive map, with towering trees to climb, animals to hunt, and sizeable cities to explore, but the game never feels as revelatory as Assassin's Creed 2, the zenith of the series as a whole, and that is ultimately its undoing.

    This isn't for lack of trying. There are some incredibly impressive things at work here, not the least of which is the world in which the game takes place. As Connor, taking part in major moments in history seems designed to captivate the player, and for the most part, this is successful. Whether leading troops at the Battle of Concord, charging across a smoke-clogged battlefield during the Siege of Charleston, or taking part in the Boston Massacre, most of the moments here feel completely natural: you aren't necessarily a centerpiece, or even vital, but Connor feels integrated into the history. But then a moment comes along with Connor leading Paul Revere on his ride, or taking control at the Boston Tea Party, and everything feels somehow off. This isn't a story about the Crusades, something more or less unknown to everyone outside of the most astute of history lovers, nor is it a story about the Renaissance, which seems so far removed. Instead, taking part in something more recent, even if it was over two hundred years ago, even if it is consistently misinterpreted and mythologized by both major sides of America's current sociopolitical divide, ends up feeling pedantic and forced, and destroys any suspension of disbelief that the story attempts to provide.

    This is heightened by the lack of characterization in Connor, especially compared to Ezio, the protagonist from Assassin's Creed 2 and its sequels. Ezio was empathetic, strong, stoic; Connor is rash, ambitious, and quick to anger. It tends to feel like the designers took their time with Ezio, knowing that they had two more installments to tell his story, and rushed Connor's development, which is out of step with the tone established at the beginning of the game.

    The unevenness exemplified by the story and characterizations persists through the rest of the game, as well. Game-breaking bugs apparently existed alongside Jefferson, Adams, and Washington, and their existence was a blight upon the otherwise fascinating history of the Revolution. The sprawl of New England, as presented by Assassin's Creed 3, circa the late-1700s, is a gorgeous mess, at once impossible to ignore even as the rough edges show themselves so miserably. One chase sequence in particular, towards the end of the game, took me almost two hours to get through. This wasn't because of difficulty. One moment, an unpredictable blast would send Connor careening to the side. Mission failed. The next, a false ledge on an otherwise climbable box would stop all progress, as Connor attempted to jump through the box and landed, yes, on the box on which he was still standing.

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

    Game Score - 72%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 1/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 44%
    Violence - 2/10
    Language - 0/10
    Sexual Content - 5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7/10

    For a major title from a major studio, in 2012, this is a problem. This is the end of the lifecycle of the current console generation. PC games are reaching heretofore-unseen heights. I have seen indie games with more stability than this game has. Ubisoft is a big publisher; like Bethesda, they need to start acting like it. Yes, Assassin's Creed 3 is a large game, and yes, large games have their fair share of problems, but Assassin's Creed 3 is rife with them.

    Removed from gripes of story and brokenness, combat is still wonderfully frustrating, a bloody dance when things move correctly. As in prior series entries, rhythm is more important than precision; wisely recognizing this, the developers simplified the controls and the contextual prompts as previously displayed. This is where Assassin's Creed 3 flows, where it works beautifully. It isn't what sticks with me about the game, but it's what I remember as really working. Here is the most perfect rendition of the series' much-maligned combat system. It is perhaps more violent and gory than previously, which is as questionable a decision as any made here. Certain sequences made my stomach churn, just because of how grisly they seemed. 

    Assassin's Creed 3 is predictably gorgeous, and the sound design is lovely. Former series composer Jesper Kyd, however, is missed; nothing equaling the score from the first three games is present here, and to be sure, no one necessarily expected that to be the case given Kyd's limited involvement in Assassin's Creed: Revelations. Voice acting, on the other hand, is a noted high mark, with only the writing as opposed to the delivery giving pause. This isn't saying much after the consistently strong writing present in the Assassin's Creed 2 games, but there's a problem when you can pinpoint a character's grating presence as more a result of the script than anything else.

    And what of the world, packed with things to do before and after the main story is complete? The amount of content on display here rivals Rockstars' Grand Theft Auto games, or Volition's Saints Row series, simply in diversity, even if most of it isn't uniformly excellent. The naval combat is a highlight: I found myself running through all the sailing missions, just to experience them. Somehow, through some strange meeting of the minds, Ubisoft Montreal managed to create a game that evokes equal parts Master & Commander and Pirates of the Caribbean. Dodging cannon fire over a surging sea is enthralling, as are raiding cliffside fortifications and hunting rogue vessels through a mist-covered, rock-filled shallows.

    As mentioned above, there is a lot of bloody combat in Assassin's Creed 3, including sequences of war (at least one of which features a dismemberment), and naval combat. This has come to be the most dominant feature of the Assassin's Creed series, as the violence has grown more brutal, and more excessive, as time has gone on. Elements of Native spiritualism come into play in certain areas of the game, but these tend to be nothing more than a framing device for the series' established, crazy interpretation of religion and belief. Profanity comes into play, both in French and in English, but isn't especially prevalent during the proceedings. In addition, there's some sexual dialogue sprinkled throughout, though if you're not paying attention, it likely won't be noticeable.

    Ultimately, for all of the good that Assassin's Creed 3 has in it, for all of the work that went into its world, it is never the game it had the potential to be. There are moments that stand out: a bloodied fight in the rain; stunning assassination set pieces, requiring not so much gameplay but attention; cannonfire raining down on Charleston as buildings crumble; stumbling through a smoke-clogged battleground, attempting to flank the frontlines. Those moments never translate into the defining game that Assassin's Creed 3 could have been.

    Linear games have been done right before, and one only need look to Naughty Dog's recent Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception to see that in action. Assassin's Creed 3 is an open-world game that desperately wants to be linear, and a linear game aching to expand beyond the strict constraints its development team and its game engine have imposed upon it. Sadly, none of this is to be. What's left is Assassin's Creed 3, an underwhelming game grasping for something much better, something that never materializes. This is far from the worst game of the year, and it deserves time and attention, for it has things to say and it does so with some style. But it is also a game to learn from, a game which ably demonstrates exactly what can go wrong when a development team reaches too high, or stretches too far, and isn't given the time to fulfill their vision.

     

  • Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: India (Xbox One)

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    Game Info:

    Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: India
    Developed by: Climax Studios
    Published by: Ubisoft
    Release Date: January 12, 2016
    Available on: PC, PS4, Xbox One
    Genre: Stealth
    Number of Players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Teen for violence and sexual themes
    Price: $9.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Ubisoft for sending us this game to review!

    Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: India is the third installment in the Assassin’s Creed Chronicles trilogy and it has a standalone story that takes place in India during the 1840s.  The stealthy protagonist, Arbaaz Mir has a vendetta against the Templars who murdered his lover’s grandfather.  He wants to keep his girlfriend, princess Pyara safe and secure the Koh-i-Moor diamond for the Assassin Order.  

    Not only are the streets swarming with Templars, there are British/East India Company Soldiers that will shoot Mir on sight.  Mir won’t hesitate to kill them first, but prefers not to harm innocent Indian guards.  While conflicts can often be avoided, it is necessary to complete many of the missions.

    The 2.5D environments lend themselves nicely to hiding in the shadows, climbing trees, using the grapple hook and the chakram to navigate and destroy various obstacles.  The levels are very colorful and the art style is pretty unique.   Instead of your typical blood splatter, the enemies spill their blood in spiral art shapes. 

    Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: India
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Gorgeous 2.5D graphics; plenty of check points for inevitable failures
    Weak Points: Some of the levels are frustrating and even timed
    Moral Warnings: Killing and bloodshed (with pretty visuals); sex is insinuated but not seen 

     Mir must attack from the shadows since he’s not a tank and will quickly succumb to enemy gunfire.  In order to survive he must stay outside of their vision range and move quietly.  Some animals like caged tigers and birds will announce his presence, so he’ll have to avoid them as well.   Many times there will be multiple guards but they have noticeable patterns to keep track of and avoid detection.

    Chances are that Mir will die or become de-synchronized as the game puts it.  Thankfully, there are many checkpoints so not much progress will be lost.  Each map has several objectives that will earn points towards upgrading Mir’s attributes and abilities.  Points, as well as gold, silver, bronze statuses are awarded depending on the effectiveness of Mir's stealth.

    Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: India
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 74%
    Violence - 2.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 7/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7.5/10

    There are three difficulties: Normal, Plus and Plus Hard.  I played on Normal and found the guards to be reasonably challenging.  Though there were quite a few sleeping or talking guards that did not notice me sneaking around them.  

    The main story can be completed in less than six hours.  To extend the gameplay you can try it on harder difficulties for more loot or you can play the various and often timed challenges.  There are challenges focusing on collecting items, completing contracts or assassinations. 

    The ten dollar asking price is pretty reasonable and Ubisoft recently released a trilogy pack for $24.99 which is a good deal if you don’t own the prequels.  I was impressed with the aesthetics and sound quality in Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: India.  It’s a challenging game that relies on stealth and violence to progress the storyline.  It’s also worth noting that a romantic relationship exists between Mir and princess Pyara, but nothing is shown besides them kissing.   If those issues don’t bother you and you like stealthy or parkour games, then Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: India is worth snatching.

     

  • Calvino Noir (PS4)

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    Game Info:

    Calvino Noir
    Developed by: Calvino Noir Limited 
    Published by: Calvino Noir Limited 
    Release date: August 25, 2015
    Available on: iOS, PS4, Mac, Windows
    Genre: Stealth
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Violence, Language, Alcohol reference
    Price: $24.49

    Thank you Calvino Noir Limited for sending us this game to review!

    Calvino Noir takes place in a European crime infested city in the 1930s. The main character is Wilt who’s a mercenary by trade and gets wrapped up in a revolution that puts his life and the lives of his friends in danger.  

    There are three main characters with different abilities that come in handy during this five-hour adventure.  Wilt’s ability is to take down guards, but I never figured out how to do so before getting shot on sight.  Sadly, this game has no tutorial or instructions of any sort.  While Calvino Noir prides itself on the choice of stealth or brute force, I was only given the one option since I couldn’t figure out the other!

    In this grayscale 2D adventure game, you have to examine your surroundings and make your way to various checkpoints to progress the story.  While some of the checkpoints are supposedly timed, I never ran into a problem of being late to meet any of the deadlines.  The guards patrolling the areas with guns and flashlights will slow down your progress.  

    Calvino Noir
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Neat visuals and good sound effects and voice acting
    Weak Points: Expensive compared to the PC and mobile version from which it was ported; clunky controls; no instructions or manual to reference
    Moral Warnings: Death by shooting or choking; drinking and drunkenness; references to prostitution; language (b*stard)

    There are often rooms, stairs, and floor hatches to hide from their vision range.  Sneaking up on the guards is difficult as they can become alarmed from noises you make.  They have indicator bars above their head to let you know if they are in an alert state.  Their patterns are generally predictable, but dealing with multiple guards is tricky at times.

    In the beginning you’ll get to switch between Wilt and a mole character whose ability is to bypass guards.  Other abilities of your friends include picking locks and operating machinery.  By using a flashlight in the levels you can locate coins which can be spent on boosting the stealth and speed stats of each playable character.    

    Upon starting the game you’ll be mesmerized with the dark visuals, thunderstorm sound effects and the good narration.  The voice acting is well done and describes the desolate state of the city Wilt lives in.  Wilt gets his first mission at a nearby bar where the bartender offers him some evening company if he desires it.  Aside from the alcohol and prostitution references you can expect to hear some foul language and take part in violent acts. 

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

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

    Morality Score - 80%
    Violence - 6/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 7/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    At first Calvino Noir seems well polished but then reality sets in when nothing is explained to you and you’re not clear on what all of the buttons do in this game.  I have figured out that the triangle button lets you switch characters and the square button activates the flashlight.  In order to have your friend follow you, you’ll have to press the circle button.  Last but not least is the X button which interacts with various objects to investigate or use them.  

    A simple task of navigating stairs takes multiple tries with the clunky controls.  They probably work fine with the touch controls on the iOS version, but for PC and console users they’re frustrating.  The price is inconsistent as well.  The PS4 version is more than $20 more than the iOS version which sells for $3.99.  The Steam version is a more reasonable $6.99.  

    Given the short amount of gameplay and frustrating controls, I don’t recommend paying the inflated price on PlayStation store.  If you have an iPad, Calvino Noir is worth checking out for $3.99 and it may be worth picking up on a PSN or Steam sale if it’s cheap enough. 

     

  • Dumb Chicken 2: One Way Out (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Dumb Chicken 2: One Way Out
    Developed by: OddChicken Studio
    Published by: Black Shell Media
    Release date: September 2, 2016
    Available on: iOS
    Genre: Stealth
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $2.99

    *Advertising disclosure* Though Black Shell Media is a former advertising partner, this review is not influenced by that relationship.

    Thank you Black Shell Media for sending us this game to review!

    Many people take for granted that games that appear on Steam stay there. I’m the proud owner of a few games that are no longer available on Steam or anywhere else digitally. Dumb Chicken 2: One Way Out falls into that category and now it can only be purchased on its original platform, iOS.

    Dumb Chicken 2: One Way Out doesn’t hide its mobile roots very well. The first clue is the loading screen that tells you to tap the screen to continue. Pressing a controller or keyboard button works just as well for those without touch screens. The gameplay follows the mobile formula with quick levels that give you between one and three awards depending on your performance.

    Dumb Chicken 2: One Way Out
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Over ninety lighthearted and stealthy levels
    Weak Points: Obvious mobile port; no longer available on PC
    Moral Warnings: Cartoon violence

    There are over ninety levels and many of them can be completed in a minute or less if you’re stealthy enough. Your goal in each level is to rescue the kidnapped chickens who will then follow you in a single file line. Of course, this is easier said than done, as there are many creatures on patrol guarding them.

    Some of the creatures have lines of vision and predictable patterns to avoid, but others do not. Not only do you have to keep your chicken out of sight, but all of the rescued ones need to remain hidden as well. Thankfully, there are many obstacles to hide behind, or bushes to hide in. Getting to hiding spots quickly can be challenging as the terrain changes. Traversing through grass is a lot quicker than swamplands.

    Along with collecting kidnapped chickens, you can collect gold coins and randomly placed power-ups. The gold coins can be used to purchase power-ups. The power-ups include distractions as well as temporary cloaking abilities. There are six different chicken characters to unlock and they each come with a built-in ability. In total, there are forty-one Steam achievements that can be earned by completing the areas as different characters.

    Dumb Chicken 2: One Way Out
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 96%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Visually, this game is quite colorful and the characters are rather cute. The HD graphics look good and scale well for PC. The levels are all well thought out and offer different challenges to keep them interesting. There is some cartoon violence but it’s pretty tame.

    The sound effects are cute and get the job done. In the game’s intro, you’ll hear some catchy music, but during the game itself it’s just background noises.

    As far as I can tell, Dumb Chicken 2: One Way Out is no longer available on PC. When it was, it sold for $2.99 and was a pretty good deal. The mobile version is still available for $0.99 and is worth looking into if you’re in the market for a lighthearted stealth game.

  • Duskers (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Duskers
    Developed By: Misfits Attic
    Published By: Misfits Attic
    Released: May, 8, 2016
    Available On: Windows, Mac, Linux (via Steam)
    Genre: Rogue-like strategy survival
    ESRB Rating: Not provided
    Number of Players: 1 offline
    Price: $19.99
    (Humble Link)

    Have you ever seen a sci-fi film where there is only a single protagonist, alone in the vast emptiness of space?  No other human interaction, their only companion a robot or two with no human speech capabilities.  Having to survive dangerous hazards; radiation breaches, meteor strikes and hostile robots and aliens.  Claustrophobic, confined to a small spaceship with the same looking corridors and rooms.  Fear of no one else to rely upon.  

    It’s a start, though I haven’t even begun to convey the feelings that Duskers brings out.

    You are a drone operator on a space ship.  You are all alone.  Something happened that turned the universe into a giant graveyard.  Wrecks of spaceships and stations are abundant in every solar system you see.  You need to survive for as long as you can and these wrecks are the only source of resources required for survival.  

    Start up the game and you immediately get the vibe.  It’s like booting up a terminal from an 80’s sci-fi film, whirring and clicking with some kind of display grain included.  Starting up a new game and you are thrown into a system view with several wrecks which you can travel to, using available propulsion fuel, then board to scavenge for more resources to be used to do more travelling, repair degrading equipment and upgrading your drones.

    Duskers
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Played through an 80s sci-fi stylised terminal with visual and command line interface; vector based graphics design with visual artefacts mixed with retro and realistic sounds adding to the immersion.
    Weak Points: Slow paced and a need to learn a varied list commands to pilot your drones effectively; no music.
    Moral Warnings: Foul language (PG-13 equivalent) found in text logs scattered throughout the game world. 

    The boarding is done via drones, as these wrecks are potentially too dangerous for a (sole surviving?) human to risk their life investigating.  Starting off with three drones, you board a wreck and investigate the wreck room by room, all of which are connected via doors.  The problem is you don’t know what is on the other side of the room if the door is closed.  Opening a door and wandering through is an option which more than likely would potentially cause a hazardous or hostile encounter in the room, unwittingly disabling your drone(s).  Lose all your drones or run out of fuel with no way to proceed further and you will need to perform a reset to start your adventure over again, losing the resources you scavenged from those many wrecks.

    To increase their usefulness in scavenging wrecks, your drones are given loadouts with the potential of having three upgrades installed per drone.  Upgrades come in various types allowing drones to; gather resources, scan rooms for hostiles or hidden salvage, become invisible, increase speed, tow drones and ship modules, teleport in to other rooms, etc.

    After you have salvaged all you can from a wreck, leave, find another wreck and repeat.  However, more depth is provided via Objectives.

    There is a story in the game and that story is unwrapped via text logs found by boarding wrecks.  These logs could be personal logs to engineering, military or scientific reports.  Not all wrecks have logs to discover, though when they do there is a chance for an additional objective to be added to your primary ‘survive’.

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

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 85%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 6/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    One example I have come across was from a medical transport wreck talking about pathogens and quarantined wrecks, with an objective to capture an organic hostile.

    I don’t know if I have come across any biological organisms; I’ve certainly come across some slow moving hostiles and some so fast that you blink and your drone is dead.  I’ve seen hostile in the form of drones similar to yours, and organic-like swarms.  Though I’ve only been able to glean so much in the time it takes them to disable my drone before the drone view is cut off.

    What I do know about these hostiles is they like to roam around.  If they are in a room with all doors closed, they have nowhere to go.  Provide them with an open door and they will happily explore, back and forth, always moving, never resting.  Use that to your advantage.  This simple logic allows you to lead these hostiles in to other rooms or away from the room where you want to explore, or in to a devised trap.  Just make sure you can keep track of their movements using motion detectors and sensors as they do not always move around in a predictable manner.

    While you may feel safe in a room with a locked door, they do not provide 100% security between your drones and any hostiles.  I have witnessed doors come under attack from enemies, even though I am nowhere near them, perhaps these hostiles get restless and have the need to move.  Once a door is destroyed they are wide open for hostiles to freely move through.  If you see a vent, listen for any strange noises, there could be a swarm coming down the ventilation shaft.

    Duskers

    Some wrecks have terminals which can be accessed by a drone, so long as they have an interface module installed.  These terminals allow you to scan the ship to discover all the rooms inside the wreck, including any hidden salvage that would not be normally found by your drone.  They can also activate or deactivate defence turrets, if they are installed on the wreck.

    Defence turrets are cool and demand your total respect.  They are stationary platforms confined to a room of their own and can make quick work of any target that comes across its path.  When I say any target that also includes your own drones; there is no friend or foe recognition.  Turrets will obliterate anything that happens to wander inside the room its defending.  Used wisely and they can be used to lure and destroy any hostiles lurking inside other rooms; become complacent and you are likely to lose a drone or two.

    Sound effects are not there for mere cosmetic value; they provide audio cues to your surroundings.  Different sound effects can be heard depending on which view you are in.  In schematic view you hear more global noise, creaks, groans and clangs.  Switch to drone view and you can hear more local sound effects, the whirring of moving drones and perhaps the buzzing of a swarm.  These sound effects really add to the atmosphere of the game, adding to the element of horror and tension.  In one game I was in schematic view, ordering my drones around and a large creaking shuddered throughout the ship.  I figured it only added to the immersion of being on-board an unstable wreck.  A moment later, a room flooded with radiation.  A room containing two of my three drones.  Both drones swimming in radiation, irretrievable, and forever lost.

    The whole game is controlled solely through the keyboard, using arrow keys to navigate menus and a command line interface to issue orders to your drones.  There is no joypad support, nor would an implementation be appropriate as you need to type out your commands.  When investigating wrecks; drones, rooms and doors are all labelled for easy reference.  You type your commands to instruct your drones to move or perform other actions, such as gathering resources or towing disabled drones and ship parts, etc.  To speed up the typing there is a slight auto-complete feature (predict-a-text) to guess the command you are typing, increasing efficiency by relieving you from having to type out the whole command name.

    Duskers

    A downside to the command line interface is typing similar commands over and over again.  Like instructing a drone to navigate in to a room and then to salvage anything that is inside.  Relax, though, there is a solution.  

    Aliases, think custom macros or a set of commands that can be rolled into a single command to increase efficiency.  For example, in the previous scenario you could create a “collect “ alias which would contains two commands “navigate 1; r1 gather”, commanding Drone 1 to move into room 1 and collect any scrap lying around the room.  This can then be improved by specifying a variable, changing the alias into “navigate 1 $; gather”, to navigate to any room or through any door and gather the resources, i.e. “collect r3” or “collect d5”.  

    Variables in aliases are a new feature to Duskers, something that was added in recent months, that was not present on release.  It just shows that the developer is still active in making quality of life improvements for the drone operator.

    Every time your ship or drone uses a module on a mission it increases the chance to break.  A RNG (Random Number Generator) mechanic that feels completely random that can work for you or against you (XCOM anyone?).  At the end of a mission a module's break probability increases.  A “!” indicator also warns when the probability is considered too high.  Sounds cool, though in my playthroughs I’ve wasted what little scrap I’ve gathered in repairing certain modules when they have only been used on 4 or 5 missions; the repair cost is constant no matter the amount of wear.  The reason I’ve repaired them so frequently is that once a module reaches 15% there is a good chance it will break on the mission.  Then, when the module breaks it cannot be repaired and must be scrapped for a single scrap unit.

    If you have a good scrap haul you can upgrade your modules and increase their uses.  I was able to try out the upgrade from the teleport module; the basic version just teleports the drone it’s fitted too, where the upgraded can teleport droppable items.  I was able to use this feature to teleport sensors in other rooms and even a bomb to destroy a trapped hostile.  A couple of other modules can be upgraded to have a clamp, preventing the drone from being sucked outside of a room.  Other module upgrades allow more uses from a finite pool, i.e. the drone or sensor module.  Making use of these upgrades can certainly change up the gameplay and make it easier to gather valuable resources from wrecks.

    Duskers

    All of this gameplay takes place inside a system, in a galaxy within a universe.  For which there are several of each.  Travelling from system to system uses your jump fuel.  To travel to another galaxy you use a jump gate, which can be found in a system.  I’m not certain if I traversed to another universe, though I vaguely recall using another type of jump gate (as I’ve only done that once in another playthrough several months ago).  Providing universes in this way gives a sense and feeling of exploring the unknown; you have a limited view of systems to travel to and can only uncover other galaxies and universes by exploring.

    For those who enjoy scoreboards there are daily and weekly challenges, removing the story and objective based elements.  To complete these challenges you need to use a jump gate with the aim of gaining a higher score than other players, indicating how well you did in that playthrough.  It’s a simple addition which will keep those interested in competing coming back and acts as an alternative to playing the main objective and story based game.

    It was a bit hard to determine the morality, given that the text logs presented are randomly presented.  After searching through the games assets file containing these text logs, I was able to verify that foul language is used infrequently (to the extent of PG-13) and I did find one instance of blasphemy (using or our Lord and Saviours name in vain).  Dusker does not center on violence, instead focusing on the exploration and scavenging of resources, whilst minimising hostile encounters.  Different types of weapons are provided to destroy non-organic and organic threats; there is no evidence of blood by doing so and the remains of the dead hostile stay in the level.

    Overall, Duskers is a slow-paced game providing opportunities for tactical thinking and execution, which can be spurred on by random events which can quite easily ruin the best laid out plans.  The graphics has its own unique style and is effective and contrasting to look at.  Sound, while limitedly used (other than the constant background hum) is used to good effect, providing audio cues to your surroundings and adds to the loneliness and tension of being aboard an abandoned (and potentially unstable) wreck.  There are a lot of gameplay elements to figure out, which can be expanded further via upgrades, adding to the longevity.  While there are a lot of commands to learn, which raises the barrier for entry to those new to the game, there is a very handy help feature listing the commands and provides further help.

    Daniel I.B. Woods (aka centaurianmudpig)

  • Hacktag (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Hacktag
    Developed By: Piece of Cake Studios
    Published By: Piece of Cake Studios
    Released: February 14, 2018
    Available On: Windows 7, 8, and 10; macOS
    Genre: Action, Adventure, Stealth, Indie
    ESRB Rating: None
    Number of Players: Singleplayer, Multiplayer
    Price: $19.99

    Thank you Piece of Cake Studios for sending us your game to review!

    Intrigue is probably the most common word associated to spies. I’d also add on stealthy, sharp, fast, and resourceful. I’ve got great respect for the real deals. You know you’ve done something really right when no one is supposed to know how you do what you do and in truth nobody really does know how you do what you do. For real, we know near zilch on how our shadowed protectors and adversaries work in the modern day. Thus, we fall back on long passed historical accounts and our own imaginations. But one thing I’m sure anyone can agree on is that spywork is rarely a one man show. Spies need partners. The developers of their game Hacktag knew this and saw a major multiplayer opportunity to be snatched.

    Everyone is an anthropomorphic animal in the world of Hacktag. That just means human-like animals do normal people things like wear clothes, walk on two legs, drive cars, break into corporations, hack computers. . . Oh wait. The last two aren’t normal. Well, in this game, that’s what you’re gonna be doing. You play as a freelance spy or hacker who receives jobs from business owners seeking a leg-up on their rivals. At least, that’s your usual clientele. Occasionally there may be a friend seeking a favor or a just a curious person with deep pockets. Either way, if they got the dough, your agency will go.

    Every mission requires stealth, timing, and a duo. Regardless if you play with a friend or by yourself, there needs to be a stealth agent on the field and a hacker in the system. Each role is codependent on the other. The stealth agent will need to stay out of sight. They must hide behind desks and potted plants in order to get close to firewall boxes, computers, and scanners. It’s pretty classic spy stuff nixing the laser lipstick. You won’t need it anyway. You’ve got a hacker. It’s their job to avoid system detection to unlock doors, shutdown cameras, and distract guards with fake phone calls. Your usual team assignment is get in, get the goods, watch your partner’s backs, and don’t get caught. If one of you is spotted, the other can bail you out. If both of you are incarcerated though, you both will be doing time. From my perspective, this design was indeed well thought out. I know this isn’t the first espionage game out there, but I don’t think I’ve heard of another game that plays exactly like this. Most spy games focus on the field agent. Very little is paid to the hacker character, who is often an AI. Hacktag, however, puts the importance level for both roles on a pretty even keel. It’s refreshingly one-of-a-kind. My main criticism is its singleplayer. Now clearly, this game’s design had multiplayer in mind. There’s no denying it. Unfortunately, when there’s no one to play with (which was my sad case), you’ve only got singleplayer to do anything with, and Hacktag’s singleplayer felt like an afterthought feature. This fact will become more clear as I explain. In short, there were several missions where the required teamwork proved way too tight for any single person to handle.

    Hacktag
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: One-of-a-Kind Gameplay; Great Avatar Design; Great Multiplayer Design
    Weak Points: Unideal Singleplayer; Insufficient Tutorial; Complicated Controls
    Moral Warnings: Unauthorized Espionage; Thievery; Sabotaging; Mild Language

    Before accepting your first mission, you get to create your avatar. You can make up to six characters. After naming them and choosing their species, gender, color, and attire, you then select an assignment. Missions are color coded to indicate their difficulty. Easy missions offer unlimited continues for failure while harder levels range from limited continues to none at all. Symbols stamped overtop these missions also indicate their type. It could mean you need to hack all computers or only specific computers in a particular order. However, I felt there really wasn’t a big enough variance there to warrant a full explanation. I’ll can leave that to Hacktag’s tutorial mission should you buy it. Afterall, it did do a pretty good job . . . except for the major details it left out. I was sneaking around minding my own nosy business when an alarm system went off. I did not know this mechanic even existed nor how to respond. It apparently is deactivated by a mini-game (that I wasn’t taught either) that required both players to deactivate at the same time. I didn’t know how other special mini-games worked either. Nor did I know about the random laser traps. And here I thought spies were supposed to be well informed!

    Okay, something else you need to know before embarking are the controls. Pay attention. I’m only reading this laundry list once. As the stealth agent, you’ll move around with the ‘A’, ‘D’, ‘W’, and ‘S’ keys. The hacker can also move the same way but can also move with the arrow keys. (Don’t ask why the Hacker has two movement options. I don’t know.) The act of hacking is also performed via arrow keys. Most other common actions are done with the ‘E’ key no matter if its hacking or deactivating stuff. The ‘Q’, ‘R’, and ‘F’ keys are used on occasion for various purposes. Keep those in mind. The 1, 2, 3, and 4 keys are used in multiplayer for snappy communication. In singleplayer they offer limited control of the opposite character. The stealth agent can noisily run by holding the ‘Shift’ key. Lastly, in singleplayer mode, the ‘Tab’ key and Space Bar swaps you between characters. You got all that? I’ve heard of complicated PC game controls before, but I think some considerable consolidation would have helped a lot here. Now, that’s not to say the controls are horrible. Some buttons fit pretty nicely. The familiar arrow keys are very satisfying to use while hacking. It’s the ‘E’, ‘R’, ‘F’, and ‘Q’ keys I had issues. It’s too complicated. With all the traps and guards and timed events, these missions require sharp precision. You can consider this problem doubled in singleplayer. You’re literally thinking for two. Unfortunately, accidents involving me hitting wrong buttons caused 60% of my captures. It also doesn’t help that swapping between characters takes half a second. That might not sound bad, but it’s an eternity when you’ve got guards and anti-viruses hot on your furry tail. I would much prefer controlling hacker and agent simultaneously. Yeah, I mentioned the numbered keys were meant to do that, but they’re abysmal. All they do is pull the other character toward you like a magnet regardless of who or what’s there. Want to get spotted in the laziest way possible? Push the numbered buttons. Hacktag’s controls are just a bag of good gadgetry in need of a tune-up.

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

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 86%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 7/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    For presentation, Hacktag’s is commendable. The CGI characters look so smooth and plushy. I can’t help but want to squeeze them like stress balls. The artists did a great job conceiving the fox, cat, raccoon, hyena, and deer designs too. The bunny design, though, looked weird in the face to me. It wasn’t terribly disturbing, but I wouldn’t pick it anytime soon. The stylish clothing options also added plenty of variety once unlocked. As for settings, there are three office buildings you’ll visit on your missions, and each have their own decor. These areas are rendered nicely. There was a single case of disappearing security guard on the hacker cam, but it didn’t reoccur. I guess my major complaint is how the color coding for the agent and hacker wass handled. The stealth agent’s name is portrayed in blue, yet his environment is mostly yellow. For the hacker its vice versa. As a result, I was often unsure which prompt colors each character should follow when duo hacking by myself. It cost me multiple times. Goes to show why color consistency matters. As for music, Hacktag has some pleasant jazzy tunes. However, I laud the SFX most. I’ve never loved the clicking of computer keys more than when I hacked devices. Something about the sound of it coinciding with my fingers felt exciting - like I was a real hacker. The rest of the SFX were well employed too, but I found it odd there were no SFX when you crack open reward loot safes. Now, I may not work with TNT, but I’m sure a kaboom is expected. Oh well. That’s a minor complaint compared to the rest of Hacktag’s competent presentation.

    Hacktag keeps itself pretty morally clean. Clothes are in good taste. Violence only amounts to slamming doors to temporarily knock out guards. Your character can cop a snarky attitude in your dialogue choices, but only if you choose to. A** and God’s name is misused a couple times but not too often. The main thing we need to address though is the content. Let’s be real here. Playing spy is fun. The thrill of the chase, slipping under the radar, making off with the badguy’s goods, it’s admittedly appealing. Unfortunately, we seldom consider its moral complications. Boiled down to its core, espionage is in most cases deceitfulness, thievery, and sabotage. Call me a cynic, but I don’t recall the Bible endorsing such behavior. Now, I’ll grant you that there were Biblical cases of espionage. You had the two spies that infiltrated Jericho for example. We as a nation also have our own federal spy network. This includes our men and women in uniform who sometimes risk their lives assuming false identities or undercover operations. However, there’s a difference between protecting law-abiding citizens and undermining another’s business for monetary gain. In Hacktag you’re basically breaking the law to help greedy people. It’s as illegal as it is malicious if you think about it. Now, it’s up to you whether it trivializes thievery too much or desensitizes your judgment. I personally don’t count Hacktag as a big threat, but I would recommend a spiritual security check . . . just in case.

    Hacktag’s take on spy shenanigans is admirable. I loved how well it incorporates the two roles together, even if (in my personal opinion) it’s a tad easier to play as the hacker. The tutorial really should be expanded though. I don’t appreciate being ill-informed. Nor do I enjoy seemingly unwinnable singleplayer missions. The developers didn’t put much thought into that. That’s for sure. Still, from what I can tell, this game is at its best with your personal companion. Just remember Hacktag kind of glorifies illegal behavior. The game’s wrongful motives for your spy-work might be a no sell for you. However, if you’re okay with it and crave an inventive multiplayer experience, grab a friend and grab a mission. It takes two for undercover fun. Otherwise, you’ll be facing quite a few literal mission impossibles.

  • Hello Neighbor (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Hello Neighbor
    Developed By: Dynamic Pixels
    Published By: tinyBuild
    Released: December 8, 2017(Microsoft Windows and Xbox One), July 26, 2018 (Android, iOS, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4)
    Available On: Android, iOS, PS4, Switch, Windows, Xbox One
    Genre: Puzzle, Stealth
    ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ for Mild Violence
    Number of Players: 1 player.
    Price: $29.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you tinyBuild for sending us this game to review.

    Everyone has had that one neighbor who creeped them out. That one person who you’re not really sure who they are or what they do, and whenever you see them outside, they commit strange and ambiguous acts. The developers at Dynamic Pixels play around with the idea with Hello Neighbor: a first-person puzzle-stealth survival horror game.

    Hello Neighbor starts with our unnamed child protagonist (who we will refer to as The Kid), playing ball by himself. He sees down the street his neighbor doing something fairly suspicious, so he decides to get a closer look. He stumbles upon our unnamed antagonist (who we will refer to as The Neighbor) stowing something or someone in the basement, accompanied by screams of anguish. The Neighbor spots The Kid and chases him away. But those screams just can’t get out of his head, so The Kid investigates further to see what the heck is going on.

    Dynamic Pixels takes an interesting spin on the survival horror genre where instead of some kind of monster or beast hunting you, its simply a middle-aged man. After all, humans are the real monsters. Most of Hello Neighbor takes place inside or around The Neighbor’s house, where you must navigate around to either escape or enter into another section of the house. All while this is happening, The Neighbor is patrolling the area trying to kick you out. The attractive feature of Hello Neighbor is its dynamic AI, where it is stated that The Neighbor learns from your moves. If you like to enter through doors a lot, he will set up buckets that will obscure your vision. If you like to enter through windows, he will set up bear traps to hinder your movement. The AI does exhibit these traits, but only sometimes. There is a setting to set The Neighbor to be a “friendly neighbor” where he isn’t as aggressive and doesn’t set traps, but it didn’t seem to work as he still set up traps, and could still see me from an insane distance.

    Hello Neighbor
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Extremely interesting premise; has generally creepy moments
    Weak Points: AI can be pretty frustrating; confusing objective and narrative; no real punishment for getting caught
    Moral Warnings: The Neighbor is a bad person who kidnaps people; might be too scary for especially young children

    The controls are fairly simple, but also strange: mouse to look around, WASD for movement, and E to interact or pick up items. Right click can also be used to place or throw held items. The game doesn’t explain this to you one bit unless you go into the control settings, which is honestly a pretty bad feature. It doesn’t help that the controls feel pretty clunky, as to interact or grab items takes precision, which cannot always happen, especially if The Kid is getting chased around. A tutorial to understand what is going on would have been greatly appreciated, as you’re immediately thrust into the situation with no clear direction as to what to even do. The options are also weird because even though the arrow keys are not used in gameplay at all, they are the means to navigate through the menus. I’ve never experienced something like that for any game that I played, and it can be rather annoying.

    The Neighbor is definitely a creepy looking individual. He has these beady eyes, wonky proportions, and a barbershop mustache to complement the whole package. Unfortunately, the graphics do not complement the setting and feel of the game. Hello Neighbor is supposed to be a horror game, but the cartoon-like style clashes with it very often, and generally scary moments in the game aren’t taken very seriously. I think a slightly more realistic style would have been a better artistic choice. Fortunately, the music does the creep factor some justice in that aspect. As The Neighbor gets closer and closer, ominous music gets louder and louder, to signal that he is near. This is honestly a great approach, as it made some moments generally scary.

    Going back to the AI, The Neighbor can have some pretty frustrating moments. As you get into later acts, his “smart AI” doesn’t really seem to become more dynamic as it just gets a bigger detection radius. I’ve had moments where he detected me when he wasn’t even in the same area and started chasing me down. The Neighbor’s AI can be easily abused as I set up numerous moments in my play through where he would simply loop his actions and fail to catch me.

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

    Game Score - 46%
    Gameplay - 7/20
    Graphics - 4/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 2/5

    Morality Score - 96%
    Violence - 9/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 9/10

    Later in the game, Hello Neighbor seems to ditch the stealth mechanics in favor of puzzles, and most don’t even make sense. Some items can interact with each other, but hints are never given so finding out how they function is based on trial and error. This is also apparent in that there really is no punishment for getting caught except for starting at the “beginning”, but you keep all the items in the inventory, layouts are kept in the same spot, and all doors and locks stay unlocked. If they wanted to make a puzzle game, I feel they should have simply made one instead of making a stealth game that eventually ignores the stealth mechanics. The physics engine is also wonky as objects don’t act the way they do all the time, and it’s very easy to get stuck on geometry. In a way, how the game turns out, it feels like false advertising as the stealth aspect can simply be ignored and brute force will eventually prevail instead of clever initiation and situational awareness.

    With a game such as this, the only moral issues I’ve come across is The Neighbor himself. It’s pretty apparent that he kidnaps people, and in one of the later acts, The Kid actually gets kidnapped himself and has to find a way out. It’s not exactly a violent game as if you get caught, the screen simply fades to black, and the only way to potentially defend yourself is to throw items at him, which slows him down.

    Hello Neighbor? More like goodbye, neighbor! A wealth of interesting ideas and a unique premise that manages to miss most of the marks they have set out to make. $30 is too much of an asking price for such wasted potential. Lots of frustrating and boring moments, weird AI, and a very confusing narrative that is all over the place, it seems like Dynamic Pixels lost their vision halfway through development. I’ve heard around the community that the final product is very different from the beta held years back. The product is generally safe to play, but young kids might find the game a bit too scary; that is if the obnoxious puzzles don’t get to them first. In the end, this neighbor is not worth visiting.

     

  • The Church in the Darkness (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    The Church in the Darkness
    Developed By: Paranoid Productions
    Published By: Fellow Traveller
    Released: August 2, 2019
    Available On: macOS, PlayStation 4, Windows, Switch, Xbox One
    Genre: Action, Stealth
    ESRB Rating: M for Mature: Blood; Drug Reference, Strong Language, Violence
    Number of Players: single player
    Price: $19.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you, Paranoid Productions, for sending us a review code!

    Throughout history, groups of people have left their country of origin and attempted to create a place that they can call their own. The United States of America being one of the most well-known examples of that. It is a topic that is rarely touched upon in media, but developer Paranoid Productions and publisher Fellow Traveller enter into the subject matter with The Church in the Darkness, an action-stealth hybrid with a top-down perspective and a dynamic narrative that changes with each playthrough.

    The main plot is always the same: in the 1970s a group of people, dissatisfied with how the US is treating their citizens, country, and how the government is running things decide to flee the country and make an establishment they can call their own. The cult named the Collective Justice Mission takes refuge in the jungles of South America and this establishment they name Freedom Town. Freedom Town is run by Preacher Issac Walker and Rebecca Walker who swear that they will not make the same mistakes that America did.

    Of course, since a rather large group of people leave the country all at once, relatives of these missing people and the US government are going to be curious as to what’s happening behind all the trees—especially Stella. Stella is Alex’s mother and Vic’s (the player character) sister. Alex is one of the people that joined the Collective Justice Mission and like any mother is worried as to what is happening or what might have happened to Alex. Due to Vic’s connections and experience as an ex-law enforcement officer, Stella asks of Vic to infiltrate Freedom Town to simply find out what Alex is doing.

    The main objective is to find Alex, inquire about his status, and then leave with or without him. This part is when the dynamic narrative starts to take place, right from where your spawn location is (as its different every time). Depending on the note from Stella that you start with, you’ll get an insight into the preacher’s personality for that specific gameplay loop, as well as what important NPC to speak to. The NPC that spawns is random and can range from a selection of six. When spoken to, they can give more insight into how Issac and Rebecca operate, and a general location to where Alex is located. Depending on actions taken before meeting these people, they may not be so willing to give out information.

    On the intercoms throughout Freedom Town, you’ll hear Issac and Rebecca speak to the townsfolk. Paying attention to their dialogue gives off hints on how Issac and Rebecca are as people. In some paths, Issac and Rebecca are generally good-natured people. They do still have their negative views on America as a country, but many of their speeches take verses and quotes from the Bible such as Matthew 5:14, while also talking about God’s love for mankind. Other paths make Issac and Rebecca into hypocrites, with the selected NPC and even Alex talking about how they are just as guilty of all the actions that they lambaste America for. And in the last set of paths, Issac and Rebecca are against each other, with one of them being good and one of them being corrupt.

    The Church in the Darkness
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Solid voice acting; interesting setting; lots of replayability with 19 different endings; dynamic personalities with Issac and Rebecca
    Weak Points: Poor AI; mechanics tend to sometimes work; not enough variation in the gameplay
    Moral Warnings: R-rated language such as “f*ck”, “sh*t”; blasphemous language; some routes tackle the usage of drugs and narcotics; violence, with some routes and endings making the player character into a mass murderer

    Issac’s voice is excellent, with John Patrick Lowrie (best known as The Sniper from Team Fortress 2) being his voice actor. Lowrie gives off a sincere and powerful performance as Issac, being soft-spoken when needed while also showing off just how angry Issac can get when talking about America. Rebecca is voiced by Ellen McLain (best known as GlaDOS from the Portal series), and she does just as good of a job as Lowrie does. Rebecca sounds very authoritative while being comforting and inspiring all the same. Even Alex (voiced by Arif S. Kinchen) has a good voice. Although not as good as Issac and Rebecca simply due to not having nearly as many lines as the former two, he does sound like a confused kid as to being unsure of what he wants. Each ending is accompanied by a country song that more or less sums up the plot and feel of the ending that you’ve obtained.

    Freedom Town takes place in an unknown area of South America. They nailed the isolated feel of the town as it feels secluded from the rest of the modern world. The basic graphics and textures are carried by the art portraits of the characters (which look like a pleasant watercolor painting) and the town aesthetics. Trees, rivers, and little shacks made out of metal and wood are sprawled out everywhere.

    I would recommend a controller instead of a keyboard and mouse as the game was not designed with them in mind (even though you can rebind them). They are rather uncomfortable no matter where you put them on the keyboard because you’ll have to be pressing the “sneak” key and the “sprint” key constantly (it started giving me cramps at one point). From my knowledge, keys cannot rebound to any mouse buttons on the side which would work a lot better for sneaking and sprinting. Although controller buttons cannot rebind to other buttons, they are much more comfortable. There's also a strange phenomenon that happens that if you do decide to play with keyboard controls while having a controller plugged in, some button prompts will be overridden by the controller controls and not the KB+mouse.

    Now going around Freedom Town requires mostly stealth, as Vic is an unwanted visitor to the area. He will sneak around places, looting closets and chests to find items ranging from weapons, chloroform, disguises, food to replenish health, and sometimes papers or pins that delve deeper into the lore of Freedom Town. Freedom Town has a distinct population and the easiest way of finding what type of citizen is which is through View Mode. Every time you sneak around (Ctrl key or B/Circle), every character has a cone of vision. The regular townsfolk have a pink cone. They are non-threatening but will usually run for the alarm if Vic is spotted. A light brown cone indicates security. They walk around with pistols and will typically shoot if you are spotted after following Vic for a bit. Red cones are more aggressive townsfolk armed with shotguns—acting similar to the security. The most dangerous ones are the guards dressed in green. They are armed with rifles and can mostly be found around where Issac or Rebecca are located. They shoot on sight. Difficulty increases or decreases the amount of these people, with the higher difficulties outright disabling these cones.

    The Church in the Darkness
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 62%
    Gameplay 10/20
    Graphics 7/10
    Sound 9/10
    Stability 3/5
    Controls 2/5

    Morality Score - 78%
    Violence 3/10
    Language 5/10
    Sexual Content 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical 5/10
    +3: This game promotes the importance of family values
    +3: The story in this game delivers a good moral lesson

    The townsfolk can either be skipped entirely, distracted by sounds with the use of throwing rocks or setting alarms, or you can sneak behind them and either knock them out with a chokehold, chloroform, or a syringe or kill them with the snap of a neck. Knocking them out takes longer than killing but people who spot a dead citizen will immediately run for the alarm and set it off, instead of simply shaking them awake. If you want a knocked out person to stay out of the fight permanently, Vic has to put them in a box or closet. With enough scavenging and preparation, Vic can also go guns blazing. Shooting itself doesn’t feel very good as even though it is similar to twin-stick shooting, a lot of it is auto-aim based and you just have to make sure the target locks on to the person.

    The AI is frankly, rather stupid. Sometimes the AI will lose its pathfinding and will run into other NPCs, making them lose their pathfinding as well. Sometimes the AI does not reset to their default position when distracted by rocks or sound items which can make getting past them even more annoying. The AI will also stop chasing you the moment you even walk around the corner of a building. And even though many NPCs react to sound, you can incapacitate or even kill an NPC right next to each other and they’ll be none the wiser to it if the body doesn’t fall into their line of sight. It’s rather inconsistent due to how the AI either reacts (or doesn’t) and the “randomness” of whether mechanics will even work as intended does make the experience different for each playthrough—just not in the way the developers had in mind.

    A big indication of how endings will play out are how Issac’s, Rebecca’s, and Alex’s personalities are portrayed, and what you decide to do with them, whether you spare, kill, or even abduct Issac and/or Rebecca. Some endings even lead to you killing Alex. There are about nineteen endings in total. Even with the sheer amount of endings available, unfortunately, you’ll see everything that the game has to offer by the fourth of fifth ending. There are items and even NPCs that are unlocked with endings obtained, but the general gameplay loop doesn’t change enough, so it tends to get repetitive fairly quickly.

    There are bound to be many moral warnings with a title such as The Church in the Darkness. It isn’t all black-and-white, however. There is violence abound and blood is shown when shooting enemies, and some endings rely on Vic being a complete monster and slaughtering as many of the townsfolk he can—whether it is rightfully deserved or unjustified. There is language on par with many R-rated films, such as the words “f*ck” and “sh*t” mostly coming from Alex or Issac depending on their personalities. Drugs are present as well either through snippets of lore or even the use of it from Vic, with one of the endings utilizing cyanide. The Church in the Darkness can get rather dark in many routes. It can also show off wholesome messages. One ending can even show that family does not have to be blood-related, and when Issac and/or Rebecca are portrayed as good people, they do try to pass on the teachings of God and Jesus Christ to their followers.

    Many qualities of The Church in the Darkness I do enjoy a lot. The setting is rarely seen in video games, the voice acting is strong, and the dynamic narrative needs to be shown off in more games. There is a lot of replayability with nineteen different endings and four difficulty settings that aren’t simply increasing numbers. Even if you fail, they do give you the option to replay the same scenario so obtaining endings isn't frustrating. But what is the purpose of lots of replayability when the gameplay loop is boring? The extra items obtained do not add or expand on the system unlike many other games that use random procedural generation and the poor AI combined with the unresponsive mechanics do sour an experience that could have been sweet. At its worse morally, it’s a mass-murdering simulator with corruption all around that more or less drops its Christian roots. At its best, its a wonderful journey about people finding a place they can call their own while having a strong faith in God.

    I do not want to see Paranoid Productions give up on gaming after this one, as there is a lot that can be taken from this experience and be refined to make a standout product. I did not enjoy my time with The Church in the Darkness overall, even if I do appreciate many aspects of it. It digs into the flawed system of America such as the focus on consumerism and capitalism and well as pointing out its ugly history through the treatment of minorities and the general public that many pieces of media shy away from. (The internet, however, is quick to jump on that aspect but that is another discussion for another day.) Whenever Paranoid Productions decides to take on another task, I’ll look forward to it, as long as the gameplay is a bit more polished.

     

  • Vandals (Switch)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Vandals
    Developed By: Cosmografik, Novelab, Ex Nihilo, ARTE France
    Published By: ARTE France
    Released: April 12, 2018; April 25, 2019 (Switch)
    Available On: Android, iOS, Windows, macOS, Switch
    Genre: Stealth; Puzzle
    ESRB Rating: E for Everyone
    Number of Players: Single-player
    Price: $4.99

    Thank you ARTE France for sending us a review code!

    Unleash your inner delinquent with Vandals! A puzzle-stealth game created by the collaboration of Cosmografik, Ex Nihilo, Novelab, and ARTE France. The goal of the game is to sneak past cops to display your inner thoughts and feelings on buildings, while simultaneously evading capture.

    What makes Vandals different from other puzzle and stealth games is that it is all turn-based. Every action requires a turn, even if you are the only person who moves that turn. The turns do matter as they determine if you earn a star or not in the level. Every level rewards you with up to three stars based on three specific actions: invisibility, bonus, and the number of turns. To earn the invisibility, you must not be seen by cops as there is a difference between being seen and being captured. All levels have a bonus that can be acquired, which accounts for one of the other stars. The last star obtained is rather self-explanatory—you must complete the level under or meeting the number of turns listed. There are many cases where two out of the three stars are easily obtained, but meeting all three requirements will typically exhaust you of all the turns you have.

    Vandals utilizes a grid-based movement system. Throughout some levels, you can pick up empty glass bottles to use as a distraction. Cops are influenced by sound and will move towards the direction of that sound. Glass bottles do a great job of this as the breaking of glass has a wider area-of-effect, which can notify multiple cops. Whistling can also distract cops too which holds the advantage of being unlimited and the disadvantage of having limited range. Once you reach your designated spray area (which also uses up a turn) and make your colorful creation or use a pre-created spray using your profile name, you must reach the escape route. Be warned, as displaying your work of art has the largest range of all actions—in most cases, it will notify all cops within the area.

    Vandals
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Nice blend of stealth and puzzle mechanics; showcases the history of graffiti
    Weak Points: Tracking the progression of collectibles is unintuitive; the last city felt like they were running out of desperation
    Moral Warnings: The act of vandalism via graffiti; some written descriptions indicate the usage of drugs by the artist, such as marijuana

    There are five cities in total: Paris, New York, Berlin, São Paulo, and Tokyo. Each city has twelve levels with two of them only being unlocked after a certain star threshold (being twelve and thirty stars respectively). The cities introduce their specific gimmicks at a decent enough frequency to prevent the game from feeling repetitive. Some cops will be asleep on the job (tsk-tsk), others will have binoculars to have a long line of sight, and a few may even move around on their own. You’ll come across city-specific gimmicks like manholes, security cameras, and dogs. The graphics are of a nice cel-shaded look and the layouts of each city are distinct, but outside of Paris and New York, the other cities don’t feel or even look like their respective real-life counterparts. The fact that every cop no matter what city you are in speaks English (and the cops only speak one or two lines in total) feels like a missed opportunity for a game entry that heavily relies on a visual medium. Another missed opportunity was the way progression is tracked. The only indication that you have all the stars in a level is if it is highlighted by a white inner circle. It won’t tell you what stars you are missing until you choose the level.

    The music and sound design are on the subtle side relying more on a passive and lo-fi sound direction to incorporate that relaxing nighttime feeling. The music does pick up in intensity whenever a cop spots you. The cities also use instruments created or are famously used in that specific country such as Berlin and Paris using the accordion, and New York using the saxophone. A nice job in terms of sound direction making you feel like you’re in that city.

    Controlling your vandal is rather strange. Controls work most of the time although sometimes they do not. Being that this is the Switch version, there are three methods of controls: gyro controls, touchscreen, and buttons. With the traditional control stick and buttons, the right stick moves your character while the left stick controls your camera. Touchscreen controls are probably the best method as Vandals was created with touch controls in mind. The gyro controls are probably the worst out of the bunch as they tend to be the least responsive and you may find yourself re-syncing them often.

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

    Game Score - 74%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 90%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 5/10

    As I’m sure most of you know, the act of vandalism is a crime and that graffiti has a long history with it. Not all forms of graffiti are vandalism although graffiti throughout history has been used as an act of rebellion. People will want to express themselves and the more some kind of authority restricts the people from doing so, they will act out in ways deemed unsavory. Throughout most levels, there are Polaroid phones scattered throughout that showcase the history of graffiti and urban art. It was very interesting going through the history and learning about the graffiti culture and why they essentially caused crime to express themselves. For some, it was the only way they could. For others, it was using their anger to express a point of view. A lot of these artists are advocates of freedom of expression, so some of these descriptions do mention drug usage, like marijuana.

    I was left pleasantly surprised by Vandals. Mechanics and characters were introduced at a good enough pace that the game failed to feel repetitive, even if it is very simplistic in the end. I also didn’t expect to learn about graffiti culture either. The two mentioned positives made me feel like beating the game, which took about four or so hours. Since I’m terrible at puzzle games, it’ll probably take the more experienced players less time than it took me. Progression tracking is done rather poorly which makes reaching 100% pretty tedious at times. Overall, Vandals is a nice entry into the puzzle and stealth genre with a reasonable price range.

     

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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.

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