Reviews
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Game Info:

Bet on Soldier
Developed by: Kylotonn, Microids
Published by: Gravity Europe SAS
Release date: September 26, 2005
Available on: PC
Genre: First Person Shooter
Number of Players: Single-player, local multiplayer
ESRB Rating: Mature for blood and gore, language, simulated gambling
Price: $7.99

Thank you Microids for sending us this game to review!

Bet on Soldier was originally released in 2005 for PC.   The publishers went bankrupt shortly after publishing  the game.  Microids has picked up the rights and recently released this game on Steam.  Unfortunately, the Steam version does not include the expansion packs or functional online multiplayer.  Gamespy's online matchmaking service has been offline since 2014.  Local network play should still work if you have friends that own this game. 

The story in Bet on Soldier is filled with predictable tropes.  The main character, Nolan Daneworth, is an amnesiac who recently lost his wife.  Nolan doesn't remember his past, but he does have a strange tattoo and a knack for fighting.  Perhaps this is why his family was targeted?  All he does know is that the killers were champions on the TV show: Bet on Soldier.  He signs up to settle his score with them.

Bet on Soldier
Highlights:

Strong Points: Challenging combat system
Weak Points: Graphics are dated and pixelated; multiplayer component obsolete and non-functional; dumb AI
Moral Warnings: The main character's story is based on revenge; lots of violence and blood; strong language; as the title suggestions, you can bet on soldiers winning battles 

Throughout the missions you'll go head to head with Bet on Soldier champions.  Before each level you have the option to choose who to battle, the type of weapons to equip, and the amount of mercenaries (up to two) that will accompany you.  The mercenaries will assist you in fighting and repairing your armor, but the champion battles are one on one.  

Armor and shields are used both by enemies and allies. There are several armor regions that will turn from green to black as you chip away at them with bullets, grenades, rocket launchers, or with a knife.  Mechs or powerful exoskeletons are available for both sides as well.   While they are intimidating, they are destructible and even more so if attacked from behind.

Unlike many first person shooters, you cannot pick up new weapons or ammunition from the deceased.  Scattered throughout the levels are vending machines to buy more ammunition and repair your armor.  The game doesn't pause while using these kiosks so be quick and watch your back!  If you have a mercenary that is an engineer, they can repair your armor free of charge.  Money is earned by killing enemy soldiers and by winning the dramatized Bet on Soldier battles.

 

Bet on Soldier
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 74%
Gameplay - 14/20
Graphics - 6/10
Sound - 7/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 55%
Violence - 1/10
Language - 5/10
Sexual Content - 4/10
Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7.5/10

Besides the intense Bet on Soldier battles, there's a wide variety of missions and objectives to be completed within them.  Often times you'll be called upon to destroy their military equipment or to infiltrate their bases.  Some of the missions are timed, but most are not.  The missions are rated by difficulty and can be played in any order.

As you complete missions and defeat key champions, more of the story and Nolan's past will be revealed.  Sadly, the movies and graphics in the game have not aged well.  On larger widescreen monitors the videos are noticeably stretched and pixelated.  One of the movie scenes show Nolan and his wife in bed together, while she doesn't appear to be wearing any clothes, you don't see any details.  The lip syncing, or lack thereof, is pretty amusing to watch as well.  Despite being voice acted in English, the subtitles don't match up and are misinterpreted on multiple occasions. 

Many cuss words are used throughout Bet on Soldier.  While the F-bomb is not in the subtitles, it is heard loud and clear in the game.   Blood and violence is a common theme woven into this game's story about revenge.  As the title suggests you place bets on yourself to emerge victorious from the televised battles.

Like many first person shooters, Bet on Soldier earns its mature rating and should not be played by or around children.  Despite the moral issues, this game offers some challenges and classic/old school FPS gameplay.  It's a shame that the multiplayer component is obsolete, but the single-player is still fun.     

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Game Info:

Dead Effect
Developed By: BadFly Interactive
Published By: BadFly Interactive
Released: December 17, 2014 Available On: iOS, Android, Windows (tested via Steam), Mac, Linux
Genre: First Person Shooter
ESRB Rating: Not Rated
Number of Players: Single Player
Price: $4.99 (Steam) and Amazon (Affiliate Link)

Thank you BadFly Interactive for sending us this game to review!

The year is 2045. You're part of an elite security team known as "Unit 13." Suddenly you are awakened after 178 days in hibernation onboard what is believed to be a spaceship headed to colonize a distant planet. Subsequently, you realize the entire crew is infected by a virus that has turned them into zombies. To investigate the mystery behind the deadly virus as well as to prevent the ship from returning to Earth, you must now engage in a battle against the undead. Brace yourself for lies, deception, and a whole lot of gore in an effort to uncover the deadly truth in this sci-fi zombie adventure. 

Dead Effect is a first-person sci-fi shooter set in outer space. While it does not offer anything new to the genre and borrows features from other games, Dead Effect undoubtedly gets a lot of things right. This is an action packed game from the beginning and the story is told via verbal dialogue. Tablets are scattered throughout the game, which provide further details to the story. There are 12 missions that range from 10 to 30 minutes each. You have a choice between 2 characters, Gunnar Davis the War Hero and Jane Grey the Assassin. The only difference between them, however, is the starting weapons. The suit worn by the character equips two special abilities: Bullet Time and Devastation. Bullet Time primarily slows the environment down allowing for precise shooting. Devastation is an AoE skill that damages those in close proximity. About half-way through the story, your character is provided opportunities for enhancement at "augmentation terminals." These can provide more health, longer Bullet Time effect, increased speed, etc. 

The tutorial, which acts as the first mission, provides the necessary instructions to play. Anyone familiar with first person shooters will learn the skills and interface rather quickly. The first mission certainly sets the stage for the entire game. The spacecraft is highly detailed displaying various areas of damage. The lighting reflects this as well. There are broken gas lines as well as the green airborne virus flowing through the vents. Damage to the spacecraft also offers a dark aesthetic setting. Often times a flashlight is needed to navigate. There are dead bodies and blood splattered across the floor. This is a natural occurrence throughout the missions. There are few zombie types with a couple mini-bosses reminiscent of other games such as Resident Evil 5. The zombies are rendered in great detail as well. In some missions, hacking into terminals is required in order to complete an objective. This feature is clearly reminiscent of Mass Effect 2. 

Dead Effect
Highlights:

Strong Points: High replay value, weapon variety, fast-loading times, 3 game modes, 3 difficult settings, 2 special abilities, ability to upgrade character, highly detailed, impressive special effects, intriguing story
Weak Points: No compass or map, heavy on gore, limited controller support, no multiplayer, visually dark environment
Moral Warnings: Swearing, violent, very gory, graphic dismemberment to limbs, human/zombie experimentation

The dark aesthetics, music and sound effects present an eerie feel to Dead Effect. Screams of pain can often be heard in the distance. When zombies are close, a slow methodic sound emanates from them. The music is loud and a change to the tempo is abrupt at times. This caused a great deal of suspense and tension while I was playing. In order to open lockers, the space bar needs to be repeatedly tapped. This leaves you in a vulnerable position. Often times, I turned around very quickly in anticipation of a zombie attack. 

Typical with many zombie games, the weapons are a major component. Each character has a slot for a main weapon such as an assault rifle or shotgun and a secondary weapon, which is usually a pistol. There is also a stun gun and grenades with each having dedicated slots. Thus at any given time, there are 4 weapons to choose from. Excluding the stun gun and grenades, there are a total of 13 weapons in the game. The weapons can be upgraded up to five ranks. These include more damage, larger magazine, reload time, accuracy and in some cases, piercing. 

The in-game currency is credits. These can be found throughout the game as well as a reward for completing special game missions. Killing zombies in certain spots such as the chest or the head will drop gold bars. Credits are used to purchase and upgrade equipment while gold bars allow for special weapons such as the minigun.

It was only upon death early on in the third mission that I understood the game's high replay value. There are no checkpoints. Credits are used in order to continue a mission upon death. Realizing I wasn't properly equipped for the third mission, I returned to the second to earn more credits to purchase a better weapon. Higher quality weapons are expensive but can be unlocked during gameplay via the two extra game modes. Not only do the gold bars allow the opportunity to purchase special weapons, but earning enough will also provide your suit an auto heal ability, which is vital to survive.

Navigating through the spacecraft proved difficult. As previously stated, due to the limited lighting it is difficult to see in many areas. There is no map or compass to aid as a guide. There is however, the "Objective Helper," which is the [H] on the keyboard. This will point you in the right direction to complete an objective. Unfortunately it doesn't always work. If an objective is completed, it won't always show the next one. Further, you can get turned around fairly quickly when engaging zombies. Trying to find your way in this frightening environment without a guide can grow wearisome.

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

Game Score - 94%
Gameplay - 18/20
Graphics - 10/10
Sound - 10/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 4/5

Morality Score - 65%
Violence - 1/10
Language - 3/10
Sexual Content - 10/10
Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

As with most zombie games, a well placed headshot yields an instant kill. Heads explode with blood on the screen if close by. Aiming at a certain body part, such as the arm or leg, will dismember the limb. As a result, body parts and blood get splattered across the floor frequently. Not only do the crossbow and grenades cause a huge explosion disintegrating zombies upon impact, they display excellent special effects as well. The Devastation skill is by far the most graphic. Zombies will fall to pieces into a mess of flesh. Fortunately, the bodies and blood do not remain on the floor as they disappear via a glowing effect. 

As previously discussed, the replay value for Dead Effect is very high. There are weapons to unlock via credits and gold bars. Once a mission is completed in campaign mode, it can be replayed. There is a completion page at the end of each mission. This displays various stats including the time to complete the mission, headshots, tablets and secret orbs found, etc. There are two special game modes. Biohazard consists of seven missions each located in a different area of the spacecraft. It involves surviving waves of zombies. It can be set by duration and difficulty. Survival includes six missions that require battling zombies for a set amount of time. Completing campaign mode enables "New Game Plus," which involves restarting the campaign on a higher difficulty setting but retaining previous equipment.  Dead Effect has 61 achievements. Many include finishing a mission on any difficulty or killing "x" amount of zombies. 

I completed the game with Jane Grey the Assassin. She swore only once. A sexual reference about her is found in one of the tablets early on. This was a surprise as there are no other occurrences in the game. I played several missions with Gunnar Davis. The amount of swearing greatly increases during gameplay. While I do not intend to spoil the story, there were several areas that involved experimentation on humans that eventually turned into zombies. Despite the fact that I found the story interesting, much of it involves deceit. 

While I was playing Dead Effect, I kept thinking to myself, "Wow, this game would be great to play in co-op mode with a friend." Unfortunately, one of the caveats of the game is there is no multiplayer. Another is the limited controller support. Controller mapping is available and most keys are automatic. However, I was unable to map all the keys to my Xbox 360 controller.

It had been a while since I played a zombie shooter. Although the game was free for review purposes, its $4.99 price for consumers is a surprise given the low cost and large amount of content. The price is well worth it especially since no more money needs to be spent. Out of curiosity, I looked at the game on iTunes and was taken aback at the cost to buy credits and gold bars. With all the features, including two special abilities, the ability to upgrade your character as well as weapons, and high attention to detail, it's a fantastic game to play. The replay value and various game modes kept me coming back for more. I do caution on the violence, gore, and sound effects, however. It is not for the faint of heart. Nevertheless you may want to play the game with the lights on in the room. 

 

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Game Info:

Rise of Venice
Developed by: Gaming Minds
Published by: Kalypso Media
Release Date: September 27, 2013
Available on: PC
Genre: Simulation/Strategy
Number of Players:Single/multiplayer
ESRB Rating: Not rated
Price:$29.99

Thank you Kalypso Media for sending us this game to review!

While Rise of Venice considers itself a strategy game, it's more of a 3D trading simulator. The single-player campaign has a story mode that will show you the ropes and is required to unlock the multiplayer component.  Sadly there is nobody online to play against.  Thankfully the single-player campaign offers hours of entertainment and even more so with the various DLC packs available. 

Rise of Venice begins with your grandfather's dying wish of you becoming a respectable merchant instead of taking the mercenary path.  To honor his wishes you embark on your trading career in Venice.  Your father will give you missions and a ship to get you started on your new journey.

If you don't watch the tutorial videos, the game's interface will quickly confuse you.  Of course the rules of profitable trading apply: you must buy items at a low cost and sell at a higher price.  Each city has different goods that they specialize in making.  In the beginning of the game the items that you can buy and sell are limited.  As you rise up in rank by getting senate approval, you'll unlock more items to trade and ships to carry them.

Not surprisingly, the number of cities you'll see in the beginning is restricted as well. As you sail past them you'll be able to dock  and learn their names. In order to trade in a city, you can buy a license which varies in price depending on your popularity in Venice or Genoa.  Sometimes a city won't offer you a license, but you can bribe a harbor master for one. 

 

Highlights:

Strong Points: Beautiful graphics; non-linear gameplay; variety in missions and natural disasters
Weak Points: Nobody online to play against; high learning curve
Moral Warnings: You can bribe, frame, and sabotage your way to the top; Christianity portrayed as greedy

 

While bribing isn't required, it sure helps expand your trading routes and career advancement by "earning" senate votes.  Making enemies is inevitable as your peers will get jealous of your success.  To keep you in your place, they will try to tarnish your name, arrange for warehouse theft and even suspend your trading license in certain cities.  Of course you have the ability to do the same to them by hiring black-market help at the local tavern.

The towns have a lot of options like the ability to borrow or lend out money from the bank, pray at the church or make donations to it, take on missions from the senate, buy and repair ships or build hospitals, schools, and homes for the townspeople to help them prosper.

There are many economical and natural disasters that can negatively impact a town's wellbeing and need for supplies.  When there's a fire or a volcanic eruption, a town will be in urgent need of logs and bricks  to rebuild their buildings.  Famines can also occur, but can be prevented if there is a hospital in the city.   

Each senate member has a way of winning them over - one will be won over as you build warehouses in different towns while another appreciates it when you build hospitals.  They all will think more highly of you when you defeat pirate ships and destroy their hideouts. 

Pirates will inevitably attack your ships.  To increase your chances of winning a battle you'll have to make sure you have enough sailors onboard and arm them with swords and guns.  Having cannon balls and scatter shots onboard will greatly diminish your opponent's ships and crew.  You can let the computer handle the battle for you, or you can manually battle from a third person perspective.  To speed things up, I let the computer handle my battles.  If you lose a battle, you'll lose some cargo and possibly your ships as well.

The background music is pleasant to listen to, but forgettable.  The voice acting is pretty good as all of the family missions are narrated.  While you're playing you may hear random remarks from your opposition like "Serves you right" or encouraging remarks about prospering cities such as "Take a look at Venice!"  You'll also be audibly alerted when a city is in trouble and needs assistance.  

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

Game Score - 74%
Gameplay - 14/20
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 7/10
Stability - 4/5
Controls - 4/5

Morality Score - 91%
Violence - 7/10
Language - 10/10
Sexual Content - 10/10
Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8.5/10

The graphics are stunning in this game.  Some may say it's overkill, but the water and fire effects look amazing.  While this game ran fine on my AMD powered desktop, many Nvidia users have experienced multiple game crashes according to some negative Steam reviews.    

Like many Steam games, there are various achievements that can be earned.  I've earned achievements for sinking ships, lending money, and bribing senate members.    There are also achievements for marrying, losing your wife at sea, and marrying a second time.  Unfortunately, I wasn't on good enough terms with the senate families to be offered a daughter to marry.  

As if not finding a spouse was bad enough, I wasn't able to find any online games to join.  There is a local network option available if you have multiple friends in the same building to play against.  If you do get a game going, there are various winning conditions like acquiring the most wealth, ships, buildings, warehouses or population.  You can also set the match to end after a certain period of time.  

Even though I wasn't able to play online with friends or complete strangers, I had plenty of fun building up my trading empire in the single-player campaign.  The story isn't that deep, but it's still enjoyable.  I like the fact that you can play though the story mode at your pace or disregard it entirely.  

Morally speaking there are some things worth noting.  The Catholic church is represented as greedy and you have to pay them to earn their favor and "blessings."  Towns can get excommunicated if they fall out of grace with the Vatican.  There are mosques that you can visit and read some passages from the Quran.  

If you don't mind paying officials and donating to the Catholic church, Rise of Venice may appeal to those who like trading simulation games. The regular version retails for $25 and the gold version goes for $30.  While I don't recommend paying street price, it's certainly worth considering if it goes on sale.  

 

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Game Info:

Distance
Developed by: Refract Studios
Published by: Refract Studios
Released: December 9, 2014
Available on: Windows, Mac OS X (reviewed), Linux, PS4
Genre: Racing
Number of players: 1-4
Price: $19.99

Thank you, Refract Studios, for sending us a copy of this game to review!

The engine fires up as the vehicle materializes at the head of the race track. The timer counts down as you press on the accelerator. As your car begins to move, you press the turbo button for a bit more of thrust. Within seconds, your vehicle screams across the green-lit streets. A ramp appears ahead of you, off to your left. It's an impulsive decision, but curiosity overcomes you. You steer to the left. The ramp has to lead somewhere, right?

Distance is, to put it simply, a racing game. The player controls a silvery, high-tech race car along a variety of futuristic tracks that appear to be inspired by the movie Tron. But looks can be deceiving – there is more to the game than a lot of more realistic racers. The car that the player drives is designed to jump, extend wings and fly, or even use thrusters to rotate the vehicle's body while in midair. Of course these are necessary, because some of the courses don't always have a track to drive upon. 

One of the thrills of this racing game is the ability to drive along the walls, and even the ceiling. In some of the more complex courses, this is even required. The road falls away or has been collapsed, so the player needs to do some tricky navigation at times to make it to the finishing line. Although the landscape does seem to be a futuristic city, there are a few tracks which appear to be in a post-apocalyptic setting... or perhaps in the middle of a nuclear reactor during a meltdown.

Sparks fly as you bounce off the wall and hit the ground. The road must be sloped downward, because your vehicle accelerates even further. The road takes a sudden curve upward and then simply ends. Your vehicle leaves the road and flies out into the open air. You expected this to happen. With the press of a button, side panels open and your vehicle's wings extend. You activate your right thrusters to correct your balance and steer the vehicle toward the silvery ring suspended in midair. There may not be any road, but you can still tell where to go.

As previously mentioned, the vehicle has wings that can extend and retract, so it could be a simple matter to fly from one end of the course to the next. However, the developers have added a simple mechanic to prevent players from, in effect, cheating their way to the goal. The car has a tendency to overheat when it uses the turbo thrusters, and especially when the car is flying. In some courses, where flying is necessary, silver-grey rings appear to not just indicate the direction to go, but also to cool the vehicle down. The flying sequences are certainly entertaining, and the ability to fly makes it possible to recover for those disastrous instances where the player mistimes a jump and goes flying off the track.

The car shudders as you jerk the wheel away. You had been concentrating so much on dodging the lasers that you failed to notice the sawblade in the middle of the road. The right half of your car is completely gone, and sparks fly as you floor the accelerator and wrestle with the steering wheel. You see red light reflecting on your bumper. All you have to do is make it to the green regeneration rings before the laser reaches you and finishes the job. Ten meters... five meters... two....

Distance
Highlights:

Strong Points: Variety of entertaining tracks and challenges to try; nice graphics; great techno soundtrack; level editor to design your own courses
Weak Points: No computer opponents and few other opponents to challenge make for a lonely experience
Moral Warnings: Some car violence

In addition to the broken road and other obstacles to avoid, there are other physical threats to deal with.  Laser beams appear here and there, apparently cutting apart sections of the road – or whatever happens to be moving along it. Sawblades also are a factor to deal with. Either one of these object can carve pieces off your car, causing all sorts of issues. For example, if you lose the front half of your vehicle, you can no longer steer. Taking enough damage to the vehicle often will result in the car exploding into pieces. This also can happen if you hit certain objects, or fall off the track and hit a barrier of red hexagons below the course. 

Losing your vehicle isn't the end of the race, however. Your vehicle will reappear on the course at the last checkpoint you passed, typically after one of the many green regeneration rings that you will find. These regeneration rings will completely repair your vehicle, whether it's been carved up by lasers or you've fallen to your apparent doom. The only thing you lose is a little bit of time.

One thing to note is that, at the time of this writing, the game is still a beta version. This reviewer had it happen once that, through a nasty combination of sawblades and lasers, his vehicle was reduced to a triangular wedge of metal, one back wheel and a thruster. I was able to move forward – erratically – but not much else. For some odd reason, this did not end the race for my shattered car, and the game continued until I manually reset the course through the menu screen. Fortunately I wasn't too far into that track, but it stood out to me that the game probably should have recognized that I was in no shape to continue and given me a different car. 

The car materializes in another cityscape. It's become routine by now – accelerate, watch for jumps and regeneration rings, avoid the construction equipment... but one thing still nags at you. Where have all the people gone?

Racing in Distance is a lonely affair. There are no computer opponents provided. There are multiplayer options available, either through local co-op, LAN or on-line servers. However, the only server that was up was a sprint mode (race), so I've never been able to test out some of the other multiplayer aspects of the game.  There are stunt courses available and some form of tag, which can be played alone, but without someone to play with or opponents to provide a challenge, these areas can get a bit dull after a while.

The game does include a level editor, though. The editor seems like a more complex, virtual version of piecing together Hot Wheels tracks. If the tracks that Refract provides become too predictable, you can make your own, or download those made by other people and give them a try. Downloading a level is a simple affair – simply click on “Subscribe” in the Steam workshop and the level will be downloaded to your game. 

Static fills the windshield and the controls seem to fight against you. Your sensors are warning you of excessive heat, yet frost is forming on the windows. Something weird is happening, but you don't know what. The surroundings are bathed in an eerie blue light. You speed up a ramp and, as the wheels lift the ground, the scene changes. You see an odd red orb suspended in the air ahead of you. Panels open from the orb, and you witness, in the center, a portal. You can't tell what's inside, but the shapes within send a chill through your body.

Suddenly your wheels hit the ground and the scenery plunges into darkness. Your headlights struggle to pierce the gloom as you swerve around a support pillar. You don't know what you just saw... but you have the feeling you haven't seen the last of it.

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

Game Score - 86%
Gameplay - 16/20
Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 9/10
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

Graphically, the game is sharp. The images are nice and colorful, and aside from a couple camera quirks, it's easy to see what's going on and what you're doing. The HUD is incorporated into the game in a brilliant fashion – it's on the back windshield of your car. In addition to a timer, the images also change to provide other useful information, such as which way is down, or if your car is close to overheating. As you race, your car can take damage, which shows as scrapes, dents, and even glowing patches of metal where a laser carved off your front bumper. The music is a nice techno beat, and fits the mood of the game amazingly well. There is one level in the “adventure” mode that seems to be inspired by horror movies, with creepy music combined with screen-filling static and sudden scenery changes to give a distinct sense of unease as you proceed through the course. I was disappointed to find that this course, “Ground Zero,” was not available to play in “sprint” mode – it seems to be available only as part of the story campaign.

The only problem I have with the graphics is the lack of customization for the vehicle. It would be nice to be able to decorate your vehicle, or even design cars with different body structures to see how they can handle the tracks. I don't know if this kind of things is in the works, but it would be nice to see, in my opinion.

The controls are slick and responsive, and the game did well with my game controller, too. The only issue I ran into was with the thrusters. By default, they are pinned to the secondary joystick on the controller... but I was using a controller that did not have a secondary joystick! Fortunately, it was a simple matter to assign the left and right thrusters to two of my shoulder buttons, and call it good. Also, these thrusters are typically only really needed in the more difficult courses or in those regions that the gravity is deactivated. Other than that, there is little need to even use them.

Aside from the unease of “Ground Zero” and the occasional hellish landscapes that you find yourself driving along, there isn't a lot to be concerned about in terms of moral aspects. There is no voice acting to be heard, and nothing in the imagery that could be deemed offensive. Of course, things may be different for user-generated content, but for the base game, there is little to worry about. My own kids have watched me play through a few of the levels and want to try it themselves. They will have to figure out the somewhat complex control scheme, though.

All in all, Distance is a fun racing game. Although it still has its flaws, it shows a lot of potential for the finalized game, and it's a blast to play even in its unfinished state. While some might be put off by the $19.99 price tag, the game has the potential to be one of those games that will be played over and over and over again, just for the sheer joy of it.

Your car reaches the end of the course and dematerializes through the grid. You sit back and relax. That course was amazingly difficult, with some rather nasty jumps and wall climbs. It took several repeated attempts, but you made it. But the thought occurs to you that there was a ramp near the beginning of the course... could that have been a shortcut to avoid some of those uglier parts? You hesitate for just a moment before moving the cursor to “Replay.” You tighten your grip on the gas as the timer counts down. Maybe you can shave a few seconds off that course....

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Game Info:

Tulpa
Developed by: Encryptique
Published by: Rising Star Games
Release Date: January 29, 2015
Available on: PC, Mac, Linux
Genre: Platformer/Puzzle
Number of Players: Single-player
ESRB Rating: Not rated
Price: $9.99

Thank you Rising Star Games for sending us a review copy of this game!

Tupla is a 2D platformer puzzle game about a girl named Ophelia and her (literal) soul mate, Oliver.  Most platformer games I'm familiar with have emotionally balanced heroes that happen to have super powers.  Ophelia is mentally unstable and will die/shatter into pieces if left in a disturbing scene for too long, or is separated from Oliver for more than a few seconds.  

There are lots of disturbing scenes and puzzles in this artistic game.   The graphics are simple yet elegant with only a few contrasting colors in each level.  The puzzles are challenging and often involve interacting with objects that are not easy to detect at times.  

Ophelia can jump with the space bar and move with the arrow keys.  Oliver can change the direction he's floating in by using the WASD keys.  Whenever you move one character, the other will follow to prevent Ophelia from having a fatal tantrum.  Oliver has the useful ability of interacting with items by using the mouse cursor while Ophelia can pull objects by standing by them and pressing the X key.  By simply bumping into items, she can push items too.    

Highlights:

Strong Points: Challenging puzzles; chilling soundtrack
Weak Points: Extremely short game that can be beaten in a couple of hours
Moral Warnings: Bloody and gruesome imagery; many religious and spiritual references

 Each level offers plenty of opportunities for each character to die.  While the ground is normally safe for Ophelia, some blades of grass (depicted in white instead of black) are razor sharp and deadly for her if stepped on.  There are also lethal spinning wheels that can slice up Oliver's spirit and kill Ophelia too because of her life-threatening separation anxiety.    

Tulpa can be rather disturbing at times and probably should not be played when impressionable children are nearby.  For example, one of the challenges involved a ravine with long spikes in it.  In order to make this crossable for Olivia, Oliver has to impale huge eyeballs on the tips of the spears so Opheila can hop across on them.  Yuck.   There is another scene with a big head that you have to enter through the mouth.  Blocking your path is a huge tongue with lots of eyes.  To get past it, you have to cut it off with one of the many swords sticking out of the giant humanlike head.

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

Game Score - 82%
Gameplay - 14/20
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 9/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 70%
Violence - 0/10
Language - 10/10
Sexual Content - 10/10
Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

Given the title and spiritual form of Oliver, it shouldn't come as any surprise to encounter religious references in Tulpa.  Buddhists believe that Tulpas are conjured spirits that are created from someone's willpower or mind.  Besides the Buddhism references, there are Hindu gods, occult themes, and crucifixes to interact with throughout this adventure.  

Adventure gamers will feel at home with some of the trope puzzles like the Tower of Hanoi and music mimicking challenges.  Other than the annoying music puzzles, the background music is exceptionally done.  It definitely pulls off the desired creepiness levels and suspense when needed.  The sound effects are brilliant too.  While dying was annoying, I like how it looked and sounded like glass shattering when it happened.  The steadily increasing heartbeat when Olivia and Oliver were separated was spot on too.

While Tulpa is disturbing at times, I cannot deny the unique adventure that it offers.  Unfortunately, it's a very short journey as  I was able to beat this game in less than three hours. The normal price is $9.99, but I have seen it on sale for half off.  At five dollars you may want to consider it if the spiritual aspects of the game don't bother you.  

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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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