Thank you Exodus Studios for sending us this game to review!
Exodus Studios has made several role playing games using the RPG Maker engine. Many of the games they make are faith based. Even though Vastar doesn\'t fall under that category, it’s still a relatively clean game that can be enjoyed by the whole family. Don\'t judge Vastar too quickly, just because it has dated graphics. The character artwork is original, the musical score is beautiful, and the character development is outstanding.
The game begins by letting you choose which sibling you’d like to play. They each have their own journey and the final chapter unites them to defeat a common enemy. It’s surprising how different each sibling turned out given their upbringing. Julian, the eldest, takes after his mother and is in a magic school to become a powerful wizard. Xathia is a strong warrior yet she’s daddy’s little girl. Then there\'s Danton, the youngest, a rogue who is often underestimated, but could use a lesson or two in manners.
Whichever character you choose, you’ll start off in a friendly town where you can talk to people and familiarize yourself with the various shops and happenings in the world. Chances are, you’ll run into someone to trigger the quest for that character’s chapter. Xathia’s chapter quest is to deliver some merchandise to a trading town, while Danton’s told to do some chores and stay out of trouble (he fails). Meanwhile, Julian\'s chapter takes place at his school, where a student gets picked on, retaliates, and ends up freeing an evil power that must be stopped.
The dialogue changes depending on which character you’re playing as or who is your party’s leader. For example, the scribe at Ebonshire will only speak to Julian, and a mysterious rogue will only communicate via thief hand signs with Danton. Nobody else understands the hand gestures. If you’re exploring around in town, make sure to have Danton as your leader. Danton can acquire items that no one else can see if he examines dressers and tables.
Although many town folk will tell you to stay on the main roads, the only way to level up is to stray off of the beaten path and fight some monsters. The monsters are clearly visible, so there are no surprise battles. With that said, sometimes they chase you or block your path to make avoiding them impossible.
The battle sequences are identical to the early role-playing games. You can tell your party to flee, defend, attack, or use an ability. If the enemy you\'re attacking is gone, they will automatically select another monster to attack. When a battle is won, experience, gold, and sometimes a treasure chest is left behind. When enough experience points are accumulated, a character levels up. The attributes and new abilities are automatically adjusted so there is no customization there. The only way you can impact your stats directly is by consuming essences to boost stats like health and agility.
There\'s a wide selection of enemies, which includes everything from little creatures like bees, to monsters like ogres, orcs and skeletons. If you lose a battle, it\'s game over, so make sure you save early and often. The game does do some autosaving for you, but don’t rely on that alone. While the mini-bosses are tough, the final boss is quite a challenge. Even at level forty, I was getting wiped out.
Money can be acquired by defeating enemies, collecting and redeeming souvenir items from particular monsters. If you’re the exploring type, you’re sure to come across stashes of cash along your travels. You can spend your money on buying spells, better shields, boots, and enchanted jewelry. I was disappointed at the number of items that you can equip. For a hefty price, you can upgrade your weapons and armor at a blacksmith; it’s definitely worth it though. Julian can\'t have his armor upgraded like his siblings. However, their mom can enchant his robes free of charge.
Magic is used quite a bit in this game and it’s unavoidable. On a positive note, necromancy is not tolerated and mages caught using it pay for it with their life. Violence is another given, but there is no blood or gore to be seen. On your journey, you’ll run into fairies and druids who worship various goddesses. Without giving too much of the story away, there is a nice tale of redemption being told here.
While the graphics won’t blow you away, they do add character to the game and get the job done. The graphics are in 2D, giving you a top-down view of the world, towns, and caves you\'re exploring. The worlds are huge and the caves are complex enough to easily get lost in. You can find maps in the game, which can help with navigating the caves and finding treasure chests. In battle, each spell has a different animated visual effect. I like the various facial expressions in the character dialogue boxes, especially when the siblings are fighting. The characters and artwork are based off of a manga written by the developer Rebecca Long.
The sound effects are okay and add some personality to the game as well. The musical score takes this game to a whole new level. Each area and town has its own theme music. It’s exceptionally fitting and often got stuck in my head. There’s a soundtrack available, if you want to give it a listen or buy it.
I did run into a few glitches while playing Vastar. The most annoying bug was in Julian’s chapter where he walked excruciatingly slow. After activating his quest, the problem went away. The developer has released a few patches for the game and even offers a helpful patch that gives you max gold. Yes, I installed it.
Vastar really is a game that you can\'t judge by its cover. Yes, the graphics are dated, but it excels in every other area. I spent roughly sixteen hours playing it and enjoyed it immensely. The price is a reasonable $11.99 and the strategy guide is $3.99 and I highly recommend getting it. If you like classic RPGs, this game is a no brainer.
We are very grateful that GamersGate sent us this game to review!
Amanita Design has made several short Flash games before, but Machinarium is their first full length adventure. In Machiniarium, you play as a robot who was captured and dumped for trash, in several pieces. Unfortunately, a gang of bad robots took your girlfriend and have locked her up. After putting yourself back together, you take it upon yourself to free her, even though you have to face the whole gang by yourself.
Machinarium is an adventure game in the style of classic games like King\'s Quest, Maniac Mansion, the Monkey Island series, and others in the genre. In this games, you see your character on the screen, and interact with your environment by gathering items, solving puzzles, and encouraging player ingenuity to get past obstacles.
Despite much similarity to past adventure games, there are a few things that make Machinarium stand out. First is the completely hand drawn graphics and animation. This is immediately obvious after a first look. The dystopian world of garbage, dirt, flies, and goop, is also teeming with hints of mechanical life with little mechanized rats, flies, and various semi-humanoid robots. There are also drops of oil, streaks of rust, and other environmental factors that show this world has been all mechanized for a long time now. There are also hints of what once was with fits of grass, weeds, trees, and other vegetation as well as various pieces of old appliances around to litter the environment with color, mood, and style. Some of the characters also seem to be made at least in part with some of these old appliances.
In equal parts to the graphics is the impressiveness of the sound effects and music. As you would hope in a dystopian world teeming with mechanical life, there are a lot of industrial sounds, and nothing was left out. Almost everything that moves, from the little cleaning bot scrubbing with brushes to an older robot\'s wheelchair to the sounds of footfalls and light bulbs flickering in the background, it\'s all represented here with amazing depth. There is also appropriately ambient sounds and music to represent each frame in a way that makes sense and sets the desired mood. There is one section where I found myself turning up the music; at least one of the tunes is good enough that I would consider buying the CD, and it is available for purchase. There are also five free bonus tracks you can download (takes a bit of searching to find, but they are legal), and the game directory \'11\' has all of the game sounds as mp3 files, renamed as quirky binary filenames. The excellent sound and artwork leads to the next area of uniqueness with Machinarium: the storytelling.
Machinarium is really unique in that this is one story told entirely through graphics and sound – with not one spoken word, or one written letter (there are a few numbers, some using roman numerals, though). The only words in the game are game menu items (save, load, etc.) on the bottom of the screen, and of course the title screen. The demo has a few extra words to help you see how to interact with the game. As a result, it uses emotive gestures and sound effects as well as thought bubbles to tell the story.
The thought bubbles are really well done with outline-style drawings that really draw you in. I found it a very effective storytelling method that made me smile a few times. These thought bubbles are used for everything from exchanges between people, to remembering the trauma of your character\'s girlfriend being stolen. For example, when you want to cross a bridge early on in the adventure, a thought bubble appears with a picture describing what you want done: the bridge lowered. Another early flashback shows you and your girlfriend playing paintball together, with you leaving holding hands. It becomes obvious that you care for each other a whole lot, without one word spoken, only laughter shared.
Like many classic adventure games, Machinarium has puzzles that definitely make you think. There is everything from the classic sliding puzzle, or other board game style puzzles, to the interactive \'use this item with another\' type. Later on, the puzzles get wickedly tough. Another source for challenge is that unlike many adventure games, you cannot activate an item unless you are standing next to it. So you can\'t just click randomly to find things. If that wasn\'t enough, your character can crouch or stretch to be able to reach higher up places or items, and in many cases the necessary item or action will not be triggered unless you are in that state. Also, useable items are not obnoxiously obvious – sometimes you have to poke around a bit with your mouse to find what you are looking for.
In case the goal for a screen is not clear, there is a simple hint button that shows you generally what the goal is. If that is not enough, there is a built in walkthrough that has to be unlocked by completing a simple shoot \'em up mini game. This walkthrough was drawn by the original artists, and is fairly complete, so even the trickier puzzle solutions are there and easy to access. Avoid using this at all costs though – it certainly takes some of the fun out of the game! I did find myself using it a handful of times though.
Overall, I found this game fairly bug free, with one exception and a few quirks. On one puzzle which I couldn\'t figure out required wiggling a wire to the breaking point. I wiggled and wiggled with no luck. One FAQ recommended setting the graphics to the lower resolution, which did indeed allow that wire to break. It was strange, but the workaround did the job. Other than that, no bugs to speak of.
The game supports windowed mode, and full screen, but it is only playable in one of two resolutions: 1000x632, and 1250x790. This works great for moderately sized screens, but my 1920x1200 pixel screen has substantial black bars around the sides, and most netbooks couldn\'t play this game at all, which is a pity. I have little doubt that this is simply a Flash limitation; it probably can\'t scale 2D graphics of this type. The whole game is simply a Flash game wrapped in the Flash player. As such, it was very easy to port to Mac OS X and Linux. I haven\'t tries those other environments (GamersGate doesn\'t include the Linux port) but I have little doubt they\'d work fine.
This game, with all of the beautiful art and sounds, is also fairly clean for appropriateness, though with a few small notable exceptions. There are two sections which show smoking in a positive light, with one being in a flashback where the main character is hiding what they are doing from the police. Also, if you click on a toilet, your character will sit down, strain a bit, and resume what he was doing. There is a small amount of what the ESRB calls \'comic mischief\', people getting hit by objects and such things, though it\'s not a regular occurrence. While these issues are worth noting, it\'s a pretty clean game.
Machinarium is a game that all fans of classic adventure games should really look into. It\'s fun, though a bit short, and is fairly clean, though parents should be warned about the smoking and hiding part, and the \'toilet\' humor. Nevertheless, it\'s a game that, despite it\'s small shortcomings, and an experience worth taking, especially for adventure game lovers. This is the first adventure game I have played and enjoyed in a very long time, and I really enjoyed it because of the well done art, music, and creativity.
Thank you to Larian Studios for sending us a copy to review!
Sequel to the cult hit, Divine Divinity – Divinity 2: The Dragon Knight Saga steps away from its isometric predecessor to offer a different kind of game. Now with the focus on third-person action, Larian Studios set out to correct some of the mistakes with Divinity 2\'s original release, Ego Draconis. With an updated engine, retooled gameplay, and inclusion of the Flames of Vengeance expansion, Divinity 2 sets the bar high. Let\'s see if this RPG is worth the gold.
Divinity 2\'s yarn revolves around the exploits of a Dragon Knight, a new recruit into an order of like-minded folks who have glowing eyes and special combat training. Not only are you a superstar to lowly villagers, but you\'re also targeted early on by the main villain, Damien. Damien, who threatens to kill you at every chance that he gets, fills the archetypical role of the bad guy, both by spouting bits of monologue and looking grumpy. The story itself takes around 30 hours to finish, depending on how many side-objectives you feel like accomplishing. Divinity 2’s story wrapped up in an abrupt fashion, which felt both disappointing and undercooked; the expansion – Flames of Vengeance – alleviates this to some extent, by continuing where the main game left off. Or, you can play the expansion straight from the menu with a new higher-level character. Either way, the extra few hours are worth it.
Along your journey in Rivellon, you\'ll accept quests from townsfolks, bandits, ghosts, and even inanimate objects. Quests range from fetching an item such as a journal, to clearing out an enemy camp, or even sneaking a group of pigs back to their rightful owner. The quests found here have several outcomes depending on which path you choose. Should you slay some guards so the pigs can escape, or leave the pigs where they are to the dismay of their owner? The actions you choose may not evolve on the level of say, the Mass Effect series, but they do have a wide amount of effects that you can see relatively quickly.
When considering how to go about combat, you\'ll have a few options to choose from. One way is with melee combat by utilizing axes, hammers, and swords. Dual-wielding, two-handed weapons, and shields are available as well. For the spell caster classes, you can go barehanded or choose to rely on your backup sword when the mana runs dry. There\'s bows for the ranger class, though I found this to be the least thrilling. Every swing of the sword or arrow shot requires a simple click of the mouse. While this is fine for the warriors, it makes being a ranger pretty underwhelming due to the lack of mobility. Being forced to stand in one spot to fire off arrows doesn\'t work as well as I hoped when it comes to this combat system. Assigning items and skills to your number keys without needing to fumble around in the inventory screen for a potion is here as well.
By completing quests and slaying enemies, you\'ll be rewarded with experience points. After a set amount of points, you\'ll level up. Each level grants you stat points, which go towards increasing the character\'s focus. There are several different stats and passive percentages that alter how a character will perform, so pumping strength for your warrior, or intelligence and spirit for your mage would be the right course of action. Skill points will also be awarded after each level up. These range from passive abilities such as damage increase with certain weapons and mana efficiency when casting spells, to active roles like heals, summons, and fireballs. While I would\'ve liked to see a more diverse array of skills, the ones here, while rather simplistic, get the job done.
About a third way into the main game\'s story, the option of having your own headquarters is made available. This headquarters, or “Battle Tower” as it\'s called in-game, houses multiple NPCs who make the journey less stressful, and add a bit of depth to what would be a rather standard RPG. A necromancer handles mixing and matching of your pet, a summon who can be called into battle to fight along side you. Limbs you find during the game as loot or from quests alter the pet\'s stats and abilities depending on what parts you choose. An enchanter allows you to customize gear by removing bonuses from weaker pieces and slotting them into your better armor and weapons.
An alchemist allows for the crafting of potions, and the skill trainer offers skill redistribution for a price. Some of these processes require ingredients. In a smart move by the developers, you\'ll have three runners: NPCs who automatically fetch these items after a set duration. By paying for better weapons and armor from the NPCs mentioned above, the runners will have higher rates of success in finding that special item you require. The whole Battle Tower concept is pretty neat, not only because it makes tedious tasks easier, but because it adds a sense of accomplishment and of influence that a great hero would normally have.
Not long after the Battle Tower, the ability to transform into a dragon will open up. This is one of the better aspects of Divinity 2 alone. Though it is simplistic to an extent, there\'s plenty of cool factor because, well, you\'re a dragon. While the dragon can be customized to some degree, it\'s largely hands-off, except for the occasional dragon armor piece here or there. The arcade action as the dragon gets tiresome as the game progresses, however.
As neat as all of this sounds, one huge drawback when playing Divinity 2 was the difficulty level. I played on normal difficulty for a large portion of my experience, but I eventually had to bump down to casual from the sheer frustration that the game can throw at a player. Early on as a warrior, enemies could take me down in only a handful of hits, and with poor weapons, I had to trick the AI by hiding behind obstacles so I can slowly regenerate my health. Only a few hours later, with my character around level 12, the game\'s challenge seemed to nose-dive, offering up weak enemies that were dispatched in one to two hits. It\'s a weird aspect of the game that comes off as bipolar. One moment you\'re chugging all the potions you have just to stay alive and the next you\'re enjoying a cakewalk through a dungeon.
The fantastical nature of the world crafted by Larian brings with it the content that readers may find inappropriate. Generic bandits, goblins, and skeletons show up throughout the gameplay experience. Along with them are various demons, summoned beasts, dragons, ghosts, and the undead.
Spells can and will be used by the player, whether for combat or during scripted sequences. The priest class can summon allies to aid in battle, and mages employ different types of explosive spells; enemies, too, can use the same skills and tools in battle. Combat is largely tame, even though violence is shown through the use of bows, bladed weapons, or fire magic. Blood is seen in combat, but nothing over the top.
Dark and decrepit environments like crypts, tombs, dungeons and caves make up the majority of where you\'ll be fighting. One dungeon had an experimentation room with bloodied corpses on tables and sharp tools nearby; another had corpses that were hanged. Some rooms are littered with the bodies of dead adventurers or with skeletal remains. A villain is pieced together with various body parts for the main purpose of serving a powerful necromancer. The pentagram symbol is visible for some spells and in books that require interaction to progress through the story. Spell invocation, mind reading, communication with ghosts for quests, and using a blood altar are present, too.
One quest ends with an adulterous relationship between two characters, and some minor dialogue with townspeople is laden with subtle innuendo. Cleavage is present with many female characters, and some are fairly buxom or wear tight-fitting armor. I haven\'t seen anything in the way of nudity or sexual contact compared to other western RPGs on the market. Swearing is low-key: a few “b-stards” and “d-mns” are sprinkled in the dialogue, but again, nothing out of hand.
With all that said, the fantasy elements that envelop the story are fairly dark through and through; the majority of these cannot be avoided. Please be aware of that if the themes above are not something you want to experience when purchasing a game of this type.
Sound is one of the best aspects of Divinity 2. Character dialogue is mostly well-acted with varying degrees of accents, emotion, and a good amount of humor. I\'ve yet to run into a character that wasn\'t voiced. Even your own character\'s actions have narration, which helps to guide you in the right direction. It was quite refreshing to come from the handheld text-based RPGs I recently played to a game where everything is voiced; it sure added a lot more character to an already interesting array of characters. Several of the musical pieces that accompany new locations are crafted nicely and fit the area\'s theme, but they can be hit or miss. I did hear a few lackluster ones that either sounded out of place or were a tad convoluted to the point of muting the music until I reached a new location.
Dungeons are jam-packed with detail and appear like others have visited the location before. Aged, ruined, or forgotten, these environments feel alive despite housing all matters of beast. There\'s plenty of nice touches along the journey in environments you visit, whether it\'s a cave\'s natural blue crystal giving off a faint glow or a jail cell holding shackles, a journal, and skeletal remains.
One big issue I had with the game\'s graphics was that they were locked at 30 frames per second (FPS). While fine on a console, this made the entire game an eyesore to play, due the choppy nature of rendering and how clunky the combat seemed. I saw that a recent hot fix allowed the game to go higher than 30 FPS. After applying the right settings, it improved the gaming experience greatly by allowing a much more fluid feel, in both combat and exploration. The video I posted with this review has the game configuration at a steady 60 FPS, so if you pick up the PC version, be sure to unlock the game from 30 FPS before starting the story.
When it comes down to it, Divinity 2 is a well-crafted game that doesn\'t exactly transcend the genre. Plenty of heart went into the game and it\'s easy to see that. From the well-written dialogue to the large amount of quests to the nice dose of humor, there\'s plenty to enjoy. The game was, frankly, grating the first three hours or so I played. As time went on, though, I eventually warmed up to it. The world becomes less confined the longer you play, and it feels more expansive by the time you hit places like Sentinel Island and Orobas Fjords, around the eight to ten hour mark.
For hardcore RPG fans yearning for some adventure, this game has it in spades. You\'ll easily sink dozens of hours into this game if you choose to work at it. At $40, it\'s a reasonable deal, especially with the improvements to the core game and the included expansion.
More casual gamers, however, may want to look at other options instead. The slower story progression, difficulty of the game, and lack of hand-holding make this a hard sell to those not used to such staples of the genre.
-- Jonathan "Keero" Harling
Thank you Iceberg Interactive for sending us this game to review!
Global Agenda is a futuristic Massive Multiplayer Online Third Person Shooter. The story is set in the 22nd-century after a severe global disaster. Habitable land is hard to come by and the tyrannical government rules with an iron fist and with an army of mechanical drones. Your goal is to colonize areas and overthrow this government known as the Commonwealth.
When you first log into the game you will have to choose your player class. The four classes are Assault, Medic, Robotic and Recon. The Assault class is your typical heavy weapon and tank role. The indispensable Medic class can heal their teammates with their arsenal of healing weaponry: bursts of health come from grenades and from their trusty beam gun. Robotics classes specialize in technology and setting up force fields, turrets, healing stations, and robot drones. Recon units are equipped with stealth, speed, and various traps and decoys. Their mobility and deadly attacks are not to be under estimated.
Once your class is chosen and your character is customized, the adventure begins. The game starts with you happily swimming in your test tube tank when it gets shot open by some rogue agents trying to free you and other human experiments. They instruct you on how to equip and use your weapons, jetpack, armor, and basic movements. There is a health bar and an energy bar, the latter of which refills automatically over time. Instead of worrying about ammo, the ranged weapons use energy which is gained and depleted quickly. And while melee weapons do not use energy, blocking enemy melee attacks will eat into your energy reserves.