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April 29, 2014

Capsule reviews of games my friend Lara gave me

Out of the goodness of her heart, my friend Lara has given me several computer games over the past few months, sometimes not even in the same months as holidays! I think she gets a lot of doubles out of Humble Bundle deals and the like. Anyway, last time she gave me a whole bunch, but on the condition that I review them on my blog. So here goes:

The Whispered World

Lara warned me that the main character's voice in this was "exceptionally annoying", but even that was putting it nicely. Luckily, there's an option to turn it off, but the game also has annoying graphics. I had to stop after 10 minutes or so, and it takes a lot for me to give up on a point-and-click adventure. Not even going to link to this one's homepage.

The Dream Machine

This episodic point-and-click adventure is wonderful! It's done in a claymation style and has a simple, creepy story that has you fading in and out of dreams to solve puzzles. The copy Lara gave me had the first three chapters included, which was a solid three hours of immersive gameplay, though there is now a fourth chapter available. The whole thing reminded me of The Neverhood, in the best way possible. The puzzles aren't Myst-hard but in Chapter 3 you're required to come up with some very creative solutions.

And Yet It Moves

I can only play this disorienting platformer for about twenty minutes at a time, even though it's really fun. You're given the ability to rotate the world around your character, which also changes the direction of gravity, and thus you do as much falling as you do walking. Looks great with its torn-scrap-paper style, and all the sound effects are done vocally and fun to beat-box along to. Nice to pick up and play but it is exhausting. All the rotating, not the beat-boxing.

Dear Esther

This game. A first-person shooter without the guns; an RPG without strategy. It's more like an epistolary novel, but re-imagined on the Source engine.

When the game opens, you find yourself on the docks of an island in front of a run-down lighthouse, listening to an unidentified narrator reading a letter. There is only one speed of movement — walking — and all other actions are done for you, such as your flashlight coming on when you walk into a dark room, etc. Just relax, walk around the island and listen to the story. While it starts out dreary and a little unsettling, you eventually get to explore some gorgeous caves, and then later, when you get out into full moonlight... almost TOO beautiful. A couple of times, I was like, "Come on! A group of candles? Right there, on the ledge over the bay? Uhhhhhh." They really hammer it home. Luckily you can take screenshots, although they don't do the experience justice.

The letter-reader tells stories of the island and the people who once lived there, and as I discovered all the places he mentions, I found myself wondering, "Where is this going?" It's not easy to tell, even when the letter-reader becomes more frenzied and it's clear the game is wrapping up. But then. The ending. They nail it!

Thanks Lara.

February 8, 2014

Bird-related games to play on your phone this weekend

The hot new app Flappy Bird is taking the phone-having world by storm! You navigate a bird through a series of pipes by tapping on the screen, which flaps the bird's wings. People everywhere are praising the game for its simplicity and its difficulty — can you get a score in the double digits? It's easy to get frustrated when a single mistake ends the game. In order to succeed, your gameplay must be perfect.

It's an addictive game, but it's not a good game.* It doesn't increase in difficulty as you play, so it's just a test of endurance on the same skill. The physics are also pretty terrible — a single flap of the wings will lift the bird the same amount regardless of how fast it's falling, which ignores momentum. Once you get used to this mechanic, the game becomes easy. I played for about a half hour and earned a high score of 74, which isn't terrible. But it just made me want to play something better.

In the 90's when our family had a Mac Powerbook, I spent a lot of time playing a game called Glypha. It was a clone of the 1982 arcade Joust, where you ride an ostrich and duel with an increasing number of flying opponents. The wing-flapping mechanic is the same, but even in 1995, the gameplay was smoother and physics more realistic than Flappy Bird. Luckily, Glypha got ported to iOS and it's a free download! I just played it for far too long and it's still fantastic. I can't believe the game is 19 years old.

So, if you're going to spend your time on a bird-themed game this weekend, now you've got two.

* Do NOT try to argue that a game that's addictive is automatically good because it's accomplishing what it's supposed to. Slot machines are addictive but they're not good games.

Posted in: Gaming

October 23, 2013

Deer Hunter 2014 is Appalling, More Than Expected

A few months ago I saw Deer Hunter 2014 available for free on the App Store, so I downloaded it, remembering - and stay with me here - a good experience I had one time with a Deer Hunter game, back in the 90's. That was Deer Hunter 2, and most of the game was just walking around in a snowy forest, looking for deer. It was relaxing! You could set up tree stands and spritz urine around to lure in animals! I did see a deer once, and shot at it, and tracked its hoofprints through the snow. I think I had to stop playing before I ever found the deer, but I still have fond memories of that day.

So why not see what Deer Hunter 2014, using next year's technology, could do?

I played it and it is terrible.

Shockingly, disgustingly bad. My days of forest hiking are over - you can't walk. You stand there and the animal is there and you shoot it. It's not even hard. If not standing right there, the deer are running right past you in great streams, stupidly out in the open in straight lines, and you can just pick them off. I counted no fewer than 27 deer in one 90-second round. But you can only shoot three because that's how many you need to win the level.

The animals don't react to gunshots either - no scattering, or whatever actual animals do when they're scared. (edit: they do in higher levels, but not enough to make it actually difficult)

"Lung Shot!"

You get an extra five in-game dollars for a Lung Shot. Sometimes, when you've pulled the trigger and the game knows you've killed the animal, it'll go into Bullet Time mode and the camera will follow the bullet in slow motion to its target. The impact is an explosion of blood, and at first glance it looks like the designers put a lot of effort into the animals-dying physics, but as you progress you see that they all fall down and die the exact same way. A few levels in, you're told about the Infrared Sight, which will help with your accuracy (but has limited battery life). While in use, it lights up the animal's organs most useful to you as its murderer - bright lumps for the lungs, the beating heart and the brain.

You can also use Hollow Points ("Deal Double Damage!") and drink sports drinks. The sports drinks slow down time. This is useful on Timber Wolf levels, where wolves run at you as you shoot at them - the first challenge in the game. Even if you don't want to use your power-ups, the game automatically goes into slow motion when the wolf is jumping at you anyway, and gives you x-ray vision into its body so you can hit the brain or the heart. If you get killed by a wolf, you get a "Hunt Failed" but still earn $30 for some reason.

I played with giddy but nervous hesitation. They were trying to make me comfortable, and I knew they would try to sell me something soon. It was all too easy. Grinding out in-game money like this, something was bound to show up. Indeed, there is a Power Bar at the top of the menu console, which decreases whenever you go on a hunt. When it gets to the bottom, you can't play anymore, and you have to wait ten minutes to regenerate another unit of power. OR, you can buy more power with gold bars, which you sometimes receive for "levelling up". If you don't have enough gold, you can definitely buy some.

Gold is used to buy better guns (more rifle stability!), upgrades for your guns (full-chrome interior barrel, mmm), and a variety of other things that make killing the animals easier. You can also buy passes to play online in "Club Hunts," which are just like the regular game except your kills are counted toward a worldwide total of slaughtered animals. I got to play a few of them before buying a pass, so 8 of those hundreds of thousands of kills are mine.

Let me say this. If you are putting money into this game, you are an idiot. Not only are you financially admitting that you like this worthless game, you're powerless to resist the give-you-something-then-take-it-away model of free-to-play gaming. After a bit more playing (for review purposes) I was able to unlock the second geographical area, allowing me to kill hyenas and cheetahs in Africa. Shortly after it becomes impossible to progress without putting money into it - the hides of the animals thicken as the levels ascend, and that high-powered rifle that was perfectly capable of shooting a ram through the skull can no longer bring an animal down with a single shot. This makes it particularly hard to win the "Kill 3 black bears with a heart shot" [sic] level.

What happened to Deer Hunter? In no way does this feel like hunting. I should say at this point I've never hunted anything, but I'm fairly positive it isn't this insultingly easy. How did you find these animals? The game glosses over this detail. This is not for hunters. This... this is for people who genuinely enjoy watching animals dying in slow motion. It also exists, I think, to sell guns. You play the game, you shoot some animals, hear some guitar riffs, and then go out and buy that shotgun you've always wanted, with the full-chrome interior barrel.

So to summarize: awful game, for stupid people.

But, I have to admit, it is kind of fun to shoot ducks out of the air. They explode in feathers!