Monday, 3 November 2014

Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers – 20th Anniversary Edition Review

When Jane Jensen created the first Gabriel Knight game back in 1993, it was rather unique. Whereas most point and click games of the time were comedies or fantasy adventures, Sierra took a chance with Sins of the Fathers, a horror thriller, grounded thoroughly in the real world. Jensen offered up a gritty, historically-rich tale, which captured the imagination of gamers and later spawned two sequels.
It is no surprise then, that the game has received a high definition makeover. The current trend in adventure gaming seems to be for re-releasing and re-mastering genre classics, making them available both to long-time fans and to a whole new audience. This time thankfully, the original creative forces behind the game are behind the new version too, so at least the project was in good hands.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Star Quest 2: United Galaxies Preview

Towards the end of 1995, a small start-up video game developer named Virtual Adventures produced the space combat title Star Quest I in the 27th century. The game was self-published, entirely developed off the own backs of the team and sold directly too. The title garnered them quite a level of fame with hardcore PC gamers and led to the company signing a one-game publishing deal with Infogrames. Despite releasing another game named Stellar Mercenaries in 1997, Star Quest 2 was the game that Virtual Adventures really wanted to make.

So in 1998, production began on the sequel - which had ambitious plans to expand the game from a simple 3D space shooter, into a complex real-time strategy and space combat hybrid. They even had a full demo produced and running by 1999, but a lack of funding and no publishing deal unfortunately meant that the game had to be put into an indefinite hold - and sadly Virtual Adventures moved away from directly developing games and into the consultancy arena.

But as well all now know, the PC gaming environment has changed dramatically, and with crowd-funding websites like Kickstarter, small developers and individuals can now showcase their ideas and products directly to the fans that would be buying their games. This has led to Virtual Adventures finally being able to revive their hybrid game idea and Star Quest 2 has once again had new life breathed into it.

The main selling point of the title is that not only will it be a fully-realised real-time strategy game, where warring alien races from across the galaxy compete to conquer worlds, but also a direct combat game. Players will be able to build their armies and manage resources, directing battles from above as a Commander, but then also jump into the shoes of a ground troop or space pilot and get down and dirty in the action of a dogfight.

Part of the story behind the title is that the warring factions have tried to develop new ways of fighting, and new technology, in order to gain an edge over their enemies. This has led the most advanced races to eschew normal manned space ships and turrets, and to have entire armies of robotic drones and computer-controlled ships, all directed by one Commander in the Mothership. This has meant that as much as the actual battles themselves being important, the capturing of resources and manufacturing of technology has become just as important. Those who control the production and supply of war crafts, control the war.

So the foundations for a strong army in Star Quest 2 are built upon resource management and planning. This if, of course, very much in the mould of many popular real-time strategy titles. In Command & Conquer, for example, armies always relied on the successful harvesting of Tiberium, and here is no different. But what is different is how to fight when the player actually decides to go into war - which is very much their own path to choose, with the choice left to the player of what Solar Systems to explore and what strategy to employ to conquer each of them.

When you enter the battlefield as it were, you begin with an overview of the conflict, and take on the role of a Fleet Commander. Here you can mobilise units and give out orders - strategising and maneuvering your troops. This is very much as you would expect from an RTS. The game gets really different however when you realise that after sending out troops, you can then warp directly into the cockpit of one of the many warships at your disposal (ranging from four up to twenty-five, depending on the mission), or into a gunner who is trying to shoot down enemy ships from his gun emplacement.

You can actually get down onto the battlefield yourself and influence the direction of the battle, rather than simply sending out your troops and waiting to see how well they fare. This is an added dimension to the RTS formula, and lets gamers have a lot more input and say into how a battle will play out. No longer will you have to curse poor AI for not flying your ships well enough, as you can fly them yourself. And if you think your gunner isn't accurate enough, you can become him and show everyone how it should be done.

The game isn't only battles either. There are a variety of ground-based missions to take on, such as scavenging for resources and even racing against enemies and friends, to see who has the fastest fleet. Add to that the fact that there will be online multiplayer modes - which are very much focused on co-operative play, where one user could be a commander and others be ground troops - and there is a lot that will excite fans of the genre in Star Quest 2.

The game may not boast the stunning visuals of a Starcraft title, or the big-name actors that have peppered recent Command & Conquer games, but Star Quest 2 is looking to produce a new breed of real-time strategy game, where hands-on action is placed at the forefront. Not only that, but player choice is placed on a pedestal and gamers will really be able to carve out their own specific experience, based on their playing style and preferences. It may have taken almost a decade and a half to see the light of day, but Star Quest 2 still has plenty of fresh ideas.

If you wish to support the Star Quest 2 Kickstarter please click hereOn their official Kickstarter appeal page, the developers have posted both a video of the original demo from 1999, and some new and exciting footage from the updated version of the game. These videos can be found below:

New footage:

1999 Demo footage:

Friday, 6 December 2013

Scribblenauts Unlimited Review

When the first Scribblenauts title launched in 2009, it caused a stir in the gaming industry as it was unlike anything else on the market. The premise of the game was simple – the gamer was presented with a series of short levels, each of which are made up of relatively straightforward puzzles. The twist was that in order to solve those puzzles, you couldn’t just use items you found in-game, you had to create them yourself. Armed with your Nintendo DS stylus and a notepad in-game, you could write the name of an object which would then be created for you to use on-screen.
For instance, there might be a cat stuck up a tree – but how do you get it down? You could write the word “ladder”, and a ladder would appear for you to climb and save the cat. Or you might prefer to write “axe”, and cut down the tree. Further still, a jetpack would help you reach the cat even quicker. There were huge possibilities, although the game could only understand fairly simple objects and names. The concept evolved with Super Scribblenauts and a later Remix version, which added many more words to the in-game library, as well as the ability to add tags and adjectives to the words. Now you could use your stylus to create a blue house, or an angry Emu, for example.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Zoo Tycoon Review

It may not be the most glamorous title, but Zoo Tycoon is one of the few platform-exclusive games available on either next-generation console at launch. The game does itself no favours by appearing on the surface to be a strange hybrid between Frontier’s previous Xbox effort, Kinectimals, and another Children’s Kinect title, Kinect Disneyland Adventures. These comparisons certainly won’t endear Zoo Tycoon to many hardcore gamers or long-standing fans of the series, but this isn’t simply a motion-controlled kids game.
The story goes that Frontier were working on a new version of your common or garden Zoo Tycoon several years ago, making use of some ultra-realistic animal models. It was then that Microsoft asked them to put that on hold in order to work on Kinectimals, using their already-built animals and animations for the Kinect game. Years later, Frontier finally had the chance to build the game that they wanted, combining elements of their original vision and the interactivity of Kinectimals.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Morphopolis Review

New point and click puzzle game Morphopolis already comes with a lot of critical acclaim behind it. Before its release it has already won a Design Award from the Association of Illustrators, as well as being part of the special selection at Rezzed. Arriving with such high praise, gamers should expect big things from this hidden object title from first-time developers Micro Macro.
Morphopolis is concerned with an Aphid who wishes to re-unite with its lost companion – but in practice, there is no exposition or set-up to explain this. When playing, you are thrown straight into the first scene and in no way is any sort of narrative conveyed. This is disappointing, as the developers have mooted the title as being story-driven, but it most certainly isn’t. The only way I knew about the fact that there was even a narrative at all was from reading the developer’s blurb.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Deadfall Adventures Review

Embarking upon an expedition in the hopes of finding that one big pay-off is a romantic idea. Movies have long mined this genre, and video games too are well aware of its appeal, with Tomb Raider and Uncharted being obvious examples. It is Uncharted which is the clear influence behind Deadfall Adventures. Where Uncharted followed Nathan Drake, ancestor of explorer Sir Francis Drake, Deadfall Adventures follows a very similar pattern. Gamers this time step into the shoes of James Lee Quatermain, Grandson of the fictional original tomb raider, Alan Quatermain. James is a reluctant hero – a mercenary treasure hunter who shies away from the legacy of his Grandfather.
That is until Jennifer Goodwin – an agent of the U.S. Government – asks for his help in obtaining a series of artefacts that could help protect the free world, and which must be kept away from the villains of the piece, the Nazis. In true Indiana Jones style, the game plays off  Hitler’s real-life obsession with supernatural artefacts. So far, the story is very generic – being as hackneyed and unoriginal as you could imagine. This isn’t helped by uninspired dialogue that is delivered in a pretty lacklustre way. The story falls flat through this bad execution, and it certainly won’t grip you like the movies and books it is inspired by.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Pocket Titans Review

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to combine a turn-based Role-Playing game with the type a sliding-tile puzzle game, Pocket Titans is the answer. A strange hybrid of puzzle game and RPG, Pocket Titans adds an extra dimension to what you stereotypically expect from a swords and sorcery adventure.
You control a group of Titans – trainee heroes – as they set out on their first quests and learn how to best use their individual talents. Each of the eight Titans in the game is a unique class, with individual skills and abilities that much be learned and mastered in order to successfully complete levels. You begin with only the Mage and Warrior, with the Mage having a strong ranged attack and weak close combat, and the Warrior possessing great Melee strength. As you go forth on your quest to help the King of the land, you will encounter friends and foes, and unlock more Titans for your team.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Against The Grain - Or Why I don't Like Pokemon

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve tried to like Pokémon, I really have. When the craze first hit our Western shores in the late nineties, it caused a huge commotion and was an instant hit. You couldn’t avoid Pokémon, be it the games, the trading cards, the cartoon series, or the merchandise. You could hear young children in town spouting a list of near-incomprehensible words; names of the seemingly endless list of pocket monsters featured in the series.
I, of course, couldn’t escape it, being a gamer and at school. I watched the television show and was introduced to the game on a friend’s Gameboy Colour. The characters and ideas were creative and interesting, but nothing about the concept excited me – remember, when I watched the show I was a schoolboy, and this was the biggest school-yard craze of the time. However, I just couldn’t get into the cartoon series without the knowledge of the game many of my friends had, and I didn’t take to the game – possibly due to my disdain for turn-based combat (not to say I hate all turn-based games, I love the Persona series, but find the mechanic slows down action scenes and acts as a barrier to exciting gameplay).

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Interview with Child Of Light Lead Writer Jefferey Yohalem

At GDC Europe, Far Cry 3’s creative director Patrick Plourde let slip that he and his
Far Cry partner and lead writer Jeffrey Yohalem were working on a brand new IP called Child of Light. Inspired by J-RPGs and built using the UbiArt framework, the game looks incredibly promising. At Ubisoft’s Digital Day, we not only got some hands-on time with the game, but also had a chat with writer Yohalem.

Click here to read the full interview.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Child Of Light Preview

One of the nicest surprises to arise from the European Game Developers Conference this year was that of the new game coming from the lead designer and lead writer of Far Cry 3. Indeed, the new title that Patrick Plourde and Jeffrey Yohalem have been working on came as a somewhat big shift in direction after last year’s jungle-based shooter.
Child of Light was pitched as an interactive poem, and it really does seem just that. The whole game plays out in rhyme, with all of the characters who inhabit the game world speaking in a strangely poetic manner. If that wasn’t an interesting enough starting point, the game is also somewhat of an homage to Japanese Role-Playing Games, and the early Final Fantasy titles in particular. And all of that is wrapped up in a lovely UbiArt-designed package.