Thursday, 16 December 2010

Jane Jensen fans - Gray Matter Demo now on XBOX Live

A demo for the long-anticipated new Adventure Game from Jane Jensen - Creator of the Gabriel Knight series of games - has been released on XBOX Live today for your downloading pleasure.
The game is finally due for release on February 25th 2011, after years in production, and you can now take the chance to sample the title before release day.

The PC version is available via German websites already, but will not be fully released in the rest of the world until next year. For details of the demo, click here.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010 - Top 10 Adventure Games

Head over to to check out my top-ten list of classic Adventure Games that I think everyone should play. They are not necessarily all the greatest examples of their kind - but come with my highest recommendation.
If you haven't played any of the games on this list - track them down now as you owe it to yourself to experience the excellent storytelling and game worlds created by them all. They will all make you remember why you love Adventure Games, or help you fall in love with the genre.

Check out the full run-down here.

Find out about the latest Casual Adventure Games - Secrets and mysteries in a batch of enjoyable lite-adventures

Another month, another batch of casual adventure games come under scrutiny at
I am still somewhat wary of these games, as they can be very hit or miss - but Salem Secrets proved to be very atmospheric and creepy, and worth checking out - at least for the free trial. All of these games will give you 60 minutes play time for free, which is more than enough time to work out if they are to your taste and worth paying for or not.

Take the plunge, read the round-up and try a casual adventure today!

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Going Back in Time - Telltale Games Trailer

Telltale Games have just released a new trailer that gives us a taste of what to expect when the episodic Back to the Future adventure game series kicks off sometime this month. The series will feature five parts, with the first episode being entitled "It's about time". Further episodes will follow in February and monthly thereafter.

The game follows Marty McFly and Doctor Emmett Brown, and Christopher Lloyd will be reprising his role by voicing Doc for the series. Marty will be voiced by a voiceover artist, but judging by this trailer, he has nailed it.

Check back at Telltale Games for the full release later this month!

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

A Curious Tale indeed - Clover

If you like your retro adventure games with added lite-platforming elements, docheck out my review of Clover: A Curious Tale. An obvious homage to classic titles like the Dizzy and the Yolkfolk series of games, Clover is thoroughly old-school and proud of it - but boasts an artistic flair rarely seen in such low-budget releases. Music and graphics are a joy, but the gameplay is rooted in the 1980's - this is definitely a title that classic Adventurers will appreciate, but it maintains many of the foibles and flaws that games of this genre have always carried.

Check out my review at here.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Trust no-one in the dark - experiencing Alan Wake

I recently completed a play through of Alan Wake on the Xbox 360. Whilst not an adventure game, the game is a psychological mystery with a strong plot and great atmosphere. I was drawn to it by its similarities to Twin Peaks and the work of David Lynch in general.

Set in the town of Bright Falls, the game sees our eponymous protagonist escaping to the wilderness with his wife Alice, in an attempt to overcome his writer's block. A professional novelist, Alan causes a stir as he arrives in town as a celebrity. But the warm welcome doesn't last long and soon Alice disappears and Alan is beset by the powers of darkness. Using light as our only defence, the player guides Alan through the backwoods in an effort to find out what is really going on, and in turn, to save his wife.

The bulk of the game is played out like a survival-horror game, very much in the same style as Resident Evil, with item management an important part to your survival. You find yourself using light to defuse the defensive powers of the darkness, and regular weapons to finish off your enemies. Flares, flash grenades and flashlights are your best friends. To be perfectly honest, I didn't find the combat particularly satisfying. The use of light is clever, but these encounters became far too repetitive and almost every enemy can be dispatched in more or less the same manner. I found myself thinking that - coming from an adventure gaming background - I would have found the game far more rewarding had it been executed in a Fahrenheit / Heavy rain manner, with contextual attacks and quick time events replacing full-on action game play. This would have allowed me to focus even more on the real gem of the piece - the plot and setting.

What really sucked me into the game and made me continue playing - even though I'm not good at playing scary games, and despite my qualms with the combat - was the strong game world that was created. The storyline starts off simple, but different layers are revealed as you play through further. Collecting hidden manuscript pages and watching hidden television sets are among the methods used to expand the players knowledge of events. A deep back story begins to reveal itself and we learn of the sinister history hidden beneath the lake at Bright Falls.

The game succeeds in creating a thoroughly unnerving atmosphere, where the sense of impending danger is always just around the corner - but it is often played out with subtlety. The little strange things are often the most disturbing. I think a lot of adventure games could learn from the sense of place and mood the game generates. Lighting and sound effects were particularly effective in making everything seem unsettling - whether it was innocent or not. The soundtrack was also very well crafted. A mixture of classic and current artists perfectly complimented the action, and Roy Orbison's In Dreams for instance made me feel exactly like I was inside a David Lynch film.

The cast of the title are also well-developed. With Alan and his manager Barry as the two central figures. Barry is the comedy foil to the agitated and strung-out Alan. The two make a great partnership and this relationship succeeds in lightening the tone when things begin to get too unpleasant - and never strays into being too ridiculous when measured against the serious tone of the rest of the game. Many conventional horror stereotypes are used to great success - the fact that a lot of events that occur can be predicted did not spoil the experience for me, I enjoyed recognising these and watching events unfold. Along with references to the Twilight Zone, it was another factor which made the game feel like a film or TV mini-series - as it is also presented in episodic chunks, complete with flashback intros and ending music.

I don't think a lot of adventure fans will be taken with the charms of Alan Wake. Its action sequences can get frustrating and samey, but the universe the game invented made me keep going back for more, wanting to find out the truth - much like a good mystery adventure. Get past the niggles of combat and the atmosphere is thoroughly rewarding and the tale woven will keep you hooked.

Of course, like any good horror film, the cliffhanger ending begs for a sequel. I hope the sales of the first game  convince Microsoft to fund the next instalment.

Alan Wake is out now on Xbox 360 and two DLC chapters have also been released over Xbox Live: The Signal and The Writer.

Psychonauts sequel planned? It's possible...

Whilst not necessarily Adventure Gaming news, Monkey Island, Full Throttle and Grim Fandango developer Tim Schafer - head honcho of Double Fine games - has come out and stated that he would like to make a sequel to critically acclaimed, but low-selling platform-adventure game Psychonauts.

In an interview with UK gaming magazine, PSM3, Schafer was questioned over the chances of a sequel to Psychonauts for release as a downloadable title, over the PlayStation Network, for example. He responded that "I'm ready to do it. I'd love to do it. It's really a question of getting a publisher who's interested in doing it."

"Over the years it's gotten into the hands of a lot of people, through being two dollars on Steam for a while, and being pirated.
"So it's gotten out there. So if all these people were going to buy the sequel it would be a big hit," added Schafer.

Psychonauts followed Psychonaut in-training Raz, at Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp - where he uncovered a sinister plot to use the brains of the summer camp attendees to man weapons of war. This would involve some ingenious levels that took inspiration from such varied sources as; Godzilla, Mexican painting and the board game Risk!
As I have previously reported, Monkey Island creator Ron Gilbert has joined Schafer's studio - reuniting the ex-Lucasarts employees. They are working on an as-yet unconfirmed new title.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Find out about the latest Casual Adventure Games - they are better than you might think!

I have always been sceptical about "Casual" adventure games - especially hidden-object games. However, as part of an article for, myself - along with a team of writers, will be publishing a monthly article exploring what is available in the genre. This has led me to play some games I would never usually consider and I have to say, they are pleasantly surprising. I enjoyed both games I played and found them to be of a higher standard than I expected and they really held my interest, being well-paced and exciting.

Please click here to read the full article. The games I played were Reincarnations: Uncover the Past and Escape from Frankenstein's Castle.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Eurogamer Expo - Adventure Gaming hands-on impressions

Over the weekend of the 1st-3rd of October, I attended the Eurogamer Expo at Earl's Court in London. A huge selection of forthcoming and soon to be released games were on show, and that happened to include a few adventure games. I got some hands-on time with these adventuring titles, so check below to read my impressions for each title:

Heavy Rain: Move Edition.

If you read my blog regularly, you probably know I was quite impressed with Heavy Rain - and while it may not have been quite the revolutionary title it was touted to be - it is certainly one of the best adventure games released in recent memory.

With the advent of the PlayStation 3 MOVE control system, David Cage and Quantic Dream took the controversial (and frankly irritating) decision to cancel all future DLC chapters for Heavy Rain, in favour of putting together a MOVE enabled, motion-controlled version of the game. I believe that decision short-changes all of the fans who bought the game, having been promised several new chapters of content. However, that decision aside, here is what I thought after playing through two scenes with motion control. The two scenes I played through were both from early in the game. Firstly, Scott Shelby visiting the apartment of Lauren Winter, culminating in a fight scene. And secondly, in the apartment of Madison Paige - where she is attacked by masked assailants.

Both of these scenes contain a good mix of casual, free exploring and interaction, and of intense, fast-paced action sequences. So these were good examples to show of the full range of MOVE abilities. Now whilst I did find that some of the motions required were too sensitive, or required too broad a range of motion - I have been told that full calibration of the system and sensitivity adjustment is available - which should eliminate these factors. That said, I think the addition of motion control to the game is very well implemented. It feels natural that the actions - previously carried out with the analog sticks - is now transferred to gestures. The original controls were always based around simulated gestures anyway, so the new system fits perfectly into the game experience. It actually felt more engrossing, and more intuitive. For example, repeatedly pressing X to escape an assailant means nothing, whereas shaking your arms to try and free yourself makes sense with the experience we might have in reality. These factors make the game a better overall package - and is probably closer to what was intended when the game was first pitched.

The only really issue I had with the modified game was the conversation system. Gone are the floaty, nervous, circling conversation options - that slowly fade the longer you take - which used to give the feel of added pressure and tension. Now, conversations and thoughts are much more static, as the selection system involves pointing at the option you want to choose before clicking it. This does minimise the pressure which used to be created in these situations, and I feel is a real minus in terms of atmosphere.

Professor Layton & the Lost Future.

There is not a lot that I can say about this wildly popular adventure series. Most people will know about the adventures of the Professor and his sidekick Luke - and many will have enjoyed his lite-adventures, filled with puzzles and brainteasers.

It's safe to say that this latest outing offers much more of the same, albeit with a little more polish. Cutscene animations for example are more plentiful, and of a higher standard than previously - with very amusing voiceover work through. If you managed to watch the Anime: Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva, you will know what to expect as the cutscenes are of a really similar quality.

In terms of gameplay, there are some sections which implement a new sleuth-like system, where you can navigate a room - turning to view all sides of the room, looking for clues. This all still works very much in the same touch-screen way as the regular navigation however, and it all feels very familiar. Puzzles are harder in general I thought, but this may have just been a reflection of what stage of the game I was playing through. Overall the title seems like only a small step forward, but surely a hit with fans of the franchise.

Last Window: The Secret of Cape West.

Finally, the last adventure game on show was the sequel to 2007 sleeper hit Hotel Dusk, from developer Cing. Unfortunately, it seems like this may well be the final game from Cing, as the company filed for bankruptcy following the Japanese release of the game.

Like Professor Layton, this game carries on in an almost identical way to its predecessor, in that the control system and gameplay is very much the same. There is the addition of an IGNORE feature, which allows the player to ignore lines of questioning they feel will not be useful for the case - at the risk of missing vital information which could lead to an early game over - so it is a gamble, knowing when to use the feature and when not to. Additionally, an in-game novel feature has been added, where - after completing a chapter of playthrough - you can read a chapter of the Last Window novel, which both complements and expands upon what you have already learnt in the game, and the outcomes of the novel are influenced directly by your in-game decision-making.

These new features are, however, quite minor on the face of it all, with the game feeling very similar to the prequel. An issue I found with the first game, that still remains is the annoying length of some of the conversations. Compare this to another game, which many have criticised for being conversation heavy - Broken Sword. Now I never found conversations an issue in Broken Sword. They were always entertaining and useful for story progression. Other critics hated their length though. In Last Window, the conversations can last for what seems a lifetime though! I think the main problem is they contain a lot of useless information which doesn't push the story forward and makes them drag. This is a real issue with pacing, and everytime I discovered a new character, I was reluctant to speak with them as I felt it would go on too long and I wanted to be exploring more. That said - the interrogation system is still great, and there is a lot of fun to be had here. Cing could have done with just leaving out some of the extraneous lines of dialogue, that fall between the useful ones.

So, there wasn't a lot of adventure game representation at the Eurogamer Expo - but some promising signs, as a console-heavy show could carry a few heavyweight adventure titles that have done well in the charts. Here is hoping to even more next year.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

The Adventures of Willy Beamish - childhood was never THIS interesting...

In 1990, Sierra and Dynamix released quirky adventure game The Adventures of Willy BeamishPlaying as young Willy Beamish - whose main preoccupations are playing computer games, skateboarding and looking after his pet frog - you are pulled into a web of deceit that threatens to destroy the town of Frumpton, and only Willy can save the day. Frog jump contests, Ninjas and a Vampire Babysitter make this anything but your average family adventure.

Never played this classic oddball comedy? Or loved the game and want to re--live it? Click here to read my review at

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Tim and Ron strike back - Adventure gaming dream team back together.

In a piece of news which is bound to set the minds of adventure gaming fans racing, Tim Schafer and Ron Gilbert have announced that they are working together on games at Double Fine Studios. Double Fine is currently working on four games for publisher THQ, with Costume Quest first up on the release slate. Details on the other three games are still yet to be announced, and the new Ron Gilbert project is going to be added to this list.

Gilbert and Schafer worked together on the first two Monkey Island games, as well as working on Day of the Tentacle as a team for some time before the departure of Gilbert from Lucasarts. Their most recent releases have been Deathspank and Brutal Legend respectively, and they also both provided commentary - along with Dave Grossman - for the Monkey Island 2 Special Edition.

In a related note, Gilbert has said that he thinks there is some life in adventure games, and the download success of the Monkey Island Special Editions, for example, shows promise that the genre could make a comeback - but he is not making any suggestions that his upcoming project will be an adventure title.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

When the real world begins to look like a Video Game...

A quick look at the new Arthur Conan Doyle adaptation from the BBC.

Watching the recent BBC adaptation of the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, updated to modern London and named simply “Sherlock”, I noticed some similarities between the presentation of information in this new drama, and that in computer games.

I have already compared Quantic Dream’s PlayStation 3 blockbuster Heavy Rain with old-school adventure games. Now I find myself looking at the television screen and thinking that computer games must be entering the subconscious of society more than ever. As Sherlock Holmes checks a body for signs of life, certain words flash up on screen and float incongruously around his head – a la Heavy Rain. Later, Dr Watson receives a text message. Rather than show us the phone, or have a character read it out – the text appears on-screen – just like it would it a traditional point and click game.

Not major points alone, but together they form an aesthetic that is very heavy influenced by video games. In fact, much of the investigation process or deduction is handled silently, with the facts being presented purely in text as the scene is searched. This kind of direct presentation, on-screen labelling – speaks to a generation accustomed to discovering facts and acquiring information from a computer screen. Listening to a long conversation about the facts of the death would be the obvious way to present this data, however having it appear on-screen, hovering in the ether, makes it more direct and accessible. You could get the pertinent facts without even turning on the volume. For me, this harks back to an age when games WERE silent. Sound cards were expensive and rare. Information needed to be displayed on-screen, or not at all. When done successfully, this would be direct and informative. When done badly, it would be the equivalent of the long, drawn-out conversation.

Perhaps presentation such as this speaks more to a society that won’t listen, that don’t want to pay attention. They want the basics and they want it now, forgoing any extraneous details. Conversely, it could be being used as a method to ensure viewers pay greater attention to the show. I know a lot of people who say they rarely make the time to sit down and watch a regular show. Television acts more as a background noise to other activities such as searching the internet. By putting some of the story information across in the programme by text only, the viewer is forced to engage with the images, rather than just to sit back and listen, whilst their attention may be elsewhere. Without fully engaging and staying glued to the image, important information which is left unspoken would be missed by those watching.

I like to think though, that it is simply a case of making use of different formats for conveying information. Why not integrate different storytelling methods? Games have been claiming film-like qualities for years – shouldn’t films borrow back from games? Yes – if done correctly. We see in the film of Doom, for example, with its’ first-person shooter sequence, where the camera acts as the eyes of our hero, to an underwhelming effect  – a gimmick for the sake of a gimmick doesn’t work. Sometimes the best films are the ones that don’t try to be like a game.

Where the process compliments the art, then we have a useful and logical fit. If, when Holmes is brawling with a cultist, we switched to seeing the world from the point of view of Sherlock, and energy bars appeared at the top of the screen, I'd more likely than not switch the channel. Sometimes though, the viewer doesn’t need Holmes to explain that he found red lipstick on the banker’s collar – an on-screen label simply helps to streamline the process and it helps the fast-pace of this modern adaptation stay on track.

It is rather good after all, whether it really takes any influence from Video Games or not.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Glass Rose - Japanese murder-mystery insanity, or innovative, immersive, overlooked masterpiece?

In 2004 Capcom published a Japanese oddity on the PlayStation 2 in Europe - Glass Rose. Never released in America, the game is often overlooked and forgotten. Developed by Cing (now famous for the DS Adventure games Another Code and Hotel Dusk), the game has garnered a cult following however, but is this praise justified for a game that could be used as the very definition of convoluted.

Read on, and judge for yourself - click the link to read my review at

Monday, 28 June 2010

King's Quest to return to the Throne

In what has been a dramatic U-turn, Activision - who in February hit fan developers Phoenix Online Studios with a Cease and Desist order on their fan sequel in the King's Quest series: The Silver Lining - has now reversed their decision, and are allowing the developers to release the game. An agreement has been reached to allow the game to be released as an episodic series, which will begin next month. This is the second time the Phoenix has figuratively risen from the ashes, as the game was first called to cease development by Vivendi in 2005.

In The Silver Lining, King Graham rides back out into an adventure to save his children, Alexander and Rosella, from the effects of a mysterious curse.We have been promised many familiar characters and locations from the King's Quest series, but the game is intended so that it can be played by those unfamiliar with the history of the series.

Episode 1: What is Decreed Must Be can be downloaded for free from the official website on July 10th.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Discs? Where we're going we don't need... discs.

Following the news yesterday that Telltale Games are working on an episodic adventure series centered on the Jurassic Park universe, the same company has announced that as part of the same partnership, they will also be bringing out a downloadable season of Back to the Future adventure games.

Dan Conners, CEO of Telltale Games said, “Our partnership with Universal is an exciting next step in our continued growth as a mass-market games publisher and developer.” And for both games they plan to, ” leverage Telltale’s expertise in story-telling and game design to deliver on the unique elements of each series, with our goal being to create compelling cinematic adventures paying homage to each franchise.”

Back to the Future games have been a pretty awful collection so far, with the best of the bunch being the Japanese-only release, Super Back to the Future II, which saw the player Hoverboard their way through cartoon-stylised recreations of locations from the second movie. But there has been no attempt to make the series into adventure games - until now!

Back to the Future is due to arrive on multiple platforms this winter, with Jurassic Park coming sometime shortly after.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Jurassic Park - The Graphic Adventure?

In a very surprising piece of news, Adventure Gamers may soon be able to take control of Doctor Alan Grant and Doctor Ellie Sadler as they explore Jurassic Park!

Yes, in the latest issue of Game Informer Magazine, Telltale Games - champions of modern-day Adventure Games - responsible for resurrecting Sam & Max and Monkey Island from gaming purgatory have announced they at working in partnership with NBC to create an episodic game series which will "deliver on the tension and drama of the series creating the ultimate cinematic adventure."

 Telltale will reveal more details at E3 next week, but lets just hope it is better than almost all previous efforts. I did find the SNES version enjoyable, but it was far from perfect in its outdoor Zelda-like presentation, paired with Wolfenstein 3D interior sections. And it wasn't an adventure game. If Telltale allow me to play as Jeff Goldblum - I'll have their babies.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Monkey Island 2: Special Edition dated?

As we wait with baited breath for concrete word from Lucasarts on the launch of the Special Edition of LeChuck's Revenge, the game's official PlayStation Network UK page suggests the release date July 7th. Seems about right as that is similar to the release of the first Special Edition last summer. Not long to wait if that is the case!

Friday, 4 June 2010

What if: Sherlock Holmes Vs Jack the Ripper

The recent game, "Sherlock Holmes Vs Jack the Ripper", released on both PC and Xbox 360, was not the first Adventure-Gaming meeting between these two megastars of Victorian culture. It is probably no surprise that two such iconic characters, from the same time period, should come together. When Electronic Arts made a first foray into the Lost Files of Mr Holmes in 1992, with “The case of the Serrated Scalpel”, we, the players, found ourselves in the shoes of this most famous of detectives, on the trail of a serial killer whose M.O. carried more than a passing resemblance to that of “The Ripper”. In the same way as the recent Frogwares release did, this game puts forward the enduring notion of pitting the fictional brains of Holmes and Watson, against the real-life evil of Jack the Ripper.

The setup is our standard one, starting in the apartment at 221B Baker Street, we receive word from the trusty Inspector Lestrade, that a murder of a young actress has been committed. Scotland Yard believe it to be the work of Jack the Ripper, but Holmes detects some inconsistencies and therefore has his doubts. Lestrade wants to close the case as cut and dry, so it is down to the players – as Sherlock – to piece together the truth from the deception. From this point on we are taken on a veritable tour of Victorian London; an elegant West End Theatre, London Zoo, a traditional English Pub and of course – the Morgue. The further we examine the evidence, the more the intrigue deepens as past loves, family connections and shady characters weave themselves into a complex web of clues.

Technically, the game didn’t break down any barriers, but it is nicely presented and evokes the setting well. The graphics are VGA, full 256 colour and again are reminiscent of many games released at that period. Whilst they certainly aren’t up to the standard of later 2D hand-drawn games such as Broken Sword, they sit somewhere around Money Island 2 and Beneath a Steel Sky, which is certainly good for the time of release. Locations are stylised, but reflect the time period both in terms of architecture and atmosphere and contain some lovely detailing. Character sprites aren’t tremendously detailed – Holmes and Watson obviously receiving the most care and attention, whereas some of the supporting cast can appear somewhat bland and featureless.

Background music is present in most locations and voices are used occasionally – in the introduction cutscenes and some pre-rendered sections of gameplay. Whereas the music is suitable, it can become grating and repetitive when staying in one location for an extended period of tiem. The voices are good when present, for example, Watson and Holmes seem authentic, and the script writing is fine. I do wish that another CD-Rom version had been released with a full speech track, as it certainly adds to the turn of the century ambience. Digitised sound effects are used sparingly, but are sufficient for their purpose, without becoming annoying.

Being released at what was the real Golden Age of PC Adventure Gaming, the user interface should be familiar to most gamers, and is easily picked up. Verbs and dialogue trees are implemented in much the same way as they were in classic Lucasarts games, and within the inventory it is fairly simple to use or combine objects. There are some occasions where the player has to use the small laboratory back at 221B Baker Street to analyse evidence – which is a welcome diversion from the regular investigating. As I mentioned dialogue earlier, it must be noted that the majority of clues and leads are gained through interrogation. Sometimes dialogue choices can be so abundant that they won’t all fit on screen at once – such is the breadth of conversation involved. But this feels natural, as Sherlock Holmes never had CSI technology to aid him, deduction and investigation is the key to his methodology.

Your investigations will throw up a good amount of red herrings and dead-ends, which serve to add depth to the game. Many characters you will meet seem to have motive or opportunity, but of course, eliminating these possibilities and determining who is really behind the crimes is the point of the game. This depth of suspects does give the game a non-linear feel. You can explore several leads at once and – using the map system for navigation – move from one location to the next before tying up each new loose end. New locations will be added to the map through speaking to certain characters or discovering the origin of a particular item, and this feels very organic – letting one clue lead to a new scene.

To aid with this myriad of clues, Watson keeps a journal which – if required – the player can access at almost any point. This is very useful for the times when you get stuck and perhaps lose track of where you should be going next. You can also ask Watson for hints and ideas, although if you were hoping for an in-built hint system – as this he is not. This option is not likely to be needed very often however.

This leads to the main criticism levelled at the game – which is that it is perhaps too easy to complete. Luckily, pixel-hunting only really enters the game on a handful of occasions at most – and the majority of answers to puzzles will present themselves to you in the process of speaking to witnesses and the like. Trial and error doesn’t really come into the equation, which whilst great for amateur adventurers, can seem too simple for others. Back-tracking could also be seen as a problem. Some puzzles can become slightly tedious where you must travel back and forth on what amounts to a “fetch-quest”. This is a minor complaint however, as the puzzles are all logic-based and don’t require the wacky brand of lateral thinking employed by Sam and Max Hit the Road, for instance.

It is perhaps a shame that after this more than competent release, it took Electronic Arts four years to produce the second “Lost File”, and by this time, the fad for FMV was rampant and the “The case of the Rose Tattoo” bore little resemblance to this first case. In much the same way as the Gabriel Knight series did, this series spanned the crossover between adventure styles. Both are definitely good games in their own right, but play very differently to one another. Many people nowadays are still put-off by early FMV acting as well, which doesn’t aid the transition. Running the game on modern day computers isn’t a tall task – with dosbox or similar programmes easily getting it going. I did have some trouble in the setup, where getting the voices to work as they should was time-consuming. I also experienced some crashing out, so be advised to save often – but don’t we all live by that rule regardless?

This was a great start to what looked like a promising series of games, unfortunately cut short after only two instalments. Perhaps the publisher would have been smarter to take a leaf out of Frogwares’ book, and drawn on the endless popularity and mystery of England’s most famous serial killer in marketing the game, instead of taking the Conan Doyle route of providing a more subtle title. The game does however still offer a great detective experience, and a fantastic setting. It isn’t a hard game but your investigations will make the game last a good few hours. As it is an Electronic Arts game, a Steam or GOG release is out of the question, and with the licensing issues involved, would EA still be allowed to profit off a Sherlock Holmes game? But this would be a welcome addition to the EA store, as a downloadable release with full compatibility for current operating systems.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

How does Heavy Rain relate to Classic Adventure Games?

With my recent re-playing of several classic Sierra titles, it got me thinking about the charges levelled at Heavy Rain. Talk of it not being a real game, but being an interactive movie.

Firstly, let me qualify this article. Of course, there are many comparisons you could draw between a game like Heavy Rain and traditional Adventure Games. For example, logic puzzles, investigation and dialogue - to name just three. And whilst it is true puzzles exist in Heavy Rain, and the player must investigate clues to lead to a conclusion - these never felt to me like a direct link to early Sierra Adventures, for example. Puzzles are simple and straightforward, not so much taxing as simply a process. And then we have the dialogue - obviously adventure games and dialogue trees go hand-in-hand. But not so with very early Adventure titles - Sierra and Infocom games had little in the way of back and forth conversation. And the dialogue system used in Heavy Rain is a mess - although the difficulty in selecting the phrase you want to speak seems to be a design feature, to ramp up the tension.

When compared to the early Sierra games, and I'm thinking of Space Quest in particular, certain sections of Heavy Rain are very similar in style and pacing. Now, I hear you ask, how can Space Quest and Heavy Rain share the same style? Of course - they are light years apart in terms of graphical and audio presentation. Control method is hugely different also.

I'm talking about the atmosphere and speed of the game, though.

Heavy Rain forces the player to be almost constantly on-edge. You know that there is undoubtedly a time limit on what you are trying to do as the characters around you go on with their lives at their own pace, and you could easily miss your opportunity if you don't hurry up. I'm sure you will agree, this was certainly the feeling you almost always felt when playing Space Quest or Police Quest, for example. In those early parser games, you never really felt safe - there was always a niggling feeling that you should get going and not take too long, or else you might meet a grisly end.

The same rings true in David Cage's latest blockbuster. You will feel ill-at-ease when exploring an empty apartment.
The user feels suspense and even, perhaps, fear, when you know the killer is close. Despite reservations regarding the iffy voice acting and somewhat limited set of interactions in some in-game areas, the game fulfills its promise of a tense gameplay experience that mirrors that of a Hollywood thriller.

One of the finest examples of this tension can be found in the first DLC chapter: The Taxidermist. The chapter is definately too short, with limited interactions again, and character models appear somewhat limited - as this was in fact an early test scene, that was released as a demo long before the game was finished. But where it succeeds is when you find yourself playing as Madison, thrown into the house of a suspect. You quickly become disturbed by the stuffed animals and terrible state of the home. Later discoveries upstairs confirm your fears you have stumbled into the den of a killer. Not to spoil things too much, but soon the players fears that they could be discovered at any time are preyed upon and you are in a race against time to avoid your own horrible end. This is handled flawlessly, and I could really feel my heart-rate rising and my grip on the gamepad tightening.

One of my readers pointed out that this isn't just an Adventure Gaming convention, and that most action games will use this technique. Unfortunately, I feel the truth is that most action games strive to create this atmosphere, but more often than not, cannot achieve it. I hadn't felt that same sense of urgency to work out a logic-based conundrum since my early days playing AGI Adventures. An action game will want to create a sense of panic - but I thin that the feeling of having to solve a puzzle or investigate a lead, whilst under time and mental constraints, is certainly a strong link, harking back to early Sierra products.

In The Taxidermist there are, if I remember correctly, five slightly different resolutions you can explore, and the trial and error style of play you must adopt to accomplish these is reminiscent of early Adventure Games also. Just as where is Space Quest 1, upon finding yourself alone on the spaceship with your shipmates dead, you have no idea where to start, but know you have to start soon, Heavy Rain pushes you also to play like that. You won't find a solution - or at least - the best solution, on your first attempt. As Roger Wilco, you were forced to save early and save often - the Sierra motto. Only this way could you progress in an atmosphere laden with nerves. It is a similar case with Heavy Rain - you have three checkpoints you can restart from, and in this relatively short chapter, these allow you to realise where you went wrong, and return to that point.
Then, in both games, you will re-try a different solution, in the hopes of a safe escape.

As I mentioned before, some scenes seem very sterile - interaction is at a minimum, where actions performed in other similar rooms may not be available and this can cause disappointment when we realise we aren't quite in control of everything that happens, as we were promised by the game's creators. Why can I open one drawer, but another not?
Design choices obviously, but they do limit the scope of a game that lauded full immersion. Voice acting also, as mentioned earlier, grates at times (especially grief-struck mother Lauren), and the twist at the end can come as a disappointment, or a revelation - depending on how you personally accept it. It works, but there are obviously cracks in this major reveal.

These are minor points though in a game where tension is king. The claustrophobic atmosphere and forced pace create an uncomfortable gaming experience, but one that you are unlikely to forget. True, this will undoubtedly put some players off. Others will be entangled in the twisting storyline and shady cast, feeling that the decisions they make in-game are important and will really change the outcome of the case. Fortunately for Heavy Rain, it seems to have paid off, and sales quickly exceeded expectations.

David Cage has created his own sub-genre. It sits between interactive fiction and Adventure Games - taking elements from both, but perhaps it still hasn't perfected the blend, but on the evidence of Heavy Rain, he will get another chance.
Roll on, Fahrenheit 2.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

To Re-make, or not to Re-make?

Re-makes are not a new thing in the Adventure Gaming world.

Sierra attempted a company-wide reboot in 1991 in terms of re-issuing every one of their "Quest" series of games. Kings, Space and Police Quest - along with honorary "Quests", Quest for Glory and Leisure Suit Larry - were all re-released and upgraded from their traditional Parser-based AGI system, to the more modern point-and-click SCI system.

These were meant to kick-start a series of re-makes whereby every previously released game in each series would get an SCI overhaul. Disappointing sales effectively killed this idea, and it is this that reflects the question I am asking today - Is there value in re-making a previously popular Adventure Game?

Using the Sierra example as a jumping-off point, I think the fundamental problem with a re-make is how loyal to the original are you going to be? The teams working on the re-makes were clearly fans of the originals, and you can see the care which went into upgrading the gameworlds. The artwork has been lovingly revamped, music has been composed to compliment the previously mute (or near-mute) games.

The problem is, these games were never very long experiences. The transition from keyboard-controlled, phrase-based typing, to point-and-click, is not very kind to be truthful. The parser text system was a very involving and interactive gameplay mechanic. The player was dropped into the game world and given a blank slate to type upon - you could be baffled with the sheer open-endedness of the options available to you.
Ok, soon the player learns the terms which the game will recognise, but without hot spots and pre-determined actions to pick from - the older games are instantly more of a challenge - and in turn - more engaging.

Once you place the restrictions of a point and click system onto the game, the user is somewhat blinkered. You know all of the set actions you can execute straightaway. Upon scanning over a room with the curser, you are left in no doubt of the items that can be interacted with. Whilst the games are undoubtedly more visually and audibly pleasing, the control method allows the games to be whizzed through at a high pace.

Replaying both the original and re-make of the first Leisure Suit Larry game, at an estimate I would say the original took maybe three-four hours to complete - partially due to the desire to play it at a leisurely pace; exploring the options available to the user, trying to find every joke, interacting with every character.

The re-make, I completed in approximately one hour, without feeling like I had missed anything.
It was great to see high-res renderings of some of the classic characters, perhaps as they were originally envisioned to look. But I didn't feel as connected to the games as I did with their AGI counterparts.

This rung true for most of the Sierra 1991 re-makes. The games seemed shorter, less engaging and seemed like there was less character.

Now, moving onto a recent example, The Secret of Monkey Island - Special Edition. Now, this had been a talking point for years - certainly one I had thought about. Whereas with the Sierra Quest games, it came as a surprise that they were all - relatively quickly (between three to six years after initial release) - re-made, the re-make of Monkey Island had been discussed by fans over and over. I wondered if the original game could be re-released with the full voice cast used in the later games, and orchestral score. It seemed like a simple idea. But when it finally came - almost twenty years later - it gained a mixed reception.

When the Special Edition was announced, it was a huge surprise to fans. They always wanted it, but never expected it - Lucasarts had, only a few years before - nailed their Adventure Gaming coffin tightly shut. Re-imaginings of Sam and Max and Full Throttle had already been put to the sword, so the re-emergence of a classic property was far from expected.

But almost immediately, people began to complain. Upon the launch of the promotional tie-in website, and with it some new screenshots and artwork - the fans began to voice their distaste. The game looked basically the same. Graphical and audio upgrade was the term used. Whilst much remained the same - character models were "upgraded", but not to the taste of the fans. Guybrush didn't look how they imagined him, in particular.

That aside, the game is altered very little. Both the versions make use of point-and-click, so the transition experienced in the Sierra titles is not applicable here. Artwork is tweaked, music re-recorded, interface streamlined, but nothing major. The one feature that really makes the game, and probably saves it from being a slap-dash job, is the fact the user can hot-swap between both versions at the touch of a button, keeping the new musical score in tact. This is an obvious nod to the original fans, and a wise concession to make. But the very inclusion of that concession begs the question - why was the game re-made at all, when it could have found an audience as a simple re-release?

The game is little more than an attempt to introduce the game to a new generation of players. This was the initial plan with the Sierra model of re-releasing too. More now than ever, there is a retro game revival, but it is clear that casual gamers will be put-off by outdated games. The re-haul is a fairly quick and painless road towards the new market. With the advent of the Nintendo Wii and DS, adventure games found e new outlet. As evidenced by Broken sword - the Directors' Cut - which found release on both of the Nintendo platforms - there is an appetite for classic adventures, tailored towards new games players. Revolution side-stepped the issue to an extent with the "Directors' Cut" idea, whereby new content and puzzles would add to an otherwise unchanged game. The idea of added value.

One re-make I was certainly a fan of however, was Mansion Mansion Deluxe. I had never finished the original version, due to the clunkiness of the control system, and several glitches which greatly diminished the enjoyment of the game. The early version of the SCUMM controls was not incredibly user-friendly. Of course, it was revolutionary, but after being spoiled by the Monkey Island games, for example, I found it hard to work with.

The new fan-created "deluxe" release implemented a version of SCUMM stolen from Day of the Tentacle, along with upgraded graphics and sound. Re-made using the freeware AGS Adventure Game Studio, is this a case of the fans knowing best? I must admit, my view on this remake might be skewed BECAUSE I never finished this game before. Because my idea of what this game should be like was never fully-formed, perhaps my view is biased. But I really appreciate the improved control method!

I do feel that fan-made games have probably found the right route to go with "classic" games. Often using the original engine and graphical assets, fans have long been producing sequels and prequels to our favourite games. Regularly the game will look near-identical to the source material, but have different puzzles and situations. Some developers put in an incredible amount of work to create further artwork in the style of the original artists - it is quite impressive. One such example of this is Space Quest 0: Replicated. Produced in the exact style of Space Quest 1, and using many elements from it, a new story is placed into the existing universe - to great effect.

Maybe the value of a re-make will differ from user to user. If you loved the original version - you will undoubtedly find the re-make redundant. If one found the original to have shortcomings, then an "upgraded" version is likely to be welcome. I myself, still find value in even the less successful re-makes. There will be different artistic approaches and the developer might stamp some of their personality on the project - which can be interesting - or incredibly grating. So a re-make is in the eye of the player. But as long as it will allow new players to experience classic Adventure Games, and re-invigorate the genre - it can't be a bad thing.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Adventure Game Limbo

Just a quick article, but here is a full (as far as I can remember) list of Adventure Games I have started to play, but never got around to finishing, here are all of the games stuck in gaming Limbo:

Beavis and Butthead In Virtual Stupidity
Beavis and Butthead Do U
Broken Sword 4
Feeble Files
Hotel Dusk: Room 215
Jake Hunter Detective Chronicles
King's Quest 4
King's Quest 6
King's Quest 7
The Colonel's Bequest
(Roberta Williams isn't doing well on this list right?)
Legend of Kyrandia - Hand of Fate
Lure of the Temptress
Nightlong - Union City Conspiracy
Orion Burger
Phoenix Wright - Trials and Tribulations
Sam and Max Season 1
Space quest 3
Stupid Invaders
Syberia 2
Tex Murphy Overseer

I really wans't anticipating the list to be this long.
Some - such as Stupid Invaders and Jake Hunter - I have no problems with leaving mid-game, as they are fairly sub-standard.

Others - such as the King's Quest games and Tex Murphy - I really feel I need to go back to and finish off, as I probably only left them due to a lack of time.

So, what adventure games are there that you have started, but never finished?
And which of the games above should I go back to first?

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards

It seems only fitting that to accompany my lengthy interview with Al Lowe, I look back at his infamous breakthrough game, which was also one of the first graphical adventures I ever played.

Now, I will start by saying that the very first time I played this game, I certainly wasn't old enough to buy this game, let alone understand all of the situations and innuendo contained within. As I touched upon in my interview with Al, this lead to many hours of guessing and re-playing the age-verification quiz. This was made even more difficult that a lot of the American pop culture and U.S. history questions were straight over my head - being a young boy, born and raised in England.

But once I finally got past the interrogation and I stood outside the flashing neon of Leftys Bar, with the internal speaker bleeting out the Leisure Suit Larry theme tune, I was introduced to a new world of gaming. From recollection, this and Police Quest were the first Graphical Adventures I ever tried - which came first I'm not sure - but Leisure Suit Larry helped shape what I expected from future adventure games. It had humour, colourful characters and backgrounds, fetch-quests, irritating death scenes and everything else which you might associate with the "Classic" age of adventuring.

For those of you who may have never played the game - you play as Larry Laffer, a hopeless failure with the ladies, who is looking for the right woman - or any woman that will take him. With less than $100 in your pocket, you must traverse the city of "Lost Wages", to track down and win that elusive prize.

The character of Larry is that of the lovable loser, and whilst this is shown more fully in later games, there isn't a great deal of character development in this first outing.
Honestly, the game is very short and the puzzles aren't too taxing. For a game where you are required to jump through hoops to find the perfect lady, the puzzles are actually fairly logical and most won't have you stumped for extended periods of time. Whereas Leisure Suit Larry 2 : Looking for Love (in Several Wrong places) definately wanders into the ridiculous at times, Lounge Lizards is a simpler and more down-to-earth premise.

That was probably the huge charm of the game. Most guys who might have played the game on it's initial release would have been able to sympathise with the common man, useless when it comes to talking with women - a lovable loser. The settings were all identifiable and the characters were all ones we could have met ourselves. Compared to King's Quest and Space Quest - Larry was real, but unlike Police Quest - it still kept the great Sierra sense of humour.

Al Lowe approached the project with the idea of doing a semi-parody of an earlier Sierra game - Softporn.
Upon playing Softporn, Al found it horribly dated and humourless, and set out to dress it up in a Leisure Suit.

Larry wasn't anything revolutionary - it used the same game engine and sprite graphics as the rest of the Quest games. The parser text typing input was the sole control method and the graphics, athough far from spectacular, were charming. With the limited pixel and colour palette, animations and illustrations created the world vividly. The music was limited to internal bleeps and bloops.The theme tune - written by Lowe - was horribly catchy, although sound effects in general were basic.

The staple of Sierra games - the death scenes - were commonplace here too.
The comedy set it apart though. When it comes to the point that you want the character to die in every permutation possible, so you can see the outcome, you know the designer has done something right. Jokes were everywhere, and no opportunity to deliver a punchline was missed.

Larry being re-built after another death scene.

When I was young and hadn't yet grown accustomed to the Sierra adage of Save early and save often, I remember particularly well - after an encounter with a lady - being arrested for public indecency, because I hadn't opted to zip up after the act. It made perfect sense. Of course you should do that, but who would have thought of it? As frustrating as it was, you had to laugh at the thought of it all. Never before had game over scenarios been so entertaining.

This is the secret of the enduring popularity of Larry. The games were never gratuitous with their depiction of sex and women. Innuendo and suggestion were abundant of course - but so were they in the Carry On series of films. Despite frequent 15 and 18 age ratings being plastered on the games, there is nothing in them that you wouldn't see at 8pm on cable TV nowadays. The genius of the writing was to make the women the characters with the power. Their needs or whims are really fueling the puzzles, not Larry's desire to copulate. Larry is the fall guy and your job is to get him out of the predicaments he gets himself into.

Playing the game after many years with fresh eyes has shown me the laughs are still there. It is still funny to repeatedly trample over a drunkards' crotch. The animation and character models still bring a wry smile.
Although Larry is more rounded and his motivations more sympathetic in later iterations of the game, here it is most accessible and immediately enjoyable. You need little to no history in adventure games to "get" Leisure Suit Larry. I suppose that is truly what allowed the game to become such a runaway success.

It may be hard to come back to this game for those who have never experienced the vintage Sierra Adventures before. They are ingrained on early adventure gamers, they illustrate to us all that was good - and bad - about adventure games.

Clunky? Yes. Unforgiving? Certainly. But endlessly charming.