Author - Ripper71

Latest Monkey Island Episode Launches on iPad

Just in time for the holidays, the first episode of Tales of Monkey Island ‘Launch of the Screaming Narwhal’ is now available for iPad on iTunes. In the Tales of Monkey Island series, hapless pirate Guybrush Threepwood fends off a relentless pirate hunter, matches wits with a malicious marquis, overcomes fearsome foes with sabers at sea, and is nearly digested by a giant manatee while hunting down a pox-eliminating sponge.

‘Launch of the Screaming Narwhal’ retails for $6.99 on the Apple App Store. Telltale has episodes two through five planned for release in the new year and they also will be available for PC, Mac, PlayStation Network and WiiWare.

Worms: Battle Islands Review (PSP)

I have to admit I haven’t been getting a lot of playtime in with the PSP recently. With all the amazing games coming out on PCs and other systems with new expansions and map packs I can barely keep up with the next game. So when I got a chance to try out Worms: Battle Islands on the PSP it was like a wonderful reunion in which I got a chance to remember why I like the system so much. Luckily for me the reason for the reunion was Worms: Battle Islands which I had a blast with from the first cinematics and right up through the game. Fans of the Worms series should rejoice if they have a chance to play this on the PSP, it has everything you have grown to love about the series and the controls and gameplay work like a charm.

Atmosphere:
The atmosphere for the game is set in the opening cinematics for the game. Like the opening of an 80s television show, it looks like a cross between the A-Team and The Love Boat. The atmosphere continues into the gameplay with the fun music and sound effects Worms players have come to expect. It doesn’t take itself serious and a big part of the fun of the game is the silliness of the atmosphere. Each island chain has it’s own theming and feel so one set of islands will have a tropical feel and all aspects from the voices to the background support the theme, then the next set might be snowy tundra. All this helps support the atmosphere of traveling and conquering different islands in a fun way.



Customization:

One of the favorite aspects of the Worms games is the amount of customization possible. Most of the customization in the game is unlocked by advancing levels or downloading online but player’s are able to change the worms’ masks, hats, dances, voices, forts, and background landscape. There is even a landscape editor in case you want to make your own designs. On each level you can also recover blueprints which can then be used to help build custom weapons which you get to name!

Gameplay:
The campaign mode is set on a series of islands that have smaller ones which represent levels surrounding a larger island. Once you beat and therefore take all the islands around the larger one you are able to assault the boss on the main island. It takes different strategies to beat levels, some take a bit of creative thinking. Some levels will only give you a handful of apparently useless items which when used right allows you to beat the enemy. On standard levels you have a timed menu at the beginning of the level which thought out right enables you to gain an advantage in the level. It requires fast thought and sometimes trial and error which younger players, who just enjoy blowing things up in fun ways may find themselves stuck. Luckily there are multiplayer modes where players can challenge each other online or in a fun ‘pass the game’ mode that supports up to four players. The game also has Time Attack in which you complete the level as fast as possible, Puzzle in which there is a strategy to beating the level and Customization which allows you to create your own weapons, load up your arsenal and blast away at attack dummies and targets. This game has something for everyone from the trigger happy to the cerebral, all presented in a fun, silly way.

Graphics/Audio:
The graphics are excellent, cartoony as they are intended to be, with lots of explosions and crisp, clean levels. The voices are excellent and there are many styles to choose from as well as many styles performed by the enemies. Some quote presidents, some are designed to sound like military figures, others are pop culture references. All in all the excellent graphics and variety of sound and voice effects add to the enjoyment of the game.

Controls:
The control design and setup works perfectly with the PSP. I got used to the controls really fast and stopped paying attention to the controls and concentrated on the game. The platform works exceptionally well with the game, making it so that the short time in which you have to make decisions doesn’t seem too bad because instead of fumbling for controls you quickly make your moves.

Cost/Playtime:
Worms: Battle Islands cost $24.99 on PSN and has a lot of replayability, customization, and multiplayer options which gives it an unlimited amount of playtime. Each level can be played differently, often with different weapons each time and multiplayer is never the same game twice. At that price with unlimited play and portability letting you take Worms with you wherever you want, this game is a bargain.

Last Call:

This game will be one of my go-to games, one I plan to take on trips or errands where I have to wait. It has one of the most comfortable and intuitive control setups I have played Worms on and the gameplay is fun and challenging. I highly recommend this game, especially if you like a fun and silly time.

*DISCLOSURE: A copy of this game was sent to us for the purpose of this review.

Alien Breed 3: Descent Reviewed (PC/Steam)

Alien Breed 3: Descent picks up the story of chief engineer Conrad as he fights aliens and Artificial Intelligence that are trying to take over his ship. It starts with a ‘previously on Alien Breed’ collection of comic panels which, though nice looking, are somewhat confusing. There are logs which you can read to try and get a better understanding of the story but this beginning is really one of the defining points of this game: to fully understand the trilogy you need to play it and not jump in at the end. The game is playable and enjoyable without understanding the storyline, but that brings up another aspect of the game: Alien Breed plays just like the previous two episodes, so much so that it feels like the next section of the same game. Since I played the previous two games and enjoyed the gameplay, it was an all-around pleasure to play.

Atmosphere:
The atmosphere of this game is nice and creepy, reminding players of a certain series of alien movies with spidery little ones and large, big-mouthed beasties. You are on your own for the most part in this game just like in the others and there are lots of enemies and tasks to tear through, creating an atmosphere of intensity that seldom lets up. The pretty, crisp graphics and sound support that atmosphere and keep it feeling tense from beginning until end.



Controller/Keyboard:

The controls on this game are just like the rest of the trilogy, a gamepad controller works great and the keyboard controls are awkward and never seem comfortable. I like the accuracy of the mouse when it comes to shooting but otherwise everything else is incredibly easier with the gamepad.

Gameplay:
The gameplay is enjoyable, though maybe a bit repetitive after playing the other games. You kill your way to an objective, get a new objective assigned back the way you came, the ship falls apart or is sabotaged in some way and you have to find a new way to your next objective. You continue this way going back and forth across the ship encountering wave and wave of baddies. There are a few different sections to mix it up but, in the end, it is mostly the same stuff. If it was the same each time through it might have become uncomfortable to play and let’s face it, a ship can only be so big.



Storyline/Final Boss:

In my opinion if you are playing through this series, you are in it either for the storyline or the gameplay, and the final boss section decides how rewarding you will feel about the series overall. Without giving away any plot secrets, the game did leave a chance for a spin-off, which makes sense if the studio wants to keep it’s options open, but it left the ending feeling with less impact than it should have. As boss fights go, it was much harder getting to the boss than defeating it. I had to fight hard to get to that final moment, the game really pushes you both in fighting strategy and ammo conservation, and I was afraid I might not have enough ammo to get the final boss done. In reality, I could have spent a few more rounds on the way.

Cost/Playtime:
This can be a hard one to answer. Fact is, you can download all three titles for $9.99 each, so that you can play through the whole story and get a decent amount of hours for $30. The last chapter, which felt shorter than the others, ran about 10 hours. That was with going for some achievements but not all, on normal. One play through will probably give you about 30 hours for the whole series, more for playing on hardest settings and achievement hunting. There is also online multiplayer, co-op, free-play and leader boards so for $30 for the series it is a really good deal, if you don’t care much about the story you may even want to go with $9.99 for just the last game and you still get plenty of offline and multiplayer options.



Last Call:

This game was designed to feel like a sequel to the others and to wrap up a storyline. It felt so much like the other games it could have been interchangeable and really it was the story, mostly told in cut scenes, that was the reason for sequels. The story was ok, the play was pretty good and the price was right. Just make sure you own a gamepad for your sanity’s sake (ed.note: On my play-through of the original Alien Breed, I preferred the keyboard, just IMHO).

*DISCLOSURE: A copy of this game was sent to us for the purpose of this review.

ArcaniA – Gothic 4 Patch Released


DreamCatcher Games, Spellbound Entertainment, BVT Group, and JoWooD have released a new patch for ArcaniA – Gothic 4 that slightly alters specific gameplay dynamics, increases the overall performance and getting rid of rare crashes.

Detailed Patchlog:
FIXED: Interruption of interactions with sword strikes
FIXED: Acknowledgments playback after loading a save game
FIXED: Jump interrupted by FMV character freeze
FIXED: Cool down in the inventory screen
FIXED: Reduced ocean clipping problem for Stereoscopic 3D
FIXED: Arrows stick on already disintegrated Demon
FIXED: Stamina consumption while sprinting with equipped spells added
FIXED: SLI issues & optimizations
FIXED: Crash on vista machines when starting the game on the second adapter while the first adapter was disabled
FIXED: Stereoscopic 3D can be deactivated from the NVIDIA control panel before launching game
FIXED: Pickable item restoration
FIXED: Multiple CPU profiles in process manager
FIXED: Clouds use dynamic vertex buffer for frequent locking
FIXED: Performance problem with terrain tile generation
FIXED: Performance bug in trails
FIXED: Rare crash when arrows stuck in players vanished
FIXED: Additional unnecessary loading screen when using a teleport stone-need

In case you missed it, be sure to checkout our full review of Arcania – Gothic 4.

Divinity 2: The Dragon Knight Saga (PC) | Review

In a year full of sequels and expansions coming out for so many games, sometimes a gem or two is likely to fall through the cracks and not get the credit it deserves. This can be especially true when sequels in similar genres come out and this has been a solid year for MMORPGs and RPGs with more to come next year. So, it wasn’t too surprising that the next episode in the Divinity games, Divinity 2: Ego Draconis, slipped through the reviews. What is surprising is what Larian Studios did to remedy the issue: they remastered and retooled Ego Draconis to make it better and added a sequel story named Flames of Vengeance, doubling the playtime. The new compilation, titled Divinity 2: The Dragon Knight Saga, plays nice and smooth with interesting character building styles and really funny dialogue.

Atmosphere:
The game starts with beautiful cinematics and excellent music. The music was composed by a Russian musician named Kirill Pokrovsky and the graphics rival any of the big games out there. The light streams through the trees almost looking like a painting at times and the graphics in gameplay are just as good as the graphics in the cinematics. As a result there can be some fairly long load screens going in and out of buildings that can slightly dampen the atmosphere but they are easily forgiven when the quality of the graphics is considered.

Gameplay:
The Dragon Knight Saga does a few interesting things which will surely earn it mixed feelings among the players. The game doesn’t set up traditional trees like many RPGs – instead, it has skill categories with no particular level of skills. For example, there is a whole section of skills under the label ‘Warrior’ and you can pick whichever skills in the list that you want and invest points without having to have a certain number in one skill before investing in another. Also you can put points in other categories as well so you could have a rogue with warrior skills that can fire mage fireballs. You can only have one class’ weapons available at any time but you can change classes at anytime! This means you can try a quest as a warrior, decide it would be easier as a rogue, go to the trainers and change to rogue, beat the quest and then just go back to the trainer and change back. The theory of the game is that you have been trained in all these fields and you have simply lost the conscious memory of the skills and the trainers help you remember them. So, at any time, you can invest any points in any tree and you can change class at will. To some RPG purists this can be seen as playing it too loose with the character, others might welcome the freedom of making a completely unique character with all the skills they like from all the different classes.

One of the other characteristics of the game that would be a bit debatable is the vagueness of directions and quests. Some would like the fact that it is a large map with lots of exploring to do to find your way to the quests. Others who are used to RPGs that point the way a bit more might get frustrated with how difficult it can be to find your quests and how the enemies you fight might vary in levels in the same area. So you may be fighting some level 2 goblins and wander past them and run into level 5 ones in a large, slaughtering group. Saving a lot is key to getting through the game but don’t rely on the auto-save, it seldom saves.

Divinity 2: Ego Draconis starts you off at level 1 as you would expect but Divinity 2: Flames of Vengeance is continuing the story so it starts you off at level 35. It has you pick a class to start with and gives you generic skills for the class you choose but then you can go right to the trainer, unlearn them and use 35 levels worth of points to once again build a custom character using any skills across the classes. This is really the most unique aspect of the game and will make or break most people’s experience with it.

Storyline/Interactions:
Without giving away too much about the story (there are definitely some spoilers that could be said) you play a Dragon Slayer initiate being trained to hunt down the last of the Dragon Knights, hybrid humans that can transform into dragons. The storyline plays out well, if a bit predictable, and is well-written and interesting. The side quests along the way though are usually where the most fun is to be had. The game writers had some major fun with the dialogue and some of your response options to the NPCs are ridiculous and funny. They also help you define your character as well though. Your character can be a sarcastic jerk who is prideful and rude to everyone, he can be humble and well spoken or he can even be corrupt and foul. These responses will define how the other characters interact with you. If you act like a well-spoken, staunch supporter of the military you won’t make any friends among the commoners. If you tell the pig farmer he needs to stop his barnyard crushes (you actually have the option to say something similar to that) you can expect a quest line to end and that farmer to never speak to you favorably again. This also makes for a fairly unique experience in the game because if you help merchants they give you better deals on goods, if you wrong one they may never sell to you again. You have more freedom in what you say, how you react to knowledge you learn, but all your interactions have consequences.

Another interesting interaction besides dialogue is the choice to read people’s minds. This is an option on just about every dialogue and the results can vary from the mundane to paying of with new skills. Sometimes it can give you dirt on a character to blackmail them or bring them to justice, other times it can show you how innocent the character is. This ability doesn’t come without a cost though, in this case in the form of experience. The concept I believe is that to gain the knowledge from their heads you have to give up some of your own. It makes you pick your targets very carefully because if you read too many minds you find yourself further and further from the next level.

Last Call:
Divinity 2: The Dragon Knight Saga is a very well put together collection of games with a unique character building system as well as interesting gameplay and very fun dialogue options. I’m glad they didn’t let the game slip through the cracks so that folks not only got a second chance to try it, but a chance to double their play.

*DISCLOSURE: A copy of this game was sent to us for the purpose of this review.

Arcania: Gothic 4 | Review (Xbox 360)

I’ve been playing RPGs since the days of pencil and paper when my friends still owned first editions of the D&D Dungeonmaster and Player’s Guides. Though I do enjoy a good MMORPG, playing offline can be just as fun and rewarding, especially if a game has a rich environment and a great storyline. The more character development you can adjust the better also, so that you truly feel the character is your own. Arcania: Gothic 4 gives you the chance to personalize your character and lots of storyline, it just gets a little bit lost in hack and slash quests and weed pulling missions.



Atmosphere/Graphics:

The game starts with an update of events since the last game with rich video cut scenes showing the dark times have indeed descended again up Myrtana. Excellent musical score accompanies both travel and action, the cut scenes are beautifully rendered and drive the story along very well. There was a lot of love put into the atmosphere of this game and is part of the hallmark of this title. One of my few complaints would be the lack of variety in the enemies you encounter. While the flying insects are very well rendered and the raptor-like beasts are well animated, they make up a majority of the population of the enemies you encounter. You eventually take on a bit more of a variety of enemy but you get so used to fighting the same enemies that it is actually a little startling when you find yourself face to face with a new creature. That at first has a nice intimidation factor but you can then expect to see the same creature under slightly different names from then on in the game. Also most of the npcs share a small variety of faces, especially the shopkeepers so that you may go to six different shopkeepers spread out over several towns and they will probably be wearing the same costumes and they will have the same faces. I imagine this makes it easier to keep graphic issues from getting too jerky and the game size manageable, but it can be a bit distracting and pull you out of the game making it a bit of an atmosphere killer. You begin to think that these kingdoms may be a little too inbred.



Gameplay/Storyline:

Without giving away too much of the storyline you play a shepherd who has prophetic dreams and hopes of a destiny that lies beyond counting sheep. So from simple beginnings you must start with simple quests to learn your way in the world. Things turn dark quickly and you find yourself slowly becoming the new hero of the land. This happening slowly makes a lot of sense, you can’t be expected to go from sheep shepherding to savior of the kingdom over night and in real life hours it takes about 40 hours to accomplish most of what you set out to do. Honestly I think a few missions could have been shaved off this or varied up to keep the game play from getting too monotonous. I started out with the plan to play every last mission but after encountering some which didn’t advance the storyline or do anything but make you a small bit of gold I found myself picking and choosing a bit so I didn’t find myself running all over the place picking weeds.

What it lacked in quest variation it made up for in character customization. You start out the game equal to anyone else who plays it but in the end you put points into different trees which result in a completely unique ending character. The trees amount to warrior, ranger, assassin, paladin, shaman and mage but how you build them and their strengths and weakness depends entirely on you. In this way you could have a ranger who specializes in bow attacks but can also fire off fireballs or so many other combinations that each time you play it will be a completely different. This is where it is somewhat a shame how long and monotonous the campaign can be. You want to play again trying new classes and builds but the hack and slash and weed picking quests become so time consuming that the thought of playing it again is a bit daunting. If a player plays this occasionally, casually, instead of in heavy long-houred gaming seasons this could be a game with excellent replay value and long term play.

The storyline starts out a bit mysterious and never seems to quite develop. Some of the cut scenes actually feel like they were cut shorter and npc dialogue interactions seems to just end often leaving you wanting a bit more. Since this game has such a long play time I am left to wonder if maybe some of these were clipped to reduce time, but if a player is committed to so many hours of playing a few more seconds even minutes here and there really won’t hurt and they definitely could have helped. A few less errand quests in exchange for greater depth of storyline would have been very welcomed and might be something that should be considered for future installments.



Multiplayer:

There is no multiplayer in this game but I felt it was a subject worth bringing up. The areas are so well developed with places to sit and random foods and potions to eat and make that it almost feels like a shame. There are tables to sit at, beds to lay on-so many atmospheric elements that serve no real game purpose that if put into a multiplayer environment could make for great places to role-play. I am reminded in this way of Neverwinter Nights and wished I could go online, create a character on a server and explore these lands with others, possibly with some gamemasters guiding us into unique moments.

Cost/Playtime:
The game retails $59.99 (there are some deals to be found out there) and runs about 40 hours of playtime, though if you go through dialogue quick and trim off some of the side quests it might be a little less. The game has definite replayability, going as far as certain achievements seem to require you to specialize in different classes so if you want them all you probably need to play more than once. You get a lot of play for your buck, just some of it might be a bit repetitive.



Last Call:

Arcania: Gothic 4 has a title tradition to live up to, one of rich environment, deep storyline and interesting quests. Though the storyline and quests didn’t quite seem up to the title’s standards it was still a good play with a lot of customization possibilities. It isn’t geared as much toward the marathon player who might find it too repetitive but a casual player who wants to take their time through a decent story and a long campaign might find this a game perfectly suited to them.

*DISCLOSURE: A copy of this game was sent to us for the purpose of this review.

Halloween Game Showcase – Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick

Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick was released in 2003 and immediately got knocked down by most reviewers. I want to say this upfront because I think it got panned because of when it came out more than anything else. Had it made it out a couple years earlier it would have preceded Grand Theft Auto III, the game by which all following 3D shooters would be compared to from then on, and GTA3 was one hell of an act to follow. This is a shame because the game has so much campy fun and gore, it even has a button just dedicated to playing Ash quips (voiced by THE Bruce Campbell) whenever you want to!

The game starts with Ash narrating his story to a stranger who’s only shown as a pair of ancient eyes and raised eyebrows. It then fades to Dearborn, Michigan where we find Ash on a bar stool drinking away his woes on the 12 year anniversary of the death of his girlfriend (from the first Evil Dead game, Hail To the King which, in my opinion, is one to AVOID!). It is 20 years after the events of the Evil Dead movie trilogy and a local television show has found the infamous Necronomicon reading reel from the cabin and decides to play it live on-air. The result is a vortex over the television station, time travel, and lots and lots of deadites! I don’t want to give away too much of the story but it keeps the camp fun going from beginning to end and Bruce Campbell did an amazing job voice acting. It was made around the time the first Spider-Man movie was being made and was supposed to keep Ash around until Sam Raimi could get back to the Evil Dead series. In the end another video game and several comic lines wound up being the way that today you can still get your Ash fix. They even made two short comic runs of ‘Freddy Vs. Jason Vs. Ash’, a highly rumored about movie project that fell through and became comics that read like an Evil Dead film.



Atmosphere:

Back to the game though, this game does a great job of keeping the creepy atmosphere. The Deadites travel fast and Dearborn is soon a ghost town with only a few untouched or un-eaten inhabitants. Paper flutters on the breeze, the music is dramatic and the streets are sparsely lit by street lights. It can be hard to see the Deadites as they wait in the shadows or attack on poorly lit streets. Through all this runs Ash, a bit hunched over, as he kills Deadites in gore-filled attacks and keeps his famous macho/idiot persona. If not for his quips and the over the top gore this might have been a game that was taken serious with the solidly creepy atmosphere. But Ash keeps it fun through multiple time periods and locations.

Game Play:
The areas are pretty large and elaborate with lots of killing to do and a few locals to talk to in order to advance the storyline. You dual wield weapons and you can choose different ones depending on mood or effectiveness throughout the game as you pick them up. Weapons are also upgradable throughout the game giving you more boom for your buck as you go and you will need it, at times there are over 30 Deadites coming for you all at once. Camera tracking can be a little awkward and swing a bit wide not showing what is in front of you, but this is solved quickly by hitting a single button. The game has combos which are rewarded with extra quips when delivered and health is measured in blood drops on a bar in the upper corner. When things get crazy button mashing does work, but might not work as well as strategic map placement and maneuvering. You also find spells as you go so that if you manage to read them just right you can hit the Deadites with their own medicine, but if you don’t pronounce every single syllable correctly you might find yourself on your back in a world of hurt.

Controls:
Controls are pretty straight forward and easy to work, in some cases almost too easy. The game has an excellent enemy lock system which makes some kills too easy as you learn the enemy’s pattern, pick the right weapon and run around while your shots always hit home. I found it was almost as much fun to not use the lock system and manually aim though this makes combos much harder. With the lock system the last boss is way too easy, which combined with the straying camera are really the two biggest issues with the game. Luckily the ending after the boss is still worth it.



Graphics/Audio:

Graphics for 2003 are pretty good, but probably were rendered a little simpler to avoid loading screens and to allow the actions of over 30 Deadites to be attacking at once and still not lose the gore factor. The gore is rendered very well, with huge amounts of blood spraying in an arc as you slash through Deadites with the chainsaw and blood trails well from the Deadites that are blown in two and are still crawling after you. The television I was playing on was far bigger than the one I had back in 2003 but the game still looks great on a large LCD screen. Audio is crisp and excellent, noises sound like they are coming from the room you are in and Ash’s voice is perfectly clear as he delivers his one-liners. They also have comments for when you reclick on objects or stop moving Ash for a while like ‘Excuse me… hello? Time to wake up and smell the corpses!’ These are pretty common these days but was kinda special back then. Heck at one point while playing it I just kept hitting the Ash comment button in response to all my wife’s questions.

Playtime/Cost:
It is a pretty quick play, probably can be done in one dark and stormy night, though it is more fun to kill some extra Deadites and hear Ash/Bruce Campbell deliver as many quotables as you can. Since the game is several years old you can pick it up for pretty cheap new or used, probably the hardest thing would be to find it, which on the internet is only a couple clicks away. Plus one of the extras included is a terrific video of some of the greatest moments in Evil Dead history, through the original film right up to the game, with ‘making of’ segments for the game and comments from Bruce Campbell about the Evil Dead franchise and the game play of A Fistful Of Boomstick. I have put this game on just to watch that video before.

Last Call:
If you are looking for some camp to go with your horror gaming, Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick is a great way to get yourself in the holiday mood… or just release some stress. If you are an Evil Dead fan this is part of the storyline you really should experience. Final Word: ‘Groovy’.

*DISCLOSURE: I am a huge Bruce Campbell fan. But if the game sucked I would still tell you, like the Hail To The King game, man that was painful.


Twisted Lands: Shadow Town (PC) | Review



When I was a kid the only thing I looked forward to when going to the doctor’s office was the latest Highlights Magazine. I remember the drawings with the hidden objects in it were my favorite part, and I got so dissapointed when someone had already circled the objects and spoiled it for me. Well now I can play Twisted Lands: Shadow Town and not only get an interesting story with a twist, I will have plenty of hidden objects to find in item filled scenes. The concept is simple, the game requires an item to solve a puzzle and so you must collect a whole bunch of items to find what will work just right. So you have to pick a whole list of items from the scene but you will only use one and it will solve the puzzle and move you along. There are a couple of other kinds of puzzles thrown in that make it more difficult but most of these can be skipped if they prove too challenging. The game is designed to be family fun hidden object puzzling with a Halloween feel and that is what it delivers.



Atmosphere:

You are stranded on the beach outside a deserted town. The feeling of isolation and lonliness is accentuated by a constant thick fog and occasion ghosts who show up suddenly and leave almost as quickly. Your wife shipwrecked with you and is missing so you puzzle your way through a town left to ghosts and… something else, trying to find the love of your life. There is one scene where the game almost seems to go from creepy to horror, and some may be a bit creeped out by the ghosts, but they tend to just do things they did while living then disappear. After a while the atmosphere just adds to the story and gives a nice spooky background to the puzzling scenes.

Gameplay:
Straight forward follow the story hidden object puzzling with the previously mentioned couple of harder puzzles. One of them was particularly difficult and not skippable but otherwise if you get too stuck on where to go or where an object is in the picture you can click on a ? in the lower corner and get a hint as to the item’s location or where the clue was supposed to lead. One of the only complaints would be the list of items you have to find in a scene can sometimes be vague, probably on purpose. The item may be ‘bat’ for instance and you are looking at the items for something with wings and it is actually a baseball bat. Another would be ‘rose’ and you look all through the picture and on the side of a watering pot is a painting of a rose or it is carved into a piece of wood. It adds an extra challenge and sometimes after staring at the picture for a long time it suddenly dawns on you… oh they mean that baseball bat or that label on the wine bottle with a sun on it.



Controls:

Point and click all the way. You click on things to look at them, you click on arrows to move to the next scene. No need to get used to WASD to navigate, just get ready to click near the arrow in the direction you want to go.

Graphics/Audio:
Graphics are clean and nice, helping submerse the player. The sounds also tend to lend to the feel, the audio is clear with creepy music and sounds. The hidden object puzzles lose more and more color as you go so that in the end it is harder to see an item stand out. The graphics are good and pretty standard for this style of game.

Playtime/Cost:
If played by the casual player, maybe a bit younger or a bit older which I think this type of game mostly targets, it could last days and possibly be repeat play. Heavy gamers will burn through it in a night. At $19.95 it is not badly priced for a game, especially one your kid might play over and over, but it is a bit pricey compared to what this genre of games usually run. You can download a free one hour trial version of the game to see if it is right for you.

Last Call:
It’s a fun family friendly Halloween hidden object puzzle game. The storyline is interesting with a nice twist at the end but for the most part it is pretty standard for the genre. If you like this type of game this is a solid one.

*DISCLOSURE: A copy of this game was sent to us for the purpose of this review.

Review of Lara Croft And The Guardian Of Light [PC]

There has always been a certain intimacy with the Tomb Raider games. Being from the third person perspective, right behind her as she jumps, dodges, and shoots has always made me feel like I was more her sidekick than her controller. It always felt like you were just one step removed from the action, when she would drown or miss a jump and leap to her death you were right behind her when she did, following her over the cliff or listening to her gasping death. You saw what she saw, so if something came sneaking up from behind you knew when she did and swung around to face the enemy. With the new style you see the whole screen and you know where the enemies are hiding and where they will attack from. You anticipate their moves and go grab treasure that she never could have seen from her perspective. In this you gain the advantage of knowing where everything is and what will be your next obstacle or reward. This definitely makes for a fast playing, quick shooting game, but when she leaps to her death you think of her last save point and not so much that she just leapt to her death. It has lost it’s intimacy. That may be why this doesn’t carry the Tomb Raider brand, it is the same character in the same kind of setting but an entirely different experience. As long as you are fine with that this is an excellent arcade game.

Atmosphere:
Though not immersive like the Tomb Raider games, the levels are well designed and are well rendered jungles and ruins. The cut scenes vary between motion comic and animated and all add to the feeling that you could be in a local arcade plunking tokens in and fighting your way through. The storyline is told during the cutscenes for the most part leaving you to concentrate on the action when you have control.

Gameplay/Controls:
I tried playing it with both the keyboard and the game pad and the game pad won hands down on both responsiveness and ease of control. The keyboard could be a little tricky and unresponsive when it came to diagonal jumps while the same sections are a breeze with the game pad. Shooting accuracy is better with the mouse but since that usually isn’t much of a concern the game pad seems by far the best choice. It is a standard Run/Jump/Shoot/Action setup with periodic items that give you bonuses and minuses on stats and weapon upgrades. Single player you get a spear at the beginning of the game which has unlimited throws so you will probably find yourself only changing to other weapons for mini-bosses and bosses or just for the fun of it.

Achievements:
Achievements are setup in three basic ways: speed, skill, and exploration. There are achievements for clearing levels or beating bosses in a certain amount of time, there are achievements for making certain jumps, shots, or puzzle completions a certain way and there are achievements for finding all of certain treasures or relics. Because all of these achievements can’t be completed at the same time it sets the game up for replayability at least a couple of times because while you can do the skill and exploration achievements at the same time, you can’t complete all the time ones if you do.

Multiplayer:
Multiplayer is a lot of fun because completing puzzles and getting to treasures require teamwork. Each player plays one of the two main characters (in single player you just play one while the other periodically interacts in cut scenes) and that character has certain strengths and weaknesses. I won’t go into too much detail because finding these out is part of the fun but I will say sometimes clearing an obstacle requires one player to use a primary talent so the other player can complete the task. Achievements are rewarded to both players and should be a consideration when looting. It is possible for one player to horde most of the loot, which can bring out the competitive nature in some folks leaving one person to fight off the enemy while the other collects the loot. This can actually have a benefit because some achievements are based off of how many points are reached so if one player does most of the kill blows and collects most of the treasure then both players will get the achievements. The fact that there is so much teamwork involved in the game really made multiplayer tons of fun and very replayable.

Replay/Play Time/Cost:
Replay is a no-brainer on this title because the achievements are set up for a miniumum of two plays and multiplayer is so much fun. How long it takes to play through really depends on what achievements you try for and which control setup you choose. If you play on the game pad and go for speed it is only a few hours of play. If you play for skill and exploration and stick with the keyboard and have some problems with the jump it could take you quite a bit longer. Longest play time on a once through would probably be about 10 hours. The game will run you $14.99 from Steam or 1200 points for the XBox 360 so it is pretty cheap for a new title with built-in replay, even if some of the play throughs may be a bit short time-wise.

Last Call:
The game was made as a departure from the Tomb Raider series so if you can get past that and enjoy an isometric arcade game that just happens to have the same character name and take place in a similar environment as the Tomb Raider games then Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light is a great play at a good price.

*DISCLOSURE: A copy of this game was sent to us for the purpose of this review.

20 Years Of Terrorizing The East Coast: HHN Orlando

The first night we arrived through the front gates on opening night and media night so there was definite excitement in the air as a spatter of monsters, from the petite weaving through the crowd to the stiltwalkers towering above, worked the crowd outside the park’s opening arch and a large screen broadcast images of some of the 20 years of icons we could expect to see inside. The fog machines were fired up, the soundtrack of screams were rolling and in the distance chainsaws revved. It was time for some Halloween Horror Nights.

Author’s Note: When doing this review the reviewers ran into a strict policy of no photography of the mazes and shows. As a result most pictures will be of the street scare zones or of maze signs.

*All images in this article courtesy of IsItOctoberYet?



Mazes:

Catacombs:Black Death Rising
In 1534 an outbreak of the Black Death spread through Paris and Marseilles and a small group of doctors quarantined the infected in catacombs where they turned and waited until the day they would be unsealed and released upon those who dared enter. Trying to be historically accurate while terrifying guests the Catacombs were beautiful in their richly and disturbingly accurate detail. From piled-up skulls to The Plague Doctors who were famous for their carrion beak masks (think Spy Vs. Spy, it was actually a primitive gas mask) this maze was a creepy, claustophobic journey underground with sporatic signs telling true facts of the catacombs and plague conditions. It was a little like climbing into woodcarvings and drawings of the time and it was not a pleasant time to be alive, or undead. Makeup and props put a lot of love and care into the details in this maze so that even those who didn’t scream were in awe of the sights.


Hades:The Gates Of Ruin

Based on creatures of mythology, this maze was alive with demons and detail. In one room you walk amongst pillars where statues stand in strange poses all about the room and if you are unlucky enough you may see their snake-haired creator. In another maze of corridors you turn down one path to find strobe effects disorienting you while your path is blocked by a tall figure with the head of a bull. On your journey through you may see a few characters you hadn’t heard of before but they will be memorable from then on.



Horror Nights:The Hallow’d Past

This maze is a real treat to repeat visitors and newcomers alike. Designed mostly as a prop warehouse with a few memorable scenes recreated, you walk past some of the best props from the last 20 years while above you hang the banners for each season. Seeing a ‘thing’ from The Thing maze and the dummies from Dead Silence particularly brought back memories and seeing some scenes recreated from years I missed were wonderful. There were a few scares set up in this maze but it is mostly about nostalgia and showing some of the wonders you have missed if you haven’t made it all of the last 20 years.



Havoc:Dogs of War

By far one of the best mazes of the year, it took a theme which has been toyed with and amped it up to full blast. The government hired Shadow Creek Enterprise to experiment with genetic enhancement of our nation’s fighting forces and they went a little too far with the rage factor. The project name is Havoc and the participants are simply known as Dogs of War. Having seen some of the scare actors outside the maze and video online I know that ‘the soldiers’ actually shaved their heads to work this maze, both the GI Joes and Janes, so that their barcodes would show clearly on their scalps. They scream and rampage, they scramble from bunks and crawlspaces, they pound of the doors and slam into reinforced glass walls. It didn’t matter what time of night we went through or how slow or busy the maze was, these Dogs were always ready to bark and bite.



Zombiegeddon

One of the weaker houses, it was a good idea that just didn’t quite translate right. The concept seemed solid enough: it is Z-Day +6 months and the U.S. government has taken back most of the continental United States and Canada and have knocked down most infestations. They have now liscensed companies to capture ‘unlive’ subjects for target training and public learning. The project is called the Zombie Awareness Plan, Z.A.P. for short and if you have the money, you get the lessons. The only problem is the company you came to train at just learned their safe measures aren’t as effective as they thought. Once you got past all this it was a standard zombie maze with propaganda posters from the Zombie Wars scattered across the walls. The posters are funny but the soundtrack is way too loud causing all the scare actors to wear bright colored ear plugs and making it so that the spiel from one of your ‘trainers’ goes completely unheard. There is a few good scare spots and a decent couple of misdirections but I spent most of my time just reading and laughing at posters. At one point I noticed a zombie had jumped out at me and had for several moments been trying to get my attention but the soundtrack was too loud and I had been reading a poster so I missed the whole scare.

Legendary Truth:The Wyndot Estate

Favorite house by far. The idea of Legendary Truth as investigators isn’t a new one, the community used a group known as the Collective at 2008 HHN and has a fairly expansive website. This year one of their groups known as the Spirit Seekers are investigating a house that was the scene of a grisly murder suicide on October 30th, 1929. They are also testing out a machine designed to pull spirits to them. The house has been fully wired with cameras and the team is in place to try a live broadcast onsite. The real question is, how friendly will the spirits be when they had not gone quietly into the night? The house uses excellent effects to pull off unusual and realistic ghost tricks as well as just plain eerie ones. The talent is top-notch from the Spirit Seeker co-ordinator who meets you on the house steps and tells you to go in and meet up with the team to the last ghost to go bump on your way out. I don’t want to give away how the effects were done or what they were in case some readers are still planning on making it out there but it is definitely worth waiting in line for, more than once.

Psychoscareapy:Echoes of Shadybrook
This house was kind of middle of the road, not a bad housee but not particularly memorable. It was the fourth in Psychoscareapy and having done Psychoscareapy:Home For the Holidays a while back I had pretty high hopes for this maze. It starts pretty solid with a front desk nurse walking around with a syringe sticking out of her eye. From there, well it just becomes another asylum house. PS:Home For The Holidays did an excellent job of twisting the Christmas spirit into a Halloween nightmare giving it a strong and distinctive theme. It was refreshing seeing a real person instead of a dummy in the electric chair, though having an electric chair instead of an electric gurney seemed a bit out of character and almost made it feel more like a prison asylum rather than a long term house for the insane. I have seen the chair used in the past both as an electric chair and as a gas chamber chair, but always in a prison theme and never as a electric therapy chair. There were walkers and gurneys about to try to help the theming but is still came down to being another asylum maze and though the talent worked hard, it really didn’t stand out from other ones across the country.



The Orphanage:Ashes To Ashes

This was a nice strong house with a distinct feel and definite flair for the creepy. Though the story is shrouded in a bit of mystery apparently a lonely and misunderstood orphan named Cindy got tired of her playthings at the orphanage and started a fire. Now the lost children reach out from their ashes that still litter the burned building’s remains with one name on their lips: Cindy. The maze definitely gave you the feeling you were going through a charred building whose ghostly flames still burn hauntingly hot from time to time. The perished orphans are often dressed in old style animal costumes and carved animal masks and cry for help from locked cages, burnt timber or in one case, floating in mid-air. Cindy herself can be seen throughout the house giving you her mischeivous smile and gleeful laugh. The overall effect gives an excellent suspension of disbelief and it is easy to quickly forget you are in a theme park, probably one of the top three houses this year.



Zones & Attractions:

The Coven
This area tried to cover pretty much every witch conception out there. From the naughty sexy witch to the old hag who sees through an eyeball in her hand, if you had a witch preconception it was represented. There were some solid scare spots in the zone and excellent locations for misdirection and sneaking up on folks. It was flanked on both ends by Puritans burning on a pyre, who could at anytime walk up to the edge of their flaming heap and tell you how evil the sexy witch you are getting your picture taken with is. The scare actors held character well and made the zone not just fun to walk but fun to watch. The whole zone I believe was about 100 yards.



Zombie Gras

This seemed like a fun idea for a scare zone that just kinda failed. The idea is simple, zombies infected all but one person at Mardi Gras so that one person is hiding on a crashed float to stay alive. When the undead get too close he throws out beads toward the passing patrons so that the shiney things will distract the zombies long enough for him to find a new place to hide on the float. Having been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans and loving zombies I was pretty excited to get to this zone. I got there and I laughed and watched, then stopped laughing, sat down and watched some more. Event attendees would stop and ask for beads and get them and move on. The zombies would interact a little with the guests, nothing too exciting, then back to chasing the guy around the float. Tied loosely to the Zombiegeddon maze, the events are supposed to depict the North American zombie infestation breaking out. It was a really small zone, not much bigger than a building front, and if you weren’t paying attention you missed it.




Saws N’ Steam

The earth’s crust has cracked and so the new power source is steam. Due to steam misting up all the water, water has become a very precious commodity so watch out, you may be rounded up by chainsaw wielding steampunks for your body’s most valuable fluid. Due to the social issues that all this has created, the inhabitants of New Yorkshire work at this single-mindedly and every body’s harvest is a show they hate to miss. It is like a steampunk street gang and you have wandered onto their turf which is a considerable size of two streets with a connecting alley.



Esqueleto Muerte

Revelling in the seductive taunts of Death you wind your way through a skeletal nightmare… though it really wasn’t so seductive and the skeletons were all black light so it wasn’t too nightmarish either unless the idea of velvet black light posters always gave you the willies. It felt more like a festive Day of The Dead zone, and was enjoyable but fairly short and uneventful.




HHN:20 Years Of Fear

This was a scare zone that at first appears to be a really long one but in reality overlaps with XX:Fear Revealed. You walk into an area that seems to be a prop storage zone. As you go through you see all kinds of characters and icons from the past popping in and out of props from houses and scare zones over the years. It was a true pleasure to see Mary Shaw in all her creepy glory as well as to bow to the Ice Queen and stare up at the Tree Monster. As you progressed out of the maze of props you find yourself passing sets as you enter the XX:Fear Revealed zone.





XX:Fear Revealed

A small zone at the end of the 20 Years of Fear zone this area is mainly meet and greet sets with such past HHN icons as The Storyteller in front of her rocker and reading room, Jack in front of a Circus tent, the Director and many others. The end of the zone consisted of a giant XX with flames shooting out of it and loud music and voice tracked speeches. Don’t get me wrong, Fear himself was huge, his minions that slithered into the crowds were creepy and the flame light could be seen from the other side of the park and it is not a small park! Plenty of people spent plenty of time standing and gaping at the spectacle that was their new icon, Fear himself!



Bill And Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure

This show is an iconic returning symbol of HHN on both coasts and is a playful, sometimes stinging parody of pop culture delivered by two symbols of 1980s pop culture. Though plenty of the fans packing the seats weren’t alive or at least old enough to have seen the Bill and Tedd movies in person, everyone enjoys the shots taken at celebrities and trends that are the top searches on Yahoo these days. Excellent as always I hope rumors of their show’s future demise are bogus.

Bryan Brushwood: Menace And Malice
We weren’t able to time working this show in so we cannot give a personal review of it. Locals, some die-hard east coast haunters, suggested that it was a show that could be missed.

Texting Adventures:
This is an interesting idea they tried out this year and though not original, it is the first time I have seen it used for passing time while waiting in a house line. USA Network has been doing this with both Burn Notice and Covert Ops and it is a fun way to pass time. When you get in line or if you check your park map you are given a number and a word to text to it on your mobile phone. Sending the word starts a kind of choose your own adventure game where you are given different choices to make with different outcomes each time. As an example, maybe at the Orphanage house you are told to send the word CINDY to a certain number. It will tell you that you are in a yard next to a tree, to go in the house send the word HOUSE, to investigate the tree send the word TREE. You may wind up getting crushed by a tree branch or discovering the secret of the Orphanage fire if you make the right or wrong choices. It was a fun little game to play while waiting somewhere and good for some laughs.



How About This Weather?

There were only a couple of issues with the whole celebration. One was the over 85% humidity which HHN could not have any control over and tried to help alleviate with misters and fans. When the humidity gets that high though it gets more difficult to enjoy the fact that it always feels like you put your clothes on fresh out of the washer without letting them dry first. The other was the size of the scare zones for the most part were kinda small, you could easily stand at one end and see the scares the whole length of them. Lots of strong fog machines helped a bit with this but you still generally ended a scare zone wanting more.

Last Call:

HHN Orlando is a Halloween mecca for the east coast and for good reason. For 20 years they have been building quality houses and scare zones and hiring excellent scareactors to fill them. This year was no different and it was a spooky pleasure to walk down 20 years of memory lane with them.

*DISCLOSURE: I went through five shirts over three days of humidity for the purpose of this review.