Tag Archives: adventure game

A Golden Wake (2014)

A Golden Wake is a change of pace for Wadjet Eye, which has previously mostly published fantasy or science-fiction games. Their new point-and-click adventure game is neither of those, but rather a historical story set around the real-life land boom around Miami in the 1920’s, with a jazz soundtrack and jugendstil decorations to prove it.

The main and only playable character is Alfie Banks, a young man eager to make his name in the world (or live up to his family’s name, anyway). Ousted from his late father’s New York real-estate firm via jealous co-workers, he decides to pack up and go to Florida to seek his fortune. It’s 1921, and the local housing market is booming, especially the development of Miama-near Coral Gables, masterminded by one George Merrick. Merrick is one of several historical people who appear as fictionalised versions of themselves in the game and functions as a sort of father figure for Alfie, giving him things to do. Continue reading

Technobabylon (2015)

About 70 years from now, Technobabylon predicts, nuclear wars will have become commonplace. In that world, the U.S. and China will both have violently split apart. The European Union, interestingly, stays together, but apparently at the expense of some unspecified liberties (an extrapolation, perhaps, of the current European attitude towards GMO). Newton, a new city-state implied to be somewhere in the area of what today is southern Somalia, is a place of refuge both for people fleeing from conflict as well as people aiming to test – and widen – the limits of what science can, and should, accomplish. Even the police detectives there are scientists.

This spot at the vanguard of research where almost anything goes technologically is also a remarkably diverse place, with people from all different corners of the world coming together. Because of budget restrictions and the fact that most of the game takes place at night, there aren’t particularly many crowd scenes where one could really observe this, but the main characters and the handful of NPCs are pleasingly varied in skin colour and sexual identity. As the Technobabylon of the title, the city is the setting for the newest game by point-and-click adventure-game publisher Wadjet Eye (developed by James Dearden from an unfinished series of freeware installments).

With its science-fiction noir trappings, the game’s story is difficult (and would be spoilery) to summarize. Suffice it to say that it involves deception, a string of weird murders, duplicity, a man accused of a crime he didn’t commit, treachery, a digital network more advanced than the internet (albeit looking like an 80’s cyberpunk vision of virtual reality), double-crosses, and a highly advanced artificial intelligence and the forces arraigned against it for reasons that are at odds with each other. All of these elements crisscross in the plot and ultimately prove to be the ripple effects of a decades-earlier betrayal. It’s all very engaging even if I saw the central plot twist coming halfway through (thanks to a painting and a name I correctly identified as foreshadowing and thematically relevant, respectively).
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The Blackwell Epiphany (2014)

Three-and-a-half years after the release of the last instalment, and two years after my corresponding review, Dave Gilbert has now released the newest episode of the Blackwell series. He can be excused for the long wait time, having been busy growing his family, adapting to changing times by preparing mobile versions of his games, and building his studio, Wadjet Eye, into a well-respected and trusted indie publisher. So trusted that I pre-ordered their last two games (this one and Primordia, 2012) without consideration to any reviews and will likely do so with the next one when it becomes available on GOG. Not that the early reviews would have dissuaded me, which were pretty glowing, promising the longest and most emotional series instalment.

As far as I can recall (unfortunately, The Blackwell Epiphany does not offer any kind of previously-on recap, perhaps so as not to bore people playing all five games in close succession), the ending to part 4 suggested the advent of a larger, more epic world. The main characters, medium Rosa Blackwell and her ghost sidekick Joey, were confronted with a shadowy conspiracy they intended to take down. There were also continued hints that Joey was withholding important information about his demise from Rosa, grounds for a future falling-out. The latter thread doesn’t really materialise: We do learn a few things about Joey’s past and how he was connected to previous game characters (whom I didn’t really remember, to be honest), and there’s an achievement promising “The hows and whys of Joey”, which however, I did not manage to get. But there’s nothing relationship-threatening there. I wonder whether this was something Gilbert planned but dropped, or whether I simply misinterpreted some dialogue two years ago. Continue reading

Dragonsphere (1994)

A magical kingdom populated by humans, fairies, dark elves and shapeshifters is threatened by an evil sorcerer. A spell to trap the wizard inside his tower is crafted and deployed at the last minute, but it won’t hold forever. 20 years later, the king who had led the initial fight against the sorcerer has died, and the dragonsphere, an artefact designed to show the progress the villain makes in weakening the spell, has begun to crack. Now, the new king must go on a quest to find a way to defeat the wizard once and for all.

That’s the apparent premise for Dragonsphere, a point-and-click adventure from 1994. I say “apparent” because there’s a fairly good twist two thirds of the way in that changes the nature of the story substantially, though not in a way that distracts from the fairly generic setting. It is a bit disappointing, though understandable given the limitations of the era, that the protagonist’s epic quest is rather understated. The dragon-like mounts seen in the animated intro stay in their stables, our hero using his feet to travel from location to location. The king of the fairies holds court in a small garden, and the majestic civilisation of the dark elves turns out to be a single tent near an oasis. I can’t help but think that if the production team didn’t want to or couldn’t create appropriate, large-scale locations, they shouldn’t have promised them early in the game. Some seeming inconsistencies (like a small infusion of science-fiction into the fantasy world) are never fully explained. Continue reading

Primordia (2012)

Developed by Victor Pflug and Mark Yohalem, Primordia is the newest point-and-click adventure released by publisher Wadjet Eye Games. While I hadn’t heard of them before 2012, I played enough of their games this year that I pre-ordered Primordia before reading any reviews, such is the strength of their brand. The new game falls in nicely with their previous science-fiction titles, Gemini Rue and Resonance: it has an engaging, occasionally thought-provoking story, interesting characters, good voice-acting, appealing if retro graphics, and a reasonably simple interface. It’s regular $10 price may also be a bit on the steep side for six and a half hours of gameplay, but that’s a regular complaint I have about indie games, may stem from unrealistic expectations, and in any case the pre-order price was a little less than that, so I shouldn’t complain.

In the post-apocalyptic world of Primordia, humans have come and gone, leaving behind only a dusty wasteland and scores of machines both sentient and not. The game’s protagonist is Horatio Nullbuilt v5, a humanoid robot living in a crashed ship far from any civilisation. He does not remember his previous incarnations before the latest upgrade, nor does he remember his creator (hence “Nullbuilt”). He spends his days trying to repair the ship and tinkering with Crispin Horatiobuilt v1, a flying robot intended to assist him. One day, the ship’s power core is stolen, setting off a journey to Metropol, the only remaining city and a place Horatio abhors without knowing exactly why.
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Blackwell Bundle (2003-2011)

The Blackwell series, about a medium helping restless spirits pass over to the other side, is one of the recent success stories of independently-developed adventure games. It started out with a free game developed in Adventure Game Studio, a now open-source game development tool. Bestowers of Eternity – part 1 (2003), which is still available for free on the AGS website, is not a particularly great game: It has no voice-acting and (at least in that version, though some reviews I’ve read suggest differently) no music, minimal sound effects, and very rough graphics. The game is much too talky, with an imbalance between walls of text (with frequent typos for good measure) and letting the player actually do something. There are few puzzles, and what few there are often don’t make complete sense, relying on contrivance instead of driving the puzzle solutions with realistic character (inter)actions. The interface is dodgy. Worst of all, there is no “drive” to the game; it just plods along without any real tension. There is potential in the story and characters, but the game abruptly ends after about an hour, just as it’s supposed to shift into higher gear.

Dave Gilbert, the writer, never released a sequel to Bestowers of Eternity, but he did release The Blackwell Legacy (2006/11), a remake of his earlier work with the same premise. Graphically, Gilbert opted for a look that, while more pixelated, is much more aesthetically pleasing and internally consistent. He also added speech and a price tag, making the game a commercial release despite still having been developed in AGS. That apparently ticked off quite a few fellow AGS developers (though he’d already done something similar earlier that same year), but probably paid off in the long run, inspiring several other developers to also hire people to polish their AGS games to a state where they’re commercially viable. Gilbert started his own publisher, Wadjet Eye Games, which by all accounts has been quite successful for an indie company. Besides Gilbert’s own games, he’s also published Gemini Rue and Resonance.

The first hour of The Blackwell Legacy, then, consists more or less of a straight remake of the earlier game, with a new storyline added and the stupider puzzles removed. But it’s a much better game, and not just because of the increased production values (though the voices and music and spiffier visuals really do add quite a lot). The puzzles are more intuitive and thought-through, and the characters behave more realistically. The main storyline is expanded and satisfactorily concluded. If I’d played this game in 2006, I’d probably have complained about the cost-to-length ratio, the fact that it takes a long time for the game to finally get to its premise, and the fact that, while it does have an ending, it doesn’t really feel all that complete. Luckily, it’s 2012, I knew there were three other instalments with a fifth to come some time in the future, and I paid less than $10 for the first four on GOG.com. That’s a very good deal and I would actually have been willing to pay more.
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Sanitarium (1998)

I don’t like horror all that much. Or rather, I don’t like most of today’s movies that get labelled with that genre. Slasher films, splatter films, monster films, zombie films, and last and definitely least, torture porn… they all tend to take delight in the transgressive and the disgusting. That doesn’t mean all these films are bad or badly made (though many are), taking the easy way out (with jump scares and other shock effects), unconcerned with character development, and not concerned with a larger social/political agenda. But I just don’t have a taste for anything even resembling body horror. That goes for movies post-Code, it goes for television, and literature, and video games.

My dislike and general avoidance of those kinds of horror genre media products does not extend to more subtle, psychological horror (as long as it stays away from gore). Two of my favourite films I’ve reviewed for this blog (The Offence and Hangover Square) are arguably horror films in that they explore in detail some very dark recesses in the human mind. They’re not scary per se, but they are deeply unsettling.

So it was with some trepidation that I bought and then started playing Sanitarium. Billed as a horror adventure and looking from the screenshots more like an action RPG, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But it’s a good thing I came around, because the game is much more like the second paragraph above than the first one.
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