Monthly Archives: January 2014

Crazy Taxi

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No amount of wreckage is too high if it means getting your passenger there on time.

PC Release: March 4, 2011

By Ian Coppock

No game has more successfully gotten away with not giving a damn than Crazy Taxi. This is the secret as to how a bare-bones conglomeration of wreckable worlds and a great soundtrack produced one of the most beloved arcade titles of all time. Though I didn’t recognize the game for many years, I played this back in 2000 on a Dreamcast, and gaped with joy when I saw it again thirteen years later on Steam. Crazy Taxi is a great game not because the developers got lucky, but because they knew how to smash together a carefree game that’s too much fun for you to notice its drawbacks.

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Crazy Taxi is a driving game combining the best elements of road rage and piloting a tank. Players can take one of four drivers out for a spin in a sunny city that is 90’s California in all but name.

Once you’ve picked a character and their signature taxi vehicle, you’re behind the wheel of the most indestructible taxi known to man; a vehicle that can shatter barricades and slam through hordes of other cars without skipping a beat.

You know that things are going to get intense when the drivers' blood types are listed out.

You know that things are going to get intense when the drivers’ blood types are listed out.

For five or so minutes, your sole objective is to tear around the city picking up and dropping off as many people as possible. You charge exorbitant fees for these trips and thank Christ for that, because the adamantium plating protecting the taxi ain’t paying for itself!

After picking up a customer, HAUL CHEEKS!! You have a set amount of time to get them to their destination. You have a directional arrow above your taxi that’ll point you where you need to go, but the catch is that it’s not a GPS. It doesn’t account for physical obstacles. I only realized this after I smashed my windshield through a Pizza Hut that, I promise you, was yielding to no one.

"Quit yer bellyachin', dude! You give me only 30 seconds to get there, there's only so many red lights I can stop at!"

“Quit yer bellyachin’, dude! You give me only 30 seconds to get there, there’s only so many red lights I can stop at!”

I decided to take B.D. Joe’s low-rider taxi for a drive and promptly racked up at least 572 car crashes. No cops, no problem. Plus, your psychopathic passengers will give you additional money for the stuns you pull off. You can build up huge combos by driving into the opposite lane and barely missing other cars, or jet off of a ramp for air and cash in equal measures.

Nothing can destroy your taxi, and the damn thing has only two speeds: parked, and breakneck. The controls are… abrupt, to say the least. But they’re easy to get a hang of. Anyone looking for a game adhering to the laws of physics had better turn a 180, pronto.

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WOOOOOO!!!!!

Though the rounds are short, the massiveness of the environment means hours of driving fun as you tear around the city. The more customers you can pack into your drive, the higher your score will be. In the world of Crazy Taxi, this number determines the class of your license. Until video game laws are legally binding, I can live with this system. Of course, if you don’t get to the passenger’s destination on time, they’ll curse you out and jump ship, leaving you with wasted time and no fare money.

Adding to the game’s good vibe is a soundtrack of 90’s punk and rock, including The Juliet Dagger’s Taking it Back and… well, that’s the only one I can name, but it’s good music. A lot of what makes this game is the music; it is a companion to the fast-paced gameplay and the sunshiny, relentlessly positive environment. This makes for a game that is carefree and fun as only the 90s were.

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You can never have too many favorite altitudes.

Crazy Taxi does have a few basic frustrations. For all the awesomeness afforded by the game’s simplicity, that simplicity also spawns a few issues. For one thing, I’ve lost count of how many times my car has gotten snagged on a curb. Unless the city of Los FranDiego puts burrs on its curbs, I’m not sure why my car got stuck on them. Every once in a while I can solve the problem with a quick peel-out, but not as often as I’d like.

The PC controls are, understandably, not great. Plug a controller in to circumvent this problem, because the keys are a bit random and there’s no indication what you need to press to go forwards, backwards, or to boost. I wasn’t in the mood to play Guess Who with my keyboard, but my 360 controller worked like a charm.

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GOGOGOGOGOGOGOGO

I’m not going to tell you that Crazy Taxi‘s visuals are competitive. I will tell you, though, that the city in which game takes place is wonderfully designed and built to last. There’s a near-perfect balance of steep slopes, winding highways, neat grids and eclectic seaside roads. There’s also a lot to be said for the variety present in the game’s locales and destinations.

Another feature the game packs is a series of challenging bonus maps. Do stunts, pop balloons and even serve as a bowling ball in car form if any of those sound fun to you. Go wild.

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You need a taxi ride to the cafeteria? How big a school IS this?

Like I said at the beginning, Crazy Taxi is too much fun for you to really notice its drawbacks. It’s a game that appealed to the pyromaniac, customer servant and reckless driver parts of me in equal measure. You can find this game for five bucks on Steam or on last-gen console download stores. I think a mobile version is out now as well.

So what’ll it be? A single shot of Del Taco, or endless opportunity for reckless abandon of safety in pursuit of the almighty stunt dollar?

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You can buy Crazy Taxi here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Afterfall: InSanity

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Save your girlfriend! No, wait… stop an evil warlord! No, wait… escape to the surface! No, wait… stop an evil plague! Jesus, I don’t know. How on earth am I supposed to come up with a good lead when the game is so discombobulated? It’s like the developers tried to fit all these things in at once by just dumping them in a pile rather than melding them together! I mean, honestly, if you have an ambitious vision for a game, that’s great, but you have to find a way to let us experience the rest of this without having to make guesses or be endlessly confused. Sigh.

PC Release: November 25, 2011

By Ian Coppock

I can respect an ambitious story. Such things are one of the biggest occupants of my free time and of this website. Perhaps the biggest tragedy of creativity is when someone has a brilliant idea but not quite the faculty for translating it into something we can all appreciate. These Idea-Good, Execution-Bad situations are especially toxic in video game form, because it’s easy to see when someone has tried hard in all the wrong ways. This is the case with Afterfall. Not the worst game I’ve ever played, but then again, the worst game I’ve ever played didn’t make it to the start screen.

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Afterfall: InSanity and its dubiously mis-capitalized subtitle come to us from Poland and the ironically named Intoxicate Studios, who published a work of fiction that rips off Dead Space and Fallout 3 damn near symmetrically. The fictional World War III ushered in a nuclear apocalypse, and now a survivor’s colony beneath Warsaw, Poland, is the last bastion of humanity on the planet.

Albert Tokaj (pronounced Tokai), your character, is an overworked psychologist tasked with keeping an underground city sane.

Albert tends to the colonists beneath Warsaw and hates every second of it.

Albert tends to the colonists beneath Warsaw and hates every second of it.

Albert faces stress from all quarters. His huge job, overbearing boss and relationship problems with the fair Carolina have given him insomnia.

Colonel EvilStache, the colony’s indifferent dictator, sends Albert off with a squad of soldiers into the derelict tunnels beneath Vault 101-I mean-the colony. Their mission? To shine bright lights onto insane maintenance workers while Albert surmises their craziness.

Recommended course of treatment: CROWBAR TO THE FACE, BITCH!!

Recommended course of treatment: CROWBAR TO THE FACE, BITCH!!

The people working the graveyard shifts down here are infected by a… virus? Or something? It’s not really made clear, but they’re crazy, and to Intoxicate Studios, that’s all that really matters. Before long, the soldiers escorting Albert have been steam gauged to death and now the bumbling, sleepy psychologist is somehow doing dive-rolls and using wrenches as nun-chucks.

Consistency is nice.

Five seconds ago you fell asleep during a therapy session and could barely get up. Now you're headshotting and clobbering zombies no problem. Makes sense.

Five seconds ago you fell asleep during a therapy session and could barely get up. Now you’re headshoting and clobbering zombies no problem. Makes sense.

Having metamorphosed into a badass, Albert must now… actually, I’m not quite sure.

Afterfall‘s story is bad. Really bad. Girlfriend-living-in-your-car bad. The writing is some of the worst I’ve seen of any video game. I’m willing to spare Intoxicate some heat since this was probably translated from Polish, but that doesn’t excuse the second of this game’s shitty-story punches: stilted voice acting. In a manner similar to kindergarten play rehearsals, these characters deliver flat, completely unbelievable dialogue that made me laugh when it didn’t make me cringe. Albert sounds like an English dub of a Japanese anime, while his girlfriend Carolina sounds like Princess Peach. Colonel EvilStache, I’m pretty sure, was voiced by the guy who does Dr. Robotnik for the Sonic the Hedgehog series. The other characters’ voice actors fared little better.

But, it wouldn’t be completely shitty voice acting without nonsensical dialogue. Only the most basic tenets of stage-setting made any sense to me, like Albert announcing that he was descending a flight of stairs. He becomes convinced that the colonel is responsible for the plague or virus or whatever, but I literally could not understand what the two were talking about. The things they yell at each other are vague and melodramatic. They could have touched on the story for all the sense it was making to me, but that’s the problem; it makes no sense.

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Oh, I’m sorry, I wasn’t aware that this game had ANY points of interest.

As things in the colony go to hell, Albert’s tale becomes more and more disjointed. Major characters are introduced for no reason and you’re expected to immediately know why, for how little the game tells you. Basically, from what I can tell, Albert’s story is that of escaping the colony and going to the surface. Everything else stuffed in and around that single clause of words is just noise. Bad writing, bad voice acting, horrific plot, inexplicable conflicts and dialogue… it’s a complete mess.

If nothing else will illustrate just how bad this game’s writing is:

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“You know what your problem is, Mr. Tokaj? You’re not even trying to be respectful.”

 

Yup.

The gameplay in Afterfall isn’t as strikingly bad as its story, but it’s just not very fun. This is where the game really rips off of Dead Space; you play as Albert from an over-the-shoulder view, walking at the same pace. Weapons and your flashlight are arranged in a pattern similar to Dead Spaceand the game’s placing of both environments and monsters is an obvious “inspiration” borrowed from the journey of Isaac Clarke.

If you've played Dead Space, and you buy Afterfall, you'll be really good at. Until I find you.

If you’ve played Dead Space, and you buy Afterfall, you’ll be really good at it. Until I find you.

The combat is super-clunky. Albert has magical sudden knowledge of weapons, but the game utilizes a ridiculous combat rhythm system that makes attacking and blocking arduous. In other words, the monsters can rip into your sorry ass all day and you’ll be stumbling backwards so much that you’ll never get to fight back before dying. The only way to succeed in this game is to attack first. That, and dive-rolling out of the way. Dive-rolling is guaranteed to make you dodge any attack and essentially breaks this game’s difficulty. To Afterfall‘s credit, weapons and ammo are rather hard to find, which made this game challenging at times.

The worst part of this game’s gameplay is the ludicrous amount of quick-time events. The lazy man’s choice for minimum interaction with maximum visuals, quick-time events proliferate in Afterfall. You’re expected to hit random buttons at random times all while watching action unfold on the screen. Most puzzles are solved with quick time events and in doing so stop being puzzles.

Even as the game expanded, I was no more drawn in.

Even as the game expanded, I was no more drawn in. Primarily because I had no clue in what direction it was expanding.

Aftefall does have some major redeeming qualities, though. The environmental design is quite good, a stark contrast from just about everything else about it. The visuals are nice and arranged in a manner conducive to atmosphere. You’ll find conflict-torn areas with chilling clues as to what went down and how far away the monsters are. One area required me to find the missing body parts of a dismembered doctor for a secondhand retinal scan. If effort was employed in Afterfall, it was here. For all the confusion afforded by the story, the Glory colony is very pretty, and disturbing, in equal measures.

The visuals aren’t super-impressive, but they are decent, and more than I expected. Combined with the level design, it’s possible to get absorbed into whatever parts of Afterfall lacked story. There was one two-hour bit in which Albert treks alone through the abandoned, hair-raising sublevels of the colony, and this I enjoyed. It was like coming up for air after one shitty dive far down and before another, longer one. Parts of the game are scary but it does feel like a hearty swig of diet Dead Space. Monsters will occasionally hide but most of the time they’re just out in the open waiting for you. I will say that the breathing noises they make from far away are scary, but there’s really not much more to it.

Afterfall is visually pleasing, I'll give it that.

Afterfall is visually pleasing, I’ll give it that.

Though the visuals demonstrated effort on behalf of Intoxicate, they weren’t enough to salvage Afterfall for me. Perhaps Albert finds out who started the virus, perhaps he dumps his helium-ingesting girlfriend. I wouldn’t know; I rage-quit Afterfall about four hours in when the game bugged out and deleted my gun… during a quick-time event necessitating a gun. I have no plans to continue. Indeed, I have no way to continue.

For every percentage of good that Afterfall had, there was ten that was bad. Between the god-awful writing, the most juvenile voice-acting I’ve ever heard, the boring gameplay, and a story that makes absolutely no sense, not even good visuals can save this junkheap of a game from apocalypse. Apparently Intoxicate is developing a sequel called Afterfall: ReConquest, and I’d suggest coming up with something more coherent than a non-ironic version of Fear and Loathing in Las VegasDo it for the four hours of my life that I’ll never get back, if nothing else.

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You can buy Afterfall: InSanity here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Karateka

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Save a beautiful princess from a sadistic warlord.

PC Release: November 7, 2012

By Ian Coppock

As a general rule, I tend to think of remakes and reboots as a cop-out. Studios in desperate need of both creativity and funds solve both problems by prettying up an old favorite and re-releasing it. The amount of remakes in today’s media industries is a bit depressing. Spiderman‘s been rebooted despite Spider-Man 3 coming out only five years beforehand. Nintendo’s been making almost nothing BUT remakes these past few years, digging into an impressive back catalog to compensate for an in-studio creativity and originality vacuum. Thankfully, the modern remake of Karateka is one of those few remakes that actually works, blending the soul of the original with the means of modernity to produce a title of some excellence.

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Like the 8-bit arcade game from the days of yore, Karateka espouses perhaps the most cliche storyline of gamedom; rescue the princess from some bastard who’s captured her for marriage or power or what have you.

The game has you take control of three protagonists, each of whom wuv the princess vewy, vewy much.

Rescue the princess? What a novel concept!
Rescue the princess? What a novel concept!

The game’s central protagonist is the young, sexy, heavily musclebound True Love, who kicks ass at all things karate. It’s your job to get him through all of evil warlord Akuma’s thugs to rescue Princess Mariko.

It’s impressive that he still has the strength to fight after climbing up a goddamn cliff. Unlike that pansy Wesley in The Princess Bride, he didn’t even need to take a break before jumping into the action.

The True Love is quite a badass. He's the savior whom the princess will be happiest to see.
The True Love is quite a badass. He’s the savior whom the princess will be happiest to see.

The game is what I guess you’d call a… rail brawler? You’re guided along a winding path up to Akuma’s castle, engaging his men in rythm-based one-on-one melees. The gameplay is simple; block incoming punches and kicks before responding in kind with your own punishing attacks. Each enemy has his own attack pattern, throwing down one or more attacks. You can try to attack as they’re going at it, or wait for an opening in their defense.

One round of Karateka takes me about 45 minutes, making the game a shotgun experience. The first few baddies you tango with fall over like crop circle cornstalks, but it’s not long before enemies are throwing down mantis kicks and super-punches and all kinds of crazy shit. The entire game proceeds as thus: walk up to enemy, knock his block off, rinse’n’repeat. Thankfully, the gameplay progresses gradually and is excellently paced. Karateka will usually cut you a break after a tough fight, allowing you to build up your chi once more.

A simple concept for a simple game.

A simple concept for a simple game.

Karateka‘s premise is delivered through an intro screen, after which the game features no dialogue beyond the grunts and growls of your enemies. The focus of the game is the gameplay itself, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Some fights get frustrating, but if you have quick reflexes, you can block your enemies’ attacks and throw down some satisfying attacks of your own. It’s a dynamic that I found to be oddly relaxing, strange given the quick reflex motif.

The True Love’s power is not infinite, though. He has a health bar that can be refilled by doing well in fights or by getting high on magical blue flower steroids you’ll find along the path, but too many wrong moves and your ass will get slapped off the face of the earth a la Super Smash Bros. You can prompt two additional protagonists to step up to the plate: a humble monk and a gorilla-human hybrid otherwise known as the brute. They’ll go toe to toe with whoever took down the True Love, giving two two additional chances to progress.

The True Love has some bitchin' backup, giving you three chances in total to save the princess.

The True Love has some bitchin’ backup, giving you three chances in total to save the princess.

The world of Karateka is rendered in vivid cel shading, perhaps the most underrated form of video game artwork. Is it realism? No. But extravagant, stylistic artwork can add a great deal of atmosphere and feeling to the game world. Karateka is no exception. The game’s geography comprises lush forests, beautiful temples, autumn trees and the magnificent castle itself. I slowed my character’s march toward the enemy down to take in the view, and you should too. The artwork helped reinforce Karateka’s distinctive vibe.

The visuals are accompanied by a dynamic score mixing Asian flutes with deep drumbeats. These sections will occasionally quiet and let the sounds of nature, like wind and waterfalls, take over. It’s a relaxing and well-balanced artistic experience that helped flesh out Karateka, which, while fun, had a soup-thin plot that needed support from some other pillar of good game design.

Though short, Karateka is a pleasure to play and to look at. The attention to detail is impressive for a low-profile remake.

Though short, Karateka is a pleasure to play and to look at. The attention to detail is impressive for a low-profile remake.

In essence, Karateka‘s art, music, and small story serve ultimately to frame a new style of brawler gameplay. Each encounter with an enemy is a dance of competing reflexes and will. Timing your blocks and punches is essential, but the game’s groove is pretty easy to get into.

The fact that each enemy has his own punching rhythm is where the challenge comes in. The first few enemies go down in a cinch, but they go up in difficulty as you approach the central fortress. Sometimes you’ll fave a few “breather” enemies after beating a hard boss, but the overall level of competence you must have continues to rise. It gives the game some balance without making it too punishing.

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HAVE AT THEE! No, wait, wrong hemisphere.

This isn’t exactly a magnum opus, but if you’ve got five bucks and an hour to kill, Karateka is for you. It’s a brawling game made for people who aren’t fans of brawlers, and does a good job of capturing the same rhythmic fighting spirit of the original 8-bit game in a fun, pretty new setting.

Thanks for reading! On Friday I’m reviewing the crappiest horror game I’ve ever played in my life. You might not get the terror you crave from my review, but expect to die laughing. Do I proclaim myself a comedian by promising you that? No. The game will make you laugh for me.

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You can buy Karateka here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Amnesia: Justine

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Pass a series of psych tests in a bid for your freedom.

PC Release: April 12, 2011

By Ian Coppock

Last night I had a dream that I was once again living in my old college dorm, a structure that will fall apart the day a butterfly glances at it the wrong way. Few horror settings are more fitting than a freshman dorm, and in my dream, my roommates contracted a strain of influenza that turned them into pus-riddled freaks. By day, they were fine, but by night, I had to lay in bed listening to their scratches on my door. I woke up with a smile on my face and immediately began writing a review for this game.

What’s that? I’m desensitized? YOU’RE desensitized! I don’t have a problem, I can quit horror whenever I want!

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Justine is not some spontaneous third installment in the Amnesia series. It’s actually a DLC for the original Amnesia: The Dark Descent, set in the same universe but with a new story and setting. It was somewhat cathartic to return to the game world of the first Amnesia after the agonizing love/hate relationship I developed for Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs.

Justine is set in 1858, in a kinky murder dungeon/insane asylum beneath the streets of Paris. You, a young French woman, are awoken by a cheerful gramophone recording made by another woman named Justine. She tells you that you’re a little off your rocker, and that if you can pass the psych exams set before you, you’ll be allowed to leave. Sounds simple enough, right?

Um... hello... you're awfully cheerful, Ms. Justine.

Um… hello… you’re awfully cheerful, Ms. Justine.

The Dark Descent was not as simple as descending into darkness and A Machine for Pigs was not as simple as dicing up bacon, so I immediately suspected there to be more to these psych tests than simply passing them.

My suspicions were confirmed when a naked, eyeless man shuffled in front of my cell door and asked “is that you, my love?”

OH MY GEEZUS NO!!!!

OH MY GEEZUS NO!!!!

It was with no small trepidation that I guided the world’s most unfortunate woman out of her cell and into the tests. Each of Justine‘s three areas comprises a human captive, a puzzle, and a locked door. You have a few options for passing the test; the high road is to take the time and effort to solve the puzzle, while avoiding the monsters, and get through the exit that way.

Justine offers a more chilling alternative, though: you can simply kill the hostage in each area, and the door will open, sparing you the time needed to solve the puzzle and the risk of getting your face raked off by Monsieurs le Terrifyique.

That was Frenchist, I apologize.

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A hard choice. Solve the puzzle and save the victim’s life, or kill him to save yourself?

Amnesia‘s hallmark atmosphere of oppression comes to new life in this DLC. Everything the game throws at you is a whisper urging you to simply kill the hostage and minimize risk to yourself. The puzzles in each of the three areas are hard; certainly more so than the simplistic challenges in Machine for Pigs and even the more elaborate ones in The Dark Descent. I appreciated them for rewarding conventional thinking, as in one case where you simply stack stuff to reach a ladder. More difficult challenges include reconstructing a slideshow and taking first place in the world’s screamiest obstacle course.

The one time this game encourages you to be compassionate is with the captives themselves. Each has been imprisoned by Justine for unspecified reasons, and it’s heavily implied that the three monsters you encounter were once her lovers or admirers. The hostages will plead for their lives even as the monsters draw near, creating a heartrending dilemma.

The monsters are tragic figures in their own right. I wasn't about to offer them hugs, but I kept wondering what happened to them. And yes, that dude's schlong is indeed visible, but let's be adults here.

The monsters are tragic figures in their own right. I wasn’t about to offer them hugs, but I kept wondering what happened to them. And yes, that dude’s schlong is indeed visible, but let’s be mature here.

Core to Amnesia‘s tension and difficulty is the gameplay, the removal of which was my biggest gripe about Machine for PigsJustine features no lantern, health, or tinderboxes, stripping your stealth and progression capabilities down several notches. You can’t defend yourself, of course; your only means of self-preservation is to run and hide. Unlike in The Dark Descent, you don’t lose sanity by hiding in the dark, but you’ll begin to lose your marbles if you stare at the monsters or witness disturbing events, like the slow deaths of the hostages.

The environment of Justine is balanced to accommodate the lack of resources, but even this couldn’t compare to the most damning of all this DLC’s challenges: permanent death. Yep. If you die, you have to start Justine all over again. The terror of this knowledge adds much to the game’s horror, but it becomes a problem in the third and last puzzle, which is difficult and requires much trial and error. Indeed, that challenging puzzle combined with permanent death is the reason I haven’t even finished this DLC, much less reviewed it, until the last few weeks. And I’ve had Amnesia in my Steam library for a long time.

Though permanent death is an intimidating feature, don’t let it sway you away from Justine. This DLC is hard, but not impossible. Reading into the clues you find and using the environment around you will guide you to victory, as will hiding from the monsters, of course.

Permanent death is a risky feature to have in a video game. On one hand, it adds a glorious element of challenge that makes beating the game that much more satisfying. On the other hand, it can create a lot of frustration when you fail a complicated puzzle and have to start over completely.

Permanent death is a risky feature to have in a video game.

I’ve gone over pretty much all there is to the story of Amnesia: Justine. The DLC is even vaguer in its narrative than The Dark Descent. You’ll find clues in letters and documents scattered about the place, but don’t expect a complete treatise on every last detail. All you have to work with are implications; it’s heavily implied that the three human hostages and the three… less human… monsters are tied heavily to Justine. And who is Justine? Who is this femme fatale of a psychologist speaking from gramophones? What is her interest in your character? Why is she not watching your progress in this asylum dungeon? Or is she?

On top of all that, there’s your situation to figure out. You’re an anonymous woman, trapped in this dungeon with psychopaths and hostages. How did you get here, and, quite classically of the Amnesia series, why can’t you remember anything about yourself? There are clues to this conundrum as well, scattered throughout the cells. The oppressive atmosphere urging you to kill the hostages, combined with these scatterings, gave Justine a horror climate all its own while feeling truly Amnesia, something that I quite missed in Machine for Pigs.

If The Dark Descent was a study in committing a crime, Justine is a study of being the victim of one.

If The Dark Descent was a study in committing a crime, Justine is a study in being the victim of one.

The graphics and artwork of Justine are, unsurprisingly, little changed from The Dark Descent‘s base game. The DLC reuses most of the game’s assets, though a few new models and objects are added, including slideshow projectors, torture tools and the monsters themselves.

Justine‘s voice acting is excellent, in many ways exceeding that of the original game. What might surprise you is that the monsters in this game, being severely mutilated humans rather than undead freaks, talk. Each of the three has their own personality, voice, and dialogue. I hated the damn things and ran as far away from them as possible, and was yet compelled to remain behind and listen to their ramblings. Similarly to Half-Life, listening to this dialogue adds more to the vague central plot.

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Make some fun. Build a barrel tower.

A few new musical items were added to the mix as well. The monsters have a new theme resembling an accordion getting tortured (quite appropriate for the French setting), and the tracks continue the mournful, depressing, delicious traditions of the first Amnesia. The level design is, of course, on par with the original game.

Amensia: Justine is included for free with a copy of Amnesia: The Dark Descent, a game that anyone who knows me even half-well will know I recommend zealously. It’s one of those neat little free novelties, an experimental chocolate alongside the Christmas candy mix. If you loved The Dark DescentJustine very naturally picks up where that game left off in terms of design, and tries out some new things. It’s worth a shot for any horror fan.

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You can buy Amnesia: The Dark Descent here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Jurassic Park: The Game

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Lead a team of survivors off of an island overrun by dinosaurs.

PC Release: November 15, 2011

By Ian Coppock

Jurassic Park began as a mere book, until my parents showed it to me and it became a source of all-around sustenance. Dinosaurs fascinated me as a small child; even in college I don’t think I read as much on any subject as I did about them. I spent my childhood thinking everything in terms of dinosaurs, so when a dino video game comes around, my ears still perk up. Jurassic Park: The Game is the latest JP work of its class, and the first title I heard to be quite story-heavy. We like stories here at Art as Games, and dinosaurs. You can show yourself to the door otherwise.

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Jurassic Park: The Game is an original story cooked up by the fine guys and gals at Telltale Games, the episode-crazy wizards who brought us that Walking Dead video game I reviewed about a month ago. Like that title, Jurassic Park is a cinematique point-and-click adventure game divided into several episodes, each of which is about ninety minutes long.

The story takes place during and after the events of the Jurassic Park film, in which the InGen corporation has found a way to clone dinosaurs and bring them back for the world’s most kickass zoo, on a Costa Rican island. Unfortunately, the electrified pens keeping these beasties in are shut off, causing the dinos to run rampant across the island. The game follows several sets of new characters drawn to the island for various reasons, who will ultimately band together to find a way off of it.

The game's characters come from a riot of backgrounds, and are on the island for as diverse a palette of reasons.

The game’s characters come from a riot of backgrounds, and are on the island for as diverse a palette of reasons.

It was neat to see new people in the background of one of my favorite films, but each one falls into a wearily predictable lineup. We have the overbearing father, the rebellious teenager, the bad guy with a heart of gold, the sinister scientist, and, for once, we’re missing the black guy who dies violently. American media surprises me sometimes :p

The problem with having predictably written characters is that the plot in turn becomes predictable. Each character is an unrepentant trope exemplar; dino vet Gerry Harding is trying to connect with his estranged daughter, the angsty teen Jessica (who is the polar opposite of The Walking Dead‘s Clementine for being unlikeable and annoying). Meanwhile, hardened mercenary Nima is doing bad things for the best of reasons, and Laura Sorkin believes early on that any way to save her dinosaur creations justifies the means. All these characters are united by one goal: find the hell off InGen’s island.

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Sorry, I forgot the sniveling corporate backstabber.

As the player, you take control of various characters throughout the episodes in movie-like shifts from scenario to scenario. Using your conversation wheel, you’ll have to get people to help you or spill secrets as necessary, not always an easy task. Luckily for us and unluckily for my liking of this game, any challenge this mechanic might present is rendered redundant by unlimited attempts at choosing the sentence that’ll make them like you.

I didn’t know conversations worked that way! I didn’t know you could begin a conversation by saying “you’re an ass”, and then follow up with “I love you”, and suddenly be best friends with the person you’re talking to. I can’t wait to try it.

Your conversation choices carry little weight when you can keep on trying 'till you get the right one. Sometimes you lose a few points on your level score, but, I mean... who cares?

Your conversation choices carry little weight when you can keep on trying ’till you get the right one. Sometimes you lose a few points on your level score, but, I mean… who cares?

Sometimes, the game will also expect you to switch between both sides of the same conversation, which is a bit ridiculous. In one heated argument between two characters, I basically had to best my own arguments as they came, which was disorienting.

In true point-and-click style, you must progress through the game by investigating the world and solving puzzles. You can explore one of several scenes in a given area by switching between them on your menu, and then looking for clues. Most gamers these days will tell you that pointing and clicking isn’t intense or exciting enough; I personally find it relaxing, if a bit limiting. This is not a hard action game, and if you go into it expecting that, you’re in for bitter disappointment.

Like the Walking Dead, this game emphasizes thinking and exploring over mindless action. This doesn't make the game easy, though.

Like The Walking Dead, this game emphasizes thinking and exploring over mindless action. This doesn’t make the game easy or action-free, though.

As you’ve no doubt been waiting to read, the biggest challenge this game packs is, obviously, the dinosaurs. Each and all of the characters run into a myriad of them, including a few that were not in the film. Some of the dinosaurs require quick thinking and rapid puzzle skills to get away from, while others, unfortunately, rely on your skill with quick-time events, the laziest and most disconnecting game mechanic ever devised by man.

Yup. This game does pack intense action sequences, but all you need to do to escape is hit a variety of buttons and watch the fireworks play out on your screen. It’s like a lot like whack-a-mole in that the buttons that show up are random; hitting them too quickly or hitting the wrong ones can equal your character tripping, or dropping a gun, or just getting his head ripped off.

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I hate quick-time events. Sure, tapping the right button makes for a challenge, but I felt so disconnected with the kickassery on my screen.

In order to enjoy Jurassic Park: The Game, you have to approach it more like an interactive film than a true game. You’re welcome to cry foul over that; I would’ve, had I not known beforehand what the game would be like.

Unlike the film, the art direction in this game is shaky. The sound design is brittle; most sound effects are wafer-thin, and I caught more than one tinge of static on both the effects and the voice acting. The voice acting, by the way, isn’t terrible but it certainly lacks the emotion one would expect from someone being chased around by prehistoric BIRDS, not lizards, get your evolution facts straight. Each time a conversation in this game ends, the music catches itself before restarting and carrying on as normal, which is disjointing. Oftentimes, the music drowned out the dialogue.

Crummy sound design brings pleasure to no person.

Time to find Telltale’s sound engineer.

The graphics are sub-par as well. The island’s environments are stiff and not at all lifelike, though the lighting brings in a somewhat diluted breath of fresh air. Character animations are rigid, but the dinosaurs were well-animated enough for me. Of course, it’s possible that I would have been alright with cardboard cutouts, given how much I love the damn things.

I suppose this game’s least damning element is the puzzles. Not soul-crushing, like those in Myst, though not all straightforward. A few of them are simplistic environmental puzzles like with Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, but most of them require coordination between various characters and at least a few experiments. A few of the quick-time sequences pack their fair share of excitement, like a hair-raising underwater chase in a sea cavern, but, like I said, more interactive film than game.

OHGODOHGODOHGODOHGOD

OHGODOHGODOHGODOHGOD

By now, you’ve probably surmised that this game is a sub-par adventure puzzler that leeches off of a great film to create an occasionally good but mostly forceful romp through the jungle. Perfectly true, and yet, I still like this game. The root of this paradox is probably my love of anything to have with dinosaurs, though, so take my criticisms to heart. Unless you’re an absolute diehard fan of the films and want new stories in classic settings, as I did, you probably wouldn’t enjoy this game, and I wouldn’t blame you for feeling so.

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You can buy Jurassic Park: The Game here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Half-Life

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Save yourself and all mankind from an interdimensional flood of aliens.

PC Release: November 8, 1998

By Ian Coppock

My fellow gamers might be shocked to learn that I’ve never played Half-Life before. I learned quickly that this is tantamount to never having played Ocarina of Time, or killing and eating a baby on national television. One friend told me I would have to commit ritualistic suicide to alleviate the shame to me and mine. Truth be told, I did play snippets of this game’s demo when I was a small child living in England, but I glossed over the fact that the game I remembered for gleeful crowbar homicides is actually one of the most revered games ever devised by man. I decided to buy the game on Steam and see not only how I liked it, but how it compares to modern games.

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If you’re like me and apparently live in monumental ignorance of gaming legend, Half-Life is the story of Gordon Freeman, the world’s most silent man. Gordon has just landed a job as a theoretical physicist at the secretive Black Mesa research facility, a laboratory out in the New Mexican desert.

I have played Half-Life 2 and its episodes many times, so I, as Freeman, spent some time leisurely exploring this facility of legend… and blowing up Dr. Magnusson’s casserole, because that dude is an ass.

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Half-Life’s outdated graphics did very little to mar the scale of the Black Mesa complex. The place is big, and there’s a lot to do.

Gordon gets called up by his betters to play monkey in a laboratory full of giant crystals, and no sooner had I prodded a shiny object than barriers between dimensions had gone down, and aliens began spilling into Black Mesa ad nauseum.

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This cannot possibly be good!!!

With goggly-eyed freaks teleporting freely from some intergalactic armpit, it’s up to Gordon to restore this dimension’s integrity, and stop the aliens from destroying Black Mesa. He has his work cut out for him; Half-Life is nothing if not riddled with brutal ambushes and firefights. The aliens he faces are numerous and varied, ranging from canine-shaped EMP generators to giant lobsters with flamethrowers for hands.

And now it’s time for my “to make matters worse” line, perhaps the best usage of the phrase since Cerberus in Mass Effect 3. The military has been called in to clean up the mess and fight the aliens, but they’ve been ordered to assume you’re contaminated by all manner of space goo. So now you can add “United States Marine Corps” to this ever-growing shitfest.

The military has a habit of making itself an enemy in sci-fi disasters, no less so in Half-Life.

The military has a habit of making itself an enemy in sci-fi disasters, no less so in Half-Life.

With a crowbar in hand and numerous enemies to fight, I set off to find why Half-Life is so damn legendary. I found it almost immediately; the power of this game’s story lies not in its scant dialogue and characters, but in the very bones of Black Mesa. This labyrinthine science madhouse exudes inescapable atmosphere, rooted in the variety of its environments and their sheer scale. I expected endless chemistry sets, but as Gordon I traversed abandoned nuclear silos, indoor zoos, a shopping mall, rivers, canyons, parking garages and underground tunnels.

All of these seemingly disparate environments are synchronized by several subtle design elements rooted in visuals as well as sound. Areas that looked nothing alike felt alike because of Valve’s subtle, wonderful level design and sound effects. The best of these elements is design that felt organic, made to make me feel like I was choosing the path ahead. A subtly lit door here, a burning semi truck there, giving all the power of an arrow sign but none of its presence.

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Black Mesa is just a neato place to be. It has a grand sense of scale.

Atmosphere is pretty much the only pillar keeping Half-Life‘s story afloat. The actual tale is quite basic; Gordon must journey to spot A, turn on device B, and hope that alien phenomenon C is brought to a close. He is the only named character in the entire production; I’d expected to bump into Barney, Isaac and Eli from Half-Life 2, but names are never given.

But, tales don’t have to be elaborate to be intriguing, and Valve unleashes its classic show-don’t-tell method of storytelling. Much of what I know about this story I picked up not from mission objectives, but from NPC comments, signage, radio chats, etc. It’s an effective means of drawing players further into the world of Half-Life, because it made the story progression and background universe feel so natural.

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When, not if, you play this game, don’t burn through it like other shooters have conditioned you to. Stop and listen to the world around you, and Half-Life will be that much better with those comments running in the back of your head.

Half-Life gets much of its atmosphere from an impending sense of doom. Between the horde of aliens and squads of marines, you never quite get the sense that things are going to turn out 100%.

Half-Life is the most challenging shooter I’ve ever played. Part of that is the gameplay; the controls are somewhat stiff if you’re accustomed to modern shooters. Gordon very abruptly runs, jumps, turns and crouches, in a rather unrefined but certainly workable fashion. Health and ammo are refreshingly scarce, which kept me on my toes and mindful of combat situations throughout the game.

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Half-Life is horror game-esque in its distribution of resources. Very finite amounts of health packs and ammo added a considerable challenge to the game.

Mostly, though, the enemies are just hard. Aliens will unleash devastating powers while marines work in teams to mow down your fellow scientists. Navigating these sequences might take more than a few tries, but I relished the variety present in the game. The aliens and marines are programmed to fight in very different ways, forcing you to switch up your own combat style. As the game deepens, additional factions with their own war styles will appear as well.

I loved it. More than that, I realized how rare this sort of variety is in today’s video games. Many games feature multiple enemy factions, of course, but usually they’re only differentiated by new skins, maybe a few unique animations. Not in Half-Life. Each group of enemies you encounter has its own weapons and fighting style. Sometimes these groups will fight each other while you’re expected to cross their no-man’s-land. Fun fun. By now, you’re probably getting the sense that I rather enjoyed this game, but I need to point out a few chinks in this legendary… I guess… armor? Of glory? Anyway, problems.

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The diverse palette of enemies you encounter in Half-Life is part of what makes the game so damn fun.

One of the biggest issues I had with Half-Life was finding the path ahead. Twice I had to spend hours pixel-hunting for extremely tiny elevator buttons. Another time, I had to find an obscure pipe junction to crawl on. The worst was one instance when the path to the next area was obscured behind two massive boulders, and only accessible via crawling my way through a tiny crack. Valve usually does a good job with level design, but these amateurish kinks betray this game’s first-effort status.

The game also presents a startling lack of context in boss battles. In most instances, you’re thrown into the ring with some alien colossus and are given no clue whatsoever as to how to fight it. I’m not asking for my hand to be held, but a tiny hint or two might have saved me some time and frustration. Worse still, the game gives you no clue whether what you’re trying out on an enemy is actually working. I became convinced that the best way to kill this giant crab-thing was to try and grenade its legs out, only to realize an hour later that I had to sear its underbelly with a rocket launcher. Not that I would’ve known that this hurt the crab-thing.

Hey! Asshole! I demand to know if that hurt!

Hey! Asshole! I demand to know if that hurt!

Obviously, Half-Life‘s visuals are a little dated, but the game’s level design and amount of detail had me forgetting this pretty quickly. The character animations are comically stiff and wonky, but even now, having played innumerable modern games before reaching this one, I’m impressed by the visual power the game has 15 years on. Unless you’re one of those modernity junkies who will accept nothing less than three billion pixels per square inch (in which case, you are a shallow prick), Half-Life is good enough. It really is.

Half-Life is not as perfectly divine as its worshipers would tell you, but it is a damn good game. Even having been desensitized by modern games, I was impressed by all its areas of quality and thoroughly enjoyed myself. The Black Mesa Research Facility is a horrific, beautiful place, one that bursts with atmosphere and variety in both its level design and gameplay. What problems the game bears are worth seeing past to get a taste of a story/atmosphere combination this refined.

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You can buy Half-Life here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.