PC Gaming

Car Mechanic Simulator 2014 review

Thu, 2014/01/30 - 11:09am -- Samuel Tow
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You actually clicked on this? Well, great! Because I have good news for you - Car Mechanic Simulator 2014 is a GOOD GAME! I'm as amazed at this as you are, but it's true. And this marks literally the first actual simulation game that I've ever enjoyed in my life. It's not without its faults - what ever is - but the overall package is well worth the asking price, I would say. If you're still with me so far, then let me explain:


Car Mechanic Simulator 2014 is a semi-first-person simulation game wherein you play the titular car mechanic, handling repairs and renovations on common people's cars. The game isn't about glamorous "pimp my ride" overhauls, but rather about fixing the kind of problems you - people of Adversity - might take your cars into the shop for: A noisy suspension, a dead battery, a clogged-up fuel pump, rusty exhaust and so on. During the course of a regular job, you'll need to examine parts, remove damaged ones, repair them or order new parts online, reassemble the car and hand it off to the customer. And if you do well enough, you can even move into a larger, more modern garage with better diagnostics and tuning equipment. This may not be a glamorous game, but it's just the right combination of simplicity and satisfaction to keep you coming back.

Graphics and design:

CMS2014 is a surprisingly good-looking game, featuring pretty high-res textures and some VERY detailed vehicle models. The three garages you have access to are all finely detailed with cosmetic props, giving them an overall feeling of an actual place where people do business, as opposed to a sterile environment which exists solely to host a game. The cars themselves are simply beautiful, both inside and out. Nice, slick, shiny paintjobs, clean and posh interiors, you name it - these cars have it. The game boasts six finely-detailed cars, and I can believe it - there's a sports car, a posh executive car, an SUV, a utility van and a few others I don't remember. Unfortunately, while colour and body combinations do make for a lot of externally distinct cars, there are really only three mechanical frameworks that these cars are built on.

Beyond the look of the shop and the cars (so beyond the cosmetics), the game features an actually quite impressive view of all the cars' internal workings. It's VASTLY simplified (there is no wiring or tubing for the most part) and the amount you can actually edit on the cars is actually quite limited, but for as intuitive as the game's design actually turns out to be, there's a lot eye-candy to be had if you're into cars. It makes the act of working on people's vehicles that much more fulfilling overall.

However, as impressive as the game is visually, a number of particularly infuriating problems do stem from its design decisions. For one, your character controls like he's drunk, with your viewpoint bobbing up-and-down, side-to-side and so on even when idle. You move like you're stumbling and it's actually made me a bit seasick. When examining the car, your mouse controls a cursor so you have to manoeuvre the camera with the cursor keys, which can be awkward. And trying to drain oil from the engine without paying $100 for cleaning it off your floor means aligning an oil catcher under the drain hole... Without being able to have both the hole and the device within line of sight at the same time. And sometimes it's just hard to wrangle your camera in such a way as to be able to click on certain items.

Gameplay and Systems:

CMS2014 is, ostensibly, a first-person game. You control a swaying mechanic around a room and are able to interact with various items. Most of those items are on the car - wheels wells, the hood, the undercarriage if you have it up on the car lift. Most, but not all, however. Beyond this, you have a workbench where you can fix some car parts instead of ordering new ones. You can also take the car for a test drive to identify problems on the drivetrain. Later on as you move into larger shops, you gain more tools to run other kinds of diagnostics. Finally, there's your PC. From it, you can order new parts or take a gamble on used parts (which all too often ended up WORSE than the broken part I was replacing), and where you can buy "manuals" to feed the game's pseudo-RPG mechanic. More on that in a bit.

One you interact with some section of the car, you are zoomed in close and given a full 360 degrees view of the section in question. The car's body becomes transparent and you can look at parts from within its own model. Here, you can inspect parts manually, though this doesn't work for all of them. Mostly, you can inspect simpler metal parts, like exhaust pipes, frame support arms and stiffening rods. If, however, you want to know if there's something wrong with the starter or the fuel pump, you have to pull them out of the car. This involves removing any parts attached to the part you want (and in the case of a V6 4x4 transmission, that's four drive axels, a drive shaft and the rear diff, plus all four wheels, so plan accordingly), and then the part itself. Some parts come out on their own, but some are bolted in, prompting a very simple minigame where you click and hold over the bolts. Alternately, you can also swap to a "put parts back in" mode, which will show you "ghosts" of parts which can be put back in. Parts are placed with a reverse minigame of the one you did to take them out, and only if the parts they bolt onto are already in place.

I glossed over it, but identifying the car's problem is rarely trivial. Sometimes people will tell you what's wrong with the car, such as one guy who wanted his starter repaired. Sometimes, though, they'll be vague - "My car makes strange noises on bumpy roads" or "I haven't driven my car in two months and now it won't start." You have hands-off means of testing most parts, but for some you just have to do the manual work. There's a check for all electronics, for instance, but there isn't an automated check for the air or oil filter - you have to pull them out and check. There's a check for drivetrain, but if you want to know the state of the exhaust, you have to lift the car and examine it. Sometimes a car may be missing parts, like the guy who had his car broken into and someone "stole something from the engine compartment." All of this can be a bit daunting if - like me - you don't know much about car mechanics and you haven't the foggiest idea where the actual oil filter is, or where the fuel pump resides. However, I can tell you this much - by the end of this, you WILL know at least roughly what makes your car run and where most of the major components are. And I find that to be a good thing.

Lastly, the "RPG-like system:" This isn't as complicated as it sounds. You have four basic "stats," each of which can be anywhere from level 0 to level 10, each of which is increased by a single point every time you buy a manual on the subject for $1000. Two of them are much more important than the other two. I don't remember their names, but one gives you 5% (per level) more money off each customer's order when you're finished while the other gives you 2% (per level) off any parts you buy. Another increases the speed with which you bolt/unbolt things (so that minigame is less of a hassle when that V6 exhaust manifold turns out to have 24 bolts to undo and subsequently redo). The last one makes one part (per level) on the car already examined when the level starts, presumably because you're such an awesome mechanic you could just tell at a glance. In reality, though, the only thing this system serves to do is act as a money sink, else you'd be swimming in wealth all the time. The money people pay ALWAYS covers the parts and you have no other expenses. Test drives are free, oil changes are free, all of your manual labour is free and you're never pressed for time.

Story and Characters:

There really isn't a story per se, but each order has its own two-three sentence mini-plot as people explain what's wrong with their car and, often, what led to the problem. Some guy took his SUV offroad and it turned out it wasn't good for it, so you have to fix his suspension. Some guy hit a large pot hole and messed up his front wheel. Some guy bought a car for his teenager and now you have to fix the gearbox and replace the clutch because teenagers drive like idiots. Some guy was late for a flight and drove so fast he blew holes in his own exhaust pipes. There are quite a few of those, and some of them are pretty funny, truth be told. You'll occasionally see recurring characters, though I'm assuming they are based on what they say. Though customers are never named, some will say things like "You did such a good job last time that now I want you to also replace gearbox, too!

Unfortunately, most of the game's charm in this regard is often ruined by frankly awful English. I don't know this for a fact, but I suspect the game is Russian or some such, and that many of the English explanations are auto-translated from another language. I've had a number of instances where people ask me to change their breaks because "they're gone a long time." I don't know if that means the breaks have been dead for a while, or if the car has put on many miles since the last inspection or what, but just expect the occasional Engrish in there. The game's not text-heavy enough for it to matter, but it bugs me just the same.


Honestly? Buy it, is my conclusion. It's quite cheap, it's on Steam and I've enjoyed it greatly. It taught me quite a bit about cars, at least in the most general terms and it was entertaining the whole way through. The game does eventually grow stale and samey, but that's only because it has something like 100 missions... And then an "endless mode" which presents you with randomly-generated problems. Every order is like a puzzle, and with every one I found myself thinking more and more like a mechanic. "I tried tuning my own chip and now my engine won't start!" says a customer. "Oi!" think I "I'll bet you fried your starter and your wiring. I'll bet you also frayed your engine belts quite badly." And I was right, except the guy's battery was also dead and his fuel system was shot. So my guess was half-correct Smile

I really can't think of any serious reason to not get this game. Unless you REALLY don't like sims as a matter of principle or else just don't care one iota about cars, I'd say buy this game and try it out. It has no multiplayer of any kind, co-op or otherwise and the soundtrack consists of three horrible songs, the controls are kind of awkward, there are camera issues and it does get samey, but for what these guys are asking I'd definitely say you're getting your money's worth.

Tiny Brains review

Wed, 2014/01/15 - 5:13pm -- Samuel Tow
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Tiny Brains, aka "We want to be Portal so bad!" Damn this game was disappointing, and it's not even that bad... It's not really very good, mind you, but it could have been interesting if it had an identity of its own, rather than trying to trace over Portal's outlines dot-for-dot and hope I wouldn't notice. Well you know what? After Twin Sector and Magrunner, I can spot a Portal wannabe a mile away, and this one is the most shameless of them all... Which is saying quite a bit considering Twin Sector itself is basically a beat-for-beat clone of Portal anyway. Awkward controls, shocking brevity and terrible presentation might have been forgiveable if the game offered anything new, but half-way decent humour and, like, two decent puzzles just doesn't cut it. Ah, but let me explain:


Tiny Brains is a 3D "top-down" third-person puzzle platformer, designed for four-player co-op. The game can still be played alone, but everything from the UI to some of the puzzles make it obvious that this was intended to be played by at least two people. It tells the "story" of four lab animals on whom "the Scientist" has experimented, giving them both intelligence and super powers. Puzzles are solved by a combination of the powers of all four Tiny Brains, presumably controlled by four people, or by a single person who can switch between them Trine-style. It would have been a fairly creative puzzle game if it didn't include combat and fast-paced platforming with shitty, non-rebindable controls. As it stands, it's a "meh" way to pass a couple of hours.

Graphics and Design:

The graphics in this game are generally passable. Low-resolution textures adorn low-polygon models and locations often feel samey and copy-pasted. I don't know how old the game is, and it's possible this started life as an early XBLA title. They've attempted to hide it with a HIDEOUS grainy filter which just serves to make the whole thing look even muddier and more nauseating.

Design, however, makes up for a lot of the graphics' technical deficiencies. The art style is that of a cartoony, exaggerated, goofy world like something out of Earthworm Jim or Worms... Or Journey of a Cockroach. The one human character spends all of his screen time in a hazmat suit, but is still depicted with short stubby legs reminiscent of Huckleberry Hound. The Tiny Brains themselves are these horrifying monstrosities... Sorry, let me try that again... The Tiny Brains themselves are these quirky, cute furry animals augmented with technology. One has his head open exposing a brain, one has antennae sticking out of his skull, one has a giant baindaid on his... Crotch. The enemies throughout most of the game are some variety of "chicks," i.e. chickens, here depicted as yellow spheres with legs. They do have some more defined shapes, but suffice it to say that everything's very stylised.

The game boasts four locations... Well, three and a half. There's lab, old lab, lab again and lab which is also on fire. Surprisingly enough, this does offer a fair bit of visual variety to the various locations... Unfortunately that's not nearly enough. While the broad-strokes chapters may be interesting, the individual test chambers - that's what they are - in each kind of lab are very samey, built out of the same small selection of tileset pieces. This is not helped by the fact that while "the Scientist's" antics are funny at first (say, checking "coal for computers" off a checklist), they grow very tired very quickly once you realise he's generically quirky. The voice actor's actually quite decent, but he can't carry a whole game on hos fairly middling script.

Overall, this game's presentation leaves a lot to be desired.

Gameplay and Systems:

If Tiny Brains has one saving grace, it's gameplay. It's not fully realised in the game proper, but I can at least see the seeds of a better game buried in there. Mechanically speaking, you control one of four Tiny Brains. I don't remember their names so I'll refer to them by their powers. "Block" can create movable blocks on the ground which can weigh down buttons or be stood on. He can then explode them, propelling whatever is on top upwards. "Push" pushes things - balls, blocks, enemies. "Teleport" can swap places with physics objects and enemies over any distance you can see on-screen. "Pull" pulls objects towards himself. You can swap between those at will via the number keys. They control with WASD for movement, space to jump and the mouse to use their powers. Said keys, however, cannot be rebound anywhere in-game. There is a "Custom Keybinds" option, yes, but all that does is direct you to hand-edit your ini file. But I looked at the ini, and it's a frikkin' mess. I have no idea what the format for button binding is or what the buttons I want to bind are actually called. I tried - and failed - to customise my keys, so I used the default setup. Really, all you need is WASD + Space + Mouse, but that's still a cryin' shame.

The game is broken down into test chambers, here taking the form of puzzle rooms. You enter a place, the door slams shut behind you, and you then have to unlock the exist, which usually involves shooting a cube in a slot. Some test chambers involve "combat," during which waves of enemies are thrown at you. Some can be killed by jumping on them, but most you're supposed to shove into hazards. Almost all fighting chambers involve you protecting an ally whom said enemies will try to attack. This is because you can't die, technically speaking. Oh, you can get killed, but the game just respawns you nearby within about 5 seconds. Some chambers require you to guide a ball along a series of slanted surfaces littered with hazards with no barriers on the sides. This is where the ass really falls out from under this thing because the controls just suck too hard for this. It's possible, yeah, but it's a giant stinging pain and never, EVER fun. Finally, on three separate occasions you'll need to push/pull an ally to a safe spot on the ground as the chamber's entire floor will be made of gas burners which turn on in sequence.

If you've played Portal, you know the pacing of Tiny Brains. Finish a test chamber, get a quick monologue from GLA... The Scientist, run along a tube to the next chamber, repeat. Eventually, you reach a stage end, the scenery changes, the Scientist says other things, but you still go from test chamber to test chamber. Unlike Portal (well, Portal 2) you never discover new mechanics. All of your Tiny Brains have all of their abilities (well, ability - one each) at the start of the game. The puzzles do get a bit more complicated, requiring combining powers (summon a block, jump on it, push it as you're standing on it to propel yourself over a gap) but they never really evolve past repeating the same few basic tactics you learned from the start. Combat and ball-rolling challenges were supposed to spice things up, I suspect, but they both suck so hard they actually drag the game down even further.

All in all, the game is cute but grows really boring really quickly. If you get past stage 2, you've basically seen it all. Well, except for the story... Yeah, about that.

Story and Characters:

Zilch. The game has no story and its characters (character, singular) constitute a car crash of clichés. The Tiny Brains may look different, but they never speak or act in any way, so they may as well be chess pieces. The "Pink Chick" similarly never speaks, except to turn evil later on "because we needed a plot twist at the end" in the scientist's own words. The Scientist himself is half-way interesting - an egomaniacal supergenius idiot with mommy issues who was apparently forced to eat his lab experiments at some point... But they're chickens so that's OK? I never got a sense of what he wants or what led him to being the evil scientist that he is. All I know is he secretly wishes to be GLAdOS, what with lines like "I would never hurt a fly! ... I have inventions to do it for me." I shouldn't be too hard on the guy, though. At least he HAS a character, unlike the play pieces which constitute... Everyone else.

But what really puts my panties in a bunch is this game's "story" is just a blatant attempt to be more like Portal. You have the quirky all-powerful never-shuts-up character who arranges test chambers for you. You have the mute possibly brain-damaged protagonists who just move from puzzle to puzzle. You have the evil lab full of diabolical traps. You have the the old abandoned lab where the Scientist's old shame shows up, you have him start out as a benevolent mentor who then tries to kill you and flips out when you try to leave. There's even a line where he's munching on cheese and goes something like "Mmm... This cheese is so good! Maybe there will be some for you if you come back." blatantly copying GLAdOS' lines about how if you come back there will be cake. There's the stupid and pointless betrayal where the pink chick which seemed to be helping you for three levels turns out to be evil and takes over the facility and starts trying to blow it up. You then have to team up with the shrunken scientist and save him a bunch of times so he can retake control of his lab and stop it from blowing up. SOUND FAMILIAR YET?!?

This is what I mean. Tiny Brains sucks, frankly speaking, but it had the potential to be something interesting. There's enough personality... Well, acting skill in the Scientist to make him memorable, but it's lost in trying to make him come across more like GLAdOS. There was potential to define unique and quirky characters out of the Tiny Brains, but they never speak or exhibit anything to set them apart, except for skills. The Pink Chick isn't even a character, she's just a blatant Wheatly standin and her betrayal comes completely out of nowhere. The old lab and the revelations about the Scientist serve no purpose other than to tick a box on "Portal had this." The guy reveals himself to be an unethical bastard right from the start, we didn't need to have it revealed the minions he casually disposes of were also his meals. The entire thing suffers for trying to be Portal, when a unique identity of its own would have been so much better.

I was harsh on Journey of a Roach, but at least that game was memorable. This one is simply derivative - an inferior copy to a product I ALREADY OWN!


I really can't recommend Tiny Brains, guys. I'm sorry - I really wanted to like this game, but there's just... Nothing of substance in it. Yeah, the gameplay's kind of clever at times, but it's also very irritating at others. The graphics are cute sometimes, but are also ugly and VERY repetitive. The characters could have been interesting or at least funny, but they end up going through the motions trying to ape much better content from a much better game. And the whole thing only has enough gameplay for a couple of hours, if that. I really can't recommend Tiny Brains for any amount of money, though if they ever give it out for free? Yeah, it's worth playing for free, it's not THAT bad Smile

I guess if you're REALLY interested in puzzle platformers or REALLY interested in co-op or loved Portal 2 so much you have to buy anything that's even remotely like it, I can see you enjoying this game. Again - it's not BAD, strictly speaking. It's just not a game I feel is worth the price of admission at any cost (well, maybe if you can get it for a dollar or two). And that's just disappointing, seeing what it could have been.

The Adversity Non-Specific Seasonal Holiday Party

Sun, 2013/12/22 - 12:51am -- Truss Adams
Event Type: 
Event Tags: 
PC Gaming
Special Event Theme: 

In a Season where so much of our time is spent racing around, struggling to get it all done, lets take an evening to relax and enjoy everything that makes Adversity great. (It's probably going to be a short list) Good

So grab your snacks and beverages of choice and lets celebrate the holidays or at least the fact that it's only once a year!


Event Date: 
Monday, December 23, 2013 - 8:00pm to 10:00pm

Final Exam review

Sun, 2013/12/08 - 3:54pm -- Samuel Tow
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Final Exam is a game I really, really want to recommend... And for a change, I think I can. Believe me, there's a lot the game leaves wanting, but this one prices itself right and delivers just enough to be worth a serious look. And yes, Final Exam is a fairly old title that I only recently became aware of just because of how stupid its name was. I was dreading what kind of esoteric indie crap it would be with a name like "final exam" - some kind of high school bureaucracy simulator? Nope! Turns out it's a colourful, fast-paced fighting game. OK, colour me surprised, but hey - at least that makes the game remarkable.


Final Exam is a "2.5D" four-player-coop sidescrolling beat-em-up game in the vein of old fighters like Golden Axe, the MegaMan X series and, probably most prominently, the Shank games. It follows the story of four childhood friends returning to their old high-school for a reunion when they are attacked by monsters and sent fleeing to fight for their lives. What ensues is a shockingly long (in a good way) beat-em-up game which mixes in equal parts environmental exploration and kicking ass in some fairly creative environments. There is something of a story to the game, but considering nobody but the a single narrating character is voiced and no dialogue to speak of exists, I'm not entirely sure what it is. But it's a fun little adventure, to be sure. Let's review:

Graphics and Design:

This is something of a mixed bag. The actual technical fidelity of the game leaves quite a bit to be desired as both the environment and the various character models are made up of somewhat simple meshes and low-resolution textures. This, however, is really not very obvious as the game is constantly zoomed out fairly far and presents you with fast-paced enough action that you won't spend much time nitpicking polygon count and texture resolution. Good post-processing effects and very neat real-time lighting and shadows give the terrain a cinematic quality, which goes a long way to hide the seams. The only aspect of the game which really feels left wanting is animation quality, for monsters but especially for players. Some characters - specifically the dancer - are animated beautifully while others - specifically the jock - look like something out of Crevures. It varies wildly by character.

Design, however, is where Final Exam really shins. It has been my experience that most "2.5D" games like to ape those side-scrollers of old, which means they either set themselves out in the open, or otherwise in gigantic huge rooms with 50-foot ceilings which just makes them look like a series of arenas. Not Final Exam. This game is often set underground or inside buildings, and it FEELS like it. Structures are segmented into rooms with logical means of going between floors and with the backgrounds mimicking realistic architecture. Hell, the school is one of the most amazing, beautiful levels in any game I've played, it's THAT impressive. Past this, combat looks and feels both intuitive and pretty, adding a sense of flair that even shank couldn't really accomplish, especially when it comes to some of the VERY SIMPLE environment puzzles. The game plays like an 80s beat-em-up, but it looks like a current-generation video game, and that counts for a lot.

The actual graphics style, though... Yeah, this one I REALLY didn't like, but that's personal bias. As you know, I have no sense of humour and this entire game is tongue in cheek, from story to gameplay to art. It looks like a fucking caricature. Men - especially muscular men - are comprised of a giant bucket-shaped torso with gorilla arms and then tiny little smurf legs about a tenth the length and width of their arms. When NPC helpers move, they usually bob up and down like they're made of jelly. Mission objectives take the form of goofy requirements, like goading a fat kid to a school bus past a group of monsters by carrying a candy vending machine. And if you set it down for a while, he eats candy and then pukes. You know, because he's fat. All fat people have the irresistible urge to gorge themselves until they vomit, right? That's the kind of humour the game goes for, and pretty much the entirety of its character design reflects this. The women get away the most unscathed because they at least look like disfigured human beings, but the men... Ugh... Luckily, the environments are drawn up friarly straightforward, so locations look like what they're supposed to be.

Gameplay and Systems:

Final Exam has a fairly simple-to-learn combat system. At all times you have access to a melee weapon, a ranged weapon with limited ammo and limited-use explosives. A button for each, plus a grab/use and a jump button make up the majority of your controls, WASD notwithstanding. Luckily, those controls CAN be rebound. Though melee consists of a one-button combat system, there are a fair few attacks you can make, from a regular spammable combo to an aerial combo to a variety of dash and charge attacks. Melee plus judicious dodging will be your bread and butter for some time. Gunplay is even simpler than this - you control a reticle with the mouse and hitting shoot will fire your weapon at it, dealing damage but consuming ammo. Ammo, along with grenades and health kits (fast food) only ever drop off defeated enemies. And yes - you can fire your gun in the air. Finally, later in the game you are able to unlock a number of grab attacks, such as slams and piledrivers, but you can throw enemies straight from the start. This all together makes for a gameplay system which is surprisingly versatile for having all of four buttons plus movement.

I mentioned "unlcok" - that's because the game has an "RPG-like" progression system. Each level, you can earn up to four "Skill Points" and up to two "Character Points." Character Points allow you to buy linear character stat upgrades from a group of four - health, melee damage, ranged weapon damage, explosives damage. Each of the game's four characters, curiously, has different caps for these stats, with some being very strong, others very tough and still others very good with guns. Beyond this is skills, which usually allow you to do new things, like air-juggle, chokeslam, do an invincible dodge and so on. Most of those seem to show up for every one of the game's four characters. Most, except for four, which are character-specific, require you to fill a "rage" metre to use them and come in the form of an MMO-like hotbar by default bound to the numbers 1 through 4. And yes - the game has four characters. I couldn't remember their names, but they're basically "the girl" who's average at everything, "the jock" who's very tough, "the nerd" who's great at explosives and has braces on his teeth (seriously?) and the um... Black guy? Latino? The gangster-looking guy who's great with guns, more or less.

Final Exam isn't all about fighting monsters, though. In a fairly unique turn, it has a very strong exploration element. It's not "officially" mandatory to do this, but since your Character Points and gear are tied to exploration, you really really should. The levels in the game are NOT linear. In fact, even just following the waypoints will drag you across the level back and forth a few times. They're more like very large locations - rooms and floors connected by staircases, doors, ladders and sometimes sheer drops. The first level alone gives you about four storeys of subway before you even hit your first objective. Some areas are empty. Some areas are there for objectives which show up later on. Some areas, however, contain secrets - either an "energy drink" of which you need 7 to unlock a Character Point, or a crate with a weapon in it, of which you need two for the same reason. Weapon crates you also want because they give you better weapons, as well - melee, guns, explosives. Suffice it to say that you CAN play the game by always following your waypoint, but you really, REALLY want to check every nook and cranny for extra goodies.

Story and characters:

Neither of these exist in this game. There's a story in name only: Four childhood friends get together to attend their high school reunion, when they find the town infested with grotesque, pustule-infested toxic monsters. From that point on, it's basically Left 4 Dead, with the four survivors following the only open path available to them, with the only objective being to keep moving forward. Other characters show up from time to time, but they have the tendency to die instantly as soon as they stop being useful, and die in silly way. And the four main characters themselves really have no personality of their own, past the stereotypes they fill. The girl is a girl, so the game takes every opportunity it can to leer at her, the nerd is a nerd let's laugh at him, the jock is a fat idiot who hits things with his head and the guns guy is... A guy. There's some personality in their fighting style, but they don't really get any chance to emote or have any kind of screen presence. The game's "cutscenes" are little more than a visual novel where the pictures move slightly, and most of what the four characters do in them is gasp in shock and surprise at the turn of events.

A plot of sorts does develop later on in the game when it transpires their old school headmaster is insane and running some kind of experiment - presumably he's creating the monsters but I didn't get to the end so I don't really know. My point here is that you don't play Final Exam for the story, in much the same way as you don't play Left 4 Dead or Terraria for the story. Enemies over there, kill they ass.


Honestly? Buy it. Checking right now, the game's on regular, non-discount sale for 10 Euro, which I suspect means $15. That's not a lot of money, honestly, and Final Exam has enough value in it to justify a $20 or so purchase prise easily. In this case, it's less a question of why buy and more a question of why not. And the only reason I could think of for not getting Final Exam is if you either really, REALLY don't like fighting games or really, REALLY suck at them. Admittedly, the game is a tad niche. Admittedly, it is a tad low-rent. But it's far and away better than so much of the indie dreck I've played recently it's not even funny. Remember Dark Matter? Yeah, this isn't anything like that. Final Exam looks and feels like a professional creation made with love and attention. If you can play it at all, I'd suggest getting it. Hell, we could even play it together some time Smile

Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag

Tue, 2013/12/03 - 9:26am -- Samuel Tow
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I hate doing reviews for Assassin's Creed games. Ever since Brotherhood, they've been trying to do so many things it's like reviewing four games at once. It's like trying to review GTA4 or some such, or Eve Online or something, only worse. I said the same about Assassin's Creed 3, but at least that was just one core game with a whole bunch of fairly involved side activities. Black Flag literally is two entirely separate, disparate games stapled together in about three places. To the game's credit - and that's a HUGE credit - the whole package doesn't feel disjointed at all and actually ends up playing like a unified experience, but... God is there a lot to talk about. So please, bear with me. I'll try to summarise as best I can. This is a game that I really, REALLY can't do a tl;dr review for because I have no means of boiling it down to a few sentences. To wit:


Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag is a combination of a single-character on-foot action and an open-seas tall ship sailing game with very minor RPG elements. It tells two simultaneous stories - one in the 18th Century Caribbean region, one in the 21st century modern world, using the "Animus" as a framing device for the former inserted into the latter. The modern-day story takes place some time after the events of Assassin's Creed 3. Series protagonist Desmond Miles is dead, Abstergo Industries (the secret conspiracy Templar corporation which rules the world) have secured his DNA and are now using it in their new Animus to doctor history via the creation of supposedly historically accurate video games. In the mean time, "in the past," the game follows the story of one Edward Kenway, notorious Welsh pirate and very handsome man, as he pillages and plunders his way into wisdom. As with previous games, the exploration of history is a means of tracking our ancestors' quest of locating a mcguffin so that we can locate it in the present.

That's as summarised as I can make it.

Graphics and design:

Superficially, Black Flag looks absolutely gorgeous. As a mostly-sailing game, you'll spend a lot of time out on the open sea, and MY GOD are water effects simply breathtaking in this game! Even out in the middle of nowhere, sailing the open ocean, there's still a lot to see, from the breaking of storm waves to water's slight translucency to sunlight and occasional greenish tinge, to the absolute beauty of clear coastal waters and the way the show you the almost picture postcard sandy bottom as you approach shore. The physics of your tall ship only add to the experience - it moves like a ship should, turning slowly, being thrown around by the wind and waves, rolling and pitching in high seas all the while your deck hands walk crooked to one side on the tilting deck. I have rarely been as excited as I was surviving a rogue wave in Assassin's Creed, frantically scrambling to turn my ship into the swell, being presented with a literal wall of water as high as I could look, climbing it and then feeling as though on the top of a tall building as my ship literally fell over the edge on the other side. I have never seen a "tall ship simulator" but my god! If one existed, Assassin's Creed: Black Flag should be the benchmark of how it looks, sounds and feels.

Unfortunately, the open seas is where the game's impressive visuals begin and end. As soon as you set foot on land, you will realise very quickly just how many concessions the game has had to make in order to fit into its last-generation console release. Texture quality, while not specifically bad, is decidedly unimpressive, with many being muddy, flat and lifeless. Environment models are also largely simplistic and not that pretty, though the game attempts to compensate by having many many of them. The various Caribbean islands are teaming with vegetation of all kinds, with wild animals roaming about, old wooden structures and cave formations littered everywhere and so on. Unfortunately, while those look pretty, they will also tank your framerate as Black Flag seems very poorly optimised for the fidelity it wants to have. You will slow down on islands with a lot of vegetation, islands with a lot of people on them, during harsher storms, while fighting many ships and really any time something even remotely interesting is happening. Granted, I'm not running the screaming latest of graphics hardware, but I would bet my GeForce GTX580 is still a pretty damn good card for currently-affordable system and THAT is struggling mightily.

I would say that what saves the game, ultimately, is its art direction and overall design quality. Yes, the graphics are a bit unimpressive. Obviously, it reuses MANY assets over and over again - what open-world exploration game doesn't? But in the end, Black Flag manages to pull off a unique look of its own that I really haven't seen much of anywhere. Yes, you have games like Uncharted and The Lara Croft Torture Experience which explore a few tropical islands, but Black Flag puts you in control of your own destiny and THAT makes all the difference. See that little sand bar over there with a tree and a chest on it? You can anchor your ship 50 feet from it, dive over the side and go kick the chest open. See that fishing village on that island over there? You can dock your ship at the one pier, jump over the side and go visit the local tavern. For the most part, if you can see it you can sail to it (unless it's comprised of sheer cliffs like 90% of all shorelines...), and  this kind of freedom has a kind of beauty all its own that linear experience really can't replicate.


Where do I begin... Well, let's break this down into:

On Foot: Black Flag plays almost exactly like Assassin's Creed 3, with the same horrible idea of putting "run" and "climb" on the same button, but more on that later. Basically, this is a combination of "free running," i.e. climbing bildings and jumping around, and fairly basic swordfighting. Both of these aspects of the game seem to become less and less interesting as the series goes on, sadly enough. Swordplay has been reduced down to a bare essentials "attack/counter" system almost reminiscent of the Arkham series of Batman games, but nowhere near as good. Just wail on a guy until something happens and wait for a very obvious prompt to tell you an enemy is attacking so you can counter for an insta-kill. Climbing is also at its worst here, because the controls are terrible and terrain detection is worse than it's ever been. You will climb things you meant to, unable to climb things you want to, constantly jump in the wrong direction or overshoot things you wanted to land on, or drop down when you meant to jump and so on. This is made far worse because the game's story tends to require tremendous precision in controls that the game just... Doesn't really have. Put it this way: If there were no sailing in this game, it would be the dullest, least interesting Assassin's Creed game of them all.

I'm on a boat!: This, really, is where Black Flag really shines. Pretty early on (for a game which took me a week, so not that early at all) you are given control over your own ship, the Jackdaw. Once this happens, the game opens up in a big way. You can sail pretty much anywhere in the pretty large open world, even if some parts are too dangerous and some activities locked behind storyline events. Most of what you'll do with the Jackdaw, though, is piracy. You can engage any ship you fancy in combat with the weapons of your ship. If you can get the enemy ship's health down into the red, you can board it. This takes the form of a small event with objectives, usually slaughtering a number of the enemy crew, but sometimes having sub-objectives as well, such as taking down the enemy ship's flag off its tallest mast. Succeeding in a boarding gives you resources which can either be sold for money or used to upgrade your ship. Cause too much mischief, however, and "pirate hunter" ships will go after you, and these are NASTY at higher "notoriety" levels until very late in the game where your ship is upgraded to the gills. Beyond this, you'll use the Jackdaw as a means of reaching all the little uncharted sand bars and isolated beaches so you can collect some booty just lying about. The real beauty to the Jackdaw is that it is that you can release the wheel at almost any time, at which point it becomes a "building" you can climb all over, or jump off the side and go swimming. At nearly any time, you can run up to the wheel take off again. This "seamlessness" was a big selling point of the game. More on that in a bit.

All that's left is "side activities," of which there are many. There's the Assassin's Creed mainstay of collectables, and GOOD LORD are there collectables in this one. You have several types of chests, letters in bottles, "Animus Fragments" (i.e. we couldn't think of a collectable so we made up some bullshit), treasure maps which you have to find and can then follow for even more collectables, sea shanties for your crew to sing on long voyages and probably a few I'm forgetting. Around the overworld, there are sea forts you can attack and take over, as well as "legendary ships" which take the form of boss battles with rich rewards. There are convoys you can attack for money and even a few "secret" islands which come as DLC. There's "fishing," as well, which takes the form of spearing sharks whales, AKA that thing which got PETA's panties in a twist. Hunting from Assassin's Creed 3, AKA the most boring part of that game, is back as well. This time, you use the various pelts for upgrades, so at least there a finite amount of animals you need to kill. There's diving under the sea by means of a large diving bell. This lets you collect even more chests and animus fragments, as well as dodge every fucking thing on the seabed trying to kill you, from sharks to eels to jellyfish to just spiky sea plants, potentially looking for "eliete" plans for your ship. There are smuggler coves to plunder for booty and so on. In a sense, NOT playing the game was the most fun I had with it. The collectables are many, clearly labelled on the map and a lot of fun, while the story is kind of shit and very restrictive. Speaking of...

Story and Characters:

The 21st Century "storyline" of Assassin's Creed is pretty much a load of nonsense by this point, I think everyone is aware of this by now - even UbiSoft. It started off as your garden variety Templar conspiracy theory back in the original Assassin's Creed, but has now become this utter mess of crackpot theories about hidden conspiracies, ancient aliens, the creation of mankind, vivid memories written in our gene code, and now an ancient alien written in the human DNA such as every so often, a person will be born like him. Half the time I was waiting for the "Ancient Aliens Hair Guy" to pop up and say something along the lines of "I'm not saying it's aliens, I'm just saying it's aliens." I mean they pull ancient astronaut theories completely out of their asses on several occasions, like the Easter Island statues. "Nobody knows how they were put up." Really? Because as far as I'm aware, that's a myth which was debunked quite a while ago and the methodology of their creation and erection (pardon my word choice) well understood. The fucking things weren't upright when European settlers found them to begin with! Gah!

OK, let me focus for a bit. The 21st Century story takes place some time after Ass Creed 3. Desmond has died to save the world from an ambiguous disaster and you now play as some unnamed employee at Abstergo Entertainment, a French-Canadian game developer under the thumb of a demanding, abusive publisher in the face of Abstergo Industries. Write what you know, eh UbiSoft Montreal? Abstergo have figured out a way to tap into the genetic memories of OTHER people, so you are tasked with roaming through the life of Eward Kenway, 18th Century pirate and blond Welsh man, as he searches for the Observatory - an ancient alien structure which can read the minds of every person on earth through just a drop of their blood. Because the ancient aliens had magical technology which allowed them to predict the future, leave their minds inside human DNA and be reborn 80 000 years later... But not protect themselves from a solar flare which seems to have only mildly irritated humans. It's all bunk by this point anyway, but you'll be spending a lot of time roaming around the AE (see - it's a play on words on EA, too!) building hacking people's computers on behest of "John (from I.T.)" and delivering incredibly secret data to Sean Hastings and Rebecca Black from the previous games, who make no effort at all to be covert about it. As a framing device it's definitely more interesting than the previous Ass Creed games, but it's still just a waste of your time which ends without any kind of satisfying ending, but rather just stops, waiting for more sequels. Because we ain't had enough, between Assassin's Creed, Assassin's Creed 2, Assassin's Creed 2: Brotherhood, Assassin's Creed 2: Revelations, Assassin's Creed 3 and now Assassin's Creed 4, to say nothing of the 3DS and mobile titles. Ugh...

The 18th century storyline doesn't fare much better, largely for reasons of the ever-popular "ludonarrative dissonance." That's a fancy way of saying that gameplay and story contradict each other. As I said in gameplay, sailing the open seas being a pirate is BY FAR the most entertaining aspect of Assassin's Creed, far and above more so than the story or any other kind of gameplay. And yet the story proper seems to frame this kind of existence as sad, pathetic and hollow, constantly depicting pirates humiliated and dying undignified deaths in old age, or else losing their minds, constantly talking about how such a life of debauchery and FUCKING FUN is an empty existence and Edward Kenway needs "become wiser" and see the error of his ways. In fact, the story has you lose, be betrayed, get people killed and so on on a number of occasions by force of contrivance, even though both my Jackdaw and my Edward were upgraded to hell and I could take out entire armies and/or navies by myself. I mean, OK, Assassin's Creed has always tried to be the ultimate killjoy story, presenting even the most romanticised historical events and figures as empty shells made famous by exaggerated history, but that undermines the whole premise of what makes your game GOOD, guys. Because once you leave out the sailing and plundering, all you're left with is a bunch of people you don't know if you haven't watched many pirate documentaries (Edward Teach, Anne Bonne, Bartholomew Roberts, etc.) sitting about, drinking themselves sick and talking about great stuff like a bunch of codgers talking about their youth.

What I'm saying is that in both aspects of its story, Assassin's Creed seems determined to tell the most boring, uninspiring, depressing kind of story through gameplay tailored to wacky hijings, impossible stunts and outright FUN! That's what I mean when I say the game's the most fun when you're "not playing." i.e. when you're not following the story. Because the story is dull and it keeps asking you to do stupid things with unnecessary restrictions.

Crippling issues:

I know this isn't a usual category of mine, but there are a few issues I NEED to bring up if this review is to be fair.

Technical issues: The game is buggy as all hell. I've seen ships do somersaults in the water, I've had the game crash on me multiple times, I've become stuck on a number of occasions, either unable to move or unable to accomplish an objective because a script trigger didn't fire. I've had enemies see and shoot me through walls while I've been unable to see them at all, I've had button prompts either not show up or not work when they do. It's not frequent - I spent probably 30-40 hours on that fucking thing - but it was just frequent enough to be a detriment to the experience.

Controls issues: MY GOD are the controls horrid in this game. Assassin's Creed has never had good controls, but this is just dreadful. Ever since they "simplified" the controls in Assassin's Creed 3, it has been hell on Earth. Whoever though it was a good idea to put my "run" and "jump" actions on the same button needs to be purple-nurpled to death. No matter what you do, no matter how you play, Edward will climb things you don't want to. You'll want to chase a guy, but he'll climb a tree. You'll want to get him down, he'll jump to a fence. You'll want to get him down, he'll jump back to the tree. You'll be hammering your "drop" button for all it's worth, but because it's the same as the "tackle" button, you'll instead jump on a random guard and initiate combat. And then you'll fail because your quarry ran away. This is made worse by awful terrain direction which will keep causing you to leap off to your doom, ignoring ledges, ropes, perches and stuff to stand on in favour of certain death. And THAT is all compounded by the fact that Edward has a turning circle like he's six feet wide. I just about flipped my shit when I realised that I cannot go through a door. I'll climb on one side, drop, try to windmill around and hit the door, overshoot because of his turn radius, climb the other side. I would have to stop, turn slowly, walk slowly, turn slowly AND THEN go through it... By which point guards have seen me and I've failed my mission. ARGH!

Combat issues: Combat in Assassin's Creed has always been panned for being simplistic and relying on just countering everyone, but I thought Assassin's Creed 2 did it pretty well. Yes, you could just counter-kill your way through the whole game, but it gave you a bunch of tools you COULD use if you wanted to fight prettier. You had grabs, you had block kills, you had disarms, you had throws, you had a whole bunch of interesting moves. This game doesn't give you any of that. It gives you attack and a counter and that's about it. Enemies don't even have health bars any more, you instead have to kill them via "combo kills." They're obviously shooting for an Arkham Asylum combat style, but the difference is that here... It just doesn't work. You can only parry when a prompt appears, which won't always appear when an enemy is attacking. And when the prompt appears, the game won't always let you activate it. On top of this, Edward has this nasty tendency to drop out of combat mode IN COMBAT, making you unable to block, parry or even attack. Sorry, parry or attack, this game HAS NO BLOCK. This is compounded when boarding enemy ships, because that turns into a giant clusterhug, with your crew fighting the enemy crew. But of course, your crew can't kill shit, so YOU have to do all the work. Oh, but they'll hit you in the back of the head, breaking your counters and combos, your own crew will. Or they'll stand in front of you and block your sword thrusts, breaking your combos. Or they'll draw aggro so you drop out of combat mode. For the most part, though, your crew serve to die off one at a time, adding a ticking clock mechanic to the boarding minigame. It's a very, very sad state of affairs when I'd rather clear the decks of enemy ships BY MYSELF than have my crew "help" me because they don't help in any way whatsoever.

"Seamlessness" issues: If you watch any of the trailers or developer walkthroughs, you'll see that "seamless gameplay" is a huge selling point of the game. You can sail your ship anywhere, let go for the wheel and take off running, do stuff overboard, climb back aboard, take the wheel and sail away. And that's AMAZING, that kind of interactivity and seamlessness of action... It's just not really like that for the most part in the game. For instance, the whole world is not rendered seamlessly. Any larger location is gated behind a loading screen. You sail to a location and you get a prompt if you want to sail in. Once the game loads, your ship is locked at anchor in a spot and you can only run around. Returning to the ship and taking the wheel produces a prompt asking you if you want to sail to see, whereupon you're dropped back some ways off-shore, at the ship's helm. When you initiate an enemy ship boarding, the world pauses around you as enemy ships will politely wait for you to finish boarding the ship they were escorting, slaughtering its crew, pillaging its supplies then breaking it down for parts, fixing your own ship... AND THEN the fighting resumes. And when you take over a ship, you're presented with something like a 10-second cutscene before you're given a pop-up prompt to decide the ship's fate, then another 10-second cutscene depicting that ship's fate, whereupon you're wrenched back to your ship and either the enemy ship has VANISHED if you let it go, or else it's sinking next to you (not always on the same side as the cutscene showed you firing your cannons). "Some" seamlessness is worse than no seamlessness at all, because all it does is taunt you with thoughts like "God! I could be playing this instead of watching it happen!" I can get loading screens - it's a console game first and foremost. I don't get cutscenes inserted into random content, and I don't get being allowed to board ships with enemies around wanting to sink me.

"Online" issues: In this day and age of social media, games are trying to be more and more like Facebook all the time. So Assassin's Creed 4 comes with a host of "social" features, with constant pop-ups about your friends' activities, with "social events" that only happen on specific days in real time and so on. You can turn all of that stuff off at the options menu, but it's still annoying that it's in the game at all because quite a bit of stuff is locked up behind it. A number of Kenway's weapons - some of them actually very good weapons - are locked behind running a number of "social events." White Whales don't show up in the game AT ALL unless on a social event, either. This sort of "MMO creep" really bothers me, personally. I'm fine with multiplayer, and the game HAS multiplayer as an option. But I'm not interested in social crap in my SINGLE PLAYER game. I would be fine if it were an option, or else if the rewards it gave were just an easier way into stuff already available in the game. But locking actual stuff behind a "social" gate like that smacks of the MMO mainstay of forced teaming. Remember when people told me "if you don't want to team then go play a single-player game?" That don't work so good no more.

Kenway's Fleet issues: Like every Assassin's Creed game since Brotherhood, Black Flag as a "micromanagement minigame," only this time you're not training assassins to send on missions, you're stealing ships to send on missions. In concept, that's fine - I have a pirate fleet. There are two huge issues with it, however. First of all, the missions run in real-real time, meaning you need a constant connection to the uPlay, and meaning some of them take on the order of 24 hours. Right there that's irritating as all hell, but worse is the fact that this comes INSTEAD of any kind of crew customisation. Previous Assassin's Creed games actually let you use your master assassins to help you in combat in the actual game, but here you just can't call ships in to assist you (even if that would basically break the game's balance). In essence, this is yet a third game tacked on to the previous two, except this one really is completely separate - something you play on your phone while you're on the can, and the results of which you never see in-game other than a few more resource points here and there. Kenway's Fleet was the wrong kind of "micromanagement minigame" to have in Black Flag. It should, instead, have taken the form of an XCOM-like crewmate customization system, or at the very least such a progression system... Like in Brotherhood. But no - we had to go for iPhone tie-in crap.


Despite all the gripes I have about it, I'd still say that Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag is a good game. Just about, pretty much. It sails by (pardon the pun) on being "good enough" in a sufficient number of areas to overlook the sizeable number of other areas where it's just dreadful. The game's story is a complete abortion, at best uninteresting and at worse actively sapping the fun out of the experience and the games technical implementation leaves A LOT to be desired, spawning many a screams at my screen. The sailing part is decidedly amazing, especially with the wide range of sea shanties available for your crew to sing (seriously, play those as often as you can), sea battles are fun enough if a bit cheap at times, and island exploration is quite cool. The tired old Assassin's Creed on-land gameplay is growing stale, but it's still serviceable enough to count and all three major locations have been designed in such a way as to make both parkour and playing tag with guards entertaining in a big way. Really, the game's flaws don't show up until you start being led by the nose by the storyline.

I don't know if I can recommend Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag at full price... Probably not, no. I CAN, however, recommend the game itself. It's definitely something worth playing, it's incredibly long if you're a completionist (and have a network connection, because three of the treasure maps only exist through Kenway's Fleet), it looks quite good if you squint a little and it does a serviceable job of integrating a number of disparate game systems. It's just not something to rush out and buy IMMEDIATELY. Oh, and don't worry if you haven't played the previous Assassin's Creed games. You won't need to know anything from them other than to "get" some of the unnecessary fluff.

So... Yeah. Let this one sit and get it on a discount. I'd value it at about $30, personally. $40 if you're really keen.

Journey of a Roach review

Thu, 2013/11/07 - 8:16am -- Samuel Tow
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Journey of a Roach is one of those games that I'd really really like to recommend just for the sheer degree of creativity they bring to the table... However, the splitting headache and extreme nausea I left the game with, as well as the disappointment at how it ended leave me unable to do so. I wouldn't call Journey of a Roach a bad game per se, but I'd definitely use it as an example of a game which suffers (and suffers greatly) as a direct result of the unique and bold decisions which make it worth playing in the first place. So let's try and make sense of this, eh?


Journey of a Roach is a point-and-click adventure under the guise of an environment puzzle game sort of like how Broken Sword: The Sleeping Dragon. In it, you play a young human-sized anthropomorphic (sneaker-wearing) cockroach through a post-apocalyptic world where all humans are dead. The story is actually not at all dark, with most of the devastation being played for laughs, most of the human-sized bugs who populate the ruins of old buildings tailored after comedy archetypes and the plot itself revolving around fairly harmless slapstick. The game's objective, as far as I can deduce, is that the Roache's friend (a roach with one arm in cast? The hell?) found a flower and the other roach wants to see it, but then hijinks ensues and the actual practical objectives turn into responding to circumstances. The game's played with mouse and keyboard, with the roach being allowed to walk on walls and interact with items and other characters via point-and-click.

Other than the gimmick, this really is a bog standard point-and-click, now that I think about it.


The actual game presents itself as "2.5D" with heavily cel-shaded graphic, with occasional "cinematics" presented as hand-drawn comic strips which depict actions the game engine isn't terribly good at presenting. Journey of a Roach scales quite well to 1080p, which is always nice. Texture quality leaves something to be desired, but heavy cel shading does a good job of hiding most of the seams. The general quality of 3D models in the game in general and character models in particular are pretty jagged and simplistic, though this does go well with the game's general art style. That said, the TERRIBLE quality of character animations really can't be excused in any way, because the way everyone moves and acts is just laughable. And I don't mean that it's funny. Your Roach interacts with objects by vaguely waving its hand at them, it has exactly one repetitive walking animation and reacts in no way to walking face-first into non-climbable walls, instead walking in place. I guess that's why they make such wide use of comic strips.

Journey of a Roach is decidedly low-rent, hoping to make you laugh often enough to not notice all the rough edges. To its credit, a consistent and pretty innovative art style manages to do this for the most part. Strong character design manages to convey personality through general appearance and behaviour, which is important for a game where nobody speaks. Locations never really look samey despite seemingly taking place in the same building, mixing up great halls, ventilation shafts, caves and secret laboratories with ease. For a post-apocalyptic game, Journey of a Roach really isn't that depressing. Occasionally you will see the broken remains of a previous world, but the man-sized bugs who inhabit it now have done such a good job of bringing life back to it that it really doesn't feel like a downer. The game, overall, has a bit of a "retro" feel, almost like the Fallout universe and how it combines retrotech with futuristic ideas.

Soundwise, the game is a mixed bag. On the plus side, nobody ever talks. How could they? They're all bugs. Instead, the characters communicate through a sort of gibberish nonsense stream of sound effects accompanies by comic book style speech bubbles with often funny but often also unclear imagery on them. Looking at a feather boa might elicit the Roach to emote himself wrapped up in it, a confused and uncomfortable expression on his face, but what does that actually mean? Well, it turns out I'm supposed to tie up another character in it, but how was I supposed to know? To an extent this is funny in the way that imagery is used creatively, but at the same time it makes several puzzles damn near impossible to figure out. Speaking of which...


Journey of a Roach has, broadly speaking, two aspects to its gameplay - wall-crawling  and point-and-click puzzle-solving. At first the game makes it seem like wall-crawling will be a major aspect, but it's almost never used for anything that interesting, aside from making it hard to see all the places you can go to. You wall-crawl by moving into a wall on the left or right of the screen, whereupon your Roach will immediately cling to it - it is a cockroach, after all. Nearly every time, this gives you access to items to interact with or ventilation shafts by which to reach new places. Unfortunately, it also flips the camera completely around every time you climb, producing a jarring and uncomfortable effect. After a few hours of playing the game, I began feeling quite queasy, and that upset stomach feeling never really left me. You can obviously not climb the fourth wall (it's the invisible one you're looking through) or for some reason the third wall - the background - leading to many situations where you can't get to places for no good reason. Say the ceiling is blocked and the floor is blocked, but the back wall is just fine... Can't climb it. With all the of the technical issues and inconsistencies and general queasiness, I have to wonder if the game wouldn't have been superior without it. It really adds nothing that interesting.

Beyond wall-crawling, you have puzzle-solving. This should be the heart of any point-and-click adventure... And Journey of a Roach does this TERRIBLY. The actual mechanics of each solution are actually pretty simple - find the right inventory item and click it on the right other item. However, the game's logic behind what you're supposed to do is... Illogical. For instance, I entered the room of a hippie glowbug (just roll with it) who was sleeping. Previously, I had gotten a glass from  drunk, filled it with something and put a battery in it. I gave this to the glowbug, who woke up. What? So glass with a battery in it equals energy drink? Oh, wait... "Energy" + "Drink." Ugh... But then another bug gives me a radio which needs a battery. Could I take a battery out of one of the glasses? Nope, the game won't let me. I have to fine one in a cave. Why? Why is there a spider with fly babies? Why is there a British Army bug fighting Black Ant soldiers? Why do I need to pluck a light bulb off a ladybug's hair when there were lightbulbs in the other room? I DON'T KNOW!

I had to resort to a walkthrough on two separate locations in this game, all because logic doesn't exist in Journey of a Roach. You get a screwdriver out of a fish tank by feeding the fish radioactive fish food so it grows huge and breaks the tank. This may sound funny to you from my explanation, but it breaks THE crucial aspect of a good point-and-click adventure - the ability to figure out solutions to its puzzles. In Journey of a Roach, you will often have no clear idea of what you're supposed to do past the broadest of senses, nor any idea of how to achieve it. You will try the logical solutions and fail, only to stumble upon completely illogical versions of them completely by accident. And that's really really bad. You have no agency in the puzzles in this game, until eventually you'll be reduced to throwing your hands in the air and just clicking everything on everything else until something happens, with no real idea of why it worked or what you're supposed to do with the result now, but to click it on everything else. And because nobody speaks, all you have to go on is very unclear imagery, when the game even provides that.

What you have is a point-and-click adventure which is completely illogical with climbing mechanics which will make you hurl.


I think this is where Journey of a Roach arguably fails the worst. The game does have a story... Absurd though it may be. There are antagonists, there is a plot arch, there are some returning characters here and there. The issue is that because nobody can talk, the game really can't TELL a good enough story, and Journey of a Roach is decidedly NOT good enough to tell an interesting tale by visuals alone. Not that it tries - most of the game is Pink Panther style slapstick and goofiness, the overall objective is stupid and ultimately not achieved, and the bug society hinted at is never really explained. The game does have antagonists - black soldier ants which I've deduced are a stand-in for the Nazi because... They're being opposed by a moustached bug in a WW1 British Army Officer's uniform. We're not entirely sure why they're evil, other than they captured the Roach's friend, we're not entirely sure what they're doing, only that they're goofy. Like everyone else.

Ultimately, Journey of a Roach really does feel like a Pink Panther short. The Roach and his friend get into a bunch of hijinks, they get out of it through much slapstick and nothing of value was accomplished. Sure, we nuked a city, but it's not like the city wasn't already nuked to shit to begin with, and it's not like the roaches emerged any worse for wear. I guess just because cockroaches can survive lethal doses of radiation, it means they can also survive being inside a nuclear ICBM as it detonates? Well, they're giant mutant roaches, so I guess they're fucking invulnerable. "I guess" is something of a key word for the entire game, because either nothing which happens in its story is of any consequence (which is my guess) or I just didn't follow the plot somewhere.

This is where I have to play the bad guy. I've played the Course of Monkey Island 3 and enjoyed it greatly for its irreverent, self-parodying comedy. I drank (or rather didn't) from a bottomless jar, I died and got better but still collected my life insurance, I distracted people by pretending to see a three-headed monkey and so on. That was an even dumber game than this, but here's the difference - the Curse of Monkey Island 3 gave me a large "world" to explore, full of people who actually spoke and had discernible characters. It gave me an interesting setting which I could understand in its lack of logic. Journey of a Roach doesn't. Every time you get past a major obstacle, you're let into the next area and walled in. You can never go back, you can never explored old locations. It's all small episodes, all a couple of rooms at a time, all... So small. Leisure Suit Larry: Love for Sail gave me an entire ship to explore, with hundreds of possible items and places to use them. Journey of a Roach gives me, all told, about a dozen large rooms, each self-contained. In so doing, it shoots itself in the foot by preventing itself from telling a story.


Journey of a Roach is a creative, experimental title which tries to present a point-and-click adventure game in a way it has never been presented ago. It's easy to argue that the genre is so starved right now that any game is better than no games, especially one as creative as this one. Unfortunately, I played the old-style point-and-click adventures, and I can tell you that their equivalents of today are a pale shadow of that former glory. Journey of a Roach is not a proper point-and-click adventure. It's a bare-bones facsimile which is amusing for its very short run time, but really doesn't amount to a memorable experience, good or bad.

I'd only buy the game if you're really starved for point-and-click, or if you're really interested in the wall-crawling mechanic. Well, and I guess if you're into the whole cutesy tongue-in-cheek Tex Avery cartoon style of game. If you choose to get it, however, may you have a strong stomach and much tolerance for tedium, because tedium is the only way you're going to blindly guess at the correct solution to any of its puzzles.

Ultimately, I don't think the game is worth its asking price, especially when I already own the Broken Sword trilogy. But hey - if you score it at some kind of discount for under $10... I can see it being worth that much. It's just not at all what I expected.

Flashback 2013 review

Wed, 2013/10/02 - 9:43pm -- Samuel Tow
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Where. Do I. Begin. I suppose "why" is a good question. Why did I think it was a good idea to try this? Well, since I'm probably the youngest member in Adversity it might seem odd for me to say this, but when I was a child - back in 1992 - there existed an amazingly awesome Sega Megadrive 2 game by the name of Flashback. One of dozens of Prince of Persia knockoffs on the surface (see Abe's Odyssey, Blachthorne, etc.), Flashback probably did the most to innovate on the basic concept, as well as the most in adding quite competent gunplay, as well as a story quite a ways above what was ordinary for the time, with a plot as if right out of Johnny Mnemonic or Bladerunner. This is one of those few gems from my childhood that I occasionally still load up over DOSBox because even 20 years later, they're still very good games, to say nothing of "abandonware." So when I saw they were making a new version of Flashback, I had to have it. I mean, who wouldn't play the original game with much better graphics. Yeah, I really should have learned by now.

Flashback 2013 sucks. Horribly. From the need to install uPlay, to the graphics to the gameplay to the story to every fucking thing. I thought Alien Swarm was bad (and it is, it's horrible!), but god damn if this game didn't catch me by surprise, punch me in the gut, steal my lunch money and bury my jacket in the sand pit. As such, this review will take the form of a list: The many ways in which Flashback 2013 fails. But first, a little introduction:

What is Flashback 2013?

Flashback 2013 is a "2.5D" sidescroller action/climbing game using the Prince of Persia (1989) model of climbing ledges and performing jumps. It tells the story of Conrad B. Hart, a man with an erased memory who crashes into a jungle and barely survives. You then join Conrad on a journey to regain his lost memory in small snippers - or "flashbacks," if you will, and uncover a nasty conspiracy that could threaten everyone. Oh, if they had left it at that... But why does the new one suck? Well, right off the bat...

It's a crap console port

Right from the start, you know you're playing a console game. Why do I need to "Press Start or Enter" to begin the game? It's already running! I'm not playing a fucking arcade, console developers! I don't need to have my game stuck in "attract mode" until I wake it up! Load me straight into the main menu and save yourself the embarrassment, please. Commendably for a console port, Flashback 2013 does have rebindable keys... Somewhat. Several crucial actions are set to non-rebindable keys, specifically throwing grenades with a middle mouse click. More on that under gunplay. Additionally, there are far more keys than there really need to be. You have a button for down, a button for crouch and a button for roll. The original Flashback had four arrow keys, use, gun, inventory and THAT played just fine. Why do I need up AND jump as separate keys, when up and down are only ever used for elevator platforms? Oh, and there is no audio control of any kind. There isn't even a "sound" menu under options. Gee, thanks!

It looks like shit

I cannot comprehend how people keep making these butt ugly games in this day and age. Flashback 2013 uses the Unreal engine, which is good graphics basically wrapped in a gift basket for you and this game STILL manages to suck with awful art direction and what may well be the WORST character animations I have ever seen. The way Conrad moves and jumps goes beyond inept rigging and crosses over into the territory of blatantly unfinished artwork, or otherwise a horribly rushed product. Remember, this is a "reimagining" of a Prince of Persia style game, which means it's mostly about jumping and climbing. And yet its jumping and climbing animations SUCK!

Jumping isn't jumping at all. When you try to vault over a large gap, you will see Conrad sort of float up in the air, legs astride and hover forward at the exact same fixed speed that he runs at. At the end of the jump, he will shift poses abruptly and fall straight down. You have air control, to the point where you can leap six feet off a ledge, turn around mid air and land back on it. Letting go of the forward key while jumping causes all of Conrad's inertia to vanish as he snaps to a dead halt mid-animation. Turning around, crouching, rolling, jumping, climbing, everything is so inept as to make me wonder if an actual animator worked on this. Conrad's jacket seems glued to his back and never flaps in any way and even the enemy ragdolls look iffy.

The pistol looks silly, the grenades are unsatisfying, the enemies are awfully designed (as well as numbering all of three types ever) The backgrounds are boring and repetitive... How can you make a game in 2013 that looks worse than a game which came out in 1992. And I'm not joking. The original Flashback used vector animation for its character models, and all of the characters' animations were rotoscoped off real people performing the actions in question. Yes, the 2013 hand-drawn game is more realistic than this floaty shit. I am astounded by this!

The gameplay is ass

Games back in 1992 weren't all that great, and the original Flashback is kind of extremely awkward to get around, but it is doable once you understand how to move around. By contrast, Flashback 2013 just controls like someone glued buttons to a disembodied ass. The game plays with keyboard and mouse because you have free aim of Conrad's gun, but the need for this is both token and actually game-breaking in places. Even fucking Alien Swarm knew to let you aim with a reticle because you knew where you were pointing, but Flashback instead has you controlling Conrad's arm angle, making precise aiming all but impossible. In many cases, trying to aim for enemies on the ground or enemies far away will trigger the game's "camera assist." Because aiming the gun also controls the camera, the game will "think" you want to see something far off and scroll your view so off to the side that you don't see your own character!

The movement controls are just junk. You have a zillion keys, most of which you'll never need. You're never going to need crouch. EVAR! You can't hit down and crouch, because that's not what it does. You can roll, sure, but the way firegfights work, you'll rarely have to. At points, the game will actively lie to you. "Press the Space Bar (jump) while running to grab nearby ledges" it tells me, and that's NOT what you do. No, what you need to do is press UP at nearby ledges as you run to do the running climb-up move from the original. But because the animations are so floaty and because the positioning is so finnicky, you'll end up falling into pits missing that jump. Missing a jump that a 1992 game let you do just about automatically. That is a whole new level of FAIL.

And then we have grenades. This game is so proud of its fucking grenades that it has numerous occasions where you need to lob one through a narrow twisted up opening. Here's how you do it - you hold down Middle Mouse Button to bring out the grenade. As you're holding this, you also hold down Right Mouse Button to aim, sort of windmilling your arm around. You let go of Middle Mouse Button while still holding Right Mouse Button and Conrad throws. If you let go of Right Mouse Button first, you don't throw the greande and your aim resets. Now go do that while slimy bastards are nipping at your heels. The main pistol also has a charge-up shot that you'll nearly never use because it can't hit shit, it does next to no damage and takes a long time to charge up. There's also a stealth mechanic which the game lets you use maybe three times total, including the tutorial, but it's token and uninteresting and rife with goofy animations.

The story is garbage

I won't claim that the original game had a great story. After all, I barely remember it and I could never figure out what was going on. But it was a serviceable connecting plot to explain all the locations and enemies. Flashback 2013 tries to "improve" on the story, and the result is a complete mess. The game seems to suggest that this version isn't a remake, but rather a repeat of the same events from the previous game, like Conrad had his memory wiped twice. On numerous occasions, you'll find people remember Conrad and the things he's done... Which makes no sense because Flashback 2013 is a room-by-room recreation of the exact level structure from the original, right down to item locations and enemy spawns. It IS a remake, but they're calling it a "reimagining." Such rotten imagination.

The voice acting sucks across the board, too. Conrad delivers his line with all the skill of a grade school play, while the other more competent actors are handed hammy, nonsensical lines that they deliver as though they were given no art direction. The plot doesn't make any sense and takes contrived steps to fit into the original's timeline while having different events taking place. They've added a lot of baggage to the characters, like a spurned girlfriend and a professor character and some drama about betrayal and blah, blah, blah. It's hack writing in the extreme and ends up making what was a simple but serviceable story into a bloated mess.

And, of course, they had to have the villain monologue about "join me" as you're killing him. What is it with bad game writers and this fetish with ridiculous Final Fantasy villains? Yes, Sephiroth was cool, I get that, but for crap's sake! The bad guys' agenda is murky at best even by the end, and the actual ending eats. I still don't know what the fuck happened after the credits, because I was treated to a still shot of Earth while I listened to what felt like voice acting lines which were cut from a much larger game, like they dumped the scraps from the cutting room floor into the now-mandatory postcredits scene. Could it be that this was intended to be a legitimate game and they ran out of funds so they had to cobble together this piece of shit?

This game has RPG elements

Yes, seriously. RPG elements. I guess the thinking went something like this: "Well, it's on a console, and it's an action game, so let's stuff token RPG elements into it. And they suck, too. You get to upgrade three different "skills" - accuracy, tech and constitution, and all they did is mildly tweak base stats. Accuracy makes critical hits more common, tech makes critical hits more sever and constitution makes health regeneration faster and more prompt. Which means that - yes - Flashback now has regenerating health. Joy. You know... Back in the original game, you had four hit points, represented by a "shield" item. You take four hits, you die. The only way to recharge the shield was at charging stations, which were actually fairly rare. This put some basic strategy to the game, and would have been a great means of getting me to play stealthy. But no, I just load up on critical hits and spam left click until the band man fall down.

And of course, with RPG elements come collectables, and what do those do? More RPG pretendy stuff. You find a gun in the world, it makes your gun recharge faster. You find glasses in the world, your "alternate vision mode" lasts longer. It's all just menial busywork in a game that just don't work that way. I have an inventory screen, for instance, but I finished the game without once having to look at it. Usable items bind to a four-directions menu on your regular UI and everything else is storyline items. Oh, but there are "Morphing Eyes" to shoot, whatever the hell that is. They're just... Stuff you need to find and fire a shot into because of reasons. I don't think they do anything at all. Because a console game has to have token achievements, no matter how bullshit.


NT will attest to how much I was flipping out trying to play this game. This was an exercise of yelling frustration. I have rarely played a game that looked, sounded, played and felt THIS bad since probably Crevures. Holy shit... Yeah, that's exactly what Flashback 2013 reminds me of - Crevures, that shitty stilted ugly game that someone whipped up in his basement and had the cheek to charge real money for. As an experiment, I decided to do a "live install." As I was chatting with NT over Skype, I got DOSBox and a copy of Flashback from an Abandonware site, and managed to get both woriking in less time than Flashback 2013 took to download. Yeah, the game runs at 320x240, yeah its sound is one step above a PC speaker, yeah it has non-customizable keys, no save game feature of any description and those lovely "go to column XX from page YY off the manual and find this symbol" aborted copyright protection ideas, but it's a game from 1992. That's to be expected.

But you know what? 1992's Flashback is a much more entertaining game. The hand-draw graphics look quite well, with bright colours and more defined shapes. The rotoscoped animation gives all characters a sense of weight, momentum and dynamic motion and the stiff, awkward gunplay controls add a strategic element to combat above and beyond mashing buttons. The sound effects are early Sound Blaster, but the jungle sounded like a jungle, with bird calls and animal roars and the sound of the wind, while the gun sounded like a fucking gun, as opposed to the water pistol 2013 Conrad has. The controls didn't suck, either. Arrow keys to move and climb, shift + arrow keys to run and jump with the pistol holstered, shift + arrow keys to shoot with the gun out. The story is corny and badly written, sure, but at least it's not full of semi-ironic one-liners and bad plot points.

I'm not kidding when I say that I would rather play the original Flashback than this ugly monstrosity, and that's just sad. It's sad that a 20-year-old game can be superior to its modern "HD" remake in every singe way INCLUDING visuals. It's just icing on the cake when we're talking about ABANDONWARE beating modern titles. And this is an Ubisoft title, to boot. It has the Ubi trademark video before you get to the "Press Start or Enter" screen.

What the hell is going on with gaming these days?

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified

Sat, 2013/08/31 - 8:48am -- Samuel Tow
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This game has a... Troubled history. Originally, it was intended to be a reboot of X-Com from the old days, a fresh new start to a franchise which inspired the childhoods of so many of us, and which was mishandled and basically run into the ground. It was supposed to be a bright new beginning for X-Com... So why they chose to basically redo X-Com: Enforcer, the tombstone of the series, I cannot say. When news of this game, at the time just called X-Com, my reaction mimicked that of the Spoony One: Betrayal! So, X-Com went into development hell, and has been there for seven years or thereabout. Since then, it changed from a first person shooter to a third person shooter, from a regular shooter to a tactical game, the entire look and feel of the aliens was completely redesigned several times, the story re-written and so on. Think Duke Nukem Forever, just with a decade less of back-and-forth.

The game which came out as The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is almost unrecognisable as what we saw in trailers originally, and it really shows. It produces a game which is rather a mess, very derivative, quite a bit buggy and frankly feels rushed despite a bloated development cycle. It gives the sense of a game which was scrapped and remade so many times that the final time the team was given a deadline and ordered to stitch together what they had and release SOMETHING. And the result leaves something to be desired.


The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is basically Mass Effect, only without the interesting story. It's an over-the-shoulder cover-based third-person shooter with a moderate tactical component using Mass Effect's squad management interface. It's not even "like" that, it literally IS the Mass Effect slow-motion "pause" while you order team-members to move or use skills. That's really all the game is - a very linear cover-based shooter. It portends to have more to do and it portends to let you choose your missions, but it just doesn't. It's exactly like what Mass Effect would be if you took out all of the storyline and all of the player's choices.

Narratively, The Bureau tells the story of William Carter, a square jaw owner super agent in 1960s America, as he helps the United States fight off an alien invasion, using powers granted to him by an alien thingy in a suitcase that we don't know what it was or what it did to him. Crucially, it tires to tell the backstory of the XCOM initiative as an American organisation in the Swingin' Sixties, and it does so in an actually very clumsy way.

Graphics and Design:

Technically, The Bureau looks fine, though I wouldn't go out of my way to call it great. It's using the Unreal Engine, so of course it does, that's a given. However, poor optimisation means that your framerate WILL tank, in places horribly, and there's very little you can do about it. The game supports screen-space reflections, but my suggestion is to kill those immediately, or you'll be watching a slideshow. Any time you see large amounts of fog - and those are frequent - expect severe performance degeneration. Kill ambient occlusion, as well, unless you REALLY have to have it. My video card is hardly state of the art, but I'm still running a beefy GeForce GTX580, and even that chokes up more often than I'm comfortable with, and not on max settings, either.

And all of this for a game that frankly looks uninspired. Yes, I get it, it's the 60s! There are only so many times you can show me the same cadillac and the same monochrome computer before it starts getting repetitive. And even then, the game sort of abandons that mid-way through and sets nearly all of its actions in the gunmetal grey alien bases that made me feel like I'm playing Doom 3 all over again. And even when the action does take place in old American towns, it's almost always outdoors, hiding behind chest-high walls or cars. God damn it! When are people going to realise that the cool part about the original UFO: Enemy Unknown was fighting aliens inside actual buildings, flanking them through granny's bedroom, blasting down the wall of the loo and using terrain to your advantage? Gears of War would look at the Bureau and think we could have used some variety.

Character design is what really spoils my cheese, though. The aliens are, frankly, fugly. The Sectoids probably look the best, with unique sort of impish character animations, but the rest are uninspired humanoids in awkward metal armour that looks almost scavenged. The human designs are actually even worse. Protagonist William Carter goes out into the field, protected only by his sturdy Tactical Turtleneck. The game never offers you armour of any kind, so your agents are fighting the alien menace in suit jackets and overalls. Their facial design is actually decent, with one Dr. Weir looking remarkably like FDR and sporting a giant 1950s pulp fiction manly chin, but that's really the extent of it. In conversations, characters animate very badly, with carter looping the same one animation of slapping the top of his fist and never blinking. Lip syncing is often off, and even when its on target the mouth movement is jerky and unnatural, especially on secondary characters. About the only good thing about the characters are their weapon designs, which are occasionally interesting.

The game looks good on a technical level because it's using the Unreal Engine. Artistically, however, it's almost an all-around fail.

Story and Characters:

This is easily the game's weakest part, and that's saying a lot. The Bureau pretends to be Mass Effect, giving you face-to-face conversations where you'll occasionally be asked to pick responses out of a conversation wheel, and what Carter actually says will only sometimes resemble the option you picked. You've played that game before. Only unlike in Mass Effect, nobody has anything interesting to say, none of the choices you make really matter and the characters are so bland I couldn't remember anyone's name. This really feels like something that got tacked onto the game in late production so as to give you the feeling of having a central base and something to do in it. Occasionally conversations will lead to "dispatch missions" but it really comes down to speaking with everyone about everything.

The Bureau's story is both convoluted and very simple. It's the 1960s, and US intelligence has been picking up strange signals and seeing weather anomalies. Director Fawk's not saying it's aliens, but it's aliens. Nobody believes him, but he has an ace up his sleeve - washed-up alcoholic retired intelligence agent William Carter has been asked to bring something in a briefcase to a meeting with the Chiefs of Staff. Shit goes down, tits go up, Carter is shot, the briefcase is breached and he wakes up, magically healed and now having super powers, in the middle of an alien invasion on the base. That's your first mission. At the conclusion of that, he's taken to XCOM HQ, an underground military bunker from where combined defence of the US is handled, now by Director Fawke who has assumed command of the country. All communications are down, there's no contact with the white house, so I... Guess that's the procedure. But this is where things get stupid.

The big thing about The Bureau is that they're trying to keep the alien invasion secret. With the communications blackout, the country apparently can't learn of any of the following: Aliens launching a nuclear missile (which your mission tracker lists as a "minor" mission), aliens levelling entire small towns, aliens bombarding major cities, a disease that has infected 1/3 of the entire population of the US, giant fucking towers that stretch miles into the sky and shoot beams of energy into space and so much more. We're just going to hide this. All of it. We can't afford a panic. We can't afford to declare martial law, conscript people and fight the aliens. No, we're still sticking to the original premise of a game that was a completely different beast when it was first conceived. Ugh...

Don't play this game for the story. Other than a solitary idea which adds up to nothing, it's not worth it and has a stupid ending.

Gameplay and Systems:

If you're gonna' play The Bureau for one reason, that would be gameplay. It's awkward, unpolised and buggy, but it IS the game's single saving grace. First, though, let me explain what this game isn't: It's not XCOM. There is no research of any kind. You use alien weapons directly when you pick them up from the ground, and as soon as you get one, you have an infinite supply of them to equip your squad-mates with. There is no armour of any kind. Ever, nor any real gadgets beyond backpacks, and the only thing backpacks do is slightly alter your character's stats. Soot a little faster, take a little less damage, that sort of thing. There's no manufacture of anything, nor any resources of any kind, or even secondary objectives to any of the missions. This is not an XCOM game, it's a Gears of War game that's structured to resemble a strategy.

The game's meat and potatoes is squad combat. You always play as William Carter and always have two other squad-mates with you. All three of you have your own unique set of skills - five for Carter, three for everyone else. Basic combat controls like you'd think - sprint to enter cover, pop-out to shoot, enemies fall down when you deal enough damage. Tactical command takes the form of the Mass Effect slow-motion pause, which brings up control options for yourself and your team-mates. They can be ordered to attack a specific target, move or use any of their abilities. And they're STUPID about it. You can't tell them what route to take so they'll usually run through enemy fire. Once they get there, it's a toss-up as to whether they'll actually stay there or move out of cover for no reason. They will NEVER use ANY of their abilities on their own, so you have to micromanage them constantly. And their basic weapon damage is crap, too, so they won't kill almost anything. It's like Mass Effect combat, but much much worse.

The game portends to have equipment and ability management, but it doesn't, not really. Squaddies are generic as they can perma-die, and they come in four classes which, unlike in Enemy Unknown, you can actually pick. You have the Commando who's basically a combat soldier and uses an automatic rifle, the Engineer who has mines and turrets and uses a shotgun, the Recon who has decoys and invisibility and uses a sniper rifle, and the Support who's a healer and uses pistols. Those are the four weapon types in the game, and there are maybe three versions of each throughout the game. Uniquely, Carter himself can carry two weapons and grenades, and can pick from all weapons, along with the Blaster Launcher which in this game is a rapid-firing rifle. What? Skills follow the Enemy Unknown tree structure almost exactly, and unlock with agent rank. Finally, everyone can also equip a stat-changing backpack, and the game has something like 30 of them, most of which just suck.

Basically, gameplay is awkward and clunky and unreliable, but at least serviceable. But by this point, why not play Mass Effect, instead? That's what you'll be playing anyway.


I cannot recommend this game, especially not at full price. It's simply not worth $50. If you REALLY need to have it, I'd say wait for a discount and try to pick it up for $10-$15. It's just about worth that much. But foe a full-price release, it just doesn't have enough to justify this. It doesn't look all that good, its story is token and its gameplay rather mediocre. And worst of all, it's BORING. Even with all the tactical options available to you, it only takes three or four missions until you realise that you've been doing the exact same thing every single firefight and just how dull that repetition is. The characters have nothing interesting to say, the locations become less and less interesting as the game goes on and the whole thing is scripted to the last detail. In fact, I damn near flipped my lid when it FINALLY seemed like the game would ease up and let me go on a few random missions to actually play... Only for it to pull a fast one, cancel my mission and go into a two-hour over-scripted final mission. Ugh!

Sorry, NT. I'm afraid you got ripped off.


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