Game Review: Shadows Out Of Time (2018, Brendon Connelly, Dan Q, Liz McCarthy, and Bodleian Libraries)

I was going to review Heavy Rain today but it looks like I’m going to need an extra day to work on that review and hopefully figure out an appropriately way to describe Madison Pagie’s role in the game.

Until I do that, how about taking a look at Shadows Out of TimeShadows Out Of Time is a text adventure game that begins with you, a student at Oxford, waking up in your favorite chair in the Old Bodleian Upper Reading Room.  In front of you is a copy of Lovecraft’s Shadow Out Of Time, which you were reading before you fell asleep.  Upon waking up, you discover that the library appears to be deserted.  Further searching reveals that the entire town appears to be bereft of human life!  Are you alone or is there something with you?  You’ll have to explore to find out.

Shadows out of Time is a choose your own adventure-style game.  You read the descriptions and then you decide which of two options to go with.  Do you go out to the quad or do you continue to explore the library?  Do you try to reach Rad Cam or do you steal a bike and try to return to your home?  It can be a challenging game but, fortunately, you always have the option to “wake up” if you want try again.  (Or you can “stay asleep forever.”)

It’s an atmospheric game that captures the unique feel of Oxford.  (The game itself was obviously specifically written for students at Oxford.  For any Americans who may want to play, Radcliffe Camera is not a camera shop.)  It’s an entertaining tour through haunted Oxford.  You can play it here.

Halloween Scenes I Love: Spider-Man Goes To ESU’s Halloween Party in PS4’s Spider-Man

Not all good Halloween scenes have to come from a movie.  Sometimes, they can come from a video game!

One of my favorite missions in PS4’s Spider-Man is Back To School.  That’s where you, as Spider-Man, have to search the Empire State University Halloween Party for an Oscorp scientist named Dr. Delaney and rescue him from Mister Negative and the Demons.  Because it’s a Halloween party, you should be able to search for Delaney without anyone realizing that you’re the Spider-Man.  The bad news is that, again because it’s a Halloween party, almost every party goer is dressed up like one of your enemies.  And when Mister Negative does attack, it turns out that a drunk college student dressed up like the Rhino can be almost as dangerous as the actual Rhino!

Game Review: Dwelling: Insomnia (2014, 0vr)

This piece of interactive fiction is a strange game.  I’m not quite sure how else to describe it.

The premise is a simple one.  Each night, you try to sleep.  Every night, you are awoken by someone or something pounding on your door.  Every.  Single.  Night.  In Choose Your Own Adventure fashion, you are given a set of options.  Do you try to go back to sleep or do you go to the door?  Do you look through the peephole or do you return to bed?  Open the door or hide?  Left or right?  At every step, you’re given the option to explore further or to try to return to safety.  The problem is that if you make the wrong choice, you might make it back to your apartment in one piece but you’re still going to be woken up the following night.  Make the right choice and something bad might still happen to you but at least you’ll no longer be woken up in the middle of the night.

What makes the game so strange is the way that it constantly loops back to the beginning, until you finally make the “right” choices.  The only thing that changes is the number that lets you know how many nights you’ve been woken up by someone pounding at your door.  Is someone really knocking at your door or are you stuck in some sort of time loop or permanent dream state? Having played the game and gotten to the end, I am still not sure.

The game itself is well-written and vivid enough to justify its placement in the horror genre.  It can be played here.

Retro Game Review: L.A. Noire (2011, Rockstar Games)

(This review is based on my experience replaying L.A. NoireBe sure to reread Leonard Wilson’s review, from when the game was originally released.)

I recently replayed L.A. Noire, a game that I enjoyed when it was first released in 2011.  I was curious to see if, after eight years, it still held up.  The first time I played L.A. Noire, it was on the Xbox 360.  For the replay, I used the version that was released for the PS4.  This version included extra rewards and cases that were not originally included in the game.

L.A. Noire takes place in Los Angeles in the years immediately following World War II.  For the majority of the game, you control the actions of Cole Phelps, a decorated USMC veteran who works his way up through the LAPD.  He starts as a uniformed policeman before being promoted to detective.  The game follows him through three different department until, as a result of a personal scandal, he ends up being demoted down to arson.  Along the way, Phelps learns the truth about the Black Dahlia murderer and gets involved in the deadly aftereffects of a morphine heist.  Through a series of flashbacks, we also discover that Phelps may not be the war hero that everyone thinks that he is.  Cole’s an interesting hero because he’s so openly ambitious and judgmental that he is sometimes easy to dislike.  Nearly everyone who works with Cole in the game either beings their partnership disliking him or grows to dislike him over time.  Cole can be abrasive but he also has a strong moral sense and, when he says that he’s a better detective than his partners, he has a point.  From the start, the games teases us about Cole’s inevitable downfall but, when it actually does happen, it catches both Cole and the player by surprise.

L.A. Noire is an open world game, meaning that Phelps can temporarily abandon a case and spend some time walking and driving around Los Angeles.  The game’s recreation of 1947 Hollywood is impressive but, when compared to other open world games, there’s not much to do when you’re not actually on a mission.  This isn’t like Grand Theft Auto, where you can spends weeks mugging people and stealing cars until deciding to return a phone call so that you can get your next task.  L.A. Noire is a story-centered game so be prepared to spend most of your time searching crime scenes for clues, going back to the police station to pick up lab reports, and interrogating suspects.

When L.A. Noire first came out, it was the interrogation scenes that received the most attention.  The game used MotionScan technology and 32 cameras to capture every possible facial expression of the actors appearing in the game.  When you ask someone a question, you can watch their expressions while they answer and make the determination whether they’re lying or telling the truth, as well as whether to be a good cop or a bad cop.  You can watch an liar refuses to make eye contact with you or as an innocent man sweats out an aggressive questioning.  It puts you right in the world of the game, though I was disappointed to discover that wrongly accusing someone of lying doesn’t actually have much of an effect on how each case ends.

The main flaw with L.A. Noire‘s stoy is that, during the final fourth of the game, a new character is introduced.  Jack Kelso served with Cole in the Marines and knows the truth about Cole’s wartime “heroism.”  For the final few cases, Jack replaces Cole as the playable character and Cole is reduced to supporting him.  Because Jack is written to be perfect and basically has none of Cole’s flaws, he’s also not a very interesting protagonist.  Switching from playing Cole to Kelso bothered me the first time that I played L.A. Noire and it bothered me even more when I replayed it.  A final cut scene, which revealed that Kelso knew more than he originally let on, did not help.

Fortunately, the rest of the game still held up very well.  The cases are all challenging without being impossible to solve and the game does a great job of recreating the atmosphere of classic California noirs like Chinatown and L.A. Confidential.  Cole, his partners, and all of the suspects are vividly written and voiced characters and the cases that Cole works for Homicide are just creepy enough to make this game appropriate for October playing.  Be careful chasing the Black Dahlia killer into the catacombs.  I didn’t bother to pay attention to where I was going and I spent an hour running around in circles before I finally found him and promptly got gunned down.

There are puzzles to be solved and suspects to be pursued.  This game may mostly be about interrogating people and analyzing clues but it does have its share of car chases.  Fortunately, if you fail to complete an action scene too many times in a row, the game will give you the option of just skipping it.  When you’re working with a partner and heading to a crime scene, that game also give you the option of telling your partner to drive to the location.  That’s something I, being among the directionally challenged, appreciated.

However, if you do enjoy driving through a video game, L.A. Noire‘s recreation of Los Angeles in the 40s has much to recommend it.  Driving through the game’s version of Los Angeles, you’ll find plenty of evidence of America’s post-World War II optimism.  New houses are being constructed.  Innocent young women are hanging out on every street corner, looking to become a star.  The theater marquees advertise movies like Odd Man Out.   All of the famous Hollywood landmarks are lovingly recreated.  An early case leads to you searching for clues behind the Hollywood sign.  Another case actually leads to a firefight at the old Intolerance set while yet another case tests how much attention you’ve been paying by requiring you to solve a series of riddles that will lead you from one landmark to another.  In the tradition of Raymond Chandler and James Ellroy, L.A. Noire challenges you to take a look at what’s happening underneath Los Angeles’s pleasing surface.

As a game, L.A. Noire holds up well.  I won’t hold my breath for that sequel that was promised seven years ago but I did enjoy replaying it.

Game Review: The Last Half of Darkness (1989, SoftLab Laboratories)

Today, I was planning to take a look back at L.A. Noire but, due to last night’s storms, I lost power right as I was about to start composing my thoughts.  The power has since come back but, rather than do a rush job on one of my favorite games, I’m going to hold off on posting about L.A. Noire until tomorrow or Wednesday.

Instead, for today, I’ll recommend The Last Half of Darkness, a haunted house game that can be played at the Internet Archive.  In The Last Half of Darkness, you are searching the home of your late aunt.  Your aunt was a voodoo witch and you stand to inherit her considerable estate if you can finish the potions that she was working on and also solve the mystery of her death.  To do that, you are going to have to go through and search her home.  The problem is that you are not alone.  Open the right door and you will find the secret to returning life to the dead.  Open the wrong closet or cabinet and prepare to meet your fate at the fangs of a snake or the hands of an angry ghost.

The Last Half of Darkness is a challenging game that is also a lot of fun, assuming that you can get the hang of the game’s point-and-click interface.  Instead of typing out your commands, you click on a list of options that are on the right side of the screen.  You then have to click on the picture of whatever object you want to pick up or direction you want to head.  It took me a while to get used to it but, once I did, it barely bothered me.

This is a good game, full of wit and atmosphere and puzzles that require some concentration but which are not impossible to solve.  For those of you like me who sometimes need to cheat to win a game, here’s a helpful walk-through.

The game itself can be played by clicking here.

Game Review: Eat Me (2017, Chandler Groover)

Copyright Chandler Groover

Eat Me is both one of the strangest and most delicious text adventures that I’ve ever played.

You are a very hungry child being held captive in a dungeon.  Fortunately, your manacles are very tasty.  For that matter, so is the door to your cell, probably because it’s made out of a cheesecake.  If you want to go for a more minimal meal, the skeleton of the prisoner who was in the cell before you is also available for snacking.  In fact, as the player soon discovers, everything in this dungeon can be eaten.  That includes the doors, the instruments of torture, the bodies of the other prisoners, and the guards.  If you’re going to escape you better start eating.

There are a few things that stand out about Eat Me.  One thing is that the solution to almost every problem is to eat.  Some things are easier to eat than others but eating is always the safest way to go.  The other is that it’s a very well-written game, with very tasty descriptions of each room, each object, each person, and, of course, each bite.  Some of the descriptions are downright tasty while others are not something you should read on a full stomach.  None of the NPCs in the game really want to be eaten but, in the end, it’s either you or them.

For those ready to start their meal, Eat Me can played online here.

Game Review: Suspended: A Cryogenic Nightmare (1983, Infocom)

Welcome to the future.  On the planet of Contra, an Earth colony is run by a self-maintaining system that is housed in a gigantic facility.  The system is responsible for everything from transportation to keeping the weather hospitable for the colonists.  You are at the center of the system.  You have been placed in suspended animation so that your mind can serve as the Central Mentality that keeps the entire system from falling apart.  It’s a job that’s meant to last for 500 years but the rewards are great.

Unfortunately, there’s been an earthquake and the complex has been damaged.  Though you are still in suspended animation, you know that you have to repair the complex before the angry colonists shut you down.  Since you’re in stasis, you have to direct five robots to do all the work.  Each robot has its own “personality” and unique way of describing each room in the complex.  You’ll have to figure out how to get the robots to work together before all of you get shut down permanently.

Suspended is one of the most difficult text adventures that I’ve ever played.  Since each robot can only tell you certain things about each room in the facility, the game often depends on getting the right robots in the right room at the right time.  If you can pull that off, the damage itself is often easy to fix but it’s not always easy to guess which robot will be useful in which situation.  In typical Infocom fashion, there’s also a time limit to the game and making too many mistakes can make it impossible to get things done before time expires.  For most players, winning this game will come down to trial-and-error and frequent saving.  The game is so complex, though, that you feel really damn good when you actually manage to figure it all out.

Suspended can be found at various archival and abandonware sites online, including here.