Reviews by Lunk
Profoundly moving.Lunk | May 12, 2013 | Review of Papo & Yo Soundtrack & Game Bundle
Papo and Yo tells the story of Quico, a young Brazilian boy who re-imagines his traumatic world as one that can be bent and manipulated in ways that will allow him to protect himself from his father's alcoholic rage. The gameplay elements are pretty limited - you can run and jump and pull levers to solve mostly straightforward puzzles, but there's very little to test or challenge the player and no gameplay penalty should you fail. The story is also not altogether original, as there are certainly a number of examples in fiction centered around children imagining fantastical worlds that allow them to overcome demons they aren't able to in the real world and some have pulled it off with symbolism that isn't quite as blatant as it is here. However, the combination of the story and the gameplay make for a very affecting experience as the player drives the action and everything feels a bit more immediate and intense than it does while passively watching a movie or reading a book.
Blessedly, I have no first-hand experience with the kind of trauma at the center of this story, but from my uneducated perspective the game certainly seemed to do a very effective job of making me feel many of the emotions that must come with such a situation - a sense of dread when the substance appears, desperately trying to remove it from sight to keep yourself and those around you safe before it's too late, an inability to do anything but hide yourself until the storm has passed, and the familial love during the good times that can make it impossible for a child to reconcile what's going on.
In case I'm scaring anyone off, I should say that the game is not a totally somber affair. There are moments of absolute joy and wonder as you set about reshaping the world, and even if you don't find the story as engrossing as I did, it's not terribly long at around 3 hours and it's well worth experiencing the rich environments the dev team has created. The street art adorning many of the buildings is particularly impressive.
On a technical level, it's worth noting that this is a fairly demanding game that my 3 or 4 year old hardware struggled with a bit. I don't blame the game for that at all - hardware always becomes obsolete eventually and if any game has the right to strain a system it's one that looks as beautiful as this one does - and it didn't significantly detract from my experience, but don't be fooled into thinking that just because this is an indie game it lacks the production values that can bring older systems to their knees.
A quick note about the soundtrack for those deciding between this version and just getting the base game: the music is very well crafted and adds a lot of depth to the game world, but I'm not sure I see a whole lot of value in owning it as an album I can listen to outside of the game. I don't mean to disparage it, it's just that it feels like something less than whole on its own and not something I expect to listen to a lot. Of course, it's true of most things and especially musical tastes that your mileage may vary, but if you're tight on cash there's no harm in just getting the game without the separate mp3 soundtrack.
This is a game that will stick with me for a very long time. Highly, highly recommended.
Pleasant, but repetitiveLunk | April 6, 2013 | Review of The Cave
The Cave is a Double Fine adventure game that has a lot to offer. It's funny, it's polished, and it has puzzles that do a good job of focusing on how to properly use the tools at your disposal rather than making you click everywhere just to find those tools as some games in the genre do. The problem is that despite being pretty quick (roughly 4 hours the first time through), it gets repetitive on several levels.
The puzzles themselves involve a whole lot of backtracking, sometimes forcing you to run the same long route two or three times even if you've figured out the optimal solution, and it can obviously take several more trips if you're trying to work out what to do. Making matters worse, you handle 3 characters and there's no way to issue movement commands to the two you're not actively controlling at the time. To get all three characters to the same spot means running there three times in a row. If you get far enough ahead of the others they'll eventually warp forward to you, but that usually only applies as you're moving from one puzzle hub to another. A simple follow/halt command system like the one found in (insert any game that's ever had an escort quest) would have gone a long way toward alleviating this.
Unfortunately, that's only the start of the repetition. At the start of the game, you choose 3 unique characters out of a selection of 7. Each character adds a unique mission focusing on their story and emphasizing their abilities; in total, the 3 missions from the 3 characters will make up roughly half of each play-through. These missions are, for the most part, very well done and tend to be the highlights of the game, but because of the 3 character limit you'll have to complete the game at least 3 times to see them all, and spend half of that time replaying the puzzles that are universally present that probably started to feel very familiar even before the first time you beat the game.
I get what Double Fine was going for here. A well made adventure game that truly offers a new adventure every time you play it could be really outstanding, and there's a lot of great content in this game. I just wish the game mechanics didn't make the process of getting to all of it feel like a chore.
Lives up to its legacy.Lunk | March 27, 2013 | Review of NiGHTS into Dreams HD
I've played a number of older games Sega has ported to the PC and been disappointed with the quality of the port, but my love for the original NiGHTS is such that they could have sold me a simple ROM with a note telling me to find my own emulator to play it with and I would have considered it money well spent at twice the price.
Fortunately, they did a whole lot more than that. This is a lovingly crafted port of an absolutely delightful game that far exceeded my expectations. The HD graphics look great, the game controls smoothly using a 360 pad (I can't speak for the KB/M controls), and I had no performance issues at all on a system hovering right around the recommended specs. All the easter eggs and unlockables that I remembered from the original - including Christmas NiGHTS - were maintained, and the optional "Saturn graphics" setting is a really nice touch for fans who want to revisit it in its original form. They Saturn graphics obviously aren't up to modern standards, but I was surprised at how well they'd held up over the years.
That said, I'm not sure this review should apply to people who are coming into the game without having played the Saturn version years ago. Not that I'd specifically advise against it, I'm just looking at it through such nostalgia-tinted eyes that I can't really say how a new player might react to it. There are a number of elements that were easily forgiven at the time such as the very short run-time that was symptomatic of consoles that lacked good save game support and rigid, on-rails courses that might grate on a newer audience. On the other hand, if you're able to overlook a few remnants of the technical constraints of a bygone era in games, you'll be rewarded with a wonderfully unique experience that might allow you to finally understand why old Sega fans won't shut up about this title.
When you hit the end credits, there's a splash screen announcing that NiGHTS HD is "dedicated to the players and developers of the original game," and it's clear that they took that very seriously. I was afraid that years of nostalgia had built up my image of the game so much that this couldn't possibly live up to it, but I was wrong. I can count on one hand the number of game purchases that have been as satisfying as this one and still have a few fingers to spare, and I can't imagine others who have been waiting for this port feeling differently. Enjoy!
You shall not pass on this delightful gameLunk | Feb. 12, 2013 | Review of LEGO Lord of the Rings (NA)
I hope you'll pardon the cheesy title, but (a) I couldn't resist and (b) it's advice you really should take.
Lego LOTR is a mostly faithful retelling of the Lord of the Rings story (the movie version, anyway) with some minor departures for the sake of brevity, comedy, and gameplay. This was my first experience with a Lego game and aside from the fact that the story was always amusing and at times downright hilarious, I was shocked at how well some of the more epic moments and large battles in the story translated to the more cartoony Lego medium. The sound is also excellent, with almost all of the voice acting and music taken directly from the movies.
The game is not without its flaws. It's incredibly easy, with no real consequences for the rare deaths you do suffer, and even the puzzles tend to spell out pretty explicitly exactly what you need to do before you've even started on them. Combat very rarely means anything more than "mash X until everything is dead," and on the few occasions when it does deviate from that it does so in a very repetitive way, requiring you to perform the same action 3 or 4 times to defeat a boss and then recycling that same mechanic with different props on subsequent bosses. However, these flaws all fell into areas that weren't critical to what I was looking for in the game and were mild enough that they didn't significantly detract from the experience, and I suspect others will feel the same.
The game lasted me about 10 hours from start to finishing the story (in other words, about as long as the movies), but I should note that my final completion percentage according to the game was only about 30%. There's a metric ton of unlockables, crafted items, and secrets to explore if you're so inclined. That content focuses more on the pedestrian gameplay than the excellent story though, and most of the collectibles are hidden in such a way that rewards not thorough exploration of a level, but replaying that level much later after you've acquired new characters with necessary abilities. That didn't really appeal to me, but if you find yourself loving the game and desperate for more, you can squeeze a ton of gameplay out of it.
This review has gotten a little long-winded, so allow me to summarize: if you like Lord of the Rings and laughter, I can't imagine how you'd have anything other than a great time with Lego LOTR. Highly recommended!
Amazing game, but lacking vital DLCLunk | Jan. 22, 2013 | Review of Beat Hazard
Beat Hazard is one of my favorite indie games ever, and its complete version would score at least a 95 from me. Unfortunately, GMG does not seem to carry the Ultra DLC, which adds a lot to the game, and after some searching it appears to be impossible to buy it without also re-buying the base game unless you have a Steam version (which this is not).
Don't get me wrong, the base game is still a nice twin-stick shooter that will give new life to your music collection and would definitely be worth playing if that's all there was. It's well made, the visuals are great if you're able to tolerate them, and it does a nice job of adjusting to subtle elements of the music you feed into it rather than falling into the trap that a lot of music-driven games do of "fast means hard, slow means easy. The end."
However, the Ultra DLC adds a ton of vital content including the perks system that lets you customize a number of elements to add replayability and challenge to tracks, a new game mode that's a lot of fun, online multiplayer, and perhaps most importantly, the ability to adjust the visual intensity for those who find the flashing lights to be a bit too much (or for the masochists who want to turn them up even further!).
This is a pretty good game, but with the DLC it's an incredible one, so I'd recommend waiting until GMG is able to offer the complete version or the Ultra DLC is available separately before purchasing it.
More ShankLunk | Jan. 21, 2013 | Review of Shank 2 (NA) DNS
If you haven't played Shank:
The Shank games are side-scrolling beat-'em-ups (with lots of projectile weapons) that are basically the video game equivalent of a Robert Rodriguez movie, where the primary goal is visually impressive violence and everything else is shaped around that goal. Story takes a back seat, designed only to deliver you to the next big shootout. As such, there's very little danger in skipping straight into the sequel. Things might seem like they don't make much sense, but I assure you, that's true even if you've played the first game. It's not spectacular, but it does what it sets out to do, so if it sounds like your kind of game you'll probably enjoy it. At about 2.5-3 hours long, it feels like it lasts just the right amount of time before it would start to get too repetitive.
If you have played Shank: This is basically more of the same, with a slightly less coherent story that lasts just about as long as the first one. There are, however, a few meaningful changes worth noting:
Boss fights rely less on quick time events. They're still there, but they're less vital and the timing is a little bit relaxed. It's now entirely reasonable to beat a boss without using any QTEs, rather than just a challenge to try to see if you can do it.
The weapon system has been revamped, forcing you to choose a load-out with one heavy weapon, one projectile, and one explosive for each mission rather than having access to everything at all times. There are opportunities to swap them out for weapons you find in the middle of missions, but you no longer have the best answer for every enemy at your fingertips, which adds significant difficulty at some points.
A score system has been added to reward creative kills and maintaining your combo multiplier. However, since it's mostly reset every time you die, it mostly just tracks how long before the end of the mission you last died.
There's also a new survival mode that puts you in a small map where you take on waves of bad guys. It's fun for a bit in coop, but you'll probably have to bring your own partner as there doesn't appear to be a big public presence. You can play single-player, but it was definitely designed for two players and you'll find yourself more limited in what you're able to do. I don't consider it a huge selling point, but it's worth checking out.
Whether or not you'll like this mostly comes down to how you felt about the first game. If you hated it, unless it was purely because of the QTEs, there's nothing here to change your mind. However, if you were a fan and it left you wanting more, Shank 2 should satisfy that craving.
Wisely avoids over-complicating thingsLunk | Jan. 18, 2013 | Review of SkyDrift
SkyDrift isn't a particularly ambitious game, but it does pretty much everything it tries to do right. It's strength is that it keeps things simple as a no-frills arcade combat racer. The game features a variety of planes adapted to different play styles and a small set of power-ups that all serve useful purposes. There aren't many tracks, but they provide a nice variety of large open areas and tight spaces that reward precision flying, and there are a few different game modes that add some different twists as you replay the tracks.
My one minor quibble with the game is that the difficulty settings feel too widely spaced. "Hard" is very challenging (as it should be), while I found that I was able to finish in first with great ease even as I was just starting out while playing on "medium." However, that's a pretty minor issue, and if it's the worst thing I have to say about the game, that's a pretty good sign.
There's nothing remarkably surprising about this game, but it takes an old formula and combines it with modern graphics, responsive controls, and a cheap price tag without doing anything to mess up what's worked in the past. What's not to like about that?
Ruined by terrible controlsLunk | Jan. 17, 2013 | Review of Tiny & Big: Grandpa's Leftovers
Tiny & Big features a really cool art style, an amusing story, and an excellent soundtrack. There's even a lot of fun to be had outside the plot, destroying the environments with the various tools you're given. All of those are things I normally value very highly in a game, but I was shocked to discover just how little they matter when combined with awful controls.
Throughout most of the game, there are some mild frustrations to be found in trying to execute some really picky jumps and combating the camera movement, but nothing that would cause me to slash the score nearly as much as I did. The problem lies with the laser, which works well enough on the stationary targets you have to use it on through most of the game, but the boss fights are a different story altogether and the laser is all that really matters in them. The boss fights are really repetitive affairs, with each one demanding increasing levels of precision and perfect timing with the laser, which controls very poorly against moving objects (partly by design, partly by simply not responding accurately, and partly by requiring perfect positioning of an obstinate camera while trying to avoid projectiles in confined spaces). Adding to the frustration is that even if you execute it nearly perfectly, there's still a very good chance that the giant fragments of your target will fall on top of you and kill you in an area so small that they'd be virtually impossible to avoid even if you could see them coming with the camera stuck directly behind your character.
For what it's worth, I played the game on a PC-as-console style setup using a 360 controller. Your mileage may vary, especially if you're using a mouse and keyboard, as I don't know how the game reacts to those. What I do know is that this game lasted about 3 hours from start to finish, and a significant portion of that time was spent on a pair of absolutely infuriating boss fights that completely snuffed out any positive feelings I had about a game I really wanted to like.
Excellent gameplay, uneven story, terrible DRMLunk | Jan. 16, 2013 | Review of Batman Arkham City: Game of the Year
Arkham City promised three things I love in a game: fluid, almost cinematic melee combat, quality stealth mechanics, and Batman. It delivers in all three cases, providing a great gameplay experience. In many ways, it reminded me of the Assassin's Creed series: traversing the city's rooftops, incapacitating unsuspecting enemies from above or below, similar combat styles, and a handy selection of gadgets to deal with or escape sticky situations.
While I loved the action, I found the story (and storytelling) to be a bit hit-and-miss. The first half of the game felt really scatter-shot, and it seemed like the developers felt the need to make sure they included as many villains from the Batman universe as possible. At one point I stopped to count and realized I had already run into over a dozen of them playing meaningful roles in the plot, and I'm sure I forgot a few. Their presence can certainly be explained by the game's setting, but it made the narrative feel disjointed and each individual character underutilized because there were just too many to focus on. The Catwoman segments woven into the story didn't help, as they felt really extraneous and hurt the pacing of the main plot. Fortunately, in the second half the story coalesced around a few specific characters and was much easier to get immersed in. The Harley Quinn DLC that followed the base game worked well as a part of the story, too.
From a technical standpoint, I was really impressed with how the game ran. On a Radeon 4850 video card and a Phenom II 720 processor, which were mid-range options when I got them over 3 years ago, I was able to run the game at 1080p with some of the eye candy turned on at a perfectly playable frame rate without any noticeable stuttering. I didn't expect a game that features a big, open-world area, relatively few loading screens, and stunning graphics to run nearly as smoothly as it did.
Unfortunately, there's one other issue that needs to be addressed: the DRM. In addition to the Steam and GFWL requirements listed in the product description, Arkham City also employs a particularly onerous form of SecuROM that not only restricts how many different systems you can install it on (5, ever), but also places a cap on how many times you're allowed to reinstall the game on those systems. To make matters worse, there's no revocation tool like the one that Arkham Asylum came with that would allow you to reset activations, so once you use up your original allotment you're out of luck. The best way to delay that is probably to just leave the game installed, but that's hardly a perfect solution when you're talking about a game that takes up 19 gigs of space (and still doesn't account for unplanned data loss). I don't consider myself an anti-DRM zealot, but piling on three different forms of DRM including one that can leave the game completely unplayable through fairly normal usage is an insult to paying customers and something you should keep in mind if you're the kind of person who likes to revisit a game from time to time.
There's plenty of playtime in the game, with the main story clocking in at around 15 hours plus optional side quests, tons of hidden collectibles, a new game+ mode, and multiple challenge modes with a whole bunch of maps. I wish the story had grabbed me a lot earlier than it did, but I did really enjoy my time with Arkham City and expect to put a lot more time into it in the future... until SecuROM locks me out of it, anyway.
Competent action, excellent storyLunk | Jan. 7, 2013 | Review of Spec Ops: The Line
Spec Ops was my most surprising gaming experience of 2012. I'm generally not a fan of the military shooter genre at all, and nothing in the promotional material I saw for Spec Ops convinced me that I'd like it any more than the rest, but friends kept heaping so much praise on it (while being incredibly vague about WHY it was so good) that I finally caved and picked it up when I found a cheap enough sale.
I now understand both why they praised it so much, and why they were so vague. I found the gameplay pretty unremarkable - competent, but nothing special - but the game's strength is in its story, and the less you know going in the better. Whether you love or hate military shooters, this game is well worth experiencing at least once.
Well worth experiencingLunk | Jan. 7, 2013 | Review of To The Moon
To The Moon is not really a game in the traditional sense. There's no real challenge involved, no combat or controls to master, no puzzles to be solved. It's controlled almost entirely with the mouse, and what you're supposed to be doing is almost always incredibly obvious. In that sense, it's almost like a movie where you control the pace at which it unfolds. It's also pretty technically limited, and at times reminded me of something made with a construction kit by a novice modder in some other game, where you'll find clunky implementations of ideas or mechanics based on what the tools will easily allow.
So why the 90 score? Because it's a wonderful achievement in storytelling. I thought some of the attempts at humor were a bit forced and grating, but I found the story touching and thought-provoking and was so absorbed in it that I played the entire thing in one sitting.
It certainly won't scratch the same itch as the latest and greatest fast-paced FPS, but if you're in the mood for some excellent storytelling, To The Moon is well worth your time and money.
Meaningless additionsLunk | Jan. 2, 2013 | Review of Deus Ex Human Revolution: Tactical Enhancement Pack
This DLC offers three things: 10,000 credits of in-game cash, and a pair of weapons. Let's start with the cash. In my playthrough, I bought everything that would be even remotely useful to me - weapons, ammo, upgrades, every available augmentation point, you name it. I made no effort to be frugal or efficient in my spending, and at no point did I ever dip below 10,000 credits, which means that the bonus cash did not affect my game in any way. You can easily find all the cash you'll ever need just by playing the game.
The weapons, on the other hand, are good. Especially early in the game, when they're way better than what your enemies are packing... and therein lies the problem. It takes a long while before you start encountering enemies that actually carry the kind of bullets you'll need to reload them, so you're pretty much stuck with the limited ammo you start with. To make matters worse, they both take up considerable inventory space before you've had a chance to get the upgrades that allow you to carry more, so you'll find yourself running out of space very quickly as you haul around a couple of weapons that you can barely use. Sure, you can just leave them behind to free up the space, but then what's the point of the DLC?
It's cheap, but it does nothing to improve the game. I can't say I recommend picking this one up.
Small, but effectiveLunk | Jan. 2, 2013 | Review of Deus Ex Human Revolution: Explosive Mission Pack
This is a fun little DLC that succeeds in ways that I felt both of the other HR DLCs missed.
The items it adds are fun (has a grenade launcher ever NOT been fun?) and are introduced at times when they are useful and there is ammo to be found, which was one of my major complaints about the Tactical Enhancement Pack. The additional mission is a brief, well-made mission that added some extra interaction with characters that I enjoyed and unlike The Missing Link, this DLC mission didn't feel like it was disruptive to the overall story. In fact, I can't say for sure as I haven't played the game without this DLC to see how things are tied together, but I suspect it's actually a bit less clear without it as the bonus mission adds some clarity to how and why a particular character is helping you.
It's not a particularly large addition, but it fits nicely and it's reasonably priced, so I'd recommend picking it up.
Quality Deus Ex action, questionable fitLunk | Jan. 2, 2013 | Review of Deus Ex: Human Revolution – The Missing Link
If you're considering purchasing The Missing Link, chances are you're familiar with the Deus Ex formula and looking for more. Judged on its own merits, TML executes that formula really well, and even makes some effort to address the many complaints people had about boss fights in the base game. The problem is that it detracts from the overall Human Revolution story. There are few absolute rules about how to make good DLC, but one of them has to be "don't sell an addition that makes the existing content worse."
The Missing Link takes place at a particular point toward the end of Human Revolution. Where the base game explained what happened in a way that worked just fine and needed no further explanation, TML takes that neat explanation and makes it incredibly messy. Plot points are twisted, some ridiculous story elements are thrown in at both ends of the DLC to address inconsistencies (some, but certainly not all, of which could have been solved with a simple "import save" option), and even with all that contorting it still doesn't fit all that well in a few obvious ways.
I feel like the best way to play The Missing Link might be long after finishing the base game, when your feelings about that have had a chance to solidify and you'll find it easier to judge the new content as a separate experience rather than as a part of the HR plot. It's a neat little Deus Ex game, it's just a shame that it tarnishes the preexisting story.
A few steps forward, a few steps backLunk | Jan. 2, 2013 | Review of Deus Ex: Human Revolution
After playing the original Deus Ex for the first time recently (what can I say? I'm a little slow.) I was really excited to check out Human Revolution. I loved the original, and only really found two flaws with it: the graphics that looked dated even accounting for the age of the game, and the sprawling, uncomfortable control scheme. HR addressed both of these with beautiful visuals and much better controls, and for the most part did a nice job of following in its predecessor's footsteps in the ways that made it great.
However, I did feel like the game's plot wasn't quite as cohesive, largely due to the side quests. In Deus Ex, the side quests felt like they fit with the primary narrative and generally tied into whatever your current objective was by way of opening up another solution to a problem, weakening an enemy's defenses, or something else that it made sense for someone in the middle of climactic events in massive global conspiracies to be worrying about. In Human Revolution, with a few exceptions, the side quests feel like you're being forcibly dragged away from major things that really should not be ignored for any length of time to do things like help old cop buddies solve unrelated cases or investigate petty office thefts. They're not bad or anything, but they took away from the immersion in the story and felt like they were unnecessarily tacked on in order to claim a longer play time (~25 hours, give or take). In hindsight I probably would have enjoyed it more if I just completely ignored them, but if players have to play through a game once in order to figure out how to make the plot flow properly, I feel like that's the developer's mistake and not the player's. I also felt like the endings were arrived at less organically than they were in the original, but I'll avoid elaborating for fear of spoilers.
I should also mention that this is a demanding game where I experienced FPS drops like I have in few other games. I can't deduct points for that - I AM a little under the clearly stated recommended specs - but it's worth noting that anyone considering the game should take those recommendations seriously.
This review probably sounds a little more negative than it should. The original Deus Ex was an absolutely phenomenal game, and Human Revolution is a worthy addition to the franchise that makes some meaningful technological advances. There are definitely some flaws, but they're nothing that wrecks an otherwise great game and only stand out as much as they do because the game is being measured against one of the all-time greats.
Classic Sonic, ported wellLunk | Nov. 28, 2012 | Review of Sonic CD
I grew up on the early Sonic games and Sega in general, but never played Sonic CD, so I was excited to discover a PC release. Previous experiences with the ports of the Genesis Sonic games had conditioned me to expect a pretty bare-bones port that was basically just a rom packed with a slightly prettified emulator, but I figured I could deal with that to check out a highly regarded game, especially when it only had a $5 base price.
The game itself was pretty much exactly what I had expected and hoped for, providing classic Sonic gameplay with some very minor new touches. It did feel a bit easier than some of the other early games in the series, but not glaringly so.
The thing that really shocked me was how well it was ported. Contrary to what I had been conditioned to accept, this is a fully featured update, including things like widescreen support, instant recognition of my gamepad, achievements, and more.
I expected a good game, and I got more than I expected, all for $5. Hard to find anything not to like about that!
Excellent game, nostalgia optionalLunk | Nov. 28, 2012 | Review of Deus Ex: Game of the Year Edition
I played a tiny bit of Deus Ex when it was first released, but I don't think I ever made it beyond the first mission. In the 12+ years since then, it has been repeatedly recommended to me in terms so glowing that I began to doubt those recommendations. I had a feeling that it might be a situation where the combination of nostalgia and the experience of playing it at release when it was a groundbreaking title would mean it wouldn't hold up for someone who's perception wasn't tinted by fond memories, and who had already played many of the games that had built on the innovations that made Deus Ex so specials years earlier.
I was wrong. This is still an excellent game even if you're just picking it up for the first time, with solid gameplay and compelling writing. Even in areas where newer games have eclipsed it, such as the ability to make dynamic choices that impact the story, Deus Ex does a really nice job of masking its flaws such that you might not even notice the flaws until a second or third playthrough, and if you're playing it two or three times chances are you found plenty to like about it elsewhere.
That said, this IS an old game and there are two areas where that is abundantly clear: the graphics, and the controls. I'm pretty quick to get over old graphics when I get into a game, and the same was true here, but it was hard not to notice that the graphics looked extremely dated, even more so than other games from the same era. And the controls... well, they're kind of a mess. Remapping may help some, but there's only so much you can do to streamline controls so expansive that they require the mouse, both sides of the keyboard, and the entire row of F keys to be used frequently.
I gather that there are mods that update the graphics a bit and automate some of the routine actions that necessitate the sprawling controls, but the graphics didn't bother me and by the time I had gotten many of the abilities that expanded the controls I found that I was so into the game I didn't want to stop to fiddle around with installing and configuring mods. Plus, the game was shockingly stable (1 crash in 20+ hours) on a modern OS with no mods that I didn't want to risk upsetting that.
Enjoyable, Trine-esque platformerLunk | Nov. 28, 2012 | Review of Rochard
Rochard is a well constructed, highly polished puzzle platformer with smooth gameplay, pretty graphics, and a soundtrack that suits the game well. In those ways, and a few others, it reminds me a lot of Trine.
The setting is obviously radically different, but despite only having one character to play as the cycling of weapons actually mimics the Trine characters pretty closely - you've got one to move and manipulate objects (wizard), one for direct ranged attacks (thief), and a melee attack that it very rarely makes any sense to use (knight).
I really enjoyed most of the 5 hours or so that the game lasted, with 2 reservations: there's an upgrade you cannot avoid getting with roughly 20% of the game left that renders the other weapons pointless and removes pretty much all of the challenge from the game, and the plot is pretty nonsensical. That said, I enjoyed the characters (including the protagonist, voiced by Jon St. John) and their interactions, so if you can just roll with the nonsense without focusing on it too much it shouldn't detract from the otherwise enjoyable experience.
Terrible (but fixable) port of a great game.Lunk | Oct. 1, 2012 | Review of Saints Row 2
Ok, let's get the unpleasant stuff out of the way first: this port is bad. Really, really bad. There are a number of critical flaws that render it nearly unplayable in its original state on many hardware configurations, leading to rampant crashing, the game running at hyper-speed, and a host of other issues. Fortunately, the mod community did a much better job than the developers, and there are fixes for most of these issues if you're willing to take a few minutes to configure them. Once I got it running with a couple of unofficial patches, I had very few issues.
The game itself is a blast. It was recommended to me as "what GTA would be like if it didn't take itself so seriously" and I think that's probably true. I haven't played any of the GTA games since the first few, and even when I did I spent most of the time goofing off and completely ignoring the missions. This felt like an updated version of that, with the addition of story elements that complement the kind of random mayhem that make games like this fun rather than discouraging it. The voice cast is a treat, and completing the main story should last you 25+ hours.
In short, I don't give the developer a lot of credit, but it's worth fixing the issues it shipped with to get a really wonderful game.
Original? No. Fun? Yes.Lunk | Oct. 1, 2012 | Review of Darksiders
Darksiders is a game that could (very charitably) be described as borrowing heavily from other games. Pretty much everything you come across in the game can be traced directly to another game, without much of a new spin placed on it. You've got your Panzer Dragoon-esque flying on-rails shooter segment, wall traversal that looked exactly like Prince of Persia, puzzles involving the placement and use of portals (paired blue and orange ones, no less), and the list goes on and on. There's very little originality in the gameplay, and the plot is passable but nothing to write home about (with a few great moments mixed in).
All of which begs the question: why did I give it a positive score? Well, because it's fun. The fact of the matter is they picked a bunch of good games to "borrow" from, and did a nice job of cobbling them together into an enjoyable action experience. The game should last you a good 20+ hours (more if you're a completionist), and the generally average plot had a pretty great conclusion that actually left me wanting more. This is a game I found myself wanting to dislike on a creative level, but honestly, how bad can it be if I had 20 hours of fun playing it and now I want the sequel?
Shallow, campy funLunk | Sept. 14, 2012 | Review of Unstoppable Gorg
I'm a huge fan of the tower defense genre, and was really excited to check out Unstoppable Gorg. Compared to some of the deeper games in the genre (e.g. Defense Grid), UG is much lighter fare. The main campaign lasts about 6 or 7 hours, each map has maybe 5 or 10 available places to build a tower, and there's very little path shaping to be done.
On the other hand, it's a lot of fun. The action is quick, easy to pick up, and engaging. The production values and plot are a great tribute to old school, b-movie sci-fi films. There's also an interesting mechanic where you can rotate the rings you build the towers on, adding an extra element of strategy and interactivity as you're being attacked from multiple paths.
Unstoppable Gorg is not something you'll keep coming back to and tweaking tactics for weeks and weeks, but if all you're looking for is a fun little diversion, very few games fit that bill better.
Something for gamers of all stripesLunk | Aug. 22, 2012 | Review of BioShock DNS
Bioshock is a tremendous game, with something to offer gamers on both ends of the "games as art" spectrum. For art school hipsters who won't play anything that's not "meaningful," Bioshock offers a serious rebuttal to popular philosophical beliefs, a weighty story, and engrossing atmosphere. And for the FPS crowd that just wants to kill stuff in new and varied ways, it offers... well, an FPS (with mild RPG elements) where you can kill stuff in new and varied ways. Apologies for the broad stereotypes in the preceding sentences, but I trust you get the idea.
A group of uber-wealthy individuals decided Ayn Rand was really onto something and set off to form their own underwater colony based on those principles, shut off from the rest of the world. What would happen if you fast-forwarded a few decades and viewed the result from the eyes of an outsider? That's the basic idea behind Bioshock. As I said above, the story is great (with the small caveat that it's at its best in the first half and loses steam after that), and the environments are fantastically realized.
From an action perspective, the game doesn't offer anything exceptionally new or different, but it's very competently executed. The weapon selection felt varied and well balanced; after I finished my playthrough I heard from numerous sources that there was a particularly overpowered combo that I missed, but even if that's so, at the very least every weapon seemed like a viable option depending on the situation.
This is a game that rewards thoroughness with additional backstory. All told, I got about 15-20 hours out of it. I have yet to feel like replaying it, but that's mostly because the one time I did play it really stuck with me. If you have yet to play Bioshock, I highly recommend picking it up. You're in for a treat.
Sonic is fun again!Lunk | Aug. 21, 2012 | Review of Sonic Generations
In a world where you can't build an overwhelming concensus about much of anything, there's one thing pretty much everyone agrees with: the Sonic series lost its magic. People draw the line at different points, but I haven't met anyone who disagrees with the basic premise that its gone way, way downhill and quickly. The good news is that Sonic Generations is the upturned ramp at the bottom of that hill, joyfully flinging the series back to the heights it once enjoyed.
The game offers both 2D and 3D modes, and even as someone who felt like 3D was the beginning of the end for Sonic, I loved them both equally. The game adapts levels from previous titles in the series, and some of the newer ones are so well done that you'll find yourself second guessing whether the game they came from could really have been all that bad. The graphics are beautiful on a PC, and the controls were great with a 360 pad (I imagine KBAM would probably not be quite as good, though). With the semi-optional bonus challenges (you have to do some of them to advance, but not all), the game should last somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 hours for a full playthrough.
There is one big flaw, however. The final boss fight is a long slog that changes things up in such a way that the gameplay has very little in common with what was so enjoyable about the rest of the game. Still, the game as a whole was a really enjoyable experience. Highly recommended for any Sonic fan!
Gleefully dying over and over againLunk | Aug. 21, 2012 | Review of VVVVVV
VVVVVV is an indie platformer with retro graphics and a steep difficulty curve. In that regard it's a lot like another game that I gave an unfavorable review to - Super Meat Boy - with one key difference: it's fun.
The game does a really nice job of making progression through the main story challenging without being maddening, and for those who enjoy extreme, rage-inducing difficulty there are a bunch of optional collectibles that are often far harder to get. Make no mistake, even if you only go for the "easy" path through the game you'll still die a lot, but checkpoints are offered with such frequency that even for someone like me who prefers a more casual gaming experience it wasn't really a source of frustration.
The music also helps keep things enjoyable. It definitely has a retro sound, and it's incredibly catchy and upbeat. It's hard to get mad while listening to music that cheerful!
The one thing I would deduct a few points for is length. Without doing much in the way of the additional challenges, I clocked in at a little over 2 hours. However, I imagine those additional challenges do add some significant time for those who want to work on them, and at a $5 base price you should feel like you got your money's worth however you choose to play it.
I hated it, but you might not.Lunk | Aug. 7, 2012 | Review of Super Meat Boy
If you've ever spent time gaming online, you've probably run into a certain kind of opponent: someone who is way better than you, knows they're way better than you, and wants to make absolutely certain that you know it, too. Super Meat Boy is that opponent transformed into a single-player platformer.
Even before you get into the action, this attitude is made clear by a splash screen informing you that if you don't play with the dev's preferred input device (a 360 controller), you're an idiot. After that, you're thrown into a ruthlessly difficult platformer, requiring pinpoint control to advance. As the other reviews make clear, even the most seasoned gamer will spend a significant amount of their playtime resisting the urge to smash their controller because it's just that hard. There are quite a few levels, achievements that demand even more precision for the truly masochistic, and support for user created levels (or at least there is when the database isn't getting hacked while the dev is too busy mocking people trying to help him by pointing out the obvious security flaws to fix it. True story.), so if you're into this kind of thing there's plenty of value in the package.
I gave the game a 50 mostly because I had no idea how to accurately rate it. If I were scoring it just for myself it would have been considerably lower, but I'm obviously not the target demographic and only tried it because it came in a bundle. If I were scoring it for people who enjoy maddening, rage-inducing difficulty... I have no idea what I'd give it, because I don't understand those people. I don't mean that as a perjorative, it's just a mindset that I don't quite grasp.
The widespread praise for Super Meat Boy here and elsewhere makes it clear that some people find it immensely satisfying, so if it sounds like your kind of game by all means listen to those people. On the other hand, if you're anything like me and you're thinking that this game probably isn't for you, I just want to tell you one thing: you're absolutely right.
Not Portal, but not bad.Lunk | Aug. 6, 2012 | Review of Q.U.B.E.
People often refer to Interpol as an inferior Joy Division knockoff, to which I say "yeah, but I like Joy Division and they didn't release enough music, so is that really that bad?" And that's more or less how I feel about QUBE and Portal.
It's pretty much impossible to look at QUBE - a game set in a plain, futuristic testing environment where you navigate puzzles FPS-style - and not immediately think of the Portal series, a comparison that does QUBE no favors. The quality storytelling is almost completely absent, the puzzles are more rigid and also occasionally bug out, the visuals are less polished, and the game is barely longer than Portal 1 (2-3 hours).
And yet, a game can be "like Portal, but not as good" without being bad. If you temper your expectations a bit, you'll probably enjoy QUBE.
This is why people love indie games.Lunk | Aug. 6, 2012 | Review of World of Goo
World of Goo was my "gateway drug" into the world of indie gaming a few years ago, and is a really great example of what smaller indie games have to offer.
A physics-based puzzler centered around building bridges and other structures, the game is beautifully drawn and utterly charming. The physics are consistent (this may seem like a minor point... until you find a game where they're not.), the puzzles and solutions are remarkably varied for a game with just a few simple mechanics, and each level has an additional challenge flag to complete that adds some replay value.
While it may not have the scope of some big budget titles, there's nothing about this game that's unprofessional or lacking polish, which is what many seem to fear when they hear "indie." Highly recommended!
Oooooh, pretty...Lunk | Aug. 6, 2012 | Review of Trine
Trine is one of those games that, while not spectacular or life-changing, is a thoroughly satisfying experience in just about every way. The action is easy to pick up, fun, and the three different characters offer some variety, the puzzles are never unreasonably frustrating, the various secrets and collectibles add some replayability, and even having aged a bit the graphics are still pretty stunningly beautiful.
There are three relatively minor faults I can find with it: it's relatively short at around 5 hours for a reasonably thorough run through, coop is local only, and the various character upgrades eventually make some of the puzzles (that are already pretty easy) virtually impossible to mess up. The good news is that none of these significantly detract from the experience, and at a base price of $5 I have a hard time imagining anyone feeling they didn't get their money's worth.
And if you enjoy the original, I highly recommend keeping an eye out for GMG to add Trine 2 to their catalog, as it takes an already very good games and addresses the few flaws it had and somehow makes it even prettier to look at.
Great sequel.Lunk | July 23, 2012 | Review of Mass Effect 2 (NA) dns
Mass Effect 2 is a fantastic sequel to the first game in the series that changed a few things up, generally for the better.
Conceptually, the story felt a bit weaker than its predecessor. In practice, however, I felt like it unfolded much more smoothly. A key player in this was the addition of a crew member on the Normandy who will alert you to squad members who have something new to talk to you about. It may not sound like much, but as a completionist who doesn't like to miss parts of the story I often found myself checking with every character after each checkpoint in ME1 only to get the same lines over and over when nothing new had been triggered. Yeoman Chambers really made that aspect flow a lot better.
I also appreciated the simplified inventory system. One of the bigger annoyances in ME1 for me was managing the constant stream of random items with limited inventory space, which is not a concern at all in the sequel.
The only change I didn't care for was the "planet scanning" resource gathering mechanic. Then again, I was apparently the only person in the world who didn't hate the Mako, so others may appreciate the change more than I did.
If you hated ME1 or felt like it wore out its welcome, I don't think there's a compelling reason to grab the sequel. But if you liked it, ME2 is a really solid addition to the franchise that I highly recommend.
Great stealth action!Lunk | July 23, 2012 | Review of Thief: Deadly Shadows
I came to this series late and haven't had a chance to play the games that preceded Deadly Shadows yet, but I really loved DS. As someone who invariably goes with the rogue/assassin/thief class when playing RPGs and loves what stealth action there is in things like the Assassin's Creed series, Deadly Shadows felt like a wonderful, concentrated dose of the kind of gameplay I love when it all too rarely shows up in other games.
I was also really impressed with it from a technical standpoint. There were a few weird quirks that had to be accounted for (why does hitting someone over the head knock them out if they're standing up, but not if they're sitting down?), but aside from that the AI had great attention to detail. In too many other stealth games, the NPCs ignore obvious signs - rob a guy's house and as long as he doesn't see you do it he'll wander around oblivious to the fact that his cupboards have obviously been picked bare. Early on in DS I had a great moment where I got busted because I failed to close a door behind me like 10 minutes earlier and a patrolling guard noticed it ajar, and from then on I was hooked.
The game also does a wonderful job of creating an overall atmosphere, and some of the individual missions are pretty stunning. Highly recommended!
Great game, questionable expansionLunk | July 23, 2012 | Review of Dragon Age: Origins Awakening (NA) dns
Judged on its own merits, I really liked DA:O Awakening. The gameplay is pretty much exactly what you (hopefully) loved in the base game, there's a lot of playtime to be found in the package, and I felt like the storytelling (and particularly the decisions the player is asked to make) are a solid improvement over the original. There was one point where the game actually forced me to stop and seriously consider what the right choice was - not "which option will give me the best reward?" but rather, which one was honestly the right thing to do - which I find is very rare in RPGs that too often default to very obvious, extreme choices.
The downside is that it feels awkward as a followup to the story you just concluded in DA:O. You play a prominent role in all kinds of climactic events (trying to avoid spoilers here for anyone who hasn't played the base game), and then you boot up the expansion and all of a sudden your big shot hero is back to being asked to deal with lowly bandits or to track down a woman's philandering husband. I also experienced some technical difficulties with the save import process, with decisions I had made not being recorded correctly and random pieces of equipment failing to carry over.
There's a lot to like about Awakening, but it definitely has some flaws.
Exactly what you'd expect.Lunk | July 23, 2012 | Review of Dragon Age: Origins (NA) dns
Dragon Age: Origins is pretty much exactly what you'd expect it to be if you're a fan of fantasy and Bioware's previous work.
It's an epic RPG of massive size, featuring branching choices (with individual character approval ratings, deviating slightly from Bioware's usual Light/Dark, Paragon/Renegade, etc system), tactical overhead combat, and impressive visuals.
The story is also pretty traditional fantasy fare that's been capably executed. DA:O doesn't break much in the way of new ground, but if you're a fan of the genres it pulls from and you want more (a lot more, there's a ton of content here) it's a solid choice that you won't regret.
A modern classicLunk | July 23, 2012 | Review of Bastion
Bastion is definitely the game that surprised me the most in the last year. My friends kept hyping it up, but it didn't look like my kind of game, so I resisted for a long time before finally caving to the peer pressure when it went on sale.
Boy am I glad I did! It's hard to put my finger on what exactly makes Bastion special, but the oft-cited narration and music are definitely good places to start. The soundtrack has a wonderful "frontier" quality to it (almost like something out of Firefly), and is really well integrated into the overall experience. As for the narrator, the first time he jumps off-script to comment on the protagonist's actions you'll be hooked.
The action is not the big selling point (for me), but it's also not in any way a negative and they did a really nice job of balancing the different weapon choices - ask 10 people what weapon combo is the best and you'll get 10 different answers, none less valid than the next.
The story is fantastic, as is the storytelling. It flows with the action really nicely (aided by the narrator), and without spoiling anything, I can't remember the last time a game made me care enough to tear up.
I can practically guarantee that the second you finish this you'll reach for the New Game+ option, which is also a really nice touch. Enjoy!
Flawed in ways that may or may not bother you.Lunk | July 23, 2012 | Review of Alpha Protocol
Alpha Protocol is a hard game to review, because it's simultaneously fantastic and highly flawed.
On the one hand, there are numerous technical bugs (after extensive troubleshooting I was only able to fix choppy camera movement by playing with a 360 controller instead of KBAM), the game is balanced poorly such that certain upgrade paths are vastly more powerful than others, and the actual gameplay is not that great.
On the other hand, the story elements are fantastic. As someone who enjoys RPGs that allow the player to manipulate how events unfold, I loved the number of different meaningful choices the game throws at you. The rapid-response mechanic used in conversations also works really well, forcing you to give a gut reaction instead of pausing to consider what option will give you the best loot or whatever.
If you're here looking for a fun, interactive story, I highly recommend Alpha Protocol, but if other things are more important to you you should probably proceed with caution.
Fun, but with less strategyLunk | July 23, 2012 | Review of Sanctum: Cavern DLC
Cavern may be my least favorite of the Sanctum DLC maps, which is strange, because it shares many of the elements that I love about Slums (vertical plane, teleporters). The key difference is that in Cavern, there's not a whole lot of room for creativity. Each platform has exactly one entrance and one exit, with very few options to shape the enemy's path. The upside is that this tends to make for shorter games, so it works well if you don't have time for a really long survival campaign. Not a waste by any means, but if you prefer the strategic elements of the game to the FPS action I'd recommend some of the other maps first.
Turns normal tactics on their headLunk | July 23, 2012 | Review of Sanctum: Slums DLC
Of all the Sanctum DLC maps, Slums is definitely my favorite. On top of being a sleek looking map, the addition of teleporters and split levels will cause you to rethink some of the strategies that you normally rely on. The way the teleporters and buildable surfaces are laid out, there's also a lot of fun to be had experimenting with different paths through your maze and weighing the merits of making a longer path to the core versus having clearer shots. As an added bonus, this is one of the few maps to include a "boss" level that adds to the challenge in campaign mode. Highly recommended!
Useful, but not vital.Lunk | July 23, 2012 | Review of Sanctum: Killing Floor DLC
The Killing Floor (not to be confused with a certain zombie survival game) lies firmly in the middle of the pack where the Sanctum DLC towers are concerned. It's not quite as easy to just drop in the map and use effectively as the Violator, but it's significantly better than the Penetrator and actually addresses many of the same targets the Penetrator does. Used properly, it can be very effective against Runners and Walkers. I don't include it in my loadout often, but if I find myself lacking AE damage it's a nice catch-all answer. As an added bonus, it will also hit the ever-annoying Hoverers regularly. Certainly not essential, but a worthy addition to a core defender's arsenal.
The best of the DLC towers.Lunk | July 23, 2012 | Review of Sanctum: Violator DLC
The Violator is definitely the most useful of the DLC towers for Sanctum and the only one that I use regularly when I'm playing seriously. It's one of the less efficient towers in the game (in terms of resource cost vs. damage), but the fact that it's a hybrid ground-aerial tower that fires shots that connect instantly and do significant damage make it very effective against two of the most problematic enemies: gliders and tanks. In the heart of your maze you're probably better off using things like lightning or gatling towers, but its incredible range makes it a very good choice for more awkward spots where a short-range tower would rarely or never get a chance to fire.
Skip it.Lunk | July 23, 2012 | Review of Sanctum: Penetrator DLC
Please consider the score a reflection only on this DLC tower, and not Sanctum as a whole. I love the game, but this tower is pretty useless. Unless you get it as part of a DLC complete pack, I highly recommend skipping it.
If you can manage to deploy it perfectly it's a pretty good weapon, but not incredibly powerful. The real problem is how incredibly difficult it is to get it to work properly. You need to set it up so that it not only has a straight shot at a line of enemies, but so that it will ONLY have a straight shot at a line of enemies. More often than not it will fire at the lead monster, and as soon as that monster is at a diagonal to the tower it will fail to hit any of the other targets in the line. You practically have to plan your whole maze around how to make one or two of them effective, and for all that trouble you get a tower that will only be marginally more effective than one of the more basic towers that will be useful wherever you put it.
Great for an OCD Tower Defense fanLunk | July 23, 2012 | Review of Sanctum
This is not a perfect game by any means. There's not a whole lot of variety, and a number of things feel just a little bit awkward - not bad by any means, but it lacks the polish of other TD or hybrid TD games like Defense Grid or Orcs Must Die.
However, if you're like me and enjoy experimenting and maximizing your strategies, there's a ton of fun to be had here. On almost all of the maps, you get to shape the enemy's path in pretty much any way you like and the subtlest difference in your setup can make a big difference in the outcome. I've spent tons of time in survival mode tweaking maze shapes and tower placements, trying to eke out just a little more firepower for the punishing enemies you face deep in a survival game.
One common complaint I've seen from prospective buyers is the relatively low map count in the base game compared to other games. While that's true, it's important to keep in mind that the maps here last a lot longer. Each map takes about 45 minutes to an hour, and that's just for your first playthrough in campaign mode. If you're inclined to amp up the difficulty, try coop, or check out any of the alternate game play modes you can squeeze a whole lot more time out of it.
Coop (2-4 players) is fun, the devs have added significant amounts of free content post-release (and some paid content), and there are numerous difficulty levels that radically change the experience depending on how casually or seriously you want to approach it. Highly recommended.
Great coop action!Lunk | July 23, 2012 | Review of Lara Croft And The Guardian Of Light
Full disclosure: I've never touched any of the other games in the Tomb Raider franchise. I gather that this one is quite a departure from the rest, so it's possible that it will upset longtime fans who are looking for more of the same.
That said, this is a fantastic game if you have someone to coop with. The gameplay is almost a hybrid of a puzzle game and a twin-stick shooter, and is very well executed. Sets a nice atmosphere, presents puzzles that are fun to solve cooperatively (if a little on the easy side), and the score attack and challenge targets add some nice replayability.
The one thing I will dock it points for is that the single player mode suffers when compared to coop. It simplifies the puzzles from the coop mode so they can be completed solo, but does so in a way that takes the puzzles from easy to painfully obvious in many cases. It's still fun, but not on the same level as playing it coop.