Reviews by Maghook
Boring, old mechanics with a new coat of paint.Maghook | Aug. 2, 2014 | Review of Whispering Willows Deluxe Edition
How can a game this day and age not support 16:10 resolutions? I have to play in windowed mode so the screen isn't distorted, which detracts from any immersion now that I can see everything on my desktop around the edges of the game. I tried to find a .ini file that would let me manually set the resolution but there doesn't seem to be an easy way around it. Going by the file structure it looks like this game was made in Unity, which should automatically support all common resolutions out of the box, I have no idea how the developer managed to impose such restrictions.
Entering and exiting a menu will restart the song playing on the main screen. Very jarring and sort of hilarious to hear the starting piano note "gong" constantly when changing the settings or reading notes. The cinematic before reaching the main menu is exactly the same as the cinematic when starting a new game, it's a silly bit of redundancy for those who like to sit and watch opening an cinematic in each of their games. You can use a controller but icons for the buttons continue to show up as a keyboard's bindings instead of a joypad's, this is another simple issue that could easily be fixed in the Unity engine.
The quality of the illustrations used are pretty high. Characters and backgrounds stand out quite nice, especially when the protagonist transforms into a spirit. The only downside is that the poor animation holds the game back. It seems like animations are running at 12 frames per second or less, typical for a cartoon like The Simpsons or Family Guy, but here they aren't as fluid or flexible. I'm reminded of point-and-click adventure games from the late '90s, but even then the movement of characters in games like The Curse of Monkey Island had some top notch animation despite being faced with limitations at the time.
The sound design leaves a lot to be desired. Flickering flames sound more like someone blowing softly into a microphone than crackling fire. Two or three types of footsteps and a droning, ambient soundtrack filled with tribal percussion and piano keys is all that you will hear for a significant portion of the game. Upon investigating an item the character will usually let out a strange sigh, whether it being one of relief or fear I can't quite tell.
Exploration is a chore, a tedium that should have been left back in the '90s. Every door you'll come across will be locked in some way or another, requiring you to move from room to room and location to location in the hopes that at least one of these doors you come across will be accessible. Then you'll find an item only to be forced to backtrack in order to open the first locked door, where you'll find another item that opens the fifth locked door, and then solve a puzzle that opens the third locked door. Repeat, ad nauseum. Madness.
There aren't enough opportunities that let you take advantage of the spiritual transformation mechanic. Its only purpose is to slow you down, whether through obfuscation or other means; there will be rooms with tiny holes that only your spirit can pass through but you'll have to keep a keen eye out as they're easy to walk past. Sometimes you'll use this power to speak with other spirits yet they generally won't divulge any beneficial clues or information that you couldn't have worked out yourself.
Whispering Willows is a slow and tiresome game to explore. It would have been better suited as a typical point-and-click adventure game, it certainly fits the mould so I am unsure as to why the developer chose the method that they did.
Fails at game design, would rather play jokes on the playerMaghook | May 17, 2014 | Review of Rush Bros.
Rush Bros. is the rare type of game that manages to fail at its core mechanic. It is a rhythm platforming game where an algorithm determines the pacing of traps and projectiles based on the beat of a song. Unfortunately the developers have chosen to make the soundtrack a variable, meaning that every person who plays the same level will be met with a different experience and, more importantly, a different level of difficulty.
The level design often betrays itself and the player; where a certain coloured platform may be safe to stand on, another platform of the same colour will instantly kill the player. Similarly, traps may fly across the screen and kill the player in a manner you never would have expected. Nothing is ever clearly explained or defined before the player encounters an obstacle, which means you'll often have to play through a level multiple times before understanding how it actually works. It's a level of artificial difficulty created by the developer as more of a joke on the player rather than competent game design.
Terrible, horrible, excruciating, painful... 11/10Maghook | April 1, 2014 | Review of GMG Simulator
Playing GMG Simulator reminds me of my meaningless existence, to such an extent, that I now believe I'm actually trapped inside a simulator. Where does the simulation end and reality begin?
Fun with friends, tedious alone.Maghook | Jan. 31, 2014 | Review of Borderlands
Borderland is truly one of the most boring, bland, laziest, and uninspired AAA games in recent history. It is incredibly tedious and offers little challenge, even smaller reward, and almost no satisfaction from accomplishment. Its characters manage to be less than one-dimensional and are forgotten as soon as they are met. Not to mention that the colour palette comprises of little more than three hues; dull, monotonous, and ugly.
Basic expectations are not met when it comes to Borderlands, for example, character's mouths do not always move when they talk. Such a basic part of animation that has been a staple of gaming for decades, yet a game from 2009 can't bring itself to bother with something so trivial. Time and time again you will find yourself stuck on a piece of scenery, slightly raised higher off the ground than the rest of the mess strewn across Borderland's semi-expansive world, which gives it an excuse to snag a corner of your clothing, keeping you in place for a few short seconds. If you're lucky and want to take a shortcut you might even get stuck between a boulder and a cliff face or a fence and a post with no means of escape, all due to incompetent design. Hooray.
There will be times when you become so confused as to where you are that you'll travel in circles as everything and everywhere blends into one giant continuous blurry blob of colour before realising that, without the waypoint guiding you along, you have exactly no idea how you even got here in the first place. Never mind the fact that Borderlands absolutely loves reverting your video settings and keybindings once every few months, regardless of syncing them to Steam, just to keep you on your toes.
By the time any exciting variation comes along, in the form of scenery and enemies, it's almost over. One final boss battle that can be accurately summed up as throwing pebbles at a beached whale for 20 minutes until it explodes and you're done. Congratulations, you've just beaten the saddest excuse for a game in the 21st century. Now go do it again. Lovely.
Great narrative held back by sloppy design choices.Maghook | Jan. 31, 2014 | Review of Spec Ops: The Line (ANZ)
Spec Ops: The Line is a great game that is unfortunately held back by so many glaring technical issues. The most obvious one being where the audio completely cuts out randomly during certain cut-scenes, completely destroying the immersion. I'm now forced to load up a YouTube video in order to understand whatever plot point I'm missing. The second biggest issue is the squad mates' artificial intelligence; there will be times where they just stand around and do nothing or run straight into enemy fire and immediately die, leaving you to revive both of them. This becomes quite frustrating on higher difficulties.
On the upside, my favourite feature about this game is its attention to detail. For instance, I'm playing a level inside what appears to be a museum. Enemies have met us in a firefight and there's a large skeletal Tyrannosaurus Rex over in the corner. I direct my squad mates to target an enemy and, to my surprise, my character yells out something extremely specific like, "Enemy by the T-Rex!" where I'd mostly expect a very generic and vague response. This continues throughout the entire game and is quite a nice change from most other team-based shooters, showing just how the developer really put a lot of thought into their game.
Stick with Blood Money if you want a great Hitman experienceMaghook | Aug. 23, 2013 | Review of Hitman: Absolution
I have no idea how anyone could play this game and say, "Yeah, I'm having fun" because Hitman: Absolution is probably the least user-friendly, least stealth-based game in the entire franchise and it manages to completely betray the mechanics of its predecessors. Even the controls are super wonky, no matter if you play keyboard or joypad.
I'm playing on hard, the median difficulty, and I can't even beat the sixth level. Why? Because every single person who wears the same clothes as mine knows I'm suspicious when I enter their 50 metre detection radius. Why even have costumes if people can just see through them from down a hallway?
This isn't Hitman, instead it has turned into a Splinter Cell wannabe without the acrobatics and cool gizmos. Absolution would have been a great game if the developers took out the disguise detection system with its giant yellow arrows of omnipresence.
If you want to experience levels of high blood pressure you should buy this game.
Great art style brought down by poor mechanics.Maghook | July 10, 2013 | Review of They Bleed Pixels
For a game that prides itself on combining platforming with hack-and-slash elements with full controller support, They Bleed Pixels does an absolutely terrible job at focusing on consistent battle mechanics with responsive and intuitive controls. There is one attack button, where the type of attack changes based on the direction you are holding or how long you hold down the button.
This would be fine if the game didn't require such tight controls, akin to Super Meat Boy, and did not entice you to perform better due to the combo meter looming above your head. There is simply no way to precisely control your character's actions.
Have you ever experienced the dreaded "No way, I totally pressed that button at the right time! Why didn't it respond?" syndrome? They Bleed Pixels practically embodies that phenomenon, time and time again.
Great adventure, amazing art, wonky controlsMaghook | July 4, 2013 | Review of Psychonauts
It's obvious that the majority of the developer's budget went towards art and level design rather than gameplay. I'm cool with that, because the buttons still work at least... but the controls border on horrible and the gameplay is a bit tedious. It's your typical 3D platformer, similar to the Banjo-Kazooie era of platforming. Still, Psychonauts is a splendid game and deserves your money, if only to influence a sequel. Oh, do yourself a favour and use a controller.
Turn your brain off and enjoy one of the most grand adventuresMaghook | July 4, 2013 | Review of Just Cause 2
One of the best sandbox games to date, containing all of the action and silliness that the Grand Theft Auto series lacks, yet missing the depth and world involvement that Grand Theft Auto provides. While the world in Just Cause 2 is certainly full and lively, the NPCs hardly interact with one another unless you intervene, making it feel incredibly empty. Sometimes the military seems to have psychic powers and knows exactly where you are every second of the day, which can become quite frustrating. The AI is predictable and you'll manage to figure out what most enemies entail in a few hours.
Pick up the Black Market Aerial Pack DLC while you're at it, nothing beats a parachute and jetpack combination as a mode of transportation. It also comes with a multi-lock rocket launcher. Nothing like reigning hell from the skies.
Make sure you check out some of the mods at justcause2mods.com. Some of them are really great, especially the ones that remove the tedious black market cutscenes.
A great throwback to late '90s style point-and-clicksMaghook | July 4, 2013 | Review of Sam & Max: Season One
Great series, great humour... if you're into that kinda oddball, quirky stuff. The controls are a bit awkward at times, and I had to use a walkthrough to get past a few ridiculous puzzles, but I had loads of fun. Really loved the various characters in each episode. You don't need to be a fan of the comic or television series to appreciate them. Each episode takes roughly 2 hours to finish and they're all quite different from the last, especially Reality 2.0. Probably best to wait for a big sale to get the complete pack.
Turn your brain off and enjoy your immature youth once againMaghook | July 4, 2013 | Review of Duke Nukem Forever
I went into this game with extremely low expectations and was pleasantly surprised. This is a good game. It is not mindblowing, it is just another run-of-the-mill shooter, about as sophisticated as Call of Duty. There is hardly any story. It's all immature fart jokes and tits. You can pick up shit and throw it. This is what you should expect from a Duke Nukem game. The controls are tight, the level design is interesting but borders on tedious. The action is fast-paced but lacking. It won't take you long to finish. It's definitely not a memorable experience but it's not as bad as the gaming hivemind makes it out to be, it even got a couple laughs from me. If you want to truly enjoy this game, turn off your brain, pretend you're 12 years old again.
A pleasantly creepy atmosphere makes for an engaging experienceMaghook | July 4, 2013 | Review of Dark Fall: Lost Souls Cap
A very creepy adventure, point-and-click game with an enchanting atmosphere. Not your typical kind of horror, more somber than anything you'd expect. Controls are a bit hard to work with and could be frustrating for people who are not familiar with its mechanics. Puzzles vary from mildly easy to requiring a walkthrough of sorts. Good game, great atmosphere, decent story.
A well-paced, satisfying journeyMaghook | July 4, 2013 | Review of Darksiders
It's easy to draw parallels between Darksiders and the The Legend of Zelda series, it would be no surprise if the developers at Vigil Games created Darksiders as an homage of sorts, especially to Ocarina of Time. Here you have a doppelganger to a basic run-of-the-mill puzzle platformer that we've come to expect from Nintendo: levels with an emphasis on the elements, particularly lava, water, earth, desert, dark, and light, where the only way to complete each level is through a set of challenging obstacles and various enemies, not to mention the cliché "third time's the charm" when it comes to boss fights.
Darksiders is a pretty solid game, it has its moments and it has its downfalls but its major defining element is its ability to deliver a well-paced experience with little tedium and monotony, as items that you collect along your journey are spread out enough to feel quite rewarding with an urge to instantly try out your new shiny device, sending you onto the next level only to stumble across another shiny device, ad infinitum. The enemies are also varied enough, and many are unique to their levels, which keeps things interesting.
There is a small amount of backtracking, which is heavily expanded on if you wish to collect every item in the game as there is a large incentive to do so. The levels are all well designed and can easily be returned to due to the prevention of the dreaded "point of no return" that many JRPG fans would be familiar with.
For me, the highlight of the game was the dialogue, simply because Mark Hamill is such a superb voice actor, as proven by his long standing career as the voice of The Joker. The sound design is pretty wicked and everything sounds as you would expect: ethereal and apocalyptic.
The only disadvantages to Darksiders are the myriad of technical issues I had, whether they be glitches with the game's mechanics or bugs preventing certain situations from progressing. One achievement failed to unlock when it was supposed to, and the game crashed no less than four times in one sitting. Twice, due to alt-tabbing and another two times simply because the game bugged out. There are very limited graphical options, sorely missing is a FoV slider as the default FoV is somewhat smothering and isn't suitable for PC standards.
Another personal parallel I can draw between this game and The Legend of Zelda is the drastic length of time it took to beat the campaign. I started playing Darksiders in September of 2011, finishing it in February of 2013. Similar to Ocarina of Time, where I decided to take a several year long break due to, you guessed it, the Water Temple.
Like lucid dreaming, quite the experienceMaghook | July 4, 2013 | Review of Dear Esther
After completing the main story, I gave Dear Esther some time to settle in my mind in order to determine whether or not I thought the experience was worth the price of entry. The fact that, days later, I am still thinking about the main themes of the game and revisiting the extremely surreal environments has convinced me enough to warrant this recommendation.
For me, Dear Esther is my perfect type of journey. I will not discuss the politics of whether Dear Esther should be considered a game, interactive media, or simply a "walking forward" simulator. No, Dear Esther deserves something more than such trivial bickering.
How I would describe Dear Esther would be akin to the process of imagination when reading a book, yet I am given the ability to go beyond the text. Where a pathway splits in two, I can choose which path to walk down rather than it be forced on me, left with a longing to know where the other may have taken me.
Everything about Dear Esther is perfect. From the sound design to the visuals; from the narration to the subtext; even the time it takes to complete the game is just spot on. Your first playthrough will probably last you just over an hour - one sitting - but that's all you need. There are multiple paths to take revealing certain aspects of the story and I plan on returning many more times in order to unravel the entire plot, but I wouldn't be lying if I said I just wanted to explore the island once more, it's quite a beautiful place.
There something quite cathartic about realising that you're not pressured in doing anything you don't want to, unlike with many traditional games. You could spend your entire time standing at the shoreline, listening to the waves crashing in the distance. You make your own goals and go wherever you feel most inclined. I was drawn towards a certain object in the distance and made that my goal.
The story resonated with me far more than most others do, more so than most novels or films. The sound design probably had a lot to do with that; the ambience of it all. I'm uncertain as to if the soundscapes are dynamic, but it all flowed so well if that is the case.
I'd hate to come off as some elitist but, since Dear Esther can be taken as quite pretentious and pseudo-intellectual (although it does well to hide the fact), it's probably best to avoid a game such as this if you're not prepared, or willing, to experience something more mature and with more depth than you're used to; the themes here are very serious and very real.
Unique adventure that doesn't overstay its welcomeMaghook | July 4, 2013 | Review of Tiny & Big: Grandpa's Leftovers
This game has a wonderful art style, a sort of blend between Psychonauts and Borderlands, and the amount of destruction you can cause is quite remarkable, especially for a small indie title. You can literally slice through chunks of mountain ridges and columns to create your own pathways, which is encouraged considering how many secrets there are to find. The music is also pretty cool. It's a big mish-mash of artists, similar to how Hotline Miami went about their soundtrack. You won't get much playtime out of this but if you enjoy puzzle platformers then you should consider grabbing Tiny and Big when it's on sale.