CyberPunch83's Blog - Oct to Dec 19 (44 followers)

Very Special EpisodePermalink
Last week we looked at some of the episodic games in my collection, going over what they're about, if there is anything that makes them unique, and if I am looking forward to playing them. Spoiler alert: unless a game disappoints me or is reviewed horribly, I will generally look forward to playing most of them. Especially if they come from Telltale, since they had their episodic game formula down to a science, in retrospect possibly to the detriment of the studio. This is the second time in as many weeks I've lamented a studio that's technically still around.

Anyway, enough about them. Let's look at episodic games from other studios. We'll start today with one that I may be looking forward to more than other games in this little examination: The Grand Tour Game. Based on the Amazon Prime Video original series of the same name, the game loosely follows the plot of most episodes of the series, right down to the race events, and the side missions that almost make you forget it's a simulation racing game at its core.

Like most games based on television programs, there's full voice work from the show's cast, clips from the show interspersed throughout, and very nice transitions from cutscene / show clip to actual racing, to the point sometimes it isn't immediately apparent you're in the driver's seat and the clock is ticking. I'll admit when this series was first announced I was skeptical, since we all know how bad licensed properties can get. But from all accounts this one seems to remain faithful to the source material and should be a load of fun when the time comes.

Going from a game based on a television series to what I consider to be one of the highest-rated and most beloved episodic franchises: Life is Strange. Given how this franchise ended up with not only a sequel series but a full-on sequel series as well, it's very clear Square Enix have a massive hit on their hands, and they will run with it for all they can. I know basically nothing about this series, since it's not something I'll likely be playing soon, but I know it's good. This game hasn't earned as many awards as it has for nothing.

I know there's a girl names Max, I know she as the ability to rewind time, and as many, many books and films have taught us over the years, time is not something that likes to be rewound, sped up, or in any way manipulated. Anyone who still isn't convinced, just Google search 'the butterfly effect'. You'll see what I mean. I'm sure our protagonist Max will soon find herself learning these lessons along the way. When I do play it, watch this space for the review, and I'll find out why this game is so highly acclaimed.

We have room for one more game here today, and we're going to look back for this one, to a game I've already completed but remember fondly. D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die was an episodic game brought to us by Microsoft, published by Access Games back in 2014. You played as a detective with a recently-dead wife and try to solve her murder. Along the way you picked up the ability to arbitrarily time travel, via items important to the case. The game was originally designed for Kinect controls, so on a controller it's a tad clunky.

Despite this, the game was a blast, from the sadly rarely-seen cel shading, to the fairly unique concept. The second and final episode of season one left off on a massive cliffhanger, one which sadly will never be resolved, as the lead on the game, SWERY65, left Access Games in 2016 and he claimed at the time there will be no more episodes. If you have this title from Games with Gold, I highly recommend playing it, and if you didn't get it when it was free, buy it and play it anyway. It's a unique story and fully worth playing.

If anyone has any episodic games they want me to play, or indeed any game recommendations at all, please leave a comment here or send me a PM. I'm always taking suggestions and recommendations. Despite my game backlog expanding faster than the universe, I'm always looking to add more games to play, whenever I can find myself more than an hour of spare time and World of Tanks isn't as enticing of an option as it's been all year now.

Coming up on Monday: more game reviews. The list doesn't stop.
Posted by CyberPunch83 on 25 October 19 at 15:09 | There are 2 comments on this blog post - Please log in to comment on this blog.
Puzzles and PlatformersPermalink
Hexologic Micro-Review: A good logic-based puzzle game needs to offer little in the way of tutorial or demonstration before you are able to intuitively pick up the mechanics and proceed with the game. The same applies for new mechanics that are added midway through the game; they should be as easy to pick up and understand as everything else. Today's puzzler, Hexologic, does just that, with some nice music and vibrant colours along the way.

The game starts out easy enough: make the numbers in each row and diagonal equal the total on the end. Your options are always 1, 2 and 3. This makes working backwards from some puzzles easy as there can only be one combination of numbers for a certain total. For example, if you saw a row of three empty cells and the intended total was three, you know you need ones in every box. From there you can generally work outward and build from there, knowing which numbers are correct and planning around them. Later on, other modifiers come in, like math and colour blocking.

That last one requires some explanation. Saw you have a cell with a purple outline, and elsewhere in the puzzle is another cell with the same purple outline. Whatever number you put in one, will show up in the other. Often you will get multiple cells like this per puzzle, so you have to be thinking of both ends of the puzzle at the same time. Math modifiers are simple enough. They regulate which numbers can be in certain cells on the premise of 'X must be greater than Y'. Yes, this game does make you think and use some math skills.

If you follow a guide, you will complete this game in less than an hour. This also goes for the Hard Mode, which you must complete for an achievement. If you don't use a guide, and by extension play the game the 'right way', you will likely spend a few hours more on this game. You could very well find yourself close to a solution, but one set of numbers won't qutie fit, so you need a whole new perspective on it. If you like number-based puzzle games, you should find something to like here.

Verdict: a quick, very vibrant math-based puzzler. 8/10


Woodle Tree Adventures Micro-Review: A little while ago I played a game called FreezeME, which claimed to have 90's-styled platforming and exploration in a relatively open-world game. The main way you progressed the story was completing objectives to unlock gold cubes, which in turn unlocked more levels. The game was alright. We now have a second game for the '90's platforming revival' genre, which is something I never thought I would say. Allow me to introduce Woodle Tree Adevntures, whatever this game thinks it is.

You play as a Woodle, birthed from the elder tree to bring water back to a world going dry. It's almost a heavy-handed environmental metaphor, if the enemies you faced in your travels seemed even the faintest bit interested in stealing water and keeping it for themselves. They only exist for the game to not be an absolute cakewalk while you collect berries and water drops. Each level has three water drops to collect, and many berries to get along the way as well, which will unlock new levels and abilities for Woodle.

The game has basically no voice acting, and all the narrative and dialogue, as little as there is, is done through cut scenes. All levels, both story and bonus, are accessed trough a central hub. Here you can also unlock upgrades and bonus levels. Two of the extra levels have to be beaten for achievements, as does collecting all of the upgrades and 3000 berries total. One level may only give around 100, so a fair bit of level replay and grinding is required for this one.

For all of the few hours this game will take to complete, the camera is uncooperative to the point of broken. You get very little camera control, as the levels are generally designed to work with just one camera angle, but at times when the angle should contextually rotate to show something else, it just didn't do that. This resulted in basically flying blind for a level and hoping you find everything. Keep this in mind going in and it hopefully won't get under your skin as much as it did mine during my playthrough.

Verdict: I am the Woodle and I speak for the trees! 5/10

Coming up on Friday: part two of my look at my episodic games.
Posted by CyberPunch83 on 22 October 19 at 03:49 | There are no comments on this blog - Please log in to comment on this blog.
Back to Back EpisodesPermalink
Last week, I was looking through my game collection here on TA to try and determine how far I had come with making any progress through it. While I am playing and completing games, the constant addition of more games to the collection and certain other games always bringing me back in has hampered this slightly. One type of game of note I found I had in abundance was episodic games. Now it goes without saying that Telltale Games popularized the genre, to the point they were known for nothing else. Despite this, others have tried their hand at this genre of gaming.

What we're going to do today, and next week as well if this blog runs long, is look at some of the episodic games in my collection, who they came from, and if there is anything of particular note about any of them. For a genre that became very crowded very quickly, you had to do a lot to stand out in the field of episodic gaming, which is something even Telltale themselves were unable to do all the time. Let's see how each game's developer approached and tried to grapple with this then-ongoing problem.

Let's start with what must be the oldest game of this group. Sam & Max Beyond Time and Space was the second game released by Telltale based on the newspaper comic created by Steve Purcell. Released way back in 2009, this came a full three years before Telltale set the world on fire with the first season of The Walking Dead. This game is a follow-up to Sam & Max Save the World, released earlier that year. It continues the trend of multiple episodes, with a overarching plot connecting them all.

This games serves as a precursor to how Telltale would widely be known in a few years' time. The controls were streamlined between this game and 2012, so it's much easier to play and awkward and clunky. The dialogue options were also drastically overhauled. Instead of a timer to pick four options, you now have as long as you want to exhaust all possible dialogue options just to see the interesting and often humourous results that come from it. This game should be just as much wacky fun as the first game.

Moving to what must be the polar opposite of this entire spectrum, we have The Council. I know far less about this game, mostly because I don't want it spoiled for myself because it looks super interesting. The idea is there is a secret society, filled entirely with world leaders and other influential people. The two most notable in this group are George Washington and Napoleon Bonaparte. The game is set in the early 19th century and takes off from there, as you're a new member of this group.

Plot-wise, that's about all I know. The other main thing I do know is this is an episodic game with multiple endings, outside of the standard good/bad/neutral endings game usually contain. How this will play out across an episodic game remains to be seen. In Telltale games, for example, you can either replay the whole episode before playing the next episode, or just edit the important decisions. Often this results in someone being alive or dead who was not previously. How this will manifest in a game with multiple endings I do not know. Either way, I'm excited to play this one when the time comes.

We have room for one more here today, so let's pick another obscure one. The wheel has landed on... Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth. Alright, be honest. Raise your hand if you'd never heard of this game until right this second. I'm willing to bet a few of you raised your hands. Don't feel bad. I had no idea this existed either until I saw it on the clearance rack at my local Walmart a few months ago. It's an episodic game, hence why it's here, and the art style is definitely anime-inspired. If anything, this is a good thing.

Going from the text on the back of the box, the game is set in medieval times, in a small town that has set out to build a cathedral to ensure peace and stability in the region. Over the game's 21(!) chapters, you will deal with the people and events this construction project will bring. According to the back of the box, or at least what isn't taken up by safety and copyright information, if you bought the game at launch, you got chapters 1-7, with 8-21 coming later. We're well past that later, so it's all here now.

As expected, I do have more episodic games to look at, and that will be next week. Coming up next time: game reviews.
Posted by CyberPunch83 on 18 October 19 at 23:54 | There are no comments on this blog - Please log in to comment on this blog.
Before They Were FamousPermalink
Jurassic: the Hunted Micro-Review: This has to be one of the rarest games on the Xbox 360 by far. I've never seen a copy available online for less than $40, so when I found a copy in a second hand games store for $15, I jumped on it as fast as I could. Such a pedigree alone made the game desirable, and what we got was a surprisingly-fun first-person shooter with a dumb story and fun action set pieces. The plot is some forgettable garbage about a former Navy Seal who now runs a private security firm, taking a scientist to an island to find her missing father and who cares, we're just here to shoot dinosaurs.

And shoot dinosaurs we will, except for the levels where you shoot scorpions. Then you don't shoot dinosaurs for a bit. The game uses the 'island out of time' trope to give you weapons from pretty much every era in history with firearms. A modern shotgun is juxtaposed beside both a Civil War-era musket rifle and a futuristic plasma rifle. The dialogue is straight B-Movie dreck, notably with absolutely no facial animations for the cutscenes. Not sure if my game just bugged out, but there were none on repeat plays. The graphics on everything but the dinosaurs is PS2-level, so you can easily tell where most of the character design went. A smart move, to be fair.

The game tries to mix things up with a few survival events throughout the story, where you defend a fortification from waves of raptors for a few minutes. This functions identically to Zombies in Call of Duty, right down to defending entry points. Did I mention this game comes to us from Activision? It's also developed by Bohemia Interactive, back when they were known as Cauldron HQ. The people now known for Arma and DayZ made this game back in their earlier days. The rest of the game is generic shooter fare: go here, do this, retrieve item, blow up obstruction. You don't play a game like this for intellectual depth.

You will have to play the whole game twice for all of the achievements, since Hard Mode doesn't unlock until after beating the main story. Even then, the achievement is glitchy and often some level replay is required. Thankfully the game is relatively short, and the longest level might take 20 minutes, depending on personal speed and skill. Special mention to the pterodactyl-focused level, which feels almost directly lifted from Jurassic Park III. Overall, a somewhat-generic budget title which is very hard to find today, but worth searching out.

Verdict: Turok with about as much testosterone as every Schwarzenegger film combined. 8/10


Sam & Max Save the World Micro-Review: Before The Walking Dead launched Telltale Games into the stratosphere, and ultimately too close to the sun, they were a fledgling developer struggling to find their way in a crowded digital landscape. They turned to churning out licensed products to keep the money coming in and the lights on. This game comes to us from that period. We follow the titular pair of freelance police officers on some wild adventures, from becoming President of the United States to taking down the Toy Mafia. All based on the newspaper comic created by Steve Purcell.

It might be pre-TWD, but it's still a Telltale Game. Point and click is the order of the day, and you use it to do literally everything. The only break in the gameplay is where you hop in the car for some driving and shooting scenes between locations. Fortunately, or not depending on your opinion, these are relatively rare and only have to be completed once each. Anything that isn't driving or shooting is dialogue, and there's a lot of that, some even relevant to the plot. You could spend a lot of time with dialogue trees that ultimately don't affect the game. There is an overarching plot connecting all six episodes, though it might be hard to spot at first. Trust me, it's there.

You mainly play as Sam, the anthropomorphic dog in a suit, but can contextually switch to Max for both action and dialogue as the game allows. it was likely either this or co-op, and the dual-character approach honestly works better. Even with the help of a walkthrough, telling you where to go and when to go there, you will still find a lot of backtracking and seemingly-unnecessary repetition throughout the game, and I don't just mean a limited number of locations either. You don't need to see every single corner of a world to get a feel for the depth, and Telltale understands this important lesson in game design.

Each episode has one unique achievement, and few require any real skill. Just mostly following all possible dialogue trees and completing actions in a certain order. This is a trend Telltale continued through all of their titles and is on full display here. Expect to spend no more than 10 hours on this one, and that's factoring in stopping to examine as much scenery and going through as many dialogue trees as possible. You could probably finish the game in at least one less hour if you only interact with the world when absolutely necessary.

Verdict: a faithful recreation of a popular newspaper comic, goofy antics intact. 6/10

Coming up on Friday: what's the deal with episodic games?
Posted by CyberPunch83 on 14 October 19 at 22:43 | There are no comments on this blog - Please log in to comment on this blog.
Nowhere to Go but UpPermalink
I was originally planning on writing about more updates, and how my download queue only seems to grow with each passing day, and indeed with each passing rotation of more and more Games With Gold titles, but I decided sort of last minute that you've had enough of that for one week. Instead, today we'll be looking at something a bit more personal: specifically, my game collection and the progress I've made in working my way through it over the last few months.

Surprisingly, I'm still working on games with approximate 6-8 hour completion times. This may just be indicative of one or two things. Either I just gravitate toward games of that length, and it's a sort of subconscious sweet spot, or an increasing number of games are produced with that run time in mind, and owning and playing a larger number of those games was inevitable. We'll likely never know which is fully true and which is not, but regardless of that, here's where I am.

With each rule comes exceptions, and this whole process is no stranger to that. Take for example events like Crappy Game Week, which just finished its fifth annual run earlier this year. We're now including titles from platforms other than the Xbox 360 in an attempt to keep everything fresh and new. We're also currently taking submissions for the 2020 Crappy Game Week, across all Xbox-enabled platforms, except the weird ones that only support Minecraft. Looking at you, Apple TV and Kindle Fire.

Some other exceptions occurred when I either happened across a boosting partner or session I was not expecting, but was too good to pass up. A recent example of this comes from Fuzion Frenzy 2. While the game is a relatively short completion in the first place, that number is deceptively small. A handful of the game's achievements are online-only, so you either need a second console and a second copy of the game (good luck with that), or a boosting partner with a spare afternoon. I was lucky and found the latter.

There is a third pseudo-exception to the list, and it's more a function of the limitations of the medium than anything else. We all know how episodic games work: the first episode is sometimes free, then you have to pay either a la carte, or buy a season pass to get access to the remainder of the episodes as they are released. It's the model Telltale Games used right to the end. The problem with this system is only the completion time for the first episode is listed in the Game Collection menu.

The Game Collection does not, and possibly cannot, take into account further episodes released for a particular game. They have to be treated as DLC, and I suppose in the most abstract of senses, that's exactly what they are. The problem is that the story of the game is not complete without every episode, and a non-insignificant number of people, myself included, generally only play these games once thee entire season is released, and I can make an educated guess as to whether or not I'll like the game.

The best example of this I can pluck from my Game Collection is 'The Grand Tour Game'. The base game can be completed in around 6-8 hours, but this does not take into account the fourteen extra episodic content packs released for the game. These content packs can add up to 25 hours of additional content to the game, bringing the total number of hours up to around 30. This means the game should be listed alongside such titles as Mirror's Edge and Fable III, not Crazy Taxi and Hydrophobia.

So what have we learned here today? I probably play games in the wrong order, and for the wrong reason, and get unreasonably upset, to the point I had to dedicate half a blog to complaining about it just to get it out my system. I suppose there are worse outlets, and this blog is always looking for new content and new ideas. Even just the act of writing this has give me some ideas for future blogs. As always watch this space, for new content, and thank you for taking the time to read this.

Coming up next time: game reviews!
Posted by CyberPunch83 on 12 October 19 at 03:22 | There are no comments on this blog - Please log in to comment on this blog.