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This War of Mine (Review)

It’s dusk. The city has been under siege for a month. You haven’t eaten anything today because yesterday was your turn to eat. You’re sore, exhausted, and starting to feel sick. The temperature is hovering dangerously close to freezing and, though you’ve chopped up all the dressers and shelves in the house, you’re almost out of wood. You do have one book left, but reading is the only comfort you have and you don’t want to burn it. Not yet. You have a choice. You can go scavenge for food and medicine, probably having to steal what you need, possibly running into patrols who could shoot you on sight. Or you can stay in to guard the meager supplies you have left from others. What you really want to do is lie down, shut your eyes, and get some sleep. Maybe the shelling won’t be so bad tonight.

As you can probably guess, This War of Mine is not a fun game. It’s not a game you turn on to relax or clear your mind. But it is a very good game. Part of the appeal of video games is that they can take us to places we’ve never been and that includes places we would never want to be.

This War of Mine crafting

You play the game as a number of different civilians who have banded together in an abandoned house to try to wait out the war. You need to find food, medicines in case anyone gets sick or hurt, and fuel to keep warm. There’s also a crafting system that lets you build things that will help you to survive. Everything from beds and stoves, to weapons and ammo, to contraptions that can help you create your own materials – animal traps, rain water collectors, herb gardens. You can also build a radio which gives not only the comfort of music but also news which can help you be prepared for what’s coming next, whether it be cold weather or roving thieves.

The gameplay is fairly simple, but involves a lot of decision-making. During the day your characters can craft items, eat, use medicines, catch up on sleep, or do activities that will relax them, if available. There’s also a chance you’ll have visitors, whether it be people looking to trade or people asking for help. Night time is when scavenging is done. One character can be sent out to look for resources, while the rest stay at the house to either sleep or guard it from hostiles.

This War of Mine character

There are about a dozen playable characters. At the beginning you choose a group to start with and they’re the ones you need to try to keep alive for the game. Each character has their own habits and skills. Marin, for example is a handyman, so he is able to craft items with fewer materials. A very useful skill. Katia is good at bargaining, so she’s the best character to use for trading. Some characters can carry a lot of items or are very stealthy, making them good scavengers. The characters’ mental states are something that need to be managed throughout the game as well. Some characters are smokers, who can be relaxed by a cigarette. Some are sensitive – they become depressed very quickly if you need to steal from or kill other civilians, while others have an “it’s us or them” attitude. Make too many decisions that negatively impact a character’s mental state and they can become broken, effectively removing them from gameplay

11 Bit Studios have taken both war games and resource management to a new place were the challenge doesn’t come only from the mechanics, but also from the kinds of decisions you need to make. Will you steal from your elderly neighbors who have plentiful supplies and won’t defend themselves? Or will you risk venturing out further to avoid stealing from good people to get what you need? If you steal from your neighbors you will be responsible for shortening their lives. If you go to a more risky area then you could be hurt or killed yourself.

This War of Mine house

This War of Mine is a very challenging game, especially at the beginning. During my first couple tries, I quickly got my characters killed. After a bit I was able to get the hang of it and successfully completed a game. I was able to finish the game without fighting or killing anyone, and I appreciated that this was a possibility. I did steal, I did get shot at a few times, but I was always able to run away. The game does throw curveballs at you. As you get to a “comfortable” state where you have enough supplies, suddenly the weather will change and you’ll need much more fuel to keep warm. Or your go-to places for scavenging will dry up or become unreachable due to enemy attacks.

The game does have a few mechanical annoyances. It’s really easy to have the wrong character selected when you give a command. It’s not a huge deal to correct, but it happens so often. Combat is also quite awkward. Now, I think this is somewhat intentional. Given the setting combat should not be fun or easy, however I think it could be a bit more smooth. I also found the game lasted too long. In my first play, the war ended after 45 days. My second game lasted 25 days which I found a much better length. Again, given the setting, there’s merit to design choices which make the player uncomfortable, but there needs to be a balance between message and mechanics.

There is a decent amount of replay value in the game. There’s a lot of randomness, whether it be the house and supplies you start with, the locations you have access to, or the season the game starts in. Playing with different groups of characters can also change the experience. It also has the “just one more turn” addictiveness of something like Civ or XCOM.

Verdict – Highly recommended. This War of Mine is an achievement which combines a fresh take on war with challenging resource management and compelling gameplay. It forces you to make hard choices and has real emotional impact. While there are some mechanical annoyances, I highly recommend the experience.

Content warning – Obviously there’s a lot of dark stuff in this game. Content that can be encountered includes gendered slurs, allusion to rape (of non-player characters), violence, depression, death, and suicide.

If you’re looking for some tips on This War of Mine to get you started, check out my next post.

Analogue: A Hate Story

I used to be a gamer who was proud of having a small library of steam games that I actually played. Over the last year though, I’ve become one of those people, frivolously partaking in every sale and buying way more games than I have time to play them. As I’ve just reached 49% unplayed games in my library, I decided I needed to do something about it. Clearly the answer is to play more games. Inspired by Dahakha’s Steam Challenge, I’m going to try to work my way through the unplayed games in my library.

Steam library

I’ve also got about 30 games in a Finished category, and about a dozen in a Go Away category of games I’m not interested in. Does it drive anyone else crazy that you can’t delete DOTA from your library when you never wanted it in the first place?

Anyway, I thought I’d start at the top so the first game I played, when I could drag myself away from Dragon Age, was Analogue: A Hate Story. Analogue is a visual novel with a lot of choose-your-own-adventure aspects and a touch of dating sim, maybe. In the game, you are investigating a generation ship that disappeared 600 years ago and has just been found. You’re tasked with finding out what happened by reading through the ship’s logs. The ship has two AI which can help you with your mission, though they aren’t particularly reliable narrators.

Gameplay mainly consists of reading through the ship’s logs and asking the AI about them, who may then open up new logs for you. The main interface for accessing the logs is slick, attractive, and very easy to use. There is also a Linux console interface which you use to perform certain actions on the ship, such as enabling or disabling the AI, or downloading the log files. As someone who has never used Linux I found this interface a bit puzzling at first. It’s the first thing you see when the game starts and it took me a few minutes to figure out what it was expecting me to do.

The most exceptional part of the game is the writing. The logs, written as diary entries are enthralling. There are multiple authors and each one has a clear and distinct voice. They paint a picture of a spacefaring society that has somehow regressed into a medieval patriarchy. You don’t get access to all the entries though, and often get things out of order, so you need to piece together the story for yourself. Depending on which AI you have active, you may learn some parts of the story but not others. It’s quite well done.

Analogue: A Hate Story - conversation with Hyun-ae

As for the interaction with the AI though… ehh. One AI is a giggly, cosplay-loving schoolgirl. The other is a casually misogynist and homophobic security program.  If I had known nothing about the creator of this game, Christine Love, I likely would have written the game off as sexist drivel and quit before I got too far in. However, I assumed that there was probably going to be a bigger point or message to the game, so I continued.

Analogue made me feel a number of the same things that To the Moon did, though not as strongly. The overall story and writing is great, but the two characters that are around to comment on everything just bugged the hell out of me. I think that was part of the point, but I don’t really play games to be annoyed. Based on interests and gaming preferences, I don’t think I’m quite the target demographic for this game.

I haven’t played a ton of visual novels before, the most similar experience I’ve had to this was Long Live the Queen. An aspect of the genre I find hard to reconcile is that I want to see multiple endings, but the process of replaying and trying new things to get to those endings is exceedingly tedious. Careful use of saves can reduce the amount of repetition, but it’s hard to know exactly when the important branches take place and I find myself mindlessly clicking through things I’ve already read/seen way more than is enjoyable.

Verdict: Recommended for those who like the genre. The writing is strong and the story is compelling. While I personally don’t enjoy the repetitiveness required to experience all of the endings, I think this game will appeal to fans of visual novels.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (Review)

It’s 2054. You are Jack Mitchell, a stoic, well-muscled, permanently scruffy, United States Marine. Your advanced weaponry lets you jump over tall buildings in a double bound, paint enemies with threat grenades, and control remote operated drones. You are the manliest of men. You’re sent to Seoul to battle North Koreans along with your brother in arms, Will Irons. Will is a stoic, well-muscled, permanently scruffy, United States Marine. When you first met him you were a little jealous that he had an even better sounding all-American manly man name than you, but you got over it and now you’re best buds. The mission in Korea ends in tragedy and you are honorably discharged from your military duties because of injuries sustained. But your story is not over. The Illusive Man Kevin Spacey can rebuild you. He has the technology. Jonathan Irons is the CEO of Atlus, the most powerful private military force in the world, and there’s no way that can end badly. On your first mission you’re paired up with Gideon, a stoic, well-muscled, permanently scruffy…

Snark aside, I actually quite enjoyed the game. The fact that I’d never played any CoD game before likely increased my enjoyment. Advanced Warfare is the 12th Call of Duty game (14th if you count the ones released on handheld/mobile) released since 2003. The fact that increasingly shiny versions of the game are pumped out every single year never inspired a whole lot of confidence, and I’m sure that if I had been a fan of the series all along I’d be getting burnt out on the whole concept by now. But for a first time player, it was a lot of fun.

Call of Duty Advanced Warfare Kevin Spacey as Jonathon Irons

First of all, it looks absolutely gorgeous on my XBox One. Close-ups of people look almost photo-realistic. There are often dozens of enemies on-screen, along with allies, civilians, and vehicles. The environments look equally great and there is so much variation in the 15 mission campaign that nothing ever feels stale or reused. AW takes you from the high rises and neon lights of Seoul, to icy arctic crevasses, to blue skies and traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge.

Likewise, your combat specialization changes from mission to mission, giving you access to novel abilities so gameplay changes and evolves throughout as well. In some missions you can grapple up to rooftops, or climb walls. In others you can send out a remote-controlled drone to deal with enemies, and block incoming attacks with your exo shield. Some levels require stealth, so you’re given a cloaking ability and mute charges for silent kills. It says a lot that I found the stealth parts of the game very enjoyable, because I’m generally far too impatient for subtlety in action games. Gameplay is fast, fun, and the controls are responsive and smooth.

The highlights of the game are the action setpieces. One of the standouts had me running through traffic, then jumping on the tops of buses as they sped down the highway to get to an enemy vehicle. Another had me crossing the Golden Gate Bridge on foot, weaving through abandoned cars, taking out enemies with sonic pulses, and ended with a rather spectacular explosion.

However, the reliance on setpieces also brought about the game’s biggest weakness, as it made many levels feel very much on the rails. There was a definite feeling that I should just be going from point A to point B as fast as possible and, though the game does have collectible Intel that is slightly off the path, exploration was discouraged. I often saw a huge message “You are leaving the mission area” message displayed across my screen, which was jarring considering how clean and HUDless the UI was. Likewise, AI squadmates do everything they can to keep you moving forward quickly, which often involves repeating an order over and over if you don’t carry it out fast enough. “Mitchell, set the charge,” “Mitchell, take him out,” “Mitchell, open the door,” “Mitchell, change your socks.” That got annoying fast. This is where I really felt that CoD was catering to the lowest common denominator. As a player I couldn’t be trusted to pay attention to the mission details at the start and carry out the objectives on my own, or figure anything out myself. The game felt it needed to tell me to run here, duck, put up my shield, open the door, use the grappling hook, shoot, press X to pay respects.

Call of Duty Advanced Warfare Gideon shooter bro

The story and characters of AW are rather trite but, even as someone who has never played the series before, I knew this is not a game you play for the story. Twists can be seen a mile away. Characters are not memorable. At the beginning of the game I was dismayed that I couldn’t tell any of the characters, including my own, apart because all the white male soldiers (90% of the characters) have the exact same facial hair. Does military regulation enforce permanent 5 o’clock shadow? Eventually I realized that not knowing who anyone was didn’t really detract from the experience and I stopped worrying about it.

There is a dearth of women in the game. I went through a full 1/3 of the campaign before I saw a woman up close and talked to her. A very important scene that fleshed out Mitchell as a character was unfortunately deleted at this point, but here’s how it was supposed to go:

Mitchell tensed up as he saw Ilona. He didn’t know what to do. It had been six years since he’d seen a woman up close and that had been his mother. “Oh my god, a girl. Don’t fuck this up,” he said to himself as she approached. He tried complimenting her boots because had heard that chicks dig that. She looked at him sideways and told him they were standard issue. He made an excuse and ran back to his bunk as fast as he could without betraying his cool exterior. “Stupid, stupid Mitchell” he chastised, slapping himself on the forehead repeatedly. Maybe once he proved his prowess in battle she would learn to love him.
/scene

Call of Duty Advanced Warfare - Ilona, the lone woman soldier

Thankfully, Ilona does become an actual character and is with you for a number of missions but as far as female representation, she’s pretty much it. Considering 15% of military forces are female now, and AW takes place 40 years in the future, I hoped to see more than one woman (especially in Atlus which is presumably not beholden to US policy). Disappointing, but sadly not unexpected. You can play as a female in multiplayer. Apparently, CoD:Ghosts was the first entry in the series that had this option. Ghosts was released in 2013. Is this real life? Of course, since multiplayer is completely first-person, your gender doesn’t matter a whole lot as you can only tell the difference when you get shot and start breathing audibly. But it’s nice the option was added after 10 years.

I did play a few hours of multiplayer, and while I prefer the campaign, it’s quite fun too. I haven’t had a chance to try all the different modes, I mainly stick to team deathmatch or confirmed kill. The mode I really like is Survival. This is a co-op mode with up to 4 players and the goal is to survive waves of bots. There are also some objective based waves thrown in to mix things up a bit. As someone who does not have much experience playing FPSs online against other people, Survival mode offers a bit more leeway and I found it much easier to get into. It’s good practice before jumping into real matches where people who have been playing online CoD for the last 10 years will frag you repeatedly until you give up.

 Rating: 8/10 – Advanced Warfare is not a game you play for the story or to inspire deep thoughts, but it delivers what it promises – a slick, fast-paced, first-person shooter with outstanding setpieces. The amount of hand-holding the game gives starts getting tedious around 2/3 of the way through but the campaign ends at the right time, before this gets too annoying. Overall an enjoyable single-player experience, with good multiplayer content that will stretch out the game time as long as you want it to.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter (Review)

Red Creek Valley is a place of duality. It’s home to both great beauty and abject horror. One minute the soft, warm light of the sunset reflects off placid water, instilling a sense of serenity. The next you step into the shadows and are filled with unease. Traps litter the entrance to the valley – are they keeping people in or out? The scenery fools you into thinking you are welcome here, but the darkness within soon makes itself known.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter tells you right at the beginning that it is a narrative experience that will not hold your hand. It holds to that. As you walk into the Valley you’re not told where you’re going or what to do, just that you need to find Ethan Carter. This is quite refreshing. I’ve become so used to waypoints, detailed maps, hints, and having objectives listed on the side of my screen. Ethan Carter urges you to explore and rewards you for it. The game mechanics also aren’t spelled out, but they’re easy enough to pick up.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter scenery

Ethan Carter is a beautiful game. Every five feet I wanted to stop and take a screenshot but at the same time the screenshots don’t really do it justice, as the combination of visuals, sounds, and music really make the experience. The soundtrack is exquisite, haunting, and often ominous. It adds to the sense of wonder during exploration and keeps you on edge as you anticipate how Red Creek Valley’s secrets will present themselves next.

This game really excels in creating atmosphere. There was a major sense of foreboding any time I needed to leave the beautiful country backdrop and go inside. It didn’t matter if it was a Church or a mine, just seeing a doorway made the hairs on my arms stand up. At one point I stood frozen at the entrance to a crypt, knowing there was something to find down there, but dreading descending into the darkness. Tension is maintained through the whole experience. Even just walking through the lovely environments, listening to the haunting music, I was often startled by sudden narration or other sounds.   It maintains constant eeriness, without getting overwhelming. There is only one sequence in the game where you are in any real danger (though death has very little consequence). On one hand, it seemed a little out of place to have an immediate, rather than psychological threat. But on the other, it did amp up the game’s intensity and added a sense of urgency that was otherwise missing.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter cemetary

Gameplay is very simple. This is a first person exploration and mystery game. You can walk, run, crouch (though I found only one place I needed to crouch in the game), and examine or pick up objects. I really enjoyed the puzzles. You weren’t given much direction but everything was logical and the solutions made sense. The major puzzles involve solving murders. You examine the scene, which usually involves the body, the weapon, and a few other key elements. Once you’ve examined everything and put things in their rightful places, you can ‘communicate’ with the body of the victim, which sparks a new puzzle. Vignettes will appear around the crime scene and you need to put them in the correct order so you can reconstruct and watch what happened. Every murder you solve tells you a bit more about the story. There are also some non-murder puzzles to solve, and I found these even more compelling. A favourite of mine involved discerning truth from illusion as you explored an abandoned house. As you solve these puzzles you discover things like Newspaper clippings and stories written by Ethan, which flesh out the narrative.

The overall story is well told – this isn’t about simple murder, there are hints of a greater darkness everywhere. The game raises a lot of questions but doesn’t answer them all. I’m okay with this, as some things are best left up to our imaginations. The voice actor for the main protagonist does a solid, if not exceptional job. He conveys the paranormal detective aspect well, but his lines are a little one-note.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter ghosts

In a few ways, Ethan Carter reminded me of Murdered: Soul Suspect. Solving the mysteries and inspecting clues can be similar, and stylistically there some overlaps. However, unlike Murdered, Ethan Carter isn’t confused about what it is. There are no tacked on action sequences. The game promises exploration and mystery solving and that is what it delivers.

I have very few complaints about Ethan Carter. Sometimes parts of the game world felt a little too large – going from one end of the map to the other required a fair bit of travel time. This was a good thing while I was first exploring, but if I needed to backtrack it felt like a bit of a time sink.

My playthrough of Ethan Carter lasted between 4-5 hours. Given the price-point and the story being told, this seemed just about right. I was tense through the whole game, if it lasted any longer it might have been overkill.

Rating: 9/10 – The vanishing of Ethan Carter is one of the most attractive and atmospheric games I’ve played. It maintains an amazing amount of tension throughout, without going into full horror game mode. I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys exploring and narrative gaming experiences.

Content warning – A couple instances of bigoted language.


I have a copy of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter for Steam to give away. It’s one of the pre-order editions, which includes some bonuses like the soundtrack, wallpapers, a making of album, and a map of Red Creek Valley. If you want a chance to win, just leave a comment and tell me what your favourite mystery story is (from a game, book, movie, whatever). On Friday October 3rd I will randomly choose a winner. 


I’m making video walkthroughs of the game. If you plan to play it, I’d suggest you skip them and play for yourself though (unless you’re stuck, then check them out). Here’s the first one.

Edit (October 3rd) – I have randomly selected a winner, and that winner is Dahakha! Code has been sent. Thanks everyone for entering!

The Last of Us Remastered (Review)

When The Last of Us came out on PS3 in 2013, it was met with much fanfare and critical acclaim. A ridiculous number of publications gave it a perfect score. I never played it then, because I was usually playing something on the 360. However, when it was announced that it would be remastered and re-released for the PS4, I was really excited to finally play the game of the generation.

Of course, given how well reviewed the game was, it would be difficult to live up to the hype.

The opening of The Last of Us was absolutely wonderful. It was cinematic, everything looked great. You’re introduced to Joel and his daughter and their relationship is established quickly and easily. The problem (infection) is introduced in a way that is both mysterious and frightening, and the fact that the game puts you in the shoes of a young girl at the start makes things even more bewildering and intense. The opening has drama, emotion, it sets the world up brilliantly.

Then we skip forward 20 years. We’re reintroduced to Joel and his companion Tess and then… not much happens for a while. We walk around – for a few minutes this is interesting because we’re learning what the world has become. But then we continue walking, through basements and abandoned buildings. A few lines of dialogue are exchanged between Joel and Tess, but it’s pretty quiet. Joel is very stoic and doesn’t give us much to relate to. We come across our first infected enemies, but the fight is a tutorial and they are very quickly and easily dispatched. After an amazing opening, we’ve now spent about 30 minutes doing nothing but walking along a set path without much action or story progression and it’s really jarring. At this point, my interest was really waning.

Things happen slowly. The first big fights are slow – you have so little ammo that you pretty much have to resort to stealth kills which require patience that I don’t possess. We finally meet Ellie and discover the point of the game but relationship between her and Joel also builds slowly. It wasn’t until Bill’s Town that things started to pick up, and it wasn’t until the journey to Pittsburgh that the game really got its hooks in me and I became totally invested. That was almost halfway through the game. There were major pacing problems.

I feel like I’m reviewing two different games here. The first half looked really pretty and had some good writing, but from a gameplay standpoint, it just wasn’t that fun. The last half, on the other hand, was brilliant. In the first half of the game I didn’t enjoy the combat at all. It was too slow, ammo was so scarce. Dying was frustrating because all I had to look forward to was another abandoned building to walk through. In the second half of the game, I enjoyed combat so much more. I had a wide variety of weapons to choose from and if I wanted to fight rather than sneak around all the time, I could. Plus, the action scenes were usually followed up by some really great character development and storytelling. The pacing was 100x better in the 2nd half of the game. So let’s focus on that now.

The storytelling in The Last of Us was so, so good. Once I got far enough into the game I loved Ellie and Joel and totally believed their relationship. The dialogue was great, and the wonderful animation of the characters made things seem even more real. It was the little moments that made this game special. The first part that really got me was Joel and Ellie in the truck, heading to Pittsburgh. They had this dialogue that was so natural, and filled with humour and pain. The music helped cap it off and it was really beautiful. The stories told in the collectible documents you find around the game were also really compelling. Getting a glimpse into the lives of other people in the game world who you would never met was intriguing, and usually sad.

There were a lot of really exciting set pieces later in the game as well. Using the sniper rifle in the suburbs to save the rest of your group was really one of my favorite combat scenes. There were also a few parts of the Winter portion of the game that were different and got very stressful.

Speaking of Winter, getting to play as Ellie for part of the game was a welcome change, and I appreciated the opportunity to get to know her character better. Winter was one of the more intense episodes of the game and was really enjoyable to play. Unfortunately, something that happened right at the end left a bad taste in my mouth. (Minor spoiler warning) Ellie gets captured, hurt, the people she loves are in danger. She faces down enemies who are also cannibals, has to kill many of them, is under constant threat of being murdered and eaten… and then at the very end (this clearly wasn’t enough to traumatize our 14-year-old heroine) it’s implied that she’s also threatened with rape. I was really disappointed by this. It’s such a lazy, common, unnecessary way of putting female characters through the wringer. During the rest of the game, the writers were brilliant and handled character development (and my emotions) with surgical precision. Why they felt the need to start swinging a big machete at this point is beyond me.

I’m not going to give anything away about the end of the game, but I thought it was really well done. The story that had been developing and the relationship between Joel and Ellie that had been building all came to a head and there was major pay off. It was a satisfying ending, and the fact that it was put together like a great movie made it even better.

The DLC, Left Behind, was also included with the game. During this you play as Ellie, before Joel ever comes into the picture. Left Behind was a perfect 2 hour gaming experience. It has the same great writing as the main game, though the dialogue between Ellie and her friend Riley may actually be even better. The pacing is great. It’s not as action-heavy, but the game wastes no time. Every scene matters. My emotions ran the gamut while playing this, from pure joy to absolute heartache.

The Last of Us is a really difficult game to rate. It starts with a bang, but within the first couple hours of gameplay I was often tempted to just put it down because the excitement dropped off so much. If it hadn’t been so critically revered, I probably would have put it down. Ultimately I was rewarded for sticking it out because the last half of the game was amazing.

Rating: 9/10 – The Last of Us is one of the best written stories I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing. Though it drags at the start, in the end it was totally worth playing. It’s an emotional roller coaster that really gets you invested in what’s going to happen next and makes you care about the characters. The gameplay isn’t as good as the story, but it gets better as the game goes on and is very enjoyable by the end. The perfection that is Left Behind is what’s bumping this rating up from an 8 to a 9.

Murdered: Soul Suspect (Review)

Murdered: Soul Suspect was released in June of 2014 by developer Airtight Games. The game has received mediocre to negative reviews, and I assume sales weren’t that great since Airtight closed up shop only a month after release.

Expectations really worked against the game. When I first heard about it, I was very interested. The impression I got from previews was that it was an adventure game made modern. When I saw that it was released for the new consoles, I was somewhat confused (adventure games on console?) but stoked that there was something I actually wanted to play on the XBox One. Then I saw the price. $69.99 at GameStop. This threw me for a loop. Adventure games don’t cost that much money. Even though the images from the game looked AAA quality, I never expected this to be a full price game. So, while I wanted to play it, I decided that I’d wait 6 months for it to come down in price. My boyfriend went out and got me a copy for PS4, so I obviously have played the game, but I can imagine the price driving off a number of potential buyers.

Murdered puts you in the shoes of Detective Ronan O’Connor who, at the beginning of the game, is being murdered. You become a ghost and need to wrap up unfinished business – namely tracking down the serial killer who killed you and has been killing young women in Salem – before you can move on.

The gameplay mainly focuses on solving mysteries. You investigate the scene of your own murder, and as the game progresses you investigate the scenes of other Bell Killer crimes. Here is where the game feels like an updated point-and-click adventure. You scour the area for clues, examining anything relevant, then conclude the investigation by selecting the most relevant clue. Sometimes choosing the most relevant clue was not very intuitive. Or, the answer was so simple that I completely overlooked it – I was trying to be clever and think like a detective, but the right answer wasn’t clever at all. I found this to be more of a problem at the beginning of the game though, and it got better by the end.

Murdered: Soul Suspect

Murdered involves a lot of exploration. As you travel through Salem you discover not only clues about the Bell Killer, but also information about the town’s history and Ronan’s life. Salem is dark, but also quite beautiful. There’s a kind of double environment effect, as you can see both the town as it really is, and see ghostly remnants of the past.

One thing I liked was that the world did not feel empty. There are plenty of people walking through the town. As a ghost you’re able to possess the living and read their minds, or sometimes even influence what they do. The world is also filled with other ghosts. You’re able to help some of them move on as a series of side-quests, while others aren’t quite ready yet.

Though Murdered bills itself as an action-adventure game, there really isn’t much action. The only ‘danger’ in the game comes from demons who appear in certain places that need to be taken care of. Defeating demons is mainly a matter of stealth. You hide out of sight, or within the  ghostly auras scattered around every location, then sneak up behind the demon and perform a QTE. It’s fairly simple and mostly requires patience and timing.

On an aesthetic level, I though Murdered was very good. The graphics are good, the city of Salem is interesting to explore and the ghostly apparitions which flit in and out of existence are a nice, eerie touch. I was happy with the voice acting and the writing of all the major characters.

Again, I have to emphasize that expectations are what will make or break this game. It’s an adventure game that focuses on exploration and telling a good story. Aside from the main plot, I really enjoyed the little stories the game told. You’d come across a crying ghost on a beach and discover how she died. You’d collect a set of hidden collectibles and be treated with a well-told ghost story.  I appreciated the game for what it was, so I had a lot of fun with it. If you like exploring, uncovering clues, and good narrative, I think you’d like Murdered too.

Murdered: Soul Suspect cat possession

However, if you’re expecting an action game, that’s not what you’re going to get. But you do get to possess and play as a cat sometimes.

My playthrough of Murdered took me about 7-8 hours, and that’s with going out of my way to find all the collectibles. Though I generally don’t like to harp on games for length, I thought it was a bit short considering the price point. However, the price has already dropped a fair bit, especially if you’re willing to play it on PC.

Rating: 7/10 – What it lacks in action, it makes up for by telling a good story and giving a haunting, fully-formed world to explore. Some of the detective work isn’t very intuitive, but I still recommend the game for people who like exploration and ghost stories.

Revolution 60 (Review)

Revolution 60 is the first release by developer Giant Spacekat, and it will be released for iPhone and iPad on July 24nd*, and ported to PC and Mac at some point. I’m generally not a fan of mobile games, however I’ve been listening to the Isometric Podcast, and hearing the head of development Brianna Wu talk about it got me interested. The fact that I sat on my couch this weekend, playing this game on a tiny little iPhone screen when I had my PC and all the consoles sitting within 10 feet of me certainly says something.

I’d call Revolution 60 a cinematic adventure-RPG. It takes inspiration from Heavy Rain and Mass Effect, taking advantage of Quick Time Event-like gameplay, heavy use of interactive cinematics, and a dialogue and decision system which impacts the events of the game. The story is set in the future, where an AI called Chessboard controls much of the government. An all-female team of operatives are sent on a mission to re-establish control of a space station, but things are not quite as they seem. You mostly play as the sharp-tongued assassin, Holiday.

Revolution 60 cinematic

R60 has a distinctive and fun visual style, and looks great on iPhone. The environments are very futuristic, but many elements also have a 60s vibe. The character costumes are more Spice Girls than space marines.

The gameplay could be broken down into three different categories.

Revolution 60 combat

First there’s the combat. The combat mechanics were very innovative. You fight on a grid, where you can move up, back and sideways, and attack your opponent with ranged, melee and special attacks. The combat was fast-paced, fun, and relied a lot on timing. As you win battles, you level up and can choose talents to make your character stronger (my tip: take the increased attack speed talents). As the game progresses the fights do get a lot harder.

Revolution 60 - Action sequences

There are also action events – these are like QTEs, but were much more forgiving in that they didn’t require super fast reaction times. They involved things like tracing your finger along a line or shape, or timing tapping the screen. These events happened both in combat, as part of special attacks, and out of combat to do things like climb ladders, jump over gaps, or use computer consoles. I thought these were a good way to add some extra action during the cinematic sequences.

R60 also featured a surprisingly deep decision and dialogue system. Rather than just good/evil ( or paragon/renegade), your decisions impact a number of different tracks. There’s the Minuete vs. Amelia dichotomy – which of your teammates will you side with? There’s the Professional vs. Rogue track – do follow your mission above all else, or do you make your own choices? You also get a Proficiency score, based on how well you do at the action events which can affect the choices available to you later in the game. I’ve only played through the once, but it sounds like there are many different endings to the game based on the decisions you make.

You also are occasionally given the opportunity to move throughout the station, which uses a simple touch to move mechanic. When in explore mode, the paths which would move the story forward were marked in green, while the optional areas were marked in yellow. I liked this idea. While travelling through the station you’re usually also talking to one of your crewmates on your communicator, which adds some interest to an otherwise uneventful and slow-moving part of the game.

Overall, everything was well done. The game looks beautiful, the controls are responsive, and for the most part the story and gameplay flowed well. The characters were well-developed, well acted, and full of sass, so the dialogue and cinematics kept me entertained. I really liked the intro tutorial and the approach taken to help new players learn the game. The tutorial taught the basics, but more information was given to you any time you got a load screen. This added increasing complexity to the game without overloading you with information right at the beginning.

I do have some complaints. There are a few places where you need to battle 3 or 4 enemies in a row. While I generally thought combat was engaging, having to face battles back-to-back without anything to break them up was frustrating and immersion breaking for me. It also drove home how repetitive Holiday’s killing blow animation was. My other complaint was how movement, and especially the camera worked. I often felt the camera was working against me, as I would walk out of a door and it would spin around so I was facing that same door again when I was given the option to move. It wasn’t obvious this was happening at first as the hallways and doors all looked quite similar. After walking out of a room, getting spun around and walking back into the exact same room a couple times, I just stopped exploring and followed the green path.

I enjoyed playing Revolution 60 more than I thought I would. The gameplay was interesting, and the story was well-told. The voice acting (particularly Minuete) and the music were real standouts. I finished the game on normal mode in about 2 hours, which unlocked the hardest difficulty – girlfriend mode! 🙂 I’d like to play again and see how different choices affect the outcome, though I may wait for the PC port to do so.

The game costs $5.99 and I really like how they’ve done the purchase model. You can download the game from the app store for free and play the introduction, which is about 20 minutes or so of gameplay. If you like it, you can pay to unlock the whole game, if not, you’ve lost nothing. So I definitely recommend at least trying it out.

Rating: 8/10 – A beautifully designed cinematic game that offered a deeper gaming experience than I expected from a mobile game. Though I found a few aspects of the gameplay frustrating, for the most part it was a fun experience with a solid story and great characters.

*You may be wondering how I’ve played this game when it hasn’t been released yet. No, I didn’t get an advanced copy. iTunes made a mistake and added it to the app store before it was supposed to be released, and I managed to snag it before it was taken down. I didn’t even realize it wasn’t supposed to be there until the head of development mentioned it on her Twitter.