Obduction

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Developer: Cyan Worlds | Released: 2016 | Genre: Adventure, First Person

This was a non-linear first person adventure made by the creators of Myst and its many sequels. I was a backer when it was announced as a Kickstarter campaign a few years ago. Although Obduction has its own story that doesn’t have anything in common with Myst, it didn’t take long before I discovered that it was very much a spiritual kinsgame. Cyan Worlds didn’t stray away from their field of excellence.

In this game, the big domes replaced the ages (or islands) in Myst, but they were just as environmentally diverse, and the world got bigger and more prone to me getting stuck, the more doors I unlocked.

After a quick abduction I arrived in a sandy canyon with bubbly pieces of human structures from various points of recent human history. A cute network of trolley rails were intersecting it all, and there were a lot of locked doors. No humans, except C.W., who only mentioned very broad tasks through a door window whenever I had made substantial progress. I had to figure out almost everything on my own.

It took me about 20-21 hours to complete this game. It could have been done in about 12-15 hours, but I was stuck for several hours on a couple of occasions. The world got quite enormous when there were three alien domes to navigate between. After unlocking a few doors and getting the trolley running on the rails, the general puzzle mechanic was almost always finding and opening more stuff.

Californium

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Developer: Darjeeling | Released: 2016 | Genre: Adventure, Facile

This exploration game – or walking simulator as some would call it – was estimated to be ~3 hours long, and that’s exactly what it took for me to get complete it.

The art and color scheme of this game was out of this world and certainly worth the price of admission all on its own. Each of the four levels had a its own time period and distinctive colors to set them apart, and all humans (and later androids) were old-fashioned 2D sprites always turning the same side to you – albeit sharply drawn like were they cut straight out of a comic book. I really enjoyed this lovely style.

Being part of the genre it was, the game itself was light on interactivity. A level typically had 4-5 “rooms” plus the streets in which to find a television showing a roman numerical of white icons to find. Depending on the size of the “room” it could be about 3 to 6 icons. The icons themselves had to be spotted and then activated by holding left mouse button on them for about one second.

Yeah, the good old game of getting warmer.

INFRA

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Developer: Loiste Interactive | Released: 2016 | Genre: Adventure, First Person

This was an excellent first person adventure game exploring various industrial environments such as e.g. water plants, dam, power plants, factories, etc. As a hard hat structural analyst with a funny accent, I had to take photos of everything that needed to be repaired. Various puzzles (typically electrical in nature) had to be solved to open doors and gain access to the later parts of the locations.

The game had three acts and was enormous. I understand that there was only one act to begin with, and the two other acts were added in sort of an episodic manner. The end result has more than 40 maps made in the Source engine (the same that powered Half-Life 2) and each of them are really big. It took me almost 30 hours to get through the entire game. But it was exquisite almost all the way. The factories and plants were well put together and felt realistic – it wasn’t just random pipes and wires going wherever.

Probably the only thing that annoyed me at first was having to find batteries to replenish my phone camera and my flashlight. Especially in the first area inside a dam I was often running out and had to rummage all drawers and meticulously search control rooms for more batteries. Luckily my supplies eventually got stocked up as the maps went by, although there was a cap of ten packs for each type.

The level design of the game was a mix of open and linear. Each map was a contained area typically with a lot of locked doors. Some had to be opened by finding access cards, keys, or some cute passage around. At one point enough of the facility opened up to offer access to a lot of halls, control rooms, offices, corridors, and staircases. Some maps opened up ever so slightly bit by bit, while others offered almost the entire factory after a door or two. Apart from taking snapshots, some larger machinery often had to be fixed and turned on. It could be getting the water flowing in a plant or moving a big cradle inside a steel factory. But sometimes it also felt like I left incompletely fixed machinery behind as I found a way to the next map.

In fact, optional puzzles and passages were not uncommon in this game. An example of this was a corridor with electricity leading into the shallow water on the floor. Stepping in this would kill me. I had to arrange crates to walk on in order to reach a switch further down, but I could also just walk back to the opposite end, climb up to a roof grating, and then crawl and drop down near the same switch.

These choices were part of what made the game feel so well engineered.

The Swapper

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Developer: Facepalm Games | Released: 2013 | Genre: Platform, Puzzle

This was a platform puzzle game with very little dexterous jumping, at least across gaps. It was focusing on the story and the interconnecting puzzles, sometimes with more than one puzzle chamber available at a time. The goal was usually to obtain a few orbs from these puzzles to turn on something and proceed.

It had incredibly convincing graphics. Together with the overuse of blurry, out of focus surroundings and the strong echo/reverb on the sound effects, it made for a very dark and creepy atmosphere indeed. There were no monsters, but those from Aliens would have felt right at home here. No doubt about that.

Handcrafted art assets and clay was used to create the game levels.

Screenshot

I could clone up to four versions of myself that moved like I did, and I could swap my point of control with the other mouse button. Pads had to be stood on, crates pushed, red lighting prevented swapping, cyan lighting prevented cloning, and magenta lighting prevented both. Sometimes there were also air shafts. These rules created puzzle chambers that were sometimes quite challenging. It was also not uncommon that I had to clone and swap in a timely manner, usually while the clone was in midair.

There was a light story where I sometimes briefly spotted another astronaut that said a thing or two, I could pass by strange stones that “thought” a few lines of text to me, and apparently it all took place onboard an enormous spaceship. However, I didn’t play much more than 1½ hours until I abandoned it. Somehow the game made me feel uneasy, like I couldn’t relax and have a good time when I played it.

UPDATE: I went back and completed the game after all.

Firewatch

Developer: Campo Santo | Released: 2016 | Genre: Adventure, Facile

This first person game mainly took place in a national forest in Wyoming in the late 80’s. As the bearded and mild-mannered Henry, I was assigned to my own watchtower. A lot of dialog was exchanged between him and his boss Delilah on a walkie-talkie. Sometimes she sent me out to investigate the origins of smoke or some other task, exploring the canyons, forests and lakes.

This game was really blurring the line between a walking simulator facile adventure and a proper one. It didn’t have puzzles and there was a lot of walking (even backtracking) but there was an evolving story, cliff sides to scale, ropes to rappel down from, and even later upgrades that would give access to previously blocked areas such as e.g. keys to a large cave or an axe to cut down a tree for walking on.

My watchtower was sometimes even broken into while I was gone.

I absolutely loved this game. It was totally my thing. It was relaxing, easy, the voice acting for Henry and Delilah was very professional, and although the paths in the valley was sometimes a bit fenced in by rocks and falling trees, it was still great fun exploring. I could check a compass to make sure I was going in the right direction, or look at a paper map (which gave me a touch of Far Cry 2 vibes).

Screenshot

Sometimes I found a yellow cache box. The code was always the same – was a minigame shelved here?

The game started with a sad tale of Henry and his wife that develops dementia. This part was told via big, centered text and two choices for some of them. It reminded me a bit of the beginning of Pixar’s animated movie, Up, and it also had a subtle smell of Visual Novel.

In the watchtower, where the game began properly, the story evolved from looking for two littering drunk teenage girls, a pole wire being cut, calling in a forest fire that generated a lot of smoke in the valley, and discovering a weird surveillance of Henry and Delilah. The latter wound up into quite some tense dialog from especially Delilah, almost freaking out at times with paranoia.

Don’t worry, I won’t spoil the details here – but it was definitely never boring.

Apart from a tiny exception in the end, there were never any people to meet face to face. Henry had quite some body awareness with arms and legs shown while e.g. climbing. I did adopt a small turtle (it was cute), saw a raccoon (that Delilah accidentally spooked off on my radio) and got stung by a bee. I was even knocked out at one point, but I still didn’t see an animated face.

TitleLengthDatesDiff / ChtSaveScore
Firewatch
2016 Campo Santo4h 47m 2
2019-04-07
2019-04-08
9

Tiny & Big: Grandpa’s Leftovers

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Developer: Black Pants Studio | Released: 2012 | Genre: Platform, Third Person

This really was a paradoxical game for me – one I both loved and hated, all at the same time.

The game had absolutely charming art and sound. The graphics reminded me of a cute amalgamation of Borderlands and Psychonauts, and the music cassettes that could be picked up turned on the suitable band music. Tiny and Big had their grunts while the dialog was presented in black bubbles.

In short, Tiny was chasing Big who had stolen grandpa’s magical underpants.

The basic rules of the game were pretty simple. Climb and explore using three tools – a laser to cut up stones, a rope to pull towards me, and a sticky rocket mine to throw and detonate. To help with the pulling, I could also push like Lara Croft, only even bigger things. Cutting up stones was by far the most novel and ingenious thing about the game. A marker line could be twisted and then triggered for laser action.

Screenshot

Corners could be cut for walking where jumping was inadequate, or big poles could be cut and then pulled for creating makeshift bridges. Fully fledged physics were part of the 3D engine, making it important to be careful about how things tumbled down. This part of the game was so much fun, and the pulling and pushing added the perfect extra touch. It made it easy to tweak and adjust for jumping.

Throwing rocket mines was less useful. Sometimes it could help shifting a wall or a pole, but to be honest, I think I could have completed the game without that tool.

I don’t think I have played a more vertigo-inducing game than this, or if I have, it’s sure to be in the top five along with the worst from the likes of e.g. Tomb Raider. The many vertical levels with thin walkways or tipped pillars often made me lift my shoulders.

This is the kind of game I’m not sure I would ever go VR for.

Parallax

Developer: Toasty Games | Released: 2015 | Genre: FPS, Puzzle

Played about 30-40 minutes of this one, enough to complete up to and including chapter B-4.

The game was actually well made and with a an interesting puzzle mechanic. Although in the vein of first person puzzle games like Portal, there was no gun. Only running, clicking buttons and jumping. Interactive buttons could flip round portal mirrors (of which only one side could enter the negative realm) or bridges. In chapter B, speed boost pads were introduced. No doubt other cute gimmicks were awaiting in the later chapters, but after B-4, I decided to abandon the game.

As mentioned, it wasn’t the game – it was me.

The game was monochrome (black on white or vice versa depending on the realm) and had absolutely no story whatsoever. This was just level after level of short puzzle areas with hovering walkways. It made it feel a lot like a “VR training” feature in an extra menu option of a much larger game, and I’m usually yearning for more than that in the games I play. A story, an atmosphere – some kind of an experience.

Screenshot

I also had trouble creating a “mental image” of how a chain of flipped portal mirrors would open the way to the goal. I was afraid this might mean a lot of tedious trial and error awaiting in the later chapters.

TitleLengthDatesDiff / ChtSaveScore
Parallax
2015 Toasty Games

5h

1

2019-04-02
2019-04-02
8

Night Shift

Developer: Brandon Brizzi | Released: 2014 | Genre: Driving, Adventure

I just completed the driving adventure game Night Shift. That was weird. Seriously weird.

It took me over two hours to complete it, which seems to be twice as long as it should probably have taken me. But it took a while to get used to the general weirdness and what the game really wanted me to do. It wasn’t just driving along the road – in fact, this was not about racing at all.

It was about getting the sun back.

The goal was to get a flame from each of six puzzle challenges which was made extra weird in the way I had to leave roads to find the next one. In between these puzzles there was a gray sphere showing the flames I had collected so far, rotating around it. Imagine finding this sphere first time with just one flame around it, knowing nothing about what’s going on. That’s how the game is.

It wasn’t completely void of tips, though. Sometimes a white ghost was standing around and if I drove close to it, it offered a light tip as a text line in the bottom of the screen.

Screenshot

The challenges themselves typically revolved around lighting street lights with an extra strong beam of light from my first person car. I could also eliminate other ghost cars with this flashing. Glowing butterflies could be placeholder hints, and sometimes I had to align things in a way that never quite got entirely clear (this was the part where trial and error took over). There was even sort of a different realm that the game shifted to whenever I was out of battery power. This was also used in a couple of puzzles.

More power was obtained by driving close to white ghost trees.

Whenever I was on the “right track” the looping music samples built up to get the sensation of things rolling. Both the use of music and the car itself gave a solid 80’s vibe, and completing the game played an animated piece. This animation was very nice, but I had hoped I could have driven up the sun-rising road while watching the dawn grow stronger. I think that might have worked quite well.

The game was weird, the 3D engine with sprites was deliberately retro (it looked like it belonged in the mid 90’s) and the goals frequently confusing, but I could also see that the game had a certain charm.

TitleLengthDatesDiff / ChtSaveScore
Night Shift
2014 Brandon Brizzi

2.4h

1

2019-03-31
2019-03-31
6

MIND: Path to Thalamus

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Developer: Carlos Coronado | Released: 2014 | Genre: Adventure, First Person

This was a first person adventure game with more or less surrealistic vistas, and puzzles typically involving moving and dropping “nerve clusters” that looked a little like tumbleweeds. How to use these balls is actually a spoiler, so as always I will discuss the details of this in the spoiler section below.

It took me about 4½ hours to get through it and I liked a lot about it. Especially the way it looked. Just like Deadfall Adventures, the level environments and the graphics were definitely the high note of this game. A few levels were even so pretty it made me forget myself for a minute or two upon arrival. Puzzles were for the most part okay, but sometimes involved some traipsing – and there was no sprint button. It also had a smell like being a borderline mod for an FPS. It had a very basic title screen and there were glitches.

Screenshot

But even so, I still had a good time completing it. The idea of using the balls was cute and made for relaxed puzzles, apart from a few overdone exceptions that I will mention in the spoilers. If I went back in time knowing what I know now, I would definitely play it again.

Grow Up

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Developer: Ubisoft Reflections | Released: 2016 | Genre: Adventure, Platform

The sequel to Grow Home was much more of what made the first one so charming.

It was clear that although it was expanded in almost all directions, it was still built upon the same code base. Same climbing, same growing star plants, same graphical style, same rag doll animations. But where the first one took place on a small island and you grew one star plant into space, the sequel took place on a spherical planet with lots of floating islands around it, and four star plants could be grown.

However, growing star plants was not the objective this time around. M.O.M., the spaceship computer, had its parts spread all over the planet after a meteor storm, and I now had to find the crash sites. To help me a new assistant, P.O.D., could be used to view the planet from above, and it moved M.O.M. parts to a small moon using a magnet that I had to align like a seasoned oil worker.

P.O.D. looked like a satellite and sometimes also came with tutorial tips and observations.

Screenshot

Crystals could still be found for upgrading abilities, but these abilities were now initialized by finding “tubs” with expanding red parts. It made B.U.D. more of an Inspector Gadget this time around. The dandelion was now permanent and didn’t lose petals. Rocket jumping could be improved with crystals to actually lift me upwards, and the glider could be expanded with a jet boost.

I could also become a rolling ball but I didn’t use that one much.

You could argue that these improvements made the game too easy, but honestly it was essential now that so much more landmass had to be explored. Without the ability to glide and rocket boost around without the help of growing star plants, it would have gotten stale fast. So it was all good with me.