Saturday, February 28, 2009

Casebook Episode 1: Kidnapped

I honestly can't believe this. I never thought an FMV game would be made in this day an age. And it's pretty decent too. Casebook Episode 1: Kidnapped was published in November for digital download by New Zealand developer Areo. In it, you play yourself, as a forensic detective aiding your partner Detective James Burton. At the start of the game, you are responding to a report of a kidnapping. Little Greta and Harry Birchermann were kidnapped from their bedroom in the Birchermann house. Detective Burton gives you a rundown and a camera and sets you loose in the first crime scene, the kids' bedroom.

The camera must be magic, because it also collects trace samples just by taking pictures of them. When you have it full, you go back to the mobile crime lab van that you drove to the crime scene. Then you upload the evidence to a computer and play a series of forensic-themed mini-games. When you are really on to something( meaning you collect the right sample), Det. Burton will go interview a suspect or lead and the game plays a nice cutscene. When you get enough clues to significantly progress the investigation, a new crime scene is unlocked and new tasks are set before you.

For the most part, the video portions are of very high quality. The cutscenes of the interviews with Det. Burton are of the highest quality. The scenes where you are following the detective or he is talking to you are of lower quality and slightly blurry, though they enabled the mouse so that you can look around. That little detail does add something to the realism. The heavy compression is probably due to restrictions on download size at some distributor's websites.

The non-video parts of the game where you investigate the crime scenes also suffer from intermittent blurriness. It was hard to see the things I was supposed to see sometimes. However, there was no chance of getting stuck, because Areo has included an innovative hint system. Whenever you feel like you don't know what to do next you can press the “I” key on the keyboard and it will activate the “Intuition” feature that will point you camera in the right direction. I found I used this too much though due to lack of definition in the scenes.

The story was fun, though I felt it could have used a little more suspense. Maybe some cutscenes of the scared children would have added more to the sense of danger. Overall there could have been deeper intrigues. I felt like the outcome of the story was easily predicted save for one turn of plot. The music supported the noir-style scenes well and didn't distract me.

I would have liked it to be a little longer and deeper, but it's pretty cool that they expect to make more episodes and I'm really looking forward to the next one.

Conclusion: This is an interactive movie along the lines of Tender Loving Care or Tex Murphy if you subtract


puzzles and comedy. It does stand on it's own and was a fun experience. I want

to play the next episode as soon as it comes out.

Don't take my word for it there are more reviews to be found at Adventuregamers, Gameboomers, and Gamezebo.

This game can be obtained from the Casebook official website. I downloaded mine from Big Fish Games.

Next up: Emerald City Confidential

Thursday, February 26, 2009

(Murder In) The Abbey

It must be hard to be a man of reason set upon a breeding ground of superstition to conduct a murder investigation. That is the case with the protagonist of (Murder in) The Abbey, Brother Leonardo de Toledo. The setting is medieval Spain at a Franciscan monastery, Nuestra Senora de la Natividad. The gatekeeper, Anselmo, has been murdered and Leonardo and his novice, Bruno have arrived to gather evidence for the abbot. The abbot wants Leonardo to search for clues that it is the Devil or a demon. So armed with his trusty crucifix and his less-than-brilliant sidekick, Leonardo sets out to gather empirical evidence and thus the investigation begins.

This is another game I have been wanting to play since its publishing by The Adventure Company in August 2008. It’s the first game I have played by Spanish developer Alcachofa Soft. One of the reasons that piqued my interest was the animation style. For the subject matter, which is very drama-oriented, utilizing a comic almost Disney type style was an intriguing concept. I think doing this game the usual way with photorealistic style, would have been cliche and the game wouldn’t have stood out to me. It’s the same reason I was taken with the early Broken Sword games. Secondly. I loved the movie The Name of the Rose, which is an adaptation of the book of the same name by Umberto Eco. This game draws heavily from this influence and to give props to Eco they name an important character after him. So lets get to the good and bad:

The Good:

For me, the music was one of the best features in the game. Every area had it’s own orchestral score and there were a lot of choral tracks. The songs fit the scene nicely, in periods of exploration the melodies were minimal and relaxing and in parts of action the music would crescendo and support the feeling of excitement. It was just right. The graphics were beautiful. A mix of 3D characters with 2D rendered backgrounds. The effect was of a cell-shaded cartoon. It was pulled off in a very polished way. Sometimes the lighting was gorgeous.

I also enjoyed that the light would change with the times of day ( a lot of 2D games don’t bother with transitions like sunrise and sunset). And inside all the areas the light would also change it’s quality according to the time of day. Most of the puzzles were inventory-based, and for the most part they were logical. There were a couple of harder more mechanical puzzles. The voice-acting, for the most part, was very high quality and added greatly to the polished feeling of the game.

The Not-so-Good

For the first quarter of the game, it felt polished and wonderful...if a bit slow. I don’t mind a slow game as I like to relax and immerse myself into the game world. Then I started to notice the problems.

First off, there is a misleading inconsistency with the exit points of the scenes. The environments are 2D, so you get a screen with multiple exit points. I got stuck at a point, thinking I explored the whole of the game world, when I discovered that on a couple of screens you have to physically walk to the edge of the screen to move about. This would not be so confusing if I hadn’t done it another way in other scenes of the game. I was very confused by this for a while.

Then, there is a situation with details being too easy to overlook. I don’t mind pixel hunting, though it never adds fluidity to a game experience. The problem with The Abbey, is that in some scenes inactive items from previous scenes, become active. I just don’t think to look at things I already looked at. I prefer to see the active items, and not know their use yet to overlooking them because I they didn’t light up last time. This also had me wasting a slow game. Add it all up and that’s not good.

My greatest pet peeve of all was the journal. I like that they included a journal, because often there were hints in it if got hopelessly stuck, and it also served as a useful reminder of what I was doing in my last sitting. It was in the later parts of the game that I noticed that the journal does not hold your place. So you have to do a lot of clicking to get to the relevant parts, especially in the later parts of the game. Usually I was frustrated when I would consult the journal anyway and this just made it even more irritating.

Remember that polish I was taking about? With the dialog and the art? Well it isn’t quite as good as all that because it’s undermined by bugs. Sometimes the wrong bit of dialog plays, sometimes a bit from an entirely different character will play instead and it totally pulls the player out of the game. There are some other minor bugs that just take the shine off.

Okay, I know all that just sounded really bad, but I am in a critical mood. The game is not all that bad in comparison with other games in this niche of adventures. I wish they would release a patch for it, it’s so close to being good, but at this time, I would say it’s acceptable. If your really into investigative story games and history I would say check it out. If you are a first-person puzzle lover, this is not the one to break your streak with.

There are some other opinions on Adventuregamers, Just Adventure, and Gameboomers.

Next Up: Casebook Episode 1

Monday, February 23, 2009

Ceville Demo

I just recently learned about the game Ceville. It's being published by Kalypso Media and developed by Boxed Dreams. It looks to be a comic-style, point-and-click adventure in the vein of Monkey Island and Sam and Max. According to the official website The game takes place in the realm of Faeryanis which is under the rule of the oppressive tyrant, Ceville. Players get to play Ceville and be mean and nasty. I got the demo off of Steam, but you can also dowload it off of the above link to the publisher's website. I'll probably get this when it comes out on Feb 27th.

There's also a trailer on youtube.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Overclocked: A History of Violence

I've been really slow. A lot of things in my life have interfered with me posting to this blog I was so eager to start. But I'm here now, so here goes.

I got a chance to sit down with House of Tales' Overclocked: A History of Violence this weekend. This game was released by publisher Lighthouse Interactive back in April 2008, and I was really excited to play it. It is a third-person investigative game where you play a psychiatrist with a dark past, Dr. David McNamara. In recent days, there have been a handful of young people caught wandering the streets of NYC with guns and a rockin' case of amnesia. They have been admitted into this creepy old relic of the turn-of-the-century mental health system. Supposedly the hostpital is supposed to be shut down and these are it's last patients. As Dr. McNamara unmedicates the patients and begins investigating their memories he uncovers the interconnected story of how they ended up wandering the streets of Manhattan with guns.

It's not just a simple and straight forward investigation story though. Dr. McNamara has to contend with obstacles in his personal life and from the establishment at the state mental hospital. It makes for a very compelling story. In fact, that's the stregnth of the game. The story is very good. Even if it is predictable at times, the tension is maintained such that it really does drive the player to continue. The graphics are also not too shabby for such a game. I particularly enjoyed the water effects down by the pier.

The puzzles...not so much. There are a lot of illogical puzzles. Some were really ridiculous, and it detracted from the serious tone. A lot of this game is just not realistic, and I think realism is what they were going for. For instance, the hotel porter never leaves. There is never a change in who is manning the desk. The rain never stops. I know this is for dramatic effect, but it's rather heavy handed. The game is set in NYC, but it doesn't really feel like it. All the people are standing around in the rain without umbrellas, and there's just too few people. There could have been some more shots of NY landmarks to really get the feeling across. The voice acting is sometimes very good. The flow of the conversations feels unnatural though. Sometimes the awkwardness adds to the pervasive tension in a good way, and other times it's distracting because it is so stilted.

All of this is mostly balanced out by the story though. Which is why I play these games anyway. The puzzles weren't all that hard and they didn't detract from the obvious narrative focus. Overall, I'm glad I played it. I may play it again sometime in the future. I'm interested to try some more games published by Lighthouse, and I am looking forward to more titles from House of Tales.

Conclusion: There were some real missed opportunities, but it is still worth playing.