Just a gamer looking for some games off the more well beaten path. Thomas Was Alone is one of my favourite games of the year which I bought on Desura before it reached the heady heights of Steam, so I figure Desura might be a good place to start exploring. I'm mostly a Web guy, however, I've been toying with the idea of picking up Unity for a while. Maybe some of the games/people on here will finally give me the inspirational kick in the pants to get me going.
Dead Pixels is actually a game I picked up in one of the indie style bundles. I forget which bundle it was (Indie Royale at a guess) but it was actually the reason I ever signed up for Desura. Using that as an estimate, it's taken me 7 months to get around trying this game which embarrassingly isn't too bad for me. The current price is around 2 pounds, so even outside of bundles its a very reasonable price.
I'll do my best to give you a quick overview before I get to the actual review part. The game plays like a 2d side-scrolling shooter, with some additional survival RPG elements. You have 20 (30 on higher difficulties) procedurally generated streets/screens full of zombies until you reach salvation and you win. Ammo is limited, so at least in the early game where you're strapped for resources, it's a good idea to avoid as many zombies as you can safely ignore. Whilst they drop coins on death, retro arcade style, those coins will disappear after a few seconds and they can be hard to reach as surviving zombies will almost certainly be getting in your way. These coins are used at traders for ammo, weapons and upgrades. Alternatively you can raid houses along the way to find these items for free, which you can keep for your own use or sell to a trader for additional coins. The upgrade system has a handful of trait such as luck, bargaining skill and weapon skill, all of which can be leveled up to 5 using cash.
One more thing I'll get out the way right now, I played this using an xbox 360 controller. I tested it with the keyboard and mouse controls, and I can report that they seem fine, but the gamepad is much more comfortable for me and the controller vibration makes the weapon fire a lot more satisfying.
The meat and potatoes
Hopefully you'll have a decent understanding of the basics now, I so I can get a bit more in-depth. The first playthrough was super fun for me. At the start you have a pretty 'meh' character and you'll have almost nothing to your name. By the time you've done the first half of the game, you'll have found some better weapons and you'll probably be pretty wealthy if you're hitting every raidable house along the way. This point of the game is probably the hardest though, as there's often too many enemies to dodge effectively, and most of these enemies will be stronger than earlier on. You'll be looking to carve out a safe path or trying and maneuver them into one large group you can sneak past. The enemy AI is pretty basic so with a bit of practice you can herd them very effectively. It's not uncommon for a zombie to infinitely run into a bench as it tries to reach you. Towards the last streets you should be blitzing everything in your path. After the earlier struggles, tickling your enemies with a low quality shotgun, this is super satisfying and easily the highlight of the game. You can still get yourself cornered and killed but for the most part you'll be the badass and the zombies will be the cannon fodder. At this point I was at around a 9 on the happy scale and was prepared to write the nicest review ever written.
Unfortunately, on later play throughs, it's hard to recreate that first high. You already know what it's like to be the hero at the end of the game, and it feel a bit slow having to go back to only the most basic of weapons. The repetitive nature of the game is probably starting to become noticeable too, as you're fighting the same enemies, the same way and although the levels are freshened up a bit, it's a very similar experience. Despite this, I continued to have fun and I've probably played for around 7-8 hours at this point. I'm actually still having a good time with it, but I can't seem to quite capture the buzz from my first play through. This is of course true of many games, but the first play through was probably close to 90 minutes, maybe 2 hours, with the last half an hour or so being the height of the experience. I'd have liked to have had slightly longer "in the zone", although it's also possible the novelty would have simply worn off.
The trading mechanics are pretty simple. Different shops seem to offer different prices, but it's not feasible to go backtracking to another shop, not to mention they all have limited stock. Resource management is pretty much a non issue on normal so it's not noticeable, but if you play through on harder difficulties it might be worth paying a bit more attention. Your strength trait controls the amount you can carry before being encumbered, so even on normal you will have to chose which items to hold onto and which ones to toss to the side. This is much more of an issue on hard or above where I found fewer traders and was unable to offload my bounty quite as much.
There also seems to be quite a few trash finds, ironically classed as "valuables". A few shops might pay extra for a specific wanted item but really the different objects mean nothing. It would have been more interesting if I could, for example, eat a can of "mystery meat" and get between 1-3 hp back, or use lengths of rope as a limited use lasso to instantly stop a zombie in it's tracks, but in reality there's nothing to do with them except dump them at the shop for some coins. They certainly serve a purpose as cash flow, but unless I'm missing something big, they could have been used a bit more inventively.
To add a little more variety back into the game, there are actually another 2 game modes. One of these makes you reach the end of 15 streets, and then go back again to win. Any houses you raid or shop items you bought on the way are persistent, so it's an interesting compromise between what you want right now and what you'll want to leave yourself for later on. The other mode is a fairly typical wave based survival mode. I'm sure we're all familiar with the mechanics in survival, and you can try to chase high scores if you want. These high scores seem to be local only though, so you'll have to compete with yourself. With both of these modes, the gameplay will still be very similar to the original Dead Pixels mode. It's more of a custom ruleset than a new experience. One thing that would probably add a new level of fun back into the game for me is the coop mode, however this too is local only and I haven't tested it out.
I didn't feel strongly about any of these things on their own, but the graphics, soundtrack and sounds are all perfectly competent. If you like retro style games then they will be a definite positive for you, but personally I've never been one for bit game nostalgia. They certainly make the game a cohesive experience and whilst not consciously registering as anything special to me, I'm sure they subconsciously played their part in making this a great experience.
My final rating of this game is an 8.5. It was almost a 9 but I couldn't help but feel it could have gone a tiny bit farther with the items, and even with the game modes it's mostly just "more of the same". Fortunately, that more of the same can still be a lot of fun if you're willing to take the time to work your way back up to the better weapons. I'm not a fan of retro games, and I'm feeling very burnt out on zombies, so for it to have still won me over is a testament to the game. The final product certainly seems greater than the sum of it's parts, and while I can't put my finger on exactly why, it was thoroughly enjoyable. The value for money here is also quite high for those of us on a budget, and had I paid 2 pounds for it rather than acquiring it in a bundle, I would still have been pleased with the pricing.
I'm borrowing this from Pabo's Blog, which I recommend by the way.I believe he actually borrowed it from IGN, but the important thing here is that It's fairly close to how I use the rating scale and that's probably important to interpret the reviews I give.
10 - Masterpiece - Life time favourite
9 - Amazing - Extremely enjoyable
8 - Great - Definitely above average, recommended.
7 - Good - I had some fun with this.
6 - Okay - Literally as it sounds, this game was okay, I don't regret playing it.
5 - Mediocre - "Meh", I didn't dislike it but I didn't like it either.
4 - Bad - I didn't have fun with this one, either due to bugs or simply the game itself.
3 - Awful - I actively dislike this.
2 - Painful - Either recklessly stupid or borderline broken, in desperate need of improvement.
1 - Unbearable - Doesn't work properly, should not have been released in this state.
0 - Disaster - Flat out broken, horrible game idea, all around terrible experience.
In my blog I will probably be making use of .5's too, because really all the games I will be reviewing here will be between 7-10 which makes my scale much smaller. This isn't because I'm an "easy reviewer"; I'm quite critical compared to many reviewers on here and have brought down the score on some of my favorite games simply because I'm not prepared to rate anything I like a masterpiece by default. The real reason you won't find any negative reviews here is that I don't feel comfortable dedicating a blog to how much I don't enjoy someones hard work. I try to leave constructive reviews on those games (on the games profile, not on my blog) to inform potential players, and maybe give the developer some help to improve their work, but to write an indirectly related blog about an experience I didn't enjoy doesn't seem to benefit anyone. It would mean I'm spending time on games I don't enjoy, I'm being unnecessarily mean about someones hard work (even if what I'm saying is true) and it wont be useful to anyone who happens across the blog. I want to tell you about games you might want to play and can enjoy, informing you about a random game you shouldn't play seems aimless for everyone.
So that's pretty much where I stand with reviews on my blog. This also means I don't feel obliged to review every single game I play, and will have more time to focus on the ones I feel deserve some extra attention.
1916 is a German based game and as such, any in-game writing is in German so I can't comment on what I presume to be some kind of story that can be found within the game. Another disclaimer here is that after playing for about 30-45 minutes I felt I'd gotten the gist of things and "cheated" by watching a complete let's play on youtube to see the last third of the game or so.
The basic setting here is that you're inside a German Trench during WW1 and you have to find the ladder to escape. Escape from what you ask? Well the enemy comes in the form of what appears to be robotic dinosaurs. I know this sounds silly, but don't give up on this game just yet. Some people are saying the dinosaurs are metaphors for the attrocities of war and such, and I think they're probably right but I found that to be a bit of a stretch all the same. The important thing here is that they play the role of the "big bad" and you'll want to be avoiding them as you head for the ladder. Without going into too much detail you'll want to sneak past or distract them because they can (and in my case did multiple times) kill you with a couple bites.
By far and away, the theoretical selling point of this game has to be it's atmosphere. The monochromatic visuals are seen through a layer of film grain, and whilst I was expecting it to be cheesy and overdone, it's actually very effective. Combined with the ambient sound effects it genuinely creates a sense of tension and dread. I'd advise trying out this game just to experience the atmosphere firsthand. You can get a good feel of it without having to get too far along in the "story". You could always just check out a video but it won't do it justice.
The actual game is quite hard but also quite short. If for some odd reason you wanted to speedrun it, you could probably do it in 10 minutes without too much issue. My guess at a blind playthrough (probably take more than 1 attempt) would be more around the 30-60 minute mark. Gameplay is pretty basic and feels secondary to the atmosphere, and this is pretty much where my main point comes into it.
You may have been wondering why the blog title was actually a question, well here's the reason. As a Survival Horror game this felt flat and I didn't particularly enjoy playing it, but as a Survival Horror experience i found it to be worth my time That might sound a little hypocritical but hear me out. The atmosphere of the game was enough to grab my interest on it's own. I don't want to get into the whole "video games as art" argument but, well, you can see where I'm heading here. As far as I can tell this game is geared around showing the futility of war. The gun in this game is pretty pointless (I learnt this the hard way) and the only way to really survive is to run, hide and get lucky. The tension and the fear may be based around being chased by the dinosaurs but in reality you're just running from death, or maybe even from war itself. as an aside I feel like dinosaurs weren't the best choice but I can't think of anything better either. I'm not particularly comfortable talking about art in any form, but in this case it's fairly obvious what it's going for, and in my experience it got the point across well. The actual gameplay feels like it exists, only to give the atmosphere an interactive context. It's a tool for you to navigate the experience, rather than being the entire focus, and I'm okay with that.
In summary I'd recommend this to anyone looking for an interesting experience (here I go again), however, if you're looking for a survival horror game you may be better off looking elsewhere. With a pricetag of 0 you don't really have too much to lose so if you're even a bit interested you may as well give it a go. All I ask is that if you dislike it as a game, please think twice before giving it a terrible rating. Whatever 1916 is, it's well done and deserves recognition in its own way.
Rating: Given the nature of the "game" it's difficult to rate but I gave it an 8. The experience is good but it can be frustrating to replay as there's no checkpoints, not too much direction and surviving can be quite hard. Then again, considering what this is, maybe that's part of the point.
So more and more I'm getting a terrible attention span for gaming, and I'm thinking it might be because I've been focusing on the things I know about and know I will like. In theory that's great because I'm never disappointed with my purchase, but at the same time it's meant I've mostly played the same sort of games over and over. In order to test whether or not I'm burnt out on games in general or just a particular subset of them, I've come over to Desura where I think I'm more likely to find niche games and shorter more focused games.
I guess this blog is just to officially document the beginning. I might try and keep this blog updated as I get through some of the games, partly just because since finishing University I rarely have to write "properly" and it's an important skill to me that I'd rather not lose. I've actually already played a handful of games on the site but like I said, this blog is just officially marking a starting point really. If I do blog then it's likely they will be different (not contradictory) to the game reviews I'm leaving, since I think helping someone decide whether or not they should buy a game can be quite different to simply writing about your personal experiences. I wouldn't want someone to buy a broken game just because I found a way to have fun with it, neither would I want to give an incredible Mod like Black Mesa a bad review simply because I'm not very interested in the Half Life games.