Sunday, July 20, 2014

Gone Home Review

Game: Gone Home
Year (s): 2013
Company: dev. The Fullbright Company
pub. The Fullbright Company
Engine: Unity
Type: Exploration, Story-telling
Viewpoint: First-Person
Metacritic Score: 86
My Score: A short, simple, nostalgic, feel-good game.

Price (as of July 16, 2014)

Regular list price on Steam: $19.99
Lowest Buy-It-Now on eBay (excluding Steam activation keys): $35

My Game Time: about 2 hours

Obligatory Trailer:

Plot and Gameplay

You play the part of a college-aged girl that catches a late flight home. It's storming, it's the wee hours, and you arrive to an empty house. Where is everyone?

The gameplay consists of turning on the lights and ransacking the place. In the process you read notes and activate narration.

Playing Street Fighter at 7-11, Don't Ask Don't Tell, VHS tapes, and bands from the 90's are brought up, which is cool if you're also my age.

Save System

Manual Save? Yes
Quick Save? No
Area Load Save? No
Checkpoint Save? I don't think so.

Final Thoughts

This is a nice little game. It's loosely similar to Dear Esther, except the ending is certain and the whole thing is more accessible. If you're looking for a neat short story-telling game without any combat, check this one out.  

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Dream Halls Deck

Years ago, when Dream Halls was banned and 40 card decks were legal, I had blue and red deck.  After I got Dream Halls out, I'd discard cards with madness to cast Searing Wind and Time Stretch.  It was an ok deck, though it had no defenses.  The most fun was when I cast two or three Time Stretches in a row.

Recently, I remade the blue and red deck up to sixty cards.  I used Enter the Infinite instead of Time Stretch.  If I got Enter the Infinite in my hand, I won, but it wasn't fun.  If I didn't cast Enter the Infinite, the deck did very little.

After taking another look at things that cost eight mana or more, I've decided to go with black and blue.  This allowed for me to use Army of the Damned, which I will probably never use in anything else.  I have some beefy creatures and sexy card drawing, and black of course has the generic tutors.  An unintended result of picking cards I liked was that I will utilize cards that are only great if you cast them from your hand (the Myojin, Hypnox, Dread Cacodemon).

I don't quite have all the cards, but I will soon.  I think this will be a fun deck.  If it's too abusive, I'll take out the Cacodemons for more Hypnoxes, or something.  Lots of room to work with.

Here's the proposed decklist:

Dream Halls
60-Card Format
Black, Blue

4 Dream Halls

4 Rhystic Study
4 Baleful Strix
4 Shadowmage Infiltrator
2 tutors

4 Dread Cacodemon
3 Army of the Damned
2 Rise of the Dark Realms
1 Hypnox
1 Myojin of Night's Reach
1 Myojin of Seeing Winds

2 Jhessian Zombies
4 Blood Pet
4 Basal Thrull

Monday, June 2, 2014

Risen Review

Game: Risen
Year (s): 2009
Company: dev. Piranha-Bytes
pub. Deep Silver
Engine: Unnamed proprietary engine using Emotion FX, SpeedTree foilage, and PhysX
Type: Hack and Slash RPG, open world
Viewpoint: Third-Person
Metacritic Score: 77
My Score: This one's a dud.

Price (as of June 2, 2014)

Regular list price on Steam: $9.99
Lowest Buy-It-Now on eBay (new, with shipping): $14.42

Obligatory Trailer:

Set in a pirate-era magical world, the gods have been cast out... but something else has RISEN! A terrible storm shipwrecks you on an island where ancient temples full of monsters have erupted from the ground. A bandit group and an order of mage warriors vie for control and access to the magic artifacts found in the temples.


The engine is graphically comparable to what you might have seen in Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion, although with less glitches. Some of the key bindings are stupid (“L” for quests, for example) and there is no quicksave. It's not ideal.

Save System

Manual Save? Yes
Quick Save? No
Area Load Save? Sometimes, as an Auto Save
Checkpoint Save? Sometimes, as an Auto Save

Why I Got Risen
One reason why I was interested in Risen is because it had a sequel. If I enjoyed one, I could play another.

My other reasons for trying the game were a misunderstanding of the creators. I saw the trailer, which mentioned Deep Silver. I thought, “Cool, they did Dead Island.” They PUBLISHED Dead Island. TechLand was the developer.
Also listed was Piranha-Bytes, which I vaguely recalled as on of the many developers ultimately credited in Duke Nukem Forever. Piranha Games, a small Canadian developer, worked on DNF. Piranha-Bytes is an small, unrelated German developer.
While I thought I knew what I was getting into, I was wrong.

Combat and Gameplay
I mastered attacking and blocking. Unfortunately, Risen has a complicated system that also uses counterattacks, lateral attacks, charged attacks, and I think dodging too. Failing to figure out this clumsy mess of combat resulted in resorting to cheats very quickly.

But, a lot of the time, quests don't involve combat. You have to talk to people. A lot of people. It becomes tedious.

Early on, I couldn't find a secret entrance to progress the (possibly) main story. So, I ventured out, quickly finding an end-level dungeon near the beginning of the game. The monsters could kill me in one hit, so I had them chase me back to an encampment right outside. Many friendly units were killed, but I was able to loot the dead monster afterward.

I explored nearly all of the island, looting from enemies and harvesting plants. Lots of plants restored mana, but I had no magic powers. I sold these plants.

Fast forward twelve hours. I finally find the secret entrance I had looked for in the beginning. I'm sent on a quest to find two guys that were killed by that monster I lured away earlier. I was also to find a bunch of plants, which I had already found but sold for money.

That's when I'd had enough.

Expansions / DLC / Sequels

Risen was followed by Risen 2, which had DLC.

Final Thoughts

I might have been able to progress further in Risen, but after 16 hours I was convinced it wasn't a good RPG. If it had come out in 2004, sure. But 2009? That's two years after Fallout 3. The combat and key bindings were awful, the gab fest was excessive, and some of their choices (like putting that end-game dungeon right near the start) made no sense.

I'd recommend avoiding this one. Oblivion or Skyrim, while buggy, are more fun with pretty similar gameplay. Mass Effect, Darksiders, or even Dust: An Elysian Tale would be more worth your time and money.  

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Anna Review

Game: Anna: Extended Edition
Year (s): 2012
Company: dev. Dreampainters
pub. Kalypso Media
Engine: Unity Engine
Type: Horror, Puzzle adventure
Viewpoint: First-Person
Metacritic Score: 55
My Score: 65

Price (as of May 9, 2014)

Regular list price on Steam: $9.99
Lowest Buy-It-Now on eBay (new, with shipping): not available

My Game Time: 7 hours with walkthrough

Obligatory Trailer:


Anna begins with notebook entries by the protagonist. He found a box of photos that give him a bad feeling. They depict himself at a creepy-ass sawmill. He has no memory of this, and, being off work due to migraines, sets off to investigate the sawmill and find out what he has forgotten.

The story is really the motivation to keep playing, and it ends up not answering much. There are multiple endings. Though I played along with an online walkthrough, I got one of the, “bad,” endings. I've looked up the others, and there seems to be uncertainty, and an unhappy conclusion, no matter what ending you get.


I hadn't heard of the Unity engine. It turns out it's been used in several dozen games from a variety of genres. I've heard of some of the other games using the engine (most of it indie) but haven't played said games.

Graphically, it's one of those that could have come out five years ago. Or ten, just about. It works and looks realistic but, like most games, isn't on the hardware-intense cutting edge.

I didn't run into any bugs with this. It was somewhat obnoxious to register online and login to play the game, and go through no less than three launchers each time before playing.

Save System

Manual Save? Yes
Quick Save? No
Area Load Save? No
Checkpoint Save? No


Maniac Mansion. Myst. Shadowgate. *insert newer games*. Do you like picking things up to add to your inventory? Do you like using every item you have on every other item, and on every named object in a room? That's the kind of game Anna is.

There are clues, in the form of books, that can help. There's also an in-game hint option. Anna came up when I searched for games like Dear Esther, and (to no surprise) was something quite different.

About the only strong similarity is that you can't die. At least, not during the course of events, as near as I can tell.

Expansions / DLC / Sequels

White Heavens, set in a haunted hotel, is set in the same universe and also developed by Dreampainters.

Final Thoughts

Anna is creepy. That was my favorite aspect of the game.

If you're looking for a pretty cheap, pretty short game, this fits the bill. I'm not crazy about the game type, I didn't love the endings, and it wasn't really what I was looking for. Personally, I'm not wild about this one.

Nonetheless, Anna leads a player on a dark quasi-immersive tale that is a good show for the first game by a developer.  

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Blake Stone Review

Game: Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold
Year (s): 1993
Company: dev. JAM Productions
pub. Apogee Software
Engine: Wolfenstein Engine
Type: Shooter, Maze Runner
Viewpoint: First-Person
Metacritic Score: This predates Metacritic.
My Score: An alternative game for fans of Wolfenstein 3D

Price (as of April 20, 2014)

Regular list price on Steam: $9.99 for the Apogee Throwback Bundle
Lowest Buy-It-Now on eBay (new, with shipping): Come on now. You don't have a floppy drive.

The evil geneticist Pyrus Goldfire, with his numerous installations, has amassed a mutant army and intends to conquer the galaxy. Only you, British special agent Blake Stone, can stop him. Pursue him through each installation, but be careful! On the 9th floor, there is a boss.

JAM and Apogee
If you haven't heard of JAM, don't feel bad. They made Blake Stone, and the Blake Stone expansion game, and that was it. They are no longer around, though one of their three programmers went on to work with other game companies including TKO, Ion Storm, and id Software.

Apogee published Wolfenstein 3D, and was both a developer and a publisher of games. In the mid-nineties, Apogee decided to create separate brands for the different types of games it created. 3D Realms was used for all 3D games, such as Duke Nukem 3D. Another brand was created for pinball games, of which they made only one. Two-dimensional side-scrollers dropped in popularity during the nineties, so while Apogee was legally still Apogee, fans of their games knew them as 3D Realms.

Apogee/3D Realms was influential in the nineties, but then spent over a decade failing to deliver a sequel for Duke Nukem 3D. The company eventually went bankrupt.

Save System

Manual Save? Yes
Quick Save? No
Area Load Save? No
Checkpoint Save? No

Engine and Gameplay
Blake Stone runs on the Wolfenstein engine, and gameplay is nearly identical. You run around, shoot guys, collects keycards, shove the wall to find secrets, and move to the next level. There's a point system and high scores. Levels can be tediously maze-like.

There are a few small improvements. If you were in a room and didn't notice a key, it'll show up on your map. The initial weapon is silent, leading to a possible stealth approach that, while not a focus of the game, was ahead of its time. Friendly NPCs were also ahead of the game, as many scientists were, “informants,” and would not attack you. Allowing them to live only affected the score.

Expansions / DLC / Sequels
Blake Stone: Planetary Strike had another 20 levels, as well as a few secret levels. This added some re-skinned enemies (some were invisible-ish), a new weapon, and a slightly different aim to end a level. I got about halfway through this, but after the 54 standard levels of the original game, plus two or three secret levels I'd found, I had lost my interest in the maze-run, “where's the stupid key?” gameplay.

Final Thoughts
Blake Stone was meant to compete with Wolfenstein 3D, an immensely popular game at the time. In that regard, it succeeded. It used the same engine in a different setting, changing a few minor things, and offered a ton of levels for gamers growing bored.
Unfortunately, Doom was released one week after the debut of Blake Stone. It had stairs, elevators, light sources... Blake could not compete. I played the shareware of Blake Stone, so I got a tickle of nostalgia from it. I've never heard anyone else mention the game, shareware or otherwise.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Confusion in the Ranks Deck

Confusion in the Ranks: 5 mana red enchantment that reads, "Whenever an artifact, creature, or enchantment enters the battlefield, its controller chooses target permanent another player controls that shares a card type with it. Exchange control of those permanents."  

Six or eight years ago, I learned of this card and got four of them, and slapped together the rest of a 40 card deck from whatever I had.  40 card decks were legal at the time, or, if they weren't, we didn't know.  

I've remade this to be a legal 60-card deck.  This meant that I needed to either have tutors or lots of card drawing (in order to ensure Confusion in the Ranks gets out), and I chose to go with black for tutors (white has enchantment tutors, but offered nothing otherwise interesting). 

This hasn't been played yet, so it might get mixed up.  Measure of Wickedness seems perfect, but I feared it would lead to instant, vicious retaliation.  Cards with huge drawbacks, like Cosmic Horror, are tempting but have a high mana cost that did not justify replacing existing cards.  

So, here's the remake:

4 Confusion in the Ranks
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Vampiric Tutor
2 Diabolic Tutor

4 Glitterfang
3 Viashino Sandscout
1 Norin the Wary
4 Sleeper Agent

4 Dark Ritual
4 Wild Cantor

3 Lurking Jackals
3 Nyxborn Rollicker

3 Steel Golem
3 Bronze Bombshell

1 Kher Keep
Multicolor Lands 

Monday, March 31, 2014

Return to Castle Wolfenstein Review

Game: Return to Castle Wolfenstein
Year (s): 2001
Company: dev. Gray Matter Studios
pub. id Software
Engine: id Tech 3
Type: Shooter
Viewpoint: First-Person
Metacritic Score: 88
My Score: A solid modernization of graphics and gameplay that would, in turn, become dated.

Price (as of March 30, 2014)

Regular list price on Steam: $9.99
Lowest Buy-It-Now on eBay (new, with shipping): $30

Obligatory Trailer:


You're B.J. Blazkowicz, the same silent protagonist from the original game. You start by escaping Castle Wolfenstein. After that, you're sent on a bunch of missions to abort Nazi rockets launches, steal prototype technology and weapons, perform covert operations, and so on. Ultimately, you end up heading back to Castle Wolfenstein to stop the resurrection of an unstoppable evil knight from the dark ages.

Save System

Manual Save? Yes
Quick Save? Yes
Area Load Save? Yes
Checkpoint Save? I think so, but am not sure.

Combat and Gameplay
This game has all the key features of the time: ladders, crawling in ducts, pre-rendered death animations (3D, no sprites), water, use of WADS-based controls, some destructible scenery, walk-over healing kits, cutscenes, and somewhat blocky-looking people,
The combat is generally straight-forward with little to mention. However, some levels must be completed without signaling any alarms, so there is a minor stealth element.

Expansions / DLC / Sequels
Four Wolfenstein titles have followed Return. Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory (it sounds like Quake 3 but with Return to Castle Wolfenstein weapons) and Wolfenstein RPG (a short game for mobile devices) both came out under the radar.
Wolfenstein (2009) is a sequel to Return to Castle Wolfenstein and was developed by Raven Software. It has a metascore of 74.
Woflenstein: The New Order is due out in May of this year. This one takes place in the 1960's, in an alternate timeline in which the Nazi won. This will be the first Wolfenstein game that does not incolve id Software, though it will utilize id Tech 5 for the engine.

Final Thoughts
If I'd gotten this in 2001, I'd have played the hell out of it. As it was, I played through a few levels, having fun until I came to a level with acrobatic enemies. The first small room had several bad guys. I only had thirty health, and I was out of ammo except for the sniper rifle. That being said, I turned on godmode and merrily progressed through the rest of the game.
Play it for nostalgia if you can, or just play it for kicks. Return to Castle Wolfenstein is a pretty good game for its era, and still runs fine on modern hardware and software.