Category Archives: PC

Grim Fandango

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Version tested: PC Windows 

Other platforms: PSN

Classic adventure title Grim Fandango made a return to modern systems last month with Double Fine releasing a remastered edition.

Originally released in 1998, this critically acclaimed classic suffered from bad sales, the few who played it remembered it fondly, and as the most requested title on GOG.com, it was only a matter of time until this release came along.

The game followers the adventure of Manny Calavera, who is a sort of travel agent to lost souls travelling across the land of the dead to the ninth underworld. He meets a mysterious woman named Mercedes Colomar who is assigned to take a four year journey across the land of the dead, although Manny believes she deserves a place on the number nine express train due to her good life.

This encounter takes Manny on a four year journey across the colourful land, where he discovers a criminal underworld controlling the destiny of these lost souls.

The noir adventure stands today, with beautiful art and design and challenging puzzles. The remastered edition has a few graphical updates including updated textures and higher resolution models. Though the pacing of the game remains unchanged, some may struggle with the complex, obtuse puzzles.

The lack of support for widescreen resolution results in bars either side of the screen which may annoy some, however many who are playing for the nostalgia will not be disappointed.

Grim Fandango lacks any autosave feature, which by today’s standards is annoying, so regular stops to the pause screen are required.

Though many aspects of the game seem outdated to modern gamers, Grim Fandango is still the great adventure it always was.

Who cares if it’s a little obtuse, that’s what adventure games were all about back then!

If you are a fan of adventure games with a sense of humor in the vein of Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle and ToonStruck, then this one is for you!

It’s great to take a trip across the land of the dead with Manny and co. again.

8/10

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Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee

Version tested: PC Windows 

Other platforms: PlayStation, Game Boy, OnLive, PSN

1997 was a fantastic time in video game history.  We saw the release of the Nintendo 64, and 3D graphics were fast becoming the standard with releases such as Tomb Raider 2, Crash Bandicoot 2, Final Fantasy VII, and the first Gran Turismo.

One title stood out from the rest though, maintaining a classic 2D side scrolling look combined with beautiful backgrounds and character animation, with a unique take on gameplay which focused primarily on taking a slow pace and solving puzzles.  This classic was Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee.

Something New 'N' Tasty is coming & it's you!

You are the titular character Abe, a clumsy but well-meaning Mudokon slave working at RuptureFarms, which is said to be the largest meat processing factory on Oddworld.  While on the late cleaning shift Abe accidentally discovers details of a new meat product to come out of RuptureFarms – It’s him and his fellow Mudokons.  As Abe you must escape from this hell and rescue as many of his enslaved race as possible.

Abe’s Oddysee is not a fast-paced action game, and it can only loosely be described as a platformer as the main gaming element here is puzzle-solving.  The game pulls no punches from the start dropping you right in the middle of Abe’s escape.  There is no user interface and there is no heads-up display.  Navigation can be difficult through many of the stages leading to incredibly difficult gameplay.  The learning curve of this game could be likened to a brick wall, on a slight slant.

Often you will find yourself in sticky situations like this

The gameplay itself is still unique and good fun.  One necessity to finish the game is to utilise ‘gamespeak’, a mechanic which allows Abe to interact with other characters in the game.  Abe can lead Mudokons to safety, open up bird portals, and chant in order to possess armed enemies known as Sligs.

The game at times is an incredibly frustrating experience, often a lot of trial and error is required to pass certain screens, and often you find yourself learning the events of certain areas to pass it after 10 or 12 attempts.

Chanting enables you to open portals to save your friends

Most confrontations in the game require avoidance and cunning.  You will find yourself running away, hiding in shadows, pulling switches and making leaps of faith.  Some tasks require precision jumping and timing which at times can result in many rage quits.

Abe’s Oddysee does draw you back though, and it has so many redeeming features which will keep you coming back and drive you to finish the game.

There is a brilliant story being told here and instantly likeable characters that you want to guide to safety and share in their journey.  All the characters have a fantastic sense of humour too, enemy interaction is often hilarious and talking to other species in game is sweet and entertaining, such as meeting the ‘Elum’ which Abe teams up with later in the game.

The friendly 'Elum' adds a new level of gameplay

The sweet sense of humour in the game is also hidden in the backgrounds and makes use of loads of visual and audio gags.  A strange contrast to some of the in-game cut scenes which are extremely violent.

AS the game progresses Abe gains new skills which add another dimension to puzzle solving in the game which keeps it fresh and interesting.

Abe’s Oddysee is a cruel and punishing experience, similar to what our hero suffers at RuptureFarms, but there is a sense of achievement to be had when passing the increasingly difficult areas.

This is Abe and he is in trouble

Be warned though, this game has two endings and after all that hard work saving Abe, facing the bad ending is one of the most demotivating moments in gaming.

Abe’s Oddysee is an enjoyable and difficult gaming experience which is endearing and fun but at the same time a frustrating puzzler which will have you tearing your hair out.  This is a game which requires time and patience but will ultimately pay off.

I give Abe’s Oddysee a modest 70 for an excellent story and puzzle experience, but many people may not see it through to the end.

 

Benjamin Coren

 

Psychonauts

Version played: PC

The critically acclaimed writer and games designer Tim Schafer boasts an impressive resume of games including Full Throttle, Grim Fandango, and the Monkey Island series, but one special title stood out and still stands today as a fantastic example of unique and fun gameplay combined with engaging and funny storytelling.

Released on most platforms in Europe in 2006 Psychonauts gained a huge cult following and was praised by critics but suffered with poor sales.  It has since been re-released and made available at GOG.com and Steam to an embracing reception.

In Psychonauts you take on the role of Raz, a young psychic who has broken convention and run away from the circus to become a ‘Psycadet’ or a ‘Psychonaut-in-training’.

Raz and his 'friend'

Events take place in Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp, which is really a cover for a top-secret government training facility.  As Raz you use your psychic powers to enter the minds of others and help them overcome the fears of their past.

The camp in which the story unfurls is fully explorable by our hero and acts as a hub to the main ‘action’ levels encountered throughout the games.  As the story develops in the camp, events later move into its surrounding areas, including a huge lake which is home to a giant lungfish and the disused insane asylum at the other side of the lake.

In order to enter the games ‘levels’ our hero uses a small door which he throws onto the heads of others to enter their minds.  Each of these levels is a beautifully designed and quirky masterpiece which reflects that characters fears, memories and personality.  For example the opening level is in the mind of a camp trainer and greatly resembles a war zone, a later stage is set in the mind of an insane security guard and the stage is full of hidden cameras and shady characters which are representative of his paranoia.

The Lungfish, pure horror

Each stage has its own unique flare and gameplay style, where some stages play like a 3D platformer; others require strategy and planning or exploration and problem solving in order to progress.

Enemies include the residents of these twisted worlds and annoyances called censors who exist to remove Raz from the character’s mind.  Each level ends with a huge boss battle which always requires a level of puzzle solving and experimentation in order to defeat the final lug.

Boss fights require creativity to win

A fantastic part of this game is the character development, throughout the game Raz can increase his Psi Ranking, and with each level of development Raz gains a new power, these include pyrokinesis, levitation, & psiblast to name a few, as Raz’s  ranking goes up the player can also develop these abilities making them more powerful.

Psi ranking can be increased by finishing action stages, exploring the world or by seeking out collectables in action stages.  In the character’s minds Raz encounters figments of their imaginations which can be collected to help improve his ranking.  Discovering luggage tags and reuniting them with their matching ‘emotional baggage’ will also help Raz gain ranks.

Psychonauts which is often hailed as one of the greatest games ever made truly is a unique and fun gaming experience.  If you have yet to play it, I strongly recommend getting hold of it immediately from either GOG.com or on Steam.  You will love its demented character’s and twisted world as well as its wholly enjoyable gameplay.  The story is genuinely hilarious and is incredibly engaging.  I found myself laughing out loud at some of the dialog and puns and some of the visual gags throughout the game are fantastic.

Making cows float with Napoleon is not the strangest aspect of this game

Psychonauts is an addictive experience and I was playing nothing else whilst I was focused on it.  Today very little of it has dated, the graphics are as colourful and cartoony as ever, the gameplay is still fresh and original and I look forward to the next mystery release from these developers.

Psychonauts you have earned yourself a mental 95.

Benjamin Coren

The 7th Guest

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In 1993 there was a revolution in home computing and PC gaming.  CD-ROM was fast becoming a must-have piece of hardware for the PC and the killer app that drove people to upgrade was the horror adventure The 7th Guest.

The game was described as “the first interactive Drama” with beautiful high quality 3D graphics, the inclusion of live action video clips and its horrifying adult content. The game was a record breaker selling over 2 million copies. Bill Gates called The 7th Guest “the new standard in interactive entertainment.”

At only 6 years of age when this was released I was fully aware of the game but no opportunity came my way to play it, although I recall my dad returning from a tech convention of some description and mentioning he had played the game.  Jealousy overwhelmed me.

As an adult I was excited to get hold of this game recently and could not wait to explore the haunted mansion and find out who the 7th guest really is.

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Heads coming out of pots was terrifying in 1993

After the lightning speed installation I found myself in the chunkily rendered main menu (which is styled like a Ouija board).  At this stage I was petrified about clicking new game, what was in store for me?  Would I get possessed by playing this?  How scary will it be?  These thoughts all popped up in my head as the opening video began.

After sitting through the lengthy video which sets the scene we are introduced to the main antagonist, who is also my favourite character in this whole story purely for his back story.

The villain is a toy creator and entrepreneur named Stauf.   He murders a woman pretty much straight away, this unprovoked attack makes him sleepy so he has a dream about creepy children’s dolls, he makes the dolls and gives them to children, this business formula works out for Stauf and he becomes very successful.  With the amount of money he makes he builds a huge mansion outside of the town, judging from the size of the place he must have been the equivalent of Hasbro in 1935.  Anyway, at the height of his success some of the children with Stauf’s dolls become ill with an incurable virus, Stauf finishes his mansion and disappears.  Sometime later six people receive invitations to stay at the mansion and solve puzzles to receive their greatest desires.

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This is Stauf, the murderous toy maker

The game is played in the future from a first person perspective; you must solve all the puzzles and witness the events from the past to discover the secret of the house and the 7th guest.

The puzzles themselves are deviously difficult, they include dividing a cake up evenly, arranging random letters into sentences, to exploring an impossible maze.  Though difficult compared to puzzle games of today, the gameplay is very rewarding and the story is engaging and I found myself persevering to find out what happens next.  Almost every puzzle rewards you with a live action segment which is ALWAYS entertaining to watch.  After a lot of struggling with puzzles I did discover a book in the library which assists you in solving the puzzles although if it is overused there is a penalty on the final puzzle.

Exploring the mansion is great fun, and there is a genuinely creepy atmosphere which, despite the dated graphics still chills today.  Overall I found it an enjoyable experience and a brilliant gem from the days of CD-ROM gaming.  With the rise of gaming distribution sites such as GOG.com I won’t reveal any plot spoilers as the game is very easy to get hold of and run on high-end systems today.

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Playing chess against a ghost was harder than I imagined

For those wanting more, a sequel is also available entitled The 11th Hour which is set further into the future and has enhanced graphics and puzzles.

The 7th Guest is available at GOG.com for $9.99 (around £7) and is a recommended purchase, not just for the history lesson in early CD-ROM gaming but for a fun point & click adventure which still chills today. It can sometimes be difficult to see past the dated graphics though and the puzzles will test your patience with much trial and error, for these reasons I give The 7th Guest an honourable 70.

…for the record I did not get possessed playing this game.

Benjamin Coren