March 28, 2012
Lauded by many as a purveyor of the intellectual evolution of video games, thatgamecompany has received high praises in recent years for developing minimalistic video games that leave an emotional impact. Released just a few weeks ago for the PlayStation 3 via the PlayStation Network, Journey continues this trend.
Journey, is about just that, a journey. The journeyer in question travels through harsh environments on an unspecified quest. Lacking dialogue and an overt narrative, Journey is open to interpretation, which is what the bulk of this review will encompass – my interpretation of Journey. Before that, I’d like to briefly discuss the game.
Controlling the journeyer I navigated deserts, ruins, and mountains, all the while figuring out how to get around the occasional impediment, usually by jumping. When connected to the internet, people would randomly join my game and we’d attempt working together. Groups never exceeded two players, although I met three or four throughout the length of the game. These few players were never a hindrance but cooperation was tough due to the inability to directly communicate with each other, more on that in my interpretation. Speaking of which, let’s dive into it.
Set in the far-flung future, the journeyer I controlled was on a mission of enlightenment. The world he lives in might at one point have been described as the pinnacle of civilization. But the people eventually turned against each other and nearly destroyed the world in a process of unending war. Now, remaining humanity is in search of a reason; a reason for the past, a reason for the future, a reason to continue living in a harsh, unforgiving world.
Believing the enlightened one residing high atop a mountain at the peak of the world would have an answer to his questions, the journeyer set out. He didn’t get to skip down a yellow brick road either; his quest led him through an unforgiving desert that never seemed to end. Blanketed throughout this near-infinite desert were the ruins of the long destroyed ancient civilization. Their murals contained descriptions of similar journeys from ages ago. The wall paintings mirrored the journeyer’s travels with uncanny precision, and helped lead him to his destination while reminding him that he was no different from those who lived generations before him.
Along the way, the journeyer occasionally met contemporaries who also sought enlightenment. Lacking a common language but sharing a common destination, the journeyer aided the fellow travelers he met and developed an emotional bond with them. Even though communication was difficult because of the absence of a shared language, the journeyers were able to cooperate by studying body movement and using simplistic noises. The journey was tough and those he met did not always make it. The journeyer missed their presence, but knew he had to continue.
Obstacles in the journeyer’s way became ever more prevalent as he continued. Getting past them required thinking through straightforward puzzles, executing tricky jumps, and navigating around enormous enemies.
It wasn’t long until the journeyer reached the foot of the mountain. It was there that the red-orange of the desert ended and the white of the mountain began. Snow pelted the journeyer as he made his ascent. Fortunately he was not alone in this stretch of his journey. A fellow journeyer also reached the foot of the mountain and they inched forward, body against body, fighting with all their might to push forward against the howling snow. At points the winds were so strong that all they could do was brace onto windbreakers sticking out of the ground to not get blown off the mountain, no doubt placed there by journeyers before them. This part of the journey was tougher than anything previously encountered, but the journeyer prevailed, albeit alone.
When he crossed into the summit, the journeyer met with the figure that he’d seen scrawled onto the ruins, the figure that he’d been seeking, the enlightened one. Though he made noises that the journeyer was unfamiliar with, he could somehow understand the enlightened one. He said little, but what he said left a major impact on the journeyer.
“The civilizations before your time destroyed each other because they focused on their differences rather than their similarities. You may think you and the journeyers you met on your way here are far different, but you share more than you think. Without cooperation, you never would have reached me.”
“I can’t tell you what the future holds, you decide that. You pushed forward, now reflect on all that you’ve done. You sought enlightenment and you achieved it. It wasn’t the destination that you needed, it was the journey. Now shut up about Mass Effect 3’s ending.”
So that’s one way I interpret Journey. Pretty bleak huh? Civilization, reaches a pinnacle and then freefalls into a rapid decline through never-ending war culminating in the near destruction of EVERYTHING. So, does this interpretation reflect my inner lack of faith in humanity? Personally, I’d say yes and no. I’m an optimistic person, but I can foresee a future where humanity eventually destroys everything (although I imagine everyone can picture that). I’d also say my interpretation of Journey is derived from similar stories in entertainment. The story I envisioned is in no way a new idea and I know I’ve encountered it in multiple formats, such as books, movies, and other video games.
Although my interpretation also has positive messages too, namely that we can overcome any differences we perceive in each other. Cooperation eased the journeyer’s travels, even though he worked with journeyers far different than he, they couldn’t even speak the same language! Yet, the journeyers found a way to understand each other and overcame many obstacles.
The minimalistic nature of Journey has left me ruminating on it more so than any other game I’ve played. It was a brief, however enjoyable experience that is very open to interpretation. I’d recommend Journey, especially if you’re able to experience it with someone else.
If anyone else has played Journey, what’s your interpretation?
December 21, 2011
Blue Toad Murder Files in its entirety consists of six episodic downloads wherein one to four players assumes the role of a detective and solves crimes. The first episode, Little Riddle’s Deadly Dilemma is available for free on the PlayStation Network and my friend and I recently played through it.
Developed and published by UK based Relentless Software, Blue Toad Murder Files is a departure from what they’re known for: the Buzz! series. At the same time, they’ve used their experience and crafted a game that is fun with friends, cooperatively or competitively.
Set in a picturesque British village with banal villagers who talk in a nearly foreign tongue, to me (an American) Blue Toad Murder Files seems as British as it gets. But that’s part of the game’s charm. When it comes to detectives, Sherlock Holmes and the work of Agatha Christie are forefront in my mind, never mind that Hercule Poirot is Belgian…
Anyways, my friend and I soon witnessed the mayor of Little Riddle get shot and we began questioning the villagers attempting to find the culprit. Nearly every time we talked with someone they had a puzzle for us. We were supposed to solve these ourselves but we worked cooperatively. The puzzles reminded me of the ones I saw in Professor Layton and the Curious Village. Puzzles didn’t fall into one category and for all twelve of them we were asked to do something different. The difficulty was well paced and we had fun attempting to get the gold medal on each one.
Blue Toad Murder Files: Little Riddle’s Deadly Dilemma couldn’t be tackled in a free fashion; it was a guided adventure that gave us all the information it had and then tasked us with putting it all together and coming to a conclusion. I loved the setting and the character’s and dug the variety of the puzzles. It took us about an hour to play through and I suspect we might play through the rest. If that’s the case, expect another write-up over the game in full.
October 25, 2011
So I wrote about Eufloria yesterday and the thing I’ll likely remember most about it is its minimalist art style. Directly after playing the demo for Eurfloria I tried the demo for Sideway: New York and its art style will probably be the thing I remember most about it, although it’s a very different art style.
For some reason the character I played as was turned into graffiti art. In this state, he was confined to moving along the sides of buildings as he searched for a way back to his normal self. Confined as he was, movement was limited to a 2D plane, although I could walk on any surface I could get to.
Progressing between different walls and buildings was very cool to watch. As long as there wasn’t something hindering my path, like a rain gutter, I could walk to different sides of a building, roof included. When I did this the camera would swing around and revert to a view from the side. Being able to walk like this also added a few puzzles based around gravity, thanks to multiple ways to get onto some surfaces.
I came across a few different types of collectibles but didn’t pay much attention to what they were for. There were also enemies and this brought to light a problem I had with Sideway: New York. I didn’t like the amount of health my dude had; he would die very quickly. Another thing, because of the art style, it was sometimes hard to decipher what I was approaching. There was graffiti all around me, and unfortunately, the enemies and obstacles resembled non-interactive art when they were stationary.
Those are minor gripes though; I could’ve taken it slower and paid more attention to my surroundings. I think Sideway: New York is a styling platformer. It looks really good in motion and the hip-hop soundtrack matched the game well. Sideway: New York was developed by Canadian based Playbrains and published by Sony Online Entertainment. It was released on PSN on October 11, 2011.
October 24, 2011
Originally released on the PC in 2009, Eufloria is a real-time strategy video game developed by Alex May and Rudolf Kremers, with Brian Grainger composing the soundtrack. I’m writing about it now because it was published on PSN earlier in the month by Omni Systems Limited. Eufloria’s visuals and soundtrack are minimalist and relaxing, contrasting the seemingly violent nature of the gameplay. I controlled seedlings and moved them from asteroid to asteroid conquering them and any enemies in my way. After a little research however (see: Wikipedia) I found out the game is based on a scientific theory of planting trees in space.
I played the demo for Eufloria and was immediately struck by the art design. All that was noticeable was a few round asteroids populated by small red flying seedlings and a tree or two. This was all set on fluorescent light bulb-like background, not space. The soundtrack gelled with the art design; it was sparse and calming with an occasional pickup in tempo and volume.
There were a handful of stages in the demo and I always began with at least one asteroid under my control already. My objective was to branch out and spread my seedlings far and wide. To get more seedlings I planted trees on the asteroids, which required ten seedlings, but these trees produced seedlings. These stages contained at most about ten asteroids so it wasn’t tough work, I’d just amass a large cadre of seedlings and move them around.
I did encounter enemies in the form of diseases. They looked just like my seedlings, only gray. They operated the same way so they had asteroids under their control to. To overcome my enemies I’d gather a large group of seedlings and overwhelm them by sheer number. This was a simple solution but it didn’t require much strategy. The final stage in the demo was tougher and led me to believe I wouldn’t always be able to win by numbers. Something I didn’t consider was the stats of each asteroid. They had unique strengths revolving around energy, strength, and speed.
It wasn’t hard to grasp what I needed to do in Eufloria so I was dismayed by how slowly the game moved, even with the speedup button enabled. Then again, I didn’t implement much strategy, opting to steamroll my enemies. That probably wouldn’t be a viable solution for the entirety of Eufloria, hopefully at least. I was impressed with the relaxed nature of the visuals and the soundtrack, and I enjoyed the simple strategy gameplay, but I’ve had my fill of Eufloria.
October 19, 2011
A self-described action/puzzle video game, StarDrone was released last week on PlayStation Network. StarDrone was developed in Ukraine by Beatshapers and published by TastyPlay.com. I don’t think the game is worth the eight dollar asking price; then again, you can download it on the PC for three dollars.
StarDrone presented ten stages for me to play through in the demo. I controlled an orb that floated through space randomly but I could “attach” myself to other orbs’ gravity and propel myself in other directions by circling them and letting go.
Set on top of a backdrop of stars, each stage was a confined area that was full of orbs and collectibles. My objective varied between the stages, but they all revolved around collecting something. I navigated around each stage collecting what I needed to and it was pretty easy, although my feats were never good enough to be granted anything better than a silver medal. Towards the end I was introduced to enemies and walls with spikes. The enemies weren’t troublesome, but the spikes turned one stage in particular into a challenging test of timing.
I wasn’t too impressed with StarDrone. The stage design was interesting; I didn’t feel like I was traveling the same path twice, then again, collecting objects didn’t present much of a challenge and I found the game boring. StarDrone supports the PlayStation Move so that’s cool I guess, but I’m indifferent about the game.
October 17, 2011
I don’t go to the movies that frequently but the past couple of times I’ve gone, I’ve seen previews for Real Steel and I couldn’t be less interested. The movie is set in the future where, for whatever reason, robot boxing is super popular. To get their fix, people remotely control robots and watch them duke it out, like Rock’em Sock’em Robots. I find the premise silly, but some reviews have said it’s a pretty good movie, but whatever, I personally don’t find it interesting.
To tie in with the release of the movie, a boxing video game has been released. Real Steel was developed and published by Yuke’s and was released last week on Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network. Yuke’s, a Japanese developer, has been around a long time and wrestling games seem to be their wheelhouse, so developing a boxing game probably wasn’t too much of a far cry for them.
A demo was released for the game and I checked it out. All I had access to was the multiplayer, where I could play against someone locally or fight against the computer. There were a handful of robots to pick from and they looked unique, although I’m not sure how differently they controlled as I only played as Atom, the robot from the movie previews. I wailed against my robot opponent until he hit the floor. He had ten seconds to get back up before I got the win. I knocked him down a few times before I finally got the KO and I played a few more matches.
I’m not familiar with boxing video games but I didn’t have major complaints with Real Steel. The face buttons consisted and light and heavy punches, one for each arm, and I could block and sway with the triggers. I could also do a powerful attack when I held the right shoulder button and pressed a face button. I had a power meter that would deplete and fill up, so I had to keep this in mind. It doesn’t seem likes there much to the game, a very basic single player mode and multiplayer, and I really wasn’t wowed by the game, so in the end, like with the movie, I’m not that interested.
October 4, 2011
Rochard is a recently released platformer that includes puzzle solving revolving around gravity. With the aid of his G-Lifter, John Rochard can pick up and shoot objects. As John Rochard I was also able to affect the level of gravity around me, utilizing low gravity for many things. I played the demo for Rochard and got a feeling for the game’s story and gameplay.
John is an astro-miner for Skyrig Corporation. He leads an unproductive team, the least productive within the company in fact. The demo opened up with John returning to his team. This intro video featured a cool bluesy song while John was flying back. The soundtrack was actually composed by Markus “Captain” Kaarlonen, which if you’re like me doesn’t ring a bell, but he is a member of the popular Finnish rock band Poets of the Fall.
Once he landed, I gained control of him. I could only walk to the left and the right meaning Rochard is a strictly side-scrolling game. However the areas I played through had a lot of depth; everything looked nice too. The character’s were cartoon-like and the garments they wore, like the stages, had depth; I could notice John’s vest rising over the rest of his clothes. The dialogue was funny; it garnered a chuckle from me whenever John first ran into enemies. Another star to add to Rochard’s credits is Jon St. John providing John’s voice. Jon St. John is probably best known for being the voice of Duke Nukem.
During the demo the crew made a great discovery, one that pleased Skyrig’s president very much. The demo never told me what I had found, but I suspect it’s related to ancient aliens as per the game’s website. The following day, a group of bandits breaks in and begins wreaking havoc. But John wasn’t defenseless.
John has a G-Lifter and this factored into everything I did. Using the G-Lifter was simple. After picking up an object, it stayed in my G-Lifter’s beam. I could aim with the right analog stick and a series of arrows would appear showing me the trajectory my object would travel.
By picking up crates I could use them as a shield and a weapon against my foes. More importantly, I needed the G-Lifter to solve a handful of physics-based puzzles. Tying into many of the puzzles was John’s ability to trigger low gravity. About halfway through the demo I reached a gravity generator, once I fixed it I could trigger low gravity whenever I wanted by pressing L1 or L2, I forget. I had to manipulate gravity from here on out and I came across at least one puzzle that had me stumped for a couple of minutes.
The story seemed lighthearted and the graphics were pleasing. The gameplay is where Rochard shined though. The mechanics were simple to grasp and fun to implement in the puzzles. I hope the difficulty amps up slightly over the course of the game. But for ten bucks it seems like a good deal. Rochard is the first game developed by Finnish game developer Recoil Games. It was released on PlayStation Network last week, published by Sony Online Entertainment.
September 22, 2011
What is it about realism and video games? For some games that portray a realistic world it can be easy to suspend belief about how things should operate and play along because a mechanic is fun, like with Driver: San Francisco. What about when games portray a partially realistic world but contain elements that make it hard to go along with? Well that’s my issue with Red Johnson’s Chronicles, an otherwise stellar adventure game.
Red Johnson’s Chronicles is a downloadable game released this past week for the PlayStation Network, developed and published by French studio Lexis Numerique. It’s a puzzle-based adventure game following private investigator Red Johnson. I controlled him and was introduced to a few additional characters pretty quickly.
As Red was sitting in his office, a rotund police officer entered. The two obviously have a past together and Red helps out by investigating a murder. I was swept off to a shady area of town and soon I was moving my cursor around the screen looking for objects I could interact with. There were no witnesses of this murder but a security camera surely caught the perpetrator. After a few puzzles I was finally able to access the camera.
The camera however didn’t have power, which is odd because to reach the camera I had to find a power grid to operate a ladder right next to the camera. It turns out the circuits inside the camera are not in order, forcing me to arrange them correctly. This begs the question, if the camera was on when the murder was committed, who climbed up to the camera, took it apart, rearranged the insides, put it back together, and left it? If it was the murderer, why wouldn’t he just destroy the camera or take the videotape?
So that’s my major complaint with Red Johnson’s Chronicles. The game looks really nice, I mean considering most of it consists of still screens, but it had an interesting art style blending realism and cartoons. Going along with the art style, the game’s characters seemed straight out of a cartoon with their overdramatic acting. I couldn’t get past that one unlikely puzzle however so I’ll probably miss out on an otherwise stellar adventure game.
September 21, 2011
Have you ever wanted to be a god? Have dominion over creatures and wield unimaginable control? Well From Dust satiates a few god-like desires. Developed by Ubisoft Montpellier and published by Ubisoft, From Dust is a downloadable video game where players take control of the breath, a visual representation of their influence. Appearing like a cursor, I was able to move it around the stages, highlight people or things, and most importantly, manipulate the environment.
The demo opened with astounding visuals and sounds, showing me the people I would assist. They were tribal, resembling African Bushmen or Australian aborigines. A narrator got me up to speed as to what’s going on and my task. These tribal people needed to get somewhere; traveling through portals and I had to get them there.
The stages I played consisted of a few islands spread about in clear blue water, very tropical and desolate. Before the portals would activate, the people had to build small villages. I led them to totems were they performed a ceremony and a village popped up around them. This also brought fauna and animals.
More totems were located on separate islands. To transport the people to these islands, I had to use my powers. I could absorb certain types of terrain, sand or water for instance, and then disperse the terrain wherever I wanted. I had to link islands together by absorbing sand and dropping it to create land bridges. Spreading the sand was a little difficult for me, at least spreading it evenly.
Helping these tribal people out could be rewarding and I’m intrigued by the game, but the few stages I played in the demo had me doing the same thing: leading the people to totems and finally to a portal. The final stage saw a tsunami come, but all I had to do was lead one of the people to a rock and they learned a song to avoid it. It looked great and the concept was fun, but I’m fine with playing as much of From Dust as I did especially if the gameplay doesn’t change a lot throughout the game. From Dust was released at the end of July on Xbox Live Arcade, at the end of August on the PC, and it was just released this past week for PlayStation Network.
September 19, 2011
Wow, I just played the demo for Renegade Ops and I think it is one hell of a game. I’ve written a lot recently about downloadable games and while I’ve enjoyed many of the games I’ve played, I didn’t purchase them immediately afterwards. Well I really dug the demo for Renegade Ops and I plan on purchasing it, a solid endorsement eh?
In the demo for Renegade Ops I witnessed the plot setup and played through one stage. A madman has dropped a bomb on a city and is threatening to destroy more cities soon. A council of politicians is meeting to discuss what to do and they’ve decided in favor of negotiation over retaliation. That didn’t sit well with a high ranking officer and he has decided to take on the madman himself, with the aid of other renegades.
The stage I played through was set in a tropical environment, in what could either be a South American or Asian country. I drove a vehicle around equipped with weapons and completed objectives as they were assigned. The game is played from a top-down perspective and I controlled my vehicle using both analog sticks; the left one to drive and the right one to shoot. The stage was very open and there was a lot to do. I had a secondary objective of rescuing hostages for the entire mission, but I was consistently being updated with timed primary objectives.
Renegade Ops looks to have a few hooks to keep players coming back such as leveling, upgradability, co-operative play for up to four including both split-screen and online play. The stage I played was a blast and it seems like the game will be very cool playing with a friend or two. The tropical environment looked gorgeous and I was surprised by the amount of destructibility. But I guess I shouldn’t be as it was developed by Avalanche Studios, the developer behind the Just Cause games. I’m really stoked about Renegade Ops after playing the demo and I plan on buying it, a ringing endorsement. Renegade Ops is published by Sega and it was released this past week as a downloadable game for Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network, with a PC release coming.