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append delete Kroc

A list of brief game reviews. You may add your own too.

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append delete #1. Kroc

:: Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper

* Point-&-click adventure

Reviews for this game tend to hover around the 7-8 out of 10 range and I believe this is a reflection of it's position with the whole gamut of computer games. This is not a fair representation; taken within the context of the point-&-click adventure genre only, I contest that it one of the best such games ever made; a 9 out of 10, if you will.

Firstly, there is great atmosphere. You play as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson in the late nineteenth-century following the trail of the 'Jack the Ripper' murders. The graphics are basic but atmospheric; the closest comparison I could think of is that of Max Payne -- quite basic modelling but very high resolution photo-real textures. I play games on a five-year lag so I don't know what is expected in 2015, but the graphics conveyed what they needed to with minimal fuss and it was is enjoyable walking around the dark, misty streets of Whitechapel London.

But graphics are not more important than story or gameplay, and I mention them only because of the excellent atmosphere they lend to the game. The author of the Sherlock Holmes canon, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, said at the time that he would never put Sherlock Holmes up against the likes of Jack the Ripper because he (Jack the Ripper) was nothing but an illogical maniac.

This game utterly succeeds in putting the logical thought process and investigation of Sherlock Holmes against the Ripper. It is a very educational game and you will learn a great deal about the Ripper's murders and walk through the details. It's an extremely gripping and detailed story that moves at a good pace but with a great deal of content (I think it took me some 20 hours to complete).

Puzzles in the game are handled in the modern style; that is, IQ-style logic puzzles that stand upon their own but are integrated into the game in some thematic manner. Whilst the traditional rub-things-together puzzling also exists, it is never excessive or confounding (like Sam & Max Hit the Road, for example). The only flaw with these puzzle diversions is that no instruction is provided on how the actual mechanics of the puzzle presented work and this is the one most-major flaw in the whole game.

Asides these, the game also includes 'Deduction Boards', an identi-fit system of matching known information with logical conclusions. This adds another level the puzzling in the game and strengthens the Sherlock Holmes narrative.

:: Highlights:

* Intense, authoritative story
* Atmospheric
* Very good ending, wrapping up an 'unsolved mystery'
* No paranormal nonsense that spoils so many modern Holmes works

:: Areas of improvements:

* Some voice-acting is weak (Holmes is too wooden, but Watson is superb)
* Better hints could be provided by more varied and specific dialogue for particular scenes
* Cutscene animation is fairly crude
* Puzzles, whilst being none-too-difficult, offer no explanation of their mechanics

append delete #2. Kroc

:: The Testament of Sherlock Holmes

* Point and click adventure

This is the next game from the same developer of ~Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper~. The technology has been improved so things look better overall, though the engine shows its heritage; objects change 'state' rather than being animated through and the actors just pick up / interact with things by holding their hand up and using the force. This is a shame as otherwise the acting has improved a lot from the previous game through the use of motion-capture. Sherlock Holme's voice acting has improved greatly but attention to detail is lost in the NPCs -- the Jews in Whitechapel talk like cockneys. Whilst detail in the environments has increased, the NPCs suffer a hit with not enough variations (particularly with the women) and badly-fitting voices in some occasions. There's far more gore involved this time which ~vs. Jack the Ripper~ stayed away from (given its basis in reality); I'm no fan of violence or gore at all and whilst not needless it does mean this is less of an accessible game for young teens.

The puzzles follow the same format as before, taking the shape of a variety of IQ-tests, thematically fitted into the narrative. These are very fair but again suffer from the lack of instructions on how the interface works. There are less deduction boards this time which I feel is a shame. There's far more 'hunt the pixel' based item puzzles here which can be a nuisance and bottlenecks your progress.

The story, not being based off of real life happenings, is very good and suitably lengthy but lacks the grounding depth of the previous game. There are a couple of completely bizarre turns that seem rather ridiculous and merely there to drive the 'you're not in on it' plot. The atmosphere is still there and succeeds most at the 'abandoned circus' final level. The game has a decent ending, able to keep secrets even to the end.

I think ~vs. Jack the Ripper~ is the stronger game and what I would recommend first, but if you enjoyed that then ~The Testament~ is well worth your time.

:: Highlights:

* More Sherlock & Watson, which is always a good thing!

:: Areas of Improvement:

* Inherits all the flaws of the previous game
* Too much pixel hunting, not enough relevant hinting from the actors

append delete #3. Kroc

:: Broken Sword: The Director's Cut

* Point-and-click adventure

If you have never played Broken Sword then it is necessary to say up front that it is one of the greatest point-and-click adventures ever made and you should play it. ~The Director's Cut~ is a modern re-release with added game play, story and puzzles and is more accessible; having been released on Wii / DS / Windows / Linux / Android / iOS, though should get the GoG edition as it comes bundled with the original game too --

The story basically involves chasing an assassin across the globe and uncovering the secrets of a medieval knights' order. If you've played the game before then ~Director's Cut~ adds a prologue from the perspective of the secondary protagonist so there's enough new here to be worthwhile to old players. It's only sad that the new story elements dry up before you're half way through, and I would consider this the ~Director's Cut~ biggest flaw rather than the common complaints thrown at it:

The old graphics have not been re-done merely resized from SVGA (800x600), giving a blurry-edged appearance due to a lack of full transparency (it's 1-bit, like a GIF). Redoing all the graphics and animation at modern resolution would be a monumental task that should be saved for the future; you can play the original if you prefer your pixels sharper-edged.

Back in the day we would be playing on a 14-to-15" monitor and the pixels would be large enough for the character animation to be the focus during conversations, but on modern monitors the original graphics can appear a lot smaller, so some character portraits are added to the screen during conversation, yet these aren't animated!

The additional puzzles added to the game appear in the modern style (as I have described in the ~Sherlock Holmes~ reviews above) and either you're okay with this or loathe them, but they're not up to the standard of ~Sherlock Holmes~ and can be a bit of a nuisance (at least instructions are provided!).

I'm not going to go into any more detail, this is a game you should unquestionably play, GoG is the best place to buy it and there's enough there for old players to get their money's worth even if you don't regard it as equal to the original.

:: Highlights

* One of the best stories in any game, ever
* Beautiful scenery, a work of art

:: Areas of Improvement:

* The game is perfect and no remake will ever please everybody, ergo ~Director's Cut~ could only be improved by providing more new content interspersed through the original (rather than being solely weighted to the beginning). The only way to meaningfully improve Broken Sword overall would be a complete redo of all graphics from scratch and that's some way away yet

append delete #4. Kroc

:: Frogger 2: Swampy's Revenge

* Platformer, PSX / PC

Yes, Frogger; that Frogger. Normally such rehashes of old games are awful (see ~Frogger: He's Back!~ for example), but this take by Hasbro is a much better game than your typical journalist would like to take credit for. The graphics are some of the best for the Playstation, the animation is good, the movement is good and the Frogger concept is expanded into a full platformer with a huge amount of variety. People are missing out not giving this a look-in!

:: Highlights:

* Clever gameplay mechanics
* Plenty of variety across the levels
* Very difficult toward the end, it's not just a kid's game!

:: Area of Improvement:

* Having a lives system just spoils the flow. Play with an infinite lives cheat to spare your sanity
* A short experience

append delete #5. tmyusuf

Which gameplay mechanics ?

append delete #6. Kroc

(I have quite a backlog of reviews to get through but things have been especially tough at home as of late)

:: Final Fantasy

* Genre: RPG / Platform: PSP (also NES, iOS/Android)

The first Final Fantasy was a landmark title -- in North America anyway; Japan and Europe already had many RPGs to choose from. It was innovative then, but would have little to offer to those looking for games to play these days as it has been so superseded by the RPGs that followed it. If it were not for the name, and the games that followed, the original Final Fantasy would be consigned to the bargain bin of gaming history; nothing more than a curio of times past.

I've just recently completed the PSP remake which modernises the look of the game without fundamentally changing what it is. You should play this if:

a. You are a completionist and feel the need to do FF1 through 9
b. You like RPG variety and will play basically anything available
c. You need something quick and simple because you don't have all day to sit in front of a TV any more
d. You don't like over-grindy and complex RPGs, or RPGs in general

The game is fundamentally too simple; the limitations of the original hardware define the boundaries. The script is scant, the plot paper thin and the mechanics practically remedial. For example, the magic just isn't varied and complex enough, providing only a rough few elemental types that lack tactics at the high end.

The PSP port greatly enhances the graphics but fails to really rethink the plot and script. Selecting your part from a list of classes gives nothing in the way of character background and characters barely progress from there -- only a class upgrade half way through introduces some kind of character progression.

:: Highlights

* The PSP port is accessible, with good graphics
* A good game for when you want something not too taxing to blast through

:: Areas of Improvement

* Each character you select at the beginning could have had an individual prologue section, culminating in the forming of your team, which would have greatly enhanced the story and character building of the game
* The magic system is not diverse enough

append delete #7. Kroc

:: Sherlock Holmes versus Arsene Lupin (aka Sherlock Holmes: Nemesis)

* Point and click adventure, PC

Another one down in my tour through the Sherlock Holmes adventure games! This one comes before ~vs. Jack the Ripper~ in the developer's history. As I proceed backwards in their catalogue, we come across more rough edges.

The plot has a nice forward direction with Sherlock Holmes and Watson being one step behind the dastardly French gentleman cat-burglar, Arsene Lupin, on a mission to humiliate the staid British Empire.

The environments are really the tour-de-force here and the primary reason to play the game. More so than the others, there are some really stunningly gorgeous environments to explore in detail, including the Tower of London, the British Museum (including the epic Reading Room: as well as the National Portrait Gallery. Walking around and looking at the detailed paintings in the gallery, just for the sake of it, is a strange and very rewarding experience.

_In fact, if only as a sight-seeing tour of London you should play this game!_

It falls down on puzzles though. This game is heavily weighted toward mathematical and other calculating puzzles, and it's not that they are difficult, but ultimately it's an immersion-breaking experience as you'll have to use pen and paper (or worse switching between windows often) to attack them. I'm playing on a laptop in a variety of places, for short periods of time. One I've worked out _what_ needs to be done, the actual task of _doing it_ is often a huge time-consuming rote chore. Thankfully the game includes a full built in guide, so if you're in more of a hurry to progress you can let the game just give you the answer to the crazy amount of math once you've worked out the concept yourself.

:: Highlights

* Crazy beautiful environments. A practical virtual-tour of London landmarks
* Nice plot and pacing, aided by a great historical villain

:: Areas of Improvement

* Painfully rote puzzles (which thankfully the built-in-guide will save you from)
* A lack of deduction boards makes this less Sherlock Holmes and more Watson

append delete #8. Kroc

:: The Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Serrated Scalpel

* Point-and-click adventure, PC / ScummVM

A murder-mystery is pretty much perfect material for a point-and-click adventure, and Sherlock Holmes is the go-to character for the job -- out of copyright, universally known and timelessly Victorian. Much crap has had the Sherlock Holmes name attached to it and still he has come out unscathed. This 1992 adventure game by Mythos succeeds by way of many great qualities.

The plot is good and becomes increasingly complex and engrossing. The writing is of high quality with an astonishing amount of period detail. There are many locations in the game and they open up to you at a quick pace, always providing something new to see.

The art style is a controversial point. Some reviewers have called it grainy and indistinct. The whole game is done in a 1930s art-poster style (which had become en-vogue during the '90s); whilst I don't have my CRT set up at the moment, I believe that the graininess and indistinct contrast would look fundamentally clearer and more evocative on the superior colour, deeper blacks and slight fuzziness of a CRT. Personally, I'm a fan of the art style and find it another aspect of the game to enjoy.

The games puzzles are not obtuse and the lack of combining inventory items thankfully removes a large headache of other adventure games (rubbing everything against everything else in the hope of progress). Such a requirement would make the game impossible because the game simply accumulates inventory like it was gold being handed out for free. Almost nothing you receive every goes away again, leaving you carrying around half of London in your pocket. It doesn't prove to be a problem though as often the item you need to use will the be the one you most recently received, or if not, hopefully obvious enough.

I'd definitely recommend this game to any adventure game / Sherlock Holmes aficionados.

:: Highlights

* Excellent script and descriptions
* Lots of places to visit

:: Areas of Improvement

* Inventory bloat
* Only uses the chemical analysis / Baker Street Irregulars features once. These aspects could really have done with being featured more often throughout the game

:: @Kroc added on 18 Apr ’16 · 13:32

Oh, forgot to add that the game is lacking voice-over for all but the prologue and epilogue cut-scenes, which is a great shame. Apparently there's a 3DO version with full audio dialogue, but this is not yet supported in ScummVM.

append delete #9. Kroc

:: Agatha Christie Evil Under the Sun

* Point & Click adventure, PC / Wii

This reminds me that, before I began writing reviews here, I had played the previous game in this series -- The Murder on the Orient Express -- and need to write up that. What you should know is that these are official Hercule Poirot games!

Evil Under the Sun is set in England, 1940 at a hotel on a tiny island off the south coast. Poirot has come for a vacation, but obviously murder is not far away. If you're a fan of adventure games in general then this is entertaining, but unfortunately has a fundamental flaw. Due to being set a hotel, as the game progresses, you are forced to re-visit every room in the game over and over to scour out the items and interactions you need to push the game into progressing. This game is for the more anal-retentive players out there.

The graphics are pleasing enough, mainly held up by the period style. The voice acting is not great, a big step down from the previous game which was voiced by David Suchet himself -- the definitive Hercule Poirot actor.

No detective-mystery game has ever satisfactorily allowed the player to solve the case themselves because there isn't an acute enough means for the player to communicate their deductions. This game appears to present some means of deduction reasoning by providing a map with markers for all the characters and the ability to shift time forward and backward to see their movements. In certain places in the game, Poirot records how long it takes to travel from one point to another to provide a means of determining who would physically be able to make the distance. Bizarrely though, all this comes to nought as none of it is necessary to win the game or even work out who the murderer is; the final showdown is a simple multiple-choice quiz to gauge your understanding of the facts.

:: Highlights

* A period setting Hercule Poirot game
* Reasonably good puzzles that are not overly obscure or obtuse

:: Areas of Improvement

* Too much reliance on re-checking everywhere multiple times
* In the end, doesn't involve you in the actual deduction of the murderer

append delete #10. Kroc

:: WRC FIA World Rally Championship Arcade

* Rally/Racing, PSX

Very little has been written about this game; it came out late in the PlayStation's life (2002) by which time the PS2 had ground all commercial interest in the PS1 to a halt. Which is also probably why the game never aspires to much. The "Arcade" in the title was probably placed there to save the developers from complaint that there isn't all that much there -- no tyre selection or car repair, just the usual selection of countries and cars. Whilst it's no Colin McRae Rally, it's still no bad thing. If you're looking for a nice-looking, easy to pick up and play rally game then this is a good diversion. The game is generally easy -- you'll be able to get through 75% of it before it gives you any trouble -- and whilst it gets harder, it never becomes impossible (*cough*ColinMcRae*cough*).

The modes are very basic: Your standard easy, medium, and hard pre-set rallies of 4, 6, and 8 countries respectively; A "Grid" mode, which give you the complete layout of 'cars x tracks' in which to get gold in all of them; Time Trial, and two player head-to-head.

If you want something, like me, that you can come back to in bits and pieces over time and get through without hitting a wall of impossibility, then this is a good game for such a diversion.

:: Highlights

* The grid mode gives you plenty to do in an orderly fashion
* Good handling that, combined with the difficulty curve, means you don't need to master it too early on

:: Areas of Improvement

* The Time Trial mode is pretty useless as there are no staff times to beat, and no ghost cars
* No damage / repair system
* Lacks creativity and effort for the genre

append delete #11. Kroc

:: Grim Fandango Remastered

Point & click adventure, PC-Mac-Linux / PS4 / Vita

One of the last and greatest, most ambitious point-and-click adventures created toward the end of the genre's original life-span; if you're not aware, the point and click adventure game was the default, most recognised form of computer gaming -- much like the FPS now -- up until around '94-95 before going into sharp decline in the face of fast-action 3D games.

Grim Fandango (and The Last Express, too) is the swan song of the commercial 'AAA' adventure game. The genre has returned to life recently (thankfully), but will never again fill that no.1 slot of commercial interest and activity.

The transition to 3D was disastrous for the point and click adventure. Going from beautiful hand-crafted pixel-perfect art to crude, rudimentary 3D could only be a step backwards, and whilst 3D games were in the process of feeling their way through the tricky problems of managing 3D cameras and movement, the adventure game genre was deeply confused about how movement should even be handled at-all in 3D.

Grim Fandango is a riotous explosion of glorious art and sound. A film-noir adventure set in a south-American version of purgatory that inverts the meaning of life and death. It's crazy original and always surprising.

The characters are 3D models rendered atop pre-rendered background scenes. At the time they made the faux-pas of using 3D character tank controls rather than point-and-click, but thankfully the remaster resolves this removing pretty much the only serious grievance anybody had with the game.

:: Highlights

* Everything visual and aural in the game
* Developer commentary

:: Areas of Improvement

* Genuinely difficult to say without a much deeper analysis
* No replay value, but damn what a ride


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