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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. 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 #6. 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 #7. 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 #8. 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 #9. 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 #10. 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

append delete #11. Kroc

:: Sam & Max Save the World ("Season 1")

* Point and Click Adventure, PC/X360/Wii

Whilst the point-and-click adventure had all but died by 2001, it did manage to pass the time with some moderate success in Europe in the early 2000's. Come 2006, Telltale Games were willing to give the adventure genre a go with a new commercial model of "episodic games". Thus, Sam and Max Save the World is in reality six, separate, shorter adventure games sharing a general thematic story arc.

The writing and humour in Sam and Max is best described as "zany", which is something that almost always comes off badly in any game but Sam & Max is about the only time that zany has been genuinely funny and not overly forced. The writing is absolutely bonkers and there's humour in pretty much everything, everywhere. It's worth a play based on this merit alone.

The game(s) suffers a little from too much re-use of phrases in the first three episodes (they change it all up in the later episodes, obviously from player feedback at the time), and repetitive scenery in the first two episodes (the scenes and scenarios get more outlandish as the episodes progress). It's obvious that they were just finding their feet with the episodic model and the early episodes show where the format struggles compared against a single, longer game.

The stories are engaging and the characters varied and the puzzles fair, if only flawed by the repetitive nature of the environments in most episodes making it very easy for you to miss what's vital in one episodes versus unnecessary in another.

If you have played Sam & Max Hit the Road (1993), then just as "more Sam & Max" you should play this. If you're looking for the best in adventure games, it's kind of passable.

:: Highlights

* Great and unrelenting sense of humour
* A good cast of characters

:: Areas of Improvement

* The final "boss" fight in each episode can be dull and pedantic
* Way too much repetition in most of the episodes can be off-putting and de-rail puzzles
* Ultimately, quite short at about 7-8 hours gameplay for the complete set of 6 episodes

append delete #12. Kroc

:: Broken Sword II: The Smoking Mirror - Remastered

* Point and Click adventure, PC/Mac, iOS/Android (original also on PSX)

The sequel lacks the ground-breaking story in the first game and whilst Broken Sword II is more of all the good things -- art, voices, music and varied environments -- the story of south-American mythology is underdeveloped and struggles mid-game to drive things forward. The characters seem all too motivated for a rather weak back-story and sometimes I just want to be able to ask the characters "why the heck would you care?"

I can recommend it to anybody who has played the first or who wants to play decent point and click adventures of any stripe, but it's nowhere near the masterpiece that is the first game.

:: Highlights

* Good art, voice-acting, humor, atmosphere ...
* Puzzles are that bit more complex and difficult. The first game was largely unsure how much or little puzzles should fit into the narrative and is weaker in that regard compared to contemporaries

:: Areas of Improvement

* Very weak, under-developed story
* Weak antagonists with "presume I'm evil" written all over them; they spend very little time actually being part of the plot
* Rushed ending that throws in a handful of annoying, slow-paced puzzles with no real purpose just to fill-out and make use of the final location
* Lacks any additional content like the "Director's Cut" edition of Broken Sword I

append delete #13. Kroc

:: Myst III: Exile

* Point & Click Adventure, PC/Mac(PPC-OS8), PS2, XBox and other systems via ResidualVM

There are at least three different 'schools' of adventure gaming with distinct styles centring around how they each handle puzzles. You've got the 'rub everything on everything else' school dominated by LucasArts, the 'IQ test hidden in the form of a game' school which specialises in stand-out puzzles that exist more as distractions than plot items -- the Frogwares' Sherlock Holmes series largely typifies this -- and lastly you have the 'lateral thinking' school which is exemplified by the Myst series.

I will sidestep plot for the moment to say first that Myst III is a great deal more 'solvable' than Myst or Riven (Myst II). The need for walkthroughs for those games was legendary. Lateral thinking puzzles work not by rubbing your inventory items together (Myst games have almost no inventory to speak of) but by the configuring of state machines and automata based on perceptual clues (e.g. order, colour, sound) and it is very difficult to brute-force these in the 'I give up, let's just try using everything on everything else' kind of way.

Myst III's puzzles are not without their difficulties though: the complete lack of instruction on how a mechanism works -- a mainstay and fundamental part of Myst -- means that sometimes you either 'get it' or don't. The feeling of having worked a puzzle out from pure action and reaction is great, but it can be a two-edged sword, leaving you hopelessly lost and confused in other situations. Some puzzles can be conceptually worked out quite quickly but then may take a long time to execute correctly and this is all the more painful if you have to traverse several screens back and forth between actions. The final puzzle of the game is a complete curve-ball, requiring 'literally read our minds' level of lateral thinking -- you'll want to use a guide for that.

The first Myst is an okay game, notable as a touch-stone of the time and important for its historical context, but you wouldn't be missing a great deal if you skipped it. There are modern remakes with full real-time 3D graphics available that make the experience more engaging and a lot less perceptually 'slow'.

Riven (the sequel) is one of the most beautiful and captivating games ever made, absolutely worth playing even if you will almost certainly have to resort to an FAQ/walkthrough to be able to tie all the loose ends up finally.

Myst III is often overlooked and under-appreciated because it broke no real ground compared to its forbears and the games market at the time had swung very heavily to fast-paced, real-time 3D games. Myst III is the last of a generation of pre-rendered 'photo-realistic' adventure games and what this game achieves with such low-tech playback is nothing short of astounding to me, even in this age when there exists real-time photo-realistic VR.

Playing Myst III is very much like a modern-day VR-game (something that didn't exist in comparable form back in the day); you have a full spherical field of view and whilst you cannot move freely in any direction you instead 'step' from one POV to another, further along the scene. it's very much like those 'virtual tours' on websites -- the original game uses the same "QuickTime VR" rendering technology.

The move to the 'POV spheres' over Myst/Riven's slide-show system increases immersion a great deal. Now you feel much more within the scene rather than panning a fixed camera on a tripod around like you're on a Riven geological survey.

Gameplay consists of wandering the environments and playing with a large assortment of Rube-Goldberg like machines (sometimes organic) unlocking new areas and pieces of bigger puzzles. (A new way to describe this sub-genre has emerged and became popular as 'walking simulators')

I'm most impressed by just how effectively a handful of low-tech tricks adds more depth and realism. Static, pre-rendered scenes are made to look more real-time through the use of video/animated 'patches' on the POV sphere and areas of water have been masked with a simple 2D post-processing 'wobble' giving a surprisingly accurate (for such a blatantly simple trick) representation of the reflections/shadows of scenery rippling in the water based on a completely static rendering of a water surface.

The whole thing could be produced in JavaScript now without too much fuss but what pleases and inspires me most is just how much immersion can be produced with such little [playback] technology. It does serve to highlight how monumental and overwrought the task of producing a real-time 3D game with these visuals would be nowadays, vs. something your grandma's computer could run in a browser.

There is, of course, downsides to this approach. Since you can only move from one fixed perspective point to another, the game makes it needlessly difficult to perceive where the next available points are. You simply click somewhere on the scene and hope that an actual path exists that way (regardless of what visually you see). In the organic environment this gets particularly troublesome and more than once you will outright miss an available path and deal with quite a bit of disorientation. This issue could have been largely mitigated by providing a different cursor type for paths but perhaps they felt that broke the immersion level too much, it would certainly be appreciated as an option in ResidualVM (a modern open-source engine capable of running the game).

The pre-rendered graphics, state-of-the-art at the time, hold up fantastically well today. The whole game's premise is to be surrealistic and preternatural, which brings us on to plot. Now that we have explained what Myst III is, let's explain what it's about.

The plot of the Myst series generally revolves around a man named Atrus, one of a small remaining number of an ancient civilisation known as the D'ni who can create new self-contained worlds by writing books. Throughout the games you play an anonymous stranger who gets tasked by Atrus to sort out whatever issue is plaguing him. In the first game, this was restoring the lost pages of two books that Atrus had used to imprison his two wayward sons. In Riven you are sent in to a decaying world to rescue Atrus' wife from his power-mad father Gehn.

The third game is interesting for players of the previous games as it provides a side-story to the first -- the reckless behaviour of Atrus' sons had left a native of another one of Atrus' worlds trapped for a long time in a 'tutorial world' Atrus created as a learning exercise for when his sons were young. Here he has been setting up a cat-mouse game with the plan of trapping Atrus as revenge for his abandonment which he blames Atrus for. You, the player, end up in this trap instead of the intended Atrus and you'll have to work your way through the worlds within and catch up with the antagonist - a rather well acted, scripted and developed character which the designers have clearly worked at pains on making him more than your usual two-dimensional baddy.

You have various tasks to do in the first world to unlock and access three additional self-contained and distinct worlds before the showdown in a final world elsewhere. This structure mirrors the first game so whilst you'll still be doing a lot of wandering around (in required Myst-fashion), it's not nearly as broad and bewildering in scope as the 'barren desert of happenings' that is Riven (that game's more about atmosphere then plot goings-on).

Due to the quantity of media and the limitations of storage at the time (the game came on 4 CD ROMs), not least production costs for all that rendering, the game is fairly short -- approximately 5 hours. It's best enjoyed leisurely and resorting to a walkthrough only for hints to move forward after you've been wandering around for a while knowing that you're missing something obvious.... somewhere.

Myst III is -- as far as I know -- *not* available for digital purchase anywhere. It was available on 4 CDs and later as a single DVD. Whilst the game runs fine on modern hardware it requires the CD in the drive and you may want to use ResidualVM instead to avoid that and to play Myst III on machines without optical drives, or on a wider range of platforms including modern Macs, Linux, Amiga and even Haiku.

:: Highlights

* Outstanding atmosphere, visuals and immersion
* Better forward momentum and more reasonable puzzles than Myst & Riven
* Largely missed by players of the first Myst & Riven so a worthwhile game to track down

:: Areas of Improvement

* Nowhere near as enigmatic as Riven

* There are some graphical glitches where limitations in storage, media and technology at the time meant that they couldn't cram in more frames of animation on the disc to mask every instance of the transitions between static rendered scenery (particularly water) and video. If the source 3D files exist for the game, I'd love to see it re-rendered with always animating scenery

* The integrated live-acting video is of a noticeably lower resolution and quality than the other assets, a fault of the developer not using high definition cameras at the time. This would be the part most-difficult to remaster

* Despite a great increase in the quality of the FMV over Riven, compression artefacts still spoil some of the video pieces (and there's significantly more video than in Riven)

* Soundtrack is okay but not at the level of Riven

* Basically it's not Riven and Myst III will never escape that despite being a better playing game

append delete #14. Kroc

:: Lost Cases of 221B Baker Street

* Hidden object puzzle, PC/iOS

You've probably heard of these types of games before; a Where's Wally / Waldo type of game where you're given a detailed scene and a list of stuff to find. Hidden object games are very much the bread-and-butter of the casual gaming market (aside Bejewelled clones) aimed at the older generation. I picked this one up for cheap from a charity shop because I'll play/read anything with Sherlock Holmes to sort out the gems from the dross.

Perhaps I'm getting old but I was pleasantly surprised by the game -- it's good for a quick 15 minutes blast now and again. It milks its Sherlockia / Victoriana theme for all its worth; this is not period-correct but more the usual American's idea of Victorian London (including the highly questionable geography: Stone Henge a stone's throw from London!?). The game consists of 16 "cases" each consisting of an introductory animatic / voice-over, 3-5 screens of pixel hunting and various IQ-style thematic puzzles interspersed with a final 'who-dunnit' puzzle that wraps the case up with a closing cut-scene.

These games are churned out by the dozen so don't expect the most outstanding production values. There's high points and good-enough points, but little outright wrong with the package. The voice acting is varying in quality (Holmes and Watson are actually the worst of it) but it is good to see a variety of British accents and characters used. The stories / scenarios can sometimes be a great fit for a Sherlock Holmes story and come off well in this highly-condensed form.

There's a couple of modes in the main pixel-hunting portion of the game. The first you'll come across is a given list of objects to find (the easiest). The second is a 'find the differences' scene where you have to find the items different in two copies of the scene, though the items may not be exclusively in one or other side! (and no list is provided)

Finding specific items out of the required lot brings up a puzzle. These will be thematically integrated in some way, such as 'piece together the torn up letter'. None are difficult but there's a wide variety of them and most are satisfying to solve, my favourite for example was a child's diary that was wrapped in lots of different coloured twine. You have to click on the top-most string that isn't covered by any other piece of string. A very simple premise but a pleasant challenge when there's a whole mess of them criss-crossing over.

The random assortment of bits and bobs you find reveal related characters to the story (the butler's watch &c.) which builds up your list of suspects. Once you've gone through the scenes and picked up a veritable junk-shop inventory you return to Baker Street to deduce the criminal. Being the casual game that this is, it's a matter of simple puzzle solving and not actually any work on your part -- you can safely ignore the details of the suspects as you play. You start with a grid of the suspects that you must rearrange according to the criteria given by each row / column combined, i.e. a column might be "Female", but a row might be "Glasses". This part plays pretty well and works thematically as some kind of 'method of deduction' whilst keeping the puzzle logical only.

Once you've arrange the suspects the next puzzle strikes me as just plain strange and unfulfilling. An item associated with each suspect is shown next to their portrait and you have to remember these and pick out which one has changed in each round, eliminating suspects until left with only one. It feels very random and highly detached from everything you've done so far. Mr B the Baker will start out with a chef's hat and then the next thing it'll be a rubber ducky and that's him eliminated from suspicion! Very bizarre.

The art is very so-so. The base scenes are usually quite pretty but you'll get a huge variance in the quality of the photo-shopping of objects into the scenes. This part is definitely the work of one guy armed with a crap-tonne of images of all-kinds and little consistency between them all. The game's resolution is only 1024x768 and this is probably the biggest limitation as this makes finding some objects quite difficult with such low resolution and some bad photoshop quality sprinkled throughout.

:: Highlights

* Perfect for a 15-minute break. Engaging without being taxing.

:: Areas of Improvement

* Low resolution and obvious photoshop quality throughout
* The bizarre let-down of a puzzle at the end of each case
* Cheesy in the way only a tourist could love
* Just 16 cases, you could blast through this in a couple of hours so pace yourself

append delete #15. Kroc

:: Half Life

* FPS, PC (1998)

Finally actually pushed my way through this until the end as one of those games I can't leave uncompleted. Loads has been written about Half Life, I won't be able to write a better review than what's out there other than to note my experience. It starts off good and then slowly, bit by bit, descends into an annoyance. The early game is great, the mid-game throws in less-interesting and more annoying enemies and then as soon as you enter the other-world, Xen, the low-gravity platforming and nuisence enemies become a slog culminating in boss fight that I couldn't possibly have cared less about if I tried. The game simply never builds up to a final boss, so when it comes along it's dull, cheap and pointless. (It took me two months to be bothered to actually beat it)

Half Life is not a bad FPS, in fact it's very good, it just doesn't maintain the same level of innovation and entertainment throughout.

:: Highlights

* Innovative level design, especially early on

:: Areas of Improvement

* One of the worst end-bosses I've experienced, even including DOOM II, Quake I & Quake IV. I don't know why people rag on about the story so much, the ending is complete 'meh' IMO.

append delete #16. Kroc

:: Quake Mission Pack 1: Scourge of Armagon

* FPS - PC (GoG/Steam)

Wanted to play some Quake, but opted to start with the Mission Packs that I haven't completed yet. After playing a lot of DOOM, Quake in general feels a bit 'off'; the atmosphere is superb, but the weapon set isn't quite right. The Shotguns are so ineffective that you feel like something's wrong and with the slower running speed and general sluggishness of the player compared to DOOM throw you off. Quake II fixed the fluidity and weapon set but lacks the level design and environments of Quake. I couldn't say much about Mission Pack 1 in particular -- it's literally just more Quake levels, and I am perfectly okay with that.

:: Highlights

* The mine level is freakin' cool

:: Areas of Improvement

* Curse those bloody scorpion robots
* The new weapons don't add anything worthwhile

append delete #17. Kroc

:: Chasm: The Rift

* FPS - PC (1997)

Wolfenstein 3D begot Wolf3D-clones. Doom begot Doom-clones. Quake begot... the FPS genre as we know it, in its entirety. Somewhere in the middle was Chasm: The Rift -- an FPS from an alternative time-line where Wolf3D was taken as far as it could with the greatly improving technology through the '90s. Like Quake had a child with Wolf3D, Chasm: The Rift is a gritty, dark, atmospheric FPS with very good art, sound, excellent 3D models with an advanced [for the time] dismemberment system, all strapped to a 2.5D engine that lacks Room-Over-Room and limits levels to mostly a series of corridors. For this reason it ran on very modest hardware in 1997, and was also almost entirely overlooked and forgotten.

Since it is no longer the '90s (and there is no more time for Klax) we should look at Chasm: The Rift not from a 'latest-and-greatest' perspective but purely based on its own merits. In that respect, it's an above-average FPS that doesn't rise as high as Quake but is enjoyable in its own right, certainly worthwhile from an aesthetic angle and an enjoyable romp for anybody who likes '90s FPSes above the modern stuff.

The game is divided across a set of different time-periods and places lending a good variety of locations and the opportunity to express everything it has to give with its outstanding texture work. You begin in the 'present' with some average military bases, but then head to ancient Egypt, Medieval [assumedly] England, and then somewhere in some alien future. It's all very pretty realised with each place having its own set of enemy types. The whole thing is only let down by engine limitations forcing everything into narrow corridors and tiny rooms which can get confusing and dull after a while. There's unique attempts at minimising this between worlds, but during the levels within a world it can be repetitive.

The weapons don't quite reach the perfect balance as Doom and you'll rely on your shotgun for a vast majority of enemies. There's a laser-crossbow which is accurate but it just doesn't do nearly enough damage based on the limited amount of ammo you get for it. There's some flying discs which can be fired extremely rapidly but ammo for that is scant at best. There's a fairly generic rocket/grenade launcher, some utterly pointless mines, and to round it off a BFG-like grenade-launcher which can obliterate anything too close to the blast-radius. A huge improvement to the game would have been to have some unique weapons in each world to suit the themes.

There's a large roster of enemies and they change with each world so they never over-stay their welcome. They all have a variety of attack methods, but with the weapon set being a little too weak and unspecialised in the high-end, the game never reaches the highs of Doom's monster-set that has you immediately analysing and prioritising the crowd and selecting which weapons are needed for each.

:: Highlights

* Outstanding texture work that looks pure class in chunky unfiltered pixels
* High-quality 3D models and animations for its time with an innovative dismemberment system allowing you to disarm (literally) enemies
* Dark and spooky ambient sound track

:: Areas of Improvement

* Cramped and often windy, confusing level layouts caused by the engine limitations
* Pretty bad voice acting / writing in the bare handful of inter-world cutscenes to go along with the paper-thin plot
* Weapons are just not balanced right with the high-end weapons not being powerful / specialised enough

append delete #18. Kroc

:: The Operative: No One Lives Forever [Game of the Year Edition]

* FPS - PC (2001)

With the introduction of Half-Life in 1998, the Quake era of FPSes ended and the new plot-driven era began. For better or worse some things were lost and new things were gained. No One Lives Forever (colloquially "NOLF"), would have been impossible a concept pre-Half-Life; for one thing, it has a plot! You play as Cate Archer, 1960s female spy in a spoof of everything 1960s spy movies / TV shows. It manages to be funny and endearing and not the kind of parody that beats you about the head with the joke.

The attention given to the constant sexism Archer has to face as a "woman" in a man's job shows that, whilst parody this may be, the characters within the plot are entirely serious within their perspective of the world and that the humour in the game is at the level of the observer rather than the characters being 'in on it'. Highlighting the sexism women faced in the 1960s would not have come across honestly if the characters were going to stand around and laugh it off like some Internet troll -- "It's just a joke, bro!".

The game is just full of great character moments; you'll spend a lot of time listening to guard's conversations about anything and everything, always funny and always different from the last.

It's that pace that sets NOLF apart from its contemporaries, it is billed as a stealth shooter after all. You'll spend your time waiting around corners, listening and trying [where possible] to shoot guards in the head and out of sight of any other patrols. You'll sometimes find the pace aggravating; this is not a game you can just sprint through in one sitting, you'll want to play a level at a time. The problem is that, unlike Metal Gear Solid or Thief (games designed wholly to be stealth experiences), NOLF is always at heart a first-person shooter and the stealth elements are just not sophisticated enough -- you either get seen or you don't, and luring guards is very hit-or-miss; they have essentially only two modes: total obliviousness, or precise awareness of your exact location.

All these complaints are made up for by the outstanding level design. In true homage to 1960s spy movies, the plot follows an international trail taking you all over the place, from the hot streets of Morocco to the cold streets of East Germany, up the Alps and under ground in the requisite evil lair. Everything is well crafted, atmospheric and diverse, although excessively rectangular; a trait of FPSes of the time:

*Begin history lesson*

By the turn of the new millennium, hot competition in hardware acceleration had made GPUs standard equipment for gamers and the push by manufacturers to out-do each other in the numbers' game meant that graphics cards had way more pixel fill-rate than was practical for the number of polygons they could actually push.

It was quite easy to make a game look extremely realistic by keeping the geometry pretty simple, but plastering it with very high-resolution [for the time] textures. Max Payne, the poster-child for this nu-wave, was a stunningly good looking game for the time even if upon closer inspection its just a corridor shooter with very simple and rectangular geometry. "Natural" environments proved difficult to do, either by way of the tools used by developers or the hardware capabilities of the time (or both), and this stalemate between texture resolution and geometry complexity wouldn't be broken until Crysis in 2007.

*History lesson ends*

No One Lives Forever is a creative, varied, _different_ experience than the run-of-the-mill FPS, but it is not necessarily innovative; it's stealth capabilities are remedial and underneath everything it's a rather straight-forward FPS with a forced slow pace. Oftentimes you'll find it aggravating or exhausting, but if you pace yourself you'll find a game that is funny, lovingly crafted and entertaining throughout.

:: Highlights

* Light-hearted sense of humour throughout
* Excellent level design, variety of environments
* Great voice-acting, if the cutscenes are a little stiff (see below)
* Excellent range of weapons; the Atomic Raygun has the best death animation in any game

:: Areas of Improvement

* Alternate ammo types are practically useless and a hindrance more often than not
* For a game of stealth, lacks practical stealth abilities like Theif. NOLF is a just an FPS without the usual run and gun approach
* Cutscenes are legion, rather slow paced and a bit clunky (this was apparently the limitations of the technology / developer's experience at the time)
* Far too few variations of NPCs (also a limitation of the technology at the time)


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