Tag Archives: Point and click adventures

Review: The Last Door

coverThe Last Door is actually technically two games, as it was released episodically over the course of two separate standalone seasons, but as they both make up a single complete story, let’s just call it all The Last Door for simplicity’s sake.

Anyway, The Last Door is a point and click adventure game by The Game Kitchen (developers of the upcoming game Blasphemouswhich you may have heard of by now).

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Alone in the dark! Wait, wrong game.

This is a very Lovecraftian adventure, where you end up having to do a good deal of detective work in order to unravel the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of an old friend, which naturally involves a bizarre cult and unspeakable supernatural beings. In typical Lovecraftian style, it focuses more on building an atmosphere of dread over what strange things lie waiting for you in the various dark and treacherous locations you explore, rather than jump scares or overt images of creatures and gore.

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Come on. What’s the worst that could happen?

You’ll be told many haunting stories, investigate many scenes of terrible death and destruction, and hear many discomforting noises coming from writhing things hiding in the shadows, but you almost never actually witness any of it directly. It’s a credit to the designers and writers that these methods are so effective at creating a creepy atmosphere, especially when the graphics look like they’re straight out of the VGA era of PC adventuring (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

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HAIL RABBIT LORD, ALL-MIGHTY RABBIT LORD!

However, while there are many well-made set pieces and scripted events, more than enough to keep things interesting throughout the eight episodes, I must say that I didn’t find the characters or the core plot particularly memorable. The two characters you play as do a lot of questioning and listening, but don’t have much substance themselves, and the motivations of the secret cult are nothing you haven’t already seen before. Still, it manages to be a compelling game anyway. The well-crafted atmosphere manages to carry it surprisingly far. Not far enough that it will become one of my new favorite horror and/or adventure games, but enough to make the experience a satisfying one that makes me look forward to Blasphemous even more.

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Review: The Dream Machine

boxcoverOh, I have been waiting seven years to finally play this game. The Dream Machine is a point-and-click adventure that was released on an episodic basis, with its first episode coming out in 2010 and the conclusion finally just arriving in 2017. It features a fascinating plot about the physical exploration of dreams, but the really interesting thing about it is that not only were the characters and environments entirely made up of clay, cardboard, and some other assorted household items, but this was all done with just a two man design team and only using Adobe Flash.

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I wish my dreams looked this good.

This is another of those games where screenshots can’t even do it justice, because as nice as it looks in a static image, that’s nothing compared to how impressive it all looks in motion. The sound design is very impressive too, with so many little aural details that help breathe even more life into these already amazing environments. You can really tell why this ended up taking 7+ years to develop. The level of artistry on display here is breathtaking, really.

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What could possibly go wrong?

The writing is quite nice as well. You play the part of Victor Neff, who discovers strange goings-on in the new apartment building that he and his pregnant wife just moved into. The kind of strange goings-on that are soon found to be the result of the landlord’s strange experiments with a machine that allows people to enter and explore other people’s dreams. This is a bizarre enough premises as it is, but the further you get into The Dream Machine, the deeper it starts digging into some deeply personal and twisted aspects of the human psyche in some surprising and complex ways, to the point where it starts ever so slightly tipping over the line into psychological horror territory.

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Guess where you’re about to go?

It almost never actually displays outright graphic content though. For the most part, it manages to create enough tension and unease through ideas and the outlandish dream environments (although…there were one or two little parts near the end that people will probably find a bit gross).

Speaking of those environments, again, they go far beyond being just pretty little pictures. The level and puzzle design also becomes increasingly surreal and complex in their design. You may find yourself in a dream world whose physical locations can be entirely re-ordered and altered by finding and placing photographs in different places on a wall, or a world that requires you to change to different sizes to enter and/or solve certain areas in it, and you might even have to find a way to cross over to one person’s dream from inside another’s.

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Quick, figure out how to stop dream-tentacle-mom!

It’s not as tricky as it sounds though. Sure, there will be a few parts that you’ll almost certainly end up having to look up help for, because it wouldn’t really be a point-and-click adventure game without at least a couple overly obscure puzzles. Most of the time the solutions feel very intuitive and natural though. It may start to feel a bit intimidating in the later chapters, which are noticeably larger and more complex than the previous ones, but their tasks are perfectly manageable with enough time, patience, and thoroughness.

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Oh, this place looks nice and peaceful. I’m sure it’s fine.

Anyway, The Dream Machine is just a truly impressive feat of video game storytelling and design that somehow manages to be simultaneously charming, disturbing, and thought-provoking. It’s an absolutely top-notch adventure game that I would go so far as to call entirely essential for any fan of the old point-and-click genre, so…check it out!

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Zack and Wiki: Brilliant But Flawed

Zack_&_Wiki_-_Quest_for_Barbaros'_Treasure_CoverartZack and Wiki is a wonderful, funny, charming and compelling video game that’s hamstrung by a couple of flaws so enormous that eventually they ruin it completely. Seriously, I loved this game, but it really didn’t love me back. In fact, it took delight in slapping me round the face a couple of times before stealing my wallet and laughing at my tears.

Still, before I get onto its maddening problems, let’s look at the positive stuff. For a start, the main characters are great: in fact, the character design throughout is excellent. It’s a real shame the game sold so poorly (Capcom Director Chris Kramer described the game’s sales as “abysmal“), so there’s very little chance of them ever popping up in a sequel: who knows though, maybe they’ll crop up in Marvel Vs Capcom 4, if it ever gets made…

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As well as the character design, the graphics are excellent, with a great cartoony feel and superb animation. It’s funny too: in fact, I laughed out loud during the tutorial section, which isn’t something you can say about many games.

Gameplay-wise it’s a sort of evolution of the classic point-and-click adventure, a genre I love. Most of the puzzles are good fun, and in particular there’s a great level set in a laboratory where you have to mix potions to make yourself shrink or turn invisible. It’s a really great idea, and there are loads of similar flights of the imagination that made me smile.

Sadly though, the game carries on that notorious tradition of the point-and-clicker: the illogical puzzle. At a few points I became completely stuck and had to flee to Gamefaqs.com for help on a particular puzzle, only to let out a confused “Eh?” when I found out the bizarre solution. Even worse, there are a few points where the game’s internal logic is broken: for example, platforms that are fixed until you can manually move them on one level just move when you step on them on another level, and there are a few other points where the game seems to break its own rules.

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Worst of all though is the fact that the game stifles any sense of playfulness or experimentation by packing each level with various things that kill you with one hit. You might think “Oooh, I wonder what happens if I pull that lever?”, only to be plunged into a spike pit and have to start the level again from the beginning. Not fun.

Rather than start all over again, you have the option of “reviving” at a point just before you died, but to do this you have to use a platinum ticket, which you buy in-between levels. But get this: every time you revive, you lose all of the money you collected during that level. This means that if you die right near the end of a level, you either have to complete the whole level again or revive and finish the level without any money, which then means you can’t afford to buy any more platinum ticket “lives” for the next level.

Basically, it’s a system that punishes failure rather than rewards victory.

By the second to last level I’d completely run out of lives and money, so my only option was to complete the whole level in one go or go back and spend an hour or so replaying through the early levels just to get a bit of cash together. The latter option was in no way appealing, so I plunged into what turned out to be by far the hardest level of the game and died again and again and again, each time having to restart from the very beginning. Eventually I just resorted to using a guide in an attempt to get to the end, but even that proved fruitless, as the introduction of some insanely tricky sword-fighting meant I couldn’t get more than two-thirds of the way through without dying and being sent back to the start.

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As you can imagine, this was utterly infuriating, and it culminated in a spectacular rage quit accompanied by a few solemn and sweary oaths directed at the now-ejected game disc. Put it this way: I’m not going back to finish it.

Shame, despite its flaws, it’s still a great game – a few little tweaks and it would have been a classic.

[Penned in despair by Lucius Merriweather.]

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Broken Sword: Paragon of Point and Click

This isn’t the first time I’ve played Broken Sword, but it’s the first time I’ve finished it. I first played the game just before I went to university, as we had it for our family PC. However, I didn’t manage to finish it before I moved into halls, and while I was away the PC broke and the game went missing, so that was the end of that.

Playing through it again on the iPhone, I realised I’d actually completed about 70% of the game on that first aborted attempt, but I have to admit I didn’t remember most of the puzzles, and even some of the locations, so for most of the game it was like playing it for the first time. Except now it looks a bit prettier, of course.

Another improvement is the control system: the designers have obviously thought long and hard about how to get the most out of the iPhone touch screen, and the result is a really intuitive system. It just goes to show that point and click games are perfectly suited to iThings, and it’s great to see them getting a bit of a revival on the latest generation of technology. It certainly makes much more sense to port games like this to the iPhone rather than frenetic arcade games like the MegaDrive classic Gunstar Heroes, which I purchased recently and quickly abandoned. It’s official: ‘virtual’ touch-screen thumb sticks are THE DEVIL’S WORK and all games that use them should burn in hell for all eternity.

Anyway, back to Broken Sword: The Director’s Cut. You may remember I played the iPhone version of Monkey Island a few months ago (see ‘Monkey Island: Not As Good As I Remember‘), and I was disappointed by the childish humour and frustrating puzzles. I’m pleased to say that Broken Sword stands head and shoulders above the Lucasarts game in both of these respects, and there are some pretty funny one-liners scattered throughout. I’m not saying it’ll have you rolling in the aisles, but there’s some excellent wry humour in there (as well as a reference to Hemel Hempstead, which made me chuckle).

Puzzle-wise, there’s thankfully none of the frustrating jungle wandering of Monkey Island, although at some points I did find myself traipsing back and forth between locations, unsure of what to do next. Also, the game is somewhat afflicted by the curse of the point and click genre: the illogical puzzle. At several points I got so stuck I resorted to the ‘hint’ function (which is a very welcome and needed addition to the iPhone version), and I found myself rolling my eyes at the almost random combination of items I was supposed to have come up with. Generally though, the game flows along quite nicely and the story is intriguing enough to keep you interested. The Templar theme may seem a bit tired now, but as the game’s director points out in the afterword, the designers came up with the idea for Broken Sword several years before the ‘explosion’ of Templar-based entertainment in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

However, despite my delight at being able to play through this classic game again, I still have a few doubts about the point and click genre as a whole. I’ve recently been playing through Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective, and I can’t help but feel that this game, along with the Phoenix Wright games and perhaps to a lesser extent the Professor Layton games, have taken the basic ideas behind point and clickers (story-driven gameplay, item-based puzzles) and taken them to the next level. I have to say I’m enjoying Ghost Trick a lot more than Broken Sword, mostly because of the amusingly bizarre characters and addictive puzzles. The key thing about these puzzles is that all of the elements are there in one place, it’s just up to you to work them in the right order. With traditional point and click games, however, you might find that the item you need to get through that door is something you missed 20 screens back, resulting in a lot of tedious plodding back and forth.

Having said that, Broken Sword was released about 16 years ago, so I’m sure that in the meantime designers of point and click adventure have learned some lessons: I’m intrigued to play some more recent point and click games to see how the genre has evolved since the days of the Amiga. Have the problems of random puzzles and tedious traipsing been solved? Or are these problems inherent to the genre?

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