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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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Review: Pillars of Eternity – The White March

Pillars_of_Eternity_The_White_March_Part_1_CoverWow, has it been two whole years since Pillars of Eternity came out already? And Parts 1 and 2 of the expansion, The White March, have been out for about a year already too? Time sure flies when you’re having all this fun. Anyway, Pillars of Eternity brought us back to the wild world of CRPGs, in the vein of classics like Neverwinter Nights, Baldur’s Gate, and Planescape: Torment. On top of offering a vast Dungeons & Dragons-ish world, bursting with quests and conundrums, it also boasted some of the best writing to be seen in a game. It made me stop and reconsider my views on the nature of religion, and I’m not even religious.

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The White Forge, where you can add new layers of enchantments to your favorite gear

Now The White March doesn’t quite reach the heights of storytelling that the main campaign does, but it still manages to tell a very interesting new tale, filled with many new bizarre moral quandaries for you to agonize over. This expansion brings you to the frozen northern area of the world, where you’ll travel to ten new areas, most of which contain additional sub-areas and/or multi-floored dungeons. Just like the main campaign, these locations are littered with enough quests, battles, and secrets to keep you busy for quite some time. To be more specific, somewhere in the neighborhood of 20-30 hours of content, depending on how thorough you are.

On top of all this new real estate, you’ll also meet three new companions to recruit, each with fascinating backstories and personal quests to complete. My favorite was Zahua, the filthy masochistic monk that you find hiding in a barrel of brine and fish heads, who gains power from wounds and a healthy diet of magic mushrooms.

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There are new dangers to be found and conquered all over the place

There are also the new soulbound weapons, each of which can be permanently bound to characters and have their own sets of mini-quests that can be done to level them up into very powerful legendary weapons. Naturally, there are plenty of new standard unique pieces of gear to be found too.

Speaking of weapons, the combat is more of the same challenging tactical battles. This isn’t one of those games where you can just click the attack icon and wait for your party’s A.I. to sort it out. Most of the time, especially in the more difficult fights, you’ll need to micromanage your characters and their abilities and apply them both strategically (although there is an Easy mode too, if that doesn’t sound like your thing).

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So many great looking new locations to explore

And beware, some of the optional areas and quests are extremely difficult and it’s usually not very clear that this is going to be the case until you find yourself right in the middle of a nasty fight that you have no chance of winning. For instance, The Siege of Cragholdt quest chain becomes available immediately at the same time as the main White March quests and is apparently intended for max level characters, but it doesn’t tell you this anywhere in-game. If you do like I did and just charge right in there because it’s available first, you’ll find yourself having to fight with everything you’ve got just to barely make it through the initial “easier” groups of enemies, and then if you manage to get past them, get absolutely destroyed by the next section.

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Good luck with this guy

Overall though, it’s a very nice expansion to an already great game, that offers a ridiculous amount of new content compared to the bite-sized little DLC levels that have become the norm for most games today. Good news too, for everyone who hasn’t gotten around to this yet, or just doesn’t do much PC gaming, there’s a new Complete Edition of Pillars of Eternity coming to consoles in August. This is a must-play for any RPG fan, so check it out quick before Pillars of Eternity 2 gets here!

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Review: Dogolrax

bandicam 2017-06-08 00-40-22-993What is Dogolrax? Well, Dogolrax is game about you, a nameless human guy, being stranded on an alien planet called Dogolrax, which is named after an alien god that is also called Dogolrax. How did you get there? I don’t know. What’s going on with all the crazy aliens there? You know, I still don’t know. What do I know? Well, I know that Dogolrax is one extremely bizarre game.

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How did I get up here? Why, I crawled into that giant snake’s mouth and up through his body, naturally.

What drew me into Dogolrax, was seeing a YouTube video of it by FunHaus. They were mocking it for how ridiculous and terrible it looked, as they so often do, but I saw something else in Dogolrax. I saw a game that clearly seemed to be heavily influenced by Another World, with a dash of the weird and deadly alien environments of Space Quest 2, and other such ancient PC games. I even saw a little of those delightfully terrible old Bloodlust Software games (if anyone else on the planet even played those besides me).  I saw this comically grotesque freakshow of a game and thought “Cool!”, which I guess probably says a lot about me.

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Enjoy your gun for the dozen or so rooms you’re allowed to keep it…

The truth of the matter lies somewhere in between though. Dogolrax starts off well enough, very much resembling Another World as expected, with frequent cleverly animated deaths and all. Some of the backgrounds are really quite well done too, if you’re into that kind of thing. The game quickly starts getting even weirder than expected though, with you losing your gun almost immediately after getting it, in what would prove to be the first of many instances of this game trolling the ever living spaceballs out of you.

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High marks for artistic style and creativity at least.

Dogolrax begins to throw some really nasty platforming sequences at you, resulting in gruesome death after death, and then “rewards” you by changing gears entirely and morphing into a collection of unexpected mini-games for almost the whole remainder of the game (all 90-120 minutes of it). It just scrambles back and forth between flying shoot-em-ups, to Super Meat Boy type areas where the camera zooms way out while you try to jump through mazes of buzzsaws and such, to Arkanoid/Break Out clones, and more.

Unfortunately, this is where the cracks start to show. These mini-games mostly range from mediocre to downright awful. They’re a great idea in theory, and the way they’re implemented is usually pretty clever, but they just plain aren’t programmed very well. The controls in many of them are really inconsistent and unresponsive and some of the physics involved, like the balls in the Arkanoid/Break Out clones, are nearly broken.

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What’s going on down here? Who is that guy? All I know is I’m dead again…

I couldn’t even tell you what the story was. Something about evil alien priestesses kidnapping people and transforming them into monsters so they could invade other worlds, but that’s as much as I could extract from the incomprehensible plot. There are some genuinely funny moments randomly scattered about, but mostly it’s just a bunch of gibberish.

It’s a shame, because I hate to have to say such negative things about a game with such oddball style and charm, where the creators are obviously somewhat talented, extremely creative, and show a lot of potential, but this game is just so out there in theme and so very erratic in gameplay that I don’t think I could recommend it to anyone unless they were really, reeeeeeally into very weird games. It was interesting enough to me that I’d consider checking out future games by Team Shuriken though, if I was convinced that they were tightened up a bit more.

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