Category Archives: Adventure

REVIEW: The Monastery

Slender really opened the floodgates for imitators with its release; it was a brilliant scare that capitalized on the one thing that most of us cannot bear in any quantity— fear, and helplessness in the face of that fear (more or less the opposite of the recent Resident Evil and Dead Space games… zing!). Looking to carve out its piece of the horror pie (if such things can be manifested and baked), Rendercode GamesThe Monastery (80 MSP) tries its hand at the formula.

The Monastery - Screen

First there were missing pages, then tape recorders. The Monastery has bibles for you to locate (10 on Easy, 15 on Normal, 20 on Hard). Music is sufficiently unsettling, and the flashlight does a good job at illuminating just enough to make the darkness feel like a physical element working against you. Finding each book is slightly more challenging here, without any audio or visual clues. Landmarks you can use for navigation are largely absent from the game, too, as one rust-flavored wall or stone column blends into the next, most of the architecture repeated. You will walk around in some circles, no doubt, though it’s not that issue that ultimately breaks the game.

While both Slender and White Noise end when the monster finds you, The Monastery’s creatures do not immediately spell out finality. That fact alone effectively eliminates all sense of danger and / or scares the game may have provided. After being spotted (this can potentially happen fifteen seconds into a game, before you’ve even collected anything), you simply need to avoid them. Worse still, they’re incredibly easy to lose, dropping your scent once you’ve turned corners or run on ahead (and there’s no stamina penalty for prolonged running). So long as you are quite literally walking away, and you don’t get hung up on a doorway or wall, the creatures cannot catch up to and / or kill you.

The Monastery - Screen2

This idea is utterly ridiculous for a horror game, especially one that’s supposedly mimicking the ‘stalking presence’ these games are known for and billed as. It renders the whole thing pointless, a collection minigame about wandering, with only the illusion of antagonism. I gathered the fifteen bibles in the Normal setting on my third playthrough, without breaking a sweat or making a peep. There’s global leaderboards to track your times on each difficulty, though with the game’s concept broken as it is, there’s no satisfaction in posting a good run.

If you absolutely need Slender scares in your life and don‘t mind washing your shorts, play Slender. If you can’t play Slender, play White Noise Online. And if you can’t play White Noise Online, definitely do not play The Monastery. Read a book or go outside.

.

Review on Indie Gamer Chick

Advertisements

REVIEW: White Noise Online

Call them the odd couple, rushing into things so soon after their introduction, but for better or worse, Slender-like psychological scares and online co-op are married in White Noise Online (80 MSP). For the sake of space, I’ll spare you the game’s premise. If you do need some perspective / background, the original’s review is here, though trust that the game is just as gorgeous, the darkness still as disorienting, as ever.

Tape collecting returns (each recorder now comes with a brief yet effective playback), with the benefit (and potential mood-breaker) of online co-op. Don’t worry, it’s not a Slender Man FPS, more a co-op excuse for people who need their hand held during horror movies. It’s only competitive in the sense of who can acquire the most tape recorders and survive the longest, though, as progress is shared between the group. And teamwork is necessary; getting too far ahead of the other players will spell your doom, and them likewise. Hearing the screams of your group getting picked off by the creature one by one, sometimes right next to you, is as unnerving as if you were playing alone.

‘Dying’ isn’t permanent in multiplayer. When you’re ‘found’ by the creature, you’re simply transported to a spirit realm of sorts, where you gain an illuminated view of the grounds. Your body is turned to stone on the spot, and your avatar becomes an outline of a ghost. From here until the last player survives or perishes (or disconnects), you can either follow the paths of others still in the hunt, or help them find additional tapes (being a ghost with enhanced vision has its advantages). At the end, a summary will show you and your crew where and when you found your tapes / demise, and how many times you walked in a circle like an idiot. All in all, the online play works well, even in the context of horror and isolation.

This time out, you can choose from three stages. ‘Chateau’ is the level from the previous game, and hasn’t changed much, outside of the weird, green ‘creature’ obelisks (do not stare at them for long) and avatar ghosts. The added locales, ‘Saint-Martin’ and the snowy ‘Kvitoya’, feature their own unique layouts and monuments, a church and cabins, respectively. Character selection is a first for the franchise, and goes beyond simple preference or gender choices. Each choice comes with its own skill set, like more flashlight power, better scouting abilities, or less susceptibility to fear (vital when you’re the last man standing, or searching, as it were).

White Noise Online - Screen

Pro-tip for real life: if you ever find yourself in a secluded wooded area with a statue like this, run in the opposite direction.

There are extras in the form of unlockable characters, some of which can be obtained by collecting a set number of tapes over your career, while others are accessible only via codes you’ll find in other Milkstone releases you own (effective advertising at its finest, eh?). It’s nothing to get worked up about, just palette swaps, though it is a neat perk if you’re into showing off that you’re a loyal customer.

Leaving the Slender comparisons aside, and if you’re still in the market for scares or too chicken to go it alone, I definitely say you pick up this version of White Noise over the ‘barely two months old’ original. You still have the option to play solo, and the new areas and addition of online play are solid points to this otherwise very early sequel.

.

Review on Indie Gamer Chick

REVIEW: White Noise: A Tale of Horror

Let’s just get it out in the open. It is impossible to mention White Noise: A Tale of Horror (80 MSP) or any of the harm / good it does, without first invoking Slender. Their two cores are so intrinsically-linked that it’s not out of order for you to call White Noise a straight-up rip-off. It is. It’s also a no-brainer. I can say I entirely don’t mind a console version (unoriginal as it may be) that can replicate the fear the indie PC release did such a masterful job at creating.

As much as I can claim to be better equipped than some, I’m still a wuss in a lot of respects. I don’t like to feel scared or helpless. The same applies for horror games and their manifestations, especially being at the mercy of a threat you cannot fight no matter how much courage you muster. Your only choice throughout is to walk (or, better, run) in the opposite direction. The patch of ground the entirety of the game takes place in is no ally either. Each play starts you off at a random point within it, keeping you disoriented and constantly plying the darkness and terrain for clues, with no safe port to anchor in.

You’ll undoubtedly walk in circles your first few tries, which is entirely the game’s intention. How better to appreciate the odd layout of the land, the heavy foliage and wandering ghosts (harmless), a running stream or architecture that’s even Silent Hill-esque in spots, like a street that unexpectedly drops off into a foggy void? Milkstone certainly has the programming chops to evoke uneasiness. White Noise has a really nice-looking 3D engine that I hope to see employed in other, lengthy and more original horror endeavors. That’s not a dig at the company, more so a ‘thumbs up’ for them to aspire to do more.

Both the environment and ambient sound effects superbly set the tone. Disembodied screams, or the coughing of your own character, ratchet up nerves. The subtle images in the darkness, like trees that take human forms, or statues whose shapes are a little off, too, spawn a sense of dread. The predator here is just as effective. Granted, Milkstone’s creature is no Slender Man, but the same visceral tension is present in every near sighting, every corner-of-your-eye glance. You won’t suffer from any nightmares, but if Slender scared you enough to avoid playing with the lights off, expect White Noise to do the same.

White Noise - Screen

Again, collection of a set number of items is the engine for transporting scares. While Slender had you retrieving eight scattered pages, in this game it’s tape recorders. There’s no map or set route to follow, and only the sound of static will point towards the next recorder. You don’t get to listen to any dialogue upon collection, but the accompanying music change lets you know you’ve just made a mistake. The creature begins stalking you after the first pickup, and doesn’t lose your scent for long if you manage to avoid it. Count on it standing right behind you. There are several cues, audio and visual, that will warn you of trouble.

And that’s it. It plays like the original. White Noise is obvious copycatism, though it does succeed at beating everyone else to the punch (i.e., Slender on console). It’s light on additional content, only a code to unlock items in other Milkstone releases (EDIT 1/27: An update has added new unlockable visual filters: Night Vision / Smiley Face / brighter flashlight, and a new Hard mode), but as a homage (or rip-off, depending on your word choice) to one of the most unnerving games I’ve played, it fills the role much better than expected. The fact that someone will pay a dollar willingly in order to be terrorized is compliment enough.

.

Bonus! Watch the always-entertaining Alan from The Indie Ocean blindly play White Noise.

REVIEW: XenoMiner

To date, I have not played Minecraft. Yep. Go ahead, ridicule me in secret. I had my reasons, some of them were even valid, but when the Uprising games were announced, I knew I’d be getting my first taste of the voxel crafters with XenoMiner (80 MSP), Gristmill Studios‘ take on the genre that transfers the setting to space.

The tutorial, in the form of a female AI known as DAI-SE (Daisy), is with you for the first five to ten minutes, explaining, albeit oh-so-briefly, a little bit about your situation (only survivor of a crash, loss of memory), that you need to survive on this hostile planetoid, and gather components to eventually make an escape attempt. It’s not simply a matter of digging or crafting. You really do start out with nothing, having to monitor your battery and oxygen levels constantly. Instead of hunger or the physical threat of an enemy, such as the ever-popular zombies or ‘creepers’ (as in Minecraft), you’re fighting a more realistic adversary here; the daily bombardment of radiation due to a rising and falling star, leaving the surface off-limits to you during its ascent. Parts of this review, including this sentence (ha!), were written as I waited between star-rise and star-set.

It is essential that you find or carve out a shielded refuge straight away, and build a centriforge. This is what will allow you to craft, using a combination of the copious terrain and the invaluable (but far less-prevalent) ores. You’re going to be digging. A lot. Don’t expect much help. Outside of the alien structure where you find your first AI bot, the land is untouched. As an experiment, I went for a walk, four game-days long, taking shelter under ‘ice trees’ when the radiation hit, finding massive, carved canyons and stretches of jagged mountains, some floating islands, but no sign of other alien tech or anything remarkable to report back on. Which sort of leads into my main beef with the game.

XenoMiner requires a huge commitment of time and resources to put together any kind of existence. Two hours in, I had crafted reserve oxygen tanks and hoarded plenty of ice, built an extensive base in the side of a mountain with a network of caves and precious ore, and found my first alien bot, which was gladly doing the digging / prospecting during the days (thanks to my modified programming) on my behalf. I wasn’t really ‘getting anywhere’, but I was surviving and learning.

Four hours on, I started building processing cores to boost DAI-SE’s creativity and build options. I was gaining some flexibility, making slow but actual progress. The ore I needed to craft certain items was finite, though, and even with the bot digging and collecting it for me (a clever program I spotted here), I rarely came across more than a handful of the blocks I needed, forcing me to prospect every night and in every direction, mostly in vain. Then, completely by chance, I discovered a cache of gold ore, and the doors, as the saying goes, opened wide to accept me. Six hours in, I had upgraded my P.I.C.K., allowing me to mine much faster and gather the tougher ores. I could also make upgrades to my suit, and build stronger / larger versions of all the equipment. Thanks to that gold and titanium, I was morphing into a badass.

Though again I was coming up against finite amounts of ore, with XenoMiner stringing me along with its classic carrot-on-a-stick gameplay, dropping the small rewards in my lap while moving the goal posts further and further down the field, demanding more ore for anything worthwhile. Gravity Boots are only a dream. Same with the mightier processors. Escape from this rock? Ha. Good joke, pal. The bots too, while cool and infinitely helpful, are a bit of puzzle currently. With most of the commands locked away by the developer (or held by the random person that’s able to decipher alien language and use it at will), you’ll be stuck with the standard orders and whatever snippets you find elsewhere.

The lack of a quick or auto-save hurts, forcing you back to the menu if you want to record any big changes. The threat of death erasing your progress (losing your possessions) of an hour or more is reason enough to save often. There’s also the possibility of an engine performance flaw. It may just be limited to me, but I suffered horrible pauses and hiccups as soon as my world had loaded (lasting about a minute and a half), and any time I moved from one area to the next. The more I altered the world, the worse it seemed to get, going from an annoyance to a real problem. I can’t hold it against the game based on one case, but it is worth mentioning if anyone else should have the same issue.

Approaching eight hours in play time, I’m nowhere near where the game wants me to be, but I’m still digging. I can understand the attraction of these games now. If you like what Minecraft represents, but love a greater challenge and have a ton of disposable free time, XenoMiner is a hell of a deal at 80 MSP, compared to other indie voxel-types. The emphasis on survival, the potential of the programmable bots to lessen the strain, and a general sense of purpose that’s missing from the more casual clones, gives the game a leg up at the final tally.

Need help? Keep up with the game’s Wiki page.

.

Review on Clearance Bin Review

Review on Indie Gamer Chick

Review on The Indie Mine

REVIEW: 2012

I really should have seen this coming, another game cashing in on all the apocalyptic and Mayan hysteria, with the usually-can’t-miss addition of zombies, in 2012 (240 MSP). And no, faithful reader, this isn’t the puzzler I played earlier in the month. This 2012 is a completely different entity, blending Legend of Zelda-style overworld exploration and dungeon crawling in an occasionally effective, often obscure, manner.

Frank Mors is a disillusioned archaeologist that finds himself at ground zero (Guatemala) on December 21st for the Mayan zombie apocalypse, cut off from the rest of whatever civilization is left by the plodding undead. Dragged back to town, both the residents and stranded tourists bestow Frank with savior-status and ask him to single-handedly solve the mystery of what’s happened, take down a cult, and save everyone he comes across in the zombie-infested countryside. No sweat.

And Frank is a ladies man, or so we’re to believe, as all of the women he rescues are eager to ‘repay’ him. Pro tip: Archaeology is where it’s at, fellas, the panties drop almost instantaneously. Joking aside, progression is sometimes vague, and the quests are anything but clear-cut. Take the first one, which asks you to find a missing girl (there’s a lot of that to come). The game says to head North, but North is vague and quite a bit of ground to cover. If I hadn’t wandered into a temple and stumbled onto the girl about to be sacrificed, I’d have looked in vain forever. Exploration is nice, dumb luck isn’t.

But my bigger question to the developer is, how do you manage to make a game where you’re shooting zombies this boring? That I’d run out on the undead, not from fear or moral ambiguity, but boredom? Even a reasonably-written design document could have allotted more sense than to drop dozens of recurring enemies on each screen that slowly box you in, then laugh in your face at three shotgun blasts per zombie. Math time! Say I encounter 300 zombies between any one temple dungeon and the town, which could easily be the truth. Am I really going to enjoy slow-firing a 1000+ rounds? Not likely. Even after you get a machine gun, they’re still sponges and combat becomes this little circular dance you have to perform every few seconds.

Ladies, feel free to swoon while I dispatch these zombies and fanatical cult types. We can talk repayment later.’

The game world is huge. There’s plenty to see, and ancillary side quests are available, but they too, fall prey to bouts of wandering. Pay attention to the starter conversations, kids, as they’re usually your first and last mention of an important location or element in your mission. Your journal (somewhat) tracks the current main event, and the helpful mini-map fills in as you explore, but more should have been done to prevent the inevitable head-scratching.

That’s not to say that the core game is rotten in 2012, it just needs weapon / enemy balancing and the occasional hint or objective marker. I like the basic idea. It’s got a little bit of everything. As it’s put together currently, though, it’s a diluted sort of fun that’s a tad more trouble than its $3 worth; not broken, but not quite how you want your zombie apocalypse about the Mayan apocalypse to play out.