Category Archives: Adventure

REVIEW: Fallen Angel

In my heart, I was hoping this was some fan-made labor of love starring David Boreanaz as vampire. Wishful thinking, I guess you could say, as in Fallen Angel (80 MSP), you’re a French guy with a ponytail who is not David Boreanaz, taking on various missions in an open-world Paris that’s not bad looking by indie standards. Unfair or not, from the trailer you get the impression you’re in for a Grand Theft Auto-like ride, albeit on foot. This can’t be further from the truth.

The insinuation is you’re an angel, the circumstances surrounding that revelation unknown. Blessed with the ability to see the wishes and dreams of others, you now spend your days and nights bailing out perfect strangers with random acts of kindness, similar to the Nic Cage movie but without Meg Ryan or all the sappy parts.

It starts innocently enough, picking up gifts for people’s kids (turns out everybody’s birthday is today), but quickly goes dark. My question is, if you’re an angel, wouldn’t your moral compass point due north, without waver? Instead, you’re ‘stealing’ one mission, escorting a dealer to a drug sale the next. Hardly God’s plan, if you ask me. Then again it’s been a while since I was in Paris; maybe their idea of what constitutes being a good samaritan has changed.

That moral quandary aside, the gameplay is exhausting and repetitive. One dull Retrieval or Escort scenario after another, which is the good life. Bomb Defusing involves plodding along the city streets for literally minutes at a time. Sound fun? There’s no actual defusing either. It’s like a checkpoint race with an amazingly inadequate timer.

Completing missions levels up your character, which advance the ‘story’ and grant him new, obviously ‘angelic’ abilities, like car-surfing (because that’s never a bad idea). Fighting in Fallen Angel is just as boring and half-assed. You have a strange ‘energy wave’ option and a roundhouse kick at your disposal, neither of which is a pleasure to use. It’s all spam attacks, and all of the enemies shop at the same uniform thrift store, where lime-green is the only color and always in stock.

Guys, serious question: Is it cheaper to buy in bulk?

For being an open city, which would suggest exploration, you’re actually better off staying near the center, where most of the shops are located. Taking missions outside of that central concentration will only lead to long runs / rides, or, even worse, the Escort missions where you’ll have to walk the whole time to avoid separating from your contract. Besides gambling with your experience points at the occasional slot machine, you’re not missing much. The city may be detailed, but it’s all facade. You can’t even visit the Eiffel Tower up close.

I stuck around until I’d gained enough experience for level four (a half hour struggle), which touted the ability to fly. Parisian sightseeing from the air? Sure, I’m in. Though even that potentially cool component is wasted on clunky, limited controls that suck up your energy in a few short flights, forcing you into completing more of the fun-killing side missions to refill your meter. Ugh, no thanks.

The entire goings and happenings of Fallen Angel are brain-softening. It’s a tech demo, piecemealed into an overpriced game. I applaud the open world aspect and the general idea, but everything else about it is beyond lackluster and straight up insulting. No one playtested this other than the developer, I’m certain. If they did, they would have realized there isn’t an ounce of enjoyment here.

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EDIT 8/27: An update for the game has been applied, the most important tidbits of which are the reduction in price (dropped from 240 MSP to 80 MSP), significantly reducing the amount of XP needed to advance in-game, and improvements to the HUD, animation, and the flight system.

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REVIEW: The Undead Syndrome

Based off of the screenshots (and the trailer, which is awkwardly captured via camera), I was beyond ecstatic to boot it up and find that The Undead Syndrome (240 MSP) is utterly made from the stuff I’m interested in. The list of games it takes parts and its tone from include: Killer7, Parasite Eve, Silent Hill, Deadly Premonition, and Kenji Eno’s ‘D’ series, among other ‘bizarre horror’ titles past and present. Given that pedigree, it’s shouldn’t be a shock to hear it’s also undeniably Japanese.

The only other title I’ve played from developer MukagoSoftware Development was last year’s terrible and terribly-flawed Bioerosion. TUS is fortunately a much more polished effort, both in design and scope. The game starts with a nameless woman, stabbed in broad daylight walking down a deserted street. Without explanation (or dying, apparently), she’s transported to a ‘nightmare’ world in the form of a haunted house, where she’ll attempt to learn the truth of what’s going on and catch her murderer.

While this is the stated main goal, it also involves killing off three multi-colored and tentacled monstrosities, checklist-style, and fighting dozens of clones of her killer, and weird, alien-like fish, scorpions, and jellies. Yeah, I know, sounds like one hell of a head trip.

Graphically, the game is gorgeous for XBLIG, with plenty of clean (and overused) textures and shadow / lighting effects. The third dimension makes for some awry camera angles in tight spots, but goes comfortably ‘over the shoulder’ for fighting. And that combat takes an interesting form with KI, which allows our protagonist to launch bursts of energy from her hands. In addition to leveling up RPG-style, your KI is upgradeable via ‘implants’, crystals that give boosts to stats or, with experimentation, enable new ways to fight and explore the environment.

Exploration plays a big role, of course, and is intriguing, if a little vague. You’ll find various colored keys to open locked doors, most of which aren’t marked, naturally, and there’s some light puzzles to solve (check surrounding walls for hints). Forgettable platforming bits are kept to a minimum. The rather impressive audio and cues alert you to enemies (a la Silent Hill), and keep the unease dialed up at all times. In between the heavier action or odd story snippet, you can catch your breath and recharge in the scattered save rooms, or buy items and crystals in the shops, manned by a spectral salesman.

There are definite downsides. It desperately needs some kind of mapping system and a much larger inventory (you’re constantly running out of space). Some of your shots miss when they should hit, and cramped rooms and corridors mean enemies can effectively pin you in a corner without a way to hit back, enemies that love to inflict status ailments. Did I mention the enemies respawn after you leave? Hope you like backtracking and clearing the same rooms. Then there’s the absence of an objectives screen, which leaves you on your own to figure out your next move. TUS‘s best unspoken advice? Explore everything, sooner or later you’ll find your way. Not very reassuring, is it? Oh, and before I forget— an abrupt, cliffhanger ending after 3+ hours of nonsensical buildup.

And yet I can’t recommend The Undead Syndrome enough if you’re even remotely a fan of ‘different’ and the titles I mentioned in the opening. If you’re not, you probably lack a pulse, or at the very least, good taste. That’s not fatal, but it does make you bland. Flaws and all, this is exactly the type of game that should be mentioned whenever XBLIG’s worth is brought up, a spice that can’t be found on arcade or at retail.

REVIEW: Murder For Dinner

I’m a big fan of the art house games, the arcane concept types that most glance over and dismiss as too esoteric, but I rarely get to cover them. Instead I’m fed a steady diet of twin-stick shooters and told to love it, so when something like Murder For Dinner (80 MSP) crosses paths with the indie channel, I’m naturally drawn to investigate.

Placed in the first-person shoes of the ‘Professor’, Murder For Dinner is a good old-fashioned (both in its telling and dialog) murder mystery with N64-era blocky environments that nevertheless look good for an XBLIG, even if the character models do scare the hell out of me. Why do they have to look and animate like that? (Shudders.)

Miss Havisham (‘cue the well-off but eccentric old lady in mansion’ card here) has called together a diverse set of people (a gossip, a hunter, banker, etc.) for a dinner party, where she will presumably spill a closely-guarded secret of one of her guests. With everyone in attendance and suitably intrigued or nervous, the Professor goes upstairs to find their host dead, murdered by someone at the party. Oh yeah, shit just got real. Think of it as interactive Agatha Christie.

Of course you, as the Professor, take on the case immediately. Combining narrative with the investigative (you never pick up a weapon in this game, unheard of for XBLIG!) is a fantastic change of pace, though it rests a little too easily on just ‘being dfferent’.

You’re a playboy? Dude, sorry, I thought you were the butler.

The idea of people with secrets (and oddly, the admitted capacity for killing) to hide and defend could have been used to greater effect. Instead of exploring the human side, it more or less devolves into you talking to the guests, searching the mansion for items of interest (which depend on timing rather than discovery), then returning to the person and A button-ing them into telling their secret, and so on and so on. There’s no branching or freestyle investigating; it’s all very linear and by the (murder mystery) book. You can wrap up the investigation in about an hour, which feels about right. Any longer and it might’ve swerved into tedium.

Yet I have to award huge originality points to developer Detroit Game Studio for bucking the indie trend and serving up a first-person version of Clue. It was a family-wide effort, which is nice to hear. It’s no easy task to stare conventional wisdom in the face and tell it to sod off, especially given the financial and time-based commitments of doing so. That doesn’t give me an excuse to ignore the lack of any real personality or puzzles in what’s billed as a mystery, though. I liked it, but that feeling may not be universal. Try it if you’re game for supporting something off the beaten path, just don’t expect much resonance after the murder is solved.