Advent Calendar - December 11th.

by PaulEMoz in , , , , ,

The 11th Hour (PC)

Can you remember the days when Full Motion Video was going to be THE FUTURE? Games companies shot hours of footage then compressed them badly and tacked a "game" around them. People saw the amazing graphics and ran out to buy them in their tens. Yeah, they never really caught on, did they? Perhaps the best known or most infamous was Sega's 32X game, Night Trap, which the press would have you believe featured naked teenagers being raped by masked filth. This was far from the truth, as the game had you protecting a group of teenage girls having a sleepover at a somewhat unusual house. It was more like an interactive ghost story than a game... and most FMV games find themselves a bit short in the actual game department.

Night Trap. Ban this sick filth!

The 11th Hour is the sequel to The 7th Guest... a game I considered playing for this very advent calendar just a few days ago. Killer7 won out there, but I decided one of those two games had to make it in. That, and I had a hard job finding another game with 11 in the title (although I did find something on the PS2... too late, though...).

At first I thought the game was broken, as I sat looking at a screen with four skulls and a cryptic message. "Come on", I yelled inwardly, "Come oooooonnnn". Then I read the instructions, which said "Click on the X in the skull on the right to start". What? How the hell are you supposed to know that? And it's so dim I could barely even see the thing! No fair!

Come on... surely you can see how I had problems here?

Still, I got past that in the end, but as I sat through the lengthy FMV opening, I wondered if someone had accidentally given me a dodgy porn movie. It was all video with real actors and that, and the female was showing a grand amount of cleavage (very fine cleavage, as it happens) as she clambered over the bloke. Eventually, though, this sequence came to an end and we did actually get to the game.

Once you get started, you uncover one of those games that I hate - the first person point-and-clicker with obscure nonsensical puzzles. I like point-and-clickers where you play an onscreen character, like the Syberia games or the Lucasarts adventures, but stuff like Myst tends to leave me cold for some reason or other.

You what, now.

In The 11th Hour you wander around, led by a bony hand which tells you where you can go and, more often, where you can't. You have a sort of early laptop thing which looks like what I can only describe as a Sinclair ZX DS. This contraption displays cryptic clues that you must use to find things that will progress the story, but they're pretty obscure so good luck with that.

If you come across anything you can play with, the hand turns into an eyeball, and clicking on the object in question might play a short video or open up a puzzle to solve. That's unfortunate, because I'm rubbish at puzzles. One that I found early on was in a library, and involved clicking on books to try and get them sorted into red and green. I must have tried half a dozen times without getting anywhere near. And you have to solve them if you want to progress.

Can't I just take all the red ones out, then all the green ones, then put them back?

The 11th Hour isn't a game I got on with terribly well. I didn't do well at it and I didn't get very far. But to be fair, I was tired when I played it and probably didn't give it the fairest shake. I actually feel more like playing the original game, The 7th Guest, before going back to this. I feel that there's probably something different and decent in here, and I might enjoy discovering that. It's going to have to wait a while, though.

Syberia (PC)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , ,

The last PC game I played was Clive Barker's Undying, a game I'd never played before but that my wife Lorraine had played in America. Today, I played Syberia, a game I'd never played before but that my wife Lorraine had played in America. I sense a pattern developing. Still, if it worked last time...

Syberia is a point-and-click adventure, and it's very much in the classic vein of that genre. That also means that it has its frustrations and limitations. The amount of times you'll hear "No point, it's locked" or "No need to go down there" is ridiculous. But with this game, it's well worth getting past that and sticking with it...

Hello, Kate Walker. I would say "Good day", but it obviously isn't.

You play Kate Walker, a somewhat downtrodden business lawyer who's been shipped abroad on a quick trip to close up the purchase of a toy company whose owner has died. Any thoughts of tying up the deal and getting home quickly soon evaporate, though, when it turns out that the company has a surprise heir...

What follows is, I can say without reservation, one of the greatest PC adventure games of all time. It starts off slowly, and like I said, it can be a bit frustrating. But you can't give up. You know how point-and-click games work... you can't do something in one area until you've found everything in another area. Think of it as unlocking new parts of a game... that's in vogue these days. Once you get into that mindset, you're away... otherwise, there's always the online walkthroughs to help you along, if you must...

Well, that's just typical.

I know that's cheating, but with Syberia it's worth doing whatever it takes to complete the game. I haven't done it yet on this play through, but I can remember vividly from watching Lorraine that Syberia is a great story, one that has real emotional weight as it unfolds. The people in Kate's life at home, on the other end of her mobile phone, are obnoxious morons, and you really feel for her as she gets drawn into the world of the Voralbergs and the remarkable automatons they've manufactured.

Oooh, you don't want to be hanging around there. It's Halloween!

Syberia is a beautiful-looking game, even for its age. The town of Valadilene and its surroundings look like the sort of place you could easily lose yourself in. As Kate's life in New York exposes itself as being less rosy than she'd thought, you find yourself entirely on her side as her journey through Europe on her quest to find the rightful heir to the company takes on a different meaning...

Ooh, that's clever!

Unless you really can't stand point-and-click games, and I know that's entirely possible due to their somewhat plodding and contemplative nature, I implore you to play Syberia. Yes, that's right... I used the word "implore". For me, it's right up there with Grim Fandango in terms of quality PC game storytelling. It doesn't have that game's sense of humour... it's not that kind of game. But it's one that will stick with you for a long time afterwards.

You can buy it from for $9.99, although occasionally they'll offer it for less.

Law of the West (Commodore 64)

by PaulEMoz in , , ,

Way back when, Accolade went through a spell where they released a series of games, all of which I look back on fondly. I would say they're regarded as classics, although they might not all have had the highest critical acclaim at the time. The first of those games, and the one which everyone I know played and loved, is Law of the West.

Admit it, this almost brought a tear to your eye.

I'm not sure why Law of the West caught our imaginations as it did. I mean, cowboy films were not exactly all the rage in 1985. And yet, here we were being presented with the opportunity to be a sheriff of a two-bit town, and we snapped it up eagerly.

That Rose is a right floozy. Begone with you, woman!

I suspect it was because Law of the West was different to anything else at the time. It was much lighter than a text adventure, although you progressed by choosing one of four responses to a character's statements. And it was much lighter than an action game, with very little opportunity to draw your gun... and that was the only actual action in the game!

Come on, you always wanted to. And most of you probably did.

I decided I was going to play through it again, for the umpteenth time. And although I may be wrong, I think that a large part of the appeal is that your choices do directly affect the way the game progresses. Choose the right responses, and you can pacify a gunslinger, woo a lady, or keep onside with the doctor. Make sure that you do that last one. It's quite handy...

This one always looks like ending with trouble...

So, is Law of the West a precursor to Heavy Rain? Did those guys play this as kids and set out to make a more elaborate game along the same lines? That's doubtful, although I like to think it might be true. But it is a charming and endearing game which brings a touch of decency and morality to the Wild West... if you want it to. It ain't Red Dead Redemption, and it ain't Deadwood, but for all its brevity and relative lack of challenge these days, Law of the West is likely to see the sunset with many an old gamer.

Getting Wasted. Part 2: School's Out.

by PaulEMoz in , , ,

Day one:

We finally decided that we couldn't hang around in the Ranger Centre forever. Sure, it's fairly comfortable... more comfortable than anything we're likely to find in the Wasteland... but we needed to see what's out there, and how bad things are. Unfortunately, it didn't take us long to find out that they are really bad... we were attacked by a Slithering Lizard as soon as we set foot out of the door. Fortunately, YJ Malmsteen had his gun loaded and likes shooting animals. I guess we could have tried the friendly route, but this guy didn't look like he wanted a pat on the head.

Oooh, look at that fella. Wonder if we could use his hide for anything?

Day two:

We set out beyond the nearby mountain range, in search of civilisation, or maybe abandoned technology. But it's so hot by those mountains! We headed inland for refuge, and in a secluded spot in the mountains found ourselves a settlement called Highpool. It seems somewhat deserted ... and it must have been a school town, as there are lots of abandoned dormitories here. It seems like a good place to rest for now... it's pretty enough, and there's a fresh water supply. At least, it seems fresh...

Tomorrow we'll explore the place.

Civilization! Or is it... it's too quiet, and we don't know how civil any residents might be...

Day three:

Well, it seems that Highpool is not entirely deserted. In the farthest corner of the settlement, we found a sobbing child. All efforts to gain information about the place proved fruitless, though... the child was so upset about something that he just blubbed at everything we said.

Having failed to coax so much as a useful sentence from the boy, we headed back to town. We found another resident... a shopkeeper, of all things. It seems bizarre to us that a shop could survive in this place... it's practically devoid of life. And yet, there he was, offering us a range of, it has to be said, useful items. Pity we hadn't thought to bring much in the way of cash...

Jesus! Erm, no thanks... that's alright... see ya...

Day four:

We've stumbled across an infirmary. When we entered it, I initially had thoughts of pilfering anything that might be of use in our travels, even if it were just a few bandages. But then, somebody stepped from behind the curtain...

I take it he was a surgeon or doctor, because he was offering to heal anyone that needed it. Luckily, nobody did... from the look of him, or should I say, his blood-soaked scrubs, it's possible he's not the most proficient at his trade... we thanked him for his offer, and then hot-footed it out of there!

Well, now. This looks interesting. Surely we can do something here...?

Day five:

Things have begun to look very interesting in Highpool. In one of the dormitories, there's a large machine. There are pipes going under the floor... I wonder if it's hiding something? We're going to try and move it later.

Then, later in the day, we went back to try and talk to the weeping kid. Turned out he's upset over his sick dog. He said he'd hidden him in a cave behind the bushes. We've searched the area and can't find any cave... is the kid deluded? Or are we just looking in the wrong place? Hopefully we'll have more luck tomorrow...

Barbarian (Psygnosis - Commodore Amiga)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , ,

The name "Barbarian" has quite a history in gaming... probably because there were two of them. I think that everyone remembers the Palace Software version... with its epic one-on-one sword combat and lopping-off-of-head coup-de-grace, it was the beat 'em up of choice for those that didn't like wearing coloured pyjamas. Then, of course, there was the sequel, which famously discarded the one-on-one aspect in favour of an adventure-type game, and Wolf from Gladiators. And Maria Whittaker.

If you had a 16-bit machine, though, there was another (although "lesser" machines did receive ports at a later date). Psygnosis had their own Barbarian game. You'd think that would be a bit confusing for the masses... surely it wouldn't have taken much effort to come up with an original name. Still, I guess they figured that if the name fit the game, that was all that mattered. And it's the Psygnosis game I'm looking at on the Amiga.

Eh? Wassat?

Psygnosis' Barbarian is an adventure-type game. You take control of Hegor the Barbarian, who must travel through a hostile land of dungeons and traps in order to confront and defeat his evil brother, Necron the Sorceror. And not only are there traps to be sprung or overcome, but also (naturally) hordes of Necron's minions to be dispatched.

Sounds straightforward, and all too easy for someone as mighty as Hegor the Barbarian. Unfortunately, he's been hamstrung by a strange and unwieldy control system. It would have been great if Hegor could have just run in there, muscles glistening, hacking, chopping and leaping with the movement of the joystick and the press of the fire button. Instead, he's controlled via a mouse-driven menu.

Hmmm. This looks too straightforward. I wouldn't trust that rock as far as I could throw it...

This seems really odd, and it feels a bit weird, too. The weirdest part is that Hegor will keep walking unless you tell him to do something different, no matter what. That wall that's blocking his way? He's under the impression that if he walks into it enough times, it'll get out of his way.

It's also quite difficult, especially with a twenty-odd year old mouse that's not as responsive as it once was. That said, the icons are laid out in such a way that you never normally want one that is too far away from the last one you used. And to be fair, you can string together a quite impressive and fluid sequence of moves, once you get used to it.

If he had a heart, he'd just let me have that bow up there...

And once you know what you need to do... there's some trial and error to be found in Barbarian. Sometimes, the way forward is obvious... just walk or run along the screen and hack the creature that's in your way to death. It usually just takes one blow. But there are other times when you'll be strolling along, golden locks flowing in the breeze, and a spiked trap will drop on your head and kill you, seemingly without warning. It's somewhat irritating, as there don't appear to be any clues as to the presence of some of the traps.

It's a curious game, is Psygnosis' Barbarian, and one that's nowhere near as immediate or satisfying as the Palace game. It's quite slow, and when you're playing as a barbarian the last thing you want is to be ponderous. Still, it does have its charm, and I found myself plodding on and coming back to it, just to see if I could get a few screens further. Not what I'd call a classic, but enjoyable enough.

Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars - The Directors Cut (iPhone/iPod Touch)

by PaulEMoz in , , , , , , ,

After the travesty that was 007: Top Agent, I needed something that would reaffirm that the iPod Touch or iPhone can be a decent gaming platform. For that, I turned to an update to a very familiar name. Of course, there are no guarantees, and it could all have gone horribly wrong...

I'm sure most of you have heard of the Broken Sword series of games. I bought this one, Shadow of the Templars, when it was first released on the PC. And I really enjoyed it. It was possibly the first point-and-click adventure I'd really bothered with. The lovely graphics, languid gameplay and (usually) not too obnoxious puzzles made it very appealing.

So, all these years later, is a Director's Cut a good idea? Is it possible to add anything to the original that will enhance it? Or is this just an easy way to cash-grab with an existing title?

Dammit, nobody likes mimes. There's a special level of hell reserved for mimes that murder.

The good news is that Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars - The Director's Cut is, as well as being quite a mouthful, really, really good. The main thing that comes as a relief is that they haven't broken anything with the game. There's nothing worse than playing a new version of an old game and finding it's been crippled by some daft revolutionary control method or something.

Broken Sword's control method, on the iPod/iPhone, is fantastic. You'll slide your finger around the screen, and anything of interest will flash with a blue circle. Hold your finger over that, and a range of action icons will appear above it. Choose the one you want, and the game will respond accordingly. It's brilliantly simple and intuitive, and makes this portable version of Broken Sword a joy to play.

Don't do it, Nico! Don't jump! What's that? You weren't going to? Oh.

Well, until you get stuck, of course. Yeah, I'm still rubbish at solving the puzzles, and it's been so long that I've forgotten most of them. Plus, of course, there's a range of new puzzles. With this being a Director's Cut, you get more game, mostly seeming to involve George's French female friend, Nico, and her investigation into her father's death.

The game has also had something of a graphical facelift, or reworking. The original's graphics were nice, and I can see that people would be quite happy to keep them, but this version looks lovely on your handheld device.

For just £3.99, Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars - The Director's Cut is one of my favourite iPhone/iPod Touch games so far. It's a big download - over 380MB. There's a lot of spoken dialogue which would account for a fair bit of that, and it's such a polished and enjoyable production that if you enjoyed the original or have never played it but like this kind of game, you'd be daft to ignore it. I look forward to the inevitable release of the sequel... and might it be too much to ask that we could see Blade Runner on the iPhone and Touch?