Category: Reviews

Review: Costume Quest 2

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Platform: PC
Developer: Double Fine
Website: www.costumequest2.com
Australian rating: PG

Halloween in Australia is weird. I’ve only had kids come to my door in costume twice, but people love to complain about how this American holiday has invaded our calendar. White Australians complaining about cultural imperialism is odd, right? Kind of tone deaf and crass? Christmas isn’t any more Australian, and we mainly use Halloween as an excuse for adults to dress up and get drunk anyway, like we do every other holiday.

The Costume Quest games are an insight into why Halloween is such a big deal for Americans, letting you play a gang of kids dressed up in dodgy outfits – a robotic suit made of cardboard boxes, a superhero costume that’s just a blanket cape and a pair of underpants on the outside – who are given free rein to roam the suburbs and pretend to be heroes and monsters while eating all the sugar. Those suburbs, by the way, are being invaded by aliens under the cover of Halloween and only you can stop them. Adults won’t believe that big green weirdo is a Grubbin from the planet Repugia and not just someone in a better costume than you, and anyway, you don’t need adults to stop them when you have The Power Of Imagination.

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Review: Wasteland 2

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Platform: PC
Developer: InXile
Website: https://wasteland.inxile-entertainment.com
Australian rating: MA15+

I hate reviews that start with a history lesson, but Wasteland 2 needs some context. I’ll try to make it a short history lesson at least. Here goes.

The original Wasteland was a turn-based post-apocalyptic roleplaying game designed by Interplay in 1988, in which cowboy Desert Rangers protected irradiated Arizona from raiders and robots and, if you played like me, got gnawed to the bone by giant mutant rabbits like they were fleshy carrots being chomped by Bugs Bunny. It was popular enough that Interplay started work on a sequel, but not popular enough for publisher Electronic Arts, who cancelled it and then refused to sell them back the rights. Interplay self-published a different post-apocalyptic RPG instead, and that’s the origin story for the classic Fallout. Years later, the Fallout series has changed hands and members of the original Interplay team, now calling themselves InXile, finally got the rights to their game back and – with help from fans via Kickstarter – made the sequel they wanted to make decades ago.

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Review: Gauntlet

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Platform: PC
Developer: Arrowhead
Website: www.gauntlet.com
Australian classification: MA15+

The first time I played this remake of Gauntlet I accidentally shot the food within the opening five minutes, so if the only thing you need to know is whether it’s possible to destroy an entire roast turkey with a single, poorly aimed arrow just like in the original, there you go.

Gauntlet is a remake of the 1985 arcade game that gave us one of our first four-player co-op experiences and birthed a bunch of memes about the wizard needing food badly. Arrowhead, the developers of Magicka, have focussed on that arcade multiplayer experience and created a fast-paced action RPG that boils Diablo down to potent stock.

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Review: Hack ‘n’ Slash

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Platform: PC, Mac, Linux
Developer: Double Fine
Website: www.hacknslashthegame.com
Australian rating: Unrated

In the Legend Of Zelda games Link spends a lot of time doing the fantasy equivalent of mowing the lawn. He’s constantly swiping at tall grass with his sword while shouting “Hah!” because that grass contains the hearts he needs to replenish his health bar, because video games. In Hack ‘n’ Slash you walk up to a bush, shout “Hah!” and stick your sword in it, but then things get weird. Your sword ends not with a blade but a USB connector and the bush has a matching plug, and when you join the two a text box pops up with a set of variables in it. One of them says “ON_FIRE false”, and you can exchange that “false” for a “true”. As soon as you do the bush bursts into flames with a FWOOSH. Only then do the hearts appear.

Hack ‘n’ Slash is about the other definition of the word hack.

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Review: The Walking Dead Season Two

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Platform: PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4, PS Vita, iOS, Android, Ouya, Kindle Fire HDX
Developer: Telltale Games
Website: https://www.telltalegames.com/walkingdead
Australian rating: R18+

The second series of Telltale’s Walking Dead game stars a new protagonist: 10-year-old Clementine. If you thought having a child hero might involve toning things down from the previous season’s tough choices and brutality, the first episode proves you very wrong. It’s not long before survivors are turning on each other and zombies having their heads collapsed, and at one point Clem has to suture a serious wound. I’ve never found it so hard to perform a simple click and drag as I did when pushing that needle.

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Review: Murdered: Soul Suspect

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Platform: PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Developer: Airtight Games
Website: http://murdered.com
Australian classification: M

My favourite thing about Murdered: Soul Suspect is the cigarette. The main character, Detective Ronan O’Connor, has this hip bartender look: trilby, waistcoat, tattoos, stubble, nicotine addiction. I’m pretty sure he sold me a Corona once and was polite enough not to sneer. But he’s dead now, and also a detective – a ghost detective who has to solve his own murder before he can move on. Since he was smoking when he was attacked he’s still smoking now. At a couple of dramatic moments he flicks that ethereal ciggie away and moments later it’s back in his mouth again, eternally half-finished. Just like he’s stuck wearing that hat until it comes back into fashion, he’s stuck with that smoke, which is maybe a commentary on addiction or just a cool little detail in a game that’s full of them.

Here’s another one. It’s set in Salem, Massachusetts, the town still infamous for its witch trials of over 300 years ago. The locals must be as sick of everyone bringing them up as Australians are of convict jokes. Being a religious place, all Salem’s buildings are consecrated, meaning ghosts can’t cross the thresholds and Ronan has to wait for someone to open a door like a cat who wants to be let in. Many of the town’s old structures have left ghosts of themselves behind as well; you’ll see burning spectral ruins where an old house caught fire, or an overturned cart in the middle of the street. The consecrated walls and ghostly leftovers force you to be creative in crossing town from one crime scene to the next, and also happen to look great. The old Salem overlaps with the new like the scabs of history refusing to heal.

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Review: Transistor

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Platform: PC, PS4
Developer: Supergiant
Website: http://supergiantgames.com/index.php/transistor
Australian classification: Unrated

Plenty of games have kludged together the tactical depth of turn-based battles with the high-stakes immediacy of real-time fighting, letting you freeze combat to issue commands then watch things play out, maybe taking control of simple actions or just looking on till you need to take over again like an interfering theatre parent. Transistor, a new action RPG from the developers of Bastion, takes a similar approach: pause time to cue up some powers, watch them play out in a second of glorious bullet time, then run around like a headless chicken till your ability to freeze things refills.

You play Red, a singer who has lost her voice, as she travels across the city of Cloudbank towards a reckoning with the individuals who took it from her. The Transistor is both weapon and companion, a high-tech sword/artificial intelligence/soul-storage device/all-purpose problem solving tool, guiding and advising you as you cross the city. But a legion of robotic beings called The Process are in the midst of dismantling Cloudbank and you’ll have to fight through them to get both answers and revenge.

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Review: Vertical Drop Heroes HD

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Platform: PC
Developer: Nerdook
Website: http://nerdook-productions.com
Australian classification: Unrated

Vertical Drop Heroes HD is a fancied-up remake of a browser game you can play online at Kongregate (hence the HD), which is about adventurers exploring dungeons by jumping ever downwards from platform to platform (hence the vertical drop). It’s not so much a dungeon crawler as a dungeon faller. Nobody’s called a game about exploring a dungeon from the traditional left to right Horizontal Walk Heroes, so I guess that’s still up for grabs.

You start by picking one of three randomly generated heroes, each with different special abilities, weapons, and names, meaning you might be choosing from the mighty Hellspike, Skybane, or… Owlguard. Their appearances are random as well: big, boofy cartoon heads topped by helmets, hoods, masks, or flowers. If you don’t want to play a flower-wearing hero named Owlguard I don’t know what’s wrong with you.

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Review: Sir, You Are Being Hunted

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Platform: PC
Developer: Big Robot
Website: http://www.big-robot.com/2012/03/12/sir-you-are-being-hunted
Australian rating: Unrated

The robots in Sir, You Are Being Hunted are more English than tea and racism. They wear tweed coats and top hats, smoke pipes, stalk about on the moors shooting pheasants, talk endlessly about the weather in their whirr-buzz-click robot voices – they’re like characters from Sherlock Holmes made out of brass.

Oh, and they want to kill you.

Sir, You Are Being Hunted is a game of stealth and survival in which you’re stranded on a string of islands with very little to protect yourself, and must gather fragments of scattered scientific equipment to rebuild a teleporter so you can get the hell away. Between you and those fragments are packs of robot gentlemen and their robot dogs, forcing you to crouch in long grass and behind hedges to evade their shining red eyes whenever a hunting party approaches.

You spend a lot of time in this game toggling in and out of crouch mode. Sir, your thighs are getting a heck of a workout.

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Review: Daylight

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Platform: PC, PS4
Developer: Zombie Studios
Website: www.playdaylight.com
Australian rating: M

For the first 15 minutes Daylight had me hooked. Waking up in a dark, abandoned hospital with only a handful of flares, glow-sticks, and a smartphone for light, a spooky voice on the other end of that phone, and no weapons to protect myself from things scurrying around in the shadows? That’s a fine setup for a horror game, immersive and eerie. But Daylight revealed its rules too quickly, and once you’ve seen behind the curtain and know how a game works the intrigue drains right out of it – especially if it’s content to just repeat those rules until it’s done.

Here’s how it goes: each dark location is a series of rooms dead-ending at a mystical lock that can only be opened by a sigil, which is an item imbued with personal significance – perhaps a doll, or a Bible. The sigil won’t appear until you find six clues (called ‘remnants’ by the game and your friend on the phone), which are scattered notes that might be hospital administration papers, newspaper articles, or diary fragments, all slowly contributing to a convoluted backstory.

Once you’ve collected the remnants, revealed the sigil, and opened the lock you move on to a slightly different set of darkened rooms to do the whole thing again. And again. That’s the entire game.

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