Archive for the ‘Video game reviews’ Category

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The Walking Dead by Telltale Games – a review

July 17, 2012

The Walking Dead. I loved the comic up to a certain point. I somewhat like the tv series too, although to be honest I haven’t watched the second season completely. There’s plenty of potential in the franchise, but it seems some of it is being squandered. To my delight the new adventure game shows none of this.

The TWD adventure game by Telltale Games tells the story of Lee Everett, who’s on his way to prison when everything goes to hell. Lee’s story runs parallel to the comic book’s, and there are some cameos – at least Glenn makes an appearance in the first episode of the game.

Yes, episodes. Something of a trademark of Telltale Games, they tend to release their games in tv-series like episodes. Each episode provides 2-3 hours of gaming, and five or so episodes compose a season. I found the format enjoyable when playing the new Sam & Max, and it works equally well with  TWD. Why? I don’t always have a lot of time for gaming. Sure, I can stay up until the small hours, but that means shambling zombie-like into the office in the morning. The ability to play through an entire adventure game in pretty much the same time it takes to watch a film is simply excellent. The short length of individual episodes means a coherent story and zero filler material. Everything in the game furthers the story, enhances the characters or otherwise contributes to the whole.

The story? It’s naturally filled with the typical zombie genre tropes. Loyalties, conflicting interests, tough decisions, jump scares…it’s all there. Thankfully it’s executed with class. Telltale obviously has some talented writers, as the game just works. Having seen a fair few zombie movies and read a lot of zombie literature, I’ve definitely seen my share of bad writing, hollow characters and other similar annoyances. None of that here. The game is very much like the first graphic novels in that regard. There are some scary moments, some actually touching ones as well as humour thrown in. None of it breaks the atmosphere of the game. All in all it’s an immersive story, helped along by the game mechanics. Furthering this immersion is the fact that the game changes depending on your choices. A bit of dialogue just might be referenced two hours later and affect how a character treats you.

TWD works well and sounds and looks nice. The game runs smoothly on my several years old PC, and the cel shaded graphics really make for a great comic book look. See below for yourself, this is an actual in-game graphic.

Click for a larger version

The voice acting and dialogue is top notch. There is a lot of talking in this game, but it isn’t wearisome. In most dialogues you don’t have the option to go back, and there’s a time limit to pick your answer. Miss the limit, and your character just stands there silent. None of that traditional god-awfully boring tediousness of going through every single dialogue option to find the relevant info. Bioware, I’m looking at you. The dialogue mechanic actually sometimes leads to you blurting out the first thing that comes to mind and regretting it later, or staying silent since you don’t know what to say. I love it!

As a game, TWD is standard adventure fare. There are puzzles, picking up objects, clicking the right hotspots and the like. As it is a zombie game, there are some action sequences too. These are usually pretty simple stuff, and mechanics-wise tie in well with the rest of the game. These offer some really tense moments at times, and are used sparingly to keep them effective. The puzzles aren’t very difficult, and the game plays more like an interactive film than a hardcore adventure game. Some people might not like this, but I really enjoyed not having the story stop for hours because I couldn’t figure out some inconsistent problem.

Honestly, I can’t think of a lot of bad things to say about this game. To a genre fan, some of the tropes might seem too familiar or some of the plot turns too predictable. Then again, I’m a genre fan and didn’t mind at all. At the moment my biggest gripe is having to wait for the next episode to come out.

Overall verdictThe Walking Dead is a great adventure game, that plays pretty much like an interactive zombie movie. The story is compelling and the execution brilliant, so if you’re looking for a great zombie game experience, look no further!

The first two episodes of TWD are currently out, and the third one is coming in August. The game’s RRP is $24.99 which includes all five episodes. You can get the game from Telltale’s own site or Steam, where it’s currently (July 17th, 2012) on offer at -25%.

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Zombies, Run! – a review

July 6, 2012

Need more exercise? (You’re reading this blog, so chances are that’s a yes)

Like zombies? (Ditto)

Think running is boring? (Who doesn’t?)

Read on!

Zombies, Run! is definitely a mobile game. While its actual game-ness might be debated (more on this later), it goes on your smartphone – whether it’s an Android, an iOS or a Windows one – and above all keeps you mobile. Why keep mobile? Well…

The concept of ZR! is simple indeed. You go for a run, and while you’re running, an audio adventure unfolds. In this way, it’s not really a game, as there isn’t much interactivity. There are however some things that make it a bit more game-like. One is that while running, every once in a while you pick up stuff – water bottles, batteries, weapons and the like. This isn’t very interactive either, since it happens automatically. The one interactive feature that the game has, is a winning one. Every now and then you’ll start to hear a moaning, and a voice in your earphones will report: “Warning, zombies, one hundred meters.” That’s when it’s time to up your pace and try to evade them. That’s ZR! in a nutshell.

I’ve gone for a zombie run three times now, and I must admit that I’m pretty hooked. I’ve always considered running to be healthy, fairly enjoyable but inevitably boring. ZR! has definitely helped this. Even if there isn’t much of a game currently going on, it’s simply interesting to listen to the broadcast and hearing the story unfold. The optional zombie chases, which I always have on, make a simple run something much more challenging – an interval run. Basically this means alternating between fast and slow. Sure, you can do it anytime when jogging, but I’ve found it’s much more fun this way. The chases work via GPS, tracking your pace and requiring a sufficient enough increase to lose the zombies. This makes for a sometimes taxing run, especially if you’re like me and not used to interval running. There is a genuine feeling of desperation when you hear the warning and you’re already tired. Significantly upping your pace at that point takes a lot out of you, but there’s a genuine happy and relieved feeling when you hear “Zombies evaded.”

Between your runs you can log onto the game’s website, and sync your data. This also gives you the opportunity to distribute items you’ve collected throughout your base camp. The different buildings in the camp gain levels as you bring them supplies. Nothing special, but a fun addition nevertheless.

After three missions (out of 23) the story seems decent enough, with fairly good acting overall. There are plenty of hooks in the story, and the game has managed to trap me into waiting for the next mission just to hear what happens. The gist of the story is that you’re living in a post-apocalyptic world, where runners do all sorts of important tasks, such as scavenging and reconnaissance. This gives you plenty of reason to run around to your heart’s content. In addition to providing you with a backstory to your running, the game also keeps track of your running stats such as pace and run duration. You can also view a map of your run, complete with graphs of your pace. ZR! supports listening to music while running, and I seemed to have no problem having Spotify on at the same time, although with some louder songs it was difficult to hear the game.

The game version is currently 0.9.2 (on Android, 1.3 on iOS), and as such it has some design flaws, glitches and bugs, as well as functions that don’t quite..function. The syncing between my smartphone and my computer has been somewhat buggy, with some errors in the stats and lost items or example. Distributing the items throughout your camp is fun, but doesn’t really amount to a lot currently, although I believe some missions are unlocked this way. Before a mission the game doesn’t really let you know what to expect – is it a long mission or a short one? I’ve also been left wanting for a bit more dialogue per mission. During the first few I was actually wondering whether the app had crashed as I hadn’t heard anything from it in a good while. Annoyances certainly, but luckily nothing big enough to put me off the game. This is still an early version, and I’m sure a lot of this stuff will be ironed out later.

Overall verdict: Even with its flaws, Zombies, Run! is a great way to enhance your running and add  some extra exercise to your life. The game works with walking as well, so that shouldn’t be a deterrent. While there are some flaws, this is definitely something worth checking out if you have a smartphone.

Links to download the game can be found at the official site. It currently retails for €5.99.

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Atom Zombie Smasher – a review

June 5, 2011

What do you get when you combine the Zombie Infection Simulator with heavy weaponry, a surreal story and surf guitars? Atom Zombie Smasher, that’s what.

The concept of this casual PC/Mac strategy game is dead simple. Zombies are overrunning a fictional country, and you are the military high commander charged with saving the populace – or at least stopping the zombie menace. At your command are various mercenary units, ranging from rescue helicopters to snipers to zombie baiting devices and orbital cannons.

The game itself is quite elegant. You pick a city from a larger map, with a level of zombie infection ranging from 1 to 4. Your job is to go in, rescue as many civilians as you can and minimize casualties. You cannot control the civilians (represented by yellow blocks) much, they just mill around before being called to the rescue chopper by its blaring fog horn. Zombies (represented by pink blocks) enter the map from various points. When they come into contact with civilians, they turn them into zombies. Your various mercenaries try to keep this from happening, while you try to reach your quota for civilians requiring rescue. In the case of a level 4 infection, the whole populace has already been turned, and your job is to eliminate all the zombies. Sound easy so far? It would be, if you didn’t have a time limit of 30 seconds to two minutes. When the time – daylight – runs out, zombies pour in from all the entry points of the map, and most civilians are usually undead fodder in a matter of seconds.

What about your trusty mercenaries? Artillery shells the map, bringing down buildings and zombies. Snipers can cover whole stretches of streets, but are slow to fire. Infantry is effective at dispatching zombies, but while mobile, are still too slow to tackle the whole map. Barricades block streets, land mines are self-explanatory, zombie baits lure in zombies from a large area while dynamite can be used to bring down buildings and zombie hordes via remote detonation. Orbital cannons…well, they level city blocks and whatever happens to be in the area. The catch here is that not all mercenaries are available for each mission. Additionally there are different condition affecting each mission, such as longer daytime or faster zombies. Your mercs collect experience from their missions, allowing you to enhance them. I especially love the mercenary name generator, which gives you some immortal names for your units. The 375th Ocelot Reds for example.

The overall feel of AZS is a weird mix. On one hand there is sheer desperation. In the first few campaigns you really stand no chance unless you’re extremely lucky or a real strategical game prodigy. While you win areas, the zombie infection spreads through different cities far quicker than you can contain it. The victory point ticker tips mercilessly in favour of the zombies, politely telling you how much you’re trailing or (rarely for me) in the lead. This doesn’t lead to frustration, however. Instead you’re left with the ungrateful task of doing what you can to stem the tide. This also causes the inevitable “one more go”-effect. Also, if the game feels too hard, there are plenty of settings to play with, and you can tweak the game to ridiculously easy should you wish to do so.

Desperation’s not the only thing. AZS is downright surreal at times. Little vignettes told in comic book style offer you some insight into the world, but are usually quite incomprehensible. Really, they are. You can’t really talk about plot when it comes to this game, only about flavour. Add to this the constant surf guitar music, and you’re left in a very weird but strangely comfortable place.

The game isn’t without its flaws. As with all casual games, it can (and probably will) eventually get boring and repetetive, especially if enjoyed in large doses. This is basically the game’s biggest drawback. To offset this the game only costs 10 USD on Steam, and certainly provides enough entertainment for the price. There’s also a three-player co-operative mode, which I haven’t had the chance to test yet, as well as a ton of modifications for the game, easily accessed from an in-game menu.

Overall verdict: Atom Zombie Smasher is a great little casual game. While it will get boring after a while, it’s still an entertaining piece of gaming guaranteed to give you hours of fun. For the price of a dvd or a few miniatures, that’s definitely not bad.

The game is available for download from various sources, see the official site. There’s also a free demo for you to try, which I recommend. Play through it, and you’ll know whether you want the game or not.

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