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Average User Score: 8.1Jan 12, 2016This review contains spoilers, click expand to view. Back when I played Borderlands 2, I noted that I loved the humour and the writing but couldn’t be bothered with all the comparing of loot, the respawning enemies and the other ways in which the Borderlands franchise conspired to be a massive time-sink. Thankfully, Telltale Games took the cheeky, satiric and violent sensibility of the franchise, kept the great writing but poured it into their interactive storytelling model, focusing on words rather than weapons. The result is one of their best games, a comedic scifi adventure romp which calls to mind Guardians of the Galaxy.
The Telltale formula will be familiar to most gamers at this point. They tell interactive stories that change depending on your input. The games are split into about five chapters which are released with a month or two in-between each chapter and together these form a ‘season’. Most likely, you will end up with a complete story, but find the door left open for a sequel. Tales from the Borderlands sticks tightly to this formula. Compared to the The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones entries, it very much eases up on life-or-death decisions and focuses on humour. The illusion that you are really affecting events in a major way is pretty thin here. You’re mostly sculpting emotions and influencing the tone of the characters. There are multiple variations of each scene, but you’re being led down a narrow path.
Thankfully, the dialogues and characters will quickly hook you. Even if the overall structure of the Scifi-Western world they inhabit doesn’t make much sense, you will gladly suspend disbelief to join them on their adventure. You play as two characters. One is Rhys (Troy Baker), a disgruntled corporate lackey who has a score to settle with his boss and the other is Fiona (Laura Bailey), a grifter who together with her sister and her sorta-dad pulls off swindles to get by. There is an overtone of screwball comedy to the script, so you may expect them to get together romantically, until you realize that would mean playing two sides of a romance, which would end up feeling silly. However, what the writers do instead – pushing you towards a romance with Fiona’s sister Sasha – isn’t much less awkward. You’re partly playing as Sasha’s suitor and partly as her sister, which is an odd combination. It wrongfooted me and made me miss the first cues about what was being set up.
Speaking of romance, the Borderlands franchise has always been pleasantly inclusive of lesbian and gay characters in an admirably casual way. It continues its streak here, encouraging players to bring bad-ass fighter Athena and her mechanic girlfriend closer together. It is still all too rare for a franchise to be this inclusive without making a fuss about it.
More than with any previous Telltale game, you will want to replay scenes while making different choices. Not because of the impact on the plot, but for a chance to catch all the one-liners you inevitably missed the first time around. Some of my favorite jokes revolved around the two robotic allies who end up tagging along with you. They have some of the best dialogues, such as when one of them, caught gossiping about you to the other robot, drily defends himself by stating “I cannot hold back the tide of your bad decisions”. There is also a very sly and expertly executed visual joke – set up almost accidentally it seems – referencing R2D2 and C3PO.
As always, the advice with Telltale’s games is to not play chapter by chapter, as released, but to play the whole season in one or two sittings, like you’re reading a good book over a weekend. That way you catch all the nuances and callbacks to earlier episodes. But if you only play one Telltale game, this is definitely the one to go for, even if you don’t know the Borderlands universe yet. Some in-jokes may go over your head, but you’ll still be laughing. @PopCultJunk… Expand
Average User Score: 7.8Jan 12, 2016This review contains spoilers, click expand to view. When you boot up the game Lifeline, you will find yourself with a stranded astronaut called Taylor in your phone. He – or she, the game never specifies – has crash-landed on a planet and is now trying to survive and to find out what made his/her ship crash. You will receive text messages from Taylor, leading to points at which you have to decide what to say or what action to advise. Why you are deemed qualified to make life-or-death decisions for Taylor, which are often followed without question, is not entirely clear. Supposedly you are the only person Taylor can contact, though why you would not run straight to NASA with your phone, I do not know.
But never mind, some suspension is required in any case, as time works in interesting ways within the game. Frequently, Taylor will go off to do something or simply sleep and you will see stated on the screen ‘Taylor is Busy’. At that point, you will just go about your day until you hear from him/her again. However, once you hear back, you are not required to reply straight away. Just as well, as that would be very inconvenient to those of us with busy lives. Instead, all will remain in stasis and the story will resume whenever you respond, until you get to the next ‘Taylor is Busy’ bit and put the game away again.
As a story, Lifeline takes some interesting turns. The plotting is good, but the dialogue can come off as a bit glib at times. Taylor keeps cracking jokes and waxing eloquently even at points where it feels forced. It calls to mind Matt Damon in The Martian, but the humour doesn’t always fit as well here. Despite that and the undeniable artifice, you do start to feel invested in keeping the astronaut alive. It is definitely possibly to get Taylor killed in a multitude of ways, but I managed to reach a happy ending on my first playthrough. (Even though I discovered online that I bypassed an even happier, optimal ending.) Once you have reached any ending, the game gives you the option to restart or to jump back in time a bit. This makes it easier to experiment with other outcomes. But I am glad that I didn’t have to resort to that, as I think that reviving Taylor from the dead would have made the experience feel less immersive. The story does have bits you can miss out on, though unless you die along the way, you will end up in the same basic end-game.
As a kid, I used to play Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone’s Fighting Fantasy books a lot. These are interactive adventures with branching paths. Lifeline reminds me of these, often having me make decisions that seemed like a blind guess with no idea of what the outcome will be. Some are based on common sense and logic, others on luck. But the fact that the story kept reaching out to me and setting its own time table, was a unique twist.
By the way, it’s interesting to be confronted with your inner prejudices – with a protagonist just called Taylor in what I assumed to be a scfi action story, I instinctively imagined a white, thirtysomething male. I conjured up an appropriate voice in my mind when I read the texts and never gave it a second thought. Until someone online pointed out that Taylor could have been a 55 year old black woman, as no description was given anywhere. So I had an adventure and learned that my liberal mind is prejudiced. Lifeline is totally worth the journey. @PopCultJunk… Expand
Average User Score: 7.5May 11, 2014If you have even the remotest interest in puzzles, run to the nearest mobile device and download The Room 1 and/or 2. Both areIf you have even the remotest interest in puzzles, run to the nearest mobile device and download The Room 1 and/or 2. Both are beautiful-looking puzzlers in which you find yourself in one creepy room after another. In each space, you spin the camera around one or more objects that need to be studied closely. To move on to the next room, you will have to to find levers, switches and compartments containing keys or other loose components. Those parts can then be used elsewhere to uncover even more levers, switches and compartments with parts.
The spaces you find yourself in are vaguely unsettling and there is a Lovecraftian feel to them. Though there is no way to go except forward, by solving one puzzle after the next, you get the feeling that you are heading into something bad. There is something horrific lurking behind a dark portal in your future. Not helping your nerves, are notes left by a researcher who went before you, and who experienced a mounting despair. The researcher was looking into something called the Null element, which is a substance with mysterious, otherworldy properties. This substance also figures into the puzzles, as you soon come across a lens that reveals the presence of the null-element. It changes your perception, and reveals clues.
More chapters in this series seem a given, as the games have received a lot of critical praise and have been selling well. Though its particular way of puzzling definitely becomes very familiar, and less capable of suprising you the more you play, it doesn’t bore at all. Tinkering with the virtual objects stays fun throughout and this kind of gameplay is perfectly suited to touchscreens. Playing on a Pad is recommended though, as some of the important details may be hard to spot on the small screen of a phone. Occasionally you will feel stumped and stupid, but generally you’ll be able to figure things out and feel clever about it.
The games have a great hint system. You’re free to ignore it, but it’s good that it’s there for the rare occasion that your patience wears thin. If you don’t figure out the next step for a while, a sound will announce that a hint is available. Click the hint-icon, and you first get a very vague hint, pointing you to the right area. Then, afer a while, a second hint is offered, more specific, and then again after a while, a third and final hint that all but spells out the solution.
To me, the second game seemed slightly easier than the first, even though the second one complicates things by having multiple objects per room to interact with. Sometimes you’ll need to switch back and forth between them to get anywhere. There are still one or two times that a vital part of the puzzle is hard to spot, but generally if you look hard enough, while not forgetting about the bigger picture, you’ll figure things out. The process also get easier once you figure out the internal logic of the games and get into the groove.
The second game seems to wrap up the initial arc of the ominous tale that serves as the backdrop to the tinkering, while making it clear there is more to tell. The first game didn’t really end so much as just stop, but the second one has a short cinematic and even a voice-over. I have good hope that more of these carefully crafted, Lovecraftian horror-puzzles are to follow. Even if they lead to gloom and doom, I will be unable to resist. @PopCultJunk… Expand
Average User Score: 8.1May 11, 2014I just spent a very enjoyable and Zen-like two hours with Monument Valley on my iPad. It is a new, arty puzzler that brings to mind Escher,I just spent a very enjoyable and Zen-like two hours with Monument Valley on my iPad. It is a new, arty puzzler that brings to mind Escher, Journey and possibly Fez. It enjoys playing with your brain by playing with perspective. As a pointy-hatted princess, you have to make your way around structures that could not exist in the real world. To do so, you have to rotate levers, which may alter the environment, raise and lower paths, step on tricky-to-reach switches and befriend a blinking, yellow totem (!). If two paths don’t actually connect, but you can manipulate the view in such a way that they seem to line up, you can now actually walk across from one to the other.
It is not an entirely new concept, but is done very well here. You will pleasantly struggle to grasp the impossible bending of space, but you won’t be stumped. There was only one instance where I was stalled for a longish amount of time, because I didn’t realize that lifting a lid from one end would reveal something else beneath it, than lifting it from the other end. My sense of reality was getting in the way of my embrace of surrealism.
Monument Valley is a very short game with only ten – beautifully designed – chapters, so it won’t take you long to finish; about an hour or two. But the stylish, charmingly simple graphics, the poetic hints suggesting a melancholy backstory, the relaxing music and – of course – the surreal puzzle-platforming, make for a great experience. I guess some people will object to the relatively high price for such a short mobile game, but if you’re someone who values quality over quantity, then picking this up is – ironically – a no-brainer.… Expand
Average User Score: 8.0Jan 2, 2014This review contains spoilers, click expand to view. Filter Kafka through the sensibilities of Douglas Adams and you might end up with something like The Stanley Parable. It is not so much a game as a bewildering tree of short stories to explore, all featuring the same main character and all circling the themes of free will and purpose, while lampooning videogame mechanics. Button presser Stanley finds himself in an office devoid of colleagues and sets out to explore what is going on. As he roams the halls, a sardonic narrator points out what Stanley is doing and crucially what he is about to do. (Also see: Stranger Than Fiction.) But you are free to go against his prompts and the game even expects you to do so, as otherwise it would be a really, really short experience. You can’t really do much except occasionally press some buttons and open a door. Most of the joy comes from exasperating the narrator (Kevan Brighting), who sounds a lot like he is channeling Peter Jones, the voice of The Guide from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It is the funniest, best-written narration since GLaDOS from Portal, voice-acted to perfection. One of the highlights of the game actually had me just hang around in a pointless broom closet while the voice scolded me.
There are various endings, but these aren’t endings at all in most cases, and you will inevitably end up circling back to the beginning. It’s never clear when you’re done, as it’s always possible you missed a branch of story somewhere, something the game itself also points out. The game is very ‘meta’ and will poke fun at what you’re doing or not doing and the expectations you may have of a game. A sinister countdown that pokes fun at your helplessness is probably the best example of this. (But are you really helpless?) And there is an ‘achievement’ that will have completists grit their teeth, which is to not play the game for five years. So I’ve got something to look forward to in 2018. There is also an achievement simply called ‘Unachievable’. But is it? Be prepared to cheat a little, by way of a walkthrough, when you feel like you have seen all there is to see. There are a few Easter eggs you are likely to miss unless you spend ages bumping around every corner of the office until desperation sets in.
The only downside to The Stanley Parable is unavoidable repetition, as you will have to run through the same spaces a lot to get to the diverging branch you want to explore. Though occasionally there will be a small change a new voicemail to listen to, a new comment by the voiceover parts get too samey. Movement is fast, thankfully, but when rushing from one place to the next, the voiceover gets cut off awkwardly at points, when you trigger a new one before the old one is done.
All in all, The Stanley Parable is a unique experience and one that should not be missed. When you look into this game, this game also looks into you. I look forward to revisiting it again, in time, when I’ve forgotten most of the narration. But not until five years have passed, of course, as I really want that achievement.
Average User Score: 8.6Jan 2, 2014This review contains spoilers, click expand to view. Brothers a tale of two sons, is a beautiful-looking puzzle-platformer that tells an emotional, bittersweet story. It is like a fairytale as told by the Brothers Grimm, with an unexpected sting and darkness to offset the blissful bits with butterflies and bunnies. At the start, we see how the younger of two brothers doesn’t manage to save his mother’s life. Then, as his father falls deathly ill, he sets off on a long journey with his older brother to a tree that may well hold a cure. Along the way, they run into various creatures and face obstacles that can only be overcome by working together. As everybody speaks an incomprehensible language, the story is told entirely with images and body language.
The game is blessed with an ingenious, yet simple, control-scheme, which allows you to control both brothers simultaneously. One with your left hand and one with your right. If you are lucky enough to have a gamepad, this means that movement is handled with the two control sticks (one per brother) and that for any context-sensitive action (grabbing something or chatting to a character, for instance) you use the left and right trigger, depending on the brother you’re focused on. Once you get used to it, this scheme works surprisingly well, though I did get confused now and then when the brother I was controlling with the left hand was to the right of his sibling. Apparently my brain was expecting my left hand to always control the brother on the left.
Most of the roadblocks involve pulling levers and turning cranks. Barring a few exceptions such as when the brothers go on a climbing expedition while tied together with a rope these aren’t exactly innovative, or intellectually challenging. But because of the way you are controlling the brothers, the execution is still interesting. The big incentive to keep going is not finding the next puzzle to solve but to see how the story turns out. The game is good at making you feel invested in the characters, the great visuals and beautiful soundtrack helping to draw you into this world.
Brothers is very linear, there just being a few places where you can deviate from the path a teensy bit to do something optional like reuniting a giant turtle with her kids. And there are no collectibles of any kind, which is a major plus in my book. All too often the pacing of a game is disrupted by the feeling that you should be exploring every inch of your surroundings to not miss out on something. Even if that something is actually completely irrelevant to the game proper. Brothers moves at a steady clip, never pausing long enough to bore, and it can be finished in a couple of hours. This is probably a negative for some gamers, but good news for people like me, who tend to be short on time and prefer an awesome short experience to a longer just-okay one.
There is an amazing moment late in the game where a little stunt with the controls nearly brought a tear to my eye. I can’t spoil the context, but suffice to say that this is the first time a simple game mechanic ever had such a direct emotional effect on me. The control itself as the narrative device that is something rare. Brothers is a game that won’t soon be forgotten.