Friday, 13 May 2016

Vampire Legends: The True Story of Kisilova

So take the title with a grain of salt. In the first place, I'm relatively certain that whatever happened in Kisilova, there were fewer sliding block puzzles involved than the game would suggest. Still, the game presents an intriguing premise - people are dying in a remote village, vampires are blamed, and it's the job of some Viennese bureaucrats to get to the bottom of the mystery. Unfortunately, the bottom is beneath a huge pile of mediocre hidden object screens.
(Yes, that's me trying to brush a snake.)

Criteria 1: To what degree do the puzzle screens look like a thrift store vomited on my monitor?

It's terrible. Every surface in the game is piled with random nonsense for no discernible reason and with no apparent theme. Yes, the titular village is worried about a vampire, but that's no reason to start dumping assorted garbage and priceless antiques on every flat surface. At least the game is decent about keeping the items in question from being too anachronistic - it's set in the early 18th century, after all, so the occasional piece of plastic is incredibly out of place. Rodin's 'The Thinker' even makes a brief cameo, despite being sculpted two hundred years after the game takes place.

Criteria 2: Are the searches justified by the premise/story?

It's 12:1 screens this time around, with the player asked to sift through fairly generic locations - dungeons, graveyards, kitchens - for predictably bland items. I would be less hard on the game's HOSs if any attempt was made to link to the story at all. I would even be kinder to them if they were just a little better designed. The graphics are unattractive at best, and while there's not a huge clash in art styles between environment and the items, almost no care was put into the screen layouts. Size and gravity cheating abound, with too-large or too-small items placed randomly around the screen to little effect.

Criteria 3: How well do the various puzzles and object searches meld together to form a coherent whole?

The story is a simple enough affair - there's a murderer running around, making life hell for the inhabitants of Kisilova, the player has to figure out who the vampire is and deal with them. This is accomplished through a decent number of HOSs and some fairly simple puzzles. While the HOSs may not be up to snuff, the puzzles fit the setting quite nicely, reinforcing the myth that old Europe was filled with lockmakers who had entirely too much time on their hands. Also, the villain, who only became a vampire months earlier, seems to have gone all in on their new identity, hiring someone to craft an unbelievably on-point vampire-themed door lock.

Vampire Legends is harmless enough - it's not especially long, and the plot has a decent resolution in the bonus chapter. There's just nothing special here, and even the core gameplay is presented without flair or creativity. The most interesting part about the game are the bonus features, which include photos of the present-day Kisilova, and interviews with Serbian government officials about the true events upon which the game's story is based. The 'based on a true story' thing may be a stretch, but it's fundamentally the best thing the game has going for it.

Check out my playthrough of the game at this YouTube playlist!

Vampire Legends can be purchased at this link!

Thursday, 12 May 2016

The Manhunt'n Project Continues!

Check it out! There's a new episode of The Manhunt'n Project - this time I invited Melissa to check out the game, and was surprised to find out that she was way more into the game than I could have expected!

It's the most violent and foul-mouthed episode yet!

Seriously, though, content warning on this one. But then it'll be time for Vampire Legends, which is as safe as they come! Other than, you know, all the vampires.

Forbidden Secrets: Alien Town

Beyond objects. The bane of my existence. That's what they're called here, anyhow - I'm referring to the little game that some developers play on their customers, putting in special items on each of their game's screens, little objects that transform subtly in the background. Find them all for a bonus! A feat I've failed to accomplish each time one of these screens has appeared in a game. House of a 1000 Doors? Grim Legends? Each one defeated me. Now Alien Town can be added to the list. Give me a list of nonsense and a pile of clutter and I'll blast through it in moments. A plaque that transforms into a piece of grating? I'll be here for hours.

But other than that, how was the play?

Criteria 1: To what degree do the puzzle screens look like a thrift store vomited on my monitor?

It's kind of a double-edged sword - the town in which the game is set is the perfect location for a Hidden Object Game. Crumbling architecture, mildewed furniture, general urban collapse - this is exactly the sort of place one would expect to find piles of nonsense to be sorted through. The problem comes with the game's story, in which mysterious things have only recently started to occur. Supposedly until just hours earlier, this was a fully operational town with a large population wandering around and living their lives. So why does everything look like it's ten years on from a complete industrial collapse?

Criteria 2: Are the searches justified by the premise/story?

A mixed bag, as is the usual. The screens are pretty much evenly split between 12:1 and Match screens, with the latter obviously being a huge disappointment. As always, I found myself asking why I was adding more garbage to these ridiculous piles. There's one glimpse of promise, when a mini-puzzle HOS shows up, but there's only one, so the game accomplished nothing more than to raise my hopes before crushing them. Perhaps the most disappointing misstep of all was when the game asked me to return to areas I'd already searched once, but as the second HOS started, I discovered that all the items I'd cleared the first time where back in their starting positions. That's a great way to make people feel like they're not accomplishing anything, developers.

Criteria 3: How well do the various puzzles and object searches meld together to form a coherent whole?

It's not a bad tale, overall. The searches may be contrived, and the town may have a few more elaborate locks than are really believable, but the core narrative is serviceable. Playing as a Biohazard Investigation Agent, the player is dispatched to a small town to discover why all of the people have transformed into living statues. It would be an intriguing mystery if the solution weren't given away by the game's title. Even worse, the game ruins any possible chance for suspense by literally starting the game with a preview of the last scene. I'd offer a spoiler warning, but the game doesn't bother with one before showing the main character seting up a bomb inside an alien mothership orbiting the earth before blasting off in an escape pod. I was at first stunned by the audacity of such an opening - if a game starts with the destruction of an alien ship, where can it go from there? The answer, sadly, is to '24 hours earlier', so the players can wade their way through the much-less-interesting puzzling which led up to the exciting part.

I don't know what possessed the developers to so thoroughly spoil all of their game's surprises, as they took what could have been a decent story with middling puzzles and transformed it to the least suspenseful tale of alien invasion ever crafted.

Here's the first part of my playthrough!

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Alchemy Mysteries: Prague Legends

Of course there's a Golem. How could there not be a Golem, with a title like that? Taking on the role of a young woman who's just come into an inheritance upon a distant relative's death, player will find themselves scouring a few locations thoroughly as they search for clues to the mystery they're dropped in the midst of. This could get confusing fairly fast if it wasn't for the game's defining feature - the best map a HOG has ever offered. More on that later. For now, the adventures of a far-too-credulous young woman amid sinister circumstances!

Criteria 1: To what degree do the puzzle screens look like a thrift store vomited on my monitor?

It's really bad. While a few locations may attempt to justify the extent to which they're cluttered with nonsense (a ransacked shop, an ancient tomb), it never works. The items have no theme or logic, and truly seem as if they've been dripped in at complete random with absolutely no care. Size and gravity cheating abounds, and half of the items look as if they were just nabbed from a clip-art library rather than drawn specifically from the game. There's no sense of an artistic theme between the items, and many seem to be actual digitized photos, which clash harshly with the drawn objects. It's truly a mess.

Criteria 2: Are the searches justified by the premise/story?

Standard 12:1 fare here, although if the player so desires, they can turn the difficulty down and only be asked to grab six items in order to unlock the key item. The game does offer one interesting twist in its HOS design, though - access to the player's inventory while searching. While the listed items in white can just be found normally, blue items require the player take an additional step, such as cutting open a piece of furniture, or lighting a candle. While some of these steps can be accomplished within the screen, some ask the player to go to their inventory and use an item which was picked up elsewhere. It's an interesting twist made slightly frustrating by the fact that there isn't a distinct colour assigned to those items, so it's impossible to tell just by looking whether a player should be searching the screen or their inventory for a solution. The game doesn't ask the player to use inventory items enough that it becomes second nature, so I often found myself tapping the hint button and discovering, much to my chagrin, I'd been looking in the wrong place..

Criteria 3: How well do the various puzzles and object searches meld together to form a coherent whole?

Perhaps it's my love for the developers' other game 'Sinister City' that got my expectations high, but I was disappointed by much of Alchemy Mysteries. The story is perfunctory, with no real pace and a too-fast resolution. I won't spoil it here, but feel free to check out the video for an almost-hilarious villain death. The HOSs do it no favours, and none of the puzzles really grabbed me either.

Alchemy Mysteries: Prague Legends would be a complete wash if it weren't for two things - the best map I've ever seen, and an almost Mystian approach to room design. The first's brilliance is obvious the moment a player sees it - a detailed map of each of the game's areas and sublocations, each one with a symbol indicating whether there's something to do there, something to do in the future, or if it's complete. It makes navigation and keeping track of objectives simple, providing the comprehensive assistance that so many other games fail to. Also interesting are the locations themselves - instead of a wide variety of destinations, Prague Legends has just a few, but each is a virtual 3D space that the player can spin around within. Yes, they can only spin around 90 degrees at a time, for a total of four screens per location, but the warping transition effect, along with the detail in the rooms themselves goes a long way to making Alchemy Mysteries' setting feel more grounded than most other games. It's still not a success, but there's certainly enough interesting design elements to warrant a look for anyone interested in the genre.

Check out the first part of my playthrough here-