California Games II review

Does anyone here knows what day is today? Yes, I know it’s Thursday, November 16th and also Tolerance Day in the US, but it’s also Retro Freak Reviews’ one-year anniversary! Cue the balloons and the confetti! Well, this is a written article in a blog, but imagine me writing this surrounded by balloons and confetti, wearing a party hat. Perhaps. Likely.

Anyway, to celebrate the occasion, I decided to honor my first review, but then I couldn’t find any game similar to Alley Cat, so then I decided to honor my second review, California Games by reviewing its sequel, California Games II.

California Games II is a sports games made by Epyx and originally released in 1990 for DOS. It was ported in 1992 to the Commodore Amiga, Atari ST and the Super Nintendo/SNES. In 1993, it was ported to the Sega Master System.

After the enormous success of California Games, Epyx decided to capitalize on that success by making a sequel. But does it manage to live up to it? Let’s find out. But first let’s take a look at the covers, shall we?

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This is the original cover and it’s in the same vein as the previous game’s cover, with a photo of some beach-goers standing in front of a beach, representing some of the events featured in the game. And just like the previous game’s cover, it also features a bikini-clad blond girl. But, this time it makes sense, because you can find a bikini-clad girl on the main menu screen.

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This is the Master System cover and for some reason it features (or at least, it looks like) a realistic drawing of the previous photo cover. Why a drawing (if it’s really a drawing) instead of the actual photo, I have no idea.

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This is the Super Nintendo/SNES cover and again, I have no idea why it features a similar photo with different models, but at least it looks better than the original cover, albeit with the same poses and clothes. If you’re going to do something remotely different, why not go all the way and make it totally different?

Anyway, time to boot this gromet (whatever that is):

As you can see, the intro is very similar to the original with the return of the car license plate but the title theme isn’t as memorable. However, I have to give Epyx props for the main menu, which is entirely original and different from the traditional menu screens. How different it is, you ask? Why, instead of a row of options, it features our beach-goers on the beach surrounded by extreme sport equipment and a convertible VW Beetle (which isn’t featured in any event because this isn’t a driving game). You then control a seagull which hops around each person or equipment (to access the event it represents in practice mode), the Beetle’s license plate (to access the technical options, like sound and graphics) or two signs in each side of the lower screen (left to access the competition mode and right to exit back to DOS).

So, you use the seagull to choose which event you want to practice and right here, you see the first problem this game has in comparison with the previous one: it only features five events, while the previous featured six! And none of the previous events return. In this sequel, you compete in all new events, which I’ll proceed to analyze one by one:

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Hang-gliding: here you control a girl using a hang-glider and you have to launch it, try to stay on the air as much as possible while performing stunts and try to hit the targets available with water balloons, within the two minutes limit. The more stunts you make and the more targets you hit, the more points you get. This is the hardest event for me, because the hang-glider is very hard to control and you have to find the thermal currents to stay in the air (which you can’t see, obviously).

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Jet ski: This is perhaps the easiest event. You control another girl riding a jet ski through several courses. First, you choose which jet ski to ride, then your time limit and finally which course to compete. The objective is to ride your jet ski as fast as possible, while staying inside the course, until you reach the time limit. The faster you go, the more points you get, but only if you stay within the courses’ limits (the red and yellow buoys). The final course even has some ramps to jump and floating bottles to grab for extra points. I haven’t found any difference between the several jet skis available, except aesthetically. After trying all courses (and the ramp jumps), this event becomes quickly boring. It should have been made into a race instead of a time trial event (but then again, we would have ended with a game all on it’s own).

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Snowboarding: This is perhaps the most complete event in the game. First you control an helicopter and have to get to the mountain (and even land on top of it) and drop our snowboarder on the slope, who then proceeds to slide down the mountain slope avoiding obstacles and doing stunts. The mountain slope is divided in three sections: the snowy top, called the Black Diamond, is full of obstacles and cliffs to jump and avoid; a U-shaped rink called the Snowbowl, where you can perform all types of stunts (similar to the skateboard event from the previous game) and a grassy slope (snowboarding on grass? REALLY?!) called the Obstacle Course, where there’s even more obstacles then the Black Diamond. After finishing the last section, you arrive at the starting beach and all the points will be added. That is, if you don’t fall more than four times in the first and last sections (there’s no penalty in the Snowbowl). The most interesting part, is that you can launch the snowboarder at whatever section you want to start, but you won’t get as many points if you skip any section.

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Bodyboarding: Another fun event, somewhat similar to the Surfing event from the first game. In this, you start on top of a pier and then fall to the water. Then you have to catch a wave and do all sort of stunts without wiping out. But the event continues after the wave breaks because then you have to ride the wave all the way to the beach by avoiding swimmers and other obstacles. And you can’t fail one single time because if you do, only your board arrives at the beach.

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Skateboarding: Unlike in the previous game, this time you skateboard inside an empty aqueduct which you have to complete by going inside the pipes and do all types of stunts. You can only fall on your face four times but if you hit face-first into a pipe wall or fall out of the aqueduct, it’s an automatic game-over (and quite a dramatic one, since you end up pushing up daisies).

The problem with reviewing a sequel is that, as much as you try, it’s almost impossible to avoid comparisons with the previous titles, but a sequel is suppose to, at least, have the same level of quality as the first game, especially if said first game was very popular. And California Games II pales in comparison with the first game, which was great. The first mistake was, as I said before, having one less event than the first game. And the second mistake was not bring back popular events from the previous game and improve them. Instead Epyx decided to use all-new events. Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy the snowboarding, the bodyboarding and the new skateboarding events, but the other two felt incomplete and boring.

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Aren’t these people cold?

The competition mode is just like in the previous game, which features a tournament up to eight players in hot-seat (one player at a time), in which you can choose to compete from one to all the events. But this time there aren’t any teams or sponsors. Each player competes on his/her own. And there is also a top score table in which only the best players’ names are shown.

The graphics and animation were definitely improved and I do like some of the screens (especially the menu screen). The music and the sound-effects were also good, but not as memorable. But the controls, this time around, weren’t as tight, either it was playing with a gamepad or with the keyboard. The humor is still present, including the “radical” speech, but not as often. There is, however, more dark humor moments (especially in the death scenes) that some sensitive players might not enjoy (and since I have a twisted sense of humor, I did enjoy them).

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Major bummer, dude.

In general, California Games II’s gameplay and appeal isn’t as good as the first game and even on it’s own, it’s a pretty mediocre game. If you enjoyed the first California Games, you’ll be quite disappointed by this sequel. This game had so little success that it killed any prospects of continuing the series. However, if you enjoy extreme sports in general, you might want to give it a shot by clicking here and enjoy it in your own browser.

So, do you like videogames depicting extreme sports? If so, what are your favorites (apart from the Tony Hawk series)? Tell me below in the comments, in our Facebook page or in our Twitter feed. Next time, we’ll take a look at a genre most common on consoles and arcade and how only recently has fared well on the PC. Until then, keep on shredding, dudes and dudettes!

Castle Wolfenstein review

One of the longest and most successful franchises in videogame history is without a doubt the Wolfenstein series, whose latest title, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus has already met a lot of success, despite its recent “controversy” (since when killing Nazis is considered bad?!). But today, we’re going to take a look at the first game of the series which, believe it or not, ISN’T Wolfenstein 3D, but actually Castle Wolfenstein.

Castle Wolfenstein (also known as Wolfenstein 2D by the fans) is an action game made by Muse Software and it was originally released in 1981 for the Apple II computer. It was ported in 1983 for the Commodore 64 and Atari 8-bit computers and in 1984 for DOS.

But before we take a look at the game, let’s look at the covers first, shall we?

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This is the original Apple II cover and it’s quite average, to say the least. Just some soldier running towards the screen with a castle in the back. Nothing special and quite monochromatic except for the background. The manual has an orange background with gives the impression of a sunset. It looks more like a paperback cover than a videogame cover.

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This cover is a bit more colorful and while I enjoy the title and the art in the upper part, the soldier has an awkward pose. A bit better than the previous cover but not by much. At least it looks like a proper videogame cover.

Well, it’s time to boot this kraut:

As you can see, the title screen is a pixelated reproduction of the second cover and actually, I think it looks better than the cover itself. Then you get to the main menu where it shows your rank in the corner and some options available.

According to the manual, you’re an unnamed Allied soldier that was captured by the Nazis during WWII and taken to Castle Wolfenstein’s dungeons to be interrogated. There, a dying prisoner gives you a pistol with ten bullets in it and you’re able to escape your cell. The game starts just outside the cell, near some stairs to the next floor. You have two objectives: the first is obviously to escape the castle and the second, is to recover the Nazi war plans somewhere inside the castle.

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The better to blow you up!

You start with the rank of Private and have 7 more ranks, which corresponds to the difficulty levels. To advance in the first couple of ranks, you only need to escape the castle, but for the rest, you need to find the war plans before escaping or you won’t be promoted to the next rank. And if you die throughout the game, you’ll be back to rank of Private.

Every time you start a new game, the castle will be randomly generated, with 5 floors and a total of 60 rooms/screens. You start in one such screen, with usually two guards nearby and probably some chests. You also carry a pistol with ten bullets. If the guards aren’t in direct line of sight of you, they won’t see you, so you’ll need to move fast before they do. There two types of guards: the grunts, who have a swastika insignia and the SS Stormtroopers, who carry a green bulletproof vest with a SS insignia in them. The grunts usually take just one bullet to kill them and don’t follow you from screen to screen, while the Stormtroopers take a lot more bullets to kill (or in more difficult ranks, a grenade) and they’ll follow you from screen to screen.

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Surrounded

You can either avoid the soldiers, shoot them or run towards them with your gun pointed to them, to which they’ll surrender (by holding their hands up). If a soldier surrenders or is killed, you can search them for ammo, vests or keys. You automatically take the vests and keys, but you can only take the bullets if you happen to have less bullets than him. Afterwards, you can shoot him, which is recommended because the moment you stop pointing your gun at him, he’ll try to capture you. If any soldier touches you, you’ll be captured but you can also be killed if obviously shot by them. Whether you’re captured or killed, you’ll return to first screen, however any soldiers you’ll killed and every chest you’ve opened so far, will remain so.

There are several chests available and I highly recommend you open every one of them, because not only one of them contains the war plans, but they’ll also contain ammo, vests and uniforms, which will be invaluable to continue playing. But they can also be empty or contain alcoholic drinks (which if drunk, can mess with your aim), German sausages (which eaten, can counter the alcohol), medals, cannonballs and other red herrings that have no real purpose to the game. But what you can’t find in the chests are keys, which only the guards carry. And you do need the keys to open the several doors you’ll find in order to get access to other parts of the castle. Or you can always use grenades to blow up doors and walls, but those tend to do a lot of noise and draw unnecessary attention.

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Don’t be saur, kraut!

To open the chests, you only need to point your gun at them and press the space-bar (you force the chests open at gunpoint?!). The chests can take a few seconds up to three minutes to open, which can be boring after a while in an action game (hint: if you keep your space-bar pressed while waiting, the timer moves faster). You can always shoot the chests’ lock to open them instantly, but that can attract the attention of any guards around, or if the chest contains explosives (grenades or cannonballs), you’ll end up blowing up the castle, somehow. The most useful items you can find inside the chests are the bulletproof vests (which will make you harder to kill) and the uniforms, that can almost break the game.

Every time you put on a Nazi soldier uniform, the game gets a lot easier because every grunt you encounter afterwards, won’t bat an eye when you pass by them. You can walk around with any worries, opening every chest and even walk out the castle without any trouble. However, there’s a catch: your disguise can be blown if you point or fire your gun at a guard, throw a grenade or if a Stormtrooper sees you. It breaks the game at the lower ranks but in the higher ranks (where Stormtroopers are more common), it becomes essential to finish the game.

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“I hate Illinois Nazis”

But what really shines throughout is the proto-stealth elements. The guards aren’t aware of you unless you’re in their direct line-of-sight or if you shoot your gun near them or throw a grenade, making noise and drawing their attention. So you can sneak behind them and point your gun (or shoot) at them. It isn’t real stealth mechanics, but Castle Wolfenstein (among others) helped develop and popularize these mechanics in later games.

The graphics and animation are on par with any other early-80s computer game (the original Apple II version has better graphics and more color). But the sound effects are superb. It even has digitized voices. On a PC-speaker! Although the voice samples aren’t the best (and in German), the fact that they exist in a game this old, is remarkable! But alas, this game lacks any music whatsoever. There’s not even a title theme! I suggest listening to the Inglorious Basterds‘ or Captain America: The First Avenger‘s soundtrack while playing.

But for me, the only bad part of the game is the control scheme. I couldn’t play with my gamepad, so I was forced to play with the keyboard and although the controls themselves are responsive, the control scheme is quite awkward, using several keys, including two sets of directional keys: one to control the character in eight different directions and another to point your gun also in eight different directions, plus other keys for more miscellaneous actions. And you can’t remap them or use the arrow keys.

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Hands up!

Castle Wolfenstein isn’t your typical action game because it requires a slower progression. You won’t win it by shooting at anything that moves (like in Wolfenstein 3D). You have to move slowly and pick your fights carefully, especially since you can only carry a maximum of ten bullets and three grenades. It has a surprisingly amount of depth for an early-80s action game, which might not be recommended for gamers who prefer heavy action. But I recommend it for gamers who like slow, methodical action.

Castle Wolfenstein had the necessary success for Muse Software to make a sequel, and for Id Software to remake the series into the first FPS title, effectively creating the genre and making the series popular. If you want to give it a shot, then you can go here to play it in your own browser.

So, do you like WWII themed games? If so, what are your favorites? Also, what do you think of Wolfenstein II? Does it resemble more the Muse titles or the FPS games? Let me know by commenting below, in our Facebook page or in our Twitter feed. Next time, it’s our first anniversary! And we’ll celebrate it by looking at a sequel of one of the first games I reviewed here. Until then, go kill some more Nazis and keep on playing!

God of Thunder review

With the Thor: Ragnarok movie in theaters now around the world, I decided to review a game with Norse gods in it. And although there several games featuring Norse mythology and vikings, we’re going to take a look at one of the very few where you can actually play as Thor himself: God of Thunder.

God of Thunder is an action game (with several puzzle elements) developed by Adept Software and published by Software Creations. It was originally released for DOS (as shareware) in 1993 and re-released a year later in CD-ROM format. Ron Davis, its main designer, has since released it as freeware.

And no, this isn’t the same Software Creations who developed Silver Surfer for the NES.

But before we take a look at the game itself, let’s look at the CD-ROM cover, shall we?

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It needs a “THWAAK” sound effect.

As we can see, this cover features Thor himself throwing his famed hammer, Mjölnir, at a giant serpent wearing a crown. And before you say anything, Thor here is a redhead because that’s how he is originally depicted in the old Norse myths. He’s only blonde in Marvel media. The cover also has a comedy element to it, foreshadowing the game’s humor. It’s not a bad cover, as it conveys everything you need to know about the game.

And now it’s time to boot this sucker:

As you can see, the main title screen is just a reproduction of the CD-ROM cover and then we get to the main menu. The story is that Loki, the god of mischief, has conquered part of Midgard (Earth) with the help of Jorganmund, the Midgard serpent and Nognir, the prince of the Underworld. Odin, who is under the Odinsleep, telepathically recruits his son Thor to fight these menaces along with his famous hammer Mjölnir.

The game is divided in three parts, with the first part distributed freely with the option of buying the other 2 parts (as per traditional shareware practices). In the first part, you have to look for and defeat Jorganmund; in the second, Nognir and in the third, Loki himself.

As one can see in the video above, the graphics and the gameplay look very reminiscing of Legend of Zelda, with an overworld map with several locations and caves to explore, but unlike Legend of Zelda, God of Thunder is more linear and has several environmental puzzles to solve in order to progress.

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Receiving instructions from Odin.

Your main weapon, as I said before, is Mjölnir, Thor’s famous hammer and just like in the comics and myths, it can be thrown and it immediately comes back to you. It can be used to defeat enemies and to solve puzzles. But you also can use other magical objects and spells that can be found in the overworld maps, certain caves or bought from vendors, but these empty your magic meter, which can only be replenished by finding potions. You can also find golden apples to replenish your health meter or more rarely, angels that can fully replenish your health and magic meters.

You can also find jewels that serve not only as points, but also as currency in the shops and vendors, enabling you to buy several items. In some of the screens with puzzles, you can also collect keys to open doors.

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Visiting a village.

The enemies are varied and depending on the difficulty level selected, they can be easy or hard to defeat (including the bosses). But regardless of the difficulty levels, the puzzles have always the same difficulty, meaning they’re always hard. And I mean it! The hardest ones are when there one or more worms on screen (that can insta-kill you the moment you’re in a straight line with them) and you need to push logs and rocks to block them. But it’s easier said than done. You’ll spend a lot of time figuring these ones out. But in all the worlds, you’ll find villages that have shops and vendors to buy items and its inhabitants will offer you hints to surpass some of the puzzles.

The graphics are simple and colorful, with all the characters portrayed using small pixels that serve their purpose well. The music is okay with some nice themes, but they tend to be a bit repetitive (I won’t blame you if you prefer to play it while listening Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song) . The sound effects are a bit weird in some cases, like when collecting items, it sounds like Thor is eating them. The animation is also quite simple and I recommend turning off the turbo mode in main menu in case you’re playing in an fast computer (or on Dosbox).

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Inside one of the houses where you can talk to its inhabitants and grab every treasure not nailed to the floor.

The controls are responsive, although I recommend the use of a gamepad or joystick over the keyboard.

God of Thunder is a simple game without any upstanding features that’s good for quick playthrough (as long you don’t get frustrated with the harder puzzles). The humor is quite refreshing and tongue-in-cheek without being obnoxious with lot of references to the comics. If you enjoy fast action games with hard puzzles, then you might want to give it a shot.

You can play directly in your browser here, or you can go to the Adept Software page here and download it for free along with the manual and hintbook (which I highly recommend). I also recommend you go to a theater near you and check out Thor Ragnarok. It’s probably the best Thor movie ever made.

So, did you enjoy the review? Comment below or on Facebook or Twitter and let me know. Next time, we’re going to take a look at the first title of a series that still exists to nowadays, but whose latest recent release has met some incomprehensible controversy. Till then, keep on gaming.

Alone in the Dark review

Welcome ghouls, ghosts and other things that go bump in the night, to our Halloween special review. And this evening, we’re going to take a look at the game that built the foundations of the survival horror genre: Alone in the Dark.

Alone in the Dark is an action-adventure game made by Infogrames and originally released in 1992 for DOS. It was re-released the following year in CD-ROM format and ported to the FM Towns and PC-98 computers. It was also ported in 1994 to Macintosh and 3DO and the following year to the Acorn 32-bit computer. And in 2014 it was released for iOS.

Alone in the Dark came to life when French developer Infogrames decided to do an horror-themed game using the new 3D graphics and animation of the time. Unfortunately, animating an entire mansion in 3D wasn’t possible, so the designers decided to just animate the characters and the objects in a prerendered 2D background, which forced the use of fixed camera positions. The team also decided to use the haunted mansion trope as their horror setting since it’s a well established classic, but this time combined with Lovecraftian horror elements.

But before we continue with the game itself, let’s look at these horrible visages, shall we?

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This is the most well-known cover of the game and I have to confess, it’s quite good, giving a proper eerie atmosphere.

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This an alternate cover, released only in Europe. It’s less colorful and detailed than the previous one, but it’s still quite eerie.

But time has come, children of the night, to boot this horror into our systems:

But before playing the game , I recommend reading the newspaper that comes with it, which not only presents you the background story, but it also helps you immerse in the 1920s atmosphere, although the text presented in the character selection is enough as a background story. Basically the story is that Jeremy Hartwood, an artist living in Louisiana, was found hanged in the loft of his mansion Derceto. The police consider the cause of death to be suicide and of course, we all know there’s more than meets the eye.

You can choose between two characters: Emily Hartwood, Jeremy’s niece, who doesn’t believe her uncle committed suicide but believes he left a note for her in his old piano. Or Edward Carnby, a down-in-his-luck private detective, who was hired by an antique dealer to find the aforementioned piano. The intro shows either character arriving at Derceto and heading to the loft, where then the game properly starts. I recommend acting fast when you start because if you take too long, two monsters will enter the loft to confront you and although they’re easy to defeat, it’s best to block their way in.

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“Welcome to my house! Enter freely. Go safely, and leave something of the happiness you bring.”

The game uses tank controls to control the character, which I personally don’t like and although they’re somewhat responsive, the animation is too slow. Luckily, the monsters also move slowly (and some even slower than you), so you’ll never be outrun or outpaced by any of them. Also, the game’s mechanics and controls are quite intuitive, so you’ll have no time getting used to them (it depends on your experience with tank controls, though). And as far as I can tell, there’s no gameplay difference between both characters.

Another aspect that becomes immediately apparent is the fixed camera views, which range from adequate to horrible. The perspective changes from one screen to another which can mess up the gameplay (especially if your character is running). Also, some camera angles are weird and although it might improve the atmosphere, it makes the game unnecessarily harder, like getting stuck behind a wall or fighting enemies that are just outside the camera view, among others.

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Who do you choose to face the horrors of the night?

The inventory screen shows your health, the actions you can perform and the objects you carry. However, unlike graphic adventures, you have limited inventory space in which you can only carry objects until reaching a weight limit. Unless specified otherwise, usually the bigger the object, the heavier it is. Luckily, you can drop objects and pick them up later and apart from weapons, most objects only have one use, so after using them in a specific puzzle, you can drop them to pick up other objects. And if for some reason, you need to pick up an object you dropped earlier, you can always backtrack for it. It makes the gameplay harder and more confusing but more realistic.

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Inside the loft.

There are four type of objects you can pick up and use: weapons (and ammo for the ranged ones), objects to be used in puzzles, books and parchments that contain the game’s plot and hints to solve the puzzles or how to defeat certain monsters, and health objects (potions or food). However, there are also some red-herrings (objects that have no use whatsoever or are dangerous to use). There’s also a reduced number of ammo and health potions, so you need to know when using them for maximum effectiveness.

The puzzles are somewhat hard to solve due to the small amount of hints and you’ll be forced to resort to trail-and-error in order to solve them. Some of them are typical adventure puzzles (using objects to get other objects or to gain access to new areas) while others are used to bypass or defeat a special monster (because not all monsters can be easily defeated by combat). However, the first half of the game is more puzzle-driven, while the second half is more action-oriented (which I’ll talk about later on).

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The inventory and status screen.

The game presents great sound effects, especially the screams when your character is hit by a monster or every step you take and every creak when you open a door, which contributes to the eerie atmosphere of the game. But the voice-over acting it’s average at best, although some over-the-top delivery can be quite entertaining. However, the soundtrack by Philippe Vachey is superb but it only appears in certain moments, which is a good point, because the silence works in favor of the overall atmosphere. In fact, the music is the only hint you have when a monster suddenly appears.

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Fighting a weird looking monster. Honestly, it looks like a featherless giant chicken.

But unfortunately, for me, the worst part of the game are the graphics. Yes, I know this is a 1992 game, but early 3D polygons have aged terribly. Although the backgrounds and the colors look good (especially in the latter areas), the texture of the characters and the monsters look terrible. All the monsters look more funny than scary (especially the bird-like monsters at the beginning). And the lack of shadows doesn’t help either although I do love the game-over screen.

But to properly continue the review, one has to peel back the nice cover to reveal the ugly truth behind it. In other words:

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Like I mentioned before, the first half of the games has more puzzles while the second half (after gaining access to the underground caves) is more action-oriented with some platforming. You even get a new action (jump) for said platforming. However, the moment you enter the caves you can’t go back the same way, so I recommend making sure you have all the objects, weapons and ammo necessary to finish the game.

And talking about the platforming, the camera perspectives make it very difficult to properly land the jumps and although you won’t die if you miss a jump, it won’t be easy getting to where you were initially. Also another small hint: avoid the water as long as possible. And to finish the spoilers, don’t think for a second that the game ends the moment you defeat the villain.

OK, spoilers over. Back to the proper review.

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The gruesome game-over screen.

So in conclusion, if you can get past the tank controls, the camera angles and outdated graphics, Alone in the Dark can be an enjoyable experience for Halloween. And despite its flaws, the designers did their best in delivering a proper horror atmosphere that will invoke tension and fear in opening a single door because you never know what awaits in every new room or area. So, give it a shot, you won’t be sorry.

Unfortunately, I can’t make a comparison with the other versions because I haven’t played them. Neither have I played the modern rebooted series (that started with Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare), which inspired the infamous Uwe Boll movie (which unfortunately I did see).

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There aren’t many, but you’ll need every one of these…

Alone in the Dark had a tremendous success and was planned to be the first game of the Virtual Dreams series, but Infogrames decided instead to make a franchise based on it. However, it did unofficially became part of the Call of Cthulhu series, whose titles are referenced in the game (although they’re graphic adventures instead). But Alone in the Dark’s biggest contribution was its game mechanics (little ammo, health items and hints) and scary atmosphere, which inspired Capcom’s Resident Evil and the consequent survival horror genre.

So, where can you get your hands or claws or whatever on it? You can buy the entire original trilogy here on Steam or on GOG.com.

So, children of the night, did you enjoyed this review or Halloween in general? Let me know by commenting below or on Facebook and Twitter. Join me again next time and remember, keep on playing, whatever you are HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars review

As promised, here’s a new review and to make up for the lack of reviews in the past 2 months, I’m reviewing another fan favorite game (and also a favorite of mine): Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars.

Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars is a graphic adventure developed by Revolution Software and published by Virgin Interactive. It was originally released in 1996 for DOS, Windows, Macintosh and Playstation (in the US, it was released under the title Circle of Blood). It was ported to the Game Boy Advance in 2002, to Palm OS in 2005 and to Windows Mobile in 2006.

In 2009, a remastered version called Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars – The Director’s Cut was released by Ubisoft for the Nintendo Wii and DS. In 2010, it was ported for iOS, Windows and Mac OS X, in 2012 for Android and in 2013 for Linux.

After the success of Lure of the Temptress and Beneath a Steel Sky, Revolution had made their presence known in the graphic adventure market and needed to continue their upstart story, so Charles Cecil (Revolution’s main designer) decided to create a game partially inspired in the book The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail (which also inspired Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code). But Cecil wanted to make a more story-driven and cinematic game in order to distinguish Revolution from Sierra and LucasArts.

But before we continue with our review, let’s look at the covers, shall we?

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This is the most famous cover and I believe it’s quite good and a bit ominous, revealing several elements present in the game without giving anything away.

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Does anyone remember the Gargoyles animated series?

This is the US cover, revealing a stained glass picture of a gargoyle, which looks like the cover of an animated DVD. A bit simplistic compared with the previous cover, but still not a bad one.

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“I HAVE THE POWER!”

This is the US GBA cover and it looks like the cover of an action or RPG game, not a graphic adventure. A rather generic cover, in my opinion. And another thing: that sword isn’t broken!

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This is the US PSX cover and it’s probably my favorite one. It doesn’t have as much elements as the 1st cover, but it shows a very important element of the game. Sometimes, less is better. And check out the cool back cover:

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I’m calling it: best PSX graphic adventure back cover EVER!

But enough talk and let’s boot this sucker:

As you can see, our adventure starts when George Stobbart, an American tourist in Paris is almost killed by an explosion provoked by someone dressed as a clown. George then, for some reason, swears he’ll find the killer clown and bring him to justice! Honestly, he didn’t even knew the real target and yet, he simply decides to find his killer. Of course, the plot goes much deeper than a simple assassination.

From here, it’s your typical graphic adventure: find objects, use the objects to solve puzzles, open new areas with new puzzles and interact with the environment and the NPCs. But what immediately becomes noticed in Broken Sword is the very intuitive and easy-to-use control system where the mouse icon changes when it’s over an hotspot and you’ll simply have to left-click for George to interact with it or right-click for George to inspect it. Another thing that gets noticed right away, it’s the depth of interaction with the NPCs and the well-written dialogue. During dialogues, you have two windows: one with icons representing the subjects you can discuss with them and another of the inventory with the objects you can show them.

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Exploring…. a trashcan.

Another thing that might become unnoticed at first, it’s the inventory itself. It’s very easy to use. You simply move your mouse pointer to the upper part of the screen and there it is! You don’t even have to click anything to access it.

But what really shines through is the story that looks like a modern-day Indiana Jones tale and the complex and colorful characters you’ll encounter throughout the game. I love stories where the protagonist has to traveled to several locations around the world in search of an old artifact or treasure. And the characters are all very well written and complex, albeit perhaps a bit stereotypical. Which is further accentuated in the excellent voice-over work with all the accents in place (although some Parisian characters seem to lose their French accent here and there). There’s even good humor in some parts and although the story has its serious and grim moments, it never gets grim and dark.

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Talking on the phone with Nico.

One of these complex characters you can meet at the beginning is Nico Coulard, a photo-journalist that helps George throughout the game by advancing the plot and providing hints in case you ever get stuck, although she only becomes active at the very end (and in the Director’s Cut, but I talk about it later).

Another great thing about Broken Sword is the graphics that are all very well designed and colorful, and the superb animation that looks taken from animated shows and movies. The soundtrack by Barrington Phelong (better known for his work in Inspector Morse) is quite good and provides a proper atmosphere for the game.

But back to the graphic adventure elements, apart from the infamous goat puzzle, all the puzzles are well presented with some early objects having more than one use and with a proper difficulty to them. The aforementioned goat puzzle however lacks any hints in how to solve it and the solution was very counter-intuitive. Luckily, it was fixed in the Director’s Cut.

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This goat, man.

Another sore point in this game is the protagonist itself. While all the other characters are interesting, George is nothing more than a stereotypical Midwestern white American male with no real personality traits that sometimes behaves a bit condescending towards some of the other characters. I know he was designed that way in order for the gamers to project their personality into him, but he just comes out as bland and generic.

But apart from these two points, Broken Sword is a good adventure game with a good length to it and with a large scope and areas to explore. It might not appear as good as Sierra’s and LucasArts’ graphic adventures, but it’s still a worthy alternative to these two and it’s easy to see why it started a popular series that still continues to this day. Needless to say that I recommend it.

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*opens mouth*…….nevermind

And of course, I have to mention the Director’s Cut, that not only improves the graphics, sounds and resolution, but it also adds new sections in which you plays as Nico. These new sections expand the background story a little and fleshes-out Nico a lot more, making her an even more interesting and complex character. However, these new sections have easier puzzles, only exist in the first half of the game and they don’t have any real impact in the game’s overall plot.

The Director’s Cut also adds new animations during the cutscenes, but it’s very limited compared with the original animation. Especially the new character portraits during the dialogues. It also eliminates a lot of the hotspots, which limits heavily the interaction with the environment in order to make it easier to play. And there are also other minor differences.

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Between both versions, I recommend the original, even if the Director’s Cut might be easier to new comers to the graphic adventure genre.

Unfortunately, the only way to get the original version of Broken Sword in digital format is to buy the Director’s Cut, which is bundled with the original version. Both can be found here in Steam or here in GOG.com.

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed the review and if you haven’t had the opportunity yet, come and join my new Facebook page and Twitter feed.

Also keep an eye on my Twitch stream where I’m going to start my Halloween stream with a game that turns off the lights when no else is around (see you can guess it). In the meanwhile, keep on playing.