Year of Gaming 3: Geneforge 1

Geneforge 1 is an old-school (and actually old) fantasy RPG game.

Source: steamcommunity.com

And at first, that is all it would seem to be.

There are a lot of things about Geneforge 1 that are familar if you have ever played this kind of game. The turn-based encounter and combat system, the tedious quests, the really bad art; I took my first look at it and said “oh fuck, this again.” But something that I didn’t expect from a game like this was the story. All in all, a fantasy RPG ultimately rests on its ability to tell a story. This is why table-top RPG games like Dungeons & Dragons have done so well; if your storytelling Dungeon Master is creative enough, your game will be immensely enjoyable, even if you are playing in a basement and everyone smells like they haven’t showered in a millennium. To emulate the success of a table-top RPG, a game would need to have a great storyline, good combat system, and plenty to explore. So while Geneforge 1 is not unlike every fantasy RPG out there, it does have a good combat system beyond the trappings of turn-based events as well as a large map to clear of monsters. This would all be for naught if the storyline was not as good as it.

Ok, I’ll stop beating around the bush. The game goes like this: you either play as a Shaper, Guardian, or Agent, which any gamer worth his Doritos salt will recognize as Mage, Paladin, and Rogue classes. Their abilities are similar to the typical classes too, but they are extremely well balanced. You don’t need a tank to protect you as a Shaper, but you do need to be careful. You can slink around as an Agent, but you are at a severe disadvantage because you aren’t able to shape (the equivalent of summoning creatures). The Guardian class is balanced between them, with some magical ability as well as decent fighting ability.

I started the game as a Shaper, since I never pick the mage class and the game seemed to be optimized for a Shaper run-through. At some point I got enough shit to summon my first creature, which they called a Fyora but I swear to God is just a fire-breathing velociraptor. After summoning more velociraptors, I made my way around the island of Sucia, which I have been predictably shipwrecked on. And, of course, the island of Sucia is barred from Shaper travel for two hundred years, so you’re the first to get fucked over by whatever caused your people to leave. This is where it gets interesting, though. The story has been built up to give you the impression you’re entering a wild, monster-filled jungle of an island where you’ll gather old tech to make a boat and gtfo. That’s not at all what happens. I’ll spare the spoilers to anyone interested in checking it out. And, true to the RPG elements, your choices will matter, so be careful.

The combat system deserves a little lip-service here. Again, in true RPG fashion, you can and will die from something you should be able to 1-shot. Now THAT’S a turn-based combat system D&D can be proud of. Just make sure you save often. Other than that, you have your little velociraptors who, if you aren’t careful and don’t give them enough intelligence, will just fight their little selves to death. You can control them if you do make them smart, and that can produce some interesting results in combat. The art, as aforementioned, sucks. Like, reaaaaally sucks. Like, even for 2001 it sucks. But you can at least make out objects, enemies, and the like, so noticing how bad it is quickly falls to the back of your mind. And the map is pretty expansive, so for a small indie team to sacrifice art for the sake of having a full and immersive game is quite forgivable. The music is… unfortunate. By which there is none. But it really does play into the immersion. Instead of some awful MIDI score, you are plied with nature sounds when you’re in the monster areas, and town sounds in the settlements. It makes for a more natural feel of the game.

I feel it is necessary to mention that I took TWO days to play this game, although the hourly total is around the same that I devoted to the earlier YoG posts. The main reason I tried to play it more was that I felt I hadn’t given it a fair chance; it takes quite some time to get far into the game. In the amount of time I played, I only advanced about 5 map tiles… of 77. Admittedly, I’m a perfectionist, so someone who is interested in completing the game but not 100% will be able to in far less time. Consistent play could last a few weeks to finish it.

I recommend this game ONLY if something like a fantasy RPG with a great storyline interests you. It takes a little bit to get hooked into the game, so some patience is required. I definitely plan to come back and finish it, if only to learn the secrets of Sucia Island. And to fight with little velociraptors, that too.

I obtained this game in an indie bundle for very cheap, but the Geneforge series (1-5) is available on the official website for $30, as well on Steam for $20, so you don’t have to break the bank to get it.

Year of Gaming 2: EDGE

EDGE is a simplistic 3D platformer where you play as… a cube.

Yes, a cube, with a hang-time! I’m completely serious. In EDGE, your goal for each map is to make it to the flashing square… thing, while picking up other flashing cube… things. Ok, so this game doesn’t give you a lot of descriptives, but it’s easy enough to pick up. Well, except for hang-time, where you can balance on one of your cube edges and use this to travel over obstacles and gaps. It looks cool, check out around 30 seconds of this video to see what I mean, but is easier said than done. So except for the hang time, it seems easy, right? NO. Thanks to the perspective of the FOV, sometimes it’s a little difficult to remember which direction on the keyboard will be the direction on the map. Your cube also has some inertial resistance to starting and stopping movement, which is GREAT when you are trying to pull off complicated movements (read: sarcasm). For a simple little game, it takes a lot of frustration and rage quitting, which I did about 4 times, to get anywhere.

Another nice thing they do is grade you like in school based on how many other cubes you collected, how many of your own cubes you killed off trying to make it through ONE GODDAMNED OBSTACLE and how long it took. Get ready for your self-esteem to be shredded.

Do I recommend it, though? I guess. It’s a puzzle game like any other; an extremely well-designed and interestingly physics-ish one, but it’s got the same shit they all have. The music is ok, which is somehow a major selling point to this game. Don’t let the ads fool you, though, because they recycle the music, and some of the more upbeat tracks just mock you while you are dying over and over and over again. Fuck you, bip-boops. Out of the 48 levels in this game, I made it through 31 before completely giving up, which isn’t too bad. There are some good points to it, I’ll admit it, and once you get used to using the hang-time it’s somewhat enjoyable.

may go back to it and completely finish it, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

If you want to undo years of psychotherapy and anger management, you can find this game on Steam and as well as the occasional indie bundle.

Year of Gaming 1: Call of Juarez Gunslinger

First off, the name bugs me. The name indicates that the call is for the Juarez gunslinger, but the logo gives a different impression:256px-CallofJuarez-cover

It is in fact the 4th entry in the Call of Juarez series. You play as Silas Greaves, a n old west bounty hunter and perennial vitriolic coot yelling at kids to get off his lawn, with like, a bazillion fragmented stories to tell. As Silas tells the story in the voice over, you are playing the actions he is talking about. He tends to ruin the surprises in the voice over; you’ll be sneaking along, exploring the map, and he’ll say something like “And then I was ambushed up the ass!” Kind of ruined it for me, honestly.

Another thing that disappointed me was how the game felt. At first you get the sense of more of a sandbox environment, until you find out that it’s boringly linear. There are so-called “secrets” in each level (I’ll detail that in a minute) which, if you are able to look around (I’ll get to that, too, in a minute), are easily found. It didn’t really provide that much of a challenge, or sate my hunger for exploration, which was a shame; most of the environments were quite scenic, and would have provided a real obstacle to hunting these secrets down.

The “secrets” I mentioned give an XP boost, which is nice I guess. The other benefit to finding them is to get the “Nuggets of Truth”. These are simply short descriptions of actual historical events that Old Man Greaves is interjecting himself into (did I mention Silas Greaves has dementia? He has dementia). They’re interesting, but it breaks the immersion somewhat. Finding them is easy, but only if you’re not getting gunned down by 20 other bandits/deputies/angry pregnant saloon girls. It’s also tough to find them because the game is so linear. Once you get to a certain part of each story, the area you were just in may be cut off to you, or the story may end altogether, providing no way to go back and explore to get them. Some of the levels offered me the chance to find the secrets by putting “the boss fight” at the very end, so I could explore the entire map without triggering the event. Others were not so kind, and I found myself taken away to the next chapter or so before I really even wanted to leave.

The system plays like an arcade FPS, which is exactly what I want when I hear a name like “Call of Juarez: Gunslinger”. Unfortunately, there is a weird RPG element to it as well. You gain XP by killing the various baddies, earning more points and combos for quick, challenging kills. That doesn’t really bother me, and I like the idea of being rewarded for head shots and shooting 5 people in 4 seconds. The thing that bothers me is what you sink those skill points you earn into. You don’t get to upgrade things directly, like your health level or running speed. Instead there are three skill trees: ranged, dual-wield, or close-quarters. For ranged, you can invest in abilities that will help to snipe. For dual-wield, you increase the usefulness of using two guns at the same time. For close-quarters, you upgrade mostly shotgun attributes. While this may seem more useful than bulk upgrades for health, ammo, and Metamucil capacity, consider this: focusing on a character that only does range, or close quarters, or dual-wields will leave you fucked over about 1/2 the time. You don’t get to bring ammo or your gun of choice with you, and are only give the guns and ammo as dictated by Silas’ story. In one of the stories, you even get to run out of ammo, and you don’t get an opportunity to pick up a different gun. In another, you only get to change out weapons right before the “boss”. You’ll need each tactic, too. You won’t have the choice to snipe every bad guy because some only spawn when you trigger the next part of the story, and by then it’s too late. You can’t just shotgun everyone because you will get mowed down before you can even get close enough to take them out. And dual-wield will only work the best if you have similar types in each hand, and that is not even an option in some of the stories. Ultimately you have to spread your skill points around. They don’t come easy, though, so it’s tough deciding which perks to go with, and then you end up regreting the decision immensely when you enter the next area.

I actually started playing the game about a week ago, but hadn’t played it since until today. I was so turned off by all of the cons that I gave up after about an hour. But after picking it up again and sitting through some more of it, I started to like it. The combat system, once I got used to it, is extremely fluid. At first I expended ammo shooting everywhere BUT the enemy, and had no idea what I was doing, but now I fire off quick headshot combos. It’s essential to actually use obstacles to hide behind and shoot from any chance you get, which is extremely frustrating at first but lends to the immersion. It starts to really feel like you’re in the old west, shootin’ up the place. You don’t have a health bar either, so you go on how dizzy you get after getting shot, which keeps you focused on the fight and survival rather than on explicitly increasing your HP. Sitting down to revive for a little bit is how you regain health, but be careful, the AI can occasionally come after you. This, along with a concentration meter (think “The Matrix” bullet-time) and a special chance to miss a dead-on shot every now and then makes for a confusing and busy beginning, but it blends together to create a great experience. Having the ability to get the player to master the combat system early on is a tough trick I don’t think a lot of games do very well, and I think this game manages to it very nicely.

The game’s narrator also starts to grow on you. The story starts out as silly, because you’re fighting alongside Billy the Kid, and that of course is one of the first old west gunslingers you think of. To me, it seemed cheesy. But then again, I’m not an expert in old west history, so when I started to play more of the game and basically learn all about the real gunslingers, playing an alternate history suddenly became interesting. You’re also not out in the desert the entire time, changing between several biomes, which makes each story feel like a unique chapter. I started to give a crap about the backstory being narrated while my guns were blazing.

Ultimately, enjoying the game sneaks up on you. While at first it seems like the developers did a shit job on updating the old arcade shoot ’em up style, the immersion factor after the first story will suck you in, and the combat becomes fluid after some time taken getting used to it.

I made it about 1/4 of the way through the main game, so I predict that a casual gamer will finish it in a week or so, and a dedicated gamer within a day or two.  You can find this game on Steam as well as Amazon.