Review: Blues and Bullets

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Platform: Steam/Xbox One
Price: 3.59 (Episode 1), £13.49 (Complete Season)
Release date: Now

Blues and Bullets is brought to us by Spanish developers, A Crowd of Monsters and has you take control of Eliot Ness, the former leader of the legendary Untouchables. With his past well and truly behind him, or so he thinks, he is looking forward to retiring, but When children suddenly start to vanish and the police just don’t seem to care enough, he finds himself caught up in a dark mystery in a corrupt city.

The game is dark and haunting. The opening scene is nothing short of terrifying, not just because of the macabre setting and the demon like man beast that stalks the bloodied cells, but because it’s children, traumatised, kidnapped children that are his prisoners. The game doesn’t hold back on gripping you with some form of emotion from get go.

Eliot is likable and has a lot of wits about him that he’s garnished throughout his career but one thing I do not buy is that he makes his own almond extract. Nope!

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It’s clear that there’s an issue with the law enforcement, you have lazy and drunk cops in the diner giving grief over burgers. In a very interesting turn of events, Eliot’s old enemy Al Capone ends up coming to him for help, as his granddaughter has been kidnapped as well and Eliot finds himself working alongside a mafia king, to put a stop to sacrificial murder and brutal corruption.

Game-play consists of a variety such as dialogue options, similar to games like Mass Effect and Dreamfall Chapters and action based shoot outs.

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Movement is standard for a third person game though can feel slow at times, a run button would be extremely useful. Character animation is steady, though sometimes characters can be a bit too emotive with their arms, sometimes flailing them with excitement when the conversation they’re having is simple enough, but the cinematography within and around environments is executed impressively. The entire game is set in a world of black and white, where sploshes of red stand out and the entire palette is reminiscent of Sin City, meets a more realities noir vibe. The attention to detail, such as Eliot smirking at a customer and the overall quality of the final game, is a testament to what independent gaming studios can do and A Crowd of Monsters should be commended on what they’ve created here.

Gun fighting is actually quite fun, though the phrase gun fighting makes me think of men in trench coats using guns as swords. Moving on…the targeting is easy and there’s environmental objects to take out a slew of foes quickly. You’ll occasionally encounter a quick time event that isn’t too taxing.

Video Review

The music is beautifully crafted and very fitting to the dark noir theme that runs through.  A Crowd of Monsters have put care into a well journeyed opening. Voice acting is good and line dialogue is read with genuine flow.

I played most of the first episode of Blues and Bullets during a wet and grey day, with the curtains closed and a pacman light on, which felt like the perfect setting, the only thing missing was a nice glass of brandy. In short Blues and Bullets is a game with purpose in its storytelling and great effort has gone into letting the player have a chilling noir world to immerse themselves in. If mystery and storytelling, with twists and turns is your cup of tea, I’d recommend picking up this game and taking your time to enjoy it on a wet, Sunday when you have time to yourself and I’m looking forward to the next episode.

Review: Bears Can’t Drift!?

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Platform: Steam (Early Access)
Price: £9.99
Release date: Now

This game is laying some uncalled for shade you guys. I can drift hard!

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Run the game and you’re given one very simple prompt. Hit the A button. There’s no menu screen, no option for adjustments. In a way I suppose it’s freeing, there’s nothing you need to do, you can assume that whatever the settings are will be perfect and given the presentation and premise of this game, I suppose what changes would you even need to make. Though some people are a bit pickier and like to check that out. But once you hit A, the race begins. Straight of the bat! You’re a bear in a kart!

As a Bear in a Kart you’re objective is to come in 1st place against other, pretty identical bears in karts. You don’t get to select a character or a vehicle. When I said that you just right into a race, I meant it. After each race you end up in a sort of hub world, you can drive around. There’s an A button continuously hovering over your head, but you’re not entirely sure what it means or what it does. You can initiate other races by going through portals that show a little wavy image of what the track looks like. The portals have numbers but there’s no indication what those numbers refer too, maybe it just means the track number. There’s no tutorial and no obvious penalty for not coming in the top 3 positions for every race.

One particular portal track I chose would have benefited from some text based instructions as it took me a moment to realise it wasn’t a race but a sort of fluffy manic battle royale where there was a limited track. Your aim was to take out the other racers with your weapons.

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Game play mechanics are very simple and let a newbie or a veteran join in and easily traverse the tracks. As for the weapons, they vary from picking up a derpy happy fish, which is a bazooka that fires out multiple derby happy explosive fish, there’s a bee which lays down a hives nest, a cute hedgehog that doesn’t seem to know it’s being swept up of a road to cause carnage, which causes what seems to be a sort of kart defense barrier. But you move so fast, as does everyone that I never got a chance to verify that. A handy trick is to use the B button to side dash as you’re driving, this is handy when going around corners and trying to avoid obstacles.

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Visuals are extremely vibrant, but I suppose in a kart racing game, it would be criminal to turn the design macabre world, especially with cuddly bears. There’s a pleasant innocence to the world you’re racing through, but it’s hard to appreciate it at times due to how manic things are with the speed and any carnage from weapons. There’s a particular track, where the aim is not clear in the slightest (as there’s no narration at all in this game). Some sort of explanation would be nice, such as what the differently styled bear faces that pop up in some areas mean.

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There are cameras, reminiscent of Glados all around the forest/cliff side and no reason is given for this, perhaps the poor bear is a prisoner and the whole karting tournament is one big evil experiment. Now I feel a bit glum.

The music is charming but at random times, such as when you may get hit by another racers attack, the music will suddenly die along with you. Just kidding, there’s no death to cuddly bears in this game, I think that would be a trigger for me. But like other cart based racing games, you can be taken out and when this happens the music is taken out as well. It’s as if you’re being punished for not being a better kart racer through utter silence. But later it seemed that the music would just stop in general.

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Local multiplayer is activated in what must be the easiest way ever, simply pause or ‘paws’ the screen and boop down to the bear icons and pick between 2-4 players and you’re instantaneously in a split screen. But I don’t see any non local MP version and I don’t have 3 bear friends living with me to race against. I am a lonely Glowbear.

Video Review

In conclusion, this game is no doubt enjoyable and it is oddly refreshing to be able to jump quickly into each method of game-play. Though I’m not entirely sure if that is more a testament to another feeling this game gives and that is that it isn’t fully complete yet. On Steam it is released, therefore no longer in pre-sale testing status, yet it undeniably has some issues, such as glitching and some hard-crashing moments. The glitching is as seamless as the race starting but it should not occur as often as it does regardless. There’s no variety in characters and vehicles, a customisation option is needed in a game like this, as most kart based games offer that. One in multiplayer screens do I see coloured bears. For a first game though, this is a nice job and there is a lot of potential. If some narration and tightness was added to some mechanical elements and variety to player select, this would be a recommended buy if you want a fun simple go-karting racing game, that you can play with your friends.

Bears Can’t Drift, for a first game by developer Arran Langmead, is a nice job and there is a lot of potential. If some narration and tightness was added to some mechanical elements and variety to player select, this would be a recommended buy if you want a fun simple go-karting racing game, that you can play with your friends. It would also work well as an arcade game or a party Kart game much like the Italian moustachios that can’t actually do any plumbing.

3/5

Review: Her Story

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It’s hard to talk about Her Story without giving much of the plot away, which I guess shouldn’t be surprising considering how central to the gameplay the story is; but at it’s bare bones Her Story is about piecing together a mosaic of videos clips to recount a particularly traumatic and pivotal moment in a woman’s life, with the player deciding themselves what’s important and when the story itself ends.

You play a voyeur of sorts, given permission to view a collection of recently digitised video clips from old police interview tapes from the early 90’s, all related to a single case, and all featuring a single woman replying to the questions of an unheard, off-screen detective. The only problem is you don’t have free reign to pick and choose video clips, you have to search for them using words or phrases. This being the principle gameplay mechanic behind the game, as you start with a small selection of video clips, watching each in turn, trying to pick out key terms that the character uses, then searching those in turn to expand the number of videos you’ve seen and therefore your understanding of the story.

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It really is as simple as that, the story is what you make of it. You can watch as little or as much as you like, and what you come away believing the story to be is pretty the game’s story. Though I get the sense the story was written with a definite focus and ending the fact it is cut up into so many small slithers of video footage and jumbled up leaves it feeling pretty ambiguous and very open to interpretation based on what you feel is important as the player.

I have mixed feelings about Her Story if I’m honest, in terms of design and implementation I think it’s a really great game, it’s simple, it has a very specific ‘style’ that carries across not only in the way the video clips have been made to look dated but also to the way your desktop resembles something from the Windows 3.1 era and the optional glare on your in-game monitor. It’s obvious a lot of time, effort, love and quality workmanship has been put into building the game, it does however feel a little ‘too’ simple for me at times.

The central mechanic is just watch these video clips and make up your own story, which is fair enough, personally I prefer driven narrative but I do enjoy ambiguity and player choice in games as well, so the idea of a story being exactly what you make of it, and based off how much effort you put into a game, is very interesting to me. However there’s really not much sense of achievement to watching the clips (besides you actually getting achievements for it on Steam), as aside from giving you potential terms to search for, the game doesn’t seem to progress in any real sense.

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You watch clips, you search terms and sure your understanding of the story grows as you build a picture of what’s going on, but the game doesn’t really progress in any sense past that. I feel rude putting it like this given how much I did enjoy the game but at times I found myself wondering how much different it would be if buying Her Story just meant being given a folder on your hard drive with all the videos in and being told ‘there’s a story in there, go find it’ compared to what you get in the finished game. Sure the aesthetic would be missing, and that does give the game a nice sense of atmosphere, and there are also the odd little touches that the game does that really make it stand out, but the game doesn’t seem to do all that much more in terms of actual gameplay than having a folder full of videos would.

I think this would be my only real problem with the game, as I did enjoy it a lot otherwise. I just feel as though it’s a missed opportunity to take what is a genuinely really interesting and very a-typical story for a videogame, and merge it with some really compelling gameplay mechanics, perhaps akin to the FMV adventure games of yore that Her Story seems so reminiscent of.

I know this review is going to sound overly harsh, at least as I read it back to myself I get that impression, but I want to be clear that I did enjoy playing Her Story a lot and do intend to go back and keep replaying it, there’s still a lot I want to piece together myself about it’s story. I just also want to be clear that I don’t think this game is perfect, and I don’t think it’ll be for everyone.

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If you’re someone who loves detective stories, who maybe enjoys creepy pastas or augmented reality games, basically anything where your own imagination and desire to explore a story is what creates the ‘fun’ in a game for you then I think you’ll really love Her Story, and get a lot of value out of it; if you’re someone who likes the game to do the imaginative work for them whilst they just enjoy the ride, probably not so much.

I will say though that I hope this game gets a sequel – or at least a spiritual successor if not a direct sequel, as I’d like to see more of this, I’d just like to see it with the player given a larger set of tools with which to explore the story with.

7/10

No Silent Hills, but hope for Kojima/Del Toro project anyway?

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silent1 So according to IGN (and every other site I stumbled upon that had the story and said according to IGN) despite Silent Hills being dead there might still be hope for some sort of collaborative project between Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro, which is nice to hear. I mean it’s not an actual game project that they’re working on at the minute from the sounds of it… so maybe we shouldn’t get too excited, but they’re officially ‘not on a break’ or seeing other people. So they may well make a game together some time, some day! Which has been optimistic at least, and a little excited; Silent Hills looked like it was going to be really awesome but at the same time it was just the continuation of an existing franchise. I’d love to see something original come from a merger of their two minds, and if that’s either giant mecha or something incredibly scary then I’m all for it. [Source]

Gamescom 2015 and a wonderful Indie Event is happening!

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Scary Granules will be presenting via Glowbear at Gamescom, which is fast approaching (5-9th August). Claire will be there to primarily assist with the hosting of a massive Indie event that is being run by the wonderful German Hammer Labs crew.

The Indie Arena Booth is an open home for independent game developers from all over the world, hosted by the German indie community “Indie Arena” and will feature more than 40 games by developers all over the world!

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The following are just some of the indie devs and their games that will be there:

» Jotun by Thunder Lotus Games (CAN)

» Dieselstörmers by Blackforest Games (GER)

» Cloud Chasers by Blindflug Studios (CH)

» Cosmonautica by Chasing Carrots (GER)

» Affordable Space Adventures by Knap Knok Games (DK)

» Shattered Worlds by Conceptsleutelaars (NL)

Resident Evil 0 – From N64 to HD!

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As the release of the RE0 HD remaster comes ever closer Capcom has put out this video showing the progression from that very early N64 version of the Resident Evil 0 that never got released, to the original gamecube version, to finally what the HD remastered version will eventually look like when we get our hands on it.

Looks gud. Rebecca got all dat lippy.

Still kind of sad the N64 version was never a thing though…

Review: High Strangeness

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Ever thought about what it’d feel like to wake up one day and find that you’re destined to become the sole saviour of humanity..?

In all likelihood you probably have, it’s a very familiar trope in games, movies, books, TV, mosaics, classical art, graven images… err, you get the picture. So much so that when I first started up High Strangeness and realised I was playing yet another game where you play the magical, hero character with unexplained, superhuman powers destined to save the world, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes and let out a little stifled groan. It gets better, for sure, but it’s not a great first impression.

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You play Boyd, a seemingly normal teenager who whilst one night chasing after his errant cat finds himself descending down the rabbit hole into a tale of intergalactic adventure and 12-bit exploring. A malevolent race of creatures called the ‘keepers’ has come to Earth,  and only Boyd can stop them, traveling from world to world in the hopes of acquiring ‘crystal skulls’, ancient artifacts that grant him new abilities with which to fight his enemies and solve puzzles.

Honestly, that’s pretty much all there is to the plot, aside from a few twists and turns. Simplicity should never be a fault in a game, but sometimes you do need a little more than the bare basics, that little something that gives a story the hook draw you in – even if the overall plot is something you’ve experienced a thousand times. And this is really how I felt in general about High Strangeness. It doesn’t do anything badly as such, the story, the mechanics, the art, all decent; it just also doesn’t do anything amazingly original either.

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Gameplay follows from short cutscenes that move the story along and consists of exploring small linear environments, fighting enemies and solving simple puzzles with the tools at your disposal to move onto each new area. Combat is simple enough, just repeatedly mash the A button (on controller anyway) to combo enemies, whilst using the increasing array of special abilities you gain to turn the odds in your favour; each downed enemy drops an eye, an consumable item that increases your spending power in the game shop and also either restores some of your health if it’s red or your mana/stamina if green.

You also have the ability to switch between an 8-bit view and a 16-bit view, each of which offers subtle changes in the environment which may either help or hinder you – for example, in 8-bit mode you seem to be a much less capable fighter but environmental traps are much more easily navigated, and vice versa with the 16-bit mode.

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Overall I’d say I enjoyed High Strangeness, not enough to feel like it’s something I’d want to call a classic or replay repeatedly but I did enjoy myself. The story is pretty passable and the gameplay perhaps a tad too simplistic but everything just seems to come together well enough to make it fun. I liked the mythology elements to the story, and I liked the unique art pieces that popped up erratically throughout the game as I progressed; but I can’t help but feel the game basically re-treads territory that got pretty well trodden back in the Snes era, and doesn’t really do anything drastically original from what, or even as well as, the games of that era did.

I can’t really recommend people buy High Strangeness at full price, as for about 3-4 hours of content of this quality it seems a bit much but if it’s the type of game you tend to enjoy I’d definitely recommend picking it up in the sale sometime.

6/10