Nostalgia made me do it: Why I backed Thimbleweed Park

As a boy who cut his gaming teeth on Lucasarts point-and-click adventure games like Day of the Tentacle, Maniac Mansion, Full Throttle, Grim Fandango and The Monkey Island games (when Lucasarts used to make good games, that is), backing Thimbleweed Park on Kickstarter was a no-brainer.

No sooner had I watched the Kickstarter trailer of the new game from Maniac Mansion creators Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick  I had my credit card out, pledging $US20, which gives me a digital copy of the game  when it’s finished.  Unusually for me when it comes to spending money on anything, there was no hesitation, no “Umming” or “Ahhing”, no checking with the Home Office:  I just backed the project.

Here’s the trailer that convinced me to back Thimbleweed Park:  

I blame nostalgia (I also blame nostalgia for my backing of Tim Schaefer’s Broken Age, the only other video game I’ve supported via Kickstarter) for my decision to back this as-yet-unmade game.

I blame part of my inner gamer wanting games to be like they were when I was a youngster. My teenage son, who  has been born into an age of games like Call of Duty, Battlefield and GTA, doesn’t understand why I like old-skool point-and-click games. He just doesn’t get it.

I can’t exactly say why I loved the point-and-click adventure games so much but I just did. Another of my favourites was Westwood’s Blade Runner, based on Ridley Scott’s universe. I still have it and its four CD Roms and copies of Grim Fandango and Full Throttle on a shelf in my spare room. When I first started playing games we didn’t have photo-realistic graphics to carry a game that lacked substance. We relied on solid and inventive game play that required a bit of logic.

ThimbleweedanimationGamers of today will probably cringe at the huge pixellated characters point-and-click adventure games had – I know my son does – and many will struggle with the often head-scratching puzzles where you had to combine objects to find the solution, but I loved it. I still do (I think). Yes, Thimbleweed Park could have been remade with more modern graphics but honestly, I love the charm of the way games used to look and be.

Here’s what Gilbert and Winnick say on Kickstarter about the game: “Thimbleweed Park is the curious story of two washed up detectives” called in to investigate a dead body found in the river just outside of town. It’s a game where you switch between five playable characters while uncovering the dark, satirical and bizarre world of Thimbleweed Park.”

“We want Thimbleweed Park to be like an undiscovered classic LucasArts’ adventure game you’d never played before. A game discovered in a dusty old desk that puts a smile on your face and sends a wave of nostalgia through you in the same way it does for us,”Gilbert and Winnick say.

The game is expected sometime in June next year and no doubt once I start playing it there will be times when I’ll start pulling what hair I have left and will curse my nostalgia when I’m stumped by some confoundedly difficult problem that I just can’t solve,  but right now I’m excited to see a game like Thimbleweed Park being made. I really hope Gilbert and Winnick get the funding to make the game.

So, here’s to hoping that Thimbleweed Park puts a smile on my face and I’m swamped by the tsunami of nostalgia that it promises will wash over me.





COD: Advanced Warfare review: A return to form

This review marks something of a departure from the usual reviews you find on this site. Normally, it’s just me spouting my opinion but this time, because this game is so multiplayer-focused, I’ve enlisted some help: Master Game Junkie, my teenage game-playing son who know more about COD MP gameplay than I do. So, this review is two parts: I’ll do the campaign, and Master Game Junkie the MP. I’ll post the MP review when he’s finished. It should be later today or tomorrow.

Call of Duty Advanced Warfare

There’s a mission in Advanced Warfare that took me back to one of perhaps the finest missions in a COD game of all time: Modern Warfare’s All Ghillied Up.

Call of Duty Advanced Warfare_Review_Exo CloakDecked out in a fancy exo-skeleton from Atlas, the private arms corporation owned by your now deceased best friend’s father, Advanced Warfare’s hero has to use the suits cloaking ability to skulk past patrolling enemy guards, aerial drones and scanners to reach the next objective.

It’s clear that AW’s stealth sequence owes a great debt to All Ghillied Up, and frankly, while it isn’t as  good as Modern Warfare’s radiation-ravaged Chernobyl mission, it sets the tone that hints that this year’s COD is a return to form for the series’ campaign which has been on shaky ground since Modern Warfare. It’s almost as if developer Sledgehammer Games, given sole control of this one, decided to go back to the series’ finest moments and get the series back on track.

Advanced Warfare is the best COD campaign I’ve played since Modern Warfare. Is it as good as Modern Warfare? No – but it’s close. Also, could this be one of the first games to actually have a character say the title of the game in it? Watch the trailer below …

For some reason COD games always seem to get a bit of stick from certain gamers. Part of me feels that people just hate on the series because it’s something to do or they want to jump on the band wagon.  t’s true that the series hasn’t changed much over the years, and the campaign especially has been in decline since the outstanding Modern Warfare, but fans of the series know exactly what they’re getting: scripted action and constant instructions telling you what to do, what to use and when to do it. COD games are not open-world, explore-anywhere-you-want games. Never have been, never will.

COD games are tightly controlled, blockbuster action, Michael Bay movies in video game form (Disclaimer: I’d rather play a COD game that watch a Michael Bay movie) where the player is funnelled in a particular direction to keep the action moving along  - and I don’t have a problem with that. I know exactly what type of game a COD one is as soon as I hit the menu screen.

Call of Duty Advanced Warfare_Review_Will IronsCOD games have never been known for their storytelling, either, and AW’s is no different: You play former US Army soldier Captain Jack Mitchell who looses an arm (and his best friend) after fighting in Korea but is given a second chance – and a robotic left arm – by Jonathon Irons (played by a mocapped Kevin Spacey), the father of his best friend and founder of Atlas, the world’s largest private army. He starts working for Atlas but things don’t appear as they seem and it’s up to Mitchell and a secret military outfit called Sentinel to stop Irons.

The action travels to Seattle, Detroit and New Baghdad, each new set piece almost out doing the other, and the body count will stack up as you fight your way to the finale. In each mission, Mitchell is equipped with a different exo-skeleton that has different abilities: cloaking, grapple, shield, magnetic gloves, but sadly,  you can only use each ability when the game wants you to. I think I only climbed about three walls using the mag gloves throughout the entire game.

Call of Duty Advanced Warfare_Review_Kyle CormackTaking a nod from the Advanced Warfare in the title, Mitchell is equipped with a variety of hi-tech armaments, too,  including grenades that can highlight enemies through walls and smart grenades – grenades that target enemies then explode. They worked well most of the time.

One of my favourite missions was one where Mitchell had to control a UAV hight above a Greek village, having to locate where a terrorist target was. It’s good to see that Sledgehammer mixed things up a little, and I also like that I was only in control of one character, not the multiple characters in previous COD games.

Call of Duty Advanced Warfare_Review_UtopiaThe game is still QTE heavy and – I’ll say it again – tightly controlled, telling you when you can set a mine that silences noise or where you can use your exo-skeleton’s cloak but by Homer, I enjoyed the seven hours or so it took me to beat the campaign. I wanted to finish it. I didn’t feel I had to finish it. Sledgehammer has done something right.

Kevin Spacey’s performance is a little wooden at times (and his eyes are almost dead looking at first, given how realistic his in-game character looks) but I felt that his performance got better as the game progressed: It was if he had channelled is Frank Underwood here. And that’s a good thing. The in-game cinematics are so life-like that for a second I had to double-check that it wasn’t human actors. They look that real.

The bottom line is that if you don’t like COD games then stay away from this one. Heck, you probably weren’t going to play it anyway. I have to say, though, this one really surprised me – and in a good way. Yes, it’s scripted. Yes, it doesn’t break the formula. Yes, it’s annoying that you can’t use the cool gadgets and tech when you want, but if you want a fun-filled romp filled with action and mayhem, then grab the popcorn and buckle in: You’re in for a hellava ride.

Thanks to Activision which provided a PS4 retail copy of the game for review. 

Halo 4: One of my favourite Halo games.

Halo Master Chief Collection review: Finishing the fight again (but in 1080p)

When Halo first launched on the original Xbox, I’m sure I wasn’t the only person that  didn’t expect it to become the gaming phenomenon it has, but now, thinking back, it’s probably no surprise that Bungie’s console shooter has had the impact on FPS games, both in campaign and multiplayer, that it has.

Halo: The game that started it all.

Halo: The game that started it all.

I don’t actually think I finished Halo. I don’t know why that was but as the years passed, and more Halo games were released, I got more into the series, invested in what a seven-foot tall super soldier, the Master Chief, and his female AI companion Cortana got up to and faced as they traveled the galaxy saving it.

Halo Master Chief Collection brings together the four games featuring the Master Chief and I didn’t play through to completion each of these tweaked Halos – but then with the Master Chief Collection I don’t have to. The games have been given the 1080p treatment and frame rates lifted to 60 per second.

Halo 2 Anniversary: Feels all the loves in this compilation package.

Halo 2 Anniversary: Feels all the loves in this compilation package.

Thanks to the unified menu system, where everything is accessible from the one place, players can select any chapter from any Halo game and play it at any time they want. This means you can play Gravemind from Halo 2 Anniversary then jump to The Silent Cartographer  in Halo Combat Evolved before fast forwarding and taking the fight to the Prometheans in Infinity in Halo 4. It gives Halo fans a choice as to how they play the series, and I like that. I can play Halo the way I want to play it, and I like that.

I’ll also confess to starting each chapter in Halo 2 Anniversary just so I could watch the new cut scenes created by Blur Studio especially for Halo 2 Anniversary, which are, quite frankly, stunning.

Just how stunning they are is even more evident when you press the select button on the Xbox One controller  and travel back in time and view how the game originally looked.

Doing this really shows you just how far in-game cinematics have come in 10  years. It’s quite jarring, to be honest, but sometimes switching to the original view is functional: I actually found myself switching back to the original graphics in some levels because I was able to see enemies better. Strange, huh?

Of the four games in the package, Halo 4 is probably the least impressive visually in this package, but that’s  only because it was already an outstanding looking game when it came out on the Xbox 360.

Sound, too, has been given an update, with the sweeping orchestral score having been remastered and weapon sounds re-recorded so they pack more aural punch.

I haven’t had a chance to dive into the multi player (darn work keeps getting in the way) yet but HMCC brings together all the MP maps and their additions, again all in one place, and I only have a couple of niggles about the overall experience.

Halo 4: One of my favourite Halo games.

Halo 4: One of my favourite Halo games.

One is to do with Halo 2 Anniversary’s checkpoint save system, which still annoys me.  The problem I have is that the Halo games aren’t generous enough with its checkpoints.

Example: During one of the early missions, after battling through countless grunts, Elites and a couple of Hunters, I selected “Save and Quit” from the main menu, intending to come back to where I left off later. When I started again I expected to be at the point I finished, so imagine my surprise when I had to restart the level from a point about 15 minutes previously. The “Save and Quit function” had saved at the last checkpoint,  rather than the point I was at, which is frustrating to say the least.

Another niggle is while everything content-wise is unlocked and ready to access from Day 1, strangely the co-operative Spartan Ops won’t be available till December ,  as will the episodic TV-style Halo Nightfall (not that I’m that excited about that, anyway). And for some reason, if I do want to just watch the cut scenes of Halo 2 Anniversary on their own or access content from Halo 2′s in-game terminals (which are dotted about the game world) I have to launch an external app called the Halo Channel, which means you’re taken out of the game. It’s jarring to say the least.

Halo Master Chief Collection represents an opportunity for Xbox One Halo fans to play the series they love on their new fandangled games machine.

But it’s more than that: It’s something of historical guide, I think, as to how the Halo series (and FPS games, in general perhaps?) have evolved both technically and narratively over the years.

Here is the chance for fans of the series who have watched Master Chief and Cortana develop as characters almost to the point that they’re a couple who can’t live without each other, to relive it all for a modern age.

I’m confident the Halo Master Chief Collection will help sell a fair few Xbox One consoles, and with exclusive titles Sunset Overdrive, Forza Horizon 2 and now MCC, the Xbox One is now starting to hit its stride.

Local startup wants gamers to connect

Connecting gamers: The Leaping TIger team want gamers to interact more.

Connecting gamers: The Leaping TIger team want gamers to interact more.

Wellington-based start-up company Leaping Tiger are working on a social media platform for gamers – where like-minded players can connect and interact.

But rather than me try to explain what’s going on, I’ll let Leaping TIger’s Creative Director Amy Potter explain through the power of the internet (and this YouTube video) exactly what it’s all about.

Take it away, Amy …

Thanks, Amy.

Leaping Tiger’s CEO Jordan Lilley describes the social media platform they’re creating as “a cross between LinkedIn and Tinder, for the gaming community” and it will be a place where gamers can call home.

Leaping Tiger members create their own unique Player ID on the website, which then displays all their gaming tags, usernames and handles in one place.  Player IDs are then used to connect gamers based on factors such as games, interests and location.

Amy says the ultimate goal of Leaping Tiger is to “get everyone interacting and gaming together across all platforms so if you want someone to play with right now, within seconds you can find someone and within minutes you can be playing”.

Once they’ve signed up and Leaping Tiger is fully operational, members will be able to join and create specialised communities, making it easy to manage events or raid groups. Players can even upload their gaming related Twitch highlights or YouTube channel videos.

It’s hoped that the website is up-and-running by early next year but as an incentive for sign-ups, Leaping Tiger is encouraging people to get in early to secure their LT username by entering those that register before December, 2014 into a draw for a PlayStation 4 prize bundle.

Sunset Overdrive review: grind, baby, grind


Sunset Overdrive is all about keeping on the move.

It’s about grinding, bouncing, flipping and jumping – and thankfully, the game world is full of rails, fences and wires to help you do that.

It’s also full of cars, canopies and other objects that let you bounce to reach the wires and fences that you’ll grind along. Sunset Overdrive is a game that encourages you to stay off the ground. The game’s disembodied voice announcer reminds you as much several times during the game.

Importantly, though, Sunset Overdrive is fun. Lots and lots of fun.

I mean, how can grinding along a power line, jumping off and bouncing off an umbrella then wall running the side of a building – all the while blowing up mutants with a toy teddy bear strapped with TNT not be fun?

Sunset Overdrive reminds me of lots of other games: Crackdown, the Tony Hawk series, Jet Set Radio, Bulletstorm, even the classic Tower Defence, but it’s tone is dramatically different from developer Insomniac’s last game, Resistance 3.

sunset-overdrive-blower-OD-jpgYeah, both have mutants that are out to get you in it but where Resistance 3′s setting was dark, brooding and scary at times, Sunset Overdrive’s locations are brightly coloured, almost playful environments, and, dear I say it, almost cheery despite the mutated humans taking over the city.

Set in 2027, the game’s mutants are called The OD (Over Dosed) after they consuming a bad batch of Fizzco’s new energy drink Overcharge at a launch party. The OD come in a variety of forms: Poppers have heads that expand then explode, like a pus-filled pimple, when they’re close to you; The Blower has an arm that fires out green acid; the Gunker can freeze its surrounds. There’s also other monsters (a giant one seems to have digger buckets for a left hand), as well as rival human gangs that survived the Overcharge incident, called Scabs.

Sunset Overdrive has a humourous tone to it – it doesn’t take itself too seriously – but it was a bit annoying that the game felt it had to remind me sometimes that it was a video game within a video game. I know that it’s an escape from reality so I don’t need the game’s makers to tell me that.

The weapons are inventive enough, too. The TNTeddy fires, well, teddy bears with explosives attached to them. There’s a weapon that fires old vinyl records. There’s another one that freezes enemies so you can drop down and smash them to tiny pieces. I got completely confused how to use the weapon upgrades called Amps but a nice touch is that sometimes when you blow up something, say a swollen-headed Popper,  the word “boom”or “pop” is spelled out in the orange explosion. It’s a nice touch.

Talking of nice touches, I really like the re-spawn sequences when you die. Insomniac weren’t content with just re-spawning you on the same spot, in the same way, no. When you die in Sunset Overdrive – and you will (whether it’s because you miss-timed the jump from one grind rail to another on an apartment building or you’re overwhelmed by OD) the re-spawn animations are different: One time you’ll pop out of a phone box doing a karate kick, another time you’ll be dropped from a UFO, yet another time you’ll rise from a sarcophagus and do a mummy walk. It just reinforces the light-hearted approach Insomniac have taken here.

sunset-overdrive-e3-amusement-jpgIf I have one fear for Sunset Overdrive it’s this: That its multitude of fetch quests and samey mission structure, could get tiresome after after a few hours. I mean, there’s only so much grinding, bouncing, and flipping you can do on the way to yet another fetch quest before you’ve had enough.

To be honest, it’s taken a while for decent exclusives to appear on the Xbox One, but just like the recently released Forza Horizon 2, it seems the Xbox One is now starting to come into its own as a games machine.

Owners of Microsoft’s machine now have something else to cheer about.

Xbox NZ kindly provided a digital copy of Sunset Overdrive for this review. 

Note: I haven’t had time to check out Sunset Overdrive’s Chaos Mode, an online mode for up to eight players but when I get the chance, I’ll give it a whirl. 

Sunset Overdrive launch trailer: Apocalypse in a multi-coloured world

Insomniac’s Sunset Overdrive is set for release in a few days on the Xbox One console (yes, Insomniac once used to be a Sony-only developer) so Xbox have dropped the launch trailer for the game.

Taking place in a Sunset City, a brightly coloured world that has gone to hell in a handbasket after the launch of a new energy drink from Fizzco went horribly wrong (not really a spoiler alert: It turned those that drank it into orange mutants called the OD), the game stars you – yes, you – as hero, who can grind, jump, bounce, twirl and flip his way around the city as he gets to grips with what has happened.

Look, check out the launch trailer here to see for yourself.

Be warned, though, if your ears hurt when you hear anyone say the swear word that rhymes with Truck, then best you cover your lugs near the end. That word is said (but only once).

The game’s out next week, I think.

Shock confession: Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is a far better game than I was expecting

I’ve lost count of how many orc heads I’ve seen cascading – in slow motion – across my TV screen in Monolith’s Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor.

At a quick guesstimate, I’d say I’ve seen hundreds of green-skinned orc heads captured in glorious slow-motion.

The cascading heads come courtesy of the game’s brutal execution finishing moves, activated after you’ve caused enough damage to an orc. And they are brutal.

rollingheadmordorPicture this: Globules of blood spraying from a head that has been disconnected from a neck, slowly around. On more than one occasion I noticed that the unfortunate victims mouth was still open, clearly in shock with what has just happened.

Shadow of Mordor is also brutal in its killing, letting you not only stealthily kill orcs but brutalize them, often terrorising other orcs in the area, causing them to run off. Shadow of Mordor doesn’t pull any punches in the gore department.

And you know what? I just can’t get enough of the game. I love Shadow of Mordor – and I’m hardly a Lord of The Rings fan. In fact, if it had hobbits wandering around, I’d probably stop playing. It does have Gollum, though, but that’s fine by mean.

In fact, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor – with a ranger hero who is stuck between the realms of the living and dead and is out to avenge the brutal murder of his family – has almost blindsided me with how good it is.

I bought it expecting a good game, one that I would enjoy (I based my purchase solely on what online friends had told me about it) . But what I wasn’t expecting was a game that captured my attention and cajoles me to do “just one more mission”before bedtime.

Shadow_of_MordorI’m not going to go in the intricacies of Shadow of Mordor, except to say that the game’s nemesis system is pure genius. In a nut shell, it works like this: Orcs are collected in a hierarchical system, each with its personality, strengths and weaknesses, but – here’s the interesting thing – orcs will “remember”if they’ve fought you before, whether you injured them, whether they ran away.  It’s an almost breathing eco-system. It’s fascinated.

It gets deeper.  When you die – and you don’t really die you just return to your spirit form briefly at one of the game’s forge towers – the orcs don’t stand still twiddling their thumbs. Power struggles erupt between the orcs: They squabble amongst themselves, fight each other, earn promotions.  So at some point when you face off against the same orc for the third time, he might be wearing an eye patch and have been promoted to captain.

It sounds silly to say but the game feels more alive because of the nemesis system.

I’m about half way through the campaign but I keep getting sidetracked: there’s so much other stuff to do, all of it helping Talion become stronger and more skilled so the tougher orcs aren’t so hard to deal with.

Sure, I’ve got other games to play, but I keep going back to Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor.  No doubt, I’ll play less and less as the weeks roll by, but right now, I really am enjoying hunting orcs.