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Patrick Bregger @Patrick_Bicon

Reviews

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II - The Sith Lords (Windows)

By Patrick Bregger on November 27th, 2021

Uncharted 4: A Thief's End (PlayStation 4)

An unforgettable adventure thanks to polish, polish and even more polish

The Good
I have to start this review with a confession: I don't like the three predecessors. Uncharted 2 begins well, but it still becomes a boring shooter during the last third. Uncharted 4 on the other hand completely nails what those games should have been. It has found the absolutely perfect balance between its game elements: cutscenes, spectacular script sequences, shooting, climbing and exploration. The game is relatively long, but it never feels like it because the level design (both graphically and mechanically) is very varied and almost every sequence ends before it gets tedious.

The story works perfectly because it sets a good reason why Drake travels around the world in order to find treasure. Yes, it is completely unbelievable, but in my opinion this hardly matters in an Indiana Jones inspired adventure. The game even manages to pull of an satisfying ending, believe it or not. Likewise, the characters serve their purpose very well. I think this is mostly thanks to the overall polish of Uncharted 4: the writers always know when to insert an ironic quip or a serious discussion, but they also know when to shut up.

The Bad
The only real complaint I can think of is the hamfisted introduction of Nate's brother Sam. They try to justify it, but it just doesn't make sense he was never mentioned during the previous games. But to be honest, I stopped caring about this after the first hour and only mention it because I don't want to leave this space empty.

The Bottom Line
What sets Uncharted 4 apart from its mediocre predecessors is the perfect polish. I wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone looking for a single-player adventure game (using the Indiana Jones adventure definition) which never becomes boring.

By Patrick Bregger on October 31st, 2021

Final Fantasy X | X-2: HD Remaster (Windows)

This compilation holds both joy and disappointment

The Good
Final Fantasy X
Of all the Final Fantasy games I reviewed until know, FFX definitely has the best combat system. It finally ditches ATB, introduces a true turn-based system and even has a preview for which enemies or party members have the next turns. I desperately missed this in Final Fantasy III! But the true genius is that the player can switch party members on the fly. This leads to a very flexible system which kept combat interesting until the end. The only downside is that AP (this game's experience points) are only distributed to party members which had an active turn during the combat, which means the player has to somehow switch in all members before the final hit in order to maximize earned AP. This unnecessarily prolongs most random combat situations.

Speaking of AP, the character development was also changed compared to previous FF. Instead of automatic progression, the player spends AP manually on the so-called sphere grid. This actually doesn't change much because the progression paths are still linear until the endgame, but unlocking new abilities feels good.

In my opinion, Spira is the most interesting world which was created for a FF game so far. The atmosphere is dark and you can tell how oppressed the people are by their desperate situation. I stayed always interested in the lore, even when it was recited by a bad voice actor. The party members are fine.

Final Fantasy X-2
The basic premise is interesting: after the ending of FFX, Spira has become an almost happy place. Now Yuna and Rikku allow themselves a complete career change and go on adventures. The game has a relaxing atmosphere, at least until chapter 3, and the road trip of three girlfriends has potential.

The Bad
Final Fantasy X
Unfortunately the plot itself can't hold a candle to the interesting world. It is predictable, esoteric and boring. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't call it bad either, but I never was invested in it. This is partly also the fault of the side characters: their voice acting is often very bad and the sub-villain's motivation is ridiculous.

FFX is way too linear. For the majority of the game, you just walk on a straight line forward. Yes, you can stop to participate in bad mini-games or walk backwards to already visited places, but this is no consolation. Previous FF were also linear, but they did hide it much better. To be fair, towards the end it opens up a bit and I learned I missed a few pretty big things - but if the game trains the player to never look backwards for 30 hours, you can hardly fault them to do just that.

Unfortunately I also have to talk about the graphics. Generally the locations are very pretty, but the animation doesn't work at all at times. In the old games with way less detailed character models you had to give them hyperbolic animations or the player wouldn't notice them at all. Square used the same approach here and it makes many cutscenes unintentionally hilarious. You just can't take an angry or laughing Tidus seriously if he jumps around like Pinocchio.

Final Fantasy X-2
After the fantastic combat system of FFX, the developers decided to implement a terrible system instead. It's back to ATB; and the most chaotic version so far. You almost can't tell the enemy's action, which hampers tactical rebuttals because everything is so hectic. The system itself is pretty complex because the three main characters can switch to different classes during combat and there are also various additional dependencies. The problem: you won't need them because each combat falls into only two permutations: brain-dead or annoying. The status effects that enemies can inflict are worse than in previous FF and with a bit of misfortune, it is possible to enter an unavoidable party death directly after the combat starts - but that's also more or less the only challenge the game can offer.

I could live with this if the game had other things to offer. Unfortunately the plot is boring, the characters are stupid and the humor falls flat. The semi-open world structure only means the player has to walk through the whole available world every chapter to get re-spawning chests, find a few differences and play more shitty mini games. It makes the whole game completely repetitive.

The Bottom Line
Despite its shortcomings in the narrative, I had consistent fun with FFX. Thanks to the very good combat system, it stays engaging until the very end. Unfortunately FFX-2 can't reach the quality of its predecessor: despite a few good ideas, the result is a chore to play. Because of this I abandoned it after about 20 hours during chapter 3. Despite my greatly different feelings towards both games, I have to cover them in one review and have to assign an overall score. My individual scores would be 3.5 stars for FFX and 2 for FFX-2.

Additionally, this compilation includes the 15 minute movie Eternal Calm which serves as a bridge between the two games as well as Final Fantasy X-2: Final Mission which is set after FFX-2. Eternal Calm is alright (the beginning is a bit boring and it is not required to understand FFX-2, but it doesn't hurt to watch) and I didn't play Final Mission.

By Patrick Bregger on October 30th, 2021

The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit (Windows)

Awesome is debatable, but this is still a worthwhile 90 minutes

The Good
The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit is a short, free teaser for Life Is Strange 2. This being a narrative game, of course the biggest make or break point are the featured characters. Personally I thought the characters have interesting premises, mostly because alcohol abuse (not a spoiler; this is revealed during the first ten minutes) isn't a topic often explored in video games.

The biggest joy, like in most games of this kind, is peeking through the characters' personal files in order to learn their background stories. Thanks to the well written documents, this reaches the high mark set by Life Is Strange. Another interesting angle is the protagonist Chris' active imagination which influences how some things in the game are portrayed. For example, one quest has him starting up the water boiler in the cellar, but it is shown as a mean monster instead.

The Bad
The house has way too many hotspots which are only present for fluff and don't give any interesting insights on the characters. This means the initial exploration of the house is a bit tedious and the relevant items become harder to spot.

The Bottom Line
The game managed to do exactly what it set out to do: Now I'm interested in Life Is Strange 2. At the time of this writing it still sits unplayed in my Steam library, but I am confident this will change soon.

By Patrick Bregger on October 30th, 2021

Pathfinder: Kingmaker (Windows)

Textbook definition of flawed gem

The Good
I have to start this review with a strong statement: I was completely addicted while playing Pathfinder: Kingmaker! Normally my gaming sessions are not longer than 90 minutes, but the first week of my holiday was almost completely filled with this game - 6 hours of uninterrupted playing were the norm and not the exception. This shows that Kingmaker pushes all my buttons. I am a huge fan of the Baldur's Gate series and the exploration reminded me a lot of the first: Mechanically it works a bit differently, but the player spends a lot of their time visiting locations which all have more or less interesting little side-stories to find. The map recycling was a bit too much for my taste, but overall exploring the overworld map was a treat.

More surprising was the good writing. The companions are all interesting and have character development while the plot offers varied challenges and always puts the player under stress. This is because there always is a ticking time limit, but when the player has understood the kingdom mechanics (more on that later), there is always more than enough time to do everything. I also loved how varied the outcome of quests and the story itself are; almost everything is connected to previous choices the player has made.

Of all the so-called old school RPGs of the last years, Kingmaker has the most appealing graphical and UI design. There are still a lot of parts to improve, but all in all the handling never got in the way. The combat system (real-time with pause) is very competently implemented and allows fast-paced combat which is a lot of fun after the characters gained their first few levels.

The Bad
My main gripe is the too literal adaptation of the Pathfinder roleplaying system. When starting a new character, it throws dozens over dozens of poorly explained possibilities towards the player. This may be no problem for a seasoned pen & paper player, but everyone else has to make very important decisions based on nothing. This is the case with most game systems: they can't be reasonably used without an outside guide or multiple failed attempts.

The other big problem with the adaption is that too much is based on random dice rolls, e.g. there is a dice roll for opening locks which can only be attempted once per character level. This probably makes sense in p&p, but in a computer RPG it just leads to a lot of unnecessary reloads. The game should just have used fixed lockpicking values for each chest which regulates if a character can open it or not. This is only an example, the randomness pervades through the whole game.

The kingdom management is poorly designed and, of course, poorly explained. If the player has the basic mechanics down, it all boils down to dice rolls. If the first few hours of kingdom management go well, it is almost impossible to lose afterwards - but if the rolls go badly, the player enters a downwards spiral which inevitably leads to a game over towards the end game. So the player's ability to finish the game is not based on skill, but on good luck or save-scumming.

The Bottom Line
I'd love to give Pathfinder: Kingmaker 5 stars just because it pushes all my buttons perfectly and I absolutely loved the time I spent with it. Alas, I can't because there are too many negative points to consider. However, if you are a big fan of Baldur's Gate and are not afraid of using external reference material, you definitely should give this game a try. Pathfinder: Kingmaker is obviously a labor of love which easily outweighs the missing polish.

By Patrick Bregger on September 24th, 2021

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim (PlayStation 4)

A clever gimmick transforms a mediocre plot into a storytelling masterpiece

The Good
Calling 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim an graphic adventure would be an overstatement. Yes, the player can move the characters around and activate hotspots, but the game is almost completely linear and 95% of the time is spent talking. But it doesn't matter because it is disguised in one of the most gorgeous 2D graphics I have ever seen. The backgrounds are fantastic and the character models are detailed. The budget was obviously not endless (the animations are stiff and some of the backgrounds are reused a bit too much), but overall the game is a joy to look at.

But that wouldn't help without a solid story, and 13 Sentinels delivers on that front as well. It has a very fascinating mystery which is told through the eyes of 13 protagonists. Those stories use a fragmented order which was a great choice because the plot itself is only mildly interesting in itself. Thanks to this gimmick and the adequately written dialogue it works exceptionally well. For a Japanese game, the dialogue is on the point and mostly avoids unnecessary babbling.

Additionally there is a combat component in which the team uses mechs to fend off enemy assaults. The player can freely switch between the adventure and combat mode, but because of their intertwined checkpoints (to continue with battles, the player has to have reached a certain point in the adventure part and vice versa) both have to be finished. Originally I didn't like combat too much because its narrative is set after the adventure part and it is too easy, but I quickly warmed up to it. Unlocking more and more mech abilities is satisfying and it serves as a welcome diversion after spending much time talking.

The Bad
The game has a rough start: because of the fragmented storytelling and the huge amount of characters it took me a long time until I understood the foundation of the story well enough to get excited for it. I don't hold this against the game, but the Japanese names made it even harder to understand who is who - thankfully the player can use the codex at any time to look most names up.

Unfortunately the last fourth of the game holds no surprises. The big reveal happens shortly after the midway mark (the exact time may change depending on the playing order) and then the plot just goes through the motions. Don't get me wrong, the story never becomes boring, but the end isn't very exciting either. I didn't like the school setting and the romances. It may be because I played too many games about teenagers lately, but especially the romances were just too superficial.

However, my biggest issue is easily named: the fast forward for already seen text doesn't work for battle debriefs. This means you have to hammer the skip button when replaying battles for a better score. But the fact that I voluntarily replayed battles often enough that this annoyed me says a lot about how much I enjoyed this part of the game...

The Bottom Line
Without the fragmented storytelling 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim would have a standard narrative among dozens. But because of this clever approach it has become one of the most interesting story games I have ever played. I wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone who has a place in their heart for adventures or visual novels.

By Patrick Bregger on September 7th, 2021

Final Fantasy IX (Windows)

An esoteric fairytale

The Good
The beginning of the game is wonderful: Final Fantasy IX fascinates with a very atmospheric fairytale setting. Every part - the backgrounds, the character graphics and the sound - supports it very well. The dialogue has much more humor than the two predecessors and sometimes I almost had the feeling I'm playing a comedy game. Not every gag is a winner and the silliness becomes overwhelming at times, but I still enjoyed it because it fits the atmosphere and setting well. The characters, with exception of one comic relief character which didn't work for me at all, are sympathetic and their dialogue is good enough.

The battle system is the standard ATB fare, but thankfully with four team members again. It offers no surprises at all and, because of the manageable random encounter rates, never becomes annoying. The character system has a new angle: now the characters learn abilities through the equipment they wear. If the piece of equipment is worn long enough, the abilities can be chosen even if the equipment is changed. I enjoyed this system because it creates an interesting trade-off: should I use a better weapon for the extra damage or do I keep the old one because I want to use its abilities?

FFIV is the most linear Final Fantasy so far. Of course there is a lot of uninteresting side content to explore, but the destination and the party composition is fixed for the vast majority of the game. However, since the plot is well thought out (up to a certain point) and the pacing is relatively fast, I don't consider this a negative point.

The Bad
There was one exact moment when my positive impression changed: towards the end of the game, the player visits a mysterious new world called Terra. Here the story became idiotic and esoteric hogwash. It completely lost me and I instantly stopped caring about the world and its characters - which is a shame because the combat started to become more interesting and challenging. It all accumulates with an annoying boss fight (the party can instantly lose it when the random number generator doesn't go their way), a stupid ending and a completely unsatisfied player.

Otherwise my biggest complaint are the too long animations, especially the summoning spells during battles. However, the most annoying instance is saving the game: instead of just standing on a save point and entering the menu, the player has to endure a long animation of a Moogle dancing around. In this version this point is mitigated by a comfortable auto save which kicks in after every screen change, though.

The Bottom Line
The majority of the game is very good and refreshing change compared to its two predecessors. If Square didn't flunk the ending so badly, it would have potential to become the best Final Fantasy. As it stands, it is still a worthwhile play, but can't hold a candle to Final Fantasy VI.

By Patrick Bregger on September 4th, 2021

Mass Effect: Andromeda (Windows)

An uninspired and disappointing sequel

The Good
Mass Effect: Andromeda consists of various open planets with a lot of quests. I have to admit, clearing quest markers which don't require any thinking is very relaxing. Combined with the good and fast combat system - a jetpack is always a nice addition - makes the initial sweep of every planet an almost rewarding experience. Because combat becomes pretty easy after a short playing time (on normal difficulty), I could kill dozens of enemies without even using cover. This is what a power fantasy looks like! It gets a bit old towards the end, but all in all the combat is enjoyable.

The Bad
The obvious best part of Mass Effect was the fantastic lore. So what is the obvious next step for a sequel? Throwing most of it away in order to replace it with the blandest new universe possible. The original had a multitude of interesting alien species, while Andromeda introduces only two new: the Angara (more or less humans with a slightly changed Prothean model) and the Kett (the evil faction which is not fleshed out). Not even the planet visuals are inspiring: they are much less interesting than the gorgeous environments of Dragon Age Inqusition. The lore and the world are a big disappointment.

Unfortunately you will see much of the planets because of the awful quest design. The number of interesting quests can be counted on two hands and the rest is just farming quest markers. This isn't as bad in the beginning when there is a lot to do on each planet, but becomes dreadful later when a planet has to be visited for just a single conversation which adds a new quest marker on a different planet. This is made even worse with the movement between star systems: every time, a cutscene has to be watched. Over and over again. I modded out as much as possible and it was still unbearable.

The writing is mostly inadequate as well. There is so much pointless dialogue it almost hurts when every obscure NPC tells Ryder their uninteresting life story. The quest dialogue is mostly pointless chatter, but when the writers want to include moral choices, it becomes worse. One false dilemma after another. However, I appreciated the companions and their many short conversation quests which flesh out their relationship with the main character - but it is all ruined by the above mentioned slow movement between planets.

Besides the basic combat system, the supporting game mechanics are pointless and cumbersome. The game has a war table variant (too simple and rewards only unnecessary resources), crafting (makes the player overpowered too fast and is a pain to use), a perk system (even more unneeded resources), badly designed role-playing elements (all useful abilities are unlocked after the first planet and afterwards new levels are only interesting because of the new crafting recipes) and so on. They all have to be navigated in a UI which is horrible to operate with mouse and keyboard, and I can't imagine it works significantly better with a gamepad.

The game is a also a technical mess. Over the years, I played the game on three PCs and it frequently crashed on all of them. The UI is buggy (for example, after the first few quests the journal tab can't be cleared anymore). After the game's release there was way too much discussion about facial animations and BioWare patched it considerably back then, but I still have to briefly talk about them. Personally I didn't mind them much even then, but especially the laughing and frightened expressions look so bad they hurt the atmosphere.

The Bottom Line
Mass Effect: Andromeda is simply too long and is bogged down by too much mediocre content and mechanics. I'd like to say it could have been salvaged by cutting out most of its content and then polishing the remaining stuff better, but even then it would be an uninspired and frankly unnecessary game at best. All in all, Andromeda is a mess and can't be recommended at all. I never was a huge fan of the original trilogy, but it didn't deserve this.

By Patrick Bregger on August 3rd, 2021

Chaos;Child (Windows)

A promising mystery which can't keep its promises

The Good
Before I can rate the game, I need to describe its progression mechanics. Don't worry, it's a visual novel, so it won't take long:
The only interaction with the game are so-called delusions during which the protagonist daydreams about the current situation. At fixed points, the player can either choose a positive (usually involving some sexual innuendo), a negative (mostly something dark and violent) or no delusion. During the first playthrough, those interactions have no effect and the story is fixed to the common route. Afterwards four character routes can be reached by choosing certain delusions and after all four were read, the true ending is unlocked.

The common route is an enjoyable read: the basic mystery is fascinating and the characters are sympathetic. Even the main character, who starts out as the usual stupid idiot, becomes relatable quickly. For a visual novel, the game is dark, features explicit violence (mostly as text, but sometimes visually as well) and the usual Japanese goofiness is only present in the delusions.

I also have to applaud the English localization. I admittedly played with a fan patch which brushes the localization up, so I can't judge the original English version, but I encountered practically no typos, no creative grammar and even the text in pictures was translated. The only thing I missed were the Japanese honorifics which in my opinion should be present in an contemporary Japanese setting.

The Bad
Although I liked the common route, it also has its problems: it is way too long, too long-winded and introduces way too many overexplained twists towards the end. There is nothing more tedious than a twist presented on a silver platter which is afterwards explained for twenty minutes until the protagonist gets it as well.

But the real problem is everything after the common route. The first bad decision is the way they are reached: it makes no sense within the game world and therefore they are practically impossible to find without a guide. Even worse, if a route is locked in, the player has to skip all the way to a later chapter until the new content is unlocked. This easily adds three hours to the overall game time which is spent skipping over the same stuff over and over again.

If that hurdle is taken, the next low blow is the quality of said character routes: they are boring and, with one exception, have nothing to do with the rest of the game. They are only relevant because they reveal important background information about the characters. The true ending route is better, but introduces yet another tacked-on twist and leaves too many things unexplained.

The Bottom Line
In Steins;Gate, I hated the beginning and was absolutely enchained by the second half. Chaos;Child is the complete opposite: the beginning is very interesting, but it collapses toward the end. My advice; if you want to play the game, stick with the common route and appreciate its bitterweet ending. You won't get the whole picture, but it is not worth the effort.

By Patrick Bregger on July 31st, 2021

Final Fantasy VIII: Remastered (Windows)

Sorry, I can't write a summary - I'm too busy drawing the "writing" spell.

The Good
Final Fantasy VIII tones down the fantasy elements from its predecessors and has an almost contemporary setting. This is a welcome breath of fresh air and gives the developers the opportunity to include some interesting new elements. It also complements the graphic design which, compared to Final Fantasy VII, is much more coherent and appealing.

The story starts off grounded in reality, but spirals off into absurd territory fast. With the exception of a very stupid twist around the middle, I thought this escalation was very enjoyable and I was always eager to see how it continues. The teenage drama is a bit tedious at times and the characters are bland (the little character development they have is mostly concentrated towards the end of the game), but the love story was sweet.

The Bad
The game's big drawback are the character mechanics. In theory, they should work well: the player doesn't need to grind because enemies scale with the party level and stats are upgraded by assigning spells to character attributes. The summons learn useful abilities, which should make leveling up worth it nevertheless. In reality, however, it falls flat on its face: as soon as all useful abilities are learned, fighting becomes redundant - and if you ever played any Final Fantasy, you'll know that combat is the main occupation. In order to get important spells, the player has to spend a lot of boring time drawing over and over again or alternatively abuse the crafting system. It would have been much better if spells could be simply bought from shops with all the useless money the player swims in after ten hours.

The amount of mini games was vastly reduced compared to FFVII and the first mandatory one the player encounters is actually decent, but it's all downhill from there. Especially a later mini-game featuring a dragon is one of the worst things I ever encountered in an otherwise good game. Towards the middle of the game, when the player can explore the world with a ship-like vehicle, it lacks direction and the player has to (almost) blindly search for the trigger to continue the story. This wouldn't be as bad if the ship wouldn't move with a snail's pace and the ocean wasn't walled off in the middle, which means the player has to move the long way around to reach another continent.

The Bottom Line
I would have loved to simply write "Whatever" as my one-line summary, because this should be the game's trademark line, but it is too good for it. Despite my failings to write anything substantial in the positive section of this review, I enjoyed it all the way through. It is a huge step up from its dreadful predecessor.

I'd like to end this review with a service announcement: don't listen to the internet. When you search for tips how to utilize the junctioning system, you will be told to avoid leveling up at all costs (or the enemies will become too hard) and how to use the crafting system in a very specific way. That's all powergaming bullshit. I played the game leveling up normally without using the crafting system and I was completely fine.

By Patrick Bregger on June 24th, 2021

Final Fantasy VII (Windows)

Doesn't hold up to its own legacy.

The Good
Back in the day this game must have been a technical masterpiece. The background renderings are very well made, are overflowing with interesting detail and allow fascinating viewpoints. The quality of the special effects and FMV are outstanding and especially the almost seamless transitions between game graphics and cutscenes is still impressing.

Final Fantasy VII does everything in its power to not bore its players: there is a big variety of tasks, the difficulty is low and it has a fast pacing. There are no dungeons which overstay their welcome (even the final dungeon doesn't take long to beat) and the game quickly sends the party to new places with different background scenarios. This creates a game which is hard to abandon because it lays enough obstacles in the player's way to stay interesting without becoming actually hard.

The Bad
The story devolves into esoteric mumbo jumbo after the initial Midgard part, but it is basically fine. However, the dialogue - or at least the English translation - is terrible. It is stilted, unnatural and not even two consecutive dialogue boxes are guaranteed to match each other. I can't overstate how much this hurts the playing experience, especially because there are many too long sequences of endless talking.

I praised the rendered backgrounds, but they also come with a huge setback: they are often confusing to navigate. The character design is all over the place: during gameplay, the characters are crude figures while the battles show relatively realistic models - and the cutscenes freely switch between the two. I don't have a problem with both approaches, but they should have chosen one and stuck with it - as it is now, the clash ruins the immersion.

FFVII has a lot of mini-games of varying importance. Some are just simple reaction tests during the story while others have deep mechanics behind them. However, there is one aspect which connects all of them: they are unfun shit with bad controls. I neither have any appreciation for the people who designed this filth nor for all the people which let them get away with it. Kudos to everyone who has the patience to actually figure out Chocobo breeding, but seriously, the one awful mandatory race during the story should drive away every sane person.

The 2013 Steam version is a technical nightmare. The game crashed and freezed all the time (sometimes it even crashed Windows) and the controller support is nonexistent. It is only thanks to some community configurations that this game can be actually played, despite the inconvenient implementation into Steam.

The Bottom Line
Thanks to its graphical bombast and its status as first Final Fantasy for the 3D generation, FFVII has become one of the most treasured playing experiences of many gamers. This and its influence can't be denied, but unfortunately the quality of the game does not hold up to its legacy.

In the end, FFVII is a crude mix of competing concepts which never manages to form a cohesive experience. The game can't decide if it wants to be a goofy morning cartoon or a gritty afternoon serial. Everything it does right is marred by various drawbacks. Because of all these problems it is weaker than its SNES predecessors (with the exception of FFV) and I can't recommend it.

By Patrick Bregger on June 5th, 2021

Final Fantasy III (Windows)

A surprisingly good blend of story and open world

The Good
Final Fantasy VI is structured into two chapters which work very differently: The first is very linear and tells the story of the main characters. This is very well executed, even if the writing (or the translation) is a bit uneven, mostly because of the sprites which manage to transport emotions without words and the wonderful music - yes, it is so good even a tone-deaf oaf like me can recognize it. Like many Japanese games, FFVI mixes up serious topics with goofy moments which works exceptionally well for my taste. Like usually in this series so far, the villain does not have a personality except evil, but his actions make me hate him enough that it doesn't matter.

Without spoiling too much, the second part puts the player into a known world which is drastically changed. Final Fantasy V pulled a similar trick, but it didn't succeed because too much stayed the same. Here on the other hand, everything (except a few minor NPCs dialogue) has changed and it is worth re-exploring every town and every cave. In fact, here the game drops all story and becomes a real open-world adventure. Now the player can freely visit every location and only has one goal: to meet old friends, become stronger and eventually take on the final dungeon. The revolutionary part for the series is that many of the side-quests have a narrative and even result in real character development while others have interesting secrets to find. I'm not an open world person and usually I prefer a bit more linearity, but this game pulls it off almost perfectly - even modern (as of 2021) open world games could learn a few things from FFVI.

The Windows version (which is a port of the mobile version) adds many UI improvements (just make sure to change the combat screen to "Tab" in the options) and portraits which, in contrast to FFV, match the in-game sprites and look reasonably well.

The Bad
The biggest weakness of FFVI are its number of party members. There are overall 14 and this naturally means not everyone gets the the same attention, both from the writers (only a few have actual character development, the rest are just along for the ride) and the player (an active party consists of four). This wouldn't be that bad, but for the final dungeon the player needs to create three teams (i.e. 12 members) which results in the need to grind up every NPC which wasn't used much. I did it once during my first playthrough back in the day of early SNES emulation, never again.

There is also another end-game dungeon with a gimmick: only magic allowed. Against enemies which all have reflect active, i.e. almost all magic bounces off. Oh, and there are no save points, you can't run away from random encounters, the boss dies with a spell which instantly kills the party unless he knows what is coming and afterwards the player has to walk all the way down again. This is about as fun as it sounds. There is an obvious way to beat the odds, but it results in a boring slog in which the enemies slowly kill themselves while there isn't any danger of actually dying. Unfortunately the reward is so good and useful that it can't be reasonably skipped.

The Bottom Line
You probably noticed the negative section is mostly filled with complaints over two specific dungeons and the interpretation is obvious: this is a very enjoyable and competently designed game. It was the first Final Fantasy which impressed me and it remains my favorite up to this day, even if I can't be bothered to actually finish it anymore.

Final Fantasy VI shows how to do a good blend between story and open world, even if the two sections are strictly separated. Of course it would have been better to have both at the same time, but I think it would be unfair to hold it against this game - this feat wasn't actually achieved until 2015 after all. I fully recommend FFVI to everyone with an interest in JRPGs who isn't put off by SNES graphics and a high frequency of random encounters.

By Patrick Bregger on May 25th, 2021

Final Fantasy V Advance (Windows)

Good character system, but everything else is subpar.

The Good
Full disclosure: I abandoned the game after ca. 22 in-game hours and, according to a walkthrough I consulted afterwards, only a few dungeons away from the end.

The only thing I really liked about Final Fantasy V is the character system. It uses the job system of Final Fantasy III but adds a few layers of complexity. The result is a very open system which makes it very satisfying to think about possible ability combinations. The only downside is the missing in-game documentation of abilities which means one either needs to consult external resources for character planning or blindly level up jobs through endless grinding.

The Bad
I find it baffling that many reviews praise the open world gameplay. In reality, FFV is exactly as linear as FFIII and Final Fantasy IV. In all three games, there are some moments in which optional areas can be visited to collect items or fight bosses. The only difference is that the endgame dungeon can be visited relatively early with a low-level party, but during a normal playthrough this is completely pointless. In my opinion the exploration is just window dressing for a very linear game - I don't see any benefit when there is almost nothing interesting to find.

The plot is a lame rehash of the predecessors' already mediocre crystal storyline. The main characters are uninteresting and, especially during the first world, the bland dialogue is unbearable. Later it gets a bit more interesting, but the emotional moments fall flat because I don't care about the world and its characters. I also need to mention the horrific character portraits which don't match the sprites in the slightest.

The game introduces many new elements in its dungeon and enemy design. Unfortunately, most of them make the game more annoying instead of interesting. This is because the encounter rate is way too high, many enemies have abilities which make killing them a chore (it is not hard, but it takes long) and the rewards often don't match the effort. I also don't appreciate gimmick bosses which suddenly pull out new tricks from their sleeve towards the end of the battle which inevitably lead to a full party death during the first try.

The Bottom Line
The fact that I stopped playing instead of powering through the last few hours says a lot about how little fun I had. It is a shame that the fantastic character system is held down by everything else. However, I admit that some of my dissatisfaction might come from me playing its two predecessors shortly before tackling FFV. I can only recommend it for people who are tired of the usual JRPG progression formula and want to experience with the character system, but those can probably find better games scratching the same itch on later console generations.

By Patrick Bregger on May 20th, 2021

Portal (Windows)

An achievement in humor and game design

The Good
Portal will always be known as one of the best written games of all times. Every single joke lands on the spot because the voice acting of SHO... I mean GLaDOS is fantastic and she doesn't talk your ear off (a virtue Portal 2 unfortunately forgot).

This is one of the only puzzle games which have a very polished difficulty curve: the puzzles never feel too easy or too hard in context of the game progression. The mechanics are simple, but the designers found many approaches to make clever puzzles out of them.

The Bad
The downside of the polished difficulty curve is that most of the game feels like a tutorial. Only in the last chapter the game stops holding your hand, but just at that moment it also stops introducing more difficult or complex puzzles and only iterates. That's normal for puzzle games, but in this case it stands out negatively because the whole game is relatively short (at most three hours) and the previous chapters were exceptionally varied. In the end, it makes the last chapter a bit tedious.

The Bottom Line
I believe it is a hard challenge to find someone on MobyGames who hasn't played Portal before, especially because Valve regularly gave it away for free on Steam. If you are one of this rare species, you absolutely have to give it a try - it will only cost you a few hours of your life, but in return you receive one of the funniest games of all times.

By Patrick Bregger on May 2nd, 2021

Dreamfall: The Longest Journey (Windows)

Too much bad gameplay ruins a decent story

The Good
The biggest (and arguably the only) strength of Dreamfall is the same as in The Longest Journey: the worlds of Stark and Arcade are absolutely fascinating and the characters are likeable and occasionally funny. It is a delight to learn more about them, especially because the dialogue is mostly more condensed than in TLJ. I also liked the switching between protagonists which allowed Funcom to show different perspectives on Arcadia and was used for a few clever sequences.

The Bad
Unfortunately Dreamfall also inherits the gameplay weakness of TLJ. It tries to be varied and introduces four gameplay pillars which all fail: puzzles (most of them don't deserve the name and the few which do are badly implemented), mini-games (both the too easy lockpicking and the too hectic hacking mini-games are only used a few times), fighting (the controls are clunky and the enemies brain-dead) and stealth (clunky, but at least easy). All those gameplay mechanics add absolutely nothing to the game or the narrative and could have been cut without losing anything substantial.

I also did not like the environments. Especially the outside areas look very pretty, but they also feel cold and sterile and are frequently interrupted by loading screens. Dreamfall manages to build its areas both too small and linear (there is mostly only one way to go and nothing interesting to find which isn't part of the plot) and too vast (some areas are bigger, but almost completely empty, and there is too much backtracking).

While my last point is a bit moot since the release of Dreamfall Chapters, I also have to address the non-ending. It cuts off right in the middle of the story: there is nothing gained and almost nothing resolved. The game opens up way too many story threads which lead to nothing or cliffhangers. While open endings or even sequel hooks are fine, a game has to wrap up at least the main story in a satisfying way.

The Bottom Line
On first glance, Dreamfall is a completely different game than The Longest Journey: different protagonist, different game mechanics, different perspective. But a closer evaluation shows it has the same strengths and weaknesses: the characters and the world are good, the plot is decent, and the gameplay sucks. It is a shame this game was made before the rise of narrative games: it probably would have profited by cutting the bad gameplay and focusing on better storytelling instead.

By Patrick Bregger on May 2nd, 2021

Leisure Suit Larry: Wet Dreams Dry Twice (Windows)

Puberty Unleashed

The Good
You can't talk about a Leisure Suit Larry game without addressing the elephant in the room: How good is the humor and how sexist is it? The game takes the machine gun approach to humor: fire at least six gags per minute and hope that at least one of them hits. Although the constant sex puns get a bit tedious during the second half, I think it works quite well (at least if you are able to evoke your inner 13-year-old self). I don't want to get into the unavoidable sexism debate, but since Larry is presented as a loser from the 80's, his telephone AI usually has a humorous rebuttal ready and the game has lost the "you need to give presents to women and they reward you with sex" structure, I didn't see any glaring problems. However, there was one part involving a male member of a lesbian cannibal tribe which transported some unfortunate transphobic stereotypes and wasn't even funny or clever.

The game structure is obviously closely inspired by Monkey Island 2, one of my all-time favorites: the second and biggest part of the game, without counting the tutorial, gives you access to multiple islands and overall six goals which can be tackled almost independently. Coming directly from The Longest Journey, the puzzles were a delight. Most of them are very logical (at least when applying cartoon logic) and I usually had only myself to blame when I was stuck.

The Bad
While I enjoyed most of the puzzles, they also have the unfortunate tendency to annoy the player without need: forced backtracking, the need to repeat the same puzzle multiple times, no feedback for wrong (but valid) approaches and sometimes off-screen locations changes without a good reason. Oh, and the second-to-last chapter consists mostly of a disgusting labyrinth.

The game is also pretty buggy. I can live with some graphical glitches, but the dialogue is a mess: it is full of repeated lines, wrong lines, missing lines and spoken lines which are different than the subtitles. This is unacceptable for a point & click adventure game.

The Bottom Line
If you like the humor and Leisure Suit Larry: Wet Dreams Don't Dry, you can't go wrong with this title. It is an above-average adventure game which has some annoyances, but it does everything well enough. However, I have to dock my rating because of the bugs.

By Patrick Bregger on May 1st, 2021

The Longest Journey (Windows)

Nomen est omen

The Good
The biggest boon of The Longest Journey is its world and lore. The story is about two parallel worlds - Stark, the world of science, and Arcadia, the world of chaos - which in itself is not the most original story idea. However, Ragnar Tørnquist obviously spent a lot of time working out every little detail, which makes even the most long-winded exposition dump a delight to hear. I especially like Arcadia, which manages to avoid most usual Tolkien/D&D tropes and offers original races and aspects.

The dialogue writing is only serviceable - they are way too wordy and exposition-heavy - but the characters are still interesting and likeable (at least the ones which are supposed to be). The plot itself is also not especially innovative if you cut out the fluff, but thanks to the lore and characters it always stays fascinating until the surprisingly heart-warming ending. The protagonist April Ryan is not very interesting, but fortunately her excellent voice actor saves the day.

The Bad
The title The Longest Journey is well-chosen: even for 2000 standards, this is a very long adventure game. Unfortunately for all the wrong reasons. There are various endless long animations which have to be endured over and over again. For example, at one time the player needs to read multiple lore books in a library and the librarian takes almost a full minute to retrieve a book from the shelf. Many people speak very slowly and overemphasize every single sentence because they are supposed to be profound.
The game is full of useless screens which are only present to watch April walk through them frequently. Very slowly of course - and this refers to her running speed. This makes the game a chore to play, even when using the escape key to skip many animations (which has to be enabled in the game options and can skip important sequences if not used carefully).

I usually don't talk about graphics in my reviews, but boy is this game ugly. The backgrounds are pretty, but the characters look like they were directly taken from a grotesque horror movie. Especially the rendered cutscenes are bad, with questionable animations and horrible faces - April looks more like The Nameless One than a teenage girl.

The puzzle design is atrocious. I don't think I need to repeat the famous tale of the rubber duck which proudly even beats the cat mustache in infamy. However, this is only the most prominent example; the whole game is full of stupid puzzles. They make no sense, they don't fit the world and their only purpose is to slow down the game even more.

The Bottom Line
I loved The Longest Journey back in the day, I really did. I started my replay with the expectation to write a glowing review for one of my favorite adventures of all times. It is a shame it is held down by bad gameplay and its slowness, because the world, the lore and the characters are among the most interesting in adventure game history. Unfortunately I believe this is a game which is only digestible for people who enjoyed it close to its original release and those should probably not ruin their good memories by playing it again.

By Patrick Bregger on April 24th, 2021

The Operative: No One Lives Forever (Windows)

An outstanding FPS which did not age one bit

The Good
Full disclosure: I played with a fan patch which makes the game playable on modern systems and adjusts the HUD for higher resolutions.

No One Lives Forever was made by shooter specialists who used their own established engine and it shows: the shooter mechanics are flawless and the gunplay is very good (although some of them are redundant). One of the strengths is the possibility to play much of the game stealthy if desired. It is very fun to do a section with a silenced weapon and kill everyone with headshots and switch to a machine gun in the next moment.

This is a very long game, but the levels are so varied (both in optics and gameplay) that it never becomes boring. NOLF has almost perfect level design: some are linear, some are more open (but always simple enough that you don't get lost) and others have adventure elements and consist of talking and collecting items.

The graphics are fantastic. Don't get me wrong: I don't say they are good for a 20 year old game, I say they are good for 2021. Of course they are blocky and technically outdated, but they are made so well it doesn't show much. The levels and assets are built with love, the offices and such are all furnished individually, the atmosphere is perfectly implemented. This is a game which could not have been made outside of the early 2000s - in later graphic engines the assets for one level alone would probably cost more to make than the whole game. It also helps that the game is genuinely funny.

The Bad
NOLF was made in a time in which every FPS had to have at least one shitty stealth level. This game is no exception, but since stealth is baked into the main gameplay mechanics those levels are not as bad as in other games like Return to Castle Wolfenstein. Still, NOLF works best when it leaves the choice between stealth and action to the player and therefore the forced stealth levels are among the weaker sections.

As a James Bond parody, the game also has a lot of gadgets such as a lighter which can meld locks or a knockout perfume. Unfortunately their usage is lacking: you'll only use them at pre-defined places when a specific gadget has to be used to proceed, which speeds down gameplay without benefit. You'll never use the gameplay gadgets because they are useless and unnecessary. The only not underused gadgets are the vehicles which even have their own levels dedicated to them. Unfortunately, I might add, because they handle very badly and the levels are boring slogs (drive, dismount in order to dispatch some distant enemies, rinse and repeat) which don't even look as well as the rest.

I already praised the humor, but nevertheless conversation cutscenes between levels can be tiring because they go on for too long. I also did not like the conclusion of the story - of course I can't go into the specifics, but there are some final twists which are only explained in another way too long conversation.

The Bottom Line
There is no way around it: NOLF is one of the best shooters ever made. Despite my complaints above, the good parts greatly outweigh the negatives and make a very fun shooter which is still worth playing.

A few words about the GOTY version
Later a GOTY version was released which added a new mission after the ending. It lasts for about 30 minutes and is pretty fun, although there is another driving section included. However, if you already own the original, it is not worth hunting down the re-release.

By Patrick Bregger on April 18th, 2021

Final Fantasy IV (Windows)

Ambitious, but bites off more than it can chew

The Good
Final Fantasy IV is a radical departure from its predecessor: instead of a bare-bone story and characters which barely speak five sentences over the whole game, FFIV features characters with real motivations and personalities as well as a story with many twists and turns. However, this also means the game is linear: you receive an airship relatively fast, but you can only visit one or two places at any given time. There is a small window towards the end of the game during which you can do some simple side-quests, but that's it.

This is the Final Fantasy which introduced the ATB (active time battle) combat system. I have to admit, I usually prefer standard turns in my JRPGs because ATB often leads to long waiting times during which the player just waits until a character can act again, but in FFIV it works quite well. This is because the full party has five characters (which means one character can act at almost any time) and spells have unique casting times, which introduces a tactical element which only works with ATB.

The Bad
Unfortunately the game breaks down during the second half. The gameplay becomes very tedious because the dungeons become long, stay very linear and have a way too frequent encounter rate. The story becomes stupid (you can only do the heroic sacrifice twist so many times before it becomes stale) and cuts off many well-established party members just to replace them with badly introduced and boring new characters. Rosa, mechanically one of the most important members, plays practically no part in the story and conversations anymore after her role as damsel in distress is over.

I also have to mention that the difficulty curve is a bit off. The majority of the game is pretty easy (normal difficulty mode) and because of the high encounter rate you are almost guaranteed to be over-leveled for the final boss, but there are a few gimmick bosses which are practically unbeatable without using special tricks with limited consumables.

The Bottom Line
I don't know enough about the history of JRPGs to claim this is the first which tries to tell an epic and linear story, but it is certainly one of the most influential for Western audiences and an important stepping stone to Final Fantasy VI. Because of the shortcomings of the second half I can't fully recommend it, but for JRPG fans it is worth a shot.

By Patrick Bregger on April 18th, 2021

The Operative: No One Lives Forever - Game of the Year Edition (Windows)

By Patrick Bregger on April 18th, 2021

Final Fantasy III (Windows)

Old-fashioned JRPG surpassed by its successors

The Good
The biggest strength of Final Fantasy III is the pacing: you usually don't stay too long in a single town or dungeon, there is not much exposition, even the boss fights are usually more about fast extermination than endurance. This is underlined by a fast progression of transportation: you frequently receive new ships, airships, etc. which all open up new places to explore. Because of a handy spell which shows all important places, I never had a problem finding the next place to be.

Since this is a remake of a NES title, I expected a lot of grinding, but in the end there were only two or three short grinding sessions - the rest of character development was organic. However, I have to admit, this is partly because I read up on the jobs (the game's classes which can be changed at will) beforehand. If you take the wrong job, you'll have to do some extra work because they are separately leveled for each character. I liked the system, but unfortunately there are way too many jobs with too much redundancy.

Even more of a surprise: I was not bothered by the lack of saving points in dungeons. After the first few hours I was sure this would be my number one complaint in this review. But because almost all dungeons are short and linear, there is never (exception: the last dungeon) the danger of losing too much progress. Therefore the only impact it had on me was some tension when facing a boss for the first time.

The Bad
The biggest weakness are the story and the characters. The four protagonists have the personality of leaf of wood and the NPCs are not much better. For the majority of the game this isn't too much of a problem because conversations are short, but towards the end the game assumes I'd care for certain characters. Nope, I didn't care, and therefore all emotional moments were only cringy.

This is the last Final Fantasy with a strict turn-based battle system. I think the system is fine, but I hated that the turn order is not predictable. This can lead to cheap defeats from full health when an enemy is the last to act in a round and the first in the next. This almost happened to me in the final boss fight which would have changed the tone of this review considerably.

The Bottom Line
Final Fantasy III is a short and sweet JRPG which is fun to play. But it also has nothing outstanding going for it and the JRPG master discipline, characters and story, is lacking. In the end it is only worth playing if you want a very classic JRPG experience without the need to grind.

By Patrick Bregger on April 6th, 2021

Deus Ex (Windows)

The reason why the invention of computer games was a good thing

The Good
The biggest strength of Deus Ex is its implementation of choice & consequence in both gameplay and story. The game has an answer for many things you can do out of your own volition: your boss scolds you if you enter the women's bathroom, it recognizes when you choose to kill a friendly trooper for its advanced weapon, you get praised by your paranoid associate if you kill someone before you receive the quest - you can find dozens of examples. Of course most of it is just window dressing: the reactivity is mostly front-loaded into the first few levels and the only influence on the story are a few different dialogue lines and the choice between three endings directly before the finishing line. Overall the interactivity is not even close to later games like Alpha Protocol. But it does not matter, because the developers thought of exactly the right responses to awe almost every player during their first few playthroughs. In my opinion this is the very reason for the game's stellar reputation; Invisible War has objectively more relevant choices, but it still feels confined and on railroads.

Even more successful is the impact of choice & consequence on the level design. Hands down, I think Deus Ex still has the best level design out there - only surpassed by The Nameless Mod. You can approach almost every situation from multiple angles - maybe go in guns blazing? Take the enemies out non-lethally in stealth? Or maybe they just let you slip by if you were friendly to their mate in the previous level? You could also use a venting shaft, lockpick the exit and circumvent the situation altogether? Deus Ex supports all those possibilities - although not every one in every situation - and many more.

Deus Ex wouldn't work without its fantastic dystopian setting and its interesting characters. The plot explores the following idea: what if every conspiracy theory out there is true? Yes, the writing is not always stellar, some plot points could have been lent from a B-movie and some characters are flat, but it always worked for me. The game tries to leave out the antisemitic drivel, but it is not entirely successful.
Because I played this during the 2020/2021 pandemic, I noticed some eery parallels to the game's plot - it's as if the conspiracy mongers of 2020 took their inspiration directly from Deus Ex. Only the "the government implants surveillance chips through vaccines" idiocy is missing, but Human Revolution has that one covered...

The Bad
What bothered me the most is the presence of invincible NPCs. For example, you can kill a friendly NPC at some point of the game, which is rightfully considered one of the game's highlights. But the game does not tell you so (which would be a positive point) and the person was always invincible before - so how likely are you to notice without prior knowledge? I know it is almost impossible to write a branching script for every possible dead NPC, but it still works completely against the freedom Deus Ex offers everywhere else.

The second big flaw is that the game is too long. I can't point to a single bad level, but in the second half the game mostly iterates established ideas and feels a bit repetitive. Oh, and the voice acting sucks even for 2000 standards, but I don't even notice that anymore.

The Bottom Line
Much has been said and written about Deus Ex during the last 20 years. Many people praise it and even call it the "best game ever". I am not very original here, but this statement is obviously correct: this is my favorite game of all times and I don't think it will ever change. It has its flaws, but its strengths are so great they don't matter to me. If you have not played it and are not put off by old graphics - what are you waiting for?

A few words about Deus Ex: Revision
My latest playthrough prior to writing this review was made with the mod Deus Ex: Revision. Until now I only played Deus Ex vanilla, so I can't make a comparison with other popular mods like GMDX or Shifter. Revision does not make many gameplay changes (at least I did not notice them), but redesigns the levels. Some of them have only small changes (for example the first level on Liberty Island has more decoration elements and that's it) while others - especially the three hub areas - were completely revamped. Unfortunately some levels are clearly inferior to the original ones (especially the Hong Kong market area is awful). This is a shame, because some of them (the new Paris comes to mind) are really well made. I would recommend the mod for Deus Ex players who look for some variety, but newcomers should definitely play the original first.

By Patrick Bregger on April 1st, 2021

Vampire: The Masquerade - Coteries of New York (Windows)

An OK visual novel with a weak ending

The Good
I have to be honest: I don't like vampires in media. I think the only vampire fiction I ever enjoyed was Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines. Coteries of New York is set in the same world, but I still expected a disaster after buying it in a Humble Choice bundle.

I am glad to be wrong. While the game is certainly no brilliant work of fiction, the setting and decent writing makes it a good product. In the end, this is a collection of several small stories held together by a framing plot. I especially liked how it does not fall in the usual visual novel trap: both the episodes and the whole game are short and to the point. The characters work well enough, but most of them are superficially written.

The game is built around player choice, meaning you can choose which episode to play next. You can't experience everything in one playthrough which means you are not forced to continue stories you don't care about. You also need to feed regularly or otherwise the beast will take control over you. Admittedly I'm not sure if you can actually fail the game, but the system gave me a sense of urgency I appreciated nevertheless.

The Bad
Unfortunately the player choice leads to some inconsistencies in writing. For example, during my first episode I investigated a murder and had the possibility to name a certain vampire faction as culprit. This is well and good, but at this time my character should have absolutely no knowledge about this faction! Another example: there are various dialogue boxes where the protagonist is referred to as "they" because the writers did not want to differentiate between male and female player characters. This wouldn't be a problem if it was used with consistency, but the writing jumps between "they" and specified gender pronouns.

Another problem is the game's conclusion: it comes out of nowhere and you are railroaded towards a cliffhanger ending. Your choices during the game don't matter at all, in fact you could cut out 90% of the content without the need to change the ending at all. I don't really object to the inevitability of the ending because it fits the setting. But if a game is built around player choices, it must at least give the illusion that they matter.

The Bottom Line
Because of the bad ending, I can't recommend the game at all. This is a shame because the rest shows much potential.

By Patrick Bregger on March 19th, 2021

Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box (Nintendo DS)

Your grandma's puzzle mag in video game form

The Good
I have to admit: at first I was pissed off. In contrast to the predecessor, it is not possible to change the language and I had to play the game in German. I can't stand this! Thankfully the localization is well made and I never had problems with puzzles because of bad translation.

In comparison to the predecessor, I felt the puzzle quality was improved. In the Curious Village you could encounter very hard puzzles almost right off the bat; in the Diabolical Box there is a well-made progression of difficulty (although the overall difficulty is easier). I also encountered less almost identical puzzles, but this may be because I did not solve all 150 available puzzles. Many puzzles have a clever twist, but never feel unfair towards the player.

The game also progresses differently than its predecessor: instead of a single village, you visit various locations in order. I felt this works well because the change of scenery keeps the game fresh and interesting. The downside is the possibility to miss hint coins permanently, but I never came close to running out.

The Bad
In games like this, you don't need an elaborate plot because it just needs to serve as a framing device to lead from puzzle to puzzle. The Diabolical Box does a splendid job during the beginning stages: the story is there, it is cute and not in the way. However, it breaks down towards the end when the developers try to engage the player emotionally. Unfortunately the resolution makes no sense, the dialogue becomes annoying, the attempt at drama is pathetic and the puzzles play almost no role anymore.

Of course the big puzzle variety means you will encounter puzzle types you don't enjoy. For example, I loathe sliding puzzles. Honestly, I recommend to cheat and look up the solution online before spending your time with puzzles you don't enjoy. In the Curious Village I played mostly fair, but my enjoyment of the successor was much improved with the described policy. I also did not like the mini games, but they are completely optional.

The Bottom Line
In the end, your enjoyment of this game stands and falls with your stand towards traditional puzzles. Do you expect an engaging story or great game mechanics? This is not a game for you. But if you'd like a collection of mostly clever puzzles with some video game fluff, I can't recommend it enough.

By Patrick Bregger on March 19th, 2021

Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective 1 - The Case of the Mummy's Curse (Windows)

The original was an important technical achievement, but the remaster only inherits its flaws

The Good
The concept is very intriguing: you solve a murder case as Sherlock Holmes. Instead of usual adventure game mechanics, you only choose the next destination from a list, watch FMV interrogations and have to puzzle the clues together yourself. In the end, you enter the court and have to name the murderer and the motive. I was always interested in this game (the original version was released in 1991) and was delighted to finally give it a try.

The Bad
Unfortunately the execution is pretty bad. First off, the acting is amateurish even for the standards of early CD-ROM games. I liked the chap who plays Sherlock Holmes, but everyone else was either stiff or hopelessly overacted. The costumes are hilarious. Normally I would write this off as special charm, but the case is boring, obvious and badly written. What jarred me the most is how the second murder was handled: Holmes enters the residence of a suspect and finds him murdered. Then he invents a murder suspect out of thin air with a ridiculous reasoning and we never hear of it again.

The game design also doesn't work. The game used a point system to rank the player's performance: every action adds penalty points and if you investigated too much, the judge calls you an idiot even when the case is correctly solved. This is a stupid system because it punishes playing the game. It also does not add replayability because everything is fixed - in your second playthrough (mine took three minutes) you are guaranteed to ace it. The hint system is a nice idea, but because the game does not track what videos you have already seen, you will get hints (and penalty points) for things you have already figured out. Also some hints are wrong or needlessly confusing.

The Bottom Line
Maybe some of my complaints come off as unfair because this was one of the first CD-ROM games ever. However, I think my points (with the exception of bad acting which probably would have been offset by the technical amazement) would be justified even in 1991.

In the end, this is a remaster no one needs: the historically interested should play the original instead and for everyone else it has too many flaws to enjoy. I backed the failed Kickstarter campaign and also own the other two remastered cases, but I see no reason to touch them.

By Patrick Bregger on March 6th, 2021

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