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Stijn Daneels

Reviews

Postal (Windows)

More shock value than anything else.

The Good
I've always had and always will have a love for dark, violent and edgy videogames. It started during my youth when I played games like DOOM, Wolfenstein 3D and Mortal Kombat. I still play these games today and along with more recent games like Hotline Miami and Max Payne my appetite for extreme (and not to mention violent) entertainment gets well satisfied. With the latest video game controversy magnet called Hatred being released on Steam this week, I decided to review a game that's pretty much the same as Hatred in terms of story, setting and gameplay. I'm talking about the cult classic POSTAL. Just to mention, I'm reviewing the Steam version of this game, which is basically Postal Plus optimized for modern systems and with achievements added.

Let's start with the game's story. You're a simple, unnamed guy the developers and fans of the game call the "POSTAL Dude." He's a depressed, sadistic lunatic who, one day, discovers that the entire world wants him dead. Whether this is true or just a serious mental delusion is certainly debatable, but what is true is that the game starts off with the Postal Dude's house surrounded by cops, locked, loaded and with intent to kill. Therefore, he starts a relentless rampage throughout the country, killing everyone and everything in sight. No matter if they are police officers, hobos, soldiers or just regular folks minding their own business. In between the levels, you get to read a little, disturbing entry in the Postal Dude's diary. These entries feature plenty of black humor. My favorite of these phrases is this one: "I will don the eviscerated organs of my enemies as party hats, wear their shredded entrails as neckties, and oh, how I shall dance!" Yeah, very wicked, isn't it? The title screen is also pretty sick, as you see a hellish environment with the POSTAL Dude standing on a "island" of human skulls! Imagine a kid growing up in the 90s (like me) watching this, nightmares for the rest of the week definitely guaranteed!

POSTAL is a 2.5D top-down isometric shoot'em up wherein you go through a variety of locations including a trailer park, a military air force base, city slums and even an elementary school. In order to progress, you need to kill a certain percentage of the area's hostiles (mostly 80 up to 95% of them). In other words, you only have to kill people who are shooting at you. Killing unarmed civilians isn't required for completion but the game does give you a few moments wherein killing these people gets very tempting. For instance, there's a level early in the game that features a fanfare and yeah, I'll admit, throwing a couple of Molotov cocktails towards them and watch them running around screaming and burning does give me some sadistic satisfaction. Another situation is a scene with a group of protestors shouting and holding signs in front of the Running With Scissors office. Probably they are protesting against violence in video games. So, in a delicious sense of irony, you can just grab your machine gun and drop them like flies!

As for weapons and enemies, you start the game with an M4 machine gun with great range, low damage but unlimited ammunition. As you go through the game, you'll get other death dealing stuff like a sawed-off shotgun, grenades, proximity mines, a heat-seeking rocket launcher and a flamethrower. Enemies are armed with similar weapons. Especially be careful around the guys carrying RPGs, Molotov cocktails and dynamite as these guys can eat through your health like candy.

Music-wise the game only features ambient noises adapted to the level you're playing in. If you're in the train level, you will hear train bells and in the mine level you can hear mine carts rolling around the place. Other frequent ambient noises include dog barks and wolf howls, fitting very well with the game's creepy atmosphere. Sound effects are pretty good, the guns sound nice (although I've already heard better ones in games such as Blood and Duke Nukem 3D). The enemies, civilians and the POSTAL Dude himself have some dialogue in the game. POSTAL Dude is voiced by Rick Hunter who also voiced the character in the sequel and he helps giving the character a sarcastic personality. Kill some people and he'll say "only my weapon understands me" or have him throw a Molotov while he's shouting "shake it up, baby." When someone's lying on the floor (ready to be executed or to be left to die, your choice), they mumble some silly phrases like "I'm have a really bad day," or "must get first-aid." I've got to say that the dialogue in the game does give it a little bit of humor among its dark and ultra-violent content.

The Bad
One missing thing that could've have made POSTAL's gameplay better is crosshairs. The game doesn't have that and that makes aiming your gun and throwing grenades or Molotovs very difficult. Speaking about throwing weapons, your thrown projectiles always travel the same distance. Usually, you hold down the throw button if you wish to throw the grenade farther. Not in POSTAL, so more often than not, your grenade gets thrown too close or too far from your targeted enemy.

The enemy AI can be very dumb. Don't be surprised to see enemies just run towards or past you without shooting at you, making it pretty easy to kill them. They are, however, smart enough not to run into fire even if you're right behind it. They'll wait until the fire is extinguished and then continue to chase after you.

When you look at the game aspect to aspect, POSTAL is pretty mediocre. Aside from the aforementioned aiming difficulties and questionable enemy AI, the game also has low-detail graphics (yes, even for 1997), no soundtrack and almost no story whatsoever. But POSTAL has a unique charm to it, it's hard to describe but it's one of those love it or hate it type of games.

The Bottom Line
POSTAL is a great example of the philosophy that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It may not have great graphics, deep gameplay, a compelling story or a memorable soundtrack, but the game has a unique style and atmosphere that make POSTAL rise above the average gore fest into the cult-classic series that it eventually became. POSTAL isn't a game for everyone (and definitely not for children), but if you can take the game's dark and violent content, you'll find it to be a fun guilty pleasure.

By Stijn Daneels on June 4, 2015

Star Wars: Dark Forces (DOS)

Star Wars and DOOM fans, rejoice!

The Good
I'll kick this review off by saying that I'm a huge Star Wars fan. I've seen all six movies (and enjoyed them all, even the prequels) and I also yearly visit the FACTS comic, horror and sci-fi convention (a huge chunk of the fair is exclusively dedicated to all things Star Wars). So yeah, I'm quite a Star Wars nerd! Last Monday was also official Star Wars Day and to celebrate this event, I decided to replay one of the first great Star Wars games!

Star Wars Dark Forces takes place between episodes IV and V and focuses on Kyle Katarn, a former Imperial officer who now works as a mercenary for the Rebels. After successfully aiding in the destruction of the first Death Star, he embarks on his most dangerous mission yet, as he faces off against the Empire's newest and deadliest weapon: the Dark Troopers! These super-powered Stormtroopers, capable of destroying an entire Rebel base in mere minutes, are being massively produced in an unknown Imperial base and it's up to Kyle to find out where that is and thwart the Empire's plans.

Dark Forces is a first-person shooter, playing very similar to DOOM and other FPS games at the time. So you can expect huge, varied levels, filled with tons of enemies and secret areas. Locations you'll visit include the city-planet Coruscant, a Star Destroyer and Jabba the Hutt's personal spacecraft. Every level feels unique in many aspects. Some levels are very industrial, with lots of machinery, conveyor belts and computer terminals. Other levels feel more like caves and caverns, filled with carnivorous critters. In every level of the game you have a set of objectives to complete such as obtaining documents, planting explosives or rescuing a certain character. After all objectives are completed, you can move on to the next level.

The levels themselves not only feel very different from one another but they are also very nicely detailed. The detention center level (mission 6) for example, starts off at the outskirts of the prison and then goes on through various floors, every floor hosting a specific department (entrance, prison cells, command center, even the garbage compactor). Most of Dark Forces' levels are very fun to walk and shoot through and as I already mentioned, they're full of secret areas so that really encourages some deep exploration.

As for the graphics, since the game was released in 1995, you can expect a lot of sprites but you can see some 3D models (the ships in Couruscant, for instance are fully animated and in full 3D). The game's house-made Jedi engine also features floors-over-floors (a neat, new feature back in those days) and can show huge environments without hurting the frame rate. All these bells and whistles sometimes make me believe that the game uses an early version of the famous Build engine (the engine used in Duke Nukem 3D). And since that engine is so awesome, that definitely is a good sign!

Your weapons include a blaster, stormtrooper machine gun, grenades, mines and even a Mortar cannon. You also get a few gadgets such as night vision goggles, ice skates and a gas mask. Every weapon and item serves its own purpose. Some weapons are useful up close, while others are more effective from a distance. All weapons feel very satisfying to use and the blaster weapons gunshot sound effects are identical to those in the films! Ammo is plentifully available throughout the levels and trust me, you'll need everything you can find if you want to even the odds against what the Empire will be throwing at you in this game. You'll encounter regular Stormtroopers, Imperial officers, various types of droids and of course the aforementioned Dark Troopers! Some enemies are mere cannon fodder, but others will put your skills to the test!

Music and sound effects are virtually all borrowed from the original trilogy. The music tracks are MIDI remakes from John Williams' soundtrack and the musical score changes depending on the situation you find yourself into. During quiet moments, the music will be slow and brooding, while during firefights the music gets very epic and orchestra like. The sound effects include the aforementioned famous blaster sounds and the Imperial forces shouting things like "halt" or "you're not authorized in this area" in their typical stormtrooper voices. The authentic music and sound effects, added with the weapons, enemies and well-designed levels all help in giving the game a true Star Wars atmosphere.

The Bad
You can't save while playing through a level. So if you start a level, you better damn sure finish it if you don't want to start all over again. You have a limited number of lives (more can be found in secret areas) and if you die, you respawn at a checkpoint close to where you went out for the count. But if you lose all lives, you have to start the mission all over again. For me, it isn't a real issue since it adds to the challenge and thrill, but just remember this when you're going into this game.

Some levels have tenacious platform sections. The game's first person perspective makes it quite difficult to make certain jumps without falling to your death on the first try. I wished that the developers added an optional third person mode, that would have made these jumps significantly easier.

The Bottom Line
Overall, Star Wars Dark Forces is a very enjoyable and engaging shooter that I can warmly recommend to Star Wars and FPS fans alike. Hell, I would even say that non Star Wars fans should also play this game, as its gameplay is good enough without the Star Wars setting added to it. Anyway, thank you for reading this review and I'll see you all again in a galaxy far, far away!

By Stijn Daneels on May 10, 2015

The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition (PlayStation 3)

Raise the anchor and get Jolly Roger in the sky! We're heading for Monkey Island!

The Good
Aye! The Secret of Monkey Island is yet another of these awesome adventure games that I didn't give myself the time to play until recently. Yeah, you could consider me a contemptible sneak. After having regained my appetite for classic adventure games after playing Gabriel Knight - Sins of the Fathers, I downloaded Monkey Island I and II from PSN at a discounted price. And having finished this first iteration of the legendary Monkey Island franchise, I've become very hungry for more!

Just as a reminder, this review is about the Special Edition of the game. I've never played the original version when it first came out, so no nostalgia goggles for me. The original version, however, is included with the special edition and I played both versions of the game consecutively so I'll make a few comparisons between them.

You play as Guybrush Threepwood, a young, naive everyman who has but one ambition in life: he wants to become a pirate! Unfortunately, Guybrush has few pirate-related talents, he fights like a dairy farmer, looks like a flooring inspector, can't swim and stutters like crazy when he encounters beautiful women. He can, however, hold his breath for ten straight minutes, so that certainly deserves some praise! Not to mention that he has the brass balls to enter a ghost ship filled with undead pirates all by himself!

But becoming a pirate isn't an easy task, as Guybrush not only has to complete certain trails and has to find a ship and crew, but he also has to face off with the infamous ghost pirate LeChuck, who rules over the Caribbean with an undead iron fist! LeChuck keeps all other pirates to the land and, worst of all, he kidnaps Guybrush's lover, the beautiful governor Elaine Marley! Guybrush wastes not a single minute and goes to the rescue, a trip that will take him to the mystical Monkey Island, with inhabits idol-worshipping cannibals, lava-filled caverns and let's not forget, a three-headed monkey!

The Secret of Monkey Island is a point-and-click adventure using Lucasarts' famous SCUMM engine. The basics for this engine (and the gameplay as a whole) is that you pick a verb, than you click on an object in your environment or in your inventory and see what happens. For example, chose the verb "talk to" and then click on a person on the screen to have a chat with him/her. Or take the verb "use," take the chunk of meat from your inventory and then click on the bowling stew pot to put the meat into it. Don't let the huge number of different verbs fool you, this interface is very easy to get used to since it uses simple common sense! The conversations you have in the game are really fun because you can either politely ask for information or downright insult the person you're talking to! Or you can trick them into thinking you're selling fine leather jackets! It's really fun to experiment with different phrases and see how the person you're speaking with will respond to them!

The game's story has many hilarious and memorable moments. One of them is the sword fighting in the first act. Rather than real fencing, you have to out insult your opponent. You learn these insults and their respective responses when you duel with random pirates. My personal favorite insult is: "My handkerchief will wipe up your blood!" A phrase you can rub back into your opponent's face by saying: "So you got that job as janitor, after all." Another fun moment is when you stand on the Monkey Island mountain, go to the far right side of the mountain top and fall into the abyss! You get a "death message" and seconds later you float back to the top of the mountain. A very clever nod to the many bizarre deaths in the Sierra adventure games! Speaking of death scenes, there virtually are no possible ways to die in this game, except when you really have Guybrush hold his breath for more than ten minutes!

The game's graphics are really great. The remake uses hand-drawn images and they give the game a really cool comic book look. It also has some nice special effects and the water in particular is really magnificent to watch. The original version looks more realistic and has more of a painting look. Anyway, you can always switch between the two styles with the mere press of a button on your keyboard or game pad. I found myself doing that a lot during my first playthrough just to see how a particular character or scene looked like in the original version.

But of course, a good adventure game also needs clever puzzles that will challenge your brain cells but whose solutions make sufficient sense. Fortunately, the puzzles in this game aren't too hard, sometimes the solution is less than obvious but if you carefully listen to the dialogue and the description Guybrush gives to certain objects you can certainly solve most if not all of the game's puzzles! And if necessary, you can always access the in-game hint system, that gradually gives you the full solution the more you use it for a particular problem.

This Special Edition has a remade soundtrack using real instruments and voice-acting for all characters. The music in the game is simply perfect, it features flutes, trumpets and drums and they give the game a very light-hearted, upbeat feel. It really gets me in the mood to set course for a grand adventure! The remake's soundtrack is identical in tunes to the original version but the latter uses MIDI rather than orchestra. Both versions are very enjoyable to listen to.

As for the voices, Guybrush Threepwood is voiced by Dominic Armato and Earl Boen takes on the phantom boots of LeChuck. These two actors in particular did a splendid job in bringing their characters to life and they really add to the game's atmosphere. The original version features no voice-acting, so people who enjoy a good read can switch to that version.

The Bad
Act one and three feature giant map screens wherein some locations you need to visit are barely visible on them. Your best bet is to scroll your cursor over every single pixel on the map in order to find all the locations you can visit.

The game is also pretty short, the second and the final act of the game in particular are extremely short. I wished that the game had two or three more chapters. One additional sequence could have been that your ship gets shipwrecked on your road to Monkey Island and that you need to repair your ship using equipment you find underwater or on the island you got stranded on.

The Bottom Line
One of the funniest adventure games I've ever played. The Secret of Monkey Island is another timeless classic that features everything you could want from an adventure game. An engaging story, memorable characters, a user-friendly interface and excellent puzzles. In addition, the game's pirate theme and light-hearted atmosphere really make the game really shine! Highly recommended to every gamer out there, even those who have little interest in adventure games. And now, I want to be a pirate!

By Stijn Daneels on May 1, 2015

Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers (DOS)

You got what it takes to become a Schattenjäger?

The Good
Gabriel Knight - Sins of the Fathers is a game I knew little about until I bought it on GOG.com along with its two sequels. I also saw Pushinguproses' episode dedicated to the game and after watching her review I was very excited to play the game. Not only did I enjoy it, but Gabriel Knight also revitalized my appetite for adventure games!

In Gabriel Knight - Sins of the Fathers, you play as the titular character, an ambitious but not very successful novelist who lives in New Orleans and owns a book store (that virtually nobody actually visits). Suffering from writer's block, Gabriel decides to help his best friend and police detective Mosely solve a string of murders in which the murder victims were apparently used in Voodoo inspired sacrificial rituals. As our hero investigates the case, he discovers that his German ancestors have quite some involvement in the events happening in New Orleans. He also encounters Malia Gedde, a beautiful woman who gets romantically involved with Gabriel but who keeps a very dark secret away from him.

The game's story is told through the course of ten days and will take Gabriel to various real-life New Orleans locations such as Jackson Square, the Tulane University and the Bayou St. John. He will also visit a castle in Germany and mummy-infested catacombs in Africa. For every day, you have a certain set of puzzles to solve, information to discover and items to find before you can move on to the next day.

The game itself plays like a traditional 90s Sierra point-and-click adventure. So you click all over the screen in order to move Gabriel around, let him interact with objects or people or examine his surroundings. The game also has a score system (a stable feature in Sierra adventure games). You won't get the full score if you only do the actions necessary to complete the game. This adds some nice replay value and encourages you to explore and experiment. When you talk to people, you have access to a huge variety of subjects to talk about, you can ask them important questions in order to progress the story or just have some small-talk with them. It adds great depth to the conversations and helps fleshing out the characters you meet.

Two of the game's best aspects are its story and characters. The story may be a bit unoriginal, but it's told in such a way that it keeps you interested until the very end. Like Gabriel himself, you will slowly but surely discover the truth behind the murders, Gabriel's family and what the word Schattenjäger means. As you play through the game you will also get some nice educational information about New Orleans and Voodoo culture (the real one and not what you saw in the second Indiana Jones movie).

When it comes to the characters in the game, you can expect quite a variety of personalities, both friendly and hostile. Aside from the characters I mentioned before, there's Gabriel's sexy and intelligent personal assistant Grace (who remains professional and level-headed despite Gabriel's macho humor). You will also meet the intimidating and shady Voodoo museum owner Dr. John and Gabriel's relative Wolfgang, who plays a key role later in the game.

Voice acting and music is nothing short of amazing. The game has some very talented actors voicing its characters. For example, Gabriel Knight is voiced by Tim Curry, detective Mosely has Mark Hamill's vocal chords provided to him and Michael Dorn gives life to Dr. John. Virtually all actors did a splendid job at bringing their characters to life and make them very memorable. Gabriel Knight in particular steals the show. He's a flawed and relatable regular Joe, he sometimes lets his impulses get the better off him but his incorruptible sense of justice and fearless daredevil attitude make him really stand out from the crowd.

The music, composed by Robert Holmes, has plenty of variety and always fits perfectly in the situations you encounter in the game. The musical score ranges from joyful fanfare music and blues rock to downright threatening African drumming. It all adds to the game's compelling and sometimes very scary atmosphere. You cannot help but feel that the villains are watching you every move and that they could just kill you when they want to. In particular the moments taking place in the African catacombs really unsettled me. It features the dark and brooding drumming I already mentioned, and seeing all those seemingly dead mummies really made me wonder what will happen next!

The Bad
There are a few moments at the game's final day wherein you may risk getting into an unwinnable situation. I'm not sure whether there are similar situations at earlier days of the game, therefore I highly recommend you to use at least two saves and use one of them to save your game at the beginning of each day.

The game's narrator gets on my nerves from time to time. I believe the developers wanted her to be a Voodoo witch or fortuneteller but she really oversells her role in my opinion. She speaks very slowly and with way too much drama. Fortunately, you can turn her voice off in the game's options.

Just as a little warning, Gabriel Knight is pretty gory at times. The game doesn't shy away from showing you lying on the floor with a zombie on top of you, ripping out your heart and eating it as an afternoon snack! So avoid this game if you're squeamish about blood and guts.

The Bottom Line
Gabriel Knight - Sins of the Fathers is considered among many to be one of the all time greatest games in the adventure genre and I completely agree with that. Like a great crime novel, you really get engaged into the story and want to play on until the very end. This combined with the game's memorable cast of characters, awesome soundtrack and voice acting makes the game a thrilling rollercoaster ride! Now it's your turn to play, Schattenjäger!

By Stijn Daneels on April 23, 2015

Batman: Arkham Asylum (PlayStation 3)

You're Batman!

The Good
Batman is and will forever remain my favorite superhero and one of my all time favorite fictional characters. The reasons for that are simple: a regular guy (doesn't matter that he's a millionaire or that he has a butler or a gigantic manor, he is still just as human as us), taking a stand against crime and injustice. Never succumbing to the corrupting seduction of vengeance, money or power, and of course having a badass suit, various cool gadgets and the Batmobile! After reading ravishing reviews for Batman Arkham Asylum, I bought the game shortly after getting my PS3. And after having played this game for like the fifth time since I bought it, Arkham Asylum certainly deserves all the praise it has received over the years.

As the title says, Batman Arkham Asylum takes place in Arkham Asylum, a mental institution located on an island in the middle of Gotham City wherein all of Gotham's criminals reside when Batman has caught them. It begins with the Bat taking the Joker to the asylum after the latter attempted an assault on the city hall. But rather than peacefully going to his cell, the Joker escapes custody and, with help from the inside, quickly takes control over the entire island. He releases everyone from their cells, leaving Batman stranded on the island and surrounded by hundreds of Joker's men as well as several other supervillains such as Bane, Poison Ivy and Killer Croc. But that's not enough, as Batman will soon discover that the Joker has much more sinister plans than just a simple prison riot!

I'll say right of the bat (no pun intended) that this game has pretty much everything you could wish for in a Batman game. It combines hand to hand combat with stealth and occasional crime solving and it succeeds in spades in all of these departments! The controls are very easy and intuitive to use, one button to strike, one to counter, one to dodge and one to stun. Batman fluently swings from one bad guy to the next and he has a very nice set of combat moves to beat the living crap out of every foe he encounters. Knock an enemy down and jump on top of their bodies to pound them unconscious, throw them around or just grapple them and break their legs or arms.

Stealth is also very prevalent in the game as in some situations you will face a group of heavily armed criminals which you need to take down one by one. I would daresay that the stealth is even more fun than the combat sections as you can really make the enemies shiver in fear as they realize they're getting picked off one by one. Sit down on top of a vantage point and grab an unsuspecting foe from upside down, leaving him hanging and screaming for help. You can also takedown foes using the floor grates, your batclaw or just by sneaking up from behind and chocking them. As the encounter goes on, the enemies become increasingly nervous, calling you out while their guns are shaking in their hands from uncontrollable stress! It is really fun and badass, not in small part thanks to the detective vision mode, which is a kind of x-ray vision that allows you to see enemies through walls and see all kinds of information regarding their numbers, how many of them are armed and their respective stress levels.

Detective vision also helps in finding interactive objects and solving puzzles. If you, for example, encounter a force field, you can use detective vision to see the electricity cables and follow them to the power source. As you play through the game, you'll obtain experience points which allow you to buy new moves and upgrades to your arsenal. The gadgets at your disposal include Batman's signature batarangs and batclaw as well as explosive gel, a hacking device and more. But don't think things will get easier when you get upgrades, as enemies will become better armed and prepared as the story goes on, getting more numerous and get armed with knives, stun rods and lead pipes. The stealth will also get tougher since the vantage points will be booby trapped and the enemies will be wearing electric collars which will alert other foes in the area if someone gets whacked by the Bat!

Collectibles are also present in this game, as the Riddler has hidden about a hundred trophies all around the asylum for you to find as well as several riddles which refer to objects or locations you need to scan. For instance, you may stumble upon Mr. Freeze's frozen cell or the Penguin's signature umbrella and therefore unlocking their respective profiles. It's a really fun lecturing in case your knowledge of the Batman universe is limited to Batman, Robin and the Joker. You can also find audio tapes that contain interviews the Arkham personnel conducted with the supervillains you encounter in the game. These recordings are very intriguing and pretty disturbing at times, giving you a glimpse at the insanity these villains possess. Overall, the game's collectibles aren't hard to find, but for many of them you'll have to wait until you have obtained a certain gadget or upgrade.

In case you still want more gameplay than the main campaign has to offer, then you can try your hand at the challenge maps. They are equally divided between fighting and sneaking and for every map there's a regular and an extreme version present. For each map you can earn up to three medals depending on your overall score (fights) or how many objectives you completed (stealth). Obtaining these medals isn't too hard, but getting to the top of the leaderboards will be a whole different ballgame. I do have to say that even without these challenge maps, the game has plenty of replay value because the story is so tight and the gameplay so compelling that you cannot help but play through it another time after a year or so.

Not only is the gameplay great but the game's presentation and atmosphere are even more awesome. The game's style is based on the more darker themed Batman world as seen in the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy and in the legendary Animated Series. As you make your way through the asylum, the Joker will frequently taunt you, tempting you to give in to your rage and let yourself slide into madness. Although you have radio communication with Oracle, you cannot help but feel completely isolated in the asylum with the Joker playing you like a rat in a trap. But the true showstealer in this game is the Scarecrow, as from time to time Batman will be exposed to the Scarecrow's fear gas, forcing him to face his greatest fears. I won't spoil the surprises for you if you didn't play the game, but I can tell you these sequences are easily the most compelling moments in the game and since the Scarecrow will be a main villain in the upcoming Batman Arkham Knight, I cannot wait to see what he will have next in store for the Caped Crusader and the rest of Gotham.

Voice acting, music and sound effects add a ton to the game's already excellent atmosphere. The game's main characters are voiced by veteran voice actors such as Kevin Conroy for Batman and Mark Hamill for the Joker. The game's musical score, composed by Nick Anundel, has a very similar style to the soundtracks made by Danny Elfman so expect dark, brooding but epic orchestra music. Sound effects are excellent too, the sound of the Bat's fists hitting criminal flesh is great and breaking someone's limp is particularly satisfying to hear.

The Bad
The final boss battle with the Joker is very lackluster. It's actually just you fighting off a ton of bad guys with the Joker occasionally joining the party. It would have been a lot better if it was more of an indirect battle in which Batman has to save several hostages or use his detective skills to stop the Joker from detonating a nuclear device or something like that. It would have suited Joker's character a whole lot better.

The Bottom Line
Overall, this game can be considered the first true Batman game rather than just a run of the mill beat'em up or platform game with Batman in it. Virtually every single aspect of the Dark Knight is present and the game's story, atmosphere and varied gameplay will keep you hooked to this game for a long time. So go on, answer the Batsign, jump in your Batmobile and enter the madhouse!

By Stijn Daneels on March 28, 2015

Command & Conquer: Red Alert (DOS)

The Cold War gets a whole lot hotter!

The Good
After plunging through the PSX version of the first Command & Conquer (which I'll from now on refer to as Tiberian Dawn), it took quite a few years before I laid my hands on the later games in the series. It was only after buying the First Decade compilation that I eventually took the opportunity to play through the rest of the C&C series, starting with Red Alert.

While Tiberian Dawn took place in a realistic modern day setting, Red Alert takes on the battlegrounds of alternative history. It starts off with Albert Einstein (yes, THE Albert Einstein) using a self-made time machine to transport himself back in time to eliminate Adolf Hitler before his rise to power as leader of Nazi Germany. And Einstein does so not by shooting or stabbing him, but by the mere power of a handshake! Yeah, somehow Hitler disappears from direct physical contact with a guy from the future. Makes no sense, but hey, this is Red Alert, the game series that would feature mind controlled squids and psychotic Japanese school girls in its sequels, so just throw all sense of logic and real life physics out of the window right now!

But things didn't exactly go the way Einstein thought they would, as now the Soviet Union led by Joseph Stalin himself has free reign to commence their own plans for world domination! In a desperate attempt to stop the Commies' march, the Western nations (including Germany) join forces and become the Allies and so a devastating conflict begins for control over Europe.

The gameplay of Red Alert is very similar to its predecessor's. Once again, it's a Real Time Strategy game (RTS) wherein base building, unit training, resource gathering, attack and defense all have to be taken care of simultaneously. There's little time to think things over, as your enemy may be sending an army of tanks your way while you're casually building a few more ore refineries or silos. It is very important to prepare yourself for any possible situation. Base and unit building remains the same, click on the icon representing the unit or structure you want to have built and watch as the icon slowly starts to light up. Once it's fully lit, your unit will appear on screen or your structure can be deployed next to another of your buildings. Just make sure to have enough power plants built as some structures require quite a lot of energy to operate. You don't want your defenses to stop functioning just when you need them the most!

Just as in Tiberian Dawn, you have two playable factions each with their own unique set of units, structures and storyline consisting of about 15 missions each. Both these storylines will eventually lead to your chosen faction standing tall over the dead and broken bodies of the other side. Once again, the game uses live-action cut scenes to tell its story and they are significantly better than Tiberian Dawn's mainly because they now have a true Hollywood movie feel to them. In the previous game, it was just one person briefing you about your next mission, but in Red Alert, there's a lot more going on than just plain mission briefings. Some memorable scenes include Tanya's escape from the Soviet prison camp during the Allied campaign and Gradenko's death at the hands of Nadia in the Soviet campaign by drinking her excellent, self-made (and poisoned) tea. In other words, the cutscenes are a lot more action packed, engaging and therefore more fun to watch.

But story isn't the only thing that Westwood improved to the C&C formula. The gameplay is also significantly faster in pace. Building structures, training units and gathering resources goes quicker, allowing you more time to spend on the fun stuff, that is blowing your foes to kingdom come! Not only is the game more exciting thanks to its faster gameplay, but there's also a ton of new stuff added to the game including naval and aerial combat. Both sides have also received better balancing and overall they feel completely different from one another.

When you play as the Allies, you have access to fast moving, rapid-firing lightweight tanks, naval cruisers and you can steal intelligence or money using spies and thieves respectively. The Allies therefore specialize in meticulous planning and unit efficiency. The Soviets, on the other hand, use big and powerful assault tanks, jet fighter planes and submarines. They emphasize brutality and land-based attacks combined with the best air force units in the game. The Soviets' heavy emphasis on tanks can be effectively countered using Allied bazooka troops and landmines while the Allied naval prowess can be kept at bay using Soviet submarines. And while the Soviets have fast and powerful aircraft, the Allies possess excellent anti-air defenses. In other words, there is a suitable countermeasure for every unit or situation in the game.

The alternative history setting is used to full extent here, as new, weird sci-fi technology becomes highly prevalent in this game. The Allies, for instance, have access to the Chronosphere, which basically allows their units to teleport across the entire game map. The Soviets can use the Iron Curtain force field, which makes units or structures completely invulnerable for a short period of time. The Soviets also have Tesla coils, probably the coolest base defense weapon ever created. These are electric poles which zap every enemy stupid enough to come close enough!

The game's soundtrack is once again made by Frank Klepacki and he easily outdoes his already great Tiberian Dawn musical score with this iteration. The soundtrack is once again a mix of heavy metal with electronic music and military styled orchestra. Some tracks are very upbeat while others are dark and sinister. This is also the first game to include the now famous Hell March theme, definitely one of the most iconic video game music tracks ever created! Sound effects are pretty good (although I prefer those from Tiberian Dawn). Particularly Tanya and the spy units are fun to listen to. Tanya, like her predecessor the Commando, likes to spit out one liners for every kill she makes or building she blows up. She loves to laugh out loud or shout "let's rock" or "ka-ching!" The spy has a awesome cliché British accent and wears a tuxedo like James Bond. For king and country indeed!

The Bad
The game's difficulty is pretty cheap. You have three difficulty levels but they only change the number of hit points your units have compared to your enemy's. It doesn't change the enemies strategy at all, so expect the AI to attack you as ferociously on easy as they will do on hard, they will only go down easier.

The game's super weapons (Chronosphere and Iron Curtain) are pretty much useless. They only allow you to use it on a single unit at the time and in the case of the Chronosphere, the teleported unit will eventually return to its original location.

Unfortunately, the Soviets do not have a unique hero unit. I really wished they had a fun counterpart for the Allies' Tanya. Even a recolored and renamed Tanya unit would have been enough for me. Just imagine playing a few Soviet missions controlling a Soviet girl named Natasha and have her blow up Allied tanks using a portable Tesla coil or something like that.

The Bottom Line
One of the finest RTS games ever made. Red Alert takes everything from its predecessor, improves on the stuff that wasn't that great and jacks the good stuff up on steroids! If you liked Tiberian Dawn, than I cannot help but oblige you to check this game out. And like Tiberian Dawn, the game has been made freeware and it can easily be optimized for modern systems and widescreen resolutions. So go download this game and experience how cool alternative history can be!

By Stijn Daneels on March 20, 2015

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (PlayStation 3)

Go treasure hunting on a deserted island filled with jungles, ancient ruins and gun toting pirates!

The Good
Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is one of the first PS3 games I have ever played. I bought it shortly after getting my PS3 and I quickly found out why this game series is so beloved by critics and gamers alike.

In Uncharted, you play as Nathan Drake, a self-proclaimed direct descendant of the legendary British explorer Sir Francis Drake. Whether Nate is a legit descendant of the famous adventurer remains unanswered. Although the ring he carries around his neck is a ring worn by Drake himself, so it might be true. But what definitely is true, is that Nate has the same undeterred passion for exploration and adventure as his "ancestor!"

In Drake's Fortune, Nathan, along with the sexy reporter Elena Fisher and long time friend Sully, goes on a quest to find the mystical statue of El Dorado, the Golden Man. This adventure leads Nate and his friends to a deserted island somewhere near the coast of Panama. However, they are not alone, as they get some brutal competition in the form of Gabriel Roman, a merciless treasure hunter who wants to have the gold for himself and he has an army of vicious pirates who, like him, are willing to kill everyone in their path in order to get the treasure. And so begins an epic race to find one of the world's most legendary treasures. But is this treasure really as beautiful as it is claimed to be or does it have a more sinister secret in store for the unsuspicious adventurer?

Uncharted's gameplay is a well-balanced mix of platform action and gunplay. The platform sections of the game are made quite straightforward in order to keep the game's pace high. Jump toward a ledge and Nate automatically grabs it. And once he's got a hold of it, Nate will point his hand to another ledge which he can jump to. But be careful, as some ledges or platforms tend to crumble in seconds.

As for the shooting, the gunplay is very similar to games like Gears of War or Call of Duty. It is therefore obligatory to take cover during pretty much every gun fight. Particularly on the highest difficulty you can only take one or two shots before you get killed. If you do get hit, your screen will lose saturation and when it is all black and white, it is all over for you! So take cover, pop out, shoot a few rounds and hide into cover again. Health regenerates completely if you do not take damage for some time, making you ready to fight again! Your weapon arsenal is pretty usual stuff, you have access to pistols, machine guns, shotguns and grenades. You can only carry one handgun, one two-handed weapon and about five grenades.

All weapons are fun to use (except for the grenades, but I'll talk about that later) and there's plenty of ammo to find in the game (mainly from dead enemies). You can also engage the enemies in hand to hand combat, but since all enemies are armed with guns, this is not very advisable. They are pretty smart as well. Like you, they will keep on moving while shooting at you and they will efficiently run for cover when things get heated up. And in case you stay in cover for too long, they will certainly lob a grenade or two your way. During some of the game's levels you need to navigate the place by driving a boat or by riding shotgun in the back of a moving jeep.

Furthermore, there are puzzles which, like the platform sections, are quite easy to solve. In these moments, Nate can access Sir Francis Drake's personal diary in order to find hints on how to solve the puzzles. They mainly consists of flipping some switches in the right order or finding a certain specific object. And finally there's also hidden treasure scattered over the levels and metals you can achieve when by performing feats like killing a specific number of enemies with a certain weapon or by beating the game on a particular difficulty level. Overall, Uncharted's gameplay is lots of fun because of the silky smooth controls and the variety in gameplay mechanics.

I usually don't care much about a game's visual flair, but Uncharted just looks marvelous. It was one of the first games that truly showed off the PS3's graphical prowess. Even today, eight years after its release, the game still looks good. Particularly the lush, colorful jungle environments are still a joy to look at. The game's animations in particular were far better than in any other game that came before it. That is mainly due to the fact that every animation in the game has been motion captured. Nathan's movements in particular look very realistic and fluid. The way he runs, jumps, grabs his gun and rolls for cover, it all looks very organically and believable.

But one thing in which the game truly shines, is the game's overall presentation and characters. It has the look and feel of a Hollywood style action adventure movie. It has high energy action, spectacular stunts and a light hearted storyline with plenty of humor. Give Nathan a hat, leather jacket and whip and he could be Indiana Jones's grandson!

The characters themselves all have their own personalities and truly feel like real people. Nathan, for example, is a great example of that. Like real people, he sometimes gets upset, scared or overly enthusiastic. He makes mistakes, gets hurt from time to time and at one point in the story he even completely loses all motivation of getting the treasure but keeps going just because Elena managed to convince him not to give in to his fears.

All other characters also are very enjoyable to see on screen. You have Elena, an ambitious news reporter who eventually becomes Nate's love interest as well as Sully, who acts like a mentor and father figure to Nate and joins him on all his expeditions, sharing memories about their pleasant and less pleasant experiences from the past. It all helps in fleshing out the characters and making you care about them.

Music and audio are excellent. The music has that typical epic orchestra style that you can easily associate with those Hollywood action adventure movies (particularly the title theme is very memorable and reminders me of the theme from Indiana Jones). Nolan North delivers a captivating performance as Nathan Drake and the other voice actors do a great job in giving life to their respective characters.

The Bad
Throwing grenades is quite a pain in the ass. First, you have to manually select your grenades (because they are considered a separate weapon, quite usual for the time but completely obsolete these days) then you have to use the PS3's motion control in order to determine the arc of the throw. It would have been a lot better if you could just lob a grenade with the press of a single button.

I also wished that there was some more variety in the game's weapon arsenal. All your weapons are very generic and having access to less common weapons like Molotov cocktails, throwing knifes or some magical staff could have spiced the game up. Since we are hunting a mystical treasure, it would be a cool twist to get access some magic objects or spells to vaporize your foes.

The Bottom Line
With Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, Naughty Dog once again created an awesome gaming franchise. While very different from their previous work they still succeeded in delivering the excellence they are known for since Crash Bandicoot. So grab your handgun, washed out jacket and lucky coin and go out on a unforgettable adventure!

By Stijn Daneels on February 16, 2015

Command & Conquer (DOS)

The start of an awesome game series!

The Good
Command & Conquer is a game I still have very fond memories of. Playing it on the good old PSX (which was a good port, by the way), I remember I really had to get used to this kind of game. As a kid, I used to play platform or FPS games. You know, games wherein you control a single character with a simple objective, jump or shoot your way to the next level. Now I suddenly was in control of an entire army. I also had little to no clue of what the game's goal was or what I was doing. But eventually, I felt in love with the game. Later on, I sold my PSX version and got the original PC version through the First Decade compilation. And even to this day, I still love to play some good old Command & Conquer. And to celebrate the 20th anniversary of this series, it's an appropriate time to take a look at the game that started it all.

Command & Conquer takes place in a modern day setting and it plays on a fear that has been plaguing the Western world since the mid 90s. What if an ultra-violent extremist group suddenly decides to come out of the shadows in order to take over the entire world? In Command & Conquer, that fear becomes a reality when the Brotherhood of NOD, a mysterious extremist cult that allegedly has existed for centuries, starts an all out war against all nations of the globe. The cult is led by a charismatic man known as Kane and the group uses violence, manipulation and terrorism to strike fear into the hearts of everyone who don't share their ideals. As a result, the Western countries assemble themselves into the Global Defense Initiative (GDI) in an attempt to quell the Brotherhood's crusade for conquest. In addition, an alien mineral called tiberium started to appear all over the world. While being a very unstable and ecologically dangerous element, both sides want it for themselves. GDI sees tiberium as a perfect replacement to cope with vastly decreasing natural resources while NOD sees it as the coming of a new age in human evolution. Plenty of reasons for both sides to start an all out war for control of the world!

Command & Conquer was one of the very first Real Time Strategy games. In an RTS, you have to build units, structures, attack, defend and gather resources all at the same time. Unlike in a Turn Based Strategy game, you don't have much time to think everything over as your opponent will not stop attacking you until you're crushed. So playing a game like this certainly requires some skilled multitasking, flexibility and constant focus. You do not want to assault your enemy with GDI mammoth tanks only to find out that your undefended base gets burned to the ground by NOD flame tanks! It is that kind of fun tension that made me fall in love with RTS games.

Base and unit building goes as follows, you select a building or unit from the menu and the icon representing it gets darkened out. It starts to light up more and more as it gets build. Once it is finished, you unit will appear on screen or, in case of a structure, you can deploy it anywhere as long as it is located next to one of your already existing buildings. Building structures is important, as they allow you to produce units and advance through your side's tech tree, allowing you to build more advanced buildings and units. But of course, that requires quite a lot of cash. Cash that you can obtain by harvesting tiberium spread across the battlefield. Another important aspect about your base that you need to look out for, is power. It is vital that you build sufficient power plants as certain structures eat a lot of electricity. If you're low on power, you get a blackout, shutting down your radar, slowing down your production and turning off certain base defenses.

In C&C, you get to play as either GDI or the Brotherhood of NOD. Both sides have their separate storylines (which ultimately leads to your side defeating the other one) as well as their own style of play. GDI relies on traditional military tactics such as tanks, attack helicopters and even a satellite-based laser beam. Their main disadvantage, however, is that their units are slow and expensive to build. The Brotherhood of NOD's units are generally weaker but are faster and cheaper to produce. They also have quite some original stuff such as laser shooting obelisks and camouflage stealth tanks. NOD's forces are excellent for guerrilla tactics and for swarming the enemy with sheer numbers. Particularly their flame throwing tanks are a true joy to use on enemy infantry or on their base. In summary, both sides are pretty well balanced. Every unit has its own purpose. Some are powerful against infantry, others fare better against vehicles or structures. If you want to win a grueling battle, you will have to efficiently combine your unit's strengths and weaknesses and keep your eyes to what the enemy is throwing at you.

The missions in C&C include objectives that range from collecting a certain item to simply destroying every single enemy unit and structure on the map. Every game map starts off by being completely covered in darkness called the fog of war. When you explore the battleground, the fog of war disappears until the entire map is revealed. Unlike in later RTS games, you don't need to keep units patrolling the map if you want to notice enemies moving through the area. So you can just take a fast unit and explore the map quickly.

Gameplay aside, one other thing that was quite original about the Command & Conquer series is the use of live-action cutscenes. Unlike virtually every other game at the time, the game uses real actors to tell its story rather than just relying on text messages or CGI. I personally think that the actors do a pretty decent job in bringing their characters to life. Particularly Joseph Kucan, the actor playing the NOD leader Kane, is awesome. He's calm and calculating but at the same time has an intense and commanding presence. You just have to look at him and you can't help but believe that this guy truly believes himself to be Jesus Christ reincarnated and that he tolerates no objection nor failure from anyone.

Both the GDI and NOD campaigns have some very memorable scenes. Who can forget that scene in the NOD campaign wherein Seth, your commanding officer up till that moment, gets shot in the head by Kane himself while he was secretly plotting with you about attacking the Pentagon without Kane's permission? Or the final GDI briefing? Wherein your superior, who acted all cool and stoic during the entire campaign, began to show genuine emotion and anger over the horrors of the Brotherhood.

Music and sound effects are great. The game's soundtrack is made by Frank Klepacki and mixes synthesizer with heavy metal and war orchestra. I personally really enjoyed the game's soundtrack, it got me pumped up for some military ass kicking! As for sound effects, the weapons in particular sound powerful and beefy. Your units say generic military stuff like "yes sir," and "moving up." Nothing special, although their dying screams are quite convincing. I would probably also scream like Rob Halford if I was getting shot to pieces! But one unit that steals the show in the game is the Commando. He is basically the Arnold Schwarzenegger among the game's units. He always has a cool line ready for any situation. Shoot enemies and he says stuff like "keep 'em coming" and "that was left handed." Have him blow up a building and he will say "I've got a present for ya" before the targeted building flashes and explodes. Let him stand still for a minute and he will say "come on" while smoking a cigar (with a smoke cloud even bigger than the unit himself).

The Bad
Being of the very first RTS games, it doesn't have some features that have become standard in the RTS genre. For example, it is not possible to create a queue of units to build. So let's say you want to build three tanks, you have to wait until the unit is built before you can give the order to produce another one. It is also impossible to create way points for your freshly created units or to select all units of a certain type. One fun thing, however, is that you do not have a command limit. So you can build as many units as you can as long as you have money to buy.

The game's balance is great, but not perfect. For example, you can quite easily overrun the CPU's base using an army of NOD flame tanks or GDI grenade throwers. The game's AI also has the tendency of constantly sending the same group of units to the same direction of your base. Even if the CPU's units end up been burned to a crisp by a NOD Obelisk of Light. I wished that the CPU was more flexible in its attacks.

There are some missions (specially in the NOD campaign) where you only have a few units to control. And since the game's fog of war only disappears when you are very close to its border, it makes such missions pretty annoying as you can't see enemy units until they attack you. I do not really mind missions in which you need to deploy your forces wisely, but I wish that in those particular missions, the fog of war would disappear more quickly. Well, nothing that quick saves can't fix.

The Bottom Line
Even twenty years after the game's release, the original Command & Conquer remains very fun to play. It isn't the best RTS ever nor the best C&C game in the series, but it is still well worth checking out. The game itself is freeware and be sure to check the web for the unofficial patch created by Nyerguds that makes the game fully playable on modern systems in widescreen resolution. And be sure to check out the other games in the series (which I also plan to review in the near future). Now it's time to choose your side. Will you join GDI and fight to maintain our Western way of life? Or will you join the Brotherhood of NOD in order to help Kane create a new world order based on Unity, Peace and eternal Brotherhood?

By Stijn Daneels on February 7, 2015

Hotline Miami (Windows)

Vibrant colors, hallucinations, animal masks and lots of blood! Welcome to Hotline Miami!

The Good
First of all, happy New Year! I wish you all the happiness, love, success and good health that a year like 2015 has to offer. My personal New Year's resolution for MobyGames? Continue making reviews! I have a ton of great games I will be reviewing this year. And this baby is first!

I bought Hotline Miami from Steam during one of its fall season sales last year. The game's art style and content gave me a good first impression and after watching TotalBiscuit's WTF episode dedicated to the game, I wasted no time getting this game.

Hotline Miami takes place in 1989 Miami wherein you play a nameless thug (we fans call him Jacket) who takes jobs via telephone. These consist simple tasks such as "cleaning a house of vermin," "fixing a leak in another apartment" or "doing some babysitting." Simple translation: enter a building and slaughter everyone! Return home, answer your phone and get your new job.

I'll go and say right of the bat that this game is extremely violent. That may not say much as many games and the mainstream media nowadays do not sheer away from blood and gore, but I'm not kidding! Decapitations, dismemberments, sliced throats, bellies ripped open with guts hanging out of the gaping wound and corpses sliced in two. You also have gruesome finishing moves. Knock someone to the ground and bash the back of his head into the ground (leaving his brains leaking out of his skull), or stab his heart out with the sharp end of a broken pool cue. There is nothing glorious or over the top about this game's violence. It is realistic, gory and not for the faint of heart!

The game has a top down perspective, very similar to the first two GTA games. This perspective, combined with the game's dark atmosphere and realistic, high level amount of violence remind me a lot of the little known point and click adventure named Dreamweb. A great game I reviewed last year, check it out if you want to.

The game levels include apartments, bars, shops and even a police precinct. They all really feel like real-life locations. The disco level, for example, has a entry hall, restrooms, tables, a bar and of course the dance floor with bright flashing lights. There is litter scattered everywhere in the levels and I even remember finding a manager's office that was a mess with documents all over the place and even an opened drawer with a handgun in it. In addition, since we are in the 1980s, you can expect to see big CRT TV screens, mullet haircuts and in the protagonist's apartment, you can even find a video game console that looks very similar to the Nintendo NES.

The game is also very challenging. The levels are chuck full of enemies armed to the teeth and a single hit kills you right on the spot. A dog bite, a knife slice, a gunshot or a shotgun blast, they all lead to a quick, painful and premature death. The enemies are just as fast as you are and will hunt you down aggressively. If they have lost track of you, they will go separate ways in search of you. Also be careful of windows, as they allow both you and your enemies to shoot through them. I really can't stress it enough! Carelessness will be mercilessly punished with your character lying on your back with a bullet in his head!

Therefore, you have to think ahead and carefully make your way through the rooms and corridors of the levels. You can use stealth (and I personally recommend it) and silently dispose off your foes with melee weapons or your bare hands. You can also blast your way through each level, but this will alert nearby enemies. Weapons are scattered all around the place and you can unlock new stuff by beating the level's high score. Your tools of the trade include pistols, shotguns, knives, baseball bats and many more. In addition, you can also use the environment to your advantage. Throw a foe into a wall and kick his head in or pick up a pot of boiling water and throw it into your enemy's face. Getting fresh ammo, however, is only possible by finding a new weapon. You can however, always throw your empty gun at a foe, stunning them. You could say that game has a slight survival horror element into it. Expect that it has no horror in it, only survival of the fittest!

Before every mission, you get to choose an animal mask with gives you a particular perk. Such as a starting weapon, deadly fists of fury or faster movement speed. You unlock new masks by playing through the game as well as finding them hidden around the levels. Finally, after finishing a level, you get a high score and a grade ranging from C- to A+ depending on your overall performance. It gives the game a high replay value and despite its hard difficulty, the game is very addicting. Every time you die, you cannot help but ram that R button to try again.

I also love the game's presentation. The game combines vibrant colors and upbeat, 80s style guitar and synthesizer music with a disturbing, ultra-violent theme. This sharp contrast gives the game a very unique and compelling feel. Furthermore, the game has no voice acting whatsoever. All dialogue in the game is through text messages. The sound effects that the game does have are excellent. The guns sound very beefy and the sounds you hear while smashing someone's head in with a baseball bat are gruesomely crisp.

The Bad
Overall, there is little I did not like about this game. I would say that the only "bad" thing about this game is its unforgiving difficulty. This game doesn't mess around, make even the slightest mistake and you are dead. Particularly the later levels rely a lot on trial and error. Expect that R button to be buried into your keyboard after you have finished this game.

The Bottom Line
A unique and highly challenging game that I warmly recommend to everyone! Hotline Miami is a perfect example that awesome games are possible without having to rely on bombastic graphics and special effects, voice acting or a Hollywood blockbuster sized budget. Less = more is definitely the game's philosophy. It has a lot of value for a price that low (8,50 Euros, but that price often gets discounted). Its sequel will be out on Steam in a few months (I really can't wait for this), so spend some cash on this game. It more than deserves every bit of acclaim it has already received and will receive after you have played it. So go try it out and keep your letterman jacket, Tony Tiger mask and 80s style phone close to you. You may never know that someone gives you a ring to ask to DJ tonight at the local Miami disco, dressed to kill!! Have fun and enjoy the new year!

By Stijn Daneels on January 1, 2015

Thief: The Dark Project (Windows)

Meet Garrett, he steals from the rich and gives it... to himself!

The Good
Ten years ago, I found Thief: The Dark Project lying in my local game store for a mere 5 Euros. I remember my fourteen old self being very impressed by the term the game uses to describe its gameplay. First Person Sneaker. Yup, before Thief, yours truly only knew about the First Person Shooter. I always thought games in first person were limited to this: go from point A to point B, gear up on weapons and go kill everything in your way! But since 2004, after having the pleasure of plunging through System Shock and Thief, I finally knew that First Person can be a lot more than just Shooter. And now, I still am very grateful to have stumbled upon these two games.

But enough about that little origin story. Thief takes place in a rather unique setting as it mixes medieval architecture with Victorian age technology as well as a healthy dose of magic and supernatural elements. A world filled with darkness and danger where the rich and powerful hide inside their huge villas and castles to avoid beggars, diseases and thieves like you.

You are Garrett, a thief who steals from the rich in order to prevent his ribs from meeting his spine. He is also one of the most badass video game characters I have ever seen in the wonderful medium of video games. For one, he takes on every job he can get his hands on. Nothing worth of value is safe from him, no matter if it's located in a mansion, a factory or in haunted catacombs. He steals from everyone and everything without any fear or regret, including criminal kingpins, religious fanatics, the undead and even under the divine nose of A FUCKING GOD!!!

That's right! Garrett doesn't even sheer away from stealing from deities and not only does he get away with it, but the theft even leads to the death of said god. Eat your god killing heart out, Kratos!!

Thief, like virtually every other game set in first person released in that era, is a level based game where you have total freedom of where you want to go. In order to complete the level, you have a series of objectives (primarily steal a specific object or meet a certain person) with higher difficulties giving you more and tougher objectives. Such as collecting more loot or killing no humans. Locations include city streets, mansions and more haunted places like a deserted town and mines filled with zombies, ghosts and other nasty beings.

The game puts an extremely strong emphasis on stealth and for one perfect reason. You're Garrett, a thief! No John Rambo, Gandalf or Ezio Auditore Di Firenze. Although Garrett has a sword and knows how to use it, he can only take two or three blows from a blade before going to thieves' heaven. It is vital to be patient and to remain in the shadows, avoiding all full frontal contact with enemies as most of them are stronger, faster and deadlier than you. If they suspect you to be in the area, they will search every corner and cranny for you, turning their heads all the time and keeping their weapons ready. And if they find you, they will run after you like crazy and causing other guards to join for dinner with you serving as the main course! Your only chance of survival? RUN! Run your ass off and pray to the gods that you will find a hiding spot in time and pray even more that they have lost track of you! And in case you do manage to sufficiently damage a guard (damn, lucky you!) he will run for back up.

One of the aspects I love the most about Thief: The Dark Project is its level design. Every level is huge and has lots of secrets and the attention to detail is astonishing. Walk through the first level's mansion and hear guards chat about trivial stuff like bear fights, the closure of a prison or other plain gossip. Enter the kitchen, steal the freshly made bread and apples (and eat them for health) and read a complaint from the butler about the food's quality. Does it matter to you or the game's plot? No, but it does add a lot in creating a deep, engaging world that is a true joy to explore. You also have a map, but unlike in most other games. The map is just a still image with the part of the map you are now in highlighted in blue. This is a great idea in my opinion, since it forces you to orientate and remember your surroundings rather than just relying on all fully detailed map as in most games.

Another aspect in which Thief shines, is in its atmosphere. The music and sound effects are phenomenal and give the game a dark, brooding and at times very unsettling feel. The music is very ambient, slow and can be ether relaxing and soothing or dark and threatening. In addition, you better keep your ears wide open for incoming footsteps and humming knights standing guard. You know, the last time I felt that sense of danger and tension was when playing DOOM during my childhood. When you go through all these dark and dangerous places, you cannot help but feel that you have just entered a place you are not supposed to be. You constantly feel on edge, wondering if that particular door in front of you either contains loot or a ferocious guard, ready to cut you in half!

As mentioned earlier, sound plays a vital part in this game. As it allows you to eavesdrop on conversations and to listen to the footsteps of nearby security. But be careful, as sound can be as great a foe to you as it is a friend. Not every surface you will walk over is a grassy lawn or a soft carpet. Run over marble or steel and you will make as much noise as Lemmy from Motörhead makes while playing Ace of Spades! Yes, they will hear you coming from the other side of the god damn planet.

So in order to be as discreet as possible, Garrett has a nice arsenal of equipment such as a blackjack and a bow with various types of arrows. These include traditional steel tipped arrows, water arrows to extinguish torches, moss arrows to soften all hard and noisy surfaces and noise arrows for distracting enemies. Between missions, you can use the loot from your previous adventure in order to buy all these fancy tools. However, you only have a limited budget to spend so you better think ahead. No try before you buy!

The Bad
I found that the game's level design tends to become more sluggish as the game moves on. Maybe it is because supernatural elements begin to take over when you have gone past the first half of the game. Replacing earthly settings with dungeons and plant filled caves and switching human guards with ratmen, swarms of flies and other fantasy stuff. I personally think that a game called Thief should involve more traditional thieving. Or to tell it in Garrett's own words: "break into a guarded mansion, steal a fat nobleman's priceless treasure and leave quietly."

The following point is not a bad thing per se, but keep in mind that this is a whole different ball game than you may be used to from first person games. It is not a fast-paced shooter or a dungeon crawling RPG. It is a stealth game where patience, meticulous planning and perfect timing is essential in order to fully enjoy this game. If you managed to adapt your play style to this genre, you will certainly enjoy Thief as it is meant to be!

The Bottom Line
While Thief The Dark Project is my least favorite entry in the Thief series, it still remains a magnificent game well worth trying out. Especially if you want to get an original take on the first person genre or just want an intriguing, intense experience. But honestly, Thief is something that has to be played to be believed. And if you enjoyed it, then do yourself a favor and go play its sequels! Well, my fellow taffers, this is my final review for this year. I wish you all a merry Christmas and a happy, prosperous 2015. We will meet again next year!

By Stijn Daneels on December 24, 2014

Carmageddon (DOS)

Ey, whassat on me windshield? Meh, just someone's intrails!

The Good
Carmegeddon is a game I heard a lot about before playing it. It was after watching an episode from Lazy Game Reviews (check out his YouTube channel, it is very cool) that I eventually decided to buy the game along with its expansion pack and sequel from Good Old Games and after spending some hours with it, I discovered that this game is much more than just plain controversy.

And oh boy, was this game controversial. It already starts the moment you boot the game up. After an awesome intro movie, you get to the main menu and your cursor is nothing less than a severed hand with blood dripping from it! Yeah, that already tells you that this game is not for people with weak stomachs. And it just gets better from there on!

In Carmageddon, you compete in races all around the USA. You can win the contest in one of three ways. Passing all the checkpoints just like in a usual racing game, eliminating all the other racers by ramming into them or killing all pedestrians! Obviously, it is very tempting to just give the racing rules the middle finger and go out on a macabre, all-consuming rampage.

This game is extremely violent and has a ton of black humor. When you drive over pedestrians, they will scream out in pain and you will hear their flesh getting torn off their bodies. Slam into them with enough speed and they will swing towards your screen with chunks of man meat flying everywhere. Your wheels smear their guts over the concrete and you can keep on driving over their ripped open carcasses while looking around for your next victim. And if that wasn't enough, your driver dryly comments to the events that "shit happens" or sarcastically says "sorry" after driving over someone at speeds over 100 km an hour.

In addition, Carmageddon is about as addicting as it is bloody. As you complete races, kill pedestrians and ram your competitors out of commission, you gain credits which you can use to rank up. Unlocking new tracks and better equipment. You start at level 99 and you will have a lot of driving and slaughtering to do in order to reach the coveted level 1 rank.

When it comes to locations, you have city streets, countryside, industrial zones, mines, snow covered mountains and more! The game's timer is very generous and it is quite easy to get your timer well over ten minutes. It certainly encourages you to explore the entire map because the race track itself is just the tip of the iceberg. There are plenty of more locations to visit and people to kill when you go off the track and just drive around like a freaking maniac! Go to the beach and watch people in swimming trunks running for their lives. Visit the fields and mountains and see cows shit all over the place (literally) just before your turn them into raw steak saignant! Mmmm!

When exploring the maps, you will also find plenty of power ups and game changers. These power ups vary to extra time or credits all up to turning your ride into a bouncing machine or making it shoot electricity to zap everything you come across into a cooking, bleeding mess! Just make sure to avoid the cops, because they will ferociously hunt you down. And in case your car gets beat up or turned upside down, no worry! You can always have your car fully repaired or recovered as long as you pay for it (and you can even get into debt in case you're out of cash).

Music and sound effects are excellent. The music consists of industrial and thrash metal music with tracks made by Fear Factory as well as originally composed tracks. The soundtrack is fast, aggressive and agitating and perfectly sets the game's atmosphere. Finally, the sound effects are gruesomely crisp. Driving over someone who is already dead or about to be dead makes a painfully squishing sound and cars make screeching, ear piercing noises as they crash into walls or into each other.

The game's graphics aren't bad but not much to write home about. Much of the game is in 3D except for the pedestrians which are sprites. It definitely adds to the gory beauty of the game as polygon pedestrians would have looked awful given the time this game was released.

One last thing I want to mention is how great the game controls are. I personally never expected a pc racing game to control so smoothly. You only need to use the num pad and a few more buttons to handbrake, repair and recover your ride. That is all. No controller or steering wheel needed, just a good old keyboard.

The Bad
One thing I miss in this game is a genuine commentator. It would certainly be fun to have a game host making fun remarks about whatever ridiculous stuff you do in the game. For example, a good line after running over someone would be "Let's hope he enjoys his new tattoo" or "don't worry, you'll get a full life insurance refund for that."

Some customization for your car would have been great. Although you can unlock cars, you cannot change anything when it comes to aesthetics. It is therefore impossible to change your car's color or to add cool gadgets like spikes, hooks or other hardcore equipment.

Speaking of unlocking cars, you may think that you use credits to unlock your opponent's cars but no. You have to thrash your opponent's car an unknown random number of times in order for it to unlock. The game offers no requirements to meet in order to unlock a particular car is a matter of patience and dumb luck. And if that wasn't enough, you cannot unlock every car you see in the game. Yeah, talk about some unnecessary car teasing.

And of course, do not play Carmageddon if you dislike violent and politically-incorrect entertainment. Then it would be easier to French kiss a cobra rather than enjoying this game! But if you have even a little dark, sadistic edge, than you will enjoy this game as much as I enjoy killing bunnies with axes. Ok, just kidding, I kill them with chainsaws after driving over them with my monster truck while wearing nothing but a pigs mask on my head! Yeah, talk about bunny genocide!

The Bottom Line
A true classic in the racing genre, Carmageddon's outrageous, violent gameplay will keep you satisfied for a long time. The pc platform may not have that many racers, but with the Carmageddon series, it certainly has a big pawn on the board of racing franchises. This game definitely belongs to the collection of every self-respecting gamer. Go get it and enjoy that feeling of getting warm internal guts into your hair and face. Let's roll!

By Stijn Daneels on December 19, 2014

Rage (PlayStation 3)

Not as much RAGE as I hoped for!

The Good
RAGE is a game I was pretty excited to play when it was first announced back in 2007. Why? Simple. It is made by ID Software, the same company that gave us such FPS classics like DOOM, Wolfenstein 3D and Quake! And while this game is not as revolutionary or adrenaline pumping as these aforementioned titles, RAGE was still very fun to play, for me at least.

Ah, when one thinks of ID Software, one already thinks of the groundbreaking engines that fuel their games. And RAGE is no exception. Even on the console versions the game looks absolutely gorgeous! The weapons and character models are all beautifully rendered and when you go outside into the Wasteland, you cannot help but marvel at how huge the environments look!

RAGE takes place about a century after an asteroid hit our planet which almost completely eradicated all life on earth. What is left of our beautiful, blue planet, is a polluted, depressing world filled with bloodthirsty mutants, ruthless bandits and ruled over by the despotic Authority. The remaining, more peaceful folk are forced to live together in tribes all around the land, fending off all the aforementioned threats. It is Darwin's survival of the fittest law in its purest form! The game begins with your character emerging from a 100 year cryogenic sleep. With no supplies or knowledge of your surroundings, you are forced to adapt and survive the world of RAGE.

RAGE's gameplay consists of two main elements, shooting and racing. The shooting itself is very smooth and solid. You have a great variety of weapons and equipment at your disposal. Pistols, shotguns, machine guns, a crossbow, an RPG, etc. And almost every weapon has multiple ammo types. The crossbow, for example, has traditional steel tipped bolts as well as electric bolts which are great for frying enemies standing in water. Shauwking! You also have gadgets like RC bomb cars, sentry drones and wingsticks (which are like razorsharp boomerangs). And the best thing about the game's weapons? You can carry all of them at once! Yes sir, no need to drop a weapon. You find it, you keep it!

Despite the fact that RAGE has regenerating health, the game still has plenty of run and gun shooting not unlike DOOM and Quake. That is because you have access to bandages with completely and instantly refill your health (as long as you have them in your inventory) and if you do buy the farm, your nanotrite injected body can kick start your heart to keep you fighting! But be careful, because these nanotrites need to recharge and another whacking means death! Permanently! So don't get overly cocky.

Now on to the driving. I have to say, the driving mechanics in this game work as solid as its FPS gameplay. Using a PS3 controller, I found the cars easy and fun to drive around with. In addition to exploring the game world, you can also participate in various racing events with include time trails, checkpoint rallies and all out races with rockets and machine guns thrown in the mix. Cars can be tuned varying from a simple paint job to adding spikes to your wheels for extra damage.

RAGE also has side missions and minigames. Side missions are basic jobs like protecting a VIP or collecting some stuff from a particular bandit hideout. Minigames include blackjack, five finger fillet and memory games.

When it comes to audio and music, it is particularly RAGE's sound effects that steal the show. Every weapon and car sounds beefy (gotta love the pistol's BLAM sound when you are shooting Fat Boy bullets) and the voice actors do a great job at giving life to their virtual characters. They even added John Goodman in it as Dan Hagar. The music, however, is much less memorable. The music has some rock and ambient music which adapts on how tense your situation is. But when you think about how great the soundtracks from early ID games were, RAGE's music is quite disappointing overall.

There are two multiplayer modes. There is a race mode wherein you earn points by racing through checkpoints as well as blowing your opponents to pieces and there also is a co-op mode playable both online and offline for two people to play the "legends of the Wasteland." Simple co-op. Go from point A to point B, complete objectives and kill everyone else!

The Bad
While RAGE looks magnificent, it also suffers from plenty of texture popping. So be prepared to see blurry textures for a second or two before they become crisp and detailed. I do give credit to the guys at ID for managing to cram the entire game on the last-gen consoles in addition to the PC.

I believe that RAGE's world has a lot more potential than what ID Software eventually put into it. The game, while very fun, is merely made to show off their technology rather than filling the world with stuff to see and to do. The world of RAGE feels very empty and lifeless. First of all, there is virtually zero interactivity in the game world. Aside from explosive barrels, nothing in the environment can be destroyed or manipulated. Remember games like Duke Nukem 3D or Deus Ex and what you all could do in those games' levels? Well, there is nothing of that in RAGE. Every object is stuck to the wall or floor like granite and will not move, fall or break no matter how hard you shoot it or how many grenades you throw at it.

Second, there is the Wasteland itself. It is a pretty big open world, but there is virtually nothing going on around you aside from your own exploits and an occasional bandit car or two attacking you. Other open world games, like Far Cry 3 or Red Dead Redemption, also had huge open areas but they had plenty of life in them. Even the original Unreal (realized no later than 1998) had a much more lively and interesting environment. Of course, the world is post-apocalyptic and most of the earth's natural flora is gone, but think about spotting or hunting some mutated wildlife. That would have been fun.

Lastly, think about how much more compelling RAGE's game world would be if you had the chance to discover what happened during your 100 year long absence from the world by reading diaries or video logs (like in System Shock). ID Software had the chance of giving RAGE its own lore and providing every faction its own history and culture, but instead, they all have little individuality and overall, they just feel very generic.

RAGE's ending can easily be described in one word: disappointing. It basically is a Halo 2 style ending. Just when you think you are up for one grand finale, the credits start rolling. I already said in my previous reviews about how much I dislike such endings, so I am not going to waste any more words on this.

The Bottom Line
RAGE is a solid, by the book FPS with its technology being the game's biggest charm. It is not a memorable or compelling game and it could have been a much bigger experience than it eventually became. I would suggest playing ID's earlier games (especially DOOM and Quake) first and if you love those games, than RAGE will be worth a play for you. Just don't expect anything revolutionary.

By Stijn Daneels on December 4, 2014

Shank (PlayStation 3)

An ultra-violent, grindhouse style cartoon!

The Good
Shank is a game that I recently discovered while scrolling through the PS3 demos in the Playstation Store. I found the game immediately interesting due to its art style and side scrolling, Final Fight like gameplay. After playing the demo, I quickly bought the full game for a small fee and overall, I had a very good time brawling through the game.

First and foremost, Shank's gameplay formula is very similar to arcade classics like Final Fight, Streets of Rage and Double Dragon. For those who aren't familiar with these titles (shame on you), they were 2D side scrolling arcade style beat 'em ups wherein you simply fought your way through various enemies using punches, kicks and whatever weapons you could find. Eventually you would face a boss who all required different strategies to defeat. Rinse and repeat for the rest of the game.

In Shank's particular case, you go through each level killing every enemy in sight using a variety of weapons and eventually going face-to-face with the level's boss. There is a nice variety of locations, enemies and weapons in Shank. You will go through city streets, night clubs, villas, a moving train and even a bloody abattoir. Enemies will attempt to shoot, grapple, punch or cut you. Some are big and slow, others are fast and agile, so prepare to change your game plan depending on what you're up against. Regarding weapons, you have a pair of knives as your basic attacks, and later on you get stuff like a katana, a chainsaw, brass knuckles and a shotgun. Every weapon has its own strengths and weaknesses. The shotgun, for example, does great damage up close but none at all from a distance while the Uzi is fast and has great range but deals little damage.

In Shank you play as the titular character on a quest for revenge against the people who murdered his wife. And that is pretty much it. Yeah, no big plot twists, overly long character exposition or a deep, well fleshed out storyline. The entire game consists of Shank working his way up the food chain killing everyone who was involved with the murder all the way to the big boss himself. Guns, guts, blood, credits.

Now it's time to talk about the game's greatest charm, and that is in its art style and overall presentation. Shank has a colorful, comic book style that fits perfectly with the violent, yet lighthearted atmosphere of the game. The game feels pretty much like a low budget action movie similar to films like Desperado and Machete. So expect little story and lots of over the top, adrenaline pumping action. Style over substance. Exploitation and spectacle over story and realism.

Shank himself is a buff, stoic looking beefcake who you do not want to fuck with. All the other characters are pretty much as clichéd as Shank himself. You have the wealthy crime lord who controls all the strings and of course he has an army of henchmen who are nothing but cannon fodder for Shank. You also have a few senior enforces of said villain. There is the big, strong guy who solves everything by force (pretty much like Shank himself), the female sexy assassin and the sleazy hypocrite who covers up his crimes using the Word of the Lord.

Music and audio are pretty good. The game's music has a very Spaghetti Western style to it. Acoustic guitars, drums and whistles are the main ingredients of Shank's soundtrack. Personally, I find the music to be very fitting and enjoyable to listen to even without playing the game itself. The weapons sound good and the voice actors do a nice job at bringing their characters to live. It is nothing too memorable, but the game's audio department does its job and does it well.

And as is mandatory in such brawlers like this, there is a local two player mode. So feel free to invite a friend over to your house and have fun together. The co op mode has its own proper storyline taking place before the single player campaign.

The Bad
The game is very short, on medium difficulty the game takes as little as 5 hours to complete with an additional forty minutes worth of cutscenes. While the game is fun enough to play through a couple more times, I would have liked a few more levels and maybe a couple more bosses because they are very fun.

Shank also has its fair share of cheap deaths. This certainly becomes irritating on the hardest difficulty because in that case death means starting the entire level all over again. I certainly had a few moments when I dominated the level only to fall to my death because a bullet hit me while jumping over a bottomless pit.

While Shank is a fun character, he is not very memorable. He is just a run of the mill action hero and he does not have the personality of action heroes like Duke Nukem or John Rambo. He does say a few cool lines, such as telling the priest Angelo to "forgive him because he will sin." And by sinning, he means cutting Angelo up!

The boss battles, while fun and epic, were also too easy for my taste. In fact, the game already tells you what strategy to use against the boss right after you died the first time fighting him. I really wished that the developers gave the gamers a chance to find out for themselves how to effectively fight the boss rather than getting all the tips right away.

The Bottom Line
Despite its short length and occasional cheap deaths, I had a lot of fun playing Shank. It is a nice throwback to the old, forgotten genre of the one against everyone else beat 'em up gameplay that was so popular in the late 80s and early 90s. I would suggest trying the demo first to see if you like this kind of game and if you do, do not hesitate to buy this. Shank you very much for reading this review!

By Stijn Daneels on November 23, 2014

Splatterhouse (PlayStation 3)

Old school heavy metal bloodshed!

The Good
Splatterhouse is a game I discovered just a few years ago while watching an episode of the Happy Video Game Nerd. A great YouTube channel if you are looking for some old school hidden gems. I eventually found the game second hand and did not think twice about buying it. I have played the game once again for this Halloween season and while that time of the year is already well behind us, I decided to write this review to keep the Halloween spirit alive for just a bit longer!

Splatterhouse is a remake of the original 1988 arcade beat 'em up. That game was basically a Double Dragon clone with an emphasis on horror and gore. It received two sequels on the Sega Mega Drive and the series has gained a strong cult following ever since.

In the game, you play as Rick Taylor, a nerdy, regular joe who, despite his shyness and unattractive look, managed to hook up with the hottest girl in town! Sounds pretty familiar. All that changes when he and his girl Jenny get invited to the house of Dr. Henry West for a lecture. But instead of a boring archaeological presentation, their visit to West quickly becomes a living nightmare when Jenny gets kidnapped and Rick himself gets attacked and almost killed by West's "pets." Seconds before Rick decides to buy the farm, he hears voices seemingly coming from a hideous mask, telling him to wear it. Rick obliges, gets healed and transformed into a huge, Hulk like beast. Rick and the Terror Mask then set out to rescue Jenny and rip West and his minions a new one.

I do have to say that the story is much more fleshed out than you would expect from a game like this. As you progress to the game, you unlock chapters in the journal of Dr. West. Narrated by West himself, it gives a clear and disturbing view of the doctor's slow but definite descent into absolute madness. I am not going to spoil the story, but let me just say that Rick and West have much more in common than you might believe at first.

Gameplay-wise, Splatterhouse plays pretty much like a horror themed version of God of War or Devil May Cry. You go along a linear path, killing enemies and collecting currency (blood in this game's case) in order to buy upgrades or new moves. Splatterhouse's fighting system certainly works well. You have light and heavy attacks as well as grapples (again, very familiar). You can block, roll and you have a super meter that, when sufficiently filled up, transforms you into an even bigger monster with huge blades capable of cutting through enemies like a hot knife through butter. Wolverine would be jealous.

And it that was not yet God of War enough, you also have finishing moves. Beat down enemies hard enough and you can grab them for an awesomely bloody finish. Crushing heads, ripping off arms, you know the drill. My favorite finisher by far is ramming your fist through your enemy's ass and rip out his goddamn spine! Just press the right button at the right time and watch the blood flow.

As a throwback to the originals, some parts of the game are 2D side scrolling levels. These involve a lot more platform gameplay and little combat, but when you do get to fight, you often get a lead pipe or 2X4 to smear your enemies all over the wall or over your TV screen! In addition, the game frequently refers to events from the original games and they even included the series' signature Biggy Man boss. And if that was not enough tribute to the original series, you can unlock all three classic Splatterhouse games by just playing through the game. In all their original, 4:3, uncut glory!

But Splatterhouse's gameplay is not its biggest asset. Like Blood (the other game I reviewed for this Halloween season), Splatterhouse is B-movie style horror at its finest. The game's horror is so over the top that it leaves the domain of scary and becomes hilariously campy and cheesy. And the game is well aware of its silliness. The story is pretty lighthearted and it has a healthy dose of humor, particularly Jim Cummings as the voice of the Terror Mask is very entertaining (more on that in the next paragraph). Overall, the game's sole purpose is to entertain you with horror rather than to scare you with it.

Audio and music are great. The monsters sound pretty threatening and hearing flesh torn off from your enemies is highly satisfying. The game's soundtrack consists mostly of heavy metal styled music in addition to licensed tracks from bands like Mastodon, Five Finger Death Punch and Lamb of God. Being a metal head, I obviously greatly enjoyed the music but even if you do not like metal very much, the music certainly feels adequate for the game's outrageous, ultra-violent atmosphere.

Voice acting is also pretty good. Particularly the chemistry between Rick and the Terror Mask is awesome. The Mask really stokes Rick into killing as many monsters as he can, he knows that Rick enjoys the gore and mayhem as much as he does and he doesn't hesitate to remind Rick of that. And for everything Rick does or encounters, the Terror Mask always has a suitable response ready. Rip an enemy's head off and the Mask laughs that "he is getting head." When Rick loses an arm for the first time and screams like a baby, the Mask replies that "for a dick, he is such a pussy." Yeah, you got it, this game is certainly not made for kids. No, this is a game made for adults with a healthy taste for blood, B-movie entertainment and boobs. Like me.

The Bad
The game has very long loading times, no matter if you just started a level or had to restart because you died, the loading times always remain atrociously long. There is some animation during the loading times, it is always a monster or two doing some moves, trying to scare you (which it doesn't). But really, such long loading times should be prohibited by law!

I also found the final boss and ending to be very lackluster. Basically, you do not fight the final boss, instead you just fight some minor enemies he sends at you while he watches from a distance. Eventually you do get to brutally finish him off but I really wished that it was a pure one-on-one, mano-a-mano fight, especially if you know what the final boss looks like. The ending is pretty much a cliffhanger, and I truly detest cliffhangers. I really wished that all games simply had a solid ending instead of just dragging the story on to another sequel (I am looking at you Assassin's Creed!).

The Bottom Line
Overall, I had a really good time playing Splatterhouse. I consider it a nice hidden gem from the previous generation of consoles. It is also nice to see a modern game that is not another FPS or psychological thriller or anything too serious or dramatic. Just simple entertainment. So show me some faith, trust me and buy this game should you find it on eBay or in any second hand game shelf.

By Stijn Daneels on November 7, 2014

Blood (DOS)

I'm going to paint the town red!

The Good
Blood is a game that is considered along with Duke Nukem 3D and Shadow Warrior to be the holy trinity of Build engine FPS games. I discovered the game several years ago via the website Home of the Underdogs, a great website full of underrated PC games, definitely check it out.

In Blood, you play as Caleb. An Old West gunslinger who used to be part of the Chosen, the elite enforcers of the Cabal, a sinister cult who worship a dark god named Tchernobog. One day, Caleb, his girlfriend Ophelia and the rest of the Chosen are summoned to Tchernobog. Instead of gaining immortality and ultimate power, Caleb is forced to watch as his love and friends get slaughtered by Tchernobog and his minions. Caleb himself gets exiled and put to rot inside a hollow, cold grave. Several decades later, Caleb somehow comes back to life, seeking answers and above all else, bloody revenge!

Like I mentioned before, Blood uses the Build engine made famous in Duke Nukem 3D. Like Duke3D, Blood puts a strong emphasis on varied weapons and enemies as well as huge, highly detailed levels. Blood mostly takes place in real-life locations such as a cemetery, a hospital, a besieged city and even a moving train. There are also some more bizarre locations. One of the final levels in the game is called "in the flesh" and consists of Caleb moving through a living, breathing and occasionally bleeding creature. Furthermore, the environment reacts to what you are doing. Shoot the walls and bullet holes appear, statues and paintings can be destroyed in order to reveal hidden stashes, etc.

The first level, for instance, takes place at a cemetery. You start the level in your crypt and go through the graveyard, blowing up zombies "freshly" risen from the grave. After that, you will enter the memorial church and eventually the cremation room. Another level is one huge tribute to the horror movie (and novel) The Shining. It takes place in the Overlooked Hotel, complete with hallways, bedrooms, secret passages and a hedge maze. If you look hard enough, you can even find the Redrum writings and Jack Torrance's frozen corpse!

Level design aside, one of Blood biggest strengths, in my opinion, lies in its original weapon arsenal. In Blood you have some typical FPS weapons like a shotgun and a rocket launcher (changed to a napalm launcher) but you also get stuff like a flare pistol, an aerosol can makeshift flamethrower and even a voodoo doll (my personal favorite, by the way). Your melee weapon in this game is not a fist or a knife, but a freaking pitchfork. Ideal for stabbing those hapless mimes between the ribs! Not only that, but almost every weapon has an alternative firing mode. For example, the double-barreled sawed-off shotgun can fire either one barrel at the time or both at once for an awesome sounding BLUUUAAAAM!

The enemies themselves are also pretty original. You have typical horror enemies like zombies, psychopathic cultists and gargoyles but also walking hands, hell hounds and even fish like humans with shark heads (you have to see it to believe it). Some enemies will run, crawl or swim straight towards you to stab or bite you, others will shoot you and even others fade in and out of existence to slice you in half. In addition, the enemies are very challenging to fight against, particularly on the higher difficulties. Not only you get to fight more foes, but also because they get new abilities. The cultists, for example, will throw dynamite at you as well as strafing and crouching more often if you choose a harder difficulty level. Simply put, every enemy will test your skills and will require you to use different tactics to overcome the odds.

The game's audio and music also deserve as much or even more praise than its atmosphere. Zombies mumble stuff like "brains," cultists speak bizarre gibberish and the phantoms screams will pierce through your eardrums. Shoot enemies and they will scream out in pain. Set them on fire and they will shout "it burns, it burns" before falling apart into a tiny, smoldering pile of ash. All the weapons sound great and hearing blood dripping to the ground or the pitchfork penetrating flesh is awesomely gruesome. Music-wise, Blood is a far cry from typical game music. No rock, techno or orchestra themes, but ambient sounds like moaning, clock ticking or spiritual chants. It certainly adds to Blood's dark, morbid setting.

Caleb himself, and his voice actor Stephan Weyte, definitely deserve acclaim. Caleb really steals the show as he, like his Build bros Duke Nukem and Lo Wang, loves to comment on everything he sees and does. Enter the hospital level, and he says "I'm here to donate some blood, someone else's." Finish off the final boss and Caleb mutters "good, bad, I'm the guy with the gun." Caleb is pretty much an undead version of Dirty Harry as he has little shows little care for anything but his own issues. He is very morally ambiguous as he is pretty much as violent and psychotic as the cult he fights against. Blow enemies up and he will laugh maniacally, shoot a mime standing around and he will coolly say "I hate mimes." Still, Caleb is a joy to play with and you will constantly wonder what is next in store for him to kill and comment on.

Blood is like a huge love letter to classic horror fans. You will certainly recognize stuff from movies like The Evil Dead, Friday The 13th and Jaws. I do have to say that the game scared me little and that is exactly what the developers intended to do with this game. It uses horror and violence in such an absurd and exaggerated way that it becomes funny and just very entertaining. Like Duke3D, Blood is a game made by gamers for gamers with creativity and overall gaming pleasure put well above making money.

And of course, for a game named after the red liquid that flows through all our bodies, the game has a ton of blood and gore. Every kill is bloody and ultra violent. Throw dynamite to a zombie or cultist and watch as the blood, limbs, organs and other chunks of flesh get scattered all over the place. Shoot them with a shotgun next to a wall and see the blood slowly ooze all over the wall. Shoot enemies with a flare gun and watch them go out in flames. Use the voodoo doll and enemies turn to dust, literally!

The Bad
Like typical 90s shooters, Blood can be brutally hard at times. More often than not, you will enter a seemingly empty room only to get shot in the back by a cultist hiding in the corner or to have a horde of axe-wielding zombies appear from behind a fake wall.

The game's graphics, while detailed, are also very low resolution. Even on higher resolution settings, the game is pretty blurry, particularly the textures. I do have to say that these low res graphics certainly add to the game's B-movie style.

The Bottom Line
For me, Blood, alongside Shadow Warrior and Duke Nukem 3D can be considered the swan song of the 2.5D shooter genre. And along with these other two games, I can certainly recommend you all to give this game a go. Especially if you are looking for a bloody good game (no pun intended) to play for the Halloween season! Now go get your hands bloody!

By Stijn Daneels on October 25, 2014

Duke Nukem 3D (DOS)

Hail to the king, baby!

The Good
Ah, Duke Nukem 3D. What can I say that has not already been said about this classic? I remember discovering it thanks to my older brother playing it on his computer. Back then, I already found the game to be very fun but now that I have reached adulthood, I only now have started to fully appreciate the greatness of this FPS masterpiece. There is a lot I want to talk about, so let's get started.

Gameplay-wise the game could be considered a complete clone of DOOM. You go from point A to B, collect keys and kill everything in sight. Of course, Duke3D won't be as great as it is if the gameplay was that basic. The first thing you will notice about this game is its awesomely detailed and varied levels. Duke3D mostly takes place in real-life locations like city streets, bars, restaurants and even a huge cargo ship. Really, if you can think of any real-life location, it will probably be in the game. Not only that, but every level is huge and filled to the brim with detail. Let's take Duke3D's iconic first level. It takes place in a Hollywood cinema. Outside, you will find a mock up of the Hollywood Walk of Fame and inside you will find the ticket counter, the main room (with a movie playing), the editing room and even a bathroom. In other words, every location feels like a real location and they all have plenty of secret rooms. You will really enjoy exploring the levels and after completing one, you will feel plenty of satisfaction as well as curiosity of what the next level will be.

There is also a ton of interactivity in the levels of Duke3D. Pretty much every object can be either activated or destroyed. See a toilet? Go take a leak (and gain some health) or just flush it if you have already answered nature's call. Faucets can be turned on and drank from in order to slowly restore your health. Cracked walls can be blown up revealing secrets or just a big gaping hole. Clocks, television screens and windows can be broken. Buttons and terminals can be activated to open hidden doors. If you enter a strip club, you can give the chicks a tip and they will show off their boobs in all their sprite glory! Yeah, shake it, baby!

I already talked about the variety in Duke3D's levels but the same can be said about the game's enemies and weapons. For example, you will be facing flying octopuses with huge brains, green slimy facehuggers and of course the pig cops, which have now become a stable in Duke games. And then there are the weapons and my god, are they all awesome to use. You have typical FPS weapons like the shotgun, pistol and rocket launcher but you also get original stuff like the freeze gun, shrink ray and (my favorite) the devastator. Which is basically a double barreled machine gun shooting little rockets for massive damage. Fuck yeah!

And then there's the game's humor. Duke3D is a game that does not take itself too seriously. If you go into a bathroom, chances are you will find a alien there taking a dump. Enter a bar and enemies will be watching TV or playing pool because yeah, aliens like to take a break from things as well. And finally, there is the true star of the game, Duke Nukem himself!

If you don't know Duke Nukem (you must be born after 1996, I believe), he is basically a huge tribute to the 80s action heroes portrayed by actors like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Jean-Claude Van Damme. He is a wise-cracking, ultra-violent and larger than life beefcake who either shoots things or makes comments on whatever he encounters or does in the game. Blow aliens up and he will shout "blow it out your ass." Get a new weapon and he says "Groovy." By far my favorite Duke quote is when he encounters a Duke Nukem II arcade machine and says "hmm, don't have time to play with myself," closing followed by jamming a fucking pipe bomb into the alien queen's vagina and saying "time to abort your whole freaking species" before blowing her the fuck up. He is also pretty well-aware of being in a video game. Do not control him for thirty seconds or so and he will tell you things like "what are you waiting for, Christmas?" or he will start whistling his famous theme song while cracking his knuckles.

The Bad
Music wise, the game doesn't have many memorable songs. There is of course Duke Nukem's awesome signature theme song Grabbag and the great level complete music track, but those are pretty much the only noteworthy tracks in the game. The music consists mostly of techno or rock like tracks that do not really stand out compared to the great in-game action and light-hearted atmosphere.

I also find it a bit of a shame that you cannot save the women you find entangled in alien vines or pods. You can only kill them, much to the dislike of Duke himself. I wish that you could save them and that they would give you something like ammo or health. Now, they are just there, begging you to kill them. And if you do kill them, aliens will spawn to your location as payback, even if you kill them by accident.

And as you may expect by now, Duke3D has little story whatsoever. It basically consists of Duke Nukem saving the world from yet another alien threat by hunting the invaders down on Earth, in space and on the moon. Save the world, get the girls, and that's it.

The Bottom Line
What can I say? Go get this game, now! Especially if you are like me, who prefer games that are meant to be fun and entertaining. Games that play and feel like games rather than attempting or pretending to be Hollywood movies (I am looking at you, Call of Duty). Duke3D is an over the top roller-coaster ride that feels extremely satisfying from start to finish and just begs for a few more playthroughs just to relieve the joyride all over again. And in case you do get tired of the main game maps, then go online and download many of the hundreds of mods and map packs freely available. So stop reading this review and come get some!

By Stijn Daneels on September 27, 2014

Gran Turismo 5 (PlayStation 3)

GT5 will keep you entertained for a very long time.

The Good
Gran Turismo 5 is the first game in the series that I have thoroughly played. Like virtually every other man in the world with a healthy dose of masculinity, I have a crush for cars (particularly fast and luxurious ones) and I also like to play racing games from time to time (Need for Speed and Carmageddon are my favorites). But I can tell you right now that no other racing game kept me hooked for such a long, continuous time as GT5.

The first thing you will notice when you boot this game up, is the sheer amount of content in the game. As I already mentioned, the game has over 1000 different cars to collect ranging from karts, old-timers and family sedans all the way to luxury sport cars and the fictional futuristic Red Bull X2010. Every car sounds and looks great too. Every single detail of the car, even the tiniest scratch, is shown in all its glory. Some cars even have a fully detailed interior view.

If you do not know Gran Turismo (WTF?), you need to remember that the series is about racing simulation instead of arcade style gameplay. Tires get flat after riding for some time and the gas tank gradually empties so you will have to enter the pit stop from time to time. Other than that, the gameplay can be both fast-paced and almost arcade-like while sometimes it is slower and more technical.

Most of the cars can be modified according to your taste. You can upgrade or tune every part under the hood of your car. You can increase (to a certain extent) the maximum speed as well as the time it takes to switch gears. You can give your car a new paint job or switch the tires to fit the weather conditions.

When it comes to tracks, all of them are based on real-life racing tracks such as the N√ľrburgring, the Suzuka Circuit and the Top Gear Test Track. Events range from free for all to specialty races wherein you and your opponents have to use a specific type of car.

Races can be both played in A-Spec as well as in B-Spec. A-Spec means that you drive by yourself while in B-Spec mode you play as a coach and have to coordinate the AI driver throughout the race. Both modes have their own level system and it will take a lot of time to reach the maximum level. Leveling up allows you to gain access to faster cars and tougher events.

In addition to the typical races and tournaments, GT5 also has special challenge events. Most of the time these are beat-the-clock challenges in which you drive an unique car through a predetermined track. You have Kart Racing, NASCAR, Off the Road Rally and more. Some of them are extremely easy while others are downright insanely hard (more on that in the negative section).

Of course, no racing game is great without good driving mechanics and this game has them in spades. Every car has a different driving feel, some of them will deliberately feel more sluggish while others are smooth and fast. The controls themselves are responsive, even while using the Dual Shock 3. Logically, a steering wheel gives you the ultimate racing feel and the game supports more than a dozen different wheels. The AI for the opponent drivers and the B-Spec racer are pretty good as well, they will try to slipstream you when they can and they do not bump into anything, except when you hit them hard enough in the back. Ha, ha!

When it comes to audio and music, it is particularly the sound of the cars that steals the show. Every car sounds exactly as their real-life counterparts. Music-wise the game utilizes relaxing Lounge and Jazz music for the menus and up-beat techno and rock tracks for the races. The soundtrack is enjoyable to listen to and in case you get tired of the music, you can always put in your own MP3 tracks.

The Bad
I already mentioned that some of the game's special challenges are extremely hard. Particularly the dreaded Vettel X Challenges will get your hair stand on end. The car is in fact a fictional car that would have been made if all safety regulations were thrown out of the window. The car looks like a rocket and it can reach a speed of 400 km/h in mere seconds and you will have to complete 3 time challenges through the most technical tracks in the game!! Not only that, but if you get off the track, you will get disqualified and to top it all off, the time limit is very severe (if you want to get gold at least) so you will have to drive the "car" through the track as fast as humanly possible. Personally, I managed to obtain gold for all three challenges using nothing but a Dual Shock 3 controller (I am not kidding). It took me about a month of almost daily practice but I am very proud I did it.

It is also worth mentioning the since May 2014, the online part of the Gran Turismo 5 has been shut down. So if you wish to play Gran Turismo online, you better skip this one and directly move on to its sequel.

The Bottom Line
Personally, I had a ton of fun playing Gran Turismo 5 and as of this moment I am still playing it (mainly grinding A-Spec in order to get the platinum trophy). If you like racing games, I can certainly recommend this game despite the lack of online play and the extreme difficulty of some of the game's challenges. Now go jump into your "insert favorite car here" and feel the adrenaline flowing!

By Stijn Daneels on September 17, 2014

Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards (DOS)

A guilty pleasure.

The Good
I have already played quite a few adventure games as a gamer, but Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards is one particular game that really stands out from the typical adventures made by Revolution, Lucas Arts or Sierra themselves. And that is mainly because of its style, presentation and laugh-out loud humor.

In this game you play as Larry Laffer and the objective of the game is to find the woman of your dreams! And that is it, no saving the world or finding a long lost treasure, just getting laid. Yeah baby! But Larry is not your typical womanizer, on the contrary. He is no pretty boy, neither is he someone with, as the French call it, savoir-faire. He is unhandy, nonathletic, shy and he is already balding well before his forties, not to mention that he is homeless, poor and unemployed. But despite all that, you cannot help but feel sympathy for Larry. Because behind his wacky appearance and clumsiness hides a good soul and most of the time his chances with the ladies get screwed up by nothing more than bad luck or by falling for the wrong women. He is a just a simple guy for who life has been quite harsh and who now finally decides to take control over his life and to find happiness and love. And let us not forget his iconic white leisure suit!

Gameplay-wise, Leisure Suit Larry plays like your typical late eighties Sierra adventure game. You move around using the keyboard's directional buttons and type in commands such as look, pick up, talk, etc. And there is a scoreboard, like in most classic Sierra adventure games. Do not expect to reach the full score by just doing the stuff you need to do to complete the story. You will have to explore and experiment with everyone and everything you encounter in the world of Larry. I wish this scoring mechanic remained in adventure games. since they give you a good reason to replay the game to find out what you missed the first time.

In my opinion, the best aspect of this game is the humor. And it is not juvenile humor or anything. Larry's humor consists mostly of sexual metaphors and just overall goofiness. Very often, the humor is nothing short of outrageous. One of my favorite scenes is in the store when you order condoms. I will not spoil it for you if you have not played this game yet, but you will certainly be laughing out loud!

The Bad
Like many Sierra games of that time, Leisure Suit Larry's gameplay consists of a lot of trial and error. You will have to look around a lot and because you do not have a cursor which marks all the important objects, improvising is quite a necessity.

If you dislike sexually themed humor, than stay away from this game like die hard Catholics avoid Slayer music. This is a game made by adults for adults with a healthy taste for entertainment with a little sexual flavor.

The Bottom Line
While I do not consider Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards the best adventure game of all time nor the best game in the Larry series, I would certainly recommend it to you even if you have just a little interest in the adventure genre. The game is, along with its VGA remake and the other classic Larry titles, available for a small fee on GOG.com so check it out.

By Stijn Daneels on September 5, 2014

StarCraft (Windows)

Considered a legit sport in some countries. And for good reason!

The Good
StarCraft was a game I heard much about before I actually played it. I heard that it was considered a huge E-sports game in some countries (particularly in South Korea) and that it was considered one of the greatest games of all time. After seeing the game along with its expansion Brood War for just 3 Euros in my local videogame store, I finally decided to buy it. And it was money very well spent.

There are plenty of great stuff in StarCraft that I want to talk about, but I will start off with the story. StarCraft takes place about five hundred years in the future and focuses on a conflict between three distinct races. The first one is the Terrans, in other words, us, homo sapiens. The second race is the Protoss, a technologically highly advanced humanoid race with superior physical and mental powers. Both species are being targeted by the third race, the Zerg, which are a mixture of various assembled alien species. The Zerg plan is to become a master race and destroy everything else in the universe. In other words, there are like some kind of space Nazis.

While the story may sound cliche at first, Blizzard made it very compelling with a diverse cast of characters for all three species and there are plot twists galore. Alliances are formed and broken, hidden agendas are discovered and significant characters get killed. Hell, one particular character not only changes sides but undergoes a complete physical and mental transformation (fans of the series will definitely know who I am talking about).

Not only that, but Blizzard created an entire, highly detailed fictional universe with its own history and lore. If you are planning to read the manual, you better take time for it as StarCraft's full story consists of more than twenty pages, with plenty of them fully dedicated to all three playable species and their respective sub factions.

But enough about the setting and story, time to talk about gameplay. StarCraft is a Real-Time Strategy game that plays very similar to the Command & Conquer series. You build a base, gather resources, create units and destroy the enemy before they destroy you. But they are two things that made StarCraft's gameplay stand above your typical RTS game.

The first thing are the species themselves. Every side has its own unique set of units, structures and style of play. The Terrans rely on flexibility and guerrilla tactics. They have stealth units, fast moving vehicles and can move virtually their entire base in case they get attacked or if they have depleted all local resources. The Protoss, on the other hand, have the strongest and most efficient units in the game, but all their units are slow and expensive to produce. If you are proficient with them, however, you can kick some serious ass using a small group of Protoss forces. Finally, the Zerg are the most primal of all three species as their style consists of nothing less than building lots of weaker units in order to swarm the Terran or Protoss settlements.

The second great thing about StarCraft's gameplay is the overall game balance. You will never feel at an unfair disadvantage no matter what side you choose or fight against. Every unit has its own purpose. Some walk, others fly. Some units can only attack ground or air units while others can attack both. Take the Zerg Ultralisk for instance, a giant, mammoth-like beast that can both deal and take enormous amounts of punishment. Its only weakness, however, is that it can only attack units on the ground. So send some air units its way and it will perish faster than a fly on a cobweb surrounded by a dozen spiders.

When it comes to music and sound, everything is top notch too. Every side has its own musical style. Terrans have an adrenaline pumping mix of rock and techno, the Zerg have dark ambient, threatening noise-like "music" and the Protoss have mysterious, somehow very relaxing music that would suit well for yoga sessions. The main character's voice actors do a good job at bringing their characters to life and every unit type has its own distinct voice (although the Zerg units rely only on growls, screeches and other animal sounds). I personally love the voice of the Protoss Archon, sending a group of those baddies to an enemy settlement while they say one word battle cries like "eradicate" and "destroy" certainly get my blood pumping.

The Bad
While the enemy AI can be quite challenging and smart at times, they are also pretty predictable when you get to know how it works. Most of the time the AI you fight against limits itself to a more or less predetermined combinations of units. It does not happen all the time, but I did notice it quite a few times while playing the single player campaign.

And speaking of the AI, during some missions the AI has access to more than one species at the time. Do not be surprised if you have to duke it out with Terran and Zerg units at the same time or multiple sub factions at once. This may be intimidating and unfair at first, but eventually you can always find a way to even the odds.

The Bottom Line
If you have not yet played StarCraft then I would almost force you to play it. The game's story, setting, presentation and gameplay are awesome and then some. And despite this game being released more than fifteen years ago, fresh copies of this game are still being made and shipped today. So snoop around a bit on Amazon or your local video game store and you will certainly find a copy of this game packed together with its expansion pack for like 5 euros or something. Now go buy it, before I will send a swarm of Zerg Hydralisks you way, or do you prefer Terran Goliaths or Protoss Carriers!

By Stijn Daneels on August 30, 2014

DreamWeb (DOS)

Am I evil?

The Good
DreamWeb is a game I only recently discovered while watching an episode of Pushinguproses (great Youtuber, definitely check her out, especially if you dig adventure games). Having found out this game was freeware, I was more than willing to give it a try. And I am very glad I did.

In DreamWeb, you play as Ryan, a regular Joe with little money, little ambition in life and overall, there is nothing special about him. Except for the fact that he suffers from nightmares wherein he finds himself in the DreamWeb. A mystical temple where a sinister, red hooded priest tells him that he has to kill seven people from various walks of life who are planning to destroy the world. In an attempt to stop these endless dreams, Ryan decides to hunt these people down and kill them all.

Storywise, this game is one of the morally ambiguous and disturbing I have ever played. The game really juggles with the question whether or not Ryan is really saving the world or if he is just an insane mass murderer. He only kills (or better said, murders) because his dreams compel him to and he does it without any sign of hesitation or remorse. I really like such kinds of ambiguous stories and this game's story had me hooked from the very beginning.

I also really enjoyed DreamWeb's atmosphere and overall visual style. It has a dark, cyberpunk style theme similar to the Matrix (hell, Ryan even looks similar to Keanu Reeves and also wears sunglasses and a long leather jacket all the time). Many shades of black and grey spiced up with neon lights give everything a film noir feel. The city itself is very industrial, polluted and overall just depressing. The music adds a ton to the atmosphere. It uses industrial music and synthesizer. Some tracks are very tense and threatening while other are brooding and strangely relaxing.

DreamWeb is very violent, not because of how many people die (about ten, I believe) but by the way how they die. You kill using guns, explosives and even a high speed subway train. And every death in the game is realistic and very graphic. When you get to shoot a naked guy (genitalia included) in the head and watch his brain matter spray everywhere and see the gaping hole of what used to be his face, you know that this is game is not for kids or the squeamish.

Finally, there is Dreamweb's unusual perspective. While typical adventure games use a 2D sidescrolling perspective, DreamWeb has a top-down view. Artistically, I really like this original design. It is like you are peeking through a box, watching the gruesome events that happen in the game. And there is also a unusual high amount of interactivity, every object you find can be either picked up, interacted with or both. And every person you meet can be talked to. While a lot of people you meet and objects you can pick up have no real purpose, it does add to the game's immersion.

The Bad
While I said that I found DreamWeb's top-down perspective very nice from an artistic level, it certainly is not handy gameplay-wise. It is sometimes very hard to see objects you need to interact with and I found it overall pretty clumsy to use.

The game is also very short. It took me about two or three hours to get through the game the first time. This is mainly due to the puzzles being a bit too easy for my taste because it is very obvious which item you have to use on what object to continue.

The Bottom Line
Overall, DreamWeb is a very enjoyable and memorable game particularly because of its film noir style, engaging story and its dark, adult-oriented content. The game is like a great book that you want to keep on reading just to see what will happen next.

The game is freely available online so certainly try this one out if you have the stomach for it.

By Stijn Daneels on August 22, 2014

Doom (DOS)

Simply put, one of the most important FPS games of all time.

The Good
I will say right of the bat that this game, along with Super Mario All Stars on the SNES, made me become a gamer. I have been playing this game since I was five or something and even to this day I still play it regularly.

Obviously, the first thing that made DOOM such a great game for me, is its gameplay. Of course, on paper it does not say much. You go from point A to point B, killing everything in sight and collecting keys. Rinse and repeat for as long as the game goes. But it is that particular simplicity that contributes to its great gameplay. It is pure, non-nonsense, high octane action all way through. A variety of weapons, enemies and levels will keep you entertained till the very end.

With pistols, shotguns, rocket launchers, chainsaws and more you have more than enough to use against the numerous zombies, imps, gorilla-like demons, flaming skulls and of course the famous Bruiser brothers. Every monster has its own strengths and weaknesses and you really need to adjust your strategy depending what weapons you have at your disposal and what monsters you are facing. Do not start using a pistol against something like a Baron of Hell or a rocket launcher against a swarm of charging Lost Souls.

But DOOM's gameplay is not its only asset. Its graphics and presentation as a whole definitely deserve as much praise. Yes, compared to today everything in the game looks like a hellish, ultra-violent version of a Looney Tunes cartoon, but for 1993, DOOM's graphics were nothing short of a revolution. DOOM was the first game that really created a realistic looking environment. Using differing lighting effects, varying heights and fully textured levels it was finally possible to walk through caves that looked like caves and buildings that looked like buildings.

And then there is the atmosphere, which was far ahead of its time as well and still remains compelling even to this day. Both the tech and hell levels manage to look believable. Tech levels have terminals showing useless info, cargo boxes and huge, important looking doors. Hell levels have rivers of blood and lava, dark caves and caverns with rock or flesh walls and hanging, mutilated bodies everywhere.

Finally, there is the music and sound effects. For music, DOOM uses heavy metal music based on songs by Pantera, Slayer and Metallica for many levels while others have dark and atmospheric music made by Bobby Prince. Even people who do not like metal music or dark ambient music will certainly like DOOM's soundtrack. It perfectly fits the game and every level has a suitable music track. As for the audio, every weapon sounds great and all monsters sound pretty intimidating (gotta love the demon's growl and the Cyberdemon's walking sound).

The Bad
Although I have been praising this game so far and I consider DOOM one of gaming's biggest landmarks, I do have one of two negative remarks about this game. First and foremost, while most levels have an excellent design, some levels like E2M6 and E3M7 have big, Wolfenstein 3D like mazes. I, for one thing, dislike mazes since they artificially increase the time it takes to get through the level and overall they are just a chore to get through. It may be just me with my lack of patience with this. But this is just a bit of nip picking.

And of course, do not play DOOM for its story. Do not expect philosophical views, plot twists or high character depth (take a game like Deus Ex if you want all that). But does this game need a story? Of course not!

The Bottom Line
This game must be played by anyone with even the slightest interest in gaming. Do not let DOOM's age fool you, this game will grab you by the throat and balls and will not let you go until you have finished it. And I case you did finish it, go ahead and download the many, many great mods and conversions for Doom. Basically, this game has years of lasting appeal.

So get this game from Steam, eBay, your brother, friend, or simply get the shareware version, I do not care. Grab that BFG and start blasting away!

By Stijn Daneels on August 15, 2014