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Jack Lightbeard

Reviews

Screamer (DOS)

Screamer is a decent arcade racer that, for the most part, delivers on it's promises.

The Good
Screamer is an arcade style racer offering a few road cars and tracks from the outset with extra cars and tracks available after completing the Championship leagues, including playing all tracks in reverse (the track names are also spelt backwards).

The cars are rated by top speed, grip and acceleration, there's no tuning or upgrading options available. It pays to pick the right car for the right track though, a car with a high top speed but lower acceleration and grip probably won't be as suitable as a car with a lower top speed but good acceleration and grip, on a course with a lot of bends and few long straights, for example. There is a choice of manual and automatic gears for each car, the versions with manual gears having a slightly higher top speed.

The courses are colourful, detailed and play very well, with plenty of hills, dips, S-bends, long straights, tunnels etc. Extra touches such as passing trams, hovering helicopters and overhead aeroplanes add to the atmosphere. There are options for a Normal Game (Single Race), Championship and three Special Modes which consist of Time Attack (one lap time trial with ghost car for best time), Cone Carnage (run over cones for extra time) and Slalom (pass through pairs of markers for extra time).

After learning the courses it's great to power-slide by the other cars at speed maybe with a well placed clip to send them off into the side of the track, although they are just as likely to swerve into you sending you into the barrier. In the later stages of the Championship mode there is less time between checkpoints and the opponents are faster, more careful driving is recommended as there is much less margin for error. The biggest challenge is perhaps getting safely past the pack as one or two crashes can be enough to put you in last position.

While the sound effects do the job fine special mention should go the commentator who offers various quips including the odd handy warning of an upcoming corner. The music is perhaps standard fare but suits a game of this type well.

The Bad
The handling of the cars can take a bit of getting used to, sometimes it's not easy to know quite how the car will respond. Although after a while it'll become easier to judge the right speed and time to turn into a corner and to throw the car around a bit.

The game supports 320x200 VGA or 640x480 SVGA graphics modes. Although looking quite a bit better I found the SVGA mode to be unstable. The game frequently crashed, sometimes the game would always crash at exactly the same point and lap in a certain race. This would happen when running the game in DOS on an older computer as well as in DOSBox on a Windows 7 system. Following some advice and increasing the memsize setting to 64 in the configuration file for DOSBox helped but did not eliminate the problem. The standard 320x200 mode ran fine in both cases.

The Bottom Line
Screamer is a fun game. Power-sliding and barging the opponents out of the way is the order of the day and a good challenge is provided in the Pro Championship mode. The game spawned a few sequels.

By Jack Lightbeard on January 10th, 2014

Cybermorph (Jaguar)

A good launch title for the Jaguar.

The Good
The evil Pernitia Empire is conquering world after world and what makes matters worse is that the new weapons designed by your forces, along with supplies and information, have been seized and sealed inside pods. You must pilot the T-Griffon attack craft and recover the pods.

The player's ship has a morphing effect when selecting different weapons and reversing/accelerating. There is a first-person cockpit view, several external views and a crosshair toggle. The ship's holographic intelligence agent, Skylar, provides information and moral support.

There are five sectors and each sector has eight planet levels which can be played in any order, once the planets have been completed there is a boss level before progressing to the next sector. There is no way of saving progress while playing through the planet levels, however the sectors can be accessed independently once a code has been received upon completion of the previous sector.

As the planets can be accessed in any order the it's not necessary to play through each previous level before getting a glimpse of the next - it's possible to jump in and play any of the eight levels from the offset. Weapons and extra lives are carried over between levels, so it's possible to use a weapon in one level that was picked up in another. Extra weapons are lost however once the player's ship is destroyed.

There are a couple of upgraded versions of the basic weapon and several extra types, for example Cruise Bombs drop to the surface and fly forward along the ground (for ground based enemies and buildings). Mines are dropped just below the ship and remain stationary (great for bombing runs or retreating from enemies in pursuit) and Incinerators fire a wider area of flame. There are three types of Super Weapons but only one type can be carried at any time, various other pick-ups and bonuses are available.

The levels are reasonably large and I thought very well designed, effort has gone in to providing a different challenge for most of the levels. There are numerous portals leading to other areas, force fields which need to be deactivated and a variety of open or maze-like terrains. When flying off the level boundary the ship will seamlessly re-enter the level from the opposite side.

Vortex towers have been installed on some planets, which slowly spread a blackness across the ground destroying any pods it comes in contact with.

There is a variety of ground based and airborne enemies, most have a weakness or behaviour which can be exploited. One enemy while not a threat as such will go around collecting pods and drop them in the vicinity of the vortex towers, so sometimes it'll be a race against time flying between towers trying to keep up with these 'collector' ships, or to gain access to an area where a tower is slowly encroaching on a group of pods. On the other hand sometimes it's possible to sit by and wait for these ships to pick up the pods and drop them in your lap.

Cybermorph is not a typical shoot em up, it's very much it's own game, there is a lot of shooting to be fair, but there's an equal emphasis on exploration and learning the best way to complete each level.

Some of the animations are pretty good, little touches like the way imprisoned pods strain against their bonds add character to the game.

The graphics are functional, but they are clean, bright and do the job well, and like the game, grew on me before long.

Although I wasn't too keen on the title music I thought the sound overall was good. The sound effects that play when flying through the Power and Bonus Rings however rank among the most satisfying sound effects I have heard in any computer game!

The Bad
There are some problems and limitations however, the frame rate can be pretty variable, from fairly smooth when there's not much going on to occasionally taking a nose dive when there's a lot of enemies on screen, while I found things perfectly playable this may put some players off.

The draw distance is fairly short, at high speed hills, turnings and other obstacles can pop up with little warning. However, if the ground rises with a gradient that the ship can fly over, it will automatically raise it's altitude to follow the terrain.

While there is a scanner displaying nearby enemies and neutrals etc. there is no compass included in the H.U.D. which I felt wouldn't have taken too much to include and would have at times made navigating the areas more straightforward.

It’s not possible to fly all that high; there is a relatively narrow band between the ground and maximum altitude. It’s also not possible to fly under water, which is displayed as solid blue and is as impregnable as the ground, although one level at least supposedly takes place on the ocean floor and must be played without a scanner. It is possible to enter water, with an accompanying effect, in the game's sequel Battlemorph released for the Jaguar CD.

The ending after completing the game was slightly disappointing, it’s a big game so a longer end sequence wouldn’t have gone amiss. I was playing the later slightly cut down boxed release, rather than the original pack-in version, which has the animation effects missing from the intro and endgame sequences and a few less lines of speech, I don't know how much difference this would make, it's only a few seconds for the intro.

The Bottom Line
Cybermorph is a decent game with well thought out levels. It takes a while to get into but is well worth spending some time with, as there's more depth to the game than may be apparent at first glance.

By Jack Lightbeard on July 22nd, 2012

Darklands (DOS)

A Historic RPG!

The Good
Darklands is an RPG set in 15th Century Greater Germany with an attention to historical accuracy, you have the whole of the map of Greater Germany to travel across to any of the towns, villages, monasteries and other locations, that you choose. MicroProse are well known for making simulation games and Darklands is in many ways a simulation of Medieval Germany. For example; time keeping uses the monastic 'hours' of the medieval era, Matins (Midnight), Latins (3 am), Prime (6 am), Terce (9 am) etc. Currency is in Florins, Groschen and Pfenniges, the seasons change on the world map and have an effect on gameplay, for example in winter you may encounter blizzards, crossing a boggy area of the map may result in one of your party members getting stuck and needing rescue (with the loss of a couple of items) and all of the armour and weapons your party members can be equipped with are based on real world items. There are day/night cycles which affect gameplay, especially in towns.

One important aspect of the game is that the beliefs and superstitions of the time are actually real in Darklands. Praying to saints can have a direct effect on attributes and skills and is often an option to solve many other problems throughout the game. Alchemy can be used to create potions from raw materials, again these can be used in battle or as options in the text style interface while in towns or during encounters, or sold for profit. Nothing is certain however as a call to a saint may fail and an attempt at alchemy could result in a large explosion! While magical spells as such do not exist in the game witches and cultists corrupt communities and gather to summon demons in unholy rituals.

You can use the Quickstart option to begin the game with a default set of characters or create your own. When creating characters there are six possible family backgrounds, ranging from rural commoner to merchant or noble etc, they affect the initial occupations (thirty something in total) which are available and each have there own advantages/disadvantages. Naturally your characters will advance in occupation and gain attributes and skills over 20 to 65 years.

Skills are an important part of the game and they improve the more often you use them. They relate to the success of pretty much anything in the game, for example Virtue and Religion help while praying to saints, Alchemy helps with alchemy, Artifice with picking locks and disabling traps, Speak Common and Speak Latin aid when dealing with the different people you will encounter and the various weapon skills come in handy in the type of situations you might expect. Skills can also be improved by finding a tutor you can hire for training.

While the game has a very much free-form or 'sandbox' style of play, you can go anywhere anytime, there is also a main plot to follow involving the Knights Templar. Once this is completed, which is well worth doing, you can continue your adventures on the map of the game world.

There are three main sections to the game;

On the map of Greater Germany you will meet numerous encounters while traveling from location to location (it's also possible, by the way, to travel by boat between towns with docks). These can be anything from a knight travelling to a tournament to bandits disguised as merchants (and genuine merchants).

The game enters an isometric style view for combat, which is in real-time and can be paused with the space bar for issuing orders, it's a good idea to have your characters skilled in both ranged and melee weapons.

While in towns or villages or after an encounter on the map you will be presented with a watercolour style background pic, a text description and several options. The background pictures are very atmospheric and add to the unique look of the game, although they are repeated, especially in the towns, there are a lot of them and due to the number of locations it would not be practical to create a different picture for each inn, village or docks etc.

The game music is all based on original music from or around the era, and adds a lot to the atmosphere.

The ultimate goal in Darklands is fame. Your party has an overall fame score as well as a local reputation, the latter can vary greatly from location to location, keep performing good deeds and completing missions in a town and your reputation will increase in that town and the nearby area and you may even become a local hero, however fall foul with the law and your party could achieve wanted status. Taking on the bigger problems the game throws at you, such as the main plot, clearing mines and defeating raubritters (robber knights stationed in castles) provide decent increases to fame and local reputation.

The Bad
The biggest problem with Darklands is bugs, you will probably encounter the occasional glitch during your adventures so it would be wise to keep a few saves and cycle through them. I have read that the game was very buggy on release, but MicroProse did release a number of patches. I encountered some bugs even when patched to the latest version (483.07), including the famous neon bright green hair-do and multi-coloured characters, I restored a previous save and when playing through the same events it did not happen again (and only happened once in all the hours of playing).

I also encountered a strange test screen (entitled 'Initial Card for Testing Only’) which was displayed near the end of the plot instead of the correct background pic and text. Against a slightly different night docks background it gave options to enter a location while it was preparing for war, while at peace or while it was at war, it also had options to set your local reputation to -99 (the worst), 0 (unknown) or +99 (local superhero), none of these options are in the finished game, and clicking on them didn't result in much happening, whether some of these options were once proposed to be included as features in the game or not I don't know, towns having additional states of peace/war could have been interesting. A reload solved the problem.

The Bottom Line
One thing that really should be mentioned is the manual, it's about a hundred pages and covers the game interfaces/mechanics in detail followed by a history of Medieval Germany and even a bibliography of over eighty history books (grouped under sub-headings with notes) that the development team referred to while creating the game.

Darklands is one of the best RPGs I have played, it may take a while to get into, and have the occasional bug, but I certainly found it a rewarding experience! The setting is very well done and is refreshingly different to pure fantasy RPGs.

By Jack Lightbeard on February 13th, 2010

Crystal Caves (DOS)

By Jack Lightbeard on March 5th, 2009

Deus Ex (Windows)

By Jack Lightbeard on December 19th, 2007

WarCraft II: Tides of Darkness (DOS)

By Jack Lightbeard on December 18th, 2007

WarCraft II: Beyond the Dark Portal (DOS)

By Jack Lightbeard on December 18th, 2007

WarCraft II: Battle Chest (Windows)

By Jack Lightbeard on December 18th, 2007

The Longest Journey (Windows)

Enjoyable!

The Good
Really strong start, April soon starts having strange dreams which begin to manifest themselves in reality; the everyday life of an art student in 2209 Venice gets very strange. The story is good, there's two realms, Stark, a futuristic version of our own and Arcadia, a realm of magic and prophecy.

The game is pretty arty, the lead Character April Ryan is after all an art student, as a result there are detailed and often very beautiful backgrounds. The voice acting is pretty decent, good job for the lead character, and is often very funny. The game has a gritty atmosphere, especially in the futuristic setting, expect plenty of swearing, one character swears nearly every other word, but it's nearly always in character.

I won't go into the story too much, which I think is the games greatest strength, but The Balance, The Guardian, Shifting, Alltounge, the Vanguard and the Sentinels will all become very familiar. A fantastical story is delivered with a realistic edge. There's lots of dialogue, great storytelling, you'll learn about the history of the characters you’ll meet along the way. A few of the people you'll bump into - Brian Westhouse, the whiskey drinking and panama hat wearing chap you meet in Arcadia who's actually from your own world, there's Abnaxus, who exists in all times and places and has terrible trouble with his tenses, your best friends and fellow students from Venice, Charlie and Emma, and the three forest dwelling stick men.

Bar what seemed to be an incomprehensible solution near the beginning the puzzles mostly make good sense.

The Bad
Conversations can drag out a little too long on occasions.

Near the end of the game there's the odd encounter which is very easy to solve and doesn't really seem to fit with the game.

The Bottom Line
A very enjoyable experience, the story and world(s) really drew me in.

By Jack Lightbeard on February 23rd, 2007

WarCraft III: Reign of Chaos (Windows)

By Jack Lightbeard on February 23rd, 2007

Peter Jackson's King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie (Windows)

Mostly very good, with some great ideas.

The Good
The first thing that struck me when playing this game was the intro, using clips from the film.

The second thing that struck me when playing this game was how the characters transferred, all look pretty true to the film, except perhaps Ann Darrow, who looked a little iffy, and all are voiced by the original actors, so excellent and authentic voice acting then.

The very beginning of the game puts you straight in the shoes of Jack Driscoll, leaving the Venture to row ashore to Skull Island, you’re alongside in a small wooden row boat with Carl Denham and Ann and a couple of others, the rain's beating down and the swell’s rocking you’re boat as Englehorn shouts down from high up on the Venture's bulwarks. Denham, true to character, starts filming as the boat struggles to avoid crashing against the rocks on the approach. It’s very atmospheric and very well done, a great start.

You end up washed up and staring up at Ann, you actually have to press the forward key to climb to you’re feet before you can get around, a small touch but nice attention to detail.

This game is a game of survival when playing as Jack, and it does the action very well, very tense, you will run out of ammo, and you will have to resort to using improvised spears (and real spears left by the natives) to fend off the attacking dinosaurs and other hungry creatures. The use of fire is a novel inclusion and it works far better than I expected, it’s handy for clearing areas to allow passage to other areas (destroying any creatures in its path, including you). You can also bait some enemies by spearing some of the smaller inhabitants of Skull Island to distract them as you run past. The characters will all hold their weapons above their heads when wading through deep water and on occasion you’ll have to provide cover for them (they’ll also provide cover for you).

One section involves running between, or trying to, the feet of some very large stampeding Dinos, similar to the film. Some of the Dinosaurs are huge, naturally, and they can look pretty breathtaking when you first cross paths.

I enjoyed playing the Kong levels on Skull Island, lots of jumping from cliff face to cliff face and snapping Dino jaws, Kong also has a frenzy mode (achieved by spinning the mouse wheel for awhile) which makes it easier to knock out enemies, and quite a few other moves under his belt as well.

The Bad
Once you get to New York everything really is rounded up very quickly and I got the impression that the game was under pressure to be finished and out the door.

The Bottom Line
Lots of atmosphere, for the most part a very well crafted game. Jack’s levels are the highlight and there’s some un-lockable goodies available from the Extras menu. But a bit disappointing when you get to New York - there is, however, an alternative ending, available from the Extras menu, I didn’t earn enough points while playing through the game to unlock this but I read up about it in a few walkthroughs and it sounds pretty cool, mayhap a good excuse for another play through. If you liked the film or Michel Ancel’s (Creative Director) previous game Beyond Good and Evil than you should enjoy this. Mostly very good if not excellent.

By Jack Lightbeard on November 17th, 2006

Baldur's Gate: The Original Saga (Windows)

A great RPG, and the first of several Infinity Engine games.

The Good
I installed the Tales of the Sword Coast expansion before starting a new game of Baldur’s Gate, the expansion ups the limit on experience points from 89,000 to 161,000 and adds new area’s, Ulgoth’s Beard, Durlag’s Tower and an Island, which you can travel to as normal, so its really an expansion of the game world rather than a separate addition. Installing Tales of the Sword Coast also patches Baldur’s Gate, so there’s no need to install the official patch, the Tales of the Sword Coast patch was included on the expansion CD.

The 160 page Baldur’s Gate manual is split into two parts, the first entitled ‘The Game Guide’ explains pretty much how to play the game and the game interface, the second part is entitled ‘Volo’s Guide to Baldur’s Gate’ and is written as a genuine travel book and guide to the various towns and locations of the Sword Coast, and includes reviews of numerous Inns and info on the various power groups and factions, some of the more common monsters and the major characters you might bump into. The second part of the second part details the AD&D 2nd Edition rules and the simulated dice rolls that go on behind the scenes.

There’s 5 CD’s for the main game with an optional full installation of about 2GB as well as the expansion disc.

Character creation was pretty interesting, never played any P&P D&D before but this wasn’t a problem, you only create one character and can recruit up to five extra characters along the way. The game begins in your home of Candlekeep, a walled community right on the edge of cliff tops overlooking the sea, a scholarly place with an extensive library of valuable books and stuffy gents. There’s an Inn, the bartender dabbles in a bit of buying and selling, and a few small quests you can run about completing in the grounds.

Your Gaurdian, Gorion, however has been acting strangely of late and has told you to prepare for travel, you are to leave Candlekeep with him as soon as you are ready. The very evening you leave you are ambushed just outside Candlekeep, Gorion is killed after instructing you to run for your life. The next morning you bump into Imoen, who you grew up with in Candlekeep, and she joins you on your travels regardless of what you’ve got to say on the matter, she’s a decent thief and stayed in my party for the duration (and even joined the Thieves Guild in Baldur’s Gate), from now on you’ve got the entire game world to explore.

The game looks very good, it’s a fixed 2D isometric affair, and it’s just how it should be! The backgrounds are detailed and have a great sense of scale when you come across the larger structures and geographic features. The attention to detail really is very good, different environments will prompt a comment from member’s of your party, gulls, eagles and owls will occasionally glide overhead while you’ll be able to hear the running water of rivers or crashing of waves before you arrive at the source.

There’s a pretty active drinking culture in this corner of the Realms and plenty of Inns to accommodate tired and thirsty adventurers, Inns are a good place to meet all sorts and races and pick up quests, Jaheira, the Druid in my party gains the ability to shape change into wolfs and bears and it was perfectly possible to wander about the Inns as a black bear, which was quite amusing. In my party I had two Fighters (essential for fighting up front and disrupting spell casters), a multi-class Fighter/Druid (essential for healing party members), a Thief (essential for disarming traps), a Ranger (not really essential but decent with ranged and melee weapons) and a Mage (essential for spell casting, obviously). I’m not saying this is the perfect configuration, I could have done with a bit more offensive magic, but it worked for me, and I became emotionally attached to my party members! These were the first characters I came across and I was unwilling to see them go to make room for the numerous other characters you bump into.

There’s plenty of encounters along the way, they’re not random - if you don’t explore the area very much you could miss out on a few, you’ve always got to decide whether or not to trust someone - I found myself reloading on occasion to find how the scene would play out in a different way.

Durlag’s Tower, an area added in the expansion, I thought was very good, a multi-level trap infested folly, overseen by the ghost of it’s Dwarven architect, Durlag Trollkiller, and his wife, Islanne.

The Bad
The only real complaint is the path finding, especially in the more maze-like areas, party members would often go striding off the way they had come, so it was necessary to move them individually sometimes.

The Bottom Line
Baldur’s Gate struck me as a very polished and solid game, the game style or it’s take on the RPG genre may not be to everyone’s taste but I thoroughly enjoyed it, and the expansion is well worth installing too.

By Jack Lightbeard on October 1st, 2006

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War - Game of the Year (Windows)

By Jack Lightbeard on September 27th, 2006

Baldur's Gate: Tales of the Sword Coast (Windows)

By Jack Lightbeard on September 27th, 2006

Baldur's Gate (Windows)

By Jack Lightbeard on September 27th, 2006

Dreamfall: The Longest Journey (Windows)

The story continues, and it's a pretty decent sequel.

The Good
April Ryan returns in the sequel to The Longest Journey, along with two new characters to control, Zoë Castillo and Kian. You'll actually be controlling Zoë for about half the game. There's several characters and locations that will be familiar if you played the first game, but a lot has changed in the ten years since the first adventure, the story however is as developed as ever and the gaps will be filled in as you meet old friends and foes, and that's what this game is essentially all about, story, it's a game excuse for telling a reasonably long story, and it's told with a bit of film style directing.

And it's fun, sitting back and relaxing and listening to the conversations and watching the cutscenes is, well, relaxing. There's conversation options, which affect what you say or how you say it, they’ll be a descriptive sentence telling the thoughts of the character you happen to be controlling under each option, which is typically one word, such as a persons name or a reaction. It's not too involving, and everything ends up in the same place, Dreamfall is an extremely linear game, but it adds a flavour of variety.

There's the obligatory spooky girl ala The Ring / F.E.A.R. who visits Zoë via visions and TV screens, she has seemingly infiltrated ‘The Wire’, which is a worldwide network that everything is connected to (undies, toasters etc), the concept is certainly feasible, you'll even be using a mobile phone to keep in contact with friends and family (and hack corporate security systems).

Tapping the right mouse button lights up a blue line of sight beam from your character's toes to the top of the screen which can then be swept left and right highlighting any objects of interactivity or comment-worthiness.

The sets can be large and are usually quite pretty.

There’s combat, a strong attack, a normal attack, and the ability to block. Dreamfall’s combat has received a lot of criticism, or at least some people may be questioning it’s inclusion, and I can see why. I did however enjoy knocking out that secretarial security woman near the beginning of the game, and afterwards was as surprised as Zoë that the whole thing had actually happened!

The Bad
Although the sets can be large and usually quite pretty they're not very interactive, for example there’s only one pub that you can actually enter in Marcuria, despite their being several other establishments as just scenery with signs and front doors and all the indications of something actually being there, but with no way of interacting with them.

Like in the first game the conversations can drag a little and seem a little ordinary on occasions, though there's a decent story here too - and one that's told from perspectives of several characters (player and npc's alike).

The voice acting for Zoë is very bland with only the slightest hint of occasional emotion, I kid you not, I began to think that maybe it was the script, but other characters, some returning from the first game, do a much better job.

The Bottom Line
Dreamfall ends on a cliff hanger, it's essentially half a story, and half a story I enjoyed very much, I've had my Sunday roast now I want my crumble and custard and coffee by the fire, and a tale or two to finish the evening off. What I mean to say is that there are very few loose ends tied off, if any, there's going to be a sequel, and I'm looking forward to it.

P.S.

Make sure you let the credits roll, as there’s a final scene at the end.

By Jack Lightbeard on August 27th, 2006

Psychonauts (Windows)

Project your psyche into Psychonauts!

The Good
Psychonauts is the craziest, most deranged and one of the funniest games I have ever played. You take control of Raz (short for Razputin), a kid who’s run away from his circus family to sneak into Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp for psychic kids to become a member of the famed Psychonauts. The cast of characters be they your fellow camp psychics, the teachers, or the many people running round inside people’s minds that you'll bump into - all are fantastical or horrendously stereotypical and most are hilarious. There’s Bobby Zilch, the camp bully or Dogan, an extremely short chap who wears a foil hat because he blew someone’s head up “well, once kinda,” you don’t want to see what happens when he gets cornered by squirrels. Much of the story or happenings are bordering on insanity.

Your first task is a basic training level, Coach Oleander sucks you into his mind and barks orders and 'encouragement' as you leap crevices, get blown up and run for cover from machine gun fire, all to the sound of a WWII bombing campaign, vintage style projections of falling bombs light up the walls as you clamber up camo-netting, you’ll catch up with plenty of your fellow students as you go. Each level, or mind, that you enter is heavily themed. One of the most surreal is a twisting mess of suburban roads, hedges and identikit houses (gravity changes to which ever way happens to be down for each section), cartoon 'spies’, shifty chaps with high coat collars, red eyes and fedoras are busy going about their undercover business. At one section, they claim to be the road crew "We are the road crew", “We work on the roads", “My back is killing me”. You’ll need an item to get through each section to prove you’re one of them. Another involves matching a theatre play with the right set and mood (good or bad) - sounds kind of run of the mill, but like much in this game its unexpected and bonkers. Not to mention Lungfishopolis.

Between the story, which is mainly told through humorous cut scenes (I laughed out load many times, there’s always something hilarious, even if it's just the perfectly executed reaction on a characters face), the action is of a uniformly platforming style but with vastly different tasks to perform, huge boss battles are common and are, traditionally, at the end of each level.

Raz acquires psi powers such as levitation - a ball of energy you can bounce on and turn into a balloon type thing to float down slowly and ride up drafts, invisibility and telekinesis, to name but a few, as he gains ranks, the powers also increase as you go. There's plenty to collect, each mind is populated with figments - 2D sketches of stuff, usually crazy looking stuff, that are either just lying about the place or floating through the air, collecting 'em helps you gain those ranks, there's also mental cobwebs that can be cleared with the mental cobweb duster (available at the camp store) these can be redeemed for psi-cards (which you’ll see bobbing about from time to time) combine enough psi-cards with a psi-core (also available at the camp store) and you gain an entire rank. Smashing stuff can yield positive mental health, aggressive psychic energy (used for psi-blasts) and arrowheads, the camp currency is arrowheads as Whispering Rock was founded on an ancient Indian burial ground. There’s also emotional baggage, wailing suitcases and purses and the like which you’ll need to find the corresponding tag to clear, clear them all and you can access primal memories from Raz’s journal, which appear to be concept art for the game, and hopping vaults, punch these and you get a memory reel (comic strip style story board). Memory reels and cut scenes can also both be accessed from Raz’s journal for each level.

The camp consists of several different areas that you can travel freely between in-between missions, if you decide to take some time out to collect arrowheads, visit the camp store or just explore.

The music and voice acting are superb, spot on voice acting for the characters and very very funny, I particularly liked the adventurous secret agent style Psychonauts theme that plays in Ford Cruller’s underground HQ.

The Bad
The platforming can be awkward at times, as per usual.

The Bottom Line
Brilliant, the furthest out game I've played, so to speak. While it’s a completely different game in many ways than Grim Fandango, Creative Director Tim Shafer's previous game, it’s got a similar quality of style to it. I don't suppose there’s much chance of the sequel, but I'll be looking out for Double Fine’s second game sequel or no.

One third genius, one third insanity and one third hilarity!

By Jack Lightbeard on July 28th, 2006

Grim Fandango (Windows)

By Jack Lightbeard on July 3rd, 2006

The Goat in the Grey Fedora (Windows)

By Jack Lightbeard on July 1st, 2006

Beyond Good & Evil (Windows)

Unique and a whole lotta fun.

The Good
You play Jade, a reporter and photographer, you need to uncover a government conspiracy while taking photographs of wildlife. Now that’s it in a nutshell but the actual game really is quite brilliant, it's a mix-mash of genres, but each one is done really well. You'll start off at your lighthouse home on the watery and hilly planet of Hillys, there’s a war goin on and the aliens have chosen this peaceful moment of relaxing by a tree and enjoying the view to bombard your home planet once again, a quick dash to the shield controls to protect your home and all seems to be well, for about two seconds, "Sorry, your electricity supply is short by 350 credits" Bzzt Bzzt Bzmm.. The shields down and an alien monster/meteorite has impacted with your lawn, dragged the kids underground, popped its three heads back up again and begun to attack. You’re thrown into third person combat straight away, to get the hang of Jades' fighting stick and super attack. Your side kick uncle Pe'j is a pig with a penchant for high quality wrenches, he'll help you sort out the immediate problems and will be in tow for much of the game, then its a nice break of taking snapshots of the local wildlife to raise a bit of cash. This is a mini side game of sorts which is ever present and is more fun than it sounds, there's whales, insects who have to be lured out with cheese, enemy creatures, bosses and bartenders (such as a groovy cow with sunglasses), all have to snapped. The boss battles are fairly frequent and all are very well done, some are huge affairs taking place in the air.

The planet of Hillys is the main hub of the game, you’ll travel from place to place via your hovercraft - which can be upgraded as you gain pearls, the only thing that the Rasta rhinos at Mammagos Garage will accept as tender, these fellows are much more chilled out than the rhinos here on earth and will upgrade your hovercraft with everything you can afford. There's four race tracks you can take part in that are very fast and very fun and will reward you with pearls and cash, there’s other race-like sections as well, a pedestrian town district and numerous other islands and areas. Another mini game involves playing a table top ice puck game against a shark.

Pretty soon you'll be embroiled in a conspiracy that threatens the whole population of Hillys, you’ll be contacted by Iris, an underground network of operatives who claim the Alpha Sections (the peace enforcers and planet defenders), who are always five minutes late for any fight and claim the Iris network are terrorists, are not all they seem. It's pretty obvious who you need to trust from early in the game, and due to its linearity there’s not much else you can do anyway, but the whole things so enjoyable it doesn't really matter. You'll often have to infiltrate areas relying on stealth to photograph evidence for the Iris networks’ underground newspaper. The stealth I liked a lot, not quite thief, but just right for this game. I kicked one of the Alpha Sections from behind in his luminous green air tank and his colleague exclaimed, "Buddy's in trouble!" and ran over to re-connect it, a small touch but I thought it was pretty cool, Beyond Good and Evil is full of nice touches.

There's a bit of puzzling to get around, usually involving getting from one area to another, I missed a not so obvious route through the scenery a couple of times at first.

The music is vastly varied and all very good if not excellent, the bars blare out an unusual brand of hip hop, while they'll be more ambient stuff for the cutscenes etc. I found this game genuinely funny a lot of the time, it made me laugh a lot, which was all very good and happy.

The Bad
The camera angles can be a nightmare at times, when the cameras not fixed and it's following Jade things are not usually so bad.

The game is really rather easy, and short, but the quality’s there so again not so bad.

The Bottom Line
It’s a little arty, a reporter/wildlife photography who looks after kids at her lighthouse may seem a bit to cute to begin with but it all works, once you get into the game proper it's always throwing fresh challenges and play styles at you, the pace is pretty fast but there’s usually a chance to take a break and zip about the waters of Hillys and explore the extra caverns and areas, or do a bit of shopping or upgrading. It's also crying out for a sequel.

By Jack Lightbeard on June 29th, 2006

Star Wars: X-Wing - Collector Series (Windows)

By Jack Lightbeard on June 10th, 2006

Hogs of War (Windows)

Immensely humorous turn-based combat.

The Good
Like Worms but in 3D and was released before Worms 3D. Drill sergeant/commentator is voiced by the UK comedian/actor Rik Mayall, who is excellently cast. You control a team of Hogs in timed turn-based combat, the campaign objective is to control all of Saustralasia's 25 regions, and thus control the swill. There's plenty of grenade and mortar lobbing and the like, plus sniping, dynamite sticks, jet-packs, homing missiles, air strikes etc. Good old-fashioned fun.

Supply crates are dropped in on occasion and Medals after a particularly decent performance, usually in a hard to reach spot, which adds a little strategy as those turns are very precious. Some of the levels are pretty ingenious, for example, you are entrusted with the rather morally dubious task of wiping out an entire bunch of Medics, now this may at first sound like a walk in the park, but the enemy Medics are forever lobbing med-packs to each other!

Promotion points can be found in the levels and you are awarded one for finishing each level and another if you get all five hogs through intact. Each Hog starts as a Grunt and there are four career paths, Heavy Weapons, Medic, Espionage and Engineer. Now the last level is pretty darn difficult, to have a fighting chance I'd say you'll need most or all your team promoted all the way up to the ultimate rank of Hero, which entails acquiring all possible points from each mission and completing each mission without losing a Hog. The game is still immensely fun for the casual player though.

The Bad
It is dangerously addictive.

The Bottom Line
A Tanks/Worms 3D style WWI/II and James Bond inspired game, sorta. Lots of lobbing, explosions, victories and blunders await!

By Jack Lightbeard on June 9th, 2006

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

Obsidian's debut, and a brilliant sequel.

The Good
Being a fan of Black Isle's Fallout and Planescape Torment RPG's I was looking forward to seeing what Obsidian would do, as the company was founded by Black Isle members, as I'm sure your aware. Well it’s a sequel, and it's one of my favourite types of sequel, in the vein of DOOM2, Thief 2, Fallout 2 etc - i.e. essentially more of the same! Using the same engine for a third title in the series would of course be pushing it, but it's all good and proper for another 'once round the block'.

I played Bioware's KOTOR through with a female light-side character so I decided to play the second game with a male dark-side character, and it was a lot of fun, there's always opportunities to be irredeemably evil and belligerent, whenever there's the opportunity to be a pitiful goody two shoes, indeed as some of the dark-side dialogue responses were so funny in the first game I only managed to become a rather weak light-side character early on and it was only with an irritating level of self discipline and tongue biting that I managed to get on in this manner, and I'm pleased to say the laugh out loud responses are still crop up throughout the second game. There's some pretty major branches in the way you choose to solve problems or play throughout events in the story line, both light and dark-side characters will be presented with the same problem, but it's up to you which path you choose, may the force be with you...

The game is in 3D, but you can only look up and down about 30 degrees or so, although doing so often reveals the sheer scale of the surrounding architecture, some 'Wow" moments can be missed if you don't look up every now and then! As previously mentioned the game uses the same engine as the original KOTOR, so there's also no levels above levels, you can't jump over things or crawl under them, or swim - whilst playing the first KOTOR outing this kind of left me longing for the real-time fighting in and out of the scenery(and swimming) of Appeal's beautiful Outcast. These limitations are, however, soon forgotten or hardly noticeable as there is just too much fun to be had(incl. Force Powers), besides the 3D environments do add a good level of immersion, and did I mention that they offer some of the most fun gaming to be had in recent times?

So it's a while until you get a light saber, but patience is a virtue - as is collecting bits and bobs so you can construct one at a workbench. There's workbenches and lab stations dotted throughout the game, both enable the breaking down and creation of items, many items can also be upgraded. There's in engine cutscenes galore, and plenty of FMV sequences, I didn't nearly unlock all of them - as talking to your party members can gain or lose the level of influence you have on them, gain dark side/light side points and experience points and unlock extra background storyline or FMV's. Your party members, be they comrades or mere pawns in your destruction of the galaxy, are all very unique and hail from all walks of galactic life. Every single line in the game is voice acted.

The Bad
Although the game is stated to support Windows 98 on the back cover I experienced numerous and frequent crashes to the desktop, always whilst loading and transitioning to another area of the map, this was with an ATI radeon card the latest patches installed(at time of writing the latest version is 1.0b, it's about 12mb worth of downloading and is available from the LucasArts website). So I played it on XP and this solved the problem, only one crash throughout the majority of the game.

I encountered some other bugs when I first loaded up the game, there was one where the swoop bike got stuck on the roof of the track – but this got fixed in the latest version.

Some of the more 'dungeon-crawly' times can get a little tedious occasionally and the combat become a little easy on the normal difficulty during the latter half, though there is a hard difficulty and mowing down hordes of opponents did really add more to the experience;)

The Bottom Line
A brilliant sequel with lots of happenings to find yourself in as the story progresses, on a par or even better than the original, but do install the patches!

By Jack Lightbeard on January 8th, 2006

Unreal II: The Awakening (Windows)

By Jack Lightbeard on November 20th, 2005

MegaTraveller 1: The Zhodani Conspiracy (DOS)

fun skill-based combat-intensive rpg

The Good
I liked the way that skills increased the more you used them (become eligible for training for a few creds at a starport), but this doesn't seem to happen very often. Each planet has its own stance on carrying weapons, but you can usually sneak one in in your secondary slot. This game is fairly combat-intensive, I liked the way things can take a violent turn resulting in a few unexpected shoot-outs. You can even trade items which can be bought and sold at starports between systems, this helped me a lot in the early stages, and upgrade your ship with fuel scoops, purification plant, weapons etc. There is ship combat, but I never got around to mastering it. The graphics are fairly simple, the game is quite old(1990), although I liked them, the characterizations are v. good. Good plot too.



The Bad
Bugs! I have only played the DOS version, after a while, on restoring a save game icons and text can become corrupted, if you don't save when this happens, exit the game completely and reload and restore and all should be well. Also I killed some thugs which I don't think I should have killed until later (I think I actually done this a couple of times, as they respawned every visit), picked up their stuff, when it came to later in the game when I had to visit the location and retrieve an item from an npc, none of the npc's would drop anything, including ones I hadn't killed before. All the bugs I encountered were "workaroundable", just a bit frustrating. There is a fair bit of running around doing the minor quests if you choose to do this for cash, some are worth it, some are not, I've heard a high gambling skill can come in handy! Trading between systems is good for cash.

The Bottom Line
This game is based on the MegaTraveller version of the Traveller pen and paper rpg, which I haven't played, but I enjoyed this game nonetheless. Not so simple as the graphics would first make it seem, a lot of fun, although can become tedious in parts, the main quest is linear, it is pretty much up to you how you play the bits in between though. Overall good for a bit of light rpg'ing. If you liked this game, definitely check out other games by Paragon, Megatraveller 2: Quest for the Ancients, Space 1889, and Twilight 2000.

By Jack Lightbeard on November 20th, 2005

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