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Tomer Gabel @Holograph

Reviews

Syberia (Windows)

A beautiful, well-written but ultimately flawed game.

The Good
Syberia is, simply put, breathtaking. It's not the graphics (see negatives below), but the sheer creativity and attention to detail that went into how the game is built; the amazing depth and consistency of the renderings, the slow, subtle buildup of the music, the way everything is put together is nothing short of cinematic brilliance.

The back story is also fascinating and unique; a cross between an Indiana Jones-like sense of awe and adventure, a fantasy world bordering on the plausible, and a narrative the flits back and forth between fantasy and reality convincingly. Finally, Syberia conveys a true sense of desolation; not oppressive and agoraphobic, as in Fallout, but rather lonesome, sad and beautiful. From a purely audiovisual standpoint, Syberia utterly oozes atmosphere.

The Bad
Unfortunately, Syberia has significant shortcomings, and fails to capitalize on lessons learned from previous adventure games. The gameplay consists of the routine "scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" detours, which is fine, but does so in an infuriatingly linear way. There are no multiple quests to keep you interested, and very few intellectual challenges, so the player's involvement is essentially reduced to a "go there, do this, go back, do that, talk to the guy, go to the other side of the current map" routine which becomes badly predictable after the first episode or two.

Worse still, puzzles come in either the woefully obvious verity, with a lot of unnecessary walking and dialog to fill the blanks; the annoying sequence puzzles where you have to do very specific things at a very specific order (which may or may not make sense); or, and this is probably the worst adventure game anti-pattern I can think of (a leaf unfortunately taken from the pages of The Longest Journey), pixel hunting puzzles. The detailed but static graphics are actually a detriment here, with important objects dissolving into the background and easily missed. This leads to a routine of moving the mouse back and forth over the screen area in order to make sure no clue is missed, which leads to boredom and hurts suspense of disbelief.

Lastly, the game mechanics mostly work but, given the repetitive and far-reaching nature of the puzzles, can become insanely annoying after a time - moving from screen to screen takes forever, there's no way to skip non-cutscenes such as climbing a ladder, the inventory system is not particularly effective and there's no notepad or dialog history, which means you need to keep notes (even phone numbers!) manually. For any game, this is an annoyance (unless there's an actual intellectual challenged involved; Star Control 2 is pretty much the only example I can think of); for a 2002 game, this is simply inexcusable.

In the nitpicking section, I have to add that the graphics (not the art - the actual in-game graphics) are disappointing for the game's age. The characters only look somewhat believable, the resolution is low and everything is too static; computers back then certainly had enough horsepower to handle a little more detail and move moving objects. There may have been budget constraints here, but suspense of disbelief suffers accordingly.

The Bottom Line
Ultimately, Syberia is a modern version of Myst: beautiful, well-made, certainly a labor of love but ultimately a flawed game. Well worth the sixpence you can get it for nowadays, but I would have been gravely disappointed had I paid full price back in its heyday.

By Tomer Gabel on November 4th, 2011

Mass Effect (Windows)

An astounding experience from square one. Absolutely recommended!

The Good
I've played Mass Effect a couple years after it came out and already made a significant splash on the RPG community. Although largely considered one of the best games of 2008 and heartily recommended by each and every one of my friends and associates I didn't really know what to expect from this game. I haven't been a fan of other space RPGs (such as the highly acclaimed Knights of the Old Republic; coupled with intense feelings after playing the fantastic Fallout 3, I wasn't really expecting a genre-redefining game. Let me settle this right here and now: I was totally blown away. Mass Effect is by and large the best game I've played in years.

To start with, the game exhibits top-notch production values. The sheer scope is mind-boggling; not since Star Control II have I experienced a game of such breadth and scope, taking care and time to ease the player into a massive game universe with diverse alien species, each of which has its own history and cultural baggage that bears in ever-so-subtle ways on the progression of the game. From the militaristic but sentimental Krogan through the ancient, misunderstood Asari, the short-lived but brilliant Salarians and down to the exceedingly original Hanar the Mass Effect universe is teeming with life. The amount of dedicated work necessary to bring such a complicated game universe to life is simply beyond my comprehension. The game shines with a coherent, compelling narrative that guides you through the various settings the game has to offer while providing ample opportunities for various side-quests, as with any good RPG.

Mass effect is absolutely beautiful, so beautiful I spent most of my first hours of gameplay just wondering around and gawking slack-jawed at the awesome intensity of the visuals. Everything from the impossibly detailed character models (particularly the aliens) through the sleek, futuristic yet serene Citadel to the marvelous planetside scenery is sheer bliss to look at (and this is a two year-old game, mind -- an eternity in 3D engine time!). I do not make the comparison to Star Control II lightly; that game also featured space exploration coupled with combat and surface exploration, and it seems the Mass Effect designers definitely took a cue from Star Control II in providing detailed planetary descriptions and semi-random surface generation for surface exploration. All said and done, the game is technically as impressive as I've ever seen.

Sonically Mass Effect is equally impressive, with a compelling score by Sam Hulick and brilliant voice acting that, at its best, shines with terrific contributions by the likes of Seth Green and Armin Shimerman (Quark in Star Trek: Deep Space 9); at it's worst it's merely decent -- production values that are light-years ahead of most games and which truly herald an age where such aspects of games aren't treated as low-priority.

Finally, the control system works quite well, the characters are easy to control and even vehicle movement makes sense. This is a major improvement over the occasionally choppy control system in other contemporary first-person RPGs, such as Fallout 3.

The Bad
I have few issues with Mass Effect. The first two are quite trivial; first and foremost, inventory management is significantly less developed than it ought to be. It's hard to tell which items are improved over others, it's quite easy to "lose" upgrades in unequipped weapons if you don't read the instruction boxes carefully, it's almost impossible to track how close you are to the 150-item limit and you'll often find yourself having to dispose of important weapons or upgrades instead of the crappy Lance assault rifle you've been carrying since the beginning of the game because you just didn't expect it to matter.

Next: the hacking/decrypting/surveying minigames are too easy, not nearly varied enough and too random to be effective (I've occasionally failed cracking open an easy crate because the block arrangement was nearly impossible to navigate, whereas a hard-to-decrypt weapons locker merely required a few careless keystrokes).

The bigger issue, though, is the inconsistent depth experienced throughout the game; whereas at first it seems the game world contains infinite possibilities for research and exploration, this sensation doesn't last past the first two or three quest assignments. Although huge and exciting, the main storyline becomes increasingly linear as it approaches endgame; this is admittedly a problem shared by most major RPGs, with very rare games managing to provide comparable breadth towards the end of the game as at the beginning. This is perhaps the one point in which Mass Effect falls just short of truly succeeding Star Control II as the ultimate space opera. Don't get me wrong, the game is never boring, it's just that your choices towards the end of the game are significantly constrained in contrast with the sheer expanse earlier on.

The Bottom Line
The best space opera I've played since Star Control II, as innovative and impressive in breadth and scope. As a huge SC2 fan, that's probably the biggest compliment I could pay this game. Play it, you will not be disappointed!

By Tomer Gabel on July 5th, 2010

Five Magical Amulets (Windows)

By Tomer Gabel on November 5th, 2005

Every Extend (Windows)

By Tomer Gabel on October 19th, 2005

The White Chamber (Windows)

'tis good!

The Good
I'll make this one short: The White Chamber is a sort of interactive horror flick; you wake up in a deserted space station with no recollection of who you are or what you're doing there, and as usual things start to go very badly from there. What makes The White Chamber unique is first and foremost that it's a free, independent game made by a small development studio with no massive corporate backing. As a game, it's also pretty original in its presentation and in the sort of things you must do; reminiscent of Phantasmagoria: A Puzzle of Flesh it features simple logic and inventory shuffling to perform basic tasks that advance the plot.

In the age of massive, realistic 3D games it is actually refreshing to play a pure 2D point-and-click adventure without pretense; the graphics are mostly well-drawn (animation is a little lacking though) and feature a unique blend of goth, anime and horror themes. The sound is terrific - far higher quality than you'd expect in this sort of game - and the attention to detail in the monologue is also surprisingly high.

You can't die in this game and it proceeds very smoothly; I rarely found myself confused as to what the next step is, and it's usually because I've missed an obvious item in one of the rooms. The plot isn't very original but works very well never-the-less.

The Bad
The White Chamber is very short (I finished it in, I believe, less than 1.5 hours), which may or may not be a bad thing; otherwise it's somewhat lacking in the music department (its music consists of background hum and the occasional scary noise, again a la Phantasmagoria 2).

The Bottom Line
A great way to spend a couple of hours: original, interesting, enjoyable and free. Highly recommended!

By Tomer Gabel on October 14th, 2005

Psychonauts (Windows)

By Tomer Gabel on August 9th, 2005

Bumpy's Arcade Fantasy (DOS)

A short-lived classic!

The Good
I find it odd that MobyGames has very little info on Bumpy (not to mention no reviews, covers etc.) - this game was immensely popular in Israel, to the point where you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who's played computer games in his youth who doesn't know this game...

Bumpy is an arcade puzzle game, in which you control Bumpy (who is, in fact, a bouncing smiley) and, moving from area to area, you most 'solve' each area by collecting all items on the screen and getting Bumpy to the exit portal. This requires a mix of planning, timing and reflexes - the first levels are very easy, but very soon the game becomes devilishly hard. Your task is made even more difficult by the different elements of each area: rotating skewers, various traps, aliens etc.; whenever one of these gets Bumpy you have to restart the level.

Bumpy features mediocre but capable graphics (hardly the point in a a puzzle game) and original gameplay and level design. The variety in Bumpy is huge; it got to the point where I simply wasn't up to the challenge long before the game got repetitive or boring.

The Bad
The sound is really the game's weak point. It is dull, uninspired and can get pretty damn irritating after a very short period of time. Luckily now that you can play the game in DOSBox, you can just put an MP3 in the background and enjoy yourself...

Also, the difficulty level is both a high point and a genuine problem in the game. I've met maybe two people who claim to have finished the game, and honestly I have trouble believing that, as it becomes difficult to the point of frustration pretty damn quick.

The Bottom Line
A nifty early '90s puzzle game which is very fun for a few hours. If you appreciate a challenge it will definitely give you a run for your money - I would rate this as far more challenging than the contemporary Sky Roads.

By Tomer Gabel on August 3rd, 2005

Rez (PlayStation 2)

Absolutely brilliant!

The Good
Rez can hardly be described in words. When I first saw the game in a computer game show called GameOn in Israel (although I've come to understand it's an international show?), I was utterly confused; the game seemed to me like a chaotic collection of vectors with no apparent pattern or intention. Which brings me to the point: Rez is impossible to understand without playing it.

The game is essentially a pretty simple rail shooter, with minimal controls; the variety and uniqueness comes from the perfect blending of senses: sight, hearing and touch. The game makes absolutely no sense when you can't hear it, because it is architected so that the music, sound effects, force feedback joystick and game visuals work and respond in tandem to the player actions. Playing Rez is different every time, because what you (as the player) do is slightly different, and the game responds differently: subtle shifts in the musical patterns, sound effects that match the pattern of the background music, thump patterns on the force feedback joystick. Are you getting the drift? No? Didn't think so - because the game is impossible to explain, and has to be played to be "understood".

The graphics in Rez indeed look chaotic to the casual observer, but are in fact an orderly mess of vectors and lines. Self-proclaimed to be heavily influenced by the works of Russian artist Wasilly Kandinsky (the game is internally called Project-K), the design is a mish-mash of abstract landscapes, random shapes you could easily mistake for '50s SciFi designs and pretty wireframe decorations, all of which give the game a very Tron'ish look.

Sound is as much a hallmark of Rez as graphics: the music is fantastic, something between dance and trance tracks that set the pace for the game. The importance of the music in Rez cannot be overstated: the entire game revolves around feedback between audio, video and player. Some of the tracks in this game are extremely imaginative pieces (particularly Fear by Adam Freeland) and serve to immerse you deeper in already immersive game.

Rez does have a story, but it's very abstract and it isn't immediately obvious what's going on. Combined with the abstract graphics and minimalistic gameplay, this only serves to create an incredibly immersive atmosphere. It is fascinating that, despite the singularly simple and repetitive gamestyle, Rez is never boring and never feels repetitive. The bosses are beautiful to look at and interesting to fight, and the endgame is so... well, interesting that I wasn't even disappointed by the very short and bland ending cutscene.

The game has an incredible variety of extras and unlockable game modes, and it is amazingly challenging in its more advanced mode (I do begrudge it for not being able to defeat the Morollian mode), all of which give it amazing replay value despite its length (more on that later).

Lastly, the Japanese version of Rez came with what must be the most unique game accessory ever, on which I will not elaborate. :-)

The Bad
Rez has just one fundamental issue: it's extremely short. Even in the more difficult Beyond modes, playing it from start to finish takes between 40 and 60 minutes (depending mostly on whether or not you have to replay certain areas, and how long it takes you to defeat the bosses). But, as Penny Arcade puts it, it was the best hour of my life (well, maybe not the best best hour.)

Also, it is incredibly rare; I had to fork $40+shipping for a copy on eBay and considered myself lucky (the going rate at the moment seems to be between $30 and $60).

The Bottom Line
An incredible game which must be experienced, as opposed to seen. Completely unique, absolutely fascinating and amazingly gratifying, this is a must-have.

By Tomer Gabel on July 28th, 2005

Half-Life 2 (Windows)

By Tomer Gabel on July 5th, 2005

Doom³ (Windows)

YES!

The Good
I've been a huge fan of Doom ever since the original came out back in 1993. For me, the Doom experience was always about just a few points:

  • Visuals to rival everything the market has yet seen
  • Sky-high production values
  • Solid level design
  • Thousands of challenging monsters and locations

Ladies and gentlemen, it took 11 years, but Doom 3 delivers. Oh boy, does it deliver. The shivers of excitement started the second I clicked on New Game and didn't stop for a minute. Doom 3 owns.

Visually, the game is not merely beautiful, great or even amazing as Half Life-2 was; it's nothing short of astounding. It's been well over half a year and I haven't seen anything even remotely close to the level of visuals I experienced in Doom 3. Everything looks so astoundingly detailed, right down to the rubble around the caves and the prickling hairs on the marine's fingers; the character models compare favorably to that of any game out there with the exception of HL2 - but whereas in HL2 the only genuinely impressive characters are the chief ones (Alyx, G-Man and three or four others) all character models in Doom 3 are extremely detailed and convincing. Despite claims to the contrary the locales are actually very varied (industrial-horror constructions, offices, dig sites, alien caverns and of course two kinds of hell) and all of them are ridiculously well-modeled and textures. I also readily state that the stones that comprise the final levels of the game are certainly the most realistic I've ever seen.

While I readily admit taking Doom 3's side on the classic "Doom 3 vs Half-Life 2" debate, it still astounds me that a lot of the HL2 proponents cite Doom 3's "lack of variety in enemies" as one of their chief arguments. While I always wish for more variety, Doom 3 definitely has a huge range of enemies: two kinds of marines, five or six types of zombies, imps, cacodemons, lost souls, arachnids, maggots, bosses and more (full list); the enemies inevitably become stronger and more varied as you progress in the game. Adherence to the classic FPS dogma is not necessarily a bad thing, particularly not in an oldskool game like Doom.

Another aspect of Doom 3 that resulted in a lot of consternation is its generous use of dark areas, so much so that Glen created the so-called Duct Tape mod for the game a few days after it was released. I first played the game with the duct-tape mod, and let me tell you: it detracts from the game horribly. I just finished playing the game a second time, this time at the highest difficulty level and without the flashlight mod, and it is so much more fun this way: more challenging, scarier and also quite a bit longer. The first time I played through the game I finished it in two 6-hour sessions; this time instead of taking less, it actually took me about 30 hours to finish the game. Do not play the game with the duct tape mod! Instead, put on your headphones, turn off the lights, crank the volume way up, make sure no-one disturbs you and play into the night. You'll enjoy it far better, I guarantee it.

The architecture and level-design is extremely impressive. A lot of the areas are obviously specifically designed to give a sense of urgency and claustrophobia; the open spaces are even worse (Doom games always tended to make you fear the quiet even worse than the turmoil). The various types of architecture make sure you never get bored with the surroundings, and if you're anything like me you'll find yourself spending minutes just staring out windows, or reading miscellaneous text off monitors, simply because it looks so damn good. The variety I mentioned earlier also means you have to adapt to various kinds of combat with various enemies: mostly shotgun and chainsaw for close quarters combat; automatic weapons outside; be extremely conservative with the way you waste ammo, use grenades judiciously, always use the least powerful weapon for any given task. At the high difficulty settings the game does pose a challenge (although not as difficult as I'd prefer) so it's important to get a feel for the game rather than running around shooting at things randomly: you may survive a couple of battles that way, but the next time you'll be facing a hell knight and you're out of ammo, well, sucks to be you.

The sound design is amazing. The music (though there is relatively little of it) is very appropriate, the constant background noises are simply magnificent: machinery hums, electricity buzzes, and certain areas that are obviously references to levels in the original Doom games even sound the part, albeit that much more detailed and spooky. Weapon sounds are minimalistic but appropriate, the monsters sound as you'd expect. Voice acting is surprisingly good, even (and maybe particularly) for the background characters - some of the voice logs are downright eerie.

Also, the plot does work. Yes, it's simple. Yes, it's minimalistic. But it works, and works well at that. The various PDAs and monitors are loaded with background information to help you get a feel for what's going on around you; admittedly I found it unnecessary in the original Doom, but in Doom 3 it really helps build an atmosphere.

Lastly, the game captures the Doom spirit perfectly. I was worried (particularly considering the rumors that the monster count has been drastically decreased) that Doom 3 will not feel like Doom; it's difficult to explain the distinction, but the way things behave and the game "feels" is absolutely Doom, which is absolutely a good thing. Playing Doom 3 has been one of the most satisfying gaming experiences I've ever had.

Here are a few final tidbits I couldn't really build a paragraph on:

  • Considering what the engine does, it's astoundingly fast. It runs very well with antialiasing on my machine (AthlonXP 2800+, Radeon 9800XT, 1GB RAM) and with slightly reduced details it runs impressively well even on older machines (and even a friend's Radeon 9600-equipped laptop).
  • The loading times are not awful, and a 30-second level load will last anywhere from 10 to 90 minutes of gameplay, which is damn good considering the immediate competition... *cough* HL2 *cough*
  • I have seen ZERO bugs on the game's first release. I bought it as soon as I could, played the first version start to finish and it was absolutely stable (both technically and as far as gameplay is concerned).
  • The game is certainly every bit as linear in nature as Half Life 2, but still "feels" a lot more open-ended; you never have to blast your way through a hardly-visible wooden barrier, or run through a corridor with 9 locked doors out of 10.
  • Doom 3 is not actually scary. Yes, there are a lot of "jump out of your chair" moments, but it's not genuinely claustrophobic nor genuinely scary. The only game to ever rate that in my scale was System Shock 2.
  • AI is weak, but is not expected to be anything else. Check out my response to A Gamer's Manifesto which goes into this in more detail.



The Bad
I have very few qualms with Doom 3. The primary concern is with its length; the first time I played the game it felt very short, but if you read this far you already know that turning off the duct tape mod has considerably increased replay time. The only issue that remains is that, because of the somewhat abrupt ending, the game feels more like Episode 1. I haven't played Resurrection of Evil yet so I can only hope the extension is appropriate.

The double-barreled shotgun is sorely missing, which also proves my previous point that the game feels more like the first in a series; another shortcoming that's supposed to be remedied by RoE.

The Bottom Line
The long-awaited sequel to Doom delivers and more so. It is one of the most enjoyable games I've played in ages, not to mention the most visually astounding game yet seen on the PC. Play it.

By Tomer Gabel on June 20th, 2005

Spider-Man 2: The Game (Windows)

Godawful.

The Good
Not much, really. Kind of strange, as I vaguely recall Tycho ranting positively about the game in a news post at one time? -- maybe not, doesn't really matter.

To cut a long story short, the graphics are not incredible but not horrible either, particularly the spider suit actually looks really neat. And swinging around was really cool for a little while (about 10 minutes, if you insist).

If you can believe it, that's about all I liked about it...

The Bad
To begin with, though the graphics are not horrible, they are definitely subpar for year 2004 games. I mean, come on, this game doesn't look much better than Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project, and that game is over two years old and even then sold for half the price of a brand new game. You think they'd have been able to do better with such a movie license, no?

Moving on, the sound is dreadful, and so is the music. Sound effects are tacky and reminiscent of mid-90's 3D shooters; the music is almost absent, and when it plays you almost wish it didn't. The voiceovers are sometimes acceptable (Spiderman himself is OK, although nothing more than that) but for the most part dreadful, and the variety in voices is so low that 10 minutes into the game you'll already know the entire bad guys' taunt repertoire by heart.

Speaking of lack of variety, it is not limited to sound: the locations look, for the most part, the exact same (with some notable exceptions, although not necessarily for the better - more on that later). There are only three enemy classes: the regular goons (which you kick on a regular basis); the "advanced" goons (which take a lot more punches to kill, can actually hit back and occasionally "floorstomp") and the bosses. You'll be fighting the exact same enemies throughout the game.

The controls are awful. Although it might seem manageable at first, it quickly becomes obvious that the control system is completely non-responsive and will often ignore mouse or key clicks at strategic locations. Often times you will zap or swing only to find your respective action cut midway for no apparent reason and with no provocation on your part. Worse still, surfaces that seem perfectly usable for climbing or zapping onto are simply "dead" and cannot be used, and it is neither obvious nor consistent which surfaces are useful and which aren't. Lastly, it is not always obvious just what you're supposed to do; for example, one of the first missions is to extinguish a burning fire. The fire hydrants conveniently located at the scene (and conveniently located nowhere else...) seem like the obvious solution, only because the control system is so bad you have to figure out that in order to turn on the water, you don't just go to the hydrants and use them; you have to step back, look at them from a certain angle at which point a "Pull" icon appears. Why would you pull a fire hydrant is anyone's guess, but it seems to do the trick, ripping it off and spraying water all over the place.

To call the combat system primitive would be a gross understatement. Considering last year's successful Prince of Persia: Sands of Time (although I had my gripes with the controls in that particular game as well), or even 2001's Oni, there is absolutely no excuse to have just one punch key, one combo in all, no possibility to hit in different directions, throw enemies around or anything for that matter. You hit, you duck (at least there's that) and you hit again. All in all, it was a pathetic experience.

Last but not least, the story is a grossly castrated version of the movie, with some of the same locales and none of the intensity. They've even added an irrelevant "Mysterio" boss character (whose level was actually the one saving grace of the game). Oh, and to top it all off, the game is extremely short: I finished it in one five-hour sitting.

The Bottom Line
Horrible. Bad. Very bad. Movie license of the kind we've unfortunately got used to. Just don't play it.

By Tomer Gabel on October 24th, 2004

Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project (Windows)

Kicks much in the way of ass!

The Good
Ah, finally a CLASSIC Duke Nukem game. No more of that stupid 3D shooter, no more useless comments about one of the most impressive vapourware products in history: a Duke Nukem game in classic platform flavour. Hoozah!

I've been platform-deprived for ages. Not being much of a console gamer, the last two worthy platform game in memory before Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project had been Alice and the astounding MDK. Mind you, these games are years apart! So when Manhattan Project came out I went out on a limb and bought it right away, and hoo boy, I was not disappointed.

Take the Schwarzenegger-parody Duke Nukem attitude, add to it a bottom-line kick ass 3D engine called Prism3D, classic platform controls, mix it with some great graphics and level design, stir and serve cold - DNMP has it all. It's short (at hard difficulty, and with my anal-retentive attention to detail and the desire to find every single secret it took 8 hours net), fun, to the point and has the exact amount of varied locations and enemies to keep you constantly interested. Right down to the end, the game never gets boring. As for frustration - even at the highest difficulty level the game is challenging, but not overly so, and simply does not frustrate. Damn fine work, if you ask me!

A word about the 3D engine: a modern graphics card should be able to run it with antialiasing and anisotropic filtering turned on. The difference can be astounding at times - while the game generally looks very good, with AA it looks smooth and with AF it looks extremely sharp despite some mediocre textures. So bottom line, the graphics are absolutely beautiful, particularly for a "classic" 2D platform! The camera angles and varying motion directions really give that extra punch to what would otherwise be a dying genre.

The sound is true-to-form: not absolutely inspired, but gets the job done VERY well. Duke is as, well, as Duke-ish as ever, with snug remarks and silly machoistic attitude ("Babes, bullets, bombs... damn, I love this job!"), the explosion and gunfire sound effects are crisp and everything is just right.

Finally, the level design ROCKS: it never gets repetitive, usually is not easily predictable and all in all extremely pretty. Thumbs up!

The Bad
The save point system is slightly annoying, but admittedly being used to Keen-style platform games where one mistake means running the whole level over again, that's not too bad.

The Bottom Line
An oldschool platform game, with great graphics, sound and level design and 3D twists and surprises to keep you on your toes. If you find it somewhere in a bargain bin, make sure to grab it!

By Tomer Gabel on June 26th, 2004

Beyond Good & Evil (Windows)

By Tomer Gabel on March 8th, 2004

Contract J.A.C.K. (Windows)

Fun, if somewhat short-lived and uninspired.

The Good
I'll try and keep this short: Contract J.A.C.K is to NOLF what Red Faction is to Half Life: basically, it's a mod, albeit a pretty high-standard one at that, but falls quite a bit short of its roots.

The visuals in Contract J.A.C.K are top-notch; character models are detailed, the general design is quite eye-catching and details are high everywhere. The weapon models are pretty cool, and the environments are very nice to look at. So basically, LithTech/Jupiter still works very well. Also, the in-game music is pretty nifty, and as is standard fare with LithTech games these days the dynamic music sequences really kick ass (although not to the perfection of Tron 2.0). Finally, the sound is pretty good and voice acting is on par with NOLF (which is a good thing).

Contract J.A.C.K features a pretty rudimentary story that manages not to clash with NOLF's for the simple reason that it has very little in common with it: you play Jack, a hitman who gets hired by HARM to secure a vehicle prototype, and then go after a mandatory slightly-mad Indian Dr., extracting him from the other bad guys - an Italian crime organization by the name of Danger Danger. The game has little or no surprises right until the very end, when censored. So in essence: simple-minded fun.

The Bad
For starters, the enemy AI is ridiculously bad. Admittedly I did not play the game at a high level (Normal), but the enemies still followed the same stupid pattern - wait 'till I run into a curve, yell something and then come pouring out, waiting to be shot. I haven't once seen an enemy do something even remotely smart, other than maybe stay hidden behind an object - but even then they don't seek better cover or superiour ground, they just stay put and occasionally take a shot at you.

Gameplay is incredibly repetitive, but luckily the game is so short (5 hours at best) that it doesn't really matter; potential spoiler unfortunately there is only one boss in the game, which does not lend well to gameplay (again, compared to NOLF). And, while the scenery is varied, the enemies are not - just different skins for the same type of enemy with the same type of behaviour. There is very little here to break the repetitiveness - not even the occasional side-quest or cool item usage (I think there are maybe 3 or 4 items in the game).

While the architecture is pretty cool, the level design is uninspired at best - basically just the same thing over and over again: go through the corridor, shoot some bad guys, move across the hall, find another corridor, go through it, shoot some bad guys ad nauseum. And again the game falls into the trap of being so damn scripted and linear that you'd find yourself facing five locked doors and a single unlocked one in one corridor. I don't know about you guys, but I hate having all my navigation decisions being made for me (I think Max Payne was the first game in which I ever noticed this extent of linearity).

The Bottom Line
Short and incredibly mediocre. I wouldn't bother with it unless you can find it for $10 in a bargain bin somewhere. It's not worth full price for just a few hours of unenthusiastic fun.

By Tomer Gabel on February 27th, 2004

Starscape (Windows)

Quick arcade action - fun for the whole neurotic family...

The Good
Starscape is, in essence, an updated version of Swarm: you control a space vessel in top-down 2D space, and basically perform the same mission - blow up enemies, collect resources, fight the occasional boss. Starscape adds a bit of interest to the mix with micromanagement: you have to allocate your resources (three types of collectible minerals, plus crew allotment) to researching new technologies (via a very simple, linear research tree), building spacecraft and modules for them, and repairing your mothership and vessels.

Starscape aims to bring to the table a somewhat elaborate storyline, which is a nice touch but has its drawbacks (see the negative section); essentially you are a crew member of the Aegis, the first mothership (more like a portable space station) to feature a new kind of dimensional drive. During the first experimental interdimensional leap, the experiment is thwarted by an alien race called the Arachnids, and the Aegis gets stuck on a bizarre dimensional phenomenon called the Grid - a network of interconnected dimensional nodes, where space and resources are finite. While exploring the Grid looking for lost crew members, you (as seemingly the sole surviving fighter pilot on the Aegis) must collect resources to repair your ship and build better equipment, fight off the Arachnid drone vessels, seek aid from the Arachnid sister-race Xenarchs and, finally, wrest parts of the Dimensional Drive that were stolen by the Arachnids.

Starscape's most obvious feature is beautifully rendered graphics - ship models, asteroids, nebulae, weapons and special effects. 2D games have their advantages as sprites can be spectacularly detailed with no performance loss, and the result is that Starscape looks absolutely staggering. Again, however, this has its negative side - see later.

Along with great graphics, the music and sound effects in Starscape are great! While some of the music is pretty mediocre techno, a lot of it is simply terrific, and very reminescent of Zodiac's cool tunes for Piranha. The sound effects are very good - explosions, blasts, punches etc. hardly ever get annoying, and since I didn't immediately flinch (I'm very critical, audio-wise) I'd say that the audio quality is acceptable.

The variety of ship models, node types, weapons and enemies make Starscape an extremely addictive game, while the ongoing "plot" makes you want to go on just to see what happens when you complete the interdimensional drive. The game is very short - I'd say 5 or so hours total - which is actually good, since it would've been horribly repetitive otherwise.

And last but not least, the game is just plain fun!

The Bad
Well the most glaringly obvious flaw in this game is the horrible English - it's worth than a lot of "Engrish" games floating about. It's almost as if the ingame dialogue was written by foreigners with only a dictionary and a stack of Clint Eastwood movies! Reading the credits, the developers seem to be american, so what the hell's up with that?

Also, despite the relatively varied gameplay (jumping in and out of nodes, various enemy types, research, micromanagement) I couldn't help but occasionally feel that the game is incredibly repetitive. Well duh - it is! Good thing it's so short, otherwise I would've either given up on it, or finished it out of spite (Elite Force anyone?)

Last but not least, despite the 2D nature of the game, the graphics are choppy. What do I mean? The framerate is just fine, but the animation is not smooth at all. I would expect a 2003 game to give better than 16 (I think that's what it was...) rotating angles, and the velocity handling leaves a hell of a lot to be desired - the battlefield scrolling just isn't smooth. Too bad - had the game been smoother, perhaps it would've been possible to speed everything up and make the action a lot more intense. I would've enjoyed that.

Last but not least, the game is NOT worth $35 (or even $25 download-only); $20 maybe, but no more than that. It has very little replay value, is very short and the production values are just not high enough to justify the cost.

The Bottom Line
Basically a really simple, fun arcade shooter I enjoyed immensely. It has its drawbacks, but then what game doesn't?

By Tomer Gabel on February 21st, 2004

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (Windows)

By Tomer Gabel on February 3rd, 2004

Call of Duty (Windows)

Very, very good.

The Good
First of all I have to say that I generally don't like "realistic" games - flight sims, Counter Strike and its derivatives, Delta Force and its ilk... I just don't get the same sense of fun and satisfaction that I do from other, fictional games, and the realistic games are also usually extremely frustrating. Well, I'm happy to say that Call of Duty delivers on all fronts: fascinating, satisfying, technically impressive and (almost) flawless in gameplay.

To begin with, the graphics are absolutely astounding. Admittedly the machine I played this game on is quite monstrous (AthlonXP 2800+, 1GB memory, Radeon 9800XT), but at 1280x960 with everything maxxed out only once or twice did the frame rate even hickup (which is more than can be said for other contemporary games). The game looks beautiful: character animations are terrific, physics are realistic (no ragdoll physics, but I don't think they're worth the bother anyways); grass is grass, trees are trees, bunkers are bunkers, the weapons are clearly and accurately rendered; everything looks as it should. No cut corners, no savings in polygon count, lighting is gorgeous - right on target!

Although the game is quite short (about 8 hours net, finished it in a couple of days), it has - much like a good WWII movie - a sense of epic proportions. The missions are huge, varied and never boring or repetitive; there are no pointless "infiltrate with stealth, die if you are discovered" missions, no tacky mission to "obtain the Enigma" or other such crap: what you do get is packed, tight, hardcore action. You get to use practically every relevant weapon (from Luger pistols to Flak guns), drive a tank, take up shotgun while attempting an insane escape from a German-controlled area of France, desperately defend a bridge and fight off the Germans while awaiting reinforcements, commandeer a boat, infiltrate a dam and sabotage power stations, display the Soviet flag on top of the Reichstag... I'm getting out of breath here. The variety and immensity of the missions is simply astounding. The sheer adrenaline rush you get running with a Kark rifle, shooting down Germans while mortars blow up all around you is simply impossible to describe.

Both friendly and enemy AI is very good - far better than I expected, really. The enemies always try and take up hiding places, snipe at you rather than run blindly, jump at you from behind corners... if they're close enough they run and hit your with their guns (as in a melee attack), and they generally cooperate, which is rather impressive. Fortunately the friendly AI is no slouch, and you can almost always trust your comrades to do their job properly and gun down enemies.

Also, the automatic saving system works very well, requiring almost no (quick)save/load of any kind during the game.

... oh, and did I mention that the game never gets old?

The Bad
There's very little I did not like about this game, which is actually a very rare thing for me. I would rate these shortcomings as little more than nitpicking, but they're worth mentioning...

Some scenes in the game are frustrating. Not necessarily difficult, but simply annoying; for example, while infiltrating an airport the player gets to sit in the back of a truck and shoot down enemies. Usually that would have been a really cool scene, only it took me about 3 times to figure out why my truck kept blowing up - turns out that a German with an RPG was standing on a truck somewhere I would never have bothered to look. Realistic may damn well be, but no fun at all. Afterwards you get to fight off Stuka planes with a flak gun, only you are constantly shot at from a nearby roof, and for some reason your comrades are completely ineffective against them - which means you have to both shoot down planes and fire at snipers continuously. In another scene you sit in a Russian zodiac, get yelled at by a sergeant and finally shot at from an airplane; although there's no chance in hell you'll know what to do at that point, if you don't crouch at the right moment you get your head blown off and have to sit through the sergeant's lecture all over again (which is very annoying). Luckily there are very few such issues with the game.

The second thing I didn't appreciate is the music... it is a particularly awful attempt to duplicate the musical style Hans Zimmer coined in The Rock and Crimson Tide, with two exceptions: the first being that this style has got really old, and instead of inspiring it gets really annoying. The second is that in this particular instance, the music is way over dramatic, uninspired at best of times and generally mediocre. I really wish they'd do the soundtrack differently. A thought: various classical pieces put together in appropriate scenes (Beethoven's 9th, Mahler's 2nd... the options are limitless).

Finally, although this game has probably the lowest bug count in recent memory, I still encountered two or three bugs that really ruined my day, at least when at one time I had to reload my game because I literally got stuck between a tree and a rock and could not move.

The Bottom Line
A technically, cinematically, and historically impressive game: a great deal of fun for any gamer, and a very engrossing experience for history and movie buffs alike. Who knows, maybe playing this game will give people a little taste of what it's like to be a soldier and make them think twice in the future... we can only hope.

By Tomer Gabel on January 23rd, 2004

Tron 2.0 (Windows)

A religious experience.

The Good
Let me get this off my chest: I'm a geek. A MAJOR geek. Tron was one of those childhood movies (though I was born after it came out) that left a lasting impression on me, probably second only to Terminator 2. It had all of the "right stuff": technical mumbo-jumbo that, judging by the time context, did not piss me off even a bit (well, maybe besides the "bit" having three modes...) and generally accurate to boot; absolutely astounding visuals, which I find beautiful even today; excellent music; excellent actors; excellent storyline (particularly when considering the time frame). The overall "feel" of the movie is something I have never, ever encountered afterwords: a sense of mystique and technological wizardry that can only be a labor of love. For eons I have wished for - and dreaded - a sequel; I wanted more, but I was afraid of being disappointed (Terminator 3... <sob>). And I was quite dumbfounded when the sequel came out in the form of a video game. When the game came out, I didn't know what to think; I was worried that the game would disappoint, in which case a childhood dream of mine would be crushed. I waited over two weeks (a lifetime, when it comes to things I really want...) and decided to take the risk and be done with it.

Boy, I was NOT disappointed.

Tron 2.0 has all of the "right stuff". First and foremost, it is quite possibly the most beautiful game ever to grace my monitor. I have gasped over the latest Doom 3 trailer; almost fainted over the Half Life 2 technology demo. Tron 2.0 left me gaping like an idiot. For days I daydreamed and talked only of Tron 2.0; this is the kind of thing that only genuine geeks and gamers can understand. The damn thing haunted me; I couldn't wait for the day to end so that I could shut off the lights, put some headphones on and stay up playing the game until I couldn't keep my eyes open. The sense of being in the Tron world is simply unbelievable, simple indescribable... you have to experience it to understand. Obviously the game was designed by people after my own heart: people who understood the movie, people who lived it and wanted to keep the legacy going... and with the help of the Lithtech-derived engine, 20 years after the movie the Tron universe comes to life once again, in glorious, 32 bit colour real time. The game is gorgeous... but that is merely a word. No screenshot can convey how absolutely minimalistic, beautifully digital this game is.

Fortunately enough, that is not all. Tron 2.0 is graced with some of the best music ever to be heard in a computer game. The music is nothing short of amazing; more-over, it has restored my faith in dynamic scores. Not since X-Wing has a computer game been graced with music that seamlessly integrates with the game; never in the foreground, never quite in the background, always adjusting and changing to what is happening... always subtle, never annoying. If there was a way to just listen to the in-game music, I would have. It is incredible that the composer has managed to maintain the strange, unique musical style from the original movie, integrate modern electronic elements so seamlessly and keep everything under tight enough control to allow Direct Music to kick in. The in-game music is nothing short of amazing.

Story? Plenty of that to go around. Tron 2.0 stays faithful to the movie, and walks you through an incredibly immersive, incredibly diverse digital universe. Here again the game engine kicks in to show you amazing footage of what it would be like to stroll around a sort of internet cyber-city; to traverse the circuitry of an ancient mainframe computer (and even overclock it!), even a PDA - everywhere you go, plot elements pop up, missions are always diverse and the scenery is astounding. Oh yes, there are lightcycle arenas aplenty, and they look better than ever. Who needs a Cray Y when you have DirectX?...

Finally, the voice acting is terrific: Bruce Boxleitner plays Alan-1 again, Cindy Morgan plays Ma3a... I only wish they'd found how to keep David Warner and Jeff Bridges, but I guess you can't have it all.

The Bad
It is very rare that I find no fault with a game; Tron 2.0 is no exception to this rule. That being said, it is extremely rare that I so readily forget a game's flaws; Tron 2.0 is a definite exception to this rule.

There are some frustrating scenes in Tron 2.0; most of them involve the lightcycle arenas. The computer AI is devilishly quick on reflexes, and incredibly stupid on strategy. I'm not particularly good at lightcycles (wasn't very good playing good ole' Novatron either...), so this made for some very frustrating time trying to get through some of those scenes.

The boss levels are generally fine, but some are ridiculously annoying; plus, there was no reason for the last level to contain slight spoiler three damn bosses, one would've been enough.

Battle system has a relatively high learning curve; this is not quite a straightforward shooter.

Regardless, it took me exactly two minutes apiece to forget these shortcomings...

The Bottom Line
An incredible game in every sense. Well thought, well designed, well executed. A treat for '70s/'80s geeks. One of those rare games that one will ALWAYS remember.

By Tomer Gabel on September 28th, 2003

The Operative: No One Lives Forever (Windows)

Fun, cheezy and well-executed. Overall a great game.

The Good
Jut finished playing NOLF, almost three years late - but does it really matter? I've found over the years that a good game just doesn't diminish over time. Too bad so few people have the capacity and patience required to judge a game in the context of its relevant timeframe; luckily MobyGames' reviewers include some such enlightened souls.

With that said, simply put, NOLF KICKS ASS! The game engine (LithTech) generally excels at rendering goregous scenes at decent frame-rates. The indoor scenes are most convincing, and the outdoor scenes are great too. The vast variety of form and colour in the game, combined with the continuous excitement of firefights and daring escapes makes for a very intense gaming experience that never bores. One of the worst qualities in recent years' games is their tendency for endless dream-sequences or linear "run from the bad guys" scenes; even the most linear and scripted scenes in NOLF give you a sense of satisfaction, that you've done something rather than watched as something unfolds. In this respect, NOLF compares very favourably to much more highly-praised games such as Max Payne.

The story is cheezy but very suitable for a 60s-esque spy movie. It's not overly ambitious (which, again, compares favourably to Max Payne) though not overly simplistic, unfolds well across the game's timeframe and manages to stay coherent. The game is also accompanied by very well performed, suitably cliché spy movie music, which (almost) never annoys and never gets in the way of the action.

The variety of weapons and gadgets in the game is absolutely astounding! From various semi-automatic pistols to machine guns, sniper rifles, AK-47 and even a long-distance, high-explosive firing sniper riple, this game has it ALL. Although I never found much use for most of the gadgets (being a "shoot first and ask questions later" player), it was nice to have all sorts of gadgets - lock pick, zip-cord, body-removing spray (ha!) and other cool items. The vast amount of weapons is adequately accompanied by a vast diversity of missions, from typical "enter the building and kill everyone" missions to even more typical "protect the ambassador" missions. Some missions involve subtlety and stealth while others require you to go through minefields and remove "obstacles" with the sniper rifle. There're even missions that require you to do some actual thinking: blow up a generator before attempting access through an electrocuted fence, or do some jumping to lower platforms, shooting people from behind instead of using an elevator. Don't get me wrong: the ability to finish a task in one of many ways comes nothing close to Deus Ex, but it is non-too-shabby...

On top of that, the game is absolutely hillarious; sometimes you get to hear the most ridiculous dialogue from your enemies ("Would you like to buy a monkey?"), others you will face some of the craziest situations ever concieved (Igne Wagner boss level, anyone?). Rest of the game you'll be blowing up a gajillion people with gajillion cool guns. What's not to like?

The Bad
There are very few things that I dislike about NOLF; primarily the one mandatory stealth mission, which I just cheated my way out of. I can't STAND stealth. The beautiful thing about Deus Ex is that at no point during the game is anything so utterly scripted that you can't avoid either a gunfight or a stealthy approach. NOLF just isn't as good in that respect.

Also, some parts are far more linear than I would've liked (primarily towards the end of the game).

Other than that, no complaints!

The Bottom Line
An extremely well-executed game with a hell of a lot going for it. Just get it and play it, you won't regret it - that's a promise!

By Tomer Gabel on September 28th, 2003

God of Thunder (DOS)

A passable game I do not particularly like.

The Good
This is a rewrite of a previous review and I have not much to say, so I'll keep this short: reasonable (if amateurish) graphics, decent music and some plot. Also, the game engine is very smooth on slow machines.

The Bad
The puzzles were all very easy, the sound effects were utterly horrible and even after a few hours the game seems completely static.

The Bottom Line
Personally, I don't think this game is worth the time I spent on it.

By Tomer Gabel on December 5th, 2002

Serf City: Life is Feudal (Amiga)

By Tomer Gabel on October 12th, 2002

Popcorn (DOS)

By Tomer Gabel on October 11th, 2002

Disc (Amiga)

Awesome.

The Good
I've always had an affinity for the '80s, and one item in particular: Tron. This fairly little-known movie from 1981 had some of the most imaginitive graphics and concepts I've ever seen, and justifiably spawned several computer games; this is one of them, though not officially.

The other thing I've always liked happens to be Loriciels. This company has consistently produced excellent games that, while generally technologically ahead of their time (particularly Mach 3 on the PC) still featured awesome gamesplay that lasted for hours.

Disc brings the two together. It's very similar in concept to one of Tron's game sequences, letting you play against the computer (or, if I remember correctly, against another player? I'll have to run the game and check again) in an arcade sequence of disc-tossing; the goal is to hit the opponent until he dies, or alternatively hit the wall segments behind him (which correspond mirror-like to the floor tiles). After a few successful hits the corresponding floor tile will dissolve (much like in Tron), and your opponent will have to be very careful not to fall to his death. And, like many other great games, the concept is as simple to understand as it is difficult to master.

Challenging as the gameplay is, it is accomplished by an excellent control system (2600 joysticks again...) and matched with delightful graphics and great sound effects. One of the things I like most about Loriciels's games is that they all have a terrific introduction music, and Disc is definitely no exception! If only the game itself was accompanied with such music...

The Bad
The afforementioned lack of ingame music is one caveat. The other is the devilishly difficult AI in higher levels of the game (Stork... [footnote: Stork=Sark? You decide...]).

The Bottom Line
A real treat for Tron and arcade fans alike... a rare game, much like most of Loriciels's. Highly recommended.

By Tomer Gabel on October 11th, 2002

Pinball Dreams (Amiga)

By Tomer Gabel on October 3rd, 2002

Prehistorik (Amiga)

Totally brilliant.

The Good
One of the best (and classic) platform games in existence, Prehistorik pretty much put Titus on the map. Followed by the equally brilliant Prehistorik 2, this game has upped the arcade game bar for years to come.

With partically no plot, Prehistorik manages to bring endless hours of sheer gameplay to a hungry gamer. It features some really excellent graphics, great controls (gotta love the 2600 joysticks...) and kick ass music; but undoubetly the best feature of this game is its level design: challenging and amusing at the same time, with secrets thrown all around to keep the interest up. This game is what classic is all about.



The Bad
It's repetitive, but then it's a platform game, so it's only to be expected...

The Bottom Line
An Amiga classic whose PC version actually manages to compare (other than the music...). It's fun the way it used to be!

By Tomer Gabel on October 3rd, 2002

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