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Great Hierophant


Dreamfall: The Longest Journey (Windows)

Where is the Game?

The Good
The story was interesting. Not quite as epic as The Longest Journey, nor as long. It was a valiant attempt to expand the universe beyond the first game, which told a self-contained story. The graphics are excellent for both the fantasy world of Arcadia and high science world of Stark. They also brought back of the original voice actors for the English release of The Longest Journey, April in particular. The music is top notch and the voice acting generally is professionally done.

The Bad
The story "has a message", wants "to be relevant to our times" and drives it home in a very unsubtle fashion. The game's length is heavily extended due to the all the voice acting. It would be a lot shorter if you only read it.

The actual gameplay is very weak. The adventure gaming is mostly of the walk and talk variety with few puzzles. I recall there was one chapter without any actual puzzles. None of the puzzles are as intricate or as maddening as The Longest Journey.

Before the game's initial release, there was some controversy as the developers included fighting and stealth elements into the game. Some of these can be avoided, but these features are amateur hour at best. The fighting is only slightly more complex than the game Urban Champion for the NES, and the stealth elements are scarcely more advanced than the original Metal Gear for the MSX/NES. In 2006, these felt like such an afterthought or a weak attempt to get the game onto consoles where a pure adventure would have no chance.

Almost seven years later and this game with its cliffhanger ending still has no sequel. One does feel cheated after spending a not inconsiderable period of time with this game. However, thanks to Kickstarter and the Norwegian Film Institute, a sequel is finally going to be made.

The Bottom Line
A fine example of digital storytelling, with the occasional nuisance of actually having to do something.

By Great Hierophant on February 24, 2013

Ultima II: The Revenge of the Enchantress... (Apple II)

A Better Game for its Time

The Good
A lot of reviewers tend to look down on Ultima II as the black sheep of the series. But when you consider what was available at the time, its actually a pretty good advancement over the previous game. Improvements from the previous Ultima include :

Gigantic World - The game world is huge, the towns and dungeons are huge, and there are several time zones and planets to explore. Getting to those planets and some places in the time zones is a real challenge.

Faster Gameplay - Akalabeth and Ultima used Applesoft BASIC and Atari BASIC (for Ultima's 8-bit port to the Atari computers) for most, if not all of the games. Travel in Ultima was ridiculously slow, as you can literally see the screen refresh itself with every step. Dungeoneering is an exercise in frustration as the slow refresh rate leads to lost keystrokes and extra hits from the monsters. Everything feels faster.

More Detailed Graphics - While many of the tiles in this game were reused from the last one, the graphical level of quality has improved. Water is now animated, each character class has a unique icon, and overworld enemies have real shapes. Dungeon enemies now are shown in color instead of wireframe. The towns no longer are in a smaller perspective than the overworld.

A Sense of Direction - In the original Ultima, the player practically figure out what to do by spending hard earned gold at the taverns and figuring out to do quests from the Kings. The manual was very sparse, it did not even inform the player that there were multiple continents that needed to be explored. Nor did it identify that the object of the game was to defeat a bad guy. Ultima II gives the player a backstory and a cloth map with the time gates delineated.

More Lively World - In Ultima, you could only transact with Kings and Merchants. In Ultima II, you can actually talk to townspeople. While most can only spout a canned line, there are some in each town which can provide you a clue or some amusement. They also move around, except for guards (unless you kill someone in town).

Lack of Disk Swapping - In this game, you will not need to swap disks often. After the initial Program / Player swap, you will not swap again until you lift off from Earth.

Packaging - This is the first Ultima game to come in a box and a cloth map. The previous Ultima had come in a ziplock bag without a map. Unlike today's games which may include a cloth map, Ultima's maps are actually useful and necessary for gameplay.

The Bad
Bugs - This game has two very nasty bugs. One of which is that, in the original release versions for the Apple II, Atari 8-bit and IBM PC, it is impossible to raise your strength level. The second one is that your stats, like HP, Food and Gold, can "roll-over" if you earn more than 9999 in a stat. So if you have 9950 food and buy 50 more, you are dead.

Unforgiving Death - If you die in this game, the game will force you to restart. It writes your death to your player disk, forcing you to make another. You can die from lack of food, bad luck or failing to land your ship properly.

Lucky Items and Thieves - You can buy weapons and armor in this game, but all items, including useful ones, are randomly acquired upon defeating enemies in the overland. For example, one special item is a Blue Tassel, which you can use to board any pirate ship. You need to board pirate ships in this game. But if a thief randomly steals your Tassel, you cannot board another pirate ship unless you find one again.

Combat Inequality - It seems like, no matter what kind of weapons and armor you acquire, you can never really carve your way through even the weaker monsters like Orcs and Thieves.

Inability to Reset the Player Disk - On the Apple, Atari 8-bit and IBM versions, you had to create a new Player Disk each time you began a new game. There was no utility to reset the maps or the character, so if you mistakenly used your original Player Disk, you were out of luck if you saved to disk. The C64 version does include a reset utility.

The Bottom Line
Ultima II is quite an improvement over its predecessor, and it is only fair to judge the game against what else was available in 1982-1983 and its predecessor. To judge it against the Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness 1986 remake is not appropriate. It had little competition, as the second Wizardry scenario did not drastically improve on the first and the rest were Rogue-like games.

By Great Hierophant on September 23, 2011

J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings: Volume 1 (SNES)

Worst Purchase I ever Made for my SNES

The Good
The music is pretty grand. Its bright for the town, somber for the plains, dark for the caves and the Mines of Moria. Unfortunately, there seems to about five tracks total in the game.

Character sprites are well animated.

The Bad
The plot is extremely Tolkien-light, you pretty much get the edited highlights. The game ends before the first part of the book ends. The characters are faceless and totally interchangeable. Although they have face portraits, you only see these on the subscreen, a screen you wish you could see as little of as possible. The four hobbits all use the same sprites, step in unison and are distinguished only by the color of their hoods.

The character graphics are also rather small in scale compared to the rest of the screen, which can make for difficulty in attacking small enemies. Background tiles get reused constantly, so every cave looks the same. The game also suffers from a lack of enemies early on, as you only seem to fight snakes, wolves and bats. There is one "boss" monster in the entire game as I recall.

The hit detection in this game is truly irksome. Since you have not quite a birds eye view, hitting anything when facing up or down is an exercise in frustration. Metal Gear has the same perspective, but only striking downward had the same issue. Also, enemies seemingly can only be hit in one way. You will curse because what seemed to be a good hit was not registered. Interestingly, it is easier to hit with the hobbits in the first half of the game than it is with Aragorn in the second due to their hit animations. Controlling multiple characters in the second half, when you have 8-9 members in the party, leads to unnecessary hits and deaths. (I have never tried this game with the multi-tap feature, but if I did, my friends would evaporate just like my enthusiasm did for this game).

The final insult is that it takes almost five seconds to bring up the subscreen. What is instantaneous in virtually every other game seems to take an eternity here. And you will need to bring up the subscreen more often than you would like to use items and check your experience points. More than anything else, this shows a lack of attention to detail.

Passwords in an RPG from 1994? That is just simply inexcusable.

The Bottom Line
While it is not a great game, J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, Vol. I for the PC is far superior to this. Licensed games in the 80s and 90s tended to be crap, and this is a good example of how a licensed property was treated.

Bottom line : Why play this atrocious game when there are so many great RPGs available on the SNES instead?

By Great Hierophant on June 14, 2011

Eye of the Beholder III: Assault on Myth Drannor (DOS)

The Third Game in the Series is a Real Letdown

The Good
Well, this game did allow you to import your already-powerful characters from Eye of the Beholder II, which meant you had a considerable early advantage.

The graphics are generally outstanding, on par with EoB 2 without reusing many sprites. The game adds new character portraits.

There are two great improvements in the combat interface, First, the addition of the all attack button allows all your party members to attack, if they are able to. This saves the player from having to move the mouse to each character's weapon or learn hot-keys. Second, the ability to allow characters in the second rank to make a melee attack with a polearm really allows them to shine, whereas in the first two games they were somewhat useless.

The difficulty, for the most part, has been toned down compared to the merciless EoB2.

The Bad
This game was not developed by Westwood Studios, which had done both the prior games, and it shows.

The plot is barely-existent, especially compared to the previous game. The introduction to this game pales in comparison to its atmospheric predecessor. Ditto for the endgame. The story in the manual has no relevance to the actual in-game events. Unlike its predecessor, there is no connection with the events of the prior games.

This game uses digitized sound effects if you have a Sound Blaster. Unfortunately, once the effects turn on, they're always blaring. You really want to tell the game to shut up, as many of the effects are not pleasant sounding. The game isn't especially speedy, but with the digitized sounds on walking, turning and loading are painfully slow.

The difficulty is incredibly inconsistent. Most of the time, the game is pretty easy, but there are some spots, (one early in the game), that are brutally hard.

There are many high spells available, but as your mages are extremely unlikely to reach the levels to cast them from your spellbook, they are essentially one-time deals.

The Bottom Line
More of the same gameplay. If you like Eye of the Beholder, you will enjoy this game but not as much as you would its far superior predecessor. A beefy system is a must if you want digitized sound.

By Great Hierophant on March 17, 2006

King's Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella (DOS)

Ground breaking in some ways, backwards in others

The Good
King's Quest IV was a truly breakthrough game for the IBM PC and compatibles. Before this game, people had absolutely no reason to upgrade from the already dated CGA graphics card and the PC Speaker. This was among the first games that convinced people to buy a fancy EGA graphics card and an Adlib sound card, the latter being especially untried on PCs.

This game laid the second foundation that Sierra was able to bring state of the art graphics to PC Games. The graphics in this game were drawn in the new 16 color 320x200 resolution, as opposed to the old 4 color 320x200 resolution. The increase in detail from their older, blocky games, was stunning at the time. The background screens are very fairy-tale like, the Disney influence is obvious. One of the unique features to this particular Quest game is that the designers have implemented a sense of scale. In outdoor screens, people are very small sprites on the screen. Indoors, they become proportionately larger. Also, the game takes place during the day and at night, and there is separate artwork for each outdoors screen.

The music in this game was a true step up from the PC Speaker or Tandy sound. Before this game, music in computer games generally was limited to a short opening theme and little ditties throughout. While there is less music than in later games, what is there is quite rousing and fits in well with the whimsical fantasy setting. They actually got a real musician to write the game's intro and his services were well worth it.

The story is basic fantasy, but it does have a nice twist or two in the plot. Some sequences, like the ogre's house, the witches' cave and the troll's cave are suspenseful. Lolotte makes for a second in a memorable series of King's Quest villains.

The Bad
This is a Sierra adventure game, and all the usual caveats apply. It is very easy to die in this game, fall off a cliff or down the stairs, swim too far, get killed by a random monster, etc. Sierra games let you wander willy-nilly, so if you forget to do something or get something before you enter an area that does not allow you to return, hope you have a good save ready. Maniac Mansion, a contemporary of this game, did not punish the player with instant death at the slip of a keystroke.

In the older games, random monsters would inhabit screens you could avoid, but in this game a random monster haunts an area you have to go through, twice. If you played the game you know the part I mean. Some parts of the game are timed, so if you don't figure out how to proceed, you will die or can't continue. Finally, a crucial item has a limited number of uses, so if you use it in the wrong place, you cannot win.

While the graphics were improved in detail over the older Quest-engine, some objects were difficult to clearly identify. Also, as this is a text parser game, many times you have to guess what the programmer wants you to type in order to proceed. Character interaction is one-sided and limited.

This game was the last game in which Sierra would support 16-color composite graphics or the Apple IIe/IIc series of computers. Unfortunately, both use the older engine and thus were hard to find back in the day, never mind today.

The Bottom Line
A very historically-important PC game, technologically, but very little new in terms of gameplay.

By Great Hierophant on March 5, 2006

The Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes: Case of the Rose Tattoo (DOS)

How Sequels Should be Made

The Good
This game, The Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes: Case of the Rose Tatoo (a long title to be sure), is the sequel to The Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes: Case of the Serrated Scalpel. Improvements over the earlier title include 16-bit SVGA graphics, a more streamlined interface, general midi music and full digitized speech. The sequel is far lengthier than its predecessor.

The background graphics are very detailed and give a realistic flavor of 19th century life and architecture. The characters themselves are digitized avatars of real actors and while the facial features are indistinct and the animations repetitious, they do their job.

The music is generally well-placed and considerably varied to suit each location. Very little would have sounded out of place at the time. The voice acting is simply superb, with each actor really putting life into his or her character.

This is an adventure game and a long adventure at that. The general plot, that of a document gone missing from the Ministry of Defence, with several suspects having a motive to mislay it, is vintage Conan Doyle. Of course, the case has several plot twists and turns, too many for Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes' stories. There are a few dead-ends and many times you will have to come back later to make progress. The inclusion of real-life historical figures is also something more out of a pastiche, something only hinted at in Conan Doyle's stories. Interestingly, you begin the game playing as Dr. Watson, which allows him to show what he can do (as Conan Doyle intended, not as a buffoon.)

This might seem "uncanonical", but the game's designers make it seem natural because of their command of the time period. Rarely has a game come close to accurately detailing late-era Victoriana. Clicking on an object will reveal more than you ever wanted to know about it unless you are a student of the period. Those who are up on their 19th century European history will appreciate this game.

The interface is mouse driven and very simple. Clicking on an object brings a list of commands to choose from. This allows you only to use commands likely to work on the particular object, which is good because you no longer have to guess which command will work.

The Bad
The game is for DOS, which was seemingly a little old in 1996 and may be difficult to get running on later versions of Windows.

While the voice acting is great, it becomes quite apparent that one actor is voicing many roles, especially for the female parts.

Quite a few times during the story, you will have to analyze something in Holmes' laboratory. These sequences give you a hint but often become a tedious affair of trying every chemical until you succeed. To get to speak with the important people, you will almost always have to bypass a servant or a guard.

Sherlock and Dr. Watson walk at a snail's pace, which makes entering and exiting screens a slow process.

The Bottom Line
The best Sherlock Holmes Adventure Game ever made!

By Great Hierophant on February 27, 2006

Icon: Quest for the Ring (DOS)

Breaking down limitations

The Good
No PC game has been more defined by hardware than this game. This game only exists because IBM's Color/Graphics Display Adapter (the CGA) was limited in the number of colors it could show on the screen. It could display a maximum of four colors in a graphics mode and the programmer couldn't select the colors. By comparison, the Commodore 64 allowed the programmer to use sixteen colors.

But some programmers sought to break this limitation, which was especially galling considering the CGA cost as much as an entire Commodore 64 computer! How they did it is documented in an excellent article on MobyGames. The amount of effort to get the graphics as good as they are must have been rather epic (suiting the subject matter of the game.)

These graphics have to be seen to be believed. They are blocky and strange, but that adds to their appeal. While the technique used was not unique to the programmers, unlike their competitors, these folks actually use the whole character set instead of just the half-left or right bar.

On the good side, you character can heal automatically and most enemies drop health-restoring mushrooms. You can save your game too. The setting, taken from Wagner's Ring, lends a sophisticated air to the game that could have resonated with the potential market (people who bought IBM PCs were not poor.)

The best thing about this game is that it was developed for a PC, which in its time period (1984), was rather unique. It was not a hand-me-down port from the Atari 800, the Commodore 64 or Apple IIe that game showed what a PC could do. It is a shame that the technique was not used in many more PC games.

The Bad
Gameplay wise, this game seems like a watered down version of Temple of Apshai. Your character can use either a sword or a magic wand to kill his enemies. There only seems to be four enemies, Kobolds, Alligators, Rats and Bats. Hit detection is poor and enemies can quickly overwhelm you. Until you figure out how to avoid being drowned in the river, drowning seems arbitrary.

Unfortunately, while the graphics are revolutionary, the sound is truly basic. A decent rendition of Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries is played at the opening, but its beeps and boops for the rest of the game.

This game was designed for the IBM PC with a CGA card or an IBM PCjr. If you don't have that hardware or something truly compatible, good luck getting this game to work.

The Bottom Line
Little more than a technology demo marketed as a game, but the achievement itself was almost worth the price.

By Great Hierophant on February 27, 2006

System Shock (DOS)

An FPS with a Plot!?! DOOM seems insignificant by comparison!

The Good
System Shock was revolutionary for its time. Few, if any FPSes had tried to tell a story within the game. The object of FPSes was simply to kill everything in sight. System Shock told a story with a beginning, middle and end, with plot twists along the way.

The audio logs give a good idea of what happened on Citadel Station and also some backstory on the station. Even though the voice acting isn't always believable, the designers do an excellent job showing how "ordinary people" would react to an apocalyptic event.

System Shock also introduced "cyberspace", where your character would find himself free-floating within wire-frame rooms and corridors. Essentially computer and programming concepts become visualized as metaphors within this electronic world. In cyberspace you search for and gather "software" and "data", fight enemy programs (visualized as malevolent faces) and avoid traps. It is a welcome change of pace from the usual strafing and dodging.

The use of a computer A.I. as the main villain was not novel at the time, but the game shows very effectively how difficult it would be to overcome such a foe. But the A.I. has a weakness, it must act through other beings (unless you are in cyberspace.) What is even better, the developers decided to give this villain a memorable personality. SHODAN is a megalomaniac, not only does it try to play god but also cheerfully refers to itself as god. Unlike a stock A.I. villain, it clearly shows emotion. I assume that the memorable voice for SHODAN was designed to show that A.I. has become partially insane or demented.

The graphics are a leap ahead of the competition. System Shock was very close to a true-3D engine. You can look up and down, crouch and crawl, and lean left or right. As with Ultima Underworld, Looking Glass once again expanded the horizons, literally, with System Shock's FPS engine. The game also looked to the future in a way by providing better quality textures when using the high resolution modes that didn't play well on the machines available at the game's release.

There are small things about System Shock that just show a welcome attention to detail. There are these little minigames to collect in cyberspace. Most levels have a distinguishing design. The Medical Level is in shades of blue, the Research level is often in red and so on. Powerups have side-effects to them. Certain elements show the banality of Tri-Optimum, the corporation that owns and operates the station.

System Shock was easily the most atmospheric game of its time. It used lighting very well, some areas are brightly lit, others with significant damage have unreliable lighting at best. The monster's sound effects are often creepy and unsettling. The final level can make your skin crawl in more ways than one. Monsters often seem to pop up unannounced around the next corner or just behind you. SHODAN itself is relentless and will often taunt you or spring a trap against the hapless hacker.

The Bad
The game delights in respawning enemies, especially in areas in which you will often traverse. While it helps keep the player on his or her toes, it also leads to many cheap deaths. It is also sobering when you waste precious ammunition on enemies that will be back again in those areas.

The interface and controls are somewhat cumbersome and do not boast the streamlining of modern FPSes. The game was unfortunately designed with the 320x200 resolution in mind. This limits the amount of screen real estate devoted to gauges and subscreens. Also, the Multi-Function Displays interfere with interacting with the viewscreen. Fourtnately, the controls can be mastered.

While the game can be played in resolutions higher than 320x200, at the time this wasn't really feasible because because the 486 processors of the day could not produce playable framerates. The 640 graphics modes look much nicer but run on a far smaller class of systems.

The Bottom Line
One of the seminal FPSes, System Shock is a true classic that no DOS Gamer should ignore.

By Great Hierophant on February 26, 2006