Help Craig escape his house and get back to making potions

craig gd impressions demo untitled 002

First, let me clear something up: Craig is a black and white game/demo for a future game that takes place on two screens. I already used the first screen for my completed haiku review, which left me with the second screen for this final impressions post; alas, the second screen is more white than black, which throws a wrench into my Grinding Down style of using big, blocky white letters atop it. That’s why the above image is green, but please understand that’s not how Craig looks after escaping his house. I’m not here to misrepresent.

In Craig, you are Craig, a long-nosed local potion maker who wants nothing more than to get to his potion shop and start his day. Unfortunately, to his horror, some hooligan has barricaded him inside his own house overnight. Thankfully, Craig is a resourceful soul and can use the materials and items inside his house to escape, though it’ll take a bit of examining and trail and error to do so. I’ll spoil this much and say you do get outside, though the next roadblock involves getting inside your locked-up shop.

It’s a point-and-click adventure game, which means you’ll be clicking…a lot. Once you click on something, a list of options appears. You can “look,” “greet,” “pull,” “use,” and do other context-specific actions, and each action results in a humorous slice of writing. Make sure you greet every single object, no matter how silly that might seem. Seriously, the writing is what makes Craig worth exploring for twenty or thirty minutes. The gameplay is fine, but you’ve done this all before, and the puzzles are fairly logical to deduce, once you figure out that you’re supposed to read the ripped up recipe in the items menu and not actually try to put it back together with some kind of adhesive. Also, if you notice a “?” attached to some item, that means you don’t have enough information yet to perform the extra command; come back later.

Craig was made in about a week by someone under the username of Pai, and though it encompasses only two screens and is more of a tech demo than anything else, the writing and characters are there. I’d love to see Craig become a full-fledged release, with a focus on creating different potions from a variety of items, as well as a personal quest to build up his manly physique. If such a thing pushes forward, I’ll be right there behind it, ready to click, more than ready to greet.

2015 Game Review Haiku, #59 – Craig

2015 gd games completed craig

Locked inside his house
Craig must look, greet, pull, and use
All clickable things

From 2012 all through 2013, I wrote little haikus here at Grinding Down about every game I beat or completed, totaling 104 in the end. I took a break from this format last year in an attempt to get more artsy, only to realize that I missed doing it dearly. So, we’re back. Or rather, I am. Hope you enjoy my continued take on videogame-inspired Japanese poetry in three phases of 5, 7, and 5, respectively.

Turn-based trial and error assassinating with Hitman GO

gd early impressions hitman go

The Hitman series and I have not exactly clicked over the years, which is strange, seeing as these are stealth-based games with multiple paths and ways to succeed, with one often using the environment or disguises to get jobs done than simply firing a bullet from a sniper rifle miles away. It’s that whole “this sounds better on paper” thing, seeing as I could barely get through the opening parts of Hitman: Blood Money and walked away from Hitman: Absolution fairly early on, though I’d still like to return to the latter eventually and give it a second shake.

Good news, everyone–Hitman GO rocks! In fact, it’s my favorite Hitman game so far. Yup, this turn-based, puzzle board game version of Agent 47’s stealth assassination missions is basically everything I do like about these games, but with a super strong aesthetic and enough challenge to get me scratching my head, but returning for more after every level. I bought it the other night for $0.10–that’s ten cents for those with eyesight problems–through Microsoft’s online store as part of their weekly sales for Black Friday, though I’m playing it on my laptop and not a tablet/phone as it is probably intended to be experienced. Too bad, so sad.

There’s no story in Hitman GO, and there doesn’t need to be. Instead, each world, represented by a vintage-looking board game box, collects a handful of themed levels together, with the main goal either being to reach the exit unnoticed and alive or kill a specific target, often draped in red attire. There are side objectives as well, such as collecting a briefcase or completing the level in a set number of turns, and those go towards acquiring stars, which will help you unlock future sets of levels. Every character is represented as a tiny figurine, even mimicking the “toppled over” effect of taken chess pieces when knocked down. I liked this in Crimson Shroud, and I like it once again here.

Truly, it’s the board game aesthetic that has me transfixed. Here’s a true fact about me: if you are ever looking for me in a bookstore, you can generally find me at the board games shelf, ogling just about everything, fascinated with all the games and possibilities, saddened over the fact that I don’t have anyone to play these things with. Recently, I gave Machi Koro a good hard look, amazed at the colorful, friendly artwork. If a real, tangible version of Hitman GO existed, I most assuredly would be staring at it for a while, as i do when I play. You can rotate the board around for a better view or to simply admire the small, off-to-the-side details.

I’m currently in the middle of the second world’s levels, which have introduced new, tricky mechanics like hiding in potted plants or using trapdoors to teleport around the screen at the cost of a turn. My biggest struggle right now is with the knife-wielding enemies in teal shirts that turn 180 degrees, as I still don’t grok when it is wise to move towards them. Strangely, it’s when they are already facing you. It’ll take some practice, though I’m sure there are other elements down the road that will be just as hard to figure out.

A negative, sadistic part of me wonders if I’ll hit a wall when I get to the Blood Money-themed levels–yup, I know they are forthcoming–and tasked with tossing coins to distract guards, but we’ll see what those ultimately look like when I cross that path. Until then, may all your puzzles be murder.

Trying to thieve as a master thief in Thief

gd early impressions Thief xbox 360

The Xbox One recently rolled out its list of backwards-compatible games, and, no, Thief is not one of them. Not yet, at least. I’ll get to the connection shortly, I promise. I’m a big fan of this function, and it honestly was one of the attributes that resulted in me picking up this current-gen console over the other, despite all the hubbub around the possibility of PlayStation 2 emulation on the PlayStation 4. Anyways, with the fact that some of my Xbox 360 games are ready to be played on the newest console, this meant deletion and freeing up hard-drive space was imminent.

Once I deleted Just Cause 2 and moved my save game profile to the cloud–which is a technology that I’m still scared to trust–my Xbox 360 began downloading the next game in my queue, which turned out to be Square Enix’s Thief, released back in February 2014. It’s a stealthy game I’ve been eyeing for some time, though it was immediately strange and revealing going from sneaking around the Commonwealth in Fallout 4 to sneaking around the less-imaginative, ultra dark, Victorian-themed, plague-riddled City.

Here’s the story: master thief Garrett teams up with his former apprentice, Erin, on the same job from their contact Basso. It’s clear that Garrett and Erin differ on what it means to be a thief, with Erin happily murdering guards to ensure no one follows after them while Garrett would prefer to be less violent. Along the way, he steals her claw weapon. As they arrive at the Baron Northcrest’s manor, they discover some ritual taking place. Garrett calls off the job, but Erin refuses to listen, falling into the center of the ritual, which was nearing its completion, becoming engulfed by some mystical energy. Garrett is knocked out trying to save her, and only awakens from unconsciousness a year later.

It’s not a great story so far–I’m past the prologue and somewhere into the second chapter, after visiting a church–and a lot of that falls on Garrett’s cloak-covered shoulders. He comes across as a self-righteous do-gooder, stealing from the rich and keeping it for himself, but also always has a snarky one-liner to say for every situation, often to the point of mockery. I get the sense that he lacks empathy and could care less about what happened to his friend Erin, but we’ll see where things go. It’s hard to get a lot of story when your main character spends the majority of his time slinking around houses in the dark, half-listening to conversations through keyholes, not letting a single footstep be heard.

The focus of Thief is to use stealth in order to overcome a number of challenges, with violence often left as a last resort. I’m all about that. “The stealthier, the better” would make an excellent bumper sticker. Early on, I ran into the same problem that turned me off of Dishonored, in that once you are spotted, there is little chance of survival, which only makes me want to do perfect stealth runs, with no room for error. That said, I don’t think Thief plays or looks all that great; it’s sluggish and murky, with nothing distinctive-looking about it. So far, the coolest move, in my mind, Garrett can do is distinguish candles to darken a room, and I’m eagerly awaiting popping an Achievement somehow related to doing this.

Heads up: there’s also a lot of pressing X. You hit this button to pick up loot, of which there’s a ton. I think there was over 70 pieces to grab in the first chapter alone, and this loot translate into money, which you can later then spend on skill tree upgrades, weapons, and miscellaneous items. however, when it comes to desks and drawers, plan to press X a bunch and be disappointed when you find nothing. Also, I think I had a similar gripe with Batman: Arkham Asylum, but mashing a button to open a window or grate is beyond tedious, there only to pad out what little gameplay already exists.

I’d really like to see Thief become backwards-compatible on the Xbox One, but not because it is some much treasured entry in the series and fans are eagerly looking to play it right now. It’s more out of laziness. The further forward I go with my new current console, the less interested I am in switching on the 360, changing inputs on my TV, and plugging a controller into the system. Yes, I’m the same dude who is still working away at Final Fantasy IX, a PlayStation 1 RPG of old on my still-kicking PlayStation 2, but that’s on a different television in my bedroom. Okay, I have to get back now to looting dead bodies and hanging cat portraits on my settlement’s structures…oh wait, wrong game.

Jane Sinclaire’s on the pixel hunt for the mysterious city of Adera

adera episode 1 gd early impressions

My mother, when she was heavily gaming on her less-than-subtly pink Nintendo DS, leaned towards titles where the main goal was to mostly find hidden objects on a single screen full of objects, with usually some cockamamie narrative wrapping to provide the player with just cause for exploring this underwater sunken ship or that ancient ruler’s treasure room. You know, mega hits like Yard Sale Hidden Treasures: Sunnyville and Nancy Drew: The Mystery of the Clue Bender Society. These quests occasionally featured other styles of puzzles too. I feel like Adera from Hit Point Studios fits the same mold, which is why I gave it a shot, though its production qualities are much more refined.

Adera is an episodic adventure about Jane Sinclaire, an auburn-haired archaeologist in search of her previously thought-dead grandfather, as well as the mysterious city of Adera, after receiving a message from him. The first episode, “The Shifting Sands,” is free to download and play and will take one roughly a couple of hours to complete, especially if you are searching for every butterfly and animal totem collectible like I did. I think it came out for Windows 8 a couple years ago, but I played it on my laptop, which got Windows 10 as a free upgrade some months back. All that said, the game is clearly designed for tablets and touch surfaces and still retains a lot of the language, such as instructing players to swipe left or right to move between locations when, in reality, I have to click a blue arrow with a mouse.

Story aside, as it is ultimately generic and only there to put you in exotic, mystical locations so you can slide tiles around and collect cog wheels, the cutscenes and transitions from room to room are actually quite nice. Better than I expected, to be honest. Adera also features some voice acting, and nothing atrocious stood out like in previous point-and-click adventure games, but Jane is mostly on her own in this adventure, as her partner Hawk–cool name, bro–works on fixing their broken helicopter. She inner monologues a bit, but also write in her diary; alas, the font used is tough to read, and so I skipped most of her passages.

My favorite puzzles are the same that my mother enjoyed, which are finding a list of hidden objects on a screen littered with junk and misdirection. I don’t know. There’s just something especially relaxing about these in the same way that I’m into word finds; my eyes take control and scan away, seeing things in front of other things or catching the sliver of a handle, which might belong to a knife, which, oh, look, there’s a knife on my list of things to find, click it, yes, that was it and…oh, sorry. I think I drifted a bit there. See what I mean? There’s maybe three or four of these in “The Shifting Sands.” Anyways, there’s a handful of other puzzle types to solve, but none of them are terribly hard to figure out, and the places you need to investigate–at least on the middle difficulty I selected–glow purple, so you won’t miss any key items. If need be, you can always hit the “hint” button for a clue, but “hint” buttons are for chumps.

While the first episode of Adera was free to play, it’s looking like $19.99 will snag you the other four slices of content. Hmm. Think I will pass. Unfortunately, I’m not fully hooked enough to invest that kind of pocket change, especially when I can find other hidden object games relatively easy online when I need a fix, and so I’ll leave the ponderous, courageous Jane Sinclaire where I last saw her, among the shifting sands, her pockets full of pointless animal totems.

2015 Game Review Haiku, #58 – Adera (Episode 1, “The Shifting Sands”)

2015 gd games completed adera episode 1

Find hidden objects
Archaeological plot
Familiar, but fun

From 2012 all through 2013, I wrote little haikus here at Grinding Down about every game I beat or completed, totaling 104 in the end. I took a break from this format last year in an attempt to get more artsy, only to realize that I missed doing it dearly. So, we’re back. Or rather, I am. Hope you enjoy my continued take on videogame-inspired Japanese poetry in three phases of 5, 7, and 5, respectively.

Fallout 4 opens up faster than expected

gd impressions Fallout 4 Sanctuary Hills

Welcome home, Fallout 4. It’s been a long time coming, and I’m super glad you’re here, as you helped push me into the next generation with the purchase of an Xbox One. Feel free to imagine the sound of an Achievement popping right here, right now. Sorry, PlayStation 4, but you’ll have to sit the next few years out on the bench, and I am saddened to know that I won’t get to explore an alien planet and colonize it under my nomenclature before anyone else in No Man’s Sky, but that’s okay. I assume I’ll still be romping around a ruined Boston in Fallout 4 looking for adhesive by the time that game comes out, with plenty still to accomplish.

Fallout 4 is the story, as far as I can tell because I’m not looking anything up to confirm or noodle out more details, of a ruined family. I’m playing as a good-hearted man named Paul that favors a scruffy beard and cool metal armor, but before we get to all that we need to know how we got to all that. Nuclear war is the short answer. As the bombs begin to fall, you take shelter in the nearby vault along with your wife and son Shaun. Unfortunately, as with all things Vault-Tec, this shelter is more of a social experiment than safehouse, with everybody being cryo-frozen the minute you arrive. You awake from this chilly slumber years later only to watch your wife get murdered by some mysterious folk. Oh, they also kidnap your child, which is the fuel driving your mission to leave Vault 111 and explore a post-apocalyptic Boston.

I was disappointed in how little you actually get to explore the pre-war setting, how quickly you are rushed through it. From Bethesda’s E3 reveal, I was hoping for a longer stay in this environment, but the world quickly falls apart after doing the needful in terms of creating your character and assigning your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. points. I wanted to stroll down the street and speak to my neighbors, scrounge through their trashcans and eavesdrop on private conversations. I wanted to collect some things to take with me into Vault 111. Remember the Tranquility Lane quest from Fallout 3? I wanted that, extended, and not as creepy.

But it’s 2015, and I’m guessing people expect gun-shooting action sooner than later, especially if one was to target, say, the Destiny and Halo 5: Guardians fanbase. Fallout 4 hands it out really fast, so long as you stick to the main story quests for the early portion. In the first hour or so, I got hold of a suit of Power Armor and defeated a Deathclaw, things that were commonly late-game events in Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas. You also immediately get access to several different companions and the ability to build settlements, though the game does not do a great job explaining both how to do this and why it ultimately matters. I’m mostly decorating my house with coffee mugs and paintings of kitty cats.

All that said, this is an open-world game from Bethesda, which means there’s glitches and jank abound, and, unfortunately, I’m in the camp that, while still grumbling audibly about them, have come to accept this as the price to pay to play something so full of possibility. Here’s some of the things that have already gone wrong in my first few hours in Fallout 4:

  • Game froze within the first fifteen minutes, when prompted by my wife to spin my son’s mobile
  • Subtitles didn’t switch over when speaking with Preston for the first time, leaving up Sturges’ three words of dialogue for the entire conversation
  • No Achievement popped when hitting level 5
  • Paladin Danse climbed on top of a table and couldn’t get down in the background while I was having a conversation with someone else
  • Paladin Danse also had some trouble getting in an elevator, of which I have recorded proof and will eventually show y’all
  • Sent Dogmeat “home” to Sanctuary so I could try out a new companion, cannot locate him now
  • A single Raider Scum got trapped behind an open door and the wall, constantly switching between detected and hidden in terms of aggressiveness

Yup. It’s still janky.

I began writing this post after an hour or two with Fallout 4, but since then I’ve dropped another nineteen hours into my first playthrough. I’m mostly sticking to the main story quests, which I won’t talk about yet to keep this spoiler-free, but also am doing a few side things here and there, such as crafting a special chair for the local drug lady to sit in and do drugs. I don’t know why any of this is important, but maybe it will matter down the road. You can expect me back soon to talk more about some of the changes in Fallout 4 that I still don’t have a great handle on, like skill perks, V.A.T.S., and radiation.