Yesterday is such an easy game to play

“Yesterday” is not my favorite song from The Beatles, nor is it my favorite point-and-click adventure game, but I enjoy both of them greatly. They are easy to listen to, easy to play, and leave me wanting a little bit more from their respective mediums. For those curious, depending on the day, either this or this is my favorite tune from The Fab Four. I don’t know if I’m ready to commit to saying what my favorite adventure game is yet. That’s kind of like naming the best cheese. Besides, there’s a bunch of so-called classics–here, I’ll name a few, like The Dig, Day of the Tentacle, and The Secret of Monkey Island–that I’ve still not touched despite having copies at the ready, which would probably affect my decision immensely. Probably.

Anyways, Yesterday from Pendulo Studios is a dark beast. A quick research of the company shows that many of its previous games were more comedic, but there’s not much to laugh at in this one, which features a lot of murdering, satanic worshipping, and forced suicides. It all starts with the philanthropic Henry White and his bungling friend Cooper. Both of these men work for a charity committed to helping New York’s homeless people. However, after a serial killer starts murdering members of the community, Henry and Cooper venture into the abandoned Cadway Subway station to see who they can help. It is here that they meet the murderous Choke and his assistant Boris and are forced to take drastic action. That’s more or less the prologue of the game, with the real meat of it focusing on satanic cult investigator John Yesterday many years later. He is recovering from an apparent suicide attempt that has left him suffering from amnesia because of course. Henry White now runs White Enterprises and has employed John to unearth the link between the serial killer and the occult known as the Order of the Flesh.

Yesterday, in terms of gameplay, is a pretty straightforward point-and-click adventure romp. You examine an environment, collect items in your inventory, chat with other characters for background details, and solve puzzles to move forward. Something that gave me a bit of anxiety was the high amount of items you often pick up and the fact that many of them do not vanish after being used. Reminded me of my time with Deponia, which was not a blast. Sometimes these items are used again later on, and sometimes they aren’t. You’ll never know until it is too late. Naturally, as it often happens with these types of games, some of the puzzles don’t follow the best logic this side of brain development, which leads to trying everything on everything in hopes of anything changing. If you only knew the number of solutions I came up with for acquiring a truth flower that didn’t come close to working.

Thankfully, Yesterday offers a couple tricks to help when you are stuck: a hint system and the ability to ping the scene and identify every object you can examine. The hint system builds up over time, so you can’t spam it, but it’ll point you in the right direction, though it can be a bit condescending. I ended up using it more than I would have imagined, but at least it let me stay in game and not close out to look up a walkthrough. You can also, at any time, press a button at the bottom of the screen to highlight every interactive object around you. This is great as it helped reduce pixel hunting, as there were occasionally a couple areas or items that I missed after doing an initial scan of everything.

I was pleasantly surprised with the conversations system. These occur with the two speakers framed in their own windows, with dialogue options in a bulleted list. As you move through each option, the boxes are checked off when the topic is concluded. New topics open us as you chat, and I found myself exhausting every topic, even if it didn’t immediately seem relevant to the puzzles at hand. I found the script and voice acting to be well done, save for that Frenchman who endlessly gave out tips on how to identify a Frenchman. At times, the whole thing reminded me of Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars. Occasionally, the subtitles did not match the spoken words perfectly, but that’s just me being an editor and too observant. Lastly, I’ll say that the game’s visuals are gorgeous and detailed and kept me interested in seeing what was next. I especially liked the comic book-style cutscenes.

The loopy narrative about investigating satanic cults and unraveling John Yesterday’s mysterious past comes to a close rather quickly, somewhat abruptly, and the post-credits scene added little to the whole picture and was completely unnecessary. It felt like things were just beginning to build to something grander, but once the villain began to explain why he did everything and how, I knew it was over. Still, I enjoyed going through Yesterday at a slow pace, over a few nights, eating up the atmosphere, characters, and designs to make puzzling out progress less frustrating. Maybe I’ll check out Yesterday Origins or one of Pendulo Studios’ other titles down the road. However, for now, I have some other point-and-click adventure games still to launch in my collection, and I just know that many of them won’t make things as easy as Yesterday did in this tiring day and age of too much to play and not enough hours on Earth. Boo to that.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #40 – Yesterday

You got Y-shaped scar
Find thread to missing homeless
Puzzles, plot loopy

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #39 – The Evil With Us

Monsters left and right
Grind out gold, better your knife
Only upgrade knife

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #38 – Somewhere Strange

Strange alien world
Empty homes, forgotten shoes
Find answer, questions

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

Old is boring in Donald Dowell and the Ghost of Barker Manor

Melanie’s father retired recently, and he’s already itching to get back to work, to occupy his time and his brain. I’m sure this is fairly common. You work and work and work, inching your way to a place where you no longer need to work–and find yourself lost. I myself don’t know if I’ll ever retire because I just can’t imagine my daily life with nothing to do each and every day. Sure, sure, I’d love to fill up that time with drawing and writing and being a creative fountain with unlimited high water pressure, but I suspect I’d somehow still feel real guilty about it. That said, if I do retire, I think one of the first things I’ll do is finally set about my mighty PopTarts-tasting adventure, wherein I try every flavor ever made; in fifty years or so, I expect there to be at least a hundred new flavors.

Anyways, all of that intro is to say that Donald Dowell, the central, almost-bald and definitely bored figure in Donald Dowell and the Ghost of Barker Manor, is also ready to get back to work. He’s in his eighties, and his reasons include being uninterested and to get away from his, so he says, intolerable wife. Unfortunately, not many people are hiring, and they certainly aren’t looking for a man of his age. He spends many hours knocking on doors and asking for jobs before he finds a potential gig: ghostbusting. Bob Delano, the most famous occult detective in all of Ireland, is looking for an assistant, and Donald’s first gig is investigating what is happening at the mysterious Barker Manor.

Donald Dowell and the Ghost of Barker Manor is an old point-and-click adventure game made recently, only a few years ago. Lemme see here: it was released in December 2013. It’s designed to be more old school in terms of gameplay, graphics, sound, and so on, and that’s perfectly fine. At least it isn’t driven by verbs, though you still have to click use door if you want to try and open it. Some may be put off on its retro tone alone, but I found its look intriguing enough to start clicking. However, I quickly discovered that not everything was to my liking, which, for a free download, is not a huge loss, but I still feel like I need to get these thoughts down and out of my brain before I can move on to something else. So here we go…

First and foremost, there’s a malicious coating to everything that Donald says about his wife. These constant putdowns are unnecessary and disappointing, as “being old” is not an excuse to treat someone with such disdain. It really is upsetting and doesn’t make him the slightest bit likable from the word go. There’s also a fair amount of repetition, both in jokes and puzzles; for example, in the opening scene, Karl allows Donald to go into his bathroom twice and clog up the toilet in the exact same manner without raising an eyebrow about the old geezer’s motives. This is done so the player can solve a puzzle, but doesn’t hold up through the narrative. There’s also a lot of fourth wall-breaking, which normally doesn’t bother me, considering I enjoy things like Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events and being god in Drawn to Life, but here it just feels out of place and uninspired.

However, the biggest snag I’ve hit so far in Donald Dowell and the Ghost of Barker Manor is the kind of thing that I fear in every point-and-click adventure game I play–it opens up too fast. I believe this also happened rather quickly in the second part of Broken Age. Anyways, basically after playing the intro scene, which had you, at most, examining items in two locations with one sole to speak with, you are transported to Barker Manor–cue the lightning and thunder crash joke–wherein you are suddenly able to visit a handful of new locations immediately, all with people in them to talk to, items to examine, and things to interact with. I can’t count for you, but I feel like there were more new areas to explore than I have fingers. It’s overwhelming. The game is non-linear and doesn’t provide a good sense of direction in terms of quests or plot. There’s also no map, so once you travel all the way to one end of the manor’s grounds, you need to slowly retrace your steps, scene by scene, to head back. I think double-clicking to move to a new location in more modern point-and-click games has ruined my patience for these slow-burners.

That said, I really do like the art direction in Donald Dowell and the Ghost of Barker Manor. It’s cartoony and colorful, with characters that stand out and instantly have unique personalities, which is important to get since there is no voice acting. And, despite probably not catching every reference out there, the call-outs to things like Monkey Island, Broken Sword, and Day of the Tentacle are plenty and enjoyable, as are the many mentions of famous historical and fictional people. The music is all right, but begins to lose its fun after repeating several times, especially when you realize you have to listen to it as you cross the manor’s grounds yet again to see if that person at the far end of the river has anything else to say now that you picked up some dentures you stole from manor’s manager as he was distracted.

I really really hate abandoning games unfinished, but I’m just not feeling this one to want to see it all the way through. Especially not when I know there’s a laundry list of other point-and-click adventure games in my collection still to try, such as Yesterday, Oxenfree, Grim Fandango Remastered, and so on. Good luck, Donald, with your anti-retirement plans and catching them ghosts. Do try to be nicer to the people in your life.

Crime Secrets: Crimson Lily kinda puts your detective work to work

Y’all remember when I snatched up that Humble Mobile Bundle from Artifex Mundi earlier this year despite not having the specific type of mobile phone required to play any of the games on? The one with 10 games when all was said and done? Good, good. Then I don’t need to rehash many of the details of how I’m working my way through them. However, I am happy to report that I’ve now completed two of these narrative-driven hidden object romps, the first being Vampire Legends: The True Story of Kisilova and the second being the hilariously titled Crime Secrets: Crimson Lily. I’m not going to say I’m on a roll, but things are certainly rolling along.

Let’s just get into what Crime Secrets: Crimson Lily is all about. I bet you think it’s about a crime, as well as some secrets. You’re not wrong. A grim murder interrupts a private detective’s vacation plans to have some time alone at a secluded hotel in the snowy mountains. Alas, she only has one clue to work from: a mysterious paper lily attached to the victim’s frozen body. As anyone who saw The Shining a bunch of times could expect, a blizzard has cut off all communication with the outside world, leaving her to her own devices and curious wit–aka, your ability to click everywhere. The story is campy and melodramatic, but some fun is to be had at figuring out who is involved and how. It’s a more grounded affair, even going to the effort of scientifically explaining how our killer is quickly freezing his victims.

I never know what to think about these types of hidden objects games when it comes to graphics. Visually, Crime Secrets: Crimson Lily looks all right during the scenes where you are finding a list of objects, but poor elsewhere, especially the cutscenes or where action is supposed to be taking place. There are some animated effects that help liven up the frigid scenes, but every single person you encounter is factory-made, extremely stiff, and only capable of a limited number of facial expressions. The voice acting is no better or worse than it was in Vampire Legends: The True Story of Kisilova, to the point that the game might’ve been stronger without it. Also, at one point after being away from the game for a few days, I got mixed up two characters until one of them died, cementing that I had him pegged incorrectly as the game’s villain. All of that is to say that the art direction, writing, and voice acting did little to make these people stand out from the crowd, let alone each other.

One feature found in Crime Secrets: Crimson Lily that I didn’t see in Vampire Legends: The True Story of Kisilova are “crime scenes.” These are sections that must be thoroughly searched for clues. Instead of searching for a list of items, you must examine the scene and click on the elements you think are related to the crime. Once you find them all, you must then put them in chronological order, which, thanks to the inclusion of colored lines on multiple tiles, is easier than it sounds. After you arrange everything correctly, our detective will walk herself through the crime to see how it ultimately happened. It’s nothing amazing gameplay-wise, but it helps break up the puzzles a bit from the hidden objects scenes and mind-benders. Strangely, hidden object scenes can be substituted for a game of Mahjong if desired, but I come to these things for the hidden objects so I only tried this once, despite my affection for ruining games of Mahjong.

Steam Achievements–I got them all. This doesn’t happen often, and I actually missed one for Vampire Legends: The True Story of Kisilova. Anyways, they weren’t terribly hard, with a number devoted to moments in the story, not using skips or hints for puzzles, and finding every collectible in the forms of snowflakes and origami. Origamis? Whatever. These were a bit tricky to spot in many of the scenes, but that wonky part of my brain refused to let me move on to the next scene until I scoured every clickable corner.

All that said, I’m not sure which title from the Humble Mobile Bundle from Artifex Mundi to tackle next. I’m leaning towards Eventide: Slavic Fable, but Mythic Wonders: The Philosopher’s Stone also sounds like a hoot, even if I already know it has nothing to do with that boy wizard that lived under the stairs. We’ll see. I’m beginning to head into that part of the year where I unfortunately don’t write as much about the games I play, and if the rest of these hidden object affairs from Artifex Mundi are, more or less, the same experience then we might just have to settle on review haikus and move on with life. It’ll be tough, but we’ll get through it, together.

Trying my best to be a team player and not get hypothermia in The Division

tom-clancy-the-division-survival-gd-impressions

Tom Clancy’s The Division sure has had an interesting year and change, and I’m actually quite mixed on the game. Like a piece of delicious chocolate that is marred by the powerful taste of disgusting coconut, there’s good and there’s bad. It did make my list of my five favorites for all of 2016, but I know that a lot of that backing had to do with simply just how much time I put into it over the few months I dug deep over getting all them dumb collectibles. However, I quickly found that the end-game material was less appealing and eventually drifted away from snowy, apocalyptic New York City as my shallow pool of online friends greatly dwindled, returning briefly to play a bit of Underground, its first expansion last summer.

Since then, two more expansions have dropped, namely Survival and Last Stand, bringing about a number of changes to The Division‘s inner workings and plethora of systems involving math, as well as making running around the Big Apple worthwhile even after hitting the level cap. Well, not entirely worthwhile, but more. There’s still a hollowness to the running around, but at least new meters are filling up and check-boxes are being checked on a frequent basis. I’m really good at the daily challenges involving destroying weapons and gear for crafting materials that I’ll never ever use; I can hold the stick in for days.

Well, instead of devoting a post to each piece of DLC and clogging up Grinding Down in all things The Division, I figured I’d lump everything together for one single critical damage attack since I’ve now gotten to dabble in every expansion though I do not claim I was often successful. In fact, I mostly died a bunch. Still, there are thoughts, so out into the contaminated snow we go…

Underground was the first expansion released for The Division and focuses on exploring the uncharted underworld of New York City. Players are tasked with chasing after enemies with up to three other Agents through a maze of tunnels and subways. Or, if you are like me, you’ll play it solo and on the easiest difficulty in hopes of finding all the collectibles which, thanks to the randomly generated levels, are found only on a wing and a prayer. I think I’ve collected five of one type and four of another so far and have leveled up my overall Underground rank to about 13. As you level up this rank, you can modify each run with restrictions, like being unable to use your abilities or even have a mini-map, and being successful with these turned on results in greater rewards. There are a few scenarios you can play through, and a solo run with no modifiers can easily be completed in 10-15 minutes, which, when there was not much else to do in The Division, was enough to occupy my brain and hands for a bit.

In the Survival expansion, players must–and hear me out first–survive as long as possible after a horrible helicopter crash. I’m not sure why I included the adjective horrible there, as if there is such a thing as a delightful helicopter crash. Anyways, this expansion is quite different from Underground, as well as the main campaign. You are alone in an extremely hostile environment, and the only way to continue breathing and making it back to safety is by gathering essential supplies and high-tech equipment to call for help and get your frozen butt extracted back to your base. It is without a doubt my favorite mode to play, as it feels extremely fleshed out and there’s a lot of tension in every move you make, considering the longer you hesitate the more likely you will die.

Now, by essential supplies, I’m talking about scarves and jackets and, I guess, weaponry, but this mode is all about the clothing on your back because you not only have to worry about being hit with bullets but also hypothermia; you combat the elements by dressing appropriately and huddling near trashcan fires. This mode makes clothing matter and exciting, though the fact that you are sick and in constant need of medicine can be too stressful. This is why I don’t play things like The Long Dark or Don’t Starve–there’s too much to worry about, and I really just want to wear comfy clothes and walk slowly from one waypoint to another, enjoying the view. Still, Survival is exactly what I wanted to see from The Division‘s DLC–a unique endeavor that forces you to think strategically instead of simply hiding a wall or car and blind-firing until all the enemies are on the ground.

For Last Stand, things become a little more traditional. This DLC pits teams of eight against one another on a section of the Dark Zone where the goal is to capture and hold as many terminals as possible. Naturally, the team that holds more terminals builds up their score quicker and wins. Sounds both simple and familiar, yes? Well, there are a few wrinkles. Such as the fact that enemy mobs still roam the battleground area. Players can eliminate these scrubs to earn a currency used during the match to build defenses like turrets or scanners that detect enemy movement in a designated area. Lastly, all gear is normalized to make things as fair as possible…if a bit uninteresting.

I’ll probably continue to poke at The Division throughout 2017, especially since Ubisoft plans to remain supportive of the game for the near future, even offering up two more expansions for no cost to the player. I suspect I’ll revisit Survival the most of the three DLCs as it offers something very different from the standard experience. Look, this game has been and remains often confusing and clunky, and yet I enjoy the firefights, dressing up my avatar, and the idea of having a full gear set that really plays to my strengths, which are healing other players and taking potshots from a safe distance. I don’t know if I’ll ever get there, but the dream is enough to keep me logging in now and then.