Tag Archives: ghosts

2017 Game Review Haiku, #121 – Pumpking

Jump, tiny pumpkin
Avoid monsters, raise the score
Prove yourself a king

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.

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Oxenfree’s supernatural coming-of-age story nails teen talk

Oxenfree from Night School Studios got the distinct honor of ranking number four on my Top 10 Videogames I Didn’t Get to Play in 2016 list. I had originally tried buying the game during the Christmas holiday sale, but this was back when my Xbox One decided to stop working when it came to accessing the store and other menu options, and so I moved on. Then, thanks to the Humble Day of the Devs 2016 bundle, I got a copy on Steam for a few bucks, but just never got around to installing and/or launching it. Thankfully, my waiting and reluctance-ness paid off, as Oxenfree is a Games with Gold freebie for this month, which means I got to play it comfortably from the couch with a controller in my hand. Woo, go me, go waiting.

What is Oxenfree? Y’know, other than a word most famously known for its use as a catchphrase in hide and go seek. Well, it’s a supernatural thriller starring a group of teenage friends who accidentally open up a ghostly rift on Edwards Island. You play as blue-haired Alex, and you’ve just brought your new stepbrother Jonas to this overnight island party that quickly goes horribly wrong. Also there is Clarissa, who used to date Alex’s deceased older brother, Ren, a light-hearted stoner, and Nona, a shy being that may or may not have feelings for a certain pot brownie-loving, easily excitable goofball. It’s kind of a point-and-click adventure, but with little pointing and clicking and more wandering around the island, chatting with your friends, and solving radio-based puzzles to battle ghosts and close time loops. Also, gorgeous background art.

Ultimately, Oxenfree is a game primarily about conversation. Thankfully, there’s a simple and extremely effective speech-bubble interface for all of these interactions, with each dialogue choice tied to a respective button on the Xbox One controller: X, Y, or B. This allows you to still walk around a scene and interact with items or climb platforms using A while people speak around you. You can also, much like in every Telltale Games title these days, stay completely silent and not pick a response, and there’s even an Achievement for doing this all the way to the credits, tough as that might be.

Here’s what makes the talking in Oxenfree interesting–characters are constantly chatting, and it is up to you to have Alex respond at the sort of tempo that would be home in a true-to-life conversation. This means you can interrupt someone or wait until they are done to say your piece, and each action feels just as natural as the other. There’s no pausing and waiting, you need to react quickly and naturally, and if you don’t, the conversation moves on without you. This realism can lead to frustrating moments where you simply don’t have time to respond accordingly or you can accidentally cut off someone mid-sentence and never know what they were planning to say in the end. Thankfully, the writing and voiceover work is strong, full of charismatic and everyday voices from industry staples like Erin Yvette as Alex, Gavin Hammon as Jonas, and Britanni Johnson as Nona. These definitely feel like teens talking like teens.

Oxenfree is short and punchy, but I expected that. A couple hours at most, but I played it in two separate sessions. It doesn’t waste time, which is a funny statement when you understand that several of its puzzle sequences are about being stuck in a Groundhog Day loop. These scenarios are easily solved through repeating actions, and the only real puzzles involve Alex and her portable radio, which can be tuned to specific stations. Find the right one, lock in on it, and open up a channel to communicate with the angry, vindictive ghosts of Edwards Island. The “glitchy” effects and how you continue to interact with a scene going topsy-turvy and quickly changing from one second to the next are unreal and captivating. I also found a lot of the ghosts, especially when taking over one of Alex’s friends’ bodies, to be extremely unnerving though I’d never call this a horror game.

Endings are where it matters most in Oxenfree, and I don’t know how many there ultimately all and refuse to look it up, but there’s definitely more than one. I am happy with the one I got. Based on your conversations with friends and actions taken, you can end up with some hating you or falling in love with others by the time credits roll. My choices resulted in a mixed bag of outcomes. Often with games like this, I usually stick to one single playthrough and cement it in my memory as the only way that story could have unfolded because, to me, that’s how it all went down. Though I am very much interested in a second go-around where Alex is mute and doesn’t react at all to the terrifying things happening around her.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #97 – Oxenfree

An island party
Teens unearth ghosts, fun’s over
Tune in, talk them up

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.

Get to ghostly work in Murdered: Soul Suspect

You might not have ever guessed it considering I’ve never really said a word about it, but Murdered: Soul Suspect is a game I’ve been genuinely curious about since its release. Which, um, was way back in 2014. Y’know, when cars began to fly, entire meals were in a pill, and aliens visited us peacefully to share all the knowledge of every galaxy ever. I remember it well. It’s got all the trappings that I often enjoy in my digital entertainment–ghosts, a murder mystery, lots of collectibles, an emphasis on exploration and not combat, and playing detective. It’s kind of like the Blackwell series of point-and-click adventure games on a bigger budget.

Murdered: Soul Suspect is all about once-criminal, now-cop Ronan O’Connor, who is killed off immediately at the start of the game–major spoiler alert!–as he hunts down the elusive serial killer known as “The Bell Killer”. The game takes place in a fictionalized version of the American town Salem, which is famous for its seaport and burning witches. Anyways, for some reason, Ronan returns as a ghost. His long-dead wife, Julia, also in spirit form, says that the only way he can join her on the other side is by solving the Bell Killer mystery. Sure, sweetie. Will do. I mean, that’s what I was trying to do before I died so I might as well keep on keeping on. Also, I might want to see what is up with that creepy ghost girl.

The gameplay in Murdered: Soul Suspect is both simple and linear though there is some room to explore at your leisure, but that’s only if you want to find all the collectibles, which I totally did. You navigate ghost Ronan around town, and since he is physically body-less, you can pass through walls and other solid objects, so long as they aren’t blessed. There’s also some contrived reasons that Ronan can’t enter buildings with doors that are closed, but I don’t remember the exact phrasing. Your search to unravel the Bell Killer mystery will take you to a church, an apartment building, a graveyard, a mental hospital, and so on. More or less, you walk around an environment, looking for clearly identified clues, and Ronan has some ghostly abilities up his see-through sleeve to help in this endeavor, such as teleportation and possession. Each area has a specific number of clues to collect to progress through the level and the story, and they are found and put together in a way similar to L.A. Noire‘s investigation sequences, except you are not trying to catch people in a lie or hopping to and fro various locations.

The story is entertaining enough, but fairly straightforward, and that’s including the twists, which are not difficult to see coming. Ronan befriends a young, troubled girl called Joy, who is a medium and able to interact with ghosts, and she is, without a doubt, the best part of all of Murdered: Soul Suspect. Eventually, you’ll learn about why the Bell Killer is targeting his victims and how Salem’s history fits into everything. Much like an episode of Criminal Minds or Law & Order, the game steers you towards a specific person as your suspect right until the very end.

There’s been some talk recently about playing detective in games and what ways work and what ways don’t. For sure, Murdered: Soul Suspect does not work, but I’m not mad about it. I didn’t come to it for that one aspect. Still, honestly, the game constantly felt worried that I wouldn’t get the answer right, which occasionally lead to me overthinking things. Take for instance one of the earlier optional “Unfinished Business” cases in which Ronan helps a young female ghost figure out how she was killed and what happened to her body. I scoured the apartment of a cranky old couple until I found all the clues I could, but two of the clues needed to be drawn directly from the old man and woman, respectively, and to do that, you needed to select a clue you already found to influence their train of thought. I assumed the “gardening tools” or “newspaper clipping” would have sufficed, but all both needed was the initial inquiry about a missing girl that started this whole thing off. It felt strange and wrong and that all my years of watching police procedures was for naught.

Some other quibbles because I’m me. First, while I can’t resist picking up every single collectible shining on the ground, I do wish many of the item’s descriptions had voice-over work so that I could continue to explore my surroundings while learning about what I picked up. Instead, you have to read a small, somewhat uninteresting paragraph of text for each one, and I eventually stopped doing this altogether. Second, the game gives you a lot of tools, but not the freedom to do much with them, such as using poltergeist to affect tangible objects, but only when needed to distract a guard in one specific sequence. You can also possess a cat, but only when possessing a cat is vital to getting somewhere high up. Lastly, I too suffered from the “Investigate the War Room” bug, which stayed as my current objective until the end of the game, but thankfully I was able to remember where to go next as I basically played through Murdered: Soul Suspect in a few multi-hour bursts and it’s not too difficult to figure out where to go next.

I enjoyed Murdered: Soul Suspect quite a bunch even though it is far from perfect, but it does sadden me to know that Airtight Games is no more and so a sequel, a chance to improve on the lackluster detective work or zero-fun combat scenarios with demons. The only other game from Airtight Games that I’ve played is Quantum Conundrum, though I walked away from it once the puzzles became too complicated. Oh well. Not everything can be as easy as a ghost going into someone’s body, peeking at their computer screen, and then manipulating their thoughts based on this information to have them do exactly what you want to move the case forward.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #90 – Murdered: Soul Suspect

Solve your own murder
Salem is brimming with ghosts
Collectibles too

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, #61 – I’m Still Here

Brand new apartment
Haunted, fish out who it is
Delightfully quick

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, #58 – Toca Boo

Bonnie scares fam time
Hide, make them nervous, big boos
Cute animations

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.