Tag Archives: Humble Bundle

Hitchhiker a roadtrip into the strange and aberrant

I never have and probably never will hitchhike. It seems like the scariest thing ever, and if ten seasons so far of Criminal Minds has taught me anything, it is not to get into a car with an unknown person, man or woman or child, no matter what time of day or state/county. Still, there is something fascinating about the concept, of having two people unfamiliar with each other putting all their trust out there, for a little help getting from point A to point B. I’m sure there are some kind souls out there that are genuine good Samaritans, and I’m sure there are plenty that are not. That’s kind of what Hitchhiker: First Ride is about, but there’s also some other weird things happening that I couldn’t grok. Plus, raisin jokes.

Hitchhiker: First Ride, a Humble Original from Mad About Pandas and current freebie over in the Humble Monthly Trove, begins innocently enough. You’re a hitchhiker, taking a ride somewhere else. Unfortunately, you are unable to remember who you are or where you’re headed, as if something in your recent past has stolen your memory. The car’s interior and highway offer some clues, like a hidden matchbook, a photo of a young couple in the glovebox, reality-breaking billboards, and chatty crows. The man driving the car is a mustache-sprouting farmer, specifically a raisin grower, and he seems bent on helping you discover your memories while also revealing more about his life. Naturally, not everything is as it seems.

In terms of gameplay, there’s a lot of sitting around and listening to your driving companion chat away the minutes and miles. You can also interact with different elements of the car, and sometimes these interactions lead to discoveries and sometimes they don’t, such as flicking the bobble-head on the dashboard. There are also dialogue choices to make at various times, like whether you will taste one of this farmer’s home-grown raisins or not. I know, that’s a big one. Harder than deciding Duck’s fate in season one of Telltale’s The Walking Dead. For a good while, honestly, I looked out the window and watched the landscape zip by, curious to know what was over that hill or if anyone lived in that house or if that billboard really said what I thought it said (it did).

At one point, Hitchhiker: First Ride takes a turn. Reality breaks, and I had a hard time following where everything was going. I might need to play it again. The driver knows things about you that neither you, the in-game character, or you the person playing the game know, and it’s a bizarre feeling, being left out of your own story. You begin to feel trapped, longing for air, a sinister aura surrounding you, judging every future choice you make. This is, by all accounts, a well-done metaphysical mystery, but I’m not going to stand here and tell you I completely got down with it on every level, especially the cartoon play-like storytelling near the end. Also, grapes are totally better than raisins, which, when you think about it, are dead grapes.

I think I liked 2000:1: A Space Felony a wee bit more, as I felt more in control of the unfolding story, but this was still super neat and different, and I’m excited to see Hitchhiker: First Ride develop into something more.

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In 2000:1: A Space Felony, no one can hear you detective

Until February 2, the Humble Monthly Trove is giving out a couple of free gems, some of which are Humble Originals, meaning they were created solely for the program. Neat-o. You can grab the following DRM-free named games, and I do suggest you jump on it before you forget or our country is vaporized in the forthcoming nuclear winter-war, as well as consider subscribing if you end up liking these types of smaller, hand-crafted experiences:

  • 2000:1: A Space Felony
  • Hitchhiker
  • Cat Girl Without Salad
  • Uurnog
  • THOR.N
  • Crescent Bay

That’s six free games, and all you have to do is click a button or two. Naturally, I grabbed all of them lickety fast, and I even played through and beat one already–2000:1: A Space Felony. Now, before I dig into details of the game, I need to do as I always do and come clean about a piece of pop culture that I have shockingly never seen. Yup, my blue eyes have still never gazed upon Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey or read Arthur C. Clarke’s short story “The Sentinel” that inspired it. Nor have I read the full novel written concurrently with Kubrick’s film. Or 2010: Odyssey Two. Or 2061: Odyssey Three and 3001: The Final Odyssey. Phew. That said, because it’s hard to live life these days and not have these mega-popular behemoths seep into every single thing we see and consume, I somewhat get the main gist: an artificial intelligence goes rogue.

2000:1: A Space Felony takes place on the USS Endowment, an interplanetary spacecraft, which has unfortunately lost communication with Earth. Using your flashy camera skills and natural detective intuition, you must explore this damaged space, document your findings, and figure out what went down during the crew’s final hours alive. You basically do this by taking photos of key areas, people, and items, and then you confront MAL, the ship’s on-board AI system, about what happened, countering its talking points with confidence based on what you already know. Cross-examination in zero G should most definitely be the theme for the next season of Law & Order. Naturally, going into this, given what it is based off and just the fact that the melting pot-universe of books, movies, and videogames over the last several decades has been inundated with stories of corrupt AIs–hello, supercomputer AM from Harlan Ellison’s “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream”, AMEE from Red Planet, and GLaDOS from Portal, just to name a few–you know that MAL is up to no good. The fun is proving it wrong and then deactivating it.

2000:1: A Space Felony‘s look is *chef’s kiss* top-notch. The colors are bright, punchy, magically brought to life through surprisingly simple geometry. It’s not going to win any realism awards, but I lean more often towards games with a unique take on life as we know it. The USS Endowment is not a huge station to explore, a small fraction when compared to Prey, but the spaces are easy to recognize and do come across as lived in. Moving around in no gravity is not complicated, using the WASD keys to thrust in any direction, and there’s even one spinning section that you can land on the floor and walk around in a more traditional sense, which makes the detective work a bit easier. I will forever be intrigued by the design of spaceships, space stations, and so on, and even one as small as this is a joy to explore, both inside and out, eventually feeling homely. Also, MAL’s main room is gorgeous, like the inside of a trippy golf ball or an even more fantastical take on Spaceship Earth.

I found the game’s narration to be especially strong, with ground control more or less narrating every action you take and how you present your case. Represented by a dark silhouette with white glasses and a tie, ground control is extremely straightforward when it comes to this case, with only a smidgen of humor here and there. Often, the juxtaposition between ground control and what MAL says is where Lucy Green’s writing is the most funny and captivating. MAL, voiced by Max McLaughlin, rides the line carefully between innocent, unaware AI and ice-cold, systematic murderer. Nothing really new for the genre in terms of AIs gone bad, but a good performance still. If there was a soundtrack, I don’t remember much from it other than the big, swelling orchestra right at the game’s courtroom-esque conclusion, but you do make a super pleasing donk sound when banging into a wall, and that counts for a lot.

Unfortunately, the part where you compare pieces of evidence against each other is the weakest link in 2000:1: A Space Felony. For a while there, I was missing one piece and had to do another loop of the environment, snapping shots of everything, listening to repeated lines of dialogue while growing frustrated. I also had a hard time seeing what pieces I was connecting, and I’d have personally liked for some screens to have faded out after they were no longer relevant, but that’s just me. I finished this murder-mystery in the silence of space in about an hour and change, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I wonder which next freebie I’ll try (spoiler: it’s probably Hitchhiker).

2017 Game Review Haiku, #107 – Eventide: Slavic Fable

Save endangered plant
Seek alliance with creatures
Nifty stained glass scenes

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.

Waking Mars educates one about an alien planet’s ecosystem

I’ve never been to Mars and probably never will in my lifetime, but I’ve both read and seen a lot of hot takes on the red planet, such as Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein, The Martian by Andy Weir, and 1990’s Total Recall. I’ve even played a few games set there, like all the Red Faction joints. Chances are I wouldn’t survive long, knowing only how to make hot dog rice and a slumber party tent using two chairs and an old bedsheet, but that’s expected. Also, if hostile alien lifeforms exist, I wouldn’t know what to do to keep them from eating my Earthly flesh. Related to that, one is still trying to survive the harsh landscape in Waking Mars, but the true focus is on study and education, on discovering what makes this world alive and function.

Tiger Style put out Waking Mars in early 2012, but I only discovered it the other night in my Steam library, way at the bottom of the list. I honestly have no recollection of how it got there, but I’m going to assume it was through a Humble Bundle of sorts. Without knowing too much about the game other than some of the Achievement descriptions, I loaded it up and was surprised to discover that it is…a science-fiction adventure game with light platforming in the veins of a jetpack. Also, it’s totally about gardening. The year is 2097, and life has been discovered on Mars. Your mission of first contact takes a real bad turn, with American astronaut Liang becoming trapped by a cave-in. He must master the alien ecosystem to better survive and progress, as well as discover the secrets of the planet’s past.

Right. First off, instead of shooting your way to safety, Liang must grow a lively ecosytem to open passageways and redirect water to the areas that need it most. This was a great surprise. Much like The Swapper, combat is not the focus; instead, exploring your surroundings and puzzling out what to do next is the main mechanic fueling progression and storytelling, and that has actually made the jet-packing all the more fun because you are not trying to fire a blaster and dodge acid bombs at the same time, but rather zip around in search of places to grow some local life. Instead, you are looking for plant seeds and fertile ground, as well as scientific remnants of a co-worker that has gone missing. Each area has a Biomass rating, which you must raise to open up new areas to explore, and you do this by making life thrive. Plant seeds in the right spot, cultivate them, mix seeds with other seeds, avoid dangerous plants, and watch how everything interacts.

Waking Mars, so far, has a somewhat compelling story, but I’m more interested in the diversity of its cast, as well as the strong voice acting, which gives more meaning and urgency to the search for alien life and a way back to the headquarters. Liang is quiet and curious, but also physically alone in these Mars caves. In his ear are two support team members: Armani, an upbeat scientist, and ART, a humorous and glitch AI (think TARS from Interstellar). At different points, you’ll stop for conversation and figure out what to do next. These are linear moments, but they do reveal a lot about each character and provide hints at what is really going on here.

The gardening is fun. I generally always have fun growing digital plants, but the fact that everything interacts with each other to either raise or lower your Biomass rating is fascinating and much different than other games. Makes me feel like a scientist doing scientist-y things. You are also encouraged to get creative and research each plant fully, figuring out how it reproduces or reacts to prey. Once you know more about each respective plant, you can create a highly efficient zone, one that almost takes care of itself. It’s difficult but not impossible to reach five-star Biomass rating, and I suspect doing so will have a unique result on the current environment; alas, I’ve not been able to do this yet.

According to the Internet, Waking Mars takes about six to eight hours to complete. I’ve only put in two hours so far, which means there’s plenty of Mars left to explore and turn into my personal zoa garden. We’ll see if I have a green or red thumb.

Get it?

Y’know, because the iron oxide prevalent on the planet’s surface gives it a reddish appearance?

Figure out the connection between civilization and nature in Rituals

gd-impressions-rituals-steam-game

I feel like I talk about bundles a lot here at Grinding Down…and for good reason. These packages keep me afloat through the years, often helping to fill in the gaps for those bigger games I missed out on or drowning me in lesser-known indie titles that are equally as entertaining. Well, Humble Freedom Bundle is one of the best yet, with a sickeningly number of games, digital books, and music to add to your respective libraries, as well as having all the money raised go directly to charity. United, we stand. As of this post, the bundle has raised over $5 million for the ACLU, the International Rescue Committee, and Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières, and it feels great to be part of such a gracious, overwhelming cause. I might not be able to do much, but I can do this.

I’m not going to list out every game in the Humble Freedom Bundle, especially when you consider they added a whole bunch more only yesterday. But there’s a lot, and a good number of them were already in my Steam library from previous bundles, such as Octodad: Dadliest Catch, Super Meat Boy, World of Goo, VVVVVV, and so on. Regardless of that, purchasing the bundle was still a no-brainer as it got me immediate access to many others on my wishlist, like The Witness, Invisible, Inc., and Subnautica. Plus, I now have a third copy of Stardew Valley, so if you are interested in that game and want a key, please reach out to me so I can share the love and joy that is pixelated farming. That said, I’m not in the right frame of mind to start a bigger game, and so I decided to see what Rituals, one of the more recent additions to the bundle, was all about first, given its small install size.

To get as simplistic as possible, Rituals is an adventure game clearly inspired by classic point-and-click romps. The kind where everything you pick up in the area is essential to you moving forward, as well as the kind that simply do not tell you the answer to every puzzle dangling before your confused face. I’m not going to call it a point-and-click adventure title despite the fact that you do often point and click on things. Just doesn’t feel right, and I think it has a lot to do with how you move around the game’s environments. More on that in a sec. You play as a nameless, faceless person waking up at his or her desk in a rather by-the-books office building. As you begin to explore the empty rooms around you, there are hints of bad things, and then suddenly you are transported to a mystical forest at night, hearing whispers in the distance. There’s got to be a connection between the two realms.

If that set-up kind of sounds familiar, then yes, I too immediately thought of The Stanley Parable upon loading Rituals up. It’s that minus the witty, sarcastic narrator. In fact, there’s not a lot of words here, with just a smidgen of text when you pick up an item or examine something important. The rest is up to you to deduce. Even with its minimalist, low polygon look, the game’s environments are fun to explore as the shapes and solid colors do more than enough to make you believe these places are what they are. And those places range from an abandoned office building to a dark forest to a lush jungle to a snowy graveyard and more. Getting to the next area is a reward in its own way.

Now, moving around is a different trick–the game is played in first-person perspective, but you can’t freely walk around. Instead, you click on navigation arrows to move forward or back or closer to areas of interest, and this can take a little getting used to. However, this means you only need a mouse to play the game, and I’m cool with that. Using an item is done by clicking on it from the inventory list at the top of the screen and dragging it on top of whatever you want, and this can be somewhat finicky, especially during the mortar and pestle part. It’s not the end of the world, except when it is.

Rituals didn’t take me very long to complete. My Steam data says around 77 minutes, and that’s a-okay with me. Again, from all the Humble Freedom Bundle provided (even more games were added since I started typing this blog post!), I wanted something quick and enjoyable, and that’s what this was. There’s a big ol’ decision to make at the end, but you can quickly reload the last checkpoint to see how the other option plays out. That said, I can’t speak with confidence that I don’t know what the relationship is between the tedium and struggle of the real world and the more fantastical aspects accessed via magical elevators, but sometimes it’s okay to not know. The important thing here is not being afraid to say so.

Searching high and low for vampire hysteria in Kisilova

vampire-legends-pic-001

I don’t have an Android phone. Loyal Grinding Down readers will know that I have continued to tread water in an ocean of hungry sharks with my fancy-shmancy Windows phone, though I do expect my next upgrade to be something different. Yes, yes, I’m highly tempted by the potential of a new Animal Crossing game on phones in the future. So, no Android-based mobile device currently, but thankfully I have a laptop with Steam installed on it, which allowed me to partake in the Humble Mobile Bundle from Artifex Mundi, as they all came with bonus Steam keys. At this point, there’s not much that can stand in my way of a bundle that can help my digital library expand.

Okay. Let’s do this. Are you ready for the list of games from this bundle that I never heard of beforehand and chances are neither did you? Good, good. Because here they are, in no particular order, but in all their generic name glory nonetheless:

  • Dark Heritage: Guardians of Hope
  • Vampire Legends: True Story of Kisilova
  • The Secret Order 2: Masked Intent
  • The Secret Order 3: Ancient Times
  • Crime Secrets: Crimson Lily
  • Eventide: Slavic Fable
  • Grim Legends: The Forsaken Bride
  • Grim Legends 2: Song of the Dark Swan
  • Grim Legends 3: The Dark City
  • Mythic Wonders: The Philosopher’s Stone

Mmm-hmm. Also: yowza. It’s like the creators picked a bunch of videogame title mainstay words, threw them in a hat, mixed it up wildly, and created games based around whatever was pulled at random. Personally, I’m pretty tickled by Crime Secrets though. Crime…secrets. However, because I’m broken inside, I started with Vampire Legends: The True Story of Kisilova. Not because I love vampires–though I did end up re-watching Twilight recently to see if I’d recognized any locations after visiting Seattle, La Push, and Forks in Washington with my father last summer. No, I picked it first for two simple reasons:

  1. It appeared to be a standalone game.
  2. It appeared to be, somewhat, rooted in history.

What do I mean by that second point? Well, Vampire Legends: The True Story of Kisilova is based on the first documented case of vampirism. Allow me to set the stage: it’s 18th century Europe. Fifty years after a great plague swept the land of the Habsburg dynasty, the subjects of the Emperor are in danger once more. A series of horrifying, mysterious deaths occur in the remote Serbian town of Kisilova. Residents, fearing that the plague is back, begin fleeing their homes. Summoned by the Prince of Württemberg himself, Imperial emissaries journey to Kisilova to investigate these events and prevent further deaths from happening. You play as one of these investigators, and I’m sure you have a name, but I can no longer remember it.

Have I yet said what kind of game Vampire Legends: The True Story of Kisilova is? No? It’s got puzzles and hidden objects to unearth and exploration, moving from one location to another to find clues and items to progress the narrative. Steam uses the tag “casual” on its store page, and I am in full agreement of that. It’s casual, and I played it casually. Like, I played a few hours of it when I got the bundle back in September 2016, and then I came back recently to finish the thing off in a few more sittings.

Vampire Legends: The True Story of Kisilova is a strange mix, both in terms of what you do, but also what you hear and see. There’s voice acting, and it’s a little rough to endure, especially the voice of the investigator you control. I understand this isn’t modern times, but everyone speaks so stiffly and uncomfortably that dialogue is a struggle to listen to. As it turns out, the puzzles are the meat and most enjoyable aspect of the game, and the narrative exists only to serve you more puzzles in the frame of roadblocks, and so the voices and dialogue can be completely ignored. I ended up playing the latter half of the game with Netflix on in the background. Many of the puzzles are of the “use the right item here” mindset, and sometimes you have to travel through several locations to find the key gizmo. Not hard, but satisfying. I personally found the hidden objects sections more enjoyable, remembering how much my mother liked this type of gameplay on her Nintendo DS. The hand-painted scenery, which is really jarring against the animated avatars whenever they take center-stage, is nice to look at and highly detailed, though that does mean some pixel hunting has to happen.

I have to imagine that I’ll be trying Crime Secrets: Crimson Lily next. Again…crime secrets. Makes me laugh. My best guess is that it’ll be pretty similar to this experience, but that’s okay. Like I said above, the puzzles are fun to figure out, and a good hidden objects checklist scene is something I simply can’t ignore. It also doesn’t punish you for clicking like a madman when you only have one item left to find and cannot see where it is. More is fine. There will be plenty more for the rest of 2017 too thanks to this Humble Mobile Bundle from Artifex Mundi.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #23 – Vampire Legends: The True Story of Kisilova

2017-gd-games-completed-vampire-legends-the-true-story-of-kisilova

Inscrutable deaths
Explore that Kisilova
Find all vamp objects

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.