Tag Archives: Steam

Figure out the connection between civilization and nature in Rituals

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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.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #25 – Rituals

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Civilization
Goes hand in hand with nature
Save or destroy it

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, #24 – The Knobbly Crook: Chapter 1, “The Horse You Sailed In On”

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Must turn ship around
Wreak havoc on its odd crew
Well…half boat, half horse

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.

Language is a reflection of ourselves in Missing Translation

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I originally ran through Missing Translation in a single, puzzle-driven sitting back in December 2016 and have desperately wanted to write about it, but other posts ended up taking priority over the wordless thing. You might view that as ironic, that I haven’t found the time for the right words yet to describe a project built solely on visual language. I definitely do. Fret not, for now I’m here, bright-eyed and inspired, with hopefully enough snappy prose to get the job done.

First off, Missing Translation is free to play on Steam, and for that fact alone, I do urge you to go play it before reading much more about it. Yup, I’m totally ushering you away from Grinding Down by the second paragraph of this post, which means I’m a terrible blogger. Also, it’s not because there’s insane plot twists or amazing watercooler-esque moments, but because it is the kind of interactive experience that is best experienced. It’s a game about language and, often, immersing yourself in something foreign and unknown is the best way to learn what is what and how the world spins. Like that time in college when I went to Montréal, Quebec, for Spring Break with only knowing a few French phrases. Spoiler alert: I totally made it out alive.

Right. Onward with the words. Missing Translation is a short game with intellectual puzzles that is all about teaching a visual language that’s based on drawing lines across a nine-node grid. By decrypting this secret language, one can really begin to understand what’s going on in this black-and-white-and-gray world full of foreign machinery, cats, and robots in funny hats. To be honest, I never grokked the entire thing, but was still able to complete the game and enjoy the uptick in difficulty for the puzzles.

You might have trouble believing that Missing Translation is wordless. Well, it is. From beginning to end. There’s no tutorial, hints, or text–as we know it–to be found, not even on the “start” menu. This means that anyone and everyone can enjoy the game regardless of their native language. It’s a universal conundrum for solving. There are about a hundred puzzles to figure out, varying from connecting dots on a grid in the right way to navigating through large screens brimming with totem-like blocks. Each one grows in difficulty and complexity as you dig deeper, and I couldn’t stop myself once I got started, for fear of forgetting what trick was behind each set of puzzles. This is why I ran through the entire game in a single gulp, unable to leave any bit unfinished. As they get solved, new friends and allies are unlocked to help guide the main protagonist–which can either be a man or woman–back to their world.

Missing Translation is more than a puzzle adventure game. Its got a wonderful premise, inclusive to all that want to click and think and learn, and while I might not know what every strange symbol means, much like in Fez, I had a fantastic and fulfilling time figuring out my way through its many locked doors.

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

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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.

Having a baby in Cayne’s universe is a real life-changer

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I’m a big fan of free, standalone tie-in experiences, not simply because they are free. Some examples that instantly come to mind are Lost Constellation and Longest Night for the quickly upcoming Night in the Woods, the demo for Bravely Default, which contained a side-quest not available in the full release, and the Spore Creature Creator for, well, Spore. These snippets and slices offer a chance to see what the big deal is while simultaneously providing an experience not fully found in the main game. All that setup leads us to Cayne, which is an ultra-dark journey through the dystopian world of Stasis from The Brotherhood, in preparation for the studio’s next project called Beautiful Desolation.

Here’s what I know about Cayne, and, no, I haven’t yet played Stasis though that may likely change. It begins with Hadley, a mother-to-be, waking up in a strange medical facility. Unfortunately for her, this wasn’t a routine procedure and something is severely amiss. She manages to escape the operating table before her baby can be ripped from her body, only to make things worse, causing a massive, floor-destroying explosion. Now on her own, she’ll have to explore her surroundings and find out why these people were after her child, as well as make her getaway. One big problem: there’s a deadly monster-thing-with-claws called Samantha guarding the elevator.

Obviously, Cayne has style. Or, as Jeff Gerstmann likes to say, styyyyyle. It’s drawing heavily from things like Alien, as well as sci-fi short stories from decades ago, the kind that present really large ideas in tight spaces and like to pull the rug out from under you with a big twist at the end. I’m thinking of “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” by Harlan Ellison and “Second Variety” by Philip K. Dick and other similar tales. As you explore the Cayne facility, you’ll gain access to PDAs, computer logs, and other characters, which offer some insights into what is happening while also keeping mum about the true motives of the company. Seems like they are into growing babies, but I never understood why and for what purpose by the end, though the ending does hint that this is a major operation, not some one-off experiment. Also, a lot of the people you meet–both living and dead–are real pieces of scum, so there’s that too.

All of this style is backed up and emphasized on through great voice acting and subtle yet effective audio tones. Hadley comes across as, I hope and assume, many of us would if we woke up in a similar situation. I like that her nervousness results in badly-timed jokes. That’s something I do too. Shortly into Cayne, Hadley “meets” a man. I say “meets” because it is more that she begins to hear a voice, and her dialogue with this person makes up a large chunk of the game, revealing many tidbits and insight into these characters. Also, the FMV sequences are pretty stellar, far more cinematic than I expected.

Something Cayne does well is minimize the amount of things you need to click on by providing descriptions of everything in text off to the side when the mouse cursor is hovered over key items in a scene. Normally, you’d click on it to get this kind of information, but now you can move through the descriptions at your own pace. I like this. The cursor also changes when over something that can be interacted with, which helps. That’s not to say the puzzles are a cakewalk; in fact, many of them are quite tricky, and I won’t deny that I ended up using a guide to figure out the ID number for the Grub Habitat, as well as how to manipulate the server platform and blow up the power generator. Other puzzles were easy to figure out, though I ended up taking a good chunk of notes just in case.

Cayne‘s biggest and most glaring fault is that…like many point-and-click adventure games, there’s a lot of backtracking involved. Generally, that’s fine. That’s part of the genre. However, a lot of games have got with the times and allowed for quicker hopping to and fro, whether through a map of locations (like in Read Only Memories) or by letting the player double-click on the exit areas to jump ahead. Cayne does not do this. Throw in the fact that our protagonist is a very pregnant woman with no shoes running around a facility with fire, broken glass, and gross puddles of ooze everywhere–well, moving through the Cayne facility is a slow burn. Real slow. I found this pace to be extremely frustrating as I was deciphering puzzles, knowing that I’d have to travel across three to four rooms just to find a piece of information and then return with my solution. It’s never a good sign when I begin reaching for my phone to kill time when moving from room to room.

Thanks to Cayne, I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on The Brotherhood and what’s next from the studio. I’m not one hundred percent in love with their gameplay mechanics and UI, but those things aren’t deal-breakers when it comes to a powerful story, believable characters in peril or up to no good, and audio design that can set your teeth on edge. You can grab a free copy of the game seemingly just about everywhere on the Internet; I played mine on Steam for those silent, delicious Achievements.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #22 – Cayne

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Don’t wake up, Hadley
For this is pregnancy Hell
Too much backtracking

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.