GOG release: “Downwell”

Indie games that rely on arcade mechanics are usually quite simple in presentation and gameplay, and the GOG release of Moppin‘s roguelike platformer Downwell is another proof that the concept still works.

Publisher Devolver Digital offers a wide range of different genres, but pixel art and chiptune music seem to be what the publisher prefers in most of its catalogue titles. So it’s no surprise that this game features both of them as well as some hardcore gameplay for those who can persevere through levels filled with enemies and traps. The main idea behind Downwell can already be found in the title, as it’s about a young man with no apparent backstory who falls down a, well, well. On the way to the bottom he encounters all kinds of nasties, but also treasures in the form of gems he has to pick up. These can be used to buy additional weapons and upgrades, complementing the gun boots he already has at his disposal.

It all sounds wonderfully simple with the 8-bit graphics and music fitting the frantic gameplay perfectly. Having procedurally-generated levels also adds to multiple playthroughs, even after one reaches the bottom and therefore the end of the game if one hasn’t already died and restarted before thanks to permadeath. It might not have a deep story (no pun intended), but games like this one harking back to the good old arcade times of yesteryear have their own place in the indie scene, so it’s great to find them again in their DRM-free form.

The game is now available on GOG with a 50% discount that will last until December 11, 10:59 PM UTC. If you prefer other gaming platforms, make sure to check out the PS4, Vita, iOS, or Android versions.

Buy the game for PC on
GOG
Steam

Official Website

If you liked reading this article, make sure you pay a visit to Future Sack which kindly features it as well, and every LIKE or comment is appreciated on EMR’s Facebook page or FS’s Facebook page๐Ÿ™‚. Or FOLLOW the blog on EMR’s Twitter page.
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GOG free game “Neverwinter Nights: Diamond Edition” + Monstrous Winter Sale 2016

It’s been less than a month since GOG’s Little Big Adventure 2 freebie and its Monstrous Fall Sale 2016, and yet here’s the next big thing: the Mounstrous Winter Sale 2016 with Neverwinter Nights: Diamond Edition as a free game.

The RPG has always been on my wishlist for reviewing, but due to its sheer size, the massive title has slipped through my fingers again and again, so it’s nice to finally add it to the collection without thinking about playing through it and reviewing it in one month, although it might happen in the future, together with its its sequel. It will keep people occupied for a whole year if they want to dive into the D&D world with all three official expansion packs (Shadows of Undrentide, Hordes of the Underdark, and Kingmaker) that are included in the package, and it also seems to be a pretty cool multiplayer experience. Its name and content should also be quite fitting for this season. So don’t wait and get it before the free offer ends on December 3, 10:59 AM UTC.

Just like the fall sale, the concept of buying games and building XP that unlocks other games for free is great if you don’t already own them. This time Shadow Warrior Classic Redux, Shadowrun: Dragon’s Fall – Director’s Cut, and STASIS are on offer, a good slice of action, RPG, and adventure gaming, although the last one wasn’t so much to my liking, as could be seen in last year’s review.

Of course it’s also possible to add experience points by collecting badges that are rewarded for checking in daily, adding 10 new games to one’s wishlist, sharing the sale on Facebook or Twitter, visiting GOG Galaxy, the GOG Wallet page, while owning an account also helps to unlock 1500 points right from the start.

The sale will last until December 11, 10:59 PM UTC, so be sure to grab some deals if you’re still missing out on classic, AAA or indie titles.

If you liked reading this article, make sure you pay a visit to Future Sack which kindly features it as well, and every LIKE or comment is appreciated on EMR’s Facebook page or FS’s Facebook page๐Ÿ™‚. Or FOLLOW the blog on EMR’s Twitter page.
Using the GOG links and buying the products also helps๐Ÿ˜‰.

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Overview of (blog) life in November 2016

November was an almost gaming-exclusive month of blogging with quite a lot of reviews in addition to some beautiful indie releases and comprehensive bundles.

It seems that indie games are still going strong with interesting gameplay mixes and great art styles, as these titles showcased:

Candle
Human: Fall Flat
Kim
Owlboy
Political Animals
Silence
Tales
Through the Woods
Tyranny

GOG added another bunch of recent and older indie and AAA titles to its DRM-free catalogue:

BLACKHOLE
Crysis + Crysis: Warhead
INSIDE
LIMBO
Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault
Zombasite

There were many sales, but what’s always great about GOG is how one gets freebies of a very high quality, as could be seen with the GOG free game โ€œLittle Big Adventure 2โ€ + Monstrous Fall Sale 2016.

Speaking of sales, the next logical step was to take a look at some very interesting bundles which didn’t necessarily include games only. It was also refreshing to see Groupee back again with fewer pixel indie games that usually flood their bundle pages these days and are difficult to distinguish:

Groupees: Build a Kiss Megabundle
Humble Book Bundle: LEGO
Humble Mobile Bundle: Board Games
Humble Unreal Engine Bundle

However, in the end it was all about games, and November was probably the most productive reviews month due to the Halloween gaming special week that even spawned two additional horror games being covered and squeezed in during the past two days:

Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare
Black Mirror
Black Mirror II
Black Mirror III
Clive Barker’s Undying
Kathy Rain
Oxenfree
Realms of the Haunting

Of course all these articles wasn’t really for movie fans as with the Halloween movie special, but with the upcoming season to be merry instead of being scared, there will hopefully be some reviews, maybe including snow without the Christmas theme, who knows?

If you liked reading this article, make sure you pay a visit to Future Sack which kindly features it as well, and every LIKE or comment is appreciated on EMR’s Facebook page or FS’s Facebook page๐Ÿ™‚. Or FOLLOW the blog on EMR’s Twitter page.

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Modern horror gaming: “Outlast: Whistleblower” (PC)

Survival horror can get even more terrifying without any weapons at one’s disposal, and Red Barrels‘ DLC Whistleblower to 2013’s surprisingly effective Outlast is another scary and gruesome ride.

Outlast: Whistleblower (PC)
(Canada 2014, developer/publisher: Red Barrels, platforms: PC, Xbox One, PS4)

Software engineer Waylon Park finds out that the Murkoff Corporation for which he works is responsible for some inhuman experiments on patients at the Mount Massive institution and soon becomes part of an uprising as a prisoner himself.

A new beginning and the beginning end
Telling the story of what happened before the base game and also tying in to the ending of it, one shouldn’t expect a lot of new insights into a plot that wasn’t that complicated to begin with. Experimentation on patients who soon become more violent isn’t very original, but it’s effective as a starting point for a very twisted tour de force through a compound filled with sick sociopaths. There are a bit of backstory and explanations for players willing to invest the time by finding documents or recording scenes with their trusty camcorder, but even with these, the general plot remains largely in the background, with the real star of the freak show being some memorable inmates. One of them, calling himself the Groom, who formerly mutilated women before being admitted to the asylum, takes a liking to castrate men to make that special someone his perfect bride, while another psychopath eats human flesh and even wants to cook the main protagonist.

Bloody disgusting reality check
The game touches topics like sexual abuse or torture in a very gruesome fashion, and it doesn’t hold back when showing the bloody details or full-frontal nudity. It’s questionable in how far these scenes serve to move the story forward or if the gratuitous violence should simply shock people as much as to disgust them. But then again the original game had more than a fair amount of blood and gore in it, and what’s on display here only continues the gritty tradition of violent realism and body horror.

Runaway terror train
One doesn’t only need a good stomach to endure the gory scenes, as the game does a great job of genuinely evoking panic and fear in the player. It’s often impossible to see in many parts of the institution due to fog outside or darkness inside. Being chased and trying to jump over tables or climbing over other obstacles, pushing through doors, crawling through air ducts, and even breaking through windows is certainly not for the faint-hearted gamer. Puzzles don’t get any more varied than finding a key to a door, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it would have impeded the fast pacing. There are a few too many predictable jumpscares, but there are just enough cinematic set-pieces that play with the inability to move and instead being forced to watch horrible scenes that the game still holds a few disgusting surprises and tense moments in store.

Great looks and sounds of horror
Graphics and sound effects are as great as ever, with some particularly scary shadow and lighting effects, convincing character models, and nasty noises being complemented by a score that holds back and rushes forward just like the protagonist at the appropriate moments. Voice acting is also of a very high quality, so that one shouldn’t find too much to complain about.

A DLC without too many surprises, but still well done
Outlast: Whistleblower is everything one expects from a DLC. It’s rather short with only 2-3 hours playtime, but it delivers the same tense run-and-hide gameplay as in the original, which also means that it’s just if not more graphic in its depiction of violence. It might not tell the most involving story or offer anything particularly new, but its antagonists are disgusting enough to be memorable. Compared to many found footage movies, this one is actually scary and full of action without giving the audience much time or room to breathe.

Score: 8/10

Buy the DLC for PC on
GOG
Steam

Buy the base game for PC on
GOG
Steam

Official Website

If you liked reading this article, make sure you pay a visit to Future Sack which kindly features it as well, and every LIKE or comment is appreciated on EMR’s Facebook page or FS’s Facebook page๐Ÿ™‚. Or FOLLOW the blog on EMR’s Twitter page.
Using the GOG links and buying the products also helps๐Ÿ˜‰.

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Classic horror gaming: “Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare” (PC)

Usually, the more a survival horror game series becomes mainstream, the less frightening and more action-focused it gets. Darkworks’ Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare proves that it’s still possible to scare people with a modern look.

Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare (PC)
(France 2001, developer: Darkworks (defunct), publishers: Infogrames (defunct)/Atari, platforms: PC, PS2, GBA)

Supernatural detective Edward Carnby, together with anthropologist professor Aline Cedrac, investigates the murder of his friend Charles Fiske who discovered a dark secret on Shadow Island about old stone tablets bringing the end of the world with nightmarish creatures roaming the earth.

B-movie madness and silliness
The Alone in the Dark series has always been good at making the player plunge deeper and deeper into a story of H.P Lovecraftian madness, and the newest entry is no different. While the mad scientist approach of experimenting on people and creating abominations isn’t particularly new and the connection to a shaman and rituals becomes even more nonsensical by the minute, the plot is still entertaining enough on a B-movie kind of level, with more and more dark secrets about the family living on Shadow Island discovered.

The diary entries and research as well as newspaper articles Carnby and Cedrac find are well-written, which unfortunately can’t be said about the dialogues. Sure, they’re just as campy as Capcom’s first Resident Evil, but it would have been nice to identify more with the main characters. Despite Aline trying to discover something about her unknown father’s identity, she remains just as faceless as Carnby, with only a few mildly amusing lines exchanged between them making their interaction enjoyable. The main antagonist, the whole spiritual connection to dark rituals add to a rather muddled mess of a story that is only a narrative excuse for investigating scary places.

Tricky navigation, puzzling, and saving
The haunted mansion theme with lots of zombies and other creepy crawlies has been done to death, but the setting is still immersive enough to evoke fear and terror in the player, with more and more locations outside and inside unlocked the further one progresses. Despite some orientation problems and a map that isn’t easy to read with many doors and keys to keep track of, the puzzles are mostly logical and move the plot forward at a steady pace. While they usually rely on finding number or letter combinations, there are some more imaginative inventory combinations that can be quite tricky, as one has to split certain items to create new ones. It’s only very frustrating that it’s easy to overlook important items in the detailed environments. While most are highlighted by linking lights, even positioning the character in front of them to pick them up can become an annoying exercise in endurance.

Another problem is the implementation of savegames. Instead of using a limited number of typewriter ribbons as in Resident Evil, one uses charms that are plentiful to find lying around. It’s just too bad that each time one saves, the player’s progress in a room isn’t saved, so for more complicated puzzles, one has to do them again in order to proceed, which becomes especially confusing, as there are only 5 saving slots with no indication of when these were created.

A scare party of two
As in Resident Evil 2, playing the game a second time with another character doesn’t simply result in the same story or gameplay experience. Sure, the overall plot and ending doesn’t change, but the way how the game offers two perspectives is ingenious, especially since Carnby and Cedrac often communicate via walkie-talkies, therefore teasing the player about what happened on the other side of the line. In order to understand the full story, one should play through it twice, and it doesn’t get boring in terms of puzzle or shooting mechanics. While the detective’s parts are more about shoot-outs with more ammunition, the anthropologist has more puzzles and less firepower, the latter meaning that it’s quite tough in places with so many enemies.

Action in light and darkness
It’s here where the game fails, because as cumbersome as the tank controls with ever changing camera perspectives are, there are way too many enemies re-spawning and attacking out of nowhere that they become more annoying than scary, especially in very small corridors when it isn’t possible to run around them, something the old Resident Evil suffered from, too. Boss battles are extremely difficult as well with problematic aiming and no clues of how to beat them.

Still, the game is quite original in using light and darkness to great effect. The latter makes creatures manifest themselves and attack the player, while the former throws them back or even kills them, which is especially useful for Aline who has to switch on the lights in rooms to have a remote chance of surviving. Pointing the flashlight is also not only a tool to better see in the dark, but it’s part of the fighting mechanics, something that Alan Wake would later make use of as well. In addition, there are some lightguns later in the game that can be reloaded via crystals, which makes the problem of spare ammunition less prominent, even if it means that the game turns more into a shooter than a survival horror game.

Dated looks, but still scary sounds
The comparisons to the original Resident Evil don’t stop with gameplay, as they carry over to the presentation as well. What this means is that the video sequences are well done with some nice action set-pieces, although the reality in game graphics looks different. While the water and lighting effects with dynamic flashlight throwing creepy shadows on the environment are impressive, the various camera perspectives adding to tangible fear, and the backgrounds look detailed despite being washed out due to a low resolution, the character models haven’t aged particularly well. Even more distracting is how the characters’ lips never move during conversations and the faces remain mannequin-like, making the dialogues even less exciting.

The voice acting adds to the unintentionally funny melodramatic scenes, which is mainly due to voice actors delivering their lines without any context, turning the dialogue into disconnected parts with awkward intonation. Fortunately, the sound design is excellent throughout with some very unnerving and disturbing parts that only complement the spine-tingling creature screams and whispering voices in addition to echoing foot and claw steps. Orchestral music additionally helps to enhance the cinematic presentation in the more action-heavy sequences.

Not a classic, but a good reinvention
Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare is a scary game with its intense, chilly atmosphere, but it’s also flawed due to unfair gun fights, clunky controls, and some obscure puzzles. It has an interesting approach to storytelling by having two very different character sections that complement each other, but its story is somewhat muddled and the main characters aren’t that memorable. However, it’s still a good reinvention of the older titles that weren’t perfect, either, sitting somewhere between the action-heavy, frustrating sequel and the more puzzle-focused third installment without ever reaching the good horror pacing of the original.

Score: 7/10

Buy the digital version for PC on
GOG
Steam

Buy the retail version for PC on
Amazon Germany
Amazon UK
Amazon USA

Official Website

If you liked reading this article, make sure you pay a visit to Future Sack which kindly features it as well, and every LIKE or comment is appreciated on EMR’s Facebook page or FS’s Facebook page๐Ÿ™‚. Or FOLLOW the blog on EMR’s Twitter page.
Using one of the GOG or Amazon links and buying the product also helps๐Ÿ˜‰.

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