Game release: “Dreamfall Chapters: The Final Cut” (PC)

The epic adventure game series about Stark and Arcadia, dreamers and shifters, finds with its conclusion with the remastered version of Red Thread GamesDreamfall Chapters: The Final Cut.

This slot should actually have been reserved for the review of the episodic Dreamfall Chapters. After having played through the very long The Longest Journey and its unfortunately rather disappointing sequel Dreamfall: The Longest Journey, there should be another article here, but as a new version just materialized after I finished the 20+ hour first playthrough and it has so many improvements and changes, I’ll do another run and give you the full story, which of course will take another while.

Without taking too much away from the review, suffice it to say that the new game is a much better experience than the second one, that it comes pretty close to the original vision, and that it looks gorgeous. Now updates for games aren’t always worth writing about if they only fix things and don’t change the overall gameplay, but it seems that it isn’t the case here. New and revised character models, improved lighting, an expanded soundtrack, remastered voice-overs and reworked sound effects plus improved performance, controller support, German and French localisation as well as support for save slots, an updated Unity game engine, and many smaller bug fixes are already enough. But there are even more additions like playable deleted scenes, a character library, concept art gallery, and an in-game map that make replaying the game almost a necessity.

The new version is free for all those who bought the original season pass, and there’s even the Final Cut soundtrack available to all owners of the original one on GOG. The Special Edition upgrade that had all sorts of goodies (a digital art book Reborn: The Art of Dreamfall Chapters Book One, the short stories Journeys Birth, the digital soundtrack, the Digital Europolis tourist map, 7 HD wallpapers, and 5 digital avatars) sadly disappeared from both digital stores. Celebrating the release of this huge update, a 40% discount that will last until July 28, 3PM UTC, should be another reason to dive into this great storytelling experience. Let’s see if my review will be ready by this time or the end of the month…

Buy the PC game on
GOG
Steam

Buy the retail version for PC on
Amazon Germany
Amazon UK (import)

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 page :). Or FOLLOW the blog on EMR’s Twitter page.
Using the GOG or Amazon links and buying the products also helps ;).

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Epic adventure stories: “Dreamfall: The Longest Journey” (PC)

Does Funcom‘s Dreamfall: The Longest Journey live up to the epic point-and-clicker The Longest Journey as a sequel and stand-alone product?

Dreamfall: The Longest Journey (PC)
(Norway 1999, developer/publisher: Funcom, platforms: PC, Xbox)

College dropout Zoë Castillo gets involved in a conspiracy of a virtual reality system capturing dreams and a zealous belief system in the two worlds Stark and Arcadia while trying to find April Ryan after a mysterious girl told her so in a vision.

Revisiting two changed worlds
Drawing the player into a world one wants to explore because of its rich lore or interesting characters and creatures means a lot of work. Doing so with two worlds is even more difficult. While the original game from 1999 set a benchmark for this kind of environmental storytelling and is used as a template for how some parts of the plot develop, it’s sadly not enough to prevent the story to become convoluted with many characters turning into superficial shells of what could have been in the process. But before going into detail, one shouldn’t dismiss the things that make this a worthy successor and a touching story despite its shortcomings.

Touching mature themes like racism as well as the dangers of science and religion is more prominent here than it was in the original. The dystopian world of robotic pets that can talk to their owners in times of need and government supervision isn’t far-fetched, while advanced technologies in mobile phones and virtual reality by the almighty WATI company make Stark look like a not-too-distant future. Arcadia might still offer dream-like, fairy-tale locations, but everything is clouded by the occupation of the Azadi who rule the city of Marcuria with a zealous hand, going so far to put magicals (people who practice it or creatures that aren’t human) out of business and into ghettos.

New and old characters in well-known places
The pacing suffers from too many storylines that are not even brought to a satisfying conclusion. Even if one disregards the fact that it would take over a decade and a Kickstarter campaign until Dreamfall Chapters would pick up most of the narrative strands, there is simply too much to digest in a 12 hour game with three playable characters. One has the chance to see through the eyes of Kian Alvane, an elite Azadi soldier who is sent to kill April Ryan, and finally the heroine of the first game as well.

Of course the idea behind making a man who was brought up with religious ideas and what he considers right suddenly realize that his faith isn’t without its problems is great, but there’s simply not enough time to develop the character and his sudden change of heart and mind. April’s portrayal is even worse, as she’s become a cynic because of her experiences after saving the world(s) and finding no place in either of them except for being a rebel against the Azadi system. The longer playtime is spent with Zoë, but even her interaction with other characters isn’t without clichés, as a sappy love story is pushed and rushed in, too.

It’s really too bad that all the main characters have potential with their interesting background stories, but they end up rather unlikable and difficult to relate to, which is even true for April Ryan. Only Crow is the same old bird with an attitude, although he’s not nearly as prominent or important as he was in the original. Speaking of the original, the worlds of Arcadia and Stark could always be considered as storytelling devices with so much back stories. Unfortunately, they’re only shadows of their former selves.

While there are still beautiful vistas in Arcadia and a tangible Dystopian atmosphere in Stark, every setting is so diminished with small areas to explore that one doesn’t feel the same sense of expansiveness, especially since much of the old game is recycled and there isn’t a lot new to see. It doesn’t help that there are too many loading screens when going from one place to another and that running through the same locations takes too long without a map or a quick travel function.

Talking and connecting
The Longest Journey wasn’t very accessible with its very long dialogues, and while Dreamfall tones things down a bit, some conversations still drag on. The writing is usually quite good, but it’s a shame that Zoe’s diary entries aren’t as deep as April’s were. This is a missed opportunity, as it would have made her a more fleshed out character. Instead many dialogues are full of religious and esoteric as well as scientific mumbo jumbo talk that makes some parts of the story even more obscure. Again it’s not really that talking to NPCs is annoying or pointless, it’s just that there isn’t enough time to get to know any of them to make them memorable. This is too bad, because despite all the story inconsistencies, the way how the storylines are brought together is well done, and even if there’s information overkill, one is motivated to continue playing in order to know how everything plays out.

Less puzzling, a bit of fighting, and more sneaking
Much has been written about the story, setting, and characters of the game, and one could get the impression that the gameplay is missing, which isn’t too far from the truth. The game is more like an interactive movie than a classic point-and-click adventure. The third-person perspective doesn’t necessarily mean that puzzles should be lacking, but the focus is definitely on the story, which means that many cutscenes follow another, while solving puzzles takes a backseat. Inventory object combinations as well as environmental interaction are still there, but these are nowhere near as engaging or imaginative as in the first game. This isn’t always bad when one progresses in the story without stumbling over illogical puzzles. Unfortunately, Funcom decided to incorporate elements that are superfluous, annoying, and ultimately damaging to the gameplay.

Stealth and fighting segments can challenge the player and create tension for the story if they’re done right as in The Walking Dead: Season 1, but if they’re as badly implemented as here, one can question the developer’s motivation behind it other than making the game more console-friendly. There’s no other explanation than justifying a battle system that’s broken and counter-intuitive. Third-person games aren’t the best when it comes to camera controls, but it’s even worse if collision detection doesn’t work and character movements are slow, not even taking into account that one has a better chance to win fights when cornering the opponent and not giving him or her a chance to fight back. As these fight scenes aren’t spectacular or add anything to the gameplay, they simply end up as unnecessary innuendos that are luckily easy to overcome.

Unfortunately the same can’t be said about the stealth scenes. They’re more frequent and almost reach the point of unfairness at some points. Walking behind creatures or running away from robots during puzzle segments is unforgivable, as it adds more frustration than tension. Hacking computer systems isn’t fun, either, because finding the right symbols on a changing screen with a tight time limit is another bad design decision to alienate both adventure and casual gamers who simply want to enjoy the story.

3D doesn’t always mean great
3D games don’t age very well and the same has happened with Dreamfall. While the weather effects with snow and rain in addition to convincing lighting and shadows still look good and some of the buildings’ architecture and textures are very detailed, the character models are lifeless, especially with some NPCs not even moving their lips when talking. The cutscenes are cinematic enough to hold up the illusion to play an interactive movie, but there are only very few impressive locations that work with the graphics engine.

Cinematic music and TV-show quality voices
The sound design fares much better, at least in the music department, with bombastic orchestral pieces as well as some dream-like ambient tunes. It might all sound a bit old Star Wars at times, but the soundtrack fits the cinematic presentation and creates more atmosphere than the graphics can. Regrettably, some pop songs are used to evoke either happy or sad emotions that come across as forced despite being of a high quality if one likes this kind of music. Voice acting could be better, too, as most of it sounds exaggerated and stilted, e.g. with Kian, making him an even less likeable character.

Epic only in scope, but not in execution
Dreamfall: The Longest Journey‘s biggest problem is that it builds an ambitious story that simply can’t deliver, especially with such a cliffhanger and too many characters left behind that could have made for a great adventure. It relies too heavily on the original story, making it difficult to understand for those who haven’t played it. At the same time its fan service is not enough to please puzzle lovers, as there’s not enough satisfying gameplay to make it as enjoyable as its predecessor. Adding frustrating and simply unnecessary combat and stealth scenes, it alienates even more people.

The plot development isn’t without its merits, and some of the writing is pretty good, but even for an interactive movie with great music, too many plot holes and too much talking leave a bad aftertaste. Compared to other adventure games, the world and its mature themes about scientific progress and racism is unique, but interest can only be held for so long until the player asks why the game couldn’t have been made without a sequel in mind.

Rating: 7/10

Buy the digital PC version 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 page :). Or FOLLOW the blog on EMR’s Twitter page.
Using the GOG or Amazon links and buying the product also helps ;).

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Game release: “Children of Zodiarcs” (PC,PS4)

If Kingsway was too experimental for you and Cosmic Star Heroine still too reliant on old JRPG systems, then Cardboard Utopia‘s Children of Zodiarcs might be the answer to your turn-based strategy RPG cravings.

Storywise, the game doesn’t tread new ground, following the adventures of a group of thieves who want to steal a priceless relic and instead are hunted down by city guards and other rival bandits. However, considering that the alumni of the newly formed company have had experience with games like Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, the Assassin’s Creed and FarCry series, there should be more than meets the eye at first glance. With a cast including Nahmi who was stolen from her homeland as a child, Brice who was forced to survive on the streets, and Zirchhoff who employs young orphans for his deeds, in addition to others, there’s enough potential to care for what is happening.

The battle system is a refreshing departure from what one is used to in turn-based strategy games, as it involves cards and dice rolling. Building decks with different character cards or winning them through battle as well as figuring out when to use one or two dices is as important as being aware of attack, defence, healing, and special ability modifiers. Inspirations like Final Fantasy Tactics, Shining Force or Magic: The Gathering are obvious, while the graphical style is quite beautiful, which is also true for the orchestral soundtrack. It’s no surprise that the involvement of Square Enix Collective which supports new developers further helped to bring this early access and Kickstarter project to life.

The game is now available on PC as well as on PS4 with a 10% discount that will last until July 25, 5 PM UTC. One can also buy the collector’s edition that includes the game’s digital soundtrack and a PDF artbook.

Buy the standard edition for PC on
GOG
Steam

Buy the collector’s edition 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 page :). Or FOLLOW the blog on EMR’s Twitter page.
Using the GOG links and buying the products also helps ;).

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Humble Bundle free game “Shadow Warrior: Special Edition”

Not everything in life is free, but at least Flying Wild Hog‘s bloody and humorous FPS Shadow Warrior: Special Edition is for a very limited time on the Humble Bundle store.

Originally I planned publishing another blog entry, but as this offer ends in 24 hours, I thought this deserves a short write-up. After having already covered the release of Shadow Warrior 2 and Shadow Warrior Classic Redux, this modern remake has always been on my wishlist, but I haven’t had time to actually get it.

The story is again just an excuse for brainless shooting and decapitating monsters and humans alike, as it’s about Zilla Enterprise’s corporate shogun Lo Wang who has to acquire a legendary blade of limitless power. Of course he’s betrayed and seeks revenge, taking on all sorts of demons with gun, blade, and magic. Slicing enemies apart with a katana and putting everyone and everything down with upgraded guns means that there’s enough bloodshed to paint the screen red, while mystical powers add a bit more strategy to proceedings. Staying true to the classic 3D Realms shooter, the protagonist delivers tongue-in-cheek one-liners to make the violent game more comic than serious, which can also be seen in the fun 80ies-music trailer.

The game comes with a special edition that includes the Serious Sam 3 sledgehammer and the Hotline Miami katana as weapons in addition to the digital artbook and the official soundtrack. Considering that this would currently cost around 45 Euros and you’ll get it all for free, don’t wait too long and simply get it before the offer expires. Don’t forget that you have to redeem your free Steam key by 10 AM Pacific Time on Saturday, August 5th, 2017.

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 page :). Or FOLLOW the blog on EMR’s Twitter page.

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Game release: “Kingsway” (PC)

RPGs don’t necessarily have to play out with the same old first-person or isometric in-game perspectives, as Andrew Morrish and Adult Swim GamesKingsway adds an operating system twist to the formula.

The concept sounds more than a little bit strange, but it gives a much-needed innovative spin to an otherwise conventional genre. A mock OS is used to manage one’s adventure. This means that enemies and traps are popups, backpacks are file folders where one organizes items, and quests are emails. Randomly generated levels and permadeath seem almost archaic in comparison, but then again this is an RPG at its heart with different characters and their own special skills to choose from. Slaying monsters is a given as well, while being good or evil by helping or murdering one’s fellow adventurers adds more variety to proceedings.

Defeating enemies and plundering dungeons for treasure in addition to completing quests sounds like your standard RPG, but the whole idea of switching between different windows under the illusion that everything takes place on the old-school desktop of a PC is genius, and even if graphics and sounds don’t win any awards, the simple style further helps to pull at one’s nostalgic computer role-playing experience heartstrings.

The game is out now for PC and even if there’s no discount launch, you should give this a go, as everything unusual sticking out of the me-too RPG indie crowd is worth investing in.

Buy the digital version 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 page :). Or FOLLOW the blog on EMR’s Twitter page.
Using the GOG link and buying the product also helps ;).

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