Classic adventuring: “Sam & Max Hit the Road” (PC)

Note: This review was written in cooperation with Future Sack editor Annagram.

LucasArts’ comic adventure game Sam & Max Hit the Road still stands the test of time as one of the funniest and weirdest games.

Sam & Max Hit the Road (PC)
(USA 1993, developer/publisher: LucasArts (defunct), platform: PC)

A wise-cracking dog and violent rabbit as the Freelance Police investigate the disappearance of a yeti from a carnival fair.

Comic book anarchy
The original comic book series of Steve Purcell who also participated in the design of this game was already full of anarchic humor, strange personalities and episodes that had their own weird inherent logic. Sam & Max Hit the Road captures everything perfectly. The story is bonkers and engaging enough, mixing detective work with road trip comedy, and the people or creatures the infernal duo meet are just as crazy as the unlikely heroes themselves. The script is funny, the dialogues are witty, and the plot is unique, silly, and surreal like the locations Sam and Max visit.

Road trip madness
Featuring the world’s largest ball of twine, a vortex controlled by giant subterranean magnets that makes one’s head spin with all kinds of strange perceptions of reality, and bungee jumping from Mount Rushmore are only a few examples of how the game parodies the USA’s sightseeing tours. Country music and carnival people are also made fun of, and there’s a very cool twist on the misconception of yetis. All in all, one doesn’t only follow a story that offers quite a few surprises, but also discovers one memorable setting after another.

Violent fun
Of course the main characters carry the weight of humor most of the time. It’s certainly not for the squeamish, because comic violence abounds, especially with the way how Max handles things, e.g. pulling a paper out of a cat’s mouth or constantly commenting on how he’d like to rough up people and destroy things. Sam might seem more contemplative, and his one-liners that don’t always make sense are great, so the interaction between the two is spot-on funny. Slapstick comedy and well-written dialogues are what makes it a joy to listen to every conversation, even if it doesn’t necessarily progress the plot.

Puzzling adventure
Being able to visit so many places that unlock on a map by finding clues or talking to people doesn’t come without its problems. As hints of what to do next are non-existent and one usually finds objects in one place and has to use them in another without knowing it, remembering where everything and everyone is becomes rather difficult. Goals aren’t always clear and the use of items is as obscure as the world Sam and Max traverse. Overlooking important objects or even access to additional screens is also a constant with so many details in the background and no signposting, so trial and error with pixel hunting becomes the norm rather than the exception. This isn’t made any easier with the controls that sometimes fail to register when one wants to pick up or look at objects. The puzzles themselves are admittedly fun and unique with solutions that usually defy normal logic, but are well integrated in plot development. Using Max in some scenes and timed sequences ramp up the difficulty at times, though.

Time for some mini-games
If one gets stuck or simply wants a time-out from all the puzzle solving, one can indulge in some optional mini-games. Except for an essential whack-a-rat and alligator golf scene, there are various games one can buy at one of the various petrol stations. Car bomb plays like the classic Battleship game, so one has to guess where the opponents’ cars are parked and tries to destroy them before the other does is. Using special bombs or placing trampolines that can throw back bombs to the opponent’s table adds to the fun and frustration. Less than a game and more than a distraction is the Dress-Up Book that is simply about putting both characters into the most ridiculous outfits, while the Paint-By-Numbers Book makes the player splash all kinds of colors on cartoon pages. Another game that isn’t essential for progressing the story and can’t be bought is Hiway Surfin in which Sam drives the car and Max has to evade street signs by either jumping over or ducking under them.

Comic(al) looks and sounds
The game still looks great thanks to its impeccable comic book art direction and fun animations. Each screen is full of color and all kinds of small details, while the human characters are drawn as over-the-top weird caricatures of real life, with more strange creatures adding to the surreal atmosphere. The classic jazz music is complemented with catchy synth tunes as well as a few country folk songs which are all pretty cool to listen to. The same holds true for the very good voice acting in which each character simply sounds right.

A well-remembered classic
Despite being over 25 years old, Sam & Max has lost none of its appeal. Thanks to the well-drawn characters and backgrounds, very good soundtrack and voice acting, its presentation is as good as a comic adaptation can get. Despite only having a short playtime of 4-5 hours, there are enough mind-bending puzzles, crazy locations to visit, people to talk to which make playing through it a joy. The story is uniquely weird even today and the main characters remain as iconic as when they were first put on paper and then screen. Even if one will often be frustrated with some puzzles and the timed sequences, one will always remember this road trip as one of the best in gaming history.

Score: 8.5/10

Buy the digital PC version on
GOG

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

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 ;).

Advertisements
Posted in Game reviews, Gaming | Leave a comment

Sci-fi adventure gaming: “The Dig” (PC)

Note: This review was written in cooperation with Future Sack editor Annagram.

LucasArts was known for their comedy adventure games, but The Dig turned out to be a much more serious sci-fi affair.

The Dig (PC)
(USA 1995, developer/publisher: LucasArts (defunct), platform: PC)

A large asteroid is on collision course with Earth, and when a group of specialists try to prevent the catastrophe with a bomb on the surface of it, they’re suddenly pulled into an alien world.

A story not from this world and time
The original story was written by filmmaker Steven Spielberg, but it was thought to be too expensive and too ambitious to put on the big screen. After a prolonged time of development and various changes in concept, it was finally turned into an adventure game with quite a few narrative changes. What remains is a classic sci-fi story about exploring a new world, including all sorts of strange phenomena, and a crew that doesn’t only struggle with the hardships of this strange new and dangerous place, but also with their own personalities that soon turns into more than just arguments. The team comprised of the practical Commander Boston Low, the rather condescending German archaeologist and geologist Dr. Ludger Brink, and the more emotionally involved linguistics expert and reporter Maggie Robbins is the perfect starting point for involving the player in sympathizing with them. The dialogues are mostly well-written, although some of the humor feels forced. It’s certainly not a comedy adventure, and some of the witty remarks with dry humor work, but there are a few instances when certain comments simply feel out of place in more serious situations.

An alien world to explore
The alien world is big in scope and ambition, taking the concept of open world as far as a classic point-and-click adventure game can go. Without spoiling too much, suffice to say that it’s a perfect place to evoke wonder and invite curiosity by making the player unravel its mysteries. There is even an alien language that provides background information and clues to solve the puzzles. The more one progresses in the story with its various unexpected twists and turns, the more the alien world opens up, making it often difficult to remember all the locations. Without any map and puzzles that require constant backtracking, this can be rather overwhelming. But it also creates an immersive atmosphere by letting the player feel as if everything is strange and new, with only slowly discovering more and more of it. Being able to travel with a unique underground tram system only adds to the feeling of being just a small part in a world one gradually begins to understand.

The story is still amazing to experience today. While people being stranded on an alien planet and trying to communicate with its life forms is as old as the sci-fi genre itself, it’s just done in a very subtle way. Pulling the player in with just enough clues, building up to a climax and turning into something much more epic is testament to the high quality of writing. Admittedly, the game can become rather text-heavy on exposition in the latter stages, but overall it remains a wonderful, scary, and also quite emotional journey due to some surprisingly brutal scenes for a LucasArts adventure game, as it doesn’t shy away from blood and violence. Two different endings, depending on specific choices one makes before, is also a very nice way of rewarding other approaches, although what these are can only be surmised afterwards.

Strange puzzle beings
Despite the huge world one traverses, one usually knows what to do, often with various goals to achieve. One is slowly introduced to each new location, as one first needs specific staffs that show symbols for doors one has to open, showcasing the great mix of linear progression without taking the freedom of exploration away from the player. The puzzles are varied and logical for most of the time, but items can be easily overlooked and the solutions aren’t immediately obvious. Fortunately one doesn’t carry around too many objects and their combinations aren’t too obscure. Only a planet system and a very annoying fit-together-the-right-pieces-of-a-skeleton puzzle are bad exceptions to the rule of logical thinking. The aforementioned alien language gives clues with images, but these are rather cryptic, so that trial-and-error moments rear their ugly heads at times. Triggering certain story events is also frustrating, as one soon checks every screen for items or clues, only to find out that something happened somewhere else and one needs to be there in order to progress the story.

Classic presentation with timeless audio
The pixel art style is still nice to look at. Even if it’s not always easy to make out some objects, each background is full of small details, often with impressive depth which creates vistas that are alien and beautiful at the same time. Despite having low-res sprites, the characters’ facial expressions and movements are enough to carry most of the more emotional scenes. The cut-scenes might be pixelated, but the hand-drawn animation pieces are great all the same.

The other-worldly atmosphere is further enhanced by a fantastic soundtrack that is as moody but also as distinctive as the best of sci-fi movies. Not simply copying pieces as from the Alien movies, but presenting something unique, the musical score jumps between emotions of curious exploring to foreboding horror, sadness, and even awe-inspiring wonder. Combining synthesizers as well as the sounds of wind, rocks falling, and alien creature sounds, the music is the perfect accompaniment to a unique sci-fi experience. Very good voice acting complements the positive experience, with well-known actor Robert Patrick (of Terminator 2 fame) being Commander Low, but also other characters doing their roles justice.

A classic sci-fi adventure in the best sense of the word
The Dig is one of those rare games that is successful in creating a unique atmosphere, telling a great story with memorable characters, while still offering enough interesting gameplay for adventure game fans. Despite only taking around 8 hours to complete, one won’t feel that it should be a longer game. It’s just the right amount of puzzle solving, exploration and NPC talk. Even if it has its flaws in forced humor, some trial-and-error passages and constant backtracking, this is a sci-fi game that won’t be forgotten and has to be played by anyone who thinks LucasArts only did comedy adventures. It’s also further proof that games can tell stories that are as impressive to play as they’re immersive to read and to watch.

Score: 9/10

Buy the digital PC version on
GOG
Steam

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

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 ;).

Posted in Game reviews, Gaming | Leave a comment

GOG release: “Remothered: Tormented Fathers”

Stormind Games‘ and Darril Arts‘ survival horror game Remothered: Tormented Fathers brings the scare factor back to GOG.

Being a huge fan of survival horror titles and especially the Clock Tower series I unfortunately haven’t had time to review yet, I consider this game to be everything one would want from that genre. Originally released in January of this year, it has been in development for quite some time, but it seems to have been worth it. Running and hiding from all kinds of sick people and monsters might not be for everyone, but from the first looks of it, this title has nailed the formula of weirdness.

The story is about 35-year old Rosemary Reed who wants to find out what happened to a girl called Celeste. Her investigation leads her to Dr. Richard Felton’s house where the nurse Gloria is anything but kind to her, and the real horror related to some very gruesome murders starts. In a way everything is very reminiscent in style of the not-so-well-known Rule of Rose, a game that received more than its fair share of bad publicity due to the portrayal of child abuse by children themselves. While this doesn’t happen here, the trailer doesn’t shy away from disturbing imagery. But as the Clock Tower games also frightening and disgusting at times, this doesn’t seem to veer too far away from the formula. A mix of puzzle solving and stealth in gameplay and a cinematic presentation further add the feeling of experiencing something familiar and new alike. But be warned, as the system requirements are quite high for this title.

Remothered: Tormented Fathers is now available DRM-free on GOG with a 50% launch discount that will last until July 13, 1pm UTC. The soundtrack as well as artbook can be purchased, too.

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 ;).

Posted in Game release news, Gaming | Leave a comment

GOG release: “Conarium”

Zoetrope Interactive and Iceberg Interactive‘s first-person Lovecraftian horror adventure game Conarium is ready to scare GOG gamers.

Somehow, despite all my love for horror and especially indie titles, this game passed me by unnoticed, which is extremely weird, considering that I’m a big fan of everything connected to H.P. Lovecraft’s writing. Maybe it had something to do with Darkness Within, two classic first-person adventure titles I didn’t play because of my problems with this sort of moving-screen-by-screen gameplay. But as it seems, the developer’s newest title is anything but ordinary and quite frightful even after one year of its original PC Steam and console release.

The title refers to a device that apparently let people go beyond the limits of human consciousness. Being part of the Upuaut expedition conducted by Dr. Faust, the player takes the role of Frank Gilman, a member of the Anthropology Department in the Miskatonic University, who wakes up and finds himself alone in the Antarctic expedition base. Without any memories, one soon discovers that one died and returned somewhat changed, with weird memorable of even weirder places. It all sounds wonderfully morbid and grotesque, and it’s no coincidence that Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness served as inspiration. Only now one takes the initiative by studying clues, unlocking secrets, experiencing alternate realities, but also avoiding macabre beings roaming the expedition base.

Conarium is now available DRM-free on GOG with a 50% launch discount that will last until July 13, 1pm UTC. The soundtrack can also be bought separately. For me it seems to be high time to do a Lovecraftian gaming (and movie) special sometime in the very near future…

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 ;).

Posted in Game release news, Gaming | Leave a comment

Game release: “Thaumistry: In Charm’s Way” (PC,Android)

Classic adventure game developer Bob Bates returns with his new comic sci-fi/fantasy text adventure Thaumistry: In Charm’s Way.

Despite having covered quite a few text adventure releases like Eric the Unready or Spellcasting 1+2+3, the genre still hasn’t received the attention it deserves in the grand scheme of gaming history. Bob Bates is one of those people one should know, as he started out with Infocom that did the Zork games and was later involved in Legend Entertainment titles that were just as influential. He rightly received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Game Developers Association and was selected as the IGDA’s 2010 Person of the Year. So it’s clear that his newest work shouldn’t go unnoticed, as can already be seen in the tongue-in-cheek trailer with the adventure game stars Al Lowe and Tim Schafer.

Thaumistry: In Charm’s Way is one of those rare cases of adventure games where the story premise itself is already enough to pique people’s interest. It’s about Eric Knight who only invented an anti-stain chemical treatment, but wasn’t very successful. Now living in New York, strange things are happening around him with everything he touches or passes by. Visited by a stranger who tells him that he’s a Bodger changes his life, as this sort of people can channel magic into the world, but it often ends up in catastrophes, so it’s up to him to learn how to cope with his ability and also stop another inventor who wants to see the end of the world with a thaumeter.

This all sounds wonderful and silly, and even if it’s old-school text adventure reading and solving puzzles, the game has been made with newcomers to the genre in mind as well. There’s a spoiler-free, context-sensitive hint system, an in-game map, even a screen reader-friendly (NVDA) option for visually-impaired players. Steam Cloud save games and an advanced parser additionally serve as a modern update of Interactive Fiction, while the Digital CyberFeelies are reminiscent of classic text adventures, too. The game is available now for PC and Android systems, but will also receive an iOS version soon.

Buy the game for PC on
Steam

Buy the mobile version of the game on
Google play

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.

Posted in Game release news, Gaming | Leave a comment