If you aren't aware of the Humble Indie Bundle, basically, every so often they get a bunch of cool indie games and offer them as a bundle for the low, low price of "whatever", with the proceeds going to the developers and/or charity, depending on how you choose. Yes, you can even buy all the games for 1 cent, if you're so inclined (read: a cunt). They've done a few of these in the past, and the one currently going on for the next fortnight is the fifth major bundle (they've done a few smaller ones before, the Frozenbyte bundle, Botanicula bundle, etc). This one is, without a doubt, the best bundle yet, by far: Bastion, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Psychonauts, LIMBO and Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP and all of their respective soundtracks. Since these are games I all own and have played at least a little bit, I figured I might as well write about how awesome (well, mostly) they all are.

Bastion

The game is absolutely stunning.

Bastion is the first on the list, and is the prize if you beat the average price. That is, if you choose to pay less than the average of what everybody else is paying (which is $7.50 at time of writing) then you only get the other four games. Bastion, however, if worth that price alone, net least with the other four games thrown in as well.

Bastion is made by Supergiant Games, a seven-man development team. One notable member is Greg Kasavin, a dude who you may remember as being an editor for GameSpot, back in the pre-Gerstmanngate days when GameSpot was cool. The game is mostly an action RPG, although the combat is a little more action-yer and the RPGing a little less RPG-yer than games such as Diablo that share the same genre name. The story focuses "the Kid" who wakes up to his world ravaged by "the Calamity", with the entire thing narrated by "Rucks", a kindly old man with a Southern twang who you meet at the titular Bastion, "the place everybody agreed to go in case of trouble".

Bastion is a game I have a massive amount of love for. In fact, it was my favourite game of 2011. Everything the game does, it does flawlessly. The story, focusing mainly on the small, but fully fleshed cast of characters is fantastic, with just enough lore sprinkled throughout to not give away everything there is to known about the game's universe, but more than enough to leave me wanting to see more. Logan Cunningham's voice work is quite simply fantastic. The gorgeous hand-painted artwork, along with the staggering amount of variety in the game's locales is enough to make sure the game never becomes boring to look at. The soundtrack by Darren Korb, a complete genre mish-mash containing everything from Southern to hip-hop, is absolutely outstanding, and is one of the few video game soundtracks I often listen to on it's own. And the gameplay, which may seem somewhat shallow at the outset, has a vast amount of customisation, with a ton of new weapons introduced through the entire game (even up to the very last level) which each have their very own distinct playstyle. Bastion may not be completely innovative, but what it does, it does perfectly.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent

Alright. I'm gonna be up front with you: I don't do scary games. Like, at all. I've barely made it through the first chapter of Dead Space, a game that's considered by horror aficionados to not be very good horror (since it's mostly jump-scares). But it's not just games, I don't like horror movies either. I'm just a total pansy when it comes to horror in general. So the fact that, according to Steam, I've played Amnesia for 97 minutes is quite the accomplishment for me.

NOPE NOPE

It happened last Hallowe'en. A bunch of friends decided that it would be a good idea of a bunch of us played the game on Hallowe'en night and livestreamed it. We did it in "full experience mode", that is, no light apart from the shine from your computer monitor and headphones. To say this game is scary is an understatement. It's downright terrifying.

The thing with Amnesia is, that the game understands that having monsters show up all over the place (a-la Dead Space) isn't particularly scary. It's what you don't see that's the scary part. Hell, you probably won't even see a monster at all during the first half-our or so.

Oh, and there's no combat. You can't fight back.

Amnesia's main gameplay mechanics are light and sanity. When you spend time in the dark, you slowly go insane, which makes your vision all blurry and wobbly and stuff, and you eventually die. So, staying in the light is a good thing. Except when there are monsters a-prowling. And this is where Amnesia really brings it home with the tension: you have to actively put yourself into a harmful situation in order to avoid danger. There's nothing quite so tense and terrifying as crouching in a dark, disgusting corner, hoping, praying that monster shuffling past doesn't see you and bite your balls off, all the while slowly going insane, because you're in the dark. And even when you're not in complete darkness, even when there's no monsters about, you can always hear something. The ambient noises in this game are incredible. Incredibly terrifying. You heard a monster in the distance. Is he around the corner, or is he six rooms away? Well, you're going to find out anyway, because you need to turn that corner to get to your goal.

The incredible atmosphere and gameplay that forces you to put yourself into dangerous situations in which you simply can't defend yourself is what makes this game completely, utterly scary, in every sense of the word. To me, anyway. We've already established I don't do horror, so your mileage may vary. But it is considered to be one of the scariest games available today.

I can't wait to not play the sequel.

Psychonauts

Doors to people's minds. Yup.

Psychonauts is a weird, weird game. To be fair though, you'd expect no less from Tim Schafer's Double Fine, the company that has since brought you games where you traverse a world inspired by heavy metal album covers and play as a Russian matryoshka doll where you stack into other dolls to gain their powers. Psychonauts is a platforming game that follows the adventure of Razputin "Raz" Aquato, who ran away from the circus to join a summer camp where children train to become Psychonauts. A key aspect of gameplay is entering and traversing people's minds and dealing with their emotional baggage. Literally. Their emotion baggage manifests as suitcases. You can't make this shit up.

Apart from that, I can't speak very much about the game, as I haven't played terribly much of it, little over an hour. However, it is the general consensus that it is a good game and you should buy it and play it. Even Yahtzee loves it. YAHTZEE. GAMES ARE NOT GENERALLY NOT THINGS HE LIKES.

Seriously though, the hour or so I have played has been pretty fantastic, and I fully plan to go back and play through the rest of the game (it's on my backlog), and I generally love most of anything that Tim Schafer is involved in.

LIMBO

You don't many black and white games.

Limbo is a 2D side-scrolling puzzle platformer with a pretty distinctive art-style. There aren't very many games that look at all like Limbo, though the aesthetic isn't the only things that the game has going for it. The game is incredibly atmospheric, though it isn't particularly scary, so if Amnesia isn't your thing, Limbo is very much something you can play. Unless you don't like spiders. There are spiders. Big spiders.

So while the game is a platformer with a cutesy protagonist, this isn't necessarily a family-friendly game. You die. Violently. In fact, one of the first gruesome deaths you're likely to experience comes at the hands (or rather legs) of the aforementioned giant spider, as he stabs you with one leg and decapitates you with another.  Between death-by-spider, falling to your death and a gruesome end via a bear-trap, Limbo is a pretty gruesome game. And you will die, a lot. A lot of the puzzles require you to die in order to suss out the solutions, so essentially a form of trial-and-error gameplay, though not really in a form that's particularly frustrating. It definitely feels intentional as opposed to the result of bad game design.

Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP

The weirdly titled Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery (that's not a typo, by the way) is a point-and-click adventure game designed by Superbrothers and developed by Capabara Games (of Critter Crunch fame) with it's soundtrack composed by Jim Guthrie. From a gameplay standpoint, it's a little light, even for a point-and-click game. At least, it's more about interacting with the environment to solve puzzles as opposed to using collectable inventory items. This is probably due to the fact the game was originally an iOS-only game that was released last year, only having recently made the switch over to the PC, so with that in mind, the gameplay makes total sense.

The game also has a pretty great retro art-style.

The game is made up of a number of "sessions", each of which are about 30 minutes or so in length and the game actively encourages you to take a break between sessions. That alone is something I've never experienced in a game: the game itself actively encouraging you not to blitz through the game in a short amount of time. There's also some really weird/cool thing the game does involving the phases of the moon. Not entirely sure what that entails though, since I've only completed the first two sessions (of four).

Obviously, a large part about adventure games is the story and dialogue, and this is probably the part of the game that's the most polarizing. The game's dialogue is somewhat... eccentric. It doesn't take itself very seriously at all, and breaks the fourth wall liberally. Most notably, each line of dialogue is under 140 characters long, and the game has optional Twitter integration. I'll leave it at that.

One thing that most definitely needs to be mentioned about the game though, is the music. Guthrie's soundtrack is absolutely amazing. Along with Bastion's OST, Sworcery's OST (titled Sword & Sworcery LP - The Ballad of the Space Babies) it is one of the few game soundtracks that I listen to often outside of the context of the game. In the case of Sworcery though, the music is a very integral part of the game, it's an absolute core part of the experience. The combat (yeah, this is an adventure game with combat and it's actually not too bad) is very rhythmic, the music is completely intertwined with everything else in the game. It is very much something that is worth experiencing. The first major boss battle is breathtaking.

So there you have it. My thoughts on each of the games featured in the latest Humble Bundle. Each of them is a game that's worth playing, and at this price it isn't a good deal, it's downright theft. Plus, you get all the soundtracks included as well. Incredible. I may do more posts like these for any future bundles, or I might not. It'll depend mostly on my familiarity of the games included, it just so happened I had a least a little bit of experience with each game in this one.

Heads up, this post contains some spoilers towards the end. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Diablo III was a game that I was terribly excited for, but by all rights, I shouldn't have been. My previous Diablo experience consists of approximately one hour of Diablo II. Early this year, I managed to pick up a brand new, sealed copy (in the big box!) for £10. That's a tenner I'm perfectly happy to have spent, even if I didn't get much out of the game itself. I like having physical copies of games, and obtaining a nice collection of old, big-boxed PC games is something I want to achieve. So even if Diablo II hadn't grabbed me quite as much as it's successor has, it's no big deal to me, because I still got a perfectly conditioned copy of a classic PC game to add to my collection.

I'm not sure why I couldn't get into Diablo II. I think it's because, to me anyway, it feels distinctly dated, from a graphical perspective. Now, from my previous post, you'll know that 2D art is something I think generally ages pretty well. But Diablo II, in my opinion, falls into that category of 2D art that does age badly: pseudo-3D. Diablo II isn't a 3D game. But it almost looks like one. It's not polygonal, but it uses detailed and complex 2D sprites along with the fixed camera perspective to produce an image that looks 3D. And sure, at the time, the game looked pretty amazing, but like all early 3D games, it doesn't age anywhere near as well as more traditional 2D art. So, this fake 3D look, coupled with the 4:3 ratio and low resolutions typical of a game from 2000, it doesn't hold up as well 12 years later. In my opinion of course. Diablo II remains to this day an immensely popular title that many swear by. I just never had the pleasure of playing it in it's prime.

Diablo III however, is a different story. That game just came out. It's prime is now. Okay, maybe not right now, especially after the... spotty launch that Blizzard suffered through. But this is a game I'm very much able to play and enjoy during it's most active years. Hopefully, anyway. Whether or not I continue to play a game long after release usually depends on how many of my friends are also currently playing. Saying that however, I've had a lot more fun than I was expecting playing the game on my own. The gameplay is sufficiently addicting. The combat is great, and the notion that you might just get a totally sweet new piece of gear after you beat this big enemy does a great job of keeping you playing.

In regards to the gameplay, the major change they've made since Diablo II is the way that the skill system works. Previously, you dumped points into your various attributes (strength, dexterity, etc) and you had various abilities that you switched between with hotkeys and could also put points into to strengthen them. Now, the point-dumping is gone, which to me is a good thing. Having to micro-manage and spend points on abilities and attributes is, for me, one of my least favourite things about RPGs. In regards to character abilities, you now have a WoWesque hotbar on which you place abilities, each of which can be casted by consuming your classes' equivalent of mana and some of them also have a cooldown before you can use them again. The deeper customisation comes in the form of Runes, which are essentially modifiers, which change how your main ability works. As an example, one of the Barbarian's main attacks is Cleave, where he swings his weapon, hitting everything in front of him. The first Rune you unlock for this ability makes it so that each enemy killed by this attack explodes, dealing even more damage to enemies around it. Couple this with the unfortunately well-hidden Elective Mode, which allows you to pick and place your abilities as you choose, allows for a truly staggering amount of depth in the character customisation. The fears people had about customisation not being as deep as previous games due to the lack of allocating skill points are completely unfounded here.

Let's talk a little bit about the story though, as it's in my opinion the weakest area of the game. Granted, I don't have much experience with previous Diablo games, but even with that in mind, the general storytelling in the game was just pretty weak overall. Also, heads-up: Spoilers.

Read the rest of this entry »

So hey there, if you've been here before, you'll probably notice that everything looks a little different. I initially launched this blog using a pre-made WordPress theme. It'd been a number of years since I'd done any real coding of any kind, so I would've rather launched the blog and get some content out first, before worrying about making a theme a little more personal. Content is the most important thing about a blog, after all.

I started working on it weeks ago, but finally got my finger out and made it into a proper WordPress theme over the past couple nights. I'm reasonably happy with how it turned out. Doesn't have some of the more fancy WordPress features, like widgets, but I don't really need them for what I'm trying to do here. I'm also thinking of maybe adding an alternate, darker, colour scheme. My heavy usage of Giant Bomb has led to me to becoming accustomed to white-on-black, as opposed to the more traditional black-on-white. The former is better late at night as well, which is when I seem to spend the majority of my time reading online. Shouldn't be too hard to implement, with the exception of the subtle background pattern, there's no images to change, it's all CSS. An old blog I had a few years back had a style switcher as well, so I might even be able to just copypaste over some code.

If you find anything wrong, leave a comment on this post, shoot me an email, or hit me up on Twitter. I don't want to have to do too many short update posts on here, so normal service will be resumed shortly.

In other news, myself and three of my online-e-buddies made a podcast on Friday. We originally made one about a year or so ago that ran for about eight episodes, before it kind of fell by the wayside. We finally got our acts together and did something about it. So, check out the GAEMZCAST, hopefully every Friday/Saturday-ish. We haven't gotten a proper schedule sorted out yet. The idea was that the podcast would accompany GAEMZNET, a website myself and my e-mates were planning a while back. Articles, reviews, video content, that sort of thing. Obviously, that hasn't worked out yet, and isn't likely to anytime soon, so for now at least, the GAEMZCAST is it's own thing.