Saturday, 12 April 2014

The Secret of Monkey Island (1990, VGA version)

I apologise for the GIFs, I may have gone slightly overboard with them.

The Secret of Monkey Island is the first in an adventure game series beloved by almost all adventure game fans. I am no exception, and even though I have played through the game many times I was still more than happy to play it again.
Really? You look more like a flooring inspector.

Wouldn't we all like to know.

Speak for yourself.

Trickster, over at The Adventure Gamer, is currently playing his way through so I thought I'd join him. No doubt he will be quite detailed in his journey through the game so I would highly recommend you go and read his words!

Getting fired
I have no words

It's not hard to see the attraction of the game, a pirate-themed comedy adventure starring a hapless and yet affable man by the name of Guybrush Threepwood. His quest is simple, to become a mighty pirate! Of course it's not that simple, and his initial trials lead him on a journey of mystery, danger and rescue.
Don't we all
There's much I love about the game, but the main focus for me has always been Governor Elaine Marley. She's the love-interest, but much more of an interesting character than Guybrush. As the Governor of the pirate-haven that is Mêlée Island™, she comes across as confident and self-sufficient. After Elaine is captured by LeChuck, Guybrush rushes into action, and yet is always a step behind the Ghost Pirate. When he finally does catch up, all he does is disrupt the existing plans of Elaine, but of course manages to save the day despite his inept handling of the situation.

Training with... THE MACHINE
An example of recurrent fourth wall breaking

As much as a few hours work and thirty pieces-of-eight counts as training, anyway.
Taking on The Sword Master

She shows up in subsequent games too, but I do feel like the character never quite gets enough to do, or enough to say. It's one of the few flaws of an otherwise thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining game.
Terrible winged devil!

Super-salesman Stan!

Second-hand ships, low prices for a reason.

Such flaws are of course minor issues, there's really very little about the game to dislike. I could mention things like the need to wander back-and-forth between locations and how it comes across as needless padding, but those sort of issues plague so many games that it would be unduly harsh to single out Monkey Island for it.
A little dig at Sierra here
Just an average day then.

Meeting the friendly Monkey Island™ Cannibals.
I must admit to not being the biggest fan of the insult sword-fighting, something which the game is famous for. The general mechanism is good, and the need to adapt your responses for the Sword Master is fantastic. Perhaps it is merely a result of replaying it multiple times, but the humour of the insults is a lot weaker than the rest of the game and so that particular section can feel a bit of a slog when you have to fight so many pirates to acquire the right phrases.
The only way to navigate the hellish maze: by getting a head.

Even the inventory colour changes when you enter Hell
LeChuck's ghost ship! (How is the ship a ghost? Voodoo something I bet)
The biggest flaw in my eyes (or should I say ears) is the periods of silence during the game. This is a problem with the time at which the game was produced, and yet it stands out when played today. The music that does exist is brilliant, but that makes the silence in-between even more apparent. There's a lack of of ambient sound too, and it's a real shame. The recent remake added in a bit more on the sound front, including full voice acting, which I seem to recall getting a mixed but generally positive reaction from fans of the series.
Is this a rescue? Or am I just in the way (I think it's the latter)
That's one heck of a punch...
It really sends you flying!
Finally, I must give massive credit for the creation of possibly the greatest adventure game antagonist, the fearsome Pirate Captain LeChuck. He terrorises the Caribbean throughout the series, in various forms both undead and demonic. His brash, arrogant nature and never-stay-dead attitude are a nice contrast from well-meaning, bumbling fool Guybrush. All of the "Meanwhile..." sequences he stars in throughout the games are a particular highlight of mine.

Who you gonna call?
I'm sure LeChuck will bother us no more!

So there passes the first chapter in the life of Guybrush Threepwood, but it shall be a little while before the second is undertaken by The Adventure Gamer (and also my replay). The second game remains my firm favourite in both the Monkey Island series and also the entire Lucasarts/LucasFilm Games catalogue. More on that another day!

Happily ever after, and a little advice for the player.
I think I will.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Dishonored: Knife of Dunwall

Dishonored is one of my favourite games of recent years. It had a brilliant blend of mechanics and aesthetics borrowed from the likes of Bioshock, Thief 2 and Half-Life 2. Few games capture my interest so much that I replay them in their entirety, which I decided to do before delving into the DLC.
The crime that eclipsed all that had come before

My replay of the game focused on non-lethal, "ghost" runs throughout the game, which I generally managed outside of two levels (avoiding assassins is particularly tricky). The changes in the game from such a "low chaos" playthrough are minor, except for the final level and ending, but I enjoyed the different challenge and reacquainting myself with Dunwall and it's residents was very welcome.

The chaos, in part caused by Daud

What set the game apart for me is the focus on mechanics and gameplay. The game is built around your character having a set of tools (both mundane and magical) to accomplish his tasks. The levels are filled with alternative routes and little environmental details which sometimes require two or more playthroughs to see. Never did I feel that the narrative got in the way of the game, and having your actions reflect in the tone and content of the final stages of the game was very well done.

Wanted men

In an age where we have the ability to purchase so many games for such low prices during Steam sales or Humble bundles and the like, it can be easy to build a list of games which one will never play. The time required to get through such a backlog can seem insurmountable, and replaying a game can seem like a waste when new games loom into view. Dishonored is a game which I am glad to revisit, and would heartily recommend anyone to play it to completion twice.

Whale, Whale, Whale, what do we have here?

With this in mind, I was eager to see if the DLC could live up to the main game, and retain the magic that has me praising it so much. The first: The Knife of Dunwall, which puts you in the shoes of the infamous master assassin Daud: Killer of Empress Jessamine.

And soon, the whole factory

The game begins with the usual cutscenes, the Outsider, and a repeat of the killing of the Empress. The assassination is from Daud's point of view, which is a nice touch, but you are a mere spectator which is a little frustrating. I wanted to get back into the action, but the beginning is a little slow.

The Delilah, a whaling ship and so much more

During this introduction, you are told of "Delilah" by the Outsider. Somehow her life is intertwined with yours, and the crisis that the city faces. It's up to you to track this person down, and to discover what link she has to everything that is going on in your city and your life. Perhaps tracking her down can bring redemption for your actions in killing the Empress.

Enhanced Eyes (Void Gaze in this DLC)

Much as it is in the main game, the main plot arc is a little lightweight. It's an excuse for the usual thievery, sneaking, fighting, and so on that makes this game so enjoyable. The environmental storytelling is much better, every location having it's own feel. The grimy industrial whaling slaughterhouse is a wonderful contrast from the relatively clean and upper-class Legal District.

Delilah, self-portrait

The missions themselves are large, sprawling areas that allow you to traverse them in a number of ways. As with the main campaign, the game can be completed without killing if you so choose, and your chaos score (high or low) impacts upon the following DLC: The Brigmore Witches (to what end, I do not know, but it's the next game on my list!).

A target, for information and for justice

There are a few changes to the tools available to the master assassin, and your main powers, compared to Corvo. Some of these changes are more welcome than others, but certainly I didn't miss Devouring Swarm or Windblast which were amusing but of limited use. There is slightly more focus on stealth-related abilities over a gung-ho approach, but sometimes it requires quite a lot of patience not to start killing rather than choking or avoiding your adversaries. I still find Blink to be the most useful power available, and didn't bother using some of the available powers or equipment at all.

The Flooded District, and Daud's lair

Summon Assassin was a strange choice indeed, something only for combat encounters really. For anyone wishing to complete the game without such incidents the power seems rather useless. I would have preferred a bigger part for Billy Lurk, your faithful assistant assassin, perhaps even allowing for some cooperation at times.
Plans, past and present.

My real disappointment with the DLC is it's length, it felt very short, even with the amount of exploration available. There are only really three missions, and I suppose they could be completed quite quickly if you were of that disposition. The ending also leads directly into the next DLC: The Brigmore Witches, and I can't help but feel it might have been better to have released both DLC as a single expansion pack.
The Overseers attack

I would definitely recommend the DLC for any fan of Dishonored, I fully enjoyed the extra missions and the extension of the game. What I'm really looking for is a full sequel though, which I hope the success of the game has warranted. What the DLC (so far) has demonstrated is that the team behind the game are more than capable of creating more wonderful environments in this world, and the mechanics are just as interesting through a different character. Wherever they decide to go with the series, I hope it works out.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Playing Along: King's Quest I (SCI remake, 1990)

Today's trip down memory lane takes us back to King's Quest, and Sir Graham's first adventure to save the kingdom of Daventry.

New graphics and sound, but enough improvement?

Remakes these days are common and often derided, but this was probably the first proper remake I'd ever played. King's Quest had been an early hit for Sierra On-Line, and spawned several sequels, and as well as this remake there are a few fan-made remakes and continuing adventures. It's not often regarded as the best series that Sierra made, but it is not without it's fans.

Getting your quest from the King: Find the three lost treasures

The adventures of Sir/King Graham and his family always tend to take their storylines and settings from popular myths and fairy tales, and the first in the series mixed a large variety of these tales together.
The dragon guards the Magic Mirror

As a long-time Sierra fan, I've played the original and it's two remakes several times, so I almost know the game like the back of my hand. Each location has been imprinted on my memory, from the low-resolution orignal to the high quality VGA fan remake. No matter the version, I find them all enjoyable to play.
Always have a goat ready, in case of trolls

One of the hardest puzzles in the game: Can you guess the Gnome's name?

My only real criticism is how short they are. Adventure games are not known for their length, but even by those low standards it is still remarkable how quickly you can finish the game. Of course, the real bulk of the gameplay is solving the puzzles, but with my rather clear memories of how to proceed that no longer presents a challenge.

Up in the clouds (after climbing a beanstalk). I hear there may be a giant...
For this playthrough, I managed to complete the game in a mere 50 minutes from start to finish (including watching the introduction, and epilogue). My previous best for a Sierra game had been Space Quest III, which I completed in 65 minutes. I'm sure with a little effort, practice and knowledge of the game you could reduce those times much further.

Beware witches in gingerbread houses
Getting revenge

Even with my knowledge of the game I could only manage 154 out of 158 points, missing at least one item (I'd have to check a points list to see what exactly I didn't accomplish). I played through the game in the "pacifist" manner, as a couple of the puzzles can be solved by more violent means than I used (these result in lower scores however).

Up in the skies, after grabbing hold of a large bird, as you do.

Trickster (over at The Adventure Gamer) takes on this game next, and I look forward to seeing what he has to say about it. It certainly lacks originality, very little is changed apart from the graphics and sound (and while those were a vast improvement on the original, VGA games like King's Quest V were only just around the corner).

Underground caves, filled with mystery, or...?

Leprechauns? Good thing my fiddle playing is so good, they're dancing themselves away!

If you were looking to try the first game in a venerable old series, the collection is available from and Steam. For those unused to old graphics and sound (as well as text parser interfaces), I would heartily recommend the great remakes by AGD Interactive (formerly Tierra).

The King is dead, Long live the King!