BOTANICULA

If I could only use one word to describe this game, it would simply be ‘beautiful’. Other terms could also be ‘clever’, ‘challenging’, ‘funny’ and ‘personal’ – but, especially ‘unique’. Botanicula, the newest development from Amanita Design (best known for their award winning Machinarium), is truly one of a kind in both its emotional value and its ingenuity.

A true point and click adventure, you are given control of 5 little bugs on a journey to save their home from an invasion of parasitic spiders which are, very literally, sucking the colour and life out of the world around them. Instantly you are treated to a vibrant range of personalities and worlds to explore, solving various puzzles in order to progress to the next steps of our tiny heroes’ story. Yes, as is with most games in its genre – and most games in general, mind – this is essentially a long series of item quests, leaving you to seek out a multitude of hidden objects and solutions scattered around the environment. However, there is a brilliant sense of depth and personality within this title, and I found myself wandering through each stage with a childlike sense of awe and curiosity, prodding each little detail with my cursor and grinning madly at the effect it would cause. For me, Botanicula brought to life a deep feeling of discovery and innocence; a tiny window into an organic, surreal world, inhabited by an encyclopedia of strange and wonderful beasts that populate each leaf, branch or tunnel along the way.

Although only taking about 3 hours to complete in full, Botanicula does require a serious level of care and observation. With each creature you discover, an animated card is placed within your inventory, not only allowing you to relive your experiences with the more memorable ones, but also in an attempt to actually find them all – a challenge which is not easily completed, especially so in a single playthrough.

What this game really offers is an adventure through the imagination; a brilliant blend of art and logic that does not disappoint at any point during its progression. Whilst the puzzles certainly push you to the limit of lateral thinking, I quickly found myself emotionally attached to my insect friends, guiding them in each step of the way. At one point during play, one of the characters was very suddenly eaten by another creature, leaving me in a complete state of shock and horror! It was  only when he was spat out again a few minutes later did I restore any sense of calm, but I was honestly shaken at the core – just for the sake of these 5 tiny beings.

All in all, I highly recommend Botanicula for the level of escapism it provides, as well as the full extent of which creativity, humour and personality have been invested so entirely. It has certainly been a long time since I have ever been so deeply involved within a game and I absolutely enjoyed every second that I was allowed to experience this intricate universe that Amanita Design have so perfectly created. A genuine 10/10.

Buy it from Steam here

Visit the website here

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DELVER

Still very much so in alpha development, Chad Cuddigan’s Delver is a Minecraft-esque roguelike that has a huge amount of potential for the future. Currently running on both Windows and Android, the beauty within this release is its simplicity, applying very minimal, easy to learn controls through each level of its descending dungeons.

Atmosphere is definitely a key feature within Delver – often leading you through dark, claustrophobic tunnels, each holding a selection of unforgiving beasts and baddies intent on your demise. At this stage there are only three varieties of weapons: daggers, swords and wands – however, that isn’t such an issue, with each holding its own power, ability and design. Wands are the only ranged weapon currently implemented, but hold a lot more effectiveness than the average blade, allowing you to take out oncoming enemies from any distance in a satisfying explosion of pixel blood. Each wand has a limited number of charges, however, and so must be used sparingly in combat. Armour throughout the game also relies on much the same principle as the weapons, increasing in defence depending on its style and class.

There is a colourful selection of potions to be found, however it would seem that all but one heal your character – despite each description declaring an unknown effect. This has no real downside on gameplay, but it would be nice to see a bit more variety in how each colour corresponds to your character – especially if there were overall attack/defence stats included. Each potion could perhaps carry its own positive/negative effects, allowing for you to focus more heavily on a certain style of play – for example, using speed and attack, but lacking in defence.

Another feature that I would love to see included would be durability. With a lot of low grade armour and weapons scattered about each level, it seems a little bit of a waste to ignore a use for them. If each weapon, in the same sense as the wands, had a certain number of uses – or hits, in the case of armour – there would most certainly be a much more increased sense of difficulty and desperation – especially on the lower levels, where gameplay can be pretty comfortable at this current stage of development.

All in all, I highly recommend trying Delver out – It’s a nicely made, fun little game that takes little knowledge or computer power to run and I will most definitely be following with each future update.

Download Delver for PC here

Buy Delver for Android here

Follow Delver‘s development blog here

FALLOUT 3

Bethesda, a subsidiary of ZeniMax Media, is widely known for their ability to create stunning role playing games. They have created fan favorite games such as The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind and its sequels: Oblivion and Skyrim. But in 2008, they amazed the whole of the gamer community by releasing a game that to this day, is considered one of the best there is.

The Fallout series is set in the future, in a world that instead of focusing on improving its society, focused on technology. This fast advance in technology caused weapons to improve, and weapons mean war. A war between the United States ended in a nuclear conflict and left the world ravaged by nuclear power (hence the title). Set in the capital of the US, Washington D.C., you start off the game as a dweller of a vault, a bunker built for withstanding the bombs.

Fallout 3 is a spectacular game. Not only because of its story, but due to the hundreds of features the developers decided to include. I’ve always been a fan of the Fallout series, and let me be honest: I was nervous when I heard Interplay wasn’t making the next game in the series. But when I finally had the controller in hand, venturing into the wasteland for the first time, I fell in love with this game.

It is rare when you get to experience a story such as Fallout’s. The creators manage to get you attached to certain characters through dialogue and without any cut scenes at all. With a stellar cast in voice acting (Liam Neeson, Ron Perlman and Malcolm McDowell) the game transmits feeling like no other game. And let me tell you, when you hear Liam Neeson’s impressive voice acting in a specific cut scene (no spoilers here) it will surely bring a tear to your eye. And even the secondary characters, such as your companions (I’m pointing at you Fawkes) are written so well, that you will start being cautious about what you do as to not upset them.

Being a first person shooter (although you have the option to change to third person, more on that later though) Bethesda decided that they needed to introduce something innovative. And so, V.A.T.S. was created. The Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System will help all players getting through the game, as well as making them chuckle when they see their enemy’s head popping in slow mo (or is that just me?).

Although the graphics are not top notch, they do hold up, and in 2008 they were pretty impressive. Again, they provide a fun perspective when you kill an enemy. But the soundtrack does make up for it. When you are exploring a cave or the run-down subway, a    creepy track will play, and will tense you up. Or when you’re wandering the wastes, and all of a sudden the music turns from peaceful to threatening. This is what makes the soundtrack great.

The game also has a bit of comedy, which is perfect to break up the tension. I remember chuckling often, as a companion made a remark about the surroundings. Or when listening to the radio, as Three Dog made his PSA’s. The franchise’s fantastic mascot gives a light feeling to dark things, such as blowing people up.

So far I have only talked about the positive things. But lets take a look at the negative, shall we?

Big terrains can be a good and a bad thing. Although it gives the player much more to explore and scavenge, it also creates a few problems. Let’s face it, you get bored when you have to walk too much (although the quick travel feature really does help) and usually that means that you start fidgeting around. Many people tend to start jumping, for example,  and sometimes, if you’re unlucky enough, you might get stuck between two rocks. And since Fallout is such an immersive game, the player forgets to save. Thats not good at all.

Being such a big game, it takes a toll on the console’s systems and will often freeze. Adding on to that, if you disabled Autosave or perhaps you haven’t gone through a door yet (autosaves when you do so), it can be quite frustrating. Also, to be honest, the third person system just doesn’t feel right. Perhaps it’s because your bulky body will often block your view, giving the enemy the perfect chance to kill you.

It is a shame that the developers did not put as much effort as they did with the music, dialogue, writing and combat in the animation. The way that the people walk can sometimes be quite ridiculous, but well, thats just about any game.

But overall, Fallout’s positive aspects outgrow the negative by far, and this makes it a great game. Even though it is nearly 4 years old at this point, if you haven’t, you should definitely give it a try.

GURK II

I had to make a long journey by train the other day, so the first thing I did was scour the Android Market for a suitable travel companion. What I discovered therein was too good to not share…

Larva Lamp’s Gurk II is an extremely simple 8 bit rpg, with full levelling and a variety of spells, weapons and armour to loot along the way. Despite being far more finished than it’s predecessor, Gurk, both are great examples of how less is more; hours of entertainment can be found within this very cheap, very cool little game.

Following in the footsteps of the classic RPG titles, Gurk II is turn based, allowing for random monster attacks and battle tactics, as you choose which strategies and paths to take. Also included are stat rolls for characters, boats, summoning and advanced spells – a whole lot more features than other games of this size on the Android Market.

The main downfalls within Gurk II lie in its resolution. As the images above show, the actual play screen is really not that big, meaning that only tablet users will ever really experience the game at a normal ratio – however, this isn’t a massive issue and I found I could play quite comfortably after the first few minutes.

But, be warned – this game is challenging, and an understanding of its mechanics will be needed if you want to progress at a good rate. In my first attempt, I found my players slaughtered constantly, ever pitted against larger and larger swarms of higher powered enemies. It was in my second try, though, that I began to pay attention to the items and potions and their effects, where I instantly found myself playing at a much better standard with no deaths recorded so far.

Overall, Gurk II is a great game with a lot of content. I highly recommend purchasing this – or its free prequel, Gurk – as it will kill the boredom of any RPG fan.

Get Gurk for free from Google Play here

Buy Gurk II from Google Play here

Visit developer Lava Lamp’s website here

DARK SOULS PC RELEASE ANNOUNCED

With over 93,000 signatures backing a cross-platform release – the biggest petition of such a kind to date, Namco Bandai have finally issued a statement promising fans the arrival of Dark Souls: Prepare To Die Edition for PC on the 24th August, packed full with a variety of new bosses, enemies and content.

Universally praised for its ruthless gameplay and intense battles, Dark Souls also contains a sophisticated level of tactics and logic, making it a perfect addition to the PC canon – developed by Japanese veterans, From Software. This is one release I am definitely excited about, having backed the petition’s sentiments since its initial conception in January. However, another issue has also risen out of the announcement, but for a very different reason entirely: the use of Games for Windows Live over Valve’s popular Steamworks platform.

Games for Windows Live is notorious within the PC gaming community for its bad online support, intrusive menu and quite frankly ridiculous security, forcing players to have a constant internet connection to play each game. Many a time have I been stung by this over-enforcement, which has too been mirrored in the recent release of Blizzard’s highly awaited Diablo 3, which has had a giant backlash for its own implement of always-online gaming.

Either way, this is one to look forward too and we can only hope there is a future Steam release for this phenomenal title.

Visit the games website here

ELDER SCROLLS ONLINE, AND WHY IT’S JUST NOT ENOUGH

Ever since the release of Morrowind in 2002, I’ve been a truly devout follower of Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls series, completely immersed within its intricate detail and complex story lines in which every small book, item, town or character can have a significant effect upon the way in which the game can be played. Each installment has revealed its own carefully crafted world, ripe with culture, politics, adventure and sweet rolls – Skyrim even introduced dragons, fully displaying the extent of Bethesda’s abilities and catapulting itself into the mainstream. However, with the announcement of a planned MMO for 2013 from Zenimax Online Studios, has the legend finally come to an end?

The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind

For me, The Elder Scrolls has always been about escapism: with each new character you are given absolute freedom to shape the future of Tamriel in whichever way you please, interacting however you feel fit and ultimately forming a bond with the many races that inhabit it, using a combination of different skills – which range from sneaking to destruction magic – to aid you. The addition of other players scares me, to say the least – no longer will this be my journey, but merely a fragment of something larger, louder and much more obnoxious, as Blizzard so perfectly demonstrated with its wide-spread release of World of Warcraft in 2004. Prepare yourself for an onslaught of ebay traders and exploiters, as any form of chat box will become swamped in spam and hopefuls looking for free handouts.

The sad reality is that, whilst The Elder Scrolls has been solely confined to single player in the past, this has also acted as a barrier against all the things which could potentially ruin the experience. The second everybody else has access into the game, all that atmosphere and immersion that has been so carefully put together will be lost.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

At the heart of the series, however, are its fans. Housing an extremely dedicated modding community, there are thousands of additions, fixes and complete recreations available for each game, at absolute zero cost. However, there won’t be any kind of opening or freedom of this kind with an MMO and a divide will quickly form: those willing to join up, and those opposed to this new restriction and breakaway from the style and formula that has shaped The Elder Scrolls since its conception. Some have even been working on their own multiplayer versions of Skyrim, with mods such as Skyrim Online already emerging for public use.

But, it’s not the lack of mods or the decline in quality that I fear the most – it’s the use of the map.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

With every new game, we have been granted a window into each diverse section of its world. From the grotty dungeons of 1994’s Arena, to the wind-swept mountains of Skyrim, Bethesda have gifted us with a stunning selection of vibrant, awe-inspiring landscapes and cities, tailored to each race and culture that inhabits them. Could so much detail and time be spent creating these areas in an MMO? Of course not. The very structure demands for repetition, respawned enemies and recyclable quests – otherwise no player could have an equal chance. To deny us that intricacy we have come to love and swear by would be a serious dismissal to those who have invested so much time and support into the series, immersed in each new scenario. I still want to see the barren stretches of Elsweyr, or the swamps of Black Marsh – these lands that we have so often read about in many a book, yet have always been so shrouded in mystery…

I know that Bethesda’s decision to condone and support the making of Elder Scrolls Online is in answer to years of requests from its fanbase, and it could quite possibly be a great success on release, but, for me, it will never truly fit into place as the logical next step for the series, nor will I consider it as such.

Whatever happens, just please let there be an Elder Scrolls VI – you owe that much to the people.

Some preview shots of Elder Scrolls Online:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Buy ES III Morrowind on Steam here

Buy ES IV Oblivion on Steam here

Buy ES V Skyrim on Steam here

Visit The Elder Scrolls website here

LONE SURVIVOR

Wow. This game is definitely worth getting, if not just trying out the demo – and, taking over 4 years to build, is truly deserving of all the praise it can be given.

Jasper Byrne’s Lone Survivor centres on a boy fighting for survival in a Resident Evil-esque apocalypse. With limited flashlight usage, a severe shortage of bullets and the biting reminder to eat or sleep, this game is full of suspense and fear, leaving you fearful of every slight change and extremely aware of your own survival.

Describing itself as an adult psychological horror, Lone Survivor is rife with nods and references to the predecessors of its kind, especially that of Silent Hill; almost acting as a patchwork of Byrne’s favourites, except pulling the style off extremely successfully. The game takes you to a very personal level as you scavenge through its claustrophobic corridors, relying solely on the flickering, last gasps of your dying torch and your ever-present alertness for the next encounter with one of its chilling creatures. The graphics in this game have an absolutely beautiful render, drawing heavily on the style of classic 16 bit games – particularly reminding me of early Japanese RPG’s.

The only real criticism I can say of this game is the navigation system. Despite being a 2D side scroller, Lone Survivor uses a top-down map, culminating in some rather confusing directions and frantic running to try and find out just where the hell you are going. However, it could be said that this adds to the experience – much like the rather undependable gun use, it is almost reminding you of how lost and unprepared the character is, pulling on a much greater bond between the audience and the art.

Overall, I found this game to be incredibly immersive, quickly forming a bond with the main character and his innocent, naive perspective – highly recommend.

Buy it or Try it at the website here

Buy it from Steam here