Oxenfree is all about horror and mystery. It starts out with five students in their early 20’s arriving at a small town in the Pacific Northwest to discover some sort of weird thing that goes on in the caves there when you tune a radio to a certain frequency. After a good amount of dialog and plot and character development, you tune your radio and discover a rift in time and discover the island is actually haunted and you are trying to free the ghosts within. Why, how, and what they are in the mystery that I won’t spoil.
The horror elements are mostly audio-related and are something I have not really heard in a game before. The game uses the eerieness of radio static, and voices. Have you ever gone down a scary YouTube rabbit hole and watched “Top 10 scariest sounds” or something like that? Well, if you ever heard one that is about strange radio call signs that were used in the Cold War then you know what you will hear in this game. It made the hair on my neck stand up and was very chilling to hear. There are various stones you can find throughout the game that give you tidbits of stories about the island and these creepy radio calls are part of this.
You wander around the island listening to the dialog as there are no puzzles in this game. It’s very much a “walking simulator”, but you walk and talk with the characters and choose from three different dialog options as they pop up in conversation. Some of these are story altering and some are not. These choices determine the ending you get which I found was a little too short and disappointing. I really got to like the characters here and the game is so short you can’t invest a lot of time into them. Every so often the game will bring you into a time loop and these are when a lot of important choices are made. Even for only a 4 hours game the story is done quite well and has a beginning, middle, and clear ending and you wind up exploring most of the island albeit at a snail’s pace. You can wander around further to collect letters and find these frequency stones, but I honestly didn’t find the story of the island as interesting as the characters.
The voice acting is actually really well done and I like that when you answer before someone finishes a sentence Alex, your character, will interrupt with a correct tone and inflection in her voice. The constant bantering between the characters is the most entertaining part of the game and I was always looking forward to hearing what they had to say. The game also looks really good with 2D backgrounds and 3D models. It’s a 2D side-scrolling adventure so it’s hard to get lost here. I found the game’s pacing was all over the place however, there would be sections where I felt I was progressing quickly only to get slowed down by too much backtracking or lots of cut scenes and dialog. You don’t have to really think to finish the game, and I felt collecting everything was too tedious due to the slow pace of the game.
Overall, Oxenfree is a great horror mystery game that while not being very memorable will entertain you for an afternoon and might be something you discuss with friends as the story does have a twist ending. It looks good, has great voice acting, and the characters are interesting, but the constant backtracking, slow pace, and almost zero gameplay may put some off.
I Am Dead is a curious object hunting game about a ghost of a museum curator. That may sound boring on paper, but it’s quite charming and the mini-stories within are nice enough to keep the game moving along. You discover you have died, of what is unknown, and you can see through objects like a ghost or “slice” objects. This is a game all about a no-clip camera! It’s pretty cool at first as you can push the camera through an object to see what’s lying or hiding underneath. This is 100% a hidden object game with a larger budget is. The goal of the game is to find a spirit that can take over quieting the island of Shimerston as the volcano is about to erupt. You slowly learn of the island legend and the 5 main characters you need to try and convince to do the job.
There are 5 objects to find in each level. You spin around an area with smaller areas to click on and then the object hunting begins. To know what you are hunting you click on characters with bubbles as you will recall their memory and the main object they are talking about in that memory is what you will hunt. The stories are the most charming part of the game. They are super short but well written and during these stories rotate some sort of weird globe to focus the picture into view. It’s pointless, but it’s something to do during all the talking. Once you know what object you need to find is you will get a hint if that object is in the area you clicked on by the icon popping up on the screen. It was never too difficult to figure out what the items were, but the optional Grenkins objects are a lot tougher. This is a side puzzle that requires you to rotate a certain object like a shadow game so only part of the camera clips through and it looks like the icon. If the Grenkin object is what you clicked on Sparky, your canine companion will bark so you aren’t aimlessly rotating every object. There are additional tougher objects to hunt if you can find the secret list. These are tiny objects hidden inside others such as toys or bugs and you only get descriptive hints as to what they might be.
To be honest, the game shows you all it can do in the first ten minutes, and outside of hunting for the main items, I collected Grenkins for two levels and stopped. It was just too much to endlessly rotate and hunt objects forever as the main story was already asking for a lot. If you really love the gameplay mechanic here then it’s for you, but after so long I tired of it and wanted to see the story progress. There is literally nothing else to do in the game outside of object hunting as that is the sole mechanic. At least the areas are all varied and no single object was the same. You can finish the main story in about 4 hours, but if you collect everything you might be here for over 10. The visuals are quite charming with a flat pastel color and low poly objects. It has a unique look and each item is surprisingly detailed both inside and out. There are hundreds of objects to examine and it’s quite impressive that the developers went through all that effort. The voice acting is also quite good and it helps seal the aesthetics.
Overall, I Am Dead is a fun object hunting game for a few hours, but the story, in the end, doesn’t wow you or have a twist ending. It’s pretty predictable and the extra puzzles aren’t worth your time as there is no reward outside of just doing them. The visuals are charming and there is a lot of detail put into the objects you examine, but the entire game shows everything it can do in the first ten minutes and never evolves beyond that. If there was something more to this game outside of just clipping through objects for 4 hours until I find what I need I would stay longer, but this game is mostly for object hunting fanatics.
I absolutely love typing games. Why? Because it’s a skill everyone needs to learn and it’s a unique way to play a game that you can only do on PC. I remember Mario Typing Tutor back in the ’90s and various programs on the Apple II and original iMac back in the early ’90s in school. Then there was Typing of the Dead and Typing of the Dead: Overkill. These games were so much fun and there just doesn’t seem to be enough of them. Epistory is a Zelda like an adventure in which you type for every action. It’s a game I unlike any other and no other typing game does something like this. Rather than an on-rails shooter or just a series of exercises you go on an adventure trying to cleanse the land of evil and darkness. The story doesn’t really make much sense, and there’s not really much of one, but it’s the adventure that counts here.
There’s also not really any characters to get attached to as you are the only one. You are a girl riding a three-tailed fox and whenever you see something flashing like a log, stone, chest, or anything like that you press space and you enter combat mode in which you type the words shown above the item. It’s a lot of fun running around gathering chests, increasing your score count, and in the dungeons solving extra puzzles to collect fragment pieces. While these just unlock art pieces that are mostly meaningless, the game’s adventuring is highly addictive and the challenge slowly increases as the game goes on. When you see bugs on-screen that slowly crawl towards you that’s when you can press space and type the words above them to attack them. In the beginning, it’s rather easy and slow going. Some smaller bugs just have a letter, while larger enemies have larger words. The largest word of them all is actually an optional “arena” with a boss that has something along the lines of a 30 letter word and it was the hardest arena in the game.
That’s not all though. You go around collecting four different elements in these dungeons to progress further in the open world. Fire, ice, wind, and electricity. You can switch between each ability by typing the name such as fire, ice, spark, and wind. These also need to be used in conjunction with strategy and the game’s arenas throw more and more waves at you. Some enemies can only be hurt with a certain element and your upgrades can make combat much easier and is essential to even finishing the game. Even if you can type 100 words per minute, you won’t finish the later arenas without upgrading such as spark which will burn a word on the adjacent enemy, or fire which will burn the next word for that same enemy. This is a great strategy for enemies with long words strung together. It lets you type as little as possible so you can deal with smaller enemies. If there are a lot of small enemies coming at you spark will jump around knocking them out as they only have one or two words each. Wind allows you to blow enemies back and ice will freeze them in place for a second.
You also need these elements to solve puzzles in dungeons, but not every puzzle requires typing. Some require sliding on ice in a certain pattern to press buttons, some require deciphering a code in a certain order. The puzzles are mixed up nicely and the dungeons are all different. One dungeon is full of darkness and you must type a word above a crystal to light up the area for a few seconds to proceed. Each dungeon was a blast and the open world was also really fun to explore with lots of hidden chests and optional arenas. I highly suggest trying to complete the game 100% as you will have a lot of fun, but the game does have some issues.
For one, the map is terrible as you can scroll around the map or hover over something to see description. You can only zoom in on yourself and zoom out all the way. The enemy variety is also atrociously small as the same bugs repeat throughout the entire game and it gets old. Like I mentioned earlier, there’s pretty much no story outside of a woman narrating your adventure is broken up sentences that don’t really add up to much other than feelings of what the girl on the fox might be thinking at that moment. However, I found the visuals to be strikingly gorgeous. Papercraft art similar to Tearaway scatters across the screen with bright vivid colors and a lot of detail. It’s not something I expected but the game never got old to look at.
Overall, Epistory has a great typing adventure mechanic that’s highly addictive with great dungeons, fun puzzles, and challenging arenas. The game looks fantastic with gorgeous papercraft art, but the game is lacking a story and any characters to care about. The overworld map is also mostly useless and hard to navigate and there’s no real reward for finding everything outside of Steam achievements. My biggest gripe is the severe lack of variety in enemies that just repeat for 5-6 hours straight over and over. At least the game provides a fun challenge and uses typing in a game that we haven’t seen before.
Serious Sam has never been my favorite FPS and there’s a single reason for that. The game is incredibly repetitive and every campaign overstays its welcome and I’m bored before the game is even over. The entire appeal of Serious Sam is to shoot everything that moves and massive waves of enemies, and I mean massive. More enemies than any other shooter would dare throw at you and that’s part of the game’s challenge and incredibly frustrating difficulty. Even on easy, Serious Sam 4 was tough and I died numerous times. I had to switch to easy on the fifth level because I just wasn’t making progress. Serious Sam 4 also lacks in story and character, and many other things, but we’ll get there.
You play as Sam Stone, a badass dude who shoots everything that moves. The game starts off with a giant battle with thousands of characters on screen. I mean thousands. It’s something I have never seen in a game before and it’s amazing to mow down these endless hordes, but the impressiveness ends there. The game starts at the end and then you jump forward at the beginning. Nowhere else is there any amount of enemies like this outside of maybe 100 on-screen at once. I wanted to see these thousands on the screen that the game kept advertising, but only at the beginning and very end battles do you see this. How disappointing. The game does up the ante as you progress with the final level having you mow down a few thousand but in smaller waves. That’s literally all there is to the game. There are a couple of mech sections which are awesome, and a few driving sections which are lame and boring, but they’re there. It’s not nearly enough to break up the 8-10 hours of monotonous shooting, however.
The arsenal of weapons Sam gets is actually quite entertaining especially when you get skill points and can unlock dual-wielding. The skill tree is actually rather useful and I enjoyed what I unlocked. Duel-wielding is the only way you may get through the game, to be honest. Guns like the Cannonball, Electric gun, rocket launcher, grenade launcher, the Devastator, and double-barrel shotgun are just a few that you will switch between depending on what calls for them. A horde of smaller enemies may require more rounds so the mini-gun is one of the most useful in the game. Yes, you can duel-wield mini-guns and it’s a blast. Have a horde of larger enemies? Throw the cannons at them and watch them explode. Now, this was fine and all, but there’s a huge issue I take with locking most weapons away as side objectives. This includes items such as the mini-nuke, black hole, gas grenade, and various boosters. I finally got over that and did all the side objectives I ran into, but then you get to a level where the weapons are all taken away from you and you have to re-acquire them by doing more side objectives?! What?! It’s absurd and not fun. I just went through all this effort and the developers seemed to have done this to somehow extend playtime? It doesn’t end there as they do it a THIRD time! It’s incredibly frustrating and by the final level, you don’t even get all the items and weapons back that could be useful.
Let’s talk about level design. It’s awful. The game has not evolved a single iota since its inception and other games of the era such as Doom, Zelda, Mario, and various other series have evolved with the times but Serious Sam just can not. The levels feel haphazardly designed with random buildings, terrible open maps in which you drive a vehicle through for no apparent reason except to waste time and bore you to death. It doesn’t help that the game is trying to tell the story of an alien named Mental trying to take over Earth, but the characters are so unlikeable and the dialog is eye-rolling and misses the mark every time. The heroes harp on one-liners for a third of the game and it ends up being the main focus of banter between them. I love the humor in shooters, Doom 2016 did it very well, but this isn’t it. The writers just drop the ball or can’t land a joke, and when they do they don’t run with it. There are subtle things in the game that were kind of funny like when Sam asks a less-than-funny Russian soldier where the battle is and he just points his finger in a direction and there was dead silence. That’s funny! But then they gave Sam a lame one-liner and ruined the follow-up. Sometimes less is more and the writers clearer don’t see this. Not even breaking the fourth wall kind of humor is present. Like it’s almost there, but not quite. None of the writing just ever makes sense or seems pointless.
Let’s talk about visuals as Serious Sam has always pushed PCs with impressive engines. While SS4 does push PCs to their limits, and beyond, the game isn’t well optimized. The game would drop down to 30FPS during cut scenes, and then there would be massive texture pop-in every time the camera changed angles. The game eats up VRAM like crazy and yes, there are a ton of graphics options and even some for controls, motion sickness, and a bunch others that need to be standard in PC games, but no matter how much I fiddled with the options I could never get a steady framerate. I would dip into the 40s in large cities, but the battle with thousands of enemies on screen I got 80FPS? Then in large open areas with just trees, I would bounce between 70 and 60 with every step. The game looks fantastic and is impressive, but it’s also boring and sterile. The game looks real and maybe too real, but for the silly zaniness of aliens and monsters, the game just looks boring. The environments mostly never change and everything is just white buildings, boring trees, boring open maps, and the occasional cramped hallway. Outside of all the shooting, there’s literally nothing else to do and every single battle is exactly the same. You wind up seeing all the enemies by chapter 5 and there’s nothing new except a few new weapons down the pipeline. This is what Serious Sam is, which is shooting massive hordes of aliens, but the developers need to find a way to evolve this. Sam has the potential of being a funny character, but the writing isn’t there and the game just lacks character.
Overall, the game is fun for a while but also lacks multiplayer and co-op which are musts for this series and they are missing. After you beat the campaign there is no point in replaying as there’s no new game plus or anything like that. The game has interesting monsters, but the game looks sterile and boring with no life, boring open maps, lame characters, and writing that always misses the mark. The engine is poorly optimized and you constantly have to re-acquire your arsenal throughout the game. I just don’t think anyone is missing anything by not playing this game. It’s intense during the firefights, but there’s a whole lot of nothing in between and that’s where the game needs to change.
Adventure games are always hit or miss. The fundamental thing that needs to be focused on is characters and story as that’s the main reason why people play these games. It takes away the action and gameplay so you can enjoy an interactive story. This has been done really well and, sadly, really badly more times than anyone can count. Beyond a Steel Sky is the long-awaited sequel to Beneath a Steel Sky which released in 1994. It wasn’t very well known and most people know it today as “that free game that GOG.com gave away when you opened an account” for the longest time. Beyond a Steel Sky has the potential for greatness, but it falls flat in many ways and I’ll explain.
You play as Robert Foster who was the main protagonist in the first game. You are living your life in the Gap, which is a Nomad town basically, and someone’s kid named Milo gets kidnapped by a walking mechanical dog thing. Yeah, there’s no context here and you are literally told to care about someone and risk your life who has zero backstory. A chapter or two inside the Gap where Foster was living would have built that up, but instead, we jump right into heading into Union City which is the dystopian town from the first game. Here you are introduced to controls and game mechanics which aren’t any different from other adventure games. You find objects that go into other objects and click on stuff. The only difference is a cool gadget which is a hack tool, but even that isn’t lived up to its potential like I thought it would. It shows various devices with a puzzle-like grid and you can swap stuff around to make these devices do different things. Of course, one puzzle piece from action for that device must fit, but the issue here is that each device has a different type of puzzle piece and if you are in proximity to multiple devices the game purposefully makes those pieces different so you can’t swap whatever you want around. Instead, this is mostly reserved for main mission puzzles.
As you progress through the story there’s always a sense of why? Why am I doing this? The characters are one-dimensional and just don’t have good writing. The dialog is very dry and unimportant and there’s no reason to explore the world. I even wound up finishing the game with items in my inventory I never even used so what’s the purpose? The writing is just awful or passable at best and the voice acting is so spotty. Even Foster sometimes sounds like he’s reading from a high-school play and sometimes he nails the line. It’s so inconsistent it drove me insane. Once you eventually team up with the cities’ AI, Joey from the first game, the story then turns from saving kidnapped children to taking down the entire city council? I don’t understand why the narrative has this tug-of-war and that’s not even mentioning the fact that this beautifully created world is never explored. This game could have been something like Beyond Good & Evil with a great city to explore, but instead, we only see a few mundane and boring areas with this huge beautiful backdrop that I wanted to explore more of. Beyond a Steel Sky does a great job of creating an atmospheric and lived-in world, but this isn’t how you explore that world.
The most entertaining part of the game was exploring the MINOS cyber world which had a Vaporwave/Cyberpunk aesthetic and collecting the various programs to progress was fun, but again, the puzzles had zero challenge. The entire game just has you matching items to others and it’s very obvious and there’s zero challenge throughout the entire game. There’s even a hint system that basically tells you where to go, and while that’s a good thing, it doesn’t make you work for the hints either. I also think this game would have done better as a multi-part series or just something that isn’t an adventure game as there’s so much missed potential around every corner.
Overall, Beyond a Steel Sky builds a great atmosphere and a wonderful city to explore, but you can’t explore it. The story doesn’t know what it wants to do and the characters are one-dimensional with dry dialog and humor that lands wrong. The puzzles aren’t challenging and even just simply exploring the game is boring. I wanted to care about everything in the game, but it’s hard to when the developers only pushed their world a little bit instead of shaking it and letting the fruit fall.
I know pixelated 2D games have been done to death these days, but sometimes they really stand out. Inmost has detailed visuals, great animations, and an interesting and engaging horror theme and atmosphere that kept me sitting through until the end. While the story isn’t all that great, the message at the end of the game makes it all worthwhile.
You play as a few characters in this game. One is a middle-aged man, another is a knight, and the third is a little girl. You jump between the three as the story unfolds and each has a unique control scheme. The man can jump around and find objects to progress, the knight can engage in combat, and the little girl can’t jump, but must crawl her way around a house lifting objects to create steps and unlock the secret of this house. It keeps the game fresh and moving, but most of the game is played as the man.
The entire area is quite large that you explore and backtrack through. Climbing around the levels also requires dodging black matter that can attack you and there are even some intense chase scenes. You are solving puzzles, pulling levers, and switching, and like Metroid, you are also finding new objects to progress through the level. A crowbar, pulley, knife, pickaxe, and more are needed to progress along with the occasional key. The game was never too touch and I enjoyed how the game made me think a little bit. There is some clever level design here as I actually remembered where doors and entrances were as I progressed. By the end of this entire area, I actually memorized the entire thing and could backtrack anywhere with no issue or a map. That takes skill and I commend the developers for creating such a great map with memorable landmarks.
Playing as the knight, you can swing your sword and use a hook shot to get around, but you can’t jump. The enemies vary with numerous hits needed to defeat them, but overall these are easy areas. If you die you literally just respawn in the same spot so the game is very forgiving. As the little girl, you must walk around the house moving chairs, opening cupboards, and finding secret entrances in the house and I found it quite entertaining. Without giving too much of the story away there’s really not much here and it mostly makes zero sense. I know there’s something about a Soul Flower and the knight is trying to take them for himself and stealing other Soul Flowers is required to give to the Keeper which is a giant guardian type thing. It makes no sense honestly. Even at the final 15-minute cut scene I couldn’t really figure out what was going on, but without spoiling the very end the message is what counts the most and it was rather touching.
The visuals are great with lots of dark colors, great pixel art, smooth animations, and tons of atmosphere. The game is a treat to look at, and the music is amazing. There’s quite a bit of emotion in this game, and I just wish the story was a bit more comprehensive to make the whole package feel a little more complete. As it stands, Inmost is a great 2D platformer that takes around 4 hours to complete. It’s a small investment for a great ending and some fun and challenging puzzles and platforming. If you don’t like modern 2D pixel art games, this won’t change your mind, but for fans of Metroid and Castlevania, there’s not much to lose here.
I love artsy games. Some times it’s nice just to sit back and play a casual game that is a visual treat. Gris is one of these games. Like many other games before it, it offers tight gameplay, but short and sweet experience. There’s really no story here, and you have to make what you can of the story based on context only. You play as a woman who loses her voice to a dark force that seems to swallow up all the color in the world. It’s your job to get that color back and your voice. That’s the only thing I got out of this entire game story-wise. I wanted something more, there are games that have told breathtaking stories on just context alone such as Journey, but what’s here is fine.
The game is broken up into three levels based on colors. In the color Red, you gain the ability to weigh things down. You jump around platforms and have to figure out various platforming puzzles. Using your abilities you must navigate the area to acquire stars to unlock the next section and finish the level. These are rather clever and I never got stuck, but I was challenged. I had to think and it quickly clicked after a few tries throughout the game on most puzzles. The controls are great and not floaty or slippery. The girl has a nice momentum with the ability to glide, double jump, and swim which is all acquired throughout the game.
The second level, Green, is probably the easiest and most laid back level. There aren’t many platforming puzzles, but there are challenges instead that require good timing. You find a woodland creature companion part way through and you use him for a few challenges, but this level was not difficult. I acquired the double jump ability here and this opened up more challenges.
The final level, Blue, is a mixed underwater and upside down platforming and the levels are labyrinthine and challenging. I didn’t get too lost in this level, but I did wander around a little more than I wanted to. You have to use everything you learned to beat this level and that includes platforming challenges that combine all of your abilities and precise timing. This game isn’t quite a breeze as it did work my brain a bit which is nice. Throughout the game, there are a couple of scripted chase scenes with the dark void that took your voice which changes the pace up a bit, but overall it’s very nicely paced and I was able to play all 3 hours in one sitting and was sucked in.
While the game lacks in story it makes up for in gameplay with challenging platforming, some puzzles, and a gorgeous watercolor art style that is just a joy to look at every second you are in the game. This is Gris‘ main draw is the eye-catching art style. I wanted to know more about this mysterious girl, but we just got platforming instead. Oh well, as it stands it’s a must-play for fans of games like Journey or The Unfinished Swan. I had a blast, and while the game itself wasn’t memorable, the art style is striking enough to remember.
The Longest Journey is actually one of my favorite games of all time. It was one of the first PC games I played as well and what pushed me to get into PC gaming. Adventure games were something that console players couldn’t really get. The rich stories, great voice acting, and detailed characters were something only a PC could really do. The Longest Journey impressed me with all of this and I remember it to this day. It was followed up by Dreamfall that pushed the game into a new generation with 3D models and backgrounds and brought the game to consoles for the first time as well and it was also just as memorable. We now get the final chapters of this story and I have to say I walked away quite satisfied.
You play once again as Zoe Castillo. A woman who is a Dreamer and able to go between the dream world Arcadia and the real world, Stark. You also play as Kian who is in Arcadia. The ex-leader of a racist and fascist human country trying to exterminate all magical creatures. Both characters are strong, likable, and I really got attached to them through their journey. The many characters throughout Dreamfall are great actually and it was a joy to listen to their great voice acting and find out more about them. However, the game does have some pacing issues and I’ll get into that later. There is a lot of politics in the game that reflects real-world issues (more so now more than ever) and the subjects get a bit touchy and might rub some people the wrong way, but I’m glad a game story is actually challenging these issues.
The biggest draw to Dreamfall is the choices you make during key events in each book. These will pause time and you get a limited amount of time to choose a path. The consequences will occur usually later on somewhere and these events are shown with a logo in the top right corner of the screen. This symbol means that current action or event is from a choice you made earlier, but it’s never clear what choices lead to which events, and this is where I will state the choice system is flawed. Later on in the game, the choices kind of a blur and become unclear and seem less impactful. The first two books do a great job of making sure your choices are felt but later on I couldn’t tell anymore.
When it comes to actually playing the game, well, there isn’t much of one. You run around various areas finding objects to use on other objects and talking to people. That’s literally it with very few puzzles. The puzzles are stupidly easy or frustratingly obtuse. My biggest complaint about the entire game would be the areas you explore are static and lifeless. Sure, they seem like they’re full of life the first couple of time you walk through them, but I spent so much time looking at maps to find the next area to go to just wandering by the same group of people, the same icon that lets you hear the character’s inner thoughts about that item and nothing ever changes. I spent the first two books inside the same hub areas for each character it became a drag just to get to the next scene. I would have liked to see more organic changes, more things to looks at and more inner dialog written as you spend a third of the game in these hub areas.
Most of the game is talking and cut scenes, however, and that’s what adventure games are all about. The voice acting is superb, the characters are fun to listen to and learn about, and I felt sucked into this magical world, especially being a fan of the series. However, that’s what this game is made for: fans of the series. If you haven’t played previous games you will most likely be lost and the story won’t mean as much to you. There are constant references to characters meeting in previous games and previous events and they are never explained. The backstory from the main menu is pretty much pointless as well. The world just feels magical and wonderful and it was a good time while I was in it.
The visuals are also pretty good of an adventure game, clearly last-gen, but this did come out in 2014. The facial animations are stiff, but overall it looks nice with great lighting effects and lots of detail everywhere. The game doesn’t seem well optimized though as certain lights will tank the FPS even on high-end hardware, so the engine needs a lot of work. The ending was also not as expected. It was good as in it made sense, but there was no crazy plot twist or anything like that. It came to a slow stop instead of full-speed and making your head spin as a good ending would. But, overall, Dreamfall Chapters is satisfying enough and completes a long-beloved series that will probably never get another game again.
Max Payne 2 was released a little over a year from the original and a surprising amount of fat was cut from the original. It’s the same game, but more refined and updated and feels more tightly woven than its predecessor. A lot of problems were fixed, but new ones arose as well. The narrative continues right after the first game with Max still trying to avenge the death of his wife and child, still trying to get to the bottom of The Inner Circle, and a new love blooms: Mona Sax.
The game starts off similarly to the first game, we get some weird trippy dream sequences, but they aren’t nearly as awful with zero platforming this time. Once you are in control of Max you can instantly feel the difference. He has more weight, his animations are smoother, and gunplay overall just feels punchier and sharper. More weapons were introduced with many old ones coming back. The new M4 and Kolishnokov weapons are a great addition, but unnecessary. One assault rifle is good enough as well as the addition of the HP5, but the Ingrams do just fine for a sub-machine gun. While the older weapons pack more of a punch the new weapons just feel like they were added just to add to the weapon count, less would have been fine. A new dedicated projectile button has been added so you can throw grenades and molotovs without equipping them.
Bullet Time has been refined and fixed as well. Max can now spin around in a 360-degree motion while dodging and the bullets impact harder and there’s less of a delay when you shoot. There is also better feedback on enemies when hit as they stumble more and drop their weapons so you know they’re dead in bullet time. Max can also stay lying down while continuing to empty a clip so the delay in getting up doesn’t make you completely vulnerable as the first game did. The difficulty has been dialed way back and I died a lot less than in the first game. All these great fixes and additions make Max Payne 2 the better of the two games already.
When it comes to level design, Max Payne 2 has more interesting levels like a creepy funhouse, a sprawling mansion, a construction site, and some apartment slums, but there’s a lot of backtracking and I feel the overall scope of the game feels claustrophobic. The variety is better, but you explore those few areas longer and I just feel I wanted to see more of New York inside this noire world Max lives in. Also, gone are the boss fights so the game feels better paced and I felt a tempo of gameplay going that the first didn’t have. However, the game is much shorter clocking in at 4-5 hours. There aren’t any collectibles or anything like that so once you fly through the game it’s over and there’s no reason to ever go back honestly.
Max Payne 2 is a memorable ride. The story is still told in those awesome comic strips, and I feel at the end of the game we get to know Max and Mona well enough to understand their characters and want them on screen more. Their love story is a great centerpiece for this Mafia revenge tale and it makes Max and Mona feel more human. There’s still a cliffhanger at the end of the story, and a third Max Payne game didn’t come until a decade later, but what we get is one of the best single-player shooters of the PS2/Xbox era. It’s tightly compacted and solid and while its short, sometimes that means quality and that is rare even to this day.
Bullet time. While The Matrix made it popular amid pop culture, Max Payne started it all in the video game realm. You play as a cop, Max Payne, who is framed for murder of another NYPD cop. Your wife and newborn child are also murdered and you are trying to get revenge on the people who did it. The story isn’t anything amazing, but Max Payne’s voice actor, and the well done writing, keep you hooked long enough to find out what happened behind the scenes. The game is told in a comic noir graphic-novel style and it suits the game well. The cut scenes are imaginative and different, and don’t look cheap or like the developers were trying to take short cuts.
Outside of the story, the gameplay is all about shooting because that’s literally it. Max runs around with various weapons such as Barrettas, Ingrams, shotguns, grenade launchers, Molotov cocktails, grenades, and assault rifles to mow down the Mafia and corrupt cops. Bullet time is the main gameplay element here and when activated Max does a jump dodge in the direction you move and you can see him dodging bullets in real-time. This is actually a mechanic you must master as most situations require you to use it to stay alive. You can’t stand in one spot or you will be dead in a few hits and there’s no cover system. I had to quicksave every 2-3 minutes as well because the game is so difficult. It’s cool to jump dodge around a corner, but once Max lands there’s a delay in him getting up and you are completely vulnerable to gunfire. I had to make sure I jump dodged behind cover or across a hallway so I wouldn’t die the second the bullet time finished. You can also activate bullet time and just run your meter down so you can run and gun with it too.
There are very few scenarios in which you do more than press buttons. One scene has Max driving a crate crane around an area, but it’s nothing special, and there are some interactive objects that trigger comic cut scenes, but 95% of the game is just shooting. The weapons themselves feel good and I felt I had to switch up weapons depending on the situation to make my life easier. The locales are varied, but they are a bit too stale and boring for my taste. They don’t quite capture the noir feeling of the comic cut scenes, but there is one level early on called Ragna Rock that was a gothic cult house that reminded me a lot of Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, so that’s a good thing. The game really does feel like a first-generation PS2/Xbox game, but it’s very polished. The game flows nicely, but the difficulty is all over the place, you will die dozens and dozens of times in this game.
The visuals are clean and look nice even 20 years later. I installed a texture upgrade patch and some other things to make the game upscale to 4K nicely and play on modern hardware, and it looks pretty good. Even in the original, the facial textures are nice and very realistic, and the over aesthetic of the game stands out over most shooters of its time. The voice acting is great, and I finished the game in about 7 hours. After you finish it there’s literally nothing else to do as the multiplayer mode was scrapped. It’s a fantastic single-player game that holds up well even today despite its insane difficulty and unbalanced gameplay. The story isn’t anything special, but Max is a great character to dive into and it makes for a fun evening.