Nut Load. Mini reviews of games old and new. No fuss. No spoilers. Occasional shock face.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Deep Sleep (2012) / Deeper Sleep (2013) / The Deepest Sleep (2014)

Genre: Adventure / Survival-Horror | Players: 1 | Developer: scriptwelder

The Deep Sleep flash games are a free-to-play survival-horror trilogy created by scriptwelder and currently hosted on several online gaming sites, including Armor Games and Newgrounds. The basic premise is that you’re an individual interested in lucid dreaming who never bothered to consider the consequences of your rabid curiosity. 

The first game is the only flawless entry in my opinion, as it sets up the world and atmosphere exquisitely. It aims to be unsettling without depending on overt jump-scares, and succeeds. The second chapter has the best interconnected string of puzzles in the series as well as a collection mechanic that results in a more satisfying glimpse at the overall plot. It does ape something from a popular movie series, but having a laugh and a bit of an eye-roll over one thing isn’t enough to dampen my enthusiasm, in this case. While all three are short, the final installment is almost disappointing in its brevity. However, the environments and story reveals make it entirely worthwhile.

A staggering amount of interconnectivity is displayed across all three games and something seemingly random in the first game actually allows you to achieve the full ending of the second. There’s even two endings to the finale and the menu provides you quick access to see the one you didn’t choose initially. There are several points in each game where you can “die” and doing so only puts you back a screen, a la the Kemco-Seika trilogy. You can also quit and save at almost any time, but don’t clear your browser history or cookies after doing so, because, well, that’s how it’s accomplished.

While it will help to keep your expectations in check, I still genuinely feel that these are handily the best flash games I’ve experienced. The care that has gone into crafting the stellar atmosphere, paired with the references made to other games, paints this series as a sincere love letter to the genre.

Buyer’s Guide: Click the links just above to play them on Armor Games. They can also be found on NewgroundsKongregateGame Jolt, and Crazy Games.

3½ Delinquent Hotel Receptionists out of 5

Bastion (2011)

Genre: Action Adventure | Players: 1 | Developer: Supergiant Games

The protagonist known only as "The Kid" wakes up in his bed to find an apocalyptic event called "The Calamity" has shattered the land and only random pieces of landmass float around as he makes his way to the titular Bastion; an emergency evacuation place for the city of Caelondia. Only one other person survived to make it to the Bastion; An old man known only as "the Stranger" who also provides the wonderful, low growl narration. The Bastion can be enhanced by finding Cores; huge crystals that used to power the city. The more cores that are found makes the Bastion larger and more functional. It also allows the Skyway that shoots him to remaining landmasses to send the Kid to farther landmasses. While exploring the wild, the Kid will fight various monsters with a variety of upgradeable weapons and search for cores and survivors while the Stranger narrates about the background of the places visited and sometimes snarks about what the Kid is doing (usually something the player did).

The Kid runs around in an isometric environment with the maps revealing themselves as the player explores in a beautifully rendered, highly colorized artstyle that somewhat contrasts with the downer scenario. The combat follows the old adage of "easy to pick up, difficult to master". It is fairly straightforward, but with nuance and the various weapon combinations add more as players progress. The Bastion can also be upgraded to add a forge for weapon upgrading, a distillery that allows for equip-able potions that offer a variety of passive buffs, and a shrine that adds more challenges when the various gods are invoked. The soundtrack is a wonderful new mix of old time western tunes with some more modern electronic and heavy bass. The controls were at first obtuse and janky on the PC since aiming with the mouse made a weird disconnect with attacks especially with melee weapons were The Kid would attack where the  cursor was instead of the direction he is facing which feels unnatural and is probably different with a joystick. Having gotten used to it though it still worked pretty good and eventually I couldn't put it down. With the great story, wonderful fresh genre soundtrack, and a fair amount of replayabilty with different weapons, modes and New Game Plus makes this one an easy recommendation.

Buyer's Guide:
Available on Steam, Xbox Live Arcade, iOS, OnLive and as a browser game for Google Chrome.

Level-starting Faceplants out of 5

Friday, August 8, 2014

Assassin's Creed: Liberation HD (2014)

Genre: Action / Adventure  |  Players: 1  |  Developer: Ubisoft

Ass Creed got its first playable female protagonist in AC: Lib. The creation of Aveline de Grandpré, an assassin of African and French heritage, may well have been to address criticisms from gamers up to that point, but to Ubisoft's credit both aspects play a key role in the game. It's not just a cheap cosmetic change.

It uses the AC III game engine but does interesting things with it. Aveline can change her clothes to best suit the task at hand. Hold back the cries of Women + Video Game + Clothes = Sexism for a second because there's a good reason for her frequent visits to the clothing store. The 'guise' she wears gives her a persona that makes it easier to infiltrate certain areas and affords to her a level of camouflage; e.g. few people will look twice at a slave carrying a box into the servant's entrance of a rich Lord's house. But once in the house the box can be dropped and the hidden blades revealed.

The same applies to the opposite end of the societal spectrum. When dressed as a lady of leisure Aveline can gather information from people in power during their rich-folks garden party, etc. It enables the player to get right into the heart of the action instead of having to constantly hide some place and eavesdrop like a creep.

It takes place in America during the second half of the 18th Century. The astute among you will notice that that's the same era that AC III is set. Indeed, while Ratonhnhaké:ton was fighting Templar control in the colonies, Aveline was doing her part in New Orleans amid the transition from French to Spanish control of the city. However, while AC III was from the perspective of Desmond and his useless cohorts, AC: Lib is a virtual environment provided by Abstergo Industries, so the legitimacy of events is questionable - the assassin might not be perceived as the good guy (or gal) all the time. Is it enemy propaganda?

Some good: being on the HDD means it loads quickly. Aveline is a better thief than anyone that preceded her. Play the trading game properly and money will roll in easily. It's much easier to avoid detection from enemies; it's arguably too easy. Chain-kills are fun. Another returning feature from previous games is the glitches. I had to reboot the game four times, which was the second-lowest ever (hey, it's a kind of improvement). And best of all, there's no Desmond!

Some bad: you can’t skip FMV if you restart a Memory. The emptiness of many handheld games is carried over. The autosave sometimes doesn't work. It feels short in comparison to the others in the series. It tempts you with the idea that missions can be approached differently depending on which guise you adopt, but that rarely happens; it more often than not restricts you to one specific persona, even going so far as to automatically change it at mission start, meaning the game has a lot less freedom and certainly less replay value than it could've had.

3 unwashed scabs out of 5