Should I Buy? – Penny Arcade On The Rainslick Precipice Of Darkness Episode 3


Which, to save me from typing out that mammoth title every time, shall henceforth be referred to as Rainslick 3. The history of this series is a little troubled, the first two being fully 3D hughly linear riffs on JRPGs, Cthulhu mythos style apocalyptia and Penny Arcade’s trademark humour. Though the first one did reasonable business, the second game (despite being superior) only sold half as well and the series was shelved for several years until a deal was struck with Cthulhu Saves The World dev Zeboyd Games. Zeboyd signed on to complete the quadrilogy, their own irreverent humour and use of antiquated JRPG mechanics nicely  matching Rainslick’s.

So how’d it do? Well, for the most part. Obviously there’s been a severe graphical downgrade which unfortunately a lot of Penny Arcade’s signature art that made the first two episodes look so great is missing. Luckily though, Rainslick 3 trawls through the Penny Arcade backlog to deliver a host of familiar creatures like the Broodax and the Deep Crows.

The music, while also a departure from the previous episodes, is enjoyable though not exactly memorable stuff that’d sound right at home in any given 8 or 16 bit JRPG.

Character customisation is obviously gone, in its place is an entirely new combat system with four party members. See, each character has an innate Class, like Brute or Scholar, and characters can equip Class Pins to gain additional classes like Hobo or Tube Samurai which level up and learn new skills just like the innate ones, with the bonus of being switched between the team for different strategies.

I gotta say, some of the class pins are downright worthless. Whether its a lack of skills or just downright terrible skills some will simply not be useful whereas others like the Hobo and the Elemenstor are more useful than some innate Classes.

Items are also pretty useless, though only at lower difficulty levels. At high level play the additional stat boosts and other such effects become much more useful as battles become more protracted.

It also uses the full restore after every battle shtick to both streamline play and to promote the use of as much power as you can muster in each fight, fitting the surprisingly fast pace of the battle system. See, MP starts at zero and you get one point each turn, so you have to play strategic and think ahead. Luckily most techs fall between one or two MP, but anything beyond that won’t see frequent use.

It also has a unique time mechanic that, while a little tricky to get used to, adds another layer of strategic depth to the title. See, when nobody’s doing anything all the icons representing characters and enemies move along the bar at the top of the screen and when they reach the ‘CMD’ section, you get to input the command which won’t come into play until it reaches the end of the bar. But if you use an attack with the Interrupt property on an enemy who’s between CMD and END, they’re sent waaaaaaay back along the bar. Newcomer Moira gets cheap techs that do just this and if effectively used, make boss battles laughably easy as they struggle to get a single turn in.

The secondary Classes are an eclectic mix. The Hobo is a hard hitting bruiser with a powerful poison type effect in the “Hoboism” disease that works so well when given to Gabe, but at the other end of the scale you have classes like the Masochist and the Diva which have weird, weak effects and undesirable side effects. You’re likely to find one good combination and stick with it the whole way.

All in all, combat works really well. It’s more forgiving and a little more laid back than Zeboyd’s previous games, and the difficulty that you can adjust on the fly will allow you to find the challenge sweetspot.

Which is great news, because this game basically is dungeon crawling. Sure, there’s a world map with some shops and such but dungeons are everywhere, to the point where one dungeon has two more inside it.

This is a shame in some ways, as we miss out on a lot of the dialogue the previous games revelled in. It’s still sharp and witty, but most of it is loaded onto the front of the game and the plot seems stretched pretty thin over the game’s many dungeons. Penny Arcade’s great writing is there, there’s just not enough of it.

Despite being plentiful, the dungeons are pretty small and bare. What Zeboyd can do with combat, they do not match in area design. It’s way more a series of rapid fire gags than a string of impressive set-pieces. Well, so long as you’re not in one of the dungeons with a plethora of damn durable monsters, in which case it’s a slow gag that you will just want to end.

I’m not entirely sure where it is that the narrative elements fail to come together. Perhaps its that the villain doesn’t get enough screen time? Or that the game doesn’t explain its plot as well as the previous entries? That the previous two were much more focused in design and location and subsequently much more narratively focused? Probably some combination of the above.

The expansion on the hinted at Brahe family history is interesting, if a little mishandled. Also Gabe, whose childlike enthusiasm and simple-mindedness are somehow even funnier than Tycho’s caustic wit and misanthropy in these games, gets a dramatically reduced line count as the game progressed. Tycho’s ex-wife Moira holds promise but her relatoinship with Tycho is never followed through and she fails to really leave an impression.

But the game is a blast to play for fans of old school JRPGs, easily eight hours long (the length of most single player campaigns in AAA titles these days) and great value for the ridiculously low price they’re asking for it. Seriously, you could buy this game with pocket change…If the pocket change were actually in your bank account cause you have to buy it digitally…

Anyway, I totally recommend this as a fun distraction to while away a couple of afternoons or one dedicated day.

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Should I Buy? – Poker Night at the Inventory


Do you like Texas Hold ‘Em but don’t get enough chances to play it in your everyday life? Do you like internet humour? Well then Poker Night at the Inventory is for you. This is literally Texas Hold ‘Em with a bunch of internet characters as the players.

You’ve got Tycho from Penny Arcade, Max from Sam and Max, Strongbad fromHomestar Runner and The Heavy from Team Fortress 2. How many of those guys you’re familiar with can be used as a litmus test for whether or not you spend too much time on the internet.

The main draw is being able to play Poker while listening to the interactions of the comically sociopathic players seated with you. The conversations are characterful and amusing, but there’s a fairly limited amount of them. After a dozen games or so, you’ll have heard every line the game has to offer twice at the very least.

It’s not too bad, but certainly noticeable. As for the rest of it, you get varying difficulty levels and every player has tells that you have to learn to read. The only problem is that Max and Strongbad aren’t exactly recognisably human, so it’s a lot harder to read them.

Occasionally you’ll get the opportunity to win an item from one of the other contestants that yo ucan then put to use in Team Fortress 2. It’s a clever incentive but I don’t really play Team Fortress 2 so I can’t tell you if they’re worth it.

I suppose I should also mention that there’s different table designs and decks to unlock as well, but that’s hardly important. I’m no expert of Poker sims, but this one is perfectly serviceable with some good humour added in but sadly lacking in multiplayer.

Price: (Steam) £3.25

Should I Buy? – Broken Sword II: The Smoking Mirror


As I mentioned before, the original Broken Sword came about on the tail end of the genre’s popularity, with the absurd difficulty and their wacky humour becoming increasingly anachronistic. Shadow of the Templars walked a knife-edge between the old school challenge and the new want for something pretty and engaging. On the whole, it did. The characters were likeable, the humour was consistent and subtle, the puzzles required real thought and it was gorgeous to see and hear.

The Smoking Mirror, not so much. That’s not to say that it’s a bad game, it just has the misfortune of being a sequel to an even better game.

This time around, our hero George Stobbart is reconnecting with the heroine Nicole Collard after time spent apart. Only she ends up getting kidnapped when she insists they visit the home of a professor that promised to help her identify a mysterious stone she was sent.

The resulting adventure takes place largely in South America (the continent, not the states) and Paris, though it does branch out on occasion. The art style that served the first game so well with the detailed backgrounds of proud old European architecture doesn’t lend itself so well to the various foliage of this game’s locale. That’s not to say the game has no moments of visual brilliance, and early dockside sequence manages a great noir-ish atmosphere by leaning on those self-same strengths that the first game had.

The beans

It also doesn’t sound as good. The voice talent is still good for videogaming, but slightly below the previous game. The worst offender is the redesigned Nico, who’s lost her sexy voice and even undergone a change in accent.

As for the actual gameplay, it’s still the same point-n-click the first one had. There’s no real balance between brilliant, intuitive puzzles and the insane moon logic the game the game occasionally grasps at. Sure, it’s nowhere near as weird as Monkey Island, and you can see that there is a clear logical thread to the actions, it’s just that trying the first link in the chain often seems a stupid thing to do.

There’s also sections where you play as Nico, who’s only differentiation from George is in the items she carries. It’s a nice addition that while being nothing special in itself, it means that the plot gets to stretch its legs in places and do things it otherwise couldn’t.

A lot of this review has been me saying that it doesn’t match up to the first, but it’s not like how the Star Wars prequels are much worse than the Original Trilogy, it’s more how Return of the Jedi isn’t quite as good as The Empire Strikes Back, despite both of them being excellent and iconic films. Or how Temple of Doom isn’t as good as Raiders of the Lost Ark for a more thematically consistent comparison.

Get this if you’re looking for this type of thing, it is one of the best available. IF you’ve not played the original, or the absolutely free Beneath A Steel Sky, get those first.

NOTE: This review is for the original version, gog.com are offering a remastered version with cool new stuff, though just how cool I don’t know. The original is included for free in the download though.

Price: (gog.com) $5.99

Should I Buy? – Penny Arcade: On the Rainslick Precipice of Darkness Episode 2


Now I really did mean to get round to this sooner, but better late than never. For those of you who don’t know, Penny Arcade are a real web success story. From a webcomic started as a hobby by Mike and Jerry, it’s the biggest on the web. It has its own charity, its own merchandise, two annual conventions and have branched out into other ventures like a new comic, the Trenches, hosting shows like Checkpoint & Extra Credits on PATV even its own games.

On the Rainslick Precipice of Darkness was intended to be an episodic four game story, but the developer moved on to something else after the second game had disappointing sales. Let me assure you, that’s not because its’ a bad game. If anything, it’s better than the original. And luckily, Zeboyd Games are picking up the series! Yay for them. I like you now, Zeboyd games. Well OK, I liked you for making Cthulhu Saves the World, but now you get extra cool points.

Episode 2 continues the story of the first, with Tycho and Gabe still investigating the strange goings on of New Arcadia and once again drawing your custom character into the fray. Like Puzzle Agent and its sequel, this follow up works better overall despite being mechanically very similar because it has a tighter narrative than makes your actions feel weightier.

The gameplay is unchanged from the first (what ain’t broke), it’s still the limited yet fun JRPG type stuff. In a nice touch, you start the game at the first’s max level instead of being reset to level one. In response, the enemies are toughened up to match, but it’s only really cosmetic as you weapons and special skills have gone down to to their baseline.

At least the game has a reason for not using your kickass old weapons, so all is forgiven.

While the first game focused on hobos and mimes, here its the absurdly rich and the mad that get your grizzly attention. It’s nice to see the plot picking up the dangling threads from the last game and beginning to build itself a mythology. Though there’s still a really rather limited amount of environments, they tend to flow together better.

Again, the comic’s legendary humour is omnipresent, and Jerry’s writing style is well suited to the macabre, the occult and the dark humour. Fans of the comic will be pleased to see Dr Darktalon Raven Blood, Divx & Charles the Apple fanboy joining the cast under varying guises.

I really enjoyed the time I had with both games, and I really can’t wait for Zeboyd to deliver the third. I heartily recommend this game to everyone. And buy the first one too.

Actually, this week I’ve only reviewed sequels. I guess that makes it a ‘weequel’.

OK If Penny Arcade had done that joke they totally would have gotten away with it. Stupid Penny Arcade, with their money, success, talent, money, talent, respect, talent and money…

Price: (Steam) £8.99 – Combo Pack
(XBLA) 800 Microsoft Points

Should I Buy? – Freedom Force vs the Third Reich


The original Freedom Force was a fun, if sometimes repetitive superhero game that put you in charge of the titular crime-fighting organisation.

Freedom Force vs the Third Reich manages to bring some more plot cohesion and differing objectives to the table to liven itself up. As you can infer from the title, there’s some seriously silly time travel shenanigans going on here.

After you stop a superpowered Soviet called Nuclear Winter and his accomplice Red Oktober from starting an atomic war with Cuban Missiles, you arrive back at base to find yourselves under attack from Nazis. As you do. From there, you have to go back to stop the Nazis from ever conquering the world.

There’s no major change to the game mechanics. The interface has been tidied up a bit, and the Energy system for your superpowers has been simplified but that’s about it. There’s a handful of new heroes to help you out, the most prominent being the non-powered 30’s heroes you encounter. Though they’re fun, they’re not as strong as the guys that fly, shoot fire and alter the fabric of reality with their minds.

The others range from decent to useless, though the grim Tombstone is both useful and funny. All the old characters return, just as useful as before.

Yep, he's shooting flying Nazi brains. That happens. Remind me why you don't own this again?

From what’s above, you may be thinking that this game’s just a holding pattern. Not really changing anything and being only cosmetic in difference. That’s true, to a certain extent but the story is enough to earn itself equal footing with its predecessor.

In the original, you fought your way through a colourful Rogue’s Gallery but never really had a clear plot focus until the end. vs the Third Reich paces itself better by focusing on just a few supervillains and a greater emphasis on story arcs.

And if you’re wondering just how a colourful and goofy game about cheesy superheroes that make BIFF signs appear when they punch people addresses the atrocities of the Nazis, they don’t. The big bad Nazi guy is a demented psychic and the ranks of gun-toting soldiers is liberally sprinkled with altered gorillas and flying brains that shoot lasers.

There’s enough costumed campery and nasty ne’er-do-wells to give you another reason to pay your pounds for this extraordinarliy entertaining game that’s fully fond of alliterative acclamations.

Price: (Steam) £2.99
£4.99 (Double Pack)

(gog.com) $5.99

Should I Buy? – Tropico


Now how many times have you been conquering Japan, stopping terrorists, slaying dragons or engaged in an epic space battle in a game and thought to yourself ‘Boy, what I really want is a ledger of economical statistics right now’. Yeah, I thought so. Still, the genre of city-building games like Sim City has found a home on the PC for decades. Tropico is a rather unique entry into this niche, as it puts you in the role of ‘El Presidente’, ruler of a tiny Caribbean island.

You can bring a whole new meaning to the term 'Banana Republic'

The point is to effectively manage the limited resources of your small domain to build a thriving economy and fulfil your chosen victory conditions. Unlike Sim City where your major concerns are zoning and a proper road layout, Tropico allows a lot of customisation and flexibility in your economy without making such micromanagement necessary.

Even before you begin the game, you’ll need to make some very important choices. There’s deciding the size, oceanic coverage, humidity, hilliness (why isn’t there a real word for that?) and foliage density of your island. This will help decide the general difficulty of your island, as well as specific things like how different crops will grow, how rich in minerals your island is etc.

There’s also changing how the people will react to like their tendency to rebel and start civil wars. Finally, there’s creating your ruler. You get to choose your background, strengths and weaknesses. All of this is incredibly important in determining how easy a time you’ll have, and lets you get a head start on forging a government structure in tune with what you want.

And there’s more than a few options there too. Through various edicts you can issue and issues like pay or housing you can craft either a capitalist or communist economy and pursue friendship with either Soviet Russia or the USA. You can also use propaganda to influence the people’s minds, take a firmly religious stance, create a police state or an oppressive military government etc.

The thing is, you’ll have to work hard to do it. Your citizens start with nothing more than shacks and a construction yard. You have to provide all the food, housing, entertainment and industry from scratch. But your limited finds and workforce mean that you have to prioritise, you can’t just do order everything done or you’ll quickly go bankrupt.

One of the problems with taking it so slow is that you might not realise it’s time to step up the number of houses, or your main source of revenue. Also, it takes quite a while to get anything done. If you want to sell rum, you need to grow the sugar cane and then build a rum factory, or you’ll just have a farm selling sugar and not producing the food you need.

Still, this is the type of challenge that some people want. And it really does deliver an engaging experience if you get caught up in it. Through methods like increasing wages or upping standards, you can control who works where and who uses what places. Say your rum factory is really far away from the houses, and everybody’s working the farms because it’s closer and pays the same. Build a place with cheap rent nearby and change the working conditions or raise the wages and watch your people flock to it.

Your rule as El Preisdente can be threatened in several ways. One is election. If you’re not some revolutionary-cum-dictator your people will want elections from time to time. You’ll have to keep the people happy to avoid it. The other way is revolution. If your people get unhappy enough they’ll take to the forests and start a guerilla campaign against you. If you lose power either way, it’s game over. Whether these are bothersome or a nice change of pace will be up to you.

The other major consideration is the factions. Every citizen will be members of one of these groups, with each one wanting different things. For example, the intellectuals are mainly your college graduates, who’re a small group but without them you have no power, no hospitals, no TV or radio.

The tongue in cheek humour, bright visuals and pleasant music may just be what keeps you around long enough to get into the game’s trickier systems. This is a game with a real challenge that will truly engage those who want it and put in the work.

Price: (Steam) Tropico Reloaded (Includes official expansion & Tropico 2: Pirate’s Cove) £6.99
(gog.com) Tropico Reloaded $9.99
(CEX) Tropico Reloaded £4

Buying Games From Steam


I’ve noticed that I get a fair few views from people Googling queries about buying from Steam, and that almost all of the PC games I review are available from Steam. This post is dedicated to answering some of the most common questions people ask about Steam.

What is Steam?

It’s the largest and most popular digital distribution service online, except maybe the App Store. Valve run it and it’s the only place you can buy their games like Half-Life 2 and Portal online.

What is digital distribution?

Simply put, buying a game over the internet and downloading it to your computer or smart phone. That Angry Birds you got from the App Store? That was digital distribution. Note though, that Steam is PC/Mac only. No smart phone support.

Do I keep games I buy on Steam?

Yes, you buy it you own it. So long as that account’s still active, you won’t have to re-buy it. If you get a new computer, just install the Steam client on the new computer and reinstall the game.

Do I keep my saves when moving to a new computer?

Sadly, that’s game-by-game basis. Some have a feature whereby you can access your saves from different computers, others don’t. Check out the game’s page on the Steam Store to find out, though having this feature is definitely the exception rather than the rule.

How do I get Steam?

Simple, go to the Steam website and download the Steam client. It’s a small file, and having it is required. From the client program, you can see all your games, install or uninstall as you see fit and access the store and community sections. I’d recommend actually using a proper browser to do that though, the Steam client’s never loaded those well for me.

What kind of stuff can I buy on there?

Most big titles available on the PC are available from Steam, including the DLC. It also has a number of older games like Broken Sword or Monkey Island. They also scout out a decent array of indie titles, and sell them relatively cheap. It’s the main way I find cool indie games. Valve games are only sold through Steam or physical sales, and you need Steam to play the free and very cool Team Fortress 2.

Steam often hosts sales too. Whether it’s cheap preorders, cut-price bundles, themed around a genre or franchise, the summer sale, midweek madness or whatever, something’s going cheap.

So it’s got a great library, good prices and lets me support the developers. What else does it do for me?

Well, it has its own forums, you can join communities and it offers demos and achievements. Really, Steam is a great service. Valve really listen to what gamers want and treats the consumer like people rather than walking wallets to plunder.

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