Wednesday, 26 August 2009

'Syberia 2' review for Game-Debate

Syberia 2 proves the old school point and click genre is still well and truly alive even in this era of HD graphics – and this is despite Microids creation being five years old. If you enjoy old fashioned adventures, challenging puzzles or good story telling then this game may very well be your cup of tea. (Or indeed, glass of vodka)
You may have noticed the number two at the end of the game’s title and you’ve most likely worked out that this is the sequel to 2002’s Syberia. Number two picks up the story almost immediately where the original left off, with plucky business lawyer Kate Walker and her companions travelling to Syberia – a mythical land off the coast of Russia that supposedly home to Mammoths. (You know, those big hairy elephants that are supposed to be extinct)

Syberia 2 comes with a convenient recap of it's predecessor for those who haven’t played it, but this reviewer will be careful not to give too much away just in case you want to play both games for yourself.

The story is set in modern day Russia with the main feature setting it apart from our world being the prominent existence of Automatons. These are essentially steam-powered robots – though fans of the original will know that the game’s characters don’t like Kate referring to them as such.

Being a point and click adventure there is naturally a lot of talking to be done. Click on a person and if there’s conversation to be had a small box will appear with various dialogue options. Sometimes Kate may have to go through every single option available to move the story on which can feel like an overly drawn out process. This is especially the case when there are a large amount of options to go through as the dialogue can feel repetitive and a little stilted as Kate brings up different subject areas. At least this time around – unlike in the first Syberia - speech options that have already been selected disappear from the choices if they can’t be taken further. This will be a relief to fans of the first game who no doubt got fed up with dialogue being repeated when ‘used’ options remained among the choices. With speech being such a major part of Syberia 2, it’s a relief that the voice work is mostly to a high standard....mostly. There are few dodgy accents in there and anyone in the Russian wilderness with a Cockney accent is not to be trusted.

That wilderness, Kate will be seeing a lot of it as she travels during her adventure. As with the original, all of the pre-rendered backgrounds are very pleasing on the eye. However this time around there’s a lot more snow, which means all that white can get a bit samey. That said for a game based in Northern Russia it has to be expected!

Of course any respected adventurer needs to focus their attentions on finding items and solving puzzles over admiring scenery. Like most games of this genre, you’ll pick up anything that isn’t nailed down because it invariably has to be used to solve a puzzle. (Incidentally, Kate stores anything she picks up inside her jacket – it must be like The TARDIS in there) Unfortunately it’s quite easy to get stuck because you’ve missed a key item that’s hidden away. Even if you manage to find every item first time you’ll still find yourself wandering back and forth between locations an awful lot. Perhaps this frustration could have been done away with by including a ‘Travel to’ option. That said, exploring is of course a massive part of any adventure game and little details such people at work or animals on the move provide the player with something to look at while Kate travels from one area to the next.

Syberia 2 may not quite have the charm of the original but it’s still an enjoyable experience and despite being five years old its graphics have aged reasonably well. If you’re new to the point and click adventure genre, you may want to try something that’s a bit easier because the puzzles in Syberia 2 can get rather tricky. However, if you enjoy a challenge along with old fashioned story-telling then you’ll want to play this. Of course this is a sequel, so in order to properly understand Microid’s second offering you may also want to play the original Syberia. Fortunately, both games come in a bundle pack with a price of £17.99 – not a bad price at all for two games from which you’ll get hours of adventuring. So perhaps you should put down your first person shooter and try to solve problems with your mind, not violence OK?

Thursday, 6 August 2009

'Line Rider Freestyle' Review for Game-Debate

Too Little For Too Much

This reviewer isn't a fan of Line Rider Freestyle. There, that's out the way. My previous reviews will tell you dear reader that I've been very positive about other independent games, but I just can't warm to this particular one. It doesn't help that it's just an updated version of a flash game, especially when it comes with a £14.99 price tag.

It's a steep price for what's basically the same thing with prettier graphics, sound effects and a 'story mode' which restricts the creative nature of the original flash game.

Now I better stop ranting and get on with describing what the game is actually about before you start to think I'm some sort of rageaholic.

The concept is simple – it's your responsibility to get a little guy on a sledge gets from the top of a course to the bottom. Sounds simple doesn't it? And it is...sort of. When building you're own courses from scratch it's a case of drawing a downhill route from top to bottom. For the unimaginative this can be a straight 45 degree line. For those with a bit more creativity there's the option to try and add jumps, loop the loops and lot's of pretty colours. It's Quite simple but it can take some time to get your head round if you're unfamiliar with the free internet version. To be honest you could probably decide whether you like Line Rider or not by playing it here

OK, you may enjoy the free version and the idea of additional features in a full game may sound appealing. Sure there are some more things to add to tracks but that isn't really worth the asking price. Your hard earned (or maybe not if you're a millionaire/student/fraudster) cash is most likely paying for the 'Story Mode' This is a lot like freestyle mode – except there's less to do.

The aim of the game is still to get from one end of a course to the other, except this time the courses are mostly pre-rendered with the previously mentioned pretty colours and snowy mountain top backgrounds. However this time you don't have full control over where lines are drawn and you HAVE to pass through certain points to complete each level. Even worse is that you can only draw lines in certain areas marked out by green boxes. This all gets frustrating very quickly.

Tweaking the curvature and angles of the same line again and again isn't fun. Maybe it'd be OK if there was a wider margin for success but the slightest error in a curve or the smallest bump and you're little guy won't make it to the end of the map but will either grind to a halt or fall off the track and onto what presumably would be an icy grave at the bottom of a crevasse.

It's possible to actually wish an untimely end for your little chap – the sound's he makes while riding the sledge up and down the course are VERY annoying. I'm not sure what's worse – the screaming when they're having fun (or falling to their doom) or the yawning when they've stopped. Either way, there's no way to shut them up so you'll just have to put up with it. The music isn't much easier on the ears either. At least the 'story' animations between stages are pleasant enough because the game play is far from it.

It's nice that – if they so desire – players can share their custom built tracks with others online and this is probably where the appeal of Line Rider lies. But then again if you want to play on custom tracks you can just make your own.

I'd suggest you play on the free flash version of the game to get a feel for it. If you like it then fair enough, feel free to spend your money on the retail version. However, I personally believe that it isn't worth parting with that much money for what's essentially a flash game with some added colours and a story mode that's more likely to cause stress than pleasure. Don't get me wrong, I'm not criticising the original flash game here – it's the retail version of Line Rider that this review is about. Unfortunately this version Line Rider feels too much like work to be counted as fun - spend the £14.99 asking price on something else that is.

(Originally written for Game-Debate)