Game Reviews

Batman – The Telltale Series Episode 1: Realm of Shadows

Reviewer’s note: Hello! Welcome to the first part in my five-part series reviewing Batman – The Telltale Series, an episodic adventure game. This is the first episode and this review will be completely spoiler-free! However, subsequent episodes will necessitate some discussion of what came before, so they will be spoiler-free for the episode being reviewed but not necessarily for the previous episodes in the series. On with the review!

I love Batman. I’ve been a Batman fan since I was a kid, and a lot of it was propelled by Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman movie. Ever since then, anything Batman has piqued my interest. There has been plenty of ups and downs for the Dark Knight, but we’ve been on a real good streak in the video game world since Batman: Arkham Asylum. Batman – The Telltale Series, though completely different in nature, continues that streak of quality Batman video games.

Batman – The Telltale Series is an episodic adventure game in the same form Telltale Games has been famous for for quite a while. Rather than picking up one of the many interpretations of Batman, such as the movies or Rocksteady Arkham series video games, Batman is a new take on the character. After Batman foils the theft of an encrypted data device from city hall, Bruce Wayne is caught in a political knife fight over his support of Harvey Dent’s campaign for mayor. Bruce Wayne and Batman fight on two fronts to uncover who is behind some vicious attacks on the Wayne family legacy and who called for the city hall break-in.

If you’ve played any recent Telltale adventure games, particularly The Wolf Among Us, you know how this game is going to play. If you haven’t, these are cinematic adventure games, where the bulk of your interaction comes through dialog choices. In Batman, you spend most of the game as Bruce Wayne, playing the politics game in Gotham City. Where nearly every other Batman game focuses on punching bad guys, Batman – The Telltale Series takes a refreshing break from the cowl to put some serious metaphorical knives at Bruce’s back. There’s a point in the early game where I made a choice as Bruce that was supportive of a friend of mine, but looked real bad in the public eye, and the game never let me forget it. It kept coming up, and I could try to explain it away as Bruce, but it wasn’t something Batman could punch until it was solved. I liked that it held me to my actions, even if it felt a little overboard, because I made a big decision at a split second. Making you feel like you’re in some control over the story is what Telltale Games does best, and Batman is no exception.

Being the first episode in a series, there’s a lot of scenes establishing characters. Obviously, Thomas and Martha Wayne (Bruce’s murdered parents) are plainly present, but Telltale manages to give some characters an alternative look. They’re instantly familiar in many ways, but different enough to give one subtle reminder: what you think you know about Batman doesn’t necessarily apply here. Familiar characters, familiar setting, but this is definitely Telltale’s game and doesn’t have to strictly adhere to comic book, or movie, or TV show, or video game Batman universes. Again, I love this because it’s keeping me on my toes.

I’ve got two minor complaints about this first episode. The first is that the action is pretty fast (for an adventure game), and the button prompts aren’t 100% clear when it came to directional movement. I learned quick that a prompt that looked like a clockwise half-circle moving right to left really just meant push left. It’s a minor complaint, but I came off as a very rookie or drunken Batman in my first fight because I was trying to do too much to match the prompt when the actual input needed was much simpler. It’s something I caught on to quickly, but it was an annoyance.

The other minor complaint is that the game didn’t run great. I’m not running on brand new hardware, but my PC runs much more graphically intense games than this with fewer hitches. It’s good looking, but it’s still the simple mostly flat style many Telltale games have. I can’t really explain why it didn’t run better, and the hiccups were largely between scenes, but it was noticeable. Perhaps the console versions run better.

Batman – The Telltale Series Episode 1: Realm of Shadows is a mouthful, but it’s easy to recommend to Batman fans and Telltale adventure game fans. Even if you don’t fit within those tastes, the political and class machinations are already heating up in this first episode. It’s a strong start and I’m very excited to see what comes next. This is what I expected from Telltale; a quality game taking characters I know and giving me an experience that doesn’t feel like it’s completely retreading well-worn territory.

Game Reviews


INSIDE is Playdead’s followup to LIMBO. They’re completely unrelated, except that they play pretty much the same. Run to the right, solve some light puzzles. Like LIMBO, INSIDE has a beautiful, slightly abstract art style. It’s not strictly black and white like LIMBO, but its color palette is clearly muted. Like the art, sounds are sparse and music perfectly suited to the mood. To be honest, a lot of the game is holding down the “run right” button, but there are puzzles and platforming sections to complete. None of them are particularly challenging. It might even be easier than LIMBO, but you will fail occasionally. Then you will die, often violently, for your failure.

But what makes this game indescribable is playing it. Looking at its parts, there’s not much there, but what INSIDE does with those parts is incredible. It tells a story without words. It sets a mood without assaulting the senses. It makes you feel things about a video game character whose name you don’t even know.

I absolutely cannot talk about it without ruining the effect. All I can say is what happens in the first 30 seconds, which is that you control a boy as he runs through the woods while people are loaded into a box truck by people in faceless masks. It’s a grim start and it’s impossible to put down once you’ve started. It’ll take about three and a half hours, and I recommend playing it all in one go if you can. It builds exponentially until it’s hammering you with shocking moments to the very end.

INSIDE is easy to recommend to anyone. It’s an amazing experience that is easily accessible. It’s not long or difficult, but it will leave you affected. It’s going to sound like a cop-out for me to say “if you’re interested at all, play it” without qualifying that statement, but it’s worth it. Play it.

Game Reviews

Doom (2016)

It’s a little funny that this is the fourth canonical Doom game, yet the second to bear the simple name of Doom. Doom has been in the works as far back as 2008, though it reportedly was scrapped at least once and remade from scratch. Id also lost one of its principal founders, John Carmack, during Doom‘s development, along with several other key team members. Another warning sign was that there was a poorly received multiplayer beta, and review copies of the game were not made available until the release date. These types of circumstances often lead to Duke Nukem Forever levels of bad video game, so I was absolutely skeptical of Doom. My skepticism was for nothing. Doom is fantastic.

Believe it or not, Doom has a story, and it’s exactly enough story and of an appropriate tone for a Doom game in 2016. You are Doom Marine (yes, that’s one of your names), and you wake up chained to a table in research base on Mars and surrounded by zombie-like monsters. After you bust out of your restraints and kill the demons, you find your armor looking like it’s been excavated out of a block of stone. You then learn that Mars is suffering from a demonic invasion and you’re the only solution. Kill the forces of Hell and stop the invasion.

There’s a lot conveyed in the first 10 minutes of Doom that set the pace and tone of the entire game. Doom 3 started with upwards of 30 minutes of tension building and place setting. In Doom, you’re immediately surrounded by enemies, handed a pistol, and forced to fight. Before the talking head finishes telling you about the demonic invasion, Doom Marine violently shoves the LCD monitor away, breaking it. Then you fight a handful of demons in an enclosed area where you learn about Glory Kills. Glory Kills let you execute a weakened enemy to regain health. You ten find the shotgun, the talking head tells you that everything leading up to the demonic invasion was for the good of humanity while you look down on a mutilated corpse, and then title screen hits.

Like the classic Doom games, Doom is about skilled movement and aggressive action. It is not Call of Duty. Doom Marine can take a lot of punishment and easily dodge around enemy fire. If you’re low on health, hiding in a corner will do you no good; there are no regenerating health mechanics. You have to get back in the fight, and violently murder demons with Glory Kills to regain health in combat. Doom also gives a good reason to use the chainsaw in combat. Killing enemies with the chainsaw causes them to pop like a pinata full of ammunition. This is a core gameplay loop of Doom; kill demons to reduce their numbers, Glory Kill them to refill health, chainsaw them to refill ammo.

It’s not perfect, but the problems are fixable. It has bugs. I’ve experienced more than a couple of crashes to desktop. If you’re playing with keyboard and mouse (as you should on PC), you’ll find that some of the really good flavor text is unreadable because there’s no way to scroll through it. The scroll wheel, which you’d expect to do that, doesn’t. It has a multiplayer mode that’s fast and fun enough, even if it isn’t particularly interesting.

As a single player game though, Doom is incredible. It does what may have seemed impossible; it takes the classic games and gives them a 2016 upgrade. It’s undeniably Doom from beginning to end. Where Wolfenstein: The New Order was great for reimagining what Wolfenstein could be in 2014, Doom largely keeps the original’s formula and adds some smart modern improvements without harming what made the original games great to begin with.

Game Reviews

Odallus: The Dark Call

I’m a pretty big fan of the Castlevania series. They’re generally a great blend of action, platforming, great music, and tons of weird monsters. The series has had far more hits than misses, and it’s disappointing to me that Konami appears to be withdrawing from the video game market. Doing so will take Castlevania away from us forever, and we’ll be left replaying those excellent classics and wishing we had something new. But the indie developers at Joymasher also apparently loved Castlevania, because Odallus: The Dark Call bears its influence proudly and it’s magnificent.

Odallus is a neo-retro game; it’s obviously a fully original game but its done in the style of games made 30 years ago. It’s got the Ninja Gaiden style cutscenes, beautiful sprite based 2D graphics, and a chiptunes soundtrack. On my hard drive, it takes up 415MB so it’s far beyond the storage capacity of an NES cartridge, but the look and feel is all there. It even occasionally has NES-style graphical glitches.

As Haggis, you find that your village is burning and your child is missing, so you strike out to fight demons and monsters and all sorts of nasty stuff and get him back. Haggis is armed with a sword, which isn’t a chain whip, but it’s perfectly satisfying when it comes to chopping up monsters. There are also subweapons that augment your fighting capacity. It mixes up the Castlevania formula by giving you a throwing axe that flies straight, a torch that burns like holy water, and a javelin that flies in an arc, and all three are readily available once you’ve found them. You’ll often rely on those subweapons to do real damage, at least early in the game, because your starting sword is a little weak and slow.

Odallus also takes some influence from the Metroid series in that you can find relics that enhance your movement abilities, such as being able to breathe underwater and double-jump. The game is also full of secret areas, some of which require these relics to find. It’s not a fully open map like Metroid, but it’s broken down into levels that can revisited from the world map. Stuff like secret areas and multiple level exits are things that I loved about old NES games and they’re done well.

Difficulty in the game is almost perfectly balanced. It’s falls just on the right side of almost infuriating but still encouraging you to try again. Every time I ragequit on a boss (which happened once or twice), I’d jump back in after 10 minutes because I wanted to beat it and I knew I could. The final boss is absolutely brutal and I beat it with barely a sliver of life left, but it was so rewarding when I did.

I really don’t have much to complain about here. The mine cart level kind of sucks a little, but it’s nowhere near as frustrating as some classic counterparts. Odallus: The Dark Call is a must-play for Castlevania fans, or retro gaming enthusiasts. I’ve seen a lot of retro-ish games, but this is easily one of my favorites and one that gets it right.

Game Reviews


Daikatana is mediocre at its very best. There is simply no better way to put it. The level design is uninspired. The sounds are mostly weak and inappropriate. The flow of the game is choppy. The texture work is busy and looks as though entirely too much detail was crammed into resolutions far too small.

For a good indicator of how the entire game plays out, look no further than the very first level. It stands out as an example of almost everything wrong with this game. It takes place in a futuristic swamp, not exactly the most exciting place ever. It is painted in primarily two colors; green and gray. The first enemies you fight are (and I’m not joking) robotic mosquitoes, robotic frogs, and robotic alligators. They all behave in the same manner; hop, fly, or crawl directly at you and attempt to make a melee attack. Your first weapon is the ion blaster; an ugly green and gray pistol that looks like it’s a bundle of tubes and wires all taped together. Shots from the ion blaster ricochet off of walls and explode in water for no particular purpose. Since you spend some time in the water because you are in a swamp, it is quite a surprise to be burned by your own weapon when you attempt to fight something there. You are left to fight alligators and frogs in water with your fists. There is one path through the level from beginning to end and it is not particularly interesting or exciting. This tepid start is how the entire game plays out.

Early in the game you are cursed with two AI companions. Had these companions any semblance of intelligence, they may have been useful. As they stand, they are walking liabilities. They get stuck in terrain, they get stuck in doors, they fall way behind so that when you are trying to exit a level, you waste time waiting on them to catch up. They can wield weapons but since they are often far behind you, they either do not get to the firefight in time to contribute in any meaningful capacity, or they end up shooting you in the back. Babysitting them is a miserable experience.

There is an experience point system in which you can level up your amount of damage per attack, speed of fire, speed of movement, jumping ability, and total health. Of these, the only one of any real use is increasing jumping ability. It is the only one that has any tangible benefits as it allows you to access some secret areas that you would not otherwise be able to reach. If you use the Daikatana, it takes your experience points to level itself up. Increasing the level of the Daikatana is not really useful. It attacks faster and does more damage, but it begins to glow and spark and these effects end up taking up more screen real estate than they’re worth. The Daikatana is useless in any ranged fight and most of the enemies in the game are melee focused, so you can put yourself at a tactical advantage by using whatever your period specific pistol is and leaving the Daikatana alone.

As I described the ion blaster, so many of the other weapons in the game tend to bite you just as often as they do your enemies. The C4 launcher in the first episode is absolutely crippling to yourself more than Mishima’s forces. It fires sticky proximity mines that explode in a large radius if anything comes near them, including yourself and other prox mines. Since enemies are often too dumb to follow you once you’re out of sight, it is impossible to use this weapon to set any traps and it becomes a dangerously unhelpful grenade launcher. In the second episode, you get the hammer of Hades. It does healthy amounts of damage when charged, but places that damage right below your feet so you feel its power also. It’ll even nuke your AI sidekicks if they get too close, which send you straight to the game over screen. The weapons in episode three are not particularly good or bad, and, in a surprising turn, the guns in episode four are actually fun to use. Episode four, however, contains one of the most personally dangerous weapons in the entire game; the metamaser. It is a thrown proximity turret that shoots out lasers at anything that comes near it, including you! However, its range is so great, and there are basically no encounters with anything more than one or two enemies at a time, and it explodes violently after a short period of time. It is far more dangerous than useful.

The level design can only be described as painful. As in the first level, there is typically only one path and it is rarely an interesting one. Platforming abounds and it is about as fun as pulling teeth. In episode two, there is an inordinately large area through which five runes are hidden. The player is rarely pointed in the direction of each rune and it becomes a long and boring game of hide and seek. While most levels took me only twenty minutes at most to complete, I spent over an hour on this area alone, and that does not include time lost due to deaths. At the end of episode four, there is a series of instant death platforming sections that serve only to drive the player insane. It is unfathomable to believe that someone at some point in time thought that these areas were a good idea, or even fun.

Story in this game comes only through long and boring cutscenes. Even though you carry two AI companions with you through most of the game, they rarely speak to each other or contribute anything to say about what is going on in the game. All meaningful dialog is contained within cutscenes that run too long. Thankfully they are skippable at any time.

There is no avoiding it; Daikatana was not a good game when it was released, and it does not get better with age. If you are feeling nostalgic, as I was, watch a playthrough on Youtube. Do not play it. This game is far more trouble than it is worth.

Game Reviews

E.T. Armies

One of the great things about PC gaming being a truly global community is that I get the chance to play games developed around the globe. Part of what attracted me to E.T. Armies is that it was developed by an Iranian studio, which is extremely rare to find even in this environment of wide-reaching internet and digital distribution. I can’t actually name any other Iranian developers. Even more interesting is that it’s seemingly developed for a Western audience; it’s a sci-fi military FPS all spoken in English and evoking a lot of the tropes of the genre. At the time of review, it doesn’t even have an option for Persian dialog or subtitles. So how does it compare to its contemporaries? Not well.

E.T. Armies is a sci-fi military FPS, set in a post-Earth world. War and energy greed have ravaged Earth to the point that it had to be abandoned. Not everyone made it off the planet, separating humanity into the Parsis and the Forsaken. You are Aria, a Parsis soldier whose dropship has been shot down over an unnamed planet. You and your squad must fight off a resurgent, invading Forsaken force.

E.T. Armies is an indie FPS built on the Unreal engine. Its design is not particularly inspired, but it works and it looks okay. A bit dated and bit too much colored lighting and effects, but it’s got a consistent look. Weaponry is strictly your military FPS standards: three flavors of assault rifle, shotgun, sniper rifle. There are weapon turrets and a situational fire support that you can use against bigger flying enemies. It’s all perfectly functional.

If perfectly functional doesn’t sound exciting, though, it’s because it’s not. The game is a lot of running down overly colorful, but still dark, corridors and shooting mostly brainless enemies in an utterly linear fashion. There’s a jump button, but I never found a use for it because I couldn’t even clear seemingly waist-high obstacles. The story is pretty nonexistent with the exception of a couple cutscenes, so there’s not much driving you forward except to get to the end of it. It all feels very 2000’s era FPS.

However, where it commits its worst offenses is in the sound department. The weapon sounds are weak, the music is uninspired, and voice work is all dreadfully bad. I would chalk up it up to the language difference, but there is no option to hear the voiceovers in Persian. They’re all in awfully delivered English. This is an instance in which I would rather hear the lines delivered in the developer’s native language, even if it means I couldn’t tell whether or not the voicework is any better in another language.

E.T. Armies appears to be Raspina’s first FPS, and it feels like it was a learning experience. They got a lot accomplished emulating older FPS games. Now they have to fix the sound quality, and spice up the gameplay to make something really enjoyable for 2016. Unfortunately, as it stands, E.T. Armies isn’t very good and it has a lot to improve upon.

Game Reviews

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

I have a love/hate relationship with the Metal Gear series; I loved Metal Gear Solid, and I hated every other game in the series. That’s not true. I haven’t played all of them, and I also love Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, a game whose gameplay is so out of place with the rest of the series as to not include it in the same breath. The point is that I feel Metal Gear Solid struck a perfect balance between excellent gameplay and over-indulgent creator nonsense that the other games in the series did not. I didn’t get excited for Metal Gear Solid V when it was announced as two games, didn’t get excited when it reviewed well, and really paid it no notice until it was selected as Giant Bomb’s #2 game of the year. I always buy their game of the year, but I don’t have a WiiU, so I deferred to the number two choice. I set my prejudices aside for a moment, and jumped into Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.

You are codename Punished “Venom” Snake, the legendary Big Boss, and it’s 1984. Your Mother Base has been destroyed, your forces killed, and you’ve been hospitalized from critical injuries you received in the escape. After an explosive wake up, you’re reunited with your lieutenants, Ocelot and Miller, and start about the task of rebuilding your private army (the Diamond Dogs), and tearing apart Afghanistan and the Angola-Zaire border in your search for the man who nearly killed you, Skull Face, to exact your revenge.

MGSV has a lot of interconnected systems in it, but for the sake of the “micro” in microreview, let’s focus on the core gameplay loop. Storyline missions are broken into episodes. Each one starts you at one point in the open world map, and gives you an objective or two. How you achieve those objectives, such as eliminating an enemy commander or rescuing a POW, is up to you. At your disposal are a huge number of weapons (lethal and non-lethal) and utility items, ranging from the standard Metal Gear cardboard box, to inflatable decoys and smoke grenades that can summon your attack helicopter and fire support team. What works so well in these missions is that they encourage stealth and doing things quietly, but if you screw it up and have to shoot your way out, it doesn’t really punish you in the way other Metal Gear games will. There are a ton of tools at your disposal. You can, should, and will need to use them all.

The sheer variety of missions and objectives and ways to accomplish them means MGSV rarely feels repetitive, arbitrary, or boring. Sometimes I was carefully scoping out enemy positions, creeping through their defenses, and quickly slipping out, POW in a fireman’s carry, without a trace. Sometimes I would try to be sneaky, fail, and finish my objectives only after killing every single person in the area. In one mission, I was having trouble sneaking in, so I shot a rocket at an enemy position. It created a diversion, so while they were all facing in the direction of where I shot the rocket from, I was able to sneak around behind them, and finish the mission. With the exception of the very noisy rocket, I was neither seen nor heard.

There is a lot more going on, including side ops (side quests in other games), buddies and their relationships to you, base building, online mission dispatches, item and weapon research, and regular open world exploration and collectible finding. It’s all great and none of it is jammed down your throat too fast. In fact, I’d estimate a solid 1/3 of the game is a steady tutorial ramping up to having all of your systems online and moving.

What doesn’t work so hot is the story. It’s less nonsense than some Metal Gears, but the conclusion is extremely underwhelming. It feels cut off, like the development team suddenly ran out of time or money or both. It leaves a lot of loose ends that aren’t remotely addressed by the next game in the series timeline, which would be the original Metal Gear. It does one thing right at the end, but a dozen different things wrong.

I went into MGSV extremely skeptical, and was absolutely engrossed by it. It’s hard for me not to be effusive about it. I just enjoyed this game so, so much. If I had played it earlier, it would’ve easily been one of my favorite games of 2015. Not quite good enough to unseat The Witcher 3, but it’s excellent and they do have a lot of similarities. It’s good enough to make me want to revisit those previous Metal Gear games that I didn’t put a lot of time into. It’s a real shame that Hideo Kojima has parted ways with Konami, and thus the Metal Gear series. The series may be at a functional end, but it went out on an extremely high note.

Side note: If you’re likewise not a huge Metal Gear fan and not willing to jump headfirst into the full The Phantom Pain, check out Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. It is more-or-less a demo for that excellent core gameplay loop, and it’s a quarter of the price of the full game. Yes, it’s a paid demo, but it contains an area not seen within The Phantom Pain, gives some backstory to the full product, and offers some items to carry over.

Game Reviews


I was going to buy Firewatch no matter what it turned out to be. I’ve been a listener of the Idle Thumbs podcast since shortly after it started, following Chris Remo from when he was an editor at Shacknews. I love the insightful discussions the Idle Thumbs crew has every week. When the bulk of them joined together to form Campo Santo, I was instantly onboard for whatever game they would make together. “What is Firewatch?” was never a relevant question to me. I’m glad to report that, now that I know what Firewatch is, it’s rather good, if a little pedestrian.

You play Firewatch as Henry, a volunteer fire lookout in Wyoming in 1988. You’re in Shoshone National Park to look out for fires (obviously), and get away from your life for an indeterminate amount of time. Your boss, Delilah, is in the next tower over, and you communicate with her through your walkie-talkie over the course of the game.

Let’s get this out of the way first: Firewatch is a first-person, narrative-driven adventure game. A “walking simulator”, if you must, comparable to Gone Home, but set outdoors with more walking to do, but not necessarily more to see. The game is to listen to and talk to Delilah, “solve” a mystery, and get lost in the woods. You have a map, so getting lost is on you, and the mystery is revealed in whole by the time you get far enough in the game, so the bulk of the game rests on Henry and Delilah.

What it does best is that interaction between Henry and Delilah. Over the course of the game, you learn a lot about each other and it’s wonderfully voice acted and well written. As Henry, you have a little bit of control over your voice. Many of your responses to Delilah are multiple choice, some with wildly different tones. There’s a multiple choice prologue that sort of acts as a mad libs for your own Henry, but your choices don’t necessarily change the story in radical ways. Some dialog might be a little snark-heavy, but that’s also a choice of the player. Delilah and Henry are great, and Firewatch is non-existent without them

Though it’s a short game (3.5 hours by my count), it’s difficult to put down once you start. I didn’t intend on playing through it all on release day, but as soon as I stopped, I would think about getting right back in to see what the next day brings. The game parts are a little anemic, and the ending abrupt, but the storytelling, character building, and the environments are all fantastic. It’s a game that will give you something to think about for at least as long as it takes to play.

Game Reviews


Way back when, there was this cool game called Uplink. It was a hacking simulator. You bounce your connection off of hacked machines, hide your steps, steal data. It was sort of close to how real hacking works, but it was just different enough and directionless to a point that it was kind of overwhelming. It was a hard game.

Hacknet is something of an Uplink-inspired indie game. It’s terms and tools are much closer to the real world. It’s also quite a bit more straightforward. It’s paced well enough, with a mixture of contract-type hacking jobs, and some narrative missions that lead to a story conclusion. The mission objectives are clear enough that I never failed for incompletion. However, I found some missions were either offered before I had the tools to complete them, or without ever having the tools and forcing me to abort the contract to continue.

To complete missions, you have to combine your tools with your knowledge. An early mission involves a counter-hack. Someone has stolen a file. You need to get on their server, find the file, and delete it. The tools will get you into the server, but you’re on your own for finding the file. Part of it is knowing where to look, and part is knowing what you’re looking for. If you think you’ve got it right, you send a reply to the customer, and get a “contract successful” email. If you didn’t, the game will stop you from replying with a “mission incomplete” screen.

On most servers, there’s no particular danger to browsing around and screwing up. However, some will start tracing your location. If you let the trace catch you, you’re thrown into a minigame in which you have to reset your own IP address by hacking your ISP. It’s on a short timer, so you move from the intense countdown of the trace, to an even more intense countdown before you’re disconnected. It’d make for some really cool moments, if it were a little better explained the first time it happens. I didn’t have a firm grasp on what to do, so I kind of just sat there until I lost. Not great.

But the highs of the game are rather high. It’s fun to try to solve the puzzles getting into servers, doing it under the timer of the trace, and getting out. Some parts are less developed than others, and the appeal might be limited to people who have an interest in computer security, but it’s a good game for a weekend. Or a day, it really only took me 5 something hours to complete.

Game Reviews


Thomas Was Alone is the previous Mike Bithell game, and it was a cute, minimalist platformer that I enjoyed but would probably never play again. It was fun and all, but it’s really a once-and-done kind of experience. Unless you forget the storyline (which forms the bulk of the appeal of the game), there aren’t a lot of reasons to keep playing. Volume isn’t like Thomas Was Alone much at all. It’s better.

Volume is a top-down-ish stealth game. The plot is an anti-authority tale that is irrelevant, because it’s not the game’s strong suit and it’s almost incomprehensible. It’s an awful lot like Metal Gear Solid, in that you sneak around and avoid the enemies’ vision cones as you make your way through 100 core levels. Each level takes no longer than 5 minutes to play from start to finish, but that’s assuming you never fail. You will fail, but the game is extremely generous with checkpoints. The punishment for failure is a matter of seconds lost, not minutes. Each level has a par time. It’s almost encouraging speedruns. It took me about 6 hours, 20 minutes from game start to game finish.

The stealth feels rock solid. If you’re not in a vision cone or making noise, you are absolutely invisible. Unrealistic in a way, but completely unambiguous. The game has a crisp, clean design with an abstract, minimalist style. Everything is sharp polygons, which is appropriate as the game takes place inside a simulation. There are a half dozen enemies with their own strengths and weaknesses. Each level is almost a puzzle to be solved with your sneakiness and tools. The tools are doled out most of the game, so even late game is introducing new mechanics.

The whole 100 level core game could be considered an extended tutorial as the game comes with tools to build levels yourself right in the game’s interface. No need to download sketchy mods or juggle programs; you can browse user-made levels from within the game as well as create your own. The user-made levels also feature a rating system, and there are “staff picks” if you don’t trust the judgment of other Volume players.

Where Volume stumbles is in its story and controls. As mentioned earlier, the story is a muddled mess. It’s obviously of the “people rising up against The Man” variety, but it’s dribbled out across level descriptions, in-game notes, and three cutscenes. It’s not great. And the controls, when played with a standard Xbox 360 type controller, are a little weird. The game fully supported the controller, but all of the button prompts were for keyboard + mouse controls, so I had to fumble a little to find the right buttons. Even with the correct buttons located, the controls seemed to eschew the face buttons in favor of the triggers and bumpers. It’s a very minor quibble, but still a little jarring in an otherwise extremely well-made game.

I had a hard time putting Volume down. I spent most of the holiday weekend playing it, and it very much invoked a “one more level” feeling in me. It’s not a particularly difficult game, but in the more challenging sections, I truly appreciated knowing that it wasn’t an unfair game. It’s just that I hadn’t figured out how to “solve” the particular challenge yet. It’s not going to set the world on fire, and it has a couple of minor flaws, but it made me happy for being such a straightforward and enjoyable game. It’s well worth your time for a weekend.