Game Review: Game of Thrones, a Telltale Games Series

Type of game: Interactive movie / point and click graphic adventure
Developed & Published by: Telltale Games
Year:  Episodic release dates from December 2014 – November 2015.
Played on: Steam

Telltale's Game of Thrones series logo

Westeros: there are certainly more festive and joyful destinations in which to spend your Christmas vacation. This game proved absorbing, challenging and emotionally devastating, but a jolly experience it certainly was not. But, while my real-life December proved unseasonably – even alarmingly – warm,  a large chunk of this episodic interactive adventure game is set frozen north so at least I got a White Christmas!

There was also a lot to be said for the opportunity the break afforded me to play all six episodes in quick succession. Like all their episodic adventure games, Telltale’s Game of Thrones was released at intervals from December 2014 to November 2015. Releasing in parts like this – usually with a cliffhanger ending to each – mirrors the format of popular TV shows, allowing space between episodes for reflection and discussion and, of course, ratcheting up anticipation for the next instalment. I can see why they do it. Telltale’s phenomenally good Tales From the Borderlands was my 2015 game of the year and, after a slightly delayed start, with that one I played each episode as it was released. There, I did actually appreciate being forced to wait and make the deliciously entertaining story last. While Telltale’s signature relationship web-spinning and complex moral decisions were still a key component, the plot and characters in Tales from the Borderlands were – just like its distinctive, cel-shaded art style – still rather cartoonish and larger than life. So, even with lengthy gaps between the episodes, it was easy to remember the choices I’d made and the truths and lies I’d peddled.

Telltale’s Game of Thrones is just as true to the spirit of Westeros as Tales… was to Pandora, which makes it an altogether more subtle, bleak and sombre affair. The cast is large, with 5 playable characters plus a whole host of supporting figures, both familiar faces from the HBO show and new personalities. There’s also a lot of negotiating to be done, with multiple identities, names, promises and lies to remember, particularly in the King’s Landing sections of the story. For this reason I think I would have struggled if I’d tackled each episode months apart. But played intensively, an episode a day over the course of a week this builds into an immersive and gut-wrenching (often literally) narrative that feels extremely true to the world George R.R. Martin has created – a verdict that applies as much to the flaws of that world as to its many strengths.

Spoiler Alert!

The game’s action weaves cleverly around key events from the HBO TV show and therefore contains massive spoilers for season 3 and season 4. This review will replicate those spoilers but it doesn’t give away the specifics of this game’s actual plot. By the way, if you consider “several beloved main characters die in this” to be a spoiler then I’ll assume you’re probably not a Game of Thrones fan.

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Game Review: A Study in Steampunk: Choice by Gaslight

Type of game: Text / interactive fiction
Written by: Heather Albano
Published by: Choice of Games
Year: 2015
Played on: Steam

Exercising your brain, and your conscience rather than your aim and your reflexes, text-based interactive fiction games make an enjoyable change from the more graphically intensive FPS games and action RPGs that I tend to play the most. Choice of Games have published some real crackers in this genre – Choice of Robots, particularly, remains not only one of my favourite games and favourite reads, but one of my downright favourite experiences – so it’s great that so many more of the publisher’s outputs are becoming available on Steam, both games from their back catalogue and new releases. Heather Albano’s A Study in Steampunk, falls into the latter category, a brand new game released with the following blurb:

Steam-powered mechs meet forbidden sorcery in this interactive steampunk novel, inspired by Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, Jekyll & Hyde, and Jack the Ripper!

Given my love for the mecha, for the steampunk aesthetic, and for all things Victorian-noir, this was an insta-buy for me. Did it live up to its promise?

A Study in Steampunk: title screen

A Study in Steampunk: title screen

Let’s survey the evidence, shall we Watson?

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Game Review: Tales From the Borderlands (Episodes 1 -3)

Type of game: Point and click graphic adventure
Developed & Published by: Telltale Games
Year:  Episode 1 Zer0 Sum November 2014; Episode 2 Atlas Mugged March 2015; Episode 3 Catch a Ride June 2015
Played on: Steam

Well, I love point and click adventure games, and Borderlands is my favourite game franchise ever. But not all great tastes go well together: I also love coffee and cider but I wouldn’t want to mix them in one mug. So I bought my season pass for this new episodic adventure from Telltale Games with excitement but also – I’ll confess – some trepidation. The blackly comic sci-fi frontier world of Pandora is a wonderful setting, but in the Borderlands FPS/RPG games the main way to interact with this environment is by shooting stuff and looting better guns in order to kill bigger stuff and loot even crazier guns. I couldn’t quite imagine how the Borderlands vibe would translate into the kind of narrative / consequence-heavy experience that Telltale are so adept creating.

Only one way to find out…

Game title screen

Game title screen: clicking finger at the ready!

There will be 5 episodes in total, but here are my thoughts from having played through the 3 parts of this game that are currently released…

TL;DR version: it works and I loved it.

More considered opinion after the jump. I’ve tried to avoid any major plot spoilers here Spoilersbut this is the kind of game that it’s tricky to discuss in any depth without mentioning a few events, so consider yourself forewarned. I’d rate this review as 25% of a Rodimus on the spoiler scale I’ve literally just invented.

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Game Review: Hatoful Boyfriend

Type of game: Visual novel
Developed by: (original) Moa Hato (remake) Mediatonic
Published by: (remake) Devolver Digital
Year: (original) 2011 (remake) 2014
Played on: Steam

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! And no, I don’t mean Christmas, I’m talking about the Steam Summer Sale – which admittedly does have things in common with December 25th *insert fat man Santa / Gabe Newell joke here.* During this week or so of heavily discounted PC games our spending here at AddAltMode tend to fall in to 2 categories: the ‘big’ games we really wanted but were waiting to obtain at a bargain price, and usually at least one or two really odd games purchased either out of curiosity or just for the giggles because they were so cheap. This is why our (non-Borderlands) gaming has become particularly random and uh, farmyard themed (?) in recent weeks: with AddAltMode B playing Goat Simulator and me settling down with this um pigeon-dating simulator….

Hatoful Boyfriend menu screen

Hatoful Boyfriend menu screen

Yes, Hatoful Boyfriend is a pigeon-dating simulator. Don’t judge me. In it, you play as the only human attending St.Pigeonations, a prestigious Japanese high-school run and attended by sentient birds. Ostensibly the goal is to progress through the typical milestones of the school calendar: classes, holidays, sports days and festivals, while getting to know “everybirdie” (the game uses this and similar terms throughout) and to find that special “somebirdie” to pursue more intimately. I enjoy interactive fiction a lot. I’d never dated a pigeon before, or indeed considered dating one but I was intrigued by two things: firstly just how off the wall the premise was, and secondly just how many extremely positive reviews this title seemed to have garnered. Could a game about romancing pigeons really be so engaging, or does the world just contain far more pigeon fanciers (and not in the racing sense) than I’d realised? The sale price of £1.74 seemed a reasonable sum to pay to find out more…

I thought it might make me laugh for an hour or two. How wrong can you be?

cheevos

No, I haven’t suddenly become a pigeon pervert but I did get suckered in, hook line and sinker. Because it turns out Hatoful Boyfriend is a much more intense, dark and engaging experience than I’d anticipated. There’s much, much more to this game than meets the eye…

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Game Review: Mecha Ace

Type of game: Text / interactive fiction
Written by: Paul Wang
Published by: Choice of Games
Year: 2014
Played on: Steam

Cover art by Paul Wang

Cover art by Paul Wang

Stop and think rationally for a minute and there are so many reasons why doing battle from inside giant war robots is daft idea. We all know this, and yet it’s a trope that surfaces again and again in anime, sci-fi and fantasy. You ask why? I ask you why are you even asking that? It’s the Rule of Cool! It’s because mecha are spectacular!

So I’ll admit I was simultaneously excited and doubtful about picking up this choose your own adventure game by Paul Wang. “Step into the cockpit of a giant robot in an interstellar civil war!” The blurb entices… “Customize your mecha to duel against enemy pilots with “monosaber” plasma swords.” Who hasn’t yearned to do this? Personally, I’ve spent so long fantasizing about being a mech pilot that I spent months sewing costumes so that B and I could cosplay as crew of Pacific Rim‘s Cherno Alpha. But you see the thing there? My first response to just how much I adored Pacific Rim was to do something visual: to make costumes. Mech war is a hugely visual genre. Yes, there are some great stories woven in there too but generally mecha are loved because they look awesome. So I wasn’t sure what to expect from a text only interactive novel on the subject. When so much about mecha combat doesn’t convince – if, that is, you ever you get past the awe-inspiring visuals enough to actually consider this fact – then just how will a story hold up where precisely all you do is consider?

The answer? It holds up surprisingly well. Indeed, it’s a testament to the world building skills of game writer Paul Wang that Mecha Ace: Heroes of the Vedrian War manages to create an enjoyably tense and tactical textual experience within this usually most visually-reliant of genres.

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Game Review: Choice of the Deathless

Type of game: Text / interactive fiction
Written by: Max Gladstone
Published by: Choice of Games
Year: 2013
Played on: Steam

Choice of the Deathless Cover Art

Cover art by Ron Chan: http://www.ronchan.net/wordpress/

Thanks to Choice Of Games I’ve already been able to cross off “marry a robot” from my 2015 to do list. My love affair with that game – the first of its kind I’d played – inspired me to begin exploring the Choice Of back catalogue, which brought me to Max Gladstone’s Choice of the Deathless. And now I’ve been able to  draw a line through ”become an become an undead skeletal lawyer at a demonic law firm” too.

skeleton

To be honest, I hadn’t actually realised that item was on the list, but hey, you’ve gotta try these things once, right?

Wrong! The beauty of these Choose Your Own Adventure games is that it doesn’t need to be only once; you can try everything, replaying the game as much as you like to explore different options and pursue different paths. This definitely appealed in Deathless as the game’s primary strength is undoubtedly its world-building. The story made me want to explore and discover more of the interesting setting Gladstone has created, a world that takes the “law is an evil business” cliché and runs with it all the way to its necromantic conclusion.

What’s it all about?

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Game Review: Choice of Robots

Type of game: Text / interactive novel
Written by: Kevin Gold
Published by: Choice of Games
Year: 2014
Played on: Steam
Review by: R

Back when I was a kid, I used to love those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. I had quite a few of them: taking in every sort of quest from exploring the galaxy to becoming a champion rider, even quaffing ginger beer and solving mysteries with the Famous Five. I’d devour them all, turning back and forth the pages to leave no option unexplored. I hadn’t realised until very recently that these kinds of interactive novels were now available digitally, but it’s a perfect fit for the format: the simple, ”choose an option and click to continue” method of progression prevents any sneaky peeking ahead or changing your mind (always a temptation in book form), encouraging more investment in the choices the reader/player makes.

As an adult, horses and plucky kids don’t really do the business for me anymore, but do you know what does? ROBOTS! And in Choice of Robots Kevin Gold has created a game that has really got me hooked.

Art by Jason  Wiser: http //madwomb.com/home.php

‘Cover’ art by Jason Wiser: http //madwomb.com/home.php

What’s it all about?

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