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: Transformers Devastation

Type of game: Action beat ’em up
Developer: Platinum Games
Publisher: Activision
Year:  2015
Played on: Steam

“Good things come in small packages” sounds just like the sort of thing Bumblebee might say. On my first run through of this brand new Transformers-themed brawler by Platinum games I played entirely as Bumblebee; partly because he was always one of my favourites to play in the High Moon Cybertron games and partly just because, with only five playable characters on offer here, there isn’t that much choice anyway. But it turns out Bee was a highly appropriate starting selection since he’s a rather fitting embodiment of the game as a whole. Just like that iconic yellow Autobot, Transformers Devastation is bright and pleasingly designed, drawn to fast paced action and tons of nostalgic fun to be around, but more than a little on the short side…

Fun, fast-paced, nostalgic but short. Bumblebee model screencap from Transformers Devastation

Fun, fast-paced, nostalgic but short. Bumblebee model screencap from Transformers Devastation

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Borderlands 2: Most Random Sidequests

Borderlands 2 is a glorious mix of first-person shooter and role-playing game. Whilst the gameplay is very much to our taste here at AddAltMode, what really makes Borderlands 2 great is its storyline – which has epic grandeur, black comedy, high adventure and extreme violence in equal measure. Playing as a Vault Hunter — a professional treasure-seeker in search of alien ruins — on the planet Pandora some indeterminate time in the future (during the Six Galaxies period, apparently), players explore and battle their way through wilderness, ruins, cities and high-tech fortresses in pursuit of the evil “Handsome Jack” to stop him taking control of the planet with his army of robots.

Totally not a group of lunatics and reporbates.

The heroes of the day, the Vault Hunters: Left-to-right; Axton, Zer0, Gaige, Maya, Salvador & Krieg. Gaige’s robot Deathtrap floats behind the group.

The main storyline gets quite tense, but there are always some side-quests that various NPCs will set for the players. As with most RPGs, you can rush through the game doing only the vital parts of the story for an intense experience, or you can do a few jobs for people on the side to get a longer more satisfying game, or to level-up your character to fight the harder bosses.

Some of the side quests here are a bit odd, though. They don’t seem like things that I’d pester a vault-hunting hero with if that hero was busy saving the world, but the NPCs of Borderlands 2 clearly have different priorities from me. These come from all over the game, so obviously, there will be mild spoilers herein.

Spoiler Alert!

Spoiler Alert!

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Cosplay from the Vault: Portal 2’s Chell

Something from the vault today! And no it isn’t a Borderlands final boss. Here are some photos of one of my much older projects: a cosplay of Chell from Valve’s Portal 2. This dates from 2011 and was probably my first “proper”costume attempt. It was very much trial and error: there’s so much that I’d do differently were I to attempt this costume again now (including working out; which is something I do regularly now but didn’t back then – and sadly it showed!) So it’s not great, but I thought I’d share it anyway for two reasons: (1) I’ve always found it quite interesting to see how other people’s cosplay efforts have evolved other time (2) I’m still pretty proud of what B and I achieved here with only a limited idea of what we were doing and an even more limited budget!


Chell cosplay by AddAltModeR

More pics and commentary after the jump…

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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?


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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Pandora’s (dress up) Box: Borderlands Cosplay project is go!

So, Project Slipstream is over. Time, methinks, for a new cosplay adventure. Having done two, largely foam-based, Transformers costumes in a row now, I’m keen to do something quite different: something less foam based and more easily packable (which probably means cosplaying a human character), and someone who would fit nicely in a paired cosplay with AddAltModeB. Hmm, human – or “humanish” – part of a group or shared world with other cosplayable characters. That doesn’t limit my options much, or indeed at all. But the golden rule of cosplay or should be: follow your passions. I chose to dress up as Arcee and Slipstream because I love Transformers and those characters in particular. What else have I been heavily into lately? Let’s assess the evidence…

CaptureAll paths lead to Pandora. Yes, 2015 is the year B and I have been obsessively playing the Borderlands franchise. We already finished Borderlands and its DLCs and recently completed our first run-through of Borderlands 2, which I think just might be my favourite game ever. I love the space-dieselpunk aesthetic, the dark humour, and the great multiplayer experience, which is ideal for us to play through together. The recent Steam Sale helped me seal the deal by buying all the remaining BL2 DLCs as well as The Pre-Sequel, Telltale Games’ Tales From The Borderlands and um, Poker Night 2 (which features CL4P-TP; although that wasn’t the only reason I bought it). So yeah, when I’m into something I tend to go big or forget it, so Borderlands cosplay was probably only a matter of time…

And that time has come! You may have see B’s recent post where he talked about why and how he plans to cosplay the Gunzerker, Salvador. I’ll be assisting in that endeavour too, and as you may also have spotted from a close reading of B’s post, I’ll be working on giving Salvador some insanely smart company in the form of…

Screenshot from Tannis' intro in Claptrap's Robot Revolution

Screenshot from Tannis’ intro in Claptrap’s Robot Revolution

Now for the inevitable thought dump about the why and how of Project Tannis…

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Geeky Pet Names: or a history of my gaming career via the medium of rat names

So today I’d like to talk geeky pet names. I don’t mean those kind of between lovers pet-names, like when secretly call your other half “Lord Snugatron” or something (I just made that one up by the way; B and I do have our fair share of cutesy names for each other but we’ve never gone quite that far, honestly). No, I’m talking about geek-inspired names for any furry, feathered or scaly friends you may have in your life – your pets. For example, I don’t know what percentage of cats owned by Transformers fans are called Ravage, but I’m guessing it’s pretty high.

The Pet-Lover Generations Soundwave with Laserbeak and Ravage

The Pet-Lover. Sort of.
Generations Soundwave with Laserbeak and Ravage

B and I have never owned  been owned by a cat before although it’s something we are looking in to, and that we’d like to do in the future. There is probably a non-zero chance of any future Chez AddAltMode moggy being called Ravage. Currently, however, we’re fancy rat owners as we have been for the last ten years or so.  Rats have a bad reputation but they’re actually wonderful pets: clean (they use a litter tray); intelligent (they can work out little puzzles and know their names – some even come when called); genuinely interested in interacting with us; and every one is an individual. We’ve had a lot of wonderful little rat friends and ratty moments over the years. The downside of rat keeping is the fact that although these plucky little creatures have great personalities big enough to rival those of any dog, they don’t have similarly large life spans. Two to three years is a decent innings for a rat; it’s not a long time. As they are social animals that should not be kept in less than pairs and thrive in larger groups, that adds up to a lot of goodbyes over the years – especially since B and I have taken in quite a few rescue/shelter rats who often have health problems to begin with. I’ll always love rats but part of me is quite looking forward to owning a pet who may be part of our family for more than a couple of years.

Still, this isn’t meant to be a maudlin post. Naming pets is always fun, and a nice thing about having owned a lot of rats over the years is that we’ve had the chance to choose quite a lot of names. Being geeks (you might have noticed) this has meant that quite a few of our past and current rat buddies have ended up with names of quite a geeky persuasion. Reflecting back on them now has made me realise that our past rat name choices also provide quite an accurate record of what games etc we were into at the time…. Continue reading

Game Review: Machinarium

Type of game: Puzzle / Point and Click Adventure
Published by: Amanita Design
Year: 2009
Played on: Steam

This isn’t a new game: it was one of those impetuous sale purchases that had been languishing unplayed in my Steam Library for too long. I’m glad I finally got round to entering its strange, beautiful and often frustrating world. “It’s a work of art” is one of those phrases that tends to get overused in positive reviews, but in the case of Machinarium – an indie puzzle game from Czech Studio Amanita – it really is the correct description.

Game title header

Game title header

The most impressive thing about this point and click adventure game is its aesthetic. The incredibly detailed hand-drawn backgrounds depict a world of metal, oil and rust, a towering city of gears and pipes inhabited by strange robotic creatures. The sense of charm, intrigue and sadness evoked by this cityscape is perfectly complemented by the game’s eerie ambient-industrial soundtrack. Even from the gently animated title screen it is apparent that Machinarium presents a rich and fascinating, mechanical world, one that I couldn’t wait to start exploring.

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