The first game I checked out a PAX East was right up my space nerd alley. Inspired by the the 2012 landing of the Curiosity rover on our neighboring red planet, Random Seed Games has created a 25 square mile slice of Mars to set the scene for their exploration survival title Lacuna Passage. In the role of Jessica Rainer, sole survivor of the crashed Heracles mission, it’s up to you not only to survive, but to investigate the disappearance of the crew that landed there before you. Using what you can from the environment and other clues like logs and audio files scattered around the crash site to find the truth, equally important is watching your own resource levels so you can stay alive to find it. Keep an eye on your meters and make real on the fly choices to conserve your resources. Is a flashlight worth the battery drain? Is running worth exerting yourself and using extra oxygen? The game keeps you paying attention to your own heads up display as much as the vast world around you.
Sitting down to play the game, the first thing that struck me was the landscape. If I really wanted to I could just walk around refilling my oxygen every once in a while and checking out some of the rock formations and surprisingly nice vistas Mars had to offer. The playable area and terrain is actually created from NASA terrain data, giving the scene not only accurate markers but some great resolution. Jessica’s armed with some tools that include a camera, and the player can take pictures of terrain or the crash site or any sort of clues they find for that matter. The fun part about the pictures is that they’re all geotagged, letting you send them to your friends and other players to jumpstart more clues for them to work on. As the game progresses the sense of panic starts to set in – not just because of the falling oxygen meter prompting you to get to the base site airlock – but in the combination of the desolate surroundings, Jessica’s hurried and panicked tone, and her heavy breathing while she moves making you question whether or not she’ll make it.
It just makes you feel… well… delightfully uneasy. Well take a look at the prologue trailer:
That progression isn’t really based on picking up items and putting them together like a traditional adventure game either. The story’s driven by the environment and Jessica’s narrative, and reminds me a little of the type of gameplay we saw in Gone Home – using clues in the environment and all of the information in the logs you can assemble to drive the story forward. As I mentioned before you can photograph all these things and store the information on the tablet you’re equipped with. This tablet not only compiles your photos, logs and clues but also serves as an interactive soundtrack, letting Jessica turn her music on or off as she explores – both options add their own kind of ambiance for the game.
When I asked about how Curiosity Rover inspired him, Creative Director Tyler Owen had a pretty simple answer: “All that I could think about at the time was I just want to take control of that rover and go around and take pictures. So I thought If I’m going to do that I might as well make a game about it.”
Nice job, guys.
Platform: PC, Mac, Linux
Release Date: When it’s Ready
Ever wonder what’s happening inside Shrödinger’s box while we’re not looking at this dead and alive cat? Schrödinger’s Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Quark answers that question with gusto. Now those who know me know that I’m a huge science nerd by both education and interest. That and I love comedy. And puzzles. And hijinx. OK, especially the hijinx. And as it happens, Team17 and Italic Pig combined all of those things into this title – Even having background material of a super deep study in physics, Lost Quark manages to keep it light, colorful and fun as you and the Cat traverse through platform puzzles in the Particle Zoo using up, down, bottom and top quarks that can be combined to help with movement or knock out bad particles. Need a lift? 2 up quarks helicopter you up. need to bust through the floor below? combine two downs to get through. A lot of the fun of the game was experimenting with different quark combinations to see what they could do. Gameplay is fast and addictive, with a quark being on each trigger and bumper on the Xbox controller I was using to play the demo. This scheme, and even on just a keyboard, makes the gameplay incredibly smooth and intuitive, and is reinforced by the excellent tutorial level.
Not only is the gameplay smooth, but adding to the fun factor is the plethora of particle physics puns and jokes – not to mention that the characters have a lot of character! The voice acting is absolutely superb and really makes this game what it is, giving SC his cavalier attitude and the rest of the cast that science-y comedy bite. The game begins with “We don’t have any neutrinos, but they pass through here all the time.” Brilliant. The art is great too, giving us that modern smooth cartoony look, really doing a great job capturing details and expression on our characters, including the quarks themselves.
This game reminded me a lot of a modern day, more fast paced, science themed A Boy and his Blob. Which let’s face it, is fantastic. Check out the trailer below:
Release Date: out now
Back in the day I used to love playing those point and click adventures. I was practically addicted to the Monkey Island games and later on series like Quest for Glory and King’s Quest. That list can’t be complete though without mentioning their darker Voodoo cousin Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers. Now you guys know me, I’m generally not a big fan of remakes unless it’s well done, so I was skeptical when I sat down with Phoenix Online this past weekend at PAX East to take a look at the 20th Anniversary Edition of the game.
What’s great about those old adventure games is that the interface is such as can be used in modern platforms. Point and click can be updated to tap and swipe, and when it’s done right it works well. I got a chance to see the iPad version of the game, and I’m comfortable saying the remake more than holds up to its ancestor. Phoenix Online found a way to upgrade the game with modern graphics but still stay true to the 90’s author/voodoo killer hunter we all knew and loved.
(And full disclosure no, Tim Curry was not in the voice cast this time around. And I know, while we all universally hail the awesomeness of Mr. Curry, I think we can all understand why he’s absent and not count it against the game).
Gabriel is still paced evenly in “days” to progress the story with some minor changes so it makes a little more sense, requiring the player to finish certain tasks before they move on to the next chapter. There’s a few new puzzles that have been added to the game, and being an Anniversary title it comes full of extra bonuses – concept art, interviews, and especially for nostalgia hunters, comparisons of scenes between this version and the original from 1993.
An interesting thing about games that dominated this market back in the 90’s is that they’re smaller in scope than one of today’s multi-million dollar budget cinematic adventures, and because of that have found a resurgence in today’s gaming market on newer platforms like iPad and Android tablets, where an adventure game doesn’t have to be 80 hours of gameplay and 30 hours of cinematics to be fun.
Here’s the trailer below:
Platform/Release Date: PC, Mac (available now) / iOS, Android (Coming Soon)