Aug 292017
 

Who hasn’t watched the Wicker Man and wanted to run their own island of isolated cultists and do blood sacrifices? Well now you are in luck because the fine folks at Kilfox Games has their own Summerisle Simulator that they call The Shrouded Isle.  You are the cult leader of a village of cultists who believe the outside world is long dead. The cult is twiddling their thumbs waiting for the return of their Dark God who is supposed to show up in three years. Quick, everyone! Look busy!

Sadly, being a cult leader isn’t all about assembling a harem of love slaves and giving cool sermons. No, your little village needs to be kept in line. You have to make sure they stay ignorant or else they might figure out the rest of the world is doing fine. You have to keep their fervor up or else they might not want to sacrifice someone every season. You have to keep them disciplined or else they might skip prayer services to eat pastries or sit on comfy chairs. You have to keep their pertinence up to make sure sinners are adequately punished. Finally, you have to keep everyone obedient or else they might start making decisions on their own and you do not want that. Let any of those qualities get too low, and the village decides they need a new cult leader and the only retirement plan around here involves a torch or a knife.

But don’t worry, the five largest families in the village are here to help. Each house will happily lend you an advisor for the season. Now, these advisors might have secret vices like a thirst for knowledge or Dark God forbid, a sense of mercy, but they also might have some virtues like pyromania and a willingness to believe anything.  You start by knowing very little about your advisors except what the family is willing to tell you so you have to learn their virtues and vices through making them work.

At the end of the season, someone needs to get sacrificed to keep the Dark God happy. Remember those advisors you get from the five families? Those are the sacrifice candidates and you get to pick one. It is a great way to punish that asshole in charge of keeping every ignorant who keeps suggesting we start a public library. You get a neat sacrifice scene with varying amounts of blood. Good times!

Except, those five families get a little cranky if you sacrifice one of them. If the sacrifice is a sinner, then tough shit but if you are sacrificing someone for petty reasons or you sacrificed someone from their family last year, the family might get pissed enough to overthrow you. Sometimes they get pisses if you just don’t give them enough responsibilities. The families will find a lot of reasons to get pissed.

Which means you spend a lot of time in the game keeping your village controlled, looking for major sinners to sacrifice while still balancing the politics of the five families. Oh, and did I mention that the Dark God speaks to you in dreams and will make requests? He might decide that he wants twice as much ignorance as before, or maybe he really wants you to kill the Liar in your town and you need to go find out them.

This leads to wonderful situations like finding the Liar that the Dark God wants dead but sadly you killed someone from the Liar’s family last season so you have to hold off on your Dark God’s request and kill someone else, like Bob who didn’t do anything wrong except his family likes you a lot so you feel safe killing one of them for shit reasons. Poor Bob! He didn’t do anything except be in the wrong council at the wrong season. Politics man, it will kill you even in a cult.

This is a neat game about choices and sacrifices. It requires a certain dark humor but it is a lot of fun. The art is minimal and creepy and the music is perfect. You spend a lot of time investigating your cult members which turns it into a deductive game. I liked it a lot and you may too.

Jan 092017
 

Lakeview Cabin Collection is a group of small games organized around a fictional franchise of horror movies. You start in a theater and you have the option of “seeing” Lakeview Cabin III, IV, V and VI. Each theater takes you to a different puzzle oriented horror game.

The first game is probably the best at explaining how the games work. You start with four camp counselors charged with getting the camp ready for the summer. You are advised not to get drunk or have sex. The camp is a spacious area filled with rakes, beer, axes, hammers, gasoline and other fun items. It doesn’t take long to figure out how to get your characters naked in their full genital glory. It takes even shorter to accidentally hurt one of your characters with the before-mentioned axes, hammers and gasoline. It is a fun sandbox to play around with and get up to summer sex comedy shenanigans.

The shenanigans end when you notice someone nailed a bird to a wall. You also notice find some scribbled notes from the previous camp kids who were afraid of something. And hey, who is that mysterious man with the red mustache you see hiding in the woods?

As you can imagine, something terrible is coming to kill the counselors and you have to figure out how to take the dangerous items that maimed your counselors when you were dicking around and weaponize them.

The rest of the games play out in similar situations. Part Four is inspired by the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Part Five is a mystery set in an 80’s suburb in the style of Halloween or Nightmare on Elm Street. Part Six takes place on a space station and owes big debts to the Thing and Alien.

These games are wonderful tributes to different eras of horror. As a horror fan, I was impressed by how the designer was able to evoke and pay tribute to the movies that inspire him, without turning the games into pastiches. It is a tricky thing to do and I think the games are worth studying just to figure out what that fine line is. A pixel version of Alien’s Ripley as one of your characters works but what would have pushed it over and made it distracting? Hell if I know.

The games are also damn hard and I had to use a walkthrough for each one. It didn’t hurt my enjoyment any. Knowing you have to use a shotgun on a chainsaw wielding maniac doesn’t make shooting a maniac any less exciting.

Why does Lakeview Cabin start with Part III? Because Part I was a free-to-play browser game that you can play here. I suggest you give it a try to see if you like the style of play enough to buy the collection.

 

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Nov 282016
 

20160605113758_1Renowned Explorers, (which I will call RE because I can never spell Renowned on my first try) is a computer game about managing a team of three adventurers to go explore strange lands for fame, glory, money and all of their treasure. It is set in a vague time period that might be the 19th century but is certainly far more interesting than any real time period in our mundane world. Along the way, you may encounter scary cultists, aggressive pirates, friendly natives and really mean llamas.

Technically, RE is everything I look for in a game. For one thing, it is turn based which is great for my slowing reflexes. Second, it is procedurely generated which means no two expeditions to the same place plays out the same way. There will almost always be something new to discover. Third, you pick a team of three out of twenty distinct adventurers, each with their own personalities, strengths, weaknesses and interactions with each other. These characters grow with experience and you choose the skills they learn. In other words, this game plays a lot like a tabletop miniatures or RPG game.

The other high point is the approach to combat. If you tire of endless killing things, RE  feels your pain. For every fight, you can either fight your way out, be super nice to people and befriend them or be a jerk and insult/terrify your way through an encounter. This creates a rock/paper/scissors approach that I was dubious of at first but found it to be wonderfully complex as you dive deeper into it. There are advantages and disadvantages to both but it allows you to play a game that changes depending on what you are in the mood to do.

Of course, the most important thing about this game is that it is fun. There is a lot of self aware explorer humor in this game, and the way it treats indigenous people is a delight. You will encounter Necromancers who act like small children. Beware of the mocking monkeys. Be prepared to tell a lot of jokes to the Witch Doctor.

There is a DLC for it that I highly recommend as it adds campfire stories to the game. These stories further flesh out the already fascinating explorers.

This is one of my most played computer games for 2016 and I suspect I will be playing a lot of it in 2017 as well.