Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Dial M, for Miami!

Bienvenidos a Miami

Just you average Miami evening...

Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number is a fantastic continuation and conclusion to this indie game series. Be forewarned however, if you found the later chapters of the first game to be a bit too frustrating then this game may not be for you. This is because, rather than the game having its own difficulty curve, it feels like the game picks where the later stages of the first game left off and continues to increase the challenge from there. This invariably leads to intense frustration but also satisfaction and relief once you're finally able to pull yourself through one of the levels; especially so when you're able to manage a crisp run without many deaths. If that sort of game design isn't appealing to you then you may want to skip this one. Also, for the masochists out there, if you didn't find the base game challenging enough, which it is, the game unlocks a hard mode for every level upon completion. 

Where the game succeeds most is in its ability to take the incredible style of the first game and expand upon it; it reminds you of the feelings you had playing through the original Hotline Miami and then takes it to the next level. The visuals and music really are the showcase here and if you enjoyed what the original brought to the table, then you should get a lot out of this one as well. It carries the same visual style but adds more effects and flair than HM1 had. Also, the music is BANGING!

If you enjoyed the gameplay of the original, then you'll be glad to know that it's largely unchanged here. However, the developers have added quite a bit of variety to the established mechanics. Over the course of Hotline Miami 2 you play as a number of different characters, some of which give you choices between different masks or other accessories that add abilities similar to the first game. There are some very interesting and unique ones that alter how you play through a given level. These can be anything from giving your character a dodge roll, which can be useful, to forcing you to control 2 characters at once; one with a chainsaw, the other with a gun. This adds another layer of challenge but also gives you some advantages once you get the hang of it. 

There is also an impressive amount of weapons at your disposal that you'll find throughout the levels, usually carried by enemies until you kill them. The enemies themselves offer more variety as well. The standard enemies can come equipped with any of these weapons, changing how you must approach them. There are also heavy enemies that cannot be killed with most melee weapons and won't immediately go down from a single bullet either. You'll also encounter a few other types of enemies along the way, included some that almost feel like boss battles, or mini-bosses at the very least.

Bad Boys

The denizens of Miami aren't exactly what you'd call pleasant.

Early on Hotline Miami 2's narrative is disjointed and unclear, but intentionally so. As the game progresses you do start to put together the pieces and see where the game is going. By the end you can walk away feeling that you understood what was happening, if you pay attention.

HM2 continues the first game's trick of having story moments that feel like hallucinations and it's unclear whether what you're seeing is reality, or in your character's head. These sequences often foreshadow things to come in the story. That being said, the events of the story are never fully laid out for you and that gives you something to think back on, trying to piece together the game after you've finished your play-through. This may be off-putting for those of us that prefer a clear story arc and don't appreciate a more heady approach to storytelling, but I appreciated it.

Miami Vice

Hotline Miami is purported to be the end of the series and I think that's the right move. I really enjoyed my time with the game and I think the style, music, and everything around it is fantastic, but I believe that these things also have a shelf life. If they tried to go back to the well with a third game I feel that it could not be carried by its style alone, and I can't imagine them ramping up the difficulty any further without making the game unbearable to most players. It does prove that the first game wasn't a fluke and I'm excited to see what developer Dennaton Games does next.

Going out or a night on the town

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Monday, February 9, 2015

Falling Down

This time on The Mottman Prophecies I'll be covering two smaller episodic adventure games that I feel deserve a bit more attention, The Fall and Dreamfall Chapters. Both of these games have one episode available now with more scheduled this year, so now is the perfect time to jump in and get your feet wet in these amazing worlds.

The Fall

First up we have The Fall; a dark, atmospheric tale from Over the Moon studios. You play as A.R.I.D., an AI on board a Mark-7 combat suit that has crash landed into a robotic facility on a remote planet. Your pilot was injured by the crash thereby activating you, the suit's emergency AI, and assigning you one objective: save your pilot. However, without a conscious operator you do not have access to your suit's full list of capabilities and they can only be unlocked in an emergency if the pilot is in mortal danger. So, many of the game's puzzles revolve around you finding ways to subvert those limitations to gain access to the full suite of powers you'll need to escape. Oftentimes this requires you to intentionally put your pilot in danger, and seeing the way that A.R.I.D. grapples with the morality of that is very interesting.


The puzzles presented by the game are often clever, though I did find a few of them to be a little too obtuse for me and I wound up looking up the solutions to a couple of them, which is a shame. This is definitely a game that'll make you stop and think for a while in order to figure out it's tricks.

The true appeal of The Fall are the characters and setting it establishes and the story it tells. There are three main characters in the game and they are tremendously well written and acted which isn't something that you can say about indie games of this size very often. First there's your character A.R.I.D. whose internal struggle to justify subverting her programming for the good of her operator is intensely compelling. Second, there is an sinister robot known as the Overseer who is watching your every move and is convinced that you are a malfunctioning AI who must be depurposed. And, finally, there is the mainframe computer for the facility, which is my favorite character. Whenever you converse with the mainframe he switches back and forth between his pre-programmed responses and a very natural, human-sounding manner of speech which he taught to himself since he was bored. You can almost sense his embarrassment at the canned responses being force through his speakers when he just wants to talk like a person since, as he says, "the closer we are to them, the better they treat us."

The Overseer sees all

The Fall manages to introduce fantastic characters and tells a compelling, emotionally resonant story over the course of only a few short hours. It even manages to catch you off-guard with some humor now and then just to mix things up. And the ending is something that won't soon be forgotten. The best part? This was only the first chapter and Over the Moon has confirmed at least one more entry to come later this year.

The Fall is available on Steam now for $9.99

Dreamfall Chapters

Now if you're looking for an adventure game a bit less broody than The Fall, than Dreamfall Chapters may be more up your alley. Chapters is the long awaited sequel to The Longest Jouney series of games from the early 2000s, but don't let that turn you away! I didn't play those games either and you don't need to in order to jump in here. The game includes a short recap video that'll get you up to speed in no time, and this game is definitely worth playing.

In Dreamfall Chapters you play as two very different characters in two very different worlds over the course of the game. Their stories are undoubtedly on a collision course, even if it's unclear exactly how.

First you have Kian Alvane, a stout warrior who exists in a medieval world of magic and blades. When you pick up his story he is awaiting execution for treason. However, he is soon broken out of his cell by a man representing a rebel group opposed to the current ruling class and he is whisked off to help the rebel cause.

Kian's time in this first new chapter of the Dreamfall story is short, but it leaves him in an interesting place and it gives you something to look forward to as more entries are released for the game.

Stoic Kian is stoic, even in the face of death

And then there's Zoe Castillo, a young woman living in the year 2220 who's just awoken from a year-long coma she fell into at the end of the previous game.

Stoic Zoe is stoic... sometimes

Zoe is a fantastic girl-next-door type of character. She comes across as a real person; she's awkward, unsure of herself, and ultimately just trying to figure out her place in life. It's rare to see a character like this pulled off so believably, but Dreamfall really brings her to life in some interesting ways. 

Cyberpunk therapy!

Your time with her is spent living through an average day in her futuristic life; you see your therapist, visit your boyfriend, put in a quick shift at work, and engage in your current hobby, campaign work. This may not sound like the most exciting series of objectives to ever grace a video game, but it serves a purpose. Along the way you are introduced to a wide array of striking characters and you start to see the relationships and conflicts they share. You also get a sense of a larger world out there and the political wranglings that control the lives of the citizenry.

This is your boss, Mira. She's a real asshole

The strength of Dreafall's writing is really its greatest selling point; there are just so many small encounters that will stay with you for some time to come. Whether it's the tense conversations with your boss Mira, the jovial excitability of your campaign manager Reza, or your attempt to find purpose for Shitbot (yes, Shitbot) to save him from the scrap heap, there are plenty of memorable interactions to be found in Dreamfall Chapters.

Nothing like a little political vandalism

Falling for you!

In conclusion, if you appreciate games with great stories and characters, you can't go wrong with Dreamfall Chapters or The Fall. Picking them up now gets you in on the ground floor for more fantastic gaming experiences to come from both of these brilliant series, and it's just great to know that projects like these can get made in this day and age. So, if you're an adventure game fan, or just a fan of well made indie games, show your support and pick up one or both of them today.

Dreamfall Chapters is on Steam right now for $29.99, which gets you all of the upcoming chapters as well as the one available today!