There may have not been an Apple Event this week, but we had a lot of ground to cover and I got a bit behind. So with apologies, we take a belated look at this week’s gaming picks. First up is a noir horror game that remembers its supposed to be scary. We also have a tribute to classic RPGs that manages to be just as hard, and we close out with a new racing game that channels the past.
White Night – Mac
White Night is yet another game that shows off the rebirth of the adventure genre. Unlike many of the Telltale-licensed titles, White Night is a noir horror story set in the Great Depression: You close the bar and take a shaky drive home down some dark lanes, before you have to swerve off the road to miss a ghostly woman standing in the middle of the road. You stumble out of the car injured, but the woman is nowhere to be found. Your only chance at finding help is a spooky mansion just off the road.
This is s great way to open a game that works entirely off of mood. The black and white graphics help keep the game slightly spooky, but it isn’t reliant on jump scares. Instead, you’re fumbling around in the dark, always looking for light. When you’re not able to find lights, you’ll have to make do with match light.
White Night‘s combination of horror and adventure is something that has been missing from games. Most of the horror games these days are just shooters with zombies or monsters, but White Night builds tension through the situation instead of the action, and through solving the mysteries of the mansions. You get information via newspaper stories, which also show if you missed something as you go.
The game is stylistically unique, but that uniqueness might be polarizing. There is some weirdness with the idea of black-and-white graphics in that all you see is light and shadow. The animation looks a little off as well, but it’s easy to dismiss: Though it causes some graphical weirdness, the mechanic does play an important part in helping you solve puzzles.
What’s Good: Excellent tone and storytelling.
What Sucks: Graphics seem “off” in spots.
Buy it? If you like horror games or just novel concepts in game design, check out White Night. Download it from the App Store for $14.99.
Social Justice Warriors – Mac
When I decided to review Social Justice Warriors, I thought that I was going to get a Mad Magazine-style lampoon of the state of online discourse. The game totally delivers on that, and it manages to be a bit more clever than I thought.
Social Justice Warriors turns online debate into an interesting RPG. You choose your class of Social Justice Warrior—Mage, Rouge, Paladin, and Hero—and you work to maintain both your Sanity and Reputation. When you battle your enemies you’ll have to guard against losing both, lest you’re driven off the Internet in disgust or disgrace.
You have three basic attacks at your disposal as you battle trolls: a reasoned response, a direct engagement with the troll, or ad hominem attacks. The more you attack your opponent, the bigger the toll on your own reputation. Each of the classes has their own special attack, which will change your strategy. As you progress you will attack allies like the Social Justice Ranger that will snipe your enemies. There are five allies you can earn through defeating your enemies, and each has a different effect.
Judging from the game’s negative user reviews on Steam, there are a lot of offended people who see themselves in the Trolls. I assume that was the point, but it isn’t like the heroes are perfect, either. And I learned that arguing on the Internet, like thermonuclear war, is best avoided altogether.
What’s Good: Neat idea. Clever writing.
What Sucks: Combat is a bit obtuse.
Buy it? If you’ve never used the phrase “Tumblr Bias” without irony, then you’ll likely enjoy Social Justice Warriors. Download it from Steam for $7.99.
Pixel Hero: Byte & Magic – iOS (Universal)
Pixel Hero: Byte and Magic is a tribute to old-school RPGs. You begin by picking one a few different characters and then you embark on quests to a dungeon on behalf of various townspeople. You’ll have a few different random encounters as you travel, but these are actually scripted events rather than encounters with monsters: Sometimes, you’ll need to solve a riddle; other times, you’ll need to do battle.
The dungeons consist of eight rooms and a boss; you’ll need to fight you way through, collecting loot as you go. Dungeons also contain treasure rooms that will require a check against your stats. Each dungeon has unique enemies and bosses centered around different fantasy themes: There’s a goblin camp, a volcano base, and a graveyard full of witches.
Pixel Hero is exceptionally difficult, and you will die a lot. The farthest I made it was three dungeons before I ended up in an infinite loop where my enemy’s self-healing equalled the damage my remaining character doled out each turn. You get a random mix of the quests each time you play, allowing you to see a lot more of the campaign. If you do manage to survive the entire campaign, you’re rewarded with an even harder set of quests.
The game comes packed with lots of random pop culture references: My particular favorite is when you come across a random guy and his attorney asking you to fight some magical bats for them. The game uses a pretty rough pixel-art style, so if you aren’t into the retro look, you might mot like it.
What’s Good: Well-written game with a lot of humorous gaming and pop culture references.
What Sucks: Found a weird loop in a dungeon.
Buy it? If you are an old-school RPG fan, check out Pixel Hero: Byte & Magic. Download it from the App Store for $6.99.
Sunless Sea – Mac
Sunless Sea is a steampunk adventure by way of the high seas. It runs parallel to Failbetter’s web story telling game, Fallen London: You are a Zee Captain, and you’re piloting your ship out into the dark waters around the now-underwater London.
The game doesn’t give you much direction, and although you receive some basic goals when you starts, you can just explore the world if you prefer. You’ll find that it isn’t all the forgiving, though: Many islands are merely barren outposts that won’t help you if you need to stock up on supplies. The seas themselves aren’t welcoming either—you’ll meet pirates, giants crabs, and homicidal icebergs. You’re warned early that you’re probably going to die.
The game is presented in an overhead view, and you control your vessel via the arrow keys or WASD. You can click to activate your engines and weapons, but they’re all mapped pretty handily on the keyboard. The story is presented via text, giving you chances to branch through the available options.
I don’t mind a steep difficulty curve, but I do feel like Sunless Sea creeps right up to that point where it’s just not fun. There just aren’t enough early rewards here to encourage players to make the slog and discover what it actually a rather creative game.
What’s Good: Creative mix of text adventure and action.
What Sucks: Early difficulty curve may push most players away before they find something to keep them exploring.
Buy it? Fans of Fallen London or patient gamers who don’t mind a challenge should check out Sunless Sea. Pick it up from Failbetter Games for $18.99.
AG Drive – iOS (Universal)
AG Drive is a sci-fi racing game that pays homage to the Playstation classic, Wipeout. (It’s weird to see nostalgia move from the 16-bit era into the 32-bit era; it’s making me feel old. Can we stop it now?) It’s got cool racing hover cards, a pounding techno soundtrack, and a really keen eye for gravity defying track designs. (There is a fair argument that the storylines in a racing game and rival racers are a nod to F-Zero. Whew— midlife crisis averted!)
As you play single-player mode, you’ll be able to take part in a few kinds of races. You can partake in traditional-style one-off races and cups where you try to finish as the winner. The elimination races delete the last place racer every thirty seconds or so until only the first-place racer remains. You’ll be challenged to Duels, which are one-on-one races. There are also also time trails, speed challenges, and distance challenges.
As you play, you can upgrade your ship to go faster, handle better, and recharge your power-up more quickly. Once you max out your first ship, you can upgrade to two new ships, and each ship has a different power-up to change the way you play.
The game is really great to look at—the twisting and turning tracks don’t blur out at high speeds. Even the cities around your tracks have a lot of detail. Granted, it’s mostly buildings and signs, but it feels like a fleshed-out world. That desire to flesh out the world leads to a lot of detail through out the game—you’ll even find an extensive database of backstories.
What’s Good: Well designed game with a ton of content.
What Sucks: Story content can be pretty cheesy.
Buy it? If you like racing games or are nostalgic for Wipeout or F-Zero, check out AG Drive. Download it from the App Store for $3.99.