Possession 1881: A creepy point-and-click adventure

Sometimes its the intriguing emails that capture your attention the most.

Danielle Lemky, who runs Canadian indie game maker End of Line Studios, emailed me the other day after stumbling across an article I did about adventure games when I was still employed as a journalist with Fairfax NZ/Stuff way back in 2013.

Her email started: “Hello GameJunkienz (Or should I say Old Man Gamer?)!” I wasn’t sure whether to be miffed being labelled an Old Man Gamer, which to be fair I probably am, or impressed. Either way, I was intrigued enough to write about the Lemky’s first game Possession 1881 so points to Danielle and Jared for getting in touch.

Here’s what they told me about the game, which is described as an occult-themed point-and-click adventure: “Possession 1881 is a classic adventure game, and as such, players must find clues and see connections between objects to solve puzzles, which will allow players to progress through rooms within an old Victorian mansion.

“Clues can be found in many places such as in notes, in books, on walls, on objects, or even within the animations of objects.  The clues and the rooms of the mansion include facts from history, archaeology, music, science, and the occult within the Victorian Era, and allow the player to immerse themselves in that time period and environment.

“The environment is dark and beautiful with soaring skylights, moonlight, rich wooden Victorian decorations, flickering candlelight, and carefully crafted sound effects and music.”

Jared tells me that the game leans more towards the suspense and creepy side of the fence rather than horror. “No monsters, no jump scares, just a creepy abandoned mansion with puzzles to solve and a morbid story. We were inspired by Myst, The Room  and our own fascination with logic puzzles,” he says.

I’m not sure it’s my cup of tea – games with scary themes tend to freak me out a little – but if it’s your thing, Possession 1881 might be worth keeping an eye on. It’s due out on June 5 through Steam.

Win with GamejunkieNZ & Norton

A couple of months ago, I gave my impressions of Norton’s LifeLock 360 premium security suite over on Koru-Cottage (go take a read here) and found that despite having a couple of minor annoyances, it was a comprehensive, solid security package that I use on a daily basis on my PC and iPad.

Norton’s software suite is more than just anti-virus, though: It also features parental controls, a password manager, a Secure VPN with bank-grade encryption, SafeCam for PC and much more. I like that the software suite offered protection for up to five devices, including PC, Mac, iPhone and Android and the premium version comes with 100Gb of cloud backup storage.

Well, thanks to Norton, we’ve got two copies of Norton’s LifeLock 360 premium software to give away to our New Zealand readers. All you need to do to enter is email me at gamejunkienz@gmail.com, telling me how lock down was for you (especially if you were working from home), and why Norton’s LifeLock 360 premium would make your life just that little bit safer.

The competition closes midnight, June 1, is only open to New Zealand residents and Norton will email a download code directly to the winners (I will supply the email addresses of the two winners to Norton). As usual, my decision is final.

Good luck!

Lonely Mountains Downhill (Nintendo Switch)

As it is with my real-life mountain biking these days, the first run on the trails in Lonely Mountains Downhill tend to be slow and methodical, getting the lay of the land, so to speak.

I’ll freewheel down some sections, slowly pedal down others, paying close attention to where the shortcuts are that will make future runs quicker. It could be a series of rock jumps or a cut down a bank. Anything that will share precious seconds off future runs.

Slowly and surely is a pleasant experience, too, with the only soundtrack accompanying you is the rush of the wind through the trees, the chirp of birds, the sound of your back tyre skiding in the dirt and your freewheel pawl (the pawl is the ratcheted mechanism in your derailleured bike’s rear hub that makes the noise when you’re not pedaling) chattering away as you coast down a decline.

Lonely Mountains Downhill began life as a Kickstarter project  by German game makers Daniel Helbig and Jan Bubenik, and full disclosure here: I backed the project and my name’s in the game’s credits.

As an ageing mountain biker the game appealed to me as a way to enjoy one of my passions when I’m stuck at home and the weather’s too horrific to don the rain jacket and hit the trails. I was also attracted by its low-poly graphical style, with a blocky, chunky biker and vibrant environments.

Be warned, though, it can be brutally tough with challenges that unlock outfits and better bikes forcing you to throw caution to the wind and scream down a trail as fast as you can within a specific time or with a limited number of crashes.

Having played it on PC, Lonely Mountains is the perfect fit for Nintendo’s handheld console: It’s the quintessential “one more try” game as you work on perfecting your run despite having crashed for the seventh time – and you will crash, many, many, many times as you aim for the next checkpoint and the end goal.

Lonely Mountains is also one of those games that, using the old adage, is easy to learn but hard to master as you’ll find your self having to negotiate treacherous rock formations, tree trunks and tight corners to put in the best time.

Technically, Lonely Mountains looks the part with its nice graphical look, and plays well, although there are noticeable frame rate drops at times and sometimes the camera is a bit wayward, at times obscuring your view (which is only generally a few feet in front of you anyway) with a large tree or rock formation, causing you to crash into the rocks you couldn’t see.

I also found the tolerance for crashing seemed to vary and it wasn’t consistent: Obviously, I crashed if I hit a rock face at speed but I’d also be penalised with a crash if my rider rolled his front wheel into a small rock or nudged a tree at a slow speed (something that wouldn’t happen in real mountain biking). A little leniency needs to be given to collision detection for some of the obstacles, perhaps.

Lonely Mountains Downhill is perfectly suited to the Switch’s smaller form factor and I wouldn’t recommend playing it in docked mode (if you have an OG Nintendo Switch) as the graphical compromises for the Switch are glaring.

As I said earlier, Lonely Mountains is one of those “Just one more go” games, even when you’re frustrated at how many times you’ve crashed: My son rode a trail and was cursing how much he was crashing but kept going as he wanted to beat the time I’d posted for the same course [he succeeded, beating it by two seconds].

Thanks to Lonely Mountains Downhill on Switch, I can now “ride” my mountain bike any time I want: At the office, while I’m lying in bed, while I’m, ahem, in the bathroom. It’s also the perfect thing for when I just can’t bothered kitting up and hitting my local trails, especially with winter looming and its inevitable wet & chilly weather.

 

 

 

Spark NZ teams up with Microsoft to launch Xbox’s All Access programme

In a scheme that has already been launched in Australia, Britain and the US, New Zealand telco Spark has joined forces with Microsoft in launching Microsoft’s Xbox All Access programme in New Zealand, which lets gamers pay for an Xbox gaming console and its Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription service in monthly payments. 

Launching today (May 7), Spark tells me both new and existing Spark customers can join the Xbox All Access programme as part of eligible Pay Monthly mobile or broadband plans. Gamers can choose either an Xbox One S or Xbox One X console and get 24 months of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate for only $32 or $39 per month over a 24-month period.

Sure, the console isn’t Xbox’s upcoming Xbox Series X console but this seems a really good way for people on the fence about getting a current generation.

I don’t need to tell you how good Xbox’s Game Pass service is – I have it for my PC and its very good – and with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, customers get all the benefits of Xbox Live Gold, including online multiplayer, as well as access to games on console and PC. Xbox Game Pass Ultimate even includes Xbox Game Studios titles the same day as their global release, so members can immediately jump into the latest from franchises like Halo, Gears of War and Minecraft, including the highly anticipated upcoming Minecraft Dungeons, available for members on May 26.

Spark says Xbox All Access provides everything you need to start gaming right out of the box and is an affordable way to join the Xbox family and community of gamers around the world.

Matt Bain, Spark’s Marketing Director, says Spark is excited to join forces with Xbox to bring Xbox All Access to customers in New Zealand. “I believe gaming has huge potential as a digital subscription service – we’ve already seen this transformation with movies and music. We’re excited to bring Microsoft’s industry-leading Xbox Game Pass membership to more gamers in New Zealand with Xbox All Access,” Bain said.

“One of the exciting things about this digital evolution is that it enables greater access and choice for households and that’s definitely true for Xbox All Access. It’s ideal for players who want flexibility in their purchasing options, offering great value and an awesome gaming experience with Spark.”

Jeremy Hinton from Microsoft says the company is thrilled to be working with Spark to bring Xbox All Access to New Zealanders, following success in Australia, US and the UK.

“With Xbox All Access we are bringing more choice than ever before to New Zealand. Our partnership with Spark will offer an affordable and convenient way for new and existing Xbox fans to jump into gaming.”

You can find more about Spark’s Xbox All Access programme here: www.spark.co.nz/getmore/xbox

Cloudpunk review: The love child of Blade Runner & The Fifth Element

Cloudpunk is what I’d imagine the offspring of movies Blade Runner and The Fifth Element would look like – if Blade Runner & The Fifth Element got cozy for a night, that is.

Hear me out on this one. Take Blade Runner’s dystopian and neon-lit bleakness and The Fifth Element’s chaotic driving and downright craziness and you’ve got their offspring: Cloudpunk. A damn good looking child, if I say so myself, that I’m sure it’s parent (German developer Ionlands) would be so proud of what it has achieved.

You play as Rania, a newcomer to the city of Nivalis. A dystopian city where AIs, human and mechanical have merged into one giant melting point. Where the rich live in tall towers, never mixing with the little people, and the poor rummage around the streets just trying to survive. Rania finds work as a delivery/courier driver for delivery company Cloudpunk, and over the course of a night, criss-crosses across the city’s various districts delivering parcels – and sometimes people. As the night wears on, Rania soon discovers that there is more to Nivalis – and the AI that is intertwined in its very fabric – than meets the eye.

The first thing that smacks you in the head is Cloudpunk’s amazing visual aesthetic, which is created by voxel graphics and is a real mash of gloom and neon.

A very Bladerunner balcony shot

This scene is reminiscent of the scene in Westworld’s Blade Runner game. When Ray McCoy stands on his apartment balcony early on in the game.

Giant  billboards bath buildings in a bright, neon glow; light trails from the flying vehicles punctuate the brightly lit highways that weave through Nivalis like capilliaries and veins; Flames billow from tall smokestacks (like in the opening moments of the original Blade Runner); Exhaust fans cast shadows through the dim shadows; Sirens wail as police vehicles pursue a fleeing driver. Driving through the city has a real The Fifth Element feel, too.

Remember early in the movie (if you’ve seen it, you will, but if you haven’t seen it: Why not?) when Corbin Dallas (Bruce Willis) is driving through the city and has to dodge oncoming traffic? Cloudpunk is like that, with Rania having to navigate around skyscrapers and precincts, and visit repair shops from time to time after one many fender bender with an oncoming vehicle.

Welcome to Cloudpunk Paradise

Rania isn’t alone in her journey: Her vehicle’s AI is the stored memory of her former dog, Camus (who has an avatar of a border collie) and the voice of Control, who offers solace and advice as she finds her way across Nivalis, and she will meet a variety of character as the story unfolds.

The ageing android PI who speaks like he’s reading the pages of a hard-boiled detective novel; The financial advisor who works for the firm Anderson Financial that only has employees with the surname Anderson; The nightclub owner who has hidden agenda when he befriends Rania; The CEO who lives in the highest tower in the city and has never ventured below. The voice acting is a little hit and miss at times, but Rania, Control and Camus are voiced wonderfully. 

Some sort of ground beneath Cloudpunk

What’s also wonderful is the Vangellis-inspired soundtrack which punctuates the soundtrack in Cloudpunk. Even the opening note of the game echoes the opening note of OG Blade Runner. In some ways, it’s as if Cloudpunk is a love letter to the greatness that was Blade Runner and the world it created.

Perhaps the weakest part of Cloudpunk are the on-foot sections where the fixed camera makes navigating the environments awkward at times. Rania frequently got stuck on light poles, trees and benches as I was trying to reach the objective marker because the fixed camera was so inflexible and I couldn’t quite guide her right.

It also isn’t always obvious where to go sometimes when you’re on foot, too. The map is a bit of a mess so, Ionlands, any chance of a map legend? You can only park your vehicle at designated district parking zones, too, meaning some times you’ll have quite a trek to reach your destination, having to traverse both horizontally and vertically.  I won’t deny that I got lost on more than one occasion.

Take Cloupunk for a Bespin

The fact that I completed Cloudpunk over a matter of days (clocking in at 16 hours) is testimony to just how good I found it.  There are a handful of missions (including the final one) where you have to make a choice on what to do so there is some replayability there. I wonder if I’d made a different decision in the end how things would have changed the storyline.  Ionlands are also incredibly active listening to their community updating the game several times already since it was released.

Cloudpunk ends in such a way that I’d be interested to see where Rania’s story goes from here: So, Ionlands. What are the chances of a sibling for the firstborn between Blade Runner and The Fifth Element?