Mar 12, 2013

Now You're Just Being Silly

I warn you: I just finished a game I really, really liked, and it made me think "Man, this is just how games used to be. Why can't games be like this again?"

That means: you're in for a rant.

The game in question in Driftmoon, and it brings to the CRPG genre something I've missed in it for quite some time - silliness. Driftmoon revels in silliness, it takes absolute delight in throwing the most offbeat situations, characters, locations and items at you, always keeping you guessing. An RPG in which you may trade your sword in because the flute you just picked up more damage. In which your companions include a panther who thinks she's leading the party, a talking skeleton and, well, a firefly. A game that sees you fighting giant slimy googly eyes, playing ice hockey vs a puppy and carrying a talking skull around with you.

Oh, but it is.

"Hang on a minute!" you had better be exclaiming right now or else I need to force you to play some classic games, "There was a talking skull in The Curse of Monkey Island, Planescape: Torment and Chrono Cross (thanks Paul)! That's not original at all!"

Exactly. Silliness in games is nothing new. The 90s was full of games that broke up the seriousness of their plots with absurd humour. Sadly, it's a trend that we seem to be encountering less and less in games. Play Baldur's Gate and you can hardly walk 20 paces without encountering something either subtly amusing or completely bonkers. The developers seemed to understand that a fantasy game full of dull lore needs something like this to break it up, to make it something players can relate to. Fantasy lore can be the dullest thing ever - talking about made up wars between made up people in a made up place is pretty much the most boring thing I can imagine. Put a bit of comedy in there to giggle about - it doesn't have to be much - and I'll remember it for days.

Even very serious games such as Deus Ex had their moments - I can quote strange lines from that game even to this day, despite having not played it for years. Yes, the game was very serious in places, with some very heavy themes, but it also showed a human side - a side I can instantly relate to.

Waking Mars' Amani has her intellectual side splendidly balanced by a cheeky sense of humour, which works well  to offset Liang's serious, contemplative nature. The AI fellow is annoying, of course.

When I play a Call of Duty or a Medal of Honor or a Battlefield game, I can't help but wonder at the realism of the soldiers in them. Surely actual soldiers make jokes with each other between the fighting? Sure, I realize that in a time of combat humour is likely to be the last thing on anybody's mind, but you can't tell me that a brigade of young men is not going to make jokes about bums and farting when they're on patrol. It doesn't have to be to the "Weak bluff, you prancing geisha!" level of Bulletstorm, but something, anything would be appreciated.

My favourite Rockstar games are, of course, GTA: Vice City, Bully and Red Dead Redemption. All of these have one thing in common - they don't take themselves too seriously. I'm not saying the storylines aren't serious - they absolutely are, especially in RDR - I'm saying that the characters within are gleefully insane. The games embrace their settings wholly, and the people you need to interact with paint a colourful portrait of the setting, whether it be schoolyard or wild west. Playing GTA4 and to some extent San Andreas left me disappointed with how seriously everything took itself - I don't give a damn about spending time with Roman any more than I care about what the hell Morrigan thinks every time I want to help someone in Dragon Age. The silliness in RDR, Bully and VC made for a world I could instantly relate to, laugh at and feel comfortable with. That's important.

Tyrian offsets the fast combat with hilarious data logs you can find scattered around the place to great effect.
Similarly, silliness gives a setting personality. Play Freelancer and every NPC you talk to is the same dull, formulaic data storage unit. Play Aquanox and you'll meet some of the most bizarre freaks you could imagine. Guess which game I prefer?

I'm not saying games need to plunge you headfirst into bizarro world. There's a definite point where it becomes impossible to take a game seriously because of how much nonsense it contains. On the other hand, there is also a point where a game stops being interesting when it becomes too melodramatic. Driftmoon, through all the nonsense it's so heavily laden with, still tells a compelling tale of betrayals, romance and doing the Right Thing. Beyond this, it's also filled with insane moments that I'll remember for far longer than any of the "epic battles" of deadpan RPGs. That's how games used to be. That's why I fell in love with games in the first place.

If there's any doubt left, consider Planescape: Torment. A thought provoking, deep and dark narrative that still has me moved and contemplative to this day. It also has a guy with a wooden head who runs into walls, a celibate succubus and allows you to convince a man that he doesn't exist so thoroughly that he literally stops existing.

Need I say more?

(buy Driftmoon)

Jan 21, 2013

Grass Roots - Strife (1996)

 In a blog dedicated to storytelling in games, it might seem odd to feature a first person shooter from 1996 - indeed, FPS games from this era could be seen as the opposite to the story rich adventure games of the era. While modern titles sometimes incorporate elements present in adventures - dialogue trees, non violence based gameplay, etc - the shooters of the mid 90s focused on speed, danger and the thrill of taking out fiendish enemies with a rocket launcher or chaingun. There were, however, some attempts at blending the two genres even back then, and Strife is a fine example of this.

Have no doubt, Strife is a shooter at heart (as my double grenade launcher demonstrates here)
1996 must have been a hard year to release a first person shooter as daring as Strife. While Ken Silverman's Build engine was already blowing the world away with the world famous Duke Nukem 3D and John Carmack was getting ready to change the entire world of games yet again with the release of Quake and id Tech 2 just around the corner, Rogue Entertainment released Strife, a game built with the already ancient id Tech 1 which had been kicking around since Doom and was definitely feeling a little dated. Indeed, even for a 1996 title Strife looks dated, and it's no surprise that it perhaps got a little lost in the excitement surrounding the two new engines on the scene.

What the game lacked in exciting new tech, though, it more than made up for in vision and boldness. Strife is not like its contemporaries - to my mind it's far advanced. Here you're given an actual plot, interactive conversations, memorable characters - heck, Strife has a town you can walk around and go shopping in. It's a little strange at first - after breaking your way out of confinement at the beginning of the game, you find yourself walking around a town, with no demons to kill, no aliens shooting at you, no ammunition lying around. In fact, if you attack the third person you meet, you'll probably be unable to finish the game.

Strife, unlike many shooters of the time, had interactive dialogue trees with many characters.
When you finally do get to shoot at people, there's more to it than simply finding the biggest gun and blasting away. Facilities are equipped with alarms, and firing your weapon near them will trigger, causing enemies to react in a hostile manner, and even seek you out. However, if you stick to your knife, or the poison bolts for your crossbow (the electric ones seem to trigger alarms, and are only effective against robot enemies anyway), then you can wander through many of the locations, walking past guards completely oblivious to your intent. In a lot of places you have to trigger an alarm eventually anyway, but it's very satisfying to silently, safely take out a large part of a facility's guards before setting the alarm off and cleaning up whatever guards remain.

It also presents your objectives in a more compelling manner than most games of the same time. Gone is the compulsion to find 3 different coloured keycards for each level, and in its place are actual characters who give you tasks in person, advancing the plot and fleshing out the story of the world as they do so. The game still has pickups for health, weapons, armor and other items, but you can also use the money you've earned to buy the items from shops.

Poison arrows like these make for quick, silent takedowns.
The game's writing itself, while not amazing, is still very pleasant. Your own backstory is briefly covered in the manual, although it's clear that what you will do is more important than anything you've done. You'll meet a cast of colourful characters - not a bad thing - on your journey, and many of them even feature voice acting for their dialogue. They'll lie to you, encourage you, confront you, assist you and sometimes you'll be given a choice of things to say and some of them will be wrong. This is fairly advanced stuff for the time, even if it's not always implemented perfectly. The story has some fantastic hooks, too - at one point you get to lay siege to a castle and it feels fantastic to charge in, surrounded by allies who are all fighting alongside with you and blast your way through the place. At one point I charged up to an enemy mech to attack it, only to see it take down 4 friendly soldiers with its flamethrower before I could get there. It's exactly how I want my battles to feel.

Perhaps my favourite aspect of Strife, though, is the world itself. A dystopian, post catastrophic world full of oppression, mystery and a glimmer of hope awaits your exploration here. The world is open - you can go back and visit locations at almost any time you wish, and are free to roam as you see fit once you've unlocked areas. The world also changes - after the aforementioned castle assault, the resistance you work for takes over the castle and uses it as their new base. Curious, I made my way over to their old base, expecting to find goodies left behind. Not only had they left this place, the lights were now off, the gear all moved out and the place was desolate save for some rats who followed me as I made my way around, amazed at this unnecessary but incredibly pleasant detail. It'd have been perfectly understandable if Rogue Entertainment had just moved the characters out and left everything else intact. But they didn't, and Strife is a far stronger experience with the addition of detail such as this.

Much of the story is told in cutscenes with stylishly drawn scenes reminiscent of graphic novels.
Throughout the game you're led along by Blackbird - a female who talks to you over the intercom and seems to be the only female in the game - as the introduction explains, oppression forces people to hide females deep underground for their protection. She acts as a sort of narrator, and to her character's credit makes for a surprisingly diverse and likable character. There are moments when she's a bit too cynical for my tastes, or when her wit ever so slightly misses the mark, but other than that it makes you realize how lonely other FPS games can be when they give you a gun and a dungeon and set you free with nobody to talk to. She's a fine addition to the game, and just as you get lost down another corridor she comes over the intercom saying "I swear these hallways all look the same".

Speaking of lonely, one thing Strife does something very right left me feeling very pleased - it doesn't separate neutral and hostile areas too distinctly. Modern shooters such as Far Cry 2 and Rage instantly break the immersion when you enter a neutral zone and suddenly can't shoot anybody, or enter a hostile zone and instantly there's nobody to talk to. The barrier here only enhances the artificiality of the experience, and Strife thankfully avoids this, with guards and alarms in the neutral areas and characters to talk to in enemy facilities. One of my favourite moments in the game was shooting on a guard in the town's tavern, only for the alarm to go off and a security shutter to close around the bar. Another was going up to a guard who was attacking me and being surprised by the fact that the game actually let me talk to him - even if his only words were "We're going to kill you!".

Strife has a decent selection of enemies - these guys might not be barons of hell, but they still pack a punch.
When people discuss the blending of FPS, RPG and Adventure that first gained major popularity with Deus Ex, the reference of inspiration is always to the System Shock series, and understandably so. Strife, however, seems to have been forgotten over the years. It may have been lost among a pair of genre-shaping giants, but Strife absolutely holds its own against them. When I look at the design innovation in Strife,  I feel it more impressive than the technological innovation that took the world by storm at the time. Here is a game that was and is bold, daring, unique and creative, a refreshing change in a time of forgettable samey clones. It may have been technologically inferior, but it was absolutely ahead of its time in terms of design. Playing Quake and Duke3D is still fun today, and the games hold up well. Playing Strife, however, not only feels fun but also feels innovative, relevant and, in many ways, far more current than the superstar shooters of 1996. This is a game that deserves to be remembered.

Jan 8, 2013

A Step Back in Time - Dune (Cryo, 1992)

I'd been having a break from adventure games for a few weeks. Sometimes I need to step away from the methodical, slow pace of such games and spend some time on something more reflex based, more immediately satisfying. After finishing my playthrough of Redneck Rampage the other day, however, I was definitely ready to take another look at adventure games. My choice was, of course, Cryo Interactive Entertainment's 1992 title Dune.

Dune somehow manages to reuse assets multiple times and still remain visually evocative
Normally I find myself quite suspicious of Cryo games - my experiences with their works in the past has often left me wanting of more from their games. Indeed, my time spent with various games by the developer has left me underwhelmed. 1992, however, was a fine year for games, and I am incredibly pleased to report that Dune - the company's very first title under the Cryo Interactive name - ranks as a highlight even among the splendid offerings on show for the period.

The art direction is moody, unique and perfectly atmospheric, with bold palettes and daring designs
Mention Dune in regards to video games and one undoubtedly thinks of Westwood's real time strategy title from the same year that paved the way for Command & Conquer - a real time strategy title whose influence is felt even in modern RTS games. This, however, is a rather different affair. It's still a strategy title - you must manage resource collection, troop training and deployment and such things - but it's also an adventure title as well. The concept seems a little odd at first, but I quickly grew familiar with it, and realized exactly how brilliant the formula is.

It's still a strategy game, but seamlessly blended with the wonderful adventure elements
The effect is almost like a strategy game with a playable story that takes place at the same time. Rather than the cutscene heavy style of games like the Command and Conquer series, the story unfolds at the same time as you're exploring and managing your resources. One minute you may be sending miners out to collect equipment, the next you may be looking for a new sietch to rally to your cause, the next you will be attending to a drama at the palace. It all unfolds in real time, with a delightful day/night cycle, a decent plot to uncover (albeit with some elements feeling a little hasty, such as the instant romance) and memorable characters.

Sand worms don't fail to impress when one finally encounters them
This can all become a little complex, but thankfully the game starts off quite simple, holding your hand through the introduction and explanation of the elements one by one, gradually giving you more options, abilities and problems to solve. It feels whole, a symbiotic pairing of story and gameplay which can be unfortunately rare in the medium. The sound and graphics are perfectly blended with these elements, and I am particularly impressed with the art design which is at once arrestingly immersive and yet uncompromising in its boldness.

Dialogue with characters is essential to moving forward in the game
Westwood's Dune 2 changed the world, establishing many hallmarks of the RTS game and is still an extremely relevant title over 20 years after its release. Cryo's Dune, however, explores a style which never really took off, which I think is a mighty shame. The blending of two wildly different genres has rarely been executed with as much style, sensibility and playability as Cryo managed to do here, and Dune manages to inspire long after its release. Definitely one to try.

Jan 7, 2013

Astroloco: Worst Contact

As soon as I played subAtomic I knew I had found developers with a flair and style that really appealed to me. Offbeat, clever and gleefully bonkers, their Ludum Dare stuff showed great promise of what was to come.

Mmmm, sweet AND sterile...

And then along came Astroloco: Worst Contact, a game that features a train capable of galactic travel, space pirates and lord only knows what else. It promises to be the same formula that made the team's earlier games so great, this time with a fuller length and silly voice acting. I know. I did the voice acting for one of the characters.

In any case, you can get the demo here and give it a whirl. I'll be saving my thoughts for the release of the full game, but if it's anything like their previous works, I am sure Hungry Planet Games will deliver some fine - if extremely silly - adventure gaming goodness.

Dec 5, 2012

Now Playing - Inquisitor Part 2

 It's hard to express how I feel about dungeons in RPGs, simply because they exist for one reason: to test your skills. Any seasoned adventurer worth his or her salt knows that when a game designer builds a dungeon, they don't want you to feel welcome. Traps, groups of monsters, a lack of shops to grab supplies and a lack of temples to get healing mean that if you want to enter a dungeon, you'd better come prepared.

It also, however, is a chance to test all the skills you've been learning. Fighting on the open plains is fun, but it's the claustrophobic corridors deep underground where you can really strategize - identifying choke points, hiding spots and more and building your battle plans around them. Good dungeons make me use stealth to scout, make me plan the placement of area of effect spells for maximum effect and teach me to be creative with my battle strategy, which is definitely a plus. You're also bound to find interesting loot, hidden areas, and even sometimes interesting story elements.

Darkness is everywhere in these dungeons, meaning that enemies often catch you unawares and make your life very tough.
 I've finally been pushing my way into the first big dungeon of Inquisitor - the major dungeon of Act 1, I believe, and it's a beast. It's enormous, positively brimming with enemies and traps and the pitch blackness all around means you need to look very carefully to see what's up ahead. It takes place in a giant mine - reminiscent of Nashkel Mines in Baldur's Gate, and it's making me work every step of the way.

Not having direct control over my allies means that I have to control them via commands, something that has taken a lot of getting used to. However, now that I'm familiar with the hotkeys I'm finding the system quite intuitive. Rather than rely on AI scripts as some games do, I can change how my comrades behave with the press of a key. This makes it quite possible to order them to attack while you stay back and provide support, to wait while you run ahead and scout, or to run past attackers without stopping to fight in order to beat a hasty retreat. It's a system that takes getting used to, but it works surprisingly well - although you can't give individual party members orders, merely the group as a whole.
Combat in the open plains has its own strengths, but doesn't allow for anywhere near as much strategy as a corridor filled dungeon.
One thing that I find quite pleasing is the fact that you're only limited by your class choice a little bit in Inquisitor. I'm playing a thief with very little focus on the typical thief skills of sneaking, lockpicking and disarming traps. Instead, my focus is on speed, ranged combat and charisma - but the ability to learn magic means I can also buff my comrades as they run into the fray. Being able to be a multi-skilled character like this reminds me of Arcanum or playing a bard in Baldurs Gate (my favourite). It makes for a reasonably tricky character to play - my character can take hardly any damage at all, but it also opens up a range of interesting tactics. I've long been a fan of luring individuals away from groups in RPGs, something I use to great effect here. Shooting an arrow at a foe on the outskirts of the group leads him to pursue me alone, meaning I can lead him back to where my friends are waiting to take him out. Large, overpowering groups can quickly be diminished with a much greater success rate this way.

A variation on this is to make enemies fight one another. Inquisitor seems to have enemies split up into factions, and it was with great joy that I discovered that I could lead a group of Orcs into a spider den, then quickly make my escape while the orcs and spiders fought it out. Sadly, environmental hazards do not seem to work the same way, and I have lured enemies into pits of lava or acid that kill my character in a matter of mere seconds only to watch them pass through unharmed. A missed opportunity to create more tactical options for the player, and a game element that feels unfair and broken.

The lava pools in this game are a real threat if you don't have the levitate spell. I do not have the levitate spell.
Another element that can get frustrating is having to make multiple trips back to town in a single dungeon. I am constantly surprised by how many healing potions I need in this game. I started this dungeon with about 40 of them, returned to town for another 30, returned again for another 30, and still had to go back for more (this time I bought many more). One wrong move by teammates can result in 5 potions disappearing in the space of a few seconds. Every trip back means I have to trek all the way back through the parts I've cleared so far, fighting whatever monsters that have respawned or running past them frantically when I'm right out of potions. Usually I am very sparing with potions, and consider them as a last resort. In this game, I get worried about being able to make it back out of the dungeon when I get down to 10.

It's been a long time since I've had such a long, hard slog through a dungeon as this. I feel this part of the game is bigger than it really needed to be - there are very few characters to talk to down here, and even though my speech ability allows me to talk my way through some of the combat scenarios, there's still a ton of enemies to fight. Still, I'm pretty confident that my next trip back to the mines from the town will be my last - and the way the story is progressing as I head through these corridors, it seems likely that whatever - or whoever - I find at the bottom of these mines will be the key to finishing Act 1. I finally feel like I've gotten a pretty good grip on how the game works, and I'm actually starting to feel comfortable playing it, rather than hopelessly underpowered, underfunded and outnumbered as I did for the first few hours of play.

Time to head back in.

Dec 4, 2012

Breakin' the Law

I find that as gamers, we have grown accustomed to certain patterns, certain unwritten laws in our entertainment. See a crate and you know to smash it. Have a gun in your hand and you expect to be shooting at people at some point. See a gap and you know you have to jump it.

I was telling an idea of mine to fellow game designer Francisco Gonzalez today, and he pointed something out - that the idea reverses what is usually considered a standard feature in adventure games and makes us do the opposite thing, and this comment got me thinking about the concept of pattern repetition in games.

Some of my favourite moments in gaming have been when games have caught me off guard, and made me do unexpected things. When I met a group of monsters in Baldur's Gate who didn't attack me, but instead engaged me in conversation and then handed me their autograph, for example (which is completely useless for the entire game, but a fun feature to have). Or in The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, when the solution to a puzzle was to close the Nintendo DS and then open it again.
Short AGS game Night Eyes plays with the tropes of the point and click genre - putting you in the role of a cat, and thus unable to do most of the things we expect adventure game characters to be able to do.

Moments like this catch my attention, they make me sit up and take notice of what a game is doing. So many games that I play often feel like I am not actually problem solving, merely acting out what I already know needs to be done. I'm not saying that this isn't interesting and challenging - often the best balance in gameplay arrives when the designers knows that we know all the rules and then makes us make our way through difficult situations using those skills. There is, however, an absolute joy to be found in doing something and seeing unexpected results with real game-world consequence.

There comes a point in any genre, no matter how much I love it, when I become bored by the actual gameplay and want fresh ideas. It's why I hold games such as Deus Ex and Planescape: Torment in such incredibly high regard, and it's why I keep trying more and more games, searching for more sparks of creativity. The strangest thing about games is that they're regularly entirely fictional - often they employ settings that are in no way even slightly realistic, with plots that go beyond belief and graphics styles that can be completely unique and abstract. Why, then, do we obey the unwritten rules of the genre as though they are absolute?

I remember a short indie game which put you in the boots of a spaceman landing on an alien planet with a gun. You're given the controls to jump and shoot, and you're set free to play, running along the surface of the planet. When you encounter little alien creatures, it's instinct to shoot them - after all, why be given a gun if we're not supposed to shoot? - however by the end of the (very short) game it becomes apparent that none of these creatures were hostile. A second playthrough confirms that the game can be finished without the use of the shoot button at all.

subAtomic plays with logic for comedic effect - such as making you extinguish a fire with a hammer. In a less restricted game, such stretches of logic would be frustrating, but in a contained area such as this, it's a fun way to mess with players.
I've mentioned that I've been playing Inquisitor - this gives a fun example of this behaviour right at the very beginning. When you approach the town gates - the very first thing you do - you're given a quest to go and kill the bats surrounding the town in order to be let in. This is so typical of RPGs it almost induces a groan, but the second time I started the game - not interested in such trivial quests - I chose the option whereby my character refuses to be lured into such a quest. The result? The guard let me in, of course. It goes to show how accustomed I've become to the RPG tropes that I blindly accepted this annoying mission the first time around, without a question.

There are these games that break the mold and do creative things, and I am absolutely compelled to seek them out. I want to have my expectations hurled against the wall, to be surprised and to think about games in new ways. Games shouldn't just be about recognizing the patterns we hold so dear, but also about being creative and making the players be the same. Designers, we can do this. Players, let's embrace this, and ask for this.

And if you've never played a game that messes with your expectations and want to see how it can be done in the next 5-10 minutes?

Try 9:05.

Dec 2, 2012

Now Playing - Inquisitor

 It's 3:30am. Until about 4:30pm today, Inquisitor had been one of those games sitting on my hard drive, waiting for me to get a spare bit of time to play. I've been playing it since that time, giving it a second chance after my disappointing initial glimpse several months ago, and I want to keep playing instead of going to sleep. There's at least some promise here...

Giant dead tree? Check. Enormous troll beasts? Check. Innocent animal in the middle of nowhere that I need to rescue for a quest? Check. Yep, it's an RPG alright.

Inquisitor excited the hell out of me when I first heard about it. An isometric RPG in the vein of Baldur's Gate, with a focus on interrogating suspects and solving mysteries was exactly what I wanted in a game - that glorious mix between RPG combat and adventure mystery solving that I am so very fond of. I got it at the same time that I got two other inquisition themed isometric RPGs - Kult: Heretic Kingdoms, which I've played through, and Lionheart: Legacy of the Crusader, which I've spent quite a few hours with. Despite all being inquisition themed isometric RPGs, they all play quite differently, and have very different takes on the inquisition theme - which I must admit is a most pleasant change from the traditional high fantasy setting RPGs regularly get burdened with.

The first thing I noticed about Inquisitor is that it's hard. It's Baldur's Gate hard, Fallout hard, heck, it might even be Jagged Alliance 2 hard. Not because of the depth of the gameplay systems - Inquisitor cannot really hold up against the strategic combat of any of these games with its rather simplistic battle system - but because it throws you straight in the deep end, much like those games did. The combat is, at first especially, frustrating and not all too well balanced. There's definitely a wrong way of playing Inquisitor, and I had to restart 3 times before I got anywhere with the game, and even then had to restart again once I'd learned more about how to play the game. The creators of Inquisitor expect their players to be willing to stick to a game without a nice soft starting area or a gentle hand-holding tutorial section.

It simply wouldn't be a decent Inquisition themed game if there wasn't a stake upon which you can burn heretics.

There are some definite issues I take with the combat system. The reliance on potions sees me spending a huge portion of my loot on various types of cures. Any allies you recruit have access to your potions too - a delightful system in which they're smart enough to use your resources to heal themselves - but it means that if they get themselves into a tight spot they'll churn through your potions and you'll be out before you know it. The AI is lacking in a few spots - enemies can be well within sight yet still be ignored by your comrades (even when you're attacking), and yet if a ranged enemy is attacking you and you retreat, they can still hit you from huge distances away.

Melee units, on the other hand, can't hit a moving target at all, and I managed to get my character into a situation where he shut the door on a foe and then chased him around the room for 15 minutes trying to hit him. When I opened the door in impatience, the foe stood still and my character killed him straight away. Poison is a bitch, and giant spiders that can poison you magically from a distance are, to date, my least favourite enemy in the game. Although my companion is pretty good about following me when I retreat, he gets himself poisoned all too often for my tastes, and churns through potions like a junkie on a joyous binge.

The writing in the game is also wordy. Really wordy. I love wordy games, but even I am taken aback by the walls of text Inquisitor throws your way. Perhaps not so much by the length, but that the content seems quite dull at times - and the same point is often repeated by several characters. I like that you can ask many different characters many different things, but it does grow a little tiresome - something I never thought I'd say about an RPG. Still, I'd rather have it this way than having too little opportunity to speak with people, as so many other games feature.

Mysterious activity around the graveyard - this looks like the work of heretics!
If it sounds like I am being quite harsh on the game, it's only because I can see the potential here. Yes, the combat is unbalanced, and yes the writing is a huge wad of often dry text to chew through, but Inquisitor does have some great ideas. I love the fact that the world is responsive, giving you plenty of chances to make a decision with how you'll react to things and rewarding you accordingly. I love the whole inquisition mechanic - where you can play an open-minded, fair investigator, seeking out the facts of each case with bribes, questioning and exploration, or you can play a cruel fanatic who attempts to torture confessions out of the accused with the minimum of investigation.

I love the way the game likes to trick you - a quest that would normally reward you might end up with you making less money than you spent completing the quest, or the people you thought you were helping turning on you and attacking you. I love that the simple combat system has enough mean tricks thrown in to keep it spicy - very little compares to the panic caused when a shaman cast a spell and disoriented my character - making my mouse cursor suddenly erratic and extremely hard to use, rendering my usual hit and run tactics useless. Sure, this is strange, perhaps impolite game design, but it forces me to adapt as a player - something that I find an enjoyable challenge.

It's hard to know how much of the surface of Inquisitor I have scratched, and it's clear that my overall experience with the game could still go either way, but I have to say I'm glad I've given it another shot. The game has many flaws, as I've pointed out, but I can see some great ideas hiding in the midst of it all, and I wish more RPGs had elements like this. Depending on how the combat progresses, this could either be a gem or a real disappointment; either way, Inquisitor is blatantly old school, refreshingly interesting and not for the easily frustrated.

You have been warned.