Saturday, October 15, 2011


Developer: Kristian Majewski
Publisher: Kristian Majewski
Adventure - PC
HDD, 1 Save File
1 player

Continuing with my Indie PC gaming kick, I picked up TRAUMA as part of the Humble Frozen Synapse Bundle. It's a throwback to the old point-and-click adventure games, but with a little bit of a modern twist.

The game begins with a woman awakening in a hospital bed. Her memories are jumbled, first with a recollection of driving and then random bizarre imagery follows. And hence the game begins.

Like all point-and-click adventures, you will use only the mouse. Click on specific locations of the screen and you will either investigate an object or move to a different location. The interface of this game has a photograph theme, where mousing over key spots shows a translucent photo, letting you know you can move. This is extremely helpful so you're not just clicking in random locations. The game also gives you visual indicators when mousing over key objects too.

The twist to it all is that it adds some interactivity, by giving you powers only accessible through mouse movements. For instance, you can move Right just by "drawing" horizontal lines on the screen from left to right. Moving right can just as easily be accomplished simply by clicking on a navigation spot, but this is just one example of the interactivity. There are some abilities you obtain that can only be accessed by drawing with your mouse.

What's really enjoyable about the game is the whole theme of discovery. It's an adventure game, so you're trying to discover what's going on in the story, discover how to progress, discover different paths. But it also includes a collectathon element, where photographs are scattered throughout each scenario. The photographs fill in a little bit of backstory, but they can also teach you some of the mouse maneuvers in the game. Everything works together really well.

I won't say that TRAUMA is game of the year material or anything. But as far as point-and-click adventures go, I rather enjoyed it. It's mysterious and atmospheric, offers some interactivity with the mouse movements, and wraps it all in a package that emphasizes discovery. Oh, and it's pretty short too ( < 3 hours?), which is a plus in my book. Don't think I'd buy it alone, but as part of a bundle, it's a pleasant surprise.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Sol Survivor

Sol Survivor
Developer: Cadenza Interactive
Publisher: Cadenza Interactive
Tower Defense - PC
HD Backup
1 player, Multiplayer Co-op & Versus
Sol Survivor

Now that I'm packing a modern PC, I'm experimenting with PC gaming.  First order of business, some indie packs from Steam.

I picked up Sol Survivor as part of a Strategy bundle. Turns out each of the 5 games in the bundle is some sort of tower defense variation. Lucky for me, I generally enjoy them. For those of you who aren't familiar with the genre, tower defense games feature maps, where waves of enemies traverse a fixed (or not-so-fixed) path. If the enemy reaches their destination, you lose life.  Hit 0, and it's game over.  The goal of the game, then, is to build "towers" that attack the enemies and hopefully kill them before they ever reach you.  As you destroy enemies, you earn the ability to build more towers or upgrade existing ones.  The fun of the genre comes from understanding the specific nuances and special powers of your "towers" and placement of those towers to do the most damage.  For instance, most games of the genre will usually have a tower that can slow down the enemy, but does little or no damage.  That's a great supplemental strategy to use in conjunction with offensive towers, but not good by itself.  So the right blend of towers is required.

That description generally applies to all tower defense games.  Sol Survivor is a pretty standard entry to the genre, and as such, makes a good intro.  The setting is very sci-fi, with an alien invasion as a backdrop.  Instead of towers, you have turrets, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.

There are two design decisions that make Sol Survivor distinct.  There's an "Orbital Support" system that makes the game more interactive than its peers.  In addition to the ability to build turrets, you have an energy bar that you can spend to alter the game.  While your turrets are shooting at the enemy, you can click on the Laser Orbital Support, point at the enemy and then hold down the mouse button.  A laser beam will follow wherever your cursor is to do additional damage.  This is especially handy to finish off foes that weren't killed by your turrets.  There are other orbital support options - some enhance the abilities of your turrets by giving bonuses temporarily; some will slow down any enemies within a radius; some will deal direct damage to an enemy like the laser.  The orbital support system helps to make the game more action-focused and less passive.

While the Orbital Support is a significant addition, the choice of Officers has an even greater impact on the gameplay.  This is the first tower defense game I've played where you don't have access to all the towers in the game.  Sol Survivor makes you choose from 10 different officers, each with their own subset of turrets and orbital supports.  What this means is that each officer has a different playstyle and strategy to employ.  This was my favorite aspect of the game.  There are a total of 20 stages in the campaign, but I found myself replaying the same stages with different characters just to get a feel of how the game changes.  By limiting the types of turrets you can build and mixing up your orbital support abilities, the developers made the game better as a result of those restrictions.  You're forced to make do with what you've got and it gives the game more of a personality.

In addition to the single player campaign, there is also a single player survival mode where unlimited waves of enemies come knocking at your door as well as a co-operative multiplayer experience.  I haven't had the opportunity to try the mp game, but according to the videos I've seen, it looks like it works really well.  If you're a completionist, there's tons of achievements both in the game and through Steam, that will keep you occupied for many many hours.

Still a generic tower defense game overall, but solid.  The addition of orbital support and multiple characters doesn't drastically change the genre, but they sure make things more interesting.