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A Preview of The Beard in the Mirror Everybody likes adventure games, although the definition of the term "adventure game" has changed a bit over the years. Leisure Suit Larry Reloaded is an adventure game, sure, but so is Uncharted. So is the latest Zelda. Right?

The Beard in the Mirror is an adventure game in the late-80s-to-mid-90s Sierra and LucasArts sense, and it certainly looks and feels the part. Paul Franzen, who also developed the indie adventure game Life in the Dorms, gave us the scoop on this new title by the quite-accurately-named "wife-and-husband team of Lizo and Paul".

The Beard in the Mirror is about a kid who doesn't know who he is, where he's going, or how he fits into his world. But not because he's an amnesiac; he's just a typical 22-year-old. As far as he knows, he's never once traveled outside his own universe—but the beautiful girl who wakes him up in the middle of one stormy night seems to think otherwise...

Inside his bedroom is the comfort and stability he's known all his life, but outside, there's an all-new fantasy world filled with magic, danger, romance—and the promise of adventure.

Mirror is a collaborative work by the wife-and-husband team of Lizo and Paul (the latter being the writer/designer of last year's Life in the Dorms). It started off as an interactive text adventure the two created and played over instant messenger, but over the years it's blossomed into a full-on point-and-click adventure game—complete with challenging puzzles with wacky solutions, dialogue trees, dangerous mishaps (and even death!), and a story about how to find oneself once the world's finally figured out you're an adult.

You can follow The Beard in the Mirror's development by liking them on Facebook or following Paul on Twitter (Paul says you can't follow Lizo on Twitter and you shouldn't even ask).

The team will have a table set up in the upcoming Boston FIG, so drop by and say hi if you're in the area!

The Walking Dead: My Own Little Slice of Paradise in Hell

(or: Telltale's The Walking Dead as played by an adventure game veteran)

Zombies -- always fun, always thrilling, and uniquely suited to any horror scenario from a slow and quiet exploration of a creepy house in the dark of night, to a terrifying and action-packed dash through an abandoned shopping mall, to a full-scale apocalypse where civilization has broken down and the monster threat has become just another force of nature. I like zombies.

When The Walking Dead by Telltale Games went 40% off during this year's Steam Summer Sale, I just had to get it for myself. Here's what I thought.

As a purist and as an old hand at adventure gaming, I should have been appalled the moment that The Walking Dead handed me the reins and made me play minute after minute of quick time events and choosing dialogue. The gameplay formula is as simple as it gets, and is split into a handful of distinct tasks:

    1. Talk to a bunch of people by choosing what to say before a timer runs down
    2. Do a series of actions by mashing and hitting buttons as the prompts appear on-screen
    3. Explore a small area by walking around, picking up items, using them on things, and talking some more
    4. Sneak around a zombie-infested (or otherwise dangerous) area by moving between predetermined hiding places and using items and weapons to eliminate threats
    5. Choose between two given courses of action as a timer rapidly runs down

That's basically it. The entire game is a linear progression of some of A, and then some of B, a short stint of C and D, more A and B, and then a gut-wrenching serving of E as the episode hits its climax.

Part of me inside is screaming out: where's the freedom in this? Where are the dialogue trees where I can ask people about everything under the sun? Where are the grab bags of items to use in creative ways, and to bang together in a MacGyver-esque display of ingenuity? The exploration? The puzzles? Dear god, where are the puzzles?

No, The Walking Dead isn't an adventure game in the way that my happy, adventure-filled childhood defines it. It might not even be a game as much as it is an interactive animated series with branching paths. All those doubts, however, went flying like a zombie's head at a lumberjack convention the moment I really started playing and getting into the narrative.

The Walking Dead succeeds because it manages to capture the essence of what makes the original comic book series great: the uniquely human-centric view of conflict and survival during a full-scale apocalypse of the walking dead persuasion. As Lee Everett -- a convicted murderer given a new lease on life by the zombie outbreak -- you will find yourself interacting with various groups of other survivors over the course of the two episodes currently available. Not everyone is as agreeable as you'd like them to be, and while it's very possible to play as a nice guy through and through, sometimes you will have to do some nasty things to ensure your survival.

That's about par for the course for a game about survival and the apocalypse, though. Even the fact that you're saddled with a child to protect isn't such an original idea. Fortunately, the little girl named Clementine whom you are tasked to look after is a likeable and resourceful character, not registering so much as a grain-sized blip on the annoying-kid meter. The game also uses an invisible but clever way to illustrate your connection to her: usually, during moments of personal danger, a red border starts to appear on the screen and the scene begins to take a reddish hue. This usually happens during sneaking sequences when you find yourself exposed and in plain sight, or during QTEs when your face is inches away from being peeled off by a set of snapping zombie teeth. Everytime Lee sees Clementine in danger, however, the screen goes red like a warning siren, reminding us that we're not just dicking around and that saving her is not just another branching path option. To Lee, Clementine's safety is as important as his own, and the game communicates that brilliantly.

Talking is a big part of The Walking Dead, even if it's essentially the dialogue system from Alpha Protocol, complete with the timer that makes you choose your response quickly. It seems like a weak attempt at interactivity at the game's outset, but eventually, dialogue becomes less and less of a narrative chore, and more of a respite from the grim realities of life in a dead world. Conversations are short and to the point, and never quite long enough to satisfy the player initiating it. The system does a good job of making things frantic, clipped, and uncomfortable. Lee will never get to know the strangers he's grouped up with as well as he'd like, and likewise, there are things about his past that are better off unsaid -- the aforementioned murder conviction not the least among them all. Often, there's an option for "..." to keep silent, and sometimes it does feel like it's the right thing to do. Impressively, your choices here matter -- people will remember your responses to them, and future interactions will change accordingly. Even the tv-like "Previously on" and "Next time on" segments use your plot and dialogue choices in the recaps and previews.

The choices you make during key points affect the plot in a big way. Characters will live or die depending on your decisions, and those who live will go on to play major roles in the episodes to follow. The branching is enough to drive home the point that your choices do matter, but you can't really derail the plot with them either. The Walking Dead is a linear game, with events happening in a predetermined order and crises playing out when the script calls for them. In a Deus Ex-like manner, it's the way you progress from plot point to major plot point that will differ from player to player. At the end of each episode, the game presents a tally of the choices you made and compares them against its record of all the other players who played through the scenario. It's a nice way of seeing how the rest of the community is playing the game, and also to find out where the major branches in the episode took place. Some of them took me by surprise, because while I was playing the game, I felt like some situations presented me with no choice at all.

Apparently not.

There's no doubt, however, that The Walking Dead is light on the puzzles that the genre is known for. At no point will you be tasked with using lateral thinking to overcome an obstacle, like padlocking the vertical gate in Full Throttle to secure it and climb up the chain that served as its pulley. Nor will you ever need to show a character a specific item to get her to help you accomplish a task. The game has some inspired moments -- distracting a group of zombies with some common sense application of a universal tv remote, for instance -- but most of the tasks you will do is of the use the flashlight on the dark hallway variety.

That's fine with me; in a setting like this, there should be no time to spare for clever solutions to inexplicably important puzzles. The Walking Dead constantly communicates to you that if something seems like it can't be manipulated to your liking, it's more efficient to turn around and look for another way to overcome a problem, instead of pecking at it with rubber chickens and dazed monkeys.

I think it's great that the developers at Telltale Games have managed to marry story and gameplay so eloquently in The Walking Dead, although it arguably limits the way that the plot will develop. In the comic book, the survivors have reached the point that they have started forming real communities, making real and major decisions to stay alive, stay fed, and stay safe from wandering zombies and murderous humans alike. The way the game plays, however, I don't see how this can be possible without making the player feel powerless and insignificant. Unlike the protagonists of the comic book, Lee Everett and the player will never make the shift from reactive to proactive as far as interaction with the game world goes. We will have to see how the succeeding episodes will develop, and I still have high hopes that the series will satisfy regardless.

My bottom line is this: The Walking Dead is such an immersive and engrossing experience that there's no way I can not recommend this to anyone, from hardcore gamers to, well, your mom. It was just on sale on Steam, going as low as 40% off, but the trip is well worth it, even at full price. Play it and see for yourself!

Review: Resonance

With its pixelized presentation and point-and-click interface, it’s easy to dismiss Resonance as just another retro indie effort -- a game riding on the recently-fueled nostalgia trip brought on by the Kickstarter craze, aimed at older gamers who pine day in and day out for days long gone. I think I’m one of those old gamers, too. I can totally imagine why some people will not “get” this game at first glance. I mean that in the least condescending way possible.

Happily, Resonance is not just another half-assed throwback wrapped in a badly written plot. There really is enough in this game to get people excited for traditional adventure games once again.

Resonance is a collaborative project five years in the making between developers Wadjet Eye (of Blackwell series and Gemini Rue fame) and XII Games. It tells the story of four people who all start out as strangers to each other: Ed, the smart but socially awkward mathematician; Anna, the young doctor haunted by a traumatic past, Bennet, the police detective with a sense of justice stronger than his respect for regulations; and Ray, the aspiring investigative journalist with a love for deep vocabulary. It’s also the age-old story of technology: a new discovery with the power to both aid and destroy on a massive scale.

The game opens with a news report that no one will want to see on real-life TV: the world is in chaos, and the highest seats of power in several major nations are being attacked by an unknown destructive force. Just as the clip begins to hammer home the fact that things are really not looking well for civilization at large, the narrative zooms us back sixty hours, and puts us in the shoes of Ed, who has just been woken up in his depressingly dingy and empty apartment on a Sunday morning by an incessant beeping noise. And it isn’t his alarm clock.

After a brief tutorial of sorts, we are then given the choice of controlling any of the four characters in whatever order we want: each protagonist is off doing his or her own thing in Aventine City, although some of their paths will cross innocently enough at first. It’s at this point that the game shows its potential, because each character is faced with a unique and engaging task that gives us some insight into their personalities. Ray, for instance, has to break into a secure hospital mainframe with an inspired combination of sweet-talking and digging into private email accounts. Anna, on the other hand, is reliving what seems to be a recurring nightmare in a frantic and genuinely unnerving escape-the-room style sequence.

The game also introduces the concept of switching between characters early on. If you’ve played Maniac Mansion or its sequel Day of the Tentacle, you’ll have a good idea of how this works. Some puzzles require some item trading and cooperation between specific members of your team. Detective Bennet is the only one of the four who can freely roam inside the police administration building, for example, and will need to bring in one of the other characters “for questioning” to get them inside without raising any fuss. Characters also have unique characteristics, too. The burly detective has no trouble boosting skinny and lanky Ed up to a high window, but the same action cannot be done with their positions swapped. It’s a nice touch of personality and relevance for each of the characters.

Watch out for fun little nuggets of characterization in the game, like Ed’s blundering self-introduction to Anna on the subway, or the correlation between Ray’s word-of-the-day app on his smartphone and his choice of vocabulary during dialogue.

Unfortunately, most of the good character bits happen during those initial hours of gameplay. We never really delve deeper into the personalities of the characters we control, and they remain one-dimensional all throughout. This is disappointing, despite the admittedly interesting single dimension each of them has been given. Case in point: I’d really like to know why Bennet is introduced with a noir-inspired monologue dripping with big-city metaphors and world-weariness. He never breaks into another monologue after this promising and entertaining scene.

The other novel thing about Resonance is its memory mechanic. Unlike most adventure games that feature one inventory, Resonance has three for each character: the traditional bottomless item repository, the character’s long-term memory, and the character’s short-term memory. Long-term memories generally get added to your list as the plot progresses, and may serve as puzzle solutions much like how regular inventory items behave. They also provide flashbacks to key moments that happened previously that contain clues or further insights. Short-term memories are similar, but are distinct from long-term memories in that they are added manually by the player to a finite short-term memory list. This allows the player to bring up objects and scenery in the game world as conversation topics and puzzle solutions as well. Short-term memory is clever, but criminally underused in the game.

Graphically, Resonance is also a strange beast. I see no advantage in the retro-pixel look for this game. If it had been done in a similar 2D manner but with the higher resolution of I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream or Curse of Monkey Island, for example, I feel that the game would have lost nothing in the way of presentation. The game even utilizes some fancy color-changing and depth-of-field blurring effects in some scenes, so the retro effect is actually ruined anyway. The low-resolution graphics are workable and convey enough personality, but this is a bit of a missed opportunity to connect with a larger and more graphics-conscious audience. The one exception to my disappointment is the care given to the main character sprites, which are distinct and expressive in color, design, and animation. Still, the choice to go low-res is a shame because the rest of the presentation is exemplary indeed.

The music is fittingly atmospheric and dreary, falling in step with the escalating dread in the mood of the story. The voice acting is also very good. I wouldn’t say any of it is particularly notable when it comes to conveying strong emotions, but the actors deliver their lines convincingly, and there are no wooden performances in the lot.

There’s a lot more I’d like to say concerning Resonance, but the bottom line is that it’s really not for everyone, painful it may be for me to say so. Resonance is a game for people who like science fiction, mysteries, disaster stories, and big surprises. Resonance is not a game for people who are looking for meaningful dialogue, challenging puzzles, or particularly deep characters. Despite its problems, Resonance’s pros greatly outweigh its cons, and anyone who appreciates a good story will find it an excellent way to spend several sittings of adventure gaming. Resonance is a unique and lovingly-crafted game that’s worth the ten-dollar admission price. Don’t go in expecting a character-driven drama or a world-spanning epic, and you’ll see it for the good game that it is.

Resonance is available for digital download at for USD 9.99.

Adventures are not Dead: Book of Unwritten Tales at 33% Off

Twenty years ago, adventure games were king on the PC. Ten years ago, they were all but dead. If someone had told me back then that there would be this much talk about adventure games today, I'd have passed it off as wishful thinking. It's true, though; there's been talk about adventure games everywhere, from the small (but passionate) to the just plain astonishing.

This didn't pass the notice of our friends at KING Art Games, and to celebrate, they're currently offering The Book of Unwritten Tales (which we reviewed last week) at 33% off the original price! Visit for more details. The sale is up to March 15th, 2012.

If you're an adventure game fan, you owe it to yourself to check this out.

Coming soon: The Book of Unwritten Tales review

Lovely art, if I do say so myself. Adventure game fans: take note! We will be posting a review of The Book of Unwritten Tales, an independently produced point-and-click adventure game.

OMGeek has been approached with a review copy by developer KING Art Games to cover the title, and really, how could I--the Schattenjäger, the graduate from the Famous Adventurer's Correspondence School, he who became a Mighty Pirate, he who knew Simon the Sorcerer before ever hearing about Harry Potter, he who poked and prodded at every inch of Myst Island, he who got Larry Laffer laid--say no? With great titles like this, and Gemini Rue, and Ben There Dan Dat, and pretty much everything Telltale has put out, I truly believe that we're on the verge of a huge adventure gaming Renaissance.

Stay tuned for a full review of The Book of Unwritten Tales, coming later this month. In the meantime, you can play a big part of the second chapter for free in the demo!

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