Review: Hexen – Beyond Heretic

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Rounding out my review of the original Doom-Engine games, we are brought to another FPS classic, Hexen. Hexen serves as a semi-sequel to Heretic. In this game, you play one of three heroes on their quest to defeat the second Serpent Rider, Kronos.

Hexen is similar to Heretic in many ways, but it is also just as unique. Again, the Doom engine was enhanced for this title. This time, to enable jumping and with the addition of more environmental effects. This was first Doom-Engine game to include both a midi and a CD Audio soundtrack. This game represents the original Doom-Engine in its most advanced state. However, as with other games of this type, I recommend the use of frontend software like zDoom to play the game on modern machines.

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While some of the monsters and items are similar to what was seen in Heretic, there’s plenty of new concepts introduced in Hexen. Upon launching the game, the player must choose which type of character to play. Choices include Fighter, Cleric or Mage. Each character has their own strengths and weaknesses as well as weapons and abilities. Unique to this game is also the inclusion of an “ultimate weapon” that must be constructed by collecting pieces scattered throughout the various levels. For the first time we also have a hub-style level design. Meaning that players can revisit previous areas in the same game chapter. In fact, this is pretty much required in order to complete the game. Many hubs require the player to solve puzzles that have them to running from level to level in order to open new doors or portals needed to proceed.

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Despite these advancements, one thing that always bothered me about Hexen was the model design of some of the monsters. From a distance, enemies look pretty good, but as they get closer, the textures become very pixelated and distorted. I noticed this more than I have in other Doom-Engine games. In fact, encountering a mob of fast moving enemies at close range actually gave me a bit of motion sickness. Something that I NEVER encounter with video games.

Overall, Hexen was much better received than Heretic. Mostly due to it’s revolutionary level design. It was popular enough to spawn an official add-on called Hexen: Deathkings of the Dark Citadel. This expansion adds three new hubs packed with even more puzzles and challenges. Aside from a new single player adventure, there’s nothing else really worth of note included in the add-on.

I spent many late nights and uttered more than a few curse words at this game in my younger days. It’s beautiful game, and one that really leaves you with a sense of accomplishment upon completion. But I never felt the same spark of fascination with Hexen as I did with Heretic. I’m not really sure why.

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Difficulty: Variable–  Again, we have the same variable difficulty levels available in all Doom-Engine titles. Overall, I feel that Hexen is a bit more difficult than it’s predecessor simply because of the many puzzles and level hopping that go along with the level-hub system.

Story: Most of the game’s background is included in the game manual. There are little bits to read between hubs and the game’s ultimate nemesis likes to make an appearance from time to time just to taunt you. Being as this game focuses on the second of the three Serpent Riders, it’s not hard to guess that a third game was already in the planning stages.

Originality: Hexen brought a lot of new concepts to the arena of the FPS. The hub-style level design and ability to choose a character class added a bit of diversity to things.

Soundtrack:I found the music in the game to be well done, especially the CD audio. It’s fitting for the game, but not particularly memorable. I enjoyed the tunes in Heretic much more.

Fun: Hexen can be a lot of fun to explore. But a bit of patience is required. The hub system makes the game seem much bigger than it actually is. This can be frustrating for some players with a bad sense of direction. Also, unlike the Doom titles from which this game is spawned from, players benefit from planning and strategy more so than random blasting at enemies.

Graphics: The environments and special effects are very well done. As a I mentioned in the main review, some of the enemy sprites are pretty nasty looking up close, but I feel that is more of an engine problem that a texture issue.

Playcontrol: On the PC, the default controls seem a bit antiquated. Luckily, it’s easy to customize them. When set up in a typical WSAD/mouse config, the playcontrol is spot on. zDoom offers very good customization in this regard.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3Hexen is a classic. It’s a great game and one certainly worthy of a look. However, I feel like by mid-game it starts to drag on. At least it did for me. Out of the two, I prefer Heretic for it’s brighter colors and somewhat simpler design. But make no mistake, Hexen is certainly worth your time. I only recommend the add-on for rabid fans.

Currently available on: Steam

Other Reviews In This Series:

HereticHexenHexen IIHeretic II

Review: Heretic – Shadow of the Serpent Riders

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Following the massive success of Doom, Id Software licensed the game engine to other developers. One of these was Raven Software. They took the base Doom code and modified it to create a fantasy-style Doom clone known as Heretic. This game is very similar to Doom in terms of graphics and play-style. The most notable changes to the game engine include the ability to look up and down as well as several enhancements to the sound system.

In Heretic, you play as an Elf named Corvus (his name was not revealed until the direct sequel several years later). Corvus is a member of the Sidhe clan, a race of elves that have been branded heretics by the evil Serpent Riders who have invaded and occupied the kingdoms of the realm. Corvus takes it upon himself to infiltrate the Serpent Rider’s stronghold and defeat him, thus rescuing the land from the clutches of evil.

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Technology wise, this game is almost identical to Doom. And that’s ok. The concept of this game was not really to invent something new, but to provide a new setting and a fresh take on the existing game engine. As someone who enjoys fantasy games, I found the both the story and the in-game art to be quite well done. One new feature included in Heretic is the inclusion of usable items. In Doom, power-ups were activated on pick up. In Heretic, they go into your character’s inventory and can be used at will. This adds a new level of strategy to the game play. Power-ups include health potions, weapon boosters, time bombs, and even a ring of invincibility. All presented with a Dungeons & Dragons style feel.

The game was originally released with only three playable chapters. The third episode ends with the defeat of the Serpent Rider, D’Sparil. Later, two additional chapters were released for free in the form of a patch. Later, these were all bundled in a retail package. The collective game is known as Heretic: Shadow of the Serpent Riders. I found the two Shadow chapters to be much more of a challenge than the main game.

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At release, the game was not as successful as Doom. I remember having a hard time finding a physical copy. I’m surprised by the reception. One would think that a fantasy first person shooter would piggyback quite well off the success of Doom. Perhaps, one of the reasons Doom won out over many of its clones was due to multiplayer. Doom had a strong multiplayer community even at the time of Heretic’s release. Unlike Doom, Heretic was not limited to LAN play at release. It came with online multiplayer support using the now defunct DWANGO network. However, lack of mod-ability and the raging following Doom already had caused somewhat of a lackluster reception.

Much like Doom, I recommend playing the game with the use of a loader or some frontend software. Again, I recommend zDoom as a software frontend. It renders the game perfectly at higher resolutions.

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Difficulty: Variable–  Much like Doom, Heretic offers several levels of difficulty ranging from casual to infuriatingly difficult. Challenges include not only defeating enemies, but navigating mazes, find keys, unlocking doors, and strategic use of items.

Story: The storyline here is basic in it’s presentation, but is expanded on in future games. The concept of three serpent riding mages taking over random kingdoms is pretty unique. I only wish that the franchise lived on. There’s a lot of wasted potential here.

Originality: Essentially what we have here is a fantasy version of Doom. While that in itself may not seem to be a very original idea. The presentation actually has quite a fresh feel to it.

Soundtrack: The music composition for the game is very well done. The tunes keep an upbeat pace when necessary and are quite fitting. The music is midi based and therefor a bit dated, but it holds up well. The game also includes ambient sound effects that help add a little depth to the environment.

Fun: I enjoyed Heretic immensely back in the 90’s and I still enjoy it now. I daresay I liked it more than Doom. But then again I do have a thing for fantasy games. I find the environment in Heretic to be more enjoyable and the enemies are very unique.

Graphics: In some ways, Heretic is a bit of improvement over Doom as far as monsters and textures go. But sadly, many of the levels are unimaginative and not very pretty. This gets better as the game goes on thankfully.

Playcontrol: On the PC, the default controls seem a bit antiquated. Luckily, it’s easy to customize them. When set up in a typical WSAD/mouse config, the playcontrol is spot on. zDoom offers very good customization in this regard.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – If you liked Doom and you enjoy fantasy games, Heretic is the game for you. It’s not a popular title these days, but a lot of fun can be had experiencing the single player mode. If you can manage to find a friend willing to play a little multiplayer with you, you can get quite a lot of mileage out of the title even today. Like Doom, Heretic is one of the classic FPS games that I consider to be a must-have.

Currently available on: Steam

Other Reviews In This Series:

HereticHexenHexen IIHeretic II

Review: Doom & Doom II

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One thing you should never attempt is a week-long legacy Doom marathon. Between add-ons and level packs, there’s simply too much officially released material. I’ve done just that and my mind feels like mush. For those that might not know, Doom is one of the most successful PC games ever made. It also happens to be my next PC playthrough retro review. While Doom and Doom II are technically two separate games, they are nearly identical in design, so like I did with my review of Wolfenstein, I’ve lumped them into one big review.

While one can consider Wolfenstein 3D to be the grandfather of modern first-person shooters, Doom is the big daddy. This was the game that put the genre on the map. Made by many of the same people responsible for Wolf, it is in many ways a spiritual successor. There are many similarities in terms of style and screen layout. However, Doom features drastically improved graphics and enemy AI.

For gamers looking to play on modern systems, I highly recommend using a program called zDoom. Many years ago, the developers of Doom released its sourcecode, which allowed independent programmers everywhere to make modern ports of the game. There are several tools out there that work very well, but you can’t go wrong with zDoom. (It supports almost every Doom-based game created, and includes support for high-resolutions). — It’s important to note that this port along with many others, also adds certain features that were not present in the original game, but these can be easily deactivated, resulting in a purist experience. Play as you will.

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In the original game, you play as a futuristic Space Marine who is stationed on Mars. You are the soul survivor of a terrible experiment gone wrong. Scientists on the Martian surface were testing a new teleportation technology when they inadvertently opened a portal to Hell itself. Nearly everyone on the base was transformed into mindless zombies. This is where the game begins. As it progresses, our hero makes his way through the complex and eventually on the the two martian moons. All the while encountering various demons and hellspawn. Eventually, the game takes you into hell itself, where upon eliminating the final boss, you find a portal that leads back to Earth. (These areas are broken up into select-able game chapters, much like Wolfenstein.)

The game was so popular that a special edition, Ultimate Doom, was released. This version includes an extra chapter, and while it doesn’t exactly fit in very well with the original story, it really displays some incredible level design.

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That is something that really made Doom stand apart from other games of its time. When Doom was released, players were given the ability to create custom levels for the game. This soon led to a level of customization unseen previously in computer games. Eventually, these modifications led to virtually whole new games. The mod-ability and online play catapulted Doom to be one of the most popular pieces of PC software ever. I used to play Doom with some friends from a local BBS system in the mid-90’s. And our BBS even had a custom WAD that included faces of its many members as well as audio files.

Despite its popularity, the game was wrought with controversy. Brutal violence and occult imagery led the game to be one of the most hated pieces of software at its time. Despite the protests and “burn the game” campaigns, the game was profitable enough to spawn a sequel.

Doom II was released the very next year, and while it did not include a new game-engine or any noticeable improvements in visuals, it was widely hailed a refinement to the original game. Instead of being broken up into chapters, the levels in Doom II are sequential. There are also some changes to weapons and the addition of several new enemies.

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In this game, our hero returns to Earth only to find that the forces of Hell have also invaded this planet as well. The goal now, is to penetrate Hell’s foothold and free the surviving earthlings, all while trying to drive the demonic forces from the planet.
I found the level design in Doom II to be much more thought-out and complex. It’s clear that the developers had it down to a science at this point. Also, if you enjoy multiplayer, Doom II was the version to get. The multiplayer code was a vast improvement over the original. (These days, it’s irrelevant as modern ports routinely support internet play.)
There were two official expansions to Doom II. The first is called The Master Levels. This pack features twenty-one new levels designed to be the most challenging yet. They don’t really fit in to the story line in any real way that I can see, it seems like something that was simply made for rabid fans that couldn’t get enough. – This pack also features a bundle of over a thousand amateur-made levels collected from the early days of the Internet. (Yeah, I’ve not bothered with most of those…)
The second expansion is known as Final Doom. This contains over sixty new levels broken into two chapters: The Plutonia Experiment and TNT: Evilution. These chapters are actually designed with a story in mind. They represent the aftermath of the main game and our hero’s attempt to close up all the demonic portals. I founds these to be very well done and quite challenging.
It’s also worthy of note that a final optional chapter to the main Doom II game was released for the Xbox 360 version of the game. This chapter is also available on the PC as part of the Doom 3 BFG bundle… more on this later.

Now, let’s say you want to play these two games. Where does one start? Well, these titles have been made for nearly every format and console you can think of. That being said, I personally stand by the belief that these games are best experienced on the PC using a modern day frontend.

The easiest way to obtain both Ultimate Doom and Doom II, is with the purchase of the “BFG Edition” of Doom 3. This is a special bundle that includes all three titles. It is available on Steam for a pretty decent price and goes on sale quite often. It is worth mentioning though, that the version of Doom II included in the bundle is a modified version that censors some controversial content from a one of the hidden levels. (The original Doom II contains a secret Wolfenstein throwback level with some Nazi imagery).

You can even pluck the WAD files from the Steam version of the game and load them into zDoom to play the steam version with the better visuals zDoom provides. For players wishing to play Final Doom or the Master Levels…. these also load in zDoom but you’re on your own when it comes to finding copies.

All in all, my playthrough of these two games was an enjoyable trip down memory lane. Although playing thru over one-hundred-fifty levels of something in the span of a week is pretty excruciating, I’ll be honest about that. But, Doom was the standard for FPS games for a reason, and although modern games are more detailed – there’s something special about the original that still shines today.

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Difficulty: Variable–  The Doom games offer five difficulty levels. My reviews always use the default skill level. Even at default, several of the later stages from each game can be quite rough at first but are usually do-able for intermediate gamers. Players who are new to the genre might want to notch the difficulty back just a hair. The later two skill levels are not for the faint of heart… I know some guys that love them. But for me, they are not enjoyable.

Story:The storyline is pretty basic, but actually quite interesting. Demon invasions in a space station has a lot of potential if you ask me,  I only wish there was more of it in the game itself. Its really the perfect backdrop for a latenight survival horror, but ultimately, the title is a white-knuckle bloodbath in the end.

Originality: This game took what was started by Wolfenstein and improved upon it immensely. The multiplayer and mod-ability is what really made the game stand out.. Even today, there’s no shortage of free Doom mods on the Internet. Doom is THE original FPS.

Soundtrack: The game uses basic sound files and midi instrumentation. This was typical for its day and age. The sound is quite bland by today’s standards, but it was very well done for it’s time. The music is nothing spectacular, but the tunes are peppy and appropriate.

Fun: In normal doses and for regular online play, Doom is a lot fun. However, I was easily burned out trying to playthrough everything in such a short span of time. That is no fault of the game developers. In fact, the sheer amount of content involved in my playthrough is actually a testament to how loved and fun the game actually is. All things in moderation.

Graphics: In it’s time, Doom was top of the line. It is several steps above what was accomplished in Wolf. The 3D environments were extremely well done, especially considering that graphics acceleration was still a few years in the future at the time the game was released. It is important to note, that several source-ports of the game actually enable some 3D acceleration for modern gamers who are interested.

Playcontrol: On the PC, the default controls seem a bit antiquated. Luckily, it’s easy to customize them. When set up in a typical WSAD/mouse config, the playcontrol is spot on. Those playing on the console, may find things to feel a bit awkward at first. In my opinion, the game didn’t translate well to a gamepad, but there are those who swear by it.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 -While the games may not seem like much today, it really is the father of the modern FPS game. PC gaming would be nothing without Doom. The games are available for next to nothing today so if you enjoy FPS games, there’s really no excuse not to have them in your library. Both games are really top notch titles, but if you have to chose one, you can’t go wrong with Doom II. Play with the lights off, and if possible, try the co-op mode in multiplayer. Many of my summer nights in the 90’s were spent blasting demons out of the air with my BBS buddies via modem… Ahh, the good old days.

Currently available on: Steam, PSN and Xbox Arcade, (Final Doom and Master Levels no longer available)

Other Reviews In This Series:

Doom I & II – Doom 3 

Doom (Remake) – Doom Eternal

Review: Wolfenstein 3D & Spear of Destiny

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My first “PC gaming” experience actually occurred on a Macintosh at a friend’s house. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, that is where I was introduced to Wizardry. But it wasn’t long after my brush with the Mac that my parents purchased a PC for our home. The first game I remember playing on it was some variation of Battle Chess, then I messed with some of  the early Ultima titles. Those games were great, but they never caught my interest like the Wizardry games did.

One day, a friend of the family brought over a bunch of disks he had copied for us. Many of these were demos he acquired on various Bulletin Board Systems. The one that really caught my attention was the demo for Wolfenstein 3D. For those that don’t know Wolf3D is largely hailed as the original First Person Shooter game. It was actually inspired by a much older PC game called Castle Wolfenstein, but instead of being a crude overhead game with four-color graphics over a black background – Wolf3D instead simulated a 3D style environment seen through the eyes of the hero. While I only had the chance to play the demo originally, I did manage to get my hands on a full copy of the game a couple years later. The end result was many weeks of sleepless nights.

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Wolfenstein 3D was originally released with three playable chapters, these are considered to be “the main game”. In Wolf3D, you play as an allied soldier/POW being held in a Nazi prison known as Castle Wolfenstein. The original goal is to simply escape the castle alive, but once you are free you proceed to put an end to some nefarious Nazi schemes and even do battle with Hitler himself.

Three additional chapters were later released. These are known as the “Nocturnal Missions” and serve as a bit of a prequel to the original game (although they are incorporated as chapters 4-6). Most versions of the game available today include all six chapters in one package.

Wolf3D proved to be so popular that a spin-off game was also released. Spear of Destiny serves as another prequel to Wolf. It tells the story of our hero’s quest to claim a powerful relic known as the Spear of Destiny from deep within a Nazi stronghold. This game features nearly identical gameplay to the original game, but does include some new art and textures. There are also two add-on packs available for SoD. It’s worth noting that you can purchase both Wolf3D and Spear of Destiny from Steam. Both are complete games including all add-ons.

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At the time these games were released, they were cutting edge. Color graphics, various sound effects, and even some low quality speech made these games mind-blowing. Even in today’s world where first-person shooters are a dime a dozen, these classic titles still hold up pretty good. For me, the game was enough like Wizardry (mazes and doors) to get me interested. The gameplay made me stay… Creeping through each level, peeking around corners so as not to be ambushed by lurking enemies, it’s fantastic.

Upon it’s release, the game was marred with controversy due to both it’s gratuitous violence as well as the liberal use of Nazi imagery. However, I personally think it’s important to remember that it’s a game that’s loosely based on world history, that being said…. it’s a game. It’s not meant to be taken too seriously.

Modern gamers often have an issue running the game on modern hardware, even when using legacy tools such as DOS Box. However, there is a nice frontend available for free that makes the game a cinch to run, I used it for my playthrough. It’s called ECWolf and it can be found here:

If you’ve never played this game, it is one that I certainly recommend. It’s a PC gaming classic and it’s available for nearly next to nothing on Steam. These games are bigger than they look. There’s hours of fun here.

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Difficulty: Variable–  The game includes four different difficulty levels. For new players, I recommend starting with the next to easiest, and increasing it as you get better. The game is certainly more rewarding on higher levels of difficulty.

Story: The storyline is basic but pretty neat. There are short readable screens at the end of each chapter that are quite amusing and help provide a little background to what’s going on.

Originality: Even though the game is a nod to the previously released Castle Wolfenstein, the concept and presentation of this title was unlike anything seen before. Wolfenstein 3D was the beginning of a new era.

Soundtrack: The game has a very basic soundtrack and like most DOS games of it’s time, the quality of it would vary depending on the sound capabilities of your PC. That being said, the tunes are quite original and pretty catchy. Several of them are based around military marches. Even the Nazi German Anthem makes an appearance…

Fun: I found this game to be full of fun back in the 90s and I found it to be surprisingly enjoyable today. The game has a certain mood and feel to it that’s just very well done. It’s a blast!

Graphics: By today’s standards, this game is rather crude looking, but in it’s day it was top of the line. For modern players, I recommend using the ECWolf mod mentioned above. This provides an overall better experience and enables the game to be set to modern resolutions. This also sharpens things up quite a bit.

Playcontrol: The default controls are somewhat antiquated. If you follow my suggestion and us the ECWolf mod, you can customize the controls so that the game works like most modern FPS titles. To me, this is a must-have.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – For the price and the amount of content you get, you really can’t go wrong. Wolf3D and Spear both provide hours of fun at almost no cost. It’s amazing to me how well this game holds up. It has truly passed the test of time in my opinion. WWII and FPS fans should not miss it. It’s the game that started it all.

Currently available on: Steam

 

Other Reviews In This Series:

Wolf3DRtCW – Wolf ETWolfenstein New Order – The Old Blood

Review: Tomb Raider (2013)

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If I’ve been a little quiet lately it’s because I’ve been busy playing the recently released Tomb Raider game.  I know that traditionally I’ve focused mainly on retro games when writing on the blog. However, it is my intention to cover just about any type of game that interests me. My recent experience with Sleeping Dogs showed me just how much fun a lot of modern games can be. So, once I heard that Square Enix’s reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise was about to be released, I decided to make it my next purchase. I have not been disappointed.

I owned and played the first three classic Tomb Raider games back when I was in high school and college. I had them on the PC, and enjoyed them. But I always felt the controls were a little awkward and determined that perhaps I should have been playing them on a console to really get the best experience. So I naturally assumed that this new reboot would be the same. I decided a while back that this was going to be a game I was going to play, I just had to determine which would be the better purchase – Xbox or PS3? Then, I saw the game being advertised on Steam with a load of valuable pre-order content (multiplayer maps and an optional tomb), so I decided to take an extra look at the PC version. What I learned was quite interesting. The PC version features many graphical enhancements not present on either console system. The game engine takes advantage of modern DirectX 11 hardware in way never seen before. If you have a PC that can support it, new technologies like TressFX and Tessellation really bump up the visuals to a jaw dropping level. That coupled with the good PC experience I had on Sleeping Dogs, I ultimately went with the PC route for my purchase.

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Being a reboot, this game is a complete re-imagining of the Tomb Raider mythology. Long gone are the days of Lara Croft’s H-cup boobs, and her “I can do anything attitude”. Now we are introduced to a fragile, young Lara. Who is more a victim of circumstance than a swashbuckling heroine. The opening movie does a good job of establishing who Lara is and it did a quite effective job or getting me emotionally invested in the character.

In this game, Lara is a member of a expedition/documentary film crew who is search of the long lost island of Yamatai. During the journey, their ship is wrecked in a freak storm and Lara and her companions find themselves on an uncharted island. Not long after their arrival it becomes painfully obvious that they are not alone. Lara awakes, bound and hanging upside down from the ceiling of a bone-littered cavern. This is where the game begins. From here, it’s a non-stop thrill ride while Lara tries to escape the clutches of her captors, find her friends, unravel the secrets of the island and ultimately, makes her escape.  Due to the recent release of the game, I don’t wish to spoil any plot elements so I’ll stop there.

I found myself feeling almost protective of poor Lara. The thrilling atmosphere of the game, combined with the fact that danger and death can lurk around almost any corner really kept me on the edge of my seat. The death scenes in the game are often shocking and gruesome. As I said earlier… SE did a fantastic job of making me “care” about our heroine.

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At first, the game seems to have a very “on-rails” feel to it. Many early parts of the game rely on button pressing combos to navigate through action sequences, but it’s not long before you are given complete control. Once this happens, the focus turns to exploration and survival. The island is occupied with hostiles, and Lara must either sneak her way through the environment or fight her way to safety. Throughout the game, Lara will acquire gear and weapons which can be upgraded using salvage materials scattered throughout the maps. Lara also earns experience points by hunting animals, killing opponents, or discovering lost treasures/items. Once she levels up, she can learn new skills and abilities.

True to its name, Tomb Raider also features optional tombs for the player to explore. These tombs are fairly short and feature a bit of a break from the rest of the game. Exploration of tombs often require solving various environmental puzzles to reach the large treasure cache at the end.

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Initially at release, I had quite a time tweaking the graphical settings to get the game to run properly. I found this to be quite frustrating as I have a beast of a video card that should be more than capable of running this game even on its highest settings with all the bells and whistles. As it turns out, there were some issues with both the game code and the drivers provided by Nvidia that were causing a problem. Luckily, both SE and Nvidia released fixes to alleviate this problem and I am happy to report that things are going smooth now.

I completed the single-player game last night and I found the whole thing to be quite a good experience. I certainly felt like I got my money’s worth with it alone. But there’s also a multi-player mode available as well to add a little more value. (Something I toyed with, but did not find all that interesting). I’m sure that this title will spawn a slew of DLC in the coming months (multiplayer maps have already been released), so I look forward to checking it all out when the time comes. All in all, I certainly recommend this title to anyone. Old Tomb Raider fans may not appreciate the “New Lara”, but personally, I was beyond impressed.

Pre-ordering the “Survival Edition” from Steam offered the following additional content:

Guerilla Outfit – (Pointless change of clothes for Lara.)
Shanty Town Multiplayer Map
Tomb of the Lost Adventurer (Additional optional tomb to explore)

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Difficulty: Variable – The game offers three difficulty settings which apply to combat only.  As usual, I played the game on the default/normal setting and found it to be a fairly easy playthrough. There were a few situations in the game that required me to make several attempts at victory, but nothing very challenging at this setting. I found most of the puzzles in the game to be fairly straightforward, only requiring some basic out of the box thinking. I’m hoping for some more challenging tombs to raid in future DLC releases.

Story: Once again Square Enix delivers a breathtaking story. This game does a fantastic job of transitioning between cinematics and gameplay. The background story for the game is actually based on real mythology and is quite fascinating. I found it to be a perfect setting for the game.

Originality: I’ve heard many in the media compare this game to Uncharted (a title I have never played), so I can’t really be sure just how fresh many of the concepts presented here actually are. To me, I found the game to be a nice departure from anything I had played before. From the platforming angle, it is very similar to the old Tomb Raider titles of yesteryear. However, the collecting and item upgrade system are something entirely new to this title.

Soundtrack: The soundtrack is mainly ambient. Often times the music serves as a warning to impending danger. Nothing really captivating, but certainly fitting and very well done for the game.

Fun: Personally, I had a blast with the title. It was a purchase I made on a whim and was not disappointed.

Graphics: Here we go. Depending on your platform and set up, the graphic quality can vary greatly. PC users with high-end systems definitely get the better deal here. The game takes advantage of some really cutting edge tech. Video cards able to handle TressFX are treated to a Lara Croft with almost photorealistic hair, for example. That doesn’t mean that PS3 and 360 users are left out in the cold… the game looks marvelous on any system.

Playcontrol: Despite playing on the PC, I made sure to pull out out my trusty wired Xbox 360 controller. The game identified it immediately and even the onscreen tutorial reflected the correct button icons. This is a game that was designed for controllers and while there is native PC keyboard support, I think the a controller is defiantly the way to go. I experienced no real issues at all with controlling the game.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – I think SE has delivered a great title. While some old school gamers fond of the original series will certainly gripe about the radical departure this game represents. I found it to be quite well done. I’m not usually a big fan of reboots, but in this case, Tomb Raider 2013 has really injected new life into a series that (while good in the beginning) grew more stale as the years went by.

Other Reviews In This Series:

TR – TR2 – TR3 – Last Revelation – Chronicles – Angel of Darkness

Legends – Anniversary – Underworld – Guardian of Light
Tomb Raider (2013)    –  Rise of the Tomb Raider

Review: Wizardry 8

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Finally, we have the last game in the original Wizardry series; Wizardry 8. For the first time in the franchise we do not have a fancy sub-name for the game. It’s just “Wizardry 8“. Years ago when I operated Kyler’s Wizardry Den, I interviewed one of the developers and asked why the choice was made to break tradition and not give this game a meta-name. I was told that the title “Lords of the Cosmic Circle” was bantered around the office quite a bit, but ultimately, the decision was made to simply leave it as “Wizardry 8“. So, for what it’s worth, there’s your “true name”.

When I was a young adult, I waited with baited breath for this game to appear on the shelf. It had been almost 10 years since the last Wizardry game was released and I remember telling my girlfriend (now my wife) at the time, “When I get my hands on this game, you will not see me for several days, fair warning.” I was in my zone.

A lot happened to the company of Sir-Tech between the release of Savant and Wizardry 8. Numerous legal wrangling and staff changes caused many Wizardry fans to worry that we would never get that promised conclusion to the story of the Dark Savant. Luckily, Sir-Tech delivered.

Wizardry 8 was released during an interesting time for PC gamers. 3D acceleration was in it’s infancy and there were many competing technologies at the time. This made it both difficult and expensive to produce a 3D accelerated game. The DOS operating system was a thing of the past and game developers had to work within the confines of the various APIs and programming protocols that Windows provided. As a result, many early 3D games suffered in quality or were laden with bugs. Wizardry 8 was no exception.

It didn’t take Sir-Tech long to patch the game, but sadly they went out of business before most player complaints could be fully addressed. Regardless, many of the game’s developers continued to work on fixing bugs during their personal time and a final “unofficial” patch was released.

Even with a nine year wait between games, Sir-Tech made good on their promise to allow players to import their Dark Savant savegames. As a result, the beginning of the game could be vastly different depending on the file that was imported.

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In this entry, the players have pursed the Savant to the world of Dominus. It is here that they begin their quest to recover three lost cosmic artifacts. If they are successful, the will ascend to godhood where they can change the fate of universe and undo all the evils set into motion by the Dark Savant. It’s important to note that during the completion of this title, the true identity of the Dark Savant is revealed… But I don’t wish to spoil it for anyone.

Aside from very engrossing gameplay, there are several Easter Eggs provided for the oldschool fans of the series. The game also features an IronMan Mode, which restores the difficulty level to that of the original five games, complete with permadeath. There’s also a hidden dungeon to be found towards the end of the game that strips away all fancy 3D graphics and returns the white-on-black wireframe dungeons of yesteryear. Good fan-service from Sir-Tech here!

But despite this, there’s a lot of things about Wizardry 8 that leave a feeling that the game was rushed to release. However, for its many faults, it does stand as one of the last true dungeon-crawling RPGs. With the demise of Sir-Tech, the rights to the Wizardry series were purchased by a Japanese developer. Thus began the “lost years” for the North American audience. Game after game was released in Japan, and sadly, only two of them were ever properly ported for western audiences. I intend to cover those two games another time.

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Difficulty: Variable – The default setting for the game is very much like the experience provided by Wizardry 6 and 7. IronMan mode restores the challenge of earlier games. This option was a welcome addition in my opinion.

Story: Despite the long wait between games, Sir-Tech proved that they knew exactly where they wanted to go with the storyline. I had personally feared that the connection between the games would be rather weak. I was pleasantly surprised by the deep integration between the titles.

Originality: There’s a lot of new things here. While keeping the basic game mechanics pretty much the same, Sir-Tech upgraded the world around the player with all of best technology at the time. CD quality music and accelerated graphics add a new level of polish to what is an ancient series. The addition of a new player class is a nice touch for new players.

Soundtrack: As mentioned above, we finally have a CD quality game soundtrack. Complete with music and high quality sound effect. This is certainly a nice addition.

Fun: Many people feel that this game marked the end of an era. First-person dungeon crawlers have become a thing of the past for the most part. This title provides the best of the experience. Ambient dungeons, strange creatures, mystery and adventure… it’s all here and it’s blast to experience.

Graphics: For the first time we have a Wizardry game with graphic acceleration. Of course, by today’s standards the game is blocky and robotic feeling. However, at the time, it featured one of the best visual experiences one could expect.

Playcontrol:  Personally, I found the controls to be clunky and confusing at first. After a while, things tend to fall into place. But I can’t help but think there could have been a better interface for the game.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Four stars for the final entry in Sir-Tech’s epic franchise. Even today, many old school gamers tend to look back fondly on this title. I am no exception. I feel that with today’s technology, the potential for a truly epic and mind-blowing Wizardry experience could easily become a reality. And while I do enjoy several of Japan’s recent offerings, I fear the good old days are finally at an end.

Currently Available: GOG.com, Steam

Other Reviews In This Series:

III IIIIVVVIIVIIVIII

Forsaken Land – Labyrinth of Lost Souls – Wizardry Online

Review: Wizardry – Crusaders of the Dark Savant

Onward to the seventh title in the original Wizardry series, Crusaders of the Dark Savant. This game is a direct sequel to Bane of the Cosmic Forge. The storyline picks up right where Bane left off, and you can import your characters from the previous scenario if you choose.

In this game, our heroes are actually sent to another planet in pursuit of an evil Cosmic Lord known only as The Dark Savant. The Savant and his army have occupied the small planet in hope of recovering a powerful artifact known as the Astral Dominae. If the heroes wish to stop him, they will have to assimilate themselves with the various races and warring factions of the planet.

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In many respects, this game is similar to Bane of the Cosmic Forge. The most noticeable difference is the upgraded graphics. The art in this game is a step above what was seen in Bane. On top of that, an enhanced version of this game (called Wizardry Gold) was also released for Windows 95, which is even an improvement on the original version in many ways. Again, much like the previous game, this one is completely mouse driven. The game is controlled via a point and click system. The menus and interface are much improved over Bane of the Cosmic Forge in my opinion.

In this game, the claustrophobic atmosphere of the maze is gone. Dark Savant features a variety of locales for players to explore. From forests, to cities, there’s plenty of open world feel in this title. This is somewhat of a new concept for the Wizardry series, but one that is very well implemented here.

Players who enjoyed Bane of the Cosmic Forge are likely to enjoy this title as well.

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Difficulty: Medium – Again we have a game that is appealing to both legacy players and  the more casual audience. Progress within the game can be saved and loaded at will. Which makes it easy to “ignore” bad choices and party wipes.

Story: Once again we have a given a game with a very in depth storyline. Information is not spoonfed to the player like many modern games, but must be sought after and uncovered as the player progresses through the game.

Originality: When you have a series as popular as Wizardry, it’s often difficult to make too many changes to the formula without upsetting your core fanbase. Sir-Tech always had a way of making small tweaks and improvements to their games that kept things fresh and exciting without tinkering too much with the things under the hood. This game is a great example of that.

Soundtrack: The game has no musical soundtrack but features sound effects for PCs equipped with a SoundBlaster compatible soundcard.

Fun: This game was another favorite of mine and a young teen. Many late nights were spent exploring the world of Lost Gaurdia. And even today, as I played through the game for this review, I found myself enjoying the game just as much as I did then.

Graphics: By today’s standards, the graphics leave a lot to be desired. However, they were pretty top-of-the-line in the day and age the game made it’s debut. As stated earlier, the Wizardry Gold version of this title provides even sharper graphics than the original DOS based version of the game.

Playcontrol:  Here we have a game that is controlled completely by the mouse. The interface and navigation is an improvement over the previous game. Modern gamers may need to take a minute to get the hang of things though.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Another example of classic RPG gaming at it’s best. Games like this may be a thing of the past, but they are certainly treasures worth cherishing.

Currently Available: GOG.com, Steam

Other Reviews In This Series:

III IIIIVVVIIVIIVIII

Forsaken Land – Labyrinth of Lost Souls – Wizardry Online

Review: Wizardry – Bane of the Cosmic Forge

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Here we have the sixth installment in the Wizardry series; Bane of the Cosmic Forge. This title is probably my second favorite in the Wizardry universe. It is the first entry in the series that was completely free from the influence of the original creators. This time, we are presented with a game created completely by David W. Bradley and Sir-Tech Software. This is very obvious due to the radical change in direction that is present in this game.

For the first time in the series, we are given a Wizardry title that focuses just as heavily on artwork as it does story. Color EGA graphics, which were top of the line at the time, transformed the Wizardry world into something never seen before. Also, gone are the days of keyboard only gameplay. Bane features a mouse driven interface, which was very inviting to new players at the time.

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Despite these changes, all of the staples of the series are still here. The traditional races and classes are all included, with new additions to both (Faeries, Lizardmen, etc – for races, and Alchemists, Bards and more for classes). New character skills and a revamp of the magic system are also integrated into the game. (Say goodbye to those cryptic magic words)

While the graphical and UI presentation of the game is first thing many veteran’s notice, the storyline of the game is equally immersing and probably the best in the series so far. The plot begins simple enough, your team of adventurers enter a long abandoned castle in hope of doing some serious treasure hunting. Little do they know they are about to become involved in what will be both a quest of supernatural and cosmic epic-ness. In the end, your party is given the opportunity to invoke one of the most powerful relics in the entire universe: The Cosmic Forge. A mystical pen that will turn anything written with it into reality.

The game features multiple endings and once the game is over, you are given the opportunity to save your game for import into the sequel. The ending achieved in this title has a big impact on how you begin the next game.

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Difficulty: Medium – For this first time we have a Wizardry that is accessible to the semi-casual player. Progress within the game can be saved and loaded at will. Which makes it easy to “ignore” bad choices and party wipes

Story: An amazingly in-depth story for those that take the time to read it. There are no cutscenes, and it’s possible to speed through all of the in-game dialogue.

Originality: There’s a lot of new ideas and style brought to the series in this title. But somehow, the developers also managed to stay true the legacy introduced in the original game.

Soundtrack: The game has no musical soundtrack but features sound effects for PCs equipped with a SoundBlaster compatible soundcard.

Fun: I enjoy this title quite a bit. I’ve never failed to have a wonderful time exploring the dungeons and the lands beyond.

Graphics: By today’s standards, the graphics leave a lot to be desired. However, they were pretty top-of-the-line in the day and age the game made it’s debut.

Playcontrol: For the first time in the series, the game is controlled by mouse. This provides a bit of a learning curve for modern gamers, but soon becomes second-nature.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Bane of the Cosmic Forge is prime example of a classic PC RPG. This game begins the second age of Wizardry and  it, along with the first title in the series, are on my list of games to play before you die.

Currently Available: GOG.com

Other Reviews In This Series:

III IIIIVVVIIVIIVIII

Forsaken Land – Labyrinth of Lost Souls – Wizardry Online

Review: Wizardry IV – The Return of Werdna

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Here we have what is probably the most obscure game in the Wizardry series, The Return of Werdna. Unlike the previous games, in this title you play as the evil wizard Werdna, the villain of Wizardry I.

This game has the reputation of being one of the most challenging computer games of all time. Players expecting to have any chance at all in beating the game will find that knowledge of the original Wizardry title is an absolute requirement. Many players who are unfamiliar with the series find themselves unable to even figure out how to leave the starting room.

This game begins with Werdna imprisoned at the bottom of the labyrinth and he must climb his way to the top where he will enter town and seek his revenge. Since only Werdna is a playable character in this game, the player must use pentagrams that can be found scattered throughout the maze to summon monsters for aid. The pentagrams also serve the purpose of restoring Werdna’s powers, thus effectively “leveling up” the character. Knowledge of the series’ monsters and their abilities is a must.

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Completing the game and discovering its true ending really requires some out-of-the-box thinking. Today, it’s quite simple to look up a complete walk-through online. (I had even written one myself many years ago, and it can still be found floating around out there in the ether). However, at the time the game was released, it was not uncommon to hear of various computer clubs across the country teaming up to try to solve the riddles in the game.

I didn’t get to experience this game when it was first released and my first time playing it was with the release of the Ultimate Wizardry Archives collection. I consider myself to be a Master Wizardry player, and even I had to consult with others online when trying to figure out how to achieve the true ending on the game.

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Difficulty: Very Difficult – This game really takes the challenge to a new level. It’s important to remember that this was very idea the developers had in mind. The goal was to create a game as difficult as possible without being completely unfair. As I stated earlier, advanced knowledge of the series is a must have if you wish to conquer this game without cheating.

Story: The concept of playing as Werdna is a very interesting twist. I found it to be refreshing, yet also a nice throw back to series origins. You ultimately get to do battle with many of the “sample heroes” seen in the original instruction manual. As wells as characters actually created by players. (A contest was held where the developers asked players to send in their completed scenario disks for Wizardry 1. The data was then imported into the game and their characters were added as adversaries. – How cool is that?!)

Originality: Despite being another basic maze crawler, there’s a lot of new things in this title. The play-as-a-villain concept was something unheard of before this game. The monster summoning and upward progression was a first for the series.

Soundtrack: The original Apple and PC version of the game has no soundtrack or sound effects (other then the occasional click or blip).

Fun: Despite is high level of difficulty, I always have a lot of fun when playing this game. It reminds me very much of the original scenario, and that’s always a good thing.

Graphics: The graphics are a small step up from the first three titles, but are still nothing worthy of mention.

Playcontrol: Navigation of the maze it handled with the arrow keys. Other commands are executed either using the number keys or various hot keys. All options are displayed on the screen at all times, so you’ll never forget. It’s definitely archaic by today’s standards. Luckily, the game is not fast-paced and you have plenty of time to make your decisions and figure things out.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – While I personally love this game, it’s very difficult to recommend it to anyone but a serious fan of the series. The extremely high level of difficulty and need to manually map the game will cause frustration from all but most battle-hardened maze dwellers.

Not currently available

Other Reviews In This Series:

III IIIIVVVIIVIIVIII

Forsaken Land – Labyrinth of Lost Souls – Wizardry Online

Review: Wizardry III – The Legacy of Llylgamyn

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As I continue my trip down memory lane, I am brought to one of the most underrated entries in the series, Wizardry III. In most respects, this game is very much like the first two. Same engine, same concept. And just like Wizardry II, you are required to import your characters from one of the previous scenarios. However, unlike last time, your characters are reset back to level 1. What is actually going on lorewise, is you are playing a party composed of the ancestors of your previous characters. However, thru a ritual at the beginning of the game, they inherit the traits of their forefathers.

That’s right, this game takes place many generations after the events of it’s predecessors. For many years peace has reigned over the kingdom. But now, the world is rife with turmoil and natural disaster. Earthquakes and strange astronomical events have spooked the population. A call is sent for those descended from the legendary heroes to seek out a legendary scrying device, The Orb of Earithin, in hopes to quell the disturbance. The Orb is known to be kept by a great serpent living high above the kingdom at the peak of a great mountain

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Many of the same game mechanics from the previous scenarios exist here. However, unlike the other games, certain levels are restricted to characters of a particular alignment. This obstacle is easily avoided by simply using the age old trick of either attacking or ignoring friendly monsters to change the alignment of your characters.

Aside from the alignment-specific restrictions, this entry in the series also relies a bit more on puzzles and other interactions in order to successfully complete the game. Other than that, there’s really nothing new. This is very much a title created for existing fans of the series. Which worked out just perfectly for me.

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Difficulty: Difficult – Like it’s predecessors, this game is not easy. The challenges in this title are a bit different in design however.

Story: The storyline here is a bit weaker than the scenario presented in Wizardry II, but still interesting enough to pull the game along.

Originality: Aside from the new story and a few new monsters, there’s not much new at all with this game. The legacy transfer of characters at the beginning is refreshing, but overall there’s not much new.

Soundtrack: The original Apple and PC version of the game has no soundtrack or sound effects (other then the occasional click or blip).

Fun: This game really only appeals to fans of the original games. The first title really carved it’s own niche at the time, and like Wizardry II, those who enjoy Wizardry for what it is will not be disappointed.

Graphics: The PC version graphics were pretty bad. Compared to the Macintosh and Apple versions of the game, the PC makes out the worst. That being said, there’s really not much that could be done at the time. This game was released during a time when PC gaming was in it’s infancy.

Playcontrol: Navigation of the maze it handled with the arrow keys. Other commands are executed either using the number keys or various hot keys. All options are displayed on the screen at all times, so you’ll never forget. It’s definitely archaic by today’s standards. Luckily, the game is not fast-paced and you have plenty of time to make your decisions and figure things out.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – While this game is just as much a classic at the other two, it is my least favorite of the original trilogy. The formula is beginning to grow stale a bit, and the lack of any real new innovation prevents this title from being attractive to anyone outside of the core audience.

Not currently available.

Other Reviews In This Series:

III IIIIVVVIIVIIVIII

Forsaken Land – Labyrinth of Lost Souls – Wizardry Online