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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (322)

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The Yawhg 3.5/5
Dungeon Defenders II 4/5
Spelunky 0.5/5
Hard Reset Redux 2.5/5
Girls and Dungeons 4/5
Time Tenshi 2 3.5/5
Time Tenshi 2.5/5
We Are the Dwarves 1/5
Shadow Warrior 3.5/5
Torment: Tides of Numen... 4.5/5
Hammerwatch 1.5/5
Metro Redux 4/5
Dragon Quest Monsters: ... 3/5
Diluvion 3/5
Seiken Densetsu 3 ( Sec... 2.5/5
Titanfall 2 2.5/5
Treasure Hunter G 3.5/5
The Legend of Zelda: Br... 4/5
Shadow Warrior 2 4.5/5
Treasure of the Rudras ... 2/5
Oceanhorn: Monster of U... 2.5/5
The Bard's Tale ( 2004 ) 3/5
Middle-earth: Shadow of... 4/5
Spore 3/5
Mario + Rabbids: Kingdo... 4.5/5

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Infested   PC 

And the Trilogy Becomes a Quartet    4.5/5 stars

In the 1980s, developer ICOM Simulations released a series of point-and-click Adventure games on Macintosh. PC gamers of the time were staunchly entrenched in DOS, so these games received relatively little fanfare… that is until the Japanese companies Kemco and Seika got their hands on these titles and ported them to the original NES. While the Mac originals had no background music and horrible Mac OS (pre-X) interfaces, the Japanese outfitted the NES versions with killer chiptune soundtracks and a clean UI that would work just as well with a mouse as a controller. As a result of this collaborative effort, “Shadowgate,” “Uninvited,” and “Déjà Vu: A Nightmare Comes True” are still considered some of the best, most iconic Adventure games of all time. While “Déjà Vu” received a sequel and “Shadowgate” received two sequels, none of these follow-ups managed to hold a candle to the originals, leaving this unrelated-but-for-style set of games as a pleasant trilogy.

An Indie developer by the name of GrahfMetal (really Jeff Canam) couldn’t leave ICOM’s glorious past alone, however. Seemingly goaded into action by the release of “Shadowgate: 25th Anniversary Remaster,” GrahfMetal set about creating a spiritual successor to ICOM’s classics, publishing the results completely free gratis on the Homebrew/Indie project site, itch.io in 2016. I’ve had my eye on this project since I first heard about it last year, and my recent experience of disappointment with “Shadowgate’s” real official sequel, “Beyond Shadowgate,” bumped GrahfMetal’s game, “Infested” back to the forefront of my awareness and backlog. Little did I know that the trilogy of NES Adventure games I enjoyed so much in the ‘80s and ‘90s was about to get a new sibling.

Presentation
“Infected” looks exactly like the NES ports of ICOM’s games. The color pallet, the artistic style, the interface: Everything is incredibly authentic to what Kemco-Seika bolted onto ICOM’s basic Mac releases. In 2016, these visuals won’t blow anyone away, but for someone seeking an authentic ICOM experience from the ‘80s, “Infested” is like unearthing a lost floppy or NES cart from a landfill in New Mexico and discovering an unreleased ICOM Adventure.

The soundtrack isn’t quite as earwormy as the ones in “Shadowgate” or “Uninvited,” but it likewise captures the chiptune goodness of the NES versions of ICOM’s games. Certain scenes with a lack of background music also show acute awareness on the part of GrahfMetal’s sound engineer, Orie Falconer, of how to use music to set the mood of a scene.

Technically, “Infested” is rock solid. The game was built in the GameMaker Studio software suite, and is distributed from itch.io as a free self-extracting executable that installs and runs with no fuss whatsoever. It does not, however, have native controller support, mandating the use of a simple controller mapper or any kind of mouse to play.

Story
Like most ICOM Adventures, “Infested” tells the tale of an anonymous protagonist regaining consciousness only to find themselves faced with a dire situation that needs to be addressed in a timely manner. In the case of “Infested,” our nameless protag is a member of a spacefaring crew in the distant future, awakening from a stasis pod to discover that his/her entire spaceship seems to be devoid of crew and that he/she is seemingly harboring an alien infection. It is up to the player to guide this protagonist through the ship in order to discover what exactly has happened, as well as figure out both a way to both resolve the ship-wide disaster and escape with their life.

Throughout the story of “Infested,” astute readers and craven fans of the original ICOM Adventures will notice a number of Easter Eggs and references. I found these to be a delightful homage to the game’s inspirations. And “Infested” makes no bones about the fact that it was inspired by and wants to be an ICOM Adventure, with numerous mentions on both the title screen and the ‘About’ screen (which also shows the game’s credits).

Ultimately, the narrative in “Infested” is well conceived and well written… it’s just a bit on the short side. I’m not much of a speed-runner, but back in the early ‘90s, I used to like to speed-run “Shadowgate” to see how well I remembered the solutions to the game’s puzzles. It usually took me about 45 minutes, though my first playthrough took a lot longer because it was full of puzzles and I was a dumb child. “Infested” is also full of puzzles, and I am no longer dumb, so my initial playthrough only took a few hours, while my subsequent speed-run took a meager 15 minutes. By this not-quite-scientific method of comparison, I estimate that “Infested” only has 1/3 the content of “Shadowgate.”

Gameplay
There is something so simple and cathartic about a point-and-click adventure game. There’s no stress over, ‘Are me reflexes good enough to complete this?’ or, ‘Have I spent enough time grinding stats/money/loot/etc. to complete this?’ It’s just a good old-fashioned brain-teaser that tests the player’s logic and observation (or their tolerance for trial-and-error).

“Infested,” thankfully, takes its UI entirely from the NES versions of ICOM’s classics published by Kemco-Seika. Unlike the horrible, nearly unplayable Mac versions, this UI is unified, with a large window showing the player their current scene, a slightly smaller window with flippable inventory pages, a movement box showing every potential route leading out of the present scene, and a menu of basic Adventure game options like ‘Use,’ ‘Take,’ and ‘Examine.’

The gameplay in “Infested” is entirely mouse-driven, and the mouse is much quicker and more responsive when controlled by an actual mouse (or a mapped analog stick) than it ever was when controlled via the NES’ d-pad. Left-clicking selects options. Right-clicking clears the current selection. That’s really all there is to it. With this simple control scheme, it’s up to the player to examine their surroundings in each new area, determine what objects are useful, and in what ways said objects are useful. “Infested” is quite possibly the best-designed not-quite-ICOM Adventure game, as the puzzles are all very sensible, and there are absolutely zero cases of insane-moon-logic that mandate the use of a guide of any kind.

Overall
Anyone who enjoyed ICOM’s classic Mac/NES Adventure games in the ‘80s and early ‘90s owes it to themselves to play through GrahfMetal’s spiritual successor/homage. “Infected” is just as good as, though a bit shorter than, “Shadowgate,” “Uninvited,” and “Déjà Vu,” but is such a wonderfully authentic and well-conceived project that it deserves to stand right beside its inspirations.

Presentation: 4.5/5
Story: 4/5
Gameplay: 5/5
Overall (not an average): 4.5/5

 

 


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