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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (402)

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The Deep Paths: Labyrin... 3/5
The Vagrant 4/5
Avadon: The Black Fortr... 2/5
Mass Effect 3 3.5/5
Mass Effect 2 3.5/5
Mass Effect 2.5/5
Knightin'+ 3.5/5
Indivisible 3/5
Final Fantasy XIV Onlin... 2/5
A Total War Saga: Troy 3/5
Stardew Valley 3/5
Soulcalibur VI 4.5/5
Owlboy 3/5
Battletech 3/5
Bloodstained: Ritual of... 3/5
The Legend of Zelda: A ... 4/5
Hob 3/5
Assassin's Creed Odyssey 4.5/5
Ittle Dew 2 4.5/5
Luigi's Mansion 3 4/5
Xuan-Yuan Sword: The Ga... 3/5
Star Trek: Bridge Crew 3.5/5
King's Quest: The Compl... 3/5
Strange Brigade 4/5
Metro Exodus 3.5/5

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King's Quest: The Complete Collection   PC (Steam) 

I Reject Your Nostalgia and Substitute My Own    3/5 stars

For PC Master Race neckbeards who grew up and started their journey into the world of computing in the ‘80s, the gaming landscape was fairly barren. There was no ‘Warcraft,’ nor ‘DOOM,’ nor ‘Diablo.’ Indeed, none of the genres that became synonymous with PC gaming even existed in that dire decade. While budding Nintendo fanboys were playing their Action-packed platformers and Action/Adventure titles, the DOS operating system that served as the brains of most personal computers in North America just couldn’t keep up.

The one genre that seemed more prolific on PC than elsewhere, though, was the Adventure game, and, at the time, the biggest name in Adventure games was Sierra. Initially started in 1979 by the husband-and-wife team of Ken and Roberta Williams, Sierra was intended to be husband Ken’s Very Important Commercial Software Business. However, as wife Roberta played Text Adventure ‘video’ games on the startup business’ new Apple II PC, she dared to ask why Adventure games had to be text-only, command-prompt-style affairs when 1980s computer hardware was more than capable of outputting visuals that would enhance the game experience.

While Ken toiled away on his Very Important Commercial Software, his wife wrote, designed, and illustrated a proof-of-concept graphical Adventure game, which she convinced hubby to code-up in his after hours. This first basic game proved such a commercial success, that Sierra ultimately abandoned its Very Important Commercial Software aspirations and switched 100% to game development.

The ‘King’s Quest’ series is Sierra’s most iconic series (among several, including ‘Leisure Suit Larry,’ ‘Space Quest,’ and ‘Quest for Glory’), which began in 1984 and cast its shadow across PC gaming and Adventure games all the way until the late ‘90s, when it – and Sierra as a whole – finally petered out.

But here we sit in the 21st Century, and everything ‘old’ is ‘new’ again, as Generation-X ages into obsolescence and our mid-life crises spur us to try desperately to recapture our lost memories and wasted youth. Hence, in 2014, Activision – one of the members of the gaming Triumvirate of Evil – announced that Sierra was ‘back’ after its decade-plus hiatus and would be releasing a ‘new’ ‘King’s Quest’ game to the thunderous ovations of the nostalgic. This new ‘King’s Quest’ would not, however, be a truly new game, nor would it be a remake of older content. Instead what the 2015 release of “King’s Quest: The Complete Collection” (“KQ2015”) provided was an episodic bit of nostalgia-fueled advertisement for a series rebirth that ended up becoming a stillbirth.

While the original ‘King’s Quest’ titles were considered a grand step forward in graphical presentation for PC games, at the time they and their sibling games were produced, it wasn’t really much of an accomplishment. “KQ2015,” doesn’t try to make any strides in visual presentation, but simply uses the Unreal Engine and cell-shaded polygon models that don’t look appreciably different from those in the ‘Borderlands’ series… indeed, “KQ2015” looks so much like Telltale’s “Tales from the Borderlands” episodic Adventure game that it’s easy to mistakenly believe that they’re both made by the same outfit. However, “KQ2015” is actually developed by an Indie team called The Odd Gentlemen, who were conscripted by Activision to produce this nostalgia bomb.

But just because it doesn’t boldly forge new trails doesn’t mean “KQ2015” doesn’t look good – It does! But there’s really nothing here we haven’t seen before, plus facial animations for characters can sometimes look a bit off.

Audiowise, “KQ2015” is quite excellent, with a lovely soundtrack that occasionally hearkens back to the series’ roots. The game is also fully voiced by a mix of recognizable big-name actors and lesser-knowns. The best performances are, unsurprisingly, delivered by Christopher Lloyd, Loretta Devine, and Wallace “Grand Nagus Zek” Shawn. But I definitely think paying these actors for their talents in a budget Adventure game killed the title’s overall profitability.

Technically, there’s nothing wrong with “KQ2015.” It’s a thoroughly-modern game with Xinput support out of the box, stable performance, and a generally glitch-free experience. However, there are a couple of dumb decisions that went into the game’s design that I need to call out: First, “KQ2015” is an episodic game that takes place over 5 episodes and an epilogue. The first episode has been made Free2Play, with subsequent episodes made available as DLC costing $10 a pop. That’s really not all that bad, especially when the Season Pass provides a fairly hefty discount on buying all the episodes at once… except the Season Pass doesn’t include the epilogue, nor is the epilogue available for purchase as a separate DLC! The only way to actually get the complete version of “KQ2015” is to buy a game key on a third-party site like Amazon (or buy the physical console version, which isn’t actually ‘physical,’ as only the first episode is on the disc itself). Lastly, “KQ2015” features a very annoying save system, in that there is no way to manually save and the game excessively auto-saves after every action. This would be fine if not for the fact that every episode offers a handful of minor variations (tied to Achievements/Trophies, naturally) that can lead a first-time player into a decision they don’t want permanently mucking up the rest of their story. Even worse, each episode saves separately and there’s no way to re-start an individual chapter without resorting to manually backed-up saves (the game doesn’t support Steam Cloud saves at all).

Many of the ‘King’s Quest’ series’ most rabid fans were hoping for a new adventure in the Kingdom of Daventry, while others were looking forward to a modern reimagining of the venerable series’ previous outings. “KQ2015” kind of splits the difference between both camps without doing enough to make either happy.

From its cold-open beginning, “KQ2015” retreads some of the past adventures of the series’ central hero, King Graham. Only now King Graham is old and decrepit, and the entire game is couched in the narrative framework of Old King Graham sharing tales of his past exploits with his granddaughter, Gwendolyn (and sometimes her cousin Gart). However, these Grandpa Stories aren’t reimaginings of popular scenes snipped from past ‘King’s Quest’ titles, but sort of in-betweener stories that fill in gaps in the series’ lore.

There is a concerted effort throughout the episodes to tie the previous ‘King’s Quest’ tales together in a way that never seemed to be intended, specifically focusing on ret-conning the evil wizard, Manannan (whose ability to perpetually stymie my own efforts to ‘kick wizard in crotch’ when playing “King’s Quest 3” as a middle-schooler managed to illicit an involuntary shudder from my adult self all these decades later), into an ongoing villain whose machinations underlie most of the old games’ happenings.

However, in pushing ‘King’s Quest’ lore front and center before a modern, jaded audience with significantly more experience with both games and literature under their belts, “KQ2015” inadvertently reveals the series’ underlying weakness: It’s cheesy, campy, and incredibly unoriginal. Nearly every aspect of ‘King’s Quest’ and the Kingdom of Daventry have been cribbed from fairy tales and mythology, and none of the usage of these concepts reveals a particularly deep understanding of them on the part of Roberta Williams or subsequent writers who have worked on the series. In general, experiencing ‘King’s Quest’ after a multi-decade hiatus makes the entire thing feel like a Bowdlerized, Disneyfied take on classic folklore, with its sights aimed firmly at the intersection of ‘family-friendly’ and ‘wholesome.’

While there is clearly an audience for family-friendly and wholesome games, I personally don’t find much about the concept to be redeeming. Showing kids ‘kinder, gentler’ or toned-down versions of stories that are supposed to provide morals and teach them about the world does the kiddies a disservice, as the real world is absolutely NOT like that, and, I think, the sooner they learn that, the better they’ll be able to come to terms with it and adapt into functioning adults.

“KQ2015” is not a particularly long experience. A single blind playthrough (with a bit of cussing and save copying on my part) took less than 15 hours for all the episodes and the epilogue. Some of the individual episodes are longer than others, but each one should provide a single sitting’s worth of entertainment. For completionists, though, multiple playthroughs will be necessary to find all of the minor variations (which ultimately change nothing about the story, naturally) and unlock the corresponding Achievements. I didn’t find the game to be all that enjoyable, though, so replaying it for the purpose of Achievement-Hunting would only feel like punishment.

The ‘King’s Quest’ series has always kept up with gameplay the standards of the Adventure genre. While the earliest titles in the series all employed a ‘text parser’ interface (that is, the player typed commands such as ‘get book’ or ‘use sword on goblin’ and the game tried to interpret what the player wanted, often to mixed results) with arrow keys for movement, the later entries were mouse-driven point-and-click affairs. “KQ2015” is likewise a bog-standard modern Adventure title cut from the same cloth as Telltale’s various efforts.

The player controls King Graham at various points in his life throughout the game’s chapters, but the overall gameplay experience never changes appreciably. The player will move Graham around single-screen environments – transitioning to new screens when Graham reaches travel points at the edges of his current screen – and a contextual icon will pop-up if Graham is near an object that is interactive in some way. Interactions can range from talking to people/creatures, looking at objects that might provide hints to solving puzzles, picking up objects, or manipulating objects. In addition, Graham has an unlimited inventory in which he can store found objects, and the player can open this inventory and attempt to use carried items on contextual prompts in order to overcome obstacles or solve puzzles.

For the most part, “KQ2015” doesn’t really get ambitious with regard to its puzzling elements, which becomes increasingly obvious as the chapters wear on. In earlier chapters, traditional Adventure game puzzles that revolve around ‘use X on Y’ are prolific, but in the last two chapters, the puzzles are entirely that: Set pieces that involve manipulating what are effectively puzzle boards. While some chapters have gimmicks, such as a time management mechanic in Chapter 2 and a choice to ally with one of two characters in Chapter 3, none of the ‘choices’ or ‘decisions’ a player makes are meaningful or, in many cases, even up to the player, which can feel frustrating, even when the puzzles themselves aren’t.

Perhaps the most charitable thing I can say about “KQ2015” is that the ‘Moon Logic’ TVtrope the series is known for is largely gone. The puzzles – of both main types – are largely intuitive and logical… but I still have to call out one puzzle in Chapter 4 for being complete BS. There’s a Sphinx and there are riddles. Of course there are! The Sphinx informs Graham and the player that they may answer the riddles by placing an item on a nearby pedestal, then opening a door. If the incorrect answer was chosen, Graham dies. There are four riddles, and the first two are fully logical and follow the rules. The third riddle, however, is not only based on a pun, but BREAKS THE RULES GIVEN TO THE PLAYER by requiring TWO items to be placed on the pedestal at once. Bad form, game. Bad. Form.

Aside from the ‘use X on Y’ puzzles and ‘straight-up’ puzzles, the only other thing in “KQ2015” that could even remotely qualify as gameplay is a variety of QuickTime Events. Yes, good old QTEs, the mechanic most gamers love to hate. Fortunately, all of the game’s QTEs are easy and boring, making it quite difficult to fail any of them, aside from, possibly, falling asleep while waiting for a button prompt to appear.

“King’s Quest: The Complete Collections” is, at its core, an uninspired dose of nostalgia pandering with good production values that failed to reignite the hype engine that powered the 1980s era of PC Adventure gaming. Aging Gen-Xers with small kids will doubtlessly enjoy forcing their childhood memories upon their own children in a more up-to-date form, but for me, this game just shows how stagnant the Adventure genre has become.

Presentation: 4/5
Story: 3/5
Gameplay: 2.5/5
Overall (not an average): 3/5



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