Video Game Review: Red Johnson’s Chronicles: Episode One [Playstation 3, 2011]

Red Johnson's Chronicles: Episode One [Playstation 3, 2011]

Red Johnson’s Chronicles: Episode One
System: Playstation 3
Publisher: Lexis Numérique
Developer: Lexis Numérique
Release Date: May 3, 2011

No, this title is not innuendo for something else.

The unfortunately named Red Johnson’s Chronicles: Episode One is a point-and-click adventure game that is essentially a mashup of Professor Layton and Heavy Rain. You play as Red Johnson, a private investigator who has just been hired to solve the murder of one of the most hated men in town. During the investigation, Red meets an interesting array of characters, nearly all of whom seem to have something to hide. The gameplay is a mix of solving puzzles, questioning suspects, and surviving occasional quick time events. While the game is rated M for Mature due to language/violence, the subject matter is all very much tongue-in-cheek with some lighthearted humor thrown in. This balance is very much appreciated.

RJC’s puzzles, the main focus of the game, are typically challenging and many require some serious thought. Thankfully, there is a hint system in place that can be used if necessary. There is also a good amount of variety in the puzzles, which helps keep things fresh. This is definitely a strong suit of the game.

The addition of quick time events, while initially intriguing, is more of a nuisance than anything else. The QTEs are all too brief, and one wrong button press means you fail the entire event. Since you are only given a very quick look at each icon, it is incredibly easy to miss the signal in time. There aren’t too many of these events in the game, but they still could have been tweaked to make them fit in better.

Red Johnson's Chronicles: Episode One [Playstation 3, 2011]

Aesthetically, Red Johnson’s Chronicles succeeds in creating a dark, grimy world, and it has the feel of a solid crime noir. The voice acting could use some work (especially the over-the-top Sal stereotype), but it does give the game a more personalized feel.

Red Johnson’s Chronicles will last between 6-8 hours overall, which is a good length for a PSN adventure title. It is great to see a new console point-and-click game, and hopefully Lexis Numérique is encouraged to continue the saga. With some modifications here and there (such as adding more locations and fixing the QTEs), this could rise near the top of the genre. As it stands, RJC is a solid effort that is worth a look for fans of the genre.


Video Game Review: Dead Nation [Playstation 3, 2010]

Dead Nation [Playstation 3, 2010]

Dead Nation
System: Playstation 3
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Housemarque
Release Date: November 30, 2010

Dead Nation is a top-down shoot ’em up game in which you play as one of two survivors in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. Your goal is to survive through ten different levels while slaughtering countless zombies along the way. Early on, you are given basic weapons – a rifle with unlimited ammo, an SMG and a shotgun, to name a few. As you progress, you can obtain new weapons and also upgrade anything you get your hands on, including grenades and armor. This upgrading system is a great addition and adds some depth to what is otherwise standard shooting fare.

The game uses the analog sticks as its primary controls — the left stick is used to move, the right is used to aim. Unfortunately, where Dead Nation differs from other similar titles (Zombie Apocalypse immediately comes to mind) is that it requires the use of another button, R1, to shoot. This takes a little bit of time to get used to, and it never really feels natural. I’m not sure why the developers didn’t just allow the right stick to control aiming AND shooting.

Dead Nation [Playstation 3, 2010]

Dead Nation is a challenging game, and it has a tendency to get absurdly frustrating. Housemarque made bold claims before the game’s release date that this would have more on-screen zombies than any game ever made. While it is true that an impressive number of zombie hordes come out of nowhere (and the variety in enemies is equally strong), the game’s top-down view is sometimes too high up and distant to get a good view of all of them. There are occasional problems with straggler zombies coming out of nowhere and getting in cheap hits. The extended camera angles and generally dark atmosphere make it hard to see these loners. On higher difficulty levels, getting hit with these cheap shots can be a major problem.

Although Dead Nation is a solid single player game, it is best played co-op, especially on the higher difficulties. Housemarque put together a well-made zombie shooter, but the odd controls and occasional frustrating gameplay hold it back from being a step above the rest. I got the game on sale for $7.50, and that’s not a bad price. If you can find a similar deal, go for it, but otherwise I would hold off unless you are a big fan of all things zombie.


Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, Episode One [PS3, 2008]

Penny Arcade Adventures: Episode 1 [PS3]

Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness Episode One
System: Playstation 3
Developer: Hothead Games
Release Date: October 23, 2008

I am a casual fan of the Penny Arcade web comic, not an avid reader but I still take the time to peruse the site every now and then. I like their brand of video game humor — I will never forget their hilarious God of War comic — so when I saw that the Playstation Network was offering their two video game titles together for a total of $3 I had to pick them up. The first episode of Penny Arcade Adventures, titled On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, is a mashup of old school point-and-click adventure games and modern day RPGs.

After creating your own character, the game begins with a giant freakin’ robot destroying your house. Naturally, this is a total surprise and your character has no clue what is going on. After heading down the street in pursuit of the robot, you encounter Gabe and Tycho (from the web comics) who join you on your adventure to figure out what the hell is going on. Along the way, you meet a number of bizarre characters including “Fruit Fucker” robots, urine-soaked hobos, and devil-worshiping mimes. The sarcastic Penny Arcade humor is always prevalent which is what sets this game apart from other like-minded ventures.

The general gameplay consists of basic point-and-click fare as you wander throughout a mere four locales. Clicking on random objects generally produces a humorous response, and some reward you with bonus items. It is worth taking the time to see what every click-able item has to offer. Every now and then the characters will encounter an enemy (Fruit Fuckers, hobos and the like) that will bring about a turn-based RPG battle.

These RPG battles are where the game drags a bit. Each character has a timer that must get filled up before they are able to perform a standard attack, team attack or use an item. While you plan out your next move, enemies are constantly attacking you, which requires you to conveniently hit R2 at opportune times to either dodge or block their attacks. This element keeps you on your toes during combat and makes sure there is always something going on. The problem with the battle system is that switching between your characters manually is a bit of a chore and can cause some serious issues, such as when you happen to miss hitting the block button during an enemy attack. Also, blocking can be incredibly difficult. Some of the enemy attacks are hard to judge, and I found myself missing blocks by just a split second and not getting any credit for them. Couple all of this in with the fact that battles are often quite lengthy and it is clear that some improvements could be made here.

Still, even with its problematic combat system, Penny Arcade is able to ride its comedic roots to respectability. This is a game that is built on humor, and without it, Episode 1 would be mediocre at best. Hardcore fans of the comic will assuredly grade this game higher than everyone else, and I don’t have a problem with that. I just can’t help but feel that a more polished combat system would have made this game a lot more enjoyable. At a meager $3, I wholeheartedly recommend getting this, but I would never advise picking it up at its original $20 price tag unless you are a diehard fan of the comic.


Digger HD [PS3, 2009]

Digger HD [PS3, 2009]

Digger HD
System: Playstation 3
Developer: Creat Studios
Release Date: October 1, 2009

Digger HD is a modernized remake of the 1983 computer game Digger. The gameplay is basically a mashup of Dig Dug and Pac-Man. You control a tiny bulldozer underground with your job being to either collect all of the gems or kill all of the monsters. It’s a simple enough premise, but it can get a bit tricky trying to maneuver around while fighting off these enemies. In the main arcade mode, you are only given two lives to last as long as possible. When you run out of them, your score resets to zero but thankfully you can continue with the last level you left off with. I like that the game gives this option since it allows gamers to choose for themselves how easy or difficult they want their experience to be, without outright having to change the difficulty levels.

Along with the 60-level arcade mode, Digger HD is bundled with a survival mode where you are tested to see how long you can last with just one life, and it includes the original classic game labeled as “vintage.” Both the arcade and survival modes can be played co-op as well, which offers a fair amount of replay value. The game keeps track of high scores, and includes an online leaderboard.

While hardly anything spectacular, Digger HD is good for what it is. The new graphics look sharp and throw a fresh coat of paint on the original. I even liked the new soundtrack, which has a couple of quirky songs. What holds the game back is its repetition and occasionally floaty controls. It really bothered me when I would try to turn a corner and shoot a monster, only for him to devour me before a shot could get off. Still, Digger HD has a solid gameplay formula that can be fun to play in spurts. If you’re feeling nostalgic, you could do worse than give this classic a go.


Lead and Gold: Gangs of the Wild West [Playstation 3, 2010]

Lead and Gold: Gangs of the Wild West

Lead and Gold: Gangs of the Wild West
System: Playstaton 3
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Developer: Fatshark AB
Release Date: May 4, 2010

Lead and Gold is a multiplayer-only Western-themed third person shooter available via the Playstation Network. Released two weeks before Red Dead Redemption, L&G was created in order to ride RDR’s coattails. Since the game is only playable via online multiplayer, it is an absolute necessity for it to have a thriving community. Unfortunately, that it is not the case here, and that makes for an underwhelming experience.

Lead and Gold comes across as a mix between Red Dead Redemption gunfights and Team Fortress 2. This is very much a bare-bones online shooter. You select from one of four character types (i.e. close range specialist, sniper, etc) and then play one of six different game modes (essentially a mix of capture-the-flag games and deathmatches). The core gameplay is decent enough — the shooting mechanics are solid, and the maps are well-designed — but the main problems lie within the online experience itself. First, the community is on its last legs. There really aren’t that many people that play this anymore, and I suspect that number will go down drastically once it is removed from the free Playstation Plus downloads. Second, when you are actually lucky enough to find a full game, there is a fairly good chance you will run into some kind of connection issue and get booted from that session. As mentioned earlier, for a game that is only playable online, the internet connectivity needs to be a strength with little to no problems. Throw these connection issues in with the fact that the majority of players have no clue what they are doing, and that gaining XP is worthless (your progress is not tracked from game to game) and you have one utterly pointless experience.

Lead and Gold might have been worthy of producing good times when it first came out, but those days are long gone. For some reason, this is still $14.99 on the Playstation Network, and that is just an insane price to pay for something that is devoid of content. If you are jonesing for a Western-themed shoot ’em up, just pay the extra $$$ for Red Dead Redemption. Don’t waste your money with this one.