Thimbleweed Park, PC

Thimbleweed Park is a point-and-click adventure, released in 2017 by Terrible Toybox, and co-created by ex-LucasArts employees Gary Winnick and Ron Gilbert.

In case you didn’t know: both Gilbert and Winnick have been involved in the making of some of the best games of all time, including (but not limited to) titles such as: Ballblazer, Maniac Mansion, The Secret of Monkey Island, and Day of the Tentacle.

And in 2014 they launched a Kickstarter to fund development of their “dream game”. Well, their tribute to point-and-click adventures of the past, but using modern technology. As a backer I followed the game’s development with interest. A top team of artists, musicians, voice actors, and technicians were assembled, and the game was completed pretty much as planned, taking three years to develop.

Thimbleweed Park is a mystery adventure set in 1987, with five playable characters and a whole load of puzzles to crack. Fear not, though. If you’re weak on puzzles you can play the game in Casual mode just to enjoy the story and pixel artistry. Real gamers will play it in Hard mode, though, to experience everything it has to offer.

First and foremost Thimbleweed Park looks amazing. The graphics really are a work of pixel artistry and they are further enhanced with great animation, silky smooth scrolling, visual effects, and even real-time lighting. Everything about Thimbleweed Park is just so slick; the useful right-click functionality; the way icons jiggle to get your attention; the screen tilting; the alternative fonts; the voice acting; the language support. If I had any niggles it would be that there’s no manual scroll (I wanted one), and… that’s about it.

Story-wise, Thimbleweed Park is hilarious too. It’s basically an X-Files-type scenario, with lots of satirical horror film and video game references. And jokes. The game starts off seemingly innocuously (although smart players will realise that they’re controlling a doomed man), then becomes a murder mystery, before turning into a curse story, and then cutting back to the murder mystery. All the playable characters have their own plotlines going on, and the game cuts between them as flashbacks as the story unfolds.

The playable characters vary quite a bit and all have their own unique charm. The lead – a female FBI officer called Ray – is laconic and easily annoyed; her male partner, Reyes, is an eager rookie. Then there’s a clown, called Ransome, who is infamous for his *beeping* insults. A computer programmer called Delores, and her rather, Franklin, make up the remaining playable characters.

I can’t recommend Thimbleweed Park highly enough. It is a fantastic love letter to point-and-click adventure games of the past and is genuinely funny, absorbing, and challenging. It’s worth playing to see the beautiful art alone, although the writing, music, puzzles, and usability are all significant contributors to the fact that this is a future classic in the making. Which is quite ironic.

Thimbleweed Park is also available on current gen systems, such as PlayStation 4, XBox One, and Nintendo Switch. Plus Mac, Linux and Android.

More: Thimbleweed Park on Wikipedia
Steam: Thimbleweed Park on Steam
GOG.com: Thimbleweed Park on GOG.com

Planescape: Torment: Enhanced Edition, PC

Planescape: Torment is a highly regarded – if somewhat bizarre – Infinity Engine-driven level-grinder that was first released in 1999.

This new remake – released in 2017 – was developed by Beamdog, using the same enhanced engine as developed for their Baldur’s Gate remakes. Which is great in my opinion because the new engine is brilliant.

Unlike the Baldur’s Gate games, Planescape: Torment‘s gameplay is more structured around conversations, and working out solutions to problems via diplomacy, rather than by force (although there is plenty of combat in the game, if you want some). So the game has a lot of ‘hidden’, experience-awarding conversation options that you can find to boost your levelling. Without a walkthrough, though, you might struggle to find some of it the first time around and may miss it.

Playing as the “Nameless One”, with a floating skull sidekick (called Morte), you must escape the confines of a large and creepy-looking mortuary in order to regain your memory. A group of pseudo-religious cultists dressed in robes (called Dustmen) appear to be running the show and a long and involving mystery involving many quests and side-quests must be unravelled in order to get anywhere near completing the game.

Rather than feature bows and arrows, in this you get to attack your enemies from afar with ‘charms’ that unleash various nasties on them, like corpse flies. You also find many and varied magic items embedded inside bodies (including your own), that are acquired (usually) through conversation. You can also upgrade yourself by stitching yourself up… Planescape: Torment has a dark and humorous – and quite gory – setting, with death and dead bodies being a major part of the plotline. It’s all very light-hearted, though, and not at all distasteful (in the context of the story), or gratuitous. It is definitely quite an ‘adult’ game though. I can’t see many young kids having the patience to play it.

And this new enhanced edition gives Planescape: Torment a new lease of life, which it really deserves. It’s arguably the best Infinity Engine game out there, although it won’t appeal to everyone. Special mention must go to the music, which is haunting, atmospheric and beautifully produced.

Without a doubt Planescape: Torment is an imaginative masterpiece of fantasy weirdness – well worth playing by anyone who loves RPGs.

Click: Original Planescape: Torment on The King of Grabs.

More: Planescape: Torment: Enhanced Edition on Wikipedia
Steam: Planescape: Torment Enhanced Edition on Steam
GOG.com: Planescape: Torment Enhanced Edition on GOG.com

Dark Forces, PC

Dark Forces is LucasArts‘ attempt at Doom, with a Star Wars make-over. It was first released in 1995 for MS-DOS PCs.

Looking at it now: it hasn’t aged too well, although it’s still fun to play if you get the controls set up correctly.

Graphically Dark Forces is a mix of 3D environments and 2D characters, typical of the time. Gameplay-wise it’s a simple first-person shooter, with some tricky door/key puzzles and even some platforming. It’s not a particularly easy game either because the baddies tend to kill you quickly if you just lumber around. You have to be quite careful when entering a new area. You can’t save a game mid-way through a level either, so must start again if you lose all your lives. Having ‘lives’ in a first-person shooter is unusual too…

Still, Dark Forces was revolutionary for the time. Getting to blast your way through reams of Imperial Stormtroopers was what every gamer (and big kid) wanted to do back in the mid-Nineties, and this let us do just that. So Dark Forces was a critical and commercial success. Enough of a success to spawn a long-running series.

Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II upped the ante in 1997 by taking the series fully 3D.

More: Dark Forces on Wikipedia
Steam: Dark Forces on Steam
GOG.com: Dark Forces on GOG.com

Fortnite, PC

A game that needs no introduction in this day and age – Fortnite is Epic Games‘ popular survival online shooter; a game that has taken the world by storm and a game that virtually every games-player has heard about (whether they’ve played it or not). It was first released in 2017 and currently has approximately 200 million active players worldwide. The numbers are unheard of…

The basis of Fortnite is a Third-Person shoot ’em up that allows one hundred people to fight it out against each other until there’s just one person left standing, who wins the game. This is called the “Battle Royal”*. You can play solo, or in a team, and you start by jumping out of a flying bus onto an island below. When you reach the ground you must then grab weapons and ammo, and also start hacking away at the scenery (with a melee weapon) to generate building materials, which you can then use to construct a range of defences. Actually, building stuff is key to survival because it shields you from gunfire. You can build walls, ramps, windows – all kinds of things – and you must learn to do this quickly if you’re not to remain as ‘cannon fodder’ for the rest of the game.

What is interesting about Fortnite is that it looks simple, but does have some depth when you get into it. As a game progresses a ‘storm’ breaks out, forcing players to remain within the ‘eye’ in order to survive, and as the timer ticks away the eye gets ever smaller, forcing players closer and closer together. This is a good (and reasonably natural) way of making players fight it out as the game goes on, rather than making them go searching for targets on a large map.

What is also interesting about Fortnite is that gamers playing on different platforms (whether it be Windows or Mac or consoles or mobile) all participate in the same games – something that some developers have shied away from in the past (mostly because gamers playing on mouse and keys generally have an advantage over those playing on a gamepad – in terms of reaction times).

Graphically, Fortnite is colourful and bold and the overall visual style of the game is very pleasing. It wouldn’t be unfair to say that the game is “cartoony” in the same way that Valve‘s classic online shooter Team Fortress 2 is. Still: Epic GamesFortnite is a force to be reckoned with.

* = As an interesting side note: as a huge fan of the film Battle Royal, I can see where the idea behind this game came from! Kinji Fukusaku‘s 2000 cult hit (based on the 1999 novel by Koushun Takami) is a story about a group of Japanese schoolkids fighting it out to the death on a remote island – the last person left alive and standing being the ultimate winner. Which is the premise of Fortnite. So – in my mind at least – Fortnite owes a huge debt of gratitude to Takami‘s book and Fukusaku‘s film.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fortnite

Vampire: The Masquerade – Redemption, PC

Nihilistic Software‘s 2000 release, Vampire: The Masquerade – Redemption, is a 3D RPG with real-time combat and is held in very high regard by those who have played it.

On the surface Redemption is similar in style to Neverwinter Nights, although Neverwinter Nights came two years after Vampire, which demonstrates how ahead of its time it was. Gameplay is basically party-based combat with point-and-click mouse controls. Left-click attacks things and right-click casts blood magic. Actually, the mouse clicks are context sensitive, depending on what you’re clicking on. Moving the camera around uses a combination of mouse and keyboard.

What is great about Vampire: The Masquerade – Redemption is the fact that you get to play as a vampire – drinking blood from necks and having special vampire powers. It’s an interesting angle of play, even if the script and voice acting are somewhat mundane, and it helps keep things interesting.

Combat is fairly simple and reasonably enjoyable, that is: until you encounter the boss battles. The bosses I encountered were really very tough – especially the Golem fight in the early part of the game, which drove me to use the console to get past it, after wasting many hours trying to figure out how to beat it (and failing). Considering the ease at which previous opponents had been beaten, I thought that the Golem battle was a difficulty spike too far. But anyway…

Vampire: The Masquerade – Redemption is nearly 20 years old now, so I don’t want to criticise it too much. It is a fantastic game overall – well worth buying and playing. Just be prepared for those boss battles…

More: Vampire: The Masquerade – Redemption on Wikipedia
Steam: Vampire: The Masquerade – Redemption on Steam
GOG.com: Vampire: The Masquerade – Redemption on GOG.com