Adventures on Edwards’ Island

Field Notes
My adventure kicks off onboard of a ferry with a group of friends—Ren, Nona, Clarissa, and Jonas. The latter, we soon learn, is our new stepbrother. As the boat approaches a nearby island, the friendly banter filled up my screen with a comics-style, cute conversation bubbles.

The journey to Edwards Island felt somehow soothing but eerie at the same time. Ren tells us that the island housed a military base at one point. There’s also mention of a woman named Maggie Adler. Our objective appears to be camping on the island’s beach, followed by exploring the nearby caves.

Alex—my character—has a knack for radios it seems. I have a nifty-looking small device that I can tune into and change its frequency while navigating the island. At times I stumble across blitz-from-the-past music stations. It reminded me so much of Fallout’s Pip Boy vintage stations. This added a nice backdrop to some of the deserted locales.

In other parts of the island, I came across “tune-in” billboards, next to what appeared to be sight-seeing destinations. Tuning into frequency 140.1 triggered a guided tour of the nearby construction, how cool is that?!

My radio isn’t your run-of-the-mill gadget. It also seems to have weird powers. The inhabitants of the island developed this interesting technology, where the WAL signals of the radio can trigger and open locked doors and vaults.

After snooping around the island for some time, consulting my trusted and adorable hand-drawn map, I learned that the U.S. army used this place to train troops in communication and radio technology. Their objective was to educate their members with state-of-the-art code breaking, to aid during times of war.

One woman in particular, named Margaret Adler, trained here with a friend of hers at the Fort Milner school. It looks like not many people liked this island, and due to some hole in national security, the government took control of the island, on-and-off.

Maggie Adler used her family’s fortune to buy off as many locations as she can on the island. But why was she doing that? After gathering her letters, I learned that things are not what they appear to be. There’s a dark secret behind this island, which is the reason why Adler was trying to seal off access.

Oblivious to this fact, we made our way to the nearby caves, and while fumbling with the radio, our friends triggered open a rift in the caves, which instigates a series of paranormal activities in the area.

The radio immediately began picking up various conversations by people on the island. Were they inhabitants at some point? Many questions remain unanswered. The only way to find out is to backtrack our steps and follow the notes of Margaret Adler to unravel the mystery.

Impressions of the Game
Everything from how the game is drawn to the way it side-scrolls and unravels graphically, adds to the charm of this game. It’s very unique. Not your typical intense horror game, aside from the handful hair-rising incidents here and there. In fact, it could be described as meditative. There’s plenty of space and ambience to explore and learn suspense-free, meanwhile making you feel like there’s something very unsettling going on.

The voice acting is superb. They’ve also done a fantastic job with the world building. The game isn’t exceptionally large, but the lore was rich just enough to support the narrative.

I also liked how none of it is forced on the player. You’re very capable of finishing the game without paying much attention to the background story. In this sense, finding Adler’s scattered notes around the island is fully optional. But the inevitable curiosity stimulated will most likely make you want to find each and every note.

The game isn’t perfect. The long loading was my least favorite part. I found myself wanting to eagerly go back-and-forth between locations, but I dreaded the loading time. Conversations sometimes run over each other, not to mention the controls can feel funny sometimes. Overall; however, the game is very well done.

I’m not usually a fan of heavily scripted games, but I found myself drawn to characters’ interconnections. I enjoyed their conversational exchanges, though at times they delve into heavy topics.

Station S., Bainbridge Island. Source: Historylink.

Real Life References
Interestingly enough, I found out there are some real life parallels to Fort Milner. A real-life secret radio station, known as “Station S”, which could be the inspiration behind the game. You can read more about this here

FWA Annex, Station S, Fort Ward 1943. Source HistoryLink.

Final Thoughts
I’m not the biggest fan of political themes in games, and at times I do feel like perhaps the game tries to address an over-arching story inconsistent with its scale. That being said, it was an enjoyable journey.

I’m also excited for the sequel, sometime this year.

Her Story & Detective Games

I’ve recently come across an interesting article, “Making the Player the Detective” by Bjarke Alexander Larsen and Henrik Schoenau-Fog (2020), where the majority of mystery and detective games are criticized as being stories of investigation as opposed to crime. In traditional adventure mystery games, there’s little emphasis on actual investigative work. The gamer is often following the footsteps of the detective, rendering him or her a proxy for the plot. In this way, you’re really a Watson and not a Sherlock. Ironically, what distinguishes video games from other storytelling forms is player agency, which gives consumers the opportunity to exercise free will (to a certain extent). However, in many detective games you’re mainly watching the progression of a lead detective deduce their own conclusions (often in direct exposition). It’s similar to watching a movie in some ways.

Fortunately, we’ve seen many titles in recent years where the actual detective work is pushed into the hands of the player instead, and one of those games is Her Story. I can think of two other favorites in this category–Obra Dinn and the Painscreek Killings.

It’s not really to say that one type is better than another. There are still well-made and thought out traditional mystery games, but if you’re anything like me and you love to take reign of the investigation yourself, then it’s always a relief to stumble on a title that fulfills that desire.

I’m not the biggest fan of FMV games so the title skipped my radar for quite some time. I’m glad I finally gave it a chance.

The opening screen begins with a computer interface from the 90’s. It appears that we’re in control of a police station database. Aside from a handful of documents littering the desktop, the main focal point is the database. We’re given a search bar where we can enter search queries to pull out a repository of recorded videos, interviewing a woman.

The first query is pre-filled and after watching a couple of videos, it becomes apparent that a man went missing under mysterious circumstances and the only person at our disposal to investigate is the woman in the videos related to him.

The recordings are fragmented, some of which were recorded over different times. The clip numbers are great clues allowing us to group similar topics together.

The objective is to synthesize the accounts related by this woman, who eventually comes across as not being the most reliable narrator. There are several twists to the story, and upon reaching a conclusion in the end, there’s little confirmation to back it up. There is somewhat of an event in the end constituting closure, but it seems the emphasis is put on the process of investigation itself. Just in real life, you reach a conclusion and that conclusion does not trigger a cutscene to confirm it. You’re surprisingly left with a sense of satisfaction all the same.

My note taking choice for the game was Google Keep. I love using it for gaming as it allows me to easily tag and search my play notes. I’ve segmented my notes according to themes and dates, which was really helpful to quickly draw connections between the clips.

After checking the in-game database report app, I realized I missed a big chunk of filler clips; however, I reached my conclusion. I’m not sure if it’s the former librarian side of me, but I managed to use the right strains of search queries and formulas–just enough to get me to unfold the story.

The ending didn’t come as a total surprise. I kind of saw it coming, but the process of reaching the conclusion using search was immensely enjoyable for me.

Overall it’s a fantastic indie game; definitely a trend setter in its category and I can’t wait to try the developer’s other game!

My final score is 4/5 ★★★★

  • 3/5 for gameplay
  • 4/5 for design
  • 4/5 for Puzzles
  • 3/5 for plot
  • Game Platform (played on): PC
  • Game Link | Click Here

Machinika Museum

Life as a researcher at the museum never ceases to fetch exciting things. I find myself in a dark workshop at a museum. A clear spectacle of the full moon is shown through the skylight above me. It’s dark and quiet at the museum–another long night at the job it seems. In front of me a big newly shipped box awaits with a document addressed to me–“Dear colleagues from the 4th floor […] we have pulled from the inventory this old 3D printer / scanner. It’s an old model, but it works!”.

After tinkering with it for a bit, I realize I’m able to clone various objects in my workshop–like the museum medallion. That’s handy! Bizarrely but quite conveniently, I squeeze the printer into my left side inventory and little did I know, this new printer will become my best friend for the journey ahead, along with a nifty cool endoscope that I can stick into hard to reach places, and a magnetic customizable screw driver.

On one side of my workshop, I notice several packages with varying sizes placed on the floor. It doesn’t look like my management is communicative enough. I’m not given sufficient information other than I’m expected to examine alien objects inside each one of the packages. A letter is always attached next to the package, but upon opening it, I realize that half of what is written is blacked out in confidentiality. What is going on here?! The researcher in me is most definitely intrigued to get started.

Each chapter begins with a package placed on an examination table. The layout and controls are very similar to the Rooms series–a point-and-click, puzzle adventure. Each parcel constitutes a box puzzle that can be manipulated in various ways. At times I wonder if I should have been a mechanic or an engineer instead of a researcher. Several letters warn about the risk of handling these objects. And with each chapter, those warnings are put into context as things slightly go haywire. It appears to be that these items have reached earth from an outer planet. By the 9th chapter, we piece the items together to unfold the full picture.

The game is unique in allowing you to use the 3D printer and other tools. At times the puzzles can be tricky and mind bending, which is great! In several places, I felt the story fell short and the culmination of events at the end was abrupt and somewhat eccentric. And without saying too much, there’s the promise of a confirmed sequel, as the game doesn’t offer a conclusive ending. But since it is purely a puzzle game, the experience of finishing the sequence of chapters feels strangely satisfying.

Would I recommend the game? Yes, especially if you’re a fan of puzzle boxes and the Rooms series, although do not expect the game to be as polished as the latter. It might be worth waiting to get it on sale.

My final score is 3/5 ★★★

  • 3/5 for gameplay
  • 4/5 for design
  • 4/5 for Puzzles
  • 2/5 for plot
  • Game Platform (played on): PC
  • Game Link | Click Here

Inheritance of Crimson Manor

I found myself playing as private assistant to a famous railroad owner, known as Hadley Strange (a very strange name indeed!) and it seems that I have been working for him for the past 10 years. As soon as I arrived at his beautiful mansion, I found an envelope addressed to me at the gate with cryptic instructions to follow. Something about helping Hadley Strange with a mission of his or bringing it to fruition.

Where was everyone, I thought; why is this place deserted? Well a newspaper by the door gave me the answer I was looking for. It seems an accident took place, which resulted in the mysterious disappearance of 5 members of the Strange family.

The Victorian manor is a joy to navigate and it is packed full of secrets—hidden passages, underground cellars, and a fascinating shape shifting library. It appears that Mr. Strange is a very peculiar sort of person with many secrets. One telegram found at the parlor addressed to his name reveals a research he’s been working on outraged the Victorian scientific society and as a result was rejected.

It’s difficult not to point out the resemblances between Crimson Manor and Resident Evil—from the map layouts, to the mechanical puzzles, to the overall atmosphere. It felt like walking into a more polished Spencer Mansion. Am I complaining? Certainly not! The massive house was a joy to explore. They’ve done an excellent job with the setting.

Each room was littered with puzzles. I would say straight forward puzzles—nothing too complex. At times, they were buggy, but nothing a quick exit and re-login couldn’t fix.

The entirety of the story is related through the family’s correspondences and journal entries. At times the game tries to be inventive and uses environmental storytelling. Around the half-mark I pretty much predicted what the ending(s) is going to be.

Overall it was a decent game, but I found myself feeling slightly bored at the lack of action. To be fair it is purely a puzzle game, but then I didn’t really get the same reaction playing The Da Vinci House or The Room games, which were also puzzle games. What made Crimson Manor slightly disappointing for me was how the tension builds up slightly at the beginning, giving you the impression that there’s something sinister going on, but it never really delivers to fulfill the atmosphere and vibe it’s triggering. On Steam, it is categorized as a horror game, which only contributes to setting false expectations for it. I would describe it as more of a mystery/puzzle adventure. The only eeriness you get is from navigating an empty house—no jump scares, cut scenes, or queued animations. It’s a good choice of game for someone looking for a relaxed puzzle mystery.

My final score is 3/5 ★★★

  • 3/5 for gameplay
  • 4/5 for design
  • 3/5 for Puzzles
  • 3/5 for plot
  • Game Platform (played on): PC
  • Game Link | Click Here

Song of Horror

Song of Horror is a survival horror game created by the Spanish studio Protocol games. The game initially released in 5 installments, with the first episode in 2019 and the last in 2020. At the end of the same year the studio published the entire collection for PS4 and Xbox. I played the game on PS5, thinking that enough time was dedicated to flesh out all the early bugs players were experiencing, and for the most part my gameplay was smooth except for one terrible bug in Episode 4 that left me frustrated, especially when I was at the very end of that segment. I had no choice but to repeat the entire episode again using a different character and somehow that worked. On the up side, the studio is still trying to patch some of these bugs, but since some of them are happening randomly, it seems to be difficult to completely remove them. So in case you’re interested in playing this game, just be forewarned that there are some bugs to encounter, and it might help to look up their locations.

Now on with my review. The story begins with Daniel Noyer, a man who works in a publishing company. One day, Daniel gets a call from his supervisor informing him that they’re somewhat in a pickle due to the disappearance of Sebastian P. Husher—an author that they’re dealing with. The manuscript scheduled to be published the following week has not been delivered yet and so Daniel is asked to visit Husher’s house to see what’s going on.

Upon arriving at the Husher’s manor, Daniel encounters some unusual paranormal activities, which later he finds out, are connected to a music box that Husher was in possession of. This music box was an antique piece given to Husher by his friend Farbar. Both men were vastly interested in the mystery behind this music box and the curse, which seems to be driving its listeners insane.

Needless to say, Daniel embarks on a long journey to find out exactly what has happened to both men and what is causing all of these weird activities.

During Noyer’s adventure, you—the player—gets to control many different characters, some of whom are related to the story in some way or another. The game’s biggest caveat is its permadeath feature. Once a character dies, it’s gone forever. If, and when, that happens you get to control one of the other two characters you are at liberty to choose within that segment, and continue from that point onward. If you lose all three characters within an episode then you must repeat that episode from the beginning.

I, personally, am not a huge fan of permadeath. For me the biggest reward in playing survival games is the exploration factor and obviously the story. Often what kills your character is opening the wrong door or picking the wrong item, and to me that’s not only added stress but limiting my gameplay and exploration.

As a result, I chose to play it without the permadeath feature [insert-BOO-noise here]. I’m not sorry that I did. though. The game still offered a challenge through various puzzles and mini-games.

Unlike other games such as Until Dawn or Man of Medan, Song of Horror isn’t really a walking simulation. In fact, you don’t get the option to choose conversational outcomes to determine the game path. Instead, the playability is focused on collecting and exploiting items, solving puzzles, and QTEs, which is probably why I enjoyed this game and played it through till the end. Not a huge fan of pure walking simulations.

The puzzles were a bit complicated and not always in a good way. I got the impression that they weren’t designed to be user-friendly. Often times the solution is almost too particular and random for any person to figure out. For that, I shamefully played the game with a walkthrough in some segments.

The world design for me is by far the most beautiful aspect of this game. I absolutely loved the publishing/historical themes and getting the opportunity to explore archives, libraries, university offices, antiquarian shops, historical abbeys, manors, WWI hospitals, and so on. I can’t think of any other game that collectively had, at least to me, that many interesting locales in one single game.

Is it a perfect game though? Far from it. Although the story unfolds well in the beginning, it drags on in the final episodes, and in some parts does not make sense. I also did not enjoy some of the eerily disturbing content, which I thought was borderline sickening. Overall, I still think it’s a fantastic horror game to play.

My final score is 4/5 ★★★

  • 3/5 for gameplay
  • 5/5 for design
  • 3/5 for Puzzles
  • 4/5 for plot
  • Game Platform (played on): PS5
  • Game Link | Click Here