Death Come True (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £12.39
Where To Get It: Steam

Death Come True definitely has a quiet pizazz to it. Protagonist wakes up in hotel with amnesia, sees on the news that he is, apparently, a serial killer… And something is definitely wrong with the hotel he’s in.

Like, y’know, how every time he dies, he wakes up in the same bed, the same time, reliving the same events. And that there’s a scary murderer on the loose in the hotel.

Yes, he does use that chainsaw, so content warnings for both glitching and murder by chainsaws, hammers… Oh, and a suicide or two.

So… This is one of those games where yes, deaths abound, but each death brings you closer to the truth. And while I wish it were longer, I can certainly understand why it wasn’t so. It’s technically a visual novel, as there are no puzzles, a heavy emphasis on story, and the mechanic is “Make choice(s)”, but it’s presented in a full motion video, fully voice acted form. Interesting stuff we don’t see a lot, because… Well, it’s fucking expensive.

But did I enjoy this experience? Well, this is one of those where, when asked that, I wave my hand back and forth, if only a little before saying “Overall, yes.” I enjoyed the acting, and the writing, with characters who are easily identifiable, and two or three out of the small cast you can sympathise with. Each film segment is fairly well shot, I was brought into the story, and there’s some subtle visual imagery I quite enjoyed, that makes sense later. And the UX is solid, even nice, as it shows a tiny preview of your path (even if it takes a short time to realise the choices are pretty much always on the left… And right.)


And that preview, a very nice element in the UX… Becomes an eyesore after a certain point. I understand why they did it (It works with the narrative), but it’s hard on the eyes, and I will say that if you don’t like glitch effects, or have photosensitive epilepsy, that happens a lot, and this game is probably not for you. The path becomes pretty clear after a short while, and I would honestly have liked some sort of timeline feature to see the deaths, rather than replaying the entire storyline to deliberately make the wrong choices to see them, since, as mentioned, after a certain point, those nice previews go to shit, meaning that getting to those choices becomes a chore on the eyes.

Apart from this, where yes, the UX is most of my complaints (One of the deaths seems completely out of the blue, feeling like it’s there for the sake of a death, and one is rather dull compared to the others), I did legitimately enjoy my time with Death Come True, and I would say that if you’re interested in short visual novels with well acted FMV, and glitching effects are not a turn off for you, then this one is a nice pick, even if it’s slightly flawed in places.

Such a useful person, to just point the way!

My main issue is, funnily enough, with something that still fits in the game, narratively… But oh boy, am I not a fan of glitch effects myself.

The developers have very kindly requested I keep this as spoiler light as possible, and use the given screenshots.

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The 13th Doll: A 7th Guest Fangame (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £23.79
Where To Get It: Steam

Well, I came into The 13th Doll expecting cheese, evil puzzles, and Stauf being sarcastic, and, beyond some odd design choices, that’s… Exactly what I got. Good job, everybody, let’s pack it up and…

Ah, the puns. I actually missed these.

…Oh, wait, I need to talk about it, don’t I? Well, The 13th Doll, like the 7th Guest, is a first person puzzle adventure with 3d areas and, occasionally, live action on top. It looks relatively natural for such a thing, which is a somewhat difficult thing to pull off. Now, though, they’re using Unity, and so they’re not limited to awkward, individually raytraced movement frames between locations. You just… Move around, your cursor changes when you can change rooms (A skeletal finger beckons), when you can’t just yet (it wags), when you can do a puzzle (A skull with a pulsating brain), and when you can pick up or otherwise interact with something (Chattering teeth or a comedy mask, depending on what it is.)

The other thing here is that there are, in fact, two protagonists: Tad, the boy from the original game, who escaped the mansion after being stuck there as a time looping ghost. And, since this game is set in the 20s or 30s, starts the game placed in a “hospital for the mentally insane” (If anyone knows what physical insanity is, let me know too, I’m curious.) The other is the new psychiatric doctor, Dr. Richmond, who, as exposure therapy, takes Tad back… To the mansion! Legitimately a nice way to have 26 puzzles (13 apiece) in the game, and their stories both intersect at points… And diverge the rest of the time.

Tad has grown, and… Well, I suppose he’s got good reason to be so sulky as an adult.

Tad, quite literally haunted by the spectres of his past, seeks to destroy Stauf once and for all by… Well, he’s told the 13th doll is the key, but, considering it tried to grab his ankles in the intro, I’m not entirely sure this is true. Meanwhile, Dr Richmond’s story… Ohh, it burns my ass to see Stauf engaging in historical revisionism. He’s a brilliant man! A genius! His wife was the serial killer, and she was the one who caused the children to die in the first game through a virus she had! BLECH.

In any case, aesthetically, it works alright, overall… The music is pretty good, sometimes covers of the first game’s soundtrack, others new tracks, and they’re all pretty fitting. The acting, on the other hand… That’s more variable. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting shakespearean ham from anyone but Robert Hirschboeck (who both reprises his role as Henry Stauf, and brings his style, panache, and ham to the role once more) but the protagonists are sometimes a little flat in their speech. Visually, well… It’s not a bad looking rendition of the Stauf Mansion, and I like the new touches on some of the old spookings. It also has a relatively clear UX, although there is the oddity that, to save, you have to go to the main menu. Don’t quite know why that decision was made, but I’ve let you know now.


Still, a game like this wouldn’t be complete without the puzzles, and… Ohhh boy. There is colourblind assistance, but it’s a text overlay, which, in the case of some puzzles early on, makes it a sod to see the puzzle itself. And the puzzles are, for the most part, bastard hard. Case in point, on Doctor Richmond’s path, there is… The clock puzzle. Can you split a clock into four parts, so that each endpoint of your segments adds up to the same number? I’ve been racking my brain over this one for a while, suffice to say. Some are new takes on old puzzles, such as the artery puzzle (Now a sliding block puzzle with a twist: The blocks can fall off the edges, never to be regained.) Oh, and the return of the fucking first person maze. Oh yes, that was indeed a memorable moment in 7th Guest. That was the part most of us said “Nope, fuck this!” and missed out on the endings. Get your graph paper out for that one, friends!

Overall, though, it’s by no means a bad game. The story is ham and cheese, but I went in expecting that, and if you do too, you’ll be alright. The puzzles, the mansion… These are the meat of the game, and, while not all the accessibility options work well (if you have problems, let them know.), it’s worth hitting options before you begin to check them. In any case, the puzzles, while fiendish, are mostly well explained (Although the hints mostly seem to be restatements of the puzzle mechanics, sadly), the callbacks are mostly fun, and, overall… Yep, definitely recommended for 7th Guest fans, moderately recommended for puzzle adventure fans who like hard puzzles. Good Stauf!

Robert Hirschboeck. Playing the Man in the Moon at a theater near you.

The Mad Welshman finds himself… Chilling with this game. That was a graaave mistake… (Ohohoho)

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428: Shibuya Scramble (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £39.99
Where To Get It: Steam

It is, in its own way, a glorious thing when, amid a high tension kidnapping story with more twists and turns than a conger eel, with terrorism, and assassins, and Super-Ebola, that I am having the biggest emotional rollercoaster ride with the story of a young woman trapped in a mascot costume, working for a terrible conman. Terrible, that is, in the sense that all of his schemes seem destined to go wrong.

Funnily enough, one of the reasons this review took so long was picking screenshots. There are so many screenshot worthy moments…

Poor Tama. Still, it highlights something interesting I find about 428: Shibuya Scramble, Spike Chunsoft’s latest Visual Novel offering – It’s cruel, but in a way that still entertains. A visual novel with a silly amount of Bad Ends, jumps and hints hidden in its text, and several plotlines that have to be progressed to the next hour toward an ending, although whether that’s the “best” ending depends on a number of factors. Including the fact that everybody is, to some extent or other, not very good at what they do.

Considering that at least one of these people is an investigator in the kidnap case, and another a freelance journalist… You might appreciate it’s a bit of a struggle to keep the story moving sometimes. But farce, as has been said, must be played with a straight face, and, for the first fifteen minutes or so of most of the stories, you’d be forgiven for thinking you weren’t in for this kind of wild ride. A wild ride, sure, as the kidnapping is the very first part of this storyline, but not… Everything else.

As a visual novel, its choice to go with live action (photographs and movies alike) works pretty well, as the actors have gone all out with their expressions, working well with the sound design of the game. And it contrasts well with the ridiculousness of the situations. Here, light music contrasts with the hopeless situation of Tama. There, rocking, overdriven guitars point out the heroism of the freelance journalist Minorikawa, while the text… Paints an entirely different story. It’s artful, whether it chooses to support or contrast, and it’s hard not to appreciate both that and the accessibility. Choices are clearly presented, and one of its core mechanics (Blue text for further explanation, red for “Jump” choices, which shift the timeline to another character to get around plot blocks) equally so.

The timeline, as in other Spike Chunsoft offerings, is easy to navigate, although it doesn’t truly show the complexity on offer.

Similarly, as a visual novel, it lives or dies by its writing, and the writing, is, as I’ve been mentioning quite a bit, excellent. I never thought I would say that tonal whiplash could feel good, but… In this particular case, it somehow works. Each character has their own voice, and, even with the contradictions the world keeps throwing their way, it’s hard not to get sucked in to their own presentation of the world. Kano, and his Dick Dictums (That’s private dick to you!) Tama, and her childlike demeanour. Even the side characters have interesting places in the story, so it’s hard not to see the Shibuya district as it is: A living, breathing place filled with interesting folks. No, really… Filled. The population density of Japan is no joke, as a sobering note about the rail system’s capacity shows.

As such, it would be quite hard not to recommend 428: Shibuya Scramble. Its digressions in blue text are as often illuminating about the Shibuya district and Japanese culture as they are amusing (and, in at least one case, hide progress by way of a JUMP point… Ohhh, you cheeky devils!), its tutorial was one I didn’t mind, even though it deliberately sets Kano, the detective, up for a Bad End right out of the gate, and it’s kept me playing where other games of its sort quickly lost my interest.

Choices have an effect, not only on the character you’re playing, but others too. But sometimes, even bad ends provide information you might find useful later on. Cunning…

The Mad Welshman thinks it a sign of quality that he didn’t want to spoil story beats here.

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Going Back: Black Dahlia

Mention the Black Dahlia murder, and many games players will point at LA Noire. Mention the game of the same name, however, and most often, you will get a blank stare. The rest of the time, a scream of sheer, unadulterated rage.

Black Dahlia, you see, is a game that, while mostly forgotten unjustly, had one element to it that angered many of its players beyond measure: The puzzles. Which, for an FMV adventure game at the tail end of the FMV heyday (1998, to be exact), was a sales killer.



I was one of those original sales. Now, before we begin talking about why this is worth a Going Back, let’s mention just two numbers. Eight CDs. 4.6 Gb of game. In 1998. Of course, even a “full install” back in the day would be under 500 Mb. But it’s still a pretty mind boggling number. Now let’s go into why it’s mostly a game that should be recalled.

Firstly, for its silly premise (Involving the Thule Society, the Torso Murders, the Black Dahlia murder of Elizabeth Short, and, as you might expect, occult shenanigans linking them all), the writing and the acting sells the game. It was a selling point of the game that Dennis Hopper and Teri Garr were both acting in it (And, in a relative rarity for productions like this, even the extras are named in the manual), and they were supported by actors who, while relatively unheard of, were definitely not unskilled, such as Dan Frezza (Utah Shakespeare Company), Bradley Moniz, Daniel Whelan, and Colette Schreiber. You forget its silly, because, for the majority of the game, the actors and actresses are playing their roles very well. All I’ll say about the story is that it starts with you as a new investigator for the underfunded and underdeveloped COI, checking out a somewhat dubious report of Fifth Columnists in the area, and ends with the fate of the world in your hands.

Darren Eliker really sells the role of Jim Pearson. Poor feller.

Darren Eliker really sells the role of Jim Pearson. Poor feller.

Secondly, it had an interesting system where you could not only examine objects, but move them around in their containers, such as a notepad in your desk that can be shifted back to reveal a service revolver (Itself able to be opened.) It had quite a few locations, and used not only hotspots, but items in conversation.

There are, however, two mood killers for anyone wishing to play the game today: It’s difficult to run on modern systems (and, in fact, nigh impossible if you want to run it flawlessly), and the game’s difficulty could best be described as hellish. Here’s some examples to give you some idea, all from the first chapter (Disc 1 of 8).

You’ve talked to everybody, including the irascible Henry Finster, your superior (Walter Donovan, head of the COI at the time, and later OSS), the detective working on the Torso Murders cases (Peter Meryllo), and a smarmy FBI agent called Winslow. But you’ve run into a brick wall. The game’s given you enough clues that you have a blacklist of possibly less-than-loyal German-Americans, but, due to the rivalry between Donovan and then head of the FBI J. Edgar Hoover, the damn thing’s encrypted and nobody’s given you the key. The key to cracking the code is in your office. But to get there, you need to find the gun in your desk drawer (Which you won’t find unless you’re clicking and dragging everything that you can interact with), open up the handle (Which, again, you won’t find unless you realise you can do that in your inventory), use the key to open a locked cabinet in your room, and copy the notes written down on paper, because the in-game note system isn’t going to help you here, buddy.

Infamously, not only is this puzzle not meant to be solved, a bug means the game is unwinnable if you try before you're meant to.

Infamously, not only is this puzzle not meant to be solved when you find it, a bug means the game is unwinnable if you try before you’re meant to.

The code is quite simple, once you realise what it’s doing. But the game doesn’t exactly help in letting you know what it’s doing, as the two sheets cannot be read together, and both have their red herrings. This one puzzle is the gatekeeper to… The rest of the plot. Equally innocuous is the shadow on your office light, only seen when you flick on your office lights, and look up. That shadow… Is important, and checking that is vital. There aren’t, to my knowledge, any truly silly puzzles (Along the order of the infamous Cat Hair Moustache of the Gabriel Knight series), but many of them are exactly this tough to discover, let alone solve. Of course, the manual helps you with a few of these early (but vital) tasks, but who reads the manual, eh?

Strangely, despite this? I’d still say the game is worth it, and due a re-release on GOG or the like. But who would be the ones behind such a game? Who would be the ones who made this intriguing, if sometimes maddening game? Why, it would be Take 2 Interactive.

I remember my reaction to this scene. "Is she flirting with him? She's flirting with him! ... She's flirting with him, and he's not noticing. Idiot."

I remember my reaction to this scene. “Is she flirting with him? She’s flirting with him! … She’s flirting with him, and he’s not noticing. Idiot.”

But you’d know them, in the modern day, as 2K Games.

The Mad Welshman also sees spies everywhere. Fifth columnists, trying to ruin his sense of fun by sending him derivative AAA games. It’s a menace…

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