• Judgment (2019)

    Judgment is the most immersive, detailed and creative action-adventure video game I have ever come across. It manages to be everything games such as Grand Theft Auto V attempted but ultimately failed to be. It features a fascinating limited open world environment in a fictional suburb of Tokyo where the protagonist can eat and drink in numerous restaurants, befriend cooks, hostesses and journalists, play baseball, darts and poker or participate in drone races to only mention a few elements.

    The main plot revolves around a grisly series of murders when three thugs are found brutally assassinated and with their eyes taken out. Former attorney turned private detective Yagami Takayuki starts investigating with former colleague Shintani Masamichi to bail out Yakuza captain Hamura Kyohei. They are able to prove the captain's innocence but are trying to find the real murderer. The duo uncovers a web of lies and an abominable conspiracy involving scientists, politicians and the police. The closer they get to know the truth, the more resistance they face and have to deal with terrible consequences.

    The game convinces on numerous levels. The protagonist is creative, empathic, tough and truly intriguing. The side characters such as the selfish captain, the disillusioned head of a Yakuza family and a crooked cop with a surprisingly intact moral compass are also very fascinating. The main plot is detailed, mysterious and surprising through thirteen intense chapters. The side stories are short and entertaining and involve unfaithful lovers, missing cats and criminals on the run. The game isn't always sinister and serious but also includes romantic and humorous elements. The protagonist can even date four different characters and make them his girlfriends including an optimistic but naive pop idol, a shy student tormented by perverts, a prosperous office worker with a difficult past and a worried clairvoyant who works for the Yakuza. The settings vary from abandoned love hotels over sophistiacted laboratories to hidden sewer tunnels. The powerful soundtrack always underlines the video game's atmosphere perfectly. The visual effects are stunning and make you feel as if you were in a movie. The controls are accurate and never too challenging to handle. The game has an elevated long-term fun factor as it takes about fifty hours just to get through the main plot but offers another thirty to fifty hours to complete all possible side quests. This game truly offers value for money without ever getting redundant.

    There are obviously a few elements that could still be improved. The numerous fight sequences end up being slightly exhausting because they are slightly repetitive and simplistic. The investigative techniques could be more challenging, detailed and diversified. However, these are only minor complaints as Judgment is certainly the best game of its genre and in general one of the greatest video games ever created. If veteran company Sega ever released a sequel, I would buy it on the very first day of release at full price without any hesitation. This game is recommended to anyone who likes video games, regardless of age and experience.

    Forget about Grand Theft Auto V and give Judgment a fair try. Once you have been immersed into its fascinating universe, you won't be able to escape it for weeks and months to come. This game offers diversified entertainment of the greatest kind.

    Detailed rating:

    Atmosphere: 9/10 

    Challenge level: 8/10

    Controls: 9/10

    Game flow: 9/10

    Graphics: 10/10

    Length: 10/10

    Long-term fun factor: 9/10  

    Sound: 9/10

    Soundtrack: 9/10

    Story: 10/10

    Total score: 92 / 100

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  • Truberbrook (2019)

    There aren't too many German video games around, let alone high-quality video games. Truberbrook is a very welcome exception. It's a science-fiction point-and-click game that tells the interesting story of an American physician who visits an isolated mountain village in Central Germany in 1967. Soon after his arrival, his essay papers are stolen in the middle of the night and he teams up with a young female paleoanthropologist to retrieve his works. They soon discover that the isolated village has a sinister past and that a mysterious company was looking for something else than precious metals in the remote mines. Soon, the physician doesn't only have to retrieve his documents but must prevent a catastrophe that might change our existence as we know it.

    Truberbrook has numerous points that make it a really unique, entertaining and atmospheric game. The twisted, quirky and imaginative story comes around with quite a few twists and turns. The characters are all weird, unpredictable and unique as they all have significant depth. The locations are stunning and vary from an isolated tree house over a creepy sanatorium to a hidden laboratory. The graphics look stunning and remind of a graphic novel of the highest quality. The soundtrack is vibrant, diversified and atmospheric. The game includes many addictive side quests, challenging puzzles and detailed conversations. Depending on how fast you play, it takes roughly between six and eight hours to complete all five chapters of this game. There are so many details that the game has a certain replay value. Let's note that the game includes many obvious references to legendary American television series Twin Peaks. Since this is still my favourite television series, this is definitely a very positive point.

    The game isn't without its flaws. There are a few graphic glitches when backgrounds suddenly disappear. Sometimes, the game has trouble loading new sequences and needs to get restarted. The controls are simple on paper but sometimes complicated to handle. The game has some repetition, especially regarding some long-winded dialogues, and the player has to take a lot of random guesses in order to advance efficiently which might be frustrating for less experienced gamers.

    Still, Truberbrook convinces with a quirky story, creative settings and charming characters that make for a truly immersive universe centered around an intriguing story. The numerous cultural references to my home country make this game stand out even more. This game deserves its international release and should get even more attention than it has gotten so far.

    Detailed rating:

    Atmosphere: 9/10 

    Challenge level: 8/10

    Controls: 6/10

    Game flow: 6/10

    Graphics: 8/10

    Length: 8/10

    Long-term fun factor: 7/10  

    Sound: 9/10

    Soundtrack: 8/10

    Story: 8/10

    Total score: 77 / 100

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  • Call of Cthulhu (2018)

    As an avid fan of horror literature, it was mandatory for me to try out Call of Cthulhu, based upon the stories by Howard Phillips Lovecraft. Even though the game was released on all important platforms with Microsoft Windows, Playstation 4, Xbox One and even more recently Nintendo Switch, it had been underrated, overlooked and forgotten. If you like supernatural stories with gloomy settings and mysterious vibes, you are going to appreciate this game.

    The intriguing story revolves around a private detective and war veteran who investigates the mysterious case of the Hawkins family. The father who was a fisherman, the mother who was an artist and their young son perished in a terrible fire on their secluded mansion on an East Coast island. The investigator soon realizes that the fire wasn't an accident but numerous residents on the strange island seem to want to prevent him from uncovering the truth. It turns out that many influential islanders are members of a sinister cult that plans on awakening its deity. Unbeknownst to him, the private investigator is getting baited, manipulated and used for the abominable motivations of this sect and must soon fight for sanity and survival.

    The graphics find the right balance between sinister elements and colourful parts. The main settings are often rainy, grey and abandoned but anything related to the mysterious cult is portrayed in mysterious neon green colours. The sounds blend in perfectly as well. As the main character attempts to not lose his sanity, the players can hear mysterious whispers, echoes and distorted voices that enhance the atmosphere. The game has excellent flow and a perfect length around more or less ten hours with fourteen concise chapters that never overstay their welcome.

    Call of Cthulhu's atmosphere is supernatural, spooky and gloomy from start to finish and there are a few minor jump scares. However, one could have expected a role-playing survival horror game to be a little bit scarier. This game here is rather weird than frightening which makes for a fresh change but a few more terrifying scenes would have been welcome.

    The game doesn't really have any disadvantages but some average elements could have been improved. The soundtrack is certainly atmospheric but could have been more vivid at times and a proper title song as in ''The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan'' would have been an interesting addition. There aren't too many difficult challenges in the game except for the scenes in the asylum and the fight with the creature from the painting. Especially the game's second half could have been more difficult to increase tension. The story is interesting but it would have been even better to see how different decisions impact the ending of the game. Even though the game sometimes indicates that certain decisions are going to have impacts on the story, it often remains unclear what those impacts are precisely.

    Still, Call of Cthulhu is a game that is highly recommended to anyone who likes supernatural horror stories, role-play survival games and gothic culture. This game has been overlooked and if you can find it for a fair price one year after its initial release, then Call of Cthulhu certainly unfolds its dark atmosphere splendidly throughout the upcoming black winter days.

    Detailed rating:

    Atmosphere: 8/10 

    Challenge level: 7/10

    Controls: 7/10

    Game flow: 9/10

    Graphics: 9/10

    Length: 9/10

    Long-term fun factor: 7/10  

    Sound: 9/10

    Soundtrack: 6/10

    Story: 7/10

    Total score: 78 / 100

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  • The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan (2019)

    After the unspectacular Playstation VR game ''The Inpatient'' and the boring interactive Playstation 4 game with PlayLink feature ''Hidden Agenda'', I'm glad to announce that British video game developer Supermassive Games is back in the game with the release of ''The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan''. Just like this company's greatest success, the horror video game ''Until Dawn'' released four years ago, this is an interactive game. You can play five different characters and their survival depends upon the decisions you take throughout the game. The game can be played individually, by multiple players or online. This survival horror game is supposed to be the first in an anthology of eight games. The next entry in the franchise, titled ''Little Hope'' is supposed to be released in spring 2020. A new game is supposed to follow about every six months. I could see this become my favourite video game franchise ever if the series continues to keep the momentum of this first installment.

    This story revolves around five characters stranded on a mysterious ship that disappeared in the Pacific Ocean after the end of the Second World War. Positive leader Alex, his shy brother Brad, Alex' adventurous girlfriend Julia and her quirky brother Conrad travel to the South Pacific Ocean for an illegal underwater diving expedition as they try to find a plane wreck at the bottom of the ocean. Their headstrong captain Fliss criticizes the group for its carelessness but accepts to help since she is in desperate need for money. Things turn sour when a group of pirates attacks them and attempts to find gold on a nearby ghost ship. Once the five lead characters and the pirates enter the ship, they realize that its crew died terrible deaths. The five lead characters must take the right decisions in order to avoid the same fate.

    On the positive side, this game is very atmospheric. The opening hour isn't particularly gripping but serves to introduce the different characters efficiently. Once the characters arrive on the ghost ship, the atmosphere gets more intense and never lets go until the very end. The challenge level in this game is quite difficult. I played this game twice and only one character survived after my first try while nobody survived during my second attempt. The game has a lot of replay value as the story is quite variable. Characters can die or survive in many different ways and there are lots of secrets to be discovered throughout the game. These secrets will also unlock additional video clips which are very interesting to watch. The graphics and sound aren't as sharp as in ''Until Dawn'' due to a lower budget but they are overall still above average. The soundtrack of the game is outstanding and the title song ''A Conversation with Death'' by American doom metal band Khemmis is a very positive surprise. The song fits the game and its atmosphere and it's awesome to hear some great metal music in a video game.

    The game also has a few downsides. The controls are complicated and lacking fluidity. Instead of entering a room, a character might hit a wall and you have to move very carefully. The different quick-time events are particularly challenging as you almost always make mistakes and end up in very dangerous situations.

    The length of the game might seem like an initial disadvantage as it takes roughly five hours to complete it. However, the game has such a high replay value that you will spend many more hours playing this game. Plus, the game's price is very appropriate with around forty Canadian dollars plus taxes.

    In the end, ''The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan'' is an outstanding survival horror game that convinces with intense atmosphere and great replay value. It leaves you wanting more and the next entry in the franchise with ''Little Hope'' can't come soon enough. The first trailer already looks quite promising and gives you Silent Hill and The Blair Witch Project vibes. Give this overlooked new game a try and enjoy it alone at night or with a couple of friends. The game is available on Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

    Detailed rating:

    Atmosphere: 9/10

    Challenge level: 10/10

    Controls: 6/10

    Game flow: 7/10

    Graphics: 8/10

    Length: 8/10

    Long-term fun factor: 9/10 

    Sound: 8/10

    Soundtrack: 10/10

    Story: 9/10

    Total score:  84 / 100

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  • Heavy Rain (2010)

    Heavy Rain is an intercative drama and action-adventure game that was originally released on Playstation 3 back in 2010 but was remastered and released on Playstation 4 in 2016. It is also available as a bundle with Beyond: Two Souls and Detroit: Become Human. The video game was critically acclaimed and New Line Cinema even purchased the rights to make a movie based upon the video game even though a specific project hasn't materialized so far.

    The game focuses on a gloomy atmosphere centered on a twisted story with numerous different outcomes that guarantees that players feel like revisiting this game. A serial killer known as the Origami killer kidnaps young boys, keeps them in secret locations, drowns them and dumps their bodies with an origami figure placed on their chests.

    There are four playable characters whose actions intertwine.

    Ethan Mars is a family father who lost one of his sons in a tragic accident and fell into a coma. He awoke six months later but suffers from occasional disorientation and memory loss, wandering off at night for unfathomable reasons. Tragedy strikes again when his second son is kidnapped in a park. Ethan Mars doesn't want to lose another son and does everything he can to find his son before he gets killed. The serial killer contacts him and asks him to undergo a series of more and more twisted challenges to save his child.

    Madison Paige is a journalist suffering from insomnia and strange visions who occasionally moves to a run-down motel where she seems to be able to sleep much better than at home. She meets Ethan Mars at the motel, realizes that he seems to feel tormented and offers her help for mysterious reasons. When she learns more about him, she decides to investigate herself in order to help him save his son and uncover the identity of the Origami killer.

    Norman Jayden is a FBI profiler who is sent from Washington D.C. to support local police force to identify and arrest the Origami killer. The profiler uses a sophisticated evidence detecting system called Added Reality Interface but his unusual methods clash with his conservative partner lieutenant Carter Blake. Norma Jayden also suffers from a severe drug addiction that cause hallucinations, headaches and nosebleeds. He soon fails to distinguish fantasy from reality.

    Scott Shelby is a former police officer who was let go under mysterious circumstances. He has become a lonesome private investigator who got hired by the families of the serial killer's victims. He tries to understand the serial killer's modus operandi and soon uncovers clues police officers had overlooked. He focuses his attention on an attention-seeking playboy and son of a wealthy businessman who tries to bribe and later on menace Scott Shelby. He reluctantly pairs up with the mother of one of the victims, a prostitute named Lauren Winter, who is emotionally unstable but motivated to find her son's murderer by any means necessary.

    While the story, characters and atmosphere are the game's strongest points, its weakness remains the game play. The four characters are played from a third-person perspective but the camera angles are sometimes difficult to adjust. The game also focuses on numerous quick time events that need perfect precision and timing. This can become frustrating for occasional or less experienced players.

    Still, this clever game is very immersive and almost works like a detailed film noir that requests the player's participation. This sinister thriller is much better than numerous actual movies and television series. The story, characters and atmosphere are this game's greatest assets while the game play could have been more diversified and fluid. In the end, this intellectual video game is highly recommendable and has aged particularly well. 

    Detailed rating:

    Atmosphere: 10/10

    Challenge level: 7/10

    Controls: 6/10

    Game flow: 8/10

    Graphics: 8/10

    Length: 8/10

    Long-term fun factor: 9/10

    Sound: 8/10

    Soundtrack: 9/10

    Story: 10/10 

    Total score:  83/100

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