Updated: May 20, 2011
Time for another Humble Bundle review! After parts one and two, the Humble Indie Bundle project ran their third collection, which earned just short of one million in one week of sales. Unlike the previous two, the third Humble Bundle offering focuses on a single game vendor, Frozenbyte, with three complete games, one online pre-order demo and one early beta pre-order prototype. The games include Trine, a side-scrolling action and puzzle game, Shadowgrounds, a shoot 'em up shooter and its sequel Shadowgrounds: Survivor, Jack Claw, which is going to focus on realistic physics combat in a modern urban environment, and Splot, which is going to be a 2D adventure arcade.
Shadowgrounds is a horror shooter, played in the top-down third-person view, with a restricted camera angle. It's very similar to Doom, including the overall feel and the dark, scary atmosphere, except you're detached from the action on the ground by about 15 meters. However, the distance does not diminish the tension. Even though you enjoy a much better field of view and lighting, the sensation of panic and claustrophobia are artfully portrayed, which is not something I would have expected from a game like this.
The plot is fairly corny but good. You're a simple guy working at a space colony sometime in near future when aliens invade and kickstart a fecesfest. The serene and sterile mechanical setting of the colony becomes a jumble of broken furniture and abandoned equipment, flickering flatscreens, and burning rubble. Wading through the junk, you need to find your way around and help stranded friends. The plot is tightly woven, adding to the atmosphere. It does feel a lot like Doom III, as you interact with your environment and learn about what happened through computer logs and recording left by your dead comrades.
Survivor continues where the original game stops, except you're thrown right into the middle of it. So if you had to sweat a little figuring out how things work out in the first game, there's no foreplay here. You are into combat straight away, an American hero with a chiseled chin and a big gun.
Along the way, you will need to fix things, like power transmitters, restart a nuclear reactor and suchlike. You will also be able to acquire weapons, tools, medikit, and upgrade items, which will help you boost your character. And trust me, you will need every little bit of help you can get. Like all other Frozenbyte games, Shadowgrounds demands your respect even at the easy setting. Ammunition and fragmentation grenades are freely scattered about, so you won't lack in killing tools.
The environment is semi-destructible. Pretty much any item can be pushed or kicked over, obeying gravity, which is a nice thing. Lots of explosive barrels are placed about, so you can use these as the force multiplier against the lizard-like aliens. Windows can be shot through.
Fighting aliens is not an easy thing. Those mofos are fast and they leap about suddenly. Your best bet is to move around while shooting, to avoid getting flanked or stranded. Grenades have a fairly weak toss, so be careful in confined spaces. Sometime in the first level, you will probably gain enough points to buy a motion sensor, but the little HUD indicator will do little to reduce your level of anxiety. If anything, the sudden appearance of aliens is as frightening as ever. This is really masterfully done.
Levels can be saved, but there are several checkpoints throughout. You will have up to five respawns each time, before you are forced to replay the entire level again. The gameplay is challenging and engaging. I am not fond of this kind of games, but there's rare and compelling quality about Shadowgrounds, both games. For first-person shooter fans, this is a nice departure from the standard template, with just as much gore and kaboom as you need. And a fair dose of healthy fear, too.
I must say I was immensely surprised by this title. I do not like 2D side-scrolling games, and yet, I spent almost three hours testing Trine, loving every moment. It's a dazzling combination of narration, beautiful graphics and pseudo-3D effects, the unique twist and depth of the gameplay, and the characters themselves.
Rather than playing a single role, you have three: thief, wizard, and warrior. In a way, Trine is the modern embodiment of Golden Axe slash Prince of Persia. Each of the three characters has its own special qualities as well as weakness, so you must make the best decision which body to step in at any given moment. And yes, you play all three champions at the same time, using keyboard numbers to switch between them.
The thief is a beautiful woman, scantily glad, armed with a bow and a grapnel hook. You can use the grapnel to clear obstacles that can't be jumped. While in the air, you can shorten the rope or rock left and right to gain momentum and perform stunts. Beware, she is weak in direct combat, so avoid fighting skeletons. However, she is the faster and lightest on her feet.
The wizard is the typical bookworm, clad in blue robes, completely inept in combat. However, he can do all kinds of cool tricks, like levitate objects and create mechanical cogwheel boxes. For instance, to create a box, you just need to draw square and one will appear. You can use it to block pathways, create steps for jumping, solve puzzles, or attack your foes.
The warrior is everything you hoped for, a short-necked muscle machine, with a big sword and a large shield. He is your primary weapon against skeletons. However, he is the slowest and most cumbersome of the bunch, so if you need to jump around, you are better off wearing a different avatar.
Like other Frozenbyte games, Trine has no save mode. You must complete an entire level - or rather reach a checkpoint to save your progress, otherwise, all your hard work will be for naught. Speaking of hard work, Trine is a very difficult game. Even on the easy setting, I struggled for quite a while figuring how to clear some of the obstacles. Game puzzles combine rotating platforms, some free spinning, others operated by large cogs, spike studded chasms, frail walkways, and whatnot.
In one particular case, I managed to get all my three characters killed by misstepping off narrow platforms, one after another. They all three plunged to their death and I was forced to replay from the last checkpoint. It was so frustrating, but then, it's a testament to my finger skills.
Later in the game, the characters acquire additional skills and tools, allowing them to clear more difficult obstacles. For instance, the wizard will eventually learn to create new shapes. The warrior will acquire a sledgehammer and a flaming sword. It's all good.
Trine is a really great game. It's fun, refreshing and unique. It does combine lots of elements you have seen before in other games, but it brings them smartly together in a single, unified package. Young people will never remember the DOS glory of Golden Axe and Prince of Persia, but this is the first game that achieves the same level of beauty, art and quality. Extremely recommended.
At the moment, Splot is a Flash-based demo you can trial in any modern browser. The game is a so-called modern era fairy tale. It's about a fairy called Nettle who befriends an elastic blue alien creature, and together they try to save all the stars falling back from the sky.
The demo lets you explore the game physics, which is always a strong side of Frozenbyte titles, it seems. Not quite as fully featured or beautiful as Trine, but still quite curious. Splot can do all kinds of wild maneuvers, jumping about, generating momentum and whatnot. Nettle follows him around, although I'm not yet sure if she can be controlled separately. Along the way, Splot collects stars, but he must avoid perils and traps. The game progresses across several 2D puzzle-like levels.
Splot plays well, despite being just a demo. Somewhat simplistic graphics do not take away from the fun. Speaking of fun, Splot demands your respect, as you will often get frustrated trying to figure the best way to clear seemingly impossible obstacles. It will be interesting to see how this game plays when it's officially released. At the moment, it looks best suited toward younger audience and casual players, which is a deviation from the previous three titles.
If you expected an in-depth preview of the physics combat title, you will be disappointed. The package included in the bundle is only a very short introduction to what this game will be about. You are a funny looking mutant with a long metal tail that looks like a scorpion sting, with a magnetic claw at the end. You can wield it to grab cars and objects and hurl them at your opponents. In the demo, you are attacked by two police officers in an alley of what can only be described as Gothamesque 50s cartoon-like nighttime New York.
But that's it. You can fend those two guys off - or rather crush them with old cars, but there's nothing else. It's a little frustrating, especially if you hoped for more. This indeed was my impression, as I was pumped up on Shadowgrounds and Trine and was expecting lots of urban action. Game wise, one thing that did bother me is that the setting is too dark. You can always play with brightness and gamma, but it's still a bit below the comfort levels, even for a veteran night stalker.
Personally, I think this is the best bundle so far, but my taste does lean toward combat, so this is definitely biased. In fact, I fully understand why this bundle earned less than the other two; it offers a very singular type of games. The fighting genre may simply not appeal to everyone.
That said, the Frozenbyte bundle offers the most complete games of them all. This is partially evident by huge downloads, approx. 1GB per game. But the binary filesize is just an indication. You truly get complete, fully featured, in-depth games you can play for hours and hours on end. The gameplay is meticulously crafted, with a careful attention to little details. There's a professional feel to the products, especially the Shadowgrounds family and Trine, the shining star of this bundle. Jack Claw and Splot are just prototypes, so it's too early to tell, but judging from other games, they are going to be a blast.
I like this bundle very much. I've just earned a handful of new games I can play and enjoy. The fact they belong to genres I do not normally like is a testimony to how well executed Frozenbyte titles really are. For me, the third bundle is a great success. If you're asking, tested on Linux 64-bit, installation went without a single hitch, perfect execution. All is well. I'm quite pleased. This was a tremendous investment. I'll keep you updated on future bundles, as well as the two beta games, once they are fully released.