Humble Frozen Bundle Review (first impressions, actually)

For those of you unacquainted with the Humble Indie Bundle, it is an initiative to offer DRM-free, cross-platform (Windows, Linux, Mac), games from indie game studios. And it lets you pay what you want for a limited time for the games. You can also choose to give part of your payment to charity, either the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which safeguards your rights online, or Child’s Play, which brings games, toys, books to children’s hospital across the US.

So in a world where big game studios churn out copy-cat games and sequels after sequels, this is a quite welcome change, especially for us forgotten Linux gamers :(.

tl;dr version of review: Unfortunately, the 4$ I paid for the Humble Frozen Bundle seems about the right price.

I was skeptical from the game-trailers, so when I decided to buy it (convinced by Alin, actually) I shamefully said I’d pay 4$ (shut up) and then, if I decide the games are really awesome, I’d pay extra (the Humble Bundle lets you do that).

Before reading ahead, you should know that I played about 30 – 40 minutes of each of the games, so they may become insanely awesome after that time period.

Trine

I was never a big fan of side-scrollers, so maybe it’s me, but I got bored really quickly, even though the game mechanics seem pretty nice.

Basically you can play as a thief, who can use a grappling-hook-Spidey-web-thingie and shoot a bow, a magician who can levitate stuff like boxes and create boxes from thin air (his favorite album is Boxer), or a knight who can smash things and hold a shield up. And you can switch between the 3 characters on the fly at any time (which is pretty cool). Each character has his own life and mana bar, so you can die as one character and continue as another.

If all your characters die, you have to start from the last checkpoint you activated (when you activate a checkpoint, your dead characters revive with a half-full life bar.

As far as I got, you kill skeletons, move boxes, jump over ledges and swing with your grappling hook kind of thing and collect experience potions (the counter was x/50 so something happens when you reach 50), and that’s about it.

The art is pretty, without making you say “wow” at any point (except if this were your first ever video game, maybe). Correct would be the word to describe it. It’s a generic fantasy world, and the story leaves it at that. (Once upon a time, a kingdom flourished, but something happened, and then the thief found a very magical stone, yada yada yada…)

Might be entertaining for someone else, but not me.

Shadowgronds

This one takes place on Ganymede, Jupiter’s moon, in 2096. You play a former soldier who was somehow demoted (possibly revealed later in the game) to chief mechanic. You were fixing a truck when the power reactor goes down,  and you have to go fix it with the other mechanics. When you get there, you split up (always a good idea) and you later find one of them killed by some big-ass bugs. You find a pistol and start shooting your way out to safety.

And as far as I can figure it, that’s what happens all game long, but with bigger guns (I found a machine gun later) and bigger monsters. You can upgrade your guns to make more damage, shoot faster, etc, with spare parts you find (some when you find monsters – why? why on earth are those critters carrying spare parts on them?).

This one seemed down right boring to me, but again, this isn’t exactly my type of game.

The graphics again seem stale, very sterile, character faces are damn creepy, and the same can be said of the voice acting, which is pretty close to horrendous. Sorry, but this one is a dud in my book.

I haven’t played Shadowgrounds: Survivor (the other game you get in the bundle), yet, because I figured it’d be more of the same.

You will also get Splot when it comes out, and it seems like a pretty cool game, but being a sidescroller I probably won’t play it too much, and Jack Claw, which is a game the studio never finished, but they open-sourced it, so  you can continue working on it (which is pretty damn cool).

Another bone to pick is that these games don’t run too smoothly on my PC, which once accommodated Fallout 3 and other “high-end” games just fine. But that was on Windows, and this is on Linux, so to be fair, this might be a Linux driver performance issue, so I’m not going to bust the developer’s chops for this.

Conclusion:

I’m not much of a gamer anymore, I play casually, when I’m bored or my Internet connection goes down (same thing, really). But I absolutely loved the previous bundles.

The games from Frozenbyte just don’t hold up to the sheer awesomeness which is World of Goo, which has an awesome concept, great graphics, and addictive gameplay, Penumbra:Ouverture, which I stopped playing not because it was boring, but because it was too fucking scary, Revenge of the Titans, with its retro-chic graphics and music frantic rhythm and cool gameplay, or even Osmos and Aquaria, which are pretty damn relaxing (and both have very pretty music and graphics. Other games in the previous bundle were pretty good too (Lugaru had awesome gameplay, but shitty graphics, and its successor, Overgrowth seems way better, Braid brought pretty graphics and new gameplay concepts to Mario-type side-scrollers) and some were, let’s say, less good, from various reasons (Gish seemed to have a really cool idea for a sidescroller (again with the sidescrollers) but the control simply made me abandon it 10-15 minutes later).

I know developing a game is extremely hard. It takes years of hard work and experience to make a decent game, not to mention you also need good art direction, and designers ain’t cheap. So if you want to, support the developers, awesome things might arise. I don’t regret buying the bundle, but I also consider the price is right for my personal experience.

Mihai Chereji

Twenty-something web-dev & part-time self-saboteur with no sense of direction on the street or in life. Will write when bored, about music, programming, civic duties etc. @croncobaurul

Romania

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