Charlie Murder

Ever heard of something called “The Impressive Monkey Test?”  Probably not.  I invented it just now.  But I think the Impressive Monkey Test could be a valuable tool in judging how much raw brainpower a game requires to play.  You see, I would be impressed if a monkey could be trained to beat Super Mario Bros.  I would be very impressed if a monkey could be trained to play Tetris.  Brawlers, on the other hand, I would so not be impressed if a monkey could be trained to play  them.  They’re games designed for apes, where slapping buttons without finesse is as valid a strategy for winning as mastering combos.   Don’t get me wrong: games for apes can be fun.  But generally, games that can be played just as well by both humans and primates tend to get boring pretty quickly.

Charlie Murder is a brawler that probably couldn’t be enjoyed by our simian cousins.  It has a lot more going for it than just randomly mashing buttons and moving to the right.  There’s a fairly complex item system, leveling up, special skills, lots of hidden stuff, and a quirky punk rock story that kept me interested until the end.  But what really sets Charlie Murder apart is that it’s a brawler that’s more about the adventure than the fisticuffs.  Yea, I know.  Some other brawlers have been doing that lately too.  Recent XBLIG/PC title Fist Puncher certainly aimed to be more about the story than the action, but after playing just a little bit of Charlie Murder, I felt Fist Puncher was positively antiquated.  The funny thing is, I’ve met people who feel the same way about Charlie Murder after playing Dragon’s Crown.

Yea, this was a tough one for me to play, and inspired my most passed around editorial ever. Then again, I Made a Game with Zombies was also pretty bad for me. The only explanation: SKA Studios wants me dead. After this review, I don't blame them.

Yea, this was a tough one for me to play, and inspired my most passed around editorial ever. Then again, I Made a Game with Zombies was also pretty bad for me. The only explanation: SKA Studios wants me dead. After this review, I don’t blame them.

Actually, these last two weeks have been eye-opening to say the least.  I figured fans of brawlers would be all for things like experience and level-up systems.  In fact, a whole lot of them are not.  That’s weird, because having a sense of advancement is pretty much the only thing that kept me going once Charlie Murder grew teeth and became difficult to work with.  I guess SKA Studios, the guys behind I Made a Game with Zombies In It, are infamous for games that cross the line from enjoyable to infuriating.  I would think such a reputation wouldn’t be a badge of honor.  Any moron can frustrate people, a fact I demonstrate on a daily basis with my boyfriend and parents.  Being able to hold someone’s attention by means other than a sense of obligation?  That takes talent.  SKA undoubtedly has talent.  I just question whether they’re more interested in their poop-stained “we make hard games” badge.

Early on, Charlie Murder is a joy to play.  The enemies are well-balanced and the stages are fun to explore.  But it doesn’t take too long to realize that there’s going to be some major problems here.  Chief amongst them: Charlie Murder is designed with multiplayer in mind.  In solo play, the game ramps up in toughness faster than you can level up.  I had to replay multiple stages.  That didn’t annoy me so much, because I was stockpiling the best clothing and hocking all the rest for cash.  But then I would get to bosses that, without hyperbole, I would spend an hour or longer fighting and making no progress.  There was one that had a parasite growing out of his head that spawned a full battalion of little worm things.  You couldn’t possibly kill the little fuckers fast enough before more would arise to devour you.  This forced me to take a smack and run approach with the boss, all the while drip-feeding myself health refills.  After a while, I had finally whittled him down to his last tick of health.  To beat this boss (and a few others), you have to finish him with a button-mashing quick time event.  For the next ten minutes (felt like much longer), every time i went to do the move, one of the minions would grapple on to me, breaking the killing blow and forcing me to mash a different button to shake it off.  Of course, when there’s a small army of baddies that can do that attack, you can shake one off and get caught by another.  Bosses become such a clusterfuck because of this.  One boss has infinitely respawning enemies that can refill its health from across the room.  Kill one and another appears within seconds.  Just to be clear, Charlie Murder, you want to be enjoyed, right?

No?  Only on your terms you say?  Those terms being four-players or bust?

Well what if your terms aren’t an option?

No, I don’t particularly feel like going and fucking myself right now.

Grind?  That’s your solution?  Grind up my stats to have a fighting chance?  That’s a shitty deal.  I haven’t avoided a single baddie, and I’ve varied my fighting style to try to win over supporters on your in-game Twitter thing (seriously, that’s how leveling up works).  Why is the game not progressing with me?  Why am I encountering boss fights where I have to practically carry a buffet with me to avoid dying?  Why does it take me several minutes to fight normal baddies?  Why on earth would you make your end-game such a tedious, boring, repetitive chore?

There's a few minigames to break up the same old shit, like a few rhythm games.  The last of which lagged on me (single player offline play, mind you), got skippy, and cost me a perfect score.

There’s a few minigames to break up the same old shit, like a few rhythm games. The last of which lagged on me (single player offline play, mind you), got skippy, and cost me a perfect score.

Fine.  I’ll jump on Xbox Live and play with friends and ohhhhh right.  We tried that and the connection kept lagging out.  And it wasn’t just on me.  I tried it with different partners, at home and at my office.  During certain fights, it just stopped working.  I’m sure this will get patched, but it didn’t help my cause here.  Instead, I tried to play local.  This was fun.  In fact, Charlie Murder is always fun with a party, provided that party isn’t lagging out.  But this introduced new problems.  I had spent time building up my Chick’s stats and I was NOT going to give that up for anyone.  Thus, my friends would jump in and out from the ground floor while I walked around like a fucking super hero.  They had no remote shot of playing the levels I hadn’t finished.  This forced me to go back and start from the beginning with them.  Still fun, but significantly less so.  I watched them maliciously brawl with the opening baddies, while I could kill any of them with a single punch.  I imagine this is how major leaguers must feel when they attend their children’s tee-ball games.

Oh, there was one funny bit in all this.  In order to open up the real final level of Charlie Murder and achieve the “good” ending of the game, you have to gather the parts of an evil Dracula thing.  His heart, his eye, his finger nail, his.. this really sounds familiar.  Anyway, once you do, you have to equip all five parts before entering the final boss fight.  Problem: the ability to get this is dependent fully on you picking the right level-up skill upgrades that allow you to equip more buttons.  After reaching level 25, I was able to equip four buttons at most.  This was the most offered to me, by the way.  If it had given me a chance to have a fifth slot, I would have taken it.

So I cheated: I turned on another controller, gave it the eye (which provided the attributes I figured I would need the least for this fight), and opened up a harder boss fight.  Then the unused character got killed while I fought the boss.  As he laid there waiting for me to come shock him back to life, he leveled up three times (while dead, mind you) as I spent the next thirty minutes fighting this double-boss thing.  Okay, so maybe it’s not that funny, but I thought it was hilarious.

I have two pieces of advice for Charlie Murder.  #1: Don’t go into it alone, at all.  If friends are not going to be available to you, do not buy this game.  The frustration of single player outweighs the fun in a huge way.  No thought seems to have been given to balance, to pacing, or to scaling the amount of enemies back to accommodate solo play.  #2: If you have friends who you’ll be able to play the game with from start to finish, get this game.  For all the bitching I did above, Charlie Murder is an extremely satisfying game.

Despite all the whining above, Charlie Murder is my favorite brawler ever. Nothing remotely close.

Despite all the whining above, Charlie Murder is my favorite brawler ever. Nothing remotely close.

It’s like the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of games.  Well, I mean, no it’s not.  There’s already one of those.  But you know what I mean.  The contrast between the multiplayer experience and the solo game are startling.  Alone, Charlie Murder is a sadistically brutal punisher-brawler with bad pacing, unfair design, and frustration from hour two onwards.  The end game especially is anything but fun.  With friends, it’s a still-difficult but not quite as frustrating romp with charming characters, fun set pieces, and enough variation to keep anyone from getting bored.  A few years ago, I would have hated Charlie Murder.  I quite enjoyed it now, flaws and all, on account of having friends.  And to think, I used to believe the Care Bears were full of shit.  It only took a game chalked full of violence, bloodshed, dismemberment, and cannibalism to show that Tenderheart Bear knew what he was talking about all along.

Charlie Murder releases August 14, 2013

boxartlgCharlie Murder was developed SKA Studios

Seal of Approval Large800 Microsoft Points would make a video of the most horribly violent Charlie Murder four player moments with this song playing in the background if I had such talent in the making of this review.

Charlie Murder is Chick-Approved and will be ranked on the Indie Gamer Chick Leaderboard very soon.

Review copies of Charlie Murder were provided to Indie Gamer Chick.  One was provided to a friend that had no feedback in this review.  The other was cashed in by Cathy.  At Indie Gamer Chick, we buy our own games.  When a game is reviewed before release, a review copy is accepted and a full copy of the game is purchased on release date whether the game is enjoyed or not.  For more on this policy, read the FAQ.

Deadlight

Don’t worry: spoilers are segregated from the main body of the review.  You’ll have ample warning to avoid them.

Randall Wayne believes the best way to survive a zombie apocalypse is to run in a straight line.  That’s the only way I can explain why he chooses to Rube-Goldberg his way up, over, and through buildings instead of walking around them.  Also, he’s a cold-hearted asshole with a voice that sounds like something spawned from a mating between whiskey and a power sander.  I call it the “Video Game Tough Guy Voice” because it’s essentially the same voice as Solid Snake or Master Chief or any other number of emotionally dead heroes.  He’s the star of Deadlight, the “highlight” of this year’s underwhelming Summer of Arcade lineup, and a game that is not worth the hype.

Dude even looks a little like Solid Snake, in both the gameplay silhouette and also in cut scenes.

In Deadlight, the most unlikely end-of-world scenario outside of “Donald Trump elected President” once again occurs: zombies!  Only they’re called “shadows” here because.. I’m not sure.  Maybe this version of 1986 exists in a parallel world where Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Return of the Living Dead never happened, and thus nobody knows what a zombie is.  Presumably this means that Rob Zombie goes by some other spooky sounding name like, I dunno, it’s supposed to be 1986 so Rob Commie or something.    Either way, civilization somehow completely collapses when faced against the most easily disposable threat the world has ever seen.  Seriously, how DOES a zombie apocalypse work?  The ones in Deadlight are among the dumbest I’ve ever seen in a game.  They have absolutely no survival instinct, often walking straight off cliffs, or into electrical wires after watching other zombies fry themselves.  In order to take over the world, an animal would need to become an apex predator.  That means limited weaknesses, higher order of thinking, and genetic advantages.  The zombies in Deadlight have trouble understanding the concept of a staircase.  Even the Daleks figured that one out.

They can’t climb.  They can’t jump.  They can’t use weapons.  They’re easily distracted by whistling or car alarms.  Their only weapon is teeth.  How is it they manage to wipe out 99% of a race that is armed with Uzis, rocket launchers, or plain old human ingenuity?  Fuck you, that’s how.  Just shut up and play the game.

Think of Deadlight as Silent Hill meets the old school Prince of Persia.  You run, you jump, you climb, you hang, you activate switches, you shove boxes, and you fight with or flee from enemies.  Deadlight is a game where survival takes center stage over body count.  While you might at various times have guns or an axe to take on the undead, avoidance is encouraged.  That’s just as well.  Combat with the axe is slow and clunky.  Guns take too long to draw, and sometimes the aiming seems a bit off.  I swear there were times when I know I tagged a fucker square in the head, yet he would get back up and keep coming at me.  When zombies close in on you, you automatically take damage, but you still have to press B to shove off them.  If you’re on your last bit of health, there is no auto-damage, which negates the entire fucking point of having it in the first place.  There might as well not even be a life bar.  If a hoard of zombies closes in on you, it’s automatic death.  There’s various health pick-ups and stuff that will give you an extra bar of life, but why even bother?  There’s unlimited lives (as there should be) and tons of checkpoints.  It seems like a feature tacked on because this is how games are made despite not serving a purpose.

The graphics really are breathtaking at times. And then there are times when enemy limbs clip right through walls. That’s a real buzzkill.

Let’s face it: the only thing Deadlight has going for it is the atmosphere.  It’s a creepy game, at least at the start.  While you’re scaling buildings, running through empty highways, and collecting your first hidden trinkets over the game’s opening hour, the experience is almost exhilarating.  And then things go to hell once you end up in an overly long sewer section where a guy named The Rat Man takes all your accumulated weapons.  At this point, hardly any zombies show up for over an hour and Deadlight becomes a punisher-platformer, destroying the entire mood of the game in one fell swoop.  Creepiness?  Gone.  Eagerness to proceed?  Gone.  Sense of tension?  Gone.  And Deadlight never recovers from it, even after you return to the streets, because the previous section was just that bad.  By time I was at the end, I was anxious for the game to be over with.

Part of that has to do with the controls being crap.  Deadlight seems to give you all the tools needed for the tasks at hand.  You can wall-jump, do a tuck-and-roll off high falls, or a diving roll through narrow pathways.  It sounds great, but the response time to all actions in the game suffer from a delay.  The possible exception to that is using the fire button when you use a gun, but even then something about it seems like it doesn’t fully work all the time.  Meanwhile, there are several sections of the game that require agility-based platforming, yet all movement is hampered by the unresponsive controls.  Is it impossible to beat?  No.  Actually, if not for control problems, it would probably be kind of easy.  But Deadlight doesn’t carry with it the feel of a trial-and-error platformer, yet that’s how the game ends up.

I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the story.  Don’t worry, I’ll place all spoilers inside a special spoiler section, although I would caution readers to not read any comments below until you’ve finished the game, assuming you still plan on burning 1200MSP on this piece of shit.

The game stars a Canadian dude who seems a bit on the paranoid militant side.  When the zombies take over, his family disappears.  He joins up with a rag-tag group of survivors as they make their way to a “safe zone” in Seattle, WA.  The game opens with the group on the outskirts of Seattle, with Randy having just blown away a member of their party that has been infected.  Right from the game’s get-go, I didn’t like Randy too much.  He has no personality and a voice like a drunken frat boy trying to sound like Optimus Prime.  But, his story is an interesting one.  When you read his diary, you realize the dude had a few screws loose before the end of the world happened.  Once it got going, he really went off the deep end.  By the way, you pick up the missing pages of his diary throughout the game.  Of all the odd things that spoiled the mood for me, this one was the most obvious.  Why on Earth would pages of his missing diary be scattered all over a town he’s never been to?  The only explanation I can think of is there is no diary and he’s not actually finding pages, but just remembering events.  Kind of artsy-fartsy, but that is the only theory that can possibly work, so I’ll go with it.  Still, I wish they had thought of some other way to do it.  Warning, spoiler section ahead, sandwiched between the next two pictures.

Spoilers!

What the FUCK is up with that ending?  I had so many people building up the big “twist” and it turns out Randy had already capped his wife and daughter at the start of the apocalypse, and he simply forgot about it.  The way people were raving about it, I was expecting it to be something much more cerebral, like the whole thing being a delusion.  But no, it turns out that Randy is simply a forgetful idiot.  He didn’t turn the gun on himself because he only had two shells, and obviously he would need one for each person.  Um, no.  It’s a fucking 12-gauge shotgun, not a pea shooter.  You position your wife’s head against your daughter and you pull the trigger.  I’m pretty sure both would die from that.  Then you have one shell left all to yourself, because daddies always get the biggest portion at dinner.

Oh, and the chick you save at the end was another dumb bit.  They make it out like some kind of deep moment, but come on, we just fucking met her fifteen minutes beforehand.  Maybe Randy had known her for a while, but we didn’t!  Then, after building up an entire game about looking for lost love, they try to pass off Randy’s needless self-sacrifice as some kind of deep emotional moment.  First off, Randy didn’t save the chick.  He pushed her off the dock on what looked to be a wind-powered boat.  That’s not saving her.  That’s delaying a death sentence.  Let’s go over the possible things that can happen to this poor girl.

#1: The girl, who was screaming “I don’t want to be a monster” can have either the waters or the wind push her right back toward the dock.  Best case?  She’s zombie chow.  Worse case?  She becomes a zombie herself, which is exactly the thing she wants least.

#2: The group of humans that are being bastards apparently just for the sake of being bastards are STILL alive, STILL armed to the teeth, STILL have access to helicopters, are just yards away from you,  and are probably pretty pissed off at you for helping to fuck up their base.  If they catch poor Stella, which they will because they’re RIGHT FUCKING THERE, I’m guessing they’re going to do a whole lot worse than just kill her.

#3: Assuming the winds are friendly and none of the angry soldiers survive, she’s still stuck on a fucking boat, all alone, with no supplies and no weapons.  Never mind the fact that zombies have apparently conquered the whole fucking world, meaning there is no safe place to go.  Her options on the boat are starve to death or drown herself.  Don’t you just love happy endings like this?

Maybe Randy should have said “hey, there’s a batshit insane fucker living in the sewers in Seattle.  Try to make your way to him.  Sure, you’ll be eating rat meat until you finally lose the will to live, assuming you don’t die from all the booby traps he’s going to make you dance through for his own personal amusement, but at least you’ll be alive.”  But no, he pushes her out on a boat, stares down the hoard of zombies coming at him, credits.  Horrible ending.

End of Spoilers!

Honestly, Deadlight isn’t terrible by any means.  But the story loses its intrigue only a third of the way through, and ultimately has an unsatisfactory conclusion.  The voice acting is abysmal.  The characters are all twats.  The secondary enemies, a bunch of military dudes,  are one-dimensional cartoon villains.  Actually that’s not true, because even COBRA Command had more depth than these fuckers.  So while Deadlight is not that bad, it’s not that good either.  And it’s not worth the 2 gigs of space it takes up, or the 1200 Microsoft Points it costs.  You could get all of the top-ten games on my leaderboard for the same cost and still have 400 points to spare, and all ten of them are better games.

It felt like the developers had an awesome idea somewhere along the line, but couldn’t figure out how to stretch it out.  I like the idea of a 2D side-scroller/survival game set in a real American city.  Even if my good buddy Cyril at Defunct Games tells me that the city in Deadlight is most certainly not any Seattle he’s ever been to.  Duly noted.   But Deadlight just fails as a game due to not sticking hard enough to the premise of escaping zombies and trying to survive in a world crumbling around you.  The human enemies and the Rat Man section only served to take out the unnerving tension of the goings on.  I entered the game with genuine chills and exited with genuine apathy, because Deadlight is as shallow as a wading pool.  Which Randy would still manage to drown in, but that’s besides the point.

Deadlight was developed by Tequila Words

1200 Microsoft Points never did get the achievement for surviving a lethal fall by rolling through it because it never once was necessary in the making of this review.  I did get five achievements in five minutes, including one you get just for checking the online leaderboards.  I’m surprised they don’t hand out one just for reloading your gun.  Oh wait, they do that too. 

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