Another month, another bundle. Let’s see what the Humble Bundle delivered for us in April!

The Witness

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You don’t remember who you are, and you don’t remember how you got here, but there’s one thing you can do: explore the island in hope of discovering clues, regaining your memory, and somehow finding your way home.

TL;DR: 

  • Beautiful scenery
  • Tricky puzzles
  • Good pacing
  • Can be obtuse at times
  • Will frustrate you – in a good way

Should I buy this individually?

Yes – if you like puzzles and want something pretty to look out while you solve them.

Long version:

When a game manages to get a BAFTA award nomination, you know it’s time to take notice. The Witness managed to get four: Original Property, Debut Game, Game Design and Game Innovation; all of which are well-deserved votes of confidence for this startlingly pretty first person puzzler.

Though it didn’t manage to seal the deal on any of these nominations (losing out to Inside, Firewatch and That Dragon Cancer), The Witness remains a fantastic example of originality in an often-stale genre and a brilliant first foray into the gaming industry by Thekla Inc.

Once you get past the bright, cartoonish but most-of-all entrancing visuals, The Witness is a puzzle game that removes the hand-holding from the get-go. The plot is there for you to discover, the solutions to the puzzles aren’t spelled out for you, and even figuring out how the puzzles work in the first place can be a tricky mental exercise.

A good rule of thumb of a game’s quality, by my reckoning, is how much you end up swearing at it — and how, and why. In the case of The Witness, this rule of thumb reveals it as a tricky, but incredibly satisfying title. I must have clocked up a dozen “oh you bastards”, either in jubilation after finally solving a tough puzzle, or in frustration as I try yet another failed solution.

One or two were in exasperation after encountering a puzzle that wasn’t adequately explained (or the solution was more obtuse than I expected).

Despite that, it’s a satisfying title that will keep all but the most expert puzzlers scratching their heads for a fair few hours. Definitely worthy of the headline spot for the Humble Bundle in April.

Layers of Fear

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Delve deep into the mind of an insane painter and discover the secret of his madness as you walk through a vast and constantly changing Victorian-era mansion.

TL;DR: 

  • Great story, if short
  • Great environments
  • Great explorative elements
  • Bit predictable at times
  • Could do with some better animations

Should I buy this individually?

Yes, but only if you like walking simulators with good stories and a fair few jump scares.

Long version:

I’m not someone who enjoys horror games, but Layers of Fear certainly made me happy I gave the genre another go. It manages to do a great job of blending the explorative and the horror, pushing players on with a tantalizing plotline – then throwing something absolutely fucking horrifying in your face and make you go screaming from the room.

But you’ll always come back, if only to see what’s around the next paint-stained corner. There’s loads to discover in Layers of Fear. Who the player character is, why so much spook has decided to lair in his home, how his and his family’s life came to be the way that it is. Some of it is presented quite plainly to you — other parts you are expected to piece together from the various notes that you find around the mansion.

Your journey is punctuated by reversing gravity, creepy dolls, PT-like long corridors (along with requisite sp00ky woman), and, of course, paintings that melt and change before your eyes. A lot of the jump scares are predictable, others are almost laughable due to poor animation. But, as my poor partner can attest, there are even more moments that will scare you out of your skin and cause concern for your neighbours due to the excessive amount of swearing coming from your home.

It’s not a genre re-definer, but it’s a great addition to the Humble Bundle. The fact that is comes with the DLC is even better. A great, gory story, some fantastic horror tropes and tension and some seriously creepy environments and effects should definitely put this on your to-play list.

Black Mesa

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Relive Half-Life, Valve Software’s revolutionary debut, and experience the game that raised the bar for the entire game industry all over again!

TL;DR

  • Faithful adaptation of the original
  • Solid amount of game hours
  • Still has some performance issues
  • Early access i.e. incomplete

Should I buy this individually?

No – not yet. It’s a high price point for an incomplete game, and won’t be suitable for people who are used to a more AAA experience. It’s a reskin and a touchup. A good one, but wait until it’s done before purchasing.

Long version:

The question of whether an old classic can translate well into the modern gaming world is finally answered with Black Mesa.

Unsurprisingly, it’s a resounding ‘yes’.

This remake of the original Half-Life takes all the best parts of the original and puts it into a modern engine. The Black Mesa facility is rendered in all the glory that new, shiny graphics can grant it, while a few tweaks and quality-of-life changes make it a retro experience with a modern facelift. If you’ve ever wondered how far we’ve come in the gaming industry in the last couple of decades, Black Mesa is a wonderful demonstration of everything that we’ve learned since the original Half-Life.

One thing to note: it’s a remake, and it has a few QOL additions, but otherwise there is very little to differentiate Black Mesa from Half-Life 2 or other modern plot-based modern shooters. If you’ve already played the sequels, then don’t expect Black Mesa to hold you over in terms of novelty until the final release of God-damned Half-Life 3 come on Gabe you know you must have it somewhere. The final levels i.e. Xen aren’t ready yet either, hence the Early Access title.

The question of whether this should be bought individually is a tough one, but I have to say it’s probably not worth it yet. New entrants who haven’t played the original Half-Life will probably like it, and there is the nostalgia factor for the older veterans. But it is, at the end of the day, still just a remake.

Ask yourself if you’re happy to pay for a reskin and a touchup of Half-Life. If so, Black Mesa is the game for you. If you want something chunkier in terms of new content, then you may want to give it a pass.

Kingdom: New Lands

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Tales spread of far off isles with mysteries waiting to be discovered. Rulers will need all the strength of their subjects to sail away and find new kingdoms in these New Lands. Be brave, ruler, and fight to the bitter end, lest these New Lands conquer you instead.

Simple but not lacking in depth, the original Kingdom was a fun little indie game that managed to hold your attention with possibly the most basic control mechanics known to man. Left goes left, right goes right, down drops coins, use coins to upgrade, hire and build. Kingdom: New Lands builds on that premise.

However, it does end up being quite repetitive despite the new content – a significant portion of which is merely for show. The simplicity, in this case, works against it. Still, an excellent addition to the Humble Bundle, and could easily eat up an entire day if you let it.

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Set in a retrofuture inspired by sci-fi classics such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, the game is about forging a personal relationship with your only companion, an insecure AI entity capable of procedurally generating over two million lines of dialog.

Basically, Chatbot: The Game. It’s funelled into a vaguely comprehensible storyline and graphical environment, but it feels like this game was designed entirely around the mechanic of speaking with an AI that tries to interpret naturalistic language input.

Sometimes it succeeds, but most of the time it doesn’t, often giving nonsensical answers or hints that are completely off-topic. A nice attempt, with some measure of success, but not a particularly noteworthy addition to the bundle.

Slime-San

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Slime-san was minding his own business when suddenly… a giant worm appeared and gobbled him up! Deep within the worm’s belly, Slime-san has to face a decision: Be digested by the incoming wall of stomach acid… or jump, slide and slime his way through the worm and back out its mouth!

Slime-San combines all of the best things about high-octane platformers. Lots of deaths, lots of retries, fast levels, tricky puzzles and absolutely addictive gameplay. Plus there are a few funny jokes in there, and the graphics and soundtrack are lovely in a retro kind of way.

It’s a bit weird (some might say quirky), but the memorable art style and sheer fun factor make this a fantastic addition to the Humble Bundle.

Tumblestone

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Tumblestone is the first original action-puzzle game of the past fifteen years. Race your friends in multiplayer or challenge yourself in story mode. Solve progressively more difficult and creative puzzles, help a sausage make friends, and find out what happened to the Tumblecrown.

While it manages to bring something vaguely new to the arcade-style puzzle genre, Tumblestone is not something that I would call a game-changer.

It’s simple, though not lacking in depth, but still has some glaring problems that make it look amateurish. The weakest link in the Bundle by far. Do not buy individually, as the current Steam store price is ludicrous for what you actually get.

Jawns

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Jawns is a reimagined classic strategy boardgame right out of Philly. Play your friends online in one of our five modes, or remix the rules to create over 1.5 million different ways to play. If you like the speed of checkers and the depth of chess, try out these Jawns.

Saying that Jawns is like a combination of chess and checkers doesn’t quite do it justice, but it’s the closest I can do. It’s a simple game, with simple rules, but scratches that little time-wasting itch that is usually dealt with via Solitaire or Minesweeper.

It doesn’t really add too much to the overall quality of the Bundle, but it also doesn’t detract from it either. Overall, it’s a simple game that achieves what it sets out to accomplish: simple entertainment, by yourself or with friends.

Humble Bundle Verdict

This won’t be a set of games that will tickle the fancy of everyone. In fact, I suspect a significant portion of people will be disappointed with this month’s choice of titles. But for those who like a bit of art, a bit of exploration, a touch of horror and a few decent, simple titles to play over the next few weeks, I reckon it’s still worth the price of admission.

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