Month: March 2014

Escape from Woomera


Find a way to break out of a military internment camp.

PC Release: May 7, 2004

By Ian Coppock

In 1999, the Australian government opened a secret immigrant detention facility, euphemistically named the Woomera Immigration Reception and Processing Centre. Throughout its four-year existence, the Centre was dogged by alleged human rights violations, allegations of child abuse, and a host of other grave charges. Human rights advocates condemned this Guantanamo Bay-like facility for stripping its inmates of their most basic rights, while the politicians who had opened it maintained it was the only way to deal with illegal immigrants, people smugglers and dangerous fugitives. Around the time Woomera closed in 2003, a tiny team of programmers and investigative journalists exposed the horrors said to have happened there, not with some shocking article or a documentary film, but with a video game. Few games before or since has sparked so much political controversy and bitter debate as Escape from Woomera, a game created as both a societal protest and a documentary of life inside the camp.


Escape from Woomera is, according to its makers, based on real accounts and stories from within the camp. You play Mustafa, a.k.a. Prisoner No. RAR-124. Mustafa, an Iranian, is due for deportation to his home country, where only death at the hands of the Ayatollah’s secret service awaits him. He, that is, you, resolves to escape from Woomera before that can happen.

The game is a first-person modification of my favorite game and yours, Half-Life. As Mustafa, you can explore this desolate facility, interacting with guards and other prisoners. The game is a nonviolent adventure scenario that seeks to recreate the atmosphere of dread and oppression one might expect to find in a facility such as this. Something I hope to never experience in real life. A simulation will do quite fine, thank you.


You can talk to other prisoners and hear their stories. Apparently, they’re those of real people.

Your mission is simple: find a way out of this messed up oven of a prison before you’re sent back home to die. You must find tools, strike bargains and be a little sneaky, in a deadly game of prison break. You learn little of Mustafa beyond his impending date with death, but you can approach a few named prisoners and listen to their fears and hopes. You can select a number of questions and responses a la Mass Effect from a crude conversation menu.

Mustafa must explore a few places in the camp and come up with an increasingly elaborate scheme to get out. He has no choice; the Australian government is set to deport him. Escaping Woomera will be dangerous, but at least then, you’ll have a chance. I connected with the character out of empathy for his situation. Though paper-thin in most regards, all of Escape from Woomera‘s characters are endearing. Sure, their dialogue is questionably written and a bit repetitive, but the game’s artistic connection is pure empathy.



This is all a bit somber.

It was immediately clear that this game had been made by journalists, for two reasons. One: the game does an excellent job at laying an informational foundation and a compelling story through its characters. Two: journalists do not know how to code. I stand by my assertion that Escape from Woomera is emotionally and intellectually compelling, but it is one of the most poorly programmed video games I have ever played.

The AI in Escape from Woomera is basically nonfunctional. Toward the middle of this game, I had to steal pliers from an electrician while he wasn’t looking; the shakily animated thing that only vaguely resembled a human would catch me if I took them while his back was turned… but not if he was facing me. Because that makes sense.

This game is a literal paradox. How can I get in trouble for stealing pliers when the electrician wasn't looking, yet somehow must have been looking? (note to self: use this to scramble the brains of hostile robots).

This game is a literal paradox. How can I get in trouble for stealing pliers when the electrician wasn’t looking, yet somehow must have been looking? (note to self: use this to scramble the brains of hostile robots).

There’s one section of the game where you have to sneak through buildings and elude patrolling guards, but these guys will literally not even bother unless you go up and physically bump into them. For kicks and giggles I decided to walk right in front of a guard, without touching him, and he didn’t bat an eyelash. So challenge is out the door.

Worst of all, the game doesn’t register the completion of an objective and makes it endlessly re-repeatable. Let me explain: I managed to grab the pliers and stuff them into a recycling bin, but the poorly worded announcement that I’d done so implied that the electrician had caught me. Little did I know that I was actually getting away with it, but the game kept letting me get the pliers I’d already collected, thus perpetuating the illusion that I was getting caught! Even though I’d stored the pliers, the objective to get the pliers from the electrician was still open and repeatable.

Does that make sense? It’s like if a video game told you to destroy a tank, and gave you the option to go back and do it again, even if you’ve opened up the level and another objective. It was confusing as hell, and added unnecessary frustration to the game. Once you’ve done a task, the game should register it as such; don’t just leave the back door open and give so much potential for gamers to get confused. Epic programming fail.

It's like someone chopped up the film Groundhog Day and ground it into this game.

It’s like someone chopped up the film Groundhog Day and ground it into this game.

Once I realized what was happening, though, Escape from Woomera did become a lot more enjoyable. At 20 minutes or so long, it’s short, but stories can be compelling at just about any length. Portal make the gaming world go nuthouse and you can finish it in an hour. Plus, Escape from Woomera is free, and a low-budget entry into the blocky world of 1999 GoldSrc engine. My anger at this game’s failures would be exponential if it had asked for money.

Escape from Woomera isn’t the best video game story of all time, but the fact that it’s based on true events drew me to it. After the game was released, it added new fire to the controversy over the prison camp. The Australian government condemned the game and the organizations that praised it as shameful to Australia, while basically everyone else said that it was an important piece of political sentiment. A video game, stirring up controversy for something besides sex and violence. What a concept. I find it particularly ironic that the game was publicly funded by the Australian arts council; seems that not everyone in power was aboard with the Woomera facility.

John Ruddock, the the then-immigration minister of Australia, condemned the game for promoting what he called "unlawful behavior".

Philip Ruddock, the the then-immigration minister of Australia, condemned the game and the council who funded it for promoting what he called “unlawful behavior”.

Escape from Woomera is yet another cornerstone in my argument that video games are indeed art. Art is meant to convey a message, to provoke an emotion. In its basest form, it communicates to us. Escape from Woomera accomplishes all three of those things. Its intention is clearly not to be an amazing game, but rather, to illuminate a human rights travesty to the world at large. Judging by the controversy it stirred up, it accomplished its goal. Books, movies and television do this all the time. Video games ascended to this lofty position of power with titles like Escape from Woomera. Escape proved that video games can evoke emotions just as effectively as other, more traditional works of art.

Escape from Woomera is not the best game ever nor the most compelling, but it is one of the most important video games ever created. This little mod proved a big deal. For that, I played it, and retain in my collection. Though the game is a bit broken, it won’t crash. Go find it on Desura or Mod DB and download it. At the very least, 20 minutes of your time is a small price to pay to learn about this controversy and the larger arguments surrounding it.


You can buy Escape from Woomera here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Organ Trail: Director’s Cut


Journey across a zombie-ravaged USA.

PC Release: March 19, 2013

By Ian Coppock

Sometimes I just want to pack up my shit and disappear into the wilderness, so I train for that day whenever possible. Unfortunately, I don’t know the first thing about wilderness survival, and I’m usually too lazy to stray more than three feet from my house, so I’ve been hoping that I can use video games to prepare myself for this eventual exodus. After much searching, I think I’ve found that prep in Organ Trail, a game that combines the legendary difficulty of the old Oregon Trail game with the most extreme of survival situations: a zombie apocalypse. Having finished the game, I now feel prepared to tackle whatever terrain or challenge awaits me.


If the title and retro graphics weren’t enough of a clue, this game is a homage to Oregon Trail, a text adventure about a pioneer family venturing out west. The game is infamously difficult; you have to traverse an entire continent, and all sorts of crap can befall your intrepid settlers with a ferocity that made me rage at age five. Disease, predators, bandits, you name it, that game has it.

Organ Trail expands upon the premise of its forebear with a modern-day story set at the onset of a zombie apocalypse. Players have to assemble a crack team of survivors and set off from Washington, D.C. in an old station wagon to a safe haven in Oregon. Some of the dangers from Oregon Trail return in all their diseased glory, just like the hordes of green freaks tailing your car. The Director’s Cut edition of the game includes a few extra goodies and optimizations.


This is the toughest, deadliest anti-zombie vehicle ever.

As with Oregon Trail, you’re given some time to gather supplies and must choose a wise assortment of ammo, food, car parts, etc. Once you set off, it’s any man’s game. The road to safety is hazardous and Organ Trail‘s disposition toward your survivors is borderline psychotic.

The plot of the game largely depends upon your aptitude for survival. The screen details your car as it travels across America, with text boxes popping up to inform you of hazards, items, and your characters’ well-being. You don’t actually get to see these events happen; Organ Trail is true to its text adventure roots. The game will flash you a message and encourage your imagination to do the rest.


Goddamn you, Clements.

Organ Trail isn’t much for character development or intricate storytelling, but the game’s atmosphere is an effective blend of humor and stress; fitting, since I first played it in college. The first element that makes this game’s feel is the hazards I’ve been mentioning. Your car will journey forward in hour-long increments, after which the game will basically play roulette with a variety of possible outcomes. Sometimes, nothing will happen. Most of the time, something bad will happen.

When I say most of the time, I mean 95%. Characters will suffer dysentery and broken limbs, supplies will go bad, and zombies will attack the car. You can only remedy these problems with supplies, which you can only acquire by scavenging in the zombie-infested wilderness, or trading an arm and a leg. The game is brutal with bad luck; don’t be surprised if a character breaks her leg shortly before those two gas cans you traded your last ammo for are found to be full of water. Oh, and a zombie horde is coming.



The aforementioned foraging missions are a far cry from Oregon Trail‘s hunting simulation. Rather than stomp out into the prairie to gun down bison and bears, you have to quickly scavenge shopping carts and other supplies while eluding an increasing number of zombies. You can kill them with a headshot, but this measure is a stopgap at best. The game world’s zombie activity will vary, working a rigorous window-of-opportunity setup into the game.

Your journey is marked out by various cities and towns along the way to Oregon. Towns are safe havens but their supplies come dear. You can work jobs and fix up your car, but neither of these are cheap nor easy. Sometimes, you’ll be attacked by bandits and other human enemies. Ergo; the world is out to stone-cold murder you.



Despite limiting interactivity to your imagination and a few WASD maps, Organ Trail is quite fun. The game is cruel, but not so cruel as to dissuade you from wanting to play. Few games dealing in this kind of subject matter can hit that magic number. It needs fixing, though. For one thing, as of this writing, the iOS version is buggy. I’ve had to quit at least four journeys mid-way because the game simply froze, and would  not respond in any way save giving me the option to start over (slow clap).

Additionally, the game’s algorithm for dispersing bad luck needs some work. All six or so times I’ve played this game, the misfortunes of the group eventually congeal onto one individual, one person who breaks all the limbs, loses all the supplies, damages all of the car parts. I finally lost my patience with this party member and decided to drag him out back and shoot him. Harsh, I know, but my fortunes improved drastically after that. It’s like the game targets one person as a portal for your bad luck, and shutting it down lets you walk. A laughable, game-breaking way to elude this programming flaw.


I’m sorry it had to come to this, Cindy, but you wouldn’t stop breaking your arms and farting on the car batteries.

Organ Trail had a few poor design issues outside of programming and iOS bugs. There’s a teeth-gnashingly frustrating minigame in Organ Trail, in which one of your party members is being held at gunpoint by a bandit. You get one chance to shoot someone, and having your aim off by so much as a hair’s width spooks the bandit into killing your guy, or worse, you’re the one who shot him.

It’s a stupid and frustrating game, and yes, I’m unleashing petty vengeance upon it, but that doesn’t change it. It should be at least modified, if not removed.



Organ Trail‘s artwork is faithful to the original Oregon Trail. The game world is detailed via blocky, brightly colored pixels that give it life and originality. The game’s replication of its source material makes it a fascinating piece of art for several reasons: it hearkens back to an earlier age, yet provides a video game that can still be just as fun as modern puzzlers, proving correct my lifelong belief that graphical power has no bearing on a game that’s truly outstanding. Visual quality in a piece of artwork is dependent entirely on what the artist is trying to tell us. Organ Trail wouldn’t be Organ Trail with snazzy modern graphics, because then the connection to that infamous Oregon Trail has been damaged. This is an instance where old-fashioned graphics don’t just work; they work where modern visuals cannot.

En route to Oregon, your party is accompanied by a soundtrack of mournful synthesizers and splashy drums. These are effective at shouting out to the original but their composition evokes loneliness, despair and the hardships of the journey to come. Game composer Ben Crossbones added colorful Super Smash Bros.-style pieces for boss fights (yes, there are boss fights) and minigames. Most of the time, though, it’s just a slow, painful series of vaguely horn-like synths and “well, this is it” drums. The game has no voice acting.


Is there a Wendy’s in this town?

Organ Trail isn’t getting out of here without a recommendation, but Android and iOS gamers should beware of this game’s bugs. I recommend the Director’s Cut edition available on Steam for five bucks. As far as I can tell, it’s bug-free, though not free of that infernal mini-game. It does, however, feature more gameplay, and a bigger bag of misfortunes and blessings for the road. Obviously, you’ll have a lot more fun playing this game on a PC if you’re also trying to awaken the nostalgia of Oregon Trail.


You can buy Organ Trail: Director’s Cut here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Postal 2: Apocalypse Weekend


Continue the Dude’s errands into the weekend, and the end of the world.

PC Release: August 1, 2004

By Ian Coppock

How do you properly conclude a game like Postal 2? This gory errand simulator, fraught with extreme racism and violence, was condemned by parents and critics worldwide for its controversial content. And yet, the boys at Running with Scissors furthered their creation. Apocalypse Weekend is more than just an expansion; I think it represents the single point that Postal 2‘s creators and its critics can agree upon: the town of Paradise needs to die. It’s an interesting sendoff for the series, and when you’ve spent eight hours killing Al Qaeda, soccer moms, and men in giant scrotum costumes, what harm could there be in adding a few zombies?


Apocalypse Weekend is the story of the Dude’s Saturday and Sunday exploits. After failing to secure his wife’s Rocky Road ice cream at the end of Postal 2, the Dude wakes up in the hospital on Saturday morning with a gunshot wound to the head. His wife has left him, his dog Champ is in the pound, and he can hear screams outside his window.

The only Get Better cards he seems to have received are eviction notices. This day is not looking great.

The Dude returns in sociopathic fighting form.

The Dude returns in sociopathic fighting form.

After battling through two parts hospital and one part hallucinations of Gary Coleman clones, the Dude breaks back out into Paradise, which has become overrun by mad cow disease Tourette’s zombies.

Yup. Zombies that moo, and spout horrendous streams of swearwords.

Well, this is just dandy...

Well, this is just dandy…

The Dude picks up a scythe and begins chopping, but the horde continues to shamble forth, adding sufferers of mental disorders to Running with Scissors’ offense roster. His skill earns him a job with an in-game rendition of Running with Scissors and its real-life studio head, Vince Desi, who promotes the Dude to marketing manager and tasks him with promoting Scissors’ upcoming video game… even though the world’s ending.

Because, y’know, nothing says prep for the apocalypse like starting up a marketing campaign.

Real-life Postal 2 creator Vince Desi appears as himself in the game, becoming the Dude's new errand boss.

Real-life Postal 2 creator Vince Desi appears as himself in the game, becoming the Dude’s new errand boss.

Once again, the Dude is given a series of missions to complete, but rather than mundane chores like in Postal 2Apocalypse Weekend‘s fare comprises much more alarming tasks, like securing a nuclear warhead and exterminating a herd of cows. In stark opposition to the previous game’s open-world structure, in which players can complete chores in any order, Apocalypse Weekend is organized into a series of linear missions. It’s quite the change-up.

For those of you just joining my Postal 2 train, the original game is considered highly controversial because of its racist and violent content. You spend the first game battling stereotyped caricatures of Arab terrorists, women and racial minorities. You can very bloodily disembowel people with everything from scissors to exploding cow heads. You can smoke crack and even urinate on people until they vomit. It’s not exactly subtle.

This game is considered offensive on virtually all levels.

This game is considered offensive on virtually all levels.

All of this returns in Apocalypse Weekend, but it is toned down a bit in favor of focusing on an actual narrative. That doesn’t necessarily excuse its presence, nor Running With Scissors’ addition of animal rights groups and the gay community to its list of degraded portrayals.

As with Postal 2, your focus is almost exclusively on completing your missions in violent and outrageous style. The Dude is once again not much of a character, more like a set of eyes with some ridiculous one-liners and no shortage of foul language. The plot of Apocalypse Weekend is sabotaged by its random assortment of missions. After storming an Al Qaeda base for weapons and explosives, I was randomly dropped into a park and ordered to slaughter an entire herd of elephants. This quest had absolutely no bearing on the greater story, and you’ll find tangents like that throughout Apocalypse Weekend.

Can't I just pet it?

Can’t I just pet it?

I firmly believe that the content of Postal 2 was created simply to shock, and not because of any actual malice on the part of Running with Scissors. Apocalypse Weekend offers no dystopian commentary or societal undertones, though; it’s like an episode of South Park with all the stupidity and none of the underlying commentary. This belief is epitomized in the animal slaughtering missions, which I found to be the most pointless and tasteless of all of Postal 2‘s content. There’s no potential for social commentary in killing elephants; at least the Al Qaeda missions hint at America’s Islamophobia problem.

Any potential for the irony ruminating beneath the town of Paradise is dashed by the ludicrous presence of a zombie apocalypse. As the game reaches a fever pitch, Paradise becomes a five-way war between Al Qaeda, zombies, the National Guard, PETA, and an army of Gary Coleman clones from Hell. Perhaps it’s equally ludicrous to call Postal 2 subtle even in a commentary sense, but this expansion is even worse. It’s pure violence and hatred.



On a game design and storytelling level, there’s not much to be said for Apocalypse Weekend. Your missions feel completely disjointed from one another and the jokes don’t exactly mesh well with the serious linearity of the missions. The humor in Postal 2 was rooted in the triviality of doing everyday chores. Running with Scissors tried to apply that to a military zombie apocalypse shooter, with mixed results.

Apocalypse Weekend isn’t a terrible expansion, but it fails to conjure perhaps Postal 2‘s only redeeming quality: the social commentary underlying the town of Paradise and its deranged inhabitants. Without that commentary, it’s just a string of poop jokes and violence. The portrait of American greed and materialism present in the original game just isn’t here, and thus the expansion tries to rely on the Dude’s shallow strength as a character and some head-shaking shoot-em-ups. It didn’t work for me.

Part of the reason I found the first game interesting was the subtle commentary beneath the game. It's been stripped out in Apocalypse Weekend, leaving us with... what? Urination?

Part of the reason I found the first game interesting was the subtle commentary beneath the game. It’s been stripped out in Apocalypse Weekend, leaving us with… what? Urination?

Apocalypse Weekend receives a graphical update and some new items over the main game. The level design isn’t horrible, but it’s clear that Running with Scissors is better at open-world environments than linear ones. Oftentimes I got lost in mazelike office complexes and cordoned-off town squares, looking for an exit rather clumsily slapped into a basement or on a roof. Linearity doesn’t exactly suit Postal 2.

The atmosphere of fear and loathing present in Postal 2 is also gone in Apocalypse Weekend. I don’t need to rehash the social commentary thing, but its absence seems to have affected this game in multiple ways. The missions feel very tired, isolated and repetitive. Sure, there’s humor to be found in each one, but it’s just not the same.



Apocalypse Weekend is rolled together with Postal 2 on Steam. I gave that game a yes-and-no based on its horrendous violence and interesting commentary, but this expansion only really packs the latter. You can give it a try if you want; it takes about three hours to complete. I did it. I looked around. I probably won’t visit it ever again.


You can buy Postal 2 here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Garry’s Mod


Get creative with the riot of fun that is the Source engine.

PC Release: October 24, 2012

By Ian Coppock

A gajillion apologies for the lateness of this review. We had a good streak going for a while; how long’s it been, six weeks or so since my last late review? Too bad that it had to be broken; now I have to reset the giant “DAYS WITHOUT A LATE REVIEW” meter I keep above my bed at all times. Nuts. But, I have returned, and tonight, I feel like building a giant tower of Gordon Freemans and blowing it all to hell with explosive barrels, reveling in the glory that is ragdoll physics.

Fitting, then, that we’re reviewing a creativity toy.


Garry’s Mod was first released in 2004 by ambitious modder Garry Newman, who wanted to open the inner workings of Valve’s games to everyone. The mod was built with a tweaked version of the Source engine, Valve’s world-building software, and allows players to make maps using props and assets from such games as Half-Life 2Team Fortress 2, and Left 4 Dead.

Anyone even remotely familiar with these games should be salivating right about now. Anyone who isn’t has some homework to do. Stat. Pronto. Tonight.

Time to cut loose.

Time to cut loose.

Right off the bat, I was disappointed to see that I could only pick from two maps: a generic open field and an enclosed city park. I picked the latter. When playing games like this, you have to give yourself some kind of project so as not to get lost in the game’s openness, so I decided to build the world as I thought Isaac Kleiner, the absent-minded genius from Half-Life 2, would see it.

Because Kleiner is more likely to poke and prod something dangerous than run away from it, I built him an apartment with heating coils for sofas and specimen tanks for bathtubs, because Kleiner don’t give a shit. In Garry’s Mod, players can select props and objects from several expansive menus and plop them right into the map. Half-Life 2‘s gravity gun returns in the form of a physics cannon, which you can use to plonk down items with impressive precision. You can then freeze them in place so they won’t get knocked over by a carelessly launched bomb.


NOW it’s a party!

The mod encompasses far more than simple object manipulation. A second item, the tool gun, lets you make the objects come alive. You can cobble objects together into awesome contraptions like that cabinet airplane, and use this function to create working buttons.

I decided to build a catapult for Kleiner so that he could launch into space and be reunited with his beloved pet headcrab, which functioned perfectly thanks to the magic of physics.

This will do. This will do nicely.

This will do. This will do nicely.

Garry’s Mod is a lot of fun, but for reasons totally unrelated to Minecraft. I’ve heard it said that the two games are very similar, and I suppose that’s true in the free-roam, open-world, build-stuff sense, but in that sense only. Garry’s Mod has no manual construction mode and lets you select an unlimited number of props, and while it’s fun to build worlds with this stuff, there’s just no challenge to it. You can put in the work, but it’s nowhere near as gratifying as slaving to build a house in Minecraft. The hours spent gathering materials and putting together a home are not present in Garry’s Mod, and yes, I’m tacitly admitting that suffering builds character.

In addition, Garry’s Mod‘s menus and functions are not friendly to the unsuspecting gamer. The displays are labyrinthine, and you can only save your map using frickin’ console commands. The game basically throws you into the map and says “have fun” like an alcoholic parent dumping you off at your scary aunt’s house. Garry’s Mod isn’t scary, but there isn’t much in the way of telling you how to save, how to switch between characters, even how to use the tool guns. Everything and their mother is organized into categories that seem completely random. This game badly needs a tutorial; most of what I told you earlier on in this review I learned from an online FAQ.


Maybe I’m just challenged, but how the hell do they expect me to know where everything is?

I was happy enough blowing up piles of bodies and building a giant beer stein out of helicopters and baling twine, but a few people have carried their ambitions for Garry’s Mod quite a bit further. In addition to being a creativity toy, the game serves as a hub for several multiplayer mods created by loving fans.

I decided to give a few of these a try.


My face just sprouted pimples and Red Bull stains, and I can feel sexism hanging in the air. I think I’ve stepped into the world of multiplayer.

The first multiplayer game I tried was Prop Hunt, in which one person assumes the appearance of a prop, like a chair, and the other players have to guess which prop is you. You can hide anywhere on the map, but if the hunters see you move, you’re dead.

Of course, they could just shoot you and watch blood come out, because in no way is a bleeding chair out of the ordinary. The hunters lose life every time they shoot, leaving them with a limited number of guesses before expiration. Outlast their shooting sprees, and you’ll win.

I disguised myself as a chair. No one was the wiser!

I disguised myself as an office chair. No one was the wiser!

The second game I tried was the comically named Trouble in Terrorist Town. All players are grouped into one team, but a select few among them are traitors, who can kill you without warning.

It’s basically the multiplayer version of And Then There Were Noneyour digital Judas can stealth kill teammates, but if they don’t slip away in time, cover can get blown. Innocent players can conduct forensics on their teammates’ bodies and disable traps laid by sneaky traitors.

Take the case at your own peril.

Take the case at your own peril.

The problem with these games is that, ironically, there is no tutorial. You’re just dropped into the game and expected to survive immediately. It wasn’t long before teenage assholes hurtled NOOOOOOB my way. These games are probably a lot more fun with friends, lest you get lost in the jungle of horror that is random multiplayer. Consult an FAQ, grab some beers, and give Prop Hunt a spin, at least.

I also decided to download a few mods from the Steam workshop; there are over 200,000 additional props, mods and add-ons for Garry’s Mod, expanding the level of creativity past Valve’s own assets. I found props ranging in randomness from Star Wars to The Legend of Zelda. The game has a very dedicating modding community and new stuff comes out most every day.




As with my review of Minecraft, this edition of Art as Games seeks to elicit artistic value not from Garry’s Mod‘s storytelling, but from its open-ended creativity. The game is a great platform for spinning your own tale; send the G-Man careening into a lake, give the big guy from Team Fortress 2 some balloons. Build a statue of yourself out of tin cans and Combine soldiers, I don’t frickin’ care!

Just buy this and go wild, in the maps or online with friends. Garry’s Mod is nothing like Minecraft, but it’s a living, breathing celebration of the art Valve has brought to gamedom. Perhaps more importantly, the mod gives you a chance to contribute to that art. Garry’s Mod is only $10 on Steam, though you do have to own a Valve game, such as Half-Life 2, in order for it to function.


You can buy Garry’s Mod here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

The Stanley Parable


Navigate a weird world where no two narratives are the same.

PC Release: October 17, 2013

By Ian Coppock

I know that I rant about the evils of modern video gaming with regularity that puts a clock’s ticking to shame, but one of the most insidious foes this medium contends with is linearity. Ergo, travel from point A to point B along a strict, narrow path until the game asks you to, nay, makes you, stop. I can rant and rave about how boring this makes video games ’till I’m blue in the face, but I’ve decided to let The Stanley Parable speak for me. This game rather cheekily toys with the concept of narrative in a way that will hopefully provoke thought and discussion among game makers and fans. How free are we, really, in a video game, to do whatever we want? This game poses that question to us, and everyone will answer it differently.


The Stanley Parable is a first-person adventure game built using the Source engine, giving it that pleasant but slightly cut-and-dry look native to, say, Portal 2. Player character Stanley is an anonymous worker at a big, faceless corporation, whose only job is to press keys on his keyboard every time his monitor tells him to.

One day, the computer stops feeding him instructions, prompting Stanley to leave his office to find out why his breathtakingly exciting and fast-paced job has ground to a halt.

Stanley is very happy doing a job most people would need a lobotomy for.

Stanley is very happy doing a job most people would need a lobotomy for.

The tale of this small, silent man is narrated by a dry British writer who is implied to be the game’s creator, who points out various facets of a story as Stanley explores his office. He’ll point out features of the environment, such as the strange disappearance of all of Stanley’s coworkers, but he’ll also prompt the player to make certain choices in the narrative.

For example, at one point toward the game’s beginning I was presented with two doors. The narrator intoned that Stanley was to use the door on his left, but, feeling rebellious, I chose the door on the right. The narrator alters the tale to fit the player’s choices, not without some occasional frustration.

You can do as the narrator commands or go your own way. There is no wrong answer, though the narrator might disagree.

You can do as the narrator commands or go your own way. There is no wrong answer, though the narrator might disagree.

For my part, I found it hilarious to go against the narrator’s laid-out plan and listen to him cobble together an increasingly ridiculous and convoluted story as to why I was jumping atop vending machines, and camping out in the women’s bathroom. For my first playthrough of this game, I decided to go 50/50 on following directions and going my own way, which led to the narrator getting so confused that he decided to slap a “You Win!” card on my screen.

The game blends its narrative flexibility with other bits of humor. The narrator, who is apparently controlling the game, decided multiple times to literally drop me back at the game’s beginning and urged me to follow the story “properly”. Intriguingly, the game world began falling apart because of my rebelliousness, and he tried everything from letting me go my own way to prompting me to follow “The Stanley Parable Adventure Line”, accompanied by great music and fanfare. This made the spoken dialogue some of the funniest I’ve heard from a game in a long time.

The narrator has his idea of the story. I had mine. The Stanley Parable is the tale of our great conflict.

The narrator had his idea of the story. I had mine. The Stanley Parable is the tale of our great conflict.

Eventually, the narrator decided to engage me in a conversation about, well, narrative. Is it not still a story as long as I’m going somewhere, doing something? Does that mean what I’m doing is still a story even if there’s no clear goal or objective? Or should there be an objective that he could bend the game’s world toward fulfilling? Is the narrative more than our thoughts and expectations?

After giving the narrator an ulcer over my rebellious ways, I decided to start the game again and follow his tale to the letter, which comprises Stanley’s search for his employees and the lack of instruction from his computer. The narrator will tempt you with information that Stanley isn’t supposed to know, like a keypad code, and for the sake of the narrative could not actually know, yet you, the player, knows.

Knowing within knowing, without knowing. It's the Matrix, man.

Knowing within knowing, without knowing. It’s the Matrix, man.

Obviously, the strength and cohesion of the story depends on the choices you make. This is the primary purpose the game is meant to fulfill; starting a conversation about story and the game’s own responsibility for prompting the player or holding back for them to explore. The Stanley Parable accommodates these play styles and made me think to myself, “do video games do gamers a service by making them adhere to their rules, or a disservice?”

Your ability to keep the story on track or drive it into the ground does represent a certain freedom of choice lacking in most games. It doesn’t necessarily make these games bad, but The Stanley Parable responds to your own rules and thoughts without expecting you to adhere to any it may offer, beyond playing from a first-person perspective and interacting with doors and buttons.

This game...

This game…

The Stanley Parable has been likened to the film Inception for its apparent brain-bendyness, but the game is anything but. The entire game is a great confrontation between the narrator and the player, both of whom are fighting for the right to the game’s narrative. Ironically, you and the narrator need each other, in order to define what is sticking to a “story” and what is rebellion, even though both are stories. The game also becomes less about Stanley’s search for his coworkers and more about defining your own narrative, and in so doing threatens to get sucked into itself.

The Stanley Parable stops short of being a truly limitless exploration of freedom. The game apparently has 18 different endings and I was able to get through ten of them in about 45 minutes. This is where the game starts to feel unfinished; I’d feel like I was making some serious progress advancing through the office and suddenly be back at the beginning. Most of the endings I’ve found felt more like rebooting a crash than a satisfying conclusion. Perhaps a satisfying conclusion isn’t the point of a game that messes with your concept of narration, but it made the game very short.

This game often feels like it's ended before it truly begins.

This game often feels like it’s ended before it truly begins. Most playthroughs take only a few minutes before you’re suddenly back at the beginning.

Additionally, for all of my pretentious-sounding discussions about narrative and narration, most of the game’s endings only really begin to split in the story’s final stages. Up to that point, you can follow the story pretty much the same way and still get two or three possible endings out of one climax.

Sure, a few endings require completely different paths, but most of them have a lot of interchangeable segments, lessening the feeling that my early choices mattered that much.



The artwork in The Stanley Parable is crisp and slick, but the game’s lack of interactivity and the abundance of samey office environments made it feel a bit sterile. The game’s environments vary along with the possible story endings, though, as does the level design.

There’s a conspicuous lack of music, but this fit’s the game’s mysterious and open-ended atmosphere.

Despite some artistic nit-picking, The Stanley Parable looks and feels great.

Despite some artistic nit-picking, The Stanley Parable looks and feels great.

My gripes about the game’s art direction are rather petty in the grand scheme of things, because the game’s feel is propelled by the masterful narration of Kevan Brighting and the game’s intricate level design. The environments vary in their pacing if not always their appearance, and the narrator is with you every step of the way, pointing out what you should notice and, perhaps, what you shouldn’t. Once again, this is the essence of The Stanley Parable; noticing what you notice, and what you’re told to notice.

Despite some production shortfalls and a discomforting lack of closure or length in its multiple endings, The Stanley Parable is one of the most important games to be released in a while. It will get gamers to think about the nature of game worlds’ rules and whether they promote freedom or entrapment. I feel that this is an important conversation to have in an age where most games are linear set pieces that in no way promote creativity or deviating off the beaten path. The Stanley Parable promotes both, and for that, I recommend it.


You can buy The Stanley Parable here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Postal 2


One man’s list of chores descends into complete chaos.

PC Release: April 13, 2003

By Ian Coppock

Today, I was sworn at by two clients. The third and fourth ones insisted upon removing themselves from my project at work, and the fifth kept trying to impress me with her knowledge of search engine optimization, which held up about as well as a damp sock. I bring this up because the frustrations of the everyday are the epitome of Postal 2. That, and complete insanity. I’m not sure how else one introduces a game as controversial and peculiar as this, so in the spirit of peculiarity, AAARGGHAABALARIINOBLOSHAAA!!!!


Postal 2 is a first-person work of dystopia set in the fictional town of Paradise, Arizona. The story centers around the Postal Dude, a cynical and violence-prone man who must complete a series of chores over the course of one week. Players start the game on Monday, and are expected to complete such tasks as buying milk and cashing a check, lest the Dude return to his trailer empty-handed and suffer the wrath of his nagging wife.

The catch to this mundane-sounding premise is that the town of Paradise is insane. I mean that both in reference to the town’s deranged inhabitants and to the environment itself, which coaxes up a delicious sort of anarchy in its atmosphere. I set off to buy some milk at the convenience store, and no sooner had I tried to sneak out without paying than a security gate clanged down and Al Qaeda militants poured out of the woodwork.


I waited until after escaping the store to gape at the absurdity of what I’d just seen, and quickly discovered that the Dude’s other tasks turn out to be as ridiculous as an Al Qaeda-run convenience store in Arizona (which actually makes a lot of sense when you consider that Arizona seems to be the center of religious extremism these days). Pick up the check? Get your office stormed by angry parents demanding decent video games. Cash the check? Fine, but waiting in line will draw the wrath of evil bank robber clowns. This is the entirety of the plot. Complete 3-4 tasks each day until Friday, enduring more and more ridiculousness as the week goes on.

The reason why Postal 2 has drawn so much controversy over the years is for examples like the convenience store. In addition to ridiculous stereotyping and racism, the game is extraordinarily violent. The simplest wounds draw gushes of blood and gore, and many NPCs throughout the game are dispatched spectacularly by everything from incineration to men in giant scrotum costumes.


Well, I will be getting no sleep this night. This is hands-down the most terrifying foe I’ve ever faced.

There’s not much to be said for the Dude as a character. He has a deep, radio-worthy voice through which he projects his (justified) bitterness at the world, but he’s little more than a pair of eyes through which I experienced the town of Paradise. This decrepit little hellhole is a stark caricature of America’s vices, a land of materialism where greed and fear are the orders of the day.

Citizens and cops will often attack you for no apparent reason, and the Dude quickly makes enemies of its various factions. By Wednesday, I’d become the sworn enemy of the Parents for Decency anti-violence coalition, Al Qaeda, cannibalistic butchers, a marching band, a herd of elephants, a polygamy cult, the late Gary Coleman, and a cabal of homoerotic rednecks.

The town of Paradise is basically Satan wrapped in an American flag.

The town of Paradise is basically Satan wrapped in an American flag.

Gameplay in Postal 2 is a basic set of first-person shooting mechanics that work fairly well, though I have yet to understand why crouching and sneaking were relegated to separate buttons. The Dude has a variety of weapons at his disposal, including the usual pistol, rifle and shotgun but also throw-able scissors and exploding cow heads. Health is regained through first-aid and food. Similarly to GTA, you can draw the cops’ attention by committing crimes, but can reduce your “wanted” level by hiding behind a dumpster for 15 seconds. The gameplay feature that has received by far the most bile is the Dude’s ability to flash people, and urinate on things. There are achievements for doing both of these tasks. I’m not joking.

The developers countered the ruminations about the game’s violence by saying that you can complete the entire game peacefully, a counter I’d like to counter with the phrase “not frickin’ likely”. Even if you wait in line or walk down the street with your head down, the game will coerce and outright force you into violence. I became determined to wait in line like a good boy to get my book signed by Gary Coleman, but had to take action when the cops showed up. The game can put up “potentially violent-free” all over its packaging, but there needs to be a footnote that reads, “basically impossible”.


Reminds me of my ex-coworker from New Jersey.

If you’re still reading this, you’re probably wondering why I would bother to review such a disgusting, low-class mess of a video game. It’s not an unfair assessment to make; what do we have so far? Racist and stereotypical portrayals of Arabs and other minorities, as well as women? Over-the-top violence that allows players to brutally disembowel people in obnoxious and gory ways? Cruelty to animals, with elephant fights and using cats as gun silencers? Pointless, tasteless gameplay mechanics like the ability to pee on things and people, and smoking crack?

Perhaps a linear storyline that follows the Dude from one ridiculous sundry chore to the next, fighting off a new, random cadre of foes everywhere time he goes? The game’s title is a tasteless reference to “going postal” a term coined after a series of mass murders committed by public workers in the 1980s.



Here’s the thing about games like Postal 2. Its content deserves a lot of the controversy and criticism the game has generated over the years, but we have to consider the context in which the game is being presented to us. Shocking and deplorable as its racism and gameplay are, it’s all simply too brutal, too savage, to be taken seriously.

The people who criticize the game for being too evil are playing right into the developers’ hands. This content, much like an episode of South Park or a Marilyn Manson concert, is intended to provoke discomfort and controversy. It’s intended to spark a conversation about what is too far and what is fair. That is what Postal 2 sets out to do: to shock. This is its primary objective; nothing more, nothing less.


Was this put in to promote pyromania or to draw attention?

Beneath the ludicrous, I found Postal 2 to be a disturbing look at American society. It’s true, most people don’t actually eat entire tubs of donuts or take up book-burning to save the children, but Running with Scissors’ caricature of our media and our culture doesn’t go without some truthful undertones.

I think the racism against Arabs in this game, inaccurate and horrible as it is, reflects the simmering Islamophobia in contemporary Western society and politics, not any actual malice on the part of Running with Scissors. Of course, I can’t back that up with studio head Vince Desi’s promise to the same, but we now have to go back to the game’s over-the-top content. I can’t excuse the horrors of Postal 2 on everyone’s behalf, but I found the game to be a dystopian, anarchic and somewhat brilliant portrait of American media culture at its worst.


Vault Boy?

I could be wrong. For all I know, Running with Scissors really is a studio full of racist teenagers high on cocaine and Red Bull. But, once again, we have to consider the context in which this content is being presented to us. Shock value is what this game goes for. Its primary objective is to draw controversy, not promote hatred and violence.

I admit, though, that whether it does promote hatred and violence regardless of intent is a fair question. That question has dogged video games since the beginning of video games, and Postal 2 represents the epitome of that concern. In my short-lived career as a college resident adviser, one of my many shithead freshmen tried to argue that the beer I found in his fridge was not provably intended for drinking, but it was still beer, and he was still underage. It’s a fair counterpoint to my earlier argument.


Ha. Haha. Hahahahaha.

I think I wanted to review Postal 2 more for a discussion on shock value than the actual game. It can be entertaining at times if you have a dry, dark sense of humor, and the gameplay is workable, but if you’re not like me and prefer something besides irony for your three square meals, I’d look for games elsewhere. It is $10 on Steam for those of you who have taken a look at this review and want to explore the themes of shock value and content for yourself.

I just want to reiterate for my own peace of mind that I don’t know with certainty the intent behind Postal 2‘s design choices. Based on the game’s outrageous style, I’m inclined to sit in the shock value camp. At the least, I hope this review provoked an internal or external dialogue about media, content, and what should be deemed appropriate. Comment on this review whether you think I’m on the money about Postal 2 or huffing too much computer duster; I relish conversations about this stuff.


You can buy Postal 2 here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Reef Shot


Photograph fish and underwater ruins deep beneath the ocean.

PC Release: November 20, 2012

By Ian Coppock

I have a friend named Tory. Tory does not care for scary stuff, including the cocaine addiction facsimile that I prefer to call a love of horror games. Because I’m such a caring, positive human being who in no way gleans sadistic pleasure from irony, I dedicated my first Short Horror Week and my review of Amnesia: The Dark Descent to her. Indeed, she inadvertently gave me the idea for Short Horror Week in the first place, so I’ve decided to repay her in earnest by reviewing a video game without monsters, death and scariness. Just fish. And photography. The latter of which is her life’s work. So, Tory, here is a very non-ironic video game dedication to you. I suppose you’ve earned it, since I’ve been torturing your Facebook wall with scary pictures for what, a year and a half now?


Reef Shot is an indie game of the underwater adventure sub-genre, a category that I’ve had mixed feelings about. The underwater adventure games I’ve played have mostly been incredibly dry and boring diving simulators, with enough attention to detail to strangulate your frontal lobe. I was relieved when the creators of Shark Attack Deathmatch threw all pretense of realism out the window in favor of a tense hunt for bloodthirsty sharks in the deep blue. Reef Shot abandons the simulation aspect in favor of a plot, which is an upgrade no matter what, even if the plot is flimsy as hell.

Anyway, Reef Shot follows two characters dispatched from some unnamed university to research marine life around the cheesily named Robinson Crusoe Island, ostensibly named as such to get me excited but in fact soliciting only an eyeroll. Really reaching for the stars of originality there, Nano Games. Might as well go all the way and just name it Treasure Island. Okay, just kidding. I did a Google search and apparently, Robinson Crusoe Island is a real place. I’m not sure if that’s better or worse.


I guess there are some hardcore Daniel Defoe fans among South America’s politicians.

Player character Scott is dropped into the ocean to catalog fish and other wildlife. He receives radio orders from Renee, a marine researcher and one of the most annoying sidekick characters I’ve ever encountered in gaming. You can hardly swim up to a school of stingrays without this airhead filling your ears with flighty fantasies about the ocean, and how happy she is that she can track your every. Damn. Movement. On her nifty tracker thingy. Joy to the world, Renee. I’m only glad that Reef Shot‘s own promotional blurb agreed that you’re annoying.

While taking pictures of some sea turtles, Scott comes upon a submerged cave filled with ancient Mayan ruins. This sets Renee off like there’s no tomorrow, and before long, the pair of them are dashing around the island’s shoals looking for El Dorado.

Your camera has a transmitter that emails photos to Renee. No option to turn that off, unfortunately.

Your camera has a transmitter that alerts Renee to your presence. No option to turn that off, unfortunately.

From there, the plot is a linear series of deep-sea dives around Treasure Crusoe Dorado Island. Renee inexplicably knows where to find the ruins you’re to photograph, but can’t be bothered to dump you somewhere closer than 500 feet away from the target. Scott is a silent character; the only language he speaks in is pictures.

The story in this game attempts to be be compelling, but this noble mission is marred by several juvenile errors. The written segments and mission objectives before each dive are shot up with spelling errors, as are the subtitles. Even the most basic grammar editing could have fixed this problem, but it made the missions’ warm-ups feel lazy and uninspired. A few segments were missing entire words and clauses.

Say again, Agent Nonsensical??

Please repeat the transmission, Agent Nonsensical.

Renee provides the most speaking in the game by far, and this writing is shocked’n’clocked by the double-punch of bad writing and stilted voice acting. Her dialogue is usually awkward; she says things that people in no way will say in real life, and the cheesy voice job doesn’t help. She came off to me as a preschool teacher hopped up on a substance I can only dream of.

Secondly, the premise of Reef Shot isn’t exactly original. The search for El Dorado is one of the most well-trod and beaten-into-dust plots in all of storytelling, yet here it is, in its recycled glory, for us to pursue. Nano Games tried to brush it up a bit with a new premise as to the city’s origins and location, but it’s equally ridiculous: the Mayans somehow loading up their entire city onto a fleet of giant boats. This next gripe is a bit petty, I’ll admit, but why the hell would the Mayans set sail for the Chilean coast, when their civilization was half a hemisphere away, in Guatemala?

No, it is NOT “all Mexico”.

I must find a better story. Please, clownfish, assist me.

I must find a better story. Please, clown fish, assist me.

Honestly, I think Reef Shot would have been better if the story was just a sequence of fish sightseeing. That’s how the game starts out, and it’s quite relaxing, but this gets steamrolled by Renee’s mad hunt for El Dorado.

Perhaps she’s actually the game’s antagonist. You’ll get to take a break from searching for ruins to sneak off and take pictures of fish, but these interludes are few and far between.

I'd rather just chill with the fish, honestly.

I’d rather just chill with the fish, honestly.

The gameplay in Reef Shot is not without good, nor headaches. Scott can move through water just fine, and Nano Games actually included a button for simply rising up, instead of awkwardly moving forward while at a 75-degree incline (the usual method of moving upward in a diving game). Picture-taking is as easy as left-clicking, and you can also “sprint” short distances. This set of mechanics is hardly refined or advanced, but it gets the job done.

Then, just as with the story, Reef Shot begins sabotaging what was a pretty okay beginning. You receive points for your pictures depending on how good they are, and have the option of spending those points on just about anything. You need to spend them to get more air for your diving tanks, since Scott can apparently photosynthesize, but what grated my gears were the other options; you can pay Reef Shot with your pic points to tell you exactly where to go and what exactly to point your camera at.

Wait, what?

Wait, what?

Oh, I see. I can cheat without cheating? Circumvent the game’s challenges by completing the game’s challenges? I can take the reward I get for completing objectives and use it to just buy my way to the end? I’m not joking. You have the option of spending your earnings to buy off the obstacles of exploration and resource gathering and cruise nice and easy to the finish, microtransaction style. You’d think this game was made by EA or something.

What really pissed me off about Reef Shot was the camera. I was presented with a camera that worked fine; point at something, click once, bam. Instant memories. About halfway through the game I was presented with a supposedly more advanced camera that turns taking a good picture into a mini-game. The camera’s focus oscillates like an out-of-control pinball machine and you have to click at just the right moment to get a good picture. I didn’t know you could combine underwater cameras with goddamn Russian Roulette! But not to worry, you can pay the game your picture points to have your original, better camera back.



Perhaps Reef Shot‘s best and brightest redeeming quality is its artwork, level design and general atmosphere. Despite being a linear succession of diving missions, Reef Shot‘s actual environments are wide and labyrinthine. There’s a lot for the intrepid explorer to find, especially if you’re not up for paying the game to tell you where to go. A few missions are A-to-B trench swims, but most encompass large caves, reefs, and open ocean. These environments fascinated me as a small child.

Reef Shot‘s visuals aren’t terribly shabby. For an indie game, they could be a lot worse. The lighting and shadowing is within reason, but some of the environments are awkward. I scoffed at a mission in which I had to go into a cave to find some ruins, but the designers had just awkwardly slapped murals and statues onto random, crooked spots all over the rock walls. Most areas involving the ruins looked to be a bit of a lazy job, ironic considering the lazy story about said ruins.

For its terrible narrative and questionable gameplay, at least Reef Shot's environments are nice.

For its terrible narrative and questionable gameplay, at least Reef Shot’s environments are nice.

Despite its flaws, Reef Shot is not unplayable. In fact, it’s quite relaxing once you get past all the bullshit. The game combines its level design with a soothing, meandering soundtrack to produce a lovely atmosphere.

The wide beauty of the ocean lies before you. I focused on the fish and scenery rather than the ancient ruins and felt better for it. Of course, having to manually focus on something in order to appreciate it isn’t a mark in favor of Reef Shot, but there are still things to enjoy about it if you look hard enough.



As I write this, I wonder to myself why this game is still on my hard drive. Reef Shot isn’t a god-awful game, but it’s certainly not great, it’s just kind of there. A half-assed story combining one of the oldest tropes in the book with terrible voice acting and a nonsensical plot does not a great tale make. The gameplay is flawed, to say the least, with in-game microtransactions that anyone even half-decent with the game’s camera could use to buy their way to the finish line.

The game then compensates for its own features by artificially inflating the challenge; rather than do something more intuitive, like make the ruins hard to find, it sabotages its own mechanics with the bizarre camera. It’s a mess. Occasionally tranquil and relaxing, but so is a nice bath or an evening at home, neither of which you have to pay ten bucks for. I’m sorry, Tory. Maybe I’ll find a more fitting game for you in the near future. Because peaceful won’t cut it for Reef Shot. That said, I did only promise a peaceful game, not an amazing one.


You can buy Reef Shot here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Penumbra: Requiem


Escape an ancient evil for a chance at freedom.

PC Release: August 27, 2008

By Ian Coppock

Human beings have an inescapable fascination with the number three. It dominates cultures worldwide, often revered as a symbol of luck. We feel that it is an innately “good” number; “on the count of three”, “third time’s the charm”, etc. This is prevalent in media as well, where a lot of games and movies are organized into trilogies for no rational reason, yet our sense of overarching narratives has come to fit an age-old pattern of: establishing the universe (1), the thick of the conflict (2) and resolution (3).

I said at the beginning of my last Penumbra review that the splitting of a story into episodes is effective if each installment has its own feel and conflicts while maintaining the themes of an overarching narrative. However, when said themes are thrown out the window, episodes stop being effective. Unfortunately, this is the case with Penumbra: Requiem, a game that by circumstance should have been a satisfying conclusion, but in forsaking the flow of the narrative established by the first two Penumbra games, is lost to us. Allow me to elaborate.


Before I get started, it’s important to know that Penumbra was originally meant to be split into three games, but was instead made into two due to unknown conflicts with Frictional Games’s publisher, Paradox Interactive. Requiem was released as an expansion to Black Plague, which served as Penumbra‘s surrogate ending, but it continues the story of Philip, a man who, at the beginning of Penumbra: Overture, follows a trail left by his supposedly dead father into northern Greenland. Philip braves a mine full of mutated animals in Overture, then a laboratory full of human enemies in Black Plague, all in search of his father, Howard.

Now, Philip has to escape. An ancient evil has been awakened by the scientists who operated this underground facility, and it’s up to the player to flee through the lab, through the mine, back up to the surface, to warn all of mankind before it is too late.


Time to get out of here.

This premise gave me chills. An epic flight the way I came, to bring the events of Overture and Black Plague full circle? I was set to go, revving for yet another race against time through horrors too terrifying to comprehend. But, I was disappointed. Requiem is not a horror game.

Yes, you read that correctly. The final installment in one of the scariest series I’ve ever played lacks monsters. Requiem is not a horrorfest like its two predecessors; it is a long series of abstract physics puzzles. Philip is cast into a strange nether-region comprising all the environments he has braved up to this point in the narrative, but rather than elude monsters, as I’ve been doing, it’s all just puzzles. If Penumbra were strictly a puzzle series, that would be fine, but, puzzles are only half of a Penumbra game. What we have here is, well, half a Penumbra game.

A game stops being scary when the most you have to worry about is a stubbed toe. Or maybe an occasional fall.

A game stops being scary when the most you have to worry about is a stubbed toe. Or maybe an occasional fall.

Yes, Requiem was a bitter disappointment. The plot is pretty bare-bones; as Philip, you’re simply to solve each sequence of puzzles in order to escape this strange other-world and get back to the surface. As a silent character, Philip has no character development, but luckily for the sake of my liking this game, a few characters return to help guide Philip home, including Red, the insane miner from Penumbra: Overture.

Just as before, Red combines witticisms about humanity with the depravity that comes from spending thirty years trapped underground. Having witnessed the resolution of his character arc in Overture, I was curious to see what new yarns and riddles this old fart was to throw my way. Once again, Red assists you via radio, but it’s not clear whether he’s actually in the puzzles with you or if this is all a figment of Philip’s imagination. I threw my hands up when the female announcer from Black Plague began addressing me, the player, directly, and began to get the notion that Requiem had stopped giving a damn.

Red is one of those characters frustratingly good at remaining ethereal. He is neither friend or foe, yet he is essential to your escape to the surface.

Red is one of those characters frustratingly good at remaining ethereal. He is neither friend or foe, yet he is essential to your escape to the surface.

It wasn’t long before Requiem started to make me feel ripped off. I navigated the first few puzzle chambers with the greatest of trepidation, ready for giant spiders and dudes with no eyes to shamble around the corner, but nothing ever happened. The gameplay is heavily focused on keeping you alive, which I found ironic considering the lack of danger.

Philip has access to ample supplies and is essentially invincible. His flashlight never runs out of batteries, but most of the puzzles are brightly lit anyway, throwing another conundrum into this very, um… interesting game. The puzzles deal almost exclusively with physics; weighing buttons down, using momentum, timing your actions perfectly, etc.

Requiem's environments retain the creepy atmosphere endemic to the first two Penumbra games, but you're here to solve puzzles.

Requiem’s environments retain the creepy atmosphere endemic to the first two Penumbra games, but you’re here to solve puzzles.

Though the lack of horror was a crushing disappointment, at least the puzzles are fun. They lack the headaches I suffered from the more random brain teasers in Black Plague, and are very in-depth compared to the conundrums of the first two games. As Philip, you’ll often be expected to solve numerous smaller puzzles producing a greater whole of a solution.The first few puzzles are pretty simplistic; find item, rub it on other item to produce success, walk out the door. Later puzzles use more unorthodox elements, like rolling giant spheres down obsidian marble tracks, or braving the elements to find a radar dish. Each puzzle felt one-of-a-kind, at least.

Each puzzle has a single, unifying element, though. They all end with a powered down alien portal, and you have to find enough keys to open it. This is where the solving of smaller puzzles really comes into play. Successfully navigate a series of challenges to get the keys, and you’ll be able to advance to the next area. The puzzles in Requiem are competently constructed, but this didn’t take away from my disappointment at the near-complete change of pace from Overture and Black Plague.

Playing a horror game without horror leaves you in the awkward position of demanding trauma. No wonder my friends say I have issues.

Playing a horror game without horror leaves you in the awkward position of demanding trauma. No wonder my friends say I have issues. I blame you, Requiem.

It is astounding that Requiem preserves the atmosphere of the first two games despite the absence of scary creatures. The environments are still unsettling, marked with signs of conflict, and mix and match various elements of the first two games’ level design to produce a fresh-feeling environment. The level design is spot-on, but I found myself looking at all the talent that had gone into making this game and saying to myself, “oh yeah, a scare would’ve gone here, a chase there… (longing sigh)”.

The other major problem I had with Requiem is that the plot of the first two games is largely thrown out the window. Sure, Philip has to go back the way he came, but the climaxes of Black Plague aren’t even mentioned. You’re reduced to a little ant simply fighting for your life, instead of the grand premise I wrote up top, borrowed from what this game could have delivered. This reduced the grander implications of everything I’d been fighting against in Overture and Black Plague little more than a memory, which ended up not working for Requiem because I noticed, and missed, their absence. It wasn’t until after the game had been released that Frictional qualified the game by saying that the main purpose of Requiem was to show off the studio’s snazzy new physics engine. Well… good job, I guess.



Needless to say, I was not happy when I finished Penumbra: Requiem. I briefly contemplated channeling my inner psychosis to somehow magically fill the game with monsters, or the people at Frictional with an awkward skin disease, but people say that it’s important to keep in mind that Requiem was launched only as an expansion. I’ve heard that defense a few times on the forums and while I agree with the theory of sparing an expansion pack some slack, it’s still a sequel.

I had this same problem with that Alan Wake’s American Nightmare game I reviewed a few months ago. Remedy quietly released the game and used the “oh, it’s just a standalone expansion!” excuse when people saw it for the half-assed sequel that it was. And it was a sequel. You can use “standalone expansion” all you want, but if a piece of media contains events that transpire after another piece of media, it’s a continuation, and therefore a sequel, no matter what you label it.



Requiem is bundled together with your copy of Black Plague, so if you’re a good boy or girl and followed through on that sterling recommendation I gave Black Plague, then you already have it. Like I said, to be fair, the puzzles are fun and the atmosphere remains creepy, but the bare-bones story and lack of monsters will be a huge blow to the series for any horror fan. Play Requiem if you’re bored one afternoon and want to train your brain on some eerie physics puzzles, but don’t expect much else from this game.


You can buy Penumbra: Black Plague here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.