Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Dislodging the ice-pick

Hello again. This time I’d like to have a more in-depth look at the relatively unknown Ice-Pick Lodge studios.

Ok, so first things first, who are Ice-Pick Lodge?
Well, they are a studio-based games development team from Moscow. The team first formed in 2002 and became a quite well-known name in Russia after the release of Pathologic, their first ever full game.
This release gained both critical acclaim and some notoriety. Pathologic won several major gaming awards in Russia, and earned the company a reputation for a certain degree of quirkiness, something that was to be continued in their later games. As if to underline this eccentricity Pathologic went on to win the "Most Non-Standard Game" award at the 2005 Russian Game Developers Conference, a feet they would later echo in 2007 with ‘The Void.’

To date they have released three games, Pathologic, The Void, and Cargo, each of which retained their unique take on the first and third person genres.

• Pathologic is a first-person perspective action/adventure game for MS Windows.
It was first released (in Russian) on the 9th of June, 2005 and later in the UK on the 18th of August, 2006. It is now available through the OnLive service.
The game is centred on a small town located in ancient Steppe plains. The town has fallen foul of a strange, and lethal, epidemic. You play the parts of three different people, all of which contribute to the same story. The game-play is made up of daily quests; plus additional side quests, which earn extra money/points; but pathologic is really all about the story, which isn’t linier with different branches being affected by your performance on the main tasks.
Although the graphics are outdated by today’s standards I still think the concept and atmosphere more than hold their own against much later releases. Be warned though, this isn’t your standard run-and-gun game. The game-play may seem slow or even stilted to many western gamers user to the standard FPS fair, and the original translation of the game to English leaves something to be desired. Having said that, I personally think it is still very playable, and the translation is nowhere near as bad as some, much bigger budget, Japanese games.

• The Void was first released on the 17th of April, 2008, and was Ice-Pick’s second game.
The UK release came on the 23rd of October, 2009 with a later re-released through Steam on the 16th of December on the same year.
This is another first-person perspective game, but remember this also won the "Most Original/Non-Standard Game" award at the Russian Game Developers Conference. So in case one was needed, his serves as a reminder that it is not just another FPS run-and-gun game. This time the game-play is firmly based in the ‘Adventure’ genre and anyone buying it as an FPS game will be sorely disappointed.
The plot of The Void is convoluted to say the least, and the player is intentionally given very little in the way of explanation or instruction. You play a lost soul in the purgatory-like Void, a place between the living world and the dead, where colour is a rare and prised commodity. The Void is populated by the grotesque ‘brothers’ and the beautiful ‘sisters’ but their purpose, nature and affinity are left for the player to discover.
I’d say this has a much improved game mechanic and engine over pathologic, but the game-play can become overly complicated at times (until mastered) and a bit repetitive in parts, although not overly so. The game does have a fairly hefty learning-curve, which may put some players off, and it may be more suited to the more adventure-games orientated gamer who ether doesn’t mind or likes managing resources.

• The third game to be released by Ice-Pick is the often misunderstood Cargo! – The Quest for Gravity.
This was first releases for the MS Windows PC on April the 21st, 2011, and is now also available through the OnLive service.
This game is cunningly disguised as a third-person platformer. So much so in fact that many players were fooled into attempting to play it as such.
The plot of the game; although ‘plot’ seems too strong a term, think more suggestion; is to restore gravity to the earth.
And that is about all the player is told.
The game is in fact all about exploration and construction. There are in-game tasks but the main focus is really on the sandbox nature of the Cargo world.
You can attempt and play this game as a platform game, to ‘win’, but to get the best out of it you really only have to just wander around and see what you can discover, play with, and build.
Cargo reminds me of a more modern implementation of the ‘LSD: Dream Emulator’ on the original Playstation, but from the third-player perspective and with slightly more game-play elements added.

None of the Ice-Pick Lodge games may be suited to everyone, and aren’t really aimed at the ardent run-and-gun gamer. But there are some good stories and ideas to be found in these, if you like games that make you think and are prepared to persevere.
You may also have to leave your preconceptions at the door, as these games generally tend to initially look like a certain type of game, and then play like something else entirely.

In conclusion I’d say ‘Good but not for everyone,’ then again how much games are?

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