Game Review: Taxi Chaos

I often miss the arcades of the eighties and nineties. The arcade is a dying breed these days and finding a truly great one is like looking for the Holy Grail. Thankfully, there are devs out there that like to try and keep the arcades alive, developed by Team6 Game Studios and published by Lion Castle comes Taxi Chaos.

Get behind the wheel and get ready for a brand-new taxi experience! Drive around the city as the seasoned cab driver Vinny or the self-proclaimed ‘influencer’ Cleo, and pick up the craziest of customers!

Power through midtown in a strong muscle car, race past all parks in an exotic supercar or drift around the business area in a Japanese tuner taxi. Whicher you choose – your challenge is to deliver your passengers on time! At least, if you want to make any money.

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Do I even need to point out what we are dealing with here? If you were in an arcade circa 1999, then you’d have been made fully aware of Sega’s madcap and immensely fun taxi game, Crazy Taxi. An awesome arcade classic that spawned a pretty successful franchise, a franchise that Sega have all but ignored for years now. Aside from the main titles in the series, Sega has done very little with Crazy Taxi, save a handful of really shit, free to play, mobile, tappy-tap games recently. Still, what Sega won’t do, indie devs will.

So yeah, what we have here with Taxi Chaos is basically Crazy Taxi’s spiritual successor. You get to choose from two characters, Vinny or Cleo. This really is nothing but a cosmetic choice as both characters play the same. The only difference (outside of the visuals) is that the two characters have slightly different dialogue. Oh yeah, when you pick up a passenger, they exchange a few words and often have funny bits of chit-chat between them.

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Where the game does offer some variety is with the selectable cars. There are seven to choose from, though all but one will be locked at the start of the game. You unlock the other cars by completing specific tasks such as driving so many in-game miles, getting high star ratings, completing missions, etc. Each of the cars have their own stats and this really does vary how well you can and will do in the main game. Speaking of which…

In terms of the core gameplay, Taxi Chaos is just Crazy Taxi. You have an open-world city to drive around, pick up a passenger and take them to their destination before time runs out and that’s it really. Longer trips reap bigger rewards. There is no endgame here, just a high score to go for, which can be added to the online leaderboards. You just keep going until time runs out and games never last longer than a couple of minutes or so. It’s fast and frantic arcade action… just like the Sega arcade game it is inspired by and if you did enjoy Crazy Taxi back in the day, then you’ll probably enjoy this… probably.

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However… Taxi Chaos is just ‘lacking’, for want of a better word. What may have worked well in 1999 doesn’t really fly in today’s gaming market. I think the best way to look at this is not to compare Taxi Chaos to the arcade original, but instead compare it to the homeport of the arcade version from the Dreamcast. See, the arcade version was just that, an arcade game and those things were designed to swallow your coins. They were simple and tailor-made for quick bursts of short play. The homeport added several new features to give the buyer more game for their money and added longevity. You had the original game faithfully created but the Dreamcast port also came with a load of bonus content.

You got the Arcade mode, Original mode with a new map and the addition of the Crazy Box, which had loads of mini-games to enjoy. Do a ski jump, a bit of bowling, drifting challenges, stunt/jump courses and more. The Dreamcast version of Crazy Taxi was the arcade version and loads of extra content. With Taxi Chaos, you get one city to drive in… and that’s it. No bonuses, no mini-games, no extras. Even more so, the city in Crazy Taxi was based on San Francisco, so it had the big hills and jumps and a lot of scenery variety. The city in Taxi Chaos is based on New York and is very flat and everything looks very samey with big grey buildings everywhere. There is a version of Central Park here and a dock area with some slight variety buy that is about as interesting as the map ever gets.

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You do get three different play modes with Taxi Chaos. You get a standard Arcade mode, which is exactly what you expect it to be. There’s a Pro mode, this is the same as Arcade but it removes the arrow pointing which way you need to go. This mode makes things a lot more difficult if you feel like a challenge. Then there is Free Roam mode, which just lets you pick up passengers and drive around the city with no timer. Really useful to learn your way around if you feel like doing a Pro run. But as the city is so samey and lacks the variety that the Crazy Taxi map had, finding your way around is too damn much of a chore. I mean here are two screengrabs I took of the game at different areas of the city.

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Now, those two screens are from opposite ends of the map. As you can see, pretty much everything looks the same as 90% of the city is grey buildings and straight, flat roads. So if you are playing on Pro mode with no navigation, it’s too damn hard to work out where you are or where you’re supposed to be going. There are no major landmarks to use as navigation and it really just becomes a guessing game as to which way you need to go. I like a decent difficulty challenge in a game but this is just unfair. The Crazy Taxi map had so much more going on in it, open park areas, a freeway, downtown, rural areas, a shopping mall and so much more.  The map here is just so damn plain. Plus, the controls here feel a bit ‘off’. It’s hard to get across in words unless you actually play Taxi Chaos for yourself. You can’t really throw the cars around and do the drifting that was in Crazy Taxi. The different cars here all do have different stats, yet none of them feel as ‘loose’ as the vehicles in Sega’s arcade game.

Plus, when I play Crazy Taxi (and I still do), I can get some good runs going. I can have games last twenty to thirty-plus minutes. With Taxi Chaos, I can’t make a game last longer than two to three minutes or so. The time bonuses seem to be way off and don’t reward you with enough extra seconds between passengers. I noticed there are two timers here. One is your main timer and the other is a customer timer. Crazy Taxi has this too but the time given and the bonuses earned allowed you to extend your game time by quite a bit, something you just can’t do here. In Crazy Taxi when you pick up a fare, you can get twenty plus seconds added to your time (depending on the distance) and five seconds for a successful drop-off. Here you get a lot less. Coupled with the bland map which is mostly straight streets, this is why you can’t make games last longer than two to three minutes, because the main timer and bonuses given are flawed.

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There are also supposed to be special characters to pick up. Both your customers and the hints during the loading screen mention them. These characters are meant to open up special side missions where you need to find and collect hidden objects around the map. I played Taxi Chaos for around four hours and never once came across any of these special characters. Another flaw was that the navigation arrow was very erratic and would often change direction, even when my destination was directly in front of me. Plus the camera is too close to the car and you can’t change it.

TAXI CHAOS XBOX PRICE

I’ve been playing the Xbox version of Taxi Chaos, which comes in at a whopping £26! Bearing in mind that you can get the 360 version of Crazy Taxi  (with a lot more content than just one map) for less than £7… and it is backwards compatible too. I seriously think that this game needs a massive price drop for me to recommend it on Xbox. I mean, it is a slightly more reasonable £16 for the PlayStation version and £20 on Steam (both of these versions have recently been on sale too, bringing the price down a bit more). I don’t get the wildly different prices here. Taxi Chaos is fun… but it’s not £26 worth of fun. Even harder to swallow, it’s £31.50 on Switch! Seriously, what is going on with these prices, how can the exact same game be £16 on the PlayStation but double that on Switch?

TAXI CHAOS SWITCH PRICE

It also falls well short of the fun that Crazy Taxi offered. Taxi Chaos certainly looks like Crazy Taxi, but it doesn’t have its sense of urgency, speed and well… craziness. The slightly more reasonable £16 for the PlayStation version makes a bit more sense for what you get here. Though I’d still suggest waiting for a sale to bring it down to £10-£12… or just get a copy of Crazy Taxi even cheaper instead.

Look, I did like Taxi Chaos, I wanted to love it but ‘like’ is the best I could muster. It’s just a very, very okay game. I’d seriously suggest avoiding the Xbox and Switch versions at those insane price points as the content and value for money is just not here. It lacks the fun factor that Crazy Taxi had, it lacks the content of the home port which made the game so damn enjoyable. Taxi Chaos is a valiant effort in reviving a classic game. It got the looks right but it is just missing so much of what made that classic game so classic, to begin with. I’m sorry Team6 Game Studios but you either need to add a lot more game modes and content here, refine the gameplay and work out some of the issues, or drastically drop the price to £10-£12 across all formats for this to sell.

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There is still a gap in the market for a really great Crazy Taxi homage, one that will need some work for today’s market. How about a multiplayer mode where you and your friends can compete on the same map for fares? A career option where you start out with a rundown cab and build up your cash to buy upgrades? Multiple cities? Customisation for the cabs? An editor so users can create and upload their own crazy challenges? That would be worth paying £26 (or maybe £31.50) for then. But Taxi Chaos as it is? Nope, save you cash and buy a copy of Crazy Taxi instead.

Game Review: KeyWe

Well, I spent a lot of time last year delving into the world of indie gaming. Something I plan on continuing in 2022. So what better way to start the New Year than with an indie game released last summer? Yup, I’m a little late on this one. Developed by Stonewheat & Sons and published by Sold Out comes KeyWe.

KeyWe is a cute, co-operative postal puzzler starring Jeff and Debra, two small kiwi birds working in a whimsical post office. With no hands to help them, they must jump, flap, peck and butt-slam their way across an interactive landscape of levers, bells and buttons to get those messages delivered on time.

Encounter perilous postal environments and navigate seasonal hazards while waddling through the Telepost’s various mail rooms, and partner up with a pal to help these adorable kiwis complete their tasks, whatever the weather. Unlock new accessories to customise your kiwi and become the best-dressed mail bird in Bungalow Basin.

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As I said, this was released last summer, August in fact. So I am several months behind with this. The synopsis up there pretty much covered what KeyWe is all about. You (or you and a friend) play as a couple of kikis (Jeff and Debra) and run a postal service. The game is made up of several mini/party games, covering a variety of tasks including typing out messages, putting labels on parcels and other mailroom shenanigans.

In each of the mini-games, you go up against the clock, with faster times earning you stamps. Those stamps can then be spent on numerous cosmetics for your kiwis. You can dress the little fellas up in new clothes, hats, glasses and the like. As I say, these are cosmetics and don’t offer any gameplay perks, it’s all just a bit of fun and nonsense. The controls feel a bit fiddly at first but you’ll soon get to grips with them.

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KeyWe is really built around co-op play, which you can do both online with friends or even some good old classic couch co-op. But there is a solo mode where a quick tap of a button will let you switch between your two kikis with ease… though this really is best in co-op. For me, KeyWe really isn’t my type of game at all, I have never been a fan of party games at the best of times. Here, you really don’t get that many mini-games to play either. Some games are just slight variations on others too. I mean, there are only really four main types of games but multiple versions of those four types. Plus, there is really only a couple of hours or so of gameplay here before you’ve made your way through all the mini-games. There’s also an ‘overtime’ mode that offers a few more interesting mini-games. In fact, I found the overtime mode better than the main one.

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£20 is how much KeyWe will set you back which for me is a bit steep for what you get. But as I freely admit, this just is not my type of game. If you are into your party games, you’ll most probably get a lot more out of this than I did. A game that really can be a lot of fun with a friend and one that will definitely test just how strong that friendship is, what with all the bickering you’ll be doing between each other to get the job done.

Game Review: Mission 1985

My last game review of the year. To be honest, I actually forgot all about this. I was sent a review code back in October and put it on my to-do list. Then I got sent more and more games to review and well, as I said, I just plain forgot about this. Anyway, what we have here is a throwback to eighties run ‘n gun games like Capcom’s Commando or SNK’s Ikari Warriors. Developed and published by Consulog Games comes Mission 1985.

Alone or with another player, you must defeat the dreaded General Hector and free the soldiers held hostage.

Go through the 11 varied levels and face many enemies, tanks, helicopters, planes… Improve your firepower; use your grenades to defeat the different bosses at the end of the level.

Right from the off, Mission 1985 is pure arcade action and it really did take me back to 1985… only I didn’t have to keep throwing coins into an arcade machine to keep playing. There’s nothing complex here and that’s a good thing. Top-down shooty action and if you ever played Capcom’s Commando, then you’ll know exactly what to expect here. That’ll also tell you if you’ll enjoy this game or not. 

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Graphically, Mission 1985 has a retro style but not pixel-art. It’s more like a painted art aesthetic and in HD too. The graphics are nicely detailed with plenty to keep your eyes busy. Trees sway in the wind, blood spurts from downed enemies and more. Depending on the weapon you use, the enemies bodies react differently. Hit them with a grenade and their body parts separate, burn them with a flamethrower and they turn to ashen skeletons. Really, Mission 1985 is pretty damn graphic when to comes to its violence.

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What you get is nine levels of classic top-down shooting action where you make your way through hordes of bad guys and take out a big end of level boss. Then there are two levels that are a cross between Operation Wolf and Space Harrier. A kind of 3D scaling/first-person shooter thing. These levels do help to bring a bit of variety to the game and keep the action feeling fresh. There’s a good selection of weapons too, classics from the arcade gaming era. Flamethrowers, three-way shot, grenades, etc. Honestly, aside from the updated looks Mission 1985 really does feel and play like an old school coin-op.

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Another old school thing Mission 1985 brings with it is the punishingly hard difficulty. This game is hard as nails and for me, that just added to its appeal. There are a few options in the game, you can adjust the number of lives you start with and earn more lives by saving hostages. There’s also a two-player option if you want some co-op fun… and much needed help too. Overall, Mission 1985 is a very fun game. As difficult as Chinese algebra but damn good fun. Still, there is the big question to ask, is it worth the cost? For that, I need to see how much the game is being sold for.

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£4 is what Mission 1985 will set you back on Steam (this is Steam only). People spend that much on a cup of coffee these days. For £4, you can get a damn good, old school, arcade shooter instead and it’ll last longer than a frappamoccaduperccino… or whatever crap people buy from coffee shops these days. If I had one niggle, it was the music. Now, I did like the music, very 1980s arcade. But I personally thought it was a bit too loud and it overbears the sound effects. There are no sound options other than to turn all audio on or off. If the dev could put a slider in so you can adjust the volume of the music and effects, it would really help balance the sound to your taste.

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But yeah, this is a recommendation from me and a nice little surprise to end my reviews of 2021 on too. Mission 1985 is a loving throwback to arcade shooters. It plays very well and offers a tough but fair challenge. Two-players is always a great addition and the game also has joystick/pad support, as well as fully customisable controls. Look, this is only £4. It’s not going to send you going to the bank manager for a loan, is it? Treat yourself to a little pre-Christmas present and buy a copy of Mission 1985.

Game Review: Happy’s Humble Burger Farm

If you were going to design a horror game full of twisted visuals and jump scares, where would you set it? An abandoned cabin in the woods? A zombie-filled mansion? Perhaps a classic haunted house with ghosts? How about a family-themed burger restaurant? Developer Scythe Dev Team and publisher tiny Build brings you Happy’s Humble Burger Farm.

Congrats, you’re hired! Serve customers and maintain the Happy’s Humble Burger Farm restaurant alone on the overnight. But be careful; things fall apart if you mess up! After work, head home and keep your eyes open for a way to escape the Barnyard Buds and their fast food fever-dream.

Happy’s Humble Burger Farm feels a bit Groundhog Day, in that you wake up, go to work, finish your shift, sleep, wake up, go to work… and so on. That’s not to say that you do repeat the same day over and over, because you don’t. It’s just that everything feels the same and you don’t seem to be getting anywhere… for a while.

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So the plot is basically that you are playing as a cook in a burger place, Happy’s Humble Burger Farm, where you work the night shift. Clock in, open the restaurant and wait for customers to come in. Their food order pops up on a screen and you have so much time to fill that order. The first day starts out nice and easy with people just ordering burgers, which you are taught how to make in a simple to follow tutorial. Grab a burger patty from the freezer, which come in beef, pork and chicken varieties. Throw it (literally) on the grill. Grab a bun and (literally) throw basic ingredients on it, lettuce, cheese, pickle, etc. When the burger patty is cooked, throw it (literally) on the bun. Top it off, throw it (literally) into a bag and then (literally) throw the bag at the customer to serve them. There’s a lot of (literal) throwing here.

Simple enough stuff. The first day at Happy’s Humble Burger Farm really is easy. You might come across a change or two to an order that you need to keep an eye on. Perhaps a customer doesn’t want cheese, maybe they don’t like pickles. You just need to read the order and make the burger exactly how the customer asks, because if you don’t, you get an infraction. Three infractions and… well things will go very badly for you… and I don’t mean the manager will be slightly annoyed. But I’m not going to be spoiling that here.

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But yeah, this is how your in-game working day goes. Each new day offers up a new challenge. On top of just cooking and serving burgers, milkshakes are added to the mix, sodas, fries, nuggets and more. You have to try to manage your daily cooking routine as ever-increasing more complex orders come in. The orders get harder and specific requests makes things trickier. Don’t forget the three infractions thing either. In terms of the cooking mechanics here, they are pretty well implemented. But, Happy’s Humble Burger Farm isn’t just cooking fast food and serving it to customers. In fact, it is what is going on outside of the burger restaurant where the game really comes alive.

There is a semi-open-world to explore and you’ll soon be finding clues (cassette tapes) that will fill in the backstory and add to the lore of the game. Buildings can be entered and interacted with, items bought too. There are plenty of secrets to keep an eye out for and ones that enrich the story as you slowly unravel just WTF is going on. Even when the intro to the game outright tells you that you are in some kind of a simulation, there’s still plenty to learn and discover. The map opens up more and more as previously inaccessible places become accessible.

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This is really where the strength of Happy’s Humble Burger Farm lies, in the story and world it takes place in. The weirdness of the plot and setting is slowly drip-fed to you and background info needs to be sought out and found. The cooking mechanic feels more like a fun distraction, though it does have other uses, such as throwing burgers to use as weapons against enemies and bosses. Oh yeah, there are boss fights and so much more to discover here.

In terms of its horror content Happy’s Humble Burger Farm, there are some good scares here. From the mascots of the restaurant moving around, creepy mannequins appearing, the lights and equipment of the restaurant getting turned off… by ‘something’. That before I even get into the titular Happy herself. There are a couple of things that kind of annoyed me though.

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The controls never felt right to me. They often feel a bit ‘woolly’ and imprecise, it’s hard to explain but doing something simple like flicking a light switch on was needlessly fiddly and you have to be dead on balls, pixel-perfect to get it to work. When you are rushing against the clock to get orders ready, this can really slow you down. There are no control options other than a sensitivity slider and try as I did, I just could not find a setting that was right. Then there are the graphics themselves, the models in the game feel a couple of generations old… but I don’t really have a problem with that. My issue is the filter the devs have put over the graphics. If you look at the screenshots in this review, you’ll notice they are a bit blurry and hazy. That’s not due to some bad screengrabs, that’s what they look like in-game and it’s even worse when it’s moving.

I think the devs have given the graphics this blurry filter because Happy’s Humble Burger Farm takes place in a simulation (no spoilers, this is made clear before you even start the game) and they wanted to give the visuals a slight ‘strangeness’ to them to convey that fact. But for me personally, this made me feel a bit sick. I’ve played a lot of games over the years and I’ve never had one make me feel nauseous before, especially with the lights in the game… of which there are loads. From neon signs around the map to the lights in the restaurant itself, even the screens you have to read for customer orders. The lighting in the game coupled with the blurry effect really did a number on me.

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I could only manage to play the game in short twenty to thirty-minute bursts before I felt sick and even developed headaches. So I had to rush through to do this review, meaning I skipped a lot of what the game had to offer and couldn’t really explore the map as much as I wanted to. It’s a shame really as this meant I couldn’t enjoy the game as much as it could be enjoyed. If the devs ever read this, how about an option to remove the blur filter? Other games have accessibility options to make things more fun for the player. I really want to go back and play Happy’s Humble Burger Farm at my own comfortable pace and enjoy all it has to offer. I’m pretty sure this is a personal thing, I don’t think everyone who plays it will have the same nauseous feeling happen to them. But as I said, I’ve never felt sick playing any other games before.

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You are looking at paying around £15 for Happy’s Humble Burger Farm aside from the game making me feel sick… I thought it was brilliant. That £15 price tag is more than reasonable and there’s a lot to get to grips with here. The cooking mechanics are simple but can get a bit hectic later in the game. The horror elements work and really do throw some surprises at you along the way. It’s dark, twisted and offers some really damn good gameplay too. A recommendation from me for sure.

Game Review: White Shadows

Sometimes, I just look at a game and decide I want to play and review it on nothing but looks alone. White Shadows from developer by Monokel and publisher by Thunderful is one of those games. Striking game art is a weakness of mine and this game’s trailer sold me in seconds. The art style also really suits my (current) blog design.

The wolves are watching! Venture through a captivating but brutal dystopia where our young adventurer Ravengirl will travel through this huge city’s brightest highs and delve to its darkest depths on her perilous journey of discovery and finding her destiny where hope seems in short supply.

Okay, let’s get the obvious comparison out of the way first. Limbo… this looks like Limbo from 2010. Stark black & white graphics, cinematic platformer with a touch of puzzle-solving. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear this was a sequel… it’s not. White Shadows is a whole new game, it just really, really looks a lot like Limbo. I was going to quickly cover the story here, but this really is a hard one to explain. I mean, the game opens with the following warning screen.

WARNING

I don’t know about you, but that’s not the kind of subject matter I was thinking I’d be dealing with in a platform game. That warning screen isn’t lying either. The only thing is that those issues aren’t depicted via humans, the story involves animals. I’m going out on a limb here and suggesting that maybe the devs here are fans of George Orwell.

So in White Shadows, you play as a raven (girl) who stands up against and fights an oppressive world where (as the game states) all animals are equal… except birds. I really don’t want to give too much away here because this plot of the game is told in such a wonderfully cinematic and silent way that this really is something you need to experience first-hand. But basically, you play as a minority that faces all sorts of discrimination from the (literal) pigs that are in charge.

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This game is stunning, the minimal but highly detailed and busy graphics keep your eyes working from start to end. The places you’ll be making your way through really are amazing and full of depth. I just kept looking in the background and soaked up the visuals. Trains speed past you, flying ships swoop over your head and towards the screen, billboards light up and drop hints of the kind of world you are in. The place is gorgeous and the team here have created a stunningly wonderful environment. It feels very animated movie at times.

In terms of the gameplay, you already know what you are getting here. Again, Limbo is the biggest and most obvious comparison to make. A cinematic platformer with some puzzle solving and in that regard, White Shadows hits all the right notes. The platforming is solid, the controls are basic but you don’t need anything complex here anyway. One button to jump, one to grab/use and the stick to move, that’s it. The puzzles are a mix of classic moving blocks to using light/shadows to get past security and so on. With the gameplay, there’s not a great deal to cover here. It is simple but really effective and well designed. White Shadows is a really fantastic little title… but it’s not all good news. For the rest, I need to move on to the final bit of this review.

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So, onto my conclusion and I see if White Shadows is worth the £17 asking price. First, I just need to explain how I do my reviews. I usually play a game three or four times when I review them. I normally put the game on for a minimum of three hours and play while taking a few notes of the things I want to talk about. I’ll then play again, this time with the aim of getting to the end credits and to get a better understanding of the game, while refining my notes. I then play for a third (sometimes fourth) time and I’ll write the first draft of my review as I play. This really does vary depending on the length of the game but that is my usual method.

With White Shadows, I couldn’t actually do that first step of playing the game for three hours because… I actually finished it in just a shade over two hours. I got stuck on one simple puzzle because I was overlooking something. Still, other than that, this game was a breeze from start to end. I bet I could even get that playtime down to ninety minutes or so… and I’m not a speedrunner at all. Seriously, just over two hours and I was done. For £17, this game is simply not worth it. That’s the bad news.

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As gloriously beautiful as White Shadows… it’s really not that much at all. There’s no reason for multiple playthroughs either. There are no secrets, no collectables, no unlockables, nothing. This is a one and done experience and you can see the end credits in two hours, even less if you don’t get stuck on the same puzzle I did. I’m willing to bet that this could even be finished in under two hours with ease.

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I really don’t want to be dismissive of the dev team at Monokel. Looking into them, they are a very small team and this is their first game. For a first effort, this is a great title. The visuals are stunning, the gameplay is solid, there’s some amazing use of classic music and the story is wonderfully crafted, while dealing with some hugely serious issues in a very clever way (see that warning screen). I adore everything about White Shadows except its price point. For a two hour (or less) game, £17 is way too much to be asking. I want to recommend this, I really do… but not for £17. Even £10 feels too much.