I recently completed Alan Wake. I enjoyed my time tramping through the dark forests with a rather temperamental flash light and an assortment of conveniently placed weapons. However, it wasn't far into the game before I realised one very notable detail. Namely, that it isn't scary. Alan Wake is of course a 'thriller', but still, I was expecting to soil my couch at least a little.
Which leads me rather conveniently (imagine that?) to the subject of horror.
Now my knowledge of what is decent in horror films is based largely on what my more informed friends tell me (the French, apparently do the best), but there seems to be a huge distinction between the aims of a horror film and a horror game. Initially this would be obvious, as the interactivity of a games makes certain features more frightening and many techniques employed in films less effective.
A game like Dead Space for example, utilises the shock value of sudden attacks and generally the 'boo' factor. Though this can become repetitive at times, in the case of Dead Space some attempt is made to be as unconventional as possible. This works well in both film and games, as we all find ourselves anxiously expecting something to happen, and the longer this is drawn out the more effective the overall experience.
Alan Wake makes an admirable attempt at being unconventional, and succeeds in some cases, but the developers have made some odd choices that severely effect the 'horror' element of the game. The most notable is the time proceeding the appearance of enemies. Though many of us get what they were trying to do, having the wind pick up and the surrounding area get gradually more 'shadowy' does impact on the overall feeling of apprehension and fear that they clearly hope us to develop. If anything I found myself quickly getting tired of the tedium associated with the predictable appearance of enemies.
I think a large problem that faces films, but more notably games in regards to horror is that when the big scary evil is revealed as something tangible, it quickly loses much of the unknown qualities that originally frightened the audience. Films can get by not revealing the bad guy or monster and simply relying on our own imaginations to terrify us, however the interactivity of games requires a more complex approach. A horror game without enemies would quickly become dull, however the appearance of these enemies can gradually impact upon the general mystique that caused us to fear them in the first place.
It's even worse for jaded types like myself, and thanks largely to games like Condemned and Dead Space it takes more than a quiet corridor and an absence of light to creep me out.
Many of the scariest games I've played have in fact been non-horror titles with a 'horror level' thrown in. Not being a full horror game, and thus not needing the experience to last hours, these levels occasionally take a stab at the genre from a fresh angle.
In my case, the game that springs to mind is Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines. Though centred around vampires, the game is by no means a horror title, being more of a dark third/first-person RPG. A good six years old now, it was riddled with glitches and took me an incredibly long time to complete, mainly due to game-breaking bugs that made me rage-quit in frustration. However, it features for me one of the most unsettling levels I've ever played, that still makes me shiver regardless of how many times I run through it.
Spoiler alert, if you're intending to ever play the game.
The level in question is called the Ocean House, an Overlook Hotel (The Shining) inspired building that makes no attempt to distance itself from its inspiration. You are told beforehand that the hotel is haunted by a spirit, and your goal is to find an object belonging to the spirit so the quest-giver can exorcise the ghost.
No really. The hotel has been abandoned for years, so is in a suitably creepy degree of dilapidation, the lights don't work and the ambiance is full or creeks & groans. Now let me make two points very clear: you're an superhuman vampire (this is pre-the twilight era) and ultimately, nothing actually attacks you during the entire level.
To my knowledge.
And that's what makes this level so unsettling, the ghost is clearly there, you see glimpses of it from a distance and flashes of it suddenly when you round corners, but it never actually engages you. Bulbs pop, lampshades get tossed around and an elevator nearly crushes you. But no monsters, at least not ones you can fight.
You're helpless, and what's worse (or rather better) is that you never know how the ghost is going to try and stop you next.
What I love about this level even more is the little details that make it more unsettling each time. I've played it through several times and there are still surprises that genuinely make me jump. I once randomly walked up to window, turned around and had a sudden apparition with an axe run at me, then suddenly disappear. The fact that you're a vampire, and in essence you yourself should be the scary element, is forgotten.
I genuinely recommend playing it if you get the chance, as it will scare you, mainly because it's so unconventional.
I think what I'm attempting to convey here, is that it would be nice to see some more unexpected avenues for horror games to pursue. I respect the developers of Alan Wake for at least trying something new, even if it fell short of its goals. So far the only horror games I enjoy tend to go for the monster shock value, like Dead Space, and less for the unsettling vibe present in that Bloodlines level. It would be nice to see more of the latter.
This is a really really exciting trailer and it seems everyone has their interpretation of what everything means/symbolises.
Figured I could use some of my Classics degree for once, combine it with my many replays of the original game and have a damn fun conjecture. Plus picking apart cryptic trailers like this will give us Deus Ex fans something cathartic to occupy our time with :)
Those who have played the original will be familiar with the 3 AIs; Daedalus, Icarus and Helios.
Both Icarus and Helios appear to represented in this trailer, albeit in their classical context. For those who don't know their myths, Icarus was the son of Daedalus. Both attempted to flee from the island of Crete using wings held together with wax. Daedalus warned his son Icarus not to fly too close to the sun (Helios). However during their flight, Icarus; so overcome with the act of soaring through the clouds mistakenly flies too close to the sun and the wax holding his wings together melts, causing him to plummet into the sea and drown.
The symbolism of these three names will be immediately obvious to those who have played the original game. However for those in the dark, Daedalus and Icarus merge to become the Helios AI. Though not literally the same as the myth, the symbolic absorption of Icarus and Daedalus is apparent.
With the above in mind, the dream sequence of the trailer is more clear. This appears to be a reference to the end of the Icarus AI and the creation of Helios. Whether this is a premonition or some kind of encoded vision in the protagonist's mind is too early to say. Regardless he clearly has some relationship with the Icarus AI. Perhaps he is in some way associated with the original Majestic 12.
Majestic 12 in mind, leads us to the men surrounding the dream Icarus. Yeah, they're them.
Any more conjecture would be as watertight as a sieve, though it is clear these men are symbolically working on the Icarus AI, we're not given any kind of context. Or are we? GET GUESSING!
Post dream sequence, the similarities to the Dentons in the main protagonist are immediately apparent. Now again this is where we're meant to guess at who he is and what his obvious relationship to the Dentons actually is, and I've got a few ideas.
He mentions that he "never wanted this", which combined with the armed men entering his apartment, leads me to believe that he is an escaped patient from some advanced facility. Combine this with his previous dream, I can guess that this facility belongs to Majestic 12. Now considering MJ12 created the Dentons and that this guys looks suspiciously like them, it would seem likely that he is in some way a prototype for the Denton brothers.
I wanted to shed some light on the elusive Deus Ex 3. Being a rather obsessive fan of the first game, I'm always searching for morsels of information regarding the various elements of the title. This is what I've collected so far, I hope you find it enlightening.
Deus Ex 3 is effectively a prequel of the original game. Set some 30 years before the birth of JC Denton, you play as one of the physically augmented security agents of a large corporation. Though the actual nuances of the story haven't been leaked (and thankfully so), the premise is that the corporation you work for is attacked by an unknown group, and you follow the intrigue from there. Not much to go on, and quite similar to the second, by I remain optimistic.
Wild speculation over the secretive plot would lead nowhere, and only serve to depress me when I consider that the second game didn't hold a candle to the first. However, there are still quite a few nuggets that have been released that make me quite giddy with excitement.
Augmentation was what made you unique in the first game, and part of a select group in the second. In both games the idea was that you were augmented with nanotechnology. Now though the intricacies elude me, I've played enough games/watched sci-fi/read books to understand what nanotechnology is, and why being augmented in such a way would make anyone quite unique. An interesting theme throughout the first game, and partly in the second in regards to the Omar, was the relation between the advanced nano-augs and the physically augmented.
The main critique of the physically augmented in the first game was that they had to sacrifice social acceptance for mission performance. There was much friction between JC and the other, less advanced agents in UNATCO. The game gave you the option of being a bit of a d*ck about the whole thing, there were emails of the older agents voicing their concerns and generally a feeling that the physically augmented were being replaced by shinny new toys.
This was one of the aspects appearing in Deus Ex 3 that really appeals to me. In the past two games, you were always playing in the knowledge that you were a state of the art piece of technology, even in the second game you were using more advanced (and illegal) 'biomods'. However in Deus Ex 3, it appears as if the physically augmented are far more numerous and (if the forum musings concerning the cryptic trailer are correct) are being rejected by the general populace. Where this will lead I cannot say, but I am excited at the possibilities.
Physical augmentations have the added bonus of being teh awesomes. Only a few have been announced, and part of me wonders how official these are, but they sound sweet regardless. Punching your fist through a wall to incapacitate a guard is the kind of thing that doesn't get old very quickly. Whether that one will be due to improved strength and a special limb has not been revealed. Also there are 'bungee' tendrils that shoot out of your back, Doctor Octopus style, allowing you to safely (stealthily?) traverse long drops. Other screenshots have also revealed a subtle hand augmentation that appears to allow your fingers to retract and a large assassins blade to be utilized. And then there's the somewhat less subtle machine-gun arm replacement, giving you access to much Barret-inspired pew pew.
If I were to speculate, the augmentations shown appear to come in subtle and unsubtle varieties. This leads me to hazard a guess and say that perhaps you'll be given the same choice that was explored in the first game, namely that you can sacrifice your humanity for the sake of combat & field performance.
Moving on from the augmentations, the environment has been quite extensively established. Having human modification a central theme, sterilized labs are a must. Though not unique in themselves, it's the adjacent rooms and offices that really shine. Everything has a 'sci-fi Victorian' vibe, with holographic screens sitting atop large wooden desks, shelves of rather old looking books next to over sized consoles. The whole thing looks damn gorgeous. Its seems to summon up ideas of Renaissance Europe, with the all the social change, ulterior motives and court intrigue that brings. A highly suitable setting for the next Deus Ex game to say the least.
What else is there? Well guns appear to be getting a very sexy, and hopefully customizable, modular look. One of the things that has always poked and prodded my mind is that so many games don't seem to want to capitalized on weapon customization. Remember Hitman: Blood Money? That's what Deus Ex 3 seems to be getting. Considering you're a highly trained and awesomely augmented security guard, it makes sense.
The clothes, well at least what's been provided, look really imaginative. Mirroring the environment, they cross science fiction with early modern styles in a very creative way.
I could write a painfully long wall of text, musing away on what might be in the game. However I'd rather not dilute what I've provided with too much speculation. So I'm going to leave it there. When some more meat has been provided, I may write an update for this.
My first encounter with games that allowed me to be 'evil' were PC RPGs such as Bauldur's Gate and Knights of the Old Republic. Being something of a completionist back then, largely due to me having no money whatsoever and thus squeezing as much as I could out of a game, I would play both 'good' and 'evil' characters.
Being good was always so straight forward for me to roleplay, I'd create a noble Paladin/Jedi Knight and defend all that was good, light and generally rainbow coloured. Saving maidens, slaying dragons and fighting off the dark. I found myself engrossed in my own character's story, feeling that all the choices and actions suited my character and much enjoyment was had.
Then I always took a shot at EVIL. But the thing is, when I think evil, I think silver-tongued devils, self-serving wizards and sinister assassins. Thus I would build my character around these ideas; he would be ruthless yet refined, perhaps manipulating others for his own ends. Being naïve, I assumed that my story would be as engrossing as my noble character's, albeit dark and twisted.
In every instance, and this has been the case of most other games I've played since, I'm a mass murdering thug. A hoodlum who robs people, threatens everyone he meets and generally an unrefined c*ck. My character never has the option of being EVIL, I mean really evil, no sinister dialogue options are given, no subtlety. Just angry, thuggish responses that usually led to me killing EVERYONE.
It's not just that either. When I'm playing my good characters, their direction makes sense. I would want to save Imoen from that git John Irenicus, I would want to hunt down Malak and save the Republic. But when I play as my evil guy, I'm thinking: Really? I'm an evil, power hungry wizard, and instead of furthering my own ends, I'm chasing after some useless girl who hasn't stopped following me since we were young! Surely I'd be overjoyed that the irritation had been removed? And why the hell am I, an evil to the core dark Jedi, running off to save some goody-two-shoes bint called Bastilla?
I mean REALLY? What kind of evil bastard am I?
I of course understood, the designers were trying to tell an epic story, but also wanted to give you as much choice as possible. The problem is, all these awesomely epic narratives ultimately are built around a 'good' person's choices. And sadly this appears much the case with contemporary titles.
Of course many have 'evil scenes'. Fable's good/evil sides of the quests and Fallout's slaver side quest. But if one were really roleplaying their character, would I really be following the events of the main stories as they are? Likely no. But of course you want to complete the game as 'evil', so you ignore the pretentious, short-arsed little git in the back of your mind complaining that these choices don't make sense.
I suppose to really make a game that allowed you to truly follow an evil path, the whole story would need to be tailored around a more sinister ends. And by sinister, I mean Vincent Price, not some angry goon.
Since Valve have so graciously offered S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl for 5 'bucks' via Steam, I'm prompted to write a review I've intended to do for some time. Though of the sequel, Clear Sky.
Clear Sky does what many sequels do when succeeding a very good, albeit flawed game, and that is to improve upon many of the elements that annoyed the merry sh*te out of you in the original, while also neglecting the some of the cooler parts that endeared you. Oh and then there's the gimmick.
I suppose the gimmick is the first part to address, and in following the S.T.A.L.K.E.R method, it is both very cool and annoyingly flawed. Factional Warfare is the name of said gimmick and is essentially that, there are several factions and you pick a side to fight for. It's rather fun. Your first instance of the factional warfare element will be early on, between the Clear Sky and the Bandits. More of a tutorial to the concept to prepare you for the proper thing later on, it is done reasonably well. You essentially capture and hold ground, defend when being attacked and 'victory' is achieved upon taking the opposition's base.
You will receive various radio messages from your comrades in arms, with updates on the tactical situation. This is where the 'flawed' part of the factional warfare comes into play. You can suddenly be greeted by anguished screams of, “Where are you, we're being slaughtered!” only to receive another message in around 20 seconds explaining that the attack was repelled. Approaching the attacked position often reveals that the enemy consisted of one bandit with a rusty pistol against your SMG armed peeps. Though this situation is not always the case, indeed the enemy attacks can be quite intense, but often enough you're sprinting half way across a map to reinforce you men only to find them repelling the attack with relative ease.
There are many other annoyances that crop up during the factional warfare and I'm going to explain one more, which made me facepalm when it first happened, though it ultimately turned out to be a good thing. I'd decided to take part in conflict between the Duty and Freedom factions. I chose Freedom, as Duty came across as a bunch of jarheads. After hours of slow advance, defend and repeat I'd gotten to their base. Just me. All my other friends were either dead or defending check points. But no matter, I set upon my grisly work with methodical precision, eliminating all sentries before cautiously clearing all the buildings. I'd finally eliminated their commander and received a victory message, I even w00ted.
Now, what was left of the Duty forces in the base were a lot of dead bodies and a helleva lot of guns. So naturally I set about looting everything, excited about the prospect of receiving enough cash from this haul to support me through most of the game. There was a neutral base in the same area, so I loaded up with as much loot as I could carry, leaving much for the next trip and trekked over to the other base of sell my sh*t. I was overjoyed with the monies I received and started the walk back to the Duty base. Upon reaching the perimeter I was greeting by a hail of gunshots and a radio message from the Freedom commander explaining that the Duty forces had retaken the base and all the check points in the area. In the five minutes it took me to walk to the neutral base.
*facepalm and ragequit*
However when my rage had subsided I started the game up again and decided to see what had happened. To give them their due, the game designers executed this part quite well. By maintaining their gimmick of factional warfare but without destroying everything you'd achieved. Basically when you're taking part in the actual warfare event, the opposition constantly attacks you, a balance of attack and defense is required. However, when the event 'resets' as it did suddenly with me, the opposing faction cease actively attacking you, and only reinforce their home territory. This means that the Freedom faction's home area, as well as the disputed territory were firmly under my factions control. In retrospect I like this, as it means you can pew pew some Duty guys if you wish and receive a constant supply of loot from wiping out the re-spawning guards at the checkpoints. Though it would have been preferable if perhaps the re-capture of the Duty base occurred after a game day, rather than five damn minutes.
Any who have played the first game will attest of it's ruthless and unforgiving style. You die in S.T.A.L.K.E.R games. A lot. That is still very much present in Clear Sky, with the end game being particularly unrelenting. The accuracy of the guns has always been a love/hate relationship with me; I hate the fact that I sometimes cannot hit someone in the face even at close range, but in the same vein it's kinda enjoyable to fire a few shots from behind cover to take someone down, before diving behind it again. What I enjoyed about both games is that it's not that the enemies have kevlar where their skin should be, but rather that they're, almost, as tough as you are. This makes for some very tense moments.
Now now, speaking of tense. There are some wonderfully atmospheric moments in the first game. Genuinely creepy parts that, when combined with it's unforgiving nature, amount to very tense and scary scenes. This is what led me to scratch my head after finishing Clear Sky. It's not that the game doesn't have the scenes in it, it's just that there are only about a fraction compared to the first and those that are present seem awfully rushed. It was quite a shame, as the creepy atmospheric bits in the first were the most memorable.
Akin to games like the Elder Scrolls series and Fallout, there's a lot of scavenging to be done in Clear Sky, and when compared to the original, this has taken an interesting turn. Namely that ammo is everywhere, but other more mundane items from the first game are in short supply. And by other items, I'm mainly pointing towards bandages. Bleeding is an important status effect in both games, and both can be cured with bandages and some med-kits. However, whereas in the original game bandages where carried by every lootable corpse you encountered and bleeding would eventually stop, in Clear Sky this has been horribly reversed. Gone is the steady supply of bandages and even worse, bleeding just keeps getting more serious, requiring more of your precious bandages to cure.
Bleeding isn't dire earlier on in the game, the enemies having standard ammo and balanced guns. However, in the later stages all enemy ammo is armor piercing and they have scopes on everything. Which translates to you trudging forward in your armored exoskeleton believing yourself to be some kind of walking tank, only to find that you might as well be wearing papier mache. You will get hit a lot and bleed out often. It's painful. You'll weep.
I do wonder if reading this review, you will be turned off by Clear Sky. Yes it is unforgiving, and yes there are some elements which were cool that have for some unholy reason been removed. But after all that, the game is still really enjoyable. It's so refreshing to find a game that doesn't hold your hand, that is a lot like the old school console games that would punish you for some slight mistake. Completing Clear Sky is a rewarding achievement. So if you enjoy a painfully challenging and awesome experience, pick it up.
After you've downloaded the first from Steam of course.
Recently while riding the bus home, a small group of kids sat a few seats down from me. They had clearly just finished school and one it seemed has just bought Halo ODST. He appeared pleased, however it was not long before the little group started bickering over why Halo was awesome/sh*t. This devolved into a typical console fanboy debate.
All were adamant that their respective console and by association all products from that particular manufacturer where awesome. Being true little fanboys their argument centered on the time honored tradition of the opposition clearly being gay.
It wasn't long before they'd reached their stop and got off the bus. The rest of the journey continued in wonderfully non-moronic peace. Their 'discussion' did get me thinking and I was surprised to discover that I really don't have any strong positive or negative feelings towards any of the current generation of consoles.
I do have a preference for the Xbox, mainly due to its simplicity and relatively cheap price. But I don't feel obliged to draw my rapier and duel with anyone who attacks it.
I believe I understand why: I'm dead inside.
Or rather, the progression of events that lead to the horrible affliction of 'fanboyishness' were cut short. As Yahtzee pointed out, in whatever the hell video he did, that most 'fanboyishness' stems from only being allowed one console from your parents back when you were a wee one.
In my case this was a Megadrive. I loved it, had Sonic the Hedgehog posters everywhere and read STC magazine. It was a good time, a simpler time when myself & my squeaky-voiced friends would swap cartridges during classes like they were trading cards and all was good in the world.
Then the 'next generation' of gaming consoles were released. Now I wasn't able to get a new console until price had dropped, but some of my friends did. I remember playing the N64 the most initially, being in awe of Mario 64's 3D and how drastically different the game played to my beloved Megadrive titles. Then eventually I was able to play the PS1, with that came GTA, the Resident Evil games and eventually MGS.
I never did get to play a Sega Saturn. None of my friends had one and by the time, years literally, my parents decided to get me a new console I'd already become used to my friend's PS1. Perhaps if a few people I knew had bought the Saturn, I might have developed an attachment to it. But that was not meant to be it seems and I eventually got my PS1 for a birthday.
Ever since that point I've always taken a pragmatic approach when choosing which console to buy. I chose the PS2 in the following generation, not trusting Sega's (now I know rather good) Dreamcast and being unimpressed with the Gamecube. This generation, as I've mentioned I opted for the Xbox360, though I have been tempted to pick up the other two.
But the sting of loss when I consider my Sega roots still remains. The complete RAPE of Sonic the Hedgehog over the years hasn't helped. Confusion and bitterness at something I loved as a child has helped me avoid any fanyboy tendencies toward any newer consoles.
I suppose I should be pleased, not being a moronic fanboy is a good thing. Still, I may rummage around in the attic, find my dusty Megadrive and play some Flashback.