Hi. I’m a critic of the worst kind (the ones who think highly of their opinions), so I apologize for sometimes seeming arrogant. Since criticism is a part of me, I love to be criticized; so you can have your revenge in the comments page. I myself, see criticism as the only way to improve oneself, so go ahead… just keep it civil.
I’m in love with videogames ever since they started to become a more “artistic” medium. I have little doubt that they are a new and exciting form of art, and will eventually replace cinema as the lead audiovisual medium for the masses. The videogame medium is still young and immature, but it is also bursting with creativity and new ideas, which makes it much more exciting than other mediums.
So, this is my game blog. Here, I will review games and write about games’ artistic trends, history and future. In my reviews, I will take a different approach than most media outlets and magazines. I will take a closer look into games’ art design, plot and narrative, level and gameplay design. The authors behind the games will also be a special point of interest. Graphics, length, and other aspects will be completely overlooked, since I find it ridiculous to evaluate art on a mere technical or value standpoint. Movies and records are never criticized for having small budgets, being too short or not being “fun” enough. They are evaluated for the quality of their workmanship, art, ideas and meanings. So should games.
“Uncharted 2’s” introductory moments are an absolute marvel. Most importantly, they represent a clear break from traditional game design logic, showing off exciting new possibilities in terms what a video game can (should?) be. The game starts, as you may already know, with Drake, half-bleeding to death inside a cliff-hanging train (the game opens with a cliff hanger, one can only enjoy the irony). Drake soon realizes, verbalizing it in his signature “oh God…”, that the train isn’t about to hold on much longer, and will soon plunge deep into the gorge. Debris suddenly fall over, plummeting Drake nearer to the precipice, as he desperately clings to a rusty bent hand-rail that stands centimeters away from nothingness. Up to this point it’s cut-scene territory, extraordinarily directed as in the previous game, and perhaps even more so. That warm sense of witful charm is reprised, once again heralding back to the terrain of summer blockbuster movies, of Spielberg and Lucas fame. But what was missing in the first “Uncharted”, soon becomes reality in the second: the embodiment of that same spirit during actual game-play sequences.
As Drake dwindles in the rail, the game kicks in, and you’re in charge. Climbing the train is simple and intuitive for anyone who has ever played a Tomb Raider-esque action-adventure game. But, despite it being absurdly simple to avoid Drake’s death while climbing, it retains a sense of tension and dramatic peril that video-games seldom impose without resorting to actual game-over screens. The trick Naughty Dog employed is devilishly clever: they enunciate danger through pre-scripted events but… it isn’t really there. For instance, the moment Drake nears the end of the hand-rail he’s clinging to, it bends unexpectedly. As you climb, objects keep falling down… a bit too near Drake for his own sake. Later, the second Drake jumps away from another rail, it suddenly breaks and falls. This sequence is simply riddled with these small nerve-cringing incidents that give you the illusion of danger [as you can see for yourself here], without it ever truly existing, as you can’t really die because of them. The whole level, in fact, is nearly impossible to fail, shifting “Uncharted 2″ away from a pure game, and into somewhat of an interactive, yet highly cinematic experience. The game becomes much more tense because of this, as you never have to repeat the sequence, thus maintaining its initial emotional impact intact. It represents as pure a translation as there has been of the concept of a film-like experience into video game terms; it’s all a matter of deception and misguidance, and the powerless witnessing of danger, as opposed to its confrontation, as is common for games. Something tells me that Spielberg would approve.
From then on, the game continues this strategy to impose tension, throwing unexpected events at the player in any given situation. Trains explode, buildings crumble, bridges fall – the sense of playing a roller-coaster film is pervasive. This engagement improves significantly because of all the work and thought that was noticeably invested in understanding and replicating the cinematic language – from the outstanding set design of each exotic location, to the delicious voice and facial animation, notwithstanding the superlative use of camera directing (especially in-game). Cut-scene and game mesh in such natural and emotional ways, it almost begs the question of why didn’t anyone do this before. Nevertheless, not all is rendered with the manipulating edge of the first few moments of the game. As “Uncharted 2″ moves on, it becomes an actual game, with the expected challenges and trial and error sequences. For the most part, it remains an expertly crafted work, exhilarating as few can be, despite the continuous interruption of death scenarios. There’s also the overuse of the by now blasé “Gears of War” combat, that insists on outstaying its presence, but no amount of slow crawling, tedious and repetitive cover combat can impair “Uncharted’s” sense of style and amusement, let alone its humor, both in and outside cut-scenes. It’s just a shame that such “military” influences are not toned down, as the action in “Tomb Raider”, as a way to punctuate the scale, instead of dominating every beat.
“Uncharted 2″ could have easily been one of the most important mainstream games in recent history, had Amy Hennig and the team at Naughty Dog had the courage to forfeit genre conventions and the ridiculous tick boxes which modern action games are governed and reviewed by, like multiplayer and co-op modes. Had that wasted energy been invested in further exploration of the subtle new grounds of action adventure experience which “Uncharted 2″ skims by, and it might have been a shining new example of a new genre. As is, it’s still the best of its kind – as unoriginal in its game-play as others before it, though designed with a finesse, care to detail and artistry that its competitors are sorely lacking.
Today, the name “Resident Evil” can only be associated with a modern brand of derivative military shooters. This is true regarding the main entries of the series – that slowly, but consistently, shed their adventure legacy in favor of fast-paced action sequences and increasingly convoluted plot lines – but also in the numerous spin-offs, of which the rail-shooting kind represents the most obvious and categorical insult to the nature of the original “Resident Evil”. Somewhere between “Alone in the Dark’s” cinematic viewpoint and “D’s” aesthetic sensibilities, Shinji Mikami’s groundbreaking work became a powerful and suspenseful horror video game that would lay the primary foundation of the genre. The bound that united it with its predecessors lied in the essence of the adventure video game – a genre built on the physical exploration of three-dimensional worlds, populated with puzzle pieces and small narrative interludes (in the form of text and cut-scene) that gave the spatial metaphor a narrative texture nonexistent in other segments of the video game strata. Whilst the textual quality of “Resident Evil” – an honorable dêcalage of b-movie tropes - could only amaze players on the most superficial of levels, its brooding atmosphere and tense game play design would surely leave in gamers a lasting mark. This was especially true when considering “Resident Evil’s” crowning achievement – the design of the mansion in which the game took place.
For a long time now, haunted house amusement rides have had a special part in popular culture; the seduction of entering such an ominous location feeds on a primordial instinct to face dangerous situations in controllable environments. “Resident Evil” is surely meant to be played as if a haunted house ride, and what better evidence of this fact than the change from its original Japanese title – “BioHazard” – to the sillier, yet somehow more accurate western translation? Like in “D“, “Resident Evil’s” mansion is designed with a stunning sense of ambiance that hints at danger in every corner. More than the actual fright – of which the now infamous dog leaping sequence has become a symbol – it’s in the anticipation and build up of tension, through visual and auditive cues, that the authors’ deviousness became fully apparent… Hitchcock would surely be proud. It helps that the mansion bears such a portentous and ostensible visual characterization, in both scale and intrinsic detail of its decor, making it humbling to the player. The mansion is, in itself, a work of art – its rendition of paintings, sculptures and architectonic style, thoroughly embodies the concept of an interactive art museum, so in vogue in the mid-nineties. The photorealistic quality of its pre-rendered visuals made the game not only aesthetically beautiful, but also more effective in heightening the sense of presence on part of the player.
These were the notions which the sequels could never truly evoke. “Resident Evil 2" and “3″ no longer took place in claustrophobic, XIXth century mansions, but instead spread the action across an entire city – the dimensionality of the urban landscape inevitably gave a sense of liberty and breathing space to both titles. The often criticized clunky movement of characters – so important in forcing players to acknowledge the dangerous, uncomfortable and uncontrollable nature of their surroundings – was, with each title, softened thanks to new movements and more responsive controls. The scarcity of weapons of the original was slowly amped into a considerable array of weapons, more powerful and plentiful with each passing iteration. In “4", besides a diminished role of exploration and puzzle sections, the cinematic angles were replaced with a pure 3D camera – meaning that zombies could no longer jump from out of the screen unseen. “5" borrowed its aesthetic and ambiance from other games, further compromising and indeed erasing any memory of the original work that was still present in the series. All of these games bore ‘good’ design decisions, sure: each made “Resident Evil” a ‘better’ game, i.e. less frustrating and more fun. But with these nefarious changes it also lost its identity, its charm, and most important of all, its capacity to frighten players, reducing a once great adventure horror game to a mindless action shooter.
Which is why the Gamecube remake of the original “Resident Evil” makes even more sense today than it did back in 2002 – it serves to reminds us of how much the original surpassed its direct (and indirect) successors. Mikami’s return to his original masterpiece only served to state the obvious: the series’ numerous additions and revisions were unneeded, and more importantly, only hindered at conveying the sense of suspense which uniquely identified his original vision. Instead of re-envisioning the game completely (as he would later do in “4″), Mikami focused on getting players to experience what they had experienced many years before – the sense of entering a beautiful, yet menacing haunted house. Narrative-wise the game is identical, and in terms of game play style and level design it is similar enough to capture the original’s spirit, but different enough to stand on its own. Shooting zombies finally became, once again, a conflict with the game itself, a peak in tension that served as a mere punctuating mark in a vast score of exploratory moods. Make no mistake, the remake is not an action game.
Mikami cleverly manages to use the remake to reference other games, like “Clocktower”, and even parody “Resident Evil” itself, but unlike Kojima, he does it with such delightful subtlety and consistency with the fictional backdrop that nothing ever feels out-of-place. He can make the most obsessive and knowledgeable hard-core fan smile without needing to break the fourth wall or giving away the irony of his playful demeanor with an obvious joke. Of course, what most gamers will appreciate in the new version of his classic, isn’t the elegant revisionism, but the update in presentation. Technical digressions aside, “Resident Evil” makes for one of the most beautiful and immersive experiences in recent video games. Every new animation and lighting scheme adds up to a stunning work of mise-en-scéne for each room, which truly makes them shine as part of a virtual art exhibit. The soundscape completes the picture, making the game’s atmosphere as evocative and scary as possible. This remake is one of those rare occasions in which the audiovisual lift was actually used, not as a means of justifying a buy for the tech-savvy buyers, but as a way of furthering the vision of the original work.
Alas, the remake is a memory of a now distant past, a throwback to a time in which games could still balance an underlying commercial logic with an artistic drive that went beyond the confines of fun-inducing game design. “Resident Evil” is slow-paced, clunky, unpleasant and sometimes even frustrating, but only because those are the needed qualities for a survival horror title to elicit a proper emotional mindstate in players. Back in 1996, “Resident Evil” defined the genre, and perhaps not surprisingly, most of its qualities remain unsurpassed still today. Which is why the remake, with its stunning artistic complexion, that so thoughtfully brings the original’s ambiance to new heights, is as worthy of the masterpiece title as the original.
“Video games are art? Please, don’t insult yourself” – these are the thoughts that cross people’s minds. It’s true. Video games as a whole, have never held up to any form of mildly analytical, critical analysis from an art perspective. That is why (almost) no one reviews games from a purely artistic perspective and there's always a consumer-driven product analysis. Hey, not even me, despite my somewhat pretentious goals can sustain an art critique stance: the truth is, if I were to do that, I would only employ half the compliments of my limited vocabulary, double the insults of my extensive verbiage, and there would be no grade superior to a 3, except for maybe one or two games per year. And even if one admits that some video games are worthy of high brow status, that still leaves out 99.999999999% out in the woods to die, as mildly amusing entertaining products with zero cultural relevance. Why is it thus? Why is it, that when someone poses the Citizen Kane conundrum, the answers unequivocally end up being – “Metroid Prime”, “Ocarina of Time”, “Half Life 2", “Super Mario World”, “Grand Theft Auto 3", “Bioshock”… as if any of these games could really be seen as legitimizers of an art form. Don’t kid yourself, they aren’t art.
It’s been too long. We’ve spent 40 years of the medium’s lifetime sinking in its flaws and short-comings to the point we’ve grown to accept them. We love video games, do we not? And we love what they are, not what they can be! Forget what we think we believe in – that games could be more intelligent, provocative, emotional – we don’t want that. We want the saccharine aesthetics, the frantic rhythms, the noisy soundtracks, the childish narratives, the twitchy interfaces. And we are many. In the mid 90’s, Mac and PC CD-ROM grabbed part of the male adult demographics, and the Playstation grabbed the male young adult demographics. PS2 dug the casual audiences for the first time, and the Wii and Facebook took the vantage and grabbed the last bastion of hope – the girlfriends, moms, dads and gramps. No one is left to adhere. And all of them know what video games are good for – hedonic entertainment, devoid of artistic expression, message, story and authorial verve. Hardcore or softcore, it’s all the same in the end: they’re merely different sides of the same expression, none of it high brow, none of it artistic. Admit it, there is nowhere left to run. We have told the world what to expect of video games. The world heard the call, came along for the ride, and the world doesn’t mind at all that games aren’t what we think we would like them to be. Heck, WE don’t mind. Video games are what they are, and everyone’s cool with that.
If a video game equivalent of “Citizen Kane” exists or comes to be in the future, it is hard to imagine anyone caring about it. Do you think that a truly thought-provoking work that’s interactive, deep, hard to really put your mind around it, that’s about real people’s lives, not some ridiculous fantasy, sci-fi or epic fiction, but a human drama about life, which has no genre or mediocre tropes about, and that didn’t care about entertainment value as much as it cared about its authors visions on life — do you really think gamers would buy it? It wouldn’t fit with our pre-conditioned notions of what games are, it wouldn’t be as ‘entertaining’ as we expect games to be and it wouldn’t give us what we’re accustomed to experience. It’d be dull, insipid and completely opaque to our soiled minds. Want proof? Just see the sales figures and reviews regarding a game that aspires to be art, and you’ll understand that we’re fighting a battle that cannot be won. There have been innumerable adult, pretentious and artistic video games, released year after year after year only to be consistently treated with spite and indifference by media and audience alike. Even something as popular and mainstream as last month's "Heavy Rain" felt the heat for barely trying something different.
Meanwhile, the industry is giving us what we want. Shallow experiences. Game designers can’t risk one tick to make an interesting game, lest they not make enough money to maintain their jobs at multi-million dollar company number one thousand and thirty five. The scientists are investigating how to make the design process more efficient and lucrative for said companies, and also attempting to find out how to better light a pool of blood, texturize a gray rock and increase polygon count in a machine gun. The journalists are debating on how much “fun” the recently hyped triple AAA game really is, which game is actually game of the year, and when is too much violence just too much. Players are twitching like drug addicts for the next fix: hardcore’s eagerly expecting the new FPS, the new RPG, the new Action Adventure; the moms and dads all pins and needles to throw five bills at the new family entertainment set piece which will make them all grow thin and happy at the same time; and the wee-little girls are having a blast gossiping about the next big avalanche of casual, social games. Who exactly is expected to play the artistic game that will tell the world that video games can be art?
We can’t really afford to wait for a “Citizen Kane”. We need to mature as gamers first, because “Citizen Kane” is only a symbol for a collective change in perspective that has to start inside ourselves. If we change, we will find Kane, either in the present, past or future. If all else fails, we’ll create it ourselves. As long as we’re ready to understand it, to decode it, and to value it, someone will tell the world where it is. If we don’t, it’ll go by unnoticed. And right now, nobody is ready or paying attention. There aren’t enough gamers out there ready to embrace a new concept of ‘video game’. Of course, maybe there will come the time when some visionary geniuses pave way for an artistic model of what a video game can be. Or maybe the industry will crash so hard we’ll be obliged to look for interactive art, because there will be no entertainment left to experience. Perhaps capitalism will perish and games will be funded according to a grand communist committee that decides what is worthy and what isn’t, like cinema was in the Soviet Union. Perhaps we’ll magically realize that by not buying the latest FPS, in the long run, we’re telling the industry to change. Personally, I don’t buy it. We need to change first. Start now.
Some games I haven’t the courage to approach with a review. Partially it’s because I don’t think I have the right knowledge or literary technique to express my views or to dissect them properly, but also because I have this unconscious fear of objectifying them in such a way that will make them seem less… special. Like a beautiful, fragile Ming vase, I fear touching them will break it to pieces. This is such a game.
“Machinarium” is, to put it simply, the story of a boy who must free his loved one from captivity. Bullied by nasty ruffians, the young couple was split: he was left to die in a garbage dump and she was imprisoned in a towering dungeon. You follow their journey to escape a corrupt city, as the little boy goes from rebuilding his own body in a scrapyard, to flying away in the horizon towards freedom. Perhaps I forgot to mention we’re talking robots here? Well, as the name so implies, “Machinarium” presents a dystopia whose inhabitants are machines made out of metal foil and rusty screws. But these machines are living creatures in every sense of the word, expressive little buggers whose eyes and bodies move as if they were flesh and blood… their animations (Václav Blín and Jaromír Plachý) are an exquisite exercise in the elegant conveying of intelligence, conscience and, more importantly, emotion. Every character has its distinct personality, simultaneously familiar and alien, but always endearing and lovable. It’s as if someone had given you a magic mirror where you could see this enigmatic reflection of our own children tales, just with robots in the place of humans. The setting itself retains characters’ beauty and strangeness, with each of the game’s backgrounds (by Adolf Lachman) looking as if it were a painting drawn by those same bizarre creatures. The atmosphere borders the ethereal, thanks to a moody color palette and the superb ambient score by Thomas Dvorak. And though “Machinarium” is unequivocally a land born out of the eccentric mind of Jakub Dvorský, this world isn’t as idiosyncratic as “Samorost’s”, marking a departure from that surreal, somewhat comical ambiance, to an almost dreamlike fusion of children animation’s naiveté with classical science fiction aesthetic.
As expected in video game land, the little boy’s ICO-esque quest can only be conquered through the solving of several puzzle-like contraptions. But unlike the nigh non-diegetic barriers that adventure games so oft use to imply interactivity and challenge, each puzzle in “Machinarium” is an intricate part of its world. In other words, puzzles are there for a reason other than you solving them. This subtle twist makes the game’s challenges mirror the fiction’s semantics – construing the odd gadgets thus becomes part of the act of understanding “Machinarium’s” world: its past history, its characters and society. This is the defining element that elevates Dvorský from mere story-teller to video game author – he expresses his ideas with rules and interactions, and not just images and sound. His story, so primitive and universal, beautiful and touching, is a story told through the complex language of video games… it is a story worth playing with.
Has it really come to this? I remember a time when designers, whether good or bad, creative or conformed, loved or despised, were authors. A time when authorship lived and died by their creators’ passions and views on what a video game should be like, and regarding a select few, their values and ideas on life. Sadly, “Assassin’s Creed II”, in more ways than one, reminds us that in the video game medium and business, there is no such thing as an author. There is an audience and its proxy and a whole bunch of middle men. Naturally, the job of the Proxy is to serve as conceptual avatar to the audience’s demands, whichever they may be. If the audience finds the game not to be as fun, violent, lengthy or varied as they want, it is the Proxy’s job to channel those expectations into a neatly fitted piece of game design worthy of their money. It makes me wonder if it still makes sense for game designers to take courses on the subject matter… it’d be easier to just let the marketing blokes take them instead, since it is obvious they are currently in charge of video games’ authorship. I know, I know, disheartening, is it not?
Take “Assassin’s Creed”. A game Patrice Désilets and Jade Raymond claimed, with a little help from a well crafted marketing campaign, to be the first ‘true’ next-gen game. A game so revolutionary, it would change the medium’s landscape. Despite its new take on the genre, some black sheep (myself included) disagreed on the game’s status as groundbreaking masterpiece, though the game still sold millions. “Assassin’s Creed” had some glaring flaws: quests were composed of generic tasks, game design was limited and ill-fit with the subject matter (an assassin that kills by day, and spends most of its time fencing with soldiers, had anyone heard of stealth?), story was under-developed, and to nail the coffin, the game repeated itself far too many times, with the game’s nine levels being exactly the same, with merely different wallpaper cities in the back. Flash forward two years down the line, and the accolades are plentiful – “Assassin’s Creed II” is a reinvigorated sequel, its flaws completely corrected, its charm fully blossomed. What changed? Actually, nothing did, except that the audience’s desires having been answered.
Every single critical voice was heard. The People demanded more quest variety – the Proxy gave it. The People demanded “Prince of Persia”-like linear platforming sequences – the Proxy offered them. The People demanded a meaty storyline – the Proxy obliged. The People wanted to swim – the Proxy cast the game in Venice and gave the People swimming abilities. It’s almost pathetic how Ubisoft simply bowed down and let every suggestion become an integral part of the game’s core. Where was Désilets, the quote on quote, “creative director”, during this process? Instead of analyzing his game’s faults, something which requires a deep understanding of game design and its intricacies, he appears to have been occupied checking boxes in complaint lists from a (sadly) uneducated mob. Think about it, does it really matter that you can now explore five generic cities instead of three, undertake a dozen bland side-quest types for obtaining bland generic collectibles instead of just half a dozen, and go through a story with twice the archetypal characters, triple the pseudo-historical context and an exponentially raised number of events that still do not make the plot move one tiny bit before the grand final twist? Oh, but you can now customize your character, with some vague, inventory-oriented character progression system, wonderful! Did I mention, there’s also some of the best (read worst) cut-scene directing and animation in a top-tier game in years? These now revised minutiae were never the problem, but a symptom of “Assassin’s Creed” malady. Of course, the People careth not about such negative ramblings, and looked in awe at all the new blessings the Proxy had giveth them, and all was made well.
I’m not saying that everything is ill about the sequel. The new-age meets catastrophe movie sci-fi plot and Italian setting certainly make it far more compelling to explore “Assassin’s” world, and some of the cities’ real-life monuments are rendered with an architectural beauty worthy of gawking in amazement. Moreover, the original’s parkour platforming and elegant combat system haven’t aged one bit and are still some of the most enticing interactive mechanics in the action-adventure genre. But make no mistake, “Assassin’s Creed II” few artistic merits can never hide that the sequel still is a hollow, generic, procedurally generated, author-less piece of game design. Alas, the People rejoiceth, for the Proxy has listened.
As western game development grows thick in its arrogance and nigh religious faith in the formulaic, and the far eastern dwindles in its inability to appeal to the new found world masses in any way but the mimicking of the western ways, only those left in the middle can still make a stand. Russia and other eastern countries’ economical limbo has given rise to a number of small independent studios that the far reaching arm of the industry still hasn’t a complete clutch over. This small harbor of creative freedom is showing signs of being able to protagonize a cold wave of video games, as interesting titles such as “S.T.A.L.K.E.R.” and “Metro 2033″ creep in the commercial mainstream, and the bizarre ventures of Ice-Pick Lodge, “Pathologic” and “The Void”, show that an auteur approach is still possible in the medium. “Cryostasis” lies somewhere in between these two approaches, but despite its compromise, is unequivocally another eastern promise.
Something in these eastern countries… something about the weather there has a powerful effect on the region’s cultural legacy. Something which explains that fatalist tendency for the dark and violent, that weighty existentialist anxiety, the ever-present gloom and cold and frigid, the icy and slow, the rugged and gauntly. This artistic propension is ever clear in “Cryostasis”. As an explorer stuck in an abandoned nuclear ice-breaker somewhere in the northern pole, you set out in search of answers about the ship’s predicament. You dive into that icy purgatory’s bowels, as you slowly pave way through a labyrinth of dark, rusted metal corridors, covered in crisp ice crystals and snow and clear stalactites, overrun by a dreaded silence that is only muffled by the cruel howls of the blizzard that runs amok in the white-clad exterior. “Cryostasis” is precisely about how humans can survive in face of harsh environments, posing its key themes not only through the core exploration of the ship, but also through narrative exposition, via a re-telling of Maxim Gorky’s tale “Old Izergil” and re-living of the ship’s defunct crew memories, in a series of bizarre flashbacks. Revelations are slow to come, but subtle and profound, and the authors’ propension for the extraordinary and the strange and cryptic make the game altogether more captivating for those who like a good narrative conundrum.
There’s a bit of the old survival horror cannon here as well, as the ice-breaker holds some of its former crew hidden and mutated into ghastly creatures. Though far from being the game’s highlight, combat with these monsters is particularly intense, thanks to a great use of sound effects, and the game’s unrelentingly slow rhythm. In the end, this is what makes “Cryostasis” a valid entry into its genre, as despite its first person perspective and shooting interactions, its pacing and exploratory moods utterly distantiate it from the military action aesthetic which pervasively corrodes the survival horror genre. Indeed, “Cryostasis” only failure lies in its authors not recognizing that they should not compete with the likes of these games. In what seems to have been an urge to stick to standard mainstream games’ length, the experience ends up sprawling for far too many hours, with little variation in both aesthetic content and narrative development. But, even so, after a depressing number of these nautious action-horror hybrids, such as “Dead Space“, “Resident Evil 5” and “Silent Hill Homecoming“, it is great to, once again, be able to experience a true survival horror game that lives and breathes atmosphere.