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8:37 AM on 06.09.2014

Review - The Cat Lady

Another one from the backlog.

Developer: Harvester Games
Publisher: Screen 7
Platform: Microsoft Windows

The Cat Lady is a graphic adventure game with supernatural and horror themes. The basic gameplay is simple; explore, solve puzzles, talk to characters with a choice of dialogue options. It has a very grim atmosphere and deals with subject matter such as depression, death, and loneliness.  

You play as Susan Ashworth, a 40-something woman who is alone, except for some cats, for which she has some natural affinity for, depressed and at the beginning of the game has just overdosed on prescription sleeping pills. However, she appears in a strange field where she encounters her own corpse, a deer, and a cabin where she meets The Queen Of Maggots. The Queen explains to Susan that she won't allow Susan to die until she has got rid of 5 evil people (“parasites”, she calls them) from the living world, or else suffer for eternity, unable find peace. The Queen convinces Susan to comply (she doesn't really have much choice), makes her immortal, and sends her back to the real world to carry out the task.



For the rest of the game, Susan exists in an odd sort of limbo, the main effect of  which is she can't be killed permanently due to the immortality she is cursed/blessed with (making a convenient narrative reason for checkpoint restarts if she is killed). Another apparent side-effect of this is that she frequently has some kind of hallucinations, usually when she is unconscious or is “killed”. When this happens she is transported to strange, abstract dream-like locations where she must solve puzzles and find a way back to the real world.

Some of the puzzles in the game are actually quite clever; you will need to solve riddles and search for clues in the scenery, though mostly they just involve simple tasks like searching for an item to enable you to unlock something or reach something, combining items to make more useful items or weapons etc. A few of the puzzles are a bit too obtuse, but discovering objects and figuring out what to do with them (whilst avoiding the mentally unhinged “parasites”) is the most fun part of the game.

The other parts of the game consist of basically listening to dialogue between characters to progress the story.  Though you are given dialogue options during most of them conversations, only a few have choices that will affect the narrative in any way. Usually all you can do is choose the order in which Susan says her lines, seemingly just for the sake of having some interaction to stop the player getting too bored. The narrative is interesting, but lacks cohesion. The story at times flits about between past and present events, in what seems to be an attempt to make it seem unnecessarily complex. It also pretty much completely falls apart during the last act in which a series of nonsensical events lead up to a dissatisfying conclusion (at least in the case of my ending, as it alters depending on your choices in the last chapter).



The dialogue writing does little to improve the character portrayals. Characters will sometimes use typical English phrases such as “geezer” or “blimey”, even when those words don't match with their accents at all. Some characters are turned almost into parodies due to overacting, forced accents and odd choices of words in the dialogue.  The “evil” characters in particular came off as comic villains and would have fit better into a game that takes itself less seriously, whereas in The Cat Lady they clash horribly with the tone of the game.

We are clearly supposed to empathise with Susan and root for her to overcome her struggles (she is the protagonist after all), but her character is so morose and her attitude so cynical that she comes off as not a nice person, so I found it difficult to care about her at all. On top of that she often spouts phrases that sound like a goth teen's terrible poetry. For example: “Standing by the river I wonder, do I need a stone...? No...my heart is heavy enough...it will drag me down for sure.” and “I have fallen in love with the razor” are among such morbid musings that made my eyes roll a lot.



The Cat Lady's audio-visual style is where it earns most of its plus points. It has a very distinctive art style; everything is drawn to look like a graphic novel of sorts and character models are 2-D and move in jerky, inarticulate motions as they would if they were made of paper. The colour palette is mainly shades of grey and black punctuated by sharply contrasting shades of white and lots of red (usually blood, of course), along with the tastefully minimal use of other colours such as sickly greens and orange/yellow hues from light sources, which all blend nicely together with the impressively detailed background scenery. Overall, the graphics and art are probably my favourite elements of the game, as they are suited perfectly to its grisly, macabre theme.

The music is similarly atmospheric. A combination of bleak acoustic guitar/piano tracks, occasional heavy-rock beats along with dramatic strings and minimalistic electronica sounds make for a pleasing audio style in The Cat Lady.

Overall, what could have been a decent puzzle-adventure game that explores mature themes is spoilt by a haphazard story, poor acting and writing.

-Overall Score-
4/10   read


12:18 PM on 01.19.2014

Hopes for Dark Souls Ⅱ

After I completed Dark Souls' Artorias of The Abyss DLC last year, my total play time for the whole game adds up to around 200 hours. I decided it's time to put it away for a while...

But that doesn't mean I've had enough, oh no.

The "Souls" series is one of my favourite new IPs to emerge this generation. I've been thoroughly engrossed by its horrific-yet-alluring, repressing-yet-beautiful world and its enigmatic denizens...not to mention all the grotesque evil things you can stab and set fire to!

Now, obviously a sequel to Dark Souls fills me with a childlike excitement and glee, but also some trepidation. Things are being shuffled about and tweaked in Dark Souls Ⅱ, as is natural for any sequel, though I'm paying particular attention to the shuffles and tweaks to the formula for the next game.

And so, like any good obsessive, possessive fanboy would, I have been scouring previews, interviews, videos and collating everything we know so far about Dark Souls Ⅱ to try and build myself a picture of how the game is turning out so far.



Probably the most significant change took place behind-the-scenes; new directors Tomohiro Shibuya and Yui Tanimura, are taking over the responsibilities of Hidetaka Miyazaki, (mastermind/overlord of the first two games), which many fans were/are understandably wary of. This wasn't helped by the perceived disagreement between the new guys on how to convey the story in the game.

Wary, but not worried myself. Miyazaki is still loosely connected to the development and he has reassured us that; "Everybody knows what the core of Dark Souls is – the dev team does, the fans do, the media does – and that will never change." [http://www.edge-online.com/news/miyazaki-insists-dark-souls-ii-will-stay-true-to-what-fans-expect/]

Like I said, tweaks and alterations will be made, but no sweeping overhaul to the gameplay and mechanics. It makes sense that they won't alter it too much; the series is too young to need much more than a little refinement.

Another thing that had people concerned are the talks of "streamlining" and "accessibility" being added to the Dark Souls experience.

Some people assumed that these words meant "dumbing down" or "simplification", to appeal to a larger audience, which isn't something us Dark Souls fans are likely to welcome, though Yui Tanimura clarified that it isn’t the case; “we wanted to, after a lot of feedback from the community and fans, streamline the experience so that we take away a lot of the tedious or, pain in the ass aspects that were in the original Dark Souls,". [http://www.destructoid.com/dark-souls-ii-s-director-talks-freedom-and-accessibility-251275.phtml]

More recently, Yui Tanimura made extra effort to quash any doubts and apologised for any confusion using those words had caused. On top of that, Producer for the project Takeshi Miyazoe assures that this was “a mistranslation” on their part.

Ok, so despite the misunderstood messages about accessibility, and behind-the-scenes change of lead personnel, I do think the game is in good hands and judging from previews it does seem like it's heading in the right direction, with the core of Dark Souls intact.

So, what can be done to improve? Or rather, what do I hope will be done...



A little less obfuscation, a little more explanation

One alteration I would like to see is the game being a bit less secretive, less vague than in terms of ridiculously obscured optional locations and the effects of certain items.

For example, the requirements to enter the Painted World of Ariamis are pretty convoluted. Chances are that, upon finding the entrance, most people won't have the required “key” to enter, and you are given no clue as to what it might be or where to find it. The “key” itself does give a hint as to it's use, but finding it involves some thinking outside the box. Also Ash Lake is pretty hard to find if you don't know where to look.

I suppose the idea is that those who figure out how to enter will discover a new area as reward, though it seems daft that these whole areas, though optional, should obscured so thoroughly. I'm not saying make it blatantly obvious, just a few more hints here and there regarding hidden locations.

The item descriptions for things such as the Dried Finger gives no clue as to its effects when used. Not until my second playthrough did I look on the Dark Souls Wiki to see what it did, and even then I found there was still confusion about it amongst the community.



Multiplayer

The multiplayer aspect of Dark Souls Ⅱ is receiving several major alterations. The fact that there will now be dedicated servers is very welcome; one of my main frustrations with online play was due to simple lag, the bane of any online component in a game, and difficulty connecting to other players. This will hopefully result in less latency, and fewer rubber-banding incidents as red phantoms lunge to stab out my souls.

The news that you can now be invaded even whilst “hollowed” (or undead) in Dark Souls Ⅱ was initially perturbing to me. In Dark Souls it was easy enough to stay hollowed and run no risk of being invaded, with the fair penalty of being unable to summon other phantoms yourself. Furthermore, if defeated in hollow form players lose a portion of their max health bar (similar to in Demon's Souls) further disadvantaging them against malevolent phantoms. This time, no matter what condition your character is in, you're at risk of invasion whenever you are connected.

The reason I was concerned about this when I first heard of it is that I found random PVP in Dark Souls to be rather unbalanced. While the threat of being invaded by another player is a feature that fits well into the Souls world, my experience with these hostile encounters has been mainly of frustration.

The highly damaging “back-stab” technique in particular, where invaders could seemingly warp behind you simply by moving close to your flank and back-stab without having to be directly in position, made for some unfair fights. This was made worse by the aforementioned latency problems, making it more difficult to avoid being back-stabbed.



The fact that NPC enemies in the game will ignore invading players (even if attacked by them) in your world is annoying. It enables players to use dishonourable baiting tactics to lure you into an area full of creatures, or they can fire projectiles while standing safe amongst stationary enemies, both of which have happened to me several times.

I'm not sure if this was an oversight or intentional design choice, it seems strange for invading players to have such an advantage.

Thankfully, measures are being taken to balance PVP, for example the “hitbox” area on characters in which a back-stab can be performed is being reduced making it more difficult to pull off and there is also a covenant that the player can join which will summon a “Blue Sentinel” ally to assist whenever they are invaded.


Having seen all the recent trailers and screens, I can still safely say that my anticipation for Dark Souls Ⅱ is still somewhere between the “give it to me now!” and “why don't I have it yet?” stages, and, with just under two months to go until release, I look forward to more good news regarding the development.   read


5:38 PM on 11.22.2013

Welcoming The New Generation

Oh! A new generation of consoles, how exciting!

Seriously, this isn't a sarcastic, cynical “I don't care” post. I am genuinely looking forward this gen as it fully kicks-off now the Xbox One is out, as it's the first one I'll actually be paying attention to from the beginning.

When the 360 and PS3 released they were barely blips on my radar; last generation I was a late adopter, still playing my GameCube up until 2008 before I realised there were consoles other than those made by Nintendo. The same counted for the generation before that.

Nowadays I'm a fervent follower of the goings on in the video game industry as a whole, and new consoles are obviously a big deal. I will be a spectator for the beginning since there are still several PS3 games I've yet to play which will keep me using it well into next year. Also I think it is generally better to wait on getting new releases, be it games or consoles, especially in the current “patch it later” culture in game development.

Now just to be clear, yes, I'm ignoring Nintendo. Although I still love what Nintendo does, though my preference in hardware and games has largely switched to Playstation and PC, I don’t really count them as part of any “console war”. Though of course the Wii U is part of this generation, it's not something that has much of my attention.

Nintendo like to do their own thing, not really directly competing with other companies, which makes them interesting in their own right. But they've had their time in the limelight last year.

This time it's about Sony and Microsoft; a head-to-head rivalry between two juggernauts engaging in a cataclysmic battle, as a couple of Kaiju would in an unfortunate Japanese city.



...Well, no, it won't be that destructive. In reality its just corporations selling plastic filled with electric bits. No Kaiju.

Anyway, Gojira or no, it's still exciting to see what new developments, as well as games, the next few years will bring to the industry.

We managed to convince Microsoft that forced DRM is not what people want in a gaming machine, (or software...or anything ever), but that’s not to say they won't attempt to implement a similar restriction in the future; they obviously think it's a good idea.

Sony has seen sense and built the PS4 with a less complex architecture in a welcome attempt to be more developer-friendly. Hopefully this will mean fewer technical disparities between console versions of games, and I'll be interested to see if that means Bethesda Game Studios will bother optimising their future games for Playstation.

Speaking of hardware, will the flimsy-looking PS4 crumble to dust after a few months? Might the Xbox One suddenly melt in the midst of a particularly vigorous game of Xbox Fitness, which everyone is undoubtedly playing at launch?

In all seriousness, hopefully there won't be a repeat of the hardware faults that plagued last gen's consoles, the 360 in particular. There have been reports of faulty PS4s already, but it's too early to assess how widespread it is. But it wouldn't be unexpected; these days consoles are so complex, with all their Giggleflops and Terracottabytes and many moving parts, that something is bound to break eventually--Case in point: My fat PS3 from 2008 has been repaired twice within three years, whereas all my Nintendo consoles from the last three generations, and my PS2, still work perfectly.

I'm also curious to see if the Kinect ever actually catches on in the mainstream and if it was worth them bundling it into the Xbox One package, or if it turns out to be a waste of everyone's time and money and should be scrapped immediately. Yes, Sony made the Eye thing, but at least that was optional.

Or was it part of some sinister plan?

Are the rumours true that, by installing a diabolical, sentience-endowing patch from MS, the Xbox One and Kinect will fuse together, sprout robotic limbs and attempt to take over your living room?

Almost definitely.

Maybe.

We'll see.


Here's to the new generation!


  read


4:21 PM on 09.08.2013

Let's Go Fishing! - A Silly Blog About Fishing in Games

Fishing is bloody boring. In real life, I mean. I've tried it a couple of times, I even caught a starfish on a school trip which was pretty cool, but it's not for me. Mainly because I'd have to go outdoors. It's also dangerous; I tried fishing in the pond we used to have in our garden (using a reed from said pond, and no bait...I was about 5 or something), but I fell in and nearly drowned, probably, which proves it is a deadly sport.

But in video games?

Do I want to take a break from fighting monsters and saving Hyrule to go angling at Lake Hylia? Yes, I will save my Rupees for it! There's an empty museum in this town full of animals that I've just moved to, want to go snag some of the aqua-life and fill it up? Heck yes, that fishing rod at Nook's Cranny will be my first purchase! I own a farm in a tiny coastal village, there's not a lot to do after farm chores. Oh, there's a river? Fishing!


Fishing is so much fun. In video games, that is. I was "hooked" on digital fishing since Pokémon Blue, which was a very simple process of casting a line and seeing if anything bit. The exciting part was battling whatever I managed to get, and doing the Pokémon thing with the balls. I would also spend hours at the fishing pond in Ocarina of Time, despite the looming chaos and turmoil threatening Hyrule.



Every time it started raining in my Animal Crossing town, I'd grab my rod, run down to the beach then stand on the pier, cast my line and wait. For literally minutes, I would watch and wait, scouring the waters for the elusive, almost legendary Coelacanth. The elation felt on the night when I finally nabbed the beast (after hundreds of damn sea bass) was on par with that felt in other games upon beating a tough boss or winning a race; truly an achievement. That grotesque beast of a fish took pride of place in the museum, and still floats there to this day (unless someone has wiped my memory card since...).



I am aware that "realistic" fishing games exist, but the problem is that I don't like the idea of an entire game dedicated to it. Also, "realism" is what makes fishing mundane to me. I don't want to catch boring old real-world fish from some bland lake in a place I could actually go to; I want to catch things like the Hylian loach, or a socking great big Coelacanth! I'd much rather be hunting Staryu while surfing Kanto Route 19 or painting fishing lines into the swamps of Agata Forest to catch the Whopper in Ōkami.



I'm kind of disappointed that I've played nothing recently that has a fishing feature. I know that kind of activity won't suit all types of games, but there are several which I think could (should) have included it. 

It's one major thing missing from SWTOR; fishing was one of my favourite pastimes in WoW, but fish don't seem to exist in the SWTOR galaxy. I was miffed that Skyward Sword had no fishing mini-game. I've also been playing Fallout New Vegas, and was thinking, wouldn't it be great if you could catch Mini-Mirelurks or other mutated aquatic beasts from irradiated lakes? Something I hope they consider for Fallout 4.

In conclusion, I'd like more fishing in video games, please.   read


11:19 AM on 08.13.2013

Capsized Review

Oh look I did a review again. Kind of irrelevant as it's been out for like two years, but hey, it's practice. I chose a smaller game to look at this time, if anyone reads this I'd appreciate constructive criticism on writing style etc., thanks!


Developer: Alientrap
Publisher: Indiepub
Platforms: Microsoft Windows (Reviewed), iPad, Linux, OSX, XBLA

Capsized is the first commercial title from Canadian indie developer Alientrap. At first glance it looks like a familiar side-scrolling, run-n-gun platformer, but is set apart by its detailed visual-style and variety of gameplay mechanics.



The campaign's story is very bare-bones and basic, as is the comic book style by which it is conveyed. A series of beautifully drawn images, sans any dialogue, are shown panel-by-panel telling how a spaceship of Human astronauts is hit by an unidentified object, so they are forced to suit-up and evacuate via the ships escape pods.

Brief, 1 to 3-panel story strips also serve as introductions to each of the stages and your objective in them. The introductory strip for the first stage shows one of the pods crash-landing (upside down, I suppose where the name “Capsized” came from) onto the jungle-like surface of an unknown alien planet. You play as the spaceman that steps out of it and you proceed to follow your first vague objective: explore the alien planet.

Capsized's gameplay is, as mentioned, a metroidvania style mix of exploration and shooting action, using WASD to move and the mouse to aim your targeting reticle. Objectives are usually simple; reach the end of the area, destroy certain targets, collect items etc., though completing them often requires more thought as puzzles are introduced and the enemies get progressively heftier, more wily and numerous.

The stranded astronaut can use a nice variety of futuristic weapons to blast away alien scum who are selfishly trying to protect their home world. Though you start each stage with just the puny blast carbine, there are plenty more to choose from should you discover them within the stages. From basic pulsar rifles and flamethrowers to advanced homing nano-bot launchers and the devastating “Quasar Array”, there's a suitable weapon for every situation.

Aside from the weapons, you can also jump and stomp “plumber style” on weaker enemies with your hefty space-boots, or use the handy grappling beam to grab rocks (or, indeed, small creatures) to launch at your foes. The grappling beam also serves as alternative means of traversing the environments; you can use it to pull yourself towards surfaces or swing throughout the planet like Tarzan in an spacesuit.

You also have a handy jetpack, activated with the spacebar, useful for boosting around the more open areas, provided you discover fuel for it. Jetpack fuel, as well as ammunition, extra lives and various powerups, are hidden throughout the stages. To reach them you need to find secret passages through the walls, basically by bumping against the edges of the map until you fall through it. It is usually worth scouring the terrain for these goodies to gain the edge, particularly in the latter half of the game where I found the difficulty seemed to spike considerably.



Physics play a big part in the game's mechanics; using the grapple beam is essential to pull levers, or lift rocks to drop them onto pressure pads and to open doors and access new sections of the maps, or to simply knock away debris that is blocking your path. There are situations where you will need to haul items across the stage to dump it onto a pressure pad on the other side (made somewhat easier by the low gravity), either dodging enemies or clearing them from the path in advance, the latter being my preferred method as some will actively hunt you when the see you.

Moving objects around can be problematic and was a major cause of frustration, particularly in enclosed spaces as they will get stuck in the terrain occasionally. Also in areas where you must carry rocks to pressure pads, I often found myself reaching them only to accidentally launch the rock off a cliff edge and groaning as it tumbled back down to the surface.



The music of Capsized consists of some nice atmospheric synth-tunes, though overall it lacks variety. The tracks are also usually rather slow-paced and, well, relaxing which I thought doesn't really fit an action game. Each stage has a different theme, but you will often hear the same tracks repeated in the background. This doesn't really detract from the experience too much, but I felt a lot more could have been done with the music, even if it is nice to listen to.

As for sound effects, there are plenty of background noises such as sounds of unseen wildlife tweeting or making insect-like clicking sounds, giving a nice feel of a living world. You've also got the basic laser weapon “zaps”, alien creatures' screeches and grunts and explosions and whatnot, all of which mesh together nicely.

One stand-out aspect of Capsized is the gorgeous, hand-drawn art style through which the vibrant alien world is visualised. While the environments are limited to the similar-looking overworld regions or caves beneath the surface, the amount of detail is impressive. Vines sway, docile indigenous creatures can be seen wandering about in the background, also weather effects such as sunshafts cascade over open areas in daytime stages, while mist and rain add to the visual ambience of night stages.



I managed the main campaign in around 6 hours, a decent length for an Indie such as this considering there's a good amount of content included to keep up the longevity.

There is a local co-op mode; you can team up with someone via two Xbox 360 pads to take on the campaign together, although I lacked the equipment to try it out. In arcade mode, there are other game types to play such as survival which pits you against waves of enemies, time trial where you must traverse stages in search for oxygen capsules to stay alive. You can also duel against another player, though only locally using two game pads as there's no online option sadly.

Overall, Capsized is a good game and although it is frustrating in parts and not particularly deep, it has enough variety and challenge to keep it fun and interesting during the 5-6 hour campaign.

-Overall score-
7.5/10   read


12:18 PM on 05.27.2013

Resident Evil - Goddammit, Capcom

I feel strongly about the Resident Evil series. It kickstarted my love for both horror games and all things zombie related simultaneously. My introduction to the series was the remake of Resident Evil on Gamecube, having missed the PS1 titles due to owning nothing but Nintendo hardware until 2008. I eventually progressed through the entire (main) series, including the DS version of the PS1 original, though the Gamecube remake remains my favourite and one of the pinnacles of survival horror games for me.



I really don't like where it went. I'm going to refrain from passing judgement on Resident Evil 6 since I've only played the demo, though from that I can say it is the first game in the main series that I have little interest in playing beyond the demo. After feeling Resi 5 had pushed the IP a bit too far from its roots and then seeing this apparently repeated in 6, I feel my interest waning. Which makes me sad.

Much like Nemesis, the series' original form has mutated throughout its life to a point where the survival horror elements that popularised it have been shrouded by the sprouting tentacles of 3rd-person shooters and action games. It has also struggled to maintain a grip on the horror elements as a result of Capcom's decision that since horror simply cannot compete on the level of other AAA titles, they might as well copy them.

I look back now and wonder; how did we get from tiptoeing through a creepy mansion to punching boulders in an active volcano and suplexing zombies?

Well, it started with Resident Evil 4.


Fourth time's a charm

Those who didn't follow the development of RE4 as fervently as I did may know little of the turmoil it went through during early production. Originally planned for the Playstation 2, three different potential iterations of the game went into pre-production only to be scrapped part way through development (although one was turned into Devil May Cry instead). Shinji Mikami, director of the original Resident Evil, began work on the project as producer but stepped in to direct after the other ideas fell through. Production duties were taken up by Hiroyuki Kobayashi, who also produced the Gamecube remake.

RE4 was also the first game since the orginal (and the remake) that Shinji Mikami took up the role of director, having served as producer on Resi 2, 3 and Code: Veronica. According to the game's producer Hiroyuki Kobayashi, the reason for the drastic change in direction from previous titles was because "the whole concept of RE4 was to reinvent the game...in the past installments, we were stuck in the cookie-cutter RE mold."
It's true that the games were consistently formulaic up to that point. There were a couple of attempts at branching-out with mediocre lightgun-shooter spin-offs, while Code Veronica introduced fully rendered 3D environments and Zero innovated with the 2-character "partner zapping" system, the gameplay was largely unchanged since the original.

Transitioning a videogame series to a different genre or style isn't a bad thing in itself, if done in a way that makes sense for it. In fact it can be a blessing for franchises that are dwindling in quality or just becoming tired, a good example being Castlevania: Lords of Shadow which became the most successful Castlevania game to date.



This turned out to be a good thing as Resident Evil 4 was hugely successful and highly praised, and rightly so. It was incredibly well-made and one became of my favourite games, and thus had little difficulty accepting that this was what Resident Evil had become. The lack of traditional Resi scares was still a bit disappointing, but at least they tried to emulate the creepy-factor in some sections of the game.


You forgot the Fear!

Resident Evil 5 was obviously going to go in the same direction. Sure, they did a good job with RE4 so it should be easy to get right. Unfortunately they got some things wrong...



RE5 followed the same template as 4, but with an even higher emphasis on action and subsequently lower on horror. It had it's share of nerve-wracking moments (wading through a giant-alligator-infested swamp for example), and combat was sufficiently exciting for the most part, though mostly due to having more enemies thrown at you at once rather than being vulnerable through lack of ammo or health, which was always plentiful. And, if all else failed, you could always be revived by your partner.

Overall though, the scare factor was countered substantially by the addition of Sheva, your permanent co-operative partner/herb-bank. Adding another playable character pretty much kills most of the tension, the same problem I felt Zero had. 

With the increased focus on action and shooting, being tethered to a co-op partner throughout the game and the questionable setting of bright, sunny Africa, the "Fear You Can't Forget" that was advertised seemed to be, well, forgotten...as expressed in this infographic I made:



That's not to say it wasn't a good game; tight combat, some cleverly designed 2-person puzzles and a co-op system was well-implemented and made playing with another person enjoyable. What let it down most for me (besides the lack of fearful scaryness and terror) was the increasingly ridiculous story and terrible character changes. I find it hard to forgive what they decided to do with Jill and Weskers' characters. I mean, for fucks sake, a mind-controlled ninja super-warrior and a generic supervillian who had apparently been freed from The Matrix? Ugh. It is pretty funny in places, I'll give it that though...I laughed out loud when Chris started punching that boulder, with his muscles the size of his head.



So in the wake of Resident Evil 6 failing to meet Capcom's expectations, despite it selling around 5 million, I hope they take the right message from it and do the right thing. I suggest a good old-fashioned reboot.   read


11:07 AM on 04.23.2013

Violence: The Blame Game

"Are videogames too violent?"

Whenever this gets brought up in a discussion on violence in videogames, I roll my eyes. Too violent for who, for what? For society? To be accepted as an art form? Too violent for parents, who are worried their children's minds might be warped by the violent content of games they shouldn't even be playing? Or perhaps people (well, politicians) who need something to pin the blame for acts of real-life violence on.

So I've decided to tackle the question of violence in videogames by looking at how I think games are unfairly blamed for violence in real-life society.



I always ask the question about other media; who's complaining that films are too violent? Well, some people obviously do, but people seem to gravitate towards games when the finger-pointing starts. I think a cause of this is the relative youth of videogames as a medium; film, books, theatre etc. have all built up a substantial pedigree to allow violent content to be acceptable. It seems to be a case of the "little guy" being picked on, since his older, larger cousins can't be touched.

Now of course games are different in that they involve interactivity; you are in the shoes of an avatar existing in a virtual world. When it comes to games featuring heavy violence, you are more often than not controlling the perpetrator of violent acts.

This interactivity is a large part of what causes the distrust of videogames. They are sometimes called "simulators" in which already violent-minded individuals can practice their "killing-skills". To anyone who has never played a videogame, this makes sense because, well, why not? It sounds reasonable, until you think about it.

I've played first-person-shooters a lot and I have a fascination with weaponry; when I was younger I used to make pistols out of construction blocks and I thought my first Airsoft gun was the coolest thing ever. The one part I dislike about them is, ironically, the fact that they are used to kill things. I know that if I was ever handed a real loaded rifle I would be terrified of pointing it at anything other than the ground for fear of it going off.

But suppose someone who would be williing to shoot a human target picked up a gun. I can't imagine any amount of time spent with a shooting game would train them to shoot; it is still a far-cry from holding a gamepad and watching a screen.

Using myself as an example may not be that suitable I admit. I'm probably one of the least violent people, I hate it in fact. I wouldn't hurt a fly (unless it pissed me off too much). That being said, I've played violent games most of my life and never been inclined to translate my actions performed in a game into real-life. I played Pokémon when I was at more impressionable age and I have never thought it a good idea to throw a mouse at a caterpillar ordering it to "use tackle!". Pokémon's pretty violent when you think about it...

Anyway, back to the more serious comparison: playing a game in which you use a weapon, a gun for example, does not teach you to use a gun.



In wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, Democratic California Senator Dianne Feinstein spoke out against "really violent videogames," saying that "they "enable the (would-be mass murderers) to become much more familiar with that depiction of death and blood,".

It's this kind of knee-jerk reaction to the fact that the killer played videogames in some capacity that I find dismaying. It's understandable to want something to accuse out of fear and anger, but the way in which some people act as though games are the cause of all evil is laughable.

I also dismiss the view that violent media desensitises (normal) people to violence; I recently saw a photo taken at the Boston marathon bombings, which showed a street covered in patches of blood, the mere aftermath of the attacks, and started feeling ill. By contrast, I can witness Leon's head getting torn off by Dr. Salvador's chainsaw or even innocent people being mown down by gunfire in No Russian over and over, but they wouldn't invoke the same reactions in me. To me at least, the rift between real-life and pixelated violence is very large.



I'm also inclined to recite this common rebuttal; If, hypothetically, violent games are fueling people with already unbalanced temperaments to turn to killing, then is the answer to ban them? Should the majority be punished for the acts of a few? If a person's mind wanders towards thoughts such as "hey, maybe I should kill people", that person was probably already messed up. Something went wrong in their head long before they played a videogame and it's likely they'd have found another stimulus if not them.



As for the many ways violence is used in games, whether it be to evoke emotions, to shock, to tell a story, to enhance realism, or merely for visual feedback, each of these reasons are as valid to be used in videogames as they are in any other form of entertainment media.   read


12:25 PM on 03.22.2013

Dishonored Review (PS3)

Yes I know it's been out for a while, shush. I started writing this a couple months ago but didn't get round to getting it finished until now, so, here is a review what I did.



Developer: Arkane Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks

The story of Dishonored is set in Dunwall, a fictional industrial city with an aesthetic inspired in part by early 1900s England. Much of the city is in a state of lockdown put in force by the oppressive government. Guards constantly patrol the streets, reacting to curfew-breakers with hostility, employing roadblocks, security checkpoints and advanced, futuristic security systems and weapons to keep the citizens of Dunwall in check.

You are given the role of Corvo Attano, who at the beginning of the game is bodyguard for the Empress of Dunwall, Jessamine Kaldwin. After returning from a mission to seek aid from foreign lands, (due to a plague that has overcome the city and infected many of its inhabitants), things quickly go horribly wrong when the Empress is assassinated despite your efforts to protect her. To make things worse her daughter Emily is kidnapped by the mysterious assassins, and you are blamed for both the murder and abduction.

You are promptly locked up and put on death row while power-hungry men take over from the Empress. Through the rest of the game you are sent on missions to assassinate corrupt officials and politicians, rescuing Emily and eventually hunting down those who killed the Empress in the hopes of clearing your name.

While not the most original story, it is told well and supported by a cast of believable (if somewhat stereotypical) characters brought to life by some (mostly) great voice acting. I felt something for most of the NPCs I met, ranging from pity to disgust and pure hatred by the end (I seriously had to restrain myself from stabbing a story-critical NPC in the throat due to how vile they were); Dishonored's narrative is rife with betrayals, shady deals and political corruption and as such the people you meet typically have something to hide, be it skeletons in a closet or secret perversions.

Many diaries, notes, extracts from books and other texts can be obtained while exploring Dunwall, all of which provide more insight into the world and the characters that inhabit it should you care to explore to find them (which I did, being a bit of a completionist). Some of the texts describe aspects of the world beyond Dunwall; there are mentions of various continents and foreign lands in the diaries of sailors, political reports and though you never get to visit those locations, they create a feeling that you are part of a larger universe.



Developer Arkane Studios does a great job of creating a non-linear gameplay experience and catering to player choice in Dishonored. Each mission area is designed as a sandbox in which the player can choose from multiple routes to traverse and methods of dealing with enemy characters, completing objectives and assassinations. The choices you make also have an impact on the world; choose to kill the majority of your targets, the Citywatch guards and fire-breathing (yes, FIRE-BREATHING) gang-members and the city becomes darker, plague-infested rats and Weepers more plentiful and NPCs react to you differently.

Corvo can be equipped with weapons and powers that can be used to compliment different play-styles. In a very Bioshock-esque style, Corvo uses a blade in one hand and in the other an equipped supernatural ability or other equipment such as crossbow or trip-mines. You can go on the offensive and outright kill those who cross you using your blade and gadgets including grenades and a pistol, along with abilities such as Rat Swarm, which does pretty much what it says on the tin and summons a swarm of plague-ridden rats to munch on your foes and eventually devour them.

For a more stealthy approach, players have access to sleep-inducing darts for the crossbow, a rewire device that lets you disable alarms and security measures, alongside abilities like Blink which lets you teleport short distances, and Shadow Kill which causes enemy corpses to combust and disappear when you kill them with a sneak attack. Early on you meet a man called Piero, an famous inventor who can upgrade your weapons and equipment in exchange for coins which are scattered throughout the city, and the supernatural abilities are purchased and upgradeable by acquiring mystical Runes.

You can mix and match any combination of weapons and abilities to suit your play style; In my first playthrough I opted for a mainly stealth-based arsenal, though also made use of my offensive weapons as I messed up a lot when trying to be stealthy and got into fights more often than I anticipated.



Traversing the world in a first person perspective took a bit of getting used to, particularly when trying to leap across rooftops and thin pipes. You get used to it though, early on you are given a power that lets you teleport short distances which assists greatly in moving around the world and a few hours in I was jumping/teleporting around Dunwall with relative ease. When engaging in sword fighting the first-person view is a hindrance when trying to keep track of multiple enemies, I found the sword combat a bit awkward and usually boiled down to swinging my sword wildly while shooting and gulping down heath tonics.

Instead of water and steam power for machinery, Dunwall utilises processed, volatile whale oil as its primary fuel for everything from street lamps to huge, missile-launching turrets. Whale oil plays a large part in the game mechanics; you can disable gun turrets and the deadly "walls of light" that block pathways by removing the nearby whale oil tanks, you can can also shoot or throw the tanks to cause explosive havoc. Your pistol and crossbow can even be modified to shoot explosive/incendiary ammunition using the oil.

Visually, the game emulates the aesthetic of 1800-1900s English cities very well. The environments you explore are a selection of beautifully bleak, grimy, run-down buildings on cobbled streets, underground sewers, huge suspension bridges and opulent, aristocratic residences.

The architecture and design of the buildings inside and out is superb, lighting effects are lovely, although some of the textures are noticeably rather ugly in places if you stop and look at them (bear in mind this is for the PS3, I can't speak for other versions), there's some screen-tearing here and there along with minor frame-rate judders but nothing too distracting.



The game is well polished, a couple of glitches I encountered include the occasional disappearance of the marker used to target where you want to teleport, and at one point I actually fell through the ground and into the space beneath the environment models, although this happened only once in my third playthrough and in very specific circumstances so I imagine it would be unlikely that most people experience this.

Dishonored is a great example of what can be produced when a publisher puts faith (also money) into an original concept. Though it borrows many game design elements and mechanics from various other games, Arkane Studios manages to implement them all effectively and cohesively in Dishonored to create an engaging and exceptionally enjoyable game.

-Overall-

9/10   read


8:45 AM on 03.13.2013

I Never Saw My Child Grow Up - Games I regret not finishing

I usually make a point of finishing games, particularly these days since I find myself more resilient to a particularly tough challenge in a game compared to in my earlier days, making it more likely that I'll power through such situations. I'm also a bit of a completionist by nature, I am not usually satisfied until I've seen and done everything in a game. And there's usually more incentive to do so, what with trophies and achievements and such.

Alas there has been a select few that I regret never reaching the end of. Older games from the days of yore, a different time often without the modern conveniances of autosaves and wireless controllers that we now take for granted. A simpler time. These were good games too, some of them classics even. Not necessarily ones that I quit I out of boredom or lack of enjoyment, but rather titles in which I hit a snag somewhere along the way resulting in long-term abandonment.

So here they are:


Jet Force Gemini (N64)



One of my earliest and fondest memories of gaming and one of my favourite games for the N64. Also, being the first 3rd-person-shooter I played, it taught me The sad thing about this one is that I actually played through it several times, but only ever reaching the final boss. I remember the game being fairly difficult in general, though that may be because I wasn't as experienced in gaming back then.

I would blast gallons of green goo from the hordes of screeching drones over and over, in battles spanning across several planets and eventually get all three characters to Mizar's Palace. Only to be defeated by the tyrannical "insect" time and time again. Even when me and my brother joined forces with one of us as Floyd, we put up a good fight but were ultimately vanquished by the spindly-legged overlord.

I wish I hadn't, but since I'd given up all hope of beating the game I looked up in a magazine walkthrough (remember those?) what happened at the games ending. So my desire to one day finish JFG is not based on seeing the story come to a close, but overcoming the first digital adversary that made my then 10-year-old self completely abandon a game...

Mizaaarrr!!

*shakes fist*


Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem (GameCube)



This game was right up my street. Horror, monsters, supernatural forces, Magick and guns. A story dealing in the occult and strange, Lovecraftian leviathans.

It's been so long since I played this that I don't remember most of it. This is another where I reached  the final battle, but gave up there for some reason. It seems silly that I put over 15 hours into this game (I know because I tracked down my save file) only to fall after one attempt at the final hurdle.

I could easily just finish off the last boss now I've found the save file, but I'm tempted to play through the story completely again and finish it that way. Decisions, decisions.


Update: I beat the last boss from my old saved game. Now I have closure.


Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life (GameCube)

This is an odd one, due to my usual complete disinterest in most games in the simulation genre  (especially of banal, everyday things like farming) I wonder why I even bought it. But I was pleasantly surprised to find managing a farm and, well, life of the cheery anime farmer dude was a lot of fun.

It appealed greatly to my penchant for routine and order, by having you perform certain tasks every morning and evening, like feed the animals and let them out to graze and shut them in their sheds for the night, planting and watering crops and such traditional farming chores. It also catered to my slightly compulsive nature of liking to have things in their right place and organised. Another strong point was that the characters in the game truly were characters, charming and fun to interact with. Oh and Murrey the Hobo. Murrey's awesome.



What I didn't realise was it was his entire life that you could play through. I stopped playing I think when my red-headed son was still just a toddler, barely after the first chapter. But damn was that a long chapter and apparently there are four more after that! This is one I may have quit out of boredom, though it's possible that I played it so much that I just needed a break but never returned to it.

Looking back now, I wish I'd returned to it sooner. I recently tried to revisit my farm, but my save has been overwritten somewhere down the line (a result of sharing games with two brothers). I suppose I missed the opportunity to see my child grow up...

Oh well, fuck it I'll just start again some time.


Update #1: I started again, forgot how much of a slog it can be the first year, but I perservered and am quite enjoying it. My cows have hilarious names.


Final Fantasy 3 (& 4) and Chrono Trigger (NDS)

I do enjoy JRPGs, Golden Sun being one my favourite games ever. I just don't play that many, and finish even fewer. I'd heard about this obscure little JRPG series called Final Fantasy and something called Chrono Trigger. Remakes of the third and fourth Final Fantasy games had been released on DS, and in 2009 I also got the DS version of Chrono Trigger, so I took the opportunity to try them out.

And they were great, I progressed well until that one darned boss battle in each game that annihilated my party.

I think my problem is that these are games that you need to put a lot of time into, which leads to me playing them so much that I get burnt out. So when I get stuck on a tough boss, the thought of putting more time into grinding unitl I get my team stronger just stops being appealing. I would then move on to other games and forget about them.




Now with more experience, patience and skill, these games that were a challenge to me years ago now seem trivial. I have no doubt I'd be able to be finally complete all these games on another try. It's really just a question of having the time.   read


9:09 PM on 02.20.2013

Horror Story: Amnesia is hard to forget...

(Bewaaaarre: contains spoilery description of scenes in Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Also, mild peril.)

No game has had the ability to freeze my body in my seat, make me clench my teeth in anxiety and squint my eyes in fear of glimpsing something that was usually not even there, until Amnesia: The Dark Descent.

I love the horror genre, like many others I like the rush of feeling scared of something on a screen which is fictional and cannot harm me. My first taste of a proper horror game was at the age of 13 with the Resident Evil remake on GameCube and from then on I've always sought out scary games, often those with dark, disturbed content. So, yes, good wholesome stuff!

So it was inevitable once I started getting into PC gaming that I would eventually discover Frictional Games, Swedish developer of just the type of games that I love: survival horror adventures with intensely macabre atmospheres and themes. I played through all of their earlier Penumbra games before trying the demo of Amnesia, consisting of the first 20 minutes of the game including a section with some of the most tense, panic-inducing gameplay I've experienced...and it left me wanting more, but at the same time dreading what else I would find deeper in Brennenburg castle.



"Keep Out of The Water..."

The last section of the demo begins with you entering a dark corridor flooded knee-deep with water. A couple of steps forward though, and the music kicked in, which is never a good thing. A strange, blood-red substance materialised on the walls, and I heard splashing footsteps coming from around the corner.

Then I saw them. Just the splashes in the water, nothing else. Nothing there. At that point you'd expect Fight-or-Flight to kick in, but I remember just standing there, wide eyed and paralysed as whatever-the-hell-it-was approached, let out a horrible, otherworldy screeching noise and proceeded to slash my face up. I'm not sure why I didn't think to move, maybe I had expected (or fervently hoped) it to be a hallucination of my character, that it would stop before it reached me and discover I had blacked out.

But no, I would have to live through this particular nightmare. The game provided a hint after I died: "Keep out of the water...". So after I restarted I jumped onto the crates piled up against a wall. It appeared again, still lacking a visible form, and it stopped just in front of the crates apparently unaware of where I was. Another thought had crossed my mind: had the game glitched? Was the in-game model for water_monster1 missing from the games files? It quickly dawned on me though that it was probably simply invisible, and the presence of the water convinced me of it. How else would you tell where an invisible monster was?

That was a stroke of genius from the designers, I think. Stalked by something that could be mere feet away from you and that you can't see? Strangely, that water-dwelling Kaernk scared me more than any zombie had in spite of, or perhaps a result of, the lack of visible teeth, claws or indeed anything to suggest it posed a threat.



Night in the Castle

The game was hyped up substantially as an experience guaranteed to make you scream in terror, as the many "Watch People Play And Scream In Terror At Amnesia" videos on YouTube showed. I'm always a bit sceptical of those kinds of claims, as I was with the recent Slender game (which was a bit disappointing.) Nevertheless I went into the game expecting to be scared, though I wasn't prepared for how much it would affect me while playing.

I think the pacing in Amnesia was done very well, with the first actual threat not appearing until I had explored a while and solved the first challenge. This was effective in that it left it to my imagination torment me. I feared the worst and dreaded that each door that blew open unexpectedly and every distant howl were precursors to something appearing to bugger up my night in the castle.

I didn't even get a good look at the monsters until I looked up pictures of them after I finished the game, (besides the ones that you actually cannot see!). They were just too much of a threat to try and catch a glimpse of up close, and you were at risk of diminishing mental clarity from staring at their mutilated features. Which was brilliant; the best kind of terror is the unknown, one you don't fully understand and that you have almost no defense against, and to try and look at it blurs your vision and damages your mind.

This is something that separates the shambling, moaning creatures of Amnesia from the Necromorphs in Dead Space (which I also loved) or even zombies in Resident Evil. In those games you know, or can take a good guess at what they are and you are well equipped to tackle them therefore the threat is somewhat diminshed.

Of course, Dead Space counteracts that by sending groups of them at you at once and having them jump out of space-closets for surprise attacks, while Resident Evil forces you to tackle enemies in claustrophobic environments as a character that controls like an M1 Abrams. In Amnesia though, you have no weapons. The best you can do for yourself if you are spotted is maybe a futile attempt to lob something heavy at the grunting monstrosity stomping towards you, before running away and cowering in a dark corner.

It's a different type of fear that Amnesia's enemy encounters give; a desperate, panic-inducing "oh fuck what is that, did it see me?!", Flight-not-Fight situation as opposed to a jump scare followed by an adrenaline filled gun-versus-claw battle. Amnesia's brand of horror is one I find much more palpable.



The constant feeling of unease and wariness that Amnesia evokes is unlike anything else I'd experienced. It seldom lets you up from the mire of despair and anxiety to take a breath of relief and repose. Even in the "safe zones" where all you do is solve mechanical puzzles, I was distracted by paranoia. I would constantly turn my suspicious gaze toward the doorways behind me, just to check nothing had followed me inside.

As the game took me further into the depths of the castle, the feeling of foreboding increased as did my unease of venturing any further. But I'm glad I did, glad I conquered the fear and thankful I had the opportunity to do so. Even if I couldn't sleep for a few nights afterward.   read


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