Isn't it about time we got to romanticizing the 2000s the same way people who grew up in the 80s and 90s romanticize their decades? Let me start by telling you about my childhood.
I was born in 1998, so I got to grow up as a PS2 kid. I got one very late in the console's life cycle, in 2006, when most of the world was ready to move on to the PS3 and Xbox 360. I absolutely love the PS2. Mine still works some 14 years later. Like pop punk and metalcore, it defines the decade for me because of one experience, one little bit of magic that I really miss: in the 2000s you could simply walk into a store, browse the shelves which were packed with mid-budget PS2 games, pick one which had a cool cover, buy it, take it home, put it in your console, and 80% of the time it would be at least decent. I know rose-tinted glasses play a role here, but that was how it felt to me. No need to read any reviews, no need to even know the game existed until 5 minutes before you bought it. You would most likely get your money's worth.
I miss these types of games quite a bit. Nowadays games are either AAA or indie; the midcard game has been booted out as major studios' budgets for games grew as big as their technological leaps - with games achieving photorealism now, and looking so good that I think all CGI films should simply be animated in video game engines. Meanwhile indie devs experiment with minimalism, nostalgia, expressing their creativity even when they don't have all the colours in the palette. This isn't a knock on either type of game - I love AAA games, and I love indie games. But I miss the type of game that sits smack-dab in the middle. It might not have the biggest dev team, but it had a major publisher backing it. It might not have a huge budget, but it did try to compete with games that did.
I recently did a blog about P.N. 03, which hits the spot in terms of nostalgia, even though it's a very mediocre game. Here are two more examples of what I'm talking about, two PS2 games I finished recently for the sake of closure. I bought them for the PS2 at least 13 years ago, and I finally finished them this week.
I bought Evil Twin: Cyprien's Chronicles for the cover alone cuz this shit looks like the coolest thing ever to an 8 year old lil goth kid. It's still pretty cool.
The sad thing is this game is SO good in terms of aesthetic, story (lots of cutscenes with lots of well-written dialogue), ideas (there are really original ideas here that no one on the internet seems to have discussed, cuz no one ever played this lmao), music, everything... even the graphics are pretty good for a Dreamcast/early PS2 game.But the gameplay is so irredeemably buggy and frustrating that it's very difficult to tolerate playing this game.
I had to sadly come to terms with the fact that I would never have finished this as a kid even if the disc had agreed to work (i never actually got to play it on PS2 because of that - Disc Read Errors are another thing PS2 owners will remember). I simply wouldn't have had the patience. Even as an adult it was sheer willpower and obstinance. And it's a crying shame because if this game had simply been coded and built better, been a bit clearer on where to go, or even was Deadly Premonition's style of 'jank but completely playable' as opposed to 'okay you basically have to break the game to advance', it could have been a huuuuge hidden gem that I'd pressure everyone into playing. But it isn't.
(By the way, Deadly Premonition is one of my favourite games of all time. If you're willing to combat technical bugs like crashes and workarounds like different compatibility modes, please do yourself a favour and play it).
I think the creative team behind Evil Twin could have done really well if they had written books or made cartoons (this game was originally intended to be a CGI TV show or something) or got some good programmers, because again, the only thing holding this game back is the bad gameplay. Otherwise, in its dark aesthetic and strong plot, it rivals American McGee's Alice. There's Demis, people who were split in half or left incomplete in some other way. The character designs for them were really unique. The evil Master, Loren Darith, holds the Zipette as a symbol of reunification over them so they obey him. Geddit? Cuz a zipper could zip them back up and let them be whole again.
Then there's Folk and Flyers, two people with differing technologies who hate each other out of ignorance - but Cyprien helps them find out that they're the same race that were split apart in the past. There's the environment that, just like American McGee's Alice, draw on themes of what could be going on in Cyprien's mind - so there are lots of 'toys' and 'broken' (Cyprien is an orphan) motifs.
Cyprien and the other kids are voiced by adults in the English dub which is weird because they're clearly pre-pubescents, so that part of the English dub is lazy. The French dub seems to be the 'native' one, I think the development team was French too, I do know the composer Bertrand Eluerd (who did a great job here) was.
6/10, everything except the gameplay and English dub is outstanding. Yet while I was playing it, I constantly thought of quitting because of how annoying the gameplay was. The saddest thought I had was, "It's not like anyone gives a shit that I'm playing this 20-year-old forgotten game." So that might be part of the reason I made myself write about it, because I do think there are good ideas here and it's sad that they're completely forgotten. I found myself thinking about the devs, and how they must have felt when this game sold like 10 copies in total. Were they sad? Do they still remember working on this game? It really feels like the team put a lot of love and care into creating this game's setting and visual design and narrative - their actual game-making skills simply weren't up to the task. They've most likely moved on, but I'm an idiot who extrapolates these types of dark thoughts until he ends up despairing.
The second game we'll talk about today is Cold Fear, a survival horror game that came out in 2005, only weeks after Resident Evil 4 I believe, and obviously bears a lot of resemblance to it which didn't work in its favour. Like Evil Twin, and a lot of PS2 games, I bought this game for the cover alone, which was very brave of me. 8-year-old me was a very cool kid, you see. Always loved horror. In fact, allow me to go on a bit of a rant: having been a horror fan since as long as I can remember, nothing scares me, which is why I find it frustrating when people who do get scared easily try to define what 'good' horror is and insist it must always be a certain type of way - it must always be smoke and mirrors and suspense and a disdain for the visceral and all the cliches that modern horror filmmakers and video game developers use to make 'high art' horror. Just make a fucking horror B-movie. Those are fun as hell. Resident Evil is a B-movie game. It did all right.
What's with the effort to take horror oh-so-seriously? Gore is fun. Action-horror is fun. Horror, as a whole, is fun. And the attempts to make it not fun, to take the comedy out of horror when they are 90% of the time in bed together (just look at The Exorcist and The Evil Dead - they're scary if you look at them this way, and comedic if you look at them that way), just feels to me like the genre has been hijacked by an audience that isn't 'in' it yet and probably never will be. 'Horror for people who don't watch horror,' I call it. And the scares are always cheap and low-effort, like some 'ghost' just standing there for 30 seconds croaking. The Grudge (the Japanese version) is great because she moved towards you. The Haunting of Hill House is shit because she just stands there, and she's just doing a poor rip-off of the Grudge, the cheating bitch.
Hell, it might even be a conscious effort on the part of the media industry to convince us that slow-paced, non-visceral, highbrow horror is the way to go - because it requires a much smaller budget. I read this interview by that creepy mortician guy in Final Destination that fun horror films like that one would never be made again - because they require money, while with modern horror films like Annabelle they can just shoot cheaply with a doll prop and slow pointless shots and falling books for the 'horror,' and make a huuuuge profit. It's a sad state of affairs, I tell you. Makes me sick sometimes. But anyway, Cold Fear is from back when people still liked 'fun horror.' Another bit of 2000s nostalgia there for you. And now we can finally get back on track.
Sorry for that rant, I don't edit my blog posts much. But I'm gonna edit it here to say, this isn't a knock on slow-paced suspenseful horror that's actually good. Just on the pretentious kind that isn't as good as it thinks, and on people who think it's the only good horror there is.
Most of the game is third person camera like the classic REs, but while aiming you can use the over-the-shoulder camera introduced in RE4.What's unique is that unlike the RE games, which took until Revelations to let you move and shoot at the same time, this one did it way back then.
The game starts out pretty good, and the setting feels like a fusion of RE: Dead Aim (ship setting) and Dead Space (tentacly alien zombies called exocels, also like you needed to cut off the limbs to quickly kill them in Dead Space, they won't die here until you blow their heads off). But the actual plot as opposed to the l o r e of the exocels is weak, feels rushed, and I wasn't very invested in it.
Gameplay isn't the smoothest either because you can't switch sides to aim from behind cover better, and some stuff is just frustratingly built, like the headcrab-esque enemies who drain your health far too quickly for the somewhat suspect aiming (on a controller with default sensitivity it's very slow, and the laser sight doesn't always work for you) to justify. But the game was very ambitious, having you and enemies be affected by the rolling and rocking of the ship you're on - you can fall overboard and die, cling to stuff to not do that, and cargo rolling around on deck can hit you. Anyway, it's still decent to play, headshots are satisfying, and the graphics are very good for its time.
I also loved that they used a Marilyn Manson song for the credits, though 99% of the actual game either didn't have music or it was weak af generic 'action music' and actually took away from the game. The save system is fucked too, there are points in the game that automatically pop up to ask you if you want to save, aren't well spaced, and if you say no to one it's just gone forever.
I believe this game was supposed to be an Alone in the Dark sequel at some point, and a friend just mentioned it was related to Deep Fear in some way too. Either way, here are some interesting parallels with RE4:
- Over-the-shoulder aiming
- Blonde hottie of a main character whose attempts at snark don't always land
- You kill a guy to take his eye as a key
All in all, Cold Fear is still very playable even if it succumbed to being in RE4's shadow, and I recommend this as an obscure survival horror gem. Don't expect it to be great, but expect it to be all right. 7/10
Well, I hope you guys enjoyed that, and got something out of it! Have a nice day.