Posts Tagged ‘ Genre: Survival Horror ’

Review: Lone Survivor [2/3]


   A reminder of survival horror’s past.

Purchased as a gift for me, Lone Survivor is a game that sets its sights on re-capturing the atmosphere and experience of playing Silent Hill, but in two dimensions. At least, this is what I had heard about the game before I got my hands on it. Being that Silent Hill is one of my very most favorite games, I leapt at the chance to play Lone Survivor, and surprisingly enough it delivers in a way that even Silent Hill fails to anymore.

The player takes the role of a character simply referred to as “you” who is trapped in a city abandoned to monsters and a mysterious disease. Daylight never comes and it’s up to You to figure out how to escape while maintaining your health: physical and mental. Where other games have employed this mechanic in as far as maintaining your sanity, Lone Survivor takes emotional well being into account as well. It’s not enough to merely avoid unpleasant scenarios, “You” benefits from small things like watering house plants or cooking a meal. It’s a game that’s as much about defeating despair as it is about survival horror.

The protagonist requires food and rest to survive, and batteries to power your flashlight. Setting out with limited supplies requires the player to carefully consider how far they will explore on any given day, and when they need to return. Following this rhythm in combination with the puzzles that “You” must solve creates an atmosphere of tension. But even when conditions are ideal, there are still an array of creatures which stand in your way. It’s up to the player how they intend to deal with them. Monsters can be destroyed, snuck around, or distracted. The first and last options require use of valuable supplies, whereas the second option isn’t always available to “You.” Having to determine the best course of action adds another layer to the game’s tension.

While it’s possible to exhaust your supplies, more can be acquired by scavenging or (by means which are not explained) by taking pills and going to sleep. These transport the player to dream worlds inhabited by other characters. When “You” wakes up, he now has more supplies, but his mental health will be affected in different ways.

Lone Survivor does an excellent job of creating a world around “You” that’s threatening and all encompassing. Similar to Silent Hill, Lone Survivor does an effective job of creating an artificial sense of claustrophobia that motivates the player to find a way out as quickly as possible. Even in 2D, the monster designs are unsettling and at times almost frightening. Jasper Byrne (the game’s creator) knows the right combination of visual design, sound design, and animation to get under your skin and create a sense of looming danger. It helps that the game’s mysteries are left mostly for the player to speculate on as well. It will provide resolution without answering all of your questions, which is something else I admired about the original Silent Hill.

Really, the only fault I can find with the game is that it is too short to be able to allow the player to fully explore its mechanics. It offers a world that’s going to stick with you after you’re done playing but its qualities as a game aren’t fully realized. It’s Silent Hill in miniaturized form, capturing the classic elements of survival horror and all I can ask of it is for more. It’s tough to justify that sort of game in AAA form, but Lone Survivor demonstrates again that there are great games and great opportunities beyond the AAA realm.

Rating: 2/3

See also: Trailer, Official Site, More thoughts at Ruminatron5000

Buy it on LoneSurvivor.co.uk

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Micro Reviews: 2010 Wrap Up

There have been many games I’ve been meaning to review around the end of 2010, and just haven’t been able to sink the time into doing more complete write-ups for them. So I just need to clear the plate and get these out of the way before too much time passes after I had completed them.

Left 4 Dead 2

As was the case with Resident Evil 5, Left 4 Dead 2 is begging for you to play it with friends. Though Left 4 Dead 2 is far more playable by one’s self than RE5 was. In either case, the game excels at keeping  players on their toes. Moving quickly from set piece to set piece, the action is intense to play through, and dramatic to witness. Between the enemy AI and ally AI, the player is given the sense that they are engaged in a chaotic, expansive scenario, rather than just a level in a game. In some levels, the difficulty can tend to spike in a way that really frustrates the pacing. Dialing back the difficulty settings is usually enough to keep the player moving on their way though. Left 4 Dead 2 offers a brand of survival horror that has progressed light years from the tank-like controls and sleep walking zombies of the original Resident Evil.

Rating: 3/4

See also: Trailer, More thoughts at Ruminatron5000

Buy it at Amazon.com, Rent it from Gamefly

Vanquish

Vanquish aims to leave its own unique mark on this generation’s action shooters, which have quickly become some of the most popular console games. Vanquish takes established genre devices (dramatic cut sequences) and game play mechanics (cover based gun play) and injects elements of arcade style twitch action. The player is given a super-suit that enables them to zip around large maps to engage enemies, large and small. However, this twist on the genre feels half-hearted. The super suit relies on an energy meter that steadily depletes whenever you use its rockets, melee attacks, or when bullet-time is enabled. The meter makes it very difficult to use these different abilities in combination, and in fact, the entire meter is depleted after a melee attack is executed. Thus, levels rarely force you to take advantage of these abilities and the game ends up being a sub-par third person action shooter. It has its moments, but neither the game play or presentation are particularly memorable.

Rating: 2/4

See also: Trailer, More thoughts at Ruminatron5000

Buy it at Amazon.com, Rent it from Gamefly

Donkey Kong Country Returns

I did not play a whole lot of SNES games back in the 90s. But one that I did play was Donkey Kong Country. Donkey Kong Country Returns brings the series to the Wii, and sets its sights directly on audiences that played the original games. It attempts to simultaneously evoke a sense of nostalgia while offering a greater challenge to gamers that have been playing platformers for years. DKCR fails on both counts. Part of its original charm lay in just how cool it looked at the time, with pre-rendered 3D graphics. That wow-factor is something that just can’t be recreated at this point. However, the graphical presentation was wrapped around a playground of levels for the audience to explore and enjoy. While the level themes are mostly faithful to their predecessors, the playfulness is frustrated by the game’s elevated challenge. They require a significant amount of memorization and leave little room for error. Small slip-ups early on can dramatically reduce your chances of completing a level, and can take too much time to replay to be truly enjoyable. This would make the game unplayable if it were not for the “Super-Kong” feature which puts the game in auto-pilot. It’s an excuse to make levels mindlessly challenging instead of utilizing thoughtful level design. All DKCR has to offer is a weak sense of nostalgia, which would be served better by just playing the original game instead.

Rating: 0/4

See also: Trailer, More thoughts at Ruminatron5000

Buy it at Amazon.com, Rent it from Gamefly

Review: Deadly Premonition [3/4]

Deadly Premonition is not a game that’s beautiful to look at.  It’s not exactly fun to play.  And it’s not very scary either.  However, it is a bizarre little story about an FBI agent with a dual personality and a small town with an even more bizarre past.  Deadly Premonition takes it’s cues from the television series Twin Peaks.  In many ways the setup is almost identical: A quirky FBI agent begins an investigation into the murder of a young woman in a remote town in the middle of the woods.  It would sound like the game is a total ripoff of the TV series.  I’m probably not the best person to judge if this is entirely the case: I hadn’t watched the show until I completed the game.  My impression after watching the first season though is that Deadly premonition is a creepy, stalkerish kind of homage to Twin Peaks.  It wants to be Twin Peaks very badly and at the same time it wants to go to the next level as well.  Being a TV show, Twin Peaks had lines which it couldn’t cross in order to maintain its broadcast worthiness.  Deadly Premonition doesn’t have to follow the same rules and delights in jumping across that line frequently.  It turns up the volume and lets loose where Twin Peaks could never go.  It’s for that reason that the game is not simply derivative of the TV show.  It’s a experience that is at times gruesome and terrible but almost always hilarious.

Where the game surpasses the TV show is in the immersion of the audience.  Agent Francis York Morgan isn’t merely quirky, he seems to be downright crazy.  He has an imaginary friend Zach.  Not a tape recorder that he talks into incessantly, York talks into thin air.  Shortly into the game it becomes clear that you are Zach even though you control York as your avatar.  York is very supportive of Zach and will hold friendly conversations with you throughout the game.  York seems to defer control to Zach when it comes to combat, and even praises you for how well you’re shooting.  Being directly addressed by York in a cheap attempt by the game to tell you how to play, York will just shoot the breeze with you and talk about the game or whatever just might catch his attention.  It’s surreal but it endears York to the player when to every other character York just comes off as a wacko.  But even they begin to warm up to York, and Zach too eventually.  This is why I didn’t really mind the shoddy game play and production values, I just wanted to hang out with York as Zach and see what happened.  When things get to be frustrating (with irritating enemies or quick-time events) I didn’t really hold it against the game.  It’s like the same way you don’t hold it personally against a friend when they ask you to help them move a couch.  Sure, it stinks, but it’s not the point of your friendship.  At the same time if York doesn’t endear himself to you then there’s little more that the game is going to have to offer you.  Masquerading as a survival horror, real-time open world game, in the end it is really just about hanging out with York.

What Deadly Premonition has managed to accomplish (intentionally or otherwise) is to take a collection of mediocre ingredients and mix them into something tasty.  You don’t need the best quality ingredients to make an delicious chocolate cake and the finest ingredients won’t do you any good if you don’t follow the correct recipe.  It’s a game that felt unique, and gave me a sense of curiosity in a game that I haven’t had in a while.  It’s by no means perfect, but the game ismore than the sum of its parts.

Rating: 3/4

See Also: Agent York profile trailer

Buy it at Amazon
Rent it at Gamefly

Review: Resident Evil 5 [3/4]

Resident Evil 5 is begging you (maybe screaming at you) to play it with a friend.  Every time they mention partners you’re not supposed to think of the character’s relationships with each other.  They mostly consist of being in the same place at the same time.  What you’re supposed to take away instead is that you really should be playing it with another human being.  And the game is right, it was a lot of fun to play cooperatively.  It’s clear that’s how RE5 was designed to be played.  There’s not a whole lot of atmosphere or story for you to invest in, which I thought would be a glaring flaw with the game.  But I just didn’t care very much while I was busy trying to protect the other player and cooperatively finish each level.  Where the game’s atmosphere lacks tension in storytelling it makes up for in it’s coop scenarios.

The game play itself doesn’t really do things any differently than Resident Evil 4, other than adding a second player to mix.  I don’t have any problem with that approach since there was very little about Resident Evil 4 that I would want to change (other than being able to move and shoot at the same time.)  There aren’t as many scares in RE5 as were in RE4, but having another person playing the game with you definitely feels more consequential.

Half of the fun is the action of each mission itself.  You’ll need to figure out on the fly who is in charge of which tasks (shoot the zombie, heal your partner, cover your partner, collect and distribute items.)  It is a very rewarding component of the game.  One person isn’t going to just carry the other through the levels, and there’s ample opportunity for both players to jump into the action.  The other half of the fun is in the planning period between missions.  That may not sound like a whole lot of fun on the surface, but you’ll need to work with your partner to figure out who will be responsible for which weapons and how much you’ll spend on upgrading them.  Your long term strategy makes a lot of difference in how you play the game.  In my case, I specialized in sub-machine guns, rifles, and close combat, while my partner focused on shotguns, handguns, and explosives.  If you’re playing with a computer controlled partner though, it will just feel like they are a pack horse that might be helpful once and while.  After planning and executing each mission you’ll usually face off with a boss and the game does a good job of giving you tasks that must be done with two people.  There are some great moments where you’ll finish off a monster then high-five your partner in real life.  Moments like those are why I believe playing the game with a real partner was how it was meant to be played.

The only shortfall I encountered in the cooperative mode was in actually getting a coop game started.  This may be due to my own ignorance regarding gamer profiles on the 360, but the process of bringing in a second player was cumbersome and confusing.  At one point all of my weapons were switched with my partner somehow and we ended up playing under the other’s profile in order to reclaim them.  Maybe that’s how it was in the first place, but it was pretty frustrating trying to figure out how to get it right.

The campaign has a broad range of scenarios to play through and minimizes the time you have to spend fussing around with puzzles.  RE5 has been called more of an action game than a survival horror game and I agree with that sentiment.  There’s still a survival horror flavor that lingers but the substance of the game is definitely gunning down monsters and traversing dangerous levels.

The characters themselves are pretty lame, and are derived from movie cliches.  Like Modern Warfare 2, RE5 does manage to outdo movies when it comes to action. But when it comes to anything having to do with Chris Redfield, it’s guaranteed to be dumb as a box of rocks.  If that’s the way it’s going to be though, allow me to make a suggestion for a movie that Resident Evil should derive itself from.

Starship Troopers is no creative heavyweight when it comes to characters or storytelling, but the movie is still entertaining for its mix of the serious and the not-so-serious.  Resident Evil is already known for its campiness and Starship Troopers was a great mix of action, humor, and science fiction.  Capcom should dial up the campiness of RE in future installments, because few people are going to be compelled by Chris Redfield’s biceps and one-dimensional commitment to justice, or to Chris and Sheva’s ‘partnership,’ which would be better classified as a sort of “casual encounter” in zombie fighting.  It’s also disappointing to see a villain like Albert Wesker go the way of Sephiroth: a science experiment with aspirations to become a god that’s trotted out every couple of years like a bizarre sort of show dog.  Resident Evil 5 was very good, but there’s still room for improvement and still a reason to play it after all these years.

Rating: 3/4

See also: Trailer, Buy it on Amazon, Rent it at Gamefly

and finally:

Micro Review: Silent Hill Homecoming [3/4]

A thoroughly unnerving experience as I marathoned it over the weekend. There were lots of great/intense moments and I feel that it really took Silent Hill to the next level with this generation of games. I did get pretty frustrated with the combat at times. Music, environments, monsters and characters were all well done and scary. There’s a lot of gore, violence, and disturbing situations, but I feel like it had a place and reason for being in the game.

See also: Trailer, Sexy Videogameland: Coming Home

Rating: 3/4