What Does Survival Horror Mean To You?

We’re about halfway through the month of October now, putting me deep into worrying about a Halloween costume and watching The Nightmare Before Christmas almost religiously. More importantly, it’s the time for fright nights with my favorite form of entertainment: video games! Playing The Evil Within and receiving the new Game Informer in the mail got me thinking about some things.

GIRER2

Well, would you look at that?

Not one, but TWO playable video game heroines with no skin-tight spandex outfits or cleavage in sight! I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t see it. 

Mainly, I’ve been ponder what my personal thoughts are regarding the survival horror gaming genre. After all, The Evil Within has been toted as the long-awaited and needed return to true survival horror, worked on by the godfather himself: Shinji Mikami.

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His words, not mine.

Steve-O and I started The Evil Within earlier this week. Last night we reached a chapter that, for me, felt like a disconnect from the survival horror roots the game had done such a good job of sticking to up until that point. Then the Game Informer’s Resident Evil Revelations 2 article discusses the series’ return to its roots, claiming to have listened to fan feedback and learned their lesson regarding RE’s swing towards the action-shooter genre. The combination of these two events got me thinking about my personal expectations when I hear the label “survival horror video game.”

Survival horror games must be appropriately atmospheric. Everything from the scenery, NPCs and creatures you fight, down to the camera filter has to exude uneasiness. While Resident Evil created the survival horror genre, I think the first few entries in the Silent  Hill series artfully excelled at this. There’s only a couple of scenes and images from RE that have stuck in my mind, whereas Silent Hill games have left lasting, disturbing impressions on my mind. Many of them for reasons I can’t really describe. See the following graffiti you’ll stumble upon while exploring in Silent Hill 2:

silenthill2hole

WTF does that even mean?

From the first time I watched a friend exploring Silent Hill 2, I never forgot about that iconic spray painting job. Which is saying a lot, considering I have a notoriously terrible memory.

Or how about this room in Silent Hill 4?

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You better not be textin’ hos, Henry!

Without posting any corresponding images to ruin your appetite, I’ll also say the cutscene leading up to the final boss fight in Silent Hill 3 is THE most disturbing thing I think I’ve seen in a video game. Ever.

In contrast, there aren’t many specific scenes or images from the Resident Evil series that stand out to me. However, I’ll never forget the following image from the first Resident Evil:

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I’m not even sure why this was so freakish to me… I was young and impressionable I guess.

So yes, first and foremost the atmosphere has to be generally unsettling, eerie, and especially in SH’s case, full of extreme mind effery.

The “survival” part is the trickiest, if you ask me. Developers have to work on designing a video game, after all. There’s a lot of make or break decision making that has to go on. How will your character survive the odds? What tools, if any, will be at your disposal? Speaking of tools… I find limited inventory space to be an important, but no less annoying, aspect of survival horror. What’s there to worry about if your character has access to, and can tote around, an entire military base worth of artillery?

RE2Inventory

Really? Jill just can’t slide a herb packet or lighter down the front of her tube top?

Personally, I think having limited ammo and healing items (if they even exist in said video game) essential. There’s nothing more suspenseful than running (or limping) away from monsters with no more healing items or only a couple of bullets on you. That’s why I’m a little disheartened at the current trend of enemies dropping loot after you kill them. I want the pressure of making sure I check every nook and cranny for valuable consumables versus having a high probability of getting back what I spent once an enemy drops.

And finally, the topic that prompted this post, is the nature of the battle system. Without saying too much because I’ll be writing a review once its finished, last night’s The Evil Within session got me thinking. I’ve noticed I have some pretty specific ideas about  how enemies should act in a survival horror game. To wrap up a long rant short, when I heard The Evil Within was going to be a return to survival horror roots, I did NOT expect, not want, to see enemies throwing grenades and using harpoon turrets. Survival horror games have this annoying trend of keeping the clunky, difficult-to-control navigation and character commands, yet decide to treat everything else about the game like an action shooter game. No. Just no. Sure, give enemies all the telegraphed OHK moves you want. You can even give some shotguns and handguns sporadically, to change the pace and up the ante when I’m comfortable dodging melee attacks. Just don’t have zombie-esque things spamming machine guns at me while I’m slowly limping around because I’m low on health. That’s not scary, its annoying.

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If its intelligent enough to aim at you with a sniper rifle, it ain’t a zombie.

My final point probably goes without saying, but the enemy designs have to portray some impressive twisted goodness as well. Again, Silent Hill takes the cake when it comes to creative enemy designs. Even if you’re running for your life and haven’t saved in a couple of hours, it’s hard not to stop and say “What the hell is that?!” the first time you encounter certain creatures. I’d post some more accompanying images, but some are bound to disturb you more than anything I’ve already shown. And I’m running short on time.

I’d  like to hear what the rest of you think should be included in this list. We all have different ideas of what “horror” means, or what makes a good survival video game. And something tells me that gamers who started playing during the last generation will have much different expectations.

Mass Effect: Deception

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Check out the biotic hair-do!

This is it folks. I’ve read my final Mass Effect novel. Sadly, it was not nearly as engaging as the first three. If you pay attention to the cover title, you’ll notice there’s a different name down there. Yeah, Drew Karpy-I have the weirdest last name ever had left Bioware in the interim, I believe, and this Bill Dietz guy hopped in and finished off this story arc. His credentials include other geek/nerd culture books. Granted, I’ve only read this one, but based on Deception I am not impressed.

Here’s the thing: I’m a comma girl. I have a love/hate relationship with commas. I love them when they’re used correctly. Hate them when they aren’t. I know a lot of it is objective, but all you need to do is read a sentence out loud to hear where the natural pauses occur and don’t occur. Long story short, I do not approve of Mr. Dietz’s comma usage. I was barely two pages into the book and the misuse of said punctuation was so painful for me that I almost stopped reading. I didn’t, of course. Because Mass Effect. Then I thought I was just being silly and pressed onward. The onslaught of the English language didn’t stop with the commas. I was further assaulted with terrible grammar and even character name-swapping! I vividly remember one sentence that I had to read over three times before realizing it was just a typo. No, Khalee didn’t magically transform into Gillian! I got the feeling they didn’t want to pay an editor to go over this. If there was an editor, they didn’t earn their paycheck. Seriously.

For those of you who aren’t as distressed about grammar and punctuation abuse as I am, I’ll have you know this book is weak in other areas as well. Unlike the first three novels, this one is inconsistent with the video game trilogy. The other novels at least tried to fit into the ME universe, and even mentioned Commander Shepard’s action in passing. This book is… different. Granted, it’s been a few months since I played the Mass Effect games, but there are certain things that made me scratch my head.

In terms of the actual story, many of the characters are unrecognizable from their previous selves. Gillian and Nick have done complete 180s. Hell, there’s no mention of Gillian’s spectrum behavior, which the previous author beat us over the head with. I don’t see how Dietz could have “forgotten” about it. He didn’t even take the time to come up with a bogus explanation like, “Since she wasn’t being snuck experimental Cerberus drugs any longer she started acting normal!” I also really have a hard time accepting Nick’s extreme behavior in this book. His character wasn’t explored nearly enough to give any credence to his actions. Of course, most characters in these books have done little more than conveniently filling roles.

David Anderson, Kai Leng, Aria T’Loak, and The Illusive Man all return to continue the running story. Dietz wrote most of them really well. Except Kai Leng. There’s something about his behavior that just doesn’t jive with his characterization in the games and previous novels. I think the author was trying to humanize him, because he is a lot less robotic and actually has moments where he questions Cerberus; but again, the writer doesn’t give him the proper attention and his changes are not organic or believable.

The grand finale is pretty dull as well. All of the characters not mentioned in the games get conveniently… erased. It’s cheap and poorly executed. I understand wanting to remove characters not in the original game trilogy, I do. But at least be creative about it.

While I recommend reading the first three Mass Effect books written by Drew Karpyshyn if you’d like to whet your ME appetite, I can’t say the same for this one. It’s too poorly written and thought out. Which saddens me, because it was my final Mass Effect book to read…

Who wants to buy me the Mass Effect Library so I can read all the comics?

Destiny

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I think the symbol they came up with is kinda boring.

As you guys probably know, I don’t write video game reviews until I’ve either beaten the game or played most of it and given up on it. I’ve been playing Destiny during my free time since launch. It’s safe to assume that I probably won’t have the time to grind to the max level (Light 30 as of right now) anytime soon. Or, like, before the next expansion comes out in December.

Yet every time I’ve considered sitting down to write my thoughts on the game, I groan in annoyance. Most of the popular gaming outlets have written so much about this game already that I’m sick of reading about it, much less writing about it. Hell, if you take a glance at IGN’s facebook feed over the last couple of weeks, you’d think there were no other video games in existence right now.

Plus, there are many, many other video game reviewers who have written and spoken their opinions on Destiny much more elegantly than I ever could. I find myself agreeing with most of the negative feedback reviewers and gamers have thrown Bungie’s way. This game did not live up to the promises at all. I didn’t even jump on the hype train because I’m not big into FPS games. Or online only games, for that matter, given that I’m usually alone with a two year old during the evenings… making games without a Pause feature kinda difficult.

Anyway, I really only play it to have a game to play with my hubby and with my friends online. The vast amounts of post-“story” gameplay is a complete grindfest. I do actually like to do some mindless patrol missions and such when there aren’t enough people online to do a strike. Or when I just don’t have the time or energy to beat my head against the wall.

Here’s a few of my thoughts for Bungie & Activision:

If your game is going to be a genre-hybrid, pick the best aspects of the genres you’re borrowing from, not the worst! Seriously. This game is a little bit FPS/loot shooter, little bit MMO, little bit RPG. The loot system is so terrible that it can’t possibly be a loot shooter. But you sorta feel like it is, since progression is 100% tied to loot. The game isn’t massive enough, nor does it have appropriate chat/matchmaking features that every MMO has nowadays. And yet… you’re required to always be online and MUST be in a group to access many of the features tied to endgame progression. Personally, I find Destiny to be yet another example of a game that suffers because it does a half-assed attempt at reaching out to the pockets of different types of gamers. See: Asura’s Wrath and Resident Evil 6 as games suffering from identity crises that, in the long run, only served to hurt them instead of elevate them.  Yes, there are examples of games that merge genres and do it well, but as it stands I don’t find Destiny to be in that small, elite bracket.

Just… stop…lying: All I can really say about this is, watch the Angry Joe review I’m linking at the bottom of my post if you have time. It’s a bit lengthy, and certainly NSFW, but he does a good job of demonstrating multiple examples of when the developers made great promises (with video footage and quotes) that ended up being complete lies (again, with video footage of his gameplay). Bungie and Activision could have prevented a lot of this fan backlash if they hadn’t completely misled fans who looked forward to this game.

Your corporate greed is too obvious: Milking customers for money certainly isn’t a practice isolated to Activision. In my Dead Space 3 review, I ranted and raved about the game begging me to go spend more money on DLC before I’d even had a chance to play it! Seriously, I just spent $60 of my hard-earned money… At least let me play the game for a month or so before bombarding me with DLC nonsense I don’t even need. With Destiny, you open up the package and there’s inserts for the Expansions. Which are being released only 3 months later, mind you. My major issue is that the game feels so… incomplete. Intentionally incomplete. It feels like a mere shell of what it should be… No doubt to be remedied by future DLC and expansions. Sigh. Look, I get that there’s a big plan here. That’s not my issue. My issue is that the game doesn’t feel like a complete experience. I was satisfied with the first installment of games like Xenosaga Episode 1 and Mass Effect 1. Everything that needed to be there was there. I knew there was more to come, but the experience I received with the first installments were solid. Not lacking, like Destiny. I’m seriously waiting for pop-up notifications on the main menu to use real money to purchase in-game mats that are time consuming and frustrating to acquire.

Your post-game promises were lies, too: Not entirely sure how the game “really starts” after level 20. Here’s what happens after your character hits level 20; you grind all the same areas you’ve already seen over and over again on harder difficulties. That’s. It. Ok, well there’s the recently opened Vault of Glass raid. (“Raid”… again, a word I remember hearing a lot while playing a MMO!) Not sure if I’ll ever get to see it due to the lack of in-game matchmaking. I need to have 6 other friends, all appropriate level, online at the same time to do the raid. From what I’ve heard, I don’t have enough free time to do the raid in one sitting, anyway.

Tying character progression to gear is a bad idea: Again, the developers went on about how much control you have over character customization and how much fun it’ll be to play dress up with your toon. Not after level 20 it isn’t. I think it’s strange that the game suddenly goes from leveling the old-fashioned way to requiring players to spend hours grinding for gear with the Light stat. Progression is tied entirely to equipping and leveling gear with high Light. So… you won’t be spending much time debating which helmet to wear if you want to get to the next level. I think it would’ve been cool if they came up with a way to incorporate both methods through the entire leveling progress instead of suddenly switching from one to the other.

I also can’t figure out if Destiny is trying to cater to hardcore gamers or casual gamers. I think its somewhere in between. There’s this weird situation now where hardcore gamers are starting to get bored with the game already; due to lack of content and arbitrary weekly caps on certain grindy things. Yet people who don’t have as much free time to play as myself (Nowadays having silly things like jobs and children to tend to makes you a casual gamer, FYI) feel overwhelmed. Unless I get blessed by the RNG gods sometime soon, I feel like I’ll never get to level 30 before the next expansion comes out. There’s just too much slow-paced grinding to do. I can’t sink that much time into a game right now. I’m still wearing blue legs and weapons. In order to remedy that I need to grind for more marks and rep. Not to mention, I’m desperate for ascendant shards to max my Queen’s Robe and Helmet. Wish me luck on getting those in a timely fashion.

Destiny had a lot of problems straight out of the box. Weekly patches are slowly remedying some of the game’s glaring oversights and RNG issues. Not that those can backtrack the things I find to be developmental laziness, such as forcing gamers who might care about the game’s lore (read: WTF is actually going on) to go outside of the game to Bungie’s website. Don’t tell me that doesn’t kill any sense of immersion. Honestly, with the backtracking Bungie has announced with upcoming patches, you never would’ve guessed they had Alphas AND Betas. Or QA staff for that matter.

Anyway, most of the other points I’d like to make can be found all over the internet already. If you have the time, check out Angry Joe’s review: 

In my opinion, no one has any business purchasing Destiny right now unless they’re looking for a game that is nothing more than a social FPS grinder with PvP. Because that’s really all the game has to offer right now… Besides Peter Dinklage’s voice. And even he sounds bored.