Until Dawn Review

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Nobody was buried under snow in my playthrough…

I’m gonna go ahead and preemptively declare Until Dawn as my sleeper hit of the year. I mean, sure, I heard a bit about it, and even thought I’d probably like it. But I did not expect to love the game as much as I do. As we played, Steve-O and I had a harder and harder time turning the console off each night when it was time to quit. I was skeptical at first. While Until Dawn meshes two of my favorite genres, Survival Horror and Narrative (Point and Click, I guess they’re called), I was concerned the game wouldn’t give me enough anxiety to be scary, because it’s not really based on player skill, per se. Plus, I figured, it’d rely mainly on jump scares. Meaning not scary at all.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Yes, there are jump scares. And yes, I’m embarrassed to admit how many of them I fell prey to, even when I felt them coming. But we still felt a lot of the anxiety you’d typically get while playing a survival horror game. It just manifests itself a little differently. Instead of thinking “I’m out of healing items and ammo and have to make it to the next save point without dying and having to do everything all over,” your train of thought instead is, “If I do this wrong I’ll get this character PERMANENTLY killed.” No do-overs here, people. Like Heavy Rain, making a wrong decision can get a character dead, and there ain’t nothing you can do to fix it. Save starting a new game file, anyway.

Until Dawn is not very forgiving, either. Very few of your decisions are black and white in terms of outcome. In fact, people are still debating on message boards about what actions, conversation decisions, and collectibles lead to which outcomes. Moreso than Beyond Two Souls and Telltale Games’ selections, Until Dawn relies on the player finding collectibles to further enhance the story. And it appears that, on at least one prominent occasion, neglecting to pick some up can lead to a character death.

Speaking of collectibles, I really like the Totem concept. While exploring, you can pick up color coded totems that will foreshadow possible events in the future. For sadists like us, it means we still get to view a character’s death even if you don’t put the events in motion.

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One of our friends just disappeared? Let’s do it!

In case you’ve missed some of the commentary surrounding this game, it does, indeed, feature a bunch of horny high schoolers trying to get laid. Yes, even that snow-covered picnic table is no match for adolescent libido. What, there’s a killer on the loose? All the more reason to get laid one last time! The game certainly starts off with the typical cheesy 80’s slasher horror movie feel. But a few hours into the game we came to realize it evolves into something more. Let me put it this way: We began our adventure fully intending to get everyone killed. Yet, as the game progressed and we spent more time with these entitled brats, we sort of grew attached to them. We actually didn’t want most of the characters to die. (Not all, but most)

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Apparently Sam is an expert rock climber.

Until Dawn relies on timed QTEs and conversation options for the bulk of the gameplay. There are a handful of events requiring the player to aim and shoot guns, but they’re few and far between. During chase sequences, you often have to make timed, off-the-cuff decisions about how the character should progress. Fast or cautious? Left or right? Hide or try the door knob? Each decision potentially changes the future framework of your experience with this game whether you realize it or not. Don’t enter Until Dawn thinking that your decisions won’t change anything more than some dialogue subtleties like Telltale Games’ series. No. Until Dawn is, I daresay, the first game of this genre I’ve played to fully realize the butterfly effect. Everything else I’ve played before now barely scratched the surface.

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People still toy with these things?

Excellent butterfly effects and 80’s horror flick homages aside, Until Dawn is also well crafted on the aesthetic side of things. The graphics are excellent. The character models and facial recognition are top-notch. Remember Heavy Rain showcasing character facial expressions during the pause menu? Same goes here. Character’s profile pics change depending on their condition in-game as well. Someone take a little tumble or get in an altercation? Their pretty face now has bruises or cuts. Also, and I really appreciated this, the menu actually displays the character’s current relationship status with the rest of the cast! What a novel concept! You’re also shown how you’ve royally f***ed up their personality, to boot. Each character begins with 3 prominent personality features. They certainly don’t have to STAY brave, or loyal, or smart. Player actions and conversations will change all that, and the game will always keep you updated on how your choices are changing the framework.

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That’s one messy hickey.

Until Dawn breaks up the suspense by interjecting sessions with a psychologist. While I didn’t dislike these portions, and I did appreciate how the scenery eventually morphed into some messed up Silent Hill imagery, they did feel like Shattered Memories rip offs. Every session you had to answer his questions. In turn, these made small changes to the game. If you say you’re scared of spiders, they will crawl across the screen at one point. It’s small, superficial things like that. Miniscule in comparison to the rest of the butterfly effects this game offers. However, I did like how they helped unravel one of the game’s major mysteries.

There isn’t much else I can say without spoiling all the fun. Your first game will probably hit or fall just shy of the 10 hour mark. Despite being a short game, due to its high replay and production values, I think its totally worth paying full price. Until Dawn has set a new precedent for “Choose your adventure” games. I can only hope other companies are taking notes.

Resident Evil Revelations 2 Final Episode & Raid Mode!

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If there is a Revelations 3 (And I’m SURE there will be) they better not have more lame eyeball cover art.

The final results are in! Steve-O and I have completed Revelations 2 and he has dumped many hours into Raid Mode, so it is time for the final verdict and rant session.

Before finishing Episode 4 for the first time, I read online that there are two endings. Good and Bad. Or, rather, sunshine-and-rainbows ending, or baddie-wins-and-Barry-wimps-out ending. Naturally, we got the  bad ending. Under normal circumstances I would just say “Screw it,” and watch the alternate ending on Youtube. But when I read what it was that we did “wrong” to earn the bad ending, I was obstinate in fixing it. I made Steve-O play through Claire’s long and drawn out Episode 3 again. Not once, but twice.

See, the QTE prompt the game wants you to do isn’t quite as obvious when playing co-op. As a matter of fact, the prompts that Moira is supposed to do (to get the good ending) is only on Claire’s screen! Pardon me for not realizing the first time we played it that I was supposed to be doing what was on player one’s screen. Can’t say as that’s a habit of mine. And the second time I mashed the button and nothing happened fast enough, plus I think Steve responded to the QTE by habit. Can’t quite remember. But anyway, we slogged through that painful chapter 2 more times to earn the good ending. For the extra scenes and boss fight it was definitely worth it.

The two parts of Episode 4 are quite different from each other. Claire’s segment, which is shorter than we expected, is essentially a timed Run For Your Life Before the Building Explodes! adrenaline rush. I don’t dare comment much else on it, only that it is about half the length of Barry’s adventure.

Barry’s trip through the same places 6 months later is more eventful, albeit not with the “flying by the seat of your pants adrenaline rush” kind of eventful. Instead, he has quite a bit of wandering around to do, followed by a final boss fight that really holds no surprises. Playing as the support character really sucks during boss fights… All I get to do is collect ammo and not get killed. I did toss a couple of bricks at the boss when I had nothing better to do. I really liked the boss design… it was really twisted. I guess I shouldn’t post a picture in case people don’t like jerks like me spoiling that kind of stuff, but I was reminded of The Evil Within recurring boss:

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Remember her?

The good ending was satisfying. I would’ve even been okay with the bad ending if there was, I dunno, more. But it was pretty abrupt and doesn’t show any of Claire’s aftermath like the good ending does.

If you pre-order the entire season or wait and get the disc release, you’re treated with two extra episodes. Moira-centric and Natalia-centric tidbits that allow us to see a bit more of them. Moira’s chapter is far superior and was quite fun. In her episode, you explore her time spent on the island with the old Russian man, Evgeny. He is the co-op or AI character. And he’s hilarious. Evgeny is a combination of your typical “grumpy old man” and “Russian man” stereotypes rolled into one awesome package. He really warmed on me during their short time together.

Natalia’s episode was quite painful. While playing it, I kept suffering flashbacks to all the Legend of Zelda “stealth” sections I’ve ever played. It feels like it’s on every action game’s checklist now. Incorporate a lengthy, OHK stealth section where the player has to restart at the checkpoint if the AI detects them around corners, through walls, or across the room? Check! This episode does little beside delve a bit further into Natalia’s fractured psyche and over-reliance on a stuffed animal as a coping mechanism. Yawn! As a general rule, I hate main characters in anime and video games who are under the age of 13, so I couldn’t have cared less about Natalia. I know, I’m a meanie.

Not only did we replay almost half the game to unlock the good ending and play the extra episodes, we also spent more time in Raid Mode. Well, really, it was 95% Steve-O because that’s more his cup of tea. For those of you who enjoy grinding, leveling up characters RPG style, and progressively collecting better loot and weapons, this is for you. There are dozens and dozens of hours to be dropped into Raid Mode missions and Dailies (If your system is online). Hell, I’d argue that the Raid Mode itself is easily worth at least half the price tag.

I’m at the point where I don’t expect Resident Evil games to revert back to their former glory (when they were actually, you know, scary). So, instead, I approach new releases with more of a “Did the game entertain me more than I hated it?” approach. Playing the game in co-op mode, yes, it did. Our “Uncle Barry” jokes, compiled with his terribly corny but awesome throwbacks and Moira’s sailor mouth gave the two of us enough fodder to laugh through a lot of the questionable development decisions. I’m not entirely sure how much I could stomach if I played the game solo and had to swap characters 100 times per episode because the AI is crap.

Resident Evil: Revelations 2, Episode 3- Judgment

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This is probably what our eyes looked like after Claire’s boss fight.

Judgment is an apt title for this episode, because you can bet Steve-O and I were judging it every second we played. And you’re gonna get an eyeful of all our negative judgments right now. Forget any minute positives that might be residing in the back of my mind, because those just aren’t any fun.

I’m going to spoiler bomb without spoiler bombing. Think it’s not possible? Well check this out. Steve-O and I called out the turncloak seconds before Moira did it for us. So don’t be mad at me. Be mad at Moira, or more accurately, be mad at Capcom’s crappy writers who have forgotten the beauty of utilizing the element of surprise in their favor. And even then, after it was basically all laid out, Claire was still adamantly against the naked truth. Why? Well, ’cause she wanted to see said character naked, that’s why. So, yes, Claire has another sort-of potential lover interest transform into a yummy virus creature. It’s like Code:Veronica all over again. Except now Claire looks atrocious.

With all that idiocy, we were already annoyed going into the boss fight. Like, “Yawwwwn, we already have two predictable bosses under our belts. What’s one more?” A big Pain In The Ass example of why I can’t stand bosses with prolonged invincibility, across-the-room grab and throw moves and OHKs, that’s what. That fight must’ve dragged on for 15 minutes. And of course there’s loads of wasted ammo involved because when you finally reveal his soft spot he charges for the poor flashlight gal instead of exposing yummy yellow flesh to the person loading clips into it.

Now that I’ve got that off my chest, let’s move onto Barry’s time on stage. At the risk of sounding like a broken record… I always feel like I’m playing a crappy version of The Last of Us when playing his parts. You’ve got the copy and pasted “I lost my daughter so I’m gonna make myself feel better by taking care of this young girl in her stead,” which is starting to get old now that it’s been in more than a couple high profile games lately.Then you’ve got the puzzles, which is basically what they would be in TLOU if the ladders and palettes were replaced with “battery” boxes.

The best part about it is the terrible dialogue. Barry specifically says, “I’ll throw my back out if I try lugging this thing around.” So what does he do? LUG THE THING AROUND. Like, up stairs and shit! Don’t be fooled by the conveyor belts- you’ll still be carrying the boxes all over the place. You’d think it’d be super heavy or something since burly Barry can’t carry it. But Natalia has no problem carrying the batteries. On the plus side, we were able to completely bypass what ended up being the boss fight of the chapter.

I have a question for those of you playing this game solo: How the hell do you do it? Steve-O and I revisited chapter 3 as Barry because we found a BP farming trick online. I opted out because I was heading to bed. Well, I ended up opting BACK in because the partner AI is horrendous. She didn’t seek out loot, point at enemies, or throw bricks at anything. And Capcom has the audacity to make the player spend BP to have Claire or Barry actually SHOOT something? Is this some kind of sick joke? Seriously, I feel for you guys because swapping characters constantly can’t really be enjoyable. At all.

Suffice it to say, I didn’t leave this chapter with any warm, fuzzy feelings. The final chapter has its work cut out for it if it’s aiming to redeem Revelations 2 for me at this point.

RE Revelations 2 Episode 2: Contemplation

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Now we know who/what this eyeball belongs to!

Another week, another episode of Revelations 2. There were a couple switch ups and unexpecteds this week. We finally got some disposition here, and discovered who The Overseer is. It isn’t who we guessed it would be. Both of us were pleasantly surprised by the villain du jour. Surprised by her family tree, that is. And fashion sense.

Claire and Moira’s bit has evolved nicely. It felt less like The Evil Within and more in line with the survival-horror-action-whatever genre that I expected. Claire gets another shotgun, which I thought was kinda weird. I’m not entirely sure why she didn’t get another weapon type. But it’s a shotgun that can hold more rounds so Steve-O wouldn’t let me complain about it. Their final boss fight was a bit annoying… It reminded me of the fight in The Last of Us against the bloater thing: enclosed room housing a fat enemy that shoots projectiles at you while his buddies materialize out of the ether to attack you. We died during our first attempt. Then, realizing it was the final boss fight, unloaded all of the bombs we’d  been stocking up, and killed him easily.

Barry’s section didn’t go quite so smoothly. While he DID get an awesome rifle which Steve-O put to good use, we were also pitted against some annoying new enemies which highlighted the worst aspects of these survival horror-action hybrid games. Limited ammo + INVISIBLE enemies that you can’t stealth/run away from = Not fun, not survival horror, not anything but stupid. Well, it is an exercise in teamwork if you’re playing co-op. As Natalie, I had to point at invisible flying insects (Yes, it’s as dumb as it sounds) so Barry could blindly shoot at them. This did lead to some wasted bullets, as you can imagine. Between those and the rotting zombies and the exploding larvae sacks on the ground, we didn’t have much for ammunition when it was final boss fight time. Steve-O literally knifed the boss to death because he was outta ammo.

It’s also complete and utter bullshit that Barry doesn’t wield that drill like the badass melee weapon it could be. Imagine how many rotting zombies you could impale on that thing!

I really wish Natalie could throw something besides bricks. Did Capcom think it would be too edgy for their sweet, innocent monster-psychic to throw molotovs and smoke bombs? Please. I’d like something to do besides point at a monster’s weakspot, if that’s not asking too much. At least Moira can swing a crowbar AND throw homemade bottle bombs.

Well, that’s about all I have to say about this episode. Invisible flying insects aside, I found this episode to be a vast improvement over the first. Now that we’ve been given some information about The Overseer, I’m actually somewhat curious about how the story will progress! I’m not entirely certain the last time a Resident Evil game has done that to me.

Resident Evil Revelations 2: The Penal Colony

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He’s not stoned or anything…

Time to pump out another quick blog post, because the next installment of Revelations 2 is going to be out in only 2 more days! At least Telltale Games gives me a month to play their game and get around to writing a review post.

In case you somehow haven’t heard, Revelations 2 is being released episodically, with 4 episodes total. Price wise, you’re looking at about 6 bucks an episode. If you’d rather wait and have a hard disc, you’ll be forking over a considerable amount more: $40 total for the validation of a physical disc and “extra exclusive” crap that I can’t say I care too much about.

In Revelations 2, you’re thrown into two separate co-op or AI partner stories. The first pair you get to play as is Claire Redfield (Finally!) and Barry Burton’s daughter, Moira. The second pair consists of Barry Burton (the man!) and a young girl named Natalia. Both scenarios are developed so that the first player is the main attacker, while the AI or second player serves mainly a support role.

First you get to see what Claire Redfield has been up to recently. The opening cutscene features an awesomely cheesy commercial for Terra Save, which seems to be what Ms. Redfield has been putting her energy into recently. Camera pans into some sort of company banquet or PR event. Moira Burton approaches Claire and talks about wanting to join the company. Then BAM! SWAT-looking guys with guns storm in and the next thing they know is that they’re captive in a grungy dungeon wearing techy mood bracelets.

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Like, seriously? Who the heck is this?

I’ve gotta get this superficial complaint out of the way: Claire looks terrible. For being a CG character she hasn’t aged very well. Oh, and Alyson Court, who has voiced her for everything up until now didn’t return. Very sad making.

Moira will probably annoy a lot of people, but I really like her. Mainly because she is a potty mouth like I am. Not only that, but she comes up with some pretty memorable lines. When you escape the first zone, she says something like, “Well f*** that place very much!” I’m counting the minutes until I can use that line in real life.

In terms of gameplay, Claire’s scenario felt like a snippet from The Evil Within. If Sebastian had a teenage partner who swore like a sailor, anyway. In case you  haven’t read Steve-O’s The Evil Within Review, the comparison is not made in a flattering light. You’ll find yourself stuck with typical survival horror puzzles, cheap one-shot deaths, and zombies that take 10 bullets to kill that you can’t reasonably escape from. Unless the game specifically directs you to do just that, anyway.

The idea, when playing co-op, is to blind an enemy with Moira’s flashlight, dropkick them with Claire, then do a crowbar finishing move with Moira. You could do it single player as well, if you actually find swapping between characters ever 5 seconds to be a fun experience. We didn’t find blinding enemies to be particularly reliable. The zombies (or whatever the hell they’re supposed to be called nowadays) would literally be in the “OhEmGee I’m blind!” pose, covering their eyes and everything. So Steve-O would shoot it in the head, only for the zombie to pull him into a “zombie hug of death” out of nowhere. Like most survival-horror-action-whatever games, they’re evidently immune to being shot in the head.

Moira’s flashlight serves a dual purpose. Not only does it sometimes blind enemies, it also makes loot shine. I’m such a loot whore, I happily obliged playing in the passenger’s seat to uncover all the goodies. Plus she gets a crowbar, which was good enough for me.

Commenting on the story in a Resident Evil game seems like a wasted venture at this point, but I will make one small comment: Throwing Kafka quotes around like candy does not add depth to your shallow narrative, okay? And while their “cliffhanger” ending wasn’t remotely unique, I’m still curious to see how the girl power duo will make their escape.

In Barry’s scenario, he’s being a good daddy and tracking down the whereabouts of his missing daughter. Fortunately for him, he has a pint-sized sidekick named Natalia. Natalia uses a point feature to uncover loot and “sense” monsters. You’ll probably be sick of hearing “There’s a monster coming” at the end of the hour it takes to play through this. Instead of being able to beat enemies over the head with a crowbar like Moira, Natalia can stun enemies with a brick.

Stunning enemies with bricks? Sounds a bit like The Last of Us, doesn’t it? The similarities don’t end there, my friend. Like Ellie, this small girl is also a useful “Crawl through this small space” bot. I’m tempted to call up Naughty Dog and suggest they call a lawyer for a free consultation to see if they can get Capcom on plagiarism.

Uncanny Last of Us deja vu moments aside, Barry’s portion will be more fun for you if you’re one of those weird people who likes feeling like you’re hurting things while pumping a dozen bullets into them. He comes packed with a sweet handgun, assault rifle, and a magnum. Don’t gotta wait until the end of the game to get your hands on one of these babies. And you can upgrade it relatively quickly as well.

If you end up riding shotgun during this game like me, don’t let player one bully you into rushing. Make sure you take your sweet time searching every nook and cranny for shinies. Your loot sense will pay off, rest assured. For some ungodly reason, there are valuable gems just hanging around. They don’t convert to moneydollarbillsyall like you’d suspect. Instead they equal BP, which unlocks skills! In terms of skill trees, you’ve got the standard fare like more melee damage and faster healing. But then you’ve got some interesting higher tier skills that I’m pretty excited to test in combat.

A lot of reviewers commented on the drab environments and enemy designs. And I guess they’re right. Most of the environments certainly didn’t stand out to me, unless we’re counting the narrow hallways that made evading monsters about as simple as doing walking handstands. There are a couple of enemies that, while not entirely creative, are grotesquely satisfying.

For $6 an episode, I’m content with the pricing, and definitely see myself in this for the long haul. This isn’t even including the Raid mode, which is the online multiplayer that can potentially give you dozens more hours with this game. A lot of people aren’t into the whole “episodic release” marketing ploy. I certainly understand their reasoning, but I’ve enjoyed all the Telltale Games series that I’ve played, and find myself being equally satisfied with Revelations 2. $6 for about 2-3 hours of story mode and the potential for endless hours of online play? No complaints here.

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Until next time…

The Evil Within

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                           This is actually foreshadowing your experience with a few chapters of the game.

So, October has come and gone and we’ve since put the flagship horror title behind us. The hype for this game made it sound too good to be true. The creator of Resident Evil, free of Capcom’s bumbling clutches, at the helm of a brand new survival horror IP! The best survival horror game in almost a decade was sure to be upon us, right? That’s what I wanted to believe, anyway. Unfortunately, this year has been a grim reminder that buying too heavily into hype is a recipe for disappointment and The Evil Within was no different.

Possibly the most frustrating thing about The Evil Within is that it fluctuates so wildly in quality from one aspect to the next. It covers its basics adequately enough; your controls are clunky and somewhat unresponsive, as is custom for the genre. Despite the fact that your character is a seasoned detective, he has pretty awful firearm accuracy. Again, par for the course. The sprint mechanic could be a bit more believable (seriously, Castellanos? I’m pretty sure I’ve seen seventy year old emphysemics who can hold a sprint better, and they’re not even outrunning a crazy-ass box-headed butcher!), but I understand and even begrudgingly appreciate that it was a necessary limitation to create tension.

You’ll encounter more than the lion’s share of scripted one-shot-kills. I’m guessing this was to further create a feeling of helplessness, and in small doses it would do just that. However, when every chapter has at least one big baddie who will instantly delete you when you get within handshake distance, it doesn’t enhance the fear factor of the encounters. It’s just the established norm, and a little bit obnoxious. Take out half or three-quarters of my life bar and I’ll be more afraid, personally; not only is it fearsome, its fair. It will cause more apprehension in addressing the fight because I’ll blame myself for the death over a cheap gimmick. Certainly give some enemies and bouts of misadventure the instant-kill approach to keep us cautious, but every third room doesn’t have to have one.

Your pool of resources and ammunition is scarce enough that we aren’t venturing into action “horror” a la RE5, but rarely will you find yourself hanging onto that last clip for dear life. The game incorporates an upgrade system which smacks of drawing in the RPG crowd, but being a leveling fan in general, I wasn’t too put off by the idea. The horror game market has been so bastardized in the past decade or so that it’s difficult to get too bent out of shape over it. However, I will say that the inclusion of currency (in the form of green slime…yuck) and enemies that drop ammo often make the decision of fight or flight for you. “I’ve only got two bullets and a match to kill these three enemies but what if they drop shotgun shells?” This is more a statement on the evolution of horror games, but the inclusion of mechanics like this kind of killed the panic and flee options of some contemporary horror games.

Similarly, the story is pretty middle-of-the-road. You play as Detective Sebastian Castellanos, investigating a mass murder at a hospital. Naturally, things are not what they seem and things go south pretty quickly, with you piecing together bits of Castellanos’ angle through journal entries intermittently placed throughout the game. Without spoiling anything, veterans of the genre won’t be raising many eyebrows to plot reveals. Things begin to make a bit more sense after the pivotal reveal near the end, but nothing worthy of accolades. You certainly don’t grow attached to your character through dialogue, as Castellanos is as boring and one-dimensional as they come. His character takes no risks, shows little emotion or reaction to his circumstances, and doesn’t even try to cover it with awful one-liners. Leon may have been obnoxious in RE4, but at least he was an identifiable person and not a walking archetype. Oh wait, Castellanos says the F-word a few times. Eeee-dgy! Shena and I resorted to giving him the personality of a drunken stepfather, never without a beer bottle in his hand, who never opens a door when he can kick it down; consequences be damned. Still better than what we got from the game.

Now that the neutral stuff is out of the way, lets get to the great stuff! And the worst stuff! Because they’re the SAME GODDAMNED THINGS. The atmosphere, the mood, the designs. The game has some beautiful, terrifying models, and the creators of those models should be proud. Take your run-of-the-mill fodder enemy. Sometimes they look amazing! A corpulent bag of meat, wrapped in barbed wire with probably an entire houses’ windows worth of glass embedded in his everything. I don’t want that thing anywhere near me! You’ll come across a glaze-eyed plain farm girl, except she has a twelve inch railroad spike embedded in her skull (for some reason, head-shanking her with your dinky little pocket knife still instantly kills her). Some guys don’t have jaws, but bloody maws nonetheless.

But then, there are some people that are just…people. Boring, normal but oh no, he’s got a kitchen knife, shit’s getting real now. Or, worse yet, they’re wearing a porcelain mask in an uninspired attempt to look creepy, and it prevents the first headshot from killing them. More on that later. For every visceral, beautiful-in-that-horror-game-way enemy you come across, you come across two or three who’d be just as at home at a bus stop.

But the design of their bosses are top notch. In my opinion, this is the game’s chief redeeming feature. If you’ve seen the trailer for the game, you’ve set eyes on the freaky four-armed lady:

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Yep, that’d be the one.

She is equal parts terrifying and grotesque when you get a good look at her, and her entrance is just amazing. She easily finds herself in my top 5 boss designs in horror gaming. Hell, likely in all gaming. If they had treated every enemy with amount of thought and care given to not only her model, but the shocking brevity in her graphic introductory scene, we’d have a much more successful horror experience. While other bosses don’t quite reach her level, they don’t disappoint; gargantuan trollish creatures with posts embedded through their shoulders attack you with anchor-like grappling hooks. A legion of mangled corpses and monstrous limbs utterly destroys a parking garage as it searches for you. Even the iconic Box-Head, who I initially wrote off as a Pyramid Head knockoff, is appropriately menacing in his simplicity. For the record, his appearance is justified when you view models in the post-game Model Viewer and are given a bit of backstory on not only him, but all enemies in the game.

Similarly, the setting is oftentimes spot on. Your safe haven is often glossed over in an eerie green light, making your only comfort area unsettling at times. Dark rural villages often feel as foreboding as they look, while sewers look as disgusting as they should. Despite its general graphical under-performance, the gratuitous pools of blood you sometimes find yourself thrown into can be stomach wrenching. The final areas of the game are amongst the most bizarre I’ve seen. With a few exceptions (most notably, boring villagers and chainsaw maniac du jour), the game fared remarkably well visually.

Despite all this, there were times where I couldn’t be more forcefully ripped out of the atmosphere. This is easily my biggest frustration with the game, and why it’s unlikely I’ll be playing it again a few years from now unlike my semi-annual returns to Heather and James’ Silent Hill journeys. It’s indicative to me of an industry that flat-out does not learn from its mistakes. I’m of the common opinion that the melding of genres since Resident Evil 4 has reduced the quality of big budget horror games by trying to be something it has no rightful place being; a god-damned cover based shooter. It starts in Chapter 7, where you’re carrying out business as usual until you come across an outdoor area where the not-zombies are manning harpoon turrets. So you have to duck behind cover and throw grenades into their turret boxes before you get rained on. It didn’t sit well with me, but I thought little of it. Later on, as we approached the end of the game, we encounter a post-apocalyptic city where we have to fight SWAT team members with fully automatic machine guns and bullet proof armor. What part of that is horror, exactly? Critics couldn’t have roasted Resident Evil 5 any harder for taking that approach; why in God’s name would you subject the fanbase of a brand new IP to that, after branding the FATHER OF SURVIVAL HORROR all over your ads? Sure enough, an hour later we were on the back of a jeep, firing a mounted turret at swathes of enemies.

And that, ultimately, is why I can’t recommend the Evil Within to people looking to recapture that old horror feel. It’s falling in to the same trappings that led us to where we are today, and it’s only on its first installment. I may be being a little harsh on the game, but that’s only because there are areas and moments where it really shines, shows its potential. Moments where you see a four-armed deformed monster explode out of a pool of blood and can’t put enough rooms between you and her. Moments where you watch this unstoppable behemoth tear his own head off so that he can possess one of the boxes in the same room as you.

But then, you go duck and weave through a goddamned SWAT team firing machine guns, sprint to the back of their Humvee and unload on them with a turret, and the magic is lost.

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.

ShinjiMikami

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?

silenthill4eileen

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:

recrows

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.

Zombie_Assault_Rifle

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.