The will likely be spoilers, but should I talk about something super new I'll warn ya. But consider this a pre-emptive warning! You're WARNED!

Friday, January 28, 2011

SILENT HILL: A Series Retrospective

Talk is heating up- HEATING UP I SAY- about the latest Silent Hill title in development- Silent Hill: Downpour. Articles, screenshots, and music clips are leaking...heh.

"Leaking"..."Downpour". See what I did there? Terrible! Anyway, the point is that I thought this would be a good time to take a look back at the entire series, which debuted last century, people. Why, I believe Silent Hill can now be considered "venerable".

Silent Hill (1999)

In 1999, the internet was just shy of becoming the non-stop hype machine it is today. In marked contrast to the latest iteration, Downpour, the original Silent Hill simply appeared on the scene from nowhere and quickly became a game changer in the world of survival horror. Whereas Resident Evil relied on jump scares and tried-and-true movie monsters such as zombies to frighten players, Silent Hill approached video game fear in an entirely different way. Atmosphere, limited visibility, sound design...even camera angles were used to maximum effect in disconcerting players. Like no other game that came before it, Silent Hill got in your head. The team behind this game seemed to understand that horror is best when all of the audience's senses are engaged. Okay, maybe not smell. Or touch, really. Or taste. But you get my point, which is that Silent Hill is a complete experience that envelops you and puts the player in the game. On one late-night playthrough, the chills up my back were too much and I turned this shit off. That's a pretty effective game.

Harry Mason, knocked unconscious during a car crash, wakes to find his young daughter Cheryl missing from the car. He thinks he spots her running away and gives chase, only to find himself in the fog-enshrouded town of Silent Hill. Once inside, however, he discovers that it's not simply a patch of bad weather; rather, there are some evil forces at work. The town seems abandoned and monsters roam the streets. Roads disappear and Harry cannot leave...and occasionally, the "Otherworld" takes over and Silent Hill becomes a twisted version of itself, dilapidated and drowned in complete darkness. As he explores, he uncovers the truth: there's a cult trying to resurrect an Old God, and Cheryl figures prominently into their plans, etc etc. Effing cults. It's always something with a GD cult!

The plot may be a bit of a head scratcher, but there are several outcomes/resolutions, including the infamous, jokey "UFO" scenario. Multiple ending possibilities would become a series hallmark...along with clunky controls, awkward combat, and camera issues. Hey, Silent Hill may not a perfect gameplay experience, but that's a small price to pay for such immersive atmosphere and aesthetics. As wonderful as the visuals are (even on a PS1 game!), the effectiveness owes as much- if not more- to the soundtrack work of Akira Yamaoka, whose name quickly became synonymous with the series. Whether its jarring, discordant noises that set your teeth on edge or melodies that lull you into a false sense of security, the sounds he's given the town have given the town life.

I'm not gonna lie- I'd love to see Silent Hill get a graphical upgrade-ening. It worked well for Resident Evil when the PS1 version was overhauled for the GameCube: vastly improved visuals and gameplay, but the story, though tweaked, was largely left alone. Guess I know what one of my upcoming birthday wishes will be!

Silent Hill 2 (2001)

Widely touted as not only the best game in the series but one of the greatest horror survival games in the history of ever, Silent Hill 2 is absolutely a masterpiece, a remarkable experience from beginning to end.

James Sunderland receives a letter from Mary, his wife- his dead wife- asking him to meet her in Silent Hill, where the couple vacationed years prior. Much like Harry Mason, upon arrival James finds himself trapped within the town's fog-laden streets. He battles monsters, meets a few other people wandering the streets, and finally comes across Maria, who bears a striking resemblance to Mary. As he tries to piece together this puzzle of WTF-ery, alarms blare and Silent Hill morphs into Otherworld...

In Silent Hill 2, the town is almost a living entity, beckoning people to itself and becoming a type of purgatory where people are judged for misdeeds. After several conversations with Eddie and Angela, two people equally as confused by the goings-on as James, it becomes evident that Silent Hill is malleable and provides people with...well, a custom-made experience, sort of like Room 101 in Orwell's 1984. For James, the town is rotting and full of monsters; for Angela, however, it's on fire. Illness, sexuality, guilt, remorse, murder, suicide, abuse, desire, deprivation- Silent Hill 2 deals with some heavy, adult themes and definitely earns its "M" rating. There's a sadness lingering over the whole affair, and it's as depressing as it is unsettling.

The gameplay, while still frustrating at times, is vastly improved over the first game, and difficulty levels of combat and puzzles can be set differently depending on what type of experience the player wishes to have. The graphics, as you might expect, are also much better than its predecessor. Sound design in a video game has rarely been better, thanks once again to the work of Akira Yamaoka. The locales, from the hospital to the prison, are delightfully dark and ominous. Playing Silent Hill 2 is, more often than not, an absolutely terrifying experience. This is thanks, in no small part, to the presence of Pyramid Head, an imposing executioner who relentlessly stalks James throughout the entire game.

The Xbox release of Silent Hill 2 featured "Born from a Wish", a scenario that puts players in the role of Maria before she meets James. This is one of the earliest examples of platform-exclusive content and therefore one of the earliest instances of me saying "Well great, now I have to buy another system."

Silent Hill 3 (2003)

Whereas Silent Hill 2 is a standalone entry in the series, Silent Hill 3 is more or less a direct sequel to the first game, set 17 years later. Heather- the only female protagonist in the series- is raised by Harry Mason after she's given to him as an infant in one of Silent Hill's endings. Now nearly an adult, she's drawn to the mysterious town and learns that the old pesky cult has plans for her- plans that feature birthing Gods and all the usual cult stuff. You know how they do.

The Otherworld is still in full effect, and the standard equipment- a flashlight and a radio- return. Gameplay is the mix of puzzles, combat, and exploration that players expect. It's also as scary as you'd expect. All in all, there's not much to set SH 3 apart from the game that came before it, but more of a good thing can know, a good thing when its done right.

Silent Hill 4: The Room (2004)

The fourth installment brings about that classic paradox uttered by game fans, movie fans, and the like: I'd complain if you gave me more of the same old thing, but now that you've given me something new and I'm going to complain that it's not more of the same old thing!

SH4 deviated from the established formula in several ways- not the least of which is to take the game out of Silent Hill and stick it in the town of South Ashfield, specifically in the apartment of Henry Townsend. He wakes to find himself locked inside his small domicile, but soon discovers a hole in his bathroom wall that leads to a Silent Hill-like Otherworld. He becomes embroiled in the tale of Walter Sullivan, a deceased serial killer mentioned in a newspaper scrap players can find in Silent Hill 2. Henry, haunted by the ghosts of Sullivan's victims, travels back and forth between his home and Otherworld locations in a quest to put Sullivan to rest once and for all and to get the eff out of his apartment.

The series needed a breath of fresh air by the fourth entry, and SH 4: The Room certainly provided one. While the notion of expanding upon a throwaway piece of SH trivia is noble and the game's plot is fairly strong, ultimately it's a case of "good ideas, poor execution". Traveling back to your apartment- the only place providing a save spot in the game- gets tedious quickly. Puzzles, once a huge part of the experience, are sorely lacking, while combat is quite difficult. The ghosts that pursue you are irritating more than frightening: they chase you from area to area, and they can't truly be defeated. It's just...not fun.

Is it the game, or is it me? Hard for me to say. I found it quite frustrating and, while it had a couple of shining moments, it's sadly lacking in the scares department. For example, the nurses- terrifying in all previous installments- become...err, something quite different in Silent Hill 4.

The Room is the only Silent Hill game I've ever traded in, and it's a decision I question. Again, is it me, or the game? Would I enjoy it more now that I know what to expect of it? If I find it on the cheap, I'll probably pick it up (YES AGAIN) and give you an all-new verdict. Or maybe a "Yeah, I was right the first time" verdict. I know, edge of your seat and peeing with anticipation and all that.

Silent Hill: Origins (2007)

Silent Hill: Origins is the first SH game brought to fruition by someone other than the original Japanese developers, Team Silent. After a few false starts, production shifted to the UK-based Climax Studios, who brought the gameplay style back to the familiar ground of the earliest games in the series. Origins, released initially on the PSP and later ported to PS2, is a prequel to the first game and tells the story of truck driver Travis Grady, who rescues a child from a fire and soon finds himself...dun dun dunnnn...mired in the goings-on in Silent Hill. The girl is Alessa Gillespie, who is not at all unfamiliar to players- she's been at the center of the SH cult's resurrection plans since Day One. Alessa disappears from the hospital where Travis brought her and as he tries to figure out how and why that happened, he remembers more and more of his past. It's no surprise that his ties to Silent Hill run deeper than a simple drive-by.

As I said, an effort was made to hearken back to the old days of Silent Hill and for a die hard fan like me, that's fine...even if, by this fifth installment, the beloved formula ( was a tad too familiar. Things were shaken up by tweaks to combat (including modified quick time events) and the main character's interaction with Silent Hill's infamous Otherworld. Before Origins, Otherworld would simply happen, heralded only by the blare of air sirens. Travis, however, has the ability to travel between worlds via mirrors, and his actions in one world affect things- objects, environments, etc- in the other. It's a unique development, certainly, but it also takes away the minutest bit from the gameplay; not knowing when the darkness will strike and, once ensconced in it, not being able to leave it, can put the player in a bit of a panic.

Then, too, there's just...something missing from Origins, though it's difficult to pinpoint one thing, exactly. It could be that originally, Silent Hill was essentially a Japanese interpretation of western horror. Highly influenced by movies like Jacob's Ladder and classics of genre literature (take a look at the street names in the map up top, won't ya?), SH was of a certain sensibility thanks to the culture of its development team. When the series was put back in the hands of western developers, it became an interpretation of an interpretation, a third-generation copy that, for all its superficial successes, rings hollow. It's enjoyable simply because it's Silent Hill, dammit, but it fails to leave a lasting impression or ever truly get under your skin the way the first three games did. It's possible, too, that the series was simply running out of steam. "Running out a steam" is apparently a long way from dead, however, as the SH games keep coming.

Silent Hill: Homecoming (2008)

The first Silent Hill game made for next-gen platforms Xbox 360 and PS3 came from another western developer, Double Helix. Alex is a combat veteran returning home to Shepherd's Glen, a hamlet that borders on Toluca Lake with Silent Hill, only to find things are terribly amiss. His mom is all zonked out and townsfolk- including his father and younger brother- have gone missing. He dives into the fray to get to the bottom of the mystery, and things get effed up.

Sound familiar? Yeah, it should by this point, and that's a shortcoming for Homecoming. To their credit, Double Helix made some changes that while seemingly minor, ultimately had a huge impact. In previous games, combat was awkward and difficult in part because of wonky camera and controls, but also because it was endemic to the protagonists. A dad, a trucker, a 17-year-old girl...the main characters in all other installments are just regular people who simply wallop monsters as best they can- which often isn't very well. Alex, however, is an ex-soldier and as such, he knows how to kick monster ass, wielding upgradeable weapons as he performs finishing moves and dodges attacks. In previous forays into Silent Hill, combat was to be avoided whenever possible; here, enemies pose little threat. As a result, Homecoming feels more like an action-based game than a psychological horror-based one.

Still, Homecoming isn't a bad game by any stretch- it's just a bit stale and predictable. The plot, while only loosely tied to Silent Hill itself, is serviceable; the visuals, though often too dark, are generally terrific when you can see 'em, and Akira Yamaoka's work is as good and atmospheric as ever. If this game were an original title and not tied to the Silent Hill series, it probably would have received higher marks across the board...but this is Silent Hill: Homecoming, and it's missing that certain something that made earlier games in the series so special.

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (2009)

Climax Group, the team behind Origins, returned for Shattered Memories, a reboot/reimagining of the first game.

I know all you horror movie fans out there just felt a chill run down your spine, as we're all too accustomed to updatenings pooping all over our beloved classics.

And yes, up top I expressed a desire to see the first game given a graphical overhaul- that's something entirely different than a reboot. It's like the difference between scrubbing up James Cameron's Aliens for a Blu Ray released and Joe Schmoe director reimagining Ripley and her Space Marines as a science class on their worst field trip ever.

This is not to say that Shattered Memories is as bad as all that; I sheepishly admit that I don't really know. I played the first couple of hours on a friend's Wii, the platform to which the game was exclusive at the time. I don't own a Wii, so when that visit was over, so was my relationship with Shattered Memories. It has since ported to PS2, but...I wasn't so impressed that I felt the need to go pick it up. Additionally, the gameplay was very much tailored to the Wii's remote (which the player uses to aim the flashlight and utilize the cellphone), which may or may not translate well to the PS2's dual-shock controller. Shattered Memories is the first Silent Hill game I didn't rush out and buy on release day. I don't know why, but I feel like mentioning that. Surely it says something about something or other.

What I did play at my friend's house was admittedly fairly interesting. The story of Harry Mason and his daughter Cheryl, once again lost in Silent Hill, is intercut with scenes of Harry at a psychiatrist's office. Harry dutifully answers the doctor's questions, and those answers color the gameplay back in Silent Hill, from the puzzles he must solve to other characters he encounters. This allows for enough variety in the experience to warrant a few playthroughs.

The biggest changes, however, occur when Silent Hill enters the familiar Otherworld- in Shattered Memories, it ain't familiar at all. Rather than changing to a world of rust, decay, cages, and rotten flesh, it changes to a world of ice. There are also marked changes to combat in this installment: there is no combat. When the world turns blue and cold, Harry can only run away from the fleshy little dudes who chase after him. While this can be an exhilarating experience, it can also be one hell of a frustrating one as you try to navigate tricky environments and find a way out. Obviously, these enemy encounters are vastly different than any in the previous games; it certainly takes away that trademark feeling of dread when 1) you know the only time you'll be attacked is in Otherworld, and 2) encounters only entail relentless pursuit.

I don't know how far Shattered Memories deviates from the original game in terms of story because I haven't read plot spoilers; I figure someday I'll get me a Wii and then I'll see the game through to its completion simply because I am a nerd for all things Silent Hill. From where I'm standing now, it seems as if this could be another case of "If it wasn't a Silent Hill title, it'd be pretty good...", especially considering its home platform, which is sorely lacking in the horror games department. I'll eventually find out. I know, once more edge of your seat and peeing with anticipation and all that.

Silent Hill: Downpour (2011)

The forthcoming eighth game in the series, Downpour, is currently in development in the hands of Vatra Games, a Czech-based studio. Since the game's announcement at E3 last year, info and screenshots are becomeing more frequent- including a sizeable feature in the most recent Game Informer. I'd say things look promising, but then everything always looks promising when you're looking at pretty pictures and reading the promises of producers. Still...promising!

Apparently the protagonist is a prisoner named Murphy. The transport bus he's riding in crashes in a thick fog outside of Silent Hill. Murphy escapes the bus, heads into town, know. Stuff happens.

What's got Silent Hill fans in an tizzy over Downpour is that it will be the first game in the series that won't feature the work of composer Akira Yamaoka. In his stead is Daniel Licht, the man behind the music of Dexter. Though Yamaoka's incredibly haunting work is as much a part of Silent Hill as is...well, the name Silent Hill, it's far too early to pass judgment on the effectiveness of Licht's work. Some of the music was posted recently on Kotaku and though it's got an undeniably (and expectedly) different feel than what's come before, it seems fine to moi. I hear mandolins, so, you know. That's good!

Design director Brian Gomez claims that Murphy's story will be his own- he won't have ties to Alessa, the town's history, the cult, or any of that hoo-ha. He simply stumbles into a bad situation...or does he? Vatra intends to make the town of Silent Hill a true "character" again, the way it was originally intended. If that's true, then Murphy's arrival is unlikely to be a coincidence; more likely, he was beckoned there (if only by fate) as penance for his criminal past. Sounds a bit Silent Hill 2-ish in storyline approach, but then it's too early to even speculate and besides, I don't want to get my hopes up.

Okay, yes I do! I do want to get my hopes up because I still fucking love the first three games in the series and call me lame, I want a new story set in that horrible, terrifying town that will share the essence of those early entries. I want to be scared so badly by the goings-on that I won't play it in the dark- hell, that I have to stop playing it altogether. I know it's ridiculous to want to simply recapture an experience, but when it's this good, why not? I'd rather keep believing that the next trip to Silent Hill will be the best one yet than think the series is all dried up and new voices won't have anything worthwhile to offer. What's the fun in that?

I do know better, however, than to hope for another cracked out dog ending.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Hey, Dragon Age nerds!

First of all, I know- you're like, "What, Dragon Age again? Why not just call this blog Dragon Age Sandwich! Ha ha ha- Dragon Age Sandwich, amirite?" But listen, this is not simply another excuse for me to talk about one of my favorite games- well, okay, maybe it is just a little bit. More so, however, this is a post in the interests of public service, or least in service of that portion of the Xbox 360-playing public that finds itself wanting more Dragon Age...which, in my dreams, is everyone in the whole wide world.

Here's the deal: until January 24th, EA is running a massive sale on Xbox Live downloadable content, including every chunk o' Dragon Age-y goodness (and, to be fair, some Dragon Age-y mediocreness) to get you pumped for the countdown to Dragon Age II. LIKE I NEED IT. Anyobsessed, all DA DLC is 50% off- for those of you who are bad at percentages, that's half off! Of everything! So you should get what you don't have! Don't you think so?! DLC for 200 points! Yelling!

What's up for grabs and my thoughts on the such (because you're dying to know):

The Golems of Amgarrak

Reviews of this slight chunk o' DLC weren't too kind, so I didn't intend to pick it up whatsoever...but then this sale happened and the next thing I know, I'm heading into a thaig in search of some missing dwarves and the remnants of Caridin's research on the manufacture of golems. Now that I've played it, "slight" still seems an appropriate word. You can import your high-level Grey Warden or create a new one; it doesn't much matter as conversations are few and your Origins gameplay has little bearing on events. Some cool new enemies to fight (and the battles are as tough as advertised) and a couple of new items, but in the end it's short and more than a bit "meh" as you spend your time running back and forth through the same rooms repeatedly. To my mind it's best left to the completionists like myself; at least now that nagging voice constantly whining "But there's content out there I haven't played!" will shut the hell up.

The Darkspawn Chronicles

This alt-history content is also fairly short, but it's also quite fun. Dudes, unleash your dork...err, dark side and play as Darkspawn! Chronicles tackles the age-old question "But what if the player's Warden recruit had died during the Joining and it was up to Alistair to save Ferelden?" The answer: mankind would be royally fucked. Control hurlocks, genlocks, ogres, and all the gross villains at the Archdemon's command and kill your way through the siege of Denerim that occurs during Origins's finale. I'll admit, it was a good time until I got to the market area and started laying waste to all those NPCs I'd befriended as a Warden...never mind the battle on the roof of Fort Drakon. I felt a twinge of sadness as I slashed away at Wynne and the dog- MY dog!, but it was just a twinge, I swear- and that's only because I'm one of those goody-goody, namby-pamby players.

Witch Hunt

Man, I was so looking forward to Witch Hunt, which promised to shed light on Morrigan's life post-Origins (and post-Old God baby). Hell, this DLC was to give a proper ending to your Grey Warden's story if your Warden was male and in a romance with everyone's my favorite Witch of the Wilds. I suppose it does all that, but not in a particularly satisfying fashion. Meet up with a few new peeps, travel to places you visited in Origins (like the Circle of Magi and Cadash Thaig), find Morrigan, and get one of a couple of abrupt endings that are, frankly, unworthy of the hours spent with these characters in the game proper. Worth it if you dig Morrigan (I honestly don't get why some people don't dig Morrigan, but it's my understanding that these people are out there), I guess, but don't be surprised if you bust out a "That's IT?" when it's all over.

Leliana's Song

Now, my friends, we're talking! Perhaps the best piece of Dragon Age DLC is Leliana's Song, a romp through the past that explores Leliana's time as a bard and just what the eff went down with Marjolaine. If you saw Leliana's companion quest through to its end, then surely a glimpse into events that transpired before you met her is a tantalizing prospect, no? Yes! Wait...yes or no. Whichever one means YES in regards to whether or not you should play this. In particular, Leliana's Song is a great example of what DLC can be: it expands greatly on a character we think we know, provides some satisfying gameplay (even if, again, we play through areas we've seen before), and colors our experiences in the main game. If you get one piece of cheap DA DLC, I recommend this one.

Dragon Age: Awakening

Not so much DLC as it is a lengthy (20+ hours!) expansion pack, Awakening is nonetheless on The if you haven't played this before now, you no longer have excuses! Basically, this is Dragon Age: Junior- much like the experience of playing Origins, but truncated. The story takes place after the demise of the Archdemon, and you can import your Warden or start fresh playing a Warden from Orlais. Both have advantages- decisions your Warden made will have some repercussions felt in Awakening (it's particularly satisfying to play as a human noble), whereas a Warden from Orlais will experience all sorts of side-eye from citizens simply because he or she is Orlesian. You know how Orlesians are! My recommendation is to start a new character; I just found it a bit too weird to play my Warden with (almost all) new companions who really didn't compare to my companions of old. No matter how many jokes he cracks, Anders just ain't Alistair, and no matter how bitchy she is, Velanna ain't Morrigan. Some familiar faces pop up, but you simply may not give two shits about that sort of thing. No matter which character you choose to play, you're the new Warden Commander charged with finding out why the Darkspawn are at it again, even without an Archdemon commanding them- and why some of them now speak. Travel around Ferelden, recruit some friends, make some heavy decisions, fight some new's pretty much more of what you dug about DA:O, plus some sweet new equipment.

So there you go, the big rundown on the cheap Dragon Age DLContent. Go forth, purchase, and play! I know what you're thinking- "Stacie, I will. But FFS, why don't you just marry Dragon Age already?" To which I reply "I would, but then what would Mass Effect say?"

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Dead Space: Aftermath

When I reviewed the animated feature Dead Space: Downfall, I started out with some math:

(cartoon + comic + video game) x (sci-fi + horror) = (Final Girl + Dead Space) / love

That formula has not changed a bit in the interim, so I suppose you could say that I was greatly looking forward to the sequel, Dead Space: Aftermath. I suppose you could also say that I should get a haircut and while that may, in fact, be true, it has little to do with the matters at hand so you should just mind your own beeswax! But I know you're right. I do need a haircut. Earlier today I found a split end that was split in a manner that defied the very laws of nature and physics and probably time! It looked not at all unlike this 1896 drawing of a Mantis Shrimp.

By the way, don't mess with the Mantis Shrimp! They will fuck you up.

Sorry, I'm a bit distracted this morning. Umm...Dead Space: Aftermath, yes! As Downfall bridged the gap between the 6-issue comic book miniseries and the Dead Space video game, so Aftermath bridges the gap between the game and its sequel, due to hit on January 25th. For those of you who aren't all ten kinds of Funk & Wagnalls about the Dead Space series, here's a quick rundown:

Downfall: On the planet Aegis VII, an ancient alien artifact is discovered and brought aboard the USG Ishimura. The artifact has hinky powers, though, and causes flip outs of the homicidal variety. Not only that, but it reanimates dead tissue, turning human corpses into necromorphs, hideously deformed monsters who kill kill kill! Shit gets FUBARed on the Ishimura very quickly.

Dead Space: The USG Kellion answers the Ishimura's distress call. Players control Isaac Clarke, the Kellion's engineer, as he tries to...well, survive against a space ship full of necromorphs. At the end of the game, Clarke's fate is unknown.

Aftermath: The USG Bannon has been sent to find out what the frig is going on since contact with the Kellion and Clarke have now been lost. Ship after ship after ship, I swear! As you might guess, things on the Bannon go straight to heck and only four people survive. During Aftermath, we hear their tales, piece together the story, and learn just how heck-y it all got. We also discover what happened to Isaac Clarke to some extent, and the film leads right into Dead Space 2.

PHEW, amiright? Yeah, there's a lot to the Dead Space mythology, for lack of a better word, and I haven't even touched on the religious aspects of it all. If you don't know anything about any of it, you might come into Aftermath and not know what's going on. Well, you might not be completely lost, but you might feel a little out of place. You don't want that, do you? I don't want that for you. I want you to feel loved and cherished and like you belong, so you can be all "necromorph this" and "plasma cutter that". It's because I care!

Whether or not you're a Dead head, Aftermath is a good time. There's not a lot of character depth- we learn just the tiniest bit about the four survivors and their families (for example, one crew member sees the ghost of his dead daughter beckoning him as the artifact messes with his mind), but essentially they only tell the story of the massacre on the Bannon. That's fine by me, as it's an entertaining story...and as the math has proven, I'm a sucker for horror in space.

And this is definitely horror! It may not be quite as gory as Downfall, but the blood certainly flies and there's plenty of violence to be found. If that wasn't a big enough indicator, then all the swearing will let you know that Aftermath is decidedly not for the kiddies. That's right, I said swearing. This movie pulls out all the stops!

Each segment relating a survivor's tale has a different director and therefore a different art style. While they're all anime-esque, there are enough variations that you may end up needing a moment to sort out the characters- a thin, dweeby egghead scientist may appear all jacked up and ready to go on a 'roid rage in the next story. What's more off-putting, however, is the animation in the framing narrative- I don't know who decided cartoonish CGI was a good idea, but I wish they'd reconsidered and gone the traditional animation route for the entire film. Sometimes the CGI is alright; armor and guns, for example, come off looking cel-shaded and pretty cool. At other times, though, this shit looks like a commercial for The General auto insurance. It's an odd choice and I can't say I liked it, but I could deal with it (cue heavy, martyr-ish sigh).

I really like the Dead Space universe, and I dig that the world I discovered in the game is branching out into other media- I do so enjoy a property I can sink my teeth into. I'm a fan of animation and space-based horror, so as far as I'm concerned, these movies can keep on comin'. But then, what do I know? I mean, look at the state of my hair.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


What oh what is one to do when one feels like playing a game but is bored with one's meager selection of Xbox 360 games? One is to dust off one's trusty PlayStation 2, that's what! Well, I suppose that's true if one is me. The point of this is that I recently busted out an old fave that hails from the Age of 2001: Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance and you know what? That shit is still fun.

This action/RPG begins in the Dungeons & Dragons city of Baldur's Gate; the player's character is robbed and takes refuge at the Elfsong Tavern. From there, he or she embarks on a vengeance-filled quest to track down the guilty thieves; before long, however, it becomes evident that the thieves' guild is only a part of a larger world-ending scheme at play, and so the PC travels the land hoping to save civilization from destruction.

Oh man, did you see that? "Dungeons & Dragons"..."Elfsong"..."quest"..."the"...yup, BG: DA is firmly entrenched in geekdom. But we don't mind, right, because we all secretly like that stuff, right? Right? RIGHT?? Secretly. In secret. In public we'd never be all "Ooh, elven sorceress!" but in private, we'd totally be all "Ooh, elven sorceress!" when choosing our characters, right?

What I'm trying to say is of the characters you can choose to play is an elven sorceress. The others are human archer and dwarven warrior, but there are only minor ability differences between the three- the dwarf can use two-handed weapons and the sorceress can, oddly enough, cast a whole mess of spells. I'd lodge a minor complaint that character creation isn't a part of this RPG experience- while leveling up and choosing skills are part of the process, appearance and even naming your character are not. I won't lodge that complaint, however, because 1) this is an action RPG from 2001, and in the years since I've been spoiled by levels of customization in more current RPGs, and 2) that is something a nerd would complain about and I am so not a nerd.

Gameplay couldn't be easier as you hack, slash, and magic your way through cellars, snowy mountaintops, and swamps. Weapons, spells, and items are assigned to buttons with a dreamy layout, which means you don't have to pause the action to, say, chug a health or mana potion.

Not that I know what a mana potion is- I mean, that's something a dork might know about, but not someone as cool and socially-relevant as myself.

They may be a decade old, but dammit, the graphics still hold up. Interactions with NPCs are presented in a 1st person POV, but the battling is 3D isometric style. There's a surprising amount of detail shown, from sparks flying off of a lit fuse to gory body parts flying off of a shambling corpse. While there's not a ton of dialogue, the voice acting is better than average...although it's a bit odd to hear the ridiculously over-busty, half-elven bar wench speak with almost the same voice as the stern, capable Commander Shepard of Mass Effect (both are voiced by Jennifer Hale, which...someone told me, I swear- it's not that I would just know something so dweeby).

If you're to kill a few hours with a fun-to-play actioner with some light RPG elements, you can't go wrong with Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance. It's well worth dusting off your PS2, GameCube, or Xbox to give it a whirl...although I'm sure you're much too cool to engage in anything to do with the Forgotten Realms!

Not that I know what those are, mind you.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Forgotten 80s Nintendo Games

This is kind of the greatest thing ever (even though the severe buzzkilling nerd in me is all "the gameplay is more Atari than Nintendo"). I could actually see most of these being real games- there were some weird, weird titles and licensed properties out there in the old days.

via Gamefreaks

Monday, January 3, 2011

horror video games

I love horror movies and I love video games. It should be obvious, then, that I love any combination of the two; I've played some games past the point of frustration just because they were supposed to be scary (the original Alone in the Dark's okay, we can all admit it). Likewise, I've found perverse enjoyment in some atrocious horror films with gaming themes (yes, I'm referring to Stay Alive...just don't tell anyone).

I've talked about scary-flavored games plenty of times over at my other home, Final Girl; however, if you haven't been reading it for the past half-decade (and why would you, amirite?), then perhaps these little lists have gone without your notice. In the interests of convenience, history, humanity, and posting about things I dig, then, I'm gonna re-post all this old stuff about some of my favorite horror games here in one place...and even add a couple of new entries. GASP!

ALIEN 3 (Super Nintendo)

I don't really understand all the hatred people seem to have for the movie Alien 3. I saw it at the theatre twice and while it's a strange place to go after Aliens- and YES they shouldn't have casually killed ogg Newt and what's-his-name like that- I dig it (the fourth film in the series, Alien Resurrection, is another matter entirely). The pixelated counterpart, Alien 3 for the Super Nintendo system, is an absolute blast. You've got to guide Ripley through a series of varying environments (tunnels, exteriors, factories, etc) and accomplish different goals to complete missions. On one mission, you'll rescue prisoners that are all gunked-up with alien goo, while on another you'll have to clean all the alien eggs out of a hallway and weld the doors shut, and so on. For a 16-bit game, the graphics are fantastic. The action is intense- there's nothing like a room full of face-huggers to get your heart racing.

DOOM 3 (PC, Xbox)

I think I read on The Internet somewhere that people don't like Doom 3. I don't understand why, as I love it...hell, it's the first game I got when I got a good old-fashioned Xbox. What's not to love? It looks great and it plays great (this from someone who's pretty uncoordinated when it comes to first-person shooters). The plot (something something space marines something portal to hell something demons) is light, granted, but it's secondary to the action. When things go wrong in Doom 3, they really go wrong, and you've got to shoot, pummel, and chainsaw your way through hordes of demons and demonized space marines, often in the dark. During one part of this game, you're led through a labyrinthine area of a lab by a scientist. There are power fluctuations or surges or something and the lights are out. Eventually, the surges short out your flashlight as the single beam of light fades, you see something leap out of the darkness and kill the scientist- then everything goes black. Absolutely terrifying. Stupid Internet.


The Fatal Frame series is very, very Japanese, if you get my drift. Like your typical J-horror flick, it's long on atmosphere, longer on black hair, and short on a linear plot. Armed with a special ghost-capturing camera as your only weapon, you run around haunted houses trying to solve a mystery. If you're willing to give yourself over to the game, you'll likely get goosebumps on top of goosebumps- the game is that chilling. That Ray Parker, Jr thinks he's so big- I'd like to see him go up against a vengeful spirit in some dojo in the middle of the woods! My only gripe about these games is the battle system; the camera is very clever and very unique, but it's also clumsy. As I noted, I'm pretty uncoordinated at times, but more often than not I found myself wasting film taking pictures of the ceiling or floor while ghosts were attacking me relentlessly. The scares more than make up for this complaint, however. The second entry in the series, Crimson Butterfly, is perhaps the best.

RESIDENT EVIL (refer to chart found here for platforms)

Stick around here a while and you'll hear plenty of Resident Evil talk, my friends, because I effing love that series. The name of this blog may have even indicated as much. But in a list of my favorite horror games, I can't NOT mention the Rezzies. Yes, we're so intimate that we have irritating pet names for each other, though I can't print in polite company what Resident Evil calls me.

But! A post about the series is for another day; here, I'm just fixin' to talk about the ones I like best. My mostest favoritest, I think, is the GameCube remake of the very first Resident Evil. First of all: I love my GameCube. I'll talk about it more when I continue my positively fascinating history with video games...but suffice it to say, I find that the oft-maligned system kicks all kinds of ass. All kinds! For you mathemagicians out there, I posit: Resident Evil is proof of this.

The graphics in the remake are simply amazing, from the little puffs of dirt that rise when you run over an old, dusty wooden floor to the little puffs of stinky zombie breath blown in your face, it's really a beautiful game to behold. The basic plot of the original game remains intact- members of S.T.A.R.S. are investigating a series of "cannibal murders" and end up in a dilapidated mansion in the woods, confronted by zombies and various other horrors- but there are new subplots and enough new material to give a Resident Evil veteran plenty fresh thrills. This game is downright scary, there's no doubt about it. The first time a zombie that I killed- I know I killed it 'cause the puddle of blood oozed out from under him!- jumped up and started running after me, I nearly crapped my pants. Then I made out with my GameCube.

And then there's Resident Evil 4, which was born on the 'Cube but ported over to Playstation 2 (so you have no excuses not to play it- unless you only have some variation on the Xbox, or something much older, or perhaps you don't even play video games...I suppose those are good excuses) and changed the gameplay of the series. Gone was the awkward 3rd-person view; in its place, a weird over-the-shoulder 3rd/1st hybrid. Gone, too, were the straight-up zombies that were Resident Evil's hallmark, replaced by crazed cultists known as Los Ganados. Sometimes change is a good thing, though, and Resident Evil 4 is widely considered to be the best overall game in the series. It's a huge game- I don't even know how many hours I've spent playing it, and I loved every minute of it. And hell, you know any game that's got a dude with a sack on his head wielding a chainsaw is A-OK by me.

And then there's Resident Evil 2 and Code Veronica...oh, I could talk about Rezzies all day.

SILENT HILL (refer to chart found here for platforms)

I could also talk about Silent Hill all day, although truth be told...well, I'm a sucker for the series and so I'll play anything SH that exists, but I think it may have had its time in the sun. I shouldn't say that, I KNOW. But...latter entries are fun, but they just seem like pale imitations of the earliest forays into Silent Hill. Maybe it's just familiarity breeding meh, but they're just not terribly scary anymore. Something's missing.

Silent Hill 2 and 3, though...dem's my jams. I can't decide which I like better, although 2 has the best story out of any SH games. Some scary shit, that. Oh, Silent Hill...I'm sorry I said those things. You may no longer be the Silent Hill of my yoot, but I love you. For realsies.


I don't know why I keep buying Clock Tower games. I play them a bit, I get frustrated and/or get nowhere, I trade them in for something else. Oh wait, I know why- there are crazy dudes with big pointy things (by "things" I mean "knives and scissors", ya perv) chasing you around. The best part about the game is the fact that you can actually hide from the crazy dudes- hiding in the broom closet while a crazy dude hunts for you, walking by slowly as his giant scissors go shhhhing! shhhhing! is an awesome experience. Actually playing Clock Tower, however, is not. The controls are clumsy, the crazy dudes can't be killed (or really even stopped for any length of time), and the "puzzles" are nonsensical and frustrating. That's it, Clock that mystery girl who made Michael Jackson cry, you're outta my life!


The skies rain blood and everyone in town goes homicidal cuckoo-nutso. You, however, are still quite normal and you have to escape. The evil townies want you to die and do everything they can to kill you: they'll stab you, they'll shoot you, they'll throw things at you. They're just plain mean! Mean and crazy! This game is pretty spooky, and you've got the ability to "sight-jack" in your arsenal. This means that for short periods of time you can see things through the eyes of the evil townies. A cool gimmick, but not just a gimmick- this is your only means of locating the evil townies in their proximity to you- and your only real means of escape is the use of stealth. I wanted this game to be awesome. I really, really did. But sweet jebus, it was difficult- or I found it to be difficult, anyway. I'm really bad at being stealthy when games require it. Some jerk would hear a leaf rustle under my foot and shoot me from a rooftop, or I'd come around the corner and get stabbed in the face. Ultimately, the difficulty level (or my stupid, noisy, lumbering self) got in the way of my enjoyment and Siren went bye-bye.

DEAD RISING (Xbox 360)

Once upon a time, I reviewed Dead Rising. There is now also Dead Rising 2, which is more of the kill the zombies sameness with some tweaks. If I have to tell you that killing hordes and hordes of zombies, wackadoos, and wackadoo-ier wackadoos is fun and creepy, then you must be a moron. No offense...but come on.

LEFT 4 DEAD (Xbox 360, PC)

I love the chaos of Dead Rising, but I love this first-person shooter even more. See, what Dead Rising is to George Romero, Left 4 Dead is to Zach Snyder. These walking dead aren't walking at all- they're running really fast because they want to eat your face. There are hundreds and hundreds of them, along with "special" zombies, upgraded with all sorts of new ways to kill you. My favorite is the Witch, the goth-looking chick who sits around in her underwear, crying...until you get too close, and then she's up and clawing your eyes out in a flash. Reminds me of college!

DEAD SPACE (PC, Xbox 360)

First of all, Dead Space 2 will be out for Xbox 360 and PS3 in a matter of days and I am excited about it. Okay, it's out in a matter of weeks, but as a week comprises days, my point stands. Second of all, if I'm excited about it, you can rightfully deduce that I love Dead Space. And why wouldn't I? This game is like Resident Evil meets Event Horizon, and it's absolutely one of the scariest games in the history of the history of ever- yes, it's that scary. You've got to repair your disabled ship while fighting off mutated crewmembers- of course there's an alien flu bug goin' 'round. Standard stuff, eh? Well, Dead Space utilizes sound and light like no other game since Silent Hill, and it's downright terrifying, to the point where I hit 'pause' on more than one occasion just so I wouldn't have to continue on into a pitch-black hallway where something was moaning. The score sounds straight outta Kubrick's The Shining, and it helps sink you into a never-ending state of heebie jeebies.


While it wasn't a major hit sales-wise, this oldie but goodie GameCube release is a favorite amongst nerds in the know. Explore the mansion that belonged to your recently-deceased grandfather as you try to unravel the mystery of his death. Find chapters from the "Tome of Eternal Darkness" and engage in a little time-travel...and then Eternal Darkness really starts fucking with you via the "sanity meter". The more scary stuff Alexandra encounters, the nuttier she gets...and the nuttier you'll get. You'll be in the middle of a boss battle when suddenly your controller no longer works...or the game cuts to the title screen...or Alexandra ends up on the ceiling- the game really messes with your head as a player. There's nothing else like it. Hey, now you're a nerd in the know!


Here's another game that got little attention, but horror fans should definitely bust out their PS2s and give it a whirl. At the start of Haunting Ground, you wake up in a cage (!!!) on the grounds of Castle Belli, and you've got to figure out what the eff is going on and how you can escape. Eventually you team up with a white German Shepherd named Hewie to solve puzzles and defend yourself as you search for a way out. What sets Haunting Ground apart from other survival horror games is that your character wields no weapons...just about all you can do when confronted by an enemy is run and try to find a good hiding spot- sort of like Clock Tower done right. Sometimes these hiding spots work, and sometimes they don't...but you can never use the same place twice. It's incredibly tense to be crouched behind a curtain while someone is in the room, actively looking in all the corners for you. While there's definitely too much backtracking (and man oh man does the story get a bit perverse), Haunting Ground boasts one of the greatest, scariest video game villains ever in Daniella, the creepy-ass maid (pictured above). I'd say they should stick her in a movie, but we all know how movies based on games tend to go...


Did you know that there's a video game set right after the events of John Carpenter's The Thing? There is, and it's pretty good- so you PS2 and Xbox owners should get all up on that shit. You can imagine how the game goes: after contact is lost with MacReady and company, the military sends teams to investigate...alien parasite hijinks ensue. While you've got to battle the creepy-crawlies, you've also got to battle the rising worries of your teammates as they become increasingly paranoid: no one trusts anyone. Dudes get scared and they kill themselves, or they try to kill you. You may have an infected teammate in your party. It's a lot like the game, except no one wears weird, giant sideways cowboy hats- and that's a pity.

F.E.A.R. (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)

F.E.A.R. has become a veritable franchise over the years; the forthcoming F.E.A.R. 3 will boast the talents of horror heavyweights John Carpenter and Steve Niles, so that ought to tell you something about it. As for me, I've only played the first game in the series and while I liked it well-enough, I didn't fall in love. It's a first-person shooter that's more action-y than horror-y to me, which is certainly fine. I look at the picture above, though, and I think to myself "Stacie, you're a jerk. Try it again. Undoubtedly the reason you thought it was only okay is undoubtedly your problem, not the game's." So, we'll see. There are a lot of games on my Someday Second Chance List, and this is one of 'em.

ALAN WAKE (Xbox 360)

I recently talked a bit about Alan Wake in my little year-end wrap-up, but this sleeper hit is worth mentioning again. In the end it may be more "thriller" than "horror", if one wants to split hairs (as, obviously, I do), but there's no denying that walking around the dark woods with naught but a flashlight while evil-encrusted psychos bearing fishing hooks chase you is GD scary.

So there you go, horror + video games- two great tastes that something something. I hope to amend this list until I can no longer hold controllers in my wizened, arthritic claws!

Actually, I take that back as "wizened, arthritic claws" sound like a real drag to have. How about...I hope to amend this list forever.

Look, I'm amending it already! In the interests of making this post more of a real horror-flavored video games list and not simply a horror-flavored video games I love list, here are some know, horror-flavored video games which may be of interest.

Stuff I've played, felt only okay about in the end:
  • Condemned: Criminal Origins/Condemned 2
  • Alone in the Dark (they were all okay except the first one, which, as I noted, sucks)
  • Indigo Prophecy
  • Call of Cthulhu
  • D/D2
  • Still Life
Stuff I've played that pretty much stunk:
Stuff I've yet to play, but I oh so very much would like to:
  • Metro 2033
  • Rule of Rose
  • Dementium
  • System Shock
  • Amnesia: The Dark Descent
  • Saw
Stuff I've played, but I honestly don't remember much at all:
  • Parasite Eve/Parasite Eve II

Stuff I'm currently playing:
  • Deadly Premonition