Is Survival Horror still "a thing"?

The Evil Within
Release Date: Oct 21st, 2014

This is being said without having played Bethesda’s new title, The Evil Within, which is supposedly going to restore all faith in survival horror fans out there.  Taking a look back at some of my favorite horror games, I found that there were certain elements necessary to give it that right amount of thrill. 

1: Environment
The backdrop in anything in horror media is very important. Skimp on the detail and it becomes somewhat hard to understand. Granted there are some of the staples in horror titles.
“There’s something blocking your way” – the main character said to him/herself, looking at the 3 ft. high barrels sitting a foot and a half apart in the wide-open doorway.  There’s no way you can squeeze through.  You cannot go this way, find another impossible door to open.
In early titles, this totally happened. It was frustrating, but it totally happened. And yet, you found that impossible door to open.  Whether or not this has happened to you, the setting for a horror game is vital.  “Are you okay hunting down this man in this building? There’s no power either. Oh also, I forgot to mention — it’s an insane asylum where there are naked men with knives, a man that makes his wives, and if you approach anyone, you’re dead.  Also, the only thing you have is a video camera.”  *drives away* Yeaaaah thanks a lot, OUTLAST.
2: Story
From Indie to Triple-A games, entwining the gameplay with enough lore to support the actions of the controlled character or its surroundings can absolutely fluff up the fear factor.  Leave a diary from past encounters, voice the character for more depth, or even write on the walls in blood when the main character isn’t looking to give the player a head’s up that someone else is watching….  Story isn’t everything, but it is definitely the backbone when it comes to game structure.  (Unless of course, you’re a multiplayer, military shooter…but that’s another topic for another rant.) I will mention this game a lot in this post, but Silent Hill really tied in their first 4 games pretty well. Some ties were pretty good, others were a mess but they still slipped in names and events that took place to remind you where you were. 
Slender man

1000% Sound. In my experience (and some experiences with my Survival-Horror companion, IC Santi), the sound is a huge advocate of fear.  Try watching a scary movie with the sound muted, feel as your heart remains at a steady, healthy beat.  Again, Silent Hill was lucky enough to have producer and musician Akira Yamaoka on the team.  When they started adding the sultry sounds of Mary Elizabeth McGlynn to add lyrics to the already haunting melodies, it made it even better.  Slender‘s title character Slenderman has some pretty fearsome cues, too.  The music picks up and the characters breathing becomes panicked, and the sound effects are even more jarring when you see him.  Minor things like the squeaking of a door or random wheelchair coming into the hall, or major things like a roaring beast in your midst or SH’s Pyramid Head and his sword are all sounds that will make you, your character (or both) turn around. Make sure you wear headphones for this very reason!

While most of these elements are required for any genre, these are key players in making the game genuinely creepy. Add each component to a mixing bowl with a dash of jumpscares and stir. If set at the right temperature for the right amount of time, your game should come out nice and fresh!
Leave it in the oven for too long (or too short) and you’ll either get a suspense thriller with a lot of jumpscares, or an action adventure with…a lot of jumpscares.  I found this to be true with the FEAR series. The first one was very chilling, with just the right mix using the formula from above. FEAR 2 came around and gave the saga a very strange twist (no spoilers) and ultimately FEAR 3 added co-operative play which made it feel like more of an action, tactical shooter than one worthy to don the title of “survival horror”.  Unfortunately, transitions similar to this heavily affected titan-titles of horror like Alone in the Dark or Resident Evil and they have become just that; a severe let-down for the true horror fans out there.  No, it’s not being “elitist” or not “submitting to the path that mainstream gaming is taking”, it’s just being disappointed by the games that should have been after being so excited and hyped by the games that used to be. 

Harry Mason, Silent Hill

Silent Hill was one of my favorite series. I say was, only because I haven’t had the chance to play Silent Hill: Downpour or Book of Memories for the PSVita. What I do know, however, is that the franchise started strong. Back on PS1, Harry Mason was just an average Joe who couldn’t shoot a gun–he was just a dad in search of his daughter.  Down the line, I realize that he being an average Joe was the reason behind him not being able to wield a gun as well as Chris Redfield or any of the guys from Call of Duty.  Harry Mason was sucked into a hell-hole of a town, bombarded by monsters, overwhelmed by the battle of heaven and hell, but he still fought against those forces to find his little girl and save her soul.  In the game, you will die. If you put the game on the hardest difficulty, you will die a lot.  Some places remain silent, where shrieking violins may have been appropriate, but some of the cutscenes or places where Harry treads are void of any sound except for his heavy footsteps.  Puzzles litter the way through the town, much like in Resident Evil where it requires you to find keys of a certain type to open up doors to the next areas. Not too many jumpscares, not too many gruesome baddies either.  Mostly just shadows or figments of your imagination crawl by, images sweep over the walls that would haunt you forever.  

One of my most favorite memories with IC Santi was in Silent Hill 4: The Room, which was not going to be a Silent Hill game at first.  Loosely tied into the events of Silent Hill 2, The Room’s Henry Townshend is trapped in his apartment.  With a peephole in the front door and one facing into a neighbor’s room, Henry is only allowed to transport himself to the nightmare world using portals from his apartment.  After taking a break from some of the dark puzzles and deep story, Santi and I decided to look out of his apartment window.  There’s a hot-air balloon, a neighbor watching television, some billboards, traffic buzzing by. Oh yeah and the head of an eyeless, dirty, beat-up baby doll that drops down in view if you are caught staring for too long.  That was it. No sound, no warning, no visual prompt. Just the head, falling into view.  That was about 9 years ago now, and I won’t ever forget it!
Bella, from Siren: Blood Curse

Another unforgettable moment I have in a survival horror game was with Siren: Blood Curse on Playstation 3. The episodic venture takes you through the various perspectives of several characters in the game, ranging from a dog, a teenage boy, a career driven father and even the innocence of a little girl who happened to tag along.  All of the characters have the ability to “sight jack” or link in with the vision of the monsters, that way you can learn their patrol and move safely.  Now, why anyone would actually take their child to a nasty place like haunted Japan is beyond me, but the vulnerability and heart-pounding episode I had to take on as the little girl found me constantly finding places to hide (including an oven) and was spent in long periods of time with me IRL biting my nails and waiting for the bad people to pass while the poor little girl waited in pure darkness. 

 Major letdown included Alone in the Dark.  I really really really really wanted to like it.  After playing about 75% through Alone in the Dark: A New Nightmare (because I rented it, and could never find it again 😦 ) I really wanted the reboot of the Alone in the Dark series to be good. Alas, upon its release, I was very disappointed to find that the game was rushed, incomplete and essentially a letdown.  A happy medium I found was the first Dead Space. Isaac Clarke is a space engineer with a hardware upgrading savvy and a knack for attracting the deadliest of necromorphs, EA’s Dead Space really personified the phrase “In space, no one can hear you scream!”

Resident Evil 2

No, I didn’t forget… Resident Evil is a major player in this ring.  I rented this game on a whim, and ended up loving it. It started with some major scare cred, and in its recent installments become an action thriller more than survival horror.  There is hope for Capcom to continue with the Resident Evil series, as there is so much you can do with the T-Virus/G-Virus/Plagas Parasite angles to continue, but until that day comes…I’m still quite saddened to see the lackluster efforts placed into this once thriving genre.  Since the popularity and fascination of zombies has taken over the mainstream media, lots of games like Dead Rising, Dead Island, Deadlight, have become quite popular. (See a pattern here?) … Psst: Zombies aren’t he only supernatural, dark, evil creatures out there!!! Alan Wake was a great way to incorporate psychological horror over physical gore.  Writer Sam Lake emphasizes the horror aspects found in [Alan’s] mind to be scarier than some of the gore out there. 

Fatal Frame 3: The Tormented

For now, indie titles like Amnesia (and mods) as well as Slender, and Outlast rate pretty high on the charts for scary games currently, but will Evil Within top even those? Hands down, I believe that Fatal Framereally takes the cake and is the one game I know is truly consistent throughout the entire series. I couldn’t give you a scariest moment because frankly there are too many to name, ranging from little priestesses singing as they search for the next sacrifice, scanning through the courtyard through the viewfinder of the camera obscura to see a ghost of a boy hiding behind a tree, or an eyeless woman crying about her eyes that were mercilessly ripped from their sockets.  All three, in my opinion, had a perfect blend of Story, Atmosphere and Sound and the voice acting is not half bad. This one should definitely be one on the list of any survival horror gamers out there.
Come back soon when I do a followup to this post, that is if I have the balls to make it through the Evil Within, if it is as scary as they say it’s going to be!! ^_^
Thanks for reading and allowing me to take a trip down evil memory lane to recall the great moments in scary gaming.
Game on, guys!

>> K

Pictures Source: Google Images, Wikipedia

All them feels!

The Walking Dead Season 2 Episodes 2 & 3 overview 

(caution: only light spoilers for this and other titles mentioned in the blog…this is your one warning. ;))  

After waiting for so long, I played Episode 1 of the new season and absolutely loved it. Even after 400 days bridged that ever painful gap between one and two, I can and must say that Season 2 has all the feels.

All of them.

“A House Divided”
Luke and Clementine

TellTale pulls no punches in this gritty tale of desperation, despair and destruction.  As we follow Clementine into Episode 2, we find that it picks up directly from the conclusion of Episode 1.  Following the format of choice and consequence guiding your way, who you help will ultimately affect how it presses on from here.  Once it was all over, I can tell you there was no sigh of relief. You know, that sigh of relief you have after you’ve finished a game and you can set it down and rest easy?

Not here.

I found the complexity and range of emotions sought out in Episode 2 essentially twists that proverbial knife once the episode comes to a conclusion.  Clem helps her peer Sarah hide from an intruder.  Clem stands her ground against a hormonal storm and onslaught from Rebecca and also looks up to her partner in crime, Luke.  You find a safe haven and watch as Sarah and a new found friend hang decorations on the Christmas Tree.  Clementine helps out win dinner.  Bits of dialogue and interactions on top of the turmoil they must face really leaves you wondering why the developers leave such a painstakingly long gap between episodes.  Upon the resolution of the episode, you are reunited with a friend, though I won’t say who because you need to experience this for yourself.  Also, you lose some companions along the way (there’s no spoiler there, as I’m about 90% sure George R. R. Martin wrote this game…) and if that doesn’t seem awful enough, so the game doesn’t become too warm and fuzzy, you are also taken away from safety by the man that your companions have told you to fear. Some old folks, some foreign folks, some frail folks…oh yeah, and a PREGNANT LADY?? This can’t be good.

NOW. Episode 3 was where the real shit went down.  Like most adventures games with a strong protagonist, the young Clementine is burdened with tasks that no child her age should ever have to face.  The ever-fearless Clem risks her hide several times for the companions she hardly knows (and someone she never thought she’d see again), putting herself in danger constantly for those she believed were her friends, or rather her family.  You find other familiar faces at this compound, faces that remained unseen since 400 Days.   It is here that you get to see a different side of Clem; one that surfaces slowly but surely, and is purely dependent upon the many different occurrences scattered throughout her adventure.  Once you get to the finale of this trial, however, the decision you have to make is quick and altogether brutal.  I won’t say much here, because the choice is yours.  In the split second I had to make my choice, it made my stomach turn.  I let the credits roll, set the controller down and further contemplated my humanity.

“You’re silly, its just a game!” right? You were going to tell me that right now.

The main point I’m trying to make here (segue cue) is that no matter what the game looks like — it entertains you in some way, right?  There’s so many different ways that a game can look:

 = The stylized way, that TellTale did with The Walking Dead
 = The simplistic way, that Mojang did with Minecraft
 = The classic way, that Square did with Final Fantasy VII
 and of course …
 = The mesmerizing way, like Rockstar did with Grand Theft Auto V

All different styles, all different levels of graphic complexity, but all extremely compelling.  There’s more than the aforementioned list and there’s even mixtures of the categories as well like the fantastical realism in the Bioshock series.  Nevertheless, games can make you laugh, cry, rage, bored, or even seek out your general purpose in real life, though that may be stretching things a little thin.

Booker’s companion, Elizabeth from Bioshock Infinite

I was trying to find a good way to express my love for the expression of emotion in games, no matter what they look like and I felt like there was no better way to convey my thoughts than this.  Nowadays with 4k or 1080 resolution, pixels, realistic movement, picture clarity, motion-capture, graphic adjustments and scales — everyone gets so caught up in what something looks like, when they don’t just open their eyes to see what’s right in front of them; a glorious backstory to a character that has seen so much hell, trying to fight for her life and the safety of those around her.  TellTale’s The Walking Dead as well as its sister-title The Wolf Among Us are cel-shaded, a form of art that brings the works of comics and graphic novel to life.  It didn’t need too much along the lines of 3D to make me interested in it.  It didn’t need all of that fancy stuff to make me bawl like a sissy baby at the end of Season 1 Episode 5 either.

Max & Michelle Payne

Most will say that it’s because I’m an artist that I look for something like meaning behind a game like…Minecraft.  It’s all perspective, I suppose, but there’s no denying the fact that games generate emotion.

Remember when Max Payne‘s wife and daughter died in the first game?

How about when your mind was blown after the Inception-esque ending of Bioshock Infinite?

How did you feel at the end of Red Dead Redemption?  OR The entire Metal Gear Solid franchise?

Yeah, I’m just gonna leave that right here… </3

In one way or another, your favorite games have managed to find a way into your heart, for your own personal sentiment or because of pure immersion with the experience.  Gaming is definitely an art appreciated by the handlers who not only allow it to become a part of their lives, but allow themselves to become a part of the game.

With that being said, I cannot wait until Episode 4.

Game On, guys!
IC Krys

Femmeless faux pas?


So everyone is talking about how Ubisoft mentioned the lack of female characters in the new game, Assassin’s Creed Unity.  This has, of course, stirred up a lot of uproar in the community because female gamers also want to don the robes, customize, accessorize, etc.  Assassin’s Creed Unity’s Creative Director,  Alex Amancio spoke with Polygon and said that “they originally planned to include female assassins, the “reality of production” made adding the additional characters too costly.”
Let us flash back to previous titles: Ezio had Catarina Sforza, his sister Claudia, his mother. Even Connor’s mother could hold her own.  Desmond had Lucy. Then of course, there was Aveline, the only female assassin to lead her own game. Oh yeah, and the models for the various women in the multiplayers of each game as well.  Aside from Aveline, there may not have been a full scale of movement that they have been capable of, but nothing a few minor tweaks couldn’t fix. (right?)
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a by all means a female, but I can’t help but see it from the fence on this one.  On one hand: I am a very huge advocate for equality on all fronts.  Gaming has actually come a very long way from where I started.  While Metroid was a mindblowing surprise to all when we were shown that Samus was indeed a woman, and of course Tomb Raider — those are only two out of a ton of games I grew up with leading males: Mario, Zelda, Pac-Man, Duke Nukem, Silent Hill 1, 2, 4, Half-Life, Hitman, Metal Gear Solid, Max Payne, Bioshock… hell, even Grand Theft Auto III was led by a voiceless man from Liberty City. Would I have preferred to play a girl? Yeah. Considering the titles of now, like The Sims, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, Dragon Age, Mass Effect, The Elder Scrolls, Fallout (just to name a few) opened the doors to not only women, but men who play as women in games.  But as I’ve seen in some heated responses and defenses about Ubi’s announcement — “you’re asking for an entirely different experience”.  If the backlash is about changing Arno completely, then I agree. Things would be different.  But, if it’s just as simple as adding a female into the multiplayer…then what is the big fuss? Why ignore this demand/necessity at all? It’s the multiplayer. This game is about Unity. Not only can you play with “your homies” essentially, you should be able to be that character.

Aveline de Grandpre, of Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation
Former Ubisoft designer, Naughty Dog’s Jonathan Cooper tweeted: “In my educated opinion, I would estimate this to be a day or two’s work. Not a replacement of 8000 animations.”

Well, should we really be bashing Ubisoft this hard for making this mistake? No.

Should they have handled it a little more straightforward with a dash less of bs? Perhaps.  I’m no designer, but in my opinion it feels like a really weak argument to make about female models being time consuming, taxing, costly or difficult.  In a time where women were ever present during the French revolution, it would only make sense to infuse the game with some feminine flair. If it takes time, money or any more intricate detail — then take that time, invest that money and stop pumping these games out every year. Work a little longer on it to cater to the demographic of today instead of cutting off corners and hoping for the best.

–But that’s kind of an opinionated, argumentative monologue I have for another day. -_-
So, for now I remain on the fence.
Does it upset me? Disappoints me, really. I expected a lot from the game. I mean, it looks fantastic as a whole, not just graphically but it seems like Ubi actually smoothed out a lot of the bumps from games prior.
Will I still buy it? Yes. I’m just going to have to deal with it because unless they manage to u-turn and overhaul it to add a woman or two, it’s coming out whether I like it or not. There’s still time between now and November, we’re sure to see improvements, if any, on the game.
-IC Krys
Source: Polygon, Kotaku

Watch_Dogs: The view from here

This is my POV of Ubisoft’s latest game, Watch_Dogs.
Warning, there are minor spoilers in this rundown! 😉

Fixer spotted you                 source:

I was lucky enough to get a first glance at a demo of this game at last year’s Gamestop Expo.  The demo booth was run by one of the Frag Dolls (Esper!! <3) and one of the play-testers from Ubisoft.  Aiden was voiceless, and we saw the vigilante miss an opportunity stop a crime, hold up a shop owner and evade the police, flawlessly.  I was mesmerized.  Since its announcement at E3 2012, I have wanted this game.  Nothing stopped me from wanting it.  The hype, the trailers, the gameplay footage, the other news outlets talking about it. Nothing.

Picking it up on May 27th — I find myself intrigued and ultimately pleased with how the game turned out!

So far, I’ve managed to put a few hours into this massive game, playing most of the story missions to pass time.  Here and there I’d stop to play some poker, even managed to become entertained by the puzzle solving games they’ve made with chess and I’ll even grab a few of the incoming transmissions to stray me from the linear way.  However, I’ve found that the incoming mission offers, the phone calls from various characters in the game, the mini-games along the way, all the way down to the HUD, the game is very very busy.  Normally, this would bother me but this actually poses a very nice mirror to our own lives.  You hear your phone buzz, you go for it. It’s a text message from a friend.  You hear that ringing on your computer, it’s another friend on your social media page  Then a little notification pop-up from the television.  It’s your console alerting you that another friend has logged into their account. I won’t really dig too deep into the meaning of this, but it seems like a very symmetric juxtaposition of our reality with technology and what is to come.

Hacking the City                        source: ubisoft

I haven’t had much experience with the online portion of the game, other than a handful of fixers coming into my game.  It’s frustrating sometimes; when I’m trying to get across the city to a mission I try to start the mission but am blocked from this since someone is trying hack me. It is random which is a bit realistic as life is unpredictable but with this mode overall I am a little disappointed we can’t hack our own friends yet. Even though I see something like that possibly getting out of hand — I think being able to log into someone else’s game to create some havoc would be quite entertaining.

Another thing I have noticed, and I’m sure your other friendly neighborhood gamers have said the same, is that Watch_Dogs has no sense of morality; there is no consequence for your actions.  A close comparison to this game is Infamous, the open-world sandbox type of playground, but what that game had that this title lacks is its meter that leads to a different ending if you make “wrong” or “right” decisions.  I put them in quotes simply because it is definitely up for interpretation whether or not certain actions are deemed in good faith or with bad intent.  For example, in Watch_Dogs, you are allowed to hack into a bank account of a woman walking down the street.  When the analysis pops up that she is a cancer survivor with a gross income of only 20,000 a year, there’s no remorse felt by the lead character Aiden Pearce.  Hell, even the trio of GTAV had some scruples.

This now leads into my next point: Aiden Pearce has not found his way onto my list of “likeable” characters.  Now, I understand each character has a reason for their attitude or actions but I’ve been playing this game for a while now and I’ve only come to find that he’s somewhat of a douchebag.  Driven by the anger which stems from the death of his niece Lena, we meet Aiden on a mission, already in a state of despair.  As we move beyond the mission to its completion, we meet a couple of his colleagues — to whom he is a complete jerk, blowing off any assistance.  I find him to be very cold, and because of this, he is detached from absolutely everything.  Not sure if this was done on purpose to give us an undesirable anti-hero, something different than the norm, but I can honestly say I’m not entirely sure how to understand him. While I admire his determination to seek justice, he just seems like such a downer with a one-track mind. The others featured in the game, like his partner Jordi Chin or Clara Lille seem to have more of a three-dimensional aspect about them, I’ve found them quite entertaining and bring some life into the story.

Jordi Chin & Aiden                source: ubisoft

Don’t let my opinions of Aiden fool you, though. Watch_Dogs is actually a pretty spectacular game. The controls are pretty comfortable, aside from the driving (I prefer the motorcycles!), and the scenery looks amazing.  It makes you wonder what sort of surveillance is being run now, and how far we are from a fully electronic city like this future-Chicago.  Even with the reservations I’ve listed above, I am still enjoying the game.  I’m hoping to see some things turn around for Aiden in the end.  I still have a long way to go before the end of the main storyline, but Stay tuned for my followup to this as I progress!
Thanks for tuning in!!
-IC Krys

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