What are you hiding, Ethan? #Gaming

resident-evil-7-hands

I’ve been trying to come up with words to describe the marvelous wonder that is, Resident Evil VIIIt’s been a great while since I’ve been legitimately spooked behind my own controller–and to be honest, I am so thrilled with how this has turned out.

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Virginia (Game Review)

505 Games, Xbox One
First Impression “review”

Ahh…The Unfinished Gamer has returned! I’m a little rusty here, so bear with me as I review a new game.

The game VIRGINIA was recommended to me by my friend, fiance and gaming cohort, and I picked it up on the Black Friday sale solely on impulse but also convinced by the trailer provided in the story. The trailer itself showed very little, but what was said about the game immediately reeled me in.

I am an auditory learner and a sucker for music and sound design in games because–quite frankly–I don’t think those departments get enough credit. Right  off the bat, this thriller gets you right in the zone with a chorus of strings and piano that will chill you right to the bone. The opening credits pays a subtle homage to crime dramas of old and sets a tasty morsel of the atmosphere you are about to dive into right on the tip of your tongue.

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Remedy is at it Again!

GAMING, at its finest.

For those of you who follow the world of gaming, Gamescom just came to a close last week and brought some very wonderful news. My one key takeaway that sparked tremendous excitement was: Quantum Break. That’s right…my beloved Remedy is at it again! Remedy is the studio that brought you Max Payne and Alan Wake…both of which are a couple of my favorite games. Ever.

Maxpayne

The story of Max Payne — refraining from too many spoilers, is the tragic tale of a broken man who was torn from everything to nothing in the blink of an eye. After his promotion at the precinct, Payne returns home to find his wife and child attacked and eventually killed at the hands of junkies, high on a new street drug called Valkyr. It’s a downward spiral from there, and the deep, gravelly voice of James McCaffrey narrates the game in a stylized fashion, inspired by graphic novels and film noir, bringing the gritty world to life. Over the course of the first 2 games in the trilogy, the player ultimately experiences experiences the fall of Max as he tumbles farther and father down the rabbit hole, fending off mobsters, soothing his own physical and mental suffering with painkillers, and fighting for his life. Max Payne was released in 2008 by Remedy and Rockstar, which was one of the very first games to feature the bullet time mechanic, for which the series is very well-known.

Two years later, Remedy released Alan Wake, a writer on the cusp of finishing his ultimate masterpiece. The story to me was reminiscent of “The Secret Window” by Stephen King, as well as other works from Neil Gaiman to Brent Easton Ellis (American Psycho). The game even gave slight nod to the shows Twin Peaks and Twilight Zone. Throughout the journey of Alan Wake, the writer’s internal monologue is the gloomy overlay to his fall into restlessness and madness.The woods of Bright Falls, Washington was a very creepy and intriguing backdrop, providing the beautiful scenery in this psychological thriller.

alanwwake

Everything about both of these titles captivated me from beginning to the very end. That being said, I have not yet finished Max Payne 3 to it’s very end but I hear that I have come very close as of my last save file — which shall be resurrected with The Unfinished Gamer. The beautiful part to me, as a writer, is the hints of Norse mythology influencing themes in both games; i.e.: Valkyr and Ragna Rock nightclub in Max Payne, as well as the band Old Gods of Asgard and their members Odin and Tor in Alan Wake.

Now for the main event…

From what we have seen, the theme of Quantum Break shows us the great power, consequence, and sacrifice when a time travel experiment goes wrong — leaving three victims with strange, time bending abilities in the process. Quantum Break is going to be told in two ways: The game, which follows the character Jack Joyce played by Shawn Ashmore (The Following, X-Men) will show the player the side of the heroes, while the skillfully paired live-action digital series is going to be seen from the “enemy camp”, which follows the character Paul Serene, played by Aidan Gillen (Game of Thrones). After the incident, both men are being pursued by Monarch Solutions. It looks to be a star-studded cast, including the two gentlemen listed above as well as Dominic Monaghan (LOST, Lord of the Rings) and Lance Reddick (Fringe, John Wick), Courtney Hope (Prowl) and more.

Choices in the game will influence the episode of the show that you unlock, and vice versa. The concept of game/tv running in tandem isn’t new, however — as I took part in the launch of DEFIANCE the game and its Syfy Network counterpart. Though reception of that MMO interaction was mildly received, from what I have seen of Remedy’s new game so far and the efforts put in by not only development studio and show producers, but the cast as well– I can only hope that this release will be as compelling as the last two Sam Lake/Remedy games I played and fell in love with.

Remedy wowed the gamers at E3 in 2013 where they debuted the new IP in a trailer that has since been changed, due to the new cast, notably the lead actors, and offered more information on the story and the full concept of the game. This was by far, my favorite announcement from Gamescom.

The fact that this is Sam Lake and Remedy has already got me on the hook.

Come April, we finally get to see the final products, and I cannot wait.. 🙂

R.I.P. Silent Hills…??

I was so so so very excited to see two masterminds, Hideo Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro, come together to create a new game in one of my all-time favorite series: Silent Hill.  Announcing their collaborative work during Gamescom of last year, Konami released a demo under the title “P.T.” In fact, I wrote a bit about the playable teaser and all of its mysterious, eerie and memorable glory HERE, so feel free to click on the link to read my reaction to one of the scariest experiences I have had with a horror game to date. (AND I DIDN’T EVEN PLAY IT!)

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Life is Beautiful…

LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL … so far.

LIFE IS STRANGE

Earlier this year, Dontnod released the first chapter of their new game entitled Life is Strange. The episodic storytelling experience follows the tale of Max Caufield, a young woman who returns to her hometown in Arcadia, Oregon to attend an institute to follow her dreams of becoming a professional photographer. Rich snobs, bullies, jocks and all of the inevitable tropes of being a teenager all fall to the story’s B-Roll when Max discovers that she is something special. The story unfolds and begins to tie knots in the web of ultra-realistic characters in this setting.

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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. 
3: SOUND.
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

Infinitely captivated…

Bioshock: Infinite – First Impression
(as previously written for Players In CTRL)

Has a game ever gripped you and held on tight?

Bioshock had this effect on me. The first one had me…the second one had an obviously different feel however it, like most sequels, wasn’t terrible.  Bioshock: Infinite released today and I must say, it was worth the wait. Yes, I was greatly disappointed when it was pushed back from late last year until now.  However, as I have grown to know, if a game simply isn’t finished, it is not ready to be released or else you end up with products like Aliens: Colonial Marines or even more recent, The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct. The outer shell made a spectacle though a mere facade; a product that lacks the hearty substance that was promised in trailers and promos.

So yes. The wait was most definitely worth it. Right from the get go you can see the effort invested in this project, already making me attached and in even deeper awe at the genius of Levine and team Irrational Games.

So far it is NOT disappointing at all. The atmosphere is one hundred percent present. The game has already been given so much praise and it is definitely well-deserved. The voice acting is genuine, even from the NPCs. The music adds so much life to the surroundings with its classic ambiance. The gameplay is fluid and the graphics are gorgeous.

I am looking forward to delving deeper into the story. As it has already been said: do not rush through this game. Take a stroll, take in the environment and immerse yourself into this game.

It is amazing…