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.

Continue reading “Life is Beautiful…”

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

Expo aftermath!

Back from Gamestop Expo and I must say I am EXHAUSTED.  So many nerds in one spot, it should be illegal.  I did see some pretty amazing stuff so let me give you a run down of my top 10.

10. Rocksmith 2014
Though I didn’t get to really play the first Rocksmith, I had heard nothing but great things about it.  The fact that it teaches you how to play a real guitar made me excited for it, and seeing the new additions make me want to invest in this new installment.

IC Amanda killings the baddies on ESO

9. Bethesda
Elder Scrolls was on my “to check out” list and I was actually pretty impressed with how the game turned out.  MMO’s are not usually my cup of tea but I was pleased with what gameplay I was able to see. Between Elder Scrolls and Fallout, I was sure Fallout would make MMO jump first.  Or maybe I was just hoping simply because there are so many fantasy type RPGs out there that I wanted to see something a little different.  Regardless, ESO looks pretty fantastic and I will be building my PC to jump into Tamriel with everyone.

8. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
As I am dubbed the “Unfinished Gamer”, I have yet to finish Assassin’s Creed III.  But fret not, I am definitely working on it.  I believe I may have put the game (III) down early on due to the fact that the game has become tedious over the years with its annual release, not allowing it to truly make any innovations to the gameplay, or even expand the story beyond what we already know or expect.  Assassin’s Creed IV seems to have taken the gorgeous scenery from III and the exciting innovations from II and mashed them together, creating a very vibrant world with some new twists. What the full game holds, no one truly knows…except that you play as another Kenway, who is a pirate. Who doesn’t want that?

IC Chris plays OCTODAD on PS4

7. The Indies
Octodad was some hilarious good fun to watch in action.  I’d seen Pewdiepie play it on his channel, but actually watching the attendees and IC Chris play it was pretty amazing. There is so much room for great development with the next generation, I can’t wait to see what is in store for us.

Bungie Devs demonstrating Destiny

6. Destiny
The Activision booth was crowded with those checking out Call of Duty: Ghosts and even Diablo III.  What did manage to catch my attention was the Bungie crew sitting against a DESTINY backdrop with a very loud surround sound system booming and a monitor behind them.  I hadn’t looked to deep into the world of Destiny, but after seeing the game in action I have thrown this on my wishlist.

Sony Playstation 4 Booth featuring Beyond: Two Souls

5. Beyond: Two Souls
Anxiety attack, much? Yes. Quantic Dream’s Beyond: Two Souls was there to play and for those of you who understand David Cage’s style of the never-ending quicktime events understand it when I say anxiety attack.  The game play looks a lot smoother than Heavy Rain, but somewhat similar. I have yet to grasp the concept (and the style) of how to maneuver the spirit of Aiden in game, but playing as Ellen’s character Jodie was pretty cool.  Instead of littering the screen with buttons and controls, Cage simply let the character watch her movements and complete them with the thumb-sticks which made the cinematics even better.  I look forward to playing the game in its entirety when it comes out in October.

The Xbox 360 and the Xbox One side by side

4. The Consoles
I can’t rate one over the other because they are equally as good.  Both controllers were light, easy to use and just comfortable.  The designs up close look a lot more sleek compared to their predecessors.  One can only hope they are as efficient as they make them out to be, and perhaps just as powerful.

The Dice/EA Battlefield 4 station

3. Battlefield 4
As I said in my status for that day, I rate the game a 10 out of 5. Yeah, I may have exaggerated a bit, but damn did it look good. In the revolving war between Call of Duty and Battlefield, there is constant comparison between the sound and graphic design and of course, the gameplay.  Getting to actually play Battlefield 4 sold me on the simple fact that it played smooth. I hadn’t played a first-person shooter online in a while and getting to squad-up with my fellow IC Mates was spectacular. It was easy to get back into it.

Nolan North and IC Krys at the Turtle Beach Booth

2. Nolan Fricking North!
As I’m sure you’ve seen, we posted pics to our profiles and the facebook page.  It was just unreal! All these years of playing games, listening to the same, smooth, charming, witty, awesome voice done by this man — and finally we were able to meet him.  I was so stoked to be in the same building as him, I ended up waiting in line twice to “hang out” with him. Hearing his voice live was unbelievable. Nolan was a sweetheart, and was kind to every single person he encountered and he even let me kiss him on the cheek for my fellow gamer-chick who said it was mandatory upon meeting him. I hope we cross paths with Mr. North again in the future!

Ubisoft = awesome. Watchdogs Theater

1. WATCHDOGS.
It was part of my Top 10 before, and its reign holds strong. Watchdogs wasn’t playable, but it was available to watch.  It was played right before my eyes and I have to say, I have seen the light. Watchdogs looks amazing. Not just graphically, but in general, it looks phenomenal.  The city backdrop, the characters, the movement, the innovation, the integration…everything about this game made me want more! I cannot wait until its release, and until then I drool.  Watchdogs is heading out this November, now I just have to decide which console I want it on.

More in-depth details to come, so stay tuned players!