Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Podcast: Zombies Ate My Podcast

leave a comment »

zampc_post

Traditionally horror and comedy are entwined, faithfully representing a laughable moment of relief to accompany the graphic depictions of death that follow.  Although more rare, there is also room for comedy with horror elements and this week Fred and Jam are celebrating the games that get it right.  From some of LucasArts classic hybrids to bikini clad samurai warriors, there’s no lack of hilarity in gaming for those not looking for a scare.


Download this episode (right click and save)

Subscribe: RSS iTunes Google Podbean

Review: Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers 20th Anniversary Edition

leave a comment »

gk20th-logo

Earlier this week I posted a review on All Games for the 20th Anniversary Edition of Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers completely redone by creator Jane Jensen’s own Pinkerton Road studio.  For fans of the original or those that have never experienced one of the best examples of the point-and-click adventure genre, this version may well be worth checking out.  Click here to be taken to the review.

Written by spydersvenom

October 21, 2014 at 11:00 am

Review: Project Zero (Fatal Frame)

pz_ps2_boxff_boxConsole: Playstation 2, Xbox
Released: 2002
Developer: Tecmo
Publisher: Tecmo
Digital Release? Yes, PSN version compatible with PS3 for $9.99
Price: $15.65 (disc only), $23.99 (complete), $24.25 (sealed) per Price Charting

Project Zero (or Fatal Frame in America) is one of those horror series that has a small but dedicated fan base.  It’s a horror game where you take pictures of ghosts to exorcise them. On paper, the game ticks all the boxes for a fresh and new design, but does it live up to its expectations?

The story entails a pretty typical horror cliché. You play a young girl (of course) named Miku Hinasaki heading into a dark scary mansion alone (as you do) looking for your brother Mafuyu who has gone missing. Of course the mansion is filled with a plentiful amount of disturbed souls and the only way to force them to rest in peace is to take pictures of them with an old antique camera called the “Camera Obscura.” As you venture through the mansion you discover more of the background story as to what is going on in this creepy place and there are various cutscenes regarding this. But the in-depth details to the tale are found in notes and diaries scattered around the game, which you can read at your leisure. Overall the story seemed hard to follow until the very end of the game where they tie up all of the loose ends – which is no pun intended should you be familiar with how this game concludes.  Project Zero shares a similar tone to popular horror films like The Ring (Ringu) and The Grudge (Ju-On) especially with its use of girls with creepy long hair that covers their eyes.  The game does seem to go for the obligatory jump scare a little too often to the extent it starts to become predictable (ex: “Oh I wonder if there is a ghost hiding behind this door, of course there is, but it’s okay it just wants me to take a picture”).

pz_2The game plays like most survival horror games in 3rd person perspective. You have the turret-like controls for your movement with the left analogue stick or d-pad and the right stick controls your flash light, which you can aim pretty much anywhere you want. Although this seems like a cool feature I rarely used it, unless it was just to mess about.  The lighting effects from the torch (flashlight) though are great and deserve a mention.  The main feature which makes this game stand out from the crowd is the antique camera. When a spook comes along you aim with the camera in a first person view by pressing O. In this view the idea is to keep the ghost in the frame while the camera charges up, pressing the X or R1 button takes an image and if taken properly causes damage to the ghost. The health of the ghoul is displayed in the top left corner of the first person screen. The game does a good job of introducing you to the mechanics of how the camera works – the jist of it seems to be wait for just the right moment, which is usually when the spirit pounces for you, to take the picture to deal the most damage. A meter on the camera will glow red for a split second when this opportunity arises, pulling off this “zero shot” will not only cause maximum damage but will push the ghoulie back. What you can do instead is shoot away gradually wearing the ghosts health down, the problem is this uses up your camera film which is in limited supply so timing the right moment is the key.  You can swap out types of film into the camera which have better exorcism powers; think of it like a stronger weapon. These films are scattered around the mansion and are very limited. You can also upgrade the camera and use special abilities. To do this you need to use spirit orbs which you find in the mansion and at exorcism points that you accumulate by taking down the spooks.

pz_1Taking pictures and the ghost encounters are by far the most enjoyable part of the game.  When you encounter a ghost, the majority of the time it will only be the one but the photo shoot will take some time. In the grand scheme of the game there really aren’t a lot of ghosts, either. However, game does a really good job of making every ghost encounter feel significant so it’s not as noticeable.  You are encouraged to deal with every ghost you encounter and running away is not generally advised.  Even though taking photos of the ghosts is the main highlight of the game, some encounters are incredibly challenging. If you don’t snap a picture of the ghosts correctly they will grab you (despite being a poltergeist), draining a large portion of your health. If the ghosts gets too close this usually throws you off and you have to run away, refocus the camera and try again. This process may repeat several times becoming very tedious. You are able to make very small movements with your character while in the first person perspective should you need to make fine adjustments, but these are not enough to flee.  It is not uncommon for the game to present you with split second ghost attacks, which you have very little time to react to if you don’t see them coming. This type of design comes across as somewhat unfair, especially when you are already terrified enough by the setting of this game. Even on the standard difficulty the spirits do a ridiculous amount of damage and although health items are present in the game, like with the camera film they are in limited supply.  Another interesting feature is the save rooms. Unlike in most survival horror games where the save area is considered a safe zone from enemies, in Project Zero ghosts can invade these areas and prevent you from saving unless you defeat them. It gives the impression that absolutely no where is safe in this game.

As well as snapping the spirits you will do quite a few puzzles in the game and this brings mixed results. Generally the puzzles in the game are not hard but its the frustration of knowing where to go to complete them. The most common type of puzzle in the game will require you to photograph a scene in the mansion to unlock a door. Sometimes you have to do a ridiculous amount of searching just to locate the image, which can become a pain. During this time you will probably be harassed by random ghost encounters on a consistent basis. It’s not always clear where you are supposed to go next in the game despite a map being available in your inventory, and sometimes backtracking through areas you just visited will fire off a cutscene to move the plot forward. All this wandering around makes the game feel slow and pretty boring.

pz_4

Your trip through the mansion will be around eight hours the first time through, but this will sharply drop with multiple playthroughs once you have figured out where to go. You unlock a few additional features like extra costumes and harder difficulty modes, as well as those you gathered in your initial playthough if you want to go back in. What is interesting is there are not a lot of areas to explore in the game, but it seems to do a clever job of getting you to walk through the same areas again and again with different goals and puzzles.  The graphics are top notch and the designers nail the setting of a creepy abandoned mansion.  Ghost enemies are also particularly unnerving and certainly represent tortured souls (for example people that have been hung or a floating severed head) and although the game isn’t particularly gory there are quite a few scenes that will put some people on edge.  The use of sound is a great horror experience. You will hear noises down the hall and your own footsteps on the floor board. Playing this game at night with headphones can be quite an uncomfortable experience, but it really adds to the immersion. Despite not a lot of music in the game, I have to give credit to the opening theme at the title screen, which stands out as a memorable piece.

Overall, I really had to let the game digest for a few days before I came up with a final review score.  The picture taking is great fun, however the game can be hard and unforgiving at times. Certain ghosts prove particularly troublesome which may lead to some angry moments for the player and puzzles can also be incredible irritating as it has that “look at everything” approach.  This game will certainly appeal to a very small niche audience and those who don’t like scary games will discard this game straight away. It will also not suit all survival horror fans, some including myself may even class this more as a horror game as opposed to survival horror. To the game’s credit it is very unique in design and ticks all the right boxes for a horror atmosphere and setting, which may explain why this series has a bigger fan following in Japan than over in the West. I personally found there was enough draw here to explore the games sequels but this is definitely not for everyone.

One thing is for sure, though, Project Zero, upon completion, is now plain Zero.

Final Score: 3 out of 5   (Review Policy)

Written by jamalais

October 20, 2014 at 1:14 pm

Posted in PS2, Reviews

Tagged with , ,

Retro Game Night: Sega CD Marathon-athon Part 2

with one comment

This week we continue the Sega CD Marathon-athon with two titles.  Fred spends way too long trying to conquer Corpse Killer for the CD 32X (needs both consoles) and then mellows out to Dracula Unleashed.

 

Written by spydersvenom

October 18, 2014 at 11:47 am

Podcast: I Have No Mouse and I Must Scream

leave a comment »

horror_adv_post

This week Fred and Jam are joined by Kole Ross of the Watch Out For Fireballs (WOFF) podcast to discuss point-and-click adventure horror games.  Whether it was your first go with early Mac titles like Uninvited, the eventual movement to traditional titles like I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, or the love of the FMV cult favorites like Phantasmagoria or Ripper, horror and adventure were quite the match.  Combining graphic elements with deep storytelling (at least for games of the 80s and 90s) these titles certainly are a niche, but great, addition to video game history.


Download this episode (right click and save)

Subscribe: RSS iTunes Google Podbean

Written by spydersvenom

October 15, 2014 at 11:00 am

Podcast: Ghouls, Ghosts, ‘N Goblins

leave a comment »

gng_post

This week Fred and Jam are discussing the Capcom series Ghosts’N Goblins (or Makaimura if you prefer).  Easily one of the most punishing franchises ever created, the boys tackle the trials and tribulations of Sir Arthur on a never ending quest to save his girlfriend.  Along the path he will traverse to various worlds, see terrible beings, and of course battle the many derivatives of the Devil.


Download this episode (right click and save)

Subscribe: RSS iTunes Google Podbean

And just for fun, have a video of me cussing out the original for two hours:

Review: F.E.A.R.

with 2 comments

fear_boxFirst Action Assault Recon (F.E.A.R. from now on) tries to be multiple things at once – a first person shooter (FPS) with a gimmick, a horror title, and a technology showpiece – and does a competent job, which is probably why some have claimed it’s the best FPS of all time.  F.E.A.R. is far from the greatest FPS of all time, but it is a blast to play (especially in the dark) and combines that helplessness of being outnumbered and the rush of taking on those odds without so much as a scratch to show for it.  The horror elements are more of a thematic tone for the minutiae, but the proper use of shadows, lighting, and occasional jump scares do help to justify it all.  That and the two main antagonists, Paxton Fettel and Alma, do  a fantastic job of creeping you out and making you dread the eventual encounter with either or both of them.  Visually, especially on the PC, this title can go up against a decent number of today’s shooters and impress, so naturally it was a showpiece when it premiered in 2005.  Put it all together and you get a game that shouldn’t be ignored.
fear_2

The F.E.A.R. team is a fictional spec ops group that works in tandem with Delta Force – a real military group – to handle special situations like the ones faced in the game.  You play as Point Man (who’s name is withheld), the leader of F.E.A.R., which is most likely not a long lasting career because you are tasked with leading the assault along with cohorts Spen and Jin.  A terrorist named Paxton Fettel has broken into a tech company named Armacham Technology Corporation (ATC in the game) and taken control of the genetically engineered super soldiers they were developing.  As you progress through the game there are several encounters with Fettel that include his psychic abilities, apparent links with you, and his cannibalistic nature that also happens to consume the victim’s memories.  Not only that, but a little girl named Alma appears to be roaming about the facility and her powers can cause…quite a mess.  While there is a creepy supernatural story that unfolds as you progress through F.E.A.R., the brunt of the game’s overstretched 10-12 hour campaign will be corridor shooting and kill box ambushes against unfair odds to progress through what is quite possibly the largest building I’ve ever seen.  To its credit the writing is good and distributes just enough information in an easily digestible and upfront fashion that when the twist hits at the end and the subsequent roller coaster of the epilogue, you know exactly what’s going on and why it’s significant.  Also stay tuned after the credits for a bit more back story.

In 2005 there were more than enough FPS titles to choose from and most of them were military shooters like F.E.A.R., so naturally the game needed a gimmick.  Fortunately for developer Monolith, the gimmick of slowing down time to essentially allow your character to make judgment calls and aim accuracy that is seemingly impossible, was quite an effective one.  When you play even a short demo of the game, few encounters can be effectively handled without slowing down time, especially when you consider this is a health/armor system without regenerative health so every bullet you are hit with counts.  Slowing down time to have pinpoint accuracy or the ability to blow away a pack of enemies while running in circles around them is not only a great way to take on groups, but it makes you feel overpowered.  Given that this ability is finite, although it does slowly recharge, can provide a balance to the one-sided nature of battle; however, the game’s hide happy AI will give you plenty of opportunity to fall back and wait for a full recharge.  That’s not to say F.E.A.R. is unbalanced in favor of the player, because there are plenty of encounters throughout the game – especially as you near the conclusion – that are downright unfair and take a mix of ability and luck to overcome regardless of special abilities.

fear_1

Probably the easiest way to get your hands on this game is on Steam (PC) where it is consistently going on sale (although not at this moment), is compatible with modern day systems while also having low enough requirements that most contemporary machines can run it at the highest settings, and includes the expansion packs Extraction Point and Perseus Mandate.  If PC is not an option, you can also pick this title up on 360 or PS3, but keep in mind the expansion packs are a separate title on 360 (F.E.A.R. Files) and not available on PS3 – although full disclosure I have not yet played either of these packs and probably won’t for some time, so it’s not exactly a deal breaker.  Regardless of where you play it, F.E.A.R. looks good, however I find it to look exceptional on the PC.  Details like dynamic lighting and shadows play with the player’s perception and contribute to the eerie atmosphere of the ATC office building.  Additionally the graphic depictions of what has happened to the unfortunate workers and soldiers that came in contact with Fettel, Alma, or ATC super soldiers is presented with so much detail it felt uncomfortable to look at for more than a few seconds.  I was surprised how the game kept track of fallen bodies, bullet holes, shattered glass, and arterial blood spray as I went on.  I’m not sure if each of your victims in the console version painted the walls like they do in the PC port, but I’m betting they do and it’s an impressive touch.

fear_3When you put it all together F.E.A.R. is a title that has easily withstood the test of time in the 9 years since its release.  Fans of the FPS genre should give this first title a go if only to see if you find the slowdown mechanic worthwhile and fun, because that is easily the biggest draw to playing the single player component of the second and third title.  Sadly the multiplayer component has been brought offline by both WB and eventually Gamespy, but for those who want experience the multiplayer that has equally defied the obstacles in its way, fear-community.org provides a free version of the MP along with a master server and support to start your own server.  It’s an interesting mix of fresh blood and nine year veterans from the look of things, but since competitive shooters have never been a strong spot for me and I found this game more difficult than most FPS campaigns, I decided to steer clear of what is a blatant hardcore community.  Despite the repetitive nature and elongated campaign that outstays its welcome for about 25 percent of the content, F.E.A.R. was an excellent weekend play in the dark to kick off my month of horror games.

Final Score: 4 out of 5  (Review Policy and scoring system)

Written by spydersvenom

October 6, 2014 at 11:00 am

Retro Game Night: Splatterhouse

leave a comment »

This week Fred is playing two versions of Splatterhouse.  The first is the US Turbografx-16 port of the Japanese arcade title, slightly modified to avoid lawsuits in regards to lead character Rick’s similarity to Jason Voorhees from Friday the 13th.  The second was only released in Japan on the Famicom (NES) due possibly to some even more obvious legal concerns.  It was titled Wanpaku Graffiti.  Enjoy!

Written by spydersvenom

October 4, 2014 at 11:22 am

Podcast: Silent 3vil: No Escape

with 3 comments

s3vil_post

This week Fred and Jam feature special guest Vos5 to discuss the third installment of both the Resident Evil and the Silent Hill series.  Where RE3 was more of a side story to try out new mechanics, Silent Hill 3 returned to its roots to be the official sequel for the original and maintained most of the gameplay mechanics.  Both have high regards with the fans but are also shadowed by the more popular predecessors.


Download this episode (right click and save)

Subscribe: RSS iTunes Google Podbean

Written by spydersvenom

October 1, 2014 at 11:00 am

Now & Then: Silent Hill

with 2 comments

sh_coverConsole: Playstation
Released: 1999
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Digital Release? Yes, PSN version compatible with PS3, PSP, and Vita for $5.99
Price: $20.87 (disc only), $33.99 (complete), $130.00 (sealed)  per Price Charting

Note: I did not have screen shots available from my last play and it appears all screens online are from emulation.  This title does not look this good on the PS1.

Dichotomies exist in all forms of media.  Whether it’s Elvis or the Beatles, Shakespeare or Marlowe, Alien or Aliens, and even Star Wars or Star Trek, the rule remains the same: you are allowed to like both but you always prefer one.  In the realm of survival horror, the clear competition is Resident Evil or Silent Hill.  Longtime readers and listeners know where I stand (RE), but that’s not to say the Silent Hill isn’t just as easily justified, if not moreso, as the better game even if it’s not necessarily the more popular one.  Despite the original Resident Evil being a living haunted house, the game still rooted itself into a world of intense action, the ability to kill just about every opposing force, and a heavy science fiction/biological manipulation concept – proven even more by the game’s Japanese title Biohazard.  Silent Hill, on the other hand, is classic unexplained horror and phenomena at its best.  Where Resident Evil employed pre-rendered backgrounds and forced camera perspectives, Silent Hill was fully rendered and seemed to follow the player, thus linking the character on screen with the player.  This makes it more terrifying because what happens to Harry (your playable character) seemingly happens to you as well.  Not only that, but the perspective of the title is completely different.  Harry is a regular guy, not a soldier, and he’s frantically trying to find his missing daughter, not to simply survive.  It’s all just a different perspective to the horror game where instead of trying to scare you with jumps and big gross monsters (although you will get those in this title), Silent Hill thrives on the unknown and maintaining tension instead of random fear.  In short, it’s Alien to Resident Evil’s Aliens.

sh_2Harry Mason wakes up to find that his car has gone off the road and his daughter Cheryl is missing.  Not only that, but he’s in the woods on a cold snow-covered night, and in searching the local area for Cheryl comes upon the town of Silent Hill.  With that basic setup you are tossed into a world that is almost like a Stephen King novel come to life.  A heavy fog surrounds the entire town limiting your view, there are no signs of life, and nearly every door is locked.  Eventually you see something emerging in front of you, but once it clears the fog you discover its a hideous bird-like creature with sharp fangs and talons coming right for you.  A pipe works to ward off the beast, but as soon as one goes down another replaces it.  You frantically navigate the town for any alleyway or door that offers shelter, but almost everywhere you turn there are blockades or locks to stop you.  Eventually you find a refuge in an unblocked stairwell, unlocked door, or making your own way through with items available to you, but this only lends to put you in a worse situation than before.  This is Silent Hill.

sh_3

I think what’s most compelling about this journey is that Team Silent, an internal group at Konami that would later go independent due to creative limitations put upon them, has properly captured the feel of being the character without the first person perspective.  It contradicts most of what you know about horror: fear of the unknown.  There’s no unknown in Silent Hill.  It flat out shows you what wants to kill you, makes it mortal, and even gives you the means to kill them instead.  What’s compelling is that it surrounds you with visual, audio, and gameplay cues that create tension and unsettles you very effectively.  Director Keiichiro Toyama created the scenario and specifically focused on David Lynch (Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks) and the occult for tone, despite Toyama not being a natural horror buff (he also integrated UFOs, but that’s only if you think the dog did it).  He must have succeeded because Silent Hill will consistently make you confused just before it frantically forces you to react on the situation at hand, which is usually jarring.  You will combat dead children in a dilapidated school, wonder the eeriest hospital I had seen at that point, and eventually watch it flip to a rust-covered prison completely overrun with gory creatures.  At various points you may wonder how in the world Cheryl can still be alive in all of this, which only makes the game’s climax even more compelling.  I must sadly admit that the game’s weakest point comes from the puzzles developed by Hiroyuki Owaku, which are more like riddles than anything else, and will most likely be the only obstacle that could make you put this game down.  If you stick with it, Silent Hill will continually freak you out.

sh_1Nowadays the game doesn’t quite hold up as well as it used to.  Since the sequel would release two years later on the Playstation 2, the visuals and controls had been greatly overhauled between generations and it makes the sluggish gameplay of the first game hard to take in.  If you frequent the late 90s Playstation scene, it shouldn’t be much of an adjustment (and may also be of the best controlled titles for the time), but most gamers who look back tend to throw out the old description of “tank controls”.  It’s also a muddy mess visually, which was about as good as that era could do, but especially on large HDTVs you may have a hard time figuring out what you’re looking at.  Thankfully the reduced high resolution screens of the PSP and especially the Vita have been quite kind to Silent Hill and you shouldn’t have any problem knowing what you’re looking at or where to go.  That doesn’t mean, however, that in a world with waypoints, indicators, and arrows telling you where to go that Silent Hill won’t come off as confusing.  You will wonder aimlessly trying locked doors and in some cases get stuck with every apparent path explored before finding that one spot in the room you’ve already been to that has the item you need to proceed forward.  In this first outing it’s few and far between, but it is a concern.  You might also find yourself unable to move on because you wasted all of your ammo too quick and come to an area where you are forced to fight and have no means for which to do so.  Thanks to melee weapons you may have an opportunity to still take out the beastie, but it can be much harder and lead to more deaths than if you had simply hung onto a handful of shotgun rounds.  If you persevere, keep an FAQ bookmarked on your phone, and do your best to immerse yourself in the world of Silent Hill before cheating your way into solutions, you will find this game is as effectively tense and scary now as it was 15 years ago.  Resident Evil may have won the Playstation battle, but even I can’t argue that Silent Hill captures the base words “survival” and “horror” much better than the competition ever did.

If you would like to hear more about Silent Hill, we covered it in our Survival Horror podcast and our Silent Evil podcast.

Written by spydersvenom

September 19, 2014 at 2:10 pm

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 517 other followers