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Retro Game Night: Sega CD Marathon-athon Part 2

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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

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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.


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Written by spydersvenom

October 15, 2014 at 11:00 am

Podcast: Ghouls, Ghosts, ‘N Goblins

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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.


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

Review: F.E.A.R.

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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.
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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.

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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

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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

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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.


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Written by spydersvenom

October 1, 2014 at 11:00 am

Now & Then: Silent Hill

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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.

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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

Podcast: Now You’re Playing With Power

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This week Fred and Jam are talking about the other 8-bit console that graced the late 1980s, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).  While it was just another console option in Japan (albeit a massively popular one), the NES had a strong presence in Europe and a massive overtaking in the United States.  It wasn’t just the games, business practices in the US and overall control over game development assisted in making the NES (and in Japan, Famicom) one of the most influential video game consoles of all time.


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Written by spydersvenom

September 17, 2014 at 11:00 am

Posted in NES, podcast

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Podcast: Sega Hits the Third Mark

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This week Fred and Jam are celebrating Sega’s first console attempt, the Master System.  While a technical powerhouse against the NES, business practices in the US and insconsistencies in Japan made it a commercial failure.  It did thrive in Europe and Brazil, not to mention it’s quite an enticing package in hindsight.


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Written by spydersvenom

September 10, 2014 at 11:00 am

Review: Bioshock

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BioShock_boxBioshock was released all the way back in 2007  (which seems like quite a while in terms of game releases), near enough the same time as the launch of the Xbox 360.  Before I re-played this game for the Game Club, my last save on the 360 was dated August 2009. So would you kindly take a seat and read on, as we see if Rapture is still a city worth re visiting or if it should stay at the bottom of the ocean.

In Bioshock you play as Jack, a character who doesn’t really say much. After surviving a plane crash and swimming to a lighthouse, you find underwater transportation to the city of Rapture, a so-called underwater utopia created by a man named Andrew Ryan. You quickly learn that Rapture is not the magical gum drop land it was probably intended to be because most of the residents have totally lost their minds and want to murder you. People seem to be hooked on something called ADAM which changes your genetic code, giving the recipient special powers. The game does a great job of explaining the story through use of audio diaries, which give audio-based background to the game while you are still playing. The story is filled with regular twists and turns that will keep you interested right up to the end. Since there is so much depth to the plot, I found I understood more when going through the game multiple times (not to mention these are hidden items that you can drudge for when not on an initial playthrough).

Bioshock plays as a first person shooter with role playing elements. The game gives very clear goals and even a quest marker for where to go. Don’t worry completionists, you have plenty of opportunity to explore the world and discover secrets and additional information of Rapture. You also find plasmids which unlock super powers for your character such as shooting electricity or even bees out your hands if you choose it. Alternatively you can use plasmids for more passive results such as improving your melee damage, healing abilities, and several other traits.

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You can also hack devices like vending machines to receive discounts or hack automated cameras and turrets, which will attack enemies instead of you. When you hack you enter a mini game, which is Pipe Mania basically, connecting the pipe parts together so the fluid flows to the right target. Unfortunately if you fail to do this in the limited time you will receive damage and possibly trip an alarm. Hacking is fun to begin with but gets quite tedious quickly, so fortunately like with most things in this game you also have the option to pay for a hack or use a auto hack tool to bypass the mini game entirely. Of course there is always the option to not be so nerdy and just not hack at all.

bioshock_3If you haven’t figured it out already, Bioshock allows you to play the game as you want. You can stealth or go guns blazing (the latter is more tricky on harder difficulties). You have a lot of choice into how to advance in the game, and even better, you can switch out your abilities should you want to change your gameplay style. The only potential issue is Bioshock can come across as quite easy on any difficulty. Even on hard mode, if you die you just get resurrected instantly in a close by vitality chamber. There is practically no penalty for this and you just continue on in the game.  A hardcore mode was added in the first update for 360 and PC, so any of those that have online access and update – not to mention the port onto PS3 and iOS – will also have a Hardcore mode that will give you a game over with any death, but this is almost canceled by the game’s ability to let you save and load anywhere.

The graphics in this title are absolutely phenomenal.  Rapture is unlike anything else you will probably see in other video games and a lot of thought clearly went into the art direction, which is consistently  demonstrated when you pay attention to the consistent writing on the wall as well as items and bodies positioned in specific places. This can show you how far Rapture has probably fallen from grace. Bioshock is set in 1960 and the art style is inspired by Art Deco, but of course since Rapture isn’t like your typical city above the ocean things have been changed for this specific utopia. The water physics are also very impressive, water will flow down stairs and pour from the ceilings very much convincing you that you are in a underwater city. The game also makes excellent use of shadows; you will regularly encounter silhouettes of enemies projected on the wall making you kind of dread what could be round the next bend.

bioshock_2Character models and enemies are also very impressive.  The most common enemies are splicers, which are disfigured people, and their reaction to you and the world very much mirrors a society gone wrong. Much like yourself, some of the splicers also have powers, like teleportation.  The other most notable foe is the Big Daddy, giant creatures in a diving suit that protects a character called a little sister (but I’ll get to them shortly). These incredibly threatening creatures actually won’t harm you until you either attack the Big Daddy itself or get too close to the little sister. When that happens the brute goes feral and will attack you with full force. Consequently even to this day the Big Daddy is one of my most memorable characters in gaming.  Returning then to the little sisters, these are little girls which have a parasitic sea slug in their stomach, allowing them to collect ADAM. Once you have taken down the Big Daddy protector you’re faced with the moral choice of harvesting the girl for maximum ADAM – this kills the girl in the process (you don’t see any child mutilation, but you can clearly tell what’s about to happen) – alternatively you can rescue the girl and receive a small amount of ADAM. Surprisingly choosing either path only leads to a different ending and has little effect on your progress in the game, which will call this further into question due to how the story progresses.

Bioshock still holds up to this day. The game has aged well, the graphics still look great on whatever system you choose to play the game on, and the gameplay doesn’t feel too dated. Bioshock is also very much a game you need to take your time with and just enjoy exploring the world of Rapture.  Rushing through it will do little for your enjoyment and potentially hinder the experience. Each time you pick up the game you will probably play it differently and with the amount of  player choice and gameplay style, it is unlikely two playthroughs will be the same (although the plot does remain consistent save for which of the two endings you receive).  Bioshock was great in 2007, it is great today, and will likely stand the test of time for years to come. If you still have not visited the world of Rapture would you kindly do yourself a favour and play it.

Final Score: 5 out of 5  (review policy)

Want more Bioshock?  We featured the first 90 minutes in a quick look as well as did an entire game club podcast if you wish to check them out.

Bioshock was reviewed by a personal copy of the reviewer, no codes of any kind were provided.  This review is based on the Xbox 360 version but it is also available on PC, PS3, and iOS devices with little content difference.  

Written by jamalais

September 8, 2014 at 3:14 pm

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