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Review: Alan Wake

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aw_boxPlatform: Xbox 360, PC (Windows only)
Released: 2010 (360), 2012 (PC)
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Publisher: Microsoft
Digital Release? Yes, this game is available on all released platforms digitally
Price: $8.55 (disc only), $10.00 (complete) per Price Charting

The wind howled violently outside, coupling with the darkness to generate an atmosphere of dread.  Had it been raining the scene would be complete.  On the other side of the window, a reviewer sat down and began to play a new video game in the dark.  While the gentle glow of the television provided just enough light to see around him, it was as if he were transferred to the fictional location of Bright Falls along with the game’s protagonist Alan Wake.  What unfolded over the next dozen or so hours was impressive.  This game was not unlike others he had experienced in terms of what to do or how it looked and felt, however thanks to thoughtful plot progression and deep character development the reviewer was able to let other faults go.  He was repeating the same steps over and over again, the algorithmic nature of the confrontations were drowned out by the need to proceed forward and see where the story went.  He wasn’t even sure what was going on anymore because, in truth, the plot was convoluted.  It didn’t matter, the experience was begging him to move forward.  He hoped it would not end.  This was Alan Wake.

aw_02If you have a flair for the over dramatic then you will feel right at home with Remedy’s action thriller that was recently featured in our vaporware podcast.  So little was known about what to expect from Alan Wake that when everyone finally got their hands on it there was this mixed sense of familiarity with the type of game it was, coupled with intrigue to the way it handled being a video game.  At its core Alan Wake is nothing more than a third person shooter with a so-so dodge mechanic where you use a combination of light and gunfire to absolve a haunted world of enemies.  If that were all the game had to offer, you wouldn’t be reading this review.  No, the soul of Alan Wake is the unique storytelling style that merges metaphysical realities with an unreliable protagonist and keeps you guessing over the course of the game.  While Deadly Premonition ticked all the boxes to look and act like Twin PeaksAlan Wake uses a more subtle approach to feel like Twin Peaks.  It’s much closer to being a Max Payne game than the studio would care to admit – I wouldn’t be surprised if it started life as that – but much like those original titles its barrage of enemy encounters are just varied enough that the gameplay never gets tiresome.  Barring that, there’s a larger layer of tone and aesthetic that work together to transform the world of Alan Wake from being more than just a simple video game, it’s an entertainment production.

aw_1Your first episode in the game is Alan and his wife arriving in Bright Falls, simple as that.  It’s daytime, everyone is nice, everything is peaceful, and with the bright lights and vivid scenery there’s little pause as to what danger may be lurking.  If you were fortunate enough to know nothing more about the plot, you might not even know this game is slated as a thriller or horror game above everything else, so when it takes a drastic turn you’re caught off guard.  I referred to the game as an “entertainment production”, which trust me is not an attempt to oversell it.  What I mean by that is this game is trying to blend media at an aggregate rate: the storytelling is that of a book, character development of the cast has an arc like a movie, the level progression is separated by “episodes” that even feature a “previously on” like television, each episode ends with credits and an official song that together make up a soundtrack well worth the extra money I paid for, and your traditional linear action gameplay well represents a video game.  If you’re keeping track that means Alan Wake has hints of a book, movie, television show, audio album, and video game; something I felt could only be described as an entertainment production.  It works, too, which is what I never expected.

aw_04Keep in mind this is still a video game through and through, so no matter how good the graphics are, how well the storytelling subtly foreshadows or develops, and how great the soundtrack is, you still spend a majority of your time playing a video game.  That video game, while doing nothing really new, had the right mix of level design and encounter variety to keep me wanting to come back.  If you look at a barebones list of what happens in the game or view a handful of random clips taken from it, I can see how you would deduce that everything is the same as everything else, which is probably true.  Even the collectible pages come together to give more depth to events happening, it’s all part of the plan; well, except for those Twin Peak-esque thermoses that have no value to the game whatsoever, those should go.  It’s perhaps that fact as to why the game delves so deeply into other media and styles for its soul that it took so long to come out and tweak just right.  Whatever the reason, it’s a solid mix that fascinated me back then and continues to amuse me now.  Without giving away any spoilers I can just say that Alan Wake is a full experience that will have you on edge from the creepy beginning to the frantic ending.

Extra Episodes

At the time of its release, Alan Wake didn’t quite feel finished once you beat the game.  Some of the game’s stronger plot points get reconciled, but there’s no question that the most key concept was missing in action.  This all eventually wrapped up in two supplemental episodes: The Signal and The Writer.  While these episodes take a lot of time to wrap up a relatively basic concept, the gameplay of each drastically switches up the nature of how you had played the rest of the game.  This is why I feel that the story was already complete in an earlier version of the game, but they had no good way to integrate DLC with more of a story unless they just stripped the end of the story out of the main game and used it for the plot points of the extra episodes.  I only say this because the gameplay either gets harder or has you using styles or concepts absent from the main game that while the plot feels like it was stripped from the core product, the gameplay feels anything but.  If you grab this game on PC, both extra episodes are integrated into the game and you enter into them after beating the main story, but if you grab this on Xbox 360 (disc or digital) you will want to plunk down the extra money for this DLC because the game and plot won’t feel complete without them.  Kind of a cheap tactic if you ask me, but it’s a worthwhile amount of content for the price that I’m willing to let it go.

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American Nightmare

This download-only title released in 2012 around the time of the PC port for both PC and Xbox 360 that serves as a spin-off tale of the original.  You can ditch everything you know about the plot, the characters, and to a certain extent even the gameplay rules of the original because despite being a shorter experience, American Nightmare is its own game.  Remedy replaces the isolated New England town of Bright Falls with the isolated and desolate environment of a roadside town in the Nevada desert.  If Alan Wake was Twin PeaksAmerican Nightmare is most definitely Stephen King.  All of the different things I loved about the experience of Alan Wake‘s multimedia experience make a return, but that’s about the only thing that carries over.  Whereas the original game was about a somewhat familiar setting that involved characters you didn’t know, American Nightmare takes a character and circumstance you are intimately familiar with and gives you a setting you don’t know.  This one isn’t just shadow people, it contains larger than life creatures, foreboding abandoned warehouses, and even monsters from other worlds.  They flip the unreliable protagonist nature of Alan Wake once again, but in a new way.  I also have to commend the use of the model for Alan Wake in now real full motion video for a lot of the cutscenes, which makes it all feel more “real” while the events continue to be more “surreal”.  It ends a bit too quickly, but I get the feeling Remedy was ready to put Alan Wake to rest for a while by the end.

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If you decide to delve down the delightful rabbit hole that is Alan Wake, provided that you get intrigued by all of the unique things it does, you are in for a treat.  By the time I was half way through the first game I wanted (and purchased) the book, the soundtrack, and watched the Bright Falls mini-series that should still be available on the Zune Marketplace video store for free.  I wanted to become immersed in Alan Wake.  Returning to the game after a few years had passed and now for this third time I am pleased to say that it’s all familiar but still delightful.  It’s still a video game and you will find yourself having moments that come with any sort of challenge or annoyance that accompanies all video games, but it’s also unique enough that you will be glad you came.  Did I mention that the fantastic soundtrack that includes the likes of Poe and Roy Orbison blew my mind when I heard them return for this game?  When we look back at the wonderful games that defined the first HD generation of consoles, Alan Wake is going to be one of those fine examples that sadly seems to be locked in time and doomed to never return.

Final Score: 5 out of 5  (Review policy)

Written by Fred Rojas

November 20, 2014 at 1:18 pm

Posted in PC/Mac, Reviews, Xbox 360

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Retro Game Night: Night Slashers X

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This week, and for the first time ever, we are using emulation to capture a Beats of Rage engine remake, Night Slashers X. This was originally a 1994 Data East arcade beat-em-up that got ported over with extra violence on the open source brawler engine, Beats of Rage.  This also marks the first video in full 1080p HD!  Watch for more HD videos, most of which should be in 720p or 1080p in the future.

Written by Fred Rojas

November 16, 2014 at 10:15 am

Review: Phantasmagoria: A Puzzle of Flesh

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phan2_boxAlso Known As: Phantasmagoria 2, Phantasmagoria II: Fatal Obsessions (European title)
Platform
: DOS/Windows PC
Released: 1996
Developer: Sierra
Publisher: Activision
Digital Release? Yes, on Good Old Games (gog.com) for $5.99 (compatible with Windows XP, Vista, 7, and 8 only)
Price: $4.44 (5 discs only), $32.99 (complete), $69.00 (sealed) per Price Charting

Phantasmagoria, besides being a franchise with one of the most awesome names ever, is a psychological horror full motion video (FMV) game – a genre that was a hugely common in the 90′s thanks to the use of CD-ROMs as media. A Puzzle of Flesh is the sequel to the controversial original. Why was it controversial? Well, the original featured a crazy amount of graphic content including horrific death scenes for characters and adult scenes which caused quite the stir back in the day when it was released. This included sexual content and a rape scene, which is possibly not as controversial as the media makes it out to be. The sequel follows this trend, but on its own controversial level entirely. Being released just a year after the first game it was surprising to see this game did not receive the same attention as the original.

phant2_2You play Curtis Craig, a man who loves his pet rat ‘blob,’ his girlfriend Jocilyn, and his taste in grey pocket t-shirts because he never seems to change his grey pocket T throughout the entire game.  He’s living the American dream. Curtis has also been out of a mental hospital for a year and creepy things start to go down at his home and work at the suspicious WynTech Industries Corporation. Curtis very quickly starts to question his sanity, so it’s up to him to find out what’s going on or face another trip to the loony bin. It’s certainly a story I’ve not seen in a game before and contains a surprising amount of twists that most won’t see coming.


A Puzzle of Flesh
features point-and-click gameplay and the entire game consists of watching scenes and solving fairly simple puzzles. There really isn’t many opportunities to fail the game until later on where a wrong decision could lead to you dying in usually a rather entertaining scene.  Death carries very little consequence as continuing from a Game Over places you right back at the scene before you failed to try again. Puzzles are rarely challenging, save for one puzzle right at the end becomes quite the head-scratcher.  A Puzzle of Flesh feels more of an experience as opposed to a game with any form of challenge; your drive to continue will depend on how much you get sucked into the story.  If you dig the B movie horror scene this may be for you.  Additionally the point-and-click gameplay is not the most solid.  Sometimes you will reach areas of a game where you know how to progress but due to the games bizarre handling of combining items and how to use the inventory system the way forward may not be easily reached. I had to actually pull out a guide to figure out how to get through the game even though I knew the solution, only to find out the game wanted you to do some weird item combination that is far from clear both from an inherent and instructional perspective.

phant2_1Graphics, well its FMV so it’s real actors doing some very bad acting which you will either adore because of its charm or just not feel very amused. Environments are fairly standard for a FMV game – some in an office, in a house, and later a secret lab and strange world. Unlike a lot of FMV games the scenes in this game were filmed on location which make the cost to create this game a lot more than its predecessor, which may also explain why a third game was never made. The game does handle the crazy very well specifically when Curtis trips out and goes all mental, locking in that B-movie feel.  The music is quite hilarious, very ninties especially when you enter a club later on in the game. During moments of fear and tension the sounds used are appropriate and add to the imerrsion. The voice acting feels over done by most of the cast, but it works. Many of the characters come out with the oddest one-liners that you won’t be forgetting in a hurry including the “My ass!!!” line from a police detective. Hardly an Oscar winning script but definitely a good laugh.

It won’t take you too long to get through the campaign – you’re probably looking at around the five hour mark for a first timer, but the master of FMV point-and-click games that time will be a lot less. There is little reason to revisit the game, however a small incentive is to go Easter egg hunting.  The game has various hidden scenes to find and if your hardcore enough to find all of them the game rewards you with a special congratulations.

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Overall Phantasmagoria: a Puzzle of Flesh is a memorable experience even if you only play through it once. For fans of FMV games this is a must play, but anyone new to this type of game should be cautious.  This game has mature adult content as well as graphic gore scenes (not for the squeamish) and is really only for those looking for a basic gameplay experience. At times the point-and-click controls will become a pain and the way ahead won’t be clear due to how the game handles its inventory system, you may have to seek help with an online guide. As a horror fan I really enjoyed this game and the story is nothing like anything I have seen before in game or film. Its one mental trip I won’t be forgetting anytime soon.

Final Score: 3 out of 5  (Review Policy)

Written by jamalais

November 3, 2014 at 4:00 pm

Review: Phantasmagoria

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phant_boxPlatform: DOS/Windows PC, Sega Saturn (only in Japan as Phantasm with Japanese text/subtitles)
Released: 1995
Developer: Sierra
Publisher: Sierra
Digital Release? Yes, on Good Old Games (gog.com) for $9.99 (compatible with Windows XP, Vista, 7, and 8 only)
Price: $7.50 (7 discs only), Complete not available, $20.49 (sealed) per Price Charting

phant_1In the mid 90s a change was afoot, especially on PCs: the compact disc (CD).  Once CD-ROM drives were introduced to gaming technology and the 1.44 MB floppy disk was replaced by the 650 MB CD, you could create massive experiences without so much as a care as to how big your code was.  In fact, developers cared so little that blatant wastes of space were created in the form of both full motion video (FMV) titles and multi-disc experiences that had voice integration and usually the first few hundred MB of each disc contained the same coding.  I can’t think of any bigger example of this than the point-and-click FMV title from Roberta Williams (she made King’s Quest), Phantasmagoria.  Weighing in at 7 full CDs (8 on the Japan-only Saturn version), you basically change discs at the end of each day in the game and the whole week tells a chilling tale not unlike Stephen King’s The Shining.  With full video laughably integrated into computer generated images, lackluster gameplay, and a the goriest scenes ever portrayed in a game at the time, Phantasmagoria is a sight to behold.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before.  A young writer moves into a spooky house with their spouse where strange occurrences happened in the past and someone becomes possessed and slowly goes insane with homicidal outcomes.  Phantasmagoria is that tale with a twist.  You play as Adrienne Delaney, a female paperback writer who’s rented the 19th Century house of a fabled magician, Zoltan Carnovasch (awesome name), who was also noted to be a serial killer and eventually taken out by his wife’s lover.  Your husband, Don, is a photographer that must be so good at the profession he can sell images from just about anywhere and make a profit because this guy spends all day in his dark room and snapping photos around the New England-esque town without a care in the world.  Naturally, as Adrienne you go exploring and eventually release the ghost of Zoltan, who promptly takes over your husband.  From then on is a series of events that convey your husband partaking in acts of aggression, brutality, and even sexual assault against his wife before a concluding in a predictable ending riddled with gruesome death scene fail states that you owe it to yourself to experience.

phant_2Honestly while Phantasmagoria has always received more praise and attention than it’s better sequel, it is a true testament to the time.  While Adrienne, Don, and the handful of other actors are live action, they are clearly captured on a green screen so everything looks like a bad SyFy channel movie.  You will never mistake the areas around the actors as anything but a computer image so the end result comes off a lot more Who Framed Roger Rabbit? than Jurassic Park - there’s this scene where Adrienne falls off a ledge, grabs the stones of the cliff, and lifts herself up and you won’t be able to contain yourself at how fake it looks to watch a live actress pretend she’s lifting herself when she’s really just dragging across a floor.  Not only do the graphics look like B-roll from Cool World but the point-and-click gameplay leaves much to be desired, especially when you consider this is part of one of the most hardcore genre’s that’s ever existed and led by one of the most notable progenitors of that genre.  You don’t get that degree of care that is custom of known Sierra titles of the time and instead receive puzzles that are either lazy or obtuse, none of which are fun to figure out.  There’s a Universal Hint System (UHS) that provides you with clues when you get stuck; on the first click it says something vague, on the second it gets rather specific, and on the third the skull flat out tells you what to do next with an annoyed voice.  This is a common system for point-and-click games and to be honest it’s rather effective for most titles, but Phantasmagoria is so bi-polar with the degree of its puzzles that it’s the “okay I give up” button you won’t soon forget to use on a regular basis.  Don’t get me wrong the puzzles aren’t very difficult but sometimes the manner in which you have to overcome them is, thus necessitating the UHS on a regular basis (feel free to just have a guide handy if you prefer).  By the end of the game you are trying to navigate the halls of the mansion in a chase scene, but the way it’s all presented is so disorienting that you’re basically guessing where to go next with a gruesome cutscene as your reward for the wrong answer.

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It’s really too bad because behind the hilarious visuals and wonky interface lies a compelling story.  The only thing that feels real about the entire game is Adrienne and Don, who appropriately make up a brunt of the content and come off as a believable couple.  This is core to buying into the scenario that someone you love and trust is changing before your very eyes and you are somewhat powerless to overcome it.  While it may be an off-color topic and hard for some to imagine being in a game, the rape scene is effective and justified on the basis that it unfolds exactly as it could in real life.  Don is the only person in the world to have Adrienne in the vulnerable position he does when it occurs and she is not denying of his physicality down to the fact that it begins as an apparent consensual lovemaking scene.  All off the awkward and aggressive interactions between the couple in this game are handled the same way, where it’s subtle but apparent behavior that doesn’t act like the person you love.  In addition there are scenarios that occur surrounding Adrienne’s investigation of Zoltan’s past that alert the audience to the presence of danger while Adrienne is left completely unaware.  The fact that we control her as she proceeds with her questioning only further enhances that dread that we know she’s in danger but are forced to play along as if we have no clue.  I also have to commend the bloody, brutal special effects that make up the later parts of the game and provide incredible rewards for splatter film fans that had never seen anything like that in a game before.  Night Trap may have been blamed for violent realistic content but it didn’t much exist before Phantasmagoria flat out nailed it a couple years later.

horror_adv_postPut it together and Phantasmagoriis an interesting story with the misfortune of being packaged as a game.  Most of your gameplay elements are obstacles that stand in the way of the progressing story, which has to be the carrot on the stick otherwise you have no reason to proceed forward.  Perhaps I am being a bit too harsh in that I don’t much care for classic point-and-click adventure, but those that do will be as turned off by the events and puzzles due to it trying too hard to play to the widest audience.  Still, I’m glad I can say I’ve played it before and although I consulted a guide more times than I care to admit, I equally enjoyed replaying it recently for this review.  There is something to be said and gained by the experience of Phantasmagoria, but don’t go in expecting it to live up to the hype because it’s nothing more than an interactive movie that disguises itself as a video game.

Final Score: 2 out of 5  (Review Policy)

Written by Fred Rojas

November 3, 2014 at 1:53 pm

Podcast: Zombies Ate My Podcast

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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.


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

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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 Fred Rojas

October 21, 2014 at 11:00 am

Podcast: I Have No Mouse and I Must Scream

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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.


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Written by Fred Rojas

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 Fred Rojas

October 6, 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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