Video Game Review: Lone Survivor: The Director’s Cut [PS Vita/PS3]

Lone Survivor: The Director's Cut [PS Vita/PS3]

Lone Survivor: The Director’s Cut
System: PS Vita/PS3 (also on PC, Mac OS X and Linux)
Genre: Survival Horror
Developer: Superflat Games, Curve Studios
Publisher: Superflat Games
Price: $12.99 (cross-buy on PSN)
Release Date: September 24, 2013

In a world where most modern horror games rely heavily on action and frantic combat, Lone Survivor: The Director’s Cut is a breath of fresh air. This is a game that manages to crank up the suspense while providing an intense, creepy atmosphere, all while being presented in a pixelated 2D environment.

The game tells the story of You, an unnamed protagonist (in his words, his name “doesn’t really matter anymore”) who is seemingly the lone survivor after a disease wiped out the rest of the population. Tired of being stranded in his apartment, he decides to head out in hopes of finding someone, anyone, who might still be alive in this post-apocalyptic world.

Lone Survivor: The Director's Cut [PS Vita/PS3]

Of course, our hero isn’t really alone. Just outside of his apartment, he finds a truly repulsive, faceless monster whose presence is punctuated by piercing static and muted screams. Initially armed with nothing but a flashlight, the only way to get past this ghastly creature is to hide in the shadows and attempt to sneak past it. This is a common occurrence, as the monsters become more and more frequent in their appearances. Eventually, you’re able to get a gun, providing an alternate method to deal with enemies, but ammo is so scarce that it is often best to be as stealthy as possible.

Much of Lone Survivor takes place in the dark, and strategic use of the flashlight is necessary in order to find your way around. Again, supplies are scarce, so it’s best to conserve the battery. This can make it tricky when scoping out an unfamiliar location, as even the slightest glimpse of light will cast the creatures into a frenzy, chasing you until you reach a new room.

Lone Survivor: The Director's Cut [PS Vita/PS3]

Perhaps even more frightening than the relentless enemies is the rapidly deteriorating mental health of the protagonist. In order to stay in good (or at least acceptable) shape, you must eat often while also getting a proper amount of sleep. There are food items scattered throughout the in-game world, some good (fruit salad), some bad (squid on a stick), but all are beneficial for keeping your stomach full. There are no health bars or other HUD reminders — the only way to know if you need to sleep or eat is through random text prompts. Wait too long to do either and you will begin to hallucinate, which is never a good thing. You can also talk to plants and stuffed animals to keep your sanity, and if you play your cards right, you might even be able to befriend a *real* cat.

The frequent reminders to eat and get some rest only add to the already riveting tension, and with a possibly insane protagonist, it’s difficult to tell what’s real and what’s merely in his head. As such, the game has an intriguing cerebral element, becoming something of a psychological thriller in its own right.

Lone Survivor: The Director's Cut [PS Vita/PS3]

Now, while the game absolutely succeeds in providing a haunting atmosphere, it does have some noticeable issues with its core gameplay. For one, there is a lot of backtracking. In order to save progress, you have to frequently go back to your apartment and rest, although this is helped somewhat by teleporting mirrors scattered throughout the building. Many of the doors are also locked at first, requiring you to explore and find their keys in order to get through them. This can be a tedious affair at times, especially when you find yourself going back and forth between the same two locations. There are also concerns with the game’s combat, as using the gun feels clunky and occasionally unresponsive. The gun can be aimed in three directions, but it’s difficult to actually fire off a good shot in the way you want to. This does make enemy encounters even more disturbing, though it feels like kind of a cheap tactic to do so.

Still, flaws aside, this is a very unique horror experience that is an especially excellent fit for the PS Vita. As the Director’s Cut, this is the definitive edition of Lone Survivor, and it includes new locations, dialogue, music, endings and even a New Game+ mode. The campaign can be finished in just 3-5 hours, but multiple playthroughs are warranted in order to discover new endings and learn more about the game’s narrative. As such, there is a solid amount of value here for horror buffs. Just make sure to play this in the dark and with headphones on… if you dare.

8/10

 
(A copy of this game was provided for review.)

Video Game Review: The Last of Us [PS3]

The Last of Us [PS3]

The Last of Us
System: Playstation 3
Genre: Action-Adventure/Survival Horror
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: June 14, 2013

The Last of Us is the type of game that seemingly comes around only once per console cycle. Naughty Dog, creators of Crash Bandicoot, Jak & Daxter and Uncharted, have perfected their craft over the years, and this is their most mature effort yet.

It is also their magnum opus.

Set in a post-apocalyptic United States in 2033, the game revolves around two central characters: a grizzled Texan named Joel, and a 14-year-old girl named Ellie. A nasty disease (similar to the real-life cordyceps fungi) has spread across the country, turning humans into Infected. The two of them are brought together by forces outside of their control, and Joel is given the responsibility of protecting young Ellie as they attempt to survive amidst the chaos of the wasteland.

The game shares many tropes with those of post-apocalyptic films and books (Cormac McCarthy’s work in particular is a big influence), but everything is brought together in a way that makes the overall experience still feel fresh and engaging.

The Last of Us [PS3]

It starts with the Infected.

These aren’t your average “zombies”, however. They run through four stages of infection, with each one getting progressively worse. Some attack in bunches, while others stalk you in the dark, waiting for the right moment to attack.

It’s stage three where the Infected — called Clickers at this point — get *really* sickening. This is when the fungus completely take over the human face, rendering them blind while also extremely sensitive to sound. One hit from them is insta-death. Their grotesque appearance is only enhanced by their constant “clicking” sounds — this is the stuff of nightmares.

Stage four is even more horrifying. I won’t ruin the surprise there.

The Last of Us [PS3]

Coming across a large area filled with various stages of Infected is often downright scary. I found myself dying — a lot — and would frequently have to re-think my strategy for surviving that section. Should I take out one or two Clickers and then run like hell? Should I throw a couple of nail bombs on the ground and then try to lure a large group into the subsequent explosion? Or should I just avoid combat altogether and try to sneak past everyone?

The latter quickly became my preferred method of fighting. Combat is not easy, especially since ammo and other tools are scarce. This game is all about survival, and there will be many times that require improvisation in order to get to the next area. This becomes especially important once non-infected human enemies enter the picture — they are arguably even more dangerous since many carry shotguns and other lethal weapons. On multiple occasions (when I was unable to sneak past), I would run out of ammo only to frantically attempt to craft a nail bomb or other device to help even the odds. This really makes you maximize all potential resources.

The Last of Us [PS3]

I suspect that avoiding most combat will be the preferred method of some gamers simply because of the ghastly displays of violence that ensue. Finishing off an enemy can be absolutely brutal, and the violence is very matter-of-fact. There were countless times when my jaw would drop simply because I could not believe the game got that graphic.

Then again, it’s in this brutality that some of Naughty Dog’s attention to detail shines through. There are a number of little things that impressed me throughout the campaign, such as Ellie’s teenage ramblings or her random whistling, or the subtle Southern terminology from Joel.

Perhaps most impressive is just how immersive The Last of Us truly is. There is minimal loading, and the transitions between cutscenes and actual gameplay are seamless. There are also no obnoxious trophy pop-ups to remind you that you’re playing a game — most of them are related to finishing the campaign, and they pop up after the credits. This, in particular, was an excellent touch.

This is a game that relies heavily on its narrative, and its characters are incredibly well-written — an impressive achievement, considering how much dialogue there is in the game. The voice acting (with Troy Baker as Joel, and Ashley Johnson as Ellie) is fantastic, and when the game is at its peak, this feels like a high quality TV show or movie. At the very least, this is a frank reminder that video games sure have come a hell of a long way over the years.

The Last of Us [PS3]

The single player campaign — which lasts around 15 hours, give or take a couple depending on how much you explore — is one of the best in years, but as an added bonus there is also a surprisingly enticing multiplayer feature. Rather than feeling tacked-on like many, many other like-minded games, it seems a significant amount of effort was put into this.

The multiplayer mode has you pick from one of two factions — Hunters or Fireflies (both of whom are integral to the single player campaign) — and then forces you to stay in that group until you either finish the multiplayer story or have your clan entirely wiped out. Clans can be built up by winning matches (in variations of Team Deathmatch), collecting supplies and completing objectives.

Teamwork is imperative to success online. Attempting to “run and gun” your way to the top of the leaderboards is a recipe for disaster. Just like in the single player campaign, ammo and supplies are scarce. It is important to work together as a team, especially since everyone shares the same goal: to improve their faction.

But really, the multiplayer is just the icing on the cake. It’s a fun little diversion, but the single player campaign is where the game truly shines.

Simply put, The Last of Us is a major accomplishment in the world of gaming, and it has effectively set a benchmark for all games to come. When people look back at this console cycle, this is one of the select few games that will be labeled as the best of its generation.

10/10

Video Game Review: Deadlight [XBLA]

Today we have a special guest video game review from Max @ Impassionedcinema!

Deadlight [XBLA]

Deadlight
System: Xbox Live Arcade
Genre: Cinematic platformer, survival horror, sidescroller
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Developer: Tequila Works
Price: 1200 Microsoft Points ($15)
Release Date: August 1st, 2012

Microsoft has once again hosted a campaign entitled Summer of Arcade. In the dry gaming month of mid-July until mid-August, Microsoft signs exclusives for titles that show off what XBLA has to offer. Previous years included such classics as Braid, Limbo, and Castle Crashers. This year didn’t start out great with a re-mastered Tony Hawk game and a Kinect-only game. So does Deadlight buck that trend? Not really.

Deadlight is the first game from Tequila Works and was published by Microsoft, so this will be an exclusive Xbox game for sometime. It has elements of survival horror mixed with platforming and sidescrolling action. On paper it sounds like another classic XBLA entry, so where did they go wrong?

Deadlight [XBLA]

The storyline is one of most troublesome areas. Saying that the survival horror elements are overused would be an understatement. Our hero, Randall Wayne, is on a mission to find his wife and daughter in what appears to be a zombie apocalypse. Now they never refer to these mindless creators as zombies, they are just called shadows. Akin to Walking Dead, the shadows aren’t the only enemies here since the humans are out of control as well. Thankfully, all the story elements are skippable (including the ending), so if you just want platforming, skip past them all.

The gameplay will more than make up for the poor story right? That’s a big no. In a mixture of two highly acclaimed XBLA games (Shadow Complex and Limbo) the games has difficult platforming, action, and a mostly black color scheme. There’s also puzzles mixed in for good measure, but they are so easy, I never once found myself stuck trying to figure something out. The only time I did get stuck was because of the platforming. Deadlight isn’t sure of what audience it is catering towards. On one hand, some of the jumps are easy to telegraph. On the other hand, if you don’t press jump at exactly the right time you’ll die and get sent back to annoying loading screens. Deadlight likes to promote the trial and error approach. Walk ten feet, die because something unexpected happened, go back and try again. Rinse and repeat. I didn’t expect to play Dragon’s Lair when I bought this game, but the repetition is ridiculous.

Deadlight [XBLA]

Many times throughout my playthrough of Deadlight, I questioned why I spent $15 on the game. It was probably the promise of high-quality games Xbox Summer of Arcade has been known for over the years. It could’ve also been the mixture of Shadow Complex and Limbo (two of the best downloadable games on the system). Needless to say, Deadlight was an incredible disappointment and I’d go as far as to say some of the game is broken. While I made my way through to the end, there were too many instances where I was honestly fed up with the game. Hopefully one of the other two Summer of Arcade titles impress because otherwise this summer will be a huge disappointment.

5.5/10

 
Written by Max Covill of Impassionedcinema.com

Video Game Review: Dead Space 2 [Xbox 360, 2011]

Dead Space 2 [Xbox 360, 2011]
Dead Space 2
System: Xbox 360 (also on PS3 and PC)
Genre: Survival Horror, Third-Person Shooter
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Visceral Games
Release Date: January 25, 2011

There is a popular comparison going around that Dead Space 2 is to Dead Space what the film Aliens is to Alien. This is surprisingly accurate.

The original Dead Space was a brutal survival horror adventure that placed gamers in the role of a silent protaganist named Isaac Clarke, who was investigating an abandoned ship with unknown enemies. With Dead Space 2, Clarke is back, but this time he is well-spoken and knows what he is up against. No longer an inexperienced combatant, Clarke is a grizzled veteran who kicks a whole lot of alien ass, not unlike Ellen Ripley from Aliens.

Dead Space 2 takes place three years after the original, with Isaac waking up in the Sprawl, a metropolis built on one of Saturn’s moons. He has no memory of the last few years, and he is still haunted by visions of his long-dead girlfriend. The man has lost his mind, and his disturbing hallucinations impede his progress to stop the latest Necromorph outbreak. In a way, it’s more of the same, but this time Isaac feels better suited to take care of the mess.

Dead Space 2 [Xbox 360, 2011]

The gameplay is more action-oriented, and there are now new weapons to help deal with the catastrophic alien mess. The old, trusty weapons from before are still available, such as the always reliable plasma cutter, but it’s fun to play with new toys such as the Detonator, a proximity mine launcher. Enemies are still defeated by slicing off their limbs, creating gruesome and gory bloodbaths.

The wonderful kinesis/stasis functions are back as well, and they are crucial to the gameplay since weapon ammo seems a little scarce to come by this time. The same weapon upgrade system is in place to help build up Clarke’s skills and abilities.

While the combat is very well-executed, Dead Space 2 really shines with its atmosphere. The game succeeds at creating undeniable tension, and there is always a sense of dread while wandering around the Sprawl. Even locations such as a nursery or a shopping mall are creepy to wander about since you never know what will be around the corner. This overall creepiness is aided by little things here and there to make you jump, such as lights flickering randomly or an alarm clock going off unprovoked, or even just hearing something crawling around in the walls. With the lights out and the volume turned up, this game can be pretty damn scary.

Dead Space 2 [Xbox 360, 2011]

Dead Space 2’s campaign lasts about 8-10 hours, but its “New Game+” feature warrants multiple playthroughs. My first thought after finishing the game was to start a new one, this time using my powered-up weapons from before.

A multiplayer option is unnecessarily tacked-on as well. It offers similar gameplay to Left 4 Dead, as it pits humans versus monsters, alternately switching sides after every round. It is a decent enough feature, but it is pretty basic and the online community barely has a pulse anymore.

Dead Space 2 does everything a good sequel should: it builds upon all that made the original so great, then expands upon that in all facets. The atmosphere is even more tense despite the beefed up weapons, and the core gameplay is damn near perfect. It doesn’t hurt that the game is simply stunning to look at, and gore fans will really get a kick out of some of the new death animations. EA has a great franchise on their hands, and I can’t wait to see where they go next.

9/10

Video Game Review: Fatal Frame [Playstation 2, 2002]

Fatal Frame [Playstation 2, 2002]

Fatal Frame
System: Playstation 2 (also on Xbox)
Genre: Survival Horror
Publisher: Tecmo
Developer: Tecmo
Release Date: March 4, 2002

When the scariest video games of all time are discussed, it never takes long for Tecmo’s Fatal Frame series to get brought up. This is a series that thrives on its haunting atmosphere, with mostly helpless protagonists faced against an endless onslaught of ghosts and general creepiness.

The original Fatal Frame takes place in an abandoned Japanese mansion. You play as Miku Hinasaki, a young woman who ventures to the mansion to look for her older brother, Mafuyu, who has been missing for two weeks. When she arrives, she realizes that the place is actually haunted, as old folklore stated, and she starts to uncover startling secrets about the family who once inhabited the home. Tales of gruesome murder and torture are unearthed, and now the mansion is crawling with ghosts. Seriously, they are EVERYWHERE, often appearing in places you would not expect.

Fatal Frame [Playstation 2, 2002]

The only way that Miku can combat the ghosts is by using the Camera Obscura, an antique camera that possesses the ability to damage and capture spirits. When an attacking ghost appears, Miku must keep it within the camera’s shot while waiting as long as possible before taking the picture, as this will maximize the damage. Of course, this is easier said than done since this means Miku will be face to face with disturbing ghosts that are moaning and trying violently to grab her and cause harm. It’s pretty damn crazy.

The camera can be upgraded over time, but the enemies grow stronger as well. Throughout the entire campaign, there is a vast feeling of uneasiness. Fatal Frame excels at keeping you on edge, as you never know what to expect. Ghosts randomly spawn all throughout the mansion, even as you backtrack through previously explored areas. Sometimes they will pop out when you open a door, other times they will just randomly appear behind you. The tension can be almost unbearable at times.

Fatal Frame [PS2]

Unfortunately, as the ghosts grow stronger and become more plentiful, the game’s difficulty spikes drastically. By the time I reached the last chapter, I was ill-suited to deal with the powerful spirits that just so happened to be in damn near every room and hallway. Perhaps I had been using medical herbs and high-powered film too liberally in the first half of the game, but I had a hell of a time making my way through the last chapter. Exploring the house in each chapter usually reaps dividends in the form of bonus items, but it’s hard to actually get to these when there are hellacious ghosts around every corner. I felt the game could have been more balanced overall, as this was a major inconvenience for me.

The game’s controls also take some getting used to. They are in the vein of Resident Evil’s old school survival horror, and the game uses fixed camera angles set up in each area. This can cause moments of disorientation when the camera abruptly switches to a different angle. Once I got the hang of it, this didn’t bother me, but I can see how it would be an issue for some.

Problems aside, Fatal Frame is still a damn good horror game that is more than worthy of its “scariest game ever” label. This is a game that deserves to be played in the dark with the sound turned way up. Try not to wet yourself when the music slowly builds up while you hear ghosts moaning in the walls. You know there’s a ghost (or two, or three) lingering around, but you have no idea where. This is the essence of Fatal Frame.

8/10

Video Game Review: Silent Hill: Shattered Memories [PSP, 2009]

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories [PSP, 2009]

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories
System: PSP
Developer: Climax Studios
Publisher: Konami Digital Entertainment
Release Date: December 8, 2009

Let me begin by saying that I haven’t played a Silent Hill game since the original PSOne classic came out in 1999. Apparently I am missing out because I have heard nothing but rave reviews for most of the PS2 games. As a way for me to get back into the series, I picked up Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. Some will say that this is a bit of an odd choice to begin with since the game labels itself as a “revisioning” of the first game, and it is quite a bit different from the the rest of the series. Still, I got sucked into the psychological side of Shattered Memories, and that’s what maintained my interest throughout.

Right from the start, the game opens with a red “Psychology Warning” screen similar to the FBI warnings that preface movie DVDs. The message claims that “it gets to know who you really are” and that “the game plays you as much as you play it.” Bold statements to be sure, but I have to admit I was intrigued by this idea.

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories [PSP, 2009]

The game uses psychology in the form of therapy sequences in which you answer a series of personal questions. Your answers to these questions ultimately shape the game around you, and there will be several differences in the game depending on your responses. Some are subtle, such as a tavern turning into either a sports bar or an Irish pub, but others are significant and can lead to some pretty wild endings. It’s a neat feature, and I would love to see more games do something like this.

Just like the original Silent Hill, you play as Harry Mason as he searches for his missing daughter in the eponymous town. Some familiar faces pop up but they are completely different than you may remember. This is a brand new adventure, and the story is a fresh take on the original concept.

The game is decidely split into two styles of gameplay. The main portion revolves around Harry searching frantically for signs of his daughter, finding clues and asking people for help. These segments are completely devoid of combat, which takes some getting used to. Whereas typical survival horror games rely on the unknown and keeping an eye out for unwanted surprises, Shattered Memories has none of this. In the main segments, there are no enemies and it is impossible to get hurt. Instead, occasional puzzles are thrown in the mix to keep interest while Harry is exploring the town. This could get pretty boring actually, but Climax keeps the suspense in tact by throwing a bunch of plot curveballs your way while focusing on some interesting character development.

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories [PSP, 2009]

The other style of gameplay comes in the form of nightmares. In these scenes, nearly everything in the world turns to ice, and Harry has to escape these environments to get things back to normal. The catch is that there are enemies in these areas, and they can kill you. You can’t fight back other than to throw them off your back. This can lead to some frantic situations when a bunch of them hunt you down and jump you at the same time. Unfortunately, while these segments are meant to provide some sense of thrills in the game, they are very poorly executed. The nightmares essentially turn into a series of trial and error sequences where you quickly run from door to door with no clear idea of where to go next. There’s nothing you can do other than keep trying to find the exit while hoping the enemies don’t catch up to you. After a while, I began to dread these moments. Not because they were scary, but because they were just not fun.

It’s a shame that the nightmare gameplay is so tedious because I really enjoyed the rest of the game, even with its lack of real combat. The story kept me interested throughout, and the ending was just phenomenal. Seriously, the end made me glad I stuck around for the entire game (which admittedly is very short). Shattered Memories is a good effort that utilizes unique psychological aspects, but it will surely alienate some gamers since it isn’t a proper survival horror title. Still, it’s worth a shot if nothing other than to see “how the game plays you.”

7/10