My wife was absolutely enamored with Until Dawn. After I completed my initial playthrough I did another with her as she’s a massive fan of the horror genre, especially the cheesier, B-grade ones that Until Dawn emulated. After that playthrough she was hooked and spent a good long time replaying the game multiple times over, trying to see every variation that she could. So when I saw that Supermassive games was releasing a series of shorter titles called The Dark Pictures Anthology I was intrigued and, given that we were housebound due to the bushfires blanketing Canberra with smoke, I thought it’d be a good time for us to play through the first instalment: Man of Medan. Unfortunately this particular title doesn’t feel up to the same level as Until Dawn, feeling decidedly middle of the road.
There were rumours of a downed WWII airplane that hadn’t yet been catalogued out in the South Pacific Ocean. Keen to explore a wreck that hadn’t yet been seen by other humans a group of 4 young explorers, along with the captain of the rented vessel, set out to find it based on some information from one of their friends. However whilst they’re out at sea they catch the ire of some local ne’er do wells and quickly find themselves at their mercy. Soon after that happens they get hit by a storm and find themselves butting up against a ghost ship which, for some inexplicable reason, the pirates decide to take shelter in. So begins their journey into this lost vessel and the horrors that lie within.
Man of Medan retains much of the cinematic level quality that Until Dawn had although now, compared to 3 years ago, the graphics aren’t as cutting edge as they once were. This game’s aesthetic is much, much darker than its predecessor as well so a good lot of the detail is hidden from view most of the time. Thankfully though the performance issues have been addressed so even chumps like me using an original PS4 won’t be left suffering with low frame rates. Given that this game is on Unreal unlike the previous one (which was on Decima) there’s definitely room for improvement here and who knows, maybe the whole thing looks amazing on PC.
This is still very much an interactive fiction game with it’s mostly linear levels, countless items strewn around for you to interact with and the action scenes peppered with quick time events. At the basic level not much has changed with Man of Medan as most of the mechanics have been renamed rather than reworked. The biggest change comes in the form of the Curator, a fourth-wall breaking character who speaks to you about the story that’s unfolding and the choices that you’re making within it. He will also offer you clues from time to time, although whether or not they help or hinder you is something that’s up for debate. He’ll be a recurring character in the series as he’s apparently some sort of collector of these kinds of stories, wanting to observe those who experience them. Given the shorter intended length of these stories most of the mechanics I’ve described above have been streamlined somewhat so there’s a lot less depth to them than what I remember being in Until Dawn.
As with all interactive fiction exploration is the name of the game here although, if I’m honest, Man of Medan doesn’t provide a particularly rewarding experience in this respect. Sure, there’s a lot of stuff for you to find, but most of the time it’s just flavour text for the story of the ship. That’d be great if it wasn’t for the fact that you have most of the story for it already, thanks to the opening tutorial taking place in the past. So the rest of the stuff you read is really just fluff for the most part. Worse still it doesn’t seem like exploration, especially in places that are meant to be hard to find, rewards you in any way at all. In these kinds of games that kind of exploration, I feel, should be rewarded with things that help you in some way when it comes to the game’s critical moments. None of the items I found exploring the ship with my wife helped in any way and indeed, I think most of them actually made things worse. Sure, I can see that could have been intentional, but getting punished for doing the hard thing in a game feels like a swift kick in the pants.
Probably the worst part of Man of Medan though is the lack of connection between your actions and their outcomes. Now our playthrough probably wasn’t the greatest, we managed to kill 3 out of the 5 characters, but one of them didn’t feel connected to previous events at all and the last two were single QTE fails, neither of which gave any indication that that was our last chance to get the character out alive. The premonitions were also total trash as well, the options that they showed you seemingly having zero influence on the situation at hand. Worse still, with losing a character around halfway through the game, it was obvious that there were holes in the story that that character was meant to fill and from then on many interactions felt half baked as the scenes didn’t seem to be rewritten enough to cope for said loss. Honestly I never felt this way in Until Dawn, even when I watched my wife’s playthrough where she killed nearly every character.
Of course I’d probably be able to ignore most of these issues if the story wasn’t so uninspired and predictable. It was pretty clear from the onset what was going to happen and the unfolding of events really didn’t add much to the overall narrative. Combine that with the use of tired jump scares and run of the mill horror tropes and you had a recipe for a story that was forgettable, boring and lacking the drive to push the game forward. Even my wife, who loves this kind of horror, wasn’t really enjoying the story for the most part.
Putting this all together you’ve got a decidedly disappointing experience in Man of Medan, one that really isn’t up the standard that Supermassive set with Until Dawn. I do like the concept though, a mysterious man who takes you through stories of the past and catalogues your decisions, but the first instalment in this anthology doesn’t give me high hopes for future ones. Perhaps with a more engaging story I can look past some of the more egregious missteps as it was that, combined with the distinct lack of agency my wife and I felt whilst playing, that really tore the experience down for us. Maybe the next story, Little Hope, will prove to be a little better.
The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan is available on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 right now for $49.95. Game was played on the PlayStation 4 with approximately 4 hours total play time and 11% of the achievements unlocked.
The Resident Evil series and I go a long way back. I started playing the series with Resident Evil 2, skipping the first because I don’t think we had a PlayStation until long after it was out (we were a Nintendo household, dagnabit). For some reason though the series stuck with my brother and I, the game getting numerous replays as we sought to master its every aspect. I even remember going as far as doing a no-save run, a feat which saw me playing through until midnight, netting me the infinite ammo gatling gun. However after Resident Evil 3 (which I am very much looking forward to seeing a remake of now) my interest in the series waned I went to greener gaming pastures. It was impossible to ignore the wide critical acclaim that the remake was receiving though and, after being prompted to play it by my brother, I found myself back in the zombie infested world of Racoon City. Suffice to say if all remakes were done this way I think we’d all be far more welcoming of developers pillaging old classics.
You play as either Claire Redfield or Leon S. Kennedy, both of whom are venturing into Racoon City for their own reasons. The story starts when both of you stumble into a petrol station on the outskirts of the city, seemingly abandoned with no signs of any humans around. It quickly becomes apparent though that everyone here has turned into zombies and thankfully you bump into each other before making your escape into the town proper. As you journey towards the police station, in hopes of finding shelter and help there, you become separated and so your journey begins to escape Racoon City and, possibly, save a few others along the way.
Resident Evil 2 is based on the same RE Engine that powered Resident Evil 7: Biohazard and the visuals have definitely improved since then. The level of detail has improved significantly, the game no longer relying on the dark setting to hide away the lack of detail in certain areas. Some of this is out of necessity, given that a lot of the areas are a lot more open and bright than they were in 7. There’s also a lot of nice visual touches like the animations that play when you’re using an item and the subtle changes in colour temperature for different rooms that are lit by different sources (moon light vs incandescent lights, for example). The cutscenes are probably the only sections that highlight some of the lesser graphical aspects, the animations sometimes getting out of sync with the sounds or even the animations themselves not being quite right. Overall though I’m glad that Capcom made a concerted effort to improve upon what they delivered previously with this engine.
Capcom was vehement that this was a remake, not a remaster, and that’s certainly true of the game’s core gameplay. Gone are the fixed cameras (thank goodness) replaced instead with a third person, over the shoulder view. This in of itself is a major change to how the game plays out, no longer are you limited to small, awkwardly framed sections that made even the most benign task a challenge. Instead you now have this almost open world in front of you, one that’s littered with many of the same challenges that the original had. Beyond that the game sticks to its survival horror roots, giving you precious little ammo to take on the numerous zombies that will be coming your way. This makes choosing your path through the world critical as you won’t be able to simply blast your way through everything. Stacked on top of this is a heavy focus on item management, forcing you to make decisions about what to take with you and what to leave behind. Lastly there’s a rudimentary crafting system, adding a another layer of complexity in deciding how you’ll tackle the problems at hand. All of these mechanics are, in the truest sense, the essence of what made the Resident Evil series great back in the day and their modernisation some 20 years later has proven the formula can still be successful.
Combat is, as it always is in survival horror games, a frustrating affair of never being sure if you have enough to make it through to the next stage. Zombies never really reliably go down, often just falling over and getting back up at some later stage (save for a few weapons which guarantee kills like the magnum). You’ll also be faced with situations that will make you panic and drain your reserves rapidly, leaving you with few options but to try and run past whatever is trying to kill you. Realistically the only thing in common it has with other third person shooters is the perspective you play from, everything else is more a game of strategy to minimise the use of your consumables whilst maximising the amount of distance you can cover. So whilst it might be a frustrating, seemingly random system there are a number of things you can do to increase your odds of getting through unscathed and with only a few bullets loosed.
If you’re playing on anything but the easiest mode you’ll also have to deal with the health system which retains the originals Fine/Caution/Danger levels which roughly translate to how many zombie bites you can sustain. Other things seemingly do part damage, like some boss attacks or other smaller sources of damage, but they won’t register on the inventory screen. Similarly healing items seem to indicate that they’ll have varying levels of effectiveness but they all seem to be roughly the same, either repairing you 1 level or 2. I’m sure there’s some deeper level to it, probably one that speedrunners are intimately familiar with, but for your average player there doesn’t seem to be more subtly to it than that.
The inventory system is one of the game’s core mechanics, making it hard for loot rats like myself who by default pick up everything in sight. Sometimes it can mean just having to loop back later to pick up some more crafting materials but often it can mean coming across a crucial progression item that you’ll then have to leave behind. Thus you play an optimisation game, scanning the room for everything in it and then deciding what you can and can’t take with you. It gets easier later on as you expand your inventory space, although then you’re usually carrying around more guns to deal with the game’s increased level of threat. I’d typically chide a game for making inventory management such a ballache however it’s clear that it was a core part of the game design, not something that was simply neglected. So whilst I might have been annoyed at the multiple trips I might have had to make to get everything in a room I understood that this was part of the challenge laid out before me.
Now I’m not sure if it’s my 2 decades of experience as a gamer since I played the original but the puzzles of the remake feel a lot more straightforward than they previously did. All the clues you need will come to you without the need for studious exploration and those that don’t can often be worked out with a little logic or brute force. There was only one time when I got stuck and that was due to me legging it out of a room without fully exploring it, something a second trip through fixed up immediately. I was playing on the Standard difficulty so I understand some challenges are a little harder on the top tier but even then I don’t think most seasoned gamers would struggle. For those who do there’s the easiest difficulty level which I think would cater to even the most casual of players.
It’s hard to tell what’s janky in Resident Evil 2 and what’s meant to be a core part of the game. For instance the zombies’ ragdoll physics constantly goes haywire, even when they’re not completely dead. On the one hand this could very well be deliberate as ragdolling in games often means the enemy is completely, 100% dead; something which this game really doesn’t want you to be sure of. Additionally the enemies AI breaks down around doors, sometimes they’ll break them down and follow you through whilst others will instantly forget you’re there the second you close it. Again, could be a game mechanic or could be a glitch, I really can’t be sure. It’s true to the nature of the genre somewhat, frustrating controls and random mechanics that always keep you guessing, which is also one of my biggest gripes with games like these. So either it’s part of the challenge or a frustrating lack of polish, you decide.
The story remains true to the core events of the original and retains the same ever present tension that the Resident Evil series was always so good at generating. Now I’m not typically a fan of the horror genre but it’s hard to deny how well Resident Evil 2 executes it. The game does have some rather severe pacing issues, something which I think is part due to its true to core nature and the assumed multiple playthroughs (which I have not done), but it does seem relationship progression between most of the characters happens way too fast given the time that would’ve passed (less than one night). A lot of it made sense to me given my history with the original game but for those who never played it I can imagine things might have seemed a little weird. Indeed the story seems to be the thing that recieved the least polish which is a shame but it’s still at least enough to carry you through it.
All this being said RESIDENT EVIL 2 / BIOHAZARD RE:2 sets the bar for what remakes of classic titles can be. Changing up the mechanics, completely rebuilding the environments and thoroughly modernising nearly everything about it brings about a new experience that keeps the essence of the original whilst still doing something new. Even for single playthrough gamers like myself there’s a lot to love here, from the well laid out puzzles to the min/max strategy, ensuring that there’s always a challenge at had to keep you occupied. There are some parts that could either be a lack of polish or a deliberate design decision, something that has always irked me about the survival horror genre. Still, all things considered, if all remasters or remakes were like this I think we as a gaming community would be far more welcoming to them. We may get to see more of it with a possible Resident Evil 3 remake on the horizon and I, for one, am definitely looking forward to it.
RESIDENT EVIL 2 / BIOHAZARD RE:2 is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $89.95. Game was played on the PC with a total of 7 hours playtime and 40% of the achievements unlocked.
If there’s one genre I’ll go to great lengths to avoid it’s survival horror. This wasn’t always the case though. Back in my youth I spent many a night playing my way through the top titles of the genre like Silent Hill and Resident Evil. However after about Resident Evil 3 I found myself attracted to other genres and left survival horror behind me. Looking back over my reviews the only real game I’ve played in this genre recently would be Dying Light, some 2 years previous. Try as I might to avoid the hype around the latest Resident Evil it seemed like, if I was ever going to dive back into the series, now would be the time. I’m glad I did as whilst I’ve affirmed that survival horror still isn’t my favourite thing in the world it’s hard to deny that Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is a very well crafted game.
In a stark departure from (what I remember of) the Resident Evil series you play as a civilian called Ethan. Your wife, Mia, went missing 3 years ago after taking a job at sea for an undetermined period of time. Out of the blue you received an email from her, saying that she needed help and to come and get her. So you make your way down to a derelict plantation estate in Dulvey, Louisiana to try and find her. What you discover there though is beyond any reasonable explanation and you soon discover the horrors that have kept Mia away from you all that time.
Biohazard is Capcom’s first full game to use the new RE Engine which, if I’m honest, doesn’t seem that impressive on first blush. There are some parts which are definitely impressive, like Mia’s hair and some of the more…lively parts of the environment. However the level of detail is probably a step or two behind what I’ve come to expect in games of this calibre. Since the majority of the game is spent in dark areas this isn’t an issue most of the time. However when you get up and close the lack of detail becomes readily apparent. This is made up for somewhat by the animations which are much better done. Of course you’re not playing a survival horror game for the visuals, you’re playing it to get the pants scared off of you.
Biohazard’s game play feels similar to other successful survival horror games like Outlast and Amnesia. The trademark mechanics of the series are still here, like the inventory management, crafting and obscure puzzles. However with everything taking place in the first person you’re now up close and personal with everything that’s going on (and for those brave enough to try this out on PlayStation VR you can fully immerse yourself in it, joy!). This does make some things easier, like combat, but of course there’s trade offs like not being able to see around corners to see some things before they have chance to induce a pants soiling moment. Indeed Biohazard tends much more towards horror than previous instalments have.
Combat is as you’d expect it to be: frustrating, panic inducing and often at times completely futile. This is, of course, by design as something that had the glass smooth FPS combat mechanics of Call of Duty would not make for great survival horror. Still your FPS skills aren’t completely useless with well placed head shots ensuring that you use less ammo overall, giving you a bit of a buffer to play with. Mastering the block will ensure that you don’t burn through as many healing items but, honestly, you shouldn’t need to use it most of the time if you know how to kite the enemies around properly. One thing (and most survival horror games are guilty of this) that really irritated me is that it’s sometimes impossible to tell when an enemy has actually died save for pumping a few more bullets into them. Again, this is a design decision (done to make ammo even more precious) but it does get annoying when that moulded gets up for the billionth time in a row.
Biohazard isn’t a fan of holding your hand and will only sparingly grant tips upon your death. For the most part this is fine as it encourages you to explore and figure things out for yourself. Sometimes though it’s an exercise in frustration, like when you learn that the first big enemy you face can’t actually be killed (only after wasting several clips on him). After a while though you’ll get familiar enough with the various quirks and things start to get a lot better from then on. There are some parts that are maybe a little too subtle in the way they hint at what you’re supposed to do, leading to a lot of unnecessary back-tracking to try and figure out what you missed. This might just be me though, having not played the Resident Evil series for the better part of 15 years.
The horror aspect is done exceptionally well, making you scared of the smallest bump or scrape that you might here. I can’t tell you how many times I had to step back and forwards over a little patch to make sure it was me making the noise and not something else. The jump scares are used sparingly enough that they really are quite shocking and do their job in putting you on edge for the rest of the game. Moments of panic are used to great effect, ensuring that you’ll blow through a lot more ammo than you’d otherwise would have. Whilst this isn’t the type of game I’d regularly play it’s hard not to admire the way they use the environment to keep you on edge all the time. It does start to run out of puff in the last third of so, which is probably my biggest gripe with Biohazard.
You see in games like this I pride myself on being able to build a massive stockpile in order to take some of the “survival” out of the horror. Now it seems most games have a horrible habit of stripping that horde away from you in aid of an artificial challenge bump. Biohazard does this at a pivotal moment, forcing you to start from the beginning again. The game does provide context for this, and to its credit does give you back everything at the end of that section, but that means that particular part drags on significantly. The last section then just feels unnecessary as you’re packed to the rafters with very little that can challenge you. I’m sure veterans of the series could blast through this in no time flat, and thus the last third be much less of an issue, but 8 hours of being on tenterhooks did tire this old gamer out.
The story is somewhat predictable with the standard “Choose A or B for a different ending” scenario presented to you just before the final third. Ethan seems weirdly at peace with a lot of the crazy stuff that goes on around him (although that changes during cut scenes), something which, if changed, might have added a bit more depth to the experience. There’s also one character which we’re supposed to empathise with but, since your interaction with them is severely limited and they’re given no backstory, it’s pretty hard to care for them. I’ve also checked both endings and, honestly, choosing the non-obvious path seems like a total waste of time. It’s a bit of a shame as previous Resident Evil games had some cool, super secret endings that completely changed how you’d view the entire game. That’s what I remember of playing Nemesis at least, anyway.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is a fantastic horror experience. Whilst the visuals might not win any awards they serve their purpose well, creating a foreboding environment that keeps you suspicious of every shadow. The lean towards horror makes for a high adrenaline experience with every creak, scrape and whine cause to get your gun ready. The game does include my usual gripes about games in this genre, namely the artificial challenge increase through taking away your stash and the lack of a decent story. Still I can recognise quality when I see it and, whilst I personally won’t rate this game as high as some of my peers, it does stand above others that I have played in this genre.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One for $59.99. Game was played on the PC with a total of 8 hours played and 57% of the achievements unlocked.
I, like many of my generation, spent far too much of my time in Games Workshop stores as a teenager. I’d go there to gawk that the miniatures, painted in such exquisite detail that I tried and failed to replicate. That was only half of it though, the sense of community among those of us who’d spend as much time as we could at these places was far and above anything else. Thus the rather tumultuous path that the Games Workshop has walked these past few years has been tough as many of us felt they no longer cared about us, their biggest fans. However one good thing has come out all this and that has been Games Workshop’s more generous attitude towards licensing out its IP. The latest such incarnation comes in the form of Warhammer: The End Times: Vermintide, a Left 4 Dead-esque co-op survival game that breathes new life into the genre.
You are a band of warriors in the town of Ubersreik, a city that has been overrun by the Skaven, a race of devilish rat people. With the town in peril everyone has been looking towards you to save them and there are numerous quests you must complete to keep the town safe. Some of these are simple, stopping the Skaven from poisoning the wells or destroying the food stocks, others will require you to climb to the top of massive towers to stop powerful magic from falling into Skaven hands. These will not be easy quests, dear warrior, and you’re likely to face much more than just hordes of rats along the way.
Vermintide comes to us care of the Autodesk Stingray engine, essentially a revamped version of the BitSquid engine that powered titles like Gauntlet and Magicka: Wizard Wars. In terms of capability and performance the engine really does shine, with great visuals that don’t drag your system down when the action heats up. The visual style is also very distinctive, being slightly stylized but still feeling as if it was pulled directly out of the Warhammer universe. Of course there have been some sacrifices in order to ensure performance remains consistent, meaning that some areas do feel a bit barren with little detail, but you’re usually too busy dealing with rats to notice. Considering the rather low asking price for the engine I hope to see more indie titles make use of it and the capabilities it can provide.
As I alluded to earlier Vermintide is a co-op survival game modelled directly on the framework Left 4 Dead so successfully created. You’re a band of four heroes who must make it from the start to the end whilst completing objectives along the way. You’ll be beset on all sides by hordes of Skaven including various special versions which have abilities to disrupt your team and take them out of the fight. Unlike Left 4 Dead however this is not a PVP game, instead Vermintide’s variety comes from the various character classes you can choose, the RPG like levelling and loot system and the rather deep combat mechanics that make the game much more than a simple hack and slasher. Honestly the first hour had me thinking I was simply playing the latest version of Left 4 Dead but once I dug under the surface I was incredibly impressed by the level of complexity that Vermintide has.
Unlike other survival games where melee is a last resort in Vermintide it’s your primary damage dealing mechanism. You still have a ranged weapon, limited by ammunition, but they’re usually reserved for special situations like dealing with special vermin or clearing a path through swarms. This melee focus means you have to be much more aware of what is coming at you, when its attacking and when you should either dodge or block. Sure you can ignore all of that and just go charging in however you’re likely to find yourself running out of health very quickly, something which is at a premium in this game. Indeed we were barely able to finish the first mission on easy by using that tactic and it was only after a more seasoned friend of mine showed us the ways did we start to appreciate just how complex the combat was.
The different character classes have different abilities, strengths and weaknesses, all of which you’ll need to take into consideration when crafting your party. Each character class isn’t locked into a specific role either as different items can change the way you play. I was playing the Empire Solider for the most part and could change from a damage dealer/special slayer into a front line tank by equipping a sword and shield. For other classes weapons can change them from single target to AOE focused or impart some insane abilities like arrows that are guaranteed headshots. Suffice to say there’s a lot to keep you coming back to Vermintide over and over again as the loot and character variety ensure that there’s dozens of hours of gameplay to be had.
That’s not to mention the loot system’s ingeniously evil risk vs reward system. Essentially there are various loot bolstering devices hidden around the map and each of them will reduce your ability to survive the rat onslaught. However should you make it all the way through with them you’ll get bonus loot dies at the end. Some of them are innocuous, like taking away your healing slot (but you can just drop the tome and use the healing then pick the tome back up) to others which reduce the entire parties health by 25% permanently. Suddenly a simple run becomes a balancing game of how much loot you can get vs how well you think you can survive.
There’s also a crafting system, allowing you to upgrade, salvage and “forge” better weapons for yourself. The forge is essentially just a dumping ground for all the loot you don’t want as you’ll get, at most, 2 weapons per run (1 from the roll and 1 from a level up) and you’ll need 5 to make it work. Green and higher tier items have upgrades on them which need to be unlocked using certain coloured rocks. Those rocks will come from salvaging other items that you no longer want. Overall it’s a pretty simplistic crafting system but at least it gives you the opportunity to make something of the drops that you’d otherwise get nothing from.
For all its polish though Vermintide still has a couple issues which could do with fixing. The hit detection can get a bit crazy at times, resulting in strange behaviour like pack masters being able to pull players through walls. It works two ways though so sometimes you can get special rats, like the gattling gun one, stuck in a place where they can’t hit you but you can hit them. There’s also some lag induced issues which can cause rats to flit all over the place, fall through the ground or randomly spawn out of no where. I’m assuming this is born out of its P2P hosting nature which means that game sync can get a bit weird if one or more people have a tenuous connection to the host.
Vermintide would be easy to write off as a Left 4 Dead clone but after a couple of hours you quickly realise it’s anything but. Sure the combat and core mechanics are definitely inspired by the grand daddy of this genre but the extra elements that Vermintide has makes it on its own. The character classes and loot system help keep the game fresh, even after you’ve played the same map a dozen times over. The combat retains that same high tension feeling that we all grew to love in Left 4 Dead whilst distinguishing itself with a bunch of Warhammer inspired mechanics. The crafting system and few rough edges are the few let downs of vermintide but it says a lot that those are the only negative things I have to say about it. For those who were let down by Evolve Vermintide could very well be the game that resells you on the genre.
Warhammer: The End Times – Vermintide is available on PC right now for $29.99 and coming Q1 2016 to PlayStation4 and XboxOne. Total play time was 6 hours with 22% of the achievements unlocked.
The hivemind of the gaming community collectively looks towards indie developers as the innovators. We praise them and put them up on pedestals because they dare to buck trends, trying out new concepts, mechanics and stories that big AAA developers would never touch. Sometimes this works out well, spawning new genres or revamping old ones, other times however the concept fails so hard to achieve its goals that the idea is burnt forever more. Indeed the risk is even higher when the developers attempt something that’s extremely high concept, much like what The Flock attempted to be. Unfortunately this time around the risk won’t be rewarded as The Flock is set to be a ghost town that will never achieve its vision.
The world is a shadow of its former self, great cities lie in disrepair and what remains elsewhere has been long abandoned. All that remains now is the Flock, a race of subhuman creatures who skitter through the darkness searching for one thing: the Artefact. It is that sacred thing that can transform a member of the Flock into a Carrier, able to wield the power of the light and bring about the next phase of this world’s existence. However creature of the Flock wants the Artefact and will do anything to obtain it, even kill their own. There is limited time left for members of the Flock as their population is dwindling, every murdered carrier putting their entire species one step closer to extinction.
The Flock might not be the most pretty game in the world, thanks mostly to its drab aesthetic, but it does manage to punch above average in the graphics department. For the most part things look great from afar, especially when you’re on top of a building in the city overlooking everything, but up close it’s clear that detail is scant. The various bright and shiny things help break up the visual monotony a bit, as well as provide visual cues for some of the game’s core mechanics. Apart from that there’s really not much else write home about as the game’s focus isn’t purely on graphics.
The premise of The Flock is an interesting one: you’re a member of The Flock’s race and you want to get The Artefact. Once you have it you’re transformed into The Carrier who can wield The Artefact’s power which is essentially a high powered torch. If another member of The Flock kills you they’ll then become The Carrier however if you shine the light on them, and they’re foolish enough to move even an inch while you have it on them, they’ll be burnt to cinders. It’s not as simple as standing still once you’ve got The Artefact however as you need to move to power it. There’s also objectives for you to complete, charging up blue glowing things with the light of The Artefact, which tempt you to come after them. Underpinning all this is the limited population that The Flock has and, once that’s exhausted, the game itself will no longer be on sale and only those who had purchased the game will be able to participate in the next stage.
In raw game terms The Flock is quite playable, that is if you can manage to scrounge together a game with more than just one other player. Each of the maps has numerous routes and places for The Flock to hide in, something which can make your life as The Carrier quite hard. The Artefact needing movement to be powered means that you’ll always be on the move, further increasing other Flock member’s chances of hunting you down. Indeed I can imagine that in a full game of 6 people it’d be quite the chaotic affair as even with just 3 it was hard to hold onto the artefact for any long stretch of time, especially if you went after objectives.
However the number of people playing The Flock is so abysmally poor that you’ll be lucky to ever see another person playing it. I spent probably half my time in game simply waiting for someone else to join me only to be disappointed nearly every time. Checking the population every 5 minutes or so revealed that yes, I was the only one playing since there were no other deaths happening anywhere else in the world. In the time I’ve been playing it the population has dropped by a paltry 1200 meaning, on average, there’s been one death every 30 seconds. At this rate the population will reach 0 sometime in the next 200 years, not exactly what the developers had in mind I’m sure.
This severe drop off in interest can probably be traced to The Flock’s lack of replayability. Those three maps in the screenshot below? Those are the only three maps you’ll have to play, meaning that after 3 games you’ve likely seen everything there is to see in The Flock. This would be fine if the game play was interesting enough however since all the objectives are the same and there are no different modes the longevity of The Flock is severely limited. Thus after the initial fervour there’s only going to be a handful of people playing at any moment. That’s not going to improve any time soon. especially with the developers being tight lipped about the whole thing.
The Flock will never achieve its ambition, the lack of variety in the game play not enough to sustain it until the huge population reaches 0. At a technical and mechanical level the game is sound, playable even at high pings that often happened due to the lack of players. However this game had grander visions, of enticing players in with the notion that they could be part of something exclusive. something that no game had attempted before. Unfortunately that vision will never be realised, the population set too high and the interest in the game too low. I would say I’m disappointed but, honestly, the developers grossly overestimated how popular their game would be and have been subsequently punished for their hubris.
The Flock is available on PC right now for $19.99. Total play time was 1 hour.
It’s an unfortunate fact that creating a new IP is always fraught with danger. The wider gaming community is incredibly hard to judge and seemingly minor decisions on certain mechanics can have a huge reaching impact on how they perceive your game. There is a good chunk of this community that hungers for new and innovative content however and should you touch a nerve with them a new IP can quickly turn itself into a dynasty of its own. Dying Light is Techland’s most recent new IP, taking the lessons learned from Dead Island and using them to craft a better experience in a new world. For the most part they pull this off although the key differentiating mechanic is both its greatest and worst asset.
The city of Harran is in chaos. Months ago a mysterious outbreak occurred that turned people in ravenous monsters, feasting upon the flesh of others and spreading the contagion at a rapid pace. The city was quickly walled off however, containing the spread ensuring it wouldn’t cause a worldwide apocalypse. An organization called the Global Relief Effort has been instrumental in ensuring that some semblance of order remains, appointing a man called Kadir Sulaiman to keep the peace. However a tragedy involving his brother has sent him rogue and he is threatening to release a file that could put thousands of lives at risk. It’s up to you, Kyle Crane, to stop him and save not only the people of Harran, but the world at large.
Dying Light is built on Techland’s own Chrome Engine 6 which is exclusively for PC and next gen platforms. There’s a notable step up in graphics, in everything from textures to lighting to the detail of the models, which predictably sent my rig into slideshow mode in the more action heavy sequences. It’s definitely an evolutionary step rather than a revolutionary one as it still retains the same feel that Dead Island had in terms of graphics and effects, something which I noted early on before I found out that it was the same developer. That being said the environments are much bigger and broader in scope with a lot more attention to detail given the exploration heavy nature that the game has now taken on. In a nutshell it’s a solid amount of progress for Techland and it will be very interesting to compare and contrast it against Dead Island 2 when it debuts.
Dying Light is an open world, first person survival horror game that blends in a lot of RPG elements including talent trees and crafting. Those of you who’ve played Dead Island will find many of the mechanics to be very similar however many of them have been streamlined so you spend a lot less time diving through menus. Unlike its predecessor however Dying Light includes a heavy exploration aspect, allowing you to clamber all over everything in the world in good old fashioned parkour styling. This radically changes how the game plays out, giving you a vast array of options in how you tackle each situation. Finally you’ll engage in good old fashioned melee combat using crude tools like pipes and wrenches all the way up to fully automatic weaponry. All in all it’s best summed up as an improved version of Dead Island although some of the improvements aren’t without their drawbacks.
The combat in Dying Light will likely be an unique experience for everyone as there’s a huge number of combinations of weapons, modifications and talent builds that all affect how you hack and slash your way through the game. The melee aspect is the most polished although it still suffers from the trials and tribulations that is first person melee combat. Quite often you’ll find weapons (especially big 2 handed ones) not connecting like you think they should, requiring almost frame perfect timing to get them to land properly. The guns are by far the weakest aspect of the combat as they just don’t feel polished enough, especially when compared to the melee weapons. The parkour aspect allows you to alter the dynamic quite a lot, often allowing you to use the environment to gain a significant advantage.
Indeed, as I alluded to earlier, the parkour/exploration aspect of Dying Light is simultaneously the best and worst aspect of the game. The good of it is that it adds a whole new layer onto the trope that Techland set up in Dead Island, significantly opening up the map to an incredible amount of exploration that is quite rewarding. There’s still a fair chunk of jumping puzzles which only have one proper solution to them but other than that you’re free to find the best angle of attack for your current challenge, something which can make the difference between a mission being a complete breeze and a total nightmare. Once you get the grappling hook upgrade it gets even better, enabling you to travel across the map at inhuman speed and get you out of jams that would’ve otherwise resulted in your death. Suffice to say the good of the parkour is really good but it’s marred by its less than stellar aspects.
There are numerous points in the game where the parkour simply doesn’t flow like you’d expect to. The visual cues to what you can and can’t climb on aren’t terribly consistent and judging whether or not you can make a particular jump is more of an art than a science. Worst of all the hit detection for your character to latch onto things fails way more often than it should, often sending you plummeting to the ground with no indication of why that failed. Worse still when you do get the grappling hook it will likely be disabled with the cop out message “You’re too exhausted to use your grappling hook right now” making the upgrade worthless. These are fixable issues, and undoubtedly something that will get patched in later versions, however it doesn’t detract from the fact that some of the parkour heavy sections can be seriously frustrating.
The talent system is well thought out, splitting out your character’s progression into 3 main categories: survivor, agility and power. The survivor tree is levelled up by completing objectives and gives you access to ancillary skills that will help you survive in Harran. Agility is progressed by simply moving around the world and enables you to move easier around the world. Finally the power tree is all about zombie killing, turning you from a schmuck wielding a pipe to a whirling death machine. With 3 different things to level up progression is consistent and constant, ensuring you’re never too far away from unlocking something to make you just that little bit better. Honestly though apart from the grappling hook most of the upgrades aren’t hugely impactful but after a while the sum of their parts starts to add up to something greater.
The crafting system is very rewarding and retains many of the characteristics from Dead Island. All crafting reagents, bar the base weapons, can be held on your character in unlimited quantities, ensuring that you always have all your materials on you to craft things. Gone is the requirement for using a bench or other things enabling you to craft whatever you need whenever you need it. The only issue I have with the system is that weapon upgrades (not modifications) cannot be crafted and so most of your weapons will likely have their upgrade slots unused. I’m pretty sure this isn’t me missing a key mechanic in the game either as my numerous Google searches on the issue came up blank. Suffice to say whilst I think the crafting system is strong in Dying Light it seems like one aspect was overlooked.
Dying Light was a relatively smooth experience for me, free of any major issues like crashing or game breaking bugs. However there were numerous quirks where things happened that shouldn’t have like the picture above where my safe zone was somehow infested with zombies despite me having just cleared it out. There was also the rather unsettling thing of my character screaming, yelling or saying something random every time I loaded in which often made me think I had been dropped into the middle of combat before realising it was just him making noise for no reason. It kind of feels like a Bethesda release if I’m honest, where the core game is solid but stuff around the periphery is a little wonky and will likely take a couple patch cycles to sort out.
The story feels, at best, mediocre due mostly to its predictability and pacing issues that a present throughout most of the campaign missions. Now I’m willing to admit part of this is likely due to my campaign-first playstyle for these kinds of games (putting me at least than half of total completion by the end) however I’ve played several other games that have managed to get that right without relying on side missions to flesh things out. Combine that with the obvious plot twists and highly predictable emotional climaxes and you end up with a story that’s enough to drive you along but not enough to make you empathize with the characters. Indeed it’s one of the few aspects that doesn’t improve on Dead Island at all, a right shame considering that it was one of the more heavily criticised aspects.
Dying Light is a solid new IP for Techland, taking the essence of what made Dead Island great and translating that into a whole new game which stands well on its own. There’s a lot to love in Dying Light, from the parkour to the visceral combat to the crafting system that allows you to create weapons of untold destructive power. However much of the experience is marred in varying issues ranging from the fixable game play variety to the mediocre story which doesn’t add much overall. Suffice to say I still think it’s worth playing just maybe not by yourself, instead with a bunch of mates and a few beers to take the edge of the more frustating aspects.
Dying Light is available on PC, PlayStation4 and XboxOne right now for $71.99, $78 and $78 respectively. Game was played on the PC with a total of 15 hours played with 46% of the achievements unlocked.
The original Dead Rising was one of those games that every owner of a Xbox360 had on their shelves. It was just the right combination of not taking itself seriously and solid zombie killing action, long before the dearth of zombie based titles we have today. There was enough variety that pretty much any player could find something to like in it although the constantly ticking down clock ensured that you’d never get everything you wanted done in a single play through. The latest instalment, Dead Rising 3, continues along the series’ tried and true lines, although the experienced is marred by both performance and design level issues.
It’s been 10 years since the last outbreak when suddenly Los Perdidos finds itself in the grip of another zombie apocalypse. You are Nick Ramos, a young mechanic in this city who’s trying to find a way to get himself and his crew out of there. After a routine search for supplies you find out that the army is going to fire bomb Los Perdidos in order to contain the outbreak, giving you just 6 days to get yourself out of there. However as you ready your escape it becomes clear that there’s far more to this outbreak than would appear and it’s up to you to stop it.
Considering that Dead Rising 3 is a next-gen only title you’d expect the graphics to be a bit of a step up from its predecessor however it looks largely the same as many of its previous generation counterparts. This is partly due to the fact that the scale of the game has been ramped up significantly, going from an apocalypse inside a mall up to an entire city being taken over. That increase in scale also means an order of magnitude of zombies on screen, something which is at odds with high end visuals. I’ll touch on the performance later however suffice to say that Dead Rising 3’s graphics are pretty average, even when you take into account the scale that it’s operating at.
Dead Rising 3’s game play follows the same formula as its predecessors, putting you in charge of a single character who has to make his way through untold hordes of zombies using anything he can find. As you massacre your way through you’ll be rewarded with levels and points which you can spend on improving various aspects of your character. The crafting system also makes a return however this time you’re also able to craft vehicles as well, something you’ll be doing a lot of if you want to get across town in any sort of reasonable time. You can now also bring survivors along with you, equipping them with weapons so they won’t just be zombie attractors who will die shortly after you rescue them. This, combined with the usual affair of achievements and collectables, means there’s dozens of hours of play time within Dead Rising 3, more than enough to keep even the most keen achievement hunters busy.
The combat feels largely the same as its predecessors, retaining the same 3rd person beat ’em up style that the Dead Rising franchise is known for. The variety of weapons ensures that you’re always finding news ways to dispatch large numbers of zombies quickly however it doesn’t take long to find the really overpowered combos that you’ll want to exploit. This is counterbalanced by the fact that some apparently powerful looking combos are pretty lacklustre although thankfully you won’t be spending a lot of time tracking down components in order to make them. The grim reaper, for example, trivializes much of the game and the store you originally find it in has enough to make 2 of them, enough to kill 1000 zombies.
The inclusion of vehicles in Dead Rising 3 is a necessity, given the scale, however the vehicle crafting adds a little entertainment to what would otherwise be one of the game’s more annoying aspects. Again there are certain combos which are just insane, like the turret rig, but their limited life means you likely won’t have access to one every time you need it. One more annoying aspect of the vehicles is that you’ll need to find one with enough seats for your crew if you’re going to use one otherwise you’ll simply leave them behind, never to be found again. Whilst this isn’t an issue if you’re near a garage often you’ll find yourself in the middle of no where needing some form of transportation and the 2 seater varieties seem to be far more common than their larger counterparts.
Which brings me to my next point: the survivors in your possie are usually a liability more than anything else which is frustrating considering there doesn’t seem to be a way to tell them to stay at a safe house. Their AI is incredibly basic, often getting stuck in wide open spaces, unable to figure out how to proceed until you knock them over and they redo their pathing. This is only made worse by the fact that they don’t seem to understand how to use their weapons properly as they’ll either do nothing until you do the same motion (I.E. they won’t melee unless you do) or they’ll wait until they’re swamped before attempting to do something. The only time they become useful is during boss fights but apart from that you’re better off just letting them meet their end.
As many other PC reviewers have noted Dead Rising 3 suffers from some major performance issues right off the bat, often struggling to render a single frame for seconds at a time. It’s largely tied to when you first see a large group of zombies for the first time however there are also random times when it occurs, often leaving the sound playing which ends up with the characters being wildly out of sync. Creating a user.ini file to unlock the framerate (it’s capped at 30 fps natively) and knocking down the graphics a couple notches pulls it into the realms of playable but it still manages to peg all aspects of my system, even when there isn’t much going on. This is even after a couple patches which you’d presume would’ve made the experience better but, honestly, in its default form Dead Rising 3 is an unplayable mess.
This is only made worse by the lacklustre story which attempts to err more towards the serious side of things rather than the more comedic style of its predecessors. Sure, the essence of the not-so-serious nature of Dead Rising games is still there (like your costume appearing in cut scenes or the cartoony boss fights) but overall it feels like they’re trying too hard to make the story serious. Whilst I admit you’d never play a Dead Rising game for its deep story content it still feels like a good chunk of what made Dead Rising games so fun was lost in the latest instalment which is a real disappointment.
Dead Rising 3 is another solid instalment in the series, one which is unfortunately marred by performance problems and lacklustre story elements. The essence of what made this franchise good is still there, like the ridiculous combat and comedic game elements, however it just falls short of the “must have” status that the original had. It’s still a blast to play, especially when you unlock some of the more overpowered combos, however there’s probably not enough in there to keep me coming back for untold hours at a time. I’m sure long time fans of the series will find a lot to like in Dead Rising 3 but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s flawless.
Dead Rising 3 is available on PC and XboxOne right now for $49.99 and $57 respectively. Game was played on the PC with a total of 7 hours play time and 25% of the achievements unlocked.
It’s nigh on impossible to miss the hype that’s been surrounding The Last of Us, the latest game to come out of Naughty Dog studios who’s been responsible for other PlayStation 3 exclusive hits like the Uncharted series. I tried my best but it the sentiment among the reviewer crowd was hard to miss: this game was shaping up to be everyone’s game of the year. However the interesting part about it was that it wasn’t something like revolutionary game play or top end graphics that was sending the review scores northward, it was the confronting story. I had been sold on the game since I saw the short gameplay demo that was released last year and had already lined myself up to play it despite it being a survival horror so all that was left was to fire it up and see if my impressions of it lined up with the hype that surrounded it.
You play as Joel, a single father who’s been working hard to provide for his daughter Sarah. Everything seems to be good in your world, heck she even manages to scrounge up enough cash to buy you a watch for your birthday, but soon an epidemic starts to sweep the nation, one that enrages people and turns them into vicious beings that attack anything when sighted. Tragedy befalls Joel, turning him into a bitter person and he then spends the next 20 years in a quarantine camp, finding work as a smuggler who gets things into and out of his camp. His world is shaken up after he seeks revenge against someone who’s wronged him only to find himself tangled up with a rebel group who’s only request is that he smuggle a girl to one of their camps.
Her name is Ellie.
With this current console generation coming to the end of its life the games are taking full advantage of the hardware platform that’s available to them and Naughty Dog’s expertise on the PlayStation 3 shines through in The Last of Us. All the environments you’ll explore are incredibly detailed, showing the world in glorious ruins. It’s a testament to Naughty Dog’s skill that all of this runs without a hitch as well with the game remaining buttery smooth even during intense action scenes. What I did like though was the distinct lack of environment porn, I.E. scenes that were deliberately designed to make you gawk at the rendering engine. Sure there were a lot of impressive moments but I never felt like any of them were created specifically as screenshot bait, they were just emergent based on the great level design and detailed environments.
The Last of Us is a survival horror game where resources are scarce and death almost certain should you not play your cards right. Now traditionally I’m not a big fan of these titles as they tend to do things that violate my rules for being a good (but also challenging game) and The Last of Us is no exception to this. It’s made up for somewhat by the inclusion of other mechanics that allow you to negate some of the more annoying aspects of survival horror game play through the use of skill and simple curiosity but there are still some issues that remain unresolved that I will take the game to task for. However I do understand that this is part of the survival horror schtick and is probably considered a great example of the genre so I’m more just trying to make my biases known so you don’t feel the need to lambast me in the comments.
There’s 3 main mechanics that drive the game play of The Last of Us. The first is good old fashioned 3rd person combat which has been tweaked with a stealth mechanic that you’ll make good use of if you don’t want to be reloading the game every 5 seconds. The second is a form of simplistic puzzler/platformer where you’ll have to solve a puzzle in order to progress to the next stage. Lastly there’s a customized RPG like system of crafting, upgrades and upgrades that allows you to improve your character and create consumables that you’ll undoubtedly being making heavy use of throughout your play through. None of these are particularly unique, and indeed I’d argue that the the gameplay isn’t the strongest characteristic of The Last of Us, but they do make for a challenging game.
You’ll spend the vast majority of your time exploring the environments that you’re in for bits and pieces that you can use to craft items to help you along. You don’t have to do this but the less you do it the harder the game will get for you as, no joke, that piece of rag you picked up 2 hours ago could be the very thing that saves your ass. It can get a little laborious though as pretty much every section you go through has to be inspected with a fine tooth comb to make sure you didn’t miss everything and, once you get past a certain point, you might stop doing it because you’ve managed to max out your inventory. However even if you do manage that there’s still another reason for you to keep searching: for the other upgrades.
There’s 2 ways to upgrade your character with the first being through “supplements” that affect Joel. For the most part they just make the game easier, giving you more health or decreasing the time it takes to heal for instance, but some of them can make the difference between life or death like the ability to save yourself from a clicker attack with a shiv. If I’m honest most of them apart from the Shiv Master one didn’t really impact on the game that much, usually just giving you a little more leeway with which to accomplish the same things. I also found that the supplements were scarce enough that I could just drop them into skills to max them out so the choice is usually based around your play style and what seems to be hampering your progress the most.
There’s also the upgrades to your weapons which can improve things like reload speed, clip size and fire rate. There’s unfortunately no way to upgrade the damage of any particular weapon which means they’re just as effective when you first get them as when you last fire them which, honestly, gave me the shits. The awful aiming coupled with the relative ineffectiveness of shots that hit anywhere but the head means that most of your weapons feel like they’re having no impact whatsoever with the exception of the shotgun and shorty (which are only close range, not so great for things that want to bite you). The upgrades make up for this somewhat by allowing you to fire and reload more rapidly but when you don’t have a lot of ammo (and you can’t carry that much even if you save every bullet) it’s kind of a moot point. Even upgrading the bow, something which is typically super bad ass in any survival game, doesn’t increase its usefulness that much, especially against moving targets.
Which brings me to the combat of The Last of Us which is quite typical of the survival horror genre. There’s 2 modes that you’ll be playing in: stealth and out and out firefights. Now the former is actually quite well done as the environments are strewn with little nooks for you to hide in and wait patiently for your prey to walk by so you can snag them and choke them out silently. You also have the rather awesome ability to “concentrate your hearing” which essentially enables a wall hack that allows you to see where enemies are. They have to be walking or talking for it to work, which becomes something of an issue later on, but it’s enough so that you can get a feeling for where they all are before you strike. Of course one mistake means that your prey will alert everyone else and then you’ve got two choices: run or start shooting.
This is where I feel The Last of Us starts to fall down a bit as the guns don’t feel effective at all unless you get a headshot and lining one of those up while under fire is nigh on impossible. The human AI is smart enough to not run blindly around corners where it knows you’re hiding (and it will try to flank you) so you can’t do the usual rounding up and then gunning them all down sort of thing that’s possible in other 1st/3rd person shooters. With the wonky controls of the PlayStation3 the only effective guns I found were the two I mentioned earlier although they still suffer if not aimed somewhere near the head. Of course the stealth aspect of The Last of Us means that there’s opportunity to flank people out although the AI has a rather terrible habit of suddenly figuring out where you are when you pop your head out to start shooting at them.
The same applies to the infected as the AI behaves very differently when you’re near them, to the point where sometimes they’ll make a beeline straight for you even when they’re not supposed to be aware of your position. There’s ways to counteract this, of course, but I don’t like the feeling that I’m making up for the shortcomings of the AI by bugging it out with other game mechanics. I remember one particular challenge (starting the generator in the basement so you can use the card reader door) where after causing a ruckus I’d run to a dark area to hide so I could then plan my escape. Should I not place a bomb somewhere else that then gets triggered by an infected a bloater would then, inexplicably, find me even though I was nowhere near that particular spot. The bloaters also appear to have eyes despite them apparently not being able to see and don’t get me started on the one-hit-kill nature of the clickers which requires 75 supplements to avoid.
The Last of Us is also not bug free either as I had several times when triggers simply failed to load, locking me in the current section being unable to progress until I reloaded from the checkpoint. Additionally the checkpoint behaviour isn’t reliable as manually restarting it often means restarting from a point faaaaaaaaaar behind your current checkpoint, meaning it’s better to just die rather than try to reload it. There’s also the rather irritating feature of spawning enemies in rooms that you’ve already looked in and cleared, ones that don’t have any entrance path to them (like on the second story of a house). For the most part they’re manageable but when you’re dealing with the 100 other stressful things the game throws at you this can be enough to stop you playing.
But the thing that Last of Us is receiving so much praise for isn’t it’s gameplay it’s the detailed and very confronting story that drives you through it. Credit where it’s due for the voice and motion capture actors for portraying it so well as I’m quite intolerant of bad performances in either aspect but the people behind The Last of Us do a top notch job. Whilst I won’t put a plot analysis here (that’s something for the spoiler section below) suffice to say that the story evokes heavy feelings of empathy, sorrow and strong cognitive dissonance over how your characters play out. The Last of Us is one of the few modern games where you have absolutely no control over how the story plays out, something that I enjoy but may frustrate some players.
MAJOR PLOT SPOILERS FOLLOW
I felt a deep sense of empathy for Joel, despite his obvious character flaw of not wanting to care about anyone (from fear of getting hurt). With that in mind the ending felt like the one that I wanted to happen, because fuck anyone trying to hurt Ellie, however in doing so I had to bear the costs associated with doing that. The final scene between Joel and Ellie was probably one of the most painful things I’ve ever had to watch as it’s clear that Ellie knows Joel is lying, as evidenced by her simple reply that echoes her initial character before it’s developed over the course of the game, but she’s accepted he has his reasons for doing so. Whether he’ll ever reveal them to her is something that’ll be left up for discussion (or possibly a sequel, although bonus points to Naughty Dog for not leaving us dangling) but it’s almost at the point where it doesn’t matter.
Whilst Ellie’s fate was somewhat expected (although I question its validity, it’s not like we can’t do brain surgery without killing people) I had more expected Joel to be the tragic hero, especially considering the origin story of the first couple hours. His survival was somewhat counter to what I expected which I was glad for and ultimately it enabled the hollow hollywood ending which is what The Last of Us is being widely acclaimed for. With that in mind the lack of a choice system, one with a lot of games shoehorn in at the end to give the player some sense of control over the ultimate ending, is a smart move by Naughty Dog and something I commend them for.
PLOT SPOILERS OVER
The Last of Us is an exhausting experience physically, mentally and emotionally. It’s one that will test your limits of what you think is right and wrong, making you question what ideals you would compromise when faced with the same situation. Whilst I might not enjoy some of the gameplay mechanics due to their survival horror roots I can’t deny the gripping story that’s well portrayed by the actors involved. Whilst there are many that would recommend getting a PS3 just to play it I won’t count myself among them however should you already have one it’s certainly one of the exclusives that shouldn’t be missed, no matter what kind of gamer you are.
Rating: 9.5/10 (includes +1.0 reviewer’s bias to counteract for the fact that I routinely rate survival horror badly)
The Last of Us is available right now on PlayStation 3 for $78. Game was played on the Hard difficulty with around 17 hours of total play time and 7% of the achievements unlocked.
I think my angst around survival horror games stems from the many, many hours I lost to the genre back when I younger. There were many nights when my brother and I would sit down in front of the TV, fire up the PlayStation and proceed to play Resident Evil for hours on end. Those familiar with the game will know that much of the tension created in that game comes from the fixed camera angles and not-so-great controls leading to many reloads and undergarments in need of replacing. Long time readers will know that my recent forays into this genre haven’t been great with both of them failing to impress me. Deadlight looked like a fresh take on the survival horror genre and thus I was intrigued to see if the genre could redeem itself to me.
The year is 1986 and the world has been decimated by a virus that reanimates the dead into flesh craving zombies (or Shadows as they’re called in Deadlight). You play as Randall Wayne, one of the few survivors who’s been separated from his family and is searching to find them again. You’ve managed to team up with one of your friends, a police officer and a pair of sisters and were making your way to Safe Point, a rumoured safe zone set up by the military. The opening scenes show one of the sisters badly wounded by the Shadows and you are forced to do the right thing. The gun shot attracts a nearby hoard of shadows to you and in the commotion you get separated from the group. So begins your adventure to find them again and hopefully, your family.
Deadlight is quite visually impressive as when I first looked at some of the screenshots it looked like it had a kind of Trine feel to it with the 2.5D environments. If I’m honest they’re actually done a lot better than Trine as the environments are very detailed and even form part of the game play with things like Shadows lingering in the background shambling over to you. Also unlike most survival horror games which favour noire colouring or muted palettes Deadlight instead favours a more varied set of colours which helps greatly in not making it visually boring. Overall it’s done quite well, much better than what I expected when I first looking into playing Deadlight.
Deadlight is a platformer with the vast majority of the game play consisting of you getting from the left hand side of the screen to the right hand side. Of course it’s never quite that easy with many obstacles blocking your way requiring you to either take a specific path or wade your way through a trough of Shadows in order to make progress. Like many games of today Deadlight also makes heavy use of its physics engine to drive most of its puzzles with many of them requiring you to knock something down or move something in order to give yourself a leg up to the next ledge.
It’s usually at this point in the review of a platform where I’ll gripe about how the jump/grab mechanics are screwy in some particular way but for Deadlight I can’t really say that. Sure there were many moments when I pressed something and didn’t get the result I was expecting but there’s no one point where I couldn’t figure out what I did wrong in order to cause my untimely demise. For a platformer this is a pretty big achievement as pretty much all of them suffer from some kind of issue that makes the platforming sections tedious but in the case of Deadlight all the frustration was born simply out of me fat fingering the keys rather than some glitch in the code.
There’s also combat in the game taking the form of you either swinging an axe at your foes (which is limited by the blue stamina bar in the top left hand corner) or the tried and true zombie killer favourite of a couple different guns, all of which are lethal if aimed at the head. The axe is also quite capable of dispatching enemies however you either have to spend what feels like an eternity wailing on them or knock them down first and then finish them off on the ground. The guns are far more effective however, like any good survival horror, the ammunition is in pretty limited supply (unless you know where to look, of course).
If I’m honest the combat was one of my least favourite parts of Deadlight mostly because of how tedious and unnecessary it felt. The axe is the perfect example of this as it’s not particularly effective when you need it to be (I.E. surrounded by Shadows) and it’s much, much easier to just keep running and knock them down than to even bother attempting to take them out. The guns are pretty much a last resort apart from a couple sections where you’re forced to use them so again their inclusion feels like it was done “just because” rather than some burning need to have it as a core component of the game.
The story is quite compelling at times however I felt that it was let down heavily by the often lacklustre voice acting that backed it up. In the beginning I thought it was quite good however as the story went on it was clear that many of the lines were delivered flat without any emotion behind them. This becomes even more obvious towards the end when there’s some very emotionally charged scenes which lose pretty much all their impact thanks to this which kind of soured me on the story towards the end.
It’s a real shame because objectively the story is pretty good, combining the usual survival horror flair with a psychological thriller that leads you to question the main character’s motives. It’s not the most original plot to be sure but it’s definitely above what I was expecting which is always nice. I felt the ending was unsatisfying, probably due to the way it was presented, however I might have been swayed otherwise had I had a deeper emotional connection with the characters.
Deadlight was a nice surprise considering that I choose it based around the fact that it was short (I’m attempting to work on a couple longer game reviews and I’m constantly running out of time) and needed something for this week. The game plays well with no bugs and the platforming, something that usually brings games down a peg or two, was great. It’s let down by the pointless combat and lack of story delivery with emotion behind the voice acting which is a shame as it’s otherwise a great game. This is probably the first survival horror game that I could recommend playing which has renewed my faith in the survival horror genre.
Deadlight is available on Xbox360 and PC right now for 1200 points and $14.99 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 3.1 hours played and 68% of the achievements unlocked.
I’ve mentioned in the past that whilst I may have been playing survival horror games for a long time I’m not exactly their biggest fan. Sure some of the most memorable moments I’ve had whilst gaming have been in survival horror titles but they are very much the exception for me rather than the rule. Still I like to revisit the genre from time to time to see if there’s been any innovative changes that capture my attention much like the Nemesis did in Resident Evil 3. The latest survival horror game to cross my path came care of the latest Humble Indie Bundle and is called Lone Survivor. Thanks to my past wins with the Humble Bundle titles I figured it was worth a look in and gave it a full play through on the weekend.
Lone Survivor takes place in what appears to be a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by a virus outbreak. You, only referred to as You for the entire game, finds himself as the lone survivor of this outbreak having a really fuzzy memory of the events leading up to this point. You start off in an apartment complex and whilst you don’t know much about it you do know that the place you currently live in is not yours. The game then follows your quest to get out of the apartment complex and hopefully escape the town entirely.
Like many recent indie releases Lone Survivor’s graphics are of the pixel art form, paying homage to the gaming roots that many of my generation will be familiar with. Additionally whilst all of the art is done pixel by pixel there are a lot of modern effects laid over the top. Indeed the engine feels like its more modern as unlike other pixel art games I’ve played recently it was able to scale itself out fully and play in full screen windowed mode. Whilst this isn’t a big factor in the core game it does show that this game is very well coded which is surprising considering the majority of the work on it was done by a single person.
Now I know I shouldn’t judge a game by its name but you’ll quickly find that whilst you character thinks he’s the lone survivor in this world there are in fact a lot of other people around. Whilst its debatable whether or not most of them are actually there since your character seems to flit between fever dreams there are at least 2 other people around who don’t appear to be part of them. There’s also the monsters, of varying types, that wander the landscape and if the assesment of You is anything to go by they are the final forms of humans who were infected by the virus.
I will level some criticism at Lone Survivor’s choice of showing you the monsters extremely early on in the piece. After seeing them the anxiety about what you’re coming up against is gone and instead you’re just left with another challenge to face. In fact apart from 1 all the monsters are shown to you in an initial safe setting, allowing you to get comfortable with how to deal with them before you have to. I may not enjoy survival horrors as much as the next guy but the good survival horror comes from tension and knowing what I was coming up against long before I had to took away any real sense of urgency.
The core game play is divided into two sections: point and click adventure and a simplistic combat system. The first aspect, a traditional point and click (although “move and X” is probably more appropriate here) is your standard affair sending you all over the place to gather up items in order to progress to the next stage. Quite a lot of this aspect is optional as the required items to progress are rather easy to come across and if you’re good at the combat you won’t need to be hunting around for food to restore your health. Indeed since there’s a not-so-secret mechanic to get you both unlimited food and ammunition this side of the game is somewhat moot but can be rewarding if you like hunting out all the little extra pieces hidden around the game.
Combat is similar to that of other point and click style games like Gemini Rue. You have a revolver which you can shoot at enemies and you can aim in 3 different directions: low, mid and high. Capping enemies in the head means they go down slightly quicker and shooting at their feet makes them back off for a little bit. Realistically the enemies are just organic progression blockers serving as another puzzle for you to solve. Given that you have essentially unlimited ammunition there’s really no point to not waste every enemy you come across since you’ll be back tracking a lot, especially if you want to seek out all the items.
It’s not said to you explicitly until you finish the game but there is a kind of score being tracked whilst you make your way through Lone Survivor. Now a little Googling will find you ways to improve said score but I felt kind of cheated when I found this out as if you play the game without doing any research on it you’ll be completely unaware of it until the end. Those optional things you can do then seem to take on a whole lot more importance rather than just being an ancillary part of the game. I hate to say it but the inclusion of achievements, if the game was integrated well into Steam say, might have made me feel more compelled to actually do these things without having to reveal the hidden score. Maybe I’m just feeling bitter because my score was pretty terrible, but I feel my criticism is valid.
I can usually put aside technical faults of a game if the story is good but for Lone Survivor I can’t feel I can make that concession. The disjointed nature of the story and the complete lack of relatability of the main character didn’t really make me feel anything for those people in the story. Since the whole thing seems to flit between what appears to be reality and fever dream sequences I can’t help but feel there’s some deeper meaning to it that I’m just not getting. It’s not the same as I felt with Braid though where speculating about it was an area of intrigue, I’m more than happy to leave this one alone.
Lone Survivor is a game that is equal parts good and bad. The combination of pixel art graphics with modern tweaks makes the game visually pleasing and the coding behind it feels top notch. I also enjoyed the choice of music for the opening and closing scenes as it seemed to be quite fitting for the scenes in question. However the game fails to be an actual survival horror with there being unlimited resources at your disposal and the threats in the game really posing little danger to you. There are some satisfying moments in it like when you figure out how to make coffee or complete a puzzle without having to backtrack for ages but apart from that I didn’t find much else to like in Lone Survivor.
It’s very possible that my gripes are the result of my bias against the survival horror genre and I can’t not recommend the game because of that. Since it’s part of the Humble Bundle the cost to trying it out is exceedingly low, especially when you get so many other great games bundled along with it. For me personally though I don’t believe I’ll ever play through Lone Survivor again to see the alternate endings as I just don’t feel that there’s anything else in it for me. Whether it works for you though is an exercise that I’ll leave up to the reader as I don’t feel my rating can truly reflect the game’s experience, even if I adjust for my internal biases.
Lone Survivor is available right now on PC for any price you wish through the Humble Indie Bundle. Total game time was around 4 hours with the Blue ending and a rating of F.