Tag Archives: survival horror

The Last of Us: Remastered

51xISdGnMhLWhen I became vaguely aware of The Last of Us, I didn’t know very much at all. There’s a man and a girl, and they are making their way through a $zombie-infested landscape. Otherwise, the only remaining things I knew were that the genre was survival horror and that people had a great deal of praise for the game.

Having reached the end of my two-or-so-week run through the game, it is difficult to let myself say much more than that to you, the prospective player. It is entirely worth playing, and it is entirely worth playing unspoiled. The plot, the characters, and the setting all beg to be revealed in their own time. That said, I can throw you at least a few bones.

Is it grim and bleak? Sometimes. Never, I think, pointlessly. Every scenario reveals something important about the gameplay (at least, during the first quarter of the game before things normalize after you’ve seen most everything the gameplay has to offer), the setting, the plot, or the characters. Often multiple such important things, but always something. I think it’s fair to say there’s nothing wasted. And, to come back to my original point, while any $zombie setting or survival horror game will have bleakness to it, the bleakness is definitely not the point, nor is it incredibly common for that matter. The most obvious superficial comparison to my plot thumbnail above is The Road, but this is definitely not that, shared genre or not.

Does it look grim and bleak? Not at all! Yes, the ruins of civilization are all around, but everything is going back to nature, so if anything there’s far more brightness and greenery than usual, with occasional moments of sheer beauty. You know how New York City looked in Will Smith’s I Am Legend? It’s like that.

How was the world-building? Doled out sparingly on both the micro and macro levels. I cared about the explanation of events from a science fictional as well as from a personal perspective. That guy Ish and his notes about what happened to him outside Pittsburgh. Did they just tail off naturally, or did I miss a climactic reveal? Either outcome works thematically, and I wish I had the kind of time that would let me play through again. Not to learn the answer to that question, but to learn the answers to dozens of minor such questions.

How was the gameplay? It was the weakest aspect of the game, not because it was bad, but because it was nothing new or innovative (the Thief series has much better sneaking mechanics, and Gears of War and its successors have much better 3rd person combat mechanics, to toss out two obvious examples), and the rest of the game has, as far as I can tell, no weak points.

I can’t talk about the characters, or the events, or the climax. Yes, spoilers, but really because I’d be here all night. But man do I want to sit over some rum and geek out about basically everything that happened with someone else who played this. I still don’t know precisely how I feel about the way things turned out, and I won’t for a good long while, but this for sure: it was so, so good.

Also, the related shorter story Left Behind that was included in my download? Loved it too, and for all the same reasons. The seemingly unrelated multiplayer versus option? Don’t see any compelling reason for me to find out if that’s good, because it entirely misses the point of everything that makes this an amazing game, and I wish everything didn’t have to be multiplayer these days, frankly.

Oh, okay, I did think of one weakness to the game. There are no decisions to be made about the plot. In a way, I think there should be, even if only once or twice. In another way, though, I think the characters are fully realized enough that nothing could have happened differently than it did. Still, I know there are people who think it a weakness to have no control over events beyond whether you had to reload and replay the last little bit of combat or not, and it’s only fair to mention this aspect.

But the movie in between the bits of tactics and strategy is, as I may have already said once, so good.

Dead Space

71OSRxkysVL._SL1199_So, Dead Space. This is a game I should have completed and reviewed years ago. I mean, literally. Years. I started playing it in 2009, splitting time with my friend Billy. And after a couple-few weekends, we ran out of time and stopped, and I kept not playing it, thinking we’d pick it back up. But that never happened and I suppose never will, now.

I started over, anyway, and had a pretty good time at it. See, you’re this guy who is part of a team landing on a mining ship that sent a distress call and then went dark. It turns out that they had a really good reason in the forms of a weird alien artifact, a recent religion, and a bunch of undead things combined into the twilight of humanity. Unless, of course, you the player can find a way to survive the ship, prevent the coming apocalypse, and save your girlfriend.

At a high level, this game reminded me a lot of Ridley Scott’s Aliens. Too much religion, too much focus on dismemberment as the best way to kill things instead of just shooting them a lot. But the aloneness, the helplessness in the face of superior forces with no good way to leave except by killing everything in your path, and the essential alienness of the foe? It is a good recipe, and probably made the game better than it deserved to be by proxy. But hey, as long as I have fun, whatever works is cool by me.

Silent Hill 2: Restless Dreams

They may eventually get bad, but so far, I cannot say enough good things about the Silent Hill series. And unlike last time, this is one I had… well, okay, I had played it before, but I never finished. Last time was spooky and inexplicably satanic, I think? Whereas Silent Hill 2 (and, I hope, the future entries as well) was deeply psychological, with no hallucinogenic drug rings to be seen. I should first mention that although the 360 claims backward compatibility, there were still some sound bugs, less bad than last time but still present, and also I found out an hour in that you can only have one save game slot, total, or the whole thing falls apart. So that bit of replaying sucked.

But the rest of the time? Awesome stuff. See, there’s this guy James, and he’s come back to Silent Hill where he and his wife Mary had the best vacation of their lives, years before, because Mary has sent him a letter asking that he meet at their “special place”. Only, Mary’s been dead for three years, the town is mostly abandoned and all the roads into it are blocked, and the people he does meet are split between disturbing homicidal creatures, seemingly disturbed humans, an oblivious child, and a doppelganger of his dead wife, a stripper named Maria. Oh, and a hulking, unstoppable brute with a giant sword and a red pyramid-shaped helmet who is bar none the scariest dude I’ve ever seen in a video game.

In the midst of these dangers, James must unravel the mystery of his wife’s summons and the dark history of the town, and in some ways, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. All this amidst the best kind of bump-in-the-night sounds, a moody score, and halfway decent graphics. Even while playing the short prequel with backstory on Maria after I finished the main sequence, there still managed to be a moment when I got an accidental adrenaline jolt from an unexpected bad guy popping up in front of me. I am impressed, it’s been awhile since a game managed that!

Resident Evil 4

Although completion of the main game revealed several shorter alternate game options, and although I actually do intend to look into and maybe even fully play through those options[1], I think it is fair to review Resident Evil 4 solely on the strength of the main storyline. The setting is some years after the fall of the Umbrella Corporation and the destruction of the T-virus, famous for its ability to create zombies. You play as Leon Kennedy, formerly of Resident Evil 2, who is now part of the Secret Service (I guess?) and has been sent to a small village in Spain to follow leads on the kidnapping of the President’s daughter, Ashley, whose only real utilities are a) to provide a sense of immediacy by being constantly kidnapped again or otherwise placed into danger and b) to provide a sense of fan service by wearing a Catholic schoolgirl skirt and hitting on the late 20s-something Leon according to the script of a Gordon Sumner song.

Of course, no Resident Evil game would make sense without zombies, and this is no exception. Well, that is, they aren’t technically undead zombies so much as parasitically-controlled voodoo zombies, but the point remains the same. Add in several more-dramatically mutated foes and a variety of ever-larger weapons with which to fight them, plus a handful of familiar antagonists and allies and a truly inspired Napoleonic midget, and, well, now it’s sounding like a Resident Evil game. Thankfully, I really enjoy those, and so with this, despite not having a modern console on which to generate acceptable graphics. Still, that’s what Resident Evil 5 will be for, once I get around to it. As far as the Wii aspect of the game? I actually think that the specialty controller makes this kind of game more immersive, what with the actually aiming at the screen and all, but still. It is telling that I’ve only ever finished two games on the Wii over the lifespan of the console.

[1] Cue derisive laughter

Silent Hill

It is a true fact that a few weeks ago I read a graphic novel whose primary accomplishment was making me itch to play the games, none of which I had ever finished besides the first one, and that with the worst possible ending. The itch is not really scratched, since there are so many chapters in the series and so very little revealed storyline per entry[1], but I have indeed replayed that first Silent Hill game. Which is impressive when you realize that it’s 11 years old and yet seems to have no more than double the graphic quality of a 2600 game.

I am perhaps exaggerating, but man was it hard to play on this giant, giant screen. The sound was still awesomely atmospheric and scary as I remembered, except for the bug that would randomly set up an unstoppable whine when I fired weapons. And the story… it’s a mess. It’s like, I really wanted to know what was going on, and I do more or less have some idea, but there had to have been a way to throw more cohesive plotting in with the creepy faceless knife-wielding children and possessed nurses and ubiquitous skinless dogs and pterodactyls to fight-or-run-away-from. What plot there was, I liked, though? Apparently, this guy and his daughter decide to visit a town, only to get into a car accident on the outskirts resulting in the girl going missing, and the guy fighting his way across a town in the throes of both demon worship and a hallucinogenic drug ring. …for some reason? I don’t know if there’s more I should expect to learn later or if I should just be rolling with it. At least I was able to in my mid-twenties, and I do still want to play more of them and see what else I can figure out.

[1] This reminds me of the Saw movies.

Left 4 Dead

These past several Mondays, my regular game of Halo 3 has rapidly and with a feeling of potential permanency changed to a new game. Left 4 Dead is close to unique in my experience in that it has almost no single-player component, no particular plot beyond the thumbnail sketch of world destroyed by zombiepocalypse with which we are all so familiar, no character growth to speak of. It is a pure game experience, divorced entirely from any other considerations. I mention this primarily to explain why you’re getting this review instead of a variety of other games I have played for considerably more hours but not yet completed. Halo 3, for example!

The inevitable big question, therefore, is how does the gameplay work out? I haven’t played by myself, but I’ve played a few other ways: two-player split-screen, two-player online, four-player online, and up to four-versus-four player as well, in all four game maps. So I’ve pretty much hit the whole thing by now. In case you don’t know what a zombiepocalypse is… you know what, nevermind. I think you’re just not allowed to read this anymore. Because, come on! Anyhow, there are these four single-dimensional survivor characters about whom you can tell basically everything just by looking at them, and they are surrounded on all sides both by hordes of zombies and by specialized über-zombies that grow to incredible strength, have entangling frog-tongues, pouncing cat leaps, or blinding toxic sludge. And the goal is to either cross the dead, destroyed city (or whatever) to unexpected safety, or, on the other side of the aisle, to devour all flesh.

Hey, look! I haven’t really said how the gameplay works out! It is frenetic, fast-paced terror as the survivors. Everywhere you turn, there could be a zombie with nothing to lose, whose only goal is to hurt you a little bit more, in the knowledge that you’ll be dead eventually. You’ve got limited weapons and ammo, limited ability to heal yourself, and essentially unlimited enemies. And as the zombies, it’s a strategic game of cat and mouse, in which you have nigh unlimited ability to find the survivors, and if you’re doing it right, herd them into cooperative traps with your über-zombie cohorts. You always come back, the only penalty for death being a period when you can’t keep attacking. On the downside, you’re pretty easy to kill and it’s hard to attack people who can shoot you from across the parking lot, well outside your range.

I guess it’s like this. Remember when Roddenberry introduced the holodeck in Star Trek, and any time the writers got tired of aliens, they’d have the opportunity to do a historical simulation of some kind, inevitably from the ever-popular twentieth century? The way I see the game is like this: thanks in part to the brilliantly conceived XBox Live network’s capability for connecting you with friends and letting you easily communicate with them however you want to, but mostly due to the beauty of the game itself, I see Left 4 Dead as pretty much the last necessary link for zombiepocalypse experience other than the invention of the holodeck.[1] It might actually be the perfect video game experience.

[1] Which really won’t ever happen, since the event itself will hit long before our technology is ready for a holodeck version.