Thursday, 30 December 2010

Dog Soldiers - Horror Film Review

Not that keen on Werewolves truth be told.  I don't know why, I have just never found them particularly scary or interesting monsters.  I'm the same with the films.  Wolf man was lame, American Werewolf in London/Paris are ok, did not like The Howling or any of its sequels, and Werewolves are my least favourite part of the Twilight saga.  Dog Soldiers is a British horror film released in 2002.

A British Army Squadron is on a training mission in woodland up in Scotland against a Special Ops Squad.  During the mission they come across the Special Ops base camp and find nearly everyone dead, the victims seem to have been eaten by some sort of animal.  Finding some survivors they head off to get help but soon come under attack by strange giant wolf type creatures.  Bumping into a travelling Zoologist they retreat to a desolate farmhouse where they must defend themselves against constant attack by what turns out to be Werewolves until morning comes and the moon passes.

The early trailers for this film were not good at all due to their misleading nature making the film seem like it was going to be a comedy.  The film has humour in it, and intentional humour at that but for the most part the film is pure horror.  The film is roughly split into 2 parts.  The first part is set in deep woodland and has the characters discovering what is going on, the 2nd half is very static and set in the under siege farmhouse.  The parts go together well, and feels like a natural progression rather than a jarring mismatch.

There is a lot of black humour in this film, from a dog that repeatedly tries to eat an injured mans internal organs (hanging out of him) to a Soldier throwing a stick and shouting at the Werewolf to 'fetch'.  The characters themselves are all 'blokes' so there is a lot of banter littered with swearing, manhood questioning, and football.  As Soldiers the cast come across as convincing and tough.  The only bad character is the Zoologist Megan (Emma Cleasby) whose character is a bit flat and just doesn't seem to have any depth to her.

The Werewolves are all done via suits and animatronics.  They don't look too great in motion being 8 foot tall awkward looking and very unreal gangly things.  It is best when they are lost in the darkness as light reveals the effects to not be that convincing.  The Werewolf transformation scenes are poor, being in general someone who is about to turn falling under a convenient object as a Human, emerging as a fully turned Werewolf; a bit lame.

The film has plenty of gore, lots and lots of the stuff as well as miscellaneous squelchy body parts which is always appreciated as well as some cool werewolf injuries such as a Werewolf that gets a silver tap jammed in its head, a Werewolf who spends most its time with a big sword sticking though its chest, and a Werewolf that gets its hand/paw lopped off.

The plot is very basic, there are some twists and turns but nothing to get excited about.  Special mention must go to the quite humorous ending shot of a newspaper.  A good British film, with decent acting and likable characters, it is just a shame that it is a Werewolf film rather than a monster that is interesting.


Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Overlord and Lair of the Shadow Broker - Mass Effect 2 DLC Review (X-Box 360)

I have finally got around to playing the final two slices of DLC (downloadable content) for the mighty epic space opera that is Mass Effect 2. Overlord is a stand alone mission that sees you matching wits with an omnipotent V.I, while Lair of the Shadow Broker ties more into the main story line of Mass Effect 2 seeing you team up with Liara T'Soni as you track down the enigmatic Shadow Broker.

In Overlord you (as Commander Shepherd) arrive on a Cerberus base on the Planet Aite after Cerberus looses contact with the outpost.  You soon come under attack from both the Geth (sentient A.I) and robots under the control of a V.I intelligence that has gone rogue.  Cerberus had a plan to link up a Human mind with a V.I who could then connect with the Geth consciousness and thus get them to end their assault on the Galaxy.  Things immediately went wrong with the enraged V.I hybrid cutting off communications from the outside world and butchering all the inhabitants of the base.

After an exciting intro to the mission where you must disable a giant satellite dish to stop the V.I from leaving the Planet (its aim was to take over control of all electronics in the Universe) things become more sedate.  There are 3 locks that must be disabled before access to the V.I mainframe can be done.  This involves driving around in the M-44 Hammerhead in an open world environment.  Vehicle sections are not Mass Effect 2's greatest achievement so the driving sections are competent, but nothing special.  The missions to disable the locks are ok, definitely not too exciting and feel Mass Effect by numbers.

The last part of the mission sees you getting to the mainframe itself.  Shepherd gets attacked by the V.I and is sent into a virtual reality where she learns what happened to cause the rouge V.I (again Cerberus are shown to be highly suspect).  The DLC is quite cool, the Lawnmower man type floating green head is cool, as is its freaky feedback screams. The payoff of the classic moral choice is quite cool.  Overall though while a good mission, it is not anything special and so if you love Mass Effect 2 then get it, but it is just more of the same.


Lair of the Shadow Broker is an epic mission.  Cerberus information provides some key Intel on the location of the mysterious Shadow Broker (a suspect information gatherer).  After giving this info to Liara T'Soni (she wants the Shadow Broker dead after the death of her partner) she promptly vanishes after a failed assassination attempt.  You follow her to an office block where all hell brakes loose with the building exploding and the arrival of the Shadow Brokers personal Army gunning for you. An exciting chase across the skies of Illium after Liara's assassin leads to a mid point boss fight (some ace dialogue here!).  The 2nd half of the DLC mission sees you arrive at the Shadow Brokers floating fortress for an epic showdown with him.

The DLC ties up some loose ends and gives good payoff in extra information on all the major characters of Mass Effect as well as ongoing awards such as cool little video clips, investment opportunities, and the conclusion to Shepherds relationship with Liara.

If you like Mass Effect 2 then this DLC is quite essential, it really feels like a proper section of the game rather than a throwaway mission (such as Overlord).  There is lots of story, and exciting cut scenes and the whole Shadow Broker Lair section of the game looks beautiful.  If I had any complaints it would be that by this point in the game (takes place after the last mission in the main game) I was quite over powered and cleaved my way through everyone without breaking a sweat.


Sunday, 26 December 2010

Horror Express - Zombie Film Review (DVD)

I got a load of horror films for Christmas, one of which was Horror Express, a classic starring the horror alumni of Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Telly Savalas.  The film came out in the 1972 and has the feel of a classic Hammer Horror film.  The tone of the film is very similar to 'The Thing' with an alien presence with the ability to possess it's victims.

The film starts with Christopher Lees character Alexander Saxton discovering the frozen body of a large primate that Saxton thinks is the missing link between man and ape.  He decides to transport it via train on the Trans-Siberian Express but strange occurrences start to happen.  People keep on ending up dead around the crate the frozen body is being kept in. It isn't long until the giant Ape is discovered to be alive (though unfortunately it has already escaped at this point).  It seems the Ape is able to suck out the intelligence of its victims via its glowing red eyes and that the creature is able to get more and more knowledge this way.  Eventually the ape is destroyed but not before the alien intelligence has managed to transfer itself into someone elses body.  It is up to Saxton, his rival Dr Wells (Peter Cushing) and a few others to discover who the host of the evil is and to put a stop to it.

Nearly the entire film is set on a train (hence the title 'Horror Express'), but despite this is never boring.  The victims deaths reminded me of Fulci's zombies in 'City of the Living Dead' with the bleeding eyes.  The films score is of the time but really quite good with the film held together by a score that transcends the boundaries of film by having various characters whistling the theme, as well as a woman playing the theme on her piano at one point.  I guess if I was going to be geeky I could suggest that it transfers itself around much like the alien consciousness does.

The origins of the creature are explained eventually but there is a good sub plot of a monk who is convinced that the evil is Satan itself.  It is interesting and unexpected that the giant Ape creature does not survive long into the film, I was starting to think the film was going to be a monster one when instead it turns more into a thriller.  The alien can only kill people with its glowing eyes when in darkness, this makes for some great shots of various people it has possessed looking menacingly at the camera lit from beneath.

Cushing and Lee play off each other wonderfully.  While they are rivals in work, they are united in the fact that they are both Englishmen, and so come together whenever there honour as an Englishman is questioned.  Terry Savalas very nearly steals the film despite his late entrance 4/5's of the way through.  He plays an insane Cossack guard who somehow seems to know exactly what is happening on the train.  His screen time is just that little bit too brief to totally steal the film but he makes a damn good stab at it; very entertaining!

The film does feel very old, but it is also good, and quite original (made before John Carpenters remake of The Thing). Some terrible acting, and a man who inadvertently looks like a cat as well as a decent score make the film never outstay its 90 minute run time.  Lastly just when you think it is all over the zombies appear, a great end to a good film!

I apologise for the nature of this review, I am room less at my sisters so am constantly being moved around like some kind of enclosed vagrant, having to take the laptop and other junk with me whenever I get moved on from my latest spot.


Saturday, 25 December 2010

Touch the Dead - Zombie Videogame Review (Nintendo DS)

It is Christmas so here is a totally non related review of a horror game set in Summer (maybe?). The game was originally called 'Dead and Furious' which is actually a better title than Touch the Dead (after all who wants to touch corpses?).  Even the title screen music features someone shouting "dead and furious!"  Touch the Dead is an on rails shooter using the stylus to shoot the various enemies by tapping them with it.

The comic book style intro sees you as Rob Steiner a Prisoner who has recently been transferred to a mysterious Prison. In the middle of the night your Prison door opens, taking the opportunity to escape you hastily leave only to find the Prison empty. You find a discarded gun and head off into the deserted Prison in search of an exit.  Instead you find hundreds of zombies; the former inmates and staff!

The games story is really basic with you discovering story via locations you go to in search of escape.  Starting off in the Prison you exit to the Medical and Science wing where by visual clues it seems that scientists were experimenting on the inmates and that something went terribly wrong.  The game takes place over 4 chapters, each chapter made up of 3 stages ending in a boss fight.  Even when you finally escape the complex you are not safe as it is situated in the middle of a vast swamp miles from anywhere and populated by nightmare creatures.

You cant control Steiner, instead he automatically walks through the levels exploring rooms while you are in charge of his gun hand.  Sometimes Steiner will get to a crossing where you can choose which route to go down.  Dotted around the levels are crates which hold ammo and health as well as upgrades for your weapons and unlockable artwork.  You kill enemies by tapping them with your stylus that acts as you shooting them.  You have to manually reload your weapons which you do by dragging an ammo clip from one side of the screen to your gun chamber which is on the other.

For the most part enemies are various types of zombies.  Mostly the zombies attack by getting close to you and then clawing or biting you though some hold back and instead fling their head at you.  The zombies are varied; starting off with inmate and Prison staff zombies you gradually encounter Dr zombies, Army zombies and rotting zombies.  Other animals have also become zombified, these creatures include rats, bats, maggots and even Alligators.  Every now and again military drones turn up to give you added grief.  The bosses are mostly giant zombie cyborgs being in various stages of creation (such as a rocket firing cyborg zombie torso you fight at the end of chapter 2 who is still attached to a conveyor strip).

The sound effects are great, only the title screen and boss fights have music (generic but cool hard rock) while the rest of the game oozes atmosphere.  On rooftops you get howling wind, in the Prison you hear screams echoing down the corridors, all really well done.

The game looks terrible it must be said, it looks like an early Playstation game with really blocky and ugly looking textures.  Shooting zombies results in them loosing chunks off them, and even getting large holes in them as well as the loss of naff looking thick blood goblets that fly off.  There are cut scenes throughout but just usually one liners that see Steiner taking the mick out of the games bosses.  For the most part you are just shooting enemies, though later you get access to a crowbar that can be used to bash open doors.

The very last chapter is kinda annoying as it features a really boring boss fight followed by a very strict 5 minute time limit to get through a zombie packed warehouse, failing this results in you being put back to before the boring as heck and fiddly boss fight.

The game is fun though and despite the difference in control style feels like a companion piece to Dementium: The Ward.  Both are kinda ugly, have amazing atmospherics, brief stories and long meandering levels.


Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Splatterhouse 3 - Horror Videogame Review (X-Box 360)

I played this game many moons ago on a Megadrive emulator on my PC.  The game felt very hard to me but I put that down to using a Keyboard for something that's designed to be played with a Controller.  I had hoped it would appear on the Nintendo Wii's Virtual Console like the previous games in the series but alas that did not happen.  Luckily the game has finally appeared; as an unlock-able in the newly released Splatterhouse remake.

The game takes place around 5 years after the events of Splatterhouse 2 and life is going good for ex mask wearing psychopath Rick.  He has married his one love Jennifer, they have a lovely little boy named David and they live in a humorously large mansion.  Disaster strikes as the big bad Nameless One once again rears his ugly head (heads?).  He assaults Rick at his house, leaving him left for dead, his house possessed by Demons and the fate of his wife and child unknown.  Donning the power giving Mask once again Rick heads off into the depths of his house to get back the ones he loves.

Unlike the other 2 games in the series this game is a scrolling beat em up with each of the games 6 levels taking place on a different floor of the mansion.  Each floor comprises of a small maze of rooms, in each room you fight various Demons and after they are beaten the doors to the adjoining rooms open and by pressing Start you bring up a map of the level with which to plan your route to the levels boss (indicated by a large red X).  Each level has a strict time limit which affects the fate of your family members so the quickest route is needed if your to have any chance of getting the good ending.  However the quickest route is full of the toughest enemies while going off route nets you weapons and extra lives.

The game is extremely hard and quite unfair with the average enemy able to take off up to half of your health bar in one hit (some can even take off 3/4 of your health which is soul destroying!).  The first 2 levels are fun to play through but after that each encounter is a nerve wrecking health destroyer.  The enemies mostly comprise of Demons, with the first few levels giving you headless zombies as easy cannon fodder and later ones giving you Demon dogs, blobs, and spiky things reminiscent of the remakes monsters. Enemies can only attack horizontally but you move so slowly that it can be tough to avoid their attacks regardless.  Getting hit too much sends you flying into the air and onto your back where you lays like an idiot for several seconds before slowly standing up.

The game does feature some great bosses with the level 3 boss being the best of the lot.  The fight takes place in your Sons bedroom and has you fighting a photo realistic digitised teddy bear, as with all boss fights, and enemy fights there is a second form to fight, the bear rips in half to reveal a Demon wearing the teddy bear suit like some sort of costume.  This is also the first game where you actually get to fight the Mask itself (though kinda odd that even while fighting the Mask you are still wearing it as well (Paradox!).

The game is gory mostly due to the enemies second forms which usually involve either their heads being coated in blood, or part of their head being destroyed.  Fighting a Demon whose head is made up of hundreds of writhing maggots is not pleasant!  Fighting this time though does not lead to the inventive deaths of the previous games, with most encounters leading to the dead enemy just dissolving into goo.

Weapons are far less frequent and as soon as they are knocked out your hand a ghost appears and carries off the weapon.  You have access to punches, jumping kicks as well as head-butts, throws and a powerful and needed spinning kick that renders you invincible for several seconds.  You can transform into Demonic Rick which makes your attacks far more powerful, yourself much less likely to take massive damage but also slows you down to a snails crawl.

To be honest I was gutted with this game, there is so much potential but it is squandered by the difficulty which even on normal makes the game a miserable experience.  It makes me sad that this game is not great as it is easy to see how this could have been so if not for the hardness.  The time limits for each level are harsh, by the end of the game my wife was dead, my son dead and the destruction of the World only narrowly averted due to running out of time constantly.  The game is worth playing but only just, a real shame.


Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Sniper Defense - Zombie Videogame Review (X-Box Indie)

I have a huge back log of demos to play on my X-Box 360, I chose Sniper Defense at random and didn't even realise it was a zombie survival game until it had started.  Indie games are usually bad as I have often said so I was not expecting much at all.

The game is up to 4 players and sees you as a sniper manning a barricade.  Zombies wander onto the screen from the left and head toward a barricade on the right.  You aim a red reticule with the aim of taking out all zombies, with each wave of zombies you survive you gain money with which to buy new weapons.  Starting out with a pistol you can buy machine guns, shotguns, flare guns and more to complement the gun with.

Zombies are in various stages of decomposing and range from fat to skinny to crawling ghouls.  You get weird blue zombies who fly onto screen and then charge for the barricade but for the most part they just slowly stumble on from the left.  I played the first few rounds and must say it was extremely boring, not once did I feel remotely like my barricade was in danger.  I am sure the game will speed up and finally becoming a tense shooting fest but I was falling asleep long before it got tricky.

The game is 80 Microsoft points so is the cheapest it could be but it is really really boring and looks bland as Hell, even shooting the zombies is not satisfying as they instantly vanish the second they hit the ground. A sniper game in which you don't ever use a sniper rifle; ace.


Monday, 20 December 2010

Splatterhouse - Horror Videogame Review (X-Box 360)

Splatterhouse is a modern day reimagining of the classic horror trilogy.  Splatterhouse games were very bloody for the time, but they also contained an element of actual horror to them.  This remake is an action brawler, I guess it most closely resembles the style of Splatterhouse 3 which is a scrolling beat em up.

As in the previous games you play as Rick Taylor, this time he is a College Student who has gone to the mansion of renowned Scientist Dr West with his girlfriend.  The game begins with Rick laying in a pool of blood in the Mansions entrance hall.  He is dying, his girlfriend Jennifer has been kidnapped by Dr West, and a strange Aztec mask is talking to him.  The mask tells Rick to put it on and with his last energy he does just that.  The mask transforms nerdy Rick into a hulking brute and then tells him that until Rick has safely rescued his Jennifer it will possess him, granting him super human strength in the process.  With his new found power Rick heads off into the bowels of the Mansion, hot on Dr Wests tail.

The plot in this game is really quite basic but well told.  Basically West wants to resurrect his dead wife, to do this he plans to use Jennifer as a sacrifice to bring the dark Gods to Earth.  There are plenty of cut scenes, while all simple and not too exciting they do provide motive to Rick as well as slowly through the course of the game reveal the events leading up to Ricks near death.  As you play through the game you unlock Journals from Dr West which provide the sad back story to West and his descent into madness.

This game is a very bloody 3D brawler,  maybe not surprising for a game called Splatterhouse but there is literally mountains of over the top blood and gore in this.  By the end of the game you must have fought at least 1000 monsters all killed in brutal and bloody fashion.  When an enemy is near death it gets a red outline which indicates that Rick is able to perform a QTE on it.  Rick pulls enemies in half, rips eyeballs, limbs and heads off creatures and even for one monster rams his arm up its backside and pulls out its intestines!  Every hit you do creates pints of blood.  Combat is quite simple, the usual light and heavy attacks but Rick is also able to rip limbs off enemies to use as make shift weapons as well as to use special moves (arms turn into giant blades and the ability to create shock waves).  Your magic meter is constantly filled up by the blood of your foes which allow you to do these special moves.

Enemies are all monsters, they range from very weak ghouls to zombies (Rick notes they were formally students from his College), giant frogs, evil clowns and lots of  Eternal Darkness style Demons.  Bosses are not too frequent, but it is nice to see slight homages to previous bosses from the series such as the duel chainsaw wielding butcher, and mirror versions of Rick.  You fight these over a variety of locations, while you initially are in the West Mansion, just like previous games a lot of the action takes place elsewhere.  Time Portals send you both to post apocalyptic New York, a ruined fairground and even America pre 1800's.  The levels are littered with various weapons such as 4x4's, swords, cleavers, and even a shotgun (first found via a cheeky nod to Evil Dead!).

The game is dumb fun and it has been said that you have seen everything the game has to offer within 5 minutes of playing.  This is kinda true, for the most part you fight hordes of enemies until the next doorway opens for you to proceed.  Some levels feature fun old school style 2D sections that revolve around avoiding obstacles such as spinning blades and spiky plants.  The music is not very good; a load of death metal licenced tracks play during fighting which I guess are ok but do not help to make the game feel at all similar to the tone of the previous games which felt like game versions of 80's horror flicks.

The game has quite a bit of replayability such as hidden items to find (scraps of photos of Ricks girlfriend Jennifer who for some reason appears to be topless in nearly all the photos you find), audio diaries of Dr West, varying difficulties to play though as well as a Survival mode which sees you in an arena and tasked to survive 20 waves of enemies.  The game even has easy to unlock versions of the original trilogy (very cool as Splatterhouse is here in its uncensored form and Splatterhouse 3 is like gold dust).

The game is nothing special, but I did have a lot of fun with it despite agonisingly long load times and cell shading that gives the game a comic book look to it (I have never liked cell shading).  It is already half price due to poor sales (cost me £18).  Don't look at it as one game, see it as 4 games as the originals are still fantastic and worth paying money for!  Horror as done by music videos.


Sunday, 19 December 2010

Tales of Horror: Zombies - Horror Book Review

Tales of Horror: Zombies is a light weight A4 sized book(let) which as far as I can tell is aimed at the teenage market.  It covers a range of topics about zombies that range from zombie films, to zombie myths and legends from around the world.

It seems the Tales of Horror: Zombies is part of a series of light weight books designed for casual fans of all things Horror.  Other books in the series include Aliens, Vampires, Werewolves, Ghosts and Monsters.  At 32 pages long, and with giant pictures everywhere this is very casual and covers topics with next to no information, and seemingly at random.

Starting off with an introduction to zombies the book goes onto talk about real life zombies (in the form of Voodoo), zombie myths (such as Viking Draugrs and Golems) then finally talks about zombies in films like Frankenstein and Shaun of the Dead.

My problem with this book is that for a zombie fan like me all the information is already known for the most part.  I do admit that I had never heard of the legend of Chinese Hopping Corpses!  For such a brief tour of the creatures the inclusion of sub-zombies such as Mummies and Frankensteins Monster was predictable but maybe a unnecessary divergence.  I wondered if it was wise having a topic on zombies in films when the book is aimed at people under the age of 18 but the films they do talk about are mostly under that age rating anyway (Night of the Living Dead is an 18 admittedly).

The text is very brief and simple, the pictures are quite awful for the most part being crude computer generated images such as a digital skeleton bursting out of a digital grave.  I guess this was done for cheapness as the book does not have the feel of a quality item.  Overall though the book is a good introduction for zombie virgins and hopefully helped to at least make some people see just how amazing zombies are!


Saturday, 18 December 2010

Santa and the Zombie Encounter - Zombie Horror Videogame Review (X-Box Indie)

It's getting near Christmas so the Xmas games are bursting into bloom on the X-Box Indie Channel.  With zombies still very much in vogue (zombies are a god send for game designers as they don't require any A.I whatsoever) it was not surprising to see a Christmas/Zombie crossover.

Santa and the Zombie Encounter sees you playing as the fat man himself; Santa.  The game starts with Santa laying prone in the snow, the remains of his crashed sleigh around him, presents scattered everywhere.  Over this plays March of the Sugar Plum Fairy (one of the ultimate Christmas songs).  It really is quite atmospheric for an Indie game.  Maybe this time there is a game that actually has had some effort and seriousness put into it?..that is then promptly ruined when Santa lets out a 'hilarious' fart and stands up.  Santa's task is to traverse the snowy fields he finds himself in, looking for his missing Reindeer while avoiding hostile wildlife, and hundreds and hundreds of zombies who seem to have come from log cabins situated about the place.

The story is minimal but does its job, not requiring words to explain what needs to be done.  A really cool opening, and the best part of the game by far.  The graphics are less cartoony than i expected.  Santa, the wildlife, and the zombies are all to scale, and realistic interpretations rather than goofy over the top ones.  A special mention must go to the blood.  Blood on snow looks great (as demonstrated in the excellent Dead Snow) and here it is no different.  The blood is a dark red wine colour, and not thick, but splotchy.  I was expecting bright red stupid looking blood, so this was a welcome surprise.

The game is a twin stick shooter, with the right shoulder button used to fire your gun.  It takes place from a near overhead perspective. It starts with you choosing your weapon set for Santa.  I went for Machine Gun with Flame Thrower attachment, but others such as Mini-Gun, Shotgun and Grenades and others is available.

By killing wildlife, zombies, and leading your lost Reindeer back to the sleigh you get money.  This money can be used to upgrade Santa's health, increase weapon damage, and increase the clip size of your weapons.  Rather than take place over one screen there are a variety of different locations you can travel to which is cool, though travelling between each one brings up quite a lengthy load screen.

I have to admit this game really is not bad.  At 240 Microsoft Points it is a tad expensive for an Indie game, and put me off actually buying it rather than just playing the demo.  It is a shame that the Christmas music only plays over the intro section, while for the game proper it is silent save for the loud noise your weapons make.  The zombies are plentiful and even include boss zombies (such as a mad axe man zombie I came across).  The tone of the game is more serious than usual, but a completely straight faced survival tale would have been more welcome (as soon as Santa farted my hope for the game died).  Still; not bad, not bad at all.  Up to 4 players also if that is the sort of thing to float your boat.


Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Nier - Action RPG Videogame Review (X-Box 360)

Nier has gotten some quite average reviews, Joystiq in particular had venom for this game with the reviewer giving up playing it rather than finish it for review.  I do not agree with Joystiq, or most of the other critics.  The game is very good, and yes, it does have some budget issues but it is a affecting game that pushes at the boundaries of emotions in videogames.

Nier takes place in a post Apocalyptic world.  But it takes place over 1000 years after Armageddon.  The land has regressed into a Medieval style with small villages, and City states.  You play as a Warrior whose daughter has a terminal disease called The Black Scrawl.  You roam the lands doing odd jobs, and fighting monsters in a bid to discover a cure for your daughters disease.  The Black Scrawl is what nearly eradicated Humanity in the Armageddon.  It is a disease that turns Humans into monstrous beings called Shades.  Quite early in the game you come across a magical intelligent book called Weiss.  Weiss reminds you of a legend that said the cure to the Black Scrawl could be found if you used the White Grimoire to collect Sealed Verses to defeat a Black Grimoire with.  With Weiss granting the hero the ability to use magic they set out to recover the lost Sealed Verses.  Along the way they team up with a shunned foul mouthed woman Kaine as well as a troubled boy magician called Emil.

The game at first seems very Zelda like.  It is an action adventure game that sees you as the Hero visiting various Towns and dungeons.  Unlike Zelda though you gain experience and level up that leads to more health and power.  There are lots and lots of weapons you can collect including spears and swords.  These can be upgraded also.  The game is very combat heavy with only one dungeon really offering anything in the way of puzzles.  One dungeon turns the game into a Diablo clone, while a whole set of dungeons takes the form of very well written basic text adventures!

There is lots to do other than fight.  The game features many many side quests that various villagers will ask you to do.  These range from defeating rare uber monsters to collecting items from around the world, as well as fishing.  Goats, Sheep, Deer and other animals roam the world and killing them releases useful items.  Plants and other materials also randomly litter the game world.  You get the ability to fish which while initially very frustrating due to incorrect instructions becomes quite fun.

The enemies are varied but mainly compose of similar looking shades.  Shades are semi transparent and look like creatures made up of abstract shimmering shapes.  The main types are humanoid men and children, but larger more monstrous enemies make appearances.  Bosses are really quite cool.  Robots, Monsters, Machines all appear as unique boss experiences.  The attack on your village by an invincible giant shade is a particular highlight.

The game has a wonderful story.  While at heart a simple tale of a man protecting his daughter the game presents you with situations that are just not black or white, and are quite affecting.  Characters die, main and secondary alike, there are twists and turns to the story, and nothing is clear cut.  One side quest ended with you having to make the choice whether to tell a dying old woman that her true love was dead and had been for 50 years, kept alive by the lies of the Towns Postmaster who had been fabricating letters in order to keep the woman un heartbroken.  There is lots of this type of situation abound which is helped by the wonderful soundtrack.

 The music is really amazing.  It creates a large sense of bleakness, and mournfulness that creates a sense that this is a world on the brink of extinction.  Nowhere does the game change this view.  When good things do happen you can be sure its not going to last.  Usually a cut scene later and something harrowing has occurred to screw up the lives of the characters even more.

The voice acting is very good, you really come to like the characters.  Weiss is a sarcastic book who is deeply patronising, his relationship with Kaine in particular is quite amusing.  Kaine herself is very foul mouthed, something which the game has been criticised for.  The reasons for her cussiness are revealed though, and she swears in context, rather than for the sake of it. My favourite line of hers was during a boss fight where she shouts at a gigantic monster 'I'm going to rip out your fu*king eye and p*ss in the socket!'.  The game is very self aware, Weiss constantly challenging Kaine's swearing, as well as taking the mickey out of the hero for accepting any side quest whatsoever (as does one side quest giver who says something along the lines of 'I heard your the guy who will do anything for people.  Well I want you to dance for me! Dance for me! Bwahahaha!').

I really don't understand all the indifference this game got.  It is very addictive, bloody, action packed, and deeply affecting.  It is quite cheap and I would really recommend people getting this game and giving it a go.  Keep in mind it is very Japanese in feeling.  Talking of Japan, the Japanese release of the game featured a younger Hero to appeal to their view of what a main character should be.

I know this review is not great, but to be honest I am suffering from a awful chest infection and everything hurts!


Saturday, 11 December 2010

A Madman's Guide to Happiness (2010) - Horror Videogame Review (X-Box 360)

I continue my assault on the dirge of the X-Box Indie Channel.  It sometimes depresses me how much I must have spent on crappy games in the name of horror. A Madman's Guide to Happiness is a very shallow, light on content game that contains barely any game at all.

The game takes place on the PC of a suicide victim. There are five folders, each containing information on how to be happy in life, as well as simple puzzles, and 'disturbing' images. You are a detective who is first on the scene of the suicide.  As you root through the files you discover the victim was quite unstable, and also that the folders were not intended for your eyes to see. It all leads to quite a predictable end it has to be said.

Each of the five folders consists of one puzzle, and then a few pages of text gibberish talking about princesses and demons. The puzzles are extremely simple, requiring you to choose one of four options using the buttons on the 360 Controller. The actual concept of the game taking place on a fake desktop is interesting, but there is no effort put into it, content is minimal, and more criminal is that this is boring to boot.

The 'game' is 80 Microsoft points, so as cheap as possible, but it is boring, and frankly a lazily made game.  Avoid like the plague!


Friday, 10 December 2010

Shock Horror Issue 2 - Review (Magazine)

Well, wow what an improvement! That is not to say that issue 1 was bad, but it was certainly full of noticeable errors.  Issue 2 really feels more settled, and comfortable.

The main feature this month is an extremely interesting article on the master Christopher Lee.  The article (written by Simon Lucas) is full of really interesting facts I never knew about the legend.  For instance; as a child Christopher Lee met Rasputin's killer (Lee played the part of Rasputin in Hammer Horrors 'The Mad Monk Rasputin').  A menagerie of different friends I bored by reeling off all the facts the article provided!

Dr Dale from the Zombie School of Survival returns with his 2nd lesson for Shock Horror readers.  While his Podcast can be patchy, and seems aimed at a young demographic his classes in Shock Horror are really funny, and genuinely make me laugh out loud.  Dr Dale is a genius!

The film reviews are much more interesting it seems, though I cant quite say why.  Some of the films I had not heard of and will be tracking down, while others such as Frozen I have heard only bad things about, so reading such a glowing review (4 out of 5) has made me now want to see the film despite the warning of friends.  The Videogame reviews do seem better researched this time, and less like Press Releases, though still not great (they should ask me to write them! Heh, I am really geeky when it comes to Videogames as that's my main love).

Other entertaining articles include one on Arrow Videos which has really made me want to splash out on all the Video Nasties the company is releasing in beautiful form, and an interview with Tim Sullivan (of 2001 Maniacs fame), though other articles such as Screenwriters Surgery, and Making the Monster do kind of make my eyes glaze over.  I think that is because they are about working in the Horror Industry, rather than about actual Horror itself.  There is a brief (too brief) article about extreme Italian Cinema which could have done with being double the length as it feels like a whirlwind tour of the topic.  Hopefully Italian Cinema will be revisited in future issues as it is a fascinating topic.

The magazine Shock Horror feels to me like Kerrang! if they were all about Horror rather than music.  It is one of those easy to read magazines that just commands your attention with its easy to read layout, large pictures, and I have to say the magazine still looks beautiful (love the thick pages!)

You can now subscribe to the magazine at the Shock Horror website something which I am just about to do myself actually!  I really hope the magazine keeps on for a long long time! (R.I.P Darkside Magazine).