Friday, 29 July 2011

Costume Quest (2010) -Fantasy Videogame Review (X-Box Live Arcade)

Costume Quest is one of the four special projects that Double Fine are working on (the legend Tim Schaver's company).  It is a comedic RPG set during Halloween.

The game starts with young twins Wren and Reynold leaving their parents house to go trick or treating on Halloween night. After arguing about their costumes Wren (or Reynold depending on what character you choose to play as) leaves to trick or treat alone. The first house the sibling goes to however contains a monster who mistakes them for a giant piece of candy (as that is their costume) and runs off with them. Discovering the whole town is full of candy loving monsters it is up to the brother/sister to rescue their twin and foil the plan to steal all the towns candy.

Costume Quest is a turn based RPG that sees you battling as the costume you are wearing. As you progress through the game a wide variety of different costumes can be found letting you battle as lots of different things such as a robot, vampire, ninja, and even a packet of french fries. Each costume has its own special power that takes three rounds of a battle to charge up (such as the Statue of Liberty's patriotic healing move complete with bald eagle, Abe Lincoln and stars and stripes). Some costumes have abilities out of battles also such as the knight costume that can shield your party, and the space man costume that has a light saber used to light dark places.

There are three main areas in the game; suburbia, the mall, and a village. Each of these locations is full of kids who offer side quests (such as finding them a trading card) as well as houses and shops to trick or treat at which rewards you with candy that can be used to buy badges that give you extra abilities in battles. The characters you encounter all have quite funny lines of dialogue as expected in a Double Fine game.

The plot is really simple but is done light heatedly with enemies consisting of incompetent bird creatures and goblins. The kids all see the town as under invasion by monsters but it is telling that the adults cannot see these creatures, at one point a security guard you meet refers to them as troublesome teenagers calling into question whether the whole thing is in the children's imagination.  This just makes the game all the more fun and light. The game is very easy, and not too long, around four to five hours in total, meaning the game never gets boring despite the nearly too simplistic fighting.

DLC has been released that gives a new story but at the moment I cannot afford that. For a fun, light, and frequently humorous RPG you need look no further than Costume Quest.


Thursday, 28 July 2011

Planescape: Torment - Horror Videogame Review (PC)

Long have I heard that this Dungeons and Dragons RPG was a cult classic, I used to have a friend who raved about it.  With the games arrival on Good Old Games a few months back I immediately snapped it up.

Planescape: Torment takes place in a bizarre fantasy realm where different planes of existence co-exist.  The game starts with you The Nameless One awakening in a mortuary in the giant City of Spire.  You have no memory of who you are, or where you are and it turns out you are immortal.  With the assistance of Morte; a talking floating skull you discover cut into your back a message telling you to seek out a man named Pharod.  Seeking him out you aim to discover your lost memories.

Different to many many RPG's (role playing games) Planescape features a heavy emphasis on talking to people over actual combat.  About 75% of the game has you in various Towns and Cities doing quests for towns folk, discovering your past and talking.  There is a books worth of script in this game.  Most of the hundreds of people you encounter have unique dialogue which gets quite lengthy.  To play this game I had to ensure I was in a reading mind set rather than an action one.

The plot is clever and interesting with you learning things at the same pace as The Nameless One rather than him having some knowledge the game had not revealed.  Some information unlocks memories and new skills, while many of the people of the world have met you previously and react accordingly (it seems your previous incarnations have not exactly been good people).  Through events you learn about your past as well as encounter help and hindrance from gifts and traps your past selves have left for you.  The story gets really quite clever, I don't want to ruin it but cool things are revealed.  Sadly towards the games end the outcome falls a little flat with some less then stellar revelations.

Being a fantasy game there are lots of monsters and creatures, the world of Planescape is one made up of a multitude of beings from Angels, Demons, Succubus's to Humans, Zombies and Rat collectives.  It is a bleak place full of treachery and lies set around a never ending epic war 'The Blood War' that has been raging since time immemorial.  The world is confusing but interesting and makes for a unique setting.  A morality system lets you be as good or as bad as you wish, adjusting to your actions.

Combat in the game is ok but can get fiddly.  The game is controlled solely by mouse, so you click on enemies to fight them.  Later in the game when you have more characters (you can have up to six in your team) combat can be frustrating as characters get stuck in scenery, get lost, or ignore your commands.  Enemies drop loot but collecting it can be troublesome when your team refuse to move out the way to let you through.  On one occasion I had to start a war with a bunch of friendly Were-rats simply because one was standing on a small bridge and my avatar couldn't work out how to walk around him.

The game is geared towards conversation rather than fighting which led to me being a little underpowered and finding myself in some frustrating situations later in the game due to my weakness.  While you are invincible your team mates are not and need to be resurrected should they fall making a packed screen a chore to navigate.  The game frequently crashed on me but I blame this more on my PC I think.

Despite all the frustrations of movement the game was really quite immersive and enjoyable, defiantly a classic, and one that kept me enthralled all the way to the end.


Thursday, 21 July 2011

Phantasmagoria - Horror Videogame Review (PC)

Phantasmagoria is an FMV point and click game that takes place in a setting that reminded me of Knightmare in its look.  I had heard tales of the controversy surrounding the games violent death scenes so when I saw it was on Good Old Games I picked it up.

You play as a writer named Adrienne Delaney who has recently moved into a spooky old mansion that used to belong to a magician called Zoltan.  Soon after moving in you start to have horrific nightmares.  While exploring the house you encounter lots of supernatural phenomenon and accidentally release an evil spirit that possesses your husband Don.  During the course of the game you must discover the violent story of Zoltan and his five wives and stop the evil.

The game was touted as an interactive movie, the whole game has the style of a point and click but everything is acted out by a very bad actress Victoria Morsell who plays your avatar.  As a result everything takes time to do, even searching a shadowy corner of a room can take several minutes due to the actress taking her sweet time.  The game takes place over seven chapters with your main location being the large house.  It seems strange that the couple would buy the mansion when they obviously have not seen most of it due to it being all locked up, but I guess it needed to give you a reason to have puzzles to solve.  The mansion is quite large and is full of secret passages, secret rooms, and ghostly goings on.

The plot is not great, but is made worse by the awful acting on display.  Everyone from the main cast to shop keepers and ghosts are all terrible and give the game the feeling of a really badly made film.  Least with a film it only lasts 90 minutes but this game took about 6 hours to beat.  The acting rips out any horror that might have existed.  Admittedly the flash back sequences showing how Zoltan's many wives died was entertaining (one wive force fed offal till she suffocated, another had a wine bottle smashed into her eye). The most shocking part of the game was when your character gets raped by her husband, despite the naff acting it was still not a pleasent part of Phantasmagoria.  Kinda off putting that despite being set over a week no character changes their clothes at all!

The game is simple when you know what you are doing, and an in game hint provider helps you from getting too stuck but the game just is not that interesting and quite slow paced.  The last section of the game turns into  a near on rails flight that sees you having to do things under strict time limits while being chased, but my game got glitched to death with an essential item vanishing from my inventory followed by my save file vanishing, thank god for YouTube though.

A bad game, and a good advertisement for why FMV games suck, but as a curio it was interesting.


Sunday, 17 July 2011

General Update for July 2011 - Summer Rain Edition

Has been raining quite a lot lately, rain is great weather to observe, and even to be out in for limited times.  Still jobless but still dedicated to my blog (kinda). The blog has as of late been a bit too game centric for my liking, I want to try and get more of a balance between games, films and everything else horror related.

 I am currently on game five of the Splinter Cell odyssey, these are third person stealth games that have really no bearing whatsoever on horror.  I have Fallout: New Vegas waiting to be played but due to my job situation I cannot afford to get the DLC and so don't wish to play it until I can afford the new missions.  I have to say the lack of ability to carry on playing after the end has really put me off it; I don't want to accidentally complete the darn thing!  Also still waiting to be played are Final Fantasy XIV which I got 20 hours into about 4 months ago, as well as Metroid Prime which I got quite far into about 8 months ago before stopping playing.  I really hope I am able to integrate myself back into these again.

On the film side of things I still have a giant pile of horror DVDs to watch that I got for Christmas. There is not a lot of stuff at the Cinema at the moment, I did think about reviewing the new Harry Potter but I think I learnt my lesson with the Percy Jackson film I once reviewed.  Needless to say part two of the Deathly Hollows was quite good despite the dodgy ending.  Saw Sucker Punch recently, quite entertaining and had plenty of zombie like Nazi's.

For some reason Shock Horror magazine always gets lost in the post, there has not been a single issue that I have not had to re request.  I have Issue 5 sitting on my desk so a review will follow once that is perused.  Lots of horror books to read but my reading time has reduced dramatically from the old days.

Anyway that is it from my general update for this month. Please feel free to leave comments if there is anything I say that you don't or do agree with!

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Metro 2033 - Horror Videogame Review (X-Box 360)

Long have I put off playing this game, mostly because I didn't want to be playing two similar games at the same time.  Due to my having a hiatus from Fallout: New Vegas (can't afford the DLC!) I entered the murky world of Metro 2033.

Metro 2033 takes place in a post apocalyptic Moscow, 20 years after the nukes fell and turned the world into a wasteland of ruined buildings and a never ending nuclear winter.  The survivors of this war live underground in Moscow's metro system, each station having been turned into its own small settlement.  You play as a settler from Exhibition Station whose home has come under threat from mysterious creatures known as the 'Dark Ones'.  To counter this threat you are tasked with travelling to the far away station of Polis to get help to save your people from annihilation.  To get there you must brave the horrors of the underground, battling through countless terrors, and also brave topside where hellish creatures roam the sky and the air is toxic.

The game is a first person shooter that has a lot of survival horror about it.  For the most part the game takes place in the sewers and tunnels beneath Moscow.  At first these locations felt claustrophobic to me but I grew to love them as the surface is really not a nice place to be.  The story while quite a basic one gives your character (Artyom) motivation to keep going.  From start to end the game is one big roller coaster ride of set pieces and scripted moments never getting boring.

Each station you arrive at can be wildly different to the last, friendly stations give you time to relax from the nightmares of the tunnels, walk around listening to peoples stories, do some shopping (in the game world currency is in the form of bullets) and soak up the atmosphere.  Some of the stories told can be quite affecting, in particular one old mans story about what happened when Moscow got destroyed; he recounts tales of men openly weeping over the military radio band and of submarine crews suddenly discovering they are on their own.  Later the stations get less safe with stations being in the process of over run, abandoned, haunted, taken over by bandits, or destroyed.  A particular memorable section sees you travelling through an eternal war between two neighbouring stations, one run by Communists, the other run by Nazis, the whole level feels like a fever dream with both sides spouting their ideologies at each other while fighting over ruined railway bridges.

The game has an underlying religious tone to it, the monsters are described as demons while a deep descent into a military base is described as descending into hell itself.  One character theorises that the apocalypse destroyed not only Earth but also Heaven, Hell and Purgatory as a way to explain the ghosts and monsters.  This theme is never really explained though and is left up to you to decide if that is what is really going on.

The game is split up into levels, each level preceded by a loading screen that has Artyom's inner monologue on events that give him character that his silent in game portrayal never provides.  There is a lot of variety, sometimes you are on your own, other times you have company, there are stealth sections, turret sections as well as pure survival horror, action, and platforming.  The most vivid sections and tense sections are when you go up into Moscow.  You have to wear a gas mask that is liable to cracking, and must be resupplied with new filters, your level of oxygen is measured by looking at your wrist watch that has a timer built into it, the game leaves it up to you to look after yourself, it does not hold your hand and tell you when you are nearly out of air, or when it is safe to remove your mask.  Action gets quite stressful with your gas mask getting covered in condensation and Artyom's breathing getting heavy.

Most the game sees you fighting monsters, large rat creatures, demonic bats, gorilla creatures and more who usually attack you in droves leading to desperate last stand moments.  Human enemies consist of bandits and Nazis who use cover but are quite weak but whose tactics make combat more engaging than the monsters who just try and defeat you with numbers.  To fight these enemies you have a variety of weapons, throwing knives are surprisingly effective for stealth use, other than that I spent most the game using my trusty automatic shotgun (complete with blade attachment!) and a cool machine gun.  Dead humans litter the levels and these along with downed human enemies leave you with lots and lots of ammo so that is never a concern.

Metro 2033 is a really atmospheric game, it creates the feeling of a bleak and miserable place where humans are on the verge of extinction and all hope is gone, like Fallout it creates stories with objects and bodies in the surroundings but this game has none of the overt humour that Fallout is known for, despite the mutants everywhere this world is a far more believable place and more horrific for this reason.  A sequel Metro: Last Light has been announced, I can't wait!  The series is based on a Russian novel (also called Metro 2033) that I am very interested in reading.  Metro 2033 is a heck of a ride from start to finish.


Friday, 15 July 2011

Repo! The Genetic Opera - Horror Film Review

This is a weird film, very strange indeed.  I did not know what to expect from this, but I can say I honestly did not expect an opera.  From beginning to end it was song after song with no break.

Repo! takes place in an apocalyptic future.  A planet wide epidemic of organ failures has led to a dramatically reduced population.  A biotech company called GeneCo rise into power, specialising in organ transplants they quickly become the most powerful business on Earth.  Using their political clout they get a law passed that legalises organ repossessions.  Clients of the company who don't keep up with their repayments on new organs get them repossessed in the most violent and bloody way possible by Repo men.  In this world a sick girl becomes mixed up in the corrupt world of GeneCo whose owner promises her a cure for her disease, but at what cost?

The film has a unique Blade Runner style comic book feel to it.  Interspersed through Repo! are comic book sequences that blend seamlessly with the live action.  These sequences have plenty of captions explaining the goings on of the steam punk world as well as providing background info on the key characters.  The world the film takes place in is a dark, grimy, sleazy place with lots of trash strewn streets, neon lighting and prostitutes, addicts and psychos.

Anthony Stewart Head (of Buffy fame) plays one of the main characters, he is split between being a ruthless Repo Man and a caring father whose daughter is his life, and as such he will do anything to protect her.  He manages this role well, but sometimes comes across as looking a bit too weak for the role of a vicious killer.  His daughter Shila is played by Alexa Vega.  She is well suited to the role, but to be fair her singing ability is not that great, the worst songs in the film usually feature her, in particular an awful rock song in which she tells her father (in song form) that he is too controlling is a low point for the film.  The real highlight actors of Repo! come in the form of the Largo family; rulers of GeneCo that consist of Rotti Largo and his three crazy children that comprise of a freak that wears other peoples faces over his own (Ogre; the singer for Skinny Puppy), a man with a literally murderous temper (Paul Sorvino of Goodfellas fame) and a young woman addicted to face transplants played bizarrely well by Paris Hilton.

The plot is basically one of revenge and self discovery and progresses well to its bloody conclusion.  One thing Repo! does have going for it is the amount of blood and gore.  Victims are sliced apart (usually mid song) with entrails and other insides pulled out in a glitz of technicolour .  The whole film has the visual style of a  stage with static locations used per song that make things feel fake and like one giant goth/rock music video.  This is due to the fact that the film is actually based on a musical that did the rounds around 2000.

I have found this film quite hard to review; on the one hand some of its songs can be extremely hit and miss but on the other the unique comic book over the top style give the film an appeal that is sure to make it a cult classic.


Monday, 11 July 2011

BloodRayne (2002) - Horror Videogame Review (X-Box)

BloodRayne is a game with a real grindhouse premise to it. Basically you are a female vampire who fights Nazis and that's about it.

Rayne is a half vampire who works for a mysterious group known as the Brimstone Society. The game mostly takes place in 1938 where Rayne's latest mission is to take out the German Nazi high command, including a man known as Wulf who is seeking out the lost body parts of an ancient deity known as Belial in order to obtain ultimate power.

The game is a third person action one, you are equipped with blades strapped to your arms, as well as able to use weapons dropped by enemies. Being a vampire you have fangs, pretty much any enemy in the game you can fix yourself to and drain there blood recovering lost energy in the process. You can jump ridiculous heights, as well as use your vampire sense to go into bullet time, locate objectives, and later gain a sniper style scope ability. You are quite brutal to your foes with the addition of a 'Blood Rage' mode (that you get from fighting) you literally cleave Nazis into little pieces, so quite a bloody game.

For the most part BloodRayne takes place in two locations (as well as a cool opening level set in the swamp lands of Missouri).  The first location that roughly half the game occurs in is a giant Nazi base made up of many different areas such as mines, factories, living quarters and submarine pens. During your assault on the base loudspeakers bark out instructions, while a second assault occurs from an unexpected source. The second half of the game takes place in a remote ruined castle in Germany where a family of vampires live. Nazis are your main enemy and come in many different flavours including jet pack Nazis and zombie Nazis. Other enemies include plant based creatures as well as a host of vampires that resemble cats. There are plenty of bosses, mostly Nazi commanders, with the exception of the end boss these fights are not too hard.

BloodRayne is quite fun to play but there are some annoying platform sections that are not helped in the slightest by dreadful camera and invisible walls that impede your progress to an awful degree. It's also a very murky game, it can be quite hard to see in a lot of places especially outside in the castle levels, though on the plus side checkpoints are numerous.

Not a bad time to be had with BloodRayne, but quite dated in look now with some dodgy CGI cutscenes and has quite a predictable, boring story. Lots of blood, Nazis and vampires create an enjoyable experience if not a great one.


Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Hydrophobia - Thriller Videogame Review (XBLA)

Long had I been meaning to play the downloadable game Hydrophobia, finally the other day I did.  Just a few hours of play on it later and it was all over.  Was it worth the wait?

Hydrophobia is a thriller set in the near future where the worlds population has grown to an unsustainable amount.  You play as Kate Wilson; a system engineer for a luxury city sized boat called 'The Queen of the World'.  The game starts on the 10th year anniversary of the boats creation.  During the celebrations a series of bombs go off and the boat comes under attack by a terrorist organisation calling itself 'The Malthusians' (after a real life political economist who predicted one day population growth would lead to vast trouble).  Finding herself caught up in events Kate with the assistance of her friend Scoot (the voice on her transceiver) must find a way to escape the flooding levels of the ship as well as discover just what it is the fanatics are trying to achieve and how they come to so quickly take over all ship communications.

The game is a third person action game split over three chapters.  Most the action comes from the unpredictable water that is sweeping the levels giving the game the feel of a disaster movie as Kate must traverse flooded corridors and lift shafts, deal with outbreaks of fire and crack the coded security systems.  It is not till the second chapter that Kate even gets access to a weapon.  Your weapon is a futuristic gun that fires sonic beams capable of stunning enemies and destroying objects.  Knocking an enemy out in water leads to them drowning while a plentiful supply of exploding barrels around the locations can be used to sneakily take out enemies.  The water is both your enemy and friend, glass windows can be shot out to flood enemies or to raise the water level giving you access to higher platforms.

The gun has quite a few different functions, the electricity mode being the most useful with all the water around.  There is only the one enemy type; a hooded terrorist who act pretty much identically.  The problem is that they can be hard to spot until you have accidentally walked into them, a radar type function would have been useful.  For the most part you go from location to location following a marker doing random jobs to help your progress through the ship such as putting out fires, and gaining new hacking tools.

The story is quite cool but is let down by some terrible acting.  Scoot is the person you hear the most, coming across as a camp Scotsman the voice actor is terrible, I was convinced he was going to secretly be revealed to be evil due to his apparent pleasure at the awful situations you get into, and his general air of finding the whole terrorist attack funny, even when he is trying to be serious he just comes across as taking the mick.  The environment is used far more cleverly to give story, TV screens play a sinister terrorist ad (Save the World, Kill Yourself) while your scanning tool you have reveals creepy graffiti and quotes written over many walls of the ship (not visible to the naked eye) that gives the impression of the terrorists having been on the ship for some time, but in disguise waiting for their time to strike.

The game has many faults, Kate is supposed to be scared of water but this is never really shown at all, while the camera can get confused sometimes, especially when floods suddenly happen.  The game is very short and was supposed to be the first in a trilogy, that doesn't excuse the games ending.  During a cutscene the game just abruptly ends and credits role, no cliffhanger, no resolution of any story threads, it just ends, lame!

I enjoyed the disaster movie feeling of the game, if it had been longer, more variety in its locations (mainly just engineering corridors) and ended properly the game would have been far better.


Monday, 4 July 2011

Alice: Madness Returns (2011) - Fantasy Videogame Review (X-Box 360)

I was looking forward to the release of Alice: Madness Returns, I don't know why but for some reason I was quite excited for it. I first played the original Alice included as a bonus on the disc before settling in to play the sequel. There may be spoilers in this text I must warn!

Alice: Madness Returns takes place not too many years after the end of the first game. After leaving an asylum Alice has been staying at an orphanage run by psychiatrist Dr Bumby. The doctor has been trying to get Alice to forget her memories of the fire that killed her parents but this has resulted in her Wonderland becoming a ravaged place. In Wonderland an evil train is rampaging through the world destroying everything it encounters. To save Wonderland Alice must discover the origin of the terrible train, while also dealing with her own madness and hidden memories of the past.

Compared to the original Madness Returns looks amazing, I guess not surprising as it has been about ten years in between the two games.  The game is beautiful with a variety of locations different enough to avoid stagnation, and used as a carrot to lead you on to see what the game has to offer.  Starting off in the forests of Wonderland Alice travels through a variety of wildly different locations including the industrialised Mad Hatters tea factory, a land based on Japanese culture, under the sea, a dolls graveyard and the remains of the Queen of Hearts ruined kingdom (that you destroyed in the previous game). Each location feels fresh and exciting though a lot of the same things happen with just objects and scenery changed rather than a radically different feeling place.

For the most part Madness Returns is a platform game with basic puzzles revolving around switches. Jumping and floating around the environments doesn't really change. Most levels also feature 2D side sections as well as rooms in which you have to defeat all enemies to proceed. Splitting up the levels are stage unique challenges. A side scrolling shooter occurs in the second stage, while later stages see a watercolour styled 2D platformer, a simple marble maze and even simple rhythm games and chess. These sections nicely split up the normal action, especially in the later stages that outstay their welcome by being repetitive and over long (the Japan level in particular seemed never ending).

Each level has its own specific enemies that require different weapons and skills to defeat. While there are not as many weapons this time around you still have access to quite a few. You are armed with your trusty Vorpal blade once more, along with new weapons that take the form of a pepper grinder that acts like a Gatling gun, a teapot that acts as a mortar, a hobby horse and a time bomb in the form of a clockwork rabbit. These weapons can all be upgraded using teeth that downed enemies drop. Throughout the game the constant enemies are shade style blobs that have dolls faces as their weak spots, these come in a variety of forms such as flying, giant and caterpillar ones. The other enemies are far more inventive and include crabs with cannons (that they light with their cigars), samurai wasps, and disturbing naked dolls with hooks and blades for arms. Combat feels quite similar to Zelda games which is no bad thing.

The main plot of Alice recovering memories about the night of the fire is not that exciting, and her journey through Wonderland sees her just being directed from person to person, but the cutscenes are wonderfully done in a 2D paper style that is a joy to behold. Despite all its generic plot there is a sinister overtone of rape, child grooming, and sexual abuse that was unexpected for sure.

I enjoyed Alice: Madness Returns quite a lot but the repetitive nature of it, as well as some shoddy textures did mar the experience somewhat. The variety of locations kept me playing though, the games knowing absence of boss fights, and its attempt at a mature plot give yet another fresh look on Wonderland with yet again reinvented characters (the Mad Hatter now a clockwork doll, the Queen of Hearts presented as Alice's dead sister for instance).


Saturday, 2 July 2011

Endless Midnight: Zombie Swarm - Zombie Videogame Review (X-Box Indie)

Yeah, I know, here I am again with yet another X-Box Indie game to review.  It is not my fault that so many people make games featuring zombies, or that the majority of those games are trash.  With a title like Endless Midnight: Zombie Swarm I was prepared for more garbage.

The game is a twin stick shooter (surprise, surprise) that has you playing as a lone gunman trying to survive waves of zombies.  It takes place at night time either on a dark field or a dark parking lot so vision is impaired somewhat.  After each wave you get to spend points (from killing zombies) to purchase weapon upgrades, new weapons (the usual suspects) and health.

It is as generic as they come, there are a billion identical shooters on the X-Box Indie channel but at least this one is competent at what it does.  A slighter closer view of the action means you have less room to maneuver from the hordes.  For the most part the enemy is zombies, there are some giant zombies as well as the odd Demon that appears.  They all look quite good, solid looking at least, and incidental details such as your character getting coated in blood is a nice touch.

There are a heck of a lot of game modes, though all are mostly similar.  Along with Survival mode you have a mode where the screen is pitch black apart from your flash light beam which is cool.  Other modes include variations on what items you can and cannot use.

Another twin stick shooter but this is well made and at 80 points should be a purchase if you feel the bizarre need for a zombie twin sticker.