Posts Tagged ‘horror games

09
Nov
18

Game Review: Call of Cthulhu (2018)

It’s been a while since we had a proper cosmic evil video game. Call of Cthulhu has been making the rounds for a few years now, often whispered about like the rumors of what the neighbors are doing in the basement or what’s really in the meat you’re eating, occasionally bobbing to the surface in a brief and oh-so-tantalizing-yet-maddening bit of exposure before being submerged once more.

The call was finally answered this Halloween, and I was powerless against it. The question is, though, if it was worth it.

Short answer? No. At least, not right now.

I had some videos up of my playthrough, going over some of my issues and demonstrating some of them, but had to take them down due to potential copyright issues (apparently some of the music flags it), but I’ll try to speedrap some of the problems. My screencaps are likewise AWOL due to a faulty flash drive, but some of them made it onto my Twitter, at least.

One, the graphics. Now, the environments are great, though they were a little too in love with the color green – I mean, seriously, why do all the oil lamps glow green? I get it, in some instances, since what the whalers have been hauling up of late may not precisely be whales, but ALL the lighting? – but still well done, very detailed, and appropriately moody and atmospheric.

The denizens of Blackwater, on the other hand, are tripe. Their faces look wrong – and not in an Innsmouth Look way, but in a “poorly designed” way – and the generic NPCs have maybe 3-5 possible face/clothes combos, yet have as many as 10-15 in a small area, making you wonder if somehow the influence of Cthulhu has led to an upswing of twin and triplet births. The primary characters are a little better, but they’re still poorly animated, weirdly proportioned, and consist almost entirely of stock characters. (The drunk/drug addicted cop, the shady financier, Old Willie the Groundskeeper, etc etc etc.)

Of Mythos horrors, you won’t see much. A couple of mutant freaks, the suggestion of a squid-monster, and, if you get the bad ending, a pretty badass Cthulhu design for about 3 seconds. To be fair, for a Mythos story, it’s not what you see, but what you don’t, and knowing that what you see could be far worse, not having them front and center is almost okay. What isn’t is that you never really feel like they’re close. They don’t provide the looming intensity of knowing that insanity lies just around the bend, and the couple you DO see are almost cartoonish and not really that intimidating.

Sound-wise, again, the background noise is great. The subtle sloshing of waves when you’re on the beach, the groans and echoes of the mental asylum, the ominous chanting when infiltrating a cult’s secret lair… all good stuff. Music is minimal – except for the lovely copyright strike-inducing radios in a couple of areas – and not intrusive. The voice acting, though… ugh.

Our hero is the best of the lot, which isn’t saying much, but at least he reads the lines like a normal human being. The problem with him is that he’s also the voice of Jonathan from Vampyr, with a similar overall design and attitude. I spent half the game mocking him for being in the wrong game and wondering why he was lamenting his sanity instead of eating rats.

The others are varying degrees of bad, from Groundskeeper Willie feeling lifted out of the Simpsons, your cop buddy sounding like the worst combo JFK/Joker impression ever, and the Mysterious Woman trying to sound threatening and seductive but coming off like a bad Neptunia NPC. The generic NPCs all seem to have the same voice actor, and they sound like they’re trying to portray someone who’s performing a bad Russian accent who in turn is attempting to mock a Boston accent. While channeling their inner Wishmaster djinn on top of it.

Controls are… okay. There’s not really anything to be said, there; given that the game is essentially a glorified walking simulator, it just needs to be competent, which it is. A button to run, one to duck, one to search, and one to flick your light on and off. It’s all you need, really.

Story wise is where the game shines – even if it does have a few plot holes that are never explained, or even lampshaded with “Because you’re crazy, yo” – with a properly Lovecraftian slow burn building up to final madness. (Especially fun is, if you’re been poking at the things you shouldn’t, you’ll start getting dialogue options on R’leyhan) There isn’t much one can say about it without spoilers, but anyone reasonably well versed in Lovecraft or the Mythos can probably guess the broad strokes not too far in, and find the joy in watching it play out and seeing their guesses proven right or wrong.

All in all, the story redeems the poor character graphics and voices to a great degree. The backgrounds are great, and the controls are serviceable. So why say it’s not worth it?

Length vs. cost. At $60 you’re looking at 6-7 hours if you poke every corner on your way to the end. 4 or so if you’re speedrunning. About 12 hours, give or take, for a Platinum on a game that costs $60 and is half broken isn’t exactly good value in my mind. If the game was $40? Oh hell yes. At $30 it’d be considered freaking amazing. But $60 is just too high. Wait for a sale, or Redbox it.

The Call of Cthulhu is worth answering, yes.. but wait for the collect cost to come down a bit, first.

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13
Oct
18

13 Great Horror Games

Tis the season to be spooky; in that vein, I thought I’d share some of the games I love playing at this time of year, as well as some upcoming games I’m particularly excited about. 13 of them, to be exact; what better number could there be? If you’re a gamer who’s into the season, I think these are worth checking out… assuming you haven’t already.

Go on; try a few of ’em. What are you? Chicken?

Silent Hill 2

Of course this starts the list; the granddaddy of psychological horror, frequently touted as one of the best in the genre. While I’m not 100% certain of that claim, I do call it my second favorite game of all time (#1 is Metal Gear Solid 3), and think it still holds up today. As a bonus, unlike a lot of games on this list, it can be played on modern consoles (it’s available in HD Collection format for PS4 via PS Now, and the 360 version is backwards compatible with Xbox One) so there’s plenty of opportunity to check it out.

If you’re unaware of the basics, James Sunderland is a man grieving for his wife who died three years ago. Then one day he gets a letter from her, claiming she’s waiting for him in their “special place” – Silent Hill. With nothing better to do, James heads out to see what in the world is going on. If you’ve somehow gone this long without the twist being spoiled, do yourself a favor and play through the game without looking it up; the emotional punch when you find out is amazing.

Resident Evil 7

Resident Evil has had a few bad years, admittedly. While I don’t hate 5 and 6 as much as some folks – I think they’re decent action games, just not very good Resident Evil games – 7 serves as a properly terrifying title, switching out a lot of genre and series staples for a first-person view and a much more small-scale terror. The boss designs are properly disgusting, and the level of characterization behind the Baker family is amazing.

The DLC leaves a bit to be desired, but given the Gold edition with all of it included runs pretty cheap – and is frequently on sale on both the PSN Store and Xbox Marketplace – you might as well pick it up.

Alien: Isolation

Serving as a far better part of the Alien series than Prometheus or Covenant could hope to be, Isolation follows the troubles of Ellen Ripley’s daughter as she makes a trek to a soon-to-be-closed mining station that has picked up the flight recorder of the Nostromo. Looking to find out just what happened to her mother, Amanda soon finds that the flight recorder isn’t the only thing that’s made its way onto Sevastopol, and what follows is 20+ hours of hide-and-seek against possibly the best AI opponent ever seen in gaming. The game is truly tense and frightening, and one frequently is sympathetic to Amanda’s heavy breathing and desperate demeanor as you see the xenomorph’s tail dragging across the floor inches from your position, praying that it doesn’t notice you and move in for an appropriately cinematic and gruesome one-hit kill.

The other great thing about the game is that it absolutely nails the retro-futuristic look of the original trilogy, something the newer films can’t seem to handle. It’s available on damn near everything, last gen and next, and tends to run under $20, so there’s no real reason to miss out on it.

The Suffering

What happens when you take a bog-standard third person shooter, then inject it with heavy-duty horror elements and some of the best lore in horror gaming short of Silent Hill?

Magic, that’s what. The Suffering isn’t great on the mechanics scale, though it isn’t bad, either; its just average. What sells this title is the monster design – in the original, they’re all based off of methods of torture and execution used in the prison setting, while The Ties That Bind applies the concepts of inner-city death and strife – and the characters. Dr. Killjoy is both menacing and hilarious, and Horace manages to be horrific, threatening, and sympathetic all at once. The sequel falters a bit, but is still a decent game; still, if opportunity presents itself, check it out. One hindering factor is the game isn’t playable on any current systems; the PS2 version hasn’t made its way to PS Now, and at last check the Xbox copy doesn’t work on Xbox One, but if you’ve got a BC PS3 or an original Xbox lying around, check it out.

Fatal Frame III

The Fatal Frame series has fallen on hard times, it seems; the fourth installment was never released in the west, while the fifth is only available as a download on the ill-fated WiiU. Given the trend of WiiU games getting ported to Switch, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a compilation, but in the meantime I still have the original trilogy to keep me busy.

Fatal Frame‘s premise is simple enough: enter a haunted locale armed only with a camera (and maybe a flashlight. Sometimes.) Try not to die, figure out why it’s haunted, and try to complete whatever ritual went wrong to seal all the hellbound souls back where they belong. Fatal Frame games do a great job of emphasizing the helplessness and isolation that makes psychological horror work, the ghost designs are all unique and suitably disturbing, and the locales all give off the appropriate level of “Hell naw.” Of the three, Fatal Frame III does it best, while also offering multiple characters and giving you “breathing room” segments in the “normal” world. At least until that turns hostile, too… You can snag it (and the first two) from PSN on PS3 for pretty cheap; sadly, the PS2 and Xbox physical copies tend to be pretty pricey, though not terribly difficult to run down if you take that route.

Mary Skelter: Nightmares

Mary Skelter is a little difficult to explain. It’s primarily a first-person dungeon crawler, but it also incorporates some elements from dating sims, management sims, and visual novels. The basics are that you’re essentially trapped in a living dungeon – with moods and appetites that you can go against or attempt to sate, changing the layout and encounters – attempting to climb to the top and find a way out. Along the way you’ll recruit a band of twisted fairy tale princesses, who have a nasty tendency to go berserk, turning into ultra-powerful (but psychotic and just as liable to murder each other as the monsters) Skelter forms. That gives it an interesting risk/reward mechanic and requires a lot of planning to balance battles, giving it a more strategy vibe that doesn’t seem immediately apparent… at least until the first time one of your party members goes berserk, kills everyone else, depowers, and then gets one shot by the boss you were fighting.

The difficulty and style is very similar to early Persona or Shin Megami Tensei titles, so if you’re into those, check it out. The graphics and music/sound are beautiful dark fantasy fare, and each party member has a special skill used to deal with environmental puzzles. Only downside is it’s for Vita, so everyone may not have a chance to check this out, but a sequel just came out in Japan (and includes the original as a bonus) for PS4, so hopefully they’ll hop across the pond.

Dead Rising

Dead Rising isn’t an intellectual, scary, deep, or serious game. But it is a very entertaining one. The basic premise (of the first three entries, anyway) is “Here’s a big place full of zombies and random stuff. Grab the random stuff and bash zombies. Have fun.” The sheer number of outfits, items, weapons, food and potential combo weapons, along with the size of the environments mean there’s plenty of variety in the zombie-bashing, and if you feel like following the plot, helping the survivors and fighting the deranged psychopaths, there’s even more entertainment to be had.

That being said, try to stick to Dead Rising 1, 2, and Off the Record. 3 and 4 aren’t bad games, but they lack some of the charm of the first three, and are much more linear and pressing you to move forward instead of just having fun. With the exception of Dead Rising 3, you can get them on just about every system, both last and current gen, and except for Dead Rising 4, they generally are less than $10.

The Binding of Isaac

Just for clarification, I include Wrath of the Lamb, Afterbirth, Afterbirth+, Rebirth, Antibirth and all the other mods and DLCs under this heading. At the core, they’re all Isaac, and they’re all great. Take the mechanics of Zelda and Rogue, spray paint it in blood and poop jokes, and wrap it up in a story that deals with religious zealotry and child abuse, and you have Isaac. Very much a “just one more try” sort of game, the randomized items and runs – as well as the insane variety of modifiers and items, not all of which are beneficial to the player – provides an almost infinite amount of replay value. I’ve spent almost as much time on Isaac as I did in World of Warcraft or Diablo 3, and more than on my old PS2 Star Ocean 3 perfect save file on the quest to 100%, and I’m still playing it even after “completing” the game.

Isaac is fairly inexpensive, running under $20 in most cases, and is available for just about every platform, so there’s really no reason to miss out.

The Darkness

Jackie Estacado is a mafia enforcer possessed by (or possessing) The Darkness, a primal force of chaos, hunger, and evil. When his uncle makes the mistake of trying to kill him, it leads Jackie on a bloody rampage of revenge, putting his hell-granted powers to good use as he literally tears his way through the local Mafia.

What gets it on this list? The game captures the visual style of the comic book incarnation, drenching everything in a sense of nihilistic hopelessness and will to surrender to chaos. It also has some surprisingly well done emotional moments between Jackie and his girlfriend Jenny, which turn the dials to 11 when the inevitable happens. Jackie is a monster of a man, even without the Darkness, but it does an excellent job of humanizing him in some ways… and the moral quandary when a remorseless hitman begins questioning his own actions is fascinating.

The sequel is also worth playing – and the art style, voice acting and gameplay are better in many ways – but the story and presentation of the original – plus watching television with Jenny – push it a teensy notch higher in my opinion.

Deadly Premonition

Do you like Twin Peaks? Do you like murder mysteries, ghosts, insanity and delusions hiding beneath a goofy (and poorly executed, in many instances) exterior? Then you need Deadly Premonition.

It takes a lot of heat for the bad B-movie voice acting, the bizarre behavior of protagonist Agent Francis York Morgan, and absolutely atrocious controls, but if you can get past all that, you will find yourself embroiled in a surprisingly entertaining and engrossing tale of supernatural horror that’s frequently just as focused on day-to-day things like putting gas in the car and remembering to shower and change clothes so people will actually be willing to talk to you as it is on the zombie blasting.

Whether it’s a “so bad it’s good” game a “rough but good” game or just an oddity, Deadly Premonition is still something worth playing. Try to grab the Director’s Cut for PS3 or PC if possible, as control tweaks make it a lot more playable than the 360 original, but give it a look either way.

Honorable Mentions

Didn’t want to go into too much detail, here, but some other suggestions to put you in the mood: Alan Wake, BioShock, Prey (the 2016 one), Splatterhouse, Still Frame, Perception, Dementium: The Ward, and Alone in the Dark (1, New Nightmare or Inferno. Avoid the others.)

I also said I’d throw in some upcoming titles that I’m looking forward to, so here we go!

Death Mark

Billed as a psychological horror visual novel, everything I’ve seen so far looks intriguing. Plus it’s coming out on Halloween! I’m getting conflicting reports on whether this is going to be cross-platform or not, but its definitely on Vita and there may be a PS4 version floating about.

Call of Cthulhu

There was an old FPS on Xbox called Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth that was pretty decent, but from all reports this has little to do with that game outside of being based in the Mythos. Supposedly drawing more from the pen-and-paper game and focusing on semi-open world exploration and multiple solutions to problems at hand and with a sanity system that is supposed to finally top Eternal Darkness‘, Call of Cthulhu is looking good, and also lands on Halloween. That just leaves me the dilemma of if I’ll be huddled in the corner with the Vita or glued to the PS4 on that lovely day.

Ghost Theory

This is a lesser known title. A Kickstarted indie adventure title, Ghost Theory claims its going to be a more “authentic” ghost hunting game, based on allegedly real haunted locations and with “true to life” investigation methods and tools. It looks to be taking a less sensationalized and more grounded view, which could work against it – leading to an ultimately boring title – but I have high hopes that it will do well at instilling atmosphere and creeping dread.

Sadly, Ghost Theory isn’t going to make it in time for the holiday; current target release is December. But still, looks good and I can’t wait.

What about you folks out there? What spooky games do you think celebrate the reason for the season? What horror titles are coming up that you’re looking forward to? Let us know down below!

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