Here is a game that somehow managed to slip under the radar for me. As a snob for strong narrative-based games, I was surprised that a project like Until Dawn managed to escape my attention until a couple weeks prior to its release. Once I heard about it though, I was immediately intrigued. I knew it wasn't going to be a proper survival horror game, but it looked to have a lot of potential to move the horror genre (and gaming in general) in interesting directions. I was doubly surprised when I went to go by the game a couple days after its release so that I could play it over the weekend, only for it to be sold out in the two stores that I went to. It's the first time in about ten years that I've had trouble finding a game on store shelves within a week of its release, but I doubt that I'll have to break my long-standing boycott for pre-orders. So I had to resort to ordering it off of Amazon Prime with 2-day delivery and play it the next weekend.
Suspend your disbelief - and your common sense
Don't be fooled into thinking that Until Dawn is something other than what it is. It is an interactive movie with branching story. It is not an open-ended survival game! Anyone familiar with Heavy Rain or the Telltale Games will have a good idea of how the game will play out. The things you do and the actions and dialogue available are very tightly scripted. You won't be making decisions on how the group splits up, who goes where, or even what any individual character might be doing at any given time. Large chunks of the game are just dialogue and cutscenes, stopping you every now and then to let you make one of two choices, or showing a button prompt on screen to keep the action going (and sometimes keep the character alive). There are even some action sequences that could have been playable, but which are strictly non-interactive cutscenes.
How about lighting some friggin' candles instead of groping around in the dark?
The only time that the game opens up more is when you must explore rooms for clues or evidence. In these cases, you have complete control of character movement and can walk around mostly freely. But interactions are severely limited. You can only interact with the select few objects that the developers intended for you to interact with.
These limitations can be very frustrating because the game doesn't let you do some obvious, common sense things. Upon entering the lodge, I'd like to have been able to light the candles instead of having to wander around in the dark for the next few chapters. Later, when investigating something crashing through a window, I'd like to have been able to take the rifle I just found on the wall. And even later, after the rifle didn't have enough bullets to shoot the murderer, it would be nice to have been able to open up the revolver I just found to make sure that it's loaded and find out how many bullets are in the chamber. And the list of dumb oversights goes on...
Common sense precautions like taking a melee weapon or checking that your new gun is loaded are not possible.
These limitations are further exacerbated by the esoteric nature of some of the decisions. Since all decision are binary (usually consisting of a "helpful" / "safe" option or an "antagonistic" / "risky" option), it's often unclear exactly what the character will do, and the outcome often plays out in a non-interactive cutscene. The character may not say or do exactly what the option described, which might lead the player to think "that's not what I meant to do / say!", and sometimes a decision might railroad you into following through in a way that you don't want to.
Granted, the options need to be somewhat vague, and the consequences shouldn't be obvious. That would make the game too easy and dull. The game has to utilize some of the classic horror movie tropes in order for the narrative to work. After all, the characters don't have the foresight to know that they're in a horror [More]
movie game. I accept that there needs to be limitations on the precautions that the player can take, but the player also needs to feel like they have more agency.
I haven't talked about Bloodborne on this blog yet, other than in passing. This has been because there wasn't much information on it except for the most superficial information and a few minutes of gameplay video. But over the past few months, more information has come out, so I'm going to take a moment to talk about some of the features and mechanics that I am excited about.
If you're not already aware, Bloodborne is the PS4's spiritual successor to FROM Software's hit games Demon's Soul and Dark Souls. Both of those games are among my favorite games on the PS3. I'm eagerly awaiting this game, as it is likely going to be the reason that I end up buying a PS4.
Overall, the game looks to play similarly to the Souls games with one major exception: it takes place in a steampunk, Victorian setting instead of a medieval fantasy universe. This means that the traditional sword and shield gameplay doesn't transfer to the new setting. In fact, shields don't seem to play a role at all. Instead, the player's off-hand can be used to equip a second bladed weapon or a gun. The lack of a shield means that the game is designed to be faster-paced, and combat is intended to be more aggressive and offensive so as to encourage players to attack and dodge rather than backpedal behind their shields.
Bloodborne looks to be a darker, bloodier, and faster-paced variation of Dark Souls - with guns!.
Little is known about the game's story so far, except that it involves people transforming into vicious beasts, and the player character is hunting them. There might also be a bit of a "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" theme here, as it's been hinted that players can transform into beasts. This is presumably a replacement for the "soul form" and "hollow form" in Demon's Souls and Dark Souls (respectively). There will be multiplayer components similar to the previous Souls games, but specific details are limited.
According to a preview at a recent Sony expo, the PS4-exclusive Bloodborne will have some interesting new features:
A demo shown in December's PlayStation Experience expo in Las Vegas, Nevada (apparently, there was an official Sony PlayStation convention in Vegas that I didn't hear about until the week after it was done?) revealed an intriguing new feature: the game will include a procedurally-generated dungeon.
The "Chalice Dungeon
" (as it is called), is an optional
dungeon that will vary from player to player, or character to character, or game to game, or visit to visit, or moment to moment (depending on how you interpret the tranlator). A key semantic point is that the dungeon is being called a "procedurally-generated dungeon", and not a "randomly-generated dungeon". The extent of the randomness isn't entirely clear ... [More]
With a new generation of consoles coming into their own, the lifespan of the PS3 and XBox360 is rapidly coming to an end. It's not quite as monumental as the end of the PS2's lifecycle, which is arguably the single best gaming console ever made! With the PS3 and XBox360, our console games started to have consistent online functionality, and with online functionality comes a sad side-effect: a game's life-span is finite. I can always go back and play my favorite PS2 games (like Silent Hill 2, Metal Gear Solid 3, Ace Combat 4, Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, Gran Turismo 3, and Devil May Cry) and have pretty much the same experience that I had the first time I played. But I won't be able to do that with some of my favorite PS3 games, because some of them have online features that won't remain active forever.
As long as my PS2 is functional, I can always go back and re-play my favorite PS2 games.
PC gamers have been dealing with this problem since the dawn of the internet, but they have work-arounds. PC Games can be modded to support direct TCP / IP connections in order for their online communities to stay online. Hypothetically, you could keep your favorite MMO alive for yourself and your circle of friends in this fashion. But with console games, there are much more significant technical hurdles to overcome, and when the producer shuts down the servers, that is basically the end of that game.
And that is exactly what is going to happen some day with my favorite PS3-exclusive: Demon's Souls.
Every console has its defining games - those games that are reasons for owning the consoles. The original PlayStation had Final Fantasy VII and Metal Gear Solid, the Nintendo 64 had Goldeneye, the Dreamcast had Shenmue and Soul Calibur, the XBox had Halo, GameCube had Resident Evil 4 and Eternal Darkness, the PS2 had Shadow of the Colossus. For me, Demon's Souls is that game for the PS3: the game that makes owning a PS3 worthwhile.
Demon's Souls is a game that completely redefined the way that I think about gaming. My ideas about how a player can interact with a game world and with other players were completely turned on their head with this game. So I want to take a moment to pay tribute to this masterpiece of interactive art with a full review while its servers are still up and running. And maybe - just maybe - I can sell a copy or two to some new players.
The gameplay is based on a simple control configuration in which weapons are mapped to the left and right hand and controlled with the left and right shoulder buttons (respectively). The design is reminiscent of a simplified version of FROM's other major game franchise: the mech-combat sim Armored Core. Weapons equipped in the right hand have a basic attack and a heavy attack, and weapons or shields in the left hand have a block and heavy attack (sorry, lefties, no left-handed characters for you!). These basic controls are very simple, and any player can start hacking and blocking away as soon as they pick up the controller. But more advanced controls and variations in weapon functionality make this seemingly-simple combat system very deep.
Each weapon class has different movesets, ranging from the slashing of a sword to the thrusting of a spear, to smashing of a giant hammer. And shields (and some off-hand weapons) have an advanced parry feature that allows you to stun and counter an attacking foe to land a critical hit. You can also attack while running or out of dodges in order to keep a foe guessing. Mastering these various features takes a little bit of time, but it is immensely rewarding when you finally have the skills to go toe to toe with a giant, butcher-knife wielding skeleton with confidence. But don't get overconfident, because this game will punish you for every mistake!
With patience and practice, you'll soon stand confidently before the Vanguard that killed you in the tutorial.
If you die, you lose all your accumulated souls (i.e. "experience"), and must restart the level from the beginning! But there is a shining glimmer of hope: you have one chance to reach the spot where you died in order to recover your lost souls. If you get there... [More]
I don't typically get excited about E3 the way that other gamers do. I try not to buy into hype, since I've been burnt before. I prefer a good review over the most stellar of previews. E3 tends to be a lot of pomp and circumstance; a cacophony of light and sound and flashy presentations of scripted, pre-rendered previews that are hardly ever representative of the final product.
I also haven't been paying much attention to the new consoles. They just don't excite me that much. Most quality games are seeing multi-platform releases these days, which usually includes a high-quality PC port that is at least as good (and sometimes better) than any console iteration. Gone are the days of sub-par, buggy PC ports. Or at least, that is how it seems to me. So I just don't see the new consoles as being worth while as long as I have a decent gaming PC. And in fact, these consoles will likely be inferior to good gaming PCs within a couple years. So what's the point in investing in one?
There are a few games on the horizon that look intriguing. I've already talked about Evil Within and Alien Isolation as being two of my most anticipated games of this fall. Both of these games will have PC versions that I will likely purchase, so no need to invest in a new console yet.
There's also a new project by the developers of Demon's Souls that was announced as a PS4 exclusive. That game could have the potential to sell a PS4 to me, but I'm going to wait to see more of the game before I get too excited.
But E3 did have one stand-out surprise that really piqued my interest. It's a new game by a developer called Hello Games. The game is called No Man's Sky.
This game was presented during the PS4 E3 press conference, but it's likely to see a PC version as well. If not, then this title could also turn into a PS4-seller for me.
The game is being advertised as an "infinitely-expanding procedurally-generated science fiction universe"... [More]
You'd think that super-hero movie makers would have learned some lessons from Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 3. Specifically, you'd have hoped that they'd have learned not to throw too many villains into one movie - especially if you have to cover the origin of all of them. As I stated in my review of the first Amazing Spider-Man, it was too soon to reboot the Spider-Man movie franchise. After Spider-Man 3, that franchise could have used a new cast (Tobey Macguire was starting to look flabby in the Spider-Man tights), but a complete reboot was unnecessary and premature. Andrew Garfield could have filled Tobey's shoes as an older, more mature, confident Peter Parker without the need to reboot the franchise and retell the origin story.
The movie really bogs down after Peter stops fighting bad guys and starts looking for his parents. Didn't we already see this exact same stuff in the last movie?
The first movie felt completely unnecessary and just didn't look or feel right. This movie is at least brighter and more colorful. It isn't visually as dull and washed-out as the previous movie. Garfield continues to excel in the role of Spider-Man with witty chit-chat, and the costume looks absolutely brilliant! He still doesn't sell himself as Peter Parker though, and his voice sounded muffled in his mask at some times, but if you could understand Bane, then you can follow along with Spider-Man.
So while it looks and sounds good, Amazing Spider-Man 2 just falls completely apart in its narrative. [More]
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