Amnesia: The Bunker - title

Amnesia: The Dark Descent almost single-handedly popularized the "hide and seek" and "run away" sub-genres of horror that would go on to influence everything from Outlast to >Observer_, and even the likes of P.T. and Visage (though I'm always surprised to remind myself that Silent Hill: Shattered Memories actually preceded Amnesia by a whole year). Amnesia also remained one of the more mechanically complex horror games, as more and more horror games leaned harder and harder into the paradigm of the "unarmed, defenseless player character" and erred closer and closer to walking sims. But even though Amnesia retained more mechanical complexity and more genuine threat than its contemporaries, it (and its sequels) never hit the level of complexity and action of a classic survival horror game.

Survival horror seems to be going through a renaissance of late, thanks in large part to Capcom hitting it out of the park with most of recent Resident Evil games. As such, Frictional Games wastes no time in telling the player that Amnesia: The Bunker ain't no walking sim. This is a return to old-school survival horror, but with modern conventions and twists. I have not been this impressed or excited by the opening hour of a survival horror game since booting up Resident Evil VII for the first time.

Death from German machine guns? Or death from an eldritch Beast? Take your pick.

Bullets and draw strings

Within the opening minutes of Amnesia: The Bunker, the player is dropped into a World War I trench with nothing but an empty revolver. There's no HUD at all. In order to check how many bullets you have in the revolver, you have to open the cylinder and look at how many bullets are left. To reload, you have to open the cylinder, drop out the empty shell casings, and manually reload each new bullet one at a time. Aiming and firing the gun is slow, clunky, and imprecise. There is also an ability to lean around corners and aim the gun.

After a short gun fighting tutorial in which the player is scripted to take damage, the game hands us some cloth with which to craft bandages. So the player has actual health, instead of just automatically healing over time, or losing sanity.

Then the game gives the player a flashlight. But unlike other contemporary horror games (or The Dark Descent), this flashlight doesn't run on batteries or oil. It has a simple friction motor that is recharged by repeatedly pulling a drawstring. Apparently, nothing in this game is going to be simple or effort-free. I do have to say though, that I wish the flashlight charge would last longer. Fumbling around in the dark to charge the flashlight (and risk making noise that could attract an enemy) is a wonderfully tense and anxiety-inducing mechanic, but having to do it every minute or 2 (whether there are threats present or not) gets tedious and annoying real quick. The fact that the light has to be recharged multiple times to explore a single moderately-sized room at a modestly brisk pace should have been a red flag that the light doesn't last long enough.

The flashlight and revolver require deliberate engagement from the player to use.

And then, if this weren't already feeling like a real survival horror game, within an hour of starting, you'll wander into a save room, complete with an item storage box and a map showing objectives and puzzle locations. One could easily mistake this for Resident Evil. Below the save room is a gasoline generator, which burns fuel to keep the bunker's electricity and lights running. But the supply of oil is limited, and spread throughout the bunker. And a warning sign is printed next to it, saying that the "beast" prefers to hunt in the dark. Keeping this generator running is one of the key mechanics of the game, since it (not your flashlight) is the primary source of light, and also the primary defense against the Beast.

This opening hour or 2 is so perfectly exactly what I want in a horror game! It is slow, tense, and methodical. I'm 2 hours in, and I haven't even seen the monster yet; I've only heard its threatening growls and the sound of it scuttling around within the walls and ceiling, seemingly ready to pounce at any moment. The game is already mechanically rich and varied, and full of risk / reward mechanics. Light and sound are both thematic effects and also full-fledged mechanics with strategy associated with them. It has an ever-present sense of dread and danger. The existence of the save room and item box suggests actual stakes for failure, and the presence of healing items and fuel suggest that the battle against this Beast will be one of attrition. It's looking to be a modern take on classic survival horror from one of the studios that innovated modern horror gaming.

Can I just give it an A+ already and start singing its praises on social media and YouTube? Well, let's actually play it and make sure. You know, just for shits and giggles. I mean, I haven't even seen the monster yet, so I should probably get at least that before I make up my mind, right?

The opening hours feel like pitch-perfect, classic survival horror.
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Event [0] - title

Continuing on through my years-old backlog of indie Steam games, I moved away from Bloober Team games, but stuck with the sci-fi genre and played one of the most innovative games from 2016. I may be five years late to this one, but Event [0] is still a unique sci-fi mystery game that no other developers seem to have tried to emulate. As such, the game still holds up quite well.

The central premise here is that you find yourself in an abandoned space station in orbit around Jupiter. Your only companion is an onboard A.I. named Kaizen who talks to you through text on computer terminals scattered throughout the small station. The gimmick here is that all your interactions with Kaizen are handled by typing questions or commands into the computer terminals using your keyboard. The game uses some natural speech recognition algorithms to parse your text, interpret its meaning, and compose an appropriate response for Kaizen. It's like installing CleverBot into your game as an NPC.

The only other character is the possibly-malfunctioning onboard A.I., who you can type questions or commands to.

Even 5 years later, it's still a wholly unique way of interacting with an in-game NPC, and Kaizen comes off as being fairly believable. It certainly helps that the developers decided to make Kaizen an A.I. character instead of a human NPC, since it makes your interactions with Kaizen feel a bit more natural and believable. And when Kaizen gives a nonsensical response, it's easy to chalk it up to it being a malfunctioning A.I..

You are expected to explore the space station, investigating the environment for clues, and asking Kaizen questions to help you unravel the mystery of what happened to the crew of the station. The station only has a handful of rooms, and only had [I think] 3 crew members on it, so it doesn't take long to figure out what happened. In fact, the whole game is playable within about 2 or 3 hours, and repeat play throughs (to get alternate endings or whatever) can be completed in an hour or less.

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Amnesia: Rebirth - title

The first few minutes of Amnesia: Rebirth had me expecting much more from the game. The first game, The Dark Descent revolutionized and resurrected the horror genre after major publishers basically gave up on horror altogether, and it provided innovative new ideas that have been iterated upon by almost every horror game since. Dark Descent has the player waking up in a decrepit gothic castle and then descending into dark, atmospheric corridors in which every moving shadow, every creaking floorboard, and every gust of wind ratchets up the tension.

The oppressive light of the sun can be as threatening as the dark.

Rebirth begins with a plane crash that strands the player in the middle of the Sahara desert and prompts the player to find shade from the oppressive heat. The player knows a bit about the protagonist and the situation, it's bright and saturated in color, and is totally the opposite of how Dark Descent begins. It made me think that Rebith might further innovate the horror genre by establishing new tropes, such as using sunlight as a tool for horror instead of cliché darkness. Dark Descent had you cowering in candlelight to restore your sanity after a trek through the darkness. Maybe Rebirth would invert that mechanic and have you seeking the dark, cool corners of the map to escape the parching heat of the sun?

Well, that idea kind of goes out the window when you take shelter in a dark cave about two minutes into the game. After this introductory chapter, it's mostly just back to the same tricks as the first game, except without the expert pacing and subtle atmospheric tension and mystery.

Five minutes after wandering into that cave, I travel through a glowing portal in the walls and step into a hellish Lovecraftian otherworld. There's no build-up to it. No anticipation. Just BAM! portal to alien landscape! Explore for a few minutes, then back to the dark caves. Rebirth kind of blows its load right here at the start by introducing the player to this otherworld right away. I guess you could say that visiting the Lovecraftian otherworld is a natural progression from the first game, which only hinted at such a world's existence, but geez, let us wonder about it for a bit before you show it to us.

Five minutes into the game, and Amnesia: Rebirth blows its load with a Lovecraftian otherworld.

Showing off the goods too much and too soon then becomes a recurring theme throughout the game. My first encounter with the monster had it grab me and hold me up in front of its face for a good 5 or 10 seconds, giving me a good, long look at its well-lit, un-inspired visage. The monster from the original game was usually glimpsed through fog or darkness, and its unnatural proportions and distorted face and jaw made me wonder if I was looking at a person or not. And when I finally did start to get better looks at it much later in the game, it revealed itself to be an instantly-identifiable, iconic monster wholly unique to Amnesia. It wasn't just some generic-looking ghoul, which is sadly the case with Rebirth's monster.

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Observation - title

It's real refreshing to come across a science fiction game that isn't just about shooting aliens with laser guns or blowing up space ships. If you're in the market for a thoughtful, well-presented science fiction experience, then I highly recommend that you check out Observation. If you're also into horror, then even better, because this game definitely has some horror elements as well. They're much more subdued, but this game does do a fantastic job of creating a building sense of tension and intrigue as its over-arching mystery is slowly unfurled.

The gimmick here is that you play as a malfunctioning artificial intelligence on a near-future orbital research station. The game is presented as a sort-of found-footage narrative (think along the lines of the Apollo 18 horror movie) told entirely from the point of view of the on-board A.I. Something goes wrong, the crew are all missing and possibly dead, and you help the sole survivor try to find the remaining crew and piece together what happened to the station. Think along the lines of playing as the HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey, or as Kevin Spacey's character in the [fantastic] movie Moon. You do this by jumping between different surveillance cameras (a la Five Nights at Freddy's, but, you know, with ambitions of being more than just a random jump-scare-generator). Through the cameras, you interact with various technology and station systems within your line of sight. You'll occasionally be asked questions or given commands by the surviving astronaut, and you chose how to respond.

You are an unreliable A.I.?

From the start, there's a certain degree of unreliable narrator going on. One of the very first actions that the game asks you to do is verify the identify of the surviving astronaut via her voice print. You are initially told that her voice print does not match, and you're given the option to accept or reject her voice print. If you reject, she'll repeat her authorization code, and you'll be told that it matches this time. Is she not who she seems? Are your own systems providing you with misleading information? Are your systems merely damaged? This creates an immediate sense of distrust. You (the player) don't necessarily trust the survivor, the survivor doesn't necessarily trust you, and you can't even trust your own perception and judgement.

From the start, it's unclear whether you can trust Emma, or whether she can trust you...

This immediately creates a dense atmosphere of intrigue and mystery and sets a level of tension that persists through the entire game.

This atmosphere is helped by the richly-detailed near-future space station that you inhabit. The visuals are immaculately detailed, and the station looks and feels like it could be modeled after the real-life International Space Station. The spaces are tight and claustrophobic. Accessories and stationary are strapped or velcroed to the walls, floors, ceiling, and desk surfaces in order to prevent them from floating off in the zero-gravity environment. Everything is believable.

The game further builds its atmosphere with its immersive U.I.. Every button press, command, and interaction has some in-universe context behind it that helps to keep you in the mind-space of your A.I. character. The U.I. is mostly easy to use, and most actions feel intuitive.

This game hooked me in with its setting and atmosphere, and I just had to keep playing to find out what happened and where this would go!

The space station and U.I. are believable and immersive.

...

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Shadow of the Colossus (PS4, 2018) - title

I debated whether to turn this into a retro review of Shadow of the Colossus, or to focus this review on whether or not this particular remake manages to re-capture the magic of the original. Honestly though, what could I possibly say about Shadow of the Colossus that hasn't already said? I might as well try to write a retro review of Citizen Kane or Hamlet!

The original game (released in 2005 by Fumito Ueda's Team Ico at Sony) is a classic and a masterpiece of interactive art. It ranks right up there with games like Portal, Half-Life, Super Mario Bros., and Tetris as a contender for the title of "best video game ever made". Virtually every creative decision that the original team made was the absolute perfectly right decision to make. From the desolate and bleak, yet hauntingly-beautiful landscape. To the immense sens of scale and grandeur that embodies almost every crevice of the game and the sheer smallness of the protagonist himself. To the intimidating, yet majestic aesthetic design of the colossi themselves. To the bittersweet death animations of the Colossi, accompanied by Kow Otani's outstanding score, that makes you question the rightness of your actions. To the way that Agro's independent actions, slightly imprecise controls, and occasional insubordination sell the idea that she's an autonomous living character, rather than a simple vehicle that you pilot as an extension of the player avatar. To the decision to not drag down the game's pace or pollute the overworld with a single encounter with grunt enemies. And on and on...

Shadow of the Colossus was like a digital vacation when it was released in 2005.

It's as perfect a video game as has ever been made. It's the centerpiece of any "games as art" argument (if we still even have to have that argument anymore). Critics and analysts before me have already consecrated Shadow of the Colossus far beyond my petty powers to add or detract.

Bluepoint is the masters of remasters and remakes

Why couldn't Bluepoint have done
the Silent Hill HD Collection?!

Because of how absolutely brilliant the original game is, I had reservations about any attempt to remaster or remake it, especially after the debacle that was Hijinx Studios' Silent Hill HD Collection. Fortunately, however, the remake privilege (or burden, depending on how you want to look at it) was given to Bluepoint Games, the veritable masters of remasters and HD collections. Bluepoint had already released an HD remaster of Shadow of the Colossus on the PS3 back in 2011. I never played it because I thought the PS2 version of the game still looked fantastic and didn't need to be remastered to be enjoyed. That HD remaster was very well-received by the general public, as have been all of Bluepoint's remasters, as far as I am aware. Why couldn't Konami have given Silent Hill to these folks?!

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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