January 2019 Free Time

Would you believe that I spent a large portion of my time on honeymoon, lying lazily on the couch, watching rubbish on TV? With the new wife obviously. If you said yes, then you know me well. The time off work and with my partner was fantastic. Was I productive? Ha, of course not! But you’re not here for productivity so let’s chat about the time I wiled away.

Games

dead-cells logo

Why won’t you let me win, Dead Cells?! Have I not been patient with you and dedicated enough time to you? I have a huge backlog of games to get through and yet there you sit on my PS4 dashboard. Taunting me with the potential of THAT run. The one where I beat the final boss for the 2nd time over my 60+ attempts. After all my 59+ loses, I still adore the gameplay of Dead Cells. Simplistic gameplay with oodles of complexity. What keeps me coming back after each failure is the way I fail in Dead Cells. When I lose, I don’t think the game is being unfair. I die because I get too bold, I play bad or the run just doesn’t come together. That’s what makes a great rogue-lite. When you lose and you can accept the loss. Because you know that you can do it and you will do it on another run. The next run? Only one way to find out! *Goes and plays Dead Cells again*

red-dead-redemption-2

Red Dead Redemption 2 continues to drift in and out of my sessions. It still hasn’t hooked me and I’m at the Epilogue now. So, I think I’m far past the part where I *get it* or it *just clicks* like friends have told me. Not to say I’m not enjoying my time with it to an extent. I think the story and characters are engrossing. It’s just the gameplay in-between which holds it back for me. I’m looking forward to finishing it, purely from a narrative experience but I can’t say I’m racing to play it.

resident-evil-2-remake-claire-740x382

What a fantastic demo that Resident Evil 2 had! The concept of a timed demo seems unfair but it does a brilliant job of giving you that little fix that makes you crave more. Big fan of seeing more demos like it. I hadn’t even planned on buying it and yet my order is arriving tomorrow. I’ve played most of the main Resident Evil series, including 2 but I wasn’t that fussed about replaying it. The overhaul though is extraordinary. Zombies are scary again! Get the champagne out! I only experienced shooting mechanics for a dozen or so minutes but I really enjoyed how it felt. The fact that the aim takes a bit of time to finesse itself so you get an accurate shot is a huge deal to me. No more quick shots RE4 style. Precision is key. Zombies also take a lot to kill which I can fully get behind. And when there bodies hit the floor, I really struggle to tell if they’re dead or not. So much so, that I employed the Zombieland double tap method. In a game with limited ammo, I can see me firing an extra bullet into the deceased deceased as a bad habit. But, we shall see when I start my playthrough. I’m sure you’ll hear my thoughts on the game in the short future.

Films

starship-troopers1

Starship Troopers really holds up! I watched this film when I was 7 or 8 and saw it mainly as a Sci-Fi/Action film. Guns, aliens, yelling and brief nudity were all bonuses to any film for a young lad. My wife was genuinely scared of this film as a child and when we were flicking through the channels on honeymoon (we don’t have a TV license so Sky was a luxury for us) she spotted the film and put it on to show me how gruesome and scary it was. I quickly explained I knew most of the classic quotes of by heart from frequent watching as a child. But when we settled to watch it, it became clear how great the film is. I don’t think the film was big budget but the aliens and special effects look pretty great considering its age. Not only that but the satirical aspect of it was completely lost on me as a child. Seeing all its intentions with an adult mind really made me appreciate the film on another level. And it’s just a great alien killing romp with some pure cheese lines that steal my heart with each watch. If I’m ever in charge of a battalion, ‘Come on you apes, you wanna live forever?’ will be my battle cry. No one alive could resist following me into battle after that rousing line! Highly Recommend

bad times

An interesting film that fizzled out towards the end and slacked in the middle for me was Bad Times At The El Royale. A really intriguing beginning, fantastically shot with a terrific soundtrack and a cast of actors that always stood out to me. The first hour I was fully on board with the mystery and style but it just couldn’t the premise for its almost 2 1/2 long runtime. With its initial setup I was expecting more of a mystery with twists and turns but the film quickly resolved its questions without much fanfare. It made me wonder throughout most of the film if I missed something or when the next big twist was coming. That was possibly my own downfall but it did seem like there should have been more going on than what was handed up, especially with the disjointed first act. But as I said, expecting more mystery is a personal fault in my viewing experience and perhaps not the films fault. I do think the middle drags and I found the end to be a bit bland but strong performances and music kept me interested in this film. I’m glad I watched it and I would suggest watching the film but I don’t think I’ll ever watch this again. Happy I watched it but it’s not very memorable. Light Recommend

Series

killingeve

I finally started Killing Eve. Watched all 8 episodes in one night so that shows you how good I think it is. Basic premise is Eve, a government investigator gets brought in to investigate a murder of a political figure. That’s the first episode and from there it escalates into a game of cat and mouse. The 2 leads are very well acted and the main villain really captures your attention. Fantastic performances all round and what I love about the show is even though it’s a dark series about murder and assassinations, it has a healthy dose of humour and dark humour. Which as a fan of early Dexter, I’m all about! Another praise I have to give this show is that it knows not to drag its feet. 8 episodes long and the plot moves at a good pace. Too many shows have a loose middle now from overextending their plot into more episodes but a lean experience is always more memorable than a drawn out one. Quality over quantity and Killing Eve is a prime example of this. Highly Recommend

Random Recommendation

invincable

For this month I wish to recommend the graphic novel Invincible by the creator of The Walking Dead. This is his attempt at the superhero genre and I think he does an admirable job of creating an entire superhero universe and hero. Mark Grayson is Invincible, a superhero that is essentially Superman but in his Smallville era except it didn’t take 10 seasons for Mark Grayson to learn how to fly. Invincible can fly, is quick, durable and super strength. He wins no prizes for originality but that isn’t what the series is about. Robert Kirkman has taken the highs of comic books and its tropes and recreated them in his vision. For instance, there is a Justice League equivalent where the Aquaman version is literally a walking fish man who is the butt of jokes. Just like how Aquaman was a joke character in general media like Robot Chicken. What I really enjoy about Invincible is how the characters evolve. Heroes have problems and downfalls, they aren’t always on top form like Batman and Superman. Heroes mess up and suffer consequences or change mindsets in a gradual manner. There is a lot of personality and progression with the characters and some of the storylines are great arcs. As I said, a lot of this stuff is borrowed from other comics but after 60+ years of comics it’s hard not to do that. But as I said, Kirkman generally puts his own twist on the tried arcs and brings a new flare to the basics. If like me, you enjoy general comic book films and like comic book characters and like to dip into the comics now and then, I highly recommend Invincible. Part of the reason I only read contained stories in comics like Planet Hulk/World War Hulk is because you can jump into those things with basic knowledge of the characters and the world and just figure the rest out as you go. But if I grabbed a random Spider-Man comic I would be completely lost with what is going on. Invincible has an easy starting point and an end, and at 144 issues, it’s not a huge commitment.

Anyway, that’s me for this month. Hope you had a good month and thank you for reading. Take it easy.

Dead Space: 10 Years Ago I Screamed In Space

10 years ago on this day in North America, Dead Space was released. Do you feel old yet? I do. I remember playing this on the day it came out in the UK. I also remember playing this at night and then realising I’m too much of a coward to continue. The next day I returned however and continued my romp from the Ishimura.

With it being Halloween I thought it was only fitting to briefly talk about this fantastic and genuinely scary game. Dead Space was a 3rd person horror/action game by the studio now known as Visceral Games. Rather fitting name don’t you think? It originally released on the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC.

The game closely resembles the Alien franchise specifically the 1st one. As a side note, Dead Space 2 continues this pattern as it was more action focused like Aliens. The gameplay is over the shoulder similar to Resident Evil 4. In the game, we played as Isaac Clarke, space engineer as he journeys through the Ishimura, a planet cracking vessel.

The story is very basic but works well with the atmosphere. This is a game that wants you to feel isolated. Isaac boards the ship as he had received a distress message from his partner, Nicole, who was aboard the vessel herself. When Isaac boards the ship all he finds is desolation, bodies and the Necromorphs.

Necromorphs

Necromorphs are a fantastic monster design. Throughout gaming we’ve been told to inflict pain on the head for big damage or aim for the biggest target, aka the body, usually. The Necromorphs are beings that you need to dismember to take out. Arms and legs are the first to go as these nightmares are dangerous but also agile.

Dead Space stands out because it did so many things different. It was horror in space which surprisingly was a barren zone for games. Isaac wasn’t a space marine, he was an engineer and the weapons he used were modified space tools. He didn’t board the Ishimura with intent to kill. He just thought the ship was malfunctioning and he’s the man to fix it. As I mentioned, there is little story or dialogue as the developers wanted the player to feel alone and vulnerable. But what they did put into their game, was oodles upon oodles of unease.

Mild spoilers for this game. I highly recommend you play it if you haven’t. Throughout the game Isaac catches glances of his partner Nicole. As you progress these sightings become more strange and unnerving. I won’t spoil it but the team did a great job with this aspect. And if you want an extra spoiler/tid bit have a look at this article from last year Trivia- Dead Space: Chapter Cryptology

Dead Space, for me, is a template for horror/action games. What it really hit on the head was the atmosphere and build up. You don’t go in guns blazing and the first hour of the game might be one of the scariest and most oppressive hours of my life. The creaks of the ventilation system (which the Necromorphs use to get around the ship), the mad scribbling’s on the walls and the lack of sound in the game just gives me that paranoid feeling where I’m inching around corners.

dead-space-limbs

Dead Space will forever be on the mantle of games that scared the hell out of me. It’s quite a crowded mantle but Dead Space is one of the best and its sequel is a fantastic follow up, building on the psychological aspect magnificently. I really do hope we see this series again some day. Thank you for reading and feel free to share your thoughts on Dead Space in the comments.

5 Fundamentals That Make A Great Horror Game Great

Frights are like a curry. Some people like a korma, nice and mild or a balti with a bit of a kick. Others prefer their horrors stronger like a vindaloo, both though still require a change of underwear. We all have limits though when it comes to them. Today I want to look at key components of horrors, the spices if you want to keep with the curry analogy. While all these components may not always be featured in every horror, when used well they can be good enough on their own.

Sounds

What goes bang bang bang in the night? My neighbours! Not the fun kind even, I mean stomping round like T-rex’s trying to squish a flea. Sound is among one of the strongest senses. If someone tries to describe a smell to you, a flavour or even a texture, it’s not an easy thing to replicate in your mind. We are more visual and sound based when it comes to imagination. It’s easier to associate that with a previous noise or image we’ve seen.

When it comes to imagination and horror games like to feed off of that talent of ours. Imagination is our own worst enemy at times and to be quite frank I thought of giving it its own space on this list but it factors into so much of horror games that it needs to be broken down with these choices I’ve made.

Sounds in games don’t have to do much. We do the rest. *Tink*, as something hits the floor in a game, I stand completely still and stare into that vicinity for minutes until I’m brave enough to move the character closer. What is there is a pesky rat, what I imagined, was 3 shark toothed goblins riding spiders. And I don’t mean 3 spiders, I mean a swarm of millions of arachnids lifting the goblins up with their long, black legs. Feeling itchy yet? Thank your imagination for that.

Dread

Now with sound and imagination, comes the dread. A typical horror will have sprawling levels with lots of nooks and crannies. More than likely the game will be dimly lit and lighting used effectively to bring the shadows out to play. That’s when the dread will set in.

This usually occurs happens pretty quickly in horror games. It doesn’t give you time to relax, especially in the beginning. At the start everything is new to you, you don’t have a lot of weapons or a weapon at all. The beasts or dangers lurking ahead may not be revealed yet and so whatever your mind concocts will be primed to your personal fears.

The start of the game is usually bombastic in the beginning. Something needs to set the pace and similar to books, games need to make a good first impression. The dread you feel imbues you with curiosity. You want to play the game and dread is similar to ripping off a plaster (band-aid), get it over with and hope for the best. But, a game done well will then lead to……

Build up

A horror game needs to retain its scare factor. Otherwise it isn’t a horror game any more. The original Bioshock had that issue for me. The first couple of hours I was a twitchy mess. After a certain point though and once I had more guns than the army I wasn’t phased any more.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing as Bioshock is a great FPS as well as a horror but a full horror needs to build on what it starts. From start to finish the player needs to nearly always be on edge. Having lulls is a good tactic though when used well, it doesn’t need to be 150mph every second. A haven is also a great time to do a cheap scare. Like Dead Space (2?) having a save spot with a surprise Necromorph. Cheap but memorable.

Resident Evil does a fantastic job of this with the safe rooms. That calming music, the opportunity to save and the brightly lit room give a chance of respite. Every player gives a sigh of relief when they find a new safe room. They can calm down for a bit but then they have to go back out into the mansion. That’s the build up aspect again, because if you’ve found a new safe room, that means you haven’t seen what is to come. The new horrors around the corner, which…..

Monsters

…….are waiting in the shadows for you. Monster designs are crucial. If a monster isn’t scary, it’s not a monster. There don’t need to be thousands of monsters or monster designs in your game. One truly terrifying beast can carry it.

What makes a good monster? The unknown or something so mundane that when it’s different it’s unnerving. Resident Evil Remake does a great job of this is my mind. Zombies on their own are a classic horror enemy. Slow, lumbering and resilient. That aspect of them is scary but the fact that they can infect a person so easily is where I think their terror stems from. Similar to how Dracula was an analogy to STI’s, zombies represent a sickness. Nobody wants to get sick. It’s practically universal among all life and so everyone fears that aspect of zombies.

But zombies are a tried and tested monster which some may be a bit bored with, that’s where the Crimson Heads come into play. We became so use to the zombies of Resident Evil that when a variation is thrown in, it scares the bejesus out of us. Me especially. It’s a classic monster taken to a new level. Slow is now fast, easy to dodge is now horrifying to run from.  That shake-up keeps things fresh and taps into a particular fear. We all fear something. Monsters are just things that take advantage of those fears.

Scares

It’s obvious really. Be it a diary entry detailing a man’s personal transformation into a brain dead zombie or a mechanical bear lunging at the screen. A horror game needs to be full of scares. They can be subtle and intended to get under your skin, or a full on jump scare.

While some may call jump scares cheap and I will admit the Five Night’s At Freddie’s series isn’t really my thing, they still get me good. They’re effective but not long lasting in my opinion. Resident Evil has very few jump scares and is remembered as one of the best horror series. Again, that is the dread and build-up in big effect.

But everyone who played the original RE remembers the dogs jumping through the window or the time in Resident Evil 2 where there is a zombie in the door transition screen. The entire game before it didn’t have that and so everyone assumed the door transition was a sanctuary. Wrong! Heart attack city that was. So jump scares are just as good but a balance is the perfect recipe.

You need the calm before the storm to truly appreciate the savagery of the storm.  But anyway I hope you enjoyed my thoughts and feel free to let me know yours in the comments. Did a particular monster scare you or what scares you the most in games? Halloween season is upon us, let’s get scared together.