Posts Tagged ‘survival horror


Going out on a high note

Silent Hills

Silent Hills is no more.  Or, depending on who you ask, it never was.  But we had P.T. (playable teaser) and it captured a great deal of attention and imagination in trying to solve the game’s puzzles.  Learning that was part of something bigger was exciting.  Who knows if it could have delivered on the promise of P.T. though.  I like to believe that the Kojima, del Toro, and Reedus team could have pulled off something great.  Though its difficult to imagine how even Kojima could have pulled Silent Hill back on its feet and revive the series.

Konami has now assured us that the project is off and the team has been cast adrift.  It’s the latest in a series of console gaming setbacks for the company.  They’ve promised more Silent Hill, but at this point I say it’s time to let the series go out on a high note.  Konami has been a rudderless vessel for the series which has experienced some prominent miss-steps in recent years.  Most of them during the “Month of Madness” in 2012.  One could only conclude that these were games that were being neglected and mishandled.  It’s truly baffling.

I can only speculate at how P.T. came together to produce such a confident experience and offer such a promising return for Silent Hill.  Kojima has expressed interest in working on Silent Hill in the past, and del Toro is well known to have an affinity for games, and desire to participate in their production.  But Kojima is on the way out the door from Konami in a situation where neither party has volunteered to explain what exactly is happening.  Regardless of this, P.T. succeeded in reminding folks what it meant to be sincerely made afraid by a video game.  It offered a glimpse of what a new generation of survival horror games might be, and showed us just how affective the gaming medium could be.

I hope P.T. can be the end for the Silent Hill series, rather than dragging it on for no benefit other than something for Konami to cash in on.  Leave that world in a moment pointing forward, instead of fumbling around in the dark trying to figure out where everything went wrong.




Happy holidays! Hopefully you’ve had a pleasant Christmas.  Seeing nice people, eating good food, and relaxing.  What have I been up to? Mainly, I’ve been playing an upsetting combination of Alien: Isolation, LISA, and PT.  It’s nice to have a current generation console again, but even just waiting a year after their release, I have a tidy backlog of games to play through.  PT almost fell off my radar entirely, being so limited in scope.  Since it’s release, it’s been revealed to be a teaser for a possible entry in the Silent Hill franchise, being headlined by Hideo Kojima, Guillermo del Toro, and Norman Reedus.  It’s an exciting line-up of talent, but it’s still worth lingering on what PT accomplished as a self-contained piece of work.

I’ve yet to complete the game myself.  I’ve reached the final “puzzle,” which appears to be open to debate in how it is solved.  PT is not a game that can be completed on one’s own.  There are too many hidden details that the player would have to spend an inordinate amount of time to solve. It’s not impossible, but I have a hard time picturing the person who would solve on their own.  And while you will need to collaborate with other players, this only ends up reinforcing how alone you are when you play it yourself.  There are still problems that have not been entirely solved – you cannot rest easy knowing that you can just look up a guide when things get to be too intense.  It’s quite a wonderful accomplishment for a game of this scope and scale.

PT succeeds in creating tension between anticipation and confrontation.  Here, it is polished to a mirror sheen.  In much of survival horror, you have plenty of confrontation, which is amplified through use of spectacle (see Resident Evil 6.)  Anticipation is built in knowing something is coming, but not know what it is and when it will happen.  Your mind will be sent into overdrive in trying to prepare for the possibilities.  But when it’s left ambiguous enough, your mind will race ceaselessly, leaving you as a human pile of anxiety waiting to spill over into panic.  A game like Resident Evil 6 conditions you to always expect the confrontation, and leaves little room for your mind to race.  Instead, it tries to make the confrontations bigger, in the hopes that maybe doubling down on what might have once been a frightening idea will somehow make it more overwhelming.  But if you understand the trick that’s being used, then it doesn’t matter how big you make the confrontation.

PT offers you a drip feed of awful things to contemplate and leaves your origin and motivation entirely open-ended.  You will spin your mind trying to figure out exactly what it is and what you’re doing.  When PT does decide to pull the trigger on confrontation, it is incredibly effective.  And being such a small-scale game, it did not have to justify its existence with a great deal of marketing, signaling what you should expect so that you know what you’re buying (PT is free after all.)  It’s difficult to speculate as to whether or not PT translates to a full-fledged game – which will require a great deal of marketing and signaling.  But PT does tell us that those at the creative helm of the game have an aptitude for creating frightening experiences, and may have what it takes to put the Silent Hill series back on the same level as its earlier entries.


First Impressions of Alien Isolation

Alien Isolation

I think I’ve inadvertently spent the past several months preparing to play this game.  I started by reading through every volume of the Aliens Omnibus, picked up any singular comics that weren’t included, started reading one of the more recent novels, and watched through the 35th Anniversary of Alien.  Alien was one of the earliest Sci-Fi franchises I had ever become invested in (thanks to a ridiculous series of Kenner toys.)  I was ready.  And 15 years of experience playing survival horror games made Alien Isolation a prime candidate for me on the latest generation of gaming consoles.

At the same time though, I’m one of many beleaguered fans who have suffered through a series of underwhelming or flat out terrible Alien games and movies.  Creatively Assembly has tried to state that this was going to be different, and I was hopeful after seeing the initial media and press accounts of the game.  And now I’ve had the chance to sink a couple hours into the game, and what I can tell you is: so far so good.  I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself here, or be hyperbolic.  At least initially, Creative Assembly nails it.  The aesthetic and tone are as close to that of the original Alien film as could be without bringing on the original creative team.  And it’s accomplished without just making the same handful of callbacks to the film.  From the loading screens, to the game’s puzzles, everything inspires an ominous dread and otherworldly quality.

Alien Isolation, so far, is also one of the most frightening games I’ve played in a long, long time.  This could easily change if I find “the man behind the curtain” and identify the game’s patterns and behaviors.  But right now, it’s a game that garners a physiological response from me telling me to turn it off.  Having immersed myself in the world of Alien recently has primed me for this.  Or is that even the right term?  It’s probably left me vulnerable to any and all of Isolation’s strategies to terrify me.


Resident Evil 6

I very much want to enjoy Resident Evil 6.  While the series has moved towards a more cinematic and action-oriented format, I had a lot of fun with Resident Evil 5 based on its cooperative game play elements.  It may have dispensed with much of its survival horror flavor, but I find science fiction and action elements that have replaced it to be agreeable enough.  That’s not the problem with 6 though.  No.  Capcom and Resident Evil have found themselves in a world that’s less receptive to the series’ traditional format.  It’s not the triple-A series of years past and Resident Evil 6 looks at the road ahead and resolves not to go down without a fight.  And it’s motto going into the game is “if you can’t beat ’em, join all of them.”


Taken individually, the verbs in RE6 are a lot of fun.  I can pop off a quick shot at the nearest target, then make a mad dash across the level, kick a zombie in the face and then take the sledge hammer out of their hands and finish the job.  I can fling myself backwards and unload a magazine while on the ground.  I get to fly airplanes, drive motorcycles, and fire mini guns into a host of mutants as the world comes crumbling down around me.  What’s the problem then?  RE6 is trying to be so many games at once that these verbs don’t come together in any meaningful way.  It’s Gears of War, it’s Call of Duty, it’s Resident Evil, it’s Dark Souls, and a bunch of other games on top of trying to be blockbuster action movie packed with explosions, cute girls, and one-liners.  The designers were clearly given free reign to reinvent the series, and they were definitely inspired by the biggest games from the past 5 years.  But unlike Resident Evil 4, RE6 doesn’t reboot the series in a coherent fashion.  It feels more like Capcom is throwing every idea it can think of at the audience in the hopes of finding something that sticks.


The player is thrown into the action immediately for each of the game’s three campaigns.  There’s been a bio-terror attack with global repercussions and you must take control of several of Resident Evil’s well known characters.  The game is frustratingly limited on specifics about who, what, and why things are happening.  This would not be a problem if the game weren’t driven so much by its story and attempts to create a cinematic experience.  At every turn, when characters ask perfectly reasonable questions, they will inevitably be shut down with some variation of “there’s no time” or “you wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”  After so long, any plausibility for this response evaporates and all you’re left with are cheap excuses for the dog ate Capcom’s homework.  So what if the game is fun to play though, right?

The trouble is that the game is exhausting to play.  You will never be given a chance to stand back and absorb the experience, reflect on what’s happening, and contemplate what lies ahead of you.  You are always running, and not five minutes are allowed to go by before something explodes or otherwise tries to cajole you into continue.  There is novelty in splitting the game up into three campaigns with three different styles of play, but where, say, a cover system makes sense for Chris’ campaign, it only serves to complicate the controls for Leon’s campaign.  Capcom understood this, and as a result, there is no foundation to build on the game play and present new challenges.  All levels in each of the campaigns are a blur of gunfire, explosions and QTEs that really little more investment from the player than time to complete, but with no reward.


Being that the challenges of RE6 are so unsubstantial, the chances for the player to make an impression on the game are pretty limited.  Your actions are choreographed to the game’s script, and the decisions you can make have little bearing on the experience.  After completing each level, you will have the opportunity to exchange collected experience points for perks, which you can have three equipped to your character at any given time.  This includes quicker reloads, more frequent item drops, or steadier aiming.  In the end, these are all things that would be useful if the game required players to actively formulate a strategy.  Instead it’s as though you’re given access to a debug menu and are told to tune the game to be less of a chore.  And yes, much of the game’s levels do feel like a chore.  It’s a chore to learn how to use the game mechanics when there’s not much to gain from it.  It’s a chore to fight the same bosses repeatedly in the same campaign, only to have to fight them again when playing the other campaigns.  It’s a pain trying to figure out how to respond to the game’s QTEs.  And it’s a pain to play the game three times over to figure out what’s going on in the first place.  There just isn’t much of the reason to replay the game or to master its systems.

As far as I’ve been able to find out, it sounds like RE6 has been selling well enough in the US and Japan.  I’m not entirely surprised by this.  If I had to make a wager, gamers are as excited about trying out new ideas with as venerable of a series as this.  While the final game doesn’t measure up in the end, Capcom and fans all seem to quite like the idea of RE6.  It’s definitely a series that struggling to find an identity in the modern gaming landscape, and any gamer goodwill being shown at this point won’t last indefinitely.

Note: For more information on the context that I use the terms “verbs”, “spaces”, and “impressions”, please see the post titled I’m going to take the fun out of games.


#BoRT: There’s only one way out of here…

I love frightening movies and games.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve sought out entertainment that would provide me with years of nightmares fuel.  I’m really not sure why I do that to myself (or why anyone deliberately subjects themselves to frightening entertainment.)  I’ve written previously that maybe frightening games are a way to ask ourselves “what if…?”

If I had to guess why we enjoy being scared, I would say that it is because it’s a pretty good way to elicit a candid reaction.  You can spend your entire life getting to know yourself, and it’s a task which we aren’t always thinking about.  The difficulty in this lies with reconciling the person you are, and the person you want to be.  When you’re scared, there’s no room to think about who you want to be.  It can be a liberating experience to have the living daylights scared out of you.

One of my earlier experiences deliberately trying to frighten myself was to watch the movie Alien.  I was a grade-school age kid who had stupid action figures based on the movies from the series, but I knew from commercials like that one there was something far worse that I hadn’t yet encountered.

The video clip shown above shows Tom Skerritt’s character, Dallas, who must enter the ship’s air shaft system to attempt to flush an alien creature out of his space ship with a flame-thrower.  The scene captures so much of what makes a movie frightening for the audience and is one of my favorite from the movie.  He is completely vulnerable in the pitch black compartments with no easy escape route.  The only way he can know where the creature is located is based on what his crewmates can describe to him over a radio while looking onto a motion sensor with a display that’s smaller than your phone’s screen.  It becomes abundantly clear that the creature has the advantage, and when Dallas decides to leave – well, just watch the clip.  It is revealed afterward that in searching the air shafts for Dallas, they found a flame-thrower, but no body.

Alien is a fantastic movie and it scared me like nothing else up to that point.  But when things got dicey (and boy, do they get dicey) I could turn away or shield my eyes.  Eventually, I would find that I could have similar experiences with games, and that first one was Silent Hill.  I would also find that, unlike with movies, I couldn’t turn away from a game when things went bad.

I’ve written about my experience playing Silent Hill for the first time before.  It left an impression with me that’s hard to forget, and I feel safe saying it’s the scariest piece of entertainment I’ve yet consumed.  I couldn’t tell you how many times I was sitting in front of the TV, trying to psyche myself up to open a new door and find out what lay behind it.  And there were many times that I just couldn’t bring myself to do it and wound up just turning off my Playstation.  Silent Hill, and frightening games in general, excel where entertainment tightly controlled by its author falls short.  Ridley Scott couldn’t tape my eyes open for Alien’s infamous chestburster scene, but Team Silent was counting on the fact that I knew that unless I was giving the game my full attention, the protagonist would surely die and his daughter would be lost.

Games like Silent Hill create an intensity like no other kind of entertainment because because they create such a strong sense of cognitive dissonance in the player’s mind.    I remember each and every location in Silent Hill because of how much I didn’t want to be there.  Each and every new location was like being Dallas and climbing into that air shaft to find a creature that most certainly would kill me.  But I memorized them in order to solve the game’s arcane puzzles and to try and find out what was happening there.  If you let yourself get caught up in Harry’s plight, then you’ll feel just as trapped as he does when you consider that the only way he gets out is with your help.  There’s no covering your eyes and waiting for the credits to roll.  When you turn off the game, you are abandoning Harry and Cheryl in that town.  It’s such a simple premise – find Harry’s daughter and get right the hell out of there.  But try telling yourself that when you’re randomly phasing in and out of consciousness between two worlds which can be accurately described as bad and worse.  There’s only one way out of Silent Hill (and all other good survival horror games) and that’s to force yourself to face some disturbing scenarios while still managing to effectively play the game.

Silent Hill made the survival horror genre my favorite.  I can’t say for certain what it is that makes games like this so compelling, but I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.  For those who haven’t played it before, it probably looks and sounds like a very silly game.  But I eagerly anticipate when I will have the chance to play through scenes like the one above from Alien (in Colonial Marines, perhaps?) and am looking forward to nightmares yet to come.  If you’re looking to have a good Halloween this year, go track down a copy of Amnesia, Dead SpaceSlender, or even pick up Silent Hill on PSN.

Note: #BoRT stands for Blogs of the Round Table.  The preceding post was an entry to the October 2012 theme: Fear and Loathing in Game Spaces.


Impressions: Lone Survivor

Purchased for me as a gift by @Raisins, I got started on Lone Survivor last week.  I’ve got to say, I’m really impressed with just how well Jasper Byrne captures the spirit of the survival horror genre using so little.  Right from the beginning I was reminded just how much I missed survival horror as it was presented during the PSOne’s time.  I’m certainly not the first to draw the comparison between Silent Hill and Lone Survivor, and most likely not the first to wonder how an independently developed game can be more like Silent Hill than Silent Hill is anymore.  It’s not a difficult formula, (not to detract from Byrne’s work) just add equal parts creepy sound design and “what’s going on here?” and you’ve got a recipe for soiled pants (or is that just me?)

I’m extremely happy to know that there are people out there like Byrne who have the creative range to take pixel art and avoid the aesthetic cliches of pixel art design.  Fewer pixels doesn’t mean what’s being depicted needs to be cute or simple.  It doesn’t have to be Mario.  Fewer pixels mean fewer opportunities to express an idea, but Lone Survivor nails all of them.  It succeeds in ways that games like Aliens: Infestation failed.  A large part of the reason that Lone Survivor is so creepy is because of how its combat elements are balanced on the edge of a razor.  You have the option to avoid battle, though sometimes it is the better option if for no other reason than because your flashlight will run out of juice before you have the chance to sneak by.  Where as in Infestation, combat is the only option and you are given infinite ammo for that end.  Since you can’t hardly avoid enemy attacks in that game, the only option ever is to unload clips and take blows.  Tension in survival horror comes constantly having to make difficult decisions and balancing options.  This is doubly essential in a 2D pixel art game in order to create an atmosphere where you fear for a sprite’s safety.

If you’ve ever been a fan of the earlier Silent Hill games, then you owe it to yourself to go give Jasper Byrne all your money and play Lone Survivor.

Have you seen a little girl?


Weekly Links for November 6th

If Laguna, Kiros, and Ward had been modeled after Larry, Curly, and Moe, then I think people would remember Final Fantasy VIII more fondly today.


They did not leave me feeling empty, because they are not empty. Back in 2005, a certain film critic wrote that the point of art is to “make ourselves more cultured, civilized, and empathetic.” Playing Ueda’s games has precisely these effects.
It’s easy to buy a book. … It’s not so easy to get a new video game. No, getting a game is a process. It lasts as long as a pregnancy and offers almost as many hassles.

What I’ve Been Playing

  • Dark Souls
    Raisins, I promise to do my best to be patient in this game and learn how to actually play it, and not just go around randomly whacking friendlies on the head.
  • Final Fantasy VIII
    Final Fantasy VIII is an absurd game, but I still love it.
  • Soulcalibur IV
    I’m slowly being won over by this series.  And stuff like this makes me like it even more.

Bonus Video

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