Friday, October 31, 2014

Five Nights At Freddy's is Overrated

It's Halloween, which means it's time for the obligatory horror game review. Tonight's game is Five Nights at Freddy's, the latest indie sensation to wet the pants of YouTube "let's players" proclaiming it to be the scariest game they've ever played. Hold it there, chief, you're telling me a game about friendly animatronic animals at a children's pizzeria/playground/arcade is supposed to be scary? What's that? They come to life and roam the building's halls at night attempting to murder anyone they find so they can stuff the human remains into an empty animatronic suit? Well, that's a start, I guess.

In Five Nights at Freddy's, you play a security guard tasked with spending the night at Freddy Fazbear's Pizza to keep an eye on the robotic band members, who're set to "free roam mode" every night because they (supposedly) need the exercise to keep their servos from locking up. Except, really, they're trying to murder you. You have to survive six hours each night (roughly eight minutes in real time) by flipping through camera feeds to keep track of where each animatronic character is so that you can close the doors to your office when they get close. What's stopping you from keeping the doors closed all night, I hear you ask -- a limited power supply. Using the cameras, turning the lights on, and locking the doors all consume power.

Therein lies the game -- a simple matter of clicking through camera feeds, watching the screen, and closing a door at the right moment without using too much power -- but can such a simple game succeed at eliciting genuine horror, or are the masses simply overreacting? The answer is a little bit of both, but more of one than the other. How much you'll be scared by Five Nights at Freddy's depends heavily on how much of a wuss you are, and on how much you can suspend your disbelief and immerse yourself in the security office's confines.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Impressions of Super Smash Bros 3DS

The Super Smash Bros series has been a longtime staple in my party gaming lineup, ever since the original was released for the Nintendo 64 back in 1999. Super Smash Bros: Melee was the one reason I absolutely had to buy a Nintendo GameCube; my friends and I enjoyed that game so much that we played it nearly every weekend over the span of three years. When Super Smash Bros: Brawl came out in 2008, I found myself underwhelmed by its slow movement and clunky physics, yet friends and I have continued to play it on occasion to this very day.

By now, my enthusiasm for new Super Smash Bros games has waned to near non-existence, since each new game has been the same as the last but with more characters, new stages, and new tacked-on game modes. After 15 years of playing essentially the same game, it feels like I've been there, done that, and bought the t-shirt, but I simply could not resist the allure of the appropriately-yet-unimaginatively-named Super Smash Bros for Nintendo 3DS. After all, it's a timeless formula that I can now play when I'm away from home, on a platform I already own. What's not to enjoy about that combination of features?

I've had my copy of Smash 3DS for a couple weeks now, having unlocked all of the characters and stages and having tried each and every game mode, and I feel pretty confident in saying I like Smash 3DS a lot more than Brawl, and perhaps almost as much as Melee. It feels faster and more responsive than Brawl, and the controls feel right at home on the 3DS. The new characters are all really fun to play, and the plethora of unlockable content is enough to ensure a long lifetime of playability. And yet, after about nine hours of playtime, I've basically lost interest.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Risen 3: Titan Lords Doesn't Suck

It's been over a decade since Piranha Bytes released a game worthy of praise and recognition. Gothic 3 was a bloated, broken mess that required extensive community patching to make it remotely tolerable; Risen showed some promise but was essentially only half of a game; and Risen 2 was so thoroughly mediocre that I couldn't even write a proper review of it. Gothic and Gothic 2, on the other hand, were such phenomenally outstanding, perception-altering experiences that I'll continue to play every Piranha Bytes game until the day I die, just on the chance that they'll make another masterpiece as good as the original Gothic games.

I'm pleased to say that Risen 3: Titan Lords is the most fun I've had playing a Piranha Bytes game since Gothic 2. That's not to say Risen 3 is as good as Gothic 2, but it comes close. Indeed, there are times when Risen 3 feels a lot like Gothic 2, and it captures the spirit of the original Gothic games better than any other game since. Risen 3 even goes so far as to (finally) fix nearly all of the major issues that afflicted both Risen and Risen 2, making it the most polished and thought-out PB game of the "modern era." At no point did I ever encounter any glaring oversights or questionable design decisions like the things that pissed me off in the other games.

Unfortunately, Risen 3 is not without its problems. The combat is too easy, the progression lacks focus, and the story never really gets going, but compared to previous PB efforts, these problems are minimal and don't actively take away from the game's enjoyment. Rather, it feels as though Risen 3 simply missed some of its potential. It's disappointing to realize how much better the game could have been with some simple tweaks and a little more time in development, but the game itself, as it exists now, is a respectable effort by the small German team that deserves some success. If you like action-adventure-RPGs with immersive worlds that are genuinely fun to explore, then Risen 3 is definitely worth your consideration.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Uncharted: Golden Abyss Sucks Most of All

Given my history with the Uncharted series, I wasn't expecting great things from Bend Studios' Uncharted: Golden Abyss for the PlayStation Vita. I'd grown weary of the series after playing all three of the main installments back-to-back-to-back, but thought Golden Rainbow Golden Abyss might be a decent game to play on a mobile platform where my expectations might be a little more restrained, especially since it didn't cost me anything as a PlayStation Plus subscriber. It turns out even my modest "I'll enjoy it for what it is" attitude wasn't enough to prepare me for how utterly boring and disappointing Golden Abyss would turn out to be.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Silent Hill 3: Not Quite as Good as SH2

Survival-horror is one of my favorite genres, and yet I don't like most of the survival-horror games that I play. It's a difficult genre to pull off, considering the entire point is to instill feelings of dread and horror in the player -- if a survival-horror game doesn't do that one, specific thing, then it's failed at its job. I've played enough of these games that basically nothing scares me anymore, and I'm good enough at these types of games that the mechanics don't do much to inspire tension within me, either, so it takes a rare, special type of survival-horror game to satisfy me.

Silent Hill 2 was one such game. I didn't think very highly of it at first, but it grew on me as I played, and even stayed with me long after I'd finished. Looking back, I realized how much of an impact its story had in elevating a borderline decent-good gameplay experience to something truly excellent. Silent Hill 3 had the unfortunate luck of following what has been commonly regarded as a monumental survival-horror game; it's difficult to top a masterpiece, and SH3 therefore never achieved the same level of acclaim as SH2. In some ways, SH3 is actually a better game than SH2, but I wasn't all that impressed with it.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Resident Evil: Revelations -- Better Than Expected

Once the reigning king and quintessential embodiment of the survival-horror genre, the Resident Evil series has spent the better half of the past decade trying to recapture its former brilliance. Unsuccessfully, it would seem. I used to consider myself a fan of the series, from the slow-paced adventure-style gameplay of the originals to the stronger action focus of the fourth main installment. But ever since Resident Evil 5, which was itself an underwhelming letdown, I've found myself cynically jaded by the barrage of spin-offs to have been churned out by the grand corporate machine.

Resident Evil: Revelations was said to be a return to form for the series, offering a gameplay and atmosphere style that more closely resembled the originals while still retaining the over-the-shoulder third-person-shooting mechanics and control scheme that made Resident Evil 4 so successful. Revelations blends those two game styles (survival-horror adventure and action-shooter) relatively well, but it rarely reaches the full potential that either of those two styles are capable of delivering. The gameplay works surprisingly well on the 3DS, however, which makes Revelations a pretty good game when you can't take your PC or consoles with you.

Monday, June 23, 2014

L.A. Noire Sucks: "More Like L.A. Bore"

L.A. Noire showed a lot of potential back in 2011. Going down its list of features, we have: a unique setting and theme, based around 1940s Los Angeles in a film noir-inspired detective story; a finely-detailed open world to explore, complete with side-missions; an emphasis on old-school adventure-style crime scene investigations; and never-before-seen facial animation technology allowing for realistic interrogations. This game had a lot to be excited about, and all of the pre-release hype and post-release praise had me quite eager to play it. But, as is seemingly always the case with such critically-hyped games, I found it incredibly disappointing and overrated.

L.A. Noire is one of the most expensive games ever made, and it shows. An astonishing amount of research went into accurately recreating 1947 Los Angeles, right down to traffic patterns and smog levels, and every square foot of the city is rendered with extraordinary detail. The facial animations, meanwhile, are some of the most realistic I've ever seen in a video game. All of this historical and graphical fidelity comes at the expense of gameplay, however, as if developer Team Bondi spent all their time and money bringing this wonderful world to life aesthetically, and then forgot to design some worthwhile gameplay to bring it to life mechanically.