Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Gothic 1 vs Gothic 2 - Which is Better?

Gothic 1 and 2 are some of my favorite games of all time, being some of the most deeply satisfying and immersive action-adventure-RPGs that I've ever played. While most people in the early 2000s were raving about how great Morrowind was, I was busy playing Gothic, and my experience with those games fundamentally altered my ability to appreciate other, similar types of games because the early Gothic games were truly ahead of their time and did some really impressive things that other developers weren't doing at the time, and still aren't doing to this day. I sometimes struggle, however, to decide which of the two Gothic games I like better. With Gothic 2 being a direct sequel to the first game, directly continuing the story with many of the exact same characters in the exact same world, and being built on the exact same game engine, they're about as similar as two games in a series can be, and so I often like to think of them as essentially one game broken into two parts. At the end of the day, however, they are separate games with some key differences, so I thought I'd take some time to review the two games against one another and discuss the relative pro's and con's of each game.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The Importance of Gothic 1+2's Music: A Review of Kai Rosenkranz's Soundtracks

A lot of different components go into making Gothic 1 and 2 such great games, but one of its more subtle, understated triumphs is the excellent quality of its soundtrack, composed by Kai Rosenkranz. Music is something that I feel often gets overlooked when it comes to video game reviews, because most gamers aren't music critics, and aren't very knowledgeable about what goes into making great music -- we just know what sounds good, and what doesn't. The thing that makes Gothic's soundtrack so good, to me, is that it strikes a perfect balance between melody and ambiance -- it has enough melodic structure that you can pick out themes and quickly come to recognize its motifs, while also serving as an ideal backdrop to set the tone of your adventures, without crossing too boldly into the foreground and calling too much attention to itself.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Resident Evil 2: Great, But Imperfect

The Resident Evil 2 remake has been possibly the most-anticipated release in the Resident Evil series, considering how well the original game is beloved by fans. Ever since the first game got remade on the GameCube in 2002, fans have been clamoring for a similar treatment of the sequel, which many actually consider to be the better game. Two decades later, we finally have the Resident Evil 2 remake, but it's maybe not quite what people really wanted, at least not initially. Gone are the pre-rendered backgrounds, fixed camera angles, and awkward tank-controls that were so iconic and representative of the first three games; in their place we now have an over-the-shoulder Resident Evil 4 style third-person shooter perspective in a fully three-dimensional environment. While the shift in perspective may make it seem to have more in common with some of the more recent Resident Evil games, rather than the game it's supposed to be based on, the remake is definitely more of a classic survival-horror game in the vein of the original trilogy than a modern action shooter. In fact, it's probably the most old-school survival-horror game to be released by a major publisher since, well, Resident Evil 7, and the remake is even more of an old-school survival-horror than Resident Evil 7 was.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, Review - Interactive Storytelling in a Movie Done Right

Netflix's Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is an interactive movie about an aspiring video game developer in 1984 trying to finish his first major game release while feeling like his life is spinning out of control. The movie plays like a "choose your own adventure" book or game where, at certain points in a scene, an interface will appear on screen asking you to make a binary choice for the character, which is then played out in the following shots and can lead to a lot of different pathways to over five different endings. As the story continues, the main character, Stefan, begins to realize there are weird forces controlling his life; he begins to relive past traumas, starts having demonic visions and conspiratorial dreams, and slowly descends into a surreal madness as reality crumbles around him, all while struggling with the normal tribulations and speed bumps to meet the deadline to release his first game, Bandersnatch.

For anyone unfamiliar with the series, Black Mirror is a dark science-fiction anthology series on Netflix, a bit similar in tone and style to The Twilight Zone, where each episode explores a concept about the darker possibilities of technology. Iconic episodes deal with being able to "block" people in real life (like on social media), using reality television as a form of criminal punishment, using memory implants for police investigations, and having one's consciousness uploaded to a virtual reality mainframe after you die, among many others. Bandersnatch functions as a feature-length stand-alone episode that can last 90 minutes or more, depending on your choices and how much of it you choose to explore. I don't normally review movies on this blog (although I have on a few occasions, and I used to have my old Video Games in TV series), but this movie deals directly with video game themes and its interactive nature makes it feel almost like a game, so I figured I'd share my thoughts and observations on it for those who're interested.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Dead Space - A 10 Year Retrospective

Dead Space hails from 2008 as a bit of a cross between System Shock 2 and Resident Evil 4, if you were to take the slow-paced over-the-shoulder combat system from RE4 and put it in a space horror setting reminiscent of SS2. According to interviews with the development team, Visceral Games, Dead Space was originally being designed with the hope that it could become System Shock 3, but after playing Resident Evil 4, their eyes were opened to new possibilities, and thus the game shifted from more of an RPG focus to an action-horror focus.

This was around the time that horror games started shifting from more traditional survival-horror games where players controlled a feeble survivor with limited resources, to controlling badass killing machines with a full arsenal of weapons, when the focus shifted more from making the player feel so scared and vulnerable that you might prefer to avoid combat whenever possible, to glorifying the combat and making the thrill of killing these terrifying enemies the main reward. Resident Evil 4 ushered in this new era of action-centric horror games, and Dead Space was one of many subsequent games to pick up that torch and carry the trend onward.

I played Dead Space for the first time in 2010, but that was so long ago that I don't remember much about it. I know that I liked the game, generally speaking, but wished that it could've focused a little more on its horror side of the equation, instead of leaning so heavily on action and jumpscares. With my newsfeed recently filling up with articles celebrating the 10 year anniversary of the original Dead Space, I figured it was time to refresh my memory and see how much my opinion on it has changed, if at all, and to see how well the game holds up a decade later.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Impressions of the Resident Evil 2 Remake: One Shot Demo

The Resident Evil 2 remake is right around the corner, and so Capcom have launched a 30-minute demo featuring a slice of gameplay from the full game, in which you control Leon Kennedy exploring the Raccoon City Police Department fighting zombies and solving puzzles to find a way to advance. As the "One Shot" title implies, you have one shot to play this 30-minute scenario; a timer starts counting down once you launch into the game, and once your 30 minutes are up you get booted out to the menu with a "Thanks for playing" message. You cannot start over for a new 30 minutes, unless you launch the demo on a new account.

I'm not a big fan of the 30-minute time limit, because I usually like to play these games pretty slowly, making sure I'm taking in all the details, exploring everywhere possible, and trying all of the outcomes. The side-effect of the timer is that I played the game a little differently than I would have a normal demo, since I was essentially rushing to get through as much of it as I could, and so my mind was less focused on the game itself and more on my playing of the demo. There's potential with a time limit in a survival-horror game to enhance the stress and tension, and to force more interesting decisions when it comes to risk-versus-reward, but I never really felt that in this demo, so it feels more like a marketing gimmick to stir up hype and get people more interested in the game.

The remake seems to have been done in the engine used for Resident Evil 7, so it has the sleek and smooth feel of RE7, but in a third-person over-the-shoulder perspective (a bit like Resident Evil 4) with Resident Evil 2-style puzzles and exploration. Resident Evil 7 already felt like a return to form for the series, with the Baker estate feeling reminiscent of the mansion from RE1, but RE2 seems to be taking it one step further in going back to the roots, which would make sense since it is a remake of RE2, after all, arguably the best game in the original series. So on first impressions, it seems like the remake will blend a bunch of different elements from three of the best games in the series.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Introducing Live Streaming on Twitch, YouTube

I'm pleased to announce that as of yesterday, The Nocturnal Rambler is now also on Twitch and YouTube, where I'm currently live streaming a playthrough of Gothic, one of my all-time favorite games. Video content had never really interested me in the past, but I've decided to give it a shot as a way to hopefully grow and expand, while also just having some extra fun. Right now I'm basically just doing a live "let's play" format where I talk to myself and give commentary about the game as I play, and I'll be doing that for a full playthrough of Gothic, and for most or all the PC games that I play in the future.

Last night I played Gothic for about four hours while live streaming on Twitch, and am also in the process of uploading those videos to YouTube, so if you're interested in watching me play and hearing me talk, you can follow me on Twitch to be notified when I go live or subscribe on YouTube if you'd rather watch at your own leisure. I'll be playing most nights and some random afternoons (I'm on the east coast of the US, GMT-5), so be on the lookout because there'll be new videos on a pretty regular basis. And who knows, maybe with this new recorded footage I can start doing video reviews to supplement my written ones.