Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween Horrors: My Laptop Fried Itself

In the midst of a fun-filled night of playing through Frictional Games' Penumbra: Overture, an indie horror game to match the theme of the holiday, my laptop froze up as if the display drivers had crashed and then failed to recover thereafter. Every time I try to boot up the laptop, I'm stuck with a glitched-out display, and no evidence suggests that it's even making it to the Windows loading screen (I never hear the startup sound).

I tried hooking up two different external monitors to no avail, and can't even boot up in safe mode. Which leaves me concerned that something is totally fried, maybe the GPU or the motherboard---perhaps meaning that the entire laptop is beyond repair.

This is sad news, especially since I don't have the money to replace it; I'll have to revert back to my seven year old desktop and relive the good old days of block-model characters with permanent fist-hands, blob shadows, and static lighting. It might seem too rough for me to handle, but I'm comforted by the knowledge that games were better back then. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Great Games You Never Played: Lineage 2

"Fine, obscure gems." Part of a periodical series: Great Games You Never Played.

Lineage 2 may have been fated for obscurity from the beginning, if only for carrying the dreaded stigma of being a "Korean MMO," but it also didn't help that EverQuest 2 and World of Warcraft were just around the corner. Either way, L2 never achieved mainstream popularity in the West. If you were too busy playing some kind of sissy MMO, then you missed out on the most hardcore online game of them all: PVP everywhere, clan wars and politics, 400-person castle sieges, and a huge, huge level cap.

Unlike some other great games that you never played, where you can still go back and experience their glory, this one is too late to get into, as the online community is almost assuredly dead. If not, then the player-base is assuredly well over level 80 and it'll take you way too long to catch up. But L2 was an excellent MMO in its time, and deserves a retrospective spotlight for its unique gameplay accomplishments.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Right on Time: A Very Killing Floor Halloween

Just the other day I was complaining to a friend about there not being a "Halloween Event" for Killing Floor, the 6-player online cooperative zombie-killing first-person shooter. Considering that they've already done a Christmas event and a summer event, you'd think that Halloween would be the perfect holiday for a survival-horror game. Well it looks like the good folks at Tripwire Interactive heard my complaints and managed to put out a Halloween event after all. Huzzahs all around!

But is it any good? Does it capitalize on the vast potential of the season? Does it rekindle my interest in the online community, full of compelling desire to decapitate specimens and to be destroyed by raging fleshpounds?  Find out after the jump.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Don't Forget to Play Amnesia: The Dark Descent

Amnesia: The Dark Descent, by Frictional Games (they of the Penumbra series), may be the scariest game ever. So scary that I've forgotten my own name. Fortunately for me, it's printed at the bottom of each of these articles, so I can easily solve the mystery of my forgotten identity. But the rest of you will have to do it the hard way by risking your sanity in the dark abyss. 

Amnesia is an intelligent game that has a firm grasp of what makes horror scary. Making the player defenseless gives you reason to be anxious about your environment; the less you see of a monster, the more your imagination takes over; climactic moments work best with a slow and steady build-up. On top of the well-crafted horror, Amnesia boasts intelligent puzzles, interesting scenery, and a fairly intriguing story. 

Seriously, this is one of those games that comes along and changes everything. You may forget your own name, but don't forget to play this game. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Video Games in TV: Killer Instinct

"Some TV shows just don't get it." Part of a periodical series: Video Games in TV

No, not the video game. This comes from an obscure television series that I never even heard of until it was randomly referenced in a google hit. Killer Instinct is a typical crime drama that only lasted a single season. This seventh episode, "Game Over," follows the typical formula of "psychotic gamers start playing a violent video game for real," complete with the typical stereotyping I've come to expect from these kinds of episodes. 

This episode doesn't display a lot of actual gameplay footage that I can make fun of, but the way the cops perceive gamers is pathetic, and the way they handle the investigation is almost equally absurd. All of the dialogue reeks of nonsense, and it even goes for the "video game violence causes real world violence" angle, which only further inhibits my ability to take it seriously. So let's get into the specifics and have a good laugh, shall we?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Don't Drink the Kool-Aid: Super Cult Tycoon 2

Here's a free indie game by Eddie Cameron and Robert Yang (now of Altercation). In Super Cult Tycoon 2, your mission is to start a religious cult and summon the mothership before the FBI can shut you down. This creative idea blends elements of tower defense, tycoon, and real-time strategy with you using resources (Kool-Aid, manpower, and money) to build your society. The bigger your cult grows, the more suspicious the feds get, requiring you to spend more of your resources diverting their attention and fending them off until the final count-down.

Super Cult Tycoon 2 has some technical and design problems that leave it far from perfection, but the gameplay proves to be pretty fun, and that makes it worth checking out. 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Nature Treks: Healing with Bloom and Saturation

Feeling a little stressed out? Anxious about that big event tomorrow morning? Tired of looking at the same slate-gray city sidewalks all the time? Can't remember the last time you saw an honest-to-goodness tree? Then it might be time for you to go on a calm, relaxing walk through a mountain pasture.

Nature Treks: Healing with Color is a free Unity-based project by John Carline (of Greener Games) that aims to offer a relaxing, therapeutic gameplay experience. Its current build features two gameplay modes: a "trek" where you walk around collecting colored orbs, and an "auto trek" that lets you sit back and watch as the camera moves through the environment on its own.

As an interactive "game," Nature Treks leaves quite a lot to be desired, but taken as an interactive "therapy device," it shows some promise. If nothing else, the audio and visual experience is certainly quite relaxing and might be worth checking out.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Grotesquely Obnoxious: Tactics

Grotesque Tactics: Evil Heroes, an independent game by Silent Dreams, bills itself as a "satirical RPG" that "pokes fun at" the well-worn tropes and cliches of popular strategy-RPGs and action-RPGs. When its description specifically mentioned Gothic as one of its targets for parody, I was all for a humorous tongue-in-cheek adventure that would make fun of my favorite game.

But it turns out that Grotesque Tactics isn't that much of a satire or a parody. Its jokes are worth a slight chuckle at first, but the amusement quickly wears off once you realize that its only way of satirizing the genre is to make you play obnoxiously exaggerated renditions of all of the wearisome aspects of the genre. It references a few games here and there, but only in oblique ways that don't relate to anything at all.

Besides that, the gameplay of Grotesque Tactics is pretty rough around the edges with bugs, glitches, random crashes, camera issues, targeting issues, interface issues, typos, and so forth. On top of that, for a game that's billed as a "tactics" game, there's not a lot of strategy or tactics involved. So putting "tactics" in the title may not be totally appropriate, but the experience certainly could be called "grotesque." More after the jump.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Black Lodge Annihilates Your Imperfect Soul

Black Lodge 2600, a retro pixel-art game by Jak Locke, would suck if it weren't intentionally trying to suck. Inspired by David Lynch's 1990 television series Twin Peaks, you play as FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, trapped in the Black Lodge fleeing from his doppelganger. It's designed to feel like an actual old-school game, complete with a manual that explains the controls in terms of the Atari joystick, with keyboard controls scribbled in with pen. And that's where most of its charm comes into play (that and the whole Twin Peaks thing), but the actual gameplay can be very difficult and frustrating. Which I suppose is faithful to Atari-era gameplay.

Gameplay mostly consists of getting from one side of a room to another, avoiding obstacles like flying chairs, screaming Laura Palmers who invert your controls, statues that you can only pass by blocking its line of sight, and other such treacherous terrors. The longer you survive, the more obstacles you face in each room; suffice it to say, things get cluster****ed very quickly. The whole game is kind of surreal, like what you'd expect from a Twin Peaks game, but it's difficult to recommend unless you're a real fan of the show, otherwise the content and its references won't make any sense to you. It's available for free download (PC and Mac) here.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Great Games You Never Played: Gothic

"Fine, obscure gems." Part of a periodical series: Great Games You Never Played.

In 2001, Piranha Bytes created the pinnacle of action-adventure-RPGs: Gothic. Set in a magically-encapsulated prison colony where criminals are sent to mine magic ore for the war against the orcish armies, the convicts have revolted against the King's guards and now run the colony in anarchy. You play as a nameless convict who's just been tossed into the barrier. Initially tasked with delivering a message to the magicians at the castle, you become a key figure in trying to bring down the magical barrier and in stopping an event that threatens to kill everyone in the colony.

Besides the wonderfully unique setting and premise, Gothic also boasts some of the most compelling gameplay ever. Carving your way up the ranks in a hostile dog-eat-dog prison, where strong beasts and monsters also roam, everything is dangerous and there's always a challenge waiting for you. It's a game that doesn't hold your hand, with death and treacherous enemies around every corner; leveling up and getting stronger is its own reward as you become better-equipped to brave the non-linear, free-roaming world of the colony. Its attention to detail also make it one of the most atmospheric, immersing game worlds ever.

If you're still not convinced of Gothic's supremacy in the world of western RPGs, continue reading for the more detailed description of its feats and strengths, with some embedded gameplay videos to illustrate.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

More Like Project L.A.M.E.

F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin is pretty much a disgrace compared to the original F.E.A.R. Gone are the intelligent, tactical fights, gone is the creepy horror atmosphere, gone is my fun. Project Origin just feels like a lame, phoned-in sequel that didn't even try to innovate like the first game did. I've got a laundry list of problems with it, but the big issues are the combat and the horror atmosphere, the two things that are supposed to be the most important aspects of this series. Overall, it's still an enjoyable game, but as a fan of the original, and as a fan of good, intelligent games, I'm obliged to call it out for its failures.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Video Games in TV: CSI Miami

"Some TV shows just don't get it." Part of a periodical series: Video Games in TV.

Season 4, Episode 9: "Urban Hellraisers" is as bad as they get. This episode follows the cliched "deluded gamers go on a killing spree because they think they're still playing a video game" premise, while the detectives use the video game as their main source of intelligence to apprehend the killers. Tax dollars at work. I think this episode may actually be more insulting to police detectives than gamers, just because of the team's over-reliance on coincidental logic. It's still rife with negative gaming stereotypes and fallacious misconceptions, mind you, so continue reading for the rest of the breakdown. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

All of the Dragon Age DLC Campaigns Suck

Golems of Amgarrak: The whole thing is over way too quickly, and it's not tied to anything relevant or interesting so it's hard to care about what's going on. Also, back-tracking with the different "color switches" was annoying. But at least it was actually challenging.

Leliana's Song: Alright, this one's actually pretty good. It's nice to get some backstory for a character that actually mattered in the core game, and it even has all the elements that make DA:O fun, like dialogue, looting, leveling-up, allocating skills, and an actual story.

Darkspawn Chronicles: It's almost impossible for me to care about winning a hypothetical battle as a darkspawn vanguard, especially when the entire thing is just straight-up combat. And the combat's not even fun because you're low-level and just use the same skillsets as an average warrior. 

Witch Hunt: It doesn't last very long, and most of the game is basically fulfilling an arbitrary side-quest that has nothing to do with Morrigan. She makes a brief appearance at the end, but it does nothing to satisfy our curiosity about what she's been up to and offers zero resolution to her character arc. Oh, and all of the locations are recycled.

So, yeah.... color me unimpressed. But at least I'm finally done with all things Dragon Age.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Help! There's a Cutscene in my Horror Game!

Cutscenes can help accent a dramatic situation, but they inevitably take control away from the player. That's especially problematic in survival horror games, the very essence of which is (supposed to be) tension. You're supposed to feel vulnerable and fear for your well-being, which is usually accomplished through the "survival" aspect. And then the cutscenes break the tension because you know that whatever happens is beyond your control; you just passively watch it. And that's no good.

Continue reading for examples of how horror works in Silent Hill 2, and how the cutscenes contribute (or detract) from that horror. 

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Awakening is Halfway Decent

Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening had potential to be a good expansion, but its execution leaves it a little mired. It amounts to mostly "more of the same," which would be a good thing if I were completely enamored with the original game. But since I grew weary of my time in the first game, playing the expansion didn't do much to rekindle my interests. It has its moments, certainly, but it's nothing particularly great. So I'll just run a quick list of things I liked and disliked in Awakening, after the jump. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

Top 20 Video Game Soundtracks

"Top 20" is kind of misleading, because I don't even want to begin trying to rank these. But it wouldn't be very stylish to call this a "List of 20 Great Arbitrarily-Ranked Video Game Soundtracks," would it? In fact, it might not even be 20 soundtracks at all, as I'm almost certain I'll suddenly remember one or two more as soon as I post this.

The criteria for selecting these soundtracks is based primarily on how well I could remember music five, ten, fifteen years after playing the games. I looked over my shelves and collections of games just trying to see if I could remember anything about the music, and these are the 20 that I actually have lasting memories of. And that, I feel, is perhaps more important than a soundtrack's technical merits.

Continue reading the full article for my pick of top 20 video game soundtracks, complete with four embedded tracks from each of the games. Can you guess which games and songs will be featured?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Great Games You Never Played: Obscure

"Fine, obscure gems." Part of a periodical series: Great Games You Never Played.

Talk about obscure games, am I right? They don't get any more obscure than Hydravision Entertainment's 2004 premiere Obscure (or ObsCure if you ain't got no understanding of how them there English grammaticals work), a good old-fashioned survival-horror game in the same vein as the original Resident Evil. This isn't a sissy game like Resident Evil 5 or Dead Space; this is hardcore survival-horror, complete with limited saves, weird camera angles, obscure puzzles, and more enemies than bullets or healing items. 

Not only is Obscure a faithfully functional rendition of the classic formula, it's got enough style to make it stand out from the crowd. You control up to five different high school stereotypes who've gotten trapped inside of Leafmore High while trying to find their missing friend. Each of the characters has unique abilities that aid your gameplay in different ways, and when a character dies, s/he's dead for good. (Unless you reload a save.) The campaign also boasts a strong two-player co-op that lets you and a friend play on the same screen. 

And if that's not enough to sell it to you, it features music by Sum 41 and Span, as you can read for yourself on the front of the box. Seriously, this is one you don't want to miss. More about Obscure after the jump.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Dragon Age: Origins is a Bloody Long Game

What is there to say about Dragon Age: Origins that hasn't already been said? There's a ton of content to experience, lots of dialogue, lots of loot, lots of blood, lots of quality polish, and not so many dragons. It's probably the most "old school" RPG we've seen in the last few years (or at least the most successful one), and that alone makes it a very compelling game. But despite its many great features and overall high quality experience, DAO still suffers from typical BioWare shenanigans that leave me to say that it's merely "pretty good."