Thursday, October 31, 2013

Outlast: Over-hyped and Overrated

If you believe the hype, Outlast is the scariest game to hit the market since Amnesia: The Dark Descent. In case you somehow missed it, Amnesia is the game that basically set the new standard for horror games back in 2010. I was extremely impressed with Amnesia when I played it and still consider it one of the best horror games ever made. Outlast takes a lot of lessons from Amnesia, and indeed it even feels a lot like Amnesia (which is perhaps reason enough to play it), but unfortunately my high hopes were dashed by what turned out to be a simplistic, repetitive survival experience. Instead of being the new heralded champion of horror games, Outlast feels more like a merely "average" horror game.

The game begins with you as Miles Upshur driving up to the front gate of the Mount Massive Asylum. You're a journalist who received an anonymous tip warning of illegal activities at the psychiatric hospital; you're there to document evidence and expose the story. The only thing you bring with you is a battery-powered video recorder, capable of recording in complete darkness thanks to night vision. In the beginning, Outlast seems to get the formula right, with this introduction sequence emphasizing a slow, atmospheric build-up before your adventure descends into madness. It's calm, creepy, and foreboding with the lightest sprinkling of jump scares to keep you wary of what you might encounter up ahead.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Ain't No Rest For the Wicked - Killzone: Mercenary

The PlayStation Vita is a pretty powerful piece of technology capable of delivering console-quality gameplay. With its dual joysticks, large screen, and impressive graphics processor, the Vita seemed poised to become the first handheld to deliver a proper first-person shooter experience. And yet in the system's 20 months on the market there have been fairly few FPS games, most of which have been received by gamers with a decisive yawn of indifference. Enter: Killzone: Mercenary.

Killzone: Mercenary is the FPS that Vita owners have been waiting for ever since the system's launch back in February 2012. It's been a while since I played a console FPS and I've never played any of the other games in the Killzone series, so I can't vouch for how well it holds up to any current console shooters or the Killzone series, but Mercenary is leaps and bounds above any FPS I've ever played on a handheld. Even compared to what I've come to expect from "typical console shooters" (imagine me saying that as disdainfully as possible), Mercenary managed not to piss me off and actually impressed me a little bit.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Dazed and Confused: Gravity Rush

A young girl wakes up in the gutters of Hekseville, a towering city in the sky, with no memory of her past or her own identity. Accompanied by a black, star-speckled cat, she's immediately thrust into action to save the life of a young boy whose house is being ripped from the city structure by a gravity storm. It's then that she becomes aware of her powers -- or rather, those of the cat who follows her -- to shift gravity. With this ability she runs along walls and even flies through the sky, but despite rescuing the boy, she's unable to save the house, and is met with contempt by the townsfolk who still look down on her and her kind; gravity shifters.

Gravity Rush, a PlayStation Vita exclusive (and one of the most compelling reasons to own a Vita), tells the story of Kat and her gravity-shifting companion Dusty as she attempts to adjust to life in Hekseville while putting her superpowers to good use. Initially, this means finding a place to live and furnishing it, but she quickly becomes a key figure in fending off the monstrous "nevi" afflicting the city, and in restoring sections of the town lost to the gravity storms. It's basically a superhero origin story with lots of deep, subtle storytelling and tons of mind-bending, gravity-altering physics bent around platforming, combat, and exploration.

In a market saturated by sequels and franchise spin-offs, it's always refreshing to play a completely original game with its own unique identity. Gravity Rush is a solid new entry from Project Siren (makers of the Siren series), but as with basically all new games, there are a few kinks holding it back from reaching its full potential. It's a diamond in the rough -- fun to play and pretty to witness, but rough nonetheless.

Monday, October 7, 2013

It's a Jungle Out There: Tokyo Jungle

Tokyo Jungle has quite the unique premise -- after humankind has mysteriously gone extinct in Tokyo, the urban city has become a sprawling jungle for animal wildlife. You play as an animal attempting to survive in this jungle, scavenging for food, defending yourself against bigger and stronger animals, claiming territories, and reproducing. When I bought the game ($14.99 on PSN), I was expecting a slow-paced, realistic survival simulator with a unique twist -- that would've been such an awesome gameplay experience. But it turns out that Tokyo Jungle is a much faster-paced, arcade-style roguelike. Not what I was hoping for, but the game is still surprisingly addicting.

Tokyo Jungle consists of two gameplay modes -- "Story" and "Survival." In story mode, you play specific scenarios with certain objectives that tell a loose story arc for different animals. The story mode, however, is not the game's main emphasis; it's survival mode. The entire game is built around survival mode, with the story missions consisting of derivative survival mode mechanics forced into certain situations. In fact, you can't even play the story missions until you've unlocked them in survival mode. The story missions and unlockable story logs are a welcome component, offering a little more depth and insight to the backstory of what happened leading up to the current situation, but if you're looking for something more than a survival roguelike, you should probably look elsewhere.