Tag Archives: Horror

Review: The Last Door

coverThe Last Door is actually technically two games, as it was released episodically over the course of two separate standalone seasons, but as they both make up a single complete story, let’s just call it all The Last Door for simplicity’s sake.

Anyway, The Last Door is a point and click adventure game by The Game Kitchen (developers of the upcoming game Blasphemouswhich you may have heard of by now).

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Alone in the dark! Wait, wrong game.

This is a very Lovecraftian adventure, where you end up having to do a good deal of detective work in order to unravel the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of an old friend, which naturally involves a bizarre cult and unspeakable supernatural beings. In typical Lovecraftian style, it focuses more on building an atmosphere of dread over what strange things lie waiting for you in the various dark and treacherous locations you explore, rather than jump scares or overt images of creatures and gore.

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Come on. What’s the worst that could happen?

You’ll be told many haunting stories, investigate many scenes of terrible death and destruction, and hear many discomforting noises coming from writhing things hiding in the shadows, but you almost never actually witness any of it directly. It’s a credit to the designers and writers that these methods are so effective at creating a creepy atmosphere, especially when the graphics look like they’re straight out of the VGA era of PC adventuring (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

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HAIL RABBIT LORD, ALL-MIGHTY RABBIT LORD!

However, while there are many well-made set pieces and scripted events, more than enough to keep things interesting throughout the eight episodes, I must say that I didn’t find the characters or the core plot particularly memorable. The two characters you play as do a lot of questioning and listening, but don’t have much substance themselves, and the motivations of the secret cult are nothing you haven’t already seen before. Still, it manages to be a compelling game anyway. The well-crafted atmosphere manages to carry it surprisingly far. Not far enough that it will become one of my new favorite horror and/or adventure games, but enough to make the experience a satisfying one that makes me look forward to Blasphemous even more.

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Review: Monster Bash

bandicam-2017-06-29-23-56-48-914.jpgMonster Bash was one of those early 90’s games by Apogee, former king of weird PC platformers and shoot-em-ups. I think this was about the last game like this that they did before they became 3D Realms and started doing nothing but first person shooters (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). Monster Bash tells the thrilling story of Johnny Dash, whose dog has been stolen by the evil Count Chuck, a powerful, vampiric leader of the undead who I guess has nothing better to do but kidnap all the local cats and dogs for…reasons.

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Who exactly put these signs here?

You’ll have to slingshot your way through a slew of creepy locations, none of which you can escape from without finding and rescuing every pet first. This is all looks and sounds rather simple, but don’t let Johnny‘s silly pajamas fool you, this game actually gets pretty difficult pretty quickly. There are a lot of strange and deadly enemies trying to stop your progress, but that’s not really the biggest problem for Johnny. No, the greatest challenge is making your way through the maze-like levels without killing yourself on the many, many spikes, water pits, and various other traps, all of which deal out pretty heavy amounts of damage.

There are occasional health refills and extra lives to be found if you take the time to find them in the many well-hidden secret areas scattered throughout each stage, but you’ll need to be careful here as well. Health refills give you your entire life bar back, but their rarity means that you have to be careful to not touch them if you don’t need them yet, or you might end up in trouble later down the line.

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Just a quick trip to hell to save a few cats and dogs.

Oddly enough, there’s no way to see how many lives you have left either. You just have to assume that you’re always on your last one and try to get through each level without losing any lives that you haven’t regained before the exit. In fact, you really should probably just play this on Easy and/or use the +5 lives cheat (press Z+F10!), or you’re going to be replaying levels a lot later on, to the point that you may become too frustrated to continue.

Also to be found in the many secret areas are many secret skulls and candy pick-ups. These are all entirely optional and only serve to add to your score (which is also strangely absent from the UI). Don’t be surprised if you find yourself hunting these things down anyway though. Finding all the cleverly hidden secrets in this can be pretty fun and satisfying, despite the lack of any real rewards.

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I don’t even know what this place is. Some kind of evil lumber mill?

Also worth mentioning are the interesting backgrounds and monster designs/animations (disclaimer: the screenshots here appear a little smoother than the game actually is due to me using the high quality filter in DOSBox, which does some automatic edge smoothing). The sound and music are also very nice for their time, with fittingly satisfying monster and monster death noises and some really catchy midi tracks.

Overall, it’s not exactly an essential title that everyone should immediately rush out and play, but it’s a nice little classic DOS platformer that is quite effective at scratching that particular nostalgic itch, should you ever find such a need arising.

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“Now I’m in the stew. Oh poo.”

 

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Review: Arizona Sunshine

5487A new VR game about killing zombies that uses the PlayStation Aim controller? How could this possibly go wrong? Well, let me tell you about my first experience with Arizona Sunshine. I started my journey, rifle in hand, walking towards the first zombies I saw with great anticipation for the moment that I would be introducing my bullets to their brains. I aimed, I fired, and I missed. Then I aimed, and fired, and missed again, and again, and again, and again. Alright, blind firing doesn’t work as well here as it does in Farpoint. I figured I better try switching to the sights. There were no fancy holographic sights or scopes here, just tiny little iron sights. I held the virtual rifle up to my virtual eye, lined up the sights, fired, and…missed again, and again, and again. Urrrrgh.

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This is my rifle, this is my gun, one is for killing, one is for shooting everything in sight except for the thing I’m trying to aim at.

One more extremely slow and careful try, making sure the two sights were lined up precisely with each other and at exactly the right angle to my target, and I FINALLY got that headshot. This was not a good start. I pressed on, hoping that this would improve somehow, that maybe when I got some new weapons they would be more efficient, but the only difference between the new guns I found seemed to be the firing rate, which made the accuracy even worse. You can probably imagine that once the game starts throwing large groups of zombies at you, you really don’t have time to be slowly taking manual aim at each one of them. All you can really do is wait until they’re dangerously close to you and try to fire blindly into their heads at close range, because that’s about the only chance you have of actually hitting them in the head on short notice, and being zombies, if you don’t hit them in the head they just keep coming at you. Oh, and you have limited ammo too. This just gets better and better though.

Just kidding, it gets way worse. After playing for 20-30 minutes, the calibration had slowly shifted so far off center that the game became unplayable. I had to quit the game and restart it, because it’s yet another VR game where the in-game re-centering option doesn’t actually work. Now, when you start Arizona Sunshine, you find yourself in a small room that acts as the menu screen, as a lot of VR games tend to do, except in this one you start on the other side of the room and have to walk over to a screen where you have to manually insert different cartridges to get to different selections like “start game”, “options”, and etc. This probably sounds pretty cool on paper, but isn’t a whole lot of fun when you start the game and find that you’ve spawned inside a couch, can’t move because you’re in smooth turn movement mode instead of teleport, and so can’t reach the options menu on the other side of the room that would allow you to change the settings so you could get out of the couch.

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AWESOME!

After a few minutes of virtual wriggling, I was able to glitch myself out of the couch, but at this point I was rapidly losing patience and interest with the game. I tried one more time. Something else I found rather annoying was the fact that pressing down on the left stick makes you do an instant 180 degree turn, and since you’re constantly using the left stick for moving forward, you will inevitably accidentally move it downward at times. This can be deadly if it happens during a fight, and you can’t change or disable this setting at all. Not good.

Anyway, I got to a part where I was told that I needed to find the keys to a certain car, so that I could search it for an important item I needed. I looked at the car and noticed that one of the windows was completely open and sighed. I went ahead and followed the convoluted path to find the car keys and continued on a little further anyway, but it wasn’t much longer before I just lost interest completely. I quit the game, removed my headset, and found that I had received a bonus motion sickness headache for my troubles on top of everything else.

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Because you can’t just go through the open window or use your gun to break one of them, that would be CRAZY!

Let me tell you, I was extremely disappointed by all of this. Where Farpoint had showed me how incredibly fun and well produced a VR first person shooter could be with the Aim controller, Arizona Sunshine had showed me the exact opposite. After having spent $35 on this game, I still wasn’t ready to give up on it even after all of this. I talked to a friend of mine who bought the game, but doesn’t have Aim or Move controllers, and so played it using a standard controller. He made it sound like alternate controls worked a lot better, which seemed to make sense to me, because this game was actually originally designed with motion controllers in mind, and the Aim compatibility was added on after-the-fact.

So I got all set up and started the game up with just a standard controller, wanting so much to be able to justify that $35 I spent on this game. Unfortunately, the aiming was every bit as bad as before. In fact, the controls were even worse this way because on top of the previously mentioned left stick problem, you’ll find that using a non-Aim controller also now makes it so that pressing the right stick up makes you teleport, even if you’re not on teleport movement mode. The right stick is also used for turning, so now if you press the wrong direction on either of the sticks that you’re constantly using both of, you’ll find yourself turned around or randomly teleported into a new position and direction. You cannot change either of these settings at all. What were they thinking?

In addition, if you change from an Aim to a standard or Move controller (or vice-versa) you have to start a new game from scratch, and…I even got stuck in that damn couch again too. Yep. I’m done with this game. What a waste.

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Review: Blood 2 – The Chosen

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For some reason I never got around to Blood 2 back in the day, or any day since. Perhaps its bad reputation had been subconsciously swaying my opinion about it? Who can say? Whatever the cause, I figured it was time to finally give it a shot and see if what they say about the game is true.

I literally had not taken a single step in Blood 2 before I ran into my first problem. Upon starting the game, it immediately and unceremoniously dropped me into a subway train and told me to track down Gideon. What? How did I get on this train? Who in the world is Gideon? What is going on?

I felt like I had missed something. Maybe I accidentally skipped an intro cutscene somewhere, so I quit and started again. Still nothing. I tried YouTube and sure enough, an intro scene existed (though it didn’t explain a whole lot more), it just wasn’t playing for me at all for some reason. Oh well, there couldn’t be that much story in a game like this anyway, could there? I continued on.

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I…don’t think that’s how blood works…

As it turned out, there was a good deal more story to this one than the original game, but unfortunately it was almost entirely as vague and incomprehensible as the beginning. Gideon is the new head evil guy, and you have to stop him because…he’s evil and stuff, and then one of his lieutenants, I couldn’t tell you which one since they never bother naming them, tries to shoot you with an experimental singularity gun, which instead of killing you causes a portal to open and this person jumps out. You apparently know this person and call them Gabriel, but she corrects you and says to call her Gabrielle, then immediately runs away. Do I know this person? Did they just change gender for some reason? What the hell is going on?? This is a story?

Characters just pop in and out like this on a semi-regular basis, with no explanation whatsoever of who they are or whose side they’re on or what their motivation is. Once, a new character was introduced by him suddenly teleporting into the scene next to me, where he just started talking to me like we were old friends, yet no name or explanation was ever given, we just shared some cryptic banter for a minute before he disappeared just as suddenly as he had appeared and things carried on like nothing had happened. The only thing these characters seem to have in common is that your character interacts with them as if they’re very familiar to them and as if the audience should be very familiar with them too, but I don’t understand how. Later I finally came to realize that these mystery characters were the other members of the group that you were with in the very first cutscene of the original Blood, one where they all died and were never seen or mentioned again afterwards. Oh. Great.

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“Oh boy, a boss fight!”…is not something you’re going to be saying while playing this.

Other aspects of the game followed in a similarly confusing and frustrating fashion. While the core gunplay was fun enough while it was working, it was often tarnished by bizarre bugs like leaping enemies jumping on your head, and I mean they would literally jump up and stand there on an invisible platform atop your head and just be walking around up there until you finished them off. There was also some really bizarre hit detection going on, with enemies who would sometimes take seven sniper rounds to the head to finish off, but sometimes if you just shoot them once in the leg they’d instantly die.

Then there’s the level design. Boy, I sure hope you like office buildings, warehouses, alleyways, and sewers, because that’s 90% of the game, just the most generic, uninteresting locations imaginable. I would expect this from G.I. Urban Action Force 5 or whatever generic military shooter of the nineties, but not from a sequel to a game that was entirely made up of horror movie references. In fact, there are almost no horror references to be seen here either, and instead of spitting out Evil Dead quotes, Caleb has now taken to making bizarre references (I hesitate to call them jokes) to 1950’s pop culture, such as Howdy Doody and Frank Sinatra.

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This is the head evil guy, Gideon. I don’t even watch wrestling, but I’m 99% sure that that’s just a picture of Ric Flair…

I just don’t know what they were thinking with this game. I had hoped that its bad reputation was exaggerated due to it being a little technologically outdated compared to other shooters of the era, but it seems that history was not wrong about Blood 2. Without all the clever level design and iconic horror references that made the original a classic, all that remains is an unrecognizable, generic mess that’s mediocre at best, if you’re feeling really generous. The developers have apparently long since admitted that this game was rushed out in an incomplete state in order to compete with Half-Life and Unreal and all the other much better shooters coming out in the late nineties, the logic of which is utterly baffling. Fortunately, Monolith survived as a developer and seems to have learned from this mistake, as they’re still around and still producing quality games today, but this misstep would prove to be the death of the Blood series, and a gruesome death indeed. R.I.P. Blood!

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Review: Blood

bloodcoverSpeaking of nineties shooters, how about Blood? Published by 3D Realms and developed by gaming legends Monolith Productions, Blood answers the question that no one asked; ‘What if Duke Nukem 3D was a comically violent horror game’?

Created with the Build Engine not long after Duke Nukem 3D, it’s impossible to not see the strong similarities between the two on the surface. From the weapon and items systems, to the structure of the levels, to the mini-map, it almost feels like a high-end mod. However, where Duke took his cues from sci-fi and action pop culture of the eighties and nineties, Blood instead found its inspiration in the horror movies of the same era.

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Excuse me sir, have you given any thought to donating blood?

Blood‘s story is pretty negligible. You’re Caleb, an evil undead guy who is betrayed by his even more evil undead master, and so you must wreak bloody vengeance upon him. That is literally the entire plot right there. The many levels between you and your master have little to no relation to each other and are mostly made up of a random selection of set-pieces ripped straight from popular horror movies. This is all Blood is, really, just a big crazy quilt of all the developers’ favorite horror movies. You’ll travel to sinister temples, grimy slaughterhouses, Camp Crystal Lake, zombie filled malls, and more, and find Easter eggs ranging from The Shining to A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Along Caleb’s journey you’ll battle quite the menagerie of foes, some of which will surely be quite familiar, such as the robed midgets that look suspiciously like the ones from the Phantasm series or aggressive severed hands that taunt you with ‘I’ll swallow your soul’! Caleb’s dialogue is also entirely and unapologetically made up of direct movie quotes, mostly consisting of lines by Ash Williams of Evil Dead fame.

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Don’t underestimate the power of that flare gun.

Naturally, in the process of this journey you will commit many a violent atrocity upon your fellow undead. Shooting, stabbing, igniting, and exploding your way through them in ways that would make Shang Tsung blush. Assuming you can survive that long, anyway. This is one tough game. Blood‘s baddies are incredibly aggressive, prone to ambushes, and dish out damage like it’s on clearance sale. Luckily the game offers manual saving, because you are going to die, a lot. Any given corner turned without care can easily end in a swift death. You’ll need to familiarize yourself with your enemies’ weaknesses too, as certain weapons are much more effective on some enemies than others.

Fair warning, there are some aspects of Blood‘s design that tarnish the experience a bit. The controls are terribly archaic, forcing you to go back to the ancient ways of putting your right hand on the arrow keys and your left hand on Ctrl, Alt, Space, and etc. There is a mouse look feature that can be enabled, but it’s too jerky and imprecise to be relied on. The lack of identification of locked doors on the mini-map and overabundance of key types (there are SIX of ’em!) can make some of the larger, more labyrinthine levels quite the exercises in patience too.

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Hot dogs, anyone?

That said, while it doesn’t quite live up to my seventeen year old self’s belief that it was the greatest game of all time, twenty years later it still holds up well enough to live up to its legend of being a classic game that can be enjoyed by fans of challenging, over-the-top nineties shooters and of old-timey horror movies.

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The Project Zero 5 verdict: it’s good

After spending a few incredibly creepy hours with Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water for Wii U, I can safely say that it’s thoroughly enjoyable and incredibly creepy. Especially when playing it on your own with the lights down.

The game arrived on Friday, complete with lots of lovely gear, and I managed to get in a decent playing session last night – then attempted to get to sleep with thoughts of child ghosts leaping out on me from a haunted wood. Child ghosts are just the worst, aren’t they?

Spot the child ghost. Brrrrrrr.....

Spot the child ghost. Brrrrrrr…..

The game has reviewed widely varying review scores, with much of the negative criticism centring on how the game is too similar to its predecessors and lacking in innovation. But seeing as this is the first Project Zero game I’ve played, those criticisms barely apply in my case. It was actually quite refreshing to go back to old-school survival horror.

And the controls are definitely old school – although the movement doesn’t feature Resident Evil‘s infamous ‘tank’ controls, moving your character around is just as clunky. There’s a considerable delay between pressing down to turn your character around and them actually completing the action – the people in this game all appear to be wading through treacle. Likewise, the ‘run’ is barely a trot.

But all of this just adds to the atmosphere as far as I’m concerned – in survival horror games like this, wrestling with the controls is just part of the appeal. There’s nothing like being attacked by several ghosts at once and whipping the Camera Obscura out in a panicked attempt to fight them off – but instead looking at the floor and spinning around wildly while desperately trying to get the enemies in your viewfinder. The controls are intentionally difficult – the game wants you to fail. But importantly, it’s not impossible. I’m already getting better with practice, even though most of my attempts to fend off ghosts are more flailing than finessed.

I like the way the game does things slowly – it’s all about slow build-ups, eerie walks through darkened forests and impending dread as you shuffle down creaking corridors. Even picking up objects takes an age as you reach down slowly to grab the item, and sometimes a ghost hand will shoot out to get you instead. It’s a cheap scare, but effective.

And speaking of cheap scares, the game made me jump numerous times thanks to ghosts variously leaping out of cupboards or popping up behind me, although one of the most effective moments wasn’t a jump scare at all. As I was crawling down a collapsed corridor, I suddenly noticed a pair of ghostly feet dangling above me, as if they belonged to a man hanging from a noose. I quickly stood up and looked around, but there was nothing there. And nothing appeared there again, no matter how many times I went back… making me wonder whether I’d imagined the whole thing. Brrr.

I can’t wait to dive back in and see what else the game has to offer!

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Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water has arrived!

So this turned up on my doorstep this morning.

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It’s quite strange to buy a Wii U game with ’18-rated’ emblazoned all over it. It almost feels naughty.

I’m mega impressed by how much you get in the collectors’ edition, check it out:

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Look at all that: a poster, postcards, art book and steel case… oh and a cuddly Yoshi, but that just happened to be on my table. The poster is double-sided too!

Here’s what’s on the other side of the postcards:

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I’m really impressed with the art book, it’s truly a beautiful thing to behold… although I’m putting it to one side for now for fear of spoilers.

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Can’t wait to play this game! Hopefully I should have some time on Sunday evening – I’ll let you know how it plays.

Toodle pip!

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