Category Archives: Review

I Am Alive: The Good and the Bad

During the most recent Ubisoft Sale on Steam I got around to buying I Am Alive. Before it came out I was intrigued by one of its Trailers, which was fancy and it gave me the idea that we would be playing a highly demanding Survival Game. The Trailer started off by showing your average Office Worker walking down the street, drinking what I assume was a Starbucks Coffee. Suddenly the world around him crumbles in an instant. Buildings topple over and the streets are engulfed in an ash cloud. Fast Forward some time into the future and we see the same Office Worker, now chased by his co-workers, cornered in some spacious hall. They demand his water and he throws them what might had been a water bottle, only for the glass to crack under the assailants and they plummet to their deaths (as it turns out, I remembered the Trailer in reverse order). That trailer made me think, “This game will be awesome.”. After the game’s release I heard the opinions and read the reviews, it wasn’t that good. Since I could buy the game for petty money due to the Sale I went ahead and decided to see what this specific Survival Game had to offer for itself. I was both pleasantly surprised and very much disgruntled.

Slender: The Arrival – Beta

Those of you loyal to AlterGamer will recall the mash-up we did between free indie games Slender: The Eight Pages and Haunt, both of which feature the manmade monster Slender Man as their antagonist. In each game you employ a first-person shooter perspective and have nothing but a flashlight with which to defend yourself as you navigate an abandoned camp site with a dark history. On the way, you collect a number of pages, all the while attempting to avoid the faceless horror stalking you, coming closer and closer with each page you find.

Now, Parsec Productions, who made Slender: The Eight Pages, in conjunction with Blue Isle Studios, is going to be releasing Slender: The Arrival, projected to retail for $10. The final version of the game won’t be out until March 26th, but in the meantime we’ve had the chance to look over the beta version of the game.

Taken from Slender: The Eight Pages

Taken from Slender: The Eight Pages

It’s basically a paid version of Slender: The Eight Pages. The environment layout is similar, with twisted pine trees separating clearings that possess stereotypical camp site detritus (and one of the elusive eight pages you’re after). Graphically, we’re looking at a facelift on par with Haunt. Your environment looks prettier, but still manages to maintain the sense of foreboding that Slender: The Arrival’s predecessor is known for.

Your controls are smoothed over as well. Slender: The Eight Pages was slow and plodding in your movements. Haunt was quicker, but suffered from getting stuck on your environment when running. Here, you can be quick indeed, but you still get caught at crucial moments. Your flashlight is more useful. You can focus the beam, allowing you to pin Slender Man in place for a short while, which prevents some of the cheaper moves he attempts.

A new addition to the gaming experience is Slender Man’s ability to interact with his environment. When exploring the office building that we all know and dread getting stuck in, Slender Man will sometimes lock you in with him. I’m honestly on the fence as to whether that could be regarded as cheap or galvanizing. It’s probably a bit closer to the cheap side when all you need to do to beat the game is explore the map first so Slender Man won’t jump you, then collect all the pages at a dead sprint.

Taken from Haunt

Taken from Haunt

The big question is, of course, is it scary? Not really.

True, there is a tightening in your chest as you collect one page after the next and Slender Man begins to close on you. But the high quality of the game works against itself. There’s a well-composed soundtrack which is always barely perceptible. The presence of music in itself is more comforting than the stark, unsettling silence that was utilized in Slender: The Eight Pages.

And, like Haunt, when Slender Man is bearing down on you your screen fuzzes over and warps out of true, as if the presence of Slender Man is somehow eating away at the player’s sanity. This has the unfortunate consequences of making it unnecessarily difficult to get away because you can’t see where you’re going. It also lets you know when you’re safe, effectively killing the suspense inherent in never knowing where and when Slender Man will appear.

Taken from Slender: The Arrival. Seeing similarities now?

Taken from Slender: The Arrival. Seeing similarities now?

So, while there is a low-level worry involved with the  fear of the unknown, what with not knowing Slender Man’s motives or origins, the main draw of the game (which is to say shock value from Slender Man popping up and hunting you down) is not nearly as strong as in Slender: The Eight Pages.

We’ll keep you posted if the final game is any better than the beta, but right now it would probably behoove you to download the free Slender: The Eight Pages for a scarier experience.

Tomb Raider: Whipping out the Big Guns

Lara Croft rises from the grave more often than the undead creatures whose tombs the little British minx just can’t seem to stop raiding. And, like all reclusive near-alcoholic failing authors with paradoxical inferiority and god complexes, I took my first step to manhood with a gander at Lara’s two rather boxy protuberances at chesticular height. It’s been close to fifteen years since Sir Mixalot sang about PILFs and liking big polygons, but it’s comforting to know some things never change in Tomb Raider: you’ll die at the drop of a hat.

Aliens: Colonial Marines “Game Over, Man!”

As a child of the late eighties and early nineties, there are a few horror franchises which stick in my mind. Though I was probably too young to be exposed to them, and hence the nightmares, I recall such villains as Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Pinhead, and the nameless xenomorph from Aliens. Somehow, knowing the nature of the creatures made them less dangerous. I could sleep at night because the horror of these abominations had been expounded upon and defined.

Except the alien. Its sheer otherness never ceased to send chills down my spine. I suspect it’s much the same with others, accounting for the massive fanbase which the Aliens franchise has maintained since 1979. At the arcade, it was always plain to see that the dark, brooding quality of the unknown xenomorph appealed to other gamers; the line was usually three nerds deep.

Aliens: Colonial Marines was first announced in 2001. It’s been quite a wait. And now that I’ve had a chance to play it, I know the nightmares that tormented my sleep have eased their way on ichorous talons into the waking world. And not in a good way.

Aliens: Colonial Marines

Best graphics yet. And they’re not even in the game.

Story: You play as USCM member Corporal Christopher Winter, a jarhead who is thawed out of cryostasis along with your task force on the Sephora. Your story takes place following the events of Aliens 3 and is considered official Aliens universe canon. A distress signal sent by an unknown Marine on the planet LV426, late of the USCM vessel Sulaco, claims the initial Marine contingent sent to LV426 to investigate allegations of a xenomorph infestation is entirely KIA. Once you begin to board the Sulaco, you and your fellow Marines find yourselves neck deep in it when you are attacked by Weyland-Yutani PMC mercenaries for (404 error: plot point not found).

With your own task force facing heavy casualties, you, your constant smartgunner companion O’Neil, and a few other survivors (despite there being hundreds of other Marines aboard the Sephora, you never see them) do what Marines do best and work to stay alive while being heavily outgunned by PMCs and hunted by the ever-present danger of xenomorphs. The shooting eventually takes you down to the surface of LV426 where you tread where the heroes of the film Aliens once trod in a vain attempt to make some sense of the situation.

For reasons never fully understood, your task force was lured to the surface of LV426, where the Weyland-Yutani corporation has set up shop and been studying the xenomorphs for their own cruel yet unexplained purposes.

And then you fight your way back onto a ship headed offworld, where the credits roll before you ever have a sense of just what the hell happened.

Twelve years ago, this game was first conceived of. Six years ago, it went into production. You’d think someone would’ve sat down and thought about how best to portray events to galvanize players. No clear antagonist is ever established. No genuine purpose for your task force being attacked is given. It’s like you’ve just been through a thriller film and it ends before that all important moment where the hero explains the plot linking apparently unrelated events into a coherent narrative.

Repeatedly throughout the game the spirit and bravado of the Marines is called upon as the driving force for mortal men and women to face death and barrel headlong into it with a dirty grin. You spend the entire game being given orders by your CO and working to survive with O’Neil, but not once do these characters ever become more than two-dimensional archetypes. You don’t know their history. You never interact in a meaningful way. Feats of heroism and sacrifice abound, but without the depth of humanistic qualities to give it all a reason, it passes by the player without inducing a single thought or genuine emotion. Millions of dollars and countless man hours were spent on this production, and it all amounts to the death of storytelling in video games.

Aliens: Colonial Marines

Meet your ally. Don’t bother getting to know him. You’ll be hating him soon enough.

Gameplay: In a word: terrible. What could be a survival horror masterpiece, facing the unknown terrors of the xenomorphs and the merciless onslaught of PMCs, constantly on the back foot, running, gunning, using your head, constantly a step away from death, amounts to a one-player version of Quake.

The AI is beyond trash. Xenomorphs, those needle-toothed deathbringers that terrified us on the silver screen, are reduced to zerg rushing players. They don’t use walls or ceilings. They don’t use camoflauge. They simply charge you on sight and allow you to gun them down en-masse, making for an enemy slightly less dangerous than the old-school zombies from Doom. And that’s in cases where they don’t get hung up on the environment or blip across the screen. PMCs, your only other enemy in the game, have got about the same level of skill, either running forward to blast you at close quarters or falling over themselves trying to turtle behind cover. They would be easy to overcome if the AI of your own allies weren’t as equally abysmal.

Driftmoon: Sinking

I remember my first novel attempt. It presented a grim yet kooky fantasy landscape in which a young boy’s village was destroyed and he was forced to seek out the evil undead king responsible, collecting various MacGuffins in the process. It seemed original for about a month. Of course, I was twelve then and have since learned.

Ville and Anne Mönkkönen, a husband and wife team who make up Instant Kingdom, were both by their portraits online somewhere in their mid-twenties when they began designing Driftmoon seven years ago. That then begs the question of why they didn’t have second thoughts about centering their game around a story which a child quickly realized was walking down an unbelievably well-trod road.

Crusader Kings 2: Republic DLC Review

When I heard of the Republic DLC for Crusader Kings 2 I went back to the days of the Guild 2. Starting as a lowly peasant and moving your way up to a ranking official or even noble. From Zero to a Master Merchant (or thief). I like playing as a merchant, because of the freedom of choice I have when it comes to earning money and then using it. Another game which made me fit the DLC to its setting was Patrician 2. Basing yourself in one home port and then traveling between ports, buying, selling and opening up all manner manufacturers. To what end? Wealth. Huge, unimaginable wealth. This rule repeats itself in the Republic DLC. You have one aim, become as obscenely wealthy as possible, and stay that way. Is that easy? You would think so, since you would be playing a Merchant. It’s not, far from it, it can be a small nightmare. Allow me to tell you why.

Crusader Kings 2

Become the President of a Republic. Wear the nicest hat!

Anodyne: A Cure for What Ails You

Being a critic is a strange thing. If you think about it, it amounts to being a mouthpiece for an industry. Developers create games, companies distribute them, PR firms market them, and then critics both professional and amateur must assess them to help the consumer know whether or not they will like the game. If the game is good, all goes well: the critic touts the virtues of the product and the public buys it. If the game is not good, the critic is placed in a difficult position. If he’s an amateur, he likely doesn’t have a very large readership, but he has the luxury of speaking his mind. If he’s a professional, he’s biting the hand that feeds him by interrupting the normal flow of business, possibly leading to his termination.

So then, the most logical solution for this problem is to have developers only make good games. That of course is not as easy as it sounds. For one thing, praise cannot be given constantly or else it ceases to have value. Criticism likewise cannot appear heavy-handed, or else the critic runs the risk of being mean-spirited when in actual fact he’s expecting other members of the industry to have the same thick skin he’s undoubtedly developed over the years of dealing with an editor. So I, like many others, am left to try to find some happy medium between integrity and maintaining the normal flow of business.

Anodyne is a game that tests that medium.

Dungeonland Review

Dungeonland is a style of game I did not play before. Not in the sense of Dungeon Crawlers, but overall style. It is colorful, funny, silly, “simple” yet at the same time it can be very complex. One look at any screenshot from the game and you realise that among the different games where dungeons were dark, mysterious and unforgiving you end up with something that follows the same idea, but looks entirely different. It was not until I played the game with John that it became apparent that the style of gameplay was similar (if not exactly the same) to what we had in The Gauntlet. Before we go into the details let me just say that in the Dungeon Crawler Genre Dungeonland certainly adds a breeze of fresh air, not only with its aesthetics, but also the Dungeon Maestro Mode. While I might be spoiling the ending for you I consider this one of the most intriguing games I have played thus far.

Hacker Evolution Duality Review

When I found Hacker Evolution Duality on my desk(top) my first thought was, “Modern Uplink?”. Uplink is a Video Game where you start as a member of the Uplink corporation. Imagine a company that acts as a hub for people in need of hackers. You are an aspiring hacker and you begin with a Windows 95 Computer (well, not really, but it is crappy), a bit of cash and a whole world to “rob”. Before you reach the top you will be at the bottom. And by bottom I mean some dirty mud pit, with just two forks to climb your way out of there. Uplink is a fun game, a challenging game. It takes a lot of thought and preparation. You have to connect to a target server through different other servers, get past passwords, firewalls and proxies, gather, delete or change some data then get out. Depending on who you ended up facing you might have to delete any traces of your presence. What is so fun about Uplink? It feels like you are part of this strange corporation.

Hacker Evolution Duality

The symbol is ever present, but it is never explained.

The Walking Dead: Return to Zombie Monkey Island

Filmmaker George A. Romero is credited with, while not the first zombie film, the creation of the zombie survival and horror genre with his initial work Night of the Living Dead. This has been followed up with five sequels, each featuring another stage in society’s collapse under the onslaught of zombie plague, the standards of which he established as what is now widely accepted fact. Unlike other popular horror series, the zombie genre stands out as being deep and shallow in equal measure, relying less on a sense of fear in the viewer and more on a sense of despair in the face of shambling hordes. It works to drive home the notion that fighting death is futile, and those few survivors left on this wreck of a planet are on borrowed time. There’s also brain smashing.

Perhaps then it is surprising that all this subtext is incidental in the face of Romero’s original intention. He’s gone on record multiple times stating that zombies are just another way of expressing the consumerist mindset. Having worked retail and watched as shoppers shuffle from one rack to the next, wall-eyed, pawing at shit they don’t need, soiling themselves without batting an eyelid, and attacking others who aren’t like them with the intent of bringing them down to their subhuman level, I can only add that the difference is that you’re much more inclined to crush a shopper’s skull and leave a zombie to rot in peace.

You’ll find the same in The Walking Dead Episodes 1-5.