I promise I will be back to games I am surprised by and/or ashamed of owning, soon, but first let me tell you about ‘Prey’ (the new one). ‘Prey’ is another very recent game I threw upon the top of the mountain just to take it off again and I did so with great pleasure.
I bought the game on the following info: first person perspective, space station. People seemed to like it. As with ‘What Remains of Edith Finch‘ I read that the game is best experienced without knowing too much about it beforehand and I now agree with that advice. If you thinking about playing ‘Prey’ and you get triggered by the same words as I do, you should probably stop reading and buy the game.
Alien Isolation is like owning a big, black cat, that hates you
It’s beautiful and you love it, but as much as you want to, you can’t keep it because it always tries to trip you at the top of the stairs.
Alien Isolation is probably the best looking game I have played so far. I am a fan of the original Alien movies (yes even the fourth one – shut up!) and no game in the Alien universe came even remotely close to capturing the look and feel of the movies (in this case, especially the first movie) so perfectly. That is why it’s utterly frustrating for me that Alien isolation is a survival horror stealth game – even though it’s a fitting choice. Again it’s not a genre I am particularly fond of (but I like to keep an open mind), especially if it’s so well done as in Alien Isolation. The intentionally cheap looking droids for example are a horrifying trip through the uncanny valley for me. Being spotted by one of them and starting to run straight into the arms of another one is impressively unpleasant. The sound design is great and knowing by the rumbling of the air ducts that a big, terrifying creature will probably turn up around the next corner, or from the ceiling or from a vent behind me, is exciting up to downright exhausting.
If it wasn’t so good, I could enjoy it more
The game is so well done it had me at the edge of my seat most of the time I played it. It’s just that I really don’t enjoy feeling helpless and hunted all the time. I like games to provide me with the means to live out my basic power fantasies – stealth and horror games usually can’t provide this. Yes, there are ways to fight back, but most of the time firing a gun got me into more trouble than running away screaming or just sitting in a locker, being grateful that the black monster does not seem to have a functioning nose.
It’s not just playing monster bait that bothers me, but I find that waiting in a locker, or a dark corner, or a vent, is rather boring. Especially in a game where you die often and that doesn’t allow you to save anywhere. I understand that it’s a design choice to only be able to save at certain points, because it adds a lot to the tension, but for a player like me it becomes frustrating fast. I don’t enjoy finding the perfect route to get unseen through that corridor. I want to know what happens next. Stop killing me all the time and let me enjoy my space adventure!
Alien Isolation is a great game if you are into survival horror, and it’s a masterpiece when it comes to set-design and atmosphere. Some time in the future, when I’m all grown up, I’ll give it another try.
Welcome to finishing off ‘Alan Wake‘. I liked my adventure with him, but I am also glad it’s over. The second part of the game felt less like a chore than the first three episodes, but it still felt artificially stretched in many places.
I enjoyed how the game left me in the dark (ha!) about what’s really going on. There are multiple ways to interpret the story, but fortunately the game never explains what’s actually ‘real’ in the game. This serves the atmosphere quite well, and leads to some clever moments.
Which stands in stark contrast to the dumber than dumb puzzles the game still feels like throwing at me. ‘Press B to solve’. Then again, more challenging puzzles probably would have ruined Alan Wake’s pacing. Remedy should have left them out completely. They fulfill no other purpose than to insult the player’s intelligence, which the game doesn’t hold in high regard anyway. The hints the game gives via Alan’s inner monologue are as subtle as a fat man charging at you with a chainsaw: ‘The viking boat looked imposing – almost like a battering ram’. Gee, I wonder how I’ll get the door open.
Who are you?
While ‘Matthew Porretta’, the voice of Alan Wake, clearly has never been drunk in his live and thus fails to voice act appropriately, the game designers and writers certainly didn’t lack the experience. I appreciate that the game doesn’t take itself too seriously and manages to wink at you at the right moments. That is until the second half, where the tone of the game goes all over the place. From completely over the top weirdness in Episode 4 (heavy metal concert shootout) to a more Hollywood action comedy in Episode 5. Yes, that pump action shotgun is fun, but a wacky sidekick added on top of that and your already brittle horror mood evaporates. Even though these episodes felt out of place, they still were a lot of fun. The finale on the other hand felt like a couple of end battles strung together that ended in an underwhelming boss battle (but at least it was over fast).
This would have been a great six hour game, but they stretched it into an okay twelve hour game. Still I enjoyed my time with ‘Alan Wake’. It’s pretty looks (even for an seven year old game) and the interesting story kept me entertained til the end.
First the good news: Alan Wake is good enough to make me want to play the whole game. The bad news: it’s too long (more on that later) and thus it keeps me from writing on this here blog. I decided to split my review into two pieces. Alan Wake consist of six episodes. In this part of the review I will tell you about my experience of episodes 1 to 3 and part two will tackle the rest. I will probably use this method again in the future – Alien Isolation lingers right around the corner.
About the other guy (Alan Wake)
Alan Wake is a third person horror action adventure released by Remedy Entertainment (Max Payne, Quantum Break) in 2010. The story focuses on psychological horror elements with a good dash of mystery thriller. For reasons I can’t explain, I am enjoying it – it’s really not my kind of genre (neither the perspective, nor the setting). Maybe it’s because as a fan of video games I am just thankful for any story that had at least some thought put into it. Also the writing is decent and the voice acting great. The sad thing is, that it’s rather hard to get to the story bits. For some (probably wrong, business related) reasons, they get interrupted by repetitive fight sequences and a lot of running around in the woods. The combat system is entertaining, but after killing your 50th possessed woodworker with a flashlight and a shot gun it just feels like a grind. The same goes for the woods: they’re dark and atmospheric (even though littered with uncharged batteries and ammunition), but after a while you start wondering why they didn’t just let you jump to the next cut scene. It’s a gripe I have with many of these games, whether they be Max Payne, Uncharted or Tomb Raider. Entertaining, movie-like stuff, cut to pieces by repetitive stuff. The actual gameplay often feels tacked on.
Another thought on atmosphere – all the shooting of ghostly burly men doesn’t feel scary. I think Alan is a bit too much of a bad ass.
I am now getting ahead of myself by predicting the conclusion for the second part of my review: This would have been a great six hour game, but they stretched it into an okay (at least) twelve hour game.
The 11th Hour was actually the first game on my list, but I didn’t want to start off with a 20+ year old fmv game, which is also a sequel. You can read how well that turned out. Playing this directly after the 7th Guest I was relieved to see that the graphics had much improved by 1995. The pre-rendered sequences were much smoother, and more importantly, much faster. The videos like the charming 90s-tv-schlock looking intro movie were also less painful to watch. The other thing that seems to have changed is that the difficulty of the puzzles has been noticeably increased. It all takes place in the same old mansion, and Old Man Stauf seems to have become even more MEAN! over the years. He mocks me at every turn (because I’m shit at his puzzles).
If you’re into puzzle games, I think the game would still be worth playing today. I’m not into puzzle games, and I’m sick of being mocked.
The Horror – of early 90s FMV-game graphics! The 7th Guest stems from a time when the vast memory of CD-ROMs needed to be filled, and Full Motion Video did the job quite well. It did such a good job, that the videos had to be compressed a lot to actually fit on the medium. 24 years later they are rather hard on the eye. I remember reading in magazines (bundles of paper with words printed on them) about the game back in the day (I am old), but I never actually played it.
The 7th guest is a adventure/puzzle game in the horror genre. You are the seventh guest in a mansion haunted by the ghost of a mad man, who killed the six guests before you and forces you to do puzzles. You walk from room to room via slow pre-rendered videos, to then solve static puzzles, which open rooms with more puzzles. There are a lot of amateurish and very compressed looking ghost entering and exiting the screens.
Once you get used to the ugly graphics and blasting general midi soundtrack, there seems to be a decent puzzle game hidden beneath, but I won’t find out for certain, because I don’t care much for puzzle games or haunted mansions. Luckily enough I played far enough to stumble upon this beautiful poem from the game:
Old man Stauf built a house
and filled it with his toys.
Six guests were invited one night,
their screams the only noise.
Blood in the library,
blood right up the hall,
dripping down the attic stairs,
‘Hey Guests, try not to fall!’.
Nobody came out that night.
Not one was ever seen.
But old man Stauf is waiting there…
Crazy! Sick! and MEAN!
When you quit the game a voice screeches ‘Come baaaack!’. I won’t.