Overclocked On Caffeine v.1.1 2009-11-20 06:38:00

The Suffering: The Ties That Bind

PS2

I’m stuck in Folsom prison, and time keeps draggin’ on…

When the first game in the Suffering series was released, it was to critical indifference. It was seen as trying too hard to be dark and edgy, throwing in lots of blood, gore and random swearing simply because it could. This was a Mature game for Mature gamers – read: impressionable teenagers who still think saying ‘fuck’ is the epitome of cool. First impressions, however, are never anything short of deceptive. Actually play it, and you’ll discover that, behind the swearing and the violence and the unrelenting darkness of it all, there’s actually a good game behind it. Surprising considering the lengths it goes to to prove it’s got a pair, but The Suffering actually had something to back up its posturing. The plot concerned Torque, prison for the murder of his wife and kids. He was being transferred to the brutal Abbot State Prison on Carnate Island, before an earthquake released all manner of evil monsters and freaks. Barely escaping, Torque made it to Baltimore, and is now hunting his old stomping grounds for a man known only as Blackmore.

One of the interesting things about plot of the original game was there were three different endings depending on how you played it. Along the way, there were people you could save or outright kill depending on your actions. Save people, and the story would reveal that you’d been framed for the murder of your family. Kill anyone and everyone and you’d be shown as an irredeemable monster. In the first game, all this would do is affect your ending. Here, it also acts as a sort of experience meter for your Insanity Mode, a sort of berserker mode in which you turn into a giant rampaging demon and rip everything around you a thousand new ones. It was somewhat gimped in the last game, since if you over-relied on it, you’d eventually trigger the third ending of the game, the Beast ending, which pretty much sucked if you were aiming for one of the other two. Here, it’s been fleshed out properly. Depending on your alignment, you’ll not only get a different form, but different attacks as well. And considering a whole class of enemies requires you to use it, it’s probably a good thing.

Outside of that, the game does a lot of other things right. The voice acting is a cut above, with Michael Clarke Duncan doing his best Scary Black Man voice as Blackwood, the main antagonist, and Rachel Griffiths (Brenda from Six Feet Under) as Jordan. There’s one or two bad spots, but by and large, the talent on show here is great. Unrelated, but also worthy of note, is the fact that you can switch out of first-person mode and into third person, something a lot more FPSes could stand to do. Considering the speed some enemies attack with, being able to see more around you will save your rear more than once.

Aside from that, the story is, once again, all over the place. You start off arriving in Baltimore, trying to find Blackmore. Then you’re attacked by a group trying to capture you to work out how you do that transformation thing of yours (despite it being hinted at in the last game as a mental, rather than physical thing). Then you escape only to find that the entire city has been taken over by the monsters from Carnate, as well as the spirits of a pair of notorious murderers. Then you wind up in another prison, then sewers, then a mining complex, then everything gets a bit Twilight Zone and by that point, you’ve either stopped playing or caring. Dr. Killjoy, the mad ‘experimental’ psychiatrist from the first game also makes a return which I’m somewhat split over. On the one hand, his appearance in the first game added a sort of House On Haunted Hill vibe to the proceedings. Utterly out of place, but not necessarily in a bad way, since he was arguably about the only person in the game you could say had any kind of character to him. Here, on the other hand, its harder to argue that, since he barely has any impact on the story, unlike in the last game. He shows up on a TV screen, does a kind of summing up/trial of the player at the end then… well, doesn’t do much else. Even worse, it’s not until you get to the very end and you look back on both games that you realise that not a damn thing in the story makes a blind bit of sense, even for an action game, such is the scattershot application of the events and plot. Impressive in a perverse sort of way.

Of course, any and all goodwill the game’s built up by this point will evaporate swiftly in the face of one small detail. The game glitches like you would not believe. No joke, this game is horribly programmed: I’ve had CPU-controlled characters refuse to move, blocking my path, falling through floors or failing to trigger the next section. I’ve had enemies refuse to activate at all, just standing there, seemingly taking no damage or even noticing me. I even had the game crash outright on me, twice! I honestly can’t remember the last time I played a console game with such glaring bugs. On a PC, sure, you almost expect it, but on a console… And they all happened at more or less the exact same places with worrying regularity, which, frankly begs the question: did anyone even bother to playtest this game before release?

The original Suffering was a great game, far better than it had any real right to be. Not a classic by any measure, but not a game you’d regret spending time or money on either. The sequel, on the other hand, takes all of that and squanders it, somehow winding up with a worse game in the process. If the game had actually been coded properly, it would’ve merely been below average, but with the glitches and bugs present (including one which makes the game impossible to finish, should it kick in) there’s no way to recommend this. And the ending is non-existent as well, but that should come as no surprise to absolutely anyone. Get the original, but woe betide anyone who goes looking for the sequel: all that awaits you is a litany of disappointment and NPCs glitching up to their knees in the floor.

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The Best Game Ever (Pt.3)

Shin Megami Tensei

Super Nintendo – 1992

‘Der Wille zur Macht’ as a lifestyle choice

WARNING: The following review contains spoilers. Big ones. Continue at your own risk.

In case its escaped anyone’s attention (there may be a few of you not really listening at the back there) I am a huge fan of the Shin Megami Tensei series (‘Megaten’ to those in the know) and all its various spinoffs, from Persona, to Digital Devil Saga and all the little forgotten ones along the way. Yes, even Maken X, a hideously flawed attempt at doing something different, both in the series and in the realm of the FPS. There are a few games I’ll admit didn’t grab me as much as others – Raidou Kuzunoha Vs. The Soulless Army just rubs me the wrong way for some reason, and the original Persona has some very questionable gameplay mechanics that were bizarrely kept for the PSP remake/update – but it’s hard to say the franchise has ever had an outright bad game, something that I’d be hard-pressed to say about any of my other favourites.

The game opens with a dream. In it, our hero rescues two relative strangers, one from crucifixion, one from a demon, then meets a girl bathing in a pond, who says she’s been waiting for you. Unfortunately, it’s not that kind of a dream, and before sexytime can begin, you’re awoken by your mother, telling you you’ve overslept.

It’s the far-off, but indeterminate year of 199X, and the world is in a bad place. A general by the name of Goto has launched a coup d’etat and effectively taken over Japan, putting the country in a state of martial law. Meanwhile, the rest of the world, and in particular, America, is attempting to put an end to his game by any means necessary – even if it requires extreme measures. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, there are increasing reports of demonic creatures running rampant and attacking anyone and everyone. The hero receives a program via email sent by someone called ‘STEVEN’ (yes, all in caps). He explains that he’s afraid of the threat posed by these demons, and in response, has developed a program to control and summon them. He’s sent this program to as many people as he can, in the hope that someone, anyone, can do something to stop the outright anarchy that’s about to break loose on mankind. Of course, no one can possibly guess what’s about to happen next…

Okay, let’s get the bad stuff out the way first. Graphically, this game sucks. Everything is played from a first-person view, which, in theory, is great. However, the SNES doesn’t really have the grunt to pull it off, the screen lazily flicking from one map tile to the next. The endless hallways that make up the game have little to distinguish them from each other, so getting lost is stupidly easy, even in the simplest of areas. There is an automap, but it’s buried deep in several layers of menu, and the only way to get it onscreen while moving is to cast a spell only found on certain demons. And since this is one of the first incarnations of the demon fusion system, there’s none of that fancy ‘offspring gets the skills of the two parents’ skill mixing seen in the later games. So, your choice is to either keep one demon on hand solely for that one skill (it runs out fairly swiftly as well, requiring constant recasting for extra giggles), or to just wing it, checking the map every so often to make sure you haven’t taken that fatal left turn at Albuquerque.

Of course, that’s not where the only problems lie. As mentioned, the controls are hideously clunky. If you want to do anything, you have to navigate through several menus. You’re never told what difference armour will have on your character before you equip it. In demon negotiation, there’s no clear indication that you’re saying the right thing, and what works right one time may not work at all the next. And the only way to find out what a particular spell does is to use it, all of them carrying names like ‘Bufula’ or ‘Dia’ with no indication of what does what. Much, if not almost all of this was fixed in later updates (most recently the GBA port) but wouldn’t you know it, it’s only the SNES version that’s available in English, thanks to those wonderful people over at Aeon Genesis. In short, this is a game created long before most of the RPG conventions we all now take for granted, and for the vast majority of you, that alone is likely to put you off. And that’s before we get to the legendary difficulty.

Okay then, graphics are very early SNES standard, controls suck, and the game’s harder than a punch with a granite boxing glove. Why bother playing it? Well, the short answer is that it’s awesome. But you probably guessed as much by the fact that I’m discussing it under the ‘Best Game Ever’ tag. The more direct answer… now, that’s a tricky one.

Back in the day all RPGs were exactly the same: there were castles and knights and you ran around with a sword and beat up evil wizards. Actually, when you boil it down, that still applies to a lot of RPGs even now – for all the innovation in gameplay and combat we still run through the same familiar stories. But back then, there was even less variation than we have now. Everything was, without exception, exactly the same. The exceptions were the two Megami Tensei games on the NES. Set in the modern day, it revolved around a high school student tinkering around with a computer program that accidentally opens a breach to the demonic realm, letting all manner of nastiness in. The sequel went a step further and was set in a world devastated by nuclear war. Utterly unheard of at the time, and while it didn’t exactly set the world on fire, it did set the scene for its SNES-based older brother, and the series as a whole.

The game starts off in a recognisable modern-day metropolis – the Kichijoji area of Tokyo to be exact. Wandering around, you’ll quickly come to the conclusion that something is very wrong here. People are disappearing, some turning up dead, torn to pieces, some not turning up at all. The Yakuza are operating openly, attacking anyone they feel like. And more and more people are talking about the oncoming threat of nuclear war. No, not a good place to be at all. It’s while out doing errands for his mother that the player character eventually encounters a demon, as it rips the throat out of a poor bastard at the local shopping mall. Things only get weirder as he has another dream, saving a girl from a strange occult ritual, before meeting with one of the people from dream in real life. He soon discovers the bigger picture: Goto, the general, is in a secret war of sorts with the US ambassador, Thorman. Thorman represents a group trying to build the Thousand Year Kingdom in the name of God. They believe that mankind has gone astray, and that the slate needs to be wiped clean, Old Testament-style. Of course, if you talk to Thorman, he’ll let you know that the demon attacks have actually been started by Goto himself, a side effect of him making bargains with dark forces in exchange for power. That, and he’s also been kidnapping anyone who might be involved with the resistance and authorising inhumane experiments on innocent civilians. And it’s here that you realise that the story is a lot darker than you ever suspected.

SMT has three possible paths to play through the game as: Law, Chaos and Neutrality. Law is under the purview of the Mesians, generally characterised as a church militant. They believe in order, following rules. At its extreme end, it’s ‘do what we say and follow our laws or we’ll break you’. Directly opposite them is Chaos. Chaos is represented by the Gaians. Chaos believes in free will, taking whatever path you feel is the right one in the name of self-improvement. Its extreme is the survival of the fittest mantra, that the strong should be able to take and do whatever they want because no one can or has the right to stop them. And in the middle, there’s the Neutral path. They’re not directly represented by anyone ingame, unless the player actively chooses to do so. Being neutral, obviously, requires you to maintain a balance between the two, as going too far down one path or the other results in suffering. Of course, you’re being pitted against both extremes on a regular basis, so that requires bloodshed on an even more regular basis.

One of the most fascinating things about the options, as you can see above, is that, when you boil it down, there are no straight-out “good guys” or “bad guys” in the game. Everyone is equally wrong or equally right in one way or another. Goto’s responsible for locking down Japan and unleashing demons on the unsuspecting populace, but he’s doing it in the name of freeing the world from the tyranny of the Mesians. Thorman’s holding the threat of nuclear war over everyone’s head, but it’s to stop a dangerous general from dragging the world into disaster, as well as to bring everyone together under the same banner. And if you walk the path of Neutrality, trying to keep everything on the same even keel, well, that involves slaughtering anyone who even dares rock the boat one way or another.

Perhaps one of the biggest shocks in the game (and this is your last chance to back away: skip this next couple of paragraphs if you don’t want it spoiled, and believe me, it’s more effective if you’ve never played it) comes at the end of the first act. This is about 10 or so hours in on an average playthrough. You’ve finally listened to both Goto and Thorman, and, one way or the other, you’ve decided to make your choice: your mission now is to kill one or both of them. At this point, you might be expecting that after this, you’re going to be sent out on missions to destabilize the various factions present. You could not be more wrong. Lets say you choose to side with Thorman. You go to Goto’s headquarters and assassinate him. Upon your return, he thanks you for your loyal devotion to his cause… unfortunately, this world is too sinful to be kept as is. A new age must be ushered in on the ashes of the old. He reveals himself to be the Norse god Thor, and brings down his hammer in judgement of mankind – he launches his nuclear ICBMs on Tokyo. You’re then presented with a hige red 30-second countdown on-screen as you desperately attempt to escape somewhere, anywhere, as you try and outrun nuclear destruction. You fail, but somehow find yourself transported to a realm outside of time and space.

Of course, even if you choose not to side with him, mankind is screwed, and he launches the missiles as a kind of last-minute ‘fuck you’ upon his defeat anyway. But, far from being an annoying ‘But Thou Must’ lack-of-choice, this is where the game really shows its teeth. One brief detour in limbo later, you arrive back on Earth. But it’s a different world to the one you just left. Thirty years have passed since Thorman launched his missiles, and the destruction of the world has been near total. Mankind is only just starting to crawl out the wreckage, and now, somehow, you have to help it. Yup, not content with bringing the world to near-obliteration, the game now has you attempting to bring it back from the brink. You failed to save it in the past, but maybe you can do something here. To my mind, there’s only one other game that has ever had the successful destruction of the world midway through, and that’s Final Fantasy VI. Two games that actually have the balls to pull the rug out from under you and drop the hammer – literally, in this case – on the very thing you’re striving to protect. It’s a hell of a way of punching the player, and a sadly underused tactic in games. Of course, things can always get worse: remember that two of your party members – who are more than willing to give up their humanity for more power in one form or another – are known as the Law Hero and the Chaos Hero and that, one way or another, you’re destined to fight at least one of them. All of this gives the game an unparalelled atmosphere. Suddenly, the graphics only add to the bleakness of the setting. The music too, gives you the feeling that you’re walking through a dead world, just trying to survive long enough to avoid the next demon attack. Not an easy prospect considering the crushing difficulty here.

(it’s okay, by the way, you can come back now)

Ever wonder why the Megaten series has a reputation for being the hardest RPG series around? Wonder no more! Yes, this is a game from the early days of RPGs, when concepts like ‘balance’ and ‘fairness’ were just seen as silly friviolities, so the challenge is to be expected. Somehow, the game actually manages to go beyond that, however, and winds up being outright sadistic. There’s no instant game over if the main character dies, so that’s one saving grace, but beyond that, everything is an uphill struggle. If you’re even slightly underlevelled, you will be punished at great length, and opportunities to heal, or even save for that matter, are limited. Depending on your perspective, that’s either a plus or a minus: you can’t scrimp on the level grinding, but on the other hand, lots of people enjoy that. Same with the difficulty – it’s generally agreed that games are getting easier all the time, so going back in time and playing something that bends you over, slaps you in the face and demands you call it ‘Daddy’ makes for a welcome change.

Believe me when I say that this really is a fantastic game. If you’re new to the series, having gotten in through the anime-stylings of Persona 3&4, this is a huge step backwards. Tremendously so, since we’re talking going back three or four console generations and 18 years here. This is not an easy game to get into, even for someone determined to crack its shell. I’ve made numerous attempts and replays across different PCs and machines. I’m now currently replaying it – again – on my PSP. I don’t even want to think about what number attempt this is. But that alone should tell you something about the game: It’s tough and it’ll kick your ass hard, but you will come back to it. You need to play this, not just because this is where it all began – many of the basic ideas, such as contacting, summoning and fusing demons, the Law/Chaos alignment system and even most of the demon designs are still in use in some form today – but because even now, it’s unique. The third game in the series, Nocturne (or Lucifer’s Call if you prefer) shares some of the same feel, but the tone is arguably more hopeful,as you’re looking to rebuild a shattered land. Here, there’s no real hope. At best, there’s survival, at worst… Shin Megami Tensei is a game with problems, and a couple of outright bugs that can stop you from finishing the game if you’re extremely unlucky. But look past that and you’ll find one of the darkest RPGs ever, as well as one of the best on the SNES. It’s a tremendous work, overshadowed by its descendants, and one that needs to be appreciated as more than a piece of history.

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Overclocked On Caffeine v.1.1 2009-10-31 10:08:00

Friday The 13th

1 hour 45 minutes

If you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise…

As cheesy as they are, the big horror movies of the 80s have a certain charm to them. Cheesy as hell, outright stupid in places, but still always watchable. The Friday the 13th series, one of the biggest of the time, was arguably more serious than the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise – well, to begin with, at least – but it still had some moments of dumb fun before becoming outright silly in its final instalment, the downright hilarious Jason X. It’s probably worth mentioning that that was also my favourite entry in the series, a film comparable to Army of Darkness in terms of genre switch and sheer excellence. Since ‘reboots’ are the marketing buzzword of the week, it was only a matter of time before someone decided to do a more serious remake. The results are, predictably, less than great.

You all know the story: Jason Voorhees goes ballistic against a bunch of retarded horny teenagers. The film opens with a replay of the end of the first original film in the series, before skipping forward some years later. A group of teenagers are looking for the ultimate weed patch while on a camping trip. Within the space of the first 20 minutes, they’re all butchered mercilessly. We’re then introduced to a new bunch of teens, going to a plush woodland cabin for the weekend. Unfortunately, these guys last slightly longer, everyone resisting the temptation to off a new conveyor belt of idiots every 20 minutes.

(Incidentally, why hasn’t anyone done this in a movie yet? It’d be hilarious!)

This being a remake, there’s a slightly different take on the original concept: the idea of Jason going apeshit at a summer camp has been dropped, in favour of a more typical ‘house siege/running around the woods’-style story. Rather than the slaughter being spaced out evenly throughout the film, there’s one big blood orgy at the start, then pretty much nothing for about the next hour before the murders begin again in earnest. That wouldn’t be such a bad thing if the rest of the cast were even remotely likeable, but I haven’t wanted to see a bunch of idiot teens get ripped apart so badly since high school. There’s one guy, a stoner, who’s halfway cool, but, of course, he dies horribly. Jared Padalecki is probably the only person you’re likely to recognise, playing Clay, a guy looking for his sister, who was part of the group killed at the start. He’s also the only remotely sympathetic guy in the bunch, only emphasized by the fact that he’s pitted opposite Travis Van Winkle, playing, as Sir Laurence Olivier would put it, ‘a gigantic douche of no singular redeeming value’. Kudos to the guy for playing such an utterly convincing dick, but he doesn’t even get an interesting death, which highlights the other major problem of the film.

Let’s face it, you all watch these films for the same reasons: you want to see idiot people dying in fun and interesting ways. There’s no shame in it, that’s the primary draw of them, after all. But no, this is a Serious Reboot for Serious People. Can’t be having any of those wacky shenanigans here! So everyone gets offed in a variety of incredibly samey ways, every last one involving impalement or stabbing in some way or another. If you were one of those boring types who has to write a lengthy thesis or two on phallic imagery in modern cinematic blah de blah, you’d probably have a field day with this one. Me? I’ll be sitting over here, bored out my mind. And I still won’t be finding the film much more entertaining.

If there’s one thing the movie does right, it’s that there’s none of those knowing winks to camera. There’s a couple of musical cues that you might recognise, but other than that, it’s entirely fanservice free (if you don’t count the mandatory boobs, of course – this is the Extended Edition, after all). But really, I can’t remember the last time I saw a more boring movie, and that’s the last thing you want to say about any horror film. It counts double when you take into account that it’s based on a series that’s still popular nearly 30 years on. I don’t ask for much in my horror movies: I don’t mind if they don’t scare me, I don’t care if the effects look atrocious, but if they’re not entertaining, that’s an immediate fail right there, and Friday the 13th falls hard at that hurdle. Stick with the originals, kids, this isn’t worth your time.

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Overclocked On Caffeine v.1.1 2009-10-25 11:26:00

Armour Hunter Mellowlink

12 30-minute episodes

Every so often, you encounter one of those forgotten series. An old show that’s good, but for some reason, never caught on as well as others. You say the name ‘Dragonball’ or ‘Sailor Moon’ or ‘Doraemon’ and there’s a good chance that even non-anime fans will at least be familiar with it. Then you have the Guyvers, the Mazinger Zs, the shows that have a decent-sized fanbase, but no recognition outside. And then you get to the Moldivers and the Gal Forces and the Sol Biancas and for all their quality, you might as well just give up there and then. Ain’t no way anyone other than you has heard of those ones. Filed alongside these unremembered shows is Armor Hunter Mellowlink, and if there was any justice in this world, it too would be considered one of the greats.

The story centres on Mellowlink Aliti, last surviving member of his platoon. His unit sacrificed for unknown reasons, sold out by corrupt officials and blamed for their deaths, as well as a whole bunch of other miscellanious crimes they had kicking around the office, Mellowlink is out for revenge on his former superior officers. Armed only with the outdated anti-mech rifle he was issued for that disastrous last mission, a weapon easily as tall as he is, Mellowlink is determined to make every last one pay for his comrade’s deaths, starting from the bottom of the pile up.

The show’s a spin-off of Armoured Trooper Votoms, a much larger series that, admittedly, I’ve yet to see. But while the larger details, like who the players are in the frequently-mentioned war are, are probably meaningless to anyone unfamiliar with the parent show, the story itself is easy to follow. Its your typical revenge story, but with giant robots, which makes it that much more interesting (giant robots make everything better, just try and deny it). Okay. slight exaggeration, but the giant robots are surprisingly more than a way of spinning money through toy and model kit sales. One of the interesting things about the show is that, for all the mechs – Armoured Troopers, or ATs – running around, Mellowlink never once uses one. It’s suggested that he’s part of an anti-AT squad, hence the gigantic gun and title. So, here you have a regular human, running around capping mecha 4-5 times his size. It’s amazing that it’s an ideat not utilized more often, since the fight scenes are nothing short of gripping. Seeing a single unarmed squishy human making sport of a squad of heavily armed and armoured combat suits is a sight to behold. It’s a shame that most shows tend to lean more toward the ‘unstoppable behemoth’ end of things, since it’s also a sight I’d love to see more often.

The other great thing about the show: the entire thing remains almost 98% bullshit deus ex machina-free. Okay, there’s one or two moments where Mellowlink gets exceedingly lucky, but the entire rest of the time it’s due solely to planning and skill. See your opponent dodge a certain way to avoid a booby trap? Set up another to catch him off-guard mid-dodge. Your opponent has a certain victory pose before killing an unarmoured opponent? Counter the pose and strike while he’s defenceless. Potential love interest demanding to join you in a fight where she’ll almost certainly be a liability? Wait for the obligatory ‘staring into each other’s eyes’ moment, then slug her in the gut, rendering her unconscious – and therefore safe – the entire fight. It’s a refreshing change to see a character win by fighting smart, rather than overpowering their opponent and just plowing through them. And the fact that, with hindsight, you can see how he’s planned all this in advance – a throwaway comment about a car jack is responsible for one of the most satisfying reveals in the show – makes it that much sweeter. Something I’d argue we need to see more of these days.

Mellowlink is a gem of a series. The show was made in the late-90s, so for anyone more familiar with the more polished animation of recent years, it’ll come as a complete culture shock. But the roughness of the art and animation just gives it a real charm you don’t see too often these days. Mellowlink is an excellent series, and a welcome change for anyone sick of power levels or giant robots designed as toys first and foremost.

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Overclocked On Caffeine v.1.1 2009-10-23 07:15:00

Hideaki Sena – Parasite Eve

320 pages

I want to be your parasite god, so I can show you what you really are

Okay, time to make everyone really paranoid for a second. In an average day, out of all the actions you take, how many can you say for certain are actually yours? That sudden urge to get something to eat, to go into a shop, to call someone. Are you entirely sure it’s all you? Can you say with absolute certainty that everything you say and do is all your own decision? Or is there something urging you to take certain decisions on occasion? A little voice, a tug, an instinct making you think that this idea would be better?

Are you sure that you are really you?

If you’re familiar with Parasite Eve, it’ll more than likely be with the PS1 game series. Released in 1998, it was described as the first ‘survival horror RPG’, and while fun, it was a seriously flawed game. I’ve actually been playing it myself recently, and finding myself getting frustrated with the awkward pre-rendered environments, a kink that would be worked out in its spiritual successor, Vagrant Story. But this is a review of the original book, not the games, so let’s forget about them for a moment.

If you’ve played the first game, you’ll already have some idea of how it all begins. The story focusses on Toshiaki Nagashima, a scientist working in the field of biological research. After his wife is rendered braindead in a car accident, Toshiaki arranges for her organs to be donated. However, he feels compelled to harvest some of her liver cells for experimentation. However, it’s soon revealed that the accident was no accident, and what caused it is looking to expand its empire.

Okay, I’ll be the first to admit that the central concept is a goofy one – “Oh noes, my cells are evil and have turned against me” is, at first glance, kinda dumb. But think about it: an unseen enemy, forcing you to do its bidding and you won’t be aware of it until it’s too late? terrifying if done right. And here, a few translation flubs aside, it’s done remarkably so. The first half is very dry. The writer, Hideaki Sena, has a background in medicine, and it shows, large swathes of text being used to discuss medical procedures or experiments in mind-numbing detail. It’s medical porn, plain and simple. More than once you’ll find your eyes sliding down the page as the steps of an experiment are run through in depth. It’s authentic, sure, but doesn’t make for the most exciting reading. Once the primary villain makes Her presence felt, things start getting much better, with the final third being a desperate race to stop Eve, as she has now named herself, from evolving to the next stage. Again, there’s a tendency to go indepth into the the genetics and biology, when you want the writer to concentrate on the big gloopy superbeing that can set people on fire, but when it does, it’s worth it.

If you’re a fan of the games, you’ll probably be wondering where all the hideously mutated monsters are. Well, bad news is, there aren’t any. This is closer to the Ring/u school of horror – slowly building up til it drops everything on the reader in one big clusterfuck of fire and mutilation. It’s hard going at times, and the translation has a number of glaring flaws – upon hearing his wife has been in an accident, Toshiaki groans like he’s been asked to do the dishes, for example, and the onomatopoeia chosen for Eve’s movements is the none-more-chilling sound ‘flap’. Know fear and despair. But still, it’s well worth a read, especially if you’re familiar with the games. Finding out exactly what that ‘incident’ in Japan was all about adds a few things to the original, even if it does introduce a plothole to the narrative. Apparently the second printings of the bookfix a lot of the errors, so a first edition, while a nice thing to have, may not be the best thing to get. Either way, worth a look for the curious and the fans.

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Overclocked On Caffeine v.1.1 2009-10-21 05:51:00

Silent Hill 0rigins

PSP

Mirrors are more fun than television

Prequels have a very bad reputation. Oh, the intent is fine enough: showing what the world was like in the Before Time, letting us see familiar faces and the events that shaped them, that kind of thing. But all too often, they devolve into brainless fanservice, burying you in an avalanche of knowing winks and sly glances. You can hear them pissing themselves with sheer glee as one character tells another that their brother will never betray them/will be the death of them/could be the greatest of us all, or some other ironic comment, rather than trying to get some actual tragedy or pathos out of the events. And woe betide if you don’t have any working knowledge of the original, since you’re going to be left wondering every few minutes if you just saw something important. So yes, to your average viewer, prequels are never a good idea.

Silent Hill 0rigins is a prequel to the original Silent Hill. It’s also, not very good, though in its defence, that’s not entirely the fault of its status as a prequel. Give it its due, it sucks on its own merits.


Okay, fair word of warning here: I love the SH series. It redefined the then-burgeoning survival horror genre beyond all recognition upon its release ten years ago. The other main front-runner in the genre, Resident Evil went for traditional shocks, showing you things you were more than likely already scared of, but bigger (a spider the size of your thumbnail is not scary – a spider the size of a van, on the other hand…). It was classic Hollywood jumpscares, and looking back, frankly, they’re laughable. I played the first game again recently: even with the most infamous scares, like the dog window (you know the one I mean) there was barely even a twitch. Going back to the first Silent Hill, on the other hand, you realise that, regardless of the fact that the graphics have aged badly over the last decade, it’s still scary. Play it on a PSP with the lights out and headphones on and watch your complacent smugness fly out the window as you’re scared shitless by a so-called ‘old’ game. The second set the benchmark for storytelling, not just for survival horror games, but arguably for gaming in general, knowing exactly how much to say and how much to merely hint at, leaving many of the finer details for the player to work out for themselves. The third simply had the unfortunate luck to come after the second, being an underrated but still good sequel to the first, and the fourth tried to do something new, but failed in the attempt.

There was no fifth Silent Hill game. This isn’t the flauros you’re looking for, move along.

The deck was stacked against 0rigins from the start really. Of the original Team Silent, only Akira Yamaoka, was to be involved, and, outside of the music department, he had been relegated to ‘creative consultant’ or something equally vague. The game itself was being handled by Climax Studios, better know for such games as Battlezone: Rise of the Black Dogs and Disney’s Lilo & Stitch 2: Hamsterveil Havoc. But fear not, they claimed they were big fans of the series and wanted to do it justice. They knew their shit, and they were itching to prove all the naysayers wrong. All they needed was a chance to prove themselves.

SH0 is set about seven or so years before the original. While on a job near the town of Silent Hill, Travis Grady, a trucker, nearly hits a figure on a quiet road. Trying to find out where the person went, he goes for a wander in the countryside and eventually stumbles across a burning house. He rescues a girl from being burned to a crisp (well, more of a crisp by this point) and gets back outside. And that’s the point where the story pretty much collapses on itself.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a story here, and it’s an okay one, except for two details. First off, it’s a prequel, yet Grady’s involvement with the larger plot is almost non-existent. He runs into most of the major cast, but doesn’t have any real impact on them or their goals. He unwittingly assembles an important McGuffin one Harry Mason would later find somewhat helpful, but you can hardly say he plays any major role, or makes any amazing revelations about anything we already know. Well, that’s not true, the game clarifies one minor fan theory about the relationship between Lisa Garland and Dr. Kauffman. SWEET SAMAEL IN THE OTHERWORLD, EVERYTHING YOU KNOW IS WRONG!!! Is your mind shattered? I know mine is.

Trav’s story, on the other hand, involves a trip he took as a lad with his parents, when his mother got herself committed to an insane asylum after she tried to kill him. Yup, turns out he has a Dark and Twisted Past with the town, and it’s keeping him here because… well, see, that’s the other problem with the game. It all falls apart when you realise there’s literally nothing keeping him in this town. His primary reason at the start is to find out what happened to the girl he rescued. Fair enough, I can respect that after saving someone, you’d want to at least know if they’re dead or not, right? But once he confirms that, and the town’s started doing its spooky shit (more on that in a bit) he’s determined to stick around for no goddamn reason.

Let’s take a moment and compare the motivations of the heroes of the games, shall we?

Silent Hill: “I’m not leaving this town until I find out what happened to my daughter.”
Silent Hill 2: “I’m not leaving this town until I find out who sent me that letter and what happened to my dead (?) wife.”
Silent Hill 3: “Stay in this town? Me?! Fuck that, yo, I’m getting the hell out of here!”
Silent Hill 4: “I’m only here so I can get out of my fucking flat, I don’t even want to be here!”
Silent Hill 0: “I’m not leaving because someone keeps leaving me vague clues about where to go next and it really annoys me when people do that!”

Clearly, Travis is a man driven by an OCD urge to punish people who mildly annoy him. That, or he has a fetish for being led about by the nose everywhere. Worthy and admirable traits for any hero to possess. Sorry, did I say ‘hero’? Darn, I meant to say ‘easily manipulated fuckwit’. I always get those two confused.

Okay, okay, we’ve played games with flimsier plots and dumber heroes. None that can top this are springing to might right this very second, but I’m sure there was at least one. Besides, it doesn’t matter as long as the gameplay’s up to snuff, right? Resident Evil’s storyline had dozens of incidents and plot details carved from finest whatthefuckium, and people still enjoyed them.

Would it surprise anyone to learn the gameplay’s not up to scratch? Didn’t think so.

Take a look at this map here:

Big, innit. That’s the second major stage. Not the last, the second. Actually that’s one floor of the second major stage. There’s another floor above that, and a basement as well. And, thanks to the game’s reality-shifting mechanic (you can move into the famed Otherworld at will simply by going up to a mirror), there’s two versions of it, so that’s a grand total of six floors you have to wander about! Okay, yes, most of the rooms suffer from the classic “The door is stuck/locked/actually painted onto the wall itself” thing, but seriously, look how many of the fucking things there are! And it’s not like things logically lead from A to B with a small sidetrip to C, D and E, oh no, everything is placed at opposite ends of the map from each other, resulting in lengthy journeys all over the place. There’s a costume to be unlocked if you complete the game in under two hours, and another for looking at the map less than 25 times. Frankly, both of those are bullshit: the asylum takes about two hours by itself, and it’s stupidly easy to get lost or forget where you’re going without outside help. I don’t mind backtracking as much as others, but done to this degree, it’s padding, plain and simple.

One of the biggest bugbears I have with this game is with the combat. Okay, Climax, buddy, I know you probably thought it was a good idea, but on behalf of everyone who played this game, DESTRUCTIBLE WEAPONS ARE NEVER A FUN GAMEPLAY MECHANIC! Lowering the durability/effectiveness of a weapon? Well, that’s just about forgiveable, as long as you’re not reduced to poking away at a tumorous mass the size of Godzilla with a wet teabag. But weapons that break outright is not on. Really, it didn’t work in the last game, and it sure as hell didn’t work here. And when that’s coupled with a weapon quick-select that’s anything but, you’re looking at a lot of very unhappy gamers, especially since, when they break, you’re automatically forced to go back to the basic 1-2 punch combo, that does bugger all damage. It’s a horrible idea, and a terrible design choice that makes you wonder what the fuck they were thinking. And don’t think gunplay’s going to be much better, because that’s just as fucked up. Shooting foes is all well and good, but then you’ve got to finish them off when you drop them. And shooting them again while they’re down is spotty at best, so you run up to finish them. Except, you’ve got about three seconds to do that before they get back up again, and the game’s mighty picky about letting you finish a downed enemy. So they get back up again, and you take a whole lot of damage from them and you vow never to fight another foe again. But that’s not that difficult, really, since the moment you put the lights off, you’re amazingly invisible to all! And since the stages are reasonably bright, you almost never need to have your flashlight on at all. Y’see, this is another thing you should be aware of, Climax: we avoid combat in survival horror games because we;re scared of it, afraid of going into battle unprepared, lest we get our shit royally fucked up. We do not avoid combat because it’s badly done and because, overall, it’s infinitely easier to just sidestep anything that confused its insides with its outsides.

And another thing, Mr. Climax (why does that sound like a pornstar name?): your choices of weaponry. My suspension of disbelief is a mighty thing to behold. If you could hook it up and use it as a power source, mankind could travel to the stars. You tell me something works in a show because it does, I’ll buy it. Tell me those vials over there contain a virus that transforms some people into plain old zombies, but others into freakishly deformed abominations? Fair enough. Walk over first aid kits or magical glowy things to be cured of all that ails you? Not a problem. People can survive any number of explosive magical or physical attacks in battle, but the second we move to a cutscene, a simple prison shiv can end the live of even the biggest badass? Sucks because he was my favourite, but yeah, alright. So while I can get behind Generic Effeminate RPG Hero #712 being able to carry several million tonnes of equipment and supplies on his girlish form (but only ever up to a stack of 99 per item), something about its usage here pisses me right off. I mean, giving you tons of weapons like straight razors, screwdrivers, okay, they’re small and easily concealable. Sledgehammers, meathooks and pointy bits of wood? Bigger, but still well within acceptable limits. How about IV drip stands and lamps taller than the character himself? How about large gallon jugs of medicinal alcohol? How about filing cabinets, typewriters and portible TVs – often a dozen or so at a time? That’s the point where you start calling bullshit on the whole endeavour. You can get away with it in an RPG, because, by and large, you can say they’ve got advanced/ancient technology, or an airship or, fuck, magic or something. But this gets to the point of stupidity, then decides, “screw that, we can go further!” with a rousing ‘hurp, durp, fight the power!’ as its battlecry. The only reason I can think of for any of this is to make some of their other ideas, like the QTE attacks, for example, look like glorious successes by comparison.

Perhaps the biggest sin committed, however, is to the series itself. Climax claim they know their shit. I claim otherwise. Now, I’ll admit, I’m one of those freakish people who reads and studies things I’m interested in at great length. You ask me about any of the symbolism or plot elements in the first few games, there’s a better than average chance I can give you a fairly good explanation of why X = Y. And I’m not the only one. Even the most casual Silent Hill fan knows that the series is heavy in symbolism and meaning. It’s one of the cornerstones of the games, and probably one of the best things about it. And yet here, Climax have managed to do something amazing: they’ve managed to take all this symbolism and allegory… and miss the point entirely. One of the main references for the game is most obviously, Silent Hill 2. The opening – a character walking through a long, lonely stretch of deserted road – is taken almost verbatim from the earlier game. Travis is also a poor man’s James Sunderland, a self-deluding type with some vaguely sexual hangups if you squint a bit and tilt your head to the side, kinda. But you can’t force genius, and while everything came together right for SH2, they’re trying too hard to force it here, and it just rings hollow and artificial instead. They’re aping things with seemingly no understanding of why they’re doing it. Why is there a long walk through the fog from the start of the game? Because it was in SH2. Why are there holes that you have to jump into to progress towards the end? Because they were in SH2. Why is there a big scary man in an apron with a big sharp slicey thing that looks like everyone’s 1d4-headed monster violator? Why the hell do you think? There are, in fairness, a few big nods to the movie, but SH0 wants to be the second game so badly, it’s almost hilarious.

Are there any redeeming points to this game? Well, the music’s good, but coming from Akira Yamaoka, you’d expect that. But even here it seems half-hearted. There’s nothing on a par with You’re Not Here, Theme of Laura or even Room of Angel or Hometown. There’s a couple of nice ambient pieces, but otherwise, the soundtrack’s mostly forgettable. But the fact that ‘forgettable soundtrack’ is probably the thing the game does best least wrong alone should give you some idea of the thing as a whole.

Silent Hill 0rigins is a game that somehow manages to annoy me on three levels: as a Silent Hill fan; as a survival horror fan; and lastly, as a gamer in general. If it seems like I’m being a horribly nitpicky retard fanboy just because it’s not done by my beloved Team Silent, trust me, I’m not. Frankly, I wouldn’t really care who was responsible for it if the end result was any good. This is a bad game, plain and simple. The combat is terrible, the enemy designs amount to big chunks of meat with no real defining characteristics (and they have the cheek to reuse some of them – only bigger!), the final boss is Diablo, from the games of the same name and the whole premise the game hinges on – that it’s a prequel to the first game – is borderline false advertising. The game’s a gigantic con: you think you’re about to uncover something interesting, only to find that there’s nothing here you didn’t already know. It’s like two slices of prime Kobe beef steak glued onto either end of a cut of discount meat from a cheap butchers – literally, since the majority of the non-Travis related plot occurs at the start and the end of the game. Silent Hill 0rigins is a hideously misaimed game with none of the atmosphere or dread we’ve come to expect from the series, and an outright insult to anyone with any love for the series, or the genre in general. Avoid.

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Overclocked On Caffeine v.1.1 2009-09-22 10:11:00

Hulk: Ultimate Destruction

PS2

Normally, I avoid licensed games like burning death. You can hold on to your memories of Goldeneye and the like all you want, they are the few pearls buried deep amongst the suck. For the overwhelming majority, the best you can hope for is that they’re less than terrible, and even that’s possibly raising your expectations high. Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, on the other hand, is a slightly different beast. For one thing, I actually went out of my way to track this puppy down. Why? Well, two reasons. First and foremost, it was the last game by Radical, a little-known group who you might recall were responsible for a fun game by the name of Prototype. Second, this is, in all but name, a prequel to that game. But with the Hulk instead of Carnage/Venom.

The plot is even more bare-bones than its successor: Bruce Banner, in yet another attempt to rid himself of the Hulk, teams up with Dr. Leonard ‘Doc’ Sampson to try and create a machine to purge the Hulk from his system. However, long-term arch-nemesis, General Thunderbolt Ross, is determined to stop him. On this occasion, he’s being aided by the shadowy security agent Emil Blonsky, who seems to be remarkably well connected for someone in his position. And after coming into contact with gamma radiation at the remains of Banner’s lab, Blonsky seems to be going through a few… changes of his own.

Okay, anyone familiar with Prototype? Then you know exactly everything you need to know about this game. Seriously, I’m not joking, for all the violence, carnage and other neat stuff, Prototype is, at its heart, little more than a refinement of the H:UD engine and gameplay. You can pick up cars and charge your way through the streets, you can charge attacks, jumps, you run vertically up the sides of buildings, health comes in the form of little glowing balls – green for Hulk, orange for Mercer – and you can buy upgrades and new moves with experience earned by destroying enemies and completing missions. There’s even an extra bit on the end of your health bar for ‘critical mass’ attacks

Of course, there are a few fundamental differences. For one thing, the Hulk being the Hulk, there’s no different forms or weapons to switch to. However, you can ‘weaponise’ certain objects around the map, like turning a van into a shield that doubles up as a boomerang, or, my personal favourite, turning a car into a pair of giant gauntlets to help you further punch the crap out your foes. Second, and least surprising, the various areas you can visit are nowhere near as crowded as the streets of New York. You can still tear down the streets knocking folks and cars out your way, but you won’t be as fast, and there won’t be anywhere near as many folks or cars. That’s a limitation of the hardware and the engine, however, so we’ll let that slide. Hulk isn’t anywhere near as acrobatic as our man Mercer, but in fairness, that’s in keeping with the comics: Hulk hits hard, not fast. Perhaps the most important thing is the stealth elements – namely that there aren’t any. I mean, come on, the Hulk’s a ten-foot tall green behemoth! It’s going to take more than a cardboard box and a crocodile mask to hide this bastard anywhere. If the police or the army see you, they fire on site. However, they won’t call out the big guns at first. The game features a GTA-style threat level meter: the more destruction you cause, the higher it gets until they eventually call out a Strike Team on you. Stay out of sight and the meter eventually drops Maybe it’s just me, but the Strike Team attack choppers in this seem more vicious, swarming over you like angry wasps, one thing that you’ll quickly wish was different no matter which game you’re playing.

The one thing this does have, that Prototype doesn’t, however, is a sense of humour. For as good as it was, Prototype was frequently accused of being more than a little po-faced about everything, being as deathly serious as it could possibly be. Here? Well, you can collect comic covers to unlock art galleries, art and the like. Some of the first things you’ll unlock are different coloured pants for the Hulk, the first few being various flags of the world. I spent most of the game running around in the Canadian flag for no other reason than I found it utterly hilarious. And then there’s the Cow Missile cheat. Surprisingly does exactly what you’d expect, replacing every missile in the game with cows. Call it revenge for the way you can punt cows over the horizon in the second major area of the game, another little touch that never gets old.

Hulk: Ultimate Destruction is, well, a prototype Prototype. Not quite as refined or polished, but still worth a shot for those like me who blazed through the original and want more. On its own merits, however, it’s still a darn good game. It’s difficult to get across the power of someone like the Hulk in a game. After all, the Hulk is easily one of, if not the single strongest character in the Marvel Comics universe. Putting him at full power would completely kill any and all challenge in a game. H:UD strikes a good balance between the two poles, even if Radical’s love for missile spams on a par with the best of Macross do result in you pinballing across the map. For anyone looking for more Prototype-style hijinks, or a younger sibling who’d love the game, but is too young to be messing about with that much blood, gore and other cool stuff we grown-ups get to play with, this is a fine choice.

And the inevitable “Who’d win in a fight between the Hulk and Alex Mercer” question?

Hulk strongest one there is. Hulk Smash.

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Overclocked On Caffeine v.1.1 2009-09-21 03:30:00

Clive Barker’s Jericho

PC

A tale of gods, monsters, and telekinetic lesbian snipers

Of all the most frustrating things in the world, one of the greatest must be when something is so close to greatness, only to fall short. The film with solid actors and ideas, but no spark. The book that doesn’t quite gel together, despite some fantastic moments. In short, The Little Engine That Could, If Only It’d Had Another Six Months In Development. If you were to take this concept, wrap it up into a whole and ship it off for sale, that concept would be shipped in a box labelled ‘Clive Barker’s Jericho‘.

The story opens with the titular Jericho squad being shipped out to the ruined city of Al Khali. The team are a supernatural special ops unit sent out to deal with possible demonic incursions into our reality, and Al Khali is potentially the biggest, as the ruins sit on top of The Box. The Box is a prison, of sorts, containing The Firstborn, God’s pet science project before Mankind. Arnold Leach, a former member of the Department of Occult Warfare is trying to break open the prison and release the Firstborn, and the Jericho squad is sent out to stop him. Of course, when they finally encounter him, they discover that not only has he gone through a few… modifications, becoming a huge demonic entity, he’s also been able to open a breech in The Box. Before they can do anything about that, however, Leach grabs hold of Devin Ross, the player’s character, and rips him to shreds in front of everyone. Of course, The Box is outside the normal realms of the world, and death is very rarely anything more than a minor setback…

Ross’ death opens up the major selling-point of the game. As a spirit without a body, he is now capable of hopping in and out of his teammates’ bodies. Obvious oo-err-missus jokes aside, this is where the majority of the gameplay comes in. Each character is equipped with a main and sub-weapon, ranging from a minigun, an assault rifle/shotgun combo, to a sniper rifle or machine pistol and katana, and you’re free to hop from one to another at will. The team is split up on occasion, but by and large, you’re free to choose whoever you want, whatever the situation. One of the characters, a ‘reality hacker’ with a wrist-mounted supercomputer, also has the ability to ‘rewind’ the team’s ammo reserves, so you never have to worry about running out of ammo for very long. Good thing too, because it’s here that we encounter one of the game’s biggest problems.

What do action games and your characters have in common? Answer: they both live and die by their enemies. Even a bad game is looked upon a little more fondly if the foes are interesting, and with Clive Barker involved, you’d expect something special. Sadly, you’d be disappointed. The enemies start off as blade-handed gimps ripped right out of The Suffering or Soul Calibur. Get used to these guys, as you’ll be seeing them at least once or twice a stage from now until the end of the game, and there’s going to be next to no graphical changes to them the entire time. Ditto the exploding cultists, huge warped blobs of flesh that, funnily enough, explode when they get to close to a character. They have painfully obvious glowing blobs on their bodies that you need to shoot in order to kill them, and, wouldn’t you know it, that’s never an easy thing to do. Anyone who has the patience to do that repeatedly, rather than switching to a character with an explosive weapons and wiping them out in a single shot is destined to reincarnate as the Buddha in their next life. Beyond those two, you’ll be lucky to see more than one or two unique enemies per chapter, and given that this is a game sprawling over five different time periods, that’s a really poor offering, especially when said enemies really aren’t remarkable in the least.

Of course, it’s not made any easier when you’re facing endless waves of foes without respite. The way the game works is like this: you enter a room, enemies spawn, you kill those enemies. Then more enemies spawn. Then you kill them. Then yet more enemies spawn and you kill them and eventually, the game is merciful enough to let you out of the room and into the next one where you repeat the whole thing again from the start. Now, if all this were played at the breakneck pace of, say, Painkiller, Serious Sam or, hell, even Doom, it’d be great, frantically dodging wave upon wave of charging monsters, it’d be fantastic fun. But it’s nothing like that. The monsters come at you one or two at a time, take way too many shots to kill (unless you’re using Abby Black, the sniper, who kills anything headshottable in a single hit) then, once they’re dead, another couple who have been waiting patiently at the side wander in and it all repeats itself again. If I wanted to spend time grinding enemies, I’d be playing an RPG. At least then there’d be some kind of reward for standing somewhere, repeatedly wailing on the same enemies over and over again.

The team themselves are an interesting bunch. Essentially, everyone plays pretty much the same, barring their weapons and special powers, so you don’t have to worry about the typical fast-but-weak/strong-but-slow shenanigans. Some, like the TK Push and fire shield are situational and used solely to progress, the latter being used in all of one section. Others, like Cole’s Temporal Loop (bullet time effecting everyone but her) and Ghost Bullet (a guided sniper round) are infinitely more useful, and will probably mean you spend most of the game using those characters more than anyone. Most powers take a while to recharge after usage, to keep you from spamming them at every opportunity, and the computer has the foresight to actually use most of them to a decent degree. That’s where the AI pretty much begins and ends, sadly, as the computer will derp its way through every encounter in every other way possible.

Here’s an example for you. In the squad, there are two characters who can resurrect the rest of the team: you (i.e. Ross in the body of whoever you’re controlling) and Father Rawlings, a Texan preacher who dual wields a pair of big-ass handguns. Now, common sense would suggest that you should keep a fair bit of distance between yourself and Rawlings, assuming you’re not controlling him, in case of explosive death, something that happens all too often in the game. But no, both he and everyone else in your group will cluster together at every opportunity, no matter what’s going on, forcing you to drop whatever you’re doing and revive their dumb asses, if only to get them to shut up about how someone or another is hurt. Likewise, they they never, ever think about positioning or actually aiming. Take the cultists and their ‘shoot here to kill’ weak spots. If any of your team actually hits one, it’s nothing more than a fluke. Sure, they’ll unload bullet after bullet into them, but never at the painfully obvious squishy bits, oh no. Enemy is heavily armoured everywhere but a suspiciously large space at the back? Sounds like a perfect opportunity to – you guessed it – fire randomly into its front, then shout at you for letting everyone die, while you’re desperately trying to hack away at its arse. Then complain that they’re running out of ammo because none of them have learned yet that aiming is not necessarily the same as hitting a target. I know it’s there to keep the game from becoming too easy, and to make the player feel like they’re the single most important person on the team, but it feels less like you’re the centre of the universe, and more like you’re the only one in the universe capable of eating anything more complex and dangerous than mashed banana.

As for the script and the story, if Michael Bay were to direct a horror movie, this would be the result: tough-talking macho men who don’t give a fuck, sexy kick-ass chicks who don’t take no shit and explosions technically measured in kilotons. It’d be interesting to see how much input Clive Barker had with the game beyond the storyline, because if he had any, it sure as hell wasn’t with the script itself, filled wall to wall with with every action movie cliché you can imagine. Try searching for any more depth than that, and you’re going to be left very disappointed indeed. Try incorporating it into the game as a kind of buzzword bingo, ticking off a list of one-liners as you go, on the other hand and you’ll have a lot more fun.

If you’ve gotten this far, you’ll probably be wondering why I played this game at all, since I haven’t had much nice to say about it. Well, here’s the thing, for all the stupid mistakes it makes – and it makes those in spades – you’re left with the impression that somewhere, deep inside, there’s a far better game waiting to get out. The combat is genuinely great fun, but it’s slowed down to a laborious crawl because of the constantly spawning enemies. The few times you’re allowed to maintain a kill-and-move rhythm, the gameplay improves no end. The cast are a bunch of one-note assholes, but some of them are surprisingly likeable, indulging in banter and the like. The idea of seeing the same area from different time periods is an absolutely fantastic one and woefully underused. Last game I can remember playing that trick was Eternal Darkness back on the Gamecube. Just a crushing pity that the graphics exemplify everything wrong with the current generation: very pretty, very shiny, physically incapable of displaying any colours other than brown, grey and bloom.

And as for the ending, what ending? There’s a brief 10 second uncontrollable cutscene after the complete non-entity of a final boss (“Oh no! It’s immune to our weapons! Let’s all fire wildly in the hope that will change!”), and then the credits roll. That’s it, so long, thanks for all the fish. A lack of an ending is a complete kick in the balls after spending any decent length of time of a game. I know studies have shown that only one or two in ten people will ever reach the ending of any given game, but getting a decent ending should be a reward for our diligence and appreciation, rather than an afterthought, the equivalent of the dev team walking in and saying ‘what, you’re still here?!’ then doing some half-assed shadow puppetry until we get bored and go home.

There really is a good game in here, and there are occasional flashes of that greatness to keep you playing. Whether these flashes are actually a sign of something special, an idiot savant showing off their smarts, or heartless cockteasing is up to the player to decide. In my mind, this could’ve been a superior game if they’d been able to fully realise what they have on offer here. But, for whatever reasons, they couldn’t and all we’re left with is a basic shooter with some great ideas and occasional glimpses of something better. Clive Barker himself has spoken of a possible sequel, though whether that will appear as a game, a book or even possibly as a movie, is something we’ll have to wait and see.

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Overclocked On Caffeine v.1.1 2009-08-30 12:37:00

The Boondock Saints

110 minutes

Two Irishmen, a Scotsman and six guns walk into a barfight…

Sometimes, it’s hard to know how serious a movie’s actually being. Was that cheesy one-liner a knowing wink in your direction, or was that the actor ‘emoting’? It’s an important thing to judge, since it can make the difference between a terrible movie and a hilarious one. Look at Shoot Em Up: everyone thought that was Serious Business and called it accordingly. Those of us who were actually in on the joke thought it was the most hilarious film ever and had a blast. So that puts The Boondock Saints in an awkward position. Shoot Em Up aims for audacity from the word go, while Boondock Saints…

Our heroes are twin brothers, Conner and Murphey MacManus who, if you couldn’t guess from the name, are as Oirish as Irish can be. Every time they appear at the beginning, there’s cheesy stereotypical Riverdance-style music, just to hammer the point home. After celebrating St. Patrick’s Day (of course) with a good old, home cooked barfight, the losers, a group of Russian mafiosos, track them down to their stylish hovel and get revenge on them. They’re forced to kill the mobsters in self-defence and hand themselves in to the police, where someone leaks their names for… some reason, and they quickly become minor celebrities, being dubbed the Saints. The pair have an epiphany of some description (again, not really described well) and decide that if killing two mobsters makes people like them lots, killing tons of mobsters will make people like them even more! And with this kind of excellent logic, the film proper begins.

At first, it’s hard to know where the film is going. With the constant background presence of the various mafia groups, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re in for another grim and gritty crime drama, something with the moral ‘vengeance for its own sake never works’. But as you watch, things don’t quite pan out the way you expect. Ron Jeremy appears as a minion, with a… memorable scene in a porn shop. The action sequences get progressively more and more silly. And then Willem Defoe comes along and completely blows any and all pretences of this being a serious work out the water.

Y’see, Dafoe is easily the single best thing in this entire movie. Mainly because he’s the only one who seems to have grasped how entirely ludicrous the whole exercise is, and is intent on having as much fun with it as possible. So while everyone else is taking the film fairly seriously, he’s busy chewing up the scenery as a gay FBI agent, cheerfully sending it up left and right. By the time he starts describing (and enacting) the gunfight between the brothers and Billy Connelly, here playing a mob hitman by the name of Il Duche, a cigar the size of a small canoe wedged in his mouth the entire time, you’ve either turned the film off or you’re on the floor in stitches. The man makes the movie, and if it weren’t for him, it really wouldn’t be anything more than a bland, somewhat confused action movie. Even seeing him in painfully unconvincing drag doesn’t kill the movie, and that’s definitely something.

The ending loses all momentum, being a boring statement of intent that opens the door for a sequel (tl;dr “We’re gonna shoot this guy in the head now and you’re the lucky folks who get to see it! Tell the kids!”), Irish accents breaking badly every few seconds, which is a shame (and a little painful). If it had more courage of its convictions, it could’ve powered through and turned even that into something good. Even still, if you’re able to get the joke, this is a surprisingly good film once you get past the beginning. Just… someone tell Dafoe he shouldn’t have his legs apart when lying down wearing a skirt? Please?

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Overclocked On Caffeine v.1.1 2009-08-30 12:36:00

Gilgamesh

26 30-minute episodes

Gilgamesh/Enkidu OTP?

Fifteen years after a terrorist attack that has wiped out electronic equipment worldwide and turned the sky into an electromagnetic mirror, a brother and sister are on the run. They run into a group of teens who offer to help them escape their pursuers if they agree to join them. Their cause? A war to cleanse the earth of humanity and usher in a new age. And the teens, a group known as Gilgamesh, have psychic powers, are capable of transforming into monstrous beasts, and are just the ones to step into the gap left over. Needless to say, the siblings are somewhat reluctant to join. Not just because they’re not interested in the whole genocide business, but because their father is the leader of Gilgamesh. And the one who unleashed the catastrophe on the world to begin with. So when they’re rescued by a second group of psychic teens, these ones lead by the harshly authoritative Countess of Werdenberg, it’s hard to know which side to take, and the pair are forced to decide where they belong.

Okay, first things first, this is a hard show to watch. I’m a man who likes his stylized character designs and artwork, but even I had a hard time warming to this one. The palette is muted and washed out for the overwhelming majority of the series, the main flashes of colour coming from the red stripes on one character’s jacket and the red dresses worn by the female members of Gilgamesh. When we finally see the blue sky it carries with it some measure of impact. According to at least one character, who has never known anything but a mirrored sky, it’s ‘creepy’. Given the events that transpire soon after, she’s not entirely wrong in her unease.

The character designs are what takes the most getting used to though. Frankly, everyone in it looks like a strung-out heroin addict. Doesn’t help that one of the psychics is constantly pestering the others for a quick boost every ten minutes. Once you get used to them, they make a refreshing change to the standard saucer-eyed moeblobs infesting the majority of modern output, but it’s going to put a hell of a lot of people off within the first few episodes, I can assure you of that much.

It’s not just the artwork though, everything about this show is weird. There’s an unsettling atmosphere throughout. Background music is used sparingly, though Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto, a strangely melancholy piece, is referenced frequently. Characters act… well, they act. It’s not like the voice actors are wooden or anything, but I was left with the odd impression that the characters themselves were just playing roles, acting as the plot dictates. Like I say, it’s a weird feeling, but I’ll be damned if I can tell you what it means.

In the end, there are no happy endings. How could there be in a show such as this. But the very end takes it just that little step further and all but says that, when you get down to it, none of it really meant much anyway. It’s yet another attempt at an Evangelion-style metaphysical ending (man, I’ve really been watching a lot of shows like that, huh?), and while not as hamfisted as, say, Blue Gender’s, which came right the fuck out of nowhere, it renders the last 25 episodes moot. Nothing is accomplished, except a whole lot of people are now dead. And in the final frames, it all but outright states that it wasn’t worth it anyway.

As I said earlier, Gilgamesh is a tricky one to get into. If the drab colour scheme doesn’t put you off, then the character designs will, and if the character designs don’t, then some element of the story probably will. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good show, and despite what I said about the ending, it does work, though that’s more than likely to piss a few of you off. It’s the story of a broken world slowly winding down, but refusing to admit it.

Perfect Autumn fare if you ask me.

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