Shit-Your-Pants Terrifying

Awhile back Dipper gifted me a copy of Funcom’s The Park. It’s a spin-off of their game The Secret World (which is not a topic for this post, but I strongly urge you to give it a whirl!) I’ve recently gotten back into videogames, and yesterday morning Dipper asked me to give it a go when I got home. I was going to write this last night, but after finishing The Park, I just needed to lay down and decompress. There are two main reasons why I needed to decompress. The first is that I get motion sick when playing first person shooter games. This game is also in the first person, but I quickly learned how to move the character so that I didn’t get motion sickness. The second reason is that I have never been scared so thoroughly by a video game, and rarely to this degree by a movie.

In order to take full advantage of the experience, I shut all the lights off in my basement. I dragged the futon over next to me so that Zelda could hang out with me while I gamed. I even put on my headphones. Dipper told me that it was an all-encompassing experience and suggested the headphones. The game begins with a woman standing in the parking lot of a beat to hell looking amusement park called Atlantic Island Park. That’s the only playable character, and her name is Lorraine. She’s looking for her son Callum who has gone missing. She gains entrance to the park and commences to search for him in almost pitch-black conditions.

At the beginning of the game there is a disclaimer, about the game messing with lights, sounds, and visuals. When I read it I chuckled. It seemed ambitious but not unsurprising because The Park is styled as a first-person psychological horror adventure game. Not only was Funcom most decidedly NOT fucking with the gamers, but it drastically failed to prepare the gamer for the sheer terror of it all. Lorraine has no weapons, and doesn’t even get a flashlight until she’s almost done searching the park. In fact, the only thing she can do is call for her son Callum. While this seems useless it’s actually a navigational tool. For each section of the park she has several various phrases that she calls out, and when she does a few things happen. Sometimes Callum will respond and you’ll know where to go based on where the sound is coming from. Oh and be prepared, he’s a creepy little fuck. It’s literally like following Gage Creed in Pet Sematary. Half the time I was temped to leave his possessed-sounding ass behind. Or the screen will slightly warp like looking through a fish eye. This either tells you to go in a certain direction or leads you to something to interact with in the park. If you’d rather navigate this solely on sound, go ahead. You can turn off the visual hints in the menu.

Not so bad, right? Fuck no. Let’s talk about the rides, shall we? The first ride that you go on is The Tunnel of Tales. It’s pretty tame but cool. As you ride through in this swan-shaped boat loudspeakers tell the story of Hansel & Gretel. Shadow displays on the wall highlight key points of the story. If you look around while the story is going on, you’ll notice a few not-so-nice surprises along the way. I wound up actually screaming out loud a few times during this segment. Shit. You. Not.

The other rides are steadily scarier. I can’t even say which one is the scariest. Each ride or attraction had me screaming in real life. I hate roller coasters. I couldn’t stop screaming when Lorraine is riding the rollercoaster. I’ll give you a hint. She’s not alone. By the time I hit the House of Horrors, I was literally crawling from room to room grumbling, “fuck-fuck-fuck-fuck-fucking hell-fuck-fuck-shit-where-the-fuck-is-he-shit-fuck-omg” the entire time. Things jump out at you, mysterious shadows are there and gone in the blink of an eye, and then there’s Atlantic Island’s Backstory. As you’re looking for Callum there is a paper trail that you follow. The paper trail details the madman that built the park, and a little bit about what he was using it for.

Oh and the chipmunk mascot that’s in the advertising for the game? Yeah. That’s Chad the Chipmunk. The guy who worked as the mascot never took the costume off and basically went totally bugfuck. How do you know? The incident, accident, and death reports you find laying around the park. Even better? He’s one of the creepy motherfuckers sneaking around while you’re trying to find Callum. Sometimes he’s right in your face, other times you barely glimpse the outline and red eyes.

As the game progresses you start to wonder what’s really going on with Lorraine, our main character. Certain areas of the game trigger memories. Lorraine begins talking to herself and trying to rationalize what’s happened in the past or choices she’s made. It all seems pretty forgivable at first. I mean, she’s stuck in this creepy amusement park. She went in when it was still light out but as soon as she goes in it gets dark out? That would be unsettling enough for anyone. Let alone the strange noises and scratching sounds that seem to come from everywhere and nowhere while you’re exploring. Turns out you can’t really trust our Lorraine. She’s a little bugfuck herself, as her conflicting emotions and memories begin to show. Without giving away too much, you also find out that your narrator isn’t quite as reliable because of what she’s gone through. She had a traumatizing childhood and has been medicated for psychiatric problems. These combined with the changing imagery make you start to wonder how much of the game is in her head and how much of it is the evil influence of the amusement park.

I’m going to be completely honest. This game scared me shitless. I’m not being overdramatic when I say that I was screaming pretty much all of the two hours that it took me to go through this game. If you’re good at this type of thing like Dipper, it might take you an hour. I kept wussing out and having trouble going forward. There were a few rides I rode more than once, just to get a closer look at the “extras” that appeared when on the ride. As it turns out, not all of the rides are necessary in order to find Callum, but they do flesh out everyone’s story a little bit more. Also, if you’re a fan of The Secret World, you may recognize some of these locations. The Park takes place about 20 years prior to the Secret World. Oh and the creepy looking motherfucker to the right? The one in rags and a top hat? All out of proportion? Yeah. No fucking clue who he is, though I have my guesses. Not to mention he’s every-fucking-where in this game. But never where you see him coming. More than half the time he sneaks up on you. I was examining something in the Freak Show area and I turned around and he was there. I screamed so loudly Zelda almost fell off the futon beside me!

The park is fantastic. I loved it so much I might play it again soon, just to go through the experience and see what I missed the first time around. The visuals and sounds are terrifying, but I think it’s all the more horrifying in that you don’t have a weapon. Or a flashlight. It’s literally you going through a dark, creepy amusement park at night looking for your kid. By yourself. With nothing to defend yourself and every situation feeling dangerous in a way you can’t quite put your finger on. The closest comparison that I can make is going through a haunted house in real life. You know something is around every corner. But what that thing actually is? And where? Fuck if anyone knows. It’s not like they’ve left you a clue or anything. The Park doesn’t leave you with a nice cut-and-dry ending. It’s enigmatic and very open for debate, and that’s also what makes the game so enjoyable. I have found myself thinking about The Park off and on today at work, thinking through some plot twist or theory. It’s definitely a game that stays with you.

I absolutely recommend this game, but more strongly than that, I recommend you play it the right way. In the dark. Alone. With headphones. Immerse yourself in The Park and you won’t be sorry in the long run, though you’ll be scared out of your mind while you’re playing! And if while you’re playing you happen to feel eyes on your back, it’s probably just Chad the Chipmunk….

 

 

Let’s Talk Games!

Next week Chris and I will be heading to a neighboring town for a weekend of geekery. We are attending something called MassiveLAN – which is basically up to 300 gamers in a convention center gaming as hard as they mlpcan with no sleep and questionable shower breaks. LAN stands for Local Area Network – basically we’re all hooked up together and we’re all in the same space. Eventually LAN parties will become a thing of the past, mostly because gaming computers for the serious can be huuuge, annoying and dangerous to move, and with high speed Internet, it’s almost nuts to leave the comfort of your own home. For those of us who still go, it’s nice to get together and game with new people who you can then talk to in person. This particular LAN party also features games like office chair races, computer building competitions, and other like-minded fun. (Trivia for those of you that don’t know – Chris and I originally met at a LAN party.) To give you an idea, here is a shot of the fall MassiveLAN. This is just a tiny corner of the building that we occupied. As you can probably see, everyone’s got a neat computer setup, and most opt for their own office chair since sitting on the plastic ones for a whole weekend will most likely lead to certain ass pain and possible premature death. Since the LAN is coming up, I figured I would write some posts about different games out there – and this is my first.

At the fall MassiveLAN, Chris introduced me to this batshit crazy game called Surgeon Simulator. This game has to be the funniest and most morose game on the market. It works like a first-person shooter. All you see are your hands, and whatever is in front of you. Your left hand uses the keyboard to operate the left hand. Your right hand uses the mouse, and it operates the right hand. It sounds ridiculously simple. Left. Right. Left. Right. How bad can it be? The answer is insanely bad. It’s extremely hard to keep your hands steady, and to operate them separately – so for those of you who play FPS games, be thankful that when you go to shoot someone both your hands work in unison and know what to do! Instead of levels, you are tasked with every increasingly hard surgeries. Which in and of itself sounds good, but in practice it’s pretty much the biggest joke possible. My first try, I sent a coffee cup careening into the open chest cavity of my patient, and then when I went to retrieve it, I found a bonesaw in my hands (I think I hit some wrong buttons on my way to the chest cavity). I proceeded to hack away at the chest cavity with the bonesaw, all the while the patient’s blood pressure and vitals were plummeting. In the end, I neither retrieved the coffee cup, nor did I do anything more than destroy my patient.

surgeonAfter such a crushing loss, I did what any person given digital hands would do. I started making gestures. The finger, the peace sign, anything that came to mind. As it turns out, that was almost harder to do than operate! In the screenshot to the left, you can see all kinds of stuff on the table next to the patient. Who on Earth would operate with that much shit just laying around?! It’s no wonder I was dropping pens and pencils and all kinds of stuff into the chest cavity. It’s actually something of a wonder that my poor patient didn’t expire sooner. As for the progression of surgeries – I can only dream. I’m pretty sure I’m never going to have it together enough to actually make any surgeonkind of progress whatsoever. While searching Google for a screenshot worth posting, I came across the screenshot at the right – the brain surgery. I can’t even imagine attempting.

Surgeon Simulator is also wildly entertaining in a group setting. A few weeks after MassiveLAN, Chris and I had some friends over at the house. As often happens, everyone drifted to the computers and we fired up a game. Apparently there’s no such thing as natural talent in Surgeon Simulator. One of my friends, Steve (of Monster Movie Monday), has really steady hands because he plays keyboard/piano. There’s technically no reason that he wouldn’t be able to own in this game. Except that the fictional surgeon that you are stuck piloting seems perpetually drunk. Move the mouse just a tiny amount and the right hand goes soaring across the screen, wreaking havoc where it goes.

If you’re not afraid to get down and bloody, give Surgeon Simulator a try! If you have happened to try it, drop a line in the comments and tell me what you thought!

 

Fun for Everyone!

Resident_evil_rev._2012_CapcomI know I’m a little late to the party on this one, but so be it! Two weekends ago, my husband Chris and I were at our local Best Buy. He was searching for a pair of headphones and a keyboard for his computer. I was along for the ride (and secretly scouting the price of Xbox games). I was eyeing Resident Evil Revelations, deciding whether or not to purchase it at the buyer-friendly price of $59.99, when my husband handed a game to me. It was a Blizzard offering – Diablo III – that I had glimpsed on Chris’ computer. I hadn’t ever played a Diablo game, but had spent many an hour yoked to World of Warcraft, and I knew the quality of the game in my hand.

Flipping it over, I read the back of the game. You know what word got me? Witch doctor. Hell yes, witch doctor! The words “masses of loot” didn’t exactly damageDiablo_III_cover my thoughts on the game either. (The other classes mentioned on the back of the case were barbarian, monk, demon hunter, and wizard, if you’re wondering.) Five minutes later, and I was in the checkout line holding the video game, game guide, and Resident Evil Revelations. Chris was smiling as though it were Christmas morning – I was just happy to have a colorful game that saw me tearing through demons with my husband at my side.

Now fast forward two weeks. Chris and I are sitting in the basement on a Friday night in front of the TV set, our surround sound at near-full blast, pumpkin spice coffee at our side. The opening cinematic was the typical lush style long associated with Blizzard games, and immediately drew me into the storyline, after which we were tasked with choosing our classes. As mentioned above, I chose the witch doctor. I have to admit it was tough, I was drawn to the wizard, but also to the monk. In World of Warcraft, which I played for just over five years, I had always played a healer and paired with some muscle, or I was a DPS class. I let Chris choose first, because he had played the PC version of the game. His choice was easy – barbarian. A simple hack-and-slash character, but bound to be fun, who he named TkOut (technical knock-out). I finished flipping through the game guide and chose a witch doctor, whom I named Erzulee. For quick class comparison – take a look at the chart below.

Diablo-3-classes

After choosing our classes, we are shown another cinematic – this time the history of New Tristram. New Tristram is the cursed town from which most of the Act 1 action originates. When the cinematic ends, you and any companions playing with you begin on Overlook road with one ability. You take the road into New Tristram and from there you’re off!

grotesquesIt’s pretty difficult not to get sucked into the easy gameplay, which lends itself more to Xbox gaming than to PC if you’re wondering. There is no need to conserve on ammo, which allows you to freely destroy any monsters you come across, as well as most of the free-standing structures. This feature comes in handy especially when you’re in graveyards and tombs. Don’t worry – the first several quests have you romping and stomping your way through graveyards, cathedrals, and tombs a plenty. You face all manner of uglies – worms, crawling zombies, and these fat monsters that run around with their arms in the air. To the left, you’ll find a monster called, aptly enough, a grotestque. When they are put down, their body explodes and you’re stuck fighting various trios of ugly over-sized grave worms.

The actual narrative that drives the story is very interesting, and interspersed well between fighting. When you encounter various NPCs, you can choose the parts of the story you want to hear. This is an added bonus, because if you’re a hack-slash-ignore-the-story type, you can blow past that. Also, you can replay the game without the story scenes that can make other games tedious. However, if you’re like Chris and I, and you prefer a bit of story to go with your zombie meat, there’s more than enough. The music is great too – it’s never too loud or invasive, and it doesn’t have annoying recurring themes that pop up and make the game predictable.

There is no reason you can give me that is good enough for not playing this game. It’s fun, colorful, and well-made. Every quest is new and exciting, you accrue gold and gear quickly, and the dialog is fast-paced. The monsters are appropriately scaled so that they don’t whale on you or drop dead too easily. Loot is duplicated for each player, and it’s easy to swap gear with others. In short – it’s an awesome game! If you don’t have this game – go buy it NOW!

 

A So-So Zombie Game, Revisited.

I have no idea why, but I can’t get that stupid game, “Blood Drive” out of my head.  I didn’t wind up trading it like I thought I would.  I thought that I would be able to get rid of it because it’s so awful, but I have a strange, inexplicable wish to go back and try my hand at it again.  There is a horrifying possibility that I will spend more time on it, getting to know it better and ::gasp:: unlocking some of the features that shouldn’t have to be unlocked.  Is it possible that this terrible game has some voodoo charm on me !?  Quite possible !  I will keep you posted.

A So-So Zombie Game.

Xbox 360 Core System with their peripherals.

Image via Wikipedia

I purchased “Blood Drive” for the XBOX 360 pretty much as soon as it came out.  (I might add that I spent $49 or so on this game.)  It was a fairly obvious choice for me – it was a zombie game.  When I went home and told my friends about it, they were horrified.  One particular friend even admitted to having it on his to-do list to tell me not to purchase the game.  I couldn’t figure out why, and I looked up some reviews of my own.  Without going into detail, the results were disappointing.

I’ve been playing it for a little while now (about an hour) and there are some obvious disadvantages with the game, as well as a few pluses.

In many ways, “Blood Drive” is a rip-off of the “Left 4 Dead” franchise.  This game features zombies that look and act uncannily like the Boomer, Hunter, Charger, and Tank.  The gameplay became monotonous rather quickly – instead of trying to find ways of effectively driving, I found it easier to hole up in an alleyway and drive back and forth until the timer ran out, crushing whatever happened to be under my bumper at the time.  When “Blood Drive” begins, there is absolutely no tutorial, and I died a few times until I looked up and tried to memorize the controls.  Even with the controls memorized, there is so much going on in the beginning that its hard to focus.  Zombies are attacking the car, the car is running over barrels and rolling, hordes are charging, and somehow I’m supposed to not only navigate successfully, but learn to fire a random harpoon weapon?  I think not.  Also, in order to get to the single player sections with different scenery and goals, I have to survive some kind of 5 minute challenge that I could’t find.  I can’t imagine the hours it would take me to get to the 5 minute mark.  The longest I lasted in the environment was 1:10:?? and it was difficult lasting that long.  Another big issue I have with the game is the sensitivity of the controls.  It would be wonderful to be able to hit more zombies, but often the game feels more like a driver ed simulation, with me passing by hordes of zombies just begging to be run down.  They’re even running after me with blood dribbling down their clothes, growling and snarling.

“Blood Drive” should have had a 2 player mode.  This game is perfect for multi-player, however you need someone else to drop the money on the game, hop on when you are playing, and agree to play with you.  If the designers had gone with a split-screen mode, it could have been a salvageable game.

After effectively tearing the game apart, I’d like to mention some of the pluses.  The addition of a pimp zombie was pretty funny and interesting, and the overall look of the zombies themselves were pretty interesting.  Each driver was laid out with a different car and personality.  There were 8 initial to choose from, and before you began the game you got to add extras to your car.  Think of them as care packages, that ranged from increased speed to increased durability.  They were meant to help with your chosen car’s weakness.  (It should be added that steering was a noted weakness for most cars in this DRIVING game.  Why is that?)  The ambulance was very difficult to drive, due to its center of gravity.  Cars that drove lower to the ground seemed marginally easier to drive.  The music style changed for each character, mirroring the personality of the driver as well.

I am relatively sure I will be trading the game in this afternoon for a measly $20.  I want to trade it in before it depreciates further.  Its an alright game, but I am not sure if I’m interested in spending the hours it will take to unlock content that should be available from the start.  The lack of information in the game booklet was also a severe letdown.  If I’ve learned anything from “Blood Drive”, it’s that a) there are some games you should rent rather than buying flat out b) don’t buy video games full price – or close to it and c) not everything zombie-based is exciting.  The idea for a zombie racing game was a great one, but major and unforgivable faults keep this game from being what it really could (and should) have been.

All the zombie fragging you can handle…and a little you can’t.

Left 4 Dead 2

Image via Wikipedia

“Left 4 Dead 2” follows four different survivors through a series of zombie infested maps.

The game was an overall improvement from Left 4 Dead (which in and of itself was still an awesome game!)  There are numerous notable changes for the better which include more staggered spacing of the infected.  Instead of running into a constant mob and then nothing, the mobs are well spaced enough so that there is no time to relax and wait for the next mob.

The special infected are bigger, better, and more badass as well.  Hunters, witches, boomers, and tanks all were re-done with more detail including (but not limited to) extra boils, more slime, and more detailed clothing.  New notable specials include the Jockey, who sits atop your character and rides them around while screeching, and my personal nemesis, the Spitter.  Spitters have disjointed jaws and are capable of covering several in-game feet of floor with an acidic puke that will quickly exacerbate the situation for yourself and the other survivors.  The best part ?  She spits it from afar.  Perhaps you can’t see her, but she can still drop you with one or two well-aimed spits.  Eesh.  Not to mention the hordes of other special infected, some of which wear armor and are harder to kill.  Oh and one last thing – there are clown zombies.  A whole carnival section filled to the brim with slavering clown zombies whose eyes glow.  I won’t spoil all the fun – but trust me – you’ll like the new ones !

The story itself is more cohesive within the campaigns.  Rather than just running around blasting zombies to bits, you are following a coordinated escape pattern from area to area.  Don’t fear – the story doesn’t get in the way of mindless blasting, if that’s something you prefer.  The locales are creepier with more special effects including fog, wind and driving rain as well as numerous hiding places for zombies and specials.  The effects add a touch of realism to the video game, as well as add to the unpredictability of the game.  It seems that every time you play, its a different game.

Whether or not you were a fan of the original “Left 4 Dead” you need this game.  I play it on my computer because I’m terrible at first person shooters on a console, but regardless of your choice of play you will have countless hours of enjoyment from “Left 4 Dead 2”.  One more bit of advice – play it in the dark.  It’ll scare you witless.

Left 4 Dead

Left 4 Dead

Image by csullens via Flickr (I have no idea why there is a cat in the photo, but it's the only one I can find on wordpress to use.)

I have played this game on both the XBOX 360 Slim and the Computer.

This game is a first-person shooter that invites players to play as one of four survivors in a variety of modes.  It features hand-held weapons as well as guns and bombs.  There are also special zombies to encounter.  My personal nemesis is the Witch.  She sits and wails, and when you stumble on her she comes at you clawing with everything she’s got.  Basically if you startle her, you better be wielding a chainsaw, if not, you’re toast.  I’d recommend dodging her, unless you don’t mind taking a heap of damage after a botched attempt to kill her.

Other special infected include Boomers – big, fat zombies that spit on you in order to attract more zombies.  If you get too close and blow one up, you likewise are covered in bile / vomit and can expect a storm of zombies.  Another personal favorite that seems to favor tearing me apart are the too-agile hunters.  They are hoodie-clad hooligans that leap from buildings after you.  When caught, they too tear you to pieces.

The game also features four playable maps.  If you are working with a competent group of friends, you can finish each map in about an hour, give or take a little.  The maps are “No Mercy”, “Dead Air”, “Blood Harvest”, and “Crash Course”.  If you are like me, and you get lost easy, you can get the AI to guide you while you are playing solo.  The maps also contain “Safe Houses” which serve as way points in campaigns.  In Safe Houses you can get more ammunition for your weapons, you can choose from a variety of other weapons, and you can use first aid kits to heal yourself and your companions.

While I enjoy playing Left 4 Dead on the XBOX, I find I’m a better shot when playing it on my computer.  That’s just personal preference.  As far as I can tell, it is just as intuitive on the XBOX as it is on the computer.  Overall, it’s a great game to play in the dark.  The maps are creepy and very intense.  The maps are populated with realistic buildings and car crashes. Another added pleasure are the car traps.  Vehicles with blinking red lights signal a killing horde of zombies if you happen to jump on them or shoot them – so be careful !  At the end of each campaign you are given various player stats which include but are not limited to number of infected killed, how much damage you have done to a particular special infected, how many friendly fire incidents, and various other elements.  These add a competitive edge to the game when playing with friends.

Since the second game is now available, it is worth noting that time has not diminished the playability of this game.  While it is true that the new game brings marked improvement in some areas, the old game is in no way rendered obsolete.  In fact, if you are unsure about this franchise, then I recommend purchasing the first game as an introduction.  If however, you enjoy first person shooters, or zombie games of any kind, this is certainly worth playing.

Pros:

  • Intense atmosphere – realistic
  • Interesting mix of special infected and regular infected makes each gaming experience unique
  • Well conceived characters – fun to play !
  • You don’t get killed from zombie bites – and you can be cured by first aid kits
  • Plenty of weapons to choose from and wield
  • Little story line and not very many cut scenes maximizes zombie killing time
  • Playable for console and computer

Cons:

  • Only 4 maps to choose from (I’m nitpicking – but there really isn’t much fault with the game)
  • I would have liked more variation in the appearance of the regular infected