Sunday, April 22, 2012

Adventure. Survival. Horror.

I've been in a gaming rut for a few weeks now and today it seems that it may have subsided. A little over a month ago I finished Mass Effect 3, my thoughts on which are detailed elsewhere on this site. Since my ME3 play through had come hot on the heels of my second ME2 play through, I was a little burned out on the choice-centric RPG thing and looking for something a bit different and ideally as non-action as I could find.

The first stop on my post ME3 journey was "To The Moon", an adventure game in the style of a 16-bit RPG. Many months earlier when this game had first caught everyone's attention I had made a note to check it out. As a game designer and a lover of narratives in any form, I have a vested interest in the execution of narrative in video games. When a game like To The Moon comes along and people claim it to be an incredibly moving experience, that's something I need to see. Skeptical as I was, To The Moon did actually deliver an authentically moving experience. All told however, much of what transpired in ME3 moved me more, but seeing as how it was the culmination of 3 games worth of decisions and character building/bonding, that's not surprising.

The second game I checked out was "Dear Esther", a game that's probably most accurately described as an interactive narrative, seeing as you don't ever really interact with anything. Dear Esther was a short, but interesting experiment. I thought they accomplished the challenge of setting and maintaining a mood fairly well, although I felt some further player interaction may have allowed them to hook me into the story in a more profound way.

Truth be told, Dear Esther was merely a decoy, a pit stop, a training exercise. I had decided it was finally time to jump back into "Amnesia: The Dark Descent", a game I had purchased over a year earlier, but hadn't been able to muster the courage to play for more than half an hour. Amnesia manages to mix classic adventure game play, with the first person view point, and survival horror in a most brilliant way. As a man trapped in a mysterious castle in the late 1800's you must unravel the mystery surrounding your lost memory and a diabolical horror that appears to be chasing after you, all without being able to defend yourself against enemies. If Doom is a First Person Shooter and Thief was a First Person Sneaker, then Amnesia is a First Person Hider. In the rare instances that you do come face to face with some other-worldly horror, you have but one recourse in the world of Amnesia: run and hide. If you're lucky then you'll be able to stay hidden long enough for your foe to lose interest and not lose too much sanity along the way. All told, I thought Amnesia was excellent. The only criticism I have (which is typical of horror games) is that by the end of the game, I had figured out all of their tricks. I always knew that certain sounds and events wouldn't result in something I needed to hide from, but based on the developer's (Frictional Games) recent comments about the next game in the series, this seems to be something they seek to address.

Amnesia was great, but short and it left me wanting more. I decided to visit Frictional Games' earlier works: the "Penumbra" series. While one can certainly see in Amnesia the lessons they learned in making Penumbra, the games still hold up as very entertaining. With a more modern setting, no sanity meter, and the limited ability to fight back against certain foes, the Penumbra games were a little less atmospheric than Amnesia, but they made up for it by being much closer the a classic point-and-click adventure game in execution. Really my only gripe about the Penumbra series was that I expected a trilogy when I bought the games, but the third installment is actually a puzzle game in the vein of Portal and while it does advance the story, I was ultimately unsatisfied by the differences.

I had been left unfulfilled by the third Penumbra installment, yet I still craved an adventure/survival horror experience. After perusing several options, I decided to check out "Alan Wake", a game that I had skipped on the consoles, but that had recently been released for the PC. I don't want to say much about the game since I haven't finished it, but the parts that I have played really aren't that satisfying as far as horror goes. As with a lot of console games, Alan Wake telegraphs it's moves far too often and its insistence of taking away control of my camera and throwing me into pre-rendered cinematics as a means of immersing me in the story, has the exact opposite effect. All told, I wasn't satisfied by Alan Wake. This was not the game I was looking for and while I will revisit it, I don't have any desire to continue with it now.

All this led me to the point where there was simply nothing I wanted to play. I would fire up random games I had installed on Steam to see if I was interested in playing them, but nothing stuck. I even re-installed Myst IV, thinking that what I needed was a classic adventure game and remembering that I had never finished that game nor played it's sequel, the final in the series. Sadly Myst IV was not what I was looking for either and so I (a devout gamer ... even before it became my career) was at a loss, until today.

While I was playing Amnesia and Penumbra I had gotten the idea in the back of my head that when I was done, I needed to go back and finish "Dead Space 2". The original Dead Space was easily one of my favorite games in the year it was released, however I never got more than a couple hours into Dead Space 2 after it came out. I knew it wasn't any fault of the game itself and with my renewed interest in horror games it seemed the perfect time to revisit that world. When the third Penumbra game fell flat for me, I didn't really think that I had the heart to jump into Dead Space 2 and so I went looking for a bridge in Alan Wake. Apparently I was wrong in that decision however because today I loaded Dead Space 2 into the 360 and where every other game has failed me recently, this has succeeded.

I don't know if Dead Space 2 will finally give me closure on my adventure/horror game excursion, but it's nice to have a really good feeling about completing a game that you've let sit around for a while. I've got a PS3 on order that should be arriving later this week, so maybe I'll jump straight from Dead Space to Uncharted or the Ico/Shadow of the Colossus HD bundle. Either way it seems my brief drought of gaming has come to an end. Now if you'll excuse me, I have necromorphs to kill.

No comments:

Post a Comment