Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Silent Hill: Downpour and more

Today was supposed to contain a full review of Silent Hill: Downpour, but October has been an insanely busy month for me. Partially for personal reasons (I got a tooth pulled and it was a very painful recovery period) but also for fun, creative reasons (my very first acting role, the return of Strangers from the Internet, and a longer than usual Castle Rock Companion). So instead all I can give you are my initial impressions of the game. I thought I'd also include some thoughts on other Silent Hill related media to make this post more worth your while.

Silent Hill Downpour box art.jpg 

I was exceedingly nervous in the time leading up to the game's release for two reasons:  the first being that Konami themselves did not make this game and the second being that they mentioned breakable weapons.  After Origins, this was not a good sign.  But this was a different company and I wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt.  Disappointment number one occurred when I loaded in the game to watch the opening titles.  Other Silent Hill games play genuinely creepy videos, usually a mash of various FMVs throughout the game that don't give you enough detail to spoil anything, but definitely set the mood.  They're usually set to a song sung by the gorgeously haunting voice of Mary Elizabeth McGlynn.  This game, by comparison, has a theme song by Korn.  But more than anything, the video was neither creepy or scary or haunting in any way.  It just looked like a generic action game where you fight creatures.

Actually playing it, I feel slightly better.  I do find it annoying that they decided to go for a little more realism when it comes to items.  You can only hold one thing in your hand at any given time.  That means if you hold your flashlight, you can't pick up a weapon unless you attach your flashlight to your belt first.  If you don't do that, you'll drop your flashlight.  Similarly, you can put one firearm into a holster, but once you arm yourself with it, you'll drop your melee weapon on the ground.  Certain melee weapons work better than others, but sometimes you'll need a certain type for puzzle solving, and so you'll have to go searching for that one type which means you'll have to abandon that good weapon you prefer for fighting.  It's just a little too much of a hassle, though I'll admit that so far on the easy difficulty I haven't had much trouble escaping enemies.
Also so far, and this may change as the game goes on, the enemies are not particularly scary.  The first enemy that you run into is a screamer, which is essentially a girl with long black hair and white skin who screams at you.  Her screams are disorienting, which provides the right amount of challenge, but I think we've all seen images from The Ring and The Grudge too often at this point to be scared of this creature at all.  Also, I've heard that the number of enemies you kill makes a difference in this game,  but so far avoiding killing them has been difficult for me.

The puzzles have been a bit frustrating, and solving them seems to be mostly about trial and error rather than clues.  Murphy, our "hero," will sometimes mumble something to try to give me a hint, but they've been a bit vague to the point that they don't always help me.  I've had to use walkthroughs already to get passed some of them.  I've also had to run through a sequence reminiscent of the haunted house in Silent Hill 3 and the nightmare world in Shattered Memories where it's basically just running through a maze and not getting caught by an evil red energy that's chasing me.  I'm really hoping that doesn't pop up again, but I have a feeling it will.

I've reached the point where you finally enter Silent Hill, and it becomes a bit of an open world game.  Personally, I'm not really a huge fan of those.  I prefer to be told where to go rather than forced to explore the town on my own.  But as I wandered a bit I ran into things that gave Murphy goals to complete.

None of these details have been frustrating enough to the point that I don't want to finish the game.  The tutorial level forced me to violently attack someone in a dream sequence, and I'm very much curious what that was about and what our main protagonist was in jail for.  He doesn't seem entirely like a nice guy, though I've been given multiple choices so far whether to help people or not, which I imagine will also make a difference in what ending I get.  They come down to "be nice or be a dick" so it's not exactly a huge moral choice, but I'm still curious what the result will be in the end regardless.


Just released this month is Silent Hill: Book of Memories for the Playstation Vita.  I don't have one so I can't play it, and honestly, I wouldn't want to.  I'm still trying really hard to wrap my head around the idea of a multiplayer Silent Hill, and I just don't get it.  You've occasionally been tasked to protect an NPC character in the games, but co-op play seems better suited for Resident Evil than Silent Hill.  Plus to keep to the "personal hell" themes of the series, you would have to essentially have a "I Know What You Did Last Summer" kind of plot to keep all these characters together at the same time.  Apparently despite their heavy promotion of this being a co-op game, it's actually just a solo adventure with the option to host sessions with other players.  The problem is that it's a dungeon crawler rather than a survival horror game.  I think it's safe to say that even if they do eventually adapt this for PS3, I won't be buying it.

And Beyond

It looks like Konami is trying to bring the series back home by asking Hideo Kojima to design the next game.  Considering the fantastic things he did with Psycho Mantis in the Metal Gear Solid series, I am very much excited about this idea.  Here's hoping it actually gets made.

There are now two Silent Hill films, but I'm afraid you're going to have to wait a bit to hear about those.  They will be the topic of the November Strangers from the Internet episode!

Japan got both an arcade game and a couple mobile phone games, but in America the only other way to get your Silent Hill fix is through the comics.  I have not read all of these, but from what I can tell they are a mixed bag.  I plan to dig into these pretty soon to get a feel for them, but the art is a big deterrent for me.  What they call "dream-like" I call "sloppy and hard to follow."

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Three year anniversary

I like doing these anniversary posts because it gives me a chance to reflect on what I've done over the course of a year.  I think we all tend to chug right along and don't always realize how far we've come.

I've gotten more than 30k pageviews, which is pretty crazy when you think about it.  It's allowed me to talk to and become friends with people all around the world.  I dare say I wouldn't have most of  the friends I have right now if it wasn't for starting this blog, and for that reason alone I'm pretty happy.  I've also gotten to collaborate with some of them on various projects around the internet, and that's pretty awesome.

Since last year I did marathons for The Muppets, the Alien and Predator franchises, Batman, and of course I'm currently almost finished the Silent Hill marathon.  I started to script my videos, therefore hopefully making them increase in quality quite a bit.  I also started Castle Rock Companion, which should be going for quite a while.  Especially since Hollywood keeps announcing more and more Stephen King adaptations!

Beyond CRC, I have some other video review ideas in the works.  Not for series but one off episodes about various movies, shows, music, games, and books that I love.  There will probably be some more written reviews as well.  Not everything needs a visual element, after all.  I do not currently have any marathons planned, but that doesn't mean inspiration won't strike.  This current Silent Hill marathon erupted after I found myself in love with the first game and wanted to experience more.  Who knows what might hook me next year?

So thanks again to all of you who come here and read/watch/comment on my entries on a regular basis.  You make doing this a lot more fun than if I was just talking about these things all by myself!

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories

After finishing the first game and realizing we still had two months before the release of the Silent Hill HD Collection, I figured it would be safe to play the "re-imagining" of the first Silent Hill, subtitled Shattered Memories.  What re-imagining means is that while you are still a character named Harry Mason looking for his daughter Cheryl after getting in a car accident, the story itself is very different.  While there are still characters with the same names and you visit some similar locations, gone are the black magic rituals and mentions of summoning demons.  Instead you are actually in a psychiatrist's office and switch between answering questions for him and then reliving what happened to you after the car accident.

Apparently I was not the only fan of the series very frustrated with the combat difficulty of the last couple games.  This game was an attempt at a return to form, but unfortunately they swung it back way too far.  The only time you can "die" in this game is during the nightmare sequences, where skinless, faceless creatures chase you through a frozen world and you must run through a labyrinthine level to find the way out.  You have no weapons at all - the only things you will pick up during the game are keys to unlock doors and mementos that, as far as I can tell, bear nothing on the actual story itself.  In the nightmare sequences all you do is throw the wiimote and nunchuck in various directions to throw the creatures off you. These creatures were really scary and I felt really frantic the first time I ran into them.  But seeing as how these sequences increased in difficulty but not scariness through the rest of the game, I stopped being scared and mostly became frustrated.

When you're not in the nightmare sequence, there is no possible harm that can come to you.  You'll run into ghosts or some other paranormal energy, and your flashlight will flicker and you'll hear a bunch of static and feedback.  But once you realize there's absolutely no threat behind these things, just more story to be revealed, you stop being scared all together.

This game had so much potential to be a really frightening game.  You use your wiimote to control your flashlight, and you walk around places in the dark looking for clues.  Any horror movie fan knows the potential here, the idea of things lurking in the darkness where you can't see,  paranormal happenings all around you.  Just picture how frightening and thrilling this game could be!  Then sigh really loudly at how much this game is not that.  I screamed out loud the first time the creatures in the nightmare world jumped out at me.  Yet throughout the game I occasionally had to open up cabinets or pull back curtains to see what was behind them but I never found anything remotely scary behind any of them and had absolutely nothing jump out at me!  Why would you not include that?!

One thing I can praise it for is that it's one of the very few adult games made for the Wii.  There is cursing and a lot of very adult situations that happen within it.  It shows that there really is potential for motion controls and mature subject matter to go hand in hand.  They also take advantage of the speaker on the wiimote to work as your cellphone.  When you get a call in the game, you actually hold  the remote up to your ear to listen to the call. It helps to try to put you inside the game as much as possible.

Another neat thing about the game was the time with the psychiatrist.  You were asked some personal moral questions and asked to make some interesting decisions.  For instance, he tells you a story about a princess who is forced into an arranged marriage to a prince she doesn't love.  The prince knows she doesn't love him, but asks for her hand in marriage anyway.  The king knows she doesn't love him, but agrees to the marriage because it's the tradition.  On her wedding night she runs away from the prince, and enters a field despite a warning sign that there is a dangerous bull there.  The bull kills her.  Arrange the four characters in order of guiltiness for who is responsible for her death.  Not the easiest thing to answer, is it?

Those questions, along with some sequences where you go into first person view and can control what the character looks at, directly affect what ending you get.  Much like Bioshock, the same thing still happens, but the tone changes.  I managed to get a positive ending.  During the credits you also get an evaluation from the psychiatrist, a kind of personality profile.  I answered the questions throughout the sequences honestly from my own perspective, and I found the profile to be eerily accurate, with only a couple things off.

Unfortunately that profile was practically the only thing about the ending I did like.  The ending is a pretty common horror twist ending trope and a bit of a cheat at that.  Like a lot of cheat twist endings, I feel a little better about the story with enough time and distance to have perspective on it, but at the time I felt really betrayed.  It definitely left me with no desire to attempt a replay and get a different ending.

If you have a Wii and can find this game on the cheap, I recommend getting it.  While the not the best of the series, it's certainly the best since Konami handed game creation over to Western companies rather than producing these in house.  Just don't expect it to scare you too much.

I wonder if, with the release of the WiiU, they will maybe try to improve upon this formula.  I would gladly give another game in this series a try if they made the effort to increase the scares in it.  Though the two games they have released since this one are nothing like it.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Silent Hill Homecoming

Because of release dates and availability, I ended up playing the three most recent Silent Hill games before I got to play 2-4 of the series.  As I mentioned in my previous reviews, I got to Homecoming after finishing Shattered Memories and giving up on Origins.  To say it was discouraging at that point is an understatement.

The main thing Homecoming has going for it is that it was made for the modern consoles, and as such has HD graphics.  Growing up in the 8 bit era I'm not a stickler for graphics at all, but I have to admit that more vivid images do ramp up the horror quite a bit.  I played this game on the PS3, but it's also available for the 360 and PC.

Homecoming's main character, Alex Shepard, is a soldier returning from war.  I expected the combat to be ramped up because of this, and I wasn't wrong.  While the first level of the game, where you are making your way through a nightmare version of a hospital, was relatively easy to get through, things got much harder in terms of enemies going forward.  Perhaps the strangest part was the nurses in the hospital were much easier to kill than nurses I ran into later on.  It's the same enemy, shouldn't their AI be equal?

I could also ask why nurses appeared in the middle of an apartment building rather than in a hospital but the answer to that is "All other Silent Hill games have nurses, so this one does too!"  This is also why Pyramid Head pops up once in a cut scene and then never appears again (unless you get a certain bad ending).

I read an FAQ for this game that described all monsters included as mini-bosses, and that's a really accurate description.  You need a specific strategy to kill each and every one of them.  Given the control scheme of this game, it becomes a difficult feat.  There's a weak and strong attack,  but you also have to hold down the aim button up top.  Even shooting guns requires holding down two buttons plus aiming with the analog stick.  Perhaps those who are used to playing FPS games on modern consoles wouldn't even blink at this control scheme, but I had a really hard time with it.  There's also no easy mode for this game, just Normal and Hard.  As such the health drinks and first aid kits were few and far between.  The item selection screen was also designed in such a way that I accidentally used items when I didn't need them.  And considering their rarity, that's a serious problem.

All of this is to basically tell you that I only made it about halfway through the game.  For those of you who have played, I got stuck in the sewers with no means of recovering health and no more ammo.  I used Youtube user SMacReborn's walkthrough to watch the full storyline and get an impression of the remainder of the game.

I will say that this game does provide a very large number of puzzles along with its increase in combat.  Most of them are fair, where you are able to solve them with trial and error or decent clues provided by the game.  It should keep you busy without frustrating you too badly.

One thing I found strange was that the later levels seemed to have less enemies.  Perhaps the walkthrough I watched simply got lucky, but he wandered halls of levels without running into anything but the boss at the end.  Which is pretty frustrating for me because apparently if I could have gotten past that one point in the game, I probably could have beaten it.

But the real flaw of this game is that it's just not that scary.  There are some horrifying looking monsters, but after a while you get used to their looks.  The jump scares are minimal, the music isn't scary, and there was no "I don't want to go in there!" moment that I can remember at all.  I was more scared that I wasn't going to beat the monsters than anything else, and that's just not what I want from a Silent Hill game.

Without giving too much away, the story of this game was clearly trying to combine elements of the original game's storyline with the "Silent Hill is your own personal hell" angle from the second, but it's done in a way that kind of misses the mark.  I saw the twist of Alex's personal story coming a mile away, because it's one that's been used to death in horror already.

The story of the town Shepard's Glen itself is a little more interesting.  I like the idea of an offshoot town of Silent Hill, if for no other reason then it let me explore a few different areas than the ones I've been seeing over and over again in the other games.  I did not expect the secret of the missing children, and it manages to be surprising while fitting into the mythos of the Silent Hill series quite nicely.  I also really liked the look of the final boss, even if I have no idea how she fit into the storyline.

Overall, I would recommend this game to anyone who is fairly comfortable with modern gaming, but I would definitely think of it as going into an action game rather than a horror game. Though I suppose the severe lack of items still allows it to be a survival based game. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Silent Hill: Origins

Silent Hill 3 went a long way in explaining the gaping plot holes of the first game.  So did we really need a prequel to explain it to even further?  No.  This game is to Silent Hill what Fire Walk With Me is to Twin Peaks: a rehashing of details we already know played out at a much slower pace.

You play as Travis Grady, a truck driver who sees a girl in the middle of the street and decides that means he has to get out of his truck (with the engine still running no less) and go follow her.  He ends up at a burning building, hearing a young girl scream inside, and anyone who has played the first game already knows what this is all about.

You'll then lead Travis through various buildings, all with 90% of the doors locked and broken.  Granted, this is a recurring theme in Silent Hill games, but it seemed worse here.  Seriously, whoever the one locksmith in town is, he needs a new vocation.

Another strange choice is that in this game, Travis can control switching between the real world and the nightmare world by touching mirrors.  In the past games, entering the nightmare world was often a reflection of what the character was going through at the time, usually gaining some piece of information they couldn't quite handle.  That element is gone completely, and now the manually switching back and forth is used to enhance the puzzle elements of the game, where you have to change things in one world and then return to the other to use them.  It's not terrible, but it does take away the fright aspect quite a bit.

Confession time.  I only played this game up to about halfway through the Sanitarium, not quite the halfway point of the game.   I ran out of health drinks and first aid kits, and in my attempt to figure out where to go, the enemies kept killing me.  Travis will arbitrarily lock on to an enemy, and when there are two or more enemies, he'll randomly switch between them.  In Silent Hill you have to stomp on an enemy after they fall down in order for them to stay dead.  I can't stomp on an enemy when Travis is already aiming at the next one.

The controls are just downright horrible. I played the PS2 version, which is a port.  The original was for the PSP, and I don't know if that was any better.  In this version you cannot control the camera, which leads you to walk in circles at times when the game randomly changes direction on you.  You can pick up lots of handheld weapons, but all of them break.  Some are one time use, like when you throw a typewriter at someone.  Others, like the wrench and hammer, will break on you randomly, usually when you're right in the middle of fighting an enemy and then you have to scramble to equip another one or use your rather meager fists.  Pretty much every enemy has the ability to grab you, and you have to do a time based button press to escape the hold or continue to get drained of life. Aren't truck drivers supposed to be tough?  He's such a lightweight.

All the other games in this series had a nicely done jump scare somewhere rather early in the game that would often make me scream in surprise.  No such luck here.  The first monster reveal, you walk up to a nurse whose back is turned.  She's jerking around a little bit, do you think she could be undead??

In order to be the completist I am, I watched a walkthrough on Youtube done by user CRGamer1.  He or she uses a special gun through the walkthrough that you can only get by beating the game and getting a special ending.  As such Travis doesn't have too difficult a time of it, and so perhaps I missed out on any legitimate scares given that the player clearly knew what to expect where.  So all I can really give you an opinion on from this point onward is the story.

It's lame.

Travis has his own story beyond the back story of the original game, but it's boring and uninteresting.  The back story is no better explained here than it was in the first game.  If you manage to get the bad ending, which you can only get the second time you play by killing a large number of enemies, it kind of/sort of attempts to explain the origins of Pyramid Head, but not really.  But who wants to go through this tedious game twice? If there's any entry in the series you can skip, it is definitely this one.

Silent Hill: Origins?  More like Bore-igins.*

*This is probably as close to seeing me act like an angry critic as you're ever going to get.  I hope you enjoyed it.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Silent Hill 4

Playing through this series has been like riding on a roller coaster of difficulty.  The first game was decent in terms of challenge.  Then I played Shattered Memories where you literally can't die except in the motion controlled sequences.  Then I played Origins and Homecoming, and their combat was far too difficult.  Playing this game right afterward, I think I know why.  This game has enemies, but they are ridiculously easy to avoid or beat.  There are also no boss battles up until the climax of the game.

In this game you play as Henry Townshend, a young man who finds himself trapped in his apartment and suffering from recurring nightmares.  You can peer out your windows and peephole, and people pass you messages under your door, but otherwise the only way out of the apartment is a strange hole that appears in the bathroom and keeps getting larger.  This hole leads to the nightmare world that we're so used to seeing in Silent Hill, though technically Henry lives in a town called Ashfield.  Every time you go through the hole, someone ends up dead and another bloody hand print appears in the hallway opposite your room.  The victims also have ascending numbers carved into their chests.

The strategy of this game is really about avoiding enemies rather than killing them.  One of the most common enemies is in fact unkillable.  You can temporarily knock them down but they will always get up again, and standing near them drains your life.  There are health items around the nightmare world that give you health back, or you can just jump back into your apartment and that will regenerate your health up until a certain point in the game.  It definitely takes the survival out of the survival horror genre.

There are occasional moments when you're trapped inside your room that are truly creepy.  You view the room through the first person perspective, and that really helps.  Unfortunately these scares are few and far between.

As usual there are puzzles to solve, but I found nearly all of them ridiculously easy.  There was no real need to write down information for later use, and definitely no need for me to consult a walkthrough.  A little trial and error and I quickly found my way past it.  I really felt more like I was just watching a story unfold than I was playing an actual game. 

And how is that story?  As I mentioned in my Silent Hill 2 review, this story builds on bits and pieces you read in newspaper and magazine articles in both that game and Silent Hill 3.  I'm guessing the creators thought up this story idea back then and couldn't logically fit it into those games, but when commissioned to do another sequel figured they might as well give it a try.  The problem is it's just not that interesting.  I stopped playing this game for over a month about halfway through.  Jak lost interest in watching me play, and without him to egg me on I couldn't bring myself to complete it until the HD Collection was released and I reminded myself that I really wanted to review the whole series in as complete a fashion as possible.

I won't spoil the ending for you, because this being an incredibly easy game, you may want to try it out if you can find it cheap and want to see what this series is like.  But don't get your hopes up, because the big reveal is pretty ridiculous.  If you don't mind spoilers, I'll just say that the antagonist shares something in common with the protagonist of a certain children's book.  Seriously.

I feel a little bad that this review is so short, but honestly, with a mediocre game like this there just isn't much to say.  As is so often the case when we get this far along into sequels, the original ideas have simply become stale.  The idea of being trapped in your apartment had a lot of potential, but considering that you spend a lot of time outside of it, they mostly squandered that idea.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Silent Hill 3

Remember how I said that the ending of the original Silent Hill didn't make any sense?  Clearly I wasn't alone in that feeling.  After trying to take the series in a slightly different direction in Silent Hill 2, Konami decided to try to clear up the original story a bit in Silent Hill 3.  I'm not sure that we needed an entire game to explain these events, but regardless it's what we got.

Silent Hill 3 is notable for having the series only female protagonist.  Her name is Heather Mason, and she's  the baby that Harry carried off at the end of Silent Hill, assuming you got one of the good endings.  She's 17 now, and her mannerisms reflect that.  As I would inspect things around the room, she would frequently tell me in very wordy terms that she wasn't interested in it or that it didn't look important.  In some ways that's a nice change of pace from the more blunt messages Harry and James used to tell me, but it also got a little annoying after a while.  Fortunately you have the option to walk away after the first line of dialogue if you get tired of her ramblings.  She's also extra rude to nearly everyone she runs into in the game, whether they deserve it or not.

I played the game on normal puzzle difficulty and easy combat yet again.  I only really had trouble with monsters when multiple types would swarm at me, or when a boss had a particular trick to him that made it more of a challenge.  But one of the bosses, Leonard, was just too easy.  I knocked him over once with a shotgun blast and went over to him and started kicking him.  He flailed about but never got back up again.  It was kind of pathetic.  The puzzles on the other hand were pretty appropriately challenging.

I liked that this game relied heavily on sounds to scare you.  While a lot of the monsters don't really look all that frightening, they make horrible noises.  The sounds of them moaning and crying through the halls put me on edge and while there was a degree of desensitization, it seemed to take a lot longer than in the other games.  There are also a fair amount of enemies that you're much better off running away from than trying to kill, which adds its own unique challenge as you try to explore the hallways and avoid them at the same time.  I also noticed this game tricks you a lot, making you enter a room that has no real purpose other than that there's an enemy inside waiting to ambush you.  It's a fairly cheap trick, but it felt appropriate for a survival horror game anyway.  What didn't feel quite so appropriate was the strange mix of weapons Heather finds upon her way.  I hate to complain about the katana, which is is a much better hand to hand weapon than the pipe I'm normally forced to use, but why would one of those just be laying around in an office building for me to pick up?

I also think I understand why Silent Hill 2 and 3 were included together in the HD Collection, beyond them being the first two PS2 releases.  The layout of the town is identical, as is the look of the hospital and the night club.  In the original release of Silent Hill 3, if you had a save state for Silent Hill 2 on your memory card, it would unlock short FMVs that were references to that game.  Those are also included on this disc,  though I'm not sure if a save state for SH2 is required or not.  But it was funny to see Heather refuse to stick her hand inside a stopped up toilet asking "Who would ever do that?" when I knew the answer was James Sunderland.  It was also nice to see a few locations from the first game presented with updated graphics.

People have complained that the HD Collection has it's problems, and I encountered some myself during the final level of the game.  It locked up on me twice.  Once was right after a save point, but the other wasted a good ten to fifteen minutes of gameplay.  And I'm playing the PS3 version; from what I've heard the 360 version is worse.  Just something to be aware of if you're debating on what version to purchase.

As far as the story of the game, I think it does a good job finishing up what was established in the first one.  I found myself really wondering just how it was going to end, not sure if Heather could truly come out of this okay given the position she was in. It's a decent ending and also one of the grossest things I've ever seen happen in a video game. The final boss is very creepy looking too. After my experience with the previous games, I was also waiting to see what kind of choices would be available that would dictate my ending.  There was only one choice that I'm aware of, and it turns out it is completely irrelevant on your first playthrough.  I suppose the reason they changed this is so that a player will always see the canon ending even if they only play it once, but personally there just wasn't enough here to make me play it again, even though they gave me a new costume and two new weapons when I was finished.  It's not a bad game by any means, but it does pale in comparison to the first two games.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Silent Hill 2

File:Silent Hill 2.jpg

Silent Hill 2 was pretty much the whole reason I wanted to play these games, and with the continually delayed release of the HD Collection, I had to really wait for it.  I think it's hard not to judge games in a series based on your experiences with the others you've played, so I think it's fair to mention that as I started this game, I had already played Silent Hill 4 through Homecoming and only had 3 and Downpour remaining.  That said, I had heard that this game was largely considered the best in the series and I was looking forward to it.

That largely led me to expect a lot of scares, and so I was initially disappointed.  While our first glimpse of Pyramid Head is certainly very creepy, before then there really isn't much.  I played on Easy enemy difficulty and Normal puzzle difficulty, so there may have been even less enemies than normal, and it certainly made them ridiculously easy to kill, but the game mostly relies on lulling you into safety as you continually search abandoned hallways and rooms in your long meandering search to find your wife Mary, who has sent you a letter asking you to meet her in Silent Hill, despite the fact that she died three years ago.  You run into other characters along the way, all suffering with their own burdens. 

Because of that slow pace, darkness, and mostly silence for long periods of the games, it does set you on edge the moment you hear the music kick in.  And it's almost always haunting and creepy.  As I continued through the game, I found myself needing to take a break for a while because I was starting to feel too tense and needed some relief.

There are a few decent jump scares, and there are two or three moments where you hear creepy whispering as you explore environments.  Menacing sounding voices that you can't quite make out what they are saying, but these people are clearly mad at you and man you hope you don't run into them.  It's really just beautifully done.  And while part of me wants to complain about the slower parts of the game, the fact is that if this game was set at a faster pace, you probably wouldn't be as scared anymore.  I also can't complain about the ridiculously easy setting, because I'd much rather be able to defeat enemies and move on with the story than be stuck at parts.

This game went a long way in expanding the mythology behind Silent Hill.  Harry Mason and his daughter are nowhere to be found, though the town's history with the occult is obviously still present.  What I also found interesting was that I ran into a newspaper clipping which didn't really tie into this story at all, but was related to the major plot of Silent Hill 4.  That's a level of detail you really have to appreciate.

Perhaps my biggest complaint is that once again, the story is not particularly well explained.  When I finished the game, I turned to Jak and asked "So who is Maria?" because while the character is introduced and plays a large role in the game, we never quite know where she came from or why she's here, at least not in the ending I received.  I love the fact that there's so much going on here.  While we follow James Sunderland on his journey, we see that two other characters, Angela and Eddie, are also experiencing their own personal hells within this place, and that's what Silent Hill is largely meant to be.  But Maria's story is left hanging, largely because your choices in the game change the ending, and she's one of the things that can change.  I'm aware that there's bonus content they added to later editions to fill in the gaps (and for some reason is absent from the HD collection) but it's a flaw, in my opinion, that they had to add this later to explain it.

However, it's a fairly minor complaint.  Silent Hill has a dreamy quality to it, and it's natural that there are going to be elements to a dream that don't always entirely make sense.  James' story is complex and difficult and his journey is an emotional one.  No spoilers here because if there's any in this series that I can recommend, it's this one.  Beyond its original PS2 release and  the PS3 HD Collection I own, it was released for the Xbox and PC, so if you stumble upon a copy you really owe it to yourself to give it a try.

Speaking of the HD Collection, I feel that's a little bit of a misnomer.  I wouldn't call these HD quality graphics, either in the gameplay or the FMV segments.  They also recorded new voice acting for this game, which I chose after being burned by the silly voice acting in the first game. It was definitely an improvement over the first game's recording,  but I haven't heard the original one for this game to make a comparison there.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Castle Rock Companion - The Rage: Carrie 2

It's a little later than I expected this to go up, but once you hit play and watch a few minutes I think you'll understand what made this video take a little longer. :)

Huge thanks to Noel for joining me in this review, doing the editing, and for being willing to cover all those sequels!

Silent Hill

It's almost Halloween, so it's time for another marathon!  Each day until October 31st I will be covering my experiences with the Silent Hill video game series.

Survival horror games have always seemed very intriguing to me, but I was also a bit scared to play them too.  Now that I've been watching more horror films, I thought I might be ready for them.  When the Silent Hill HD Collection was announced, I wanted to start with the very first game in the series to see if I could handle it.  The game was made in 1999 for the original Playstation.  The graphics are downright horrible in places.  Surely it wouldn't scare me, right?


The game starts out fairly mild, as the lead character Harry gets in a car accident with his daughter, but then she disappears from the car.  You're tasked with finding her in the fog covered town of Silent Hill.  This world frequently switches between a deserted but otherwise normal town to a freakish nightmare world.  Even the normal world isn't safe though, as it's inhabited by skinless dogs and large birds.  The nightmare world features ultra-creepy faceless children, zombie-like doctors and nurses, and faceless corpses looking to hump you.  No, really.

The first major task of the game is to go to the abandoned elementary school, and this is where things start to get scary.  While the graphics are outdated, the sound more than makes up for it.  The children giggle and whisper, there are random slams and bangs to make you jump out of your seat, and the music builds as you enter certain areas of the building.  I found myself really scared to open doors, uncertain of what I might find on the other side.

It's a really great feeling you simply can't get from watching a horror film.  When you watch a movie, you might want a character to not go in the house, but they are going to regardless.  With these video games, you and only you are responsible for making it happen.  You can delay as much as you want, but if you have any intention of getting through this game, you're going to have to do it.

Unfortunately, the further the game goes on, the more you get used to its methods of scaring you.  Each enemy you run into initially can be quite creepy, but after awhile the effect wears off.  You go from "Die you creepy little kid!" to "Just shut up already!"  Even the music starts to wear off after awhile, as I found myself telling it "Yes, yes, you're very scary.  I'm proud of you."  You can only hear ominous music build so many times and find nothing on the other side of the door until it just doesn't have an effect on you.

I'm willing to forgive the diminishing returns because when the game does get you, it gets you good.  What I'm not so willing to forgive is the complete mess of a story.  The dialogue is absolutely terrible.  It's clear that someone did a perfunctory translation of the Japanese and then seemed to ask the voice actors to record their dialogue one line at a time.  Honestly, that last part is probably related to disc memory and such, but it makes everything come off sounding really stilted.  It's also just really stupid in parts.

Harry: "This time was different.  Instead of just shifting from the normal world to the nightmare world, it felt like the normal world became the nightmare world."

Thank you, Mr. Exposition.

Harry: "It's an altar.  I wonder what they worshipped?"

You've seen corpses hanging on walls and blood splattered all over the floor, and only now you are starting to wonder what kind of religion this is?  Seriously, he says this at the climax of the game.

This dialogue also results in the actual plot of the game not being explained very well.  I felt a lot like I was watching Akira or playing the original Final Fantasy in that there was definitely a story going on underneath the surface but the translation just was not giving me all I needed.

The other frustrating thing about the game was that it is exceedingly easy to get lost.  While wandering the hospital, I never found a map of the place.  Being given no clear direction on where I was supposed to go, this resulted in me losing out on picking up a few key items that would have allowed me to get the best ending.  Later, following the directions the game told me,  I very nearly ended up stuck with the worst ending.  The only reason I avoided it was because Jak had previous experience with the game and told me I had missed something. I ended up having to redo a half hour worth of gameplay, but I'm just glad I had kept an alternate save point from earlier that allowed me to even do that.

While not a perfect game by any means, I consider this a great introduction to the survival horror genre that made me want to dig deeper.

Here's a really silly video Jak and I made after sitting through the mind numbing dialogue in this game.  

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Castle Rock Companion - Carrie

There is technically one more film to be covered that is related to Carrie.. but you'll have to wait a few days to see that video!
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