To say that Black Mirror is the video game equivalent of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room feels like it may be a slightly overexaggerated claim. And yet, I’m hard-pressed to think of another recent title that created such utter hilarity out of situations that were meant to be dramatic and horrifying. Scenes that tried to focus on familial interactions and supernatural occurrences had me snickering at technical missteps. An intense scene of someone getting stabbed in the neck did little more than make me laugh hysterically. Thankfully, this meant that it wasn’t an experience devoid of enjoyment, and yet it’s still far and away from being a good game in any capacity.
Right now, you are reading this on a screen. Be it on a computer, phone, or tablet, you’re staring into a black mirror while information is fed into your mind. What else have you done today? Have you checked Facebook or Twitter? Updated your Tinder profile? Maybe Snapchatted some friends? Regardless, a piece of you has been made public in some way, whether you intended it to be or not. When all of those pieces are assembled, who do people see? Is it the real you, laying bare the depths of your mind and soul? Unlikely. It’s a shallow facsimile of your flesh and blood self. It’s a calculated, perfect image that you’ve crafted by accentuating your strengths and satirizing your weaknesses. There’s nothing wrong with that; everyone does it. However, doesn’t it make your human form seem… inferior?
Pulling off good horror with pixel art is difficult. Titles like Lone Survivor come to mind as somewhat recent examples of pixelated horror done right, but such games are far from the household names that Outlast, Amnesia, and even Slender have become. Part of the reason for that may be that it’s difficult to properly set up jump scares when playing from what is generally a pulled-out, third-person view; giving the player so much vision can undercut the effectiveness of such surprises. To combat this, many “bit horror” games choose the same tactic chosen by The Count Lucanor: the horror comes from the imagery and circumstances rather than their sudden presentation.
Five years is a long time in the world of gaming.
Five years ago, the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 only existed as prototypes. Games like Dishonored, The Walking Dead, and Hotline Miami were considered new IPs. Half Life 3… well, people were a bit more optimistic about its existence.
Amidst all of this, the first two episodes of The Dream Machine slipped onto PC. At the time, it probably seemed impossible that it would take until 2017 for the story to reach its conclusion, yet here we are. Somehow, it managed to avoid the encroaching grasp of development hell and emerged as a beautiful head-trip of a game.
Video games have explored countless horror film tropes over the years: abandoned hospitals, possessed toys, and ghoulish monsters, just to name a few. Such games have, for the most part, taken themselves completely seriously, sometimes to their detriment. There’s been a drought of games that capture the spirit of schlocky, B-movie slasher films like The Evil Dead and Grindhouse. Slayaway Camp aims to fill this void with an interesting combination: the typically fast-paced thrills of the genre mixed with the methodical pacing of a puzzle game.
I mean, the title really says it all, right? But seriously, I know that it’s been a while since I last posted. If you follow me on Twitter (@Olivigarden, for those of you that don’t know…hooray, self-promotion!), you may have seen my tweets about how everything basically went to hell and back. Well, at this point in my prolific (HA) games journalism career, I feel that it’s probably in my best interests to keep my personal and professional (HAHAHA) lives separate for the most part. Unfortunately, certain events have a way of making it so that focusing on anything (including being a functional human being) is extremely difficult. I’ll avoid going into the gory details, but since February 11, I’ve been dealing with some…ahem…distressing personal circumstances. Don’t worry, nobody died. But, well, something did.
Alice: Madness Returns is a game that attempts to convey the realities of a descent into madness to the player, and in that regard, it is an unequivocal success. Unfortunately, that’s because it is one of the most maddening games that I’ve played recently. It’s a game that feels like it had so much effort poured into certain aspects, while others were left to waste away in irrelevance. And unfortunately, most of the latter were the elements that would make it a compelling and enjoyable game.
Well, it’s officially 2017 around the world. The start of a new year. Which means that everyone’s looking back on the last year and going, “Well that was a bit toss, wasn’t it?” That is, except for the people who are taking the opportunity to look back at their fond memories from the year past, namely when it comes to video games. There were countless fantastic games that got released last year, so many of which I desperately wanted to try out. Unfortunately, as a university student, there are two things that I severely lack in: money and time. As a result, it is incredibly common that I have to watch as new releases are hyped, released, and enjoyed by the masses, while waiting patiently for the day that they inevitably go on sale and I actually have the time to sit down with them. Some of these games have been sitting in my library for months, awaiting their eventual installation. Others are on my wishlist, hoping to one day be added to my ever-growing backlog. Whatever the case, these are (in no particular order) the games that I wish I had gotten to in 2016. You can also consider this to be a “To play in 2017” list, if that’s your thing. Either way, you’ve probably all already played all of these and think I’m a pleb for not looking at them yet.
That was all I could really say upon “beating” The Static Speaks My Name. I have “beating” in quotes, as this was a case where it didn’t so much feel like I had beaten the game as I felt that it had beaten me. I felt uncomfortable. Disturbed. Anxious. I honestly considered not even writing this review, because I didn’t know if I could properly put into words how the game made me feel. Plus, I wasn’t sure I wanted to dwell on it any longer than I had to. But here I am, doing just that, so hopefully I can get some coherent thoughts out and not come across as much more pretentious than I usually do.
“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”
-Philip K. Dick
It is with this quote that SOMA begins its interesting, insightful, and terrifying descent, both metaphorical and literal. In its opening moments, the game establishes you as Simon Jarrett, a seemingly ordinary young man who is suffering from a severe head injury following a tragic car crash. Given months to live, Simon decides to undergo an experimental procedure under the observation of Dr. David Munshi. However, as the first stage of the procedure (a brain scan) begins, Simon is knocked out, and wakes up somewhere…else. He eventually determines that he is onboard a largely abandoned facility known as PATHOS-II, and it’s some 100 years in the future. After some exploring, Simon is able to contact one of the other sites on PATHOS-II, and reaches a woman named Catherine Chun. She informs him of the purpose of the facility, and the two set out to complete the mission Catherine began before everything went to hell.