Monthly Archives: October 2013

Vanish

V

Escape a monster-packed, pitch-black labyrinth.

PC Release: June 30, 2013

By Ian Coppock

HAPPY HALLOWEEN! This week we’ve seen some great and not-so-great horror games, but I always like to end a Short Horror Week with a bang… or a seriously loud scream. You guys have earned all of that and more. Well, I have one hell of a finale for you; Vanish is like no other game I’ve ever played, and what I’m reviewing here is only the beginning. Read on, to see for yourself a game more terrifying than Slender… and possibly even Amnesia.

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Vanish is a first-person, labyrinthine adventure. For reasons unknown, your character has been dropped into a complex of tunnels that are pitch-black save for the occasional, weak wall light.

Your goal is to find the power generator and then escape the labyrinth. Seems simple enough, right?

Okay... I got this...

Okay… I got this…

A few games this week featured music, but not Vanish. The entire game is enveloped in stark silence. Your footsteps, water droplets and distant echoes are your only companions in a journey that was built to feel claustrophobic.

Vanish‘s passageways are cramped, with low ceilings and constrictive walls. There’s not a ton of room to turn around or run if you see something unfriendly. To make matters even more atmospheric, some of the wall-mounted lights don’t work. Your only means of navigating this issue is glowsticks, which run down quickly.

Aw, SCREW THIS!

Aw, SCREW THIS!

To further build up the tension, you can find notes in the tunnels hinting at some sort of calamity. Anonymous workmen complain of disgusting smells, and sudden power outages.

Vanish is a master at building you up, and then tearing your heart asunder when this thing comes charging out of the shadows:

WOAH!!! WHAT THE HELL IS THIS THING AAAAAHHH!!!!!!

WOAH!!! WHAT THE HELL IS THIS THING AAAAAHHH!!!!!!

Yup. I got charged, and died when this monster seized hold of me and pecked out my heart. The death screen showed my corpse being dragged into the darkness.

Fine, thought I. Let’s restart. But upon venturing out of the starting point again, I saw that the environment had changed! Hallways and intersections led to new areas, and it wasn’t long before I got completely turned around. WHAT? This game’s layout changes constantly and without warning?

From a horror perspective, that is absolutely brilliant.

(scratches head)

(scratches head)

Vanish‘s game-changing feature keeps the horror fresh. This is the first game I’ve seen in a long time where the environment changes like this, and the first horror game at all. By changing up the environment, players are kept in the dark (no pun intended) without any metaphorical “anchor”. Robbed of my sense of familiarity with the terrain, I was kept consistently terrified throughout my time with Vanish.

Now, for the monsters. The main foe in this game is that weird demon chicken thing. It can’t see you, but it can hear any noise you make and will chase after you accordingly. Worse still, the creatures will randomly spawn in the shadows in front of or behind you. I screamed like a little girl when I came upon a dead end, only to turn around and find one of these things sniffing my face. This feature also discourages running headlong into the darkness.

At this point I don't even have the energy...

At this point I don’t even have the energy…

Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. The combination of random environments and random creature spawn-ins made Vanish by far the scariest game of Short Horror Week II. The game has become one of my favorite horror titles because of its complete lack of predictability.

As one may guess, these double pillars of confusion and crying make Vanish difficult. I haven’t actually finished the game yet, but I’ve been attempting such a feat for a few hours now. Believe it or not, there may yet be another, worse monster in this game, as identified by its signature smile. I’ve seen this picture in a great deal of promotional material but not in any actual gameplay videos, so I’m not sure if it’s there or not. If it is, I’m going to start crying again. My experience with it in other games has taught me that it will murder you the second you look into its eyes. This thing might show up in later stages of the game, a point I have yet to reach.

I WILL NOT RETURN YOUR GRIN, FIEND!!!

I WILL NOT RETURN YOUR GRIN, FIEND!!!

Vanish also gets the finale because of its visuals. The graphics are far and away the most sophisticated of Short Horror Week II. Everything from the floors to the brick walls has been minutely detailed, with a level of attention not common in the indie horror scene. The lighting effects are solid and in all actuality quite beautiful. The monsters seem a little low-res though. As you can see in the screenshots, they lack the detail the environment retains. Oh well. Doesn’t make them much less terrifying.

In closing, Vanish is a survivalist’s dream. Nothing in this game is stable or constant. Slender is definitely scary, but at least the environment stayed the same. Not in Vanish. Creeping hopelessly through randomized corridors, never knowing if a monster will suddenly emerge from the darkness before you, is an experience worthy of a Stephen King-level horror production.

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Hmm… could use a light.

You also never know if a monster will spawn in behind you; I turned around at one point and found a creature who wasn’t there two minutes ago. I broke a sweat when I was trapped in a corner, hoping the blind beast three feet away wouldn’t hear me. The amount of situations in this game that bear potential for soiled pants and crying would be ridiculous if this game wasn’t SOOO good…

Horror junkies looking for their next fix won’t want to miss Vanish. It is a masterpiece of randomized survival and one of the best indie horror titles I’ve ever played. The more timid among you might want to train up with some other games before tackling this one, but hey, you know your limits better than I. Get them tested with Vanish.

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You can buy Vanish here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Haunted Memories

H1

Search for a way out of a dead valley.

PC Release: October 21, 2013

By Ian Coppock

Those few people who know me in real life know that I have an unhealthy obsession with the Slender Man. The slim, faceless man in a tie is arguably the mascot of the horror gaming world, but the craze surrounding his meteoric rise last year has died down a bit. His first game, Slender, set the gaming world on fire and was the coup de grace of my first Short Horror Week. Unfortunately, subsequent sequels and spin-offs proved rather dismal, so I gave up on Slendy until stumbling upon this gem. Haunted Memories seeks to redefine the Slender Man universe and puts a refreshing twist on the character.

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As horror games often go, it’s unclear who your character is and why he’s arrived to this clearly creepy area. You show up in a beautiful, misty valley that appears to have recently been evacuated. After picking up a map and a dying breath of a clue, your character decides to investigate the area and find a way out.

It’s heavily implied that you were persecuted by the Slender Man as a child, which is the creature’s most infamous MO. I descended into the woods prepared to collect eight pages and never turn around while doing so, but Haunted Memories is starkly different from the page-collecting adventures of yore. And thank God, because collecting eight pages has been the ONLY feature this series has had to offer up to this point.

Haunted Memories would be refreshing enough without eight pages, but the game offers much more.

Haunted Memories would be refreshing enough just without eight pages, but the game offers much more.

After spending a half hour or so meandering through tall grass and looking up at the moon, I began to wonder if Slendy was going to show up at all.

Usually your mere presence is all it takes for him to drift out of the trees and start breathing down your neck. I investigated an abandoned hotel and turned around just in time for a coronary and a collapsed lung.

HOLY S***!!!!!!!!

HOLY S***!!!!!!!!

Slendy fans will notice that he’s shed his coat and tie in exchange for a miserly-looking codpiece thingy. He looks far less a man and more a creature of the most dreaded nightmare. His tentacles, rarely seen in the basline Slender games, are ready to rip your face off. This, combined with his elongated skull and his jerky movements, made me scream. A lot.

Additionally, Haunted Memories gives the Slender Man an origins story, something that other material has been mute on until now. Rather than some ancient spirit, this spin on the character envisions him as an ordinary man endowed with strange powers. Why and how? Well, that would be telling 😉 but it’s a fascinating backstory and a much-needed breath of fresh air for the Slender Man.

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CRAPOCRAPOCRAPRUNNINGRUNNINGRUNNING

This Slender Man is also programmed quite differently from his predecessors. Rather than slowly come up behind you and follow you the whole way, he’ll stay hidden for ten, sometimes twenty minutes at a time before mercilessly dogging you for a spell. These attacks are terrifying; at one point I walked into a room and he teleported in front of me. So I turned around, only to have him do it once more. No amount of squeezing my eyes shut and mashing the run key could save me.

These behavior and appearance changes represent an important turning point for the Slender Man, because they demonstrate that the idea can be adapted, twisted to fit new concepts. Here I was facing a monster I’ve faced many times, and though he used different tactics, he gave off the same creepy vibe I’ve gotten and loved from the character.

You can get a gun in this game, but I don't think it does anything. Except make you feel more hopeless.

You can get a gun in this game, but I don’t think it does anything. Except make you feel more hopeless.

Slender Man’s attacks are undoubtedly the most horrific part of the game, but the level design has plenty to offer in its own right. The valley you’re stuck in is a vast open-world wilderness at least a few square miles wide. The entire area is minutely detailed and quite beautiful to look at, bathed in strange blue moonlight. Conversely, this huge area does not mesh well with the game’s skimping on directions. I spent most of my time looking around in circles for what the hell I was supposed to do next. The game also does that annoying thing Dear Esther did where paths are ridiculously well-hidden, creating additional search time.

The game does have you visit a variety of locales within the valley, including a derelict cabin, an abandoned parking lot and a huge tower. All of these places provide clues as to the Slender Man’s origins and what you’re supposed to do, though this needed to be stronger.

Despite some frustrations involving camouflaged paths, Haunted Memories has a gorgeous landscape.

Despite some frustrations involving camouflaged paths, Haunted Memories has a gorgeous landscape.

The music is low and mysterious, ruminating between deep bass and sudden jumps of the strings. This adds a crucial creepyness foundation to an otherwise idyllic set of sounds.

As always, the Slender Man makes no noises of his own, but the ferocity with which he suddenly attacks was quite enough for my cardiovascular system.

Sometimes, Slendy will suddenly attack you only to vanish just as quickly, as he did in this failed attempt to photograph him.

Sometimes, Slendy will suddenly attack you only to vanish just as quickly, as he did in this failed attempt to photograph him.

Haunted Memories is available on Steam and a few other places around the web, for free. The game is currently in beta, and what you’ll play is the first of six planned episodes. Apparently the full game will be released very soon, so look forward to that. Horror fans will love this game, but Slender fans aching to do something besides find eight more pages will love it all the more.

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You can buy Haunted Memories here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

ERIE

E

Investigate an accident at a nuclear plant.

PC Release: October 8, 2012

By Ian Coppock

Every so often I like to search my home state of Utah for games that our rapidly growing digital industry is putting out. Thus far my roster has encompassed Undertow, an underwhelming side-scroller, and Shadow Complex, an awesome side-scroller. ERIE was developed by the wizards at the University of Utah’s Entertainment Arts and Engineering program about a year ago, and ever since has been one of the most popular indie horror titles on the Internet. I met a few of the people involved in its creation and decided I was in the mood to descend into a creepy nuclear power plant. Don’t get that particular urge too often, actually.

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ERIE is Short Horror Week II’s designated period piece. In 1966, Red Cross worker Oliver Victor descends into a power plant on the shores of Lake Erie.

His orders are to investigate the plant’s meltdown and rescue any survivors. He, that is, you, breaks into the plant and sets about looking for clues.

"HQ, this is Colonel Kickass reporting, this place is creeping the hell out of me. I'd also like to confirm that feet are attempting to reverse my pace for me."

“HQ, this is Colonel Kickass reporting, this place is creeping the hell out of me. I’d also like to confirm that my feet are attempting to reverse my pace for me.”

As Oliver makes his way deeper into the facility, he finds notes detailing the power plant’s inner workings and the people he should expect to find. ERIE is also riddled with the world’s greatest collectible: KITTIES!!!

I shit you not, there are about 10 cats scattered around the power plant, and you can rescue them. And why wouldn’t you rescue kitties from a gross old plant? I never had a second thought.

The cats don't really have a bearing on the story but they're a great collectible.

The cats don’t really have a bearing on the story but they’re a great collectible.

ERIE‘s suite of gameplay is refreshingly sophisticated, especially since all we’ve seen up to now is running and crying. Oliver can sprint, slide and dodge his way around the plant, giving you a great sense of control.

To help you navigate the plant’s maze-like hallways, Oliver carries a can of spray paint. You can mark dead ends and circles to keep yourself on the right path, and you’ll have to to make it to your objective.

This game usually lasts 20 minutes, but if you like to draw, the spray paint might extend your playtime.

This game usually lasts 20 minutes, but if you like to draw, the spray paint might extend your playtime. I drew a stunning rendition of a kitty-cat.

After shutting off a few alarms and staring idly at blood-spattered walls, I was plopped into a new, much larger complex of corridors.

But, I wasn’t alone; the game thoughtfully dropped in a friend with whom I could play tag.

When I say "tag" I mean stomp me to death and feast on my entrails. Kind of a crappy game, really. Not for kids.

When I say “tag” I mean “stomp me to death and feast on my entrails”. Kind of a crappy game, really. Not for kids.

It’s at this point that ERIE‘s slow-simmered tension is brought to a boil, and the true terror begins. Armed only with your spraypaint, you must find your way to the exit through a sprawling maze of corridors and derelict rooms, all the while being chased by that thing.

The beastie never gets winded and is absolutely relentless in its pursuit. It also knows where you are at all times, though you don’t always know where it is. A great source of tension, no? Hang back to keep track of the monster but it might bite your head off, or run far away and scream like a little girl when it swings around a corner. Fun fun. And a great reason to keep track of where the hell you’re going.

La di da, round the cornGEEZUSGODAAAAH!

La di da, round the cornGEEZUSGODAAAAH!

The heart of ERIE‘s horror is the suspense of being pursued by a wild, hissing mutant thing while trying to escape. The game’s design is such that it’s easy to not only end up in the wrong corridor, but also to get turned around or worse, cornered. You also have to visit multiple areas to make it out of the installation.

The creature itself is also just… absolutely disturbing. Definitely the scariest monster we’ve yet seen this week. Between its deformed, disgusting appearance and the pounding gait with which it pursues you, I couldn’t get over how creepy it was. Not to mention that it only takes one hit for this thing to kill and eat you.

Oh for the love of...

Oh for the love of…

While the monster is scary and a rush to get away from, it has one fatal flaw: stupidity. The creature’s AI is simplistic and it can be trapped rather easily. Because the monster never stops running, even to turn around, I decided to trap it in a three-walled enclosure and watched as it tried to run at me through one of the walls. No cigar, and I was free to explore the rest of the game with no worry. At that point, ERIE‘s creep factor took a serious hit.

ERIE has some of the most detailed artwork I’ve seen in any indie game. Copious amounts of junk and debris lay strewn around in a far cry from the relatively sterile environments of The Rake and Cold Fusion. It gave me a lot to look at, but the lighting in this game is off. Most lights throughout ERIE give off strange, incandescent beams reminiscent of a laser light show, not at all like the real thing. Some lights also give off way too much luminescence and make the game look like it was shot underwater.

Huh.

Huh.

 My final complaint to register with this game is picking up notes. Oliver can interact with various notes and letters throughout the game, but for some reason he can only looks at them from a really steep angle, making them hard to read.

Compounding this problem is that you can only look at the notes for about five seconds before you are automatically returned to the game.

I consider myself a fast reader. ERIE disagrees.

I consider myself a fast reader. ERIE disagrees.

Despite some annoying flaws both superficial and fundamental, ERIE is a stomach-churning and fast-paced creeper that will make horror fans coo with wonder. Or scream. Whichever. In any case I recommend the game wholeheartedly. And you should always support your local game studio! The game is available through the Desura service and a few other places. It’s free to download!

If Chris Diller, one of the principle directors of this game, is reading this, I apologize for putting this up eight months late. True, my late review was hampered by surgery, school and losing my phone, but still, a bit of a dick move on my part.

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You can buy ERIE here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Fibrillation

Screenshot (43)

Explore a surreal, haunted dreamscape.

PC Release: August 29, 2012

By Ian Coppock

In 1992, a man named Ewan Barrington was injured in a car accident and pronounced clinically dead. As paramedics rushed to save him, Ewan’s oxygen-starved brain entered a state of cerebral hypoxia. While skirting the margins between life and death, Ewan had a surreal, disturbing dream in which he claims he fought for his very life. Luckily, paramedics were able to revive him, and he shared this bizarre tale with his friends and relatives. Fibrillation is the story of Ewan’s dream and his journey back to life.

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Fibrillation is an atmospheric horror game that is disturbing and weird in a way only dreams can be. You are Ewan, and it’s your job to navigate a disorienting dreamscape and wake up from your state of clinical death.

Though the game features monsters, most of Fibrillation‘s terror is derived from the random.

What the hell IS this sorcery!?

What the hell IS this sorcery!?

Fibrillation is divided into 10 or so areas. Each one bears its own design and challenge, and Ewan must explore them all to return to life. After waking up in a room full of white noise, Ewan starts his long, lonely journey.

Fibrillation‘s gameplay is simple. Ewan can walk, and also sprint for a limited time. Disturbing imagery will cause your screen to get all grainy, but Ewan can close his eyes to mitigate this effect. The game’s visuals are presented through a scratched, dented filter, making the game more disorienting.

So where am I now?

So where am I now?

Fibrillation‘s spine-tingling chills are presented through these hazy visuals, but exceptional sound design capitalizes the whole production. Ewan’s footsteps are lonely and echo throughout each world. You can hear his breathing and struggling heartbeat in the background, which, when combined with low, mournful synths, makes for a suspenseful experience. These forces drove me onto my toes, but they also caused an insatiable urge to explore this strange land. Fibrillation still bears hallmarks of horror sound though, like distant screams, roars and crashes.

After navigating one obstacle, be that getting past a monster or solving a puzzle, Ewan is suddenly and inexplicably dropped into another land. These areas have no common theme in either their design or their challenge, so the game feels deliciously disjointed. You have to explore and make sense of this dream-world to figure out how to progress. In this way, Fibrillation is very similar to the Japanese game LSD Dream Simulator, whose unsettling atmosphere is also derived from the non-sequitur.

F3

Fibrillation’s design is fascinating. The game puts you in suspense mode by repeatedly throwing the unknown at you.

 Most of these areas are populated by unfriendly creatures. The game’s signature antagonist is a massive serpent creature with a human skull for a head. This unsettling beastie has a habit of slithering right in front of you, which made me jump several times.

Fibrillation‘s dreamscape is also inhabited by flocks of crows, who fly into your face like locusts. Though the latter is harmless, the skull-snake things (yes, there are multiple) are to be avoided at all costs.

F3

GEEZUS! RUNRUNRUNRUNRUN

Though this creature sounds like plenty to worry about, I was captivated far more by Fibrillation‘s level and art design. Each area is designed to make you feel like you’re choosing the path ahead, subtly pointing the way with environmental objects.

Some places, like the maze, are vast, and you can get lost if you’re not careful. Areas also alternative between being massive and claustrophobic, making the game’s pacing even more unpredictable.

F4

Oh good God, what is that?

Each area has its clues as to what happened to Ewan. I was startled to find a courtyard made out of X-ray pictures, as well as a giant medical examination lens floating in the sky. Additionally, as Ewan inches closer to being alive again, the environments become more chaotic, almost… restless.

Though the random environments are big and unfamiliar, and you feel quite lost the entire time, Fibrillation is a spectacular and ultimately heartening story, scattering one man’s fight for survival across the infinite landscape of the mind.

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Strange, like dreams are, but also quite beautiful, like dreams can be.

Like Dear EstherFibrillation calls the identity of video games into question. That game provoked the query with its lack of action or other qualities most typically associated with games, as it forfeited all of these things in favor of a purely visual, story-driven experience. Games like these advance the argument that the medium can be considered art. Fibrillation is just as vital a piece in that argument. It is disturbing, heart-wrenching, and weird, but it is an emotional journey. If the point of art is to provoke a communicative response, this game did that for me and more.

Fibrillation isn’t the scariest game I’ve reviewed this week, but it is my favorite. I was moved by the game’s music, visuals, environmental design and overall story. It is a minimalist piece, without words or wisdom, leaving you to your own devices in a sequence of dreamscapes. It may weird you out. It may scare you. But it is a fascinating glimpse into the human mind and the depth of the imagination. This game does cost money; $2. A small price to pay for a great game.

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You can buy Fibrillation here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

The Rake

R

Search for traces of a terrifying creature.

PC Release: 2012

By Ian Coppock

The Slender Man is one of the most beloved fictional characters of Teh Interwebs. I use the term “beloved” quite seriously, because a Google search for “Slender Man” will yield a staggering amount of fanfiction and speculation concerning the character. But this fervor is not the Slender Man’s alone, nor is the universe that he inhabits. Another beastie stalks the same worlds and minds as Slendy, a creature that knows no bounds when it comes to terror. The Rake shares the Slender Man’s penchant for spreading pain and fear, but with a savage thirst for blood.

So let’s talk about its game!

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The Rake is split between two maps: Back to Asylum and Hostel. The first map’s protagonist is a nameless person who’s returned to an asylum he/she was once incarcerated in. You’re searching for your former cellmate, who has vanished.

The second map I have not yet played, partially because of technical problems and also because the first map caused quite enough damage to my voicebox, thank you very much.

Cozy.

Cozy.

The asylum is a stark, barren hellhole, dripping with clues as to your friend’s whereabouts. Distant scratchings and footsteps turn into stains of blood, accompanied by increasingly panicked screams from beyond your position. The gradual evolution of these clues amped up the atmosphere, to the point that I was ready to pee my pants at the word “whitewalls”.

As you go, you start seeing strange shadows. The last footstep of a passerby as you enter another room. Small sounds and sights that just ITCH away at you. When I finally caught a glimpse of the Rake, fully half of my scream came from the tension that’d built up by that point.

R

(Apocalypse in my trousers)

The Rake’s appearances are cursory at first, but they increase in frequency as you get deeper into the asylum. When you find the penultimate clue, the bloodthirsty creature begins stalking you relentlessly.

Unlike the Slender Man, who kills you if you look at him for too long, the Rake will shred you to pieces should you look away from it. In order to escape the asylum with your life, you have to walk backwards, feeling your way around walls and corners, as it follows from only a few feet away. As you get further in the game, the Rake becomes less forgiving with how long you look away. By the time you’re near the end, you’re playing the world’s deadliest game of Red Light-Green Light.

Sometimes, you have to look away from the Rake to find your way out. This carries the risk of getting eviscerated.

Sometimes, you have to look away from the Rake to find your way out. This carries the risk of getting eviscerated.

The makers of The Rake understand that a monster stays scary when you can’t see it as well. Even up close, the Rake is swathed in shadows. Different parts of its body, mostly his eyes and the long claws for which the creature is named, are always there though. Yay.

The tension in this game is excruciating. Balancing your need to find an exit with your need to watch the Rake is a soul-crushing and difficult task. It’s not impossible, but this double-bind of terror kept my adrenaline up for the entire twenty-minute adventure. Horror fans will have their addiction sated and more by The Rake‘s dreadful makeup.

The Rake is in this picture. Don't look away or it'll mangle your corpse.

The Rake is in this picture. Don’t look away or it’ll mangle your corpse.

The level design in The Rake is deliciously disorienting. You have to maneuver maze-like rows of rooms and corridors. It helps to memorize your route so that you spend less time rubbing against walls, or worse, cornering yourself. The Rake won’t attack unless you move away, but it will watch and wait for any chance to dash forward and slay you. While the design is great, the artwork is a bit sparse. Whole rooms are empty sets of white walls, which are more boring than terrifying. A little more detail here and there couldn’t hurt this game’s visual appeal.

That’s about the only complaint I have, though. Similar to the terror of keeping your eye away from the Slender Man, constantly watching the Rake is a blood-curdling task. You know its there. You know it wants to murder you, and it will get its chance if you mess up. The tension is like walking a tightrope over a pit of zombies.

R1

GAAAAAAH!

The Rake is a masterpiece of horror and by far the scariest game we’ve yet seen in Short Horror Week II. How tragic, then, that the game’s website is overrun by malware. I downloaded this game months ago and have just now played it, but a short visit to The Rake‘s homepage nearly set my computer on fire. I’m hoping that this game’s makers will, I don’t know… notice the problem? And get right to work on it. Until it’s fixed, stay away. It might be worth checking Desura or Mod DB for the game, though.

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You can buy The Rake here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Cold Fusion

C

Get in, find an experimental device, and get out.

PC Release: March 13, 2012

By Ian Coppock

There’s something about freezing cold environments that make a game scarier. Perhaps it’s the sheer, unfriendly harshness of your surroundings, or maybe you’re in a blizzard and can’t tell if a monster is about to gut you. The cold desolation of Tau Volantis was Dead Space 3‘s perhaps only saving grace, so I decided to search for more horror games in that vein. Cold Fusion sounded like a promising lead, so I downloaded it. Here’s what I found.

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Cold Fusion is a first-person game built, like many indie games, on the Unity Engine. You assume the role of a special forces soldier ordered to explore a facility gone dark.

Your goal is to investigate why the base hasn’t called in, and to retrieve the experimental cold fusion device that its scientists were building.

Your mission is explained in a, uh... holy crap! A cutscene! You don't see many of those in indie horror.

Your mission is explained in a, uh… holy crap! A cutscene! You don’t see many of those in indie horror.

Cold Fusion starts off with a still-shot cutscene detailing your mission. The audio and visual design in this cinematic were well-done, and an indie horror cutscene was a first for me.

After it plays out, you’re dropped off at this delightful hellhole.

SO MUCH NOPE

SO MUCH NOPE

Right from the get-go, it’s clear that the base has suffered some terrible calamity. Most of the lights are out, bodies litter the hallway, and trails of blood lead off into corners I couldn’t be asked to explore. Right when you step in, the atmosphere becomes insanely oppressive. I could almost feel as if I was in this base, able to see my breath, hands shaking… yeah, it’s atmospheric.

Cold Fusion reminded me of one of the Short Horror games I did last February: The Briefcase. As in that game, your only means of progression is to find key cards that unlock the next door. These keys are scattered across maze-like rooms, behind many barriers, flickering lights and jump-scares. I jumped when a body on the floor suddenly got pulled around a corner… and when another one fell out of a vent in the ceiling.

Alright, I'm going to fess up right now: I DON'T WANNA GO IN THURRR!!!

Alright, I’m going to fess up right now: I DON’T WANNA GO IN THURRR!!!

Some of the jump-scares are a bit cheap though. I giggled when I saw random objects just fall over. It can be hard to strive for originality in indie horror, but if there’s one thing I’ve seen a thousand times, it’s random objects falling over.

Cold Fusion excels at building a tense atmosphere, but the game had some major design problems. First and foremost, the movement. Your character can walk at a pretty alright pace, but if you try to run, your movement speed barely increases while you bounce up and down like a toddler on caffeine. It’s hilarious, but also irritating. Trying to move quickly will render you unable to manage anything but a jolting camera.

Nothing breaks horror immersion faster than copious amounts of bouncing.

Nothing breaks horror immersion faster than copious amounts of bouncing.

As that screenshot indicates, another problem the game suffers is that it’s too dark. There’s a difference between draping a room in shadows and drowning everything in them. I also couldn’t help but notice that even though I was a special forces soldier, I didn’t think to pack a flashlight. I spent some of my time pixel-hunting for the key cards, which also give no indication that you’ve picked them up.

The biggest problem is the monster itself. It was too dark to get a good look at the damn thing, but I also couldn’t outrun it. Even when I knew it was coming and got a sizeable headstart, it just waddled up to me and sliced my head off. A bit of a deal-breaker.

If you look really closely, you might be able to see the monster. It had a lot of work put into its design, which made the extreme darkness all the more counter-intuitive.

If you look really closely, you can see this crab-man’s legs and torso. The creature had a lot of work put into its design, which made the extreme darkness all the more counter-intuitive.

Cold Fusion‘s artwork is very detailed, especially for an indie game. The walls bear stains and cracks, rooms are flooded with scattered items, and the monster itself bears decent animation and sound design (the one second I was able to see it). It made for a convincing environment that succeeded in helping me forget the bounce-running. The game features a few small pieces of  music, some of which just played randomly. I would be tricked into assuming a monster was nearby, only to stand there until the strings died down. A little confusing, but not a huge problem.

Overall, I thought Cold Fusion was mediocre. It has great level and sound design, but terrible gameplay. The premise of the story does not in any way match up to the gameplay either, and we have no context for the presence of this crab thing. Still, just because I couldn’t complete Cold Fusion doesn’t mean you can’t either. Give it a go and see what you think.

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You can buy Cold Fusion here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Vapour

V

Escape a fetid, demon-infested swamp.

PC Release: August 2, 2013

By Ian Coppock

It has long been my belief that the nexus of creativity in gaming lies not with the sagging Triple-A development process, but with the indie teams who also bring us the most terrifying media in the world. It is in celebration of these beliefs, and a general desire to soil my trousers, that I present Short Horror Week II. Over the next week I will be playing and reviewing seven indie-made horror games that are both terrifying and relatively quick to finish. Most of these are free and all of them are easy to obtain for yourself. I will include all of this information in each review.

For now, let’s get started with Vapour, the first entry of Short Horror Week II!

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Vapour has you assume the role of some sort of wizard or warlock, who has landed in a fetid, foggy swamp. Though not explicitly stated, the goal of the game is to use scattered magical items to escape the swamp and its monstrous inhabitants.

Prime real estate right here.

Prime real estate right here.

I say your character is a wizard because you actually have a means of self-defense. You can shoot green energy beams at monsters to keep yourself alive in this disorienting, disturbing environment. After landing, the only landmarks you can use to get around without getting lost are distant bonfires, which indicate the items and tools you need to get out of Vapour.

Along the way, you’ll get attacked by some pretty disturbing enemies. The most common type of foe is a floating, disembodied spine that will stab at you like a scorpion’s tale. You’ll get attacked by other bloody body parts but those ones were my personal least favorite.

AAAAAH!!! PISS OFF, SKELETON HAND!!!

AAAAAH!!! PISS OFF, SKELETON HAND!!!

The objective of Vapour is to collect various items, mostly body parts, and bring them back to a central bonfire to burn. The problem is that this goal is stated nowhere. There are a few cryptic messages written in blood but they leave a lot to be inferred, like “Combust” written on the ground.

Not exactly a clear way to tell me that I need to venture into the fog, find items, bring them back to this specific fire, and burn them. So that was a bit confusing.

Though creepy, Vapour's lack of in-game instructions obfuscated the game

Though creepy, Vapour‘s lack of in-game instructions obfuscated the game

The true terror of Vapour comes not from the destructible body part enemies or even the screechy, invincible wraith-thing that starts chasing after you, but from the hallucinations your character suffers as you progress.

Finding the items you need to escape carries with it your screen being hijacked by some of the most horrifying cutscenes I’ve ever seen. These pre-rendered cinematics feature disturbing creatures screaming at you, scenes of torture and sacrifice, and disorienting flashes of light and sound.

OH MY GOD!! AAAAAH!!!!

OH MY GOD!! AAAAAH!!!!

Compounding the terror from these scenes is that they can play at any time, guaranteeing no end of jumps. Certain wraiths and monsters will also trigger them if they get too close to you.

Unlike many horror games, the true terror in Vapour comes not from the fear of what the monsters will do to you physically, but when the environment itself unleashes upon your mind.

Vapour is a brilliant study in randomized, hallucinogenic horror.

Vapour is a brilliant study in randomized, hallucinogenic horror.

Vapour‘s visuals cannot hope to match triple-A graphical power, but the simplified graphics unintentionally create a scarier environment. The relatively barren, sparse swamp is made spookier because of its simplicity. The sound design is spot-on; random noises echo from the fog, and the hallucinations’ screams chilled my spine in a way that doesn’t often happen. Not since my first Amnesia playthrough.

Again, this game’s biggest flaw is the lack of instruction. I spent a good chunk of time wandering around wondering what I was supposed to do. I figured it out after about a half-hour of gameplay, which was annoying, but this was a single dent in an otherwise solid core.

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You can buy Vapour here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

The Left 4 Dead Duology

L

Slash, shoot and demolish your way through hordes of infected.

PC Release: November 18, 2008 (Left 4 Dead)

                        November 17, 2009 (Left 4 Dead 2)

By Ian Coppock

Let us pray:

“Lord, provider of all that is good and holy. Deliver us from shoddy sequels, blatant ripoffs and horror that shoots itself in both feet. Deliver unto us a much-needed bounty of good gamedom. Amen.”

Oh holy crap, two kickass zombie games! YEAH! Prayer answered!

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Before I get started, I want to reassure you that this multiple-games-in-a-review thing isn’t going to be regular. Gears of War happened to be three clones of one concept. Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 are basically two separate map and character packs for the same general game.

Both games take place concurrently and in a 28 Days Later-style zombie apocalypse. As in that movie, the world is flooded with a strange virus that turns the infected into sprinting, screaming maniacs. Not technically zombies, but still unsettling and creepy as hell.

L1

Fun fact: this is an in-game screenshot. You poop your pants? Me too.

Each game features a team of four immune survivors. Left 4 Dead‘s lineup comprises a gruff Vietnam vet, a witty college student, a fitness-obsessed salesman, and an even gruffer biker.

The second game’s crew are a shifty con man, a dry TV producer, a food-obsessed football coach, and an eager, naive mechanic. You may have guessed that these four characters are meant for four players, and if so, you get a prize. If you’re like me and prefer to play games alone, don’t worry. Your AI buddies are competent and this game is just as much fun played solo.

(from left to right) Bill, Zoey, Lous and Francis (top) are the first game's crew of badasses. Nick, Rochelle, Coach and Ellis (bottom) are the protagonists of the second game.

(from left to right)
Bill, Zoey, Lous and Francis (top) are the first game’s crew of badasses. Nick, Rochelle, Coach and Ellis (bottom) are the protagonists of the second game.

Both teams decide to journey to the Florida Keys, an area rumored to be infection-free. Whether you team up with friends or go it alone with computer players, it’s up to you to make it to safety, all the while killing hundreds of sprinting freaks.

The first game’s journey begins in Pittsburgh, and the second in Savannah. Each game features 4-6 campaigns set in various locales along the road, including derelict hospitals, abandoned circuses, a spooky coal mine, and other areas. Your goal is to get to the safehouse at the end of each chapter.

L2

The games’ environments are unsettling but beautifully designed.

Right off the bat, the Left 4 Dead games don’t have a true narrative. The emphasis is shooting fun, though this isn’t to say there’s no story. Valve, the producer of these games, has always been more about showing, not telling. If you look around and listen to your characters’ offhand remarks, you can infer much about the Left 4 Dead universe.

Newspaper clippings rather than cutscenes, for example, reveal info about the infection. The state of the world is shown through manic wall drawings rather than neat text boxes. Your characters’ remarks to themselves and to each other tell their personality and backstory.

This is where the story bits are.

This is where the story bits are.

In this way, I became attached to Left 4 Dead‘s characters and world even though there wasn’t a binding narrative in the middle of it all. The first game’s Louis became my favorite character because of his obsession with fitness, even in the midst of apocalypse, while Ellis’ eager determination to find a tattoo artist in Left 4 Dead 2 was similarly endearing.

These remarks build atop each other as the games progress. They construct the characters’ views of one another in a very minimalist fashion, which works well when your chief concern is surviving hordes of mutants.

Left 4 Dead's characters interact only in offhand remarks. It's your job to infer their story and personality from these remarks, and it works well.

Left 4 Dead’s characters interact only in offhand remarks. It’s your job to infer their story and personality from these statements, and it works well.

 So, what is this? Do these quirky, endearing characters exist in a storyless void? Not quite, there’s still the gameplay. The Left 4 Dead games are both first-person shooters. The first game features a basic arsenal of pistols, rifles and shotguns that receives a modest upgrade in the second game. Left 4 Dead 2 also adds melee weapons, including katanas and chainsaws. There is no game that a katana cannot make better.

The gameplay in Left 4 Dead is quite intense. You can expect to kill anywhere from 100-300 infected in a single 15-minute chapter. Most infected die with only a shot or two, so the games are not as challenging as they may sound. Mowing down hordes of zombies actually does wonders for the self-esteem. Both games also feature Special Infected, which are a lot harder to kill than normal zombies and have formidable abilities.

L3

The Special Infected have unique powers and are a lot harder to take down. Perhaps the most infamous is the Tank, pictured center, who redefines “Bullet Sponge”. The Special Infected have unique powers and are a lot harder to take down. Perhaps the most infamous is the Tank, who redefines “bullet sponge”.

Left 4 Dead‘s pacing is dictated by a special AI system called the Director, which unleashes or holds back zombies depending on how you’re doing. The Director makes these games’ pacing deliciously unpredictable.

No two playthroughs of one chapter will be the same. Most areas will have at least a few infected, but these games will make you a horde target if you have topped off health and ammo. I’ll never forget one time when I was strolling confidently through an apartment, only to have literally 100 or so zombies spill like a flood through the ceiling. So yeah. Get ready to shoot.

THIS IS WHAT I GET FOR 100% HEALTH???

THIS IS WHAT I GET FOR 100% HEALTH???

Since these are Valve games, the level design in both Left 4 Dead games is superb. The game subtly points out the way forward with flickering lights or a row of broken cars, making the pathing feel very organic.

The first game did feature a slight overabundance of tight corridors, but the second game fixed this problem by including more open areas. Most of the games’ chapters are not linear. One is basically a giant circle. The environments are designed well enough to make you feel like you‘re choosing the path ahead. It’s quite immersive.

The level design in these games is awesome, and oftentimes elaborate.

The level design in these games is awesome, and oftentimes elaborate.

The game’s atmosphere is oppressive, and not just because of the chomping freaks. The sound design alternatives between complete silence and morose, brooding bass. Special music will kick in for horde attacks, although this carries the unintended effect of tipping you off and reducing the tension. The voice acting is fantastic and convincing all around, and the visuals, while a bit murky in the first game, are much bolder in the second.

Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 are both solid, endearing zombie shooters with fun gameplay, quirky characters and high-end level design. To miss out on either of these games, especially if you’re a zombie apocalypse fan, is a no-no. The first game presents a suite of great gaming that is tweaked and modestly improved upon in the second. With rumors abounding that Left 4 Dead 3 is in production, I know I’m excited for the future of this great series. Special thanks to my friends Sam Hall and Bret Foster for introducing me to Left 4 Dead.

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You can buy Left 4 Dead here and Left 4 Dead 2 here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Assassin’s Creed III

III

Safeguard the New World and fight in the American Revolution.

PC Release: November 20, 2012

By Ian Coppock

Nothing kicks a gaming schedule in the balls like good ol’ unemployment. You’re no doubt wondering what lateness excuse I’m going to pull out this week, and I plead joblessness. While I’m not in imminent danger of homelessness, this is a rather turbulent time, and it’s been keeping me away from regular contributions longer than I’d like. But, two good things have happened in the time since posting my review of Dead Space 3. One: I’ve decided to make a format change by combining the story and artwork sections (for the two are intermingled and to imply otherwise is to be confusing). Two: I can now stomach another Assassin’s Creed game, so LET’S DO THIS!!!!

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Reviewing the Assassin’s Creed series has been akin to reviewing the stages of digestion; it started out warm and yummy with the first Assassin’s Creed but ended up a nausiating pile of poo with Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. Making this analogy more disorienting is the fact that Assassin’s Creed III is actually a vast improvement over Brotherhood and Revelations, so now digestion is happening in… reverse? Screw it.

Anyway, Assassin’s Creed III, like its predecessors, is split between two storylines. The main story occurs in the modern day and follows Desmond Miles, an assassin who’s out to stop the Templars (think USSR Psych Warfare department) from reducing every human on earth to a mindless slave. This approach will end wars, stop conflict and leave the world generally more peaceful, in the same way that chopping off a limb means that you won’t feel pain when you stub your toe.

Desmond returns with buddies new and old to complete his world-saving journey.

Desmond (far left) returns with buddies new and old to complete his world-saving journey.

To master the skills and find the tools needed to pull this mighty task off, Desmond has had to explore the memories of past assassins using a simulator called the Animus. He ducks into the device once more to explore new memories, this time following an 18th-century Mohawk assassin named Ratonhnhaké:ton.

Thankfully, this guy also goes by the nickname “Connor”.

Connor is a Native American assassin and the other protagonist of Assassin's Creed III.

Connor is a Native American assassin and the other protagonist of Assassin’s Creed III.

Before getting into Connor’s story, I’m going to go ahead and get Desmond’s out of the way. I haven’t touched on the modern-day part of the Assassin’s Creed series very much, because it’s incredibly insubstantial. Desmond’s journey is basically just running from safehouse to safehouse, exploring another batch of memories. When the Templars come knocking, he and his pals steal into the night ’til the next AC game. Desmond himself is also a very one-dimensional character. Voice actor Nolan North has a real knack for doing reluctant protagonists, but that’s about the only quality this character exudes. I was far more entranced with his pals, a tomboyish engineer and a snarky historian.

The modern-day component of AC III does add some action for Desmond. He embarks on his own missions ’round the world, but these are short and disjointing. I will say this for Desmond’s story; Templar agent Daniel Cross crosses over from the AC books and comics and becomes a major antagonist in this game. Game universe media crossovers are usually done well, and this one is great until, again, the ending. Ug.

Desmond gets his own missions, but the main-day story is anything but compelling.

Desmond gets his own missions, but the modern-day story is anything but compelling. This, despite the end of his story arc and the appearance of a major character from the AC comics.

Connor, meanwhile, has a much more substantial tale. After his Mohawk village is burned to the ground by English settlers, Connor opts not for revenge, but for justice.

His wanderings land him a spot in the Assassin Order, which has crossed over from Europe and is now facing off against the American branch of Templars. This conflict simmers behind the scenes of the American Revolution.

The series' brazen new setting in North America is awesome.

The series’ brazen new setting in North America is engrossing.

The Templars, out to seize telepathic control of the entire world, have inserted themselves into either side of the conflict. It’s up to Connor to root them out and preserve freedom in the U.S. MURICA!!!

As a character, Connor is the antithesis of his brash, womanizing predecessor, Ezio Auditore. He is quiet, fiercely humble, and wants to make life better for everyone, not just his people. Unfortunately, though the game does a little bit with a Native American exploring European culture, Connor is just not that interesting. When he’s not overly quiet, he’s melodramatic. And of course, just like all Native Americans in all American media, he’s fighting to save his people. That trope has NEVER been done before, right?

Like Ezio's story, Connor's tale in AC III is as much about growing up as killing bad people.

Like Ezio’s story, though, Connor’s tale in AC III is as much about growing up as killing people.

The game presents an interesting and quirky cast of supporting characters, but I have to point out a lie from Ubisoft. The company claims that this is not a RAH RAH MURICA story. Bullshit.

All but one or two of the game’s American characters are fearless and upstanding, while all the Brits are sniveling, plotting, devious Wall Street types. The game starts out well enough as a noble assault against the Templars, but by the end of the game it’s basically “what if the Revolutionaries had had Native American ninjas?”

Don't be fooled. This game is compelling, but much of that energy is borrowed from the tale of the Revolution.

Don’t be fooled. This game is compelling, but much of that energy is borrowed from the tale of the Revolution rather than of its own invention.

The gameplay makes killing people from above funner than ever, with new tools and weapons for doing so. Connor even gets his own ship, and can attack Templar and British vessels with it.

The funnest part of this game is the battles. You’ll get to fight directly or secretly in stunning renditions of major battles from the war, including Bunker Hill, New York and Monmouth.

You can pilot and command a massive warship on the high seas. Connor can also use his ship to visit distant locales, like South America and Canada.

You can command a warship on the high seas. Connor can also use his ship to visit distant locales, like South America and Canada.

While the gameplay is fun and pretty straightforward, the menus in this game are anything but. Your weapons are hidden in a bewildering anthology of menu screens that even 30 hours of playtime couldn’t get me adjusted to. Your database, modern-day menu and other features are also crammed here. The poorest system by far is contained within the merchant feature, a fun-sounding mechanic that is grueling in practice. Connor can have artisans build and export stuff from his hometown, but the menus allowing you to do so are counter-intuitive and confusing. When boredom isn’t even allowed a chance to turn you away from a game mechanic, you know something’s up.

Additionally, Connor can complete missions around his little town. These missions explore the lives of people you invite to live and work there. While fun, they have nothing to do with the larger story, to the point where it feels like two separate games: Assassin’s Creed III and Homestead Tycoon.

Don't worry. Even if this menu was in English, it wouldn't make sense.

Don’t worry. Even if this menu was in English, it wouldn’t make sense.

But, overall, I was satisfied with Connor’s side of Assassin’s Creed III. Ubisoft finally took a hint and replaced useless side missions with an actual story as the focus of an AC game, which we haven’t seen in a while. There were still way too many side quests, but the story is fulfilling and no doubt takes center stage.

The artwork in this game is gorgeous. I was less impressed with colonial America than the sweeping majesty of Renaissance Italy, but I’ll still give Boston and New York “must-see” passes. Both cities are separated by a huge wilderness that Connor can explore and plunder. It’s quite expansive, so you won’t run out of things to do during or after the main story. I think Ubisoft wanted to go more for the power of nature in this game, and I can respect that.

Glorious.

Eh…

Assassin’s Creed III squanders additional opportunities to make Connor an interesting character. The Tyranny of King Washington, a DLC set in a reality where George Washington goes mad with power, sees Connor lead a rebellion against a fledgling American empire. Somehow, Connor is the only one who has no amnesia in this reality, but he’s still the most boring person on the planet. The final chapter of the DLC gets interesting with a siege on Washington’s New York palace, but brings us no closer to understanding Connor and makes the whole production feel gratuitous. Give it a miss.

Overall, Assassin’s Creed III ends Desmond’s saga on a pretty mediocre note. We have one of the most boring protagonists of recent times, fighting for one of the most rote tropes in our media. It doesn’t help that this game’s PC port is not all that great, with frame rate inconsistencies and bugged quests. If you’ve played all of the Assassin’s Creed games up to this point, go ahead and finish the series. But that recommendation comes from “you might as well”, rather than “this game is exciting”.

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You can buy Assassin’s Creed III here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Dead Space 3

D

End the Necromorph threat once and for all.

PC Release: February 5, 2013

By Ian Coppock

I am about to say some pretty harsh things about a video game. I want everyone to understand that I don’t enjoy writing scathing reviews of video games. I honestly don’t get some sort of sadistic high from annihilating a piece of artwork that I paid money for. The vigor with which I write negative reviews stems not from homicidal glee, but the rage that comes from knowing a game could have been better. Dead Space 3 is such a game, but its downfall is due to a complicated variety of factors that are affecting the entire gaming world, not just this series.

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Just to recap real quick: spaceship engineer Isaac Clarke has survived two rounds of combat with corpses that have been reanimated and recombined into salivating undead monstrosities. First, it was on a giant mining ship. Then, an even bigger space station. Now, Isaac thinks he can end the Necromorph threat forever, this time on an icy planet far from civilization. Hot on his heels are Earthgov, humankind’s authoritarian government, and the Church of Unitology, who worship the Necromorphs as the universe’s most slobbery definition of afterlife.

Some time after the events of Dead Space 2, Isaac is sprung from his safehouse on Earth’s moon by two rogue Earthgov soldiers, who tell him they can stop the Necromorphs forever. Isaac is put on a team destined for Tau Volantis, a frozen world whose coordinates were until now lost to history.

Isaac and his friends find Tau Volantis and set about exploring the planet.

Isaac and his friends find Tau Volantis and set about exploring the planet.

Isaac isn’t sure that Tau Volantis holds anything of value, until Necromorphs burst out of the snow and begin scything at his head. The planet is also littered with the 200-year-old ruins of a rebel fleet, who arrived to the planet centuries ago for reasons unknown.

After a rough landing, Isaac begins exploring this harsh new landscape, seeking an end to the Necromorph threat.

Well... I think we're onto something.

Well… I think we’re onto something.

After exploring enough bunkers to fill Normandy Beach, Isaac learns that these ancient rebels came here to weaponize the Markers, the strange alien artifacts that somehow enact Necromorph infestations.

Compounding this disturbing revelation is a more personal annoyance; Isaac’s on-and-off girlfriend Ellie is now dating another member of the team, giving him plenty more to be upset about and putting the three characters at odds. A little interpersonal conflict never made a story boring!

Well... this is awkward.

Well… this is awkward.

Dead Space games don’t believe in such a thing as too much no. A Unitologist army inexplicably arrives to the planet on Isaac’s heels, deploying fanatical soldiers to hunt him down and kill him.

These dudes are led by Jacob Danik, a true bastard who redefines British smugness.

Danik is the new leader of the Unitologists, who believe that the Markers will lift mankind into paradise via undeath.

Danik is the new leader of the Unitologists, who believe that the Markers will lift mankind into paradise via undeath.

With all of these elements in place, the stage is set for an epic race to the truth of Tau Volantis and the origins of the Necromorphs. On its own, the story is compelling, and Isaac continues to evolve as a character. He grew into an uncertain engineer in Dead Space 2, and becomes a grizzled leader in 3. John Carver, another major character, is a cynical, angry soldier whose score with the Necromorphs is direly personal. Ellie Langford becomes more confident of a character after the action in Dead Space 2. And… that’s pretty much it. The new supporting characters are incredibly shallow and I cared that much less if they lived or died.

The questions gnawing at me throughout the series are the main themes of Dead Space 3. The race to find the origins of the Necromorphs brought an epic feeling to the whole thing, a true sense of “this is what we’ve spent two games fighting for and now we’re at this precipice”. Even though this is the third game into the series, characters continue to develop and change. A team that should be united against a terrifying threat is anything but, differing in everything from approach to ethics to dealing with the crazy Unitologists.

The game does have a compelling story, I'll give it that.

The game does have a compelling story, I’ll give it that.

Ooh? A satisfying end to the series, with a good story and characters? Amazon, here I come! Do NOT dig into your wallet just yet; we haven’t gotten to the bad things about this game. And unfortunately, there are many.

To be frank, Dead Space 3 is not a horror game. It’s a slightly unsettling action shooter. The Necromorphs don’t even bother trying to jump at you or hide anymore; they just run at you making enough noise to set off a parking lot’s worth of car alarms. Remember how I mentioned a shift from horror to action in Dead Space 2. Well? Visceral kept on going with that. And going… and going…

Action shooting in a horror game? (sigh)

Action shooting in a horror game? (sigh)

The claustrophobic discomfort I felt from the first game and, to a lesser extent, the second is gone in Dead Space 3. Monsters are easy to spot and easy to disembowel, because they use the EXACT SAME TACTICS as the previous games. For God’s sake, Visceral, don’t punish your fans! Spice up the gameplay by giving old enemies new tricks! Don’t just sick another identical horde of the things on me. I know how to do this. This isn’t scary and unknown, it’s routine as hell.

The game’s artwork is… meh. The graphics are good enough, I guess, but graphics don’t really do anything for me if the game they’re in is not compelling. Dead Space 3 certainly struggles in that department, and the environments feel hollow as a result. If nothing else, the failure of Dead Space 3‘s narrative is a great example of how a game’s story can affect everything around it.

Seriously? This Necromorph uses the same attack three times in a row... and you expect me to be scared?

Seriously? This Necromorph uses the exact same attack THREE GAMES IN A ROW… and you expect me to be scared?

It really is disappointing that such a design oversight was allowed. You might say that this problem wouldn’t matter to new players, but how many people play sequels before the original? The progeny of gullible grandparents, perhaps, but no one who understands the significance of numbered installments. There’s only one new kind of Necromorph in this game and it takes only so long to figure out its dance (technically there’s two, but the second is basically a reskin of an older model). Combine this with the monsters’ utter lack of cunning or self-preservation from the very first game, and you have a pretty crap enemy.

Compounding the routine tedium with which I dispatched hordes of baddies was an absurd overabundance of resources. I was shedding STACKS… STAAACKS… of ammo and health packs because they were frickin’ everywhere. I had unlimited resources throughout the entire game and not once suffered a shortage. Not once. The materials used for making new stuff are also plentiful. With no challenge from enemies and no resource shortages, the primary principles of horror have been dismembered from Dead Space 3.

Health packs... ammo... what I really need right now is a recycling bin.

Health packs… ammo… what I really need right now is a recycling bin.

Another puzzling feature I found was a co-op mode. Horror games are scary because you’re isolated in a hostile environment. You can’t get scared if you have a buddy. I noticed that a few side missions in this game were also co-op only, so I paid money for that.

With Dead Space 3, this once-promising series has been sanitized, stretched out and left to piddle in third-person mediocrity. It has become another mindless action shooter and a far cry from the unsettling horror adventure aboard the USG Ishimura. It has a great story, but the absence of the first game’s horror motifs will leave you yearning for more. In that way, a perfectly acceptable tale becomes an unsatisfactory one.

"Bro, we gotta take the headquarters, carry me into the shooting before the noobs pwn your stupid ass! Dude, bro, let's go!"

“Bro, we gotta take the headquarters, carry me into the shooting before the noobs pwn your stupid ass! Dude, bro, let’s go!”

Here’s the thing, though; Dead Space is not the perpetrator in its own mediocrity. It is the victim. Mainstream game development has become so expensive that studios have to water down their games, to appeal to as large an audience as possible. Dead Space 3 is a casualty in an unsustainable cycle, one I fear may soon blow up in our faces. EA’s CEO admitted that the game’s scariness was minimized so that more people would buy it, and Visceral had to sell five million copies just to meet Dead Space 3‘s development costs. Can you believe that?

Though I was disappointed in Dead Space 3, I empathize with it and feel sorry for it. It wasn’t a cheap gimmick like Brink or Lost Planet; it was what could have been a great game, broken by the out-of-control habitat this industry is wallowing in. And the cost of game development is only growing. This is a threat to the artistic originality of games; if all games must become mindless shooters in order to even meet their development costs, what’s the point? This problem has dire ramifications for game development, and I fear that Dead Space 3 is only the beginning.

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You can buy Dead Space 3 here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.