Tag Archives: PC

Horror in video games

I just finished Amnesia: The Dark Descent, and jumped back into Penumbra: Black Plague. Late in the Summer, I finished Penumbra: Overture. These are all first person, horror themed games made by a small team of developers called Frictional Games. Frictional clearly knows horror in games very well, because I just played Black Plague for no more than 10 minutes and not only am I still thinking about it, I had to quit because I was getting fucking terrified and I’m not sure I’ll pick it back up.

Frictional made the first Penumbra game as a tech demo for it’s impressive game engine. It’s good looking graphically, and really nails weight and physics of objects in the game. Overture was the first actual game to come out of it. It had lots of creepy atmosphere and a good sanity-ish mechanic in which if you stared at a monster while in hiding, the character would scream or make a noise and attract its attention, which was usually the opposite of what you wanted in the first place.

Where this mechanic faltered is that they gave you small melee weapons, like a hammer and a pick axe, and the only real monsters in the game were small spiders and dogs. Both of these were easily dispatched with the weapons they gave you and, once gone, never returned. The fear of detection, and the hiding from monsters, and luring them into traps was totally negated when you could just stand on a crate and beat them to death with a hammer.

I played just a little bit of Black Plague before my vacation and then Amnesia came out. Amnesia is Frictional’s fourth game, and unrelated to the Penumbra series. It’s a lot like Eternal Darkness on Gamecube, except Amnesia is completely devoid of weapons. If you encounter an enemy (and they are rare), you can either hide or run. This leads to a lot of cat and mouse type of gameplay, but definitely more effective at scares than beating them to death with small objects. Amnesia also featured a more unsettling atmosphere, with tension building throughout the whole game.

After I finished Amnesia, I decided to get back into Black Plague. I had barely started it, so there wasn’t much to catch up on. Black Plague is Frictional’s second full game, but to me it is by far their most effective at delivering scares.

Like the other two games, you hear your enemy before you see them. In Overture and Amnesia, the enemies make unnatural, guttural sounds, or breathe wetly, or just have loud footsteps. The enemies I’ve encountered in Black Plague speak to you. They’re former humans. They’ve been infected with something.

The first encounter in Black Plague is after you pillage a storage room. Before you can set foot out of it, you can hear a door open. The monster said something that I can’t recall and I could see the beam of a flashlight coming towards my door. I shut it, stacked a couple boxes in front of it, and hid in a corner. The monster, the thing, however, either through script or AI, decided to investigate anyway. It bashed down the door. When I could see that the flashlight was not pointed in my direction, I peered around the corner of my hiding spot amongst some boxes. This thing was human shaped with the proportions just slightly off, with gray-white skin, and black eyes.

Crouched in the dark, with the creatures back to me, I decided to make a break for it. I ran out the door. The monster had heard me running, and was chasing me down the hall. I could hear it behind me but didn’t dare look back. I made it to a door that transitioned to another area. After the loading screen, I took a breather because I thought I was safe. Then came the sound of the door being bashed against. I hurried through some item combinations to get through the next, more secure door. I was finally safe.

Later, I was exploring a different section of the game and it went straight to Silent Hill, rust and blood world. More weird noises and whispered sounds. The game pulled one of those sudden shock kind of scares and it worked because I damn near jumped out of my seat.

Later still I had been cut loose to try to get into another locked room. I hadn’t encountered anymore monsters like the first one, so I knew I was in for another run-in sooner or later. Sure enough, right after cleaning out the armory only to find a rusty saw, I heard the sound of footsteps and muttered words. The door was already shut, so I just slid into a hiding spot and waited. No bashing on the door, and soon the sounds stopped.

All three of these games have the same controls and give you the ability to peer around corners. Presumably, this lets you see your pursuer without being spotted. Also, most doors in these games are not open/shut, but physics driven, which give you control over how wide you open it and how fast.

I crept up to the door of the armory and cracked the door open but a couple of inches. The monster heard me. “Something’s not right” it said, as I quickly ran back to my hiding spot. I crouch down and wait, and then I hear the door bashed open. I peer out to see the monster standing there, some weapon in its hand. I tuck back into my corner and wait a little longer. I peer out and see that the coast is clear.

At this point I have decided that it’s time to face my fears and walk straight into death. Get a good look at the monster so I can quit trying to make out its features from my hiding spots and maybe I’ll feel a little bit more adventurous. I run out of the armory and look left.

It’s standing right there under fluorescent lights. White gray skin. Bulbous head, with two black eyes that are too big. Red, wet mouth. Totally naked.

I panic and run in the other direction. I can hear it chasing me. I’m running in circles, and I turn around. It’s right on top of me and smacks me with what looked like a crowbar. I run some more and turn around again. Again, it’s right there. I give in. It beats me to death with a crowbar as I struggle not to look away from its hideous form. After I die, I immediately quit the game.

That was almost forty minutes ago, and I’m still feeling anxious about it. I thought writing it out would help, but I think it’s just kind of made things worse.

Two Worlds: What is up with this game?

This game is kind of blowing my mind.

+ Every line is voiced. All of them.

– The voice acting is god awful.

– The dialog is plagued with “medieval” words like “forsooth” and “verily”.

+ Huge open world, no load screens unless you teleport or enter a dungeon.

– Everything is kind of glued to the roads so there’s not much point in wandering around.

+ Tons of quests

– Quests come in three varieties; collect things, kill someone, item delivery

+ Some really neat effects such as light coming through tree tops and fog.

– Monster animation is super awkward.

I’ve put 4 hours into it. It’s still boggling me.

Gunplay in Metro 2033

I recently reinstalled Metro 2033 in preparation for the upcoming release of new content. I fired it up to futz around a little, and decided to start cleaning up some achievements.

I loaded up the level “Outpost”. It’s an outdoor level, and it’s crawling with Nazis. Nazis everywhere. I check out my inventory and I’ve got a silenced, scoped revolver, a scoped AK-47, and a double-barrel shotgun. I know the shotgun isn’t going to be very effective, so I opt for the revolver while the Nazis don’t know I’m about.

I poorly line up a shot and hit one in the chest. It doesn’t kill him, and it attracts the attention of his buddies. They’re shooting at me from three different directions, so I quickly swap the revolver for the AK, and blast the closest ones. They drop with a couple quick bursts. After I’ve cleared the floor of the decrepit building I was in, I check my ammo.

Metro 2033 has two kinds of ammo: military grade, and low quality. Military grade is accurate, and does a lot of damage. Low quality is less accurate, and does less damage. There is a noticeable difference between the two and there is a reason why military grade ammo can be used as currency in the game. With how quickly I dispatched the Nazis in what was basically a botched encounter, I was convinced I was shooting my money away.

But I wasn’t. It was cheap ammo the whole time. The rest of that level consisted of some small scale encounters, primarily two or three Nazis at a time. This really gave me an opportunity to examine the gunplay that nearly every single review for Metro 2033 complained about.

It is entirely false that weapons in the game are wholly inaccurate. Each weapon has varying degrees of accuracy, and the ammo you use has an effect on accuracy, but if you’re using an accurate weapon (like a scoped, silenced revolver), and you aim down the sights, and you pull the trigger when it is pointed at the Bad Guy’s face, they die with one shot. This works with the revolver, with the AK, and pretty much every weapon in the game.

I am no sniper. I’m awful at it. Sometimes I get lucky, and catch some Bad Guy’s off-guard, and I get the time I need to line up those headshots that make life so much easier. Usually, however, I’m relying on putting enough bullets in things to kill them.

Enemies in Metro 2033 react to being shot in a manner in which you would expect them to. When you shoot human enemies without killing them, they go through a pain animation. Obviously, when they’re writhing in pain for one or two seconds, you have the advantage of being able to dump more bullets into them without them shooting back. You can’t really use this to “juggle” multiple enemies because the pain animation simply isn’t that long, but it is a significant advantage and rewards you for focusing on killing one enemy at a time.

Most of the monsters in this game, more animal than man, react how you would expect an angry animal to react if shot; they charge at you as if they don’t feel pain! Yep, it’s going to take a few more bullets to kill a charging beast, and you’re going to have to do it a little more recklessly than if it were a man, but just because most monsters don’t react to being shot doesn’t mean your weapons are ineffective against them.

There is really no point for me to write all of this, except that it is my hope that it convinces one person that Metro 2033 is worth playing. I got a bad vibe from most of the reviews I read that kept me away from it for several months, but I absolutely must say that the reviews are wrong. 4A made a fantastic FPS that will probably not get the attention it deserves. And that’s a damned shame.

How good is Borderlands?

I beat it on Xbox 360, getting nearly all of the achievements. I beat the Zombie Island of Dr. Ned DLC. I quit on Mad Moxxi because that DLC suuuucked. But between the main campaign and Dr. Ned, I put a load of time into it.

I just beat it again on PC. 14 hours, 30 minutes. I just started Dr. Ned. Then I’ll do the Secret Armory of General Knoxx.

I’m still amazed by some of the weapons this game throws at me. A lot of them are garbage. Then you get something absolutely fucking magical. Like an accurate shotgun with high damage, fast reload, large magazine, and ammo regeneration. This is the gun that Zombie Island was made for. I can’t lose with this thing.

Metro 2033

This game caught me by surprise. It didn’t get much hype and what it did get didn’t excite me. Crawling around in tunnels in the dark, who cares? Then I found out that the developers are the engineers who made S.T.A.L.K.E.R., which I loved. It got pretty positive reviews, with some complaints being about the difficulty and poor gunplay and dumb AI.

I’m pleased to report these complaints are mostly unfounded. Metro 2033 is a beautiful game with a strong narrative, even if Artyom’s motivations are somewhat unclear. I beat the game on normal difficulty without much trouble. The weapons in the game are no less responsive than those in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. I knew from the start that bullets were currency in the game, and that crappy bullets existed, but I didn’t figure out how to use those crappy bullets until halfway through the game. The crappy bullets really are crappy, being much louder, less powerful, and more inaccurate. It really makes you value those money bullets and forced me to decide when it was worth shooting my money away.

Around the halfway mark, there’s a vendor who will sell you either heavier armor or stealthier clothing. I had spent nearly all of my good bullets on a better gun, which was poor foresight on my behalf because guns are everywhere. I was duly punished for it though, as I was never offered the opportunity to buy a different armor again.

I got Metro 2033 on sale, and it’s one of those games in which I wish I had bought it on release. The game is short, but it’s really immersive. I hope 4A made enough to keep developing, because I’ll definitely get their next title the minute it comes out.

Doom 3

Unlike a lot of people, I really enjoyed Doom 3. It’s a big departure from the first two in terms of atmosphere and gameplay, but it holds its own and looks good. I’m doing what feels like my yearly replay of it, except on Veteran (hard) difficulty and I feel like the increased difficulty is really exposing some of the less obvious flaws in the game. I may not even finish this playthrough.

Half of the enemies jump out of closets. It’s one of those obvious flaws that you learn about in the first 15 minutes of the game. On medium, it’s no big deal because you take a hit, turn around, pop them, and they die. On hard, you still take that first hit, and it’s always at least 15% of your health. So you can take two paths with it; you can keep rolling and slowly bleed out from repeated monster closets, or you can quick save after every fight and reload when you find a monster closet so you can better deal with it. It sucks.

Lost souls are the fucking worst. They were an annoyance in Doom 1/2 but never a real threat. In Doom 3, they’re tiny, they hit for at least 15%, they bounce out of the way if you hit them without killing them, and when they hit, your view moves. I died in the first encounter with lost souls. LOST SOULS. Flying, screaming skulls pecked me to death.

The shotgun, which sucks at any range beyond 1 meter in front of you, is the best weapon to kill them with because it’ll almost always kill them in one hit, except you have to wait until it’s charging at you and it’s right in front of your goddamned face before you can think about pulling the trigger. The shotgun only holds 8 rounds, and it takes forever to reload so you better not miss!

And let’s talk about how much the shotgun blows. The shotgun in Doom 1/2 is one of my favorite weapons. It is versatile and possesses a good amount of stopping power. The shotgun in Doom 3 is worthless beyond 1 meter ahead of you. If you are not jamming that shotgun into the bad guy’s face before you pull the trigger, you’re going to have to shoot them twice. That said, it will kill ims, soldiers, zombies, maggots, and those dumb teleporting things  in one shot, so what I’ve found myself doing is dancing around while they shoot at me, and then charging at them before I blast them in the face, then running backwards in case that first shot didn’t do the trick. It’s a huge letdown. It’s horrible. Thankfully the plasma rifle is even more awesome than it was in Doom 1/2.

Even playing on hard, Doom 3 is no more difficult. It is just more annoying. Playing it feels like work. I will probably abort this playthrough, and remind myself next time to play it on medium again, when the game is more fun.