Tuesday, October 22, 2013

"Booh," not "Boo!"

Exploiting fear of the unknown is a big part of making a successful horror game, which is why it's difficult to produce a good sequel.  After awhile players will understand their foe all to well for it to be a spine chilling experience.  Doubly so if the player is packing enough firepower to overcome most any obstacle.  Here's a list of six titles that fell into this trap.

Resident Evil: Code Veronica
John Woo style duel gun wielding, a cross dressing antagonist and Leonardo DiCaprio look alike love interest are hardly elements conducive to horror.  Disgust...possibly.  Annoyance....definitely, but not fear.  The bio-organic weapons this franchise is so famous for are mostly recycled from previous games (Bandersnatchers being the one noteworthy exception).  While the series did see somewhat of a revival with Resident Evil 4 and the Remake thanks to Shinji Mikami's later return to form.  This entry definitely marked a low point in the series though, at least until Resident Evil 5 and 6.

Dead Space 3
The first outing with Issac Clarke (ya know...before he got plastic surgery) felt fairly derivative, but at least it came across as a worth tribute to sci-fi/horror movies and games of yore.  Not so with this entry in the series.  By the third time around Issac has become a one man necromorph dismembering machine with support from a no-nonsense space marine via co-op play.  Perhaps these changes were what motivated the designers to throw in silly enemies such as suicide cultists and "brethren moons."  Regardless, I think making the Unitologists into fanatics lead by an evil space Brit alone drove the franchise into wholly unscary territory.

Alone in the Dark 3
How Edward Carnby went from private investigator to cowboy is a bit of a stretch to say the least.  Supposedly, a 1920s film crew goes missing in the Mohave Desert and our protagonist has been called in to figure out what happened.  Aside from supernatural themes of a curse this third outing has all the clunky gameplay of previous titles but none of the southern Gothic or unknowable Mythos flavor that made this paranormal PI's adventures so interesting in the past.  Instead we get to do ridiculous stuff like shoot up lots of mooks, transform into a spirit animal and jump steam engines over a gulch for highlights in this blandly presented survival horror title.

Silent Hill: Downpour
I'm a rare exception here in that I actually enjoyed all the mainline Silent Hill games up to this one (yes, even Homecoming).  Dwindling quality with each sequel meant that by the time I got to Downpour though there was nothing left to offer.  The characters are uninteresting, the enemies uninspired, the levels recycled or else feel forced (a roller coaster ride!?...seriously?), and worst of all is the story which has more in common with Steven King's later work than any of the superior, but possibly exhausted, sources the series drew inspiration from previously.  Silent Hill 4 lost a lot of fans by breaking with tradition, but at least it went in to new unknowns.  This game doesn't pay proper tribute, nor does it do anything fresh or original.

Read Dead Redemption:
Undead Nightmare
Let me preface this one by saying I enjoy campy horror flicks and a bit of black comedy.  Cult classic film sequels like "Return of the Living Dead" and "Army of Darkness" are guilt pleasures for me.  That said I couldn't get into Undead Nightmare even though I really enjoyed Red Dead Redemption.  Granted the narrator sounds like Vincent Price and I could have sworn I saw Elvira somewhere, but there just wasn't enough scares or humor here.  The zombie hoards copied straight out of Left 4 Dead are easily gunned down, particularly with some of the new DLC weaponry such as the blunderbuss and sadly, the locations in places like the ghost town Tumbleweed, were a lot more chilling to explore in their original form (especially with all the poltergeist sighting internet rumors circling around it).

Dino Crisis 2
In a lot of ways the original Dino Crisis was Resident Evil except the zombies were swapped out for dinosaurs.  What it did have going for it on its own merits though was atmosphere.  The environments were distinct in that they were entirely metal making the only organic things the player, NPCs and of course the bloodthirsty bird/reptile hybrids themselves.  This created a distinct contrast between angular and curved, natural and artificial, as well as hi-tech and primordial. Another cool aspect of gameplay was the rendering done entirely using in-game engine resources which allowed limited panning and sweeping camera views (a one of a kind for PS1 survival horror titles at the time).  The sequel threw all this out though, and instead opted for the same old plastered on pre-rendered backgrounds of tropical jungles mixed in with over the top action sequences.  The real mood breakers though were mini-cutscene puzzles in which attacking velocirators would be forced into an idle animation (giving the impression that they were patiently waiting for some player activated device to finish it's work before resuming their attempts to eat you alive).

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