Tag Archives: horror

Je ne comprends pas The City of Lost Children, d’accord

There were two big events in my childhood/teenhood that caused me to stay home from school for several days and recover in bed or on the living room couch with lots of tea, buttered white toast, and TV sitcom marathons. Also videogames on the television, all on my SNES or PlayStation 1 with the kewl PSM lid cover, but I did eat up nearly an entire run of Gilligan’s Island at some point too though perhaps that was just a highly visual fever dream. My favorite character is Mary Ann, by the way, and the episode most firmly cemented in my brain revolved around a method actor visiting the island and pretending to be a Tarzan-like jungle lord. Shrugs.

Right, back to the stay-at-home events. One had to do with me getting my wisdom teeth removed, and the other was related to an injury to my left knee that required surgery, pain killers crushed up in applesauce, and physical therapy. Both were not fun and had me in various states of wooziness, and I don’t remember exactly which event it was, but for one of them, my mother let me rent a bunch of games for the PlayStation to keep me entertained. Me thinks it was for the wisdom teeth removal, since I knew when that was happening and wanted some guaranteed pleasures during the downtime.

Well, I selected three PlayStation 1 games from our local store that rented games (not a Blockbuster, sorry), all on their box art alone–Destruction Derby, The City of Lost Children, and Broken Sword II: The Smoking Mirror. I mean, look at how cool these covers are:

Er, maybe not. Well, I thought they were killer then.

Of these, I remember enjoying Destruction Derby a lot, not understanding how a point-and-click adventure game worked in Broken Sword II: The Smoking Mirror, especially using a controller, and being completed dumbfounded by The City of Lost Children, which, if you didn’t already know, is an adaptation of the 1995 movie of the same name by French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Also, if you’re not familiar with the film, you have no chance of understanding what’s going on in this game–trust me on this. The introductory cutscene doesn’t really explain anything, not even introducing you to the character you will be playing as for the entire game. Thankfully, the manual offers a brief summary of the plot, but even that is not much to work from.

I’ll do my best here. The City of Lost Children takes place in a nameless, steampunk-inspired city by the seaside. A less-than-good scientist, most likely evil, has his henchmen kidnap children in order to steal their dreams to prevent the process of his premature aging. Y’know, normal kidnapping reasons. Anyways, the opening cutscene shows one of these children getting kidnapped, and that’s really all the information the game gives you before giving you control over 12-year-old Miette, which means “crumb” in French. You start inside a classroom, with a pair of Siamese sisters at the front telling you to go steal money from some hut because they said so.

Little to my teenage knowledge, this was an adventure game. Not exactly a point and click one, but still one where you walked around, gathered items, and made progress by using those items on people or other items to make things happen. Like a Metroidvania, but with less action involved. Considering it would still be many, many years before I would fall in love with the genre, I probably went into The City of Lost Children thinking it was in the same vein as things like Resident Evil or Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain. Boy was I not at all right. Not one teeny tiny bit. I’d later come to have fun with Blazing Dragons and Discworld II: Mortality Bytes!, so this being an adventure game alone had nothing to do with my terrible time with it. That is a result of it being exceedingly obtuse and poorly designed.

A strong memory that stands out: Miette, saying “I can’t do anything” or “I can’t manage it,” every time you interact on something she can’t do anything with. Which was on a lot of items in that early portion of the game I banged my head against. Compound this with the sluggish, tank-like controls and sometimes odd camera angles that made it hard to see where something lead to another screen, and my rented time with the game was spent wandering around the first few areas aimlessly until I decided enough was enough and at least knew what to do with my vehicle in Destruction Derby–crash it. Which is a shame, because I thought The City of Lost Children looked stunning at the time, and, while the polygons are not as sharp as today’s standards, there’s still a strong, off-kilter aesthetic here from Psygnosis, the British developer that gave us gems like Colony Wars, G-Police, and, uh, Hexx: Heresy of the Wizard, that makes this one of the more unique-looking games from the generation.

Anyways, I’m sure someone has paid it forward and done a recorded playthrough of The City of Lost Children and put it up for free on the Internet for everyone to watch. Maybe one day I’ll even search it out. Until then, I hope you enjoyed this random trip down my memory lane.

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2017 Game Review Haiku, #124 – Fog Lights and Foul Deeds

Hired, carry goods
Down the Poulton waterway
Ran out of fuel, wane

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

Psychological horror Layers of Fear is surprisingly one note

Well, here it is, my requisite playthrough of a single super scary game for 2017–Layers of Fear. Actually, that’s not true. Earlier this year, I ran at full speed through the darkness with a video camera quickly losing battery life in Outlast. I also played a less effective thing called Blameless. Still, I can usually only do one of these every year because they stress me out like nothing else. Actually, this is all a lie, as I can’t seem to find any proof I played something similar last year, though 2015 saw me tackling the Cordyceps fungus in The Last of Us, which I totally consider a horror game, thank you very much, and 2014 was all about the Deep Sleep point-and-click series and The Swapper. Whatever, man. It’s not like I’m on trial here.

Let’s see. Layers of Fear is about art, specifically a painter who has returned to his studio to complete his masterpiece. It’s up to you to figure out how this task should be accomplished. Gameplay involves exploring an old, spooky house, searching for visual clues and memory-jarring items, while solving a puzzle or two to keep things moving forward. Or backwards. Inwards and outwards and downwards–it’s messy. At first, the house appears to be pretty normal, Victorian-esque, but you’ll quickly learn that there are no rules here, and anything and everything can change in an instance. For example, you open a door, walk down a hallway, spin around to find the door behind you gone, and spin around again once more to find a wall now where the hallway was–this is what Layers of Fear revels in, pulling the rug out from under your feet, and it does it quietly, effectively. It reminded me a lot of the way Oxenfree played with its scenarios, remixing them on the fly.

The prominent challenge comes from environmental puzzles which require the player to search the immediate area for visual clues or things to interact with, such as paintings to stare at or candles to light. There are a few locks too that require a specific code to open, but the answers are generally in the immediate area. Layers of Fear is divided into six chapters and extremely dark–not just in tone, but in lighting. At one point, I got stuck in an area of dense in blacks and charcoals that I had to turn the brightness up to figure out where I was looking. Along the way, you’ll find articles or scraps of paper to read, as well as notes from…rats to collect. As you gather up these items, the origins of your masterpiece and methods will slowly be revealed. 

As a horror game though, Layers of Fear is jump scare after jump scare after jump scare. It is exhausting, and maybe for some players, this is what they want from an experience, but I prefer milder scare tactics and more emphasis on emotional distress and haunting images. We don’t get that here, except for a painting of a man-baby with fur on his face. Due to its nonlinear storytelling, it is difficult to be truly horrified before knowing what was at stake other than this mad artist’s goal to finish the job, and I found myself bracing for each jump after figuring out, kind of, where and when they might happen. There’s also a reliance on age-old tropes, such as baby dolls and rocking chairs and a bathtub full of blood. The variety of paintings hung throughout the house at least made each room and hallway stand out, and the effect when they’d melt was eerily pleasing.

Perhaps the aspect I liked most about Layers of Fear is how the player opens doors, cabinets, and drawers. I know, weird, but after dealing with angry ghosts, distorted hallways, and rotten fruit, this is what I’m taking away as a highlight. See, when an item is interactive, a hand icon appears, and you press the right trigger down and hold it; then you use the analog stick to perform the necessary action for the desired results. For instance, if you want to open a drawer towards you, hold down RT and pull the analog stick down. Some doors swing away from you, which means pushing up on the stick. It’s an effective way of making you feel like you are there, performing the action, because you open the door at your own speed.

Well, that might be the last horror game I touch in 2017. Oh well. Sorry, Silent Hill 3, I will continue to ignore you. I’m sure I can find others in my Steam library too to also not play. I’m really good at not playing horror games, and yet the curiosity about them remains within me, bubbling just below the surface. So long as they are not jump scare marathons, I can probably enjoy a few. But for now, it’s back to less spooky things, such as Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, Slime Rancher, and the ultra bubbly, goofy Miitopia.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #112 – Layers of Fear

A disturbed painter
Striving for his masterpiece
Will do anything

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #105 – the static speaks my name

Obsessed with painting
No meaning, do as you’re told
Let your body rest

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

2017 Game Review Haiku, #39 – The Evil With Us

Monsters left and right
Grind out gold, better your knife
Only upgrade knife

I can’t believe I’m still doing this. I can’t believe I’ll ever stop. These game summaries in chunks of five, seven, and five syllable lines paint pictures in the mind better than any half a dozen descriptive paragraphs I could ever write. Trust me, I’ve tried. Brevity is the place to be. At this point, I’ve done over 200 of these things and have no plans of slowing down. So get ready for another year of haikus. Doumo arigatou gozaimasu.

Not all monsters are human in Resident Evil: Revelations 2

You might notice an unsettling trend of late here at Grinding Down, with me playing some games that fall into the horror slash survival horror genre. Please note that I didn’t say slash fiction. Rather, things like Outlast and the first chapter of Bendy and the Ink Machine. Not my usual go-tos for fun gaming times, but that’s okay. I’m both trying to diversify what I play as well as get through these experiences to delete or uninstall them with the knowledge that I gave them a fair shake, no matter how much I hated sneaking around in the dark like a total wuss. Naturally, the majority of horror games in my collection are freebies, with the last one I actually deliberately payed money for being…well, probably Silent Hill 3. Perhaps this is all building to finally digging into that amusement park nightmare.

First, a quick history of my, well, history with Capcom’s long-running, zombie-shooting, ammo-conserving, ruby-finding-and-using-as-a-key Resident Evil series. Don’t worry. Just like with Mega Man, I haven’t found myself playing many of these games over the years. I wonder if I secretly have an unconscious dislike for the company; I mean, yeah, they made Breath of Fire III, Star Gladiator, and Zack & Wiki, all of which I enjoy, but their more well-known series, including Street Fighter and Dead Rising, are just not my bread and butter. Mmm butter. Moving along, I most definitely played the original Resident Evil on PS1, as well as rented Resident Evil 2. I believe I watched my childhood best friend go through the majority of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis. Because I couldn’t handle something chasing me constantly. I tried the demos for Resident Evil: Revelations and Resident Evil 5…and that’s it. You’ll notice that I’ve never touched Resident Evil 4, which many claim to be the star of the series. Oh well.

Resident Evil: Revelations 2 is, from what the Internet says, set between the events of Resident Evil 5 and Resident Evil 6, which, if you read the previous paragraph, means absolutely nothing to me. However, it does follow two classic characters from the series’ past: Claire Redfield and Barry Burton. In the opening scenes, Barry’s daughter, Moira, is kidnapped alongside Claire, by a mysterious woman calling herself the Overseer. They end up imprisoned on a severely isolated island where, naturally, dark and terrifying scientific experiments have gone from wrong to oh so worse. In this first episode called “Penal Colony,” the narrative jumps back and forth between those two exploring the compound and a second story thread six months later as Barry comes to the island to find Moira. He is accompanied by a young girl with mystical powers because why not.

Resident Evil: Revelations 2 remains a survival horror game, and that means trying not to die by the bloody hands of zombies (and other monstrosities), as well as scavenging for ammo and key items. However, this one supports cooperative gameplay. One player is the hero, using guns and melee weapons to get the job of murdering zombies done, and the other player is more there for support, shining a bright flashlight in enemies’ eyes, throwing bricks, or spotting hidden items in the environment. The flashlights in this game are much better than Outlast because they have eternal batteries, thank the Maker. I played the game alone, which meant I had to control both characters, flipping between them when necessary with a simple button press. It’s fine when solving puzzles or generally exploring, but you have to stick with the fighter for combat, otherwise it’s downhill from the first bite.

A couple nitpicks because I am who I am. First, when you are controlling Natalia and carrying a brick, when you go through a door from one location to another, she doesn’t take the brick with her; Barry of course carries his entire arsenal of firearms through, but you then have to scrounge around for another brick to throw. Seems like an odd limitation. Second, I like to crouch-walk a lot in stealth games and, again, when moving between a door to a new location, even if you are crouching, the game doesn’t remember this, and you are now back to standing. This also goes for having your flashlight on or off. Basically, all your “presets” go back to the defaults in each new room, which is annoying. Lastly, since this is a co-op experience and I don’t have anyone to play with, relying on the AI is pointless, as Moira rarely shown her light at enemies and Natalia stayed hidden during all fights involving Barry. I believe you can upgrade some skills to allow for better AI, but I’m also sure having another living, breathing player controlling them is the best way to do it.

Honestly, I thought that I’d play Resident Evil: Revelations 2 to see what it had to offer, quickly run through it, delete the infected file from my Xbox One, and then move on to something else. That is not the case. The game actively encourages replaying, with new modes to try out–like being timed or dealing with invisible enemies or a score attack–and you can continue earning BP to spend on upgrades, which ultimately can help with your next run. Naturally, I want all them collectibles, as well as to try out the Raid Mode, which is a type of “run and gun” mini-game where players fight through short stages to reach a goal and level up their characters and equipment. The mini-game itself exists as a scenario where the Overseer is testing the new Red Queen Alpha program on the player, who is a test subject for it. Sounds neat, at least.

All that said, I don’t think I’ll be grabbing any of the other episodes for Resident Evil: Revelations 2 just yet. I have a couple other titles in the series from PlayStation Plus–specifically Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles and Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles, of which I know nothing about them–that probably deserve some attention. But before I get to them, I have to replay Barry’s chapter a few more times to grind for gems and pop that stealth kill Achievement, among other tasks.