Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Gaming moments that scared me to my core.

I see my self as someone that doesn't get scared too easily. Sure I will leap a mile high at the sight of certain eight legged merchant of death or even let out a tight throated squeak when faced with public speaking, but those things scare me for about a minute before I move on. I shake it off and address my audience, or I grab the vacuum cleaner and suck the little bugger up. There are however 5 key moments  I've experienced during my life as a gamer that have clung to me, that haunt my dreams every so often. And here they are. Please don't laugh...

5. Fable 2 - Winter Lodge

"That scared you? It looks so pleasant and inviting!" - Fools!
I told you not to laugh! Ok so let me explain. Throughout the game there were 'Demon Doors' that you had to perform certain things in front of in order to open them. They usually contained secret chests filled with rare weapons or gold. This one was filled with pure hatred and trolling. What lulls you into a false sense of security, with its tinkly music and 'Christmas' like feel of warmth and love, instantly changes to a scene of horror and the feeling of something waiting to carry you off in the night, the moment you step foot in the door.

Apparently there is a chest up the stairs containing a Master Sword. I never got it. I high tailed it out of there, saved, switched of the console and wept over the shattered pieces of my trust.

4. Resident Evil: Nemesis - West Wing Stairs

I will never trust an action cut scene again
I was likely too young when I played this, my brother had been with me through the first portion of the game, letting me know when to expect the baddies and showing me where to find herbs and ammo. By this point, I was feeling brave. It hadn't been too scary so far, I can play it alone. I went up some stairs to an office to find a key needed to access another room. All was good. Upon descending the stairs, however, I noted that it have given me a mini cut scene of walking down from Jill's point of view. That was weird...
Oh wait, now I get it, its because Mister No-Lips is going to crash through the window with a rocket launcher and annihilate me! The game used this tactic to unnerve me and drop my defences before giving me the fright of my life. What a bugger.

Needless to say, I ran Jill into the dark room under the stairs, saved, turned of the console and told my brother I wasn't into that zombie game any more... crap game... stupid.

3. Fable 3 - The Desert Madness

"I don't like it. I don't like it. I don't like it" - Nuttylamb

What can I say... I liked Fable, so when weird stuff happened, it effected me. I know its not a horror game, but different things scare different people. Feeling like I'm tripping on acid is one of the things that scares me. It just felt like a strange occurrence in the game, I simply wasn't prepared for the long walk across the dessert that would send me mirages of all the bad things I'd done that would then proceed to attack me. I don't remember much else about the game aside from wonderful voice acting by Jonathan 'wossy' Ross and Stephen Fry, but this stuck out and I still don't think I'm over it.

I stuck it out this time though, I carried on playing until I was tired. I didn't sleep, but that's besides the point. 

2. Alan Wake - The Taken

All yo' buggers need flash lights.
There is nothing worse than wandering the dark woods at night and hearing an axe fly past your left ear and then seeing six of these fiends materialise in front of you. Even after playing through Alan Wake and knowing they were out there and they would come in their swarms, they still surprised me and erupted many a squeak from my throat. Every. Damn. Time.

Adding to the initial fear was my lack of proficiency with keyboard and mouse controls which made the whole effort of having to blast them with a flash light before I could shoot them down actually nightmarish. These buggers will be staying with me for a while...

1. The Walking Dead - Protecting Clementine

Parenthood, most terrifying thing in the world.
I cannot be the only one. When playing The Walking Dead, my world became about that little girl, and with each and every point where Clementine wasn't right next to Lee and bundled in cotton wool, my heart froze. This game issued a fear that not many gamers under 30 would have experienced. It wasn't done with cheap jump scares or high definition gore. It was done by giving you something that you would love and dangling it above a bath of acid... and sharks. 

Even now the games been over and I haven't played in a long while, I'm still scared for Clemmy! Awaiting a sequel, TellTale...

Some of the games featured on this list are available to watch as Let's Plays on my channel, so please head over there and see the fear first hand.

Thank you all so much for reading, have a great day and Happy Gaming! Buh-bye!

Let's Review: Tomb Raider: Underworld

When I picked up Underworld, I hadn't played a Tomb Raider game since the awfulness that was Angel of Darkness was released. Prior to that I had played every Tomb Raider with the exception of Chronicles. Having been apart from Lara for so long, I got back into the franchise with Underworld, a game which follows up from the previous, Legend and also addresses some plot from Anniversary. So my entry into the game was met with some confusion having not played the previous installments however this didn't stunt my enjoyment of the game too much. The plot was simple enough to pick up and accept as it played out.

 Having started the game with memories of the good old times had with Lara, I was confronted with a big change that had occurred in all gaming that had some how crept up on me. There was an obligatory tutorial level. In the original games, notably 1, 2 and 3, Lara's mansion had served this purpose, but if you chose to start the game directly you were thrown right into it. In Tomb Raider 3, quite literally I might add.

 In games today, it's normal to have an easy introduction to the game and be told the controls as you go (too many buttons). I didn't feel frustrated by the tutorial as it gave a starting point to my all ready fractured understanding of the plot, but it just gave me a sharp moment of clarity in recognizing the norm of modern gaming in contrast of my fuzzy golden tinted memories spent reading game manuals and experimenting with the keyboard.

 So Lara begins her journey with her house on fire, and once in control it becomes your duty to guide her through the blazing remains. After "accidentally" losing Lara to the flames a couple of times, I eventually got her out of there only for a supposed friend of Lara's begin shooting at her. It is found out why later on in the game after a cut back to that scene and some some cryptic dialogue. But before then, the scene fades to white and we join Lara two weeks earlier, on a boat, in some wonderfully impractical attire, out in the middle of the sea. Now that's more like it. In at the deep end *pause for groans*.

Wearing barely anything, surrounded by sharks, bleeding from the ankle... I got this.
 By this point I was exploring the underwater caverns only accessed by puzzles. It felt like home. The first puzzle is a big one and there is a lot of space to explore. Throughout the story Lara is rewarded with Thor's Gauntlets and Belt (and later on Mjolnir, the Hammer) which enable her to move enormous platforms allowing the puzzles to feel even bigger and more complex.

 My overall experience of Tomb Raider games has been that the game generally starts out in a normal universe, an adventurous girl exploring tombs and caves, doing a lot of climbing and finding ancient artifacts and then the whole thing turns on its axis and suddenly there are supernatural forces erupting from every one of the earth's orifices and Lara is doing battle against zombie-esque Atlanteans, Xian guards, mutant scientists... dinosaurs, the Kraken, Grecian/Roman gorillas... The list goes on. This installment doesn't disappoint on those grounds. The finale goes off with a massive "saving the world from supernatural destruction" bang, and with a pleasing and heart felt ending that I imagine satisfies the the story that this game closes on.

 In Underworld, Lara has some new skill sets and gadgets, one of which is an 'Active  Sonar Map'. I used it perhaps about twice in the whole game, the first because I was prompted to, and the second because I was a little stuck and remembered I had it. It didn't help me find the way out, however. It was supposed to present the player with an alternative viewing angle, the player can receive feedback from a large scope of local environment and spot potential secrets, items needed to progress, or  openings to new areas. I didn't use it... but then again I bet I missed out on a lot of secrets. As a tool it was not essential for progression of the main story, but would be of great use to those combing every area for every secret.
Lara is represented by a piece from the game Ludo.

 Lara was also sporting some new weapons, my favourite being the grenades. I used them a little too freely and against  human enemies, I found them most effective. The big cats, lizards and other overly large nasties moved around too much for the explosives to be effective, but for some reason the human enemies proved to be too dense to move out of the way making them one of the easiest enemies encountered.

 Now let's have a little chat about the combat. As previously indicated, I hadn't played a Tomb Raider game since the originals. My experience of the combat back then was erratic jumping left, right, forwards and backwards all the while hammering the Ctrl key or X button until the thing I wanted dead, stopped moving. So the new intelligence of the enemies and their tenacity came as quite a shock.

That moment when you fill your pants.
 My usual tactics were simply not working, and Lara was being mauled by tigers, lizards and spiders while under my control. I was helped though by Lara's new ability to lock on to two targets at a time which left me free to just fire aimlessly knowing Lara would figure out what I was asking her to do, while I concentrated on dodging and building up my "adrenaline meter". Having not played Legend or Anniversary at this point, I was baffled as to performing the "adrenaline headshot", a new mechanic that slowed combat down to bullet time, allowing the player to target an enemies head and fire one accurate combat ending shot. This move, thankfully, didn't feel too essential, however I was saddened by how much trouble I was having with it. That was until I went online and found tutorial after tutorial proving I wasn't the only poor incompetent soul. If you are here hoping for a tutorial on this, I'm afraid I'm still no more enlightened and have to disappoint you.

 I also found the age old frustration at Lara's controls by this point, they were fluid and the animation of movement was fairly sophisticated, however they felt highly sensitive. Lara stuck to walls unintentionally and occasionally just let go from a hold, leading to either the repetition of a jump sequence or death.

There she falls again.
 I feel that brings us smoothly onto the aesthetic of the game. The first few sequences in Lara's home and in the Kraken's den under ground didn't touch me with its looks; the scale of the puzzles here were the main focus for my attention. The moment I began to see the game rather than just looking at it, came when Lara enters Coastal Thailand and before you lays some of the better water animations and rendering that gaming has to offer. Seriously, it looks good enough to drink. But clear the sharks out first of course. Now for the rest of the green scenery; I had heard the term "lush" used before when describing in game environments, and until I saw the greenery and the seamless integration of traversable platforms with the scenery  I never knew what the word really meant.

My new definition of "lush" right here. Basically means "green". 
 From then on I really enjoyed the look of the game, and even more so when delving into the ruins of the ancient Norse puzzles and everything takes on a lovely blue LED glow. The textures of the game never had issues loading and everything looked and felt organic; there were no real occasions where the environment jarred or looked forced.

 In games and films the music and sounds should be adding information and feelings to what your seeing and enhancing the experience overall. For me, I know a game or film has done this right if I don't remember the music later on after engaging with the medium. I don't remember a thing about the music and sound in this game, save for the high octave 'dingly' sound that plays when you have reached a check point (that is ingrained in my memory forever). Having gone back and listened to some tracks, it has further assured me that the music in the game worked. It feels like I'm listening to it for the first time, yet I am transported back into my memory of certain points in the game play. There are some lovely remnants of the original tomb raider sound track from 1996, and they are subtle enough to make it feel like new sounds.

 I only played the main game on the disc but there are some DLCs available which contribute further to the story. 'Beneath the Ashes' and 'Lara's Shadow' are the titles available, in both we see more of Lara's doppelgänger and also a further encounter with Natla, the main boss. Having not played them I cannot comment on the value of the DLC and if they are worth playing. I felt satisfied with the content in the main game which is good however I wasn't left craving further story, so the DLC did not appeal to me.

 Overall, the game felt like the Tomb Raider I've known and loved in my childhood, though with a little more emotion and humanity from our heroine. It's definitely a franchise that has matured and I'm glad to see it through my own older eyes. Ok, enough with me feeling ancient.

 I hope you enjoyed the read, if not, I hope you gave up before getting all the way down here and finding out you've wasted a half hour. If you have any comments or feed back I'd love to hear, and also your opinions of this game if you have played it!

You can watch my full playthrough of Tomb Raider: Underworld here on my channel, its all in a handy playlist.

 Thank you for reading, have a lovely day, happy gaming and I will speak to you all next time! Buh-bye!