As the days grow shorter and classes stride on unflinchingly, short games have become my saviours. As enticing as it is to start with the next Assassin’s Creed (which I brazenly have) or the Far Cry franchise before it leaps into double-digit iterations, I lean towards stories that I can finish within the week. Where otherwise I would be choosing to put gaming on hold until the next school break, I am relieved to report that in this manner, I have been able to keep up with video games (for the most part). Mimicking my game consumption habits, the usual full-fledged review will be broken down into bite-sized recaps. Here’s an overview of the games I’ve played recently:
Stories Untold (2017)
It’s interactive fiction! No, it’s a walking sim! Surely some of it is science-fiction? Whichever genre you lean towards, Stories Untold is definitely horror. Self-described as a ‘compilation of experimental adventures,’ this game blends various genres and game mechanics to create something suspenseful and memorable. Told across four seemingly separate episodes, the story is well-written and well-presented. To delve into any plot details would dampen the effect the game would otherwise have with its taut 2-and-a-half-hour playtime. With title design evocative of Stranger Things (unsurprisingly, Stories Untold shares artist Kyle Lambert with the show) and created by devs that have experience working on AAA horror (Alien: Isolation), this is one indie game that definitely provides a memorable, if short-lived, experience.
Set in the not-too-distant future, Observer has you playing as Dan Lazarski, a neural-implant-powered detective in 2080s Poland. After receiving a mysterious transmission from his missing son Adam, Dan embarks on an investigation to uncover the mystery behind his disappearance. He also has the ability to wade through others’ darkest memories and fears as an observer, which aids him in his search for Adam. While these expeditions into people’s fractured psyches form a large part of the game’s horror experience, at times they have the tendency to feel frustratingly slow and, ironically, fractured in terms of the story they’re trying to get across. However, the imaginativeness of the environments combined with the slow-burn mystery injects enough fuel into this game to see it across the finish line.
…Observer hurtles down the metaphorical tunnel, firm in its belief that there will be light at the end.
Observer has quite a few things going for it. The horror comes not only from the grotesque monster hunting down witness after witness – leaving behind only a trail of destruction for Lazarski to piece together the puzzle from – but also the world itself. This is a dystopian future where a plague has afflicted many who chose to be implanted, where addiction to virtual reality is just as potent as any narcotic. It is not at all hard to see ourselves there in the next 50 years.
The game tries to bite into the meaty part of asking philosophical questions towards the end – what does it mean to be human? – but this shift in tone feels so sudden that these heavy questions definitely do not get the time and exploration they otherwise deserve. When it comes to this, SOMA did it better. Despite all of this, Observer hurtles down the metaphorical tunnel, firm in its belief that there will be light at the end. This self-assurance does see it through, with the ending coming at the heels of a fast-paced sequence which will surely leave you wondering.
Silent Hill 2 (2001)
The game is special for me, as it was recommended by a friend whose passion for video game critique I’m in awe of. Whether I’d end up loving it or not, I already knew that it would be worth the time invested.
In a way, Silent Hill 2 was to horror games what The Sopranos was to television. It introduced a sense of maturity to the genre, instilling faith in the medium’s ability to tell dark, twisted tales.
You play as James Sunderland, who is back in Silent Hill after receiving a letter from his supposedly dead wife Mary. Is she really alive, or is a malicious imposter luring James to this seemingly deserted monster-infested town?
Originally released for the PS2 in 2001 (and ported to Windows in 2002), Silent Hill 2 is definitely a classic. In a way, Silent Hill 2 was to horror games what The Sopranos was to television. It introduced a sense of maturity to the genre, instilling faith in the medium’s ability to tell dark, twisted tales. Unfortunately, SH2 suffered the fate of the title that spawns multiple sequels and copycats for years to follow. For many, it can take away from the feeling of wonder that comes from experiencing an original concept for the first time. Personally, the game harkened back to Shutter Island for me. Though not the greatest movie I have seen, it left an impression on me mainly because it was the first of its kind that I watched.
If you’ve played the game and want a detailed analysis of the themes, take a look at this blog post. SH2 also has one of the most memorable soundtracks I’ve ever heard in a game. Akira Yamaoka’s music complements the haunting atmosphere with an equally haunting soundtrack. Thanks to the clever sound design, there’s rarely a moment of ease. Loss – and hope – hang heavy over James as he pursues one lead after another, desperation creeping in as he closes in on locating his wife.
That said, I have strong mixed feelings towards this game. Firstly, I played it on the PC without a controller and no mouse support (a poor decision in retrospect; certainly one that took away from the experience quite a bit, but it was either that or not playing the game at all). It took me quite some time to get used to WASD to look around in conjunction with the arrow keys for movement.
Besides that, the combat is quite repetitive and the controls not as responsive as I’d have liked them to be (although I assume that issue is unique to people playing the port without a controller). I had to mash Space a few times for good measure, just to make sure that I would land a hit at least once. As such, I gladly welcomed the opportunity to choose combat difficulty.
The graphics would not impress those used to AAA-titles of today and the controls are an added challenge. It is no surprise that SH2 wouldn’t feature on a lot of to-play lists today. However, if a quality experience is all you seek, I couldn’t recommend it more. If a lesson in what revolutionized horror games sounds interesting, then Silent Hill 2 is the game for you. As an added bonus, fan outrage over the cancellation of Silent Hills makes much more sense after experiencing this title.
Thank you for joining us at Gamer’s Waypoint! Which games have you been playing recently? Let us know in the comments below.
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