maanantai 18. heinäkuuta 2011

Silence sucks.

It's been ten days since my last entry, in other words it's been my longest break yet. There's been so much going on in the local music scene, I've been putting some pieces together to be absolutely ready for my new job when its time comes, and I've also been getting prepared for next weekend's Tuska Open Air Metal Festival. I'm expecting to get back on track with one or two reviews some time next week; playing games and writing reviews are probably the only things I'll be able to do in my expected physical condition.

Just for the fun of it, here are the bands I'm planning to see next weekend, in the order given: Forbidden, Hell, Arch Enemy, At the Gates, Cavus, Morbid Angel, Witchery, Epica, Moonsorrow, Feastem, Katatonia, Axegressor, Blind Guardian, Enslaved, Devin Townsend Project, Impaled Nazarene, Meshuggah, Agnostic Front, Amorphis, Turisas, and finally, one of my favourite bands, Amon Amarth. I think it'll be a helluva party.

I'm leaving for Helsinki on Thursday morning and I'm fully booked for the next couple of days, so I'll get back to you next week.

perjantai 8. heinäkuuta 2011

REVIEW - Alan Wake (2010)

GENRE(S): Action / Survival horror
RELEASED: May 2010
DEVELOPER(S): Remedy Entertainment
PUBLISHER(S): Microsoft Game Studios

After shipping their final breakthrough title Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne in 2003, Remedy Entertainment published a series of concepts they were going for next. Among those concepts was the enigmatic title "Alan Wake". The earliest screenshots of the game emerged in 2004, and they portrayed a common-looking, middle-aged man standing alone at a gas station in what seemed to be a ghost town, with a somewhat sad, but aggressive look on his face. To elaborate on the meaning of the screenshots and the backstory of Alan Wake, Remedy painted a picture of a psychological thriller/survival horror game deeply influenced by classic horror literature by Stephen King and the cinematic works of David Lynch and Alfred Hitchcock, and set in a small, realistic, down to Earth town that could be anywhere in the world. Fans of horror and thrillers eagerly followed Remedy's every step as they were making Alan Wake reality - the idea of the game was too good to ever become true. The game was stuck in development hell for six whole years, for several reasons: such as Remedy's indecision on the core gameplay and the platform(s) Alan Wake would be developed for. May 14th, 2010, marked the day of AWake. It was released exclusively on the Xbox 360, and it will most likely remain exclusive to that platform because of mixed reception and disappointing sales. With so much hype behind it, not to mention six years in development, Alan Wake was bound to disappoint... some people. Me? I'm enjoying the hell out of this Finnish piece of art - 'cause that's what Alan Wake prominently is, instead of a simple video game. Hail Finland, hail Remedy Entertainment.

A flashlight, a gun and a man on the edge

Matthew Porretta : Alan Wake
Lloyd Floyd : The Hitchhiker / Tor Anderson / Walt Snyder / Night Springs Narrator
Geoffrey Cantor : Clay Steward / Alvyn Derleth / Mr. Jones
James McCaffrey : Thomas Zane / Alex Casey
Brett Madden : Alice Wake
R.J. Allison : Pat Maine / Night Springs Reporter #2
Fred Berman : Barry Wheeler
Benita Robledo : Rose Marigold
Jeff Gurner : Rusty / Deputy / Night Springs Cop
Cliff Carpenter : Odin Anderson

Alan Wake is a very talented and successful author, but for the last couple of years, he's been suffering from the worst possible case of writer's block, and strange nightmares in which the characters and events of his novels come true. Alan and his wife Alice take a vacation in the small logging town of Bright Falls to get away from all the big city noise and pressure. In reality, Alice lures Alan to Bright Falls to get her husband's creative juices flowing, which does not sit well with the burnt out writer. Alice disappears following a fight between the couple, and Alan witnesses his worst nightmares coming true all around him as he is desperately trying to find his wife.

First, I must tell you of an enlightening thought I had after completing two episodes in the story of Alan Wake. When it was originally announced that Alan Wake would be released exclusively on the Xbox 360, me and all my friends, even those that were Xbox owners themselves (!), threw a lot of shit at Remedy. Every single one of my friends knew that if there was any game I'm simply dying to play, it's Alan Wake. You see, Twin Peaks, hell, all of David Lynch's work, is going to follow me into the grave and it is definitely a huge influence for Alan Wake. I'm going to tell you a lot about the story, excluding spoilers, later, but the point is that in my mind, David Lynch is a god and to experience a video game this heavily influenced by his works - even moreso than the psychological aspects of Silent Hill - is an event after which I would gladly drop dead. Well, not really, but you probably get the idea by now. Alan Wake is an original story, it's not a carbon copy of Twin Peaks or any other of its main influences, it just pays a lot of cool homage to them, homage which I cannot afford to miss. I can't help but think that hogging exclusive rights to Alan Wake was Microsoft's payback for Quantic Dream's decision to make Heavy Rain exclusive to the PlayStation 3, as NOT according to the original plan. PlayStation 3 owners got their mystery thriller in February, Xbox owners got theirs in May. We got the French game, they got guaranteed Finnish quality - but despite being French, Heavy Rain is still an excellent game. Alan Wake is also an excellent game. When you think about it this way, you'll find the equation surprisingly fair.

Hey, dear hitchhiker. I didn't mean to hit you
with my car. Honest.
Alan Wake's strongest sales point is its story. The story of the game won it awards, and for a damn good reason. Granted, some parts of the game are boring to the average player. The eager player that is completely into the plot does not mind, at least not on the first playthrough, since (s)he's most likely putting the pieces of the plot together while playing. Alan Wake is a simple game to play, and the action sequences don't really require perfect concentration - the plot's development does. One of the game's most debated qualities is that it tells you exactly what to do, all the time, as if the developers were holding your hand and guiding you through it. Your objective is always displayed on your HUD, regardless whether or not your only objective is to simply turn around and flick the light switch. You don't really have to think what to do in the game - the only elements that demand your full attention are combat and the story. Luckily you can explore. The freedom to explore is the one and most important remnant from the days when Alan Wake was developed as a sandbox game. The collectables thankfully somewhat raise the bar of replay value, which Alan Wake otherwise does not possess by a whole lot.

When I first heard that the game is influenced by some of my favourite shows and movies of all time, I believed it, but I simply couldn't predict how much so. Bright Falls IS Twin Peaks. It's as close to Twin Peaks (or Lumberton in Blue Velvet) as you can possibly get. The Oh Deer Diner is almost an exact replica of the Double R Diner in Twin Peaks. How about the supporting characters, then? Cynthia Weaver is a dead ringer of the Log Lady, only she carries a lantern around instead of a log. The waitress Rose looks a lot like Shelly. The entity that occasionally guides Alan is just like the Giant, all the way to his enigmatic figures of speech. There are characters that simply do not belong, or act in perfect contrast to their looks - the cast of supporting characters in all of Lynch's work are full of them. Agent Nightingale (who's probably named after a song in Twin Peaks) is like an extremely aggressive, drunk version of Albert Rosenfield, the receptionist at the Sheriff's office is just like Lucy, and there are many cinematic moments and bits of dialogue that shoot bullets aimed straight between Peakers' eyes. Stephen King's work has just as much weight on Alan Wake as David Lynch's, if not even more. "Stephen King" are the first two words in this game! The protagonist is a writer with some sort of a personal dilemma, just like Thad Beaumont (The Dark Half), Paul Sheldon (Misery), Mort Rainey (Secret Window, Secret Garden) or Jack Torrance (The Shining), inanimate objects such as vehicles come to life, a dark presence controls seemingly ordinary people and gives them the primitive urge to kill... even some specific works are referenced, such as The Shining and the short story The Hitchhiker, which was adapted to film in the episodic Creepshow II in 1987. There's a lot of them, I assure you. Not many moments in Alan Wake pass by that die-hard followers of the genre wouldn't snicker in absolute, almost insane joy. But, just as David Lynch's work at the very least, Alan Wake is far from pure horror, or even a pure thriller. It also has its share of drama, as well as some more or less black comedy. It's a very balanced, masterfully paced piece of work.

Just like Twin Peaks had Invitation to Love - a show within a show - Alan Wake has Night Springs, an extremely deranged, cheesy version of cult shows like Twilight Zone and Outer Limits. Each episode has different characters and whole different plots. You can check out the three- to four-minute episodes of the show any time there's a TV in your vicinity. The show sucks with some big lips, but needless to say, it's an extremely cool addition to the game. There's also a local radio station that broadcasts a late night show with an elderly host, taking calls and playing music; some of these broadcasts are directly linked to the events of the plot. Alan can also listen to some choice cuts from the police radio, and there are TV's that turn on by themselves and broadcast stuff that disturbs Alan greatly on a personal level.

Cup of coffee. Black as midnight on a
moonless night. Also, a piece of that sensational
cherry pie.
The last thing I'd like to profess my love for right now is the game's setting, Bright Falls, which could just as easily be an extremely small industrial town in Finland, as it could be the piece of mosquito shit in the state of Washington as it is made out to be (just like Twin Peaks, I might add!). The whole damn atmosphere, the forested environment, the woodwork, the architecture, even fashion, are so close to home, it's a perfect departure from any game I've ever seen. Finns will get the most out of this game, that's no surprise to begin with, though. Although Alan Wake retains some similarity to Max Payne as far as gameplay goes, the general atmosphere of the game makes me feel like the two games were done by completely different groups of people.

I was supposed to go over the rated qualities already? Well, all right; I could've talked about the story and its hundreds of horror/thriller allusions all day, but I would eventually end up spoiling the whole game. The graphics are not exactly awesome by the standards of 2010, especially the facial modelling occasionally looks really weird close up. The characters make some extremely weird faces! Also, I could ask the question: "what lip sync?" There are real video clips in this game and even they don't have proper lip sync! However, the cinematic tricks and twilight effects look fabulous, the game is all-around stylish, and like I already said, I just love the homey, clearly Finnish environment. This game gave me another good reason to be a patriot to the bone. I love my country.

The voice cast is a straight line of unknowns... who do an excellent job. Alan Wake is with all certainty the best-acted game in its primary genre. There are brief, faux moments, but there's so much dialogue in this game that a two-minute slump hurts no-one but the pickiest bastards alive. The original score was written by Petri "Lowland" Alanko, the keyboardist of a Finnish pop/rock/dance band named Hausmylly. The band is known for their catchy melodies and good drive, but it should come as no surprise that the soundtrack to Alan Wake is all about a haunting, semi-ambient atmosphere instead - which shows a side of Alanko never witnessed before.

You know why most survival horror games don't
have a lot of characters? Because if there were,
most of them would blame you for everything.
Great music; but with all due respect to Alanko, the licensed part of the soundtrack does the ultimate trick. As if Remedy's worship of one David Lynch wasn't obvious enough, there's Roy Orbison's outstanding classic "In Dreams". Not only is Roy Orbison one of Lynch's greatest musical heroes, this song became a huge hit for the second time in 1986, after being prominently included on the soundtrack of Lynch's breakthrough movie Blue Velvet. Also, "In Dreams" in the game is the 1986 version. Poets of the Fall, one of Finland's greatest bands at the moment, started their career by contributing to the soundtrack of Max Payne 2 with "Late Goodbye", a song based on a poem written by the writer of Max Payne and Alan Wake, Sami Järvi (a.k.a. Sam Lake). That one song gained such a huge following that the band ended up recording an album, and the rest is history. This incredible band "paid back their debt" to Remedy by contributing with two completely new, exclusive songs under the moniker Old Gods of Asgard, as well as the absolutely marvellous single "War", which was not written for the game but made its first appearance in it. It fits the game like a glove. It's all rounded out by Poe, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and David Bowie. It works. It all definitely works.

The game's theme is, simply put: darkness vs. light. It's not like in Kingdom Hearts where darkness rules everything. If a burglar robs your house, it's because of the darkness in people's hearts. If a car runs over an elderly woman, it's because of the darkness in people's hearts. If a game starring Bubsy the Bobcat gets a Game of the Year award, it's because of the darkness in people's hearts. No, Alan Wake is not about that, the darkness is a very concrete element that has a source and a cause I'm not willing to blurt out. Light is your saviour. Unlike in Silent Hill 2, where you needed light to see, but also got the unwanted attention of enemies by using light, in Alan Wake light is your only safe haven - it's where you cannot be touched by evil. Street lights and light generators work as checkpoints, and they also regenerate your health. Even the smallest bit of light can be essential to your success. Long-burning flares pretty much guarantee it.

Alan Wake is split into six episodes - not in any plain old way, instead it takes the form of a TV mystery. Each episode counts to the plot but has subplots of its own, ends with a cliffhanger and a different theme song. Each new episode begins with a cinematic recap of the previous one, complete with the narrative "Previously on Alan Wake". The beginning of each episode renders Alan helpless by taking away his equipment, so you have absolutely no reason to keep saving the better ammo and explosives for a rainy day. This is one of the biggest departures Alan Wake takes from the action genre, especially the field of survival horror. If you have the smallest bit of an explorer in you, you'll probably never run out of ammo, explosives and batteries completely.

Had enough of walking.
Ammo and explosives are quite standard, but batteries? Yes, Alan's most important piece of equipment is his flashlight. With this simple tool, you must "burn" the darkness off your enemies before shooting your gun at them, as the darkness shields them from all attacks. There are a few different flashlights, of which a heavy-duty lantern is quite essential against the more powerful forms of "the Taken" you'll encounter on your surreal journey. Just as your health without the help of the street lights, the batteries regenerate automatically, but you must change them to stand a chance against large numbers of Takens. Don't worry, there are batteries behind every corner, and if you're a skilled escape artist and dodger, you don't have to boost the light that much in the beginning of the game. Just pointing your flashlight at enemies does damage to their shields, and it doesn't consume batteries.

The Dark Presence does not only affect human beings, it can also possess objects and animals. Birds are common enemies (hail Hitchcock!). They attack you in large swarms and can do a lot of damage, but if you can spot the direction they're flying in from in time, all you need to do to win the pecking contest is point your flashlight at the swarm. You don't need to cap it off with bullets, the birds are so weak they simply burn in your light. The objects can be absolutely anything in the environment, from doors to tyres to barrels, to large, earthmoving vehicles. Light is enough to destroy them as well...

...But to stop a human heart from beating, you need a gun. Alan Wake is a rare game in the sense that there are no melee attacks or weapons at all - which is logical, since you want to avoid to get in physical touch with the darkness. The revolver you pretty much carry from the beginning is an excellent weapon. It doesn't do as much damage as other weapons, but it has a fast firing rate and a large capacity. There are two different shotguns; the pump-action shotgun is your best friend. It does good damage, it has a decent firing rate and a much larger capacity than its standard counterpart. The hunting rifle's some serious shite when it comes to standard weapons. The flare gun is AWESOME... but also very rare, for obvious reasons. You don't need any additional light to be able to use the flare gun on Takens, and when you shoot one flare at a small group of Takens, you'll nail all of the bastards at once in a cool, cinematic fashion. The most common of the two explosives is a handheld flare, used in mining operations. You can either put it on the ground to keep Takens away from a certain area, or walk with the burning flare in hand for some personal space. If you're more of an action man, the flashbang grenades are sure to make your day. You throw one of these babies, and watch the burning bodies fly.

Alfred, you were a bad influence.
Driving a car instead of walking is completely optional, but sometimes, very essential when there's a long, dark road ahead of you; that usually means you'll bump into a lot of Takens, and it would be easier to catch them in the headlights and run 'em over. The driving controls are - once again - not perfect. I seriously don't know what's the problem with driving sequences in games that were published by Microsoft. Well, at least you don't have to shoot at any enemies while driving, or dodge holes in the ground - the cars are simply there to make your progress faster and easier.

The time is ripe to go over the inevitable ugly spots of Alan Wake. It pains me, because I enjoyed the game so much, but I also pretty much know why the game has not garnered in as much praise as was expected, and seriously, it's not a very replayable game. Let's start with the mystery itself. Heavy Rain had a fine mystery, but its solution left me cold. However, there were so many different ways for the mystery to evolve; although the "grand" revelation stayed the same, the game was always a different experience. There are no choices to make in Alan Wake, the ending's always the same and it's simply not as good as the mystery - the chase is better than the catch, once again! Now, if you're saying the ending to Alan Wake was lame, I'll have to disagree. I liked it, but it was definitely a disappointment. So many great mysteries have gone to waste because of endings that are not up to par with the beginnings.

The little replay value that Alan Wake has comes from the many collectable items, that count for in-game stats, and of course, Achievements. Although it is cool to go out and explore to find coffee thermoses, piles of empty beer cans, hidden supply chests and all that, the game's action is set in such wide, confusing environments with such lots of random encounters with annoying Takens, that at some point, you just want to follow the game's linear tube and go for the end; screw the collectables. I took on this attitude in the second-to-last chapter and I still found 86 of the 100 thermoses without any sort of instructions. They're very easy to find. To find the missing collectables is not really enough for me to go at Alan Wake again, at least not immediately, and neither is the plot. For example, Silent Hill 2 went UP-SIDE-DOWN in the end - not only were there several different endings, but the truth behind the events put a whole new ring to the plot of the whole game. Alan Wake is surprisingly predictable. It has some very crazy twists, but the possibility of the plot turning out the way it does was with me nearly all the time. I didn't have anything near of the uncontrollable urge to start the game over with full knowledge of the plot, quite like I had after completing Silent Hill 2 for the first time.

The controls might strike you as somewhat clumsy since there are no invisible walls, which means you can suddenly stumble over any edge of a cliff, or even a makeshift wooden bridge you're crossing, to your death, at any time, if you happen to just nudge the analog stick into the wrong direction. Dodging enemies coming in from the front is quite easy, but not those coming at you from the back. Usually, the game warns you of them with a brief screen effect, for which I'm extremely grateful, but sometimes it just forgets to do so. The manual reloading needs some work, as well as performing successive dodge manouvers. Otherwise, the controls are top-class. Shooting's comfortable, and I love the unique idea of using the beam of the flashlight as your crosshair.

Mrs. Walters, I caught that streaker of yours.
The story of Alan Wake lives on beyond that one, too decisive time thanks to its wide array of Achievements that are mostly related to accomplishments in combat and progress in the storyline. Every single collectable - the radio and TV shows, the coffee thermoses, the chests, the manuscript pages that are directly related to the plot etc. have one or two Achievements linked to them. Alan Wake is an easy and linear game, so it takes some serious patience and true love for the entirety of the story to nail all of the Achievements. Just having one of these traits does not help - I love the story, but I do not have the patience to clash through the game again. As much as I loved every part of it, I know that some of those parts are bound to bore me out of my socks on the second run, partly because I already know the solution to the mystery; on the first playthrough, I didn't have the time to concentrate on looming boredom as I was piecing the story together in my mind all the time.

Alan Wake definitely fulfilled my high expectations as an experience, but I can see it's not fit for all casual players, especially those who are not really into mysteries, they're more into the game because of curiosity brought on by its long, well-promoted development, and it definitely lacks a huge deal of the lifespan that is standard to a modern video game. Like I said, it's the experience that counts - even if your interest in the game does not hold for a second playthrough, you've simply got to experience Alan Wake once. It's beautiful, and definitely original.

SOUND : 9.6


GameRankings: 83.65%

Finnish screenwriter/actor Ilkka Villi did the facial modelling for Alan. He also plays Alan in the video clips, as well as all promotional material for the game, including the logo and the music video for Poets of the Fall's "War".

Finnish actress and model Jonna Järvenpää did the facial modelling for Alice.

Writer Sam Lake and Poets of the Fall make cameo appearances in one of the TV shows. Sam is asked to "do the face again", after which he gives us the trademark look of Max Payne. Sam did the facial modelling for Max in the first game.

Alice was originally supposed to be Alan's girlfriend instead of his wife. The change was announced at the E3 conference in 2009. When asked why the change was made, the developers answered "The game has already been in development for five years. Alan and Alice have had plenty of time to tie the knot."

Agent Robert Nightingale was originally supposed to be a playable character to offer a different perspective in the style of Resident Evil.

The titles of Alan's novels are based on chapter names in Max Payne and Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne.

"Night Springs" is namely the opposite of "Bright Falls". According to Sheriff Breaker, the residents of Bright Falls firmly believe that Night Springs was based on Bright Falls.

A Death Rally poster can be seen in the game. Death Rally was Remedy Entertainment's first game.

Some brief, excellent news

This month is taking a more spectacular form every day. After two years and eight months of unemployment, I've finally nailed a job! After about a hundred job interviews, I went into one expecting nothing the other day. They said they'd call back in "three weeks", but they called back in two days instead, and said I made quite an impression just by being myself. Not only will I finally get to do some work that pays off, I'll also finally be doing a job that I have education for! Yes, I do feel awesome!

So the question remains: what will happen to the blog? The answer is: absolutely nothing. It's business as usual. Of course, starting from the first week of August, I will naturally cut back on the reviews, but I don't think it'll be by such a lot. After all, I've been on the road a lot lately, sometimes for days, but still managed to keep up a relatively tight pace. I just wanted to share my joy with you guys.

There's a big review coming up, perhaps even in just a few hours. Stay tuned.

torstai 7. heinäkuuta 2011

REVIEW - Dead Space 2 (2011)

GENRE(S): Action / Survival horror
RELEASED: January 2011
DEVELOPER(S): Visceral Games
PUBLISHER(S): Electronic Arts

Alongside Resident Evil and Silent Hill 2, Dead Space is one of the most important individual games of the survival horror genre. A year after its release, EA announced the sequel and many skeptics voiced their opinion on the game long before even finding out what it was about. How can one blame them? Dead Space was loved for its horror elements and suffocating atmosphere, and we've all seen what's happened to the two biggest franchises in survival horror as of late - they're survival games, but hardly horror. Many believed that in this golden age of the action game, Dead Space would take a turn to be an "all-out action game with some monsters" instead of another bone-chilling walk in the terror zone. Well, I'm glad to say they were wrong - for the most part. Dead Space was freaky, but imagine that game in an urban environment, with kindergartens and churches, babies turned into Necromorphs, and pitch-black hallways in which your only solace is your flashlight. I know what it sounds like - and you know what it sounds like. I don't mind, I don't mind it one bit. Is Dead Space 2 as much of a masterpiece as a game as its most obvious influence? No. In Dead Space 2, most mistakes that were made with Dead Space are not repeated; with Dead Space 2, new ones are made to prevent it from reaching the absolute top.

Silent Hill 2511... almost

Gunner Wright : Isaac Clarke
Tanya Clarke : Nicole Brennan
Sonita Henry : Ellie Langford
Curt Cornelius : Nolan Stross
Lester Purry : Hans Tiedemann
Tahyna Tozzi : Daina Le Guin
Rick Cramer : Foster Edgars
Leila Birch : The Sprawl Computer
Matt Kaminsky : Kaleb / Hedrick / Microstore Computer

Isaac Clarke is alive, but insane, and treated in a hospital in the metropolis of The Sprawl. He has absolutely no memory of the three years he's spent there, but he remembers everything that happened on Ishimura, the Marker and what happened to his girlfriend Nicole. An outbreak of Necromorphs in the hospital and across The Sprawl makes Isaac come to his senses from his catatonic state and make a run for it. Isaac desperately tries to escape The Sprawl with the help of a few other survivors including a fellow patient, and at the same time, deal with the ghosts of the past playing with his demented mind.

First, let me briefly recap this one more time. Three years ago, on Christmas, I gave my sister a choice: LittleBigPlanet or Dead Space. I got LittleBigPlanet. In January 2011, I had two choices: LittleBigPlanet 2 or Dead Space 2. What a coincidence, huh? Well, as all of you most dedicated readers know, I ended up with LittleBigPlanet 2, but I swore to get Dead Space 2 as soon as possible. Bills and debts took good care that I couldn't do that. Then I got the 360, many games for it, then another friend came along and gladly borrowed me half of his game library, a half that also included Dead Space 2. I felt conflicted. I definitely wanted to play it, but on the PS3. Then I thought: what's the difference? I've got to play that game! I slapped the game in, took a deep breath, and not a moment's regret slipped into my mind from that point forward. I couldn't stop playing before reaching Chapter 7. I didn't even realize I'd played that long during one session. Dead Space 2 was such a captivating, but also deeply disturbing game for over a half of it. Visceral Games went to incredible lengths to make this game even scarier than the first one - it looks similar on the surface, but believe me, Dead Space 2 is very different from the last game. It's also even more frustrating. Based on the first eight or nine chapters, I was ready to nominate the game as the best survival horror game in history. Really. Then it just threw a plasma uppercut 'cross my face. A few of them, actually, which eventually forced me to start the game over when I had almost finished it. No game has done this to me in years.

Praise be to the writers of this game. I'm still waiting for a good explanation for Isaac's silence in the first game. "Making the game more personal by shutting Isaac up" is definitely not it. I am extremely glad that they finally gave him a voice, which improves his character almost by 100%. Not only is it good for him to have a voice, Gunner Wright also does a job that earns him a nomination for the voice actor of the year in my opinion. At first, I was a bit disappointed that they didn't exploit Isaac's insanity by making him sound like a nutcase throughout the game, but then again, he speaks so much (to cover for Dead Space, I guess), even to himself, that he would probably get on your nerves sooner or later if his voice was constantly cracking and twitching. There was some cursing in Dead Space, in Dead Space 2 "fuck" is common language. It's the modern way out, like it or hate it. I definitely like it, 'cause that's just the way people talk. Especially people that have hundreds, if not thousands of hideous creatures hungry for their flesh on their backs. I love Isaac's "DIE, MOTHERFUCKER!" screams when he's stomping grounded enemies. He doesn't need to talk all crazy to demonstrate the state of his mind - you'll see it. In his character, and definitely in his several hallucinations.

Baby turned real ugly.
Necromorphs are truly not the only danger out there. The danger is with Isaac all the time - so you've cleaned the area, nothing to worry about? How about a vision of your dead girlfriend trying to kill you, behind the next corner? After button-mashing your way out of that situation, you'll see it was actually Isaac trying to kill himself. If you played the demo, you surely remember the huge freezer in the research lab, with all those corpses in the tubes that suddenly started screaming to Isaac. Even without the Necromorphs or Isaac's extremely sudden thoughts of suicide, the atmosphere of Dead Space 2 is so God damn thick I think Vatra Games (the Czech developer making Silent Hill: Downpour) should really take some notes. There are scenes in this game that literally take your breath away. Remember in the first game, when you made your way to Kyne's lab, and in the lobby, a haunting voice suddenly started singing "Ring Around the Rosie" on an endless loop? Did you think what I did; that perhaps that song choice was a little too obvious? After all, it is the creepiest song in the world. Well... imagine a suddenly illuminated corpse whispering an off-key version of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" to your face in otherwise perfect darkness, attacking you, and then just vanishing. I never realized how creepy that song is.

The supporting characters are so much better than the bunch of annoying assholes in the first game. Nicole has a different actress, and her face is also remodelled. She speaks a whole lot more in this game, or to be more precise, her apparition does - she's only a fragment of Isaac's confused mind, which is perfectly clear to us from the beginning, so it's not a spoiler. Besides, if you finished the first game, you know what happened to her. The character of Nolan Stross is exactly what I thought Isaac's character would be based on the demo, a long-time resident of the funny farm. His continuing presence proves that if they had made Isaac completely batshit crazy, his character wouldn't work; Stross does. You never know what that guy comes up with next. The two major female characters (besides Nicole) inevitably remind me of Kendra, especially when they start messaging you every five passing minutes, but they're not nearly as annoying as... eehhhh... Kendra. The worst lines in the bunch - and their delivery - belong to the apparent main antagonist Tiedemann. The actor's not getting into it as the others are. 

Dead Space 2 follows the graphical guideline of the previous game; not polished to the final edge, but very detailed, stylish and God-damn-bloody. The death animations are back, better than ever, but to be honest, there were some very frustrating cases in the game when I actually yelled at the game to stop juicing it up - if I have to die, kill me already!!! Even when a Necromorph's on the receiving end, the animations take up valuable time you don't have to spare. Even though there are some real cutscenes this time - seamlessly tied into the game - you still can't skip them, death animations included, and I guarantee you: you're going to see more of those than cutscenes. The game is full of lethal surprises, I'll get to them soon enough. The style of the game brings Dead Space 2 even closer to Silent Hill than the first game was; the first chapter out of 15 is PURE Silent Hill, from the beginning to the end. A detailed explanation as to why would give a little too much away, but you'll see it once you play the game - you WILL play the game. The first nine chapters, at the very least, bring Silent Hill to mind on numerous occasions, since the Sprawl is more or less a futuristic town, with "usual" urban environments. Of course, there are also two very common threads between the towns in Silent Hill and Dead Space 2: someone has not paid the electric bill, and even the kindergartens are overrun by spooks. Then, we have Isaac's hallucinations. Of course many Silent Hill protagonists have suffered from them as well, but in Dead Space 2, it is clearly stated that they are hallucinations caused by Isaac's contact with the Marker, and nothing more. Be that as it may, they still do a pretty good job of mindfucking you to half-death.

And then we get to the sound. If you can't get hold of Akira Yamaoka, Jason Graves is the guy you want to make the soundtrack for your survival horror game. Just like in the first game, there really isn't any notable, prominent music. Music does play in the background from time to time, but usually very quietly, which is excellent since in this game, your ears can save you just as surely as your eyes, mainly thanks to the introduction of a whole new enemy called the Stalker - an ultra-fast runner who literally stalks you behind dark corners. If you're in a large room with a lot of large containers or columns, you can be 99% certain that there's a group of Stalkers waiting to ambush you and rip off that precious head of yours. Anyway, the sound effects take the lion's share just like last time; there aren't really random noises, this time most noises are accompanied by something concrete. For a quick example, if you hear the sound of running water break, there's usually a source for it nearby, it doesn't just blow out of the blue. It's still creepy.

Back in gear.
Compared to the first game, Dead Space 2 has superb voice acting. I touched the subject a few times already, so I'll keep it brief. Gunner Wright is indeed very devoted to the moment, and his character. A few friends preferred Isaac when he was completely silent, they felt the game was much more immersive and Isaac's silence made you feel you were part of the game, and I don't understand that at all; Isaac gains so much as a character from having a voice that I can't even start to explain it. Especially when the actor knows what he's doing. All of the guys and gals on board are unknowns, perhaps once again hired for their faces rather than talents, but nearly all of them do a much better job than the cast of the first game. The dialogue has much authenticity on paper, and dedication from the actors' side. Well done. Dead Space 2 is one of the best-acted survival horror games in history, perhaps second only to Alan Wake.

On to the good stuff? No, actually this time around I'll do it differently. Everyone who's reading this review with even a hint of enthusiasm knows the basics of Dead Space, and while I do concur that some of the core elements have improved a lot, the basics really haven't changed that much. So, first I thought I'd go over the ugliest parts of the game, many people will want to know them first, because the first game was very frustrating at times on the first playthrough. So is Dead Space 2. First off, there's a lot, I mean shitloads upon shitloads of Necromorph activity in this game. The first game was really scary, but my friend said he didn't perceive the game as too scary because it was too action-packed; towards the end, the game lacked the element of surprise. I disagree completely. Just because it was an action-packed game didn't mean it wasn't scary. Dead Space 2 has a lot more fighting in it, and especially near the end it does lack the element of surprise when it comes to Necromorphs, a lot of the real horror comes from somewhere else than the monsters on your ass throughout. The monsters are literally on your ass; they jump at you from the back, in almost every single fight that has more than two Necromorphs. At first, it freaks you out just like it should, but when it starts repeating in every fight, it's nothing more than enfuriating. I must admit that in the end, there are way too many tough enemies from every possible perspective, in comparison to the available ammo and health.

Second, this game has many varieties of enemies that will simply drive you insane... with their attacks, yes, but also their small size. Small buffs are way more annoying and sometimes even more dangerous than big, bulky creatures such as Brutes. There are these Necromorph children, spiders, those Lurkers and Divider Spawn that were there to annoy you in the first game... a lot of them. Yes, they also jump or shoot at you from the back. Being so small and fast, they're hard to hit and you're going to waste a lot of good ammo on them. They are able to do a surprising number on your health, so you're going to waste health packs because of them as well. Check two more, real essential nuisances.

The thing that absolutely grinded my gears from the beginning of the game all the way to the fifth or sixth chapter, is that the button mapping's changed. Not for the better, not for the worse, just changed to fuck with players who've grown used to the Dead Space mapping. Most of the actions in the game have been changed to the next button. For example, in the first game, L1/LB was used for aiming, and R2/RT was used for running. In this game, it's the other way around. Similarly, R2/RT is used for shooting and delivering haymakers, while R1/RB is the stomp button. Why the change, seriously? There's no real explanation to it - in my opinion, it's not any more or less comfortable, and for a long-time (and recent) player of Dead Space, it feels impossible to learn at first. The functions of the action buttons have changed in the same, inexplicable way, but I'll let you make your own judgement.

Kids these days!
It should come as no surprise to the travelers of Dead Space: the quality of the checkpoints varies in all the wrong places. Let's paint a picture, here; you're playing at a volume that prevents you from hearing low-pitched sounds. The way to spot a Cyst (a Necromorph "geyser", very fatal) on the wall, floor or ceiling is to keep your ears open for the noise they make. I have one tick of health left on my RIG, I have just survived the worst Necromorph onslaught ever; I never want to do it again. I know there's health and ammo waiting for me behind that door on the other side of the room. Well, as I reach the door, I suddenly explode into pieces. There was a Cyst on the ceiling, just above that door. Well, no matter, that previous fight was so climactic that the game can't possibly force me to do it again. YES, IT CAN. And it will. As I have said before, fighting a truckload of enemies all over again is not bad. Waiting around is. My friend said "waiting's for suspense, it's a horror game". What suspense, if you're already simply waiting around for the same God damn sequence to begin for the 20th time in a row? You know exactly what's going to happen, and you know exactly how to start off, it's the reloading of Isaac's weapons and enemies that suddenly begin to absorb every single bullet from your every single gun that are the problems.

I can't really say which game is more generous with the fabled Power Nodes, but I can safely say that upgrading your weapons and equipment to top shape needs a HELL of a lot more of them. It's actually pretty damn sick. Fine logic tells you to upgrade your RIG and Stasis Module to the hilt from the beginning of the game, ignoring the weapons for the time being. You pretty much must do it, but that does not work the way you'd expect it to. If you choose not to upgrade your weapons, you're going to be in serious trouble once you make it near the halfway mark. You have to be very careful with the use of credits, too. I reckon you cannot beat this game if you buy every single weapon on the first playthrough. You NEED those credits to purchase ammo and health instead, just to survive. How do you know which weapons are decent? You just have to try 'em out! Things like this left me no choice but to start the game over in Chapter 13, it was a total stalemate. It's like my first "playthrough" was a test run, on the second time I knew what I was doing... but is it any surprise that my enthusiasm towards the game had somewhat decreased?

To not beat around the bush any longer, I'll tell you what happened. Once again, I was taken by five to six surprises (to the back!) on my way, and ended up with zero ammo, near-zero health. There was this room in which my objective was to figure out the pattern and speed of a rotating laser that spun around the room, and take every opportune gap to make it to the next room, until I could ascend upstairs and stop the laser, then continue on. Well, I did, and was greeted by the worst swarm of Necromorphs, ever. Standing in the doorway to dodge their slashes, punches and whatever did not help; bullets I shot at them from the other side of the door had no effect whatsoever, and these few bullets were the only ones I had. I tried to break away through the mass, it didn't work. Well, there was a save point next to the door, so I figured: hey, I'll play a bastard with 'em, lure them right to the door, blast them to oblivion, loot them until I get my fill, and then save. Well, I didn't get my fill, but I got an amount of stuff that could've helped me, especially since I had cut their numbers in half. Then I saved the game. Guess what happened. Yep, the whole bunch respawned. Change of strategy; I remember there was a store not too far back. I have a decent amount of credits, so I'll backtrack my way to it and spend all of my currency to stock up on ammo and health, it's the most reasonable thing to do right now. I go back to the room with the laser, and guess what now? I can't move the laser. I CANNOT return to the store. The game might as well say "fuck you" to my face. It's a stalemate. Either I rely on the myth of the miracle and spend the next 12 hours trying to get through that one room, or start the game over. It's my "choice". Chapter 13. Nearly ten hours into the game. My face was not fit for the young ones to see. There's a fine line between being difficult and being downright unfair. To be a little more optimistic about it - although I personally find it hard - it's great that in these golden times of audiovisual masterpieces with stale gameplay and effortless levels of difficulty, someone has the balls to do a video game that is so difficult, that it requires complete concentration.

I think I've went over the worst parts of the game, so now it's time to bring out the (extremely) good parts, as well as some new ideas. Dead Space didn't really have a traditional introduction or tutorial sequence, it pretty much cut straight to the chase. It took you something like five minutes to get into the action, that's when you found your first weapon. In Dead Space 2, it takes a little bit longer and the first chapter notably differs from all the rest, it can't be referenced when we start hacking the gameplay to pieces. When the chapter reaches its end, it's all classic Dead Space from there on out, complete with dialogue instead of monologues. This time, the game is one solid tube run - which means you don't have to backtrack your way to a tram and use it to travel to your next destination to start a new chapter. You simply go forward, backwards and sideways, and the game informs you when a new chapter begins. No breaks for Isaac.

Well, at least the kids stay down after getting
Stasis and Kinesis are used less often to fix things. Stasis is absolutely essential in combat since there are enemies whose absolute forte is speed, and this time, using Kinesis is a semi-fine way to conserve ammo; you can pick up claws ripped off enemies and hurl them back at them, to stab them to the wall. Instead, Isaac's natural skills as an engineer are utilized in a hacking/re-wiring minigame that kind of resembles the code decryption sequences in Batman: Arkham Asylum. Speaking of minigames, they left the retarded basketball game out and everything like it - props to Visceral. I kind of miss the shooting gallery, though. There are not any real minigames, or those "may luck be with you" space shooters. It's just Isaac on foot, dealing with all sorts of shit, all the way.

All of the weapons from the previous game are carried over, and there are three new ones. I have to comment the already familiar weapons first; the Ripper, my favourite weapon from the first game, is nearly useless on low levels. Isaac's very basic Plasma Cutter is also surprisingly weak, especially against those hard-shelled enemies which become standard towards the game's end. The game forces you to resort to indirect attacks from time to time, and besides the Line Gun mines, the new weapons are the way to go: the Seeker Rifle, the Detonator and the Javelin. The Seeker Rifle is, simply put, a sniper rifle, which doesn't have that much use since most enemies show up once you're close to their spawning area. The Detonator makes some dastardly damage, even on low levels. You can shoot its proximity mines straight at enemies, or lay traps for them. It should come as no surprise that ammo for it is relatively scarce. With its alternate attack mode, you can disable and pick up any active mines that you have laid down, to save them for later use. Finally, I'm sure the Javelin has many fans as one well-placed shot on a low-level Necromorph can hurl the bastard all the way across the longest hallway and stab him to the wall, just like any Kinesis claw shot.

I think I've pretty much said everything there is to say! ...Except a word about the whole new zero gravity engine. No longer will you be jumping from point A to point B, you can "fly" freely by using the thrusters on Isaac's boots. Way more comfortable than jumping around the floors, walls and ceilings, but the zero gravity puzzles are a bit more confusing because of this freedom - sometimes, you will have a hard time simply figuring out your actual goal, and the waypoints are quite hard to spot in open space. There are also a few free-flying sequences, in which you must dodge obstacles coming at you while making your way to another part of the Sprawl - quite like Kratos' flying sequences in God of War III, not nearly as frustrating, though. There are also some very surprising, freaky sequences and stipulations which usually require you to shoot at enemies from a less comfortable position, or mash the A button for your life. Dead Space 2 might not be perfect, but it's far from boring. It can't be accused for lacking tension, that's for sure, in better and worse.

Dead Space 2 is most definitely one of the hardest games I've played in years - for right reasons, but an equal amount of wrong reasons. A video game of this generation cannot end in an unwinnable state, especially not this suddenly, on the final lines to cross. The big rulebook of video games says: "always go prepared", but you simply cannot be prepared for everything this game throws at you in the end. It's pure massacre. It's almost like you need to know from the very beginning what to and what not to buy. It's advisable to make at least two save files, because there really are moments that will give you the assrape of a lifetime and there's simply nothing you can do about it, except for starting the game over! "Better luck next time" and all that. Well,  finally getting to the end credits is rewarding and most of the Trophies/Achievements are perfectly possible to get on the first playthrough. To my very nice surprise, there are no Achievements exclusive to the whole new multiplayer mode. If you disagree with me about the game being overtly difficult, feel free to try out the Hardcore setting. In this mode, ammo and health are extremely rare, there are no checkpoints and you can save the game for a total of three times. There's challenge for you, and a big Achievement waiting for you if you can finish this near-impossible task.

Because of my fear of needles, this has got to
be the most disturbing scene in the game.
Dead Space felt better on the second round because you could transfer all of your equipment over to the new file - in other words, the second round was as difficult as an average, modern video game, and it was comfortable to play. Dead Space 2 follows the same rule; the second round is better. So, it's a game with lifespan I'm very grateful for. But, is it better than its predecessor? Not really, nor is it any worse. The audiovisuals and storytelling are worked a lot better, the Silent Hill atmosphere of the first few chapters works like a charm, but in the end, the enemies just shower down on you - there's no end to them. At some point the fun stops, and you're no longer scared, you're no longer tense, you're just plainly pissed off. It seems like the game's determined to make you waste your health and ammo in some way or another. They could've at least tried to keep the initial atmosphere intact from the beginning to the end. The game begins as an incredibly strong, captivating, true survival horror experience, but ends as a half-brained shooter you'd just wish to come to an end. I hope Dead Space 3 - if it's ever made - finally brings balance to the franchise. 

SOUND : 9.3


GameRankings: 86.47% (PC), 89.87% (PS3), 89.71% (X360)

Unlike in the first game, you can use the Flamethrower even inside a vacuum, which is impossible in reality.

maanantai 4. heinäkuuta 2011

Birthday Blowout

Man, I wish this was mine! Couldn't bear to eat
it, though.
I have reached Level 27. All of my attributes have weakened with the exception of my Charisma, which gains +10. I tried to come up with some special rant or pseudo-review for my birthday, but I couldn't come up with anything, so this is a standard rant among others. No presents, no real celebration, just laundry, dishes, a couple of beers and perhaps some better food than usual.

A review of Dead Space 2 was already on its way yesterday, but it just so happens that I had to start the game from scratch upon reaching Chapter 14 (out of 15). I messed up so bad that there really was no option. I guess I have only myself to blame for it, as much as it would please me mentally to berate the game - after all, the game is fabulous, I had just forgotten how to manage a survival horror game on the first playthrough. I will deliver the review A.S.A.P., because I'm dying to get to the next game on my agenda and the many additional hurries I have in July are lurking behind a very slim corner. I've already re-cleared seven chapters of the game in record time, so the review will be out this week.

Let's see if I'll come up with something a bit more concrete for the blog's birthday on August 8th. Have a nice week!