Month: October 2013

The Left 4 Dead Duology

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Slash, shoot and demolish your way through hordes of infected.

PC Release: November 18, 2008 (Left 4 Dead)

                        November 17, 2009 (Left 4 Dead 2)

By Ian Coppock

Let us pray:

“Lord, provider of all that is good and holy. Deliver us from shoddy sequels, blatant ripoffs and horror that shoots itself in both feet. Deliver unto us a much-needed bounty of good gamedom. Amen.”

Oh holy crap, two kickass zombie games! YEAH! Prayer answered!

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Before I get started, I want to reassure you that this multiple-games-in-a-review thing isn’t going to be regular. Gears of War happened to be three clones of one concept. Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 are basically two separate map and character packs for the same general game.

Both games take place concurrently and in a 28 Days Later-style zombie apocalypse. As in that movie, the world is flooded with a strange virus that turns the infected into sprinting, screaming maniacs. Not technically zombies, but still unsettling and creepy as hell.

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Fun fact: this is an in-game screenshot. You poop your pants? Me too.

Each game features a team of four immune survivors. Left 4 Dead‘s lineup comprises a gruff Vietnam vet, a witty college student, a fitness-obsessed salesman, and an even gruffer biker.

The second game’s crew are a shifty con man, a dry TV producer, a food-obsessed football coach, and an eager, naive mechanic. You may have guessed that these four characters are meant for four players, and if so, you get a prize. If you’re like me and prefer to play games alone, don’t worry. Your AI buddies are competent and this game is just as much fun played solo.

(from left to right) Bill, Zoey, Lous and Francis (top) are the first game's crew of badasses. Nick, Rochelle, Coach and Ellis (bottom) are the protagonists of the second game.

(from left to right)
Bill, Zoey, Lous and Francis (top) are the first game’s crew of badasses. Nick, Rochelle, Coach and Ellis (bottom) are the protagonists of the second game.

Both teams decide to journey to the Florida Keys, an area rumored to be infection-free. Whether you team up with friends or go it alone with computer players, it’s up to you to make it to safety, all the while killing hundreds of sprinting freaks.

The first game’s journey begins in Pittsburgh, and the second in Savannah. Each game features 4-6 campaigns set in various locales along the road, including derelict hospitals, abandoned circuses, a spooky coal mine, and other areas. Your goal is to get to the safehouse at the end of each chapter.

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The games’ environments are unsettling but beautifully designed.

Right off the bat, the Left 4 Dead games don’t have a true narrative. The emphasis is shooting fun, though this isn’t to say there’s no story. Valve, the producer of these games, has always been more about showing, not telling. If you look around and listen to your characters’ offhand remarks, you can infer much about the Left 4 Dead universe.

Newspaper clippings rather than cutscenes, for example, reveal info about the infection. The state of the world is shown through manic wall drawings rather than neat text boxes. Your characters’ remarks to themselves and to each other tell their personality and backstory.

This is where the story bits are.

This is where the story bits are.

In this way, I became attached to Left 4 Dead‘s characters and world even though there wasn’t a binding narrative in the middle of it all. The first game’s Louis became my favorite character because of his obsession with fitness, even in the midst of apocalypse, while Ellis’ eager determination to find a tattoo artist in Left 4 Dead 2 was similarly endearing.

These remarks build atop each other as the games progress. They construct the characters’ views of one another in a very minimalist fashion, which works well when your chief concern is surviving hordes of mutants.

Left 4 Dead's characters interact only in offhand remarks. It's your job to infer their story and personality from these remarks, and it works well.

Left 4 Dead’s characters interact only in offhand remarks. It’s your job to infer their story and personality from these statements, and it works well.

 So, what is this? Do these quirky, endearing characters exist in a storyless void? Not quite, there’s still the gameplay. The Left 4 Dead games are both first-person shooters. The first game features a basic arsenal of pistols, rifles and shotguns that receives a modest upgrade in the second game. Left 4 Dead 2 also adds melee weapons, including katanas and chainsaws. There is no game that a katana cannot make better.

The gameplay in Left 4 Dead is quite intense. You can expect to kill anywhere from 100-300 infected in a single 15-minute chapter. Most infected die with only a shot or two, so the games are not as challenging as they may sound. Mowing down hordes of zombies actually does wonders for the self-esteem. Both games also feature Special Infected, which are a lot harder to kill than normal zombies and have formidable abilities.

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The Special Infected have unique powers and are a lot harder to take down. Perhaps the most infamous is the Tank, pictured center, who redefines “Bullet Sponge”. The Special Infected have unique powers and are a lot harder to take down. Perhaps the most infamous is the Tank, who redefines “bullet sponge”.

Left 4 Dead‘s pacing is dictated by a special AI system called the Director, which unleashes or holds back zombies depending on how you’re doing. The Director makes these games’ pacing deliciously unpredictable.

No two playthroughs of one chapter will be the same. Most areas will have at least a few infected, but these games will make you a horde target if you have topped off health and ammo. I’ll never forget one time when I was strolling confidently through an apartment, only to have literally 100 or so zombies spill like a flood through the ceiling. So yeah. Get ready to shoot.

THIS IS WHAT I GET FOR 100% HEALTH???

THIS IS WHAT I GET FOR 100% HEALTH???

Since these are Valve games, the level design in both Left 4 Dead games is superb. The game subtly points out the way forward with flickering lights or a row of broken cars, making the pathing feel very organic.

The first game did feature a slight overabundance of tight corridors, but the second game fixed this problem by including more open areas. Most of the games’ chapters are not linear. One is basically a giant circle. The environments are designed well enough to make you feel like you‘re choosing the path ahead. It’s quite immersive.

The level design in these games is awesome, and oftentimes elaborate.

The level design in these games is awesome, and oftentimes elaborate.

The game’s atmosphere is oppressive, and not just because of the chomping freaks. The sound design alternatives between complete silence and morose, brooding bass. Special music will kick in for horde attacks, although this carries the unintended effect of tipping you off and reducing the tension. The voice acting is fantastic and convincing all around, and the visuals, while a bit murky in the first game, are much bolder in the second.

Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 are both solid, endearing zombie shooters with fun gameplay, quirky characters and high-end level design. To miss out on either of these games, especially if you’re a zombie apocalypse fan, is a no-no. The first game presents a suite of great gaming that is tweaked and modestly improved upon in the second. With rumors abounding that Left 4 Dead 3 is in production, I know I’m excited for the future of this great series. Special thanks to my friends Sam Hall and Bret Foster for introducing me to Left 4 Dead.

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You can buy Left 4 Dead here and Left 4 Dead 2 here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

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Assassin’s Creed III

III

Safeguard the New World and fight in the American Revolution.

PC Release: November 20, 2012

By Ian Coppock

Nothing kicks a gaming schedule in the balls like good ol’ unemployment. You’re no doubt wondering what lateness excuse I’m going to pull out this week, and I plead joblessness. While I’m not in imminent danger of homelessness, this is a rather turbulent time, and it’s been keeping me away from regular contributions longer than I’d like. But, two good things have happened in the time since posting my review of Dead Space 3. One: I’ve decided to make a format change by combining the story and artwork sections (for the two are intermingled and to imply otherwise is to be confusing). Two: I can now stomach another Assassin’s Creed game, so LET’S DO THIS!!!!

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Reviewing the Assassin’s Creed series has been akin to reviewing the stages of digestion; it started out warm and yummy with the first Assassin’s Creed but ended up a nausiating pile of poo with Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. Making this analogy more disorienting is the fact that Assassin’s Creed III is actually a vast improvement over Brotherhood and Revelations, so now digestion is happening in… reverse? Screw it.

Anyway, Assassin’s Creed III, like its predecessors, is split between two storylines. The main story occurs in the modern day and follows Desmond Miles, an assassin who’s out to stop the Templars (think USSR Psych Warfare department) from reducing every human on earth to a mindless slave. This approach will end wars, stop conflict and leave the world generally more peaceful, in the same way that chopping off a limb means that you won’t feel pain when you stub your toe.

Desmond returns with buddies new and old to complete his world-saving journey.

Desmond (far left) returns with buddies new and old to complete his world-saving journey.

To master the skills and find the tools needed to pull this mighty task off, Desmond has had to explore the memories of past assassins using a simulator called the Animus. He ducks into the device once more to explore new memories, this time following an 18th-century Mohawk assassin named Ratonhnhaké:ton.

Thankfully, this guy also goes by the nickname “Connor”.

Connor is a Native American assassin and the other protagonist of Assassin's Creed III.

Connor is a Native American assassin and the other protagonist of Assassin’s Creed III.

Before getting into Connor’s story, I’m going to go ahead and get Desmond’s out of the way. I haven’t touched on the modern-day part of the Assassin’s Creed series very much, because it’s incredibly insubstantial. Desmond’s journey is basically just running from safehouse to safehouse, exploring another batch of memories. When the Templars come knocking, he and his pals steal into the night ’til the next AC game. Desmond himself is also a very one-dimensional character. Voice actor Nolan North has a real knack for doing reluctant protagonists, but that’s about the only quality this character exudes. I was far more entranced with his pals, a tomboyish engineer and a snarky historian.

The modern-day component of AC III does add some action for Desmond. He embarks on his own missions ’round the world, but these are short and disjointing. I will say this for Desmond’s story; Templar agent Daniel Cross crosses over from the AC books and comics and becomes a major antagonist in this game. Game universe media crossovers are usually done well, and this one is great until, again, the ending. Ug.

Desmond gets his own missions, but the main-day story is anything but compelling.

Desmond gets his own missions, but the modern-day story is anything but compelling. This, despite the end of his story arc and the appearance of a major character from the AC comics.

Connor, meanwhile, has a much more substantial tale. After his Mohawk village is burned to the ground by English settlers, Connor opts not for revenge, but for justice.

His wanderings land him a spot in the Assassin Order, which has crossed over from Europe and is now facing off against the American branch of Templars. This conflict simmers behind the scenes of the American Revolution.

The series' brazen new setting in North America is awesome.

The series’ brazen new setting in North America is engrossing.

The Templars, out to seize telepathic control of the entire world, have inserted themselves into either side of the conflict. It’s up to Connor to root them out and preserve freedom in the U.S. MURICA!!!

As a character, Connor is the antithesis of his brash, womanizing predecessor, Ezio Auditore. He is quiet, fiercely humble, and wants to make life better for everyone, not just his people. Unfortunately, though the game does a little bit with a Native American exploring European culture, Connor is just not that interesting. When he’s not overly quiet, he’s melodramatic. And of course, just like all Native Americans in all American media, he’s fighting to save his people. That trope has NEVER been done before, right?

Like Ezio's story, Connor's tale in AC III is as much about growing up as killing bad people.

Like Ezio’s story, though, Connor’s tale in AC III is as much about growing up as killing people.

The game presents an interesting and quirky cast of supporting characters, but I have to point out a lie from Ubisoft. The company claims that this is not a RAH RAH MURICA story. Bullshit.

All but one or two of the game’s American characters are fearless and upstanding, while all the Brits are sniveling, plotting, devious Wall Street types. The game starts out well enough as a noble assault against the Templars, but by the end of the game it’s basically “what if the Revolutionaries had had Native American ninjas?”

Don't be fooled. This game is compelling, but much of that energy is borrowed from the tale of the Revolution.

Don’t be fooled. This game is compelling, but much of that energy is borrowed from the tale of the Revolution rather than of its own invention.

The gameplay makes killing people from above funner than ever, with new tools and weapons for doing so. Connor even gets his own ship, and can attack Templar and British vessels with it.

The funnest part of this game is the battles. You’ll get to fight directly or secretly in stunning renditions of major battles from the war, including Bunker Hill, New York and Monmouth.

You can pilot and command a massive warship on the high seas. Connor can also use his ship to visit distant locales, like South America and Canada.

You can command a warship on the high seas. Connor can also use his ship to visit distant locales, like South America and Canada.

While the gameplay is fun and pretty straightforward, the menus in this game are anything but. Your weapons are hidden in a bewildering anthology of menu screens that even 30 hours of playtime couldn’t get me adjusted to. Your database, modern-day menu and other features are also crammed here. The poorest system by far is contained within the merchant feature, a fun-sounding mechanic that is grueling in practice. Connor can have artisans build and export stuff from his hometown, but the menus allowing you to do so are counter-intuitive and confusing. When boredom isn’t even allowed a chance to turn you away from a game mechanic, you know something’s up.

Additionally, Connor can complete missions around his little town. These missions explore the lives of people you invite to live and work there. While fun, they have nothing to do with the larger story, to the point where it feels like two separate games: Assassin’s Creed III and Homestead Tycoon.

Don't worry. Even if this menu was in English, it wouldn't make sense.

Don’t worry. Even if this menu was in English, it wouldn’t make sense.

But, overall, I was satisfied with Connor’s side of Assassin’s Creed III. Ubisoft finally took a hint and replaced useless side missions with an actual story as the focus of an AC game, which we haven’t seen in a while. There were still way too many side quests, but the story is fulfilling and no doubt takes center stage.

The artwork in this game is gorgeous. I was less impressed with colonial America than the sweeping majesty of Renaissance Italy, but I’ll still give Boston and New York “must-see” passes. Both cities are separated by a huge wilderness that Connor can explore and plunder. It’s quite expansive, so you won’t run out of things to do during or after the main story. I think Ubisoft wanted to go more for the power of nature in this game, and I can respect that.

Glorious.

Eh…

Assassin’s Creed III squanders additional opportunities to make Connor an interesting character. The Tyranny of King Washington, a DLC set in a reality where George Washington goes mad with power, sees Connor lead a rebellion against a fledgling American empire. Somehow, Connor is the only one who has no amnesia in this reality, but he’s still the most boring person on the planet. The final chapter of the DLC gets interesting with a siege on Washington’s New York palace, but brings us no closer to understanding Connor and makes the whole production feel gratuitous. Give it a miss.

Overall, Assassin’s Creed III ends Desmond’s saga on a pretty mediocre note. We have one of the most boring protagonists of recent times, fighting for one of the most rote tropes in our media. It doesn’t help that this game’s PC port is not all that great, with frame rate inconsistencies and bugged quests. If you’ve played all of the Assassin’s Creed games up to this point, go ahead and finish the series. But that recommendation comes from “you might as well”, rather than “this game is exciting”.

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You can buy Assassin’s Creed III here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Dead Space 3

D

End the Necromorph threat once and for all.

PC Release: February 5, 2013

By Ian Coppock

I am about to say some pretty harsh things about a video game. I want everyone to understand that I don’t enjoy writing scathing reviews of video games. I honestly don’t get some sort of sadistic high from annihilating a piece of artwork that I paid money for. The vigor with which I write negative reviews stems not from homicidal glee, but the rage that comes from knowing a game could have been better. Dead Space 3 is such a game, but its downfall is due to a complicated variety of factors that are affecting the entire gaming world, not just this series.

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Just to recap real quick: spaceship engineer Isaac Clarke has survived two rounds of combat with corpses that have been reanimated and recombined into salivating undead monstrosities. First, it was on a giant mining ship. Then, an even bigger space station. Now, Isaac thinks he can end the Necromorph threat forever, this time on an icy planet far from civilization. Hot on his heels are Earthgov, humankind’s authoritarian government, and the Church of Unitology, who worship the Necromorphs as the universe’s most slobbery definition of afterlife.

Some time after the events of Dead Space 2, Isaac is sprung from his safehouse on Earth’s moon by two rogue Earthgov soldiers, who tell him they can stop the Necromorphs forever. Isaac is put on a team destined for Tau Volantis, a frozen world whose coordinates were until now lost to history.

Isaac and his friends find Tau Volantis and set about exploring the planet.

Isaac and his friends find Tau Volantis and set about exploring the planet.

Isaac isn’t sure that Tau Volantis holds anything of value, until Necromorphs burst out of the snow and begin scything at his head. The planet is also littered with the 200-year-old ruins of a rebel fleet, who arrived to the planet centuries ago for reasons unknown.

After a rough landing, Isaac begins exploring this harsh new landscape, seeking an end to the Necromorph threat.

Well... I think we're onto something.

Well… I think we’re onto something.

After exploring enough bunkers to fill Normandy Beach, Isaac learns that these ancient rebels came here to weaponize the Markers, the strange alien artifacts that somehow enact Necromorph infestations.

Compounding this disturbing revelation is a more personal annoyance; Isaac’s on-and-off girlfriend Ellie is now dating another member of the team, giving him plenty more to be upset about and putting the three characters at odds. A little interpersonal conflict never made a story boring!

Well... this is awkward.

Well… this is awkward.

Dead Space games don’t believe in such a thing as too much no. A Unitologist army inexplicably arrives to the planet on Isaac’s heels, deploying fanatical soldiers to hunt him down and kill him.

These dudes are led by Jacob Danik, a true bastard who redefines British smugness.

Danik is the new leader of the Unitologists, who believe that the Markers will lift mankind into paradise via undeath.

Danik is the new leader of the Unitologists, who believe that the Markers will lift mankind into paradise via undeath.

With all of these elements in place, the stage is set for an epic race to the truth of Tau Volantis and the origins of the Necromorphs. On its own, the story is compelling, and Isaac continues to evolve as a character. He grew into an uncertain engineer in Dead Space 2, and becomes a grizzled leader in 3. John Carver, another major character, is a cynical, angry soldier whose score with the Necromorphs is direly personal. Ellie Langford becomes more confident of a character after the action in Dead Space 2. And… that’s pretty much it. The new supporting characters are incredibly shallow and I cared that much less if they lived or died.

The questions gnawing at me throughout the series are the main themes of Dead Space 3. The race to find the origins of the Necromorphs brought an epic feeling to the whole thing, a true sense of “this is what we’ve spent two games fighting for and now we’re at this precipice”. Even though this is the third game into the series, characters continue to develop and change. A team that should be united against a terrifying threat is anything but, differing in everything from approach to ethics to dealing with the crazy Unitologists.

The game does have a compelling story, I'll give it that.

The game does have a compelling story, I’ll give it that.

Ooh? A satisfying end to the series, with a good story and characters? Amazon, here I come! Do NOT dig into your wallet just yet; we haven’t gotten to the bad things about this game. And unfortunately, there are many.

To be frank, Dead Space 3 is not a horror game. It’s a slightly unsettling action shooter. The Necromorphs don’t even bother trying to jump at you or hide anymore; they just run at you making enough noise to set off a parking lot’s worth of car alarms. Remember how I mentioned a shift from horror to action in Dead Space 2. Well? Visceral kept on going with that. And going… and going…

Action shooting in a horror game? (sigh)

Action shooting in a horror game? (sigh)

The claustrophobic discomfort I felt from the first game and, to a lesser extent, the second is gone in Dead Space 3. Monsters are easy to spot and easy to disembowel, because they use the EXACT SAME TACTICS as the previous games. For God’s sake, Visceral, don’t punish your fans! Spice up the gameplay by giving old enemies new tricks! Don’t just sick another identical horde of the things on me. I know how to do this. This isn’t scary and unknown, it’s routine as hell.

The game’s artwork is… meh. The graphics are good enough, I guess, but graphics don’t really do anything for me if the game they’re in is not compelling. Dead Space 3 certainly struggles in that department, and the environments feel hollow as a result. If nothing else, the failure of Dead Space 3‘s narrative is a great example of how a game’s story can affect everything around it.

Seriously? This Necromorph uses the same attack three times in a row... and you expect me to be scared?

Seriously? This Necromorph uses the exact same attack THREE GAMES IN A ROW… and you expect me to be scared?

It really is disappointing that such a design oversight was allowed. You might say that this problem wouldn’t matter to new players, but how many people play sequels before the original? The progeny of gullible grandparents, perhaps, but no one who understands the significance of numbered installments. There’s only one new kind of Necromorph in this game and it takes only so long to figure out its dance (technically there’s two, but the second is basically a reskin of an older model). Combine this with the monsters’ utter lack of cunning or self-preservation from the very first game, and you have a pretty crap enemy.

Compounding the routine tedium with which I dispatched hordes of baddies was an absurd overabundance of resources. I was shedding STACKS… STAAACKS… of ammo and health packs because they were frickin’ everywhere. I had unlimited resources throughout the entire game and not once suffered a shortage. Not once. The materials used for making new stuff are also plentiful. With no challenge from enemies and no resource shortages, the primary principles of horror have been dismembered from Dead Space 3.

Health packs... ammo... what I really need right now is a recycling bin.

Health packs… ammo… what I really need right now is a recycling bin.

Another puzzling feature I found was a co-op mode. Horror games are scary because you’re isolated in a hostile environment. You can’t get scared if you have a buddy. I noticed that a few side missions in this game were also co-op only, so I paid money for that.

With Dead Space 3, this once-promising series has been sanitized, stretched out and left to piddle in third-person mediocrity. It has become another mindless action shooter and a far cry from the unsettling horror adventure aboard the USG Ishimura. It has a great story, but the absence of the first game’s horror motifs will leave you yearning for more. In that way, a perfectly acceptable tale becomes an unsatisfactory one.

"Bro, we gotta take the headquarters, carry me into the shooting before the noobs pwn your stupid ass! Dude, bro, let's go!"

“Bro, we gotta take the headquarters, carry me into the shooting before the noobs pwn your stupid ass! Dude, bro, let’s go!”

Here’s the thing, though; Dead Space is not the perpetrator in its own mediocrity. It is the victim. Mainstream game development has become so expensive that studios have to water down their games, to appeal to as large an audience as possible. Dead Space 3 is a casualty in an unsustainable cycle, one I fear may soon blow up in our faces. EA’s CEO admitted that the game’s scariness was minimized so that more people would buy it, and Visceral had to sell five million copies just to meet Dead Space 3‘s development costs. Can you believe that?

Though I was disappointed in Dead Space 3, I empathize with it and feel sorry for it. It wasn’t a cheap gimmick like Brink or Lost Planet; it was what could have been a great game, broken by the out-of-control habitat this industry is wallowing in. And the cost of game development is only growing. This is a threat to the artistic originality of games; if all games must become mindless shooters in order to even meet their development costs, what’s the point? This problem has dire ramifications for game development, and I fear that Dead Space 3 is only the beginning.

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You can buy Dead Space 3 here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Outland

O

Save the world from the wrath of two goddesses.

PC Release: September 29, 2014

By Ian Coppock

I seem to have undergone a bit of a mediocrity bender recently. Not everything I’ve reviewed this past week were bad games in and of themselves, but their compiled flaws and problems got to me a bit. So, to remedy this problem, I decided to review one of my favorite games. It’s a simple game, but in doing so it avoids most of the problems entangling last week’s entries and stands out because of it. Outland is a game you should consider.

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Outland‘s minimalist tale is of a man suffering from strange dreams. A shaman informs him that he is the latest reincarnation of an ancient hero, who saved the world 30,000 years ago, The hero stopped two goddesses from destroying the world, but they are on the rise once more.

Outland relies on beautifully written bits of poetry to tell its story. The passages are narrated by a shaman and explain the significance of your hero’s actions. These mostly pertain to what other characters in the game did to shape the world. The rest, though, is a story that speaks through color and music rather than words.

Oh my God... that is beautiful.

Oh my God… that is beautiful.

Outland is a 2D platformer bursting with beautiful imagery, and this is relied upon as the primary means of storytelling. The game is a single, glorious adventure of jumping, slashing and exploring.

The hero must explore five worlds, each with its own perils and beauty, in order to defeat the goddess’ minions and gain entry to their temple. Worlds include a lush jungle, a gorgeous city, and an unforgiving mountain.

O1

At the end of each world is a powerful boss the hero must defeat to advance. That’s the hero in blue.

Outland‘s gameplay is the simple hopping, wall-jumping and sword-slashing platforming we all know and love, with an added element of challenge. The creatures coming at you are aligned with either light or darkness (blue or orange). Your character, uncannily, has both of these elements and can switch between them, which you need to do in order to defeat them (think Ikaruga).

Light enemies can only be touched when you’re in darkness mode, and vice-versa. You’ll also encounter obstacles made of light or darkness, and must switch to that element to pass through unhindered.

Some of these energy traps can get a bit ridiculous...

Some of these energy traps can get a bit ridiculous…

Early obstacles are a breeze, but more advanced traps require precise timing and switching between the elements to make it through alive. A few enemies have the ability to change their elements as well.

With each boss the hero defeats, you get a new power, like the ability to shoot an energy beam or perform a slide-kick (really should have started with the slide-kick). These will come in handy later in the game. You can also find heart pieces to increase your life-bar (which is NOT copying The Legend of Zelda because the hearts are GREEN, not RED). Other hidden trinkets litter the game’s environments.

Don't play this game on drugs. Because that sunrise might just be beautiful enough to kill you if you're high.

Don’t play this game on drugs. Because that sunrise might just be beautiful enough to kill you if you’re high.

Outland‘s gameplay is smooth and instantly responds to you. Your character is a badass who can jump high, run fast and swing his sword in the blink of an eye. The game gets challenging, but it hits that magic number between easy and frustrating. Plus, any frustration you feel can be instantly negated just by gazing into those backgrounds (slobber). All of this gives Outland decent flow. You can slow down to enjoy the view or hop seamlessly between platforms, tree branches and enemy traps. It’s an exhilarating game.

Now unfortunately, there is one massive, rusty cog in Outland‘s otherwise perfectly oiled machine: the boss battles. There aren’t many of them, but this is a game where the bosses have twenty health bars and can take out half of yours with one swipe. The problem is that these fights have no checkpoints. Too many times I was THIS close to finishing off a foe, only for a stray energy beam to scrape my ass and force me to start a 20-minute battle all over again. So that’s frickin’ frustrating.

Outland's boss fights are a bit merciless, in the same way old-school Japanese arcade ones are.

Outland‘s boss fights are a bit merciless, in the same way old-school Japanese arcade ones are.

So yes, the boss battles are a bit broken and require a lot of patience and energy. I still feel better, though, because all of my gripe about a game is piled into a single, neat place. The game is otherwise mechanically sound. It’s just fine 😀

Outland has, without question, the most beautiful artwork I’ve ever seen on a platformer and some of my favorite in the entire gaming world. The environments in this game are intricate and pulsing with life. This is brought into being most strongly by the visuals, which account for each delicate leaf on the ancient trees you traverse, or the magnificent flower gardens in the ancient city marketplace. Skies are rendered with brilliant blues and oranges, and backgrounds provide imagery of different depths to accent the game’s scale. Cutscenes feature even more detailed imagery that is JUST SO PRETTY to gaze into…

Outland brings the notion of "the arty platformer" to a whole new level.

Outland brings the notion of “the arty platformer” to a whole new level.

I’m going to shut up about the artistic descriptions I pretend I know how to write, and just give you some more images:

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(whisper: if you’re terrible at platformers, there’s no shame in buying this game just to stare at it). The music is gorgeous as well, combining tribal drums with flutes, strings and horns for a fast-paced, epic track. These songs intensify in the game’s final challenges. I could go on about Outland‘s artwork, but I think those images can speak on the game’s behalf.

Outland is a visual feast that happens to also contain beautiful music and flawless gameplay. The minimalist storytelling lets the visuals and artwork tell the tale rather than the spoken word, though this too is featured. This is my favorite platformer. Go get it. If you’re a PC gamer, join me in peppering Outland‘s developer, Housemarque, for a PC port.

(Psst. Hi! It’s Ian from the future, and Outlast did release on Steam! I’m editing all of my reviews today, and will post a link below. Hopefully I’ll avoid encountering Past Ian and initiating a time paradox. Thank you for reading!)

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You can buy Outland here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Alan Wake

B1

Rescue your wife from the clutches of an ancient evil.

PC Release: February 16, 2012

By Ian Coppock

Alan Wake is by no means a perfect game, but it’s proof that creative writers do have a place in game design. The chief creator and designer of this game was a novelist, and his is a story that should cause other designers out there to take note. This game relies on more than the conventions of game design. It has elements of novel and book writing in its makeup that make it stand out from other games.

Also, it’s a horror game. HOORAY!!!

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Alan Wake‘s titular character is a worn-out novelist seeking time away from the world. He and his wife Alice leave their cushy New York life behind for a vacation in Bright Falls, a rustic little town squared away in the Pacific Northwest.

Alan has strange nightmares about his stories coming to life, and is also suffering stress from two years of writer’s block. He wants nothing to do with writing or his clamoring fans.

Alan is exhausted and hopes to keep a low profile in Bright Falls.

Alan is exhausted and hopes to keep a low profile in Bright Falls.

After a pleasant enough start in the pretty little town, the Wakes arrive to their resort cabin. Alan returns home just in time to witness Alice being dragged away by a strange creature, and gives chase only to black out. He wakes up one week later in a crashed car, with no memory of the past seven days.

Wow. That escalated quickly.

Wow. That escalated quickly.

After fleeing the wreckage, Alan begins the game-long quest of finding his wife and striking back against the creatures who took her. He starts encountering the Taken, a group of malevolent spirits, who attempt to hinder his progress.

Alan can only fight back by using his flashlight to burn away the darkness surrounding the creatures, then shoot them. Curious that a supernatural being would be vulnerable to gunfire, but… eh.

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The Taken are the world’s scariest gang of lumberjacks, farmers and construction workers. They’re out to kill Alan and stop his quest cold.

Alan also has to work with and against a group of human characters, including the town’s sympathetic but law-abiding sheriff, and his agent Barry, who is assuredly the most annoying character in all of gamedom. Comic relief characters are great when their role in the story is restricted, but with this game, the developers laid it on a little too thick. Barry’s always there with the perfect joke, the stereotypical big-city bumbling and the bad puns.

Alan Wake is an episodic game, which is an underrated form of game storytelling. Each of the game’s six episodes encloses a plot arc of its very own within the greater story. Consequently, the game doesn’t get snagged on singular, overly large plot twists and themes. Alan still has to find his wife, but each chapter presents unique environments, characters and challenges for him to overcome in pursuit of this goal. Each one had its own feel, which made the game larger and longer.

Each of Alan Wake's six episodes features different challenges and even new gameplay elements.

Each of Alan Wake‘s six episodes features different challenges and even new gameplay elements.

With varied gameplay and situations in each chapter, Alan Wake’s story kept me on my toes and never got boring for me.

Though the story isn’t boring, the gameplay can get tiring. Alan Wake‘s combat is formulaic and repetitive. The Taken only vary in their size and strength, but otherwise require the EXACT same attack strategies. They’ll throw axes and scythes at you from a distance, and try to hit you with easy-to-dodge swings up close. All Alan has to do is shine a light at them and then shoot. Poof. Easy.

Combat in Alan Wake is easy. The game will try to intimidate you with a new enemy, but just like with all the others, shine'n'shoot.

Combat in Alan Wake is easy. The game will try to intimidate you with a new enemy, but just like with all the others, shine’n’shoot.

This game is most frustrating when it comes to horror, in which it shoots itself in both feet. Unlike Dead Space, the game has some pacing, but this is rendered pointless by the collectible manuscript pages that Alan can find. If you read the pages, they’ll tell you when and where the monsters will strike, erasing the tension and atmosphere instantly.

“So, don’t read the pages, you whiner!” I can hear you say. Fine. I ignored them so that I wouldn’t know when the monsters would get me. Problem solved? No. When the Taken are out to get you, the camera will go into slow-motion and show you from whence the monsters are striking, so you’ll know exactly how to prepare yourself.

Um... are you serious?

Um… are you serious?

It’s a good thing Alan Wake has an interesting story, because in lieu of a gripping tale, these unbelievable design flaws would make for a very mediocre game indeed. You call yourself a horror game, Alan Wake? How can I get scared if I know exactly where the enemy is? That defeats the whole psychology behind fear!

This game may gave you the occasional chill, but since you’ll always know where the monsters are coming from, it’s not scary. The only time I got scared in this game was one point where the game bugged out and didndo the OH ENEMIES ARE COMING screen. (slow clap). Alan Wake also presents beautiful environments but is really impatient with you if you like to explore. Even looking around for two extra minutes will prompt Alan to say a passive-aggressive line to get your ass in gear (“I REALLY should make that coffee NOW”).

Alan, stop being an ass. Why have these environments if you don't want to look around?

Alan, stop being an ass. Why have these environments if you don’t want to look around?

But, like I say, the game’s story has the thrilling excitement that the horror and gameplay miss completely. Each character is deeply developed and has his or her own motivations, personality quirks and agendas within the larger story. The pacing is great for storytelling but the sabotage of the horror element muddles it up from time to time. The writing is pretty good but it can come off as a bit pretentious, especially Alan’s musings about how similar his story is to that of a Stephen King novel.

Alan Wake’s environments are causing me to consider my own vacation in the Pacific Northwest. By day, the environments in and around Bright Falls are beautiful. Forests hum with life, people go about their daily routines in the town, and the landscape is studded with picturesque cabins and campsites. By night, these same environments are unsettling, with the addition of fog, thick darkness and shadows moving  between the trees. This striking dichotomy held my interest throughout the game.

The game's environments are cozy and inviting by day, slightly spooky by night.

The game’s environments are cozy and inviting by day, slightly spookier by night.

Compounding the level design and voice acting is some excellent sound design, which adds to the atmosphere what the gameplay unintentionally detracts. The guys and gals over at Remedy should hire themselves out to design the soundtracks for haunted corn mazes, because the sounds they picked for spooky pine forests are outstanding.

Additionally, the musical score is a combination of original tracks and various songs picked to fit the theme of each episode, mostly country and alt rock songs whose names I can’t care to look up but I know fit the tone of said episode. In any case, the artwork’s variance between inviting and spooky pairs well with the story, if, again, not the gameplay.

Thor and Odin Anderson, two old-school rockers with a flair for Norse mythology, make for hilarious supporting characters.

Thor and Odin Anderson, two old-school rockers with a flair for Norse mythology, make for hilarious supporting characters.

The Steam version of Alan Wake has a few goodies tucked into the options menu. Among an artbook and some developer commentary, I found two DLC missions called “The Specials” that I remember seeing on the Xbox LIVE marketplace back when I owned a console. Both are set up as an epilogue to the main game, but feature little more than Alan running around in copy/pasted environments from the main game. Sure, they’ve been rearranged and put into a spooky black void, but they add almost nothing substantive to the narrative.

Overall, Alan Wake is not a hardcore horror game, but it’s a moody little story that I enjoyed. The gameplay is rote and the writing can be a bit stale, but the game pays homage to some great works of psychological horror. The episodic format keeps the game well-paced by spacing out plot twists and adding new dilemmas for Alan at a steady rate. It’s a smoothness uncommon in video games and one that I recommend you see for yourself.

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You can buy Alan Wake here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Assassin’s Creed: Revelations

R

Search for an ancient secret that might save the world.

PC Release: November 29, 2011

By Ian Coppock

Ubisoft isn’t even trying to hide its greed anymore. Not every series that moves to a yearly installment model suffers in the content department, but if Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood wasn’t a blatant enough attempt to milk this franchise for all it’s worth, then Assassin’s Creed: Revelations finishes the job. I like this series, and I desperately don’t want to see its stories stretched thin and shot out like half-baked potatoes, but I guess that’s not going to happen.

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If my introduction wasn’t enough of a clue, I didn’t like this game very much. My distaste for another delay of Assassin’s Creed III was reinforced when I saw that, once again, Ezio Auditore is the protagonist.

Ezio is not a bad character. But sometimes we want our favorite people to get out of our faces for just a moment. That’s a no-go with Ezio, even though he is now in his mid-50s and somehow still able to hop and jump around like he did when he was 16.

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You’re really pushing it, Ubisoft…

The game continues the saga of Assassin’s Creed with dual modern-day and historical storylines. Desmond Miles, the modern-day protagonist, wakes up with his personality trapped inside the Animus, the machine he used to view Ezio’s memories in Assassin’s Creed II and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood.

I didn’t realize that the Animus had an island resort hidden inside of it.

Desmond wakes up inside a digital world. The Animus cradles his consciousness while his body rests.

Desmond wakes up inside a digital world. The Animus cradles his consciousness while his body rests.

Desmond isn’t alone in the machine. He meets the elusive Subject 16, one of the series’s most enigmatic characters. 16, who is dead in real life, managed to preserve the essence of his being in the Animus as well. He tells Desmond that pieces of his own essence are scattered across the Animus’ digital landscape, and that Desmond needs to collect them in order to wake up.

Anyway, Desmond can only do this by jumping back into his ancestral memories. He begins with Ezio, who makes a midlife journey to the Middle East to find the Assassin fortress of Masyaf.

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Ezio’s no worse for wear even though he’s in his 50s. I don’t mean to knock middle-aged people, but how many 52-year-olds do you see climbing buildings?

Ezio journeys to the fortress only to get captured by Templars, who have overrun Masyaf in search of ancient artifacts. Ezio learns that these artifacts contain knowledge of the Assassins’ order, and that they’re now in Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire. He also learns that they’re linked to Altair, the ancient Syrian assassin and the protagonist of the first Assassin’s Creed.

Ezio arrives to the city and crashes with the local assassins, who are fighting a citywide war against the Templars. In this game, the Templars are ethnic Byzantines who have embraced the order’s mantra as a way of life. As with the previous games, the Templars fight for total world control, while the Assassins want to preserve humankind’s free will. This makes the groups sworn enemies, and Constantinople is their latest flash point.

Ezio is no stranger to war, but he is a stranger in a strange, beautiful land.

Ezio is no stranger to war, but he is a stranger in a strange, beautiful land.

With the help of his secret fan club, Ezio combs Constantinople for the artifacts he seeks. When he activates them, he relives memories from Altair, in which you take direct control of the character in sequences that follow Assassin’s Creed.

This was by far the most epic part of the game; I love Altair and being able to play as him again was really fun.

Altair, the protagonist of the first game, returns in Revelations. He has his own storyline, relived through the artifacts Ezio finds.

Altair, the protagonist of the first game, returns in Revelations. He has his own storyline, relived through the artifacts Ezio finds.

So, to sum up so far, Ezio is looking for these artifacts that contain Altair’s memories. Desmond, meanwhile, must complete a series of journeys inside the Animus, at the end of which he regains pieces of his consciousness. All three protagonists undergo these journeys simultaneously, forming the core of the game.

Sounds pretty great, right? Well, it’s not. (inhales deeply).

In this picture, that knight is this game.

In this picture, that knight is this game.

To begin with, Ezio’s storyline in AC: Revelations is even less substantial than the already pitiful plot in BrotherhoodI beat the last game’s story in eight hours, and this one took about six. All Ezio is out to do is find these ancient memory boxes, and it’s  unclear why he’s doing this in the first place. It’s another case of ambiguous motivations.

Compounding this frustration is Constantinople, which while beautiful in design is overstuffed with even MORE useless, piddling side quests than there were in Brotherhood. The ratio of story-critical missions to pointless tasks is at LEAST 10 to one. Why are you doing this to me, Ubisoft?

SO MUCH DON'T CARE...

SO MUCH DON’T CARE…

Now, to be fair, there is a little more to Ezio’s story than finding these keys. He learns of a Byzantine plot to retake Constantinople from the Ottomans, but the story was over so quickly that I barely had a chance to process it. You meet a few historical characters in brief, blip-like cutscenes, but there’s no meat to this potential for better storytelling.

Altair’s story segments also suffer. While considerably more interesting than Ezio’s story, each of Altair’s six missions are only a few minutes long. They also all take place in the same area, which felt a bit lazy. The return of such a beloved protagonist should’ve gotten a bit more effort than this.

"I fear not your bulls***, Templars! For if I don't kill you, this mission will end in five seconds and that will do you in!! ROAR!!"

“I fear not your bulls***, Templars! For if I don’t kill you, this mission will end in five seconds and that will do you in!! ROAR!!”

Finally, there’s Desmond’s segments. Desmond hasn’t really gotten a storyline of his very own yet, so I was disappointed to see that each of his six or seven missions is a platforming minigame. Not joking.

From a first-person perspective, Desmond jumps across various platforms while musing about his life thus far. It’s interesting because we learn more about the series’s central protagonist than ever before, but the puzzles felt very out of place. Third-person, open-world combat to… platforming? The segments are also just walking in a straight line. There are no puzzles or anything. The only interest I gleaned from them was information about Desmond. Revelations expands upon this concept with a DLC called The Lost Archive, in which we learn a bit more about Subject 16, but the production is only an hour long and is way too expensive for its relative lack of content.

Uh... okay...

Uh… okay…

As you’ve probably surmised by now, this game’s three-pronged plot is a mess. Ezio’s boring, overstuffed campaign, Altair’s critically short story, and Desmond’s wildly out-of-place jumping games all combine to produce a game that feels lost. Revelations is evidence that the AC team, ordered by Ubisoft to produce yearly titles, didn’t really know how to stretch the series out.

Stretching any series beyond its natural length leaves scars, and this game is full of them. It doesn’t help that “Revelation” is one of the most overused subtitles in the gaming industry, or that the actual “revelations” for which the game is named are small for what they were built up to be. My reaction, upon hearing these revelations, was “really? That’s the big secret?”

Does anyone understand what's going on?

Does anyone understand what’s going on?

The gameplay in Revelations is basically unchanged. Ezio gets two new weapons; the first is a useless gimmick called the Hookblade, a hidden blade that can grapple onto ledges. Conveniently enough, all ledges in the world of Assassin’s Creed are now a foot higher, just to necessitate this tool. Ezio can also use it for traversing ziplines, but he could do that with his hands if he needed to.

The next weapon is bombs. Ezio can craft powerful explosives for combat, though the endless combinations of shells and ingredients are pretty much useless. I’m a strictly practical fellow, so I saw no need for crafting bombs that spew fake gold or diarrhea-inducing smoke. Why make those when you can craft bombs that just kill people? Cut out the middleman, I say.

The bomb-crafting utility is neat but most of the bombs you can make are relatively useless.

The bomb-crafting utility is neat, but the sheer amount of ingredients and effects felt gratuitous.

The worst feature is a half-assed tower defense game. Ezio must defend Assassin HQ against Templar interlopers by installing defenses and soldiers. This feature mimics a tower defense game but it felt out of place.

You also only have to play it once in the game, and it’s easy to avoid, so I did just that. I’m guessing this was another desperate attempt to think up something new for a series that clearly wasn’t ready for its next game.

And not a single bit of sense was made that day...

And not a single bit of sense was made that day…

Though Revelations is a snorefest in the story department, the game’s artwork is a refreshing change of scenery. I was sick of Italian villas and vineyards by the end of Brotherhood, so I was delighted to venture into Constantinople, a city whose design accurately reflects the many cultures of the Ottoman Empire.

As Ezio, you can wander bustling markets and visit stunning landmarks, like the Hagia Sophia and the ancient Byzantine Hippodrome. Ships are crowded with eastern and western vessels alike. Roma dance for coin and Islamic scholars make their way through thick crowds. It’s a very living environment, and certainly a welcome change from Italy.

Though this game's story is s***, at least it's pretty to look at.

Though this game’s story is s***, at least it’s pretty to look at.

The game brings to the table the same intricate city and town design that the AC games have become legendary for. Alternating between wide avenues and tight alleys, Constantinople’s terrain is constantly refreshing.

Roger Craig Smith returns once again to voice Ezio Auditore, though by now the character has finished developing. He’s the same thoughtful, matured and occasionally funny man from Brotherhood and the end of Assassin’s Creed II. A few other characters move into the niches occupied by Ezio’s Italian buddies from games past, but they stay within their predetermined niches.

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Revelations’s characters are lively, if forgettable.

Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is proof that just because a game is competently made doesn’t mean that it’s a guaranteed hit. The pieces fit well together, but they’re the same worn-out pieces from the last Assassin’s Creed game. Almost nothing has been done to innovate the gameplay, and the narrative feels like nothing more than answering some questions that none of us were really clamoring for. Hopefully, the next Assassin’s Creed game will return this series to form.

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You can buy Assassin’s Creed: Revelations here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Dead Space 2

D

Battle reanimated corpses, government agents and your own mind as Isaac Clarke.

PC Release: January 25, 2011

By Ian Coppock

It makes me happy when a sequel comes along and fixes pretty much all the gripes I had with the first installment of a series. It was a bit creepy to play Dead Space 2 the first time, and not just because of the monsters. It’s like Visceral and EA actually read my mind when addressing what was wrong with Dead Space. But EA couldn’t have spied on me, because I don’t have Origin installed on my computer! So how did they… Oh well.

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Dead Space 2 is a third-person horror/action hybrid set three years after the first Dead Space. Isaac Clarke, our heroic spaceship engineer, wakes up in a mental hospital as a cabal of reanimated corpses called Necromorphs are tearing it a new one. As horror games often go, Isaac is suffering amnesia and has no clue where he is and why.

He escapes from the hospital with some help from a British hacker, who reveals that he’s on Titan Station, a massive space-city orbiting Saturn. Isaac sees for himself that the station is being dismembered by a new Necromorph outbreak.

Isaac can't seem to catch a break when it comes to being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Isaac can’t seem to catch a break when it comes to being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

This time around, Isaac has new, living enemies. Humankind’s tyrannical government has put a price on his head for reasons he cannot fathom, and you can bet that the Church of Unitology, the cult that worships the Necromorphs as ascension into the afterlife, is also very interested in him. Unlike the Ishimura, which was over-fested long before Isaac arrives, Isaac makes his escape as the infestation begins, so you’ll run into more and more Necromorphs as the game progresses.

Romance in horror games never goes well, so it’s no surprise that Isaac failed to save his girlfriend Nicole in the first game. He suffers horrific hallucinations in which she tortures his dreams and screams at him with static. Throughout the game Isaac will have seizures where the demons of his guilt attempt to kill him, the spine-chillingest of which is one where Nicole appears out of nowhere and attempts to stab him in the eye. Only, when she vanishes, Isaac is the one holding the needle.

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A zombie attack, and episodes of dimentia. Two things that can ruin a picnic.

Isaac knows that the existence of the Necromorphs is tied up in the towering alien artifacts known as Markers. Having encountered one in the last game, he decides to journey deeper into the station to find what must be another one.

A brave task, one that I would shamelessly run away from screaming with no looking back. As with the last game, Isaac recruits some dubious allies to his banner of craziness, including a psychotic mental patient and a traumatized pilot. Team of the year right there.

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With millions of lives at stake, much rides on Isaac’s new journey.

In regards to storytelling, Dead Space 2 makes some tremendous improvements over Dead Space. One of my biggest gripes with the first game was casting a silent protagonist in a horror setting, but Isaac returns with his own voice and personality in the sequel. He can chat with other characters and set his own goals, which is a refreshing upgrade. A few subtle but important changes were made to his non-silent personality as well, like that he actually jumps when startled.

But, Dead Space 2 suffers from the same issues as the original in that Visceral has no understanding of pacing. Isaac is beset by snarling, screaming mutants literally seconds into the game, even faster than Dead Space. This erases any chance to build up tension and turns Dead Space 2 into a creepy shooter rather than a true horror game. Monster encounters are so frequent that the tension is repeatedly quashed. You also see so many of the damn things that they become less scary and more conventional, as an enemy soldier with a rifle might be.

The Puker is a new Necromorph, but you see so many of them that the true horror of their appearance and abilities become lost quickly.

The Puker is a new Necromorph, but you see so many of them that the true horror of their appearance and abilities become lost quickly.

While resources in Dead Space were by no means plentiful, Visceral went in the opposite direction by over-stuffing Titan Station with tons of supplies. The game is considerably less difficult than the first one, which is cool in that it makes you feel more of a badass but not cool in that the challenge factor suffers. However, a few much-needed tweaks were made to the control scheme.

For whatever reason, the jump-scares are reduced in Dead Space 2. Enemies spend substantially less time hiding or waiting to ambush you and more time charging blindly at your position, which isn’t scary, just challenging. If Visceral was trying to keep a lid on so obviously appealing to shooter fans, they didn’t do a very good job. There are a few new kinds of Necromorphs in Dead Space 2, but the ones that appeared in the first game use the exact same tactics and strategies against you, reducing the challenge factor further.

"Oh no, the 30th monster I've seen in four minutes is charging blindly into my line of fire just like in the last game, whatever will I do?" (yawn)

“Oh no, the 30th monster I’ve seen in four minutes is charging blindly into my line of fire just like in the last game, whatever will I do?” (yawn)

Dead Space 2 is not a bad game, but I hate that it moved significantly away from scary and more toward the same shooting grind that is over-saturing the games industry these days. Increased resources, enemies running at you, no tension, loud noises and explosions all over the place… it’s an action game.

Now, to be fair, I might be a bit desensitized from all those Amnesia games I love so curiously much, but the guiding principles of true horror are just not in this game. I’m guessing the gore is meant to do most of the work, but gore is just gore. True terror comes from the malicious unknown, the savage un-seeable. That’s why you’re severely penalized for trying to look at the monsters in Amnesia. The Necromorphs, by contrast, couldn’t be making themselves more visible if they wore face paint and danced cabaret.

HAVE YOU GOTTEN A GOOD ENOUGH LOOK YET????

“DRAW ME LIKE ONE OF YOUR FRENCH GIRLS!”

The plot of this game is a lot bigger and more interesting, though. Whereas Isaac’s main goal in Dead Space was to fix up the ship and keep his team in toilet paper, in Dead Space 2 he’s fighting for all of mankind, with an expanded campaign, stronger characters and grander plot elements. I’ll give this game credit for all of that; Dead Space 2 might be less AAAAHHH and more BLAAAH but at least the story is good. Isaac’s characterization definitely brings across traits of weariness and trauma that his journey would impress upon anyone, and for that I was grateful.

Dead Space 2’s environments are cast from a diverse palette. As Isaac is aboard a space-city, he traverses shopping malls, churches and even an elementary school. As with the last game, he must also fix machinery to progress, though this is for the game’s wider goal of saving humankind rather than just his own survival.

Dead Space 2 is hauntingly beautiful.

Dead Space 2 is hauntingly beautiful.

The voice cast delivered excellent performances, though nothing especially gripping. The music receives a heavy-handed upgrade in the music department, with strings that play mournfully but will still spasm when Isaac sees a monster.

Horror fans might get bored with Dead Space 2, but everyone can appreciate a good story, and that’s something this game definitely offers. Isaac’s transformation into a talking character is elegantly done. The story’s increased scale compliments this nicely and adds some expediency that the horror didn’t hit hard enough. The gameplay retains its solid makeup from the first game. Dead Space 2 is available on Steam and elsewhere at a decent price; I recommend picking it up.

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You can buy Dead Space 2 here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.