Review: Silent Hill

silent-hill-cover-img-1

Happy Halloween! I’m keeping with my tradition and reviewing a spooky game for the month of October. It’s always my goal to try to do as many as possible but sometimes due to work and other schedule demands, I’m not always able to accommodate more than one title. But fear not! With so many PS-era titles to choose from, I’m going to keep the horror game reviews coming into the month of November.

For my actual Halloween review, I played through the PS1 classic, Silent Hill. This is a title that I bought many years ago when I first purchased my PS2, but no sooner did I acquire it, I found myself as a new parent and in the middle of a hectic move. As a result, the game sat on my shelf. Well, I’ve finally dusted it off and played it from start to finish. I’m here to share my throughts on this legendary title.

If I had to classify it, Silent Hill is a survival-horror game. But in truth, it’s also very much a mystery game. In Silent Hill, you play the character of Harry Mason. The game begins when Harry and his daughter Cheryl arrive in the small resort town of Silent Hill for vacation. Their trip takes an unexpected turn when Harry veers from the road to avoid striking a woman with his car. Harry wakes up to find himself in his wrecked car with Cheryl nowhere in sight.  The game involves Harry searching for his missing daughter in the mysterious ghost town of Silent Hill. It doesn’t take long to realize that things in Silent Hill are very far from normal.

sh_2

Something strange is afoot in the small town of Silent Hill. A thick fog descends over the town, as does an endless flurry of snow. The town is largely abandoned with the exception of horrific creatures and few other survivors that you will encounter along the way. As if that isn’t frightening enough, as you play you’ll find yourself phasing in an out of a strange mirror dimension filled with even more horrific sights.

The game is very atmospheric. The creepy foggy or dim-light areas work well to build tension with the player. As does the camera angle and ambient sounds. You see, Silent Hill is a third-person game but unlike many, it does not feature a user-controlled camera. Instead, the game relies on an automatic camera that will adjust itself as needed, but often works to a dramatic effect.  The soundtrack in the game is dynamic with creepy music that fades in rarely, but at very appropriate times. For the most part, there is very little music in the game. The game instead relies on ambient sounds to invoke fear. For example, Harry carries a pocket radio with him that emits static whenever there is danger near. You may be walking along fat, dumb and happy when suddenly the radio kicks it – causing you to draw your weapon and proceed with caution.

I’ve read that the real reason for the fog and low lighting was to lessen the memory burden for the game. At the time this game was released, 3D titles on the console were still in their infancy and rendering them could bring consoles to their knees. So developers often relied on little tricks to try to limit draw distances, etc. But whatever the reason, it works very well here. In fact, the thick fog has become one of the game’s most memorable features.

Silent Hill takes players through some classic creepy environments; An abandoned school, a hospital, and even the city sewers. Playing the game is a bit akin to watching and episode of Ghost Adventures, but with an interactive element.

sh1_screen_16

What’s also great about the game is the strange and unusual story. What starts out as a simple plot device (find your missing daughter), but soon unravels into a dark and complex tale. Players who are willing to take their time and explore the city and read all of the clues presented to them will certainly get more out of the game than those that try to speed through it. Aside from exploration, the game does feature a few puzzles and riddles that players must solve to proceed.

All in all, I found Silent Hill to be the perfect game to play on a late October night with the lights off.

sh1_screen_13

Difficulty: Variable –  Silent Hill offers three levels of difficulty. I experimented with all three and found them to be quite appropriate. For most players, I would recommend the middle setting. But for those players who are veteran survival horror gamers, the more difficult setting may be more your speed.

Story: The set up for the game is simple, but as you play and uncover the backstory of Silent Hill things do tend to get muddled and a bit confusing. The backstory is very cerebral and can be a bit difficult to follow if you’re not paying attention. The game itself has multiple endings depending on certain actions taken in the game.

Originality: Released in 1999, the game is certainly not the first in the Survival Horror genre. But I chose it for my playthrough due to the psychological elements that it leans on. Up to this point, most other horror games relied on jump scares and gory imagery to frighten players. While there are bits of both in Silent Hill, the majority of “scary” atmosphere found in this game is in the mind of the player – put in place by the wonderful visual and auditory elements by the game’s designers.

Soundtrack: Aside the intro and ending music, there’s little in terms of an actual musical soundtrack. The game instead relies on ambient thumps, creaks, moans, and of course the ever trusty radio static to scare the living daylights out of players.

Fun: If you like spooky/horror games, this is a classic. As far as games go, it’s a bit slow-paced. This is fine with me, but I can imagine that some players may find it boring. It’s certainly a game designed for a specific audience, but to those target players it’s going to be very appealing.

Graphics: For it’s time, Silent Hill was top of the line. It features a mix of pre-rendered video with blocky 3D textures. By today’s standards, it’s certainly dated and aged. But at the time of release, this was as good as it got for consoles.

Playcontrol: The controls are a bit stiff and clunky. As mentioned in the review, there’s no manual camera control. So it takes a few minutes to get the hang of things. You soon learn how to rotate the character, instead of the camera – before moving in the desired direction. By today’s standards, the playcontrol does seem antiquated and slightly inefficient.

Downloadable Content: N/A

Mature Content: Violent and grotesque imagery. Occult references and an overall horrific atmosphere.

Value:  These days, Silent Hill is available on PSN for about $6.00. For this price, the game is a steal.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – If you’re a fan of survival horror or even mystery games, Silent Hill is a must-play. I can’t believe I waited so long to play this classic title. Aside from some minor frustration with the play control, I found this to be the perfect title for a spooky, late-night playthrough.

Available on: PSN

Review: Blood Omen – Legacy of Kain

BO1-Cover-PS1

“VAE VICITS!” –   That is the battle-cry of Kain, the lead character of Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain. Anyone who plays this game for more than five minutes will certainly be familiar with the phrase. It is repeated at random, frequent intervals as you play through this title. In fact it is repeated so often, that on more than one occasion I felt the need to mute my volume. But before we go down that rathole, let’s discuss the basics.

Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain is a title that I had no experience with whatsoever prior to playing through it for this review. It is a title that I’d seen pop up from time to time on lists of “The Greatest Playstation Games of All Time”. So, when I compiled my own personal backlog of PS1 games, I made sure to include it.

Blood Omen, is a gothic, action/adventure game. In this title you play as Kain, a murdered noble from the land of Nosgoth who is resurrected from death by a powerful necromancer. In return for a life of undeath, Kain is tasked with hunting down the members of a mysterious order. As you play through the game, the secrets surrounding your mission become clear, and Kain must ultimately determine if he will follow the path of good, or evil.

489468-blood-omen-legacy-of-kain-playstation-screenshot-minimalist

Sounds cool right? Well, in many ways it is, but for each good quality the game also has an equal number of drawbacks. First, let’s discuss the gameplay itself.  Blood Omen is basically a birds-eye view adventure game. Not unlike the original Legend of Zelda. In fact, in many ways it’s quite similar. There’s an open world to explore that’s filled with nooks and crannies which contain power-ups, abilities, weapons, armor, etc. You start the game in a pretty vulnerable state, but as you progress and increase in strength, you soon become a force to be reckoned with. Kain can take damage through combat, via traps and even by certain weather conditions (rain, snow —  he is a vampire after all). Luckily, Kain can recover his energy by feeding on the living. This includes various NPCs in the game and even enemies who may be on the brink of death. Typically, as you progress through the game and defeat bosses, Kain will unlock new powers and gear that both increase his strength, but also give him the ability to explore previous inaccessible areas.

All of the above sound like the set up for what should be an amazing game. So what’s the problem? Well, to put it gently, this game has issues. Issues so severe that it does impact player enjoyment. To start with, Blood Omen has HORRENDOUS loading times. Now, I’m not talking about Saving/Loading player data. I’m talking about nearly anything. Press start to bring up the inventory – you will encounter a 2-3 second load time, same with bringing up the map, or entering a building. Even non-loading functions within the game such as transforming from human-form to that of a wolf, you will experience a 2-3 second transition time. What makes this worse, is the fact that I played the digital-download version from PSN. I can only imagine how much longer these load times might have been when playing from the actual disc.

But the issues don’t stop there. The playcontrol is not at all intuitive. The default button controls don’t feel natural and all-to-often are not responsive at all. While the game features some very impressive voice acting, Kain’s battlecry is repeated so often it becomes annoying almost instantly.

489464-blood-omen-legacy-of-kain-playstation-screenshot-reborn-kain

So, all this considered, what’s the verdict here. Well, despite it’s many flaws, I can certainly see what made Blood Omen interesting at the time. The game is very mature and appealed to an audience that had not been really catered to thus far. Horror-themed games were few and far between around the time this came out. Plus, compared to other titles of the time, the graphics and voice acting were considered top of the line. So I can see how many players may have been enthralled with the title. But sadly, at least in my opinion, Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain does not stand up to the test of time. This is a game that might be a prime candidate for a remake. Also, the game did spawn a number of sequels which are also highly regarded in their own right. So, perhaps I might enjoy those a little better.

Difficulty: Medium –  This is one of those games that starts off fairly tough, but softens up over time. As Kain grows in strength, the overall difficulty tends to lessen a bit. The biggest difficulty for me, was getting my head around the way the game worked and learning it’s quirks.  Reading the actual game manual is a must to overcoming this.

Story: Here we have one of the best things about this title. The tale of Kain and even the lore behind the land of Nosgoth itself is very well done. Fans of gothic/Eastern-European horror would really find something of value in the story told over the course of this game.

Originality: Blood Omen is a mixed bag when it comes to originality. The overall game design presented here is certainly nothing new, but I feel that developers really put a lot of effort into being revolutionary by appealing to an adult audience.

Soundtrack: The background music for the seems largely atmospheric. It’s certainly not catchy or all that interesting in itself. But, it serves the game well. The real shining star here is the voice acting. The lead character has personality and flair. The acting is not cheesy and phony like so many titles of the era.

Fun: Generally speaking, I did not find this game to be very enjoyable. I did find it to be very interesting in many regards, but to be completely honest. I was glad to see my time with the game come to an end. That’s never a good sign.

Graphics: Mixed here as well. The cutscenes are dated and pixelated. But for the time, they were top of the line. The game itself is overall very attractive. Especially when zoomed into the action. But if you pull the camera out, things tend to get messy quick. 

Playcontrol: I encountered major issues with the playcontrol for this title. Granted, I played this PS1 title on the PS3, but typically that poses no issue. To be sure, however, I also downloaded the game to my PSP – only to find the experience worsened. So far, I’m only talking about the actual controls. The long loading times and overall “sludgeiness” of the title was a real downer for me.

Downloadable Content: N/A

Mature Content: Violence, Language, Occult References

Value:  These days, Blood Omen can be found for around $5.00 on the PSN store. Which, to be fair, is a very good price even with all the flaws I mentioned above. So, if you’re curious, you won’t be out much even if you end up not digging the game.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 2 – For me, this game was largely a stinker. But, it does have several qualities that a certain niche of players would find enjoyable. If you’re one of those types, then by all means, this might be the game for you. But for a casual player looking for the best of the what the PS1 had to offer, you may fare better by looking elsewhere.

Available on: PSN

Other Reviews In This Series:

Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain   –  Soul Reaver  – Soul Reaver 2 –  Blood Omen 2 – Defiance

Remembering the Playstation

From the 80s to the early 90s, Nintendo was the undisputed king of the home console market. The NES and Super NES were household names, but times were changing fast. In order to keep up with new technology, rumor has it that Nintendo and Sony were working on a joint project that would add CD-ROM  functionality to the Super Nintendo. For whatever reason, Nintendo bailed. Instead of cutting their losses in R&D, Sony decided to take the technology and develop their own system. Thus, the Sony PlayStation was born. Almost right away, developers jumped on board. Even many of Nintendo’s prized partners, Capcom, SquareSoft, and Konami began to develop for the PlayStation, leaving the SNES in the dust. Times were changing.

As I’ve mentioned before on this site, there was a span of time in the mid to late 90s that I virtually ignored home console game. The PlayStation era was such a time. As a result, I missed out on a number of great games. Over the years, I’ve caught up on a few, but there’s still quite a number of legendary titles that slipped through my fingers.  Naturally, I’ve played the Final Fantasy games, and I’ve already posted reviews for the Castlevania  titles on the blog. But there are so many more.

In the coming weeks I’ll be playing and reviewing a number of games from this era. Some of them I’ve played in the years after their release, others I managed to miss altogether. So unlike all the other “retro reviews” I’ve posted, we’re reaching a phase on this blog where I’ll be experiencing some truly legendary games for the first time. Please look forward to it!

Playstation Panic

One of the worst things about modern gaming consoles tends to be their lifespan. In the last few years, I’ve gone through two Xbox 360’s and recently I began experiencing issues with my PS3.
The problem most of these devices seems to encounter has to do with overheating. After a while, dust accumulates inside the consoles, or the cooling fans stop working and then one day, BOOM. They are fried.

What I think people tend to forget is that modern day consoles are actually mini-computers designed to only play games. However, unlike a tower PC, they are compact, and made to fit nicely in a home entertainment center. But, put a lot of heat generating devices in a small enclosed space and you’re going to have trouble.

Now, let me state, that I have never experienced this issue with a Nintendo product. I’m not being biased, just honest. The old NES certainly has design flaws that, over time, could cause some issues. But aside from that, I’ve never had a problem with a Nintendo product. I still have Gameboy Advances that power on and work as good as the day they were brought home.

Recently, I experienced a panic moment with my PS3. You see, I have an old PS3. One of the highly-coveted originals. As you may or may not know, when the PS3 was first released it was a big honking piece of machinery. It could play Blu-Ray movies, DVDs , PS1, PS2 and of course PS3 titles. The only problem was, it was expensive and it was prone of heat issues.

While I still have a PS2 tucked away in the recesses of my house, I am not ready to give up this magnificent all-in-one system. So needless to say, when my PS3 suddenly started sounding like a B-52 taking off in the middle of my Mega Man marathon the other day, I hit the panic button.

Luckily, I think I have identified and corrected the issue before my system was fried to a crisp. The biggest problem facing the original PS3, is not actually dust build up, but rather the drying up of the thermal paste on the CPU and GPU chips.

Much like a PC processor, the chips inside a PS3 need adequate cooling or they will overheat and burn up. This cooling is accomplished by attaching a metal device known as a heatsink to the chip. The heatsink is then cooled off with a fan. To ensure proper transfer of heat from the chip to the heatsink, a special thermal paste is applied to the face of the chip. Should this paste ever dry up or dissipate for any reason, it’s only a matter of time.

72554_4646237111555_673284850_n-5B1-5D

    The PS3 internal chips, naked.

Luckily, a friend and I turned fixing my PS3 into an afternoon project. I’m happy to report that it seems to be running quieter than ever after the fix. Correcting this issue was not difficult at all. If you encounter the telltale signs of games freezing, and extremely/sudden loud fan noise – it may be smart to power of the console as soon as possible and either call Sony or do a google search for the instructions needed to fix it yourself.

Review: Mega Man 8

MM8_us_boxart-5B1-5D

Finally, we come to the last game on the Mega Man Anniversary Collection; Mega Man 8. Originally released for the Sony Playstation and later, the Sega Saturn. Mega Man 8 represents the first 32-bit title for the series.

This is another one that I initially missed the first time around. So, this experience was all new to me.
This game actually features an animated cutscene. However, I was extremely let down by the quality of it. It seriously looks like a 3rd generation VHS dub of a crappy cartoon. What in the world?!

The game begins with two strange robots fighting in outerspace. They crash to earth, where one o them is found by Dr. Wily. Harnessing the new “dark energy” he finds inside the robot, he upgrades his robots, making them more deadly than ever before.

gfs_50347_2_2-5B1-5D

After being sent to investigate the crash site, Mega Man recovers one of the crashed robots and takes it to Dr. Light’s for repairs and sets off to do battle with Dr. Wily’s new mechanical menaces.

Is it at this point that, Duo (the rescued robot), explains how Dr. Wily must have used the dark energy to make his robots masters more powerful, and he offers his assistance in defeating Wily’s remaining bosses.

Of course, Mega Man fights his way through more dangers and eventually does battle with Bass and manages to save the day with the help of Duo.

As expected, the graphics and sound are much improved, and the game is even harder than Mega Man 7.  ARRRRRGH!!

gfs_50347_2_4-5B1-5D

Difficulty: Very Difficult  – This game seemed even harder to me than Mega Man 7, if that is possible. The worst are what I call the “surfboard” levels. Areas where Mega Man has to coast on a platform and is only able to jump, duck or shoot. INSANE!

Story: Again, we have a good story and this time with cinematics. This is probably the highlight of the game, in my opinion.

Originality: Aside from the storyline, again, there’s nothing new brought to the table. Which, considering the hardware of the PS1, is really sad. I feel there was a lot of potential squandered.

Soundtrack: Here we have good, CD-quality sound, but what I feel is sub-par music. Another shame

Fun: Once more, the difficulty of this title really ruined a lot of it for me. I enjoyed the visuals and the level design was interesting, so I did enjoy these aspects.

Graphics: Very well done. Excellect graphics in this title. This is another area that CapCom really got right. It looks like a full-blown anime. Oddly enough, the graphics here are better than the opening cutscene.

Playcontrol: No real complaints, if you don’t count the surfboard areas. But, then again, the difficulty there is by design. Everything played well and was responsive. No real issues.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 3 – Overall, and by itself, MM8 is a good game. Personally, I was turned off by it’s difficulty. Who knows, maybe I’m getting old, but it was too darn extreme for me. I suspect that most casual players would agree.

Not currently available

Other Reviews In This Series:

MMMM2MM3MM4MM5MM6MM7MM8MM&BassMM9MM10

MMX – MMX2 – MMX3 – MMX4 – MMX5 – MMX6 – MMX7 – MMX8 – MMXtreme – MMXtreme2 – Comman Mission

Zero – Zero2 – Zero3 – Zero 4 – ZX

BN – BN2 – BN3- BN4- BN5 – BN6

Review: Castlevania – Symphony of the Night

castlevania-symphony-of-the-night-cover-5B1-5D

The next installment of my Castlevania playthrough is complete. The legendary Symphony of the Night! This game is considered a classic, and one of the “must-have” playstation titles. This is the game that revitalized the series, and set the bar for many of the future installments.

This title is a direct sequel to Rondo of Blood. As it starts during the final battle between Richter and Dracula. 5 Years later, Richter mysteriously vanishes at the same time that Castlevania reappears (before the normal 100 year cycle). Maria heads to Castlevania to find Richter, while she’s there she runs into Alucard, who has also ventured to the Castle to investigate it’s mysterious return.

During the course of the game, you control Alucard as he explores the castle, and overcomes it’s many obstacles and monsters. Over time, he finds stronger weapons and armor, and develops new abilities.

This is the first is what is known as the “Castleroid” games, due to the similarities it shares with Metroid (finding items to gain access to new areas, giving the player free-reign of the environment). Progress can be saved by having Alucard rest in a coffin, much like the save-rooms in the later Metroid titles.

gfs_50215_2_119fhjfg

 

The game has multiple endings, but the best ending is only seen if certain qualifications are met.

As the game progresses, Alucard has several encounters with the various minions of Dracula. Eventually he runs into Richter, who seems to be possessed. Richter claims to be the “lord of the castle”, and he summons a mighty beast to fight Alucard. Alucard also has several meetings with Maria, on their last encounter she gives him a pair of blessed glasses. These will enable him to see “things which are hidden by evil”. At one point, while Alucard rests, he has a surreal dreams that depicts the death of his mother, Lisa. It seems that Lisa, a human woman was condemned to death by humans for her relationship with Dracula. We now understand the reason that Dracula hates humanity as a whole.

Eventually, Alucard makes his way to Dracula’s throne room and finds it occupied by Richter, who attacks Alucard.

When putting on the glasses, it becomes clear that Alucard is being controlled by some phantom magic. Defeating Richter results in one of the poor endings of the game, while attacking the magic orb controlling him, allows Alucard to free Richter. Once Richter is free of his spell, all hell breaks loose… the clouds above the castle begin to swirl, and a dimensional portal appears in the skies above the castle. A mirror image of Castlevania descends from the portal, and this “Inverted Castle” becomes accessible.

gfs_50215_2_65_mid-5B1-5D

This castle is a mirror image of Castlevania (although you must transverse it upside down this time). This time, just like Simon in Castlevania II, Alucard must recover the remains of Dracula. Once clearing this castle, Alucard finds his way to a hidden room occupied by the dark priest Shaft. He slays Shaft, but moments too late, Dracula’s resurrection is complete, and the battle with his father begins. Alucard is successful in defeating his father, in Dracula’s last moments, Alucard reveals Lisa’s final words. As he returns to dust, Dracula seems to express some remorse for his evil ways.

The ending of the game depicts Alucard, Maria and Richter watching the Castle crumble. Alucard, still dealing with having to battle his own father, declares that he is going to go into seclusion. Richter pledges to continue to maintain the Belmont legacy, while Maria hints that she might attempt to learn more about Alucard and learn the secrets of his secluded nature.

1476: Castlevania III — Trevor Belmont, Sypha Belnades, Grant, and Alucard vs. Dracula.

1576: Castlevania Adventure – Christopher Belmont vs. Dracula
1591: Castlevania Adventure II – Christopher Belmont vs. Dracula
1691: Castlevania – Simon Belmont vs. Dracula
1698: Castlevania II – Simon Belmont vs. Dracula
1792: Castlevania: Rondo of Blood — Richter Belmont and Maria Renard vs. Dracula
1797: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night – Alucard vs. Dracula

1897: Dracula the novel
1917: Castlevania: Bloodlines – Jonathan Morris and Eric Lecarde vs. Dracula

Difficulty: Medium This title is fairly easy going for the most part. Unlimited saves make things much less stressful. Anyone with a bit of patience can manage to power up before taking on new areas and bosses. This game sort of sets the standard for the future titles in terms of difficulty. The challenge here comes from exploration and finding all of the hidden and secret rooms.
Story: Very well done. We finally learn a bit of history behind Dracula, as well as backstory on Alucard.

 

Originality: Overlooking many of the elements borrowed from Metroid, this game represents the new direction of the Castlevania series. Out with the old and in with the new.

Soundtrack: Excellent stuff here. New original tunes, CD quality audio. The music matches the game perfectly in most respects.

Fun: Very fun title. For a change, I found myself wanting more once the game was over. I can’t say enough good things here.

Graphics: This game is an excellent example of the what the Playstation could do. Excellent character models and background scenes.

Playcontrol:  Another win here. Everything feels natural with this title. The buttons what they “feel like” they should do. Whoever mapped the controls to the in game abilities did a masterful job.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – For many, this game IS Castlevania. While completely different from the older games, there is no denying that Symphony of the Night was responsible for bring the series back into the attention of the mainstream audience. This is one title I think no gamer should be without.

Currently available: Playstation Network

Other Reviews In This Series:

CVCV II – CV IIICVACVA II – Super CVDracula X BloodlinesSotNCV64 – CotM ChroniclesHoDAoSLoIDoSCoDPoROoECVA RebirthJudgment 

LoS Los: Mirror of FateLoS II