Phantasmal: Early Access First Impressions

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Phantasmal: Early Access Impressions

Publisher: Eyemobi Ltd.
Developer: Eyemobi Ltd.
Release date: 30/04/2015

Set in the infamous Kowloon Walled City (an overpopulated, largely ungoverned Hong Kong metropolis which was torn down in 1994), Phantasmal is a procedurally generated, rouge-like survival horror game. The developers describe it as The Biding of Isaac meets Silent Hill, lofty ambitions indeed. So, are they on the right path? Is this Lovecraft inspired journey into madness heading in the right direction or is this another misguided step to terrify us with cheap scare tactics and underwhelming gameplay?

Well, the first signs are rather promising. Waking in the bowels of an abandoned building, your only hope if you wish to survive is to carefully navigate the maze-like corridors and empty rooms set before you. With your trusty flashlight in hand you, somewhat hesitantly, take your first steps into the darkness. It is not long before you realise that you are not alone. Strange, humanoid creatures shuffle mindlessly in the shadowy hallways and once alerted to your presence will hunt you down, pushing your sanity towards breaking point, forcing you to start all over again.

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There are weapons you can use to keep these forces at bay. Wooden planks and lead pipes can be used to bludgeon these foes and there are also some basic firearms if need arises, but these should only be used as a last resort. Make too much noise and you will attract the attention of ‘The Sleeper’, a huge tentacle strewn beast that cannot be stopped and, once awoken, will stalk you relentlessly. If you are going to endure this nightmare, a stealthy approach is a must. Be aware of your surroundings, use the torchlight only when needed and when all else fails, run.

Whilst the core gameplay mechanics are in place, Phantasmal still has a way to go. The enemy A.I. is a little suspect and it’s often difficult to know if or when you will be detected. Sneaking through the buildings many rooms and passageways is genuinely tense, but it would be nice to know that you can fire your gun once in awhile without being so heavily punished. Even a minor mistake can result in your death, forcing you to start all over again.

Sleeper at elevator

I died a lot during my time with Phantasmal, learning each time that I did. Each encounter was different, but with a little time and a large helping of luck I was able to find my way only to be foiled once again. The procedural nature of this game is certainly interesting and will keep you on the edge of your seat. Whether it can produce some of genre defining set pieces to elevate itself from the crowd only time will tell, but it’s a genuine concern.

Eyemobi are hard at work and aim to complete the early access stage of development within three to six months. With a bit more graphical polish, some much needed balancing and some display and audio tweaks, Phantasmal may just be a descent into madness that some of us crave.

 

Reviewer – Ian P.

White Night Review | XBox One | PC

white-night-game-logo-low-20140512It is hard not to be initially taken by White Night. The heavy film noir style coupled with the gravelly voiceover harks back to the old style detective and horror movies with the presentation wrapped up in a stark black and white palette. It feels distinctly fresh, different than many other titles that have arrived in the last few months, simply by daring to look different. How it plays however is distinctly old school.

The plot centres on the exploration of a house where the lights have gone out and no one appears to be home. As should be obvious there is some form of tragedy that has occurred and the main aim divulges into two separate requirements, to get out and find out what happened. What this translates to is a noir version of Resident Evil where fixed camera angles present each environment for both exploration and puzzle solving.

It also presents each arena with enemies. Specifically apparition’s intent on consuming the player should they to stray too close. They can be defeated by electric light, and the creation of that is one of the central pillars of the gameplay. The art style is not just an artistic choice; it is also key to progress.

White_Night_Launch_Screenshot_2_1425397837Light plays an important part throughout the game as generating it illuminates solutions and creates the ability to defeat the apparitions. But it needs to be electric light, something that is in short supply upon initially entering the mansion, leading to matches being the only way to initially explore the surroundings. There is a thrill of both nervousness and intrigue in exploring this location under limited light, trying desperately to find a light switch to alleviate the brooding atmosphere present in the environment.

This is where the game excels, the slow pace of exploration and gradual unravelling of the story through finding clues and solving puzzles is both tense and exhilarating. There is a pervasive feeling of foreboding in every room that is entered, a sense of danger mixed with intrigue that is very well expressed by the art style where at times the only window open to the player is created by a single match.

White_Night_Launch_Screenshot_3_1425397838The other clever aspect of this is limiting the number of matches that can be carried at any time. With only 12 in the inventory and refills not always available there is a risk and reward balance to take into account when exploring. How far is it worth trekking to explore further when the only supply of light could run out? Certainly there were moments during my playthrough where I feared my supply would dwindle, adding another layer of anxiety to the experience. Coupled with a manual save system it meant each exploration trip became a question of how far could I go before needing to head back to a save location. It is a good dynamic, one that forced decisions onto me on a regular basis and made me question what I needed to do so that I did not lose the progress that I had made so far.

Unfortunately this also leads to the biggest frustration. The apparitions that exist can kill in a single hit and are frustratingly inconsistent in their environment placement. They appear to follow no fixed pattern and appear almost at random, leading to some of the most annoying exploration I have had for a very long time. Due to the fixed camera angles it can be incredibly easy to get caught on a piece of scenery and the darkness means walking blindly into an apparition is far easier than it should be. There have been attempts to provide signs that something is wrong through the flicking of the match light but that is rarely enough indication before I was hit.

It can almost ruin the game as an exploration experience and it comes across as feeling almost forced, as if the developers felt like a threat was required to provide impetuous and fear to the environment they had created. While it does fit in and makes sense with the plot there are points where simple exploration mixed with well-crafted scares and a sense of unease would have provided the same outcome.

White_Night_Launch_Screenshot_4_1425397838There are also a lot of written collectibles, the tale being told piecemeal by journals, diary entries and correspondents. It breaks the flow of the game, consistently stops and starts the gameplay and calls out for the words to be spoken rather than read. However the reality of independent development means this may have been a cost they could not afford to take.

White Night feels like a good idea filled with compromise. A superb setting and art style compounded by the need for a threat that nearly overrode my enjoyment of the game. I liked the exploration and unravelling a tale in an environment that felt both familiar and different, using light to discover my next move and plot my escape. There is a lot to enjoy here, a lot to explore but be warned the frustrations could eventually suffocate that feeling of accomplishment.

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Stranded Deep: Early Access Preview

island_foliageStranded Deep looks like a fantastic game, taking core concepts from successful survival games and developing them further, all the while sprinkling in a little island hopping and you’ve got a foundation for success. Unfortunately, in such an early state, Stranded Deep struggles to deliver more than a simple crafting system and very little to actually do once you’ve constructed the half-dozen buildings and exhausted yourself at the ocean floor while avoiding sharks.

You’ll initially be given a lightning fast tutorial on the plane that is destined to crash and deliver you to the start point of the game proper: Stranded in a life raft with your paddle in the middle of a vast ocean, with little more than a few bare essentials to see you through. You are surrounded by a number of islands that appear full of potential and all seems well, until the appearance of the first shark that circles your inflatable raft is a terrifying one as you’ll ponder the possibility that it will tip you into the water and you’ll have to survive a harrowing Jaws-like scenario as you cling to the minor possibility of survival.

Once safely land-bound you’ll find everything you need to survive in the form of logs, trees, bindings and crabs. Unfortunately with no real guide with your crafting you’ll spend a lot of time grabbing around for a lot of raw materials before you’ll finally craft an axe and a safe place to sleep at night. With no guidance the system feels daunting and broken and yet holds a lot of potential on paper. Everything is crafted in world rather than from a menu, you build a pile, equip the correct tool and build anything from parts of a shelter, to a new raft (to traverse island to island). This system is at such an early stage it becomes an annoyance to use, as you can’t bind items to keys or manage your inventory as everything is randomly assigned a slot at this stage in the build.

spearfishingStranded Deep looks absolutely beautiful. The Day & Night cycles are crisp, clean and will help truly immerse you in the world; however the islands across this tropical landscape are all too similar to really offer a true procedurally generated experience as promised. I spent a long time relying on my original supplies and struggling through because of the lack of individuality from island to island and wasn’t lucky enough to stumble across a bountiful shipwreck until much later.

If you’re lucky to spawn near a cache of special gear hidden in an underwater shipwreck, then you’re going to enjoy the first hour far more than if you’re left to do it on your own. You may also happen across the watch that gives you very basic readings of thirst and hunger, which will help guide you – though not by much considering your need for food becomes almost a singular focus as it diminishes at an almost impossible rate, while thirst will last a week without need to be managed. The mechanics became a lot more stressful once I was aware of them and an annoyance as opposed to a challenge as they should be in a game of this type.

island_foliageFor something that looks like a game based on Castaway you’re given no objective for survival or escape and after a couple of hours you’ll have probably seen a lot of what the game has to offer at this stage and even some things you weren’t supposed too – like a flying shark that randomly jumps a mile out of the ocean. I want to love this game. This is the survival game I’ve been wanting for a long time – no silly natives attacking you or zombies waiting around every corner, but simply you against nature. The lack of direction or coherent mechanics makes enjoyment tough and the lack of variety in the world stops you continuing for the immersion.

I’d love to see an end goal in place to allow me to get rescued and a much more robust tutorial that tells me exactly what I can do within the world, while adding a lot more variety and options with.

Resident Evil Remastered Preview

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Resident Evil is one of the most successful series of video games I have had the pleasure of playing. Surviving from the original Playstation with countless titles released over the past twenty years, the majority of which I have absolutely loved, this series is one of my favourites. I don’t think I am alone when I say that as time has progressed, the games themselves have changed drastically from their survival horror roots. With the release of Resident Evil 6 a couple of years ago, the only aspect that remained from the mid nineties seemed to be the title.

ResidentEvil_1204_01The reviews and sales of Resident Evil 6 were poor and this backlash forced Capcom to seriously reconsider the future of this franchise, in doing this they have looked back to the successful past and what originally made these games so great – the survival horror element. To test the waters of how to take the series forward Capcom have decided to re-release the first Resident Evil for the current generation of consoles. Originally I thought this would mean a complete update of the original title that was released on the Playstation and the Saturn in 1996, but it is in fact a HD remake of the Gamecube version that was released in 2002. This has become a little confusing but does make sense, as this version still looks impressive even today.

Luckily I can say that this version of the game is one of my all time favourites, I even went out and bought a Gamecube solely so that I could play this title. When people talk about a game being a console seller, I always think back to this and the impact it had on me. At the time this game looked incredible, being a massive visual improvement over the 1996 version. The game itself was also expanded on with extra areas and story added, so that it felt fresh and different as you played through it; a cheap cash in this was not.

ResidentEvil_1204_05Will this new HD remake have a anything new added? Sadly it appears not and this does make me feel that this won’t have the impact that it needs, to make Capcom realise that Resident Evil fans don’t want an action orientated game. A few new features have been announced though, with a completely new control scheme available to bring the game a little more up to date, the option to use the old tank controls is still there though, so it will be interesting to see what difference 360 movement will make to the gameplay. The camera will also be improved with the option to play in the original 4:3 ratio or a new 16:9 widescreen version, which should fill and look superb on your modern HD TV.

ResidentEvil_1204_07

I am sceptical about this release. I do fear it could just be a cash in for Capcom, as the game is still essentially the same as the one released over ten years ago. I hope the graphical updates are more than just a HD upscale, as it has been proven in the past that this can make games look terrible. If the time has been taken to redraw and model the characters and environments, then this could be a great way for both returning and newcomers to experience one of the greatest examples of survival horror. I really hope it does do well, as I would love to see a full update of Resident Evil 2.

Resident Evil Remastered is released online only on the 20th January in the U.K. It will be available on the PS3 and Xbox 360 running at 720p. With full 1080p output available on the PC, Xbox One and Playstation 4 versions.

 

The Evil Within PS4 Review

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The Evil Within Review

Publisher: Bethesda Softworks

Developer: Tango Gameworks

Platform: PS4

It’s raining, dark clouds fill the sky, the merciless cold tightens its grip. With uneasy steps you make your way to the entrance of Beacon Mental Hospital, the scene of a reported multiple murder. Playing as Detective Sebastian Castellanos, you have been sent here to investigate the scene; it’s dark and mysterious past haunting your every step. With great unease you slowly push the great wooden doors, pausing as the smell of death welcomes you. Mutilated bodies are scattered across the grand entrance hall, their blood has covered every surface. The uncomfortable silence is broken with a feint cry for help, someone has survived.

Bound by your feet and hung from the ceiling, your eyes slowly open as you wake. Blood trickles from an open wound, running down your arm and dripping onto the tiled floor. A substantial man stands in front of you, his beaten face partially obscured by a makeshift metal mask, his clothes are drenched in blood. Turning away he approaches one of the neighbouring bodies, your can’t quite move your head enough to witness the barbarism, but the sound of metal as it slices through flesh is enough to send a wave of panic running through you. The muffled screams fall silent, paying you no attention, this butcher walks past carrying a dripping torso into the adjoining room. You notice a knife protruding out of the chest of another nearby victim, it promises the hope of survival.

online_brain_1399631051The opening minutes of Shinji Mikami’s latest offering, The Evil Within, are horrific, frightening and a little confusing, setting the tone for perfectly as we follow Sebastian through this nightmarish world. Each section is played out in the form of chapters and until later on in the story, it is often unclear exactly what is happening. It is an interesting idea as you’re kept constantly on your toes, you never know what is going to transpire or indeed where. You can be safe in the knowledge however that is it going to be gruesome.

The environments created here are in equal measure beautiful and disturbing: Devastated buildings, blood soaked sewers, abandoned villages, all speak of horrifying torment and are genuinely unsettling places to be. Couple this with masterful use of lighting and you will find yourself within a world that offers very little comfort. Adding further to the distressing surroundings are the convincing sound effects. Crackling fire, heavy footsteps, grinding metal, tortuous screams are all expertly handled and likely to live long in the memory.

Mutilated creatures, known as the Haunted, will hunt you mercilessly. These human-like creatures are harrowing in appearance, from their faces stricken with barbwire, to the rudimentary weapons all suggest a death that will be swift and violent. Thankfully there are various ways to dispose of our would-be slayers and this will change depending on the scene. Guns blazing is an obvious choice but, with limited resources that’s not always the best option. The Haunted are capable of absorbing a considerable amount of damage and a steady hand is required if you are going to take them down. One headshot is often not enough, a well-placed shot may indeed scatter parts of their brain, but this won’t stop them, their pursuit is relentless; this can lead to very tense and unnerving encounters, praying you have enough ammunition to stop the onslaught.

village_headshot_1399630550With this is mind a stealthier approach maybe your best chance of survival. Most unaware enemies can be killed instantly with a sharp shiv delivered swiftly to the base of the skull. Their unpredictable movements will make this challenging, they twitch, seemingly uncontrollably and will quite often turn quickly as if they sense your presence. Bottles can be thrown to distract them or lure them into well placed traps, but with a limited throwing arm this is not easy. This does nullify the use of stealth somewhat and you will find that you will rely on your shooting skills, no matter how nerve shredding this might be.

Your arsenal of weapons steadily increases as you progress. Early on you will find a fairly weak pistol, thankfully it’s not too long before your firepower increases. Worthy of special mention is the crossbow, capable of firing various types of bolts it is easily the most diverse weapon you will find and the most satisfying to use. You can set traps using the proximity mines or simply freeze the Haunted in place and shatter their ice-covered bodies into tiny pieces. Let’s not forget the matches: All enemies are susceptible to fire, find a corpse and you should set it ablaze before it reanimates and hunts you down. Careful timing and a steady nerve and it’s possible to burn a host of undead with a single flame.

online_village_knifefight_1399631055Scattered amongst the ruins is a substance simply called ‘green gel’.  You are able to use this at various stages to upgrade your equipment or abilities. Do you want more health or extra stamina? Perhaps your weapons need to be more powerful or you may need to increase the amount of munitions you can carry. Careful management is needed as it can make the between life and death.

Sadly, The Evil Within is not without its flaws. The wonderfully dark plot loses its way at times and some of themes are not fully explored. Sebastian himself is a little wooden as the lead character, he seems undisturbed by horrors he is witnesses which can detract a little. The cut scenes don’t quite have the graphical splendour that they deserve and the daunting level of difficulty will no doubt alienate some. If you can get past these faults however what you will find is another example of why Shinji Mikami is considered one the finest architects of survival horror. This is not a masterpiece, but with extraordinary levels of butchery, disgustingly beautiful presentation and wicked storytelling, it’s not far off.

Score – 9/10

Reviewer – Ian 

P.T.

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P.T.

Publisher: Konami
Developer: Kojima Productions
Platform Reviewed: PS4
Release date: 12/08/2014

It’s approximately 11:30 pm, your family have all retired to bed, safe under their duvets, content and at peace. You turn the lights off, put on your headphones and snuggle down into the welcoming arms of your favourite chair. It’s just a game, you hear yourself saying as you boot P.T. for the very first time, how scary can it be ?

Waking in a dark uninhabited room, you stand on the cold and unwelcoming concrete floor, there is a light in the distance. You hear the feint buzzing of the florescent light as it flickers above a dark wooden door, there is nowhere else to go. To escape this lonely place the only way is forward. Blinded by the light, you begin to familiarise yourself with your surroundings. You’re in a hallway of someone’s home, is this your home? There is no way to be sure. A radio crackles in the distance. From it, a news report murmurs about a man driven insane who slaughters his entire family. Is this his home? Am I that man?

Moving down the corridor you notice the first signs of life. There is a sideboard, garnished with family photographs, you peer through the adjacent window, looking for any indication of where you might be, but nothing, it’s as though the darkness has swallowed the world. As the hallway turns to the right, you press on. Rubbish has been left to accumulate, wine bottles, half eaten food, medication have all been left behind. What happened here? There is a door to your right, the handle rattles as you try to open it, it won’t budge. Carrying on further down the hallway there’s an open door which leads to a dimly lit staircase. There is nowhere else to go but down. With a sharp intake of breath, you grasp the handle, eyes closed, you slowly push the door open. Time stands still as you ponder… what is waiting for you on the other side?

You’re back in what seems the beginning of the passageway, an overwhelming sense of unease grips you, you turn and try to escape. The door won’t open. You must venture forward. Carrying on nothing seems to have changed, everything is as it was, you turn right once again, this time the door to the stairwell is closed, you try the handle, nothing. Suddenly there is a loud noise behind you, you turn quickly. One of doors begins to rattle and shake, the handle twists uncontrollably, something is trying to get out. The door to the stairwell is now open, rushing down the stairs you burst through the door, desperately trying to escape from whatever is trying to break free. You’re back in the hallway, will you dare to carry on ?

P.T. or Playable Teaser, was released earlier this week by 7780s Studio and is free to play from the PSN store. Heralded as an interactive tech demo, fans of the horror genre were encouraged to give it a try. What we now know is that 7708s Studio is fake and that P.T. is a preview of a new entry in the Silent Hill franchise. Hideo Kojima, of Metal Gear Solid fame, has teamed up with movie director Guillermo del Toro, who brought Hellboy and Pans Labyrinth to the big screen, to bring us ‘Silent Hills’. Which will star actor Norman Reedus, who plays Daryl Dixon in ‘The Walking Dead’ TV series, as the main protagonist. After spending a couple of hours with P.T., Silent Hills could be something rather special. It may finally be the horror game console gamers have been craving.

Viewed entirely from a first person perspective, P.T. manages to create an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia, the slow pace with which your character walks only increases the tension. Interactivity is kept to a minimum, many times you will be mashing the controller, desperately trying to progress and nothing will happen. Clicking the right stick will focus your attention and the screen will zoom into the area you are facing, as if you’re squinting, trying frantically to spot the next clue. Whilst this may sound frustrating, it is handled in such a creative way that it only increases the feeling of dread and isolation.

By all accounts, the graphics for this tech demo were scaled down and limited to 30 fps to ensure it was given an ‘independent feel’. If this is true, we can look forward to Silent Hills looking quite spectacular.  The world of P.T. looks astonishing, at times almost photo realistic. The atmosphere is genuinely unnerving and it truly is one of the most terrifying games I have ever experienced. If you are a fan of the horror genre, this comes highly recommended, but be warned this is not for those of a nervous disposition.  I look forward, somewhat hesitantly, to the release of Silent Hills.

 

Writer – MrBadDog