Looking Back: The Origins of Hitman

Hitman: Codename 47 is a game I remember fondly from when it was first released. I had maximum hype replaying the demo, exploring every permutation for the restaurant assassination or just running around shooting mindlessly. As an adolescent, I thought it was one of the coolest concepts ever. Thankfully, when it came out it wasn't a disappointment, although it's too long ago to remember more than hazily. After purchasing the series courtesy of a Steam sale I decided to replay the original: not bad timing, considering that Hitman V has been announced.
Anyway, to get to the game itself, the gameplay concepts were, for the time, quite novel and well-executed. Thief had been released two years prior, but Hitman wasn't a mere retread of that brilliant game. One of its defining mechanics was the ability to change one's appearance, namely to open up otherwise inaccessible areas, perform a role that allows you to pull off the hit, lose pursuers if discovered, or fit in with patrolling goons. It's a great concept and executed quite well. As a result, most missions can accordingly be accomplished stealthily, with little or no loss of life. The game stresses the importance of this, posing heavy penalties for indiscriminate mayhem or dying (ie. using a continue). If you're too unsubtle the Agency may even decide to terminate you. Another key aspect was monitoring guard routes in order to avoid detection or time kills when out of sight. Although not perfect, the AI was impressive for the era and punished sloppy execution. Bodies had to be kept hidden, weapons kept out of sight unless appropriate, etc.
However, Codename 47 is also an action game, and missions that involve a lot of combat are by far the weakest. The guns are laggy, weak, and often inaccurate, Hitman takes a lot of damage, and they don't fit in well with the concept of the game. It makes for a schizophrenic play experience. By far the worst offenders are the missions "Say Hello to My Little Friend" and "Plutonium Runs Loose", which are the longest and most challenging. "Say Hello" has you take out a drug leader surrounded by virtually an entire company of troops, some stationed in watchtowers, as well as multiple objectives that require you to not only alarm every soldier in the base but perform a Benny Hill impersonation twice as you try to avoid the hail of machine-gun fire. "Plutonium Runs Loose" is similar, in that it has a lot of enemies, but you also have to ensure that you're relatively stealthy and thorough in killing everyone otherwise the target will be alerted, activate a nuke, and run to his limo to escape. Fucking asshole. Although the gunplay might have been acceptable for the time, it hasn't aged well, and shows up as the weak link in the original's design.
I also found that the game's presentation holds up relatively well from a design standpoint. The visuals are atmospheric and the music is pretty good.  There's a storyline in there, but it's pretty haphazardly told and forgettable. Something about cloning and creating the perfect killer, the standard paranoia concerning genetic manipulation. Anyway, despite its missteps I found replaying the first Hitman to be a highly enjoyable and nostalgic experience, and definitely one of the more seminal games in the stealth-action genre. Hitman 2 and Blood Money are definitely next on the list to play.
So, what were your experiences with the Hitman series, and how do you rate the first? What do you want to see out of the fifth game?

Looking Back on 2010: The Topic That Defined This Year (Long)

   Instead of simply picking and choosing a GOTY list from the fraction of games I played this year, I'd like to do something a little different and nominate what I thought the central issue in the gaming world was. And the winner is "To what extent are games art?" Although this is a question that has haunted the medium of late, it seems like in 2010 almost everyone was talking about the subject, thanks in so small part to the efforts (ie. trolling) of Roger Ebert. Perhaps we will look back on this year and see it as a turning point after which game developers started to seriously consider their work as contextually determined cultural products taking part in a broader media ecology? Or not, probably not. 
   At present I see possibly five areas where development of games as an "art" form may occur: the haphazard development of the traditional games industry, self-consciously adult games that target that demographic through the exploration of more mature subject matter (for ex. Heavy Rain as it is aimed at an older audience but not independently developed), and indie games. For the sake of completeness I'll mention motion controls and the iPad/iPhone cottage industry, but I'm not qualified to discuss them in any detail: I only own the Wii and not the Kinect or Move, and I do not own an iPad/iPhone. If anyone plays games on those platforms I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.
1. Traditional Games Industry
   It is difficult to say anything decisive about the games industry as such because the field of video games covers everything from rather abstract and traditional rule-bound games (such as Tetris) to games which invest a great deal in their storytelling (adventure games, etc.). Commonly, games are dismissed or demeaned as an artform because of their typically shallow and derivative plots, stereotypical characters, and lack of socially acceptable messages. However, the assumption is that (a) games are a medium to be judged by the standards of other narrative mediums and only as narratives (b) all games are to be judged by the same standard. However, it seems clear to me that games differ wildly in the extent to which they rely on narrative, and not only that, but the way that they utilise narrative is medium-specific. One way they can do this is through interactive storytelling, ie. games that make meaning primarily through interaction with the world - Half-Life, Shadow of the Colossus, Silent Hill 2 and Shattered Memories, etc. I think this is a particularly good way to mediate the tension between games and their stories, but it's not the only way. The most common method is to utilise genre conventions and cliches, a condensed narrative, to minimise the time spent not playing the game. Although everyone hates on conventions and cliches, for video games this is not always a bad thing. If done cleverly or humorously this can be as effective a means of telling a story and shaping the gameplay experience as a verbose and more developed narrative, just as "lower class" speech can communicate meaning as effectively as the Queen's English. Moreover, this gives game writers the opportunity to indulge in mockery of the pretentious aspirations of mediums that sacrifice fun for deadly seriousness: for best effect this should be paired with cynicism and parodic exaggeration, such as House of the Dead: Overkill or the Dead Rising series. The way Bulletstorm is being marketed is another example. 

   If we accept this then we can move on from misguidedly trying to emulate the narrative approaches of other mediums in video game form. Forget Metal Gear Solid, Uncharted, etc. They're not necessarily bad stories, they may even be far above the vg average, but that approach is simply the wrong one to have. Trying to make me identify with and pay attention to the story of an all-American Nolan North brotagonist when he spends the entire game stealing shit and slaughtering the natives is a patent absurdity. Same with simulating the thrill of warfare when your whole franchise is about the evils of war. Empathy and emotional identification (the raison d'etre of narrative cinema) are self-defeating emotions to invoke when married to arbitrary, amoral shooter or action mechanics. Although it's common to hate on Rockstar and their protagonists, at least they are honest about their characters being broken, evil, or disturbed sociopaths, putting to one side GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption.
   Perhaps if we're talking about 'art' as simply some kind of seal of quality, then the games that are that are the most fun, the most polished in terms of mechanics and execution, are worthy of being called art.  I'm inclined to adopt this standard for games that are of a high level of quality but are cynicial or indifferent to their narratives. I used to have the view that games with underdeveloped narratives, such as Gears of War, could only be enjoyed with a bad conscience, but this is an extremely perverse point of view to have as a gamer; one I've managed to work through with the help of curbstomping and chainsaw executions.
In summary,
*Games have a variety of ways to tell stories; they should tell them in ways that work for video games and not other media, obv.
*The traditional games industry hasn't done such a bad job of producing art. We've seen significant strides in video-game storytelling, as well as mechanically excellent games, and sometimes both. 
*Cliches, conventions, and other forms of shorthand storytelling are an efficient way of telling a story, a developed narrative isn't always appropriate or necessary.
2. The 'Adult' Game
   This will be short because I can only think of one example at the moment: Heavy Rain. Although this comes from the big-budget games industry, it is clearly targeting a different demographic, aiming to provide a new kind of experience and deal with more mature subject matter. There's a lot of pretentious bullshit surrounding this game, such as it being an 'interactive drama'. Basically, the mechanics are sufficiently simplified and minimised that an adult casual might feel comfortable buying this game (not that there's anything wrong with that), although really this is just another display of bad conscience about video games. If you're going to appeal to a casual audience, then you try to minimise the gaming aspect as much as possible, which is a disservice to the people who are going to buy your game (mostly gamers I'm going to assume). Just be honest about which market you're trying to appeal to and that you're making a video game instead of something never seen before. Games trying to be films is nothing new, mature video games have been around a long time as well. Still, there is a place for games like this, and there were moments where I thought Heavy Rain was brilliant: the mechanics and narrative come together to actually give a sense of weight and moral gravity to decisions. While it didn't necessarily succeed as a story, it did at least in part achieve its goals. Divested of pretentiousness, I'd like to see games with greater maturity and ambition.
*Stop being pretentious, David Cage.
*Nothing here is new as such, but these kinds of games do need to have more of a presence in the industry.
3. Indie Games
   Indie games have also done their part to generate a lot of discussion about what makes an art game. I will look at a few ways indie games have explored the relationship of gaming and art.
A) Conceptual art
   Games like Braid which are organised thematically. Although it's a brilliant puzzle-platformer, the storyline is poorly integrated and, except for the excellent ending and the thematic aspects, poorly told. Although I could appreciate what Braid was trying to do, I find conceptual art in general insufferable and a very poor fit for video games.
B) Game-art
  As an example, the company Tale of Tales trying to use games as a form of traditional artistic expression. But games are their own form of artistic expression and they're doing just fine! Although I agree with their stance on the value of interactive storytelling and the worthlessness of conceptual art, their games haven't backed up their statements particularly well. What they do has been done better elsewhere. 
C)  The pastiche
   Games that knowingly refer to gaming history and add in novel twists or combinations, such as Super Meat Boy and its radicalised platforming aesthetic. I think this is the most promising area of indie game development, and the one I'm most excited about, because rather than attempting to justify gaming through the importation of standards from other mediums or vague invocations of Art these games are based on the invocation and appreciation of the gaming medium.
4&5: ??? Giantbomb, you tell me.
 If you've stuck with me this far, thanks for reading. Hope you had a good year in gaming.


Die, Die Again: On the Mechanics of Masocore Games

After playing a number of XBLA and indie titles that either fall neatly into the masocore genre or share some aspects of their design, I'm prompted to wonder whether this represents a sound direction for the 2D platforming genre. I'm primarily thinking of games like Super Meat Boy, Spelunky, and VVVVV but also games like Limbo. Although Limbo is not a particularly difficult or twitch platformer, it still manages to rely heavily on trial-and-error and memorisation in order for the player to survive. To some extent, this is an inevitable aspect of playing a platformer. Experimentation and exploration are the only ways to develop mastery over the game and progress through the levels. However, the way death is handled in the masocore genre is akin to using a save-state in an emulator. Nothing is lost, and arguably, nothing gained in the act of dying. Although I don't deny that skills will improve and are still relevant to the masocore genre, they are significantly devalued by an unacceptable level of chance and repetition: playing is more akin to beating one's head against a wall than rehearsing for the deathless speed run.
For the masocore player, death is cheap. It is inevitable, no matter how good you are, that some aspect of timing or control will falter and you will die, over and over again. However, although one dies frequently, very little progress is lost so death is not punishing in any way. Although these games are difficult, the punishment is so trivial that players of almost any skill level can feel compelled to try their hand until they've succeeded at the task. This is most obvious in Super Meat Boy, where fully completing the game entails dying thousands of times. I'm inclined to say this is contradictory and not particularly good game design, being difficult without being punishing dwindles its impact.  For instance, Mega Man features jumps as hard or almost as hard as the above games, but punishes you severely for failure, the point to the difficulty being that you master a specific technique and become able to perform on demand.
Don't get me wrong, my intention is not to denigrate any of the above games, some of them are very good indeed, but I would want to say despite the fact they are masocore games rather than because of it. And as a result, they aren't as good as they could be, certainly not the perfect or near-perfect games that some are suggesting. So Giant Bomb, I would be interested to hear what you think of the above argument, which I'm not necessarily sure of myself, and your thoughts on the genre. Is the way it handles death essential and part of the fun, or is it a tiresome albeit distinctive gimmick?


I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream and the Decline of Adult Gaming

So for those who have never heard of it, I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream is a point-and-click adventure game that came out in 1995 and is based on a short story by Harlan Ellison.  
The premise is apocalyptic and brutal: humanity has been destroyed by nuclear warfare instigated by the sentient AIs of the Americans, Russians, and Chinese. Everyone is dead except for 5 individuals who have been kept alive for 109 years so that the Allied Mastercomputer, due to insanity and boredom, can torture them. He doesn't stop at physical torment, but also preys on their psychological weaknesses. However, the computer offers them a chance at redemption and potentially freedom if they play a "little game" he has devised for them. The setting/puzzles of the game reflect the psychological traumas of each character: Gorrister feels guilty for his wife having been institutionalised, Benny fought in Vietnam and was responsible for the deaths of some of the soldiers serving under him, Ellen is a traumatised rape victim, Nimdok is a Nazi doctor and also a Jew, and Ted is just paranoid and sleazy. In addition, the game has an interesting mechanic called the 'Spiritual Barometer' - similarly to the pthnisychological meter in Indigo Prophecy, if it drops too low it could potentially end in game over, but its increase represents the character having resolved the issues of his/her past.
Due to the way it skillfully uses dialogue, characterisation, mechanics, and the graphics/music to create a thematic whole, this is amongst the best if not the best adventure game I've ever played. Perhaps because it is an adaptation, the characters struggles feel more believable and their emotions less artificial. As one might guess from the summary of each character above, the game pushes into uncomfortable and dark territory that games barely if ever come close to broaching in present times.  For example, Heavy Rain squanders some of its emotional impact with questionable thematic elements (the incorporation of SF was a bad idea) and an awful twist, even though I appreciated many aspects of it. I would consider the Silent Hill series one of the few exceptions to the rule in uncompromisingly dealing with difficult subject matter, but other than that I cannot think of many other contemporary examples-increased swearing, sexual content, and gore is baditude rather than something that genuinely challenges us.
Not that all games need to be dark and difficult, but it seems that this kind of quirky, challenging game had its heyday in the 90s on the PC. My hypothesis would be it was easier to get away with these kinds of games before extreme regulation and scrutiny from cultural conservatives. Now we cannot even include the name 'Taliban' in a game for fear of someone being offended. Not to mention the Australian censorship of Left 4 Dead 2, which is a disgrace that weakens the game greatly. With these kinds of pressures, it's hard to imagine a game like I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream being made in 2010. 


A Belated Look at Silent Hill: Shattered Memories

The reason it's so belated is that this game is impossible to find in Australia, so I had to order it in from the UK. Nevertheless, here are my spoiler-filled thoughts on the game so if you haven't played it consider yourself warned: I will put a warning when I get into the events of the game's storyline.
The brilliance of  Shattered Memories is that it incorporates into the gameplay one of the underlying influences of the Silent Hill series, namely its debt to psychoanalysis. As the player character, one is psychoanalysed throughout the game: it monitors the player's responses to questions given by the psychologist and interactions with the world during gameplay. Based on how the game 'perceives' the players psychological inclination, it alters the environment, monster designs, and characters accordingly.  For instance, a psychologist asks the player probing questions concerning one's atitutdes towards family, sexuality, alcohol use, and sociability. I've not seen such a direct incorporation of the player's self into a game since Psycho Mantis in Metal Gear Solid, which is a shallow gimmick compared to how it's used here.
 It also appropriates another core aspect of the Silent Hill series, ontological confusion or the inability to separate psychological from physical reality, to structure its narrative. In this respect they remind me of David Lynch's films, especially Lost Highway.  However, instead of hellish, grimy, industrial settings, Harry Mason is placed in an eerily frozen world inhabited by "monsters from the id." These sequences are effective emotionally and tonally, creating a sense of fear and helplessness as the player can do nothing to combat them.                            (>>>>>SPOILERS, do not read on if you have not played the game<<<<).         

Im summation, I think they've revitalised the franchise and shown that the horror genre can still profitably be pursued in a more psychological direction. The game is probably too sophisticated in its handling of themes and its subject matter to make a serious impact on the industry, but I hope others will follow its example. In comparison, Silent Hill: Homecoming is a fairly faithful and playable tribute to the core SH series, but is too slavish to the formula without offering anything significantly new (at least from what I've played). For those that've stayed with me, how did you feel about Shattered Memories, the other more recent SH games, or the prospects of survival horror generally?

Beneath A Steel Sky: Old PC Adventure Games and My New Friend GOG

   So for those who haven't heard of it, Beneath a Steel Sky  is an old adventure game (1994) created by the guy who would later go on to create the Broken Sword series. Released as freeware, it is now widely available on the internet, but I downloaded it from GoG in order to test out the service and as an excuse to open an account. I won't talk too much about the site, as you check it out here, but it's a great service, the money goes to Polish company CD-Projeckt and thus The Witcher 2, and it is a nostalgia trip to the games I would see on shelves everywhere as a PC-gaming lad.  I largely missed out on the great adventure games of the 90s, so I plan to start off playing through some of the many classics I never played because I was too busy shooting stuff or hitting it with a sword.
   Anyway, BASS is set in an alternate-historical postwar Australia. The protagonist Robert Foster (the last name a reference to the shoddy imported beer) has grown up in "The Gap", or the Australian outback, a place for "tribals" living free of the the dystopian, computer-controlled and well-policed "Union City". Basically, Union City is a satire of post-war consumer capitalism, with its increasing class divisions, materialism, and rapid technological advances. Through a series of unfortunate events, Robert Foster finds himself taken to "Union City" where he must subvert it from the inside. Totally counter-cultural, dude. I'm not surprised that the artist who worked on The Watchmen lends his hand to some of the art on display. It is a little weird that Australian characters all have accents from the UK, but it still has a charm to it regardless.

Three Approaches to Storytelling

   One of the main reasons I'm finding PC adventure games so enjoyable is that they have an approach to narrative that is increasingly hard to find these days. We tend to have games based on two approaches, one 'realism' and another self-referential and fun titles that make little to no reference to the outside world. An example of the former would be GTA IV. Although I don't really like the term realism, as very few games even attempt to pass themselves off as 'real', what I'm getting at is that the storytelling is constrained by believability. Or at least believability in setting and character, as this illusion is broken instantly by game mechanics such as being able to mow down well-armed foes in their dozens. Anyway, Liberty City is meant to be taken as a microcosm of New York City, and the characters are presented as 'typical' (even if exaggerated or extreme). On the other extreme there's the obvious example of Nintendo franchises such as Mario and Zelda, with their ever-increasing cast of characters and stories that refer to past games in the series; they are creative games with an emphasis on fun and imagination, not the recreation in style or detail of an often depressing urban reality.
   Beneath A Steel Sky doesn't really fall into either camp . It satirically makes reference to our reality in the guise of science fiction, but because it is science-fictional it is not constrained to simply emulating the details of that reality. Instead it focuses on specific aspects of our societies in the guise of presenting us a different one.  The trope of a "stranger in a strange land" so often used in satire allows us to view the game world, and perhaps by extension our own world, critically. Adventure also tell stories of human drama and thus often have a deeper approach to characterisation and the emotions the player experiences. And more importantly, they can approach serious subject matter whilst retaining a sense of humour and playfulness.  I'm not sure what to call this third approach, but it is closer in style to literature or perhaps graphic novels than the games we have now. That we have games being marketed as "human dramas", a grand new revelation never seen before, highlights how far this genre and its narrative approach have fallen out of fashion.
   For instance I love the digs at insurance, factory work, and plastic surgery in the game as well as the character Gilbert Lamb. Although it isn't high comedy, the effete, perverted factory owner Gilbert is a memorable and amusingly awful character. His riches have allowed him to buy a coat made from the fur of the last ten beavers in the world, and yes, I suspect that this a metaphor laden with unfortunate meaning. At least, this is confirmed when you get to enter his home. He lives in squalour with his cat, and his prize possesion is a pussy video...involving cats, not pornography, but I think you get the point. Something tells me this character has never heard of psychoanalysis. Or of getting laid.

Adventure Gaming: Dead for a Reason?

   Unfortunately, the game mechanics highlight one of the reasons adventure games have collapsed in some markets and cling to life in Europe, although the retro revival to some extent goes against this trend. The approach to gameplay mechanics, flailing interactions with the environment and inventory (at least with the more illogical puzzles), can be numbingly functional, providing little joussaince for the player, leaving the dialogue and narrative as the points of interest that give meaning to the activity. This is understandable given the limitations of the time, as something to artificially increase length and difficulty, but I don't see why the gameplay mechanics couldn't have been improved by making the puzzles more logical. Still, I'm enjoying the game so far and look forward to playing through to the end, as well as experiencing more of a genre that I have foolishly neglected for too long.
If anyone has put up with this to the end, I thank you, and what do you think of PC adventure games? Do they still have a place in the present gaming environment, or what should be done to make them viable again?

Gaming and Economics: A Thought Experiment

 Economic issues are something rarely raised in video games, except for maybe 1337 macro and build orders. I can think of maybe a few instances where economic issues are raised at all in non-RTS games, although RTSes would be the best example. For instance, Fallout's representation of human stupidity, economic wars due to competition for limited resources resulting in a global apocalypse . Communities in the wasteland are built on the ruins of the promise of endless consumption and technological progress (advertisements looking like they were ripped straight from the 1950s). Or Bioshock as a meditation on what it would be like if capitalism were absolutely unchecked by law or ethics, say if we could sell guns from vending machines or treat surgery as artistic expression.
Sometimes a game's mechanics seem to appeal to the same part of the brain as capitalism does, the promise of shiny new loot such in games such as MMOs or Diablo, Dungeon Siege, Borderlands, etc.
So I was wondering, what would it be like if games were developed and played in markets not determined by global capitalism. What would be the genres, themes, game mechanics? If we lived in green societies, would we be stuck with awful biodegradable boxes that scratch our discs before we even play them? If it were a socialist society would you pay tax on everything you earn in World of Warcraft in-game? Would the gaming industry be more or less creative? Would we still get nickel and dimed by DLC?
Discuss, be creative, or maybe just come up with your best take on the "In Soviet Russia..." meme.


Why Akira Yamaoka is a Genius: Silent Hill 2's OST

If you aren't familiar with Silent Hill 2 or the work of Akira Yamaoka, you should correct this grievous error and acquire this game immediately. If that's not an option, or you have already, then feel free to read on.
Recently, I've become obsessed with the Silent Hill soundtracks, from the very first game's opening theme to Silent Hill: Homecoming. Quite simply, these are some of the finest game soundtracks ever recorded, and well-worth checking out even if you dislike the thought of playing a survival-horror game. The variety of styles is stunning: mournful yet uplifting rock guitar noodling, chilling industrial noise, more classical pieces, ambient electronica, metal, etc. I wish I had more of knowledge of composition to comment in detail on Yamaoka's work but really all that matters is it complements the twisted duality of the Silent Hill universe wonderfully. Like the very best game soundtracks it gives me a nostalgic feeling that makes me wish I could re-experience the game all over again.
Silent Hill 2's OST is probably my favourite so far. What would you say are your own favourite Silent Hill tracks or musical moments? 
For SH2 I recommend 'White Noiz', 'Overdose Delusion', 'True', 'Promise', 'Love Psalm' besides those linked below. Listing every track I think is great is too big a task for one blog alone.


Some Thoughts on Fragile Dreams and HOTD: Overkill

 The Post-Apocalypse Doesn't Seem Quite So Bad

Having only recently acquired a Nintendo Wii, I thought instead of writing the thesis chapter I desperately need to write, I would attempt to discuss some games that have impressed me in my limited playtime with it thus far. The first game that I acquired for the system was Fragile Dreams. I was immediately struck by its strong and distinctive visual style. For those unfamiliar with the game, it's an adventure title by Namco/Tri-Crescendo reminiscent of Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (not quite as dark though). The image above is one that I think perfectly captures what this game attempts to convey with its visuals. Fragile Dreams is set in a post-apocalyptic society, one that has been interrupted by an unknown catastrophic event and begun to decay. If this were a western game, the environments would probably be drab neutrals - browns, blacks, greys, as has been the frequent complaint against games such as Fallout 3. The difference in approach is obvious. Although Fragile Dreams, much like Fallout, is concerned with the world as we know it in a state of ruin, it is much more aestheticised.
I think this is an effective approach because it makes the world more complex, mysterious, and emotionally ambiguous: even if this is a post-apocalyptic world where the protagonist is possibly the only person left alive, it can also be seen as beautiful. Nature is quick to reclaim what humanity relinquishes in death. This reminds me of a style of Japanese photography that seeks to find beauty solely in decay and impermanence. Instead of people, the game world seems to solely be populated by cicadas, fireflies, cats, and innumerable hostile ghosts who manifest as the emotional residue of those long-dead. However, the game isn't always a natural paradise. Much time is also spent exploring rusty, nasty-looking, and darkened shopping malls and train stations littered with trash and so on. The game can become quite eerie on occasions when the darkness coincides with Silent Hill-esque sound effects (making good use of the Wii remote). The game maintains a nice balance between being visually lush and creepy.
Unfortunately I can't say much more than that at this stage, as I haven't gotten very far into the game. So far the design choices in sound and visuals have been excellent, emphasising what the Wii can do well - putting emphasis on design rather than just the technicalities of the engine. However, I can safely say that this is not in any way a bad game as some reviewers are suggesting, definitely not a 3 or 4 out of 10 anyway. Has there been some secret meeting where reviewers have decided to hate on Japanese games now? The graphics and sound are excellent, the writing is polished, and it is laden with atmosphere, everything an adventure game needs to be excellent.
HOTD: Overkill
Basically, this game is awesome. Its visuals remind me a lot of the film Planet Terror from Grindhouse, with its liberal use of film grain, visual artefacts, slow-down effects, etc. Unfortunately, the engine is kind of bad as it suffers from frequent slowdown, but the style is such an effective pastiche of 70s grindhouse films that I can't help but forgive the game. Again, a strong and distinctive style does much to overcome the game's shortfalls in comparison to more technically impressive games. 

 TL;DR Maybe I'm just sick of the Unreal Engine?