By Video_Game_King 18 Comments
Good evening, ghouls and ghosts. (Ignore the fact that I post these blogs in the morning.) Welcome to a frightful Halloween edition of Renegade Ego, wherein I look at the spookiest games lurking in the shadows. Unfortunately, I've already covered Amnesia and Clock Tower a long while back, so we're stuck with games that are merely horror-themed, like The Walking Dead and Ghoul Patrol.
Not to imply that I hold any ill feelings toward The Walking Dead (we'll get to Ghoul Patrol later). On the contrary: it has some important issues, but damn, do its working elements work. Reviewing it, though, is going to be strange, since there's really only the narrative to talk about, and I'm not entirely equipped to handle these conditions. Oh, well. Narrative ahoy!
First, since this is a game about zombies, it only makes sense to discuss how the game actually depicts the zombies. The prognosis? Not very good. Now, the main appeal for zombies seems to be their humanity; they're scary because they're still barely recognizable as human, but do some pretty sick, inhuman stuff (forcing you, as an actual human, to do the same). Well, unless you're The Walking Dead, in which case the zombies aren't even remotely close to looking human. If anything, their grotesque faces look more like demons than anything human. (Demons that are wearing flannel and jean shorts, strangely enough. Can nobody in the South afford a decent burial?) Now this could still work if we're going for a hell on Earth affair a la Metro 2033, but that doesn't appear to be the case with this game. The Walking Dead's more into the realistic, a tactic that works really well when you're wringing the player's emotional core dry, but not so much when you want your zombie hordes to carry a sense of pathos.
Now to be fair, the game does have a completely valid alternate strategy for drawing some sympathy from the undead. Rather than do it through visuals, zombies elicit response through the roles they occupy. Killing a zombie the characters don't know is a sight to behold, but if the writers provide even the smallest amount of information regarding their human life, expect a heaping pile of sympathy with a dollop of emotion on the side. This may sound like a callous way of granting characters humanity, since you're not actually dealing with their inherent humanity, but if that's a problem, it never bothered me. Man, was I on edge when spoiler spoiler spoiler or during spoiler plot twist spoiler. Hell, things get pretty heavy even when you don't know much about the zombified, which is the case with all the early zombie moments. What? It's hard to develop a deep relationship in about three minutes, so it's amazing that what happens in those first few minutes is as strong as it is. Of course, you can't pull this off every twelve seconds, so this stratagem still has some pretty strong limitations.
But enough about zombies in this blog about a zombie game. Let's talk about the characters. Hoo boy. Their worst is quite terrible. OK, there are a few good characters (Lee and a few of the female characters), but everybody else is an emotional mess. I get it: the collapse of society can wreak havoc on your psyche, especially when personal loss enters into the equation, but things seem to go downhill awfully fast. Take Larry up there, for instance. He's pretty much a seething ball of hatred who approves of nothing you, the player, do. Lee could ride a herd of buffalo into the Motor Inn, and he'd be the first to complain about it all going bad in a week. Don't think I'm letting the other characters off the hook, though. A lot of the story consists of Kenny and Lilly just yelling at each other, and Ben is essentially a whinier version of Steve Burnside, contributing nothing of value to the group and fucking things up so hard that I'm surprised I let him off the hook as much as I did. Consider this a sampling of the short-fused, petty cast. If the story is to succeed and draw me in, it has to be in spite of them, not because of them.
The story succeeds and draws me in in spite of the characters. I don't even know how to put it. I don't even know how to begin. Maybe with the game parts, since this is a game, and man, does it know. Not in a Duke Nukem 3D way, where the levels are fun to play through, but more by making sure you know how the zombie apocalypse is taking its toll on the various people throughout. Want to understand how hard it is to kill a zombie? Make the controls disorienting and give the player only a couple of seconds to reaction. Oh, emotionally hard? That's fine. You're gonna be forcing Lee to perform these actions, anyway, so it's as emotionally hard on you as it is on him. This type of thing is par for the course in The Walking Dead. It knows exactly how to tug at your heartstrings, and even when you know it's going on, you're not immune. The fact that you're holding a controller is simply another means by which the game achieves this.
The best of the interactive features, though, is definitely all the moral choice you're forced to make throughout. For a moral choice to work, there can't be one right answer (remember BioShock?), something The Walking Dead does right......You know what I mean. There are a ton of ways to approach the situation at hand, but it's hard to say if there's one right way to approach it. There's just never enough information at the time to know if it will pay off, and there are multiple ways to look at anything in the game, really. For instance, my goal was to keep the group together at all costs without actively playing favorites, which eventually resulted in only one character definitively surviving. ('Twas not I.) But that's only one of many ways to approach the situation, and since you're only given a few seconds for each decision, they're as hard for you to make as it is for Lee. Sensing a theme, yet? I'm also a fan of the community stats on all the moral choices, since it puts your choices into some kind of context, and it's interesting to compare, from time to time. My only problem with this (and it is admittedly a very minor one) is that the early choices on who lives and dies lack any sort of emotional punch. I've only known these people for five minutes, and you expect me to develop some type of bond with them? Fortunately, the characters you do end up knowing for a while end up in some of these decisions, so this is a problem that fixes itself over the course of the game.
Oh, right. I probably should have mentioned the gameplay at some point in this review. Or the scenario. Zombies pop up and you have to run about all of Georgia looking for a place without shambling dead. With that out of the way, the gameplay. I'd say it's an adventure game, but it's more accurate to call it a ton of tiny little adventure games bundled into one. Turns out this works to the game's benefit. The puzzles are manageable and make a lot of sense, meaning they're out of the way long enough for you to get back to the juicy, juicy story. The only significant problem here is that controlling Lee can be iffy, and not always in an "enhances the narrative" fashion. But really, is any of that important? Are you coming to this because it's a game? Yea, the fact that you're actively driving the story forward with a controller is an important factor in The Walking Dead's appeal, but are you going to get it because that one sewer puzzle is just so good? Of course not! You're gonna get this game because of the story and the world it creates, by which I mean "you're gonna get this game".
- Somehow, grotesque zombies and petty characters combine into a great story.
- And the interactive elements only make it so much better.
- Oh, and there are game parts here, if you're into that sort of thing.
- Do you know how desperately I wanted to fit a Squidbillies joke in here? Sadly, it wasn't meant to be.
Is Mario getting in the groove scary? Well, it should be.
My, my, another strange game to blog about. No, it's not like The Walking Dead, where it's all narrative and I'm not up to the task of handling it. Hell, this is all gameplay, so I should be all set, right? Well, not exactly, because I can't quite figure out what I think about it. I could say that I like it, but I can't pinpoint why. Hell, I can't even name a single good feature this game has. And yet I have a lot more blog to write.
About a shooter, no doubt. Or at least something that heavily resembles a shooter. You get a variety of weapons, tons of enemies to shoot, and a few power-ups you gather here and there. Hell, there are even some cool boss battles, like a giant, demonic Robo-cop, or a giant demonic demon. But sadly, none of this adds up to a fun product, at least not in terms of shooting. I'd say it's just a framing issue. Plowing through the enemies in the game is not the ultimate goal, so there's nothing inherently fun about fighting them. No, score doesn't count as a motivator; there's nary a high score table in sight, so I'm a bit confused as to why the score's included in the first place. So the enemies, not being fun, become a nuisance simply meant to pad the game's length and add false depth. That may sound harsh, but keep in mind that they regenerate infinitely and constantly, often in the one place you do not want them to be. The only definitely positive thing I can say about the action-y parts is that it's best played in short bursts, something the password system thankfully allows.
I'd say that I have positive things to say about the exploration aspects of Ghoul Patrol, but I really don't. However, that's more due to my lack of eloquence than any ill will toward the level design. So what was I doing in these levels that I like so much? From what I remember 20000 years ago when I wrote this, you're dropped into a labyrinthine museum or a pirate ship or Asia or whatever and are tasked with rescuing the helpless pirates and samurai of those times from all sorts of demons. I know this sounds kinda mundane, but there's something about the levels that makes these goals enjoyable. Maybe it's how the developers balanced open-ended and linear level design simultaneously. Those areas I listed before? Every single one is a wide, open expanse of demons and people waiting to be killed by said demons. Fortunately, you're always provided with enough information to find your way around get the hang of the flow, so you're allowed the joy of exploring the levels without ever really getting lost in them. I'd also mention that the game rewards you for exploration, but it does so with points and weapons. I think we all know my stance on that. Whatever the case, LucasArts ended up with a fun little game about zombie exploration.
Too bad they never figured that out when they were actually making the game. All those things I mentioned before? If they're not shoved off to the side as far as possible, then the development team begrudgingly includes them. For instance, did I mention that the victims can die if you're too slow? What happens when they die? Nothing that I could spot. No less power-ups; no score penalty; no lost lives; no alternate ending; nothing. That just means one less person to rescue. And have I mentioned that the game has to teleport in victims for you to rescue after you've beaten a boss battle? Like it has to remind itself that rescuing people is a gameplay mechanic? So what we're left with is a game that actively shuns its one marginally redeeming feature while embracing the one aspect that simply isn't that good. Dear fuck, what a confused game this is.
I can probably imagine why that is: it came from the confused decade that was the 1990s, and man, does it show. The game opens up to rejected Garbage Pail Kids art and then transitions into two totally radical and gnarly teenagers deciding to spend their time at a museum. I know, this is already implausible, but bear with me. They find a book for summoning demons and are immediately surprised when it summons demons. What did they think would happen? What was the best case scenario? That it wouldn't work and you'd just be two gullible assholes in the back of a museum? I'd say this is the type of stupid that the game is known for, but fortunately, it isn't. This brand of idiocy is toned down in favor of a lighter, more jovial mood, with bouncy music and a cartoony aesthetic. I can deal with that. I'd go so far as to call it the cherry on the top of this Sunday, but given that most of it is at the bookends of the game, it's more like the bread on a meaty sandwich. Except the sandwich isn't meaty. It has cheese and lettuce and tomatoes, but it thinks it's meaty. Now would you eat that sandwich?.......Why did I end the blog in such a way that would inevitably make me hungry?
- I was going to ask how Konami could make a shooter that isn't very fun, but then I remembered that LucasArts is behind this game. That explains everything?
- Maybe it also explains why the levels were fun in spite of all this?
- It was the 90s. That is all.