The hauntingest blog this side of the Giant Bomb.

The suave, daring, unrivaled King of Video Games. He is on an EROTIC quest to see if lesbians indeed have the goods. BEWARE, the Moon.

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!

It's not like his actual face is that much different.

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.

See, you guys? Even the zombies think you need to relax a bit. Why they're starting with Duck, though, is beyond anybody's guess.

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.

Hey, look at that. One of the rare faces that isn't cartoonishly warped. OK, maybe 'rare' is a bit much, but it's difficult to ignore just how exaggerated some of the faces can be.

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".

Review Synopsis

  • 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.

This screenshot is how you know Ghoul Patrol wasn't developed in America.

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?

Review Synopsis

  • 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.
18 Comments
18 Comments
Posted by EXTomar

I thought The Walking Dead was a lot like Heavy Rain. In that both are specular games with a heavy story driven narrative but you can only play them once because the second time you see exactly how the game is designed to manipulate you. In particular, a second play shows all of the scenes and events that are specifically designed in a way to manipulate the player while quietly "putting them on the rail" no matter what option they pick. That isn't bad but it means it is really one of those "one time experiences". An awesome one time experience.

Posted by ThunderSlash

@extomar: Yeah, I feel that it's the illusion of what those possible choices will result in that made the choices you make seem more impactful.

If anything, their grotesque faces look more like demons than anything human. (Demons that are wearing flannel and jean shorts, strangely enough.

Don't forget that one zombie with the letterman's jacket that is EVERYWHERE.

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Posted by Video_Game_King

@extomar:

Yea, I can definitely see that, knowing that things are going to end the same, no matter what you do of them. Still, I imagine if you let yourself be lost within the moment, it can still be pretty good. That may be difficult, but it'd still be worth it.

If anything, their grotesque faces look more like demons than anything human. (Demons that are wearing flannel and jean shorts, strangely enough.

Don't forget that one zombie with the letterman's jacket that is EVERYWHERE.

And after all this time, I still think it's kind of racist that nobody in the South can afford a suit to be buried in. (Or is the South just littered with unburied corpses that were only just recently shot in the face or whatever?)

Edited by believer258

(Demons that are wearing flannel and jean shorts, strangely enough. Can nobody in the South afford a decent burial?)

I didn't know that the zombies in this game looked like Randall Flagg.

EDIT: Well, nevermind, Randall Flagg was always wearing denim. It's been a while, all right?

Posted by ArbitraryWater

@extomar: You said it better than I would've, though some of the more nakedly manipulative moments still bled through even when I was playing it the first time. Clementine almost isn't as much a character as she is an adorable plot device to make you, the player, care about what is happening.

Posted by Mento

Wait, why do you think most of the zombies were previously dead corpses instead of regular alive people turned by other zombies? When was the last time we saw zombie fiction where corpses rose out of their graves? (I think for me it was that Simpsons Treehouse of Horror.)

Anyway, I don't remember Ghoul Patrol that well beyond knowing it was not quite as good as Zombies Ate My Neighbors, and I watched an LP of Walking Dead instead of playing it because... eh, zombie fiction. (I am tempted to check out that Fables game of theirs though; I haven't checked out of adventure games entirely.)

[Video_Game_King will probably not remember you said this.]

Moderator
Posted by Ravenlight

You saved Doug, right? RIGHT?

Posted by Video_Game_King

You saved Doug, right? RIGHT?

Actually, it was Carley. Gotta go with the more recent Nickelodeon show.

Edited by MarkWahlberg

I only got 2 episodes into TWD and found it pretty underwhelming, to be honest. Felt like a digital pop-up book or something, and the story didn't seem to be anything amazing. Like, I get why people are into it, but it seems like the kind of thing that would only be special to people who play video games regularly.

Edited by Ravenlight

Actually, it was Carley. Gotta go with the more recent Nickelodeon show.

You monster! Actually, that seems like a decent way to make that choice.

Posted by EXTomar

I definitely didn't mean to make it sound like a negative but it is kind of a warning for The Walking Dead and Heavy Rain and other games like it. It is great being lost in that moment when you've under pressure make a choice between two people where neither deserve the fate you leave other too.

The next step in these games is to fully randomize all events which reminds me of the really really really old Alien game.

And looking back I'm not sure if Hey Doug! or iCarley are worth saving for future generations let alone after a zombie apocalypse.

Posted by Video_Game_King

@extomar said:

The next step in these games is to fully randomize all events which reminds me of the really really really old Alien game.

You mean make a Walking Dead roguelike? I'm uncertain as to whether this is the best or worst idea in the world.

And looking back I'm not sure if Hey Doug! or iCarley are worth saving for future generations let alone after a zombie apocalypse.

I didn't exactly have the option to save somebody named "pre-Movie SpongeBob", did I?

Posted by EXTomar

No I mean randomize traits. As I mention I am reminded of that really old Alien game where the thing that stuck out in my memories is that it would randomize various elements of the game: Which member of the crew would have the alien jump out of their chest. Which member of the crew was the android and would turn and kill the crew. Which member of the crew would freak out at certain events (freak out if they were by themselves, freak out if there were too many around, freak out if nothing has happened too long, etc). The game would proceed more or less the same from game to game but the events and challenges where highly variable.

So in terms of The Walking Dead it could randomize things like which characters were calmer and more level headed and who would be twitchy and run for it. Who would insist on be more trusting of anyone and who would suggest not trusting strangers. Who would insist on fighting to save everyone you can and who would suggest to leave any dead weight. That sort of thing.

Posted by Slag

@video_game_king: I liked Kenny, Larry and Lily and to some extent Ben because they were so flawed. Seemed more realistic to me than say Carley or Doug. Good characters are not necessarily likable. A good character can certainly be likable, and almost always in video games they are (far too much so imo). Larry was super unlikable, but he was very believable to me. I've met plenty of people like him unfortunately, completely uncooperative and intractably angry no matter the situation. Or take Ben for instance, yes he was super annoying and incompetent but that is not unusual at all for a teenager with cripplingly low self esteem. You rarely ever see that kind of character in games, probably many young teen boys don't want to play a protagonist version of themselves that isn't idealized.

I played the whole thing in two sittings an I think that's actually probably a better way to go than the episodic way. I think if I played just each chapter when they came out, I'd have lost the suspension of disbelief you need to make the game special.

Posted by Video_Game_King

@slag said:

Larry was super unlikable, but he was very believable to me.

His abrasive anger was why he wasn't so believable for me....probably. I just remember the guy being pissed at Lee all the fucking time, no matter what he did. At least Kenny and Lilly had the motivation of trying to keep the group together; Larry was just sort of an asshole. (Didn't stop me from trying to save him, though.)

As for Ben, he may be believable, but I think it says a lot that you can find all the letters of his name in Steve Burnside :P.

Posted by Slag
Posted by Video_Game_King

@slag:

It's in there. It's just flipped upside-down, because nothing about Steve Burnside is right.

Posted by jiggajoe14

Ben is what I would be like during a zombie apocalypse.