Deathtrap Dungeon

…Which is, of course, ‘Ian Livingstone’s Deathtrap Dungeon’ but it sits under D on my shelf, so it’s up next. Like most people who went through the nerdening when they were young enough, I played through a whole bunch of Fighting Fantasy roleplaying gamebooks when I was a kid. I think my brother considered it homework for D&D while he was away at university, and though he swears he used to have this game back when my first round of console gaming was going strong, I think I must’ve either never played it, or played and died very quickly and given up. I was playing a lot of Tomb Raider, Suikoden and Final Fantasy in those days – it’s easy to see where my time may have gone.

01 Cover Shot

So I boot it up to watch the opening trailer, which is great. A lovely tale of terror in a town called Fang, an annual challenge laid down by the baron for adventurers to try their skills against his dungeon with the promise of vast riches to be won, and all the townsfolk quivering in their tavern waiting for a champion to come and conquer the ‘perilous depths’ of Deathtrap Dungeon. Cue evil cackle. You have to say it with a good growl in your throat, too, or it’s no good. Deathtrap Dungeon. Go on, you know you want to.

02 Opening Movie

“Whilst some adventurers get ready for battle on the eve of the quest, others, less experienced, walk foolishly into battle.” This is the picture accompanying that line. It just makes me think of Will & Grace’s Karen. “No, not round ones! I want them pointy like claws!” A good manicure is, after all, important preparation for any budding adventurer.

I also take the time to flick through the beastiary, because if they take the time to give you seventy-one pages of beasties, you know it’s worth a look. And how awesome is this? Four automata, a bloodbeast, the circus of the damned, dragons and dragon knights, the giant hand, plus all the usual imps, orcs, ratmen, zombies and skeletons and so forth. Love it.

03 Giant Hand

First thing I notice is it’s dead silent. Also, I appear to have started as the guy with no selection process, so I quit back to the main menu and have a fiddle with the controls. I opt for the girl. How I’m gonna protect myself against crippling leg injuries in a tiny plate leotard I do not know, but there you are. The fx and music selection screen is great, though; you can hear a guy being tortured at various volumes while you pick your fx levels, and have a bunch of orcs play a nice adventuresome tune for you to set the music volume. Despite all this, I still seem to start the game as the guy – with no sound, so at this point I switch to a different platform to see if that fixes it. (I was being lazy and playing on the PS3 so I could use the wireless controllers.)

04 FX and Music

Come on, now. That’s pretty cool!

Right – this game does not like being played on a PS3 apparently – take note. Anyhow, it’s working good on a PS2 so we’ll carry on and hope for the best. First things first, let’s all just agree on this: the graphics are pretty awful. Considering this came out in 1998, and is contemporary with Metal Gear Solid, preceded by Final Fantasy VII in ’97 and Tomb Raider in ’96, there’s really no excuse for the gritty, bitty dungeon ahead of me. Even Windows ’95 could do better than this. Secondly, the movement controls are gonna wind me up, I can tell, because instead of the d-pad controlling the direction you move in, it controls the direction you face. That’s gonna get frustrating when you’re outrunning traps, manoeuvring around enemies and trying to push switches. I can see why this game has a reputation for being so hard, and sadly, I suspect a large part of it is down to this rather than the challenges within the game. Anyway, enough bitching; we’ll give it a go. Taking bets now on how long before I die. One minute? Two? Twenty?

I’ll be honest, about twenty seconds in I thought I’d just died to a collapsing floor, but apparently this is just how you begin the game; (hurt). But since the loading screen tells me I missed six pickups in a four section piece of corridor with four fireball traps, I reboot. Note to self: must do better! This time I notice the climbable block to the right after the fireball traps. Climb to ledge, three razorspells, pull a lever, jump a gap, two fireballs, hop in a teleporter, one more fireball and that’s six. Back down we go. I’ve taken four hits in falling damage so far, and since the last time I ran over this collapsing floor I took a load more, I now stop to notice that there is, in fact, no where to run to, so I inch backwards onto the crumbling floors and pelt back toward the closing door just as the floor begins to go to catch the shallowest part of the slope beneath. No falling damage this time! Hah!

05 Collapsing Floor

Seriously? That armour isn’t protecting shit. I’m gonna get shivved in the buttocks. 😦

Next level: Kill three orcs, grab a razorspell and a warpig from ledges in the room (seven falling damage!) The door to right has more things to hack and slash, a bunch of moving platforms and lifts (I managed to miss the jump twice and did myself approximately forty damage which I begrudgingly healed), a load of stuff to climb and a spike pit; the one to the left has a fireball trap activated by a lever (which I noticed just in time), more orcs and a secret door that gets you access to something called an Arc of Power – ooh err – and completing both rooms lifts the cage in the main section of the dungeon which grants you access to the next area. I’ve picked up a bunch of healing potions and spells along the way too. I have to say, I’ve mostly gotten over the dodgy controls – they’re not as fluid as Tomb Raider but it’s much the same idea: run, jump, hack and slash rather than shoot. It’s not quite a platformer but much like a lot of action-adventure games, it’s a hybrid. The low-level beasties are just lulling me into a false sense of security, I suspect. They die in a hit or two and announce their arrival by snarling, squealing or growling at me. Thus far we’ve had orcs and – I want to say gremlins, because they’re little gnomish blue things that remind me of the master gremlins in Heroes of Might and Magic III – but the bestiary tells me they are in fact imps.

06 Imps

…with their little ‘Death’ hoodies, red trainers, and blood-soaked cutlery.

Before I head on to the next section, I realise that the little floating skull in a silver glowing cylinder that’s appeared is a save point. I encountered one of these a couple of rooms ago and was very disappointed to find the skull was not loot. Suppose I should’ve hit all the buttons or read that nice thick manual they gave us. Regardless, before I head on up to the next area I waltz in to a room that’s newly appeared to pick up a flame lance and activate another lever to open up a portcullis to a secret room with coins, potions and a bomb shot, whatever that is. Also, while we’re at it, who wants to bet that the male hero doesn’t need to do gymnastics in order to climb up blocks?

07 Gymnastics

Mind you, I never questioned Lara’s acrobatic climbing skills, and she had a special handstand move.

So next is a spiders’ lair – and these spiders shoot green goo, presumably poison (given it gave me an antidote as I stepped into the room). I don’t find out how crippling it is, however, because in running away for a bit, I learn that you can get one spider to accidentally kill the other and then just go in and hack up the remaining one without getting shot. Good to know. Next is a moving platform puzzle. I get up the gate first time, picking up a load of goodies on the way, but I can see a potion on a platform below that wasn’t part of the route up so I carefully jump my way back down and take a different, tricker route to get to the one remaining item. This is where I get into trouble, though. Either the platforms have fallen out of sync or it’s just much harder to get up there the second time and on the final jump, so high up I can’t even see the floor, I miss. This, folks, is the first time I die. Second time’s the charm, though – and I manage to get them all in one run. My score? Kills: 24/24; Secrets: 2/2; Pickups: 24/24. Aww yeahhh!

08 Cage

While we’re at it, just where is my waist, and how on earth is my spine holding up that rack?

The intro to the next level warns me that ‘knackerers’ can’t be harmed by any means; I just need to run away, apparently, and so I’m teleported up in a little cage with this god awful sound of something clattering about and I can see it flying past the door every few seconds. This music kinda reminds me of Silent Hill, when the otherworld starts to descend. It’s effective, anyway – I don’t particularly want to step outside. Still…

So there’s a a huge, automated steam-roller whizzing about, fire balls dropping from the ceiling, and as soon as I run through the portcullis and up into the lift, I have to get off it again before it roasts my ass.

09 Toasty

Toasty!

I cross to the next gate run through and pick up the three bombs and here, sad times, is the second time I die. The automata was following my movements as I approached and when I ran in to hit it, it spat fire at me – dead in one. Guess that’s what those bombs were for, eh?

10 Game Over

At this point, I’m a little platformed out to be honest – and given the next game on the PS1 shelf is Excalibur, I figure this might be a good time to jump to a different console for a while. I don’t have any 3rd gen consoles currently (though there’s a couple on the list to get) so my options are:

4th – Mega Drive – Lemmings; or SNES – B.O.B.

5th – N64 – Perfect Dark

6th – PS2 – 007: Quantum of Solace; Dreamcast – Jet Set Radioooooo; X-Box – Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance; Gamecube – Beyond Good and Evil; or GBA – Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.

I do have a bunch of 7th Gen consoles, but I think until the 8th Gen is more soundly established, we’ll leave the PS3, Xbox 360, Wii and DS off this blog. It’s not like I’m short of things to play!

Oh, also, just for shits and giggles, before I put Deathtrap Dungeon away, I rebooted and started a game as the guy, just to test my climbing gymnastics theory.

11 No Gymnastics Here

Noooope. No flippity-flips here.

Broken Sword II: The Smoking Mirror

The trouble with me, one of the many, is I start things and then if I put them down for a week or so, I manage to completely forget about them. For, like eight months in this case. Oy vey. Since the last time I game-blogged, I’ve gained a Dreamcast, an original X-Box and a 360 (plus a couple of gamer house-mates, and a partner who’s moved in and brought his games with him), along with buying even more games I’ve yet to play, so I figured I should give this another go.

01 Cover Shot

This is one of those franchises I never played, ever. And never really heard anyone else talk about playing either, and yet the name was recognisable enough and I felt like it was one of those things I ought to know about. My first assumption was some kind of RPG-like adventure. ‘Broken Sword’, you know? Sounds like a dungeon hacker. I bet you’re cackling to yourself there and shaking your head, because as soon as I mentioned I was covering this one to my gaming friends, I got a volley of ‘Yeahhh. Old school point and clicks!’ Well, I think the only point and click I ever played was an educational one by Dorling Kindersley about castles or something, so I guess this is a whole new genre for me. Anyhoo – off I go!

So, I do my usual boot-up-and-leave-running-while-I-make-a-cup-of-tea. The opening show seems a little incongruous after the gritty title pages, but I guess these were the days when utterly misleading covers were much more the norm. I should add that I am playing the PS1 version of this, not the PC version which I suspect makes the point and click aspect infinitely more frustrating.

02 Protagonists

I feel like I fell into a Disney flick.

Anyway, moving on: I’m playing a male protagonist, obvs, and my painfully-accented, legs-from-here-til-Wednesday lady-friend Nico and I go to meet an archaeologist at his house about some Mayan stone, and get ambushed! I get thonked around the head and she gets shot in the neck with a poison blow dart. Oh dear. I can tell this game is gonna make me cringe. Anyhow, I wake up tied to a chair in a library, which is also on fire, being eyeballed by a large spider and my God is the pointy-clicky thing sluggish.

George: “There were only three things I didn’t like about spiders:

the way they looked, the way they moved,

and the fact that they lived on the same planet as me.”

Well that, at least, is a sentiment I can sympathise with. So I take a minute to work out the controls and speed up the pointer, and then I start exploring. Nico’s handbag: a lipstick, a love note and a red thong with a heart emblazoned on it. Please tell me I get to use that as a slingshot at some point? A poison dart, a bottle of tequila, a soda siphon… I’m amazed I even know what a soda siphon is, quite frankly. I’m also realising that this is one of the few games which suffers more than just big pixels for being played on such a big tv – because picking out distinct items on a cel-shaded background where the edges all blur on a 40 inch plasma is gonna take some practise. So I grab some loot*, pick a lock, jury-rig a fire extinguisher, put out the fire and get out of the first screen. Success!

03 Library

I read the newspaper clipping on the side, I phone the guy who wrote the note, who sounds even more like an Allo Allo reject than Nico, and then I get out of dodge… except I don’t. The door’s locked and it takes me a full five minutes of going back and clicking on everything to find a key inside a pot inside a tiny drawer inside the bureau inside the library. ARRRRRGGGHHH!

I need more tea.

After some quality time waking up the lizards, chasing crickets around the viv and trying to tempt the grumpiest Siamese fighter you ever met out of his cave with some noms, I sit down to Broken Sword again. Less belly-aching, more playing. So onto a French café where I kill some time chatting to the waiter and the gendarme,

Gendarme: “If he’d been a serial killer or a sodomite,

I might have been able to help.”

– before the dude who gave my girlfriend a skanky thong arrives. The café conversation goes relatively smoothly, I get to hear about the archaeologist and his porn-star wife, about the gendarme’s dismissal (which I gather, had I played the original Broken Sword, I might understand I was partially responsible for?) and I get a lead on where to go next, when I get whipped away to glimpse where Nico’s at (who was also tied to chair, but in much less decorous surroundings).

04 Damsel

That’s a coat Nico’s wearing, by the way. The dress underneath is even shorter.

Perhaps this is meant to motivate me to do my best, or something? The dude who carried her off in a fireman’s lift earlier is called Pablo, apparently. So I finish up at the café and head on to the gallery where I get tittered at by some schoolgirls, spike an art critic’s drink, destroy a display case and use the diversion to sneak a peek at the shipping labels on the crates. I’m getting the hang of this! Off to Marseilles to a dock looking for Nico, and I have to say, this scene is actually quite pretty-looking. It’s a shame that the slightly more realistic art of the settings is spoilt by the very cartoony characters, but that’s just the style I guess? The soundtrack at this point gets much prettier too; up until now it’s been a little grating.

05 Docks

So, I fish a boat hook out of the water and use it to hook a bottle which I stuff into the chimney of the watchman’s house. While he’s smoked out of his hut I pop up, super surreptitiously through the huge hatch in the floor of his cabin and nick the dog bikkits, use them to lure the watch dog out onto a hinged platform and then drop him in the water. Well, aren’t I heartless? I’m happy to say the dog swims away, rather than drowning, and so I slither over the chain-link fence and pootle on towards the warehouse. More ninjing! Because no one can see me when I’m being super stealthy, right?

06 Subtle as

Subtlety abound…

Luckily, years of dungeon-hacking has taught me to avoid the thing the game wants you to interact with next til you’ve examined absolutely everything else. I gather if you do this warehouse bit wrong, you can just get shot or die or whatever. I find the barrel pulley system on the roof before I knock on the door, so I manage to avoid that misfortune – particularly since I assume this game only saves on chapter changes and I really don’t want to have to go through all the palaver with the dog again. So I knock on the door, piss the guard off so he unlocks and comes out to teach me a lesson, at which point I scamper up to the roof and knock him in the water by swinging a barrel into him. He and the dog can make friends.

Inside the warehouse I snaffle a key from a desk drawer, release a little dude from some manacles and scoot up in the lift to the upper levels of the warehouse. Here a very hard to find light-switch must be switched on in order to go any further, and that literally took me five minutes of careful scrolling all across the screen to find, (ten minutes if you include me shouting at the television and going to make lunch). So, the light reveals marks on the floor that leads me to a secret door, behind which I find Nico, being stared down by a little carving of Tezcatlipoca; (I guess that’s where the ‘smoking mirror’ part comes in, then?) Together we raid the room for useful items, hitch a huge Mayan statue to a pulley using the rope Nico was tied up with, winch it up and swing it toward the loading doors to smash them open, using the manacles to swing down across the docks using a cable like a zip line, and vanish into the night. Isn’t this exciting?

07 Breaking out

Such a vandal!

After a brief cut scene back in the gallery, though, we’re taken to Quaramonte which is a bright daytime vista with yellows and blues and greens and sunshine and pleasecanIpleasehavemygrubbynighttimedocksback? …please? Ah well. It’s not pretty, but it is a bit easier to look for clickable things, I suppose!

There’s, like, a hundred and one characters to question here, so I pootle around chatting to everyone and their dog – and half of them are wearing the exact same shade of green – must be in season. I pimp my girlfriend to the sleazy general, and a character from a previous game, Pearl, to the deputy so I can sneak a peek at the geological survey map in the office, in order to persuade Conchita Garcia from the mining company that the archaeologist is in cahoots with the general and are probably responsible for blowing up her mine. In return for this info she gives me a detonator to break a local agitator out from the prison. Bish bash bosh!

Renaldo: “For a lovely lady, I would go to the ends of the earth.

For you, I will go as far as the pyramids and back.”

Burned. So, we break the guy out of jail not, after all that, with explosives, but simply by yanking the bars and half the wall out with a rope tied to a truck (simples, no?) – but not before I get held at gunpoint and thrown into a jail cell. Good thing we already arranged to breach this baby, eh? There’s also a creepy-as-fuck side scene back at the general’s apartment with Nico. Sleaze sleaze sleaze. Eugh. So uncomfortable. Aside from the creepy guy sneaking across the sofa towards Nico, drooling at her, there’s porn on the tv and skeezy music. Thank you, Revolution, I so needed that.

08 Sleazy mcsleazerson

Yes, those are tits on the tv. Bouncing ones.

I decided not to treat you to the crotch shot.

With Miguel rescued, we hop on a boat to head upriver into the jungle towards the dig site, and I’m treated to another pretty night scene which ends with me getting exploded by a helicopter. Yay me!

09 Boom

And it was such a peaceful evening…

Washed up on the shore, alone, I hear church music in the jungle, set fire to a treehouse, speak to a priest who accidentally knocked up half the natives, get sent in search of a gnarly root to save the unconscious Nico and persuade the locals to let me into their village with a gift of dog bikkits to their shaman. This isn’t at all demeaning… >.> I even get to sit down with the shaman and get treated to some local lore about the Jaguar Stone (that thing I’ve been carrying about since the beginning).

10 Mayan lore

I have to admit, at this point I’m amazed I got so far but I’m running out of energy now, so I think I’ll leave it there. But hey, I didn’t die, right?

Right. Up next is Deathtrap Dungeon! (Where I will most definitely die.)

*You know, I love me some loot – but I have to say the stuff you pick up in this game is just not giving me that loot vibe. I do like the creative puzzle-solving aspect, I suppose – makes a change from Lara-style puzzles which are usually more about memory and timing. Also, I realised, at this point, that I totally have played point-and-clicks before; I was wrong! Keepsake and The Longest Journey are the two that spring to mind; the latter in particular I seem to remember being eerily beautiful but utterly frustrating.

Alundra 2: A New Legend Begins

I think I paid about a tenner for this one on eBay purely on recognition of the name as one I’d owned before. Turns out I actually owned the first one originally which I gather is the better of the two but, name aside, they are pretty unrelated. I probably paid over the odds, actually, but it’s a nice clean copy and we already know I have a problem with impulse buys. These days I try and get around this by keeping a beautifully maintained excel sheet with tabs for each console and a list of games owned and games wanted with researched average selling prices on eBay. Keeps me busy and means I can tell at a glance if I’m getting a good deal. That said, while I remember owning it, I’m not convinced I ever played it. It’s a sort of 3D platformer/action rpg/puzzle game, and this is a genre I don’t have much history with. I have a load of Zelda in my collection to play, for example, but it’s not something I encountered much when I was younger largely because I was not a Nintendo-baby. (I was a Sega geek first and swiftly converted to Sony.)

01 Cover shot

I set this up to load before I go pottering about to make tea and settle down. This is a habit I’ve gotten into as some games give me trailers and intros which I like and otherwise skip straight past. The intro to this one gets me all excited: A kingdom fallen, an imposter (okay, a wooden dummy) on the throne, and who is the nation’s only hope? The young Princess Alexia! Yessss! I think. A female protagonist! Yeah. No. It then goes on to tell me how Alexia has set out to track down a famed pirate-hunter, Flint, who she believes is the nation’s only hope. (Boo hiss.)

So basically instead of playing a princess (which on reflection might be a blessing in disguise — this ain’t no Suikoden), I get to play an oft-favoured trope as a young orphan boy out to get revenge for the death of his parents. Or something. Maybe he’s actually not out for revenge, but he looks mean enough. This is me:

02 Protagonist

Look at that grumpy face!

So, with illusions swiftly shattered I boot up and start playing. My tale begins with me ninjing (totally a word) aboard an airship run by cute little robots with turning keys in their backs. Wait… did I say cute? I meant creepy. And here I encounter some more cut n paste characters. We have a pirate, complete with eyepatch, bandana and hook-replacement for a hand; said pirate has a son and daughter. The daughter is a foot-stampy airheaded blonde who don’t take shit from no one and delivers all her lines at a pitch that would make dogs weep — later you even witness a bit of domestic violence which seems to always go worse for him than her — and the son is a scrawny little bespectacled nerd who <3s science and gets regarded by the other two as, well, a nerd. You’re really bowling me over with your originality here, Activison…

03 The terrible twins

I have to say, this game nearly fails me at the first hurdle. (Or I fail it, if you prefer.) I manage to die twice in the first ten minutes at the same boss battle. The controls are less precise than I’d like and the boss battles (having by the time of writing this played a fair few) seem overly frustrating. As with many games of this ilk, the trick is patience and trial and error. Work out the weak spot or sweet spot to hit and then dodge and dive your way around the screen waiting for appropriate moments to strike. So having wasted half an hour on the prologue and feeling like a clumsy idiot, I nearly put it down and move onto Broken Sword (which is next up on my list). Instead I resolve to give it one last shot, make some more tea and go at it again, and this time I prevail.

At this point, the game actually takes me by surprise. It makes me feel something. As the ship starts to go down over the ocean and you’re flung into the sea, you land close by a peaceful whale basking near the surface. And then a skyful of broken ship parts including a huge steampunk key (akin to the little turning keys in the backs of the robot pilots) fall down after you and with a wail of distress (genuinely no pun intended) this animal sinks into the depths of the ocean with a great piece of metal lodged into its back. I don’t like this game, I think. And then this happens:

04 Steampunk animalbots

Formerly-inoffensive humble whale grows mechanical parts, gains a narwhal horn and jet propulsion, and re-emerges like some super-powered creepy-unnerving borg drone. Turns out this game is darker than I was going to give it credit for.

Intrigued I play on and it isn’t long before I am tracked down by the aforementioned Princess in Pink who turns out to be a petulant little madam if ever I met one. (Even her jousting close helmet is hot pink.) And just in case we were under any illusions about her role in the game, we get a slow-mo feet-to-fringe twirl with some idle dalliance on her impossibly long legs.

05 Slow mo princess

Seriously — side by side my protagonist’s eyes come about level with her waist.

So, serendipitous as this meeting is (they never explain quite how she found me in this poky little village where I was being rehabilitated after half-drowning, being attacked by a borg-whale and washing up on the shore) I am at least given the illusion of choice with regard to how I’d like to proceed:

06 The illusion of choice

Piss off Princess, go and find a champion your own size to hide behind.

…which is not, obviously, the answer I give. So off we go adventuring together.

I learn that bushes are like piñatas and that if you whack ’em, sometimes money falls out. This almost makes up for the lack of loot in this game. (Nowt but herbs and puzzle pieces from here to eternity.) I also get to practise my platforming and puzzle-solving skills with spike pits and movable blocks and giant red buttons and the like. And I get introduced to the game map which, I have to say, is actually pretty adorable.

07 Maps

The soundtrack for this game is, sadly, not great. It’s not terrible and it’s not intrusive, but I think I have been spoilt by so many really good game soundtracks that I pay much closer attention to it these days. Every so often, though, a few bars remind me of something from Nobuo Uematsu’s FFVIII score and I guess they were more or less contemporaries, both released around the 1999 mark.

The power behind the big bad in this game is a little yoda-like fellow called Mephisto who is the one responsible for the magic/science that animates the robot-drone-steampunk-borg things. He, too, has been taking his style guide from many an evil genius before him, and when I meet him, he’s sporting a billowy cape and a pet kitty-cat which he strokes sinisterly at me while we talk (despite the fact we’re out in the middle of the desert somewhere).

08 Blofeld

And half of me is like Aww. Kitty. And half of me is like Whatever, Blofeld. But once again I’m caught off-guard at another bout of unexpected animal abuse as the green goblin plucks a key out from under his cape and stabs little Kitty Fantastico in the spine with it. This is my face —> O_O

09 Kitty fantastico

And kitty morphs into a giant mutant-panther for another rather frustrating boss fight.

In some ways, I find this game very disarming. The script and the voice acting are hammy, the colours garishly bright and the majority of the interactions quite pantomimey and childish, but the story itself, like the best kind of fairytale, is quite dark and quite good. Much of the humour is very visual and in a very Whedon-like style, there’s liberal use of awkward pauses and wordless exchanges of looks and it communicates much more successfully on these terms than it does with dialogue.

Then again, sometimes it just likes to make me cringe:

11 Set upon by hoodlums

Hoodlums!

Even the side quests are… interesting:

12 Sidequests

It seems there’s actually about 20-25 hours of gameplay here and I’ll be honest, I haven’t finished it up. But, I also haven’t died. (Again.)

I’ve put the game down about five hours in surprised at how happily I’ve been carrying on despite our rough start. At this point I am platformed out for a bit but I did discover that idle friendly fire is at least acknowledged in this game, (seems Alexia isn’t too impressed when you break urns of water over her head) and that my high-speed ducking, dodging and jumping button-mashing dexterity ain’t what it used to be.:

15 Sass

Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare

Okay, so first off, what’s the point in making your own rules if not to break ’em, eh? I said I’d start at the beginning of the alphabet and work along, but my first stop was Alien Trilogy, and since that’s one of the games from my very early gaming days, it seemed like cheating to play something I already knew well. So I skipped right on past it to this little number. (Of course, now my nagging sense of completionism wants me to go back and do Alien Trilogy anyway, and to make sure it gets posted before this one in the thread — we’ll see if honesty or completionism wins out.)

01 Cover shot

I think I picked this one up from my local retro games store (which is where a lot of my purchasing accidents happen these days) for about £3. I’ve never played any of this franchise before but the name rang a bell and I both love and loathe me some horror/survival stuff. (My first encounter with this genre in games that I actually really liked was Silent Hill when I was 13. I had to play it with the lights on and a blanket wrapped very firmly over my head, looking for all the world like a very scowly, twitchy Palpatine.)

The first thing I do is pick which of two characters (and thus which of two stories/playthroughs) I want. I like how his defining feature is a gun and hers is, well… see for yourself.

02 No brainer

So anyway, fuck it, I like an underdog — I go with the girl, Aline, and her totally-appropriate-for-a-dark-and-stormy-night attire. I do like a redhead, though. First thing I’ll say for this is that the voice acting is actually pretty good. It’s a shame the script is a bit shit. Not very shit, you understand — this game has kept me engaged for an evening despite a couple of moments of jumping onto the inventory screen to give me time to uncurl my toes and reopen my eyes before returning to be eaten by some snarly, pointy thing that had me cornered at a painful camera angle. But still — pretty hammy. Quote of the game goes to that rare moment of meta self-awareness:

Carnby: “So, our mission is nearly over.”

Alina: “Do you really believe that?”

Carnby: “Nah. I only said that to bolster our courage.”

The gameplay reminds me a lot of old Resident Evil, which absolutely is something I was exposed to in my youth, probably around the age of 11ish. Certainly I remember that a lot of the horror was derived from the sluggishness of the controls and the deliberately-frustrating camera angles that you’d flip through whilst exploring poky little rooms rather than the monsters themselves which, if you weren’t so busy button mashing and swearing at the screen, you might actually just find kinda humorous. I didn’t really enjoy that kind of gameplay then, but I’m learning to appreciate it now that I’m an adult and not actually afraid of the dark.

03 Dark in here

Of course, since his characteristic was a shotgun and hers was a sob story, I have to wait a fair while before I have any weapons at all. I learn that shining a flashlight at some enemies makes them hop back a few steps, but I basically spend half an hour running around the entire top floor map of this darned mansion, flashing and dashing past enemy after enemy to thoroughly loot the whole place before I discover a beautiful thing, right back in the very first corridor I stumbled out on to.

04 Lightswitches

FRICKIN’ LIGHTSWITCHES! (I realise those grainy little pixelly graphics on my huge flat-screen tv may have not made that revelation obvious.)

They’re not available everywhere, but emboldened by this new discovery I start running about the place turning lights on willy nilly and just as soon as I find myself some guns, it comes back to bite me in the ass. Literally. Games where different monsters have to be defeated by different means?! This takes me back. You can’t just shoot your way through this baby. Also, true to form for survival horrors there is just nowhere near enough ammo. Course, ‘charms of saving’ are also scarce, and so I manage to waste a good twelve rounds trying to shoot one of the things that I used to just wave my torch at (turns out the shotgun I picked up eats through shells at three per pop) before discovering that those ones just don’t die. Trouble is, it takes a good two to four shots to kill just about anything in this game, it turns out. Seems that strategic running-the-fuck-away is preferable!

Tell you what, though, even now this game is still quite pretty to look at. It’s atmospheric; the constant patter of rain outside and rattling windows is not overdone, and the only time in the past four hours of gameplay that they decided to make use of that shiny vibrate function, they did it completely out of the blue and for no particular reason as I was strolling down a corridor.

Frightened the life out of me.

05 Atmosphere

Alas, it is not very long into Aline’s story when we both take the opportunity to strip off that pesky jacket that was keeping out the cold and squeeze in another dose of damselling. Seriously, after the third or fourth time this guy tells me to hide somewhere while he goes and sorts shit out, I’m almost inclined to waste a few more of those precious shells on him, despite knowing full well that he’ll either magically be impervious to friendly fire, or as in our beloved Fallout 3, pop back up like a daisy.

06 Sexism

Also, is it just me, or is did this guy fall straight out of VtM: Redemption? Looking a little grey around the gills, there… Christof!

Anyhow — it’s not all about running-the-fuck-away from things. There’s also poking-stuff-to-see-what-happens and puzzle-solving-ftw! So, naturally, when told I’ve been locked into a room, I go to the first door sized object and give it a nudge.

07 Mirror mirror

Alright — not the most vexing of puzzles, but I have all the faith in the world that they’re just warming me up for the good stuff later on.

I manage to explore a good two thirds of the three floors of the mansion and defeat my first Great Evil (TM) before I realise I’ve more or less run myself into the ground with no saves left, no bullets, no health, and a hellhound gnawing on my ankle. Sad times, folks… sad times.

08 Game over folks

I’m surprised how compelled I am to go back and start the game afresh now that I’ve learned some key concepts, such as turning-on-the-goddamn-lights, flashing and dashing and rotating objects in my inventory to find useful tidbits scrawled on the back. I might even be tempted to play through Carnby’s arc when I’m done too. (Note how she’s addressed by her first name, throughout, and he by his surname. Makes him sound like a tough guy, don’t it?) Now, though, it’s like… 3am and I’m falling asleep on my keyboard. So yeah. Either I’ll take another crack at this straight away — in which case you might see more rambles in the near future, or I’ll slink guiltily back to Alien Trilogy and play catch-up with myself.

First, though, Odinsleep!