Alan Chan @Joylock
Deja Vu: A Nightmare Comes True!! (Windows 3.x)
By Alan Chan on September 29th, 2016
Hitman 2: Silent Assassin (Windows)
By Alan Chan on April 27th, 2003
Carnivores 2 (Windows)
By Alan Chan on April 26th, 2002
By Alan Chan on August 25th, 2001
Lunar 2: Eternal Blue - Complete (PlayStation)
By Alan Chan on June 22nd, 2001
Lunar: Silver Star Story - Complete (PlayStation)
By Alan Chan on June 22nd, 2001
By Alan Chan on February 3rd, 2001
SiN: Wages of Sin (Windows)
By Alan Chan on October 3rd, 2000
Requiem: Avenging Angel (Windows)
By Alan Chan on September 13th, 2000
Veil of Darkness (DOS)
By Alan Chan on June 14th, 2000
It's different and a bit frustrating, but I actually enjoyed it.
The game's realistic physics model was certainly interesting. Pretty much every object in the game ranging from crates, paint cans, chairs, and rocks could be picked up, thrown, pushed, knock each other over in a domino effect, and would generally be movable in a manner that you'd expect from real life. At first this was novel, but at times it could be annoying as crates you were trying to stand on fell over, or a gun you were trying to pick up rolls off a cliff because you accidentally nudged it. Not to mention the fact many of the game's "puzzles" relied heavily on the physics engine, resulting in the aforementioned crates falling over problem.
The physics engine also resulted in interesting interaction with the dinosaurs. Because the gun you hold in your hand exists as real objects in the game world, if a raptor got too close to you, it could push your gun aside with its snout as it bites you (thus messing up your aim), or even knock the gun out of your hand with its tail. Depending on how you felt about this, this could either be viewed as realistic, annoying, or both. I must admit I personally found this added some excitement to close quarter battles as you desperated groped at your feet for your gun while the raptor lunges at you. However since nine times out of ten this resulted in your death I found myself loading from saved games and killing the raptors from a distance. You could also lose your gun if you bumped your handed against something. This made moving through enclosed areas somewhat annoying.
Combat with the dinosaurs was pretty interesting. Since your character moves at a "realistic" (ie slow) speed, it is almost impossible to outrun the raptors even though they also appear somewhat sluggish. Thus combat is the only way to dissuade them from eating you. There are variety of ways to do this, the most common of which are the guns.
The game provides you with a wide variety of real-life manufactured guns, ranging from magnums, submachine guns, and even AK-47s. Guns have a fixed amount of ammo and cannot be reloaded, and so must be discarded after use (leaving you vulnerable). In some areas guns are so plentiful this really isn't a problem and you can pretty much go around wasting raptors like Turok, while in other areas (especially the last three levels) they are rather rare forcing you to make every shot count and occasionally find alternative ways to kill and/or escape the carnivores. I found this effective rather than annoying as the feeling of nakedness you get from being unarmed is quite interesting and isn't found in most other FPS. Also, there are no crosshairs and no auto-aiming, so you really need to work on using the guns to get accurate shots. I found that the guns gave a very satifying "kick" when fired, and the fact you move the gun-arm itself in combat rather than the body attached to the gun (like in most other FPS)somehow made shooting them off more satisfying. The dinosaurs spurt blood and go down quite nicely (especially if you shoot them in the head or go full auto with an AK-47), however for some reason they tend to die in a silly looking belly down pose.
Besides the guns, there are variety of fun ways to kill the dinosaurs based on the physics engine. You can drop heavy crates on them, hit them with close combat weapons such as baseball bats or two-by-fours, or even smash them over the head with a rock. It is even possible to kill a raptor by stabbing them in the head with a rifle, and while not entirely realistic it does save ammo. However the game isn't very consistant, sometimes this works and sometimes no matter how much you whack a dinosaur on the head nothing happens. And heavy objects (such as smallers crates, chairs, rocks, and barrels) have no effect if you throw them at the raptors, even if you hit them right in the head. There are a variety of places where large structures such as jeeps and trailers could be knocked over and dropped on a dinosaur, and you could also lure raptors to the edge of a cliff, dodge them as they lunge, and laugh as they roll over the edge.
The dinosaurs themselves are certainly well animated, with cool skins and skeletal animation which give them fluid movement. However there isn't much variety in the dinosaurs(seven species in total, including the ever-present raptors), and except for the raptors there are only two or three per level. It's odd how the total number of non-raptors on the island can be counted on two hands, but the raptors are everywhere. The raptors are scary enough at first, but the real show stealers are the larger carnivores which show up later on in the game, such as the Allosaurs and the seven massive (and nigh-invincible) Tyrannosaurus Rexs. Still, I would have enjoyed the game more if there were more non-hostile dinosaurs just wandering around. Also, more interaction between the dinosaurs would have been nice (occasionally a predator will attack a heribivore or another predator instead of you, but this almost never happens even when herbivores are present).
The levels are a mixed bag. Some areas are really badly designed, such as large empty outdoor areas, and a monorail where you have to leap from one unfinished section of track to the next like a Mario Brother. However other areas look quite good, such as the abandoned town and lab areas, and even some old Mayan ruins. These areas look quite decrepit and creepy, like a scene from a post-apocalyptic movie. The various ravenous raptors and occasional T-Rex patrolling the abandoned buildings also adds to the effect. Being stalked by the raptors through the gutted-out town ruins is very effective and chilling.
Finally, the sound in the game is great. The sounds the dinosaurs make, ranging from the raptor's hostile growls to the T-Rex's booming roar, are very nice and atmospheric. The carnivores also make cool crunching and slurping sounds when they dine on the corpse of a fresh kill (which more often than not is you). When hit, different objects in the game make different sounds depending on what they're made of (wood, steel, plaster, etc). If you try to pat a dead dino with you hands you hear a realistic leathery sound. The game stars the voices of Sir Richard Attenbourgh (who played John Hammond in the Jurassic Park movies and in the game) and Minnie Driver (who voices Anne), two reputable actors. They don't have much to work with, but they do their best. Finally, there's the game's CD music, which is terrific. The CD tunes range from pounding actions tunes when you run across a large carnivore, to slow ominous music when you shift through Ingen's decaying ruins. Unfortunately the CD tracks are very short (about 20-40 seconds each) and only play at specific points in the game.
The graphics in the game are grainy in software mode, but do smooth out and look pretty good on a graphics card. Environments are lush and objects and creatures look great close up. However there are several annoying quirks such as disappearing objects (certain signs and even the ceiling can vanish if you look at them at certain angles) and the fact everything outside of a six foot radius becomes blurred and unfocused.
Although I personally found the arm/hand interface to be novel and interesting, at times it could be fairly annoying, such as when trying to pick up large objects or stack crates. Also there are a very large number of buttons which need to be used to use the arm successfully (3 to 5 keys as well as the mouse) which results in some minor hand-twisting which becomes almost impossible on top of trying to manuever in combat. Anne's arm also occasionally twists and convolutes in disturbing ways and becomes difficult to control, especially when acting upon heavy or fixed objects (such as large crates or sentry guns).
Anne's slow speed of movement also results in a good degree of tedium as you sluggishly tredge through the levels. This is especially true of levels which involve a lot of backtracking, such as the abandoned town, where you've already killed the raptors and there's nothing left to do but slowly move from one place to another.
Two particular parts of the game I found incredibly annoying. In one area, you had to climb a cliff wall by jumping from one outcropping to another. What was annoying was that it was impossible to know in which order you needed to jump to reach the top, and if you didn't jump on the rocks in the exact order the designers intended the game wouldn't let you progress even if it looked like you could climb up. Throughout the game, it is impossible to tell which sloped surfaces can be climbed and which are impassible. Another type of interaction I found annoying was inputing passwords. There are three numerical keypads in the game where you have to enter a password to progress. Unlike many other adventure games figuring out the passwords is easy, but inputing them is nearly impossible. This is because you have to use the hand to push the individual buttons, just like real life. unlike real life, Anne's hand has no nerve endings since it's just a mesh of polygons, and as a result you can't feel the buttons and end up numbly mashing them inaccurately.
The final problem is with the AI. The game brags that the dinosaurs are living, breathing entities, but in the game you can actually see the dinosaurs standing around doing nothing until you get close enough, at which point they "activate" and start moving around. Also, instead of wandering around the levels raptors are spawned out of thin air to attack you (most of the time this is done out of your sight, but sometimes you can actually see the raptors drop out of the sky like a hungry gift from God). This really detracts from the illusion of a living world promised by the game. Also, there are times when the AI will react illogically. A T-Rex will stand in a clearing with two tasty velociraptors and yet do nothing, but will chase you down once you get close enough. A velociraptor will chase you into a building and then walk headfirst into a wall because they haven't been programmed for indoor movement. A T-Rex will become imbedded in a tree and start rotating in circles.
One particularly embarrassing error involved the final boss. Now, normally the game's last battle is quite thrilling. When you reach the Summit, a pounding action variation of the Jurrasic Park theme starts playing and all of a sudden the mother of all raptors comes out from behind a building and charges right at you. However, I found that if you ran quickly and managed to jump back to the metal catwalk over the summit, the Alpha raptor would just stand there and not move since you were out of her range. Finally after I shot at it a couple times, the "super raptor" started moving, only to make an abrupt turn, ram her head against a building, bounce off, and go flailing down the mountain. I admit this was funny as hell, but it kind of detracted from the suspense. After loading a saved game and trying it again, I found I was unable to get her to bump her head again, but it was relatively easy to lure her over the edge from the safety of the catwalk. Maybe this was deliberately put in as an alternative way to win the game without fighting it out. But it really just seems like something the development team overlooked.
The Bottom Line
This is actually a fun game. There is a continous feeling of tension as the raptors stalk you in a frightening manner (even though they have a fondness for head-on attacks and only ever manage to ambush you by being spawned right next to you), and being chased down by a T-Rex is as exciting as you might expect. Blowing away dinosaurs with the various weapons is fun, and aside from a few annoying puzzles the physics engine is very cool. Some people who were expecting a typical First Person Shooter will probably be baffled and annoyed by the interface, but personally I found it interesting. The game does create an interesting constant feeling of suspense and vulnerability that you don't usually find in most First Person Shooters (except perhaps Aliens vs. Predator). However, the game is bogged down by the numerous errors and problems mentioned above, and really takes an effort to like.
By Alan Chan on June 9th, 2000
A very fun game with a great theme and unique approach
First of all, I loved the whole "Spaghetti Western" theme used in the game. I'd really like to see another first person shooter game using this theme. I also liked the way Lucasarts designed the game to be as faithful to the genre as possible, it seems they went out of their way to avoid being over-the-top or campy. You won't get your hands on a rocket launcher, you'll never run into a steam-powered giant spider, and the last boss won't be a guy in bullet-proof 19th century power armor complete with arm cannon.
The way Lucasarts tries to keep the gameplay "realistic" can be seen throughout the game. All the weapons look completely authentic, you won't find a single one that looks like it doesn't belong in a Spaghetti Western movie (again, no rocket launchers). The most powerful weapon you'll find is a gatling gun you pick up in the last level, and even that is limited by the fact that you can't move around when it's selected. On top of that your weapons run out of ammunition and have to be reloaded manually, bullet by bullet (they don't have weapon clips in the old west, sorry). This adds a strategic element to gameplay since you can't rely on the computer to reload your gun for you when you run out of ammo. One particularly fun item is a telescope you can add to your rifle to create a rudimentary sniper rifle, allowing you to pick off your foes at a distance.
The types of enemies is a bit limited. There are only three or four different types of cowboys, however the game tries to create a bit of variety by giving each type three or four different sprites with different cloths on. There are also a few tarantulas, a couple of chickens, and some civilians who run around certain levels. The enemies seem to be moderately more skilled than most FPS enemies, since they run fairly quickly, can shoot while moving (strange how rarely this happens in FPS), and occasionally are smart enough to run away from your fire or duck behind obstacles. They also yell a variety of taunts at you (with enough variety to avoid too much repetition) which helps make them seem more lifelike.
The game makes up for the lack of enemies with its wide variety of boss characters. Most FPS games only have three or four different bosses overall (the newer, polygon-based FPS games have even less). Outlaws has at least 12 different bosses, ten at the end of each level and two in the middle of levels. Each boss has their own unique taunts which they yell at you as you fight them, which serve to give them each a unique personality. Your character, on the other hand, is the strong silent type who (unlike Duke Nukem and his ilk) doesn't make ill-placed wisecracks while killing, which also fits in to the genre.
The enemies are also realistically designed. Your foes are all flesh-and-blood cowboys, even the strongest of them takes only a few bullets to kill. Even the bosses are relatively mortal and most of them can be taken down with a single shotgun blast.
The game balances this out by making your character very much mortal as well. Bullets do quite a bit of damage, and a single shotgun blast will take off more than half your health (and kill you on higher difficulty). The bosses in particular do a great deal of damage, and the toughest of them can kill you with three or four shots.
All this makes the gameplay in Outlaws a bit different from other first person shooters, as instead of charging in guns blazing you'll often have to duck, take cover being obstacles, and sneak up on your enemies or snipe them from afar. Of course if you really prefer the "Doom" style of play the easiest difficulty setting allows it (In this game difficulty doesn't cause more enemies or respawning, but instead decides how human or superhuman your character is and how much damage they can take).
Level design is also top-notch, and most of the levels look like they'd fit perfectly into a wild west movie. The majority of levels take place in large, wide-open outdoor spaces, showing how good the "Dark Forces" engine is at this. Level locations include frontier towns, Spanish forts, desert canyons, gold mines, and even a speeding train. The last level in particular is a huge ranch-style mansion that's really fun to run around in.
The main "story" part of the game is a bit short, with only ten levels overall. However there's also a "historical missions" game which has six extra levels as well as three bonus levels which are unlocked with points gained by completing the extra levels successfully. The bonus levels contain some cool surprises, such as a shooting gallery, an Indiana Jones style cave adventure complete with booby-traps, and a showdown with the game's only superhuman enemy, Max the psychotic rabbit from Lucasart's own Sam & Max Hit the Road.
The music in this game is amazing. The music in the intro credits actually sounds like it belongs in a real wild west movie, and the in-game CD music is very much the same.
The animated cutscenes are simply breath-taking. There's a cutscene at the end of each level which helps to move the plot along and link the different levels together. The animation is very smooth and the coloring seems to be in a sort of "watercolor" style which makes for very beautiful backgrounds. The style of animation is fairly mature and not "cartoony" which fits the serious subject matter. And it is quite serious. Your wife is killed by outlaws in the intro movie, and by the end of the game almost every character except you and your daughter will end up dead (you kill most of them). The game's violence is high but not graphic. There's very little blood in any of the cutscenes even though a few characters are killed rather violently off-screen (one guy gets cut in half by a sawblade), and only a little in the game itself. The hand-drawn animation is also not limited to the cutscenes. During the game, all of your weapons are hand-drawn as well. This is certainly interesting to look at.
Finally, there's the game's surprisingly strong story. This is perhaps one of the strongest stories I've seen in a first person shooter. It's also rather derivative with many of its elements being taken from old wild west movies, but that's all part of its charm. There's the vengence seeking ex-lawman, the greedy land baron, the cold-blooded murderous henchman who quotes Shakespeare and the bible. In fact the game's plot is more inter-woven and complex than you might first realise, and the ending manages to elevate the over-arching story to an entirely new level.
First Person Shooters always seem to have short, pointless endings (even today this seems to be true). I'm glad to say Outlaws is at least one game that doesn't suffer from this problem. Marshall Anderson's last gunfight with Bob Graham and the subsequent ending cutscene actually manages to tie-up the game's plot, and there's even a strong surprise at the very end. Finally there's a touching scene of you and your daughter leaving Graham's Big Rock Ranch behind and riding off into the sunset while the credits roll.
I can honestly say that there's nothing about this game I don't like. The only real complaint I think anyone might have is that LucasArts is still using the Dark Forces bitmapped engine when true-3D polygon games have already been out for more than a year, and Quake 2 about to be released. However the gameplay is so good I really don't mind that the technology seems a bit dated.
The controls can also be a bit awkward since there are so many buttons you'll need to press in the middle of combat (fire, secondary fire, reload, duck, jump, etc). The default configuration isn't very good and it took me about an hour or so to get a custom configuration which I was comfortable with.
I would have preferred having a bit more variety in the enemies, but I can understand how the game may have limited the enemy types in order to stay faithful to the genre (the poison spitting tarantulas were probably streching credulity already).
The Bottom Line
Outlaws is a first person shooter set in the style of the old spaghetti western movies. Its differs a bit from the standard FPS formula, but does so in a good way. If you like westerns or like first person shooters and aren't married to your Voodoo II, than you'll probably enjoy this game. I know I did.
By Alan Chan on June 5th, 2000
By Alan Chan on June 5th, 2000
Redneck Rampage (DOS)
By Alan Chan on June 5th, 2000
Realms of the Haunting (DOS)
By Alan Chan on June 4th, 2000
The House of the Dead (Windows)
By Alan Chan on May 11th, 2000
Aliens Versus Predator (Windows)
By Alan Chan on May 2nd, 2000
Dracula Unleashed (DOS)
By Alan Chan on April 8th, 2000
Star Control 3 (DOS)
By Alan Chan on March 21st, 2000
Star Wars: Dark Forces (DOS)
The first First Person Shooter I ever liked enough to finish
Until I played Dark Forces, I was never much of a FPS fan. While I did reckonize the innovativeness of such games as Doom and Wolfenstein, I was never really able to get "into" them because no matter how fun they were at first, after several levels of running around cramp dark corridors blowing away wave after wave of enemies it started to seem a bit pointless. However Dark Forces was a large exception, not only was it fun, but it somehow managed to pull me in, in a way Doom never could.
Perhaps the main reason for this was that this game had a point which was greater than simply "kill everything in sight". Each level was mission-based and followed a general trend rather than random key-hunting and button-pushing. Sure, key-hunting and button-pushing were part of the gameplay, but you always got the feeling that your actions had a higher purpose than "proceed to the next area". Each level proceeded logically from the previous level, and you got the feeling your were going through an evolving story rather than being sent from one random killing field to the next. The game had an actual overarching plot which was revealed to you via mission briefings and a few animated cutscenes. Although certainly not pulitzer winning material the storyline and cutscenes which revealed it were pretty good in a comic book sort of way. The plot built up quite nicely starting with the prologue raid on an Imperial base and culminating in a final attack against the Dark Trooper-infested Arc Hammer.
As far as I know, Dark Forces was the very first First Person Shooter with a personality. Enemies shouted a variety of challenges at you such as "Stop Rebel scum" or "Set blasters on full". Your character Kyle Katarn would make the occasional quip, but most of the in-game dialogue was supplied by your partner, Jan Orz, who would make a variety of amusing comments about your situation over your comm-link, and helped to alleviate the usual FPS feeling of claustraphobic loneliness.
I really enjoyed the Star Wars theme used throughout the game. Although I wasn't a big fan at the time, I did reckonize the characters and somehow got more satisfaction blowing away the Imperial Stormtroopers and hostile aliens than I did killing the faceless monsters of many other FPS.
Each of the different levels had a distinct look and feel which made them unique to each other, ranging from Imperial installations, sewers, a mining facility, an Ice planet, and even the Empire's heavily defended capital city. The length of the game was also "just right". Although there were only 14 levels, each level was well crafted, with almost no repetition or feelings of tediousness. Also, although there are some puzzles which may get you stuck for a while, I found nothing overtly unfair and was able to complete the game by myself without needing to refer to a walkthrough.
Gameplay was also quite fun. Graphically the game was amazing, with very colorful textures and enemies and considerably less pixelation than Doom. Dark Forces also featured the ability to look up and down as well as jumping and ducking, which added new elements to the gameplay. Weapons and enemies followed the Star Wars theme quite nicely (especially the blaster bolts, which traveled across the screen in quick streaks true to the movies), and while many of the weapons seemed to have been invented specifically for this game they do fit in with the general space opera feeling. Most of the enemies can be reckonized from the Star Wars movies, ranging from Stormtroopers and attack probes to the boss-like Dark Trooper battle droids around which the game's story revolved. Not to mention a special guest appearance and boss battle with bounty hunter Boba Fett.
Not much, really. It's true the game didn't have any multiplayer support (which was a big point of complaint) but personally I didn't even have a modem at the time, so the single player game was all I was concerned about, and the single player game was damn good.
It's also true the game wouldn't allow you to save in-game, but instead automatically saved your status after the completion of each mission. While this may be another point of complaint for some people, I actually think it was a good idea. It helped the level designers maintain control of the tension within the levels, and none of the levels were too long or difficult that they couldn't be finished in one sitting (although many were quite large and complex and might need a few goes to get through). There was also an "extra life" system so that even if you did die in a level you wouldn't have to start all the way back at the beginning.
The Bottom Line
Lucasarts is famous for releasing quality games. Whether it be their Star Wars flight simulators or their quirky adventure games, they seem to be able to give a game a special "personality" that makes it stand out. It's nice to see that they've managed to do this with their first foray into the FPS market as well.
By Alan Chan on March 21st, 2000
Final Fantasy VII (Windows)
By Alan Chan on March 11th, 2000
A truely innovative game which never caught on due to a somewhat outdated engine
Because it had an actual plot, this was the second FPS (the first being Dark Forces) that I ever had the patience to play from beginning to end. The programmers really did some amazing things with the ol' Doom engine.
For one thing, instead of linear levels the game used a hub system like Hexen where you could go back and forth between several different interconnected areas. Also instead of mission briefings your objectives were relayed to you in-game either by people you talked to or by your everpresent partner "Blackbird" on the radio. This gave the game a smooth transition and seamlessness I hadn't seen since until Half-Life came along.
Also, instead of a dead world populated only by monsters trying to kill you, Strife had various "friendly" areas such as two towns and two rebel bases where you could just wander around and talk to people or buy stuff. Even some of the "action" levels started out friendly and you could even have conversations with the guards (until you started shooting or entered a restricted area, at which point they'd start trying to kill you). Also, there was a great deal of variety to the levels (ranging from occupied town squares to old ruins) instead of the usual endless similar corridors.
When you talked to a major character, you got a close-up screen with comic art and speech. The comic art of the various characters was extremely well drawn, and the speech was pretty good as well. Your partner, Blackbird, also had various funny or oddball things to say over the radio about the various situations you found yourself in.
The action itself was pretty much standard Doom fare, with enemies who weren't too bright but who came at you in ridicuously large numbers. The enemies themselves ranged from the standard gun-toting guards to a variety of cool-looking battle robots. In terms of weaponry there were a few innovations, such as incindery grenades and a flamethrower you could use to sadistically burn your enemies alive, and a crossbow with poison arrows you could use to kill guards without setting off the alarm. There was even an item you could use to teleport friendly rebel soldiers to your location to fight for you (albeit not particularly well).
Also helping to set this game apart were the various set pieces in it. For example, at several points in the game you could sneak past hordes of guards with a fake ID or by pretending to be the janitor. One particularly fun level had you storming an enemy castle, and fighting alongside you was a small army of rebels engaging the enemie's forces in a large scale battle royale which was a real change from the typical one-man-against-the-world FPS scenario. In a similar scenario a single boss-character would show up in the middle of the rebel base and would wind up slaughtering them left and right if you didn't intervene. Finally, towards the ending of the game you were given a choice of two different "paths" which would lead you to two seperate endings. The good ending was your typical save-the-world-get-the-girl scenario, and was pretty tough since you had to go through several extra levels. Despite the grim outcome, I found the bad ending to be most interesting because of the surprise (and boy was it a surprise) identity of the final enemy.
Well, the Doom engine was a bit dated at the time (I believe Quake was just coming out) but the programmers made enough tweaks to it (such as jumping/ducking, more "true life" textures, and a hub-based level system) so that it seemed fresh. I also think it didn't have support for mouse aiming, but when I played the game I hadn't heard of mouse aiming anyway so it didn't really make a difference to me.
Though this probably doesn't apply anymore, when I got the game it really cheesed me that it took a whopping 70 megabytes of hard disk space, and you had to install the full game and couldn't play it from the CD. I know that nowadays you could toss 70 megs out the window and never miss it, but back then I only had 30 megs free on my hard disk (which was all I ever needed for any of the other games I owned) and had to do some seriously weird stuff with my HD to get this game to work. But I think it was worth it. The game also didn't allow you to have multiple save slots for a single game, but a small patch (or creative copy/pasting) fixed this oversight.
My only real complaint was that the very last section of the game (the Order Factory) was pretty much just five levels of repetitive shooting and button-hunting, with none of the interactivity, creativity or atmosphere that made the rest of the game so compelling. However things did pick up when you reached the end of the Factory and got to the endgame.
The Bottom Line
After Half-Life's example, most modern first person shooters contain many of the elements which made this game so interesting. However, for it's time Strife was a very different and very enjoyable FPS experience.
By Alan Chan on March 10th, 2000
Star Control II (DOS)
By Alan Chan on February 5th, 2000
Alone in the Dark (DOS)
The grand-daddy of survival horror
This is a great game, better than it's two sequels and still comparable to the many 3D adventure games it has inspired.
Firstly, the graphics are great considering the time it was made. The hand-drawn backgrounds are very atmospheric, and although skins and true color palette didn't exist back then the polygon characters still look good. The movement (animation) is also very fluid although the gameplay itself has a few quarks (mentioned later).
The "horror" atmosphere is done very well, with a dark, muted graphics palette and suitably chilling music (as well as classic horror movie jump music whenever a monster pops into view). The monsters themselves are a nice variety ranging from classic zombies and hellhound-rats, to more surreal Lovecraftian horrors such as a 100 foot worm that fills the entire screen. Some monsters can even move through walls to chase you to your death.
The combat is implemented splendidly in this game, much better than in its sequels. The swings, punchs, and kicks performed by the main characters actually look real and connect with the various monsters quite satisfactory, unlike the sequels where the main character made dainty little jabs which made it difficult to see if you were hitting the monsters or not. There's also quite a nice variety of weapons lying around, ranging from swords, rifles, and even a bow & arrow set.
One of the best aspects of this game is that it's very much open-ended. You can explore all three floors of the house from almost the very beginning , and if you are having trouble with one puzzle you can always move on to another one without feeling blocked. In fact most of the puzzles aren't neccesary to finish the game, but can help you tremendously (for example if you figure out how to defeat the suit of armor, you get a nice sword which doesn't break like the old cutlass you start out with).
One final thing which must be mentioned is the large amount of text in this game, in the form of various books lying around the house. These books are great to read, providing much background information about the story and also providing some vital hints to solving various puzzles. Unfortunately in the CD-ROM version of the game the voice-overs are dry and uninteresting (with the exception of the deceased owner's suicide note and diary, which are laugh-out-loud over-the-top cheesy).
The ending to the game is short but nice and fitting, and does kind of surprise you. However because of it's nature it might leave you wondering if you've forgotten to do something and that there's a better ending somewhere (there isn't).
One major grip I have about this game was the trouble I had getting it to run. It was buggy on my 486 (Music switched on and off, I had to re-install the game every time I wanted to play it) and doesn't run on my Pentium.
I had some rather large issues with a few aspects of the controls. For example, in order to run you have to tap the forward key twice. Unfortunately it's hard to tap the key in such a way that the program recognizes it, making it difficult to get your character to run(this was especially a problem when being chased by something nasty). It would have been simpler had they made you run by holding down a key (like shift).
Another problem is that it's very difficult to aim your weapons such as the pistol and the rifle, because the 3D third person perspective makes it difficult to see if you're aiming at the monsters or to their left/right. This results in many misses while you readjust your aim (ammo is also scarce). Fortunately, this isn't a major problem since many of the monsters are relatively slow moving, and close combat (especially with something sharp in your hand) is well implemented enough to make guns not necessary for survival.
Most of the puzzles are generally intuitive, and while they might take some thinking (or browsing the books for hints) none of them are totally obscure, and can be solved without too much frustration. I must mention that one exception to this is the very last puzzle. In order to defeat the mummified sorceror Pregzt two actions are required, one of which is fairly obvious (and specifically explained in several books) and the other one is totally obscure. In fact I quit playing several times over it, and only solved it by lugging every item in the game down to the last room and messing around with each and every one of them. Of course once I did perform the necessary action, I did realize it was somewhat logical (if a bit obscure and never mentioned anywhere else in the game).
The Bottom Line
Alone in the Dark is essentially the game which inspired the 3D adventure/survival horror genre. If you enjoyed Resident Evil, Nocturne, Ecstatica, or Bioforge, you might want to play this game to see where it all started. And its a damn good game in its own right, too.
By Alan Chan on February 1st, 2000
Survival Horror goes medieval... or does it?
Let me first say that overall, I did enjoy this game quite a bit. The few negative things I mention later really didn't come to mind until after I had finished it.
First of all, the game looks great. The ellipsoid technology used to handle the character graphics creates creatures which look good and move fluidly with a minimum of processing power.
The music was also quite atmospheric and appropriate.
The game is very open-ended, from the very beginning you can explore almost every accessible location in the game world (provided you can find them). This means you won't constantly be spending time pixel-hunting for keys to the next area. Many of the actions you can take are purely optional and don't need to be accomplished to finish the game.
The game is also somewhat unique because it isn't a slash-fest swarming with identical monsters. Instead, there are several unique monsters running around, and once they're dead they stay dead and don't bother you anymore. You can also simply ignore them or run away since you don't actually have to kill any of the monsters (except for a few monster guards and the main demon) to win the game. Similarly, there are several surviving villagers with somewhat interesting things to say, and if you find them annoying you can actually kill them without any penalty. This furthur emphasizes the open-ended, most optional nature of the game.
Most of the puzzles are fairly intuitive, although players looking for a deeper game may feel disappointed that they're so simple (for example, to brew a potion all you have to do is get 3 items lying in plain site).
For the most part the voice-acting was bland and forgettable, but I must mention I thought it was pretty interesting that instead of sounding like a typical damsel in distress, Ecstatica's voice is more like a Disney villainess(after all, she's a demon-summoning witch).
There were several problems with the gameplay and presentation that really hurt this game. For one thing, the town of Tirich looks nothing like the box cover suggests. Instead of sinister mist and engulfing shadows, the game takes place in full daylight with a ultra-happy palette of bright colors which seriously detrachs from the "horror" atmosphere. The monsters themselves are also inappropriate, as the ellipsoid rendering which brings them to life also makes them cuddly-looking and non-threatening.
Combat is also poorly implemented, as your character can only either duck or swing and fighting is a repetitive combination of these two moves. To give the game credit the number of monsters is fixed and not very large, so there isn't too much combat.
Because of the open-ended nature of the game, the game world itself is actually quite small. The shortage of monsters and puzzles also means much of your time will be spent wandering around wondering what you're supposed to do (and occasionally running from the invincible werewolf). The game is also rather short (because many of the puzzles and encounters are purely optional), if you know what you're supposed to be doing and don't stop to find all the villagers or hunt down all the monsters, you can finish it in less than an hour.
One final thing which must be mentioned is the reason the game is rated "mature". Violence is very low (combat is bloodless, and slain enemies simply topple over) and there is no profanity. However for some reason the designers felt obliged to put in a few naked women impaled on spikes. Although in games such as Doom, Diablo, or Nocturne this blends in with the rest of the atmophere, in this game it is quite inappropriate and badly clashes with the "cartoony" feel of the rest of the game.
The Bottom Line
Ecstatica is one of the first games to follow Alone in the Dark into the 3D Adventure genre. Although tries and badly fails to be a horror game, it is still a somewhat interesting adventure. While certainly not as polished or interesting as more modern games like Nocturne or Resident Evil, overall it is quite fun. However, there really isn't anything outstanding that would make you say "wow".
By Alan Chan on January 31st, 2000