You play as Amanda Ripley, the daughter of Sigourney Weaver's character in the films. As I roamed the deserted space freighter I was in awe of the circa-1979 space architecture. The monochrome computer screens and mechanical contraptions make today's touch screens seem mundane. The corridors are remarkably eerie due to erratic lighting and steam from pressure valves. The pulse-pounding music is punctuated by sudden, jolting noises.
You're equipped with a handy movement tracker that "spins up" through your controller's speaker, and it sounds remarkable. This device not only alerts you to life forms but also keeps you headed the right direction. When you hear the alien's approaching footsteps, be prepared to duck into a nearby locker. This game is seriously nerve wracking! Your blood will run cold at the sight of the creature's clammy skin and slithery movements. The first time I was able to observe it from a safe place I was awestruck. You can't kill it so you must be resourceful, collecting items to create survival equipment like medical kits, flares, and noisemakers. I tend to be jaded when it comes to crafting and stealth, but these elements are a natural fit.
As much as I admire Alien Isolation, a few flaws compromise the fun factor. Objectives can be confusing and I don't recall having to restore so much power and find so many key cards since Resident Evil 1! But my biggest beef is with the manual save system. You can make a ton of progress, watch a cut-scene, finish a mission, earn a trophy, sit through a load screen, and then die only to have to do it all over again! At the very least it could auto-save during cut-scenes, especially since many dump you into emergency situations. Still, Alien Isolation is one heart-stopping adventure that needs to be experienced first-hand. It may not be the best scary game I've ever played but it is no doubt the most terrifying. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Dark Descent has you waking up in a seemingly abandoned castle with no recollection of how you got there. Your one clue is a note ordering you to kill the castle's master -- written by you! This slow-burn adventure. The sense of helplessness you feel when hiding in a wardrobe as a monster roots around just outside instills a level of dread few games can match.
Your only source of light is your lantern, but leave it on for too long and you'll run out of oil. While this concept looks good on paper, in practice it becomes an annoyance. When your lantern goes out you'll find yourself staring at a pitch black screen, and it's a fate worse that death.
There's a sanity meter you'll need ot maintain to stay alive. Being in the dark will drain your sanity, as will staring at monsters. Sanity can be restored by standing in the light or taking medicine (which also works in real life). Should you drift too far into madness, the game will play tricks on you via distorted vision, disorienting sounds, and hallucinations.
Amnesia: Justine is a very short sequel, running a mere half hour. Featuring the same mechanics as the first game, you wake up to find yourself in a dungeon with other prisoners trapped in horrifying death machines. Each room is a puzzle to figure out how to escape without activating the traps. There's a monster lurking as well but it feels like an afterthought.
Completing the trilogy is A Machine for Pigs, which feels like a proper sequel to the original game. You awaken in a Victorian mansion where a telephone call informs you that your children are trapped in a machine beneath your house. This labyrinthine monstrosity of steam pipes and gears is patrolled by hideous pig monsters. There are less meters to worry about, but Machine lacks the sense of constant danger that made the first game so horrifying.
It's easy to see why the Amnesia games were such a hit, as they conjure fear on a primordial level. If these didn't invent the run-and-hide genre, they at least popularized it. The Amnesia Collection is challenge reserved only for the bravest thrill-seekers. © Copyright 2021 The Video Game Critic.
The graphics are sharp but only the ability to see great distances sets this apart from a PS3 title. Perching on a church steeple gives you an awesome view. When you're steering a ship in the open water it feels like you have a lot of weight behind you, and the waves look fantastic. I love the way the crew sings at sea.
Black Flag looks fantastic on paper but feels less than the sum of its parts. The gameplay is an uneasy mix of arcade action and role-playing. I truly detest the control scheme, or should I say, the lack of one! There's no manual or even an in-game list of controls. Instead Black Flag relies on "context sensitive" controls, where button combinations do one thing one minute and something else the next. It seems like difficult actions are effortless and simple actions are frustratingly difficult. You can't even walk down a street without your pirate trying to grab every ladder and perch himself on every barrel like a monkey. The top corner prompts you with suggested actions, but these are often unhelpful or even inappropriate.
The missions aren't particularly fun or satisfying. You spend a lot of time sneaking around, collecting items, or chasing people all over town. But the worst aspect of the game are the modern-day sequences that reveal the whole experience to be nothing more than an experiment in virtual reality. Wow, way to take you out of the moment! Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag has loads of content and great production values, but I just couldn't get into it. I felt like I was just going through the motions and never really having fun. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
The first stage involves trudging a small green mech across a dusty planet surface, eliminating marching green robots and flying ships. The overlapping graphics can be disconcerting and I hate to say it, but my friend mentioned it looks like a Flash game. If you're looking for a fast action you're going to be bitterly disappointed. Your primary weapon lets you unleash rapid-fire shots but it overheats with irritating regularity. The escort missions are as plodding as you might expect, and the flying stages are a mess, with arrows directing you all over the place (sometimes off the screen where you can't even go).
The frequent boss encounters require you master the aiming controls and effectively use your shield. The scoring system is bizarre. Instead of a high score the game maintains a cumulative score which increases your rank and unlocks items. I thought the "classic" mode was going to emulate the Genesis version, but it only emulates the difficulty of that version. Fans of the genre will dig Assault Suit Lamos - I mean Leynos - but casual gamers should balk at this budget title. © Copyright 2017 The Video Game Critic.
The Atari 2600 games are an eclectic hodgepodge with only a handful of well-known titles like Yars Revenge, Centipede, and Combat. I assume AtGames failed to secure the licensing for big names like Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Frogger, Defender, and Donkey Kong. Too bad! I couldn't help but notice an overabundance of sports titles including my old favorite "Trashcan" Football. Circus Atari is really hard to play without a real paddle controller.
Retro gamers will be interested in unreleased prototypes Stunt Cycle, Tempest, Combat Two, and Save Mary. Three Swordquest games are included but without their comic books they feel incomplete. And how am I supposed to play Star Raiders without a keypad controller? The 2600 emulation is not as tight as the arcade stuff. In Combat I witnessed several shots pass right through a tank. While playing Bowling (a game that inexplicably mesmerized my cat Claire) the sound of the ball rolling down the lane is harsh. Be sure to disable those unsightly "scan lines" which makes all the games look ugly by default. With those off these oldies look better than ever! So sharp and clean!
Manuals for all 2600 games are accessible via the menus but the resolution is lousy when you zoom in close. When flipping switches on the virtual 2600 console you get english descriptions like "Tank, guided missiles, easy maze". I like that a lot! High scores are saved for the arcade games but not for the 2600 games. If you have Playstation Plus there are online options as well. It's an imperfect collection but all things considered Atari Flashback Classics Vol 1. offers enough bang for the buck. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Other arcade games include Asteroids Deluxe, Major Havoc, Sprint, Super Breakout, Crystal Castles, and Red Baron. I don't recall having played the first person vector-graphics shooter Red Baron before, but it's awful. Crystal Castles are great once you adjust the overly-sensitive analog settings.
The 41-game Atari 2600 selection is all over the map. Adventure is a genuine classic but the horizontal line artifacts are so distracting! Do yourself a favor and immediately shut off the "scan lines" via the option menu. Other standout 2600 titles are Asteroids, Maze Craze, Haunted House, Night Driver, Super Breakout, and Video Pinball. The emulation is quite good except for the occasional missing sound or collision glitch. The analog-control games aren't quite as fun without the original paddle controllers but they're definitely more challenging!
Expect an abundance of throwaway titles like Basic Math, Star Ship, Stellar Track, and Code Breaker. Rarities include Off the Wall, Sentinel, and Atari Video Cube. Return to Haunted House is a new-ish home brew. It occurred to me that dividing this collection in half was a clever marketing gimmick to make these look like more of a bargain. I think it worked! Some bonus features or historical information would have been nice, but if you have any appreciation for the classics both Atari Flashback volumes are money well spent. © Copyright 2016 The Video Game Critic.
Avalanche is like an early Kaboom! (Atari 2600, 1982) with stacked "paddles" catching snowballs. That building, rumbling avalanche sound is alarming! Fire Truck is an interesting coop game where two players try to steer an unwieldy vehicle. Canyon Bomber may not look as good as its colorful Atari 2600 cousin, but it has more depth with point values on the blocks. Football, Baseball, Soccer, and Basketball offer simple head-to-head action, but with no instructions they might be hard to figure out.
Destroyer is a simple depth-charge-dropping game with an overlay to add some color. Dominoes plays just like Surround (Atari 2600, 1977) except when you "crash" it sets off a domino chain reaction. In Pool Shark you don't shoot the cue ball but instead slide it around the table, knocking balls into the holes. I always wanted to do that as a kid but the grownups would never let me. If you don't pull the chute soon enough in Sky Diver an ambulance comes to haul away your twitching body. The cheesiness of Maze Invaders and bad controls of Monte Carlo remind you they can't all be winners.
The Atari 2600 selection is dominated by homebrews and M-Network (Mattel) games. Armor Ambush and Frogs and Flies are a good time, but Astroblast is hard to play without a paddle controller. Homebrew titles include Holey Moley, Frog Pond, and Sword Fight. Adventure II and Yars Return reinvigorate the originals with fun new screen layouts.
Having Atari 5200 games looks good on paper, especially considering they were hamstrung by those miserable 5200 controllers. Centipede and Missile Command are terrific but Millipede and Asteroids are weak translations. For games that require a keypad like Star Raiders, the left side of the screen is lined with buttons. I was excited to see Realsports Baseball until I realized that without a real keypad you can't properly play against a human. Not to mention the game is riddled with visual glitches and off-kilter sound effects. Atari Flashback Volume 3 is a mixed bag overall, but collectors will value the rare titles, as well as the ability to complete the trilogy. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.
This chapter takes place in a raging thunderstorm, and I love the driving rain and how it beads on Batman's suit. The gothic scenery is incredibly detailed yet I never felt a burning desire to explore. The basic gameplay is unchanged except there's more of everything. More moves, more gadgets, more characters, and more profanity (ugh).
One drawback is the control scheme has become so overloaded that the game almost constantly prompts you for the next button combination. The combat is so frenetic it looks like a parody of itself. Batman looks ridiculous as he hops between enemies like a flea. You hardly feel in control as you mash buttons while watching him go buck-wild. And despite advancements you still can't knock enemies off ledges.
The criminal investigation scenes provide a nice change of pace as you recreate details of the crime in remarkable detail. But none of that is new. The big new addition is the ability to drive the Batmobile, but it kind of sucks. The car slides wildly around the narrow, winding streets, bouncing like a pinball and smashing everything.
The game leads you around by the nose with gaudy flashing arrows on the road. Bad guys making their getaway make a lot of sharp turns so it's hard to keep them in your sights, much less build up much speed. Used in many unlikely situations, the Batmobile is like a Swiss army knife. It fires weapons remotely, pulls down walls with its wench, and even transforms into a tank! In one stage you must navigate it over a series of precarious elevated platforms, and it's painful. The tank battles seem cool at first, but after a dozen times it's just tiresome.
Batman Arkham Knight isn't a bad game but it's hard to imagine why it was delayed so long. Those new to the series will be impressed, but this franchise has long passed the point of diminishing return. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
The gray, twisted forest looks creepy as hell, and although your path is often linear it rarely feels that way. Blair Witch conveys that feeling of being desperately lost with only fleeting communication with the outside world. Giving you a dog was a brilliant move, as he not only keeps you headed in the right direction but also locates subtle clues in the scenery. The further you progress the more you feel as if you're losing your grip on reality.
Eventually you'll encounter freaky creatures, some of which can be warded off with your flashlight a la Alan Wake (Xbox 360, 2010). The atmosphere is intense thanks to alarming "music" and unsettling sound effects. Pausing video tapes on camcorders to alter reality is a neat trick, but that grainy video makes it hard to tell what you're watching. There are some fun puzzles, including one that lets you ride a train car in complete darkness between camps and a sawmill.
Unfortunately the game goes off the rails in its second half, as you find yourself needlessly moving in circles or feeling your way through perpetual darkness and fog. Blurry vision will have you wrestling with the camera trying to figure out which way is up. Blair Witch may be the biggest mind-[expletive] since Eternal Darkness (GameCube, 2002). The designers clearly overextended each scene, which is especially evident when the house turns out to be an endless maze. The fact that Ellis has PTSD would have been fine had they just hinted at it. Instead the designers beat you over the head with it like a French baguette, constantly flashing back to war scenes which really takes you out of the moment. If this was a film, it would need an editor in the worst way.
Dragging things out tends to dissipate the terror and replace it with boredom. By the time I reached the end I was exhausted. I can't imagine going through this ordeal again just to see a different ending. That said, die-hard Blair Witch fans can bump up the grade by a letter because for all its faults this game truly does capture the spirit of the film. © Copyright 2020 The Video Game Critic.
Had its gameplay been half as good as its graphics, Bloodborne would be an instant classic. Instead it's a nightmare. The interface is user-hostile and the complete lack of instructions is mystifying. The control scheme is so counter-intuitive it requires a substantial time investment just to learn basic concepts like equipping a weapon or throwing an object. The upgrade system makes no sense and the "gesture" controls are incomprehensible. Your character's movements are skittish and the controls are touchy. Close camera angles provide plenty of scare opportunities but you never know when someone is about to clock you over the head. There are smashable crates and barrels all over the place, but why are they all empty?!
The combat is clumsy. Unless you're targeting something your shotgun fires directly into the ground. The collision detection is atrocious. You can't shoot through a fence yet the mobs can easily swing their weapons right through it. You attack with wide, sweeping combinations that leave you in a vulnerable state. That's a problem, because unlike your foes which sustain multiple deep gashes, one good hit does you in. Upon death you're treated to a lengthy loading screen, followed by the realization that you need to completely restart that long, treacherous stretch you've been toiling through. I must have attempted Central Yharnam 100 times, employing every tactic imaginable.
Why does it place creatures in your path that you're not nearly powerful enough to handle? There's a difference between hard and flat-out unfair. The lack of a difficulty select or pause feature is an unfortunate side effect of the game's unnecessary online functionality. Bloodborne should have been a game for the ages but it's a disappointment for the ages. It's a shame because I suspect there are some extraordinary sights and sounds here that will largely go unseen. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
Bloodborne is an action-RPG built on the same mechanics as Dark Souls, meaning every attack and dodge drains your stamina bar. The lack of shields means evasion is your primary defense, making Bloodborne's combat much faster than Dark Souls. You're not defenseless though, as you can now equip a gun to your left hand. Knock back enemies with shotgun fire, and then move it for a melee attack. Whenever you get hit you have a chance to immediately regain health with a well-timed counter.
Almost every weapon has two "forms"; one for fast and weak attacks and one for slow but stronger attacks. Collectible outfits mainly consist of leather trench coats and tricorn hats, reminiscent of Hugh Jackman's Van Helsing movie. You begin by fighting mobs of angry villagers and stray dogs, but the enemies become more grotesque as you progress, with giant insects, snake-filled corpses, and fire-breathing werewolves. The Lovecraftian-style bosses are hard to describe!
Bloodborne's presentation is what really steals the spotlight. Yharnam is one of the most beautifully crafted worlds I've ever seen, with soaring cathedrals and gothic architecture everywhere. This game practically bleeds Halloween! The one downside is that certain levels like the Cathedral District and Forbidden Woods are so heavily decorated that they obscure where you're supposed to go next. I'm used to Souls-style games not holding my hand but the design could have been better. Newbies may lament the lack of armor and shields, but Dark Souls fans should feel right at home in this addictive gothic adventure. © Copyright 2019 The Video Game Critic.