HORROR GAME VAULT: ALIEN: RESURRECTION

By Nick Durham

 Alien: Resurrection is the fourth installment in the beloved Alien franchise, and often becomes the subject of debate with fans whether it’s the worst installment of the series. Released in 1997, the film manages to have its share of fans, despite the fact that it’s an awful mess. Alien: Resurrection the video game, released in 2000 after being stuck in video game development hell for three years, more or less follows the formula of the film: it’s an absolute mess, but has its share of fans regardless. 

Like Alien Trilogy before it, Alien: Resurrection is a first person shooter with some minor survival horror elements thrown in. A majority of the game takes place on the USM Augria which is overrun with Xenomorphs, and you play as Ripley once again (albeit a cloned Ripley with some very minor implementations of Xeno-powers). There are times in the gameplay when you’ll get to play as other characters such as Call (Winona Ryder’s character in the film), Christie, or DiStephano; and there’s an assortment of different weapons and equipment at your disposal. You’ll face off against the usual assortment of Xenomorph warriors, as well as facehuggers (that can actually implant you and give you a limited amount of time to find a device to remove the embryo before it births and kills you) and even enemy human soldiers as well. 

While the game’s concepts and gameplay sound good on paper, actually playing it is a mess. Alien: Resurrection looked like shit back in 2000, and it doesn’t look much better these days. 32-bit 3D graphics never tend to age well, and the game looks like a flat out muddy and blocky mess. Despite that though there manages to be some pretty good atmosphere, and the ship’s stages are fairly well designed. It should also be noted that many consider this game to be the first to properly utilize analog sticks for console first person shooters. The left and right sticks are used exclusively for movement, which in the years since has become the standard control scheme for every single console FPS. That alone really helps Alien: Resurrection preserve a legacy on its own, but it doesn’t make it any better of a game in my eyes at least.

What’s really most interesting about Alien: Resurrection is that the game spent practically three years stuck in video game development hell. The game was originally fashioned to be a third-person survival horror game in the realm of the original Resident Evil; featuring multiple playable characters and more standard survival horror-esque gameplay. Originally planned to be released on the Playstation, Sega Saturn, and Nintendo 64; developer Argonaut Games scrapped what they’d been working on after the film was released in theaters, and started over from the ground up, eventually creating this FPS. In October of 2000, the game was finally released on the Playstation to negative reviews and sales, which led to ports on the Sega Dreamcast and PC being cancelled. Despite its negative feedback, the game managed to find an audience and still has fans to this day surprisingly.

All in all, Alien: Resurrection is a disappointing game in the sea of Alien-centric games, though for its control innovations of the time, it deserves some kind of praise. If you’ve never played it before, I suggest playing the previous Alien Trilogy first before diving into this. Despite its flaws though, there’s still some stuff here to admire that makes it worth checking out if you’ve never played it before though, so at least there’s that.

HORROR GAME VAULT: CASTLEVANIA: BLOODLINES

By Nick Durham

I have a lot of love for Konami’s Castlevania franchise, and have since I was about six years old or so. At that age I had discovered the original trilogy of Castlevania games for the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (aka, the NES) and immediately fell in love with them, despite the fact that they’re incredibly difficult games. The gothic atmosphere, endless hordes of monsters to slay, and the incredible satisfaction felt by obliterating them with your whip and various sub-weapons made me a Castlevania fan for life. By the time the 16-bit generation was upon us, I had no luck in getting a Super Nintendo console, so I sadly missed out on the glorious Super Castlevania IV until much later. What I did manage to land was a Sega Genesis, and in 1994 the console was graced with the exclusive Castlevania: Bloodlines.

Unlike previous games in the series, Castlevania: Bloodlines doesn’t have you playing as a member of the Belmont clan. Instead you choose to play as either John Morris (son of Quincy Morris from Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel) who wields the Vampire Killer whip, or Eric Lecarde who wields a big-ass spear. The game’s storyline revolves around Dracula’s niece Elizabeth Bartley, who orchestrates World War I as part of a plot to resurrect her deceased uncle. John and Eric travel to Europe to confront her and her hordes of undead minions, concluding (of course) with a final battle against the resurrected Dracula. 

The first Castlevania game to not fully take place in Dracula’s castle (instead you travel throughout various parts in Europe), Castlevania: Bloodlines is mostly typical side-scrolling Castlevania fare. After Super Castlevania IV on the Super NES a few years prior allowed you to control firing your whip in any direction, this game returns you to the standard one-way whip attack, although there are a few times when you can switch up what direction you’re firing. The Item Crash feature from Castlevania: Rondo of Blood returns here as well, although it isn’t quite implemented as well here as it was there. Where this game really excels however is in its graphics and especially the music. The Sega Genesis wasn’t as powerful as its competitor the Super NES, but Konami really put their all into making this game look and sound wonderful. It’s still one of the best looking and sounding games to ever hit the Genesis, and remains one of the best games to ever grace the console. There’s interesting graphical effects including water reflections and multi-jointed/animated bosses. 

Like the previous games in the Castlevania franchise, Castlevania: Bloodlines is challenging as hell and will push you to your limits, but it’s still a massively fun and entertaining title. As I said, it’s one of the best games in the Genesis library, and one of my personal favorites in the Castlevania franchise. If you’re a retro gamer looking to pick this up, be prepared to drop a good amount of cash for a complete copy. 

VIDEO GAME REVIEW: AXIOM VERGE

By Nick Durham

In my youth, one of the video games I used to often find myself going back to was the original Metroid on the Nintendo Entertainment System. There was so much to do in terms of exploration and secrets and for an 8-bit game, it was pretty damn creepy. This formula would end up living on for years with various Metroid sequels and spin-offs, and even be adopted by Konami’s Castlevania series from the classic Castlevania: Symphony of the Night onwards through a majority of their franchise. Because of this, this genre of gameplay would be dubbed “Metroidvania” by fans, and has helped birth other games throughout the decades; albeit they’ve often been too few and far between. Axiom Verge, from independent developer Thomas Happ Games, is probably the best Metroidvania-type game to be released in the past few years. We’ll be taking a look at the Wii-U version here.

 

The story of Axiom Verge revolves around a scientist named Trace. After an explosion in his lab, Trace awakens to find himself in a foreboding alien world where he has been tasked with helping the local populace in destroying a madman that is hellbent on obliterating all civilization. That’s all I want to say about the story, because there are so many twists and turns throughout the proceedings that this will keep you playing alone. If you finish the game with a high completion rate, you’ll see an additional ending. This alone ups the replay value and encourages even more exploration in a game that is all about exploring and survival.

 

The gameplay of Axiom Verge mixes the previously mentioned elements of Metroid and Castlevania and even sprinkles a little bit of Contra and Blaster Master in here as well. There’s side-scrolling shooter mechanics mixed in with the constant exploration and backtracking. The alien enemies you encounter range from easy to blast to pieces to being absurdly difficult to put down, but thankfully there are a ton of items, power ups, and gun upgrades to find along the way. The game offers a handful of enjoyable boss fights as well, even though they’re fairly formulaic in terms of memorizing patterns and exploiting said patterns to take down the bosses. If you’re a veteran gamer from the 8/16-bit eras, you’ll have little to no issues getting through this game.

 

Graphically speaking the environments of Axiom Verge look to be inspired from H.R. Giger and are creepy as hell. In fact, the atmosphere of Axiom Verge is one of horrific dread to say it lightly. You never know what’s around a corner and graphically speaking the whole thing looks pretty damn spooky and dark. The game’s music however is the best feature about Axiom Verge; a blend of synth and ambient sounds really help set the creepy tone of the game. The controls are good and there’s a lot of replayability here in terms of split endings and fully exploring the game’s large map. There’s even a speedrun game mode which encourages you to get through the game as fast as you can with as high of a completion rate as possible. I’m not trying this mode because I will undoubtedly fail miserably.

 

It goes without saying that if you grew up with Metroid, Castlevania, or other games of this type, you should go download Axiom Verge. It’s available on the Wii-U, Playstation 4, Xbox One, Playstation Vita, and PC. For its budget price it offers a very rewarding experience and enough replayability to make you come back to it. Download it, turn off the lights, and strap yourself in for a super dark and creepy adventure.

 

Rating: 4.5/5

VIDEO GAME REVIEW: DEAD SPACE: EXTRACTION

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By Nick Durham

I’ve genuinely enjoyed EA’s Dead Space series much more than some other famous survival horror series the past few years, as recent installments of Resident Evil and Silent Hill have left me pretty damn disappointed. Now I’m aware that this franchise kind of went off the rails a little bit after Dead Space 3 and the series has been dormant ever since, but it doesn’t change the fact that the franchise offers so many scares and unforgettable, blood curdling moments that it’s hard not to admire the series as a whole. Dead Space: Extraction was kind of a side trip of the franchise when it was originally released for the Wii back in 2009, and it remains one of the most enjoyable games for the console to this day, and has been dreadfully underrated since its original release.

 

Taking place before the events of the first game, Dead Space: Extraction isn’t a survival horror game like the others, but is instead a horror-themed rail shooter, a la House of the Dead (minus the campiness). You mow down hordes of necromorphs as the story progresses, setting things up for the events of Dead Space and Dead Space 2. There’s a lot of interesting backstory given on the mythology of the mysterious Marker that turns those around it into psychotic monstrous freaks, and the game being told from a first-person perspective allows a very healthy amount of shocks and scares to occur.

 

The gameplay of Dead Space: Extraction makes the player use the Wii-mote for aiming and shooting, along with being able to use the Nunchuk for melee attacks. The Wii Zapper peripheral can also be used if you feel like actually toting a gun in your hands, which is actually kind of cool. You also get a degree of freedom in terms of looking around and such, which is a rarity for a rail shooter/light gun arcade game. Graphically the game looked pretty good for its time for a Wii game, and there’s some great sound design here and wonderful atmosphere.

 

In January of 2011, EA ported Dead Space: Extraction over to the PS3 with some updated graphical effects and the choice to play the game with either the standard controller or the Playstation Move wand. This version plays practically identical to the Wii version, albeit some bonus features and modes from the Wii version are missing for some dumb reason. Considering it’s from Electronic Arts, I’m really surprised the missing features and modes weren’t made available as DLC at launch. Money hungry fucks.

 

Anyway, whether you play the original Wii version or the slightly updated PS3 version, Dead Space: Extraction is one of the best games you’ve never played. It was massively enjoyable in 2009 and is still a hell of a lot of fun today. If you still own a Wii or a Wii-U, pick this game up. It’s fairly cheap as of right now considering it didn’t sell too well sadly; or if you have a PS3 you can go to the Playstation Store and download it right now.

 

Rating: 4.5/5

VIDEO GAME REVIEW: HOUSE OF THE DEAD 2 AND 3 RETURN

The_House_of_the_Dead_2_&_3_Return_Coverart

By Nick Durham

I’m a sucker for arcade light-gun rail shooters, and even more of a sucker for Sega’s House of the Dead franchise, which we’ve established plenty on here already. I decided to give Sega’s compilation disc for the Wii a whirl, House of the Dead 2 & 3 Return, for the first time in a long time recently, mostly because I wanted to play House of the Dead 2 without plugging in my Dreamcast. I had relatively fond memories of this compilation, but it turns out those memories may have been seen through rose-colored glasses.

 

The title of this disc sums up what you get here: you get the second and third games in the House of the Dead series on one disc. They’re enjoyable and pretty whacky arcade fun with hilarious voice work, which the series has always been well known for. Translating them to the Wii however has been a little problematic. House of the Dead 2 looks and feels like an actual step down from the Dreamcast version which came out practically a decade before this compilation was released for the Wii. I mean it’s not awful by any stretch of the imagination, but there’s something with the Wii-mote that feels off. Not to mention the fact that the game as a whole just feels kind of sluggish too. I actually did end up digging out my Dreamcast and popping my old copy of House of the Dead 2 in just to see if I was right or not, and it turns out I was. This game on the Wii runs slower, and it’s noticeable. It’s still fun though, but you’d figure that porting a game over to a more powerful console that came out a decade after its initial release would be as close to arcade perfect as one could hope.

 

House of the Dead 3 however runs just fine here, with little issues whatsoever. It doesn’t look as good as it did in the arcade, or as good as it would end up looking on the PS3 a few years after this was released as a downloadable title. I’ve talked plenty about the third installment of the game already, so there really isn’t that much else to say about it. The problems I had with the Wii-mote and with aiming on the second game aren’t an issue here with the third game at all, which is a bit odd. Maybe House of the Dead 2 was just the victim of shoddy programming during the porting process? Who knows?  It’s funny because back in the day I remember people saying the port of the second game was relatively flawless and the port of the third game had problems, but I’m finding the opposite effect here. Weird right?

 

There’s damn little in the way of extras for House of the Dead 2 & 3 Return, which is also a damn shame. When it comes to video game compilations, there’s usually some array of extras thrown in to sweeten the package. While we do get a boss rush mode, some mini-games, and an unlockable extreme mode for House of the Dead 3, that’s pretty much it. I would have loved to see some other features here as well, but alas, there aren’t.

 

All things considered, if a Wii or Wii-U is your only method of playing any of these games, I suggest picking up House of the Dead 2 & 3 Return to have some fun. It’s pretty cheap to pick up right now, and even though it isn’t a perfect representation of either game in the franchise, it’s still an enjoyable blast regardless. That being said, if you own a PS3 too and already have House of the Dead 3 downloaded, there isn’t much here to justify picking this up, unless you’re a diehard fan of the second game and don’t own a Dreamcast. You should really own a Dreamcast though, everyone should.

 

Rating: 3/5

VIDEO GAME REVIEW: SPIRIT CAMERA

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By Nick Durham

In terms of video games, I’ve always been a sucker for the Fatal Frame series. A survival horror franchise in which you encounter dangerous ghosts and spirits and your only method of combating them is the camera obscura in your possession (i.e., you use it to zoom in on them and take their picture, which kills them), the Fatal Frame games get a mixed reception for the most part, but they’ve always been a good time for me. Well, mostly that is; case in point with this spin-off. Spirit Camera on the Nintendo 3DS lets you can take the experience of encountering ghosts and taking pictures on the go. Whether or not you have as much fun with this as you would with the console Fatal Frame games is a different story however.

 

Co-developed by Tecmo Koei and Nintendo, 2012’s Spirit Camera follows the player’s struggle with the fabled Diary of Faces; a cursed item that causes some occasionally freaky shit to happen. Eventually you encounter creepy ghosts and the like while following an occasionally hard to grasp and overcooked story, but hey this is part of the Fatal Frame series, so that’s actually to be expected. Nonsense aside, there is some legitimately creepy shit happening off and on, just not as often as one may hope.

 

Now as I said before, the Fatal Frame games work based on the mechanic of the game’s camera obscura. With Spirit Camera, your 3DS itself acts as the camera, using the handheld’s gyro sensors, basic camera, and 3D effects to get the most out of the gameplay. Not to mention the fact that the game also uses these elements to occasionally fuck with the player but inserting ghosts in your real world environment to battle with your handheld, which is a nice change of pace actually and can even become a little intense from time to time. Sadly though, the rest of the package is pretty thin.

 

Content-wise, there isn’t really enough here to justify laying down the full purchase price for it. The game’s main story mode doesn’t last long at all, and the additional modes of Spirit Camera include a challenge mode that you’ll finish in no time, and a handful of mini games sprinkled throughout too. Other than that, that’s it for the game’s content, which is a shame because this game manages to do more things right than it does wrong. Sadly though, it comes down to the fact that Spirit Camera is little more than a glorified tech demo disguised as a game, which Nintendo has been guilty of making for their various consoles and heldhelds throughout the years.

 

In closing, you’ll definitely play worse games on your 3DS than Spirit Camera, but you definitely play better ones with more content to offer too. That being said, what Spirit Camera does offer can be a fun diversion while it lasts, and it makes good use of what the 3DS can do and offers up some scary moments here and there. If you can find it for cheap, I suggest giving it a go. You can always do much, much worse.

 

Rating: 3/5