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Indie Shack - Specters, Killers, and Lonliness

10/30/12 9:00am
tl;dr

1. Which

2. Something Novel

3. Lone Survivor

Writer: LousyTactician

Welcome back g1s to the third and final Halloween Indie Shack! I'm at least wrapping it all up today and conveniently just before Halloween. It's time to finally review a certain game I've been looking forward to talking about all October. And once that's over...SLENDER MAN OUTFIT HERE I COME!

Name: Which

Genre: First-Person, Adventure, Puzzle, Horror (I guess)

Developer: Mike Inel

Price: Free

Horror games are in a unique position from games of other genres. They can get away with minimalistic or even flawed gameplay much more easily as long as they get the ‘horror’ part right. The fact that many find games like Slender fun despite being very bare bones and Horror fan’s defenses of horror games with crap combat is proof of that. This made me very optimistic towards giving Which a try, but I quickly became annoyed with it when I learned some distressing information. The game wanted me to help something I should have been running away from.

 

Which couldn’t be any simpler, the player controls an unknown character from a 1st person perspective and walks around a house to solve (underwhelming) puzzles. Props can be given to the game for making sure doors, cupboards, keys and other objects the player needs to interact with are distinctly highlighted, but the interactions with the objects themselves are bland and un-engaging. There are no real puzzles in the game, it falls much more closely en-route with the, “Pick up key A and place it in door A” way of doing things…And that’s about it for the actual gameplay…Oh and there is some headless blood-ridden specter the player finds shortly into the game too.

A game has to try really hard to make me forget something like that.

Normally this creature would potentially turn my entire opinion on the game around. It certainly has an interesting design to it and it’s well-established I don’t mind simplistic horror games as long as there is something creepy chasing me. But whereas Slender was fun because it consistently had a being hunting and stalking the player, Which became really boring really fast when I learned the ghost in the picture above wouldn’t harm me.

This left me confused, the game was clearly trying to implement a horror feel and I could tell I was supposed to be frightened by it. Every time I came into contact with the ghost the screen became filled with static similar to Slender, its movement was slow and cryptic, and being a headless woman it obviously was wasn’t pleasant to look at. Waiting for it to finally start some killing was like waiting for a bomb that never went off. Right now I’m wondering what people find so scary about it. It's a decent enough horror game someone could ask for at a $0.00 budget, but the very effective visuals and sound effects feel wasted with there being no reason to be scared while playing the game.

There is only one way to really ‘fail the game’ and that’s by getting one of two different endings neither of which are all that interesting, only one of which has anything all that scary in it, and both of which can be seen coming very easily even with the game being a wordless story.

Verdict

The biggest problem with Which is it can’t decide whether or not it wants the player to be frightened by its creature or saddened by it. The way the woman/ghost constantly crept up on me and filled my screen with static whenever I came into contact with her suggests I’m supposed to be scared of it, but the objective of the game is to help this…Thing. Aside from that the game itself simply isn’t all that scary to begin with. The black and white visuals look nice and Which does lose some of my cynicism with it being a free to play game and all, but I’d much more quickly recommend SCP-Containment Breach, Slender, Ao Oni and every other game I’ve reviewed this Halloween before this.

 

Name: Something Novel

Genre: Adventure, Horror

Developer: Seb Greaves

Price: Free

I’m a believer in the idea that horror becomes scarier the cheaper and uglier it looks and sounds. Other Horror fans have told me that idea is ludicrous, but I think it holds a lot of water. There is a reason current generation, big-budget games are lacking in the horror department. The jagged, pixelated creatures of the night from early 3D Survival Horror games such as Clock Tower and Silent Hill are scarier than Dead Space’s Necromorphs likely will ever be. This mindset I have might make me biased when it comes to Something Novel because I admit, even by freeware Adventure game standards it isn’t particularly pretty to look at. And that is why I love it!

On the 20th of June 1924, a famed author by the last name of Stanson, now famed for his incredible knack for creating amazing mystery stories, is invited to a gathering by his publisher and good friend Mr. Roivas. What begins as a quaint evening of stuffy novelists complimenting each other on their success turns grim, when a chandelier fall and hits Mr. Roivas, killing him in a completely original way never before seen in a mystery story. With all exit points out of the mansion suddenly blocked it’s up to the house guests to figure out what is going on.

There is a part early on in Something Novel where a masked psychopath who looks like the offspring of Michael Meyers and Slender-Man (crazy mask + suit) ambushes and captures the main character. I can safely say trying to untie Mr. Stanson, barricade a door, and take refuge from the maniacal killer while he slowly approached with increasingly loud footsteps was one of the more invigorating horror moments I’ve had in this era of gaming. The rest of the game while a bit more underwhelming, remains entertaining throughout its short and sweet time.

For a Point and Click Adventure route and surprisingly fixes several of the more irritating elements the genre is known for. Several moments in the game will require the player to perform specific actions, often while timed in order to advance through the game. Normally this would be a huge warning sign for cumbersome trial and error Adventure gameplay however whenever the player fails or does something incorrect they’re given a game-over hint regarding what they should have done.

It is still very possible to get stuck and there are bewildering puzzles that were a chore to get around, but there were significantly fewer than I find in most old school Adventure games and not just because Something Novel is relatively short. I’d say the most the game can last is 1 ½ hours tops, provided no roadblocks are hit with the puzzles. There aren’t any additional points where the player will have to evade the killer, which was a little disappointing and took away some of the tension even for a short game, but the killer will make some freaky shit happen by hitting the player with fear-gas.

I particularly like the audio to the game, mainly because there rarely is any. There is a nice little tune in the opening, some ambient music put into several parts of the game, and the rest is either cold dead silence or the sound of Mr. Stanson’s own feet.

The story was pretty interesting and I loved the ending twist that I wouldn’t spoil if my life depended on it, though others could easily hate it and this definitely isn’t a character driven game. Some may find them flat-out unlikeable, but their personality wasn’t the focus of the game, I hardly cared. Aside from that anyone able to get past the relatively unappealing look of the game should have fun. It’s a freeware title after all, can’t complain much about visuals.

Verdict

I truly enjoyed Something Novel, but I have to say it didn’t give me much to write about in this review. Any cheapskates looking for some standard Adventure fare with a lot of atmosphere and horror should have a good time.

 

 

Name: Lone Survivor

Genre: Survival Horror

Developer(s): Superflat Games

Price: $9.99

To end this month of Halloween goodness I’m reviewing a game that has deservingly gained a place among a lot of Indie lover’s favorite games of 2012 and a place as one of my favorite horror games of all time. Lone Survivor puts the player in the place of a distressed protagonist who is simply named ‘You’ while he/you attempt to survive a mysterious monster infection of unknown origins. The psychological shit hits the fan, some pills are taken, strange acquaintances are made, the lines of dream and reality are blended, and the game starts showing some clear nods to David Lynch once it becomes so trippy and nonsensical you’d think the man himself made it. And it is GLORIOUS!

Don’t let the pixelated visuals fool you Lone Survivor has some genuine scares. In many ways the pixelated visuals assist the game’s atmosphere with all enemies having simplistic, featureless, but always unsettling designs. Most encounters are with the main enemy the ‘Thin-Man’ (I wonder who that reminds me of.), but there are a few different variations of this creature and each one is bound to catch players off guard with a new trick.

Shooting these creatures down is an option, but with scarce ammo, sluggish shooting controls, and enemies that are plentiful it isn’t an ideal one. A much smarter strategy is to distract and evade enemies, something that is very possible to do thanks to an unlimited supply of rotten-meat the protagonist conveniently has stored in his fridge.

With a well-placed scrap of meat and a good hiding spot most enemies can be avoided. In the case that the player needs to rely on more drastic measures shooting isn't a necessity there either. Flares can temporarily stun monsters making it possible to complete the game completely non-lethally. But just like bullets, flares aren’t cheap and must be used sparingly. This gives the game excellent balance and always leaves the wise players more rewarded.

The scariest non-trippy parts of the game however weren’t from running away from disfigured monsters. They were from worrying over when the main character would receive his next meal. Caring for ‘You’ is an integral part of the game and those who want to see the main character get through the game with a stable mind will have more than monsters to worry about. Cursing the next time the main character will have to eat, seeing his food supplies slowly deplete, and fearfully heading into hostile apartment areas in hopes of finding food are just as scary as facing off against the game’s monsters.

Cruel masochistic players will have fun feeding ‘You’ disgusting foods, but the key thing to remember is he still needs to be fed. There were some complaints about the main character becoming hungry too quickly in the original build of Lone Survivor (the one I’m reviewing). I personally didn’t think food was so scarce that it was problematic and felt the constant hunger ‘You’ faced added a new level of fear to the game. People who had a problem with this won’t have to worry though. Lone Survivor got a small update that made hunger inflict ‘You’ at a slower rate.

But facing physical horror can only go so far, it’s when psychological things happen that the fear hits its peak. For a game bound very little by the confines of reality Lone Survivor could have taken a lot more liberties with its more outlandish moments, but fortunately does not. Surreal parts occur only at plot-specific points, whenever the player decides to chew on some pills to head to dream land, and weaves in and out of the game well. In the pill-enduced dream world, a strange being will ask the player questions with their answers determining the main character’s sanity. Lone Survivor has quite a few of these weirdos the main character will encounter. the Man in Blue, the White Faced Man, and my personal favorite the Man Who Wears a Box!

Players looking for more normal NPCs to interact with will find that here too. The ‘Director’ was an interesting character and one I grew very attached to. Maybe it’s because he was the only real friend I had in the game’s twisted world, maybe it’s because he gave out valuable gifts, maybe it's because he also likes cats, or maybe it’s simply that he quoted famous movies, but there’s a part further into the game with him where I (*Semi-Spoiler Alert!*) became truly emotionally saddened.

He is one of, possibly the, best new character of this year and not just because he has an amazing taste in trench coats.

The narrative to the game might be a giant mind-fuck, but it’s the good sort of mind-fuck. The sort of messed up story so interesting that even if the person playing it doesn’t care one bit about the metaphorical symbolism behind it, the surface level story, the great yet minimalist characters, and sheer strangeness of it all is fascinating in its own right.

Depending on the actions the player takes and how they take care of You’s sanity they’ll get one of 3 endings. Much appreciation goes out to the game for bringing a decent conclusion to all 3 endings and making them all satisfying in different ways. Ideally most would want an ending where the main character retains his sanity, but going all out and having him eat nothing except rats and cat-food to shatter his sanity will deliver just as satisfying of an experience as diligently feeding and resting him. Besides, the game is so insane one has to question if the main character is mentally stable to begin with.

In my first playthrough of Lone Survivor I was able to finish it in a little over 7 hours, but I did so while ignoring several interesting side quests and by getting only one of the game’s 3 endings, meaning there was a lot more I hadn't seen from the game that I wanted to. There is an extremely photophobic man I had to help out, areas of the game I hesitantly wanted to explore more of, and an adorable cat I wanted to feed. And if that weren’t the case my experience with the game was far too enjoyable for me to consider playing it only once.

This once again proves that cats make every Survival Horror game better.

Verdict

If there was ever a book written about why I love Horror games, Lone Survivor would be the result of someone following that text book word for word. Despite having visuals that look like they could have been made on a 32-bit, maybe even a 16-bit, system Lone Survivor has delivered more of an atmospheric and genuinely scary experience to me than any current generation console game I can name. The month of October may be coming to an end, but until you have played Lone Survivor your trip through this year’s horror world has only begun.

…I also really like that one of the enemies looks like a gory, naked Slender Man.

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And thus ends the Indie Shack Halloween extravaganza for this year many thanks to anyone who has continued to support the series so far. We apologize if we’ve been slightly inconsistent with our schedule, but everyone who works for Indie Shack is hoping to change that soon with what we believe will be a much more fluid system. I look forward to reviewing more Indie titles in the future to come, but for now it's almost Halloween meaning I need to get out and have some goddamn fun!

I'll be at party dressed like this guy doing this.

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