Bioshock, Horror Videogame Review, By Case Wright


Ayn Rand- Libertarian, funny hat wearer, and author of that book your roommate wanted you to read in college, but you thought – If only there were an audiobook app. Imagine further, what if libertarians got funding and militant? This is the premise of what evolved into the Bioshock franchise.

Personally, I don’t play a lot of videogames. I used to be really into flying videogames and strategy videogames, BUT I unwind by watching dude’s play videogames. I’m assuming they’re dudes because they usually are. This is a fun way for Xennials and Zoommers to enjoy a game without …. ya know .. playing it.

Bioshock was created by Ken Levine. He was a theater major from Vassar- the last person who’d you’d expect to become a videogame development icon, but here we are. He started out with System Shock, a primitive AI gone evil game that featured a fairly new first person perspective that allowed you act as the bludgeoner of evil forces.

Bioshock was something new. Where Doom had you running around killing things, Bioshock created a World and Society. The graphics of course were amazing, but it created a civilization and culture. Any civilization needs a agreed upon political philosophy, which can attract or be imposed upon others. This civilization creation mixed with horror was Videogame gold!

Ken chose Objectivism to be the underpinning for his societal construct.

According to Ayn Rand, “the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute”. This of course can lead to a life of solipsism and in Bioshock that’s what happens.

In the game, a rich industrialist, Andrew Ryan, leaves the terrestrial world to create a city of Rapture under the seas because the government was too intrusive. He wanted to fully unleash Man’s creative potential without rules or regulation. This allowed for scientific innovation in the form of “Plasmids” a drug which gives the user lethal superpowers, but it also led to the city failing because everyone started killing each other for dominance.

You play Jack and go through the game killing all kinds of freaks – BRUTALLY! As you go forward in the game, you are completely immersed in blood and libertarian political philosophy. You’re led by an Irish voice who says – “Would you kindly?” Before telling you to do things.

I don’t want to give away any ending. I do want you to give it a chance and watch below!

Sign Me Up For Lawn Mowing Simulator!


There’s a lot of people making fun of the lawn mower simulator right now but I just watched the trailer and I’m ordering.

Yes, the trailer make it look like Lawn Mowing Simulator just a game about mowing lawns but we all know what the game is really about.  How many weird pictures can you mow in the grass before the homeowner comes home and figures out what you’re doing?  How many sticks and stones can you run your lawn mover over before you have to replace the blade?  Is your lawnmower powerful enough to destroy a pair of roller skates?  If you accidentally clip the neighbor’s yard, do you even it out or do you just play innocent and say you have no idea how that happened?

I did some research and I discovered that this game is not just about lawns.  It’s also a business simulator, where you build your landscaping business from the ground up.  You get chances to upgrade your lawnmower and there’s also mini-games involving trying to find and remove objects from the yard before you actually start cutting the grass.

I’ve actually always enjoyed business sims so this looks like the perfect game for me.  I get the sense of accomplishment of building a successful business without having to worry about accidentally shooting people just because I pushed the wrong button.  Sign me up!

Welcome To Silent Hill


Instead of reviewing an IF game today, I decided to instead share what I consider to be one of the greatest video game opening scenes of all time.

I know people who still play Silent Hill just for the opening alone.  Though it may look primitive compared to what we’re used to today, this game really blew everyone’s mind when it first came out in 1999.  This is the game that showed a generation just how good a game could be.  The opening not only set the mood but also let us know that there was more to Silent Hill than just walking down streets and shooting monsters.  This was a game that told a comple story.  That’s something that we take for granted now but, at the time, Silent Hill was revolutionary.

The score was composed by Akira Yamaoka.  He was influenced by Angelo Badalamenti’s work for David Lynch.

Happy Halloween!  I’ve really enjoyed participating in this year’s Horrorthon and I look forward to doing it all over again next year!

Game Review: Minor Arcana (2020, Jack Sanderson Thwaite)


This game is an entrant in 2020 Interactive Fiction Competition.  All of the entries can be found here.

Minor Arcana is probably not the first game to center around Tarot cards but it is probably the first one to actually be written from the point of view of the cards themselves.  You are the cards and, as you wait to reveal your next fortune, you think about your past and maybe your future.  Who created you?  Who gave you power and why?  Are you going to help the people who seek your insight or are you going to destroy them?  Are you a force of chaos or a force of peace?  These are the decisions that you, as the player, can make as you point and click your way through the story.

Like a lot of works done with Twine, Minor Arcana is more of a short story than a game.  While it’s true that you control several elements of the story and that your decisions will determine the type of story that’s told, it would be a mistake for anyone to play Minor Arcana thinking that it’s going to be a traditional IF game where you solve puzzles and examine rooms and decide whether to move north, west, or, if you’re really lucky, northeast.  Instead, Modern Arcana is more of a well-written mood piece, designed to make the player meditate on issues of fate, fortune, and the future.

Minor Arcana can be played here.

Game Review: Trusting My Mortal Enemy?! What a Disaster! (2020, Storysinger Presents)


This TWINE game is an entrant in the 2020 Interactive Fiction Competition.  Because it’s October, I’m currently concentrating on only playing the horror and fantasy-based entries but I hope to have played and reviewed all of the entries by November 29th.

In this game, you are Lightbearer, Garden City’s greatest hero.  And you are also Promethium, Garden City’s most nefarious villain.  You play both roles in this unusual text adventure.  When Lightbearer finally defeats Promethium, it might mean that she’ll have to leave Garden City and, for a lot of reasons, she’s not ready to uproot her family and make that move.  So, Lightbearer and Promethium make a deal.  Lightbearer will let Promethium go free on the condition that they continue to have regular “staged” battles.  Lightbearer and Promethium meet regularly at a coffeeshop to choreograph their fights ahead of time.  Depending on the choices that the player makes, the hero and the villain can bond over their unexpected similarities or, as the title suggests, trying to trust your enemy can be a complete disaster.

I enjoyed this game.  It took me by surprise and both Lightbearer and Promethium were interesting and well-written characters.  This game explored why a hero needs a villain and vice versa and the story led to some very unexpected places.  It’s not a short game but it is a rewarding one.  It’s well worth the time required to play it.

It can be played here.

Game Review: Rockstar (1989, Wizard Games)


Do you want to be a rockstar despite having no musical talent?

Then get over to the Internet Archive and play Rockstar, which is about as close to being a music superstar as most of us will ever get a chance to be!

In Rockstar, you’re a musician.  You start out as a poor, aspiring star.  You’ve got health, creativity, and happiness but you also don’t have any money.  How can you get money?  You can tour the local pubs.  And once you get the money, maybe you can record a single or even an album.  If that album sells well, you might get a record contract.  With a record contract comes so much money that you never have to worry about it again and that’s a good thing because, if you go bankrupt, you have to get a real job and the game ends.

Unfortunately, once you’ve signed that record deal, you’re pretty much a slave to the record company.  They’re going to want you to tour and record and make videos on a regular basis.  Tour too much and it will have a bad effect on your health.  Record too often and your creativity will dry up.  Work too hard and your happiness will go downhill and there will be a good chance that the game will suddenly tell you that you’ve committed suicide.

Fortunately, there’s a way to recharge your happiness and your creativity!  You can take drugs!  The game gives you the option to decide which drugs you want to take.  You can drink.  You can smoke marijuana.  You can drop acid.  You can do cocaine and heroin.  You can get hooked on speed.  Of course, you can be a rock star without doing drugs but it takes a lot longer and it’s not halfway as fun.  The secret is to find the perfect balance of drugs and to go to rehab whenever you’ve become too addicted.  (Otherwise, there’s a good chance you’ll eventually end up dying of an overdose.)  Unfortunately, going to rehab pretty much zaps away all of your happiness.  Assuming that you survive the rehab experience, you’re only option to cheer yourself up is to start doing drugs again.  Do too many drugs and you’ll overdose.  You might survive the overdose but you’ll have to recover in the hospital, which again sucks away your happiness.  Once you get out of the hospital, you better call your connection and quick.

There’s only two ways that Rockstar can end.  You can either voluntarily retire, which brings your career and your fame to an end.  Or you can eventually die, which brings your life to an end but which also ensures that you’ll be remembered forever.  It probably sounds like a depressing game but it’s not.  Whenever the game told me that my latest single was the number one song in America, Europe, and the UK, it made all of the drug overdoses and mental breakdowns worth it.  You don’t play a game like Rockstar to win.  You play it to see how long you can survive.  The longest I’ve kept one of my rock stars alive was for ten years.  Eventually, he drank himself to death while on holiday but it was still a hell of a ride.

Rockstar can be played at the Internet Archive.

Game Review: Detroit: Become Human (2018, Quantic Dream)


Detroit: Become Human takes place in a Detroit of the near future.

Androids, built, programmed, and sold by CyberLife, have become so common place that almost everyone seems to own one.  The androids do everything from domestic work to hard labor to even dangerous security work.  Because they are viewed as just being machines, they have no rights in American society and they are often blamed for stealing jobs from hardworking humans.  Androids have become a luxury that few humans can do without.  Some try to treat their android laborers with respect while other humans are abusively cruel, secure in the knowledge that a damaged android can easily be replaced with a newer model.

Detroit: Become Human is game about three androids, all of whom the player will control at different points in the game.  Two of the androids, Markus and Kara, turn deviant and develop their own free will.  Markus ends up discovering the android community of Jericho and, depending on decisions made by the player, can end up leading either a peaceful or violent revolution against the human race.  Kara is an abused housekeeper android who, after escaping her owner, runs away with a young girl named Alice and attempts to reach Canada, where there are no laws limiting the rights of androids.  On her journey, Kara discovers a mad scientist who tortures androids, a deserted amusement park that is populated exclusively by androids waiting for their humans to return, and eventually the future’s version of the Underground Railroad.

Lastly, Connor is an android who has been designed by CyberLife to track down and destroy deviants.  Connor is assigned to work with police Lt. Hank Anderson to discover why so many androids have been turning on their owners.  Much like Heavy Rain‘s Norman Jayden, Connor is an outsider who has been assigned to aide the establishment.  Just as Norman sought refuge in a VR world, Connor finds himself summoned to an ever-changing zen garden where he is asked questions by his superior and it is up to the player to decide if Connor should tell the truth or lie.  Like Norman, Connor eventually has to decide which side he is on.  How Connor’s story progresses depends on the decisions made by the player.  Choose one path and Connor and Hank can become unlikely allies and Connor might even end up going deviant himself.  Choose another path and Connor might remain a loyal servant of CyberLife to the very end.  It may sound like an easy choice to make but nothing concerning Connor is ever that simple.

Of all the games that I’ve recently played, Detroit: Become Human is tied with Spider-Man for my favorite.  Like Quantic Dream’s previous games, Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls, Detroit: Become Human tells a sprawling story where nearly every single decision that you make effects what happens in the game.  Like those previous two games, there are no do-overs.  If Markus or Kara dies during one of their chapters, the game continues without them.  (Connor, on the other hand, is just rebuilt by CyberLife and sent back into the field.)  Because the game follows three distinct (but connected) storylines, it is estimated to have over 40 possible endings, which makes it a game that very much rewards being replayed and experimented with.

Detroit: Become Human takes the storytelling and the gameplay concepts introduced in Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls and it improves on both of them.  Unlike the uncertain voice acting of Heavy Rain, Detroit: Become Human features characters played by actors like Clancy Brown, Lance Henriksen, Minka Kelly, and Jesse Williams, all of whom do an excellent job of bringing their characters to life.  The game’s recreation of Detroit and the surrounding area is visually rich and detailed and, unlike Beyond: Two Souls, Detroit: Become Human does not get bogged down in quick time events.  Detroit: Big Human is a game that rewards observant and intelligent players who want to do more than just push buttons while they’re playing a game.

Of course, this is a Quantic Dream game so don’t expect any of Detroit: Become Human‘s political subtext to be subtle.  When t comes to dealing with issues, this game is even more heavy-handed than Beyond: Two Souls.  There’s barely a good human to be found in this game’s version of Detroit.  The best of them is Clancy Brown’s Hank who manages to hate everyone, human and android, equally.  (Of course, who Hank or anyone else in the film ultimately turns out to be, depends on the choices that you make during the game.)  The most interesting of the human characters, though, is Carl Manfred, the artist played Lance Henriksen.  Carl tries to teach Markus how to be human and it’s a confrontation between Carl and his real son (who is jealous of Carl’s relationship with Markus) that leads to Markus setting off on his own.  If Carl dies during the confrontation, he remains an inspiration to Markus and his revolution.  If Carl survives, his later reaction to Markus will depend on what the player has chosen to have Markus do over the course of the game.  Is Carl as benevolent as he seems or was his earlier kindness to Markus just his way of assuaging his own guilt over essentially being a slave owner?  The answer depends on how you play the game.

In the end, it’s the sheer number of possible endings that truly sets this game apart.  This is especially true of Kara.  I haven’t discovered all of the endings yet but, from those that I have reached, Kara’s story always seems to get either the best or the darkest possible conclusion.  Markus, meanwhile, can either be an android of peace or an android of war.  After everything that he is forced to endure over the course of the game, it’s difficult not to go for war every time.  As for Connor, it’s all up to you.  Ultimately, everything is up to you.

I look forward to replaying Detroit: Become Human and seeing what other endings this game has to offer.  And I look forward to seeing what will come next from Quantic Dream.

Retro Game Review: Beyond: Two Souls (2013, Quantic Dream)


In between replaying Heavy Rain and Detroit: Become Human, I decided to go ahead and also replay Qunatic Dream’s Beyond: Two Souls.

In Beyond: Two Souls you play two characters who are linked together.  Jodie (Ellen Page) is a troubled young woman who, after being rejected by her family while still a child, is raised by paranormal researcher, Nathan Dawkins (Willem DaFoe).  You are also Aiden, a mysterious psychic force that Jodie can use to read minds and move objects.  Because of Jodie’s powers, the CIA wants them to work for her.  Because Jodie does not want to assassinate progressive world leaders just because the CIA wants them dead (remember, this is a French game), Jodie goes on the run.  The game itself is told out of chronological order, with the player going back and forth from Jodie’s childhood and Jodie’s present as a fugitive.  Like Heavy Rain and Detroit: Become Human, Beyond: Two Souls has multiple endings depending on what you do during the game.

Beyond: Two Souls is a weaker game than both Heavy Rain and Detroit: Become Human but, when I replayed it, I discovered that it was not as bad as I remembered.  Willem DaFoe and especially Ellen Page are amazing in the roles of Jodie and Nathan and the parts of the game that took place during Jodie’s childhood actually improved on a second playing.  (There’s nothing more fun than burning down the bully’s house.)  The nonlinear storytelling was still needlessly confusing.  Fortunately, there is an option to play the game’s chapters in chronological order.

The game’s flaws were still there, though.  The CIA stuff was heavy-handed but that is to be expected from Quantic Dream.  The main problem I had with the game is that the constant switching back and forth between Jodie and Aiden felt awkward.  You can switch between the two throughout the game and I kept pushing the wrong button and I would suddenly find myself stuck in Aiden form, even when there wasn’t anything for Aiden to do.  The game’s heavy reliance on quick time events also made me feel as if I didn’t have as much control over the narrative as I did in Heavy Rain and Detroit: Become Human.

Quantic Dream is one of my favorite video game developers because they are willing to experiment and take risks.  Sometimes, those risks pay off and sometimes they lead to an interesting failure, like Beyond: Two Souls.  Tomorrow, I’ll look at one of their experiment’s that worked.

Retro Game Review: Heavy Rain (2010, Quantic Dream)


When it comes to Heavy Rain, it seems that there are two schools of thought.

Some people consider it to be one of the most important and ground-breaking games ever developed, a challenging mystery where nearly every decision that you make will effect what happens next in the game.  Unlike other games, there’s no easy do-overs in Heavy Rain.  If you get one of the four playable characters killed, the game will continue without them.  At a time when people had just started to get bored with games that featured a handful of endings, Heavy Rain revolutionized the entire concept with not just a good and a bad ending but instead with over 20 possible endings.  Your goal is to both discover the identity of the Origami Killer and also to save the life of little Shaun Mars before he drowns in a cage.  Fail and the chances are that the last thing the game will show you is an image of the flooded cage with Shaun nowhere to be seen.

Other people consider Heavy Rain to be a game where the main goal is to get Madison Paige naked as many times as possible.

Madison

Madison

Madison is the photojournalist who, suffering from insomnia, checks into a cheap motel and happens to meet Shaun’s father, Ethan.  Madison seems to spend the entire game either undressing or getting threatened by men who want her to undress.  If the player chooses, Madison and Ethan can make love in his hotel room.  The bra removal mini-game is actually one of the more challenging parts of Heavy Rain.  For the record, it is possible to play the game without Madison taking a shower, stripping for a club owner, having sex with Ethan, or even getting attacked by the crazy doctor who repeatedly tries to stab her in the crotch with a surgical tool.  It’s possible but I doubt many players have done so.

Ethan

 

How does Heavy Rain hold up after 9 years?  Surprisingly well.  The game has its flaws.  There’s the infamous and much parodied scene where Ethan searches for his son in a mall while calling out his name in a flat monotone.  Quantic Dream is a French company and, when you play the game, it is obvious that some of the voice actors were more comfortable with the English language than others.  But the the game’s rain-soaked and doom-heavy imagery all hold up well and the multiple endings make this a game that’s worthy of multiple replays.

Norman

All four of the main characters are intriguing, even the much-criticized Madison Paige.  The best of them is Norman Jayden, the drug-addicted FBI agent who uses VR technology to solve his cases.  Unfortunately, the game also seems to be determined to kill Norman.  If you can make it to the end without Norman either dying or abandoning the case, you will have truly triumphed at Heavy Rain.  My only complaint is that Lauren Winter, the prostitute who joins forces with private eye Scott Shelby, wasn’t a playable character because she had one of the most interesting storylines.  If Lauren and Scott both somehow survive the game, you’ll get one of the best endings that Heavy Rain has to offer.

Lauren

Scott Shelby, the private investigator, gets some of the game’s best scenes.  He is big and slow and he always seems to need to use his inhaler but he can still handle himself in a fight.  He gets the game’s big action set piece, where he takes out an entire army of armed guards in just a matter of minutes.  At the end of the scene, he also gets to make one of the game’s biggest decisions.  Do you do the “honorable” thing or do you leave a bad man to die?  Whichever decision you make, it is one of Heavy Rain‘s most satisfying moments.

Scott Shelby

The majority of the game centers on Ethan, the father who has has to avoid the police while trying to save his son.  He is given a set of challenges by the Origami Killer, all designed to prove whether he’s worthy of being a father.  The bra-removal mini-game may be the most challenging part of Heavy Rain but the sawing off your own finger mini-game may be a close second.  A close third would have to be the diaper-changing mini-game.  It’s amazing how many different things you end up doing while trying to keep a little boy from drowning.  At the same time, I was as proud of myself for changing that diaper as I was for unsnapping that bra.  I was less proud about sawing off Ethan’s finger but it had to be done.

Ethan and saw

9 years after it was first released, Heavy Rain holds up better than I was expecting.  It’s flaws are still there and the plot holes become even more obvious with each time that you play it.  A frequent complaint that I’ve read about the game is that, in order for the mystery’s solution to make any sense, you have to be willing to accept that the Origami Killer would not only lie to other people but would also lie to himself.  The challenges that Ethan are put through are sometimes too reminiscent of Saw and even the rightly celebrated atmosphere sometimes leans too heavily on the obvious influence of Davids Fincher and Lynch.  (That Norman Jayden is based on Twin Peaks‘s Dale Cooper should be obvious to the most casual of viewers.)

Norman and Mad Jack

But, flaws and all, it’s impossible not to like this game or to appreciate the influence that it’s had on many of the games that have followed it.  Even it’s cheesiest moments are fun.  With the way the storyline branches out and changes depending on almost every decision that you make, this is a game that rewards frequent replays.  Each decision you make, you find yourself thinking, “What would have happened if I had done something else?”  Fortunately, with this game, you’ve got a chance to find out.  For that reason, Heavy Rain remains one of my favorites and a game that I’m looking forward to replaying soon.

Ethan, moping. Madison, helping.

 

Game Review: Night Trap (1992, Sega)


Moral panics about video games are nothing new.

Long before people were worrying about the violence in Grand Theft Auto or the nudity in Heavy Rain, they were holding Congressional hearings about a game called Night Trap. 

Night Trap was an interactive movie video game, one that was presented through full motion video at a time when that was still a big deal.  The player was a member of S.C.A.T., the Special Control Attack Team.  For 25 minutes, your job was to watch as blood-sucking creatures known as Augers attempted to launch a sneak attack on five girls at a slumber party.  Whenever an Auger approached a trap, the player had to click a button to capture the Auger.

It sounds pretty simple and it was.

It also sounds pretty stupid and again, it was.

Night Trap initially received some attention because it featured former Diff’rent Strokes star Dana Plato as one of the girls.  Plato played Kelly, who was actually an undercover member of S.C.A.T. and who searched for clues while you were busy trapping Augers.  Plato gave such an annoying performance that many gamers probably purposefully let a few Augers escape just so they could get the “bad” ending, with Kelly plunging into Hell.

 

However, even more than Dana Plato running around in a sports bra, it was a scene of one of the girls being stalked while wearing a nightgown that truly worried the moral guardians of 1993.  At the Congressional hearings, Senators Joseph Lieberman and Herb Kohl spent hours reviewing this scene and demanding to know whether it had any socially redeeming qualities.  The hearings also focused on Mortal Kombat and the senators seemed to be far more offended by an actress in a nightgown than they were about Kano ripping his opponent’s still-beating heart out of his chest.

Night Trap seems tame today but, of course, it was also tame back in 1993.  One reason why the “nightgown scene” got so much attention at the hearings is because it was the only scene in the entire game that could be considered the least bit racy.  There’s no sex or nudity in Night Trap.  For the most part, there’s also not any violence.  Whatever actual blood sucking that happens in Night Trap happens off-camera.  Probably the most intense scenes in the game involved Dana Plato scolding you if you let too many of the girls get captured.  Since the only thing the player could do during the game was activate a trap by pushing a button at a certain moment, this game required not so much skill as just being able to keep track of time.  Now, If you enjoyed just pushing a button over and over again, Night Trap might have some appeal but otherwise, this is a dull and poorly acted game.  Not even as formidable a thespian as Dana Plato could liven things up.

Ironically, those Congressional hearings made Night Trap.  If people still remember the game today, it’s because of those hearings.  If you want to know how a boring game like Night Trap could get a special 25th anniversary edition, it was because of those hearings.  There’s nothing like a moral panic to boot sales.