Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Halloween special!

With Halloween just around the corner The Pixel Empire are devoting the next week and a bit to a Halloween special. Four reviews on the horror genre, one each by the four site contributors, will begin to be posted on the site over the course of the next few days. Until then why not check out our responses to five very simple questions on scary games.  

The Pixel Empire 

Or read the extended answers I provided for each question below (which Tom ruthlessly edited for The Pixel Empire)! 

Favourite scary game? 

Survival horror at it's best...

This is likely to change in the future as I’ve not had the pleasure to play Amnesia: The Dark Descent yet, which is supposed to be amazingly spine-chilling. Hopefully it will be on Steam’s forthcoming Christmas sale! Until then it’s got to be Resident Evil 2. Perfect pacing, atmosphere and scenario, the Racoon City Police Station is just as highly memorable now as George A. Romero’s shopping mall in Dawn of the Dead. And whilst some of the scares are fairly obvious horror clich├ęs, there is still very little that can prepare your underwear for the murder of crows crashing through windows and pecking away at Leon’s nicely groomed hair. The low moans of zombies just round the corner, blinking huge hairy spiders in the sewers, a massive threat in the T-Virus and the spine-chilling notion that Racoon City has been completely desolated all add to the oppressive air of the game. It only gets better when you play the ‘what really happened’ scenarios and spend the whole time running away from the pre-Nemesis Nemesis’ that never ever stop, ever, until you are dead. They, like the Nemesis in Resident Evil 3, are utterly shit-inducing every time they appear on screen; no matter how much you blast away they just keep coming for you. Resident Evil 2 is a totally barnstorming survival horror. Turn up the volume, dim the lights and enjoy! 

Scariest creature/foe? 

Fucking spider! 

That fucking spider in Limbo. It’s animated far too well and moves far too quickly for my frayed nerves, making it utterly terrifying. That it out-sizes the tiny little protagonist by quite a way just makes it even more associated with squeaky bum time. Jump little boy, jump. Faster, the flipping spider is gaining. Arrgh, mis-timed jump. Splat! The little boy’s haunting, piercing eyes when you restart after breaking his tiny neck (the death animations are rather marvellous if slightly grim in Limbo) make you feel totally guilty, although his death rarely has anything to do with your platforming ineptitude. It’s that fucking spiders fault. 

Scariest scene moment? 

Seriously, avoid playing Heavy Rain if you are a Dad. It will give you nightmares. 

Ack. Dead Space almost topped this one after just missing out on favourite scary game and scariest creature (any of the Necromorph’s bar the Hive Mind which is just plain shit). But again it’s been piped to the post, this time by psychological murder mystery next-gen style point-and-click adventure Heavy Rain. And no, it’s not the torturously tense scenes of finger slicing, belly crawling on glass or executing drug dealers that will terrify your moral sense of well-being. It’s a simple sequence near the beginning where you lose your son in a shopping mall crowd, and no matter how hard you search you can never quite find him or get close enough to him through the mingling crowd until it’s too late. The scene, like most of the rest of the game (Maddison Page fighting off masked intruders in her apartment is a close second), is absolutely nerve-jangling beyond all belief and all the more terrifying because of it. Maybe it’s because I’m a dad, but I can’t think of anything worse than losing a child in a mass crowd of people. Scary, scary stuff. 

Are games scarier than ten years ago? 

No. Resident Evil and Silent Hill were at their peak at the turn of the century. I’d defy anyone to suggest that whilst games have become more stylish, those titles still hold their own against more modern horror games, particularly with regards to atmosphere. Dead Space, if anything, is from the exact same breed of survival horror that spawned both those titles, and still does not better them despite the awesome setting, scenes of mild peril and cack-inducing encounters with Necromorphs. Also, is there a modern equivalent for Pyramid Head? No. There isn’t. 

Where do you see horror games going in the future? 

Isaac Clarke, yesterday. Gutted to be going home as second best in three categories. 

Hopefully not the route that Dead Space 3 seems likely to travel; irritating AI co-op. It was an awful setup for Resident Evil 5, not just because the AI was truly terrible, but because it takes away from the pivotal factor that makes horror gaming successful. The player is, for the most part, on their lonesome. It’s their resourcefulness and courage in the face of seemingly oppressive odds that generates a truly marvellous horror atmosphere. When you’ve got some annoying cheese-eating dick-monkey constantly yapping on in your ear-hole in mundane fashion about nothing interesting whatsoever, it takes away from the atmosphere somewhat. No longer does every small noise as you creep along a corridor make your skin-crawl. Mostly because you can’t hear such things over inane chatter!

Instead, let’s pray that game designers keep an eye to what made the early Resident Evil’s and Silent Hill’s so impressive. An interactive adventure that was challenging, atmospheric and not for the faint hearted! If Dead Space was not so easy (far too many save points for its own good) it would be held in far higher regard than it already is. This is what we need in the future. Not Resident Evil 6. Alternatively, more games like Hard Rain. Like Japanese horror movies, the horror here is more psychological than gore-laden, and involves more aspects where you truly have to question your moral integrity. Perhaps there is little more challenging than that; perhaps that is the way forward. We don’t want scary games to become mindless schlock like the Saw franchise now, do we?

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Stop this running madness!

On the 7 October I completed the Royal Park’s Half Marathon. Go me. And not just completed it; I smashed my personal best at this distance by three minutes. Which is not bad considering I’m four years older since my last half-marathon, trained less owing to work commitments and fatherhood responsibilities and drunk more beer during training than the previous time round. So, proof positive that beer contains magical properties beyond helping ugly people have sex since 1964.

Luckily, the mantras from semi-professional football managers of old constantly sounded encouragement between my ears during the run – “you’re only cheating yourself” I would constantly remind myself. And it seemingly worked. After a comfortable 10k (six miles) which whizzed by the last seven miles were painful and agonising. It didn’t help that the sun was shining brightly and there was nowhere to hide on the large expanse of Hyde Park that the last seven miles zig-zagged across. At one point, diving into the Serpentine appeared to be a refreshing idea given the lack of a comforting rain storm. But despite the nagging pain in the calves, the mantra kept me going, kept me ahead of the hour and fifty minute pacemaker and ensured I crossed the finishing line in one hour 45 minutes and 57 seconds.

The main difference between the MS tent at the Great North Run and the Royal Parks? No Wine Gums at the Royal Parks. Gah!

Of course, the other thing that kept me going was that I was raising money and awareness for the MS Society, as well as running in the memory of my Mum who suffered with the progressive form of the illness for 29 years. Given that I watched her slowly fall apart until there was nothing else left to fall off, stopping for a breather or even contemplating walking (unless I picked up an injury) would have been particularly poor form. Hopefully she would have been proud, especially the £700 currently raised by me and Callum (my co-runner who’s knee went wonky at the 10 mile mark but managed to finish despite the injury – good work bud). I’d like this to be a little more than at present so if you’re feeling generous and have not already done so, the justgiving webpage will remain up until the beginning of January. It’s for a very good cause and if everyone I knew just gave a quid, then the MS Society would have a shitload of quids:

Anyway, enough of this running madness! I’ve got sitting on my arse to do and games to play. Although I am starting to become fond of the washer-board six-pack that is starting to poke through the barrel; and the fact that I’m no longer out of breath after climbing stairs. I’m not doing a fucking marathon though. That’s crazy talk for crazy people…! 

Marathon? Even Dawson thinks that is a crazy idea...