Resident Evil 7

Introduction

The last Resident Evil game I played was 4 on the Wii. It had quite a different atmosphere than the previous games, with an over-the-shoulder view and a much more action-oriented style (although when I played Code Veronica on the Dreamcast I remember running around with dual Uzis, so maybe it’s been moving in that direction for a long time…). I heard the same criticisms for 5 and 6, ramping up the action and gun-play and all but leaving tension and atmosphere behind.

The Demo

Then came the Resident Evil 7 demo. I didn’t play it at first, but watched Markiplier run through it. I was pleasantly surprised, as this certainly wasn’t any Resident Evil game I had seen since the remake of the first one on the Gamecube. The tension, atmosphere, everything was ramped up, and I was certain that every time he rounded a corner that would be the end. The ending of the fairly short demo left me with so many questions and wanting more, so Capcom definitely succeeded in what a good demo should do.

The Full Game

When the full game was released I was eager to watch Markiplier play through it. I was happy to see the beginning of the game did keep quite a bit from the demo, but also changed up just enough to keep people on their toes.

You play the game as Ethan Winters. His wife, Mia, has been missing for 3 years; one day he gets a strange video message from her, ultimately warning him to not try to come after her. Doing exactly the opposite, Ethan travels to Louisiana to find out what happened. Ethan pulls up to a property behind a locked gate, and he must sneak around to get inside. Even starting from here the atmosphere is already filled with tension and dread. Moving closer to the house there are dead cows and birds, the former often found butchered and tied together with saw blades and more in strange sculptures. Entering the house (and luckily remembering a flashlight), it looks decrepit and abandoned. Making his way to the basement, Ethan finds Mia, who is frantic about escaping immediately. While going back upstairs, Mia suddenly becomes violent and apparently possessed, attacking Ethan and forcing him to defend himself, ultimately killing Mia.

Before long we learn a little bit more about this family and the home they occupy. Navigating and learning the layout is very important to Ethan’s survival, as there are monsters along with the seemingly immortal family members roaming the premises.

As Ethan makes his way through the house, and later an older house and a barn among other locations, he finds better weapons and more items, some of which can be combined to create other items. This crafting system is luckily on the simpler side, akin to the one found in Alien Isolation.

Eventually Ethan finds his way to a crashed tanker ship, which he discovers was carrying Mia and a young girl, Eveline, who escaped the crashed ship and made their way to the Baker family. Ethan must utilize the lab equipment in a nearby salt mine to devise a way to ultimately kill Eveline, which is the ultimate final fight of the game. Teasing its connection to the other games in the series, Ethan is rescued by Chris Redfield and an Umbrella-branded helicopter.

Changes and Evolution

As noted previously, the Resident Evil franchise had been veering further and further into the action genre, shedding its survival roots as well as its incredible atmosphere. This most recent game turned that all around, although it is still a unique entry in the series.

The first notable change is the first-person perspective, which was something that even the next Silent Hill game was potentially going to use. I think this is something that should have been used many games ago, as it forces the player into the game and really helps push the “illusion” of being there. I can understand the earliest games used third-person perspective due to technological limits, especially as those games were console-exclusive.

The next thing I noticed is the enemies, which besides not having traditional zombies were quite unique, along with the fact is that in general there weren’t that many of them. As each game came out there seemed to be more and more enemies crammed into each area, which becomes almost numbing to any dread or horror. In this game, with having far fewer enemies the player has to rely on listening for any cues, which of course helps draw him or her more into the game. Most of the enemies were fairly easy to kill or avoid, but of course with rare amounts of ammo around it can still present a legitimate danger.

One thing that I was thrilled to see this game keep was the unique and even quite strange keys and the locked doors that were all around the house. Some may have groaned and rolled their eyes at this, but I think it’s cool to roam a house/mansion/etc. and encounter strange locked doors. It makes me really curious about what in the world is behind it, and knowing that somewhere else was the key or other method to access that area, which could be a small single room or could be an entirely new hallway and number of rooms.

Conclusion

Overall I was really happy with the direction this game took, the immersive visuals, lighting, and sound design that all helped sell an incredibly dreadful and at points downright scary environment, something I hadn’t experienced  since the re-made first game on the Gamecube. Of course the next game is already in development, and I’m really intrigued to see what it does. I would love to see something like the mansion in the first game, and/or another different and unique location with plenty of things and areas to explore along with something really terrifying lurking and roaming the halls, eager to kill and maim the player.

Her Story

Her Story is a rather unique adventure/narrative game. Created by Sam Barlow, it is truly a game of mystery, detection, and observation. The player must sift through a database of police interviews with Hannah Smith, regarding the death of her husband. The videos aren’t in any order and can’t be directly accessed. Instead, the player must enter a search term, which will return up to five videos that contain that keyword. Depending on which (and how many) words the player puts in will determine whether the actual truth is discovered. In other words, there’s no definite end to the game. After a certain number of discovered videos the player receives a chat prompt asking if he or she is finished, but I would recommend to keep going. I would also recommend keeping track of search terms already used, as well as potential terms to try out discovered from each video.

Portrayed by Viva Seifert, Hannah is a very intriguing interviewee, and through the dozens of videos will display the full gamut of emotions. Unless the player spends the time unearthing at least most of the videos, it can be really hard to tell what is true and what isn’t. Besides the clues of what she’s wearing, be sure to also pay attention to the date and time for each video.

Oxenfree

During a recent GOG sale I finally caved in and bought Oxenfree, an adventure game that’s been frequently recommended in the same circles as Firewatch and Life is Strange. Featuring gorgeous 2D graphics and fairly good voice acting, Oxenfree follows five teens who travel to a small island to hang out on the beach. In a nearby cave, tuning in to a radio causes something to happen, and suddenly the teens are split up on the island. As one of the teens, Alex, you must travel the island to find your missing friends while discovering what happened to cause these events.

During the game’s conversations you will usually have a two to three choices of what to say. But this is a timed response, so if you don’t act quickly Alex will remain mum, usually to the exasperation of the one talking to her (whether this really affects the game’s story and outcome I don’t know).

While it’s not an overly long game, I did enjoy the atmosphere and story of Oxenfree. I could definitely see this style working for Silent Hill and other games that don’t need to rely on action, shooting, etc. My favorite games are ones that let me sink into a story and submerge myself in that world and atmosphere, discovering new locations and people. Oxenfree is a fine example of this, and I hope to see more from Night School Studio!

Soundtrack

I have to give a special shout-out to scntfc for his work on Oxenfree’s soundtrack. To say it’s incredible, atmospheric, and at times downright creepy is an understatement! The synth work, especially the bass, is phenomenal and will engulf your head and help get into the game. Even when listened to on its own there is a unique blend of fear and meloncholy. I highly recommend it!

Soundtracks – Part 2

Three years ago I wrote about my favorite soundtracks, focusing on computer and video games. I’ve discovered a few more since then, and I also wanted to include a few notable film soundtracks. It’s hard to talk about each soundtrack without also going into the game or film that it accompanies, but I’ll try to keep it short. Let’s go!

The 7th Guest



It’s hard to describe the music for The 7th Guest. It’s a weird, jazzy kinda thing. It’s definitely something that’s not heard very often, and I sure wish there was more of it. Checking out their horrifically-designed website, I don’t see a whole lot of material produced since this game. I’m glad I got to discover this music, and I highly recommend you do the same.

Alan Wake

 

The Alan Wake soundtrack is pretty hard to distinguish from a film soundtrack. It’s polished, dynamic, and emotive. It sometimes feels a little too polished and subdued, but there’s no doubt this is one of the best soundtracks for an incredible game. Petri Alanko has worked on several other projects, including Quantum Break and the Nightwish Imaginaerum soundtrack.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent

 

During the limited time I played Amnesia The Dark Descent, the music definitely contributed to my uneasiness and encouragement to not explore very far at a time. While I enjoyed watching Markiplier’s playthrough of Amnesia I couldn’t hear much of the music; but when I took the time to listen to this soundtrack composed by Mikko Tarmia, I was very enthralled as well as unsettled. Check this link for a short Youtube video where Mikko discusses his process while creating the Amnesia soundtrack. Along with this soundtrack, Mikko has worked with Frictional Games to create the scores for the Penumbra series of games as well as Fricitional’s latest hit, SOMA. A soundtrack for a cancelled game, Tempest, is now available on Bandcamp as well.

Bastion



The Bastion soundtrack took me by surprise; like the music for The 7th Guest, it’s not what I was expecting at all, which is a good thing. With the use of acoustic guitar I couldn’t help but get a Firefly feel, but there’s still a subtle electronic base to it. Along with Bastion, Darren Korb has worked with Supergiant Games on their latest release, Transistor.

Blade Runner

 

A movie by Ridley Scott with a soundtrack by Vangelis. It’s hard to describe this combination other than monstrous, or even colossal. Using the Yamaha CS-80 synthesizer, Vangelis crafted one of the most sublime soundtracks ever heard, with notes of sorrow and wonder intertwining throughout. This perfectly fit the movie, blending sci-fi with noir. This is definitely one of those soundtracks you have to have!

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

 

While Bethesda released Fallout 3 between The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and V: Skyrim, it still didn’t seem that long after Oblivion that Skyrim came out. Every screenshot and preview I saw involved snow. And hills. And tall mountains. Yay, more areas that the player has a hard time if even possible to travel! My experience with Oblivion was mixed, and I wasn’t sure Skyrim would be that much of an improvement, again with so little time seeming to pass between Bethesda’s games. Well, most of my worries were put to rest with Skyrim, and it is much closer to my ideal computer RPG.

As far as the music goes, it can be hard not to compare this soundtrack to Oblivion, Guild Wars, etc. Like Hans Zimmer, Jeremy Soule does have the ability to craft a certain signature sound for each project, but underneath it’s still the same composer, and for better or worse the listener is going to get a consistent experience in regards to the music. In Skyrim there is a bit more vocal work that fits in well with the Nord motif. We still get the beautiful strings and other soft sounds that help fill the void of sometimes slow exploration in the game, but even that is a bit more subdued and sparse compared to other games.

The Fifth Element

 

Released in 1997, The Fifth Element was one of the biggest-budget sci-fi movies at that point. Directed by Luc Besson, this movie went above and beyond when it came to everything: story, design, and even the music. Tapping the talents of fellow Frenchman Éric Serra, this movie has a very unique soundtrack, often moving from hard, explosive, face-hitting notes and accents to soft and subdued saxophone and keys.

Firewatch



Chris Remo has worked on several game soundtracks, and before the score for Firewatch he was probably best known for his work on Gone Home. Now a full-time member of Campo Santo, Chris worked on Firewatch as a designer, writer, and scorer. Compared to Gone Home, the music for Firewatch is much more subdued, utilizing electric piano and acoustic guitar for its outdoor vibes. Like many game scores each track is painfully short, and I always want more!

The Last Door


The Last Door is a short but excellent retro-style adventure game, featuring creepy visuals and a very emotive soundtrack by Carlos Viola. This soundtrack makes astounding use of cellos and other stringed instruments, and you can’t help but feel sucked in. Along with the soundtrack for the first game/season, Carlos also produced the soundtrack for Season 2.

Mirror’s Edge

 

Released in 2008, Mirror’s Edge was lauded for its incredible lighting and unique gameplay. The score, by Solar Fields, is an incredible electronic composition. Fitting perfectly with the game’s motif of running and climbing, this soundtrack would make an excellent workout accompaniment.

Mr. Robot



I had heard about Mr. Robot quite a lot before I finally got around to watching the first episode on Amazon Prime, and to say it floored me is an understatement. And the key reason for that wasn’t the acting, story, editing, etc.; not to say all of those weren’t fantastic, because they all were! It was actually because of the music. To say it’s stunning, or even superb, doesn’t serve justice to Mac Quayle‘s work. I would at least put this on par with Daft Punk’s Tron Legacy soundtrack or maybe even a notch above; it’s THAT good.

Shadowrun Returns

 

While I’ve played Shadowrun Dragonfall on PC, it was the music of Shadowrun Returns that I remember hearing in the game, as well as what’s available to listen to if purchased from GOG. It hasn’t been since the Deus Ex games (as far as being more cyberpunk rather than general sci-fi) that I’ve heard such outstanding music featuring synths and drum machines (but these days just as likely sequenced all via software, who knows!) that elicit the streets, clubs, gunfights, and more that the cyberpunk genre encapsulates so well. If I was to consider running an RPG session in the cyberpunk or near-future genre, this soundtrack would be an absolute necessity!

Silent Hill 2 & 3

 

While the music of the first Silent Hill was very sparse, somewhat atmospheric, and leaning towards industrial, it was the release of the next two games that Akira Yamaoka really upped the ante for video game music. They were also the games that ratcheted up the personal emotions and terrors that made the Silent Hill series such a success at that time. Bringing in more use of synths and electric pianos, electric guitar, and drums and other rhythmic sounds, the soundtracks of both Silent Hill 2 and Silent Hill 3 capture the horror and sadness of the games in a unique manner.

The Social Network

 

Anyone my age or older will recognize Trent Reznor first and foremost as the founder and key member of Nine Inch Nails. These days, he’s likely to be recognized just as much if not more for the outstanding film scoring he’s created along with Atticus Ross. The Social Network was the first film scored by this duo, and the first of 3 films of David Fincher‘s they worked on (the others being The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl). While I can hear some NIN influence in the soundtrack, there’s also a lot more subtlety as a film soundtrack demands. It’s one of the few soundtracks I can still listen to over and over.

Tron: Legacy

 

When it comes to electronic music mastery I don’t think anyone could argue that what Daft Punk did for Disney’s Tron Legacy was nothing short of an astonishing masterpiece. It’s just that good. The movie itself was received with mixed responses (I personally think it’s far better than the first one), but there was no denial that what was pouring out of the speakers was true analog bliss. Utilizing monster modular synths and their decades of experience, Daft Punk delivered in spades. If I could only listen to one soundtrack ever again, I would choose this without hesitation; if I could only listen to one album period, this would be in the top 5 contenders.

Outlast

Another play-through I recently watched on Markiplier’s channel is for Outlast, a survival horror game for PC and consoles. This is a game I certainly wish I could play myself, but I’d chicken out way too early, and also get quite frustrated with some of the chases that require going a certain route. I’ve already watched his play-through twice, and I can’t imagine it will be long before I’ll watch it yet again. And before too long we’ll have the second game!

In Outlast you play a journalist named Miles Upshur, who has come to the Mount Massive Asylum in search of answers regarding inhuman experiments supposedly taking place. Parking at the front gate, it’s immediately clear something isn’t right here. The main doors are locked, the gate guard is dead, and there are armored humvees parked out front. Looking around the perimeter, Miles finds an open piece of fence just large enough to crouch through, and then some climbing results in entering the facility. The atmosphere is already unnerving: lights and sounds playing tricks or making the player imagine strange and horrible things. A neat mechanic is that Miles is carrying a camcorder with him, and along with being able to zoom in it has a nightvision mode, which will not just be handy but will be a necessity at certain points. Of course there are conveniently-placed batteries all around the asylum to keep that camcorder running.

As Miles begins exploring he runs into The Large Guy, who easily picks him up and throws him through the window into the main lobby. Regaining consciousness, Miles realizes he’s locked inside and must escape. Throughout the rest of the game he must navigate hallways, rooms, and more, all the while avoiding absolutely crazy and blood-thirsty murderers. The only options: run, hide, or die.

The game maintains a very suspenseful atmosphere for three-quarters of the way through, and then near the end it just kinda jumps the shark. What was a believable and yet still crazy notion gets ramped way up and includes more conspiracies, technology, and more, and it’s just way too much. The ending, while abrupt and certainly elicits a reaction from the player, is not the one I would have preferred. At the very least, it could have been like Resident Evil 7 or other games where multiple endings are possible depending on the player’s actions.

The demo for Outlast 2, which Mark has played, does show quite a bit of promise. Scaling back the sci-fi and bringing in more of a Satanic/ritualistic nature, I think it shows lessons learned by the developers, and I can’t wait to see what the full game brings!