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!

Firewatch & Gone Home

As these are both fairly short games I’ve combined their reviews into this one post.

Firewatch

The debut game from Campo Santo, Firewatch is a hard game to explain besides the dismissive term “walking simulator”. Taking place in 1989, you are a man named Henry. After dealing with a rocky relationship for many years with his wife who now has early on-set dementia, Henry has taken a job in Wyoming as a fire look-out. In this game you will explore the surrounding lands of your tower with a map, compass, and few other supplies.

What I liked about this game is that you weren’t rushed to go anywhere, even when there were moments I felt like there was an unspoken countdown that I had to beat. Using the game’s built-in camera (you can even get prints ordered!) as an additional encouragement, I could slowly walk around, listen to the ambient sounds and watch things sway in the wind. I also really liked the dialogue with Delilah, Henry’s supervisor. You never see her, and the talk can be fun, flirty, or even mysterious and questionable. As Henry explores, things will not always make sense and instill a sense of paranoia, imagining things that may not likely be true, and that’s part of the game’s appeal (and frustration for many others who were expecting more and/or something else).

When I first finished the game, I wasn’t happy how it ended. I didn’t like the way Delilah dismissed me and I never saw her. As time went by and I mulled it over and over, I realized it was the truest and most realistic way to end the game. Harry and Delilah both have problems, and they need to decide what to actually do about them. These few months away in the woods was a nice distraction, but you can’t hide forever. Yeah they got kind of flirty at times, but that didn’t mean it had to lead to anything. Harry needs to deal with his wife, and there was some apparent connection to her sister as well…

Gone Home

Similar to Firewatch, it can be easy to describe Gone Home as a walking simulator and leave it at that. Set in the mid-90s, you play Kaitlin, a college-age girl who has come back home from an overseas trip. No-one answers the door, and there’s a note from younger sister Samantha asking Kaitlin not to dig in to what happened.

Is that a weird way to start a game? Well perhaps if Gone Home ended up being the kind of game many (if not most) players anticipated when they got into the game, then it would actually be perfect. However, the game disappointingly doesn’t really amount to much happening, and the beginning is actually the climax of any semblance of plot or story. The player explores this rather large house for any clues, and there’s some nice atmospheric music, lighting, etc. There’s hints of ghosts, satanic rituals, and other odd things, but again in the end it’s revealed to all be pointless. I don’t know if this can even be called a “game”.

Conclusion

As I purchased both games when they were on sale, I didn’t feel too burned by their short lengths. I was disappointed as I wanted to keep playing and stay in those worlds, and I really wanted and expected more substance. Firewatch at least added on the free-roam option later on, but it was too little too late. If either studios next games don’t receive better reviews regarding actual gameplay, I’m not very likely to play them, sale prices or not.

I would like to note, however, that I really liked both of the game’s soundtracks (which coincidentally were both composed by Chris Remo), and they are both available on Bandcamp: Firewatch | Gone Home.

Life Is Strange

Originally I was going to get this game on disc, but in a recent PSN Store Sale it was too cheap to pass up, and had a rather small download size. Double win!

As I enjoyed playing Until Dawn so much, I looked to see if there were any other games that played similarly, whether for consoles and/or PC. The PS3 had Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls, which have been combined in a special PS4 edition. However, I heard a lot about the game Life is Strange, developed by Dontnod Entertainment and powered by the Unreal engine. I immediately felt this was indeed the perfect game that I had been looking for.

Playing the character of Maxine Caulfield, you are an 18 year-old in a school called Blackwell Academy in Oregon, studying photography taught by a once well-known American photographer. At the very beginning of the game, Maxine experiences a very strange dream that is almost too real for comfort, and also discovers an apparent ability to rewind time at-will. Using this ability, the player is able to choose a different path at certain points, and similarly to Until Dawn the player’s choice will have consequences later on.

Navigating the events of Maxine’s once best-friend Chloe, the player will interact with many of the students and staff of Blackwell, along with the people of Arcadia Bay. Some of the choices the player will have to make will be very difficult, with quite gut- and heart-wrenching consequences. Leading up to the climax of the story is an incredible twist and ultimately making the most difficult and reality-affecting choice the player has ever had to make.

What makes Life Is Strange a great game is first and foremost the story and the characters. The voice-acting is incredible, and you come to care very much for not just the main characters but many if not most in the town. The accompanying soundtrack is also perfectly suited, and while a physical CD came out with the special edition (PC | Xbox One | PS4) it isn’t available by itself either on CD or via download, which is an incredible oversight. Of course, you can listen to it on Youtube or Spotify. So if you’re wanting a game that lets you sit back and enjoy a story and atmosphere, regardless of how emotional and soul-crushing it could be at times, I highly recommend this game, and I really hope Dontnod will produce future games like this one.