Archive for October, 2008

Folklore – “Interactive Art Museum”

“Folklore” is every art fan’s idyllic dream. From start to finish, your senses will be engaged in hundreds of sumptuous sights and sounds, beautifully blended in a sea of lush, vibrant colors and moving melodies, each referencing several art movements all at once, from realism to surrealism, minimalism to impressionism. The bundling of layers and layers of cultural and aesthetic influences into this arresting piece of audio-visual fanfare is baffling, to be honest, and its unique artistic expression is surely the main focus of the game. Journeying through its locations is always a breath of fresh air in the polluted aesthetic of the videogame environment, and it’s not to wonder, since it comes from a group of artists not commonly associated with videogames, such as the art director Kohei Toda or Kenji Kawai, one of the game’s 5 soundtrack composers, known for his work on Mamoru Oshii’s animes (“Ghost in the Shell”) and Hideo Nakata’s movies (“Ringu”). As the authors themselves admit, it’s a work heavily inspired by Patrick Woodruff and Roger Dean, Tim Burton and Danny Elfman, amongst many, many other visual artists and composers. It’s impossible to find a game that so clearly presents itself as an interactive art lesson, compressed in space and time into this beautiful fantasy story about a little girl named Ellen.

Ellen is all grown up now and lives a normal life, until the day she receives a letter from her long lost mother. Desperately in search for clues concerning her past as a little child, of which she bares no memories, she goes back to her childhood village, Doolin, an island along the Irish coast. There, she becomes aware of her power to travel into the Netherworld, the land where the spirits of the dead roam freely. Searching for her mother, she thus embarks on an allegoric journey into the deep corners of our collective subconscious’ dreams concerning death and the after-life. She explores several different interpretations of death, from the lands of the Faery Realm, a curious vision on Celtic mysticism, to the dark halls of Hell Realm, a modern view on religious Inferno, passing through an interpretation on atheist philosophical currents, The Infinite Corridor. Each of these worlds is tightly bound by an unique aesthetic frame, which allows the enormous variety of artistic styles and influences. The tale of the occult and mystic, which weaves these worlds together is interesting, dramatic and well written, even if at times, a tad eccentric for its own good. Delivered through nicely rendered cutscenes, a few FMV’s by Shirogumi and a stylized 3D vignette type of cutscene, which mimics graphic novels’ framings and mise-en-scene. The only major downfall in the narrative department comes from the lack of voice acting in the vignettes, which are the most prevalent storytelling vehicle in the game. At least, cutscenes and FMV feature good cinematic production values and excellent voice acting.

Where “Folkore’s” ambitions are brought back down to earth is in the interaction dimension. A sort of narrative driven action/adventure hybrid with mild rpg elements, “Folklore” never frees itself from the weight brought about by its director, Takashi Shono (director of the “Genji” series) and its executive producer, Yoshiki Okamoto (who also co-directed the first “Genji” and produced/directed a vast portfolio of classic Capcom games, from “Street Fighter” to “Resident Evil”). Despite the artistic marvel present in the game, the head honchos behind it decided to bring in their knowledge on the ludic genres they knew best, creating a game which revolves too much around mindless grinding and action, specially considering it’s a 20 hour experience. The result is an overlong “Onimusha”, with repetitive and dull combat, and with a bland level design that’s the same for all of the realms you explore in the netherworld. The poor interactive mechanics severely mar the story flow, and systematically impede a proper exploration of the wonderful sets designed by the art department, not to mention that they make little sense in an artsy production such as this.

“Folklore” is an experience like no other, and one that deserves all my love. Its sheer artistic value is enough to capture the spirit of any art enthusiast, and make him dream profusely with such delectable and delicate artwork. However, there’s a price to pay for its ambitions: to suffer the tedium of the game’s poor combat and mediocre game design, which constantly shatter the otherwise virtuous 3D art museum of “Folklore”. But hell, is it a ride worth dying for…

Overall: 5/5

Silent Hill Homecoming – “The Chasm”

While playing “Homecoming”, it becomes instantly clear what the designers at Double Helix were thinking before creating the game – here is “Silent Hill”, a saga known for its great ambiance, twisted aesthetic and psychological horror; unfortunately, it’s marred by clunky gameplay, poor combat systems, impenetrable storylines and complex puzzles. As a consequence, they thought – we can fix the latter while maintaining the “good” portions of “Silent Hill” – their sin was in not understanding that there was a connection between those two halves. Of course, what followed next is completely logical, considering the basis of their reasoning – they looked for the best example they could find in terms of the genre, namely “Resident Evil 4”, and adapted some of its core mechanics to the artistic and narrative content which constituted the core of the “Silent Hill” experience. Thus, “Silent Hill Homecoming” is the product of that line of thinking. The enjoyment, or lack thereof, that you can extract from this episode in the series is directly proportional to your acceptance of Double Helix’s vision. If you don’t understand (or simply don’t care about) the fundamental differences between the conceptual nature of the “Resident Evil” and “Silent Hill” series, then “Homecoming” is surely a great horror game for you. It’s not scary, but it’s entertaining. But if you’ve been reading the preamble to this review [pt1, pt2], and understand that which separates both series, than you will arrive at the same conclusion as I have: “Homecoming” is a “Silent Hill” game destined to fall.

The first big departure for the series (even when considering “0rigins”) is that for once, you play a hero type. Meet Alex Shepherd, a war veteran with the combat skills to back up his military credentials; he swings the knife like a fast forwarded Steven Seagal, dodges attacks like a “Tekken” character, lunges the axe while jumping in the air (for extra attack power), and he can accurately shoot with any gun, even when the target is several yards away – just like your everyday action hero. At the helm of this mini-superman, combat is hectic and frantic, and for once in a “Silent Hill” pretty challenging, just like you’d expect in a modern action game. Needless to say, this breaks up any psychological horror mood the game’s aesthetic might provoke unto the player. With its focusing on action instead of adventure, a “Silent Hill” game could never work, but “Homecoming” goes further and consistently avoids exploration, featuring a 100% linear level design flow, and any sort of puzzle which might make you scratch your head for more than a minute. But it goes deeper.

Alex enters his hometown in the hope of coming back to his family after the war, only to find out that his father and baby brother went missing. Fearing for his brother, he starts looking for him in Shepherd’s Glen, until he is finally lead into the dark halls of Silent Hill. Though it winks at “Jacob’s Ladder” (as previous “Silent Hills” had), the storyline develops in an awfully linear form, and even the final plot twists can be predictable and dull. More importantly, the surrealist framing is missing. Characters act out as expected from a Hollywood movie, their psychological profiles being simple and borderline archetypal, their lines featuring no literal nuances, cryptic messages or unsettling tones which is odd and above all, incoherent with the otherwise surreal scenario that surrounds them. There are also no freakish events, apart from those which we already take for granted in a “Silent Hill”: a mist covers the whole vale, monsters lurk in every corner, day can suddenly turn to night; but nothing which could catch you off-guard. Plot events and locations tend to mimic western horror movies, like “Night of the Living Dead”, “Assault on Precinct 13”, and much to my dismay, even torture movies such as “Hostel”. The lack of the bizarre and the psychological mind games of yore, in favor of a gory and gruesome experience feels, pardon my bluntness, like an artistic rape to “Silent Hill”.

The hole shouldn’t go any deeper, but it does. The overall quality aesthetic work of Team Silent is nowhere to be found. This sad fact is reflected in all details: character design and animations are technically incompetent and artistically poor, even by non-Silent Hill standards; monster design is uninspired and inconsistent, not to mention deprived of any subtle symbolism or allegoric relationship with characters; Akira Yamaoka’s soundtrack is not only one of his less virtuous, as it’s squandered away by a poor sound mix and downright lame directing that consistently mishandles the moods each track is meant to provoke. To end this spiral of mediocrity, the art design team, for some random reason, opted to use as reference the conceptual art of the movie, instead of that from previous games. Why would that be a problem you might ask. Not only does the idea seem ill-fated (the art design of the game based on the movie based on the game), as it misses an important principle of artistic design, which lies in the bond between a work’s concept and its execution. Let me exemplify: unlike the games, one of the major themes in the movie was a fire which had burnt the whole town to the ground. All of the art design motif’s reflected this theme: the fog was dark-grey instead of milky white, and very ash-y looking; metallic surfaces bore fiery and vibrant red hues, in opposition with the brownish rust of the game; the transition to the otherworld used an effect where the scenario peeled away, just like paint does in a fire. In “Homecoming” there is no fire theme, and as such, those references make absolutely no sense. Not to mention all of the less appropriate elements which were already present in the movie (such as the overly sexual nurses), now inexplicably ported into a “Silent Hill” game.

Every fear a “Silent Hill” fan might have concerning a new game is now fully realized in “Homecoming”. It’s a meager, unsatisfying attempt of a western developer at reinterpreting a Japanese series, without any imagination or artistry to even mimic what made the originals groundbreaking at the time. It’s a simpler, more linear and completely mainstream game, which lacks identity and any redeeming quality. Even Climax, when designing “0rigins”, despite all its flaws, did a better job. “Homecoming” lays at the bottom of an endless pit, to where it drove one of the most precious and visionary works ever to appear in the videogame medium. There is no light at the end of this chasm… “Silent Hill” is officially dead.

Overall: 1/5

“The Essence of Fear – a Prelude to Silent Hill Homecoming pt.2”

“Silent Hill” is often compared with its older sibling “Resident Evil”, from whence it drew inspiration, just as “Resident Evil” itself once borrowed from “Alone in the Dark”. Both however, presented a unique approach to the same set of interaction mechanics, using them in favor of their own designer philosophies. Unlike “Resident Evil”, the “Silent Hill” franchise wasn’t designed in reference to western horror, instead opting to uphold the cultural and aesthetic differences which make Japanese horror unique. Hideo Nakata and Ryoshi Kurosawa are some of the more obvious references on that front, as “Silent Hill” adopts the same flavor for the supernatural, psychological and aesthetic elements which made those movies unique in their genre. Which is not to say that “Silent Hill” doesn’t look up to western art, as there are numerous references to western authors, the most notable being “Silent Hill 2” – an obvious homage to David Lynch. But in “Silent Hill”, there are no B-movie references, no action game moods or easy scares – it’s all about anticipation, tension build up and psychological horror.

Like in any Japanese horror flick, “Silent Hill’s” main characters aren’t heroes, but ordinary people. In the first game, for instance, you play as a household father, Harry Mason, who is in desperate search for his missing daughter. He walks in a clumsy way, runs slowly and with considerable effort, panting heavily after any physical strain. He can’t shoot straight, or defend himself with a knife – he’s an average guy, just like you and me. If you manage to identify with him, it’s normal that you should feel afraid because he’s helpless towards the oppressive environment which surrounds him. Monsters abound in “Silent Hill”, allegoric figures which seem to be wrought by the deep corners of a Freudian nightmare, meshes of twisted sexual tendencies, perverted desires and bottled up hatreds, all molded into bizarre corpses of flesh and blood. They move in disturbing fashion, clumsily trotting, slithering like reptiles, or simply crawling in strange manners; the sounds they make are equally unsettling, screeching and growling in ways you simply have never heard anywhere else before. When you meet these macabre creations, you’ll try to figure out ‘what’ they are, how they move and, most importantly, how to avoid them. But even when forced to fight these monsters, “Silent Hill” never seems to focus on actual combat elements, such as quick reflexes, special moves or tactical positioning, instead opting to explore how these creatures make you feel through their aesthetic elements, behaviors and inherent symbolic nature. Combat is clunky and definitely not fun, and rightfully so, because its meant to make you feel uncomfortable. Most times, when trying to survive attacks, you simply shoot with whatever weapon you can find and hope to live through it, a fundamental difference from “Resident Evil”, where the focus is on the adrenaline rush of killing of monsters with powerful weapons. And though weapons do exist in “Silent Hill”, they are usually underpowered (there are one or two unfortunate exceptions), going from metal pipes to world war II carbines, none of which work particularly well in the hands of “Silent Hill’s” weak main characters.

But the game goes deeper than fleshing out weird beings to attack you, choosing to instill fear mostly through the anticipation of events, rather than the events themselves (a characteristic Japanese take on depictions of violence and horror). For example, one of the first items you get is a radio which emits an eerie static whenever monsters lurk nearby. Immediately after a few encounters, you start dreading the sound, because you know what it means – danger. The association of this simple sound effect with the existence of an upcoming menace is a simple example of how elegantly “Silent Hill” designers make you fear the unknown. And “Silent Hill” is definitely unknown territory. Preferring a surreal conceptualization over the Hollywood-esque pseudo-realism of “Resident Evil”, the gameworld is never bound by the laws of physics – anything can happen in “Silent Hill”, and I do mean anything. You may walk through a road only to find it ends in a gigantic, bottomless pit; day may turn into night in a blink of an eye while the sound of a military siren is heard from afar; a strange and brooding mist covers all buildings. There simply aren’t reliable rules in this fantastic world, and even the trusty radio and flashlight may fail when you least expect for some unknown reason. Strange and unique events constantly mess with preconceptions: a dark ghost may appear running out of nowhere, screeching like a little child, impervious to your actions; a room may have a giant head lurking with its eyes squirming with spasms; a mocking talk-show host can be heard when you’re riding the elevator to a floor which doesn’t exist – the sense of being lost in an alternate dimension, a “Twilight Zone”, is always present, making you feel discomfort, and really fear the twisted and unexpected events that occur in the game-world. Even human characters talk in strange ways, babbling about doomsday and strange occult rituals in mostly incoherent discourses, their facial features and emotional expressions, while definitely human and intensely dramatic, feel awkward and freakish, as if they were part of a hazy dream or a dark nightmare [you can check out some of Takayoshi’s glorious CG work for Silent Hill 1 and 2, in his website here].

The overall ambiance of the environment is what really sells the eerie phenomena which occurs in the accursed town. The white grainy fog which never goes away, blocking out sunlight from every frame of the game; the industrialist metallic constructions and sounds from the otherworld, oppressive in their constant bleakness and brownish, rusty red hues, which seem straight out of depictions of purgatory. Even as an art work, “Silent Hill” excels brilliantly, thanks to its wealth of visual influences, of which Francis Bacon seems to be a primary figure. Every single sight, sound and interaction is meant to produce an undeniable sense of displeasure, whether in the form of grotesque fiends or bizarre locations. To put it simply, “Silent Hill” is aimed at messing with your mind’s inner workings, instilling an unsettling sense of fear and foreboding. The problem now, is that all of these aspects which make “Silent Hill’s” so interesting as horror games were built on a Japanese conceptual frame, which makes me look with skepticism to the departure of the series to American studios, that are bound to interpret “Silent Hill” in a different way than the original Team Silent… something I’ll get to in the upcoming review.

[Next up is the proper review to “Silent Hill Homecoming”. These two texts are far from exhaustive, as I never intended to create a detailed meta-review of survival horror; I simply tried to show, in a simple and easily comprehensible way, what distances “Silent Hill” from other survival horror games, such as the “Resident Evil” series. Hopefully, this preamble will make my judgment of “Homecoming” all the more transparent.]

“The Pain of watching Max Payne”

The opening of “Max Payne” shows the inside of an ice laden lake enshrouded in shadows, with only a small ray of light piercing the dark blue waters. Mark Wahlberg is drowning, his body floating away into the darkness as he mutters a gloomy monologue in his trademark coarse voice. Surrounding him, chained to the bottom of the lake, dozens of dead bodies lie afloat, completing a beautiful visual metaphor concerning Payne’s pain. Even if his monologue is deprived of the lyrical punch associated with “Max Payne’s” text (a product of its “hard boiled” novel roots), the initial thought that comes to your mind was that perhaps they finally got one right… but then the movie starts proper and you realize it was just a hope-filled illusion. As characters swerve by the screen, uttering unspeakable dialogue in wooden, robotic fashion, you start waking up to the fact that, once again, no respect was given to the source material. As if the plot was built on the game’s synopsis by thick writers (Beau Thorne) who didn’t even bother to sit through the game, characters, events and sequences are constantly removed from context, remixed and dumbed down so that their substance can match the density of the paper in which they were written, all as to produce a horribly ludicrous plot-holed script. The stylization of the game’s script is completely absent, its metaphors and allegories lightened into literal pieces of producer-friendly Hollywood trash. Characters only manage to keep their name, having new (and absurd) trappings and back-stories, like Jack Lupino, here transformed into a guinea pig for a super-soldier experiment gone wrong, complete with the visual apparatus of a comic book character (all muscles, no hair, always naked from the waist up, filled with menacing tattoos), and what do you know, he also moves like a badass comic book villain, lurking from rooftops, spying on the innocent, jumping all the time, and screaming like a gorilla whenever he needs his fix of Valkyr. It almost looks like a lame camp joke on “Batman” or “Spiderman”, but no, the movie is actually trying to keep it ‘serious’ for the masses. The lesson here, as in other adaptations (and yes, I’m looking at “Silent Hill”), is if you’re gonna translate a story from a game, might as well try to be faithful to it, because apparently, Hollywood writers commissioned to translate these adaptations can do a worse job then the allegedly mediocre videogame writers, and “Max Payne” is a text book example of this.

The actors, stuck with the horrible lines the idiotic writer penned, are usually as bad as he is (Mila Kunis and rapper boy Ludacris), and even when they aren’t (Mark Wahlberg and Beau Bridges), they can’t seem to deliver them with a straight face, as if they were conscious of the mediocrity of the whole affair. Needless to say, the director (John Moore) seems to have snoozed throughout the entire shooting, because he left some pretty awkward moments in actor performance go by the editing room untouched. Or maybe he was just too busy getting the stylized visual of the game right, because that at least, seems to be coherent with “Max Payne’s” aesthetic, even if the “chiaroscuro” effects have a CG-like quality that make it look a tad plastic. Worse even, is the attempt at using visuals and CG to further lighten the subtlety of some of the game’s themes, most notably, the Norse Mythology influences. As to make it perfectly clear that Valkyr junkies are mad, the movie actually shows scary and dark winged angels flying about, a foolish attempt to create tension in the audience. You’d think that such a crude undertaking of making the original work acceptable to no-brain masses would at least be able to amaze you with some dazzling John Woo shootouts, filled with explosions and broken sets… this is “Max Payne”, the shooter, right? Wrong. There are only a handful of action sequences, all so straightforward and forgettable, you’ll think why they even bothered putting them there. And of these, only one bullet time sequence… Yes, one. Not two, not three, just one. And you know what? It’s horrible, like everything else in this godforsaken movie. By the time you get to the ending, you’ll watch the intro again, now placed in context, and you’ll notice that it never was a metaphor or anything remotely deep. Max Payne was simply thrust by the bad guy into the lake to die (though only after carefully “explaining” the conspiracy to Max Payne, even if any spectator with half a neuron could figure it an hour before). And so, here is Max, surrounded by the victims of the big bad conspiracy, in the bottom of an icy lake, drowning… just like the movie. I, for once, hope it stays there. Unfortunately, the movie is open to a sequel (watch the after-credits sequence), and its box-office results are superb (it’s doing better than “W.”). And gamers still wonder why bad adaptations are made? It’s simple, people watch them and love them (gamers included), even when they’re pure waste of time and money, like “Max Payne” is. Thank God I don’t have to pay to go to the cinema.

“The Essence of Fear – a Prelude to Silent Hill Homecoming pt.1”

It’s been repeatedly said that the videogame medium presents the ideal tools to create a horror piece. Imposing fear, stress and panic, is always a matter of inducing what characters’ feel unto the audience, in essence channeling the experience from the stage unto the spectator’s mind. In videogames, identification of the player with the main character is simply much more powerful than in any other means, most of all due to the kinesthetic bond that relates player’s thoughts to the actions which characters perform. This relationship becomes particularly useful when conveying a character’s state of mind, as the interaction bond guarantees, to a certain extent, that the player will psychologically identify with, and thus, mimic the reactions of the main character, in the same way that the character responds to player’s input. The question however, is how to effectively channel that inherent power of interactivity in order to produce an emotional effect, and here, as always in art, there are as many approaches as there are cultural expressions and philosophies.

Let’s take a look at the “Resident Evil” series (“Biohazard” in Japan). In every single one of the main titles, you play as police officer trying to survive a zombie threat. No doubt inspired by Romero’s (re)invention of the zombie genre, which eventually lead to an onslaught of B-movie followings, it is not surprising that “Resident Evil” applies (successfully I might add), the conceptual grounds on which a vast majority of western horror genre movies are based (even though it is a Japanese creation). Notice, for example, how the main character is a police officer, which obviously means a strong and trained fighter, someone capable of defending himself and of fighting for good – a true American portrayal of a “hero”. The menace he must face is overwhelming, an invasion of zombies which he must escape and/or defeat. Each “Resident Evil” game is framed in a believable context, where the laws of physics and reality apply thoroughly – zombies are zombies only because of a scientifically generated virus that turns the dead into walking bags of flesh, they are not, in any way, a product of any supernatural or unknown phenomena. The realistic framing is intended to propose a “this could happen to you” scenario, and the virus plays as a mere macguffin, intended on justifying the existence of zombies and delivering some sort of overarching plot; at best, it provides a subtext on the danger of science and private companies producing biological weapons which we’re not capable of controlling. Naturally, zombies are just the tip of the iceberg, as the virus can also mutate deadly spiders, dogs, plants and crows, as well as spawning new species of monsters with little connection to the real world, such as the Tyrant.

Monsters are slowly shown to the player, starting with the more plausible (or the more culturally accepted) and gently building up to the nigh absurd, following the frog’s parable, as to ease in the player and not break the realistic framing. As a player, you fight these creatures, always in a stance of inferiority, both in numbers (there are a lot of zombies) as in sheer scale (the monsters are big), added to the fact that resources are low (ammo and health recovery), which obviously makes you ponder carefully about wasting any, again putting you in a stance of inferiority faced with the oppressive environment. This produces stress, both because your mind tells you that these monsters will kill you (as there are many of them and they are big and menacing looking), and also because fighting the monsters leads to hectic battles, which require quick reflexes (in order to dodge attacks) and precision (in order to save up bullets), all of which trigger adrenaline, which in turn causes a sense of vertigo. Adding to that, the game constantly ponds you with unpredictable events, such as the jumping of a ravaging dog through a window, providing a needed scare factor, which, once again, enhances a sense of distress.

Now, all of these elements provide stress, but the question is how well these American-movie inspired mechanisms work as to make you feel actual dread (which should be the purpose of a horror piece), and how well are they mapped onto a videogame. Firstly, the fact that you play a fearless hero seems as a bad choice to me. A physical and mentally strong character enhances a sense of invincibility and power over a dangerous environment, which is exactly the opposite of what you want the player to feel: hopelessness face danger. “Resident Evil” characters are always strong face adversity, whether during story sequences, where harsh dialogs show off their ability to keep it cool despite the situation, exuding their masculinity and heroic features, or during gameplay, where their combat-trained body produces movements which translate a sense of security and control that you just don’t want the player to feel. The possibility of using weapons, specially heavy weapons (as the grenade launcher and the RPG), adds to that effect, and breaks any notion of fragility that might be left – and if they look and act strong, then you as well, by identifying with the character, will perceive yourself as strong and fearless, and definitely not as fearful.

The realistic framing is also a shot in the foot when it comes to a horror piece. Reality is where we live in, we take comfort in its predictable rules and trappings; by allowing the player to inhabit that conceptual space, designers are in fact giving you a lifeline, a mental state for you to go back to, that is, on a psychological level, pleasant and reassuring. You know what happens when you shoot a zombie, it bleeds and dies; you know what happens when you torch a living plant, it burns and dies; the sustaining of natural rules, which you expect to be applicable, does work well as game mechanic, but enhances the sense of comfort that breaks up fear. Aesthetic elements in “Resident Evil” also commit the same sin, by providing players known sensory stimuli, as dark alleys, haunting mansions, dark light contrasts (…), and soundtracks that privilege monster’s growling and screams, with scores that feature heavy bass lines and metallic high pitch tones. The problem with these elements is that, being archetypes, they follow tried and true formulas used to deliver suspenseful situations, having become banal and downtight clichéd in other mediums, which leads to predictability and familiarity with these references to anyone who has watched or read a horror piece before. Predictability and familiarity, which come from both “Resident Evil’s” aesthetic and its framing, remove the “unknown” factor from the picture. And we fear the unknown, for the existence of fear, biologically, comes from the very need to avoid unpredictability, because it is a synonym of danger, of something out of control, of something which you should avoid… of something you should fear.

Let me reassure you that I find “Resident Evil” a great game series (the first is still one of my personal favorites), and yet, it is hardly a game I would say can cause fear. Suspense and fright surely, and not by accident, as these are elements that date back to Hitchcock (again a western reference). But not fear. Modern American horror pieces (specially the B-movie kind) privilege a kind of experience where humor and frights go hand in hand, where cheesiness cohabits the gruesome and gory, where terror is a synonym of fun and popcorn. Games like the “Resident Evil” series, though they try to avoid some of these feelings, fail in perceiving how much they are embroiled in the concepts that they follow (just look back at the first “Resident Evil’s” initial FMV to understand where I’m going). Recently, “Resident Evil 4” came and become the “de facto” standard of the industry towards the genre, somehow representing the epitome of this formula. How on earth a flashy action-packed game, extremely entertaining to play, could be a true horror game is something that surpasses me; how most critics missed that fact by naming the game a “survival horror” also eludes me. “Resident Evil 4” is, even more than its predecessors, an action packed game with a horror scenario; just think about it, you change the setting, put in some machine guns and you get a “Gears of War”, which I don’t remember hearing anyone call it a horror title (I’m consciously exaggerating for the purpose of argument). I mean, just the fact that the game is entertaining begs the question if it’s really a horror game. These western ways of thinking about the horror genre are sound in terms of producing entertaining experiences, but, in my view (and this is only my view), they miss the core of the experience behind true horror pieces. Sadly, the wearing out of some traditional Japanese formulas (“Silent Hill”, “Project Zero”/”Fatal Frame” and even “Siren”), has led “Resident Evil 4” to the statute of reference in the genre, and that’s why games which try to mimic or reference its formula, fail in producing fear, games such as “Dead Rising” or more recently, “Dead Space” and… “Silent Hill Homecoming”.

[“The Essence of Fear” will be a two part article that will serve as a prelude to the review of “Silent Hill Homecoming”. Mainly it will allow for a setup on the reasons why “Silent Hill” was once the true capturing of fear in a videogame, and why today it is not. It also will be a nice way of comparing western and eastern notions of what a horror piece is, in a videogame context.]


Status Update – “Review the Reviewer”

It’s been 10 months since I launched my videogame blog. I feel that I’ve come a long way since I first started, both in my English writing skills as well as in my knowledge of the area. However, I still have a long way to go. As such, and even though this is mostly a personal experience for me, I think it would be interesting if readers out there would give an overall input on the blog, a chance for you to criticize me. I promise not to be offended, and I think that for the most part I won’t even try to defend myself. My goal is to know a little bit more about what you feel is right and wrong with my (re)views on games. Criticize harshly and complement lightly, for the first gives me knowledge to improve myself and the latter invites stagnation (though it makes me feel good with myself). Everything’s fair game for you to criticize, from my language skills, to the length of my posts, rate system, picture use, etc, etc, etc.

Thanks in advance.