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 Killzone Shadow Fall

Killzone Shadow Fall

KillzoneReviewScore

Killzone Shadow Fall, the latest in the long running Killzone series from Guerilla Games, is being promoted as the showcase game for the new Playstation 4. For the most part, the game does a good job of introducing the capabilities of Sony’s new console. It checks off all of the requisite boxes on the first person shooter checklist, but it never really manages to achieve anything great.

The story takes place many years after the previous three games, where after repelling a Helghast invasion of Vekta, the Vektans followed the Helgast to their home planet and basically ended up annihilating their planet. After a crazy drunken night of partying the Vektans, still absolutely wasted, decide to let the remaining Helgast come back to Vekta with them. The Helgast are given half the planet, allowed to militarize, and a giant wall is built between them. Or at least this is how I assume they came to that decision. That is the completely unbelievable setup to Shadow Fall: the Helgast are right on the other side of this wall and are plotting revenge.

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The story is told primarily through cutscenes that set up each mission and occasional radio messages sent to you during gameplay. There are also audio logs that you can find in the levels, but they tend to contain secondary information that is not very important. The audio logs play out of the new speaker on the Playstation controller. I found this to be rather obnoxious for a couple of reasons: the audio quality of this speaker is not great, you cannot adjust the volume of it from in-game, and it’s awkward to have audio come from my controller when I am using headphones for everything else.

The narrative tries to add some moral ambiguity over who the “bad” guys really are, but it is hard to care when none of the characters are particularly likeable and everyone is in a bad in a situation of their own making.

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The actual shooting mechanics feel tight and responsive, and there is a good selection of weapons to use with some of them offering secondary fire modes. The highlight of the gameplay is a little hovering drone you have called the OWL. You can send it out to attack enemies and provide covering fire, deploy a one way shield in front of you that allows you to shoot out of it, and EMP strike an area disorienting enemies and removing shields. It also has an ability to deploy a zip line allowing you to reach areas you otherwise would not be able to, but this sees limited use in mostly pre-determined areas. It can also heal you if you die, given that it’s not currently recharging and that you have medical supplies available. You have to swipe in various directions on the touch pad to change which mode the OWL is in. It is a bit inconvenient as you have to take a hand off of a thumbstick to do what basically amounts to a button press. Hopefully developers will come up for more creative uses for the touch pad later on.

Speaking of controls, the game only has two control layouts to pick from and both of them only swap what the triggers and shoulder buttons do. There is absolutely no way to change what the face buttons on the controller are assigned to. This seems sloppy, as it should be pretty trivial to allow remapping of buttons.

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It is a bit disappointing that you are required to hold on to your primary weapon at all times. Since you can only hold two weapons at a time, this really limits the number of loadout configurations you can have. Want to have a sniper rifle and a shotgun? Sorry, you have to hold on to that Assault rifle you started with that has no ammo left.

The enemy AI is not particularly smart. They will run around corners into your line of fire one after another, decide to climb ladders in the middle of a gunfight, and don’t really make much of an effort to flank you or seem to work together in any meaningful way. The game tries to make up for this by either sending large amounts of them at you at once, or giving them energy shields that turn them into bullet sponges. It can make for frantic fights at times, but for the most part they are not particularly interesting opponents. Repetition also becomes a problem later in the game, as there is just not a lot of variety to what you fight. They do add some robots in towards the later stages, but they are used sparingly and don’t really do enough to keep the combat feeling fresh.

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The game has a fairly limited cover system that allows you to crouch behind cover, but it feels really unfinished.  There is no button to go into cover, but if you crouch behind cover of the right height you will automatically peak over when you aim down the sights. It is often hard to tell if the cover you are hiding behind is actually tall enough, and when you aim down sights you get anchored to that cover preventing you from moving. The cover also only works vertically, so you cannot take cover around corners or at doorways.

What really kept me playing the game was the level design that included a number of cool setpiece moments. You are constantly on the move from one area to the next. Some of the more interesting highlights include a ship that is flying into the sun, where you can shoot out windows to burn enemies and melt parts of the ship, and a floating train yard where high speed trains are flying all around you as you jump from platform to platform.

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Killzone earns its highest marks in presentation. The graphics are undeniably better than last generation consoles, although anyone with a high end PC has been seeing graphics as good as this for a few years now. The biggest improvement is that is it actually rendering natively in 1080p at 60 frames per second. The game has a nice artistic style that unfortunately often goes overboard with the lens flare and reflective surfaces because apparently almost nothing on Vekta absorbs light. Texture quality and lighting is impressive, although the lighting is completely static. You cannot shoot out lights or otherwise effect the lighting in the environment. Characters are a bit mixed. In the pre-rendered cutscenes they look pretty great and are expressive. During actual gameplay they tend to look a bit stiff with faces that don’t move much and eyes that don’t blink. There also seems to be some issues with lip syncing at times as well. It is also worth noting that the graphics quality seems to have been turned down a bit for the multiplayer, perhaps to provide a more reliable framerate in the unpredictable online modes.

A lot of people are going to be picking up Killzone for the multiplayer, and I am happy to say that I can recommend it for that without any reservations. Pretty much everything you need for a good multiplayer experience is here: fast matchmaking, unlocks and customizable loadouts, solid map design, lots of game modes, and the ability to customize to your satisfaction. When you set up a lobby you can determine everything from which weapons and abilities are allowed to which game modes pop up. The highlight of multiplayer is the Warzone mode, which consists of a variety of different game types that change during the match. For example, a match might start out as team deathmatch, change to a capture and hold mode, before finally switching to a defend and destroy mode. The side that completed the most objectives by the end wins.

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Overall, Killzone Shadow Fall is a by the numbers first person shooter whose main draw is its graphics and multiplayer. The single player is a mostly repetitive and forgettable experience that only occasionally reaches greatness during certain setpiece scenes, while its multiplayer offers enough depth to keep people playing for a while. As a launch title it does a decent job at introducing us to the new capabilities of the Playstation 4 and is worth picking up. A year from now though, Killzone Shadow Fall probably won’t be worth your time.

 

 System Shock 2 Review

System Shock 2 Review

System Shock 2 is an interesting game to review in 2013. When it first came out in 1999, it was met with a lot of praise from the gaming press, winning over a dozen awards, including several “Game of the Year” titles, and since then it has appeared on several “Greatest Games of All Time” lists. However despite the praise, not many people actually bought and played it.

It feels like System Shock 2 has been granted a second chance though. The success Irrational Games has had with BioShock and BioShock: Infinite has interested people enough to want to check out System Shock 2, which was the first game Irrational created. This is great news, because while you might not expect it, I feel that System Shock 2 is the best of all the “Shock” games. It makes you realize that for all of the steps forward we have taken in terms of technology, in a lot of ways modern gameplay has taken a few steps backwards.

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System Shock 2 takes place aboard the world’s first Faster Than Light starship the Von Braun as well as the UNN heavy destroyer the Rickenbacker which was tethered to the Von Braun so it could make the FTL jumps as well. You, the player, wake up from Cryo Sleep 5 months after the ship has left earth. It appears that while you were sleeping some force has managed to hijack the ship. You spend much of the game trying to figure out what exactly happened while you were sleeping, getting ship systems back up and running, and coming up with a plan to stay alive. The primary story of the game is told through many audio logs scattered around the ship that were left by the dead crew members, as well as visual clues in the levels that shed some light on what has been going on. System Shock 2 was one of the first games to use this method of storytelling, which has only recently started to become popular.

Both the Von Braun and Rickenbacker are both pretty large ships, and the game does not have any real “levels” in the traditional sense. The ships are broken up into decks (medical, engineering, hydroponics, operations, etc), and each of those decks are broken up into sectors that are separated by bulkheads which often require keycards to access.  You are always free to move back and forward between decks and sectors you have gained access to. The game treats the ships as one large persistent game world. For example, if you come across some heavy armor that you do not have the required strength to equip, you can always come back to it later once you have the required stats. Or if you drop an item in a hallway that you do not have space in your inventory for, you can come back and get it hours later if you feel the need to. In fact, this sort of back tracking is sometimes necessary, as certain areas of the ship are only accessible after you do something in a different area. While the game is linear as far as some areas are locked until you find the keycard or access codes, it occasionally lets you tackle multiple objectives in whatever order you see fit and explore the ship at your own pace.

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Speaking of stats like strength, the game has an interesting RPG like system that determines what you can and cannot do. As you complete objectives, you are granted access to “Cybernetic Modules” that you use to upgrade your abilities. You spend these points at upgrade stations around the ship. There are four main categories of upgrades: stats, psi, weapons, and tech. Stats include things like strength, endurance,  and agility. The weapons category contains sub-categories such as standard weapons, heavy weapons, and energy weapons. The tech category is where you find the skills associated with hacking, repairing, and modifying. The Psi category has five separate tiers of power, which need not be learned in order. Each tier includes seven individual powers. These powers compare pretty favorably to the plasmids from Bioshock, and include abilities like Photonic Redirection (turning yourself invisible), Enhanced Motion Sensitivity (shows enemies nearby), and Projected Pyrokinesis (shoots a ball of fire).

The game has more gameplay systems then just the skills. Let’s use the weapons as an example.  Each weapon as multiple fire modes that have strengths and weaknesses, such as an overload shot for a laser pistol that does more damage but is energy inefficient. On top of this, each weapon can be modified, provided you have the appropriate skill level. Examples of modification include increasing the clip size, increasing the rate of fire and decreasing kickback. Each time you fire a weapon, its condition starts to degrade, and you must use maintenance tools to keep the weapon in working order. If you neglect a weapon long enough, it can actually break. At that point you need to repair the weapon before you can use it again. On top of this, many of the guns have different types of ammo such as armor piercing rounds and anti-personnel rounds. How does one know what type of ammo to use against each enemy? That is where researching comes in.

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When you kill enemies, they often leave behind organs that you can collect from their bodies. If you have a high enough research level, you can research these organs to learn more about the enemies you are facing. It will tell you what types of weapons they have resistances to, which types of weapons they are extra vulnerable  to, and it will also give you a buff to all damage done to them. Researching isn’t limited to enemy organs either. You will often find exotic weapons and items that you cannot use until you have researched what they are. Researching items requires different chemicals as well. Which chemicals are required depends on the item. Each deck of the ship has a chemical storeroom that contains a selection of most (but not all) of the chemicals that you need for research. If you are researching an item that requires a chemical that is not in the storeroom on your current deck, you will need to locate the proper chemical somewhere else.

Since System Shock 2 is a survival horror game at its core, you spend a lot of time managing and rationing your supplies. You don’t always want to fight every enemy you come across, otherwise you might find yourself out of ammo. Running from or sneaking by enemies are always valid tactics. You can sometimes take more creative approaches as well, such as hacking a turret and baiting enemies into its firing range. There are also vending machines located throughout the ship, which you can spend money (Nanites) that you collect on items such as ammo and health. Not every vending machine sells everything, and you can hack the vending machines to offer you better prices. Nanites are also the currency used to hack, modify, and repair items, so it is up to you to determine the best way to use your supply of them.

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All of these layered gameplay systems are what make System Shock 2 stand out as surprisingly modern when compared to current games. Even Bioshock, a critically acclaimed modern game, feels a bit shallow when you compare it to System Shock 2. I would even go as far as to say Bioshock is a watered down version of System Shock 2. This complexity also opens the game up to be played multiple times, and each time you can build your character in drastically different ways. Want to play the game as a stealth character, only killing when absolutely necessary? That’s possible. What to build a melee weapons only character? That’s also possible.

The only thing about System Shock 2 that feels dated are the visuals, and even that can be mitigated to some degree with mods. The story is great, the audio design is both haunting and impactful when it needs to be, and the gameplay was so far ahead of its time that even modern games feel shallow in comparison. If you can get over how the game looks, I would absolutely recommend giving this first person survival horror RPG a try. It might just be your 2013 game of the year… from 1999.

 Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary

Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary

It is hard to believe that it has been a little over 10 years since the release of the first Halo. In that time the series has accomplished a lot: successfully launched the Xbox, sold tens of millions of games, and crossed into other forms of entertainment including comics, novels, and movies. Halo is the game that Microsoft built their Xbox empire on, so it’s no surprise that the game is getting the remake treatment for its 10 year anniversary.

In the past there was generally two different ways to do these re-releases. You could take the approach of games like Resident Evil 4 HD and Beyond Good and Evil HD and just port the game to modern consoles, upscale the textures a bit, and call it day. Or you could go the full remake route of games like Metal Gear Solid Twin Snakes and completely remake the game on a new engine. This is the more impressive route to take, but you lose the nostalgia factor when you do it. Halo Anniversary takes a different approach, and ends up somewhere between the two.

At its core, Halo Anniversary is the exact same game everyone played a decade ago. The game engine is still around and running the show. This means that all of the gameplay mechanics are exactly the same as they have always been. All of the weapons and vehicles handle the same, and all of the AI remains unchanged. For better or worse, the Covenant, Marines, and Flood all behave as they used to. Co-op is still around as well, and this time you can play over Xbox Live.

So the Halo “combat puzzle” is still intact and as fun as it ever was. Each encounter provides a great challenge, with the game’s iconic selection of weapons providing the tools to solve them. Despite the game’s age, it still provides some of the most fun and challenging firefights in the series, especially on the higher difficulty settings. Halo: Combat Evolved on Legendary difficulty is certainly the most challenging of all in the series, and without ever feeling unfair. Those that played the game in the past will have a great nostalgia trip, while those new to the game will find what still is a surprisingly modern gameplay experience.

On the outside though, we have a brand new graphics engine and art assets. Everything visual in the game, from the smallest rock to the largest Hunter, has had a pretty impressive makeover. Since the old game engine is still running behind the scenes, it is actually possible to switch back and forward between old and new, allowing you to actually play the original game with its original graphics. It it offers a great opportunity to see how far graphics technology for games have come in the past ten years. I had a lot of fun just switching between the two in each new area to see what they changed.

All of the graphical changes are just superficial though. For example, while the elites have many times the polygons and texture resolution then they used to have, they are still the same height and width. Every rock, tree, and barricade is exactly where it used to be, the same size and facing the same direction. Everything just look a whole lot nicer. This means that the levels themselves also remained functionally untouched. The Silent Cartographer is as great as everyone remembers it, while The Library is every bit as annoying as it ever was. The updated visuals do help a bit, as there is more variety in the previously monotonous hallways of Covenant ships, and some arrows added to the floors in the Library help you stay oriented. Overall though, the levels in Halo were well designed and had a good amount on non-linearity to them that modern gamers have come to expect.

All of that graphical fidelity has come at a price: frame rate. The game runs at a shaky thirty frames per second most of the time and can dip pretty low when things get frantic. Occasionally it was bad enough I actually switched back to the old visuals which runs smooth as butter. I am not sure if it is a result of running the two graphics engines or not, but it is a bit disappointing that they couldn’t have locked it down. Halo deserves better.

In addition to the graphics update, the sound effects and music also got some attention. They really should have left well enough alone though. The new gun sounds are hit and miss, with some sounding truly awful. The same can also be said for the new music. As someone who played a lot of the original game, it was really distracting at first to not hear the same music and weapon effects that I remembered. It really messes with your nostalgia until you get used to the new sounds. Thankfully you can swap out the new music score for the old one. It’s too bad you can’t do the same for the weapon sound effects.

The only real major disappointment in the package is the lack of Halo: Combat Evolved’s multiplayer. Instead of recreating it, we get an add-on pack for Halo Reach that consists of six maps (and one new firefight map). They have given a number of reasons for excluding the original’s multiplayer, but it really feels like it was cut due to time and budget constraints. The map pack consists of both Halo and Halo 2 classics such as Beaver Creek and Damnation. Since this is Reach multiplayer, the maps have been tweaked a bit to accommodate the various gameplay changes over the years such as jetpacks. If you already had your fill of Halo Reach online, there is not much here to bring you back.

Still, Halo Anniversary is an enjoyable single-player focused remake of one of the most iconic games of the past decade. It really shows just how right Bungie got things the first time around. If you have fond memories of the original or never got a chance to play it the first time around, Anniversary is absolutely worth picking up.

 Crysis 2

Crysis 2

Crysis 2, the latest graphical powerhouse from developer Crytek, marks a number of firsts for the developer. For the first time they have left the lush tropical setting and moved to the urban jungle of New York city, providing a number of gameplay changes from previous games in the city. Crysis 2 also marks the first time the developer has targeted the console platforms as well as the PC. This decision was met with some disappointment from some of the PC gamer elitists. All of Crytek’s previous games focused on pushing PC graphics technology as far as it could go, resulting in games that looked absolutely stunning but required thousands of dollars of PC hardware to run adequately. PC gamers often used these games as showpieces for their gaming rigs, using them as an example of why PC gaming was superior to the consoles. The disappointment was based on the assumption that by developing the game for the consoles, the PC version would suffer due to the rather old console hardware.

It would seem that in the process of optimizing the game to run on the older console hardware has resulted in much more reasonable system requirements on the PC then the previous Crysis games. I was able to run Crysis 2 on my somewhat modest gaming PC at the maximum graphics setting with very smooth frame rates. This same computer still has the occasional slowdowns running Crysis 1 at maximum graphics settings, and that game is a few years old at this point. That is not to say that the game doesn’t push graphics hardware like the first Crysis did. This game looks absolutely phenomenal, easily winning the category of best looking game this year. In fact, every aspect of the presentation is impressive. New York city is almost photo-realistic at times, and the scope of all of the environments is truly impressive. Character faces look lifelike, and the animation is fluid and natural. The visual presentation here is second to none, and the fact that the game runs on consoles is an equally impressive feat. The PC version of the game is the best looking of them all, but the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions look great as well. Whatever platform you play Crysis 2 on, know that it is the most impressive looking game around. The only disappointment with the presentation was some issues with 5.1 surround sound mixing. Dialog coming out of the rear channels was often too quiet, even when the character speaking was only a few feet back.

Moving the game from the jungle to the city has resulted in a few gameplay changes over the previous two entries in the series. The environments in the previous games were pretty wide open, allowing for numerous ways to approach each enemy encounter,  places to hide, and tactics to take. The open-ended level design of Crysis 2 has been scaled back a bit, as you have fewer opportunities fighting in city streets then in dense vegetation filled jungles. The tradeoff here is that the city provides a bit of verticality that the other games never had. There are lots of things to climb in the city, providing lots of opportunities to take the high ground and work your way around patrols. The setting also provides a lot more cover to take advantage of, with abandoned cars, signs, benches, and other things placed all over.

You still have the same weapon customization options available as you would expect. You can attach an assortment of scopes, silencers, laser sights, and launchers to many of the weapons, increasing their usefulness in multiple combat scenarios. The suit abilities are back, but this time you can customize those as well. Taking down the alien enemies in the game provides you with “nano catalysts”  to spend on suit upgrades. These upgrades have affects such as reducing the energy drain while cloaked, adding tracers to bullets fired at you, increasing the damage you can absorb, and providing you with more air control when falling. You can only have a few of these upgrades activated at a time, and the proper selection of upgrades in the right situation can make your life a lot easier.

The suit has also been streamlined a bit, and the game is better for it. Instead of having to manually switch between speed and strength, they automatically kick in when you want them. Holding down the sprint button activates speed, draining energy as you run really fast. Holding down the jump button will automatically activate strength, allowing you to jump many feet into the air. The suit controls much more naturally now, allowing you to stay in the combat at all times instead of fumbling with a radial menu when you need to switch abilities.

The open environments and the customizable weapons and nano-suit abilities gives the combat in the game a sandbox feel. There are a lot of ways to approach any combat space, and thanks to pretty solid enemy AI no two encounters will ever play out the same way. The brute force and stealth approach are always viable options, however the stealth route is often pretty easy and ultimately less satisfying. It is just way too easy to sneak past enemies using the cloak if you have upgraded it, often allowing you to skip somewhat large portions of the game. For example, at one point in the game you are tasked with fighting your way into an armored compound to kill the enemy leader. Dozens of heavily armored guards stand between you and him. The resulting firefight is intense and extremely fun. However you could also choose to cloak and bypass everyone, walking straight up to the commander and taking him out without a shot fired.  Since a lot of the combat can be skipped if you choose, your playing time will vary.  I only used the stealth suit to sneak past a few encounters and finished the game in roughly eight hours.

Some of the people I have talked to consider being able to skip large portions of the game broken, making the game less fun. I tend to disagree. If you treat every game as a challenge to overcome with the least resistance possible, I could see how you might be disappointed. However I strongly believe that in games like Crysis 2, you are fully responsible for your own experience and enjoyment of the game. I play games to have fun, not to find the most optimum way to beat it. I wouldn’t find sneaking past everything fun, so I simply didn’t do that and I had a great time. I got into some of the most intense gunfights I have ever experienced in a game, often times barely escaping death. However, if you are one of those people who play games simply to win, and do so by whatever means you can (such as exploiting the AI), I will warn you now that your fun might vary.

The story in the game is probably the weakest part of the package. It seems that a considerable amount of time has passed between the events of Crysis 1, and the game does a poor job of filling you in on what has happened.  You start out as part of a squad of marines sent in to rescue a scientist named Gould who has important research about the aliens. In the opening moments of the game your squad is wiped out, but not before Prophet,  one of the nano-suit soldiers from the first game, saves you. You are given his armor, and it is up to you alone to carry out your mission. Your interaction with other characters in the game is pretty limited. You get a few moments of face time with Gould during the campaign, but it seems most of the characters in the story simply exist to yell orders at you over the radio or provide you with someone to take out. The story is big on technical details about your suit doing something with the alien tissue samples you are collecting, but it is not always clear what exactly is going on are why you are doing some of the things you are tasked with. However in the most basic sense the story does get the job done. It provides you with enough motivation, and provides a number of pretty epic set piece battles.

Crytrek has gone with the Call of Duty approach to the multiplayer aspect of the game, so if you have played any of those games you know what you are getting into. You have a persistent character profile that ranks up as you play, allowing you to spend XP to unlock new abilities and weapons. Just like in the single player campaign, you can customize your weapons with attachments, providing players with a lot of options when creating their own classes. Other features taken out of the Call of Duty playbook include challenges you can complete to unlock bonuses and map specific killstreak rewards. Some of these rewards, like the orbital laser strike, can be very devastating. Finding a game to get into is easy thanks to a quick match option, where you specify the game mode you want to play and you will automatically be placed into a game. I found search times to be extremely quick, and most games to be lag free thanks to dedicated servers on the PC. The suit abilities and their energy draining mechanics add a neat aspect to the multiplayer gameplay. For example, sprinting around uses your suit energy, resulting in less energy to absorb damage should you run into an enemy player. Knowing when and how your abilities and how to manage your energy is required to do well. The stealth ability provides a lot of opportunities to play sneaky and outmaneuver your enemies, and becomes a very valuable tool in objective based game modes.

Overall Crysis 2 is a compelling game. The single player campaign offers a lot of intense gunfights and breathtaking visuals, while the online multiplayer offers solid, if not uninspired, social fragging. Only time will tell how much staying power the online aspect of the game has, but as of right now the game has a sizable online community. With a standard length campaign, enjoyable multiplayer, and the best graphics of any game to date, Crysis 2 is worth picking up.

 Amnesia: The Dark Descent

Amnesia: The Dark Descent

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You wake up in a castle with a note you have written yourself. You cannot remember who or where you are, but your former self is not surprised. The note tells you that you have purposefully forgotten recent events, and that you now have one goal: find and kill a man named Alexander. You don’t know who Alexander is or why you wanted to kill him, but your note warns that you are being chased by a dark shadow that alters reality and that time will be short.

The dark shadow is a persistent threat that is never directly seen but its presence can always be felt. Earthquakes are tearing the castle apart, and odd noises can be heard coming from outside. However, these are the least of your worries as strange creatures walk the halls of the castle. The castle is impressive – a massive maze of twisting rooms  and corridors. The earthquakes are causing parts of the roof to collapse, blocking off passages and creating new ones as you play.

Light is in limited supply, as candles provide your only means of illuminating the darkness. Tinderboxes are scattered all over the castle, but you never seem to have enough. You also have a lantern that runs on oil, but even that is in limited supply. Staying in the darkness slowly drains your sanity, which is something that could easily be lost in a place like this. You need to treat light like a limited resource, otherwise you could lose your mind.

You have to stay focused and keep your wits about you. Keeping the darkness at bay is only part of the challenge, as every odd event you witness chews on your soul. Looking too long at the foul creatures could cause you to panic and reveal your position, forfeiting your only advantage: stealth.  You will find no weapons to use against the creatures in the castle. Your only choice when faced with one of them is to run or hide. You can close doors and barricade yourself in rooms, but that will only slow them down. Running fast and far away or hiding in closets or other dark corners will be your best bet for survival.

As you lose your sanity your vision becomes blurred. You might start seeing and hearing things that are not actually there. Depending on how far gone you are there might even be a delay between mouse inputs and you performing the action. Keeping your mind on the tasks at hand is the only way to preserve what little sanity you have left, as solving a puzzle completely restores your sanity.

Solving these puzzles is how you will spend a majority of your time. The castle is in very bad shape with areas that you need to get to currently inaccessible. Many of the puzzles work like classic point and click adventure games. You have to find the items that you need, combine them to create something useful, and then use the item on the environment. This might include mixing chemicals to produce an explosive to clear your path, or to fix a broken steam generator by properly setting levers and replacing gears and other broken parts. The puzzles are well designed and often make good use of the physics engine. They will require you to think things through, but are never so complicated that you will be stuck on any one for too long.

The physics engine makes interacting with the world feel pretty real. Using the mouse you actually grab on to items and move them around. Opening doors requires more than just a click, as you have to push or pull your mouse to swing the door open. Similarly, turning valves requires you to move the mouse in the correct circular motion. It creates a unique physical connection between you and the game that really helps to immerse you in its world. It also helps increase the tension a lot, especially when running from enemies where you actually have to stop and swing a door open in order to get away.

The presentation of the game is pretty solid, especially for an indie game. The graphics engine won’t necessarily impress if you have been playing a lot of big budget games, but by no means does the game look bad. The actual art in the game is pretty good. Objects have a good amount of detail, and feel authentic for the time period.  The lighting engine works well, creating believable shadows and the use of ambient occlusion adds depth to the scenes. However, the most impressive part of the presentation has to be the audio design. The audio designers clearly understand that what you cannot see is often scarier then what you can, and they provide you with some truly terrifying sounds to get your imagination working against you. The graphics and audio combine to create a game that is really rich in atmosphere.

True horror games are rare these days, but Amnesia The Dark Descent really pulls it off. This might just be the creepiest game ever made.

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