I’ve been a gamer for well over thirty years now, in which time I have watched the respective technology of this immersive medium grow exponentially more complex over the decades, not just the relevant console tech itself but also the inherent maturation of gameplay, graphics and storylines contained within these entrancing virtual worlds. One of the things that defined games of previous generations, such as Sega’s Megadrive, and Nintendo’s SNES, weren’t the less complicated pixel form graphics but the relative difficulty of the actual games themselves, modern games, in stark contrast to their ’80s classic counterparts are rather easy in comparison… until Dark Souls.
Dark Souls released in 2011 from Japanese gaming guru’s From Software, an outstanding action role-play game set in the perilous lands of the ancients, known as Lordran. Technically the second game in the Souls series, a spiritual successor to From’s former sensation – Demons Souls.
‘Prepare To Die’ are the ominous words that greet the beleaguered player on the box art, and die you shall, again and again, once, twice or thrice more… now, if you’re thinking to yourself at this moment that this doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun, I say au contraire, my fellow gaming buddies, it’s the difficulty itself that makes Souls the glorious gem it is. A tangible sense of achievement and progress is gained from defeating that impossible boss character that has managed to annihilate your anxious avatar fifteen times on the trot, memorising their strategies, or just purely surviving make for a seriously satisfying sense of accomplishment when you finally do manage to best your cyber-space nemesis.
Difficulty aside, the world and lore of Dark Souls is really rather fascinating, but unlike its peers in the RPG genre, does very little through direct exposition to the player bar the initial (and still rather vague) introductory cut-scene. Dark Souls lore is embedded in its characters, architecture, and items, all vital knowledge and exegesis is derived from multiple conversations with the NPC’s (even then, the ambiguity of their replies require you to dig even further to interpret) or the descriptions that accompany the various weapons, armour and items acquired as you traverse through the treacherous land that is Lordran.
In fact, the narrative is so well embedded that you’d be forgiven for thinking that the creators had decided to not even add one, yet if you’re willing to dig deep and immerse yourself in its perfidious prose you will be rewarded with one of the most cerebral and emotional chronicles that gaming has wrought. But, if plot is of no interest to you, and your only reasoning for venturing into this precarious predicament is for the conflict, then that’s fine, because the combat system in Dark Souls is superlative.
Dark Souls combat absolutely is its defining feature, weighty, precise and intricate. Though it can initially feel a somewhat shallow fighting system, it slowly forms into one of the greatest combat engines to ever grace an RPG. The substantial weaponry open to your prostate protagonist begins with the player’s choice of class, do you prefer to tread the duplicitous world of Lordran as a steel clad knight, maybe a leather bound assassin, or perhaps sorcery is more your style, whichever role you decide upon, you are guaranteed an expansive choice of weaponry, armour, spells and shields (which are your absolute best friends in Souls) for your perpetually pained paladin.
Of course, all the entrancing exposition, crazy combat and awesome armour count for naught if there are no memorable antagonists to pit your plucky (though usually plucked!) hero against, and the adversaries in Souls are some of the largest and most unforgiving any persistent paladin has ever faced. From the humble undead, to the terrifying half arachnid- half witch Queelag, the foes you face down are some of the most remorseless and unrelenting you have ever had the ill will to encounter.
The bosses are unyielding in their pursuit of your demise, from the aforementioned Queelag, through gilded knights – Dragonslayer Ornstein and Executioner Smough (the dynamic duo of video-game hell!) your gaming skills and cred will be tested to their utmost limits, but each and every time (many, many times!) you will assimilate a little more of their inherent patterns and weaknesses, until you finally revel in their eventual expiration.
There is also an extremely popular online PvP mode, where Souls aficionados can test their mettle against other players, whilst invading their worlds or duelling one on one, though this substantive mode rarely interested me personally, though I did enjoy the ability of being able to call upon one of my Dark Souls brethren (hi Dan!) to join me in jolly co-op, and sanguinely slay a boss or two, or to at least share in my torment!
This game has so much depth, intrinsic lore, customisation and complexity that this review could easily become an epic of encyclopedic extravagance, so I will just say this… do you love – Videogames, , fantasy, bloody huge swords, labyrinthine lore and are a little bit of a masochist at heart? then you’ll fall absolutely head over heels with the world that is Dark Souls, just be prepared to die again, and again, and again…
Zombies have, in the last decade become rather de-rigueur, in fact you can’t swing a chainsaw without hitting at least another few dozen low budget movies, TV series or video games starring re-animated flesh munching corpses. Much like an undead apocalypse itself, zombie media has hit oversaturation point. I’m sure when influential horror director George Romero first introduced the modern zombie to a horrified audience back in 1968 with the seminal Night Of The Living Dead, he had absolutely no idea that these ghastly ghouls would one day be so over used, that all their dread and terror would give way to a yawn and passive indifference, zombies just aren’t scary anymore… (that said, if I was actually to meet a zombie – I’d be pretty damn terrified! Ooh, ooh, unless it’s a zombified Christina Ricci… I adore Christina Ricci, even if she was a flesh eating, undead, green skinned, puss ridden monster… I’d still adore her! Mmmmm, went a little off topic there… on with the show!)
When Romero’s groundbreaking introduction to the living dead first hit the cinema screen back in the sixties, it was met with revulsion and abhorrence by an audience unfamiliar with such overtly graphic violence.
Romero’s low budget, independent movie was the catalyst of a thousand imitators, some were great (Lucio Fulci’s “Zombie”, Dan O’Bannon’s “Return Of The Living Dead”) but most were awful Z grade rip offs, literally hordes of terribly made and woefully acted low budget cash ins, riding on the back of the movie going publics sudden reverence of all things undead.
It wouldn’t be long before video-game companies decided to take on this burgeoning horror phenomenon with their own interpretations, with the most prolific and famous of the digital dead games beginning in an imposing mansion in the Arklay Mountains, site of the original outbreak of the T-Virus and our initial introduction to S.T.A.R.S and the sinister Umbrella Corporation.
Resident Evil (known as Biohazard in Japan) was first unleashed to video gamers worldwide in 1996, developed by Japanese company Capcom (of Street Fighter fame) and helmed by game design auteur Shinji Mikami. It is one of the original progenitors of survival-horror, a sub genre of gaming that takes cues from horror fiction and focuses on the survival of the main character against overwhelming odds, with limited resources at their disposal.
The first game established many of the ongoing conventions and tropes for the survivalist series, such as the limited inventory system, third person perspective, fixed camera angles for dramatic effect and the iconic typewriter save system.
The game opens with the elite members of S.T.A.R.S (Special Tactics And Rescue Service) responding to the disappearance of fellow team members who lost contact in the remote area on the outskirts of Raccoon City, known as the Arklay Mountains.
Players choose to take control of either Jill Valentine or Chris Redfield at the start of the game, and then, with their chosen avatar, proceed into the mysterious mansion embedded deep within the creepy forests of Arklay Mountains in search of their fellow team-mates.
Graphics are a mix of three dimensional characters set against pre-rendered backdrops, fixed camera angles give the game a rather compelling cinematic feel.
As your chosen avatar explores the mansion they discover documentation in the form of diary entries and audio tapes that provide story beats and exposition, as well as uncovering clues to the various puzzles that need to be undertaken to progress through the mission. The combat takes centre stage through the use of a variety of firearms discovered around the environment, though ammo conservation is important as ammunition is limited.
The inevitable health loss can be counteracted by the use of either first aid sprays or three different types of combinable herbs. The capacity for carrying items on person is also limited, though extraneous items can be kept in an item box for later use. Saving is done through typewriters that are scattered through the mansion, ink ribbons must first be located before saving is possible, and once more these are in limited supply so must be used sparingly.
Player characters will fight through a succession of undead and mutated creatures as they progress, from the humble zombie through, giant spiders and hulking behemoths. Also of note are the multiple endings the game can deliver depending on the actions taken by the player throughout their adventure, giving the game an impulsive replayability.
Capcom’s Resident Evil is a landmark game, it is almost single handedly responsible for the Survival-Horror genre and is one of the longest running video game franchises of all time, with the most recent game “Resident Evil 7″ released to abundant praise from fan and critic alike. Though there have been a couple of missteps (Resident Evil 6 being rather… awful) the majority of titles in the franchise have been absolute gems and are a blast to play (with personal faves being Resi 4 and Code Veronica) The original has seen a remastered overhaul with an upgraded version released on platforms such as Xbox One Playstation 4, and as of this month – Nintendo’s fabulous Switch… which means Zombie blasting on the go! so there’s never been a better time to immerse yourself in the wonderful world of zombies, elite swat teams and evil corporations.