Time to give some love to the Japanese side of gaming in my own unique way.
So I finally got to renting the new Transformers game that came out a few weeks ago and played it for one hour. After that, I returned the thing. Not because it was bad, but because that hour was all I needed to see to form an unchanging opinion on the thing. Only for Transformers fans. If you played any Platinum Games game, you’ve played Transformers Devastation. All that jazz.
The game pretty much assumes you’re familiar with the 80s cartoon, because it drops you in control of Optimus Prime and his fight against the Decepticons with no introduction, foreshadowing, or even bothering to establish what Megatron has planned for the city, and it never develops from there in either the short time I played or what I read on Wikipedia. It has no aspirations to be more than pure fanservice to those who still claim that Optimus Prime’s death totally holds up as one of the saddest moments in cartoon history, so if you’re one of those guys, you’ll probably eat this game up within the very first second. I sure didn’t. I thought that TV show as well that “sad” film sucked donkey-balls, and I still stake my claim that bar some of the Disney Afternoon stuff, there isn’t a single 80s cartoon that holds up by today’s standards, and anyone who claims otherwise has the same nostalgia goggles that kids in this generation are going to need when they get Knack as their first console game.
But let’s forget the fact that I’m more used to Bumblebee when he’s completely silent bar when he’s communicating with shitty music and judge Transformers Devastation as a game, shall we? Now I haven’t played any Transformers games bar a few minutes of that awful War for Cybertron thing, so I couldn’t tell you how it compares to them. However, I had no trouble with the game on its own non-story merits whatsoever, easily beating common enemies and large bosses with only a sliver of health left and very few health restorations used. Having played through both Bayonetta games, Transformers Devastation was as easy as Reader Rabbit – even when I didn’t bother to upgrade Prime’s weapons at all – and the colorful visuals do a good job at giving the game a wonderful sense of life and flow whilst being faithful to what you Gen-Xers remember about your childhood.
After the game forces you to play as all of them, you choose one Autobot to play as (in my case, Prime) and can switch whenever you go to a base portal if for some reason you’re not in the mood for your favorite car to wreck up some bulldozers. Gameplay is basically completing objectives in the area, which always involves driving really fast and wrecking shit up, and the bosses have tons of health so you better hope you don’t go Carpal Tunnel syndrome whilst playing, because you’re going to be dodging shit an awful lot. The action even slows down like in Bayonetta when you dodge at the last minute, so if you exploit that, you can ram into the boss twice with vehicle mode and take down a small chunk of his health rather than a miniscule sliver. It’s as simple as that and hopefully it’ll last you for the five or so hours needed to beat this game.
So whilst I doubt even Transformers fans will claim that this is a great game, who am I to shit on nostalgia? I mean I’m kind of looking forward to the new Digimon game coming in February, even though it looks like your basic RPG except with digital monsters and a “we’re trying to be Persona 4” vibe.
With that said, let’s shit on nostalgia anyways in regards to the first Silent Hill, which I got to completing as my final game for Horror Month. And yes, I know Silent Hill 2 is “the” horror game most people shower praise on, but I wanted to play the first one in order to see how the series was like back when it took the world by storm. So sorry if I didn’t end this self-proclaimed event with a bang.
It’s probably not a new observation that the original has aged poorly in significant ways, from the PS1 graphics that look even crappier than usual when playing on an HD TV to the fact that the endings are determined by two specific events that you’d need either a strategy guide or an awful lot of time on your hands to know about. But the thing that annoyed me most of all were the controls. I know Silent Hill in general has always had bad movement physics, even when compared to the Metal Gear Solid games, but by the time I finished killing Satan with a machine gun, my thumbs were more red than…well…Satan actually. Whilst the games grew more linear as time went on, the first one has a heavy emphasis on exploration and trying to discover items and non-dead ends only to run into monsters that seem to spawn out of nowhere is frustrating when you can’t move around said world properly. Especially when surrounded by fog and the camera has a bad tendency deciding whether it wants to be fixed or not.
Also, whilst I understand that Harry Mason has never fired a gun before and thus can’t hit enemies more than a couple of feet away, a system that’d allow me to switch between multiple targets would be nice. Every time I shot a creepy demon baby crawling up to me, two more would always follow and whenever I tried to shoot them, I always kept hitting the one I just killed and wasting my limited ammo. This caused me to get hit more often than I’d like, and I’d even die at the worst possible time despite having the resources to not do so because healing items are limited and I’m kind of bad at reading the game’s health bar. But I guess the boss fights made up for that to a degree because they were a fucking cakewalk on the normal difficulty. I only died once to the final dude, and that was because I wasn’t used to strafing. Once I was, I was dancing all around his lightning like a ninja doped up on tranquilizers, which just goes to show how bad he is at hitting moving targets.
Most importantly of all, whilst the occasional monster coming out of the fog gave me a slight chill every once in a while and the “locker” scene caused my heart to jump for a second, Silent Hill is not a very scary game by today’s standards. The PS1 polygon graphics make the monsters hard to take seriously – not that the nurses and doctors would have been scary to begin with because they look like regular humans on drugs – and your radio will always indicate when they’re nearby, diminishing the fear of the unknown a tad even when you can’t see them because I had a gun and over a hundred bullets for ’em, so you’d better come in numbers (which they often did). The puzzle-solving aspect still holds up fine with clearly recognizable objects and solutions, even if it’s not that special these days. But sometimes, it can be unfairly obscure. Explain to me how I was supposed to know beforehand that you had to put a ring around that fridge before taking the dagger out so that I don’t unleash Silent Hill’s version of the Nemesis on me?
Now don’t get me wrong. Even with all my complaints, the first Silent Hill is still a decent game that does a fine job in terms of the levels of psychological horror you’d expect from the Japanese. Despite the frustratingly dated gameplay, it was never frustrating enough to prevent me from beating it within the span of two days, unless you count the day when I only played through the prologue, which I don’t. The characters are simplistic but human enough to be interesting, with some intriguing ties to the setting that pay off in some pretty satisfying ways. And I’ll always hold up games that favor exploration as a story mechanic, although I will ask that I don’t need to go to the inventory screen before checking my map, especially when I forgot to turn on my flashlight before doing so. But overall, the fact that you need to control when and where you use your flashlight in order to prevent monsters from seeing you, along with the fact that until you find a map of the area you’ll mostly be running around blind really does a good job of adding to the fun, even when the monsters you eventually come across don’t actually make me shit my pants.
But here’s the final nail of pain I’m going to hammer into an otherwise decent game: Silent Hill’s cult stuff is, and always has been, very fucking stupid. I prefer my horror to have a narrow focus in terms of scope and personal stakes, and when you explain what’s going on in this strange town by attaching a normal human trying to awaken a cosmic being into the world – or just a cosmic being altogether – said stakes and scope suddenly grow larger than the Titanic, and the gash that sunk it in the first place would have been too big in of itself. The truth behind Harry’s daughter was not only very predictable, it also wasn’t very interesting. If you got the best ending – which is canon according to Silent Hill 3 – then the story sort of devolves into typical JRPG territory in its finale what with the rehashing of all the areas you’ve been through for the final level, killing Satan, escaping to live a new happy life, and even some joke-y credit scenes. And it’s not like the worst ending where it’s all revealed to be the delusions of a dead man was all that good either given how little sense it makes in terms of the overall flow.
Still, now that I’ve gotten a taste of what’s to come, I’m all for playing the sequels before the franchise left Team Silent’s hands. Just after I get through the twenty other games begging for my attention I mean.
PS: I am modifying any comments that try to explain to me why Optimus Prime’s death was the modern equivalent of a Shakespeare tragedy. Why? Partly because I think it’s funny and mostly because I don’t care.