Review of Death Mark

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Screenshots can be deceptive. Based on Death Mark’s promotional images, I expected this horror title from Aksys Games to be a first person dungeon crawler. In actuality it is a visual novel with point and click adventure segments. Over the course of five chapters, which took me around six hours to finish, players take control of an amnesiac whose wrist has been branded with the titular Death Mark. At first glance said marking looks like a cool tattoo. Early on in the story however it is revealed that the Death Mark is a curse placed on the protagonist by a vengeful spirit. Unless he is able to rid himself of it, our hero is fated to die within the next few days. Regrettably for him, erasing the Death Mark will prove to be more painful than enduring a session of laser tattoo removal.

OVERVIEW

Death Mark’s hub world is a mansion that once belonged to a paranormal expert. The player controlled character is based there, as he is searching the estate for clues on how to cure his condition. His investigation hasn’t uncovered much, but on the plus side he does find a cute talking doll that resembles a character right out of Rozen Maiden. At the start of each chapter more victims, who have been cursed, show up at the mansion’s doorstep. They seek help with escaping the fate that has befallen them. Unlike the main character, who has no memory of his past, the visitors have some idea of where they got marked. They take the protagonist to said location, hoping that he can defeat the spectre that roams there. In theory, exorcising the ghost should purge the hex it cast on them.

By using the d-pad players can navigate each area. The levels available to explore include a sewer, an abandoned school and a forest frequented by suicidal folk. Crikey, this game is starting to sound like a Logan Paul simulator! Via the use of the analogue stick players can aim a flashlight, which is used to examine objects and pick up items. The inventory procured is in turn used to solve puzzles. Pretty standard stuff. Open a locked door with a key, use bug spray to kill bees that block your path and um, repair an elevator with condoms. Wow, I don’t recall MacGyver ever doing anything like that. Items are also required to defeat the phantoms you encounter. Every now and then the player is placed in perilous Life or Death situations. These come in the form of timed events, were an action needs to be selected from a multiple choice list of options. Picking the wrong response will result in damage and potential death.

VERDICT

My rating for Death Mark is a four out of five. If you enjoyed Corpse Party: Book of Shadows I imagine you will like Death Mark, as they both have similar gameplay. Don’t expect much in the way of animation, as this is one of those titles that relies on text and still pictures to tell its story. The main campaign has two endings to unlock. How each chapter concludes is determined by the choices made during the end of level boss fight. Overall I liked the cast of characters you partner up with, over the course of the adventure, and the game’s plot. Aside from the main mystery, of who cursed the protagonist, each chapter serves as a stand alone ghost tale. It’s interesting to discover the tragic origins responsible for birthing the creatures you are pitted against.

Anyone who is left wanting more, after the end credits roll, can purchase the two-hour DLC for a bonus chapter. This applies to the Vita version only. For some reason the other console releases come complete with the extra chapter. That may seem harsh, for long suffering Vita fans, but it all evens out, as the edition on Sony’s handheld is the cheapest to buy. In terms of scares Death Mark isn’t too terrifying. The developers try to make things creepy with sound effects and the odd jump scare, but none of it phased me. I only had to change my underwear two times. All that said, I would only recommend Death Mark to gamers who are in their late teens or older. Apart from the occasional gruesome death the game includes a few kinky images. These include a bondage scene involving plant vines, a picture of a naked woman who is covered in serpents and a spirit possession that causes one of your female partners to strip. Maybe that’s what Ray Parker meant when he said (ghost) busting makes me feel good.

Angels of Death Review

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A more organized blogger would have posted this Switch review a week ago and called it a Halloween special. I am however not known for planning out site content in advance. Opportunity missed! Instead of reviewing a horror game, on the 31st of October, I ended up writing about a horror-ible Fantastic Four movie instead. Angels of Death has a handicap, when it comes to instilling terror, as it was developed on RPG Maker. Scaring people is far easier with realistic graphics, rather than sixteen-bit pixels. With the right atmosphere it is still possible though, as Corpse Party has proven in the past. To be honest I am a coward at heart, so a horror game that is low on frights is fine with me. Heck, the only reason I braved this six-hour adventure was because some folks, who I follow, have praised the anime adaptation that recently aired.

OVERVIEW

Rachel Gardner is an emotionless thirteen-year old who has been sent to counselling after the death of her parents. When the game begins she awakens in a mysterious building with no knowledge of how she got there. Ray explores her surroundings and soon encounters a bandaged man who wields a scythe. Said mummy look-alike is a serial killer who answers to the name Zack Foster. He chases after Rachel, with the intentions of adding her to his murder tally. The pursuit doesn’t go as planned however. Rather than culminating in homicide, the pair’s meeting ends with them forming a temporary truce. With the aims of escaping the skyscraper that holds them prisoner, Rachel and Zack elect to team up. Can the partnership’s mix of brains and brawn overcome the dangers that await them? Probably. The game isn’t very hard.

Over the course of four episodes Rachel and Zack descend down the edifice. Each floor is littered with traps and is guarded by bloodthirsty lunatics. Despite being coded in a role-playing-game engine, Angels of Death features no turn based combat. Players cannot fight off their assailants and must instead flee from attackers. Getting caught will result in an instant game over, which can be frustrating. Thankfully the game auto saves whenever Rachel is in immediate peril. No significant progress is therefore lost should the heroine perish. Bypassing traps on the other hand requires some basic puzzle solving. Like adventure games of yore, the brainteasers involve using an item in the right location. The inventory Rachel carries is never large so sussing out what object needs to be picked is usually pretty obvious.

VERDICT

My rating for Angels of Death is three stars. The game doesn’t make a good first impression. I was underwhelmed by the rough looking artwork and the early gameplay. Episode one started with me dying multiple times, during a sequence were you are given seconds to evade a fast moving enemy. I suck when put under pressure and fare even worse when a game hasn’t explained that it’s possible to dash by pressing B. Thankfully things improved after that. As the story progressed I got more invested in the game. I dug the colourful cast of characters that Rachel meets and the mystery, of the building she’s trapped in, piqued my interest. Binding it all together is her relationship with Zack. Prior to buying the game who would have known that I would end up shipping a thirteen-year old girl with a guy who slices up people with bladed weapons?

Those seeking horror may leave Angels of Death feeling a tad disappointed. It lacks the creepiness of Corpse Party and is devoid of jump scares. Players, like myself, who appreciate dark humour should however enjoy their time with the game. The cartoon visuals and silly dialogue counterbalance the plot’s more disturbing moments. Episode four’s reveal, in particular, is not for the faint of heart. Speaking of dialogue, keep an “eye” out for a character named Danny should you decide to purchase the game. I challenge anyone to take a sip of their favourite alcoholic beverage whenever he utters the word “peepers.” I guarantee you won’t reach the end credits before your liver gives out. Maybe I’ll give said drinking game a “shot” whenever I get round to watching the anime.

Review of Doki Doki Literature Club

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It’s been yonks since I last accessed my Steam account, as I forgot my password a few months ago. Rather than reset my logins, I chose to capitalize on the lapse in memory. If I cannot visit the store I can’t possibly waste money on discounted games that I will never have the time to play. Just like David Dickinson, I cannot resist a bargain that is cheap as chips. My exile of Valve’s service is now over however, as several readers persuaded me to give Doki Doki Literature Club a try. This award winning visual novel, from fledgling developer Team Salvato, was recommended to me when I put the call out for quality titles that can be finished in less than ten hours.

OVERVIEW

When the game begins players, who assume the role of a high school student, are coerced into joining the titular club by their chirpy childhood pal Sayori. The protagonist isn’t much of a bibliophile, but like most male teenagers he can’t resist the allure of hanging out with four lovelies after class. Doki Doki Literature Club’s members are Monika, Yuri, Natsuki and the aforementioned Sayori. Monika is the club president and most popular girl in school. Yuri meanwhile is a timid intellectual who is passionate about horror novels. Last, but not least, is Natsuki the pint-sized tsundere. She is my favourite, of the quartet, as her written fiction of choice is manga.

Like with most visual novels, Doki Doki Literature Club involves reading text and enjoying the music/artwork that accompanies it. The narrative (specifically which girl the protagonist will date) is influenced by the poetry sessions that Monika has organized. Each day the club members need to write up a poem and share it with the group. During these segments players need to construct a verse by selecting twenty words from a notebook. The choices one makes will improve their reputation with a particular girl. Natsuki, for example, has a soft spot for cute things – so choosing words such as “kitty” will make the protagonist more attractive in her eyes.

Sounds simple enough. Click on phrases, snag a girlfriend and live happily ever after. Well, that’s what you would expect in a traditional VN. Doki Doki Literature Club is a little different though. All the ladies are thirsty for the main character’s package and will therefore get jealous when you begin to favour one of them over the others. This all culminates in the story taking a sinister and unexpected twist.

VERDICT

My rating for Doki Doki Literature Club is five stars. Just like Moirai, this is a memorable experience you can download off Steam for nowt. I actually feel bad about not rewarding the developer financially, for their efforts, so I may toss them some Shekels by purchasing the soundtrack/art-book DLC. Doki Doki Literature Club resonated with me because it is similar to some of my favourite anime. Cast in the same mould as Madoka Magica, it starts off sweet and fluffy before subverting your expectations with an unsettling scene. I suppose that’s a bit of a spoiler, but the game itself does open up with a disclaimer that warns against playing if you are easily disturbed.

Doki Doki Literature Club also gets bonus points from me because its set pieces are something that would only work in a video game. Unlike some other visual novels, this title wouldn’t transfer well to the movie screen or a comic book page. The interactivity you have, although limited, plays a big role in proceedings. Given that the game can be cleared in five hours, it’s something I can recommend to everyone. Power through the unassuming first act and I guarantee you will be hooked. Things are not oki doki at the literature club. In hindsight the protagonist may have been better off signing up for another club. Maybe the School-Live club would have been a safer choice?

Review of Alien: Covenant

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Set a decade after the events of Prometheus, Alien: Covenant continues the prequel storyline of Fox’s sci-fi horror series. Ridley Scott retains the directorial reigns for the franchise he brought to prominence back in the late seventies. Public opinion on Prometheus seems to be divided. I thought the movie had its flaws, but overall was okay. At the very least I liked how it tried to do something different, with a plot that explored humanity’s origins. The designs of Prometheus’ extra terrestrials were pretty cool too. People don’t want originality though. Most moviegoers lamented how HR Giger’s Xenomorphs were absent from the film. That’s something Fox has addressed in Covenant… even if you have to wait until the final act for the titular aliens to make an appearance.

OVERVIEW

Covenant is the designation of a colony ship that is on a multi-year voyage across the cosmos. When the movie begins the space faring craft is slammed by a solar burst. The impact causes extensive damage and claims the life of the ship’s captain, who was incinerated inside his cryogenic chamber. Ouch. The burns he suffered rival my own skin, that time I ventured to Ibiza with scant regard for sun cream. Anyways, unpopular first mate Christopher Oram assumes command before choosing to divert the Covenant to a nearby habitable planet. Perhaps the crew can abandon their original mission and settle on this world instead? Sounds like a reasonable plan, but first they will need to investigate a mysterious transmission that is broadcasting from the planetoid’s surface.

I am sorry to report that the Covenant’s colonists are no brainier than Prometheus’ scientists. Upon shuttling down to their destination they opt against using respirators, as the air appears to be breathable. Does no one in the future fear bacteria? Well, needless to say a couple of the expeditionary team get infected and end up giving birth to pale skinned Neomorphs. Forget the natal discomfort caused by human babies or Chestbursters erupting from a ribcage. These buggers own the market on painful births, thanks to a spawning process that sees them rip through their host’s spine! Stranded, the remaining crew are forced to survive against the unfriendly parasites. They must return to the safety of orbit or else it will be “game over man.”

VERDICT

My rating for Alien: Covenant is three stars. Thanks to Ridley Scott’s gorgeous cinematography I would rank the film above Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection. It doesn’t however match the quality of the earlier Alien movies. Aliens had a more memorable cast and better action. In terms of terror Alien is way scarier. Scott’s original movie was creepy thanks to the suspense, which is something that Covenant lacks. Despite the advances in technology I must say that a guy, in a rubber suit, sneaking through dimly lit corridors is more frightening than a CGI alien snarling in broad daylight. Ironically, the Xenomorphs everyone was clambering for are less scary than the new Neomorphs. Their juvenile form is similar to a Velociraptor and the way they stand when fully grown is unnerving.

As is the case in these types of movie, most of the characters are stupid, underwritten and only there so the beasts have something to dismember. Katherine Waterston plays Janet Daniels – the poor man’s Ellen Ripley. She kicks arse in the final thirty minutes, but does little else before that. Michael Fassbender steals the show by portraying not one but two synthetics. The first of these is a friendly bot named Walter, who reminds me of Star Trek’s Data. Fassbender also reprises the role of David, who has gone off the rails since we last saw him in Prometheus. By utilizing Engineer tech, David plots to replace humans with what he considers to be superior life forms. Traitor! You cannot trust an Android. That’s why, when it comes to mobiles, I prefer an iPhone.

Review of Castlevania (Netflix)

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Greetings and salutations everyone. The Otaku Judge here with another animated series review. Usually I focus on anime from Japan, but this time round my critique is on Castlevania – a U.S produced cartoon based on Konami’s video games. Scripted by comic book scribe Warren Ellis, Castlevania’s four-part first season is presently available to view on Netflix. After finding success with superhero adaptations, the popular streaming service is now tapping into console games for TV show ideas. Whether the experiment works out remains to be seen, but at the very least Castlevania convinced me to finally take advantage of Netflix’s free trial. I like trials… and I’m not just saying that because I am a judge.

A BETTER LOVE STORY THAN TWILIGHT

One thing that surprised me about Castlevania is that it dedicates all of episode one to Dracula. The inaugural chapter, of this series, explains why the legendary vampire hates humanity. Years ago a doctor named Lisa Tepes braved the bloodsucker’s mansion in search of medicinal knowledge. She found what she sought and a new husband in the process, as Lisa tied the knot with Dracula shortly thereafter. Unfortunately the couple’s romance ended in tragedy, when the church learned of Lisa’s research. Mistaking the drugs Lisa concocted for witchcraft, she was burned at the stake. Dracula vowed revenge against mankind for his beloved’s execution. The evil clergy have doomed us all! Religious folks may want to avoid Castlevania, as it doesn’t paint priests in a good light.

The only man who can save us from Dracula’s demonic army is monster slayer Trevor Belmont. He has however given up on the family business, after the pope excommunicated his clan. These days Trevor is more likely to fight drunkards than creatures of the night, as he drifts from town to town looking for booze. Episode two for example sees Belmont brawl at a tavern, whose patrons include a family of goat fuckers… I “kid” ye not. Trevor cannot escape his destiny though and eventually gets embroiled in the Dracula conflict. In search of grub our whip-wielding hero stumbles into the city of Gresit, which is presently under siege by Count D’s legion of winged fiends.

DRACULA I AM BACK-ULA TO SMACK-ULA

We don’t get to see Trevor go all out until episode three, when he allies himself with a sect of mystics known as the Speakers. Much like Trevor, Gresit’s religious leadership hounds the spell-casting faction. Although benign, Speakers are reviled by the populace as their sorcery is deemed to be dark magic. One of the group’s members has vanished inside the local catacombs, where a fabled saviour is said to slumber. Trevor enters the crypt in search of the wayward Speaker only to find a Cyclops guarding the mausoleum. A battle ensues between Belmont and the hulking beast, which possesses a petrifying stare. Those unfortunate enough to get caught by the monster’s gaze will get more stoned than Snoop Dogg.

In terms of action, Trevor versus the Cyclops is an appetizer of things to come. The season finale is twenty minutes of non-stop carnage, as Belmont attempts to liberate Gresit from the clutches of tyrannical holy men and protect the citizenry from a horde of gargoyles. Blood and dismembered body parts rain down from the sky, reminding viewers why the show carries a sixteen plus age classification. Once the dust clears one more opponent remains for Trevor to overcome, although I will keep their identity a secret for the sake of spoilers. My lips are sealed, although I will divulge that ladies who admire shirtless pretty boys will approve of the final adversary. Hey can’t you spare some fan service for us guys too? We deserve a consolation prize after losing the gender war for Dr Who.

VERDICT

My rating for Castlevania is a three and a half out of five. Some reviewers are overrating the series slightly, but I can’t blame them given how rare watchable video game adaptations are. Overall I was impressed with the script, voice work and visuals – although the animation could have been stronger in places. The stiffness of Trevor’s cape is especially noticeable in certain scenes. When the end credits rolled I was left wanting more, partly due to the low episode count and partly because of its abrupt conclusion. Netflix are promoting Castlevania as “season one” but they aren’t fooling anyone. This is clearly a movie chopped up into four parts. Based on this impressive showing I can’t wait for season two. Like a Sesame Street vampire I will “count” the days until Dracula return.

The Walking Dead: Michonne Review

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The Walking Dead: Michonne once again sees the folks at Telltale Games return to the franchise that made them famous. This time round players assume the role of the titular machete-wielding zombie slayer in a three-part mini series, which is supposedly set between issues 126 and 139 of Robert Kirkman’s comic. I wouldn’t know, as I ceased buying the graphic novels many moons ago. Despite being a quality read, the depressing tragedies that constantly befall Rick Grimes’ posse became too much for me to bear. I already see enough examples of horrible things happening to nice people by watching the daily news thank you.

OVERVIEW

Michonne’s downloadable adventure begins with a flashback sequence that explains how our suicidal protagonist joined the crew of a seafarer named Pete. In a world infested with carnivorous un-dead, who are unable to swim due to their rotting musculature, the ocean happens to be the only safe place left on this planet. Unfortunately for Michonne and Pete, when their barge suffers damage the pair are forced to travel onshore in search of replacement parts. As you may expect from a story set within the Walking Dead universe, the resultant scavenger hunt does not go well. After a run in with some sibling thieves our heroes are captured by the residents of an everglade town named Monroe. Escaping from the marshland fortress will require that players use diplomacy on their human captors and QTE dexterity to battle the area’s horde of hungry cadavers.

Like other entries in the series, this interactive movie is brought to life through the use of expressive cell shaded graphics. PS4 owners will be pleased to know that their version of the game is blessed with high definition visuals and a smooth frame rate, even if you are paying a premium for the experience. The iOS edition in comparison is more reasonably priced, although you may want to give it a miss. After skimming a spate of negative iTunes reviews, which lambast the jittery animation found on tablet devices, I feel vindicated in paying extra for the console port. On the audio front Samira Wiley showcases a strong vocal range in her portrayal of the lead character. Not only does Wiley pull off a convincing badass who is unflappable in the face of danger, but she also performs well in the scenes that reveal how emotionally fragile Michonne is when dealing with the subject of her departed children.

VERDICT

My rating for The Walking Dead: Michonne is four stars. The video game industry is often criticized for its lack of racial diversity, so it is good to see that Telltale has once again released a quality title featuring a non-Caucasian lead. From the various Walking Dead games that I have played, I would have to rank Michonne as my second favourite. Every episode succeeded in capturing my attention from start to finish, which was not the case in The Walking Dead: Season Two. Said sequel was strong in parts, but suffered from pacing issues that could have been avoided had its plot not been stretched out over five instalments. The Walking Dead: Michonne’s concise storytelling is however both its biggest strength and its biggest weakness. Three hours of entertainment for eleven quid isn’t great value, although I suppose the asking price is fair if you compare it to a movie DVD.

Whether you agree or disagree with my assessment of The Walking Dead: Michonne will ultimately boil down to your gaming tastes. Although it didn’t bother me, I imagine that some players may take umbrage with how combat is resolved through quick time events. Thankfully the button prompt sequences in question are easy enough to clear and at the very least they keep your trigger finger occupied during what would otherwise be a cut scene moment. I also expect that some gamers will bemoan how the choices made during Michonne’s journey only impact the narrative superficially. Yes that’s true, but doesn’t the same apply to most video games? David Cage’s high budget creations are no more interactive and let us not forget about Mass Effect 3’s finale. The way Bioware ignored a trilogy worth of decisions depresses me far more than a Rob Kirkman zombie apocalypse strip.

Review of Until Dawn

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I have to say that I am not a big fan of horror movies or games. This is mostly due to the fact that I am a complete and utter coward. Even innocuous films such as Hocus Pocus have a history of causing me to involuntarily expulse my bowels (in my defence it must be said that Bette Midler’s hairdo was rather terrifying.)

Another reason why I am not fond of horror tales is because many of the victims that star in them perish due to unbelievable stupidity. The ill-advised decisions they make have me tearing out my hair in frustration, which may explain why my scalp is as barren as the Sahara. My revulsion for terror wasn’t strong enough however to dissuade me from playing Until Dawn. Finally I had the opportunity to show those pea-brained teens how to survive an encounter with Jason. Nine hours later I completed the game, although my party did suffer two casualties. Hmmm, in hindsight I must concede that sensible thinking isn’t easy when you are combating the discomfort of soiled underpants.

OVERVIEW

Developed by Supermassive Games (a studio that is clearly overcompensating for something) – Until Dawn is an interactive story chronicling the mishaps of eight teenagers who are trapped in a secluded cabin situated atop a snowy mountain. The group, rather distastefully, decide to mark the anniversary of two former friends passing away by partying it up in the wilderness. I guess karma is going to bite them in the posterior because their celebration is soon interrupted by something that goes bump in the night. The octet comprises of the usual stereotypes you would associate with a creature feature including a jock, bimbo, funny geek and a selfish biatch. No expense was spared when crafting the game, as the cast list contains some moderately famous actors such as Rami Malek and the very lovely Hayden Panettiere.

Gameplay wise Until Dawn is comparable to a Telltale adventure. It’s not too dissimilar to the award winning Walking Dead, aside from the fact that Sony’s budgetary muscle has allowed the developer to tart up the graphics with photo realistic visuals. Intermingled with the state of the art imagery is the use of dated static cameras, akin to what you would find in the original Resident Evil. The intentional decision to use fixed viewpoints works well, as in claustrophobic environments players are unable to detect if a sinister assailant is lying in wait around the next corner (muwahaha.)

Much like in Telltale’s titles, the outcome of the story is determined by the decisions you make and how you perform during split second QTEs. Although I am not normally fond of quick time events, they weren’t too egregious in this game. I even enjoyed the timed aiming sections, despite the fact that I lack any FPS talent whatsoever. The same cannot be said however of the annoying sequences were you are expected to hold your controller in a stationary position. My favourite character was cruelly disembowelled during the game’s heart-pounding finale because of this mechanic. Until my dying day I will insist that my wrist did not twitch, during that scene, regardless of what the PS4 sensor proclaims.

VERDICT

Perhaps I am being overly generous, as the game carries a hefty retail price for a an adventure that can be bested in under ten hours, but I think Until Dawn is worthy of five stars. My only gripe with the title would have to be that much of the terror relies on jump scares rather than suspense. Many times I would meekly creep down a dimly lit corridor not because of the spooky ambiance, but because I was paranoid that a screeching attacker could leap out from the shadows at any moment.

Visually, Until Dawn is a very impressive title. It’s hard to believe that the game was originally planned to be a PlayStation 3 release. Based on the noise my stuttering PS4 fan was making, the console was struggling to keep up with the game’s lighting effects and motion capture graphics. The attention to detail is sublime and the technology used to scan the facial expressions of each actor did a good job of conveying what their virtual avatars were feeling. My praise isn’t exclusive to the cosmetic side of things either. The writers accomplished their goal of crafting well-rounded characters. I initially disliked all the cast, but after walking a mile in their shoes I began to root for their safety. The script also managed to keep me on my toes via some very clever twists. Are the kids being pursued by spooks haunting their lodge, a serial killer or a Scooby Doo villain? You’ll have to play the game to find out.

Horror veterans are unlikely to find Until Dawn a terrifying experience, but for what it is worth it did give me the heebie-jeebies. I also suspect it will keep David Cage up at night. As far as interactive movies go, Until Dawn really exposes how sub par Cage’s Beyond: Two Souls was.