I grew up around games. The foggiest, most distant memories of my childhood are of playing our Atari 2600 at the Age of 3 or 4. We got our NES in 1989, but I didn't truly go crazy over videogames until 1991, when I played my brother's Sega Genesis and Sonic the Hedgehog. Something about Sonic hooked me and I haven't been able to shake it since. At 13 or 14 me and my friends tried to make our own Sonic game - drawing level maps out on printer paper, the whole nine yards. By the time I was a Freshmen in Highschool, I discovered a program called Click N' Create - later renamed Multimedia Fusion Express - and began real work on a Sonic game to call my own. The rest is history. I have the lofty goal now of one day getting in to game development somehow; or at least some position, somewhere, within the game industry. I've been told by a lot of people I'm a good writer and articles I've written on game mechanics have even been published in indie magazines like The Gamer's Quarter.
A fun, weird idea. You kind of have to learn to play by the mod's rules, though -- which is to say, Classic Castlevania's rules.
That means you should expect a challenge. Unlike Doom, health restoration is very rarely just given to you freely. Turkey legs and restorative items are usually hidden behind breakable walls that must be found. Otherwise, you just have to play well and never get hit.
Because this is first person and in full 3D, that's harder now than it ever has been. Your view is limited to only what's directly in front of you, which makes it possible for things to sneak up behind you quite easily. Enemies are also quite relentless -- once a skeleton gets a bead on you, it won't stop throwing bones until you're dead.
You'd be better served with stronger weapons, but you don't get those. This sticks rigidly to Classic Castlevania rules, just now presented in 3D. Even a fully-powered whip can feel somewhat useless, and it's comically easy to miss your target with subweapons like the axe or holy water.
Checkpointing is thankfully more generous than Classic Castlevania ever was, so even if you die, you'll just jump back to right where you were at your last save, power-ups and all. You just have to remember to manually save once and a while, as the game only checkpoints you right before and just after boss fights.
As I progressed through the game, I ended up leaning more and more on the stopwatch subweapon when I began to feel overwhelmed. I gave up when facing Death, as he is immune to the stopwatch subweapon. His movements are also a bit too fast and all of his attacks do huge amounts of damage for how comparatively little I deal in return. When you consider the first-person camera and all the projectiles in his fight that hit you from behind, it genuinely starts to feel unfair.
It's a fun experiment and nice to be able to play for yourself but it's also a good lesson for why 3D Castlevanias ended up the way they did. This is a hard gameplay style to accurately translate in to 3D, and I'm glad things like this exist to show us that.
My main issue with the mod is how slow it is. Player agency here is at an all time low as you are made immobile to listen to dialog for several minutes. It really drives home the point that Triptych is TELLING me a story; not SHOWING me a story or letting me EXPERIENCE a story -- it is definitively TELLING me one, mostly through spoken word. After the scene with the window I was clawing at my keyboard for some kind of interaction. Similarly, the laboriously slow pan across the mountain range felt like an absolute eternity.
The story was simple, but more or less effective. I like most of the environments, though there are a couple where the light sources are a little weird (I guess that's a giant spotlight at the dig site?).
If the pace of everything was tightened up a lot, I'd have enjoyed it a bit more, I think (did Jeremiah really have to stop walking every time he used the radio?)
Note that it was only midway through writing this review that I learned a Director's Cut was under development; hopefully it's a little snappier.
Previous releases of Dead Before Dawn (DBD) have been very pretty to look at but kind of clumsy to play. The "Director's Cut" version takes steps to polish the campaign up, but some of it still feels like style over substance.
The Crossroads Mall on display here feels a lot closer to my own local malls - compared to "Liberty Mall" in L4D2's Dead Center, which was sprawling yet oddly cramped and completely lifeless. The "Director's Cut" entails them going back and smoothing out DBD's rougher edges (the original L4D2 release was pretty slapdash). The Director's Cut version axes the crash-prone opening city map; the campaign now begins on the roof of a gas station from Map 2. To make up for the lost map, a new map was added later on in the campaign that takes you through the second floor of the mall. The extra layer of polish is evident in the existing maps - but the new "second floor" map feels predictably tacked-on. At one point you can see through a skylight, and the view outside is of night time. This is probably a hold over from the campaign's L4D1 roots, as the L4D2 version takes place exclusively during the day. It's these kinds of lazy oversights that have always dragged this campaign down.
More problems arise with the ambitious objective design. Though a lot of it makes sense to the "story", many of the custom objectives aren't very fun to work through. Standing in one place, holding the "Use" key while a progress bar slowly crawls across the screen seriously sucks - especially when playing with bots.
And that's likely all you'll ever play DBD with. Map design obviously favors the infected, with an obscene number of hiding places for zombies harass players from. Even on Normal Difficulty, the normally inept CPU infected were surprisingly threatening - I dread to think what it would be like with actual human players in Versus mode.
DBD had so much potential. So much hype. If only it played as good as it looks.
The original Nightmare House was an unexpected treat, for me. Set in a claustrophobic, filthy little house in the woods, I found myself genuinely spooked by the events that took place inside. You really got a sense of oppression in its cramped walls - without much space to move around, you often found yourself uncomfortably close to whatever horrible monsters you had to battle. The final message of Nightmare House as one completed was one of hopelessness. You cannot escape. You cannot win.
Rather than end it there and let that chilling message stand on its own, Nightmare House 2 would rather use it to tell us a story. It also wants to try and scare us in doing so, but doesn't do the best job.
The opening remastered edition of NH1 now deals in cliche ghost girls with too much eyeshadow. Dopey bullet time sequences are apparently meant to heighten the fright factor, but instead end up telegraphing scares too blatantly - much like F.E.A.R., the game they're borrowed from. The rest of the NH1 remake quickly sets the tone for what's to follow: you better be afraid of deep bass stingers and unpredictable objects leaping out at you, because that's pretty much where the scares in Nightmare House 2 begin and end.
NH2 properly opens in a hospital, where we're forced to endure blood-stained ramshackle rooms, and lumbering zombies. Spring-loaded boogey men attempt to shock us, but only manage to do so in fleeting doses. Occasionally, NH2 happens on something genuinely scary - there are some really creative mapping tricks employed to screw with your head. But mainly, it's the creators yelling "Gotcha!" every time you jump at one of their funhouse scares.
That's not to say it isn't fun, however. There's a surprising amount of variety to be had in Nightmare House 2, and even if it's not really very scary, there's plenty of action and puzzle solving to keep you occupied until the credits roll. In the end, it may be more Resident Evil than Silent Hill, but who's complaining?
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