Entries by GameSpot Reviewer

Battlefield 4 Review

There’s something evergreen about Battlefield’s brand of online warfare. The combination of breakneck infantry fighting and explosive vehicular warfare breeds conflicts that are exciting, tense, and, perhaps most importantly, diverse. With weapons, gad…

How to Survive Review

Zombies. The word alone conjures images from dozens of films, books, and games. After being heavily exploited by the media for more than a decade, zombies have infested every subgenre. How to Survive, arriving relatively late in this pop culture fad, falls well within the action comedy survivalist category and thematically channels Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead. Much like its inspirations, How to Survive is a mishmash of tried-and-tested ideas. It’s a peppering of gripping challenges and mechanics that come together into a cohesive whole that elevates the otherwise milquetoast experience to a level that satisfies an itch you may not even know you had.

You can play as one of three young, able-bodied people, lost within a small archipelago packed with way more zombies than there are people in New York. Your goal, of course, is survival against all odds. You need to craft items, and manage hunger, thirst, and exhaustion, all while fending off the limitless hordes of bloody, brain-eating monsters hell-bent on your death. The crux of the experience becomes a careful balance of a dozen or so disparate mechanics, none of which are particularly complex but that total something genuinely interesting.

Many of the real baddies come out only at night. Sometimes it’s best to find a safe corner and hunker down.

For the first hour or two of the story mode, you’re steadily introduced one by one to the core mechanics: combat, crafting new items, gaining experience, leveling up, and all of the other basics of survival. These strategies are communicated to you by way of cheeky tutorials left behind by a mysterious man named Kovac. He tells you, for example, that if you don’t eat, you’ll rapidly lose strength and be unable to fight well, dramatically reducing your ability to stay alive. He qualifies that with unique rules that elaborately build up that core idea. If you’re hungry, you can kill animals for meat, which will rapidly fill you up. However, all meat must be cooked because the animals of the islands contain deadly parasites. Fresh meat also attracts zombies and places you at additional risk until you can pop it on a fire. It’s a balancing act in which satisfying one need can place you at greater risk of death. Much of the combat isn’t too interesting, but it doesn’t need to be–there are plenty of ways for the island to kill you, and you need to stave them all off at once. It’s an interrelated network of play that establishes and maintains tension throughout.

Finding safe houses or triggering alarms that attract several dozen souped-up zombies who then stand between me and sleep are some of the most invigorating moments I’ve had with a game in recent memory.

Missions begin simply: find a jerry can, fill it with gasoline, and seek out other objects that might help you leave the archipelago. Inevitably, such simple tasks are complicated by swarms of the undead. Generally speaking, with each encounter you can take the stealthy route or go in making a lot of noise and causing just as much damage. Unfortunately, a dearth of sneaking options keeps the quiet approach from being all that satisfying, so unless you prefer to repeatedly hug walls to avoid rotting, walking corpses, you’re better off taking the zombies head on. Some weapons make it easy for you to pick off foes, but the zombies aren’t completely stupid and will notice if their fetid friends go missing. When using a melee weapon like an improvised axe, dashing and then swinging wildly is pretty effective. Later, handmade guns become available and change up tactics. While some armored enemies are resistant to bullets, others can be targeted with precise headshots, which takes time to set up, but yields more experience. As you play, other subtleties will also become readily apparent. Explosive zombies resembling boomers in Left 4 Dead can be used against their cohorts. Strategically funneling such zombies into a crowd and sprinting by or shooting them causes massive damage to everyone around.

As all of these mundane pieces fall in line, however, the game rapidly reaches its conclusion. The setup for all this does take time, however. Incendiary and explosive devices, two classic anti-zombie weapons, don’t become available until the late game, and their utility at that stage is minimal at best. After such an extensive tutorial, the end comes right when tension should be at its highest, and ultimately the game feels like it’s missing another few hours of play. There are challenge modes to help extend the experience a bit, each of which involves starting with an empty inventory and trying to reach an escape plane before you die. They’re definitely fun tests, but none of them add up to what the game needs to appropriately demonstrate its strengths: an extra-long story, or a trial to see how long you can survive as each passing day grows exponentially more difficult. Either of these would amount to more time to play around with the full sandbox potential of the game.

Later in the game, you need to be careful only around massive hordes.

Despite the lack of a mode that facilitates experimentation, in my first run I found plenty of excellent moments that kept me thirsting for more. While the game map is static, the appearance of most of the zombies is random, and there were more than a few instances when a routine trip down a known route quickly got me screaming out of absolute terror, particularly in the late game, when even the wildlife joins the ranks of the undead. Piranhas can take turn a careless wanderer into a mess of flesh and bone faster than you can drop an F-bomb. Zombies are also susceptible to these dangers. At one point, I was surrounded by a good three dozen or so brain-hungry monsters and desperate for some way to take them all out. I was running and gunning through a swamp and noticed several go down in a matter of seconds; thanks to a swarm of hungry piranhas, I survived. Later, I was out of healing items and low on ammo. Lost in a new section of the island at night, I managed to wipe out zombified humans by tricking an undead deer into goring them on my behalf. After dispatching the last foe, I set up camp on a cliff and waited out the night until I could safely risk the rest of the journey to a safe haven.

On higher difficulty, the spirit of survival horror finds a home in an unlikely wrapper. Finding safe houses or triggering alarms that attract several dozen souped-up zombies who then stand between me and sleep are some of the most invigorating moments I’ve had with a game in recent memory. These examples aren’t common enough, however, and with the largely random nature of the game, you may not have exciting moments like these at all. While it may be tinged with an insubstantial campaign and a few other minor problems, How to Survive is a worthy game built on a strong foundation of exciting experiences.

Eldritch Review

I turned around a nearby corner and crouched low. I held my breath, praying that whatever was making that unearthly growl didn’t spot me. In the mist-wrapped distance, I saw what appeared to be a way out, my chance to escape. Here I go, I thought to myself, and I moved from the uncertain shelter into the open. A noise to my right caught my attention. I turned and saw it, and it saw me. I was foolish to think I could escape the watch of something covered in eyes. I held my dagger in defense, but it was no use. Once more, the horrifying image materialized before me:

You died…Resurrect.

As is the nature of most roguelikes, one death in Eldritch means it’s back to the beginning with a clear inventory. The fact lies heavily on your soul, and each room and hallway must be approached with caution. It’s a world of gods and demons filled with traps and pitfalls, where even within unassuming statues hides killing intent.

When stealth fails, go for the head!

The charming look of Eldritch’s voxel-sculpted design is deceptive, for underneath its colorful veil lies one of the more frightening first-person games I’ve experienced in years. Inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft, Eldritch drops you in dark and dreary halls filled with gargling fishmen, chanting cultists, and squid-faced monstrosities. An eerie musical score combined with the groans and growls of enemies creates a haunting atmosphere. But it’s not the creepy environment or some of the creatures that provide most of the tension. You will die in Eldritch. A lot. With one life separating success and failure, the mood remains tense. Sudden appearances from unseen enemies or hidden traps–many of which spell your doom–can cause you to jump in shock, and this is a game with plenty of shocks in store.

Patience and strategy are the name of the game.

The four stages are connected to a library that acts as a safe haven where you can visit the bank, grab some health power-ups, and choose the next mission. Stages are randomized in Eldritch, so every adventure is different from the last, keeping the exploration fresh, and dying and restarting from getting too repetitive. Eldritch is not a pure roguelike; The game saves some progress, including cash held in your bank and the stages you have completed.

The art direction takes some cues from Minecraft, but Eldritch offers enough alterations to have a look and feel that it embraces as its own. Dagon’s dungeon is composed of jagged, hand-cut stone, while purple drapes and carpeting adorn the arid realm of Nyarlathotep. Green mists and vaulted halls of the other domains lie beyond.

Beneath its simple aesthetic lies a deep strategy element. The game offers a surprising amount of movement freedom. You can sprint, crouch, lean around corners, and slide. Crouching low allows you to move around without making noise and alerting nearby foes, and leaning around corners keeps you in the shadows, letting you plot your move. But even with an arsenal of moves to deploy, interacting with enemies requires caution; death quickly follows the brazen adventurer. Charging a fireball-throwing lizardman with a dagger is a fast way to get zapped back to the library with nothing to show for your troubles. Striking from the dark dishes out more damage than fighting an enemy who is alerted to your presence.

With more experience, it becomes easier to navigate the stages, and powerful items found in shops deflate the game’s difficulty.

You can only carry two weapons and equip one spell at a time. The setup is reminiscent of BioShock, which should come as no surprise seeing as one of the game’s developers is David Pittman, a programmer for BioShock 2. The abilities strike a similar chord with 2K’s underwater adventure, offering spells such as hypnotize, teleport, cloak, and more. Figuring out which weapons and abilities you need before spelunking into the darkness is key to survival in Eldritch.

The jumps and scares at the start of Eldritch are the best moments. Near the end, the game begins to lose its sense of impending peril; powerful enemies and traps become commonplace, replacing the once gripping fear with a feeling of listlessness. With more experience, it becomes easier to navigate the stages, and powerful items found in shops deflate the game’s difficulty. During my final run, I could sprint through areas without making a sound. If I was unable to find a path to the exit, I merely blew a tunnel in the wall using a talisman that increases weapon damage. Locked doors don’t hold a lot of significance when you can simply blast your way through. The high difficulty of roguelikes is one of the genre’s most attractive features. Eldritch starts on the right track, but near the end, it loses its way.

Don’t be in a hurry; traps and pitfalls are everywhere.

Completing the game unlocks New Game Plus mode, which ramps up the difficulty. I didn’t notice enemies becoming stronger in this mode, but the environments were far more dangerous, and stronger enemies that usually appeared near the end of a stage showed up right from the start. New Game Plus should offer hardcore roguelike fans the challenge they desire, but by then, it feels like too little, too late.

Eldritch does right with the revered Cthulhu mythos, bringing to life its sinister lore and pitting gamers against Lovecraft’s insidious demons. Though a short ride, the game provides plenty of jumps and scares, just in time for Halloween.

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