Zero Escape Trilogy (Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, Virtue’s Last Reward and Zero Time Dilemma) (DS, 3DS, PC, PS4, PSVITA)

OK, This weeks review is one purely for self-indulgence. This was a series that I enjoyed playing back in 2018 and is one I believe has been somewhat overlooked by a lot of people. So with that in mind let me set the record straight.

The Zero Escape series consists of 3 games. The first is Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors in which 9 people are kidnapped & held hostage by an unknown figure calling himself ‘Zero’ aboard an ocean liner. It’s here he forces the hostages to participate in “The Nonary Games” where they must solve a number of puzzle rooms in order to reach door no. 9 in 9 hrs otherwise the ship will sink. The second game, Virtue’s Last Reward is of a similar style, 9 more people are kidnapped by ‘Zero Sr.’ and is set inside a warehouse facility where the only way out is to complete in another “Nonary Games” which involves more puzzle rooms but differentiating from the first games by having players participate in what’s called “the Ambidex Game” which is a series of prisoner dilemma scenarios where players get or loose points depending on their answer. The first person/s to 9 points can escape trapping those who do not in the facility forever. Any player who accumulates negative points is killed. The third game, Zero Time Dilemma takes place when a DCom (Dwelling for Experimental Cohabitation of Mars) experiment is hijacked by masked individual calling himself ‘Zero’, the 9 individuals are separated into teams of 3 who are forced into a death game where the only way to leave is to gain 6 passwords and open the exit. A password is revealed each time a player dies.

At first I played the games in the wrong order. I started with the 3rd one then a year later learnt of the existence of the other 2 upon their release on PS4. With that I made sure to play them through then replay the 3rd one. The gameplay is fairly similar throughout the 3 games, they are separated into 2 main segments. The first is where the story is driven forward by using story boards in the first 2 games and as full 3d cut scenes in the 3rd. These sections are broken up by escape room like puzzles which must be solved in order to progress the story. Jumping between these segments doesn’t do well for the pacing of the games but the story is gripping enough that it allows for some leeway in this department.

Speaking of the story, all 3 stories are based heavily around both scientific and philosophical ideas, some of the more heavily present themes are that of morphogenetic fields (telepathy-type interconnectivity between persons) and the Many-worlds interpretation (where each decision made splits the time line depending on our choices). The games (especially in the 3rd instalment) allow the player access to the entire timeline of the game allowing you to jump back to decisions in the game and change the outcome. In some cases when you jump back the character can do what’s called a “Spacetime Human Internal Fluctuating Transfer” (or SHIFT for short). This will transfer the consciousness of a character from one timeline to another opening up more of the game and allowing from the better endings. As you can imagine once you throw both the shifting and the other scientific and philosophical concepts into the mix the story can become very jumbled and out of place, especially if you are playing through the timelines out of order (which will be almost everyone who’s not using a guide).

If you can follow the story then you are in for a great time, the story has some absolute gripping moments. One that comes to mind is when one character is trying to kill another one with a chainsaw whilst they try to fend them off with a fire axe. Another is where one player is locked in a chair with a revolver to their head and another is inside an incinerator about to turn on. The only way to save them is for a 3rd player to pull the trigger on the revolver in which there are 3 bullets and 3 empty chambers. It’s Saw-esque moral choice dilemmas like these that push the human condition to it’s extreme limits that get me very excited indeed.

Overall if you don’t mind a bit of bad voice dubbing and the stop-start story telling then the games are defiantly worth a play. The third one is defiantly the strongest of the 3 but also the hardest to follow. That being said the first one I would say was the weaker of the 3 but the easiest to follow so makes for a good introduction to the series and knowing that the following games will only get better. Anybody who loves a good gripping story should defiantly check them out. I would also say that if you are going to play them, play them in order. You’ll know after the first one if the series is right for you and you will loose a lot of background knowledge in the later games if you don’t play the ones before.

What Remains of Edith Finch (PC, PS4, SWITCH, XBOX ONE)

This week I’ve not been in a position financially to pick up any new games. As such I went through my back catalogue of PSPlus games that I’ve downloaded when they were free and just not got around to playing them. This game peaked my interest more than the other so I decided to look into it. After a little research (checked the wikipedia page) and saw that it won the BAFTA for Best Game in 2017. That cemented my decision to give it a go and here is what I found.

What Remains of Edith Finch takes place on Orcas Island off the coast of Washington State. It tells the story of Edith Finch’s return to her old family home which she inherits after her mother passed away. She intends to return to the house in order to find out the truth behind the strange happenings and incidents that befell her family. The game plays through the tragedies that befell each of the Finch’s starting from her great grandfather Odin Finch all the way though to present day.

The tone of the game is set from the very beginning as you make your way up to the house. The feelings of isolation and apprehension that are instilled into the player as you walk through the woods up to the old, crooked house. You know at that point that the game is going to be very atmospheric and story driven and in no way is it going to be all rainbows and sunshine. The game-play is quite minimalist with only a few controls available to the player, move the player, move the camera and an action button. I find it very effective in allowing the player to concentrate more on the narrative.

The story is mainly told through narrations, mostly by Edith herself. The rest is done in segments by each of the Finch family moments before their tragic end. Each segment plays out very differently from person to person. For example, Sam Finch was an amateur photographer so his story is told through photographs while Barbara Finch was a child movie star so her’s is told in the style of a comic book. This makes each segment feel a bit more personal and stops the game from becoming stale. This is also helped by the length of the game, it being easily completed within a couple of hours. Although I’m not sure what to make of this. I left the game wanting more but there was nothing more to tell, like getting to the end of a box of Jaffa Cakes and being 2-3 cakes short of being completely satisfied.

To round it all up, I’ve seen a few reviews of the game stating it as a example of video games as an art form and I must confess that I do agree. The atmosphere and the environment do wonders to immerse the player into the role of each of the family members, however some segments are more immersive than others. For example I found Molly’s segment a little disjointed while Lewis’s on the flip side really stood out as being equally engaging and harrowing. In a sentence it’s a great story told in a great way and if you can find it for a great price… Great.

Detroit: Become Human (PC, PS4)

I originally started to write this review soon after I completed the game, which was a few days after it’s PS4 release but never got around to finishing it. I only discovered that it was half written after finishing my Persona 5 review and was looking through my drafts for something else to write about (I have a few drafts sitting there that I’ve been meaning to write about) and with it’s release on PC not so long ago I guess it makes sense to revisit it. So let me take you into a not so distant future where androids obey the will of their owners, unemployment has skyrocketed due to cheap android labour. Social tension is high, the city is at boiling point and revolution on the horizon.

A friendly warning before I start, from this point on Here Be Spoilers.

The story revolves around 3 main characters. First up is Connor, an android commissioned by Cyberlife (a leading android manufacturer) to aid the Detroit police to investigate how and why androids are becoming self-aware (known as deviants). Next is Markus, an android owned by a rich elderly gentleman to whom Markus acts as his butler, chef and general confidant. Finally there is Kara, another android owned by a dead beat, drug addict, child abusing father of one, to which Kara acts as general house maid and punching bag.

As you will know I am a huge fan of Heavy Rain (It actually being the first review that I posted) although less so with Beyond: Two Souls, but like Heavy Rain I was excited about it’s release so it was only natural to pick this up on release day. Although I don’t think it quite lives up to the height of Heavy Rain, I’d still rate it closer to that than Beyond: Two Souls. Much like it’s predecessors it’s graphically very well rounded and of the finest detail, the motion-capture is well worth a mention as it’d probably one of the best I’ve seen in video games. However, as is the problem with the previous Quantic Dream titles the game play is where the game is let down. The controls are still as clunky as ever and the characters seem to move with very little urgency even when faced with life and death situations, where you’d think moving fast would be of use. I mean they are androids, it’s not like they are going to get out of breath.

There does seem to be a lot more “cause and causality” in this game than in Heavy Rain or Beyond with many more branches to the story depending on action and relations with certain characters. In fact at the beginning of my first play through I refused to break Kara’s programming so didn’t play as her for the rest of the game and as such missed out on a fair chunk of the story. The characters are relatable, you can sympathise with them wanting to be treated as equals, especially in our current political climate.

There is also a greater emphasis on morality in Become Human, when Markus rises to lead the rebellion, the play can decide whether to approach things with violence and destruction to get what they want by force or whether to act peacefully and sway the court of public opinion to your cause. Either way I’d go into the game choosing one or the other as a half arsing it is only going to get you a bad ending.

Now for my final thought. It does seem that when it comes to Quantic Dream, “The more things change, the more things stay the same”. The game suffers from the same faults as all those that came before it. The story little depth and clunky game-play grinds whatever flow the game has to a slow trickle. With Heavy Rain at least the story was executed in a compelling way and had a goal to keep you playing through. Beyond’s story was so disjointed and the flow so poorly you’d think the the office intern knocked the original script off David Cage’s desk and hurry replaced them in whatever order he could grab them before anyone found out. Detroit had all the potential to be great, but lazy writing and poor scope prevented this. The game boasts about having 40 different ending like it’s a good thing. I’d rather have 3-4 well written, engaging endings than 40 poor developed ones. Like how I’d rather have 4 packets of Walkers Salt & Vinegar crisps as opposed to 40 packets of a cheaper brand.

Fahrenheit (PC, PS2, XBox)

 

This week I’ll be looking back into the past at Quantic Dream’s earlier attempt of interactive story telling. Fahrenheit (or Indigo Prophecy for you Americans).
I think I can honestly say Fahrenheit has easily taken the award for most disappointing U-turn out of every computer game I’ve played (and I’ve played alot of games). I bought Fahrenheit not too long ago, I had heard of it before and thought nothing more, it’s only when a friend of mine highly recommended it to me, and since I trust the opinions of my friend and bought myself a copy. I had heard that people have been having problems with playing Fahrenheit on anything but XP, which is funny because it rans on my Desktop without any problems (I’m running 7 for those interested).
 
The story starts with Lucas Kane, who after waking from a trance in a Dinner Toilet realises that he’s murdered someone, fleeing the scene scared and frightened. Next up we have Carla Valenti and Tyler Miles two detectives on the trail of Lucas. An interesting feature of the game is that the game is played from the perspective of all 3 characters, constantly switching between Lucas “pants-wetter” Kane, and our detective duo which in doing so gives the player a well rounded look at the development of both the story and the characters.
 
I was about half an hour in game and I could see what my friend saw in it. The story was compelling, the atmosphere crotch gripping and the characters were well defined. The use of quick-time events within the game (as much as I’m going to hate myself for saying this) were well done, although there were many of them they were usually short and didn’t consist of more than 6 or 7 button sequences. The interactive story was also something very intriguing. It actually felt like even the smallest thing I did effected the game (whether it did or not it doesn’t matter).
 
It was only when I got about half-way through the game an odd thing happened. Someone uttered the word “Mysterious Ancient Cult”, Pandora’s Box opened. Forcing all subtlety to exit via the nearest window and as such the story soils itself inside-out. All atmosphere disappeared when Lucas changes from the scared and frightened little boy we all knew to being some kind of Neo-esc “Chosen One” to which breaking the laws of physics comes as naturally as blinking, and as such the massively fight-scenes appeared, which involves you pressing A though Q whenever you are told (and you are told alot) to not die a number of times equivalent to the population of rocks in the universe for the next half an hour or so, which I not only found tiring (My fingers being left in a state residing somewhere around arthritis-ridden and rigamortis) but utterly futile. By what I could make out alot of work had gone into the fight scenes but your too busy frantically mashing buttons to really care. The once interactive story becomes nothing more than a means of driving our protagonist to the end (by this point we also lose the ability to play our other characters too).
 
As I played though all the things I loved about the game slowly fell away like layers of wet cake. It was destined for greatness but half way through U-turned and sped away. It’s like Atari moulded two completely different games together. The first one about 2 detectives on the trail of a serial killer. The other about a normal 20 something year old who must save the world from great evil. It’s kind of like Se7en (one of my favourite films) moulded with The Matrix. Not that there’s anything wrong with The Matrix, it’s just that the two don’t really have alot of overlap.
 
So in short, play the first half, as soon as someone mentions an evil mystical cult, burn it. You really don’t want to know how it ends. Trust me.

Heavy Rain (PS3)

 

Anyway, lets start this with a game that as soon as I bought it kept me playing for 18hrs solid, Heavy Rain (as if you couldn’t tell by the title).
When I first heard about Heavy Rain all those years ago I eagerly anticipated it’s release. During the later years it seemed the more I heard about it, the more excited I was about the game (I’m usually quite sceptical about new releases so this is a rarity). Alarm bells started to ring though when I started seeing all the adverts for the game and news of the “4 Days Challenge”. In my experience most products marketed that heavily usually fair rather poorly. I’m glad though that in this instance this wasn’t true. Heavy Rain is by far most recent gaming example of gripping story telling and with an atmosphere thick enough to cut with a knife. There is no other current generation game that comes close to the Heavy Rain experience.
The story revolves around a serial killer known as “The Origami Killer” who kidnaps children and drowns them. Your viewpoint switches between 4 playable characters. Ethan Mars, Farther of the most recently kidnapped victim. Madison Paige, A Journalist reporting on the Origami Killings. Norman Jayden, An FBI Agent working on the case of the Origami Killer and Scott Shelby, A former cop now private investigator hired by families of the Origami Killers victims, as they all search for the Origami Killer and his current hostage Shaun Mars.
The story is gripping and the game-play is unique. Although, the game is not what I’d call perfect, there are a few blemishes to it’s character. My main niggles are as follows.
1) Glitches and freezing – As some of you may be aware of, there are still a few bugs in the game that need ironed out. I experienced a few minor one-off glitches (my favourite one being when Scott’s head decided to twist 180 degrees for a brief moment) but one that really annoyed me was when my game would freeze when I get onto the dance floor in the Blue Lagoon in which I had to reset the console. It would work normally once I loading my game again though. I’ve also heard stories about saves corrupting, although I never had a problem with such. Although with the release of the patches this isn’t really a problem any more.
2) The Controls (Movement of Character) – Although the control layout sounds good on paper (assigning the movement to R2 allowing the left analogy stick to change the players point of focus), paper can be a flimsy thing. Since you walk in the direction your focusing in, the analog stick is pointing in the direction you want to be going anyway, all this button configuration is doing is making me hold down an extra button to move. I personally would have though it would be better using the left analogue stick to move the character and using R2 to run (since most of the game nobody can go faster than a pleasant stroll). I’ve read other reviews praising the controls so maybe it’s just me that doesn’t get it.
3) Slow Beginning – The neck breaking intro meant to drag you kick and screaming into the game runs rather too slowly, mostly serving as a 20min tutorial on the controls. To which less than 5mins of that time is necessary to the story. Meaning that it does drag on a bit for a wile but about 30mins in it’ll suddenly grab you by the balls and drag you through until the end (hence the 18hrs of continuous game-play). As the old saying goes “Good things come to those who wait”. Heavy Rain being no exception.
4) Story Inconsistencies – Although from a distance the story is well rounded and intense, if you were to look at it close up you will notice that a few bits and pieces don’t add up. One that immediately springs to mind is near the end Madison upon finding out the identity of the Origami Killer has the opportunity to ring Ethan or Norman about the location on Shaun. The thing is though, Madison had never met Norman during the game, so how did she have his phone number? I couldn’t help thinking when noticing this that a few scenes could possibly have been cut from the final game, and that I wasn’t getting the whole Heavy Rain experience.
If you’re willing to forgive the reasons mentioned above, you’ll discover a unique gaming experience unlike any other, where with every action comes a reaction capable of changing the very course of the game. Beautifully presented both visually and audibly with probably the best rain effects I’ve ever seen in a game. A must buy for any PS3 owner.
One minor thing I have to mention. With the game you get a sheet of printed paper so you can fold your own Origami Figure like that shown on the box. The instructions on how to fold it are shown on screen whilst the game installs giving you something to do during installation. It’s a minor thing but it means you’re not sitting around twiddling your thumbs whilst the game installs.
If anyone has games they would like me to review leave a comment and I’ll see what I can do (as long as they are not for the Wii, since I don’t have access to one and don’t particularly want to).