Archive | September 2013

Video Game Thoughts: Sepulchre (2013)

by Jamie Downes

Developer – Owl Cave

Genre – Point-and-Click (Horror / Thriller)

Released – 2013

Price – Free!

Before diving head-first into this write-up, and without intending to falsely claim any amplitude of influence on the matter, I just wanted to articulate a quick appeal to any potential readers who may look upon non-casual video games as an activity for an alien community that they are automatically outcast from. That is to say, if your usual method of story consumption is via books, film or TV drama, please do not be afraid to give the humble point-and-click adventure game a chance – when done this well, it is simply another way of presenting a story, one that is close enough to the other mediums to be familiar, but distinct enough to warrant your attention in its own right. The context in which I proceed to discuss Sepulchre may admittedly elude you, so here is the link to freely and legally download the game. It will take 30-60 minutes to complete, and saves automatically upon your exiting the game, should you wish to take a break.

Onwards…

It’s a wonderful thing when an activity you have long enjoyed, but more recently begun to question, is once again demonstrated to still possess the qualities that endeared it to you in the first place. Written and directed by Ashton Raze (Richard & Alice) with art provided by the preposterously prolific Ben Chandler (more good-looking games than you could shake an exceedingly large, but surprisingly lightweight tree at), Sepulchre is a traditional point-and-click adventure game that, most crucially, is developed by a team with unequivocal confidence in their vision. To go into details about the story is to unnecessarily give too much away – indeed, it is a game best enjoyed with minimal prior knowledge of what is to come – but suffice to say it is a Lovecraftian tale where the creepy, mysterious atmosphere is not just built, but maintained. The competence of the writing, attention to detail in the dialogue, calibre of voice-acting and superb efficacy of the soundtrack (courtesy of Jack de Quidt) are all major contributing factors, as is the avoidance of common mistakes found in many a supposedly serious game, namely, ridiculous inventory puzzles, forced, inapposite humour and breaking of the fourth-wall. In a genre that has too often relied on goofiness to get by, the developers deserve a great deal of admiration for being so clearly and unusually unabashed about taking their works seriously.

My, what the guys and girls at Daedalic could learn from such a cognisant creation as this. I name Daedalic specifically, not because I think them as the worst exponent of the genre – although ‘A New Beginning’ is certainly a near unvanquishable contender for the title of ‘Worst Commercial Adventure Game Ever Released’ – but because they have seemingly become the modern standard-bearer, and in some quarters, had their games lauded as amongst the greatest of all time. Evidently, I disagree strongly with anything even remotely approaching this level of praise, yet having been so apathetic towards many of the well-received titles of recent years, particularly those developed by the aforementioned company, it does lead one to question the possible presence of either nostalgic obstinance, or at the very least a certain jaded disposition.

On the very basis that it is as immensely compelling and enjoyable as the great titles of yore, Sepulchre has made it that much easier to confidently refute both notions. Indeed, it suggests nostalgia to be more of a diaphanous eye-patch than the back-to-front double-layered woollen headscarf it is often claimed to be; that while the games from a previous decade are often looked upon more favourably when it comes to comparisons with modern efforts, it’s not because of a blind yearning for days past, but because the best of those classic titles were, and remain, for the most part, simply better. Owl Cave have delivered one of the magnificent exceptions that will hopefully help to instigate more of its kind.

If there is a caveat, it is perhaps that the gameplay is very much on the simple side, although an absence of intelligent puzzles is undoubtedly preferable to the inclusion of the obtuse, poorly integrated variety that artificially extend the playing time of other titles. On that note, the game will likely take those familiar with the genre no more than half-an-hour to complete, and those less familiar not much longer than that, but in spite of its modesty in this respect, Sepulchre still has the feel of a commercial effort, and is more memorable and diligent than contemporaries clocking in at many times its length, and many more times its development cost.

I wrote a somewhat similar piece to this a little over a year ago regarding another free independent effort, ‘Chance of The Dead’, a game which despite my genuine praise, was undoubtedly of the style that propelled adventure games to mainstream recognition in the early nineties. In contrast, Sepulchre is less a creation with fans of the genre in mind, more a game that simply uses many of the the strengths of the medium to create a satisfying experience for anyone who enjoys being immersed in a good story. It has reaffirmed my own dwindling belief that point-and-click adventures are still a relevant form of video game, and more importantly, of storytelling. Whether you are hoping to rediscover your passion for the point-and-click adventure, or keen to uncover the joys of the genre for the first time, playing Sepulchre is as good a suggestion as I can make.

Rating: 5 / 5

Sepulchre is available to download free of charge from the developer’s website.

Film Thoughts: Flight (2012)

by Jamie Downes

Director – Robert Zemeckis

Stars – Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly

Genre – Drama

Length – 138 min

If an airline pilot is under the influence of drink and drugs when his plane suffers a catastrophic technical failure of which he has no control, but uses his professional prowess to miraculously save the lives of over a hundred passengers, is he a hero?

Such is the question that Robert Zemeckis’s film about an alcoholic pilot could, and arguably should have pondered, no doubt instigating heated debate amongst audiences in the process. Instead, Flight is a more personal narrative, that while frequently gripping, is often too focused on driving home the destruction caused by an already established addiction, rather than intelligently exploring the impact of the incident itself.

Flight resides in a fittingly dark space for the most part, but at times, it’s as if those involved in developing the story relied too heavily on booze themselves, with the inclusion of John Goodman’s eccentric drug-dealer threatening to turn the film into something resembling a semi-serious British underground flick, the like of which generally star Vinnie Jones. An apparent attempt at comic relief, Goodman only serves to break immersion and soil the serious tone present in his – thankfully, commonplace – absence; supporting actress Kelly Reilly’s visit to her drug supplier on the set of an adult-movie early in proceedings, another bawdy and unfunny attempt at humour that not only doesn’t fit with the scenes around it, but also demonstrates a complete disregard for subtlety. It must be said that this ‘in-your-face’ attitude isn’t just confined to the jarring comedic endeavours either, with the film not averse to bludgeoning its message home rather than carefully timing its power-punches for the greatest impact.

Flight is saved from crashing and burning however, by the talents of its lead. The Man – Denzel Washington, if you prefer – carries the film with the kind of assured and believable performance one expects from him, his unlikeable alcoholic offering just enough heart to make the audience always cling to hope for eventual redemption, even if the thread they hold becomes dangerously taut at times. Reilly also deserves a mention. While this wasn’t her story, the actress’s fine portrayal of a vulnerable alcohol and heroin addict attempting to get clean in the face of temptation and provocation deserved greater respect than the script eventually gives; her casting aside from the story told, certainly too premature.

While far from perfect, if you can ignore the forced, unwelcome attempts at humour and heavy-handed direction, and forgive the missed opportunity to more assuredly split opinion on a fascinating moral dilemma, Flight is still a good film. The shame of it is, that it could have been a great one.

Rating: 3 / 5

More info on Flight

Fiction Thoughts: In Hero Years…I’m Dead (2010)

by Jamie Downes

others

Author – Michael A. Stackpole

Genre – Superheroes, Action, Noir

Length – 325 Pages (Kindle Edition)

In Capital City, the superhero-laden setting of Michael A. Stackpole’s In Hero Years…I’m Dead, the opportunity to oppose a villain in a pre-planned crime is auctioned off to super-powered residents whose subsequent success or failure drives a socially popular and financially lucrative ranking system; prestige, endorsements and a legion of fans awaiting those at the top. Yet while this concept is fascinating in itself and an excellent backdrop for a superhero story, the execution is such that the novel simply becomes ever more of a chore to read the longer it goes. The disappointment of a shamefully underdeveloped plot is exacerbated by the confusion caused by the often random introduction of far too many indistinguishable characters, and even more so by their being referred to in a wildly inconsistent manner; the protagonist alone switching between what at the very least seemed like half-a-dozen different names. This, combined with a prosaic writing style that is poorly edited, means there is little to recommend ‘In Hero Years…’ beyond the under-utilised basic concept, one which could undoubtedly have seeped intrigue at every turn had it been penned with greater plot-focus and page-to-page creativity.

Rating: 2 / 5

More info on In Hero Years…I’m Dead