Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Nightmare of Decay (2022)

Name:Nightmare of Decay
Number:147
Year:2022
Publisher:Checkmaty
Developer:Checkmaty
Genre:FPS/Survival Horror
Difficulty:4/5
Time:3 hours 40 minutes
Won:Yes (49W/51L)

An explanation. As you may know, there are quite a few modern indie and indie-related titles laying claim to being spiritual successors to the games of yore. In recent years it seems like there has been a deluge of these "boomer shooters" taking inspiration from some of the games I've played, and some of the games I'm going to reach. Taking away from my usual chronological look at these games, I've decided to occasionally look at these titles. These aren't necessarily going to be better or even stabler than my usual fair, since I've seen some that are...awful.

Nightmare of Decay is a game that asks, what if Resident Evil was in first-person? There's a little more to it than that. Like what if Blood was a survival horror game? How would a starving man survive in a zombie infested mansion? I should note there are also references to Silent Hill, but I didn't really catch them as I was playing it...probably because I only played Silent Hill 1 years ago.

The game starts with the player looking at a news report. There have been a lot of mysterious disappearances where the victims have been having nightmares. A report we turn off because we've been having nightmares. I should note that every time there's a person talking, you get a weird "wah, wah, wah" sound effect sort of like someone talking, but not really. Its not scary or even creepy, just annoying.

I wonder if this game was made by someone from Eastern Europe
Now I can get up and explore my apartment. Its a video game apartment, at least, I haven't known someone who lives this badly.
My fridge may be empty, but at least I have eggs
I walk over to the fridge and get out a single slice of pizza on a plate. There's barely anything else in here. This is a lot of ceremony for such little reward. My PC must be starving if all he can eat at night is a single slice of pizza.
If he's regularly doing this, I'm impressed how spotless his microwave is
I have to reheat it in the microwave. Riveting intro, isn't it? Only E does nothing. That tells me that a microwave can be used to heat up food. I feel like if you don't know that you probably shouldn't be playing this game. Anyway, my character sets it to 4:20, which is either a weed reference, or my character doesn't eat pizza as much as eating the exploded remains of pizza. It comes out of the microwave unexploded and my character eats it straight off, just standing there like a caveman. I'm pretty sure getting horribly murdered in a dream is of little concern to this guy.
After that we have to take a shower, boring because there's no reflections in the mirror, find our TV turned on, an apparition of a dude with a chainsaw and a severed head, and then bed. As you can tell, the game went for the Vampire - The Masquerade: Bloodlines method of showing part of the game you'll reach later on a screen.
We fall asleep, on top of the covers. I love it when games do that, he said sarcastically.
Its dark like you'd expect a coffin to be, but how do you know its a coffin then?
We wake up in a coffin. Well, you probably wouldn't figure that out until after you break out of it. Feels very Blood-ish, and there's a reason for that.
Once outside, we're trapped outside this mansion. There's a talking black cat who's a bit of a dick.
Incidentally, this area doesn't actually link up to anything inside the mansion, its just a side place
A knife outside a closed door with a lot of blood.
I guess this is just something people reference now, like that James Bond poster and people staring at the camera creepily
I follow the trail to some guy getting eaten, and obvious Resident Evil reference that was on the storefront page. Then awkwardly stabbing a zombie for a minute before getting a pistol. This is where the game itself really begins.
I should note that the game runs off the Resident Evil system of save locations, notebooks here. Thing is there's no reason to ever not use them, since you aren't limited in how many saves you can take. I guess you could hold back on making saves, but I can't help but feel like this isn't the sort of game worth doing a self-imposed challenge run for.
You're also not limited in how many items you have
The game controls as expected for a modern FPS, WASD moves, E activates and the mouse looks. Tab opens the inventory, a list of items with how many of each you have. You select items with the right mouse click, and you can select one weapon and one item. Once back in the game world you can left click on whatever object you wanted to use the item one to use that item. As left click is also shoot this left me uncomfortable I was risking a bullet despite never tripping up the game this way. Health items you quaff with Q, and you can drink as many in this was as you like. R reloads, but only when you're out of the inventory. Finally, M opens the map and ESC the options.
This is somewhat awkward for me to get used to, but nevertheless, it works. However, I feel like the developers took a statement some have about the original Resident Evil, people like the controls because they're bad, and applied it in a different setting. My player character walks like he's slowly dying or taking a casual stroll. If I press Ctrl, I can sprint, which feels like a nice jogging pace, which I can do for about 5 seconds before I become exhausted. Then I have to wait 10-15 seconds before I can sprint again and my walking speed is even slower to boot. This isn't the worst of it. The aim in this game is simply awful.
To start with, you get a crosshair, and should you fire your weapon, walk or get hit, it expands and you won't hit with precision. Fair enough, except that turning doesn't expand the crosshair. I don't like how slow it decreases in size but it didn't really hurt me too much. What's truly awful about it is that I didn't feel like I could hit targets with any precision. I even adjusted the mouse sensitivity to no real boon. This isn't great when I'm just fighting zombies, but later this game includes enemies with ranged weapons of their own.
Its not a simple matter of a game controlling like Quake or Doom to get a full 10, there are various aspects even in normal WASD+mouselook that comes into consideration that some Wolf-clone without mouselook doesn't have to worry about. That said, I feel like this game would be middle-of-the-road difficulty wise if I didn't have to wrestle with it.
Trying to break a window, and failing
Weapon-wise we start with a knife. Melee in this game is just awful. Remember, I'm fighting with the controls the whole time, so even with zombies you have to hit the enemy, and then hope you can backpedal enough to avoid his counterattack. The first time I did this it went poorly and later on it went less poorly. Later I get a crowbar which is actually useful once I figured it out as a weapon. That one you can hold down to hit someone with a power attack. Time it right and you stagger the zombies. Which means you can actually kill them.
The pistol isn't a great weapon. While it gets accurate if you stand around enough, its not fun to use it. Really, it feels like a chore because melee is so awful and all the real guns are too. I shouldn't feel like the pistol is the weapon I use when I'm afraid I'm going to have to make a last stand. Its nice that its high-capacity though, I feel like this game isn't the sort that should be giving me 15 round magazines.
There's a pelletgun, which you primarily use for the shooting galleries in the mansion. Technically these are optional, but in practice you really, really, really want to win these. Outside of the shooting gallery, you can use it to wake up sleeping zombies, which is useful for when you don't want a large group charging after you.
The shotgun's okay. Its your standard video game shotgun with nothing special about it.
The last real gun is the magnum. Five shots, and you have to hold down the fire button to fire it. Though if you do it while the target reticule is still shrinking it remains where it was. Supposedly you can have it pierce enemies if you aim it right, but there was no way in hell I was using it against regular zombies. I don't have any complaints specific to this weapon.
Its at this point that I stopped hoping this game would be something special
Dynamite, I found a stick fairly early on. I first tried using it against two guys a bit away over a railing, and failed to throw it over the railing. This is a good indication of its effectiveness. Then I started using it exclusively against the bosses, and it is underwhelming. You have to time your shots quite cleverly, otherwise the enemy will walk past the dynamite. WHY DO I HAVE TO THROW IT THEN!? It doesn't do all that much weight to it. Which is really just a problem with the whole game, it doesn't feel like anything I do matters.
A standard encounter with two zombies
The zombies in this game are weird. Not necessarily weird in how they look, but those are some clearly modeled teeth. No, they're weird in that you killing them feels completely random. These numbers are to the head. They took up to 8 pistol shots, meaning at any moment their head could explode or they could just die. They took up to 2 shotgun shells, yes, two to the head. 3 fully charged crowbar shots, which was at least consistent if I didn't accidentally hit him while getting bitten or something.
I should point out the game does the Resident Evil thing of having the zombies hold you while they hurt you. I can see why the author thought it was clever, but in practice it just feels annoying. Shooting or stabbing him in the head doesn't do much more than spitting on him, which increases the feeling that this game is intentionally screwing with you.
A puzzle, no this isn't really a spoiler, you can solve the puzzle without entering this area anyway
You start off in a mansion, doing all that a knock-off Resident Evil mansion does. Solve puzzles, find keys, find items and deal with enemies. Its a quite modest mansion, not all that much to do, but its fun in a fast food way. Nothing special, but if you don't have any choice, it'll suffice. You basically explore the mansion in chunks, mostly the right side of the mansion, then the second floor, then repeat on the left side of the mansion. The first major objective is to find three coins and the ingredients to some acid, all three of them.
Its in this section, on the second floor, that the game includes the first of its many zombies lying on the ground waiting for you to do something. Except this is the only time its clever, because they don't just get up whenever you approach, you can actually get the first strike in. I feel like a lot of the game's later sections don't do that very well.
There is no reason why anyone would ever do this except out of desperation
The first boss is a flesh golem. The buildup to the fight is more interesting than the actual fight. He's in the kitchen, a room with two locked doors, one containing a large group of zombies banging on one door and then one with a mysterious voice behind it. Its fairly obvious that whoever's inside the door is creepy because he talks about his collection rotting. At which point the zombies break open the other door. This gets you a heavy object you can use to get the key to the other door. But he isn't there. No...
After finding a coin, which you need for a puzzle, he appears. All that buildup and he's really lame. I had more than enough shotgun shells to take him out, but you're not really going to miss him even with the pistol.
There's a really stupid puzzle around this section. All it amounts to is you push around a stepladder. Why couldn't you just move it? I don't know. This is something you have to do, because it has one of the acid ingredients in the room you reach. Only this spawns more zombies in the room you just left for some reason.
There is no reason why anyone would ever do this except out of desperation
Here I find a monster in the wall. This guy's actually friendly. He wants me to find him three heads, from women, because he didn't have any in his collection. Its at this point I would like to note that this game feels excessively game-y in a distracting way. All the puzzles are about doing something in threes. There are all these sidequests that I have to do to get more items. This in particular feels like something that no one should ever do, even if as a player I know I'm going to get a super shotgun or something.
After clearing out the right side of the mansion, now you can enter the rest of the left side. There's some more puzzles, but nothing too difficult to figure out. Its here that we get the second enemy, cultists. Why are there cultists in this mansion? Because this game is basically Resident Evil meets Blood, that's why. There's no complicated story reason or anything.
They're annoying to deal with. I can't really chase after them, because that means I'll get shot and miss when I catch up to them. I can't wait for them, because they're just smart enough to not be in my crosshairs when they appear, so I get shot and I miss. It doesn't feel like I can win with these guys. Thankfully health items are common enough that its not too much of a problem.
The rest of the mansion is relatively easy to deal with. There's a cabin I enter with a friendly inside. After I get a key item, he gets shot by a cultist with a shotgun. Then its smooth sailing until the boss.
The final boss in the mansion are these three knight characters. They're not terribly impressive, and that's even with me using dynamite poorly against them. If it sounds like I'm glossing over these bosses, that's because they're not really memorable outside of buildup. This allows me to enter the basement.
There is nothing you need to find in this room, what you see is what you get
The basement is where the game starts breaking down. Up until this point, the game was all about carefully searching the environment to find enough items to continue onward, dealing with traps intelligently, and solving puzzles that at least required a couple of brain cells to solve. Here that sort of stops. You get sewer sections where zombies are under the water, and you can't really see through the water. There aren't really any hidden items, at least none that I could see, so maybe they're too well hidden. I doubt that. All the puzzles at this point are incredibly obvious, and you'd have to be blind not to solve them.
The only boss in this section is a dude with a chainsaw. Like the zombies, when he hits you with the chainsaw, you're held down while he kills you. Thing is, this felt less scary and more trite. There's no weight to it, it doesn't feel like its cutting anyone. That's really a problem with the whole game. Anyway, you kill this guy by shooting him and then shooting a growth on his back. I feel like that's taken from some Resident Evil, but eh.
Throughout the game there's been a story, but not that much effort has been put into it. A lord purchased this manor, found a mysterious hole in the basement, found something and then started killing people. Why are there zombies and cultists here? I guess because the same thing that caused the lord to start killing people also did that to things? Its not a very important aspect of the game.
At this point some other guy is shown dealing with the cultists, but he bites it
Killing the chainsaw dude allows us to get a key to the manor's wardrobes. Including one in front of the mysterious hole. This leads to the dungeon, where the game starts getting tedious. You have to find three discs to get three golden squares. To do this you have to kill three bosses. There's nothing else really special about this section, because even when the author is given the opportunity to put lots of secret items around, he just doesn't. Maybe they're too well hidden, maybe things are just worse. All you ever find is a box of shells just lying out in the open. I was actually in danger of running out of ammo for once.
The first of the three bosses are a spider, who shoots web at you. Positively mundane. Even the smaller ones you had to kill to get here were boring. If you timed your crowbar shots right you could effectively stunlock them.
A mysterious beast, AKA a killer rabbit. I think this was supposed to be funny. You don't have to kill him, but if you do you get a vial of holy water, the best weapon in the game. He's more annoying than hard.
Finally, the one boss I actually hated, a regenerator. You know, like the things in Resident Evil 4. Thing is, in Resident Evil 4, you had the ability to deal with these properly, there were these worms inside them you needed a special scope for. Its not really clear how you take this thing out. I used two sticks of dynamite and he kept coming. Not a miss or anything, directly on him. I guess you need to take out all parts of his body, but its just so tedious.

Then, we come to an obvious boss anteroom. A save book, quite a bit of ammo. Ah, must be the final boss.

Also, what's with this Final Fantasy crap?
Then we get the Lord of the Nightmare. Because I gave three heads to the thing in the wall, I had three bottles of holy water. Which allowed me to just steamroll this guy. Three bottles was enough to kill him. Why not try him legit? Well, I could, but I don't see any way that would be fun. This guy is spawning the skeletons, which I didn't mention since they're boring, but with a boss too that would not be fun. This isn't the kind of game where a monster spawning other monsters works.
This causes us to wake up, back in bed. The PC says he should take a walk, so we can go outside of his apartment.

But we see a black cat walking around...

Its the talking cat. "No one escapes from the nightmare alive..."
He turns into a monster and the game ends.
Wow, white text on a black background. I'd be disappointed even if this wasn't the stupidest way to end your game. I mean, the cat killing me feels disatisfying, but its an ending. Having text saying its just begun is just so incredibly lame and ruins whatever you had going for it.

Weapons:
Everything feels awkward to use and while it works, I didn't necessarily like using them. 3/10

Enemies:
There's a nice variety for such a short game. You've got a small variety of regular enemies then a dozen bosses and unique enemies. If nothing else this gives you plenty to think about. 5/10

Non-Enemies:
A few talking NPCs. 1/10

Levels:
This pretty much felt like a lower quality Resident Evil, but without the lab area. That said, I liked the level design at first, when you had to search the environment for items, as opposed to later when the game just stops caring about that sort of thing. 4/10

Player Agency:
I'm sorry. I thought WASD was supposed to not feel worse than some bizarrely controlling '80s FPS. 1/10

Interactivity:
The game more or less spells out whatever it is you have to do in this game, otherwise there's not much environmental factor. You can activate toilets and nothing else. Thanks. 2/10

Atmosphere:
It tries for a bunch of different horror styles, never quite capturing any of their spirits. Nevertheless, its creepy and does what you expect a horror game should. 5/10

Graphics:
I'm not really impressed by the retro PSX graphics, for obvious reasons. Its mostly good-looking, though I feel like its a bit too plain at times, like the rooms are missing something important they should have. 4/10

Story:
Its well-presented, but nothing special. Except that the ending just completely ruins what little the game had. 0/10

Sound/Music:
Most of the sound effects are nice. Everything sounds like it should be and feels quite effective. I do wish that the sound effect for when the player is exhausted was something else. Ambient sound didn't leave any impressions. 5/10

That's 30. Wow, its been a long time since there were 2 30+ games back to back.

I have mixed feelings on the game. Its nothing special, despite its relatively high rating for this blog. It isn't trying to do something special and it succeeds in doing what it set out to do. There's just not much appeal unless you're part of the segment of survival horror fans desperate for anything related to survival horror. Again, in that regard it does wonderfully. I do think that whatever comes next from this guy will be an interesting project. Assuming he can fix the amateur level mistakes like the controls and the awful ending.

Will I blog about more recent games? I think so, replacing what I was doing in playing random games from the future. Survival horror is always a bit off from the usual fair, but I think its fair even for "regular" games. These people are selling their game based on nostalgia for games I'm covering, so its only fair to compare it to them. Surely someone making a retro game wouldn't be as crass as to make something as good as a Capstone game, would they? All this depends on whether or not I can run it and what I'm playing from period titles.

Friday, September 30, 2022

Dangerous Dave in the Haunted Mansion (1991)

Name:Dangerous Dave in the Haunted Mansion
Number:146
Year:1991
Publisher:Softdisk
Developer:iD
Genre:Side-Scrolling Shooter
Difficulty:5/5
Time:2 hours 30 minutes
Won:No (48W/51L)

ID Software did a lot of strange games during their time with Softdisk. I talked about Catacomb, which is known, if more for the "first" FPS Catacomb 3D. You might be vaguely aware of Rescue Rover, which is a nice puzzle game, last time I played it decades ago. Dangerous Dave is a series hardly known, only for the very unusual piece, Dangerous Dave in Copyright Infringement.

See, back in the days before we had all these fancy graphics cards or processors, everyone had strict limitations in what they could do. For instance, the Commodore 64 and the Nintendo 64 both have that number because they're advertising something they have 64 of. The C64, memory in kilobytes, the N64, graphical bits. Because of this, and graphics chips more focused on delivering text than fancy images, home computer games were usually flip screen rather than free-scrolling. You've probably seen them even if you didn't have a name to it. Flip screens are where until you touch one of the edges, the screen stays the same. But when you touch an edge, it "flips" to the next screen.

There are probably 1983 games that did it, but I couldn't tell you how the underlying code of these games work

But nobody really wanted that to be the focus of the gaming world, and it was always an unfortunate compromise. So people started working their way around it. On DOS, starting with at least The Adventures of Captain Comic, people had this technique where instead of drawing every pixel every frame, they just drew new pixels where pixels had changed. Earlier examples were much more distracting than what iD would come up with.

This would lead into Commander Keen of course, but Dave himself would not fall by the wayside, especially as iD was still under contract to Softdisk. This is all just a gross oversimplification, many games beforehand did something like this. I'm pretty sure that even during the 8-bit computer days people were doing this. iD just gets credit since iD was usually at the front of the pack technologically.

If Catacomb had the controls, and Commander Keen had the level design of the future FPS titans, then Dangerous Dave had the tone. Only...not in the games I just mentioned. Dangerous Dave has two halves, the nice, friendly jewel collecting jetpack wannabe, and the shotgun-toting redneck who's lucky if he isn't zombie chow. Haunted Mansion is all about Dave rescuing some people and killing things in a mansion controlled by his evil nemesis. Between here and there are hundreds of zombies.

This is actually an unusual case for me, because back in the day I actually took the time to beat this game, or at least I think I did. Normally a game like this would involve me whining about how you just memorize a bunch of stuff...but I did memorize it. Its still very hard though. This is one of those games where you can't save and you just see how far you can get. Oh, sure, some places SAY there are codes to select a level, but they're complete LIES, at least as they're presented. Then again the game supposedly allows you to continue from the last level you were on and it doesn't do that either.

This is where what I thought would be my successful run would go. Despite being rusty I was sure I was going to win it with a few tries. First level is easy, second level not so much, mostly because of those dang slimes. Third level easier than you would think. I eventually won the boss fight. Then I reached level 5 and realized I had never seen this before. Then the game switched from me being casual enough about it to post a video to me deciding to get serious.

This is an entirely valid way of taking these guys out

Dave controls like you'd expect a side-scroller of the era to, he can move left and right, and jump. He can aim his gun diagonally up, in either direction, or diagonally down. His gun has infinite ammo, but requires reloading. His gun holds six shots and you reload by standing still. Dave dies in one hit to anything that hurts him. Quite violently. He cannot look up or down, that is, move the screen up or down without moving up and down. If you time it right you can switch from shooting in one direction to the other.

It controls pretty well. For the most part. I dislike not being able to look, as this causes most of my deaths in this game. The second is that you can go down some platforms by holding down and pressing jump. Thing is that sometimes you're off the area by a pixel or something, which is frustrating in this game. It also sometimes tripped me up jumping, mostly around the ledges.

The shotgun is absolutely incredible as a weapon. It just feels powerful, Dave etts back with every shot. This sounds awful, but you can never go off a ledge this way. Most enemies go down in a few shots too. Even the reloading has a good feel to it, even if you're empty and a zombie is bearing down on you. You also get considerable leeway with aiming it. Like holy crap, you can actually snipe people above or below you. It just works so well that I never had any issues with this game series just having one weapon.

You have a wide variety of enemies. Starting with zombies. These guys are actually smarter than you'd think, they move up and down stairs. They go down in two shots and die in a messy way. I feel like some of the people at Apogee either played this or had access to the code, because the enemies in Bio Menace and Monster Bash die in the same gory mess.
I'm not aiming low to hit him, I just missed
Then we have hunchbacks. They're a bit more dangerous than the zombies, in that they have a ranged attack, and a bit less, since you can touch them as much as you want. Considering how fragile Dave is I'm shocked they let that happen. I died the most to these guys, mostly because there are a lot and its easy for them to get a cheap shot off. They die in two shots. You can also avoid their shots on stairs if you aim it right.
Slimes are some of the more annoying enemies, they jump diagonally to the ceiling or floor and are quite fast. These were my least favorite enemy, because every fight with them is an event, despite going down in one shot. The trick in dealing with these, when you're able to anyway, is that they can't really go past the floors you can jump down, so things like crates are very effective cover.

The spiders, crawling along the ceiling, are mostly easy to deal with. The game puts them in a few tricky situations where you'll get bitten if you're unlucky, but mostly you can manage them easily. They die in one shot.

Werewolves are rare and were the only enemy I saw that took three shots. Thankfully the game always put them in situations you could deal with quite easily.
Then we had ghosts. You walk into these guys and then walk off before shooting them. Outside of figuring this out they weren't very hard, but that's in isolation. Outside of this there was one more enemy, but I didn't reach the levels it was on.

One thing to note is that all these enemies have different movement patterns. Most walk towards you if you land on the same floor as they are, and some enemies move off-screen and some don't. Sometimes its even situational.
The boss fight I reached was boring and rather pitiful. There's a monster who walks back and forth and shoots lightning in a diagonal pattern. How is it taking me out so often? Its like I need every live I can possibly scrounge up beforehand or I'm just completely screwed. I'm apparently not good enough to get past this pattern. Turns out you shoot the lightning. Which the first time through turns into a joke. Then the second time I play it I the game just starts not wanting to control properly. Suddenly the game went from being smooth to me constantly failing jumps or missing shots I should have gotten.
You can see ahead quite a lot in this game if you pay attention
Outside of the boss level I felt that the levels were well-designed. Its designed to introduce you to each kind of enemy, then after you've discovered the trick, how to deal with them in ever more tricky terrain. You really have to take advantage of every bit of knowledge you have in order to get through a level. Exploit every bit of terrain, take every advantage you can, and its incredible making it to the end of a level.

The problem is...I don't want to have to play the entire game through every time. Its a game you absolutely have to focus on to win and its draining to do that over the course of 8 levels. (or 16? I didn't reach it) When I made my final run I just gave up on level 5, despite having plenty of lives. Why? I didn't really care to continue playing it. I didn't want to have to slowly and methodically make my way up the tower. From a value perspective, its great, it would have been better than some commercial titles at the time. But for someone who has to beat it in less than a week, not so much.

Weapons:
Despite only having a single weapon, it feels incredible. It is the gold standard by which all side-scroller shotguns should be measured. 5/10

Enemies:
A nice selection of enemies, each with their own behavior. 5/10

Non-Enemies:
None.

Levels:
The game is well-calculated that despite being a one-hit wonder, the player isn't constantly dealing with gotcha moments designed to drain his lives. I do wish the game focused on regular levels over boss levels though. 5/10

Player Agency:
I like it, but I wish the game was more clear about where you can and cannot jump down. 6/10

Interactivity:
You can open doors. 0/10

Atmosphere:
Despite starting off strong, towards the end this feels like a series of random locations vaguely connected to a haunted mansion. The terror factor is still strong throughout though. 4/10

Graphics:
I think the game looks good. Dave looks good, the backgrounds look good, enemies look good. All in EGA. What's important is that everything stands out, even if you can only see something partially. 5/10

Story:
Rescue Dave's cousin from some evil dude. Not even a token one, its just there. 0/10

Sound/Music:
Simple but effective PC speaker. 2/10

That's 32. To put that in perspective, the last time I gave a game that high a score, above 30, was back in April, with Ultima Underworld. That makes this the 16th best game and the best side-scroller so far.

I think that this game works in what it set out to do. I just wished that the level select cheat worked, because its incredibly tedious playing through the whole game over and over again.