Monday, May 12, 2014

Diary Entry #30: TV Drools and J-Horror Rules (in Video Game Form)

             I hate television. Everybody watches it except me. Whenever people start talking about TV shows, I change the subject to how stupid television is. Generally people will nod and admit its all dull fodder, but I can always tell deep down they're super alienated by my sentiments. Their body language tells all: staring blankly at the floor, fidgeting with things around them, etc. They'd probably be more comfortable if I told them the color of my underwear.

             Still, I enjoy games based on popular television shows. If I could randomly grab a controller and start manipulating whatever was going on in Breaking Bad or Dexter, I'd probably watch TV all day long. The adventure genre is probably best suited for the TV drama game as it provides for an even narrative pace. Games like the X-Files and the LA Law DOS game managed to do this with some very interesting results.

             While this approach is an obvious match for TV licenses, many developers have always made and continue to make bad action games based on hot properties. For every Beavis and Butthead: Virtual Stupidity, there's always ten dumb games where you just run forward and shoot some people. This might make sense for shows like Star Trek or Batman: the Animated Series, but when I'm picking up an ALF game, I'm not expecting the core mechanic to be smacking around bats with a carrot.

             So when I read that Telltale Games made a handful of episodic adventure games based on crime dramas, I got a little excited. Although the majority of games are based on the various CSI shows, I gravitated towards Law & Order: Legacies. My mom was always an avid watcher of the show while I was growing up, so it has a bit of nostalgic value.

             The game starts with a maid discovering the body of her co-worker in a storage closet. Naturally, you begin with the law segment of Law & Order, searching for clues and interrogating witnesses. Much of the game proceeds through totally non-interactive cutscenes, which makes it more like watching a bad TV show than I really wanted. There are occasional investigation sequences in which you circle key items in an area to find clues, but they're infrequent and mundane.

             If you're not watching a cutscene, you're listening to random characters gab about stuff. You have to select various topics to discuss with occasional prompts. Usually, these simply ask if you can trust a character's statement.

              There's a ridiculous amount of fan service in the game. Familiar faces from across the series are all featured, though I'll be damned if I could remember their names without the subtitles.

             Eventually, you find your culprit. He's Baran, an ambassador from Russia who compares his reproductive organ to a cane. In a move ripped straight from Lethal Weapon 3, he has diplomatic immunity, which any pop culture lawyer can tell you allows ambassadors to kill everyone they please. 

             The order portion starts up soon after, though it's quickly disrupted.

             Baran gets shot to death while on the stand. It's surprisingly graphic, and definitely not typical for the actual show. It creates a new antagonist: the victim's father! The case now becomes an anti-vigilante justice crusade, which some guy named McCoy says must be won.

             The court room sequences play out in an interesting way, different from the acclaimed Phoenix Wright games in many ways. The balance of justice meter is located at the top of the screen. In order to get the maximum penalty on the defendant, this needs to be on your side. You gain points by objecting at the right time for the right reasons and avoiding questions that cause the jury to view the defendant in a sympathetic light. The defense tries to strike a plea bargain in the end. Depending on how the balance of justice tips, you can hit the defendant hard or soft with the final verdict.

             Overall, it's a goofy little game that lacks any of the meaning found in Telltale Games more acclaimed works. After playing the Walking Dead, I couldn't shake the feeling that all the choices I made in game were largely superficial, but here, choices don't exist. It's totally sucked of any life, relegating itself to strict Law & Order fan service with a couple of underdeveloped creative touches.

             I recently bought Ju-On: The Grudge: Haunted House Simulator for the Wii, a game with too many subtitles for it's own good It features neither puzzles nor NPCs. The controls are barely functional, forcing you to constantly reorient the Wii remote in order to walk straight. If you don't die, an easily avoidable fate, the game can be completed in less than an hour. Worse yet, I love visceral horror, the antithesis of all the J-Horror trash: the Rings, the Ju-Ons, the One Missed Calls. This should be the worst game ever, but it somehow adds up to one of the best horror games I've ever played.

             The game is broken up into five levels, each one unlocked after playing the last. This mirrors the Telltale Games episodic approach, although the game takes a very Japanese approach to puzzles. Much of the time, you're simply looking for a key to open a door or waiting for a cutscene to trigger, similar to games like JB Harold, Jake Hunter, or Snatcher, where just finding the right sequence of menu options will lead to progress. The only inventory items aside from keys are batteries, which are necessary to power your flashlight. It's dumb, but playing it late at night with all the lights off, the game's bag of cheap scares is more shock inducing than it has any right to be.

             While you walk around aimlessly, this generic Japanese ghost girl terrorizes you. On screen directional prompts will appear, requiring you to wiggle the Wiimote in a certain direction to get away. This can get pretty chaotic, and while this usually can be beaten by simply waving the Wiimote frantically in every direction, my friend and I did manage to die twice. Other times, bloody hands will magically appear on the walls, ghostly images will appear, and dolls will fall from three story buildings, making a splat noise upon impact.

             Something about the game's unique approach creates an experience equally ridiculous and captivating, never yielding any truly horrifying moments while introducing enough shallow jump scares to maintain the player's interest. I haven't unlocked the fifth episode yet, but I intend on doing so soon.

             I'm probably going to play Sweet Home tonight. If not, I'll probably play Rise to Honor, this amazing PS2 beat-em-up I got yesterday for two bucks. Either way, all is well.

No comments:

Post a Comment