This week on Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews Tormented Souls and The Artful Escape.
Well, I guess the release drought's officially over; we've had so many review codes coming to Escapist Towers, we've had to sell some of them off as gently-used wi-fi passwords. I played the first hour of, like, nine different games this week; it's been like speed dating, but where you get to piss on their face. Can't cover them all, but gratifyingly, I can selectively highlight the ones that actually stirred something in me, whether that be admiration or a second round of contemptful wee-wee.
Starting with Tormented Souls, which, as you might've guessed from the title, is, without hyperbole, the most generic survival horror game in the universe. If this were 1999, that is, because Fermented Balls is deliberately aping old, PS1-era “Resident Evil, Alone in the Dark” fixed-camera games, and if you've only played modern horror games where you walk through a funhouse hall of mirrors for two hours andthen get a participation award, then you're going to fucking hate it. "Why can't I angle the camera to look at the thing that's about to twat me across the room?" "Because it's a deliberate homage to retro fixed-camera horror games!" "Why does the camera angle keep suddenly reversing and making me spin on my heel and sprint back into the monster I'm trying to flee, like a nervous deer at a busy junction?" "Deliberate homage, retro horror!" "Why can't I save whenever I want? What if my pet chinchilla suddenly goes into labor?" "Don't blame me! Blame deliberate homage!"
I rage-quit after my first attempt, because I used the first save-game token I found way too early and kept getting killed, 'cos combat's like trying to disentangle two dog leashes with both your hands trapped in Pringles tubes. "Deliberate homage--" Oh, piss off! But I started again and powered through, and by the end of the game, I had enough ammo to make combat trivial, and I was having to sell off unused save tokens as gently-used drinks coasters; bit of a reverse difficulty curve issue. But I have to admit, I was somewhat engaged with the gameplay by then, either out of nostalgia for the old Silent Hills, or sheer bloody-minded unwillingness to go back to playing Lost Judgment.
It wasn't the fucking story, which is so achingly generic, it's like it's trying to set a record for the Guinness Book of Things that are So Lazy, I Can't Be Bothered to Finish This Joke Properly. Wake up in an abandoned hospital with no memory? Check. Monsters are all abominations of humanity who look like they got their brain surgery done by a forgetful orthodontist? Check. Main character seems to have the acting range of a wank sock and gets her tits out in literally her second scene of the game? More a movie horror cliche, I suppose, but fuck it; pile it on. Also, there's cults, and really illogical locking mechanisms, and I guess the secret twist of the main character's origin, within the first thirty seconds. It also seems to be trying to cram in as many stolen ideas from its influences as it can; you have to go to a Silent Hill-esque evil, rusty dark world version of the hospital on two brief occasions. But it was "evil science experiments" horror up to then; you can't just right-turn into Hellraiser "reality embuggerance" horror and then left-turn straight back again, like a lost dad on a poorly-signposted highway junction.
However accurately Torrential Spooge recreates retro survival horror and its classic sense of vulnerability from being obliged to fight off demons while having the combat skill of a man with his elbows glued together, there's something terribly grubby and ramshackle about it. Between the gratuitous nudity, numerous plot-holes, and crazy quilt of stolen ideas, it's like there's no higher thinking behind anything in it, beyond "other horror games have done it" and "titties are nice". It also uses its soundtrack the way I use urine on a speed-date. No silence, no contemplative moments; just a constant conveyor belt of spooky music and low drones, like we just flushed our earbuds down the toilet in Michael Myers' house.
In brief, Toronto Smells is exactly what it appears to be on the surface and nothing more, which makes for an interesting contrast with our second game, The Artful Escape, a game that, after the first ten minutes, I really thought I was going to hate. You're a young hipster guitarist whose glasses are as large as his trousers are tight, living in a small town where everyone expects him to live up to his famous guitarist uncle, but he's sad because he wants to have his own identity. And instantly, I assumed we were in Dreamscaper/Sea of Solitude territory: the "Get the fuck over yourself!" hipster indie game about a "boo-hoo, this small town is oppressing my creative, free spirit; why doesn't anyone understand my privileged, conventionally attractive person problems?" conventionally attractive person, who will probably end up moving to New York and then never leaving their apartment because they're afraid of all the shouty people.
Indie games are supposed to be a place of unbridled creativity unyoked from publisher interference; why do people keep making games about sad people in apartments? Also, it uses split-pin paper cutout character animation, like what I griped about in my Ender Lilies review - the IKEA flatpack of animation styles, where characters stand stiffly around like wet floor signs with poor posture - and has some big-name voice actors like Carl Weathers, and I railed against big-name actors in games in my Twelve Minutes review, speaking of sad people in apartments.
So I was settling in to massage the hate-boner on this one, but then, a few hours later, my dude was on a neon stage the size of the Greater London Area, dressed like a cross between the Goblin King and Geordi La Forge, playing a cosmic glam rock solo for the benefit of a gigantic, transcendental space-moth while the universe exploded in the background. Yeah, it takes a bit of a turn. After the initial humdrum beginning, there's a point where the game suddenly bursts into this psychedelic voyage of music and visuals, like 2001: A Space Odyssey by way of Yellow Submarine.
Yes, it's an intergalactic ego trip revolving around a whiny twerp and his pedestrian guitar solos, but it's stylish enough, I didn't care; Cruddy Holly and his stiff-ass paper cutout animation shrinks to a tiny pinprick against these vast, animated prog-rock album covers, and it sucked me in. I played through it in one session and came away poised to recommend, if it weren't for one thing. No, it didn't turn out to be all a dream; it did fucking seem like it might, and that certainly would've scythed the glittery platform shoes out from under the plot, but thankfully, it didn't. The problem with Artful Escape is - and you're breaking my fucking heart here, guys - it forgot to have any fucking gameplay!
It's a glorified 2D walking sim; I spent the whole time hoping to God it would finally introduce a mechanic beyond pressing right, occasionally pausing to fight a monster by waiting for it to play a note, and then playing the same note straight back. In context, this is supposed to be us demonstrating our legendary guitar powers that make suns go supernova and every barren female in the star system simultaneously emit two pints of hot climax juice, and any amount of skill challenge beyond just playing Simon for five minutes could've really emphasized that. I guess I still recommend for the sheer spectacle, but ultimately, it's like going on It's a Small World: you spend the whole time on a conveyor belt, wishing you could kick someone's teeth in.
- Artful Dodger: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Also what was with that time travelling projector screen business in Tormented Souls other than to rip off a Red Dwarf episode
- As for escapes I've had an arseful