It isn’t at all surprising to me that another title has come along that is trying to nail the asymmetrical horror gameplay that Dead by Daylight has so mysteriously held onto like the plague that just wont quit. Among the many, many smaller titles that have attempted such a feat, Friday the 13th and Last Year are the only two I can actually remember. One of them was defeated by a lawsuit while the other was so insignificant in quality that I never really heard anything about it other than “Meh.”
Enter Evil Dead. Ash is a character that’s become nearly synonymous with the asymmetrical horror genre almost entirely thanks to his inclusion into Dead by Daylight (DBD) a few years ago. Naturally (or not so naturally), he’s appearing in his own game that attempts to do DBD, but in a far more interesting way. And when I say interesting, I mean it.
Evil Dead: The Game pits one “killer” against four “survivors”. And it is there that the similarities between DBD and the ED stop. The games are completely different, both in tone and in mechanics. Players fond of DBD might feel like they are little too “hands off” in ED as the killer, while survivors might feel like they aren’t taking part in any enthralling mechanics. On the other hand, fans of ED will be able to enjoy gameplay that’s far more varied and action packed than the average DBD match.
The two are extremely difficult to compare, but in short, you could say that DBD is to a classic game of golf where ED is basketball but with trampolines. Both fun for different people and, in this industry, both competing for the same share of playerbase. And its about time.
Dead by Daylight, since its inception, has been one of a kind. There’s no denying it. No other game in the industry, in the history of gaming, has been able to replicate the kind of elusive quality that DBD brings to the table. This is both a blessing and a curse for Behaviour Interactive, the game’s developing studio.
DBD is one of a kind, which means there’s no where else to go but it if you want the kind of gameplay that it offers. DBD is also the only of its kind, which means Behaviour has no where else to go for inspiration towards new gameplay mechanics, content, or in-game events. It all has to come from within. I credit the original artist as much as the next guy, but when it comes to DBD, Behaviour, who we’ll refer to as BHVR from now on, has a long history of showing up empty handed.
Decisive strike, Moris, Vacuum pallets, infinite loops, keys, the hatch system as a whole, the absolutely terrible bloodweb design, their MMR system, their ranking system, the inability for solo queuers to communicate to one another, the absolutely broken nature of 4 stacking, the disgusting map imbalance, the cheaters, that one time they made flashlight and pallet saves guaranteed, Brand new parts, triple blink Nurse, on-release Legion, Iridescent Heads, and oh boy, could I go on! I really could go on!
DBD, if it were any other game without that special lighting in a bottle kind of core gameplay, would have died ages ago in the hands that it is currently in. There is no other development team in charge of a reasonably large title I can think of that has made more blunders more consistently than BHVR. And now, with ED, there is a real contender to keep them worried about their performance. If DBD falls into another low point due to developer performance, ED will be there to cradle up the frustrated player base with warm arms. With fun arms. With arms made for trampoline basketball, what joy!
I love Dead by Daylight, and given the incredible reception Evil Dead has entered into the fray to, I imagine I’ll love it, too. Hopefully the pair will share enough competition that they’re simply forced into perfecting their craft. Or maybe ED will die, leaving DBD alone in the genre once again. What joy.
As someone who loves the ‘ghost hunting’ genre that games like Phasmophobia have to offer, Ghost Hunters Corp was on my radar as soon as its alpha release was announced. Since then, I’ve gotten my hands on it and managed to rummage around its strengths (and weaknesses.) Let’s review them.
Ghost Hunters Corp
Right down to the title of the game, there’s a lot of jank to go over. Its not especially clear to me if the developers are going for a Ghost Hunter’s Corps, corporation, or a Ghost Hunters corpy corp corpse. This title can basically reflect the entirety of the game in that sense: You’re never sure if something is intended or not.
Straight from the get go, I was surprised to see just how difficult the game was. As was my hope, GHC functions as a hardcore Phasmophobia game with more steps and a far more aggressive ghost to hunt down. The evidence collection phase of the game (which is the only phase Phasmo currently has) is just half the fun, but is also more demanding of the player that one would expect.
This demanding and difficult nature of GHC is harmed in a great way by the fact that, currently, the ghost behavior around your defences and evidence collection isn’t always consistent. In fact, almost nothing is consistent. Its all pretty buggy and plays sloppily, if it plays at all.
Now, the game is in alpha, so this is certainly passable, but also clearly an issue. Sometimes a ‘voice in the house’ piece of evidence, for example, is really just a feature (or bug) in the game that needs to be played around, and doesn’t actually indicate anything useful. Sometimes ghosts are afraid of your defences (crucifixes, Mary statues,) other times they run right through them and kill you before you knew what hit you.
I’ll repeat this caveat, the game is in alpha. Its current state isn’t passable for a completed game, but obviously this game isn’t completed, so take these issues with a grain of salt. Whether they’re fixed or not remains to be seen. Despite these issues, the corps gameplay itself is pretty fun. There’s a lot to go over, but we can start with the evidence gathering.
Not only is finding specific evidences like temperature, ghost writing, voice communications, and EMF readings mandatory, there is no guarantee that each ghost will have all of them, so you must be thorough when investigating. Additionally, knowing the ghost type (poltergeist, daemon, shade, child) has a great effect not just on how the ghost behaves, but also on the next phase of the game: Exorcism.
You’ve got to use multiple tools, such as cameras, books, cameras, a radio, crucifixes, cameras, and cameras. Cameras are pretty important when trying to find evidence from the comfort and safety of your truck, so be sure to use them often. And by the way, cameras tank your FPS to the floor, so be sure not to use them under any circumstances.
In short, the game is a lot like Phas in that you’ll be using various tools to watch the ghosts behavior and then putting that data into a journal to figure out what to do in that next phase. This activity is also met with the optional objective of looking for cursed objects to sell after the game is over, giving you extra cash and experience. This creates the fun mini-game of deciding just how much time you take from the ghost before getting punished for staying in the location for too long.
In short, look for cursed objects, and don’t use the cameras, which are so good. Then start the endgame.
The exorcism phase of GHC is the second and final stage of each match before you can take off with your pay. After finding all of the (correct) evidence, you can consult your chart and take the necessary steps to rid the location of its haunting. Sometimes this is as simple as lighting an incense stick and throwing into the ghost room, other times you have to literally read a page-long exorcism book into your mic like a muppet before continuing on with the game.
If there was any inkling of horror in your bones playing this game, there won’t be when you hear yourself reading an exorcism book in front of your friends like you do this for a living. Bonus points for doing so with a southern drawl (probably.) In any case, you’ll be doing multiple of these steps, and there difficulty ranges from passive n’ easy to hardcore ‘sweat’ mode.
This part of the game is very well done, and I’m pretty surprised at how well the game relays in-game progress to the player. Given its aesthetic as a ‘stock engine’ game, with default assets being reused from the game’s engine (the exact same ones you see in Phasmo,) I wasn’t expecting this game to be anything near ‘well polished’ in any aspect of its creation. But that part in particular, relaying information openly, is fairly well done. Not perfect, but for an alpha game, well done. And that’s pretty important, given how necessary having that info relayed to the player is for the endgame, in particular.
After following the necessary steps of collecting evidence, fighting the ghost in the proper ways, and giving a sermon, you can check your objectives and find out whether what you’ve done has exorcised the ghost properly. If it has, you can leave the game and collect your winnings, which are used to buy better gear to help you play in your next match, and repeat.
Its core design isn’t anything new, but the nuances in its gameplay and endgame, in particular, are what separate this game from the other would be’s.
The game isn’t fully fleshed out yet, and neither is my understanding of it. That said, an early taste of its bare framework has left me looking forward to how it evolves over the course of the next year. Playing without game breaking bugs, for a start, would be incredible. As it stands, I’d give the game a 4.5/10 in its current state. Accounting for ‘early access’ jank, which should be ironed out sooner rather than later, this game could easily hit a 6/10 rating for me. Anything beyond that would require a lot of innovation and optimization on the part of the devs, and I honestly don’t see that happening in any meaningful way.
For the $18 price tag, I’d say this game is just about worth it, and will probably be a gift that keeps on giving, so long as the devs make good on their promise to continue updating the game.
I recently reviewed Phasmophobia and its underlying strengths and weaknesses. The purpose of that review was ultimately to touch on whether or not the game was worth playing for most people, and whether the mechanics were used well enough to warrant a 14 dollar price tag (they absolutely were).
But what I didn’t touch on was the art direction of the game, the art direction in horror as a genre, and the nature of ambiance in horror stories. I think that decision was a bit of a miss, so I’d like to do that today, and I’m going to start by talking about horror films in the 80’s.
You couldn’t really put your finger on horror’s birthplace if you wanted to. The genre as a whole could be pointed all the way back to stories mothers tell their children to keep them weary of the wild unknown, and even before then horror was used in the stories we tell ourselves as humans to keep our fear of the dark alive.
What you can do is point to the birth of the horror genre in film. And even though we can go all the way back to the late 1800’s for that, I’m going to get started in the year 1978 with the release of Halloween.
Slasher films are synonymous with gore, jump scares, and a good time in the theatre. Any time I picture Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Scream all I can think about is cheesy one-liners and a lot of hack n’ slashing. Blood everywhere!
The crux of these films were, in part, the gore. The idea that dismemberment and bloody faces would be showered over a screen in front of the viewer was a scary thought for audiences back then. Because of this innocent sense of dread those early films had on audiences, and because of the fact that they lacked the modern day “Get me the fuck out of this theatre.” effect that films are known for today, many people think that these old flicks just can’t hold a candle to contemporary horror.
In part, that take isn’t incorrect, but in another way it totally is. Here’s a scene I’d like you to take a look at.
Now riddle me this, Aurelion Sol. What horror film today has the sheer nerve to make a scene like that? I totally understand that the scene is objectively hilarious today, but the fact that Halloween had Myers stand there like a half witted-knob in broad daylight while quite literally half-succeeding at hiding behind a bush speaks to its confidence in being able to manipulate the audience further on in the movie.
That confidence, that tone setting, is a seed that was planted in this era of film making that we can see today. Let’s take a look at that evolution.
Not two years after Halloween did we see a far more effective use of this tool in The Shining. Now, for everyone who hasn’t seen the movie, you can probably only roll your eyes at yet another reference to the film. And I understand that you can’t be bothered to see something that was made over 40 years ago, but also, you should probably go see that film now, so, I’ll see you later.
For the rest of you, take that Halloween scene above and apply that principle into this film; The Shining takes the idea of introducing a looming danger in the same way Halloween does. The difference here is that The Shining obfuscates it. Jack Torrence, played by Nicholson, is obviously an antagonist of the film by the middle of the story. Early on, however, its completely unclear what the threat of the film might be.
Hell, by the end of the film, you could still argue that the antagonist of the film isn’t as simple as being one person, but more of an idea, or a history. That aside, The Shining takes what Halloween did (note, I didn’t say invented) and applies it with a broader brush that’s seething with intent.
The horror of the film, straight away, isn’t that The Shining has introduced a threat, it’s that it hasn’t introduced a clear threat at all. In fact, audiences need to re-watch the film multiple times over while reading scene by scene essays about the understand exactly what’s happening and why.
A haunting? A madness? A calculated plan? Nothing at all?
Again, its obfuscated. And because of this, the horror of each scene is multiplied ten fold. This is because the monster of the film isn’t any one thing, its an ambiance.
You, the reader of this article, just had someone or something close a door in your house. I don’t know which door it is, and I don’t know what side of the door it was on when the door closed, but it closed the door all the same.
You’re not in any more danger now than you were before you read that paragraph, and yet you feel like you’re in more danger just knowing that something is coming, or waiting (and it is actually doing one or the other, I’m sorry to report). You might even feel compelled to get up and check just ‘because’. The horror is in the ambiance, is the point. Not in any real antagonist. Don’t check the bathroom.
I’d like to say that this film accomplishes something that every contemporary horror film tries to match pace with, and that’s to elevate itself to a
Greater Piece of Art
The Shining is a horror film, and horror films are known by general audiences to be made to scare, and sometimes have good-ish writing.
The truth is just the opposite in today’s world. And during its age, The Shining bucked trends by becoming a piece of commentary on something, or many things, or nothing at all. It’s a poem and a song, its a horror film, and some people think its satirical in some ways, all at the same time.
The Shining is a piece of art with horror mixed in. And because of this film, people, especially coming of age directors, were able to grasp some forgotten reality of life in film. That life isn’t just the standard film genres, its also horror, for every one of us, at some point. And that’s why horror is now a standard film genre.
Midsommar is a film about the loss of life, grief, and the way we rely and abuse those around us to cope with the tragedy that befalls every human being. It uses horror to draw out the overbearing nature of holding onto that loss, but also shows the way in which others around us can use that loss and vulnerability to get what they want.
You find a civilization’s outright delusional practices and their wisdom met in step with every single individual’s own strengths and flaws. Sometimes these practices and flaws, both of individuals and of the societies they belong to, are so realistic and so awkward and obviously misplaced that its embarrassing to look at, even on a distant screen. And this is by design.
Midsommaris mostly completely almost entirely fleshed out with those narratives: of individuals plaguing what could or could not be good intentions with their own child-like inaccuracies. And those inaccuracies expand themselves to reveal their nature on a societal level. And Midsommardoes this without being pretentious. The film is more afraid of what its depicting than it is above it.
Its a greater piece of art that uses horror as one of its many tools, and its horror, much like The Shining‘s, is implied through ambiance more than its shown directly through visuals (although Midsommardoesn’t shy away from visual horror). You feel something wrong, you hear that something is wrong, but you can’t see what’s wrong. Neither can the characters in the story, and their ignorance is matched by yours, step for step.
This is a feat that was created by those older films we talked about, and its only aided by a century of films evolution and story telling skill mounting on top of itself. Halloweenisn’t, in my opinion, nearly as good a film as The Shining. And I’ll say that The Shining can’t accomplish as much as Midsommardoes by virtue of not having as much evolution in tech and style.
Something is in the Air
We return to Phasmophobia. The game greets you at the beginning of every match with empty wind or rain that doesn’t do much for anyone of sound mind. It’s just rain, its just wind. Upon entering the location of choice, though, the sound dampens. The air halts, you can almost feel the cold of the house you’re wandering (or desperately trying to find the exit to) seeping into your face, all through audio. Something swirls around you, is it distracting, or is it malicious?
Again, its the ambiance tormenting you. But this time, Phasmophobia has what I would consider a great advantage over the aforementioned examples: It’s a video game.
Movies take the audience for a ride and try their best to put them into the movie’s scenes. Its difficult, but can be done with enough skill from the direction and cinematography. Video games, on the other hand, cannot help but force the audience to put themselves in the scene. Not only that, but the audience is the scene. When moving through a house in Phasmophobia, your character makes all of the decisions you make by default. He or she reacts just as you do, and so you cannot help but immerse yourself in the horror. Immerse isn’t even the right word. You can’t help but become tortured by it.
When a movie displays proper creation of a horrifying setting or sound, its up to the audience member to try and place themselves in the world and understand what’s happening.
When a video game displays those same attributes, it isn’t up to the player as to whether or not they get to take part in every tidbit of horror. They don’t get a choice. Not only are they forced to see reactions to the world around them that directly mirror their own, but they are forced to go through that difficult experience with their own effort and mental fortitude.
A movie pushes you along, but a video game opens its doors and lets you walk in, if you can handle it. And Phasmophobia really makes you want to be able to handle it.
I recently got my hands on Resident Evil: Village
And I won’t ruin the game for you, but I found myself next to a life-sized doll that I had to interact with, okay?
Now, in any film where this was a situation the protagonist had to deal with, the effects it would have on the audience would be dampened too much to warrant this kind of mention. But in a video game, or, more aptly, in this video game, the situation is one of the more terrifying I’ve experience in any medium.
The room that houses the doll is an empty, dry, and a hostile location. There may or may not be things there that can harm you (you really don’t know), but you do know that you hear doors in the distance that keep slamming every so often. And sometimes these doors sound a little louder, a little closer, than before.
Additionally, you have to leave the doll room temporarily to progress with the game and continue solving a puzzle that the doll is key to. In short, you have to leave the room and come back. Will the doll still be there? You definitely want the doll to be out of your life, but on the other hand, its MUCH better if it never moves, wouldn’t you say?
All of this is experienced at a human’s pace. That is to say, you experience it as slow as you approach the doll, interact with the doll, and are able to solve its puzzles. And also, you notice that in some rooms near the doll, there are these lockers. What are they for? You interact with them and find that you can actually open them up, stand in them, and hide. Why on earth do you need to hide? And was that door that just slammed in the distance an actual door or just ambiance?
You jump in the locker and wait there for 30 seconds, not sure if you even needed to, or if you’ll ever need to do that again. But the developers put the lockers there, it has to be for a reason, right?
You start heading back to the doll’s room, and swear you see the outline of a figure moving as you approach. In an instant, the figure is gone.
Take That Exact Experience
And apply it to a film. Does the character move in the same way the entire audience would? What about the way he or she interacts with the doll? How about how long the he or she takes to solve the puzzles? Does our protagonist even notice the lockers in the other rooms? What about the figure?
A good director can answer all of these questions, and do it well. But no director can make a film that alternates its content based on who’s watching. It will always be the same film, even if people experience it differently. But a video game will be an entirely different kind of story depending on who’s playing, and its characters and villains (or lack thereof) will change depending on how said player handles each situation they’re confronted with.
What gaming needs, now, is a renaissance the likes of which film got in the 80’s with The Shining. Perhaps its actually having that right now, or maybe its already had it, and I’ve missed the plot. But if it hasn’t, what we’re in for is a collection of games that push the limits of what a horror experience is supposed to be.
I believe, in time, that gaming will show itself to be a true story telling medium, the likes of which film will struggle to keep up with, when done correctly.