5.27.2017

Resident Evil 7 LONG Review!

I am either way ahead of the trend game, or way late.  In the case of Die Antwoord, I was light years ahead, but I admit it took me this long to warm up to, play, and now talk about the latest Resident Evil game.  I get long-winded which is why I always hesitate to write reviews, and I turn into a total snobby plot-elitist with video games, so you've been warned.  Either way, I played it recently and have been left with such FEELINGS I have to share!

So, I just played the newest game, but I'm not new to the franchise.  I guess I really am a die hard hipster, because I am a fan of the old games and have never warmed up to anything past Resident Evil 4.  Why? Oh yeah, because they suck.  I couldn't even look at 5 seriously, between Chris's roided-out Xbox muscles and the absolute lack of a cohesive script.  But lemme back up.


 
Resident Evil began as the frontline of the horror genre.  It had the chill factor.  The epitome of Biohazard "doing horror" was Resident Evil 4.  That game had everything.  Leon was franchise-expected cheese but not too cheese, the enemies were frightening but seemed legitimate, the story was how a small area played a huge role with the corrupt Umbrella-- it put a spotlight on a creepy backwoods cult and had a whole host of beautiful imagery to play alongside.  There were puzzles, bosses, a garden maze full of wolves, rainy nights with hidden terrors, a landscape of dilapidation and disrepair....it was a tragic and terrifying game.


So that was Resident Evil's road--a horror franchise that got stronger and stronger with each title release, and blew everything away with Resident Evil 4.  It legitimately is one of the best games of all time, and holds up to modern games as witnessed by the various remasters and ports across basically every platform.  Naturally I'm going to say next that Resident Evil took a horribly wrong turn.  I don't know what was going on in Capcom's world other than writers and project leaders moving on, but they spent so long refining 4 and then made the abysmal tragedies of 5 and 6 so bad I couldn't even play them, despite all the fanservice pleas they thought they were fulfilling.   No thanks.  I don't want inauthenticity, and the games plots were on par with some Livejournal fanfiction written by teenagers.

They moved away from the precision-timing horror and tension and decided to go all Michael Bay.  BIG MUSCLES! BIG EXPLOSIONS! BIG MEAN BOSS! SEXY BOOBIES! SKIN TIGHT SUITS! It degenerated into a joke that was almost as bad as the joke movies--truth: Resident Evil movies are trash.  5 and 6 moved forward with that action-oriented, non-motivating "plot" so I figured Resident Evil 7 would be a literal roll of toilet paper.  I wasn't the only one; many fans expressed their dissatisfaction for 6, and the sad gamer score of 5.0 on Metacritic echoes this widely-held opinion.


I gave up 100% on the series and moved on.  Eventually Derik and I got bored enough with all the lame 2017 titles that we downloaded the game this month.  I was so disinterested that I hadn't bothered to read spoilers which is something I usually do (but in this case I'm SO glad I didn't!!!)  Well, all those thoughts we had? We were wrong.  So wrong!

CONSIDER THIS YOUR SPOILER WARNING


Here's everything Resident Evil 7 got right:

Visuals:  I don't care how snobby it makes me sound.  A game has to look good to be good.  I don't have any experience with the VR, but on Xboxone, this game looks flat-out gorgeous.  It wasn't five minutes in that I noticed how set apart the graphics were.  Nothing looked repeated or overused, the textures were seamless.  From the house to the swamp to the boat and back, well done on scenery, objects, lighting--just amazing.

 
Atmosphere:  My big personal #1.  Atmosphere can make or break a game and it goes without saying, a horror game needs a legitimately believably creepy.  One of the things I loved about RE4 was how the neglected, overgrown village looked so much like home: forlorn, abandoned, lost, almost sad.  I think it was a callback to both that village and the mansion from RE1 that made this whole sorrowful atmosphere really feel like a Resident Evil game.  The ruin was all around you with glimpses of "what was" in the ornate furniture, lavish mansion, and old photos.  Every time you step into a save room, you feel a bit of loss for the place.  It's fantastic.  It's even better that you get to find out why the family turned out the way they did.

Fear Factor:  Finally, a S C A R Y game!  So much to look forward to (if you like being afraid)...for example you 1) don't have a gun for parts of it, or even a knife! 2) have limited ammo that does limited damage 3) have to plan out strategies--do I kill him? run past? go into the other room? will the door stay locked?  4) have to use memory, skill, reflexes, and finesse all at the right times....let me tell you, my adrenaline was so high that within the first fight, my kid was kicking me so hard in the gut I think even he was scared! There is a feeling of helplessness that I didn't even feel in my beloved RE4.  Ethan is not a special agent, he has no training, he's just a dude stuck in a house full of maniacs.  The series has improved its camera angles (plugging RE4 for its revolutionary over the shoulder angle, ahem) but despite a good visual range and amazing lighting, I'm still scared to see or hear Mauraurite shuffling around, or stumble upon god forbid, Grandma Baker.  The epitome of this is in the "Eveline's Room" area of the old house.

Tactics:  Again, you don't have unlimited ammo and hand grenades and five rocket launchers.  This aspect of the game is so rewarding, because not only are you solving puzzles and freaking out about whatamigonnado, but you have to conserve ammo.  You have to time your shots.  You have to aim for certain body parts.  Even when you get to be a badass and wield a CHAINSAW for hell's sake...you don't feel like "I got this."  You feel like "OH SHIIIIIIIIT!" but in the good, fun scary way, like a roller coaster.  There was no place they could have gotten more correct in this.  Having to pick and choose what items fit in your inventory is anxiety itself, haha.


Throwbacks to the Original Games:  It was everywhere.  The herbs.  The large, clunky "door keys" that fit into place.  The save room with its own haunting soundtrack.  Ethan's withering dialogue to himself at various plot points.  Umbrella's involvement (even if it's only barely touched upon.)  The derelict areas and the fact that even though it feels like months, it's still night outside.   The developers definitely knew this was a Resident Evil game and they acted accordingly, sprinkling enough nods to the series that us old crabby hard to please fans all drooled over.

The Twist:  You're just about to bash this creepy little girl's brains in, and then surprise!  Old lady Gibson over there with the face transfixed in horror, IS the horror.  I am so glad I didn't spoil this for myself, although Capcom tried to warn us all with a photo of Granny and a codename on the back, shortly after you begin the game.  Sorry, I was too busy freaking out that my hand got chopped off and that Mia came at me with a damn chainsaw, to remember that in later hours of the game.  Well done Capcom.  Never have I wanted to retroactively push an old woman out of her wheelchair and down the stairs so much before.

Things Resident Evil 7 Got Wrong

It was almost perfect, but there were a few head-scratchers I had after the final battle.  These are by no means disses, just personal preference, and they didn't "ruin" the game for me whatsoever.  If only all games could boast such potential.

Boss Fights:  Not a personal gripe, because I actually hate boss fights.  But it's an undeniable suspension-builder in every type of game, and the accomplishment sense really helps in overall gamer satisfaction.  7 had some pretty great fights (Marguerite) but it had some pretty bad ones as well, particularly the last one.  If boss fight showdowns are your thing, you will be disappointed.

The "Ship" Portion of the Game:  Again, not a huge deal, but it was the weakest area of the game by far.  I couldn't get enough of the houses, I was all about that Baker property, but I just mostly wanted to send Mia jumping off the ship and into the swamp where she should have stayed and not ruined Ethan's life.  The atmosphere and visuals were great, but the actual gameplay--a glorified fetch quest--didn't quite do the job of telling the story in a fun way as I assume Capcom hoped it would.

Certain Plot Points: Zoe?  You find out as you go along why the Bakers act like they do, but so much goes unsaid.  Why is Zoe "immune" to Eveline's grasp?  Why does Eveline wait until you're at the ship to kill Zoe (assuming you choose her to take the serum)  Why is that bra hanging up in the trailer and why does Ethan comment on it?  I feel like a lot of her story was cut, and that bums me out.  I also don't get why Mia was so busy telling Ethan to not come get her, when anyone who knows anything about significant others know that a video message like that would send your spouse running for you.  I generally don't like Mia--if you're going to work for a weird sleazy biochem company and run experiments that include creating age-advancing children and putting them in a lab for their entire life, maybe don't marry a civilian whom you can't talk to any of this about?  I just am annoyed that she was out doing whatever and Ethan was sitting at home twiddling his thumbs and had no idea of her involvement.  I won't complain much though, because these are all minor irritations.

There's also the possibility that we will get to see more of Zoe, Mia, and Ethan and their motivations in future DLC or other installments, so I am happy at that prospect!  I've seen/watched some of the Daughters DLC but it didn't satisfy me.  I NEED MORE!

Upgrades and Items:  I'm definitely sounding hypocritical on this one because I just praised the limited weapons/ammo/storage/etc, and while they do their part, there are more "restrictions" on weapon types and more (what I consider) extras that take up space.  The coins, the pills, the Magnum (no further explanation needed) it just felt very disorienting with "needs" versus "oh man I'd LOVE that thing!"  Even the grenade launcher you eventually get is pretty useless.  Again, minor gripe, I am just so used to the wealth of buyable items from the Stranja' in 4 that I expected a similar rewards system.


Well, there you have it.  Long-winded and snobby just like I promised.  Sorry I'm late to the game, disbelievers! I am one of you now.

5.21.2017

Abandoned Ducktown Elementary

It's been awhile, I'm slow, but I'm so excited to share this site today!  Continuing on our theme from last time--it was our unorthodox decision to see if we could creep into abandoned/neglected sites from my childhood when we booked the trip to Tennessee.  This site isn't actually a place I ever spent time, but I wanted to visit anyway.



In the wilderness from whence I come, there used to be two elementary schools.  Ducktown and Turtletown (let those sink in.)  They're both now abandoned, but I attended Turtletown school, while the "richer" --I use that term loosely-- kids went to the luxurious, two-storied Ducktown Elementary, a former college that was never actually used as a college.

Ducktown Elementary isn't even on any public road.  It has a private driveway, so I never saw the building until I was in high school and went there for a pep rally or some business.  I was awestruck by the architecture, because in the Appalachian foothills, a cabin is about as fancy as it gets.  This place looked majestic.  I remember seeing it as a teenager and getting legit pissed!  I got ripped off, I could have been getting my education there?!  Additionally, it was on every student's lips that the place was haunted.  Why hadn't I been allowed in the marble bathrooms and ghost-laden corridors as a kid?  Rude.

So I figured now on vacation, since the building is en route to Turtletown, we might as well go up the driveway and see what became of the building. After doing a little research I understood why I appreciated the looks of the place so much--it's the only building in the Copper Basin area designed by an actual architect!  Here's a pretty cool picture of it in its heyday, note the vintage cars in the lower left of the photo. It was originally built as a junior college, but lack of population caused it to change purposes until it finally shut down in the 00's.  For some reason, that fact spooks me out--lack of students is why my elementary school is closed down.  There just weren't enough kids.  I live in a constantly expanding city, so it feels extra isolating to know we were a dying breed back in the day, and that the population kept dropping.

After our unbelievable success at getting into gated, locked Ghost Town, I didn't have my hopes up for 2 out of 2.  My best hope was to show my passengers the impressive structure from the outside.  So imagine my confusion when we passed an open gate on the road. What??? I'd done my research and according to the information I had available, the place was abandoned, unsafe, in peril, and nobody could figure out what to do with it.  So why was the gate open?  We approached the derelict, imposing building and were even more confused when we saw people milling about on the playground.  WAS THE SCHOOL OPEN?


I hailed one of the lingering women and asked what was happening and why the doors were open.  I distinctly remember that I was actually enunciating my southern accent, trying to fit in and be less "stranger" because she had that Polk County twang.  As hard as it is to mute my accent all day long, I can revert back to sounding like I just crawled out of Farner alarmingly easy.  It apparently worked, because after initial suspicion, she seemed at east and informed us (me, Allyn, my sister Amanda, and my nephew Robbie) that their church was using the building for rehab classes and she would go ask her preacher (haha, there's a word I hadn't heard in years) if we could step in for a look.  I could hear some preacherly howling filtering through the open windows, drifting across the spring breeze toward us to corroborate her story.  The girl returned, without having interrupted his speech, to give us the green light.  I made a note to not question the grim, terrifying location choice for rehab, and couldn't believe we had scored yet again on gaining entry to places not open to the public.


Once inside, the place was everything that I'd dreamed!!  It was like the school in Silent Hill, except real and way, way eerie even without Pyramid head.  I have to say, it was unbelievably creepy with full sunlight streaming in.  I feel like these places are expected to turn spooky at night.  Every school is spooky in the dark, with rows of empty desks.  But during the day, it's like you know the halls are supposed to be filled with kids, with teachers, with noise, with the acrid scent of public school lunch (sorry lunch ladies.)  Instead, it was a combination of profound silence and bright sun, and not even Mr. Preacher's loud anti-devil cries made their way down the long hallways.


The only time we got interrupted was when another church member exited her class to ask again what we were doing there.  She seemed a bit more authoritative, and then I realized I knew her; I had grown up with her, she used to babysit me.  I informed her who I was.  Super awkward, because she didn't remember me at all, and I remembered her, and here she was in rehab class.  I think she wanted us to be there for rehab, but we all gave a hard pass on that, and like any good Southerner she threw in the bit about asking if we were instead joining for church.  Another hard no from the four of us, haha, sorry man, but that's what you get for not remembering me.  She begrudgingly told us not to go upstairs because it was dangerous.  Dangerous smangerous, that's where all the supposed ghost stories took place.  Oh well.  Can't win them all.  I was more than content to walk those once-majestic halls and get a feel of the splendor from back in the day.  They just don't build them like they used to.



Doesn't this place just scream "drug free and loving the Lord"?


That's the pretty uneventful story of how we got into a second "empty" building with no resistance.  I couldn't believe our luck and kept saying so.  But the real place we wanted to see was the school where both Amanda and I had spent some of our most formative, miserable, terrifying years--good ol' Turtletown Elementary.  Even if we just stuck our noses to the glass I knew I had to see the inside of that prison center of learning.  So we packed in the truck and headed for even more isolation.  Despite my huge shock at 2 out of 2 "abandoned" areas being occupied and giving us permission to enter, I knew it wouldn't be so out there in the middle of nowhere.

I'll be posting about Turtletown Elementary next!

5.03.2017

2017 Visit to Ghost Town in the Sky

Holy smokes what a month! So glad April is over.  Anyway, let's get right into the story--the next (but is it final?) chapter of Ghost Town in the Sky.  If you're new here or are curious, the recap starts with this entry, where I share what Ghost Town is and how much it means to me.  I have a few photos on this entry, from when I visited and attempted to climb the mountain in autumn of 2016.

But this time we made it!  I had to make a video about this because it's a story that's meant to be heard, not a blog that's meant to be written.  You can watch/listen to me blab, sorry I don't have any fancy equipment for vlogging--and I'll post photos below.  If you're here from the Ghost Town Facebook group, welcome!  You guys are like an odd family to me.  It's not just me who longs for the olden golden days, and I hope this update is good news to you.




A note on the photos: I should have/could have taken more, but as I stated in the video, we were so busy exploring and being in awe at actually being there, I couldn't ruin the moments over and over by snapping 100000000000s of photos.  Also, a lot of the park was not recognizable, particularly over by the slide area.  

I will never understand repainting and renaming this coaster.  Red Devil suited it perfectly!  Anyway, look at that view. 


 I was so surprised and happy to see that the Silver Dollar Saloon looks so classy!  My mom used to tell me that one day if I practiced and got good enough, maybe I could play that piano up there.  It was my dream.  

 
 
I  hate giving attention to terrible people, but my outrage was so bad I took this for sharing with others who respected this place as much as I did.


 
The above and following photos are the left and right views of the entrance to the ride area.  This top photo is the once-great ride area, devoid of...well, everything.  This was the unrecognizable part, and it's easy to see why if you've been here over the past 20 years.  It looks nothing like the vibrant, busy theme park it used to be. 

The below photo shows the maw of the slide, where you can really tell just what a chunk is missing.  The entire hollowed out area took rides and fences and whatever else along with it, they're sitting at the bottom.  I'm not sure how safe the area currently is, but the whole place made me so incredibly uneasy that I went from excited to ready to leave in under five minutes.  

 
 One of the only recognizable rides.  How many times have I sat in these seats, placating my whiny kid sister because it was the ride she liked? Ha! 
   
Above photo is the sign, sitting on the edge of the slide where it almost met an untimely death.  Well, it still kind of did, but at least (most of it) is on top of the mountain rather than down at the bottom.  

Bonus bottom photo!  Change the name and signage and rebrand... THIS is the Ghost Town in everyone's hearts!