Sunday, 16 July 2017

Five things I'll always remember from my first time in Japan...



1. Genki Japanese and Culture School (Genki JACS)

I had been planning to go to Japan for years. It was my dream. I'd been learning the language for a couple of years and felt like I could just about get by. Even so, I'd been waiting. Waiting for someone to find the time and money to join me on my trip of a lifetime, and then just when I was building up the courage to say, “screw it, I'll go alone”, something amazing happened. I won an essay contest that the wonderful people at Japan Reference were running; and the prize was for two weeks' worth of Japanese lessons at Genki Japanese and Culture School (Genki JACS).


Funny thing is, though, I had looked at a previous contest's prize page and believed I had won a month's worth of lessons. A month. I hadn't even thought about going to Japan for an entire month. Once I'd thought about it, I was sure that anything less than a month just wouldn't do. 

It would have to be sorted with work – which I knew was possible since a colleague, friend, and one half of digital marketing duo 'Two Social Girls' was exploring Australia for a month at that very moment – and so I sowed the bonsai seed within the senior team at work. It took a bit of planning, but before long I was given the go-ahead. I was going to Japan.

I arrived on Saturday night, slept through most of Sunday (with a little exploring, of course), and was enrolled in the Genki Japanese and Culture School on Monday. I was lucky enough to arrive on one of Japan's national holidays and joined a school trip to Akizuki Town, known as “Kyushuu's Little Kyoto”. It was an amazing experience and I met many people who would soon become friends.

The next day was a proper school day, and after a quick interview to assess my language level – in Japanese – I was placed into a class of 5-6 other students. It was so difficult at first since teachers avoided speaking English at all costs, I felt way out of my depth, and my ears were still far from tuned to the language. My first week was spent catching up on lessons that the other students had already covered, completing daily homework, and falling to sleep fully clothed on my bed.

It was intense, to say the least, but put me in a great place for the second week of lessons. After putting in the effort to catch up, I was able to truly appreciate the speed at which I was learning at the school, and how fun the lessons and teachers were. Everyone was incredibly kind, patient, and understanding, and I'd recommend Genki JACS to anyone that wants to learn Japanese in Japan. 

It's perfect for learning Japanese in a fun environment and has multiple culture classes every week for exploring Fukuoka (or Tokyo), including cooking classes, calligraphy classes, film nights, talent shows, and so much more. It's an amazing school and I can't thank Genki JACS enough for my time there, or Japan Reference for the competition that sent me to Japan in the first place.

  1. The convenience stores (konbini: コンビニ)
I wasn't expecting the local shops to be one of the things I remembered so dearly from my time in Japan, but it's for good reason. For one thing, they're everywhere, and for another, they. have. everything. コンビニ are like Tesco Express on steroids, and they have everything you'd normally expect to see in a local shop along with a much wider range of lunch options, hot food served near the tills, a selection of manga, and a surprising amount of foreigners behind the tills. Sometimes this resulted in a friendly nod of the head, and other times it just made me feel like living, and working, in Japan was possible for anyone.

  1. Making a lifelong friend
Not only is Matt Barber one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet, but he's also the reason I ended up in Japan in the first place. He's the person that linked me to the original JREF competition that I was lucky enough to win, and I will always be grateful to him for kickstarting my love affair with Japan into the highest of gears.

We first got chatting on Twitter about games and Japanese, and before long we were practising verb conjugation and kanji together, and despite being only 1.5 hours apart by train, we'd never met. So, because we're cool (sugoi: すごい), we decided to meet for the first time in Japan and share AirBnBs together for the second two weeks of my month away. It was a risky move... but have I mentioned already that Matt is the nicest guy?

Background note before I tell you this tiny story: I'm pescatarian (I eat fish, but no other meat).

Anyway, the very first night, when we were staying in Osaka, we went for dinner in a nearby shopping centre. We sat down to eat and Matt asked me, “Are you okay with me eating meat?”

In my entire seven years of not eating meat, I don't think anyone has ever asked if I minded if they ate meat. I get lots of “why don't you eat meat?”, “how do you survive?”, and even “do you eat duck?” – but I've never been asked if I was okay with someone else eating meat. Obviously, I had no problem with it, since it's my choice and I don't want to force it on someone else. It was more the fact that he was here, in Japan, after travelling for approx. 20 hours, and he was willing to avoid meat in a country where the food is meant to be all kinds of amazing while around me. Nicest. Guy. Ever. 

I have no doubt we'll both meet in Japan again in the future because we had an absolute blast; exploring, getting lost, go-karting through Tokyo, buying everything that wasn't nailed down in Akihabara, being filmed for a local TV show, and becoming addicted to Kill la Kill are just a few highlights. Until then, we'll be sure to catch up for drinks, gaming, and conjugation chatter a little closer to home.

  1. THE FOOD
Speaking of food that is all kinds of amazing... My god. Japan, people. Japan.

Their food is known to be one of a kind, and they did not disappoint. When I wasn't filling up at the closest コンビニ – and that was pretty much my entire first two weeks, y'know, since I was a student – I was diving into sterling street-food (takoyaki <3), comforting curries, and unbelievable udon. And that was just the savoury dishes. On the sweet side, there was also matcha ice cream (green tea), Mr Donut's donuts, and something heavenly called メロンパン (melon bread).

The food is one of the easiest things to miss. I'd kill for some メロンパン.

  1. Making that first mistake
Thinking about this moment still makes me cringe... I'd organised for a driver to pick me up from the airport and drop me off at my private apartment in Fukuoka. He was friendly enough and spoke a little English, and switching between basic English and Japanese we managed a conversation on the way. Since it was my very first conversation with an actual Japanese person other than my teacher in England, I was nervous as hell. It wasn't so bad.

Then we arrived at my apartment building and I tried to utter a phrase I'd been racking my brain to remember for the latter half of the journey: ki wo tsukete (気をつけて), which means “take care”. Only, I didn't say 気をつけて at all, I said “te wo tsukete”. Pretty close, right? Well, yeah, but it meant absolutely nothing. Even now I remember the way the driver paused as he was leaving the building... It cuts me deeper than any seppuku ever could.

Even so, making that first mistake was everything. They say that the quickest way to learn a language is to speak it, whether you make mistakes or not. More often than not, you'll be corrected and learn, and probably have fun doing it. I know that I'll never be able to forget 気をつけて again.

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There is entire list of other things I'll never forget from my first time in Japan – like the awesome Book and Bed hostel we stayed in for a night, or the arcades we spent more than a few yen inside, and especially the extreme relaxation found inside an onsen (hot spring baths) – but I've only got so many hours in the day...

Until I decide to write more about my time in Japan, this is my list. It doesn't even begin to show how much my time in Japan meant to me. It was a truly life-changing month and it taught me a lot about Japan, and just as much about myself.


If, like I was, you're waiting on someone else to do something that you've always wanted to do - stop waiting. Make it happen. It could be the best thing you ever do.

The essay that sent me to Japan...


What aspects of Japanese culture intrigue you the most?

Wow. Where do I even start? With its mixture of bustling, trendy cities and rural villages with beautiful scenery, all enveloped with a sense of duty, belonging, family and tradition, Japan has more than a few aspects that all combine to create the intrigue and passion I feel for the country. However, if I had to narrow it down to just a couple of aspects, I would choose Japan's devotion to its positivity and paranormal.

Firstly, Japan's positivity. I recently learned about the mindset of shōgenai (しょうがない). As you already probably know, this phrase translates to “it cannot be helped”, and it's so much more than a phrase. It's a way of life. Shōgenai is used to replace the negativity of everyday issues with a positive attitude that won't be shaken. Something was more expensive than expected? Shōgenai. Too busy at work to go for that meal with friends? Shōgenai. Didn't win a competition for two weeks of life-changing Japanese lessons? Shōgenai. Hopefully I won't have to use it on that last one, but if I do, the Japanese mindset would help me.

As a result of this mindset, Japanese people seem to cultivate an extremely friendly, helpful culture in which the group is just as important as the individual, if not more so. If more people thought like this, I can’t help but think the world would be a better place.

Without the negativity of daily life, there's more time to spend enjoying the people and places of somewhere as beautiful and diverse as Japan. After all, Christmas is coming up, so there'll be lots of KFC with friends and family to enjoy... Who could feel negative about that?

Onto the second aspect that intrigues me; Japanese's love for the paranormal, and the essence of spirituality that is intertwined with the country. From its rich tapestry of myths and ghost stories to its shrines and shared connection with those that have passed away, Japan is a country that has embraced the spiritual with open arms.

At one end of the spectrum I can't tear myself away from Japanese horror films or anime (such as Yamishibai, designed in a similar way to the paper-theatre storytelling of kamishibai), and at the other I am humbled by the ongoing respect for loved ones that even transcends to the other side.

I can only imagine the feeling of lighting a lantern during Obon and floating it down the Sasebo river while paying my respects. A personal experience shared by many to create a night that would be hard to forget. An equally unforgettable experience I’d love to have is walking through the towering forest of Aokigahara, known as the Sea of Trees or Suicide Forest, watched over by Mount Fuji. While discovering the spirituality that is present all over Japan, this infamous forest once again piqued my interest as an important, and mysterious, part of Japan’s culture.

I've been learning Japanese for about a year now and still haven't been able to visit Japan to explore its beauties and practise the language I'm trying to understand in its natural setting. If I were to win this competition, it would help me to realise my dream of going to Japan, where I hope to live one day. 

Not only would it help me to practise Japanese, but it would allow me to surround myself with the very people that I'm trying to connect with. In doing so, I'd hope to take on some of the very aspects that intrigue me most about Japan; an innate positivity and spirituality that enriches daily lives in a country that I so want to be a part of.

In short, it would change my life. Won't you help me?

Monday, 31 October 2016

Top 10 Games in Steam's 2016 Halloween Sale



Happy Halloween! 

It's finally here. Possibly my favourite day of the year. And, with Steam's Halloween sale, it could easily be yours as well (if it isn't already). I was going to cover my top five horror games on sale, but, well, there are just too many great games to choose from. I would be doing you, and the games on sale, a disservice. Instead, I'm going to highlight five games that I already own and love, and five games that I'm likely to own soon... because I'm weak for horror with a discount. 

Games I own (and that you should, too!):



SOMA

From the team behind Amnesia: The Dark DescentSOMA is a sci-fi horror that feels like it's set in the dank, underwater sections of BioShock. Within its dripping hallways are many tense moments of hide-and-seek with a creature that you'll never want to get too close to, and a surprising depth (no pun intended) surrounding the concepts of consciousness, reality, and what it is to be human. As you'll see from my review, the game was worth every penny at full price, so it's a complete steal at £9.19 (60% off). 




Outlast

If you haven't played Outlast by now, shame on you. It's a game-changing horror from Red Barrels, where you'll explore an old asylum as an investigative journalist with a night-vision camera and little else. It's one of the scariest games I've ever played, and also one of the best. With Outlast 2 drawing near, there's never been a better time to pick up Outlast, and at only £3.74 (75% off), you'll even be able to afford the therapy afterwards. 



Depth

Depth has sharks. It's as simple as that. Not enough? Okay. Depth is a multiplayer game that pits divers against sharks, all player-controlled, across a series of different modes and maps. As a diver, you'll try to complete objectives, upgrade gear, and listen to the sound of your own heartbeat growing faster as a shark swims closer. As a shark, you'll choose from a number of different sharks - from the Mako, to the Hammerhead, to the beauty that is the Great White Shark - upgrade your own abilities, and pick off the divers one by one. It's great fun. Read my review, and see why it's worth every penny at £4.74 (75% off). 





Dead by Daylight

Dead by Daylight is a game that people are probably sick of hearing me talk about, but what's one more recommendation between friends? Frankly, I love it. One killer. Four survivors. As they try to escape, the killer hunts them down, hacks them up, and hangs them on a meat hook to either die or be saved by another survivor. It's like playing through a slasher movie. If that's not enough, the game now has its first licensed killer in Michael Myers from Halloween, along with Laurie Strode as a survivor and Haddonfield as a map. You can join the multiplayer madness for £10.49 (30% off), and if you think you might pick it up, make sure to read my top 3 tips for surviving and slashing



Dead Space 1 and 2 

I doubt the Dead Space games need much introduction, but just in case, these games see Isaac Clarke, Space Engineer, responding to distress calls aboard massive space stations. Each time, when he gets there, he finds the stations oddly abandoned. Before long, the reason why comes crawling from vents all around him: Necromorphs. Once crew members, they are now disfigured monstrosities that'll give you nightmares. Both Dead Space and Dead Space 2 are amazing games, and they're £2.49 each (75% off). I can't recommend them highly enough if you haven't played them before, and £5 will buy you hours of enjoyment (and tears).


Top five games I'll probably own soon:



Slayaway Camp 

Slayaway Camp is doing the rounds at the moment and is seeing some great reviews. It was already on my radar even before it went on sale, so now it's a pretty big blip I'm keeping my eye on. Players control Skullface, a psycho that's looking to slaughter a few teenage counsellors at the titular Slayaway Camp. Despite its gory concept, the game actually has a pretty cute voxel style and killing the teenagers involves solving isometric puzzles. This "darkly comic homage to 80s horror" will keep your mind, and your knife, pretty sharp. Plus, the game is only £4.43 (26% off). 



Camp Sunshine

I'm clearly still not over my 80s teen-slasher phase, because Camp Sunshine is another horror set at Summer Camp where teenagers are becoming an endangered species. This time, it's a "16-bit blood-soaked horror RPG" where you play as Jez. He wakes up in the middle of the night to find blood splashed everywhere. Before he knows it, he's trapped in a "deadly game of cat and mouse" with a murderer dressed in a mascot costume. It's like the creepy bunny mascot from Silent Hill 3 finally moved... It's only £5.59 (20% off), and looks to be a 16-bit nightmare that I can't wait to be trapped inside. 




Darkest Dungeon

Darkest Dungeon is a rogue-like, turn-based RPG in a dark, gothic wrapper. Players have to recruit, train and lead a group of "flawed heroes" in a battle against a number of twisted creatures and the "ever-encroaching dark." It looks to be a challenging experience, but one that is also available on Steam, PlayStation 4 and PS Vita (where I may pick this one up). At only £11.39 (40% off), Darkest Dungeon is quite a new game with an interesting premise, and one that is more than likely to keep you going through its hellish battles for a good, long while. 

Check it out >



Lakeview Cabin Collection

Honestly, of all the games in my list, Lakeview Cabin Collection is the one that I understand the least. What I do understand is that the game is a 2D action-puzzler that puts another group of people in another set of lakeside cabins with a murderer on the way. By now, you can probably tell that this combination is all I need right now. According to the Steam reviews, which are "very positive," you can "get drunk, get naked, have a foursome" and then try to survive the killer. That's really all I need to hear. LCC sounds fun, and at £1.74 (75% off), it's a risk I'm very willing to take. 



Through the Woods

Through the Woods, though the most expensive game on the list, is also the newest, and was only released on Thursday 27th of last week. It features a mother searching the woods for her missing son, and is heavily influenced by Norse mythology and Norwegian folktales. Based on what I've seen so far, there seems to be a focus on Norse giants. At £14.39 (10% off), it still looks well worth the money for an immersive, third-person stroll (or, more likely, sprint) through the woods. 



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Like the sound of quite a few of the games on sale? Better act fast, as the sale is only running until November 1st (inclusive). After that, the prices go back up and can be as scary as the games themselves. Quick, get yourself some cheap horror!

And with that... the candle inside the pumpkin has been blown out. I hope you've enjoyed my daily posts leading up to Halloween as much as I have. If you did, please make sure to leave a comment, share the articles, or just get in touch on Twitter

Don't fear - I'll be sharing the scares again before you know it. I've already got a few more game reviews lined up. I'll just need a day or two rest while I lock all of the doors and gorge on horror in all varieties to celebrate Halloween the only way I know how. Have a scary one.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Blood & Gourd - Issue 1 and 2 Review


In the weeks leading up to Halloween, I was lucky enough to find myself in possession of Issue 1 and 2 of Dead Peasant's Blood & Gourd comic book. By which I mean, they were kind enough to send me review copies. What I discovered within its pages was a witty, gory experience that fully encapsulates the Halloween season. Oh, and if you have a pumpkin spice latte nearby, I'd put it down... You never know where those pumpkins came from.



The basic concept, without spoiling the story, is that it's almost Halloween and there's a pumpkin growing contest on Henderson Farms; a family farm that is now being bought out by a big corporation up to no good. So, this pumpkin contest is the family's last weekend on the farm. This is basically Blood & Gourd's version of their "last night on the force before retirement." Naturally, things go wrong in the most unnatural way. Evil (and awesome) pumpkins. 

Then, the entire farm, and all of its visitors – from the country folk that grew up there to the city mice that have travelled to reconnect or relax – are thrown into chaos. In the first two issues, this is Blood & Gourd.


The art and colours of the page immediately transported me to a place where Autumn is in full force, and every page is bursting with seasonal reds, oranges and yellow. It's perfect for setting the Halloween mood, as well as representing the season we all know and love in a small American farm.

Then, once I'd appreciated the style of the comic, and it's beautiful covers (seriously, dat issue 1 cover, tho), I noticed the writing. Not only did it give me a good idea of the characters, histories and motives - some of which I liked and respected, some of which I didn't - but it was also pretty damn funny. I learned my new favourite insult, "butt crumbs," and the humour kept the barrage of horror and gore (which I loved, of course) at a good pace. It never felt like I was drowning in gore, but able to jump from one stepping stone of humour and wit to the next, appreciating both without ever been consumed too fully by either. It was a perfect mix.

When the horror does take hold, though, it does it well. Pumpkins with teeth, necks being snapped, faces melting... Blood & Gourd has all of the good stuff, and it's drawn in great detail with bright colours and splash pages. Heaven. 



One favourite moment, which I'll share, has a kid holding his Mum's hand. She's out of the panel and the kid is glancing around, unsure of whether the brutality around him is real or a Halloween show. He asks her. When he looks up, wondering why she hasn't replied, her head has been replaced by a pumpkin with teeth from the neck up. Then Kitty, a take-no-crap kind of protagonist, pitch-forks her through the chest. I loved it. 

It's an amazing moment that reminded me why I love horror, but before long there was another joke, and it's this mix that keeps the comic flowing nicely. As Joss Whedon once said, "Make it dark, make it grim, make it tough, but then, for the love of God, tell a joke.”


Issue 1 is a 48-page spectacle of autumnal horror, and Issue 2, while much shorter, continues the story in a speedy fashion, leaving the reader on the edge of their seats with a cliff-hanger that could have global repercussions. Issue 2 also starts with a short limerick, which reminded me of the shorter tales in the back of the Harrow County comics - known as "Tales of Harrow County." This showed that the creators could create a much darker tone if they desired, and it's something I'd be happy to see more of, either at the start or end of issues.

If you're on my blog, I can almost guarantee that you'd enjoy Blood & Gourd. It features a story that's perfect for the Halloween season and stirs together all of the best ingredients in one massive, indie-comic cauldron. Brutal deaths, drawn and coloured perfectly for maximum effect, combined with witty writing that keeps the pace flowing nicely from one petrifying page to the next, and a story where I'm excited to see what happens next. You should be, too.



Ready to carve some pumpkins? You find out more about Blood & Gourd on its website, or purchase the issues for yourself in print or digitally via Comixology. Go on. It's bloody gourd.


Saturday, 29 October 2016

Hello, Neighbor! - Pre-Alpha Demo Impressions



"Hello, Neighbor!" isn't something I say often, or ever, since I don't speak to my neighbours, but since it's the name of Dynamic Pixels and tinyBuild's upcoming stealth horror, it's something I'm happy to add to my vocabulary. Even in such mysterious circumstances as this: 

Across the street is a man. There's something strange about him. Something shines from behind his basement door, which is padlocked and boarded up. Just what is he hiding back there? Well, in Hello, Neighbor!'s pre-alpha demo, that's what I aimed to find out.

Here he is. Looking out the window like he doesn't have some terrifying secret hidden in his basement. Douche.

At its core, Hello, Neighbor! is a game which has players exploring the house of the man across the street, whether he likes it or not. And he really doesn't. The ultimate goal is to find out what is locked away in his basement. The only way to do this, however, is to sneak into his house and gradually work your way through using items you find, such as keys to unlock doors, hammer to pry off boards, and codes to enter into keypads. 

In order to get enough time to do actually do this, or to explore a room that the neighbour is currently in, distractions are key. For example, do you want to go into the living room where he's watching TV? If you smash a window, turn on a radio, or open the garage door, to pick out a few examples, he'll get up to find out what it was. While he's up and about, it's time to move. Be quick, though, because you never know when he might be back.


If he comes back to find you snooping about, you'll know about it. The music becomes almost deafening as he chases you down, and if he catches you, you wake up back in your bedroom across the street. Only next time you go back to the neighbour's house, things will have changed.

You see, Hello, Neighbor! features procedural AI that can, and will, adapt. During one of my many short playthroughs (I wasn't very good at snooping), I got my foot caught in a bear trap. Shortly afterwards, he appeared, and I found myself back across the street. Then, knowing my weakness for this method of capture, I found that he'd put another bear trap right outside the front door. Clever bastard. 



While Hello, Neighbor!'s premise and procedural AI definitely have promise, the early build that I played through felt like just that. I was able to somehow glitch through a wall and hide under a bed without ever stepping foot inside, and the neighbour himself would often get stuck inside objects. Though this seemed like an invitation to explore the rest of the house in my own time, it actually meant that he was sometimes stuck inside the very room that I wanted to be in. If he then spotted me, he'd break free from his glitch-trap and catch me. It almost always made me jump...

In addition, I had to guess what the controls were, as the escape button closed the entire demo rather than bringing up a menu, like I'd thought it would. In a demo as tense as this, it would have been nice to know the controls from the get-go. The latter issue is obviously very minor, but adds up to the unpolished feel that can be expected at this stage in development.



Regardless of the few bugs mentioned above, which really aren't that surprising inside a pre-alpha build, Hello, Neighbor! has my attention. From the very first trailer, I've been captivated by the game's unique style, making the world and its characters seem surreal and larger than life, much like the world of Albino Lullaby, another one-of-a-kind horror that I reviewed in 2015. Everything is extremely colourful and hides a much darker tone behind its cheerful exterior. I can't wait to peep through its curtains, explore its rooms, and, ultimately, find out what's hidden in the depths of its basement.



You can find out more about the upcoming horror game on its website, sign up to play the pre-alpha demo for yourself here, or even purchase the game on Steam, as it's just enter Early Access release with an updated demo known as Alpha 1 (featuring more items and a two-story house). Happy hunting.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Horror Games on VR



Virtual reality is blowing up right now, and my tiny brain is blowing up right alongside it. We're one step closer to living out our lives in a virtual paradise (or nightmare), and I'm so ready. Until then, though, the various VR offerings — HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR (along with more entry-level systems) — are still in their infancy. 

PlayStation VR (PSVR) only launched on October 13th, and the other major players have yet to show off too many fully-realised VR experiences. Even so, the PSVR launched with a nice line-up of  titles and many more games have been announced for the future across all VR platforms. This includes titles from the horror genre, which VR is sure to make even scarier. 

Since it's that wonderful time again, when the smell of pumpkin spice floats on the breeze and the sound of witches cackling fills the night, let's run through a list of a few exciting horrors that have either been released, or are still in the works, for VR. 


VR Worlds: Into the Deep 

Platform: PSVR 
Release date: Out now
Synopsis: One experience of five that launched with PlayStation VR in a bundle known as VR Worlds. Into the Deep sees players plunged into the depths of the ocean in a cage. At first, it probably seems beautiful and awe-inspiring as you take in the sights of marine life around you in an endless blue sea, but things quickly take a nasty U-turn when a Great White shark aims its beady eyes in your direction.



Until Dawn: Rush of Blood

Platform: PSVR
Release date: Out now
Synopsis: An on-rails shooter set inside the same universe as one of my favourite teen-slasher games, Until Dawn, which I reviewed on its weekend of release. Though I'm not sure it will have the same impact as the game it is based on, it still features a creepy circus setting, jump-scares, and what appears to be a spiralling rollercoaster into insanity (with a few nods to Until Dawn and its characters, just for good measure). If nothing else, it looks like a fun time in a horror setting, and could be a perfect way to experience the genre up-close and personal for the first time. 



Here They Lie

Platform: PSVR 
Release date: Out now (digitally)
Synopsis: A true foray into a horror experience that was created with VR in mind, Here They Lie looks like a creepy combination of BioShock and We Happy Few, while adding a few of its own strange creatures into the mix. Frankly, a lot of details are still hidden in shadows and vague descriptions from the developers on PlayStation's blog do little to shine much light on them, but why ruin a terrifying mystery before playing it? 



Killing Floor: Incursion

Platform: Oculus Touch
Release date: TBC
Synopsis: Tripwire Interactive's gory Zed-splatting series is making its way to VR as an even more immersive shooter experience. I'm a big fan of Killing Floor 2, as I first found out when it went free-to-play for one weekend, and I can't wait for its heavy rock and heavier gore to explode onto VR. What I'm not looking forward to is seeing the spider Zeds with my own eyes... So many arms and legs. So many.



Resident Evil 7

Platform: PC, Xbox One, PS4, PSVR
Release date: January 24th 2017
Synopsis: Resident Evil is returning, and believe it or not, the majority of people are actually excited by what they see. In a post-PT world, where Silent Hills has already been cancelled after having changed the genre forever, Capcom seems to have finally take note of what gamers want. Resident Evil 7, as seen in my recent demo impressions, is first-person, cuts back the action, and actually delivers multiple tense moments that aren't centred around roid-rages and rock punching. With another completely new step for the series, the entire experience will also be playable in VR. I'm daring to be overly optimistic.


Stifled

Platform: Steam, PSVR
Release date: Steam (Q4 2016), PSVR (TBC)
Synopsis: The upcoming debut title from Gattai Games, Stifled has players exploring the world around them using echo-location. It's an unique mechanic that lends itself nicely to the horrors of hide-and-seek, whereby players will have to make a sound in order to see the world around them, possibly alerting someone, or something, to their presence while doing so. You can check out my initial thoughts on the press demo here. Initially only planned for release on Steam, Stifled was also recently picked up as a perfect game for PSVR, which I can't help but agree on.




Narcosis

Platform: Steam, Oculus Rift
Release date: Q4 2016
Synopsis: Another debut title, this time from Honor Code Inc. Narcosis sees an industrial diver stranded at the bottom of the ocean in an intense survival horror, trying to make their way back to the surface before their "oxygen - and sanity -  give out." The developers describe the diving suit as a "walking coffin," which sounds like a great time to me, so I can't wait to see more. Further information can be found on the website, in case you're itching to get your scuba gear on.

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And... I'm leaving it there for now. The horror genre on VR, much like virtual reality itself, is still learning the lay of the newly virtual land, but I'm certain that it is this genre that will see the most effective performance early on. I think we're all going to smash a few belongings while we get used to not running blindly around our living rooms, but when it comes to horror, I'm always happy to just buy new things.

Are you looking forward to VR, or are you not quite sure yet? Do you have a preferred VR platform in mind? Or maybe you know of some more upcoming VR horror titles that I haven't listed here?

Come and chat all about it with me on Twitter. We can be virtual buddies.

Thursday, 27 October 2016

Outlast 2 - Demo impressions


Outlast 2 has been making its way through the dark for a while now, but it's finally getting much closer. The sequel to Outlast, which was set inside a dark, corrupted asylum, will be released in 2017 across PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC. No price has been revealed. Never mind all that, though. Grab your night-vision camera and a handful of batteries, because we're exploring the Outlast 2 demo.

The demo starts with a little context, wrapping the scares up in an investigative package that is similar to that of the original game:

"You are Blake Langermann, a cameraman working with your wife, Lynn. The two of you are investigative journalists willing to take risks and dig deep to uncover the stories no one else will dare touch. You’re following a trail of clues that started with the seemingly impossible murder of a pregnant woman known only as Jane Doe. The investigation has lead you miles into the Arizona desert, to a darkness so deep that no one could shed light upon it, and a corruption so profound that going mad may be the only sane thing to do."




With that in mind, Blake is thrown down a cliff, clearly separated from his beloved Lynn, and re-unites with the other love of his life; his camera. As soon as he picks it up, I'm in control, and immediately as spooked as ever. It's an almost pitch-black night, though the moon lights my way at first, and I'm heading towards a small gathering of huts. When I get there, I turn on my night-vision camera for the first time and see eyes shining in the darkness. All around me. They don't move, but I decide to duck into one of the huts through an open window. An errant crow flies through and I wonder why I even like horror so much in the first place. 

By this point, I very much feel like I'm back in the universe of Outlast, despite the fact that everything so far has been much more open. Each new scare, whether scripted imaginary, nothing more than a gust of wind blowing through an open door, keeps me on edge. This is definitely Outlast.



I'm being as vague as possible in order to leave the 5-10 minute demo unspoiled, but there's a lot packed into it. It appears as if there's multiple facets to the narrative of Outlast 2, with the little town or farm feeling somewhat cult-ish, containing a number of different spirit-like entities, and a hell of a lot of dead bodies. Naturally, it's all very creepy, if a little disconnected.

My initial concern with the Outlast 2 demo is that this small glimpse into the sequel felt like it had too many different layers. While this isn't necessary a bad thing for the full experience, these layers were added with an increase of the spiritual element that only really appeared towards the end of the first game.

Within the demo I was shown a number of different entities, locations and trippy sequences in a short space of time. Though each delivered their own scares well, they lacked the brutal realism of the first title, which felt very much like You vs Them in an abandoned asylum. Clean. Simple. Scary. Outlast 2 has clearly been messing with a Ouija board since then.



The demo was also much more open than I'd expected, and I lost my way a few times towards the end of the demo when being chased through a cornfield. It could have just been fear, but the way out - which turned out to be jumping a fence using a stack of pallets - wasn't clear to me. All very minor things, and I'm not surprised to find myself with some concerns. Outlast raised the bar so high for indie horror games. It's a hard one to live up to. I know that I've been spoiled...



Don't get me wrong, I completely trust Red Barrels to deliver a sequel that's as terrifying as the original. I just hope that the scares aren't wrapped up in a story that I'll neither understand nor remember when the final credits roll. Until we find out for sure, go forth, find out more about the game on Red Barrels' website, and try the demo on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Steam. It'll scare the night-vision right off of your camera.

If you'd prefer to watch someone else be terrified by it, watch Markiplier play through below: