The experience of the Penny Arcade Expo is often one of line-waiting. If you want to see what the hot previews are, get in a line. If you want to check out a popular panel, there’s also a line. And at the start of the expo, there’s a line to wait in so that you can be at the front of the lines on the expo floor.
I did a little waiting today so I could try out some games that looked interesting. After the jump, two hands-on plays, for Red Barrels’ horror title Outlast, and Capcom’s Remember Me. I will preview both the games, and, review both of the lines, so you feel as if you got the true PAX East experience.
Outlast – The Line:
Buzz in the press room was that, as a horror fan, I needed to check out Outlast, an indie title being developed by new studio Red Barrels. The Montreal-based studio is comprised of former AAA developers that have banded together to create a new and unique horror title.
Lots of the games at the indie side of the con don’t have much of a line, but this one did. I waited for almost an hour outside of two shielded booths, draped with black cloth to avoid light and sound getting in and distracting the people brave enough to check out the demo. Every once in a while, a scream would issue forth from one of the booths: people shouting “oh my god,” swearing loudly, or jumping so hard that the booth rattled. The developers, who were available to chat during the wait, said that yesterday someone knocked the booth entirely down. It seemed promising.
Outlast – The Game:
Outlast is a first-person survival horror title set in an old asylum in Colorado. Players take on the role of a reporter, who, armed with only a camcorder, has been sent to find out what’s happening in the rickety – and decidedly not-abandoned – old building. The game has no weapons and no combat, so when something evil starts coming, all a player can really do is run. The player can both jump, and climb, so there’s a first-person parkour aspect to some of the game’s chases.
Outlast uses a lot of clever tricks to ratchet up the tension. Dark areas can only be viewed by use of the camcorder, which has limited battery life. Batteries are at least scattered throughout the environment to reload what turns out to be the only “weapon” in the game. The game also forces the player to push forward when opening inward doors, which adds a sense of spooky finality to room-to-room transitions. Enemies in the game are crazed (if perhaps mutated) humans, and all have their own agendas, rather than just being mindless zombies. A particularly gruesome inmate yelled at me and called me a pig while he was chasing me through a flooded basement.
Of course there are a few jump scares, the main cause of all the screaming and jostling in the secret booths. Jump scares in first person are particularly effective due to the limited field of view, and the game uses this to its advantage by sometimes forcing a player to sneak through small cracks where view is even further constrained. I anticipate the game will be very popular among YouTube streamers, daring one another to play it for the biggest reactions.
I did get a little stuck for what to do on my playthrough at one point. The level design is full of detailed environmental storytelling, but there’s no minimap, and very little assistance to help a player navigate some of the asylum’s twisted hallways. This isn’t a game that’s going to hold the player’s hand. I would definitely not recommend it to anyone who hates feeling helpless in a game. Ultimately, this kind of horror has a limited audience, but it seems like Red Barrels are dedicated to giving horror fans the kind of game that they want, without compromise.
Outlast is scheduled for a summer 2013 PC-only release.
Remember Me – The Line:
Remember Me is a game I tried to catch early in the morning, but when I approached the line at the start of the expo day, it was already at the two-hour mark. Knowing I had another engagement, I stepped back to try again later.
When “later” came, I realized the line was moving a little bit faster than it seemed, and the “time to wait from here” signs were a little deceptive. So I didn’t end up waiting an unreasonable amount of time to play. The line also had a nice view of other players, and a cosplayer, dressed as Remember Me‘s main character Nilin, was walking around doing photo opportunities. The quality of the line experience was however slightly diminished by a man with a loud microphone in a neighboring booth. I think he was shouting about some damned hardware thing.
Remember Me – The Game:
Published by Capcom, and developed by Dontnod Entertainment, Remember Me has gotten press attention recently for being unafraid to feature a female protagonist. It’s kind of sad that this is such a strange, bold step for the industry, but I am certainly glad for it. Nilin did get my attention with her unique look, and promises of an interesting backstory.
Remember Me is set in “Neo-Paris” in the year 2084. Nilin has had her memories erased, for reasons unknown to her, but she can get them back… by collecting memories found in the world and uploading them to her Sensen device. The Sensen is a neurally activated interface that, in addition to collecting memory gameplay powerups, gives the city of Neo-Paris an augmented reality overlay.
The game’s cyberpunk AR setup assists in environmental navigation a great deal, providing a diegetic justification for flashing quest-arrows and helpful pop-ups. Some dislike this approach, but I didn’t find it unwelcome. Information important for play can often get lost in lush modern game environments and it’s nice to have a clever solution.
The action of the game is split between exploration, parkour action sequences, and hand-to-hand combat. Here’s what I didn’t like: the platforming in the game is very much from the Uncharted “beauty first” school, where it’s never exactly clear just how far Nilin can potentially jump, or when relative to a button press that she is going to execute that jump. It looks good, but it feels sloppy and results in a lot of deaths that felt pointless or “cheap.” The Sensen overlays at least help make it clear where players are supposed to jump to, which helps a great deal.
The fighting in the game relies on a chain combo system. Different button sequences result in different combat moves executed. The combo system requires precise timing rather than just button-mashing. With the addition of a dodge button that allows for vaulting over opponents, it feels a lot like the hand-to-hand fights in Rocksteady’s recent Batman titles. There is one twist: damage to Nilin is also damage to her Sensen interface, so the screen gets more jumbled as she takes hits. One solid blow can make it hard to see well enough to land future blows, creating a kind of slippery slope. But landing a combo with the regeneration quality can turn things back around.
So far, Remember Me seems like a fairly competent modern story-focused action game. I’ve played a lot of games that are a little like it (in addition to some of the comparisons I’ve already made, the AR focus gives me a kind of Assassin’s Creed vibe) but none that combine its exact elements precisely. Despite the reportedly dire predictions, starring a woman didn’t seem to diminish its popularity at the show at all. I hope that this holds out and we’ll see a quality finished product that gives more publishers the confidence that it was a worthwhile story to tell.
Remember Me is scheduled for a June 4, 2013 release date on PS3, XBox 360, and PC.
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