Monthly Archives: October 2016

Outlast

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Outlast on Steam

MSRP: $19.99

Platforms: Win, Mac, Linux, XBox One, PS4

Release: 9/4/13


Last night, I was looking back over the games I played this month, and was mildly disappointed that Bioshock was the only one that really got under my skin. I mean, sure, I fell prey to a couple of jump scares, but I didn’t find anything else really haunting.

And then today, I decided to play Outlast.

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Now I have mixed feelings about the concept as a whole – I mean, I feel like just about anyone would at least try to fight for their life, and I’m pretty sure most folks would bring some sort of weapon if they were breaking into a creepy old insane asylum.  Of course, I wouldn’t go into a creepy old insane asylum by myself in the first place, so what do I know?  Anyway, Outlast wants you to hide, and so you shall.

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The whole haunted asylum trope is embraced here, and damn if it isn’t creepy from the get go. Now, of course, the doors are locked, and of course, you’re going to need to find a sneaky way in, and of course, scary stuff is going to start happening pretty much right away. But seriously, if this is how one tackles a career in journalism, I’m glad I passed on that.  A lot of horror games put you in a bad spot, and you’re fighting to get out.  Not this one.  Nope, you go in voluntarily.   And I can’t imagine I’m the only one who started playing Outlast, mumbling under my breath “My god, this is a really bad idea.”

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You have a handheld camera, and when you manage to use it to capture events, you get pieces of the story added to your notebook. I really like this mechanic, even if I’m not entirely sure where to point the camera sometimes.  Your camera also has night vision, which means you’re only worrying about keeping one piece of electronics powered, since this pretty much eliminates the need for a flashlight.  You’ll still want to look around for batteries, though; night vision drains them, and it drains them fast.

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True confessions time: I didn’t last long. It wasn’t that my character died – it’s that I managed to open a door (like several other doors I’d opened in the very recent past) and something – I don’t know what – popped out and I screamed like a little girl (me, not the character), and I decided that maybe Outlast wasn’t a game I should be playing while home alone. Or maybe ever. It was already under my skin, and I didn’t want to keep going.

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Despite a relatively short play time, Outlast is jam packed with atmosphere and jump scares and horror and I get why it has the reputation of being the horror game for folks not easily horrified. That said, it’s likely to sit unplayed in my library for awhile longer – I’m not sure I can really get on board with the feeling of complete helplessness that comes from knowing I can’t defend myself in any way. If you’re feeling braver than me – and that’s not really saying a lot – Outlast and it’s prequel DLC is currently on a deep discount on Steam through tomorrow morning.

Silence of the Sleep

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Silence of the Sleep on Steam

MSRP: $16.99

Platforms: Windows

Release: 10/1/14


Awhile back, I picked up a short horror adventure game called Distraint in a bundle.  When I decided to fire it up for this blog, I did something I rarely do these days – I played the game through to completion.  It was a very dark, but really intelligent game, and I couldn’t get over that it was all the work of a single person.  Shortly thereafter, I decided to seek out the dev’s previous game, Silence of the Sleep, and tucked it away for playing at a later date.

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Unfortunately, this game didn’t catch me in quite the same way as Distraint – although it might be best to chalk it up to a variance of mood (and to waiting too long in the month to give it a whirl – I am horror-game’d out, y’all).  You play as Jacob Reeves, and the game starts right after he throws himself off a cliff. It’s a good hook, don’t get me wrong, but with the early part of the game consisting primarily of trying to open a whole lot of locked doors, I had a hard time getting sucked in.

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Still, I love Jesse Makkonen’s art style, and it’s a game I will go back to when I’m feeling more patient, because I want to get to the meat of the story. It’s just that the early mechanics feel very very slow indeed, and because of this, I really wish this game had a save anywhere mechanic. Something that’s not particularly compelling the first time around becomes even less so if it needs to be repeated unnecessarily.

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Still, I already feel like Silence of the Sleep is a better key finding simulator than some other games.  If you manage to be deft at avoiding fog (because fog will kill you), you’ll probably get around 6 hours from it, which leads me to my other major criticism – the price.  It’s just not a $17 game.  It is, however, currently on sale for 90% off on Steam through November 1st – if you liked Distraint, or just want a good story-driven spook, you can’t go wrong for that price.

Penumbra: Overture

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Penumbra: Overture on Steam

MSRP: $9.99 for the Penumbra Collection (includes 3 titles)

Platforms: Win, Mac, Linux

Release: 3/30/07


I have a lot of respect for Frictional Games and their take on horror – all of their games seem to focus far more on the atmosphere than anything else.   What that means for most gamers is that they either love these games, or they hate them.  You can’t go into Penumbra: Overture (or any other Frictional Games title) expecting to be a badass who is going to blow away all the monsters.   You will be sneaking and hiding and praying that nothing eats you.

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Penumbra: Overture is an old game, and it shows.  It combines a terrifying setting, stealth gameplay, and puzzle solving , playing sort of like a point-n-click adventure game with a cast of one.  I decided to go in mostly blind, and was pleasantly surprised that you actually need to manipulate some elements rather that just clicking on them.  Doors need to actually be pushed or pulled in most cases.  It’s a neat touch that improves immersion.

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If you can overlook the melodrama, which is prevalent in the early game, and aren’t too stubborn to occasionally consult a walkthrough (I had to within the first fifteen minutes), Penumbra: Overture is worth playing solely from the point of view of being a spiritual predecessor to the immensely popular Amnesia: The Dark Descent.  Playing all three titles in the Penumbra Collection will take anywhere from 12 – 20 hours, and it’s currently on sale on The Humble Store for less than $2.

I Shall Remain

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I Shall Remain on Steam

MSRP: $9.99

Platform: Windows

Release: 8/24/15


It’s been awhile since a game confused me quite as much as I Shall Remain.  I don’t mean that the game is excessively complex and difficulty to figure out – I just can’t decide if I love it, hate it, or am completely meh about it. My mind is blown by how many really amazing cool things, and how many obnoxious issues are crammed into the first 30 minutes or so of this game, and I have yet to decide if I’m going to try to muddle through it.

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I love the concept.  I Shall Remain takes place in a WWII-era zombie apocalypse. Say what you want about zombie games being overdone – okay, they’re probably a little bit overdone – but a walking dead disaster directly attributable to Nazis – you have to admit, that’s a cool spin. Or it might be just me, but whatever. I love the concept. The game is story driven, with a short prologue to help you get used to the mechanics, so although there’s no true character creation, you do get to choose a perk at the start of the game which will help dictate your preferred playstyle throughout.

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The graphics are serviceable for a top down RPG, but some of the design choices left me shaking my head.   There are two camera options – follow or fixed – and they’re both awful. The mini-map in the lower right hand corner of the screen works feels backwards in respect to the fixed camera choice – what is a right turn on screen is a left turn on the minimap, which makes getting around even more of a maze than it already is. Movement is done with WASD, but looting by default is the F key, which not only feels a little bit awkward, but makes it hard to fast loot while moving (and sometimes, moving fast is going to trump everything else).  You can use shift to sprint, but it’s not a toggle, but needs to be held down.

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Then there’s combat. Oh combat. Usually, ARPGs live and die on two things – combat and loot.  After playing for awhile, I feel like I Shall Remain decided to throw itself on its sword here.  Combat is awful. It’s a single button clickfest, and feels pretty much the same whether you’re using your bare fists or a rifle. Point yourself in the general direction of the zombies and click. Click a lot. Something will probably die eventually. It might be you. While I understand not having to do much in the way of aiming if you’re swinging a baseball bat, if I have a firearm with limited ammo, I want to be able to focus the baddest of the baddies and take him out first.  If the zombies are moving in a pack (and they’re almost always moving in a pack), I can’t figure out a way to reliably select my target. It’s really just a big old mess.

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You will have opportunities to recruit other survivors to your party, but other than managing their inventories, you seem to have no control over additional characters. On the upside, friendly fire doesn’t seem to be a thing you need to worry about. However, my one experience with an AI companion (in the prologue level) wasn’t great.  I equipped him with a melee weapon, but he didn’t seem to be in any rush to use it.  He’d hang back, further back than I was with a pistol, and only get involved if he could feel zombie breath on his face.

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Still, there’s something here.  Something I can’t even put my finger on.  I want to play more. I want to see if it gets better.  I want more of the story (and I’m really hoping this is a story worth playing through).  The reviews on Steam are pretty good overall, so I can’t be the only one who feels this way.  The combination of ARPG and survival elements just make sense.  I Shall Remain is absolutely an interesting game, I just haven’t figured out yet if it’s actually a fun game.

On the other hand, the music is divine. If an actual downloadable version of the soundtrack had been included (or even available), I would recommend that without question. However, the developers have made it available on YouTube if you want to give it a listen.

Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers 20th Anniversary Edition

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Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers 20th Anniversary Edition

MSRP: $19.99 (free on mobile with in app purchasing)

Platforms: Win, Mac, iOS, Android

Release: 10/15/14


Truth be told, it’s very unlikely I ever would have picked up the 20th Anniversary Edition of Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers.  I played the Gabriel Knight series many years ago, and I remember the frustration as much as anything else about the games, and there were many other point-n-clicks of the time that I remember more fondly.  However, since I got it for free* during the GoG summer sale, I thought I’d fire it up and give it a shot.

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Graphically, I was instantly impressed.  The entire game got a facelift, and it’s gorgeous. But all that beauty comes at a great cost – notably the loss of the fantastic voice acting from the original.  Clearly, they weren’t going to top dialogue voiced by Tim Curry and Mark Hamill (among others), but as soon as I heard Gabriel’s voice, I was bitterly disappointed. I cannot imagine listening to this man ruminate for 15 hours. The voice of the narrator is even worse  – they’re both Louisiana caricatures, and it just feels wrong.  I’d have accepted mediocre voice acting without the over-the-top accents, but what we got is borderline intolerable.

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I have mixed feelings about some of the gameplay “improvements” as well.  Classic point-n-click adventures really required some brain power – you needed to sort the important information out of a sea of fluff – and some of the greatest moments seemed to come from non-essential conversations.  By highlighting key conversation topics, people will be far more apt to skip what isn’t strictly speaking necessary – I know that I did because the less I had to hear the protagonist’s voice, the happier I was.  All the pretty in the world wasn’t going to make up for me wanted to avoid the story; instead of gleefully clicking on anything I could, I was hoping to find exactly what I needed as quickly as possible.

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Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers 20th Anniversary Edition succeeded, in that it made me want to return to the original, desperate need for walkthroughs be damned.  I’d rather deal with dated graphics than voice acting that borders on offensive. For someone who never played the originals, the changes do make it easier to get into the kind of dense point-n-click adventure games that were so popular in the mid-90s, and the story is worth a play through in either version.   Still, if you can handle the dated graphics, the original version is still available, and I’d be lying if said I didn’t wish I could trade in the remaster for that one.

 

The Park

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The Park on Steam

MSRP: $12.99

Platforms: Windows, XBox One, PS4

Release: 10/27/15


Just this once, I’m going to frontload my conclusions here so I don’t mislead anyone into thinking they should buy this game.  Because really, there’s no good reason to buy this game.  You’re unlikely to get anything out of it that you couldn’t get out of a good Let’s Play.  The entire game is about an hour long. It’s heavily narrative based, so there’s pretty much zero replay value, and there is no gameplay to speak of.  And I’m annoyed just writing that, because what’s here is good, especially if you’ve played The Secret World, but when all is said and done, it feels like something that should have been some kind of free promotional material for Funcom’s MMO, and not a stand-alone $13 game.

Now that I have that out of the way: I enjoyed the hour I spend with The Park, although I won’t lie, I’m a little miffed that I missed two achievements. The creep factor was fantastic, and it was a great touch that if you really wanted to get all the story bits, you had to actually ride the rides. What I can’t say for sure is how much of my affection for this game was a direct result of loving the associated area when I was playing The Secret World.

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The game is played from the perspective of Lorraine, a single mother looking for her missing son in an after-hours amusement park. It won’t take long for you to realize that things here aren’t quite right, especially since your main form of interaction with the world is looking at scraps of paper as you wander around the deserted park.  The secondary means of interaction – using the right mouse button to call out to your son – doesn’t add a whole lot to the experience, especially if you do it often enough that your character starts recycling dialogue.

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Playing the game at the recommended contrast means that things are very very dark indeed, which not only makes for really terrible screenshots, but makes the interactable items stand out so much as to take away from the atmosphere.  I’m not sure what a better solution would have been here, but every time I found something I could click on, it took me right out of the game.  Between that, a sequence at the end that drags on far far longer than necessary, and the incredibly short length, it’s hard to appreciate The Park as a stand alone title.

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As a promotional tool, it’s pretty fantastic, but it’s just not that great as a game.  Buy it only if you feel a desperate need for the in-game swag for The Secret World that you can unlock from the extras menu.  It is currently available as part of the Demon Bundle on Bundle Stars, and is worth the tier upgrade if you were going for the tier 2 anyway. Otherwise, turn off all the lights, grab some popcorn, and watch the Let’s Play embedded above.

Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines

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Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines on Steam

MSRP: $19.99

Platform: Windows

Release: 11/16/04


It feels disingenuous to say that Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines is far and away the best of the video games that have been set in White Wolf’s World of Darkness universe, since so few games based in this world exist.  I’m optimistic with the acquisition of White Wolf by Paradox last year, after the World of Darkness MMO was officially canceled after being in production for over five years, that we’re going to see some fantastic World of Darkness games in the future, but honestly, more than anything else, I have my fingers crossed for a full remaster of Bloodlines.  It’s not just worth playing; it’s almost mandatory for RPG enthusiasts.

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The fact that this 12 year old game has such a following would be impressive even if you weren’t aware of how many problems it had at release, and for a long time before that. It was such an absurdly ridiculous project for such a small studio, and was continually delayed and over-budget, and the publisher forced the release prematurely and up against such eagerly anticipated titles as Half-Life 2. To call Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines an unfinished mess would be kind.

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But what was there, buggy and rushed, was also incredible and compelling. Troika managed to push out a couple of official patches before the studio closed a few months later, but there was still so much about the game that needed fixing.  Eurogamer tells the story of what came next better than I ever could; suffice it to say, the fans made it their mission to fix the seemingly unfixable, and over the next several years, have ironed out almost all of the major game glitches, restored cut content, and turned the game into the masterpiece it should have been in the first place. The way I see it, the core game was so strong, it’s like it fought to live.

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Which is all an incredibly long and convoluted way of telling you that if you want to play Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, you’re going to want to patch it yourself.  You will want to seek out the Unofficial Patch, which will give the option of either installing the Basic patch (which is only fixes) or the Plus patch (which includes modifications to content in the game). If you really want to play the game, but can’t be arsed to deal with unofficial patches on your own, the version available for purchase on GoG.com includes the basic patch in the installer.

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I realize that I have told you next to nothing about the game itself, and I’m honestly really very comfortable with that. Anything I’m going to say is going to be so obviously impartial anyway, and I trust you to do your own research. Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines may not be the immensely popular classic it was meant to be, but unless you are a graphics snob of the highest order, there is absolutely zero reason not to play through it at least once.

Sir, You Are Being Hunted

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Sir, You Are Being Hunted on Steam

MSRP: $19.99

Platforms: Win, Mac, Linux

Release: 8/19/13


Maybe Sir, You Are Being Hunted isn’t the first game that comes to mind when you think of horror video games, but at least for me, this was quite possibly one of the most terrifying gaming experiences I’ve ever had (Bioshock  notwithstanding). I have a hard enough time with stealth games where you have to hide from humans, or even flesh and blood monsters, but robots with shotguns? No thanks.

The deck is stacked pretty heavily against you, especially if you start out with the default Aristocrat profession. You’re stuck on one of five randomly generated islands, with nothing in your pockets but some rags you could potentially makeshift into bandages, and are tasked with finding 17 pieces of some sort of machine while killer robots are hunting you down.  Also, you need to eat, or all the hiding in the world isn’t going to save you. Feeling confident yet?

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These robots are going to see better than you, they’re going to hear better than you, and they are going to sneak up behind you so you don’t even see them coming. It’s awful and tense and I quite literally came a couple inches off my chair at the sound of gunfire. On my first trip through, I found one piece out of 17, and that was the one they dump right next to your spawn point so you can see what exactly it is you’re looking for.

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That’s right. I lived for almost FOUR whole minutes.

I decided to go in with the officer profession on my second trip. I thought that maybe having a couple of guns and a handful of bullets would give me a better chance at survival.

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It was also in this play through I realized that I could crouch down with the C key to make skulking through the foliage slightly more effective, and I managed to dodge a few packs of impeccably dressed patrolling robots, and I was feeling pretty good about myself. Until I creeped around a corner, and was confronted with – of all things – a god damn crow, and I was startled enough that my dogs came in the room to make sure I was okay.  Clearly, this is not my game.

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I can appreciate this game for what it is, even as I am positive I never ever ever want to load it up again. I don’t even think I want to watch someone else play it. I don’t think it’s going to leave me looking over my shoulder for robots in darkened rooms, but why risk it?

However, if you enjoy games about sneaking and hiding and surviving, well, this one’s a doozy, and you can pick it up for a dollar or less as part of Bundle Stars’ Dollar Dash sale.

Sanitarium


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Sanitarium on Steam

MSRP: $9.99

Platform: Windows

Release: 4/30/98


Back when Sanitarium was new, 20-something me found it mind-blowing.  When I discovered it available for digital download, picking it up was a no-brainer – truth be told, I tend to spend more on old games I remember fondly then on newer stuff.  Sadly, like a lot of games of its generation, it doesn’t hold up, although I’m undecided if that’s more due to the game itself or to the massive advances in graphics and controls since its release.

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Knowing I’d find the graphics lacking, I had hoped to play in windowed mode, but if the option exists, I couldn’t find it, and to be completely honest, I couldn’t be arsed to fiddle with command line parameters on the off chance I could make it work. Larger pixels, sadly, do not make for any easier pixel hunting. I’d lost almost all memory of the game in the many years since I played it, and I was surprised it took nearly an hour before the first time I wanted to go looking for a walkthrough.

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The playable character wakes up in an insane asylum with no memory of who he is or how he ended up here, but the power has gone out, the generator is about to blow, and there is no question that he needs to figure out how to get out of here now.  There is no way to say more than that without spoiling the earliest of puzzles, but anyone even passibly versed in adventure game logic should be able to figure things out.  At least at the beginning.  The later in the game you get, the more obtuse solutions become, and the more critical it becomes to have a walkthrough in your back pocket if you want to have a prayer of completing the game.

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Sanitarium is extremely reliant on cut scenes to flesh out its story, and relies on its visuals to build a sense of extreme unease. Unfortunately, the datedness of the graphics now leave you unsure of what was deliberate and what, nowadays, just looks like crap. The voice acting is mediocre at best, and in a lot of ways, the point-n-click adventure mechanics detract from the story telling, and the story doesn’t end up holding together all that well. This is one I likely should have left alone – I didn’t really think through how telling it was that I remember the frustrations of my first playthrough more vividly than anything else.

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Even still, Sanitarium still does an excellent job of making you feel ill at ease, and although I highly doubt it will ever happen, I feel like it would be an excellent candidate for a modern overhaul. I just can’t recommend a play through, as much as it hurts.  However, there are quite a few Let’s Play videos, and if you have some time to kill, you might want to consider a watch through instead.

Bioshock Remastered

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Bioshock Remastered on Steam

MSRP: $19.99

Platforms: Windows, XBox One, PS4 (original version also available on XBox 360 & PS3)

Release: 9/15/16 (original released 8/21/07)


Several years ago, I played the first couple of hours of Bioshock while home alone at night & true confession time – I didn’t sleep well that night or for quite a few nights after that.  I consider myself pretty resistant to the kind of creep that gets under your skin and has you looking around corners long after you’ve closed out the game or stopped watching the movie, but Bioshock gets under my skin.

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Diving into the remastered edition for the first time since its release (and yes, pun is FULLY intended there), I wanted to try to pinpoint what exactly made the terror in this game so pervasive.  It’s a complete package – the setting, the story, the lighting, the enemy design all factor in, but I think above all else, it is the sounds of Rapture that are most likely to haunt you.

Bioshock opens with the player character surviving a plane crash and dragging himself through the debris to a nearby building.  Inside, you find a bathysphere that takes you into Rapture – what was once a utopian city under the sea, and is now something much much darker. A friendly voice on the radio helps you get acclimated (and serves as a bit of a tutorial), but nothing can really prepare you for the horrors that await you inside.

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If you’ve somehow managed to miss Bioshock – or like me, have wimped out after barely scratching the surface – the recently released remastered edition makes this a good time to give it a whirl.  If you experience flickering graphics, make sure you have both VSync and Antialiasing turned on in the options.  Most of the initial instabilities of the remastered version seem to have been patched out, and once I took care of the graphics issues early on, I haven’t run into any glitches or bugs.

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Bioshock does have multiple difficulty modes – so if you’re not proficient at first person shooters, you can still play through on easy and still be terrified. There’s about 10 to 15 hours of story here, and the remastered version includes collectible director’s commentaries throughout the game.  I’m not at all surprised that Bioshock won a whole bunch of video gaming awards back in 2007, and is still widely regarded as one of the best video games of all time.