The future of women in video games

Think of a game with a female protagonist. Done? Who did you think of? Chances are it was either the Metroid series (Samus) or Tomb Raider (Lara Croft).

There simply aren’t many female protagonists in video games. After reading this article in Game Informer magazine, I started to understand why a little bit better.

Female gamers have been a growing population since the dawning of video games, but they are still the minority of the whole of gamers. According to the Game Informer article, female gamers make up about 30% of all gamers today. While it’s good to see this number has grown and still is growing, I would really like to see male and female gamers be an equal 50-50. I’d even be happy to see the percentage of female gamers shoot up to 40% or 45%.  Let’s make it happen, ladies.

The Game Informer article mentioned that females make up the majority of PC gamers. Interesting, eh?

Another reason that women often do not make it into a game as a protagonist is because it’s tough for the developers to decide how to draw them. Of course there is that awful existing standard that all women need to be ridiculously hot and have unrealistic proportions on their bodies. Female protagonists should also be perceived as strong, and developers can’t seem to decide how to draw a strong female who is also really attractive and not too “butch” like. Game developers need to figure out how to create an average looking female protagonist who is still perceived as strong or intelligent; whatever the desirable trait may be for that particular protagonist.

Female characters are becoming more common in video games these days. Women aren’t only perceived as helpless princesses that need to be saved anymore. While this may not seem like much (and it isn’t, really), it is still progress, and it can only move forward now. Let’s all hope that as the percentage of female gamers continues to rise, so will the amount of female protagonists in video games. Also, let’s hope for a future where women are depicted in video games not only for their cleavage and as an object of desire for a male protagonist, but for anything and everything that any video game character has to offer, and that more and more of them will be doing what male characters have been for years: kicking ass.


Heavy Rain review

Having finally run out of survival horror games to review, I thought I’d go ahead and review a game that is definitely worth bringing to gamers’ attention. Heavy Rain is one of the most talked about titles for the PS3, and there’s a definite reason for that. Be warned: this review will contain some spoilers.

One of the things you’ll commonly hear about this game is that it starts off very slowly. This is true, and the slow beginning can even take up to a couple of hours. However, this is necessary to both introduce the story of the main characters (you’ll switch between four main characters throughout the game and your goal is to keep them all alive) and to get you used to the controls, which are quite unique.

This game uses button press combos throughout. If you’re into nerve wracking, fast-paced, and sometimes demanding requests for responses from you, this is the game that’s perfect for you. If you’re not good at button press combos, you should probably skip this game. In many scenarios, if you miss even one button command, the character may die. Once one of the main characters dies, they’re out of the story for the rest of the game. Trust me, you will grow attached to all four characters and want them to stick around for the whole game so that you can follow their stories and also have them interact with each other.

Let’s get into the story part of it. The first of the main characters, Ethan, begins the game as a happy, family man. A tragic accident leads to the death of his son Jason, and also puts Ethan into a coma for six months. His wife blames him for their son’s death, and she leaves him. Ethan has another son, Shaun, who becomes a victim of kidnapping by the Origami Killer…a man who kidnaps children and puts their father through a series of trials to force them to prove that they are a good father. The victims are kept in caged tank that has rain water draining into it. This is where the game’s title comes in. If a father can complete the killer’s trials before the rain water accumulates enough to drown their child, they are happily reunited. (It pours rain almost constantly throughout the game). Upon beginning this game, no father has successfully completed all of the trials and been reunited with their child. So, as Ethan, a lot of your work will be completing these awful trials which include driving against traffic on a highway, crawling through a pipe maze that has glass shards all over the bottom of it, cutting off the last section of one of your fingers, navigating through electrical charges, and killing someone. As Ethan, you can either complete or refuse these trials, but depending on which ones you refuse to complete, you may not be able to save Shaun.

The other main characters are Shelby, a private investigator, Madison, a journalist, and Jayden, a new cop. All of these characters are interested in the case of the Origami Killer for one reason or another, and because of this they all end up interacting at various points throughout the game, which is one of the most enjoyable parts of it.

This game starts off bright and sunny and happy, but (relatively) quickly begins to get darker and more and more depressing. Rain starts pouring almost constantly, and sadder and sadder stories keep unfolding. This game is not for those who are faint at heart.

The story and control scheme of this game are brilliant and enough to make me recommend it to anyone. However, the voice acting is some of the worst you’ll come across in today’s era of gaming. This could be due to the fact that there is so much voice acting required by this game. Throughout play, you can press a button that corresponds to a topic the main character is currently thinking about, and hear a brief statement of their thoughts. This can aid you in your journey, or just be amusing depending on the scenario.

Heavy Rain‘s graphics are good, but not as remarkable as other games out there.

All in all, this game is excellent, and has one of the strongest stories and most interesting control schemes that I’ve seen in a long time. If you have the stomach for it, and you’re not too much of a sap, you shouldn’t miss this game.

Check out IGN’s highly favorable review of this game.

Haunting Ground review

Let me start off by saying that Haunting Ground is proof that the failed formula application in Clock Tower 3 can actually be molded to fit into a fun game.

Haunting Ground (for PS2) was made by Capcom after CT3 was already on the market. As you may have guessed, there are a few Resident Evil-esque elements that make an appearance in the game (absurd puzzles, sound effects, etc.), but not an overwhelming amount.

You play as Fiona, a young blonde who stumbles, screams, and faints quite a bit, but honestly not too much that it’s to the point of being annoying. She can defend herself to an extent through kicking or pushing, and when at full stamina, this girl can RUN.

One of the biggest problems with CT3 was that enemies chased after you much too often, leaving barely any time for exploration or the completing of tasks. HG nicely fixes this problem, however only with half of the enemies, not all of them. There are five main enemies that come after you, and two of them seem to chase after you the right amount, two of them much too commonly, and the last enemy is not around for very long at all to factor into this equation.

This game is quite a bit scarier than CT3. The enemies are very well done, especially the second crazy antagonist, a robotic woman named Daniella, who was created imperfectly and is jealous of Fiona for being flesh and blood. She runs around laughing maniacally, and, quite frankly, her laugh is enough to make anyone’s hair stand on end. The story also adds to the fear factor well.

The voice acting, for once, is very well done! I was really impressed with ALL of the actors. This fact alone makes me want to boost my rating of the game. You just don’t see this kind of voice talent in the survival horror industry. Good job, Capcom!

Another great thing about HG is the addition of a partner for the protagonist, a dog named Hewie. Fiona befriends Hewie while stumbling through the creepy castle, and over time she is able to train him to attack enemies and help her solve puzzles. This makes the game more fun, and more worthy of its longer play time.

I would recommend this game to anyone who’s not easily freaked out, and doesn’t mind some frustration while having to stray from their quest from time to time to evade enemies. If you’re into the style of evading rather than fighting with weapons, HG is the title that does it best.

Check out Chris’s review of this game here.

Fatal Frame review

Keeping with the survival horror game review theme, I decided to play and review Fatal Frame for PS2 this weekend.

This game turned out to be a pleasant surprise. After becoming completely skeptical of game recommendations from Silent Hill fans (see: Clock Tower 3 review), I honestly was not expecting a lot from this one. I was glad to be proven wrong.

Fatal Frame took me about 4 and a half hours to complete. The story was interesting enough to keep me hooked. The protagonist, Miku, goes off to a mansion to search for her older brother, who recently disappeared during a trip there. Miku very quickly discovers that the mansion is haunted, and she has to help the trapped souls be set free.  This is where the combat comes in.

The combat system is what sets Fatal Frame apart from all other horror titles. Miku’s weapon is not a gun or a blunt object, but an antique camera. Careful timing of a photograph through a charged camera lens damages a ghost, and enough of these photographs defeats the ghost. Some ghosts are weaker and you battle them only once, while others are stronger and make multiple appearances, and therefore you battle them a few times. The ammo in the game is various types of film, some of which are more powerful than others. This system is unique and refreshing and provides quite enjoyable boss battles, however sometimes battle becomes tedious when there are too many fights in a row.

The Japanese atmosphere is also really enjoyable. I enjoyed the various cultural symbols, such as the Japanese instruments, dolls, etc.

The graphics in the game are impressive when it comes to scenery, but fall very short when it comes to character models. The people and ghosts are not at all realistic looking, which is somewhat disappointing.

The music and sound effects in the game are mostly well done, but the voice acting is (yet again) terrible. Miku, her brother, and the ghosts speak just about as agonizingly slowly as they walk, and the script lacks inflection, to the point of causing me to roll my eyes and groan while I waited for a character to finish a simple sentence.

The controls are workable, but there are a few flaws. While walking, Miku moves painfully slowly. The “run” mode is more of a slow jog. Also, there is a strange tendency for Miku to get briefly stuck on her surroundings as she moves past something, which is weird and frustrating. Whenever the camera angle changes, so does the direction that one needs to press the control stick to move forward. This can be extremely frustrating when coming out of a door, and Miku suddenly does an about face and begins walking out of the room again.

The puzzles in the game are fairly simple to complete, but they differ from the traditional Resident Evil style of puzzles, which is also a nice change.

Fatal Frame is definitely a one time play in my opinion, but its originality makes it stand out from the many other survival horror series out there today. The story may not be the best in the world, but the level design and combat system are not to be missed. I look forward to trying the other Fatal Frame games, and hope that they have fixed some of the original’s problems.

Be sure to check out Chris’s review of this game!

Sega Saturn’s D review

I was inspired by Chris’s Survival Horror Quest, and the whole idea of playing a ton of survival horror games and then posting reviews of them. While I’m not going to be able to play nearly as many as he has (time and money constraints), I like the idea of continuing with my recent theme of reviewing games from a specific genre.

Today I’d like to talk about the game D for Sega Saturn, which was released in 1996. Note the year. 1996 is the year that introduced us to the original Resident Evil on the PlayStation and Sega Saturn. That in mind, I will begin my review of this game.

D‘s storyline takes place in real time, which allows you only two hours to complete the game. Having finished the game in just over one hour, I couldn’t tell you what happens if you fail to satisfy that, other than it’s a Game Over.

What I immediately noticed upon beginning the game was the control scheme. When trying to move the protagonist, Laura, you must first angle her in the direction you want to go, and then press forward on the control pad. Laura will walk a set number of steps in that direction, and then stop again. This sort of movement takes a while to get used to, and it can be frustrating at certain times when the angle doesn’t seem quite right to move you where you want to go. I found myself surprised at certain points when I’d move in a direction that seemed off, but it took me to the place I needed to go. Once you get used to it, though, you can enjoy the scenery and the story line.

The point of the game is to help Laura navigate through a hospital to save her father, who is slowly turning into a vampire. This is where the time limit comes in. Throughout the game Laura receives visions of her father warning her to turn back, or the door to her world will be forever closed off. Unfortunately, because of how dated this game is, these prehistoric cutscenes are no more than comical today. That being said, the graphics are actually quite impressive for its time. The game includes two discs, which proves how the graphics pushed the Saturn’s limits. It is much more visually appealing than the original Resident Evil.

There are a few simple puzzles throughout the game. The control scheme makes some of them much more frustrating than necessary, but the puzzles themselves fit the game well.

My favorite part of this game was the short interactive fight with a knight that required a button-press combination. This is the oldest example of a button-press combo I’ve ever seen, and I really enjoyed it. I only wish there were more of them in the game.

The game is ultimately too short. I would’ve enjoyed it much more had it been twice as long, with a bigger hospital to explore and more puzzles to solve. Still, D‘s storyline and imagery are good enough to make me want to play it over again, and its short length gives me confidence that it’s a game I could end up revisiting a few times in the future. The over-all depth of the game is not impressive at all considering that RE was already out at this time, but when looking for a simple, fun game to kill (a small part of) an afternoon with, D is great for that.

I’d recommend this game over Clock Tower 3 any day!

Check out Chris’s review of D here.

Clock Tower 3 Review Part 2

Instead of a health bar, Alyssa has a panic bar, which rises and falls depending on her situation, and how afraid she becomes by her surroundings. The sight of a subordinate is enough to rise the panic bar a bit, and getting swung at raises the bar considerably. Alyssa becomes harder to control as her panic bar rises, and when it is at its maximum, the bar turns red and the word “PANIC!” appears above it. At this point, the music in the game gets more intense, and Alyssa fumbles around like an idiot. This is extremely annoying to deal with, given how clumsy Alyssa already is when she’s calm. Alyssa may even freeze in place, quivering with fear for a few seconds, leaving the player unable to evade a subordinate’s attacks. A hit while in panic mode can be fatal, whereas a few hits while not fully panicked can leave Alyssa feeling fine. I feel that the panic system just makes Alyssa all the more frustrating to control, and seem like an even more pathetic protagonist.

The panic bar is replaced by a health bar during boss battles, which is nice. Boss battles overall, however, are almost as tedious as the rest of the game. They occur at the end of every chapter of the game, and Alyssa faces off with whatever subordinate has been stalking her. After watching a ridiculously campy cutscene (which reminds me a lot of a Japanese anime or two) of Alyssa receiving the “special arrows,” the player must run Alyssa around the arena, evading the subordinate’s attacks, until a proper time to fire an arrow occurs. The battle continues, and the player is forced to repeat the same tactics over and over again until the subordinate’s  health bar drains, making for a rather un-enjoyable fight.

The soundtrack of the game is no less dull than any of its other components. The characters are all British, so while the dialogue may be bland and over exaggerated, it is at least comical to listen to at times. The voice acting is unimpressive. IGN raved about Sledgehammer(the first subordinate)’s voice actor, but I found him to sound a lot like Otto from The Simpsons…very un-scary. Subordinates also utter the same phrases such as, “Alyssa…where are you?” over and over again, which works on your nerves after being stalked for a couple of minutes.

This game will make you jump at times, but overall it’s not that scary. The spirits of the victims of the subordinates are entirely unthreatening, and look comical when they are released from guarding their body (after you reunite them with whatever item it is that they’ve lost). The story is definitely interesting, and is the sole reason I wanted to keep playing, but the execution of the events leading up to finding out more details is really disappointing. I found myself laughing or groaning way too many times when I should’ve been jumping or considering the game’s few puzzles (which are uncomplicated and more ridiculous than those in other horror series).

If you can deal with tedious gameplay and are interested in the idea of evading enemies most of the time rather than fighting them, I’d give this game a rental at most. If you just want to learn the full story, I’d suggest watching a playthrough on YouTube or reading a full synopsis online.

Here are two more honest reviews of this game. While they’re both nicer than mine, they do touch on some of the same problems I’ve discussed.
Chris’s Survival Horror Quest

Clock Tower 3 Review

Clock Tower 3: Survival horror at its worst?

Clock Tower 3 cover

Warning: This review contains plot synopsis and therefore spoilers.

Years ago, in 2003, Capcom decided to publish a title in a survival horror series that was different from Resident Evil. While they achieved that, the end result of the third installment in the series, Clock Tower 3, is a game that feels like it was created years before it actually was.

The story of the game follows a 14-year-old girl named Alyssa(which sounds just a BIT like “Alessa,” the antagonist from the Silent Hill series, to me), whose ordinary school girl life has just been interrupted by a letter from her mother (who mysteriously vanished) warning her to go into hiding before her 15th birthday. Alyssa finds out later in the game that her family are “Rooders,” which are people responsible for setting free the trapped souls of victims of serial killers, or, as the game refers to them, subordinates. Alyssa has to face off with six of these subordinates and the spirits of a few of their victims throughout her last day as a 14 year old.

This game gets a lot of praise for its cutscenes. I suppose at the time of the game’s release, they were quite impressive. However, today they feel very dated, considering, for example, the protagonist, Alyssa, is always rendered wearing her default outfit (a school uniform) even if the player had selected a different one. Having played games of today in which cutscene elements can now take place during gameplay, this style of game cinematics feels extremely dull.

Though I feel much of GameSpot’s review of this game is too nice, I do agree with the overall point that they make: “Clock Tower 3‘s movie portions are stronger than the gameplay that underpins them, and the result is a game that you’ll probably want to finish more for its storyline than for the fun you’ll have actually playing it.”

The review adds that the gameplay gets “maddeningly frustrating” at times. I agree fully. Instead of combat, the object of this game is to evade the subordinates, and hide from them. Alyssa’s only defense (while not in a boss battle) is a bottle of Holy Water, which halts an enemy temporarily when used. The gameplay becomes very tedious because of this system. The bottle of Holy Water must constantly be refilled after a certain number of uses, and the subordinates chase after you entirely too much, making exploration impossible throughout much of the game.

I’ve got plenty more to rant about Clock Tower 3; be sure to check back for my next post, which will continue the review.

Remembering Nintendo 64

Still in a news slump, so I will take this opportunity to continue my old to classic consoles that have been a huge part of my life, and many, many others’ lives.

If I had to choose one console to claim the title as my favorite of all time, it’d have to be the Nintendo 64.

As I’ve said previously, I can’t remember a time when video games were not a part of my life. OK, maybe that’s a bit of a lie, I have one memory-my earliest memory-that dates back to before I was able to play video games. Other than that, they’ve always been there for me.

Though the NES and Sega Genesis are responsible for introducing me to the joys of gaming, the N64 offered so many deeper and longer adventures that changed the way I viewed video games forever. Experiences I had on the N64 transformed me from viewing video games as just a fun activity to do during free time to viewing them as a huge part of my life, and as medium that has, in a lot of ways, shaped my personality.

It’s impossible to think of the N64 without thinking of Super Mario 64. This game really got the wheels in my head turning. Mario’s first adventure in a fully 3D world offered so many new experiences with 15 courses and 120 stars to collect. This may be the game that I have completed the most times out of any, and that’s partly because this game doesn’t appeal to just one age group, it appeals to all ages. I enjoyed it when I was 7 years old and lost tons of lives trying to beat Bowser, and I still enjoy it as a 21 year old who’s mastered wall kicks over the years. The graphics and soundtrack are still quite appealing today as well as the control scheme. The only negative point I have to say about SM 64 is that there are a lot of glitches in the game, but some of those are actually really fun to play with, too.

A brief list of just a few of the dozens of amazing games this system had to offer: Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, StarFox 64, Super Smash Bros., Pokemon Snap!, San Francisco Rush, Mario Kart 64, GoldenEye 007, Gex 64, Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire, Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, Perfect Dark, Diddy Kong Racing, Mario Party and so many more.

Today you can download N64 games via the Wii’s Virtual Console, or you can play them online via the Project 64 Emulator.

Remembering Sega Genesis

With no real news to report in the gaming world currently, I thought I’d take this opportunity to honor one of the consoles that’s been with me ever since I can remember: the 16-bit Sega Genesis.

I remember the Christmas when my older brother, Mike, opened his Sega Genesis from our parents well. I remember him tearing off the paper and then excitedly jumping up and begging our parents to allow him to be excused so that he could run downstairs and start hooking it up.

The version of the Genesis that Mike got came packaged with Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic and Miles AKA Tails. That game claimed many hours of my childhood. Mike would always make me be Tails when we played two player, and most of the time he won. Over the years I got better and better at the game, and today he refuses to play against me for fear of losing.

Another great game on the Genesis is the original Mortal Kombat. This is another one Mike typically beat me at, but it didn’t stop me from loving it. This was my first experience with a fighting game, and my introduction to the genre, and what a great one it was. At the time, the craziest thing I’d ever seen in a video game were the fatality moves Mike would mash a button combo to achieve. Today there are obviously far more graphic and explicit games, but at the time this game was quite scandalous. You even had to enter a code when the code screen before the  title screen was up to get blood to show during your game. Still to this day, there is nothing cooler in a fighting game than hearing Scorpion say, “GET OVER HERE!” as he pulls in his victim from across the screen.

This system offered so many other great games: Earthworm Jim, Ms. Pac Man, Aladdin, Golden Axe, Combat Cars, the original Sonic and Sonic Spinball, and many more.

Today, the Genesis belongs to me, and it sits proudly on top of my entertainment center in my room, still hooked up, ready to power up and send me back into all those amazing worlds from my past.

You can play a wide range of Genesis games online today via SEGA’s official website.

An ode to survival horror part 2

Now it’s time to talk about Resident Evil, the series that can be credited with popularizing the survival horror genre, and making “survival horror” a household term. I will just be discussing the main series (the numbered games) in my analysis today.

Though the stories of the Resident Evil games are grim, they come nowhere near the twisted stories of the Silent Hill series. Instead, Resident Evil cashes in on the “dogs jumping through windows” type of horror. The presence of more startling aspects, such as zombies appear out from behind a door, made it unnecessary to have extremely in-depth storylines that require a lot from that player’s imagination.

The original RE game was released in 1996 for the PlayStation and Sega Saturn. Today, the game both appears and sounds laughingly awful. The graphics are extremely primitive, and the voice acting has got to be some of the worst in gaming history. The game is not that scary to play today, either, save for a few moments that make you jump. When played today, this game resembles less of a Resident Evil game than it does a House of the Dead game. The game follows STARS (Special Tactics and Rescue Squad) members Jill Valentine and Barry Burton as they explore a mansion infested with zombies and investigate the man responsible for creating the T virus, which turned the humans into zombies.

A remake was made of the original game for GameCube a few years later, and it was a complete makeover. The graphics, soundtrack, and even the voice acting were redone to meet amazing standards, and because of this remake, the original Resident Evil adventure is able to live in a world of next-gen consoles. The gameplay was even extended, making the adventure longer and better than before.

The action in the Resident Evil series is more pervasive than the Silent Hill series. There are far more enemies in the RE games. There is a lot more “running and gunning.” Though there are puzzles to be solved in all of the games, they tend to be more straight forward and less ridiculous than those of SH.

The controls in the first couple of games are pretty horrible and are often referred to as “tank-like.” Luckily this problem was rectified, but as I said in my SH discussion, this factor should not discourage anyone from giving the original games a chance. Just have a little patience.

Resident Evil 4 and 5, the two most recent entries in the main series, completely revamped the series. The games are amazing as action titles, but the series is starting to break away from its survival horror roots. But as long as there are enemies infected by a deadly virus to be “killed,” the games will still belong to the series in every way. Who knows what’s in store for the next game, after the in-depth, epic battle with series’ long-term villain Albert Wesker in Resident Evil 5. I’m sure there are still plenty of scenarios left for Jill Valentine, Chris Redfield, Leon S. Kennedy, and possibly even other members of the STARS.

As far as recommending individual games, I can’t say that there’s a game in the numbered series that I wouldn’t recommend. RE 2 and 3 should be played if you want to experience the oldschool feel of the series. RE 4 and 5 should be played if you want to experience the new direction the series is moving in, and want more action with super strong protagonists. RE Zero is good to play if you want to learn some background story from before the STARS ever entered the Spencer Estate. I would recommend the true original game only if you want a good laugh, but I would highly recommend playing the remake of the original game for GameCube or for the Wii. The remake is definitely one that should not be missed by any gamer.

Now to say which series I prefer overall: Resident Evil. As much as I truly love the amazing stories and characters in the Silent Hill series, when it comes down to it, I want to have fun when I’m playing a game. All of the Resident Evil games in the numbered series are fun to play, and I don’t have to stop and mentally prepare myself for a few minutes before advancing around a dark corner. Though the character development is not as involved in the RE series, the characters are still loveable. Bottom line: when recommending one survival horror series to a friend, or any gamer interested, I’d suggest Resident Evil every time.

If you don’t believe me about just how impressive the remake of the original RE is, check out what IGN had to say about it.

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