We Played an Old Game – Resident Evil 3: Nemesis

The houseguest who wouldn’t leave
By Sam Desatoff

resident evil 3 box art

When I began this month’s coverage of horror games, I planned on sampling a number of different series. After covering Resident Evil Code: Veronica, I planned on moving on to a new series. But then Resident Evil 3 went on sale on the Playstation Network. $1.49 and seven hours later, here we are.

Resident Evil 3: Nemesis doesn’t get talked about as much as some of the other entries in the series. The term “classic” is often reserved for the first and second entries while the GameCube remake tends to place highly on many lists of the best horror games of all time. But after revisiting it, Nemesis certainly earns is place in the golden age of Resident Evil.

RE3 revisits Jill Valentine roughly two months after the events of the mansion incident. Raccoon City has been overrun by zombies and Jill is determined to get out. Carrying her trusty handgun, Jill sets off on her great escape.

But not before donning her most functional tube-top.

But not before donning her most functional tube-top.

Nemesis falls into an odd place in the Resident Evil timeline. The first half of the game takes place before the events of RE2 and the second half takes place after. This means that we get to see locations like the Raccoon City Police Department before Leon and Claire do. This oddly-divided timeline is rather inconsequential, but it serves as a precursor to the eventual mess the RE timeline would become.

The gameplay is largely intact from the first two games. Jill must ration scarce ammunition as she and Umbrella mercenary Carlos Oliveira traverse Raccoon City searching for keys and solving puzzles in order to progress to the next area. Capcom does a great job of showing off the scale of the zombie apocalypse. The infection is city-wide, and as such the pair encounter far more enemies at once than players saw in the Spencer Mansion. For this reason, ammo conservation is far more important that before. Luckily, the broad streets of Raccoon City provide more opportunities to dodge zombie bites, provided you can handle the tank controls.

Progression is as satisfying as ever. Environmental puzzles require a lot of backtracking, but when you finally pass through that locked door that has been hounding you the feeling is fantastic. The game also introduces a couple new mobility options to help alleviate some of the clunkiness of the tank controls. First up is a quick 180-degree turn. This is valuable move is useful for escaping the large groups of zombies roaming the city.

Another new feature is the ability to combine the new reloading tool with gun powder to craft different types of ammunition. From standard handgun bullets to freeze rounds for the grenade launcher, it is a lot of fun to make rounds that tailor to your specific playstyle.

Early in the game, Jill encounters the titular Nemesis – an Umbrella-created mutant bent on hunting S.T.A.R.S. members. Nemesis spends the remainder of the game harassing Jill in a number of one-sided fights. Much of the tension in the game comes from never knowing exactly when Nemesis will show his face next. This cat-and-mouse style gameplay is reminiscent of the recently released Alien: Isolation.

These fights with Nemesis are easily the worst part of the game. The tank controls don’t exactly lend themselves to the fast-paced encounters Capcom seemed to be going for. The fights are so annoying that midway through the game whenever Nemesis shows up I was filled with frustration rather than dread. They also feel futile due to the fact that Nemesis transforms no less that 600 times throughout the course of the game. In fact, it changes forms so much that it is hardly recognizable as a thing by the end of the game.

Am I fighting a sausage pizza?

Am I fighting a sausage pizza?

Resident Evil 3 also introduced The Mercenaries, a bonus game unlocked after completing the story. In this mode, the player is tasked with crossing the city to reach a safe house within the time limits. Doing so earns you money which can be spent on weapons to be used in the story mode. It’s a fun diversion that provides replay value and a new challenge.

Nemesis may hold Resident Evil 3 back from the upper echelons of survival horror, but fans of the genre ought to think of revisiting the ruined streets of Raccoon City. The satisfying puzzles and a haunting atmosphere provide a memorable experience, and with the game currently on sale there is really no reason not to dive back in.

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Cardboard Addiction: The Princes of Florence

By Sam Desatoff

princes box art

The board game world is ripe with games centered on the European Renaissance. From Fresco to Amerigo and dozens more, for one reason or another game designers have a massive love affair with this particular period in time. I’m not sure what exactly about the Renaissance lends itself well to board games; perhaps designers see potential game mechanics in the the explosion of the art movement or the building of iconic monuments. But whatever the reason, here we are drowning in cardboard chips depicting stuffy men doing things that would bore the majority of us today.

Come. Join me in my quest to watch every episode of Men at Work ever.

Come. Join me in my quest to watch every episode of Men at Work ever.

So obviously, I’m going to write an entire article about one of these games.

What is it?

The Princes of Florence is a game about the most prominent families in Renaissance Italy as they compete for wealth and influence. They do so by attempting to attract artists and entertainers of all sorts to their compounds (the game calls them palazzos, but it’s hard to deny the creepy, cult-like behavior of the families here). Players attract these artists and entertainers by having the most appealing palazzos. When your palazzo is deemed hip enough, the artists will complete works for you, thus earning you points. The better your palazzo, the better the work produced, and the more points you’ll earn.

Each round of Princes is split into two parts. The first is an auction round where players bid on features that will go into their palazzos. These features include gardens, forests, lakes, builders, and jesters. I’m not sure where you find an auction that deals in both landscape features and human beings, but there you have it. Once the auction round is complete, players can buy buildings that their artists and entertainers require in order to produce their works. At the end of the game, the player with the most points wins. Surprise.

The Good

The heart of the game is the auction phase. Here, you are competing with other players for features that everyone needs, and the bidding can reach astronomical amounts. This kind of player interaction is something our group revels in, especially we have the chance to really screw over our opponents. For this reason, the auction phase was my favorite part of the game.

There is also a puzzle-like element of fitting each feature and building on your palazzo. At the start of the game, buildings cannot touch except diagonally. And once a feature or building is place, it cannot be moved for the rest of the game. The successful planning and executing of the layout of your palazzo as you Tetris your way to victory is hugely satisfying.

Why do I find this sensual?

Why do I find this sensual?

The game was also very easy to teach. There’s not a lot to learn, and even then the learning curve isn’t very steep. Auctions are simple and actions are very straightforward. The game presents all available options right at the start which sounds overwhelming, but honestly everything is so intuitive that it’s easy to grasp.

The Bad

Along those lines, the game can be very punishing if planning ahead isn’t your cup of [insert Renaissance-era beverage]. One of our group didn’t quite see the value in adding jesters to her palazzo early on and it set her back two or three rounds. This can be frustrating, and as someone who very much wants the game to be an even playing field, I think the game may lean a little to heavily on that planning ahead aspect.

Another thing I want to call the game out on is how difficult it is read the cards and boards. I’m guessing the designers were going for an authentic look, but sometimes it’s hard to make heads or tails of the cursive writing. This isn’t detrimental to the overall game, but I wish it was easier to read.

Am I accidentally going to build explosives?

Am I accidentally going to build explosives?

The Verdict

Princes is very easy to learn, but hard to master, and that’s exactly what I want out of a game. Overly long rule books can bog down a game, but Princes does a great job in streamlining the Euro game feel. In a genre that tends to over-complicate things, this game is a refreshing exception. With a fairly short play time it’ll be easy to break this one out on weekdays. I plan on keeping this one on the shelf for quite some time and I look forward when it next hits the table.

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Good Enough Episode 10 – Max Productivity For Your Office Layout: Designs

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Welcome to the second episode of October. That’s got to be some kind of record for us.

This week, Jessey joins Matt, Robbie, and Sam to talk about some more horror games. We touch on a few listeners’ favorites like American McGee’s Alice, and Amnesia: The Dark Descent.

In the second segment, we are joined by Frank, an author dedicated to bettering offices the world over.

Thanks for listening.

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We Played an Old Game – Silent Hill

I’m pretty sure I’m not insane

By Sam Desatoff

Silent_Hill_video_game_cover

When deciding on what games I wanted to play for this, the month of horror, there was one series I was determined to touch on. That series…was Resident Evil. And so I did.

But then I realized that October is more than a few days long and that I should probably play something else, too.

I have a passing familiarity with a large number of horror series from Fatal Frame to F.E.A.R. to Dead Space. But the biggest hole is probably the Grand Canyon.

I mean, look how big that is. It's huge!

I mean, look how big that is. It’s huge!

The biggest void in my horror games knowledge, however, is the Silent Hill franchise. With comparisons often being made to Resident Evil, Silent Hill always interested me. But for one reason or another I never got around to it. However, now that I’m an adult with a job and a full-time school schedule, I can play all the games I want. So excuse me while I push aside this eight-page paper and finally pick up Silent Hill.

Going into it, I expected the game to essentially be a clone of Resident Evil, and on the surface that comparison holds true. Scarce ammunition, tank controls, a mysterious locale; these are elements that permeate both franchises. But it doesn’t take long for Silent Hill to differentiate itself.

The game begins when Harry Mason and his daughter Cheryl crash their car in the titular town. It takes less than one minute for Cheryl to forget how to to act like a normal person and wander off into the abandoned streets of Silent Hill.

The town may be abandoned, but the fog factory is working overtime

The town may be abandoned, but the fog factory is working overtime

What follows is an unsettling journey through two worlds ripe with horror, torture, and knife-wielding babies.

In place of jump scares, Silent Hill focuses on psychological horror. For example, when Harry for some reason visits the probably-haunted hospital, he explores the three floors and finds nothing. Yet, he re-enters the elevator to find that a button leading to a fourth floor has mysteriously appeared. Stepping off on the fourth floor sends Harry into an alternate-dimension version of the hospital where the floors have been replaced by metal grating, blood adorns almost every wall, and demon-nurses roam the halls with knives.

I'm sure she just wants to check your pulse

I’m sure she just wants to check your pulse

The trade-off of jump scares for psychological horror is probably Silent Hill’s biggest strength. The game plays on your expectations and twists them, subtly at first, but escalating to a point that has you questioning Harry’s sanity. Later in the game, the jumps from our world to the nightmare world and back happen more frequently. This leads to an Inception-like effect where you can’t be sure which world is which anymore.

There are many who decry the tank-like controls of old-school survival horror, but I think the unwieldy control scheme contributes to the sense of tension. When you’re surrounded by enemies and scrambling to escape the room, the controls require a level head and precise execution.

While the setting and horror have aged well, other elements have not. The PlayStation One generation of games have not aged well graphically, and Silent Hill is no exception. Stiff animations and muddy environmental details mar the experience. The voice acting does not fare much better with unnatural dialogue and awkward pauses that make Resident Evil: Code Veronica’s Steve Burnside look like Winston goddamn Churchill.

Video courtesy of YouTube user fungo

Terrible voice acting aside, Silent Hill provides a truly frightening ride. I appreciate the choice to leave the jump scares to Resident Evil and instead focus on psychological side of things. Silent Hill proves that you don’t need a dog jumping through a window to scare players – a simple town filled with unspeakable horror and creatures from your worst nightmares will suffice just fine.

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We Played an Old Game – Resident Evil Code: Veronica

Of keys and cross-dressers

RE Code Veronica Cover

When we think “survival horror”, Resident Evil is often the first franchise to come to mind. The first game pioneered a genre whose focus on atmosphere over action proved that not all games need to be explosive and over-the-top. The cryptic and labyrinthine mansion slowly doled out subtle clues about the sinister goings-on of the Umbrella Corporation, and the dusty hallways and unsettling groans of off-screen zombies combined to create a truly terrifying experience. Resident Evil also paved the way for other horror franchises like Silent Hill and Parasite Eve.

But then this happened:

Video courtesy of YouTube user Chris Silencio

This is the finale to Resident Evil 5, and in case you didn’t catch it, it took place in the mouth of an active volcano. My favorite part was when Chris used his fists to pummel a boulder into submission. This is pretty much the polar opposite of the original Resident Evil’s claustrophobic hallways and slow, shambling zombies. While I’m sure there are those who prefer today’s more action-heavy take on the series, the unwieldy tank controls and cheesy dialogue of the classic entries will always have a special place in the hearts of many.

The transition from survival horror to launching-a-rocket-into-a-tentacle-nightmare-inside-a-volcano happened somewhere around Resident Evil 4. Leon S. Kennedy’s mission to rescue the president’s daughter forewent the puzzles and backtracking of the previous games in favor of an emphasis on gunplay. The title is often referenced in lists of the best action-horror games, and rightly so; Resident Evil 4 did for action-shooters what Resident Evil 1 did for the horror genre.

Not to mention what that hair did for the confidence of men the world over.

Not to mention what that hair did for the confidence of men the world over.

Resident Evil 4 released first on the Nintendo GameCube in 2005. Three years before, in 2002, the GameCube remake of the first Resident Evil launched. This is the same year that saw the release of Resident Evil Zero, a prequel to the mansion incident detailing the trials of the STARS Bravo Team that the protagonists of Resident Evil 1 were sent to rescue. Looking at the release dates of each entry, Resident Evil Zero can be considered the last game in the “classic” style. That is, it was the last game containing tank-controls and static, pre-rendered backgrounds and a heavy emphasis on puzzle elements.

Also, this giant fucking scorpion.

Also, this giant fucking scorpion.

But before the genre-shaking Resident Evil 4, and the train ride of scary shit in Resident Evil Zero, there was an odd, sometimes overlooked entry in the series. Resident Evil Code: Veronica followed the exploits of Claire Redfield after she escaped the nuking of Raccoon City depicted in Resident Evil 3.

The overarching story of the Resident Evil series has always been fraught with nonsense and confusing twists, but Code: Veronica takes the cake. While searching for her brother Chris in Paris, Claire happens upon an Umbrella facility. She is taken hostage and transferred to an island fortress someplace in the Southern Ocean. What follows is an absurd series of events centered around the Ashford family and its cross-dressing heir. I won’t go into too much detail about the story here, but suffice it to say that making exact sense of Code: Veronica requires patience that I do not possess. What I will focus on instead is the gameplay, setting, and how it compares to the rest of the series.

First released for the Sega Dreamcast in 2000, Code: Veronica illustrates an interesting blend of the series’ characteristics. It adheres tightly to to the formula established in the previous games with an emphasis on key collecting and backtracking. The story of the island is told mostly through the environment, and the game does a great job of creating a feeling of tension.

The island is divided into several distinct areas like a prison, palace, and a military training facility. This simulates the many areas of the Raccoon City mansion like the guardhouse and the laboratory. Each area is creepy in its own way and is ripe with locked doors and puzzles that must be solved to move on. In this way, Code: Veronica is an enjoyable homage to the glory days of survival horror.

But for everything the game does right, there are a few problems. First and foremost is the introduction of what may be the worst character in video game history: Steve Burnside.

Prepare to feel hate as you never have before.

Prepare to feel hate as you never have before.

I know Resident Evil isn’t exactly lauded for its strong voice acting, but there has to be a line. It turns out there is a line, and Steve crosses it with abandon. His “cool dude” attitude is in direct juxtaposition with the grating voice work. The character himself is also responsible for about sixty percent of every bad thing that happens to Claire. Throughout the game Steve shoots at Claire with a fully automatic machine gun, accidentally fills a vital escape route with poison, and transforms into an unkillable rampaging mutant. Steve is so horrible that it’s hard to feel sorry for him even when this happens:

Video courtesy of YouTube user BobelVago

I suppose it was destiny that we contributed to his inevitable death.

Code: Veronica is also the game responsible for the return of Albert Wesker, the rogue STARS agent that turned into a horrifying meat tornado in the above RE5 clip. So naturally Code: Veronica contains early elements of the absurd action that would characterize later games in the series. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, depending on your personal tastes, but one could argue that the return of Wesker is a sort of harbinger of things to come.

One thing that should be mention is that this game is difficult. I’d go so far as to say that it’s the most difficult of the classic games. Ammunition is of course scarce, but enemy distribution and density provide a hefty challenge. This is most evident about midway through the game when players take control of Chris, Claire’s brother. When the perspective switches, Chris has access to the items Claire left behind in item boxes. Without knowing that this switch is coming, though, the player can be caught off-guard and unprepared. This can be very detrimental during the second half of the game because monsters are stronger and more unforgiving, and there seem to be fewer overall healing items.

For all its faults and camp, Resident Evil Code: Veronica was a fun trip down memory lane. Revisiting this odd title in the venerable franchise has made me appreciate the design of its first three entries, and I am eager to revisit them.

Follow the author on Twitter: @sdesatoff

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Episode 9 – The Horror Episode

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It’s October, and you know what that means! It means another poorly-planned out episode of Good Enough. In this show, we discuss our favorite horror games of all time. Some of us dig Resident Evil, others Silent Hill. Games like Dead Space, P.T., and Manhunt are all up for debate. We also briefly touch on our favorite horror films of all time.

Let us know in the comments below which horror games and films are your favorite and we’ll discuss them on the next episode.

Thanks for listening.

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Good Enough Episode 8 – Nobody Needs Ice Cube

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Welcome back to Good Enough. In this episode, we play a riveting game of Snake Oil. If you’re unfamiliar with the game, it’s basically Apples to Apples, but instead of using subtle racism to offend your friends, you play the role of a seedy salesperson pitching a product that will probably cause bodily harm.

In the second segment, we wanted to talk about fantasy football, but instead argue the merits of Brendan Fraser films.

Thanks for listening.

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Cardboard Addiction: The Manhattan Project

Nothing says “game night” quite like bombing the shit out of your best friends.

Manhattan Project box

Note: this is the first entry in our Cardboard Addiction series. For an explanation of how we plan to approach these reviews, click here.

The Manhattan Project is a worker placement game. That means that, on your turn, you place workers (I’m a college student). These workers do different things based on where you place them. For instance, if you place a worker on the “get money” space, guess what. You get money (there’s that education paying off again).

Sound simple? Well, in a sense, it is.

But this game isn’t just about getting money. It’s a game about building bombs. And launching air strikes at your opponents. And processing plutonium and uranium. And it’s also a race.

photo (4)

The only way to earn points in The Manhattan Project is to build bombs. At the start of the game, five bomb cards are revealed to everyone, as are their building requirements. The fact that the end game requirements are public knowledge means that everyone has the same goals. However, not everyone will take the same path to the goals.

Buying buildings allows players to put together their own personal economic engines. Much of the game depends on your ability to combo your buildings together. For example, using your university might produce a scientists, and using your mine will net you some yellow cake. Now, you might have enough scientists and yellow cake to make some uranium which, in turn, will finally allow you to build your 20 point bomb. That is just a minor example, but you get the idea.

photo (5)

And then there is the air raid option. Players who feel particularly dickish can perform an air raid on their opponents. Air raids can put buildings out of commission, forcing players to waste precious game turns to repair their buildings. Air raids can be absolutely brutal, and was the most polarizing aspect of the four-player game we played.

Pros

The Manhattan Project is the most thematically interesting game I have played in quite some time. The game is presented in the style of World War II era newspapers which goes a long way in selling the theme.

The game ends as soon as one player reaches a certain number of points. This mechanic essentially makes the game a race to build the most bombs. A race to see who can craft the most arms first. An…arms race, if you will. Thematically, it just makes sense that the first to build the most bombs win, and I absolutely love this aspect.

One of the players complained that the game ended to quickly. I disagreed (not just because I won (maybe a little)) because an arms race should instill a sense of haste. The game rewards clever usage of buildings, and the most efficient players are going to win.

Cons

This game can be mean. The air strikes can put a player out of commission for more than one turn, giving a huge advantage to the other players. Luckily, there are ways to defend against air strikes, so there is a balance. Our group actually prefers high conflict in games (because we hate each other), so this was not too much of a negative.

The Verdict

The Manhattan is an easy “keep” for me. I will not be trading this one away any time soon.

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Episode 7 – A Triumphant Return

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Guess what. There’s a new podcast. That’s right, after a ripe run of six episodes, we have rebranded our show as Good Enough. We’re still under the larger Bad Mojo umbrella, but the podcast itself is now Good Enough.

So, why the change? We felt that the title “Good Enough” fell in line better than “Bad Mojo”, mostly due to our inability to produce a quality show. You’re welcome.

I can’t remember exactly what we talked about on this episode because honestly, we recorded it literally months ago. You see, people. This is why we call it “Good Enough”.

Thanks for listening, and expect more shows coming soon. Or not. We’ll see.

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Cardboard Addiction: So Many Games

I have a problem, and it’s made of cardboard.

Like most kids, I grew up on family games like Monopoly and Sorry and absolutely lost my shit when someone landed on a property I wanted or bumped me off the board. We played Chutes and Ladders, Candyland, Scrabble, and a dozen others, and I had a great time. As I got older, however, these games began to wear out their welcome as I realized that, boiled down, they rely purely on luck. Dice rolls, card and tile draws, what spaces you land on – all of these are completely out of the hands of the player.

"Are you buying Marvin Gardens? I'll fucking kill you." - Dad

“Are you buying Marvin Gardens? I’ll fucking kill you.” – Dad

Then about four years ago, I stumbled across this post on Game Informer. See that little bit about board games? Yeah, that’s the one. That’s what did it.

Having no idea what “Arkham Horror” and “Dominion” were, a quick Google search brought me to BoardGameGeek. Thus the floodgates opened. Here were games that rewarded careful planning and skill rather than simply the roll of the dice or the draw of the cards. These were games that relied on your ability to manipulate the situation before you while utilizing a bevy of mechanics from “worker placement” to “pick up and deliver”. It was a veritable utopia of gaming bliss.

I don’t know if my desire for a deeper game experience was compounded by an addictive personality or something, but four years later, my collection looks like this:

It's a good thing no one offered me cocaine at the time.

It’s a good thing no one offered me cocaine at the time.

That’s a lot of games. You can see that there is very little room left on that shelf. But because I’m weak, I want more games, but my nagging wife loving wife who understands financial responsibility better than I do has given me an ultimatum: I can acquire no more new games until I get rid of some of the games we don’t play very often. “But I love them all equally!” I said just like any lying parent would. In all honesty, though, I see the reasoning behind it. We don’t have a lot of space to just pile games up, and so a cull must occur.

cull

Like some kind of really dumb Dr. Manhattan, I must now choose between my love of my current collection and the necessity to purge. My solution is going to be as follows:

Over the next several weeks (and months, probably) I am going to play every game in my collection. At each game ends, I will ask all the players their thoughts about it. Then, based on a combination of their opinion and my opinion, I will decide if the game stays on the shelf. Don’t expect any black-and-white, strict criteria for this decision. If the group likes a game, but I don’t, I may get rid of it anyways. On the reverse, however, I may keep games that the group didn’t care for. The group’s overall opinion will probably carry the most weight seeing as how these are the people I regularly play games with, and if they’re not having a good time, neither am I.

Board games are exactly this serious.

Board games are exactly this serious.

I plan on writing a post on each game detailing the consensus, divided into a number of categories:

-Theme
-Mechanics
-Replayability
-Player Interaction
-General Fun-ness(?)

There are a number of games I already know I will not be getting rid of, such as Puerto Rico, Lords of Waterdeep, and 7 Wonders. These are games that our regular group has played repeatedly and enjoy immensely. I will be including them in this project though, simply for the sake of completion.

So, there it is. If anyone is interested in viewing my collection, check out my BoardGameGeek profile for a list of games that I will be reviewing. If you’d like to get in on a game night, just let me know; we’re always down for more people.

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