”The Venerable Abject”
Ana Cristea Gallery, 521 W26th St., NYC
Nicola Samori’s first solo exhibition in the United States. Selecting portraits and still lifes from classical paintings but also sourcing random faces and images from the Web, Samori is engaged in a project about time and corrosion. Mythological and religious figures dominate Samori canvasses. - thru June 23
I bought this from a used-game store out of a strange sense of nostalgia. Not exactly the nice kind of nostalgia, but the kind that you hold towards something you’ve never been good at, or even hated. You see, back in the years of my youth, when the nearby Pick N Save had an indoor and oversized VHS and videogame rental cubicle, I rented Overblood for the Playstation (on several occasions). Despite this, I’ve never made it past the first half of the first level. The thing about the game that stood out to me most (which is why I decided to actually buy it after all those years), was its lonely and creepy sci-fi atmosphere. In OVERBLOOD, you play as a Barry Burton/ William Hurt look-alike named Raz Karcy, who awakens from a cryogenic nap only to discover that he has amnesia and that whatever lab/facility he is in has been completely fucked up by a mysterious disaster. To top it off, he finds that the facility is soaking with some variety of flesh eating virus, and meets an implausibly cute robot that, through a series of beeps, claims it’s name is “Pipo.”
I think the main reason why I had never progressed past an early part of the game, besides the terrible controls that make it feel like you’re puppeteering a rusty metal marionette while wearing arm casts, was due to my lack of education in adventure games. Overblood is like a 3D point and click adventure game— some mutant hybrid of Resident Evil and Myst. You have to crouch and press the action button in every nook and cranny of the game’s environment. It’s as if most of the items that you need are either invisible or tiny to the point of being unrenderable. Things get even easier when only certain characters are capable of finding certain items. So if you search that entire map and find nothing that will allow you to progress to the next area, it’s time to swap marionettes and try again. However, after adjusting my brain to this gameplay style (after learning of it from the game’s manual), I only had a handful of moments wandering around aimlessly for what seemed like hours, debating on whether or not I check Google for solutions.
Surprisingly, there is some combat. Every now and then—I think on six occasions— an unannounced zombie-like rage enemy will emerge out of the ventilation or whatever and you will be required to kill it. You can either punch it dead or riddle it with bullets. I always stuck with the former option, for the handgun is slow, clunky, has limited bullets, I usually miss, and the game refuses to pause when you bring up the item menu to equip the fucker. That being said, it’s still a good idea to not use it at all, and instead hoard as much ammo as possible to use on the final boss. Yes, there is a final boss in this game, which eerily feels like something from Resident Evil (spoiler: a super mutant who you must lead into a jet engine before the facility self-destructs).
Apart from the bad controls and unintuitive style of gameplay, the parts that I actually thought were good slowly dribbled away as more characters were introduced, plot elements felt rushed, some of the puzzle/fetch quests made no sense (so I have to use this blow torch to cut through a floor grating to get a screw driver to open a different ventilation grate, eh?), and some of the revelations were underwhelming and disappointing (the underground lab contractors decided to build on a fault-line). It’s also only five hours long, including the time spent wandering around trying to figure out what to do, which I though was a bit strange for an old game. This is a game from the early days of survival horror, a grandfather of the fright-less shit we have nowadays. I expected more. But regardless of these deficiencies, I liked Overblood more than I thought I would. It has that atmosphere, and the overly-dramatic line deliveries are hilarious. I recommend it for those who are interested in exploring the golden years of survival horror and have a thing for B-movie awfulness.
I’ve sulked through a good number of years frequently hearing praises and references concerning this game’s apparent high quality, to the point that when I took note of the reassuring smiles, nods, and “Yeahs” between the Gamestop employees upon bringing the used PS2 copy to the register, I felt I would most certainly experience a game well worth the attention it deserves. It was soon after this that I slapped myself across the face for allowing high expectations to get the better of me once again. While I would not call the game bad by any means, the amount of which it is loved is almost nothing but perplexing to me. For starters (and I hate to be finicky about game length, for it is the content that matters), Beyond Good and Evil is approximately eight hours long. That’s maybe ten hours if you include the practically identical sidequests, to which there are, I believe, six. Initially, I suspected that this was merely the first-half setup for the game’s overarching, epic storyline. It would turn out that I was deceived. The three missions handed to my character after the lengthy intro sequence would turn out to represent the beginning, middle, and end of the entire game. This is probably my own personal opinion and tasteful preference, but when I’m told at the beginning of my adventure: “After you take some photos here, you are going to the Moon,” all sense of mystery and intrigue of where my journey may take me is lost. Even if you were unaware that BGAE ends on the Moon, the resentment towards the game upon realizing so becomes all the more sweeter.
Another misleading instance of gamer-trickery present in BGAE came to me during my initial experiences in the game’s world. I thought I was taught through a boss battle involving the chasing and shooting of a giant, flying spinal-column, that the acquirement of Pearls—portable nuclear reactors required for vehicle upgrades to access story-significant areas—was actually a process necessitating a work effort, thus lengthening gameplay, requiring exploration, sidequests, fleshing out the world, etc. However, you eventually gain Pearls in mass bulks after completing the two missions and flying into a [dormant] volcano, completely nullifying the existence of the, above mentioned, hoverboat chase/race sidequests.
I’ve already begun to heavily criticize the game without even hinting as to what the thing is about. Beyond Good and Evil is about an Asian-American, teenage, multiple-shades-of-green wearing girl named Jade who lives with a variety of humanoid animal people on the planet Hillys which is constantly under attack by the mysterious Domz Empire but is kinda-sorta under protection by a totalitarian military regime. Later, a group of animatronic puppet people, who are part of an underground newspaper, recruit Jade to look into the military’s actions and intentions because something just doesn’t feel right. As always.
For the positive aspects of the game, there isn’t much to say. The combat flows nicely, whenever it’s present, that is, but the dull and empty sound effects sort of take away from the “smacking flying insect vultures with metal rod” attitude the game frequently boasts. Taking photographs of the various forms of wildlife on your planet is fun and interesting, albeit a bit too easy and short-lived. You see, photo-taking racks up points, earning a Pearl for your efforts, a mechanic that really should have been implemented to a greater extent to add a bit more challenge to the overall experience. The water-reflections of the over-world when exploring on-boat are fantastic, and clearly out shine all other graphical aspects of the game. That’s pretty much all that is good and ‘meh’ because the biggest whore of the gameplay experience that left me moaning with frustrated exhaustion is the Camera. Not the camera that your character uses, oh no, that one was quite fine, although a bit sluggish. The in-game camera through which your character’s movements and interactions are monitored and relayed to you, the gamer, seems as though it is occasionally under the heavy influences of Castro and Karkov. It can’t pass through walls to give a broader perspective of the environment, leading to a good many of enemies emerging from my blind spots or murdering me as I have a fine, zoomed view of Jade’s left pupil. I’m exaggerating, of course, the camera in the combat sections is forgivably retarded and does not ultimately jade the experience as long as I have the freedom to move it around. There are numerous stealth sections in the game, all of which involve you sneaking, no? Why, yes, they do, and there are enough save points and easy-to-remember enemy walk patterns that make it accomplishable. However, the camera mechanics completely change for some awkward, fetishistic reason. No longer does it move up and down freely and smoothly, but instead with some kind of jarring and disorienting UP or DOWN rusty-joint tilt, as if your neck was replaced with an arthritic elbow.
The part of the game where I was most shaken, thunderously, to my rotten little core was when I was expected to feel a sort of grievance for the apparent death of an obnoxiously irritating sidekick character, with whom I’ve spent about two hours of playtime many hours prior. Considering the limited screentime, poor pacing, and mishandled character development of everyone in the fucking game, it would be easier for me to smash my face into the television and not complain or sob about my newly broken nose and missing teeth.
All in all, Beyond Good and Evil was okay.