Illbleed’s another impulse purchase to add to the pile. Between the creepy dollface adorning the box, and the various gruesome images on the back, I assumed I was in for something of a budget survival horror title, a B-movie in gaming form, like Carrier or Blue Stinger. Instead, Illbleed skewers B-movies like they were cheerleaders who just had sex.
Illbleed is a survival horror game, but it’s unique in gameplay terms for two reasons, one, fights with actual monsters are rare, and most of the time, you’re just going to want to run away anyway. And secondly, the major threat of the game isn’t the monsters so much as the traps. Just about every item in the game world can conceal a trap that will damage or scare your character, and you can die from either damage or fear. You can ‘mark’ certain traps using adrenaline to protect yourself, but you only have so much adrenaline.
But the real charm to this game is the humor. This is one of the funniest horror games I’ve ever played, because it parodies just about every kind of horror film out there (and Toy Story for some reason), and the real trick is that it still manages to be scary. I love this game – and the secret, ‘true’ ending is freaking brilliant.
Like some others on this list, Vanquish seemed to come out of nowhere. I never heard anything about it, just started seeing it on store shelves. It looked like just another generic shooter, so I gave it a pass for weeks. And then finally, one day when nothing else grabbed my attention in the rental store, I figured ‘what the hell, even a generic shooter could be amusing for at least a little while’. As those of you skilled in pattern recognition can guess, it is not generic, and I’ve played it for more than a little while.
Vanquish is easily one of the most stylish shooters I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing. The sliding-boost mechanic is pure genius, and it injected some real speed and strategy into what could have been another by-the-numbers cover-based shooter system. The pace is incredible, and despite the short length and cheesy writing, I definitely got my money’s worth out of that rental, and I’d probably buy it if it came out on Steam, but it doesn’t look like a PC port is in the offing any time soon.
I blame this one almost entirely on the box art. I mean, it is literally just a dude’s head with the title on top. And it’s not even a particularly impressive head.
This game sat in the rack at my video store for months, and I ignored it. Finally, I picked it up and looked at the back. And again, it looked like nothing special, just another third-person shooter. It even makes a big deal out of what was already a boring, overused plot device back then – amnesia. So I laughed and put it back.
One day, the game I wanted to rent wasn’t there, and I didn’t find anything else interesting, so I figured, screw it, why not. And I took the game home. On the day I had to return it, I ran from the rental store to a game store and bought it. I had to own this game.
Headhunter was, indeed, just another third-person shooter. The gameplay is fun, but nothing to write home about. What is worth writing home about? Just about everything else. The writing is tight and genuinely funny, the music utilized a full orchestra, and it’s amazing, the plot had a twist I didn’t see coming, and I loved those wonderfully cheesy newscasters! My biggest complaint about the sequel was that they didn’t bring back the newscasters. Still, I find the time to play both games at least once a year.
1. THE PANDORA DIRECTIVE
I was pretty burned out by FMV games around 1996. I’d played Burn: Cycle, and The Psychic Detective, and I’d qualified them as interesting experiments at best. I’d also made the poor life decision of choosing to play Wirehead. Ye gods, what a huge pile of maggot-ridden dogshit that was.
After that, I might not have played FMV games again, but for one special day. I was wandering through one of those all-media stores, and I wandered into the computer game section, where I spotted the box. I looked it over and groaned. “Not another interactive movie!” I thought. I put it down, and walked away.
After another hour of wandering around, it was time to go, and I still hadn’t found anything. I don’t know what convinced me to give an FMV game another shot, but I picked up The Pandora Directive and took it home. And it turned out to be one of my favorite gaming experiences ever.
I’ve gushed and gushed and gushed about this game already, but let me boil it down as simply as I can: it’s an endlessly replayable adventure game with great puzzles, incredible acting, quirky characters, and intense experiences. It has its cheesy side, most definitely, but it manages to somehow be more awesome because of it. It is, without a doubt in my mind, the best FMV game ever made.