Monday, June 17, 2013

Ignorant American Gaming: Juggernaut

Availability: Was only released for Playstation back in 1998 in Japan and 1999 in America. No ports or re-releases currently available.

Version I Played: Only one available. Specifically the American release.

Review: In case you haven't noticed I am a big fan of horror and things that are generally speaking pretty fucked up. Hard to say exactly what the story is behind it but I do enjoy the thrill of terror. Not the kind of terror that comes with a roller coaster but the kind where you feel like that killer or demon on the screen or on the page may very well be in the room with you in the dark. And when they're a bit more on the fucked up side (aka not what you may see coming and what does come is really out there) it sometimes enhances the experience depending how it is used. Those factors put together is one of the many reasons I was drawn to Juggernaut. And I would say my initial draw to it was in a few stills I found, much like when I discovered D. Take a look at the back cover art for example.

Honestly that was enough to draw me in. I could tell it wasn't a traditional modern horror themed game. It was even more old school than I thought. It's a point a click adventure game, or as much of a point and click can be for a home console (ala Myst or D). And despite poor reviews I found myself too stubborn and wanted to see it for myself. Honestly for the most part I was not disappointed.

The plot is a good mixture of old and new ideas. The game starts out where you're called upon because your girlfriend is demon possessed. So you go to her home where a priest performing an exorcism and explains what has happened up to that point. By the end of this explanation he tells you that in order to save her you'll need to enter her soul to draw out the demon. So the game does not actually take place in the physical world. It takes place in a spiritual world within your [lady's] soul. I thought this was a great and innovative approach to handle an exorcism instead of a game that involves you running around town refilling the holy water containers and all around what you would expect from an exorcism like in The Exorcist. This allows things to get really fucked up, because in case you haven't noticed things can get really fucked up in one's head. Way more than in real life. What does follow is a very wide range of locations and events that all are bizarre in their own right.

The first place you go is to this beach/forest area. And the first thing you see is a view of what appears to either be a lake or ocean, and in the sky is a blood red moon. It's a really eerie image and a great way to start a game. One thing I should make clear before continuing is that I feel that early pre-rendered 3D modeling can be really creepy without really trying. It's a different type of uncanny/creepy similar to modern 3D modeling where it looks really realistic, but just off enough for it to be off-putting (See Polar Express or the new TinTin). I don't find that stuff creepy. Well, not as much as this older type at least. Now when this older style of 3D modeling tries horror, oh boy can it be creepy. It's a bizarre view since you can tell the developers are really trying to make it as realistic as possible within their limitations, but it isn't quite there yet. As a result a lot of the imagery turns out much creepier for me than it would if it were in a stronger graphics engine. Also since it's all pre-rendered it is much smoother a presentation, which makes it creepier for me because it looks a bit more "realistic" that way. And lastly, it's almost entirely still images. There is some animation when walking from one location to the next, but otherwise it's all still. I find still images way creepier than seeing things in motion because it allows my imagination to run wild. Also there is something strange about seeing something so still, especially when you're experiencing it in a medium where you're used to it moving. Really hard for me to explain and have you understand. But in an effort to make more sense, I on a normal day would find the image below on top creepier than the image on the bottom:

So this is going to be the standard for what style will be seen throughout the rest of the game. But what kind of stuff could be happening inside this girl's demon possessed head? Well, quite a bit of random scary shit that's for sure. Through the first chunk of the game you'll find yourself walking through a forest and exploring brick and wood homes/towers for clues on where to go next. It's here that you'll discover one of the games biggest flaws. It doesn't have a good balance of difficulty. Some of the puzzles will be really, really easy, and others will be way too complicated. One I got stuck on early in the game was when you're supposed to know what path to take through a series of doors based on the sound they make when you approach them. Your only clue is in the first room by listening to a record player. Then with each room you go into you have to figure out which of three doors it would be. And a lot of the noises sound similar. Honestly, that's when I busted out the youtube videos because it was getting frustrating.
And that's something with this game and this genre that doesn't always meld well with me. I don't have a huge amount of experience with point and click adventure games. My specialty is more along the lines of platformers, RPGs, and puzzle games. And there are critical thinking elements in each of those in their own respect, RPGs more than the rest, but point and click adventure games is not just about using logic, but the logic the game creates. Sometimes that logic is really wacky and one can wonder how anyone would have ever thought to use said item in said way. It's a world of wonder and you really have to get in the right mindset of that world. In short I like adventure games but I'm no good at them.
Now with Juggernaut it definitely has those puzzles. I always try to avoid using a guide as much as possible but there were parts that I definitely needed it. And I tried, believe me I tried. But once I was able to figure out what to do next I found another problem with the game. It will make you do the runaround so much. There's a lot of backtracking and running around here there and everywhere. And this is expanded because of some mechanics you have to deal with later in the game. This is something that unfortunately takes a big jab at the game overall. I constantly want to keep moving along with the game but sometimes what I need to do is so tedious it makes me want to shut it off. I'm just glad the theme and initial story of the game kept me going. That and wondering what could come next because the game was already coming off as unpredictable in it's first couple hours.

For me the game came much more alive and the creep factor went way up when you enter the mansion. First to even get in you have to talk to these strange men in coats and masks (See the image I posted a few paragraphs ago). The weird thing is that there doesn't appear to even be a front door to the mansion as you have to essentially be transported into the mansion through a painting. Now I found the mansion way creepier than the forest stuff. Why? Another personal creep factor. I've always loved the haunted house type of horror. It's a lot like being trapped without an easy escape. Also it adds a factor of claustrophobia because there's very little ways to escape. Also, and I think this is something we can all relate to, being alone at home in the dark can be some scary shit. It's like you can get this sense of anxiety thinking that someone or something is waiting in the next room to get you. Anyway, I love it cause haunted houses and the like are really scary to me.
For the most part the mansion is what you would expect until you get into some of the deep nooks and crannies where all the creepy stuff is hidden. For example you find a machine that provides you with a body. It's hard to describe so take a look back at the back cover of the game case and you'll see a shot in the upper right hand corner. It's between that body and a smaller body in a separate machine where you can access different areas or even use certain keys in certain locks. It's a good way to add variety to the game where you need to explore or factor into puzzles how you'll progress with either a large or small body. However this is yet another time when things get tedious. Rarely are the two machines for the different sized people near each other. So realizing you should have jacked into the small body when you're in the big body across the mansion is a pain cause you have to trail all the way back to the other machine to get it. And sometimes that'll take time to get back to it.
That aside what feels like the main goal first and foremost is to collect reels of film throughout the place to reveal a video that would help you move forward. Not much to say about the journey to get the film besides tedious. But once you get them all together it makes a bizarre and creepy video. It's another one of those things that's hard to describe but it essentially opens up a portal to another part of this world. In other words you literally choose between three doors and then walk through them via the projection. Keep in mind this is all in someone's mind so anything is possible.

At the time of this review I still have not beaten this game and I actually had to start from scratch when I replaced my old, YLOD PS3 last year. The farthest I got was into one of those extended worlds within the projection where I found myself walking around the internet (Talk about a change of pace). So I will take some time to complete the game to the very end and add an extension to the review when that happens. I have played enough for now to know where it's going and I have a feeling it'll will be a lot of the same, which ironically means more surprises with not being able to predict what comes next. The game is three discs long which means it provides quite a long set of gameplay and I was only on disc two when I had to start over. I've got a long way to go. But I wouldn't feel guilty watching a Let's Play to get me back where I was.
At the end of the day this game fascinates me at best. I'm interested in where it's going and there's been plenty of creepy things to give me chills down my spine whether they intended to or not. Yes the game can get weird in a not good way and the way it handles itself can be corny from time to time, but it's still cool. Hard to recommend cause I feel it take a special kind of game to get into this game. Maybe if you enjoy D like I do then you could give it a shot. Hard to recommend to point and click adventure players cause it would pale in comparison to other games in the genre. So my overall opinion is that it's kinda a game for me but I'm not sure who else. There's enough to keep ME interested but I don't know if YOU will be as forgiving as I am. It has it's problems, but I still like it.

If America Made It: It probably wouldn't be much different. Have you ever played Phantasmagoria? That and this were released only a few years apart. Pretty similar in how they're both really fucked up but have completely different approaches. I'm trying to think what would be different and the only thing I can think of is in concepts and slight differences in execution. Otherwise I imagine it would be pretty similar.

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