31 Days of Gaming Terror – Day 16: Ghosts in Space!

Space is a creepy place. Movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Event Horizon are examples of ways Hollywood have shown the terrors of the infinite void beyond our world. Today, in honour of the recently released Dead Space by EA, we’ve decided to look at some other games that combine space and survival-horror.

Mark B: There are only four horror-themed games I can think of (that aren’t Doom) that take place in space, and since I’ve already talked about Dino Crisis 3 and Countdown Vampires, and Alex probably has Echo Night Beyond covered, let’s talk about Lifeline.

Lifeline was one of those incredibly ambitious projects that just didn’t really work as well as Konami expected it would, largely because, frankly, voice-recognition software isn’t where it needs to be to achieve such a result at this point. Which isn’t to say that the game wasn’t a great product in theory, the idea of playing as a character who is assisting the main character, using a computer room to hack security systems, open doors, direct the player, and so on, is incredibly neat as a concept, and had the game been based more on controller motions and less on voice recognition, it would most likely have been a lot more fun. The design of the game otherwise was really neat; you guide what amounts to a waitress through the space station, telling her where to go and what to do to survive, because both of you need each other in order to survive and to see your loved ones again, the monsters were pretty well designed, and the overall theme of the game is conveyed well through the game, from start to finish.

This is, of course, all ruined when you can’t get the game to register that you’re screaming “ONE” into the mic to get Rio (the protagonist) to fire at the monster that’s about to dig into her neck, but then, the best game ideas are often ruined by bad controls in some form or fashion. Maybe next time, Konami.

Alexander Lucard: Mark pretty much called it. Echo Night Beyond is one of those games that I thought was enjoyable when I first played it, but I realized it was geared for a niche audience at best. Still, as the years have gone, on, I find that the game has grown better with age and has slowly come to be one of my favorite horror/adventure games.

Richard Osmond and his fiancee Claudia are traveling to the moon to fulfill their fantasy of being wed on it. However, while nearing the landing point, disaster strikes the shuttle and it crashes onto the lunar surface. Richard comes to and everyone is gone from the shuttle. Only he remains onboard and alive.

Although that does not mean that he is alone.

As Richard stumbles around the wreckage, he encounters a ghost warning him that although a lunar mining colony is near, it is a place of ill portent and only death awaits those that enter.

However, as Claudia is not on board the shuttle, Richard has no choice but to go looking for her in the only place she could be: Inside the station.

And so begins THIS Richard Osmond’s Echo Night. I say “this” because all three Echo Nights have the main character named Richard Osmond. All three also revolve around a strange glowing red stone.

The shuttle and the mining colony are both filled with ghosts. None of the ghosts are malevolent or evil. Instead, they are full of suffering and torment, unable to cross over into the hereafter; trapped in a state between this world and the next.

There is a small problem though. A thick fog permeates parts of the station and it drives the ghosts that dwell within the station to madness and violence. In order to find Claudia, Richard must brave the fog, and save the various spirits that dwell within the colony from eternal limbo.

Echo Night Beyond has an overall plot and flashbacks that reveal the tale of the space station through ghostly recordings, in addition to the dozens of subquests you can perform in order to help the dead reach their final peace. You learn little about the ghost’s previous state of existence or the true depth of what occurred on the Lunar Colony. To me though, that is what makes this a frightening tale: The why and how are left to the player’s imagination.

I found myself really getting into the story, more so than with most games I have played. My heartbeat was racing in time with Richard’s and tensing when I heard a voice or pausing when I heard a creaking step to ensure it was not my own. The mood and atmosphere of Echo Night Beyond is one of the best I have ever seen in a Survival Terror game. The game is so perfectly designed in terms of ambience, mood, theme, shadow, lighting, and noise that it was really hard for me not to recommend this game when it first came out to my readers. If were going simply on plot and feel, this game would be in the must buy with no problem.

The problem with ENB is a simple one. In spite of the amazing graphics, incredible sound and very spooky atmosphere, the controls of the game are not very good. In fact, they outright stink. The fact you have to spin around using the analog pad and then have to press up to walk in that direction is very annoying. Especially when a crazed ghost is near. And is faster than you nine times out of ten. Want a good way to have the mood of a game ruined for you? Ask yourself when was the last time you SLOWLY rotated 180 degrees while something trying to kill you was drawing ever near and then ran? It doesn’t happen like that. I’d have enjoyed this game so much more if I could have just simply picked a direction and walked in it. But alas, it was not meant to be.

You see, the entire game is a first person event, and Echo Night Beyond is exceptionally picky in regards to picking up or using items. Often times you have to hope that what you are looking for is in the exact spot you want it to be and then press X. I can’t tell you how frustrating getting a roll of tape in this game was. But if there had been a cursor for me to direct, wow would that have saved me a lot of time. This also hurts you in a room where you have to open a bog to get to a ventilating system before a ghost kills you dead. I move the box, I get out my ID card and try to slide it in the slot I think I have perfectly lined up.

I get the message “Nothing happened.” I try again. Same message. Oh. Ghost induced heart attack and game over. Arrgh. I go back a second time and voila! Not a problem. Although I could have sworn I was in exactly the same spot. But in Echo Night Beyond, the slightest fraction of a millimeter = terrible terrible death. I can’t tell you how many times you will think you are in the right spot and then turn out not to be at the cost of Richard’s life. Profanity, thy name is Echo Night Beyond.

Another issue I had is that when your heartbeat gets up to about 211, your monitor will black out sometimes. I think it may be a bug, as there seems to be no rhyme or reason, but considering your normal heart beat is about 80 and death is a little over 300…this is a huge obstacle to overcome considering you can’t see what the hell you are doing.

The controls are piss poor for this game. I’m sorry to be that blunt, but as good as everything else was that I mentioned, this was downright terrible. The default controls are the worst, and switching them to another setting where one pad is moving and another is looking up and down helps a bit, but no. I hated them. They frustrated me from the snail’s pace it took to turn around when a legion of the damned is floating after you, to simply trying to pick up a battery or that %$)((#!! Roll of tape!

You probably noticed my comments about “heart beat.” that’s how the game monitors your “health” if you were. Your breathing and heart rates are constantly measured, and the only way you die in the game is from a panic/fear induced heart attack. Although the controls are Resident Evil bad, this dynamic is simply brilliant and is executed so well that it can’t help but creep you out and make you empathetic towards Richard Osmond.

Although for the most part, I really loved the feel, the pace, and the plot of Echo Night Beyond, the ending really makes you feel like the game wasn’t worth the 10 or so hours you put into beating it. But if you get past what I couldn’t, you’re in for an excellent piece of digital storytelling.

Let’s talk sound. This is by far the best quality of the game. The use of Moonlight Sonata, the opening operetta, the incredible and believable voice acting: all simply amazing.

I’m most impressed with the voice acting in ENB. Agetec did a great job in the translation and giving characters authentic sounding accents in regards to their nationality. Even the children, which generally sound terrible in video games, sounded as if they were the appropriate age. Yes, there are child ghosts in this game. There’s also a…well, I won’t spoil it for you. The voice acting is easily on par with Koudelka for the PSX.

The music is the best I have ever heard in a survival-terror game. It’s used only when needed and always adds a sense of drama to the game. No matter how many times I see the opening movie, it always sends a chill down my spine. And that’s mainly from the use of music in the game.

Sound effects in ENB are also incredible. Every time I stepped into a mesh or metal surface and heard a creaking, I would whip around to ensure it was my footsteps I was hearing. Richard’s breath as his heart beat races. It sounds very real, as does his heartbeat. The effort put into everything from the whooshing sound as a door opens to noise coming from a spinning office chair is evident and highly appreciated by this reviewer.

And then there is the graphics. Echo Night Beyond is simply beautiful. The graphics will astound you and make your jaw drop from how good the game looks. ESPECIALLY when compared to the original Echo Night. But that’s like comparing play-doh to Michelangelo’s David. The character designs still aren’t the best, but the background and views of space are mind boggling.

Finally, there’s the ending to ENB. Or should I say endings, as there are four of them. When I first played the game, I bitched about the endings. Now? They’ve grown on me and I absolutely love them. The endings reveal the real plot of the game. ENB is NOT about ghosts and saving the dead or finding your fiancee. No, it’s far bigger than that. The game is an existential question. What is makes a man a man? What is a soul? What defines a soul and who we are? What is good and evil and is what is good for one man, evil for another? The good endings are the best, as it forces you to take a look at the Cartesian (As in Rene Descartes) model of automatons and methodological skepticism as a whole. After achieving all four endings and then looking back at the game and all the stories and flashbacks, you come to an understanding that what the developers were trying to do is give you a video game that reflects Jon Swift’s attempts with Gulliver’s Travels. On one end, appealing to the lowest common denominator is a spooky tale set in space. On the more highbrow end are a ton of philosophical questions that and metaphors meant to make the gamer take an inward introspective look at what it means to be both alive, and to be human. I strongly underestimated this game a year and a half when it came out by only giving it a five. True, the game is VERY hard and the controls are awful, but the story, graphics, and sound are some of the best in all of gaming. It would make an excellent movie.

Echo Night Beyond is a hard game to find, but when you do it’s thankfully cheapENB blows away the original Echo Night, giving you an even higher quality story and graphics and sound that are on par with some of the best games for the PS2. If you find this game at all, pick it up immediately. Even if the controls frustrate the hell out of you, you’ll still be able to marvel in the beginnings of the game and how sublime it is. If you can get a handle (or at least not get frustrated by) on the controls, you’re in for a dozen hours of only of the best horror games ever made. At least in terms of story.

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