Outside the sanitarium Travis finds a car with the engine running. He quickly realizes that using a car would be the coward’s way of getting around a city of lurching abominations. And we’ve already established that Travis is a magnificent dummy and not a coward. He won’t even try the door or make up some excuse about it being locked. Time for another hike across town.
(Also: Travis has quite a collection of tire irons tucked away in whatever dimensional pocket he keeps his inventory. The hospital and the sanitarium each had a rather perplexing number of them laying about. Strangely, there isn’t a tire iron in the trunk of this car.)
The town has been seasoned with a dash of new monsters. The carrion from the sanitarium are now milling about. I try starting another parade like the last time I hiked across town, but these things are having none of it. A couple of trips to Game Over Land convince me that these monsters just aren’t the playful sort of otherworldly abomination. Phooey. I’m still not going to fight them, though. Not for all the Pocky in Japan, where this game very obviously didn’t come from.
Once we reach the theater we get another peek into Travis’ learning disability. I try to go back outside, and Travis says he doesn’t want to leave until he finds out why he was “led” here, by which I assume he means finding the theater ticket in the lobby at the sanitarium.
I was knocked unconscious at this point when my forehead struck my desk, but once I’d woken back up I realized the game had at last revealed his long-secret motivation. And now I wish I could go back to thinking he didn’t have one.
So this is how his mind works. Someone mentions a sanitarium, and so he goes in and endures a gauntlet of fear and misery just to see what’s inside. He finds a movie ticket and concludes that someone is “leading” him to the (no doubt deeply haunted) movie theater. He has no idea what he’ll find or who sent him, but he’s willing to go through all this just to find out. Travis, the things that are wrong with you are beyond the ability of me and my PS2 controller to fix.
What’s this? It looks like someone tossed this McDonald’s bag by the side of the road. Clearly this is a sign that I should go to the abandoned and thrice-cursed meat packing plant on the edge of town. Oh look! It’s a crushed soda can. This means I must travel to the boarded up chemical plant where all those people died. And here’s a cigarette butt. I’ll make a note to stop by the cancer ward in the condemned hospital.
In previous games, Harry Mason was trying to rescue his daughter. Henry Townshend was trying to escape his haunted apartment. Heather was the victim of a complex curse. (To put it mildly.) James Sunderland was deeply neurotic and looking for his dead wife. But Travis’ fatal flaw is that he’s just a great big silly.
Now, I have no doubt that he’s right – I’m sure “someone” really is sending him all these places. But the game just isn’t selling it to me. Sure, Travis is curious, but he never says anything to make me curious, and since I’m doing the driving I really need to be on board with where we’re going. It all feels like justification, not motivation.
Travis runs into Lisa the nurse again. She acts disturbingly nutty. Travis counters with some of his more potent Dumb Look Techniques until she runs off. The game rides the line between strange and ridiculous again, but manages to stay just on this side of it.
Travis explores the theater. Like the sanitarium, it is dark. Too dark, really. I realize that this sounds crazy in the context of a survival horror game, but if you look at the titles of the past you’ll see that there aren’t all that many truly pitch-black rooms. You might need your flashlight to see what you’re fighting, but you can still make out walls and rooms and general shapes. Like I said in my Quake 4 review, “Going into a dark room is frightening. Being in a dark room is frustrating and boring.” This scenery isn’t all that unnerving because I hardly see it. Going to evil Silent Hill just changes the color of the stuff in my little flashlight beam. I never get the full effect of wow, this place is really messed up! Evidently the designer thinks that darker = more scarier. You can turn off your monitor to test that hypothesis yourself. Once again, a little restraint would have made the game both more suspenseful and more fun.
Travis does the puzzles, fights the monsters, and runs around in the pitch dark until I get a headache from my eyes straining. Eventually he gets to the boss and does what videogame protagonists do to videogame bosses.
The game has a clear pattern to it. In all three of the locations so far – the hospital, sanitarium, and the theater, there has been a boss fight at the end. After the boss dies a pyramid piece appears. Travis picks it up and then the little girl shows up. Travis asks her questions which she ignores. Then he hears an air raid siren, passes out, and wakes up near the entrance with all the monsters gone and things back to normal.
Before he leaves the theater, he finds some keys for the motel. He has a flash of recollection and realizes he’s been there before… as a boy. Once again it seems like Travis is stumbling around, doing things at random, and by chance he’s running into fragments of his past. I keep pointing out his lack of brains, but I guess I can’t argue with results.
The next post will wrap this series up.
The Gradient of Plot Holes
Most stories have plot holes. The failure isn't that they exist, it's when you notice them while immersed in the story.
A Star is Born
Remember the superhero MMO from 2009? Neither does anyone else. It was dumb. So dumb I was compelled to write this.
Overused Words in Game Titles
I scoured the Steam database to figure out what words were the most commonly used in game titles.
Why Google sucks, and what made me switch to crowdfunding for this site.
A stream-of-gameplay review of Dead Island. This game is a cavalcade of bugs and bad design choices.