Following in the footsteps of the first two series titles, Duke Nukem 3D also brought a wealth of pop culture references, including movies ranging from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Shawshank Redemption, and even then-current pop culture news (there's a TV showing a police car chasing a white Ford Bronco). Duke's crass and rebellious nature even started controversy from the mainstream, bringing attention to all the rampant violence and sexually explicit content the game came with (what with all the strippers you could tip to show their partially-censored breasts to you). This attention no doubt helps cement Duke's place in video game history, but that doesn't mean it was all show and no go.
DK3D's build engine was advanced for its time. The gameplay played much faster and looser than the games before it; enemies seemed to be much more of a challenge than your imps and Nazis from previous titles. But what really put it over as a unique game was its ingenious level design. The build engine allowed for some truly unique levels, due to a system that did not limit levels to size and proximity. Levels can be built anywhere and go anywhere. Whole floors can stack and connect onto themselves regardless of size and shape, hallways could loop in on themselves endlessly, and rooms could lead into smaller rooms that are actually much bigger inside. This led to unique and fun gameplay. A game that truly defined fun in the '90s, this game has provided a much longer legacy than its unfortunate predecessor Duke Nukem Forever, but thanks to this game being ported to every console and its mother, we can remember Duke Nukem 3D for what it was.
Before going into what changes were made, it's best to at least sum up the plot. Symphony is direct sequel of sorts to the Japanese version of Castlevania: Rondo of Blood. (I say Japanese because the American version on the SNES changed the ending, which ruins continuity.) You start off playing the last fight of Rondo of Blood as Richter Belmont against Dracula and winning. From there, you jump ahead four years and play as Dracula's son, Alucard, who is hell-bent on destroying Dracula's castle. It is here that you find out that Dracula is not as dead as you think, and that Richter might be at the center of all this. Along the way you meet up with familiar characters straight from Rondo of Blood, including Maria (a vampire hunter Richter rescues from the first game) and Dracula's assistant, Shaft. All of this is the usual fare that leads you to the final climactic battle with Dracula.
However, what isn't part of the usual fare is how you take that journey. It is here that the game deviates from the norm and stands out among its predecessors. Gone are the straightforward levels of the original games. This time the game lives up to its Metroid namesake, confining you to the sprawling castle interiors. Much of the game is about exploring the castle's numerous locked doors and diverging pathways, with more emphasis on backtracking than getting to the end of the level. For some, this might seem like a step back in the action, but Symphony steps the game up with new RPG elements in hand. Gone is the classic whip; in exchange, you have a myriad of weapons and items at your disposal, as well as new character attributes (including strength, intelligence, defense, and luck) and a leveling system that will help you work your way up to fighting against the ultimate evil of Dracula.
It's not only in gameplay where Symphony makes a leap. Graphically the game is stunning, with more detailed sprites and smoother animations than previously seen in the series. While it was a big gamble for the series' first PS1 game to stick with 2D, it was worth the risk (especially given that the 3D alternative, Castlevania 64, didn't fare as well in the transition). Also included with the looks is the sound—a widely varied soundtrack that not only spans numerous genres from jazz and classical to thrash metal and techno, but sounds amazing thanks to the much more advanced CD capabilities of the PS1.
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night was a shot in the arm for the series and set the stage for it for years to come. It may not have been the massive splash Konami was hoping for in the US, but it clearly has etched its place in the long run in video gaming in the '90s.
So what is Resident Evil all about? The premise is simple. You play two of several members of the local SWAT analog of the fictional Raccoon City who are sent to a nearby mansion on the outskirts of town. From there, you discover that the house is overrun with the undead—both zombies and other horrific oddities (including mutant plants and zombie dogs). As you learn more and more about the house, you uncover a sinister plot carried out by the evil Umbrella Corporation and take it upon yourself to stop their plans by any means necessary.
Rather than make this a run and gun first person shooter (which was actually the initial development plan), the developers at Capcom opted for a slower, moodier set-up. Movement is stilted and slower-paced, while the camera is fixed into positions that give a gloomier look to the environment. Couple that with a limited arsenal of weapons that you to have to severely regulate, and what would be seen as a gaming hindrance by today's standards actually combined to make a taut, tense gameplay experience where you really never knew what was gonna creep out from around and try to bite you, or if you would have what it takes to survive.
Since the first game, the series legacy can be seen in today's obsession with the undead, as seen in the numerous zombie-related movies, books, and TV shows. The series itself has even spawned a movie franchise spanning multiple successful films. The game series itself has even evolved past its PS1 roots, delving into online gaming (Outbreak), arcade light gun gaming (Dead Aim and Survivor), and even the main series has shed its slower paced gameplay for more of an action-adventure pace with Resident Evil 4 and beyond. Most importantly though, is the series spawned many copycat franchises of its own that capitalized on the new survival horror genre. One of which would be...
Silent Hill is the story of Harry Mason, a single father who is trapped in the hazy, mysterious town of Silent Hill, trying to locate his adopted daughter Cheryl. Along the way he meets other occupants of the town, including a local cop named Cybil Bennet. As the story progresses, you realize there is more to this town than meets the eye. You start to slip into an alternate version of the town, one filled with evil creatures and nightmarish imagery.
What makes this game more effective in terms of survival horror is that it focuses less on action and more on mood. While Resident Evil had its tense moments, it was always at its core an action-adventure game (a distinction that would come full circle in later iterations). Silent Hill focused more on limiting the player and heightening the fear. Less emphasis is put on gunplay and more on hand-to-hand combat, often pressing you to avoid conflict with the numerous grotesque creatures you will face. Many levels are cloaked in darkness, forcing you to use a flashlight. Sound also plays a huge factor in the mood of Silent Hill. Music is used sparingly; the game relies largely on ambient noise. Most effective, though, is one of your main items; a radio that emits static when enemies are near. Walking through a dark tunnel and hearing your radio go off without you being able to see the enemy shambling towards you creates a kind of fear that Resident Evil could never pull off.
But what really puts Silent Hill a step above Resident Evil is its storytelling. As the game progresses, you warp between the main town and a much darker "other world," yet the game always second-guesses whether the world you warp to is real or a figment of your imagination. It is this depth of narrative that brings a sense of psychological fear that stretches further than the standard zombie menace story. Since the first iteration, the series has grow more and more robust in fear (with many labeling Silent Hill 2 the scariest game of all time). But there's no denying those seeds were sown deep in the first chapter of the series.
And thus we end Part Two. So what do we have to look forward to going into the home stretch? We look at icons of the brainy, the buxom, the stylish, and the super. Check out Part Three, coming soon.