Mini Review: “Alisa (Demo)” (Computer Game)

First of all, apologies for breaking my usual rule about placing articles between reviews. Although there was originally meant to be an article here, I wasn’t satisfied with it and had originally planned to replace it with an art preview – but then I happened to stumble across a “let’s play” video for something which I just had to review instead. I am, of course, talking about the “work in progress” demo version of a modern indie survival horror game by Caspar Croes from 2019 called “Alisa“.

Of course, being a demo, this won’t really be a full review. Still, one of the cool things about this demo is that not only does it have ultra-low system requirements that are actually appropriate for a retro-style game but it is actually a proper old-school demo too (which is technically free, albeit with an option for donations).

So, let’s take a look at the demo version of “Alisa”:

“Alisa” is set in the 1920s and begins with a Royal Armed Defences agent called Alisa waking up inside a creepy old mansion. She has no clue how she got there or why she is wearing a bizarre Victorian “Alice In Wonderland”-style costume.

Curioser and curioser…

After finding a door key, a pistol and a mysterious note, she decides to look for a way out. What could possibly go wrong?

Eerily inhuman porcelain doll automatons? Whew! I thought I’d ended up in a zombie mansion for a moment there.

Not only is the mansion filled with creepy murderous automatons and a hulking brute, but scattered notes leave ominous references to scientific experiments and someone has placed bizarre puzzles around the mansion too.

But, everything isn’t doom and gloom – there’s a friendly puppet called Pol who wants you to scavenge cogs from the broken corpses of fallen automatons. What a nice fellow.

Just try to not think about what could be on the other end of that arm.

One of the first things that I will say about this demo is WOW! The best way to describe “Alisa” is that it is like a cross between the original “Resident Evil”, “Alone In The Dark” and “American McGee’s Alice” 🙂

It is a totally new 1990s-style survival horror game and you have no clue how long I have been waiting for something like THIS! If you enjoyed playing the first three “Resident Evil” games when you were younger, you will feel at home here 🙂

And, yes, if the idea of themed door keys elicits a sudden moment of nostalgia, then you will love this game.

In terms of the game’s horror elements, they are brilliantly creepy 🙂 Although this isn’t the kind of game that will make you jump and clutch your pounding heart, it is the kind of game that will leave you feeling decidedly unsettled after you’ve played it for a while. In other words, this game achieves a deeper and more subtle form of horror through atmosphere, setting and story. Not only are Victorian porcelain dolls inherently creepy, but the ominous hints about the nature and purpose of the “dollhouse” are also fairly disturbing too.

Unlike a lot of classic survival horror games, this one is completely bloodless. Although this might sound like it would make everything less frightening, the opposite is true. The complete lack of gore just adds to the eerily uncanny and inhuman atmosphere of the giant dollhouse. Plus, it places much more emphasis on the other types of horror in the game – whilst also denying the player the cathartic comfort blanket of “Resident Evil”-style cartoonish blood clouds too. Add to this some exquisitely disturbing background music, a couple of well-placed eerie set pieces and an ominously mysterious plot and you get a game that will leave you feeling haunted after playing it for a while.

This game also sometimes does the classic survival horror thing of not showing you everything in a room after you step through the door.

This is the kind of game that wears its influences on it’s sleeve and yet also manages to be it’s own unique and distinctive thing at the same time.

There’s the “zombie mansion” style premise and gameplay of “Resident Evil”, the twisted gothic Victoriana of “American McGee’s Alice” and the early 20th century Lovecraftian eeriness of “Alone In The Dark”. Yet, as I mentioned earlier, this game is very much its own distinctive thing at the same time. Like many classic games, it actually has it’s own personality – with a “creepy old dollhouse” theme and some wonderfully twisted moments of quirky humour too.

And, yes, the first conversation between Alisa and Pol somehow manages to be both funny and unsettling at the same time.

And, whilst this may look like Alice has ended up in the Spencer Mansion instead of Wonderland, this game is very different from both things.

As for the gameplay, this is an old-school 1990s style survival horror game 🙂 If you grew up with the classic “Resident Evil” games, you’ll instantly feel at home here and will relish the chance to finally play this type of game again. But, if you are a modern gamer, then you might find both the camera and controls to be a bit confusing or awkward at first. But, don’t give up – this is the whole point of the game!

This game makes expert use of well-framed fixed camera angles to build suspense and 1990s-style “tank” movement controls to unsettle and disorientate the player. In classic “Resident Evil” fashion, the aiming system is also deliberately slow and imprecise – requiring the player to stand still, raise their weapon and carefully pivot towards the enemy.

Not only does this make the monsters more of a threat to the player, but the combat is also made slightly more user-friendly thanks to a small icon (which is easily missed) that shows you whether your shot is lined up properly. This extra help is balanced out by the fact that you have to reload manually, which can add extra tension to each fight too.

You actually need to read the tutorials! And, yes, despite the picture of a controller, you can play with a keyboard instead 🙂

Although the game doesn’t use a limited inventory system for puzzle and health items, this is made up for by the fact that you can only carry one weapon at a time (and have to use an item box to change it).

Yes, the menus and controls can take a bit of getting used to – but this is part of the fun of the game. It is evocative of the very first time you played “Resident Evil” and it is also a homage to the days when survival horror was a new genre that was still finding its feet.

It’ll take you a while to work out how to use this menu – just like in the good old days 🙂

The game’s monster design is really cool too. Although there are only three types of monster here, each has it’s own distinctive movement and attack patterns that add some variety to the gameplay.

There are basic “Resident Evil” style slow-moving enemies, there are faster crawling enemies (that are difficult to shoot and are best run away from) and there is a giant hulking monster who seems to be pretty much invincible and therefore has to be avoided rather than fought. In addition to all of this, I cannot praise the monster design enough too – not only are all of the monsters consistent with the game’s theme/atmosphere, but they all look genuinely creepy too because of this.

As for the two puzzles in the demo, they’re reasonably good too. Although I’m not a fan of puzzles in games (and had to use a “let’s play” video as a walkthrough for the second one), both are reasonably well-designed and consistent with the sort of thing you’d expect from an old-school survival horror game. One is a traditional slider puzzle – albeit with a slightly unintuitive U.I – and the other is an item/combination puzzle that, to be fair to the game, does give you a clue about how to solve it when you find one of the puzzle items.

Puzzles? We meet again, old foe!

This game is “old-school” in the most loveable and awesome way possible. Everything from the low-poly/pre-rendered graphics to the tank controls to the endearingly fun voice-acting just oozes 1990s nostalgia 🙂 This is a game that gets the style and atmosphere of this part of videogame history absolutely right. It looks and feels like an actual Playstation One game from the mid-late 1990s.

Yes, without this historical context, it is easy to point at this game’s flaws (and expect to be frustrated by the controls/user interface once or twice) – but this misses what makes this game so awesome. By also recreating some of the technical flaws of older games, “Alisa” feels less like a modern indie game and more like a “lost” game from the 1990s 🙂

The demo is very short – but you will have an incentive to replay it a couple of times thanks to how the game handles weapons and upgrades. Whenever you kill an automaton, they spew several cogs which can be collected and used to “buy” weapons, ammo, health and stat-altering alternate costumes. Since there are only about seven monsters in the demo, you won’t find enough cogs to get both the tommygun and the gothic alternate costume in a single playthrough. So, this encourages replayability.

Finally! Some dark clothes! Those *ugh* bright pastel clothes were really starting to freak me out.

All in all, although this is only a small demo, it is a “quality over quantity” type thing 🙂 I have been waiting for a modern game like this for so long 🙂 Yes, this is the type of game that you’ll probably get the most out of if you grew up in the 1990s/early-mid 2000s – but, if you fall into this group, then you’ll love it. It is literally like a “lost” mid-late 1990s survival horror game 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a five.

Short Story: “Demo” By C. A. Brown

Note: This story is a stand-alone companion piece to this story.

If there was one thing that Kirsty missed, it was demo discs. Back in the day, videogame magazines used to come with discs filled with the first levels of seven or eight different games. Sure, it was meant as a promotional thing. But, she thought, there was something democratic about it. It was like catching an episode of a drama on TV, rather than only being able to see it in an online boxset. It was democratic.

She was about to mention this to James, but he just sat back on the sofa and pulled out his phone. He tapped it a couple of times and stared at the tiny screen, absorbed in something. Probably some trendy article about “de-cluttering” or whatever.

So, she read a book. It was an old paperback horror novel from the ’80s that she’d picked up in a charity shop for 50p. The cover read “SCYTHE MANIAC!” in dripping red letters and showed some dude with glowing red eyes standing in front of a midnight sky and swinging a scythe at the reader. Within a few seconds, she’d lost herself in the story….

Above the roar of the combine harvester, Farmer Green focused his attention on the spinning blades in front of the windscreeen. Rage roiled inside him. The sheer cheek of that supercilious little man from DEFRA insisting that.. he… went on a safety course! He’d been working the harvester since he was a lad and had not suffered so much as a scratch from the efficient, slicing blades.

Grumbling to himself, Farmer Green heaved the steering wheel. His gnarled fingers nearly slipped on the hasty gaffer tape repair to one segment of it. No doubt that the silly bureaucrat would probably moan about that too. But, the trendy people at the harvester company had stopped making spares. Even though, he thought, this venerable old machine would probably outlive any of the fancy bleeping gadgets that those slick salesmen kept pushing on poor farmers like him.

And then Farmer Green saw it. Behind the yellow haze of chaff, the shadow of a man stood in the field. The farmer’s face went beetroot red and he stamped on the brake as hard as his old legs would allow. If it was that stupid lad from Wilson’s farm again, then there would be harsh words spoken. Balling his fists, he waited for the harvester to judder to a halt. But, when the clouds of chaff fell to the ground – there was no-one there.

He rubbed his sweaty brow and blinked twice. Maybe it was all just a trick of the eye? Maybe he was imagining things in his old age? Letting out a sigh, he started the engine again. But, before he could even put foot to pedal, the window beside him exploded in a shearing shower of sharp shards. The tip of a scythe shot through the hole like the beak of a hawk swooping in for the kill. The razor point slashed…

Kirsty was interrupted mid-sentence by James shouting ‘Alita! Is the internet down? Alita! Dammit!

The silent smart speaker sat on the table next to the TV. A green light stared back at him. He tapped his phone frantically. He walked over to the router and poked it a few times.

Finally, he turned to Kirsty and let out an exasperated sigh: ‘Typical. We get one bloody peaceful afternoon and they decide to repair the internet or whatever. What the hell are we going to watch, read or play?

Mini Review: “Resident Evil: Code Name Hunk [1.1 Demo]” [TC/ Mod For “Doom II”/”Final Doom”/ “GZDoom”]

2016 Artwork Code Name Hunk Mini review sketch

A while after my review of the “Mercenaries” mod for “Doom II” was posted here, the creator of this mod contacted me and asked if I wanted to check out a public demo of his latest “Resident Evil”-themed fan project called “Resident Evil Code Name Hunk [1.1 Demo]“. Being a fan of the zombie genre, “Doom” and the old “Resident Evil” games, I just had to check it out.

Although I usually tend to write articles, reviews and mini reviews quite far in advance of when I post them, I thought it best to post this (fairly long) mini review today whilst the demo is still current. I’ll probably reschedule the review I’d originally planned for today for sometime later in the year.
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Interestingly, the download of this demo actually comes with a copy of the source port (“GZDoom 1.9”) that you will need to run it. However, it isn’t a stand-alone game – so, you’ll still need to have “Doom II” or “Final Doom” if you want to play it.

Since this is a zombie-themed game, I should probably warn you that this review may contain some (unrealistic) GRUESOME IMAGES, but I’ll try to keep them to a minimum.

Likewise, I should probably also mention that the demo itself contains red/white FLICKERING LIGHTS/ STROBING EFFECTS and may not be suitable for players with photosensitive epilepsy and/or certain types of migraine (I’m not an expert on these subjects, so I don’t know if the part in question is intense enough to pose a problem or not).
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So, without any further ado, let’s take a look at “Resident Evil: Code Name Hunk [1.1 Demo]”:

Screenshot_Doom_20160109_025937

Since this is a demo of a much larger mod, “Code Name Hunk 1.1” only contains one level. Even so, there’s a surprising amount of content here – and the demo took me about an hour (or possibly slightly more) to complete.

The demo begins with a long FMV cutscene from one of the “Resident Evil” games. Yes, you heard me correctly, FMV – in “Doom”!

The story begins in 1998 when a group of commandos from the Umbrella Corporation have been sent to Racoon City to retrieve a sample of the G-Virus from William Birkin. This doesn’t go quite as planned and Birkin is shot, but – in the ensuing chaos – he is also also exposed to the virus and begins to mutate.

It's actual full motion video... in "Doom". What sorcery is this?!

It’s actual full motion video… in “Doom”. What sorcery is this?!

The intro then switches to an in-game cutscene showing Hunk (the main character) being killed by the monster that William Birkin has mutated into. This happens on the orders of the Red Queen (presumably the same one that appears in the first “Resident Evil” movie).

The game then shows the events of nine hours earlier, when Hunk and his team have been sent into Racoon City to retrieve the virus sample….

In addition to some fairly impressive introductory cutscenes, the demo also contains quite a few in-game cutscenes too. Although they’re really cool and they also help to add some character to the game, one slight problem is that most of these cutscenes seem to be unskippable.

So, it’s sometimes a good idea to save directly after the cutscene finishes – especially if it’s a cutscene that introduces a new type of monster!

Like this one. It'll make you feel nostalgic about "Resident Evil 2" when you see it for the first time, but if you don't save quickly or fight the licker well enough then you'll probably end up seeing it multiple times.

Like this one. It’ll make you feel nostalgic about “Resident Evil 2” when you see it for the first time, but if you don’t save quickly or fight the “licker” monster well enough, then you’ll probably end up seeing it multiple times.

In terms of the gameplay in this demo, I’ve got a lot – both good and bad- to say about it. Still, it’s a “work in progress” version of the game, so some of the problems I mention may not be an issue in later versions.

One of the first good things is that, although “Code Name Hunk 1.1” is a much more action-orientated game than the classic “Resident Evil” games were (eg: it uses the modern-style “Resident Evil” camera angles etc…), it’s still very much a “Resident Evil” game at heart.

In other words, you’ll also need to explore carefully, actually read any documents you find and solve several puzzles. This adds some variety to the gameplay and also helps to give the demo more of a classic “Resident Evil” kind of feel.

If you’ve played the classic “Resident Evil” games, then you’ll have no trouble solving the puzzles here. They’re complex enough to require a bit of thought, but they’re simple enough to be enjoyable rather than frustrating.

Most of them are simple item/key-based puzzles, although the game also contains a couple of slightly more complex and inventive puzzles where you have to find and use certain codes.

 One of the puzzles involves a film projector and it's really inventive. Although, again, I should probably warn you that it contains strobing effects.

One of the puzzles involves a film projector and it’s really inventive. Although, again, I should probably warn you that it contains flickering/strobing effects.

Amusingly, one of the characters even makes a sarcastic comment about "Resident Evil" puzzles LOL!

Amusingly, one of the characters even makes a sarcastic comment about “Resident Evil” puzzles LOL!

Interestingly, the most challenging part of these puzzles was finding exactly where I was supposed to enter the first code.

Another cool thing about the gameplay is that many of the classic monsters from “Resident Evil” 1-3 show up in the demo. There are zombies from “Resident Evil 2”, hunters, lickers, zombie dogs and the Nemesis. All of these monsters look and behave exactly as you would expect them to.

Although, I have to ask, why aren't there any zombie cats in the "Resident Evil" universe?

Although, I have to ask, why aren’t there any zombie cats in the “Resident Evil” universe?

It's great to see THESE zombies again too. Seriously, it's been way too long!

It’s great to see THESE zombies again too. Seriously, it’s been way too long!

However, even on “medium” difficulty, the difficulty curve in the demo can be slightly steep to say the least. Although you begin the level by fighting a few zombies, it isn’t long until you suddenly find yourself fighting against two hunters in a narrow street (with very little room to dodge or run).

Although I imagine that this part of the game would have been easier if I’d conserved my ammo slightly more carefully beforehand, it was still slightly too difficult for an early part of the level in my opinion. Another thing that makes this one part of the level significantly more challenging is that, unlike in the classic games, you don’t have the option to retreat to another room if you’re low on ammo.

This is probably one the most difficult part of the demo, and it's surprisingly close to the beginning. I only got through it by chance and a lot of trial-and-error.

This is probably one the most difficult parts of the demo, and it’s surprisingly close to the beginning. I only got through it by chance and a lot of trial-and-error.

 Even the Nemesis battle is surprisingly easy, when compared to fighting those two hunters!

Even the Nemesis battle is surprisingly easy, when compared to fighting those two hunters!

Another slight problem with the demo is the controls. Unlike many games, this is one where you should probably actually read the manual before you start playing.

Although you’ll probably get used to the controls after a while, some of them aren’t very intuitive (for example, in order to run – you need to press “forward” and “reload”). Not only that, you’ll also have to manually alter some of the controls before you begin playing (eg: you’ll have to enable “always mouselook”, otherwise you won’t be able to aim your weapons properly etc…).

Like in the classic “Resident Evil” games, the demo takes a slightly more realistic approach to combat. In other words, Hunk has to draw and aim his guns before he can reload or fire them. He also can’t change weapons whilst he’s aiming (and there’s also a slight delay when switching weapons). Although this is fairly faithful to the source material, it can get in the way of the gameplay slightly during some of the more frantic battles.

Despite the modern-style camera angles, this game is based on "Resident Evil 1-3". So, running and shooting at the same time is impossible.

Despite the modern-style camera angles, this game is based on “Resident Evil 1-3”. So, running and shooting at the same time is impossible.

However, when you are close to a monster, instructions will flash up on the screen and you will be give the option of either dodging or performing a melee attack. Interestingly, there are now two possible ways to dodge a monster (compared to just one in the “Mercenaries” mod).

Although this is a really cool addition, it was somewhat confusing at first due to the generic on-screen descriptions (unlike the clear “Press A + D” instructions in the “Mercenaries” mod).

 Ok, I have two seconds to dodge. Do I follow the manual or the instructions on screen? Or ... Ouch!

Ok, I have two seconds to dodge. Do I follow the manual or the instructions on screen? Or … Ouch!

As for the weapons in “Codename Hunk 1.1”, they’re fairly similar to the weapons in “Mercenaries”. Hunk can use a pistol, a shotgun and a submachinegun. Throughout the game, you’ll also find flash grenades that can be used to briefly stun any nearby monsters.

This is a really cool addition, although the grenades only stun larger monsters for 1-2 seconds, which doesn’t always give you enough time to switch to another weapon (if you’re out of SMG ammo).

Graphically, “Code Name Hunk 1.1” is absolutely superb! The sprites are absolutely perfect and the animation is really smooth too.

In addition to this, there’s a surprising variety of locations in the demo level – including a cinema, a church, a creepy basement, an industrial freezer, a city street and a restaurant. All of these locations look like something that you might have seen in the original “Resident Evil” games.

 This is one of the coolest locations in the demo. Seriously, it's just like something you'd expect to see in the first two "Resident Evil" games.

This is one of the coolest locations in the demo. Seriously, it’s just like something you’d expect to see in the first two “Resident Evil” games.

This part of the level is wonderfully chilling, if you'll pardon the pun.

This part of the level is wonderfully chilling, if you’ll pardon the pun.

The level design is also fairly good too. Like in the classic games, the level is fairly non-linear and the locations all look fairly realistic. Although this level will require you to explore carefully, it’s relatively small size means that you won’t get lost for too long. In addition to this, the end of the demo also gives you an intriguing hint as to what the second level will be….

Musically, this demo also makes use of several pieces of classic “Resident Evil” music, as well as some more modern music. My favourite thing about the music is that the police station music from “Resident Evil 2” (my favourite piece of Resident Evil music) starts playing when Hunk enters the church about halfway through the level.

The voice acting in this demo is also fairly good too, considering that it’s a fan made game. Not only that, Hunk also gets to say several wonderfully badass lines of dialogue too.

"That is not dead which can eternal lie, And with strange aeons even death may die...." - H. P. Lovecraft

“That is not dead which can eternal lie, And with strange aeons even death may die….” – H. P. Lovecraft

All in all, this looks like a really interesting beginning to a really cool project. Like with the “Mercenaries” mod, I’m still astonished that anyone has been able to re-create the “Resident Evil” games so accurately and faithfully with nothing more than a source port for the “Doom” engine.

Yes, “Code Name Hunk 1.1” has a few small flaws (eg: the control scheme, the short stun times and the difficulty spikes in some areas), but it’s worth checking out if you’re a “Resident Evil” fan.

If I had to give what I’ve seen of “Code Name Hunk” so far a rating out of five, it would get a four.