Monday, November 24, 2008

Left 4 Dead (Early Thoughts)

Five thoughts. Here goes:

1) The game has grown on me. The elation of knowing that the game ran reasonably well on my computer when the demo came out didn't last long. After that came the bittersweet experience of actually playing the game. I grew bored with it before the two levels featured in the demo were over. And this is coming from a guy who likes shooting zombies...a lot.

If you weren't sold on the demo, I wouldn't recommend the full game. There are more levels, but that's about it, since all the weapons and monsters in the game were included in the demo.

And don't make the same mistake I did: don't play through this game for the first time by yourself. It's not how it was meant to be played. Yes, the A.I. controlling the heroes is impressive, to say the least. During a multiplayer round this weekend, the player controlling Bill dropped out and I didn't even realize that the computer was controlling him for ten minutes. That's how incredible the A.I. is. But no matter how good it is, it can't replace three solid players sharing the experience with you. And the experience does change each time you play the game, thanks to random enemy placement and dynamic A.I.

Each of the game's four chapters take about 30-60 minutes to play, depending on the difficulty of the zombies and the skill of the players. The game demands a level of cooperation never before seen in a videogame. I was surprised by how much I bonded last night with three complete strangers while playing No Mercy.

And, trust me, I hate people.

2) So, yeah, I'm digging the game more and more each time I play it, but I still think the price tag is a bit steep. This time last year, with The Orange Box (five games in one package which originally retailed for the same price as Left 4 Dead) just out and the buzz for this game starting, I never imagined this game would be released by itself for fifty bucks on the PC, sixty on the Xbox 360.

Of course, fifty bucks is perfectly acceptable for the PC version, since you're not only paying for the initial release, you're paying for all the content that Valve will release for free in the future. That's why I went with the PC version, even though I wasn't sure I had the rig to run it. It sucks that 360 users have to pay an extra ten bucks for this game, because I have no doubt that they'll be paying for all the additional content, as well.

3) I'm a staunch supporter of slow zombies. If I ever run for public office, I will run on a firm, unrelenting anti-fast zombie platform. Screw all that taxes and crime bullshit.

But I will be the first to admit that fast zombies are required to make Left 4 Dead work. Slow zombies are just fine for games like Resident Evil, House of the Dead, or Dead Rising, but they just don't work in a first person shooter. And especially not in an online shooter, since the game would have to render four or five times the amount of zombies to make the game even remotely scary or exciting, which I imagine would be a technical impossibility at this time.

4) I have yet to survive a full campaign. It seems that I am every party's red shirt. I die to prove that the threat is serious. I almost survived No Mercy tonight, but just as the helicopter was landing, I got thrown off the roof of the hospital by a Tank. That sucked.

5) Shouldn't have made me laugh, but a Boomer came charging at our party in the sewers below Mercy hospital and someone screamed, "Ah! Rosie O'Donnell!"

I am easily amused.

* * * *

More to come. Going to go now and kill either some zombies, some Locust Horde, some Nazis, or some Nazi zombies. Life, it seems, is just bursting with violent options of late.

Oh, and I only added a wikipedia link about red shirts because it amused me that there was actually a page devoted specifically to them. I figure if you're actually reading these posts, then you damn well know what a red shirt is, and are not some godless commie heathen.

End of line.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Clone Wars: Episode 7 - "Duel of the Droids"

Wow, this episode didn't suck.

It's strange, the writers of this show can nail supporting characters like Yoda, the clones, and R2-D2 perfectly, but have such trouble getting the main characters right. It's hard not to love R2, which makes this episode hard not to love, because the little guy actually gets involved in some droid on droid action and kicks a whole lot of ass. His fight with R3 is probably the coolest thing the show has done yet, and frankly, it felt like Star Wars. And I mean Star Wars, not a watered down, kids' show version of Star Wars. I can think of no higher praise.

Besides R2-D2's righteous display of badassery, the show features another dark, violent death, proving again that this show is probably headed for more serious stories in the future. There's only two battle droid joke scenes, one of which is actually amusing - but, more importantly, neither one interferes with the pace of the story. The action scenes are the best yet - not too short, not too long; expertly framed, edited, and paced. I particularly liked the sky drop near the beginning.

The most surprising thing about this episode is that I didn't even mind Ahsoka. She holds her own and the writers give her something to do besides stand around and crack jokes or bitch about the current situation. I'm never going to want her in an episode, but I could learn to tolerate her if there are more episodes like this.

This show is getting better, slowly but surely. I want to be optimistic about it, but then I see shit like this. Needless to say, I won't be reviewing next week's episode, because I'm not planning on watching it.

Good Old Games

Just discovered this. Nice.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Star Trek (First Trailer)


Didn't need twelve-year old Kirk. Or the vague Top Gun (but in space!) vibe I'm getting off it. But it looks like it'll have some cool space battles, something that all but three of the previous Trek movies lacked - which, in retrospect, is incredibly odd.

Don't have high hopes for the story. Still think these characters belong to the original actors, since almost all of what made those characters so memorable came from their performances - both good and bad - and not from the scripts.

End of line.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Quick Update (11/13/08)

Yeah, I haven't posted much this week.

Seriously, you expect me to update this site every day on a week like this? With Gears of War 2, Call of Duty: World at War, Fallout 3, Bully, and Quantum of Solace to play?

Really? Really?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Gears of War 2 (Opening Argument and Intital Thoughts);read-review

Lots of Gears posting to come over the next week.

First off, my general opinion of the Gears series:

Like it, but don't love it. Certainly, Epic has made two highly enjoyable and inventive shooters - but, for me, it's a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there. If it wasn't for the co-op, Gears 2 would've been a rental instead of a purchase.

I'm all about the co-op.

And if I was fourteen years old, I'd be all about this game, but being just slightly more than double that age, I find the dialog wanting and the character's downright goofy. I know Epic wants the Gears to deliver several metric shit-tons (more like ten metric shit-tons!) of badass each time they open their mouths - but it doesn't happen. I grow weary of the word "bitch" each time I play this game, or the latest attempt by one character to out macho the others. So much of the dialog in both games is just a pissing contest about who's got the biggest pair of balls...which, to me, seems like a pretty futile argument, since these guys are so 'roided up that the contents of José Canseco's sac must look huge in comparison.

I've completed the first two acts with a friend and have spent a little time with the bots (awesome addition, that is). It's a better game than the first, with genuine improvements all around. Epic didn't Tomb Raider this game. They put a lot of energy and love into this sequel, and with the estimated length of the story mode, co-op, half a dozen multiplayer modes, and full bot support, you're definitely getting your money's worth here.

If it's like the first game, the disc won't get a lot of play in my 360 after a few weeks - especially with Call of Duty: World at War and Left 4 Dead coming out - but that has everything to do with my general disposition and nothing to do with Epic's game.

Further rants to come.

The Clone Wars: Episode 6 - "Downfall of a Droid"

Want to get through this using the fewest words possible. TV of this quality doesn't deserve that much of my time.

Downfall of a Droid pretty much sucks. Lame techno score, fart jokes, weird pacing and dialog delivery, and annoying characters abound. There are a few good bits - the opening space battle, Ron Perlman, the assassin droid fight, and RD-D2's escape. But with the exception of Ron Perlman, all of them are more enjoyable with the mute button on.

According to the Star Wars website, Downfall of a Droid, the worst episode of the series yet, was the second episode produced, while Rookies, the best episode, was the fourteenth to be produced. So it looks like these people are learning from their mistakes, but there's probably still some shitty episodes left to go.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Left 4 Dead (Demo Impressions - Part I)

Left 4 Dead runs surprisingly well on my computer - even better than Team Fortress 2, which still suffers from the same mysterious FPS woes that are unique to its version of the Source engine. There is still something clearly wrong with TF2 on the PC, since I get the same choppy, inconsistent, but still playable performance regardless of how much I raise or lower the graphic settings or the resolution. Every other Source game I own - including Left 4 Dead - runs much smoother than TF2.

Like TF2, I'm running the game in 1440 X 900 with a combination of high, medium, and low graphic settings - though there are a few more mediums and a lot more lows than previous Source engine titles. It's important to note that even the lowest graphic settings don't look bad at all. Usually, if you have an old computer that can barely run a game, the lowest graphic settings of even the most advanced games make you want to quit to desktop, put a burlap bag over your monitor, and forget the whole sorry business of gaming on the PC.

Not so with this game. I need to take some screenshots to compare, but Left 4 Dead's lowest graphic settings look to be about par with the original Half-Life 2's highest settings. Unless something is drastically different with the full release, as long as you can match the minimum system requirements, then you're going to get a pretty game and a solid FPS count. Now that's how you make a game on the PC.

Also, there are some noticeable improvements to the Source engine, including several problems that have been with the engine since it's debut in 2004. The long load times just to boot up the game are gone. On my computer, Left 4 Dead loads to the main menu even faster than Half-Life 2. I went through the demo's two levels three times today; only once did the game stutter - and that's with the sound quality on high. Having a single gig of ram, I've always had to crank down the sound quality to keep Source games stutter free. I forgot to lower the sound quality before playing, and it wasn't until the game stuttered that lone time that I remembered to lower the sound quality.

If the full game runs as well as the demo, I may not even bother with the 360 version. The wife and my wallet will no doubt thank me for that.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Left 4 Dead (A Sigh of Relief)

We have frames per second - lots of 'em. That is a relief.

More later. Gotta run.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Left 4 Dead (Demo Downloading)

The moment of truth will soon be at hand. The Left 4 Dead demo is pre-loading, and tomorrow morning I will know if I actually have enough computer to run this game. I should have waited the extra week to try the demo for free, to see how the game runs on my two-year old PC, but those Valve bastards suckered me into pre-ordering the game to get a hold of the demo a week earlier.

What can I say? I'm weak.

Team Fortress 2 runs pretty well for me, with a combination of high, medium, and low settings - while still looking pretty damn good - but Left 4 Dead's required systems specs are right about equal with TF2's recommend specs. That's a pretty big jump in just a single year, especially for a company like Valve, who have always tried to keep the system requirements to their games reasonable.

Depending on how the game runs on my PC and how many of my Xbox friends acquire it, I may double-dip and get it for both systems.

I just hope I don't have to.

Random Thought #1,311

Last Saturday, my ridiculously underdeveloped brain did the best thing it's ever done: it came up with the idea of lazer-tag go kart tracks (*).

Finally, my lifelong dream of doing some drive-by lazer-taggin' will soon be complete.

* Patent Pending, bitches.

Call of Cthulhu (2005 Film)

I'm not a fan of Lovecraft. I've read little of his work - my knowledge of what a raging bigot he was and how it influenced his stories has much to do with that.

But I love many of the stories told by storytellers that have been influenced by Lovecraft - Stephen King, John Carpenter, and Guillermo Del Toro. I've always meant to put aside my personal prejudices against the man and give his work a chance.

After all, people worship this guy's stories. So much so that, three years ago, an H.P. Lovecraft fan group financed and filmed an adaption of Call of Cthulhu, one Lovecraft's most famous stories, shot as if it was filmed in the same year as the original story was published: 1926. It rolled into work last week and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.

It's a silent film, made in black & white. The filmmakers did their best to film their adaptation as if it was actually shot eighty years ago, while still incorporating some of today's technology. Digital effects are used, but only to create artificial film grain and to composite various practical elements in much the same way as they would've been done optically back in the day. Models, stop-motion animation, and plywood, two by fours, and painted muslin sets abound. The love and craft that went into this film impressed me more than any Hollywood blockbuster made in the last few years (Hellboy II excluded).

The film does an excellent job capturing the spirit of the era, more so than any other film I've seen. It's not actually scary, but the underlining sense of unease and dread that were so unique to the horror films of the 20's and 30's and 40's is there.

That, my friends, kicks ass.

Bully (Early to Middle Thoughts)

Finally getting around to playing this. Gamefly had the 360 version on sale for less than fifteen dollars, which I took as a sign from the videogame gods that now was the time to play it. The fact that my used disc arrived unblemished - not a scratch on its beautifully reflective surface - only reaffirmed my belief that this was indeed providence from a higher power, one that exists only in zeroes and ones.

And I'm lovin' every minute of it. I'd go as far as to say that it's superior to all the GTA games on the Playstation 2 and almost on par with GTA IV. The controls are a lot tighter than Rockstar's previous games, and the minigames and races are actually enjoyable. I can't get enough of the boxing matches, which almost feel like Punch-Out!!!

Maybe I'm growing soft in my old age, but it's cool to see Rockstar tell a story that is less violent and, well, kinda innocent. Jimmy, the main character, isn't perfect, but he has a much clearer sense of right and wrong than the GTA protagonists. I thought I'd hate his character, due to my general distaste for punk kids and all the vile things they do to my lawn and the lawns of others, but I should have had more faith in Rockstar. He's truly a memorable character. And as over the top as the usual Rockstar caricatures are, the game has created a feeling of recognition and nostalgia in me, especially during the Halloween and Christmas missions.

Plus, I'm digging the hell out of being the wedgier instead of the wedgiee for a change.

End of line.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Quantum of Solace (Videogame - Early Reviews)

Damn, this thing is actually getting pretty good reviews, which means it just got bumped to the top of my Gamefly request list. For some reason, I had completely written this game off as another shitty movie tie-in.

Don't ask me why, but I get more excited for Bond games than I do for Bond movies, even though I know most of them will just let me down. I was disappointed that Casino Royale didn't get a game, but Quantum of Solace will cover both Daniel Craig movies, with Mr. Craig and other stars from the movies contributing voice work.

Looks like this one might be able to sit comfortably on my game shelf next to Goldeneye and Everything or Nothing.

That, good people, would be quite rad.