Archive for category Video Games

What this…. A Mansion?

No, its not a Mansion, nor is Capcom interested in being “the master of unlocking,” the next great survival horror title, proven by the arrival of  Resident Evil 6′s announcement trailer that broadcasts the fact that we’re going to have another high flying forced-Co-op action title. However, after this franchise  alienated half its fan base by tossing out RE’s signature atmospheric adventure/Survival horror genre and, with it, its classic foot soldiers, the shambling Romero-esk, corpses; RE 6′s trailer seems to, at very least, promise the revival of the latter. While no one will mourn for the loss of the clearly racially offensive retarded AI drones that replaced the living dead for the past two games, This new title is sure to continue to polarize fans on whether or not RE should be action oriented or not. Either way, the announcement comes with a release date, 11/20/2012 and a lengthy trailer that you can  check out Here.

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Alone In The Dark II – Disgraceful. Will The Real Edward Carnby Please Stand Up?

Carnby1The other day I sat down and watched, against my better judgment, Alone in the Dark II (2008). I got nostalgic and soon found myself suckered in with the mentality that it couldn’t ruin one of my favorite childhood franchises worse than Uwe Boll did. I was dreadfully wrong.

Growing up, Alone in the Dark’s signature hero, Edward Carnby, was the Chris Redfield before there was a Chris Redfield. He could shoot his way through a house full of zombies, and if he ran out of bullets he’d a grab a knife from the cutting board or even the cutting board itself and crack open some rotted heads. If that didn’t work he would just throw some killer head-butts and crescent kicks. Let’s see Redfield do that.alonedark_nightmare_screen001

However, with superior graphics, the Resident Evil franchise took the spotlight away from its spiritual grandfather, so Alone in the Dark attempted to revamp for the new millennium with Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare (2001) which moved Carnby and the franchise out of prohibition era America into modern day with some lame explanation about the character being a descendant in some secret organization that passes down the name… really a load of marketing garbage to try to compete with Resident Evil. Carnby, himself, was transformed into a Fox Mulderish wise cracking, early thirty-something, and if that wasn’t bad enough they even paired him with a red-head love interest and threw some government agency conspiracy into the mix.

Unfortunately, this “X-file” that no one should have opened gave Uwe Boll, the worst German since WWII, an idea. And when Uwe Boll gets an idea, a beloved survival horror title becomes a disgrace.

aloneinthedarkslaterBoll’s “brilliant” vision of bringing Alone in the Dark (2005) to the screen cast Christian-we thought your career was over-Slater as Carnby while Tara-bad boob job-Reid played the Dana Scully-ish character. The movie was mess of bad slow motion, half-assed CGI monsters,  plot holes, and Stephen Dorff – the guy you wouldn’t know if he wasn’t the villan in the first Blade movie – who brought plenty of terrible over-acting as the psudeo-villian that, of course, turns good just in time to save the day. While Slater was, in retrospect, a passible Carnby, the movie itself was terrible and only loosely based on anything anywhere in the games.

After the dust cleared from that mess, I was content on going back to playing the original trilogy on an old laptop and forgetting about the other two massacres until Atari decided they were going to try to make everything better by resurrecting Carnby in 2008 with the simply titled Alone in the Dark, which did its best to try to create a plot that would completely discount everything that happened in The New Nightmare and Boll’s piece of trash by simply pretending the game, and the horrible movie based on it, never happened -what I like to refer to as the Highlander 3 maneuver. Nevertheless, this new Alone in the Dark expected us to swallow the fact that Carnby Rip-Van-Winkled it sometime during the Hoover administration and woke up in modern times.  Iwould be wiling to swallow this if the gameplay wasn’t a mess of innovation for the sake of it, an over extended mutli-genre debacle, and filled with more bugs than an apartment in Baltimore. At least, I was sure now that the franchise couldn’t get any worse?Carnby 5

Then I sat down and watched Alone in the Dark II (2008). Although, why it has the right to be a “2″ to anything still remains cryptic. The original game to bear that title was about zombie pirates turned bootleggers kidnapping a little girl during prohibition and this is definitely not that. You could try to make the case that it’s a sequel to the Boll monstrosity, but honestly you would have to get some military quality bungee to make a stretch like that since the plot bares no resemblance to anything Alone in the Dark. Maybe most insulting is that Carnby is now portrayed by Rick Yune, whose ethnic background is completely different than that of the character he is portraying. Real good continuity, people! Perhaps the producers should just be honest about the fact that they just stamped the franchise name on their crappy movie and put Carnby’s dog tags on Yune’s horrible character because they wanted people like myself to get suckered into watching it.

RICK YUNEHowever, if the film was even average I wouldn’t have cared. Instead, it unloads its abysmal writing by kicking off with a shootout/chase scene that has something to do with a witch, a dagger, and some group of demon hunters that run around firing big guns at bad blurs of CGI while yelling poorly acted lines to each other through cool stylish headsets. Carnby somehow, which remains puzzling  (yes five minutes in and its already confusing)  becomes involved with the dagger, gets stabbed with it, and spends the next half hour being carried around by the demon hunters group. While Carnby is lying around bed whining, Lance Henriksen – who we want to like because he was Bishop from Aliens – goes on this whole rant about how he’s not going to get involved, probably setting up the reluctant hero that has sacrifice himself cliche. Then we cut to more shootouts with the CGI blur.

If you haven’t surmised it, the film was unwatchable, made Uwe Boll look like Martin Scorsese, and I couldn’t even force myCarn1self to finish it, which leaves me with one nagging question. Do I want there be to another Alone in the Dark anything?  It’s a really sad reality because this series had some strong potential back in 1992. Back then, there wasn’t anything like it. Dark halls, puzzles, guns, and Lovecraft style creepiness: footprints in the distance and macabre sneaking up on you from behind every corner had never rooted itself in the world of gaming. This franchise should have developed into something fantastic as technology improved. Instead, we get a character that’s completely revamped too many times, too far separated from his tough-as-nails Charles Bronson meets Macgyver roots, and four bad attempts at trying to have this franchise claim a foothold with a new generation. Can the real Edward Carnby please start cracking some more heads with a frying pan, and maybe box the hell out of Uwe Boll, until we get another decent entry into the franchise?

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Deadly Premonitions: An Original Experience In Survival Horror

DeadlyPremonitionXBOXHow can a survival horror title that has outdated graphics, a mind numbingly annoying soundtrack and gameplay consisting of repetitive Easter egg hunts, taxiing, and two dimensional combat be considered the best survival horror game I’ve played in a long while? Well dualism is what this title is all about as your split personal protagonist, York, (or it is Zach?) will tell you.

If this has you scratching your head well that’s just what Deadly Premonitions does best. The game kicks off in what seems like a Resident Evil/Silent Hill type atmosphere with ghost-zombies called “shadows” lumbering after you, but; after a short sequence in “the dark world”—ala  Silent Hill—York , big city FBI agent, stumbles into the sunlit small-town paradise of Greenvale, where young girls are being murdered and the inhabitants are nearly as crazy as York in a sort of directed by David Lynch kinda way. Twin Peaks fans will be at home as a billionaire tycoon in a skull shaped gas mask speaks through his poetry spouting aid, a pink glowing eyed killer stalks the streets on rainy nights, and Greenvale’s answer to “the log lady”, Sigorney, wanders around town talking to her pot.

Skull face Once you meet this circus parade of suspects and settle into town, the world opens into a brilliant sandbox environment of mini-games, challenges and side quests to check out while visiting Greenvale. Fishing in the mountain streams, playing darts at the local bars, testing out your new wheels in a circuit race, or beefing up on your aim at the police firing range are just a handful of ways to earn power-ups and enjoy the sights. Sound dull? Not here to vacation? Then, York can even buy maps at the convenience store to uncover the truth behind local ghost stories that place the player in sides quest challenges where if you survive an undead horde you’ll be rewarded with more powerful weapons. The varied gameplay and open environment succeeds in ways that titles like Alone in the Dark (5) failed miserable. Instead, Deadly Premonitions’s take on the open environment parallels to the old 90s Sierra Games like Quest for Glory where developing a daily routine of practicing skills, finding places to sleep, eat lunch, have drinks or play darts at night adds a realism to the experience that pulls the player into the game by mirroring a life’s day-to-day down time and work time.

The details of York’s daily regime are even taken far beyond what Sierra ever dreamed up as the player is in charge of shaving a beard that grows in real time and keeping his clothes clean or suffer the embarrassment of having actual bugs circle your character. York needs to do everything short of dropping anchor in many toilets offered in the game. With the amount of coffee you need to drink to keep his sleep meter up and the amount of food you chow down on to keep the hunger meter up, it’s surprising the player doesn’t all have to rush York to the toilet, but I digress.

Shadow However, attention to detail does not extend much to combat, and I can agree that fighting the same re-skinned shadow with only a different weapons or two over and over does get lame, but the game has the ability to surprise you. Just when you’ve had it with repetitive combat the game’s second enemy type “The crawler,” — think Samara from the ring – comes sulking along the ceiling and walls at you, naked and pissed off. The game has a way of lolling you into a false sense of security and then dropping a new twist on you or changing the gameplay style on the fly. While I tend to hate reaction test sequences, and their overuse in games today, Deadly Premonition has a couple that are interesting and exciting as you engage in chase sequences with the game’s boogie man, “The Raincoat Killer.”

While the game’s general bestiary is limited to four, plus a handful of boss fights, the overall gameplay is not just about the combat. Deadly Premonitions borrows gameplay from GTA, Resident Evil/Silent Hill, Crazy Taxi, Police Quest, Quest for Glory, Haunting Grounds and the overall experience never feels disjointed with pieces tacked on just for fluff—well maybe the ability to use your car’s windshield wipers and blinkers, which serves no purpose, but who’s nit-picking?

Most critics have more to complain about than the dashboard functions of the cars, but these people are missing the point. In a genre where both Alone in the Dark and Resident Evil screwed up their franchise with too much innovation and too much action, respectively, Deadly Premonition enters with one of the most original survival horror gameplay experience in years and most people will miss it because of some superficial flaws, but my eyes are open.

“DP’s” bad reviews focus on the game seeming “dated” while they should be addressing the most original characters, atmosphere, and dark storyline since Harvester, and one of the best “manageable” RPG open environments since Quest for Glory. While the town may not rival the map of Fallout or Oblivion, its size allows the player a  more intimate experience of reoccurring characters and locations. Instead of the conceptual RPG format: “we’ll I’m done with your quest-I’m off to the other end of the map, see you never,” character development and the small town atmosphere are always at work.

Bound GirlGames are all about having fun, and Deadly Premonitions only takes itself seriously in moments where it has to. The rest of the game is even willing to laugh at its self, and it often does almost poking fun at the characters limited expressions, movements, and over reactions. Cynical critics are exaggerating standards they think make it look like it should have come out ten years ago; but, even if that was the case, the best games are timeless and this one is an instant classic: hilarious, creepy, and intriguing.

Where else can you get up, predict the future by how the cream mixes in your coffee, go fishing and catch ammo, fight off a horde of the undead in an old tunnel with a flamethrower, eat lunch, race a crazy woman home because she doesn’t want the pot she’s carrying to get cool, help the crazy vet at the junk yard find parts to build you a new hot rod, interrogate suspects, eat dinner, play darts, race your new hot rod, and when night falls, take out the hot deputy for drinks then fight off giant supernatural dogs with a shot gun under the full moon? It’s all in a day’s work when you’re Francis York Morgan. “Isn’t that right Zach?”

http://www.deadlypremonition.com/ is the official website. It’s available on XBOX 360 for only $20 and this is the best Jackson you can blow on a video game. PS3 people have a harder road as its currently only being released in Japan as Red Seeds Profile, but the good news is that the entire game is in English and region free, but the import fees look like they will jack the price of title up. However, this one may just be worth it. Check out the official trailer:

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Return to Rapture: Bioshock 2 Review

Cover-Art-for-BioShock-2-Released-21Remember a few years back when that crab went on and on about how life was better under the sea? Of course, the grouch I’m talking about is Andrew Ryan, the developer of Rapture, an underwater setting of genetic drug addicts and insane science. With Bioshock 2 on shelves this month, gamers are invited to return to the city of sunken dreams where the individuals freedom is prized above all.

Bioshock 2 starts off with a bang as your protagonist , a special Big Daddy model named Delta, shoots himself in the head after being coerced by Rapture’s newest zealot leader, Sophia Lamb. After you wake up—somehow—ten  years later,  you learn that after Ryan’s death Lamb has united rapture under her rule and this concept of ‘family’ that she waves around as a means of psychology control. As you move through the game you discover that Lamb’s vision for utopia is intimately centered around turning her daughter, Eleanor, into the perfect human. Eleanor also happened to be your character’s ‘Little Sister’ until the bond was tore apart by the forced suicide attempt.

While story is intriguing it is hard pressed to compete with the initial mysteries of Rapture that the original game dealt with, but the developers did a good job of not trying to write the same type of narrative arch. Instead, the fan will be treated to some blanks filled-in from the last game and the newcomer will get a decent stand alone storyline that won’t even spoiler too many twists of the original.

Storytelling does remain the focus of Bioshock as every room is littered with remains and clues about a dream turned nightmare. Prostitutes with “Eve” needles sticking out their arms lay dead in their bed. Victims of science experiments remain bound to chairs and gurneys. Even subtler imagery like propaganda posters and graffiti tells the tale of Lamb’s rise to power while expositions from old tape recorders and radio communications with the few people that are neither dead or insane provide the missing pieces.

Gameplay itself, matches the original’s quality without question and also adds some more strategic elements. For example, hacking is now done in real time. At first glance, the simple reaction test format may seemed dumbed down after Bioshock’s pipe mini-game, but as the game goes on you realize that hacking is now a part of battle. One of your weapons is a gun that shoots hacking tools and you may have to reprogram an enemy turret to defend as it unloads at you and while ducking a Splicer’s wrench.

New Plasmids are also designed in a more strategic fashion giving you the ability to summon flying robots to your side, hypnotize enemies into fighting with you, and even sending a ghost of yourself ahead as a scout.

BioShock-2 1Why all this strategy? Because harvesting is now a part of the game. After defeating another Big Daddy and adopting his Little Sister, you can search out bodies for the little Sis to drain of Adam, which seems simple enough until you put the girl on the ground and hordes of Splicers start showing up. The goal is to use Rapture’s security, your enemies; and your arsenal of traps, firearms, and offensive plasmids: to snare, blast, burn, and beat back the enemy away from the Little Sister in whatever way possible. If you can accomplish this for a set time limit without being killed or the Little Sister being interrupting from her blood sucking duties then you’ll reap the benefits of her Atom collecting.

Accomplish a few harvesting runs and you’ll should a have a nice bank roll of Adam to purchase plenty of upgrades. However, keep in mind that you’re always being watched by Rapture’s newest nightmare, The Big Sister. Big Sisters are like Big Daddy’s but twice as fast and strong. They’ll toss fire like a volcano until they get bored then they’ll switch to using Telekinesis to heave rocks or corpses, and if you can’t keep them away from you they’ll lift you off the ground and drill the blood from your vein restoring their own life bars in the process. By the way, fighting them is difficult.

While the challenges, fire-power, and strategic element have upped the ante quite a bit, the freedom in the game has really only seen minor tweaking. The developers clearly wanted to move away from the Harvest/Rescue, Bad/Good binary; and as a result, Bioshock 2 does have three additional story based decisions to make, which do offer some freedom to how the story evolves, but ultimately your bound into a track that can only take you one of three places: Good/Bad/Neutral.

Still, it’s hard to criticize this game. If a Big Daddy put its drill to my head and told to come up with critiques I would say the underwater segments are lame and unnecessary serving only the purposes of showing off cool graphics and doing a little Easter egg hunting. Also, unnecessary and lame is the multi-player that has the same gimmicky capture the flag-esque games that Quake was doing ten years ago. Bioshock has no need for a mutli-player, but it had to have one as selling point, which is just the state of things these days.

Other than that, quality has not slipped an inch on the Bioshock front. Every aspect is as pleasing as the original and the developers didn’t drown Rapture with attempts at innovations, which is too often the case these days with sequels.

The final word is that the Bioshock franchise is still one of the most original concepts in the industry today. Even though the story may not be as intriguing as its predecessor, the writing didn’t take unnecessary risks trying to top it. Recognizing that the mystery of Rapture and Ryan is already public knowledge, the writers wield another kind of intriguing web that will still have gamers wondering who to trust and rushing through the game to find out if they made the right choice. However, Bioshock 2 does have a host of fun and interesting turns, and it is a MUST play for anyone that likes a little bit of intelligence and thought provoking story elements with their first person shooter.

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Darkside Chronicles: Another Reason Resident Evil Needs To Turn A Corner

originalRemember turning that first corner in Resident Evil to find one of your comrades from Bravo Team with his face being gnawed off by Resident Evil’s first zombie? Can you believe that was fourteen years, seven main series games, seven side-story games, four movies, and one remake ago? Newly released Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles, number seven on the side story game list, was the latest installment that fans (waiting for a hopefully re-tooled part 6) got to chew on.

Most fans will probably do well to rent this one so they can spit it back at the video store or GameFly when they’re done with it, which is not to say  the game is unplayable but rather just plagued by the bad RE cliches, terrible dialogue, and little replay value. The game follows Leon Kennedy and Jack Krauser into South America where they try to track down overused RE motifs and successfully discover someone who infected their daughter with whichever strain of the T-Virus we’re up to now.

Aside from the plot, which is so typical for the series it’s not even worth talking about, the gameplay is similar to Umbrella Chronicles’ rail shooter style, but clearly made efforts to undo every element that was frustrating in “UC.”  I was happy to see I could play the entire storyline without having to unlock pieces of it with high scores, and being able to carry an inventory of herbs and my entire armory seemed appealing at first, but, as the game went on, having access to enough explosive to level Brazil rather than having to choose which weapons to bring on the mission seemed to dumb down gameplay.  However, if you enjoy the RE atmospheres and mythos then Darkside wCityas brainless head popping fun.

I can’t say Darkside wasn’t enjoyable, but it was a cheap tease in the grand scheme of the series. Darkside, like Umbrella Chronicles, operates on replaying scenes from the main series in rail-shooter format. The bothersome part is the game is actually narrated by Leon as he fills in Krauser on some of his previous experiences with the virus, which makes the gameplay a flashback. In that case, how the hell can you die in flashback if you’ve lived to tell the tale? “Great Scott!  It could cause a paradox, Marty!”

At the end of the day, Resident Evil The Darkside Chronicles is good mindless fun, and if anyone cares about Jack Krausers backstory then it has that too, but the franchise is still lacking and has delivered minimal scares since that first zombie got done chewing years ago. The games in recent years have fallen short without undead creatures jumping out from every corner, REAL walking copses, and creepy atmospheres. I guess we can hope they get it right in Resident Evil 6 and also give the fans a usually-somehow resurrected Albert Wesker complete with his brilliant dialogue.

AW“What’s this…A Mansion?”

The obvious never escapes you, which is why we love you or maybe its those cool shades.

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Three Video Game Movies That MUST Not Suck

moneycountToo often, the most horrifying thing about video game movies is that they’re actually made, and, not to mention, given an astronomical budget to exist and promote awful film making. Why is this always the case? One, no one has stopped Uwe Boll, the genius behind such “masterpieces” as House of the Dead (2003), when on basic principal alone he should have been put on an asteroid with no cameras years ago… Two, often the games chosen are popular but have a weak narrative, and the fact is that video game movies have a build in audience, the most loyal-build in audience, stereotypically – the youth. Why waste time making a good product when a half-assed one is guaranteed to sell?

These days, I do my best to hold my Wii-mote in front of my eyes, secure the wrist strap around my neck, and try to ignore these disappointing money making demons, creatures with the ability to ruin two beloved mediums in one swing. However, there happens to be a trinity of survival horror titles in the works that has me more anxious then usual.

Resident Evil Afterlife (2010) is already filming as we speak, and, at this point, I’m almost too numb from this series to get fired up. The RE movies have all but formed their own mythos, centered around everyone’s favorite T-Virus-infected-chick, Milla’s “Alice.” While Fans tend to be split on whether or not these flicks should even exist, most can agree that each sequel has declined in the decent writing and general relevance department.

Afterlife has raised the stakes, however, by promising to finally introduce Chris Redfield – the character that probably should have controlled the narrative flow of the franchise like three movies ago. Wentworth Miller—of  “isn’t that the guy from Prison Break?” fame—will  be portraying the zombie killing machine while his evil counterpart, Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts) will hopefully play a more pivotal role than he did in Resident Evil: Extinction (2007).

resident_evil_extinction_milla_jovovich_with_knivesThe direction of Wesker may be the deciding factor on whether this film bites worse than the complication of its walking corpses. Since Extinction offered nothing more than a cameo, Afterlife has the potential to do up his over-the-top-eviler-than-Hitler presence with a hint of British comedian wit and a generally cooler than the other side of the pillow attitude. At very least, Paul, do a better job than you did with Shang Tsung.

My final note on Resident Evil is that it’s the lesser of many evils in a world of terrible video game adaptations. However, it often fails by trying to maintain a strange balance between being its own entity and placating gamers by injecting familiar faces for the sake of it and only offering average zombies at best. The series has a few positives – they all start will with “M” and  end with “-ovich”. It’s no secret that the girl that we’ve all been in love with since Fifth Element (1997) has been carrying this franchise with her unique screen presence, ability to make Alice her own, and her short dresses with thigh-hi boots might weigh slightly on our minds, just perhaps. Either way, I’ll probably be in the seats when this one hits the screen.

Next up, and ironically linked to RE by Wentworth Miller, is Bioshock. Slated for 2010, Bioshock is supposed to bring the 2007 sub-sea utopia gone haywire video game to the silver screen with Miller portraying the mostly faceless and completely voiceless lead while Juan Carlos Fresnadillo is set to direct. They, and everyone else involved with this project, have serious work to do.

Bioshock reach Bioshock (2007 VG) set a new standard for what video game storytelling and clever point of view could accomplish; the film should set the bar no lower. Somewhere between Ayn Rand’s philosophies, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) and Stephen King’s The Shinning, is Rapture looming beneath the sea, its people obsessed with violence, power, and plastic surgery in a shaken snow globe unseen by the world as bloody flakes of torn skin flutter down about the chaos. The setting of a fallen Utopian city rotting in a bubble beneath the sea is going to be an endless challenge to portray, not to mention the millions of ways they could mess up the entire story line.

Fresnadillo, whose most notable work was the not-as-good-as-its-predecessor 28 Weeks Later (2007), has his work cut out for him, but more important than just his direction is that the project has to be taken on by people who care about its art and story. This isn’t the type of movie that anyone has the right to package up into a nice little American-action flick package with a PG-13 rating and a level of intelligence to match. Give us a thoughtful, creepy, darkly funny, and brilliant film that deserves the name Bioshock. Nothing less on this one, please!

Art_Deadspace The last bit of flesh on the chopping block is EA’s Dead Space (2008 VG).  While this one has only just been announced and projects a sometime in 2011 release date, I already have concerns. The something-has-gone-wrong or the we’ve-lost-contact-with-the-space-station-send-a-team-to-investigate plot has been done in Hollywood many times. Most fans of the series recognize that Dead Space’s environment and moods owe a great deal to the Alien franchise and Event Horizon (1997). To make this game a successful film, the creators need to focus on the original aspects that the Dead Space universe has brought  to the table.

Since this series has already produced an animated film Dead Space: Downfall (2008), writers already have a touch stone, but a good adaptation needs to go beyond Downfall’s bloodbath violence. With psychological horror, government conspiracy, religions fanatics, and reanimated corpses with ridiculously long claws, the creators will have plenty of material to mold. Molding it into a shape that resembles something watchable, deep, scary and not just a laser light show is another story.

Video game movies have consistently been a mess. I’m not even going to get into Super Mario, Double Dragon, or Alone in the Dark, but with the rise of this triad, I’m hoping that at least one of the three pleasantly surprises me. Is that just too much too hope for? -Sigh- Probably.

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Left 4 Dead 2 Demo Shows Signs of Decomposition

left_4_dead_2_survivorsThis past week, the fall’s most anticipated Zombie Apocalypse title, Left 4 Dead 2, unleashed its demo to mass audiences. With the actual title coming to knock its rotting fingers on door steps in less than two weeks, the short demo should have people salivating and blood thirsty for the full game’s November 17th release date.

The Left 4 Dead franchise for those of you that have barricaded themselves away from the gaming world as if an actual apocalypse was going down, is a four person FPS that allows four live player to take on the role of survivors trying to shoot, burn, detonate  and beat their way through hordes of zombies and specially mutated infected. The title also has varied modes that allow live players to assume the role of special infected trying to take down the survivors.

Left 4 Dead 2 focuses on the infection of the deep south, Savannah and New Orleans, where four new survivors: a high school football coach, a young woman, a good old boy, and a con-artist that looks way too much like John Cusack, fight their way through hordes of their former southerners with a new arsenal of weaponry and power-ups.

While the new weaponry is visually stimulating everything about it tends to be a cheap firework display. Despite the fact that’s its amusing to hit a zombie with a frying pan, a machete, or a police baton, each melee weapon feels exactly the same and at the end of the day is just a re-skinned rifle butt swing, which was what was available in the original. Most importantly you have to give up your side arm to use them. I’ll keep my 9mm with infinite ammo instead of trying to beat a charging witch to death with an acoustic guitar. How about we leave the beating of zombies with instruments to the Dead Rising folks at Capcom?

Another half-assed power up is the boomer puke vials. Remember the pipe bombs that attracted all the zombies to one area then unpacked a bone storm explosion? Well the boomer puke only delivers the first half of that equation. Thanks for adding another step to my zombie exterminating process. On the other hand, there is a new adrenaline shot that speeds up your perception of the world around you. It’s pretty cool during horde attack. Give it a shot.

The bestiary grew to include a rotting woman that spit pools of acids, zombies of slain cops in bulletproof riot gear, little midget zombies that ride the survivors into bad situations, and overgrown freaks that grab you and pound you until you stop moving. While the first two are kind of clever and vary the game play, the second two are more just like hybrids of existing infected. The riding zombie, “Jockey” combines the dangers of the smoker and the hunter while the big guy, “the charger”, is just an altered “Tank.” Valve didn’t really lose much sleep staying up designing these guys did they?

Overall, the game play does have a more varied feel than the original. Most special scenarios in Left 4 Dead involved hitting a switch, getting some bombs together, dousing the place in gasoline, and digging in somewhere that you could blast and burn back the tide of hungry faces. Left 4 Dead 2 turns that scenario upside down by making the survivors hit a button in point A and then have to run through a maze of post-apocalyptical barricades, which the infected are flooding over at every turn, to get hit another switch at point B. Much more intense to have to think on your feet then getting to crouch behind a bar and mow down the infected from the comfort of your preplanned barricade.

At the end of the day, I still feel this game relies too heavily on multi-player features to sell it. The single player experience of having three AI bots march along with you falls miles short of actually playing through with buddies or strangers, and even dialing up a quick match with random people puts the player at risking of having to deal with a party of three immature players that just want to yell through their headsets and shoot at each other. With this type of title, the replay value only holds up if other people and the right type of people are playing it, but what will ten years bring? Gamers still play the original Resident Evil, but will people return to a gaming experience that put all its eggs in a multi-player basket?

While the demo proves that November 17th will bring out some amusing zombie blasting and burning, Left 4 Dead still uses its AI and atmosphere in a manner that’s too in your face, never building tension and never being creepy (well, except maybe in the case of the witch that can walk around in L4D2).  Intense gameplay is a good thing, but when it’s overdone and no other mood rises to break up the tension, the it becomes two dimensional.

Fans of the zombie genre have waited for a good atmospheric living dead single player FPS since Doom, but I don’t think L4D2 will do the job. It’s a step in the right direction, but falls a couple fingers short.

Left 4 Dead 2 will be available for XBOX 360 and PC on November 17th .

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Dead Space Extraction Review

CoverWhile Wii haters and rail shooter naysayers protested and screamed like space colonists with Necromorphs on their back, September 29 came and went, bringing Dead Space’s prequel with it. Dead Space: Extraction brings the Dead Space universe—a  mining colony and space station overflowing with insane miners, religious fanatics, and bat-like aliens that reshape dead humans into Necromorphs, undead monsters with big claws and nasty attitudes—to  the Wii. Extraction translates Dead Space to the Wii with similar stylistic trappings as Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles. However, non-rail shooter fans may have some reasons to come on-board for this one.

Even though the typical gimmicky Wii movements made their way into the control interface, the design team found ways to keep the interactions terrifying and not just for the sake placating to the Wiimote. At first, I even rolled my eyes at having to play connect the dots to hack a lock or weld a door shut, but, as the game play progresses, things got more interesting,  and I had to accomplish these tasks as creatures lumbered their way towards the screen. Trying to connect two circuits with your Wiimote while the creatures whose legs you’ve just blast off are crawling towards you is no matter to yawn at.

extraction-04The rest of the controls function in typical rail-shooter fashion, movement is run by a director and the gamer is forced to float along with  whatever camera angles are supplied. Necromorphs, insane miners, alien creatures, and giant tentacles lurch towards the screen demanding the gamer to point his Wiimote and mash the B-button. Even though it sounds typical, fans of Dead Space should enjoy the more intimate controls of the original game’s arsenal and some new weapons to rip limbs off with. The Wiimote makes carving up Necromorphs with the Ripper, a floating saw blade controlled by a laser beam, as easy as running an electronic knife back and forth through dark meat on Thanksgiving.

Dismemberment aside, Extraction also transcends the rail shooter genre with its heavy focus on narrative, squeezing every advantage out of the FPS point of view it could. The player assumes the role of four characters throughout the game, and experiences firsthand the effects of the spreading mental disease as it tears apart the sanity of each character. Often, Extraction will have you emptying your Pulse Rifle into a hallucination; dead bodies and blank air materialize into threats that aren’t really there.

This psychological horror replaces the typical douse of isolation that fueled Dead Space, and most survival horror. The tensions generates from the panic that spreads through the group of survivors as life becomes progressively worse. Not only is the player jumping at shadows, hearing voices, and experiencing hallucinations, but while that insanity is taking grip he also must watch the madness drive his companions over the edge to their own horrible fates. The inability to trust your own character’s senses and sanity gives this title a fresh feel.

TalkyExtraction’s downside is its length that rounds out at about seven hours. As you play through the game, you can unlock challenge mode levels and more difficult settings of the game, but these options are destined to only appease die hard rail shooter fans; since Extraction is storyline heavy, a replay would mean sitting around watching characters repeat a boat load of dialogue, breaking up the action and gore fest for minutes at time. The challenge modes are great for those people that want to see more limbs fall but they supply just that, cannon fodder and mindless shooting.

With such a small playtime, I would hardly recommend a newcomer to this Universe plunk down $54.99 for the title. Fans of the series, who must have more Dead Space, should enjoy seeing how the colony and the S.S. Ishimura went to hell, and even get to spend some time with Isaac Clark’s star-crossed lover, Nicole. The winks to the original are endless, taking the player through familiar environments and giving them a handful of “oh-that-how-that-happened”  moments.

After I took my last gasp, the game resonated with me as a fun ride: a few good scares, some thrills, some gore, and a couple original surprises; you won’t believe what you have to do to survive. Extraction pushes the envelope of in-game point of view and how to use it to manipulate the player, a growing trend since Bioshock dropped its plot twist bombshell a few years ago. Any gamer that hasn’t written off the Wii as a venue for decent survival horror should try slicing their way through the undead Necromorphs of the Ishimura, even if they have to wait until the price drops.

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Cursed Mountain – Wii Horror Game Preview

untitledI’m 27,000 feet above sea level.  A picturesque storm of snow flurries freckles the sky as I slowly follow an old woman toward a small clearing.  The closer I get to the clearing, the more I realize that something isn’t right.  My heart starts beating faster.  Then suddenly it happens.  The old woman reveals her true demonic form and hurls me toward the edge of the cliff.  I’m holding on with my only my fingertips.  The withered old hag offers me a quick menacing glance before biting my knuckles.  I fall into the darkness below.

This scene was one of many that I encountered earlier this month when I was invited by game developers Deep Silver to preview Cursed Mountain, the first Wii survival horror game, released yesterday.  As a longtime fan of the survival horror genre, growing up on games like Resident Evil and Silent Hill, I jumped at the opportunity to see how such a game would fare on the Wii which is typically known for its kid and family friendly games.

Cursed Mountain revolves around mountain climber Eric Simmons as he climbs into the Himalayas on a quest to find his brother who went missing while searching for a terma, a key piece of wisdom that was written down in ancient times and magically hidden until it is needed in the future.  While climbing in the Himalayas is dangerous enough, Eric begins to encounter the decrepit souls of former mountain inhabitants who are stuck in “Bardo” – a Buddhist concept meaning “in between”.  That is, these people have perished but have yet to move on to the next stage of their spiritual life.

According to Buddhist mythology, every mountain represents a god and this particular god grew angry when the residents botched a tantric sex ritual.  So, rather than give them a second chance to have another ridiculously long coital session, he cursed the whole mountain, sending them all into Bardo – Cursed Mountain, get it?  And they’re not too happy about it, attacking Eric as he attempts to push forward.  These encounters begin to make Eric question his sanity, wondering if he’s not merely hallucinating due to stress and lack of oxygen but things get stranger and stranger as he makes his way toward the summit where answers await.

What sets Cursed Mountain apart from traditional survival horror genres is its basis in reality.  While, no, you don’t get attacked by zombie-like ghosts while hiking in the Himalayas, you do become disoriented by blinding snow, suffer from a lack of oxygen, and can quite easily perish.  Beyond these environmental factors, Deep Silver researchers spent more than seven months brushing up on Buddhist mythology and customs, geography of the Himalayas (the mountain in the game is modeled on a real mountain), and psychological effects of mountaineering.

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“No matter how big or small the project, we believe in preparing,” said Deep Silver representative Martin Filipp.  “What separates this game from others is the outdoors – you really feel like you’re standing on a mountain.”

Still, Eric’s journey is not spent entirely in the wilderness as he treks through long-abandoned settlements, forcing himself into dark buildings and claustrophobic nooks.  Cursed Mountain’s enemies come in the form of farmers, peasants, shamans, and other Buddhist figures, each with its own degree of difficulty.  At the end of each level, players must battle a boss – monsters taken directly from Buddhist mythology.  The one in particular that I battled with (and lost several times) was a massive bird that derived its powers from a series of stone towers.  Beyond your attackers, the mountain itself becomes your enemy.  You have to be diligent to not fall off a sudden cliff and as you ascend, diminished oxygen warps your ability to see and fight.  I thought this was an interesting idea for a survival horror title.  Deep Silver clearly spent their time thinking of creative ways to immerse the player in the game’s environment.

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And what better a platform than the Wii for immersion?  The system’s motion controls allow players to basically take a first-person perspective approach to the game.  You’re not pressing R1 to fire a weapon, here.  Rather, you’re striking dead monks by physically swinging the Wiimote and performing “banishing prayers” with a series of left and right hand movements.

The game’s combat system is fairly simple but definitely takes some time to adjust to.  There are three basic attacks – a melee push, ranged weapons (in the form of artifacts you discover), and prayers.  I found the ranged attacks to be somewhat difficult to use accurately as you must aim your cursor at the moving enemies, but after a little while, I was blasting those evil shamans with relative ease.

“We think we’ve changed the way horror games are played on any platform,” Filipp said.  “You have to open up your body language and actually face the fear.”

While I’m not sure Cursed Mountain will be the genre-changing masterpiece Filipp describes, I do think it’s a step in the right direction.  This, along with the realism angle, allows the game to become more than another Resident Evil knockoff.  Also, it’s nice to see a developer take a chance with a Mature rated title for Wii.  Filipp said that Deep Silver realized there was a fairly large risk in choosing the platform, but they felt it was the right fit.

From what I’ve seen, the graphics and gameplay seem solid, mirroring Zelda: Twilight Princess in some respects (I know, that’s pretty high praise).  I recently received my review copy and am looking forward to digging into this game soon.  Stay tuned for a full review, hopefully chock full of knuckle-biting old hags.

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