PC

Pixel Rift VR

Capture

Note: Distortion and blur in the screenshots is a side effect of the Oculus Rift display mode, it doesent look like that in actual play!

Finding myself to be a “VR enthusiast” having obtained an Oculus Rift via Mysterious Circumstances™ I’m doing that thing of downloading absolutely everything (within the realms of non-WTFGTFOeww) I can find for it to experience.  That inexorably led me to finding Pixel Rift – an absolute delight of an indie project by the immensely talented Ana Ribeiro and her team.  The game is still very much in early development, but the premise is not only clever and original, but also hugely appeals to the RetroGaming fan that I am too.  It also contributes to Donna’s and my own love of indie Kickstarter projects 🙂

The game is played from a first-person view, from the perspective of Nicola, a gamer who’s a huge fan of the fictional game “Pixel Rift”.  What follows is a progression for both Nicola and the “game within a game” as she gets older, and the game “upgrades” through generational hardware changes… e.g. Atari console, to Gameboy, to SNES, and beyond.  The clever framing mechanism for this is the virtual representation of the environment, and Nicola’s “growing up”

MY SHOES ARE AWESOME.

MY SHOES ARE AWESOME.

In the alpha demo, the menu screen sees you as a baby toddler, sat on the floor, with an old telly looming in front of you in an appropriately “giant” living-room.  There’s an advert in creaky old 70’s style on the tv for Pixel Rift – watch it long enough and you get a pseudo-augmented-reality explosion of colour from it, delighting both you, and your virtual infant representation.  In front of you are the various consoles, delineated by year, with their representation of the virtual Pixel Rift game.  In the demo, you can only play the 1989 “Gamegirl” version, the others are “locked out”.

Selecting the Gameboy…  er, Gamegirl, you find yourself in a primary-school classroom, sat at a desk covered in paraphernalia relating to Nicola’s Pixel Rift obsession.  Your classmates surround you, fooling around, whispering at you and each other.  At the front, next to the blackboard, your very hoary strict school teacher/school mistress (a la “Misty” comic, those of you old enough to know what I’m talking about) talks at the class in a very thick Northern accent, dryly talking about the subject (Biology, I think!) and –depending on you, and the class’s behaviour – either turning her back to write on the blackboard, or shouting/being exasperated at you and the other children.  With her back turned, you can look down to sneak your Gameboy out from under the desk, using the gamepad to control the virtual game, within the game.

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Pixel Rift for the “Gameboy” – is a mono platform game, the objective being to get to the end and fight the end-of-level boss.  Play is interrupted by having to drop the Gameboy back under the desk when the teacher turns around, or risk her wrath.  However – there is MUCH more to explore beyond playing the game-within-a-game.  You’re also armed with a paper spitball launcher, which you can use to torment classmates, the teacher, or somewhat more modestly fire into the bin in the corner – the results of which are somewhat fantastical, but hilarious.

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Get to the end-of-level-boss on the Gameboy, however, and you are treated to an explosion of virtual augmented reality, as the boss and your player avatar leap out of the confines of the game, out in front of you, as the reality of the classroom fade into the background.  Its gorgeous as the characters appear as their 2D chunky pixelized selves, but huge, capering and clambering about in front of you and over your books and desk, whilst the 3D world of the classroom still resides hazily in the background.  Defeating the boss requires a blend of the 2D play mechanics, and the “real” world.

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The potential for this game is HUGE, and I *love* its quirky fun little nature.  The promise of going through different ages and years, Nicola growing up, the games becoming more advanced just really appeals to me.  I really like the pseudo-personal nature of the premise, but also how it appeals to my nostalgia.  However… I don’t know how much the game will appeal when played in a purely 2D non-VR realm , and VR is the only way to play it at the moment.  Suffice to say it is very much a niche product at present.  I think there might be an audience for Ana’s game were she to make it 2D compatible too, but the game most definitely achieves the wow-factor when played with an Oculus Rift.

Oi! Swot! Whats the answer to number 7?

Oi! Swot! Whats the answer to number 7?

It’s got some glitches, some oddities, and some of the animation is buggy, or at least unfinished – but for a prototype game for a prototype device, it’s immensely entertaining, and has a lot of potential.  It might be a bit of a British gamer thing in particular, but I’d love to see posters and assorted other paraphernalia of the eras shown in the various scenes, e.g. movie posters, “Look-in!” pinups, etc.  From the screen shots on their page, it seems that there might be some other expanded stuff beyond the classroom/living room environments, so maybe we’ll see that kind of stuff later.

With a relatively small audience available for VR projects at the moment, I hope it is successful in its bid for Steam Green Lighting, or if they decide to kickstart it, though again I think they could help themselves a bit by making a non-VR play option too, it would certainly appeal to the RetroGamers out there.

It’s got my vote, thats for sure 🙂

 


Elite: Dangerous (p)Review

Astronaut Pianist, Obvs.

Astronaut Pianist, Obvs.

Scottish Highlands. Christmas.  1984.

Bemused parents indulge a child in her somewhat atypical (or so was believed for the time) interest in both Outer-Space and “Computer Games” – a fairly natural progression from the previous year’s SuperGirl costume request.  For a computer game of the time it seemed to be absurdly expensive  – £12.99.  Previous parental protestations of “but you’ve enough games!”  – surely an impossibility when the family computer is a BBC Micro (Dad had aspirations of poshness) – are put aside, and there was always the hope that at least one of the children might become a “Computer Expert” in the future, and allow aforementioned parents to retire early.

Hopes, alas, STILL not fulfilled!

 

Even the box was impressive.

The game was “Elite” – now of course so well known (or not?) as the defining sandbox game (in SPACE!)

I must admit to not being very good at the game – I don’t think I ever really made it much past “Mostly Harmless” – the game’s stat tracker for your spaceship killing prowess, “Elite” being the pinnacle.  But being 10 years old, I had a blast trying to dock my spaceship, and jumping onto my escape-pod (bed) when I thought I was about to fail.  Nevertheless, I knew a good game when I saw one, and enjoyed much play with it before a rogue coffee killed the computer.  It would be replaced by a C64, and arcade games.

However, a soft spot was kept for Elite, and I would look in on the various ports as I got older and watched 16-bit come and go, space games go Epic (Wing Commander) and then die a near total death but for wee stalwart indie coders.   Then David Braben came along with a Kickstarter, and promise of a 21st Century relaunch of Elite with ALL THE GRAPHICS, and lo, my long dormant space-heart gave a flutter.

 

Here then, is my preview of Elite: Dangerous (Beta V1):

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As I write this, the next release of the beta is due for release, and promises much more content and an increase from 50 or so systems to explore/trade in/fight in/get lost in to a somewhat more sizeable 500 odd.  We’re now approaching a decent sized gameworld to explore, but still only the merest fraction of what will be available at final release (due this year) – a procedurally generated 400 billion.

However, I’ve got ahead of myself – let me explain what Elite: Dangerous is, should you not be familiar with this great-grandparent of the open world sandbox game genre.

Elite is a first-person sci-fi space-based pseudo-GTA.  That little soundbite is misleading, but mostly accurate aside from the car-jacking, violence, and “of the moment” bangin’ soundtrack.  By first-person, I mean that the game world is viewed from your – as yet non-customizable aside from gender –  in-game avatar’s viewpoint, exclusively from the cockpit seat of your spaceship.  Planned post-release DLC will have you wandering about your ship and space-stations, but for now you are a somewhat alarmingly headless body sat in a seat, and invisible to other players.

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At the start of the game, You – The Plucky Player – are a spacefaring person, gifted with a basic starship of modest capabilities.  By modest I mean that it has 4 tonnes cargo capacity, 2 gun mounts, and a couple of spare utility mounts.  These are used for some purchasable (using earned in-game credits) additional upgrades.  For example – a “Heat Sink” a deployable dump of your ship’s waste heat produce, used both as a decoy, and a way to vastly reduce your visible radar signature – which when used in conjunction with “silent running” mode, essentially making you temporarily invisible, complete with neat slow frosting of your canopy glass.

Later upgrades include missiles, beam weapons, and Battlestar Galactica-style projectile cannons, but also non-combat upgrades like a docking-computer.

Docking computer you say?  Yes, one of Elite’s notorious legacies is the fact that when docking your ship with the giant space-stations which in order to generate gravity… rotate.  You have to navigate your suddenly giant-feeling spacecraft through the most apparently narrowest of letterboxes to enter the safety of the station’s landing pads.  It’s deceptive in that the entrances are actually pretty large, but you get the distinct feeling of little headroom until you get a feel for your ship’s physical dimensions – no exterior views yet.

We're going to need a bigger door.

We’re going to need a bigger door.

Back in the original 8 and 16-bit incarnations of the game this was especially difficult as there were few analogue control surfaces to use.  For my part I used to point at the entrance, put the engines on minimum, and hope for the best – inevitably jumping in to my aforementioned escape pod (bed) when things went disastrously wrong.  (You could actually buy an escape pod, but I never made that much money!)  Today, things are different, we all have mice, gamepads, and even Flight-sticks that allow much more precise control of rotation and whatnot.

Old School.

Crashin’ it. Old School.

Speaking of rotation – the flight model is a curious one, in that it’s a blend of super-fun-sci-fi Star Wars type jet-fighter style, with bonus Physics™ – but with the option to switch off (and on, at a whim) “Flight Assist” – which basically makes the control system entirely “Newtonian Physics” – requiring you to apply reverse thrust to bring your craft to a halt, and apply inverse directional thrusters to counteract the proportional amount of…  look, just watch 2001: A space odyssey, or GRAVITY, then you’ll know what I’m talking about 😉  I find it horribly complicated to fly the ship with Flight-Assist off, others love it (mostly those who grew up with Elite’s 16-bit sequels: Frontier and First Encounters) – but it does have its uses.  Fancy pulling off Babylon 5 and BSG style flip-around whilst still moving in the same direction, allowing you to fire at a chasing attacker whilst still moving away from them?  Flight assist off… just remember to correct your spin with your thrusters!

I say! Did you just cut me up?

I say! Did you just cut me up?

So, what’s the plot?  There isn’t one, at least not yet anyway.  You’re basically plonked into your ship with no direction.  At the beginning, the point is pretty much to Make Money.  Money = ship upgrades.  More Money= better ships.  That’s largely it for the moment, in the beta anyway.  In the beta money is earned from various activities, more of which will be available as the game develops.  For now, here’s a few examples:

Trading products between planetary systems – a full commerce system is in place in the game, fluid and dynamic.  One system might have high demand for farming equipment, and pay a high price to buy from anyone able to transport them in.  The player might find a system whereby Farming equipment is cheap-as-chips, buy as many as they can afford and their ship’s cargo-bay hold, travel to the high-demand system, and make considerable profit.  Whilst there, they might find something sold there that is in low-demand, ergo cheap, which they can sell back at another system for a higher-price.  Trading like this can be slow-work, but it’s a good safe way to make money.  There’s also the possibility of buying something legal in one system, but illegal in another, sold to the black market at considerable profit.  That runs the risk however of the Space-Cops scanning your ship for contraband, and a: fining you or b: not asking questions and just blowing you away.

Bounty Hunter is another money-making method, though is obviously quite a bit more dangerous than being a Space-Trucker.  Check the local station bulletin boards for jobs, then head off to look for The Mark(s) – earning cash for their destruction.  There’s also considerably less legal assassination jobs to be had, though these can render you a wanted renegade in certain regions of space.  You can also fly out to some notable pilot hangouts – e.g. “Resource Gathering Sites” – where player’s go to mine for minerals etc – spot someone with a “Wanted” tag?  Take them out, earn some bucks.

Mining – take an appropriately configured vessel to mine materials from asteroids in the aforementioned Resource areas.  Watch out for thieves and bandits tho.

Courier missions – similar to trading, but often you’ll be given cargo directly to deliver to some other location.  The fee paid will be affected by how far it has to go, and whether or not you might have to avoid any “Imperial entanglements” to deal with… or Federation, for that matter.  The Imps and the Feds are the two primary factions in our Sci-Fi world here.

'Sup guys? Whatchadooin?

‘Sup guys? Whatchadooin?

So – already there’s a fair bit to do, much more is planned closer to and post-release, including World Events.  There’s already been a couple of these with a civil war breaking out between two systems, precipitated by nefarious underhand guerilla warfare missions offered to the player, and pleas for certain items of produce to be smuggled in and out.

Now here’s the interesting bit with this new generation of Elite as a game.  It’s multiplayer.  Also, it’s optionally singleplayer… but with the repercussions of the events in the multiplayer.  How so?

Well, you can choose to play the game in full multiplayer – Open Play – out there with all the other players.  That means all the usual caveats..  Trolls, Griefers, heroic saviours, co-op wingpersons, trading buddies, Clumsy docking, rage-quits et all.

Or…. You can play solo in an NPC-AI populated universe, but with the same world-state (politically and economically) as the multiplayer, but without the human player element.  This is actually a great idea,  and especially useful at the start of play when you’re getting to grips with the game mechanics and trying to earn a bit of money to get going.  Penalties are the same as multiplayer, however – you earn enough cash to buy that big new fancy Lakon-9 hauler freighter, but accidentally push the booster button and crash headlong in to the side of a station…  you lose the ship, and any cargo aboard and have to restart over with any remaining cash with the default freebie ship… unless you had enough spare cash left over to cover the insurance cost of the replacement ship!

You can also currently bounce between solo and open-play multiplayer modes, which could be perceived to be a bit of a cheat.  Build up to awesomeness in solo, pwn in multiplayer.  Except you wouldn’t be alone in doing that.  Stuff gets too heavy in multi? Back off in to solo.

For now, however, multiplayer in terms of co-operative player interaction is still very much in its infancy.  The developers recently added inter-player text and voice comms, but it still needs a bit of work, as well as willing players.  Getting together with one or more friends though seems like a really exciting way to plunder the depths and wealth of the game, especially as the content increases in the run-up to release with options like actual recognized deep-space exploration being a career!  Of course there will be “EVE-online” faction wars and such like, which could have huge potential for multiplayer… but you might be an everyman/everywoman who just wants to get on and stay out of the war.

Planned DLC for the game post-release includes adding features like player avatar movement within your own ship and stations,  planetary surfaces (including obviously landing on said surfaces with your ship), multiplayer crewing of your vessel, and more.  That complete set of features would be beyond even the imagination of my 7 year old would-be astronaut self  – and I used my imagination A LOT to greatly expand what was on screen with those black and white vectors, I really can’t wait.

Ultra-detailed interiors already.

Ultra-detailed interiors already.

However, it’s not all joy and happiness.  You’ll either love or loathe the control systems.  It will very much depend on what you decide to use.  Elite is definitely targeted in the main towards using a flight stick/throttle controller.  After that there’s options for gamepads, and good old mouse+keyboard.   I’ve tried mouse control.  It didn’t end well.  Or start well, for that matter.  Yet others thrive using it.

The Head-up-Display (HUD) in-game can cause consternation.  Its meant to be a holographic display whereby you turn to look at the relevant area for it to appear, using your controller to select options therein.  I found this quite cumbersome until you’ve customized your controller of choice to quick-switch between the three primary menus.

And…..  multiplayer.   Like anywhere else, players can and will piss you off.  Not all the mechanics for literal policing of player behaviour is in place.  E.g. you’ll enter a system with police patrols, but they won’t always help you in time if you’re attacked by another player or NPC.  But hey, maybe that’s realistic!

Also… It’s a beta at the moment, so it *will* crash, sooner or later, and stuff will be buggy, or act strange.  I’ve been in my ship, happily parked on a landing pad only to have the station literally disappear out from under me, like Babylon 4 😉  But there’s also stuff that happens where you think… hmmm.. that’s cool.. I might be able to use that… like bringing yourself out of “Supercruise” too close to your destination only to find yourself INSIDE the station.. with only a few seconds before the intruder alarm goes off, and the cops blast you into oblivion.

Wonder if that's LV-426?

Wonder if that’s LV-426?

Speaking of “Supercruise” – some of the game mechanics might cause consternation too.  Hyperspace is the method used to travel vast distances between systems, fuel allowing.  Once arrived, you are stopped in the system by the largest planetary body, still very far away from your actual desired destination – usually a space station.  So, to speed up the travel to your “Final Destination” your ship has a mode called “Supercruise” a sort of very high speed but not quite hyperspace mode, where you designate your target destination from your HUD, and engage the drive.  What you then have is a manually controlled acceleration and steering to your  target requiring you to slow down as you close distance, disengaging the drive at a point of your choosing.  Where this can frustrate is that it’s very easy to get impatient and over accelerate, causing you to be unable to slow down in time,  therefore overshooting the target, meaning you have to pull a big turn to bring you back around, hopefully slowing down this time.  A lot people are NOT happy about supercruise, they want some form of autopilot.  I think this comes from the pseudo-MMO nature of the game.  In many other MMO’s there’s auto-run options that mean you can effectively distract yourself with something else whilst still keeping one eye on the game.  Not so in Elite.  Look away at your peril.  I suspect, however, that the Devs may make a purchasable auto-cruise system, as it could actually add to the immersion.  Think Star Wars and the Millennium Falcon crew dossing about in the lounge, but getting a warning to tell them that they’re approaching destination/under attack/out of hydrospanners.

So much is forgivable however, whilst the game is in Beta.  It’s certainly nearly cooked, but it is most definitely still in the oven.  Visually it’s a treat, and pretty scalable in terms of performance.  Aurally it’s an absolute stunner.  The sound design is utterly amazing, hugely putting you “in the picture” – the music is a bit generic Space-Opera at the moment, but hopefully will improve… or you can do what I do… put on an ambient/spacemusic radio stream!

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You have to pay a bit of a premium to get on board this currently PC-only spaceparty at the moment.  £50 at present, final release will be £35 for the game and then more for the proposed DLC.   I hope that we can have a few more women to play the game, as Space feels very much a bro-verse so far, and I hope to have a full gender spectrum conglomerate to fly with post-release.  As release gets nearer though, I can already feel The Shape of Things To Come in the imagined vibration of the ship’s hull, and my inner 10-year old astronaut self is getting very excited indeed about her childhood dreams becoming virtually realized! 🙂  Speaking of which…

 

 

Addendum:  VR – THE GAME CHANGER

Space.  It's big.

Space. It’s big.

Elite: Dangerous as it stands is a hugely promising sci-fi space game, built on a prominent legacy, and coming at a time where the combined genres of Spaceship and Flight-Sim games are enjoying a bit of a renaissance.  Elite is certainly a hugely enjoyable game already, promising much more at release.  However, everything changes when the game is experienced via a Virtual Reality Head-Mounted Display.  I’m lucky enough to have obtained an Oculus Rift Development Kit 2, and I knew that Elite had been given optional configuration for play on these devices.  It’s a bit clunky, a bit buggy, and plays sheer hell with even high-spec gaming PCs…. But…  never before have I *ever* experienced anything like it.  It is a completely different experience playing the game in VR.  Background starfields and planets are no longer just background.  They are there.  Right there, outside your suddenly very real feeling ship’s canopy.  The canopy complete with the handles you feel you must be able to reach out and touch.  The glass of the canopy feels like it’s mere inches away from your head, and whilst the planet beyond the canopy is probably millions of miles away.. it is most definitely OUTSIDE your canopy, millions of miles away and huge.  Huge beyond your normal comprehension of the definition of the term.

"They should've sent a poet..."

“They should’ve sent a poet…”

This is because everything is rendered to scale in the VR incarnation of Elite.  I look down and see arms, and hands gripping controls just like mine.  I’m completely bamboozled when I raise a hand to scratch my nose… but my virtual hands remain in place.  I’ve emerged from a space-station in my ship innumerable times playing on the monitor to the same scene.. only to come to a dead halt in the same location when playing in VR, agog at the awe-inspiring majesty of the apparent infinity of space, and the sight of a sun emerging behind a Saturn-like planetary body surrounded by a ring of debris.  In combat, rather than wrestling with mouselook controls to try and get a bead on a ship I’m pursuing, I merely follow its progress with my head and eyes, craning over my shoulder as I bring the ship into a steep turn to follow it, my head turning as I bring the enemy back towards the front of my ship as I open fire to finish it, then ducking instinctively as a piece of the ship debris bounces off the top of my canopy.

And those HUD nuisances I mentioned earlier?  Rendered moot when you simply look to your left or right to activate them!

This time around, I think VR is going to be huge, and I think it will be accessible, especially if Sony can bring their “Project Morpheus” VR headset to fruition for PS4 players, where hopefully players will be able to join in the Elite: Dangerous world (as project leader David Braben has hinted as an option) –but also most especially as the Oculus Rift matures for PC owners.  Like Morpheus said about “The Matrix”… “no one can be told what (VR) is, you have to see it.”

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Where’s my coffee mug?

 


So… I have an Oculus Rift.

dk2-product

That is to say, an Oculus Rift Development Kit 2.  Which is a Virtual Reality HMD (Head Mounted Display) – as opposed to some kind of smelly ailment cultivating product, which is what it sounds a bit like from the name.

Sony have also announced a similar solution for the PS4 available in the near future (albeit with some SERIOUSLY problematic demos)

The OcRift has been on the go for just over year, from a successful kickstarter campaign, through to a first prototype, a massive investment by some big name firms (including most (in)famously Facebook) and now a 2nd prototype (DK2) which is pretty close, I imagine, to the final product, despite protestations of still insufficient screen resolution (1920×1080, but with the horizontal split in two, 960 pixels per eye) – but given the sheer amount of horsepower to meet the idealized 75hz 1080p display, I doubt we’ll see a practical 1440p or 4K offering anytime soon.

I will be reporting on using the DK2 over the coming weeks, including re-jigging my near complete preview of Elite: Dangerous, for which EVERYTHING HAS CHANGED :O

Additionally, with any luck, I might be able comment on my own tentative haphazard steps into developing VR projects for the device.

Stay tuned…

More this:

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Less this:

woman-wearing-visor-in-virtual-reality

 

I’ll leave you with the ever energetic JackSepticEye to give you an idea what we’re talking about here…

 

 


I Might Have A Kickstarter Habit – Backing Sunset

Anyone who listened to my interview yesterday will now know that I adore story. A game with a good story will make me squee with utter delight. I’m sure no one will be surprised by this news or any news related to me being a book addict. I love me a good story, a fun story, an interesting story. When it came across one of my games news feed that there was a Kickstarter for a game that has neither puzzles or combat and is nothing but pure story; you know I nearly made an audible squeek of joy.

The Kickstarter is for an Indie game called Sunset and is made by the Tale of Tales studio. I’ve never played any of their other games, but after watching their kickstarter vid I knew I had to back this. I’d embed their video here, but Kickstarter demands iframes, but iframes are shite.

I can’t do justice to this wonderful idea, so I’ll just paste a little synopsis from their Kickstarter page.

Sunset is a narrative-driven first-person videogame that takes place in a single apartment in a fictional South American city in the early 1970s. You play a housekeeper called Angela Burnes. Every week, an hour before sunset, you visit the swanky bachelor pad of Gabriel Ortega. You are given a number of tasks to do, but the temptation to go through his stuff is irresistible. As you get to know your mysterious employer better, you are sucked into a rebellious plot against a notorious dictator Generalísimo Ricardo Miraflores.

 

If that doesn’t sound intriguing to you, well fine. I am very stoked for this idea. They have reached their goal, but there is still 27 days remaining and they said they’d do stretch goals. Also, more money means more awesome.

I think I have a Kickstarter indie game backing habit. This isn’t the first one.

~Donna


All I Need Is A Little Transistor

Every now and then a indie game dev will come a long and put out a game that immediately draws my eyes to it. SuperGiant Games has done just that with their recent release. Transistor is such a beauty to behold that when I watched the trailer for it I just didn’t care how it played; I needed to see more of it. This is a game that has some wonderful graphics. It’s like you’re interacting with a painting.

Have a look at this little video I did to show this very thing off. It started raining and things got a little fuzzy like rain drops on a windscreen.

 

So the story has a very Noir crime detective feel to it. Like 1930s type old school detective noir books. Bad guys and bad things went down in the place you’re singing at. Your character Red doesn’t speak. Her voice was stolen by the bad guys when they invaded the place, but your sword does talk. The sword is holding the “soul” of a man who appears to be your greatest admirer. The narration has this third person feel since Red doesn’t speak. If you play this on the PS4, go into the settings and turn on the controller speaker. All of the narration then comes out at your hands like you’re holding the sword. It does so much to the immersion.

 

 

The gameplay isn’t anything new, hit bad things with your big sword called Transistor. Now you can just hit things with the abilities your garner and combine or you can go into a screen freeze and chain moves. When you come out of the freeze the moves action as you planned them. This is especially useful when fighting bigger bad guys.  As you go through the game and the city, called Cloudbank, you gather other “souls” which give you abilities. These abilities can then be used as is, combined with other abilities to make something new, or they can be boosted with skills you earn. This makes for a lot of options when you’re playing and something isn’t working.

 

 

I have really enjoyed this game. It has some wonderful ideas about combat options, but above all that it is so amazing to look at. The artists at SuperGiant Games should be commended for the wonderful visuals they have provided. It’s indie developers like them that take something so simple and they give you something so interesting in return. I would put this game up on the same shelf as Flower and Journey. It is a game I recommend everyone play.

~Donna


Coming Back to Raid Tombs and Kick Ass (Tomb Raider)

TR-logo-final

Like so many franchises, Tomb Raider has gotten a reboot. I went into this high hopes for the story since it was written by Rhianna Pratchett. While I will never forgive her for Mirror’s Edge, she did write the Overlord games which were wonderful fun.

I was not disappointed.

Rhianna gave us a believable beginning to an iconic gaming woman. A story that builds on the genius that is a young Lara that isn’t so self assured. From the beginning we are presented with someone who is not only smart but also insecure. She knows she’s right, but she doesn’t have the years of experience behind her to be the confident Lara we’re all used to seeing. I like this a lot. It shows a humble, if smart, beginnings of the confident woman. As we travel through to very well crafted story, she becomes more sure of herself. By the half-way point we’re seeing that familiar Lara and by the end you know she’s gotten a taste for something that she’ll never turn away from again.

I will say one thing about the whole “threat of rape” thing that was spinning a few months back. Yes she is threatened in this way, but she’s threatened with horrible-ness through the whole game, including murder. So yea, she is threatened, but it’s nothing to write home about.

TR Bow

Gameplay is what you would expect. Plenty of running and shooting and climbing ever surface in sight. The controls are all very easy to use straight out of the box. There are some quicktime events, but they’re unobtrusive and not a pain in the ass to do. I’m notoriously terrible at aiming shots in games like this but he aim assist saved me. So even if you’re rubbish at aiming, like me, don’t worry. I used the fucking hell out of the bow & arrow too. That thing was so awesome to use as an alternative to guns. One of my only complaints is that here really just wasn’t the amount of puzzles that I’ve come to expect from a Tomb Raider game. There are puzzles that are integral to the game, but it just felt a little lacking for me. You could tell what your upcoming tools would be simply by having a look around at what you couldn’t climb. Sure it was a little predictable, but I can forgive it this one thing.

I really liked the music and sounds of the game. They conveyed mood and drama very well. I didn’t find annoying, repetitive or boring. There’s not a lot I can say about the music than that.

TR Behind Scene

Visually the game is stunning. You have this deserted island full of mystery and wonder surrounded by this impossible storm. The world around you is rendered in a very believable way and really has been thought out and deigned nicely. It felt like a lost island filled with a mythical ancient story just waiting to be discovered. Also, video games have had hair issues for a long long time, but this has made some great improvements. On the PC version you get to use the TressFX engine which is a special engine for just rendering the hair. Just wish it had been in the console versions too.

Ya know  really did like he prequel a lot. My only gripes are the lack of more complex puzzles and it really felt kinda short. Even with doing a lot of exploring and completing about 90% of the game extras outside the main storyline; I only got about 16 hour of play from it. I know that’s pretty much normal these days, it still feels like it’s too short. This isn’t uncommon for me though, I don’t want the goodness to end.

Go get the game. It’s definitely worth it


Heart of Darkness – Spec Ops: The Line (PS3 / 360 / PC)

Normally, I steer clear of shooters. I’ve never been that great at them and I find the storylines to be more about making the military seem like an amazing occupation, rather than showing people the horrors of war and the devastation it can cause. So, when I started hearing reviews of Spec Ops : The Line and its different approach to the modern military shooter, I decided “what the hell” and picked up a copy myself.

Made by Yager Development and Published by 2K Games; Spec ops : The Line is set in Dubai 6 months after a cataclysmic sandstorm has destroyed the city. You play as Martin Walker, the  Captain  of the Delta Squad, which is comprised of Walker and his two partners Lieutenant Alphanso Adams and Sergeant John Lugo. Their squad is sent out to Dubai on reconnaissance in order to confirm the status of Colonel John Konrad, commander of the 33rd Battalion of the US Army, and any survivors, then radio for extraction. But as they make their way through the ruins of the city they discover that the 33rd Battalion has gone rogue and is committing increasingly harsh and brutal crimes against the civilian population with the stated intent of maintaining order.

The gameplay is very similar to most modern shooters, get to cover and shoot. Your squadmates each have their own unique skill; Lugo will snipe any  enemy you point at, whereas Adams will throw grenades, which can be helpful sometimes, but most of the time it’s easier to shoot them yourself as the AI has got fairly bad aim. There’s also a sand mechanic which, whilst interesting, is rarely needed. Some enemies will be taking cover near or under windows, shoot the glass and sand will fall on top of them and clearing the path for you. You can only carry one gun at a time, picking up new ones from enemy soldiers. Also, ammo is scarce, leaving the player to make every bullet count. The moral choice system is very clever, giving players the option to deviate from the standard good vs bad dialogue options and make their own choice. The aesthetics are well done as well. Despite being set in a war zone, some of the scenery is stunning and paired with the use of both an original score and licensed music sets the tone perfectly.



There’s also a multiplayer mode made by Darkside Game Studios. It is set before Walker and his squad were sent to Dubai during the initial war between ” The Exiles” and “The Damned” 33rd infantry . There are several different maps and competitive game types, as well as community leaderboard’s and challenges. There is also a class system  with four standard classes and a class that’s specific to the faction you pick : Officer , Sniper , Gunner, Medic  and Scavenger for the Damned or Breacher for the Exiles.




Overall  I found that Spec Ops : The Line to be a very interesting game. Unlike a lot of shooters that make you feel like a hero for gunning down wave after wave of enemies, the game will make you think about your actions and what you could’ve done to avoid killing that enemy or how you handled that situation. In the end  Spec ops was a pleasant surprise, full of interesting plot twists and a storyline that portrays Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and  dissociative disorders very well. I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys their shooters, but would like to see them evolve beyond the stagnant state they’re currently stuck  in.


Guild Wars 2

What follows is a little background on my MMO playing experiences, you can skip direct to the Guild Wars 2 review below if you want 😀

Early in 2005 I remember seeing a game being covered a lot in the gaming magazine press of the time, how it was going to be a multiplayer game of unprecedented scale, giving rebirth to a term that had been used before, but by comparison most assuredly inappropriately until this game’s release; MMORPG.  Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game.  The game – ofcourse – was World of Warcraft.  Now, the game itself and coverage thereof had not been enough to twitch the interest-o-meter for me by much, as whilst I like the fantasy genre, I was not au-fait with the Warcraft universe, so I felt no immediate compulsion to investigate further.  However, a friend had already been playing it for quite a while, and offered a 10-day free trial.. so I gave it a go.

This first foray into the (the fortunately now abbreviated) MMO genre proved to be of mixed value.  Certainly at the time WoW was gorgeous to behold.. and so startlingly BIG. The players at this time were mostly the typically serious RPG types, which made for a very atmospheric experience, but.. it really wasn’t grabbing me that much.

WoW nostalgia

I felt I needed to join a guild, or better yet my have my gaming friends get on board too, and a couple of them did so (like some sort of tri-pledge.. we shall three buy this game *cackle*) and lo, we began playing proper.   Well, suffice to say that the fun really began then, as the three of us played our way through the game solidly for 3-4 months – or I did anyway, my compatriots would continue to play on and off for many years beyond – and it was great.  Working together, we ploughed our way through the first 30 levels or so, enjoying the exploration, discovery, and unlocking of various treats.  However,  my available time to play the game was considerably less than my friends, and I soon fell behind their inexorable levelling-up, though even this didn’t diminish my enjoyment;  but my interest did begin to wane, and the £6 per month subscription fee was feeling unjustified and I eventually retired from play.  I would return to WoW twice more between then and now, the most recent attempt proved to be quite depressing as the game had changed quite drastically due to spammers, and seemingly illiterate, disinterested brats flocking to its now free-to-play early levels.

Over the course of the intervening years I would try to recapture that exciting feeling of collaborative exploration and story with several would-be WoW usurpers.  Lord of the Rings Online, Star Trek Online, Dungeons & Dragons Online, and more than a few Korean sourced free-to-play games. Early on in the investigations, Guild Wars emerged.  It was at the time unique since it operated on a subscription-fee free system.  You bought the game, you played the game.  Sounded like a no-brainer, and I even got the chance to borrow a friend’s copy of the game and try it.  It certainly looked lovely, with a less cartoony look than WoW graphically, but a less fluid feeling of movement.  Being unable to leave a path because of obstructive grass(!) was a bit of an immersion breaker, so after only a bit of levelling.. I abandoned it.

Much later the first real WoW challenger came along as far as I was concerned; Age of Conan.  I really enjoyed my time spent playing it, it looked SOOO nice, and that makes all the difference in terms of wanting to explore a fantasy landscape.  However there were some problems, one of the game’s making, the other more of my own.  First, the game relied heavily on instancing (essentially a zoning-off of various sections of the map to minimize both server and end-user hardware taxing) with multiple instances per zone, which could have the very odd effect of you and your friends occupying the same zone at the same spot… but not seeing each other because you were in different instances.  The other problem was simply that my WoW-cronies weren’t really enamoured with the game, so I didn’t have the camaraderie that I had enjoyed previously, but also somewhat crucially I was no longer a bachelorette, no longer gleefully playing games until 4am – work be damned! – no longer having nor desiring the time to become involved with an MMO so much again, and so…

I abandoned it.

So.  That monstrous pre-amble brings me to Guild Wars 2.

“Aren’t you a little short for a… er.. Necromancer?”

I was fairly put off MMO’s by now (a dalliance with a beta of “The Secret World” recently seemed to cement this opinion), but I was keeping a hopeful optimistic eye on GW2’s development.  It looked beautiful, it was going to retain the no-subscription-fee model – though that is less noteworthy in this day and age of F2P – and it was making a real pitch at offering something familiar, yet different.

I had been drumming up interest with two of my friends – one was the former WoW alumni, the other a WoW-despiser, but fan of Dungeons & Dragons Online, and toe-dipper of Star Trek:Online.. and lo, once again I had a triumvirate of new-game pioneers.  Launch Day MMO play is… an Interesting Time.  You either can’t get on in the first place, or you get on and suffer lag, bugs, and all sorts of quirks, not to mention the sheer bedlam of having a massive number of new players all starting in the various start zones all at the same time!

The map of Tyria – World of Guild Wars – WoGW, if you will…

At the time of writing this tome, it has been 11 days since we installed the game.  I will describe that period in succinct style, using the world-famous “Facial Expression Mood Modifier Encapsulation System – FEMMES, a homage to the classic 8-bit game review magazine Zzap! 64)

Days 1-3: Installation, updating, and initial impressions:

Longest install ever. 2 disks, followed by a 2.2gb update = “Bored, thinking about stuff I could be doing, should go off to make coffee” face.

Slightly frowny face: Limited body-shape customization options for player avatars.

More frowny face: A Couple of the default female player character outfits:

FEMALE FANTASY ARMOUR CLICHE

Ha! My mighty… armour… will save me from your deadly attacks…?

Positive face at standard intuitive MMO (read: WoW) interface and controls.

Slightly disappointed sadface at graphics on highest settings.

Nonplussed, concentrating face at interchangeable weapon/powers interface and use.

So many things… *icons spin to the music of “Vertigo”*

Days 4-7: Settling in.

Zoned-out, nobody home face regarding crafting/skills (by contrast my former DDO chum loves it)

Pondering hopeful face: Create another character of different race and class.

Confused face caused by hearing what I know to be Jennifer “Commander Shepard” Hale’s voice, but not recognizing it in the slightest.  That must be ACTING! 😀

Bored-face.  Not enough collaboration or teaming with friends… feels like the most Minimally Multiplayer Online Game ever. Lots of people doing things, often the same things as you, but separately.

Days 8-11: Do I really like the game, or is it just not working for me?

New character, new class: Raised-hopeful-eyebrow face, this seems to be better!

Smiley face: New class is much more my thing,  and my friends and I are working together again, much more cohesively.

My Bro’s and I, looking Awesome.

RAWR-face! This is great!

There you go.  11 days in, and I’m really enjoying it, and for a multitude of reasons:

1: So far I’ve discovered I only like one (of eight possible) player classes, the other two I tried felt tedious in the extreme to me – when you find the shoe that fits.. its all good.

2: Once you understand the game’s mechanics – which are similar enough yet different to WoW’s to leave you slightly on an off-footing – you can get together with your friends to explore and progress through the game and its landscape very enjoyably.

3: Friends not around? Progress the character class specific single-player storyline which also gains you experience and levels you up, there seems to be less obvious “grinding” in GW2 – its still there, but not as blatant or boring as “kill 20 rats/goblins/thingmabobs” – there are usually multiple ways to complete a given quest.

4: No subscription-fee means no “must get my money’s worth” requirement to play… your friends may level ahead of you (mine are already 10-20 levels ahead of me) but this is less of an annoyance because of the game’s “level playing field” system, which reduces a high player level to the maximum for the area they’re in at the time, though admittedly this is at the expense of the fun-factor of returning to a low-level area when you are a high-level swaggering Goddess, gleefully swatting formerly troublesome wretches that get in your way.  Let them eat cake… and noobs.

5: Combat!  Its fun!  Its a good mix of WoW’s style of gained powers/skills assigned to hotkeys (usually the number keys and clickable on-screen icons) but also featuring Age of Conan style evasive maneuvering.  If you don’t move, you’ll soon be clobbered by higher-level beasties.

Have at you, foul Murloc-impersonator!

6: Quests! They’re.. a bit different.  By which I mean how they’re implemented.  WoW is famous for its bright yellow “!” over quest givers.  GW2 operates something similar yet different.  First, they’re heart icons.  Empty outlines for incomplete quests, solid for complete.  What makes them different is the fact that you don’t have to approach and “talk” to the quest givers in order to participate…  merely being in the zone where the quest is relevant is enough to have you participate.  Want to help that other player fighting the mob?  Do so.  Your contribution helps them without compromising how much XP they gain, as well as gaining you the XP and adding to the fulfilment of the given quest in the zone you happen to be standing, regardless of whether or not you are interested in participating!  Initially I found this to be a little odd, and distancing from the “story” – but it actually works really well.

Better yet are the dynamic events that occur randomly but regularly throughout the different regions.  For example:

You’re ambling around a locale when an “event nearby” notification appears.  It could be that bands of marauding centaurs are assaulting an outpost nearby.  You can involve yourself to help fight them off, gaining generous XP subject to how much you actually contribute to the battle.  Merely being in the place where the event is happening if it’s completed will still gain you XP nonetheless!  Where it gets clever is if players fail to fight off the marauders, and the outpost then becomes *their* outpost!

Me. Ambling. Yesterday.

Things I still don’t like:

1: Instancing. Yes, the game has instanced zones.  Not Age of Conan style, but not quite WoW style either.  Its still a bit of an immersion breaker to have to “portal” between areas beside each other on the map.  Something WoW did that was just so fabulous was the ability to pick a direction to walk in, and just walk.  Loading was seamless aside from specific crossing areas (e.g. by boat) – alas, not so in GW2, but the areas are still pretty large, and with multiple exits/entrances.

2: Graphics. I admit to being a little disappointed with GW2’s looks.  We’ve been seeing lovely videos promising beautiful, atmospheric locales and the like over the last few years, but the actual in-game graphics are a mix of lush, pretty design… on slightly angular polygonal landscapes, with not a huge amount of Bells or Whistles.  Don’t get me wrong – graphics do not a great game make – but they certainly help build an atmosphere, and I felt that the final product was not quite what the marketing was promising. Shocker, I know!  The design ethic, however, is beautiful.  To be fair, I suspect that most attention is spent on key locales, rather than outback wildernesses.

Beautiful artwork on the instance loading screens

3: Maybe its my getting old, or maybe I’m too accustomed to simplistic control systems, but I found GW2’s interchangeable abilities, weapons, and items quite complex and mind-boggling at first.  I *am* getting the hang of it, and enjoy the variety.  It’s also nice that you don’t *have* to meddle in the ways of crafting/skills/etc if you don’t want to, for I am unsubtle and quick to boredom…

4: There are less pleasing MMO staples in this game; emotes are a lot of fun (e.g.  /laugh /cry ) etc even if you’re not doing the whole serious Role-playing thing.  Guild Wars seems to have less than other MMOs I’ve played…

5: Speaking of Role-playing: GW2 seems determined to break atmospheric  immersion with lots of bizarre quirks.  The Human emote /dance results in a very cheesy pseudo-line dancing affair (though admittedly, I’m somewhat a hypocrite, as I *loved* Guild Wars original moves!)  The Trading post (GW2’s both real and virtual money ebay emporium) has amidst its items… Aviator sunglasses?  Baseball caps?

6: I miss Murlocs 😦

“grolgrlgrlgrglrglr” – A Murloc, earlier.

As for The Trading Post – the jury is still out on it.  Something that allows for game items to be bought and sold for game Gold or real £$money has much potential for abuse and game-breaking.  Time will tell… but game-servers cost money, and GW2 is not using the traditional F2P game model, and is therefore likely looking to bolster perpetual revenue however possible.

Verdict:

Guild Wars 2 is an enjoyable game, and a fun MMO, that for me at least has brought back almost all the positive vibe I enjoyed in the heyday of my WoW play, largely through allowing me to enjoy the game with my friends *and* with a clear conscience of no monthly cost to absorb.

Its a game that can be played as solo or grouped with friends as you like, though I suspect you are better off going into the game with known comrades, as in-game interactions with other players seem to be a little limited at present.  Mostly people complaining of lag, but then hasn’t every online game since the dawn of The Internet had those individuals whose purpose in life seem to be to inform us of this?

Ok, I may have been a bit harsh on the graphics…

My gripes about the graphics should be offset by the fact that a less demanding game means less need for super-powerful PC to play it on, which was always WoW’s greatest strength – it was playable on some of the lowliest laptops, assisting WoW to become one of the biggest selling games for the longest time.

It is likely that GW2’s publishers hope to achieve something similar, and I wish them every success, as it appears to me that – finally – there is a new MMO Queen on the throne, long may she reign.


The Sims Go Supernatural

I’ll apologise for not writing so much. There are plenty of reasons why I couldn’t, such as sorting out university stuff. But rather than waste time explaining everything, I’m going to get right to it and talk about the recent expansion to The Sims 3.

Finally, EA and Maxis have re-introduced the supernatural beings into the game. It’s only taken them about 7 expansion packs to do it, but I suppose good things come to those who wait… or perhaps I’m being unfair as vampires did appear in the second expansion Late Night? Either way, I’m glad to finally have a few more options in terms of supernatural beings.

New Character Creation

Customise your fairy’s wings to match your outfit

By this, I mean of course the ability to create the supernatural Sims. One thing didn’t strike me until I was reading up about the next expansion, Seasons. Where are the aliens? Much to my dismay aliens won’t make an appearance until the next expansion in November. I thought Aliens were Supernatural too*. But I likely didn’t notice this as my favourite Supernatural was there to occupy me; Werewolves! Naturally I messed about with most of the creation tools, and found the werewolves and fairies creation to be the most fun, as you can alter the appearance of the fairy’s wings, and could customise your sim’s werewolf form. Genies didn’t offer much, only the preset blue skin and themed outfits, vampires were similar with their preset skin-tone and bite-mark. I haven’t created a witch through CAS yet, or a Ghost, but I’m under the impression that creating them will be similar to Genies, in that there won’t be much to play around with that is completely unique to them.

Proper Sims do everything in formal wear

However, there’s the addition of new traits and lifetime wishes which is evident with most main expansion packs, by that I mean anything that doesn’t have “Stuff” in it’s name, and as expected they are completely fitting with a few less-obvious but brilliant traits such as Night-Owl and Proper. Each new character gets their own unique lifetime Happiness perks too, so Fairies can become King/Queen of the Fae, but Werewolves can become the Alpha Wolf instead. This is where Witches begin to redeem themselves as they have a perk that allows them to cast magic without a wand.

Supernatural Gameplay

The gameplay has received a couple of new features and a few that enhance current elements, like the collection journal. Finally the game keeps track of everything I’ve collected! The lunar cycle is great but I have a tendency to forget about it and throw parties on a full moon, resulting in werewolf chaos! But I enjoy that the fairies are also affected by the moon too, and it’s not just there for werewolves.

Fortune Tellers are fun within the game too, with the option to pursue that career with the intent of being fake and scamming people, or if you want to be a legitimate fortune teller. I also love how if you get your fortune told, the amount they tell you is depending on how many “donations” you give them throughout the session. Then there’s the ridiculous fortune at the end, no matter how much you give, as that’s the way TS3 does it!

Zombies are fun. Yes, you can’t create them per-say. You can’t through CAS but you can by developing a Zombification potion and either drinking it or throwing it on a Sim. All of their interactions are to do with brains, they have the zombie walk, and they are good sports when playing Plants vs Zombies with my on my front lawn (Limitied Edition extra). The annoying part is when they torment your horses, attack you on your doorstep, essentially leaving you housebound for the night. Goodbye fun, Hello early night!

You can transform into werewolves at any time you want which is cool! It may not have been a full moon but when my dog died, my Sim was so upset I sent him on a werewolf hunt. It just means that you have no choice on a full moon, which is fair enough. I quite enjoy the whole concept. Fairies also benefit from a full moon, making it easier for them to cast fairy magic. They do however suffer from a new moon, so are a bit like werewolves in reverse. They also have the ability to enter fairy houses and treat them like a normal house. You know what that means? Fairy House Parties!

Blue Harry Potter demonstrates broom-riding

Infact I even enjoyed playing as a witch. You get a wide selection of wands to use, broomsticks as transportation or just to mess about on and, as mentioned earlier, you can even learn to use magic without a wand! The only downside I found to witches was I found it very hard to learn how to increase the Spellcasting skill which doesn’t appear in the Skill journal unlike most other skills. Even the in-game tutorials didn’t help out much!

The biggest disappointment was possibly the Genies. Everyone knows what Genies are famous for! Jumping out of lamps, granting wishes, Aladdin. Under this image I excitedly created a genie only to be let down by what the Genie could actually do. Cool, he’s blue, and can float about! All he really can do are one of three things; Summon Food (perfect food every time though), clean either the house or a Sim, eliminating the needs for Maids or Showers, and Banish Sim. I haven’t tried out that last one yet, because I do not yet have a Sim I wish to Banish but next time I want a Sim killed I’ll send ’em to the Genie! I then searched for a tutorial only to find there wasn’t one, meaning there wasn’t much else to them. There wasn’t even a flying carpet which would have made up for everything in my eyes!

I can’t comment on Ghosts yet either for I haven’t really created one yet, but I reckon I’ll have great fun possessing stuff and scaring other Sims. It would also be unfair to criticise vampires under this expansion as they were introduced in the Late Night expansion pack, but the cool thing is you can now create them in CAS rather than run around begging vampires to bite you. There’s also the ability to learn skills ridiculously fast but I’m still unsure if that was already in the game or not.

There’s one last little extra they added to the gameplay which I am hoping to exploit a little with an unknowing friend. Showtime, the previous expansions, added the ability to communicate with friends within the game, allowing you to access your Origin/EA account in-game. This also allowed you to access the Store, link/share memories and unlock achievements. It also enabled a function called SimPort, allowing you to send one of your Sims to another friends game as an Acrobat/Magician/Singer and perform in their world, or “go on tour”. In Supernatural they added the ability to send gifts to your friends through the mailbox. You can send potions if you want, or you can send in-game items. I once sent a teddy bear to my friend. Not only do you send your friends something they need, but you also gain Lifetime Happiness points for your Sims! Quick and easy lifetime Happiness, but there is a limit of 5 items a day and some items can only be sent if your friend has registered their game.

Overall I’m enjoying TS3 Supernatural. It has its ups and downs like all games do, and it must be alright if I can sit for 12 hours straight playing it. Hopefully I can grow to like Genies and Ghosts will be as fun as I expect them to be.

*I’ve now realised that Aliens are more Extra-terrestrial than Supernatural, which explains why they weren’t included.


Assassin’s Creed 3 – Some Tempting Videos

I’ve never been one to hide my obsession with the Assassin’s Creed games. Every year I’ve bought the new AC game, although I got Brotherhood a bit later due to misconception of its gameplay. AC is one of those October/November games that rapes my bank account for all its worth too and this year it’s twice as bad. This year there are 2 games.

The first is Liberation, which is the Vita game, and we get our very first female assassin. I think you might not know just how happy and excited this makes me. I loved Altaïr and Ezio to bits and I’m sure to love Connor just as much, but it’s not the same. Aveline will be different though and yes some of that has to do with her being female. The sheer amount of FemSheps out there should be a testament to how much women like to play kick ass women in games. Given AC thus far, I think Aveline will deliver on the kick ass part at least.

Liberation is out on October 30th. Now if you’re in North America you’re going to get AC3 the same day. I will at least have a 1 day breather, not that this helps much, as it appears in the EU on the 31st. Know what makes it even worse? October 30/31 is in the middle of the fucking week. It’s enough to make a girl scream. Guess I should book my days off now…

Got two great videos for AC3 for you. Both of these show off the new game very nicely.

First the AnvilNext engine trailer, then a nice little walkthrough of some of the newness of AC3 and Connor.

 


The Late, Mass Effect Trilogy review

*note that I do not review the multiplayer element of ME3, as I’ve barely played it, hopefully someone else can cover it – I did find it mildly enjoyable, however!
*also note that whilst this review is as spoilerfree as is humanely possible, links to videos and the like will not be!  The key reason of this review is to convince the 6 remaining people in the world who havent played any of the series – especially women – to play it!

Now, let me be clear.. up until recently it was not entirely certain where that comma in the title would be placed… because it was only very recently that Mass Effect 3 (and by association the entire trilogy) was truly finished. Also because prior to the “little” addition of the Extended Ending brought about due to fan outcry it could be classed as “late” as in dead.. dead to me and dead to many of its fans.  The addition of the extended ending (in my opinion) saves the series and makes replaying it viable. It is frankly baffling that they thought the original ending was satisfactory in any way.  However, I get ahead of myself, lets talk about the games first, and then after we’ll talk a little about the debacle that was the conclusion to the series.

The *real* Commander Shepard, looking badass.

Mass Effect was launched in 2007 exclusively on the Xbox, though it was later – thankfully – also released on the PC, and the subsequent sequels on PS3, PC, and Xbox.  It has to be said that PS3 players have got a bit of a raw deal with Mass Effect. No first game, 2nd game delayed by a year, third game’s extended cut released nearly 2 weeks after everyone else got it.   The game was a departure from Bioware’s staple of RPG style gaming, aiming as it were to introduce shooter elements, along with squad management and resource/weapon modifications.  It was also a brave new move for the gamestudio, as here was a completely new setting featuring original characters in a wholly new created sci-fi story world.I picked up the first game cheaply in 2009 on the Xbox (not my preferred gaming platform) and after initially grumpily grumping about the controls quickly warmed to it, though I largely ignored the whole weapon upgrading and squad special power management thing.  I was hooked on the whole RPG element of the game, especially due to the option of playing as a female protagonist in a world where the gender of the lead character was completely irrelevant = equality, feminist fans 😀

There is something just so cool about wandering the corridors of a military starship that you are the Executive Officer of and seeing the crew salute you as they encounter you.

BAD REAPER! BAD!

The story was an interesting one; in some ways it reminded me of Halo, in that it almost felt like you were being plunged into an already started storyline, and you have to pad out your knowledge of the world you’re exploring.. well.. by exploring it.   2183: The Human race struggles to find its place in a vast galaxy governed by a stern and suspicious multi-cultural Alien council at the apparent onset of war with an invading ancient force known as “Reapers”.  Characters are well defined, superbly animated with lots of emotive behavior complimented by superb voice acting.  Later on in the game there are some pivotal choices to be made that cause genuine pause when the player is confronted with them.

So… about those head tentacles…?

The repercussions of those decisions are felt not just within the game itself, but ultimately in the sequels too; hence the importance really of playing all three.  It is because of these decisions shaping branching personalized elements of the plot, that so endears the games and their characters to its fanbase – making some events so desperately affecting later on.  This level or attachment to game characters was something very new to me I have to admit.

Is it still a big fall if it’s in zero-gravity?

Mass Effect 1 ends on a cliffhanger of sorts, but most satisfactorily so, in a way that meant that even if it never got a sequel, it had a definite feeling of self-contained closure.

ME1 Gameplay summary:
RPG, lots of shooty, lots of pickingup/buying resource management, lots of squad power management,  some puzzles (mostly doors)

WooHoo! Mass Effect 2 begins and everything’s hunky dory!

The sequel was released in 2010 (which I bought on day one this time!) and introduced a few changes to the game dynamic.  Many of the micromanagement elements of the squad and special power/weapons were simplified; good for me, but perhaps less so for others.

Another feature that was dropped: the “Mako” sections from the first game, essentially an awkwardly controlled vehicle used to explore and travel between areas.  I for one missed this, as I thought it added a larger open exploratory element to the game. Though ME2 had a much more linear plot direction.  The game has an incredibly dramatic start that re-introduces you comfortably to your familiar setting and characters from the first game before violently taking them away from you (and vice versa).

THIS kick-ass girl band’s gigs are worth seeing..

What follows is essentially a “magnificent seven” style building of a new squad/crew that may or may not feature characters from the first game.  One interesting plot device element is the removal of your love interest (if you developed one) from the first game, leaving you to either develop something new with someone new or remain faithful to your original love interest, in the hope of reuniting later.

This second iteration of the series introduces many new characters and elements, now all very well established in the narrative’s universe, with even better performances from the leads. Martin Sheen puts in a fantastic performance as the shadowy puppet master “The Illusive Man”.

The second game also introduces much heavier repercussions to decisions and/or lack of development of resource finding. The latter being quite an unnecessary nuisance I thought, but again, I was never one for the whole resource management/finding/buying stuff… I would go on to quite painfully regret this at the conclusion of my first run of the game!

Some of the characters introduced new in the 2nd game are somewhat two dimensional, others prove to be very interesting. Jack, the fierce biotic jailbird being one and Miranda the seemingly cold, perfected human being another.  Characters met in the first game returning get much better fleshed out, BessyMate Garrus, I’m looking at you 😀

Miranda’s bum was unavailable for comment at the time of this review.

Some new elements introduced this time around prove to be a little annoying, I was often very concerned that Miranda seemed to be talking out of her improbable arse a lot of the time, as in literally,  simply due to the amount of camera-time aforementioned derriere got.

ME2 proves to be quite the successful sequel, with a gripping conclusion that has multiple branches (including one where you – the lead character – die!) albeit giving a portent of what was to come with a sort of colour coded finale.  Another welcome new introduction are the “loyalty” missions that you do or don’t, these determine how close a relationship you develop with your crew members, which may or may not affect the conclusion of the game, and its final chapter.

I’m sorry, did I break your concentration?

One thing I will confess is that I found the shooty element of the 2nd game quite fatiguing… so much so that 2/3rds into the game I took a several month break from playing it, as I was genuinely tired of some of the relentless sections in the lead up to the final “suicide run”.

ME2 Gameplay summary:
Lots of RPG, too much shooty, less weapon/resource pickup, but mining/planet searching element added and tied heavily to ship upgrades, more puzzley bits.

You lookin’ at me, Punk?

…which brings me to 2012 and this finale of the series which introduced a “Story Mode” to a joyous me.  Story mode removes the reliance on shooty bit proficiency in order to progress the story, and features much more story development *during* those sections, as opposed to the previous game’s “talkalot,shootstuff, talkmore,findstuff,shootstuff,talkalot” apparent structure.  What Story mode effectively offers the player is a heavily dialog involved version of events that means you don’t have to be so good at shooter style games in order to get through the game, a real welcome option for players like myself.  The other two options available hopefully fulfil other player’s desire for full-on action with little dialog, or a “normal” mix of the two.

I’m going to need a bigger gun…

Mass Effect 3 starts ominously, darkly, pulling no punches, and featuring a sequence of events before even the title appears that had me having to be consoled by one’s otherhalf, as I was a blubbing mess!  Once the preamble of the story is set in motion, the game falls back into fairly comfortable shoes treading the path defined in the previous game – exploring, team building, plot development.  The linearity of the plot is tightened further than the previous game, but still allows for going off the beaten path.. though this is problematic due to the overall plot-spine being so strong – you feel that sidemission “fetch” quests and the like are stupidly unimportant in the grand scheme of the things, so I felt that there should be a talk option along the lines of “What?! Are you mad? There’s a war on! Find your own damn <object> !” – however, at least this time around they have the conceit that doing these wee tasks contributes a small part towards the greater war effort by adding to your “Effective Military Strength” or “War Assets”

This… cant be good…

It is ME3’s action setpieces where some truly awesome plot development occurs and how these events play out is often highly influenced by decisions in the previous games.  There are some parts of this final chapter that present some squeamishly difficult choices to make, and it is a testament to the quality of the writing and story that they are so difficult to make at times.  At one point such a dramatic moment occurred that I could not bear the thought of continuing with that decision/event made canon, that I went back a whole series of saves to try and “correct” it – only to learn that the game was effectively giving me – to throw a Star Trek reference in – a “Kobyashi Maru” – a no-win scenario… how ever I played it, there was going to be some form of terrible repercussion.

You’d be upset too if you couldn’t get your hair colour to stay the same between games!

For me, this is why Mass Effect 3 is the strongest of the trilogy, as by now you are familiar with the characters, the environment and the illusion of your choices creating a unique and personal story to you creates a player/game involvement that I have never before encountered.  I found it very difficult to objectively review this game, as to me it seemed to transcend the definition of “game” into something beyond the kind of emotional investment that a really good movie might engender in its audience.  You might say that the Mass Effect Trilogy as a whole was a synthesis of the medium of cinema and videogames. Ha!

I’ve got a bad feeling about this…

ME3 gameplay summary:
Player tailored, but as it pertained to me: Lots RPG, perfect level of shooty, zero *required* resource /squad management, minimal puzzles. 90% plot/character interaction driven.

One of the game series’s other controversial (at least if you happen to be FOX news) features was the Love Interest.  In the first game it was possible to romance one of 3 characters, this was expanded in the 2nd and 3rd game, allowing for faithfulness to the first game’s LI or not.  The first two games featured the option of lesbian relationships which were nice enough, though likely mainly for male titillation, as it would not be until ME3 that gay male relationships would be an option.  I’ve watched how these unfold via youtube (does this count as watching porn?!) and think they are lovely, though the option of recently bereaved shuttle pilot Steve as a potential Male-Shepard conquest annoys me!  I’m amused at some player’s love triangles they have created themselves throughout the course of the games.  The actual lovemaking scenes themselves are (I think) very tastefully done and, certainly in the case of the third game (I can’t speak for ME2 – Monogamous Kate Shepard, see), add to the emotional gravitas of the story.

Star Wars eat your heart out…

It was therefore a tragedy to me (and a large number of ME fans) that the last 10 minutes of the trilogy finale seemed to throw a leftfield turn of direction with a seemingly abrupt nonsensical ending filled with more questions than answers, which was very much the opposite of what was promised by Bioware in the very high profile marketing campaign leading up to the release of the game.

I think even Bioware underestimated how invested in the story their fanbase was and how actually emotionally hurt they were by the game abrupt ending.  This feeling of loss spawned some great things though, with enterprising players dealing with the very real feeling of grief they were experiencing by advancing the story through art and storytelling; there are some absolutely stunning fanmade works out there, I’ll put some links at the end of this article.

Hmmm. Must be injured more than I thought, my arm seems to have shrunk.

Now, there’s no doubt that either through a bizarre overinflated sense of “artistic integrity” Bioware decided to create a very ambiguous set of endings that leave story threads blowing in the wind,or they rushed the game out in the end to meet deadlines.

I for one believe it to be the latter, as there were many other little inconsistent failures in quality assurance in this final chapter at launch.  Throughout the trilogy one of the most important and awesome features is the ability to import your save from the previous game, continuing your “universe” based on your choices previously in the series, as well as your own custom appearance.  The import worked in ME3, but not the appearance part; forcing you to redefine your appearance as best as you could.  This was not fixed until well after a month following the game’s release,  by which time the majority of players had finished the game and were probably suffering PME3TSD.  There were also other glitches that affected gameplay and player story immersion.  Getting stuck on bits of scenery, terrible terrible character animation clipping and an increase of “uncanny valley” factor in NPC performances with some very notable exceptions (love interest characters in particular are so emotive in their face animations it hurts! – though aforementioned bugs caused my love interest to disappear mid-snog at one point!)  If there was one thing that was definitely a mistake on Bioware’s part it was that the last words you essentially see at the end of the game are “PURCHASE DLC”  – it was like after wooing you with 100’s of hours time invested in an involving story… ABRUPT ENDING! Hahahah! Buy more DLC!

On the subject of DLC; ME1 had a few bits and bobs of DLC, nothing particularly earth shattering (so to speak).  ME2 had some very notable packs; most especially “Lair of the Shadowbroker” and “Arrival”, but ME3 caused controversy by having day one, on the disk DLC that arguably should have been core content in the first place.

Who’s the bloke in the middle?

So it seemed that Bioware were so taken off guard by the subsequent huge outcry (most of which was valid, though there were a few that really were hurt and wanted a genuine 100% happy ending) that they relented and announced a forthcoming “Extended Cut” version of the ending would be released for free.  This unprecedented announcement was treated with hope by many of us and disdain by others. I would hazard a guess that the disdain mostly came from those who played the game as shooters first and foremost with little emotional investment in the story.  Around this time talk of the fan-based “Indoctrination Theory” was at its most intense and whilst I admit to being disappointed that in the final analysis it was rendered nullified by the EC, I think that what we got restored my love of the series and made the thought of replaying it genuinely viable. Whereas without the EC it felt as no choice in the entire series ultimately mattered, so why bother to replay?

*no caption due to author bawling*

With the EC DLC in place the 3 original endings that were 95% similar in content have been replaced with a possible 5 key iterations with subtle further variations within each based on player’s choices throughout the entire series, as well as some small other additions to the story in the run up to the finale, including a beautiful if improbably set farewell to your love interest.  Also, very importantly each of the choices becomes an actually viable choice with “lots of speculation” as to its repercussions beyond what is now fully expanded in the new endings – a previous choice that was largely written-off as “BAD” seems to now have captured fan’s attention for its possibilities beyond what the game actually shows.

So, I can now say unreservedly say that the Mass Effect trilogy is to me,  the finest, most involving, emotional gaming experience I have ever had, and that description is a disservice to it.  As I’ve already mentioned I feel it transcends interactive media as we know it, it is more than game, more than a film.  The combination of solid writing, a good sci-fi story, stellar performances, cinematic sound and music design elevates it to a level beyond anything I’ve seen before, as long as you get “into” the story and those characters, which both my partner and I did through the associated audiobooks, and comics.

Oh, the music… ME1 and 2 had some fantastic music, memorable themes, but by the third game the ante had been upped to such an epic level, the involvement of cinematic composer Clint Mansell working with the existing composers raised the bar highest of all.  Even now, listening to the soundtrack as I write this, I feel myself welling up when certain tracks play.  When it comes time to vote for Game of the Year, I might find myself umming and aaahing about ME3 the game, but the music+sound  will wholeheartedly get my vote.  This is the year that a Reaper’s “HwAAAAAAAAAAAM!” may match R2-D2’s warbles for zeitgeist familiarity!  That was something I wrote about in my own blog, in that Mass Effect may have become a new generation’s Star Wars, but I feared it might have been similarly struck down by its original ending as Star Wars was by a director with CGI OCD!

Before the EC DLC, the idea of playing pay DLC set during the story arc leading up to the end was unthinkable “Whats the point?” being a common reaction amongst players, but now it seems like a much more viable option. Rumour of elements from a forthcoming DLC being stealthily delivered as part of the EC DLC only fuels interest.

Across the stars

And thats the important difference, we are now left wanting more, as opposed to sitting in baffled, hurt silence needing more, in terms of an explanation.  Mass Effect was never meant to be a bleak 70’s style sci-fi with an atonal soundtrack and a huge “?” final frame.  Bittersweet, emotional – yes.  Twin Peaks or LOST – no.  Its also worth noting that even with the EC, several of fans’ complaints still won’t have been addressed; and by that I mean collected War Assets – only the key biggest ones feature in the end game, when likely some will want to see them all, but these are minor complaints given what they have fixed.

I now outwardly firmly place myself in the “battleworn, sad, but content” camp now its over.. but secretly I’m a very upset geeky fangirl that I wont be witness to any new adventures of Commander Shepard (I will miss Jennifer Hale’s voice performance in particular), and not be around to raise any little blue children with Dr. Liara T’Soni :*(

Fan-made content of note:

Koobismo – maker of the fantastic alternative timeline ending comic: Marauder Shields – his Audiobook version is a thing of awesomeness.

Neehs – maker of animations and stills that fulfilled many a player’s emotional needs post-game! Linked picture is still my wallpaper across all my devices! His Alternative-ending video was a truer bittersweet end before the EC was released!

#femshep on Deviant art and femshep.com – for all your fabulous Ms. Shepard artistic and narrative needs!

My own mass effect music playlist on youtube


E3 Ubisoft Conference

Okay so the Ubisoft conference has just ended at E3 and we’ve got some awesome things coming. The highlights for me are Assassin’s Creed 3 and the new game, Watch Dogs.  Also, new Spinter Cell and Farcry 3 to come, plus some new shiny stuff for the Wii-U.

Assassin’s Creed 3 looks super sexy. Timeframe-wise we’re in the American Civil War era, so lots of wilderness and snow and wild animals, plus you get to run through the tree tops. How kool is that. Have a look at the video.

[youtube http://youtu.be/gZrklEy9ohQ?hd=1]

Then we have a completely new IP called Watch Dogs. Personally I think the name is a bit lack lustre, but I’m willing to forgive if it’s as awesome all the way through as what they’ve just shown us. Have a look.

[youtube http://youtu.be/0dTOnyp58NM?hd=1]

Now I’m waiting for the Sony conference, but have a look at the whole of the Ubisoft presentation for yourself. (Jump to the 18min mark for the beginning)

[youtube http://youtu.be/aKRWubusKBU?t=18m]

Saints Row the Third – Addendum!

When I was prepping for the review I *knew* I had made a video showing me “strutting” the town to that oh so notable BeeGees song…  of all days today on the day that Robin Gibb passed away, I find it again.

So here I present to you my little tribute to both Robin Gibb, Saints Row, and totally awesome fashion sense that I would so very much rock in real-life if I could afford the LouBoutin’s 😀


What fools these mortals be (Loc – PC/Mac)

Loc is a 3d puzzle game from Birnam wood games released earlier this month, this is the studios first game.

The games plot is really simple to understand; Humanity has caused so much damage to the earth that the last queen of the faeries has taken you prisoner and plans to keep you trapped in her realm as punishment for man kinds crime (Lucky you) ; In order to escape you must solve ‘Loc’ puzzles in order to make your way through the queens desolate realm and find your way out.

The game play is a bit more complex; using your mouse you need to drag a series of tiles across a face of a cube to create a path between the start and end tiles. As you progress the game’s difficulty will increase, adding tiles that you must use in order to continue; it gets even harder when you have to start building the path across more than one of the cubes faces, whilst making sure that your using the right tiles to create a working path. There is also a list of achievements that you can earn if you complete the level under certain conditions which is a nice little addition.

Overall Loc is a wonderful game,The art style is beautiful , the atmospheric music helps the player become more immersed in this intriguing setting that birnam wood games created. But why not try it out yourself, the game is available from their studios website Here for just over £3 ($5) and if your completely broke they even have a free demo.

~HeadphoneGirlZ


Saints Row the Third + DLC

“How long until the helicopter gets here?”

“Oh… about two waves of SWAT guys, I guess?”

That little exchange right at the beginning of Saints Row: The Third gives you an example of the tone, self-deprecating humor, and.. so very anti-Grand Theft Auto this game is. Not anti as in antagonistic, merely that it goes out of its way to show how different it is from what would be a possible natural first impression of the game. I know it was mine!

I played a lot of – but never finished – GTA:Vice City, wooed by its apparent comedy, completely awesome (to this child of the 80’s!) soundtrack and open sandbox gameplay. I skipped an installment and picked up GTA:IV upon release, and whilst I was agog at its visuals and scale; I was left cold by its story and niggling friend/cousin micro-management.  So I barely played it at all.

So… in 2011 Saints Row the Third arrives on the scene with some completely “whacky” adverts on the TV and, most crucially of all (to my personal tastes), a full campaign co-op multiplayer mode! I love co-op in games, especially those with big story arcs to follow, it just makes such a difference to be able to play through a game with a friend in this way. This is exactly what SR3 allows you to do, but that alone doth not a great game make, fortunately it manages to be that too.

As I alluded to earlier, the game takes the basic gameplay style of GTA, (driving, shooting, gangsters city exploration), and does away with any attempt to paint it in any kind of gritty realism in favour of bright day-glo colouring, larger than life characters, story, and events.

I am…. a toilet.. ?

The game allows you to play as male or female, (and um, change that if you so desire later in the game!), with full performances from the player-character for each. In fact, somewhat bizarrely you have a choice of voice-performance style to choose from at the start. (for female: default, Easter-European accented, or NEW YAWK accented !) These options are all defined about half-way through the (playable) intro with the usual character appearance customization, which is quite detailed in this particular game, I spent the usual half-hour or so tweaking it – I would later discover you can change your appearance in-game!

Now, I approached this game not having played any of the previous SR games, so I was initially a bit baffled by the characters and setting, but quickly warmed to it – especially when early on your co-gang member Johnny shouts “PROTECT THE BOSS!” – and I was all looking for the boss, until I realized it was me! This seemed all the cooler due to the simple fact that here was “Me”, the apparent female leader of this gang.

What follows is a rollercoaster action ride of the first 20 minutes of the game which forms the basis of an introduction, after which you’re in sandbox territory and, unlike GTA, the entirety of the city is at your disposal from the very beginning.

Head out on the highway…

As you explore, your map populates with shops, services and notable locations. Want to fly a plane? Head to the airport. Want a change of clothes? Find a clothing store. Fancy a bit of plastic surgery, a tattoo or pimped vehicle? – Just find one of the many places on the map that offer the service you want, right off the bat.

You pick up the primary story arc through interactions with your homies via your phone (which doubles as your GPS/map) as well as sideline quests of the usual escort, assassination, and fetch ilk.. and some slightly more unusual events.

The basic premise of the story is that by this installment of the game The Saints Row gang are celebrities, not really doing much gang-work, more into public appearances and product endorsement. During a bank-robbery “stunt” featuring the star of a Vampire-related TV show, it all goes wrong. The Saints are locked up and then taken to the leader of a crime Syndicate who expresses their intention to take over the Saint’s assets. This sets the basis of the story, The Saints reclaiming their mojo, taking on the Syndicate, and taking over the City of Steelport.

“This is some rescue!!”

This is an adult game, make no mistake, both in terms of language, content, and most certainly violence. If anything its more violent than GTA, with yours and other gangs at war with each other, the police, military and government. The violence is offset by the day-glo colour scheme, comedy, and sheer absurdity of it – but from a purely superficial standpoint it can look very violent, especially early on. Perseverance pays though, as you soon not so much get used to it, but are laughing at the ridiculousness of it. Weapons including a baseball bat with a huge purple dildo attached, the hilarious sound-effects of the Genki mind-controlling reluctant octopus launcher, (no, really), and the Land Shark launcher soon had me guffawing at it, not to mention the “car” chase played out with gimpsuited sex-slaves pulling carriages which, yes, as is customary, explode upon crashing! Did I mention this was an “adult” game?

Just another day in Steelport…?

What really sells this is the tongue-in-cheek performances of the actors, as well as some really good animation, and I absolutely *love* the fact that the characters interact with you “the Boss” the same regardless of your gender, this makes for a really satisfying experience playing this as a female, much the same as Mass Effect, there’s really Zero instances of “hey, sweet cheeks” – and when there is it is there regardless of the character’s gender – as my male co-op mate found out to his dismay in one scene where you’re drugged and staggering about the place naked (humorously “pixelated” bits, of course!)

There has been some comment however on the other females as depicted in the game, and I will put my Feminist hat on and say that yes, there is a huge element of scantily clad “bitches and ho’s” who seem to be mere objects and scenery in the game, but I’ll say that this is offset by the strength of the primary lead characters as written in the game – the player, and Shaundi, your right-hand-woman. Its likely something that everyone thinks, but I can’t imagine the game playing out with anything other than a female lead as the boss, and this is a good thing. One thing that did bother me was in the character creation – for some reason the developers think that anyone over the age of 10 has some serious wrinkleage, when I put in my actual age I was horrified at the apparent wrinkley face I supposedly must have if my character was anything to go by. Perhaps its all that sunny weather. On the other hand I was all ready to be incensed about the “Sex appeal” slider being the Boob-size adjustment, but upon checking I found that the same slider affected the size of the male sausage compartment, ha!

Also, there’s a good share of male objectification in the game too. Another nice touch is that you can choose the “uniform” of your entire gang so if you want your girls and boys running around scantily, or sensibly, you choose so yourself.

I’d be lying if I didn’t mention the fact that I absolutely loved the whole “dress-up” nature to this game which is one of its selling points. You can inexplicably walk around the city green-skinned, with a mustache, wearing a space helmet, Lady GaGa-esque couture dress, and combat boots. The clothes shops are simply and comically themed (“Let’s Pretend!” – cosplay fun, “Nobody Loves Me” – Goth/emo fashion, “Leather & Lace” – well.. you can imagine)

Today I will mostly be… Steampunk

As I’ve mentioned the game is very bright, colourful, and graphically very nice, though the characters suffer a lot from the “Uncanny Valley” – I guess we’ve been spoiled by other games recently with character emotion depiction as SR3 is definitely not the best at this, but it hides this with unsubtle exaggerated design.

The game itself was just a pleasure to play, and replay in single player as well as co-op. The winning factor is its sense of fun. I frequently found myself laughing or staring agog at the screen with incredulity.

I picked up the game not that long after release cheaply including a “season pass” to DLC, and the DLC has been a mixed bag of “costumes”, vehicles, weapons, and missions. The missions vary from being small little diversions, to fairly large chunks of standalone fun. I’ve seen the game only (no DLC) this week for sale online for £7 for the PC version (reviewed) which I bought as well so that my niece(teen) and I could replay it for this review.

Posing, casually, but awesomely.

If you can laugh at toilet humour, comedy sex, innuendo and tolerate people being shot (a lot) then I think you’ll enjoy this game very much.  The game has lots of little nods to films, other games, and even ye olde retro text adventures at one point.

Special mention for the soundtrack, that whilst featuring the usual assortment of in-car radio stations (though not as full of character as GTA’s) also has some real standout work, including a song sung by the lead characters, a Michael Bay-esque orchestral score for a scene involving… Well, the shooting of a movie… and a totally left field (but oh so wonderfully appropriate) turn of music for the very unusual finale!

Finally, merely listing the keywords associated with the game should provide you some idea of its bizarre nature:

Guns, shooting, gimps, pimps, zombies, Burt Reynolds, sky-diving, toilet,  gangstas and spaceships.

~K8bit

Gangstas…. in SPAAAAACE!


Botanicula (Amanita Design)

OMG OMG OMG OMG!! It’s finally here. The wonderful Botanicula from Amanita Design is out!! I adore Machinarium and can’t wait to get my hands on this. Go get the Humble Bundle; you’ll thank me for it.

[youtube http://youtu.be/UxeaS4Pq4EY]

I Love Final Fantasy

My love affair with Final Fantasy started a good 15ish years ago. With each one I’ve fallen more in love than I was with the previous incarnation. Sure there have been some that were better than others.

With each release I get all excited like I’m a child again and ya know this time is no different. I think you know where I’m going with this so I’ll let the vids do the talking.

~Donna

Environment

Characters

Shiny

Interview and more shiny


And Now For a Moment of Quiet Sobbing as Valve Trolls Everyone

Some lucky b*%&tard spotted a Valve employee wearing this little beauty:

The employee wouldn’t give any details whatsoever, but the guy who spotted the shirt did confirm that he attempted to smother himself in the employee’s chest, which didn’t help anything.

via PCGamer.

~Alice M.


Ever Dance With the Devil in the Pale Moonlight? (Batman: Arkham City)

Okay so pretty much everyone I know who played Batman: Arkham Asylum has been looking forward to Arkham City. All the information we were fed about Arkham City was meant to tease and tempt us. So much lovely artwork and little pieces of gameplay videos. I knew that if it was just as good as Arkham Asylum, then Arkham City was going to be amazing. They promised us the world. Slowly they revealed that not only would we have Batman as a playable character, but we’d also get Catwoman, Nightwing and Robin. The Catwoman DLC is already out so if you didn’t get it with your pre-order, now’s the time. It’s worth getting, playing at Catwoman is completely different to Batman.

I don’t want to give away the story, but suffice to say, you’ve got an old face and a new face in your primary villains for this out of Batman. You’ll get to see many old familiar faces from the comics and cartoons. Most are short appearances and side missions, but it’s kinda nice to see all the cameos. It’s fitting and it works. Of course through it all you’ve got the Riddler with his trophies and antics all over the place. As you’d probably guess The Joker is a primary adversary, but then that’s to be expected. I’ll leave the other as a surprise for you to find out.

The primary storyline revolves around sorting out Arkham City, and it is the size of a small city in game terms, which is the successor of the Arkham Asylum. As you’d expect everything is in disarray and the career criminals are reeking havoc and scheming. All the evil doing makes for some good story and much unexpectedness. I won’t give you any more than that so I don’t spoil it. Suffice to say I was reasonably happy with the story and it was fitting. Basically you have to fix the fucked up place, but Batman is a hero after all.

Speaking of story, there are a few side quests with their own little stories. Some are okay and are natural branches, but others don’t make much sense. Unfortunately several of them are just busy work to simulate the game being longer. The Riddler side mission is the worst perpetrator of this and actually annoyed me after a while. Previously I’d enjoyed the challenge of the Riddler trophies and riddles, but this time they’ve been tied into the Riddler side mission and there are 400 of them. And maybe this is a minor spoiler, but I’d feel wrong not telling you. You will need to find all 400 Riddler trophies in order to complete the Riddler side mission. This didn’t make me happy and I haven’t finished it out of frustration and irritation.

The side missions are for me the only major downside though. My only other problem isn’t so much a problem as a personal disappointment. I finished Arkham Asylum in about 16 hours including the Riddler trophies. This was the low point for me, I really wanted to keep playing for longer. I was really hoping for Arkham City to be longer, and it was; a little. To me this is a disappointment because I was really enjoying the game and really wanted to keep going and not just faff about with the Riddler trophies. On an up side to these side missions, many of them really do focus in on the whole “World’s Greatest Detective” bit of Batman; and I enjoyed that a lot.

As to why I wanted to just keep on playing; it’s the gameplay. The flow and ease of the fighting from the first one is again present with some little modifications for the weapons and fighting different types of bad guys. There are some special moves that need timing but generally you just don’t have to think as you fight all those bad guys. To me sometimes simple controls only improve the gameplay.

The area that you get to run around is so much bigger than previously, there is a lot more roof activity and climbing.  I would say that Rocksteady Stuios’ devs have definitely had a good look at the Assassin’s Creed games. As you run across the roofs you’ll see how smooth you can go from gliding to running to grappling. If you’ve played the Assassin’s Creed games you’ll notice the similarities and the missed problems that the first AC games ran up against. This for me made moving around Arkham City a smooth and enjoyable experience. Rocksteady was definitely paying attention.

Outside of the primary story you’ve got the challenge maps which are essentially maps from the main story with objectives on how and what to do and a couple options like being timed and ranked. They’re okay, but I actually got bored with them pretty quickly as they’re pretty pointless. Otherwise you also can unlock character bios and 3D renderings as you progress through the game. The 3D renders are actually kinda nice and you can have a good up close look at the different characters.

Overall, I say get it now. It’s an astonishing game despite the foibles as they are few and minor. I really do love the game and wanted to keep on playing forever.

~Donna


Sunday Videos: Gamescom Trailers

So last week was Gamescom in Germany and the trailers came thick and fast for some of the games we’re going to see in the next couple months and next year.  There were a lot of videos, but here are a few I know people are really looking forward to.

I’m going to start out with one I’m really excited about; Assassin’s Creed Revelations. Once I finished Brotherhood I really got excited for Revelations. We get to see Altair again and do a bit of playing as him by the looks of things, but primarily we’re back to playing Ezio. Which I don’t really mind because I really quite like Ezio and it looks like he’s got a beard now.

Next I’ve got Dark Souls. Now I’m really not terribly interested in this despite it looking awesome, if the gameplay is as annoying as Demon’s Souls I will want to throw it out a window 10 minutes in. I know several people are really looking forward to this though so here it is in all its shiny glory.

Would you believe I’ve not played any of the Mass Effect games? The concept is great and so is the story. There are gameplay elements in the game that I don’t really get on with though, like most of the combat. But I’ve enjoyed watching my husband play it and I know it’s highly anticipated.

Then we have DMC: Devil May Cry. This reboot has many people split between the love and hate for it. I personally really like the look of the gameplay and the the art they’ve shown so far. This vid will show you that Dante is still Dante and he’s kicking ass just like he always has.

I’m going to leave you with a small interview that Gamespot did that shows some in-game footage too; The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. If this game really has more content than Fallout 3 I will be seriously impressed. I put in over 80 hours on Fallout 3 so you may jsut lose sight of me for a while should that be true.

~Donna

(videos courtesy of the youtube chans for gamespot, Ubibsoft and IGN)


Duke Nukem is Definitely Forever

We’ve been waiting for 12 years for Duke to come back to us. GearBox took up the challenge of finishing the most notoriously unfinished game. They had a huge task ahead of them and more history than any one game needs.

So let’s start with the story. Duke is famous and living the life. Aliens come back to Earth and begin to again take all the women. Duke kicks alien ass.

It’s Duke Nukem; what did you expect? This is a game that comes from a time of kicking ass first and asking questions later. A time when games didn’t need to be politically correct and could have a storyline as flimsy as a porn film. Thus we have Duke, big guns, aliens and babes. Gearbox didn’t make any changes to what Duke used to be and for that I’m glad.

The humour has been a real focus for a lot reviewers. I will say this about it; hello it’s Duke Nukem! Were people actually expecting politically correct, non-corny, non-sexist jokes and dialogue? It was written in the 90s and I for one am damn happy that Gearbox didn’t change a thing about Duke’s attitude. Don’t expect someone else, expect Duke Nukem. Cause that’s who you’re going to get and he hasn’t changed. Thank fuck for that.

So let’s carry on now I’ve gotten that out of my system.

Visually Duke is middle of the road. It’s not terrible, but it most certainly isn’t as pretty as say  Vanquish or Castlevania. That isn’t to say that it doesn’t look good.  That slightly rough look somehow fits into Duke and the age of the game. It’s not award winning graphics, but they’re good and they are fitting.

You should know that I don’t play FPS games on the consoles without some kind of targeting assistance. There was no targeting assistance in Duke. There’s a setting for it in the options, but it really doesn’t help; or at least it didn’t help me.  That aside, even for me the gameplay is straight forward and not too difficult. You point, you shoot. It’s not rocket science. One thing I will say, 2 gun max is crap. Seriously, Duke is a big guy, I’m sure he could carry more than a hand gun and a rifle and a few grenades.

Overall, I loved it. It is Duke being Duke. I would have been annoyed and upset if Gearbox had changed him into something that reflects the games we have now. Duke is a well loved relic from the past no matter how crude and sexist and basic him and his games are. Duke was a product of the time and one I will always love no matter what.

~Donna


Game Review – L.A. Noire

L.A. Noire’s main protagonist, Cole Phelps, is a returning war hero and newly-minted beat cop in 1947 Los Angeles.  By successfully investigating crime scenes and arresting criminals, he eventually becomes a detective and works his way up through the ranks of LAPD’s Traffic, Vice, Arson and Homicide divisions.  Cases are rarely as clear-cut as they first appear, however, and simple murder investigations can wind up revealing sweeping conspiracies involving some of the most powerful people in the city.  Finding the various newspapers scattered throughout the city reveals a wartime drama that tells us more about Cole’s experiences during the war, experiences which ultimately intersect with his present in shocking ways.

The gameplay in L.A. Noire is divided up into cases that you and your partner will have to work through.  Typically you’ll start most cases by being given a quick overview in the police department’s briefing room, then you’ll head out to the crime scene and get to work compiling clues and evidence.  Once you arrive on the scene, you’ll need to search both the surrounding area and any bodies that are present and also question any possible witnesses or persons of interest involved with the crime.  A word of warning: some of the crime scenes are quite graphic and you probably won’t want to play these sections around children or the squeamish.   Uncovering new information from clues or questioning will open up other avenues of investigation and usually result in either apprehending or killing a suspect, usually after a shoot out or car/foot chase.  Some cases will involve more than one suspect and you will have to use interrogation techniques and evidence in order to choose which suspect to charge.

The driving and shooting parts of the game are done well, but the investigation and interrogation sections are where the game really shines (once you overcome their initial, somewhat frustrating learning curve).  Playing L.A. Noire is fairly idiot-proof, because you’ll still be able to complete all of the cases even if you don’t necessarily do so in the best way.  There are lots of car chases and shoot outs, but you’ll have the option of bypassing the more challenging action sequences if they continue to give you trouble.  You can fast travel to most case destinations by having your partner drive. Although doing so means you’ll miss out on the optional “street” missions that only come in over the police radio while you’re driving.  You can free roam anywhere you like on the map and there are hidden cars and gold film reels to hunt down for achievements, but that’s pretty much the extent of the game’s sandbox content.

The much-hyped facial motion capture technology used in L.A. Noire is every bit as impressive as it’s supposed to, providing for incredibly realistic performances by the actors.  That being said, there is sometimes the slightest bit of deviation between what the actor’s face is doing and what the body is doing for the character.  The sound effects and graphics are generally where they should be for this quality of game, although most of the textures look like the sort of thing we’ve seen before from other games.  As for the game world itself, the city of LA in huge and feels very much alive around you, although the AI of pedestrians and drivers is a bit quirky and can cause frustration from time to time.

The music for L.A. Noire is a mix of original score, licensed music and original vocal tracks created for the game.  The score by Andrew Hale is more cinematic than I typically like game music to be, but works exceptionally well here due to the gameplay and stylistically noir setting.  The licensed tracks overheard on the car radio at random while driving around are a great collection of popular tunes from the era, with a mix of stuff that everyone’s heard and more obscure tunes.  The original Blue Room vocal tracks (composed by The Real Tuesday Weld and sung by Claudia Brucken of Propaganda) are believably smooth and sultry, if a bit uninspired.  There are some aspects of the soundtrack that I like more than others, but generally it’s all solid and terrific work.

L.A. Noire is very cinematic in nature, so much so that the experience often feels a lot more like watching a film than playing a game.  The quaint glamour of 1947 Los Angeles as it’s portrayed here is charming, but racist and sexist views are also socially acceptable and openly expressed by the characters in a way that’s perhaps true to life; still, they can be a bit cringe-inducing at times.  Cole Phelps is an interesting and layered character, though something of an enigma compared to the sort of protagonist I’m used to playing in a game of this nature.  Very little information is revealed about Cole’s inner world, home life, or motivations and this makes it challenging to feel a bond with him or care much about how his personal story plays out.  Later in the game, I found other characters with more minor roles, such as Jack Kelso and Herschel Biggs, to be more relatable and emotionally engaging.

Part action adventure and part murder mystery with a dash of sandbox game thrown in, L.A. Noire has many appealing gameplay elements.  I can’t help but feel that there are missing bits of plot here and there, as certain plot points seem to happen out of the blue and the characters will sometimes make references to events that we’re never shown.  Nevertheless, the story builds up well over the course of the game and definitely holds your interest until the end.  Overall, L.A. Noire is a polished and fun gameplay experience that has a lot more strengths than it does weaknesses.  I’d definitely recommend checking it out, if it sounds like the sort of title that catches your interest.

~PuffyTail


Yo Ho Ho Lego

I love (most of) the Lego games; let’s face it, the Traveller’s Tales’ version of the Star Wars prequels is far superior to the <expletives deleted> movies delivered by Uncle George. Quite a lot of other people obviously thought so too, meaning that before too long the original Star Wars movies were also given the same loving treatment. And then it was the turn of the first three Indy films to be masterfully translated into mini-fig form (personally my favourite of the franchise so far). But it hasn’t all been plain sailing; I didn’t get on well with the Batman game for a variety of reasons and J. K. Rowling really doesn’t need any of my money, so it’s been a while since I’ve played. That didn’t stop me from getting a bit over-excited when I saw that there was going to be a Lego Pirates of theCaribbean game, though.

So I was very pleased when my lovely husband brought home the X-box 360 version of the game for my delectation and delight. I’ve not done much on the X-box; having small hands, I have some issues with the sheer size of the joypad and therefore comfort during extended play. It’s taken a bit of getting used to, but on the whole it’s not too bad (even if I do still call all the buttons by their PS names).

All four films are included and they’ve been translated well, particularly given how unnecessarily complex Dead Man’s Chest and World’s End were. The Black Pearl chapter is a fun introduction to the game before you’re plunged into wondering what the heck you’re supposed to be doing in quite a bit of chapters 2 and 3. This is partly due to the difficulty of getting tortuous plot points across via the medium of mini-fig mime and because some of the sets are a little dark and viewed from a weird angle. Still, we only had to resort to a walkthrough twice in the entire game (albeit after much scratching of heads and “So, what do you think we’re supposed to do now?” moments). This may be because I’ve only seen the middle two films once each and I didn’t really like them all that much so the details haven’t stuck, but it was a bit frustrating at times. At least the game version of World’s End makes better use of Chow Yun Fat that the movie did; yes, you do get to play Chow Yun Fat, and it is good. The current film (Stranger Tides) is nicely abridged; thankfully the Bloom/Knightley cipher characters are mostly side-lined (although what they’ve done with the preacher is hilarious) and the plot is back to being much more easy to follow.

One of the major problems in previous games was with the multi-player option; you know, the lethally dragging your partner off the screen when you wander off somewhere, forcing them to drop-out of the game if you want to save your precious pennies. This has now been fixed with a split-screen mechanic. Not that it’s entirely perfect, but it’s a massive improvement over what went before. The only other real niggle with the game play is that in the multi-player story mode far too many levels rely on one player going off and solving quite a large proportion of the puzzles while the other player has to stand around and wait for them to finish. Thankfully, though, the vehicle levels are much more straight-forward than in previous incarnations (no trying to catch and then lob giant snowballs down wampa holes, for instance).

The quality of the animation is superb, as you would expect, not only in the game itself but also in the loading screens, which are incredibly cute cut-out puppets frolicking aboard a variety of pirate ships. The animators have captured Captain Jack’s bizarre mincing walk perfectly and provided proof that Orlando Bloom is, in reality, an escaped giant mini-fig. In many cases, the quality of the acting on display has gone right up when compared to the original portrayals; I mean, it’s not as if you could ever accuse the mini-figs of giving a wooden performance. Seeing as, well, you know, they’re made of plastic (or in this case, pixels; I’ll get my coat). There’s the usual slap-stick humour, including an obsession with pigs, and the standard story and free-play modes where you run round trying to become a true pirate and collecting ships in bottles. And thankfully there’s still the same high level of gratuitous, utterly wanton destruction which helps to make these games so much fun in the first place.

The designers at Traveller’s Tales have a winning formula and an obvious love and respect for their subject material. There are hours of obsessive game-play if you’re determined to collect everything, but it’s just as easy to dip in and out as the mood takes you. If you’ve never played a Lego film adaptation game before, this is a pretty good introduction; I mean, its pirates AND Lego – where can you possibly go wrong?

~fuschiabegonia


A Zombiephobe Plays L4D

Hi. I’m Alice, and I’m a zombiephobe.

Psh, you’re saying. Don’t be silly. You’re not really afraid of zombies, are you?

You know what? I am. So shut up. Er, sorry. I meant…Nice to meet you all. I’m going to be blogging here! Yay!

Most of my posts will be game reviews, rather than speculation about the gaming world in general; I like doing reviews because I can bitch and snark to my heart’s content and it only seems to make people like me more. I know you’ll want a bit of my gaming background: I love adventure games. I love all of the Final Fantasies, even VIII, and especially XII. I love anything clever and lovely. My favourite game is Half-Life 2, though I’ve never played it myself — I watched someone else play it. I played Portal 2 twice. My household spends more money on games than on food. My day job is writing fiction; you can check out my other blog if you’re curious about that.

I’m also really and truly a zombiephobe. The genuine article. I read newspapers with an eye for new strains of flu or rabies. I struggle with the decision of whether or not to buy a shotgun and keep it in the closet. I have window locks, steel-reinforced doors, a house alarm. I hear sirens and I think, “My god, it’s the beginning of the end.”

Peruse the Sharpieprints blueprints for my zombie-proof fortress, perfected over many endless nights in bed, staring up at the ceiling, covers clutched under the chin:

I like Sharpies.

I like Sharpies.

It started in my late teens. I was still living in London with my mum, though not for much longer, and dating a boy who was simply mad about cinema. He took me to see 28 Days Later during opening week for the cinematic qualities he’d been promised.

I was shaking like a leaf when we left the theatre. In the distance, some voice (no doubt belonging to a fellow film patron) did a surprisingly accurate rendition of a zombie scream. Both of us jumped about half a metre in the air. That night I insisted we camp on the floor because something could reach up through the bed. I didn’t fall asleep until I could press my back up against his side and feel that he was a living, breathing person.

Nearly ten years later, the love of my life, a computer man through and through, spends many hours per week playing Left 4 Dead with his friends from home. He’s an expatriate of Europe like me: the sound of gunshots and cursing in three languages has become a fixture of the house — like the ice machine, or the fish tank.

I got this blogging gig thanks to a Twitter (!) exchange with the lovely Kostika. LofL was playing L4D when I told him about starting as a game blogger. I’d been thinking of just nicking a review I’d done of FFX to stand in until I came up with something really good — and then I thought, “Hang on, I reckon people would enjoy hearing about how I screamed a lot over some fake zombies.”

So it was that yesterday I found myself wishing I’d never been born as LofL patiently waited for me to cringe my way through the opening video. I’d occasionally looked over his shoulder as he played, occasionally listened to his explanations of strategy, but this was so different.

Oh god. I think I might puke

LofL was Francis, of course. He’s always Francis. It’s kind of sexy on him. He’s one of those alpha male types — bit of a misanthrope, wrathful with the heat of a thousand suns, superlatively intelligent, snorts derisively a lot. Codes in C++. I would have gone for Bill, but in the spirit of the event (“femme”) I decided on Zoey. Also a submachine gun, because I felt more secure behind a spray of hot lead.

L4D opens on a rooftop, hordes of the undead milling about on the street below, sounds of snarling, rabid zombies drifting up from the stairs — from behind a closed door, which you’re meant to open.

“Are you going first, or am I?” said LofL.

He couldn’t see it (we were sitting next to each other, staring at our respective screens) but I gave Francis a withering look.

“You.” I said. “Dur.”

He ran down the stairs. The NPCs followed him. I know enough about the smart AI in the game to know I was toast if I stayed on the rooftop by myself, so I plunged in after them. I kept my back to the wall. I’ll have to be honest, the first few minutes were a blur. I shot the NPCs in the back several times trying to hit zombies they’d already killed. We were playing on easy, so in retrospect I was mostly shooting at scenery — but it was hell. I wasted loads of bullets. LofL told me I wasn’t actually that bad.

The first special infected I saw was a boomer. I tried to shoot it, but the submachine gun seemed to send bullets everywhere but the boomer, which vomited on me.

I picked up a shotgun at the next safehouse.

Every new room was in I muttered, “Not a tank, not a tank, please not a tank.” I shot hunters and boomers and smokers. I got strangled by a smoker once. Didn’t care, not really — LofL saved me pretty quickly. All I cared about was making it through the level without finding a tank. So it makes sense that the first really clear memory I have is walking to the end of a subway train, and LofL stopping me and saying, “There’s a tank in there.”

Really?” I said. I hyperventilated. I checked my health, my pain pills, my ammo. Okay, so I had less than a hundred bullets, but no big deal, right? That would be okay.

“Yeah,” said LofL. “Hear him? He’s grunting.”

I did hear something — a kind of deep snuffling, snorting noise. Like a rhinoceros. I backed Zoey away from the door.

“Oh, shit,” I said.

“Follow me,” said LofL. He led me out of the car and jumped over a piece of ground.

“Stand here,” he said. “You’ve got a molotov, haven’t you?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Okay, so equip the molotov. Press 3. Okay, now hold down your first mouse button and aim at the door, but don’t let it go.”

“Okay,” I said.

“I’m going to go open the door. When the tank comes, set it on fire,” he said. “Then run.”

“Oh my god,” I said.

“Don’t set me on fire,” he said.

“Uh huh.” The distance between me and the subway car seemed really short.

I felt a certain dull inevitability as he went into the car. This is it, I thought. I’m going to die.

The tank was the size of Africa. I saw a glimpse of knotted muscle and I threw that damn molotov right in his face. I ran nearly the entire length of the level before I realised that I’d run too far — right the way back to the ammunition pile — and now some hunter was going to show up and rip my face off for abandoning everyone.

I loaded up on shells and put my back to the wall.

“Come get me!” I said. “I’m going to get killed!”

“You ran too far,” said LofL — man for Come back your own damn self.

When I got back to them LofL was already jumping away into the darkness and the NPCs — who were obviously smart enough to know who’d keep them alive better — followed him like a pair of puppies.

“I keep telling A. [a guy in his clan] that if you set a tank on fire it will kill him,” LofL was saying. “You don’t have to shoot him once.”

Trust me.

Trust me.

The next tank I saw was in the finale. LofL told me to run, but not where, so I jumped off a roof — right onto the tank’s head. He threw me across the floor; I shot him several times in the face until the fire (LofL is nothing if not systematic) killed him.

We finished No Mercy on easy without me dying once. I was horribly proud of myself.

As the credits rolled, LofL turned to me with a smile on his face and said, “You consistently killed a third of the zombies I did.”

“Great,” I said grumpily. I’d been hoping to discover that I was a sort of zombie prodigy — a girl that, despite her fear, was piling up bodies and taking names. “Maybe if there’d been more zombies to shoot, I would have shot more.”

“Yeah, easy is really, uh, easy,” he said. “I think you’d be okay playing on expert with the team. You can’t possibly be as terrible as B [another clan-mate who tends to run in front of LofL’s sniper barrel at inopportune moments].”

My face probably blanched.

“I think I’d like to play more on easy,” I said.

~Alice M.