Left 4 Dead Impressions (Xbox 360)

For some reason zombies are hot in gaming, film, literature, and geek culture as a whole right now. From books like Max Brooks’ World War Z to games like Resident Evil, zombies are getting tons of attention and people seem to have fun plotting out their own zombie survival scenarios across message baords (geeky, I know). With Valve’s upcoming Left 4 Dead, you and up to 3 more players get the chance to make a survival run through a zombie infested city, and working together is key to survival. Over the weekend I had the chance to delve into Valve’s invite-only demo with some friends and the experience was quite impressive.

The Left 4 Dead demo only has one level, but you can still play online with up to 4 people at one time. You begin the demo on an apartment rooftop where you can choose between a sub-machine gun or a shotgun as your primary weapon. You’ll also each grab one med pack and everybody has a pistol as their secondary weapon. The four of you need to make your way across the city, through hordes of zombies, to the hospital rooftop where you can be evacuated. Along the way there are safe rooms where you can switch weapons, restock your ammo supply, heal up, and just catch a quick breather. At each of these checkpoints the game gives you updates on who has killed the most zombies, who has taken the least damage, which player pulled off the most headshots, and more. Once you’re ready to face the droves of zombies again, you open up the safe room and head back out. 

The demo is fairly short, but it’s worth playing through multiple times for one big reason: The Director. The Director is the name that Valve has lovingly given the AI in Left 4 Dead that manages how the zombies populate the city. Every single time you play the game, the zombies will be scattered differently and they will attack with varying frequency. The first time I ran through the demo things were pretty evenly paced, but the second time zombies would be absent for long stretches and then just crammed into strategic choke points. Another time I played the zombies were scarce in corridors, but they were rushing in large numbers in open areas from all directions. The result of all of this is that Valve has created a game that keeps you on edge, keeps you working closely with your teammates, and keeps you interested in playing the same levels over and over again.

The demo also stresses just how important teamwork is in Left 4 Dead. With most co-op experiences, if each player is just good at running a level with guns blazing, you’ll do just fine. In Left 4 Dead, you really have to watch each out for each other, and you can’t stray from your team. At times the zombies will take you down, and getting up is impossible without a teammate shooting them off of you. Also, certain zombies can incapacitate you for a moment until a teammate saves you. If you wander off alone, you are going to die. The Director is not kind to wandering souls.

The demo only manages to show the gamer a little of what is in store for them. Screenshots show that we can expect a variety of locales and a lot of different weapons (the demo features 4 main weapons). I have no doubt that Left 4 Dead has the potential to become one of the best co-op experiences ever to be seen in gaming. Here’s hoping that in the rush of releases this year that the game gets its fair shake on the console front, because I already know that the PC community is behind the game in a big way.

The Fallout retrospective

Gametrailers.com (seriously, one of the coolest sites ever) has put up a retrospective for the Fallout series to prep everybody for Fallout 3’s big release. They’ve done a few of these retrospectives in the past, and they do an excellent job at getting everybody up to speed with the story and major themes that are present in the series. Check out the video below.

Screw you, Activision/Blizzard

So yeah, one of my most anticipated games of all time is getting the money grubber’s treatment courtesty of Blizzard and Activision. In case you missed it, at BlizzCon this year Blizzard announced that StarCraft 2 was going to be split into three titles, one for each race. Yep, instead of paying $50 and getting all three campaigns in one package, like you did in StarCraft, you’ll now have to pay $50 for three seperate packages. In speaking with IGN, Rob Pardo, executive vice president of game design, said a few things about the decision. Here’s a direct quote from the IGN piece (bolded emphasis is mine):

We really wanted to emphasize player choice a lot more,” he said. “We really wanted to tackle more of a branching storyline, [a] branching campaign; allow players to choose things like their own technology. And as we kind of developed [the game], we had to figure out how all there? How many missions do we actually need to tell an interesting story and what’s the player’s critical path to it? We have to make all of these tough design decisions about how this was going to work for us?”

“What we realized that whenever we put in the similar amount of content that we put in our previous games–as far as missions, characters, cinematics, things like that–it never really felt like the player had enough choice; it wasn’t really living up to what our hopes and dreams were at first. That’s when we realized we’re kind of at this fork in the road. We really have to make a choice. Do we want to back away from those philosophies? Or do we maybe just delay the game a lot and kind of do a little bit more? Or do we go for it?”

The whole quote is pretty circular and sounds like some dodging away from the obvious fact that this is nothing more than an attempt to milk the teat for all it’s worth. Yeah, maybe the campaigns are each going to be a bit longer, but do we really expect that each campaign will be as long as the previous StarCraft? That would be impressive if that’s the case, but somehow I really doubt it. Maybe I’m starting up the whining a bit early, but there’s no hiding the fact that it will cost $150.00 to experience the entire StarCraft 2 storyline. In a struggling economy, that’s a really steep tag to ask. I kind of hope that the strategy falls flat and gamers wait until cheaper 3-packs are available a year or two down the line rather than giving Blizzard and Activision the full asking price.

Click to enlarge.

What I’m guessing is that piracy on StarCraft 2 is going to be extreme. Gamers will probably buy the first title and find a way to get the other two installments through less than ethical means. I’m not advocating that, but I’m starting to understand why piracy is so much on the rise. You’re doing it to yourself, developers/publishers.

Fallout 3 goes gold, PC specs revealed

One of the biggest and most anticipated titles of 2008 has just gone gold. Fallout 3, due out on October 28th, is coming to PS3, Xbox 360, and PC, and it’s Bethesda’s most ambitious undertaking in company history. On the official web site for Fallout 3, Bethesda has stated that the game is receiving early acclaim and awards, and I think it’s easy to see why.

On the PC, Fallout 3 is going to require some hefty specs. Here are the specs Bethesda released:

Minimum System Requirements:

  • Windows XP/Vista
  • 1GB System RAM (XP)/ 2GB System RAM (Vista)
  • 2.4 Ghz Intel Pentium 4 or equivalent processor
  • Direct X 9.0c compliant video card with 256MB RAM (NVIDIA 6800 or better/ATI X850 or better)

Recommended System Requirements:

  • Intel Core 2 Duo processor
  • 2 GB System RAM
  • Direct X 9.0c compliant video card with 512MB RAM (NVIDIA 8800 series, ATI 3800 series

I’ll be picking the game up on the 360 simply because it allows me to play on a much larger screen, but I really don’t think you can go wrong with any platform. The game really does look impressive and it should prove to be one of the most engrossing experiences of 2008.

Source: http://fallout.bethsoft.com/eng/home/pr-100908.php (gold) http://fallout.bethsoft.com/eng/info/faq.html (specs)

Google to buy Valve?

According to a report over at The Inquirer, Google is going to be buying Valve “any second now.” Obviously this would be a pretty large move for the search engine giant, as it would give them a big presence in the PC gaming industry. The story can be found here: http://www.theinquirer.net/gb/inquirer/news/2008/09/17/google-valve

I guess we won’t know how this would affect the Steam service or any of Valve’s projects until details of the deal are announced, if they turn out to be true. I guess we should all know soon, either way. Somewhere, a Microsoft exec just tossed over a rack of magazines…

Lies in print: EA’s “misprint” on the Spore manual

Spore has received its share of anger from the gaming community due to its ridiculous DRM restrictions, and I think they rightly deserve the backlash, despite the fact that I’m playing the game (and enjoying it immensely) with my wife right now. Heck, even after the bellyaching over the DRM, I still picked up the game, simply because I refuse to pirate anything. Anyway, it CLEARLY states in the manual that you can have more than one account on a single install. It couldn’t be more obviously stated, in fact. However, when you go to create a second account (something useful for families with multiple users or couples), it’s simply not an option. When the issue was raised in the Official Spore Forums, EA gave a half-hearted explanation. Here’s the post made by EA_Violet on page 1 of the thread discussing the issue:

That section in the manual was a misprint and will be corrected in future printings of the manual. There is one Spore registration/account per game/serial code so you are correct in that you cannot make multiple accounts at this time. I have sent your guys’ feedback to the game team though since I can understand the desire to share a game on a system that you entire family uses.

~Violet

The thread has now grown to 28 pages of replies by angry and confused users. My contribution is as follows:

You know, I just can’t swallow this one. I bought the game because my wife isn’t much of a gamer but she’s been excited for Spore since I brought back footage from two E3 shows ago. We were told that we could each have our own account on the game, and the text in the manual confirmed it. Now we’re being told it was a misprint? Why can’t you guys just be upfront and honest and tell us that you pulled that feature but forgot to amend the manual? It’s obvious that’s what happened.

The DRM is a nightmare, but the flat out lying to your consumers is what is really inexcusable. Yes, the game is great and I’m enjoying it, but definitely at a diminished level due to my wife and I having to share an account. Inexcusable, EA, simply inexcusable.

So, Spore fans, even if you’re fully satisfied with the game, I don’t think it’s ok to allow this stuff to go on without at least voicing your concern for this sort of consumer robbing. You know who is avoiding these issues? The pirates. Yes, the pirates are playing the game DRM-free and loving it, while those that were considerate enough of Maxis’ work end up having to deal with harsh DRM and bold-faced lies. Thanks, a lot EA! This right here is why your PR is always right down in the toilet.

The growing thread over at the Spore forums can be found here: http://forum.spore.com/jforum/posts/list/103.page. As of the time of writing, there still has only been the single response from EA.

Spore: Galactic Edition is coming to force open your wallets

The perennial E3 game of the year is finally about to relelase (it’s really going to be out this September, folks), and as expected, the game will release in both a standard and a collector’s edition. The collector’s edition of Spore is being called Spore: Galactic Edition, and will have bonus content, in addition to a stylish packaging. The bonus content includes:

  • ‘Making of Spore’ DVD video
  • ‘The Human Toolkit’ DVD video, by National Geographic
  • ‘The Art of Spore’ hardback mini-book
  • Fold-out Spore poster
  • Premium 100-page Galactic Handbook

I don’t know if I’m willing to pay the $79.99 asking price for this edition, but I’m sure the making of DVD has to be pretty interesting. Will Wright is fascinating, and any additional glimpses into his process for game design has got to be worth your time and (possibly) money.

R.I.P. GFW Magazine (1981-2008)

In an emotional post over at 1up, Jeff Green, the EIC of the now dead Games For Windows Magazine announced that the publication is finished. The magazine, which was originally called Computer Gaming World, was started 27 years ago and was always a trusted and well-respected source for news, info, previews, and reviews. The magazine editors will stay on as full-time employees of the 1up Network, but nothing was said regarding the fate of the rest of the staff. Here’s hoping that everybody involved has a successful future.

For the original blog post, visit the link: Jeff Green’s 1up Blog

BioShock is bringing the awesome

The BioShock demo has been out for a few days and several stores have broken the street date and starting selling the game a week early. BioShock is one of those few titles that is absolutely cleaning up with reviewers while managing to dodge criticism from just about everybody that has had a chance to get some time with the game. I see several of my buddies in the industry playing the game for review as I check my Xbox Live friends list and I can’t help but be a little envious. After all, I’m working on Brain Age 2 right now while they’re uncovering the secrets of Rapture.

bioshock.jpg

As I’ve played through the BioShock demo I’ve found myself taking tons of extra time in each room just admiring the detail, the art style, and the sheer beauty of Rapture. The use of the late 1940s decor mixes well with the failed Utopian theme of the game and makes for one of the most unique and attractive games to ever to hit consoles or PC.

bioshock2.jpg

BioShock hits next week on the PC and 360. I think at this point if you own a 360 or a PC capable of running the game, you should be forced to play BioShock or face a ban until you learn to appreciate the great achievements in game design that our hobby has to offer.