Alcoholic Gamer

Combining the brute force of alcohol, with the cathartic effects of gaming.


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Dormancy at its finest…

Posted by Andrew on October 10, 2010

As you can plainly see, this blog has been lacking in a certain je ne sais quoi (i.e. No updates since the Renaissance). As of now this place is defunct and so I would like to direct you all to my online portfolio from hereonin: http://www.andrew-heaton.co.uk

In all honesty it needs an update itself but that is currently in my list of things to do. But all my reviews should be up there. So that’s good isn’t it?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

And here is where we part…

Posted by Andrew on April 7, 2010

It’s been quite a long time since I updated this blog. There are several reasons why. None of them really that funny so not worth mentioning. But as it turns out I will be calling a hiatus on this blog while I concentrate on various other projects. Most notably: http://yourhealthislow.tk/, a gaming blog here at WordPress that I’ve now joined as a staff writer. Still unpaid, but because I don’t run the site there’s a lot more pressure to deliver regular content. Which is exactly what I need.

Toodle-oo for now.

Posted in Misc., Non-game related, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

My life has meaning once again…

Posted by Andrew on January 22, 2010

Sad to say that in the 21st Century one can only truly exist on the Internet. Which is a bizarre thing when you think about it: ‘existing’ in a virtual sense.

Anyway, I’ve made my mark on the World Wide Web somewhere in-between horse porn and those sites that tell you how to make bombs. My online portfolio of (nearly) all my writings is finally up: www.andrew-heaton.co.uk

I know it’s not a clever title but for once in my drab existence I’m going for the ‘professional-for-hire’ stance. I am hopelessly optimistic at times aren’t I…?

Posted in Misc., Non-game related, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

First Impressions: Divinity II – Ego Draconis

Posted by Andrew on December 31, 2009

What’s this we have here? Another fantasy-laden, third-person adventure game set in some backwards forgotten era with mythical beasts a-plenty? Hooray! Callooh callay!

Hopefully the sarcasm in that above statement won’t be too hard to detect. It is the internet after all. As you can pre-emptively tell I’ve sort of set the mood for the rest of this review (a quick one at that before we all get dragged into 2010 – a year that sounds more futuristic and awesome than it actually will be) So why am I even bothering to download the demo if I’m just going to tear it several new ones from the offset? Because aside from trying to expand my gaming horizons and distinguish myself as a professional who’s not afraid to tread new waters, I’m also feeling a little bitter about the lack of Tekken 6 demo available on Xbox LIVE so I need something to abuse: step forward Divinity 2.

Dragons: forever framing spikey-armoured dudes.

There are a multitude of games that get thrust into retailer’s gawping faces that, on the surface, appear impressive and worth the amount you bled your student loan for. At least initially. But on closer inspection that £45 game you hold in your hand is nothing but a bland and uninspiring affair (I’m looking at you most sequels!). Divinity 2 falls very much into this increasing pitfall of games that are trying to promise more than they can deliver.

You begin the demo as a Dragon Slayer. Or at least an apprentice Dragon Slayer who’s looking to break off a bit of something-something from the slayer masters. Dragon slaying is clearly a sought-after career path in Rivellon. Professional slayers invariably smack you in the goolies with knowledge and power. With mind-reading skills donned and various other powers of sorcery handed down to you like a venereal disease you quest your little arse off in medieval villages inhabited by cerebrally-challenged extras from Monty Python’s: Quest for the Holy Grail.

Villagers run set paths from one area of green to another area of less-green in a vain attempt to breathe life into their hometown. The problem is the locale and settings are so un-alive you may as well be walking over dry porridge with splodges of grey dotted sporadically about.

It seems as though the whole game is trying to boast a massive budget. With a title like Divinity 2: Ego Draconis (Meaning “I, of the dragon”…I Wikipedia’d it…) and the promise of fighting immense dragons one would expect something much more than what is given (at least in these early stages of the game). So where is this budget going? The graphics aren’t the best. The action is stilted and awkward. (objects and people can only be interacted with when your crosshair is aimed at them, not when your character is actually facing them. A fatal design flaw by any logic) The fight sequences are dull. NPC’s appear to twitch and flail when they talk to you as though the whole town is undergoing a mass seizure. And the protagonist is laughably camp for someone training to slay dragons as a hobby. Especially when he utters phrases such as “That’s another one for my collection” whenever he picks up a chicken leg or what-have-you. At least Link had the good grace to keep his fucking mouth shut!

He doesn’t even talk during dialogue so why bother with triggered in-game phrases other than an attempt to give him depth and personality? Which fails anyway.

And speaking of dialogue: amidst everything else that’s wholly wrong with this game the voice acting isn’t actually all that bad. But it only seems to work in small doses. Which all seems for nought anyway. When interacting with characters your player responses appear as the other person is talking. Meaning you can just select your immediate retort before they even get halfway through their statement. And because you don’t talk during dialogue the whole conversation is just a run of their sentiments clashed together with no pause in-between. The whole thing is just a mess at times.

Take – as a superior example – Mass Effect’s dialogue feature. Your responses only appear halfway through the NPC’s sentence giving you time to read what’s on screen. And even after selecting what you want to say the game only allows for your statement when the other person has finished talking. (call it in-game politeness) And because the protagonist – Shepherd – talks it all flows together beautifully in a smooth, flawless conversation between articulate characters.

Generally Divinity 2 is a dull and boring attempt at fantasy role-playing. It’s lifeless decal and unimaginative fights leave a whole heap to be desired and with nothing unique on display it really calls into question some developer’s integrity. But I digress: Happy 2010 y’all!

Posted in Demo, Reviews, Third-person, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Prey

Posted by Andrew on December 27, 2009

Imagine, if you please, that you are stranded in town; I don’t know a blizzard or something has blocked off all the convenient routes to your home. (By the way I won NaNoWriMo 2009, thanks for asking…) You’re stuck in a consumerist minefield with nought but minimum clothing and your own instincts (oh dear). In your hand you hold exactly £1.99 in change. And now you’re hungry; famished even.

Also vaginas.

You could crawl into Subway and demand one of those delightful ‘Sub de jours’. Or you could weakly step into your local games retail outlet and purchase a second-hand copy of Prey for a laughable £1.98. Pros and cons of both I feel. For the record I opted for the latter. Which probably explains my malnourished presence. But I got a cheeky 1p bonus out of it at least.

Published by 3D Realms most notably famous for all four…sorry three Duke Nukem games, Prey follows the rippling action of Domasi Tawodi AKA ‘Tommy’. A rather spiteful and cynical character (and therefore somewhat unlikeable from the offset) Tommy rejects his Cherokee ancestry in spite of his stereotype-adhering, wise-talking and possible gambling-obsessed Grandfather’s nay saying.

Tommy is also in love with equally Native American barmaid Jen with whom he struggles to have an open and honest relationship with. So when all three become abducted by aliens in what looks like a knock-off homage to various cheesy invasion films from the fifties, Tommy embarks on an intergalactic mission to save the two people who can actually stand his company. That and people on Earth are being harvested for food and the entire human species is based on lies. But…whatever, save the hot girl.

Prey makes it very obvious from the start that despite it being a run-of-the-mill first-person shooter there are subversive gameplay elements not fully utilised until now. It brings together close encounter violence with bizarre beings that look as though an eight year-old with learning difficulties played Spore for the first time (even though it has yet to be created for another couple of years), gravity puzzles and portal technology.

It is not uncommon to be fighting an entourage of alien beasts while stood on a ceiling, or to venture out into a room only to have immense bastards appear through a portal at one end. There are walkways which allow you to traverse walls and mystical platforms that when shot at will alter the gravity and hurl you and anything not bolted down around like an outer space washing machine. Puzzles are thinly-veiled rather than mind-melting but they can cause headaches.

Often when a game is trying pathetically hard to impress the player with unique experiences it thinks it has often it will lose track of what it was trying to show off in later levels. Prey seems to keep coming back to what it believes is the most impressive aspect of the game, which to be fair just shows that they are at least focused in what they are doing.

And speaking of focus: Tommy’s one-track mind in rescuing Jen is something that we aren’t meant to forget any time soon. It’s understandable that the protagonist would clamber and fight in desperation to save the woman he regrets not confessing his love to, but it seems to serve as a meagre incentive and is a little too expositional. The bulk of the story, which tiptoes around the extinction of the human race and of Tommy’s being our only hope (there’s a unique angle!), is more of an inconvenience to him. So is Prey a tale of invasion and destruction or is it a love story?

The game also introduces a mode which allows the player to detach from Tommy’s physical being and walk around in soul-form. The purpose of this: more puzzles. Although they aren’t puzzles in any hardcore sense. In fact they’re less like puzzles and more like crescendos that try to add a little more depth to an already overly-franchised gaming genre. There are instances in which Tommy will use his soul counterpart to bypass forcefields and traverse pathways invisible to his physical being which, for some unknown reason, resemble strung out webs of sticky…well you can guess.

This whole soul business also means that there is no death in the game. Upon depletion of Tommy’s health he will transport to an ancient land where demonic spirits flutter by. Before you are placed back in the game you use your bow to attack as many spirits as possible with each successful kill replenishing a little of your physical health or spiritual health, depending on which colour you attack. This also aims to keep the whole Cherokee mythos alive and relevant.

It does seem that Prey is having ideas above its station. It’s a game with more ideas than it can handle but it seems to sporadically feature them rather well. Obviously not actually being able to die in-game takes away any challenge or tension. This is a game, after all, with some fairly brutish monsters and it can’t help but test their patience when every time you disappear into the spirit world for a minute they have to twiddle their alien thumbs before you reappear with more health.

The story creates this immense juxtaposition between a huge conflict involving alien and human and the hero’s personal struggle to rescue the woman he loves. This big-to-small ration of storytelling is matched quite eloquently with level designs that range from small, winding and dark corridors to immense (and in one instance gargantuan) landscapes in deep space. The game is broken up by visits to the protagonist’s ancestor’s spirit land in which his grandfather tries in vain to penetrate Tommy’s stubbornness and teach him about his heritage and how the human species is in peril. Which is only met by Tommy’s insistence on rescuing Jen. (aww isn’t it sweet!)

Okay so it’s a little dated graphically and the voice acting is sub-par to say the least but it’s a game that can still impress on some levels. The action is fast-paced and frequent with interspersed boss fights and the use of portals and gravity puzzles make a nice safety mat for what is essentially a fairly weak storyline. But if I’m honest it’s actually a pretty good all round game. It doesn’t smack of effort and it’s at least good at what it does. And as it’s nearly four years old and game technology has moved out of its ex-lover’s flat and into its mistresses’ Penthouse that either says something about the quality of contemporary games, or something about my standards in ‘quality’. As a side note I got Daniel O’Donnell’s new CD this Christmas.

Posted in Alien, First Person, Horror, Puzzle, Reviews, Shoot-em-up | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

No review today…

Posted by Andrew on October 26, 2009

I’ll try and get a new review up before the end of the month. What with NaNoWriMo starting Novembver 1st, I’ve been busy preparing for that (i.e. I’m making excuses…truthful ones but excuses non-the-less) so if I don’t get one done by then there probably won’t be one up until December-ish.

That is all.

Posted in Misc., Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

First Impressions: Fifa 2010

Posted by Andrew on September 26, 2009

A couple of things to sort out before I begin:

  • First of all I work in a GAME store. This is not as glamorous or awesome as it initially sounds (“Man, I bet you just play games all day don’t you. I’m so jealous!” Just…no…) However, there are occasions when it works to my advantage. Swiping the free giveaways that accompany pre-ordered titles that are using layers of dust as duvets in the back office is just one way. And in this instance I was handed a demo of Fifa 2010. A demo is nothing, I know, but it allows me to perhaps get a head start in reviewing a game that’s not due out for another week.

  • Second of all: I’m not a fan of football (or most sports). So to partake in a game wholly dedicated to the nation’s ‘beautiful’ pastime seems a trifle incongruous for someone like me. However, reviewing something I wouldn’t normally play has a certain appeal to it. It’s much easier for a fan of the Fifa franchise to get excited and rate the game highly. But how about someone who has – up until this point of course – shown no interest in football games? Or indeed any game that involves shirts with numbers on the back, a big green field and lots of “my dick is bigger than yours” male pomposity.

Could Fifa 2010 actually be the game to change my perspective on the whole genre? Let’s find out…

I’m wondering whether, in the future, game developers will stop creating sequels all together and just utilise already popular downloadable content options.

I mean, I can sort of see the appeal in creating a football game every picosecond. But what, really, do they change in each edition? Graphics improve slightly from what I can gather. And obviously players transfer from one team to another like a bed-hopping bunny hooker. But with online gaming practically mandatory unless you’re a blind, wheel-chair bound dead person (for which I’m sure Nintendo are working on a way round) doesn’t it make more sense to have a strong ‘main’ game and introduce add-on updates that can be easily downloaded for only a fraction of the price of a new game…?

Oh wait…’fraction of the price of a new game’…think I just answered my own question there.

Moving on…

Pictured: not me.

Pictured: not me.

The practice mode at the beginning is the obvious method by which players can become accustomed to the controls. This basically involves you (the player) in an empty field, devoid of a crowd, taking shots at the loneliest man in the world: the goalkeeper.

No doubt you’ll take it upon yourself to show off your football prowess by seemingly dodging left and right and around the invisible defenders before making a beeline for the goal mouth. When in fact you could just as easily run in a straight line to your man with the gloves and tap it in with ease before hurling insults about his wife’s botched facial surgery at him knowing that your voice isn’t being drowned out by 10,000 fans.

Perhaps another side-note before I continue: it may become obvious to some of you reading that some of the things I mention in this review are a little superfluous. I’m well aware that many of the features in Fifa 2010 exist in previous editions. You’d do well to remember that this is the first in the franchise that I’ve ever played, so this is solely a newcomers perspective.


For the match itself I set the game on beginner mode (also known as Retard Setting) because, as the premise of this review may suggest, I’m not an A-grade football player. Virtual or real world.

I played as Juventus figuring that, from my days growing up in a town populated by football fans, that they were, possibly, at one point, maybe, perhaps quite…good. Yes? No? Whatever, I played against Chelsea.


Being a sub-par football player I had only one tactic in-mind: slide tackle the opponent’s ankles clean off. This lead to a barrage of yellow and red cards at my team’s expense. Not that I minded much, I found mild amusement in watching my men flail across the lawn – I mean pitch – and skid at anyone in a different coloured shirt. I was, however, a little disappointed that I didn’t see any limbs flying when I made a successful tackle. This is what happens when you play violent computer games. A lot.


The commentary by Martin Tyler and Andy Gray seemed surprisingly smooth-flowing with back and forth conversations as though what is happening on-screen is a genuine live match. I must admit I expected it to be a little stilted with only generic phrases being uttered. But it genuinely felt that Tyler and Gray were making comments about what was happening while I was playing, and not just have the game’s programming select a pre-recorded sentence.


Maybe repetition occurs in the full-game after eons of playing (let’s face it, it’s bound to really) but for the portion I was engaged in it certainly added an immersive element that was obviously trying to bring realism into the game.


I think that is the point of games such as the Fifa series. It seems as though (going off this latest one anyway) they are designed not only as a means to play as your favourite team but almost as a substitute for when actual matches aren’t being shown on every bastard TV channel! There is a certain degree of accuracy and detail that is – to some extent – quite impressive. Though, that’s not to say it’s ahead of its time. Everything up to and including national anthems being sung at the beginning, crowds cheering when the stadium announcer calls out the team’s names. I even saw players mouth expletives and protest their innocence when I (intentionally) fouled someone (*insert benevolent laughter here*).


Controls almost seem irrelevant to a certain point. When not in possession of the ball one your players is automatically highlighted and is chosen based on whoever is closest to the opponent with the ball. This makes having a button to choose manually a little bit needless.


Kicks range from gentle taps to your team mate, to ‘Fuck off ya big round bastard!’. I found myself unable to handle the ball beyond simple passing. Shoe-killing the hell out of it when anywhere near the goal mouth doesn’t seem to work. And there are combinations of fancy moves but, as stipulated, there probably isn’t a lot of real use for them except to show off like all footballers do, the posing twats!


Much to my chagrin I found that, not only did I actually have bit of fun playing, but I caught myself becoming engaged in the match itself (demo matches are short – about five minutes each half – just so you know). My fingers tensed on the controls and my bum-hole squeezed so hard it could’ve snapped a 2p coin in half whenever I came close to scoring. (that is, I had the ball for more than a nanosecond and was actually heading in the right direction. Sort of)


That being said it’s definitely not a title I would purchase. It is unequivocally a game for the fans. I can handle playing a match or two. Possibly with a friend (or plural). Most likely whilst intoxicated. But don’t ask me about managing teams and choosing game formations. When EA releases a football game that allows you to dismember people’s ankles with a studded boot then I’ll pay more heed.

Posted in Demo, Reviews, Sport | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

First Impressions: WET

Posted by Andrew on September 17, 2009

Tarantino, Tarantino, Tarantino, Tarantino, Tarantino, Tarantino, Tarantino, Tarantino…(This is all the review is going to contain)…

Tarantino, Tarantino, Tarantino, Tarantino Tarantino, Tarantino, Tarantino, Tarantino…

Okay, I’ll stop now.

With crossovers a-plenty and a borderline obscene amount of movie tie-ins is it any wonder that contemporary games are trying their utmost to be more captivating and engaging by utilising filmic methods and techniques? WET, however, seems to take this about three steps further by seemingly attempting to be a film, trying to be a game, trying to be a film.

It’s not based on a film (though there are veiled allusions to certain genres – homages if you will) but one could easily mistake the notion that it does relate to some kind of cinematic counterpart. You can even imagine a Guy Ricthie style trailer for it. Maybe that’s just the fault of the gaming industry for releasing so many tie-ins that it’s just automatic to think that way.

WET (or at least the demo anyway) smacks of 1970’s nostalgia with a grainy filter to give it that crackly, worn look that accompanies old films, complete with an equally retro soundtrack that has caused many afros over the years.

Rubi: "Fuck you Uma Thurman!"

Rubi: "Fuck you Uma Thurman!"

The protagonist, Rubi, is what you expect a female game character to be like in a culture ruled by patriarchal values. So no doubt words like “sassy”, “independent”, “Lara Croft” and “bad ass” are currently working their way through your grey matter right now. Although having said that, the term “bad ass” generally applies to both genders.

The Lone Ranger-style hero has been a staple of third and first-person games for years so Rubi’s individual stance as a trigger-happy, sword-carrying, wall-jumping assassin-for-hire doesn’t really come as a surprise. As a character who begins her mornings by running up walls and shooting drug barons in the face before she sits down to her Shredded Wheat it just seems to be the norm to have her “bad ass”.

I mean, even Gordon Freeman (of Half-Life fame) developed an uncanny ability to fire military and alien weapons despite his background as a mere scientist.

Rubi seems to encompass a sort of melding of Eastern and Western styles of violence and action. Her two pistols, which she keeps in holsters on each side of her hip, is an obvious reference to the Old West era of cowboys and sheriffs and what-have-you (with a particular nod towards spaghetti Westerns films). While her Japanese sword (and equally oriental tattoos on her arm) represents more Eastern-styles of fighting.

And with her twin pistols technique, and acrobatic skill there is perhaps something of a cross between Tomb Raider‘s Lara Croft (a Western icon) and Mirror’s Edge‘s Faith (a character designed to look more Asian) in there as well.

Anyway, enough of all this pretentious look-at-me-I-know-about-stuff bollocks and let’s have a look at the demo.

It begins with a drug deal that goes awry. Don’t they always! Why can’t dealers and gangsters conduct their business transactions in a more neutral manner? Haven’t they heard of Fed-Ex?

When the situation gets out of hand (i.e. people die), guess who’s job it is to intervene and stop the bad guy from escaping via means of a bloody shoot-out? No, not Spiderman. Why would you even say that?

Like a lot of games of this style and complexity the opening sequences feature in-game tutorials to help the player become acquainted with the controls and techniques. You can’t help but feel a little sorry for the goons that get sent out in these sections. They are basically cannon-fodder that serve to make your first few kills as effortless as possible.

The game has chosen to include bullet-time, not merely as a novelty feature like in Max Payne but as something of a necessity (read: pain in the arse). Running and shooting just doesn’t cut it now so the game has developed a technique that allows you to jump and fire at enemies using both guns to aim at two different targets. A neat feature that no doubt becomes a little easier as the game progresses but it seems a little sloppy from the outset.

To add variation to fight sequences Rubi can also fire while sliding along her knees like some ecstatic footballer in a Jet Li film. And she can run along walls. And hang upside from ladders. As many high brow publications would say: “Bitch got moves, yo.” Each jump/slide motion automatically triggers the bullet-time giving a much easier chance of successfully slaughtering villains.

It makes me wonder why the need to be able to shoot both guns individually arose in the first place. Maybe all will be revealed in later levels but from my experience enemies can be disposed of quite easily when in slow-motion so this technique – killing off two enemies at the same time, handy though it may be – just seems to look cool and slick.

I’m going to go ahead and say this: but there’s something Freudian going on here. Rubi disposes of her enemies by “penetrating” them with bullets from “both barrels” of her guns. And on close combat can “penetrate” them further with her large “sword”. I know I’m reading too much into that but fuck you I’m after more word count.

Oh and guess what: quick-time events. During the second part of the demo a car chase takes place. Only you’re on top of the cars, leaping from one roof to another firing at passing enemies in what is quite possibly the most fast-paced sequences I’ve ever played in any game.

The unrealistic feats of acrobatics that Rubi possesses borders on silly but it enables for some rather interesting-looking stunts and death-defying leaps. If Rubi was a bloke, she’d be Jason Statham. Unfortunately the transition from one car to another can only be obtained by quick-time events in which you must press a button with immediate accuracy before a bullet sets up home in your eye socket.

As annoying as this gets when inevitable repetition occurs because the vast majority of the population do not possess clairvoyant capabilities, it is exacerbated further by having to concentrate on these quick-time events whilst keeping yourself free of enemy bullets.

It’s a level of concentration and the desire to not blink for several minutes that does put you on the edge of your seat but also becomes annoying when inevitable repetition occurs (I purposefully repeated that phrase just to illustrate how irritating repetition can be).

RAGE MODE

I’ve given this aspect of the game its own sub-title. Don’t ask why. I wrote it in. It’s been established. Let’s move on with our lives shall we?

What WET also features is something that…crap…there really is no other way of getting around this Quentin Tarantino reference. I’m sorry, it positively reeks of Kill Bill. It even has a siren-esque battle music.

During these sequences Rubi becomes enraged (somebody else’s blood ruins her morning Shredded Wheat, I dunno…) and the screen ditches intricate and detailed graphics for three basic colours: red, black and white. The decal of the room becomes a strong red and Rubi and enemies become silhouetted as she rampages in rapid-fire mode, literally exploding bad guys with her anger and bullets.

The problem with having rooms with no features is it makes seeing your next destination a little difficult. I circled a room several times looking for doors and/or switches before I realised there was a corridor leading to another room in one corner. I’m supposed to be a slick, eagle-eyed assassin and here I am flailing around an empty room (save for some splatter and puddles of testosterone) like I’ve just discovered a repressed fear of legs.

Oh and white is the colour of blood in these bits.

Posted in Demo, Reviews, Shoot-em-up, Third-person | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Left4Dead

Posted by Andrew on August 31, 2009

As of late most mature games have been taking themselves a little too seriously. With graphics being tweaked to no end and storylines and character developments becoming more complex and filmic, games have actually forgotten that they are meant to be just that: games.

I know that with the advancement of technology and a quenchless thirst for detailed gore that would make the offspring of George A. Romero and pre-Lord-of-the-Rings Peter Jackson feel a teensy bit queasy, game developers obviously need to continue pushing back the boundaries to keep the industry afloat (while at the same time kicking and spitting on anything new and subversive), but am I alone when I say that I actually buy a game because that’s what I want to play?

The mass-migration to watch me eat a Toblerone commences.

The mass-migration to watch me eat a Toblerone commences.

Enter: Left4Dead.

Yes, it looks pretty because as we are all aware there isn’t much nowadays that doesn’t look like a big slice of awesome pie (with sex) but from a personal standpoint it makes a change to actually play something that is very conscious of the fact that it is only a game. Okay, when I say that it doesn’t take itself seriously, I’m not necessarily implying that it’s a ‘funny’ game. By all means no. A zombie apocalypse may sound like a barrel of laughs with a saucepan of giggles on the side from the outset, but being mangled and torn into edible chunks soon stops being shits ‘n’ giggles and just becomes plain ol’ shit, really.

I’m not even saying that a game being serious and post-modern is necessarily a bad thing but it’s nice to just switch off the pretentious settings of my Xbox and just get down to some balls-to-the-fucking-wall gaming. What Left4Dead does is remind people that just because this is the 21st Century and though there are enough buttons on your controller to power the Large Hadron Collider, that doesn’t mean the game spinning in your disc drive has to reflect that. Simplicity works just as well.

Enough rambling, time to do some motherfucking reviewing what-what (And with Left4Dead 2 scheduled for release soon I’d best get cracking really!).

In the midst of a zombie outbreak you play as one of four survivors: token old guy, token tough guy, token black guy and woman. They have names but you’ll find them out for yourselves; try to have some surprises left in your life.

The object of the game is your basic survive-to-the-next-level stratagem in which you must bullet-rape the fuck out of hordes of the undead in a violently glorified way until you reach the end. Weapons are limited: you each have a pistol and a heavy weapon that you choose at the beginning. Pistols contain infinite ammo, bigger guns are limited. ‘Prioritise your weapon-usage’ is probably an adage you may wish to adopt.

But the essence of Left4Dead lies in team work. Running from the start of the level to the safe house at the end – leaving nothing but a trail of empty cartridges and poo along the way – is not a guaranteed (or wise) means to complete the game. Allow me to elaborate further:

At the start of each chapter (four in total – there’s a number theme here isn’t there?) you are advised by in-game captions to stick together in order to survive. And with good reason too. “Fuck that!” You’ll say, “I’ll let those retarded bot characters get swarmed while I make a run for it in my pink tutu and tiara. What could possibly go wrong, you twat?”

How valiant of you. For one you, yourself, could be the subject of said swarming and succumb to a serious case of zombie-stamp-on-face. It’s at this point that those ‘retarded bots’ you left behind are needed to a) sedate those zombies with awesome firepower, and b) help you to your feet before you bleed to death on the ground.

In Left4Dead when a player (computer controlled or otherwise) loses all their health they become incapacitated (or “incapp’d” in game lingo) and it’s up to remaining team members to help them up. But it goes beyond simply helping weaker people up off the ground like a Saturday night pissed up clubber outside Reflex.

With a whole host of ‘special’ infected zombies team work is required throughout the entirety of the game as players become blinded, constricted and beaten into a pile not too dissimilar from mashed potato and sick.

Healing may also be bothersome during play; each character only gets one health pack at the start of each level. And each level may or may not contain extra ones. Which means that if you find yourself having to use your own to bandage up those gouged and chewed bits of torso your next low-health alert can only be rectified by a willing participant, ready to sacrifice their only med-pack to keep you running for spare underpants.

And it’s for this reason that the game works best playing with your equally drunk and dateless chums. Sure the AI characters have a knack for picking off those zombies that sneak off to the tree-line to take a piss. And their generosity knows no bounds when giving up their one and only means of healing. But playing with real people brings about that feeling of genuine unity and team play when facing a horde. Even if you are all sat in your darkened rooms miles apart in just your underwear, you lonely lonely gits.

Left4Dead also introduces the ‘AI Director'; an invisible – yet evil and possibly latex-clad – part of the game’s programming that alters zombie positioning, frequency and spawn-locations of special infected as well as the whereabouts of much-needed, yet often elusive, health-packs, ammo and pain pills each time you play.

This means that each play of the game is slightly different to your previous go; elongating gameplay and giving it a longer life in your disc drive. Remember though that ‘longer gameplay’ is not equal to (or greater than) ‘infinite gameplay’. The AI Director gives extended wear to the game but by no means let it delude you into thinking that it’s infinite. No game is infinite.

Going from beginning to end is not always a straightforward method either. Players come across ‘crescendo events’ which break up the forward momentum of the game. In these instances hordes have been alerted to your position and you are pinned to the spot as you wait to progress to the next point (waiting for a lift, setting off alarms etc.)

These sequences are rife with action and blood and limbs and testosterone-fuelled violence (except the woman, she just quims everywhere). And zombies literally attack from all angles leaving little to no place to hide.

Playing with other people, certain elements of tactical manoeuvring may be required: should you throw a pipe bomb? Or perhaps set a couple of gas cannisters off, encircling you in fire and providing a temporary ring of protection? Should you shoot in all directions, screaming into your Xbox Live headset like you’re auditioning for Arnie’s part in Predator? Or perhaps you’ll seek sanctity in some dank corner somewhere and leave a wee-wee stain in your wake.

Basically what I’m trying to drive at is what you get with Left4Dead is a first-person-survival-horror-team-play-based-action-shooter that keeps the story and character backgrounds to a minimum. And by doing this the pace and action of the game is never really interrupted. Complex story modes are fine in games that allow time for it (such as in heavyset RPGs like Oblivion and Fallout 3), but what Valve have got here is a superbly entertaining zombie-fest that pertains to a target audience wanting violence, gore, action, big weapons and – in general – just a fucking fun game to play.

Posted in First Person, Reviews, Shoot-em-up, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

World of Goo

Posted by Andrew on July 27, 2009

With any luck this review will be in the next issue of Krash
so as a result it’s been toned down slightly. I could be all awesome and just stick some foul language in there for good measure but it seems superfluous at this stage. And I don’t want to come across as a cunt.

It’s easy in this day and age to become so swamped with over-hyped mainstream popular culture that one can overlook honest and integral forms of entertainment.

For this review I’m going to be looking at something that’s not been given much of a spot in the limelight: World of Goo.

Not only is it an independently released title but it’s also a PC exclusive (though I believe it was first available on WiiWare); something that is rare in an age where console technology feels like it’s leaving NASA’s top experts coughing in it’s advanced cloud of dust.

Developed by a company called 2D Boy (http://www.2dboy.com) World of Goo is a game that is a game. Allow me to elaborate:

Take a look at the vast majority of top releases in your local GAME or Gamestation shop and read the synopsis on the back of the cases. In an industry that has almost surpassed film, games are beginning to take themselves a little too seriously now. Companies are hiring an endless entourage of programmers, an all-star cast of voice actors, entire orchestras, producers and directors. (And yet I can’t get paid work as a games reviewer…)

This may have been considered post-modern at first but it has now become the norm. Games aren’t games anymore, they’re blockbuster interactive films. That is what I mean when I say that World of Goo is a game. It’s nothing more and nothing less. It’s a refreshing lungful of non-pretentiousness when something like this crops up amidst the over-budgeted schlock that merchandises itself ubiquitously.

So what is World of Goo all about then? If one were so inclined one could almost believe me if I said that it started life as a simple flash game available for free download. This is false. But it may give you a quick insight into the kind of thing I’m describing.

It’s essentially a puzzle game. Each level consists of a number of balls of goo; picture them as bouncing spherical ink globs. The object of the game is to attach goo balls to one another to build towers / bridges etc. to reach the end goal. The goo balls act as joints for lines that develop between one ball and another, which in turn forms a structure. And that’s it. No complex storyline. No suave, filmic dialogue to give whatever characters there are depth.The premise of World of Goo is basic enough that it doesn’t give false hope.

Does exactly what it says on the...er...large gelatinous splat.

Does exactly what it says on the...er...large gelatinous splat.

So it may not compete with today’s chart toppers but where World of Goo stands out is that it’s simply brimming with personality. Its cartoon-y graphics and comical undertones are evidence of the developer’s willingness to not take themselves seriously and perhaps remind us of an era when games and game-making were fun.

It’s at this point that Megan reminded me about the sign painter. This is essentially an unseen character who leaves painted wooden signs in every level; each of them containing messages which often have veiled hints on how to complete each level. They are always signed “ – The Sign Painter” and with its humorous tone and often anthropomorphic view of the goo balls it leaves a rather lasting impression on the game and gives it that certain charm that is lacking in a lot of other games.

The goo balls themselves often vary as the levels progress and it seems as though the developers have done their utmost to keep subsequent levels challenging yet interesting enough at the same time Goo balls range from regular, to re-attachable ones, to ones that set on fire, to balloons, to ones that can be catapulted and more.

By this alone it soon becomes clear that completing levels is not always achieved by simply building gooey structures. There are occasions when the physics of the environment come into play and it’s at these points where the gamer realises that new ways of thinking may need to be implemented.

I’ll give you an example:

One such level (funnily enough the one I’m currently stuck on) requires the use of the wind in order to carry the goo structures from one side of the level to the other. With the rotating blades of a windmill in your path it’s a challenge that is slowly driving me to (more) drink. Or so I will tell a therapist in later years.

The level designs are lush and smooth with a hint of child-like innocence. Though some of them do have background images and decal of a more twisted and odd look. Perhaps something not far removed from German expressionism (Bad Andy! No filmic comparisons!)

If I absolutely had to compare it to a contemporary counterpart I would probably stick my neck out and say it comes close to Valve’s Portal. The premise of the games obviously don’t stack up but if you look at the bare bones of them – humorous, fun puzzle games – you can see where I’m drawing the comparisons from.

I have to agree with my friend Mike when he says that the game is addictive (I loaded up the game to take a screenshot for this article and became so engrossed in the current level I was playing I completely forgot). It has that general feel of exciting gameplay tactic and skill combined with seething frustration that most puzzle games come with. But what fun is a game if it doesn’t have the challenge factor? And if you’re the sort that doesn’t enjoy a titillating challenge then may I suggest you buy a Wii Fit board and shut yourself away from society for the sake of us actual gamers.

So is it worth getting? At £15 in-store purchase or about the same price on Steam I’d say it’s most definitely worth it. And because of its simplistic (though not necessarily retro) graphics even computers with low-end specifications can drink from the World of Goo bottle.

To be fair, what with most PC games (excluding new releases and charts) being around that price anyway I think World of Goo could benefit from being a few quid cheaper. That might sound petty but with it being a game with such personality, amusement and calibre I would hate for people to pass over it thinking: “Why pay £15 for a game I’ve never heard of when I can pay the same for something that was in the top 10 six months ago?” Man, those people annoy me.

Technical Info

Just to help to tip the boat a little:

Operating system: Windows XP or Vista (sorry Mac and Linux users)
Processor:
1.0+ GHz
Graphics card: Any 3D graphics card by the look of it. For reference I’m using an on-board SiS 64Mb card and it runs perfect
RAM: 512Mb minimum / 1 GHz recommended
Hard drive space: 100Mb (I have unmentionable video clips bigger than this)
DirectX: 9.anything

EXTRA: Many thanks and subsequent sexual favours to Mike and Meg for their input on this review.

Posted in Misc games, Puzzle, Reviews | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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