So, this week takes a slight turn from my other blog reviews, because these two titles are ones that I purchased. Not saying they are more notable because of it, although that may be, I guess all it means is I can play these whenever I want Ďcause theyíre on my shelf full-time. I took my time playing them and was in no rush to beat them. Take that as you will.
Left 4 Dead
Alright, so what can I say about L4D that already hasnít been said? It won Dtoidís GOTY as well as being near the top of almost every other website and publicationsí lists, as well. Itís a phenomenal multiplayer experience and has one of the highest levels of combined replayability and visceral thrills. To sum up how I feel, it has yet to get old.
However, for this review, knowing that I think itís the best multiplayer game since CoD4, knowing the graphic fidelity isnít as high as a title such as Gears 2 (and that I donít care), knowing I think itís one of the best zombie games to come outÖ ever, or that Iím not bothered by the ďlack of contentĒ some people talk about, Iíve decided to focus on something else entirely. Iím going to focus on the one thing that pisses me off Ďtil no end every single time I play the game. It pissed me off when the game was announced and it pissed me off the other night when I played with my old college roommate over Live. No, itís not the AI Director. Itís the fact that no single enemy in the game is a zombie. Yeah. Not one.
Most needed weapon: Tums.
See, Iím a huge zombie fan. I love zombie movies, books, games, everything. And Iím not a fan because of the recent mainstream revival of interest in zombies. No, Iíve been a huge fan for many years. The best horror stories involve zombies. Iíve read the Zombie Survival Guide and have a plan of escape should they rise while Iím at home or at work. Yeah, I think about it too much.
With that, however, comes the fact that I am a zombie traditionalist. Iím no pre-300 Zack Snyder loving zombie fan. No no no. Iím the slow, dumb, frighteningly eerie zombie fan whose fears arise more from stories of Voodoo culture than anything else. Another summation, zombies donít run.
While I think L4D is a great ďzombieĒ game, I feel itís much more akin to recent films like the hinted at Zack Snyder remake of Dawn of the Dead or the 28 series (a set of movies I actually love, but for different reasons). I always have to think of L4D as ďinfected,Ē not as zombies (which the game even says they are, which is why I think itís a copout sometimes for the press to just call them zombies instead of appreciating them for what Valve wants them to be). This helps me get around two huge suspensions of disbelief for me so I can become more engaged in the game as I play.
The first is that within the context of the game there is no explanation of why there are five boss zombies, only five boss zombies, and all of them look exactly alike. Any real zombie looks like the person they once were. While L4D ďnormalĒ zombies may, too, they come too fast and frenetically that you pretty much canít tell. To have multiple people all turn into the same type of boss, though, is odd. I understand itís for gameplay reasons so you can become accustom to listening for smokers or witches or what have you, but from an objective standpoint, it is just unlikely. I feel Valve missed an opportunity in the campaigns for the survivors to find out what actually occurred over the course of the four campaigns. I think itíd be neat for each campaign to have a small open-ended story piece (perhaps at the end as you escaped in the vehicle) began to hint at what occurred. Then youíd have to put the four puzzle pieces together in your own head and try to fill in the rest. Or maybe some hints in secret places, kind of like ďthe cake is a lieĒ from Portal. You know itíd be cool, admit it.
Seriously, who farted?
The other thing I think would have been real neat is the inclusion of melee weapons. I know the general pace of the game is slightly too quick for melee, but everyone gets swamped from time to time. Shove is cool, but shoving with a bat in hand or a crowbar (as a nice homage to Half Life) would be even cooler. Maybe make the melee weapons more powerful when used, as compared to shove. One hit kills with them against normal infected or some such thing. Make them take the place of an extra firearm for balancing sake, I donít know. I mean, just like Max Brooks states in the Zombie Survival Guide, weapons like machetes and bats donít run out of ammo.
Iíd be willing to play a slower-paced game with a much smaller prevalence of ammunition if it included slower zombies and melee weapons. I think it would go a long way to make the game feel more ďauthentic.Ē I know the gameís sold well and all, and Valve has no reason to listen to anything Iíve said, but I still donít think weíve seen the best possible zombie game possible (I hated Dead Rising, sorry but shitty gameplay mechanics and controls shouldnít get overlooked Ďcause you kill undead). Iím waiting for a zombie game that blends the forced perspective of games like Mirrorís Edge and Farcry 2 with open-world survival like Fallout 3 all gift-wrapped in the perfect package. Arenít you?
Authentic zombie score: 6/10 Quick ass review score: 9/10
Gears of War 2
I was a big fan of the original Gears. I thought it was a great new sci-fi world with a load of backstory possibility. It was a fresh IP that the Xbox needed at a time when the system didnít really have too many killer apps beyond the Halo franchise. What I didnít like was the short single player story and the busted ass multiplayer that, coming from a development team like Epic, which is known for smooth online play and fast frenetic games like the Unreal series, just wasnít acceptable to me. No number of patches or over-priced downloadable map packs (aka one) was enough to hold my interest for more than two months or so.
Luckily, Gears 2 arrived and addressed, at the very least, all of my single player story gripes. The story was deeper, the characters more fleshed out, and the scenery expanded to a degree that was just mind boggling in comparison to the first. On-rails shooter levels, vehicle levels, you name it and Gears 2 delivered. Best of all, it was wrapped around the same stellar pop and shoot mechanics of the first, but which were fleshed out with human (okay, Locust) shields, mobile cover, new weapons, more varied enemies, and overall polish. Letís just say it was good enough to warrant a co-op play through on Insane from me and my buddy. Great stuff.
No one can argue the game is the graphical king right now.
At first glance, the multiplayer components also received a nice upgrade. With two extra people thrown into the mix and larger more varied levels (on top of the new shield and weapon mechanics mentioned previously), not to mention more gameplay types, the online play felt fresh and worthy of my limited gameplay hours. Unfortunately, after a few weeks I realized the game really wasnít that much more different than the first, with players eking out glitch strategies that destroyed the experience for everyone that didnít know how to cheat. After a few patches from Epic that did nothing to address the gripes and actually made finding a game slower for some, the game fell by the wayside for me and I havenít picked it up since.
Sure, the game was fun for the few weeks that it lasted, but being touted as such a tent pole franchise only to have half the experience gimped by the development team (not to mention the quick release of another insanely-priced DLC map pack from a company that gives more stuff away to PC players than most companies can afford) is both shocking and stupid. To me, Epic just doesnít ďget itĒ anymore. I truly believe few companies do. The sad part is theyíve developed a fan base that buys their titles and only their titles and plays them Ďtil the next release, so $10 for three maps isnít insane to somebody that buys a single game every two or three years (I literally played with a guy who had only Gears and Gears 2 in his played games list and couldnít stop talking about how awesome the game was and how it was the best everÖ give me a break). For anybody else that wants to enjoy other titles, itís disheartening and sad. The game shipped with what, twelve new maps? Fifteen if you count the flashbacks? That means the multiplayer levels alone were worth 83% of the original cost of the game? Seriously? Thatís just insane to me.
Fuck these things in their alien butts. Seriously.
Until Epic works out a formula wherein they can deliver solid experiences throughout their game packages (meaning multiplayer canít be gimped for months on end) starting on day one of sales, Iím simply not into buying their titles. There are much better purchases available and games more worth my time and effort. Gears 2 is a fun solid single (or co-op) shooter, but donít go into the multiplayer thinking youíll have fun with people crab walking and shooting you through walls, Ďcause you wonít.
PS Ė For anyone that says they released a patch fixing some issues, do the gene pool a favor and shoot yourself in the head now. Itís called QA/Beta testing. Epic needs to learn what that means before they release their next title.
Single player review score: 9/10 Multiplayer review score: 6/10 Quick ass review score: 7.5/10
Up next will be Mirror's Edge and Too Human.
Thanks for reading!
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