Tag Archives: PC games

Gamestuff: Left 4 Dead

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When I first heard about Left 4 Dead I didn’t think it would be a game for me. Zombie survival? Please! I want to shoot Nazis and aliens! ((Notable exception: Arcade shooters. Especially House of the Dead. It’s different when my involvement in the game is limited strictly to shooting stuff with a big gun and the whole “moving around” business is conveniently handled by the game.)) I’m the guy who loved all of the “realistic” missions in Return to Castle Wolfenstein but turned on “God mode” as soon as the lightning-launching Frankensteinien horrors showed up. Sure, I’ve played plenty of Half-Life in my day, but those things shambling toward Gordon Freeman aren’t zombies, they’re alien-infested humans that just happen to act a heck of a lot like zombies. That distinction makes a big difference, right? ((Yes, the resistance fighters in Half-Life 2 refer to humans controlled by headhumpers as “zombies”, but they’re wrong. Wrong, I tell you!))

Left 4 DeadEnter Left 4 Dead. Sure, I’d heard about it on The Video Game Show, but I only listen to that podcast because I work with one of the hosts; I don’t actually care about their opinions! ((I kid. It’s a good show. In fact, it’s the only video-game-related podcast I listen to.)) But then P.G. Holyfiend started hinting (subtle fellow he is) that the Olde Fartz try a little zombie survival some Thursday night. Hey, we might like it! I gently rebuffed P.G., because Left 4 Dead is one of them new-fangled games ((With graphics and everything!)) and the whole point of Olde Fartz is to provide an opportunity for those of us who can’t afford a new gaming rig every six months to get together on a regular basis and play some of those not-so-new-and-shiny games we love. ((Like WarCraft III and Neverwinter Nights.))

Never mind that I rebuilt my PC last summer and it kinda-sorta meets the requirements to play some of these new-fangled games.

The final nail in the coffin was driven by my fellow Evil Overlord, Chris Miller, ((He has a special hammer just for driving final nails into coffins.)) who—out of what passes for some sick, twisted facsimile of “kindness” that lives in the sick, twisted flesh-pump that passes for his “heart”—gave me a copy of the game on Steam. ((When the man wants to be entertained, he will be entertained. Money is no object.)) And so it came to pass that one Saturday night I was drawn into the world of zombie survival with Overlord Miller and Air Commandant Moore, and we—along with an array of projectile weapons and no small number of improvised explosives—battled our way through a shambling (and often not-so-shambling) horde of the restless undead.

And we did the same the next night; at least until Miller said something about having to get up for work in about as many hours as there are fingers on one of his hands. ((Hint: less than six. Well, on the right, anyway.)) Our merry band…well, disbanded, ((Temporarily.)) but I’d not had enough of the zombie-killin’, so I played through the first mission in the single-player campaign, which turned out to be nearly another two hours and no, we don’t need to discuss what time I went to bed that night and that will be quite enough out of you, say please and thank you.

The game was a lot of fun, but it ran a bit slow on my PC. I attributed the less-than-stellar performance to my on-board video adapter. ((An nVIDIA 7100 to which I’d allocated 512MB of system RAM.)) So, the first thing I did after we finished playing that Saturday night was get on NewEgg.com and order a new EVGA GeForce 9400 GT PCI-express video card w/1 GigaBoogle of RAM. Hey! It was on sale! Don’t you judge me!

As I predicted, ((I’m an amateur technomancer.)) game performance increased dramatically with the introduction of the new video card, and I decided to put these new, fancier pixels through their paces by playing through a couple of the single-player campaigns. What I learned is that Left 4 Dead is a different game when I’m not following in the wake of an experienced player.

For one thing, it takes me about twice as long to complete a mission. I tend to proceed with caution, exploring every nook and cranny of the level, using the echoes of my shotgun blasts to build a complete, three-dimensional sonar image of my surroundings in my head, like a 12-gauge Man Without Fear who never went to law school and isn’t acquainted with anyone named Foggy.

Left 4 Dead: No Mercy Campaign
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The cooperative multiplayer mode in Left 4 Dead is the Campaign. Each Campaign is broken down into five stages; each stage consists of making your way from one safe room to another, fighting off wave after wave of undead horrors until you find someone to get you the hell out of Dodge. ((In other words, it’s exactly like Senior Prom.)) Between safe rooms, you may be running through a railyard or the main street of a small town or ducking in and out of the various buildings that make up a typical urban landscape. The goal for the first four stages is always the same: survive until the next safe room.

Safe rooms bring only a brief respite from the zombie apocalypse; a few minutes to gather your wits about you, heal your fellow Survivors (always four, there are: Bill, Francis, Louis and Zoey) and stock up on ammo. In some cases, there may be better weapons stored in the safe rooms, too, but they are all alike in one respect: none of them have a rocket launcher.

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Once all of your boo-boos are bandaged and your guns reloaded, it’s time for another mad dash to the next safe room. Along the way you may find pipe bombs and molotov cocktails, both of which make satisfying kabooms that don’t quite make up for the total lack of rocket launchers. There are also opportunities for improvised explosions from gas cans as well as propane and oxygen tanks. These can all be picked up and moved around, so as to lay traps for the feckless undead. Simply drop a gas can in a doorway and when the next wave barges through, one well-place pistol shot will set the whole gang aflame.

In some areas, the only way to move on is to trigger an event (lower a bridge, raise a platform, open a door, etc.) that will unleash a multi-pronged zombie attack. There is ample warning that the trigger will unleash the horde, so the Survivors have an opportunity to find the best vantage points from which to see (and shoot) the incoming zombies, lay traps, and stock up on deadly, deadly bullets (there’s almost always an ammo dump near the trigger point).

To make things more difficult for our heroes, there are special zombies. Yes, there are seemingly endless waves of your standard moaning, shambling, and sometimes sprinting undead, but there are also Boomers, whose vomit is a potent zombie aphrodisiac; get any on you and every zombie in the area will jump your brains. Then there are Smokers—so called because they hack and wheeze constantly and explode in a puff of noxious smoke when killed—who snare Survivors with their long, frog-like tongues, dragging them kicking and screaming to a gruesome end. Hunters are hooded hooligan zombies who skitter around on all fours and then pounce, pinning unlucky Survivors to the ground and wailing away at them until someone comes to the rescue. The Tank is a huge, grotesque zombie that throws chunks of concrete, plows through parked cars and has a wicked, wicked backhand. Then there is the Witch. When you hear her crying, don’t try to console her—she is emo, and for her, undeath is filled with pain that you could not possibly understand—just turn off your flashlight and tiptoe around her. Do not startle the Witch. She will, given the slightest provocation, seek to deliver her pain unto you tenfold. ((I know what you’re thinking, but it’s a fool’s errand. No boombox or portable MP3 player can deliver enough of The Cure to soothe the Witch once she is startled.))

Survivors who are pinned by Hunters, snared by Smokers or just generally incapacitated can be assisted by their fellow players. Shove the Hunter, Shoot those Smoker (or even just his long tongue, though this means he’ll live to lick again), or simply give your buddy a hand up. You can also dole out pills (which provided a temporary health boost) or administer first aid (though someone will have to watch your back, as this takes a few seconds).

All of this—shooting and running and healing and shooting and ducking into safe rooms and shooting some more—leads up to the fifth stage: the final showdown, which usually involves contacting a rescue vehicle (helicopter, boat, ATV, etc.) and then having to hold off a tsunami of zombies while the Survivors wait for the vehicle to arrive. If you’re lucky, you’ll live to fight another day. If you’re not so lucky…well, maybe you’ll wind up on the receiving end of a shotgun blast in Versus mode.

Ah, Versus mode. It’s all well and good to cooperate with three of your friends as you battle waves of zombies that gently lap at your brains, but there are times when cooperation just doesn’t cut it. ((Not something you’ll likely hear David or Susan admit on Sesame Street.)) Sometimes, you just gotta shoot your friends in the face or eat their brains. Versus mode separates your foursome into two groups of two: ((Just like God intended.)) a pair of Survivors versus a pair of special zombies. [EDIT: I’ve been informed by sources of dubious reliability that Versus mode can be played four-on-four. I’m going to blindly accept it as fact and report it here.] The Survivors attempt to make it to the safe room while the zombies use their dirty tricks to stop them. With the exception of the Tank, the special zombies can be killed without much trouble—the Witch, whose hardiness is rivalled only by that of the Tank, is not playable in Versus mode—so the zombie players can respawn in a location of their choosing as a random special zombie a few seconds after they’ve been killed. Once all of the Survivors have either died or made it into the safe room (or a combination of both), the game resets and the roles are reversed. After both teams have played the Survivor role, each team receives a score based on how well they performed as the Survivors and a winner is declared.

The final game mode is Survival, which—as of this writing—I have yet to play. My understanding is that Survival mode replaces the “get to the safe room” objective with “just survive as long as you can against an unceasing flood of zombies”. I’ll update this post once I’ve had a chance to play.

The game I envisioned when people talked about Left 4 Dead and the game I wound up playing are pretty much two different beasts. The latter is much, much better. Which means that other people suck at describing awesome things. Heck, I probably do, too. It’s a fun game. Not for the kids. There are gallons upon gallons of blood and the language is pretty rough, so if that’s not your bag you probably want to avoid Left 4 Dead.

But if that is your bag, you may be able to find us on Steam, and we may need a fourth gun some evening, and we’d love to have you. Because, quite frankly, I am sick to death of being consistently one-upped by an AI player. Honestly, it needs to stop.

We’ve got a group on Steam: The Secret Lair Fragfest. If you’ve got a Steam account, join us. Even if you don’t have Left 4 Dead, ’cause we might play something else. ((Like Half-Life 2: Deathmatch.)) There’s always a chance. It could happen.


Portions of this post originally appeared on The Secret Lair forums.

Video Game Roundup – Summer 2008 Edition

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about video games, largely because I was going through a bit of a dry spell in that arena. That all changed about a month ago when, after about three years of nagging from a friend, I reinstalled City of Heroes. ((This is not an exaggeration. I had characters that were inactive for well over 1200 days.)) Well, technically, I installed City of Villains, but the fine folks at NCSoft bundle the subscriptions to both, so “upgrading” to City of Villains got me 30 days of free play on both games.

Now that I’ve got my game on again, I’ve taken a belly flop into the pool of pixelated entertainment. Here are the games I’ve been playing over the past couple of weeks:

  • City of Heroes (PC)City of Heroes/Villains (PC) I’ve only played three Massively Multiplayer Online Games, ((The other two: Earth & Beyond and the original iteration of Star Wars Galaxies.)) but City of Heroes is by far my favorite. A friend at work has been trying to get me to join the cult of World of Warcraft for several months, but elves and orcs don’t appeal to me as much as capes and cowls. I meant to create a few villains during my 30-day “trial” period, but was having so much fun with my cadre of heroes that I never bothered.
  • Destroy All Humans 2 (Xbox)Destroy All Humans 2: Make War Not Love (Xbox). Long-time readers of this blog will undoubtedly know that I’m not especially good at completing video games. I once lost a bet because I couldn’t finish two games in a year. Every once in a while, though, a game grabs hold of me much in the same way a crocodile siezes a wildebeest, its jaws clamping down on the unwary ungulate’s throat until the final twitch is twutch. Destroy All Humans 2 had all the elements necessary to be that game, plus I began playing just when Laura and Kyle fled to Florida for a week, leaving me free to play and play and play some more with no one wanting to watch The Wonder Pets! or (worse)The Closer. ((Seriously, Kyra Sedgwick’s accent drives me up the wall. I’d much rather hear Ming Ming duckling say “this is sewious” than listen to Mrs. Kevin Bacon drawl her way through another interrogation. That’s why she’s so good at what she does: five minutes in a room with her is enough to make even the most hardened criminal confess to anything as long as she will just shut up, fer crissakes!)) The story takes place in 1969 and follows Cryptosporidium-138, an alien invader who (in the first game) managed to infiltrate the White House. Now, however, the Russians have destroyed his mothership and he’s out for revenge, uncovering a vast conspiracy (and meeting a dangerously enchanting female KGB agent) along the way. The dialog is amusing (rife with innuendo and not at all appropriate for young kids), the missions are challenging but almost never frustrating, and the variety of weapons that Crypto acquires for himself and his flying saucer as the game progresses make destroying humanity fun for the whole family. Except the kids. And probably wife.
  • Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (PC)Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (PC). I own this roleplaying game for both the PC and the Xbox, ((But not the Game of the Year edition that includes both the Tribunal and Bloodmoon expansions. No, that would be too convenient.)) but I’ve never really taken a character beyond Seyda Neen (the village in which the hero begins the game). Once upon a yesterday I named Morrowind as my “Island Game”, the single title I’d take with me if I were stranded alone on an island and somehow miraculously had both a computer and the electricity necessary to play games all day (instead of building a raft or a signal fire, I guess, which seems very typical of me). I’ve heard so many good things about this game (and even better things about Oblivion, its successor) that I’m determined to play it through, come hell or high water.
  • LEGO Indiana Jones (PC)LEGO Indiana Jones (PC). Having enjoyed both LEGO Star Wars games immensely on the Xbox, I was disappointed to learn that LEGO Indiana Jones would only be available for “next generation” consoles. ((Please, for the love of Adam Sessler’s anime-inspired hair, stop calling the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii “next generation consoles”! They’re here, for cryin’ out loud! They’re current generation! Just…knock it off…really.)) So, when I was wandering through Best Buy and found myself reading the system requirements for the PC version, I was pleasantly surprised to find that my aging desktop computer met those requirements. Alas, the recommended system specs were considerably higher than the minimum specs, so the game ran rather poorly, at least until I upgraded my PC. Even so, the keyboard-based control scheme in the PC version is sadly inferior to the Xbox controller setup; so much so that I may put this game aside until I can buy an Xbox 360 controller. ((For those who may not know, wired Xbox 360 controllers are USB devices and compatible with Windows.))
  • Homeworld (PC)Homeworld (PC). I blame Sam Chupp for this one. He casually mentioned that he couldn’t stop playing Homeworld and I suddenly developed a nervous tic that wouldn’t go away until I dug out the install CDs for not only Homeworld, but Homeworld: Cataclysm and Homeworld 2. This 3-D realtime space simulator has everything: beautiful graphics, compelling story, intuitive interface, engaging gameplay, and some of the best sound effects and music I’ve ever heard in a video game. Very few games have been able to pull me so completely into their universe, but Homeworld is definitely one of them.
  • Command & Conquer Generals (PC)Command & Conquer Generals (PC). Ah, the alphabet. Because I have my games arranged alphabetically, I stumbled across the Command & Conquer Generals discs in my hunt for Homeworld and then next thing I knew I was installing the game. Generals never really ran well on my PC, but it’s beautiful now that I’ve upgraded. I have never finished an RTS (though I came close with StarCraft and Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos), but there’s a first time for everything, or so I’ve heard.
  • Freedom Force (PC)Freedom Force (PC). Now here’s a game I have finished. In fact, I finished the sequel (Freedom Force vs. The 3rd Reich) in about a week, which was (at the time) entirely unprecedented. I need to scratch my superhero gaming itch, and this is definitely the game that’ll do so. The first time I played through I was only concerned with completing the story, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from Destroy All Humans 2 it’s that completing one hundred percent of the game—leaving no stone unturned, no objective unaccomplished and no shiny ungrabbed—is immensely satisfying. My goal with Freedom Force is to complete every secondary objective of every mission; no mean feat, as usually the secondary objectives are only revealed after the mission is complete.

Gamestuff: No One Lives Forever 2

No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy in H.A.R.M.’s WayNow that my office is 80% clean (pictures to follow soonish) and I actually feel comfortable spending time in it, I’ve been playing No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy in H.A.R.M.’s WayNo One Lives Forever 2 borrows a bit from the Rambo and Dark Forces school of title generation. The full title of the first game is The Operative: No One Lives Forever, but everything pre-colon has been dropped for the sequel (much like Jedi Knight 2, which dropped the original Dark Forces name from the first two games in that series, or Rambo III which did away with First Blood).. Last night, I wrapped up the final two “chapters” of the game.

No One Lives Forever 2 and its predecessor (both developed by Monolith Productions) are first-person shooters that take place in the late 1960’s and feature Scottish superspy Cate “The Fox” Archer as an operative for the international anti-terrorism organization, UNITY. Thematically, the games are a cross between the FlintOur Man Flint (1966) and In Like Flint (1967), both starring James Coburn as freelance superspy, Derek Flint. and Austin Powers movies, spoofing the superspy genre made popular by Ian Fleming’s James Bond. The humor is brilliant, but doesn’t in any way detract from the core sneak-and-shoot mechanic of the game.

The “sneak” part of the mechanic isn’t quite up to the standards set by games like Ubisoft’s Splinter Cell and Looking Glass Studios’ Thief, but it’s certainly no slouch. In fact, the stealth implementation in NOLF 2 is considerably improved over its predecessor. That said, there are still occasions in which Cate should be hidden from her opponents and can still be spotted, which proves to be rather annoying.

The “shoot” aspect, on the other hand, is very satisfying. Throughout the game, Cate wields melee weapons (Japanese katanas, Indian tulwars and a stun gun disguised as a mascara kit) a variety of handguns, rifles, machine guns and shotguns, a crossbow (my personal favorite ranged weapon, featuring four different flavors of ammunition) and a host of superspy gadgets (most of which are disguised as items Cate might keep in her purse: lipstick, compact, perfume, etc.) and improvised weapons. The array of weapons available is dependent upon the mission but, apart from one or two stealth-heavy missions, The Fox is almost always well-armed and NOLF 2 is a very satisfying FPS.

The locations and opponents are nearly as varied as the weapons; H.A.R.M. (an evil organization whose acronym is never explained) operates around the globe and Cate is sent to Japan, Russia, India, a secret undersea submarine base and even Akron, Ohio to thwart their nefarious schemes. Along the way, the intrepid operative battles countless tommy-gun-toting mimes, female ninjas, H.A.R.M. thugsIn the original NOLF, the Indian H.A.R.M. thugs had some of the funniest dialog, often shouting “Do not be apprehensive about this apprehension!” when pursuing Cate and “Hard rain is falling!” when she shot at them. The thugs (Indian and otherwise) in NOLF 2 say things like “Oh, man! Now I’m bleeding!” when shot or “I’m not taking the blame for this” when they find one of their comrades dead or unconscious. and a few genetically-engineered super-soldiers (shades of Captain America!).

As varied as the locations are, they have one thing in common: they are all very, very pretty. Every stage of No One Lives Forever 2 is a work of art, both visually and aurally. The graphics are crisp and clean, the ambient noise subtle, and the background musicA special edition of The Operative: No One Lives Forever shipped with two CDs: the first contained the game and the second was a soundtrack disc. The soundtrack has a wonderful 1960s “feel”, much like the music from the Austin Powers movies. The soundtracks for NOLF and Homeworld (a real-time space sim) are tied at the top of my list of best video game music (with Medal of Honor: Allied Assault coming in second). sets the mood perfectly (especially the eerie theremin that plays when Cate is in H.A.R.M.’s underwater base).

Beautiful locations, fantastic soundtrack, engaging story and exciting gameplay all combine to make No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy in H.A.R.M.’s Way an excellent gaming experience. Among single-player first-person shooters, I rank it behind only the original Deus Ex for bringing the fun.

Gamestuff: The Lost Gentleman

The 18th of August slipped quietly by over a month ago and I failed to mention that I lost my gentleman’s bet with Miscellaneous G™. Longtime readers will no doubt recall that Miscellaneous G™ felt I would be unable to complete two PC games in twelve months’ time; his feelings were strong enough to warrant a wager on the matter.

“You are such a gadabout, sir,” proclaimed he, “that it is entirely outside the realms of your capacity to complete both Jedi Knight: Jedi Outcast and Vampire the Masquerade: Redemption in the time it takes the very Earth upon which we tread to complete a single revolution around yon source of light and life!” At which point he gestured to the noonday sun, for we were in the parking lot of the Chipotle Mexican Grill and that brightest of stars was indeed high above our heads.

“Sir, you are a scoundrel!” said I. “Your words cut me to the quick! I’ll not have such aspersions cast upon my character, even though there be none but you and I to hear them! This is an affront to decency and honour ((Under normal circumstances I would have said “honor”, but the manner of speech had inexplicably ascended to and beyond high-falutin’, so I felt the extra vowel was necessary.)) and I have little recourse but to prove you mistaken!” Had the weather been cooler, I would most certainly have been wearing gloves and the outrageous nature of his claim would surely have compelled me to remove one of those gloves and strike him soundly across the cheek with the supple leather.

Thus was our wager struck, and I set about to demonstrate to Miscellaneous G™ the cut of my jib. In short order ((Four months later, actually. Not a very short order at all.)) I had installed and conquered Jedi Outcast, much to my esteemed friend’s dismay. Shortly thereafter, I installed Vampire the Masquerade and was making considerable progress through its blood-sucking story; by all appearances, I seemed poised to successfully restore my impugned honor.

I don’t recall the precise nature of that which diverted my attention; whether it was a shiny bauble or a calamitous catastrophe, I know not. Certainly, it could have been either. Whatever the particulars, my unwavering resolve was tested and found lacking. Or, at the very least, wavering. As I have previously stated, the 18th of August has come and gone, and it was precisely one year previous to that date when my attention span was deemed suspect. The wager is lost, for Vampire the Masquerade: Redemption is unfinished; Christoff is cursed to walk forever in shadow and the fair and virtuous Anezka remains lost to him.

As for me, I am shamed and broken, my honor besmirched and sullied. Miscellaneous G™ has quietly triumphed, and though he does not crow like the cock at dawn, I see the glint of victory in his eye and hear the lilting song of conquest in his voice, ever a reminder that he has beaten me. I am no stranger to bitter defeat, but I feel the icy grip of this failure upon my heart and I despair, for it is as though I will never know warmth again. At least, not until I finish No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy in H.A.R.M.’s Way.

Geekstuff: Superheroes in the News

My finger is, as always, on the pulse of entertainment newsTechnically, my RSS feed reader is on the pulse., especially where it pertains to all things superheroic. A couple of things have recently caught my eye:

Stan Lee has signed on to create superheroes for Disney. I love Stan Lee as much as the next guySo long as the next guy is a huge superhero geek., but I’m wondering if Disney has taken a good look at some of Stan’s more recent creations. Mosaic was decent, but Lightspeed (starring Jason Connery) was positively abysmal. I haven’t seen The Condor yet, but the trailers prominently feature a half-pipe and Tony Hawkish skateboarding sounds, all of which reminds me of Night Thrasher from the New Warriors, and that’s not a good thing (sorry Night Thrasher).

City of Heroes

Tom DeSanto (producer of the upcoming Transformers movie) is reportedly working on a live-action City of Heroes movie. City of Heroes is the MMORPG that sucked up massive quantities of my time a couple of years ago until upgrades to the game surpassed the capabilities of my computer and puny dial-up Internet connectionI’ve switched to a cable Internet connection, but my computer is still only barely capable of running the game.. One of the things I really liked about the game was the massive backstory NCSoft built around Paragon City and the surrounding area. Quotes from DeSanto lead me to believe that the movie will cover the alien invasion that takes place before the game begins. Color me interested.

Soon I Will Be Invincible @ Amazon.com

Soon I Will Be Invincible is Austin Grossman’s first novel, and there are already rumors that it is being adapted to film. Grossman is a game design consultant who has worked on two of my favorite video game franchises: Thief and Deus Ex. According to the official site, Invincible is “[a] wildly entertaining first novel, brimming with attitude and humor, featuring a cast of dozens of super-heroes and super-villains…” The buzz I’m hearing is very good, perhaps even good enough to make me break my “no hardcovers” rule.

Gamestuff: Jedi Outcast (Complete)

Jedi Outcast @ Amazon.comI derive an inordinate amount of satisfaction from the completion of video games, and Jedi Outcast is no exception. In fact, this particular triumph is especially sweet because it fulfills half of my gentleman’s wager with Miscellaneous G™. Now all that remains is finish Vampire the Masquerade: Redemption before mid-August and the victory will be mine!

The following is an account of the last four chapters in the saga of Kyle Katarn’s journey in Jedi Outcast. If you’ve not played the game, you should be aware that the landscape ahead is riddled with spoilers, lying in wait like so many laser trip mines.

Continue reading Gamestuff: Jedi Outcast (Complete)

Gamestuff: Jedi Outcast (Part 1)

Jedi OutcastJedi Knight II: Jedi OutcastAlso known as Dark Forces 3: Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast in my circle of friends. is probably my favorite non-MMO multiplayer PC game of all time. In the days of once upon a time when I attended or hosted LAN parties, everyone else was hot and heavy on Counter Strike or Day of DefeatIn the FPS wargame genre, I preferred Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. but I longed for four-on-four capture the flag on the streets of Nar Shaddaa. The combination of lightsabers, “conventional” weapons and Force powers was fantastic, and Nar Shaddaa’s perilous walkways suspended above bottomless pits made every mis-step a potential disaster. Whether you preferred to snipe your enemies from halfway across the map or get up close and personal so you could use Force Grip or Force Push to send your opponents plummeting to their death (or just cut them down with your lightsaber), the Nar Shaddaa maps could accomodate your play style.

As much as I enjoyed the multiplayer mode, I never finished the single player campaign. If memory serves me correctly, I stopped playing shortly after the hero, Kyle Katarn, gained the Jedi Mind Trick ability. When the sequel, Jedi AcademyAKA Dark Forces 4: Jedi Knight III: Jedi Outcast II: Jedi Academy. was released, I tore through the single-player campaign in about a week, but never played the multiplayer and never went back to Jedi Outcast. Well, never until now.

Continue reading Gamestuff: Jedi Outcast (Part 1)

Gamestuff: The Gentleman’s Wager

Perhaps one of the truly annoying things about Miscellaneous G™ is that he writes things down. During lunch, we’ll be having a conversation about video games and how I rarely seem to finish them, and I’ll say something like, “I’ll bet I can finish at least two games in the next year.” The conversation will continue and eventually I’ll forget that my mouth has written a check that my skillz may or may not be able to cash.

Then, four months later we’ll be having another conversation about video games and I’ll be reminded that I’ve got less than eight months to finish Vampire the Masquerade: Redemption and Jedi Knight: Jedi Outcast. When we return from lunch, Miscellaneous G™ will produce a Post-It Note date 16 August 2006 indicating our “gentleman’s wager”.

And so, honor is at stake. I shall have to install both games on my computer again, and hopefully I’ll be able to locate my Vampire save games. Alas, I fear that whatever progress I made in Jedi Outcast is gone forever, so I’ll have to start that one anew.

Now I’m wishing I hadn’t spent thirteen hours over the past four days playing Final Fantasy I on my Game Boy Advance SP.

GameDrool: Star Wars: Empire at War

Star Wars: Empire at War

Star Wars: Empire at War (PC)

Remember the Star Wars RTS game Rebellion? Probably not. I think I was one of maybe eight people who actually bought and/or enjoyed that one. Rebellion hewed closer to the Civilization model of gameplay more than the Age of Empires model, which is probably why it wasn’t a terribly popular game. Instead of concentrating on how individual units move on the battlefield, Rebellion tasked the player with coordinating the production and movement of entire fleets across the galaxy. Though there was a mode that allowed skirmish-level interaction in space battles, there was no such option for ground battles. In other words, the player wasn’t pitting snowspeeders against AT-ATs and Rebel foot soldiers against Imperial stormtroopers; the player simply ensured that ground-based defenses were built and troops deployed, then the computer determined the outcome the battles.

Galactic Battlegrounds and Force Commander, on the other hand, were both solely concerned with playing out those ground battles. Unfortunately, Galactic Battlegrounds is merely Age of Empires II with a thin Star Wars patina slapped on the game engine. The facade wore especially thin in the areas of resource collecting and utilization of key Star Wars characters. The resource collection mechanics from Age of Empires (food, ore, gold) do not translate well into the Star Wars universe, even when gold is replaced with “nova crystals.” Likewise, the special abilities of the monk unit in Age of Empires are mapped almost directly to Darth Vader in Galactic Battlegrounds. To make matters worse, the sight of Darth Vader hacking away at a building with his lightsaber is enough to totally dissipate any remaining sense that the game is taking place in the Star Wars universe.

Then there’s Force Commander, which is a prime example of how not to implement a video game: it won’t even run on my system, despite my best efforts to find patches and workarounds to the various technical issues I’ve encountered.

Enter Empire at War, which was either released last Friday (10 February 2006) or will be released this Thursday (16 February 2006); GameStop says the 10th, Amazon.com says the 16th. Empire at War combines the galaxy-wide strategy of Rebellion with the skirmish-level combat of Galactic Battlegrounds, and it appears to do a very good job with both.

A few months ago, Miscellaneous G™ and I were discussing the various shortcomings of Galactic Battlegrounds and I put forth an “if I ran the zoo” scenario describing in particular how resources ought to be handled in games that take place in the Star Wars universe. My primary assertion was that the Imperials would, like most governments, acquire resources through taxation. The rebels, on the other hand, would have to use less overt means. While a certain percentage might come from wealthy members of the Rebellion, a significant portion would be gained by smuggling and/or stealing directly from the Imperials. To simplify things, available resources should be measured in currency (rather than carbon, ore, nova crystals, etc.) and the ability to build or acquire different units would be dependent upon the amount of available currency.

This is pretty much how Empire at War handles resources, but the concept is taken a step further: the Empire spends currency to develop new technologies, while the Rebellion must spend currency to recruit spies who will steal those technologies. Additionally, the Rebels hire smugglers (such as Han Solo and Chewbacca) to siphon resources from the Empire. Should Imperial bean counters discover an accounting discrepancy, they can hire bounty hunters to eliminate the smugglers.

The resource management mechanics I just described are largely a part of the galactic-level scope of Empire at War, as are planetary defenses, mining (which can supplement income), fleet and infantry production, and military deployment. When actions taken on the galactic level result in combat, however, the game switches to what I call “skirmish mode.” In this mode, the game operates like Galactic Battlegrounds, but without all the unfortunate artifacts from Age of Empires II. These skirmishes, which can actually be quite involved and large, take place on the surface of the planet or in space. In the heat of battle, it is possible to switch to a “cinematic view,” which strips out all control interfaces and displays the battle in a manner that resembles a movie.

I have not played the full Empire at War game yet; everything I’ve gleaned about the gameplay thus far is from playing the five tutorials and single mission included in the downloadable demo. It’s pretty safe to assume that I liked what I saw, since the game has been added to my Amazon Wish List. I’m not going to run out and buy it right away, though. I’m going to try to finish several games I currently own, including the crop that I recently acquired. Call it a test of resolve, to see if I can keep Mr. Instant Gratification under control.

New Games: Demon Stone and Dungeon Siege II

Demon StoneDemon Stone (Xbox)

Demon Stone is a Dungeons & Dragons Forgotten Realms adventure. The story was written by popular D&D novelist R.A. Salvatore, and the game features the voice talent of Patrick Stewart and Michael Clarke Duncan. The game was designed by the same folks who did the Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers game, and it shows; the control scheme and combat systems in the two games are nearly identical.

I’m normally not one to buy an Xbox game unless I’ve had an opportunity to play it first, but my decision to purchase Demon Stone untested was driven by three factors:

  1. It’s a Dungeons & Dragons game. This is nowhere near a guarantee of quality (see Eye of the Beholder for the GameBoy Advance), but I’ve had very good luck in the past with D&D titles for the Xbox (Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance and Dungeons & Dragons: Heroes, for example).
  2. I ran out of free game rental coupons for Blockbuster. Now that Blockbuster has brought about “the end of late fees,” they’ve also brought about exorbitant rental prices for video games. Eight bucks to rent a video game? I’ll pass.
  3. It was cheap. Thirteen bucks cheap.

I would have added “Patrick Stewart” to the list, but I didn’t learn that he was involved until I started reading the manual.

Demon Stone follows three heroes (a fighter, a mage and a Drow elf rouge) in their quest to defeat two warring bad guys who have escaped from the demon stone in which Professor Charles Xavier imprisoned them n hundred years ago (where n is either 1 or 4, I can’t remember which). When these two bad guys (they have names, but I don’t remember those, either) first appeared, Jean-Luc Picard realized that if either of them triumphed over the other it would mean the doom of Faerûn, so he imprisoned them in the aforementioned demon stone. I guess he was a pretty badass wizard back in the day. How the two bad guys managed to escape has yet to be revealed, but I’m guessing that Superman destroyed the demon stone in deep space, unaware of the danger imprisoned within. We’ll see.

I’ve only played Demon Stone for about twenty minutes, but in that time I’ve gotten a pretty good idea of each character’s strength. The fighter, obviously, is good at melee combat, while the mage is better at range, firing a sort of mystical projectile (or “magic missile,” if you will) from his staff. The rogue has the ability to hide in the shadows, and when she is successfully doing so she appears to be transparent. She is then able to sneak up behind enemies and dispatch them very quickly with her twin scimitars. Snicker-snack!

As with Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, each character has upgradeable combat and/or magical abilities. There doesn’t seem to be any sort of inventory management mechanism, so I’m guessing that their effectiveness in combat is based solely upon purchasing upgrades to those abilities, and not at all on acquiring the legendary +4 Broadsword of Killing the Living Hell out of Your Enemies.

Demon Stone looks like it could be promising, though it would have been nice if the developers had included a multiplayer mode. I’m not sure whether The Two Towers has such a mode, but I know Return of the King does, and it’s pretty enjoyable when it’s not making you want to launch your copy of the game into geosynchronous orbit.

Dungeon Siege IIDungeon Siege II (PC)

The original Dungeon Siege (which I have finished) and its expansion, Legends of Aranna (which I have not), have provided me with many, many hours of enjoyable gameplay. With that in mind, I jumped at the chance to snag the sequel for thirty bucks. Yeah, it’ll be twenty bucks come August, but I’m Señor Gratificación Instantánea, and I’ve already held off purchasing it for a couple of months.

Dungeon Siege II is a four-CD install, which is fairly significant. One of these days I’m going to have to get me one of them fancy DVD-ROM drives for my computer so I can go back to single-disc installs (though I have no idea whether DSII is even available on DVD-ROM). I’d love to elaborate on the story and gameplay of Dungeon Siege II, particularly how the latter compares to that of the original Dungeon Siege, but I can’t; not yet.

See, it’s a four-CD install, and by the time I finished I was too tired to actually play the game, so I just went to bed.