Tuesday, 29 September 2009


Because it's been too long without a mention of the 'z-word'
Surprisingly I've never reviewed Left 4 Dead for the XBox 360 before.  I've had the game since launch, so why haven't I talked about it?  I like zombie games and movies, and if you're reading this then there's a chance that you do too.

Why review now?
It's only been recently that I have been able to experience the game fully, mostly because I finally obtained a Gold Membership for XBox Live, meaning that I can play the game (and many others) online with and/or against actual humans for the first time ever.  Also, the latest DLC (download content) for the game was made available today.

The game is available for PC on disc or via Steam, on disc for the 360, and there is a Game of the Year Edition available for the 360 and PC, which comes reloaded with Survival Mode, and is best described as a first person shooter (FPS) survival horror game.

Time for a Crash Course
Today an extra campaign was added to Left 4 Dead, entitled 'Crash Course'.  As to the basic premise for the whole game: you play as one of four characters trapped in one of several scenarios, trying to escape a rather angry and angsty zombie horde.  Or in the case of Versus Mode: you play as either the particularly potent zombies or the survivors.

When you start the game up an intro movie will play, which introduces the player to the various ways in which to handle the situations and enemies that will be meted out to you by the A.I. director.  Yes that's right, the A.I. director, aka, a malicious thing that will make things more difficult for you, the better you do, and each time you run through a campaign, will make it different than before in terms of enemy spawning, and the locations of ammo, weapons and health items.

The characters are Zoey, Louis, Bill and Francis.  Neither of them have any strengths or weaknesses, but have different reasons for not being zombie chow at the beginning of the game.  I prefer playing as Zoey, but that's because I always try to play as a female character in a computer game.

What's it like to play?
There are several different ways to play the game that go beyond difficulty settings, however you will need to be able to play the game online to have access to everything.  On the basic level is Campaign Mode, where (after the DLC) you can choose to play through one of five different scenarios.

Each scenario requires a different strategy, but one strategy is always important: stick together.  This is the most important thing to do when playing through this game as one of the survivors, because the director A.I. will quite happily send a Hunter, Smoker or Boomer to make the lone character's life hell.  The other modes are Survival Mode (play in one of the scenarios and see how long you last, online only), and Versus Mode (online only).

In terms of weapons you have a pistol or pistols with unlimited ammo as your primary weapon, followed by either sub-machine gun, assault rifle, hunting rifle, shotgun or automated-shotgun with limited ammo as your secondary weapon.  You can carry only one incendiary device at a time, health pack and pain pills.

Anything else?
Well, Valve were lovely enough to enable a System Link mode for the 360, so not only can you play with people online, you can LAN it as well.  This is great for parties.  Also, when you're online with the game it has a guest mode enabled so that someone can join you online without their Live account, incase they don't have one or don't have Gold, but you can play with two Gold Live accounts on the same system at the same time and go online if you want too.

If your other half enjoys killing zombies then this game is also and excellent game for couples.  My fiancĂ© and I have a wail of a time playing this together.

There's an occasionally annoying glitch with the Hunters where they continue to spout blood after you've killed them.  And if you're a completionist trying to get all the achievements that you can, it is a nightmare to complete the various scenarios on the Expert difficulty (though that's probably why it's called Expert).

'Crash Course' the latest DLC for the game is not as the other chapters or nearly as involving.  If you've played the other scenarios to death, then it might be worth purchasing this bit of DLC.

The only other issue is that the sequel, Left 4 Dead 2 is out in November and I would be worried about just how many people will remain online playing the first game once the new one is released.

This has been one of my most favourite games of the last year.  It is extremely re-playable and if you're old enough to legally own this game, then you should, because it's available now from all major computer game retailers.

Even though Valve has come under criticism for releasing a completely new sequel for a game that is almost a year old, I'll be reviewing the sequel when it comes out in November this year.

Related links

Monday, 28 September 2009

First episode of FlashForward

So this is what Five has been spending money on, instead of buying HOUSE season 5...
In true fashion of trying to stop people in the UK from watching the series illegally online, Five have managed to get their schedule sorted to start airing this new series just days after the US have viewed the first episode.  So far, so good.

But what's this, I see...
Oh no, not the world experiencing a single event simultaneously... No, they surely had not done that in The 4400 already, no of course not...   No they don't have US government officials investigating the world's population from the get go...

Y'know, it's almost as if it were The 4400, but without the super powers, and they still need to save the world.

The series is meant to be "loosely" based off an SF novel Flashforward published in 1999.  However, I saw far too many similarities with The 4400 in the first episode.  And I liked that series, and it was cancelled prematurely, so perhaps I'm hating this new series just a little too much due to this bias.

Basically, what happened was
If you have watched Five at all during the last two weeks, it was not difficult to understand what the show's basic concept was:

What would happen if the world's population of 7 billion people simultaneously experienced seeing their future in six months time? And, just how did this happen?

Of course this must be investigated by the likes of the FBI post-haste.

Here's a question
If the world's population essentially blacked out whilst gaining these visions of their futures, why the hell did the scriptwriters not think to talk about the thousands who either died or just survived plane crashes after their plane pilots blacked out?

Will you continue watching it?
Well, I'll watch the second episode when it airs on Five next Monday at 9PM.  I'm not ready to give up on this just yet.

Related links

Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe

Button bashing on the 360
One of my comfort games of the last few months has been a game in the Mortal Kombat franchise.  I gain joy when button bashing on a control pad delivers such exquisite moves on Easy difficulty.

When was it released?
It was released at the end of 2008 for the XBox 360 and PS3.

MK vs DC features characters from Midway's popular Mortal Kombat fighting game franchise battling with and against characters from Detective Comics' various comic book series.  Interestingly the fitcional universes begin to collide in the game's story, and all hell breaks loose.

Don't expect canon treatment of the characters in the game, but at least they remember to explain that the reason why MK's Raiden can kick DC's Superman's ass: Superman has no resistance to magic.  The game doesn't fit in with either franchise time line, except for maybe DC Universe's 'ultimate Elseworlds' (whatever that is (hey, I've only read a few of the Batman and Superman graphics)).

But is it fun to play?
If you're not obsessively knowledgeable of either universe, then it is fun, you can take it as a Western fighting game that has a reasonable bit of story thrown in.  Story is good.

I enjoyed the fact that someone like me, who is hopeless at pulling off combos in fighting games, stood a chance at completing arcade and story mode.  Online play works fine, but if you're just playing this game casually than a lack of ability in pulling-off combos becomes a disadvantage.

What was missing?
It would have been nice if some of the MK staples had made an appearence, such as collectible in-game items and artwork.

Worth buying?
Yes and no.  If you and friends are not serious about the game's background, then it's great to have at a party and watch MK's Sonya punch DC's Joker in the face, and other such fun character combinations.  If you're looking for something that fits in with the chronology of either: look else where. 

Related links
Wiki entry on the game

Cranking up the blog again

Getting back on the review horse
After finally finishing other commitments from the last four months or so, I'm getting back into review mode.

What you have to look forward to
In the coming weeks I'll be adding reviews for:

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (film)
George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy novel series
The Ugly Truth (film)
Inglorious Basterds (film, Tarantino)
Diary of the Dead (film)
Mortal Kombat Vs DC Universe (computer game)

And many others.

I have a whole summer's worth of media texts to add