n3wblog tech commentary and observations from the future

Gears 2, Mirror’s Edge, Left 4 Dead

Greetings. It is a somewhat cloudy, drizzly Saturday in Moncton. A perfect afternoon to sit around and play video games, if that’s the kind of thing you do. Or blog about them, if you’re me.

There’ve been a bunch of big game releases in the last few weeks for the Xbox360. The long-awaited Gears of War 2 was the first on my list of games to play after returning from holidayland. I’ve certainly got my money’s worth out of it so far. The single player game is fun, if not overly challenging or complex. Playing it on Hardcore is fairly straightforward and I’ve only had to repeat a couple of sections a few times. It’s improved, as in the previous game by playing with a buddy in co-op mode. Multiplayer is fun, with a batch of new levels and a free download including some favorite maps (though not War Machine, wtf?) from the previous version. The new “Horde” mode is probably my favorite addition to the game, allowing a team of 5 players to fend off wave-after-wave of Locust in increasingly-difficult configurations. We’re up to level 19 currently, and hope to crack the level 20 barrier this weekend.

It’s not perfect, mind you. There are a few puzzling inconsistencies in the game which I’m hoping they can iron-out in a future update. The party system has removed the requirement for players to signal that they’re ready which is nice to have when you have 8 players all taking breaks for refreshments. Gears rewards players who stick with it but I’m unlikely to ever get all of the achievements for this title as it requires a bunch of them to be gotten while playing ranked online play. For a casual gamer like myself, I’m unlikely to do much of that, and those account for nearly half the points.

Still, graphics from the Unreal 3 engine and gut-ripping sound-effects make this a viscerally enjoyable title. I give it a “fun+” rating of 4/5 stars. ****

I was planning on picking up Dead Space also after some pretty decent reviews, but I was deflected by another title, also from EA, called Mirror’s Edge (EA’s site, amazon is currently being a dick about finding it for the Xbox360, so you’ll just have to find it yourself). This award-winning, free-running-inspired game by ace game studio DICE looks great and has a killer graphics engine. The story is propelled along by a between-chapters anime with decent voice acting and visuals that remind me a lot of a couple of the stories from The Animatrix. Soundtrack is also appropriate to the genre with a kind of ambient techno backdrop that pulses in all the right ways.

This is a really cool-looking title and the game play is fast and intense. And therein lies my complaint: It’s too hard. As soon as you’re out of the training session, you’re thrown into this action/detective story-line that has bad guys (“blues”, usually good guys, or “police”) firing bullets at you and you’re forced to either engage them which is usually suicide, or run away from them, which is often suicide. I’d have preferred just a bit more of the running around along the roof-tops to all-out warfare. Even the included “race” mode is hard enough that I don’t see myself playing it much, and requires one of those annoying EA logins that you need to setup first to play it.

Mirror’s Edge is a neat game though, and if you’ve got the reflexes and tenacity, you may enjoy it. The fact that I’m still playing it and looking forward to playing it again despite its frustrating attempts to kill me, suggests that this is a good game. Rated: Fun. ***/5.

Last up on this list is a surprise acquisition. A friend was very insistent that I pick this title up, so, not wanting to disappoint, I put aside my resistance of, wait-isn’t-this-just-Resident-Evil-mixed-with-28-Days-Later-and-a-little-Dead-Rising? and bit the bullet. Where Left4Dead (warning: flash, amazon search is suxxors) differs from the others and breaks new ground is in being designed to be a co-op game from the ground up. Four survivors can play 4 different campaigns (each lasting between 1-2+ hours) in an attempt to escape some zombie-infested territory. The settings range from urban to rural and are quite decently-designed, though are probably less open than they appear. The feeling of unrestricted movement is pretty good though and the areas you’re thrown into are quite large thanks to the Source engine from Valve.

The other neat thing about Left4Dead is the Director. The AI that’s responsible for throwing hordes of zombies at you and playing creepy music. The game has a great cinematic feel to it that if you weren’t so busy fighting for your life, you might have a chance to be pretty scared. The campaigns each culminate in a final fight to escape that is truly harrowing. I have yet to make it out, but I’ve seen the end credits roll when my partner made the helicopter once. I can tell you that my final moments were both incredibly heroic and poignant as I was pulverized by a tank and what must have been hundreds of zombies as I attempted to fend them off so the helicopter could make good on its getaway carrying the precious cargo. “Go on. Get outta here,” I croaked.

These scenes are what make Left4Dead so neat. And because each campaign is going to be different each time based on where the director puts stuff, it promises to have some pretty significant replay value. Rounding it out, is a multiplayer “versus” mode where each team gets to take turns as the Infected trying to bring down the survivors. Haven’t played it yet, but maybe if a few of my friends pick it up (hint, hint) we can give it a go.

Tentatively, fun+, ****/5.

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