This post has taken a while to get to the point it is: I actually started writing it just after Christmas last year but things just got on top of me, then I went on holiday and forgot about it until I looked at it tonight.
The catalyst for writing it was Episode 5 of Telltale’s The Walking Dead game and while this piece isn’t finished yet, I thought I’d just post what I’ve got so far: This is a work in progress. I’m still not sure if it’s finished or not or my memory of the series is the best, but if you haven’t finished the series, this does contain spoilers so read with your peril.
Telltale Game’s The Walking Dead series – made up of five episodes, each about six weeks apart – isn’t an easy game to play, especially as a parent. It’s an emotional roller coaster ride that will see you emotionally attach yourself to some of the characters and feel bad when something goes wrong – at least, I did. I got emotionally attached to Lee and Clementine, the two key characters, hook, line and sinker by the end of the series.
I finished Episode 5 a while ago and if you’re a parent, it’s an emotional experience, especially experiencing the end and the impact it had on the relationship between Lee Everett, a former high school teacher but now convicted killer, and Clementine, the girl he finds hiding in a treehouse in the backyard of her parent’s house.
Everett isn’t a parent, although he tells a non-playable character in the final chapter, No Time Left, that he wanted children, but throughout the game – whether he wanted to or not – he was forced to become a parent to Clementine, whose parents are believed to have escaped to Savannah following the zombie outbreak. We see Clementine’s parents in Ep 5 and things aren’t good.
While at first The Walking Dead was only available for New Zealand and Australian gamers over Steam – for some reason Telltale Games refused to even submit it for classification in our region – it’s now available on both Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and iOS here.
Unfortunately, for most New Zealand and Australian gamers, though, unless you’re playing games on our PC via Valve’s Steam service you won’t be able to play The Walking Dead because it’s not available for console games in our region. Telltale Games didn’t actually consider it worth submitting the game to the NZ or Australian classification offices – it probably had something to do with Australia not having an R18 rating – but they should have submitted it. At least I think they should have. With Australia getting its classification system sorted I hope they reconsider submitting: I even emailed Telltale’s PR manager – twice – about that very issue but he hasn’t got back to me. That either means one of two things: he either hasn’t got around to reading my email or he doesn’t want to answer. Part of me thinks it’s the latter.
Anyway, based on the comic book series created by Charlie Adlard, Robert Kirkland and Tony Moore, Telltale’s The Walking Dead doesn’t feature characters from AMC TV series but I guess has a story line that runs parallel to the TV show, and it doesn’t pull any punches in it’s delivery. It’s a gritty, pull-no-punches tale of a group of survivors who find end up together and band together in the search for somewhere safe to call home after the world has turned to shit and the undead wander the streets. Lots of undead, actually, out to eat anything that moves. It’s made up of five episodes. each of around eight chapters: A New Day, Starved for Help, Long Road Ahead, Around Every Corner and No Time Left.
There’s no doubt that Telltale hasn’t pulled any punches with the graphic content of these games – on at least two occasions limbs have to be hacked off by the player – but after finishing No Time Left I posted my thoughts about it here (on my blog on http://www.stuff.co.nz) and I was intrigued at the number of commentors who said the game had impacted on them as parents, or affected them emotionally, even if they didn’t have children.
Glenn wrote “Finished it last night. I cried at the end of it. More than I have for any movie or book in years. I can’t stop thinking about it today at work. I feel like someone I know and loved has passed away.”
This reaction from parents continued with Croacker, who said “I have an 18 month old son. Since he came along anything involving kids in peril has really hit home. The Walking Dead game is harrowing. Episode 3 had me so close to tears.”
If you’re a parent it’s hard for the game not to resonate with you and I can almost see anxious gamers who are parents checking on their sleeping offspring after playing an episode of this series, just to make sure they’re safe. It sounds silly but it’s a series that pulls at your heart strings and impacts on your emotionally. It’s a powerful narrative where a man who isn’t even a parent – Everret – will do anything to protect the young girl who is now in his care. But let’s go back to the very beginning.
When we first met Lee Everett he was in the back of a police car, speeding out of Atlanta, a conversation with the elderly police officer underway. Everett is guarded, not really giving much away, and this is where we’re first introduced to the game’s choose-your-own Adventure-like scenario where, in that at certain points, Everett is given a series of dialogue options that the player can pick from. Some are courteous, some are surly but you don’t have long to answer and if you don’t pick quick enough, the game will just pick an option for you.
When a walker stumbles into the path of the police car, causing the vehicle to roll down a bank, Lee finds himself alone (actually he has to fight his way out of the police car after the officer gets turned into a zombie), not really sure what’s going on. After escaping more walkers and wandering through a small forest, he comes across a housing estate and hidden in a tree house in the backyard of Clementine, a girl who hasn’t seen her parents for days and is scared. Very scared. This is the start of a relationship that would develop over the next five episodes.
It’s at this point that The Walking Dead turns its main character into a person, rather than a man desperate to escape his past. Clementine isn’t Lee’s daughter but that doesn’t stop him from caring for her and protecting her as if he was his own. When Clementine goes missing at the end of Episode 4, Around Every Corner, you can see that Lee’s already shattered world has been turned upside down just that little bit more: Clementine is his responsibility, she’s all he has. He isn’t going to give up on her. He’ll search for her if it kills him – and he’ll turn the world upside down to achieve that.
As the game progresses, Lee gets to know his fellow survivors a little more and he gets attached to some of them, especially Kenny, the hillbilly, and his wife Katja and their son, Ducky and Omid and Christa. You can see Lee’s parental instincts kicking in as the game progresses, as well as his empathy for his fellow survivors, and in perhaps one of the most poignant and emotional moments of the game, Lee has to make a difficult decision near the end of Episode 3 that, even if it means his friendship with Kenny will suffer massively.
Episode 4 contains not one but two major plot twists near the end, too: one involving the kidnapping of Clementine and the other, well, I don’t want to spoil it for you if you haven’t finished it but it’s a major twist that I didn’t expect. It’s an event, though that changes Lee’s whole view of the world and makes him even more determined to keep Clementine safe. To me he also seems more aggressive in Episode 5 and more and ill-tolerant of fools but comes to the realisation that he won’t be able to look after Clementine for ever. He even starts considering who would be the best of the group to care for Clementine when he’s gone: one moment thinking Kenny, the next thinking Omid and Christa.
At one point in the game Lee teaches Clementine how to use a pistol and at first it seems just the usual thing you’d expect from a group of survivors having to protect themselves against an undead threat, but I saw that moment as Lee further cementing his resolve as a father figure to Clementine. Further cementing his role as a protector to her. It shows that Lee would do anything he can to protect her, even teaching her how to use a weapon that she clearly felt nervous using at first.
Lee’s commitment to Clementine and his resolve to find her is never more evident than in a rather tense standoff during Episode 5 when Everett tracks down the mysterious voice that has been plaguing them on Clementine’s walkie talkie since the closing moments of Episode 3.
The voice belongs to a character who comes to be known as the Stranger, who has kidnapped Clementine and is holding her hostage in a run-down hotel in Savannah. As the Stranger questions Everett about his ability to care for Clementine, he gets quite agitated and aggressive, almost to the point of violence. It’s clear that the Stranger is clearly demented (he has the undead head of his wife stuffed into a bowling bag) but Everett becomes incensed when the Stranger says he’s going to look after Clementine. Lee will do anything to protect Clementine. Anything. Things don’t end favourably for the Stranger.
It’s been a long time I’ve played The Walking Dead but it’s one of those series that will stay with me for some time to come. Who knows, maybe I’ll play it again and see if I can get a different outcome from my first play through. But maybe if I hadn’t been a parent the relationship between Lee and Clementine wouldn’t have resonated with me so much. Maybe I would have just played it and not really thought about the journey that Lee made from a prisoner in a police car at the beginning to protective father figure by the end for a young girl he barely knew.
It’s food for thought anyway.
This is usually a video-game centric blog but my other passion in life is road cycling. You know, the sport where people dress up in lycra from neck to mid-thigh, often shave their legs and ride exotic bicycles often worth more than a small car. Seriously. Some road bicycles will set you back $16,000. Anyway, while this blog is usually about video games I want to start writing about my other passions from time to time, mix it up a bit. Ok, here we go …
28km is a long way in a headwind.
In reality, 28km isn’t far. It’s a little less than riding my bike from my home in New Zealand to my workplace in Christchurch’s CBD [yes, it still has a CBD after the February, 2011 earthquake. Of sorts] then home again. It’s probably how far many people in the world travel to work every day. It’s probably far, far less than many people in the world travel to work every day. The point I’m trying to make is that it’s not far.
But on a bicycle, in a screaming headwind between Havelock and Blenheim, 28km is the longest distance in the world. It makes you curse and scream and wish for the comfort of a car. But it was also the final 28km in a 101km bike event I’d entered over the weekend just gone, so there was no turning back. If I pulled out with such a short distance left, well, let’s just say I’d have been a fool.
Let’s rewind back a little, though. The reason why I was cursing in the headwind and the 28km left to ride.
I was taking part in an annual cycling event called Graperide, which has been held in sunny Marlborough for the past few years. It’s celebrating its 10th anniversary next year and starts and finishes in a vineyard. It’s a beautiful setting and a wonderful day. I’ve ridden it once before. In 2011. That one didn’t end pretty. I didn’t finish it.
I had “DNF” entered under my name after, about 60km in, I had a mechanical failure which prevented me finishing the event [the mechanical failure consisted of a piece of plastic wrapping itself around a pulley on my rear derailleur, wrenching it off the aluminum hanger and forcing me to wait for a support vehicle to pick me up] So, this year, 2013, I had unfinished business.
I was pretty well prepared for 2013, although I hadn’t done as much training as I’d have liked: my wife broke her arm badly a month before the Graperide so I had to be home caring for her. It meant I couldn’t ride my bike as much as I wanted. That was OK. Family first was the priority then.
I was keen to try out the Grapride in my new bike, a carbon-fibre Colnago Ace, which I’d bought a week before Christmas thanks to an insurance payout on my previous bike which had a crack in the carbon frame and it worked out cheaper for the insurance company to write the entire bike off than get the frame repaired. I wasn’t going to argue. I had some tyres with red trim put on the wheels and changed the stock cables from black to red. It looked mint.
And to show how serious I was about this year’s Graperide I even bought some new wheels a week before the event to replace the stock Shimano ones that came with my bike. I bought a set of Fulcrum Racing 3 wheels from Scotty Brown, a bike shop owner who I’ve been going to for probably close to 20 years. I was sure that 2013 was the year that I’d finish the Graperide and do it competitively. Well, competitively for me, anyway.
Race day came and although touted as a recreational event, at times, it’s anything but. The breakneck pace once the bunch I was in hit the main road to Picton was mind-blowing: at one stage I looked down at my cycle computer – we were rolling along at 44km just a few kilometres from the start line. Surely we couldn’t sustain this pace the entire way? I was right: The pace slowed down as we approached Picton but it was a sign of things to come.
The Graperide rolls through what I consider to be some of the best scenery in New Zealand: Queen Charlotte Drive and the Marlborough Sounds. And as you ride up the undulating hills and descend towards Blenheim and Havelock, you have the sparkling waters of the Queen Charlotte Sound to your right, a place where I’ve spent many, many years holidaying. It’s a magic place to relax at – but today, I wasn’t relaxing: I was gritting my teeth and sweating up the climbs, eating jelly beans as often as I could to keep my energy up and trying to visualise the road ahead. I was visualising the final 28km home.
I won’t bore you with a blow-by-blow description of the ride to Havelock: it had some flats, it had some rolling hills, it had me fighting with a gluc0se-based energy sachet that just wouldn’t open. All fairly uneventful. That is until we descended into Havelock and made a right-hand turn towards Blenheim – and the final 28km.
By this stage, I had cramp in my right foot and my energy levels were so low I wasn’t sure I’d actually finish. I put my head down, turned each pedal and slowly made my way to my destination. Groups of riders caught me and for brief minutes I joined up with them but I was exhausted. In one bunch, someone yelled out “20km to go”. I dug deep but was dropped bvy the bunch. I was left to brave the headwind on my own again. I spent much of that last 28km on my own, stuck in no-man’s land with riders ahead of me and riders behind me.
At one point I looked ahead and saw gradual hills in the distance, some riders slightly visible. I heard a voice loudly say “FFS, are you kidding me?” I realised it was me. I’d vocalised what my mind was thinking. I was starting to lose momentum. All seemed lost …
Then I saw it: wine country. The vineyards of Blenheim were appearing and I knew the finish line was only a handful of km away. I passed a couple of riders and got my second wind. As I crossed a bridge a female rider rode up behind me. We started talking and working together, taking turns at the front. “I’ve just about followed you the whole way from Havelock,” she said. The finish wasn’t far.
The woman rider and I continued chatting as we weaved our way through the vineyard’s access road to the finish. As I crossed the start-finish line, I smiled. I’d conquered the 28km, headwind and all. I was happy. Incredibly sore but happy.
On Tuesday, I finished Bioshock Infinite.
According to Steam, I’d sunk 22-plus hours into it but then I realised that about five of those were when I had to go out and left the game paused, so I’m putting it at around 16 hours.
Since I finished Infinite, I’ve been thinking about it a lot. It left me with a lot of questions. And while I felt that the game lost its momentum a little at times and one of the game’s most hyped “characters” (Songbird) was underutilised, Bioshock is a thoroughly enjoyable game that is one of the best I’ve played in a long, long time.
It’s crowning glory, though is Elizabeth, the young girl that the game’s main character Booker DeWitt has to rescue from Zachary Comstock, a self-proclaimed profit prophet who rules over the city-in-the-sky Columbia. It’s a game of twists and unexpected events.
I’ve got a review coming for the game soon but until then, here’s an interview I did with Irrational Games’ Bill Gardner about the game and Elizabeth, one of the best game companion’s I’ve encountered in a long, long time.
Of all the achievements Irrational Games has made in Bioshock Infinite, the one that Bill Gardner, Irrational’s user experience specialist, is most proud of is Elizabeth, the young girl that Booker DeWitt must protect.
Gardner, who has worked with Irrational’s founder Ken Levine for 11 years, said he hoped gamers formed an emotional attachment to Elizabeth.
‘‘We spent a huge portion of our effort in getting her right. She is very much the heart and soul of the story and in a lot of ways in game play. When we initially set out to build the game we said we wanted to have a companion character, primarily because we wanted to find these new ways to innovate in story and to take our unique brand of game play and narrative and merge them together.
“With Booker and Elizabeth we had this opportunity to create this attachment, to create this relationship that the player doesn’t really see in other games. When you see her [Elizabeth] from start to finish and see the path that she goes on I think that is the piece that I’m most proud of and the piece that will turn the most heads.’’
It wasn’t an easy task creating Elizabeth, says Gardner.
‘I think we all have recurring nightmares about the uncanny valley. It’s incredibly challenging [creating a character like Elizabeth] but that was why we were drawn to it: To get a character that’s not only believable but endearing. We spent a tremendous amount of time getting her eyes right. I don’t just mean the look of them but we spent a lot of time studying the human eye and the way it moves and the way it tracks people. There are all these subtleties and you put it into the game.
“‘Eventually people start to react to her as a human and starting to react to her as a character. And when you can do that, and people start talking about her as a person, then you know you’ve done something special. We hope people will get an emotional attachment to her. I really do believe people will.’’
Gardner describes himself as Irrational’s “internal editorial force” and much of his job on Bioshock Infinite was giving feedback and offering suggestions to both game play and narrative.
‘‘How can I try and help the game get better? I look into my crystal ball and find what is and isn’t working. I put myself into the shoes of the gamer, something that is difficult to do. Ken [Levin] noticed that I had the ability to do this.’’
One of the most notable game modes in Bioshock Infinite is 1999 Mode, which, in part, harks back to the game play found in the acclaimed – and scary – System Shock 2, which influenced the original Bioshock. 1999 Mode made player choice matter, says Gardner.
‘‘When you think back to games like System Shock 2 and the way Bioshock evolved as a spiritual successor, in that evolution there were a number of gamers who felt that the choices weren’t as meaningful as they used to be … we got feedback that people wanted some more meaningful choice.
“When I played System Shock 2, I remember standing in front of a weapon or an upgrade station and being ‘‘Oh, my God, what do I want to pick?’’. I’m sweating over that choice so we wanted to make sure that [in Bioshock Infinite] we captured that feeling that when you make a choice it means something and you don’t go ‘Oh, I made a choice. Big deal’.
‘‘To some degree Bioshock was about letting players have a huge toolset and let them have fun and if you make the wrong choice, just try something else. With this mode [1999 Mode] you’re basically forced to make very careful decisions in your upgrades, very careful decisions in what tools you’re using and if you deviate from those positions you’re going to have a much harder time and you’ll probably end up seeing the ‘Game Over’ screen’.‘‘
Gardner says Bioshock Infinite’s game world, set in the floating city of Colombia, has a unique visual feel to it and while it feels ‘‘eerily familiar’’ to Rapture in Bioshock it is very different from the ‘‘dark, dank, oppressive’’ environments of that game.
‘‘We could have easily taken the easy route but we’re challenging ourselves, and gamers themselves want to be challenged. We want to amaze people with a world that they haven’t seen before and with a narrative where they’ve never been before.’’
Gardner believes part of the appeal of the Bioshock universe is the “unique vision and aesthetic” and the interactivity in video games sets it apart from more traditional forms of media.
“The interactivity is what sets us apart so embracing that is important, not only in new ways to innovate but in new ways of storytelling. We pushed the narrative in a different direction by introducing Elizabeth and Booker, two characters that really evolve as human beings, and to see that evolution is really unlike anything that I’ve seen in a game.
“We take these chances because I think gamers appreciate them and I think gamers are willing to take on challenges and new things. Frankly, I don’t think enough games give gamers that kind of credit and give gamers that leeway and they kind of have a tendency to go with what is safe. We take risks.’’
This talks about some of aspects of the new Tomb Raider game in detail but it doesn’t spoil any of the story. At least, I don’t think it does: what I think isn’t a spoiler, someone might think is. If you don’t want know about things in the game, then perhaps wait till you’ve finished the game before you read this. Just a thought.
Perhaps the most shocking moments, for me, in the re-booted Tomb Raider were Lara Croft’s deaths.
They are deadly and gruesome, each one seemingly more horrific than the last.
The very first time Lara Croft died while I was playing through Crystal Dynamics’ origin story of the famed English adventurer (who is a much more realistic and naturally proportioned than the original large bosumed one) I was shocked.
Croft had to escape a collapsing underground cave and as she runs through a gap in the rock, a rough hand form a pursuer grabs one of her ankles, trying to pull her back.
A quick time event is activated but if you get a “waggle the stick/keys left and right then press the right button” sequence wrong she’s crushed by a giant bolder, her left hand stretched out towards the camera, twitching as the life drains from her now crushed body. The screen is drained of colour and the last checkpoint is reloaded.
In another death, while Lara is parachuting through a thick forest, tall trees needing to be avoided, clipping too many outstretched branches results in our young adventurer being impaled on a spiky branch, the wood piercing her chest. In another death sequence, Croft is impaled through the throat by a steel spike. This is a much more violent, much more graphically jarring Tomb Raider.
This is a Tomb Raider for today’s gamer, too: gritty, realistic and unflinchingly violent that sort of feels like a cross between Uncharted and Lost, the TV show. I didn’t like Lost but I liked Uncharted, so I’m OK with that comparisons.
When we first meet young Lara Croft she is on-board the research vessel Endurance, excited about the adventure ahead and what she will find, but shortly after the ship that she and her companions are on snaps in half in a violent storm, and they’re shipwrecked on the mysterious Yamatai island in the infamous Dragon’s Triangle, she’s a scared, lonely young girl – barely in her 20s – forced to fight for her life and rescue her friends, captured by violent mercenaries led by a deranged man called Mathias.
It’s the game’s opening moments that you find that this is a more vulnerable, more innocent Lara Croft than the one we’ve been used to. In an attempt to weather the storm, she starts a fire under a rocky overhand, and in an effort to keep warm, pulls her knees up to her chest, desperate to heat the chill running through her bones. She looks scared, vulnerable and out of her depth. It’s a Lara Croft the likes of which we’ve never seen before.
The first death at her hands comes moments after she is forced to fight for her life with a mercenary, shooting him dead after a struggle with a loaded pistol.
It’s at this point that any chance of a passive Lara Croft trotting through to the end of the game is ancient history and it’s a case of kill or be killed as she searches for her friends and a way to get of the island, a place shrouded in Japanese mythology and the supernatural. As the game progresses, and her abilities increase, she’s able to silently kill enemies by choking them with her bow, dropping them to the ground quietly.
Tomb Raider initially arms Croft with a meagre but still formidable arsenal: a bow and arrow (scavenged from a dead body), a pistol (taken from the mercenary she shot) and a rudimentary climbing axe (found embedded in an animal carcass in an underground bunker). A neat thing is that all the weapons can be upgraded, using skill points and salvaged weapons parts, recovered from dead bodies and small crates littering around the island, so soon enough her meagre weapons are quite powerful, especially the bow which I favoured quite a bit.
For me part, the reason this Tomb Raider is so good is the strength of its exploration. Yes, there’s the obligatory on-screen objective marker activated at the push of a button, triggering Croft’s Survival Instinct mode (her form of Batman’s detective vision), but there is so much to explore that it’s easy to put the main objective aside and search for relics, lost diaries and other interesting items. Explore as much as you can. I recommend you do.
As far as tomb raiding goes, hardcore fans will be disappointed as the actual tomb stalking takes a back seat in this Tomb Raider – exploring tombs and crypts is now entirely optional – but it’s worth deviating and investigating tombs when you stumble across them. The puzzles in these tombs aren’t as taxing as those of old but they’ll do.
Sometimes, though, the game wrests control from the player to maintain its cinematic presentation, such as automatically crouching to get under an object or will initiate a cut scene mid-action, and that will annoy some gamers. Last year, when I first played the opening sequence to the game at Tomb Raider demo at last year’s EB Game Expo
in Sydney I did fear that the game might be too reliant on cut scenes and cinematic sequences, and there are plenty, but such treatment didn’t seem to detract from the game play. Other times, the game will hold your hand by highlighting what objects can be climbed (wooden walls are splattered by white paint), but it didn’t worry me. And, as if in a nod to traditional gaming conventions, orange barrels that can explode are here in abundance, especially in tightly compacted environments. When will bad guys learn?
I felt that the Quick Time Events were overused at times during the combat, especially to take down larger, heavily armoured enemies, and it does make me question whether we really need QTEs anymore.
Personally, I found the re-booted Tomb Raider a shot in the arm for the series, and it was pleasing seeing a Lara Croft that is more grounded in reality than previous incarnations. It’s also amazing to think that this Tomb Raider is from the same console generation that also bought us Tomb Raider Legend: The differences between the two games are stark, not only graphically.
I found Tomb Raider a lot of fun and it shows that there is still life in the old girl yet.
Clickers are not the sort of thing you want to tackle head-on.
Appearing in Naughty Dogs’ post-apocalyptic The Last of Us, clickers are humans turned into monsters by a deadly fungal infection. Clearly, it’s something a little more potent than athelete’s foot then.
They might be blind and have a head that looks as though a mushroom has imploded in on itself, but they’re deadly, thanks to their heightened sense of hearing and a guttural sonar-like clicking sound.
If they hear a noise they’ll become alert, their head moving from side to side to locate the source. They can move pretty quickly, too, and trying to down them in a frontal assault results in a painful death – as I found out several times during my hands-on time with alpha code of the game. Clickers go for the neck, leaving little to the imagination.
In his first encounter with a clicker, in an abandoned, shadowy, partially-destroyed building, Joel, the hero of The Last of Us with a sketchy past, has two options: skirt around the creature silently, making sure not to attract its attention, or pick up one of the myriad objects lying around – say, a bottle or a brick – and throw it, creating a distraction. That’ll get the clickers attention.
I guide Joel behind a set of drawers, picking up a brick then lob it towards the corner of the room. The lone clicker perks up – what’s left of his head turning to the direction of the noise – and he shambles forward, trying to pinpoint where the noise came from.
Before entering the room I fashioned a shiv – a makeshift knife – out of a pair of scissors and some tape that I’d found discarded in a room. Supplies are in short supply so you quickly learn to pick up whatever you come across. You never know when you’ll need it. The shiv is going to come in handy with clickers. Of course, you can use guns and pipes against them, but clickers are a hardy bunch and take a lot of bullets to down, leaving you open to attack from other infected nearby. Ammunition is also in short supply so stealth is often the best option in some situations.
But back to our friend the clicker.
The shambling monster is now sniffing around some desks in the corner of the room, investigating the noise. His back is towards me. My PR minder urges me to run towards the creature – done so by holding down the PS3 controller’s L2 button – hoping to initiate a silent kill. I hesitate too long and the clicker turns around, his teeth sinking into Joel’s neck. Clickers are only distracted for around a second so stealth kills need to be quick and without hesitation.
I try again: tossing a brick into the corner of the room, attracting the attention of the clicker. I run towards him but this time I had realise I’d forgotten to fashion a shiv so have nothing to stab him with. The last checkpoint is reloaded.
I try one more time, shiv made and no hesitation. I rush the distracted clicker. An on-screen prompt appears. I press the triangle button and Joel stabs the clicker, its twitching body falling to the ground. Be warned: Stealth kills on clicker must be flawless and perfectly timed. There is no room for error.
This was an easy kill. It was just one clicker, but things get much tougher when confronted with several clickers and runners, a form of infected human that can both see you and runs towards you. Fast. A variety of strategies need to be used if you want to survive in The Last of Us’ unforgiving urban wasteland.
Tagging along with Joel is Ellie, a 14-year-old girl that he met while exploring the city, and Tess. Ellie’s had to grow up fast and she’s handy with a gun, although in my time with the game she was a little too eager at times. I died a couple of times from clicker attacks to the neck while silently creeping up behind one because she decided to start shooting at it!
The Last of Us forces you to assess a situation then act. Gung-ho actions will result in death. If there’s a lone runner, then taking him out quietly, usually by strangulation, is the best option. And never use your gun if you don’t have too, especially if other infected are nearby. The noise will attract nearby infected.
To help in assessing a situation, Joel has the ability to go into “listening” mode, activated by R2, which lets him see where the zombies are and plan his moves accordingly (quite how he is able to do that, I’m not sure). It’s a handy tool for seeing where clickers and other infected are.
Another useful item that can be crafted is molotov cocktails, fashioned from scavenged bottles and petrol. Molotov’s are incredibly useful in clearing out three or four clickers congregating together, especially in the infected’s hive. A shotgun works wonders, too, but again, ammunition is in short supply and is the noise it will create worth it? Taking several clickers out at once is less terrifying than creeping around in the shadows, fearful that one will appear around a corner when you least expect it.
The Last of Us manages to give you edge-of-the seat scares without being over-the-top frightening. It’s a survival horror game that forces you to think before you act and use your resources wisely. I like that.
It’s out in June on the PlayStation 3.
When Aliens Colonial Marines was first announced, I can’t say I was excited.
I mean, I love the Aliens movies as much as the next Aliens fan and still rate the original Alien and Aliens 2 as brilliant, brilliant movies, but I wasn’t super hyped for Gearbox’s game based on Aliens. I wasn’t yelling from the rooftops about it and waiting patiently until the game arrived.
I didn’t pay attention to any previews of the game so had no idea how progress was going in the six years it took to make the game. Yes, SIX years. I wasn’t even keen on reviewing it, actually: That’s how excited I was for Aliens Colonial Marines.
Good job, then, as ACM is one of the most generic, most uninspiring first-person shooters I’ve played in a long, long time. It’s not the worst game I’ve ever played – I can remember some early Xbox game about vampires that had no redeeming features at all – because it does do some things well but it’s just …. it’s just not fun to play. I’m not sure I actually want to finish it, actually: that’s how bored I am with it.
I saw an Xbox Live friend, Bryan Lumb, playing the game so asked him what he thought of it. I wanted to see if his opinion was the same as mine. It was. This is what he said: “It really isn’t worth it, tbh … I really felt lied to in terms of what was previewed and talked about beforehand.” And Brian isn’t alone in his assessment: you don’t have to search long to find dissatisfied and unhappy gamers who bought Aliens Colonial Marines.
If I’d paid $100-plus for it, I’d be wanting my money back. Seriously. Ask for your money back, people. I’m sorry that I rated 2010′s Aliens vs Predator so badly. Compared to this, it was quite a good game.
The game was said to be based on Aliens canon and was set sometime between Aliens 2 and Aliens 3. You play Christopher Winter, a marine, obviously, who eventually has to find out what happened to the colonists on LV-246. Yes, the planet that featured in Aliens.
I wanted to like Aliens Colonial Marines but between you and me, it was a chore to play, but it does do somethings well.
The audio and sound is top-notch, especially the sound of the marines’ pulse rifle. It really does sound as if you’re part of the colonial marine squad storming around Hadley’s Hope hunting down aliens. The music, too, is great, setting the scene and creating tension. It’s cool hearing the “bleep-bleep-bleep” of the motion tracker going off, when you can be bothered activating it.
I liked the weapons customisation that you can do to the in-game weapons. Loading out a shotgun or pulse rifle with a variety of attachments and additions is actually a lot of fun.
That’s about all the good things I can think of. So, what does Aliens Colonial Marines get wrong? Quite a lot actually.
For a game that took six years to create, visually, it’s an abomination. Just look at the screen grab to the right of this post. It was from an abandoned vehicle on the planet of LV-426. Computer screens and consoles are so bad that I thought I was playing an original Xbox game. I’m playing ACM on Xbox 360, but I hear things look better on the PC.
I tried an experiment with the laptops that I found sitting on workstations, too. I don’t know why, but when I play shooting games I like to shoot environmental objects: books, pictures, computers. I tried to shoot a laptop to see what happened. I unloaded four or five shells into the laptop and it didn’t even budge: it stayed on that desk like it screwed to it. It didn’t even shatter or crack the screen. Laptops are tough in space.
The same thing happened with chairs and stools. I tried to melee attack them over. Nothing. Has this game not heard of physics?
At one point I backed away from an attacking alien and passed through a wall, stuck between some no man’s land. Another time I got stuck in a tiny space, a tiny gap between two pieces of equipment, having to fend off attacking aliens coming through an open doorway with my shotgun until the last one melted away. I realised that if I crouched I could get out. I saw one of my squad mates almost skate from one spot to another. In one location, four enemies suddenly appeared from a short passage way that when I checked it later had a locked door. There was no way four guys could have fitted in their without being seen.
You can also clip right through NPCs while they’re spouting their incredibly cheesy and cliche-riddle dialogue [there are lots of 'God's speed" thrown about]. You should try it: It’s good for a laugh. At one point, I positioned my character just right so that my character was sort of stuck half way inside female NPC Bella’s head. All I could see was half her head and her teeth, moving as she talked. It’s not pretty but it was hilarious. Textures also pop in an out, especially during the in-game cinematics and on the armour of NPCs. Talking about in-game cinematics, during one the characters did these twitchy little movements as they stood in place, listening to an ugly-looking android Bishop clone talking about something. I can’t remember what he was talking about, but I did notice his strangely proportioned forearms.
The glitches continue. One time, when I was low on health – after falling down a hole in a walkway that I didn’t see because everything was so dark and getting attacked by an alien that popped out of a hole in the floor – I found a health pack in a room, which I dutifully picked up, as well as two pieces of armour. Health packs, ammunition and armour are scattered about the game world, as well as dropped by fallen enemies. To my surprise, though, this was obviously magical armour because two more magically materialised from where I’d just picked the first piece from. Magical generating armour. I wish all games had that.
Frankly, Aliens Colonial Marines is unpolished, it looks terrible and it feels half-finished. I played one multi-player match, which was a bit of fun, but I was eaten by an alien.
Truthfully, I don’t actually know whether I can be bothered trudging through the rest of the campaign to finish this game. I want to take a break from it and play something better. Something that will make me forget this game. I probably will finish it, at some point, but not right now. My time’s too precious to spend playing crap games.
Dead Space 3 is the third game in the successful survival horror series from EA that features deep space miner Isaac Clark facing off against unspeakable horrors called the necromorphs. He can shoot their limbs off with a variety of weapons and tools as he explores dark nooks and crannies, often filled with nasties. Dead Space 3, though, is the first of the series to introduce cooperative play to the mix but it’s also created a little controversy among some gamers by introducing microtransactions for in-game resource packs.
Whether Dead Space 3 will be as scary as the original game and whether co-op adds to the experience I’m not sure, but I hoped producer John Calhoun, over the phone from Sydney, would have the answers. We touch on what Visceral Games wanted to achieve with the game, how the cooperative play worked and the thinking behind microtransactions for in-game resources.
Gerard: What was the overarching goal for Dead Space 3? What were the most important things not to screw up, I guess?
John Calhoun: There were two important goals for us. Firstly, that we had a game that would appeal to our fans who played Dead Space 1 and Dead Space 2. They’re basically our evangelists: they’re our hardcore, they’re the ones that if we can appease them we know that we’re going to have a hit on our hands. In fact, our development team would be included in that category, right? People who like science fiction, people who like action horror. So make a game that speaks to those people. The next thing we wanted to do was make sure that “Hey, those people have friends who maybe haven’t played Dead Space. How do we get those guys to bring their friends into the fold?” The more people that play Dead Space the better, so we wanted to add some features that wouldn’t change the DNA of Dead Space but would allow us to grow in a way that would appeal to a few more people. So we did things like add drop-in/drop-out co-op and also weapon crafting, which we think will appeal to a large section of the population out there.
GC: I want to talk about the weapon crafting in a minute, but how does the co-op work? I’ll put this scenario to you: If I’m playing the single player campaign then a friend comes along to play some co-op, what happens when they leave the game? Do I pick up the single player game from where I left off? How does the whole thing work?
JC: Actually, it was the biggest challenge – trying to figure out how drop-in/drop-out co-op was going to work. And it works exactly the way you describe. Let’s say you start the game from the beginning and you’re going to play as Isaac Clark, it’s that really classic isolated me-against-the-world premise that you’re expecting out of Dead Space. You play for a couple of hours then you hit this place on the Lost Flotilla that’s either too hard or too scary and you’re like “I want a friend to join me” so you pause the game and invite a friend to play and when he shows up the game instantly adjusts dynamically according to the presence of one or two players.
It manifests itself in a couple of ways. Obviously the game play becomes harder [in co-op]. With twice the firepower the necromorphs have to be comparably strong but the story also alters dynamically. Isaac, who is pretty silent up until now, all of a sudden has somebody to talk to; somebody to bounce ideas off of, someone to get into fights or arguments with, to celebrate triumphs with, and every cinematic now has to take into account an additional character in it. Getting that right was really difficult.
Now, let’s say you and your friend have played for 30 minutes and you decide “I’m done. I’m ready to go back to single player or friend has to leave,” you will continue playing exactly where he left off. The game will adjust to now there is only one player and the best part is, that your buddy who has just played doesn’t lose any of his progress in that experience as John Carver [the name of the co-op character]. Anything that he may have found – whether it was resources or weapons he had created, or trophies or achievements he has got – those will be persistently saved in his game and will be available to him when he plays as Isaac Clarke or John Carver later. So there are no penalties for experimenting with co-op.
GC: What has the feedback to the co-op been from players who have played it?
JC: The feedback from players who haven’t played the game has been sceptical but once they get their hands on co-op [especially at press events and people have played it through in its entirety] the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s hard to describe the idiosyncratic development quirks we had to do to make co-op work but once you’ve played through it yourself all the scepticism goes away.
GC: The original Dead Space was pretty scary. Do you think the addition of co-op will make the series less scary?
JC: We thought about that and there’s nothing we can do to stop two friends playing the game, chatting in their headsets, joking around and saying things like “Oh, my God I bet you’re going to get scared coming up” – we can’t control that but we can control what happens on screen so we thought about that problem and developed a system called asymmetrical dementia. What this means is that over the course of the game – and it doesn’t happen very often – player one or player two will start to experience reality slightly differently. It becomes more warped and twisted the closer you get to your ultimate goal. But because you can’t see the each other’s screen the fact that you’re seeing entirely different things isn’t apparent until things start to get out of control. At that point we hope that people will compare notes and be like “Ah, I hear someone on the other side of that door yelling for help. Let’s go and help them,” and the other player might say “Ah, firstly, I don’t hear anybody and secondly, I don’t see a door there” – that’s not a real example, just a hypothetical one – but when you realise the two of you can experience things in different ways, you don’t know whether you can trust the person you’ve been playing with this whole time and it creates a real sense of tension in both players’ imagination that is something we’re pretty proud of.
GC: Let’s touch on the weapon crafting. It was announced this week that microtransactions would be available for real-world money so that people can buy resources and weapons parts. Was this something that the team had to really think hard about introducing?
JC: Thanks for asking that question because it actually gives me a chance to talk about the microtransactions as they are actually designed. In the game there are resources – inorganic and organic resources like tungsten and other stuff – and everything in this game can be crafted from resources, whether it’s a weapon part or a med pack. Resources are found throughout the game – they’re dropped by enemies, they’re found by looting lockers – and there are enough resources in the game to beat Dead Space 3 in the hardest setting in co-op. So taken in isolation there are plenty of resources in the game, but we know that there are some people who just want things now, right? They want instant gratification. So even before we had microtransactions we developed the concept of resource packs: things that you could acquire in-game to give you that little boost of resources should you think you need it, and in-game they’re acquired with an in-game currency called ratio seals [they were used by personnel on the abandoned places you creep around in to buy things like cigarettes and food], kind of like they used in World War II. So Isaac and Carver find these ratio seals and exchange them for resource packs so that’s the system in place … OK, so microtransactions.
Late in the game we realised we’re trying to be accessible and inclusive of everybody, and that includes people who play mobile games, and a lot of mobile games and mobile gamers have 10 to 15 minutes of play time. That’s just how they approach video games. It might not be how a hardcore gamer approaches it but there are some people who approach video games in that fashion. So we wanted to make sure that if they only have 10 or 15 minutes to play, and they want to experience everything “now, now, now” we will give them the option to pay for one of these resource packs. They are entirely optional, and as I said before, you can acquire them through in-game resources and none of them are required to beat the game. Everything that you need is in-game, from the beginning.
GC: So, it’s for those players that don’t want to do that grind through a game? They don’t want to search through every crate or every locker. They want that instant gratification …
JC: Yeah, but I hate the word grind because I think it has a negative connotation but in Dead Space there’s a lot of optional content – in fact there’s entire ships that you don’t have to visit but they’re where some of the hardest challenges lie, so our hardcore gamers are going to have more resources than our more casual players. So it’s kind of a way for everyone to enjoy Dead Space 3 on their own time and in their own way.
GC:Do you think that with this being the third in the series, there is still life in the franchise for more adventures? What is the thinking for Visceral on this?
JC: In regards to the future I can say this: we have a really deep lore in the Dead Space universe. Before we even started Dead Space 1 we wrote the type of universe in a story bible that we wanted the game to take place in and this story bible was written by our producer, who’s been with the game since day one. The story bible goes back 200 years before the first Dead Space and 500 years after the events of Dead Space 3 – not because that’s when it ends but because it took a long time to write.
When we’re making a Dead Space game we just choose to tell a great story within that universe we’ve created, so is there a future in Dead Space? Well, there’s a lot more story to tell but we haven’t really decided on what we’re going to do next, we’re just focused now on making Dead Space 3 as great as it can be.
GC: Touching on that, are you happy with how DS3 has progressed? Is it the best that it can be? Is it the best in the series?
JC: I think so, yeah. I’ve been working on Dead Space for a long time. I worked on Dead Space Extraction (on the Wii) and on Dead Space 2 and now Dead Space 3 and I can honestly say that DS3 is the best game of the franchise for me.