The Update

Keeping you constant on all things gaming.

Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Game or hardware reviews.

Left 4 Dead, Survival Pack Review

Posted by haunt506e on April 28, 2009

Left 4 Dead Survival Mode

Wow its been a while… Feels kind of weird posting here since the last time I did so was way back in January (I think).

Anyways, I’m here with a quick review of Left 4 Dead’s latest DLC, the Survival Pack.  First off, you should know that this pack is free, so if you don’t have it yet, you probably haven’t played Left 4 Dead in weeks or just don’t have access to the internet on your gaming console.  The pack adds three main features to the game: Survival Mode, Last Stand, and new Versus Mode Capabilities and Restructuring.  I’ll go over each in a paragraph or so, and will be keeping this review fairly short and low-key, if that’s the correct phrase.

Ok, so, Survival Mode.  If you’ve played Gears of War 2 (if you own an Xbox 360, you probably have), then you’ll be familiar with its Horde mode.  While not an entirely unique concept, Horde mode pits a team of players against wave after wave of bad guys, with various leaderboards for completing the gauntlet.  Survival mode works in the same way, except it is much more intense, much more difficult, and much more rewarding (not really though).  In Survival mode you find yourself in a small area, usually a small segment of one of the larger campaigns, and are given tons upon tons of items with which to fend off a never-ending horde of infected.  Once you start the timer, you’re given three goals: at 4 minutes you will win the Bronze medal, at 7 the Silver, and at 10 the Gold.  Taking the Gold Medal isn’t an easy feat by a long shot, and in most cases you’ll be lucky to survive to get Silver.  For the first few minutes, a Tank appears about every minute and a half or so, and several special infected come and go in between, in addition to the normal infected.  After about 6 minutes or so, however, you’ll notice things tend to get a bit more chaotic.  You’ll sometimes face up to four smokers at once, and even have to fend off against two tanks simultaneously.

Survival Mode works pretty well and has a surprisingly high replay value, but what other new content has Valve added besides a new game mode?  To complement the Survival Mode game type, Valve has created a map especially built for the mode: Last Stand.  This map, just the perfect size for Survival Mode games, consists of a coastal lighthouse and a few surrounding woods and roads.  The lighthouse is loaded with Propane and Petroleum Canisters, Molotovs, Pipe Bombs, and every other kind of weapon imaginable.  The areas and rooms in the lighthouse are very well done and are just as detailed as any other location you would find in Left 4 Dead’s four original campaigns.  While Last Stand’s efficiency in the Survival Mode game type is arguable, it fits right in with the rest of all that is Left 4 Dead.

Finally, we have the new Versus mode feature.  Valve has finally updated the remaining two campaigns, Death Toll and Dead Air, to be available for online adversarial game play.  The two maps play just as well as the original two versus-capable campaigns, and new tweaks have allowed for even fewer bugs and hacks to be exploited.  I don’t have a whole lot to say regarding the two new versus maps, except that it extends the game’s replay value tremendously.  I spent hours upon hours playing just two campaigns in versus, and now I’ve got two more.  Joy.

Left 4 Dead’s newest DLC is without a doubt a Great Buy, if you can even call it that (it’s free of charge).  If you own the game, are connected to the internet, and have the time, I suggest you go out, download it now and try it out tonight.

So that’s the new Left 4 Dead Survival Pack in a nut-shell.  If you’ve got your own comments to add, feel free to leave a reply.  As always, don’t forget to bookmark us and subscribe to me on Twitter.

Advertisements

Posted in Playstation 3, Reviews, Xbox 360 | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Left 4 Dead Full Review

Posted by haunt506e on November 24, 2008

Left 4 Dead Full ReviewI’m getting kinda sick of first person shooters, but that hasn’t stopped me from picking up one of the best games of this year, Left 4 Dead. The first-person shooter sets you up in a post-apocalyptic world filled to the brim with blood thirsty zombies. These zombies aren’t the slow, stupid Resident Evil type. These zombies run at you and swarm around you, pulling you down and attacking you with the most primitive of weapons: their own hands. So yeah, we’ve all seen games from the horror survival series, but what makes Left 4 Dead so unique? Keep reading to find out.

Welcome to the zombie apocalypse.

Welcome to the zombie apocalypse.

Graphics/Audio:

Left 4 Dead is one of the best looking games that I’ve seen so far. It might not look all that great on the first play through, partly because you’re running through each level incredibly fast and nerve-racked, but also because the detail in this game is very subtle. Zombies are animated extremely well, and as long as you haven’t alerted them of your presence yet, you can sit and watch them stumble around, puke, or even fight amongst themselves. Up close the zombies look very well, as do the survivor character models, their clothes being detailed down to the zipper chain. In addition to the character models, the environments are incredibly detailed and realistic. You will see sleeping bags, cooking pots, graffiti (fun to read), coffee cups, newspapers, televisions, and all kinds of other everyday objects that have been left behind in the ensuing madness of the zombie plague. Thanks to the Source engine, most of these objects will fly about and can be knocked over by bullet fire and melee, and rooms will be disfigured after an abrupt battle.

On the audio side of things, the game sounds great too. Zombies sound disgusting, especially special zombies, like the Boomer, who will make nasty puking noises to alert you of his presence. These sounds are eerie and will help you become a more informed player if you listen to various cues within the game, and overall make the game a much more immersive experience. Your survivor teammates will also shout and yell when various things are happening, and their conversation is usually pretty varied, as each character has something like over 1,000 different recordings, each one for use in different situations.

Single Player:

Single player is a blast while it lasts, but the multiplayer component is where the game really shines.

Single player is a blast while it lasts, but the multiplayer component is where the game really shines.

This is a unique game in that it’s single player will be very short. Single player is fun, but if this game was a single player only title, it’d only be a rent most likely. As for the details, those will all be in the multiplayer section, because the single player and multiplayer both are essentially the same game, the key difference being that in single player, you have bots controlling your three teammates, and in multiplayer, those teammates are controlled by humans… And now the multiplayer section. While this next section is the multiplayer, I’m using it to go into all the details of the game, as the game is, in and of itself, a multiplayer title.

Multiplayer:

Briefly, I’d like to go over the four types of “special” zombies that you will see in this game.

Sure, you can play the game a couple times through on single player, but you may be asking, what will keep the game’s replayability up? Vault’s new concept, the AI Director, does just that. In Left 4 Dead, you might breeze through an apartment building one time without encountering any zombies. The next play through maybe there’s a few zombies milling about. Yet the next time, you could be rushed by swarms of zombies, fighting a desperate close quarters fight for survival. The AI Director ensures everything is random and different, zombies will come at different times from different directions in larger or smaller groups, depending on how well the group is doing. Weapons, ammo, and health will be set up in different locations, and the game rewards you for checking and searching rooms often, as health will never be in the same location twice (with the exception of safe houses).

The Director will also control the sounds and lighting of Left 4 Dead’s various campaigns, ensuring that each play through gives you a different horror experience each time, and the unique audio cues fit in very well with the game’s atmosphere. While the audio changes are somewhat tough to pick up on, they are there and they do make a difference, often at the subconscious level. This isn’t an essential feature, but it’s noteworthy, seeing how most games will just put in set tracks to play at set times, creating a linear sequence of events. Sounds will also change depending on the level, and while some sounds are the same throughout the game, certain cues will be unique to a specific environment.

Speaking of levels, the game’s got four total campaigns, all four of which are playable in single player and multiplayer campaign modes, and two of the maps are playable in multiplayer versus mode (more on that later). Left 4 Dead features rural, urban, and forested areas, as well as several unique locations, all horrifying in their own right and littered with debris and graffiti that hint at past events relating to the zombie apocalypse. It doesn’t seem like a big variety at first, but because each map takes anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes or more to complete in campaign mode (depending on difficulty), and almost double that amount in versus mode, you’ll come to enjoy the enormous size of each level and the linear-yet-non-linear feel to the game’s various stages. Each map is set up with four safe houses and five areas in between each safe house, ending with a “finale,” or a huge battle between the survivors and the infected whilst the survivors wait for their evacuation vehicle to come pick them up.

No matter which mode you are playing, team work is essential to success.

No matter which mode you are playing, team work is essential to success.

No matter which mode you’re playing, the game pretty much revolves around you and your team and their movement from one safe house to another. Along the way you’ll kill zombies, find items, and revive teammates, as I’ve said before. However, thanks to the AI Director and the game’s steep difficulty settings (easy is easy, anything else gets real tough real fast), Left 4 Dead can keep you entertained for hours on end. Personally, I like the Campaign mode, and enjoy getting a full party of four players and going through the campaign, preferably on advanced mode, the second highest difficulty. We generally don’t have any problems until the finale, at which advanced soon becomes impossible, and after a few failures (I blame my incompetent team members), we vote (yeah that’s right, you can vote to change the difficulty, kick a player, or to restart the chapter) to switch the game back to normal. Left 4 Dead has a pretty steep learning curve when played on the top difficulty levels, and I’m sure it’ll be a while before teams are assembled who are good enough to regularly go through a campaign on expert.

Cooperative mode defines the game play experience for Left 4 Dead, but if you don’t stay hooked on the cooperative campaign portion of this game, you’ll probably find the game’s versus mode very enjoyable. While versus mode is only playable on two out of the four campaigns, it effectively doubles the length of each campaign, giving each team a chance to progress through a chapter. In versus mode, one team controls the “special” zombies (Boomer, Smoker, Hunter, or Tank) while the other controls the survivors. The four survivors must try and make their way through the selected level, killing the AI-controlled zombie hordes in addition to the human-controlled special zombies. When the survivors either reach the safe house or die, the teams switch sides and the survivors become the zombies, trying to take out the new survivors as they try to beat their opponent’s score. Scores are set by the survivor team, who can increase their points by moving farther along on the map, making it to the safe house, and by keeping their health up and their buddies alive. While players control the infected, they gain no points, but instead try to prevent the survivors from gaining points.

Left 4 Dead is some of the most fun I’ve had in a video game in a long time. It’s not revolutionary (although in a way, it kinda is), it doesn’t have the best graphics (but they are pretty sweet), and while the game play is awesome, it’s not the most expansive FPS in terms of maps, weapons, and equipment. However, where Left 4 Dead really shines is its fun factor and the immersive, replayable, unique experience that it offers. It’s a one of a kind game and I’m really looking forward to further expansions and DLC that will come out for the game in the future, further expanding the game’s value.

Left 4 Dead is hectic and chaotic, yet is still one of the deepest cooperative experiences that I've seen in a while.

Left 4 Dead is hectic and chaotic, yet still maintains a deep, unique cooperative experience.

Verdict:

One of the most addicting and fun games that I’ve played in a long time, Left 4 Dead, thanks in part to its revolutionary “AI Director” and its incredible cooperative experience, is a Great Buy for any PC or Xbox 360 owner. However, it’s worth a mention that if you don’t have access to the internet or are otherwise unable to play this game online with multiple players, I would limit the rating to a Good Rental.

Posted in PC, Reviews, Xbox 360 | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

New Xbox Experience Review… Sort of…

Posted by haunt506e on November 20, 2008

Those of you Xbox 360 owners who are connected to Xbox Live will have no doubt already discovered the New Xbox Experience.  Most Live subscribers downloaded the update yesterday when prompted by their 360s upon trying to sign into Xbox Live.  Well, it’s here, and I’ve gotta say, I’m impressed.  This “review” isn’t gonna delve into a bunch of the features and details, but instead I’m just going to briefly tell you guys what I think thus far.

NXE Party SystemMy favorite aspect of the New Xbox Experience (NXE from this point forward) is the option to create a Party.  Sure, you’ve created parties before in maybe Halo 3, Call of Duty 4, or, more recently, Gears of War 2.  But have you created a party linking your friends that are playing Halo 3 with your friends that are playing Gears of War 2?  The NXE allows you to do so, and enables open voice chat between you and up to 7 other friends to communicate, no matter what game each respective party member is playing.  Just last night I played Left 4 Dead while my buddies were playing Custom Games in Gears 2, and I was talking to all of them with extreme ease.  Parties are very well constructed, allowing you to, when viewing the dashboard, check out your party.  This screen will show each party member’s avatars milling about a small area, with random items in the background (depending on your current theme).

As far as downloading content goes, I haven’t had a chance to download anything too major.  However, speeds seem to be about the same, and the NXE hasn’t done anything to really improve the speed of the servers (didn’t think it would) or the speed of the operating system.  It is still relatively cumbersome to open the guide and invite friends to games, but it’s not a whole lot to complain about.

In addition, the entire Xbox Guide screen has been redesigned.  I’m not talking about the dashboard, but rather the menu that comes up when you hit the middle Xbox button on your controller.  It’s been reconstructed as well, this time showing you a miniature version of the older Xbox Dashboard, complete with various tabs, including Marketplace, Xbox Live/Home, Games, Media, and System Settings.  I haven’t messed with any of the mini guide’s settings, but I think you can do just about anything with the mini dashboard as you can with the old dashboard (you can’t view friends’ avatars when using the mini dashboard, however).

Games TabA few other neat additions that I’ll have to try are hard installing games onto your drive and Netflix.  Hard installing lets you install a game directly to your HDD, and, while this isn’t really that great if you’re stuck with the 20GB, it supposedly cuts down your load times by up to 40% when playing that specific game.  Netflix allows you to rent and watch movies directly from your Xbox, and, as I’ve heard from friends (no confirmation though), you are able to watch movies with your friends over Live, even if you didn’t pay for the movie.  As long as one friend has a Netflix subscription and rented a movie, you can all watch it together.

So all in all the NXE is a great new social experience for Live.  Microsoft took a pretty swell direction in the creation of this update, and I’m liking all it has to offer thus far.  For those complaining about the Avatars, they’re not really that bad.  Sure, we could all do without them, but the new party systems and friends lists wouldn’t be the same without the Avatars.  If for some reason you haven’t downloaded it yet, what are you waiting for?  For those without Live subscriptions, I think Microsoft will be putting out a file that you can write to a CD or something like that.  As far as I know, they’re still working on providing the NXE for Xbox 360 owners without Live.

I won’t be putting a rating on this because it is a mandatory update for all 360s connected to Live.

Posted in Reviews, Xbox 360 | Leave a Comment »

Gears of War 2 Full Review

Posted by haunt506e on November 10, 2008

Gears of War 2 Review

I’ve gotten a chance to play, quite extensively actually, the newest shooter on the block, Gears of War 2.  It makes a magnificent attempt at following in its predecessor’s footsteps with its intuitive cover system and trademark “stop-and-pop” game play that so defined its successor, the original Gears of War.  The game improves on these aspects instead of trying something entirely new, and still manages to feel like an entirely different experience.  It blends an intense single player (and cooperative) campaign mode with a very deep multiplayer mode, complete with several new addictive game types.  And now my full review of Gears of War 2.

Graphics/Audio:

I’ll start off by going over some of the visual and audio aspects of Gears of War 2.  Put simply, this game takes the precise graphics from the original game and expands them.  In the sequel, you’re fighting larger enemies in larger quantities, all with the same level of detail as before.  A few missions in the first and second acts have you gunning down vast hordes of enemy Locusts and Locust siege creatures, all of which move and act normally.  The set pieces in the game also look and act tremendously well, several boss battles are brought to life through these massive pieces falling or crumbling apart.  Pieces of bricks will fall off of wall as you hide behind them, and while this has no real effect on the game play, it makes the game more realistic.  As far as sound quality and composition goes, Gears of War 2 again follows in its predecessor’s steps by delivering tremendous, epic orchestral scores to complement the huge scale on which it is played.  The tracks fit the mood of the level and situation perfectly, and again separate this game from all other shooters.

Mulcher-wielding Boomers (also known as Grinders) are another addition to the vast Locust arsenal.

Mulcher-wielding Boomers (also known as Grinders) are another addition to the vast Locust arsenal.

Single Player:

Getting into the single player campaign, you take control of Marcus, six months after the events of the original Gears of War.  I won’t spoil any of the story, but you’re pretty much told that Locusts now have the ability to sink entire cities into the ground and you are now on the offensive, sending siege weapons known as Grind Lifts to deploy COG soldiers deep underground in the center of the Locust horde.  The single player campaign can be summed up in one word: epic.  The idea behind it is the same as that of Gears of War 1, where you and your squad move from point to point eliminating anything in your path while simultaneously uncovering key points to the Gears of War storyline.  However, Gears of War 2 augments this traditional game play by increasing the size of the scale on which these objectives take place.  You fight huge battles with huge creatures in huge arenas with virtually everything at stake.  It isn’t just limited to the same old emergence hole after emergence hole game play that decreased the replay value of the original game.  While you will still fight waves of Locust enemies, it no longer seems so monotonous in Gears of War 2, thanks largely in part to the addition of its intense set piece battles and extremely thorough level designs.

The single player campaign, in all its glory, won’t survive more than one or two play-throughs, unfortunately.  However, thanks to EPIC’s brand new drop-in cooperative feature, the whole single player campaign just redoubled its replay value.  In Gears of War 1, in order to play campaign with a friend, you had to set up a cooperative match, then invite said friend, and then start the match.  Now, in Gears 2, you can easily just start up your own solo campaign, and, if you’re stuck at a part or just need a pal, you can invite anyone on your friends list and that friend can join in the game, without having to set up an actual cooperative match.  It sounds simple and in today’s world of gaming, it’s almost a “duh” feature, but the cooperative aspect of Gears of War 2 has been greatly improved upon, and stands out as one of the key features of its campaign mode.

We're gonna have to rush 'em.

We're gonna have to rush 'em.

Multiplayer:

Campaign is by no means the only part of Gears of War 2, and is really only the beginning of its greatness.  In actuality, what defines the Gears 2 experience more than anything else is its multiplayer mode.  EPIC did away with the original matching system of Gears 1 and replaced it with a new matchmaking system, reminiscent of Halo 3.  So far, the matchmaking has been a mixed blessing.  It’s great in the sense that it is now relatively easy to get into a match and stay on the same team as your friends, and also in the fact that all matchmaking is ranked, so you will gain achievements no matter what the game mode.  However, it could just be that the servers are new and need some updating, but, for me at least, the matchmaking appears to be slow at times.  I will frequently get caught in what seems to be an infinite loop of error messages and matchmaking restarts that result in about (on average) one match found per minute.  It doesn’t seem like much, but it gets pretty annoying after finishing one match only to have to wait in the matchmaking screen for it to slowly find you a match.  In addition, Gears of War 2 has improved on the whole matchmaking veto system, now allowing for players to vote on a certain map and game type, rather than just veto one map or mode in exchange for a random new one.  EPIC also took the time to add in a Training Grounds mode to the game, allowing new players to hone their skills against bots on any of the game’s maps or modes, the only exception being Horde.

Cover is invaluable in every game mode.

Cover is invaluable in every game mode.

As far as the actual multiplayer goes, however it is fantastic.  Most of the old modes, with the exception of Assassination, have made it to the new game, with the addition of a few other new game modes, the best of which being Horde.  Most of these new game types, while not significant or unique, add more variety and replayability to the game, and help to flesh out the multiplayer mode even more.  Guardian is the only new Death Match game type that has been added, with Warzone and Execution being carried over from Gears 1.  In Guardian, your team has a leader who, while alive, grants the rest of the team guaranteed respawns.  If your leader dies, you lose your respawns.  In theory, this game type would be a blast to play, and it usually is, but every once in a while you’ll meet up with another team who basically camps at their spawn so that their leader won’t get killed, and this strategy often just results in a standstill.  As far as new objective game types, EPIC has added a whole new slew of modes, including a CTF variant called Submission, and a King of the Hill mode, in addition to the Gears of War 2 version of Annex, which has been left largely untouched.  King of the Hill on Gears of War 2 functions just like King of the Hill anywhere else, you gotta find the hill and hold it.  Submission, however, has two teams fighting for control of a stranded, also known as the “meatflag.”  To win, a team has to capture the meatflag and bring him back to a turn in point, securing points for their team.

In addition to these game types, EPIC has added a few other genre-defining modes, namely Horde.  In Horde, you and four buddies team up together to take on wave after wave of Locusts, and if you’re good enough, you can make it all the way to wave 50.  The enemies get progressively stronger every 10 waves, and it by the time you get to the higher waves, you’ll be hard pressed for ammunition and cover, as you’ll be flanked, doubleflanked, zerged, etc.  While you can play this mode through matchmaking, it is a much more enjoyable experience when played with friends.  It brings out teamwork and comradery like no other game type, and you and your buds will have a hard time leaving the game after discovering Horde mode.  Fighting wave after wave of ferocious Locust baddies with your buds side by side is a gaming experience I will never forget.  This game type can be played on any map, and its a joy to strategize and cooperate with your teammates in order to take the high ground, flank enemy cover points, or coordinate strategic retreats.

All weapons from the single player campaign can be used in multiplayer.

All weapons from the single player campaign can be used in multiplayer.

All in all EPIC has done a great job with this title, and it has certainly lived up to and beyond the original game’s claims to fame.  EPIC has added a few other noteworthy features as well, including well designed spectator functions, complete with the ability to take and upload game play photos, a host of unlockables, and a great system of achievement tracking.  The photos work really well, you take them while spectating a match, and EPIC has added a “ghost camera” feature so that you can fly around the map and take pictures from several angles.  All of the pictures used in this review were taken by myself during various multiplayer situations, and they came out pretty well.  The unlockables are nothing to shout about, but its nice that they put them in there.  In the original Gears of War, I know a lot of guys were complaining about its terrible system for tracking your achievements.  Well, all that has been fixed in Gears of War 2, and now you can not only view the achievements, but you can also view your progression on each individual achievement, all in-game without the need to bring up the annoyingly slow Xbox Guide.

Verdict:

When it’s all said and done, Gears of War 2 is a Great Buy for any Xbox 360 owner.

Posted in Reviews, Xbox 360 | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »