Left 4 Dead demo review

Last night I downloaded the Left 4 Dead demo off of XBox Live. This is a game I’ve been looking forward to for quite a while. I tried playing it solo, since realistically that’s how I’d be playing it if I bought the game. Scheduling 4 friends to get together to play a game online is pretty much impossible at this stage of my life. Too many wife/kid/girlfriend issues in my social circles.

As a single player game, Left 4 Dead looks great, really sets a great tone and… gets boring really fast. The first ten minutes is amazing as hordes of zombies come charging at you and your 3 NPC friends and you mow them down. The zombies are like aggressive cockroaches, as they come flooding out of a sewer opening or the doorway of a darkened warehouse.

The AI is great. They’ll get you out of trouble and even offer you extra gear (without you asking for it). They’ll call out items laying around and special zombies incoming. They’re skilled too. On my first scorecard I, ahem, ranked last in everything but damage taken, where I came in first. At the same time, they don’t make the game feel easy. You really do need four capable fighters to survive.

On the other hand, you spend a lot of time in dark buildings. Really dark. Bottom of a cave dark. Your flashlight will light up an area about the size of a basketball. There’s no reflective light in the rooms, no ambient light from the flashlights of the other 3 members of your team. Suddenly your XBox Experience is like looking through a pinhole. Yes, it adds to the tension but it quickly becomes really tedious not being able to see. You can get lost in a small bathroom; that’s how small the beam is.

Outside is more fun but I soon started getting the Hellgate: London effect. Block after block of ruined buildings got monotonous really fast. Swarm after swarm of zombies, ditto. Granted the demo is only one level, but it just didn’t hold my interest for very long. And while the idea of getting attacked from all sides constantly is interesting, in practice it felt a bit like a chore, having to constantly turn around and look behind, look up, look down, look to each side (the shoulder buttons do insta-turn you, to be fair). I can see how this could be really compelling for some gamers, but for me it just felt like a lot of work.

I’m guessing multiplayer with friends would be a *lot* more fun, so if that’s how you plan to play it, definitely check out the demo. But I can’t see spending $60 to play this game single player (and to be fair I don’t think Valve has ever pitched as a single player game).

Aaron at Anyway Games had a much different and more positive reaction to the demo. Check out what he has to say: Left 4 Dead Demo

Fable 2 First Impressions

Last night I finally got a chance to get in some quality time with Fable 2. Before I get into that, I have to say XBox 360 #3 performed flawlessly (*knock on wood*) and is a lot quieter than the first two I’ve had. I didn’t hate using the 360 last night, and its been quite a while since I could make that claim.

So let’s get the bad out of the way first. Fable 2 could use a final run through the polishing cycle. It feels a bit rough in some pretty subtle ways. You can often get ‘stuck’ for a moment on a small change in height of the terrain, for instance (there’s no Jump so normally you just step up automatically). It can feel “fiddly” targeting a specific individual in order to interact with them.

I’d heard there was treasure underwater at times, and I’d envisioned swimming down, breath bar dwindling, exploring the bottom of a lake. Instead, you swim on the surface until you see a DIVE icon floating over the surface of the water, at which point you hit A and your character vanished below the surface then reappears with treasure. It works but feels like a missed opportunity.

These are certainly not game breakers, though. On the positive side, the game looks very nice and I’m really enjoying the voice acting. There’s a ton of stuff going on all around you and towns really do feel “alive” in many ways. Combat is still simple at my low “level” but that doesn’t prevent it from feeling fun and satisfying. The story hasn’t really gotten underway, but feels like it has potential.

A lot of fuss was made about your dog in the previews, and it was warranted. You know how most games indicate enemies near by via “combat music” starting to play? In Fable 2, you know there’s danger near because your dog starts growling and barking. This sounds trivial but it makes a huge difference to me. Feels very immersive. And your pup does all the nit-picky exploration for you, too. No need to look into every little crack and crevice; if there’s treasure in there your dog will point it out to you.

The only major downside for me is the glowing quest trail thingie. At all times, there’s a glowing trail showing exactly where you need to go. This isn’t a bad feature, but I’m a bad player. I feel like I’m being nagged by it, so rather than wander around and explore I find myself constantly chasing the trail. You can make it dimmer, or even turn it completely off. I’m going to try playing that way next time, and see how much of a chore turning it on and off is. In an ideal world, there’d bit a quick button press to toggle it.

Again, this isn’t a generalized complaint about the game; its more a psychological glitch in my internal systems. Nothing in the game prevents you from totally ignoring the glowy trail and doing whatever you want. But I just find its constantly tugging at me, urging me to stop messing about and get on with things.

I’ve barely scratched the surface of what I know is in the game (from reading about other’s experiences) and I can’t wait to dig deeper in. I don’t own a home or have a wife yet. I don’t own any businesses. I still only know one spell. I did take on a job as a blacksmith for a while; this exists in-game as a mini-game of timed button presses that felt curiously satisfying. I was even excited to get a promotion. 🙂

So far, so good. I’m not loving it as much as some people who are totally over-the-moon about the game; at least not yet. But it’s definitely an awful lot of fun so far. Let’s hope it holds up!

Couples Counseling for me & 360

XBox 360 and I have had a long and stormy relationship. I first began courting her six months before her coming out soiree. In spite of this early attention, upon her debut her dance card was too full to fit me in. I had to settle for dating her skinny cousin, XBox Core, for a few weeks.

Eventually though, she found her way into my arms, and I took her home with me. The first blush of love is such a heady intoxicant. We spent evening after evening racing around ridges, enjoying each other’s company. In the following months our appetites for adventure grew, and our games became more and more exotic and edgy.

But then something changed in our relationship. I became increasingly aware of how loud she was, and her propensity for scratching disks when angry grew irksome. I had never been a fan of her father, Microsoft, who I still think of as something of an evil empire kingpin.

I confess, I eventually starting seeing another. I met PS3 and she was quiet and elegant. Her interests were not as diverse, I’ll admit, but what we shared was quite enjoyable. And oh! How she loved movies!!

And then one day, 360 refused to budge. I coaxed and prodded her, but nothing I could do would get her going anymore. I sent her off to a clinic, at a cost of $100. She was gone for a solid month and I got used to not having her around. When she finally returned, we were distinctly cool towards each other. She had gotten quieter, and no longer scratched disks when angry, but I was so enraptured with PS3 I found it hard to make time to spend with 360.

Nearly a year passed before I courted her again, inviting her to go with me to Liberty City. At first she seemed more than willing, but then she started freezing up. Liberty City *can* be a frightening place, I’ll admit, so I was understanding, but at the same time I still wanted to see the sights. So I went with PS3 instead, who seemed to love the place.

But I tried once more, inviting 360 on a Lost Odyssey, and again she was happy to begin the journey and again, she froze once we got there. Again and again. Finally I had to admit that she was in some way broken inside. So off I sent her to the clinic again. This time she was only gone a few weeks, but came back looking somewhat battered and old.

Since her return, we’ve done naught but watch each other suspiciously. My friends are sick to death of hearing me complain about her, and I can’t help but feel our relationship is at a crisis. We need to either come to some understanding, or go our own ways.

So I’ve pledged to try one last time. Tonight I am taking her to Albion, which I’m hearing is a very enjoyable place to visit (and is a place that PS3 can never hope to visit; they’d turn her away at the border). I’m hoping 360 will come with me, enjoy the sights and sounds, and not freeze up on me. I’m hoping she won’t scratch any disks. I’m hoping she’ll be quieter than she was. And I’m hoping we have a good time together.

If we do, I’m going to strive to let go of my irritation and embrace her as the source of joy she once was. There’s enough of me to keep two consoles satisfied after all! With a Wii bit left over, in fact.

But if she freezes, or scratches, or carries on in any of her old bad ways, then I’ll be sending her away for good, and she will be dead to me. Griping about her only irritates my friends, and as long as she is sitting there staring at me reproachfully, I’ll never be able to let go of these negative feelings I have for her.

Tonight is all about low lighting, fresh batteries, and exotic adventures. Wish us luck.

PS3, XBox360 gets Hulu, Netflix, via addon

PS3Fanboy has a post up about PlayOn, software that you run on a Windows XP or Vista machine (no Mac OS X or Linux support, at least for now) that allows you to stream Hulu content to your PS3 or XBox360. The software is in beta and PS3F reports some clunkiness, but that’s what betas are for, right?

Netflix support is planned for later on down the road, which is probably of more interest to PS3 owners, since the 360 will be getting Netflix integration on the dashboard this fall. Me, I’ll stick to my Roku box for Netflix, which rocks.

Sign up and download the PlayOn software, and let me know how it works for you!

60 gig XBox 360 hits the streets

So according to a post at Engadget, the new 60 gig XBox 360 is hitting the streets, or more specifically, some Target stores. So far, no word on whether these units use the new (and presumably more reliable) “Jasper” motherboard.

I’m still trying to decide if I’m willing to give Microsoft another $350 in order to enjoy my XBox 360 games (once “Jasper” is confirmed to be in the pipeline). When I start to add up what I’ve spent already: the cost of the console, a $100 repair charge, a few years of XBox Live, Play & Charge kits… it might just add up to more than the $750 I spent on my 3DO all those years ago! Adding another $350 at this point definitely would push it way over that mark.

Worth it for the 360 exclusive titles? Tough call…

XBox 360: Do you trust the hardware?

My friend at work came to me and said “Y’know, I was really disappointed that there were no hardware announcements yesterday [at the Microsoft E3 Press Conference]. I really hoped to hear something about the new 60 gig 360, that they’d ironed out the hardware problems or that they were using a smaller die or something.”

Just some background… a while back he had to send his 360 in for repairs. He got really hooked on GTA4 earlier this summer/spring, and was playing it like mad. Then he started to get lockups. 2 red lights. Now he’s afraid to play his 360 because he doesn’t want to totally break it and lose access to all his saved data.

He, like me, would be willing to go out and spend the $350 on a new XBox 360 if he had some sign that the new hardware was more reliable than what he has. He wants to keep his current system running until such time as he can get a new, reliable 360 so he can transfer data from one drive to the other (which he isn’t sure how to do).

But Microsoft has given no indication that the 60 gig 360 is anything more than the old crap-pile 360 hardware with a new, bigger, hard drive.

Hell, I’d buy an Elite if I knew it was going to be more reliable… Microsoft is winning this gaming generation but man, their hardware so far is just garbage. It gets to be a hassle (and expensive, if you’re not blessed with a RROD) sending these things back for repair all the time.

New XBox 360 SKU, price drop on 20 gig

It’s been posted everywhere else but just for the sake of completeness I may as well say it too.

Microsoft has made official the price drop on the 20 gig XBox 360, which will sell for $299 while supplies last. A new, 60 gig SKU will hit store shelves in August, going for $349. From what I’m reading its identical to the 20 gig except for, y’know, 40 more gigs. This means the Elite remains the only 360 with an HDMI port.

Lost Odyssey for the XBox 360

I’m still thrashing around, jumping from game to game. I’ve been on a real old-school RPG kick lately but was getting the itch for something pretty and sparkly, so I ran out and picked up Lost Odyssey based on some friends praising it

Initial thoughts follow. I figure the game is old enough that anyone planning on playing it already has, so this is more for people familiar with the game. I’d love to compare notes.

Bad news first. Its locked up 3 times in 4 hours of game play. I don’t for a second think this is the fault of the game, since GTA IV locked up on me too (causing me to exchange it for the PS3 version). Nope, I think XBox 360 #2 is slowly breaking. But this means I tend to get really stressed out playing if its been more than 10 minutes since I last saved. I wish to heck I could get this on the nice, quiet, reliable PS3.

My first reaction to the game was “Wow, this is JUST LIKE Final Fantasy” which I guess we all knew, but the first town you visit is so reminiscent of the first town in FF XII that it was rather astonishing to me.
Continue reading “Lost Odyssey for the XBox 360”

Guitar Hero World Tour previews intrigue

Previews of Guitar Hero World Tour are hitting all over the web (I’ll throw a few links in at the bottom of this post). I was rather surprised to find that GHWT was offering a lot of what I was hoping for in Rock Band 2.

Let’s get the big bad news out of the way first. Your downloaded Guitar Hero III content will not work in Guitar Hero World Tour. Wow. I mean just…wow. That’s going to be a huge drawback to those of you who’ve invested in a lot of DLC for GH3. Let’s hope they find some way to change that, or to give you GHWT song credits based on what you’ve spent on GH3 DLC, or something.

That big ugly hobgoblin out of the way, the rest is all goodness. Of course they’re adding a whole band feature including an even more elaborate drum kit than Rock Band has. But as someone who generally plays solo, what had me smiling was the 5 career paths, one each for lead guitar, bass, drums and vocal, plus one for the whole band. And rather than just a list of songs you play in order, apparently these careers are going to be more open, letting you choose where you want to play next and so forth. Hopefully it’ll be a bit more ‘game-ish’ than the solo stuff in GH 3 and Rock Band.

Additionally you’ll be able to set up set lists of up to 7 songs, and play them in order without having to go back to the menus. Great for when you just want to kick back and enjoy playing.

The Guitar Hero World Tour guitar has been made a lot more realistic looking, and has a kind of ‘slide panel’ on the neck for free-styling. It’s a bit larger than the other ‘fake guitars’ out there, too. Closer to full size.

But the really huge news is the Music Studio feature, which lets you create your own songs. You can capture them as you play, or go into an editor and get precise. Once you have a great song written you can share it with friends, of course. Apparently the editor gets pretty deep if you want to really dig into it.

It’ll be interesting to see what Harmonix does with Rock Band 2, but right now I’m thinking that I’ll jump ships and be a Guitar Hero fanboy for the next iteration. I really like the idea of being able to use a game to write songs! Not that I have an iota of talent in that department, mind you! 🙂

Check it out for yourself!

Guitar Hero: World Tour First Look (IGN)
Exhibit: Guitar Hero World Tour (Nukoda)
World Tour: New Details Galore (Game Informer)