Crawl or Die

Dixi's Donjon


Mass Effect Redemption (comics)

      It was only natural that I would start to talk about comics.  I’ve always been a fan of the genre and even took a class in college about comics.  And with the way the comic industry and gaming entwine it truly is a perfect match for me.  Now, with all that out of the way, let’s talk comics!
  Mass Effect Redemption issue 1     Mass Effect Redemption, published by Dark Horse in conjunction with EA/Bioware, was a 4-issue run back at the beginning of 2010.  This series essentially bridges the gap between the two games, although it takes place technically during the second.  Mass Effect 2 picks up where Mass Effect 1 leaves off.  (And yes, I know, I haven’t published my review of Mass Effect 2 but I have played both games so I do indeed know what I am talking about.  Stop interrupting the dungeon mistress!)  Before you even get to take control of Commander Shepard, the Normandy is attacked.  This is explained in the comics just in case you haven’t played Mass Effect 2.  In the game during this time you learn your basic movement functions as you make you way to rescue your pilot.   You, as Shepard, save him but not yourself.  You die!  This is summarized in the prologue of the first issue of the comic.
    The comic starts off with a beautiful panel of the Omega Station.  The dialog boxes just fill the reader in on the cultural climate to be found.  I have to admit, while playing the game I heard, in the back of my mind, Obi Wan Kenobi saying “Mos Eisley spaceport: You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.”  The comics reinforced that atmosphere for the place.  We get some idea of the villainous scum with the crew of a cargo ship hired by a familiar face, Dr. Liara T’Soni a survivor of the Normandy and a friend of Commander Shepard.
    Liara has come to the Omega Station to meet someone with information on the location of Shepard’s remains.  They wording of the dialogue intentionally makes the status of Shepard vague.  The drell that is Liara’s contact cannot say for certain that Shepard is dead, but can say Shepard wasn’t moving around.  This word play was a very nice way of setting up what ultimately ends up happening in the game.  
    Of course Liara isn’t the only one looking for Shepard.  The first issue introduces a couple of primary characters from the Mass Effect 2 game, Miranda and the Illusive Man, operatives of the prohuman group Cerberus.  Also mentioned is the Shadow Broker, which the comics focus a bit more on along with the mysterious collectors.  Liara agrees to work with the Illusive Man and Cerberus in order to keep Shepard’s remains out of the hands of the Collectors.
   Mass Effect Redemption issue 2 In the second issue we explore the drell Feron’s motives for helping Liara,  We are introduced to the Club Afterlife and Aria, who is another character brought into Mass Effect 2.  She knows all the things that happen on the Omega Station.  Liara gets the information on Shepard’s remains; however, something goes wrong in the attempt to acquire the remains and they are taken off the station.
 Mass Effect Redemption issue 3   The third issue take Feron and Liara to the Shadow Broker’s hideout.  There is some light moments between Feron and Liara.  It is hinted at that the Illusive Man has other people in play.  Feron grabs information while Liara talks to the Shadow Broker.  At the end of the issue the Asari goes full-out biotic.  Biotic is basically devastating powers a person has, which can be equated to magic but not really so mystical.
 Mass Effect Redemption issue 4   Issue 4 is the conclusion of the story.  And yes, the fight that issue 3 was leading up to occurs.  Feron’s big secret is revealed, but I’m not going to give that one away.  (Read the comics in order!)  The story does show a bit of how the Collectors communicate with each.  In the game you notice how one person keeps taking over the body of the collectors you’re fighting and that is demonstrated slightly in the panels.  In the end there are a couple of panels from Mass Effect 2 where the people of Cerberus are reconstructing Shepard.  
    The best thing about these comics is that it does fill in the gaps.  You meet Liara again in Mass Effect 2 and this story explains her personal grudge against the Shadow Broker.  Admittedly, the Shadow Broker is only mentioned in the game and never really dealt with.  Part of the reason the comics go with the game so well is because one of the lead writers from the game wrote the story the comics were based on.  The art in the panels is very good and captures the essence from game play.  The coloring of the biotic panels is vivid, a bit more than the game, but the medium lends itself to that.  They are a good read and I highly recommend it to anyone who is a fan of the games.  I did not give away every plot twist.  But, since it fits into the game I don’t think I gave away any secrets by revealing the last panels.


Zombie Apocalypse

Often I am asked if I have a zombie survival plan.  And I, being the good horror girl that I am, always answer “yes”.  In Zombie Apocalypse by Nihilistic Software, Inc. and Konami the zombies are here, and 4 unlikely heroes must kill them all. 
    Now, I know many of you are thinking that this sounds like the basic plot behind the Left for Dead games (to be talked about in another article).  And yes, there are up to 4 people when you co-op it, either on your system or on Live with your X-Box friends.  But if you are playing solo it is just you.  It’s a plus because you don’t have annoying AI’s getting in your way, but at the higher levels, even an AI’s extra fire power could be useful.
    Another major difference is Zombie Apocalypse is a 3rd person overview 2 stick shooter.  By that I mean the camera is above, although at an angle, and your left thumbstick moves you while your right thumbstick fires.  I have played a couple of games like this before on the PC but I found it still took a bit of time to get used to.  The triggers are for your chainsaws - right trigger is the standard killing while the left trigger is execution style kills.
    The creators of this game put some thought in the various ways to kill zombies.  You start out with a generic machine gun with unlimited ammo.  This and the chainsaws are your defaults and the chainsaws are always available no matter what weapon you pick up.  The machine gun is not available when you pick up other weapons until you run out of ammo for the special weapons.  The special weapons you can use are shotguns, hunting rifles, chain guns, dual smgs, grenade launchers, rocket launchers, flame throwers, and Molotov cocktails.  And if the guns were not enough, every level has environmental means of killing the zombies.  You can burn them in a crematorium, slice them with broken shards of glass from the house of mirrors, hack them with helicopter propellers, throw them in a car compactor, burn them at the gas pump, electrocute zombies with downed power lines, and, my personal favorite, send them through a wood chipper. 
    The basic game covers 55 days.  The premise never changes - spray and pray.  For a while the zombies do get more difficult.  You start with the simple "just want to eat your brains" type of zombies to grannies that throw knives.  But the grannies aren’t the worst of the zombies.  There are sheriffs which will shoot you with a shotgun, kamikaze zombies that will blow you up, and the queen zombies which pop out offspring that will fly around and try to take off your head.  Then, they can all become radioactive which makes them tougher to kill.
    I think this game is fun and a good way to kill time.  It’s an X-Box Live Arcade which makes it unusual for me to play. I have nothing against the arcade games, but I just don’t tend to play them... probably because I spend my Microsoft Points on the downloadable content for my games.  It is very drawn out and that is a big negative.  I don’t know why the creators decided on 55 days because about half way through the game you have pretty much done everything.  But if you just want to kill time you can knock a day or two off pretty quickly and come another time to play the next day.  You don’t have to restart the game again unless you are just trying to get on the leader boards.  The unlockable modes are fairly interesting - such as “chainsaws only” or “blackout”.   Those should be fairly self explanatory as to what is going on.  Also, the achievements are pretty easy to get.  The 100+ multiplier was easily achieved in the 7 Days of Hell game mode.

This game gets a 3.5 out of 5.  It is great mindless fun but extremely monotonous.   



Alan Wake

“Stephen King once wrote, ‘Nightmares exist outside of logic, and there’s little fun to be had in explanations; they’re antithetical to the poetry of fear’.”
    Any game that starts out with such an amazing quote by one of the most prolific horror writers of our time is a must-play game for me.  After many years of talk about this game, Remedy has finally produced Alan Wake.  In this game you play as best selling author Alan Wake.  You and your wife take a trip to the small town of Bright Falls.  You think it is just a vacation while your wife is hopeful you will begin writing again.  But, if everything went as planned there would be no game.  Your wife is taken by “the darkness” and you have to save her.
    This game is a 3rd person shooter, although you’re not just shooting bullets.  If you’ve played the Darkness then you are used to the concept of the light hurting the darkness.  Same concept, only here you want the light.  In the game the darkness gives your enemies a shield making them invulnerable to bullets.  You dissolve the shield with light from your flashlight, a spotlight, fire, headlights, or a flare.  The first few times you destroyed your enemies’ shields and shot them dead was fun, but it quickly got old as the game progressed.  The flare gun and flash bang grenades are your friends because they will kill instantly.  Yes, here is a game where flash bang grenades actually are useful instead of annoying.  I think the reason I grew tired of this technique is because the left trigger is the boost for the flashlight to make the shield dissipate faster but the left bumper is the dodge.  The transition between the two just took too long it seemed.
    Another fault I found is this game had absolutely no melee feature.  If you became overwhelmed by enemies you had better have had flares to get them away because you cannot push them back.  There is much of one area where you have no weapons and just have to run.  At one point there is a generator you need to turn on to provide a safe area but you don’t get the chance because you are quickly overwhelmed by your enemies.
    In case you haven’t figured it out, my biggest complaint with this game is that the basic combat never gets better.  There are a handful of different guns, but no combo maneuvers to master.  The enemies don’t change in difficulty either.  You can play through the game with just your pistols and the enemies at the end will take the same amount of hits as those at the beginning.  There is no challenge!
    The good thing about the game is the story.  It is broken up into episodes and the episodes feel like TV episodes.  They even start with a previously-on segment recapping what has happened in the game so far.  It’s a nice touch.  The atmosphere had just the right amount of creepy that only got broken by the frequent cut scenes.  And sometimes those cut scenes had bad timing, breaking up the flow of game play.  I must say that the final checkpoint to the end of the game was a big let down.
    After consideration I have to give this game a 2.75 out of 5.  The story is very good.  It reminded me of the Silent Hill games, which by the way if you liked those then you will like Alan Wake.  But with the static game play one can’t expect replay-ability once all the achievements are done.  The soundtrack to the game is worth listening to, and you can through the extra features on the disc.

P.S. The Stephen King quote came from the Entertainment Weekly article from July 7, 2008  "Horror Movies: Why Big Studios Releases Are Rare to Scare".


Halo: Reach Beta

The Halo: Reach Beta has come and gone from Xbox Live.  Overall it was a fun game.  I know it was a beta and not the finished game, so I am not going to talk about the actual game play.

    Reach is set before Halo 1, so the Elites are back as enemies.  For multiplayer that made it into Covenant versus Spartans.  The game types with that setup were different from Halo 3 Slayers.  Most of them were objective-based games.  Invasion put the Elites on offense trying to retrieve a UNSC data core.  The Spartan team obviously were on the defense to stop the Elites.  There are phases to the invasion and with the passing of each phase new armor loads and vehicles are opened for both teams.  The Elites are slightly faster and harder to kill than the Spartans, but the Spartans are smaller targets and have some of the better armor abilities.  This is also a large overall team game, but the big teams are comprised of smaller two-man teams for scoring purposes.  

    Another objective for Covenant versus Spartan is Generator Defense.  I don’t think I really need to explain what has to be done in this game.  The Spartans again are the defenders protecting the generators while the Elites try to destroy them.  And what do you know, I just explained the how to play the game.  These games have two rounds allowing you to alternate teams, Spartan and Elite.

    One last game type that I will mention is Headhunter.  This is a Spartan on Spartan game.  Every person you kill drops a skull for you to collect.  You have to carry the skulls to designated areas to get points.  The special armor abilities still work while carrying the skulls, unlike the other game types.  A fun little thing that is included is the number of skulls you are carrying is displayed over your head.  A bigger number of skulls means you’re a bigger target.  But of course, it takes longer to go one at a time.
    Now for the things truly unique to Reach: the armor abilities.  There are four primary choices for the Spartan, while the Elites basically just have dodge for their unique ability.  The scout has the Sprint ability.  This is useful to get to objectives quickly, although once you have the flag you can’t use your Sprint.  It is also a good way to get out of a heavy firefight.  The next type of armor is the Guard, where the armor locks down.  While in lockdown you will not take damage and as you come out of lockdown you send out a little burst of energy.  This will drain the shield of anyone nearby, making them easy kills.  This also gives you time to let your shield regenerate and take a look with the camera around you to plan your next move.  The third type is Stalker, which gives you camouflage and radar jammer.  This is a great tool for sneaking around and into enemy bases but not so good for getaways.  As with the Halo 3 active camo, if you engage in combat (shoot, melee, or throw grenades) or are hit by a bullet you come out of camo.  The final classification is Air Strike.  This is the fun armor type with jet packs.  The jet packs make getting around on the map easier while you have the energy to use them, and it is great for getting away.  You can still shoot while in the air and even perform in air assassinations.  I have pictures in my file share of me doing just such an assassination.  I found that I had no real preference for the armor types.  The game type itself dictated what armor I used, but other people found the one that they liked and stayed with it no matter what.

Airstrike and Scout were the best for general moving around the maps, but Stalker was great for sneaking in to capture the flag while Guard helped in protecting the flag.  The Beta gave the option to change armor types before you respawned after dying.  Hopefully, the actual game will keep that.

    The biggest gripe I had with Reach was that the game goes back to health packs instead of just dodging combat until your health is replenished.  Halo 1 and ODST both have this method, but in Reach you have to actually press a button to pick up the health packs.  I died a few times as I was trying to pick up the health pack on the wall and the game didn’t register that I did push the button.  The other issue is a minor one, but the default button layout is different from any of the current Halo shooter games.  Halo: Wars, being a strategy game type, doesn’t count.  There was a setup close to the default Halo 3 button layout, and classics like Bumper Jumper were available.  I don’t personally use Bumper Jumper, so I don’t know how it is compared to Halo 3.  The changes take some time to get used to, but it really wasn’t any different than when you move to another game after playing Halo so it’s not as big of a deal as many people made it out to be.

    I won’t rate the Beta because it was just a Beta.  There are going to be changes made before the actual launch of the game, supposedly.  But, September 14 I will be playing Halo: Reach and kicking butt in the multiplayer!  Hope to see you there!


Dante’s Inferno

It was a normal day in the crusades, killing heretics, when suddenly I’m stabbed in the back.  I decide to fight the Grim Reaper and return home.  Once home, I discover my father and my wife murdered.  And that is when I literally went to hell.
    If this sounds familiar you might have played Dante’s Inferno by EA/Visceral Games.  This game follows Dante during his descent into the furthest depths of hell to save his beloved Beatrice.  It is a third person game where the enemies will surround you as you hack and slash through them, hopefully raking up some awesome combo points.  They make sure you have a fairly good mix of enemies to fight, often with both flyers and ground creatures. And while each level has a unique enemy, the ones from previous levels will also pop up.

    Unfortunately, I have to complain about the camera angles.  Too many times I missed a jump because I couldn’t see the ledge I was supposed to jump on.  Or the ever favorite, I missed because the perspective was wrong even though it looked like I was lined up perfectly.  There were many frustrating moments of failed jumping!  While the camera angles were not the best, the graphics were stunning.  I’m not saying it has realism, it is the pits of hell after all and no one knows how that looks, but it is a very visual and visceral game.

    Another plus, is the pacing of the game.  There are not too many lulls in the game play.  Yes, there are moments where you are making your way to the next circle, but usually you are swinging from a rope or jumping.  Occasionally you will find there is more of a puzzle to figure out than fighting.  None of them were impossible to figure out, some just took more thought than others.  But while the pacing was pretty good, the save points could have been done better.  The game used statues of the fair Beatrice as the save points which were scattered throughout hell.  Sometimes it was frustrating getting so far and then having to leave knowing that you’d have to redo from your last save because there were no statues in sight.  Thankfully, the game does use check points so if you die in the game you won’t respawn at your last save.  

    And going with the whole in-game death theme, this game has a feature that not every game has.  I know us gamers hate dying, but if you are facing a boss or a swarm of enemies and your health and mana were low at the last check point, don’t worry - take the deaths.  After a couple of deaths your health and mana bar will start to regenerate.  If you have the tutorials on you will get the message stating you can turn the difficulty down.  But like most tutorial messages, it’s easily ignored or turned off.  

    Now, I have a couple of tips.  First, make sure you talk to the poet, Virgil, and I mean really talk to him.  I know this may be hard for some of you guys, although since I didn’t discover this until I was about two-thirds of the way through the game, I’m just as guilty.  If you talk to all the Virgils pushing the prompted button until he disappears you will get an achievement worth 40 points.  Another reason to talk to him is from time to time Virgil will drop relics.  Besides being able to equip relics to enhance Dante’s performance, there is an achievement for having all the light (holy) relics and for having all the dark (unholy) relics.  Each of those achievements are worth 20 points.

    The second tip is, if you are reading a walkthrough to help you get through the game (I recommend and you still miss a Beatrice stone, it’s okay.  I found a Beatrice stone at a later point in the game.  I even checked with the walkthrough and it was not mentioned in there.  And yes, I used a walkthrough to find the things I missed on my first trip through Hell.  Having all three Beatrice stones will give you a 20 point achievement but using the auto absolve it offers is not a good idea.  You will get less souls that way instead of playing the mini game, and in Hell the currency is souls.  The more you have the more upgrades you get which leads to more achievements!

    Since I have been talking about achievements, for the standard game the achievements are very straight forward and easy to obtain.  I have not downloaded the prequel level, and I don’t know if that adds any more achievements.  And in such an online time as ours it’s hard to believe a game would be released without a multiplayer feature or even a co-op platform, but Dante’s was released.  There will be downloadable content coming out in the future offering the co-op play, though.

    Over all, I have to give the game a 3.5 out of 5.  I enjoyed it, but some of the problems were very frustrating.  And I have to warn that this game is rated “M”.  It is not meant for children!  There is nudity and gore throughout the game plus the violence and sexual references.

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