Posts Tagged ‘valve’

Portal 2 Review

Posted: June 1, 2011 in Review
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Portal 2 Review

The original Portal raised the bar for puzzle games. Lasting just four hours, it introduced players to the mind-boggling concept of portal guns that create magic wormholes, as well as encouraging creative thinkers to try and break the rules.

Now Valve are back for a second go at breaking the brains of their players and the original game’s beautiful design is more or less left completely untouched. You’re still challenged to find a way from A to B, except now the number of variables has increased. Alongside un-portalable surfaces and weighted switches are new puzzles like laser beams, reflective boxes, gravity tubes and a variety of surface-altering gels that all need to be manipulated into serving your purpose.

Those who grasped the concept of portals quickly the first time around will be able to blast through the first half of the game with little difficulty, but the game’s gentle learning curve is deceptive, sneaking in some real head-scratchers amongst the simpler puzzles, often tricking you into over-complicating your thinking.

But the best part of Portal 2 is not the ingenious puzzles or the incredible mental gymnastics that solving them requires you to go through. No, the best part of Portal 2 is the sense of joy. Literally everything in this game is designed to have its players pumping their fists in the air, or howling with laughter, or both. Incredible set-pieces crop up with an intense regularity – be it seeing part of the facility collapse or watching the lab get built up around you as you walk through it – and the script is perhaps the best one ever written for a game.

Naturally, GLaDOS’s hilariously biting sarcasm makes a welcome return, but it’s Stephen Merchant who really steals the show as incompetent robot sidekick Wheatley. Whether it’s shouting unhelpful advice or rambling off on a tangent about birds, Merchant’s hysterical dialogue will act as a kind of magnet, pulling you on through the rest of the game if only to hear what he says next. Considering that there are only three voices to be heard throughout the entire single player campaign, the script is nothing short of a triumph.

While the dialogue is outstanding, it wouldn’t be half as entertaining if the core game wasn’t so good. The great thing about Portal 2 is that you’re never penalised for going at your own speed. You’re presented with a room and the exit. How you get there is completely up to you and the longer it takes to figure it out, the more satisfying the payoff.

On top of the excellent single player is an equally gripping co-op campaign. However, this does suffer slightly in that you need a partner of equal skill, otherwise it can become frustrating.

Portal 2 manages the impossible – by taking a damn-near perfect game and making it damn-near perfect in an all-new way. More than just a worthy sequel, Portal 2 is easily one of gaming’s greatest achievements. Consider the bar well and truly raised… again.

97%

Left 4 Dead 2 Review

Posted: June 17, 2010 in Review
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Left 4 Dead 2 Review

The first Left 4 Dead was an overrated pile of twaddle. Sure, it was fairly good fun online, but the levels, weapons and zombies were poor, repetitive and boring. If anything, it was a tech demo for a much better game.

Speaking of a much better game, here’s Left 4 Dead 2, a game that seizes the promise of the original and amplifies it by a thousand. Better characters, better levels, more guns, more special infected all equal more fun.

The keyword is variety. While the gameplay is identical to the previous game – four people work together to run from A to B – the sheer variety of great new ideas is staggering. Buildings catch fire, smoke obscures visibility, thunderstorms slow progress, level layouts change, the list goes on. As for the levels themselves, they’re leaps and bounds ahead of the first game. Malls, gunshops, fairground attractions, swamps, crashed airliners, construction sites and even war-torn cities. In short, the levels are so wildly, so visually, different to each other that they’re all truly incredible.

Even the end-of-campaign horde slaughter is made more enjoyable by various new ideas. While some missions are the same old ‘survive the onslaught’ affairs, others are more cunning. One sees the survivors sprinting around a mall, trying to gather gas cans to fill a car with, while another features a tremendously exciting headlong sprint across a bridge.

The special infected also add a brilliant new variety to the existing bunch, including the head-leaping Jockey, the destructive Charger and the goo-spitting, um, Spitter. All of them serve the purpose of splitting up the human characters and each adds a fantastic new layer to the challenge of survival. In addition, each level has unique zombies that new threats – infected riot police wear body armour, dead clowns have horde-attracting squeaky shoes and reanimated construction workers wear ear defenders, making them immune to pipe bombs.

The new weapons add tactics to the gameplay as well. Do you have dual pistols, a single desert eagle or swap handguns for one of the eight melee weapons? As for the primary weapons, the choices are extensive – silenced submachine guns, new machine guns, burst-fire guns, more shotguns and even a new version of the nigh-useless sniper rifle.

On top of this are laser sights for accurate shooting, special incendiary and explosive bullets, jars of horde-attracting Boomer vomit, speed-boosting adrenaline shots and even defibrillators for resurrecting fallen survivors. The wealth of imagination non offer is truly head-spinning and it asks the question, ‘where the hell was all this the first time around?’

New game features include gas can collect-a-thon Scavenge and the purer challenge of Survival mode. While Scavenge can only be played online, they are both a hell of a lot of fun and will see players returning to enjoy more time after time.

One the whole, Left 4 Dead 2 is the fun, frantic, highly replayable game the first should have been. More gameplay options provide more fun. Offline, it’s a damned enjoyable blast, but online it might well be the definitive co-op experience.

95%

Left 4 Dead

From the creators of Half-Life, CounterStrike, Portal and Team Fortress comes a first-person running zombie survive-‘em-up with what Valve claims has unlimited replayability.

The secret is the Director, an AI program that identifies how well you’re doing, the amount of ammo you have and the number of health kits you carry. The result is that zombie carnage can be unleashed upon you at any one time at any place, depending on how you’re playing.

The game boils down to just this: you pick a character from the four available (old guy, grumpy guy, black guy and girl), you load a map (city, woods, airport, fields) and you run from A to B. That’s all. But you need to make sure that your team mates are less than six feet away from you at all times because the many various ‘boss’ zombies like to interfere with the run as much as possible. There’s the frustrating Boomer that showers the team in zombie-attracting bile, the irritating Smoker that grabs one player and pulls them far away, the aggravating Hunter that jumps and mauls one person, the bitchy Witch that punishes people for not looking around in the shadows and the utterly annoying Tank that strolls in and tears shit up. You can guarantee that you’ll never be more than five minutes away from getting screwed over by a game that doesn’t like to be beaten.

And that’s only half of the problem. Valve have designed Left 4 Dead as a four-player co-op game, forcing you to rely on your living team mates to get through the levels. To cut a long rant relatively short, you can’t play the game without taking it on Xbox Live and playing with three other humans. You can play it in two-player split-screen (but not four – a bizarre choice considering the numbers), but your AI assistants become liabilities when you realise that you can’t give any commands at all.

Playing in single-player is even worse. You can only play it on easy or normal difficulties, as any attempt to play on hard or expert will result in the AI survivors turning into giggling retards by the final part of the level, becoming unwilling to do something as simple as follow you, choosing instead to run away and get killed so the others will run out to save them and get killed, thus screwing you over completely because you can’t win this game by yourself.

As previously stated, the only way to play this game properly is to take it online, but even then, the only way to get a proper go out of Left 4 Dead is to play on the incredibly unfun expert difficulty, because it’s the only place where the game is taken seriously by players who won’t run on ahead. Just like the movies it tries to replicate, relying on other people only leads to humanity’s downfall.

The levels themselves are a mixed batch, with only a handful standing out as memorable or interesting. The four scenarios – amusingly presented as movies – only have two settings: inside a city or outside one, with each scenario containing five maps, the final mission seeing you fight off the zombies while waiting for rescue. And once you’re rescued that’s it – the game ends and you pick a new level and start again. No closure, no reward, nothing to unlock or earn. Everything is open at the start and no scenario is any harder than the next. Replayable? Not really.

The idea behind the zombies is actually really good: they are attracted to sound. So such things as car alarms, activating lifts in deserted buildings, opening creaky shutters and metal detectors will send a horde of screaming zombies to tear off your face. However, the dynamic fails to hold up under close interrogation, because zombies will swarm because of a fuel gauge being turned on, but not a plane crashing. They’ll swarm because a Boomer vomits on you, but not because a petrol station explodes. Zombies swarm because a man three miles down river is on his way to you by boat, but not because you’ve detonated an explosive canister.

And another problem with the zombies is that they’re not scary in the slightest. Do anything to activate the swarm and you’ll get huge white text hampering your view and warning you that in a few moments you will be scared. Even the Director’s random swarms have a bugle cry several seconds before the attack, to give you enough time to prepare.

Of course, ‘preparing’ means simply backing into a corner and firing straight ahead. The zombies aren’t smart enough like, say, Resident Evil 5’s Majini, to attack in other way than by running in a group and making themselves ridiculously easy targets. Also, the Director can be fooled fairly easily, simply by getting hurt very early on and not taking any health kits.

The weapons are a disappointing bunch given that Valve created both the Gravity and Portal gun. You have a pistol (can be upgraded to two), a submachine gun, shotgun, assault rifle, assault shotgun and the utterly pointless long-distance hunting rifle.

There are other modes included on Left 4 Dead, notably the co-op (it’s always co-op, say goodbye to having fun on your own) head-to-head humans versus zombies game, but even that is flawed by the difficulty the game is played on, as one shot kills zombies on easier modes and survivors hit the ground like twelve-year-olds at a Jonas Brothers concert on harder modes.

All in all, it’s a valiant attempt to make a horror FPS, but is flawed by the same old problem: FPSes are not scary and never will be because you’ll always outgun those that outnumber. Worth playing a few times in split-screen with a mate, but nothing more – hugely disappointing. As for the unlimited replayability, maybe more time could have gone into designing levels or better partner AI instead of an AI program that makes the game a chore to play.

70%

And so there you have it! According to this one guy on the Internet, Dead Rising is a better zombie horror that Left 4 Dead. Thanks for reading. What’s in store for next week?