Saturday, May 30, 2009

PSP Go "announced": I am not shaken, nor am I stirred

Consider this a bonus article, as the "announcement" came out halfway through me writing PokéOddities

The next in the line of Sony's Playstation Portable was unexpectedly (For both us and Sony, I'm sure) "announced" today, and it's called the PSP Go. Kind of an awkward name, but I'm currently playing Wii everyday, so I suppose I shouldn't be talking.

Looking at the design of the system, the sliding "control panel" is pretty nice. Helps keep those buttons out of the way, and allows for a nice, compact shape when watching movies. The downside to this, though, is that the screen is out there all the time, just begging to be scratched. If this doesn't ship with some sort of system sleeve of even the flimsiest quality, you can bet there'll be no screen unscratched within a few months of this handheld's release, no matter how carefully it's cared for.

One of the most important parts of a handheld system is how well it fits in the hand. If it's a rough-edged, sharp-cornered brick, it's not going to be staying in a gamer's grip for very long. Of course, the PSP Go is far from this, sporting rounded edges and smooth lines. It's kind of hard to tell from the few images so-far released, but I'd say it won't be uncomfortable, nor incredibly comfortable. Somewhere right in the middle looks to be how the PSP Go will feel.

Speaking of comfort, I see one thing in the above picture I really hoped I wouldn't be seeing in a new PSP; That cursed thumbstick. Not only is it back and not-at-all changed from the original models (As far as I can tell, at least), there's still only one of them. Some argue that this is the case so as to avoid and sort of divide among PSP and PSP Go owners. Without second-analog support, all games will be compatible with all iterations of the handheld. Which makes sense, I guess, except for an important fact about the PSP Go I'll be bringing up in a moment...

Unless the guy in the picture above has incredibly huge hands, the PSP Go is smaller than the PSP by a slight amount. Not in a terribly-significant way, but people do seem to go nuts over the new, smallest version of, well, everything. Oh, us easily won-over consumers...

Despite being smaller, the PSP Go has actually has on-board memory, as opposed to the original models requiring memory sticks for storage. Now users can store all their music, movies and PSP Go games right on the system itself. No, you're not hallucinating; I said "PSP Go games". This brings us to the above-mentioned "important fact" that...

The PSP Go has no UMD slot. At all. There is no way for the games from the original PSP to be playable on the Go ("On the Go": Slogan, anyone?). All PSP Go games will only be available as downloads from the system's branch of the Playstation Store. Planning on upgrading from your old PSP to this new model? Might want to keep the old one on hand, unless you plan on re-buying all your games digitally.

That point there, to me, is the PSP Go's biggest flaw. I don't believe the world is ready for a game system that's entirely digital in the way of purchasing software. Some may mention the iPhone as an argument, but really, that's the iPhone. No iPhone game can compare to PSP software in complexity and depth, not to mention price. What does this say about PSP Go software? One of three things (With 1 being the most probable, and 3 being the least):

  1. PSP Go software will be every bit as complex and deep as that of the original PSP, and will cost the full, store shelf price of $50 apiece, or...
  2. PSP Go software will be far more basic than that of the original PSP, and generally cost less than $30 apiece, or...
  3. PSP Go Software will be every bit as complex and deep as that of the original PSP, but will be cheaper, rarely costing more than $30 apiece.

Now then, why did I arrange them in that order of probability? Simple: Sony loves their cash. I can honestly see them releasing only crummy little WiiWare-level games more easily than I can imagine them charging less than premium for their software. While I may think that downloaded games should cost less than retail, I'm not the cash-monster that is Sony. Then again, they're not against taking losses (See: PS3 launch price as opposed to PS3 production cost as of launch), but still, I'm not exactly seeing it happening.

Looking at all the PSP Go has to offer... I think I'd more gladly buy an original PSP than jump on this bandwagon, which means a lot considering how unimpressed I am with the handheld line as it is. Sorry, Sony, but when it comes to my handheld entertainment, I think I'll continue to "Go" elsewhere.

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I know I said that I was through with Pokémon, but... Apparently Pokémon wasn't through with me. Curse you, Game Freak!

Pokémon has made a few appearances in my "Gaming Oddities" series of articles, but after picking up Diamond again, I realize that it deserves a list all its own. There's just too much about this series that doesn't make sense. First off...

Pokémon: A proud supporter of interspecies relationships

-Trainer Jim sent out Smoochum!
-"Go, Charmander!"
-The foe's Smoochum used Attract!
-Charmander became infatuated!

Apparently Poltergeist isn't standard viewing at Game Freak HQ

Normal-type attacks do no damage to Ghost-type Pokémon. Okay, fine, that makes perfect sense. But Ghost-type attacks do no damage to Normal-type Pokémon? Take a seat, please, Mr. Tajiri. See, common stories involving ghosts not only include them scaring the crap out of humans (Sometimes literally), they also sometimes involve the ghosts making physical contact with their victims. Hence, Ghost-types can effect Normal-type Pokémon... Unless Earth is entirely populated by psychics, body-builders, goths, dragons, fire-eaters, swimmers... You get the idea.

Just got your butt kicked by that wild Skarmory? Don't worry, he's also a licensed air ambulance!

Having all your Pokémon knocked-out in battle causes you yourself to pass out and reappear at the last-visited PokéCenter. If that's not odd enough, how about the never-explained mode of transportation that miraculously teleports you to safety? It seems even the most wild of Pokémon has it in them to take you to that safe haven known as a PokéCenter while you're dozing off.

Perhaps even stranger is the fact that losing to a member of the local crime syndicate yields the same results. You'd think the group would rather jail you up to keep you quiet rather than push you out the front door and let you tell the whole world what they're up to. No wonder they're always so incompetent.

Alakazam has an IQ of over 5000 and a perfect memory, but does he know why kids love Cinnamon Toast Crunch?

Alakazam is, by far, the most intelligent of all Pokémon. With an IQ of over 5000 and brain cells that multiply up until the day he dies (According to Pokédex entries throughout history), this Pokémon's intelligence and memory are unmatched by anything else. Alakazam has been referred to as "a living supercomputer" many times throughout the series. So if Alakazam is so smart and has such an incredibly memory... Why can he only learn four moves? Whenever a new attack is to be learned, Alakazam must "forget" a previous one. So much for that perfect memory.

The Pokédex: Simultaneously empty and all-knowing

At the beginning of Pokémon Red/Blue/Yellow, Professor Oak gives the player a blank Pokédex. A Pokédex which he says is blank. Yet capturing any Pokémon suddenly fills it with the extent of the world's knowledge on the species. Doesn't make much sense, does it? So let's say that the Pokédex isn't blank, and instead contains all information relating to every known Pokémon. Why must we "unlock" said information by viewing the relevant Pokémon? It would be so much more helpful to know the types of all the Pokémon we're facing before we get into a fight with them.

So then, either Professor Oak is lying to us about the Pokédex being blank, or it's an amazingly perceptive and ground-breakingly intelligent device. Either way doesn't make much sense, does it?

Shoot first, then maybe breathe fire and bite later

The second generation of Pokémon brought with it many significant additions to the series. Genders, breeding, different Pokémon types, and perhaps most notably, a day/night cycle based on the real-world clock. This one feature introduced Pokémon that would only appear at certain times of day and a police force that becomes incredibly irritable when the sun sets. So much as walk in front of these "officers of the law" and you'll be forced into a Pokémon battle with them. Apparently the cops of Johto are of the "guilty until proven innocent" mindset.

Maybe things just materialize as needed?

The mountainous terrain, patches of tall grass and many rocks along the routes of the Pokémon world make for an interesting adventure... But spell disaster for any sort of vehicular transportation. Despite this, though, people miraculously have access to all sorts of technology and resources, no matter how incredibly difficult it may be to get there. Just look at the below image. East of Lavaridge are impassable cliffs and a path through a rocky and craggy mountain side. I'll never know why anyone ever settled in Lavaridge...

How the people of Lavaridge get anything at all boggles the mind

Land vehicles are certainly out of the question when it comes to shipping goods about (Yeah, right, tell that to the player's moving truck in the beginning of Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald...), so what about air? Nothing can stop the helicopters and planes of the world from flying overhead... Although plenty stops them from ever landing. All four regions in the main series are completely devoid of airstrips and helipads, so unless the entire shipping world is dominated by bush pilots, air is out of the question, too.

Heck, I think the only time there's ever been any sort of feasible means of shipment was via sea in Hoenn, and even then it was limited to the Eastern half of the territory. So... Maybe they rigged something up with the Pokéball teleporters to transport goods? Until I see proof, I'm gonna label that a theory and stick with the idea of people just randomly getting everything they need from thin air.

All Pokémon come with complimentary off-screen interpreter

"Go, Pikachu!"
"اخترت لكم ، Pikachu!"
"Elegir usted, Pikachu!"
"Je vous choisissez, Pikachu!"
"Ζήτω για το Google μεταφραστή, Pikachu!"

No matter how you say it, they understand it. So not only can Pokémon understand the words of all other Pokémon, they can understand every single language known to man as well. It seems Alakazam isn't the only one that qualifies as a "living supercomputer"...

"Hi, I'm Dory"

Beating the Pokémon League for the first time is a great, fulfilling achievement. You've managed to take out what are (Often) the five toughest opponents in the game, in a row, with no breaks. Such an upset is sure to send ripples through the land, and those once-elite four are sure to have some choice words for you upon your return to the League, right?

Well, no, not really. It seems everyone at the Pokémon League suffers from a severe case of short term memory loss, since they never seem to recall you having beaten them before. An amazing feat, really, since the Hall of Fame records accessible at any PC in the world can say you've defeated them. So not only do the Elite Four have no memory whatsoever, they don't even have an internet connection. Also, why do we have to take out the "champion" each additional time we challenge the League? Shouldn't the title belong to the player at this point? Maybe Gary just gets his Alakazam to brainwash everyone so he can keep his position as number one...

And now for something completely different...

If that doesn't look like a man lying down yet "standing up", I'm a monkey's desk lamp. I think the ESRB was asleep that day.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Another year, another sappy "thank you" post

May 28th, 2007: The day this blog began. The first ever article appeared on One Duck's Opinion, a review for Pokémon Diamond. Two years later, and Pokémon Diamond is just one of 462 posts here. Much has happened to One Duck's Opinion these last two years...

One Duck's Opinion gained a deal with THQ to review their games (A deal which has sadly just about dried up). The site also widened its focus from just Nintendo to PC games, and eventually (And somewhat silently) opened up to the entire industry (Although still focusing mainly on Nintendo). Post frequency shifted dramatically downwards from daily to a once or twice a week, but quality has certainly gone up. Over the last two years, this blog has certainly carved out its own nice little niche, garnering an average of some 200 unique hits a day (Double that of this time last year). Like I said in the first anniversary post, triple digit numbers may not seem like much, but to a mere opinion blogger like me, it's quite stunning. Sure, a bunch of these may be bots and Google Image results (In fact, I have proof pointing to both), but it's still a great milestone to have reached.

While many of those hits may be bots, Google Image search results and spiders and such, the few that are actual human beings coming here to see what I have to say mean a lot to me. The fact that you folks stick with me through the constant periods of no updates at all and the rampant delays is pretty awesome. So yeah, this is the "sappy 'thank you'" part of the post.

Next week brings us E3, and you can count on plenty of posting for the next little while (Even tomorrow and Saturday maybe?). May those droughts be a thing of the past, and the one thing to be left behind in this new year!

Celebrate And Scream And Party On The Forums

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Project Memory Status: Complete

So then, it's finally here. The Video Formerly Known as Project Memory, AKA: I Remember Larry, primarily based on the Weird Al Yankovic song of the same name, is complete, and uploaded to Youtube. Now then, instead of blabbing endlessly about the video, here it is. Enjoy.

Direct Link

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Poll #90: "Did you buy Excitebots: Trick Racing?" results, no banner

"Yes, at full price" 4 votes (26%)
"Yes, at a discount" 1 vote (6%)
"Yes, but I sold it" 0 votes (0%)
"No, but I did rent it" 0 votes (0%)
"No, but I played it" 1 vote (6%)
"No." 9 votes (60%)

A real shame... Excite Bots is a fantastic, off-the-wall racer that I really hate myself for not reviewing. One of these days I will, and it shall be awesome, and you will all buy it in response to it. I hope.

As for this week's banner... There isn't a new one! Two major reasons for this. First, Punch-Out! is awesome and deserves the exposure. Second, cramming on Project Memory has sapped all my creativity. Good news involving the latter shall be coming tomorrow, though, so I suppose that's some consolation.

For this week's banner, the question is "Who do you expect will have the best conference at E3?" It's that time of the year again, and with it comes the speculation that's almost as fun as playing the games themselves. My rampant speculation shall be coming closer to the big event, but now the question is for you. Nintendo, Sony or Microsoft; Who will have the greatest showing this year? With Nintendo completely dying in the water last year, and the latter two performing respectably in their own conferences, last year was interesting, but not exactly mind-blowing. Could this year be different, and could the prize of best-conference change hands? Hey, I don't know. But get votin', and we'll see what the majority think!

More stuff coming tomorrow, so hang on...

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Regarding the review system

I've gotten a few questions about my Left 4 Dead review, and the complete lack of a rating at the end of it. Why is this? Well, quite simply, I've decided to ditch any sort of rating system altogether. While the new system worked for a while, it still didn't feel quite right to me. It resulted in me grouping together fantastic titles with games that were just simple fun. For example, take a look through "Review-a-palooza 2009: 55 DS games reviewed" and compare a few of the games that recieved "YAY" ratings. I've got amazing, epic-length games like Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and Final Fantasy III grouped in with more basic games like Brain Age and Feel the Magic: XY/XX. They're all good games, yes, but it just doesn't seem right to group them together like that.

It also basically amounted to "YAY" equaling a game rating of 7.5-10, so while it was broader than numerical scores, it still fell back upon that primitive system I'd rather see the industry leave behind. Also, being a broader score, every game I've given a full review to since then has received a "YAY" rating. While I do think they all deserved the ratings they received, I'd rather the review board not turn into a massive field of green.

I actually started doing this back in the DSi review, but I suppose it went unnoticed due to the difference in subject matter. It wasn't until last night that things became completely clear. In hindsight, to avoid confusion, I probably should have made a post beforehand. I didn't expect people to react as if I'd made an error in my review. My apologies for that.

I used to think abandoning the conventional rating system and creating one of my own was the way to go. Now, though, I think I'm done with rating systems altogether (All: "I think I'm done with rating systems"*). A simple summary paragraph at the end is all any review really needs, and that's what I'll be sticking with.

And that's how it will be from now on.

*To any who didn't get this joke, watch AIRPLANE!, now.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Left 4 Dead review

Here it is, as promised (Although slightly later than expected): The first full-fledged video game review since September. Also, for any who may be wondering, the PC and Xbox 360 versions of the game are nearly identical, so you'll get the same experience either way.

Platforms: PC, Xbox 360
Developers: Valve (PC), Certain Affinity (360)
Publisher: Valve
Release Date: November 18th, 2008
ESRB Rating: M for Mature
ESRB Notes: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Language

Ever since the first zombie film was unleashed upon the world back in 1932 (Yes, it's been that long), the living dead have infected every form of media imaginable, from books, comics and TV shows, and all the way up the technological ladder to video games. With most zombie games, there's one player, on their own, against hundreds of thousands of generic zombies. Leave it to Valve to shake it all up and drop Left 4 Dead in our laps.

In Left 4 Dead, it's still you against the horde of the undead, but this time you're not alone. After the mass-infection that lead to the zombie onslaught, four average folks grouped together and began to fight their way out. The four survivors are Zoey, an angsty teenager; Louis, a store manager; Francis, a biker; and Bill, a Vietnam veteran. All equal in capabilities, nothing sets these four apart in terms of gameplay. It's more a matter of choosing the one that suits you best. Personally, I usually go with Francis or Louis; for the former, it's the pessimistic comments; for the latter, it's the extreme air of nerdiness.

Zoey, Louis, Francis and Bill in the "poster" for the game's third campaign

The zombies have been changed up a bit, too. First off, as I suggested above with the word "infection", these aren't technically zombies. These are humans afflicted with a terrible new virus strain (This game's release timing is either great or awful, I can't tell). Instead of rising from the dead to eat flesh and brains for no apparent reason, these humans are suffering from Rabies-like symptoms, basically leading them to go absolutely freaking mad and undergo a few physical changes (Claws, pale skin and glowing eyes are the major changes). Based on the fact that the "zombies" never seem to attack each other, one could assume that the virus targets the healthy in order to propagate its species. I'm probably looking a little too far into it at this point, but hey, speculation is fun.

Aside from your generic, Land of the Dead-like infected (The commonly accepted name for the "zombies" in Left 4 Dead), there's five "special" infected, another welcome change to the generic hordes of days gone by. Oh, Valve and their class-based multiplayer games... The "special" infected are as follows:

Boomer: Bloated and swollen to the point where it no longer resembles the human it once was, the Boomer is chock full of a disgusting concoction known simply as "bile". This is no ordinary vomit, though. Get this stuff on you, and not only will you be temporarily blinded, but dozens of infected will basically spring out of thin air and go for you. Boomers can "spread the love" either by projectile vomiting (And when I say projectile, I mean it) or via the gigantic explosion that always accompanies their deaths. Contents under pressure? An understatement.

Hunter: Next up in this horrific menagerie, and sporting a fashionable grey hoodie, is the Hunter. Leaping into the fray (Sometimes seemingly from outer space), the Hunter has the ability to pin a survivor and savagely tear away at it with his claws. Accompanied by low growling and piercing shrieks, the Hunter's often-sudden appearances are definitely one of the scariest parts of the game. As a threat, though, I don't personally consider him too notable. On the mid to lower difficulty levels, a few short bursts from an automatic weapons is enough to at least knock him off, if not kill him. Can be devastating on a survivor that's strayed from the pack, though, emphasizing the team-based play of the game.

Smoker: Identified by his coughs, swollen face and incredibly long tongue, the Smoker is the third stop on this infected bus ride of a lineup. Limping about and coughing up a lung, the Smoker doesn't sound like much of a threat, mainly because, up close, he isn't. Once he puts a bit of distance between him and his target, though, things get dangerous. That long tongue isn't just for looks; The Smoker can fire it at long distances, chameleon-style, to grab a hold of its prey. Once captured, he reels in his tongue and tears away at it with his claws. At this point, the survivor can do nothing to escape, and must be saved by an ally, once again highlighting how important teamwork is to survival.

Tank: Behold the Tank, who makes the Boomer look downright normally-proportioned by comparison. Absolutely bursting with muscles (Almost literally, in fact) and devoid of even a shred of clothing (Save the mercifully-intact jeans), the Tank is by far the strongest and hardest to defeat of all infected. It's going to take everything the survivors have to tear down this brick wall. Unlike normal brick walls, though, the Tank has fists and can move. Even brick walls tremble in fear of the Tank. Strong enough to bat around cars like toys, rip up and throw huge chunks of concrete and send survivors on unexpected long-haul flights, the Tank is the one true "boss" infected.

Those are the four infected that pop up most often, but there is a fifth one. Elusive, deadly, and entirely immobile until you piss it off. As if Paris Hilton didn't give us enough to fear about rail-thin blondes, Left 4 Dead brings us...

...the Witch. She's not magical, nor does she ride anything even remotely resembling a broom, but Witch is still definitely the best possible name for her. She sits perfectly still, weeping, and will do nothing to hurt anyone... So long as you don't set her off. One stray bullet, one wayward step, one errant twitch, and kablooie! Startle this witch, and she'll cast one heck of a painful spell on you with her insanely-huge claws. One hit is generally enough to knock a person down to the ground, and a few more can easily finish someone off. If she does manage to kill someone, though, she'll just run off and not be a problem anymore. Every cloud has its silver lining! She has twice as much health as either a Smoker or a Hunter (Even more in harder difficulty settings), making her the second most difficult to kill of the infected (Second only to the Tank, of course). Usually, when a Witch is spotted, it's best to just keep walking and leave it alone. An enemy you're encouraged not to attack... I never thought such a thing would work, but here it is.

The objective of any level is to either get to the next safe house to continue the campaign, or, in the last level of the campaign, be rescued. Many obstacles are thrown at the survivors through the course of each level, each of which must be overcome to reach the ultimate goal of safety. Almost every level has some sort of button-triggered event that will clear the path, but not without alarming every infected in the country to your location. The infected are attracted to loud noises, two words that basically define every single obstacle in the game. From lowering a forklift's arm to bring down a makeshift walkway to using a runaway train to take out a bridge, the survivor's trip through the land of the infected isn't exactly a quiet one. Triggering car alarms also causes the game to hurl the infected at you, as does walking through an airport metal detector (Hint: Guns aren't made of wood). Thankfully, the infected can't set off either on their own, lightly throwing a bone to the survivors.

The final level of a campaign is referred to as a finale, and rightly so. Like the quickened pace of the flying fireworks at the end of a 4th of July celebration, infected pour in from every direction to make your life a living Hell. So considerate, those infected. It's not just the generic horde that will be bombarding you, though. Rest assured that plenty of Tanks, Boomers, Hunters and Smokers will be dropping by to say hello as well. Huddling together in a nice little safe haven is nice, but it's not going to do you any good once rescue arrives. Once they show up, it's a mad dash through walls of infected to your once chance at salvation. Of course, after surviving the long wait for rescue to arrive, the game's not about to let you just waltz up to freedom. Infected of all kinds pour in from all directions in absurd numbers, because your day just isn't complete without seeing another thousand zombie chunks flying around. Manage to make it out, though, and that's the end of it all... Until you decide to start up the next, alternate-timeline campaign that sees the survivors right back where they started.

In most games, after a few playthroughs, you begin to remember where all the weapons are and where the bosses lie. However, this isn't "most games". Left 4 Dead contains what Valve likes to call the "AI Director", a system that distributes weapons and the infected differently each time according to the condition of the survivors. While significant obstacles will always be in the same place, no round of Left 4 Dead is every truly the same. Tanks may appear in different places, or not appear at all. Instead of one Witch to deal with, two might appear right next to each other. The AI Director makes sure that players never know just what to expect, keeping even the most seasoned of veterans on their toes.

Of course, while the AI director makes each run different, eventually the same old levels do become stale. Thankfully, Valve seems to be keeping up the same stream of free additional content for Left 4 Dead they've been providing for Team Fortress 2, adding the Survival mode detailed below just last month. While little has been announced so far, rest assured that more will be on the way, perhaps even going so far as to add entire new campaigns to the mix. It just wouldn't be a Valve game without this sort of support.

To fight their way out of this Hell on Earth, the survivors have more than their fair share of weaponry. At the beginning of any campaign, each survivor is outfitted with one pistol (Unlimited ammo), and can pick up their choice of a submachine gun (Uzi) or a pump-action shotgun. Later on in a campaign (Sometimes hidden in a side room or some other place where it may be easily missed), improved weaponry can be found in the form of assault rifles, automatic shotguns, a second pistol (For dual-wielding) and a scoped hunting rifle. Again emphasizing the teamwork aspect of the game, teams generally benefit from a variety of weaponry among the group. Nobody's going to be getting very far with everyone toting a hunting rifle.

Two types of health items are also available to the player: Health kits and pain pills. Health kits, of which there's always four available at the beginning of a campaign, restore a major chunk of a survivor's health when used. The major downside, though, is finding a good place to use it. It takes about five seconds to heal with a heath kit, during which you're completely vulnerable to attacking infected (And friendly fire. Francis, check your fire!). If interrupted in the middle of healing, one must start all over again. No healing halfway, running, and finishing up. It's all at once or not at all. It should go without saying that, if you're about to patch yourself up, you're going to need to rely on your allies for cover. Survivors can also use health kits at each other, but this is even more risky than using their own; Both are rooted in place until the healing is complete. On the bright side, the one being healed can provide covering fire during the process, meaning one isn't completely helpless during an attack. They sure do make great Boomer targets, though...

Pain pills can also restore a fair-sized chunk of a player's health, but it's a temporary effect. The health it restores constantly depletes until the recovered stamina is completely gone, leaving players right back where they started. This descent is sped up when receiving damage. Also, pain pills are never found in the beginning of a level, and must be picked up throughout the trek to the next safe house. Pain pills do have their benefits over health kits, though. Popping some pills is practically instant, leaving you prone for a far smaller amount of time than patching yourself up. Also, unlike health kits, pain pills can be handed over to allies, giving them the ability to heal up whenever they want.

Both pills and health kits are available only in incredibly limited supply, so they must be used wisely. Quite often, the health kits available at the beginning of the levels are the only ones in the whole map (The AI director likes shuffling things around, you see).

Guns and health items aren't all the survivor's have at their disposal. Also available are pipe bombs and Molotov cocktails, although in a far more limited supply. Pipe bombs, as illustrated in the game's opening cinematic, will attract all common infected in the area up to the moment it explodes, turning them all into a glorious red mist*. Molotov cocktails don't explode, but they do cover the ground in flames over a fairly generous area. A great defense considering how vulnerable the infected are to fire. In addition, scattered about the levels are propane tanks, jerrycans and oxygen tanks. Propane and oxygen tanks explode much like the pipe bomb, and jerrycans spread a field of fire similar to that of the Molotov cocktail. All items can be carried around and thrown or dropped when wanted for strategic placement.

A final environmental weapon available to players is a mounted minigun, of which there are only a handful. Firing out 40 incredibly-powerful rounds a second with a limitless supply of ammunition, the minigun is definitely a good weapon to have access to. Holding it back is an incredibly limited radius in which it can turn, and the cloud of smoke that pops up after a few seconds of firing sure doesn't help, either. These facts aside, the minigun is still a magnificent asset for holding off the infected for a short while... As long as they stay in view.

Something that must be monitored closely when in the field is ammunition stock. Each player can only hold so much, and once it's gone, you're not going to be finding much more of it until you reach the next safe house (Why the game doesn't allow sharing ammo among survivors is a mystery to me). While the trusty pistol never runs out of ammo, it's not exactly a powerhouse of destruction. Rome wasn't built in a day, and that Tank wasn't felled by a piddly little pistol.

Of course, ammunition conservation means little to the game's AI. Whereas, ideally, a team should fire equal amounts to help prevent ammo from running out too quickly, the AI always relies on the player to take point. This can lead to some big problems, one of which is illustrated in the below screenshot. To scout ahead, I hopped up on an air vent and onto the top of the roof access room of this building, when a Hunter came out of nowhere (Like always) and pinned me. So did the AI jump up the air vent like I did and come to my rescue? Nope. They just milled about, mere meters away, jumping around like a bunch of morons, seemingly awaiting the sound of my death rattle. AI units are not credit to team.

"Oh, don't mind me. You guys enjoy your tea party while I have my throat ripped out, okay?"

The letdown of the sometimes moronic AI is taken care of by Left 4 Dead's greatest asset: Online multiplayer. Screwing around offline can be fun, sure, but the game doesn't really get going until you take the plunge into the game's online component. As of this writing, there are three different modes available to be played online: Campaign, Versus and Survival. Campaign is the same as offline play (With all four survivors being player-controlled), so that begs no explanation. Versus and Survival, though, are where things get interesting.

Versus, as the name suggests, can only be played online. As far as the survivors are concerned, Versus is exactly the same as Campaign; Run to the safe house, and ultimately to rescue. The twist, however, is that the infected are not AI-controlled. And thus is the main reason Versus is my favourite mode in the game: We can play as the special infected.

As most would hopefully assume, the infected play very little like the survivors. Last I checked, Bill couldn't projectile vomit on a target 20 feet away. You never know with those army vets, though... Anyways, taking advantage of all the abilities available to the infected is the highlight of the game for me. Binding together with three other survivors is great fun, too, but nothing compares to a coordinated attack with Boomers booming and Hunters hunting while I stand on top of a building and grab stragglers with the Smoker's tongue and pull them away from their allies.

One additional ability the infected have over the survivor's is the ability to climb up what some refer to as "zombie ladders". Marked by the image of hands climbing, zombie ladders are commonly placed on map features such as fences, rock walls and drain pipes. Allowing access to tactically superior angles, the zombie ladders help balance out the infecteds' greatest weakness: Their incredibly low health. Like I said way back near the beginning of the review, it takes only a few shotgun blasts to tear a Hunter away from its pray, with Smoker's having similar amounts of health. Boomers have even less health, with one blast usually being enough to set off the bloated time bomb (Making the Boomer an excellent suicide runner, but incredibly weak in any other situation). No amount of strategy at street level is going to keep any of the three infected alive and killing for long. Spawn high, and spawn sneakily!

Left 4 Dead multiplayer: Turkey nipple frequency may vary

Helping to keep things fair, the special infected never outnumber the survivors, as it's never more than four on four; Four survivors Versus four special infected. If there's less than four players on the survivor's side, the remaining will be controlled by the computer. If the same thing happens with the infected side, AI won't take the helm, but respawn times will be greatly shortened. Yes, unlike the survivors, the special infected don't stay dead when killed, and just respawn about 20 seconds later. When you die as a survivor, though (An incredibly ironic sentence fragment, no?), you're dead, and you stay dead until the end of the round. Pretty good incentive not to die, huh? Generally the game's practically over once even a single survivor dies, putting teamwork on the front burner yet again. Even then, I've seen the remaining three survive despite my best efforts at tearing them to shreds. It's like the old saying goes: It ain't over until the Boomer projectile vomits. Or something like that.

After hearing this, you're probably pretty excited to play as the Tank and the Witch, huh? Well, I've got good news and bad news: The Tank only spawns in certain places (Like in Campaign mode), and the Witch can't be played at all (Quick refresher on the Witch: She's sliiiiiightly overpowered).

Playing as the Tank is a somewhat unique experience. In order to help with balance and keep the game from absolutely sucking if a player pointlessly abandons their computer mid-game (A phenomenon known as "AFK", or "Away From Keyboard". A phenomenon which I hate.), players will lose control of the Tank if they don't constantly attack and knock survivors around like deflated soccer balls. If this happens, control shifts to the next player on the team, letting them have a go at Left 4 Dead's take on extreme sports.

A round ends when one of two things happen: When all survivors (Minus any that may have died) make it into the safe house, or when all survivors fall to the infected. After a round ends, teams switch (Infected players become survivors, and vice versa), and the level is played again. After both teams have their go at the level as both sides, the next level in the campaign is selected, and it continues from there. Basically, Versus mode is Campaign mode, but both sides are player controlled, and it's even better.

The other mode, Survival, may seem a little redundant in name. After all, isn't the object of the entire game (Excluding half of Versus) to make it out alive? Actually, that's where Survival differs from the rest; the object isn't to make it out alive. In fact, nobody ever will make it out alive. The object is to just survive as long as you possibly can against unending hordes of the infected. Except for Witches, infected of all kinds are constantly bombarding the survivors, and all the quartet can do is delay their inevitable demise. Stages are pulled from various levels in Campaign mode, as well as one exclusive to Survival mode: The Last Stand (The level's "poster" can be found next to this paragraph). This campaign's tagline perfectly describes Survival mode as a whole: "It doesn't end well".

In Survival mode, players can only play as survivors (Which should go without saying, but I'm tossing it out there just in case). They have an infinite time to set up before hand, as a round doesn't start until the players trigger it. Once begun, though... It never ends until you do. Rounds commonly end in less than four minutes, with few players ever making it past ten (Even Valve employees often fail to reach this lofty goal). Survival is certainly the most brutal mode of all, and only the utmost of skill, planning and teamwork will see the players survive for any significant amount of time.

Something that always amazes me about Valve games is how they look. Whether taking a more unique art style like in Team Fortress 2 or going for the realistic look in the Half-Life series, they always manage to hit the nail of quality right on the head without pounding it too deep into the plank of high-end computing**. Left 4 Dead is no exception to this trend, with the game looking simply amazing without putting a major drain on my mid-range PC. Outdated graphics card, processor, CPU... You name it, I've got a primitive version of it in this computer. Grand Theft Auto 4 skips more than a CD after sliding across pavement, Fallout 3 looks like a nuke hit my monitor as well, and Mirror's Edge's sparkling in-game world sure looks a lot less "sparkling" than it should. With Left 4 Dead, though, I can crank all settings up to full, run it at my native 1024x768 resolution (My monitor's not too great, either) and experience a game that looks far better than the aforementioned trio of resource vampires, yet runs like a dream. I don't know how you do it, Valve, but keep it up!

The sparse and faint lighting in Left 4 Dead provides just enough to see where you need to go, without blinding you with its "next gen" bloom and crap. Cinematic filters dramatize shadows and fade colours to give a movie-like effect similar to what you'd see in a film like The Watchmen. On the left is a comparison of the game with (Above) and without (Below) cinematic effects. The difference is drastic, yet takes up far fewer computer resources than you'd expect. An additional graphical option is film grain, to add that one last final cinematic touch. Not quite my cup of tea (As you can tell by the two screenshots I posted above), but the option is great. It really goes to show how much Valve wanted to make a tribute to the realm of zombie cinema.

Of course, a bunch of fancy filters won't do crap for a game if it looks terrible without them. Thankfully, Left 4 Dead provides great material for the filter to improve upon, with excellent character models, environmental props and textures. Animations are also great, with injured players limping (And moving slightly slower), realistic flames stretching across the ground from a gas tank bursting, and incredibly expressive characters. There are a few rough spots texture-wise in the far-off places the special infected can go via zombie ladders, but besides that, Left 4 Dead is an all-round great-looking game.

Audio plays a major part in Left 4 Dead. Growling, screaming, gurgling, crying and more all faintly come into earshot when the infected approach; musical scores build up to a crescendo in tense situations and finales; and the back and forth commentary between the survivors is worthy of the cheesiest of zombie film scripts. Perhaps the most tense moments come when nothing can be heard. Dead silence, except for the whirring of machinery or whistling of the wind. Left 4 Dead expertly uses both presence and absence of sound to create a engrossing and sometimes scary experience.

Valve has very few franchises in their name. Team Fortress, Half-Life, Portal and Counter-Strike are the only four they can fully claim as theirs. I like to think they do so because they only take on projects that they truly feel can turn out great. If that's the case, their feelings were right on the money when they went forward with Left 4 Dead. A worthy addition to Valve's small but excellent portfolio, Left 4 Dead is a fantastic, zombie-filled adventure that manages to provide a satisfying gameplay experience without having to become overly complicated. Looking back at all the games I've played that were released in the last twelve months, Left 4 Dead is definitely within the top three. If you like hordes of zombies, strategic shooters and team-based gaming, you're going to love Left 4 Dead.

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*In fact, just about every game mechanic can be explained by watching that video, but I figured I'd write it all out and be, you know, a reviewer.

**Dang. I'm like a graphics poet or something.

Well... Crap.

I really really really really really hate breaking a promise, but getting that review today (Or rather, yesterday, as it now is) just wasn't possible in the end. The reason for it not being possible, though, is actually a piece of good news: This is a really freaking long review. If I had to take a guess as to what it will be like when finished, I'd put it at just about the same length as the DSi review, if not a little longer. So... Good news, yes? Silver lining and whatnot?

Alright, I've got to get to sleep now. Tomorrow I will bust my ass yet again to get this done, but this time, I'll succeed.

...I've gotta stop busting my ass. You only get one, after all.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Poll #89: "Will you be getting Punch-Out! on day one?" results, banner

"Yes, I have a pre-order" 0 votes (0%)
"Yes, but I don't have a pre-order" 4 votes (21%)
"No, I'll get it later" 9 votes (47%)
"No, I don't want it at all" 3 votes (15%)
"I'm not sure" 3 votes (15%)

I'm surprised more people aren't getting it at launch. Waiting for a price drop, maybe? On a related note, I probably won't be getting Punch-Out! until Thursday at the earliest. Darned "not having money when I need it". That guy really gets on my nerves.

For this week's banner, the subject is... Duh. I mean, what else would it be? Anyways, enjoy.

As for this week's poll, it's somewhat of the opposite of last week intent-to-buy sort of poll: "Did you buy Excitebots: Trick Racing?" It was recently said that this incredibly fun game only sold through 13,000 copies, which is a real shame. Were you one of the few that bought it?

And yeah, about last week... It was complete bullcrap, something I admit freely, so... Tomorrow. For sure, tomorrow. A review. I will bust my ass to do it, but you're getting a review tomorrow. And not something small like a DSiWare game. You're getting a review of a full-size, retail game, no matter what. I swear it.

Now then, to get some sleep, and then get cracking on the above ASAP!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Poll #88: "How did you react when you first heard the Wii name?" results, banner

"I hated it!" 6 votes (21%)
"I wasn't too keen on it" 6 votes (21%)
"I didn't care either way" 8 votes (28%)
"I thought it was interesting" 4 votes (14%)
"I loved it right away!" 2 votes (7%)
"I don't remember/I don't know" 2 votes (7%)

Wow, a lot less people hated it at first than I thought. Not that it really would have mattered today. After all, the games are what make a console, not the name!

As for this week's banner... I have no idea what is going on here. This is what happens when you use Photoshop at 1:20 in the morning. I suppose at least the message is true, though.

Now then, for this week's poll: "Will you be getting Punch-Out! on day one?" I know I will be. Only problem is, "day one" in Canada is Wednesday, not Monday. Stupid national holiday messing with my game releases.

Well, I suppose I'll be heading to bed, then. I don't think I'll have an article up tomorrow, mostly because of a lack of solid ideas. On the bright side, I finished the script for Project: Memory today. I'll get it printed out tomorrow, and then I'll really get cracking on the filming. Early estimate for completion date: The weekend of May 23rd, if all goes well. It'd be sooner, but I prefer to give myself plenty of time, rather than rush. Hey, it might even be done before then, so who knows? Also, for a little bonus, here's one more little sneak-peek:

Anyways, goodnight, everyone! Sleep well, and make sure not to end up like poor Jill up there.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Now announcing... Project: Memory

What is Project Memory? It's a video I'm making, entirely in Garry's Mod. It's a music video based on one of the most whacked-out songs out there. Just made sure to get that out of the way ASAP, so you don't go expecting some sort of feature-length, Godfather-level epic with million dollar production costs. Now then, as far as Project Memory goes as of this moment, 9.77 seconds of it have been filmed, and only 3.40 seconds of that is likely to be making the final cut. Other scenes will have to be redone or changed entirely. Yes, that's right, I said "scenes" when referring to ten seconds of video. This is no slow-dance song, my friends.

The script is roughly 1/8th complete. Yes, script. I am scripting each scene of this video, because I'm a freaking maniac. The current script makes it to the 31 second mark of the song, which in entirety will be nearly four minutes in length. For that first 31 seconds of video I have so far written out 13 mini-scenes. If I keep it up like this, there will probably be around 104 different scenes in the video, some of which will actually be rapid-fire images appearing to the beat of the song.

From reading the above, you're probably getting the impression that I won't just be slapping this together overnight. I'm not about to toss this onto Youtube without it being the best I believe I can make it. This won't be one of those slideshow videos or anything like that. There will be full-motion action in this video. Ragdolls will fly, camera angles will pan, and several things will explode. This is my first REAL Garry's Mod video I will ever make. A Combine Soldier Gets Down was made in Garry's Mod, yes, but it was more of a... Wait, what the hell was that video again? Anyways, all those errors you see in that video (Camera angle changing, life bar visible, etc.) will be absent in Project Memory. This video will be of the best quality I can possibly create.

Alright, after all this talk, you're probably wanting some sort of preview or teaser or something. Well... I don't really have anything to show just yet. I have one screenshot, ONE, that I'd be willing to show at this point. Keep in mind that the scene this screenshot is from will be re-filmed, and the health indicator at the bottom of the screen will not be visible in the final product.

So there you go, one crummy little shred of proof that I'm actually making this video and not baiting you all along. There's actually one part of the video that I'm quite proud of, but it's in motion, and of course, that's kind of hard to show off in a screenshot. When Project Memory is a little further along, a teaser video will be made. For now, though, the above is all I have to show. And yes, that is Frohman. It's somewhat justified in the context of the video, though, but I dare not say anymore for fear of spoiling the surprise.

Lastly, you're probably wondering about the title I've given it: "Project Memory". Sounds pretty serious for a video that's supposed to be so insane, yes? Don't worry, readers, it shall all become clear in the end... Now then, I bid you all goodnight. Be sure to sleep well, because I sure won't! Do it for me!

Rampant speculation on the video goes in the comment section, or this forum thread. Don't expect any hints from me, though!

What additions could be made to the next-generation Wii's remote?

I am quite aware and very sorry of the recent lack of anything here. I had a bad week, but I'd rather not fill in the details and have this turn into a MySpace page. Now then, an article lies below.

It seems that, ever since day one, people have been speculation about the next Wii. From assuming it'll be stronger than two Playstation 3s to guessing that it will be launching far before the competitors, there's no limit to the chatter... Except for maybe in one category. While people endlessly go on and on about the possibilities of the hardware, almost nobody stops and wonders about the controller. The Wii remote is an amazing piece of technology, but there's still many ways for it to improve, and I doubt Nintendo is just going to ignore these possibilities.

First off, we're going to take a trip back to remember something almost nobody remembers... Memory. That's right, we're remembering memory. 16kb of it, to be precise. Built into each Wii remote is 16kb of usable memory, and what has it been used for? Mii storage and Super Smash Bros. Brawl control scheme preferences. While memory built into a controller is a great idea, only 16 kb of it is not. You know how much 16kb is? Not even enough to contain half of the following image.

That's right. A picture of the Wii remote memory chip (That little black chunk just off center) is too big to fit onto the piddly little amount of memory crammed into it. What the next console needs is a controller with a far larger amount of space on it... Say, 256MB, at the least. I'd toss out a larger number, but really, with Nintendo, you should never expect much in the realm of on-board memory. It's usually best to just aim low and hope for a pleasant surprise.

Second, Wii MotionPlus capabilities will be built right into the new remote right from the get-go. By then, building the advanced motion detectors right into a standard-sized remote will be no problem, in terms of both physical size and cost. Who knows, by the time the next console actually hits the market, technology that even surpasses that of the MotionPlus could become available. Although, if current hands-on impressions of the forthcoming peripheral are any indication, this new add-on will be hard to beat. Hard... But perhaps not impossible. Maybe they'll discover some cutting-edge technology to do away with the sensor bar once and for all? It'd sure be welcome to those of you with wall-mounted TVs, that's for sure.

Third, the one thing everyone was sure would be in the Wii remote but ultimately wasn't: A microphone. It simply amazes me that Nintendo didn't end up cramming one in there. Audio input in games is one of the greatest ideas thought up in a long time, but so far it's been put to use in somewhat limited ways. It's usually held back by the fact that a microphone has never been a standard part of a game controller. In all of gaming history, the only exceptions to the previous statement are the Famicom and Nintendo DS, but the primitive technology of the former and limited capacity of the latter prevent sophisticated audio input from becoming reality. As it is, vocal input is limited to chat and basic voice commands on the most part, with a handful of games even daring to go a step further.

A major part of this is developers are skeptical to throw their weight behind a project that relies on a peripheral that not every owner of the console will have. After all, what's the point of pouring tonnes of cash into a technology that many people won't even be able to take advantage of? However, if a microphone were something every single owner of the console was guaranteed to have (Like with the DS, for example), developers wouldn't have to worry about having to pack in an expensive microphone with the game or just hoping the user has one already. Add this together with the presumably significant horsepower of the Wii's successor and you've got a console wide open to creativity of a whole new kind. As for an added bonus, we won't have to mess around with USB microphones any more! Cords be gone!

What other ideas do you have that you think would make good additions to the next generation Wii's remote? And do you agree with my suggestions? Feel free to have your say in the comments section below, or in this forum thread.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Poll #87: "Will E3 bring a new Zelda?" results, banner

"Definitely!" 1 votes (4%)
"Likely" 3 votes (12%)
"Unlikely" 14 votes (58%)
"Of course not!" 3 votes (12%)
"I haven't a clue" 3 votes (12%)

Can't say I'm surprised with these results, especially considering "A new Zelda at this E3? Don't count on it" was sitting right next to it for a solid day. Maybe I didn't think things through enough on that one...

This week's banner is brought to you by my renewed obsession with Team Fortress 2. It sort of comes and goes with me. Anyways, enjoy it, and please don't nibble on the HTML.

And as always, it's time for this week's poll, and we'll be taking a little trip back in time for it: "How did you react when you first heard the Wii name?" To be honest, I totally flipped out. I couldn't believe it. It sounded so stupid to me. It was as if Nintendo was admitting defeat with a completely ridiculous and moronic name. The press release associated with it said to give it time, absorb the new name, think it through, and then you'll start to like it. Yeah, right, I thought, Then maybe I'll learn to fly. Well, turns out one of the two came true, and since I'm not writing this from the upper atmosphere, I suppose you can figure out which it was. How did you react to this incredibly bizarre and unique name?

I'm seeing the next article showing up tomorrow night, maybe Wednesday at the latest. I've got a couple ideas floating about, but nothing actually started yet. In the meantime, feel free to gawk at the below image of Barack Obama if he were Scottish, one-eyed, constantly drunk, and prone to blowing things up. See y'all later!