Dragging My Niece to H-E-L-L and Back!

For two years now Dipper has been trying to get me to play The Secret World. I tried it and loved the concept – it’s like playing a horror film or book. Everything is true – the Boogeyman haunts an amusement park with a dark past, Cthulhu knows your helicopter out of the sky, and the world is controlled by a series of secret societies. (Not to mention the other really creepy mythology of the game, but I don’t want to spoil the fun for anyone – until another post, that is.)

I recently started playing in earnest with the release of Secret World Legends, which is a re-vamp of the game. Most of the original missions and storyline are still present, but Funcom tweaked the game. Combat is more streamlined, as is the tutorial process. Having experienced the old game to a degree, I feel able to say with confidence that the new iteration is much more fun for the new gamer. My brother, who has played it since it was in beta, is very much in love with the game. He hasn’t (to my knowledge) come across anything in the new game that he’s displeased with.

In any event, Phoebe watched Dipper play, and wanted to give it a whirl. She hopped on an alternate character that he had created and took off! She loves playing in the Maine-esque Kingsmouth town, which is populated by a haunted ship called the Lady Margaret, zombies, and other weird creatures. As Phoebe progressed through the game she wanted to start running dungeons. My main character is at the maximum level (50) and is able to take her through the first dungeon. In the first dungeon, you and your team are tasked to explore the wreck of the ship The Polaris (which is what gives the dungeon it’s name). As you fight through a series of bosses, you come to realize that the ship was besieged with horrible creatures and…..well, I won’t spoil it. Suffice to say Phoebe runs that dungeon on a daily basis and still isn’t tired of it yet.

Once she reached the level to do the first of the three H-E-L-L dungeons, she asked to be taken through. We joined up as a private team and entered. I’m a close-range fist weapon fighter (think Wolverine with cotton candy colored hair and teacher clothes) and Phoebe rocks a shotgun – hammer mix. When I say she rocks out, I really mean it. Those readers acquainted with any kind of raid or dungeon run know that sometimes when you’re taking a lower level character around, you’re stuck doing EVERYTHING. Not the case with Phoebe. She’s literally right in the middle of the fray, shooting and smashing her way to glory. (Though her motivation might come as a surprise. You can use in-game tokens to purchase digital pets for your character. As of right now, Dipper’s alt character has almost every pet you can purchase from a vendor, and Phoebe’s character on her own account is quickly gaining in the contest.)

One of the best things about playing video games with Phoebe is listening to her reaction to the content. Secret World Legends is definitely for mature players, though thankfully she skips through most of the cut scenes. In her eagerness to wipe out as many digital enemies as possible, I’m never sure how much of the story line she picks up while playing. However, she is a fast learner in terms of the raid mechanics. The first time I took her through I died while fighting Recursia. Recursia is a big-breasted dominatrix-style succubus who does not die easily. While fighting her, minions are released from a circle around her. If they get to her, she gets stronger. Well, I tasked Phoebe to keep the minions down since they don’t really fight back, they just move inexorably towards their destination. I was more worried about Phoebe than I was my own situation, and I got careless. I died – which in this game means the other players either have to kill the boss they’re battling, or die too. I was freaking out because I was sure she was toast. Much to my surprise, she jumped in with rabid vigor and destroyed Recursia with two swings of her hammer. I didn’t realize I’d died with so little of a window to go. I congratulated her, and she basically told me that she was pissed Recursia had killed me. Phoebe never fails to warm my heart.

She’s also eagle-eyed. There are little tidbits you can collect in all the zones called lore. Lore are little pieces of the mythology and story of the game and it’s inhabitants. Usually I’m pretty good at picking up lore, especially when running a dungeon with Dipper. Even so, Phoebe is extremely thorough and we were able to get two lore I didn’t have before. I have to check later, but I’m reasonably certain that I now have all the lore for the first H-E-L-L dungeon.

If you’re wondering why H-E-L-L is written letter by letter, that’s all Phoebe. For the longest time she wouldn’t say it because she thought it was swearing. Ever the teacher I tried to explain to her that it depended on the use.

Me: “Phoebe, ‘hell’ isn’t a bad word.”

Phoebe: “Yes it is. You just want to hear me say it.” (Her refusal to swear is endearing, and we are all patiently waiting for the innocence to fade and her vocabulary to become more colorful.)

Me:“Well, yes and no. It all depends on how you mean it.”

Phoebe: “Mhm….”

Me: “No, really. If you’re telling someone to go to Hell, it’s totally cursing. If you’re talking about a Hell dungeon, well, Hell is a place on the game map. It’s also a place some people believe in. In which case it’s a proper noun.”

Phoebe: “Mhm….”

There will be no taking Phoebe for a fool. I meant every word of what I told her, but she’s wise beyond her ten years and she had to take some time to think on it. We’ve progressed to the point where she’ll ask to go to the hell dungeon, but it’s more of a whisper. She’s still not totally comfortable saying it.

If you’re wanting to join in the fun, you can download Secret World Legends for free here or through the game client Steam. My previous post  about the game The Park is also a game in this series. There are some in-game purchases, and if you want you can become a monthly Patron, which allows you to teleport around the map at no cost, as well as other benefits.

If you want to find me in-game, send me a message and I’ll tell you who I am. Just don’t expect Phoebe to want to play – she’s web-smart! I’ll never forget the day a random person tried to group with her. Dipper and I were talking and we heard her yell, “Ew! NO. Why would he do that?!” Dipper and I were freaking out wondering what was going on, and when we realized that she didn’t want to group with another player we almost died laughing. The sheer indignation that someone random would actually think she’d accept their invite….it was nearly Victorian in her disdain! I would have given almost anything to have been there in person and not listening over a phone! On a serious note, thank goodness she’s smart about online interactions. While it’s true there are plenty of good people online, I don’t trust everyone’s intentions. (She may not be my niece by blood, but she is by heart and soul, and I’m very protective of her.)

Stay tuned for more news from Secret World and the H-E-L-L dungeons! I’ll be periodically posting our adventures. Especially considering Panda and I now have enough computers at our house for Phoebe to experience her first LAN party!

 

The Zen of 360

Currently we are a quarter of the way through the 31st year of my being on this Earth. Since getting married and buying a house 4 years ago, I’ve noticed small indicators that I’m growing up. As Dipper pointed out, I’ve started really stretching my legs and moving into the house. The rooms are starting to take on personality and become indicative of Tkout and my styles. Three weeks ago I went on a spending spree, purchasing hostas, lilies, and canna plants for the house. This coming weekend, I hope to landscape the front bed and finally have a front yard worth looking at for more than two seconds. I’m hoping Phoebe will want to help with the window boxes. Two weekends ago I hosted Easter dinner for my family, and turned the house upside down for a whole three days beforehand, cleaning, hanging pictures on walls, organizing the kitchen counter, etc.

As good as I feel about all of the aforementioned changes, nothing will point out that you’re old faster than playing a video game with a 9 year old. Shit you not.

I’ve played board games with Phoebe. We have sat on couches, her building LEGOs or coloring, while I crochet. I’ve gone to one of the local art museums with Dipper and Phoebe. We’ve played with my pets and her kitty. We’ve curled up and watched horror movies, as well as shows she has wanted me to watch with her. I’ve watched her play video games before. None of this prepared me for the experience I had Friday night. (To be fair, we played Katamari on a previous Friday, but she was coming down with a really bad cold and was more than a little out of it.)

Per our usual ritual, Phoebe and Dipper came over Friday night. This time they brought LEGO Dimensions with them. Phoebe was very excited to introduce me to the newest digital crack.

We ordered dinner and got the game set up. Once dinner was over and we were sat down in front of the XBOX 360, Phoebe proceeded to give me an introduction and tutorial to the game that was not unlike being strapped to the top of the USS Enterprise just as it hits warp speed. Being older and more self-conscious, and also lacking a serious amount of time spent in front of a console in many years, I was wanting to go granny speed. Learn the controls. Check out the characters. Basically get my bearings. Phoe was not having any of that. Before I knew what was going on, I was sucked through a vortex and dumped out into the Wizard of Oz. While I was busy hitting things to get the little LEGO studs as possible, Phoebe was demolishing the sleeping flowers in the Batmobile. Before I knew what was happening, we were watching Batman accost the Scarecrow and accuse him of releasing a hallucinogen, thereby producing. The cutscene ended, I smashed a few things, and before I could collect the studs, I was in the middle of a boss battle with the Wicked Witch.

Wicked Witch? More like WTF! This change of activity was born of her intense boredom at my attempt to collect every single stud available. Over the course of the next 2 hours, I was convinced I was going to lose my shit and wind up in a straitjacket. Even though I was having a ton of fun, I couldn’t figure out what the hell I was doing to save my life. Phoebe had already played that level before, so she knew every trick and battle, and she was eager to show it all off. The need for a straitjacket went both ways – Phoebe was going nuts because I was constantly off doing something counter productive to her goal of getting to the next level. (This I admit fully, freely, and with total shame.)

This past weekend, I spent time by myself playing the same level. It took fucking forever. I was after every stud, every secret corner, and switched characters to see what they could do. I enjoyed my run through, but there was something missing.

Today while walking back from lunch, I was thinking about gaming with Phoebe Friday. I was looking ahead two weeks to our next Friday together, and thinking about playing the game together. About how ready I would be. How I wouldn’t force her to have to wait for my slow ass to catch up. I realized what was missing. You see, adulting means that your priorities change. I was focused on getting studs for upgrades later, and for completing as much of the level as I could. I wanted to be sure-footed with my characters and their vehicles. I was thinking ahead to the packs I needed to purchase in order to interact with some of the content, and wondering how the experience would change if I were to switch up the characters. I was overthinking how to reach the highest heights, and what would happen if I met an obstacle I couldn’t overcome.

Phoebe was burdened by none of those things. She approached the game with a balls-to-the-wall excitement. A need to explore and experience. An almost palpable urge to see and do as much as she could. To her, there were no obstacles. If she couldn’t break it, build it, climb it, or go around it, she switched characters and tactics until she figured it out. Each time, she went at the problem fearlessly and joyously. 

More than anything, I can’t wait to play LEGO Dimensions with Phoebe again. To willingly strap myself to the top of the USS Enterprise and wait for her to hit warp speed. Being a stodgy completist can wait for when I’m playing the game on my own. What I want is a slice of reckless abandon. To run balls-to-the-wall into the digitized sunset with no idea where I’m going, how I’m getting there, or even what I’m doing. Which, considering how slowly I play the game and the amount of bullshit adulting I need to do between then and now, won’t be that hard. All I lack is a small, bright-eyed, golden-haired pilot.

 

 

 

Hi. My name is Holly Ann, and I’m addicted…

…to LEGO Dimensions.

Addicted, as in, TAKE ALL OF MY MONEY. RIGHT. NOW.

I can’t begin to describe how intensely awesome this game is. Or how purchasing the parts for it feels like selling your soul. Phoebe and Dipper brought it to my house Friday for Family Friday, and I was hooked. Bad. Like a junkie looking for a fix.

First things first. Just what is LEGO Dimensions, and who cares? LEGO Dimensions is a video game originally released in 2015. The plot is super simple. Lord Vortech (voiced by Gary Oldman) and his robot henchman X-PO (voiced by Joel McHale) are searching for Foundation Elements. With these 12 Elements connected, they can basically take over the universe. The 12 Elements are artifacts from different universes (which are different fandoms), such as Dorothy’s ruby slippers, Frodo’s One Ring, etc. In a bid to keep the universes from falling under single rule, all of the Elements were scattered.

Everything would have gone according to Lord Vortech’s plan, except Robin, Frodo, and Metalbeard are sucked into a vortex with the Elements. Their friends Batman, Gandalf, and Wyldstyle willingly jump into the vortex to save their friends. They fall out of the vortex on Vorton, where they need to rebuild the generator that allows them to travel to different universes, saving their friends, collecting keystones, and saving the Foundation Elements.

That’s only scratching the surface of the game. The worlds they travel in are varied and hilarious, as are the heroes they work with. There is a franchise for absolutely everyone. Gremlins. The A-Team. Retro Ghostbusters. Modern Ghostbusters. Knight Rider. Jurassic World. The Simpsons. Mission:Impossible. Doctor Who. Back to the Future. Midway Arcade. The Lord of the Rings. That’s listing about half of the franchises included. Other franchises are being added, The Goonies, Beetlejuice, and Teen Titans Go! being the ones I’m looking forward to purchasing. Meh on Power Puff Girls. Although the idea of seeing Stripe tear through their pastel world is very very enticing! Just look at the picture below. The Joker, Stripe, Gizmo, and Harley in Gotham. Don you just know that’s going to be a wild party?!

When I said that this game was ridiculously expensive, I wasn’t kidding! There are several levels of add-ons that can be purchased. I’m going to go into a little detail about each level, starting with the least expensive and ending with the grandaddy. The least expensive are the Fun Packs. They retail for around $11.99 and are usual one character and a vehicle of some sort. Excalibur Batman and the Bionic Steed from The Lego Batman Movie are just one example. As you purchase updates for the vehicle (Bionic Steed in this example), you can also rearrange the LEGO configuration to resemble the new form. My favorite is Crabmeat from Sonic, which turns his airplane into a giant rideable crab. It’s also worth noting that vehicles aren’t character-specific. I absolutely LOVE running Stripe around Middle Earth on Shelob.

Next up are Team Packs. These feature 2 characters and 2 vehicles from a
franchise and will run you about $24.00. I’ve alluded to it several times, so I’d be remiss if I didn’t feature it here. My favorite team pack is from Gremlins. Gizmo and his RC racer are cute, there’s no denying that. But I absolutely love Stripe!

As with any videogame, the characters have certain catchphrases that they use. I can’t get enough of Stripe’s incessant babble. Sometimes as he’s tearing around you hear “Gizmo caca!” straight from the movie. Other times he merely grumbles to himself and laughs. If you leave him standing too long, he pulls out a bucket of popcorn and starts eating. Start moving again, and he discards the empty bucket.

If you want more levels, you can purchase a Level Pack. For around $30 you get a character, two vehicles, and then more levels for the game. For the adults who are playing LEGO Dimensions, there is Mission:Impossible, The Simpsons, Midway Arcade, and Doctor Who. Those aren’t the only Level Packs by a long shot, but they seem to be aimed for the older set. Midway Arcade comes with a stereotypical 80s gamer LEGO piece, the Spy Hunter car, and an arcade machine. This Level Pack promises over 20 classic arcade games.

Currently there are three Story Packs that you can purchase. Story Packs allow you to play through an entire movie. The three current packs are Ghostbusters (2016), The LEGO Batman Movie, and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. What you get in each pack varies a little. The LEGO Batman Movie gives you Batgirl and Robin as playable characters, as well as a vehicle and a new LEGO piece to add to the game pad, which looks like the inside of the Batcave. Fantastic Beasts… gives you Newt Scamander as a playable character, Niffler as a playable character, and the Magical Congress of the United States is the game pad add-on. Ghostbusters (2016) features the Chinese restaurant facade where the girls have their office, Abby Yates and the Ecto vehicle. I don’t know if this is true for the other story packs, but finishing the Ghostbusters (2016) story unlocks the other Ghostbusters. When selecting Abby, it’s possible to play as Holtzman, Erin, or Patty. For $40, I think this pack is a pretty good deal. Even if you don’t use the facades on the game pad, they’re still neat to have, and playing through a whole movie instead of a few levels is definitely a plus.

Before you can play though, you need the basics. That’s where the Starter Pack comes in handy. The game is available for XBOX 360, XBOX One, Wii U, PS3, and PS4. No matter what platform you choose, you are looking at around $65.00-$80.00 for the starter pack. Let’s be honest, that’s a pretty competitive price when you consider that most games debut in the $50-$60 range. With the Starter Pack you get the three main playable characters of the game, Batman, Gandalf, and Wyldstyle. Also included is the Batmobile. You also get the game pad (where you place the LEGO pieces to introduce characters and vehicles), the game disc, and a LEGO build of the Vorton vortex, which matches what you see in the game. Basically, you get everything that you see to the left.  

the most expensive packs are almost laughable at this point. They’re called Polybags. As the name suggests, it’s literally a plastic bag. With one figure. But it’s exclusive and therefore expensive. The only place you can really get ahold of them is ebay or amazon.com, and you will pay out the ass. The two characters are Green Arrow and Supergirl. The prices are outrageous. I’ve seen $129.00 for both, $65.00 for Supergirl alone, $35.00 for Green Arrow. It’s literally all over the place based on who is selling and when you check. Green Arrow was apparently a GameStop exclusive when you purchased any pack on Black Friday of 2016.

When I first started purchasing additional content for this game, I nearly shit from the amount of money. Of course, I started purchasing after all the Easter sales had come and gone. The buy one get one free, the half off. Those types of sales. To the best of my ability, I’ve followed Dipper’s recommendations and purchased lots or discounted items off ebay. I also just snagged a plastic snapcase for the figures and their vehicles. In part so I can bring them over when I visit Phoebe and Dipper, and in part because my cat is an asshole. She recently figured out that there was interesting stuff to knock over on my desk and shelves. LEGO is known for small pieces, and quite frankly, I don’t want to lose any.

The main reason I’m not as upset about the prices is that most LEGO sets go for
about $15.00 as a base price anyway. I purchased the Ghost Rider and Hobgoblin set for myself, and it set me back $20.00, and it doesn’t do anything but get assembled and sit. Granted, it’s absolutely insanely cool, but that’s all it does. Because I intend to take it out of the box and build it, it won’t even maintain a collector’s value. Speaking frankly, I don’t give a damn. The set is great, reminds me of Dipper, is horror themed (c’mon, a flaming skeleton on a motorcycle from Hell?!) and makes me happy. The same is to be said of LEGO Dimensions. The pieces are a blast to put together, the game itself is a riot, and the content is varied enough that it appeals to a variety of audiences.

 

Writer’s Notes:

Please forgive my lack of links in this post. With so many buying options from stores like Target, GameStop, and Walmart to online retailers ebay and amazon, it didn’t seem worth it to tag the packs. Not to mention the many varieties available.

Information on the voice actors for the series can be found here. In some cases, recordings from the movie or TV series the lines came from was used. For others, other voice talent was hired.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shit-Your-Pants Terrifying

Awhile back Dipper gifted me a copy of Funcom’s The Park. It’s a spin-off of their game The Secret World (which is not a topic for this post, but I strongly urge you to give it a whirl!) I’ve recently gotten back into videogames, and yesterday morning Dipper asked me to give it a go when I got home. I was going to write this last night, but after finishing The Park, I just needed to lay down and decompress. There are two main reasons why I needed to decompress. The first is that I get motion sick when playing first person shooter games. This game is also in the first person, but I quickly learned how to move the character so that I didn’t get motion sickness. The second reason is that I have never been scared so thoroughly by a video game, and rarely to this degree by a movie.

In order to take full advantage of the experience, I shut all the lights off in my basement. I dragged the futon over next to me so that Zelda could hang out with me while I gamed. I even put on my headphones. Dipper told me that it was an all-encompassing experience and suggested the headphones. The game begins with a woman standing in the parking lot of a beat to hell looking amusement park called Atlantic Island Park. That’s the only playable character, and her name is Lorraine. She’s looking for her son Callum who has gone missing. She gains entrance to the park and commences to search for him in almost pitch-black conditions.

At the beginning of the game there is a disclaimer, about the game messing with lights, sounds, and visuals. When I read it I chuckled. It seemed ambitious but not unsurprising because The Park is styled as a first-person psychological horror adventure game. Not only was Funcom most decidedly NOT fucking with the gamers, but it drastically failed to prepare the gamer for the sheer terror of it all. Lorraine has no weapons, and doesn’t even get a flashlight until she’s almost done searching the park. In fact, the only thing she can do is call for her son Callum. While this seems useless it’s actually a navigational tool. For each section of the park she has several various phrases that she calls out, and when she does a few things happen. Sometimes Callum will respond and you’ll know where to go based on where the sound is coming from. Oh and be prepared, he’s a creepy little fuck. It’s literally like following Gage Creed in Pet Sematary. Half the time I was temped to leave his possessed-sounding ass behind. Or the screen will slightly warp like looking through a fish eye. This either tells you to go in a certain direction or leads you to something to interact with in the park. If you’d rather navigate this solely on sound, go ahead. You can turn off the visual hints in the menu.

Not so bad, right? Fuck no. Let’s talk about the rides, shall we? The first ride that you go on is The Tunnel of Tales. It’s pretty tame but cool. As you ride through in this swan-shaped boat loudspeakers tell the story of Hansel & Gretel. Shadow displays on the wall highlight key points of the story. If you look around while the story is going on, you’ll notice a few not-so-nice surprises along the way. I wound up actually screaming out loud a few times during this segment. Shit. You. Not.

The other rides are steadily scarier. I can’t even say which one is the scariest. Each ride or attraction had me screaming in real life. I hate roller coasters. I couldn’t stop screaming when Lorraine is riding the rollercoaster. I’ll give you a hint. She’s not alone. By the time I hit the House of Horrors, I was literally crawling from room to room grumbling, “fuck-fuck-fuck-fuck-fucking hell-fuck-fuck-shit-where-the-fuck-is-he-shit-fuck-omg” the entire time. Things jump out at you, mysterious shadows are there and gone in the blink of an eye, and then there’s Atlantic Island’s Backstory. As you’re looking for Callum there is a paper trail that you follow. The paper trail details the madman that built the park, and a little bit about what he was using it for.

Oh and the chipmunk mascot that’s in the advertising for the game? Yeah. That’s Chad the Chipmunk. The guy who worked as the mascot never took the costume off and basically went totally bugfuck. How do you know? The incident, accident, and death reports you find laying around the park. Even better? He’s one of the creepy motherfuckers sneaking around while you’re trying to find Callum. Sometimes he’s right in your face, other times you barely glimpse the outline and red eyes.

As the game progresses you start to wonder what’s really going on with Lorraine, our main character. Certain areas of the game trigger memories. Lorraine begins talking to herself and trying to rationalize what’s happened in the past or choices she’s made. It all seems pretty forgivable at first. I mean, she’s stuck in this creepy amusement park. She went in when it was still light out but as soon as she goes in it gets dark out? That would be unsettling enough for anyone. Let alone the strange noises and scratching sounds that seem to come from everywhere and nowhere while you’re exploring. Turns out you can’t really trust our Lorraine. She’s a little bugfuck herself, as her conflicting emotions and memories begin to show. Without giving away too much, you also find out that your narrator isn’t quite as reliable because of what she’s gone through. She had a traumatizing childhood and has been medicated for psychiatric problems. These combined with the changing imagery make you start to wonder how much of the game is in her head and how much of it is the evil influence of the amusement park.

I’m going to be completely honest. This game scared me shitless. I’m not being overdramatic when I say that I was screaming pretty much all of the two hours that it took me to go through this game. If you’re good at this type of thing like Dipper, it might take you an hour. I kept wussing out and having trouble going forward. There were a few rides I rode more than once, just to get a closer look at the “extras” that appeared when on the ride. As it turns out, not all of the rides are necessary in order to find Callum, but they do flesh out everyone’s story a little bit more. Also, if you’re a fan of The Secret World, you may recognize some of these locations. The Park takes place about 20 years prior to the Secret World. Oh and the creepy looking motherfucker to the right? The one in rags and a top hat? All out of proportion? Yeah. No fucking clue who he is, though I have my guesses. Not to mention he’s every-fucking-where in this game. But never where you see him coming. More than half the time he sneaks up on you. I was examining something in the Freak Show area and I turned around and he was there. I screamed so loudly Zelda almost fell off the futon beside me!

The park is fantastic. I loved it so much I might play it again soon, just to go through the experience and see what I missed the first time around. The visuals and sounds are terrifying, but I think it’s all the more horrifying in that you don’t have a weapon. Or a flashlight. It’s literally you going through a dark, creepy amusement park at night looking for your kid. By yourself. With nothing to defend yourself and every situation feeling dangerous in a way you can’t quite put your finger on. The closest comparison that I can make is going through a haunted house in real life. You know something is around every corner. But what that thing actually is? And where? Fuck if anyone knows. It’s not like they’ve left you a clue or anything. The Park doesn’t leave you with a nice cut-and-dry ending. It’s enigmatic and very open for debate, and that’s also what makes the game so enjoyable. I have found myself thinking about The Park off and on today at work, thinking through some plot twist or theory. It’s definitely a game that stays with you.

I absolutely recommend this game, but more strongly than that, I recommend you play it the right way. In the dark. Alone. With headphones. Immerse yourself in The Park and you won’t be sorry in the long run, though you’ll be scared out of your mind while you’re playing! And if while you’re playing you happen to feel eyes on your back, it’s probably just Chad the Chipmunk….

 

 

Let’s Talk Games!

Next week Chris and I will be heading to a neighboring town for a weekend of geekery. We are attending something called MassiveLAN – which is basically up to 300 gamers in a convention center gaming as hard as they mlpcan with no sleep and questionable shower breaks. LAN stands for Local Area Network – basically we’re all hooked up together and we’re all in the same space. Eventually LAN parties will become a thing of the past, mostly because gaming computers for the serious can be huuuge, annoying and dangerous to move, and with high speed Internet, it’s almost nuts to leave the comfort of your own home. For those of us who still go, it’s nice to get together and game with new people who you can then talk to in person. This particular LAN party also features games like office chair races, computer building competitions, and other like-minded fun. (Trivia for those of you that don’t know – Chris and I originally met at a LAN party.) To give you an idea, here is a shot of the fall MassiveLAN. This is just a tiny corner of the building that we occupied. As you can probably see, everyone’s got a neat computer setup, and most opt for their own office chair since sitting on the plastic ones for a whole weekend will most likely lead to certain ass pain and possible premature death. Since the LAN is coming up, I figured I would write some posts about different games out there – and this is my first.

At the fall MassiveLAN, Chris introduced me to this batshit crazy game called Surgeon Simulator. This game has to be the funniest and most morose game on the market. It works like a first-person shooter. All you see are your hands, and whatever is in front of you. Your left hand uses the keyboard to operate the left hand. Your right hand uses the mouse, and it operates the right hand. It sounds ridiculously simple. Left. Right. Left. Right. How bad can it be? The answer is insanely bad. It’s extremely hard to keep your hands steady, and to operate them separately – so for those of you who play FPS games, be thankful that when you go to shoot someone both your hands work in unison and know what to do! Instead of levels, you are tasked with every increasingly hard surgeries. Which in and of itself sounds good, but in practice it’s pretty much the biggest joke possible. My first try, I sent a coffee cup careening into the open chest cavity of my patient, and then when I went to retrieve it, I found a bonesaw in my hands (I think I hit some wrong buttons on my way to the chest cavity). I proceeded to hack away at the chest cavity with the bonesaw, all the while the patient’s blood pressure and vitals were plummeting. In the end, I neither retrieved the coffee cup, nor did I do anything more than destroy my patient.

surgeonAfter such a crushing loss, I did what any person given digital hands would do. I started making gestures. The finger, the peace sign, anything that came to mind. As it turns out, that was almost harder to do than operate! In the screenshot to the left, you can see all kinds of stuff on the table next to the patient. Who on Earth would operate with that much shit just laying around?! It’s no wonder I was dropping pens and pencils and all kinds of stuff into the chest cavity. It’s actually something of a wonder that my poor patient didn’t expire sooner. As for the progression of surgeries – I can only dream. I’m pretty sure I’m never going to have it together enough to actually make any surgeonkind of progress whatsoever. While searching Google for a screenshot worth posting, I came across the screenshot at the right – the brain surgery. I can’t even imagine attempting.

Surgeon Simulator is also wildly entertaining in a group setting. A few weeks after MassiveLAN, Chris and I had some friends over at the house. As often happens, everyone drifted to the computers and we fired up a game. Apparently there’s no such thing as natural talent in Surgeon Simulator. One of my friends, Steve (of Monster Movie Monday), has really steady hands because he plays keyboard/piano. There’s technically no reason that he wouldn’t be able to own in this game. Except that the fictional surgeon that you are stuck piloting seems perpetually drunk. Move the mouse just a tiny amount and the right hand goes soaring across the screen, wreaking havoc where it goes.

If you’re not afraid to get down and bloody, give Surgeon Simulator a try! If you have happened to try it, drop a line in the comments and tell me what you thought!

 

Fun for Everyone!

Resident_evil_rev._2012_CapcomI know I’m a little late to the party on this one, but so be it! Two weekends ago, my husband Chris and I were at our local Best Buy. He was searching for a pair of headphones and a keyboard for his computer. I was along for the ride (and secretly scouting the price of Xbox games). I was eyeing Resident Evil Revelations, deciding whether or not to purchase it at the buyer-friendly price of $59.99, when my husband handed a game to me. It was a Blizzard offering – Diablo III – that I had glimpsed on Chris’ computer. I hadn’t ever played a Diablo game, but had spent many an hour yoked to World of Warcraft, and I knew the quality of the game in my hand.

Flipping it over, I read the back of the game. You know what word got me? Witch doctor. Hell yes, witch doctor! The words “masses of loot” didn’t exactly damageDiablo_III_cover my thoughts on the game either. (The other classes mentioned on the back of the case were barbarian, monk, demon hunter, and wizard, if you’re wondering.) Five minutes later, and I was in the checkout line holding the video game, game guide, and Resident Evil Revelations. Chris was smiling as though it were Christmas morning – I was just happy to have a colorful game that saw me tearing through demons with my husband at my side.

Now fast forward two weeks. Chris and I are sitting in the basement on a Friday night in front of the TV set, our surround sound at near-full blast, pumpkin spice coffee at our side. The opening cinematic was the typical lush style long associated with Blizzard games, and immediately drew me into the storyline, after which we were tasked with choosing our classes. As mentioned above, I chose the witch doctor. I have to admit it was tough, I was drawn to the wizard, but also to the monk. In World of Warcraft, which I played for just over five years, I had always played a healer and paired with some muscle, or I was a DPS class. I let Chris choose first, because he had played the PC version of the game. His choice was easy – barbarian. A simple hack-and-slash character, but bound to be fun, who he named TkOut (technical knock-out). I finished flipping through the game guide and chose a witch doctor, whom I named Erzulee. For quick class comparison – take a look at the chart below.

Diablo-3-classes

After choosing our classes, we are shown another cinematic – this time the history of New Tristram. New Tristram is the cursed town from which most of the Act 1 action originates. When the cinematic ends, you and any companions playing with you begin on Overlook road with one ability. You take the road into New Tristram and from there you’re off!

grotesquesIt’s pretty difficult not to get sucked into the easy gameplay, which lends itself more to Xbox gaming than to PC if you’re wondering. There is no need to conserve on ammo, which allows you to freely destroy any monsters you come across, as well as most of the free-standing structures. This feature comes in handy especially when you’re in graveyards and tombs. Don’t worry – the first several quests have you romping and stomping your way through graveyards, cathedrals, and tombs a plenty. You face all manner of uglies – worms, crawling zombies, and these fat monsters that run around with their arms in the air. To the left, you’ll find a monster called, aptly enough, a grotestque. When they are put down, their body explodes and you’re stuck fighting various trios of ugly over-sized grave worms.

The actual narrative that drives the story is very interesting, and interspersed well between fighting. When you encounter various NPCs, you can choose the parts of the story you want to hear. This is an added bonus, because if you’re a hack-slash-ignore-the-story type, you can blow past that. Also, you can replay the game without the story scenes that can make other games tedious. However, if you’re like Chris and I, and you prefer a bit of story to go with your zombie meat, there’s more than enough. The music is great too – it’s never too loud or invasive, and it doesn’t have annoying recurring themes that pop up and make the game predictable.

There is no reason you can give me that is good enough for not playing this game. It’s fun, colorful, and well-made. Every quest is new and exciting, you accrue gold and gear quickly, and the dialog is fast-paced. The monsters are appropriately scaled so that they don’t whale on you or drop dead too easily. Loot is duplicated for each player, and it’s easy to swap gear with others. In short – it’s an awesome game! If you don’t have this game – go buy it NOW!

 

A So-So Zombie Game, Revisited.

I have no idea why, but I can’t get that stupid game, “Blood Drive” out of my head.  I didn’t wind up trading it like I thought I would.  I thought that I would be able to get rid of it because it’s so awful, but I have a strange, inexplicable wish to go back and try my hand at it again.  There is a horrifying possibility that I will spend more time on it, getting to know it better and ::gasp:: unlocking some of the features that shouldn’t have to be unlocked.  Is it possible that this terrible game has some voodoo charm on me !?  Quite possible !  I will keep you posted.

A So-So Zombie Game.

Xbox 360 Core System with their peripherals.

Image via Wikipedia

I purchased “Blood Drive” for the XBOX 360 pretty much as soon as it came out.  (I might add that I spent $49 or so on this game.)  It was a fairly obvious choice for me – it was a zombie game.  When I went home and told my friends about it, they were horrified.  One particular friend even admitted to having it on his to-do list to tell me not to purchase the game.  I couldn’t figure out why, and I looked up some reviews of my own.  Without going into detail, the results were disappointing.

I’ve been playing it for a little while now (about an hour) and there are some obvious disadvantages with the game, as well as a few pluses.

In many ways, “Blood Drive” is a rip-off of the “Left 4 Dead” franchise.  This game features zombies that look and act uncannily like the Boomer, Hunter, Charger, and Tank.  The gameplay became monotonous rather quickly – instead of trying to find ways of effectively driving, I found it easier to hole up in an alleyway and drive back and forth until the timer ran out, crushing whatever happened to be under my bumper at the time.  When “Blood Drive” begins, there is absolutely no tutorial, and I died a few times until I looked up and tried to memorize the controls.  Even with the controls memorized, there is so much going on in the beginning that its hard to focus.  Zombies are attacking the car, the car is running over barrels and rolling, hordes are charging, and somehow I’m supposed to not only navigate successfully, but learn to fire a random harpoon weapon?  I think not.  Also, in order to get to the single player sections with different scenery and goals, I have to survive some kind of 5 minute challenge that I could’t find.  I can’t imagine the hours it would take me to get to the 5 minute mark.  The longest I lasted in the environment was 1:10:?? and it was difficult lasting that long.  Another big issue I have with the game is the sensitivity of the controls.  It would be wonderful to be able to hit more zombies, but often the game feels more like a driver ed simulation, with me passing by hordes of zombies just begging to be run down.  They’re even running after me with blood dribbling down their clothes, growling and snarling.

“Blood Drive” should have had a 2 player mode.  This game is perfect for multi-player, however you need someone else to drop the money on the game, hop on when you are playing, and agree to play with you.  If the designers had gone with a split-screen mode, it could have been a salvageable game.

After effectively tearing the game apart, I’d like to mention some of the pluses.  The addition of a pimp zombie was pretty funny and interesting, and the overall look of the zombies themselves were pretty interesting.  Each driver was laid out with a different car and personality.  There were 8 initial to choose from, and before you began the game you got to add extras to your car.  Think of them as care packages, that ranged from increased speed to increased durability.  They were meant to help with your chosen car’s weakness.  (It should be added that steering was a noted weakness for most cars in this DRIVING game.  Why is that?)  The ambulance was very difficult to drive, due to its center of gravity.  Cars that drove lower to the ground seemed marginally easier to drive.  The music style changed for each character, mirroring the personality of the driver as well.

I am relatively sure I will be trading the game in this afternoon for a measly $20.  I want to trade it in before it depreciates further.  Its an alright game, but I am not sure if I’m interested in spending the hours it will take to unlock content that should be available from the start.  The lack of information in the game booklet was also a severe letdown.  If I’ve learned anything from “Blood Drive”, it’s that a) there are some games you should rent rather than buying flat out b) don’t buy video games full price – or close to it and c) not everything zombie-based is exciting.  The idea for a zombie racing game was a great one, but major and unforgivable faults keep this game from being what it really could (and should) have been.

All the zombie fragging you can handle…and a little you can’t.

Left 4 Dead 2

Image via Wikipedia

“Left 4 Dead 2” follows four different survivors through a series of zombie infested maps.

The game was an overall improvement from Left 4 Dead (which in and of itself was still an awesome game!)  There are numerous notable changes for the better which include more staggered spacing of the infected.  Instead of running into a constant mob and then nothing, the mobs are well spaced enough so that there is no time to relax and wait for the next mob.

The special infected are bigger, better, and more badass as well.  Hunters, witches, boomers, and tanks all were re-done with more detail including (but not limited to) extra boils, more slime, and more detailed clothing.  New notable specials include the Jockey, who sits atop your character and rides them around while screeching, and my personal nemesis, the Spitter.  Spitters have disjointed jaws and are capable of covering several in-game feet of floor with an acidic puke that will quickly exacerbate the situation for yourself and the other survivors.  The best part ?  She spits it from afar.  Perhaps you can’t see her, but she can still drop you with one or two well-aimed spits.  Eesh.  Not to mention the hordes of other special infected, some of which wear armor and are harder to kill.  Oh and one last thing – there are clown zombies.  A whole carnival section filled to the brim with slavering clown zombies whose eyes glow.  I won’t spoil all the fun – but trust me – you’ll like the new ones !

The story itself is more cohesive within the campaigns.  Rather than just running around blasting zombies to bits, you are following a coordinated escape pattern from area to area.  Don’t fear – the story doesn’t get in the way of mindless blasting, if that’s something you prefer.  The locales are creepier with more special effects including fog, wind and driving rain as well as numerous hiding places for zombies and specials.  The effects add a touch of realism to the video game, as well as add to the unpredictability of the game.  It seems that every time you play, its a different game.

Whether or not you were a fan of the original “Left 4 Dead” you need this game.  I play it on my computer because I’m terrible at first person shooters on a console, but regardless of your choice of play you will have countless hours of enjoyment from “Left 4 Dead 2”.  One more bit of advice – play it in the dark.  It’ll scare you witless.

Left 4 Dead

Left 4 Dead

Image by csullens via Flickr (I have no idea why there is a cat in the photo, but it's the only one I can find on wordpress to use.)

I have played this game on both the XBOX 360 Slim and the Computer.

This game is a first-person shooter that invites players to play as one of four survivors in a variety of modes.  It features hand-held weapons as well as guns and bombs.  There are also special zombies to encounter.  My personal nemesis is the Witch.  She sits and wails, and when you stumble on her she comes at you clawing with everything she’s got.  Basically if you startle her, you better be wielding a chainsaw, if not, you’re toast.  I’d recommend dodging her, unless you don’t mind taking a heap of damage after a botched attempt to kill her.

Other special infected include Boomers – big, fat zombies that spit on you in order to attract more zombies.  If you get too close and blow one up, you likewise are covered in bile / vomit and can expect a storm of zombies.  Another personal favorite that seems to favor tearing me apart are the too-agile hunters.  They are hoodie-clad hooligans that leap from buildings after you.  When caught, they too tear you to pieces.

The game also features four playable maps.  If you are working with a competent group of friends, you can finish each map in about an hour, give or take a little.  The maps are “No Mercy”, “Dead Air”, “Blood Harvest”, and “Crash Course”.  If you are like me, and you get lost easy, you can get the AI to guide you while you are playing solo.  The maps also contain “Safe Houses” which serve as way points in campaigns.  In Safe Houses you can get more ammunition for your weapons, you can choose from a variety of other weapons, and you can use first aid kits to heal yourself and your companions.

While I enjoy playing Left 4 Dead on the XBOX, I find I’m a better shot when playing it on my computer.  That’s just personal preference.  As far as I can tell, it is just as intuitive on the XBOX as it is on the computer.  Overall, it’s a great game to play in the dark.  The maps are creepy and very intense.  The maps are populated with realistic buildings and car crashes. Another added pleasure are the car traps.  Vehicles with blinking red lights signal a killing horde of zombies if you happen to jump on them or shoot them – so be careful !  At the end of each campaign you are given various player stats which include but are not limited to number of infected killed, how much damage you have done to a particular special infected, how many friendly fire incidents, and various other elements.  These add a competitive edge to the game when playing with friends.

Since the second game is now available, it is worth noting that time has not diminished the playability of this game.  While it is true that the new game brings marked improvement in some areas, the old game is in no way rendered obsolete.  In fact, if you are unsure about this franchise, then I recommend purchasing the first game as an introduction.  If however, you enjoy first person shooters, or zombie games of any kind, this is certainly worth playing.

Pros:

  • Intense atmosphere – realistic
  • Interesting mix of special infected and regular infected makes each gaming experience unique
  • Well conceived characters – fun to play !
  • You don’t get killed from zombie bites – and you can be cured by first aid kits
  • Plenty of weapons to choose from and wield
  • Little story line and not very many cut scenes maximizes zombie killing time
  • Playable for console and computer

Cons:

  • Only 4 maps to choose from (I’m nitpicking – but there really isn’t much fault with the game)
  • I would have liked more variation in the appearance of the regular infected