Somnambulant Gamer Pumpkin Preview: Left 4 Dead 2

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Here we are folks. It's Halloween and the last night of our 1st annual Pumpkin Preview. We thought it only fitting to end with Left 4 Dead 2.

The second installment of everyone's favorite speedy zombie simulator will arrive on shelves November 17th sporting new characters, new maps, melee weapons and new game modes for all to enjoy.

I really enjoyed Left 4 Dead, though I didn't expect I'd have so little fun playing as the boss zombies in multiplayer. Something about it just didn't click for me. Maybe it was getting killed about 30 seconds into playing any of the characters or the fact that I couldn't ever choose which type I'd be (though more ofter than not I became a Boomer). Whatever it was, I just didn't have any fun as the zombie bosses.

The game did shine when it came to co-op as the survivors. I'm big on teamwork in games and to finally play a title that forces others to work WITH me rather than around me was more than just gratifying; it was like ambrosia.

Left 4 Dead 2 will deliver everything the original did and more. The most notable difference is probably the addition of melee weapons such as the chainsaw or the frying pan.

Left 4 Dead 2 also features Scavenge mode, a sort of capture the flag mode in which the survivors are required to find and use a number of gas cans to power generators that will extend the round time.

Finally is the Realism Mode which switches off the visual aids telling friend from foe and changing the damage dealt to specific parts of the infected in the game. If you give this mode a shot, let me give you some advice. Shoot them in the head, just like Uncle Romero told you.

I don't think Left 4 Dead 2 deserves all the controversy that's surrounded it since it's announcement. From the Aussie Boycott to the accusations of racism, it's all a little over the top. The game is what it is and there is no changing that. Let Valve make the game they want to make. You'll probably find it's still a game from Valve that is well worth your time and adoration.

Let's face it, Valve puts out good product. I don't think they've led me astray yet, and I don't think Left 4 Dead 2 will be any kind of turning point in that regard. Hell, I get to shoot zombies and tell people what to do. How could it go wrong?

Somnambulant Gamer Pumpkin Preview: Assassin's Creed II

Thursday, October 29, 2009

I know a lot of people weren't happy with Assassin's Creed. The missions either got too repetitive for them or the mechanics of the game at some point became frustrating. All this is understandable and perfectly valid. I couldn't get enough of Assassin's Creed. Even now I pop it in if for no other reason than to skillfully slaughter my enemies with nothing but the hidden blade in open combat.

Assassin's Creed II has promised a lot of things. Mostly it promises to keep the missions and ways to accomplish said missions more varied. You may be able to sneak up on your enemy in the usual way for one mission while the next has you hiring mercenaries to deal with heavily armored guards.

Finally you can use a wide variety of weapons in combat, including those of your enemies. Assassin's Creed has already proven to have fairly accurate combat animations and Assassin's Creed II is no exception. Albeit Ezio is a little less subtle than Altair but the combat (from what I've seen however) is still fairly big on accuracy with it's weapons handling.

More than anything, I'm looking forward to taking part in some of the real world assassinations of the Medicis and continuing the story of Assassin's Creed. All you people that didn't like the first in the series were right about one thing; it ended too soon.

Now I just have to wait for November 17th.

Somnambulant Gamer Pumpkin Preview: The Saboteur

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

We're all pretty excited about The Saboteur over here. Ever since we got a chance to play it at PAX we've been eagerly awaiting it's December 8th release.

The Saboteur is the story of Sean Devlin, an Irish race ca driver recruited by the Morini racing group as a driver. During a race, Sean's tires are shot out by a German driver wrecking the car. Sean and a buddy decide to find and sabotage the German drivers car as an act of revenge. In doing so, they unwittingly stumble on a Nazi hideout preparing for the Paris Blitz. Sean escapes with his life but his friend is not so lucky.

When Sean's friend is killed, all the color drains from the world, leaving Paris a dark forboding monochrome. Bits of color seep through here and there as accents to the seeming omnipresence of the Nazi occupation. As you work more and more with the resistance in various areas more and more of the color starts to come back. In the eyes of the resistance fighters or perhaps in the glow of the burlesque house signs.

The gameplay is a mix of Grand Theft Auto and Splinter Cell; an open world stealth action game. You may wander the streets as you please though missions will focus you towards specific areas of the world. Dress yourself in a dead Nazi's uniform and infiltrate their bases, use their Kubelwagon to get out as fast as possible once your objective is complete.

Pandemic Studios is exploring many characeristically film noir stylings with the Saboteur. From the gritty look of the black and white Paris, to the acknowledgement of and more realistic portrayal of sexulity in wartime France, the Saboteur could very well pave the way for a new level of maturity in games.

Somnambulant Gamer Pumpkin Preview: Borderlands

Sunday, October 25, 2009

We here at Somnambulant Gamer had an idea. Many sites put up lists of upcoming games and leave them at that. Still others write up small capsule previews of said games. We just weren't content with any of that. We brainstormed for hours, days, months! Okay, more like a couple hours over while driving, but that's besides the point. We present to you, the future! A future rife with pumpkins carved in the name of current and upcoming games! Welcome the the first annual Pumpkin Preview!

Tonight we talk a little about Borderlands. Many of you are surely familiar with Borderlands already since it's already out and ready for your consumption. The reviews have been kind for the most part, but a few have marked the game down for the very thing I think makes it so great. Borderlands doesn't take itself too seriously.

It's a common pitfall of games these days. They want so much to be epic and compelling, they forget to be fun. Borderlands was almost one of those very games, a super-realistic, sci-fi, post-apocalyptic hyphenate wet dream. Then the developers realized that in order to really distinguish their game from the rest of he pack, they should focus a little more on the fun.

If you haven't played Borderlands yet, let me paint you a picture. You're sitting on the couch playing co-op with a buddy of yours. You've settled on Brick since you thin k it'll be pretty straightforward to pummel things. Your more tactical (possibly more sadistic) friend has Mordechai, the hunter and has been providing you fire support from a distance. You are surprised by a few raiders and start to take a significant amount of damage.

Looking up at your compatriot's screen you see him training his scope on some poor saps head. Wait, that's your head. What is he doing?! He's steadying the shot, he fires! NOOOO!! All those wonderful beatings mean nothing when you're gunned down by your own...wait, you're still up and your health is higher. What the hell just happened?

You've just experienced the healing bullet, one of the many awesome and bizarre weapon attributes on offer in Borderlands. That, along with the dark humor, the cell shaded graphics, and the outright mayhem you can wreak make Borderlands one of the most entertaining games I've played in a long time.

Sound Off: Voice Acting in RPGs

Thursday, October 22, 2009
Let me just lay this out, cowboy style.

Voice acting in games is beginning to get on my nerves. Specifically in RPGs. Well. JRPGS.

When I was but a bairn, my first RPG was Lunar: The Silver Star on Sega CD. In those days I was still suffering from the acute retardation that comes with youth, and the game drifted to the back of my minor collection. Like many people, I didn't catch the RPG bug 'til I was wrapped up in the inescapable magicite-laced tentacles of Final Fantasy. And wrapped up I was.

I played the whole series. I collected the guides. I collected the soundtracks. I still have over three dozen Final Fantasy action figures. And the games grew and evolved as I did, and each revolution added vitality and depth to the series.

Then began the Playstation 2 era, and everything changed. Before PS2, voice acting was almost a joke. Today, it's a standard. If a game has talking, it has voice acting.

And you know what? That's okay. Sure, the voices in FFX were obnoxious. But hey! It was new! Fun! Right, guys? Right?


The voice acting in FFXII was decent. Pretty good, even. Now XIII is out...and so is the jury. (Except on Vanille. Everyone hates her voice. Her own mother hates it.) Lots of other RPGs have come out, and lots of them have voice acting. Some of it is good. Some of it isn't. That isn't really the point.

The point is this: Back in the 8-bit, 16-bit, and what-the-fuck-ever-bit pre-PS2 era, character animations looked something like this:

Back then, subtlety and nuance were impossible, animation-wise. Characters had big animations--the same way that in classic Kabuki theater, (and other forms of performance art) had big, obvious gesturing to communicate emotion. And it isn't that such stuff is no longer necessary--in fact, we love the hyperbolic reactions, the exclamations, the daft poses, the clenched fists, and the sorrowful looks at the ground. Everything about those old school games was over the top and we loved them for it.

The problem, today, is that developers have remained faithful to such stuff, without realizing that when you give a character a real human voice, it grounds that character and therefore that universe. All of a sudden, all the goofy moving, all the weird-ass dialogue, all of it--just feels embarrassingly awkward.

Being able to play out the dialogue in your head gives some gray area. Because the rhythm with which the characters speak is all in your own voice, as it were, you're able to forgive them their trespasses--hell, you probably don't even notice them.

When done wrong, giving JRPG characters voices shatters the illusion. Vanille in Final Fantasy XIII speaks with an Australian accent. I'm sorry--I didn't know Australia was in fucking Cocoon. It's even worse when characters that didn't used to have voices get them all of a sudden--Did you know that Cait Sith form FFVII is fucking Irish? Or that Cid is a Texan? I sure as hell didn't. Not until Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children came out.

Look, developers. I'm not asking for much. I know a lot of your audience likes voice acting in games because they're stupid, or because they're too lazy to read. But some of us remember the golden years--when campy dialogue and stupid anime poses didn't matter because what you were playing took place in its own world, where bullshit like that was acceptable. We remember when you could enjoy a game's music because you didn't have some whiny little bitch squawking at you all the time. And we want that back.

You already put subtitles in anyway, so I'm just asking for one little bit more. Let me read all that bad dialogue. Let me enjoy the music.

All I want is the option--just the option--to turn the voices off. Please?


Heroes, Part 1

Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Heroes are everywhere. As long as we have walked this planet, we've spoken of heroes. From the Epic of Gilgamesh to Superman and Captain America, every culture throughout time has had heroes of their own. Joseph Campbell wrote that a hero is "one who has given his or her life for something bigger than oneself."

There are many types of heroes in history and myth. The Romantic hero who holds his or her own truths above societal norms, the Chivalric hero who holds to a solid ethical code, and the Mythic hero who exhibits strengths and talents beyond that of normal men and many many more. All these heroes are present in the games we play, whether the developers read The Power of Myth or not.

Of these many heroes however, the Mythic Hero is by far the most common in today's video games. Kratos, Master Chief, Ryu Hayabusa, the list goes on. Every one of them has abilities and characteristics that put them head and shoulders above the average man. Kratos (equal parts anti-hero and promethean hero he may be) has the powers of a God. Master Chief is a genetically enhanced, cybernetic super-soldier. Ryu has mastered secret and magical ninjutsu arts and made himself more supernatural being that man.

While the Mythic hero is a wonderful template for game heroes, especially potential franchises, I would argue that these are not the most compelling heroes out there. The sheer power exuded from these characters, while exciting and fun to experience, makes them harder to relate to from a personal perspective.

Superpowers are great to play around with but the most compelling heroes, those that really reached me as a child and even now are those that had the everyman quality. Figures such as Batman and Paul Sant, average men thrust into impossible situations.

I think I relate to these characters because I can see myself in their place easier than I can characters like Superman. I'm not from another planet, despite what some of my grade school friends might have told me, I can't stop a train with my bare hands. If I'm shot, I will likely die.

This is what I like so much about ODST. I've played through the Halo campaigns as a SPARTAN countless times, I've beaten every game on Legendary yet I've never felt more vulnerable than I did playing ODST. Despite the challenges I faced as the Chief, I never felt outmatched by my enemies. I was a secret weapon, a war winner. Now I'm just a futuristic paratrooper.

I've always loved the Halo games for their variety, design and gameplay. The Chief and I go back a long time, but playing as the Rookie is a far more visceral, far more real experience for me. I have to worry about how much cover I have during a battle and for once I'm actually worried about letting my enemy get close.

The Master Chief may have sacrificed much of his humanity to become what he is, but the Rookie and the rest of his squad willingly volunteered to fight a war against insurmountable odds and even then, put themselves into the very worst of the fighting. These people have truly given their lives for something greater than themselves.

Oh dear

Sunday, October 11, 2009
I came across this video on Digg just a minute or two ago. I warn you, it fatures not one but two shots of middle aged man crack.

I think I'm going to do this same thing whenever my friends can't decide what game we should play.

The Ghost of Rock Band Yet to Come.

Friday, October 2, 2009
While browsing my reader, searching for post inspiration, I came across a notice for the addition of new Queen songs to Rock Band. The list is a nice collection of their work, save one glaring omission. Let's see if you can spot it:

  • "Another One Bites the Dust"
  • "Crazy Little Thing Called Love"
  • "One Vision"
  • "Fat Bottomed Girls"
  • "I Want It All"
  • "I Want to Break Free"
  • "Killer Queen"
  • "Somebody to Love"
  • "Tie Your Mother Down"
  • "Under Pressure"
Where is "Bohemian Rhapsody"?? I am more than a little disappointed that they failed to include one of their most popular songs in this first Queen pack. When some of my favorite artist's work is first introduced to Rock Band I have gotten used to the disappointment of my favorite songs not being included. Eventually they will come and they do usually after a short while. But I can't understand why they managed to overlook this particular song. I am convinced that they intended to use "Bohemian Rhapsody" but something happened with a drunk programmer, crucial equipment, spilled beer, and corrupted files. Either that or trouble reconciling the song with the current equipment. In all reality it is likely they are waiting to release "Rhapsody" for Rockband 3, which is rumored to include support for vocal harmonies (As evidence by "The Beatles: Rock Band") and a sort of keyboard instrument.

The scope of Rock Band's music is getting very broad very fast. One of the things I like the most about Rock Band and Harmonics is their dedication to the music they work with. Unlike the Guitar Hero series (which seems more cartoonish and hoakie with each installment), Rock Band makes me feel connected to the music and I am left with a greater respect for the musicians who made it. I worry about future installments, the growing library (now at a whopping 800+ according to the Wikipedia), the new Rock Band Network and whether or not it will stay as faithful to the music. I am probably worrying prematurely (I would say it's my middle name but it is an unlikely hyphenate) but seeing the dark road walked by Guitar Hero I can't help but worry that Rock Band may eventually be overwhelmed and join the dark side. I hope that will never come to pass. In the mean time I will try to be faithful to the music the best way I know how and wait patiently for the day that I can sing Bohemian Rhapsody in a place other than my shower.