I See Zombies

I became a zombie game fan when I started blasting them in “Quake” with grenades and rockets in 1997, and a hardcore zombie movie fan after the “Resident Evil” movies came out. For whatever reason this weekend, I was knee-deep in the zombie dead. Halloween—like daylight savings time—came a few weeks late.

The zombie fest started with the installation of “Hellgate: London” on my gaming PC. When I tried the demo out a few weeks ago, I hated it since I thought the game play was tedious, no ending to wrap up the game play, and the game was too much like a “Diablo” clone. No surprise that this game came from the same people who created “Diablo II.” After readjusting my thinking from first person shooter to hack-and-slash (never mind that my marksmen character used guns instead of swords), I started enjoying the demo and pre-ordered the game.

My current character is Level 7 marksmen with some tricked out armor and modified guns. My favorite weapons are the RPG/flame thrower that’s good for clearing out small groups of zombies, and the machine gun for larger groups and bigger-sized zombies. The game had several memorable moments. I blew off the top half of a zombie only to see the lower half do a twitch dance before falling over. I came roaring around the corner after throwing a grenade, where I expected to find a half-dozen zombies, to run into 20+ zombies waiting for me. After falling down to the bottom of a three-story staircase, all the zombies from the upper floors came banging downstairs and all the nearby zombies became aware of  my presence, which took all my ammo to get out of that mess. This game should keep me busy until “Unreal Tournament 3” comes out in two weeks.

I went to Borders at Santana Row to locate “Flight of the Living Dead” (a.k.a., “Zombies On A Plane”) DVD. The woman behind the information counter gave me a weird look when I asked about the title, almost as if I was asking permission to eat her brains. Alas, no such luck. So I got the “Black Sheep” DVD instead.

If you thought zombie crows in “Resident Evil: Extinction” was weird, try zombie sheep on a small island country where the sheep outnumbers people by ten to one. When two animal rights activists in New Zealand steal research material being disposed of at a sheep farm, they get more than bargain for when the canister cracks open to release a zombie lamb. People bitten by the zombie sheep turn into were-sheep.  All the traditional elements of a zombie film are here: the New Age animal rights activist airhead playing the dismal in distress, one guy being stretched out to have his guts ripped out be a pair of sheep, and the usual genetic research versus mother nature debate. Plus the standard redneck farm jokes about inbred family and lovelorn sheep. This movie is so hilariously wrong on so many levels.

If that wasn’t enough, I was watching a “Star Trek: Enterprise” episode called “Impulse” that was about… drum roll please… Vulcan zombies!

Playing F.E.A.R: Extraction Point

Last summer I started playing “F.E.A.R.” for the PC. This horror first person shooter has an artificial intelligence (A.I.) that wasn’t always too predictable with enemy soldiers surprising me by their reactions and initiatives. When I lured a squad out of hiding one by one to kill with a head shot, the last soldier standing over his fallen comrades shouted out: “He wasted the entire squad!” That cracked me up. On several occasions, I tried to circle around to the other side and ran into a soldier doing the same thing. Or sometimes I catch the soldier trying to circle behind me by surprise. These little moments that made the game enjoyable.

The biggest problem with “F.E.A.R.” was the sagging middle that spread out forever in a long office complex, which got tedious as the tension and horror went slack from time to time. I picked up a bug that shifted my character in and out of god mode (an indication that something got scrambled between loading levels). I was very much relieved to finish playing “F.E.A.R.,” as the boredom between fire fights was  killing me.

I started playing “F.E.A.R: Extraction Point”, which appears to have fixed the mistakes made in the original game. The tension and horror get maxed out at the beginning. I hope that continues towards the end. Combat seems is more tactical now. I can use darkness and coverage to systematically clear out a building like soldiers would do in a real life scenario. Special crates are now breakable with items hidden inside that the original game didn’t have; a standard feature in every first person shooter game since “Half-Life” came out in 1998.

Being an expansion pack to the original game, it’s more of the same. The splatter effects are still gruesome as ever. The weird little girl burning to death in a wall of fire is a constant motif. So far I’m not disappointed, but I haven’t reached the middle of the game yet.

Playing F.E.A.R. This Weekend

I played F.E.A.R. this weekend. This unconventional horror-themed first person shooter from Monolith was one hell of a  scary game. The scares doesn’t come from monsters jumping out of the closets like they do in Doom 3, but from the monsters jumping before your mind’s eye. Now that’s scary.

Your screen briefly flashes the words “Unknown Activity” and then blurs as the ceiling tiles fall down, the paint on the wall peels back, and bloody footprints appear on the floor before everything returns to normal. Or the corridor appears normal until flames goes up behind the little girl who wants to burn you to death before your character jumps out the window into unconsciousness.

What is it about little girls having bad hair days that scare the crap out of everyone?

While the level design wasn’t too exciting, the game play was amazing. The first time that I did a slo-mo run-jump-kick that broke a soldier’s neck with a satisfying crunch made my day. New ways of killing your enemies are always exciting. So far, it’s a great game.


Review – Half-Life 2: Episode One

I finished playing Half-Life 2: Episode One (PC) last night. So here’s my review of the game with some major spoilers.

I didn’t enjoy re-entering the Citadel to stop the reactor from exploding because the choice of weapons was the gravity gun and the super gravity gun. While there are lots of interesting puzzles that need the gravity gun to solve, I took no joy in flinging soldiers to their deaths when something else would have done a better—and far bloodier—job than that. Besides, how many times do you need to see the ragdoll physics in action?

The game picks up speed during the escape from City 17 as the other weapons become available along the way. There’s nothing like being trapped in a basement full of zombies with no lights while waiting for a slow-moving elevator, or being pinned down by sniper fire in a bombed out building as roller mines are everywhere. I really enjoyed the rock-style soundtrack kicking in while clearing out the hospital of zombies. (I could have used a few rusty saw blades for some serious slicing-and-dicing action with the gravity gun.) Just after collecting all the weapons available in the game, Barney shows with the crowbar (the very first weapon in Half-Life).

Another part that I didn’t enjoy is escorting several squads of civilians from a warehouse to the train station under enemy fire since the A.I. were unusually stupid enough to get themselves killed without my help.

The last part is taking out a Strider with the RPG on a high platform with a wall of sheet metal for protection. Just remember that the rockets from the RPG will go wherever the red laser dot is. So if you fire off a rocket, duck behind the sheet metal, and the red laser dot is on the sheet metal, the rocket will do a U-turn to blast into the other side of the sheet metal. I spent 30 minutes dying that way until I figured out why the rockets kept looping around the Strider (impressive physics) to hit me (not so impressive).

I haven’t played the game with the audio commentary on yet but I hear that it’s just as good.

Becoming A Normal Video Gamer

This past weekend I was busy playing video games. After being a professional video game tester for six years and two years after I left Accolade/Infogrames/Atari (same company, different owner, multiple identity crisis), I’m finally getting back to being a “normal” gamer at home and playing for fun.

I finished playing SiN Episodes: Emergence (PC), a first person shooter that reminded me of Quake II when it first came out. The game was solid for the first half. I really needed a flashlight in some parts of the game that were too dark and re-adjusting the gamma on the monitor didn’t help. The second half of the game just fell apart because the A.I. was being stupid. At the bottom of one set of stairs, I tossed a grenade to the top landing to take out an A.I. that I suspected was hiding there and went up the stairs to find another A.I. waiting to ambush me even though I just turned his partner into hamburger. A point-blank headshot from the M90 took care of him. I’m looking forward to the next installment of this game.

Two other games I just started playing was Half-Life 2: Episode One (PC) and Resident Evil 4 (GameCube).  I suspect HL2E1 will be better than the SiN Episodes. The big challenge I have with RE4 is getting used to the third-person camera view and setting aside the 30- to 45-minutes of playing time needed to get to the next save point. I normally play in 15-minute spurts since my days—and patience—of playing a game for hours at a time are long gone. That might change when Caesar IV (PC) comes out later this year.

Finishing Finals & Playing Video Games

Got finals this week at San Jose City College. The statistics final on Saturday morning will be fun. I got an appointment with the dean to request waivers for the three classes that I need to finish my associate degree in computer programming. Due to low enrollment this semester, all three classes got cancelled and not being offered next semester. If the dean grants my request, I can file the waivers and the graduation paperwork with admissions and records office.

With the few spare moments that I have when I’m not busy reading and commenting on Slashdot, I’ve been playing the “Castlevania Double Pack” for the Gameboy Advance, which includes the two games, “Harmony of Dissonance” and “Aria of Sorrow.” I love playing games these classic side-stroller games of fighting monsters in old castles. I’m planning to get a Nintendo DS Lite to play “Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin” comes out in October.