Left 4 Dead 2/Resident Evil 6 crossover DLC available now!

So, it’s finally here – the great crossover of all zombie gamers’ dreams!

Valve and Capcom announced a few weeks ago that DLC would be available from both companies crossing over the latest games from their huge zombie franchises – Left 4 Dead and Resident Evil. The new content went live on April 5. Here’s a trailer showing the changes in RE6 below:

As you can see, you can play as Rochelle, Nick, Coach and Ellis in Mercenary No Mercy mode, and it even uses some L4D monsters such as the Witch, and a ‘Mini’-Tank. It’s very interesting to see the characters move about in the RE engine, and the rolls, flips and shoulder barges that they are now capable of.

On the L4D side, the RE content can be downloaded as a new campaign from Steam. It features the RE6 enemies Ogroman, Lepotitsa and Napad, and Valve are even opening it up to you, the gamers – those who use the L4D2 Workshop can submit ideas for RE6 character skins that may get added into the game! Imagine playing Dark Carnival as Leon, Chris, Ada or Jill…

Crossovers are nothing new, of course, but this is incredibly exciting because it shows an unprecedented level of co-operation between two successful (some may say competing) game developers. Who knows what it could lead to?

This DLC is only available on PC versions of both games for now, sorry. Both sets are available for download from Steam.

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Retro Rewind: Tomb Raider (1996)

I have always been, and probably always will be, a huge PlayStation gamer. However, my particular weapon of choice is the first and the original PlayStation (or PSX) – the world’s first 32-bit console, released in 1995. The range and depth of legendary games available for the system is unrivalled, in my opinion, and I have kept not only nearly all my games, but two working consoles, and I still source games second hand. Anyway, I digress.

This is the first in a series of reviews of those classic games. My first pick is a game that is dear to my heart – the original Tomb Raider.

Before the other games, the movies, the spin-offs, and the reboots, there was this game. I loved it when it came out and I still love it now. As a then ten-year-old girl, Lara was a likeable and relatable heroine at a time when not many of them were around. There have been many debates regarding Lara’s feminist status versus her sex appeal, but she was a strong and confident female protagonist, who just happened to have big boobs (that were later reduced). And sure, the game’s graphics may be completely laughable by today’s standards – consider the iconic T-Rex battle in the third level, The Lost Valley.

Here’s the original:

 

And here’s the 2008 remake:

But in my mind, the dated visuals don’t detract from the game at all. In fact, it’s part of its charm for me. The game is still completely immersive and sucks me right in. So what if the entire game is comprised of boxes and squares around Lara’s height? So what if the textures are tiled straight onto the grid, including the water? So what if Lara’s famous breasts are triangular and they can’t animate her long plait? It’s just polygons!

The environments are still lovingly detailed and lush. The sound design in this game is second to none – the music is used sparingly and in just the right places. The Jaws-like cellos that start off the action theme still never fail to scare the crap out of me. The effects, ambient sound and creature noises are bang on the money. And of course, there is the hauntingly beautiful main theme – hearing it in the pool rooms of City of Vilcabamba never fails to give me chills. The later games became much more action-focused – Lara gained many new abilities and even friends to help her along the way. I still prefer the puzzle-based gameplay, with hints of action every so often to wake you up. The joy in Tomb Raider for me is exploring the levels, soaking up the ambience, and trying not to break your neck doing a tricky jump. I take immense satisfaction in performing exactly the right series of manoeuvres, manipulating the environment to get where I need to go.

This game also has the best story of the lot: a mystical artefact from the lost continent of Atlantis and a fallen god revived in the modern day wreaking her revenge (spoilers!). Lara’s flashback to the destruction of Atlantis is still chilling to this day. The thing I love in this game is that it is genuinely scary in some parts – not just in an oh-my-god-there’s-a-Trex-kill-it sort of way, but in a shivery, skin-crawling way. The moving fleshy walls of Atlantis and the skinless enemies are truly disconcerting. And you can’t tell me you didn’t get vertigo the first time you saw St Francis’ Folly.

Of course, the game still has its flaws. The Save Crystal system implemented for the PSX is a huge pain in the arse, forcing you to save a limited amount of times in certain locations. Later games introduced more lenient systems. Sometimes the camera angles suck, especially if the game turns Lara’s head to look in a certain direction when you don’t want it to. And some levels are prohibitively dark, which was also solved by the introduction of flares in later games. The only ability that I miss in the first game is being able to roll in mid-air, which is very handy in the midst of combat.

Overall, this game is an absolute gem, and a wonderful introduction to the series. The other games are immensely good too, but this one is still my favourite and in my opinion, the most accessible (the opening levels of TRII and III are quite difficult for a novice – hell, even difficult for me!). The levels are mostly short and sharp, which doesn’t let the game get bogged down, and later levels are just difficult enough to enjoy without (much) frustration. I dig it out every so often for a run around, and it’s time for me to attempt another play-through – once I find my PSX memory card!

 

Tomb Raider is still available second hand for PSX (PS2 compatible), or for download from the PlayStation Network. It is also available for PC download, but you will need a DOS emulator.

REVIEW – Indie Game: The Movie

I recently had the privilege of seeing Indie Game: The Movie, a Canadian documentary that looks behind the scenes at three well-known indie games: the commercially and critically successful Braid, the soon to be released Super Meat Boy, and the perpetually trapped in development hell FEZ. The movie was funded by two Kickstarter projects and features a soundtrack by Jim Guthrie of Sword and Sworcery fame.

More importantly than the games, Indie Game also looks at the developers behind them: Braid’s lone wolf Jonathan Blow; Super Meat Boy’s fiercely determined Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes; and FEZ’s beleaguered Phil Fish. The film gives an intensely personal perspective of the men behind these games, their backgrounds, their philosophies and the relationships they have with their creations.

Braid is a puzzle platformer that was released to widespread acclaim, making it the second highest selling XBox Live Arcade game in 2008. Critics loved its elaborate puzzles and unique time mechanics including a full rewind feature, but Blow feels that a lot of people who have played and reviewed the game have missed the point of the artistry in the game, particularly its story. Braid was conceived in opposition to the current trends in video gaming, and Blow is certainly not afraid to let people know it. The film documents some of the internet vitriol Blow has received for his views, but it doesn’t seem to bother him at all. He has genuine desire for an emotional connection with a player of the game through its story, and he feels disappointed that the majority don’t seem to ‘get’ it.

The film covers Super Meat Boy through its final weeks of production, and counts down to its release on XBLA. McMillen and Refenes are a close-knit team who live on the opposite sides of the US, conducting most of the game development through Skype. They are passionate gamers with true love for the artform and its storytelling abilities. McMillen’s wife Danielle and Refenes’ sister and parents are also featured, which gives a nice view on how important familial relationships are in supporting a developer, but also the toll that the stress and long hours can have on them. Super Meat Boy is finished on a very very tight deadline, and the scenes of both developers pulling all-nighters to finish it might hit a bit close to home for some! For me, the journey of this game was the most powerful emotionally – the stress of meeting the deadline, the shock and disappointment of Super Meat Boy not appearing on XBLA on release day (it was eventually released that afternoon and sold 20,000 copies in 24 hours), and the pure joy and relief as the first positive reviews for the game come out and both of them realise that they are on the cusp of the success that they’ve been working towards for all their lives.

FEZ’s journey started in 2008, when it started to win awards purely based on its trailer. It’s a colourful and whimsical puzzler using a unique mechanic – the world spins on its Y axis, rendering a 2D game into a 3D world. However, after 2008 the game and its developer encountered problems – the game subsequently went through 3 complete redesigns, and Fish’s business partnership dissolved acrimoniously, creating substantial legal problems. Fish admits his perfectionism is a large part of the delays, and the game has swallowed his whole life. The internet is growing very impatient with the delays, and Fish worries that there will be no interest left by the time the game is finally released. There’s a very sweet moment where he plays little games he made as a child with his father, and he seems to regain his joy and passion for gaming and developing.

A crucial moment for FEZ takes place at the 2011 PAX Prime, where Fish is due to debut the first playable demo. Due to his ex-partner’s refusal to sign the last of the paperwork ending the partnership, Fish is not legally allowed to show the demo in public. He goes ahead anyway, and even though the game is full of bugs and crashes constantly, the demo is widely well-received by attendees, and even Penny Arcade’s Tycho. After years of constant stress, towards the end of the film Fish finally gets the signature, and carries on developing FEZ. (FEZ was subsequently completed after the movie was filmed, and released to great success in April 2012.)

Indie Game is a very truthful film, and the emotions of all involved are powerfully raw. It has more highs and lows than Six Flags. It does leave you questioning why the developers do what they do at times, but what really shines through is their desire to tell stories through a medium they all love and respect. Everyone who has ever thought about making games should definitely watch it. Hell, even anyone who has ever bought a video game.

 

Indie Game: The Movie is available for downloading/streaming online, and also on Steam and iTunes

Braid is available on XBLA, PSN, PC, Mac and Linux

Super Meat Boy is available on XBLA, and PC/Steam. A mobile version is currently in development

FEZ is available on XBLA

THE AGONY AND ECSTASY OF MINECRAFT

For the past couple of months, Minecraft has very slowly crept up on me. Favourite Internet communities were doing hilarious Let’s Play videos, new memes were born, and everyone was fascinated by this unlimited virtual Lego set. The limit was your imagination, and having to contend with deadly enemies determined to not only kill you but destroy your creations like a jealous younger sibling brought that extra tension that was irresistible to gamers. And the best thing is – in multiplayer you can still go smash your elder brother’s perfect castle into bits, it just takes a bit longer.

When I went to my local geek con in mid-June, one of the most popular pieces of merchandise was the square cardboard Creeper head, the swirl of greens and faint grin easily seen across the crowded convention centre. Minecraft had arrived, and it was making pixels cool again.

My husband caved first. I would sit at my desk in our shared office, while I heard the sounds of him picking at dirt blocks, the sickening crack of falling too far, the popping of lava, blobbing in water, and a few quiet shrieks and profanities as a Creeper lolloped dangerously close. He showed me videos of people’s amazing creations: the 1:1 scale model of the Enterprise D; a relatively-dimensional TARDIS; TNT explosions so huge the game can’t render them; huge troll faces on grass plains; and buildings literally touching the top of the world. I resisted for a while. But, eventually, it got me.

I played my husband’s copy of the game while he was at work. In hindsight, it’s a good idea that I don’t have my own copy. I was immediately sucked in. Armed with a cup of tea, and the Minecraft wiki in the background, I set to work.

I really wanted to build my base in a snowy tundra, and I spawned on a beach. I wandered for an in-game time of three days, until I finally found the perfect spot. I had water, lava, a view of the sunrise, and plenty of sheep. I built an awesome log cabin out of spruce, with a bed, coloured wool rugs, paintings, bookshelves, and a sign. (It’s very telling that even though I had nothing else in the house, I had three bookshelves.) I had a natural mine nearby, in which I got ridiculously lost a couple of times. I planted flowers outside, and watched the snow falling on the roof. It was awesome.

The one thing I didn’t realise was that to spawn in your bed, you had to sleep in it. Whoops.

I proceeded to die in the most spectacularly faily way – I found a hole in the ground, and went to see how deep it was and went too far. Seriously.

I respawned on the beach where I started, to my surprise. I tried desperately to remember which way I walked, by the landscapes I went through. I wandered around for days, following the sun in every direction. I was going in circles. I discovered a closer and bigger snowy tundra to my spawn point, which was annoying fact number 1. Eventually, I accepted annoying fact number 2: I was hopelessly lost, and there was no way I could find my house again. Annoying fact number 3: I’m usually a pretty good navigator, but I’d done the stereotypical female thing of having a terrible sense of direction in a pixellated world. My husband delighted in making gentle fun of me, even when I distinctly remember him effing and blinding because he once got stupidly lost in his own mine.

I exited to the title screen, and restarted the game. With a heavy and shamed heart, I proceeded to delete my game and start over again.

I found another tundra. I rebuilt my cabin, bigger and better with my increased knowledge. I found a much better mine with more minerals, including my much-wanted and elusive lapis (which I used to make a blue rug under my bed). I had more sugar cane, which satisfied my insatiable need for paper. I had all the sheep I could shear. I built a boat and went across the ocean looking for squid. I slept in my bed. This game was ten times better than my previous attempt, but the magic was gone.

My house is built. I have my sign, my paintings, my books, my brightly coloured floor. I’m coming up against the same problem that I had with Lego when I was a child – there’s so much to build, so much I could do, that I don’t know what to do next.

So, I’m interested in what you guys have gotten up to in Minecraft and maybe get some inspiration for things to build. What cool stuff have you made? Have you lost your house like I did? Have you used a pressure plate in devious ways? Have you toiled away for hours only to have a Creeper explode in the middle of your work? Let us know!

Minecraft is available for PC, Mac, Xbox 360 (through Xbox Live Arcade), Android, and iOS. You can buy it here.