Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Digits & Dragons
  by Greg Allen
January 2009
Games too Good to Fail

Well, 2008 has come and gone and while last year left us with a lot of messes, it also left us with a lot of great vidoe games. For every platform, there are a ton of fantastic games that have been released in the last couple of months and there is hardly the time or money to do them all justice.  Thankfully, there isn't much of a rush - springtimes are usually pretty dull and there won't be any excuse for playing a bad game for months

While there are a variety of great games out, the titles I've been spending most of my gaming time with are Fallout 3 and Left 4 DeadLeft 4 Dead is an average single-player game but amazing when played with friends. Fallout, on the other hand, has no multiplayer but is immersive enough to solo in for weeks.

Got Brains?

The idea behind Left 4 Dead is pretty simple: four survivors must make their way through a couple of levels to a rescue point and avoid getting de-brained along the way.  This, of course, is easier than it sounds and you'll have to kill literally thousands of zombies along the way.  In addition to your run-of-the-mill Zs, you'll also encounter five types of super zombies that are particularly nasty.

First on the list is the Hunter, a hoodie-sporting jumper who will leap from the darkness to pin and gore you.  Somewhat more subtle is the Smoker, who will grab you at a distance with its tongue and drag you away from your party.  Not subtle at all is the Boomer, an obese and disgusting hunk of meat who attempts to vomit or explode on your party.  As if it wasn't mentally gross enough to be spewed on, the vomit/guts will attract hordes of regular zombies to attack you. 

A smoker drags a helpless survivor away

If you hear the sounds of a crying girl in the distance, don't make the mistake of thinking you are about to make a rescue.  That cry will soon be imprinted into your instincts as a warning for the Witch, a glowing fiend that when disturbed is hard to put down.  Last and most fearsome is the Tank, a lumbering monster who takes the force of an entire team to tackle and quite often spells the end for a party of survivors.

Rising Action

Like any good movie, L4D pays careful attention to the pacing of the gaming session.  Finding individual or small groups of zombies is constant, but getting attacked by hordes of them is paced out and unpredictable.  If things are going too easy, the AI "Director" will ramp things up a bit to make sure that you are given a challenge. 

The dynamism of the levels also extends to things like boss and item placement - which means you'll never be playing the same level in the same way.  It's through this randomization that the game's very small number of campaigns (just four with the initial release) actually feels like a pretty good value.

The campaigns are best played with a couple of friends, and as you will quickly see, cooperation is a must.  A lone player is easily tackled by a Hunter or wrapped up by a Lurker but with a group, these super-Zs are just minor speed bumps.  Be careful, though.  Shooting your teammate in the back will actually do him quite a bit of damage so coordinating your firepower is essential.

While the co-operative campaigns are the most team fun I've had all year, the game doesn't end there.  Playing as a survivor is cool and nerve-wracking, but how about flipping the tables and playing as one of the undead?  In Versus mode, you take the role of the Hunter, Lurker, Boomer, or Tank to try and destroy the human survivors as quickly as possible.  If you are killed (which you will be often), you just wait 15 seconds or so and get respawned.

While they won't sneak up on you, the amount of damage Tanks do is terrifying.

You would think that playing as the Infected and having an extremely short lifespan would make the zombies a drag, but this mayfly lifespan actually makes this role a lot more interesting.  Game elements like cover, teamwork, and timing are even more important when you know that just one shotgun blast to the head will end your chance to attack.

Whether you are on the giving or receiving end of the Z smackdown, you are going to have a good time.  While the game is short, Valve has a solid track record of releasing additional free content, so here's hoping we see some of that in early 09

Beautiful Apocalypse

The Fallout universe is one of the richest and most loved of all PC settings. The previous Fallout games (Fallout 1 and 2 as well as spin-offs Fallout Tactics and Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel) established an engrossing world where post-nuclear America is populated by strange and hilarious pockets of civilization.  While most of the population of Earth was taken out in nuclear war and the ensuing fallout, some groups survived to make the most of civilization's remains.  There are, of course, some humans left, but there are also ghouls (humans who got a bit too much radiation), super-mutants (who you don't want to meet without bringing along a ton of firepower), deathclaws (genetically engineered lizards of destructions), and a number of other creatures.

A small number of humans managed to avoid the worst of the holocaust by entering vaults before the bombs first dropped. These vault-dwellers preserved some of the technology and order of the old world and it is in these vaults that you begin your adventure in Fallout 3.

You begin as a wee little tot who can do little more than crawl around and look at the world around you.  In looking around, if you've played Oblivion, you'll probably notice that Fallout 3 is built on the same engine.  While that engine is a couple years old, it has really aged pretty well and post-apocalypse America actually looks pretty good.

In the first hour, you will grow up and get down the game controls and interfaces.  Pretty soon, events will be in place that will bring you out of the vault.  Before you do though, you will get to do your initial character customizations including the stats, skills and perks that are part of what really makes this a Fallout game. 

In Fallout, like in many other games, you set your character up with some basic attributes like strength, endurance, luck, intelligence, and so on.  These stats form the basis for your character but are supplemented by specific skills such as small arms, bartering, science, or repair.  These pieces are all fun, but what really makes Fallout unique are the Perks you get to choose.  It's hard to really classify Perks other than to say they are power-ups that help you in a real variety of ways.  Previous Fallout games had traits that often mixed a bonus with a drawback that led to some tough tradeoffs but in Fallout 3, it's all positive. 

Perks are things like Mysterious Stranger, where a random guy in an overcoat will show up to help you out sometimes in battle.  Or the Bloody Mess perk, a Fallout favorite that means your kills will be even more gory than they used to be.  If you want something a little more practical, Perks like Quick Learner let you level up quicker, and Little Leaguer improves your hitting and throwing skills.

VATS, the turn based targeting system, is a fun Fallout staple

A Capital Setting

When you get out of the vault, you find yourself in the Washington, D.C., area though it's nothing like the metro/suburban spread we have today.  While you'll find some monuments and museums still there, all of the outer areas are turned to rubble with the exception of a few scattered factories, highways, and strange settlements. 

Familiar D.C. monuments are still around, just a little run down.

You've got some general guidance to try and follow after your father, but when and if you do so is completely up to you.  The main story is not too long and actually not terribly compelling, but the rest of the quests that you pick up on your own more than make up for it. 

These side quests are well thought out and often full of witty or random surprises.  For example, I was minding my own business exploring the wasteland and noticed on my radar a point of interest was a little ways off to the south.  I started heading in that direction and pretty soon saw a town in the distance.  Before I got there, though, I stumbled across a place called the AntAgonizer's Lair.  Not quite liking the sound of that, I continued on to the town to see what was going on. 

Rather than the tranquil scene I expected in this little one-street outpost, I saw a strange battle going on between a couple of robots and some giant ants.  They wreaked some havoc in the streets and then took off, leaving me to wonder just what was going on.  Talking to the townsfolk, it turns out that this strange duel has been going on for a while and is ruining the local economy.  Being the helpful guy I am, I decided to go back to this AntAgonizer's lair and see if I couldn't sort this problem out. 

After frying a number of the ants in the lair with my laser pistol, I came across the AntAgonizer herself.  She was willing to talk a bit but my speech skill was low and I ended up just ticking her off.  She called forth her minions and I called forth my combat shotgun and pretty soon there was nothing but 6-legged corpses in the room.  Grabbing what loot I could, I headed back to Canterbury Common, the town where this all started.  Thanks to my extermination, the town was returning to normal and I even had the option of financing some traders in return for a better trader selection.

The Perks and quests alone make for a great game, but what really brings it all together is the attention to detail and the fantastic world that is created.  From Nuka-Cola sodas to the Pip-Boy interfaces, Bethesda made great efforts to appease Fallout fanboys, but the game is open and inviting enough to suck in newcomers by the droves.  One of my coworkers isn't too hardcore of a gamer but after hearing me rave about it she decided to pick up Fallout 3.  I was a little scared she wasn't going to get into it, but it's now a morning ritual that we get into what adventures each of us had the previous night or weekend in this Washington wasteland.  People hearing just snippets of these conversations about killing mutants or getting addicted to Buffout probably think we're crazy, but the Fallout world really has a life of its own. 

This is a game to draw you in and without a doubt is the best single-player game I've played this year.

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