Impressions.

This weekend I had a chance to catch up with two new games on the Xbox 360, the alleged "real console". Saying that will make PS3 owners scoff, Wii owners laugh in their gazillions and PC owners head straight to their favourite forum to rat me out for the console loving luddite they expect me to be. Turning on the spot is over rated any case. Anyway, as we are in the midst of the winter of good games after the seemingly eternal summer of absolutely shit games I was anxious to try out two of the games I was particularly looking forward to.

Gears of War 2. DANGER DANGER! SPOILERS IF YOU COULDN'T GUESS THE GIST ANYWAY
Having enjoyed Gears of War after it came out and long after most Xbox 360 owners had changed their 20 second attention towards something else a little bit different (Does anyone even play Halo 3 anymore?) I was looking forward to the second one. I'd read a bit about it and Cliffy B spouting off about the story and it being, bigger and better etc. etc. The usual hype. My initial impressions are that calling it Gears of War "2" is a bit generous really. It should be called Gears of War "The corridor" or Gears of War 1.5.

The original Gears was good because it had the reloads and the cover system and a storyline that was less than an inch deep. But it didn't matter it was fun and co-op and generally okay and for those precious months that people were interested it was great to play online.

With Gears 2, they decided that players had too much freedom and the storyline was a bit too deep. So GoW2 has the lovable Fenix and co. travel through one large corridor from start to finish. You don't even need to know your objectives because you follow the one path you can take and inevitably it takes you to it. "Avoid the acid vomiting penises" is the objective and hey, look the next six minutes of the game is walking along a tight corridor lined with acid vomiting penises. Stop the Brumak from attacking the convoy drill thing and voila, you are stuck on a rooftop with nothing to do except shoot the Brumak who is bearing down on the convoy. And it goes on throughout the entire game. Alternative routes are cunningly cut off with such staple barriers as 'doors with metal planks over them' or 'shit loads of debris'. In fact there is more freedom to explore in Link's Crossbow training, that is how on rails this game might as well be.

I played it single player but maybe it is better in co-op because you get those pointless options to choose a left or right route. Take the right route to use the mortar to let the guys on the left route through. In one section you take the left route to turn off the automatic security guns on the right route. Why? Why do that at all? How about everyone takes the right route so we don't need to use the mortar at all or alternatively, everyone take the left route and just walks past the switches avoiding the stupid automatic security altogether? Criminally, once you choose which route you want the game plops you firmly on that side with a magical door blocking your route back should you want to change your mind. Generally, there's no backtracking either, doors cruelly close the second you walk past them or, in the worst examples there are steps which are a little too high for the unjumping marines to climb back over.

As for the storyline, which Cliff is so desperate for you to care about? It is as piss poor as even the stupidest of Gears fans could have written and uploaded to a fan fiction site. Shitloads of cliche and mm deep exposition, or as Marcus puts it in one section of engaging dialogue, "more like 10 shitloads". Every character who isn't one of the main characters dies from one cutscene to the next. At one point whilst searching heavily guarded "prison barges" the only two prisoners you find are one of the main characters from the first game and a secondary character who promptly dies. You start out with a whole army, by the third level theres five of you and by the end it's probably just Dom and Marcus left. And Cole who returns to "damn" and "shit" every four seconds after he appears. Maybe it is a testament to your skill as a player that lets your unit live whilst thousands of COGs die around you. Or maybe it's all scripted. One long scripted set piece corridor that occassionally forces you to stop to take in a set piece. TAKE IT IN, LOOK AT THE HELICOPTER OH THE HELICOPTER GOT SHOT RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU BY A HUGE MONSTER. LOOK AT THAT CONVOY DRILL THINGY OH NO IT EXPLODED RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU! Occasionally the corridor is blocked off so you have to stand around and shoot two waves of locust that happily run out in front of your fixed position like a shooting gallery. Then you get to do it again and again. Everything seems to happen at the exact rate it takes you to kill two waves of locust. Quick! Kill two waves of locust until Jack can open the door. Kill two waves of locust until Bobby pulls a lever. Kill two waves of locust until this door randomly unlocks. Kill two waves of locust until Dizzy fixes the truck. Kill two waves of locust until Epic decide to give you another cutscene. It should be a new SI unit.

However, Epic do seem to love Capcom almost as much as us! Remember the Leviathan level in Devil May Cry 3? Well so do Epic because they lovably replicated it all in GoW2 and they started doing files as well. I wouldn't be suprised if you find Brian Irons diary on one level. They even put Hunters in this one just in case you missed them from Resident Evil. I didn't play through to the end but I have no doubt that Viewtiful Joe and Frank West join your unit only to die at the next cutscene. Actually, thinking about it Carmine kinda looks like Viewtiful Joe...

Is it fun? Yeah totally but just don't try to claim it's innovative or god forbid you to try to speak of its story telling merits or that it is anything more than a no frills continuation of the first game. I just stopped caring half way through as you lurch down the corridor to another firefight in which you have to use cover to pick off two waves of enemies.

Left 4 Dead.
We have high expectations of this one and judging from ever trustworthy favourable internet coverage it should be something to look forward to. However, judging from watching a friend play the demo single player on the Xbox 360 it ain't all that. Not at all. Now I know some of you are going to have issues with me drawing conclusions from watching a friend play the demo single player on the Xbox 360 but I would have issues from people drawing their conclusions from playing the game at Valve with valve employees for three days straight.

What we were expecting: A game that finally cracked engaging co-op play a la Project Eden but with zombies. A FPS Resident Evil Outbreak that actually works. A new era of 4 player games that had you do more than play deathmatches against each other or heaven help you, capture the sodding flag.

What I saw: A very easy arcadey run n' gun that might as well have been a single player minigame. Each zombie takes about two shots to kill. You can just run straight past them, run and hold down fire, or you can just stand around and the AI buddies will take care of them. Occasionally a boomer or hunter or tank will turn up but holding down fire whilst aiming at their face does the trick.

Maybe it is because its a demo that it is so easy. Or maybe it's better on PC for no discernable reason. Some of you may even say that it's better in co-op and you shouldn't play it single player. But that's no excuse. A lot of games make the mistake of adding in co-op as an after thought. It's essentially two people playing through single player mode and the second character magically dissapears in the cut scenes. Left 4 Dead seems to do the opposite. It is so geared towards mulitplayer that one player just feels a bit souless. In fact based on the demo it looks like the full game could be done single player in about an hour and half. At one point my friend just stood around watching. The AI buddies were frantically shouting and screaming and firing and getting caught by boomers and saving each other. He got punched once by a zombie and the AI buddies took care of it half a second later. They do a good job at creating what looks to be panic but if you take the time to step back it is contrived.

We'll reserve final judgement like any good cop out would until we play the final release whereby we plan to make a weekend putting it through the paces but from the demo it seems that, like Gears 2, the hype is exactly that. Unwarranted excitement about games that aren't so much as breaking the mold as trying to copy capcom and failing. BADLY.

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