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Sunday, December 26, 2010

STALKER: Shadow of Chernobyl - LURK Mod

I'm a huge fan of Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl. I've played through it countless times but I have never done so with one of the full game overhaul mods that are out there. So the last time I decided to battle my way through the Zone I thought it was a good time to try a Mod as I did so.

The MOD I decided to use is one called LURK. It's put out by a group of people that post over on 4chan or at least they use to. I'm not sure if they still hang out on that board as I am a little late to the LURK party. I believe this was released in 2009 but it may be a little earlier than that. What I do know is I played the 1.1 release from June of 2010. After the very simple install process I was ready to see the Zone in a whole new way and I am really glad I did.

This Mod doesn't really change any of the core story to Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl (From here on just called Stalker) but it adds and takes away some things from the core game play. Once you've loaded the game and started you come to a new title screen with the LURK logo and all the usual options except multiplayer, that is gone and really who plays Stalker games for the multiplayer? I've never even tried it let alone spend any time with it. You start the game and see the usual cut scene of you being brought in to Sidorovich then you notice the changes.

All the textures have been changed and they look amazing. All the places in the Zone look like they're suppose to but they all look so much better than the core game does. Lighting effects are improved and really add to the whole atmosphere of this experience. Another thing done to help with immersion is the removal of the HUD. Gone are your life, brain and radiation meters. The mini map is gone as you have to rely on your PDA map to get around. The only thing that remains are some very small words letting you know your weapon stats, Rate of fire, ammo in the magazine and the surplus of ammo left. While knowing your current ammo is important they should of just done away with that and had a completely clean gameplay area. The other thing I really like is the improved weather effects. When it rains in the Zone it pours and when the sun goes down you can't see 5 feet in front of you. There was a time I was waiting for the sun to come up so I decided to run to a Stash right near the Stalker Village in the Cordon. On my way back I was jumped by a couple Boars and I had no idea where they came from and I couldn't see them until they were right on top of me it was really fun. The darkness also makes night missions way more interesting as you are in complete blackness except for a flashlight or the night vision if you've found a suit with it installed. The character models all look great, people and monsters alike all look way better than the core game. It may seem like here I'm just saying, "Hey this looks better, it's great!" But it's true the game flat out looks better and it still run all maxed out no problem on my system.

The overall biggest change to Stalker with LURK installed are the guns. First off the Mod adds a ton of new guns for you to use. While the base game had a good selection it felt a little light as you usually ended up with an AK of some kind and maybe a sniper rifle later in the game. With the weapon selection in this you have way more options. First off I used the AK as soon as I got my hands on one but soon I switched it up and started to play around with what else this offers. Guns behave more like they would in real life, recoil is crazy if you go full auto on a machine gun, the kick will have you looking into the sky and swaying all over the place if you hold down the trigger. When aiming you do not have a completely steady aim, it sways as you look down the sights or through a scope. The Mod creators said this is to add the "human element" to shooting as you will have sway when aiming a real gun and it's a cool addition. The guns in the base Stalker were not the most accurate, you could shoot someone pretty close and still miss completely. This has also been fixed and shooting from the hip works pretty well if you're in a close combat situation even without the crosshair. I was able to shoot people pretty easily from the hip and it best to do this in close quarters then try to iron sight. Near the end of my first playthrough of Stalker I was pretty much only using the G36 and it was the same thing in the Mod. As soon I was able to get one it was all I used until inside the Power Plant when I switched to the FN2000. So in the end I loved all the new guns but I ended up using what I always did and while it felt better to shoot it then in the base game I would of liked to find a new gun to depend on. But that's just me you're mileage with the the guns may change.

The other big change and apparently this is only with later versions of this Mod like the 1.1 I played are with the artifacts. In this Mod they are powerless, they do not give you the stat bonuses like they do in vanilla Stalker. I really, really liked this as you needed your own skill to survive and didn't depend on becoming a power house through the use of Artifacts. Now they're really vendor trash but they are worth a lot so it's still worth it to pick these up and take them back with you to sell. It brings the game more in line with the source material Roadside Picnic as I remember the artifacts not having any powers in the book but people still wanted them. Selling them is great because money has a bigger need in this Mod. You can repair weapons and armor, buy hotel rooms to pass time and all the vendors sell way more stuff then in vanilla.

I did have some problems while playing this but the biggest one was my own fault and I'll save that one for last. As you play the game can hitch up making it seem like it's going to crash. I can best describe this as being like lag in an online game, I'm going to guess it's the mod and the game's engine conflicting or something, I'm not sure but it's not a big deal. Speaking of crashes I did have a few. When I first played Stalker the game crashes twice the whole time through and that was with Windows Vista. This time I'm using Windows 7 and I had maybe about 3 or 4 crashes. Again not a big deal for a Modded game that was released before Vista was a thing but crashes are there so just quick save often.

(Slight Spoilers Ahead)The biggest issue I had was after fighting one of the Controllers. When a Controller attacks you the screen goes fuzzy and your vision goes all double. When this happened in Lab 16 I killed it and started to head back to the Bar. The double vision didn't go away but I figured this was due to the increase of difficulty in LURK, it would take longer for this effect to go away in real life I thought to myself. Well I made it back to Rostok and Duty opened fire. I didn't know why and with the double vision I had a hard time against them. After some research I found a patch for the 1.1 verison of LURK. I had downloaded the whole mod again thinking the patch was included in the zip file but I was wrong. One of the bugs the patch fixes is the endless Controller double vision. I installed the patch and the double vision went away. After that I went back to look at the path from X-16 to Rostok in my double vision daze I had killed some Duty guys, oops!

I mentioned the higher difficulty in the mod and yeah it's there. With all the guns being more accurate the NPCs are better shots and without the minimap to show you where they're all hiding you can get shoot from a good distance so you need to be careful and keep a good lookout. For me it added to the tension of being in the Zone but for some it may be overwhelming. If this sounds like something you may not be into play this at a lower difficulty. I didn't play on Master, I played on Veteran and until I had some good armor I was getting destroyed, with the proper armor and a good understanding of the shooting you can get through this game no problem. I think people play Stalker Mods like this one for the challenge so I'm going to assume anyone reading this isn't afraid of a challenge.

To end this, LURK is a fantastic total conversion of Stalker. Being the first one I've tried I have a lot of fun playing Stalker with this installed. I plan on trying out some of the other Stalker Mods out there namely Oblivion Lost which I've heard a lot of good things about but for now the main way I'll play through Stalker is with LURK installed.

I'm not going to assign a number score to LURK as it's a mod but if you own Stalker: Shadow of Chernobyl download LURK and try it out it's so good and make sure you have the patch.

Link to download LURK 1.1 and the patch.


Friday, December 24, 2010

100th Post! What to write about? (It's going to be La-Mulana)

What's La-Mulana? That's a question I found myself asking at the end of last year. I saw the first couple video's of a full play through on Youtube and instantly I was interested in playing the game myself before I continued to view the rest of the play through. I downloaded the game and the needed English language patch and I was ready to dive in. Fast forward about a year and I finally finished La-Mulana, I did everything. Found all the collectibles, all items and earlier this very night I beat the ridiculously difficult Hell Temple.

La-Mulana was released for the PC in 2005 developed by the then known as Gr3 Project who I believe go by the name Nigoro. La-Mulana was created to be a tribute to the mainly Japanese MSX computer system and especially the game Maze of Galious. The MSX came out in 1983 and didn't really catch on outside of Japan. Konami was a big supporter of the MSX releasing many of their most famous franchises on the system. Metal Gear, Castlevania, Gradius, the list goes on and on. La-Mulana is a throwback to that time in gaming, a time when games didn't hold your hand and you had to have the skill and the know how to figure out the puzzles in the game you're trying to finish.

You play as Lemeza Kosugi and Archeologist out to one up his father by getting to the treasure of the ancient city of La-Mulana. You arrive at a small village on the outskirts of the ruins and as you enter the madness starts. The play style is similar to a Castlevania game, as Lemeza uses a whip with various subweapons. He also behaves a lot like Simon Belmont as he suffers from the infamous Castlevania/Ninja Gaiden jump back when he gets hit. And yeah it's as frustrating in this game as it was in the other's I mentioned. It also has the feel of Metroid or the many Metroidvanias out there, you hunt items to get to places in zones you couldn't get to before.

From a mechanic standpoint La-Mulana is a well made game. The controls are tight and feel great with the way this game is made. The one thing that's a pain to deal with is the grapple claw item which let's you wall jump. That can be tricky at times but once you master it you can pull it off no problem.

The graphics aren't the best I've ever seen but with GR3 wanting the game to look like a MSX game they did an amazing job of making it look like that. I like the overall look of the game and it's great to play a game that leaves something to your imagination in the age of graphics of substance that we live in now.

But the one area La-Mulana excels at is the music! The music in this game is AMAZING! Every song is memorable, I find myself humming some random song from this game almost all the time. I downloaded the sound track and I listen to it any chance I get. I'm even listening to it as I write this, it's so good. The only music I grew tired of was the Hell Temple music and that's probably because Hell Temple was agony and the music was just bothering me after awhile. The core game took me 24 in game hours to finish and that entire time I wanted to hear every song as often as I could. I may be going on and on about this but I can't stress enough how good the music is in this game.

Speaking of the Hell Temple, this game is very hard. Some of the puzzles are very devious and you'll pull out some hairs trying to figure out what to do. Added to that at the beginning of the game Lemeza is very fragile and a few hits can kill you. As you power up death is really only an option against bosses but some of them are brutal to fight and can take multiple tries to get by. A saving grace in the ruins are the monuments or gravestones. Every solution is on a monument somewhere in the ruins, they're not always in the same zone as the puzzle and you may find some solutions way before you even encounter the puzzle so you absolutely need to pay attention or use a walkthrough. I can level with you here and say I eventually caved in and started using a walkthrough. Some parts of this game are insane to figure out and I would love to meet someone who made it through this one without some sort of a hint guide or anything like that. Even with the guide the game is still a ton of fun as the story and such are interesting and the game is just plain fun to play, that is until Hell Temple.

Hell Temple is the extra zone at the end of the game. After you have everything you can unlock Hell Temple and try to get through it. Hell Temple is one of the most difficult things I've ever done in a game ever. I made it a good way in without help but I eventually had to consult the La-Mulana Wiki and watch some videos on Youtube to help get through it. But when I did I felt a great sense of accomplishment and I was glad I took that challenge but it's something I will never do again, even if I replay La-Mulana the Hell Temple can stay locked up and it's treasures can stay hidden.

Right now La-Mulana is a freeware PC game but sometime next year it's suppose to be coming out on Wiiware. The graphics have been improved greatly and the game looks amazing. They are having to remove the MSX references due to copywrites and all that jazz. It looks like they're adding in substitute ROMS to replace all the MSX games you find in the ruins but we'll see how that works. I've heard they're going so far to make Hell Temple even harder than the current games version of it and that's not what I want to hear but I say bring it on! It's been confirmed that Hell Temple will not be in the base game download due to Nintendo's Wiiware game size limitation but it will be released as free DLC I think the day the game comes out or shortly after it's released.

Either way La-Mulana is a game that should be played by anyone who enjoys old school 2D games. If you download the PC version or wait for the Wiiware version you should seriously play it.

La-Mulana - 10 out 10

Link to the La-Mulana wiki, you can find information about the game and where to download it.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Super Meat Boy

Another game I've been spending a lot of time with recently is the PC release of Super Meat Boy. Let me tell you this right now, this game is AMAZING! I've played a lot of newer 2D platformers in the last few years and I don't think anyone has nailed the feeling of them like Team Meat in this game.

I had played the original Meat Boy over on Newgrounds and was eagerly awaiting the release of Super Meat Boy.

You can play the original Meat Boy here...


Anyway what makes Super Meat Boy so good? It's pretty much everything it does, first off the controls. The game has some of the tightest controls I've felt in a game for a long time, especially a PC 2D platformer. I started out using my keyboard completely ignoring the game straight up telling me to use a controller. After getting my ass handed to me I dug out my wired 360 controller and was back to playing in no time. Even with the crap 360 D-pad this game controls flawlessly. Meat Boy does exactly what you want him to when you want him to do it. It feels great when you jump and weave your way through a particularly tough section only to survive and move on to the next level. There isn't ever a time when you're fighting with the controls, I can't stress this enough, they're great.

The game looks and sounds good as well. The graphics are nice 2D and the cutscenes are done in what I call the Flash Cartoon format. They also do a lot of shout outs to old games. The intros to each chapter are taken from old school games and it's really cool when you notice and remember the game they're imitating.

Super Meat Boy also has some of the best music I've heard in a long time. I'd consider it up there with Cave Story in how good the music is. I still think Cave Story has this game beat in great music but SMB is a close second. I really like that the music doesn't restart when you die it just keeps on going. With many hard games it can be annoying when the music restarts when you die, even to a point of grating on you.

The main thing Super Meat Boy has going both for and against it is the difficulty. This game is crazy hard! It hates you and everything you stand for. Super Meat Boy wants you to suffer, it will never be nice to you, it would kill your pets if it could and laugh about all of it. Now this will turn some people off but if you're like me and hate seeing games hold your hand then this is the game for you. I still haven't finished it but I keep plugging away at it making a little progress each time I play. Another thing about death in SMB is that when you die you are almost instantly back to try again, there is a slight moment before you respawn but it's so short it's never an issue. When you're in a warp zone on the other hand there is a wait as it shows a screen with your lives and you have to wait a bit before trying again. Think of it like the original Super Mario Brothers, but it only happens in the hidden Warp Zone levels and Glitch levels, not in the main game.

SMB offers around 300 levels to try and get through. The main path, darkside versions of those levels which offer more of a challenge, and hidden Warp Zones. The Warp Zones can be throwbacks to old school games, either looking like an Atari 2600 or a Game Boy among other graphical looks. Warp Zones can also offer other characters to play as. Team Meat reached out to their Indie dev friends to bring in all kinds of characters from other games. The 360 and PC version share some of the same characters but they each have a different set of Bandage characters, these are characters you unlock as you collect the often difficult to grab bandages in the levels. The only character from the 360 version I would of liked to see in the PC version is the guy from Spelunky as I'm a huge fan of that game but with Spelunky coming out on the XBLA it makes since he's in that version.

I want to also mention the support for this game. When SMB came out on the PC it has some bugs on release. I only saw the crash on exit bug but some people couldn't even play the game. Team Meat has done an amazing job of patching this game in the short amount of time it's been out. From what I understand it's just one dude doing all the code and they're churning out patches like mad. Most major developers take ages to patch a game and these guys are on it all the time. I commend Team Meat for this and even with the buggy (for some) release of SMB they have earned my money for anything they put out! Huzzah! To them!

At the time of this writing I have not finished SMB as I'm stuck on World 4 and it's really kicking my butt. But I can safely say this game is really high up there for being my game of the year and in a year of a lot of disappointing releases it's awesome to see this one come out and rise to the top.

Super Meat Boy - 10 out 10, Play it! Even if you just play the demo everyone needs to try it out. See how two guys can make a game that's better than most big studios.

One Chance

One Chance is a flash game that recently came out on Newgrounds. It's getting a lot of buzz on the various gaming sites so I decided to give it a try.

You should probably play it before you read on. I'm giving any real spoilers but this is a game that should be played fresh. It only takes about 10 minutes.


In One Chance, you're a scientist who has just recently helped cure cancer. What you find out very early in the game is that same sure has turned into a deadly airborne virus and in 6 days everyone on the Earth will be dead. In the final six days of living you have various choices to make on how you will spend that time.

The main gimmick here is the game only lets you play it one time. I've seen a few flash games that are trying this technique and it's extremely interesting. Games where your choices matter and you can't go back and change what you've done. This was seen in Heavy Rain earlier this year where if a character in that game dies the story just continues with said person dead, no quick loads to bring them back. I really like this mechanic and would like to see it worked into more games. You can play again if you go in and delete your flash cookies but not everyone knows how to do that and it defeats the purpose of playing a one playthrough type of game.

But with One Chance the atmosphere is really well done. I loved the music that plays during the game and it fits with the changing environment as you progress in the final days. Some of the choices presented to you are difficult to choose between as you have no idea how they will effect the future.

I don't want to go on anymore as I'd hate to let something slip and ruin it for anyone. But definitely check it out, it will only take about 10 minutes.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Kane and Lynch 2: Dogs Days

I have finally played Kane and Lynch 2 and I have some things to say about it. Eagerly awaiting it's release I ended up not picking it up when it was released at the end of the summer. I was in the middle of other stuff and it had to wait. With the Thanksgiving sale on Steam it was only 5 bucks and I decided to finally grab it and give it a go. I was in the minority and thought the first Kane and Lynch was a flawed gem of a game. While the gameplay wasn't the best the story and characters were fantastic, with Kane and Lynch being two of my favorite characters ever. What did I think of the sequel? Read on to find out!

In this installment in the Kane and Lynch saga you're playing as Lynch who after the events of the first game is living in Shanghai and he's found himself a new lady love. Apparently Lynch is still up to his old tricks running with a crew and doing bad things. Tasked with smuggling some weapons he calls up Kane to come and help. From what the game says they haven't really spoken since the events of the first game but Kane comes anyway to do one last job and finally retire from a life of crime. Let's just say this doesn't really work out for them and a bunch of stuff goes sour which leads them through 48 hours of hell in the city of Shanghai.

Like the first game Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days is a cover based third person shooter. You hide behind cover and shoot at guys as you make your way through various areas around the city. The first noticeable difference from the first game is the aiming is improved. It's still not on par with other shooters but it feels a lot better this time around. There are still accuracy issues with a lot of the guns just not hitting anything when you fire at something. The aiming reticule does this shrinking thing when you hold your aim a bit letting me think your next shot will be more accurate but you still miss half the time. When you get rifles later in the game it's better but it can be a pain when you need to take people out from range.

The squad mechanics of the first game are gone from this one. You always have Kane with you but you cannot command him to do anything. He will fight beside you and get downed on occasion but he will get back up on his own. If you go down you have the option to hit a button and jump back up into near by cover to regenerate your health. The AI for Kane is decent and he will actually help you kill people which is good as in many of these games the AI never helps.

The visual style of this game is amazing. It's done as though you are behind Lynch filming what they're doing. You get light artifacts and sound glitches as you you hit and from large explosions. One part in particular near the beginning of the game has the camera just take a dump and go crazy after a large explosion, I would of liked to see more stuff on this scale in the rest of the game but it never happens to that level again. Even in cut scenes the camera is always in a position as though someone is holding it and it's always well done. The hold handy cam footage gives the game a dirtier feel to it. It's make the already grim stuff you do feel even more grim, making it seem like you're watching some internet death video. They use mosaic to edit out some of the more brutal stuff, headshots get the mosaic effect as does any genitalia that happens to be shown. But the most gruesome part of the game is not censored and this game earns it's M rating.

A major complaint I've heard is about the length and I see why. Three hours, yeah three hours. It took me three hours to finish Kane and Lynch 2. SO right of the bat it's WAY to short! I didn't play it on the Extreme difficulty as I was so interested in seeing what happened I decided I just wanted to get through the game and I did exactly that. I blazed through it in the aforementioned three hours. I have gone back to play it on Extreme and the game is just down right cheap on that level. Enemies can head shot you from no where and they take to many shots to kill. Being with the inaccurate guns it's just a pain to try and get through it. It seems it's balanced for the online co-op the game has not balanced to be soloed.

Speaking of online this game does have online co-op unlike the first game. Fragile Alliance also makes a return. In Fragile Alliance you play on a team of criminals trying to get away with a heist. After you loot the cash you can then decide if you want to turn on each other or still fight as a team. This also includes an Arcade Mode which is basically Fragile Alliance as a single player game with bots. What I do like is the money and rank carries over so you can build up some cash solo then go online and not have to be outgunned because you can't afford to buy the guns as this has a Counter Strike like weapon upgrade system where each round you can buy more guns with the stolen cash. I've only played a little of the Arcade Mode and it's fun but i have yet to try the online modes.

In the end Kane and Lynch 2 is fun but it's really too short. The story isn't the greatest thing ever. It has some nice moments that remind you just how messed these guys lives are and the basic interaction between Kane and Lynch is great. As flawed as they are they are truly two great characters with terrific voice actors. I'm going to kind of blame the weak story on the fact this game focuses on Lynch instead of Kane. After the first game I just see Lynch as a good supporting character not the lead guy. But I do understand that the first game was Kane's story and this one is Lynch's but it had problems. I hope if they do a part three they go back to focusing on Kane and just let Lynch be his crazy self in supporting role.

If the first game had looked and played like this one I think IO would of had a big hit on their hands not just a cult hit. Story wise the first game is way better and mechanically the second game blows it away. I will play any other Kane and Lynch games but we'll see what the future holds for these two dudes.

Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days - 6 out of 10

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Where have I been? Blog Updates and such..

So it's been awhile since I've done a proper amount of updates. I had a few updates through out the months of October and November and only one review in that time. Well, two if you count the Fallout: New Vegas thing. So where have I been? What have I been doing?

To start things of lately I've been playing Fallout: New Vegas. About a month after the game came out it was patched on the PC to fix the performance issues so the game is actually playable now. I've put about 40 hours into it in the last couple weeks so most of my time has been put into that game trying to get it finished. But after around 40 hours in the game I have not been in Vegas yet. I've been around the wall that surrounds the city but not inside.

The last couple days I've been taking a break from that and I've been playing Super Meat Boy. I'm not done with it yet but I can safely say the game is amazing! It's one of the best platformers I've ever played.

While I was waiting for the New Vegas fix I put a fair amount of time into Vindictus and Minecraft.

As far as this blog in concerned I'm going to try and get back to updating everyday, even if it is only one article I will be doing daily updates no matter what.

So look for more content soon and I am also hoping to start adding in video updates as well. While I do enjoy writing about the stuff I've been playing sometimes I feel like I need to just kind of rant about them be it in a good or bad way. This sometimes I think needs to be done by me talking about so I'm planing to start video updates in the future.

That's it for now and look for more stuff in the future.