Late to the party: Gears of War 2

I don't have enough money to play all the games I want, due to having to eat food. I also like to have a roof over my head, and somewhere to plug in my PC and consoles. So I don't always get to play games when they come out. Which is why I am going to write a semi-regular feature called "Late to the party". As you probably already understood. Note, I do not promise I will write more of these, but I will try my best!

Anyway, I am starting off with a game I beat earlier today. Gears of War 2. And just to be clear, there will be blood spoilers.

Gears of War 2

Shoot everything!

I remember playing Gears of War when it first came out. I loved it, and I couldn't wait for more. I only played it for a few weeks after it came out, with some occasional co-op playing with my brothers the months after. Played one multiplayer deathmatch game or whatever, never touched that again. Not a fan of competitive multiplayer to be honest. And yet, when Gears of War 2 came out, I just couldn't muster the will to buy it. I can't recall what it was, maybe I had a lot of other games to play. But for some reason I did not buy it. Then it kinda felt silly to buy it a year later.

So when I watched the QL for Gears 3 last week my interest got rekindled. I promised myself that I would buy it if I found it for under 150 NOK. Luck will have it I found it for 100 NOK the next day. And so here I am., writing a blog about beating it. And I liked it.

As I said, I loved the first one. The feel of the combat, the grittiness, the blood and the feeling of "this is not going to end well". It all came back to me during my first hour with Gears 2. Let me break down a bit what I thought of it.

The graphics

Still looking damned good!

Still looking good. The Unreal engine has it's own style in Epic games, and it really shines in this game. The architecture is great, Seran and Locust both. And if I am not mistaken there are a lot more nature in Gears 2 than there was in Gears 1. Vast areas with epic skyboxes. The caves are also everything from claustrophobic to grand caverns so large you cannot see the walls. I also still think the character models and facial animations are pretty good, at least they suit the voices of the main characters. You don't really need your heroes to be pretty looking to put it that way.

The sounds

While not as iconic as the Halo soundtrack, it still has its moments. I am trying to recall some of the music right now, and all I can hear is the "all enemies cleared" sound cue. I'm not saying the music is bad, far from it, but it is obviously not as memorable as other soundtracks, to me at least. The other sounds of the game however... man. The screams and curses of the Locust especially are really easy to remember. Weapons has the right amount of power behind them, and I really learned to fear the Tickers.

The story

You meet this lump of joy along the way.

I like the story. I had not read up on what happened in Gears 2 before playing it, but I knew a few things. I knew what happened to Maria, I knew there would be a third enemy (thanks to watching the Gears 3 QL) but that was about it. I am intrigued to see where things are going, what the deal was with the Sires, and why the hell the Queen is more or less human. I am happy to hear that Gears 3 offer closure in a good way, so I guess most of those questions will be answered eventually. But back to Gears 2. The story is as depressing as the first one, with humanity at the brink of annihilation. There is something I like about having a bunch of gruff heroes doing whatever they can to save humanity, even when doing so means sinking their final city into the earth. But hey, I am a sucker for drama.

The gameplay

Run over there, shoot some things. Run over here, shoot some more. You could probably sum up the gameplay this way. But man, you do some crazy shit along the way! I was expecting to drive some kind of vehicle, that is more or less required of any third-person shooter it seems. But semi-flying a Reaver? Piloting a Brumak? Riding an elevator sideways in a fallen-over building? Man, it's crazy!

The blood

Oh my...

I feel this need its own section. The blood and guts in Gears 2 is great. Sticking a Boomer with a Torque arrow in the gut, blowing him open to reveal his organs... brilliant. The few locations where I managed to blow up five or six Locust at the same time with a grenade was also damned satisfying. Limbs and guts raining around you while you roadie-run over to the next piece of cover. Just over the top enough to be kinda ridiculous, yet realistic enough to be kinda gross. Perfect balance anyway.

Overall

I kinda regret playing it now, as I really want to play Gears 3 right away. I enjoyed my run of it immensely, and I can recommend people to play through 1 and 2 before tackling 3. I played it on medium I guess, which means I didn't have much trouble with it. It all depends on what you want out of the game. Do you just want to get through it fast, mowing down Locust as you go? Go with easy. Do you want the feel of being vulnerable, having to use every piece of cover there is in order to survive? Go with harder difficulty. But that is always how difficulty work, why am I even writing this?

My point is, Gears of War 2 is still a great game. Huh, guess I could just have written that...

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Now you see me, now you don't. Now you are dead.

What does your play style tell about you?

This is an image of my usual character in games.

I am currently playing through a wonderful game called Deus Ex: Human Revolution. In this game you get the choice of how you want to play. You can be a human bullet dispenser, filling every moving thing with lead. Or you can stick to the shadows, acting like the ghost of a ninja. I am opting for the way I usually play games that give me this choice; being the stealthiest guy ever lived. In this game I am allowed to go to the utmost extreme of that style of playing, as I have gone through entire sections of the game without even harming an enemy. It was like I was never there.

Why do I always play like that? I was pretty sure I knew the answer, but when I really thought about it I realized it was deeper than I though. The obvious answer is of course "because it is badass to play that way". Come on, being a stealthy ghost of a character means I essentially play the part of Batman. Hiding in the shadows, striking fear in the heart of my enemy. Or just bypassing the enemy totally, never letting them know you are there. That saves bullets and ensures you live to fight another day. Or something like that. While these are valid reasons why I would play as a stealthy ninja-assassin in most games, I have one main reason not mentioned.

Boo!

I hate jump scares. Yes, that is the sole reason why I play games the stealthy way when I get the option to. Sounds weird, right? But it makes sense. I am easily startled, and I hate that. Because of this I usually try to steer clear of everything with jump scares. Movies are fine now and then, but games are bad. Probably has something to do with the fact that when I am startled by a jump scare in a game, it usually leads to me dying due to those split seconds of being paralysed with fright.

This meant I needed a weapon against the hated jump scare. And I found that when playing the first Thief. In that game you play as a super stealthy master thief called Garrett. You can attack with your short sword, but Garrett isn't much of a fighter. Which means you must sneak around mansions and other locations, staying out of sight of the guards that want nothing more than bash your skull in. While the game has plenty of dark corridors, freaky sounds and scary locations I quickly realised that being unseen removed a lot of the stupid jump scares. If anything I was the one inflicting jump scares on the guards in the game when I suddenly whacked them in the head with myblackjack.

I also quickly realised I could bring this over into other games. I started moving about crouched, peeking around corners and generally trying to stay hidden. This worked better in some games than others of course, but I wasn't startled as often as I once was.

This man knows how to stay hidden.

When I played games like Morrowind, Deus Ex (the original) and even the first Fallouts I was in my element. I slowly but surely moved towards being a master of the stealthy arts, having one singular goal: Never being surprised by the enemy. Years of playing like this has now made me almost unable to play these kinds of games any other way. No matter what I do I drift towards being stealthy.

One good example is my second playthrough of Fallout 3. I ended my first run of the game as a sniping ghost, never letting the enemy get close enough to see what my shirt said (this fictional shirt said "If you can read this you are already dead"). So I decided that I would play as a martial arts master, dabbling in the occasional minigun the second time. After about 20 hours in I realised I had turned into a stealthy ghost sniping people in the head, occasionally hitting them in the back with my fist instead. Which wasn't that far away from how I played it the first time.

So for me my irrational fear of jump scares has put a large impact on how I play games. And this has essentially made it hard for me to play certain kinds of games. Now, do you have a go-to style of playing a game? What is your reason behind that style, if you have one?

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The Death of a Beard

The past seven years my face has been adorned by various stages of facial hair. I have liked it, and want to have a big nice beard with streaks of gray. But maintaining and shaping a beard you have just let grow can be a pain in the ass, so I have had in mind of shaving it off to start from scratch for a while now. And when my girlfriend of four years decides she needs a break, and ends up moving out, I feel the need to change. Just to do something I normally wouldn't. So yesterday I shaved it all off. Not content with that I tried different styles as I removed it.

I make this blog because I know there are beard-people here. And to show how different you can look when the facial hair is or isn't there. It is strange for me as well, as I cannot recognize the person I see in the mirror. I am 24 now, and have of course aged and matured after I started the growth of facial hair. Thus the face I now see is more of an adult, than the teenager I was when I last looked at my clean-shaven self.

Anyway, here are the images. Enjoy.

(I just cannot seem to get the hang of adding images with the editor, so here is a link to the gallery. Some of the images are in the wrong order, but you get the idea)

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I've got Balls of Steel (edition)!

Yeah... I had kinda forgotten that I ordered this, so I let out a little groan when I read the mail from Play.com which said "Your order has been shipped!"

I was stoked back when it was announced, but the amount of flak the game got (and trying the demo myself) kinda changed that. But hell, I guess owning this little piece of videogaming history is somewhat fun. Since I live in little old Norway, I didn't get the package until today.

Here you got from left to right:

  • Mini-cards, chips and dice. The cards are small, no special characters or art as far as I can tell.
  • Artbook cover.
  • Artbook page. The book seems to be the usual "how we made this", which can be interesting to read, as they go all the way back to when they started this 12 years ago.
  • Comic cover.
  • Random page of the comic. Was totally fine, nothing special. Just more of the Duke.
  • Some kinda cool postcards and a sticker.
  • The weirdest thing in the bunch, a papercraft Duke Nukem. I love papercraft, so I'll probably make this one some day. Should finish my real-sized Combat Shotgun first though...
  • And the best thing in the pack, the Duke Bust. It is pretty good actually, and it will fit in with the rest of my Special Edition Game Crap. Damn, I'm a sucker for these things it seems.

So yeah, there you have it. The pack also contained the game of course, which I installed and played some of. The loading times are really fast on PC, and the game is actually a lot more enjoyable than the demo so far. Not that far into it, just past the first shrunken driving section. Not going to bother to post a review once I am done with it, as everyone in the world have done so already, but so far I think it has been getting a bit more flak than it deserved. Hell, I even think some of the jokes have been funny.

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A vicious cycle.

I remember when I was young, when the only source of PC-gaming I had was the family computer. It had about 100 Mb or space or whatever, and the only games actually on it was Doom 2, Chips Challenge and Secret Agent. But I played those game for months. Then my dad started buying gaming magazines. I can't remember if it was PC Gamer or some other magazine, but it was the one where the demo discs eventually turned into 3D basements where you browsed the demoes and videos. Despite only being demos, I played them for hours. Until the next magazine came out a month after.

Eventually I started to know of more about games, and I wanted to play full games. Birthday money, allowance and money from odd jobs for neighbours. Suddenly I found another use for it than candy. But I still only got a game now and then. Our family PC kept getting upgrades, or switched out with a newer model altogether. Thus I always had space for games. I also had time to really play games. I must have played the original GTA for hundreds of hours, and I most likely did every mission in that game at least once.

But this has changed now, and I don't know when the change happened. I realized today that I have to start finishing games I have installed because my hard-drive is more or less full. That is the 200 Gb hard-drive I have solely for games. My first thought was "Damn, where did all that space go?" But more important, when the hell did I stop having time to beat games? It's not like I don't have time to play games. I play a lot of games all the time, yet there are so many games I haven't finished. So I thought "I have to start finishing these games so I can delete them."

I now need to finish games to make space for more games. Great.

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Seems Hitman 5 is more or less confirmed now, coming to E3.

The past few weeks have been busy for the hardcore Hitman fans who frequent hitmanforums.com. On the 25th of February a forumite started a thread about a possible ARG. Turns out he was right. There where not many stages in this ARG, and I personally think it was kinda weak compared to some of the bigger ones out there, but we got a few cool pictures out of it. The best is definitely the last one, which most likely is a shot from the game. 
The ARG can be read here, and for those who are really impatient: Here is the final image
 
As well as the image from the game, a date came up. So it seems we can look forward to seeing Hitman 5 at the next E3.

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My musical life

I was an awkward kid, always trying to fit in at school. When music became a thing, I listened to the popular shit. The "I'm Blue yabba something something" and whatnot. Those songs where my first introduction to the world of music, and it quickly dawned on me how much it sucked. Put later that year, I was introduced to Red Hot Chilli Peppers. The album "Californication" had just released, and a friend of mine brought it to school. He put it on between two classes, and I was hooked instantly. I went to buy the album the next opportunity I had. 
 
I still had my slips into the world of shitty pop-music, mostly trying to fit in. But as the years went by, I realised that was silly. Why listen to bad and inferior music, when I could listen to great music instead? More albums by RHCP was aquired, and I was introduced to Metallica. I had previously thought I would not like heavy music, but the more I listened to it, the more I realised how intricate and technically good it was. Metal wasn't just someone hammering on their instruments, it was actually good music! But I still limited myself to few bands, RHCP and Metallica being my main source of music. Then I was introduced to Tool. Boy, had I been missing out. 
 
As a teenager, up to the age of about 17, I was a metal head. Everything else sucked. I was a stupid teenager. Eventually it dawned on me that music didn't have to be classified as heavy to be good. From the age of 18 to my now ripe age of 23 I have matured a lot when it comes to knowing what I like. Tool is still my favorite band, but with so much good music out there, I cannot limit myself to one genre. 
 
Starting up my "Favorite music" list on Spotify made me think of this blog. On this list you find Muse, Ennio Morricone, Jesper Kyd, Black Sabbath, Fanfare Vagabontu, Queen, Dire Straits, David Bowie, Simon and Garfunkel, Kaizers Orcherstra, The Ink Spots, Dream Theater, Nick Cave, Metric, Opeth,  Tori Amos, Cat Power and much more. I think a red thread thoughout my taste in music are either stand-out vocals, great lyrics or excellent knowledge of the instruments played. My taste has become very specific, yet very broad.  
 
It is weird thinking back to when I was a kid, sitting in my room listening to "All Around the World" on my inexpensive stereo. It was all so new back then. But even though I have heard enough great music to not be surprised as much, I still find gems that can bring a chill up my spine, or a tear in my eye. Those moments are cherished. And at those moments I am glad I am not one of the sheep who follow blindly the popular music, going from one forgettable song to the next, never experiencing the joy of something made out of love instead of love for money. 
 
Instead of posting a lot of recommended music to listen to, I'll just post my favorite Spotify list. Sorry for you who cannot use Spotify. 
Also, all of this blog is merely my opinion. If you disagree with my taste in music, then don't even bother to write that down. I don't care. What I would like to see though are your own musical life. Has it changed dramatically from the first songs you actively listened to? Did you go through phases you now look back at with shame? Do you still listen to crap like Spice Girls?

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Dead Space 2, and why I am most likely never going to play it.

I'm a wuss. There. I am unable to play scary games. Whenever I try to play something scary, anything where unexpected enemies can pop out if the woodwork any second, where I can suddenly die horribly because of one wrong step in a pitch black room... I just can't handle it. I shut off Doom 3 fifteen minutes in (thank God it was my dad who bought it for himself), I have trouble crawling into dark buildings in Stalker. I even have problems playing parts of Half-Life 2. I only played through Episode One twice (even though I found it to be excellent) solely because of the zombine parts.  
 
But I so want to play Dead Space! Everything about it appeals to me. A freaky story, great monsters, satisfying combat. Hell, the Dead Space games are one of the few games I have seen that don't take your death lightly. I have seen videos with various ways to die, and they affect you. Seeing Isaac struggling for his life as he is being pulled into a hole by a tentacle... it's disturbing due to his flailing about, his pained screams and grunts. In other games you just die and start over, in these game you die
 
I know the only way to "get better" at playing games like this is just to jump in there and suck it up. But man, I hate jump scares. I hate them. 
I'm also sure I am not the only one like this, not being able to play a perfectly awesome game because of silly personal "problems". And if you was like this but got better, how did you do it? Did you start with a less scary game, then ramped it up? Or did you just jump into the scariest shit you could find and played till your head hurt from banging it into the ceiling?

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Darksiders... you gotta go darker!

Been playing two hours of Darksiders on my PC, after getting it during the sale. It is awesome, but that is not why I am typing this. The reason is this: every time I blow the horn "Earthcaller" I get the feeling War is only dreaming... 
At the 7 minute mark here you can hear the Earthcaller. 
While you can hear the sound I am thinking of here
 
This makes the game a lot deeper, and more meaningful. GOTY 2010.

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