Keith's Crappy Videogame Blog


Day of the Zombie (PC, 2009, Canada): Irresistably Awful
November 22, 2012, 10:02 pm
Filed under: Day of the Zombie (PC, 2009, Canada)

If this alluring dog actually made a blip on your radar when it suddenly “appeared” on the market sometime around 2009, you probably know the story surrounding the development of “Day of the Zombie” (the cool kids call it DOTZ, btw.) On the other hand, if DOTZ is a complete mystery to you, that’s probably not a bad thing; consider yourself blessed and move along. For those who are determined to be damned though, I’ll fictionalize the backstory here a bit just because it’s my blog and I can do what I want, damnit.

Starving Canadian developers Brainbox, having spent all of their lunch money licensing the Unreal 2.0 engine, was busily creating the next-greatest-zombie-shooter-of-all-time in 2004 for publisher Groove Games. Then, probably, some animation dude (while on the street panhandling for food) saw the infamous American weirdo George Romero shooting the third installment in his zombie-opus “Land of the Dead” (I mean right down the street maybe even).  Hell, Dennis Hopper was possibly just sitting there on the corner drinking a Kaluha and coffee, eh? Coolest thing ever!

A quick brraaiinzz(!)storming session was called (clever? no? ok…), and the gaunt Brainbox folks determined that their little endeavor could get much more commercial traction if it were tied to a major motion picture. So, they rang up Georgie to inquire about a tie-in. The old geezer said: “I like you young whippersnappers and yer game, but it really doesn’t have anything to do with our movie as far as the story goes.” Brainbox quickly said they could fix that problem by dumping their existing game wholesale (which had only been in development for four months at that point) and starting fresh with the same assets, restructuring it to fit better with the flick (as long as someone would buy them a pizza or something). A deal was struck, a new game was made, the PC and XBOX title “Land of the Dead: Road to Fiddler’s Green” (the cool kids call it LOTD, man) was released alongside Romero’s film in 2005, and history was made. A history that looked and smelled like a massive shitpile. Yay. Don’t know what I mean? Read my discussion of “Fiddler’s Green” here on this blog. Actually no! It’s better to play the game for yourself, a unique experience. Trust me.

Here’s where the fiction gets deep: Probably (you like that?) in the aftermath of LOTD, everyone was bereft (really not difficult to imagine). There were multiple firings left and right, many fingers were pointed, and developers and publishers raised half-folded newspapers to their faces and dodged flashbulbs as they made their way to some safe haven. (Let’s face it: If you love, or even half-admire, a game like “Fiddler’s Green” [like I do] you are an admitted loser to the nth degree. Don’t even bother protesting.) Although Brainbox eventually morphs into Digital Extremes over the years, everything quickly goes dark, offices are vacated, and spiders begin spinning their webs in the dusty quiet. The years creep by, disenchanted consumers have sought therapy while offloading their used (more like half-destroyed) copies of “Fiddler’s Green” on Amazon marketplace, developers have carefully excised any information regarding the debacle from their resumes, and everyone has gotten on with their lives (not counting the handful of resulting suicides).

But then, fast-forward four years. Some leftover Groove Games executive finds a rusty hard drive somewhere in moth-eaten shoebox as he was (probably) spring cleaning his self-storage unit. “What the hell is that?” he asks. After connecting it and digging around…what ho! He finds the once-thought-forever-lost original Brainbox game that was being made BEFORE the tie-in deal! The executive (being an executive) immediately thinks: “There are suckers out there who would pay for this. And I bet they all live in eastern Europe. I just need to get someone to finish it…” What an opportunistic jerk that guy is. I swear, I have always hated that guy.

So, finally, in 2009 (or whenever it actually appeared), the question no one in the world was asking is finally answered: What would it be like to play that original game that Brainbox was working on? This is your lucky, lucky day, friend! The name of the game is “Day of the Zombie” (again DOTZ if you are in-the-know), the inspiration for the LOTD crap-classic that came before it.

Well, except that you can’t play DOTZ, legally anyway, since this suckfest was so bad that this scheister Groove Games exec knew better than to even try to publish it in the west. (Who knows? He may not have even been able to do so legally in the west.) Actually, it is not entirely clear to me which markets actually got this gem in its “finished” form, but I have seen it for sale (a complete retail package, mind you!) on some Russian game-store sites under the DOTZ title and also “Zombie Day.” And if you’re thinking this is yet another Russian ripoff deal, the game actually DOES bear the Groove Games publisher’s logo in an intro screen (but interestingly, NOT the Brainbox developer’s logo, as the original “Fiddler’s Green” did, I think). So, I suspect something semi-sneaky is going on…not that anyone is paying attention anyway.

Of course, as others speculate, all 850 words I just wrote could be completely wrong. The reality is that DOTZ might simply be a cleverly disguised mod of the original LOTD and nothing more. After all, I’d imagine fiddling with the Unreal 2.0 engine doesn’t require too much in the way of expensive and sophisticated computery thingeys. But why all of the obfuscation? Well, maybe the modders just wanted to have an interesting internet story to tell (and for others to repeat). If that’s the case, then I’m glad I could help. But the folklore is way more interesting, ain’t it? So, let’s pretend it’s true.

The long and short of it is this: If you think playing DOTZ would be like playing more LOTD: RTFG (yes, that’s the whole damned alphabet soup), then you are perfectly correct. This 2009 release looks/sounds/smells/tastes/plays EXACTLY the same as the 2005 game. Same engine, samey-character models, same AI behavior, samey-looking environments, same weapons. But—and this is where things get intriguing–it is actually a completely different game—the narrative has changed, the characters have changed, the cutscenes are different (unlike LOTD which has traditional 3D-rendered cuts, DOTZ has 2D comic book style cuts), and the actual locations are new. For an underdog gamer like me (and even worse, an underdog gamer with a mild zombie addiction), I can’t resist this kind of thing. It’s my kryptonite, my crack. It’s why this blog exists.

DOTZ consists of three individuals’ stories (complete with heavily canuck-accented voiceovers—which makes me think this is indeed legit and not just a mod) as they make their way through a walking-corpse-littered university campus and surrounding town. The first story arc belongs to a typical student attending Memorial Fenkott College (looks like your typical, bland, suburban community college built in 1975) whose single goal is to find his girlfriend, Erica, amidst the chaos. (We suspect this will not turn out well…and it doesn’t.) The next story involves a SWAT dude who has been called into the town for cadaver cleanup duty, and while sweeping the streets he becomes detached from his squad. (We suspect this will not turn out well either…and it doesn’t.) The third story chronicles the unrealistically-devoted janitor of Fenkott who dodges past the hungry chompers of half-rotten zombies to save rare books and school artifacts, as well as stopping a quickly spreading fire. At first, he thinks the entire affair is some dumb college prank, but then he changes his tune after a few beheadings. He proudly pronounces: “Fenkott won’t burn on my watch!” (His story doesn’t work out so well either.)

The structure is as straightforward as it gets: We get the first chapter of each character, and then we return to the lineup for the second round of chapters, and so on. After 14 or so chapters (about 8 hours of play at a leisurely pace), each character’s chapter comes to an unsurprising close, one at a time. The narratives don’t intersect or intertwine, they don’t loop in time, characters don’t meet each other…there’s no fancy goings-on here.

Actually, the complete absence of fanciness in any form is why this game works (when it works, that is). This is old-old-school: You’ve got keys to move, a key to fire, a key to use items, a key to crouch and sprint, and a key to cycle weapons. You grab item A to open door B; you enter a map at point X and exit at point Z. That’s about it. No super powers, no inventory, no regenerating health (nothing to see here, just move along).

And regarding there being not much to see…this is one of the letdowns regarding this title. Because our three characters are all journeying through the same college town and campus, the game recycles the same 7 or 8 (indoor and outdoor) maps 2 or 3 times, and this comprises the majority of the game. So for instance, while you might run through the school library as the student, a few chapters later you’ll enter the same map from a different vantage point (and perhaps with a few small environmental changes) as the janitor to run through it again. Snooze.

But bitching about DOTZ like this is sort of ridiculous. You play such a game because something about it makes you play it. You are inexplicably helpless in the face of its awfulness, and you rip through it, frothing at the mouth, all in one sitting. (Yes, ok, I’m being autobiographical, and—no surprise—this is exactly what I did when playing LOTD too.) But if I am also describing you, please know that there is fun to be had here with these derivative, slomo, poorly rendered, unconvincing zombies, even in our world full of hordes of graphically rotting sprinters like those in “Left 4 Dead” or “Dead Island” or “Killing Floor” or… Like I said, DOTZ is old school (because it is actually…old.)

Exactly like LOTD before it, this game is all about conserving ammo, making your way through a linear map, and facing undead folks in groups of 2 to about 20 (believe it or not—there can be real pileups of dead dudes on screen). In some maps, these zombies are infinite, just like the 90s all over again! There are about 8 or 9 different character models (a Russian-Babushka-type, a Mr. Green-Jeans-farmer-type, a heavily-armored-soldier-type, a punk-rocker-with-Mohawk-type…you get the picture), so there must be a cloning machine in the Memorial Fenkott College Science Lab. The AI behavior is as braindead as possible in a modern game, but of course all of that is automatically forgiven. Attacks include swiping at you, biting you (which is accompanied by the same [most awesome ever] LOTD sound effect–two coconut shells being smacked together to simulate teeth clamping down with force), and the lawn-sprinkler-barfing attack, which sprays infectious blood in an arc and turns the screen red. A few corpses will rush you, and some will attack on all fours, but these are rarer and most are the classic two-legged-lumbering type. When you get hit, the camera awkwardly jolts down to below crouching level (so, essentially, you end up getting a nice view of a zombie crotch) and tilts to an angle, and during that time you cannot counterattack until you regain your stance. In general melee combat is beyond clunky, but when shooting the targeting is thankfully forgiving.

Speaking of combat, did you like the selection of melee weapons in LOTD? You know, the baseball bat, the golf club, the shovel, the fire axe? How about the firearms like the standard rifle, sniper rifle, shotgun, pistol? You loved them? Oh then, you’re in luck! All of them are right here, just like you never finished LOTD. Oh…you actually never did finish LOTD? Then why are you reading this? Anyway, the weapons work (and the textures on them look awful, as always). And as a bonus, in several places throughout the game, you can find books that say “Kung Fu Zombie” on them. By picking them up, you get a pair of tattooed fists that can throw lightning-fast punches. (Keep in mind if you play, these books are not accompanied by a pick-up prompt, like all other collectibles [like ammo or medkits] in the game.) It’s all funny, but using the fist attack generally results in you receiving damage, and the Kung Fu fists permanently go away as soon as you switch to another weapon. What else can I say?

Since combat in the game is acceptable at best (with melee, it’s all a matter of timing), the real fun lies elsewhere. And let me postulate that this fun I’m about to describe is utterly unintentional on the part of the developers. I may be wrong, and these devs might be sublime geniuses, but I don’t think so. I’m talking about closing doors as a means to staying alive. The setup goes like this: You have limited ammo and health, and getting into a swinging match will inevitably result in being chomped. So standing in a dormitory hallway facing three zombies, you carefully bait them by walking close to them and then slowly leading them away as they growl and grab for you, carefully monitoring your distance. If you’re lucky, all of them will follow, but you take what you can get. Keeping your distance, you backtrack to an earlier part of the map and go through a door you had to open in order to proceed. You lead the zombies past said door, get them all inside the area, then you madly sprint past them, feinting to the left or right, and quickly slam the door shut behind you. Zombie problem solved! There’s a bit of an adrenalin rush, and it sort of feels like cheating, but it is probably the most fun this game has to offer. It is true that, for dramatic effect, zombies can break through walls and doors in DOTZ, but these are mostly scripted events. Also many of the doors separating hallways or major areas are orange-colored reinforced fire doors (with mesh glass in them) and these can never be broken through. For shits and giggles, I spent a good deal of time looking very closely through reinforced windows at extremely unhappy zombies I had trapped in my end-runaround scheme while they gnashed their rotten teeth at me. And I got to save bullets for a future skirmish. Hah!

Oh, the low-quality textures (even on the highest graphical settings) look like crap. Being an LOTD clone (or progenitor), the environments are bland, colorless, and washed-out. Shadows are…nonexistent, I guess. Other than the scripted door-breaking events described earlier, the environments are non-destructible. As mentioned, there are interiors and exteriors. The interiors are mainly composed of the college campus (dorm rooms, a kitchen or two, a mechanical room or two, lecture halls, a library, hallways, hallways, hallways, hallways), and an occasional sewer. The exteriors are composed of the surrounding town (a park, a lake and conservation area, several city streets, a few congested intersections choked with crashed cars, and a large dock in the finale [just like the dock in finale of LOTD, though here it appears to be configured a bit differently). Not surprising, the exteriors have next to no draw distance, and the buildings in the background of the city…well, let’s just say it’s best not to look too closely if you care about these things. Just keep your eyes on those zombies up ahead.

Though the production values (and the whopping four-month development cycle?) hamper the game in every way imaginable, there is still a visceral quality lurking underneath DOTZ (which, by the way, runs as smooth as glass and is surprisingly not broken in any way I could find). Even though it’s a relatively easy game, it’s still all about survival. That visceral quality is stunted and mostly unrealized, but it’s still there. That’s my zombie addiction talking, I know, but I suspect the original developers knew they had “something” going on here (with the timed melee attacks, or the lumbering nature of the rapidly-multiplying rotten enemies, or whatever) that they found to be irresistibly fun. The best way I can describe it requires a quick pop-culture reference: There’s an episode of “Family Guy” where Lois (or Meg?) is walking through a department store trying to find Peter who has hidden away in the center of a circular rack of dresses. When he is finally discovered, he lets out a nervous cry, unable to contain himself. As a bored kid shopping with an adult in a department store, did you ever play hide-and-seek beneath the clothes racks like that? I did, and I know exactly what that feeling is of hiding in plain sight and almost being discovered—and the relief of the built-up stress when your location is finally discovered. That same kind of nervous energy is hidden in the nooks and crannies of DOTZ (as with LOTD). On the other hand, if everything I just said makes no sense, ignore me.



Infernal (PC, 2007, Poland): But Whatever Happened to “They?”
November 8, 2012, 3:41 am
Filed under: Infernal (PC, 2007, Poland)

There’s a game whose setting is a near-future London that has been besieged by lumbering, multi-armed robots. You’re a shady character with a special vision that allows you to see the real horror though. Because of your ability, you know robots aren’t the real threat—the semi-transparent aliens, (completely invisible to most folks) sitting inside and controlling the robots from within…that’s the real danger. Being a stellar first-person shooter with immersive environments and snappy art design, you pick up your futuristic, upgradeable rifle-rocket-launcher-laser-gun and kick ass all over London’s cobbled streets, while being guided—or fooled—by a mysterious, spirit-like child’s voice which may be coming from the past, the future, or an alternate dimension? The name of this game is simply “They.”

The problem is that “They” doesn’t actually exist, and I’ll probably never be able to play it. It is, by all accounts, vaporware. Sure, many titles have survived this awful label to see the actual light of day. Case in point: I just finished playing “Black Mesa,” the fan-made, free-to-play, in-development-for-a-decade  total recreation of the original “Half-Life” but using the updated Source engine (a sheer delight and an undeniable success, though not without some hiccups). But I fear that, other than a short (and too-dark) trailer which I’ve watched a few dozen times on Youtube over the past few years, “They” won’t rise from the ashes. Hope I’m wrong, I really do. The trailer for the game, which was announced originally in 2007-ish, is here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9t-6qHFn3K8

To be fair, technically, since 2010 the game has been labeled as “on hold” and not “cancelled.” Yeah, whatever. Anyway, the story of the quick birth and (premature?) death of “They” is not particularly noteworthy, but it is connected to “Infernal” (PC, 2007) which I am discussing here. The link? Metropolis Software, at one time the third largest developer in Poland, is the papa of both titles. Metropolis, originally founded in 1992, was best known for several point-and-click games, as well as strategy and action games. Noteworthy among these was the “Gorky” series of games which stretched from about 1999 to 2005 (iterations that evolved from an isometric semi-strategy game into a full-blown third-person shooter). This gradual move into TPS territory eventually resulted in “Infernal” being released in 2007, and work on first-person “They” commenced. Then, in 2008 (after “Infernal” pretty much bombed its way off the market, at least in the west), fellow Polish developer and publisher CD Projekt Red, famous for the “Witcher” series of games, bought Metropolis, suspended work on “They,” and put the staff (and some Metropolis proprietary tech, which appears to be the real reason for the merger) to work on “Witcher 2.” Eventually, after further paring down and a formal closing of Metropolis, some members left and started a new company, 11 Bit Studios. And right now 11 Bit Studios makes…drum roll, please…games for phones (pretty much, and some XBLA titles). Isn’t that what every newly-formed, once-large developer is doing these days? Gotta go where the micro-money is, I guess.

This convoluted history just tells me that labeling “They” as vaporware is not far-fetched. Who even owns the assets at this point? Will it ever be revived? No breath holding here. But Metropolis did leave us with their legacy of “Infernal.” Maybe it’s the closest thing I’ll get to playing “They.” Jeez, I’m pathetic.

In “Infernal” you play as Ryan Lennox, a wisecracking, gruff-voiced, stubble-faced ex-angel (yeah, like from Heaven) who is spending time here on earth unemployed as a newly-minted mortal. (He especially dislikes being here because he says it’s too cold; he’s a big believer in mittens.) Anyway, in this universe, the forces of Heaven and Hell are real, sort of like “Spy vs. Spy.” On the good side, we’ve got the organization called “Etherlight,” Ryan’s old employers who fired him because they said his practices as an “agent of light” (although extremely effective) were too unorthodox. On the bad side, we’ve got “The Abyss,” all fire and brimstone and devilish minions. What these organizations do is not entirely clear, other than the fact that agents from each side work all day to keep their counterparts in check—and everything remains in balance, yin and yang. All of this occurs as humans just go about their mundane lives.

Within the first few minutes of the game, Ryan is almost gunned down in a bar by a well-organized militia of 30 dudes with rifles; he successfully escapes. He is then approached by red-skinned and horny-headed Lucius Black, the honcho of The Abyss (in a cemetery, of course), who offers him a job with the dark side. Thinking The Abyss was responsible for the near-hit on him in the bar, Ryan at first says no. But then Black reveals to him that his old boss, Etherlight, was actually responsible for the attack and that they want him out of the picture. Apparently, simply firing him was not enough. Why? Lucius Black tells Ryan that Etherlight has developed a technology that will basically rob all human life of its own will, turning everyone into much better human beings for their own good. Doesn’t sound so bad, but Black says this will upset the natural balance of things—and of course humans would be reduced to puppets. Etherlight’s plan is to activate this global-wide technology during an alignment of the planets that happens every century (or whatever); the point is during this planetary alignment, God’s line-of-sight to earth is blocked (yup, that’s what they say) allowing Etherlight to do the nasty without Him knowing any different. And it is stressed that God would not want humans reduced to puppets even if they were to be controlled by the forces of light. Apparently, God really digs free will after all.

Of course, after learning all of this, Ryan Lennox agrees to become an Abyss agent, and he is granted all sorts of devilish powers by Lucius Black (even though, at heart, he’s still a good guy, of course). These include being able to suck the souls out of downed enemies to refill his own lifebar, levitating large objects, being able to temporarily teleport himself, as well as being able to infuse his gunshots with dark energy to deal extra damage. From there, he follows his new boss’s orders: Stop Etherlight from implementing its plans (and to possibly steal the technology if possible and hand it over to Lucius Black). Though he’s not entirely sure he can trust Black’s intentions, Ryan forges ahead anyway. During various intel-gathering missions, this ex-angel mixes it up at an old temple in the snowy German countryside, explores a sprawling industrial center, fights gun-toting brethren across the massive deck of an aircraft carrier in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, gets filthy in an eastern European railcar warehouse, and busts some angel heads (which are pretty much just armored dudes with guns—and some with jetpacks, get it?) at a mountaintop satellite center. Most of the environments have an interesting mix of old and new, traditional and sci-fi, so to speak. The temple is a great example where the stereotypical medieval monastery is infused with the steel and glass of high-tech labs and offices. After all, we’re not talking about yesterday’s monks here; these are contemporary, technology-driven forces of light, folks.

Before hitting the specifics of this game (which is generally badmouthed by reviewers who I disagree with at least in part), allow me a moment to clarify one important point that I found ZERO internet information about. In my perennial craze to buy every single PC shooter I can find listed on Amazon, I somehow ended up with two copies of “Infernal” without knowing it—one for PC and one for the Xbox 360, redubbed “Infernal: Hell’s Vengeance.” Are these the same game…or not…or what? In substance, they are identical, but in quality not so much. Considering the PC game was published in 2007, the reason the game was ported to the console two years later in 2009 (and retitled) is a bit of a mystery. From my research, this sort of thing really doesn’t happen very often. (If you know of other PC games ported to the console several years after the initial release, please enlighten me.) Maybe the story is as simple as the original publisher, Playlogic, was simply looking to re-cash in on the title somehow after it garnered such a middling reception the first time around. Metropolis, which at that point was near-defunct, may have also benefitted from the console port, but who knows.

Anyway, after having resigned myself to the fact of spending twice the money than necessary (which amounted to about $10 in total, ouch), the cool thing is that I could literally, in real time, compare the quality of the two games (graphically speaking) to decide which version to play. (Yes, I’m an unapologetic graphics whore.) Frankly, I didn’t expect there to be much difference between the two versions, mostly because of several reviews on the internet that said as much: “I played this junk back in 2007 on PC in its original form, and as far as I can tell, there is no difference in the 2009 Xbox version. The game is still as crappy as it always was, visually and mechanically.”

Well, having actually put the two versions side-by-side on the same screen, I can say this is patently false. Running in HD at a whopping 2560X1440 resolution, the 2007 PC version of this game blows the 2009 console port away without breaking a sweat. The console version (which seems to be running at the equivalent of about 1280×1026) is pixelated, badly aliased, has serious screen-tearing, and the colors seem too heavily contrasted. The PC version is, quite honestly, pretty astounding to look at, considering the age of the game. Textures in the original PC game are smooth and soft, colors are muted and vibrant when needed, the draw distance is very nice, effects are subtle—just overall I’ve played many cruddy games made after 2007 that looked much, much worse. (“MorphX,” anyone?) Hardcore PC gamers out there are saying “Duh, of course the PC version is best,” but I’ve found that PC games don’t always automatically look better than (or even equal to) their console counterparts. I imagine much of that has to do with which direction the port was in (from PC to console or vice versa); either way, I think this quality issue changes from title to title. But in this case, if you plan on spending time with “Infernal,” do so on the PC with all the graphics settings maxed out (not too difficult a task on a contemporary system). You’ll be pleasantly surprised how beautiful and visually immersive the game really is. And it runs smooth as glass. Good graphics don’t make a good game, but in this case, the graphics are Infernal’s best asset.

And it bears repeating: The graphics here really are striking (in high rez) for a 2007 game. In fact, every endorsement on the box claims “The graphics are to die for!” (while saying nothing about the gameplay), and this is a reasonable assessment. The cutscenes, which are just right in number without interrupting gameplay too often, help the story to move along at a brisk-enough pace and are competently directed. In-game animations are extremely well done too. In essence, I’d say this 5-year game (here in 2012) has aged remarkably well so far. The gameplay works too, most of the time; aiming is a bit loose but you get used to it, the AI has enough moves to keep things interesting, and the guns (pistol, rifle, shotgun, some un-noteworthy experimental weapons, and grenades that take an eternity to throw) feel powerful enough for a TPS. You can use your fists when you run out of bullets (which is never, frankly).

Using Ryan’s special demonic-powers-on-loan is fun (with some caveats, see below), and sucking the souls out of dead enemies to regain health is strangely satisfying. In this move (which you do hundreds of times over the course of the game), Ryan raises his glowing red hand over a corpse, which levitates in response, as souls [and bullets!] are magically transferred to you, and then the body slumps back to the floor. Fighting through some of the larger environments is quite memorable (the icy deck of the aircraft carrier comes to mind with the Aurora Borealis glowing in the background), if repetitive. There is even a nascent kind of cover system, but we’re not talking “Gears of War” here by a long stretch. Ryan can duck behind a corner and can even lean out to shoot, but in doing so he completely exposes his whole body to gunfire, and the animation when he returns to cover is a bit laggy…so inevitably, if you use this maneuver (which is not required, really) you can expect to take damage. It’s all sort of silly and unnecessary.

While the setup is pure fantasy, the narrative itself really doesn’t pull any punches or offer any surprising twists—it’s honestly a bit predictable, all the way down to the two major events in the story where you are captured and lose all your weapons and powers. You are then forced to fight your way through a map or two in order to eventually regain your gear. This is a videogame trope we’ve seen too often, but it works here well enough to force you to alter your tactics for a time. There are a handful of boss fights, none of which are terribly taxing and can be overcome with some creative quicksaving and a few retries. Oh, and miracle of miracles, the voice acting is passable, not stellar, but not awful. Whew, about time.

Of course, for a game whose Metacritic score sits at a flaccid 61 for the PC version, and an cringe-worthy 35 for the Xbox version, the list of shortcomings isn’t…well, short. First there’s Ryan’s completely broken duck-and-roll maneuver.  Many reviews of this title round the ‘nets gripe about this, and I’ll gladly chime in.  The main issue is that this ill-timed, poorly mapped defensive somersault only serves to roll you right into the path of oncoming bullets. Either that, or Ryan will cannonball right off a death-cliff. Flying through the air with the greatest of ease? More like game over. The problem is not the move itself of course, but the touchiness of the mechanic. By barely double-tapping any movement key (WASD by default), Jack will duck and roll forward, backward, or to the side (and as a bonus he becomes invisible to enemies while doing so, woah). Great defensive move…if it worked.  But do you know how easy it is to accidentally bump one of those keys twice? Yeah, you got it; you end up somersaulting everywhere all the time. Not cool. To take this bad mechanic and make it worse, try playing the game using an Xbox 360 controller for PC—I’d say about 50 percent of the time when just pushing the thumbstick in a certain direction, an unintended duck-and-roll is initiated—Jack just gleefully rolls out from behind perfect cover and into the path of an oncoming train or a troop of five guys with rifles. It happened like clockwork and was a constant irritation, almost to the point of me quitting the game outright. I know, what a blasphemer I am.

There are some glaring inconsistencies in the game too. For example, Ryan can’t seem to take a fall of more than about 10 feet, or he croaks. I can’t figure it out, but you learn how far you can fall pretty quickly and avoid most cliffs altogether. Then, there are some doors that open, and others that don’t, but there are no visual clues to tell you which door is which. Then, there are some puzzles that require specific maneuvers, or for Ryan to destroy something by shooting it, yet you are given no clues as to how to proceed. So these moments become colossal trial-and-error-frustration-fests. Small details like these fade into the background pretty quickly and don’t wreck the game thankfully.

Next on the list of irritations: Ryan’s got a cool set of binocular-goggles (let’s dub them binocu-goggles, cool) that give him an ability to see pretty far into the distance. When choosing them from the inventory, the game switches into first-person perspective so you can scout out the situation ahead. A similar mechanic comes in the form of Ryan’s special ability “hell-o-vision” (or whatever it is called), which also switches into first-person perspective and turns the screen a dull gray and black. This change in screen color allows you to see hidden traps (likes glowing mines or electrified panels on the floor) as well as reveal hidden caches of yummy lifebar juice or mana (the stuff that gives you your special powers) lurking in corners. Great, right? Yeah, except one massive oversight: Switching into either of these first-person modes completely robs you of the ability to shoot. Your gun just sort of…disappears from your hands. Uh…ok. Of course, it is without fail that right at one of these defenseless moments, some baddies decide to appear around a corner and pop you in the head. Fail.

Another cool hellish device is a glove that allows Jack to zap out a blue ray, pick up heavy objects, float an “image” of those objects to a new location, and then teleport those objects from point A to point B in an instant. (Frankly, all you are doing is lifting and moving an object in the environment to your advantage.) This comes in handy in several ways, but is typically used as a small puzzle-solving device when needing to unblock a passageway (or to move an out-of-reach enemy body nearby to devour his soul). The problem is that controlling the objects when floating them to a new location is a major chore—these objects rarely go where they are supposed to, they get hung up on other geometry nearby, or seeing the ultimate destination for these objects becomes a vague guessing game. The result? I only used it when absolutely necessary (and in some boss fights where using the device is required, much griping was heard throughout the house).

On the whole, if you are interested in a story-driven, third-person shooter with both sci-fi and fantasy elements (and you don’t mind the overblown, simplified characters who usually populate these kinds of games), this title is worth some of your time…especially since you can get it so cheap at this point and most players will be able to max out graphical settings with ease. It’s easy on the eyes and plays well enough…as long as you prepare yourself for that eternally damned somersault.