Poll Game: Zombie – Going up!

Heading out onto the balcony you hear more sirens and other noises in the distance, including the staccato rat-tat-tat of what can only be gunfire. It makes you shudder as the wind whips around you and you tie yourself off with a couple of sheets, balancing precariously as you scramble up and onto the balcony of the flat above. Breathless you pause, panting, trying to ignore the blood and broken glass as you pick your way into the flat.

There’s blood everywhere and the TV is blaring away in the corner, there was quite a fight in here it seems between the two of them and you don’t really like to think about it. Maybe there’s something here you can use, something that can help you out…

What now?
Ransack the flat for food and other useful things.
Look for money and other tradable items.
Check this flat’s secure like yours is before you do anything.
You could sneak downstairs and ambush that thing at your door.
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Poll Game: Zombie – Batter up!

Sooner or later you’re going to have to deal with that thing outside and sooner is better than later. You grab the bat and throw open the inner door. Immediately the man… no, the creature, outside lunges for you, shoving its arms through the bars of the security gate to reach for you.

You build yourself up and swing, hard, but the bat clips the edge of the gate with a loud clang and barely grazes the side of its head. Desperately you swing again but this time it manages to grab hold of the bat and the sleeve of your hoody, dragging you close to the bars and baring its teeth with a hiss, drooling down its chin, face pressed against – through – the bars, trying to bite and tear at your flesh.

Desperately you pull back, forced to relinquish the bat, your sleeve torn, falling back on your arse inside the flat, cold sweat drenching your body as the thing holds the bat, stumbled back from the gate, holding it as though trying to remember what it’s for. It sniffs the handle and bites it experimentally before dropping it idly to the side and trying to push through the bars again. The bat rolls out of sight in the hallway as you kick the door shut again.

What now?
Replace the bat with a kitchen knife and try again.
Forget that, hole up in the flat until you HAVE to leave, maybe things will sort themselves out.
Try to get the attention of someone in the opposite building.
The flat above you is empty now, maybe you can climb up there…
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Poll Game: Zombie – Worse before it gets better…

With the blanket draped around your shoulders and the baseball bat in hand you wander back to the door, sliding it open, the sound of sirens, gunshots and distant screams drifting up from the streets. Not far from your flat is the station and as you watch the city spread out before you a train comes rattling through the station, it should have stopped but it carries on through at breakneck speed. That can’t be safe… a short distance away you can see a fire smouldering to life in one of the other blocks of flats. You hope that won’t happen here, getting out with the way things are right now would be… tricky.

It looks like you’re stuck for now, with that… thing, clawing at the door. Stuck until you run out of food, or water at least.

What now?
Sooner or later you’re going to have to confront that thing at the door. Why not now?
Hold tight for a couple of days until things shake themselves out.
Knot together some sheets to make a rope, then you can get out via the balcony if there’s a fire.
Try and get the attention of someone in one of the flats in the next building.
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Poll Game: Zombie – TV, so edumacational!

You hunker down in front of the television, under your blanket, clutching the baseball bat tight in your hands and then reach out and warily flick on the television. Every channel is the same, just different, panicked faces saying the same things over and over. An illness has swept the country, it’s killed a huge number of people, stealing up on the country by surprise when everyone was focussed on the flu. Worse, there’s all sorts of reports of people acting rabid under the influence of the illness, biting and attacking others and that’s turned hospitals and doctor’s surgeries into warzones. Panicked people are trying to leave the cities and everything is in total chaos.

Several of the channels try to cut to reporters that they have in the field, only to be unable to connect and the normally formal and calm newsreaders are becoming visibly more and more unsettled. This has come out of nowhere to sweep the country and all sorts of reports, none of them likely accurate, are coming in but aren’t being reported – save as examples of dangerous craziness. After all, the dead can’t come back to life can they?

You stare, disbelieving, at the television as this unfolds but you’re not getting much the wiser, it’s the same things over and over across the channels. Keep calm, stay indoors, the authorities are dealing with it. You watch and watch for hours and hours but you’re not getting much wiser than that, though the sirens outside are getting louder and more cacophonus.

What do you do?
Keep watching, numb, trying to wring whatever detail you can from the news.
Go back to the window and watch the streets and the skyline.
Think about escaping to the countryside with the rest.
Numb yourself with the booze in the house, pass out for a few hours.
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Poll Game: Zombie – This is what you want, this is what you get

If you’re going to be stuck in here a while you need to know what you’ve got. You don’t fancy going outside with all this chaos going on – assuming that it’s going on elsewhere as well. You also need something to distract you from that infernal scratching and rattling going on at the door still, grating at the edge of your very last nerve. On a tour of the flat you come to the worrying conclusion that you’re not really very well set up to stay in and look after yourself. There’s about a week’s worth of food – but it’s all frozen ready meals and pizzas. There’s water, some cans of beer and a bottle of cheap whisky, well, there’s water in the taps at least. Weapons-wise, you’ve got a baseball bat your friend Martin brought back as a present from the USA for you, kitchen knives and… that’s about it.

That didn’t take long enough and that BLOODY scratching is still going on…

What next?
Sit tight and hold the fort until your food gets low.
Deal with that annoying noise-maker at the front door.
Sit with the baseball bat at the ready in front of the telly and try to find out what’s going on.
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Review: Dragon Age – Origins

This review is unlikely to be of a great deal of use to most people who will have seen the word ‘Bioware’ associated with it, ignored the EA also associated with it, had a happy accident in their pants and bought it anyway. For those of you who’ve been a little bit slower off the mark or have hung back unsure whether to buy it, without having the money spare or who are curious without being curious enough to spend money, hopefully this will offer something useful.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Dragon Age: Origins is the kick off of a new CRPG franchise for Bioware, divorced from their D&D associations (Baldur’s Gate) and that of their old game engine. Dragon’s Age has been sold as a glorious, sexy, blood-spattered romp that tears down preconceptions about fantasy games and worlds, plays about with them and offers a more mature and visceral entertainment ‘sausage’ at the end of it all.

The version I’m reviewing is the PS3 one, though I would image the console versions are largely the same and any differences are more likely to be found in the PC version.

The story is fairly standard fantasy tale, but with a darker twist. I’m almost inclined to assert that Dragon Age is, in fact, a horror game rather than a fantasy game per se, just to stir up some controversy but that wouldn’t be entirely accurate. Your character is the hero of a grand tale that sketches out the world – and most particularly the land of Ferelden, which is threatened by a terrible event called a ‘blight’, wherein an arch demon (in the form of a dragon) brings forth an army of darkspawn (pretty much orcs) to the surface and lays waste – unstoppably – to everything for miles with no purpose other than destruction. You gather an unlikely band of heroes and… yadda yadda yadda, lots of side quests, build up experience and ultimately save the day. Huzzah!

The main storyline is pretty hackneyed, standard fantasy fare for the most part, you find yourself calling out some of the plot twists and events like you’d call out lines from a favourite film you’ve seen a million times… “Gordon’s alive?!” …and it never quite plays with your expectations enough to shock or compel you. The far more interesting sides to the story are all the little side plots, schemes and favours for the other members of your party, but you’ll have to work hard at buttering them up to get to all those.

The trailers and clips initially suggested a fairly free-flowing and cinematic fighting experience, but that wasn’t the vibe I got from the combat at all. You have your basic fighting moves and then you have access to special moves, accessed as you level up and then slotted into your remaining action buttons (on consoles this means you can only ever have quick access to six of these powers at one time, I don’t know if this is the same on the PC version). This isn’t free-flowing and cinematic, much like a D&D CRPG it’s a matter of picking a target and leaning on the basic attack button, occasionally triggering a special ability.

The two games that Dragon Age brought to mind while playing were Final Fantasy 12 (with the tactics selection for your companions) and any MMORPG of your choice for the combat itself. Countdown timers on special attacks and timing management definitely brought World of Warcraft more to mind than anything cinematic or immersive.

Otherwise everything was largely as you’d expect, though after playing Mass Effect the old style dialogue trees felt a little old fashioned, as did much of the rest of the game! I did spot a couple of minor bugs, characters appearing in strange locations with dialogue that belonged with them being somewhere else, but overall there wasn’t too much problem with that.

The game does create its atmosphere fairly well. The graphics hold it back from really drawing you in completely and the animations could have been better but the dialogue is fairly faultless and it’s worth mixing your party around a lot from encounter to encounter just to hear the banter between the various members of your party. Morrigan’s scathing wit is particularly well done and I think only Sten (a qunari, a token new warrior/honour race) ever caused her to stumble.

The world is brought to life but the settlements can’t help but feel a bit empty most of the time, in a game world that includes the crowded, busy and bustling cities of GTA and Assassin’s Creed everything feels a bit staid, dead and dull in the towns of Dragon Age with people standing around waiting to deliver a couple of lines of dialogue or feed you a quest chain.

The game unquestionably has a deep set of background lore and material, on paper it’s very well realised and the story of it certainly draws you in but this is a computer game, not a novel, not a tabletop RPG and while the material is there, is weighty, engaging and interesting the game fails to adequately convey it. It tells you rather than showing you – with a couple of exceptions such as in the Mage’s Tower where you get a first hand lesson on how dangerous magic is.

For a new game on a next gen console the graphics are unforgivably crap. I’ll often go off on one about how graphics aren’t all important and gameplay should be king but, really, this looks like a PC game from a few years ago. The textures don’t bare up to close examination, many of the buildings and streets look flat and if you compare it with – even fairly modest – other titles it doesn’t hold up. In my opinion it doesn’t even match up to their older game, Mass Effect.

The characters look somewhat wooden, their motions aren’t quite natural and flowing enough and the underwear makes the character models look even worse during the ‘sex’ scenes!

Dragon Age: Origins is a good game, despite the average score I’ve given it and it lays a solid foundation on which to build a franchise but, after loving Mass Effect so much I was left disappointed by Dragon Age. Perhaps, Mass Effect being SF, there were no preconceptions or requirements to the game world and they could play around with what they were making, leading to a superior product. With Dragon Age, despite playing with fantasy preconceptions it never quite paid off, just as the sex scenes never quite pay off. In a blog post while I was playing still I referred to this – somewhat crudely- as: “All boob and no nipple” and this does make a fairly good metaphor for what it is that ails this game.

There’s sex, but not really, it’s neither tender nor titillating. The dwarves are different, but not different enough. The elves are different, but not different enough. The qunari are ‘new’, but klingons with cornrows aren’t really new. All the standard pseudo-medieval claptrap is there, just not necessarily quite where you’d normally expect to find it. Dragon Age tries, but it always stops just short of being truly brilliant.

A sequel, with more effort on the graphics and world and pushing things just that little bit further, could be a truly great game. Roll on Mass Effect 2!

Style: 2
Substance: 4
Overall: A high 3.

Poll Game: Zombie – Battening Down the Hatches

Bugger this… the world’s falling down around your ears and you’ve no real idea what’s going on but there’s people falling off balconies to their deaths and crazy drunks scratching at your door and you’re all alone. You’ve got to look out for yourself, you’ve no idea what’s going on with your mum or anyone else and with the phone not playing ball that doesn’t leave you a lot of options.

You drag furniture and junk from around the house and pile it up against the door – and after a moment’s thought against the balcony sliding door as well – just in case. The scratching and scraping hasn’t stopped, but at least it’s muffled now, as is most of the rest of the noise from outside. You’re cocooned now, huddled up in your flat and it’s not going to be easy for anything to get in, or for you to get out…

What now?
Inventory the useful stuff in the flat.
Turn on the TV to drown out that scratching noise from the door.
Break down and have a little cry and whimper to yourself and calm yourself down.
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Poll Game: Zombie – I Spy…

Curious, but shaking, you pace slowly up to the door and lean forwards, turning aside the little round, metal cover and gingerly, fearfully, leaning forward. In the fisheye lens you see some vague shadows for a moment and then realise there’s a tear of fear and panic in your eye. You wipe it away and look again. Now you can see more clearly but what you see doesn’t put you at ease. It’s the drunk from the stairwell, sallow cheeked, drool dripping down his chin, teeth chewing at empty air like an imaginary piece of chewing gum. As you watch he reaches again against and through the outer security door, rattling it in its frame, scratching with his nails against the inner door, fingertips brushing the spyhole and making you recoil back in fear, suddenly he seems very scary.

What do you do?
Throw the inner door open and challenge him, trying to chase him off.
Wait and watch, something is stange about this guy.
Open the door a crack and shout through it for help.
Double check the locks and barricade the door with some of the furniture.
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