How to be a fulfilled artist… A Discussion with Tom Abernathy


I’m sitting in my office with the speakerphone on and listening to one of my artistic heroes – Tom Abernathy – speak as his creation The Freak from Destroy All Humans! 2.  Yes, this really happened and it was …. awesome.

Our discussion covers how Tom started his career, his past achievements, and what more he wants to give us.

When I first started speaking with him, I didn’t understand him.  Where was the angst-ridden melancholy that is so familiar in so many artists? Where was the bitterness?  I realized that his artistic process was totally different from that of a TV and movie writer who spends their artistic career in a great deal of isolation punctuated by a team of constructive criticism and clearly defined tasks.  His job touches all facets of the creative process, allowing him to fully realize his creative voice and vision.

Tom’s video game narrative career influenced or decided the dialogue, direction, and casting of many of our most beloved games. His career began in Los Angeles doing coverage – summarizing and reviewing scripts to determine if they were worth making.  He did this job for twenty-five dollars a script.  Through a connection, Joseph Donaldson, Tom was able to get a job writing scripts for Activision Studios.  It was not like today. Tom said, “The writing [for games] was terrible then.”  The video game writing done by the designers and producers who had little need for professional writers at that time.  His first game “Dark Reign 2” did not do well and Tom’s future as a professional game writer was uncertain.  However, something occurred in 2004 that made him eagerly look for work in TV, Film, or Games – he had a baby on the way.

Once again, Joseph Donaldson pushed Tom’s name forward as the head writer.  This was for Destroy All Humans!, a Mars Attacks set in the 1950s where you played the Alien Invader.   Tom had a unique take on both the people who inhabited the world and the Hero of the game – Crypto.

Tom brought the satirical humor to DAH!  Tom created the premise that “the 50s were Ward and June Clever and Eisenhower exterior, but everything going on in their minds must be depraved and wild.” Since Crypto was able to read minds, as he leveled towns and harvested human brains, we got to read and hear the unspoken, providing both comic relief and clues to completing missions.  He wanted Crypto to be “two parts Jack Nicholson and one part Charlton Heston.”

This was revolutionary because unlike the characters in “Doom” and other FPS, Crypto had a personality and a story.  Although Crypto would be insulted to read this, he had real humanity.  This will shock many fans, but “the original [Crypto voice] had a stilted tone like the 50s saucer movies”.  YIKES!   Tom wanted Crypto to be a “cowboy walking id, very American individualist.”  Therefore, it was “Jack Nicholson for id and Charlton Heston for cowboy.” He continued.  “[Crypto] needed the pomposity of Charlton Heston, [he] needed arrogance/confidence with swagger like Soylent Green. TOUGH!”

What was Tom’s role besides being the writer?  Were people lording over him? How much freedom did he have?  It turns out that he had A LOT of artistic control.  Why? “The [game developers] were in Brisbane and [he] only interacted with them by phone and email.”  Therefore, the geographic separation allowed Tom to have immense creative influence that would not have been afforded to him otherwise.  For example, Tom knew what he wanted Crypto to sound like and Tom was able to do the casting.  Yes, creatives – he got to do the casting.

DAH!2 Crypto was pitched as a James Bond/Austin Powers.  There was a pause in the discussion and I had to ask about The Freak and if it was true that he was the voice?  Yes!!! “The voice director, Doug Carrigan, and I realized that, in all our months-long work to get the important parts cast and recorded, there was one reasonably significant role we had totally forgotten about: The Freak. [We] were out of money and time, we had no choice but for me to hop in the booth and perform The Freak myself in what was probably the final 15 minutes of the entire series of recording sessions.  Apologies to Bobcat Goldthwaite; I had zero time to come up with an original take on the character, so I just decided to commit to the idea of Goldthwaite on a really bad acid trip.”  Yes, he did the voice for me and it was …. EPIC!!!

I asked him about the DAH!2 side missions.  “Leanne Taylor did a ton of work [assigned] late in production.”  Leanne Taylor – from me- THANK YOU!!!

I asked him about getting Anthony Stewart Head to play Ponsonby, who would’ve been a get for the time.  This was an interesting story because it not only reflected the creative process for a narrative, but also the limits of their power.  Tom had directed and recorded another actor to play Poncenby.  “I had cast an older man who brought out the humor and after he was recorded, THQ UK Marketing emails – “We want you to cast a ‘name’ actor from the UK so we can sell more units over here.”  I was curious as to Tom’s reaction.  “Not great. No one ever bought a game because someone voice acted in it because you don’t see the actors!”

What’s Happening Now?

Infinite-Arms.com

“The story is like Matrix meets Fringe. “There are mechs, known as Metamods, that come in both software and hardware version.  The hardware versions are actual 3-D printed action figures as much as ten or twelve inches tall, with 200 coats of paint and more than 20 points of articulation.” I didn’t really understand this until I watched the above video.  There are toys and a video game component.  In other words, this will be really badass.  Most importantly, “you don’t have to pour tons of money into the game to be successful! Jumo the company behind the game- wants players to get value with or without investing money.” There are RPG components, platform, and toy components!

Given Tom’s track record of bringing story and humanity to games, this will be a MUST BUY for the holidays!

Cheers!

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The Further Adventures of Jedadiah Leland In The Internet Archive


Tonight, I returned to the Internet Archive.  The last time I was there, I had promised that I would come back and play a game called Sex Olympics.  I was not really being serious when I wrote that but, as I have learned over the past few days, when you promise your editor that you are going to review a game called Sex Olympics, she is not going to let you off the hook until you do it.

However, before playing Sex Olympics, I decided to run another scenario through President Elect (1987, Strategic Simulations, Inc.).  

1 President Elect

The last time I played President Elect, I simulated the current election and the game predicted that Donald Trump would win 535 electoral votes and 56% of the popular vote.  (For the record, Hillary did win the District of Columbia.)  This time, I decided to see what would have happened if, in 1980, the GOP had not selected Ronald Reagan and instead given their nomination to North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms.

According to the simulation, independent candidate John Anderson would have received a lot more votes than the 5 million he won in the actual election:

2 President Elect3 President Elect4 President Elect

(For the record, in the actual election, Ronald Reagan won 50% of the popular vote, Jimmy Carter took 41% and John Anderson received 6.6%.)

But what would the electoral college look like?

7 President Elect

In the simulation, John Anderson won the most electoral votes with 233.  But it takes 270 electoral votes to win the election.

That’s not good.

6 President Elect

There you have it!  Jimmy Carter would have come in third but he still would have been elected President.  Jesse Helms would have returned to the Senate and John Anderson would have been screwed over.

Once that was settled, I was ready to play Sex Olympics (1990, Free Spirit Software, Inc).

8 Sex Olympics

In Sex Olympics, you are legendary porn actor and intergalactic superstud Brad Stallion.  You have been recruited to represent Earth in the Sex Olympics.  Your goal is to go from planet to planet and do it with as many aliens as possible.  But you have to be clever and you have to be quick because your main competition is Dr. Dildo and he appears to be much better at this than you are.

When the game starts, you are here:

9 Sex Olympics

You have a blond assistant named Sandie, who you can either ask questions or screw.  Since Sandie never had much to say whenever I tried to talk to her, I went with screw.

11 sex olympics

Yeah, that’s hot.

Unfortunately, neither talking to nor screwing Sandie helped me with my main problem.  I could not figure out how to get out of the damn room!  I clicked on both doors.  I clicked on the window.  I pushed the “e” key for east and the “n” key for north.  I tried to call someone on the phone.  No matter what I did, the same thing happened:

10 Sex Olympics

Finally, I figured out that you had to click use and then click a very specific place on the door on the west wall if you wanted to go outside.  Clicking on go and then the door won’t work.  Clicking on use and then clicking on door won’t work.  No, you have to click on use and then click exactly on the door knob if you want to go outside.

I bet this crap never happens to Dr. Dildo.

Once I finally managed to get outside, I found the Big Thruster waiting for me.

12 sex olympics

Inside Big Thruster, I discovered all the planets that I could go to in my effort to defeat Dr. Dildo and prove Earth’s carnal superiority:

13 Sex Olympics

Let’s go to the big red one.  Why not?

14 Sex Olympics

The big red planet turned out to be planet of volcanoes.  This did not look promising but at least there was a village in the valley below.

15 Sex Olympics

I was heading into the village when suddenly…

16 Sex Olympics

That dog looks really mean!  Forget this, I’ll just go back to Big Thruster and visit another planet!

17 Sex Olympics

This little white planet looks promising.  Let’s see what it’s like.

18 Sex Olympics

Is that an igloo?  Let’s see if anyone’s down there!

19 Sex Olympics

This is a lot better than that killer dog on the volcano planet!  Let’s heat this igloo up!

20 Sex Olympics

“Inge has nothing to say.”  That line pretty much sums up the entire game.

21 Sex Olympics

Oh, I have to manually tell the game that I want to remove my clothes?  Sorry, I just assumed that it was implied.

22 Sex Olympics

Is it usually this difficult to have sex with a blue-skinned alien on an ice planet!?

Things got a lot more difficult when I was suddenly told that I had been arrested for indecent exposure and sent back to Earth!

23 Sex Olympics

I don’t have time for this!  I’m trying to defend the honor of Earth!

24 Sex Olympics

Good for Dr. Dildo.

Eventually, I was released from jail and I was sent back to where it all started.

25 Sex Olympics

And that’s when I said forget it.  This is too much trouble for a planet that is not even willing to support me.  Dr. Dildo can have the medal.  Brad Stallion is retired!

After being left disappointed by Sex Olympics, I decided to try playing a game called Survival In New York City (Keypunch, 1986).  

27 Survival in New York City

Survival in New York City is a text adventure game from Keypunch, a company that was notorious for stealing other people’s games and releasing them without any designer credits.  That appears to be the case of Survival in New York City.

It’s still not a bad game.  You wake up in an alley in New York City with no memory of who you are or how you got there.

28 survival in new york city

Your goal is to not get killed while exploring New York.  That is easier said than done.

29 Survivla in New York City

A piece of advice: Don’t go near the teenagers until you have figured how to get a gun.

I played Survival In New York a few times.  I got further every time but I still ended up dying.  Sometimes, I was killed by teens.  Sometimes, I was killed by Hell’s Angels.   It is a game that I will be playing again.

After that grim journey through New York, I decided to finish off my visit by playing a classic, Lemonade Stand (1973, Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium).

30 Lemonade 2

30 Lemonade

Lemonade Stand was the very first business simulation game.  You have a lemonade stand.  Every day, you decide how much lemonade to make, how many signs to make, and how much to charge per glass.  If you do a good job, you make money.  If you do a bad job, you go out of business and have to live with the shame of failure for the rest of your life.

For some reason, I decided to open my lemonade stand on a cloudy day.

31 Lemonade

Because of the bad weather, I did not sell any lemonade on that day or the next.  Finally, on the third day, I decided to take a chance and see what would happen if I tried to sell on a cloudy day.  It was time to take a risk.

32 Lemonade

I know that some people would say, “With a 50% chance of rain, why even try?”  I’ll tell you why.  In this country, you gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get the women.

Besides, what’s the worse that could happen?

33 Lemonade

At this point, I did what any gamer would do when the game was not going his way.  I quit and started over.

34 Lemonade

Sunny!  Now, this is more like it!

35 Lemonado

I took a chance.  I invested all of my money in making lemonade.  Unfortunately, that left me no money for advertising.

36 Lemonade

I ended up throwing out 70 glasses of lemonade but I still made a profit.  That’s the important thing.  Now, my fate and the fate of my lemonade business depended on tomorrow’s weather.

37 Lemonade

Oh yeah, baby!  Hot and dry!

38 Lemonade

I had learned my lesson from yesterday.  I made less glasses but I paid for two signs.  And I charged a little more because it’s hot and dry.  People are suffering out there.  They need my lemonade and I need their money.

39 Lemonade

$4.15 in profit!  I am a business genius!  Get out of my way, Bill Gates!  Look out, Warren Buffett!  There’s a new player on the block!

But then I asked myself, “When did this crazy business become all about money?”  It was supposed to be about the lemonade.  I had made my money and proven my point.  Taking my $4.15 with me, I pressed ESC and retired from the lemonade game.

I never looked back.

After that, I left the Internet Archive.  I was through exploring for the night but I knew that I would come back in the future and simulate another presidential election or attempt to survive in New York City or maybe I would even get back in the lemonade business.

But you can forget about the Sex Olympics.

Dr. Dildo can have that medal.

Jedadiah Leland’s Adventures In The Internet Archive


I have just returned from exploring the Internet Archive.  The Archive, which is also the home of the Wayback Machine, is a non-profit online library with millions of free books, movies, software, music, and websites.  In particular, I have always been interested in their collection of old MS-DOS games and that is what I was looking at tonight.  While I could have played Oregon Trail or maybe one of the many Leisure Suit Larry games available, I instead decided to check out four lesser known games.

The first game I played was Hidden Agenda (1988, Trans Fiction Systems, Inc.)

Hidden Agenda

Hidden Agenda is a strategy game.  You have just taken over as the president of a South American country and you have to decide how you are going to rule.  Are you going to be a corrupt dictator or an idealistic reformer?

I played the game twice.  The first time I played, I filled my cabinet with right-wingers, pardoned the leader of the former dictator’s death squad, and sanctioned the murder of a labor leader.  The second time I played, I filled my cabinet with communists, jailed the leader of the death squad, and gave into every demand.  Both times, my government was overthrown after a year and I was executed in my office.

ha2

Hidden Agenda has a learning curve that I have yet to master but it was still an interesting game.  Some players will probably find it to be too dry but I appreciated that the game attempted to take a realistic approach to the trials and tribulations of leading a post-revolutionary society.

After getting executed for the second time, I decided to play a safer political simulation, President Elect (1987, Strategic Simulations, Inc.).

1988

A perfect game for political junkies, President Elect allows you to manage a presidential campaign.  You can either take part in a historical campaign, like Kennedy vs. Nixon in 1960, or you can create your own candidates by answering questions about their positions and their abilities as a campaigner.  You get to decide everything your candidate does, from what states he visits to whether or not he agrees to a debate.

I decided to run a simulation based on the current election.  Since the game does not include any candidates beyond 1988, I created versions of Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and Gary Johnson.  I did my best to be fair and unbiased while determining their strengths and weaknesses as campaigners.  For instance, I gave Hillary a low public speaking rating while rating her highly for her poise under pressure.  I gave Trump a low score for poise under pressure but a high score for his ability to get and hold an audience’s attention.  I then entered in the current economic conditions.

For 9 game weeks, I managed Gary Johnson’s campaign and got nowhere.  I did not have as much money as Trump or Clinton, which meant I could not afford to campaign as extensively as they could, and I watched as my national support got smaller and smaller with each passing week.  On election night, it was clear who was going to win.

I don’t want to panic anyone but here’s the final result of the simulation:

president elect

After watching Donald Trump win every state in the union (though he did lose the District of Columbia), I decided to give Kingmaker (1994, TM Games) a try.

km

Kingmaker opens with none other than William Shakespeare explaining the history behind the War of the Roses.

Kingmaker 1

In Kingmaker, you are one of the claimants battling to become the king of England.  After Shakespeare’s introduction, you are given a series of options regarding how difficult you want your game to be.  This was my favorite:

Kingmaker2

Advanced plague?  This was going to be fun!

Unfortunately, then the game started:

kingmaker3

I spent a few minutes moving the arrow over England and clicking.  Nothing happened.  I clicked on the boxes at the bottom of the screen.  Nothing happened.  I clicked on the names over on the right side of the screen.  Nothing happened.

I had run into the biggest potential problem with playing the games in the Internet Archive: none of the games come with their original instruction manual.  Kingmaker looked like it could have been fun and I usually enjoy strategy games but I got frustrated trying to figure out how it worked.  Perhaps if I can find a copy of the game’s manual, I will try to play it again.

Once it became clear that I was never going to figure out how to play Kingmaker, I decided to try Executive Suite (1982, Armonk Corporation).

Executive Suite

Executive Suite is a largely text-based game in which you attempt to go from an entry-level job to being president of the Mighty Microcomputer Corporation.

Executie Suite 2

The game starts with the receptionist, Angie, asking if your resume is on file or if you need to go through the interview process.  Angie is so helpful!  I bet MMC is going to be a great place to work!

exective Suite 3

Since I did not have a resume on file, I decided to submit to the interview process.

The interview started normally enough.

Executive Suite 4

The interviewer then asked me what part of the country I was from.   I selected the northeast.

Executie Suite 5

The questions continued.  The interviewer asked me where I went to college.  He asked me if I had an advanced degree.  He asked me what I majored in.  I selected Girls.  (That was an option.)

Then he asked me this:

Executive Suite 6

I am sure that question violated some sort of law but I must have given the right answer because he then told me this:

Executive Suite 7

Finally, I was allowed to apply for a job.

Executive Suite 8

Once I was finally hired, I was presented with my first big decision:

Executive SUite 9

Of course I’m going to go drinking with the boys!  What could possibly go wrong?

Executive Suite 10

That worked out well!  This Bucky Carter seems to be a great guy.  I wonder what other ideas he has.

Executive Suite 11

Another chance to bond with the boys?  Forget studying, let’s get down at the local house of ill-repute!

Executive Suite 12

I made a mistake but I’m new here and it was just my first day.  Surely, this will not still be held against me after I’ve been with the company for a year.

Executive Suite 13

This doesn’t look good.

Executive Suite 14

An envelope?  Maybe I’m getting a promotion!

Executive Suite 15

That’s not good.

Executive Suite 16

It does not look like I am going to be the president of the Mighty Microcomputer Corporation any time soon.   I’m not giving up though.  I will definitely be playing Executive Suite again!

In fact, there are still many games in the archive that I am going check out.  In fact, I just spotted something called Sex Olympics. 

I shall return.

Horror Review: Silent Hill 2


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Horror and psychology are two things that interest me. I currently major in the latter, and would do so in the former if I could. From that, one might assume (correctly) that I like psychological horror. This is part of the reason why I believe, and will try to convince you of, that Silent Hill 2 is the best game ever made.

Ok, that might have been sudden, but bear with me.

Firstly, context. As the game’s plot goes, you play as James Sunderland, and you have been a widow for two years when suddenly you receive a letter from the late missus, Mary (which is never a good sign), beckoning you to the town of Silent Hill, where you two once visited in a happy vacation. In your confusion about where the letter came from, you follows its instructions (I realize some of you wouldn’t, but imagine you live in a universe where “Silent Hill” isn’t synonymous with “absolutely fucking terrifying”), finding a completely different town from the one you vacationed in with Mary.

silenthill

Now, fans sometimes disagree about which is the best Silent Hill in the series (though the most self-entitled “hardcore fans” will say that Silent Hill 2 is the gospel). That’s understandable. Generally, Silent Hill games deal with the occult and demonic creatures, while Silent Hill the Second differs from the other ones. It is very abstract where the others are… less abstract. The psychological symbolisms are there in every game if you look for it, but it’s delicious icing in an otherwise already delicious cake. People don’t always stop to appreciate it.

Silent Hill 2 forces you to appreciate it. It doesn’t much care about the pagan lore of its foggy, homonymous town. The subject is barely touched upon, and when it is, you may not even realize it’s relevant to the series as a whole. The lore is there to prove that this is indeed part of the series, but this is a game that stands alone on its own. There is no evil, quasi-satanic clergy trying to foil your attempts of survival and/or rescuing your loved ones.

The standalone structure of Silent Hill 2 makes it great even for the potentially uninitiated to the series, who only knows the games as “that ones with the fog and the monsters”. Silent Hill 2 is almost a spin-off, barely connected to the continuity of the saga and more focused on the characters that compose its plot. This is a straight up story of people who are, on an emotional level, profoundly tormented, and why they are tormented, and how they are tormented.AngelaKnife2

While playing, you will stumble upon aberrations roaming the streets and buildings of the small town. You see, Mary’s illness that led to her death took a toll on James, and this toll becomes material through the town’s power. His feelings from watching Mary’s transformation from a vibrant woman into a miserable terminal patient are shown in the monster’s designs. Anger for not understanding why this had to happen to the woman he loved and for her becoming emotionally abusive from the pain of an undisclosed illness. Sexual frustration from being at her bedside to the very end, unable to be with her, but also unable to leave her. Everything is a reflection of James’ damaged psyche. The game explores some very grey areas of human morality through its development of James’ good and bad personality traits, all of which are too human.

When I said Silent Hill 2 is the best game ever made, of course I acknowledge that as an opinion. It is, instead, a personal favorite of mine. However being the fantastic psychological thriller it is, most people who played it would say that Silent Hill 2 should be featured in the annals of videogame history as a masterpiece, and you’d be hard pressed to convince them otherwise. The only exaggeration would be claiming you won’t find a better game, as that is subjective. Just understand that many of us are still looking for one. It’s such a unique videogame experience, and one you should play yourself to understand the beautifully conceived characters.

Lauraandjames

Except for this one. Laura’s a little twerp.

Terra Battle: Tactical Fantasy


What is Terra Battle?

Terra Battle is an RPG mobile game available on Google Play. It has four races, human, lizardmen, beast folk, and stone folk. Standard job classes like archer, healer, mage, knight, and warrior are present. A mage can have affinity to the following elements: fire, ice, lightning, and darkness.

How is it a tactical fantasy?

The human job classes wear similar attire and have a military aesthetic.  The uniforms aren’t near Modern Warfare or Call of Duty level of advancement.  They have a post Industrial Revolution flair that is reminiscent of the Order 1886.

Archer

Archer

Healer

Healer

Knight

Knight

Mage

Mage_(Fire) Mage_(Lightning) Mage_(Ice) Mage_(Darkness) Warrior

Warrior

Art Acknowledgements:

The art is by Kimihiko Fujisaka

Review: Sunless Sea


Sunless-SeaI acquired Sunless Sea by impulse as soon as I heard it was a “story-driven roguelike”. I had heard of it before as a “lovecraftian ship navigation simulator”. So happens it attempts to be both, and executes its proposal with laudable competence. Sunless Sea is Uncharted Waters: New Horizons for the SNES meets Eternal Darkness for the Gamecube. It is Sid Meier’s Pirates with a Doctor Who, wacky kind of horror, eldritch and horrifying in its own right. It is fantastic, and scary and fascinating.

Sunless Sea evokes the mysteriousness of the oceans during the age of discoveries and displaces it into a fantasy, steampunk, victorian London to create a setting appropriately unknown. Your home port of Fallen London (Which as it implies, is London after falling into the earth. Get with the program.) is the only mostly safe place in the underground sea referred to as the Unterzee. As soon as you set sail from Fallen London, there’s no telling what you’ll find, with bat swarms, giant crabs and rat pirates being some of the most tame enemies you’ll encounter. The Unterzee is appropriately feared by those that dwell in it, and your own terror is only one of the things you must manage, lest despair drives you into joining the ghosts in the sea. Mind you, this is not a metaphor, there are actual sea ghosts who, on occasion, wail for you to join them. Your ship’s light brings some comfort at the cost of precious fuel. You must balance the intake of fear with the diminishing fuel and food supplies. It is a game of management. as well as exploration.

sunless1

But most of all, it’s story-driven. There is no single story to speak, but all of them are superbly written. You travel from port to port, from tale to tale, every one of them as eerie as the previous and never the same as any other. The seas are ruled by the gods of Salt, of Stone and of Storm, and you seek their favour, only hoping not to displease any of them. Spider-silk and mushroom wine are common trading goods, while human souls and uncensored romantic novels are illegal commodities. Every island you visit is a story. Every game update is a new set of stories added. It is a fascinating, ever expanding world for the fantasy and horror writer and all its consumers.

If I had to describe Sunless Sea in one word, it would be “enigmatic”. More extensively I’d describe it as dashingly green and black. But it offers too much content; it’s too original to be summarized so briefly. As a roguelike, it is unconventional. As a horror story, it is promising, and as an indie game as a whole it is very successful. I can only hope the Unterzee becomes richer and richer with its programmed updates, and so should you.

 

First Impressions: Dying Light (Techland / Warner Bros.)


Dying_Light_coverThe short of it:

Dying Light is an impressive Co-Op game that allows you and 3 other friends to take down Zombies in a spectacular fashion, while clambering up and over obstacles. Working together, it’s a lot of fun. You may find the game’s mechanics are a little too familiar, played a million times before in different renditions. If you can get by that, it’s a great experience. Even better, if you love those mechanics, it’s like Oreo’s and Ice Cream. The lighting effects – particularly the day and night cycles – may have you pausing your game to take in the sights, while of course keeping one eye on your watch or the horizon. Those expecting something entirely new may be a little disappointed, because the final product isn’t quite the same as what was first advertised. It’s very close, though.

The long of it:

“Okay, where to next?”, my Xbox Live friend, “Souless” asks me. We’re standing on the top of a large radio tower. With every passing second, the world around is growing darker. This is the city of Harran, devastated by a zombie infection. It’s also Techland and Warner Bros. new game, Dying Light.

“Well, we have that last area to check out to the North…”, I say, glancing over at the horizon. The sun is gone, the only lights around us coming from the city. A message appears, alerting us that Night is Coming, and strange screeching sounds can be heard in the distance.

“Or we can just go home.” I say. “Drop this stuff off.”

Suddenly, there’s a rumble sound, causing our controllers to shake.

“Airdrop!” Souless calls out. “Where?”

I catch sight of the plane as it banks and a box falls from it’s rear. The plane goes along its merry way and the box lands not too far from a zipline connected to our tower. A light blue flare shoots up into the sky from it’s location, and I mark a waypoint on our map that we both can see.

“Not too far from us, on my side. Waypoint set, let’s go!” I say, and ride the zipline down. Souless arrives near me a few seconds later, and we start running towards the package. On our radar, two blips appear near the drop site, complete with vision cones, pointed in the opposite direction of where we’re coming from.

“I’ve got two Night Hunters. One to our left, and another at our 2’o clock.” I say, our characters climbing up and over sheds, houses and finally arriving at the site. Before us are two large orange crates, illuminated in a blue light.

“Sweet! We got here first.” I say, opening one chest. Souless opens the other. If you take too much time getting to these drops, chances are you’ll have to fight others for their contents or come up empty-handed when you reach the packages. We’ve got medical supplies to fight the infection. The folks at our home base will pay us well to bring this back.

“Got a survival kit and some meds. I’m heading out.” Souless says, coming over to me and checking my crate. In Co-Op, Dying Light lets up to 4 players jump into the game. Whenever any chest is opened, it’s contents are available to everyone – meaning that I snatch some Coffee, I’m not taking it from any one player. They’ll all have their Coffee or item available in the box as well. I move to Souless’ crate and pick up some more goodies. I do notice his blip on the map move away from mine, and one of the vision cones turn toward me. A sharp scream cuts through the night.

“They’re on me, go, go, go!!” I say and I’m off. While running at full speed, I tap the “Y” button to look behind me, and there’s this weird muscle-bound creature sprinting on my tail, its appearance similar to Guillermo Del Toro’s vampires in Blade II and The Strain. A quick flash from my UV light disturbs the creature, giving me a few seconds to duck down an alley and break the line the sight. Thankfully, we’ve set up this online session so that we don’t have Zombie Invasions. With that feature enabled, other players can actually jump into Co-Op games as Night Hunters, chasing the rest of the crew with better mobility. We’re hustling up and over walls and eventually make it back home to the safety of our home base and it’s UV spotlights.

We decide to call it a night.

If you merged together the movement style of EA’s Mirror’s Edge, the Zombie Onslaught of Techland’s Dead Island, added the Outpost game mechanic of Ubisoft’s Farcry 3 & 4 and the randomization of weapons from Gearbox’s Borderlands series, you’d probably end up with Dying Light. All of it feels very familiar once you start playing it (though this isn’t entirely a bad thing).  I’ll admit that at the first gameplay session, I was worried by the control system, especially having come from years of Mirror Edge. Additionally, the game picked up some controversy by not lifting the embargo for reviews until the last-minute, even though both companies stated that they’d avoid doing so. I’ve adjusted to it, and I’m really enjoying the game so far.

In the game, you play Kyle Crane, voiced by Roger Craig Smith (Resident Evil’s Chris Redfield and Assassin’s Creed’s Ezio Auditore), an agent dropped into the city of Harran to locate a missing official, requiring him to go undercover. The moment he parachutes into the city, he’s attacked both by an enemy raiders and is bit by a Zombie. Though infected, he and others have been able to keep the change at bay by the use of a medicine called Antizen. The Antizen is delivered to the town daily via airdrops. During the day, it’s a safe as an episode of the Walking Dead. You travel from place to place, scavenging parts from places and money from Zombies. When the sun sets, the Night Hunters rise. You’re given fair warning of the sunset by way of a Purge-like announcement. The game’s menu also comes with a clock to let you keep track (though this is only revealed after the tutorial missions).  suppose they’ve studied Parkour as well, because when they chase you, it takes every skill you know to evade them and break the line of sight. It’s not as terrifying as I thought it would be, but you’ll die a lot if you’re not careful. The fear in Dying Light’s Nighttime sequences isn’t whether a Night Hunter will find you, but getting swarmed by them. Once one pursues you, they all pursue you. If you’re not ready for the night, you can sleep it off at any safe zone and handle your tasks in the daytime. The game does reward you for nighttime runs by automatically doubling the amount of experience you gain for your Agility and Power, letting you easily level up if you’ve the courage to do so.

The default controls in Dying Light are surprisingly simple. The right bumper is your best friend, allowing you to jump and vault. Where Mirror’s Edge had you flipping between your left and right fingers like a pinball machine, the single jump button of Dying Light lets you move with ease. As long as you hold the jump button and are looking at where you want to go, you’re guaranteed to grab a ledge. This is particularly important when descending ledges. What should be a drop and grab becomes a free fall if you don’t hold that button. More advanced moves, like sliding, tackling, drop kicking need to be unlocked as you gain experience. This was the element that bothered me in my first levels of the game. Part of me was under the impression that I’d be fully mobile, wall running doing all those crazy parkour moves right from the start.

The attack button is right below that, allowing you to swing  such as pipes, sticks and knives with ease. The weapons you pick up do get damaged over time, so you’ll need to repair them (usually while running). Swinging on Zombies takes its toll on your player, and you only have so much stamina to work with before rushing back into the fray. Weapons can also be upgraded with electrical or fire damage, which the game seems to borrow from Borderlands. Eventually, you move up to guns, but I can’t say how well that factors into a game like where some of your enemies are rushing at you as the same speed you move.

Once the sun sets, the Night Hunters come out, and they're hungry.

Once the sun sets, the Night Hunters come out, and they’re hungry.

The skill tree system is wonderful. You’re given 3 types of skill trees – Survival (points awarded for crafting items and helping others), Agility (points awarded for climbing, vaulting and using other abilities), and Power ( points awarded through creatively kicking some zombie butt). These are really fun, and I can’t wait to unlock some of these features. For example, the Survival tree has the camouflage ability that allows one to rub dead guts all over themselves and walk among the infected without drawing attention, though attacking will kill the cloak. Other abilities include being able to slide and break an un-expecting zombie’s leg, or rig a car to explode a bunch of Zeds in one shot while you stand on a rooftop and laugh.

From a graphics standpoint, Dying Light is sweet. Harran (or what I’ve seen of it anyway), is more or less a  favela (think of that first chase in The Incredible Hulk or Fast Five). I get the notion that the map may expand. I hope it does, because it’s rather small right now. Still, the city’s transition from Night to Day, along with the weather effects just add to the atmosphere of a place gone sour. Blood sprays are the norm, rendered at near 1080p on the Xbox One and at 1080p on the PS4. I’ve yet to run into any slowdown issues with all of the running that’s being done. Another standout is the loading time. Coming off Mirror’s Edge, which gave you these incredible load times while you stood in an elevator, Dying Light’s transitions between stages are a jaw dropping delight. Then again, I’ve only moved up to Next Gen recently, and that sense of power’s new to me. Others may disagree.

Dying Light will have you facing against hordes of zombies, but so far, I haven't seen any that are this big.

Dying Light will have you facing against hordes of zombies, but so far, I haven’t seen any that are this big.

Another feature I like is the “New Game” system. If you’ve played through part the game with a friend, but don’t wan’t to break that connection where you both left off, you can choose to make a brand new game that starts you at the end of the tutorial and lets you keep your skills progression. So, if your player is a level 9 in everything (the top is 25 in everything) in your original game, you can keep that. Your weapons, however, don’t come with you.

In terms of problems, the only thing I can tell with Dying Light is the connection for playing a Co-op game, and how it doesn’t exactly feel extremely innovative. In trying to join games, I’ve had a number of connection issues, even when both Xbox Live and Techland’s servers are running. Invites sent to me, or mine sent to others fail when the invited party try to join. The only way we’ve been able to successfully connect is by using the join feature within Live itself, and once it holds, it ties together very fast. Each player is given their own color mark so that they can be tracked on the map. Players can also separate and check whatever part of the map they choose. If they stumble upon a story marker, they won’t be able to play it until everyone joins them – easily done with the Quick Travel feature. Additionally, the tutorial for the game is long. You’re shown how to move, and are given some missions to how you the move from day to night. It’s like having to deal with that first mission in GTA Online when the game’s servers were first glitched.

If you’ve watched the early Alpha Footage, you kind of get the feeling that a bit of it was left out of the main game. This is normal though. Games change drastically between the Alpha and final versions. I’ve fought tons of zombies, but the game has yet to reach Dead Rising levels. Maybe this is because of the processing power, or because I’m still early on. I can’t say it’s bad, but I would like a moment where I look down off a roof and go…”Nope. Not landing in the middle of that.” There always seems to be good exit around.

So there you have it. Dying Light. If you like Freerunning, it’s worth a try. If you love zombies, take a look. If you love both, it might be just what you’re looking for. Just be sure to keep your eye on the clock.