Getting Steamy with creepy dead monsters

Remember when Steam came out for Mac? Or even when Valve released teaser images suggesting that Steam would soon come out for Mac? Oh man. That was awesome. I got so excited.

I didn’t really have a good reason to be excited though. I mean, I had played a few rounds of Left 4 Dead on an Xbox, with a whole crew of people sitting in a dark room and taking turns playing the game, which was projected onto an entire wall of an apartment. And I was godawful but MAN was that fun. Also, a little terrifying. But despite the fact that I’m a mac user and was extremely stoked about Steam coming to my platform, there was still no way I was going to be able to play any of those games. I mean, okay, I’m not sure how monstrous and intense all of the Steam-powered games are, but the ones I was really interested in (which, yes, was mostly L4D, and maybe a little bit Half Life) required a lot more gusto than my computer had to offer. It’s a first generation Macbook. It’s at least six years old. It does not have a big harddrive. It is not running an OS past 10.4. It doesn’t even know what a lion is. I’m sure there are words like “CPU” (okay so that’s an acronym, but I at least think I know what it stands for) and “graphics card” and “RAM” (I definitely know what that one stands for, I just don’t know if it has anything to do with this issue) that would better explain what exactly it is my dear old machine lacks, but I was an English major and I’m just going to go ahead and express it with terminology like “gusto” and possibly later, “oomph.”

Now, right after Steam came out for Mac, my pals got themselves all stoked about Left 4 Dead 2, and started playing it with each other, and I was extremely distressed. My abject love for the first game, I thought, should count for something. I wanted in the group, even though I couldn’t afford, or for that matter, run the game. However, in light of recent developments, including my L4D2 birthday present and the decidedly oomphier hardware surrounding me, I finally got what I wanted: to play.

Okay. So I’m pretty bad. This is often a major deterrent for me upon starting a new game. I’m angry that I’m not better at it from the very beginning. In a single player game, like an RPG, I can usually push past this phase, but part of the appeal of L4D2, at least for me, is the social, team-aspect of it. That social, team-aspect can really bite you in the ass, though, if you suck at the game. That’s the reason I tried to play Halo exactly once before concluding that I had better things to do than be mercilessly mocked and relentlessly killed in-game by a bunch of douchebags. Who maybe were trying to prove something? I don’t know. All they proved to me was that they were douchebags.

In this scenario, I’ve been much more lucky. My team, comprised of myself, the two dudes I live with, and a fourth that rotates depending on who else is available, is not so good at the game that I’m entirely holding them back, but also so so so much better at the game than I am, so we don’t all immediately fall over dead the second a zombie wanders into frame. Also, none of these guys are douchebags. Which means they generally try to come back for me when I get Smoked, they hover before moving on to the next area when I’m stuck in a corner, and they patiently remind me which key it is that makes me crouch. They’re also willing to look at the gun I’m holding and tell me what it is, point out which way we’re going to run once someone alerts the horde, and they don’t even get that mad when I become frantic and spray them with bullets. Without these guys, I can imagine I’d actually have a lot of trouble sticking with this game. Which would be a shame, because there are all these reasons why it’s great:

  1. Style, style and more style: Really, this is what sets this game apart from any shooter I’ve ever played. Not that I’ve played a ton, or anything. On principle, I’m not a fan of shooters. Or guns. Or… violence. I know, I know– how could I possibly be so into Splattersville McMonstermash 2? Well. Both L4D and its sequel are essentially zombie movies that you play. And it actually feels that way. The characters talk to each other and crack jokes like characters in a cheesy zombie film would, the walls are covered in survivor graffiti, and the levels are designed to have rising and falling action, culminating always in a daring escape attempt that I don’t even mind watching from the ghostly heavens when my character is dead and gone. Playing through these levels makes you feel not only like you’re in a zombie movie, but like you are a legitimate badass in a zombie movie. Let me draw your attention to the level Dark Carnival, where you fend off zombie attacks while blasting the sound and pyrotechnics of a rock show. Awesome. Each campaign is short enough that you don’t get sick of the game during the level, but I also never feel like it goes too fast.
  2. Good for your heart: Okay. Maybe not. But I mean, getting your heart rate up counts as a sport, right? Nah, but seriously. I love how wound up this game gets me. Even if I’m dead at the end of a level because I couldn’t manage to climb a ladder before a Tank showed up, my heart’s still racing when the credits roll. And, what’s more, that’s not a feeling that seems to disappear as you get better. From what my hairy cohorts tell me, even if you don’t totally suck at this game, that feeling of frantic, desperate survival doesn’t go away. Which means it doesn’t allow itself to become mindless, boring grinding. Which is good, ’cause I hate that.
  3. Everyone gets boned sometimes: I think I’ve made it pretty clear now that I’m not great at this game, but in spite of that, I’m not only frantic and excited, I’m also pretty useful sometimes. I know! It isn’t actually an endless parade of death and falling off the edges of things for me, as I’ve implied. I’m also sometimes the only one who axes my way through a horde successfully, and as a result, I’m sometimes the person who gets everybody else back up. Sometimes the stars align and I shoot that nasty ass Spitter before she spits, and actually do my team a service. I mean, aside from my charming company. But there’s something nice about a game that lets me get things right from time to time, and lets my more talented cohorts fuck up. It’s not equal, but it’s not massively unfair either. Which is nice.

On some level, I do wish there was a little more variety in the L4D playable ladies, (you can be Rochelle, the young and sexy badass in L4D2, and sometimes you can play as Zoey, the young and sexy badass from the first game). Not to the point that it really bothers me, though– all of the characters in these games are very much zombie movie characters. Which means we’ve seen them all before, in loads and loads of zombie/action/thriller films. I sort of feel like Valve’s winking at us through the tropes. The hick, the office worker, the old veteran and the coach are no less “tropetastic” (to borrow an entirely ridiculous word from by special lady-friend) than the zombie-smashing hottie. And I mean, no one’s stopping me from playing as the Coach, so it’s all good.

I’m not entirely sure how to wrap this up. A grade? A recommendation? Both seem a little silly, since this game isn’t exactly new. But maybe for the sake of people like myself, who are so far from what’s current and cutting edge, it’s worth a try to make a recommendation with that in mind.

Recommended for: people who love zombie movies, people with a good group to play with, people who like jokes, people with short attention spans, people who like shouting.

Not recommended for: people who are afraid of zombies, people who are afraid of the dark, people who love newbie zones, people who like leveling, people who are afraid of coaches.

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Back to square one: stories from a recovering non-gamer

I’ve recently moved into this house, let’s call it “The Crow’s Nest,” which has triggered a lot of changes to my particular brand of lifestyle. Foremostly, I have roommates now. Big, burly, man-type roommates. With hair. And video games. Secondmostly, I have shrugged off my mortal employment coil and find myself now hunting, desperately, for some way to make money and stay busy (in that order) in a very, very small town. Now, I know that this is no way to behave in a recession (or post-recession depression. or whatever you want to call it.) and I know it’s pretty irresponsible to shuff off a good job as a Barista-and-Burrito-Maker Extrordinare just so I can live with my loved ones, but hey, life is short, okay? I am dutifully jorb-hunting here in Smalltown, USA, but this week I’m also technically using my accrued vacation time, so I am, sort of, getting paid as I sit here blogging and craigslisting.

Of course, one can only blog-and-craigslist so much before one loses one’s precious mind. And one can only live with one’s burly man-type roommates before one falls into their lifestyle, and starts eating a lot of kielbasa, steak, and canned chili mixed with hot dogs. And when one receives a free copy of Left 4 Dead 2 for her birthday and is invited to play along with one’s haired roommates, one might have a difficult time turning this down.

So I didn’t. Now, I’m not new to video games. Not by a long shot. I grew up with an older brother, in the golden age of consoles. Without him, I probably wouldn’t have played games on my own, but thanks to his interests I was inundated with everything Mario from a very young age. Sure, my motor skills weren’t as developed as his were (this was also the time in my life when I learned how to be a gracious loser) but I learned to jump over the piranha plants and stomp the goombas and avoid Torpedo Ted just like everyone else. And that’s not all: I was mediocre at best when controlling Diddie Kong, but by the time Dixie Kong came along I could helicopter that ponytail like the best of them (and when DK 64 came out, I was among the righteously indignant that Dixie was left behind). I played all the way through Super Mario RPG, I watched unreasonable hours of other RPGs while my brother played them, I get “spoony bard” jokes, and I know the tune of Aria di Mezzo Carattere. I even had the occasional shining moment where I really didn’t suck that bad at Perfect Dark. As I got older, I started trucking through Final Fantasies and Xenosagas more or less on my own, and that made enough of a segue into anime that I fell into that crowd in high school and moved away, more or less, from games. I’d always bonded with my brother through gaming, but since he was away at school, and my new social circle was less game-based, I found that I still enjoyed playing through old favorites, but rarely looked for new and interesting things.

I’m referring primarily to video games, obviously, but I could probably tell approximately the same story about my experiences with card and table top gaming. I got into Magic: The Gathering in elementary school, but my attention span was short and the hobby was expensive, so I didn’t stick with that. Again, I could blame that on my brother– when he played, he needed someone to practice with, so I played, too. Once he’d moved on, I could only maintain my interest for a year or so before I too moved on to something new. I played D&D with my friends in high school up to my senior year, but when I went away to school and our group spread out in general, my interest in the game waned. These nerdy pursuits, or “dorktivities” if you will, still so much define the friends I make now, but the truth is, I haven’t really played these kinds of games in years. Sure, I go revisit old favorites– what’s the point of owning Final Fantasy X if you can’t crack open a beer and revisit the old soap opera? Or play blitzball, if you’re so inclined (I was not. Ever.)? And I certainly still enjoy the occasional one shot round of D&D, assuming I can find a DM who’ll put up with my love of the ridiculous.

But now. Now I am in a whole new world. I world where I am surrounded by games again, and living with at least one affluent gentleman who makes regular forays into the jungle of GameStop to see what’s new, and purchase it. And, to tell you the truth, I’m actually quite excited. And, in some ways, frustrated. It’s been long enough since I’ve played games seriously (sure, I spent a few hours banging on trash cans with a crowbar in Half Life 2 last year. Sure, a couple of years ago I struggled with an Xbox controller to shoot zombies and not fall off of ledges in Left 4 Dead. Sure, I briefly had a copy of Diablo II installed on my computer so I could slay demons whenever I was feeling particularly violent towards my then-boyfriend) that I can’t avoid being appended with that dreaded title: n00b. It kind of makes me want to tear out my hair and shoot fire arrows at stuff, but I should probably come to terms with it. I haven’t ever REALLY been a hardcore gamer, and I haven’t been a softcore one in years.

But now, I can turn over a new leaf. Especially this week. I can job hunt, I can network, and I can get some writing done, and I can really relish whatever’s then left of my vacation time, and play some damn video games. And I can tell you guys all about it. Gaming, from a n00b’s perspective– or, in perhaps less distressing terminology– games from a recovering non-gamer.