Bringer of Pestilence and Fear!

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As you can see I have managed to finish off painting my Corpse Cart with the Balefire upgrade. In battles over 1500pts I’m considering using it as a mount for my necromancer to afford him some measure of protection and to improve his mobility. The extra movement will allow the necromancer to move to behind the battle lines to where augmentation magic or a good old Invocation of Nehek is needed to bolster the lines (which is often, undead are not great fighters generally speaking.) Undead units also benefit from proximity to the unit when augment spells are successfully cast upon it. 

 

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Hopefully my erstwhile Grave Guard will be completed soon. Thanks for reading!

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Have next-gen sales spelt doom for Nintendo?

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As the sales figures for the PS4 and Xbox One have become apparent, with both selling above 1 million units on their first release days, there have been the inevitable cries from all corners of the internet proclaiming Nintendo to be doomed and facing ruination. I hope this is not the case, and there are several reasons why I don’t think that it will be. Yes the initial sales projections for the WiiU are disappointingly low, but the total projected sales is still higher than those accumulated by the GameCube. Now this console was also seen to be a failure, a flop, but the roster of games that it had was excellent and offered some quality gaming. The N64 before it too was outsold by the Playstation and was considered to be a bit of a commercial failure. People bemoaned the Wii before its release, claiming limited commercial viability, and yet to this day it has sold over 100 million units. Now, it looks unlikely that the WiiU will reach anywhere near these heights, but the overall point is that despite industry perceptions and predictions, Nintendo have always managed to keep a hand in the game.

 

Not too long ago people were writing Nintendo off because it came to light that they were making a loss on each WiiU sold. Now it has come to light that the XboxOne is also sold at a loss and that the financial aspect to Microsoft’s gaming side of the company is not as rosy as everyone expected. Lucky for them they have such a strong income from Android technology to shore them up. Selling hardware at a loss is a tactic that has long been used in the console industry, relying on software sales etc so make money back. Fortunately, Nintendo are no slouches in the software department.

 

The next gen sales figures will not worry Nintendo overly much (in public at least anyway) as they claim not to be in competition with their counterparts as they offer a different and complimentary gaming experience. Happily Nintendo also has revenue coming in from other avenues. The 3DS, after a slow start, has been selling consistently well, and will continue to do so on the run-up to christmas. Several big name game releases, such as Pokemon X and Y and Zelda: A Link Between Worlds have increasingly helped to generate interest in the hand-held console, adding even more weight to an already impressive games line-up, with more big name titles on the way. Nintendo are not a spent force yet in creative terms and hopefully the 3DS’s success will help to mitigate any losses incurred by the WiiU. In addition to this, there are signs that Nintendo are starting to think about moving into the phone and tablet gaming industry, allowing some of their titles to appear on these formats. Given the potential number of customers that can be reached in this way this will hopefully help to improve their profit turnovers.

 

Of course, I could be wrong. My knowledge of the business world is pretty shaky at best. I am however, familiar with Nintendo’s games and its fans, and I have faith in both. Let me know what you think!

Wreck-it-Ralph

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Today I’m going to depart from my usual musings about gaming to talk a little bit about the latest film that I got my hands on. I was thoughtfully given a DVD of Disney’s Wreck-it-Ralph for my birthday a few weeks ago. Before I go into detail about this film, let me just confess that I love Disney films from across all era’s. They are always beautifully drawn/animated and are funny feel good films. Some of Disney’s latest efforts in the form of Tangled and Brave have been their best yet. Happily, Wreck-it-Ralph is continuing this streak of hits. The basic premise of the film is that Ralph is a bad guy in a Fix It Felix Jr arcade game who gets tired of being hated in his game for being the bad guy and who abandons his game to prove himself a hero in another game so that his fellow game characters will accept him. The idea of creating a story exploring the lives of characters in an arcade complex is genius, a really interesting concept to work with. Gamers, particularly those who have played games since the early arcades opened, will love this film. The film is littered with hilarious jokes and references to games from across the ages and features many classic gaming icons and characters throughout. Even those not normally inclined to enjoying animated films may find themselves enjoying this one. Gaming references aside, the rest of the film is also of high quality. The animation is extremely beautiful throughout and certainly seems to be the best the Disney can create at the moment with excellent character design and landscaping. The interior of the Sugar Rush game in particular looks astonishingly good and is worth watching for just as a work of art. The music in the film is very good with a strong retro-games feeling to it in most places. The storyline is innovative and entertaining throughout and consistently delivers laughs throughout. Overall I think that this film is a great effort from Disney a really interesting concept delivered exceptionally well. Any gaming fans would do well to give this film a go.  

GameCube isn’t retro is it? Oh…..

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I was in a marvellous store the other day which had a massive collection of games and consoles dating back to the NES era and even a few odds and ends from before the NES. I was also rather impressed by a beautiful set of Zelda pins and a Majora’s Mask cushion. I was happily browsing some old games when I heard someone say “Hey a GameCube! I used to have one of those, seems so retro now.” My initial thought was that this was a stupid thing to say, the Cube was only released in….. oh. What do you mean twelve years ago?! Upon, reflection I conceded that this console may well be straying into the realms of retro-ness. I also feel that this console was also heavily underrated. True it sold 20 million units overall, but I know that in my school at least, buying one made you a little uncool. Its a shame really, many people will have missed out on this console, and their was actually a large selection of very high quality titles on this platform. I’ve listed ten of my favourites that I think that everybody needs to play. I’m not saying they’re the best games; I can only speak for games that I owned, being unable to afford all the great games on an 11 year old’s budget. In no particular order I begin with:

 

Second Sight:

 

 

This game, created by Codemaster and Free Radical Design (incidentally made up of people who worked on the N64 Rare titles) is an underrated and relatively unknown classic. Released on a multiple platforms, this third person shooter look great on the GameCube’s more powerful hardware. This game’s particular draw was the ability to use psychic powers on the surrounding environment and enemies such as healing, telekinesis, psi attack, projection and possession. This game was fairly ahead of its time featuring NPC team mates, rag-doll physics, using the environment for cover, and of course, the ability to choke enemies Darth Vader style and throw them out of windows. The storyline is engaging and innovative as the playable character tries to regain his memories and discover the cause of his psychic talents. Uniquely, the actions you take in the levels in the past can change the present. Wonderful stuff.

 

Donkey Konga:

 

 

Yes, this game was expensive at the time to factor in the cost of the bongos, and yes if you wanted to play multi-player you had to buy more bongos, but it was worth it. This game is hilarious to play. Essentially it works in the same way as guitar hero or tap tap revenge. Notes play across the screen and you have to left drum, right drum, both drum or clap as the icon indicates. Sounds simple. And it is, on easier difficulties. On harder difficulties you have to move and flail like a maniac to try and keep perfect time. The song choice is great, featuring a variety of styles and time periods. Put simply, this game would cause you to grin hugely while playing electronic bongo drums. Brilliant.

 

Timesplitters 2:

 

 

Again released on multiple platforms (but I think looked the best on the Cube) this game is an absolute classic. The best in the series by far, this game had it all. Made by the good folks at Free Radical this game had a brilliant story made with excellent and atmospheric levels from time periods both in the past and future and even on alien worlds. This game has a charm all of its own and is without a doubt the best first person shooter that I have ever played. The realistic graphics and game-play of Call of Duty and the like does not even come close for me. The story mode is superb, the multi-player is very fun indeed with a huge variety of modes to play and also features a challenge and arcade mode which could almost be a separate game by itself and is addictive as hell. If you like FPS games, you need to try this game. If you don’t, this may be the game that wins you over.

 

Rogue Leader: Rogue Squadron 2:

 

 

One of the very first games to be released for the GameCube, this game is still one of my favourites today. It offers you the chance to pilot all the crafts that you see in the Star Wars movies, play through all the major battles against the Empire, take on Death Stars and Star Destroyers and visually looks gorgeous too. Fans of the franchise will go nuts for the Star Warsiness of this, and for everyone else it is actually a great action game. The star ships feel smooth to control and the dogfights are manic and exciting in equal measure. Certainly this is more of a spiritual successor to Lylat Wars 64 than the awful StarFox Adventures anyway.

 

Metroid Prime 1 and 2

 Ok, so technically this counts as two games but I am putting them together because they share the same good points. The leap from 2D to 3D worked well for the Metroid franchise, offering Samus a wealth of gorgeous looking 3D environments to explore and also allowed the combat to evolve somewhat while still retaining the overall Metroid atmosphere. The puzzles are great, the worlds are a delight to explore, the combat feels fluid and challenging, particularly against the Space Pirates, and the boss battles are entertaining and suitably tough. This game really does look beautiful too, and really pushed the boundaries of what the GameCube could do. This game is an almost perfect example of a series evolving and re-inventing itself and is a great action adventure game.

 

 

Super Smash Brothers Melee:

 Well, you all know about this by now, you don’t need to hear anything from me on this one.

 

Resident Evil Remake:

 This is the game that really launched the Playstation to success, games were no longer ‘just for kids’ and could be mature (whatever that means.) Irrespective of gaming labels, this game was phenomenal and delivered scares by the spadeful. The remake only made it better. The graphics of the game are gorgeous, making you feel like you could reach out and touch the wonderfully textured backgrounds. The zombies looks so detailed they really could be fresh corpses and the audio team outdid themselves to create a real atmosphere of terror, from zombie moans to creepy music and dramatic crows. The small improvements and touch ups to the game coalesced to form a truly wonderful and scary game. For more detail see here: https://theinverselook.wordpress.com/2013/07/31/survival-of-the-fittest/

 

Eternal Darkness:

 A real gem from Silicon Knights this game had some truly innovative features to it. A third person action/explorer game bases around a mysterious book called ‘The Tome of Eternal Darkness.’ You explore an inherited mansion to find out more clues about your grandfather’s brutal murder only to discover the book and chapters from it in the form of stories from across history. The real hook to this game was the introduction of a sanity meter. When this drops too far after monster encounters all kinds of insane effects can happen from blood dripping down of ceilings and walls, distant crying, disembodied crying, your characters head falling off etc. Some effects will momentarily think the game has broken, they are that good. Add to that a clever magic system and entertaining combat and you have a real winner of a game.

 

Super Mario Sunshine:

 The successor to the classic Super Mario 64, this game only just falls short of living up to the quality of its predecessor. For me the only let down in this game is the lack of level variety. The levels themselves are very well designed, but they all feature the same style. Whereas 64 had a huge variety of levels (Snow, volcano, giant fortresses etc) Sunshine’s levels all used the tropical theme which overall means that no levels really stand out (except the theme park perhaps.) Aside from this the game is a masterpiece with great graphics, the water and paint effects are gorgeous, clever game-play with the FLUDD water cannon mechanic and excellent retro mini levels which paved the way for Mario Galaxy. I prefer 64, but this game is still so high quality and such fun to play, particularly on horrible winters evenings.

 Resident Evil 4:

One of my favourite games of all time, combining the scares of Resident Evil with slick action, fun combat and immersive story telling. This game is so successful at making you feel like you really are isolated and taking on impossible odds that it creates actual tension an fear for Leon’s survival. The enemies are constantly swarming you, from lowly villagers to chainsaw wielding maniacs with bags over their head. The system of acquiring and upgrading weapons allows you to vary your combat options a lot and adds an element of treasure hunting to the game which adds a bit of relief from constant fear of death. This game was almost universally well received, and for good reason. I imagine that you have played it. If not, go buy it right now, it is one of the best games of the last 15 years.

Honourable Mensions:

There are so many good games for this list, those which just missed out on my admittedly fairly arbitrary decision making include; Wave Race Blue Storm, MarioKart DoubleDash, Mario Power Tennis, Soul Calibur 2, Smuggler’s Run.

Undead Assemble!

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After a renewed effort to try and get my Vampire Counts army all rounded off nicely I thought I would share some photos of my latest work: Hexwraiths and Black Knights.

 

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Despite the small number of Hexwraiths I have high hopes for this unit. The prospect of cackling, ethereal, implacable, cavalry is entertaining anyway (and narratively pleasing) but their ability to pass through enemy units dealing a S5 hit for each Hexwraith in the unit without having to charge or engage in combat will hopefully be tactically useful. Add this to the fact that all hits from this unit ignore armour saves and we have a real potential for destruction. If they can avoid those pesky wizards obviously. Given the way that unstable units take wounds after being defeated in combat, large units of infantry are also best avoided. Hexwraiths will be useful for chasing down lone characters, monsters, monstrous infantry/cavalry, knights, chariots and war machines making them fairly versatile.

 

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As you can see I had some difficulty deciding over Hexwraiths or Black Knights after purchasing the first box and so did the only sensible thing and bought both. So far the unit numbers only 5 and so will form the bodyguard for my Vampire until I can afford more Knights.

 

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Thanks for reading my first Warhammer post, I’m hoping to be able post more in the next few days.

Cocaine? No thanks, I’ll just play some more Advance Wars instead….

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Last week I had some time in which to better myself, maybe gain a new skill, perhaps grow as a person. Obviously, I neglected to do so and decided to play Advance Wars 2 instead. The Advance Wars series is one which I have come to very late in its life cycle. I have many friends who have been raving about it for years but, for one reason or another, I never got around to trying it out. That was a mistake. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the series, the concept is a now somewhat familiar one nevertheless. The game is a turn based RPG where you take on the role of a commander directing units on a grid-based battlefield. Units have limited movement each turn and can only fire, capture a building or re-supply a friendly unit once per turn. To begin with the introductory levels allow you to use infantry and APCs only. Each level after that adds another few units each with their own specific strengths and weaknesses. After a few levels you realise that the game is actually surprisingly complex and offers a huge variety of tactics and strategies for defeating the enemy. Some levels allow you to build more units, others restrict you to using only what you are given at the beginning of the level, so the variety offered by each of the missions is not too shabby at all.

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The strategy aspect is made even more compelling by the fact that each commander has unique strengths and weaknesses which affect how certain units handle on the battlefield and also have special CO powers which, when used at the right moment, can turn the tide of a battle. Certain terrains can give defensive advantages or field of vision improvements or can even be used to hide in, but can also largely restrict mobility and movement. The great thing about this game is that it is simple to pick up and learn, but fiendishly difficult to master. There is something satisfying about suffering a resounding defeat requiring a new strategy to be formulated and then implementing this new strategy to a thumping victory as your units sweep away all resistance on the battlefield. The game-play rarely feels boring or slow or frustrating which can sometimes be the case with other turn-based RPGs. The turns move along at a brisk pace making combat feel fluid and entertaining. The majority of the Wars series has a lovely cartoonish style with bright colours and well designed units combining to make a visually appealing game, but this is particularly the case for the Gameboy Advance editions. For those who no longer have the hardware to play these games, fear not, there are emulators online on several sites. Be warned however, the game is ridiculously addictive. It is certainly one of those games where you just can’t resist having another go at a failed mission or just quickly looking at the next mission but then results in you playing for another 2 hours. If you are thinking of playing this make sure you have some free time to do so or children will be ignored and jobs will be lost. And you won’t care.

A Good 3D Sonic Game?

In a moment of idle internet browsing I found myself on an excellent website which contained a whole host of emulations for games on consoles which are no longer in production. This site contained a game which I have not thought about for years but was one of the earliest games I remember playing: Sonic 3D: Flickies Island. This was a truly great Sonic game, and hovered up a considerable amount of hours until I got my first console platform (but how many other demands are there on a 6 year old’s time anyway?) Now, I know what many of you may be thinking: “A good Sonic game with 3D in the title? Surely Not!” Of course there is a good reason for reacting in this way. In the last decade there have been several attempts at making a Sonic 3D game, particularly in the Gamecube era. They have almost all been terrible. They had an air about them which could only be described as soulless; the games were lacking in any of the charm which their 2D predecessors had in abundance. The game-play felt boring, and for some reason they started trying to come up with detailed plots for Sonic’s adventures. Worst of all, they gave Sonic a voice (and his supporting cast) which was usually horribly annoying. The ‘scripts’ and ‘dialogue’ between the characters was painful to listen to and just made you feel embarrassed to be playing the game at all. It is for these reasons that many Sonic fans will tell you that the only good Sonic games were in 2D. I think that Flickies Island may be an exception to this rule, however. First of all the ‘plot’ to the game is explained in 3 sentences at the start of the game. There is no unnecessary attempt to tack on a story to make the game seem more important than it is. Secondly, Sonic is blessedly silent throughout. No terrible synthetic American accent here. More importantly, the level design is great, with a huge variety of levels which all encourage exploration and which are lovely to look at. The game moves through from levels with lurid primary colours which we all love to grimy castles and snowy tundras. Similarly, the audio effects are great. The music for each level is expertly done and always sets the right tone for that particular stage. The music is uplifting and the sound effects for Sonic’s running and spin attacks are great (not to mention the absurdly cheerful jangle upon picking up rings to further Sonic’s capitalist endeavors.) The boss battles are well design and challenging, including giant animated statues and some devilish tricks from Dr. Robotnik. Simply, put then this game is a decent effort at capturing the speed and collecting fun of Sonic titles of old without the overwhelming cheese and soullessness of more modern attempts. This game came out on PC and Sega Master System but can also be found on some sites to play as a flash game. Be warned however, without a joystick or similar the 8 directional movement is difficult to control with 4 directional arrow keys. Still, if you have a few spare moments it’s well worth a look. Image

A Rarity Indeed

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There have been several articles that have caught my attention lately about the sad decline of games company Rare since its sale to Microsoft almost ten years ago. The quality of the company as it stands has been blamed on both the direction set out for it by Microsoft and a number of the creative talent leaving to pursue other companies and projects. An analysis of this, however, is not the purpose of this post. The articles written on this subject made me remember just how large a part of my childhood the games made by Rare actually were. At least half of the triple A titles on the N64 were created by Rare; Goldeneye, Perfect Dark, Banjo Tooie, Donkey Kong 64, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Blast Corps, Diddy Kong Racing and the slightly less well known, but equally good game, Jet Force Gemini.

 

Most game producers have a few well loved hits to their name, but the achievements of Rare in this relatively small period of time dwarf the efforts of others by comparison. Rare seemed to be able to produce hit after hit after hit. I think that one of the most impressive facts about this herculean feat of game production is the sheer variety of games that they made. They seemed capable of making an outstanding game in almost every genre; first and third person shooters, racing games, adventure platform games, action games and fighting games. Many companies specialise in games of a certain genre; Rare seemed able to turn its hand to pretty much anything and do it well.

 

So how did Rare manage to achieve this level of success? Obviously the design talent at the company was outstanding, but there is perhaps more to their success than that. Rare were an incredibly secretive company and had very little to do with the wider games production community. Therefore they were not influenced much by gaming trends or following from the production habits of others. This possibly made it easier to create games from an almost outsider viewpoint and make games from the perspective of gamers rather than businessmen, allowing for greater innovation and ingenuity. Perhaps it is because they don’t take themselves too seriously; many of their games are laced with the humour and personality of the developers. Often this humour is poking fun at themselves or established gaming conventions. The dialogue and story in the Banjo series and Conker’s Bad Fud Day particularly are good examples of this. It is possibly this style that has endeared the company to so many and still causes so many to call for Nintendo to buy back Rare. Despite the many amazing childhood (and indeed present day) memories that Rare are responsible for, I am not one of those who wish for their return. A large amount of the talent has left Rare; and in this next gen gaming setting it is harder and harder to innovate in games. This would inevitably lead to disappointment in those people who would be expecting Rare to make games which create the same level of impact that the N64 era games did. Despite this, I will always have a soft spot for Rare. The games they made in their hey-day were phenomenal and I still play many of them to this day. It is also worth noting that some of the creative talent left Rare near the end of the N64’s life cycle to form a small independent company called Free Radical Design. This company was responsible for the excellent Timesplitters 2 and a relatively obscure game called Second Sight which made fantastic use of psychic powers and a lovely design style which combined to make a wonderfully unique game. Happily, despite being under a different name and being diffused across several companies, the ethos and spirit of Rare has lived on. However, a huge thank you to Rare for many fantastic games.

The Evil Within: The New Resident Evil?

ImageContinuing on from my last halloween inspired horror-related post I will now move from past horror to future horror in the form of a game due to be released in 2014 but which, frankly, can’t come soon enough. For those, like me, who have been desperate for the Resident Evil franchise to return to its zombie infested survival horror roots then our prayers may have been answered in the form of The Evil Within. Obviously, this is not a Resident Evil game. It is however, shaping up to be a great looking survival horror game. Trailers and game-play videos seem to suggest that this game possesses all the necessary attributes to make us fall in love with the survival horror genre all over again. It seems to combine many qualities from Resident Evil 1 and 4: including over the shoulder action viewpoint, various quick time event actions, limited weapons and ammo and that overwhelming feeling that it is just you, alone, against a terrible and nameless enemy. Comparisons to Resident Evil 4 does no disservice to the game, after all it is one of the best video games of the last 10 years. The game opens with the wounded protagonist trying to escape from a grisly and macabre looking asylum or hospital chased by an enormous figure wielding a chainsaw. The tense run through the level, being chased by a seemingly unbeatable foe, immediately put me in mind of the tense moments of trying to escape Salazar’s right hand or the Nemesis through the chaos of Raccoon City. So far so good. The character design in the game looks stunning, particularly the various bosses which have been revealed so far. The game apparently draws from many horror tropes found in other horror games and films so horror fans should find plenty of things to enjoy in the game. The audio effects and music of the game seem to be first rate and fully capable of creating an atmosphere of crippling fear within moments of the opening sequence. Unfortunately the videos released so far predominantly feature FMV sequences so it is unclear to see how smooth the game-play will be with any degree of certainty. However, survival horror fans should be hopeful that another first class title may be being released in the not so distant future. The Evil Within definitely seems to have promise, particularly seeing as though Shinji Mikami, the driving force behind Resident Evil 1 and 2 is at the helm.

Check out the video below to get an idea of the game-play and visuals!

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H1POefYUgkw

 

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Halloween: Quake Revisited

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So, another halloween has come and gone without any particular significance. One thing I did gain from Halloween was a perfect excuse to revisit the very first game I ever played: the original Quake. This game came with the first computer we ever had (an old Packard Bell) alongside other such classics as Swiv 3D, MDK: Mission Laguna Beach and Adiboo. If you don’t know what this game is then no words can possibly describe this game to you (try google or youtube.) First of all lets get one thing clear; I have no idea what my parents were doing letting me play Quake when I was six years old. To me this smacks of irresponsible parenting. Apparently, they were fine letting a six year old blast his way through various undead minions, wading through a bucket of gore. And oh yes, there is gore. Massively pixallated gore. There are some games which age beautifully over time. This is not one of those games. The visuals look bad even compared to other games of the same time period. Does this detract from the terror and fun of the game? Not at all. If anything its hilarious to watch your enemies explode into pixallated globs of red blocks. None of this realistic death stuff, they really explode. Which, thanks to the graphics, is funny rather than nauseating. In addition to this the visuals actually can add to the tension of the game. The enemies can almost appear out of nowhere with barely any warning whatsoever. The game-play still holds up rather well, with pretty decent level design and plenty of interesting minions to destroy. So the game is still fun, but is it scary? Actually, yes. For me this is down to the audio in the game. The music in some parts of the game is haunting to say the least. Perhaps even more terrifying however, are the moments of silence. This reveals the sound of nearby enemies moaning, screaming or grunting; present but unseen as you creep carefully forward to spring their trap. There really is a small surge of fear as an enemy unexpectedly flies out at you screaming and attempting to dig a chainsaw or foot long talons into your face. The noise of water dripping off walls, sepulchral chanting and distant zombies moaning really does create an excellent atmosphere. The weapons all feel suitably satisfying to use, from the classic double-barrelled shotgun to the not-so-classic quadruple-barrelled nail gun. The game is a pretty decent length and offers a fair amount in the way of replay value as each level contains secrets and hidden chambers which reward careful replaying of levels. On the higher levels of difficulty the game really does offer a challenge. To those thinking of giving the game a go, if you want slightly sharper graphics, go for the PC version rather than the console version. Either way, the game is well worth playing. With the lights turned off and the sound cranked up this game definitely can still provide some great scares. Check out the awesome trailer below and tell me that you aren’t tempted!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5WzyVjx-SXMImage