Peekaboo! I Eat You!

It is 2:30am as I start to type this. I have just arrived home from spending the night at Canada’s Wonderland’s “Halloween Haunt” with my wife and the boy. This was Xander’s first experience with “haunted house” attractions and he was a little nervous going in, but it went fairly well. He wasn’t in love with the many haunted houses, but enjoyed the other Halloween themed attractions and being at the theme park until midnight. We’ll go back on another weekend and finish off all the Halloween attractions. And yikes, nothing reminds you that winter is coming like riding roller coasters in temperatures of 8 degrees Celsius. ‘Twas a little cold tonight.

On the gaming front last week, while continuing to battle my cold, I did manage to beat both DLC packages for Middle-Earth: Shadow Of Mordor. I’m happy to report that both of them might be the best content the series has to offer.

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I started with The Bright Lord, the second DLC pack, which tells a prequel story of Celebrimbor and his time with Sauron before the events in the main Shadow Of Mordor game. Without spoiling anything, I thought the missions were some of the best in the series and there were new powers and the removal of some old abilities to make for a more balanced game. Still a little too easy, but probably the toughest stuff I’ve done in the series.

Lord Of The Hunt was the first DLC package released, but I played it second because it takes place during the events of the vanilla game; thus chronologically after The Bright Lord. This DLC adds a new focus to the beasts of Mordor with new creatures and a few new mechanics. The storyline is again with your dwarven hunting companion, Torvin, and has similar comedic dialogue and lightheartedness as the previous encounters with Torvin in the original game.

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I’d highly recommend both DLC packages, which you can get in the “Game of the Year” upgrade on PC. I’m not sure how it works on the consoles (if they have the GotY upgrade), but the content is available for PS4 and Xbox One. Remember to try the game without the combat prompts and AI awareness icons for a richer experience.

Also, before I played Shadow Of Mordor I did some research to see if I should play any of the DLC before the main game; something I usually would never do but I knew that The Bright Lord was a prequel. Even though I read numerous posts saying to play the DLC and vanilla game in order of storyline and not of release dates; I would strongly advise against this. The DLC ruins much of the power progression discovery in the vanilla game and is definitely structured in both story and gameplay to be played after consuming the original game. I’m glad I ignored these posts and started with the vanilla game first; which really just makes good sense for most games.

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So, after finishing off what Shadow Of Mordor had to offer, it was finally time for Alien: Isolation.

I can’t fully describe the feelings this game evoked when I started it. I was shocked, breathless, and giddy all at the same time. From the moment the old-school 20th Century Fox logo came up in the intro, I was hooked. I don’t know if I could love this game any more than I do, it is incredible!

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For reference, if you ask me what my favourite movie is, the first thing out of my mouth is usually Aliens. Second is probably Alien (or sometimes Rocky depending on my mood). I’ve been deeply in love with the franchise since I was a teenager seeing Aliens in the theater for the first time. While I favour Cameron’s Aliens as it is more of a straight up action movie and there is much more detail about the aliens themselves; Scott’s Alien is a masterpiece as well and much more the horror movie of the two.

Creative Assembly’s love for Ridley Scott’s movie is apparent in every pixel and leather upholstered corridor. Yes, 70’s sci-fi is alive and well in Aliens: Isolation. While it might feel strange to those who missed the 70’s or haven’t watched a lot of sci-fi from that era; I get goosebumps at almost every corner by how faithfully Creative Assembly has captured the look and sound of the original Alien movie. I could go on and on with examples of how much this game feels like the original movie, even though the setting has changed. I am deeply awed at the work the devs have done to capture one of sci-fi’s greatest achievements on film and put it into a video game.

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I fear I might have made a costly and possibly fatal error though. After my amazing romp through Shadow Of Mordor, I came away with only one gripe; it was too easy. I wanted a challenge, so I thought I’d start Alien: Isolation on Nightmare.

I think this mode (like most nightmare modes) is meant for that time you replay the game after completing it on a lower difficulty level. Apparently, if I had bothered to look into the Nightmare mode before starting, I would have discovered it was added to the game in an update as an “ultimate survival experience”.

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Nightmare mode has no HUD, so that’s no health bar and no ammo. Considering I haven’t fired a single shot yet and most things seem to kill me outright upon meeting them, I can’t say I’m too put out. The lack of HUD on-screen simply allows me to appreciate the amazing visuals the game offers all the better. But nightmare mode doesn’t stop there. There is no map. I can pick up maps, but apparently I can’t look at them. This is alright, since I have a good sense of direction and I enjoy not having a map. However, there have been a couple of times I’ve wanted to have a better idea where I am going since every meter I travel usually brings death.

But wait folks, the fun doesn’t stop there. Nightmare mode also has almost no loot. Crates are 99.9% empty and I rarely find any parts or supplies at all. Still not a huge problem for me yet, I haven’t needed to craft anything. Health supplies mean very little when encounters are usually instant death. Oh, and the motion tracker is purposely glitchy in Nightmare mode. It flakes out and is scrambled a lot of the time, making it unreliable.

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So what’s the problem? The alien.

Creative Assembly has astounded me again with the alien creature design. Giger’s creation never looked so good in a game and Creative Assemblies AI routines gives the bastard a deadly realistic feel. Nightmare mode has made the alien tougher to avoid. It is more aggressive, hears and sees better, and gives up searching for you less readily.

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I’m thoroughly enjoying my time with Alien: Isolation, but I’ve died a lot and had to replay sections multiple times to complete them. I haven’t really fought anything other than clubbing a few humans to death and it feels like I spend half the time cringing under tables, holding my breath and waiting for the alien to hopefully not find me. My concern is that as the game progresses, will I reach an impasse where my skill as a gamer isn’t enough to overcome the difficulty? Since I can’t seemingly drop the difficulty mid-game in Nightmare mode, I’ll be forced to replay the entire game from scratch if I wimp out.

I’ll have to see how it goes I guess. So far, so good. I am completely loving my time with the game. I’m not sure I’ve ever played such a tense game in my 35+ years with video games. It is an incredible achievement in gaming and a fantastic job by a developer not known for first person shooters. They are being tapped for a System Shock 2 remake right? The shadow of System Shock 2 is all over this game and the engine and dev would likely create an amazing remake.

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I’ve got a bunch of work to do this weekend, and I have to likely reinstall my Windows 10 since I’ve buggered up my unsupported soundcard drivers and can’t seem to correct the issue despite fishing in the registry today. If I do get a moment and my Windows fixed, I’ll be back at Alien: Isolation the moment I can. If I’m not back next weekend, my heart has likely given out from the amazing tension the game provides.

So, what are you playing this weekend?