Posted by: smirkdirk | September 22, 2009

Some Thoughts On “Shell Shock 2: Blood Trails”

4 out of 5 Cookies – Apocalypse Now with zombies! – Totally liked a whole lot. No real issues.

I’m going to do something a little bit different this time around with this review. Let me break it down:

I had seen this game about two months ago on the used shelf at the local game store, one lone copy all by itself. I never recalled hearing or reading about it. It had sort of somehow slipped under my radar in February of 2009 when it was released. I made a mental note to look it up online and moved on.

Later, I did look it up online and the reviews were less than stellar at two separate sources; 4 out of 10 at IGN, 5 out of 10 at meta-critic… I didn’t even bother reading the reviews even as I mentally crossed the game off my list.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and there I am in the game store and that one lone used copy is still on the shelf. Granted, it could have been a different copy, but honestly, I think it was the same one. Forsaken and forlorn, and that tortured, miserable soldier on the front, he seemed to be beckoning me to purchase him. Used it was less than $20, plus another 10% off for being a paid member of the game store club. I thought again about the 4 out of 10 review that I hadn’t bother to read, I looked at the screaming soldier again… Sold!

As you can see, my rating, is four cookies out of five which translates to an 8 out of 10 on the IGN scale. Why is my rating so much higher than theirs? I don’t know. I still haven’t actually read their review. But I do know, glancing at their site that the user review of their own readers is a respectable 7 out of 10, pretty close to my score. So, we can surmise that people who actually bought and paid for the game liked it quite a bit, but the reviewers who get the game for free, and get to play every video game that comes out, people who don’t actually play video games for the sheer enjoyment, but rather get paid for playing video games, hated it. Interesting.

So, what I’m going to do with this particular review is write my own review, share my own thoughts about it, and then go back and read the IGN review to see why I’m so wrong.

I really did enjoy playing the game and the only weak spots I can find in it that are worth mentioning are the graphics and a little of the programming. Don’t get me wrong, it definitely still looks like a next-gen game with some hi-deffy goodness in parts, but its visuals just don’t pack the crispness and punch of, say, Resident Evil 5 or the Call of Duty franchise. As far as programming there were a couple of parts where the the enemies ran around in nonsensical circles waiting to be shot.

But I’m not going to quibble about these small things since the game scared the living shit out of me. Let me repeat that again – This Game Scared The Living Shit out of me. One more time in italics and all caps: THIS GAME SCARED THE LIVING SHIT OUT OF ME.

The reason I want to repeat that is that the point of this game is to Scare The Living Shit Of You – and in that it succeeds. There were evenings I came home and though it is my regular routine to play whatever game it is that I’m working my way through, with this one, some evenings I just couldn’t. The game was just way too stressful and heart-pumping to relax to.

In fact, Mrs. Smirk wanted to go to the new Rob Zombie Halloween 2 movie this weekend, but I nixed that idea, basically because I’m pretty much through with heart-pounding terror for a little while after finishing up this game.

So what’s the game about? It’s basically Call of Duty, (but without the left trigger auto-aim feature) set in a Vietnam that’s quite similar to Apocalypse Now, with zombies.

This video game is not about Apocalypse Now… this video game is Apocalypse Now.

Zombies in video games have become sort of a running joke at this point. In fact, while browsing the independent games on XBox Live there’s even one called, “Look, I Made a Video Game with Zombies” or some such. In Shell Shock they are referred to as “the infected” a’la 28 Days Later, but make no mistake, they’re run of the mill zombies. What’s effective about them is the speed with which they move, and the game lighting, which makes a surprise attack a constant possibility. One second you’re staring at an open jungle, and the next second the screen is filled with a hungry, bleeding, screaming zombie sending you into an unexpected, frenzied panic of shooting and running.

Kudos also must be given to the sound design, particularly in the outdoor jungle levels. Crickets chirp, wild pigs squeal, leaves rustle, rain patters into puddles. Your character breathes heavily during tense moments, and your heartbeat audibly creeps into the speakers out of the dark quiet. The ambiance sucks you in. The voice work of the zombies also deserves honorable mention. These zombies don’t moan and groan, they scream horribly, loudly, and painfully. At one point in one of the early levels, I swear, it really sounded like one of them screamed “Steeellllaaa” like Brando in “Streetcar Named Desire”. Maybe I misheard, but I don’t think so, and assuming that I didn’t I would think this might be a head-nod towards Brando and his role in Apocalypse Now which is a fantastic segue into…

This game is the closest thing to playing Apocalypse Now ever. Quiet yet unsettling voice-over narration? Check. Boat ride up the river? Check. Insane man at the end of the river? Check. Humanity gone awry? Check. Buddha statues, abandoned check posts, and impenetrable jungles? Check.

In fact, the game so closely resembles Apocalypse Now that about halfway through the game I found myself totally in the mood to watch the movie and spent two nights watching the extra-long redux version for the first time in a few years. When I came back to the game, I respected it that much more.

I sort of bashed the graphics as a weak point earlier, and before concluding I really just want to clarify that the graphics are only weak in comparison to some other games out there, but essentially they are still good, and at some points more than that. In trying to recreate portions of Apocalypse Now (and there is no doubt in my mind that the movie was not only an inspiration for this game, but a downright template for it) the creators went above and beyond some of the visuals in the film. Some of the temples and buildings you get to explore are wonderful recreations of Col Kurtz’s temple from the movie, but whereas Col Kurtz had decapitated heads on the ground and bodies on pikes, as you traverse the last chapter of the game, you have literal crucifixions of soldiers going on – some of them in midst of turning into zombies, their innards exposed as they struggle to get themselves off of their crosses in order to eat you.

All in all, its very well done, and I really have no problem recommending this game to fans of survival horror and particularly to anyone with a soft spot for Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece. And perhaps my own familiarity with that film and this game’s loving homage to it is why I just can’t find that much to complain about.

That being said, I am now off to read the IGN review of the game. Below is the trailer for the game, and below that I will post my reaction to the terrible IGN review of the game, which I am certainly bound to disagree with.

(Yes, not only did they buy the rights to “Freebird” for the trailer, but it is also featured in the game during the end credits. I still can’t for the life of me figured out why they would relegate it to the end credits instead of putting it to good use within the game…)

Well, I’ve gone and read the IGN review in which they complain about AI, they complain about the games shortness (it is a budget title, so it was never meant to compete full-on with other first-person shooters such as Halo or Call of Duty), and the story.

If you’ve come this far, you’ve already read what I think. The game is far from original, and yet the it chooses to borrow quite liberally from the best of the best – in particular that one war movie that I refuse to mention again. My guess is that Eric Brudvig, the author of the IGN review has never seen said film, as it is hard to play the game without seeing those fingerprints all over it. Had he seen it, my guess is he would have at least mentioned it. To each his own, I suppose, but “shockingly bad” seems a little irresponsible as it is definitely not that as the reader reviews and the multiple 9’s out of 10 will attest.

Lastly, is it me, or does even the trailer resemble the trailer from Apocalypse Now?


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