Monthly Archives: June 2013

I Can’t Support Xbox This Time Around

I’ll start off by saying that I loved my Xbox 360, and up until recently I played games on it more than any other device in my entire lifetime, so I am not true Sony fanboy in any sense of the word. That being said, this time around I don’t think I can support Microsoft in their release of the Xbox One.

This is mainly caused by the pompous and arrogant persona Xbox execs have been taking for the next console generation. At the start, it was their creative director tweeting about the rumors of an always-online Xbox, telling people to just “deal with it.” Then it was their press conference at E3, with controversial policies for online check-ins and used games. Now, a Microsoft exec claims that comparing specs between the PS4 and Xbox One is “pointless.”

First, a few disclaimers: I know that Microsoft completely changed it policies for online check-ins and used games, but I feel the only real reason they did was because PS4 was beating Xbox One by a pretty significant margin in pre-orders following E3. I also don’t claim to be a game developer, or know how differing specs change the way games are made, but I can’t imaging it doesn’t help to have more computing power when making them. I would also contend that if the Xbox One had more computing power than the PS4, which it doesn’t by a small margin (excluding the kinect/eye comparison), Microsoft would not be making this comment, and may even be tutting their own horn about their more advanced console.

It’s this constant rhetoric of “we just want your money” that have almost completely turned me off to buying an Xbox One at launch. They just don’t seem to care that much about consumers, especially gamers, this time around, and compared to Sony, who has had an almost flawless PR run with the PS4, they don’t stack up very well with me spending my hard earned money to buy their new console.

I think the main flaw with how Microsoft treated the release of the X1, was that they seem only to care about the money in my wallet. Even though they did show some amazing games at E3, even beating out Sony in that department, it doesn’t make up for how they have acted in recent months. Especially, since the one game that really got me out of my seat was Titanfall, which I can easily just play on my PC, but that is a completely different story. My point is to not support arrogant companies that only see consumers as dollar bills in their pocket, because we’re not, and the only way to stop that belief is with allocating your money carefully to show them how flawed that idea is. Basic economics always says that our money are votes for what we support in capitalism, and we saw the validation of this with Sony’s launch of the PS3. People payed/voted  for the Xbox 360 and Sony ended up changing for the better.

I’m not a fan of console-wars because people usually get caught up in “who’s right” and “what’s better” rather than realizing that not everyone has to like the same thing, but I will intervene this time only because I have seen a company disrespecting the consumers that keep it afloat and that’s something that I can’t stand for, and if my neglect for the Xbox One in November can help clean up Microsoft’s act in future years, then I will be happy to buy an Xbox One. Until then, if I buy a console at launch it will be a PS4, if no other reason than to support their ballsy decisions and their relentless pursuit to show that they care about people like me. People who love to play video games.

What do you think? Are Microsoft’s actions enough to stop from buying an Xbox One? Leave your thoughts in the comments below. I’d love to hear what people think about this!

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There Is No Need for an Uncharted Movie

In an interview with Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg it was reported that, “for, like, four years now,” Naughty Dog has been relentlessly asking them to write a script for the upcoming Uncharted movie. In the interview both Rogen and Goldberg emphasize how it would be just like Indiana Jones, so they have never really put much thought into actually writing it.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for video game being converted into movies, and I especially like the Uncharted games, but I don’t think there is a need for Uncharted to be made into a movie. Of course, the obvious reason are the similarities between it and Indiana Jones, but even more the Uncharted series is arguably a film series already. They like movies in almost every respect aside from the gameplay that fills the time in between each cut scene, but even the gameplay has a lot of film elements added into it especially in the platforming areas of the game. So, making this game into a movie is extremely redundant and I don’t see a point in going unless they added on from the latest Uncharted game or tied it in with the current story somehow. I highly doubt this happening because many people aren’t familiar with Uncharted’s characters, so Naughty Dog would have to reintroduce these characters for the people who haven’t played the games. This is when it gets weird, because reintroducing these characters and their back stories doesn’t make sense for people like me who are already familiar with them from playing all the Uncharted games.

I also feel like it’s very difficult to make a good video game movie because video games are already pretty cinematic, especially Naughty Dog games, making it hard to make the movie stand out from the game. Really the only reason for a game to be made into a movie, is if the movie does a better job at the storytelling, because most people would agree that movies, for the most part, beat out games in that area. Like I said before, I would like to see more video games made into motion pictures because they have some of the best stories and worlds out there, but we have yet to see a video game made into a movie/TV show that was actually well done, so I am always a bit skeptical when I hear about them.

In closing, I believe that an Uncharted movie has the potential to be great, and if it can legitimize video games as an art form to a wider audience  then I completely support as many games being made into motion pictures as possible. For me as a consumer, though, an Uncharted movie just seems frivolous, and unless this movie is flat out fantastic I’m not going to be itching to see it, as I already have three Uncharted movies that I can play at home.

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Create

Create

My first blackout poem.

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Seriously I am Super Cereal

Thinking back to how I was before I started college two years ago, I have noticed that my everyday behavior and personality has changed quite a bit from how it was at the end of high school. My senior year of high school was a blast, it was a time spent with some of my best friends whom I still hang out with today. We weren’t taking life seriously and not really giving a shit since we still didn’t have any huge responsibilities at the time. It was a wonderful time and an entire year that felt like a vacation. Then college came along and even though I loved being on my own for the first time, studying the field that would fuel a career after school served as a wake up call for me to figure out where I wanted to go with my life. From then on I began to question everything in, out, and around me to make sense of my future.

This inquisition caused a drastic change to my everyday behavior and I began to take life very seriously, in terms of deciding what my future should hold for me. Granted, I do not regret this period of time, in fact I am better person from experiencing it because I grew so much as a person during that era. At first, the constant brainstorming of  a bajillion ideas and questions was a fun and fresh experience, but the more time I spent in this state of “idealand”, the more draining it became for me, so much so that I slipped into two minor depressions this past year (a problem I’ve had since my sophomore year in high school). My tragic flaw was that I was not allowing these ideas to flourish in the present. I would literally have a thought that I wanted to pursue, but for one reason or another wouldn’t take the action needed to flesh it out. This extended period of time over-planning my future and taking my life too seriously caused me to suffer in the present, a trade that I do not regret, but one I don’t wish to transact again.

Now, you may be thinking, “Well, Michael, that’s all well and dandy, but why the heck did you bring your last year of high school then?” Well, fine sir or miss, the reason I brought that up because it was the most recent time in my life where I was, for the most part, living in the moment and wasn’t taking my life too seriously. Sure, I did plan for the future and had responsibilities, but when those were never in the forefront of my mind each morning when I woke up.

No work or love will flourish out of guilt, fear, or hollowness of heart, just as no valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now. –Alan Watts

For the past two years, and maybe even the majority of my living memory, I’ve been planning everything out, building up expectations for those plans, without knowing how to live in the moment. It hasn’t been until recently that I’ve realized how flawed that mentality is, because it is almost impossible to find happiness when thinking too long in the future. So go ahead and stop taking life too seriously, toast to this moment, and don’t give a shit about the future because, sometimes, that is the most powerful and freeing thing you can do on the planet.

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The Last Of Us Review

I have never played a game in one sitting, but The Last of Us pulled me in and never let go from the start of my 16 hour journey with this phenomenal game. I will be up front and say that I strongly believe that The Last of Us is the best game I have ever played, and easily takes my top slot for my favorite game ever played. The question is how did it do that with such ease?

You play as Joel, a hard-edged southern man who sees the world torn apart by a disease called Cordyceps Unilateralis, a mushroom-like fungus that takes over a person’s brain causing them to lose control of their body and mind. At his side is Ellie, a charismatic fourteen year old girl who’s personalty is almost exactly opposite of Joel’s. Ellie was born into the infected world, it’s all she knows. Joel, someone who knows of both worlds and Ellie who only knows the infected one creates a wonderful dynamic for intriguing dialogue throughout the journey. At one point in the game she mentions how she had never been in nature before and comments on how beautiful it is. It’s these moments where The Last of Us shine because with the use of Ellie, Naughty Dog is able to cleverly ask thought provoking questions that apply directly to the world we live in. It also helps that Ellie isn’t a mindless companion who follows you around on the trek, she comments on almost everything you come across in the world, and in combat isn’t a burden to have around. It doesn’t feel like she holds you back at all, and she will even help you out by pointing an enemy’s location or throwing an object at one to stun them. Joel, Ellie, and their story gives the game an amazing amount of realism like no other game I have ever played.

The narrative that is the backbone of The Last of Us and most of all it is one about a journey; a journey about a man and a girl unwillingly forced upon each other and how they came to care for one another in a terrible world full of despair. It is wonderfully told and every element of the game add to the immersion and depth to it. At the heart of the story are its characters, they are the stars of this game, each character has a believable personality that makes them special to the game. Even the many opponents you face are extremely believable as they struggle and try to talk you out of killing them when you have them in a stranglehold, and scratch and claw at you when you decide to end their life. They will back down if you have a hostage, or run away if you have a better weapon than they do. Overall the AI is smart and authentic adding to the immersion, and it’s all tied together with superb voice acting and visuals from beginning to end, I honestly don’t know how they made a game look so good on a current-gen system. All of these factors help to make a compelling narrative that begs many questions along the way pertaining to what we take for granted, how we view and handle our relationships, and about life in general.

The gameplay is based off combat, stealth, and crafting. I thoroughly enjoy this aspect of the game as, like every other part of the game, also adds to the immersion of the narrative and the world. Guns are a big part of combat, but ammo is scarce encouraging you to take a stealthy approach, and it is entirely possible to go through some stages without killing anyone. Personally, my favorite thing to do was use the bow and arrow, getting one-shot-kills against unsuspecting foes. There are two types of enemies, humans and the infected, each foe has different strategies for how you combat them. The infected are harder because there are different types of them that you will encounter, and having these different types in the same area is the hardest part of the whole game. There are ones that have a heightened sense of hearing, but can’t see you, or others that can see you, but don’t hear as well, and their unpredictable walking patterns make it really hard to get past them. Although, both the human and infected enemies are both difficult to face playing on the normal difficulty. The gameplay adds to the immersion with realistic fighting and stealth animations to go along great sound design all around. There is also wonderful crafting system to make offensive items and health packs on the fly while in the combat. The game never pauses while crafting adding even more authenticity to the experience. You can also level up your abilities and the weapons you wield, giving a refreshing amount of RPG elements that fit well within the game. It reminds me of titles like Bioshock or Dishonored, but on a smaller scale, where you have linear objectives, but different ways to go about getting there. The gameplay is challenging but never cheap, if I died I always felt it was because of my own mistake and not the game ripping me off. I spent almost no time yelling at my TV during this game, which was nice. The gameplay is challenging, engaging, but most of all fun, and from the realistic sounds of the guns, to the subtle animations that take place while stealthily moving around the environments the game is a joy to play and adds to the immersion of the game.

Although the single player isn’t the only mode in this game, there is also a multiplayer that fits well within the confines of the game. Set in the single player world, you join one of two factions fighting for territory and supplies trying to survive. It acts similar to any other multiplayer shooter where you level up to get better weapons and gear, but doesn’t feel as favorable to high level players since they have a point system that restricts you from adding too many highly upgraded things into your loadout; making the beginning levels less of a grind. All the weapons from the campaign are here, plus a few extras. The crafting system is also present which also makes it stand apart. While the multiplayer is, by no means, the focus of the game it is a good change of pace from other multiplayer shooters I have played before, and adds rather than subtracts from the games overall experience.

The Last of Us is a game that does almost everything right, and I can’t imagine them doing anything substantially different that would have made it a better experience. I’ve never played a game that used every element of itself to build upon one another making each one better because the other exists, and a lot of this is thanks to the attention to detail Naughty Dog took in approaching this game. It is the most immersive experience I have ever had, and delivers a story that not only is my favorite in a video game, but one of my favorites in all the movies I’ve watched and books I’ve read throughout my life. It is a masterpiece to say the least, and one that will define a console generation.

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Average

A poem I wrote way back in high school. Enjoy!

I am average.

This is determined by one number: 20, 23, 24, 27, 31…36? “36? Oh my god, you’re a genius, I’m so jealous of you.”

Contrary to belief, I’m not jealous, I don’t think that is a genius, show me your ideas that are brilliant and resilient, effective and introspective, bold and behold for that is a genius.

A genius is not made by a test, instead a being that is so original and creative that it usually goes unblessed

But that is not me. I am a 24. I am the 75th percentile. I AM…average.

I ask, “But what about my work ethic, my traits, who I am.”

They say, “You’ve already shown us. You are average.”

“I don’t understand.”

“But what is there not to understand? You rank here, and that is the best you will ever do.”

Numbers seem to determine our place in society. Our weight, height, age, salary, grades. It seems that somewhere we’ve lost ourselves in the numbers.

“30% of you will try marijuana when you get to college.”, “1 in 2 of you will have sex during your teenage years, leading to more STIDs and teen pregnancy.”, “3 in 4 of you will drink alcohol by the end of high school.”

Data like this always conveys a negative image, making me think that our new generation has no hope. I prefer this stat, 100% of us will make our own decisions, based on evidence and judgment that make us who we are as imperfectly perfect human beings.

I refuse to believe a number defines who I am because numbers will always end up as “just another brick in the wall.” Another grain of sand in the sandbox. Another moment in time slowly ticking away.

And I’m sorry, but if that’s true I must say that “we don’t need no education” because if those bricks aren’t any different, I must break that wall down, I will break numbers…down.

I’m average…huh?

No I’m a human being with integrity, with honesty, respect, confidence, pride, truth, and all of what makes me who…I…Am.

If I’m a brick, I’m the best damn brick to ever have been put in a wall, if I’m a grain of sand, I’m the most fun grain of sand to ever have set foot in that sandbox, If I’m a moment in time, I am the defining moment of time.

“But if we don’t have numbers, we don’t have facts, studies, proof, society…is based on numbers.”

Percentages, fractions, variables, subtraction, addition, multiplication, division, you name it, I’ve learned it, you ask it, I’ve answered it.

Society may be based on numbers…but humanity is not.

People are complex, never to be fully understood, but always what they want themselves to be, always what they should.

So you may say that I’m average…

I say I’m me.

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A Proposed Mindset

toilet-men-hi

For the past two years or so I have been longing to build a new PC for myself, but I was always thinking in the future about, assuring myself that when I get all the money I needed I would get the computer. Yesterday, a thought popped into my head, what if I were to get the computer now, or at least start buying parts to start working on it? This astonished me because I never actually asked this obvious question. I always thought that I couldn’t afford it, or that it was too much money, but the more I thought about it the more I came up with ideas about how it was possible, and just this morning I put in the order for my new computer!

After reflecting on this I realized how big a deal it was for me to shift my mind from a place of longing for what comes in the future to a place of the present where, in a broad sense, I can have whatever I want now. Another of this example on a smaller scale, would be just now I decided I wanted to make a pizza for lunch, instead of thinking I can’t make this pizza until I have a certain cheese or certain ingredients, I decided to use what I had in the refrigerator, and sure enough I made a delicious pizza that I’m eating right now. It’s not my favorite pizza, but it’s better than having the same meals I normally eat. I was also happy that I made it because not only was it delicious, but I moved the negative thoughts about whether I could make a pizza aside and instead just started making it.

I know that you literally may not have the means to get what you want, and I completely understand being rationale about this concept, but my point is to never write off something that you think you can’t achieve or gain because it seems out of your grasp, and I know what this is like because a new computer was that thing for me for a long time. Although, I strongly believe once you take the time to actually analyze how, right now, you could take steps, even small ones, to get attain that thing, chances are it may be easier than you think, and who knows you may realize that you could have that thing as soon as next week, which was the case with me.

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Violence in Entertainment (But mostly games)

violence

After Sony closed out E3 on a fine Monday night, an observation which started earlier on in the day came back into fruition while reflecting on a day of watching numerous games, consoles, and ideas being presented, as well as the commentaries that followed.

It was the observation about the significant role of violence not only gaming, but almost all of our entertainment. Now, I’ll start off by saying that this is not going to be a preachy post about how gaming, movies, music, books are causing all the world’s problems involving violence, because they are a mere reflection of the world we live in today. What does strike me is how much violence plays a part in how, most of us, enjoy our free time. Out of all the games I saw at E3 I’m not sure I saw one that did not involve some sort of violence whether it be as blatant as any shooter on the market or a more sneaky one like Plants vs. Zombies. Even games like Journey, which is mostly focused on beauty, its world, and companionship, has its share of violence even if you aren’t the one delivering the punches. It’s an observation that struck a chord with me, and really dives to the depths of modern civilization as we know it.

This is merely an observation, I don’t mean to tell people to not involve violence in their works of art because art should never be censored no matter how controversial or mundane, and I realize that violence is a great vehicle to create conflict, which leads to intrigue giving reason to why it’s so overused. Although, as noted before our entertainment and art reflect what and how we are as a society, so I guess the question is how far have we really come along? Are we so civilized that we enjoy watching, reading, listening, and interacting with inflicting pain on other beings, whether they represent humans or not?

One theory I have about this subject is our creation of evil. I have a firm belief that evil, as most would consider it, does not exist, only that we were clever enough to create “evil” to know what “good” was, because if everything was “good” all the time it would be hard to decipher what “good” was. This idea has become so engrained within us that we are constantly looking for “evil” in the world, that’s why people enjoy reviewing Wars so much, particularly WWII, because which ever point of view you come from there is a common evil that people can agree upon, and feel “good” about defeating, and what better way to show its defeat than killing it? Hence violence.

This theory has some bold accusations and I by no means claim it to be true, because I don’t have the sources to back it up. It is merely my best explanation to the question posed earlier from my experiences and intuition about the subject. Take it or leave it, but if you take anything from this post I hope it would be the question to which my theory was inspired, because it is an important question to say the least.

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State of Decay Review

I went into the last mission with my favorite character, Joe, I picked out all the items I felt I needed and set off for my final battle in State of Decay. I was doing very well until right near the end of the mission I fell short of my goals to finish the game, as my beloved Joe was being violently torn apart by a zombie, whom I spent most of the game leveling up, outfitting, and interacting with would no longer exist because of the dreaded but brilliant permadeath mechanic of the game. All that work with Joe squandered right near the end of my journey in State of Decay. As I recalled this violent and sad event I couldn’t help but realize that this event was a great analogy for how I felt about State of Decay as a whole. When I did end up finishing the game just like my character Joe, SoD showed so much promise, but fell short of fleshing out its own ambitions.

State of Decay is a audaciously ambitious game from Undead Studios, and is priced at a mere $20 for a game that at times acts like one worth a $60 price tag. It is very similar to the Arma III mod DayZ set in a post-apocalyptic, zombie infested region, which resembles Western America. The region contains four or five small towns, but most of the game is spent in two of them. It’s a surprisingly big world, but a lot of the space has no real use aside from housing resources and zombies, which both can be found more frequently and in more volume in the cities. This is frustrating because it would be nice to explore this vast world, but since there is no incentive, other than mundane side quests, to venture out in it there really is no point in making it so big, following the theme introduced in the previous paragraph.

Although one of the things SoD does well is managing resources and gaining experience with your characters. I say characters because the permadeath, stamina, and health mechanics make it a necessity to have multiple characters that are experienced in dealing with the outer world, its also fun and effective way to play. The health and stamina mechanics work really well because the longer you are outside the more these traits deplete, and the only way to heal your wounds and recover from fatigue is to rest at base. I ended up switching between three different people because I found that to be most efficient. The experience system also works well because your character levels up as you use certain skills, for instance if I decided to focus on shooting with one character, he/she would level up their shooting ability allowing for better skills in that category, and if I kept shooting I could eventually add a new passive or active ability to that skill, making for more variety. There are also other RPG elements when it comes to your home base, where you can add modules to your base to increase certain traits, like a workout facility to increase your group’s stamina. This was one of the highlights of the game for me, because I didn’t expect so many RPG elements to be in this game, and the fact that it had a good amount of depth to go with it was nice to see. These RPG elements add a sense of realism to the game because resource, people, and base management are all believable things that would need to be dealt with after a zombie outbreak. Resource management is where I found most of my time spent in the game, whether it be scavenging for new weapons, ammo, health supplies, or materials for my base, there is a lot of time spent in menus deciding whether to keep that your last few shotgun shells or swap it for that shiny new pistol.

In terms of gameplay your character can wield a variety of weapons from grenade launchers to commemorative hockey sticks. Each melee weapon will break after a certain point, and the amount of use before it breaks depends on the quality of the weapon. I never found that guns could break, but I didn’t mind as it makes sense. The weapons are central to gameplay, because they determine how you go about fighting zombies. Guns are more lethal, but make more noise, melee weapons make less noise, but aren’t as lethal, so there is somewhat of a strategy in how you want to fight them. These choices all add to the game because the zombies are very dangerous in numbers, I found unless I was using one of my fully upgraded characters, at least three zombies would make me want to GTFO real quick. The melee combat is pretty basic, a lot of time is spent mashing X, which at first glance isn’t that bad, but with a short amount of different animations the combat does feel a little bit stale after playing a long time, going along with the theme from the first paragraph. It’s a bit hard to aim, but when I had better guns that it was easier to get one-shot-kills, so maybe the difficulty for entry level guns was made on purpose. The only other complaint about shooting is that it seems the game favors melee weapons, because finding ammo for you guns is a bit hard, I remember one instance, where literally every gun I had was out of ammo, but I suppose that would be an issue found in a zombie apocalypse so it’s a believable problem. Driving is also a big component of gameplay, as it is the best way to get around, and in some ways breaks the game, because you can destroy large quantities of zombies very easily. Although, the driving itself isn’t all that great, I eventually got used to it and enjoyed how different cars acted in different ways.

My biggest problem with the game lies with the story and its characters. There are only about five to ten characters that really move the plot along. All the rest, for the most part, have the ability to be playable by you, as long as they join your base. There are other survivors that live in various locations, who won’t join you, which was perfectly fine, but my problem with all the characters is their lack of substance. Aside from the three characters I played a lot with, I did not feel a connection to any of the other characters. And the only reason I felt fear of losing the three characters I had played in the game was because they had way better stats than anyone else in my base, I found almost no emotional attachment to my characters, which was a big dissapointment. The rest of the characters stay home to rest, protect the base, or go on fetch missions for resources. The fetch missions aren’t a bad idea, but they end up being a huge annoyance, as you’ll have endless, literally infinite, missions pop up where you need to help your allies, whether it be to provide an escort home or defeat a special type of zombie. These reminded me a lot of how Red Dead Redemption had people run out at you while you were traveling asking for help, except for the fact that in SoD you just get told that someone’s in trouble, and would have to go bail them out. I feel the RDR mechanic worked much better as it took less moving from A to B, and more actually playing the fun parts of the game, and the fact that they’d actually run out at you made you feel like the game was alive, in SoD it just feels like another pointless thing you need to do and ended up taking away from my experience rather than strengthening it. Don’t get me wrong these could have worked, but since none of these characters had any real substance both emotionally and functionally, there is really no reason to have them especially in the large quantity they pop up. By the end I probably spent more time on these missions than actually moving the plot along, which might have been my own fault. The story has a similar downfall, where it’s pretty interesting, but lacks the substance to make it extraordinary. There were also multiple times where I thought a cool story arc could take place, but nothing really came of it, and the ending was so lackluster that it made me sad to see the potential of this game’s story get squandered. Again, relaying back to the theme from the initial paragraph.

On a side note, I want to forewarn you that there are a lot of small bugs in the game, whether it be frame rate popping or zombies running through doors, there are a healthy amount of glitches and bugs. I only experience two things that really made a difference in my game, but I didn’t mind so much because of the price point.

Overall, I did enjoy this game, and loved the ambition that the developers showed in making it. If nothing else this game made me wonder what they’d be able to do if they were to embark on a bigger project, which makes me glad I supported them. I have also heard rumors that if SoD does well, they will be making a similar game into an MMO, which I think could solve some of the substance issues I referred to earlier. Like I’ve said before this game for the most part does act like a $40-60 game and that’s maybe why I was so critical of it at times, but the game does so much right that much of it’s missteps can be forgiven, and I would definitely recommend this game if you have $20 to spare and like zombie and RPG games.

Thank you for reading and hope it was helpful!

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