The Infinite Zenith

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Category Archives: General Gaming

ШХД: ЗИМА / IT’S WINTER: A Reflection of the Darkest Season on the Coldest Days of the Year

“He looked at the snowflakes dancing above the fire and remembered the Russian winter with a warm, bright house, a fluffy fur coat, swift sleighs, a healthy body, and all the love and care of a family.” –Leo Tolstoy

I’m standing in a dark kitchen, and there’s a snowfall outside. After retrieving the house keys, I walk down a flight of steps and close an open window before stepping out into the frigid night. There’s no one around: most of the neighbours are already asleep, although I encounter a sparkler that was left in the ground. A faint rumbling noise can be heard in the distance, and I walk on over to the bus station. A snowplow is busy clearing the roads from the snowfall, but there will be no buses at this hour. A sense of tranquility overtakes me: a familiar world is buried under a few inches of snow, drowning out almost all ambient noise (save my own footsteps). After a few minutes, my fingers and ears begin to feel the bite of this winter night. I prepare to head back to my apartment, passing by the local convenience store, whose sign is aglow in a vivid green despite being closed. I return to the warmth of my apartment and gaze outside again before turning off the lights and head for bed, falling asleep under the quiet of a new snow. This is Ilia Mazo’s ШХД: ЗИМА / IT’S WINTER, a recreation of the Хрущёвка (khrushchyovka, literally “Krushchev Slum”, or panel housing) common to the Soviet Union. Although Mazo suggests that IT’S WINTER is meant to convey the endless melancholy of the Soviet Winter, and Russians can attest to the fact that IT’S WINTER accurately captures a world that otherwise remains far from the minds of those who live elsewhere, this title actually does something else, as well: it reminds those who experience it to count their own blessings. After wandering the deserted apartment blocks, my own small unit feels warm and inviting. I’ve got a roof over my head, a well-stocked fridge and a warm bed to return to. While the snow falls outside, I can read a book, watch some TV, listen to the radio or doze off. IT’S WINTER is not a game in a traditional sense: in fact, it lacks the features that make a game (a clearly-defined set of victory or failure conditions), and instead, gives players the freedom to do as they will. Imaginative folks can spend hours mastering the game’s mechanism for a manipulating objects to cook themselves up a fabulous dinner, or else do a bit of reorganisation if they so choose. In this way, IT’S WINTER also speaks to the idea of perspective, of counting one’s blessings: temperatures yesterday reached a low of -34°C before windchill (-40°C with windchill), so rather than braving the biting cold of an otherwise gorgeous day, I ended up staying in and eating tang yuan, at peace with the cold weather and short days.

Seven years earlier, I was enveloped by a sense of bitterness: after the Alberta floods took out any opportunity I had to attempt a kokuhaku, I entered my first term of open studies without resolve or determination. My work suffered for it; besides Japanese history and a course on proteins, I ended up taking a special projects course, where I attempted to continue the work I had done that summer on peer-to-peer networking as a mode for sharing computational loads in multi-system biological simulations. However, I was preoccupied and thus, never made the same progress as I did in previous years: in retrospect, I consider my grade in that course (a B+) to be highly generous, considering I made next to no advancements. That term, I only had the winter anime convention to look forward to, and even that proved to be a disappointment when I learnt that the organisers had unveiled a secret collectable pin available only to those who attended a special session. The winter break came and went, taking with it the festivities and lights of Christmas. During the dark of that year, I fell into a depression that worsened upon finding out the individual I’d been waiting for had begun seeing someone else. In the years following, I’ve associated the winter months after December with misery, darkness and the near-total absence of hope. Combined with the need to frequently shovel the walk, navigate icy roads and deal with bitterly cold weather, the winter does appear to offer people with very little to like. However, in recent years, this stance has softened somewhat: a failed kokuhaku does not render a cup of cocoa any less warming, and even after the last of the Christmas lights are downed, I have the consolation that every day I get through means I’m one day closer to the summer, a time of exploration and joy. Kokuhakus may fail, and darkness may fall upon the world after each summer, but as long as I’ve got it in me to put one foot in front of the other, there will always be something to look forwards to, and something new to work towards.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • When one opens up IT’S WINTER, they’ll always spawn in the dark kitchen of a Soviet-era apartment in the middle of nowhere. Developer Ilia Mazo had stated that IT’S WINTER could be set anywhere in Russia, from the outskirts of Moscow, to the heart of Vorkuta in the Komi Republic, or even the Kolyma region’s Magadan. I quickly glanced around the small but cozy-looking kitchen before deciding that I should get a feel for this small one bedroom, one bathroom apartment before taking a look outside.

  • The bedroom is the largest room in the flat, and there’s a balcony players can walk out to. Russians consider the balcony an essential part of their space, and while they are largely used for storage, some creative residents have transformed balconies into makeshift rooms. While balconies and patios are great for places where it’s summer for at least six months of the year, in somewhere like Russia or Canada, I would prefer more interior space instead: a lot of condominiums in my area have balconies, and while they’d be a brilliant space during the summer, we recall that in Alberta, winter dominates for up to eight months of the year.

  • I’d much rather have more interior space for something like a home office or reading nook. While the bedroom is minimally furnished, it does feel like a comfortable space, as well. I do realise here that my thoughts about IT’S WINTER stand contrary to what Mazo had intended to say: small hints of the protagonist’s monotonous and depressing life can be found scattered around the apartment, from anti-depressants to notes speaking to the inescapable boredom that one might face while being confined to their small homes for much of the year owing to the bitterly cold Russian winters.

  • IT’S WINTER can be thought of as a statement about depression from the Soviet perspective: the apartment is a small space, and even outside, there’s a limit to how far players can go before being enveloped by the winter weather. No matter where one goes, it’s always nighttime, and the skies are cloudy, only being lit by the glow of street lamps below. In this function, IT’S WINTER succeeds entirely in its function: there is little doubt that the me of seven years earlier would’ve found this experience to be a profoundly relatable one: I’d been dreading the arrival of winter, a time when being outside isn’t possible, and the only thing that I could do was focus on my open studies, completing courses that ultimately might’ve been completely pointless.

  • After I stepped outside for a walk, I found myself taken aback at how quiet everything was: the centre courtyard is completely devoid of life, and the playgrounds are deserted. Everything is bathed in a gentle glow from the streetlights: there is a beauty about this type of setting, although strangely enough, rather than finding myself feeling saddened by what I was seeing, I felt a sense of tranquility instead. IT’S WINTER offers players with no objectives or goals, but this near-total freedom meant I was also able to impart my own feelings on things.

  • Here, I encounter a lone sparkler that someone had left behind. Larger sparklers can burn for up to a minute-and-a-half, so it is clear that there are other people with me, but perhaps the brutal winter cold forced them back inside after they’d lit the sparkler. This small sign of life was regarded as saddening for some, but again, a different perspective from me gave me a bit of reassurance, that I wasn’t entirely alone: on nights like these, people would have an inclination to remain in their flats, and some might have even turned in already. I would chalk up my different stance on winter in the present to be a consequence of where things have headed for me in the past year. After conversation with family yesterday, I finally confirmed the date that I will be moving in to the new place: they’d figured out what date was the most optimal (i.e. lucky) for the move by means of feng shui.

  • While I won’t share all details at present, I can say that it is happening in the spring, and that I am very excited. The new place is a luxury condominium located in one of the best parts of Calgary, close to public transportation and numerous shopping and dining. I’d long been in love with that side of town, and it also means I’ll be much closer to my parents, and some relatives. After touring the space back in September, something in me clicked, and this space became something I found myself daydreaming often about. As a luxury condominium, there’s a well-equipped gym, complete with dedicated bench press and squat racks, plus a beautiful rooftop patio and meeting hall with a gorgeous view of the mountains. The unit itself is beautifully appointed, affording me with a gorgeous view of the north from the solarium, kitchen and my bedroom.

  • It’s a far cry from the view that the apartment in IT’S WINTER provides: the more I explored IT’S WINTER, the more I realised that this was a title that conveyed melancholy, depression and the inescapability of these conditions to me. I am aware that some time ago, I disparaged Depression Quest for its poor execution and portrayal of depression. My thoughts on Depression Quest have not changed since then – it is a low-effort hypercard game made by those with only the vaguest idea of what depression entails and no idea what software development requires. IT’S WINTER manages to do what Depression Quest could not, and the reason for this is because IT’S WINTER gives players options and lets players work out that whatever they do ultimately ends up being futile. Depression Quest, on the other hand, takes agency away from those who’ve got the patience to sit through it.

  • Moreover, IT’S WINTER visually captures what depression might look like – a foggy, cold and snowy evening illuminated by the occasional light, but in a dark world where everything is otherwise closed. There is no incidental music to speak of, leaving players to get lost in their own thoughts as they wander the frigid wasteland. By comparison, Depression Quest makes use of a repetitive and insensitive piano piece that feels completely out-of-placed. Altogether, it is sufficient to say that IT’S WINTER is a proper experience, whereas Depression Quest should be removed from the Steam Store for making a mockery of what is a very serious mental health issue. As it stands, I enjoy things where an honest and sincere effort was made into conveying an idea to players, and IT’S WINTER does this very well through its simplicity.

  • This leads to the question of whether or not IT’S WINTER is worth the price it commands: a lofty 10 USD (12 CAD) for an experience that typically lasts about a quarter hour. I can’t answer this for others, but for me, the price represents a means of supporting the developer and his other projects. Routine Feat is another work from Mazo, but it is set during the summer and has a slightly more developed narrative. The way I see it, since Routine Feat is free to play, contributing to IT’S WINTER means also supporting Routine Feat: looking around at the aesthetics, I feel that it would be a great game to frame my recollections of the MCAT, as well as of the flood that struck my home town some eight-and-a-half years earlier.

  • I found out about IT’S WINTER a few weeks ago while browsing around articles about Russian apartments. Folks over in North America are accustomed to their large homes of 1700 square feet or above, so the austere and small size of khrushchyovka can come across as being quite unlivable in comparison. While there are some aspects that can take some getting used to, such as the relative lack of space and nonexistent control over the heating, Russians have also managed to turn these spartan quarters into personalised homes. Russians are fond of redecorating their interior spaces, and the inside of a seemingly drab-looking khrushchyovka can look unrecognisable.

  • The nature of khrushchyovka contributes to the Russian belief that the inside is what counts, and in IT’S WINTER, this aesthetic seems to be retained: the lifeless apartment blocks outside stand in contrast with the small but cozy space belonging to the player, and I found that on several occasions, there was a feeling of reassurance whenever I stepped out of the winter night and climbed up the stairs to my place. It felt good to know that no matter where I explored, there was always a place I can return to. One small detail that I did find amusing was how I could jump off my fifth floor balcony and land on the snow below, unharmed.

  • Here, I encounter the snowplow that is making the rounds. Its cabin glows brilliantly: besides the sparkler and lights in the other units, it’s the only sign of life in IT’S WINTER. Despite its simplicity, I found myself watching its progress: some audio will play if players spend enough time looking at the snowplow, and this in turn prompts thoughts of who the driver is, whether or not he has any stories to share, and what his thoughts on the cold winter weather are. As it is, IT’S WINTER offers no answers for players, leaving them to draw their own conclusions.

  • Temperatures today reached a much more agreeable and comfortable -15°C, so I capitalised on this as a chance to go out and pick up ingredients for the New Year’s Eve dinner, as well as our annual New Year’s 打邊爐 party. Despite some issues with availability, we managed to pick up most of what we were looking for, and I am quite looking forwards to things. The forecast indicates that New Year’s Day is going to see a high of -8°C, which is very comfortable by all standards, but it’s still cold enough to really enjoy hot, savoury food and good conversation.

  • The fact that this year’s Christmas Day and New Year’s Day land on a weekend means that there have been observation holidays on Monday, so I’m going to be returning to work on Tuesday, January 4. With the time that has passed in my break, I’ve managed to take delivery of both beds and mattresses, and I’ve also moved most of my old university books over. In the time remaining during this break, I’ll aim to finish assembling a shoe cabinet. Whatever time is left, I’ll take easy: I’ve made some progress in levelling up in Battlefield 2042, and I’ve just unlocked the PKP, a LMG that is said to be as accurate as an assault rifle with the capacity of a machine gun. In Halo Infinite, I am at the excavation site, and I’ll be looking to finish that mission before writing a post about my experiences in the open world.

  • Here, I walk by a store with a green sign. WIRED erroneously indicates that this is a pharmacy, but closer inspection finds that it reads продукты (produkty), which refers to convenience stores. The nearest convenience store to me is about a three minute walk away, but they’re open twenty-four hours a day, so on paper, it means I could head out at 2 AM and pick up a coffee if I felt so inclined. Here in IT’S WINTER, the convenience store is about a minute and a half from the player’s flat, but it’s closed, so there’s no opportunity to browse around and see what they’ve got.

  • One of the most visually distinct features about IT’S WINTER is the fact that it has a very Minecraft-like aesthetic. This works to IT’S WINTER’s advantage: while photorealistic graphics are often touted as being the driving force behind hardware and algorithmic advances, they alone do not improve a game. What’s important to a game (or experience) is the aesthetic, and as such, while IT’S WINTER might not have the insane visuals of something like DOOM or Crysis, the art style works perfectly for what Mazo is trying to convey.

  • The quiet playgrounds here really speaks to IT’S WINTER‘s desolation: ordinarily, playgrounds are venues of amusement, filled with children’s laughter. I glance around the empty courtyard before making my way back into the player’s flat. One thing I had worried about was whether or not I’d be able to find the entry again after exiting: there are very few identifying marks, and I ended up making use of the fact that walking out, I could immediately see a flat with a purple light in it. Since I was across from it, if I could find this purple light, I knew I could find my flat again.

  • The interior of the apartment complex is filled with locked doors, and people seem to be fond of leaving their refuse in the hallways. Being a good Samaritan, I cleared the hallways out before returning to my unit. To remember which unit, one simply needs to recall that they’re adjacent to someone with a steel-black door. Of course, if this isn’t viable, then a fair way would be to approach every door and see if the prompt to open it appears. Upon returning to my flat, I head to the bathroom, wash my hands, turn the lights in the bedroom on and prepare to catch some shuteye.

  • IT’S WINTER is certainly one of the most unique experiences I’ve ever tried, and I can say that it was quite worthwhile in making me count my blessings, as well as showing me how even in a melancholy environment, there can still be things to be grateful for. I’ll likely play through this whenever I’m feeling introspective, and depending on my experiences, I might return to write about things again. With this post in the books, I have two more posts planned out for this year: a talk on PuraOre! now that I’ve crossed the finish line, and then as I’d noted earlier, a talk on Halo Infinite. It’s now a ways past lunch, and after enjoying an English muffin with sausage, there’s nothing left on my itinerary for the day, so it’s time to make as much progress as I can with my remaining blog posts, wrap up the excavation site mission in Halo Infinite and then get PCSX2 setup so I can see if I can get Ace Combat 5 running.

In the present day, winters no longer quite bother me to the same extent as they once did. While sleet and slush still evoke in me a twinge of annoyance (I hate ice more than I do extreme cold), the snow and darkness simply acts as a reminder that I’ve got a roof over my head, and like the protagonist of IT’S WINTER, my fridge is in good shape, so I’ve got much to be thankful for. In the New Year, the list of things I am to count my blessings for will lengthen: at the time of writing, all of our beds and mattresses have been delivered, and after speaking with a feng shui expert in the family, we’ve now locked in a time for moving-in day. This is going to be busy season, as my goal now is to begin finishing the move ahead of this day and finalise all of the furniture that we’ll need. Quite simply, I’m going to be focused on something with a tangible goal, and I’ve long found that to ward off feelings of loneliness and melancholy, a productive mind acts as the perfect countermeasure. The future is one I am quite looking forwards to, creating a bit of warmth in me even as we’re in the middle of winter’s darkest, loneliest months; after Christmas, winter is at its most miserable, but knowing there is something to both work towards and look forwards to is a massive psychological boost. Memories of months I once spent memorising physics concepts for will be displaced by shopping for furniture and arranging for movers, as well as packing and cleaning, and right as winter ends, it’ll be time to begin a new chapter in life. One could say that I no longer regard winter as poorly as I once did: it’s taken almost a decade, but I do feel like I’ve pulled through and overcome my dislike of the winter months. Like IT’S WINTER, an experience about winter melancholy and loneliness, I’ve found that changing my point of view on things transforms something negative into something more welcoming. I’ve only really explored a few areas of IT’S WINTER insofar, and I’d certainly like to try my hand at making a more scrumptious dinner with the ingredients available in the fridge seen in-game, and mess around with the physical objects in the apartment, as well as see how far I can go before I hit IT’S WINTER‘s map boundaries. Finally, Ilia Mazo has also released a title called Routine Feat, set in the same apartment blocks, but now, during summer. A decade earlier, I would’ve been staring down the MCAT, and nine years ago, despite the pleasant sunny weather, I found myself in the throes of melancholy after the Great Flood washed away my summer. I am now curious to know if Routine Feat is able to capture the melancholy and loneliness I’ve come to associate with those experiences.

That First Foray Into Hope County: A Free Weekend of Far Cry 5

“The difference between involvement and commitment is like ham and eggs. The chicken is involved; the pig is committed.” –Martina Navratilova

When one is constrained by the fact that a game is available to try for one weekend, there is a natural inclination to get as much done as possible. Far Cry is, fortunately, one of those games where one can finish things on very short order; an unnamed rookie deputy accompanies Deputy Marshal Cameron Burke and Sheriff Earl Whitehorse on an assignment to arrest Joseph Seed, leader of the cult known as Eden’s Gate – Seed has gained power in Hope’s County and amassed a sizeable following who believe that a collapse of civilisation is at hand. However, Whitehorse is uncertain of the implications arresting Seed would bring and implores the deputy not to go through with the arrest. After reaching the church where Seed is preaching, the deputy decides not to follow through, and Whitehorse notes its for the better, since walking into the hornet’s nest could spell disaster and result in unnecessary death. While this is the course of action I would’ve gone for in reality, doing so would result in no game – Far Cry 5, like its predecessors, is a first person shooter, and the first thing about these games is to shoot stuff. Hence, I loaded a new save file, proceeded with the arrest and escape the homicidal cultists on a stolen vehicle. After falling into the river, my character is rescued and tasked with helping the resistance liberate Hope County. I thus took control of Fall’s End, giving the resistance a foothold, before heading over to hope Hope County Jail to seize control of it from Eden’s Gate. On the way, I gained several allies after retrieving their possessions, rolled back the fog of war over the southern regions of Hope County and even unlocked the MBP .50 Blood Dragon before the weekend ended. In the time I spent in Far Cry 5, I was absolutely blown away by the scenery – there is no denying that Hope County is a beautiful place. In fact, being set in Montana, Hope County resembles the southern foothills of my home province, being a combination of farm fields, evergreen forests, rolling hills, pristine lakes and distant mountains. The stunning scenery, however, conceals danger in the form of Eden’s Gate, who lurk around every corner and pose a threat to Hope County’s residents.

In its portrayal of Eden’s Gate, Far Cry 5 creates a much more gripping and terrifying foe than I’d seen in most of my other games. Right out of the gates, Joseph Seed is presented as a menacing figure whose calm demeanour and choice of words belie a psychopathic individual with megalomaniac tendencies. Upon walking into Seed’s compound for the first time, the fanatical cultists surrounding him create a tangible sense of dread – even Whitehorse hesitates to act against Seed. After the player escapes from the cultists following their failed attempt at arresting Seed, propaganda spread throughout Far Cry 5 perfectly captures how cults operate; their soothing words of salvation and redemption create a feeling of ease, but stand in stark contrast with their actions. With Far Cry 5, Ubisoft sought to explore religious fanaticism and extremist beliefs; Far Cry games previously depicted despotism and toppling of authoritarian regimes in far-flung countries, and while Far Cry 5 is no different, the choice of antagonists did create no small controversy. Indeed, the portrayal fanaticism is chillingly accurate, and I found myself surprised at how calming and reassuring Eden Gate’s words were despite knowing full well the game had intended for me to blast them with an arsenal worthy of the Doom Slayer. Cults are built around unreasonable devotion to a cause whose leaders justify horrific actions in the name of some higher power, and Far Cry 5 shows how difficult it is to take on a cult head-on, especially when they’ve amassed a certain amount of followers. However, once the initial shock of Eden’s Gate wears off, aside from the occasional bit of propaganda broadcast around Hope County and the terrifying hallucinations that Faith Seed appears in, Far Cry 5 is otherwise a run-of-the-mill Far Cry experience, albeit one that is set in a place reminiscent of my own backyard, a place where I’d rather be hiking and fishing in as opposed to blowing stuff up with cool guns.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Far Cry 5‘s opening segment is quite lengthy, and it took a while to really drop players into the open world. Through it all, I was unnerved – while Joseph Seed himself is a calm individual not given to fits of violence like Pagan Min, the way he delivers his lines gives the impression that he is always in control, even when things aren’t appearing in his favour. Like Far Cry 4, Far Cry 5 opens with a pursuit. This time, it’s through the forests of Montana by nightfall, and while players are soon reunited with Burke, their escape fails when their truck flips into a river.

  • Players start on an island, where they have a chance to become familarised with Far Cry 5‘s mechanics. Initially, one can only hold onto a single primary weapon and a sidearm: players start the game with the iconic M1911, and I found that shooting in Far Cry 5 was a bit tricky, with bullets not going where I’d intended them to go at medium ranges owing to the game’s use of ballistic motion. After killing off some Eden’s Gate members, I picked up the AR-C rifle. This weapon is a mainstay in Far Cry 5 and despite being a common rifle, is a decent all-purpose weapon with a solid rate of fire, ammunition capacity and moderate damage.

  • Once players finish the last of the missions on the starting island, the morning fog rolls back, and Hope County is thrown into sharp relief. From here, the goal is to get a foothold in Hope County so the resistance can start taking it back from Eden’s Gate. I thus headed towards Fall’s End, a town in the southwestern corner of the map, and began my attempt to take it back from Eden’s Gate. At the start of my journey, I have none of the perks and accessories that increase my durability and firepower, so even a handful of weaker enemies could prove lethal.

  • On my attempt, I ended up climbing to the roof of a building after quietly taking down whatever Eden’s Gate sentries were in my path, and found myself a mounted gun. From up here, I proceeded to mow down everything that moved with relative ease, even the aircraft that came to strafe my position. With this, I retook Fall’s End and gained my first foothold into Hope County, giving me access to the shop and several vehicles. At this point in the game, I lacked the funds to buy anything, so this wasn’t particularly helpful, but as I began exploring, I would come across a weapon that was rather more suited to my play-style.

  • After storming an outpost and shooting out several snipers, I came upon the AR-CL, a modified AR-C that has a heavy barrel and long-range optic perfect for sniping. Having a scope made it far easier to pick off distant foes, and the AR-CL can kill with one headshot, making it a powerful asset to have, especially in a game where medium range combat with automatic weapons and iron sights is tricky. Picking up a semi-automatic rifle was a game-changer for me, giving me considerably more confidence in firefights.

  • However, the drawback to having a slow-firing DMR meant that I didn’t carry any weapons more suited for CQC beyond the M1911; this would leave me at a disadvantage if enemies ever closed on my position. In Far Cry 4, time meant I would be able to unlock up to two more primary weapon slots, and in the old day, I would carry an assault rifle, anti-materiel rifle and LMG for a good balance of combat versatility. Being limited to one weapon at a time was something I’d tangibly felt, and as I began amassing perk points, the first thing I did was to unlock the second slot for primary weapons.

  • Far Cry 5‘s map looks a little smaller than Kyrat did, but unlike Kyrat, there seems to be a much greater variety in terrain: there are hills and cabins, farmers’ fields and lakes, all of which come together to remind me of home: I am just north of Montana, and the southern reaches of my home province possesses very similar geography. I’ve actually been longing to go back and visit Waterton National Park, but current circumstances means that at least for now, Far Cry 5 is the best I got.

  • I ended up accepting a mission that sent me over to the Hope County Jail, which was under siege from Eden’s Gate forces. There was an RPG lying around, as well; while the attack initially could be repelled with the AR-CL, the Eden’s Gate forces will eventually bring vehicles to the table. Sharp-shooting will allow for the driver and any gunners to be dealt with, but when one is swarmed by others, there’s not much time for precision shooting. The RPG will make short work of the pickup trucks in Far Cry 5, and more than before, I wished I had a second primary weapon slot here.

  • Once the Hope County Jail is cleared, I gained access to another outpost. However, my victory was short-lived, since Far Cry 5 forcibly transported me into the Bliss, a drug-induced hallucination. Faith Seed is one of Joseph’s leftenants in Hope County and oversees the drug production that keeps Eden’s Gate in check. I was never too fond of these moments in Far Cry 4, but the religious imagery in Far Cry 5 meant that such moments were better incorporated into the game and all the more unsettling. When my character came to, I found myself in the middle of nowhere.

  • I subsequently unlocked a second weapon slot and equipped the MP5K, a submachine gun with excellent handling traits and burst fire. At close ranges, every pull of the trigger is a kill if one is aiming for the head, and having a good CQC option made firefights much more survivable now – I would use the AR-CL for picking off foes, and anyone that got too close would be dealt with by the MP5K. As players complete activities in a region, they earn Resistance Points, which makes different items accessible for purchase. The stock weapons commonly seen in Far Cry 5 are more than usable, but there is a joy to be entering firefights with more unique, or even over-the-top weapons.

  • Since Far Cry 5 decided to drop me off somewhere remote, I decided to explore and found myself on a hillside overlooking the forests below. The scenery in Far Cry 5 is fantastic, and this looks like a scene right out of a postcard of the Rocky Mountains. It’s been smoky in my area for the past month, and these past few days, the weather’s improved dramatically, more closely resembling the weather I know August best for. However, this weekend, the smoke did return, and what’s more, there’s now a ten-hectare fire burning immediately west of the city.

  • August is traditionally counted as the last month of summer, since classes resume in September, but ever since I entered the workforce, my summer ends during the Autumnal Equinox. This leaves me plenty of time to enjoy the days left in the summer, and August days are best spent outside: as it is still early in the month, assuming that the smoke is held at bay, there’ll be opportunity yet to walk under the sunlight. Of course, while the fire and smoke lingers, I’ll strive to make a dent in my still-sizeable backlog: there’s little point in going out and breathing in smoke.

  • I absolutely love the way the AR-CL looks on the screen: the optics look intimidating, and the red tint on the eyepiece is an especially nice touch: ruby lenses block out the greens and browns of foliage to make it easier to spot game during hunting. The tint, however, creates an image that isn’t true-to-life, so for everyday observation, ordinary coatings are preferred. In video games, this is purely aesthetic and have no impact on gameplay whatsoever.

  • During my time in Far Cry 4, I often tried to liberate outposts without setting alarms off, and towards the endgame, I had a suppressed rifle purpose-made for the job; I would simply locate all of the alarm boxes, sniped them from afar and then picked off enemies with the rifle before moving in with the MG42. The game thus began to feel a little too easy near the end, but in Far Cry 5, I am reminded of where I began: stealth and strategy return in a big way. I found that I could simply punch out alarm boxes and then go loud: after demolishing a heavy unit, I confiscated his M60 and blasted everything that moved.

  • In order to survive, however, I ducked inside one of the houses to recover my health. Far Cry 4 had incremented health, but in Far Cry 5, this goes away: players have one full bar of health and can recharge fully when out of combat. Perks will increase the player’s maximum health. As I waited for my health to return, I admired the design of this Montana house: the architecture and designs here are very authentic, and were it not for Eden’s Gate, Hope County feels like a very nice place to live. I suppose the same could be said of Far Cry 4‘s Kyrat, whose Nepalese/Bhutan aesthetic looked inviting and friendly in the absence of Pagan Min’s dictatorship.

  • In the end, I ended up clearing the outpost by going loud, unlocking myself yet another place to fast travel from and replenish my gear. During my run of Far Cry 5, however, I never felt the need to top up on ammunition, since the Eden’s Gate patrols roaming the map always dropped plenty of ammunition. I imagine this could change as I increase my ammunition capacity and take on increasingly challenging fights, but for now, I was able to get by without resupplying. The feeling after clearing an outpost is always satisfying, and Far Cry always had a way of making these achievements feel special. Here, I had the added bonus of finishing to a gorgeous sunset.

  • My next mission was to help recover an aircraft for Nick Rye, a pilot and mechanic who resists Eden’s Gate. Armed with the AR-CL, I picked off all enemies striking the farm and ended up unlocking the mission. Because the mission entailed attacking John Seed’s ranch, I imagined the site would be heavily defended and therefore sought out an aircraft to help with the fight. Helicopters can be found around Hope County, and while they’re excellent for getting around, the versions I ran into didn’t have any weapons on board.

  • En route to the ranch where Nick’s plane is kept, I had another random encounter: Far Cry 5 depends on players going around Hope County and speaking with people in order to unlock missions from them. Here, for instance, I came across a member of the resistance named Grace, and after reviving her, I helped her to defend wave after wave of Eden’s Gate members from desecrating the graves beside the church. Grace is a sniper, and I took a leaf from her page, since I was rocking a marksman rifle. The assignment proved straightforward enough, and upon completion, I knew I’d be able to call upon Grace for fire support if needed.

  • I haven’t had any need to call in the hired guns yet simply because the missions are simple enough early on, but I imagine that, were I to go further, having the extra firepower would be helpful. One thing I avoided doing during my run at Far Cry 5 was attacking the Eden’s Gate silos: they take an inordinate amount of ammunition to destroy. However, since Eden’s Gate patrols the map with trucks armed with machine guns, seizing one of those would be my best bet. Players can later purchase armed vehicles for their own use, making these missions easier to complete, and as one gains more resistance points, the M79 can also be unlocked. Back in Far Cry 4, the M79 made all anti-vehicle missions trivially easy.

  • One aspect of Far Cry 5 that I wasn’t familiar with were the random story events; besides Faith’s terrifying Bliss visions, John Seed himself will order his goons to capture the deputy. I was quite unprepared for that firefight and was captured, but since it was a part of the story, I made it out and was able to shoot my way to victory. At this point in time, I’d also picked up the M133 pump-action shotgun, although my lack of durability in Far Cry 5 meant I preferred to fight at longer ranges: I ended up using the AR-CL and MP5K for this fight and managed to survive long enough for an extraction, after which I decided to take a shot at Nick’s mission.

  • Nick’s mission entails recapture his custom plane, which fell into Eden’s Gate hands, and after some initial recon of John Seed’s ranch, I realised that the place was too heavily fortified for any sort of ground attack. I thus commandeered a WWII-era AdjudiCor FBW airplane and flew it over to the ranch, hoping to use the rockets and bombs to soften up the ground targets before capturing the place on foot. Once my ordnance was exhausted, I bailed and parachuted out over the compound. With my presence no secret, I switched over to my small arms and ran a one-man wrecking crew on the ranch.

  • To help with my stealth out, I ended up kitting my AR-C with a suppressor and red dot sight: being able to aim with more confidence and silently kill foes made a huge difference, and within moments, I had the ranch cleared out. Without Eden’s Gate firing at me, I was free to explore the place, and in moments, found the aircraft that had been the aim of my mission. I hopped in and carefully taxied onto the runway before taking to the skies. The mission had started out quite stressful: flying in a given game is always a challenge for me, and I tend to crash if the controls aren’t sufficiently simple.

  • While I did have a bit of trouble with the AdjudiCor FBW, once I boarded Nick’s plane, the mission carefully guided me through and gave me a chance to even blow a few things up. This mission was especially thrilling, showing what Far Cry 5 is like at its best; the flight path Nick suggests takes players over the rivers and lakes of Hope County, and it is a thrilling flight. Towards the end, Nick will ask the player to carefully land at his airstrip. Landing is usually the trickiest part of any flight, and there are precious few places in Hope County where one can land, but with Nick’s guidance, the first bit of the mission draws to a close.

  • The second half of the mission is to defend the airstrip from wave after wave of Eden’s Gate attackers. Here, I’m rocking a highly customised MBP .50 called the Blood & Dragon. I’m not sure what the story behind it is, but this weapon was made available to all players, and I was able to equip it simply by checking my store out. The base MBP .50 is a powerful weapon firing fifty-cal rounds, capable of downing almost anything in one shot. I haven’t gotten quite that far into Far Cry 5 to know if there’s an equivalent of the AMR in the game: this weapon is a modified Z93 capable of blowing up vehicles and killing large game in a single shot, making it obscenely powerful. With the Blood & Dragon, however, I still had a great time blowing enemies away: the weapon itself also looks awesome.

  • It suddenly hits me that today is a day after the ten-year mark to the day that Tango-Victor-Tango’s One Week War drew to a close. I’ve not been back for quite some time now, but I do remember that a friend and I had made the (in retrospect, unwise) decision of participating; we had hoped to put an end to a segment of the community that did not respect expertise and idealised instant gratification. There had been a significant portion of the userbase who believed that no one could be more knowledgeable than anyone else on certain topics, and that they alone were competent creators and critics despite lacking the requisite backgrounds, insisting on using certain terminology without understanding what they mean (such as believing that “deconstruction” means “realism” when it clearly does not).

  • The end result of this were that a large section of the site’s users words and remarks were completely contrary to what someone with legitimate experience in a field would suggest: these individuals gave the impression of having lived a majority their lives on the internet without actually making an effort to cultivate any useful, marketable skills, but still believed that their opinions were more valid than those of an expert’s. My friend and I had hoped that by pruning a part of the site, these users would see the errors of their ways and move on.

  • While that part of Tango-Victor-Tango was removed, their community’s general disrespect for expertise endured, and in the aftermath, we had wished that instead of participating, we’d spent that time outdoors: August is one of the nicest months where I am, and it is no joke when I say that the mountains an hour to the west are every bit as nice as the scenery from this screenshot. Our disagreements with these sentiments ended up leading me to write a post about Tango-Victor-Tango and their shortcomings with my friend. When the site’s moderators caught wind of this post, it led to my getting permanently banned.

  • I have been ban-evading successfully for years, but there’s no real value in sticking around to contribute: I maintain an account to keep an eye on a few things, but otherwise, I’m not an active editor. Today, the beliefs from Tango-Victor-Tango have propagated to social media, and any discussion on politics and current events is inevitably infested with those who act as though they were the singular authority on the topic. The belief that upvotes, karma, retweets and follower count hold merit have their origins from the sort of thinking that dominated Tango-Victor-Tango, and is the reason why misinformation is so widespread. This explains how outspoken individuals of dubious value (usually characterised by their “soccer mom” bios or duck-faced profile pictures) command followings that are cult-like.

  • In giving players a chance to take the fight to a cult with firearms, Far Cry 5 gives players a very satisfying experience that is also sobering; while players can massacre cultists in Far Cry 5, I’ve heard that reaching Joseph Seed in the end doesn’t actually have any meaningful choice, since the outcomes end up being similarly enough. This has parallels in reality, where dealing with social media addicts who blindly follow pretty faces individually is trivially easy, but they are numerous enough so that taking one down only results in five taking their place. I’ve previously gotten several outspoken individuals (whose profile pictures look like they were intended for Tinder) suspended, but new accounts always keep cropping up to replace them. The wiser choice, then, is not to allow social media to bother oneself and focus on the meaningful things in life.

  • I’ll wrap this post up with a moment of me returning to Fall’s End prior to the free weekend’s conclusion. Far Cry 5 proved immensely enjoyable owing to its setting, and a glance at the game’s features show that this is a title I would’ve had a great deal of fun playing. However, at this point in time, I have hit a bit of saturation when it comes to gaming: I am now three quarters of the way into DOOM Eternal, and have begun exploring Northrend in World of Warcraft. I imagine that The Ancient Gods will take me a bit of September and potentially early October, which means I’ll be done just in time for Battlefield 2042‘s release. Consequently, at this time, I don’t think it is in my best interest to pick up any more games, lest they join my already-sizeable backlog.

Altogether, while Far Cry 5‘s greatest strength is the setting, after the free weekend ended, I have concluded that Far Cry 5 is unlikely a game I will be picking up – the game is familiar and inviting, offering incremental improvements over its predecessor, Far Cry 4, but otherwise remains very similar in terms of mechanics, requiring that players destroy and capture assets that Eden’s Gate have taken ahold of to eventually force leaders of a region into the open for a confrontation. This means there’s no learning curve, and I could get back into things very easily. While doubtlessly an enjoyable experience that demands forward thinking and adaptiveness, the open world design of Far Cry 5 also means that I will need a considerable amount of time to make headway into liberating Hope County. A glance at what’s available in Far Cry 5 indicates that there’s quite a bit to do. Besides missions, I could go perfect my flying, spend time fishing or hunting, and even train a pet to accompany me on my assignments. Far Cry 5 was evidently designed to provide staying power, and moreover, the game offers expansion materials that sends players to Vietnam and Mars; as enjoyable as this sounds, there aren’t enough hours in the day for me to really enjoy games that have this level of possibility. Far Cry 4 had taken me a while to beat for this reason, and while it proved an enjoyable experience, it also took me eleven months to finish. I might’ve had that sort of time on my hands four years earlier, but these days, things are a bit different; Far Cry is a series that does require a bit of a time investment to fully enjoy, and so for the present, I do not plan on advancing further into Far Cry 5. Having said this, Far Cry 5 has proven to be a solid experience, and I am curious to see how Far Cry 6 turns out – the E3 trailer suggests Far Cry 6 is even bigger and bolder than its predecessor, returning to the tropical world that defined earlier Far Cry titles and introducing more custom options. Cautious optimism characterises my response to Far Cry 6: the E3 trailer was impressive, but my aging rig might not be able to handle the game, and Far Cry 6 releases in the same timeframe as Battlefield: 2042 and Halo: Infinite, so for the present, I am going to wait before making any decision. In the meantime, should I feel the inclination to return to rural Montana, I have the comfort of knowing that all of my progress in Far Cry 5 is saved, so I’ll be able to resume my journey precisely where I’d left off.

Yui Needs A Weapon: Revisiting the K-On! Mod for Left 4 Dead 2 with Halo Weapons

“I need a weapon.” –Spartan John-117, Halo 2

Having now finished the original two Left 4 Dead campaigns, the only thing that was Cold Stream and The Last Stand, two community missions that rounded out the game. Cold Stream sees the Left 4 Dead 2 survivors fighting through a forest in the mountains to reach a helicopter to evacuate them before a forest fire catches up with them, while The Last Stand represents an alternate interpretation of what had happened in Death Toll had the survivors gone a different route. After abandoning their truck at a roadblock, the survivors make their way into a junkyard and eventually reach a lighthouse. Here, the survivors signal for rescue from a boat, fending off hordes of Infected while awaiting the boat. These community missions are quite unrelated to the stories portrayed in the regular campaigns, providing players with a remote forest setting to explore. At this point in time, the mechanics and objectives were simple enough: having beaten the last two campaigns (and fighting with the community workshop directory, which had been giving me some trouble with the character name plates), getting back into Left 4 Dead 2 to finish off the single player experience was not particularly tricky, and I ended up wrapping up both of the community campaigns with time to spare. As noted in my previous posts, the K-On! mod for Left 4 Dead 2 had been remarkably entertaining, completely altering the aesthetic and mood in Left 4 Dead 2. However, this time around, I’ve decided to further increase the mods introduced into the game: as amusing as it had been to run Left 4 Dead 2 with Houkago Tea Time characters, even new models and sound files can get old to write about. As such, I decided to introduce an additional set of mods into the game which would modify the experience somewhat without conflicting with the K-On! mods.

This mod takes the form of Halo weapon skins to replace the original weapons. While the weapons still function identically to their original forms, the weapons look and sound different. The end result is simple: I am now running with the automatics, pistols, shotguns and long-range rifles from Halo, rather than more familiar weapons. In addition to a new, highly-detailed skin, the Halo weapons also have new firing sounds. Altogether, these new weapons feel considerably more powerful and reliable than any of the classic weapons. Every shot fired feels powerful. The base pistols and Tier 1 weapons, which had felt diminished in power compared to the Tier 2 weapons in their original form, suddenly gave the impression of being viable, lethal tools that could hold their own against the hordes of Infected. The suppressed MAC-10 felt inadequate against special infected, but when replaced with the M7/C submachine gun, players suddenly appear to have a better fighting chance. The hunting rifle is replaced by the DMR, firing rounds with a slow but reliable outcome. The Tier 2 weapons themselves feel even more effective, and when the mods are properly applied, even the introductory pistol becomes a more entertaining weapon to use. I’d first heard about the Halo weapon mods from a friend who’d been interested in asking about why the modders had removed a particularly unique skin from the marketplace. I’d speculated it might’ve simply been because the mod needed more work and suggested said friend get in touch with the modders to inquire about it. After checking out the modders’ workshop, I became intrigued, and subsequently resolved to try the weapons out for myself. The end result was highly entertaining, and after ensuring that the new mods did not conflict with or modify the way my previous mods worked, I set about finishing off Left 4 Dead 2‘s remaining missions.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • I figure it would be appropriate to open with the dual M6H pistols: the original pistols felt quite weak despite being useful weapons in practise, but upgrading them to the pistols seen in Halo completely changes the impact they have. In this post, not only do I have Halo weapons, but I have Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Tsumugi wielding Halo weapons. I imagine that with this mod, once Google properly indexes my content, I’ll have the first result whenever one does a search for “K-On! Halo” or similar. All of the Halo weapon mods in this post are supplied by Adorabirb!, whose done a phenomenal job of rendering the weapons and ensuring they sound identical to their Halo counterparts.

  • The suppressed MAC-10 is replaced by the M7S suppressed submachine gun seen in Halo 3: ODST. While one cannot use the reflex sights, and the weapon handles otherwise identically to the MAC-10 in Left 4 Dead 2, there’s something incredibly reassuring about using the M7S against hordes of Infected. The Uzi is similarly replaced by the M7/C with the right mods, and with the Halo submachine guns, I suddenly feel a lot more optimistic about fighting Infected. There’s a psychological boost that results from using cool-looking and cool-sounding weapons.

  • Cold Stream was a particularly fun campaign mission – despite being non-canon, its setting makes it the next best thing to being out in the mountains for myself. It’s now been over a year since I’ve taken a hike in the mountains and had any poutine from the best poutine shop this side of the country, and I do miss it greatly. While games like Left 4 Dead 2 and Skyrim do allow me to visit the mountains and their beautiful forested trails, there is no substitution for a full day spent hiking the mountains for real, followed by a hearty Montreal Smoked Meat poutine and spruce soda afterwards.

  • My yearning to return to the mountains means that I have recently returned to Skyrim with the aim of finishing the main story off: a year ago, while writing about KonoSuba, I mentioned an interest in playing Skyrim again, and it is only now that I’ve managed to do so. Returning to Skyrim, I am impressed with how immersive and detailed the game is. I will be sharing a full post on my experiences once I am finished: at the time of writing, I am pursuing Alduin through Sovngarde, and expect that in a few weeks or so, I should be done with things.

  • Before then, however, I determined it would be best if I wrapped up my thoughts on Left 4 Dead 2 with K-On! and Halo mods first. Here, I’ve picked up the DMR: it replaces the Hunting Rifle, a weapon that I typically did not play with much on my old play-throughs on account of its poor firing rate and small magazine size. Again, the psychological changes brought on by a Halo skin were profound – the DMR’s firing rate feels faster than that of the Hunting Rifle even though the weapon stats remained unchanged, and I had a blast using it to pick off distant foes.

  • The fact a simple re-skin completely changed up the way Left 4 Dead 2 feels, despite having no actual impact on gameplay, speaks volumes to how something as simple as changing up a weapon’s appearance and sound could completely refresh an experience to the extent where Left 4 Dead 2 could feel like an entirely new game. Prior to switching out the Hunting Rifle for the DMR, I’d never used the weapon simply because its low rate of fire and limited situations where a long-range weapon made it less useful to have. However, in Halo: Reach and Halo 4, the DMR is intended more of a precision weapon filling the range between the sniper rifles and Battle rifle.

  • I ended up swapping out the FN SCAR-L for the Battle Rifle: the Combat Rifle in Left 4 Dead 2 fires in three round bursts, and while dealing less damage per shot than the other assault rifles, it compensates for this with a good accuracy. With this in mind, given how often engagements were close quarters, I generally preferred the AK-47 or M-16 where available. The Battle Rifle I ran with is the Halo 2 variant, which is my favourite iteration of the Battle Rifle in any Halo game. The mod lacks the original’s heavy-hitting sound: besides performance, the Halo 2 Battle Rifle feels solid and sounds lethal.

  • The one weapon I was most impressed with in the mod was the SRS99-AM sniper rifle, which is seen in Halo 3. This weapon excels at long range combat, and equips an advanced optic for sighting distant foes. I chose the weapon to replace the semi-automatic sniper rifle in Left 4 Dead 2, with the end result that what was originally an anti-materiel rifle with a four-round box magazine now could hold thirty rounds. The weapon sounds powerful and looks even better: the optics will depict the same view, just as the sniper rifle in Halo 3 did.

  • One of the things I needed to get used to was the fact that I’m technically still using the semi-automatic sniper rifle in Left 4 Dead 2, which behaves more similarly to the DMR than the Halo sniper rifle. If I were to go purely for accuracy, the Hunting Rifle would be better represented by the Halo sniper rifle, and the semi-automatic rifle would be replaced by the DMR skin. This would allow the mods to be more faithful to their original weapon’s roles.

  • While crossing the bridge, I ended up picking up a grenade launcher: the M319 grenade launcher is a single-shot break-action grenade launcher that functions identically to its real-world equivalent, the M79. In fact, aside from a superior construction and digital display, the weapon is more or less a M79: the M79 is the original weapon in Left 4 Dead 2, and this Vietnam-era grenade launcher was intended to give platoons additional firepower. The M79 proved effective and reliable, but being a single-shot weapon left operators at a disadvantage, limiting how much firepower they could put out downrange.

  • Moreover, carrying a dedicated launcher meant grenadiers were limited to their sidearms as a ranged weapon. In Left 4 Dead 2, this is definitely to one’s detriment, unless they were carrying dual pistols, as well. While fantastic for clearing out hordes of Infected and even making short work of the Special Infected, the grenade launcher’s utility is quite limited, and the weapon itself is also quite rare: I only encountered the grenade launcher a handful of times while playing through the original campaign.

  • Conversely, the M60 (replaced by Halo 4‘s M739 SAW) is an excellent special weapon, and when outfitted with a laser sight, becomes the ultimate weapon for taking on common and special Infected alike. Halo 4‘s SAW features a 72-round drum magazine and, while firing the same calibre rounds as the assault rifle, had a higher rate of fire and accuracy, on top of a larger ammunition capacity, making it a straight upgrade to the assault rifle. Spartan Ops missions went more smoothly the instant I picked one up. In Left 4 Dead 2, the M60 is similarly powerful, limited only by the fact that its belt cannot be replenished.

  • At the time of writing, the mod did not replace the weapon icons for the M16 or AK-47. The M16 is replaced by the MA5C assault rifle, which was featured in Halo 3 and for the first time, felt like a proper assault rifle. While the MA5C’s skin does not accurately reflect on the actual amount of ammunition remaining, the modders have taken the effort of ensuring that the digital display uses an emissive texture: in dark environments, the display will glow in the dark, which is a nice touch.

  • Towards the end of the final chapter, I picked up an M90 shotgun with a reflex sight, which replaces the SPAS-12. However, since the final part of the mission entailed pushing through a horde, the shotgun proved inadequate and I ended up dropping it for any faster-firing weapon. Shotguns have always had a limited utility in Left 4 Dead 2, and in Halo, I found them more useful against the Flood rather than the Covenant. With this being said, shotguns have always been fun to wield against the Elites, and my strategy in Halo games has always been to use the battle rifles, assault rifles and marksman rifles against weaker foes, saving shotguns or other powerful weapons for swiftly putting away groups of tougher enemies.

  • The last segments of Cold Stream requires that players reach a tall tower for extraction, and unfortunately, during my run, I ended up losing Tsumugi to the Infected. In spite of this, I still finished the mission in a reasonably efficient manner, earning myself a nifty achievement for my troubles. My best friend has indicated that there is an elegant and simple way to get the toughest achievements in Left 4 Dead 2 without breaking a sweat. I’m not sure if this is something I’ll seek to be doing in the foreseeable future just yet.

  • The last of the community missions, The Last Stand, returns perspective to Azusa, Ui, Jun and Nadoka’s perspective, as well as the grim and foreboding dark of a coastal forest. This mission starts players off with the Uzi, which the mod switches out for a M7/C Submachine gun. Insofar, I’ve referred to the Halo weapons mod in singular, but it’s actually a collection of mods one can download. Like the M7S, the M7/C feels distinctly better than the Uzi, even though the damage model remains completely unaffected.

  • It’s reassuring to know that the modder behind the K-On! mod made certain that the smaller details were properly rendered – I half expected the character models to clip or be hollow underneath, but thankfully, this is not the case. When I first played the K-On! mods, I’d heard that the modders even took into account the special attributes surrounding Mio, and while I’d never had the characters walk up onto a higher surface in campaigns with Yui and the others, I have played as Mio before. Being ensnared by a smoker demonstrated that those rumours surrounding Mio were true, and this level of attention to detail is commendable.

  • The darkness of The Last Stand meant that unlike Cold Stream, the weapons I pick up won’t be in sharp relief for everyone to check out. With this being said, having seen the M7S’ model, it shouldn’t be too difficult to convince readers that the M7/C is equally as well-designed as the M7S. Besides the same report when fired, the modder had also ensured that the submachine guns’ reloading sounds are identical to their Halo counterparts.

  • Somewhere along the way, I decided to swap out my dual pistols for the Tactical Magnum. In any real cooperative matches, such an action would be unthinkable: dual pistols offer firepower and accuracy nearly equivalent to that of an assault rifle, and so, players will hang onto dual pistols for the duration of a match if they can find them. However, since this isn’t a match with other players, I am able to switch things up for the sake of discussion.

  • I replaced the basic pump action shotgun with the M45D Tactical Shotgun. This weapon, I’ve never actually seen in a Halo game for myself before, but it’s supposed to be a straight upgrade to the shotguns seen in earlier Halo titles. I’ve heard that it is unlikely that Halo 5 will ever come to PC: of the Halo games, Halo 5 had suffered greatly from a series of decisions that dramatically altered the campaign, and this in turn led the game to receive poor reception. 343 Industries’ decision to leave Halo 5 without a PC port was likely a consequence of knowing that Halo 5 wouldn’t sell very well if brought to the PC, and instead, it appears 343 chose to focus their efforts into Halo: Infinite.

  • Because shotguns aren’t really my jam, I ended up switching it out for the MA5D with the reflex sight. Informally referred to as the recon assault rifle, this weapon differs only from the M16’s replacement in that it has a reflex sight. I’ve always wondered how Halo weapons would look with contemporary weapon attachments: in Halo, the presence of smart-link scopes means that soldiers don’t really need dedicated attachments to aim with, as a computerised system would do the work for them. Of course, with Halo 5, when the Battle Rifle was given a reflex sight, people took to complaining about it loudly online.

  • In Left 4 Dead 2, since there’s no aiming down sights for weapons without a magnifying optic, the presence of a reflex sight is purely cosmetic, and I chose this rifle purely to differentiate it from the MA5C replacing the M-16. Like the MA5C, the digital ammunition counter doesn’t actually reflect the amount of rounds one has left to them, but in the dark of The Last Stand, the glowing display is rather more visible: here, I make my way through a burning forest with Ui, Azu-nyan and Jun after fighting my way out of a junkyard to reach the safehouse.

  • The Last Stand was so-named because the original mode was about the survivors fending off wave after wave of Infected, at least until ammunition and supplies ran out entirely, leaving them to be overwhelmed. Conversely, in the campaign, players actually can escape successfully after reaching the lighthouse. Here, after exiting the safehouse, I came across a warden’s outpost.

  • Curiosity soon led me to ascend the watchtower, and I picked up another machine gun for my trouble. Whenever holding a special weapon, I’ve always found that having the dual pistols is most effective, giving me enough firepower to deal with the horde. This leaves me free to save the special weapon for the situations that demand it the most. Of the special weapons, the M60 (SAW in my case) is my favourite: possessing the same accuracy as the AK-47 and dealing the same damage as the magnum pistol per shot, the M60’s 150 round capacity eliminates the need to reload.

  • I wasn’t able to do so in The Last Stand, but locating a laser sight and equipping special ammunition dramatically increases the M60’s accuracy and damage further, to the point where it can destroy tanks and witches in the blink of an eye. On my play-through, I wound up saving the SAW for the final confrontation, anticipating that I would need its firepower.

  • This turned out to be a good decision, since a few tanks did crash my party, and with the damage the SAW deals, they were quickly eliminated. Looking around, I’ve noticed that there are also weapon mods for the melee weapons, but because I’d been interested in keeping Yui’s Les Paul Gibson, I chose not to install anything that could conflict with them. The challenge about running a large number of mods at once is that conflicts could be introduced, and it’s up to the players to choose which mod they’d prefer.

  • The mod prioritisation function in Left 4 Dead 2 is actually pretty well-written in this area: if a conflict is detected, the game will automatically load the one that’s higher up on the list, but if this doesn’t produce the desired result, one can always go into the mods menu and deactivate the ones that one isn’t interested in running. There is one more nuance about running the K-On! mod: by default, the game won’t always show the modded names correctly. Online, people suggest moving the mod .vpk files out of the workshop directory into the addons directory, which prevents Steam from automatically fetching newer versions, but also allowing all of the data to be read.

  • I’ve actually found that this doesn’t work: if one is subscribed to a mod, the game will automatically query the server for updates every time it loads. This means that every time I started up Left 4 Dead 2, a fresh copy of the mod .vpk would be downloaded into the workshop directory. Instead, to preserve my settings, one only needs to subscribe to the mod to download it, then move the .vpk out, and unsubscribe. This method is a bit cumbersome, but it does allow me to keep my settings as I like them.

  • Of course, having now completed every campaign and bonus set of levels in Left 4 Dead 2, I’m not too sure if I’ll be returning in the near future: while it could be fun to get those special achievements my friend mentioned and also re-run the game with Halo weapons, there’s quite a bit on my plate, and I’m just glad to have finally gotten the game done. Towards the end of my run, after depleting the SAW’s ammunition, I returned to the trusty BR-55 rifle to round things out.

  • Unlike my Cold Stream run, this time around, I managed to escape with everyone. Having brought back K-On! into my life in a big way, I am inclined to write one more K-On! related post before the month’s out. Once that post is done, I’ll enter May with a clean slate, ready to go through Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Remastered and Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War: while perhaps a bit pricier with respect to how much time I get out of them, I’ve always had a blast going through them.

While Left 4 Dead 2 is very much a squad-based game that is best played with friends, mods like K-On! and Halo weapons transform the way the game feels, while simultaneously leaving the central mechanics intact. This seemingly minor set of changes alters enough of the look and feel such that Left 4 Dead 2 appears as a completely different game. Admittedly, the base Left 4 Dead 2 never really appealed to me in terms of its aesthetic, and I’d only picked it up because the sale price was excellent: my friend is very big on Valve games for their ease-of-modding, and I imagined that we’d spend more time messing around as a two-person team once I’d picked the game up. While we did spend a few fun-filled hours blasting zombies, the base game never really excited me to the same extent as I imagined. However, with things like the K-On! mod, Left 4 Dead 2 became considerably more entertaining, to the point where I can say with confidence that it would be worth buying Left 4 Dead 2 solely for the K-On! mod alone. At that point, the variety of mods available in the Workshop means that, were one so inclined, they could completely transform the way Left 4 Dead 2 handles: particularly well-done and extensive mods allow players to replace the existing Infected with Halo‘s Flood, and similarly, the very same techniques for using K-On! characters as character models allow for one to run with Spartans. Such mods even provide a means of changing up the HUD to closely resemble the Mjolnir armour system, customised for Left 4 Dead 2‘s inventory system. There is no ceiling on what is possible with the mods in Left 4 Dead 2, and while Valve currently has no plans for a continuation, the ability to change the experience via mods has meant that Left 4 Dead 2 has proven unexpectedly fun: what had initially been little more than a curiosity became a full-fledged, meaningful experience that was well worth the price of admissions. Thanks to mods, I’ve now finally completed Left 4 Dead 2‘s single-player experience in full, and while my friend and I are unlikely to co-op in Left 4 Dead 2 with any frequency owing to our schedule, knowing that I’ll be able to retain a highly customised setup should we take this up means that I’d be happy to co-op if the opportunity presents itself in the future.

Azu-nyan startled the Witch: Revisiting the K-On! Mod for Left 4 Dead 2 and the Classic Campaign

“But, you can always count on her in the end.” –Azusa Nakano

Left 4 Dead 2‘s campaigns also holds a pleasant surprise for players, in the form of the original Left 4 Dead campaigns being available for players to check out. This campaign sees the original group of survivors fighting their way to a hospital, where they hope to catch a ride from a news helicopter. After the helicopter crashes, the survivors make their way to a turnpike and find an armoured vehicle, which they use to reach the town of Riverside. Here, they fight through the sewage system, through a church and the town itself, eventually reaching a boathouse. Later, the survivors make it to a city and decide to head for the airport, fighting past Infected-infested city streets, a construction site and eventually, the airport terminal itself. Upon successfully refuelling a C-130, they manage to escape. The survivors land in a heavily forested area and make their way past a train-yard, arriving at a farmhouse. Upon radioing the military, the survivors manage to escape when an armoured personnel carrier arrives to pick them up. It turns out the military had been interested in capturing them, as the survivors are asymptomatic carriers of the Green Flu, and seek to study them. However, when the military base is overrun, the survivors escape, making their way to Georgia and eventually, the Florida Keys, where it is hoped that they can find a new home. That Left 4 Dead 2 comes with the complete Left 4 Dead campaigns and its original survivors in a refreshed environment was most enjoyable indeed, and being able to play through the original game’s levels with the additional weapons, consumables and infected from the newer game demonstrated that the Left 4 Dead mechanics have worked very well. As with my last play-through of Left 4 Dead 2, I’m running with the K-On! mods that allow me to substitute the base survivors for Azusa, Jun and Ui: the model for Nodoka remains incomplete at the time of writing, but the mod has seen additional improvement to voices, resulting in a doubly entertaining experience. As with the Left 4 Dead 2 campaign, having K-On! characters means improved visibility and differentiation between allies and infected, making the missions a bit easier to go through.

Unlike Left 4 Dead 2, whose campaign was largely set in the Deep South, more levels of Left 4 Dead‘s campaign is set in environments by nightfall, creating a much more compelling and gripping environment where enemies’ appearances are more unpredictable and terrifying: everything is shrouded in darkness, necessitating slower, more methodical movement. Left 4 Dead may have a more generic set of locations in urban areas, but the familiar setting, in conjunction with a zombie outbreak, creates the sense of unease that the unfamiliar is lurking around every corner. More so than the humid, muggy conditions of the Deep South, Left 4 Dead‘s choice of location and lighting results in a more convincing atmosphere. With the updated graphical style and visuals of Left 4 Dead 2, classic environments are sharpened and made more detailed without compromising their original aesthetic. The end result is that the Left 4 Dead campaigns end up being rather more successful in conveying terror through its ambience far more than the Left 4 Dead 2 campaigns, which ended up being a little more corny and humour-driven by comparison. The sharp contrasts between the aesthetics of Left 4 Dead 2 and Left 4 Dead levels are noticeable, but the actual campaigns themselves still handle as one would expect from Left 4 Dead 2: for folks who became accustomed to playing the original, they’ve remarked the originals are more challenging and rewarding to beat. Conversely, as someone who’s still relatively new to Left 4 Dead, I found that Left 4 Dead 2‘s inclusion of the original campaigns greatly extended the sequel’s replay value, as well as giving new players a chance to play old and new maps alike depending on their inclinations. On top of smoother mechanics and more options in-game, Left 4 Dead 2 remains the game of choice to pick up owing to its support for mods, which was the primary reason why I ended up returning to check out the Left 4 Dead campaigns to begin with; it’s not every day one gets to slaughter zombies with Azu-nyan, Ui and Jun as squad mates, after all.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Altogether, I found the atmospherics and aesthetics in the original Left 4 Dead campaigns to surpass those of the Left 4 Dead 2 campaigns: it is a badly-kept secret that I am no fan of the festering, dank swamps of the Deep South and their unparalleled ability to conjure up images of swamp monsters and the Slenderman. While Left 4 Dead‘s campaigns are set in a more generic urban area located near the mountains of the United States, the setting actually works better for a zombie outbreak. There’s a solid combination of rural and urban combat, and to kick this post off, I’m rocking the G3SG/1 semi-automatic rifle.

  • Over the past little while, I had a few conversations with my friends, and they wondered why the Hunting Rifle was classified as a Tier 2 weapon. It turns out that the Tier 1 and 2 weapons differ primarily in damage, with Tier 1 weapon requiring a few shots to take down common infected, and Tier 2 weapons can smash special infected in as few as five shots. The Hunting Rifle deals the most damage on a per-shot basis in Left 4 Dead 2, but is offset by a low rate of fire that leaves its damage-per-second as being the lowest of the weapons in the game. I’ve never run with the hunting rifle for this fact.

  • Back in the Left 4 Dead 2 campaign, there was a bonus mission called “The Passing” which saw the new survivors meeting the old ones. Playing through one of the other bonus missions allow players to see what things looked like for the survivors in Left 4 Dead: the mission is called “The Sacrifice” and ultimately requires that one of the survivors die to keep the others alive. Since I was playing as Bill (Nodoka), I ended up making the sacrifice to conclude the game. Throughout my entire run of the Left 4 Dead campaigns, I played as Bill simply because the model for Nodoka had not been completed in the K-ON! mod.

  • I appreciate that the modders are busy people, and for me, having three of the four survivors completed was all I needed to push forward: I can’t see my own character model, so playing as Bill/Nodoka meant being able to see everyone else as Jun, Ui and Azusa. Since I last wrote about Left 4 Dead 2, the K-On! mod has undergone a few more updates, adding voices to the characters. This is a minor but hilarious addition, since the characters now speak in squeaky anime voices, making them more distinct from Left 4 Dead 2‘s aesthetic. Here, I make use of a mounted 50-calibre MG to shoot the rock from a tank, earning me a rare achievement.

  • I begin the Left 4 Dead campaign proper here in the streets of Fairfield, a fictional city named after Pennsylvania’s Fairfield: unlike the Left 4 Dead 2 Fairfield, the real Fairfield has a population of around five hundred people, and Left 4 Dead‘s Fairfield looks like a city of at least a quarter million prior to the infection. The game starts on a moody, rainy night that feels perfect for a zombie apocalypse, and here, I equipped a suppressed MAC-10 to start things off. Where given a choice, I’ll almost always pick a submachine gun over a shotgun in the campaign, since it gives me a bit more RPM and reach over a shotgun.

  • The eternal question of equipping a pistol or melee weapons is the subject of no small debate amongst Left 4 Dead 2 players: my buddy believed that the best weapon in the game to fill one’s secondary slot was the combat knife, which had no delay between strikes and dealt solid damage. For me, I typically prefer holding onto the default P220 pistol and then pairing it with a Glock if one can be found: dual pistols offers solid all-around performance and allows one ranged capabilities should they ever run out of ammunition for their primary weapons.

  • I will switch out for a shotgun if it’s the only option available and I’m running low on ammunition for my primary weapons. While devastating at close range, the shotguns’ general lack of use at long ranges, and lengthy reload times mean that they’re only really useful in a limited set of situations. I have heard that with a shotgun, one can one-shot a Witch with a body-shot if their aim is true and all of one’s pellets connect. Witches were the one opponent I was absolutely terrified of fighting, and since they blocked access to critical areas at times, I often was forced to startle the Witch, become incapacitated and then dump magazine after magazine into it while hoping my AI teammates would help finish the job.

  • As I got increasingly familiar with Left 4 Dead 2‘s mechanics, I was able to detect Witches more easily and do around them, or else engage it from at range using a combination of Molotov cocktails and gunfire. Here, I’ve finally entered the hospital and cleared out an entire horde of infected. Early in my time with Left 4 Dead 2, special infected would always give me trouble, and I was always wondering how the AI teammates would always melt them so quickly. A part of the reason why this was so common was because I’d originally treated Left 4 Dead 2 as run-and-gun shooter, causing the Director to spawn more special infected.

  • By playing more cautiously and sticking with the team, I ended up setting off the Director less often. After fighting through the hospital, I reach the rooftops and signal to a news helicopter for evacuation, making use of an M134 on the rooftops to fend off the hordes. Left 4 Dead had the M134 Minigun in place of the M2 Browning 50-calibre heavy machine gun: both mounted weapons are powerful, but oftentimes are placed in strategically meaningless locations, so one can’t hop on and mow down infected en masse. However, they can still be useful.

  • Owing to how the campaign missions were, I ended up playing them in order, and here, I played through Crash Course, another DLC mission set between the No Mercy and Death Toll missions. Set in a rural small town just outside of Fairfield, the objective is to secure a vehicle and get on to Riverside. Like Fairfield, Crash Course is set during the night and has a similar aesthetic to Half-Life 2‘s Ravenholm: set purely in an industrial area, the eerie blue lighting creates a very cold feeling that brings to mind the narrow alleys and empty miner’s residences.

  • Of course, having K-On! characters around completely changes the aesthetic – I previously commented that there is a practical reason this mod is so enjoyable, and this was because the characters stick out so much, I have no trouble spotting them difference between them and the infected during a given firefight. Like Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Tsumugi, Azusa, Ui, Jun and Nodoka stand out from the hordes with their unique look, and in between combat sequences, small animations the characters have add to their authenticity.

  • Since I already wrote about a Jockey riding Mio previously, this time around, I’ve opted not to title the post after a Jockey riding Jun. Jun is Ui and Azusa’s friend in K-On!, having joined the jazz club after the light music club felt a little unusual to her. After hearing Azusa’s adventures with Yui and the others, Jun becomes jealous and in her final year, ends up joining the light music club. She didn’t really stand out too much in K-On!‘s first season, but took a greater role during the second, and becomes an integral member of the Wakaba Girls after Yui and the others graduate.

  • A common enough occurrence in Left 4 Dead 2 is that every time a powered door needs to be opened, or a radio call be made, the noise will draw the hordes of infected out. In general, I find the Molotov Cocktail to be a better throwable than the pipe bomb, since its large area of effect allows it to act as an area denial weapon, perfect for blocking off one direction of attack whenever holding an area. Pipe bombs are better used for pulling infected away from certain areas, making them a better distraction tool, and I’ve never really been too effective with the bile jar. Of course, players with more hours (and correspondingly, experience) will probably have different experiences and remarks.

  • The Riverside campaign, Dead Toll, has a distinct Alan Wake feel to it: a dark, foggy night in an eerie town. However, unlike Alan Wake, my arsenal is greater, and without a shield of Darkness surrounding the infected, it becomes a simple matter of blowing them away. I have heard that the K-On! mod for Left 4 Dead 2 is not without controversy – the exact original creator of this iconic mod is disputed, at least from what I read. If it was the case that there was a previous creator, it would’ve fallen on them to ensure they’d done a satisfactory job of maintaining and advancing things, otherwise, one can hardly fault new modders from taking up the mantle.

  • With this being said, this is not particularly relevant to me; the fact that the mod is actively being worked on and improved is what matters, and so, when I received word of the mod a few months back, I was more than happy to return to Left 4 Dead 2. Back in the sewers of Riverside (a small town quite unrelated to Riverdale, home of Archies’ Weird Mysteries), I managed to pick up a .44 Magnum, modelled after the Desert Eagle Mark VII chambered for the .44 rounds. The weapon’s large size and chrome-plated finish speaks volumes about its stopping power per shot, although most players have noted that the magnum is inferior to the P220 on the basis that it cannot be dual wielded, has a slower firing rate and a lower rounds per minute compared to the P220 or the dual-wielded P220 plus G17.

  • Making my way through Dead Toll, the grim atmosphere really creates a proper sense of horror. The dark night-time setting makes every encounter unpredictable, and conceal enemies that would otherwise be easily spotted during the day. Both Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 make extensive use of forests in their settings to great effect – whether it is the swampy forests of the latter or the Appalachian forests in the former, there’s something unsettling about a forest by nightfall that evokes imagery of the Slenderman or similar. Left 4 Dead‘s choice to use the night creates a more compelling atmosphere; in Left 4 Dead 2, the daytime setting diminishes from the horror piece.

  • With the Dead Toll mission resembling the original Alan Wake, I recall that it’s been about eight years since I played through Alan Wake, having purchased it for five dollars during the Steam Summer sale. I’d been intrigued by TheRadBrad’s playthrough of it – one of my friends had sent me gameplay of Deadly Premonition, and at the time, the game was not available on Steam (curiously, it did release a few months later). While watching TheRadBrad’s Deadly Premonition videos on YouTube, one of the recommended videos was one of his play-throughs for Alan Wake. The concept in Alan Wake intrigued me and I ended up picking the game up along with the spin-off, American Nightmare.

  • At present, I can’t say I have too much interest in playing Deadly Premonition for myself; TheRadBrad’s play-through was very comprehensive and gave me a solid idea of what ends up happening. With respect to Alan Wake, I’ve yet to actually beat American Nightmare despite the game being in my library for over eight years; it typifies my tendencies to procrastinate when it comes to entertainment, and Left 4 Dead 2 is proof of this, as it took me eight years to finally sit down and complete the game. To be honest, my Steam library’s grown larger than I have time to game on account of the Steam sales, and in recent years, I’ve not bothered partaking in sales, knowing I’ve got enough titles to last a very long time.

  • Towards the end of the Dead Toll mission, after arriving in Riverside and reaching a boathouse, the goal will be to fend off the hordes again. I’ve switched off the G3SG/1 to the M16A2: while my favourite weapon in Left 4 Dead 2 is the AK-47, for being a slow-firing, hard-hitting weapon, the M16A2 is reasonably versatile and its large 50-round magazine and rate of fire makes it a great choice for both CQC combat and medium range firefights against common infected.

  • Here, I’ve equipped a laser sight for my M16A2: this weapon mod greatly improves a weapon’s accuracy, transforming the assault rifles into makeshift marksman rifles. They’re able to improve hip-fire accuracy on all weapons, but on the shotguns and grenade launcher, they’re not as effective. Offering tremendous advantages when equipped, laser sights also indicate where allied players are pointing their weapons. To offset their usefulness, laser sights are incredibly rare, and players usually go through entire campaigns without finding one. Having the laser sight made the final fight to keep the infected away while waiting for a boat at Dead Toll proved useful.

  • The Dead Air mission entails fighting through the city streets until reaching an airport, which is host to a range of aircraft the survivors could use to fly out of town to the next area. Of the Left 4 Dead missions, I enjoyed Dead Air the most owing to its setting: there is something unsettling about an orange-tinged night sky that implies the world is burning now, folding from the weight of the infection. The survivors start on a rooftop greenhouse and must make their way over to the airport, which appears to be located very close to the city if one could simply walk up to it.

  • Most airports are located away from urban areas so the noise from air traffic do not disrupt residents and businesses, but smaller airports are often located in the heart of a city to act as an auxiliary facility for domestic flights. En route to the airport itself, this is the moment that lent itself to the post’s title: because one of the AI teammates had startled the Witch, the Witch’s attention was focused on them: a swift finger on the screenshot button landed me this screenshot, and I subsequently dumped a few magazines into the Witch before it could take me out.

  • The Dead Air campaign marked the first time I’ve been in a video game airport since my previous unsuccessful attempt to explore the Washington National Airport in The Division 2. I fought through a concourse area before entering the parts of the airport with the gates: the saferoom is located just inside the gate before the sky bridge. The K-On! mod for Left 4 Dead 2 adds the riff, Kendama-kun, as the song for whenever a chapter ends, and I keep thinking in my head, in Yui’s voice, “Keion!” upon successful completion of each chapter.

  • The final step of the campaign is to wait for a C-130 to finish refuelling. There’s a mounted M134 available here, but as most of the infected will come from different directions, I didn’t find it to be particularly helpful. I’ve got the SPAS-12 equipped here: known as the Tactical Shotgun in-game, the SPAS-12 has the least spread. While dealing slightly less damage than the Benelli M4 Super 90 (Auto Shotgun in-game), the reduced spread means it reaches out slightly further with more reliability. Finale missions always provide an endless supply of weapons and ammunition, allowing one to freely switch between different weapons to get the job done.

  • The final campaign is set in a forested area by daybreak that brings to mind the areas seen in Half-Life 2: Episode Two, specifically the White Forest, even if the forest seen in Left 4 Dead has deciduous trees (and White Forest, being modelled on forests in the Pacific Northwest, are largely coniferous). The early morning light represents a departure from the night settings in the previous levels, but this is only an aesthetic – the sky may be illuminated, but the land is still somewhat dark, and one must remain vigilant. The site is modelled on Allegheny National Forest in eastern Pennsylvania, which is located just south of Lake Erie in the Appalachian Mountains. It becomes clear that any other time, the park would be a fantastic place to go for a day trip of sorts.

  • A glance at the calendar will find that we are two-thirds of the way through March, and that today is the Vernal Equinox. On this first day of spring, the days will only continue to lengthen as summer approaches. I am very glad that light and warmth are returning to this side of the world. The first day of spring also coincides with the city-wide youth science fair – a few weeks ago, I helped with the science fair for the most prestigious secondary school in the city: my old secondary biology instructor took up a post there and invited me to help out, and it’s always been fun to see what the brightest young minds in the area are up to.

  • Like last year, this science fair is virtual: this is for the safety of all involved, and while I very much prefer to see projects in person and ask questions after a presentation, I understand that the virtual science fair format is necessary. With this being said, the plus side about a virtual science fair is that I can review projects at my leisure while rocking my pyjamas before my first cup of Earl Grey. As soon as this post is done, it’ll be time to turn my attention wholly towards the judging.

  • Now that I’m coming close to finishing off the original Left 4 Dead campaigns, and having finished Left 4 Dead 2‘s base campaigns, the thought of a potential Left 4 Dead 3 did cross my mind. It turns out that Left 4 Dead 3 and Half-Life 3 were projects that were permanently suspended in 2017 as work continued on the Source 2 Engine: only a handful of games, including DotA 2 and Half-Life: Alyx, have been developed in the Source 2 Engine so far. With Valve still tight-lipped about their future projects, the only constant is that speculation is quite meaningless, since there’s next to nothing in the way of facts surrounding the future of the Half-LifePortal and Left 4 Dead franchises.

  • The last segment of the Left 4 Dead campaign has survivors holding out near a small farmhouse: once the radio is called, the military will deploy an APC to the site, and until it arrives, the survivors must survive wave after wave of infected. Unlimited ammunition and several first aid kits are available for use inside the farmhouse, and I ended up going with the M16A2, since this was a scenario where RPM and sustained damage was helpful. In the end, I succeeded in fending off the zombies, and as No Thank You! began playing, I watched the end-of-campaign stats roll, revelling in the fact that I finally finished both the major Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 campaigns. At the time of writing, the only Left 4 Dead 2 campaigns I have left are the community-made ones.

  • Towards the end of the mission, I ended up picking up a tonfa and killed an infected to earn the “Club Dead” achievement, which requires players to get a melee kill on common infected with each of the game’s melee weapons (axe, chainsaw, cricket bat, crowbar, guitar, frying pan, golf club, katana, machete and tonfa, plus a pitchfork and shovel on PC). While most guides call this a nightstick because it is modelled after the Monadnock PR-24 police baton with side handle, the baton itself was based off the Okinawan tonfa. I’ve been training with a tonfa for some years, and they’re usually used in pairs. While I’m not as skilful with tonfa as I am with sai or nunchaku, I am sufficiently versed to know that in Left 4 Dead 2, the player is not holding the weapon as one would traditionally hold a tonfa.

With all of the major Left 4 Dead 2 campaigns now finished, this journey has been one that’s been a shade under eight years in the making: the presence of mods has been an instrumental piece of my inclination to pick Left 4 Dead 2 back up, with the end result that I managed to finish a game that I’d all but forgotten about. The presence of K-On! mods for Left 4 Dead 2 also had another side effect: it brought back numerous, pleasant memories I have of the K-On! franchise, leading me to check out the K-On! Come With Me concert and revitalise my interest in the franchise’s music, in turn helping me to relax and keep focused during a somewhat stressful February. Familiarity with Left 4 Dead 2 also means I’m now able to keep up with my friends where conversation turns towards this game: for the longest time, said friend had been hoping I’d complete the game to an extent where I’d be able to offer insights on the mechanics and provide thoughts on why Valve might’ve made certain decisions in the development process, which results in interesting discussions well beyond what gaming discussion today typically consists of (i.e. the best cosmetics and memes, or complaining about games endlessly for not catering to the individual). At this point in time, I’ve now completely experienced the K-On! mods for Left 4 Dead 2, which was an impressive and commendable effort into bringing one of my favourite franchises together with a survival shooter: the process to get the mod set up and running has been effortless, and really adds dimensionality and fun to a game that I otherwise would’ve just left in my backlog. Having now seen what the K-On! mod has done for Left 4 Dead 2, I do plan on taking things up a notch for the two remaining community missions, Cold Stream and Last Stand. Hopefully, getting those last two community missions done won’t take me another eight years to wrap up this time around!

A Jockey is Riding Mio: Revisiting the K-On! Mod for Left 4 Dead 2 and Returning Impressions

“Now that I think about, I’m always causing trouble for you, and it’s always at important times like this.” –Yui Hirasawa, K-On!

After a group of survivors are left behind in Savannah, Georgia amidst a zombie outbreak, they might their way to a mall and escape on a stock car, headed for New Orleans. However, the highway they travel along is blocked by vehicles, forcing them to continue on foot. The survivors reach a derelict amusement park and use a rock concert to signal for rescue. Despite being successfully extracted, the pilot becomes infected, causing the helicopter to crash. The survivors make their way through a swamp, fight through a plantation and make contact with a boat captain. However, the boat begins running out of fuel, forcing the survivors to stop in Ducatel, Mississippi. Securing the fuel needed in a sugarcane factory, the survivors return to the boat and reach New Orleans, fighting their way through the city and reaching a bridge. After crossing said bridge, the survivors come in contact with the army, who suspect them to be carriers, but evacuates them anyways: the military are leaving New Orleans, which is overrun, and head towards the Caribbean to escape the outbreak. This is Left 4 Dead 2‘s original campaign; Valve released this survival horror shooter in 2009 and over time, added further content to the game, including the entire original Left 4 Dead campaign. With its AI system, Left 4 Dead 2 procedurally generates levels based on the player’s style, creating a highly unique experience. While the original game received acclaim, my experience in Left 4 Dead 2 was greatly augmented by the installation of clever and creative mods which change the game’s aesthetic without altering the core experience: through the community, my Left 4 Dead 2 experience was shaped by going through the campaign, but with members of K-On!‘s Hōkago Tea Time standing in for Nick, Coach, Rochelle and Ellis.

Installation of this mod alters the player models, substituting Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Mugi in place of the usual survivors; these models are surprisingly well-crafted and fits extremely well into the game. While this does not change how Left 4 Dead 2 handles, there is one additional advantage about running this mod beyond being able to laugh at the idea that a Jockey is Riding Mio: Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Mugi stand out from the background, making it much easier to spot team mates. In settings where it is dark, and where a Witch’s presence precludes the use of a flashlight, having visually distinct character models make it much easier to know where allies are. The K-On! mod is ultimately a fun addition to the game, creating a ludicrous and amusing contrast with the situation at hand, and there is one additional feature that really sets the mod apart. During the concert chapter of Dark Carnival, modders have swapped out the Midnight Riders’ music for Hōkago Tea Time’s music, and similarly, their posters are exchanged for posters of Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Mugi. Fighting the infected while jamming out to U & I, Don’t Say Lazy, Gohan wa Okazu and No Thank You! was an experience quite unlike any other: I’ve long had a fondness for the songs of K-On!, and despite the dramatically different aesthetic of Hōkago Tea Time’s light and fluffy songs, they fit the moment unexpectedly well. The end result is a mod that proved remarkably fun to experience, bringing one of my favourite anime series with the thrill of blasting zombies. At the time of writing, the original Left 4 Dead 2 campaign is completely ready to play, and the modders are still working on getting Azusa, Ui, Jun and Nodoka working; Nodoka still needs a character model, but beyond this, the classic campaigns and bonus side levels are largely ready.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Before I continue further into this post, I remark here that I was actually rocking a combination of K-On! mods for Left 4 Dead 2, and as it turns out, there is a single package that includes everything, from the character names to the modified concert posters and skin for Yui’s Heritage Cherry Sunburst Gibson Les Paul guitar. However, multiple conflicting mods meant that I had the shortened name for each of Yui, Mio, Mugi and Ritsu, although for this post, they work to my favour on account of the joke I’ve opted to use as the post title. Here, I begin on the rooftop of a hotel in Savannah, Georgia, a moderately-sized city of around four hundred thousand people.

  • Every mission has players start with the Sig Sauer P220, which is equipped with a tactical flashlight. Despite being intended as a backup weapon, the pistol does offer unlimited reserve ammunition and is a great secondary when one is using a slower firing long range weapon. This first mission at the hotel sets the tone of the remainder of Left 4 Dead 2 – players fight through hordes upon hordes of zombies to get to a safe room, and some missions entail fetching resources or waiting for a vehicle to arrive. Conventional FPS tricks are not as effective in Left 4 Dead 2, since the procedural generator will adjust itself to challenge the player’s style.

  • Over the course of a level, one will find weapons and equipment scattered about. After picking up a suppressed MAC-10, it becomes possible to shred zombies more easily, but the weapon’s high rate of fire means one can burn through their reserves quickly. Left 4 Dead 2 also has an unsuppressed Uzi: the differences between the two weapons are that the MAC-10 hits slightly harder, while the Uzi is more reliable at ranges. The MAC-10’s suppressor is purely cosmetic, doing nothing to lessen the zombies’ sensitivity to weapon fire.

  • After exiting the hotel, it’s onto the streets of Savannah; the musty brown-yellow light suggests it’s late afternoon, and combined with the hazy, smokey skies, really conveys the feeling of a Deep South summer. The aesthetics of Left 4 Dead 2 brings to mind memories of TV Tropes, a site I disparagingly refer to as “Tango Victor Tango”: oppressive, fetid weather creates an image in my mind’s eye of site’s users, sitting in a dimly-lit basement tapping away at their keyboards instead of capitalising on the summer weather. While perhaps understandable (hot, humid days make it very unpleasant to be outside), there is also a melancholy about this vision.

  • As I made my way though the level, I acquired a Heckler & Koch G3SG/1 semi-automatic marksman rifle, which is probably one of the best weapons for long-range combat: it is second only to the hunting rifle in accuracy, but with a decent rate of fire and magazine capacity, it allows one to maintain a distance from the zombies. As players move through missions, increasingly powerful and effective weapons become available. I typically prefer the M-16 or AK-47, as they are versatile weapons that allow me to hold my own at most ranges. On a team, I would have no qualms about equipping dedicated CQC or long-range weapons.

  • In one of the bonus missions, “The Passing”, I found an M60: this LMG is a unique weapon in that it has a non-reloadable 150-round belt, and hits particularly hard at close range (although its spread makes it less useful in long range engagements). However, once depleted, players will drop the weapon. In my original Left 4 Dead 2 post about the K-On! mod, I remarked that my experience would be complete once I got my hands on an M60, and having used it, I found it to be an amusing weapon to use, tearing through horde of zombies with ease. However, I ran out of ammunition for it before I could take down a Witch with it.

  • When I made my way through the campaign, I didn’t know that “The Passing” was a DLC mission, but was surprised to see Azu-nyan in the mission. The mod I originally had installed in 2013 was complete to the point of having Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Mugi’s models ready, as well as Azusa’s, so on this mission, Azusa felt a bit out of place with the others. With the K-On! mod currently missing only Nodoka’s model, it means that if I were to play the other campaign missions with the original Left 4 Dead survivors, assuming I picked Nodoka, I would have a sufficiently complete experience.

  • I do plan on venturing into the other campaign in the future, so for now, we return to the base Left 4 Dead 2 campaign, which sees the survivors reaching an abandoned amusement park. For all of my missions, I decided to play as Ritsu: there is a reason for doing this that I will show off later in this post. The amusement park mission was easily my favourite of the lot – it covers a bit of turf, taking players through an empty roadside motel into the amusement park itself.

  • Here, I’ve swapped out my P220 for a katana: melee weapons in Left 4 Dead 2 are more varied than its predecessor, and are a last ditch option for taking out zombies. Common zombies and some special zombies can be defeated in one stroke, while Witches take four strikes, and Tanks take twenty. For CQC, melee weapons can cut down multiple zombies at once, and are most useful when one is being rushed or wading into a fight. Conversely, pistols are preferred if one wishes to have a second ranged weapon. On a team, players should pick the weapons that fit their loadout, and I’d be comfortable carrying a melee weapon if my primary weapon is an automatic, otherwise, if it’s a shotgun or rifle, then carrying the pistols has served me better.

  • Of the weapons in Left 4 Dead 2, the M16 is the true jack-of-all-trades, being accurate enough to pick off enemies at range, while at the same time, having a decent fire rate and capacity for close quarters firefights: the weapon has a 50-round magazine. Like all other weapons, it is best used in short, controlled bursts, as firing on full-automatic will deplete a magazine very quickly. Left 4 Dead 2 features enemies of three different categories: the common enemies that rush the player are easily dispatched, and there are uncommon enemy types that deal special kinds of damage (but once recognised, can still be taken out). Finally, Witches and Tanks are the most powerful and durable enemy types in the game, usually demanding coordinated firepower to deal with.

  • The incredible contrast between running K-On! characters in Left 4 Dead 2 was an endless source of humour – for one, Yui, Mio, Ritsu and Mugi are ill-dressed for the terrain and climate of the deep south, and furthermore, their manner do not correspond with Left 4 Dead 2‘s original survivors: the members of Hōkago Tea Time are students, after all, preferring to spend their days practising with their instruments and unwinding with tea after a day’s worth of classes.

  • After I pushed onto the rollercoaster, a Jockey began attacking Yui, and the on-screen prompt indicates that a Jockey is riding Yui. Upon seeing this message for the first time, I realised that a lame joke could be made regarding the mod, and this is what lent itself to the post title: I’m fond of all the characters in K-On!, but Mio particularly stands out with her serious, no-nonsense personality (and humiliation when things don’t go the way she’d like). Mio thus became my favourite character in K-On! on very short order, and I further found that her songs were among the best to listen to (although in later years, I did come to appreciate everyone’s singing equally).

  • While a subtle, simple touch, the K-On! mod replaces the concert posters in Left 4 Dead 2 with K-On! characters, further immersing players into the idea that Left 4 Dead 2 was really made for K-On! characters with this mod. During this particular play-through of the concert chapter, I ended up picking the SPAS-12 (the stock is folded up, and it’s known as the combat shotgun in-game). Shotguns in Left 4 Dead 2 are situational weapons, and playing solo means not being able to have teammates cover off ranges that I’m ineffective at – the SPAS-12 is the second most powerful close range weapon available to players on a per-shot basis but is not useful at longer ranges.

  • Because I retain the classic concert mods on top of the updated mod, my version of Left 4 Dead 2 has the iconic U & I and Gohan wa Okazu as the main songs played during the concert. Upon removing the duplicate mods, No! Thank You and Don’t Say Lazy play instead. I actually prefer the first set of songs, as they have a happy, energetic feel that would be completely out of place while fighting zombies (whereas the ending songs have a more traditional rock sound about them). Here I’ve equipped the guitar as a weapon – the mod retains the original model, but is re-skinned to have the same finish as Yui’s Gitah/Giita.

  • Bashing zombies with Gitah and listening to the sounds made on every stroke, in conjunction with listening to classic lyrics from U & I while Yui, Mugi and Mio fight around me was the apex of the experience this mod confers. For the whole of this mission, it truly felt like K-On! was brought into Left 4 Dead 2 completely – everything fits seamlessly together to yield a load of fun and even more laughs. In 2013, I was completely satisfied with this experience. Back then, I had multiple mods active to recreate this experience, whereas now, thanks to a new modder taking on the project, a single install is all that’s needed.

  • After finishing the concert, I originally set Left 4 Dead 2 aside and was expecting to return later. However, “later” never came, and I ended up leaving much of the campaign unfinished. However, two things recently compelled me to resume this hitherto unfinished journey: the first was that the modder who’d picked up the project had invited me to give it a go, and the second is that I’ve been trying to make a more serious effort about finishing off my backlog before it becomes unfeasible to do so. Of course, with the trend in contemporary games towards battle royale and loot-box driven experiences, I’ve had very little incentive to play the more recent games.

  • Returning to older titles, like Left 4 Dead 2, was a breath of fresh air precisely because a decade earlier, games were made to be replayed in small groups. I’ve never really enjoyed the battle royale genre because it encourages techniques like camping and dance emotes. Similarly, I do not believe that micro-transactions create an enjoyable experience; previously, games rewarded players for investing time into them and improving, and cosmetics were a part of this progression system, an indicator of this dedication. Purchasable cosmetics and mandatory DLC, on the other hand, degrades progression.

  • Here in the swamps of Louisiana, I fight my way across festering, dank bayous: here, I half expect to come across Slenderman. It was in the far-flung woods of Alabama that Marble Hornets‘ operator appeared in, haunting a group of individuals in what has become one of the most well-known (and well-crafted) alternate-reality games. There is an eeriness about the Deep South that makes the area conducive for spooky-sounding stories, and long before the internet and Slenderman, the Deep South was home to numerous legends surrounding swamp monsters and the like.

  • I eventually reach an abandoned town made up of shacks, and for the briefest of moments, my thoughts strayed back to Tango-Victor-Tango – it is not tricky to imagine the likes of Fast Eddie, Fighteer or Madrugada occupying one of these rickety dwellings, dealing out moderator judgment to those who disagreed with them in the cool of their basements, away from the muggy, humid summers of the American Deep South. Curiously enough, none of these moderators actually live in the Deep South: Fast Eddie is from Rice Lake, Wisconsin, and Madrugada calls Davenport, Iowa, home. Fighteer, on the other hand, is in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Despite its age (Left 4 Dead 2 turned eleven back in November of last year), the game still looks and handles like a modern game would, save a few places where things can be a little uneven. Lighting and visual effects still look great.

  • For the most part, the piece of Left 4 Dead 2 that feels the most dated for me are the weapon mechanics: while the weapons still deal good damage against enemies, there isn’t much in the way of feedback to know when I’ve actually hit something. This could just be a consequence of modern games offering things like audio or visual feedback (such as hit markers) per shot landed, and overall, is a very minor gripe about an otherwise solid game that has aged very well. K-On! is likewise an anime that aged extremely well: a decade after its airing, the lessons and discoveries remain fresh, and the music of K-On! is still very much enjoyable to listen to.

  • The hapless Yui gets ridden by a second Jockey in this post here as I make to call the boat to bring the third set of missions to a close. There’s a 50-calibre mounted gun on the second floor, but the placement is such that the weapon isn’t too helpful: on paper, having access to a weapon that can fire continuously for fifteen seconds at a time to thin out hordes of zombies and even do damage to tanks is great, but in practise, being stuck in one spot with a weapon whose firing angles can’t reach all of the enemies is risky.

  • This is the moment readers have come for, and after seven plus years, I’ve finally gotten the screenshot that gives this post its name. During my play-through, Mio was the one character who seemed to be immune to Jockeys – the AI players are typically attuned to the uncommon zombies and killed them long before they got into range for this to happen. Hence, after spotting a Jockey, I would deliberately back-petal and try to bring it into where the AI players were fighting, but more often than not, Mio (or anyone else) would melt the Jockey in the blink of an eye. During the sugarcane plant mission, however, I finally managed to get a screenshot of a Jockey riding Mio, a phrase that remains hilarious even today.

  • As a rainstorm pushes in, navigating the sugarcane plant became a nightmare. The mission is infested with Witches, which I found to be the trickiest enemy to deal with. Armed with ferocious-looking claws, Witches can down players in an instant. I typically try to avoid confrontations with Witches where possible, since I’m not a sure enough shot with a shotgun to take out a Witch with a single headshot. In a team match, having four human players and strategy would allow a better weapons distribution, as well as map management.

  • Here I equip a pipe bomb for no apparent reason. Equipment items in Left 4 Dead 2 are used to restore lost health, provide temporary boosts or create a tactical advantage during a firefight. In general, I prefer Molotov Cocktails, since they act as powerful area-denial tools. For most situations, carrying a first-aid kit is preferred as my primary healing item, and while I usually save them for myself in single-player campaigns, I have used them to bring the AI back to life to ensure everyone makes it out of the mission in one piece.

  • In the streets of New Orleans, I gear up for my final mission in what appears to be the famous Bourbon Street of the French Quarter. It was in this area where I’d realised how much I’d missed out on over the years after getting sidetracked by other things: New Orleans looks fantastic, and the mission is set by day, so visibility is good. I did mention that the K-On! mod helps with visibility, allowing me to see teammates better than the original models, which were more realistic and blended in with things better. One touch I particularly liked was that the K-On! models still carry their gear properly.

  • Left 4 Dead 2 released in November 2009, five months after K-On!‘s first season finished airing. At the time, I imagine that something as ludicrous as mashing the two together was initially not on anyone’s mind, but the combination of K-On!‘s popularity and the extensive mod support for Valve games meant that sooner or later, something such as the K-On! Left 4 Dead 2 mod was bound to appear. K-On!‘s runaway popularity was a result of Kyoto Animation’s excellence in bringing the manga to life, and excellent voice acting (as well as singing) from Aki Toyosaki, Yokō Hisaka, Satomi Satō and Minato Kotobuki.

  • Back in those days, it seemed hardly possible to take a step without someone criticising K-On!. One wonders how those folks would’ve handled news that such a mod exists. By the time I got to checking the series out in 2011, a second season had finished airing, and criticisms of the series began fading from view. While negativity surrounding K-On! began dissipating, it was clear that there were more people who enjoyed this series than those who did not. At a special live concert in Saitama Super Arena, to a sold-out audience, it was announced that K-On!‘s movie would begin screening that December. Like Left 4 Dead 2, I never did get around to watching the concert, Come With Me!, until recently. Having now done so, I intend to write about it at the ten year anniversary to when the concert was held.

  • Going through Left 4 Dead 2 with K-On! mods inspired me to rewatch the anime and films alike, and also got me wondering as to whether or not other mods for series I’m fond of exist. As it turns out, there’s a music mod that plays Girls und Panzer music during the concert, but that’s about it – nothing exists for GochiUsa, which I consider to be the successor to K-On! for offering an incredibly cathartic atmosphere and adorable antics amongst its cast of characters. Like K-On!GochiUsa is immensely popular and has had live concert events of their own, although the music in GochiUsa is, if it were possible, even more saccharine than anything from K-On!: while pleasant to listen to, it would feel decidedly out of place in the rock concert mission.

  • Here, I equip the SIG SG-552 assault rifle for the final push across the bridge, the last of the chapters in the original Left 4 Dead 2‘s campaign. Until last September, German weapons were only available in versions of Left 4 Dead 2 sold in Germany, but an update brought the SG-552, MP5, Steyr Scout and Accuracy International AWSM rifles into the game. These weapons now randomly spawn in the game, and have been updated to have slightly unique attributes that make them viable (rather than being reskins of existing weapons). It speaks volumes to Valve’s dedication that they still provide support to games that are more than a decade old, and a part of this hope is that Valve might one day provide more information on developments to their most famous franchise, Half-Life.

  • With the original Left 4 Dead 2 campaign finally in the books, I will be looking to complete the other missions, which now feature Azusa, Ui, and Jun thanks to the mod. In between Left 4 Dead 2, there are a few other things I have on the gaming front – I will also need to create an opening to write about Black Mesa, which I picked up during the Winter Sale, and wrap up, then write about, the first season of Spartan Ops, which has proven to be surprisingly enjoyable. On top of this, The Division 2‘s fourth manhunt season is coming to a close, with Faye Lau becoming available come February. I hope that there’ll be bit of a break in the Manhunts: while fun, and allowing me to earn gear that I otherwise wouldn’t get, they are a bit time-consuming, and I am admittedly more interested in returning to my backlog, having gotten what I feel to be more than my money’s worth in The Division 2.

I’ve got a very strange relationship with the games I pick up, and Left 4 Dead 2 probably exemplifies this: I originally bought the game for five dollars on a sale back during March 2013, towards the final days of my undergraduate semester, and intended to co-op with my friends. A half-year later, I’d found the mod, and beat the campaign up to (and including Dark Carnival). However, thoughts of Left 4 Dead 2 soon faded, and I never did finish the original campaign in full. Moreover, it appeared that the mod had hit a sort of hiatus. A few months ago, it turns out that one of the developers working on the mod had personally reached out to me and alerted me to the fact that the mod had now resumed development, some eight years after I’d first heard of the project. This update was a bit of a reminder about the way I roll: I tend to procrastinate big time on my hobbies. While this isn’t necessarily detrimental (I make it a point to be on top of my other endeavours), it does mean that I occasionally miss out on the hype and energy surrounding the latest big thing. With this being said, I’m not terribly bothered by this, and prefer to enjoy things at my own pacing. This approach has its pluses and minuses; in general, I tend to avoid spoilers well enough so that my experiences are not diminished, so even years after something is released and discussed, I still can find surprise and excitement when I go through it for myself. With the original Left 4 Dead 2 campaign now in the books, it looks like I’m ready to continue on my journey in Left 4 Dead 2 to complete the remainder of the campaign missions: it is pleasant to know that there’s still an entire story to experience with a different set of characters, and I look forwards to checking out more settings beyond the Deep South that featured in Left 4 Dead 2‘s base campaign alongside who would become the Wakaba Girls in K-On!‘s manga continuation.