Welcome to The Reticule’s Sunday spectacular, Our Week in Games. This has been a surprisingly busy week in the games industry, while I haven’t come across any Games Industry Dramas, there have been some serious goings on. The new Doom was revealed at QuakeCon while Microsoft announced drastic job cuts and the closure of the Xbox Entertainment studios. Big things to muse over while we talk about what our past week in games involved. …
I was leisurely enjoying a day off on Friday when I saw the trailer for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare which sparked my interest thanks to the stunning footage of Kevin ‘Frank Underwood’ Spacey sharing some fine words on war and politics. The video is captured from the Xbox One version of a game coming out this November, and it looks quite stunning. The title implies a new beginning for the series following the drag of the Modern Warfare sequence. I’m not expecting a world changing game at this stage of things, but it could be good.
Check out the trailer below and then read on for Our Week in Games. …
A large gun, and an area full of people in front of me. In any other genre, there may be some hope of conversation, perhaps a spot of exploring, even. But no, this is a first-person-shooter and all must die. Hesitate, and you either die, riddled with bullets and with a screen full of jam, or the game simply shouts at you and forces a restart regardless.
This isn’t a problem, financially, for many developers and publishers. This is the norm; this is what people expect from a modern FPS and if it wasn’t full-on, balls-to-the-wall bullet-action, fans would be disappointed. Provided it has a pedigree – Call of Duty, Halo, or any number of yearly spin-offs – it will make oodles of cash one way or another, so what’s the problem?
As we get ever closer to possible reveals of the next generation of consoles from Sony and Microsoft at E3 this Summer, musings about the future of the console market are bound to crop up here and there. The first sign of the changes to business of how we pay for consoles emerged yesterday with Microsoft launching a new bundle in the US where you get a 4GB 360 with Kinect for an initial fee of $99, with a two-year subscription to Xbox Live Gold at $14.99 a month. Hit the jump to see what might be in store for how we pay for the next gen. …
Call of Duty: Black Ops looks as though it may go on to become one of the best-selling games of all-time. This is a worrying statistic.
Black Ops is not a disaster, it’s not the searing exposé of Treyarch’s failings as a developer many thought it would be. It’s well put together, slick and at times accomplished. The core package offers you a 6 hour single -player campaign, Easter eggs, zombie modes and the latest instalment of the ever popular multi-player component. But there is nothing exceptional about it. If the Modus Operandi of the early COD games was excellence, immersion and realism, then the MO for Black Ops was to insert enough explosions and cool shit like people bursting through windows on a grappling rope to make a bad-ass trailer. Consequently the single-player feels a bit like a Michael Bay film, with eye-candy, over the top set pieces and about as much depth as a toddlers paddling pool. The same criticism could perhaps be levelled at last years Modern Warfare 2, where a wilfully controversial level did much to mask the lack of any real substance. One of the main problems is that the core game, the shooting section has remained exactly the same for several years now. So much effort has gone into the set-pieces and even the story, that the actual first-person shooter section of the game is beginning to feel dated and neglected. Instead of being the glue that holds the package together, the shooting is beginning to feel like the dull bit between the set pieces that has to be endured.
The early game has enough variety that you may not immediately notice these problems, you’ll find yourself throughout the course of the game doing things like escaping a prison on a motorbike, piloting a heavily armed riverboat through the treacherous waters of Laos or flying a chopper around blowing up oil pipes. These sections don’t last long, which is probably a good thing as they are more about spectacle and the thrill of doing something new than actually being fun and interesting in their own right. But the very last part of the game is back to basics – run, take cover, shoot the bad guys, proceed ten meters, rinse, repeat. It’s here you’ll notice just how dumb the AI is, never surprising, never being much more than slightly an annoying roadblock that must be cleared before you proceed. You’ll get plenty of different tools to dispose of them, but each is as good as the next and the combat lacks any urgency or tension. Even the obligatory stealth scene in the game feels like little more than an interactive cut-scene. The story is marginally better than recent entries in the series, using a more personal tale as an excuse to visit various cold-war locations and blow them up. There are recurring numbers, crazed Russians, jail-breaks, torture scenes and a big twist at the end that is nicely foreshadowed, if a little obvious. All in all the story gives you enough incentive to keep playing through the campaign, but it would be nice if the game-play was reward enough.
The multi-player is probably the strongest part of the game offering a number of tweaks from Modern Warfare 2 that make it a worthwhile proposition. If you ignore the zombie mode (you should, it’s rubbish), what you’ll find is a mode filled with options for how you want to play, how you want to look and what kinds of games you’ll want to take part in. Choice, customization and one of the best multi-player arcade shooters out there make for a satisfying and long-lasting experience. With 15 levels of prestige to be attained, there’s always something willing you to keep on playing and there’s always something to unlock. Although the mode initially released on the PC with a horrible CPU issue that caused masses of lag, the problem seems to have been patched out now, although some people with lesser PC’s may still want to give it a miss. Guns have proper recoil now, kill-streak rewards are slightly harder to earn and you can slap a picture of a unicorn on your gun if you so choose, a feature sorely lacking from most online shooters. Perhaps the best new feature of the multi-player is the inclusion of wager matches. Forget the pretence of playing to earn cash, you’ll earn enough through normal play that it will never be a great concern. Wager matches are essentially mods to the core game that ignore your level, weapons and perks and place everyone on a level playing field, each with some fun conditions. My personal favourite is Sticks and Stones, which gives everyone a crossbow with explosive bolts, a tomahawk and the ballistic knife. You earn points through getting kills with these weapons, the person with the most points at the end of the game wins. The twist is that tomahawk kills, hard to pull off but immensely satisfying cause your opponent to lose all their points. The game becomes a tense show-down where skill and timing is everything, you can’t camp or sit still for a moment in case someone comes along and sticks a tomahawk in your vertebrae. The Multi-player segment of Black Ops can be a genuinely good time, but it will still feel overly familiar to players of the last three Call of Duty installments, if you’re not interested in more of the same with new maps and weapons and gamemodes, this isn’t for you.
The Call of Duty series seems to be at a point now where it has transcended criticism. Activision are not a particularly popular company. Their CEO is something of an internet hate figure . Yet this seems to have little impact on their record-smashing sales figures even with a series that runs the risk of becoming mired in mediocrity. The worry is the message Activision and other publishers must be getting from those figures. A yearly release, churned out with a good trailer and a celeb-studded launch party are fast becoming more important than a game being any good. Black Ops is not a bad game, but it’s not the greatest of all-time. But why strive for greatness when middle of the road reaps better rewards? If you don’t care for multi-player you’d be better served avoiding Black Ops, it will leave you reminiscing of the days when the Call of Duty name was a seal of quality.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is The X Factor of the world of video games. It’s not all that clever, it has a component that divides public opinion masterminded by a savvy businessman who needs to work on his people skills, and is in no way going to move their respective genre forward. Yet it’s very polished, is a great spectacle and is still going to get a massive audience no matter what the critics will say about it. So in a lot of ways, it’s a pretty tricky game to review.
The game is divided into three sections, the Single Player, Multiplayer and Special Ops mode. The first of these picks up from where the single player mode of the first Modern Warfare left off – the story following six months later – and par for the course for the CoD games, you are placed into the boots of various soldiers throughout the warfare of the title. Along with other surprises, the player character from the first game, Soap McTavish returns as one of your commanders, and you follow a very convoluted plot which plays on the fears of the US being invaded. It’s very much on the 24 version of ‘realism’ with plenty of ‘Did you see that?’ moments. Of course there’s your obligatory stealth section, and the on rails shooter bit which are expertly executed and polished to a gleam, a snowmobile chase being a particular highlight.
The thing about the single player is, it’s all very well and good and showy, but it’s firstly incredibly short. You’ll probably scream through the campaign in about 4 or 5 hours, and it’s only certain annoyances with higher difficulties that may cause you to gain a few minutes. Fair play to Infinity Ward, they’ve made the enemies slightly less finite by adding the possibility of them spawning behind you, but it sure is frustrating if you’re taking your time to get somewhere, get into cover only for someone to spawn behind you and kill you while you’re taking a breather. Another massive annoyance for me was the fact that – especially in the latter half of the game, it plays out almost exactly like Modern Warfare 1 did, but with the locations changed. Perhaps I’m getting a bit full of myself, but with the last game it felt as if the scriptwriters were in control. This time it feels a lot more like the scriptwriters were just trying to think of a different plot to tie the levels together, which is a massive shame. And the infamous No Russian level literally adds nothing but controversy – I would say more but it’s pretty much been extensively covered elsewhere.
This isn’t to say it’s a bad game. Special Ops and Multiplayer are the real heart and indeed meat of the game, and are probably where you’re going to get the most enjoyment. Spec Ops mode can be played solo or co-operatively, and challenges you with a series of missions ever increasing in difficulty in order to earn stars and unlock more missions. It’s certainly addictive for those with the obsessive tendencies, and the missions picked are certainly the best ones from the single player game – with a few twists. But if you really like showing off your skills, multiplayer is certainly where it’s at.
Like the last game, MW2 comes with a persistent stats system. As you play more, you gain experience points which in turn helps you unlock new weapons, perks and entirely aesthetic – but also entirely awesome – badges and titles for your ‘callsign’. The popularity of hats and unlocks in games like TF2 is taken to it’s natural evolution here, and there’s something deeply compulsive about completing the massive list of challenges on offer. Covering all the game modes available – Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Domination – there’s literally something for everyone, and even the worst players can rack up the experience (you still get some even if you lose) and still complete challenges. The main advantage MW2’s multiplayer has over the first game is the amount of accessibility to all skill levels, there’s even Deathstreaks which give a perk to those players not doing as particularly well as others and customizable killstreaks so you can pick what you can aim for. The first Modern Warfare’s major problem came in the very best players would get enough kills for a devestating helicopter, which would then keep racking up the kills and usually resulting in the weaker players leaving as there was no chance for them to retaliate. The scales have been massively pushed in their favour now, as the randomly dropped bonuses in an airdrop package require far less kills and could contain rewards usually reserved for much better players. I cannot stress how much more accessible this has made the game for inept players like me.
As for negatives for the MP, well – here I was going to decry the lack of dedicated servers for the PC. It still is a massive shame that you’re unable to host true custom matches, with all the rules set how you want, disabling Killcams etc and the other benefits that dedicated servers provide. But to be quite honest I’ve not really had massively debilitating problems with IWNet. It does work – even if it’s claims of stopping cheaters are still dubious even to today – but functionality wise it at works on a broadband connection, and fairly well about 90% of the time. Be warned though, on the other 10% it’s incredibly irritating to see everybody lagging except the host. So yes, knock some marks off for the rather poor idea and thought processes behind it, but probably not as many as you’d think.
So overall it’s a bit of a mixed bag really. If you’re only buying this for the single player, wait until it’s much – MUCH – cheaper. But if you want a deceptively addictive and engrossing multiplayer, and are willing to put up with rare technical issues, then Modern Warfare 2 does come recommended. But despite all of this if you wanted this game you’ve probably got it already, and like the viewing figures for The X Factor prove, it’s not budging from the top for a while.
I died. I had just reached the shingle on Omaha beach when a bullet from an MG42 took away the last 4 bits of health I had. I was devastated, after clawing my way through the sea, past the obstacles and up the beach I saw safety, just to have it taken away at the last moment. What was even more galling was the fact that I had completed my objective of getting to the shingle, though it wasn’t enough to save me.
I tried again, this time I made it to the shingle and met up with the Captain, I was not impressed with what he had to say. He was sending me back down to beach to grab some explosives to be used to blow a path through the shingle. I glanced at my health, I was down to 4, again. I knew that it was suicide to try and get the Bangalore’s in my current state; I crawled further along the shingle to find a medic, my saviour. I was patched up to 54 little points of health and felt ready to run madly down the beach to get those much needed explosives.
Once I had returned safely with the bangers the Captain blew a whole in the shingle, after a mad dash across a mine field covered by two machine gun nests I found myself leaning against the base of the concrete fortifications with just 10 health. The mad Captain ordered me to get across the rest of the mine field in order to reach some trenches. I died, I tried again and I died. I gave up.
This is the Omaha beach level from Medal of Honour: Allied Assault. Perhaps the finest, most realistic gaming moment there is, and certainly the best landing assault level there is, much better than Stalingrad in Call of Duty. This pretty much is the opening of Saving Private Ryan in video game form, which should come as no surprise as the director of that amazing war film, Steven Spielberg was involved in the creation of Allied Assault.
This one level is the defining moment of the whole game, it is telling that you receive an in-game medal just for completing the mission; you don’t have to do any other special tasks, simply just survive what seems to be the unsurvivable.
When I first played Allied Assault I romped my way through the opening two missions of the game, it was only when I got to Omaha that I found my match. It is a totally uncompromising level, that medic I mentioned earlier will only heal you once, there is no respite from the constant noise of artillery shells landing and bullets pining off the obstacle you are hiding behind. It is one of, if not the most intense level of any game. The corresponding console version of the game, Frontline also features a level on Omaha, that was the first version I played and I found it pretty easy. For that simple reason I was shocked by the challenge posted in Allied Assault, I was not ready for the levels of grit and determination needed to complete the opening sequence of the beach landing.
I think it is a shame that when any game features a similar styled beach landing or ground assault that the Stalingrad level from Call of Duty is always the level of comparison. Yes, that is awe inspiring in its own right, but it is no Omaha. The Hell of Omaha.
A teaser trailer for Modern Warfare 2 is now live on the site for the game which has mysteriously dropped the Call of Duty label. The trailer doesn’t show much in detail, but Russians do seem to be involved indicating a possible continuation of the event of Modern Warfare. Embedded version after the jump.
Lets be honest right from the off, World at War is simply Call of Duty 4 set back in World War II and made a bit worse. I had some hopes when I started the game, the briefing sequences to each level are nicely done, they mix together voice overs from the leading character from the US and Russian campaigns with archive footage from the battles you are taking part in.
It is clear that Treyarch are trying to honour those who were involved in that bloody conflict, and that is a good thing too. Veterans need to be remembered, and as the years go on there are going to be less and less of them alive, so poignant tributes to them are essential. However when you start the credits with a message in honour of those troops and proceed to throw in a zombie survival mode at the end, well that just seems wrong.