I have something of a soft spot for the Call of Duty series, a trait which I think is highly evident given the fact that I’ve been reviewing their games for the past 4 years. This primarily extends from their highly cinematic single player experiences where the actual game play borders on being more like an action movie rather than a traditional FPS. However I also found myself inexplicably drawn to the multiplayer, finding myself being one of “those people” who just couldn’t get enough of the fast paced, super spammy Nuketown map. I also have to admit that I did feel pretty special to be invited to come and preview their games way back when (something I’ve been unfortunately unable to repeat lately) and the fact that they sent me copies to review was a kind of validation that I hadn’t got before. Whilst that trend didn’t continue this year I’m still a fan of the series in general and have spent the better part of 2 weeks gorging myself on everything Call of Duty: Ghosts has to offer.
Call of Duty: Ghosts takes place in the not too distant future in an alternate timeline to the rest of the Call of Duty series. You primarily play as Logan, the son of a lifetime military man Elias who regales you with the story of an elite unit who faced down overwhelming odds and came out the other side. They called themselves the Ghosts, known for never giving up until their mission was completed and always ensuring that all their men got out, dead or alive. The story is unfortunately cut short as it quickly becomes apparent that the USA is under attack however the origin of the bombardments isn’t quite clear. What is for certain however is that the new world superpower, The Federation, are behind it and they need to be stopped.
Ghosts is one of the first titles to make it onto the next console generation (although its still available on current gen) and the improvements to the graphics that they enable are quite impressive. Whilst the difference between Black Ops II and Ghosts is as great as you’d expect to be, especially with this being the first next gen Call of Duty title, there’s still been a dramatic improvement since the last Infinity Ward game. All of the screenshots were taken in game and I think they speak volumes to the amount of effort put in to the set pieces that Infinity has created. It’s also probably the reason why the game comes in at 28GBs, by far one of the largest downloads I’ve ever had for a single player game (the multi is a separate 4GB download of its own).
The game play is your standard corridor shooter with you being guided from point A to point B by one or more NPCs with different kinds of objectives along the way. Saying that for most games would be a jab at their originality or banality but the Call of Duty series does it so well that it’s hard for me to criticize them for it. Still if you were looking for something innovative or different about the single player campaign you’re going to be disappointed as it really is just a scenic tour through a whole bunch of impressive artwork with action movie style combat thrown in so you don’t get bored walking everywhere. That being said it is quite the ride with you rarely being given more than a couple moments to catch your breath before the next unbelievably epic moment occurs.
The combat is, as always, polished and refined to the point where it’s smooth as glass. The only variation from previous games is the weapons and equipment that will be made available to you and for the most part the differences are largely cosmetic as they’re all guns that shoot bullets. There is a little variety in the way the guns act in different environments, like when you’re in space or under water, but the standard assault rifle will be your mainstay for the majority of the game. If there’s one thing I’ll criticize Ghosts for it’s the use of sniper accurate enemies who seem to be able to hit you from almost any angle, leading to long periods where you have to peek your head out, get hit, figure out where they are and then try to pick them off before they or their friends do the same to you. This is made somewhat more annoying by the unpredictable nature of the NPCs who sometimes charge ahead or seem to get stuck in one position until you do the charging, but then again I’ve yet to find a game where I’ve felt the NPCs were truly useful additions.
Considering the amount of hype and focus the dog got prior to Ghosts’ release I’d be remiss if I didn’t give my perspective on it. Riley (that’s his name) is essentially another mechanic for them to throw at you with his main function being that of a kind of single target grenade that you can point at anyone and have him take them down. There are also some more weird sci-fi sections where you’re able to control him directly, making him sneak behind enemy lines and even take down people from a remote console. It fits in with the overall game, although why such a big deal was made of it I’ll never quite understand, and there’s a particular heart wrenching moment when he gets shot and you have to carry him through the battlefield. Conveniently they also provide you with an insane machine gun at that point, allowing you to go full rambo on the assholes who shot your dog which was probably one of my favourite parts of Ghosts.
I’m somewhat thankful that Ghosts took a new route as the previous storyline was starting to get a little long in the tooth, especially with all the various sub-plots that I just couldn’t seem to keep track over between instalments. They’ve taken a break from the traditional clandestine unit saving the USA from imminent attack, instead putting you in a world that’s been devastated by the newest superpower. It’s best not to think about it too deeply though as it tend towards more being an action movie than a psychological thriller, hoping that you won’t think and instead enjoy the ride. If you do that the story is passable and is more than enough to keep you motivated from one objective to the next.
The multiplayer breaks away from Infinity Ward’s traditional way of doing things (where most things are locked until you level up enough to get them) and instead adopts a Squad Point system for upgrading your character. Unlike the the cash system that the original Black Ops had Squad Points aren’t earned in troves by simply playing. Whilst you will get points for levelling up the system is obviously more geared towards you completing challenges, both grand ones that require multiple games to accomplish as well as field orders which grant you a bonus during the game. Because of this all the guns in the game are available to you from level 1 and all that’s required is that you grind out a few points to unlock them.
The perks, however, are hard locked to your level with the more powerful ones being reserved for the later stages. This does mean that particular play styles are just simply not feasible until you get to that stage as you won’t be able to have your pick of the perks until you hit level 60. For someone like me who’d developed a distinctive play strategy (I’m a rusher style player) it meant that I had to change the way I played in order to get anywhere in the game. It doesn’t take too long to adjust as you can still do the traditional assault rifle style play but I did feel a little miffed that I couldn’t engage in the insane runabout shenanigans that I did in previous games.
Indeed it seems that Infinity Ward is trying to encourage a slightly different style of play with Ghosts as there are now many more open maps that are more conducive to sniping than there was in the previous games. You can imagine how annoying this is to a rusher like me where my style of combat relies on getting in people’s faces, but it means that you just have to adapt or die. There are still a few crazy small maps however it seems that they’re no where near as popular as the Nuketown of old as there’s rarely more than 100 players in the Ghost Moshpit game type with most staying on Team Deathmatch or Domination. This is probably not so much of a problem on the consoles however as there’s an order of magnitude more players around at any given time.
For what its worth I feel that the multiplayer of Ghosts is weaker than previous instalments as it just doesn’t seem to have that same pulling power on me that it used to. I’ve still racked up about 7 hours on it after taking about 2 to find my feet again but I just don’t have that same sense of compulsion pulling me back. Maybe its the lack of Nuketown, maybe it’s the lack of my spammy akimbo style of game play but whatever it is it just isn’t the same as it used to be. Activision said that they were expecting lower sales this time around due to the console switch over and that seems to be reflected in the multiplayer. Hopefully the next instalment won’t suffer because of it.
Call of Duty: Ghosts is another highly polished instalment in the franchise, showing that Infinity Ward is capable of delivering a highly cinematic experience that’s thoroughly enjoyable to play through. Whilst the stories and setting are always different the core game play remains the same and it’s commendable that they can still make it enjoyable this many years on. However the multiplayer experience is definitely a step down from previous games, lacking the same addictive power that compelled me to become a fan of the series all those years ago. Overall it’s still a solid game experience but they’re going to have to aim higher next time around if they want to recapture their original glory.
Call of Duty: Ghosts is available on PlayStation3, PlayStation4, Xbox360, XboxOne, WiiU and PC right now for $78, $78, $78, $78 , $99.95 and $89.99 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 5.4 hours in the single player campaign and 7.1 hours in multiplayer.
As long time readers will know I’m a big fan of Crytek’s flagship series Crysis as it’s one of the few no-holds-barred PC games when it comes to ratcheting up the graphics to insane levels. It harks back to the golden era of PC gaming where every new title attempted to do exactly that, pushing the boundaries of the hardware so hard that yearly upgrade cycles were not only desirable, they were almost required. The consolization of PC games took a heavy bat to this idea and strangely enough even Crysis 2 fell prey to it somewhat with my rather mediocre PC at the time being able to run it perfectly (and admittedly it was still quite good for its time). When Crytek announced that Crysis 3 would be a returning to its roots with insane levels of graphics I was incredibly excited and I’m glad to say that they didn’t disappoint.
Crysis 3 takes place 24 years after the incidents in Crysis 2. Prophet, in reality the amalgam of Alcatraz and the remaining memories of the original Prophet that the NanoSuit stored, has been in stasis for the past 2 decades since CELL captured captured him. You’re broken out of your prison by Psycho, one of your former suit buddies who’s been stripped of his NanoSuit. You find out that CELL has been using some Ceph technology to generate unlimited amounts of energy and has used that to enslave most of the world in crippling amounts of debt. Psycho, saved by people in the resistance, needs your help in order to take them down. As you start to dig into CELL’s activities however the real plan becomes apparent and it becomes clear that only you are able to stop them.
The technology under the hood of Crysis 3 is the same as Crysis 2 so you can imagine I was a little sceptical as to how much of an improvement they could make in the 2 years since their last release. Figuring that my still semi-new upgrade would be up to the task I cranked everything up to its highest, leaving only the anti-aliasing at a tame 2x. What resulted afterwards can only be described as slide show, a very pretty one but it ran so slow that many of the models glitched out and it was essentially unplayable. Dialling back the settings to their recommended levels turned that slideshow into a much more playable game and what a game it is.
Every screenshot you’ll see in this review was taken in game with most of the settings at 1~2 notches below the maximum possible. The level of detail is simply amazing with all models being of the level I’ve come to expect from most game’s cutscenes rather than their in game representations. Crysis 3 makes use of the entire DirectX 11 feature set and does regular things like motion blur, specular highlights and bump mapping better than any other game I’ve played recently. Whilst the framerate wasn’t the greatest in large outdoor areas it was absolutely butter in small to medium sized zones and it was so good that I almost feel like upgrading my PC again just to how Crysis 3 would fair if had room to stretch its legs.
Suffice to say that Crytek has really returned to form with Crysis 3′s graphics.
For those who’ve played Crysis 2 the game play will be very familiar to you with the NanoSuit design staying basically the same as it did in the previous game. You have 3 modes available to you: regular, armoured and cloaked which you can switch between at will. Armoured mode drains energy when you get hit by various things and cloaked mode slowly drains away energy whilst your standing still and even more when you move around. These two active modes are essentially the two ways of completing any obstacle that you might face in Crysis 3: either by stealth or by raw fire power.
Whilst there might be a choice available to you it does seem like Crysis 3 would prefer you to go with one over the other. Right at the beginning you’re given what amounts to the biggest change between Crysis 2 and 3′s combat: the compound bow. Essentially it functions like a backup weapon as it doesn’t count towards one of your 2 regular weapons but like them its customizable with different ammo types and scopes. The key difference between the bow and other weapons however is the fact that upon using it you will still stay cloaked, allowing you to take out enemies with ease and drastically increasing the amount of time you can remained cloaked. Couple this with the fact that the primary type of arrows you can use (impact) can be picked up after you use them you essentially a weapon that’s got unlimited ammunition, kills in one hit and allows you to stealth around everywhere without getting caught. Running and gunning seems rather moronic by comparison.
This is only amplified by the upgrade system which allows you to beef up aspects of the NanoSuit to fit your play style. Whilst its entirely possible to make yourself nigh on indestructible the upgrades for stealth users simply magnifying the already over powered combo of cloak plus bow. Indeed for quite a while I was running around with just the stealth upgrades and multitudes of points available to me. I ended up spending them just before a particular boss fight that required me to go toe to toe with it but I actually found that using stealth was a viable option once I had worked out the fight a little more. This may be due to the difficulty level I was playing on however and I’m sure at easier levels run and gunning would be more viable.
Crysis 3, whilst still technically being an on-rails shooter, does retain the non-linear variations for each section that help to keep it from being yet another corridor shooter. When you’re moving between sections there’s definitely only one path that you can progress through however in those sections there’s usually additional objectives that you can go for which will assist you in getting to the primary objective. For instance there’s one section where two giant walkers are blocking your path. Now on the ground nearby there’s a ton of RPGs scattered about so with a little bit of legwork you could probably take them down. However there’s also a nearby mortar team that’s in need of assistance and should you help them out they’ll let you tag targets which they can then take out for you.
The vehicle sections feel tacked on, almost as if they’re only there to serve as an introduction into what will be available in multi-player. Whilst I applaud their use of larger-than-life maps they only seem to be there to facilitate the inclusion of the speedy Half Life 2-esque dune buggy. I will admit that the optional tank section was pretty fun but it was cut brutally short, right before a time where it would have been a hell of a lot of fun to blast a whole bunch of Ceph out of the skies. This was followed shortly after by an on-rails vehicle section putting you as the gunner which was frankly suicidal as all the Ceph aircraft targeted you instantly and your mounted gun was highly ineffective against them. I’d prefer that these sections stayed in and were revamped rather than them being removed however but they really do feel out of place with the rest of Crysis 3.
There’s also few bugs and glitches to speak of although it pains me to say that at least one of the issues that plagued Crysis 2 are still present in 3. Some guns, for example, will simply not be able to be picked up which can be pretty devastating should you not be able to swap a weapon out for a particular section. The graphics glitches appear to only happen if you’re stressing your hardware too much and disappear the second you revert them to more sane settings. The vehicles are mostly fine except for one part when my tank slowly started turning itself over and then eventually capsized for no apparent reason. Getting out of the vehicle seemed to let it right itself however but the behaviour was still very odd.
I was all ready to pan the story as for the first couple hours there’s really no tension, character development or anything that made me feel for the characters. This all changes later on as the voice acting seems to improve a lot, especially towards the end when certain reveals ramp up the tension between the characters. It’s not an emotional roller coaster like other, more story focused games but it was unexpectedly good for an on rails shooter. They also thankfully avoided the extremely obvious “INCOMING SEQUEL” stuff which plagued Crysis 2, but the current story wraps up well with enough leeway that a sequel is possible without it being obnoxious.
Crysis 3 is simply stunning; a visual masterpiece coupled with highly refined game play that we’ve come to expect from the people at Crytek. There’s no doubt that the graphics are what makes this game so impressive as Crysis 3 is probably the only game that demonstrates the full capability of DirectX 11 on the PC platform today. It’d all be for naught however if the rest of the game didn’t stand on its own however and I’m glad that it does otherwise it’d just be another tech demo ala ID’s Rage. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Crysis 3 and I’d encourage anyone who’s still a dedicated PC gamer to spend some time with it, if only to see how capable your rig really is.
Crysis 3 is available on PC, Xbox360 and PlayStation 3 right now for $69.99, $98 and $98 respectively. Game was played entirely on the PC on the second hardest difficultly with a total of 7 hours played.
One of the things I really like about reviewing games is going back over my reviews when a sequel or another instalment in a franchise comes out. The Call of Duty series takes the top prize for being my most reviewed franchise with not 1, not 2 but 3 previous reviews which I can draw on directly for comparisons. For someone who used to avoid any game that was based around one war or another it’s interesting to see how quickly I came around once I started playing the Call of Duty series, being hooked after a single game. Call of Duty: Black Ops II is the latest instalment in the franchise from Treyarch and I must say that they’ve really outdone themselves this time, firmly placing themselves on the same level as Infinity Ward.
Call of Duty: Black Ops II takes place in the not too distant future of the USA in 2025. The story centres around David Mason, son of Alex Mason the main protagonist from the original Black Ops, who’s tracking down a known terrorist called Raul Menendez. Much of the story is recounted in flashbacks from an ageing Frank Woods who David Mason consult with to try and find out where Menedez is and what he might be up to. It’s through these flash backs that you start to make sense of some of the events of your past and understand why things certain things have happened and why you’re still alive to see them.
For a primarily console game I wasn’t expecting a major update in graphics from any of its predecessors as I believe they were tapping out the capabilities of the Xbox360 some time ago. Compared to Modern Warfare 3 this seems to be largely true with them both having similar levels of graphical detail. However if you compare it to Treyarch’s previous release there’s most definitely a step up which they’re to be commended for. If I’m honest whilst the graphics aren’t a massive improvement over Modern Warfare 3 they are a hell of a lot more smooth, especially when there’s a lot of action going on. For a game that is almost entirely fast paced action this is a very welcome improvement, especially when it comes to multiplayer (which I’ll touch on later).
If you’ve played any of the Call of Duty series you’ll know the basic breakdown of the game play that I’m about to give you. It’s a First Person Shooter and so you’ll spend the vast majority of your time running around, letting bullets loose at varying arrays of enemies and utilizing your additional equipment (like grenades, flash bangs and remote C4) to tip the scales in your favour. Thanks to the ability to customize your load out before starting a mission you can also tailor your experience somewhat by say favouring sniper rifles over close range spray ‘n’ pray type weapons. For what its worth I usually played with assault rifles and SMGs, preferring to run carelessly into battle while unleashing torrents of bullets at my foes.
Black Ops II, like nearly all other titles in the Call of Duty franchise, has their trademark FPS experience that’s so well polished that it just flows with an effortless grace. All the actions (running, jumping, shooting) just plain work like you expect them to. Whilst many other FPS type games will draw my ire for one core game play issue or another I really do find it hard to find fault with the fundamentals of any Call of Duty game. Arguably this is due to the ongoing success of the series which has been allowed to refine every element over the course of so many games but it still doesn’t fail to impress me, even after seeing it for the 4th time in as many years.
Treyarch has recognized that simply running from point A to point B and shooting everything along the way does get a little boring after a while and has included many different distractions along the way to break up the repetition. Shown above is just one of the many little set pieces they include (this one was actually fairly early on in the game) which was an extremely fun way to start the mission off. They have also included a second mission type called Strike Force which is very different from the usual missions and is more akin to a game like Natural Selection, blending RTS elements with FPS game play.
The Strike Force missions put you in control of a squad of marines, robots and flying drones that you will use to accomplish a mission. They’re all different, ranging from a defend the objective to rescuing and escorting someone out, and whilst you can treat it like a regular mission by taking control of one of the units directly you’ll need to issue orders to the other AIs constantly if you want to finish it successfully. If I’m honest I didn’t enjoy them that much at the start but after a while I really started to get into them, employing varying tactics and just loving being able to play with reckless abandon.
After all this praise I feel its appropriate to mention the few minor issues with Black Ops II that can lead to you having a bad time. Like nearly all FPS games that lump you with AI friends to help you out they are, for the most part, completely useless and will likely cause your death more often than they’ll save it. For instance I’ve seen my AI buddies run around corner and proceeded to think it was completely safe however since most of the other AIs won’t target them, only you, this can often mean that there’s someone hiding around the corner but they won’t trigger until you run into their line of sight. This is in addition to them getting in your way every so often which can cause your death when you’re trying to take cover or, more comically, fail a mission when they put their head in front of your sniper rifle (“Friendly fire will not be tolerated!” apparently).
I also had an issue with some of the triggers not going off, causing the game to get stuck at a particular point. The one I can remember clearly was when I was in the bunker just before the Celerium device. I walked in and reprogrammed an ASD to fight for me but after doing so my crew just sort of stood around, not doing anything. Try as I might to get them to move I simply couldn’t and since there’s no “restart from last checkpoint” option in the menu I opted for the tried and true jump on my own grenade to get back to my last checkpoint. After that everything worked as expected but it wasn’t an isolated incident and its something that’s been present in previous Call of Duty titles.
In a very surprising change to the Call of Duty formula you actually have quite a bit of agency in Black Ops II with the game playing out very differently should you make different choices at different times. They are, for the most part, unfortunately binary but there are other softer choices like completing the Strike Missions which will have an influence on how the last hours of the game plays out. The Black Ops II wiki page (SPOILER WARNING on that link) informs me that there’s no less than 5 separate endings available to you which is far more than you average FPS. That, combined with the fact that they’re not presented to you in Endotron 3000 style means that Black Ops II is quite a step up in terms of story.
The story in and of itself is quite enthralling too, even if the beginning confused me somewhat (although that’s somewhat typical for me in Call of Duty games, if I’m honest). I was nicely surprised by how progressive it seemed as well with many characters being female, including the President, and subtle references to current social ideals like the 99% vs the 1% and so on. After my good mate’s take down of the last Call of Duty’s story and lack of agency I had a much more critical eye on Black Ops II’s story than I have for any other game in the series and it makes me very happy to say that they’ve stepped up their game and my expectations were more than met.
The multi-player is pretty much what I’ve come to expect from Call of Duty games bringing back all the classic match up modes along side the newer ideas like Kill Confirmed. Unlike the original Black Ops which allowed you to choose a server Black Ops II instead uses the same match making system that Modern Warfare 3 did. Usually I’d make a note here about how this sucks (and there are still reasons why it does) but since it works and can usually find me a game in under a minute it’s hard to complain about it. Treyarch has also brought back the much loved Nuketown map which has been revamped for the modern era. They also took it away which led to quite the uproar from the community (many of whom preordered just to get said map) but they’ve since brought it back so kudos to them for listening.
There’s really not a lot that’s new or inventive about the multi-player in Black Ops II that I’ve seen yet with the experience system, upgrades and challenges all being very reminiscent of both Modern Warfare 3 and the original Black Ops. It’s kind of hard to improve on that formula since it works so well but those who are looking for a wholly new multiplayer experience ala Battlefield 3 will find themselves disappointed. However for those like me who love the fast paced, spammy action that maps like Nuketown bring you it’s more the same thing we’ve come to love and I still can’t get enough of it.
Call of Duty: Black Ops II catapults Teryarch up from the doldrums of being Infinity Ward’s poor cousin and firmly places them right at their side, showing that they’re quite capable of delivering a game that’s every bit as epic and enjoyable. The graphics are a great step up, the game play smooth and polished and the story is very fulfilling, a rarity in the FPS genre. The multiplayer might not be much different from its predecessors but it works well and is just as addictive as its predecessors which will see me spending many more hours on it. I thoroughly enjoyed my time both in the single and multi player parts of this game and should you be in the market for some top notch, AAA FPS action then you really can’t go past Black Ops II.
Call of Duty: Black Ops II is available on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox360 right now for $89.99, $78 and $78 respectively. Game was played entirely on the PC on Veteran difficulty with 7.3 hours in single player unlocking 71% of the achievements and 2 hours in multiplayer. A review copy of the game was provided to The Refined Geek from Activision for the purposes of reviewing.
In the days before ubiquitous high speed Internet people the idea of having games that were only available when you were online were few and far between with the precious few usually being MMORPGs. As time went on however and the world became more reliably connected game developers sought to take advantage of this by creating much more involved online experiences. This also lead to the development of some of the most insane forms of DRM that have ever existed, schemes where the game will constantly phone home in order to verify if the player is allowed to continue playing the game. The advent of cheap and ubiquitous Internet access then has been both a blessing and a curse to us gamers and it may be much more of the latter for one particular type of game.
Way back when an Internet connection was considered something of a luxury the idea of integrating any kind of on line experience was something of a pipe dream. There was still usually some form of multiplayer but that would usually be reserved the hallowed times of LAN parties. Thus the focus of the game was squarely on the single player experience as that would be the main attraction for potential gamers. This is not to say that before broadband arrived there was some kind of golden age of single player games (some of my favourite games of all time are less than 5 years old) but there definitely was more of a focus on the single player experience back then.
Today its much more common to see games with online components that are critical to the overall experience. For the most part this is usually some form of persistent multiplayer which has shown to be one of the most successful ways to keep players engaged with the game (and hence the brand) long after the single player experience has faded from memory. We can squarely lay the blame for this behaviour at big titles like Call of Duty and Battlefield as most multiplayer systems are seeking to emulate the success those games enjoyed. However the biggest blow that single player games has come from something else: the online requirement to just to be able to play games.
Now I’m not specifically referring to always on DRM, although that is in the same category, more the requirement now for many games to go online at least once before they let you play the game. For many of us this check comes in the form of a login to Steam before we’re able to play the games and for others its built directly into the game, usually via a phone home to ensure that the key is still valid. Whilst there is usually an offline mode available I’ve had (and heard many similar stories) quite a few issues trying to get that to work, even when I still have an Internet connection to put them into said mode. For modern games then the idea that something is truly single player, a game that can be installed and played without the need of any external resources, is dead in the water.
This became painfully obvious when Diablo III, a game considered by many (including myself) to be a primarily single player experience, came with all the problems that are evident in games like MMORPGs. The idea that a single player experience required maintenance enraged many players and whilst I can understand the reasons behind it I also share their frustration because it calls into question just how long these games will continue to exist in the future. Whilst Blizzard does an amazing job with keeping old titles running (I believe the old Battle.Net for Diablo 1 is still up and running) many companies won’t care to keep the infrastructure up and running once all the profit has been squeezed out of a title. Some do give the courtesy of patching the games to function in stand alone mode before that happens, but its unfortunately not common.
It’s strange to consider then that the true single player games of the Internet dark ages might live on forever whilst their progeny may not be usable a couple years down the line. There’s a valid argument for companies not wanting to support things that are simply costing them money that’s only used by a handful of people but it then begs the question as to why the game was developed with such heavy reliance on those features in the first place. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like this will be a trend that will be reversed any time soon and our salvation in many cases will come from the dirty pirates who crack these systems for us at no cost. This can not be relied on however and it should really fall to the game developers to have an exit strategy for games that they no longer want to support should they want to keep the loyalty of their long time customers.
I’m not exactly known for going against the main stream view of a game but for what its worth my opinion is (mostly) formed based on the merits of the game itself rather than the popular opinion of the time. This became painfully apparent after my Dear Esther review and despite my assurances that I was able to put game play aside for a good story (like I’ve done several times before) I feel that many people who read that review don’t believe I’m capable of identifying a good story. Then I came across Journey, yet another game that tentatively pushed at the boundaries of the “game” definition and I thought this could be my redeeming grace. Of course Journey is nothing like Dear Esther as there’s no question as to its status as a game and what a game it is.
Journey opens up with you, a nameless and near faceless individual, standing in front of a vast desert. Apart from some vague imagery of what appears to be a star falling to the ground there’s not much more of an introduction. You’re then given control and shown the basics of movement using the PS3′s motion controls as well as the tried and true dual joysticks. Journey then leverages off your past game experience to drive you to the next goal (a close by hill) upon which the ultimate goal is shown, a giant mountain from which a pillar of light is emanating. You will spend the rest of the game attempting to reach that point.
The art direction of Journey had me first thinking that most of it was cell shaded but it is in fact just heavily stylized. Whilst the characters and scenery are usually quite simple the environment which you play through is quite vibrant and dynamic, especially for a place like a vast desert. At the same time the foley and sound direction is magnificent as they compliment the visuals quite aptly. Indeed one of the best aspects of Journey is the seemingly perfect combination of visuals and sounds, timed perfectly to evoke your emotions in a certain way at specific times.
Whilst the game play of Journey is undeniably there, thus firmly separating it from other experimental titles, it’s quite simplistic yet thoroughly satisfying. If I’m honest I went into this expecting Dear Esther levels of game play: I.E. nothing much more than exploration. You’ll spend a great deal of time in Journey exploring the areas but that’s far from the main game play mechanic which centres heavily around the idea that you main character can fly, albeit for a limited time.
The little tassel on the back of your character is your flight timer. You can jump and then fly to great heights but as you do the symbols on your tail start to burn away. When they’re depleted you’ll fall back to the ground and you’ll have to look for places to recharge it. Thankfully these are plentiful, either taking the the form of stationary points or animated cloth animals that will follow you around, recharging you as you go. You can also increase the length of your flight time by finding glowing orbs that are scattered around the place and the end of each level will let you know how many of the potential orbs you collected before carrying on.
Where Journey really starts to shine however is when other people start accompanying you on your journey. I remember my first encounter clearly: after finishing a level and proceeding to walk through a long hallway to the next I spotted movement off in the distance. I was going to back track to look for more orbs but the way the figure moved seemed… different to everything else. Excited I followed after them and when I got to them it was clear that there was another person behind that controller. Where it really got interesting though was when we tried to communicate to each other, being limited to only short bursts of sound. This meant that cooperating had to be somewhat instinctive, but you’d be surprised how much you can say with only a simple means of communication at your hands.
The multiplayer aspect, whilst not an essential part of the game play, does lend itself to some awesome emergent game play. When your characters are close to each other you slowly recharge each other’s flight time and you can recover it fully with single communication ability you have. This means your flight time can be extended indefinitely if you and your partner work together allowing you to gather many of the glowing orbs thus increasing your flight time again. Towards the end I had an extremely long tassel that allowed me and my partner to reach unfathomably large heights with relative ease. This made many parts of the game much easier and also served as something of a bragging right when I was joined by someone with a shorter tassel.
Journey has not a single line of dialogue, instead relying on cut scenes that tell a story through a series of brilliantly done hieroglyphics. They didn’t make a terrible amount of sense for me at the start but as you progress a grand story of a society that rose from the desert only to fall down again. The pictures start off in retrospective, highlighting things that had happened in the past that lead up to the world as it exists today. About half way through the hieroglyphs start turning prophetic, telling a story that seems to be eerily close to yours as it is happening right now.
Ultimately the story that’s told without a whiff of dialogue or text is amazingly satisfying. Whilst its not a gripping emotional conclusion that I’ve felt for similar story based games in the past it’s definitely fulfilling and thankfully steered clear from any notion that there might be a Journey 2 (and however they’d follow up Journey is an exercise I’ll leave to the reader). Showing you the names of people you shared your journey with along the way is a really nice touch and I was devastated when I found out that my video capture software had crapped out halfway through and those names were lost to the ages.
Realistically the only fault I can level at Journey is the price as at $20 on a game that I can’t share with my friends that only lasts 2 hours seems a tad steep. I’m sure it will eventually come down a bit in price and there’ll be something of a renaissance of people playing Journey again but until then I wonder how many are willing to take the rather steep plunge to play through it.
There’s few games that have made me smile the way Journey did, both at the beginning with a child like wonder at the amazing world that was presented before me to the ultimate conclusion that was a beautiful metaphor for the grand cycle of life and death. Everything about Journey just seems to meld together so well, from the art to the music to the game play. I could go on but realistically Journey is something that you need to experience for yourself.
Journey is available on PS3 exclusively right now for $20. Total play time was approximately 2 hours.
I’ve never been much of a fan of city building and strategy games. I mean sure I grew up playing games like Sim City and Age of Empires much like the rest of my generation and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy them, but as time as went on I found myself playing less and less of them, instead favouring other genres. I think this is due to the somewhat slower game play style, one that favours a decisive methodical approach that’s usually at odds with my “just entertain me” thought pattern. Still Anno 2070 managed to catch my eye with its curious blend of city building and real time strategy, something I hadn’t really come across before.
Anno 2070 puts you far into the future where the polar ice caps have melted, flooding the entire world. Because of this the world has united under one singular government with three distinct factions. The first is the Tycoons, a capitalistic consortium that look to rebuild the world as fast as possible regardless of the consequences. The second is the Ecos, an environmental movement who share the same goal as the Tycoons but favour sustainable approaches over expansion at any cost. Finally there’s the Techs, in essence a group of scientists who develop much of the technologies that power both the Tycoon’s and Eco’s economies. You are put in charge of an Ark, an advanced submersible craft that’s capable of restarting civilization on the uninhabited islands of the world. Anno 2070 follows your adventures as you rebuild civilization and do battle with the various problems that cross your path.
The graphics of Anno 2070 are visually pleasing to say the least, providing a level of eye candy that I haven’t seen in this genre before. Much of this owes to the soft glow that seems to surround everything, giving a soft blur that makes the graphics appear much better than they actually are. The camera work done for the cut scenes in Anno 2070 is also quite good with many scenes having a distinct movie feel to them. As an added bonus all this doesn’t seem to put too much strain on my gaming rig as even when I had hundreds of buildings on screen the game was still buttery smooth, something that the developers behind Anno 2070 get a lot of brownie points for.
However Anno 2070 falls into the lazy trap of nothing bothering to do any kind of lip syncing at all, not even for the voice acted parts. This really irks me as it’s not exactly a hard thing to do and Anno 2070 just doesn’t even bother, the characters just randomly flap their mouths while the sound bite plays. You may think this is being overly harsh but I watched my friends almost a decade ago accomplish near perfect lip syncing when they were doing a 3D animation course. When a game doesn’t bother to do this I can’t help but feel they had lazy animators, especially when there’s not that much more animation in the rest of the game. The voice acting, whilst passable, doesn’t really help matters here either.
As I alluded to earlier Anno 2070 is a curious blend of Sim City/Civilization city building style mechanics coupled with elements of real time strategy. The campaign missions serve as a good introduction to these mechanics, introducing each of them slowly so you can get a feel for them, and after the first couple missions I had a pretty good grasp on what I needed to do. The two different genres are heavily intertwined, as I’ll explain below.
The first part is the city building. You start off by dropping a warehouse on an island which gives you an area to construct non-residential buildings in. After that you can then drop a community centre which allows you to build homes for people to live in. These people have needs which take the form of food, drink, community and so on. Should you satisfy all their needs the buildings will then upgrade to the next level of citizen, one that has more nuanced needs but also generates more income for you. There are 4 distinct levels for each race and each level brings with it new buildings that are bigger and better than their previous ones.
However you’ll never be able to find everything you need to get to the highest levels by using just one island. All of the islands have natural resources on them that can be exploited but its guaranteed that one island won’t have everything you need. That’s when ships and trading routes come in, you can use them to ferry resources between islands. At the same time you’ll probably want to expand your population there, because otherwise you won’t be able to pay the upkeep on the ships. Of course those people have needs to, which the island probably doesn’t have, so you’ll have to use those same ships to start ferrying resources to them as well.
It’s really quite incredible how much effort you have to put in to make sure everything stays balanced so that you don’t run out of money or that you residents leave you. In the one multiplayer game I had with a mate of mine it was an intense 4 hour session of bouncing between islands ensuring that all the needs were met, ultimately unraveling before me as I underestimated just how costly satisfying the highest level resident’s desires would be. We didn’t even get to the other part of the game, the real time strategy component.
Whilst the main focus of Anno 2070 is the city building the RTS side of it is just as important if you’re looking to win. Whilst its not as complex or nuanced as say StarCraft II it can’t be ignored either as one combat ship can make you life rather painful if left unchecked. The final missions of the campaign focus heavily on this and whilst you won’t be spending all your time focusing on the combat it’s still enough to break up the monotony of constantly balancing the needs of your populace with the costs of doing so.
On top of all of this is the ancillary activities which can change the way you play your game. There’s regular votes for the world council with the outcome granting certain bonuses. A World Event is always happening that will reward players who complete it based on the number of people who participated in it and there are Current Events that can be completed for rewards from certain factions. For someone who’s a fan of the Anno series or just this instalment this kind of thing would be a veritable gold mine of additional content, further extending the replay value of Anno 2070.
Anno 2070 represents an interesting fusion of genres that you don’t usually see coming together and manages to pull it off surprisingly well. With the pleasing graphics, intricate game play and wealth of content Anno 2070 is definitely one of those games that won’t disappoint traditional PC gamers. The experience isn’t perfect however, what with the terrible lip syncing and ridiculously long play times for multiplayer games. Still for the price I paid I’d consider it a winner and I can see it being busted out at LANs for those looking for a Civ style fix without the minimum 8 hour time commitment.
Anno 2070 is available right now on PC for $20.99 (or $90 on Steam). Game was played entirely on the PC with around 16 hours of single player and 4 hours of multiplayer.
As game releases goes it doesn’t get much bigger than the Call of Duty series. The most recent instalment in the series, Modern Warfare 3, was released just last week and has already sold a whopping 6.5 million copies. That number doesn’t include sales outside of the USA or the UK and even that’s enough to make Modern Warfare 3 the biggest entertainment release of all time across any medium. Considering that Modern Warfare 3′s predecessors also set records of similar calibre in their time it should come as no surprise that they were able to do it once again. The question remains though are those sales figures indicative of something innate about Modern Warfare 3 (I.E. is it actually a good game) or merely a product of solid marketing? For the first time on The Refined Geek I was sent a copy of this game to review and I’ve spent the past week diligently doing so.
Modern Warfare 3 drops you hours after the events that unfolded in Modern Warfare 2 with Soap slowly dying whilst you, playing as one of Nikolai’s best soldiers Yuri, attempt to help save him. Meanwhile World War 3 is still continuing and you’ll then play as Frost one of the members of Delta Squad who’s been charged with driving the Russians out of New York by using one of their own attack subs against them. Throughout the single player campaign you’ll switch between Frost, Yuri and (towards the end) Price as you play out different parts of the larger story arc.
Now I’ll be honest here, when I reviewed Battlefield 3 a week ago I criticised its single player for being tedious but I couldn’t shake the feeling in the back of my head that I’d been overly harsh on it. For the most part I figure that was because I was expecting too much for the single player when at its heart Battlefield 3 is a multiplayer game just like Modern Warfare 3 is. However the differences between the two games single player campaigns could not be more stark as right from the get go Modern Warfare 3 sets the stage for action packed, run and gun fun. It only took me half an hour with Modern Warfare 3 to realise that Infinity Ward are extremely adept at crafting an epic cinematic experience, one far superior to that of Battlefield 3′s single player.
Indeed the set pieces you’ll play in are quite spectacular. The environments you’ll play in are quite varied, ranging from towering city scapes to the vast depths of a Russian diamond mine. Whilst many of the campaign scenes form the basis of the multiplayer maps they are thankfully not the same maps like in Battlefield 3. For the most part the single player sections of Modern Warfare 3 are quite intimate with most taking place in what can be most aptly described as a giant corridor. It’s not a particularly bad thing but compared to Battlefield 3′s expansive environments it can leave you feeling a little wanting for the giant environments of yore. Still they’re usually littered with alternative paths which open up all sorts of different tactics.
Combat in Modern Warfare 3 is polished to the point of perfection. Whilst the cover based regenerative health style of game play is far from inventive Infinity Ward has it down to a T so well that the only complaint you can have about it is the unoriginality. The NPCs that accompany you, whilst not being on the same level as a real human, are not the next to useless meat bags that plagued me in Battlefield 3. Combine these with weapons (and on occasion awesome gadgets like the UGV pictured above) and the combat is satisfying, gritty and above all just plain fun.
If there was one genuine complaint that I’d level at Modern Warfare 3′s combat is actually too easy. Now according to my time with Robert Bowling each of the platforms recieved the same amount of development time which kind of rules out my theory that the PC version is a well polished port that dumbs down the difficulty for those who have to aim with their thumbs. Now I didn’t play the game through on its hardest difficulty, opting for Hardened or whatever the second hardest was, but this is a complaint I’ve heard echoed by several other people who have played on the hardest setting. It could be argued that this lack of difficulty is one of the things that adds to the enjoyment of the game (and indeed it does mean that it’s a very well paced game) but it does make Modern Warfare 3 stand out as something aimed more at new comers to the series rather than seasoned FPS gamers like myself.
Thinking about it more there are quite a few signs that Modern Warfare 3 tends much more towards the playable movie side of the spectrum than your traditional FPS title. You’ll spend the entire game following someone and taking their orders rather than being let out on the loose by yourself to try and accomplish the mission. If you dare to deviate from the carefully constructed plot you’ll usually be greeted with a mission failed or flooded with waves of enemies you can’t hope to defeat. In that sense then if you think of Modern Warfare 3 as a playable movie more than a game then it accomplishes that quite well, even if that’s counter intuitive to what you’d expect from a game like this.
Overall the single player is a great way to blow 4~5 hours and whilst it might feel like you’re on rails and everything is a tad too easy ultimately I found myself having a blast playing the hero in Modern Warfare 3. One of my friends captured the essence of Modern Warfare games aptly by saying they’re like a Matthew Reilly book: an action packed read with a plot that’s nothing deep but enough to get you by; an afternoon of solid entertainment. Of course everyone knows that the single player is just a mere distraction on the road to the real reason why everyone buys the Modern Warfare games: the multiplayer.
Honestly at first I was thoroughly confused with the multiplayer in Modern Warfare 3. Sure I had played it back at the preview a couple months ago and nothing had really changed in the interim (as far as I could tell) but the differences between Treyarch’s and Infinity Ward’s style of multiplayer is quite stark. For starters nearly everything in the game has a level attached to it from weapons to perks to you the player. At the start this is somewhat overwhelming especially when you consider that the built in classes have access to weapons and perks that you can’t unlock until later levels. Indeed you can’t create your own class until level 4, leaving you to stumble through the first few without a class that you created. For someone who got kind of used to making his own choices this was a bit irritating, but it didn’t last for long.
Levelling in Modern Warfare 3 is incredibly fast paced with rewards, unlocks and achievements being thrown at you constantly for doing almost anything in the game. Unlike Black Ops where you’d spend in game cash to buy upgrades for your weapons they’re instead unlocked progressively as you use the weapon in multiplayer matches. This is good and bad as you don’t have to worry about not having the cash required to get the upgrade you want but it also means that the best upgrades are reserved for those who use the weapon the longest. You see I found it quite fun in Black Ops to be able to switch to a completely new weapon and deck it out fully before diving into another game with it. In Modern Warfare 3 this isn’t really possible as I’d instead have to grind out that weapon in order to fully unlock it. The result is you pretty much stick with one weapon until you unlock the next best one, which can take a little while. All that being said though it only took me about 4 hours of play to reach level 22 which isn’t bad considering the level cap is 80.
What did disappoint me however was the lack of dedicated servers for ranked play. You see with Black Ops you had the familiar server browser where you could find the servers you wanted to play on and go play there. Modern Warfare 3 brings back the dreaded peer to peer system for ranked play and leaves the dedicated servers for strictly unranked play. I can understand why this decision was made but the fact of the matter is that peer to peer multiplayer is a sub-par experience for PC gamers. Whilst initially I found it to be trouble free the last couple hours saw many host migrations with several of them ending with me being disconnected from the game completely. Black Ops (and Battlefield 3) had none of these issues and they also don’t seem to struggle with hackers on their servers either. It’s unfortunate that Infinity Ward choose this direction again but it looks like they’re set in their ways with this one.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 stands as a testament to Infinity Ward’s ability to produce AAA titles time and time again. Sure they’re unoriginal and formulaic but they’ve got that down so well that when you start playing them all those thoughts melt away a cacophony of explosions, explicatives and enemies. The multiplayer is, as always, thoroughly enjoyable and the persistent levelling system will see me playing it long after this review is written. It’s not all roses however and the things I’ve panned Modern Warfare 3 for could have easily been averted by Infinity Ward. Overall Modern Warfare 3 is a great game and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to long time Call of Duty fans and new comers alike.
Rating: 8.5 / 10
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is available right now on PC, Xbox360 and PS3 right now for $89.99, $79 and $79 respectively. Game was played entirely on the PC on Harderned difficulty with 4 hours and 37% completion. 4 hours of multiplayer was also played with majority being spent in the team deathmatch mode. A copy of the game was provided to The Refined Geek for the purposes of reviewing.
So long time readers of this blog will know that I’m somewhat of a fan of the Call of Duty series of games but I’ve only recently begun to appreciate the multiplayer in it. If I’m honest I was intimidated by the multiplayer scene because I thought it would be swamped with ex-Counter Strike pros who would eat a relative noob like myself for breakfast making the game boring and unsatisfying. I was proved wrong however and as of writing I’ve sunk a good 22+ hours into just the multiplayer, 3 times of that of the single player campaign. I’ll admit that what got me hooked was the levelling system but I also found myself rapidly improving as I progressed through the levels, always wanting to unlock that next bit of kit.
You can then imagine my surprise when Activision contacted me out of the blue and asked if I’d like to come up to Sydney for the day to play a beta of their upcoming release Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. Of course I said yes and I dragged myself out of bed yesterday morning at the ungodly time of 5:45AM so I could catch my flight up and arrive there before the event started. 4 hours later I found myself sitting in the Parkview room of Doltone House here in Sydney, the same place that houses the Australian branch of the mighty search engine Google.
The room we were in was quite intimate and there were numerous other writers, web masters and clan members filling out the ranks. The man in the picture is none other than Robert Bowling of Infinity Ward, creative strategist and all round nice guy. After showing us a promotional video showcasing many of the games new features he then opened up the floor to some Q & A, and boy was it ever telling about their current market.
To put it in perspective out of the ~16 or so people that were there on the day (and the day previous I was told) I was the only one who’s preferred platform was the PC and 95% of the questions asked related to the Xbox or PS3 version of Modern Warfare 3. Thankfully though it looks like PC players won’t be second class citizens in any regards as we’ll still be getting dedicated servers in addition to the matching system that the console platforms have. Bowling wasn’t able to confirm if the PC would be getting a hardened edition however as he said it was something that the where still looking into (it’s not currently available for pre-order anywhere either).
Modern Warfare 3 has been designed from the ground up to be more appealing to a wider audience of gamers with a reworking of many core multi-player mechanics. For instance they have removed all multi-player achievements with the only ones available being in the single player game. They’ve also reworked the kill streak system into what’s now called the Strike Package system which varies depending on your choice from three options:
There’s also the return of death streak perks which give you some interesting abilities should you get your ass handed to you round after round. Guns now also have their own ranking system allowing you to specialize in a particular weapon, making it far more effective. This includes unlocking things like attachments, reticules, camos and Weapon Proficiencies (new attributes, some unique to particular weapon classes).
Prestige mode has also seen some reworking with a new Prestige Shop that allows you to buy rewards for your prestige levels. The currency of this shop is the Prestige Point which you get upon prestiging or you can also acquire through challenges in both single and multiplayer. Additionally you can now take one weapon along with you when you prestige which is great since sometimes your weapon of choice might be far down the level tree, far enough that prestiging feels like a grind.
Modern Warfare 3 brings with it 2 new game modes as well: Kill confirmed and Team Defender. Kill confirmed is much like team deathmatch except that when you kill an opponent they’ll drop a dog tag which anyone can collect. If you collect it you gain points for your team, however the opposition can also collect them, denying you those points. Team Defender is like capture the flag except that there’s no capture point, instead you must defend your flag carrier as long as you can to gain points.
Bowling also mentioned that he’d been working closely with the crew at Major League Gaming in order to cater to the local tournament and greater eSports communities.
With all that in mind they let us loose on the 16 Xbox consoles they had set up there with some gorgeous LED TV sets. After setting up a custom class we played through a couple matches of Kill Confirmed. Whilst I struggled to get my bearings initially (FPS’s without a mouse or keyboard is inane IMHO) I did manage to find my stride towards the end. I was playing the support strike package as I knew I wouldn’t be able to get a kill streak any other way and found it to be quite enjoyable, especially as it meant I could get some decent streak rewards without having to play conservatively. The maps we played on were also quite good with many different paths and choke points available ensuring that camping wasn’t a viable tactic.
Graphically the game is definitely a step up from both its predecessor and Black Ops, even when viewed on the Xbox360. Even in the most heavy action scenes I didn’t notice any slowdown so Modern Warfare 3 appears to be heavily optimized. Bowling also mentioned that every platform was given the same amount of development time so that the experience should be nearly identical across platforms. With that in mind I’m sure it will look amazing on my PC, whether it will be Battfield 3 level of amazing though remains to be seen.
Overall though I feel like Modern Warfare 3 has all the same traits that got me addicted to Black Ops in the first place, with enough new material to keep the game interesting for both long time fans and new comers a like. With both Battlefield 3 and Modern Warfare 3 releasing at very similar times it’s going to be interesting to see how this showdown plays off as they both have their strengths and weaknesses. Needless to say I’m looking forward to playing both of them but I can only say for sure now that Modern Warfare 3 definitely hits the mark on the multiplayer aspect. The rest will have to wait until release day.
There’s really only one thing that stops me from playing most of the Call of Duty series on the day of their release and that’s simply the price. Whilst the games will more than pay for themselves in terms of hours played vs hours worked to acquire them I’m still never happy shelling out $80+ for the game on Steam when it costs a whole lot less in another country. For Call of Duty: Black Ops then I simply waited long enough until it went on sale for half off before grabbing it which I was much happier to shell out, even if the overseas store also received it at half price. Still I had had enough people bugging me to get into this game ever since its release that I figured there had to be something good about it and strangely enough I’ve also been suckered into the multiplayer, something I usually avoid with these kinds of games.
Call of Duty: Black Ops takes place during the cold war with the vast majority of the missions being recounted in flash backs by the main character, Alex Mason. At the beginning you awake in an interrogation room, strapped into a chair and wired to an electric shock device. Your captures then start questioning you about the location of a numbers station and attempt to jog your memory by running you through past events and occasionally jolting you. If I’m honest I really don’t like having stories retold in flash backs as too often its used as an easy way to patch together a plot that’s made up of otherwise incongruent elements. It’s still serviceable however and if we’re honest with ourselves here no one is buying this game based solely on the plot of the single player campaign.
The cold war setting does make for some extremely interesting environments for the story to play out in. Whilst there’s no gratuitous space scenes like its predecessor there are an incredible amount of what I called “treat” scenes that just seemed to be in there to wow the player with eye candy and action hero style antics. The screenshot above is one of these such scenes where Mason is tasked with stopping the Soviet Union from launching Soyuz 1 and 2 with the mission culminating in shooting a prototype missile at the already launched craft. That’s not even the most ludicrous scene that plays out in Call of Duty: Black Ops but it was one of my most guilty pleasures in the game.
The Call of Duty series has done extremely well with creating a game experience where you feel both like the hero and part of something much greater all at the same time. Whilst I’m not adversed to being the lone hero in games I’ve found myself enjoying games that make you feel like a part of a bigger picture. The first game to get this feeling just right was Freelancer where in one of the later missions you join up with a large fleet as part of the final series of missions. Black Ops manages to recreate this feeling consistently with you almost never being alone and in many cases being surrounded by your fellow men, powering forward towards your goal.
The game play itself is nothing revolutionary but Treyarch have done their best to make sure that all of Black Ops isn’t just one long cover based shooter. Whilst you will be spending the vast majority of your time ducking in and out of cover in order to take out an inordinate amount of resistance there are several sections where you’ll be doing something out of the ordinary. Such things range from flinging explosives from hand made catapults to guiding soldiers on the ground from the cockpit of a SR-71 Blackbird. For the most part they’re welcome breaks from the almost constant combat that takes place but some proved to be more progression blockers than anything, especially if you missed the cue to do something out of the ordinary.
One such event was a section of the Vietnam missions where you’re fighting your way down an embankment. The actual goal of this particular section was to kick barrels of napalm in order to clear out the section up ahead. However if you’re like me you would have thought that it was just another run and gun section so I instantly made a break for a machine gun nest so that I could cover the rest of my team mates. Doing so took me out of ear shot of my companion who was instructing me to kick the barrels and thus I spent about 30 mins wondering why the game would put in a section with practically unlimited enemies in it. I eventually came within earshot and figured it out, but it still felt like there should have been an on screen prompt for those like me who might have been a bit too keen to man the guns.
Unlike it’s predecessor though I didn’t feel the same level of immersion with Call of Duty: Black Ops. I think this can be put down to the way the story was presented as each section stood pretty well on its own so that the breaks between them with the interviews felt like good places to stop if I felt even the slightest bit bored with it. Couple that with the epicness fatigue (I.E. after everything being so epic for so long you just don’t feel it anymore) you’ll undoubtedly suffer and the single player mission in Black Ops is best enjoyed in shorter bursts of 1~2 hours. That being said you’ll more than likely be done with the entire game in 5 sittings in doing that, so it’s not the worst thing in the world.
Once the single player is over however many of Call of Duty: Black Ops’ players will spend many more hours in the multi-player, and rightly so. Realistically the single player of any Call of Duty game is the hook with which to draw people into multi as that’s where the player base spends the vast majority of its time. Coming into a multi-player game this late in it’s release was something I wasn’t looking forward to, thinking that I’d do a couple hours just for the review and then be done with it before I raged like I used to back in my Counter Strike days. Strangely enough though I found myself quite enjoying the multi-player experience, to the point of playing it for as long as I had played the single player.
If you’ve played any Call of Duty (or any multi-player FPS for that matter) the game modes that are available in Black Ops will be familiar to you. Indeed not much about it differs from previous Call of Duty games with the persistent levels and ability to customize your class being the main hooks that keep people coming back. I knew this getting into it, figuring that I’d be slaughtered for the couple hours I dared touch multi. However even with an uncustomized class I found myself being quite competitive and it didn’t take me long to get the required levels to unlock some decent kit and create my own class. By the end I felt I was nigh unstoppable with my character being almost grenade proof, able to take out enemies both near and far and even topping the servers a few times. I still find myself going back for a round or two every so often when I’ve got some time spare, and I think I will keep doing so for a while to come.
The question I keep asking myself is: was it worth missing out on this for so long just to save $40? Considering I had so many other games to play at the time I didn’t really miss playing Call of Duty: Black Ops but suffice to say those who were pestering me to play this game gave up long before I bought it and I haven’t seen one of them playing it since. Still despite that the game was very enjoyable and even managed to reverse my stance of not bothering with the multi-player in these kinds of games. In hindsight it would’ve been worth the cost of admission had I got it on day dot but I guess when principles and my wallet are both hit at the same time it’s enough to override my other impulses, no matter how strong they are.
Call of Duty: Black Ops might not break any new gaming ground or try very hard at being original but it’s still a blast to play, especially when you play it online. It’s not often that a game makes it into my bag of titles that I’ll come back to when I just want to blow an hour or two on something fun but I feel like Black Ops will be there for a while now, at least until the next one comes out. So if you’re a long time fan of the Call of Duty series or just FPSs in general you won’t go wrong with Black Ops and even if you’re not there’s still a good 8 hours of single player to be had, more than enough for gamers in today’s market.
Call of Duty: Black Ops is available right now on PC, Xbox360 and PlayStation 3 for $79, $68 and $68 respectively. Game was played on the second hardest difficulty setting with around 8 hours of total game time. Mutliplayer was played on multiple Australian servers with my most favored game mode being Team Deathmatch on Nuketown with around 6 hours of total play time and reaching level 18.
What can I say about Starcraft that hasn’t already been said? The game was released over a decade ago and is still the definitive standard for what a real time strategy game should be. I can remember my times with it fondly, playing through the campaign as it was laid out before me, savouring every mission and becoming wholly engrossed in the story. Years later I would return to the game to play it online with a friend of mine, my first taste of real competitive online gaming. I became hooked on custom maps, playing everything from RPGs to the first versions of tower defense. As the years went on Starcraft remained on my hard drive and nearly every LAN I would attend saw it copied around and played for at least a couple games. Truly Starcraft was the game that just would not die and it’s sequel has been the talk of my friends for the past couple weeks. Its legacy is undeniable and a lesser game development company would struggle to keep to meet such expectations. Blizzard however is not one to disappoint.
Starcraft 2 takes place 4 years after the events of Starcraft: Broodwar. You play as Jim Raynor, former Vulture pilot turned revolutionary after his former leader Arcturus Mengsk wiped out an entire planet using the Zerg. The plot initially focuses around Raynor’s desire to overthrow Mengsk, who he now believes to be worse than the confederate leaders that came before him. This sets the scene for the initial set of missions as you set about building your army by gathering resources, completing missions for credits and finding new units with which to proceed forward. Each mission is given to you by one of your crew mates and they serve to build the characters as the story progresses.
The mission delivery format is completely different from the usual affair you might be familiar with in the RTS genre. Whilst most would simply limit you to certain units until after a number of missions were complete Starcraft 2 instead gives you the opportunity to choose which units you receive next as well as the upgrades that they receive. This can be both a blessing and a curse as some missions are trivialized by certain units whilst others require a certain unit to be able to complete some objectives. Additionally the game includes a Zerg and Protoss research tree which you can unlock by finding items or killing a particular unit during a mission. The upgrades unlocked from this tree are game altering and depending on your choices can make the difference between a mission being a breeze and it being nigh on impossible.
The upgrade and non-linear missions ensures that everyone’s play through of Starcraft 2 will be quite different, ensuring that even if you only play the campaign you’ll have a good few replays before the game is done. Whilst there’s always a strategy that trivilizes a mission the infinite amount of possibilities for completing an objective had lead to quite a few entertaining stories with my Starcraft playing friends. I think most of my missions past a certain point can be summed up by the quote: “Siege tanks are like violence, if they don’t solve the problem use more”.
Starcraft 2′s non-combat experience really draws the game together. Whilst you only have 4 places to visit most of the time the interactions between they never seem to get stale as their landscape changes as you progress through the campaign. The interactions with various members of your crew between missions helps to flesh out the characters and their motivations and nearly all of the decision moments in the game were influenced by these short bits of dialogue with my crew members. There’s nothing to lose by not interacting with them but if you’re a lore sponge like myself you’ll be clicking on every crew member after every mission, eagerly awaiting what they have to hear.
All of this would be for naught if the game play itself was nothing special. In the beginning the differences between Starcraft 2 and its predecessor are almost all graphical which is no small feat in itself. Each and every map is deliciously detailed in true Blizzard fashion, using every polygon to create a stylized but highly engrossing world. All the controls you’re familiar with from Starcraft work as expected in the sequel with many augmentations to make handling large groups of units far easier. All the units and buildings will be instantly recognizable as well with the new units and augmentations giving you enough variety to feel like you’re playing Starcraft but not one that’s just a revamp of its predecessor.
What really seals the deal for the single player campaign of Starcraft 2 is the absolute uniqueness of every mission. Throughout the 26 missions that you’ll play through each of them has something different that will force you to rethink the usual “build big army, attack move to enemy” strategy that got you through other RTSs. From avoiding a rising lava tide to robbing a train to preventing (or not) Terran colonies from being purged by the Protoss you’ll always be trying to figure out the optimal strategy for taking out your opponent. Taking the last mission as a great example of this the list of strategies I have for finishing it are probably the most varied of any game I’ve seen before. It really is a testament to Blizzard’s ability to build a complex and intriguing game.
I initially lamented the idea of including achievements in the game as I viewed them as just something that “has to be done” these days, rather than something that enhanced game play. For most games this still rings true with many achievements being quite pointless and merely serve to try and increase the replayability of the title. Whilst achievements weren’t my foucs whilst playing through the missions initially I’ve found myself going back to get the achievements simply because they make you a better player for doing them. Many of them require careful force management or using carefully planned out strategies to accomplish the goal. I’m still under half of the achievements done but I can see myself coming back to finish them off for a long time to come as a single mission can be done inside 30 mins.
If there’s one thing we can attribute the original Starcraft’s longevitiy to it’s the multiplayer. Blizzard spent years tweaking and refining the multiplayer and it shows as it was one of the few games that anyone could call truly balanced. Starcraft 2 is no exception as whilst I’ve only just dipped my toes into the revamped Battle.net I quickly lost 4 hours on a saturday night playing 10 matches with one of my long timefriends. The party system and new socially focused interface made connecting with fellow Starcraft players extremely easy. Whilst I lament that they’ve removed LAN play I can see the reasoning behind it since the interface is so heavily integrated with Battle.net. Still they’ve thought of nearly everything from keeping the last 10 replays (since you never always remember to save the ones you need to) to make getting into a match no harder than a couple clicks and waiting for the match to begin.
What really binds this entire game together though is the story that Blizzard has masterfully crafted into an epic tale of redemption, love and loss. Each and every character is exteremely believable, all having their own motivations for being involved with Raynor’s quest. The interactions between the characters are real and there’s distinct growth for all of the major players as the story unfolds. I can’t really talk about it much more without spoiling any points that I feel you must experience on your own but rest assured Blizzards reputation of telling great stories with amazing games is not let down by the first installment in the Starcraft 2 trilogy.
I must also commend Blizzard for their 3D artists and animators. I’m a stickler for motion capture as the technology is at a point where it shouldn’t be hard to get it right. Starcraft 2 stanmds out as an example of not only getting it right but doing it so well that I didn’t even notice how well it was done until I took a step back to analyze it critically. The movements of the characters and units are fluid and most importantly they get the lip syncing spot on with the dialogue. After the disaster that was Alan Wake’suse of motion capture I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of Blizzard’s work. Additionally the full cinematic sequences are tear inducingly good with the attention to detail surpassing that of what I’ve come to expect even from 3D film production houses. I don’t think I’d be able to contain myself should Blizzard ever state they were going to make a full length movie of any of their franchises.
Starcraft 2 is one of those shining examples of a game where everything about it stands out as an example of how things ought to be done. The story and gameplay make for an extremely enjoyable single player experience that will provide you many hours of enjoyment even after you’ve completed it once. The multiplayer just plain works and once you’ve had your first taste of victory you’ll never be able to look at the shortcut on your desktop again without thinking about diving in for “one quick match”. Overall I can’t recommend the game enough for those who enjoyed the first Starcraft and wholeheartedly recommend anyone who considers themselves a gamer to play the game through at least once. 12 years is a long time to go between releasing a game but Blizzard has managed to make something that justifies the long wait and I can’t wait to see the next installment in the Starcraft 2 trilogy.
Starcraft 2 is available right now exclusively on PC for $79. Game was played on the Hard difficulty for all missions with approximately 30% of the achievements acquired in the first playthrough and around 18 hours of play time.