It’s late 2005, I had just sworn off World of Warcraft forever and I had begun reintegrating myself with the world of gaming outside the single window I had been staring at for just over a year. On the horizon was a promise of something new, something revolutionary. It was the Playstation 3 something that had been rumoured about for the longest time and was finally beginning to take shape. Best of all some of the launch titles were beginning to trickle into the news stories and they promised the world to us with visuals and games unlike any of those that came before. One of those games was White Knight Chronicles a RPG that showcased a beautiful menu system, battles on scales of the most epic proportions and a story to bind it all together.
I was hooked. That game would be mine.
There I was on the PS3 launch night, sitting in the Belconnen Westfield food court with 50 or so like minded souls waiting for EB Games to open so I could get my console. My ever patient fiancée (now wife) was sitting by my side patiently knowing why I had to be there at this ungodly hour. The doors finally opened I and since there was a queue system for getting the consoles out of there in an orderly fashion I took it upon myself to check out the games available. I mean there was no point to getting a console without a game right? Problem was I couldn’t find the prize I had been yearning for, White Knight Chronicles was just no where to be found. I could have sworn I heard someone saying they picked up a copy but talking with my friends it seems I may have just misheard someone buying Fight Night.
I returned home, confused.
The next day was filled with Internet searches, forum posts and fleeting conversations with friends. Finally I came across some articles saying that White Knight Chronicles was going to be released in Japan before anywhere else and that had been delayed until some unknown time in the future. I sunk back into my chair defeated feeling like something great had been snatched from my grasp. Still the fervent excitement I felt didn’t let go and I spent the next two years devouring every little detail I could find about the game. Eventually the game was released in 2008 to the Japanese market and I knew that it wouldn’t be long before I had it in my grasp.
A year and 2 months passed before I was able to get my hands on the game. It was amongst several other large releases at the time so I didn’t get it straight away but every time I walked in to pick up another title I’d see it on the shelves, tempting me with thought of fulfilling promises long forgotten. A month or so passed and I returned from my blockbuster gaming binge and couldn’t resist any longer, I bought the game and took it home not wasting any time before I placed that magical disc into my now 4 year old Playstation 3. The menu came up and I started playing but something was wrong.
Almost 45 minutes passed before I actually got to play the game. This wasn’t all for patching or firmware updates, those took less than 10 minutes, no the game took me through so many in game cinematics that I wasn’t allowed to actually do anything until they were done. The next 30 minutes were filled with me running crazily through the town trying to figure out where I needed to be. Finally I found the mission and was sent to another town which I had to make my way to through a forest filled with possible enemies. 2 hours later I discovered what the game was, it was a single player version of World of Warcraft and one that was none too good at that.
I was devastated, the game that had been hyped so much in my head for the past 5 years turned out to be a turd. I tried several times to play it again but there just wasn’t anything interesting about the game that could keep me coming back. I put the game in the drawer and resigned myself to forget about it and resolved myself to never, ever get so drawn into the hype ever again lest I be caught in a devilish web like the one White Knight Chronicles had spun for me.
So now whenever something is announced or hyped I usually don’t go much deeper into it than the basic facts like it’s release date and who is developing it. White Knight Chronicles wasn’t the only game to be ruined (wholly or in part) by its hype, Modern Warfare 2’s “shocking” scene was almost utterly lost on me because of all the talk about it. Sure there are plenty of games I get really excited about (Mass Effect 3 for example) but apart from knowing they’re being developed and should be awesome I don’t trouble myself with all the details lest they fall short of my crazy expectations. This means I may miss a few things but in the long run I get to play the games with fewer preconceptions so the games can stand by themselves, as I believe they should.
Was I solely to blame for getting too caught up in the hype? Most definitely. Had I adopted my current regime of letting the hype slide until after I’d played the game I may have lasted long enough for White Knight Chronicles to shine and instead you’d be reading a review of it rather than a rant. Still I believe I’m better served by this minimalist approach and realistically it was only a matter of time before I got so caught up in something that the above story would’ve happened again. So if I seem disinterested when you’re really excited about a game it’s nothing personal, I just want to make sure the game doesn’t ruin itself before I’ve had the chance to play it.
When I switched from being a salaried employee to a contractor I underwent a paradigm shift in regards to how I spend my time. You see when you charge by the hour you start to think about how much something costs you to do if you do it yourself vs getting someone else to do it. If there’s a solution to a problem and it’s available for less than my current hourly rate then it’s good value for me to get that rather than trying to develop a solution on my own. This also comes back to how I spend my leisure time as it becomes hard to turn off that part of my brain that tells me every hour used purely in the pursuit of leisure is an hour that could be spent generating some income, although I haven’t seemed to have any trouble with that for the past month or so. 😉
The majority of my spare time is spent playing games simply because they’re by far one of the most relaxing activities for me. Additionally the bit of blog fodder that I get from completing one and then writing a review of it (which are some of my most enjoyable posts to write) are yet another benefit of spending my down time immersed in these virtual worlds. Unfortunately though I’m no longer the young 20 something university student I used to be and the amount of time I can spend on games is quite limited when compared to days gone by. Thus, whilst I still find time to cram in an epic gaming session or two every so often, the vast majority of my games are either played out over the course of a month or in a few shorter sessions in a single weekend. I think this is where my love of cinematic games has sprouted from as they’re an intense experience that I could conceivably sit down and play through in one session.
However the gaming community always seems to lament games that have a length that’s shorter than about 20 hours. One great example of this was Heavenly Sword, arguably Sony’s flagship game on it’s only recently debuted PlayStation 3. The hype leading up to the release of the game was nothing short of fever pitch and the demo released about a month prior wowed everyone who played it, even with it’s foreboding that the game itself would be drastically shorter than everyone was used to. On release it became apparent that the game totaled at most about 6~8 hours of game play and the critics slammed it for that very reason. Granted the game had set itself up for this as the hype far outpaced the resulting game but really the length, at least for people like me, wasn’t such a let down as many of the critics would have had us believe.
When time is at a premium game length starts to become something of a concern. It’s for that exact reason why I’ve avoided games like Final Fantasy as whilst they are amongst some of the most highly praised games on Sony’s gaming platform they’re also an incredible time sink, with play times exceeding 40 hours not uncommon. Ah ha! I hear you saying, but you reviewed Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age: Origins, games with lengths approaching that of the games you said you avoid! OK you got me, there are notable exceptions that I can and will make the effort to play through usually on the backs of raving reviews from friends and the gaming community at large. Still a game like Modern Warfare 2 which packed only 6 hours of game play which I managed to blast through in 2 sittings rates as highly as some of those longer games despite its short length. There is also Heavy Rain of course, but I think everyone knows how much I enjoyed that and I’ve gushed enough about it to last everyone a lifetime 🙂
I think the crux of the matter is that the opportunity cost for longer games is so high that I have a tendency to shy away from them, lest my hours be wasted. Thankfully in this day and age of instant on access to information I usually have a good feel if a game will be worth it before taking the plunge, but at heart I’m still a completionist and I can’t stand letting games go unfinished. I think that’s the reason why Bayonetta and Red Faction: Guerrilla bug the hell out of me as they’re just painful enough for me to not want to finish them but at the same time I’d love to get them off my list forever. Still slogging through something that just isn’t fun for completion’s sake doesn’t rate highly on a cost benefit analysis for my time, so I guess I’ll just have to live with that.
There is of course games that have significant amounts of replay value which kind of skew my whole game length argument. Something like Lumines for example probably only has about 6 hours of game play in it total however I still find myself picking up my copy of it from time to time for a 30 minute bash to try and beat my top score. That’s probably more thanks to the genre than anything else as casual games like that tend to have quite short single play throughs however the competition element with a healthy sprinkling of procedural generation makes them almost infinitely replayable, something that the casual gaming market craves.
My point is that for any game you might play the length is somewhat of a subjective metric to use when judging its quality. Certain genres of games will come with expectations of play times such as RPGs being traditionally quite long and cinematics being short, but overall a games length is no measure of its quality. There is of course the argument to be made that a game is too short and therefore omits details or similarly a game that is too long that drags the plot out longer than it really needs to be. Still for a game that’s worth its salt the length seems to barely matter as I’ll remember how I enjoyed my time playing it, not how long.
That probably explains my past addictions to various MMORPGs over the past 5 years….
I can’t say that I’ve been much of a fan of the war series of games. I’m not sure what it was about them but I guess the glut of Axis vs Allies games we had about 5 years ago left a sour taste in my mouth as they were always your typical “Go over there and kill the Nazis for the greater good” which got extremely tiresome after a long while. I’d always felt that we were just rubbing the German’s collective faces in the fact that they did something wrong and good ultimately triumphed (this could also be in part to my German heritage and hence I felt my pride take a small bruising because of this). So while I may have written off the Call of Duty series off initially they did draw me back in with the first of the Modern Warfare line which boasted an intriguing single player campaign and an extremely dedicated online community. Whilst I haven’t had the time to try my hand online of their latest offering of Modern Warfare 2 as of yet I did get a chance to play through the campaign last week and I must say, Infinity Ward has outdone themselves when it comes to giving you that Hollywood-esque feeling of the man out to save the world whilst still capturing some of the true horrors of war.
The first thing that you’ll notice about MW2 is absolute beauty of the world that they throw you into. This is not just because of the gorgeous scenery that makes up every single level it’s also the stunning level of detail that has been achieved. Everything you’d expect to see is there from recruits playing basketball in the first level to wine cellars in an upper class neighbourhood under siege. Whilst its easy to race past all of this there are times when you’re forced to slow down and take in your surroundings, which is usually because you’re being held down by suppressing fire. There’s also one scene you can’t run through no matter what, and that’s the controversial “No Russian” mission.
Now I’ll have to be honest, the controversy and hype about this mission made the whole experience for me rather disconnected and emotionless. Whilst I can understand the emotion that was meant to be invoked by such a scene (and truthfully part of me was just too shocked to react properly) having heard about it endlessly on gaming websites I knew what I was in for and the impact of the scene was lost. However there were a few things that stuck with me about it. The first was a single line on the video before it spoken by Shepard:
It will cost you a part of yourself, which is nothing in comparison to everything you will save.
Indeed reflecting on that mission more I can feel that kind of loss, trying to justify the slaughter constantly in my head with the thousands upon thousands of lives I will save by bringing Makarov to justice. The final betrayal by Makarov then unravels any justification I could have made in my head to overcome the senseless violence my character had just committed, making him just a pawn in his bloody game. So whilst the initial shock of the scene may have been ruined for me the scene still sticks in my mind long after it has been played out.
There were also a couple ideas or themes that I felt played out constantly through MW2. The first, and probably most obvious, was the very real depiction of what a soldier’s view of front line warfare is. There were countless times when I found myself right in the middle of conflict, gunfire soaring over my head and orders being shouted in my ear that left me in a daze scrambling for direction. Of course the game’s HUD does a good job of keeping you on the right direction (although I do credit Infinity Ward for making the majority of it fade away after a short period in time) but you still get the feeling that sometimes you’re just a small cog in a much larger machine. There are also times when you’re the hero, a single man against a much larger foe. These are carefully balanced and it makes both experiences equally as powerful, something which many games struggle to achieve.
Secondly the entire game is a giant advertising campaign for the United States Army. Now I’m sure this isn’t completely intentional but the times when your character in MW2 becomes the hero many of the horrific aspects of war become glorified. One such mission has you taking out troops using a Predator drone’s Hellfire missiles and you get varying levels of commendation from your team depending on how many you kill in one shot. I can’t really fault them for this because if the game just trashed the American war effort constantly the game would be no fun to play at all and the game would obviously be labelled as such. The careful line drawn between showing the glory and horror of war works extremely well but I wouldn’t hesitate to guess that a few considering a career in the army were tipped over the edge by playing MW2.
Just because you all knew it was coming (and if you didn’t I’d have to point you towards this page) I’ll have to throw my weight in on the space scene. It was a nice addition and definitely something I wasn’t expecting to see in a game like MW2. However there were a couple nits I need to pick out of their depiction of space, the ISS and indeed their understanding of physics at large.
First off their configuration of the ISS is old and completely off. Whilst I can understand that creating a model takes time (although their configuration is from 2005) and as such might not match the most recent configuration of that space craft the bits that have been added (most notably another set of solar panels) could have been copied from the ones shown in the picture. Secondly the camera’s on the astronauts helmets would be woefully inefficient for the purpose of watching an ICBM from long range. They’re not particularly high resolution and the ISS has many other cameras on board that would be far better suited to this purpose. Additionally the astronaut in question is a fair way away from the station which is never done because there’s just no need for it. I would’ve let them off with a warning if they used the shuttle instead, but then I would probably have a whole other swath of objections to make 😉
Overall I was very satisfied with my time spent with MW2. It’s a short game with only about 6~8 hours of solid game play in it but I’d struggle to find a moment when your heart wasn’t racing and you weren’t glued to your seat with your eyes solidly fixed to the screen. In fact many who I’ve spoke to about the single player experience in MW2 have done the entire game in one sitting, a testament to how gripping this game really is. I’ve deliberately refrained from commenting on the multiplayer experience as I prefer my FPS games to be played on the PC, and with them being in a minority for this release I thought it would be unfair. However if my brother’s experience is anything to go by (he’s an avid Xbox360 player of Mw2 on Live) its just as captivating as the single player.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is available for PS3, Xbox360 and PC right now for $AU118, $118 and $98 respectively. Game was played on PC on normal difficulty with about 8 hours of game time total.