The new year is upon us and its a good a time as any to take stock of the year that just past. 2011 was quite a year for gaming with several hotly anticipated block buster releases hitting the shelves, some mere weeks after each other. It was also something of a coming of age for this blog in terms of game reviews, seeing myself being flown up to Sydney to preview Modern Warfare 3 and getting my very first ever review copy of a game. Now with the year over it’s time for me to put my vote in for game of the year and whilst I’d love to say it was a close competition it really was anything but.
All in all 2011 saw me complete 22 games total (there were far more played, see here for an explanation as to why they didn’t get reviewed) and here’s an exhaustive list of the reviews in chronological order:
As I was creating this list it struck me just how mixed this list of games is. Whilst the dominant platform is still PC for me there’s 2 other platforms in there and their respective releases both felt right at home on their platform of choice. The dominant genre here would appear to be FPS although just going off the usual 8~10 hour playtime rule for said genre I dare say that the vast majority of my gaming time in 2011 was spent on RPGs or games with a RPG element to them. Although if I’m honest I have blown quite a lot of my time recently in Modern Warfare 3’s multiplayer and a heck of a lot more in Star Wars: The Old Republic (review coming soon!).
Before I dive into the game of the year however there’s a few games that deserve recognition either for their accomplishments or outright failures.
Gemini Rue is by far the most underrated game of the bunch. It’s been well received critically both here and elsewhere but it’s still a title most people would not know if they heard it. I’d say this was because of its lack of a release on Steam when it first came out (which has since changed) even though it had a digital distribution channel. Still the game is expertly crafted, bringing up all kinds of nostalgia whilst delivering a story that I really cared about, thoroughly exploiting all aspects of its chosen pixel art medium. Whilst it might not make the cut for my game of the year it would definitely get my vote for independent game of the year, hands down.
For most over-hyped/biggest let down of the year the title can go to none other than Duke Nukem Forever. I was thinking about making it a tie between said title and Rage but in defense of id’s latest release it at least had some redeeming features in the engine and game play. Duke Nukem Forever is unfortunately nothing like that being little more than a generic shooter that rode the Duke brand as hard as it could. Indeed it’s the definition of a critic proof release as for Gearbox it was a commercial success despite it’s woeful critical reception. I’ll be honest this is the only game that I played through to the end just so I could review it as for any other title I would’ve just stopped playing and not bothered to review it.
So what then is my game of the year for 2011? The answer is Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
As a game Human Revolution really is something amazing. The graphics are simply superb with it rightly taking the title away from Crysis as being the game to stress test your new rig with. That’d all be for naught if the game wasn’t good but suffice to say it’s brilliant. The plot and characters are engrossing, there are wide and varied game mechanics ensuring that no 2 playthroughs are the same and it has rekindled that feeling that everyone had when they first played the original Deus Ex. Put simply Deus Ex: Human Revolution sets the bar for the FPS/RPG hybrid genre and does it with an almost effortless elegance. It’s fitting then that it received my highest score review score of the year, putting it second only to StarCraft 2.
With 2011 now done and dusted its time to look forward into 2012 and the games it holds for us. It’s already shaping up to be a fantastic year for gaming with games like Diablo 3 and Mass Effect 3 due out early in the year. It will also be the year when I ramp up my game review efforts significantly on here as I’ve got plans to make my console reviews better (and do more of them), dabbling with the idea of producing video reviews and overall playing more games so that I can do more reviews. In the end that’s what its all about, well that and my not-so-secret desire to be a games journalist… 😉
Today’s post comes to you courtesy of one of my long time friends and former blogger, David Wright. I’ve always been a fan of his writing for it’s impassioned, no holds barred style that reflects his real world self to a tee. Below he tackles a game I myself reviewed just a week ago, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. That’s all the introduction I’ll give as the article stands on its own and makes for some damn good reading.
Enter Dave W…
I got into an argument when MW3 came out with my friend, most notable Dave K who is generously posting this. I made the claim that knowing the trajectory of the series and the background for the companies who were designing and building the game precluded it of ever having a chance of it being any good. Dave countered with the simple fact I had not played the game. Fair call.
I decided to play through the whole single player and draw judgement then as from what I could tell the single player clocked in around the 4 hour mark if you had a pulse. I… ahem… acquired a copy and sat down on a Friday night resolute that I was going in with a clear mind, determined to just experience the game for what it was.
Brief backstory on the development behind the game because as much as I would try, I had made my original argument based on the history of the game franchise so I will try to quickly sum up. Call of Duty was a massive game franchise which is owned by Activision. It has been traded around their stable of devs teams for a while until the original Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was made by the company Infinity Ward. It was huge, suddenly Activision had another massive hit on their hands and in traditional Activision style they had to have a Call of Duty release each year. So Treyarch becomes the B team for Modern Warfare. They trade back and forth then at the end of MW2 some shenanigans go down over at Activision. The heads of Infinity Ward get called into a meeting with Activision while some heavies go and lock down their offices. They are fired. Before most people heard about this I assumed John Riccitiello, the head of EA, had a blank check and stupid grin on his face ready to go.
So the heads of IW leave to form a company with EA and start poaching everyone they want from IW. Now I am not saying what was left was the dregs but:
They stripped that company bare.
Every design lead? Almost half of the design team, primary art lead, both animation leads and pretty much the entire writing staff. Things did not look good for Infinity Ward. Add in the fact they have Activisions “You WILL ship a game on this deadline even though company morale does not exist.” Not enough staff? Fine, they bring in Sledgehammer games to help out which is a company that had not shipped a game yet. Through all this you have the rivalry of Treyarch always having to play second fiddle and now almost drooling, hoping IW slips up so Treyarch can take the MW crown.
With all this in the back of my mind I went in to Modern Warfare almost grimly determined to give the game a fair shake.
Keep in mind I have not finished either MW1 nor 2. So as to the story I had a shaky grasp of what was going on but did not know the finer points. Well neither did MW3 apparently. Thrown in to the start of the game and we are chasing after an Evil (with a capital E) Russian man who seems to completely elude us. There is a massive war raging through the United States and you get to flit between multiple characters to globe trot.
As the game starts out I am amazed at how good the engine looks. Everything looks busy and real, the battlefields feel alive and frantic. You cannot go more than a few check points before a building is hit by rockets and smashes to the road or tanks come out of nowhere and start messing with your day. There is always something going on.
Add in the fact the gun play and control is seriously second to none. Every shooter I have ever played gets held up to the gold standard of Counter Strike. I honestly put MW3’s control right up there easily level with CS. Everything feels responsive, there is the unconscious snap, the perfect recoil that you learn to counter act and it all feels right.
Okay, but what about the game itself? Well it seems to be full of tough men doing tough jobs. I know this because I get to see them work all the time. My character? They barely trust me to not kill myself. It was a few levels in and something had been niggling at the back of my mind since the beginning. I couldn’t put my finger on it until we fought our way to the top of a building to blow up a jamming radar tower. Fair enough. We get to the top and sure enough there is the tower. I run up to it and, nothing. I have no known way of destroying it. I shoot at it, nothing. Another enemy jumps out at me and I nail him in the head.
“Quick lay the charges!” shouts my mentally challenged leader.
Charges? I don’t have… I do now. My weapon has disappeared and I am holding a package of explosives. The glowing silhouette of the explosives is helpfully put on the tower. I run up and press my use key and I place them, now I have a detonator in my hand.
“Blow it!” Delivers the same deranged man.
Really? What happens if I don’t? Do I get a say in this? Do I get to actually participate in this game? I wander around the roof top for a while with the detonator in my hand while my squad leader repeats his two lines about blowing it up over and over. Finally putting the poor man out of his misery, thinking he should really lie down for a nap somewhere, I blow it up. The next scene triggers. Men come running out on the roof top next to us. A never ending stream of guys and I now magically have access to a guided missile system.
Does it matter if I kill them? Does the game care? Like a petulant child I go sit in the corner and ignore the strained cries from the men. An enemy helicopter shows up and I am told to blow it up. This advances to the next section and off we go.
I started to notice it then. That feeling I had since the beginning. I had nothing to do with this game. Everyone else was amazing; I was there to clean up after them. Everywhere you go you have Price or Soap or any of the other interchangeable burly men with, literally, the word “Follow” hovering above their heads in case you forget how to walk. It just got worse as the game went on.
A short section later I was following, Price I believe, sneaking along with silenced guns. A guard crosses our path so I nail him in the head “BHWWWAAMMMMmmmm Game over!” Shit, okay maybe I have to let him walk past without noticing us? I reload the game, same guard walks out I don’t shoot him, then Price steps up and runs through a takedown animation killing the guy. Ohh I was not supposed to kill him because only the NPC’s get to do any of the real work.
Another section as Price and I were sneaking into a castle for reasons mostly unknown to me and I was literally told when to walk, crawl, stop, sneak, stop again, take that guy out. This was around half way through the game and it was not so much holding my hand as keeping me on a choker leash, watching me like I was about to make a mess on the carpet.
The game has some amazing sections, running along and the world is falling apart around you. Speeding along in an inflatable boat escaping from a Russian submarine where you just launched all its missiles on their own fleet. But it never lets you actually DO anything. The game is just a point to point exercise where you are constantly being funnelled, herded and yelled at down the path being dictated to you as you get to watch everyone else do all the fun stuff.
With all this you have the, well it’s not bad story telling so much as mindless and incoherent. Why did we end up in this mine? Why is the Russians president’s daughter here? Wait, who am I playing as this time? There is a pathetic attempt at the old double cross where one of the main characters dies (I think he dies, maybe I just wished him dead) he informs the other grizzly hero, Price, that Yuri (the useless git you happen to be controlling at that point) knew the big Evil guy. Gasp! Price punches you out, which again as soon as it starts you lose all character control. Yuri then goes on to tell a one minute story.
“Ohh the Evil guy that everyone hates and wants to kill? Yeah I totally used to work for him! I didn’t tell you because I have a strange and debilitating disease that you also share because you are going to believe everything I am now saying.”
I am not sure if I should feel insulted that someone somewhere got paid to write this or that I am supposed to find this interesting.
As for people dying, as if sensing that it was as bad as it really was, MW3 tries for some poignant moments or at least moments where you are supposed to feel something. However each of these interactions seem to be written by an alien who was sent to study human culture and learnt about emotions from reading scripts of rejected 70’s cop drama’s.
How do they try to make you feel shock and fear at a terrorist gas attack? By putting you in control of a white human male filming his adorably white small girl child and his equally adorably white wife on their apparently fun trip to the city. While filming, the wife and child run up to a truck and turn and wave, calling for you to come closer. The game will just keep calling at you, it will not let you do anything else, there is nothing else for you to do but walk forward triggering the explosion and the lingering glimpse of your family being killed. It is so ham fisted and terrible, the game has not earned the gravitas, it has not earned the tone. It just feels pathetic.
So as the story line lurches to its conclusion and you are put into body after body with the word “Follow” forever floating in your sights, I pushed on. I got to see Price stealth kill people left and right, I got to see Soap take out entire battalions and dictate my every move. Near the end, during one of the briefings I learnt that, yes, YES! I was going to play as one of the big guys. Me! They were letting the beast off the chain; I could do what I wanted. I spawned, eager to lead my squad to glorious victory or hellish defeat, either way it was finally my call.
Instead, there stood Yuri, the ball less wonder who I always had to play as, always forced to follow along like a chastised puppy. I swear the git was grinning, what was that I could see?
A glowing sign floating above his head?
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.