Saturday, 20 February 2010

Hey Bro, Fancy Shooting Some Terrorists?

Bro-operative. Bromance. These are just a couple of adjectives that could be used to describe the nature of Army of Two: 40th Day. A game where you and a friend (Biological or Artificial) need to essentially, as the name suggests, become a walking, shit talking army of two.

The plot unfortunately is fairly non-existent, which should come as no surprise given the game’s target audience, no offense intended. And whatever plot is present is unfortunately too quiet to hear. Yes quiet. During the games development cycle the developers forgot to turn the volume up during any scene of narrative worth whatsoever. This leaves the player in an apocalyptic rendering of Shanghai with no context at all to fuel your actions, in fact, upon completion me and my bro-op partner had literally no fucking clue what had just ensued, minus the asstastic gameplay.

But on the bright side, we did learn that EA Montreal was the first development studio comprised solely of deaf people.

So with the absence of a story, the game really needed some top calibre, highly polished, eternally fun gameplay to shine through the bullshit and make you forget those initial criticisms. And guess what, it doesn’t accomplish that one either. A third person shooter with a clunky aiming system is like a racing game with cars made out of cheese, it’s doomed to failure, just like Army of Two. Not to mention the game has an unintuitive cover mechanic that screams, “What the fuck” at you whenever you attempt to hide from the sheer number of bullets en route to your face.

However, amid this torrent of shit lies a silver lining. A single bubble of fun that has transcended all else to rise above the crap. The game handles co-operative play really well. Whether that be a system that allows players to draw fire away from their buddy in order to co-ordinate an attack, or whereby one player can falsely surrender, luring the gullable, artificially unintelligent terrorists into believing your cowardice whilst your partner conveniently dispatches them. It’s fair to say that the most original aspects of Army of Two come from these co-operative elements and when played with a friend the game isn’t shit, heck, it could even be described as “enjoyable”.

Had I not played Army of Two: 40th day with my friend this post would not exist. I would have failed to experience the single redeeming quality of the game, been exposed to a flood of derivative level design, combat and an overall sense of shit and proceeded to dismiss it as a dreadful videogame, which if experienced in tandem with a bro, it’s not.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Economic Imperative

The problem with entertainment nowadays is that the need to make money usurps the need to entertain. Sure, nobody wants to construct something unentertaining, however the need to make money will have a significant effect on the entertainment provided. Stupid fucking capitalism.

Take Bioshock 2 for example. The original holds more artistic merit in my opinion than Mona Lisa's slutty smile, and in fact presents a story as encapsulating as anything I have ever been exposed to. Partly because the twist was so twisty, but mostly because instead of wrapping a linear story within a non-linear experience, it understood that this just could not be done, and in fact video games weren't actually films in burly disguises. Irrational Games effectively fired a cum shot onto the video game industry's metaphorical chin.

Did Leonardo Da Vinci go out and produce a sequel to the Mona Lisa two years after he painted the original, perhaps with a speck of tit showing to please those freaky art lovers? Did he shit. He knew that the original was so revered, whatever he was to produce in direct succession to the original was never going to hold the same artistic value. Perhaps those economic dildos within the board room at 2K should have thought about that before giving the green light to Bioshock 2 then. Oh wait, they did, and they laughed it off. Who gives a fuck about artistic value when you have money, maybe now you will understand my point.

Bioshock 2 has much improved fundamental gameplay tweaks over the original. If you were locked in a room with no past exposure to the two games, a magnum pointed at the side of your brain, and told to select which one was the better game, a sane person would surely select the sequel. However, this is missing the point. The original had such an engaging narrative and a world so fresh and alien to the player that it felt perfect. The sequel therefore looses all such charms, leaving the player with a sharp stench of repetition and a lingering scent of deja vu. 2K too missed the point.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Belated Review of Modern Warfare Two

How does a developer go about crafting the sequel to one of the decades most appreciated videogames? Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare launched to instant success, eventually topping over 10 million sales across multiple platforms. This was a double-edged sword for developer Infinity Ward; they created the current generations most influential first person shooter, yet they themselves must go one better and produce a sequel worthy of the name. Modern Warfare 2 is their much-anticipated attempt.

The campaign kicks off with the player controlling Private First Class Joseph Allen, a US army ranger based in Afghanistan as he takes part in a Humvee assault through an Afghan city, reminiscent of American drama “Generation Kill”. Recognised for his achievements, Private Allen is then whisked off to join Task Force 141, recruited to covertly infiltrate a known terrorist threat lead by the game’s primary antagonist Vladimir Zhakarov. The game then presents a twist, one which provides the narrative fuel to drive the player through to the inevitable conclusion.

In typical Call of Duty style, the game ping pongs between different characters during the story in order to tell each individual section of the narrative. This can leave the game’s pacing feeling flat, often deflating the player when he is stripped of his task force 141 rank and thrown back into the ordinary boots of Private James Ramirez, a generic soldier tasked with performing tedious objectives. For example, whilst one mission has you assaulting a military base under the stealthy cover of a blizzard, the next sees you escorting an Armoured Personnel Carrier through the suburban streets of Eastern America. This stark contrast can be a hindrance to the player’s enjoyment, especially considering developer Infinity Ward’s ability to craft such memorable set pieces, instead forcing you to rely on such genre clich├ęs as an escort mission. Despite the drop in calibre, these set pieces are still wonderfully crafted, with one tasking the player to retake the Whitehouse from Russian invasion, a visually emotive experience that encapsulates the game’s sombre narrative.

The narrative itself is standard action game fare. A slightly unrealistic scenario littered with plot holes but accepted due to its all out epic nature. A tepid Russia un-cover a reason to invade the United States of America whilst the whole world hangs on the precipice of nuclear fallout. I think you’ll agree an exhilarating prospect, and unfortunately in today’s post 9-11 society an ever more plausible one. Filled with multiple twists it is the perfect accompaniment to the games fast paced gunplay.

Although inconsistent, the game really shines during its most intense moments. Fast paced, action packed and full of set pieces you will want to replay, the Singleplayer is nothing but excellent. Highlights include jumping from the corregated iron roof of a shanty Favela hut to reach the dangling rope of a rescue helicopter, and storming an Alcatraz esque prison culminating in a narrative twist most fans of the series can’t help but smile about. Furthermore, the games final sequence is arguably the most enjoyable moment, leaving players with a sweet taste upon completion and a heap of fond memories.

Upon completion of this 6 – 8 hour campaign the player is then introduced to Spec Ops; a co-operative two player mode which presents modified set pieces, some extracted from the campaign, some original, each thoroughly entertaining. The game remains challenging as the missions are varied whilst escalating in difficulty and intensity. Intelligent achievements task the player with completing each Spec Ops mission on the highest veteran difficulty, a challenge truly worthy of the gamerscore (or trophies depending on platform) it hands out. While challenging, the game is exploitable on the hardest missions, taking some of the fun away in exchange for virtual progress. Spec Ops is a “best of” selection from the Call of Duty series, thoroughly entertaining and a worthy addition to the series.

Of course, while these two modes are an enjoyable starter, the games main course is the multiplayer. If you were one of the millions that played Call of Duty 4 then things should be instantly recognisable. Each player can apply 2 perks to give them advantages in combat which help them to rank up so they can unlock special items and camouflage patterns. However this time Infinity Ward have increased the player’s already huge array of options. The range of killstreak rewards (selectable abilities gained after having achieved a certain number of kills before death) has over doubled, now offering the ability to airdrop a care package which enables the player a random ability, potentially a match winning one. The array of attachments which can bolster your weapons effectiveness have also seen a healthy increase, now featuring items such as a thermal scope for spotting enemies in low visibility environments.

Inevitably, all this added chaos would need to be properly balanced for competitive play, and it is this fact that comes back to bite the game. Unfortunately, the incentive proposed by these kill streaks slows the game’s pace down as players are more inclined to wait for their kills rather than risk venturing out and earning them. Matches often divulge into people perched on rooftops or behind dumpsters, awaiting their next victim. When the ability to call in a remote controlled gunship that fires explosive shells is potentially only 4 kills away, then why would the player risk sudden death only to have to start his streak again. They won’t, and it naturally hurts the high paced gameplay of Modern Warfare 2.

This is not to say the game isn’t fun. It is. Players of any skill level can jump into the multiplayer and have some modicum of success, with kills largely defined by who saw who first, meaning map movement is key. And Infinity Ward haven’t lost the ability to make the player feel rewarded, with experience points allocated arbitrarily for challenges such as sprinting a certain distance or falling off a high object and surviving, the player is always progressing no matter their performance in game. A quick applaud to Infinity Ward again for including a completely new set of weaponry in Modern Warfare 2, with any returning numbers completely remade from scratch, making a similar game to Call of Duty 4 seem all that bit fresher.

To quote Epic Games lead designer Cliff Bleszinski, Modern Warfare 2 is “bigger, better and more badass”, although that was the idea. The pressure of creating a game superior to Call of Duty 4 obviously had an affect on the final product, with an over compensating amount of additions that lack balance and meaning. Modern Warfare 2 is a thoroughly entertaining game, one that stands as a benchmark for the genre, but ultimately can’t best its younger brother. [8]