In My Digital Hands

So I had heard good things about Bastion from people I trust so I figured I’d pick up a copy as soon as I got a chance. Luck would have it that if you purchased it on the Microsoft Store online, you also got a free copy of The Maw:

And speaking of good deals, I also picked this up last week when it was half off:

Got to get my Dead Rising on whenever I can.

So I am once again stock piling games. I only grabbed a couple games during the Summer Steam sale, but I’m starting to get my inventory stocked before the cold rolls in in a few months.

In My Hands

Because someone has to take a bullet for the team.

2 Minute Review – Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

mw2_01

More Modern Warfare!

Do: Continue the story of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

Type: First Person Shooter

Platforms: XBox 360 (Reviewed), Playstation 3, Windows

Price: $59.99 all platforms

Travel to exotic locales, meet new people, and destroy all their stuff

Travel to exotic locales, meet new people, and destroy all their stuff

Meat: Until Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare came out I was not a big fan of the COD series. I won’t go into specifics, I just didn’t particularly care for it. However, Infinity Ward won me over at last with COD4 and I played through many of the single-player missions multiple times and found the multi-player to be a welcome respite from Halo 3’s infuriating design decisions. However, one observation I had about COD4 was that it was essentially two games. An excellent single-player story that had all of its art assets and underlying engine reused for the multi-player portion. This is not a complaint, as I found myself perfectly happy with each “game”, though I would like the two to have crossed a little more.

Unfortunately, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 does little to alleviate this. If you’ve played COD4, you’ve played MW2. As a bonus commentary, if you’ve played COD4 you’ve also played Call of Duty: World At War, just with a different time period and weapons. Essentially you’ve got the single-player game with a strong story focus and almost frustratingly linear level design and a strong multi-player component that practically exists as its own game. As a bonus, there are the new “Special Operations” missions that use many of the single-player and multi-player maps for specific game types, all of which can be played co-op and some can not be played single-player at all.

From a technical standpoint the game is near perfect, which is not much of a compliment since COD4 was already polished to a mirror shine. There are some graphical improvements, especially in the weapon models, but the game will feel very familiar if you’ve played its predecessor.

test

Also, you can just hang out

Perks: Without a doubt this game is about as close to technical perfection as you can get in a contemporary first person shooter. I’m sure you could harp about even more photo-realistic graphics or greater audio fidelity, but in terms of how the game works it’s as good as it needs to be and that’s all I ask.

The single-player story is well designed, at least from a level perspective. They have greatly improved enemy encounters by removing the ridiculous infinite “spawn closets” that enemies used to appear from until you passed a checkpoint. Combat is frantic and remains an adrenaline fueled affair. I want desperately to enjoy the fight itself in a first person shooter, and the Modern Warfare series has yet to disappoint.

Some nice additions to the game are the new weapon attachments, like the heartbeat sensor and thermal site. Both add new tactics to the game and yet are not without their own limitations. The breaching mechanic, while simplistic, never seems to get old. When you breach a wall or door the game goes into a slow motion “bullet time” which allows you to act quickly to prevent the execution of hostages or counter-ambush enemies that were lying in wait. I think they did this just enough to keep it from getting old.

The Special Operations missions are a nice touch and add some replayability if you’re one of those people who don’t enjoy replaying their favorite single-player missions. The Special Operations range from holding off waves of enemies, vehicle chases, single-handedly wiping out enemy forces, and stealth missions. A nice co-op mission allows one player to be the AC-130 gunner while the other player coordinates on the ground.

Multi-player remains the same but with more options. At last you can use more than one weapon attachment and they’ve added additional perks and challenges to keep the on-line portion attractive to the compulsive obsessive. The underlying system remains the same so the learning curve is not steep even with new perks, attachments, and killstreaks. They have done a much better job of balancing the different options available to the players, removing the controversial juggernaut ability and limiting the use of matyrdom. In my own opinion I found the whining about these perks more annoying than their usage in COD4, but the changes have not adversely affected on-line play in the least.

Be polite. Be efficient. Have a plan to kill everyone you meet

Be polite. Be efficient. Have a plan to kill everyone you meet

Screams: Here’s where you need to hold onto your hats, kids, because I’m going to say some very bad things.

Despite my earlier comments about the “No Russian” mission, the rest of the story is a bust after that point. There is no emotional payoff and the rest of the story is more like an alternate history novel than a Tom Clancy knock-off. Despite the criticism of COD4 as a poor Clancy-esque novel, I liked it. The whole concept was plausible and barely utilized my suspension of disbelief. The new story makes some ridiculous leaps, is overly reliant on plot contriavances and macguffins, and some plot elements are relayed in the middle of firefights so you might miss them completely.

While I appreciated COD4’s careful balance between realism and playability, I always felt they kept it just realistic enough that I didn’t feel like I was in an 80’s action movie. Firing from the hip was inaccurate, I didn’t have a health bar, and everyone seemed to be using regionally appropriate weapons. All of that is out the window in MW2. Russians are using weapons that make little sense for them to have, Brazilian gang members are using primitive and oddly high tech weapons at the same time, and US forces come the closest to reality in a “future force warrior” sort of way but still possess an odd amalgation of weaponry. You now have weapons that can be dual-wielded, which might look cool throws any sense of “reality” right out the window.

Also, the game is ridiculously hard. As a compensation for the removal of infinite spawn closets, enemies just start out ridiculously numerous and volleys of bullets will shred you to pieces even on the easiest of difficulty levels. Some of the Special Operation missions seem to be intently focused on being played co-op despite the ability to play them single-player. None of this is insurmountable, but the game can be needlessly frustrating at times. Especially in light of how well balanced COD4 was regardless of skill-level.

A further problem is that none of this ties into the experience you earn in multi-player. Experience points used to unlock new perks, weapons, and equipment is all kept seperate. Want to play local split-screen? Fine, but those experience points only count towards split screen play. Special Operations also does not help you advance. Wait? What? One of the driving forces behind Call of Duty multi-player is the ability to rank up and earn new stuff. Why bother playing on-line if it doesn’t help me advance? You give players the option of doing special operation missions but their is no real payoff for doing them. All you get is…more special operations missions?

I could forgive this system in COD4, but after Rainbow Six Vegas 2 allowed you to earn experience both on and offline I don’t see the point of it. The problem is I want to unlock the different weapons and I want to use them all the time. Single-player or multi-player. I don’t want to be forced to interact with foul mouthed cretins to fully play your game, Infinity Ward. The way the game is designed they have nullified the whole point of doing special operations except for a tiny subset of people who don’t want to play with aforementioned foul mouthed cretins but will still venture to do on-line multi-player with friends who don’t mind getting nothing for their efforts other than bonding time with good buds.

As for the main multi-player portion itself, while the different weapons and abilities are more finely balanced I was worried that the additional killstreak options would further tilt the game towards the more experienced players. The biggest weakness of COD4’s multiplayer was its lack of good matchmaking by skill. This becomes an even bigger problem in MW2 since additional killstreak rewards just tip the scales further towards players who are doing well. This makes MW2 the least newbie friendly game released yet.

Furthermore, Infinity Ward has disabled party chat in some game modes in order to “encourage players on the same team to work together”. This was a huge mistake, as many players relied on party chat to avoid the large number of players who tended to use racial slurs or the idiots who would sing incessantly during a match. Instead I find myself unable to play those modes with friends and when I do play I have the microphone muted and the volume turned down. Well done, Infinity Ward, instead of encouraging teamwork you’ve turned a good portion of your player base into virtual hermits. I have noticed far fewer headsets plugged in during games then before. Previously, people without headsets were the minority, now they are the norm. Clearly something is going wrong.

Verdict: RENT – Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is a well polished shooter and worth renting, if just to see the fate of the various characters from the previous game and to enjoy the combat and various “toys” available. If you’re not an existing Call of Duty fan then you will likely not feel any need to play the game beyond the single-player game and maybe a handful of Special Operation missions.

A little rant

rantBy hitting control-option-command+8 in Mac OS-X, you can invert your screen colors (make them go negative). I’m sure there’s a reason why someone would want to do that, but I’m most certainly not that person. Nevertheless, the other day, I opened up my laptop only to find my colors have been inverted. Somehow, my two year old had hit this improbable key combination and plunged me into bizarro negative world. It took me a little internet sleuthing to get back to normal.

After another flurry of precise key presses, the same two year old bought me a subscription to Guitar Hero on my cell phone. Best three dollars I never spent. I have no idea how he did it, but there it was.

I relate these stories in preface to a rant about Microsoft’s ridiculous Xbox Live Arcade refund policies. (Hint: they don’t have one)

Up front I am going to admit that this was my fault. It was me that left the controller out in the open with the 360 on. While I was up at the computer I get an email from Xbox Live, thanking me for my Games on Demand purchase of GTA IV. Sure enough, in the space of no more than THREE FREAKING MINUTES, my two year old had navigated to the XBox Live Marketplace, located Games on Demand, selected GTA IV (at least the kid’s got taste) and purchased it. My heart sunk as I see the “no refunds” disclaimer in the XBL email. Great.

So against my better judgement, I give Xbox/Microsoft a call. All I was looking for a little understanding and maybe a little compassion and maybe to get the purchase wiped off my credit card. I explained the unlikely sequence of events that had got me to this point (I mean come on! I own the game. Why would I buy it again?) and asked for the refund. I made my way through about four levels of “you can speak to my manager” before I was met with utter silence on the other end of the line when I declare, “I find it hard to believe that a company as large as Microsoft has no way to remove a purchase from an account. At all. That is mind boggling.” “You have to dispute the charge with your credit card company, sir. There is nothing else I can do,” she finally replies.

Yeah, so we had to dispute the charge with our credit card company.

I am still flabbergasted that Microsoft, in their infinite wisdom, did not build in any mechanism to deal with this type of issue. It’s nigh unexecusable. I wonder sometimes why I stick around.

Amazon XBLA Store

It’s been mentioned just about everywhere already, but I want to mention how pumped I am about the arrivale of the Xbox Live Aracade at Amazon.

The reason? Because Amazon gets it. We’ve seen it with Steam (lower a price on something, people buy it) and we’re going to see it with Amazon. They are going to be offering arcade games and points at discount on a regular basis. Just today they’re offering a ten dollar crediton a purchase of 4000 MSP (that’s Microsoft points). That’s free money. I expect to see this trend continue.

This is something to keep a close eye on. We’ll be watching, as well.

Ikaruga Pleases Me

Quite possibly the greatest shooter of all time is being released tomorrow on Xbox Live for 800 points. I’m seriously considering taking my first ever personal day just for a video game. It is the only game I have played consistently for almost three years.

This game is not for the faint of heart. The person in the video above has played it a lot more than I have, a lot more.

There will be achievements, right?

So every gaming site is buzzing with the news that one of the updates to Microsoft’s Xbox Live service will be the ability to download “Classic” Xbox 1 games such as Halo, Fable, and others. I say “Classic” completely irony-free.

I guess I’m not as excited as some people about the prospect of downloading games that are only 5-6 years old, especially if they’re going to cost 15 bucks (1200 Microsoft Points). Even more so if they’re gigantic game turds like Fable. Color me uninterested.

But color me slightly interested if they offer achievements in the classic games. Then, like the Pavlovian gamerscore whore that I am, I’ll salivate and pick up a couple of these titles. If I can score an achievement for punting a chicken 200 feet or farting in the presence of 25 women, then I’ll pick up Fable as soon as it’s available.

Halo 3 is going to break the Internet

I mentioned that when the Halo 3 beta was available on Xbox Live, it would bring Live to its knees. I was mostly right, as it took forever for some people to download the beta. But now something even worse is probably going to happen: I’m pretty sure that Halo 3 is going to break the internet. It simply cannot support the demand for bits and bytes that the millions of denizens of Halo 3 demand. There are many reasons for this. Here are a few:

When it’s all said and done, there will have millions of multiplayer matches played. As we speak, thousands are going on simultaneously. (There were 500k+ Halo 3 players on Live when I logged off to post this)

With the most excellent playback feature now part of the package, players can review and obsess over every little detail of each one of their matches. They can also share and upload videos and take thousands of in-game screen shots. Of course 95% of those screen shots and videos are boring and crappy, but a few gems shine through (see below). But with all these tools at the disposal of millions of players, the internet is going to be worse for the wear. Videos galore being uploaded to YouTube (almost 50k at the time of this posting) and thousands of screenshots being uploaded to Flickr (12k+ at the time of posting)

Of course, I’m part of the problem, not the solution:

The Buckeye Spartan

That whimpering sound you hear are the servers, switches, and routers around the world.

In my hands…

Halo 3

I know I’m about 20 hours behind everyone else, but that’s okay. Halo 3 will be going in to the 360 after the wife and I watch “The Biggest Loser”. While we polish of some ice cream.

After reading Tom’s post about the Halo 3 campaign, I am very excited about this. I hope there are some friends to join in on the action once I’m on.

(BTW: Seems like Xbox Live and all its components are getting epically slammed. Everything is running slow. Could it happen any other way?)

More to follow.

More: I played entirely too long and now should be sleeping, but here are a few thoughts:

  • The reports of sub-par graphics have been greatly exaggerated. Holy crap this game looks good. I recently switched from component cables to the VGA cable, so I don’t know if that makes a difference or not, but man this game looks good. There were a couple times, one during a cutscene, where things looked absolutely amazing. People say this isn’t on par with Gears of War. I disagree with them. Gears of War used five thousand shades of gray and brown. Halo 3 is vibrant beyond belief.
  • I think I’m very close to the end of the second mission. So far, the campaign has been great, but marred by strange checkpoints. Sometimes they’re too close together, other times that are too far apart. There’s no consistency.
  • Everything feels alive. Except for the scary eyes, the “extras” seem real and life-like. Creepy at times, funny at others.
  • I only played one game of multiplayer, but I can already see this is going to be a blast. I played a little free-for-all slayer (where I came out on top, natch) and really enjoyed it. Can’t wait to get in on some matches with friends.

There’s a lot more that could be said but sleep beckons. If you’ve played, let me know what your impressions are (in the comments or a link to your blog).

I’m a bad blogger

Master ChiefI feel like I’ve neglected my duties as a “video game blogger” by not heading to Best Buy this evening around midnight to pick up my copy of Halo 3. I’m awake, I really should be using this time to smash some alien faces with the butt of my shotgun. But I’m not. After a week of entertaining family, I am drained. When the kids have to be on their best behavior 24-7, it gets tiring. So no Halo 3 tonight. I’ll be turning in for the evening after I hit “Publish”.

I will be picking it up tomorrow, of course. I’ll wait until the kids have been tucked away, the wife engrossed in something else and then I’ll toss it in to the 360 and play until my eyes bleed. Then I’ll jump on Live and play some more. After a week of cuteness, I’m ready for some shooting. I’m ready to save the world (Again. Sheesh, it gets tiring) and then wasting dozens of hours in the rumble pit. Everything else gets put on the back-burner.

Look out for I aint yer Pa! I’ll be in your base, dual wielding plasma pistols.