Posts Tagged ‘ Genre: Shooter ’

Review: Modern Warfare 3 [3/3]


   Another small step forward for gaming as an entertainment medium.

Modern Warfare 3 picks up where the blockbuster Modern Warfare 2 leaves off. The series villain, Vladimir Makarov, has succeeded in instigating a war between the United States and Russia that acts as subterfuge for his own agenda. Soap and Captain Price return to stop him and to seek revenge for other events that unfolded in the series’ previous games. If you’re a fan of the previous games, then MW3 will not disappoint. Infinity Ward (with the help of Sledgehammer) have polished the series formula to a shine that culminates in a tremendous final showdown with Makarov that is both an excellent finish for the series as well as one of the highlights of the genre.

For those who are only now jumping into the series: the player is dropped from location to location around the world as one of several different soldiers in order to witness and participate in spectacular battles. The experience is often compared to a roller coaster ride based on the linear structure of the stages and the dramatic events that unfold as the player moves along them. The player’s job is to utilize the weapons and artillery to make their way with allies through enemy targets to the end of the stage. Each stage stands independent of others and the player’s performance and decisions on one will not have any impact on the others. The variety and weapons and vehicles, in combination with unexpected twists and turns will keep each stage entertaining and novel throughout the game.

The Modern Warfare series continues to break entertainment records. I’m sure that’s in large part due to it’s multiplayer component which refines and builds upon the combat mechanics of the single player campaign while introducing competitive goals rather than simply getting from point A to point B. It also introduces a survival mode that tests the player’s skill against waves of increasingly difficult enemies. Both of these modes introduce options for the player to make decisions about how to arm themselves and prepare their defenses which almost becomes a separate game in its own right. But whether you are playing Modern Warfare 3 for it’s single or multiplayer modes the game as a whole represents one of the best game packages of the year that takes the simple foundation of the FPS and builds a layered and multi-faceted experience that is pushing gaming into the mainstream’s consciousness.

Rating: 3/3

See also: TrailerOfficial SiteMore thoughts at Ruminatron5000

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Micro Review: Gears of War 3 [1/3]


   A fun game that’s hobbled by it’s investment in it’s own story

Tis’ the season for sequels. The nice thing about them is that they continue to keep a series out in public view long enough for people like me to finally take notice and play them. Such was the case with Gears 3. On an impulse, I decided to rent it and play through the campaign cooperatively. Gears of War 3 (and I safely assume the previous games) have some great verbs that players can execute. Using the chainsaw bayonet doesn’t get old, and it’s easy to just run around like you’re leatherface tearing into meaty bad dudes. Everything on the surface of the game is a lot of fun.

Here comes the but: Gears 3 sacrifices fun for drama and makes for a bummer of an experience. Where I felt like I was having a fun blasting through everything that was unfortunate enough to be in my path the game was telling me “everything sucks and Marcus is sad/mad.” Every so often there is a funny line of dialogue but the entire atmosphere is saturated with a manufactured sense of dread and contrived drama. Using “Mad World” worked as an idea for a trailer but it isn’t representative of the experience of playing the game and, furthermore, works against the game’s strengths. How much Marcus hurts inside has no bearing on the fun I’m having stomping monsters and it is really irritating to follow along in a story I’m not interested in. By the end of the game, I was made to feel like I really was leatherface, and for no good reason. My avatar was an asshole, and it deflated my enjoyment of the underlying game play.

I suppose that all of this indicates that the multiplayer game modes would be more satisfying, but the single-player campaign sends mixed signals and delivers a story that tries too hard to be dramatic.

Rating: 1/3

See also: TrailerOfficial SiteMore thoughts at Ruminatron5000

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Review: Deus Ex: Human Revolution [3/3]+


   One of 2011’s best.  An impressive game all around.

I’ve never seriously considered playing a Deus Ex game until the day before Human Revolution was released. At the height of the game’s marketing push I finally decided to watch the game’s trailers and was impressed that they were confident enough in their world as to create trailers with zero in game content:

The game itself revolves around Sarif Industry’s chief of security, Adam Jensen, who is trying to uncover who is responsible for a devastating attack on the company’s headquarters.  It is equal parts action/shooting and planning/strategizing.  Jensen is outfitted with augmentations that greatly enhance his ability to fight, hack, and infiltrate.  The player determines what types of augmentations suit their play style and will offer the greatest advantages.  Human Revolution steadily ups the ante of each of the levels that Jensen must negotiate, but they are punctuated by boss battles that are equivalent to arm wrestling matches: the individual with the strongest offensive capability wins.  If you aren’t investing in your offensive abilities, then these could possibly derail your experience and interrupt what is otherwise a great player-drive system.

On the other end of the spectrum are portions of the game where Jensen must persuade or outwit others in conversation.  What makes these interesting is the ambiguity of response types that the player has to choose from.  The player doesn’t simply choose from options that can be categorized by how they appear at face value (e.g. nice, mean, cool, etc.)  They require that the player leverage theory of mind to anticipate how other characters will respond and guide the conversation to a desired outcome.  This may be at odds with what you as a player may feel, and the game sees fit to throw in significant bits of information in the middle of the process.  Some of the most memorable parts of the game for me unfolded during these sequences.  Human Revolution’s dramatic moments can occur as both emergent or scripted events which lend themselves to a consistently entertaining experience.

I’m further impressed not just by how the game itself is constructed but how the experience extends itself beyond the confines of the game.  Like Metal Gear Solid before it, Human Revolution builds a fictional world with enough of reality blended in to engage the player in ways that can color their views of the world.  If you think that’s a stretch then watch this Sarif Industries “advertisement” and then read this news story.  Each section of the game gives the player insight into how augmentations affect people, for better or worse, directly or indirectly.  You can see how real-world themes of scientific advances, corporate ethics, contractors, civil unrest, and technology, come into play.  The player will be challenged to weigh the consequences of arguments from all sides in these matters. As the scale of the overarching conflict broadens, the game puts more pressure on the player to figure out which side they come down on, at the cost of (virtual) human lives.  Even if fictional, players that find themselves engaged in the plot will pause to consider how their in game decisions might reflect on their own real world thought processes.

What separates Human Revolution from the likes of Bioshock or other games that challenge the player to face ethical quandaries is that Human Revolution does a remarkable job of restraining itself from judging the player on their decisions or painting scenarios as being black and white in nature.  There are no good endings or bad endings.  The only thing making them good or bad is how they square with the player’s ethical priorities.  This isn’t to say that the game blindly supports your every decision; on the contrary, it many times will actively challenge you no matter what you decide.  Human Revolution offers the player a world in which they can explore gameplay mechanics that are plainly seen as well as an ethical obstacle course that is quietly laid out through the game and then brought into full view in the game’s final moments.

It’s hard to see Deus Ex: Human Revolution being the game of the year competing with the likes of Modern Warfare, Skyrim, and The Legend of Zelda, but it’s definitely one of the most notable games of 2011 in as far as what it accomplishes as part of the medium of interactive entertainment.

Rating: 3/3 +

See also: TrailerOfficial SiteMore thoughts at Ruminatron5000

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Micro Review: Half Life 2 [3/3]


   Still as much fun as it ever was.

I’m not sure which play-through this was for me, I just remember being reminded that Half Life 2 was a great game, and it still is.  The novelty of the physics puzzles have worn off but that hasn’t done much to damage the pacing of the experience.  HL2 manages to construct an overwhelming atmosphere that always leaves the player wondering “what is going on? I need to know more.”  It all ends rather abruptly and you all but expect a voice to tell you to “tune in next time!”  It was a high point in gaming history, and it’s still quite an enjoyable ride, but I don’t know if I would go as far as to say that, on its own, it’s still a shining example of the what the medium has to offer.

Rating: 3/3

See also: TrailerOfficial SiteMore thoughts at Ruminatron5000

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Micro Review: Shadows of the Damned [2/3]

   Stupid, fleeting, fun.

Shadows of the Damned is fun while it lasts (which is about one play through.)  After that, there isn’t a whole lot left.  It’s not that it’s a bad game, SotD is competent in most regards, it just isn’t very compelling.  The the game play and characters all have potential that Grasshopper fails to follow through on.  It’s as though they got warmed up and decided to call it a day.  The game’s presence is punctuated by events and dialogue that if they had not been delivered in an extremely over exaggerated fashion would have just been boring.  There are high points though they mostly serve to make you wonder what more the game could have been.  One can only hope that there will be a sequel that delivers a more substantive, consistent, experience.

Rating: 2/3

See also: TrailerOfficial SiteMore thoughts at Ruminatron5000

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Review: Metro 2033 [2/4]

Metro 2033 flew under my radar when it was first released roughly a year ago. I got my hands on it recently after having read about it’s subtle morality system. I’m a sucker for these moody post-apocalyptic style games, so my interest was definitely piqued.  And I wasn’t disappointed.  Much like other modern science fiction style games, Metro 2033 is set in a world that’s been ruined by some sort of nuclear disaster. The game doesn’t elaborate much at all about what happened, and instead it focuses on what’s immediately to Artyom, the protagonist. He grew up under ground, where survivors are safe from the fallout and the mutants that roam the surface. Few venture above, but Artyom’s home is faced with the impending threat of the mutants overrunning them below in the former metro tunnels of eastern Europe. And so he sets out to enlist the help of other metro communities to try and eradicate the threat altogether.

The player’s role is to be Artyom’s eyes, ears, hands, and brain. From Artyom’s perspective, the player will navigate treacherous levels both above and below ground while clashing with a variety of brutal mutants. You’ll have access to weapons that are standard for the genre: shotguns, assault rifles, pistols, as well as some other home-made devices. Battles can be tense due to limited ammunition, darkened environments, and the unsettling nature of the mutants themselves. But sometimes the experience is tense simply because the gun play mechanics are clunky. There isn’t a great deal of feedback from the shots that are being placed, and it usually takes a great deal of shots to bring down a target. With many mutants bearing down on the player at once, it becomes a race to quickly unload magazines into targets.   The effect is intense as well as occasionally frustrating.

The experience becomes tedious against human opponents. Bandits, Nazis, and Communists all reside in the metro as well and none of them are making Artyom’s journey any easier.  When fighting mutants, there are a few precious seconds before they are gnawing on your limbs. If the player is alert, they can bring down most mutants before that happens. This isn’t the case with human opponents, who start shooting as soon as they know that they player is there. The game does not offer the tactical control to be able to make this enjoyable. Thankfully, there are more battles with the mutants than there are with Artyom’s fellow survivors.

Where Metro excels is crafting a world that has texture and weight. It foregos the bombast of games like Gears of War for a quieter, and more unnerving experience. The desperate atmosphere can be felt both in and out of combat. The game is limited enough in scope for the audience to invest in individual characters, rather than the abstract concept of the downfall of the entire human race. There isn’t wholesale slaughter of survivors by mutants; people are slowly picked off here and there, and it’s enough to make the player wonder if wonder if they are going to make it out alive. It’s a feeling that was more prominent in earlier survival horror games and is vivid enough in Metro to keep its audience engaged through its conclusion.

Metro 2033 is not polished as far as graphics and game play are concerned, but it’s a world that’s interesting to explore and the narrative’s momentum is enough to prevent it from becoming stale.

Rating: 2/4

See Also: Trailer, Official Site, More thoughts at Ruminatron5000

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Review: Call of Duty: Black Ops [2/4]

Note: This review only covers the single player campaign mode.

Black Ops is constructed from a collection of set pieces strung together by a character driven plot centering around operative Alex Mason.  Alex is being held captive by an unnamed force that is trying to coerce him into recalling what has happened to him over the past seven years.  Each memory he flashes back to becomes a level that the player must re-enact before returning to the interrogation, where the story continues.  Set in the 1960’s, Mason memories shift from Cuba, to the gulags, Vietnam, and many other Cold War locations.  The mortar binding all of these events together, in case it wasn’t clear, is shooting guns at people who are doing the same at you.  The world is walking on egg shells, and Mason has found himself in a situation that could tip the Cold War in favor of the Soviet Union.  Black Ops doesn’t attempt to construct an alternative history per se, but it suggests to the audience that the game’s events could plausibly occur without the general public ever knowing.  This premise is stretched to its limits, and may prove to be too much for some players to continue buying into it.  Then again, most audiences aren’t playing Black Ops to engage in an interactive tour of history.  This approach allows the game to focus squarely on what the events mean for Mason as a character, as opposed to Modern Warfare’s set pieces being the main events in and of themselves.

The game is polished to a sheen.  No detail is left out; the textures, lighting, and animation are all crafted well enough that the player won’t be seeing scenes and characters as polygons and pixels, but as walking portraits.  And with the absurdities of the plot set aside, many of these levels are almost life-sized dioramas (or at least appear convincing enough to be) straight out of the era.  The player doesn’t need to think twice before becoming immersed in the scenes.  The campaign offers solid first person shooter game play mechanics.  Running and gunning feels as polished as the graphics do.  Lining up shots and picking your targets feels smooth and provides excellent feedback.  And there’s a suitable variety of weapons to meet every gamer’s taste.  The fundamentals of Black Ops couldn’t be any more solid.  But fundamentals don’t make a game, and the experience must arc or progress in some meaningful way.  Alex Mason serves as the catalyst to this end, but his character doesn’t provide enough depth for the audience to explore.  Nor do the levels offer a clear sense of differentiation beyond their appearances: snow level, jungle level, Russia level, etc.  Most of these locations end up blurring together as a slide show of backdrops for repeating the same level: move from Point A to Point B; shooting everything in between.

Black Ops’ Cold War backdrop ends up hindering the experience, as the player becomes just a second-hand witness (at times, a third-hand witness) to historic events.  It can be pretty incredible to watch as the Tet Offensive unfolds, but too often it can feel like the game is just recreating scenes from famous movies, at points, it’s practically stealing from the source material it references.  What it boils down to is that Alex Mason has little impact on what is going on around him, and the player has little invested or put at risk as part of his conflict.  By the end, Mason’s role in the story is reduced to a more conventional America (good guys) vs. Russia (bad guys) plot.  And since it’s pretty obvious that (spoiler alert!) the Soviet Union lost the Cold War and there is little doubt that there will be any earth shattering events at that level.  The plot’s strength lies in Alex Mason’s story which, while it’s deeper than for past Call of Duty protagonists, just fails to be all that compelling.  The series’ transition from sheer spectacle, to character driven plot is awkward and somewhat haphazard.  The campaign looks great, and plays well enough, but you aren’t going to find yourself getting lost in the experience.  If you’re playing Black Ops, you’re probably playing for the multi-player mode, which has significantly more to offer.  The campaign serves as a good place to get your bearings and learn how to play the game.

Rating: 2/4

See also: Trailer, Official Site, More thoughts at Ruminatron5000

Buy it at Amazon, Rent it at Gamefly

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