Monday, May 19, 2014

Call of Duty makes me feel so special

Having enjoyed Black Ops 2 a few weeks back I am now sampling another Call of Duty title I missed first time around: Call of Duty World at War. The game is enjoyable so far and being a World War 2 game it feels closer to the series' roots than the Modern Warfare and Black Ops games.

My enjoyment of the game was initially hampered due to my foolishly selecting a high difficulty level. Missions became exercises in repetitive frustration as I died over and over at each choke point. Playing in such a frustrating fashion reveals several of the flaws that have existed in every Call of Duty game since the beginning: The games give you the illusion that you are fighting huge battles along with many of your colleagues but in reality the only person the enemy cares about is you. Every sharpshooter and machine gunner on the opposing side will aim directly at you  a split second after you pop your head up and there is little point trying to manoeuvre to a hidden spot because they instantly know where you are. This feeling of specialness is compounded by the behaviour of your squad mates who won't venture anywhere until you go first. On top of all that there are many choke points where enemies re-spawn endlessly until you and only you manage to cross  magic threshold.

Turning the difficulty back down to normal made the game a far more enjoyable experience for me. I still die occasionally but I am making more regular progress and the flaws mentioned above are not so obvious when you progress through the game at a normal pace.

Would it be possible to make an enjoyable first person shooter that didn't make the players specialness quite so obvious?

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

A tale of Three Shooters Jericho, Timeshift and Black Ops 2

I have been over dosing on first person shooting over the last few weeks with  single player runs through Jericho and Timeshift (both from 2007)  along with the more recent Call of Duty : Black Ops 2 (2012

I have written about  Jericho already, a second rate game to be sure but one that I enjoyed none the less. You can read more of my thoughts here: http://mindbendingpuzzles.blogspot.ie/2014/04/clive-barkers-jericho-seven-years-on.html

Timeshift came out at almost exactly the same time as Jericho to somewhat better reviews. Timeshift does have better graphics and more varied gameplay that Jericho but it wasn't good enough to survive comparison with the ground-breaking Crysis which was released around the same time. 

Timeshift's main claim to fame is a suit which allows the player to slow, stop or even run time backwards for a short period. You can use these features anywhere in the game. In theory this would appear to open up all kinds of interesting game-play possibilities but in practise it pretty much boils down to "Arrghh I am surrounded by enemies - better slow time so I can shoot them one by one".  There are a few puzzles that need time shift powers but these are so contrived. and so well signposted that they are generally pointless. For example every gate in the game seems to have a spring loaded switch  requiring you to slow down time in order to get though the game before the switch toggles the gate closed again. 

The combat is enjoyable however. The inclusion of time shift powers allows the game to have a lot more and a lot deadlier enemies than other shooters. I suffered many deaths at their hands while I came to grips with my abilities. Thankfully the game has regular checkpoints and allows quicksave so it is always possible to continue making progress.

The game has a limited selection of weapons and you can only carry three at a time but most weapons have two fire modes which adds to variety. They fall into two broad groups. For the first half of the game you are limited to assault rifle, shotgun and pistol with occasional opportunities to pick up a sniper rifle.  About half way through the game a new set of weapons appears which make those traditional stalwarts redundant. For example the assault rifle which required the best part of a clip to down an armoured enemy is replaced by a repeating plasma rifle (think Halo) which can do the same with three or four rounds. The most overpowered weapon though is a crossbow which fires exploding bolts and has a sniper scope. It is a guaranteed one hit kill at any range. I found these new weapons made the game much easier and even though you start seeing special enemy types (including shielded enemies and time shifting enemies)  I never felt the difficulty balance was restored. 

The game has a story told in flashbacks which is pretty incomprehensible. As far as I can make out there is  a scientist who steals a timeshift suit (model Alpha) and goes back to an alternate reality to set himself up as a dystopian dictator. You go back with a Beta model suit to stop him. There is also a love interest. I think. Graphics and sound effects are pleasant enough but a lot of the levels feel very similar. Nevertheless an enjoyable romp if you can get it at a budget price.

The most recent shooter in my list was Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. Although I was once a big fan of Call of Duty I stopped buying them after Modern Warfare 3 partly because I felt the single player campaigns were being neglected but mainly because the games are too damned expensive for me and almost never go on sale. However when Black Ops 2 came up in a Paypal sale for about a tenner I decided to have a look not expecting to much from the single player campaign. 

I will admit myself very pleasantly surprised. BLOPS2 is a very superior single player shooting experience. Of course the action, the graphics and sound effects are all top notch - the millions that went into developing the game are all on the screen. The game-play is fun and enjoyable. Most surprisingly for me it has a rich and complex story with multiple endings possible depending on your actions in game. In some ending s the "bad guys" even win and there enough moral depth in the game that you can understand their motives. 

I do have some criticisms:
- The opening chapters are fairly weak and confusing. 
- There is a bit too much straight jacketing of your actions and a good smattering of unskippable cut scenes. 
- The game has several of new type of mission called "Strike Force" which are mini RTS games BUT they only give you a limited number of attempts at each one. In this way a feature that should have been a triumph instead becomes a frustrating point of failure when you run out of attempts. 

BLOPS2  has whetted my appetite for other recent Call of Duty games (I have yet to sample World at War, BLOPS 1 or Ghosts) but they almost never come down enough in price to fit into my price range.