Tag Archive | games

Three the magic number?

The past couple of weeks has seen the release of two first person shooter games (FPS) which are part of two separate franchises which have been around for nearly ten years: Battlefield 3 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.  Both games, whilst being first person shooters, have different gameplay styles and have been competing with each other since they first launch.  The launch of the ‘3’ games within two weeks of each other means a lot of gamers (including me) have parted with their pounds.

Battlefield 3

I’ve followed the Battlefield series since Battlefield 1942 on the PC back in 2002.  Through Battlefield Vietnam to Battlefield 2, then onto the console with Battlefield 1943 and the Battlefield Bad Company games.  Battlefield 3 (or BF3) is the latest installment, and one which has been eagerly awaited.

The singleplayer campaign mode is disappointing.  The plot went from one linear firefight – chase – set piece to the next, with the set pieces very much a Simon-Says style follow the screen prompts sequential button press-a-thon which would be embarrasing on a children’s game.  The game designers learned nothing from last year’s Medal of Honor, which whilst still linear, offered the player some flexibility in routes and flanking positions, which was sadly lacking in BF3.  In the previous incarnations of Battlefield before Bad Company the campaign mode was little more than a series of training missions for online play, with a plot which was little more than a series of battle locations around the world.  However, whilst a cinematic plot driven campaign is welcome, it also has the disadvantage of not giving enough practice with weapons and vehicles before going online.

Online multiplayer has always been what Battlefield was about.  The first Battlefield 1942 had no character progression or weapons and kit development; you had a choice of five character classes, each class with a different weapon and kit loadout between Scout, Assault, Medic, Anti-tank, and Engineer.  But this simplicity meant everyone started with the same choice of kit loadouts, so skill, tactics and team playing rather than the advantage of superior upper rank firepower sorted out the noobs from the top guns.  As well as the classes, there was an array of vehicles to spread mayhem with.  From jeeps, to to tanks, to aircraft, all the way to battleships.

This theme has continued throughout the series, and BF3 has all the vehicles and equipment of the modern battlefield and more: tanks, helicopters jets and even dune buggies.  However, I feel this game is less a Battlefield 3 and more like a Bad Company game.  It has much the same weapons and class progression as BF:BC2 as you rise through the ranks online and even the same environment physics.  There is I feel a step backwards in this game, which drops the tactical command features of BF2 which were so integral to encouraging team play rather than the lone run-and-gun style so prevalent at the moment on BF3.  Perhaps this will be addressed in future downloadable content packs.

However, BF3 is still enjoyable, provides plenty of game modes and options for your I’m particularly looking forward to release of the Return to Karkand add-on pack, particularly as Karkand was one of my favourite BF2 maps and it’ll be interesting to see what the developers have done in their reboot of a fan favourite.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

Like the Battlefield series, MW3 has a long heritage going back to the first Call of Duty game in 2003.  Like the Medal of Honor series, the CoD singleplayer campaign mode was tightly scripted, a feature that has followed the game’s incarnations over nearly ten years.

The MW3 campaign continues the MW story of Capt Price and ‘Soap’ MacTavish in their mission to end a war between Russia and the West, and resolve an ongoing personal grudge with evil warmonger Makarov.  It’s definitely not one for the kids.  Even though it’s 18-rated, many parents buy MW games for their children, but this episode in the series takes it even further than the civilian murder carnage of MW2, and being very cinematic it places the player right inside the action, witnessing events you wouldn’t want children to see.

The online mutliplayer mode has always featured smaller maps than the Battlefield franchise, which made for fast and frantic gameplay, often the fortune of games flipping in moments.  The game is called MW3, and it’s a worthy name for the campaign, but in terms of the online play it’s definitely MW 2.5.  It features much the same weapons, perks and upgrade options of MW2, albeit with a revamped interface and lobby.  Even the infamous ‘quick-scope’ remains.  I thought that some tips would have been taken from CoD: Black Ops in which the weapons were much more balanced, and the perks were purchased with upgrade points rather than achieving challenges, allowing the player much more choice rather than being forced through a restrictive upgrade path.

The new online maps seem to be much smaller than their MW predecessors, although they are graphically more complex and structured in such a way to discourage camping and encourage more ‘run-n-gun’, making hold points almost a thing of the past.  However, it’s early yet, definitely too early for me to identify particular map areas which give a tactical advantage.  It’ll be interesting to see how this develops in future map releases.

There are some weapon aiming issues and some weapons seem too overpowered, but hopefully these will be patched.

However, MW3 offers some new online game modes, including the new ‘Kill Confirmed’, where you collect enemy dog tags after killing them, and I predict this will be the big hit of MW3 online.  There’s also an upgraded ‘Survival’ cooperative game type, which is probably aimed at the fans of Zombies in World at War and Black Ops.

Summary

Both of the ‘3’ games are fun, whilst at the same time a little disappointing in what they could have done; missed opportunities.  One thing both games have failed to do is to add anything startingly new.  They are simply a slight evolution of what came before, and while you give the fans what they want, the first person shooter market is so saturated that it needs a game to shake things up a bit.  Even the ‘Elite’ optional addon for MW3 is merely an iteration of a feature first launched as a beta with Black Ops.  One of the things missing from both games is online character customisation allowing you to create a unique looking online playable avatar.  Medal of Honor went a small way allowing you to unlock a couple of character skins, but games like SOCOM and Brink have shown what is possible with character customisation.

Despite these minor irritations, I’ll still be playing both ‘3’ games, and probably get sucked into rising through the ranks and completing challenges, enjoying meeting people around the world, and fragging them to bits.

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Shafted by Sony

I’ve owned a Sony PlayStation 3 since the day it came out.  As a fully paid up geek, it’s full raft of features impressed me.  At the moment, I use it as a blu-ray player, a picture, movie and music storage and media player – and as a games console.  One of the features of the 60 Gb PS3 I purchased was the option to install another operating system, namely Linux.  This attracted me because it meant I could also catch up on emails and surfing at the same time, particularly since the PS3 browser is a bit slow.  When the newer PS3 Slim came out recently, I resisted upgrading on one of the brilliant deals around at the time because the slim didn’t have the Linux functionality and the ability to play PS2 games.  Even though I’ve used a few different variants of Linux for a couple of years now on my netbook, I’ve never actually got around to installing Linux on the PS3.

But now Sony have decided to remove the Linux functionality in a hammer to crack a nut attempt to stop game pirating.  This means that an advertised and documented feature (it’s in the hefty manual!) of the PS3 is being removed.  Something you’ve paid for being taken away.  That’s a bit like your car’s manufacturer coming into your garage and removing the sunroof from your car.  Sony do offer a choice not to download the update which borks Linux, but it’s not really a reasonable choice.  By avoiding the update you also lose access to the PlayStation Network (PSN) – which means no more online gaming, game upgrades and game patches, and a loss of online features and updates for blu-ray movies.  These are features I don’t want to lose.

This catch-22 situation is no choice, either way you go you’re going to lose functionality, and most punters are going to be forced to let Linux go.

So okay, I’ve never used the feature, but really this isn’t about the Linux.  It’s about a feature being removed from someone’s consumer product without the owner’s consent.  This is a poor way to treat customers.  I’ve lost all confidence in Sony, and won’t purchase any more games for their console.  Who’s to say that Sony won’t spring other such scumbag tricks on their customers in the future?  I’ve no motivation to purchase any of their PS3 related products if their usefulness can be taken away at a whim.  Successors to the PS3 (which is still an excellent entertainment and media system) will be treated with a healthy dose of cynicism.

It wouldn’t be too bad if Sony offered something useful to their customers in return, like expanded video codec compatibility or a choice of free movie downloads from the PSN movie store.

Given that the announced update is for April 1st, I’m really hoping that this is a joke, and that Sony aren’t out to screw me over.

In Bad Company

I was absent for a few days last week, first because the WordPress app for my phone decided to stop working and lose my drafts, and second because I spent part of Friday and Saturday playing the new EA game Battlefield: Bad Company 2.

The newest in the long line of Battlefield brand games, this one is as fun as its parents, although bringing little new to the Battlefield family and a bit too linear for those used to sandbox games.  The old feature of blowing holes in buildings and the landscape remains, slightly updated to allow you to totally demolish buildings.  You’ve got some bad guys holding out in a building?  No problem; you can bring the whole building down with a few well placed shells or explosive packs, similar to last year’s sci-fi shooter Red Faction: Guerilla.

Visually, the locations are pretty and colourful, avoiding the washed-out bleak style of much of the Modern Warfare games, and the landscape views are wide and distant, and in the jungle levels, lush.  The plot thread about a lost super-weapon from a 1940s Japanese research facility falling into the wrong hands keeps the interest, along with some snappy dialogue, but with a sadly predicable plot twist.

Fortunately, the old characters are back, minus an explanation of how they ended up back on the frontline; at the end of the last BC, they were rolling off into the sunset with a truck full of gold.  The characters still have a gritty bad-boy charm, and a few snipes at Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 litter the script (“those special forces with pussy ass heartbeat sensors on their guns”).

The other rare novel addition to the campaign is on one level in the Andes where your character has to contend not only with bad guys, but with the elements and avoid freezing to death.  The colder your man gets, the more frosted his vision becomes and the more he shakes, creating difficulties aiming.

Ultimately though, the offline campaign mode for BF: BC2, even on the hardest skill setting, is too easy.  Despite more accurate weapon ballistics creating some challenge, the enemy AI is a bit dim, and a regular shooter player can easily complete the game in much less than 10 hours.  If you don’t enjoy online gaming, the short gameplay time in BC2 will make the game extremely limiting, and definitely not a good value for money purchase, and campaign-only players are advised to rent instead.

The original PC BF game, Battlefield 1942, introduced the multi-vehicle multiplayer online shooter to the world, and like it’s BF forbears, the real fun of BC2 is found in the online play.  And here is where BC2 becomes more challenging than the last.  Rising through the online ranking system takes a lot more work, and you aren’t able to pick your weapon unlocks like the last game, instead featuring an unlock system where you need to complete player class challenges to unlock weapons for that class.  If you want the best sniper rifle, you’ve got to play hard as a sniper.  However, the flexibility in choosing your load-out from your class allows you to play according to your style and preferences.  This flexibility also allows you to change mid match, and possibly turn the direction of a battle.

Although the maps are big (but not as huge as BF1942 or BF2), the field of view seems a little narrower than CoD: MW2, making for some paranoia to keep checking behind you for some sneaky geezer after your dog-tags.  In BF2 you could specify maps to run without the vehicles, and I wish this mode was available in BC2, as it would add variety to the online gameplay, forcing players to apply different tactical styles to the same maps.

If you like online multiplayer shooters, Battlefield: Bad Company 2 is different enough to MW2 to justify spending your hard earned on, and just as much fun.

2010: Looking forward to

I don’t think world peace is coming anytime soon, but for a media monkey like me…

Films

The Road
The A-Team
Invictus
Alice in Wonderland
Iron Man 2
Tron: Legacy

Games

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 – Xbox 360
MAG – PS3

Gadgets

Xbox – Project Natal

Real motion gaming without wands.

iSlate/Win 7 tablet

The iSlate’s a rumour, the Win 7 tablet is a reality. What would you want with an e-book if you had a truely portable tablet – especially if it looks like a gadget from Star Trek?

iPhone 4

Rumours again – it’s an iPhone, but with likely a better camera.

Nokia N900

It’s not an iPhone, it has a real keyboard, 5Mp camera – and it runs a Linux-based OS. Okay, technically not a 2010 object of desire as it’s been out since December, but with it’s beefy specification which challenges some netbooks (and is essentially a mini tablet pc) I can see this one getting the geek vote in 2010.

2009: media favourites

A totally subjective list of my most enjoyed media in 2009…

Top five games

The Saboteur – Xbox 360

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 – Xbox 360

Battlefield 1943 – PS3 & Xbox 360 (download)

Singstar Queen – PS3

Operation Flashpoint – Xbox 360

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Top five films

Star Trek

Inglourious Basterds

The Hangover

Watchmen

District 9

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Top five TV

Fringe – Sky One

Lie to Me – Sky One

Day of the Triffids – BBC1

The Thick of It – BBC3

Mock the Week – BBC2

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Top 5 podcasts

SMODCAST

The Good Atheist

BBC Radio 4 Friday Night Comedy (The Now Show/News Quiz)

Adam & Joe (Radio 6 Music)

Reasonable Doubts