Posts Tagged ‘Modern Warfare 2’

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With trepidation I hesitate to admit that I’ve racked up an unhealthy 13 days on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2‘s multiplayer. Though this is likely to figure me as a target of ridicule (from Battlefield fanboy’s and the general populace alike), I still play it now. MW2’s multiplayer is wonderfully addictive; the varied maps are pleasantly spread across long and short range maps, they’re well designed and perfectly suited for facst-paced shooting action. It was flawless…. well, Commando aside.

With this is mind, I pre-ordered the Elite edition of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, eager to get my hands on what I entirely expected to be the next big waste of my life. It sold for a pricey £90, but knowing that it included access to all three DLC drops (all of which I purchased for Modern Warfare 2) and a yearly subscription to the Call of Duty Elite service, my fears were suitably assuaged.

How wrong I was.

So far I’ve racked up a measly 20 hours, my FPS addiction preferably satiated by the superior Battlefield 3. So where did it all go wrong?

Experimentation is the key. Rarely do I chastise a franchise for experimenting with a system that, let’s be honest, is a little stale. However, when reinventing a series that is so well-established, and loved, it’s vital to ensure that developers inject some new life whilst maintaining the key features that initiated success in the first place. This is where Activision let the ball, rather the grenade, drop.

For me it comes down to two key failings:

– General game design, and

– A misguided attempt to mimic the market opponent Battlefield.

Essentially, maps are poorly designed. The selection is far too limited, tailored singularly for close combat. Yet conversely, Activision have implemented new features that are more suited to the team-based range warfare of titles like Battlefield 3. The addition of a three tier Strike Package – formerly known as Killstreak Rewards – only serves to confuse a game that was celebrated for its simplicity. Whilst Modern Warfare 2 plainly offered offensive rewards for an achieved killstreak (including the likes of Predator Missiles, Sentry Guns and Pave Lows, now found in the Assault Strike Package), players now have the option of instead selecting from the Support or Specialist Strike Packages. Though this innovation is fresh and affords the player further specialisation of classes, what’s included is disappointingly redundant.

As you’ve guessed, the Support Strike Package is more defensive, targeted towards the benefit of your team including the likes of Ballistic Vests, EMPs and Recon Drones. The issue is that Call of Duty is NOT a team game. While inevitably the prospect of success is entirely subject to the joint efforts of each player in your team, there is no tangible team unity. You don’t cover comrades with suppressing fire, you don’t strategise plays, and you don’t work together –  beyond the vague direction that you are all shooting the same people. This makes these types of killstreak rewards entirely useless. I mean, who is going to choose an EMP instead of an Osprey Gunner?

And no, that’s not some kind of bourgeois hawk hunt.

At its core, Modern Warfare is a solo game. Yes, you are working towards team success in the long run, but when you earn a killstreak you are undoubtedly going to use it for your own benefit, that is to say, to extend your killstreak. This will take the form of Assault Package rewards like the AC130, rather than supporting your team with armour. What matters in COD is coming top, performing the best (KDR), regardless of whether your team wins or not. Tragically, this has been witnessed throughout Modern Warfare‘s online experience, with many players choosing to play strategy game types (like Domination or Sabotage) simply to achieve high kill ratios rather than working together to effectively execute the mission. It’s a one man army, this forming a primary reason why my loyalties have shifted towards EA’s uber shooter.

I will admit that the Specialist Strike Package, offering additional perks as you obtain uninterrupted kills, is a nice touch especially for those with a dedicated understanding of Modern Warfare‘s Perk system and how it impacts the game. However, unlocking a perk that slightly improves your aim or speed (until you die – unlike the other killstreak tiers) hardly compares to the immediate gratification of an enhanced kill ratio at the click of a button. It’s certainly interesting, but weighing up the potential benefit, the Assault Strike Package will always win.

There’s more though….

Some of the more quirky game types like Gun Game and One in the Chamber have been directly ripped from Black Ops, placed into a mixed server called FFA Gunplay which also includes the new All or Nothing. This manoeuvre in itself can be infuriating; after all, the three game types are so different and you may only be interested in playing one of them. I myself have a particular penchant for One in the Chamber, highly reminiscent of Golden Gun matches from Goldeneye 64. Black Ops managed to provide them all as single game lobbies so why is there the need to create a mixed lot Activision?

The biggest issue I have with these game types though is a product of the game’s general flaws. They’re unbalanced, infuriating and simply not fun. The maps are often too small and enclosed to provide suitable combat grounds for these particular game types, especially noticeable in Gun Game. Worse still, the idiotic lack of varied spawn points results in ridiculous respawn traffic, whereby you often find yourself appearing round a corner from an opponent or even directly in front of them. Clearly this is hazardous during one hit kill games. Whenever you respawn it becomes entirely necessary for the player to immediately check behind them which only leaves them vulnerable to attack from the front.

As a result of these significant failings, Modern Warfare 3 promotes a single strategy: Turtle Beach camping. With spawn points being haphazard and illogical, it makes little sense to sprint around the map awaiting inevitable death from behind. Instead you will find many people camping in a corner to ensure their posterior is free from spawn kills whilst keeping a wary eye in front of them. The additional use of a Turtle Beach headset enables the player to hear exactly what direction enemies are arriving from.

As you can imagine, this makes for a tedious online experience.

So twenty hours and £90 down. The verdict? Stick with Modern Warfare 2, you won’t be disappointed.

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As entertainment industries go, it’s disparagingly easy to see how often the newest genre on the scene is being entirely milked dry. This can be witnessed across the board, in music, film, television, literature, and perhaps most prominently, in gaming.

Gaming trends are frequent: Check out the number of world war FPS’s, or the excessive amount of interactive fitness games. It’s not just genre that is the issue though, it’s also plot lines and game mechanics.

Bloodied screens for damage, regenerating health (bleed outs), bullet time, inactive AI team mates, all have their place when implemented correctly (ok, maybe not that last one. Bloody useless blindfiring bastards), but all are far too common in games of late. However, the thing that really grinds my gears at present is the use of QTE.

QTE, or Quick Time Event, if you have no idea what I’m referring to, is the use of on screen button prompts to trigger immediate character responses that are perhaps more technical or cinematic than is possible within the standard control system. See below for an example:

With relatively recent innovations in interactive tech, button prompts have sometimes been updated with particular controller motions, such as those witnessed in the Wii zombie port Resident Evil 4. Success at pressing the correct buttons in a limited amount of time determines how the game progresses. This can include a variety of alternating consequences, such as simple fail-repeat scenarios or actually changing the narrative direction of the game – see Heavy Rain as a significant example.

It has been suggested that the term QTE is originally attributed to Yu Suzuki, the Japanese game director behind the cult success that was Shenmue. Apart from 1980’s interactive movie laserdisc games like Cliffhanger and Dragon’s Lair, Shenmue is viewed as one of the original QTE titles, integrating the gaming mechanic to acclaimed success.

Though QTE has received mixed reviews (primarily because gamers feel that it breaks the fluidity of action games somewhat, becoming tedious and repetitious, especially when failing to input the correct action in time has no impact upon the narrative), Shenmue was highly praised for its implementation. Originally the first title of a planned 12 instalment series, Shenmue used QTE seamlessly during cinematic interactive cut scenes – not to mention the amazing arcade style mini games. Not only did this avoid the necessity of extended loading times, but added an exciting, suspenseful element to scenes predominantly marked by dialogue.

"I love these..."

Each section was remarkably varied, using QTE to different effect, whether it be combat, defence or a classic chase. Importantly, many scenes were not built into the structured narrative of the game, instead triggered at particular locations at certain times. They can be missed entirely when completing the game or, if failed, will not affect the overall story arc – but will certainly mean that the user misses an interesting consequence or dialogue which cannot then be achieved without turning the game off! This ensured that each occasion felt like a reward, heightening the pressure and therefore excitement of completing it successfully on the first attempt. I can’t tell you how many times, with the intent of a completionist, that I’ve wanted to turn off the game because I failed a QTE, soon realising that it’s an impossibility because I saved it two painstaking hours ago, and I finally got that illusive Super Sonic toy!

'A' for 'Actually exciting'.

The most significant reason behind the success of Shenmue’s QTE is that it did not govern or conclude the combat system. Whereas certain titles these days use QTE’s as a method of finishing boss battles, which feel entirely like a cop out, rendering the difficulty and intensity of the final conflict null and void (honourable mention to God of War 3 for the battle with Zeus), Shenmue used the game mechanic as an entertaining, heart-racing addition. General combat within the game was still completely free, allowing the player to input whatever commands they choose, to enact moves from a large list. Instead of hampering combat, reducing strategy to nothing more than rapid hand-eye co-ordination, it formed a secondary battle system, one which provided light relief from the more user-controlled structure. I mean, imagine if that epic [SPOILER] 70 man battle required the use of QTE, it would be pathetic!

The real issue I have now is that most uses of QTE in games seem ill-thought and hurriedly implemented. They bring no excitement to the game, wholly breaking the feeling of fluidity and autonomy.

Games like Resi 4 on the Wii, did make some positive use of it; I don’t think it had the impact of Shenmue but certainly added some excitement to those lengthy cut scenes, especially as they were included so sparingly as a sporadic surprise – how’s that for alliteration Fluffrick. Beyond this title though, I have seen very little in the way of successful implementation. It was fine during the general combat of God of War 3, in performing execution moves to destroy enemies which would also provide the user with additional life or magic power ups, but entirely ruined boss battles (I know what you’re thinking and I entirely agree – apart from when it sees the protagonist Kratos pummeling the face of a muscle-bound Hercules until it resembles some kind of archaic, decorative bowl). Heavy Rain finally saw a game where failure of QTE was met with an alternative path in the story arc, yet somewhat milked it with a re-release using Playstation Move.

Bet he has a horrible headache.

The biggest offenders of late though have to be Battlefield 3 and Modern Warfare 3. Both of these eagerly-anticipated FPS sequels adopted QTE for particular scenes of the game. Though there was obviously a positive intention of using the mechanic to enhance gameplay by allowing users to perform moves unimaginable in standard FPS’s, conversely they have only really distanced the gamer more.

Personally, I think that the problem is intrinsic to the genre. First Person Shooters are entirely built around the principle that the gamer must feel in control. The camera view enables the user to see what the character sees; extended access to their gaze provides a feeling of vicariousness – we are in the game (well, as much as possible without the use of interactive technology). This feeling is bolstered by detailed control systems that allow us to sprint, jump over obstacles and, in some cases – Black Ops – even dive. We are in complete control, often literally in the driving seat. Yet this directly opposes the very nature of QTE. Although it does enable increased interactivity in scenes that are ordinarily just viewable, also giving the sense that the user has performed a move otherwise impossible in the game, there is an unavoidable, diametrically-opposed sense of restriction that accompanies it. Being forced to press a particular button in a small space of time feels very limiting which inherently damages the autonomy that FPS’s attempt to inject.

This is particularly bad in the Modern Warfare series, where impactful, cinematic endings have seen a significant transition:


 
Notice the change with each iteration:

Full user control (in a moment that felt like something out of Point Break) > Simple addition of QTE but maintaining player controlled aiming > Entirely QTE. What can we expect next time, ‘Press A to win’?!

The Modern Warfare series encapsulates what is wrong with contemporary uses of QTE. It seems lazy and unimaginative, and while attempting to give the illusion of increased user control, conversely it is dramatically removing it. Much like the final battle in God of War 3, mentioned above, gamers want to feel like they have had a significant impact upon the ending of a game, but unfortunately that feeling is being severely damaged, if not entirely removed. And before you COD fanboys start getting on my case, Battlefield doesn’t escape criticism either. Battlefield 3 saw recurring moments that required some ineffectual and uninspiring uses of QTE, to melee combat with an enemy for example, in the first level. It’s these additions which damage the name of what can be an extremely interesting and, more importantly, entertaining game mechanic.

Clearly the industry is set on course for full immersion. From 5.1 surround sound to continually updated photo-realistic graphics, we are being enveloped by the games we play more and more. Patently, user interactivity is the primary method of immersing consumers into the media they buy, look at the recent tech innovation of Augmented Reality. Yet, developers must stop and think before they adopt a game mechanic simply because it has become a staple addition to the genre – if it brings very little in the way of heightened user experience, or can even potentially damage it, then it must be reconsidered.

Time to set up my Dreamcast and play Shenmue again.

“Ma’am please stop calling me suede-headed, baby boy Ryo”.

“I’ll think about it”… Ahh memories.

Sex is always going to be an area of contention in mass media entertainment, whether it be cinema, television or video-gaming. A significant reason accounting for this is just how accessible everything is these days. Despite a growth in 1984-esque parental controls on most modern technological appliances, it’s clear that they are not enough to solve the problem. Sex permeates throughout modern Western society, used for advertising anything from the new Lynx fragrance to the latest Burger King sub.

THIS IS REAL!

It’s  constantly on television – usually on BBC3 in one of their God-awful comedies or ‘Bizarre Penis Shapes’ documentaries – and in films, making restricting access increasingly difficult. The problem is worsened with the inclusion of sex in videogames.

Today in a discussion with Ken Levine, the creator of Bioshock, it was revealed that he feels, for the time being at least, that sex is not a suitable subject matter for the gaming industry.

When questioned about the visual representations of sex in videogames he described that perhaps the biggest problem is not the level of user interaction, as many would suggest, but the actual content. He suggests that it’s so far removed from the emotions and physicality of actual sex that it simply does not fit – whether the Alan Titchmarshes of the world would agree or not.

“I think it’s not about being interactive. I think it’s more about people not understanding what it is. If you think about the amount of, for example, nudity in a videogame… it’s not even nudity. It’s a puppet with its clothes off.” This he said, making an interesting, and not wholly inaccurate, reference to the ridiculous sex scene in the spoof-puppet film Team America, “the sex scene in Team America as opposed to, you know, the sex scene in Black Swan”.

He also noted that there are other problems, essentially because “It’s kind of silly in videogames right now”. This is entirely true. Think of sex in videogames; apart from the odd more realistic representation, like those present in Mass Effect, the depictions are completely laughable, and deliberately so – much like Team America. For example, the audio QTE sex-scene in God of War; although somewhat childish, you can’t help but smile as you tap X, producing a wild scream of ‘Kraaatoosssss’. It’s a comical element producing a similar reaction, nothing base or even overtly sexualised. The very fact that you can simply tap a button to enhance some sexual vocals is funny in and of itself. Similar representations can be witnessed in Fable 2, very much an audio scene set against a black screen, or the Sims ‘woohoo’-ing beneath a bed sheet. And who could forget the infamous FPS tea-bag? Wait, scrap that.

Couldn't get it up - Add to wish list.

But how would a developer aim to rectify this criticism? In the current climate, political correctness in abundance, it is extremely difficult to represent anything considered taboo or immoral in games. Doing so may well harm the business potential of a release with the guaranteed outrage that is to follow – or perhaps it would increase it; there are various reasons why Modern Warfare 2 was one of the biggest selling games of 2010. Perhaps one of the key changes that needs to take place involves the consumer perception of the industry. Levine comments on this also: “The perception of the industry is that we’re making toys or something, as opposed to making creative expressions for a range of audiences – including adults. I think there’s still some prudishness.” Before games are able to represent sex in the most effective way, perhaps there needs to be a significant shift in society itself.

On top of creating visually realistic scenes, a further issue is that of narrative significance. It is not acceptable simply to thrust a sex-scene into a game for the sake of it. It must drive the plot, acting as a catalyst, or at very least enhance the representation of characters and relationships in game. Without this weight of authority, the scene becomes nothing more than a cheap attempt at drawing in a male teen audience.

In an industry that continually attempts to deliver the most realistic, the most accurate visual portrayals, but is so incessantly criticised for doing so, is there ever likely to be any real degree of change from the status quo regarding sex. For the near future at least, it does not seem so.