Archive for November, 2009

26
Nov
09

“No Russian” and CoD4 MW2’s story

Okay, so there’s lots of controversy (or perhaps there was lots of controversy) about the “No Russian” terrorist level of Modern Warfare 2. Some say it’s the most shocking thing games have ever done, others say it’s no big deal. I played through the whole game before writing this, and let me say I’m glad I did, because it completely changed my stance on the thing.

Because “No Russian” actually makes MORE sense out of context.

In case you don’t know, this level is early on in the game, where you play as a CIA infiltrator in a Russian terrorist cell, and you need to at the very least witness (and at the very most participate in) a group of terrorists shooting up an airport full of innocent people. Oh yeah, spoilers.

If you play just the one or two missions leading up to this one, No Russian is shocking, but effective. The great graphics and excellent sound design that I mentioned in the last post about this game heightens the effect to a pretty damn visceral level. It should have more credibility than something like the Grand Theft Auto, Manhunt, or Postal games, because the game makes no qualms about the fact that it’s putting you near bad people and that it will take part of your character’s soul, and it is ostensibly something that is being done for the greater good, whether you believe that’s okay or not.

The most shocking part, for me, was the ending, where the terrorist leader is about to make his triumphant escape and he spins around and unexpectedly shoots you, the player character, and leaves you bleeding to death at the scene. The level is called “No Russian” because they hide their nationality to frame the Americans for this attack. This single event drives the rest of the game, plus it makes the player character’s initial quest completely futile. What a great way to set up one of the game’s villains and kick off the story.

The rest of the game is damn goofy by comparison though.

Just a few levels later, you run through a bombed out Washington DC, complete with busted up White House and the Washington Monument missing large chunks. It becomes so ridiculous that it completely undermines the earlier terrorist level, making you feel like it was indeed just for shock value.

The game is short, and because of that, it feels like it’s stretching believability even more, with all the set pieces so close together. There is another double cross later in the game that more or less repeats the first one, and makes little to no sense by comparison.

“No Russian” should be a topic of discussion, but it shouldn’t be banned or anything of the sort. The game has no concept of how to handle it, but it does show us that games could be intellectually challenging if they knew how to handle themselves. Call of Duty 4 – Modern Warfare 2 is still worth playing though, just for the quick ride that it is.

But just expect a ride.

 

Loving the Craft : A short HP Lovecraft Review – “The Music Of Erich Zann”. FUCK YES this story rules. It’s very short, so I don’t want to spoil it much at all. The lightning fast plot pitch is this: a student goes to a weird apartment building, and his upstairs neighbor plays the strangest music that sounds like it’s almost not of this earth. This tale¬†doesn’t fit into any set of stories, in fact, it can be read completely separately from all of Lovecraft’s other works, and that is one of its strengths. It’s one of my favorite stories of his, and I recommend it to all. Enjoy!

25
Nov
09

Call of Duty 4 – Modern Warfare 2 – The Gameplay – The Blog post

Well, I was in Mexico for the launch of Modern Warfare 2, but I’ve played through the thing and it’s still within a month of the release, so I’m CURRENT for once!

We’ll talk about the game in this post and the controversial “No Russian” mission in another. Why? Because gameplay matters more, of course.

How’s it play? Quite well. The game follows much of the same format as the previous modern warfare game, but I’d argue it has a greater variety in the level design. Because you aren’t always playing as the same soldier, the game leaps around to all kinds of different locations, with many different styles of missions.

The sound design is particularly excellent. That’s not something I usually mention either. You’ll hear your teammates yell VERY specific things. Instead of “enemy to the east!”, you’ll hear “enemy behind that burger place!”. Seriously, it’s impressive. The AI is also quite good, for both AI and teammates.

The Call of Duty games have always done a good job of conveying a sense of chaos. With the aforementioned yelling and the explosions everywhere and several scripted events, they try really hard to give that cinematic feel. This is the type of thing that’s really cool for newcomers, but if you’ve seen previous games in the franchise, some of the gags might be a little old. The game repeats the “frantically running to a helicopter and JUUUMP” sequence at least twice, which is too bad, because the first modern warfare game had that at least twice as well.

They give you that “set piece” feel from time to time. One example is when you’re walking with your pals through a field and all of a sudden the game goes into slow motion as a bouncing betty flies up in your face and the words “press C to crouch” pop up on the screen like you’re some kind of fool. Some people will love those cinematic moments, others will find them really contrived.

The only real new innovation in the gameplay is breaching, where you set up a breaching charge against a door or wall, and then charge in and shoot things that are inexplicably in slow motion. I don’t know, I found these sequences pretty dumb, why is Call of Duty trying to be a John Woo movie?

My major complaint with the game is the checkpoints. The game saves whenever it feels like it, usually every couple minutes, so that you don’t complain if you’re no good. The thing is, I found myself in several “checkpoint traps”, where the game chose to save after I had been blinded by a flashbang, or seconds before an objective was about to be failed (maybe I’m no good). The game trying to hold your hand actually makes it worse, because you need to restart the level if you’re stuck in one of these situations.

We’ll talk about “No Russian” and the game’s story next time.

Loving the craft: A short H.P. Lovecraft Review – “The Unnamable”. This story is the second in the “Randolph Carter” series. I rather like this one. It leads the reader to the assumption that Randolph Carter is simply Lovecraft’s stand in for himself. Carter is a writer of Weird Fiction and he meets with another author to discuss their writing styles. His friend is critical of him using unknowable and indescribable evil in his stories, thinking that it’s a cop out… but of course, there’s a surprise waiting for him. This felt to me like Lovecraft giving the finger to some of his critics, but it made for a good story as well. It advances the Randolph Carter saga as well. Check it out, it’s a pretty good quick read.

19
Nov
09

Anno 1404 – aka Dawn of Discovery

I have a weakness for strategy games that involve bustling little communities. Stronghold has always been a favorite of mine, because you can watch one little piece of grain go through its entire production cycle from seed to flour to bread to some ungrateful peasant’s stomach. All the while, you can see the hunters with their little dogs, the jester entertaining the troops, and the priest blessing people.

Anno 1404 (known as Dawn of Discovery here in North America) has the requisite amount of bustle for me. You run a series of islands and port towns that you must grow and keep satisfied. You can almost never get everything to fulfill everyone’s needs on one island, so you must colonize several and set up elaborate trade routes with ships to make sure your production never fails.

This is really hard to grasp at first, but it is ultimately very satisfying. You can micromanage to the extreme if you want to, individually performing each and every shipping run manually, or you can set up routes that your ships will run once you’ve laid out the parameters. I do a mix of both, because I’m cool like that.

There’s a campaign mode, which is surprisingly slowly paced for the most part. It’s only 8 missions, but each one will take around 3 or 4 hours to complete. The game has other continuous play modes, where you can treat it like a sim game, as well as a few scenario modes that have different goals for the player to accomplish. This is exactly what I want in a strategy game. A building campaign mode, with self contained levels that slowly teach, with the option to play endlessly afterwards.

I found the first couple campaign levels to be really fun, but towards the end it started to bug me. The naval battles are quite simple and easy to manage, but the interface for moving around your ground forces is both initially hard to grasp and incredibly clunky. There are problems with objectives throughout the campaign as well, where the game gives you objectives, but doesn’t tell you how to achieve them, or refuses to give you objectives until you do something that isn’t clear, leading you to just blindly develop your city as you await direction.

There are also a few objectives that require skills that will outright bother some gamers. In one level you need to find spies in your city within a time limit, or else they will sabotage some part of your empire. You do this by zooming in and clicking on little spy guys in your bustling metropolis. I found it gimmicky and stupid, but others will find that level of “twitch gaming” completely unwelcome in their sophisticated city building game.

I enjoyed Dawn of Discovery quite a bit though. I recommend it to fans of the Tropico and Stronghold games particularly. Check it out if you wanna build a series of cities and trade routes, but you think Settlers of Catan is overrated.

Loving the Craft – A brief HP Lovecraft review: “The Statement of Randolph Carter”. I’m going to go back and cover the Randolph Carter stories leading up to “The Silver Key”, since I felt bad about starting with that one out of sequence. This is a quick little story that Lovecraft wrote quite early in his career. It feels like an early story, too. It’s simpler than most of his other work, with a kind of abrupt but unsurprising ending. You can see the foundations of his writing style here though, so I recommend it to fans.

06
Nov
09

New Mineshaft Feature : Loving the Craft

Well I’ve yet to top my (unimpressive) Robotron score from a while back, so I need an ongoing feature to keep me coming back to the mineshaft. In addition to the normal posts, I will be spending a paragraph or two at the bottom to explore an H.P. Lovecraft story, since I think in general he is a writer that is known of, but not known well enough outside of a few key stories.

Some of the stories might warrant a whole post, though I’m sure I can capture how I felt about one of his short stories in a little blurb at the end of a post, taking the place of the Robotron Diaries (unless I top my score). We’ll be kicking this off in style, with a story that helped renew my interest in this author : “The Silver Key.”

This story is the third in the series of Randolph Carter stories. It’s not completely necessary to read the other two first, but if you wanna be hardcore about it, go for it and read “The Statement of Randolph Carter” and “The Unnamable” first. True Lovecraft fans will point out that in terms of chronology there’s really another one you should read first, “The Dream Quest Of Unknown Kadath”, but i’ve found that reading them in the written order to be more enjoyable than the chronological order. Plus, these first three stories are much more manageable in size and complexity for those who want to start reading a bit of Lovecraft and don’t want to plunge into Unknown Kadath just yet.

Randolph Carter is one of Lovecraft’s few repeating characters. By this story, he is an old man who has “lost the key to the gate of dreams”. Like several of Lovecraft’s stories, it begins with almost an essay that sets up the mind of the main character before leading in to the story itself. Carter makes several attempts to understand the meaning of the world around him, but finds himself unsatisfied, so he must find a way to retreat back into his dreams from childhood.

The story is both very different from Lovecraft’s other works and very typical for him. It very carefully walks the line between the total cosmic and ghoulish hopelessness of his stories and a kind of childlike belief in the sheer power of dreams and fantasy. It’s almost like Peter Pan with a fog machine… I love it.

Supposedly when this story was published, it wasn’t a big hit. It doesn’t have any monsters or Elder Gods or cults, so maybe that’s why. I can see how it could be less memorable and perhaps less shocking than some other Lovecraft tales. Still, this story is incredible, especially when read in the context of the previous Randolph Carter stories.

I won’t completely spoil the ending, but it is neither completely uplifting nor a total downer, but it does set up a sequel of sorts. I haven’t had time for it yet, but I’m really excited to read it and feature it soon!