Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

Well, I certainly didn't see this coming. Call of Duty 4, a legitimate contender for shooter of the year? If you'd told me that after I played the demo, I'd have laughed you out of the house. Partly because the level they have you playing is boring, and partly because I didn't much feel like playing a US marine in an ambiguous Middle Eastern country* killing ethnic ruffians given the current state of Mess-o-potamia.

Turns out the demo level is probably the worst in the game, and when taken in the context of the whole game it's not even close to being some horrible rah-rah-rah rubbish. In fact, if you're looking for political commentary in the story, you'd have to conclude that the chaps at Infinity Ward aren't very big fans of the current US foreign policy. Go figure.

The Call of Duty games adhere to the rollercoaster style of game design: the designers craft the levels with a certain path in mind, and by golly, you're going to follow it whether you want to or not. Obvious upside: the designers know where you're going to be, and can craft spetacular set pieces. Equally obvious downside: it can be horribly transparent and immersion-breaking when done badly. It doesn't work here all the time; there's bits where you get bogged down, and the fact that they're constantly spawning enemies at you until you've progressed past a certain point becomes painfully obvious. But when it works, it delivers some of the most powerful moments in gaming in a long time.

There's a level where you play as a gunner in an AC-130 gunship, covering the SAS squad you follow during the majority of the game. You hover over the battlefield and eradicate white dot after white dot on a thermal image, a laconic crewmember calmly calling out targets and commenting on your kills. It could've just as easily been footage from any current war. The effect is just chilling, which is an extraordinary thing for a game to accomplish. Then there's their take on the now so common tram-ride in the title sequence, the end of the US marine part of the story, and a flashback mission set in Chernobyl that were equally jaw-dropping. And there's a really clever thing they do with the tutorial, and a sinking ship and...well, you get the picture.

It's over pretty quickly, around six hours if you're a competent fps gamer, but it's a mostly brilliant six hours of sensory overload, filled with big wow moments. Shooter of the year? Not quite, but you can certainly make a decent case for it.

*Saudia Arabia, unless my map-reading skills have gone to hell. Honestly, why be all coy about it when you're zooming around maps with easily identifyable landmarks in the briefing movies?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Works out in the health spa, muscles glow... (with bloom)

So I bought new computer recently, and a fairly beefy one at that. A necessary step, or so I tell myself. The old one was getting pretty rickety, and that the new one lets me play all but the most piggish games at 1600x1200 with all the bells and whistles turned on is just an unintended bonus, right? Games like Gears of War, the first to really showcase the xbox 360:s hardware recently made its way to the PC. Pretty sweet.

Except for the fact that they put all that hardware and tecnical prowess to the most hideous use imaginable. Here's a quick question: Which of the following two images is more attractive one? This blockbuster next-gen game...

...or this last generation title that didn't sell nearly as much as it should have?

No, the question is not which one has more pixel shaders firing or bumpmapping or whatever technical wizardy, but which one is prettier. If you voted for the one with actual colours in it, congratulations, you win!

In other words, Gears of War looks like shit.

Now, war is hell and ugly subject matters should look ugly and all that, but Jesus. You'd think they'd let something a little bit vibrant into the palette at some point. Even the blood's so dark it's black.

And it's not just that I don't care for the art direction at all, sometimes that monochrome sludge becomes an impediment to the gameplay as well. It takes you some split seconds longer to see if that's one of your fellow impossibly-muscled-and-manly soldiers, or an evil Locust grunt you're about to blow to smithereens. True, the targeting reticule changes colour over enemies, but given that Gears makes an effort to minimize the HUD in other parts, it's ridiculous that you'd be forced to rely on it for something as basic as this.

It's a real shame, because otherwise Gears does some pretty nifty things. I really like the way the camera dips down and narrows the view when you're running, lobbing grenades is wonderfully precise, and even something as basic as reloading your weapon has been tweaked to add a more strategic element to it. But the fact remains that everytime I load it up, the endless Grimness and humourless (ok, so there's plenty of unintentional laughs to be found) macho bullshit makes me want to play something with puppies and hugs and rainbows instead.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


Grindhouse, if you weren't aware, is Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino's homage to trashy 70's explotation flicks.

Rodriguez' Planet Terror is schlocky in all the right ways, full of gore and bad zombie effects, features an insanely sexy one-legged Rose McGowan rocket-jumping and other bits of z-grade awesomeness. You know if you like this sort of thing, and if you do, odds are you'll love Planet Terror. Plus, Michael Biehn! Awesome.

Death Proof is a fairly fun ten-minute car chase preceded by over an hour and a half of ceaseless, inane jabbering. Now, Tarantino has a way of making the most mundane bullshit sound profound, but a) this requires good actors, and b) this is the most self-indulgent, tedious crap he's penned so far.

It did shit business when it was released as a double feature in the US, so it got split up into two different movies for Europe. This is both good and bad. Bad, because Death Proof got longer. Good, because now you can avoid it altogether. Huzzah!