Saturday, April 26, 2008

Review: Call of Duty 4 (Part 2)

After falling head-over-heels for the solo campaign and messing with the "Arcade Mode" (don't bother, unless leaderboards are your thing), I went balls deep into the online multiplayer that has been lauded by so many people. Now, before I get to ripping it apart, know this: I got to level 44 because I enjoyed myself, not because I felt it was necessary for a good review. I spent over 48 hours playing the game, and I simply found a number of things that severely bothered me.

The first thing you'll notice is how terrible the game is for new players. They start off with the worst weapons and are then placed against players with more experience, more skill, and more unlockables (you'll learn to hate the P90 with the red-dot scope, don't doubt that). How can a big, successful game company like Infinity Ward miss something as basic as balanced matchmaking? Rhetorical, don't answer that.

And what's with the grenade indicator? It's wholly useless in multiplayer, and only slightly worse than it is in the single player. It doesn't indicate proximity to a grenade at all, and many times won't register a grenade at all before you die inexplicably. The grenades themselves are a bit overpowered, though the simulated mechanics seem realistic enough; maybe I'm just frustrated by getting eliminated from a Search & Destroy or Headquarters round by a grenade thrown completely at random. The flashbangs and stun grenades are pretty fun, especially when you stun yourself from around a corner but fail to stun the target because... the game hates you or something.

This brings me to my biggest peeve: hit detection. I've played a lot of FPSs online in my day, but CoD4 has some of the most inaccurate hit detection I've ever seen, for both bullets and grenades. From your screen, you may unload ten rounds into your target before they get that last bullet on you, and while the kill cam loads, you expect to see the assist points flash on your screen for doing so much damage to them; after watching the cam, however, you realize that the server didn't register more than a single bullet. Could it be lag? Maybe, but that makes the connection indicator more useless than the grenade indicator, as I've never been below 5 bars. It's also common to get yourself behind cover and continue to get pelted by bullets: many of the more powerful weapons can push through surfaces like glass or wood, but pistols should not go through sheet metal.

Wow, that feels good. Onto the things I liked.

The maps are incredibly well balanced. Choke points are frequent, but flanking is always an option; cover is never is short supply, but camping is no easy task (unless you place a claymore at the top of the single ladder leading to your spot... that's kinda broken, but not too hard to work around); each map has a unique character, but a strong sense of balance between close quarters and long range is found in all maps; the variety of game modes is sure to make any kind of player happy, regardless of style, skill, or experience. Personally, I feel these pros completely outweigh the list of cons, but I feel games are getting to the point where certain errors can no longer be tolerated.

Final Verdict:B+

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Review: Call of Duty 4 (Part 1)

Both Gamefly and TGR blessed me with a hailstorm of good titles that have kept me busy for the past week or so, and the first of which was the highly acclaimed Call of Duty 4. There may be a few plot spoilers below, so continue at your own risk.

As is tradition with me, I started with the single-player campaign. I wasn't expecting a whole lot, considering how I felt about the previous iterations and their own campaigns, but the first few missions played well. The plot certainly did little to keep me playing, but the first few kills were satisfying enough, if not sloppy on my part.

I love character stories, and I didn't realize CoD4's characters held any meaning to me until the death scene of the US Marine after the nuclear explosion and subsequent helicopter crash; I was stunned at the scene (the tiny bit of control they give while the character passes was powerful) and even more so at my reactions to it. I was more attached to Soap and his crew, so I pressed on earnestly.

I got a bit frustrated with the difficulty balance employed by Infinity Ward in the later levels: in a game where one or two bullets can end the player, do not force the player into a run-and-gun scenario. It wasn't challenging or fun. It was frustrating.

The last scene in the game really proved to me how subtly IW had connected me with the characters. After I looked at the clock and realized I had played the entire campaign in one sitting, I began agreeing with the numerous "Game of the Year" awards it won.

First Session:A

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Review: Burnout Paradise (Part 2)

I've gone through as much of the single player campaign as I can stomach since my first session, and I've only cleared 55% of the items Criterion piled in. That doesn't indicate a boring experience in any way; far from it, as I've had a very good time the whole way through.

After writing the first part of my review, I realized I had left a few things out regarding what the game offers. Burning Routes, a rather challenging and important part of the single-player experience, requires players to race a specific car in a solo event against the clock; winning the event unlocks an improved version of the car, usually with improved Boost capacity. These events in particular could use a quick-travel option, or even the option to "retry," as many take you from one end of Paradise to the other.

I also left the multi-player offering out as well, mostly because I stay out of multi-player matches until I've gone through the single-player campaign. If you own this game, and there aren't many good reasons for passing this game up if you enjoy arcade racers, it's likely that you've seen how well Criterion handled Burnout Paradise's entry into multi-player modes. Two presses of the D-pad can show you what your PSN friends are doing in the game, allow you to search for active games looking for players, track your rivals (players with which you have unanswered Takedowns, an awesome feature), check leaderboards, and host your own game. There are no loading screens to see when entering multi-player, aside from a miniscule pause in the on-screen action, no menus to navigate, and (best of all) no lobby's to vandalize while you wait for a match to start. Joining another player's game leaves you in Paradise City right where you left in single-player, and lets you drive around beating the other players' drifts and Boost chains while you wait for the host to start a race or other event. It's novel, really, and I'm thoroughly impressed with it on every level.

After playing the crap out of this game over several days, I've liked the game more and more. The small amount of time I've spent in multi-player has forced me to improve my original verdict, so expect to see me there a bit more often over the coming months. My hat goes off to Criterion and EA for this awesome title.

Final Verdict:B+

Friday, March 28, 2008

Review: Burnout Paradise (Part 1)

During GDC, Derek Andersen and the rest of the marketing team at EA Redwood gifted me with a copy of Burnout Paradise. I'm terrible at taking care of my controllers (my expenses speak volumes on the subject), and until last night, I had resigned myself to playing my PS3 with the only controller left standing - my first PS1 controller.

Yes, if you bought the USB adapter, they work... to a certain degree. Warhawk plays like a dream, as does Super Stardust HD, but the shoulder buttons don't register in Oblivion. Worse yet, the controller doesn't work at all with Burnout Paradise, and so it took me quite a while to scrape together enough money to get a new PS3 controller; I'll do a quick write-up of the Gamestop controller I ended up getting, it's really great.

The changes Criterion made since 'Revenge' are sizable. Gone are the menus and the forced entry into events to continue with the game, replaced by an enormous open-world map with which players interact to progress through the game. Events are placed at intersections around the map, so while it's a bit more tedious to rinse-repeat a tough event, the game no longer limits your freedom; perhaps a menu overlay would be better in future iterations, to expedite the process of clearing events if people chose to use it.

The game also offers excellent exploration game-play, something wholly absent from the previous titles. You'll still find the familiar yellow chain-link throughout the game world, with added persistence and a running tally of how many you've broken through. There are also a large number of Burnout billboards that can be destroyed, "super jumps" to clear, and a number of gas stations (to instantly replenish Boost), repair shops (to fix durability), paint shops (to pimp your ride), and junk yards (to change cars). Allowing for quick travel to these specialty locations would have been nice, too.

There are four major event types: races, stunt runs, "Road Rage," and "Marked Man." The first two should be familiar to vets, and Road Rage certainly isn't something vastly different. Marked Man simply requires you to go from point A to point B without totaling your car (the number of times you can wreck before a total depends on the car). The persistent world does wonders in making these events stay fresh through multiple attempts.

It's much easier to wreck in this game, especially with the speed- and stunt-class vehicles. Repeated traffic checking used to be a great way to keep your boost filled through a crowded street, but even the toughest cars will wreck if an NPC vehicle so much as creates wake too close to your vehicle. The world has much more collision-enabled detail, so be prepared to see the long (and awesomely so, I might add, until you've seen three in quick succession) crash sequences frequently. Mirror's Edge, an upcoming first-person platformer from EA DICE, uses a system to highlight important on-screen features (like ledges and ladders), and I can't help but think a game as fast-paced as Burnout could use a handicap like that for the minute pillars that can ruin a race for you.

So far, I'm incredibly impressed with Criterion's additions to the franchise and can't wait to get more play time in.

First Session:B

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


It's late, so I'll keep this short:

After many sleepless nights, Katie and I are finally free of the House of Burning Out and have finished out move to the Peninsula. The situation we've left with our former landlord still leaves me uneasy, but I can already feel the stress transferring to healthier (or at least more manageable) regions.

The move isn't helping my incessant lack of focus. My first major deadline at TGR is coming up this Friday, when we plan to unveil the "Behind the Games" section of the publication; I'm designing the new page, as well as adding a new window to the main page. That leaves me two days to test the stuff and get it ready for implementation on Friday, and while my gut says it shouldn't take more than a few solid hours to get it working properly and ready for traffic, my memory reminds me of how I tend to under- (and over-) estimate the difficulty of projects.

It also doesn't help that my office has been reduced in size and brought down onto the floor of our new room. I can't find a viable comfort position, and while I continually shift my long legs around looking for one, my mind seems to prefer aimless Intarweb exploration to real work. Maybe that tea Katie suggested will get it under control a bit more. Or maybe I just need to stop making excuses and get to work.