Friday, 27 June 2008

Call of Duty: World at War: An early warning

The internet has become ablaze in recent days with talk and speculation regarding Call of Duty 5. It seems that only very few CoD4 players out there are aware of the background behind the CoD series and are therefore mostly ripe for what I predict to be a harsh sting/reality check later in the year (game is set for a November 2008 release at time of writing).

I figure that the more coverage the truth gets, the more likely people may slowly start to realise the sad truth. I am doing this for the sake of the gamers' collective! Drop any notions of a true Call of Duty 5 release this year! Forget the rumours, hype, YouTube hysteria and forum activity. Sure, Call of Duty: World at War has been announced... but CoD5 this is most certainly not.

There are several reasons for this. The main one is that Infinity Ward, makers of CoD1, 2, and 4, have nothing to do with CoD:WaW. A few years ago, Activision signed a deal with Infinity Ward that gave them a 2 year allocation to make CoD games. However, Activision, being the publisher, wanted a yearly roll out of CoD titles so turned to a second dev team, Trayarch, to work on the alternate years' releases. We saw this with CoD3, a very poor game. It lacked the magic feel of Ward's CoD titles and was inferior to CoD2 in every way.

World at War is a Treyarch game. It is also another WW2 Treyarch game. This should be enough of a heads up for seasoned gamers. It will be a highly linear, highly scripted piece of cheesy, sentimental, tripe. The story will aim to please children and that magic feel of CoD4 will be absent. It is a roll out product, and it will be CoD3 with new locations. DO NOT FALL FOR THE HYPE. Stick with CoD4 for your CoD fix until the true, Infinity Ward, title hits in 2009.

K thx.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Battlefield: Bad Company - an initial reaction

Well, my 360 just Red Ring of Death'd me. I had it for well over a year so what should I expect!? With the UPS man due tomorrow, I can now look back on my game time with EA's Battlefield: Bad Company and ponder. I guess you could call this a pre-emptive review, but it's not my intention to judge or weigh up EA's new FPS title just yet. This is really just my reaction to the recent demo released for the Xbox 360 and PS3.

If you have read my earlier post regarding my anticipation for this game, amongst others, then you will know that this is a game that is right up my alley; being a semi-realistic sandbox
FPS war game. Battlefield games are a mixed bag though. I never got into 2142 (did anyone?) and was very unimpressed by the console port that was Battlefield 2: Modern Combat. However, I was in love with Battlefield 1942 back in the day and, to a lesser extent, the popular modification, Destert Combat. On the PC, Battlefield 2 (not being the port) was also very tight. I still say it lacked the magic and sheer fun of 1942 but was still very good all round. This was primarily down to its well implemented squad system, large maps, and that 'war on terror' feel to the combat zones.

The demo of
Bad Company leaves a lot to be desired. If I was in a bad mood, I would probably tell you how shoddy and downright inept the game is shaping up to be. However, I can identify certain positive factors that are large enough to conclude this game might have sparkles of promise. I stress might. Whether it turns out to be a mess or a masterpiece now depends entirely on what DICE and EA are going to do with the critical community demo feedback.

My reaction to the single player this game is going to offer is lukewarm. Based solely on the demo, my impression is that it is nothing more than a slightly superfluous training element for the online action. It is heavily scripted, which is not something any of us associate with
Battlefield games. It is more than just fighting bots, but it essentially feels like a sandbox game being awkwardly blended in with scripted event triggers (kind of like an example of the bad missions in Operation Flashpoint). There are no squad controls, no means to select your kit, and very limited tactical considerations. I stress though that this is solely a reaction to the demo's single player level. However, from experience, I know that demos are often very good indications of a final product.

So then, the multiplayer. This is clearly about 95% of what the fuss is all about. I guess
DICE just fancied their hand at story telling as something to do when not coding the online component. The bottom line is that there are many, many, issues with this game as it stands. I can tell that these are not 'demo' issues but integral problems with the design and mechanics of how Bad Company works. In other words, they won't get fixed in a few weeks. This worries me as many of these issues are major, make or break, hiccups.

Firstly, as it stands
BC has absolutely no clan support. Just to be clear about this I want to repeat that. It has absolutely no, none, zilch, zero, support for clans. There is nowhere to add a player tag, form a basic clan emblem, or even a way to organise private clan matches. This is because everything relies on the dedicated servers hosted by EA. The closest thing BC has to a party mode is the squad invite feature in the custom game menu. You can only have up to four players in a squad. So it isn't really a true party mode. You then often find yourself being split up when you join a game. This is because team balancing seems to trump your private squad's existence. This forced splitting up happens a lot. It essentially means that the squad invite system is about as effective as sending manual invites whilst in game.

The second major problem with
BC relates to this squad system. When you don't start up your own squad and join a match solo you will randomly be assigned to a squad and have no way of leaving it or joining another. This is ludicrous. It breaks BC like a stone coming at it from high above and crunching through its disc case. Players will often be unresponsive, loud and obnoxious (O RLY?), or just not the sort of folk you want to roll with. DICE don't seem to be able to comprehend the fact that humanity has just not reached that evolutionary point where we will, without fail, always manage to cooperate with our fellow man.

When in your randomly assigned squad you CANNOT communicate with anyone else on your team. There is no proximity voice system (which would have been perfect for this game), no way to talk globally, and no means to send any form of message out to players outside of your 4 man unit. Console games have always been hindered online by the fact they cannot incorporate a talk bar. However, many games now show us how voice chat should be done. With
Xbox Live titles, there is simply no excuse for a poor comms system. It actually undermines the entire platform and just makes you look back to those days when you were running around El Alamein with 63 other players, whilst chatting on Teamspeak to your clan and spamming the talkbar with insults directed towards the noobz.

The communications are broken in
BC as is the squad mechanic. These are crucial weaknesses that EA/DICE seem to think they can just disregard and hope will fade the more times they tell you this game has a gold rush mode in and is 'all about the gold bars'. The premise of BC is Kelly's Heroes. Yeah, we get that already. Move on.

What BC does well it does very well. The sound is some of the very best I've heard in a game. Gun fire exceeds expectation as it is cinematic. I often say that but it is truly the case with
BC. But then again, DICE have always done a marvellous job with sound. Back in 1942, I remember the first time I heard the 'pop' of a distant explosion after several seconds had passed since the flash on the horizon. In BC, shots echo brilliantly and are nice and loud. So many games fail to get this right - GTA IV is a good example actually.

The destructible environment is impressive and takes a while to get used to. However, it's not integral to the way battles play out online. It is also apparent that the destruction is more limited than many had hoped for. Tanks can't plough through buildings as 'titanium' frames keep the body intact at all times. Walls will crumble and doors will give way but you can't seem to level locations in that way you know everyone is geared up to do. I say f*ck the considerations that restrict the destruction. It would be awesome to see full blown, 100%, destructible maps.

The unlocking/stat system looks good. It probably isn't going to impress you with its innovation though. It's basic but in a way this is good. As you rank up you earn credits and use these to unlock weapons. What I like is the way you can use your first credit to unlock anything you want; meaning no long waits for that particular weapon/gadget you want to test out. Graphically,
BC is gorgeous but so are most FPS games these days. Gold rush mode plays out very well and the combat itself if decent and very much true to the Battlefield games of the past.

The sniping is top notch stuff and reminds me of classic PC titles of the past (Delta Force series essentially). However, the game lacks a prone position. You can crouch but can't hit the deck soldier style or combat roll. This is another serious problem with the game as it feels wrong, and therefore it is wrong. I've heard of no satisfactory reason why it's not in
BC and if it doesn't make the final code (or patched code) I will be very concerned. Any outdoor environment shooter needs prone. This is like a rule of thumb. Where there are hills and fields there must be the ability to lie down in the dirt. I don't care what anyone says, crouch is no substitute. Crouch is for quick cover, prone is for sniping and... yes camping. In Battlefield games, camping is as valid an option for player as rushing. So, prone is needed. End of discussion.

You get the impression when playing the
BC demo that the problem with so many games so far this year has been that they just don't stack up to Call of Duty 4. Like many, I think I'm now only just beginning to realise quite how much of an outstanding job Infinity Ward done with it. It stands out as the gold standard and, although not perfect, acts as a marker developers like DICE need to acknowledge and aim for.

If the final game hasn't satisfactorily addressed the issues I have covered then I won't personally be picking up
BC. To be honest, I know from experience how it tends to play out - particularly when EA are concerned. They won't be addressed and the forum-based feedback will be largely ignored. The final game will be for those who find it fun running around solo and give no credence to any need for customisation options, clan battles, teamwork or even just playing with friends hindrance free. Essentially, it will be a streamlined EA product designed with bucks in mind and little else. I guess in a few weeks we will find out for sure.