A Very Modern War

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Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last year you’ll have heard of a small game that was released this month called

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

Well along with several million other people I once again succumbed to the lure of the technological battlefield created by the bods over at Infinity Ward, heck I even took the day off work to properly savour the experience, and what an experience it is !

The game has been split into 3 sections this time, Campaign for the single player, Multiplayer which is pretty self-explanatory and finally the new member to the party Spec-Ops which is a series of missions that you can either play on your own or in co-op with a friend.

Before I dive into the gameplay let’s get the obvious out of the way … graphically this game is stunning, doesn’t matter if you’re looking at it on a 28” unit or a 60” monster. It’s crisp and detailed in all the right places from the grips on the weapons to the stubble on the characters chins. The only criticism I’ll give to the visuals is the inclusion of what I’ve nicknamed “the jam filter” whenever you take any damage during the course of your mission. As soon as you start sustaining damage from the enemy you find your screen getting covered in what I suppose is supposed to simulate blood, but to me looks more like someone’s thrown a jar of strawberry jam at me. As I said though that’s only a minor thing.

On to the gameplay itself as after all this is the bread and butter of any game. First off the single player or “Campaign”

The previous Modern Warfare title had a selection of set piece missions bouncing you all around the globe and playing “through the eyes” of several characters and this is no different in that respect, in fact your CO during several portions of the game is one of the characters you were playing in the first game.

Although the set pieces aren’t the longest of things, indeed the entire campaign mode will probably take the average person about 6 hours to complete, they are deep and rich in the experience they provide. They draw you into the action taking place onscreen, whether it’s navigating a perilously thin mountain ledge to assaulting an oil rig you never feel that the pace is wrong or they could have switched it up or down a gear.

In places it does get very frantic and you’re left wondering where on earth you’re taking fire from, but this fits with the situations that you’re dropped into, after all when the chips are down in a real fire fight I don’t think the enemy has a lovely red name tag hovering above their head screaming “I’m over here shoot me !!”

Overall the campaign may be short to run through but it still feels rewarding. The story being laid out through each of the instances is interesting and seeing how it develops in front of you is fantastic. Those who haven’t completed the first game would do well to run through it before this as it does follow on (and the flashbacks during the opening “credits” of the game will remind those who have of some of the better moments in that one) but I’m going to leave it there before I say anything that can be considered a spoiler.

Now on to the Spec-Ops … These days it seems that the buzzword amongst game developers is “co-op”, most of the big name titles that hit the shelves contain a co-op mode of some description. For Modern Warfare 2 this takes the form of some of the areas/instances from the campaign being laid out before you in several levels (Alpha,Bravo,Charlie,Delta and Echo).

In each of the sections you’ll find missions to be performed to certain parameters, for example within a set time, so that you can earn stars and unlock more of the levels. Unlike other co-op modes if you don’t fancy being sociable you can actually play through these challenges on your own, but I’d recommend buddying up with a friend so you’ve got someone watching your back. This is a pleasant addition to the Modern Warfare experience and is great for those that find the competitive and sometimes bewildering multiplayer a bit much for them. There’s plenty of variety in the missions offered and there’s a certain amount of replay in that it’ll have you coming back trying to get those harder stars.

But most of you out there are only after this for one thing and one thing only, which is a shame because the other 2 modes shouldn’t be ignored and if you do you’re doing a disservice to Infinity Ward, that thing is the Multiplayer …

This is where the previous game seemed to step up to the plate and utter a challenge that few FPS’s have been able to match since. With it’s range of perks, kill streak rewards and the design of the maps it fast became the multiplayer game of choice for a very large number of console warriors. And this second incarnation picks up that baton and carries on at the same pace set by the first one.

When you set foot into the multiplayer arena for the first time you’ll be greeted by a vast array of options and kit load outs that are greyed out and inaccessible, this is pretty much the same as the first game but with a few tweeks here and there. Most of the game modes themselves are actually included in this too, and this is where the multiplayer has hooked me, the challenges.

For each weapon,perk and kill streak there are challenges. Each completed challenge unlocks something, be it an add-on for your favourite weapon or an added bonus to a perk and all of it counts towards your ever advancing rank in the online world. It reminds me of a crude form of RPG, you’re asked to perform certain tasks and then rewarded with weapons and possibly a level boost to your “character”. Eventually you find yourself looking through the challenges thinking “just one more match and I can unlock that feature or weapon attachment” instead of “who’s got the highest kill ratio” which is still there in the leaderboard section for those that care. The shear number of things to unlock in this fashion is mind-numbing and will have completionists locked away for a long time trying to work their way through it all.

My main gripe with the multiplayer (and it was a gripe I had with the first one as well) is the matchmaking.

In both games they’re supposed to offer matchmaking so you’re always playing with people of the same skill level, well so far in my experience it appears to be a random pot luck affair. Now that may sound like nothing but when you’re a level 3 player being thrown into a death match with a bunch of level 20+ people with all the gear unlocks and perks to go with it it can be a very death heavy and un-enjoyable experience but hopefully their matchmaking will improve as time goes on.

I can see this becoming “the” multiplayer FPS of choice for the vast majority of the gaming world (until the decide to make a Modern Warfare 3 that is …) for a very very long time.

All in all was it worthy of the hype that it received, I think yes. It’s a solid game in both presentation and content and it’ll stand the test of time … but before I draw a line under this and head back to the battlefields I feel I have to touch on something, and that’s a certain mission section involving an airport that was thrust into the limelight by the news people and various groups.

This is mildly spoiler-ish in content so if you haven’t played it and are planning to play the single player campaign then I suggest you head off and do so now …… are they all gone ? Good … on for the rest of us it is.

This particular mission has you taking the role of a deep-cover operative who’s infiltrated a terrorist cell and been ordered to “do whatever it takes” to maintain your cover. Cue the start of your mission, you find yourself in the airport in question with several dubious looking people all armed to the teeth, and with a word from the lead man they all open fire on the innocent people going about their business. At this point it should be noted that you don’t have to play this section of the game if you don’t want to and also that this title carries an 18 certificate  so no worrying about what kids would think, they shouldn’t be playing this in the first place !!

Slowly and methodically your crew walks through the airport terminal dispatching all in front of them be they innocent civilians or police trying to stop you, it’s your choice whether you open fire with your weapon in the terminal itself. You don’t have to, you’ll still make it outside to be confronted by the usual armed resistance trying to stop your escape, but it’s the section before this that people are objecting too. From the context of the story, I don’t see any difference between this and any of several movies that share the same theme, for those that have said that it can be used to train people for this sort of atrocity exactly what are you on ?

There are far more damaging things out there in the world than a videogame …. yes it’s an intense and to some harrowing section of the game but it’s an adult game with adult themes that hopefully adults can deal with in an adult manner, do you see what I’m getting at here ? 

Rant over ….

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is a fantastic package, if you haven’t bought it yet you should. You won’t be disappointed with it …

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Raiders of the Lost Block

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So last week saw the release of the latest in Travellers Tales Lego inspired game …. Lego Indiana Jones – The Original Adventures

Previously they’ve turned out highly enjoyable recreations of the Star Wars universe, with both humorous takes on classic scenes and engaging game play for kids of all ages. So there were high hopes for this one.

And they haven’t disappointed ….

If you’ve played any of the previous Star Wars Lego games you’ll know what to expect in the graphics department. The only thing they’ve done here is change the setting to match those of the 3 original Indy movies (no Kingdom of the Crystal Skull nonsense here). The cut scenes again take memorable/key scenes from the movies and render them in “3D block-o-vision” and inject the humour that was found in the Star Wars games.
The Lego versions of Indy and Co. are pretty good and you’ll be able to tell which character is which quite easily. The scenery is detailed and well thought out as well. It’s the little graphical touches that’ll make you smile thought .. Indy’s whip, for example, is a lego piece complete with a connector on the end.

The audio is good too …. You’ll be spotting segments of the movie scores throughout the game, normally at crucial/dramatic moments. As with the Star Wars games there’s no voice acting for the characters at all (well you try moving your mouth when your heads made from plastic) but given the expressions that are painted across their faces you won’t miss it. The audio fits in well without it overpowering the sound effects associated with what’s going on on screen.

So we’ve established that the look and sound of the game is pretty much what you’d expected when you picked up the game. The same Lego-based shenanigans you saw in Star Wars but with an Indy theme …. and that is no bad thing, but how did the game play.

They had to change the puzzle mechanic for the Indy games for the obvious reason …. you don’t get Indy messing about with “The Force”
This rules out any magic waving of arms to pull items from afar and flip switches, what you end up with is a wrench (or it might be a spanner) and a shovel. With both of these you can dig up buried items and fix machines that activate little platforms and vehicles.
You’ll find quite a lot of co-operative puzzles for your characters to get plastic noggins round following the staple of switches to activate, gaps to traverse and things to locate to allow you to build bigger things.
Weapons are aquired by reducing the enemies that have them to their component parts (and I still don’t get tired of seeing them explode into a little shower of Lego bricks) but if there aren’t any of those around you can often throw objects or just resort to good old fashioned fisticuffs. Co-op is at the heart of this game, although also a bit of a question as well but I’ll get to that in a minute, and if you’re not playing with a friend it doesn’t detract from the gameplay. The AI controlling your companion is capable of dispensing as swift a blocky end as you are, and they always know what to do and where to jump when it comes to the puzzles (once you’re on the right track of course). You’ll also find yourself being forced to switch characters due to their “phobias”, for example, Indy is scared of snakes and cowers when he gets too close to them and you have to back him away from the hissing reptile.
This mechanic works fantastically both within the realms of the “world” that this is set in and for the puzzles themselves.

Intialy you’ll run through the game on Story Mode to unlock the levels in Free Play mode .. which allows you to go back and fully explore the environment outside of the character constraints of the story on the quest for treasure chests and studs to buy extra characters and clothing.
The game features the build-a-character mode which resulted in many a weird creation Lego Star Wars, the parts are a tad more restrained here but it’s still amusing to switch Indy’s head onto Short Round’s body. The “menu” itself is a museum which is too be explored as well, as that too contains secrets and things to collect.

Yes, they had to tweak the formula that worked so well in Lego Star Wars but it doesn’t detract from the overall feel of the game which is one of fun.
You still get the “unlimited lives” to allow the younger (or less skilled older) player to progress through the game and there’s an adaptive AI to make it harder for the better player, but it’s got all the pieces it needs to be a good game and it makes good use of them. There are however a couple of negative points ….. The first one being the camera. In some instances it’d be nice to be able to move the camera more freely so we can get a better idea of the scenery and the hidden treasures. Several times I found myself making a “leap of faith” towards what I hoped was a ledge … only to find myself plummeting to my demise. It’s not bad to the extent that the game’s unplayable, not at all, in fact it’s pretty good for the vast majority of the game. It’s just those little instances that you’d like it to move a tad more than it actually does. The second gripe is related to Co-op play. The final incarnation of Lego Star Wars had online Co-op which was great fun, yet for some reason they chosen to omit this from Lego Indiana Jones which mystifies me …. but the fun is still there, you’ll just have to invite a mate over to come and enjoy it with you.

In a nutshell, this is a (whip) crackingly good game with plenty for kids of all ages. If you enjoyed Lego Star Wars you’ll enjoy this.

I can’t wait for the next offering from Traveller’s Tales …… Lego Batman