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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Behind already

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… and the new year has only just started … I’m a bad blogger 😦

With all good intentions I announced a “reboot” and then failed quite drastically to even make a follow up post.

After  a dig in the ribs from Twitter I’ve returned …

So let’s get the ball rolling with a game of tag (Thanks Danie !!)

So first up is Three for Three ….

1) Top 3 Non-Work Websites … Given what I do for a living there are surprisingly few websites that I use for actual work in fact I’d be so bold as to say 95% of the pages viewed whilst sat at my desk are non-work related so what finds its way to the top of the heap ?

In no particular order we have ….

Kotaku

Engadget

Ctrl-Alt-Del

2) Three Favorite Cocktails

Nice and easy this one …. Long Island Ice Tea, Brain Haemorrhage and a Black Russian

3) Top 3 Karaoke Songs

Singing in public is not something I do very often, however given the introduction of the plastic instrument based mayhem that is Rock Band and Guitar Hero: World Tour (and a side step into the Wife Unit’s SingStar) my vocal savaging of songs is getting more frequent ..

So we have ….

“Enter Sandman” – Metallica

“Smells like Teen Spirit” – Nirvana

“Creep” – Radiohead

Swiftly followed by

Five Random Facts …..

5 random  little factoids about yours truely …..

  1. I once ate a jar of coffee for a bet. File this one under “Seemed like a good idea at the time” but fortunately for me my friends let me off after I got through 10 spoonfuls.
  2. I once stayed awake for 3 days straight. This is not related to No. 1 in anyway shape or form, there was no coffee, sugar, Red Bull (actually that didn’t exist then) or any other stimulants involved, just a good friend who was ill and making some dubious “sick” noises in his sleep, so I stayed awake to make sure nothing happened to him.
  3. I’ve reverted quite heavily to my rock roots, partly thanks to Guitar Hero.  I still have a fondness for the old-school rave tunes but the rampaging guitar goodness is winning more and more (as my profile on Last.FM will confirm)
  4. My goldfish have gone white, how’s that for random. Completely white, one was a nice golden fan tail and the other was a red capped oranda but now it’s all gone, with out any explanation.
  5. I completely “busked” my groom’s speech at my wedding last year, and it was a great success !! There were tears, there was laughter and more importantly they were all in the right places … I’m never writing a speech ever again from here on in I’m winging it whenever I have to deliver one

So that’s it …. I’m done ….

Reboot ?

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It’s been awhile since I last updated here …
Things sort of fell by the wayside after my last post, which wasn’t the happiest of ones.
The draft box still has several unfinished entries sat in it, but since I started writing them things have changed … I’m a married man now and the passage of time has rendered several of these posts pointless.
So it’s time to empty the draft folder of all of these half finished thoughts, save for the details of my slightly mad trip to France earlier in the year, and press on with fresh ideas and thoughts …

Feel free to stop by from time to time, you never know it might just be interesting.

Remembering …

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It’s been a long time since I last posted here …. Too long …..

Several unfinished posts sit in the draft folder that may (or may not) make the light of day.

This returning post has been prompted by the slightly surreal events of yesterday, August 20th 2008, the day that allowed a great many people to say goodbye to a good friend ….

Keith was a couple of years younger than me, he was only 31, but he suffered from Cystic Fibrosis which resulted in him needing more and more drugs and physio as the years progressed, finally culminating not so long ago in a double lung transplant … in fact initially the doctors didn’t think he’d live past the age of 21 …. but that didn’t stop Keith ….

He was a remarkable individual, with a permanently cheery outlook, the most infectious laugh and the cheekiest sense of humour you’d ever have met.
If you were having a “down day” he’d somehow manage to cheer you up … even if he was fully tubed up and not having the best day himself.
And that was part of his charm … here was this guy who was in a worse place than many of us could ever imagine, having to take a daily cocktail of drugs that looked more like a pick and mix bag from a sweet shop, with a length of plastic tubing inserted into his person and yet he never stopped smiling, he never stopped laughing, and he never stopped caring about those around him.
A lesser person would have descended into self pity but not Keith …. never Keith.

He didn’t aspire to greatness, he had no grand plans, he just wanted to be able to lead a normal life and enjoy the things that he loved …. good friends, good beer and not quite so “good” women ……

Due to the way he lived his life, his friends were varied and numerous, and that was evident yesterday by the mix of people who attended the funeral, he’d have got a kick out of that …

Given the way that Keith was we had a feeling it wasn’t going to be quite your average ceremony .. and we were right.
The first indication of this was the message that in honour of his character it would be brightly coloured clothing in place of the usual black.
We all knew that this wasn’t a time to mourn a loss but a chance to celebrate a life, and that certainly came through during the proceedings.

He’d have appreciated the flashback feel that the large portion of us who went to school with him felt when our old R.E. teacher started talking, as he was, for want of a better word, conducting the proceedings. We listened to tales of Keith’s life, tales that made us laugh out loud, tales that some of us shared in and were new to others, but all were typically Keith.
Through the whole thing  I had one particular incident logged in my brain ….

Many years ago Keith was working as a doorman at one of our local bars (this he did even when he had his tube in !!) which led to me getting to know the staff quite well. On a fairly regular basis we’d have lock-ins and as I was working shifts back then, and single, we’d end up heading out mid-week for a “quiet drink” that would always turn into a full on session … and it’s one of these nights that just popped into my head.
We were drinking in the local Chicago Rock Cafe along with Rob, one of his fellow doormen (who I’d like to point out had a false right leg from the knee down) and having a merry old time when the fire alarm went off. So out we all trotted through the fire exit, drinks in hand as we’d just got a round in, to the side road behind the bar. Rob and I sat down on a wall and surveyed the scene of people milling around, wondering what was going on and if it was a false alarm or not. Keith was chatting to someone else and then came over to join us. He’d been telling some girls about Rob’s false leg, and they didn’t believe him. So he got Rob to roll up his trouser leg and show them, which Rob duely did. Keith then pounced like the proverbial ninja, and in a flash, had pinched Rob’s leg and headed off down the road waving it in the air …. with Rob hopping after him, swearing at him loudly. No harm was done, no malice was intended, this was Keith being Keith. The rest of us standing around were in tears of laughter at the sight before us and Rob saw the funny side of it as well.
It’s memories like these that he’d want us to keep. Not the ones of him lying in a hospital bed, hooked up to machines and tubes.

Once the service was over we all retired to his local pub. There was a large contingent of us who went to school with him, but as we sat there raising a glass in his name, we realised that whilst we were at school we were in “different groups” that would never have been seen talking to each other, let alone be sat at the same table, yet here we were, all sat together with the same thing in common … the friendship of an extraordinary chap …..
There we no tears here …. there was just chatting and laughter ….

And as people drifted off, some of us who had the privilege to call him friend carried on as we knew he’d have wanted us too, we headed on to another pub for a few more pints and a few games of pool.

He’d have loved the fact that people who hadn’t seen each other for years were swapping stories like they’d never lost contact and arranging to meet up again.

Part of me kept expecting him to walk through the door with his trademark huge grin shouting “Surprise” and revealing it all to be a huge practical joke, and I can tell you that none of us would have been angry at him.

So I bid you farewell my friend … You may be gone but you’ll never be forgotten, and you certainly will never be replaced ….  I know that you’re having a bloody good time out there, just make sure there’s some beer left for me ….

Adiós Amigo …….

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

Gone fishin’ ?

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Who knew getting a goldfish would be so much trauma …

After 5 years together and after living together for 4 of those years, the G/f and I decided at the weekend to get a pet.
Now we live in rented accommodation so we’re rather limited in our pet prospects … it was a choice of either something in a cage (i.e. hamster or gerbil) or some fish.

We opted for the fish due to their calm and soothing watch-ability, and the fact that they’re low maintenance.

Well, we thought they were low maintenance … got that bit slightly wrong.

Off we trotted to a local purveyor of fish type pets, only to be confronted by a mind-numbingly huge array of swimming things along with tanks, feed and all manner of gear. We collared a member of staff to talk tanks and find out exactly what we needed.

He showed us a few tanks and advised us on the stuff to get to treat the water properly so our impending pet would live a happy and comfortable life.
We’d need a tank, filter, water treating stuff (to remove all the chlorine and crap that the water company leaves in our tap water), some more stuff to add nice bacteria to the water, a little net and some food (bit of a no brainer that one) However the range of tanks they had on offer were slightly larger than we’d intended and as a result slightly pricier than we’d anticipated. After grabbing a free fish leaflet we thanked him for his help and left him to feed the piranhas.

We decided to head to a local garden centre that had a branch of a well respected aquarium company within it’s walls on the way back .. and with luck that had tanks that were the size that we were looking for (and as a result a more agreeable price too). We looked around for another member of staff to aid us in our quest for aquatic based lifeforms and eventually found one ….

Our initial thought was get tank and filter, choose fish, get home, set up tank, add water to tank, add fish to tank, job done …
Oooooooh no … nothing that simple.

We were told that we needed to leave the tank setup and running for at least 5 days before adding the fish to give the pump and water time to acclimatise for the fish after adding the water prep. stuff.

This did not please the G/f unit who was rather looking forwards to the calming influence of a couple of small finned fellows swimming around in a glass box. It also confused me slightly as the chap in the previous place and the leaflet we had in the car both said 24 hours but the sign in this store (cunningly located at knee level at the cash register) and the staff member both said that it’d be at least 5 days. We purchased the tank, filter and various water treatment chemicals along with some fake plants, a rather fetching fake tree stump thing and some very cool black and purple gravel and headed home without any fish 😦

So after spending 20 minutes or so getting rather wet, we now have sat in our lounge a rather nice looking fish tank … with no fish in it …..

Like I said at the top …. Who knew getting a goldfish would be so traumatic …

Access Granted ?

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So this week saw the release of firmware 2.30 for the PS3

Most of us were excited about the redesign of the Playstation Store, with good reason as it now loads significantly faster than before along with being much more user friendly in the navigation stakes.

The other little tit-bit that had people counting down was the news that with the store update they’d be opening up the Metal Gear Online beta to Europe officially (instead of having to sign up for a Japanese account and going through a very odd/confusing process all in Japanese)

This brings me to the topic of this post … Access ….

A lot of people have been very vocal about the fact that PSN is free for users and allows them to play with others online in the same way that Xbox Live does. A lot of other people have been very vocal about the quality of service offered by Xbox Live and it’s “user-friendliness” ….. I think that the later of these two sets are going to be very happy with what’s happened.

In order to play Metal Gear Online you’re going to need to do the following …

1) Have a playstation network ID (pretty much a given I know but there’s a point here)
2) Sign up for a Konami ID on a separate website
3) After signing up for a Konami ID, you then need to create a Game ID

It’s also worth noting that you need to create a password for both the Konami and Game ID’s. The Konami one needs can be alpha-numeric but the Game one can only be numeric.

So, realistically, you need 3 ID’s and passwords to get MGO running … and before anyone suggests it the Konami ID and Game ID cannot be the same ….

On Xbox Live everything is tied to your gamertag .. that’s it …. that is your online “presence” for that console.
And that’s it … no going to website “X” and signing up for account “Y” ….
Admittedly with Phantasy Star Universe you have to pay a monthly fee for a “hunters licence” but you don’t need to sign up for another account, you can do it all using your gamertag and from the Marketplace blade of the 360 itself.

This in my opinion is why the Live service is worth the money .. after all it’s £40 for a 12 month subscription (which works out at roughly £3.35 a month) so it’s not exactly breaking the bank.

I’ve got my account ready and the client for Metal Gear Online downloaded so once it goes live on April 21st we’ll see how it performs ….

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