Thoughts On… Modern Warfare 2

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Publisher: Activision
Developer: Infinity Ward
Year of Release: 2009
Platforms: PC, Xbox 360, PS3

I feel sorry for developers who make hit games. Not only do you get some fat cat in a suit meowing out orders that a sequel must be made but you also must deal with the pressure from the general internet using public, one of the most powerful and annoying forces on the planet. So it’s for this reason I salute Infinity Ward, the makers of 2007’s hit game Call of Duty 4 in making a game that pleases nearly everyone, from corporate overlord down to the man on the street. Well, apart from certain PC users but nothing is perfect.

Modern Warfare 2 is set five years after the events of COD4 and the world is slowly going to hell in a handcart. Not only did the Ultranationalists eventually take over Russia despite your activities the first time round, but they also are quite pissed at everyone who killed Imran Zakhaev at the conclusion of the first game. More worrying for the west is that Zakhaev right hand man, a madman by the name of Makarov has gone on a spree of terrorist activities, one of which you get to take part in and results in the Russians being mightily pissed off with the USA. Eventually, the war which up until this point had been “over there” for the US people is suddenly on their door step, wrecking their fast food restaurants and turning D.C. into a living hell. The plot is a little bit predictable up until a point. However, more important is the fact that the plot becomes batshit crazy at several points, including one sequence that had me on the floor laughing my head off at how completely ridiculous it was. Unlike the subtle and plausible plot of COD 4, the plotline in the sequel is a bit closer to a Tom Clancy novel, with the US being invaded and everyone important being double crossed at some point in the proceedings. I honestly think Infinity Ward sat down and thought of ways they could kill off as many playable characters as possible in the nastiest ways possible. Every level almost always ends or revolves around one or more set pieces, be it escaping on snowmobiles or attempting to re-enact Nicolas Cage’s flare scene from the Rock on the roof of Whiskey Hotel.

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However, the story is rather short, with the plot being spread over 18 missions. This is more than the original game, but each mission is more intense than any in the first game as well as being shorter. Therefore the campaign takes about 5 hours to finish on regular, with veteran being slightly easier than in previous Call of Duty games but still posing a challenge especially in the later stages.. The missions also take place in a variety of locales and styles. In one mission you could be in Brazil fighting through the favela in a chase sequence while in the next you could be infiltrating an oil rig in the frozen ocean off Russia alongside the US Navy SEALS. Through all of the missions you play as various members of either the US Army Rangers or as part as the fictional multinational Taskforce 141, allowing the developers to mix up the British voices with Australians and New Zealanders.

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Nearly nothing in terms of gameplay has changed since COD4 – you are still running and gunning while knifing people with the right stick. Nearly every mission is a set path between objectives, normally littered with enemy troops wishing to ventilate your brain as well as cover to hide behind to avoid said ventilation. The levels seem a bit more open this time, with multiple routes available to objectives in several areas. Additionally, nearly all the maps are littered with enough guns and ammo to make Dick Cheney blush, even before the killing starts. This slight increase in the number of pathways does mean there are a few less levels that will become sticking points in a playthrough as there is normally a way around most problems, but it also leads to a few cases of confusion. Similarly, with the introduction vehicles sections as well as several parts that use different control schemes, the game can be changing how it is played rather rapidly. It also seems that IW has done a few little tweaks in the overall gameplay, such as allowing grenades to roll. However, in all other respects if you were a king of COD4, than there is a good chance you will be pretty good at the latest version.

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The main reason why most people play Call of Duty is not the single player, but is instead the crazily addictive multiplayer. Well, it’s obvious that this was the main focus this time, and I have to say I much prefer the new multiplayer over the version present in COD4. The first thing to know is that there have been no real overhauls, only the introduction of a few new features and some balancing of others. The most obvious is the increase in the number of levels, now up to level 70. This is in part due to the sheer number of weapons, perks, challenges and attachments to unlock. The game has also added some more character customisation options. Gone are the days of boring loadouts always featuring frag grenades – now that slot is also home to such coolness as a mobile spawn point, claymores or one of my favourites the throwing knife. This adds quite a few new tactics, but not as much as another tweak to the create a class system. Instead of being stuck with a good weapon and some crap pistol, several new weapon types (such as machine pistols, handguns, shotguns and launchers) can be used in your secondary slot. So yes, if you want to carry a handheld grenade launcher and an assault rifle with an M203, you can! (As well as being called a n00btuber). Many of the new launchers can also be used to knock out several of the new killstreaks, such as the AC130, one of the many new choppers and finally the UAV. The customisable killstreaks is one of my new favourite features as it means you can focus where you get rewards. Choose all low level killstreaks such as the UAV, care package or predator and you’ll get a lot of each but you won’t affect the battle in a major way. However, if you are a better player than I, you can start adding 11 or higher killstreak rewards, granting you access to the game changing items which culminate in the ungodly majesty of the tactical nuke, which requires you to get a kill streak of 25 in order to call in. When someone gets one of these, they become a figure of both awe and annoyance.

A better thing for anyone who maybe isn’t so good at first person shooters is the introduction of the new deathstreaks. If you end up dying repeatedly with no kills, you will eventually end up with a bonus to assist in getting you back in the game. This is the new home of the two most annoying of perks, Juggernaut which has been reincarnated as a health bonus for only 10 seconds after respawn, and Martyrdom. In addition there are new XP bonuses for a whole load of things such as coming back from a deathstreak, killing an enemy who has previously killed you, headshots, rescuing a teammate… The list goes on and on. These bonuses are just one part of making you feel like ever engagement is worth it as opposed to a multiplayer game just being wasted if you get into a bad frame. COD has also been inspired by two other big games on XBL such as Halo 3 and Street Fighter IV. From Halo, COD has taken the accolade system which is very similar to the medals. Meanwhile from Street Fighter, Infinity Ward has implemented the callsigns, which is a unique card that can identify you when you do something special such as downing the UAV or planting the bomb in sabotage. It is a quick and easy way to remember a certain player as opposed to just a name.

Now all these changes don’t matter if the game types are all rubbish. Well, MW2 has all the modes from COD4 as well as a few new ones. This includes the variants as well such as Hardcore and the new Third Person mode. IW has also added a new mode called Demolition to add to an already considerable roster. I have to say that this is the definitive version of online multiplayer. If you enjoyed Call of Duty 4’s online mode, this feels like an evolution, not a revolution.

1197637-modernwarfare210But that’s not all! In response to the community’s thoughts on the level Mile High Club in COD4, Infinity Ward has made an entirely new game mode based on the concept of short modes designed to be played when you don’t have time to get into multiplayer. The whole setup is brilliant, designed to be played in co op with another player but still able to be a challenge for one. It’s based on a stars system, ranging from 1 to 3. Each mission varies in its objectives, but as a guideline the faster something is done, the more stars you receive. This mode has some really good missions, with my favourite being a two player one where one person takes control of a soldier on the ground fleeing enemy spec ops while the other player takes up position in the control terminal of an AC130 gunship raining fire down upon pursuing forces. These missions are really short and limited to only 2 players but are great fun to play, by yourself or with a buddy.

The game also looks really good. It is running a version of the COD4 engine, but with a few major tweaks. Several scenes are jaw dropping, with the mission that takes place in a blizzard being a perfect example of brilliant art design mixed with actual gameplay use, an idea Infinity Ward use in nearly everything they do. The levels that take place in DC are also spectacular, with the mixture between pitch darkness with the burning buildings whose smoke clogs up the sky. The models and animations for the characters also look a lot better, with a greater range of facial animation rather than either shooting or in pain. All the gun and equipment models look excellent as well, even if the reloading animation for the FN FAL is cringeful (you try reloading by knocking the half empty magazine out with another magazine). The care also can be seen in the sound design. The general FX is pretty good, but the voice acting is excellent. Kevin McKidd almost manages to depose Billy Murray’s Captain Price as coolest voice ever with his portrayal of McTavish, your character from the first game. The voice of Gaz also returns as Ghost while the voice actor of your new CO General Sheppard (which is Lance Hendriksen of Aliens and Terminator fame) really suits the character. The true star is the voice of Makarov, who oozes menace the few times he appears. He actually is someone you may come to really dislike.

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Before I wrap up, I need to make a point. A major story that appeared in the media around Modern Warfare 2’s release was the leak about its mission, No Russian. For anyone who doesn’t know, this is a level where you play as a character alongside the supreme bad guy. In this mission, you enter a Russian Airport packed with civilians when you proceed to open fire on them with a machine gun. It’s a little disturbing, especially if you turn rounds and notice the injured dragging themselves out of the way. However, it is no worse than many scenes in film or on TV. The big outcry was that it was a game portraying this and games are still linked to being children’s material. Modern Warfare 2 in the UK carries a big fat 18 rating on the front of the box and for good reason. This may be a point where a parent should maybe actually look at what they are buying their child.

Modern Warfare 2 was the biggest game of 2009 and deservedly so. Although it doesn’t change the core formula of Call of Duty 4, why fix what isn’t broke, this game is one of the best this year. It is essential that everyone at least tries the game, even if it’s just to see how ridiculous the singleplayer get and to see how much fun the multiplayer can be.

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In the months after release, some of this enjoyment has been slightly brought down. At various points, the multiplayer has suffered several major glitches which led to periods where the matches were dominated by certain weapons or tactics. This seems to have balanced out now thanks to multiple patches. The other major thing is the 1500 Microsoft points map packs. Most players I know haven’t bought them based on the price and the fact only 3 of the 5 maps are new (the others are remakes from COD 4 such as Overgrown or Crash). I think it is going to set a dangerous trend with map packs at 1500 points instead of the more usual 800 or 1200 points mark. That said though, the multiplayer is still one of the best available today and still gets millions of players even 7 months after release.

E3 2010: Ubisoft Press Conference

Ubisoft was the last press conference of the 14th and was a little bit bizarre. In part this was due to the presence of the announcer, Joel McHale who spent most it the time alternating between gushing praise for gaming and making sarcastic comments about the games being shown. And also some of the stuff they showed was mental.

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Take, for example, the opening game Child of Eden from the maker of Rez. Its a trippy music inspired game where blocks are exploded in time to the music. The game was being controlled via Kinect and so the player was simply swiping their hands around in midair to hit the blocks. It seems like more of a challenge than the first party games at the Microsoft Press Conference and also more fun, backing up my idea that it will be the 3rd party games that will use it the best. The designer also came on stage and his description that the game was all about using most of your senses to play actually didn’t sound as pretentious as it normally does.

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After this it was business as usual with the reveal of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. After a pre-rendered trailer, an actual game play demo of what seems to be the start of the game was shown off. Starting off with Ezio relaxing in bed with Caterina Sforzia (the lady of Forli in AC2), they are rudely interrupted by a stone ball crashing through the wall. The Assassin’s villa is under attack by the Borgia and you must fight to defend the town. After a brief horse ride to the walls through crumbling streets (while the narrating developer promised much improved horse combat), Ezio climbs up the wall and mans the cannons to bring down two siege towers. However, others have broken through and their are enemies on the walls which allowed the developer to show off the much faster combat system which is a fix to my major problem with last game. The demo ended with your new nemesis revealed and both Enzio and Mario shot repeatedly before the view shifts to a load of assassins climbing up the coliseum in Rome. It has the potential to be REALLY good.

Next up was Shaun White Skateboarding. After a little bit of banter between the MC and Shaun White, they went on to reveal the new game mode. Rather than the realistic approach of skate, it instead focuses on bring back life to an authoritarian world. By skateboarding. As you perform tricks, it brings colour back to the surroundings as well as changing the terrain. One example is the fact that fulfilling an objective changes a fountain into a half pipe. The trick system also looks pretty solid but the main change is the new mechanism. You can also make grind rails extend out to gain access to new areas which seems to be a time limited ability as well as requiring you to retain momentum so no vertical rides. I’ll take a look but it does depend on what else the game does.

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And then they started playing Quasar. Seriously. Go and watch the live stream. Its for a product called Battle Tag. It features guns you can reload, the usual jackets with the sensors on and a set of blocks. These sensor blocks can then be used to form little games, such as a race which was shown. It also has a PC connector which can be used to upload your stats from your games to share online. Now, I can be a cynical man but I can honestly not think of any other way to make me any less interested unless it actually stabbed me. It is a bit strange for Ubisoft to invest in this.

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The oddity was brought up a notch by the Innergy, a game that uses a heartbeat sensor to help you become both fitter and less stressed out. The thing they showed was a breathing exercised that ask you to keep you timing of your breathes in line with a path on the screen. This was then followed up with a repeat of the Your Shape demo from the Microsoft Press Event (it still looks dumb). The Rabbids then made their appearance in a Wii exclusive focused on time travelling which looks alright although I wish they would bring a game featuring them to the Xbox 360 as they are brilliant characters.

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The next game was Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. I love GRAW and this looks pretty good. As well as a short trailer, they also had a gameplay demo that looked quite interesting as well. They have made a few changes, the biggest being the new optical camouflage that makes it more like a stealth game than the previous. It also included a new cross com that highlighted all the bad guys allowing the player to avoid the bad guys. It look really slick and when the guns came out it was a pretty solid first/third person shooter. I like the idea of some of the new stuff like the drones and I’m looking forward to the beta this summer.

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They also announced a few other things. Driver is coming back in a new game set in San Francisco which harks back to the original. Also you can switch cars because the main character is in a coma. After that was the mysterious Project Dust which is about controlling a tribe by manipulating the weather. It actually looks quite interesting so I’ll be keeping my eye on it. Rayman Origins, a co-op platformer featuring everyone favourite ‘armless guy and his brother was unveiled as part of the description of a  new toolkit coming from Ubisoft. In the same vein, they mentioned what the Trackmania guys have been up to which is a social creation platform featuring Trackmania, Shootmania and Questmania which focus on driving, first person shooting and RPGs respectively. The final thing was a Michael Jackson dancing game but nothing was shown and at that point, everyone in the audience was just wishing that the horror would end.

You may notice I sound rather down at the end. In part this was due to the fact I was still watching this at about 2 in the morning but the other thing was just how much of the announcements were just games for the motion devices. After the big hitter of Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood at the start and Ghost Recon near the end the rest were just disappointing. Now admittedly someone somewhere is very excited about Battle Tag, but for journalists and the vast majority of gamers we just don’t give a shit. However, the stuff shown at the very end such as Rayman and the new Nadeo stuff look interesting but should have received more time. Overall, it was better last year where James Cameron bored us with Avatar talk.

I’m not doing conference write ups for Sony or Nintendo but will mention both in a wrap up at the end of the week

(Gametrailers will be having all the trailers and gameplay from the live events up all week and eventually the complete streams later if you want to watch. Thanks to Joystiq, Destructoid and IGN for most of the pictures and Giant Bomb for the reference live blog)

E3 2010: EA Press Conference

Both Ubisoft and EA are big enough to have their own press conference alongside the Big Three and seem to use them better than the console manufacturers. There is very little talking in them and a big focus on the games and developers. Which is good.

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EA started theirs with a trailer for the new Need for Speed. After the rather bad previous games in the series, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is being made by Criterion, the team most well known for the Burnout Series. As well as the a new social network setup, the team also showed off a two player mode between a cop and a criminal. It looks pretty good and the cop chase mode could potentially be brilliant to play online.

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Next up is a sequel I’m looking forward to – Dead Space 2. The first game was one of the scariest games I have ever played and combined it with a good story and solid mechanics. The second looks like it is taking further being set on the Sprawl, a huge city. The demo levels are set in a gothic cathedral and the necromorphs are back. The shooting/statis looks pretty similar but also fun and the new bad guys look great to fight with. The setting still looks as grim as ever, but with some stunning architecture. And it still has the scary “just walking but oh shit something bad is about to happen” sections.

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After that was the new Medal of Honour (or Honor to you Americans). Set in Afghanistan, the main focus of the presentation was the 24 player multiplayer made by the genius minds behind the Battlefield games at DICE. They actually showed a live 24 player team deathmatch set in Kabul, with all 24 people on stage. It looks a lot like Battlefield Bad Company 2 to the point where I am actually thinking it runs a modded version of the Frostbite engine which makes it vital that the unlocks are very different from those of Bad Company 2. For those interested in preordering Medal of Honour and already own Bad Company 2, then if you put it into the new EA Gunclub (a cross platform unlock system similar to Uplay) and you can be playing the two map beta on the 17th while the rest of the world waits until approximately the 21st. It looks rather good.

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Even better for me is the news that Bad Company 2 is getting an expansion – we are going back to Vietnam in Battlefield Bad Company 2: Vietnam. They didn’t show much apart from a huey flying over some jungle but the Hanoi Rose propaganda over shows they are going for a pretty good atmosphere. If its even half as a fun as Battlefield 1943 (the last game of a similar size), then it will be money well spent.

And then Peter Moore came out and I went to sleep and it went on to EA Sports. I’m not a fan of the sports genre but EA always do something crazy with each game so I actually watched this bit. EA MMA was there (it featured men grappling) as was EA Sports Active 2 on the HD consoles as well as the Wii. Worryingly for some, it also dumps the information up onto the net. Also there was Madden 11 which was labelled as being the simplest, quickest and deepest game in the series so far. The mode I’m most intrigued by is the new 3 on 3 mode, previously seen in NHL. It looked good but in my lack of knowledge on American Football I didn’t have a clue what’s going on.

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After  a brief showing of The Sims 3 console version, EA moved onto the partner program. Jason West and Frank Zampella were brought out to say they are working on something before shuffling off stage to bring on Cevat Yerli of Crytek to show the brand new Crysis 2. It takes place in Grand Central Station in New York and focuses on a boss battle against one of the new aliens. I’m really excited about the next game in the Crysis series and based on previous previews from PC Gamer it looks to be a really good change. It seemed to look really good as well and it is available to be played in 3D.

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Mr Cliffy B was brought back to the stage to show off Bulletstorm, a new game from the brilliantly named People Can Fly studios. This game looks absolutely bonkers. Like Bizarre Creations’ The Club, the game is not just about killing people but killing people with style to gain points. It looks much brighter with all the alien flora than most other Epic games but still has the look of meaty men scrapping. It also a game for men with some of the filthiest dialogue I’ve in games for a long time (“you scared the dick off me” was an actual line) as well as fart jokes which will probably go down in gaming history. But it looks pretty good and People Can Fly are makers of some of the most competent first person shooters. I’m looking forward to this.

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Finally EA came to one of the most eagerly awaited games of the year – The next Star Wars MMO, Knights Of The Old Republic. Very little was talked about, but it was mentioned that every player would have their own ship and the first PvP battlezone is Alderan. But the most impressive part was the new CG trailer for the game. If you interested go find it on Gametrailers and enjoy it as its rather good.

EA has a pretty strong line up for the next year, with a big focus on the mainstream despite the increase in motion controls. In fact, only EA Active really uses the new accessories for the consoles, with the rest all using the normal control setup. I get the feeling EA will be the sanest publisher at this E3.

(Gametrailers will be having all the trailers and gameplay from the live events up all week and eventually the complete streams later if you want to watch. Thanks to Joystiq, Destructoid and IGN for most of the pictures and Giant Bomb for the reference live blog)

E3 2010: Microsoft Press Conference

For those of you not in the know, E3 is the gaming industries biggest trade show, allowing all the publishers, developers and journalist to gather in one gaming hall in America and announce most of the coming year’s games and hardware while spending money and making journalist unable to go feel jealous and slightly annoyed about how much they have to write about it despite receiving next to no info on things. This year is supposedly a return to the old style featuring booth babes and enough excess to make everyone forget we are in a recess and the Gulf of Mexico is rapidly filling with a black, gloopy substance that isn’t liquorice. Hopefully, this isn’t the case so some bright spark at the Daily Mail doesn’t go on a massive “Games are evil rant”. But I digress.

This year is pretty big for the youngest of the Big Three, Microsoft. As well as being the 10th year of the Xbox Division’s trips to E3, they are also announcing their main attempt to grab the younger audience and get away from the Frat Boy image that “Gears of Halo” have helped to propagate. Their ace in the hole is “Project Natal” which was revealed to be actually called “Kinect”. I don’t have a problem with the name – it gives across the idea of being kinetic and full of motion which it does promise to be via the camera, microphone and its ability to perceive in 3D. Its name was properly unveiled on the 13th at a Cirque De Soleil event which, based on the Giant Bomb staff’s description, was the freakiest thing this side of last year’s Milo demo.

On the 14th was the official Press Conference for Microsoft where actually details and things were revealed instead of just marketing hype. As with all these things, the first couple of item were 3rd party games.

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Call of Duty: Black Ops – I’m not as down on Treyarch as most people are and so I’m looking forward to the latest Call of Duty due in part to my love of all things Vietnam War. The demo they showed doesn’t disappoint, featuring the Tunnel Rat section (going through the dark, water filled tunnels that the VC used) followed by the usual shooting and then a jump in a helicopter to blow some Vietnamese away. It looks like World at War did – like Infinity Ward’s work but a bit more gritty and focused on “Fuck Yeah” moments. Its also a bit gory – the .357 used in the tunnels looks like it can rip guys in two so expect more bodies lying around. The helicopter moments I’m less excited about – its doesn’t look quite as sharp as the run and gun combat. Based on the fact your character speaks while your playing as his shows another shift towards a single focus as opposed to the previous game’s multiple characters

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However more interesting from a business point of view is that Microsoft and Activision has signed a deal that all Call of Duty DLC for the next 3 years will be exclusive to the Xbox 360 for at least the first month of release. Based on the success of the MW2 packs, I think Microsoft has just found themselves another system seller, as most of the people who will buy Call of Duty will want the DLC packs as soon as, an experience only available on the Xbox.

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Next was Metal Gear Solid: Rising (AKA Raiden’s messing dudes up adventure). After Kojima symbolically handed over control of the main franchise to his producer, a short, pre-rendered cutscene (just like 80% of the full game will be based on previous form) was shown featuring Raiden cutting up man and machine with a big sword. Personally, I have little interest in MGS, but this game does sound quite interesting – it appears to be closer to  Devil May Cry then the previous games.

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After a short interlude from Microsoft’s Phil Spencer where he said all the following games will be exclusive to the Xbox 360, Cliffy B from Epic came out to show a 4 player co op demonstration for Gears of War 3. It looks like more Gears which is no bad thing. The addition of 4 player co op helps to improve on the overall package, while the section played looks quite good. The new enemies, the mutating Lambent, look pretty nasty (as they can transform mid combat to new forms) but this time you have a normal bayonet which allows you to spear a guy through the stomach and then hang him over your head. It looks like the same feelings we all had when we first chainsawed a guy will return. One of my major concerns with the previous games was the fact that 90% of the screen at any time was brown making it look just a bit too bland. The new environments help to correct this and means I may be keeping an eye out for this when its released.

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Then Peter Molyneux popped up. Last year he was gushing about Milo, but this year his is back to talk about Fable 3. Or show a trailer at least. The trailer looks rather good, continuing on with the good bits of Fable 2 but with a whole new set of things. Unfortunately it was only a trailer and so Microsoft moved on to announce a partnership with Crytek to produce a game called Codename Kingdom. It looks to be a gladiator style game but it was only a teaser trailer so not much could be really gleamed from it. But Crytek is really going for the consoles with this and Crysis 2.

It isn’t a Microsoft press conference without Halo, and this year’s showing of Halo: Reach fitted the bill. After a successful beta, they talked first about singleplayer and showed off some it. It looks like a better looking Halo – I’m guessing that if you don’t like Halo, you won’t like this. But I think it looks like it could be great fun, with the new weapons and a better story. And you go into space in a jet which is pretty cool.

 

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And then came the moment that we were all waiting for – Microsoft’s Marc Whitten came on stage and told us the future of gaming – Kinect. Before any games for it was shown they focused more on the general dashboard – by waving he logged in. He waves again and he selects Kinect app app. He says Zune to load up the Zune app. It all looks like a feature you could comfortably use and not feel like a tool. It also looks the part as well – shiny black plastic with several cameras on the front. The selection are done by the appearance of a virtual hand on the screen which is then used as a cursor which is slightly freaky seeing ghost hands. He also mentions Voice Kinect which will allow Xbox users to voice chat to their Windows Live Contacts which could be quite funny – sat on the sofa and talking like your some big time boss. Or it could be a feature that, like its current gen version is never used.

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Then he announced something that made most of the British watchers not give a damn. They announced ESPN was coming to the the Xbox 360 in the states and showing nearly all the major sports APART from the NFL which strikes me as odd – wouldn’t that be the one thing you would want to have on your streaming service? However, it is free for all Gold users which is a nice thing rather than charging another huge amount. I could see this being used a lot by many people but it is of no use for the UK.

Of more use were the Kinect games, all of which would be available on launch of the new hardware add-on in the Autumn.First up was Kinectimals which looks like it could make Microsoft a bucket load of cash. The system is two fold – first is the soft toy animal of various big cats like Lions or, in this case, a tiger. As well as the soft toy, you can scan in the barcode around its neck to import it into the game which allows you to play with it, a bit like the Milo demo. They showed a little girl playing with the Tiger named Skittles and it looked like for a certain age it could be fun (such as the moment when it goes into a slow motion Matrix style spin around as the tiger jumps over the skipping rope). However, look closely and some of the actions just didn’t seem right or match up properly. Also that tiger is scary as fuck – tigers shouldn’t smile.

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Next on the list of motion controlled games was Kinect Sports. Its basically Wii Sports but better looking and on an Xbox 360 with avatars. Rare has been working on it and it does look good but at the end of the day its Wii Sports. Joyride, the kart racer announced last year is back and now Kinect exclusive requiring you to use an air steering wheel (yet another thing that makes me think actors and/or mimes are going to be the best at all the Kinect games). It actually sound really fun through with several different modes. However, I really hope its going to either be reasonable on XBLA or free with the Kinect device itself. Then there was a rafting game and the knowledge that the Kinect will be able to automatically take pictures of you playing the games and then auto upload to Facebook.

Fuck.

To round out this section, they also made mention of an exercise game from Ubisoft from Your Shape. It features standard exercises as well as Yoga and Martial arts which sounds pretty good. I know from other people that the Wii Fit has be used a load just for the Yoga – bringing this to the Xbox is a pretty good idea. It also showed just how accurate the Kinect is by showing off 1:1 motion. In a similar vein of burning calories, Dance Central is Harmonix’s/MTV’s latest music game focused on dancing. It seems like a quite good idea and the announcement that it would feature Lady GaGa makes me think it will sell gangbusters. Also announced for the Kinect was a Star Wars lightsaber game and a new version of Forza which will use Kinect.

And as the show was wrapping up, Don Matrick, Microsoft’s Senior VP, came out with a new design for the Xbox 360 which is quieter, cooler, smaller and contains integrated wireless and a 250gb hard drive. Even better was the news that it will be out some time this week.

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Overall Microsoft showed off some pretty good games at the start. All of them look really, really good. However, I’m not quite as keen with the new Kinect stuff. As a device it looks like it could be quite fun, but all the games are not really that interesting. Its going to be up to the other third party developers to make games to really take advantage of it. But many of the Xbox’s big games will be shown at the EA and Ubisoft conferences later today.

Write-ups of all the conferences will be on the site at various points during the week

(Gametrailers will be having all the trailers and gameplay from the live events up all week and eventually the complete streams later if you want to watch. Thanks to Joystiq, Destructoid and IGN for most of the pictures and Giant Bomb for the reference live blog)

Thoughts On… Borderlands

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Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Gearbox
Year of Release: 2009
Platforms: PC, Xbox 360, PS3

Ah Borderlands. How different a game could be, just based on its art style. When they first announced this post apocalyptic shooter way back in the days of yore, it still had the same grimy brown look as used in every other Unreal Engine 3 game that has ever been made. A few months later, and after a full on rebellion  from the art team, we instead got a new “concept art” style of graphics. Oh and a witty change of humour.  And yes the game is also good if you didn’t know that by now.

Borderlands is set on the planet of Pandora, a wasteland world covered in desert where it is rumoured that beneath the planet there is a vault full of advanced alien technology. As usual with all these treasure hunting stories, many people do not believe in its actual existence thinking it to be a trap to lure people to the planet. However, you arrive on the scene as one of four treasure hunters (Mordaci the hunter, Brick the berserker, Lilith the siren and Roland the soldier). You then proceed to travel around this world, through each of the differently styled areas in search of the keys to the vault, doing quests for various people and wiping out most of the criminal leaders on the planet. To be honest, the story is actually a little crap – the whole “guardian angel” side of it is rubbish with some terrible dialogue. She pops up every so often to simply say “well done, but you haven’t faced you hardest challenge yet” and at one part uses a line from Bioshock that stands out a mile away.

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Borderlands is a combination of RPG and FPS, focused more on the shooting dynamics side as opposed to turning it into a combat system closer to the dice rolls that were blatantly behind the combat in Fallout 3 and the pit of eternal horror that was Hellgate London. The shooting is solid; feeling slick like any other modern shooter should do but also showing its RPG roots by the numbers showing damage amounts flying off enemies and a big red critical flying off an enemy when you hit their weak point. On top of that, the game also has various elemental damage systems which add some benefits, such as extra damage over time and rather excellent effects when you kill.With quest completion and kills you level up as you’d expect, which grants you more action points to upgrade you abilities. The different characters you choose at the start are actual the different classes. The Hunter is effectively the sniper, Brick the tank, Lilith the mage and Roland the healer/support person. The classes are brilliant, not limiting you to a certain weapon type but rewarding you for playing in a certain style. Each class also has a special ability, such as the turret from the soldier. These abilities are most useful when playing as a team when they combine together. Pairing a soldier’s turret to heal and attack while a siren uses phasewalk to sneak behind an enemy allows masses of enemies to be mown down. In fact, the game has several moments where it simply throws masses of enemies at you to deal with which sometimes may be best thing ever. However at other times when every enemy is at level 30 it can be a little bit frustrating. However, death holds no terror as if there are some enemies around you at low health. If you manage to take one enemy down then you receive a second wind, which brings you back to life with full shields and half health. This is a brilliant feature that helps to get rid of some of the frustration of this sort of game.

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A brilliant feature of Borderlands is its massive number of guns. I’ve done around 2 playthoughs and can back up with the fact there are many guns. How many I hear you say? BAZZILIONS!!!! Many admittedly are only simply stat changes, such as swapping out a scope in exchange for a damage boost, but the system can lead to some surprising setups. One weapon I found is a revolver with only two rounds in a magazine but has a scope, does fire damage and each round does 300 damage before the effects of fire. Another weapon is a shotgun with massive amounts of damage when fired or used in melee, but has no accuracy – meaning of course you need to be in an enemies face in order to use it. This system means each weapon feels slightly different from the last. However, there is one issue. It is quite possible that you may go through a play through and pick up weapons that aren’t actually that good. On the other hand you may, like me, find a weapon that is over powered and then use it through the rest of the game and possibly take it into the second game.

The graphics of Borderlands are awesome. If you liked the look of Crackdown, this has taken it to the next level by rendering a more organic landscape with this method. It really suits it, especially in the design of the enemies. The skags, small dog like creatures (not the female members of Eastenders), are among just a few of the many enemies model who despite fitting into several groups, still each feel unique. The characters all looks like they are straight out of a comic book, with pencil lines bringing out every last detail. The only slight disappointment is that although there are millions of guns, nearly all of the same type look exactly the same with a few changed parts based around the same basic model. This good sense of art design is coupled with a stellar piece of sound design. The voice acting is excellent, but unfortunately you don’t get very much use out of it. Apart from your characters, or the enemies, little quips (“Critical Biatch!”) and the occasional story section there are no long sections of dialogue which is probably to the developer’s credit. The game also has a brilliant sense of humour. Some come through in the dialogue, but many are simply from little things. Fans of Firefly will rejoice when they reach Jainynestown while Mad Max fans will be seeing references flying out of the screen. The game introduces with a snappy grindhouse style character intro, giving each a tag line. This includes the first boss Nine Toes. I won’t spoil it for those few of you who haven’t played Borderlands yet but believe me, it actually made me laugh so hard the first time I dropped the controller. You won’t laugh a minute like in Brutal Legend, but it will still give you a chuckle.

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Finally the other important things. Borderlands was designed to be played in co op and supports it 4 players online and 2 players in split screen. When played in co op, the game feels more like an MMO than a simple co op game which does means it’s disappointing when it misses out several features. First of all is that the trading system is based upon dropping items and letting other players pick it up. This works fine with trusted friends but as soon as you play online, it does not work. You can’t trust 90% of the players online, and if you trade with them something important you won’t ever see it again most likely. However, don’t let that put you off trying it out. Another minor fault is for a game that is packed with millions of cool pieces of equipment, there is no storage system in the main game, leaving you to bid farewell to any kit you don’t use. Finally, the achievements are a very good mixture of things you would find normally just by going through the game such as discovering area alongside others which are a little bit strange. My advice is to try anything – like getting on a boat.

I do need to also make a quick mention of the PC version. It runs really well on low end PCs while the higher resolution textures also means it looks a lot better than the console alternatives. You can also export the details of any excellent guns you find as JPGs allowing you to brag to your friends about them (if that floats your boat.) However, the UI isn’t changed from the console version, making it feel a little clunky when controlling with a mouse.

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Borderlands is not the world’s most perfect game. But it has all the best parts of an MMO in a competent shooter and one of this year’s greatest co-op experience. This is one game which really did need to get away from the usual grime of Unreal 3 and into a new and almost unique look.

DLC

Borderland’s three DLC packs all add something else to the game as all good DLC should do. However, you shouldn’t really feel you need to buy all three of them as they each have their flaws. I have written about this before in this article but I’ll reprint some of my thoughts here.

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The first pack, The Zombie Island of Dr Ned, added more of the main game, with a whole extra set of missions outside of the normal story. It takes place on the aforementioned island, where the ministrations of a certain doctor (who isn’t just Doctor Zed from the main game wearing a moustache) have lead to no one dying and instead wondering around pissing off the Jacobs Corporation who own the island. It is the basic zombie fighting story (discover zombies –> fight zombies –> find out main villain –> ??? –> Profit!) which also threads in werewolves and claptraps shooting each other. What’s not to like? This pack also ramps up the comedy – some of the character descriptions are even better than last time and the tannoys throughout the island have some of the best instructions for how to deal with zombies.

Although it is pretty good fun, it is just more of the same play style you’ve had from the start of the game. But it feels like something that wasn’t 100% finished when the game was getting close to release and so had to be delayed.

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Unfortunately, the second pack is not quite so good. Mad Moxxi’s Underdome shifts the focus to the combat in a simple arena which is not quite the way to go. The arena mode takes some inspiration from Halo with its differing rules each turn, such as your health constantly dropping or certain weapons being more effective. It does make the action slightly more challenging. However the round system is retarded. 5 stages per round and 5 rounds per starting game. Each match takes ages with no chance to properly rest between fights making the achievement for finishing all the matches a pain in the backside to complete. The pack also ruins the aim of the game by removing the rpg elements. When the game is focused on drops, xp and stats this change does make this pack only for completionists.

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The final pack, The Secret Armoury of General Knox, adds on a load of extra things to Borderlands. These range from new vehicles and weapons to quests, but the best part is the new increase of the level cap up to 61 (turning it up 11 extra levels). It takes place after the end of the main game, with the evil Atlas Corporation sending General Knox after you, much to his displeasure. You have to work with your friend Scooter and a rogue Atlas employee to stop him and discover the secret armoury. Along the way you deal with Mad Moxxi and a bunch of midgets riding skags.

The DLC is great fun but my main issue is its design. The base game could easily be played by yourself and online – either way it was still fun. However, the DLC is next to impossible to play by yourself due to its difficulty as it seems they have turned the scaling off. Bit of a shame when you can’t get a group of people to play properly. Also all the new vehicles and enemies only turn up in the new area, so you can’t drive the new 4 person car in the main game.

Overall, I recommend buying the Zombie Island of Dr Ned for definite as it as some of the best bits in the entire game in it. The others are less so good unless you have a group you can work through all of it.