Duty Called

As I speculated I would in my last Game Log post I did wind up playing the 360 version of Call of Duty 4 Modern Warfare’s single player campaign although the results weren’t quite as great as I was hoping for.

COD4 is an excellent, highly polished game with great production value and developers who obviously know what they want out of the series. I, however, wouldn’t share their views on the direction the Call of Duty series has taken. I generally prefer slower, more tactical games – I preferred some of the more tactical multiplayer additions of United Offense to the original and I prefer playing Hardcore mode on Search & Destroy in COD4’s multiplayer (which I’ve played plenty on PC prior to this playthrough of the campaign) for instance.

That’s not really the issue though. There’s nothing too glaringly offensive about the way your character controls or the abilities you command over him. The fact that I sometimes have to expend half a magazine on an enemy to put him down or that my health somehow gets refilled after nearly dying doesn’t burn me up either. No, my biggest complaints about the game are about how the flow of the missions, including the checkpoint system, were handled.

It seemed like almost every level involved at least one point at which I’d get stuck in a seemingly endless loop of spawning, rushing off towards my objective, and eventually being killed by an overwhelming, infinitely spawning horde of enemies before managing to reach whatever magical location or predetermined time span triggered the next checkpoint. This was highly annoying as I often didn’t feel like I was playing bad, in fact there were times when I stayed alive for a long, long time and killed an unbelievable amount of enemies yet still didn’t make it to the right spot. No, it feels like the game’s attempts at hand-holding were fighting directly against the gaming instincts I’ve developed over many years of playing similar games. I’d much prefer a system where, even if there is a shit ton of them, there’s always a finite amount of enemies in an area. That alone would have gotten me around many of these areas.

Fact: Marines hate walls.
“Fact: Marines hate walls.”

A big part of the problem seems to be that you’re almost always being funneled from one spot to the next and stopping to waste some tangos isn’t necessarily one of your objectives unless you encounter a scripted section where that temporarily becomes the priority. There’s nothing wrong with that, I suppose. It is even fairly realistic. However there definitely were sections during which the game wasn’t clear about what I, as in the player rather than the character, was actually supposed to be doing – particularly whatever it would take to trigger the next checkpoint. Again, this caused some major frustration when it came to the sections where I kept dying due to overwhelming numbers of enemies before discovering the trigger.

I may have myself to blame a bit for playing on “hardened” difficulty as I hear normal and easy are quite a bit easier and won’t usually result in nearly as many of these road bumps. In fact I ran through some of the levels in easy after beating the campaign to grab some minor achievements I missed along the way and was amazed at how much better the levels seemed to flow. That being said I can’t imagine playing through the game on “veteran” difficulty if it is really as hard as I’ve heard.

Ultimately I suspect my preference to the open world style of tactical games has a lot to do with my feelings on Modern Warfare. In games like Operation Flashpoint, Ghost Recon, and the Rainbow Six games, you’re usually thrown into an environment, given an objective, and, to some extent, left to your own devices. Sure there can be scripted moments, but the most important scripting is that of the behavior of your enemies in how they react to whatever actions you might decide to perform. COD4 on the other hand attempts to be an extremely directed experience. There are probably differing reasons for why – from keeping the action and narrative moving at a steady pace to providing a more solid narrative that the player feels more a part of in general. In summary, they’re really different games with different priorities and goals.

All of that said the story was interesting, they did a good job mixing up the scenery for the most part, and the action was decently varied as well. As with most other people I’ve run across my favorite level is the AC-130 mission. It was pretty different and I’ve been intrigued by AC-130s since seeing them fly over my house from time to time as a kid, and besides… who doesn’t like to play god every now and then? I’m still very interested in Modern Warfare 2 and I suspect I’ll even play around in the online modes on Xbox Live a bit but I’m not nearly as hyped to play the campaign as I was before playing this.

Another successful, completely unnoticed assassination.
“Another successful, completely unnoticed assassination.”

Next I hit Assassin’s Creed up. Assassin’s Creed 2? Nope, the first one! I’m one of the seemingly few people who loved the first AC. Sure, it got repetitive – I don’t disagree with the critics there. However, I found the awesome setting, the feeling of being an assassin prowling the city streets looking for my next victim, the bizarre modern day Templar conspiracy plot, and even some of the mechanics to be compelling enough to take me all the way to the end of the game. I just got really into it.

Well, I’ve been hearing nothing but good things about the recently released Assassin’s Creed 2 and that lead me to reminisce a bit about the first game. I remembered that I had almost all of the achievements including most of the harder ones. I ended up pulling up my achievement list to verify that, actually, I only lacked 5 achievements and they were all relatively easy ones to get. Having never before “completed” a retail Xbox 360 game, getting a full 1000 achievement points, I decided to dust off the game and hop back into the Animus.

Although it took me a little while to remember some of the mechanics of the game I quickly remembered why I loved it so much. The engine still holds up brilliantly and stabbing guards in the face with my hidden blade never gets old. After running the rooftops of Acre one more time I’m even more stoked for AC2… and yes, I got my 1000/1000 achievement points!

Eat blue stuff, foul denizens of the deep! width=
“Eat blue stuff, foul denizens of the deep!”

Finally I picked up Runic Game’s much praised Torchlight. Torchlight is a Diablo clone put out by a combination of some of the original Blizzard guys who made the first two Diablo games, along with the guys who made Fate and Mythos. I loved Diablo 1 and 2 and can’t wait for the third game but I’ve had a hard time getting into many of its clones. Not for a lack of trying! My favorite is Titan Quest which I’ve mentioned in past Game Logs and still intend to finish sometime. Torchlight might just take that spot, however.

The game takes the one, extremely big, largely random dungeon and one town approach of Diablo 1 and adds in many of the refinements and additions of Diablo 2 and its successors along with a highly stylized and enjoyable, yet not too taxing (it’ll even run on netbooks!) graphical style similar to games like World of Warcraft and Dungeon Runners and adds in a more refined interface. Sure, there are some bugs here and there but the game feels quite polished, especially for being from a smaller studio and only costing 20 bones.

Crossing a bridge high above... 20 stories below ground?
“Crossing a bridge high above… 20 stories below ground?”

I suppose this says a lot about the guys who make up Runic Games – this Diablo style game is their bread and butter, it is what they’re good at and they’ve definitely proven that they still have what it takes. In fact one of the things that convinced me to get the game was a brilliant interview with Max Schaefer on Idle Thumbs in which he talked about the company and their approach of staying relatively small and attempting to exist in somewhat of a niche, being happy with making enough money to keep them all paid and in business rather than trying to develop the next mega-hit. That niche also allows them to make riskier games – the type of games that made PC gaming so special to many of us old bastards. Yes, they impressed the hell out of me. I’m even considering sending Runic my resume since I’m sure they’ll be doing some major hiring when they get ready to launch the Torchlight MMORPG. 😉

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