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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Call of Duty: World at War - Review

Actually, I played the PC version so I guess the box art is a bit misleading.

After Infinity Ward decided to take over the development of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. I thought, "Hooray! No more World war II games!" While WWII is my "favorite war" (and apparently the favorite of many other developers), I'm also brutally tired of it. We know what happens, we know what's supposed to happen, quit remaking the same places. So when I saw World at War being developed once again by Treyarch (Infinity devloped 2 and 4, the Good ones. Treyarch developed 3, the negligible one....) a large groan came from me. My initial thoughts were that we were going to go through another series of tired events. While everyone around me was having a heart attack screaming about how it was now in Japan and how different it was going to be, I thought otherwise......and I was right.

Call of Duty: World at War is a World War II First Person shooter that's actually broken down into two stories. One is about an American soldier, Pvt. Miller, placed in Japan, the other is about a Russian sniper, Dmitri Petrenkov, who repeatedly cheats death. Overall, I feel like the Modern Warfare is Treyarch's attempt at Modern Warfare "the way they know it." Before I start ranting about it, I'll cover the good points.

The guns feel good in this game. When the clip in your M1 Gerand runs out, you hear the all too familiar "cling" that follows the last shot. The iron sights take a while at first to get used to but they're all really nice. Treyarch uses blur very well to place the focus like in real-life. When you use your iron sights, depending on what gun you use, the amount of focus goes in and out around you. When you reload, the area around the gun blurs a bit (done before in Soldier of Fortune Payback, I believe). In terms of the first person perspective, it's been cleaned up really well. Bolt action rifles' recoil, albeit annoying, makes using the gun really fun. You can also mount certain machine guns onto sandbags or other flat, chest high walls. Not only does it improve aim dramatically, but the ability to mount is really nice.

The Russian battles are epic. All of them. They're all pretty large-scale and always swarming with germans. Having your commander, Reznov, give you orders has a pretty good feel to it. Playing through Stalingrad and fighting your way through Berlin was great. Everytime I saw the loading screen for Pvt. Petrenkov, I couldn't wait. Having always seen the American side of the war, the Russian side had a really nice feel to it. I feel like most of Treyarch's efforts were focused on that campaign.

The selling point for this game though is the co-op. Up to four players can participate in a campaign for some awesome co-op action. There are times when the road splits and these times are perfect for having 2 guys go one way and 2 guys go another way. Treyarch also decided to add to the fun by finding Death cards. These cards modify the gameplay in specific ways. There are some cards that make your game "realistic" (No HUD, no crosshair, no ammo check, and allies bleed to death much faster) and others that are just fun (Vampire card: you lose health over time, but regain it by killing). None of them overly break the game and fun results can occur if you combine them. All the cards are well balanced and implemented.

At the end of the game, there's a Nazi Zombie mode where you're stuck in a bunker and have to survive oncoming waves of zombies. You buy weapons and ammo and unlock other parts of the bunker with the points you get from killing. This is strictly for team play. While it is available for you loners, there's far too much work involved that you won't get past.... level 8ish, after they've started to run.


That's about it. I can't really think of anything else that makes the game good. I'm being serious. I'll review the bad parts of the game.

First off, Treyarch is trying too hard to be like Infinity Ward (the fact that they even used the CoD4 engine as a base proves that), rather, they're trying to hard to be good and it shows. First off, all the loading screens are now mini movies with vivid explanations of the strategy or the commanding officer's comments complemented with scenes from WWII or 3D spinning models of the specifications of maps or vehicles. After the first near death experience, in the first level, I thought, "that was kinda cool" but after, I noticed they liked to do that.... a lot. There are so many of these cut scenes it's almost pitiful. There's even a scene where you're the gunner of a plane and have to provide support for a fleet that's just been kamikaze bombed. Halfway through the mission I was expecting a flat radio voice to say "Ka-boom" as I took out a plane (refer to Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare 'Death from Above'). I kinda feel sorry for them for having to keep up with a company that sets high standards. In addition, the opening to the Russian campaign was, in my opinion, lackluster. It had a nice feel to it, but the opening is basically a scene rip from beginning of the movie "Enemy at the Gates" with Jude Law. I feel as if in their attempts to make it movie like, they ended up just ripping scenes from whatever looked nice.

The Japanese campaign is boring. With the exception of the last mission, the entire campaign is lackluster. There are pockets of action and the ambushes don't really take you by surprise. Banzai charging just leaves them open for you to shoot and there's that issue where you can get brain dead idiots shooting at you from close range but missing their shots and hundreds of sharpshooters that tag your foot, or hit you through the minuscule space between stacked barrels.

I've been reading reviews about how death by random grenade was bad in CoD 4. Honestly, I think otherwise. Yes, it was annoying, but they yell grenade at you when it's thrown. Here, you just have to rely on the marker you may or may not see as well as fumble to cover. In the Russian campaign, it isn't bad because you're quite often in an urban setting and it forces you to run to advance cover. In the Japan side you just have to die. I can't count how many times I've died by retarded snipers or spoonfuls of grenades being tossed at me, at the beginning of the level.

The cooking of grenades isn't very useful. Rather, during the times I had to do it, I had to continuously pop in and out of cover like a gopher to make sure my target didn't move. It's even less useful in the zombie nazi mode because the moment you realize you need a grenade, they've already breached the blockades and are now running at you. Honestly, a better tactic is to do the "flea-flicker" achievement, where you toss a nade to your friend and he picks it up and tosses it at the enemy. Just replace "your friend" with "the ground" and "he" with "you". You've just cooked it a nice, healthy 2-7 seconds that may or may not result in an explosion in mid air.

I know it sounds odd, but the guns are TOO accurate. The moment you switch to iron sights, it's more or less one hit kill. If they were to make every gun as accurate as a sniper, they should have then made the recoil much stronger so that you can't just aim and shoot and if you happen to not kill him, shoot again.

Overall, it's not a BAD game, it's polished and pretty well done, but it also feels like a reskinned version of CoD4 despite what other sites say.... actually, let's think of it as a mod. Yes, a mod, that sounds more fitting in the PC community. Taking an engine and reskinning it along with adding your own elements? Yes... a mod. I have to say though, the zombie nazi thing is fun. It's like a nice multiplayer version of the Mercenaries mode from Resident Evil 4.

Did I check multiplayer? No. Because that doesn't really show me a lot about how well the developers are. Yes, multiplayer takes a lot of balancing and months of beta testing, but that's more trial and error.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Poor Planning

After deciding to see a protest at my college, when I came back home it was 4 in the morning. Somehow I was able to lie to myself about being able to wake up early before getting on the bus for my ski trip. I woke up early, but there wasn't enough time to write a review. Sorry guys. You're going to have to wait until late Sunday or later (Monday, I have a mid-term exam already).

Random note: I just bought DJ Max Trilogy, the DJ Max game for the PC. If you're a big fan of step mania, I HIGHLY recommend this product.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Afro Samurai: Resurrection - Review

I don't know if any of you have ever seen the first one or know of its existence. It was one of Gonzo's works that went to Spike TV. What's most notable about this miniseries was that Samuel L. Jackson was to be the lead Voice Actor for Afro Samurai playing both Afro and his sidekick Ninja Ninja. In the second one, Lucy Liu plays Sio, sister of Jinno, a childhood friend of Afro.

I'm going to have to backtrack a small bit here because the second assumes you remember everything from the first and so cuts corners in explaining. The entire premise of Afro Samurai is that in feudal Japan, headbands indicate your skill. So it's every warrior's dream to defeat the "Number one." There's one rule however. To be able to challenge the "Number One," the challenger must be in possession of the "Number Two" headband.

Afro's father used to be the Number One until he lost to a man named Justice. Having killed Afro's father right before his eyes, Afro, with the "Number Two" headband, goes to avenge his father's death. He kills Justice and reclaims the "Number One" headband.

Now for the plot of the second installment. Time passes and Afro begins to grow tired of the bloodshed for the "Number One." He gives up and becomes a hermit, but a female warrior, Sio, won't allow that. She steals the "Number One" headband the corpse of Afro's father to reanimate him and forces Afro to walk the path of the "Number Two."

In general, story-wise, it's pitifully weak. There's some interesting parts to it where modern day mixes with feudal Japan, but it almost gives me a sense of "oh no, not again." That isn't to say Gonzo's animation is bad. Afro Samurai in terms of quality is really high budget. My only wish is that it was for a stronger story.

Here's what you have. Samurai with a goal combined with "tiered" battles that get harder and harder to the point where you're facing God at the end. It's a very simple and effective premise. Many shounen (not to be confused with shoujo) anime are like that (Yu Yu Hakusho, Rave Master, Bleach, Shaman King....Pokemon...). Because a broad plot like that is weak on its own, what makes these kinds of premises strong is a good set of characters. It's structures like these that make way for good lovable characters. Add swearing, graphic dismemberment, complex love relationships, and sex and it's now for more mature people.

There's nothing necessary wrong with this kind of story, but there's only so many you can do before it's a matter of "do the unique aspects of your tiered battle story present themselves better than this other tiered battle story?"

The characters as well are pretty stock. There isn't anything really unique about them, and so there's not much to say. There's even that "you're eventually going to have to fight your clone" which then brings up the tired question of "you can beat everyone else, but can you beat yourself?"

Voice acting is pretty superb, although the little inserts of Japanese weren't needed. Americans speaking Japanese is like Japanese speaking English. Unless they've studied extensively and figured out how to say something rather than what to say, it comes out awkward and cringe worthy (see Revy from Black Lagoon: The Second Barrage). There was another time when I have NO idea what one of them was trying to say in Japanese because the accent placed on his character affected how the Japanese was presented. The result was some gibberish that I became absolutely lost on.

So what sets Afro Samurai apart from the rest of these other tiered battle story archetypes?

For one thing, music. Handled by RZA, you get these really nice hip-hop tracks that fit really well into the animation. It's like the double upgrade of the action in Samurai Champloo. It's not just done right, it's done beautifully. I could make do with fewer explosions but oh well. The soundtrack is definitely worth a good listen without all the sword clashing and blood splatter.

Next would be the superb animation. One way to counter a bad story or bad characters, is with really good animation. It's a long stretch for some, but when you get super nice quality (resurrection now being in 720p), battles are simply that much cooler. The story itself is a bit weak, but really good direction combined with animation that can complement that helps very much.

Ninja Ninja would be a very interesting character to note. In general he seems to play the sidekick loudmouth commentator to the generic silent type, but there are aspects to him that lighten the mood or help with the immersion (there's actually something else I'd like to say but it would be giving away a key plot point).

So the main question is. Afro Samurai, if one were to look at it objectively is actually a typical anime. Would the quality of the music, direction and animation offset the poor characters, weak plot, and my personal exhaustion of Yuri Lowenthal? To the jaded, seasoned watcher, not really. It's worth a rental maybe, but nothing too over the top that is worth buying.

However, Afro Samurai is one of those great "starter" anime. If you're trying to introduce someone to anime (or starting yourself) Afro Samurai would actually be a better start than any of Miyazaki movies (though Princess Mononoke is still my favorite), Ghost in the Shell, Full Metal Alchemist, Read or Die, or any other main stream anime. Reason being that it's simple. Your favorite show might actually be one of the worst choice because of your bias, your hype, prior knowledge to parts of the culture (I realized I had issues trying to introduce my favorite anime because of all the context required to understand the cultural references) or whatever you did to try and make another watch it.

Let's put it this way. Afro Samurai debuted on Spike TV. The same Spike TV with a demographic specifically aimed towards "young adult males." The same Spike TV with reruns of Star Trek, Cops, other cop shows, Blade (movies and the show), MXC, and who knows how many marathons of the James Bond movies. If it worked for them, it should definitely work as a good start for you or your friend.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

New stuff coming soon!

I'm currently looking up new content. It's not that I haven't run out of material (I know I said this before), but I'm trying to look for some more recent stuff and getting you reviews as fast as possible. I've just been recommended a bunch of stuff that I have to overview and as for games, it's starting to sag. Rather, I'm gonna be more focused on PC games from here on (budget's getting kinda tight). Finishing them ASAP and getting reviews in is important but so is my school work. Anyways, as of now I'm setting up a plan for the next month or so.

My main issue with finding PC games is that a lot of MMOs are point and clicks. Sorry but, I grinded that all away in my Ragnarok Online days. I'm looking for something with a bit more....variety. Graphics matter a bit, but if it's still a point and click, I now have a distaste for it.

As for anime, I'd love to take recommendations. I know all of you want some recent stuff and I can't be going over old stuff constantly, so write a comment with a recommendation or email me. It's there for you.