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5:17 PM on 05.21.2009

Pixel Junkie - Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

(Find more like-minded posts at my other blog The Eloquent Idiot.)

This isn't a review so much as an examination of a videogames less explored areas.


Being unemployed, lazy, and hopped up on slurpees, my summer has been spent on a backlog of games that simply need to be played. Top of that list was Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare for the Xbox 360. While most articles will likely focus on silly things like gameplay, cinematics, and fun factor, Iím going to address things like getting shot in the face, Rasputin, and facial hair. If thereís time, Rambo.

Call of Duty: The History of Duty Calling
(hehe, "Duty")

I donít know if youíve heard of this little thing called World War II (it caused quite a stir in some parts of the world), but the Call of Duty series has been mercilessly mining it since the series conception in 2003. Eight games later (including expansions to the numbered series), the World War seems to be mostly covered; some Naziís were shot, some British people with excellent moustaches exchanged clever quips, and America rolled in wailing on miniguns and guitars (one half of that statement isnít true). Usually, the war was one by the allies.

Call of Duty developer Infinity Ward decided to switch things up with the fourth numbered iteration and set the game in the not too distant future. Call of Duty 3, the game preceding CoD4:MW, was developed by Treyarch, who, like the middle-child, are adequate but not impressive. Simply put, they took Call of Duty 2 and added a touch of shine in spots. Also, there were some Canadians involved (they too shot people), and a Polish Armored Division (somewhat humorous when you consider that some Polish soldiers were on horseback during Germanyís first attack). Following CoD4:MW is another Call of Duty game by Treyarch, entitled World at War, which, of course, took place in World War II. Oh, but you shot Japanese people this time around.

But, back to the game set in the current decade. Iíll get the commendations out of the way; the game is tightly built, well-conceived, supported by amazing voice actors (more on that in a moment), with satisfying gameplay mechanics all converging into a very enjoyable experience.

I Got Shot in the Face (and so can you!)

Whatís most interesting about CoD4:MW is how it pushes the theatrics of videogames. The sense of immersion is oft central to a videogames success, and CoD4:MW may one of the greatest games to work with that. The game opens with a very quick and intuitive training mission (one of the quickest tutorials Iíve ever been through), a mission on a boat, and then you take the point view of a president of an unnamed middle-eastern country (if it ainít Nazis, it ainít nothing). During this scene, roughly 20 minutes into the game, introductory credits roll. As the president is being kidnapped, all you can do is look around with mild-interest while youíre carted around war-torn streets while a coup goes down. Resistance fighters are cut through with gun fire, a vandals takes off at the sight of your car, and a number of prisoners are line up and executed in plain sight. This culminates with you getting a rifle-butt to the head, all in first person, and then dragged to the center of a square where you are promptly shot point-blank in the face.

It goes without saying that this whole ďget shot in the face during the introĒ gameplay mechanic is somewhat original. From there, you switch between two soldiers; S.A.S. Operative ďSoapĒ McTavish, and All-American (I assume) Marine Sergeant Jackson. I have to assume the sergeantís personality because whatever protagonist you control is silent throughout (a technique I will discuss in an upcoming post). But, back to what separates these two distinct protagonists.

Recall that earlier Call of Duty games featured wise-cracking British soliders with excellent facial hair and rock star Americans. In this iteration, they switched things up a bit and put literal guitar riffs in the American section. When stuff starts to get really real, Alice Cooper-esque licks takes center stage in not-quite Baghdad while you shoot jerks. Also, your lead by Lieutenant Vasquez, who is voiced by David Sobolov, who has a voice of audtio-tastic sex. The deep baritone voice is gruff, yet smooth, like a tender lover who is passionate, yet also composed mostly of chocolate. Believe you me, this voice invoked things in me.

Meanwhile, on the British side, you are manhandled by the even gruffer Captain Price, who is voiced by Bill Murray. Not that Bill Murray, though I imagine the character would take on an interesting dimension if that was the case. Price features some of the greatest chops ever seen, videogame or otherwise. Weíre talking salt-and-pepper mutton chops that soak up enemies blood while he rips their throat out with his own teeth. Needless to say, if two AI characters are going to be bossing silent little me around, itís these two dudes.

A lot of world affecting things occur that these two protagonists are center stage for. There is a particularly affecting scene involving a nuke going off, but I assume Lieutenant Vasquez may have simply flexed and plunged a small portion of the world into a nuclear winter. Equally likely scenarios.

Rasputin is Alive and Digital

You find out that this nuke (this is the non-flexing scenario) was set off by none other than some Russian guy who looks suspiciously like Rasputin. His name is Imran Zakhaev, but weíll stick with Rasputin for the remainder. And not just because of the physical similarities and implied mythology, but because he strikes me as a lover of Russian queens. First things first: why do two of the greatest videogames of the past decade use the same character as their main antagonist?

A quick synopsis of Rasputin: he was close to the royal family, conspired to do grand things, and was promptly stabbed in the stomach by a prostitute while exiting a church, his entrails literally in his hands. And he survived. Later, he was poisoned, shot (and then he attempted to strangle one of his survivors), clubbed, shot a few more times, and then put in a sack and thrown in a river. The autopsy reports state two different, but equally interesting results; he either died from hypothermia or by drowning. Logically, he was buried, dug up, and burned by a group of workers from Saint Petersburg. And then, of course, he sat up while being burned alive. This is attributed to the freezing of his tendons and then the rapid heating of them up. Still, that shit is freaky. Also, thereís some modern evidence that throws all of this into question, but that is much less interesting and will be ignored as a result.

Remember Bitores Mendez, from Resident Evil 4? Besides looking like a wrinkly and spotted penise, he too will not die. He is close to a member of nobility, he presents some mythological abilities, and is a general douchebag. Seriously, fucker was shot in the face in the first couple hours of the game and he promptly sat up a few moments later.

And then we have this Imran Zakhaev, a Russian arms dealer who you actually assassinate in a flashback portion of CoD4:MW. You take a high-powered rifle, line up the shot, and let that metal missle explode into his skull. This translates to him merely losing an arm (an ironic state of being for an arms dealer), and then later, he buddies up to the military group that shoots the president of not-quite Baghdad in the beginning of the game. This is for his personal gain, of course, because the guy is Rasputin. I canít make this clearer

Starring me, as Rambo

Besides all the complex symbolism and implied parallels between Modern Warfare and the Tsarist Russia, CoD4:MW was quite fun too. What made it fun was a lot of things, but my personal favourite was relentlessly stabbing people in squishy spots. The knife mechanic was brilliant; quick, visceral, and extremely satisfying.

I played the game on normal, which was a tad childish, because letís be honest, Iím sort of a big deal. I can often play videogames on hard. Sometimes, I can best a complete stranger on the internet by making a comment about him being a virgin and/or homosexual, and I can also imply that he has copious amounts of anal intercourse (an astounding amount for any virgin, at least).

So I play on normal. This lets me do the incredibly stupid and unrealistic. The game builds a tension by making your screen go red as you take damage, threatening death if the maroon tendrils overtake the screen. Being Bryce Bladon, videogame superstar, I decided to pick up a shotgun and go to town with my knife. I am Rambo incarnate. I charge AI characters, darting left and right as if it has any effect and the amount of bullets being absorbed by my torso. I let off a shell into someone, hop into the next room, take a few more in the chest, and slit a throat all while giggling madly. If thereís time, Iíll stab a few more fellows, knock back the shotgun once more, and take a breather.

Iím sure in any real-life situation my astounding lack of sense as a result of videogames will kick in one day, so letís avoid that draft in the near future.

This style of gameplay, which I affectionately refer to as being awesome, is a natural transition the game follows. All good games will take a natural incline in excitement and difficulty, and CoD4:MW is a good game. However, when you start a game by getting shot in the face, youíve got to get a step ladder to set the next bar even higher.

Let me run down a list of the increasingly unbelievable events that occur in CoD4:MW, and I think youíll understand why I went from competent solider to spider monkey with a knife.

Call of Duty 4's increasing levels of testosterone and awesomeness; a step-by-step guide

1. You escape a sinking boat thatís carrying a nuclear device, narrowly avoiding death.
2. Youíre shot in the face.
3. You rescue an informant from forces 20 times your own size
4. You fire missiles, armour piercing rounds, and drop bombs on enemy forces
5. You infiltrate not-quite Baghdad and cut across the entire city, rescuing a squad or two with the hand job of Lady Liberty
6. You experience a nuclear explosion
7. You stumble around and die in the fallout following aforementioned explosion
8. You witness a tyrant getting shot in the face.
9. You (in a flashback) infiltrate terrorist-ridden Chernobyl to assassinate Rasputin, and then single-handedly fight off hundreds of men while carrying your superior officer
10. You witness two nukes launch, and then promptly save 17 million lives from certain death

You save the free world and hop into the back of a truck to escape. While, might I mention, you and the boys hunker down for a discussion about lager and whoís buying the next round. Then the game completes the transition into a Michael Bay movie and youíre hurtling down a Russian highway thatís suspiciously laden with gas-filled tankers while terrorists in helicopters and trucks shoot you. Itís at this point where I thought ďHuh, you know what, this no longer seems like a sincere interpretation of a military operation.Ē

But thatís not to say it isnít fun. Oh my it is. Some more cool stuff happens and the credits roll. You feel like a certifiable badass, and immersion succeeds. Also, thereís some gangster rap playing during the credits, but whatever.

Oh, and following the credits, youíre suddenly on a plane trying to rescue a V.I.P. in just under three minutes. After quickly dispatching the terrorists, disarming a hostage situation, and blowing off half of the plane, you find a bomb. Logically, you leap out of the plane in an epic freefall, V.I.P. in tow.

None of this is really given context by the way. Itís a videogame, and itís fun.   read

1:47 PM on 02.28.2009

Retro Remakes!

When Mario made his videogame debut as ďJumpmanĒ in Donkey Kong circa 1981, he sported his classic overalls, moustache, and hat. What most people donít realize is that Mario, the father of videogame protagonists, looks like this because arcade technology was so limited at the time. His shirt and overalls were made a solid color so that the movement animations didnít make his arms disappear. His hat, sideburns, and moustache were invented because precise details such as ears and hair couldnít be properly communicated at the time.

But with modern technology, the classics are getting a push forward. Though companies are eager to make a quick buck porting their classics in their original form, fans are leading the charge in innovating graphics and gameplay.

Legend of Princess
Original Game: Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
Originally Released: 1988
Project Status: Complete

A one-level labour of love, it was made ďfor no reason but being a big damn nerd," says creator Joakim Sandberg.
Legend of Princess is an arcade interpretation of Zelda II, featuring tight controls, varied gameplay and pop-art style graphics. Put together during breaks from professional game projects, the polish of an expert shines. Sandberg also has a unique IP available for purchase, titled Noitu Love 2, which features similar arcade-style action.

Quest for Glory II VGA
Original Game: Quest for Glory II: Trial by Fire
Originally Released: 1990
Project Status: Complete

AGD Interactive is a non-profit company licensed to remake classic Sierra Entertainment adventure games. Already having completed remakes of Kingís Quest I and Kingís Quest II, Quest for Glory II was released in 2008 after being delayed by over three years.
Featuring new graphics, animations, and a new battle system, the project was made on Adventure Game Studio.

Metroid 2 Remake
Original Game: Metroid 2: Return of Samus
Originally Released: 1992
Project status: In development, demo available

Broaching the one-year mark in development time as of January, 2008, the progress shows. The ugly green and grey of the original Metroid 2 are awash with colour. The gameplay is fast-paced and the tinny sounds of the Gameboy are replaced with modern remixes and sound effects.

Chrono Resurrection
Original Game: Chrono Trigger
Originally Released: 1995
Project Status: Cancelled

It was a sad day for Nathan Lazur and his team on September 6th, 2004, when Square Enix Co., Ltd issued a Cease and Desist letter demanding they halt all work on their Chrono Resurrection.
It was a business move on Square Enixís part to protect their intellectual property, but one look at the Kingdom of Guardia in 3D and itís hard to not be disappointed by the loss.
"[The game] was meant to replicate the feel of the 16-bit classic while enticin g the player with current-generation graphics, sound, and animation,Ē says Lazur.

GoldenEye: Source
Original Game: GoldenEye
Originally Released: 1996
Project Status: Third Beta

Remaking the entire GoldenEye game using the Source engine made popular by Half Life 2, this total overhaul mod brings the hard edged graphics and gameplay into the 21st century with style.
ďWe want you to look at this mod and remember the first best multi-player first-person shooter ever made,Ē the GoldenEye: Source website states. Fans may download the beta here.   read

3:45 AM on 07.17.2007

Disgaea 3 coming to the PS3

Nippon Ichi, the developer of offbeat and very Japanese titles such as Odin Sphere and Atelier Iris announced in a press release that the cult favorite Disgaea will be seeing its third iteration on the PS3.

The game is thus far dated for 2008, and is pre-emptively priced at •7,140 (US $59).

Is it just me, or compared with Odin Sphere and Grim Grimoire, these next generation screens seem a little... lacking? I love Disgaea as much as the next starved strategy RPG zealot, but it seems like we're taking babysteps in graphical development. Hopefully the gameplay and style are still as refined as ever.   read

3:03 AM on 06.27.2007

WiiWare: Original, downloadable, Wii content.

It looks like Nintendo plans to follow the standard set by both Sony and Microsoft in terms of downloadable content.

As reported by Level Up, the Wii already boasts an impressive list of games from older generations, available online via Wii points. However, both Sony and Microsoft have offered similar, if smaller, options in regards to remakes, rehashes, and reiterations of classic (and not so classic) titles. Both trumped the Wii by offering original content in the form of such hits like Geometry Wars and Calling All Cars, and the promise of future smashes such as Little Big Planet and Castle Crashers.

But now Nintendo can offer similar titles, aptly named WiiWare. Seriously, a Wii feature that actually include Wii in the name. That's clever. They should do that more.

Not only is Nintendo appealing to larger studio's, but there's also the promise of smaller, indy-developed content. Nintendo is revealing the project Wednesday.

Am I the only one concerned that the meager 512 MBs that came with my Wii won't be ample? I smell a peripheral in the future. And considering Nintendo's track record with accessories...   read

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