Since at least the fourth series installment, arguably the best of the franchise, Call of Duty has been one of the more popular titles to incorporate a consistent multiplayer component. Along with Halo, another major outlet for competitive online gaming, the series has more or less dominated the market, out-ranked in lifetime sales by only select franchises. One could say, without fault, that Call of Duty is the single most-played FPS online. And in the next several years, as we welcome in a new generation of consoles and an inevitable wave of sequels ó already kick-started by the recent announcement of Call of Duty: Ghosts ó I think we can safely expect this to remain a constant in the gaming industry for some time.
And rightly so. Thereís a strict separation between a title that caters to the competitive, online-only gamer and a title that adheres to what single-player, story-driven consumers want. Call of Duty is undoubtedly the former, though itís a game that has over time mastered the ability to market itself as both. I would argue that, while the campaign has always played a significant role in the franchise, Call of Duty is multiplayer first. Which makes sense. The franchise isnít exactly the primary source for solo gaming, nor is it banking on that kind of audience. To speak in generalities for a moment, I might even say that the gamers who, year after year, throw their money at Activision for yet another series installment arenít the gamers who anticipate a new product from Sucker Punch or Irrational on a limited basis. The gamers who play regularly in a competitive multiplayer atmosphere, be it through Call of Duty or something similar, are playing for just that: a competitive multiplayer experience.
But now, in a sort of attempt to quench the ongoing thirst for a multiplayer component, it seems as though developers are becoming more and more susceptible to implementing this Ďcoreí feature into games that simply donít need it. Right now I could rattle off at least a dozen that have been victim of a tacked-on, half-hearted multiplayer element, though my very recent playthrough of the new Tomb Raider is likely to blame for the bulk of this post. For many, I assume, the 10 or so hours spent immersed within Laraís terrifying world was an enjoyable time. Though, like many, I hadnít even touched the gameís multiplayer, nor can I admit to having any intentions of doing so. For the sake of this very post, however, I found it reasonable to put myself through a single match (regretfully, of course) ó and, as I imagined, I have only bad things to say.
It really is unfortunate, and actually makes you wonder what kind of a game it couldíve been, or what exciting new things could have been done, had Square Enix not demanded that a portion of the developerís focus be on a meaningless facet of the overall product. What if Square hadnít unnecessarily paid for an additional developer (Eidos Montreal) to step in and waste away all that time, or thousands of dollars in resources? And in the end, what was it all for? I mean, technically speaking, the push for an added multiplayer function stems largely from wanting to cut out a percentage of trade-ins ó and I wouldnít argue that it works on rare occasion. But in an instance like this, with Tomb Raiderís multiplayer so badly broken, so awfully generic, I find it hard to believe that a consumer who regularly trades in games ever thought twice about doing it again. If I may be so bold, Iíve no problem with saying that the effort put into making Tomb Raiderís multiplayer was no more than a wasted effort.
But the recent, and mostly spectacular, reboot of gamingís most beloved female icon is not alone in this trend, as stated above. Earlier this year, God of War: Ascension failed miserably in its attempt at multiplayer; Dead Space 2 felt the need to be all-inclusive as well, only to have competitive multiplayer dropped for the sequel; and even the MP in BioShock 2, a surprise to most gamers, had trouble catching on with the community.
Though, Iíd be wrong to claim that certain titles havenít found success in this new age of ďall-in-oneĒ gaming. For instance, Naughty Dog ó a studio cherished by PlayStation fans everywhere ó is known for their consecutively well-made games which, in all honesty, are hardly deficient without multiplayer. Yet, in a valiant effort to keep consumers busy even after completing the gameís stunning, character-based and story-driven solo experience, the team behind Uncharted 2 established basic, competitive and co-op game modes separate from the main story. This was an unmistakable hit with fans, but two years later Uncharted 3 was produced and featured a similar component, this time very much refined and improved from the seriesí last venture into the multiplayer sphere. Even now, as we near two years later, the game continues to hold its own online and even contends as one of the generationís best third-person shooters.
All of this almost immediately brings up the topic of Naughty Dogís latest, and ostensibly best, PlayStation exclusive, The Last of Us. Not only did it come as a huge surprise to hear that the game would include some sort of vaguely detailed multiplayer, but it was terrifying to know that Naughty Dog would once more cut into their precious development time for a game that, again, really doesnít need it. Hereís something that is wholly about the story ó the plight of the characters ó and itís begging gamers to immerse themselves in this deep fiction, but now thereís some dispensable function slapped on by the publisher that completely undersells the title for what itís worth. Itís tacky. It incites a fear, and it makes you wonder all sorts of rational and irrational things ó like, perhaps the single-player was cut short and the multiplayer is just a kind of grimy, tactless ďcompensationĒ for the gamerís loss. Believe it or not, I donít want that. And neither should you as a consumer.
In the end, of course, weíll just have to wait and see. I trust Naughty Dog implicitly, and from the perspective of critics whoíve already seen the game, this multiplayer seems to be right on track with that of Unchartedís.
Hereís hoping that it is, and hereís hoping that other companies are busy taking notes. That means you, Square Enix.
God of War: Ascension is likely to be Kratosí final appearance on the PlayStation 3. Perhaps fans will be graced with yet another installment on further consoles, possibly even portables like the Vita, but for now, Ascension is all we have. These are Kratosí final goodbyes to a generation that will no doubt be obsolete within a yearís time, and with that, we ask ourselves, Was it really worthwhile? Did the game top whatís already come? Was it a finale that left even the slightest of fans craving for more, something the series has, naturally, always done? Iíd want to say yes. But, as desperate as I am to justify myself, Ascensionís ambitions of giving Kratos a proper narrative and an actual threat, unfortunately, just donít cut it this time around.
Set prior to the first God of War, Sony Santa Monicaís newest chapter in their ever-expanding series shows a torn Kratos struggling to break free of the mind games and endless torment posed by The Furies, three obscure, and frankly underwhelming, sisters. The game, essentially just a quest to kill The Furies, opens with an introductory boss battle, as weíve come to expect. However, unlike those previous, killing the first Fury is a dumbed down experience that seems to cater more towards younger audiences ó those accustomed to games like Uncharted ó with its simple-structured layout and all. Basically itís a string of Quick Time Events split by smaller waves of enemies. And while one could argue that thatís all itís ever been with a God of War game, this intro in particular just wasnít quite in line with what weíve seen before. Think back on God of War 3 and youíll see exactly what I mean.
Story-wise, Ascensionís mediocrity is a probable result of it being set in such early stages of Kratosí quest for retribution, as many of his most unforgettable moments come later. In other words, a prequel may not have been the wisest decision for SCE Santa Monicaís next project. Prequels tend to limit the developer more often than not, as theyíre mostly trying to work around the sequels. Gods are essentially out of the question, since theyíre practically all killed off in later games. Likewise, second-tier villains like Apollo and Hermes are equally unavailable; theyíve been killed off as well. So in the end, it ultimately came down to the three underdeveloped and uninteresting Furies. Hardly an improvement when weíve been trained to go up against the likes of Ares and Zeus himself.
God of War has always looked beautiful. And while youíd be hard-pressed to say that Ascension doesnít, the game, unfortunately, isnít quite as polished as its sequels. Strangely, this doesnít stem from a lack of detail ó rather, it comes from an excess of it. There is no doubt that Kratos and his surroundings were at their prime in God of War 3, which surprises me because youíd assume that a more recent title would show off even greater visuals. Sadly, Ascensionís Kratos is spotty and looks unfinished, as his environments display a similar convolution. At times thereís just so much going on in the backdrop that your ability to distinguish objects from one another is degraded, and walls suddenly become an uneven mixture of multiple tones of brown. I suppose itís not as bad as I make it out to be, but considering the height at which previous God of War games have set the bar, Ascension admittedly doesnít showcase that same extraordinary graphical achievement.
On a more positive note, Kratosí latest outing is just as enjoyable to play as itís ever been. Being the pissed off brute he is, Kratos will once again venture through this Greek mythology-derived world, mow down wave after wave of demonic beasts, slay monsters literally 100-times your size, and do it all simply to shed more blood. Always filled with unending rage, always corrupted by the evils that torment his mind, Kratos is absolutely inseparable from his Blades of Chaos (for now). Additionally, there are four upgrades youíll be able to acquire throughout the gameís entirety, each one expanding the blades with the godsí elemental powers: Fire of Ares, Ice of Poseidon, Lightning of Zeus and Soul of Hades. Each has its perks and each offers a special attack utilizing your magic. While players are more than likely to stick to their preferred blade, thereís certainly an assortment of combinations and techniques that grant those having a tendency to work out of their comfort zone with a much wider range of play.
Furthermore, God of War: Ascensionís gameplay is diversified not only by its combat but its tendency to throw in a puzzle every now and then, an aspect thatís consistently lightened up my experience throughout the series. Iíve always felt up to the challenge, and I find that incorporating them is a wonderful way to break free of the gameís constant seriousness, like, you know, tearing your foes limb from limb. The frequency of these puzzles, I noticed, was also upped from previous installments, providing a much-needed levity to the overall product.
To describe it as ďbadĒ would be rather off. More in line with most fansí expectations, God of War: Ascension is, very bluntly, disappointing at the least. Sharing a compelling story is nearly second nature to the developers over at Sony Santa Monica, and so it comes only as a surprise that Kratosí latest was far from it. Bland and entirely off-putting, The Furies were also an unforgiving mistake and totally justified my disinterest throughout. Combat was fresh, as it always seems to be with the series, but even that could not help the game through its many dire moments. So close to failure, itís hard not to admit that Ascension is the weakest link among God of Warís other three, nearly immaculate, titles.