Call of Duty: Black Ops’ Escalation Map Pack Review

15 06 2011

Treyarch has set an industry standard for downloadable content (DLC) in the past with Call of Duty: World at War. They have continued that tradition for their hugely successful follow-up Call of Duty: Black Ops initially with First Strike and now their newest map pack titled Escalation, which released on June 10th 2011 for the PlayStation 3.

Like their previous iterations Escalation features four new multiplayer maps – Stockpile, Convoy, Hotel, and Zoo – along with yet another zombie map/mode called Call of The Dead.

Similar to First Strike Escalation features a wide array of interesting locales which are meant to cater to the varying styles of multiplayer gamers. However it seems Treyarch had decided to focus more on medium to long range skirmishes this time around as all of the maps are large. For instance there is no map like First Strike’s Stadium or even Nuketown where the action is much more focused and hectic.

But what Escalation does provide over First Strike is the level of detail present in the game and their environments. I previously felt the team was getting lethargic with their map design and ideas but it is noticeably better in Escalation in my opinion. This wave of maps have much more detail and the level design is more complex not to mention the interactivity that is present such as the working elevators in Hotel or the storage doors in Stockpile. These elements allow additional tactics to be used in the various game modes resulting in much more variety prolonging your map fatigue.

Of the four Hotel and Zoo will probably take precedence as the fan favorites because of the variety in both design and visuals as well as tons of opportunities for a mixture of long to short range combat. Zoo has striking visual similarities to Modern Warfare 2 Resurgence pack’s Carnival but yet again the overall flow and level layout is superior. If Zoo is comparable to Carnival then Hotel probably closely resembles another Modern Warfare 2 map, Highrise. This is not to say that either Convoy or Stockpile are less interesting, they just feel like the many maps that we have seen before.

All of the different maps provide their own challenges and strengths. However once a player gets use to these maps they can develop their own tactics and easily learn how to play to the maps strengths while overcoming the challenges. Even though these maps may be focused on larger range combat each map presents a multitude of opportunities for every type of player from the sniper to the run and gunner. These new maps also visually look better than previous maps and besides Stockpile are not just the dingy gray and browns we are use to but actually have a lot of bright visuals that again add to the appeal.

But that’s not all Treyarch also released a map for the ever popular zombie mode yet this time with a unique twist. The player controls one of four actors – Sarah Michelle Gellar, Robert Englund, Danny Trejo, or Michael Rooker – who are on the set of George Romero’s latest movie that is being filmed near an ominous shipwreck in the snowy wastelands of Siberia. Of course a real undead outbreak occurs infesting George Romero forcing the all-star cast to band together and drive back wave upon wave of zombies while an angry undead Romero follows them around.

Call of The Dead uses this unique twist in the same vain as the bonus presidential map that is unlocked in the main game. Besides this Call of The Dead introduces new perks and guns as well as loads of extras and unlocks that the Call of Duty zombie faithful crave. But at it’s base it is the same core gameplay we all have come to enjoy.

Let’s be frank, these maps don’t bring with them any new mechanics only interesting changes of scenery meant to prolong an already enjoyable experience. Not to sell these maps short, they are visually pleasing and well constructed with a variety of terrain that offers the player multiple options during a firefight. Much less the zombie map is one of if not the best the series has to offer and capable of stealing countless hours. But if you have already moved past Black Ops then this most likely will not rekindle your dwindling flame.

However if you are one of the millions upon millions of fans who helped contribute to Black Ops extraordinary sales numbers and still crave more then Escalation; including the time sink that is Call of The Dead, is well worth the experience.

Are you going to pick up the Escalation map pack? Maybe you already have, if so what are your thoughts?





Modern Warfare 3 Announcement Trailer

4 06 2011

Not surprisingly Activision has revealed that a Call of Duty title will be released this November. The title will be Modern Warfare 3 a sequel to 2009’s hit Modern Warfare 2 developed by Infinity Ward which is now a shell of their former self. However this time around they will receive help from newly formed Sledgehammer Games as well as Raven Software in some aspect or another. It’s difficult to say if this co-development will affect the overall quality of the game, especially since Infinity Ward was widely considered the better of the two Call of Duty developers.

Although if the following trailer has anything to say about it then Modern Warfare 3 still looks to be an action packed thrill ride that will be enjoyed by many, including myself.

Check it out for yourselves…

Modern Warfare 3 will be releasing November 8th 2011 for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC systems. You can pre-order from Amazon.com by clicking here.

Tell us what you think of the trailer or your thoughts on Modern Warfare 3 in general in the comments below.





System Exclusives: Revisited

23 02 2011

I wrote not too long ago on how I saw the future of system exclusives slowly fading away. Since that article we have seen a few trends like the announcement of Insomniac Games going multiplatform and the more recent announcement that Valve is now developing for the PlayStation 3 that heavily supports my thoughts that system exclusives are becoming a thing of the past.

Instead what we are seeing take the place of system exclusives is exclusive content on par with what Sony and Electronic Arts so adamantly announced during E3 along with what Activision and Microsoft made sure to tie up with timed exclusive Call of Duty DLC.

We have already seen this model in action this year when Mass Effect 2, previously an Xbox 360 exclusive, released on the PlayStation 3 earlier this year. As well as when Dead Space Extraction was packaged with the PlayStation 3 version of Dead Space 2 or even on a smaller scale when Kratos was announced for Mortal Kombat exclusively on the PlayStation 3 version of the game.

This obviously excludes first party developers, in fact in this new model I see first party developers becoming more meaningful and much more important than they were in the past. Why? Because as these third party exclusives dry up the game console companies will need an alternate way to differentiate their console from the competition. Thus putting a larger emphasis on first party developers and forcing the game console companies to evaluate good talent and shore up what would be third party developers they believe will set their console apart.

I see this model continuing to flourish and eventually becoming the new wave that replaces system exclusives as companies realize that they need to be represented in both if not all of the current game console systems in order to be relevant and profitable in today’s crowded market while still giving a specific platform leverage.

How do you see the future of system exclusives?





Call of Duty: Black Ops Review

30 11 2010

Introduction

Black Ops is Treyarch’s third installment (seventh overall) in the Call of Duty franchise and is a sequel to their previous title World at War. Although Black Ops is still a first person shooter running at a crisp sixty frames per second Treyarch has changed the traditional Call of Duty campaign, although you still control multiple characters in several different exotic locations such as Russia, Cuba, Laos and Vietnam the story is focused around one main character and one main plot progression unlike previous Call of Duty games. Staying true to its name the missions revolve around many black operations carried out behind enemy lines while attempting to gain more information about an experimental Soviet chemical weapon codenamed Nova-6. Call of Duty Black Ops was released worldwide on November 9th 2010 for the PC, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii and DS systems.

Can Black Ops help Treyarch close the perceived gap between them and Infinity Ward and end up being a critically well received game, or is this proof that Infinity Ward is the better Call of Duty developer? Continue Reading to find out.

Single Player

The constant comparison between Treyarch and Infinity Ward is inevitable whether either team deserves it. After each iteration both teams attempt to take the positive points from the previous game and add in their own wrinkles in an attempt to make a successful game which neither team has had a hard time doing thus far. However in the past single player was not the traditional avenue to distinguish themselves as both studios followed the same path. Yet in this installment Treyarch has decided to branch off of that thinking and take the single player campaign into a different direction. While the staples of a Call of Duty single player campaign like on screen objectives, stellar graphics, multiple locations around the globe and exceptional audio stay the same Treyarch has made some tweaks that pay huge dividends.

One of the major and most notable differences was that the story was centered and revolved around one main character and one topic. But since much of the story is told in flash backs through the characters eyes it still allows the game to cover a wide range of time while also allowing the game to flow at an excellent pace. Even during the times when you do play as a different character the story is still focused around the main character. This cohesion allowed me to have an attachment to my character that I have never had in previous Call of Duty titles. This cohesive story also made the story much easier to follow and much more rewarding to follow as well.

Treyarch also grounded the story in some truth this time around instead of the completely ridiculous story of Modern Warfare 2. Even with this unity and truth based story Black Ops still showcased stellar larger than life scripted events with nonstop action but was more believable due to the way the story fit together. For those that played Treyarch’s previous title World at War you will see some familiar faces that come back to play an important role in Black Ops however knowledge of the previous story is not needed to understand or appreciate the current story.

All of this praise does not mean Black Ops doesn’t suffer from some of the same faults that Modern Warfare and other Call of Duty titles suffered from as well. Specifically the enemy and friendly AI or more importantly the lack of enemy or friendly AI. On more than one occasion the enemy AI was completely clueless leaving me to fend for myself in an onslaught of never ending enemies due to the return of endless enemy respawns. The enemy AI wasn’t much better as they would walk right up to a friendly AI player or myself showing just how scripted there movements are. Overall the game is very well directed except in one particular part of the game where most of these errors reared their ugly heads resulting in me having to break the game in order to pass it.

Overall I found the 6.5 hour single player campaign to be much better than that of Modern Warfare 2. The story was ambitious and provided a variety of gameplay keeping the game fresh and fun to play. Add that to the effortless controls that are now a genre standard as well as crisp smooth graphics and stellar sound that we expect from every Call of Duty title. This makes Black Ops definitely worth picking up and experiencing just on the single player campaign alone without even mentioning the multiplayer.

Multiplayer

Speaking of Multiplayer Treyarch followed the same successful plan as it did with single player; employ some modifications that again pay huge dividends allowing the game to feel fresh. Again much of the successful framework is still intact like gaining experience based on kills and in game objectives to gain levels and eventually prestige.

Some of the guns from the previous titles make a return like the M-16, Skorpion and AK-47 to name a few but Treyarch also added a few new ones as well like the Galil, Commando  and Spectre. Perks were also slightly altered the biggest exclusion being Stopping Power and Death Streaks instead adding others like Ghost and Hacker.

However the biggest change is most likely the addition of COD points which takes the place of the tier unlocking system of the past. COD Points are earned in-game like experience points and are used to purchase all aspects of your load out including gun, attachments, perks, equipment, killstreaks and character customization. Some of the guns are still locked until a certain level however once you reach that level you can immediately unlock and attach any reticule you choose instead of having to get a certain amount of kills to unlock.

I personally like this change as it allows me to choose the perks, equipment and gun combination I want from the very beginning instead of wasting time with those I don’t. To help players maximize their earnings Black Ops also adds contracts which are specific objectives or challenges beyond that of winning the overall game you can purchase and if you successfully complete these objectives can earn additional COD points and/or bonus experience points.

As if that was not enough Treyarch chose to add stat tracking that is so in-depth it easily rivals any multi-platform game to date. From your combat record you can replay your last 20 matches from any person’s view in the game or from a free flowing camera as well. You can then choose to record a snippet of any game and easily upload it to share with the community. If you find yourself dying on a certain map too much you can see exactly where you and every person has died in a match or get comprehensive statistics on all of the guns and equipment you have used as well.

This freedom is also expanded to your character where you can customize your character’s face paint, gun reticule, clan tag or his overall appearance by selecting different perks. The options available are extensive so much so that I am sure I have even missed a few here. But Treyarch didn’t stop there as they also followed up with the extremely popular Zombie mode as well. I find the co-op zombie mode to one of the most fun and addicting activities to engage in with friends. This mode has been further fleshed out and honed with minor adjustments that make this mode even more enjoyable.

Overall

The allure of all the Call of Duty single player campaigns is the feeling of being in a huge summer blockbuster action flick. Not only did Black Ops retain this feeling I believe Black Ops did better in that aspect than any previous Call of Duty title. Treyarch captured this feeling while still having the game be ambitious, diverse and unlike previous titles which says a lot.

I definitely think Treyarch took a leap forward with Black Ops especially considering the array of options they have included. However at times they seemed so focused on adding options they lost some of the polish we have been accustomed to in the past. Those slight imperfections in my eyes are a small price to pay for the countless additions and revisions that positively affect the replayability and ultimate make this title refreshing and fun to play.

It is difficult to say who the better Call of Duty developer is since by now they share so many fundamental ideas and core beliefs. But what I can say is Black Ops is definitely not an inferior product to Modern Warfare 2 and unquestionably should be experienced for the thrill ride that is the single player along with the highly addictive and in-depth multiplayer whether or not you are a fan of either Infinity Ward or Treyarch. In simpler words, go get it.

Call of Duty: Black Ops for the PlayStation 3 was purchased for full price on the release day. The games single player campaign was completed on the default setting in 6.5 hours. I subsequently spent a multitude of hours playing the multiplayer while obtaining 24 of the available 51 trophies. Call of Duty: Black Ops was developed by Treyarch and published by Activision and is available for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii and PC systems.

To read about our stance on the review process click here for more answers. Find all of other reviews here; better yet bookmark that section so you won’t miss any of our future reviews as well. If you would like other information to be included in the reviews give us some feedback and let us know, or if you would like us to review a specific title drop us a line we welcome and encourage your feedback. Enjoy!





Transformers: War for Cybertron Review

28 07 2010

Introduction

Transformers: War for Cybertron is a third person action adventure game that was recently released on June 22, 2010 for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 and developed by High Moon Studios; who previously developed The Bourne Conspiracy and Darkwatch. In this title you can control a multitude of Transformers from either the Autobot or Decepticon factions through out ten chapters which are broken up in two distinct but related campaigns. In the single player campaign which is set years before the actions of the animated cartoon, these factions are waging war on one another over the control of their home planet Cybertron.

Can this title be a success and live up to the standards put forth by fans of the animated cartoon or will it simply fall under the radar to never be seen again? Continue reading to find out.

Single Player

High Moon Studios had a lot going against them when making this title, for instance not much success has been established by developers using a licensed property. Not to mention the nostalgia most feel in my age demographic regarding the animated cartoon. Put all of that together with their relatively lack of experience and most would say High Moon Studios was destined to fail. Transformers: War for Cybertron just goes to show that a developer without huge previous success can take a licensed product that is revered so highly and make a high quality game while still staying true to the old fans and simultaneously introducing new ones.

This quality wasn’t apparent from the beginning however, upon inserting the disk I was tasked with a very lengthy mandatory install and the first chapter was one of if not the worst chapter in the game. Not much was explained and I found myself fumbling around the terrain while I familiarized myself with the controls. Luckily I didn’t have to familiarize myself with the terrain too much considering much of the first half of the campaign was repetitive and reused. However the interesting story and the fulfilling combat was enough to carry me through and good thing since the rest of the Decepticon campaign and the entire Autobot campaign was fresh and fun.

Speaking of the two campaigns I enjoyed how the two were functional when they stood alone but connected to each other. In other words you were able to play as the “bad guys” during the Decepticon campaign along with the “good guys” in the Autobot campaign but successfully win during both opportunities. The entire 10 chapter campaign didn’t feel rushed as it took me roughly 12 hours to complete on medium difficulty. Each campaign had interesting yet challenging boss battles along with nods to hardcore fans but not too much that would make a newcomer feel out of the loop. The campaigns story was interesting and intriguing but ultimately boiled down to Megatron’s quest for the energy source Dark Energon and the resulting destruction and eventual rise to power of Optimus Prime that caused these two factions to fight over the fate of Cybertron.

Transformers: War for Cybertron is fundamentally a good as well, the graphics while they won’t make you gasp are detailed enough to enable you to vividly see all the detailed moving parts of each Transformer. The audio while also not a stand out does play well within the game. Also I found the voice acting to be authentic as the characters banter between each other during the missions further assured you of their character and the attention to detail put forth. The combat appears to be specifically tailored as you can transform at will allowing for almost limitless possibilities during combat which the game certainly expects and encourages you to do. The later levels promote these possibilities of combat that is unique for each Transformer making for fantastic and fun gameplay.

While it’s a solid title it’s certainly not perfect. Even though the 25 minute mandatory install at the beginning is becoming more normal in today’s game it is still a major inconvenience. Not to mention even with this install the game still had a significant amount of loading during the game. Other issues were the occasional dip in frame rate, mainly while loading, along with the inconsistent play of both the enemy and friendly AI. At times the friendly AI was helpful and actually shot at the enemy while you posed as a distraction while other times they proved to be completely inept. This same inconsistency seemed to be apparent in the enemy AI as well — again at times enemies would tactfully try to attack you while other times they ONLY focused their shots at you no matter how hard you tried to hide, since there is no cover mechanic, or where your allies where. This caused certain difficulty spikes throughout the game that again were frustrating.

In most games there is not much reason to replay the single player campaign as most of the replayability comes from the presence of or the lack there of a multiplayer, Transformers: War for Cybertron is different. The entire campaign can be played cooperatively with up to three people online and with different characters to choose from each with a different fighting style I found the campaign can be satisfying to replay multiple times. During these multiple play throughs you can try out the challenging difficulty settings or try to obtain all of the trophies which help promote the game by challenging you to play using different strategies. Overall I was surprised at the amount of replayability that existed just in the single player campaign before I even delved into the multiplayer.

Multiplayer

After completion of the single player I was excited to jump into the multiplayer which is rich with features, plus who of us hasn’t dreamed of a multiplayer shooter with Transformers and thought it would be rad. The first mode I tried out was High Moons Nazi-zombie mode called Escalation; it’s a four person co-operative mode where you select a specific Transformer and try to survive waves of other Transformers while simultaneously purchasing health, ammo, weapons and unlocking new areas of the level by using the points you earned from kills. This mode was both hectic and rewarding – I found I easily grasped the concept considering the gross amount of time I have spent playing the Nazi-zombie mode in Call of Duty: World at War. The fundamentals are similar, you frantically run around while continuously fighting progressively more difficult masses of Transformers. Team work is mandatory if you expect to get to a higher wave but if you die you only have to wait until the next wave, if your team survives, to respawn.

The other aspect of the multiplayer was the traditional 10 person online customizable class based shooter with all of the conventional game types including team deathmatch, free for all, capture the flag and headquarters. I was eager to try out this mode but whether or not I over sold myself I was under whelmed with the overall experience. First off even when I tried playing during prime hours the multiplayer was barren this is not the games fault but it took several minutes to even find a game. Upon finding a game I had hopes of picking one of the several iconic characters from either the Autobot or Decepticon faction only to find out I had to choose from a bunch of nameless Transformers under four different classes, Soldier, Leader, Scientist and Scout. These certain classes can be customized with certain weapons and abilities that unlock based on your level however each class is leveled up individually.

Upon entering the match I found the combat was no fun at all. The combat was chaotic, frustrating and unbalanced with no real direction or tactics involved but relied more on luck. The player is never rewarded for being tactical but more importantly all that appears to matter is having the better class setup which requires a higher level. The shooting felt inaccurate and took way too many bullets to kill an enemy leaving me frustrated when I would tactfully move around the symmetrical map to a better position to only unload an entire clip and die.

Granted I may just be bad at this particular type of multiplayer option but these are not my only complaints. I was often times disconnected from the online games or the host would leave either way I would have to restart from the lobby in an attempt to locate other players in a desolate online mode. Lastly more of a personal opinion I was let down by the amount of customization that was available, while there was some High Moon could have taken it a lot deeper than they did. For the most part the multiplayer feature had all of the pieces to be a successful component but in my eyes these pieces just didn’t fit together properly. This doesn’t make it a bad option but rather an option that’s not for me.

Overall

Overall I think Transformers: War for Cybertron does a fantastic job at creating an origins story that old fans can applaud and newcomers can enjoy. But when contrasted against other 3rd person shooters in its genre it’s rather generic and has quite a few growing pains despite the historic rivalry that is presents. While certainly not a bad title I do believe its thought of more highly, by me included, because the Transformer named is so revered by fans and the names of these Transformers are so nostalgic not to mention the complete lack of even a competent Transformers game in the past. Don’t get me wrong there is truly some shinning moments in this title and I believe High Moon Studio has built a solid foundation and should be applauded for their effort and respect of the subject matter when developing this ultimately enjoyable game.I just think when it’s all said and done Transformers: War for Cybertron is just a good short term diversion and nothing more.

During the summer lull of releases its difficult to find any game to play let along a quality game therefore if you’re a Transformers fan or just looking for a quality game to play during this down time then no doubt I think Transformers: War for Cybertron presents enough of a value to purchase and play through. However if on the other hand you don’t have the same fond memories of Transformers or have a healthy backlog to play then I suggest you don’t purchase this title but feel its at least worth a rental at some point in time.

Transformers: War for Cybertron for the PlayStation 3 was provided to me for reviewing purposes by Activision. The games single player campaign was completed on the medium setting in 11.5 hours. I subsequently spent another 8 hours playing the multiplayer and co-operative features while obtaining 24 of the available 51 trophies. Transformers: War for Cybertron was developed by High Moon Studios and published by Activision and is available for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC systems.

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To read about our stance on the review process click here for more answers. Find all of other reviews here; better yet bookmark that section so you won’t miss any of our future reviews as well. If you would like other information to be included in the reviews give us some feedback and let us know, or if you would like us to review a specific title drop us a line we welcome and encourage your feedback. Enjoy!