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?





Game of The Year: 2010

10 01 2011

The New Year brings a fresh start to our calendars and hopeful New Years resolutions and with this fresh start its only natural to look back and reflect on the year that was 2010. I absolutely love these types of thoughtful musings since we often times are so focused on whats upcoming that we forget to look and see whats in the past. This can be true of any facet of our lives however this particular post will focus on gaming as I will attempt to proclaim the best games of this past year.

Before we get started I must first put a disclaimer, this is my list and therefore you may not and in fact I hope you do not agree 100% with my findings. Secondly just because a game did not make my list or was a runner up does not mean I dislike the game its a simple fact of numbers and the sheer amount of quality games that release every year. In fact it may mean that I just haven’t played it yet. Lastly many factors come into play when I determine which game is eventually crowned however it ultimately comes down to my overall likeness of that game.

Anyways without further a do here is my Game of The Year 2010.

Morphing into the #5 spot is … Transformers: War for Cybertron

Just like last year my 5th spot was a surprise to even me. Transformers War for Cybertron was released in the early summer months and is a movie based game therefore not many including myself had high expectations. However Transformers came out of left field and was a total surprise hit for me. Transformers War for Cybertron shined were most movie based games and bland third person shooters fail, in the story and shooting mechanics. Even with all of this Transformers kept that old nostalgia Transformers feel that is so revered by fans easily making this one of the best games I played all year.

Galloping up into the #4 spot is … Red Dead Redemption

Surprised? While a consensus game of the year for most other blogs it just didn’t provide enough for me personally to reach that top spot but is easily one of the best games this past year. Red Dead Redemption is a black hole of content worthy of spending hours upon hours in. Rockstar San Diego gave us such a stunning visual world that at times I would just gallop around the barren western desert admiring the environment they have made. Luckily Rockstar also filled this open world with a multitude of activities to do as well as an intense and attention grabbing story which compliments the surroundings.

Dribbling past the competition and into the #3 spot is … NBA 2K11

Although this is my list I feel I should pretense my third pick considering I enjoy the game of basketball with Michael Jordan being my favorite player of all time. But even though I do enjoy the NBA I haven’t purchased nor played a basketball game since 2002 that should say something about the genre. All things changed with NBA 2k11. Michael Jordan was a great fit for the cover of this game as like Jordan’s game I found no inconsistencies or glaring holes but rather a pure, elegant, graceful and creative slam dunk. NBA 2K11 is one of my favorite sports games of all time easily making it into the top of my list for 2010.

Covertly shooting its way all the way to #2 is … Call of Duty: Black Ops

Call of Duty titles have always been a favorite of mine mostly due to the lasting competitive multiplayer in which I play hours upon hours with online with friends. Call of Duty Black Ops is no different as Treyarch has expanded the options while refining and focusing other areas of the multiplayer. However this year I was a huge fan of the surprising single player campaign as well. Treyarch decided to take the single player in a slightly different direction that I feel paid huge dividends. Mix this fresh single player with the always consistent, hugely popular and complete time sink of a multiplayer and Black Ops was a highlight of the 2010 year.

And lastly my 2010 Game of The Year is … Starcraft 2

I could have seen this coming from 1998 when the original Starcraft was released or later that year when the expansion Brood War was released. One of the only titles I have anticipated more than Starcraft 2 is another yet to be released Blizzard game, Diablo 3. I played both Starcraft and the expansion extensively for several years making me eager for the sequel. So much so that to date Starcraft 2 is the ONLY title I have actually purchased new hardware in order to play – a true system seller. The single player while resembling its past was well varied and included some truly incredible moments. Speaking of competitive multiplayer, Black Ops, Starcraft 2 is on a level completely on its own. This anticipation along with reverence for the series and developer not to mention the exceptional quality of the both the single player and competitive multiplayer without question make Starcraft 2 my personal ‘Game of The Year’.

I applaud all of the aforementioned games as well as the rest of the games that released in 2010.  Whats your Game of The Year? Drop a comment below and let me know.





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!





Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Review

16 12 2009

Intro

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 is a first person shooter that was recently released worldwide on November 10, 2009. This title is the sixth installment of the Call of Duty franchise but Infinity Wards first work since Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare which was universally praised and basically put Infinity Ward on the map of top tier developers. In traditional Call of Duty fashion you assume the role of multiple characters as you progress through the single player campaign. This installment picks up five years after Call of Duty 4 and ventures to many different settings like Afghanistan, Siberia, Washington D.C. and Rio de Janeiro while trying to counter a new Russian ultranationalist terrorist organization set to invade the United States.

Can this new title build on the success of Infinity Ward’s previous title or are we set up for a disappointment? Continue reading to find out.

CONTINUE READING





Factoring Price In Review Scores

23 10 2009

Opinion

I have been bothered by a habit in the gaming enthusiast press which recently has gotten severe enough for me to write this article. What habit might that be, well many issues need to be revamped but as I divulge deeper into this culture I find issues that to me make no sense.

For instance, why are price points not factored into review scores?

This issue first came apparent to me when I wrote an article about retail price point and how I think the current price structure is flawed. Anyways when I read reviews I rarely if ever see these reviews even discuss price besides the infrequent blurbs simply stating the manufactures suggested retail price (MSRP). Why is this? From what I can tell one of the deciding factors in a purchasing decision is the price point, especially in this economic climate. Is it because most of the major blogs receive free copies for review? Personally, Yes, I think this has something to do with it along with how disconnected most reviewers are from their audience. Most gamers can’t or don’t play every game or play through a game and then immediately jump to the next title like many in the enthusiast press are forced to do. Instead they pick up a game they hope to enjoy and play that over and over until the next purchase which can be months away. Therefore the value of that purchase is a great deal more important to them versus the reviewer who rarely plays a game again.

So why isn’t price point included in review scores if we know that is a factor? Well some may say that price doesn’t affect the quality of games.

So let’s address that, are certain games better or worse because of their price? I don’t think price changes a game, but do believe it changes the experience. So as a reviewer you are critiquing that game from your experience so why shouldn’t price be included? Let me attempt to be more clear, let’s say I bought both Call of Duty 4 and Terminator Salvation for $60. One of those games I have gotten a tremendous amount of play time out of while the other I had trouble even finishing to write a review. Therefore inherently I felt I received a better value with one over the other which also affected my overall experience with those titles. Obviously that should be reflected in my review. Would that experience and feeling of value change if let’s say I got Terminator Salvation for $30 instead of $60? Of Course! The game didn’t change at all but my experience did so I believe that should be reflected in people’s review of that product. The same could hold true for a good game, if I feel positive towards a purchase because I got a good deal no matter the price then that would favorably show up in the review.

Look, I understand reviews are subjective and only one person’s opinion and that different people have different likes and dislikes. But I believe the reader should be given all the necessary information in order to make a purchasing decision. Then it is up to the reader to make an informed decision on the information they have gathered regardless if they agree or disagree with the reviewers value judgment or even their review at all. Gamers depend on reviews to help guide their purchases, so why shouldn’t this information be included?

Ultimately reviews are for us, gamers, and its obvious price point is a major factor in a consumers buying decision. Discretionary income is decreasing and consumers want to find the most bang for their buck. It is of my belief that gamers are willing to tolerate flaws and length of a game for a cheaper price. Ultimately the decision by the consumer to open their wallet and purchase a game is the only review that matters.

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