Monthly Archives: September 2013

Highlights of Eurogamer Expo 2013

Yesterday afternoon I had a chance to check out this year’s Eurogamer Expo at Earl’s Court, which proved to be a lot of fun. I have to say I’m paying for it now though – I had a cold coming on yesterday morning, and half a day of excitedly wandering around buzzing and flashing booths didn’t do it much good – I feel bloody terrible today. Still, I thought I’d share a few thoughts and photos with you from my sick bed.

The Eurogamer Expo at Earl's Court Exhibition Centre. In an act of supreme foolishness, Mayor Bojo has scheduled this historic building for demolition to make way for flats. Unbelievable.

The Eurogamer Expo at Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre. In an act of supreme foolishness, Mayor Bojo has scheduled this historic building for demolition to make way for flats. Unbelievable.

Once you get past the slightly disturbing Nazi-a-like Wolfenstein banners at the entrance, the first thing you see is the Nintendo stand, which was stacked with Wii Us playing Super Mario 3D World. It looks pretty good, but I’m still finding myself struggling to get excited about it… A Link Between Worlds, on the other hand, has got me all hot under the collar and marks a welcome return to top-down Zelda territory. Mario Kart 8 was in evidence, but the lack of queues for it spoke volumes – perhaps this is a sequel too far? It certainly looks very pretty, but there’s a sense of diminishing returns. There were huge queues for Pokémon X and Y on the other hand: clearly the Pokémon appeal has yet to diminish.

Good old Zelda, still drawing them in...

Good old Zelda, still drawing them in…

Onto the Xbox One stand. A couple of large, restricted booths made sure that innocent eyes couldn’t witness the gory delights of Ryse, Killer Instinct and Dead Rising 3, but it also meant that I didn’t witness them either – there was no way I was going to join the huge queue (more on queuing in a minute). I have to admit, none of these titles really interested me, and there was little else that caught my eye on the Xbox stand, although it was pleasing to watch people make fools of themselves playing on Kinect.

It was a similar story on the PS4 stand – there was a huge queue to get into the main area so I didn’t get a chance to play much, but what I saw didn’t really set the pulse racing. There are all the usual driving and shooting games (Drive Club, Kill Zone, etc.), and the only thing that really stood out for me were the indie games and slightly more off the wall titles – Octodad in particular looks pretty funny, although those finnicky controls might prove irritating after a while.

The PS4 stand was HUGE.

The PS4 stand was HUGE. As was the queue…

When I was leaving the Xbox One stand there was a Forza 5 demonstration going on, and I overheard the announcer blithely contradicting himself in mid-sentence: “Already you can see the difference between Forza 4 and Forza 5, it’s subtle but it’s a huge difference.”

That’s the trouble with the next-gen consoles: we’re told that there’s a huge difference, but up close it’s pretty hard to tell. In fact there were some PS3 games that I thought were actually PS4 games until I saw the PS3 sign (Beyond: Two Souls looks especially incredible), and likewise I’m sure that most of the PS4 indie games could run on a PS3. There IS a subtle difference of course, but it will take more time for developers to squeeze the next-gen systems enough to make them truly mind-blowing.

Still, having said that, it was amazing to see how far we’ve come as well. The retro section offered up consoles and games all the way from the BBC Micro to the PS2, and it was great to relive some gaming memories, but I couldn’t get over how primitive some games looked. Tomb Raider looked positively ancient, as did Banjo Kazooie, although I remember both being pretty cutting edge at the time. Elite, on the other hand, had a timeless charm – if anything its simple, wireframe graphics have aged better than some of its later cousins.

A particular highlight for me was the chance to play on a fully working Vectrex console – I was amazed at how crisp and smooth the vector graphics were, it must have been phenomenal in the early 1980s.

The Vectrex. I'm not entirely sure what game I was playing - I think it was Space Wars,

The Vectrex. I’m not entirely sure what game I was playing – I think it was Space Wars.

I’ve mentioned queuing a lot already, and that’s because it was pretty much inescapable. I was only there for the afternoon, and it took me most of that time to wander round all of the stands, so I only had time to queue up for one ‘big’ thing. Would it be the Xbox One or PS4? Well, neither actually, it was the Oculus Rift.

I waited in line for an hour to have a go on the famed VR system, and I’m happy to say it wasn’t a disappointment. I remember playing the horrendous old VR machines at the London Trcodero back in the 90s, and it’s astonishing how far the technology has moved on. People wanted VR back then but the hardware simply wasn’t up to scratch – now, finally, the technology has caught up with the dream.

Of course the massive downside of VR technology is that it makes you look like an absolute tit.

Of course the massive downside of VR technology is that it makes you look like an absolute tit.

I played a WW2 flight-sim game called WarThunder, which thankfully was a lot better than its terrible name suggests. It was an eerie sensation – looking down in the cockpit revealed my virtual knees, and I found my brain fighting against the sensation of simultaneously being in the air and being sat on a stool at a convention centre. Initially I felt a bit dizzy, but after a few minutes my brain began to accept the illusion, and I found myself looking around in wonderment.

THIS is the future, ladies and gentlemen – not subtly fancier-looking cars and ever bloodier first person shooters. There are rumours that Sony is investing in VR technology, and it would be a shrewd move – it’s the key technology that will really separate the next-gen from the current one.

I'm not convinced by omni-directional treadmills. Amusingly, the guy kept getting tangled in the wires from his headset as he turned around.

I’m not convinced by omni-directional treadmills. Amusingly, the guy kept getting tangled in the wires from his headset as he turned around.

I’m not convinced about the omni-directional treadmill though – can you really imagine anyone putting one of these in their homes? Still, there’s definitely a gap in the market for them – I could see these being a big hit in arcades, especially if there were a few linked together for multiplayer deathmatches.

Other highlights included Sir, You Are Being Hunted (a brilliantly atmospheric game featuring pipe-smoking Victorian robots – we should adopt it as the official game of A Most Agreeable Pastime), Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z (a new, fantastically violent game from Keiji Inafune), Titanfall, Wolfenstein: The New Order and Destiny (I’m not a huge fan of FPSs, but all three looked amazing).

Just in case any of the cosplayers get carried away and bring in real weapons...

Just in case any of the cosplayers get carried away and bring in real weapons…

Finally, it was great to see all of the cosplayers wandering about – I saw a great Akuma from Street Fighter IV and Ezio from Assassin’s Creed, and the Pyramid head costume from Silent Hill was impressive. But the prize for the most up-to-the-minute costume has to go to Wonder-Red from the just-released Wonderful 101 (see pic)… Hold on, where’s Wonder-Blue? And Wonder-Green? And Wonder-Pink? And…

Me and Wonder-Red from The Wonderful 101. I'm the one with the beard and the StarFox T-shirt.

Me and Wonder-Red from The Wonderful 101. I’m the one with the beard and the StarFox T-shirt.

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What Now For The Wii U?

Just in case it’s escaped your attention, the Wii U isn’t doing very well. Not very well at all, in fact.

It got off to an OK start, with around 3 million consoles sold worldwide between its November 2012 launch and the end of 2012. These sales weren’t quite as good as the Wii’s (3.19 million Wii consoles had been sold less than a month after launch), but they weren’t far behind. However, since then sales have trailed off alarmingly – between April and June this year, Nintendo sold just 160,000 Wii U consoles worldwide. Breaking that figure down, 90,000 Wii Us were sold in Japan, 60,000 in the USA and just 10,000 in Europe, Australia and the rest of the world. Yes, you read that right, 10,000. To give you an idea how bad that figure is, between April and June 2007,  3.43 million Wii consoles were sold worldwide: 0.95 million in Japan, 1.44 million in the USA and 1.04 million in the rest of the world.

This is what a Wii U looks like. If you live in Europe or Australia, there's a good chance you've never seen one in the flesh.

This is what a Wii U looks like. If you live in Europe or Australia, there’s a good chance you’ve never seen one in the flesh.

What went wrong?

There are a number of things that could account for these disappointing sales. First of all there’s the problem that few people I speak to even know what the Wii U is. There seemed to be very little advertising (in Europe at least) around the Wii U’s launch, and for the most part the console seems to have completely escaped the public’s consciousness. It’s a far cry from the furore around the Wii when it launched – even my gran knew about Wii Sports, perhaps helped by newspaper articles depicting smashed TVs.

And speaking of Wii Sports, the Wii U is desperately in need of a killer app. Nintendoland just doesn’t cut the mustard, and New Super Mario Bros. U frankly isn’t much different from the old New Super Mario Bros., at least in Joe Public’s eyes. So much for the launch games, and since then there’s been very little in the way of new releases: Pikmin 3 and Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate have been welcome additions, but they’re hardly console sellers. Importantly, none of the games released so far have really sold the Wii U gamepad as an essential item – not in the same way as Wii Sports sold the Wii remote as a genuinely new gameplay experience. There’s a nagging sensation that most of the games for the Wii U would work just as well without the secondary touchscreen (perhaps with the exception of the excellent ZombiU).

It was clear that Nintendo were making an attempt to lure back ‘hardcore’ gamers with the launch of the Wii U – the presence of games like Assassin’s Creed 3 and Mass Effect 3 on the day-one line up was evidence of that, along with the high-profile signing of Platinum Games. But most of these gamers already own an Xbox 360 or PS3 that’s just as powerful as a Wii U, and with the release of the Xbox One and PS4 only months away, the Wii U is going to look embarrassingly underpowered. Likewise, there’s little for casual gamers to get excited about either – a touchscreen joypad is hardly the mainstream breakthrough that motion control was back in 2006. Motion control was the Wii’s triumph, but every console offers this now, and there’s a sense that the novelty has long since worn off. And what does that touchscreen do exactly?

So is the Wii U any good?

I’ve painted a pretty bleak picture for the Wii U, but I’ll admit I’m a big fan of the console. There’s not a huge distance in graphics between it and the Xbox 360, but it’s a massive improvement over the Wii – playing Mario in glorious HD is truly a joy.

The controller is a sublime piece of engineering too – it’s surprisingly light and comfortable to hold, and I love the way you can also use it as a TV remote. It’s absolutely fantastic for Lovefilm and Netflix – I can get both of these on my Xbox 360, but I always watch films on the Wii U. The touchscreen makes it really easy to search for films you want to see, and it feels very natural to fast forward or rewind TV using your finger, plus it’s also really handy to see how long is left on a film just by looking at the gamepad. In fact, whenever I’m watching normal TV or a DVD, I find I really miss having that touchscreen.

Take a good look Microsoft, this is what an easy-to-use dashboard looks like. Spot any adverts? Me neither.

Take a good look Microsoft, this is what an easy-to-use dashboard looks like. Spot any adverts? Me neither.

Miiverse is also brilliant – it’s far less intimidating that the online world of the Microsoft or Sony, and it has a real sense of community. It’s particularly handy if you find yourself getting stuck on a game – a quick call for help on Miiverse is all that’s needed. Then there’s the improved Nintendo eShop and Virtual Console, as well as the marvellous Wii U Street and Panorama View, which are brilliant showcases for what the console can do (Panorama View in particular left me gobsmacked when I first tried it – it’s like a 360 degree video).

All in all it’s a friendly, easy-to-use and wonderfully designed console. But…

Games drought

Let’s be frank, the Wii U is in desperate need of some games. Earlier this year, Nintendo President Satoru Iwata publicly apologised to Wii U owners for the games drought, but there’s little sign of it ending. Pikmin 3 and The Wonderful 101 were welcome summer arrivals, but there’s not a huge amount on the horizon to get excited about right now. We’ve been promised a new Mario Kart, Smash Bros. and Donkey Kong Country, but we’ve had so many of these games over the years already that I’m struggling to get excited about any of them. The new 3D Mario game looks promising, but it also doesn’t look anywhere near as enticing as Super Mario Galaxy. Wii Fit U is around the corner, but I’m doubtful that it will convince anyone to blow the dust off their balance boards. Wii Sports Club is a welcome return, but this should be free with the console, not cost £8.99 per sport. Finally, Bayonetta 2 is something I’m very much looking forward to, but at the end of the day it’s a cult game, not a console seller.

Bayonetta 2 - a new haircut isn't going to sell consoles.

Bayonetta 2 – a new haircut isn’t going to sell consoles.

The point is that all of these games should have been out by now. Nintendo should have been capitalising on its head start over the PS4 and Xbox One, but instead it’s slipping further behind its rivals. Shigeru Miyamoto said in an interview that Nintendo’s development teams had struggled to get to grips with the Wii U, and as a result most games are taking six months longer to make than anticipated – that’s a long time in the gaming world. In the meantime, third party developers have abandoned the console in droves, no doubt put off by the combination of low sales and the difficult time they had selling anything on the Wii that didn’t feature Mario or ‘Just Dance’ on the cover.

What now?

What the Wii U needs is something fresh and totally new. It needs a game that uses that touchscreen for something more interesting than a map. It needs a killer app.

I’d love to see something with a collaborative edge emerge on the Wii U – something with the creativity of Minecraft but with the charmingness of Animal Crossing and the compulsiveness of Pokémon. That controller is perfect for drawing, so what about a Pokémon-style game where you draw the characters yourself? Or a Spore-type game about raising and evolving animals you create by photographing objects with the gamepad, then swapping them online?

Approaching it from another angle, one of the best parts of ZombiU was the tension created when you were forced to divide your attention between the two screens – it was such a brilliant mechanic that I’m surprised it hasn’t cropped up again. And why is everyone in such a hurry to use every single button on the gamepad? The DS showed that games can be played solely with a stylus, and games like Ace Attorney would be perfectly suited to the Wii U. And what about the Wii remote? Imagine a tense action game in which you had to solve a puzzle on the gamepad using the stylus while defending yourself from attacking aliens on the TV by shooting at them with the Wii remote.

Miyamoto-san has hinted that there’s new Nintendo IP in development, but judging by the delays the company has faced so far it’s likely to be a long way off… and there’s always the chance it could be a disappointment, like Wii Music. But a single, well-timed, ‘must-have’ game could turn the console’s fortunes around.

At least we can be assured that Nintendo won’t be going under anytime soon – sales of the 3DS are going from strength to strength, and as IGN puts it, the company has ‘warehouses of cash‘ to spare. But in all likelihood the Wii U isn’t going to add significant amounts to those cash warehouses, bar the release of some phenomenal, console-selling killer app.

A photo of Nintendo's headquarters in Kyoto.

A photo of Nintendo’s headquarters in Kyoto.

It seems that the Wii U is going the way of the GameCube – sales will remain steady, but it will lag significantly behind its rivals, and receive very little third party support. The hardcore Nintendo lovers will stay true, but the masses will stay away. Without a doubt though, it will be home to some truly amazing games… even if they’re few and far between.

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Crowd Source? Let the creators create.

The internet is generally a wonderful thing.  It allows creators to meet, it allows communities to form, and it allows businesses to get feedback directly from consumers about their business.  It’s all good, solid stuff.  Thanks internet for making all of our lives easier.

But with easy access to everyone, all the time, about seemingly anything comes, the reality is that when people don’t like things they will tell you.  Loudly.  And many, many times over.  Feedback is great, but it often comes from uninformed or selfish places.

This dark side of the internet has been around with regards to video games since the dawn of time.  But it is getting worse and worse, with consumers thinking they have agency in the process a game’s development or a system’s design (I wrote something on how much the furore around the XBOX ONE drove me bananas).  The simple fact is the consumer is given too high of a place in the development of a modern video game.  Did van Gogh crowdsource for ‘the Starry Night?’.  Do you think Woody Allen tweets to his fans asking whether Hannah and Mickey should marry?  Probably not.  And both were masterpieces

My point is there is enough expertise, enough creative energy and objective critiquing power within development teams themselves, that games aren’t released without heavy assessment as to whether they meet the designer’s intent.  Rest assured the games that are released to be utter garbage wouldn’t have been helped by your two cents worth.  There are stories behind every failure, and no amount of armchair game development in most cases couldn’t have turned crap into gold.

At the end of the day I don’t want to play something designed by committee.  I like video games but sure as hell wouldn’t have a clue how to make them.  I leave that to the people whose day jobs it is to do just that.

If you want to make a game, by all means, go for it.  But don’t profess to know how to make someone else’s better.  Keep of of their lawn.

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Pikmin 3: Simply Wonderful

Pikmin 3 box artIt’s fair to say the Wii U hasn’t gotten off to the best of starts. I met a gamer the other day and told him I owned a Wii U, and his look of surprise was palpable – he admitted that I was the first person he’d met who actually owned one. With just 10,000 Wii U consoles sold in Europe in the first quarter of this year, finding a fellow owner is about as rare an occurrence as finding someone who still doesn’t know what twerking is. Still, it pays to be a member of the exclusive club of Wii U ownership – after a slow start, there are some great games coming out for the console, including the just released Wonderful 101 and the brilliant, brilliant Pikmin 3.

I’ve been a big fan of Pikmin since the GameCube days, and it’s criminal that we’ve had to wait so long for the third game in the series, but on the plus side it’s easily the best yet. For a start, the graphics have benefitted enormously from an HD makeover: each leaf and stone is vibrantly realistic, and the fruit you collect looks so good you could almost reach into the screen and take a bite out of it. I never thought I’d spend so long looking at rotating images of virtual fruit, but the fruit gallery is like a meta-game in its own right.

Look at the size of that lemon!

Look at the size of that lemon!

The basic gameplay doesn’t stray too far from the winning formula of the original, although the flying Pikmin are a great new addition. They’re frankly hopeless in a fight, but they’re extremely handy for ferrying bits and bobs back to your spaceship in short shrift – although they have a suicidal blind spot for spider’s webs. The other major change is that you now have 3 characters available that you can switch between at any time, allowing for some fancy multitasking… if your brain can keep up. I’ve no doubt that masters of the game could finish it in a few hours thanks to some expert juggling of the three, but it does make your brain hurt after a while. Still, there’s an undeniable thrill from skillfully swapping between three groups of Pikmin in a desperate bid to get all your tasks finished before sundown.

The bosses are a highlight - this one was particularly vicious.

The bosses are a highlight – this one was particularly vicious.

I was pleased to find that it’s quite a long game too – it took me around 15 hours or so to finish, and I didn’t even touch the mission levels (which see a welcome return for the white and purple Pikmin). All in all there’s a surprising amount of content there, and it really was a delight to play from start to finish. If only all games could be this fun and rewarding.

[Penned in bliss by Lucius Merriweather.]

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The decision to ‘Just Walk Away’ from a game is always a hard one

We’ve all been there at some point in our careers:  worked long hard hours, taken a personal interest in a project, only to see it abandoned before your very eyes, seemingly without reason.  Outraged you storm out to the nearest coffee shop to cool down, where you order a regular flat white and vent to the barista (earning a paltry $10 an hour)  about how your job is terrible and how you’re underpaid and unhappy, proposing that you’re going to work at the local supermarket packing shelves.  You return to work, slightly less angry but still unable to let go of that project, trying to justify to your superiors why the project should in fact continue.

What happens next is a hard lesson to learn, but an important one.

You are told by senior management that the project was pulled for business or strategic reasons beyond your control.  While you are sitting isolated in your cubicle or office, surrounded everyday by the nuances of this one project, there are people whose job it is to make sure that every task, every project, every arse on a seat, is leading to something positive.  That can be profit, that can be social outcomes, or that can be a piece of art – but more often its a combination of all three.  This is the big picture, and this is what drives businesses, governments, and not-for-profit organisations, not the small picture.  The old advice that the journey is the important part just doesn’t apply in a majority of cases and it certainly doesn’t pay the bills.

Even when this is the case, decision to pull a project is undoubtedly a hard one, particularly for those who have shed blood, sweat and tears for their passions. Developers and Publishers don’t take the decision to pull the plug on a product lightly, particularly where there are high levels of sunk costs, but it is almost always in the best interest of the business – and by virtue of that fact — often in the interests of a studio’s survival.  Creators need to be creative, but they also need to play within the same economic reality as anyone else.

The solution to all of this isn’t simple, but it is obvious.  The goal should be to reduce costs, not increase revenue.  It lowers the risk of an uneconomic product, it gives developers more creative control and in turn makes game development more sustainable.  More importantly for publicly listed companies, it gives shareholders greater confidence to ride out any downturns in the industry. And that is good for everyone, the businesses, the creators and the consumer.

MoneyAUS

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The case of Criterion Games and the fickle internet

This week Creative Director of the brilliance-machine that is Criterion Games, Alex Ward, noted that the studio most recently responsible for Need For Speed: Most Wanted was down to 16 people with one more on the way.  What followed was the internet speculating about what was to become of the studio.  Surely it’s the end of an era.  You can’t possibly make games with 17 people, right?  Ward then went into clarification mode, explaining in a tweet that “a small team where everyone focuses on gameplay first is better than 140 people. We have felt this way for years”.

Regardless of this very clear statement from Ward the internet continued to explode as forum posters began writing the eulogy for the studio, and I can see it now:  “Criterion were great years ago, then Electronic Arts bought them and killed them.  They sold out”.

Suddenly Criterion had become the ‘studio that was’.  The dream was over.  Forget them and move on.   EA were folding them, they were going the way of Bullfrog, they were sh!t anyway.  You name it the internet thought of it.  All because of a reduction in staff.  Of course not one month ago those same people were hailing the achievements of the Fullbright Company, the team of four responsible for indie-darling Gone Home.

There is no reason to think Criterion will falter where that team flourished.

It feels strange to be making this analogy but businesses are like governments, and as such with changes in priorities comes a change in strategy and a change in resourcing requirements.  The ‘new’ Criterion is a task-force of the best of the best to move it onto its next big project.  The Criterion of 2013 is the think tank, the brains, that will come up with the next industry defining feature.  It takes one person to come up with an idea, only many to implement it.  A current employee said on the genre-changing Autolog:

The reality is Criterion will likely continue to be one of the high achievers of the industry.  The minds behind some of the greatest games of the last decade, some of my favourite games, will have their names on credits of future games of the year. So let’s be better than this and give these guys the credit and benefit of the doubt they deserve because they have more than earned it.

In other words, internet, shut the f**k up.

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Modern Warfare 3 shows that war really never does change

MW3Modern Warfare 3 shows that war really never does change.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  I’ve never been a huge fan of Call of Duty Multiplayer.  I appreciate what it brings to the table, and why millions upon millions flock to it.  But its not my cup of tea.  The single player campaigns on the other hand I find are a great sub-10 hour popcorn romp through set piece after set piece of destruction and mayhem.  They are a palette cleanser – and have served their purpose rather well to date.  I play them, love them at the time, and then more often than not forget about them.   And that’s the way I like it.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was, and still is, a revelation in first person shooter campaigns.  Lucius wasn’t a big fan, but I found it to be an almost perfect blend of fast-paced action and portrayal of the human spirit over adversity and sorrow that warranted the praise that was lumped on it at launch.  The overly violent hollywood style kill-box action sequences were punctuated by nigh-on perfectly choreographed dramatic storytelling moments, bringing a certain emotional and human element to what is clearly a pop-culture influenced conflict.  Hundreds of guys can be taken out by a chosen few, but it is the plight of the protagonists, the good guys, that resonates with the player’s heartstrings.  COD4 is basically the ultimate post-post-modern war story and to this day it is the sort of game I still think about replaying during the slower winter months.

And the studios responsible for the COD series have successfully replicated the very same formula that brought Activision millions and millions of dollars with each subsequent game.  The same action and the same dramatic set pieces have been recreated time and time again,  upping the ante with  every sequel.  What begun as basically a regional conflict, turned into an invasion of US home soil, and ended with World War III in Modern Warfare 3.  The stakes were higher but Modern Warfare 3 was, for all intents and purposes, cut from the same cloth as COD4.

Which is why I’m a bit confused as to why this didn’t feel as special as those that preceded it.  It was a great game that ultimately felt like a bit of a slog.

The moment to moment action in Modern Warfare 3 is still first class.  The weapons have a weight to them, the shooting itself feels snappy and movement is fast and furious.  Shooting dudes as they run from cover to cover, or pop their head out from behind a barrier to take a pot shot feels as fantastic as it did five years ago.  The enemies themselves aren’t the brightest bunch, but they’re definitely not stupid either, meaning that while most areas can be traversed with a bit of run and gun attitude, there are still rare stalemates leading to tense moments.  Although the intensity of these moments is largely fleeting because of the genre-staple regenerating health,  those moments where you are a bullet away from death and under siege from multiple enemy positions are still exciting.  This should make for a stellar, number one experience, just like those Modern Warfares before.   So where does it go wrong?

It’s turning the dial up to 11.  Explosions are everywhere in Modern Warfare 3.  Watching terrorism in the UK, or the fall of the Eiffel Tower in France are just part and parcel of the whole Call of Duty schtick.  What should be dramatic moments, watching our world crumble at the hands of ourselves, are nothing more than spectacles that bring with them a whole lot more shooting.  The same goes for the more gut wrenching moments of experiencing death through the eyes of the dying or watching scores of innocents slaughtered at the hands of a madman’s minions, like seen in “Shock and Awe” in Call of Duty 4 or “No Russian” in Modern Warfare 2.  Those moments were special, memorable moments, and in trying to repeat them in this game, Infinity Ward has turned them into crutches to drag the story along and in some ways break up the action.  For every one of those moments in the first game, there seems to be four or five resulting in a very thinly veiled attempt at recreating those special moments.  The result is that those very human moments have absolutely no impact – which is sad because it was those moments from the first games that stuck with me.

Don’t get me wrong Modern Warfare 3 is a bloody good action game.  It ticks all the boxes around its combat, its level design is functional but not outstanding, it has spectacular set pieces and most of all has more explosions than Fantavision.  But I expect more from Call of Duty campaigns.  I expect tales of the human spirit and sorrow in the face of adversity.  Sure you have some deaths here and there of characters that have been with us since the beginning, but the problem is Modern Warfare was always built on the very threadbare but implied relationships between the characters, not between the player and the characters, meaning there’s a bit of dissonance between how you think you should feel and how you actually do when the game kills off a member of its cast.  So while Modern Warfare has the bombast of its predecessors, it is missing some of its heart, leaving me more than a little disappointed with what I’ve come to expect from these campaigns.  It’s a good action game let down by poor ‘everything else’.  MW3SS

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