- Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare: Remember when I said that most FPS games are set in WWII or some sort of futuristic Alien Invasion? Well the Call of Duty franchise is one of those WWII series. I played one of them once, but I don't remember which one because they're pretty much all the same. You kill Nazis! Well, CoD4 is set in the present day and features contemporary enemies... a setting that is surprisingly underused. Usually, game designers try to spice things up with zombies or aliens or other paranormal crap. Off the top of my head, the only game I can think of with a similar setting is Operation Flashpoint. But while that game was so realistic and complicated that a single shot from an enemy would probably kill you (though I still like the game, I eventually gave up on OF when I got to the squad based missions, which were just unplayable), CoD4 goes for more of an arcadey feel, and it's a lot of fun.
The game's developers have crafted a surprisingly well balanced game. There are, of course, all the standard FPS tropes here, and these sequences are well balanced. However, what sets CoD4 apart from the crowd is that it managed to break up the gameplay every now and again, and in more ways than just the standard vehicle portion. For instance, there is a level where you take the gunner's seat on a C130 and basically rain down destruction upond your enemies in coordination with a ground assault. Another standout is a sniper mission, which is optimized to actually let you use your sniper rifle (a feature that is surprisingly absent from most FPS games). In terms of weaponry, what you get is mostly standard and realistic.. but the weapons you use are generally pretty satisfying to use and like the sniper level, the game is relatively good about creating set-pieces that require the use of a certain weapon to get through.
In terms of story, you're mostly following around a British SAS squad and some US Marines, and there's some story about Russians and terrorists who have a nuclear bomb, etc... It's all very standard, but well executed. The single player game is really short and ends in a bit of an abrupt manner. Despite perhaps wanting some more closure than I got, I'm not sure the length is really that bad. What's in the game is fantastic and I suspect that making the game longer would basically mean making it repetitious, which would have made the game seem more muddled. The game has a very deep multi-player mode that I've only really started to use (and, of course, got my arse handed to me). All in all, an above average FPS game with fun, balanced gampelay (if a little too short).
- Dead Space: A third-person shooter and survival horror game that takes place on a large interstellar mining ship that is stationed around an alien planet. Of course, they've uncovered some sort of alien artifact that begins infecting the crew and turning them into monsters called Necromorphs. You play Isaac Clarke (a not-too-subtle nod to classic SF authors Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke), an engineer sent to help retake the infected mining ship. The game features an off-center, over-the-shoulder third-person view, and the interface tries something different by putting all the various readouts in the environment rather than some sort of HUD. Of course, most of these make no sense. For example, your life meter shows up as a series of bars accross your spine... So while you as the player can see it, Isaac would never be able to see it (he wears a helmet, so it's conceivable that he has a HUD... but then, why advertise how weak you are to your enemies?) I know this is a nitpick, but that's really just an indication that the game failed to fully immerse me in the gameplay. For a survival horror game, immersion is crucial, and this game consistently knocked me out of the world it was trying to create. There's a lot to like about the game, but there were a few key elements that are just inexcusable. Chief among them is save points. All of the games I'd played for the PS3 up to this point have had really nice checkpoint/auto-save style systems. Ultimately, the save points are spaced close together and you never go too long without having an opportunity to save... which just begs the question of why they're needed at all? Save points are a relic - David Wong perfectly summarized the issue years ago:
This is a throwback to the arcade/NES days when physical limitations in the system wouldn't allow you to save your progress just anywhere. There is no reason for this now. None. We're busy. We've got work, appointments, phone calls. We shouldn't tolerate an inability to save our progress in any piece of software.Like I said, most of the games I've played on the PS3 so far were fantasic about this. They auto-saved every time something meaningful was accomplished. All Dead Space's save points serve to do is ruin immersion and remind you that you're playing a game rather than fighting off the undead alien hordes. Again, the survival horror genre requires this more than any other type of game, so I'm baffled as to why they would choose to have save points.
Half Life 2 did this perfectly--it auto-saved every few minutes, behind the scenes. You didn't have to worry about it and you didn't have to re-fight enemies you had already defeated.
There are people who say that preventing saves adds to the "tension" of the game. Sure, in the sense that the fact that your 360 could catch on fire at any moment also adds to the tension. Face it, if the only way you can think of to add suspense to your game is to disable a feature of the hardware, then you suck at making games.
One of the neat things about the game is that killing the enemies require more than just shooting at them - you have to shoot them in such a way as to remove their limbs in order to kill them. This is an interesting way to differentiate the game mechanics of a standard shooter, and the weaponry is suited to this sort of cutting task. Unfortunately, the variation in weaponry is pointless. You would be fine if you only used the first weapon you come accross, the Plasma Cutter. Indeed, one of the PS3 trophies for the game is to complete the whole game with the Plasma Cutter - and I think that would be an easy trophy to earn (if I were willing to play the game again). Some of the other weapons are somewhat neat, but they're also mostly unnecessary. Unlike the Resistance games or even CoD4, there's nothing that is optimized for a specific weapon. Sure, the Line Cutter is great for taking out both legs in one shot, but it has a much slower fire rate. The Ripper is pretty neat and I've heard some people say that it's overpowered, but I always had trouble with it. And so on. In any case, the core gameplay of fighting Necromorphs is pretty fun and one of the better things about the game.
There are several other gameplay elements in this game - there's a kinesis module that lets you move stuff around (though it's generally used for stuff that would seem simpler if you could just use your arms), there's a time-slowing mechanic that I always forget I even had, and the actually neat mechanic of zero-space maneuvering. There are a couple of interesting gun turrent style sequences that I enjoyed playing as well. Some mini-game style stuff shows up as well (i.e. zero-g basketball). So the various "strategic limb dismemberment" sequences are mixed up with various other tasks that require these other gameplay elements. Sometimes this is fun, sometimes it just seems rather pointless. All these different abilities also mean that the controller scheme is more complicated than usual, though for the most part, I didn't have many problems.
The atmosphere can be effective at times, what with the spooky noises and music and all. There are also lots of "boo" momeents when a body you thought was dead actually jumps up and attacks you, which generally leads you to stomp around on dead bodies just to make sure they're really dead. Ultimately, like movies that overuse "boo" moments, they become progressively less effective as time moves on. There's more to horror than just a startling moment, so when you add in the gameplay elements that take you out of the story (like the save points), the game becomes less effective. Story-wise, there's not much going on. Isaac Clarke never actually talks during the course of the game, which is kinda weird and makes it a little difficult to tell what's going on... his wife was apparently on the mining ship and is missing.. and the game tries to tease you by showing glimpses of her (or her voice) throughout the ship. One thing I will say is that the very end of the game (the last cutscene) was actually pretty great - I was glad I stuck with the game until the very end.
For all my gripes, this game is actually pretty competent. It's got some unique elements that perhaps make it worth playing, but there are several flaws that prevented me from loving the game. I pretty much agree with Yahtzee's review of the game as well. Competent, but bland.
More PS3 Reviews
A couple of other games that I've played for the PS3 lately: