Monthly Archives: November 2009

Level Up – Episode 1: Spike Video Game Awards Preview

Spike VGA 2009 LogoHere is the premiere episode of our new podcast Level Up! You’ll hear us discuss the Spike Video Game Awards and highlight a few of the categories such as Game of the Year, Best Voice, and Most Anticipated Game and plenty more.

We’d love to hear some feedback, but keep in mind this is our maiden voyage into the podcasting sea, so be gentle. Listen here or download it directly.

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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Review

Modern Warfare 2 LogoCall of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is an intense game. It is so intense, in fact, that it took the campus mail system an entire extra week to deliver the game after FedEx got the game here from Activision, which explains the delayed write-up. This is not a difficult game to review; it’s short, it’s fun, and it’s absolutely epic.

CoD: MW2 Box ArtModern Warfare 2 is pretty much a direct sequel of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. You’ll see some familiar faces such as “Soap” MacTavish and follow through the consequences of his actions from the end of the original, which is actually a pretty novel aspect since Call of Duty games traditionally have nothing in common except historical truth (or untruth, as is the case with World at War’s Nazi zombies). However, it should be noted that it is definitely not required to have played CoD4 to understand this game’s story, but you probably will miss out on shout-outs to the original, such as the mission entitled “Just Like Old Times.”

The story overall, though, seems only to exist to deliver deliciously epic moments to the player, and these are definitely only brief moments, not prolonged experiences. The astoundingly short single-player campaign will offer up about four to five hours of intense warfare that has plenty of little “I can’t believe that just happened!” cherries atop the shooter sundae. However, these little gems generally only stand out after some reflection because this game may actually be too intense. It’s almost as if it is at a constant, deafening roar. Even the exceptionally captivating stealth bits of the Task Force 141 segments end way too soon and stick you in a frantic shootout after a few minutes. This overall lack of story dynamics (think of a rollercoaster that only went down… for five hours) makes the plot seem as if every individual chapter was an incomplete thought on the game’s storyboard but was left in because of its “moment-ish” merit.

MW2 Airport sceneSpeaking of moments, let’s discuss the “No Russian” mission. You find yourself playing as Joseph Allen who is undercover as Alexei Borodin for the CIA, infiltrating a group of Russian nationalists headed by Vladimir Makarov, the game’s primary antagonist. The mission boils down to you maintaining your secret identity by following through with Makarov’s plan to massacre an entire airport full of civilians. You are given the choice to skip the entire mission without consequence, which probably didn’t quell the most diehard of critics behind this mission’s controversy, but truthfully, this option isn’t entirely necessary. If you’ve ever played a Grand Theft Auto game, you’ve almost definitely done worse than mow down a couple dozen people with a machine gun. In fact, the police show up at the end anyways, so it actually does feel more like GTA than you’d expect in this regard.

The game actually borrows some elements from some other games and movies. The mission where you rescue a certain someone from a Russian Gulag has you fighting through a shower room and sewers in a very Nicolas Cage in The Rock-esque moment. This isn’t a bad thing, but it is something to note.

MW2 Shower RoomThe gameplay, however, is more than refined enough to make up for the odd, slightly sprawling story and sometimes comical voice acting, especially when it comes to Shepherd. It’s pretty much the same game you played back with CoD4, just powered by an upgraded IW 4.0 engine, which delivers some pretty stellar graphics. Saying this is the same game, however, is not a bad thing. The first Modern Warfare was so polished and exciting to play that to simply match that quality of game is more than almost any developer can handle.

The infinitely spawning enemies found in CoD4 are long gone, but the “dynamic AI” which purportedly places enemies in new places each time you play through a level was not found. At best, you’ll find guy behind a door or window that surprises you with a face full of lead that wasn’t there before, which is a very frustrating experience on Veteran difficulty.

MW2 Soap

Modern Warfare 2 still showcases one of the most troublesome issues with these games: NPCs can do so much more than you can. You’ll see characters sliding into and sticking to cover, showing off some advanced melee moves, and overall just exemplifying how lame you are behind the controller. Wandering around the base at the beginning of the game shows a vibrant community of soldiers bustling around in their daily lives, but you can’t interact with any of them. The well fleshed-out world that you are placed in is much appreciated, but it feels a bit disappointing when you’re stuck watching rather than doing.

All of these, however, are minute complaints. The single-player campaign alone is well worth the price and has some of the most memorable moments ever to be had in a game, but let’s face it; the multiplayer is where the big bucks are made.

Imagine the CoD4 multiplayer, but better. Yes, that is possible, and yes, Infinity Ward did it. The added killstreak and deathstreak tweaks make online play incredibly compelling. The game is constantly rewarding you with challenges and accolades you didn’t even know you could accomplish. Even dying is rewarded, offering up a somewhat sick badge of pride. This constant “carrot on a stick” element of multiplayer games makes it incredibly addicting. You may never stop playing.

MW2 Cliffhanger_Hot_Pursuit

There is also a cooperative mode called Special Ops where you get to play through standalone missions with a buddy, though solo play is also allowed. These missions take place in locations from the campaign but are not actually campaign missions and sometimes include missions heavily inspired from the first Modern Warfare. You will find yourself sometimes using an AC-130 to protect your grounded cohort and other times you’ll be Army of Two-ing it up in some intense firefights. This mode may not have the same addictive appeal of the competitive multiplayer mode or the refined experience offered with single-player, but if you enjoyed the “Mile High Club” epilogue of CoD4 then you will also find a lot to like with Special Ops.

In the end, Modern Warfare 2 is exactly what you expected from Infinity Ward: polish, excellent gameplay, and a constant adrenaline rush. To expect anything less would have been a mistake, so if you’re not already playing this game, then you’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do.

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Xbox Live Reward Program Starting Now

Awhile back, many Xbox Live members were sent e-mails inviting them to sign up for the opportunity to test a new rewards system.

I was one of those people, and today, I relieved confirmation that I had been accepted into the program. I will also receive 100 MS Points just for being lucky, I guess.

There was a lot of speculation as to what, exactly, the program would consist of. Understandably, the most common theories supposed that users would be rewarded for things such as completing surveys. Judging from the image below, which I captured from the Reward Central website, these theories were more or less spot on.

Xbox Live RewardsOther ways to earn points include signing up or renewing your Xbox Live Gold account, which is handy, since mine is about to expire and I’m going to buy another full year. Therefore, I will get a whole 200 points! That’s a whole $2.50! And all I had to do was spend $50! Woohoo! A similar deal exists for subscribing to Netflix.

But what’s interesting is the idea that you can earn 100 MSP for “making your first purchase on Xbox Live” (I wonder if that means your first purchase ever, or your first purchase since joining the program), and 100 MSP for completing surveys.

Considering there are a ton of great Xbox Live Arcade games for 400-800 MSP, this program could actually allow for a sweet free game or two, provided that enough surveys are provided and, potentially, if they’re not all extremely long.

The welcome e-mail also says, “Every month, we’ll send you an email with an update on how you’re doing and the cool gear you can get with your rewards, so make sure you read it!” That leads me to believe that Microsoft would like to offer more than just digital rewards in the future.

In a lot of ways this seems to be similar to Club Nintendo, which gives out points and freebies to Nintendo users simply for registering hardware, games and competing surveys. I’ll be extremely interested in seeing how the two services compare overall.

This test of Reward Central is set to last for six months. We’ll see how it goes.

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