Friday, August 22, 2008

Friendly Fire Will Not Be Tolerated!

Call Of Duty 4 (PS3)

If I'd known that this game was so short I would have saved the snark for this article instead of writing that throwaway post last week.

This is my first game post in a long while, and my first ever about a PS3 game, so I may as well start with a few words about the system itself. As a piece of hardware it can't be argued that it's not impressive. Sure it might be an enormous beastly monolith of a console sizewise but it is still only half the size of my PC (itself an enormous behemoth, by today's PC standards). At least it makes up for it's huge form factor by being whisper quiet, unlike the PS2 (or again my PC, which makes a roar like a dying elephant when it starts up). And as you'd expect from a piece of electronics containing such a ridiculous amount of processing power it renders games beautifully, at the very least justifying its reputation as the technical apex of console gaming today. I haven't bought any blu-ray discs yet (watching hi-def movies on my tiny 22” screens would be a bit of a joke), so I can't comment on that aspect of it, but it's fair to say that overall I'm pretty happy with the PS3 hardware.

Lets skip the incredibly aggravating fact that the model I own is not backwards compatible with PS2 games (guess I'll never finish Final Fantasy 12 then), and focus on the one huge damning failure on the part of the PS3, the much lamented fact that there are seriously, absolutely no good games available for it. At all. It's a real shame (and something of a mystery) that a system with such potential is going to waste, but here's hoping that Sony pull their thumb out one day soon. I was frankly a bit shocked at my lack of choices the first time I went shopping for games for it. While I ended up picking up Dynasty Warriors 6 (shallow but addictive), Assassin's Creed (brilliant ideas, boring gameplay) and Grand Theft Auto 4 (ditto) I considered it a pretty paltry haul consisting only of things that are barely OK, but that I ended up buying just for the sake of having something for the console. It's almost comical, why do we get the shitty Burnout Paradise, but the awesome Burnout Revenge is an Xbox exclusive? The other week in desperation I ended up picking up Call Of Duty, which has gotten pretty good reviews (or at least the Xbox version has).

The Call Of Duty series is part of a booming genre of World War II based FPSs, although this fourth instalment deviates from its predecessors by being set in the modern day (with the obligatory Middle Eastern and ex-Soviet bad guys). There are a lot of things I can praise about this game. For a start it doesn't force you to sit through the obnoxious ten minute install that the other PS3 games I've bought have done. Secondly it looks fantastic, by far the best looking game I've seen to date on a pretty good looking console, and the gameplay is slick, easy to pick up and satisfying to play. However its greatest achievement is a real sense of immersion; the trappings of a real special ops operation are probably not at all accurate but are at least convincing enough to distract you from the fact that you can get shot three times in the head and walk away, and that the terrorist organisation appears to have so much manpower that they can afford to send hundreds of their grunts to get slaughtered by US marines. A late night session leaves the player feeling too jittery and wound up to sleep, with a head full of exploding grenades and close call bullet traces.

Yet despite it's initial appeal I ultimately found Call Of Duty a let down. As I implied earlier, the story is the usual retarded bullshit, and further to that it's also too short. I was quite surprised when the game suddenly came to an end after killing a bad guy who was only introduced a couple of levels earlier. Of course I'm used to this kind of bullshit and considering how little time I have for games nowadays I shouldn't complain too much about the length, but what really lets Call Of Duty down is that the gameplay, while slick, is actually very shallow. For the first few levels the constant sensory overload is enough to distract the player, but it eventually becomes apparent that despite the surface appearance of tactical complexity there's very little to the game except for blindly charging into battle and relying on chance to save you from the occasional incoming grenade. Despite a wide array of abilities, including flash bombs, C4, airstrikes and night vision, you never need to do anything except tap the auto aim button and fire your default weapon for most of the game, an action that is soothing (and satisfying when you pop some poor Ruski's noggin off with a head shot), but ultimately wears thin after a few levels.

Yes the game's real strength is in multiplayer, and I actually happen to have played a moderate amount of it (not my usual style I know), and can confirm that it's pretty decent. This is all well and good, but I'm still waiting impatiently for a genuinely good single player game to let the PS3 show what it can do.

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