Friday, 30 November 2012

At Long Last... What do I Think of the Call of Duty Franchise?

I don't hate Call of Duty. I think the best way to start this post, one I've been pondering whether I should actually work on over the past year or so, is with that opening sentence. Why should I hate Call of Duty? I think it's an over-hyped disgrace to a good chunk of mankind, but when it comes to the games themselves I think they're rather fun. As a gamer who specializes in Nintendo's systems and developments, I'm inclined by stereotypical means to hate the series that has been  overshadowing greater developers and changing the course of gaming history over the past half-decade or so, but I don't. Review what's in front of you, those are words I live by when writing up detailed synopses of video games, films and what have you. Sadly, I won't be reviewing any Call of Duty games today. As a matter of fact, I'll probably never do so, which is the sole reason I'm writing up my thoughts on the series in this particular article. I've never owned a single installment in the world's biggest first-person shooter franchise, and I don't plan on doing so either. However, I have played each subsequent release since and including the fourth main iteration, Modern Warfare (coincidentally the release that launched the series into the mainstream), so I think I'm allowed to form an at least slightly vague opinion on the series. Naturally, this excludes the recently released Black Ops 2. So, let's get to it.

I think the best place to start would be at the beginning, but sadly, I haven't played any of the Call of Duty games precedent to the first Modern Warfare. Heck, I didn't even know about the series until the follow-up to that game, World at War, was released. For me, that's when the buckets of hype began to flood my brain from the metaphorical floodgates of the local populous (in other words my school year), therefore not grabbing my attention in the slightest. At the time I was more than content with my DS and Wii experience, one that I thankfully didn't hinder with bland, gritty war shooters. The days rolled on and I continued to hear more and more about the ever-popular franchise, and it's not until Modern Warfare 2, the best in the series judging from what I've played of it, that I touched anything to do with Call of Duty. Did I enjoy it? Yes, to a certain extent, but it didn't exactly blow my mind. I'm inclined to ponder over the popularity of the series, as I did all those years ago, but the answer is now clear. Like charts music, Call of Duty games are essentially easy pickings. In basic terms, they're a widespread, common form of entering the world of gaming but not exploring it. To make this an even more basic explanation in the form of an analogy, Call of Duty is essentially the Nicki Minaj to, say, Metroid's Aphex Twin. It's mainstream, basically. Yeah, I probably should've just stuck with that explanation.

Anyway, it's probably worth noting that the first Call of Duty game I played has remained my personal favourite up to this point. Modern Warfare 2 has a genuinely stellar campaign (something that can't be said about more recent offerings I've played, which simply rely on one action set-piece after another as opposed to actually involving the player and telling an engaging story) paired with some fun multiplayer. A solid release. I'd give it around 80% in a quick-fire situation. Sadly, the same can't be said about the next two releases following that of Modern Warfare 2, as Black Ops (better known as Blops... maybe) and Modern Warfare 3 are pretty atrocious, in my opinion. The latter was just an empty shell of a Call of Duty game, there wasn't really anything special about it, and while it seemed visually stunning from my experience, that's to be expected from such a big budget blockbuster title. And graphics, while pretty, most certainly aren't everything. As for Blops... Well, it's the worst offender of the entire series for me personally. Why? It's painfully boring. I know this sounds unsophisticated, but hear me out; The gunplay, a key part of an FPS game, is just plain dull, as was the campaign as a whole. Zombie mode made me think, 'I'd rather be playing TimeSplitters Zombies' for the entire duration I played it, and multiplayer... Again, an empty shell. Oh, and that Team America-esque Pentagon sketch was nowhere near as funny as it was hyped up to be. If Modern Warfare 3 was an empty Call of Duty game, Black Ops was below that, like comparing Doctor Who's Martha Jones to Rose Tyler (Sorry, I figured it'd be fine to make that reference seeing as I've been mainly writing Doctor Who reviews lately).

So, the last two Call of Duty games have been the only real atrocities in my opinion, which really begs the question: what do I think of the series' latest? You might just be pleasantly surprised... Granted, I haven't played Black Ops 2, but I must admit I do quite like the look of it, and if critical responses are anything to go by it's certainly something of a return to form after the downright bland Modern Warfare 3. I don't plan on buying it, but with the game coming to Wii U in fully-fledged form, I might well change my mind. Although, by the time I've got my mitts around my own Wii U, Call of Duty would probably be around its tenth main series release (we're on 7, in case you've lost count). Speaking of the future, I think it would be fitting to close off this dinky article with my predictions of the coming years in regards to the franchise. Honestly, I'm not sure whether the series will continue as it has done these past few years or if it'll finally die down. The success certainly can't go on forever, that's for sure. Only time will tell what will happen to what is, regretably speaking, the largest third-party franchise in gaming at this point. Until next time, this is myself, signing off...

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Game Review: Kid Icarus Uprising

When a certain returning Nintendo hero was coming in to land towards the start of the year, swooping and diving on his way after a long 25 year hiatus minus a pit-stop in Masahiro Sakurai's Super Smash Bros. Brawl, he didn't exactly make a perfectly elegant landing from the point of view of most critics. Despite universal acclaim according to MetaCritic, with a hefty average score of 88 out of 100, most reviewers and publications didn't fail to bash a key aspect of his latest game, one aspect that could potentially break it depending on whether players were willing to adjust or not. Of course, I can't be referring to anything other than Kid Icarus: Uprising on 3DS and its universally boycotted control scheme. Let's not beat around the bush, here, Kid Icarus does initially impede perfect handling when you first start it up, but only due to the fact the game starts you off with some pretty terrible default options. The game's on-foot sections require you to use the touch-screen as a makeshift trackball, controlling an on-screen reticule on the system's stereoscopic widescreen upper display. Dragging the stylus aims the reticule, while flicking the touch screen horizontally spins the camera, much like "spinning a globe" as the game's witty commentary (more on this later) claims. The thing is, this globe refuses to stop for a while until you tap on the touch-screen, much like stopping on a random country with your fingertip. The key word here is random, as you can never seem to get your aiming right with this nubilous method of camera control. Take a trip to the game's options menu, however, and things can easily be sorted out...

Kid Icarus: Uprising's glaring fault isn't its controls, but the terrible default settings you're initially going to try and deal with (and most definitely fail miserably in doing so). Learning to adjust to a brand-new control method is cumbersome enough, but learning it before realising you can fix it will mess with your preconceptions. As a gamer, think about all the times you've gone to an options screen before playing any game that doesn't force you to do so, and you'll see what I mean. The best advice I can give anyone with this review, one that cements my hefty recommendation of this heroic return of an age-old Nintendo classic after a quarter-century in wait, is to go to the options screen, select 'Reticule/Camera' and take the time to find out what works for you - Increasing the speed at which the camera rotation stops is a given in any circumstance. This advice out of the way, let's move onto the good stuff, and boy oh boy, I've got a lot of positive things to say about this long awaited return from here on out. As a matter of fact, the three-dimensional restoration of Kid Icarus has not only cemented itself as my personal favourite game of the year thus far, it also happens to have neatly fitted into the rarely growing pantheon of my favourite handheld games of all-time. If the 3DS needed a system seller, this was it, never mind Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7.

While not the most technically impressive game around, from an artistic standpoint Kid Icarus: Uprising is absolutely flippin' gorgeous.
But just what is it that makes Kid Icarus: Uprising so good? Well, with experienced developer Masahiro Sakurai at the helm of the game's development, I'm sure you can guess. While this return of a long-forgotten angelic hero and his counterparts isn't quite on such a grand scale as Super Smash Bros. Brawl, it's very nearly as packed to the brim with content and replay value. For a game originally intended for release on Wii, it not only soars to heavenly heights on Nintendo's dinky handheld platform, it also stands up to the vast majority of modern home console titles to boot, not only from a content perspective but also in terms of sheer originality in a large number of aspects. This legendary return is yet another title worthy of Sakurai's name, and if you own a 3DS and you're even remotely interested in it, I have two pieces of advice for you: Buy it immediately... Just don't forget to take time to adjust those controls. If that's not enough to crack those pre-conceptual nutshells in your brains, let's get into the meat of both the game and this review as I dissect everything that makes Kid Icarus' killer comeback so worth the five minutes it takes to sort out the controls before you play it.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

TV Review: Doctor Who 7.04 - The Power of Three

Atrocious puns aside, this is a truly powerful episode...

Being the penultimate adventure featuring two of Doctor Who's most beloved and loyal companions since the reboot of the show way back in 2005, it's fitting that The Power of Three is something of a swansong for a certain Amelia Pond and her never-staying-dead husband, Rory Williams. This particular ballad is sung beautifully, too, which is more than welcome from the point of view of a reviewer who has felt nothing but feelings of under-use for the two characters over the course of the series, bar the second episode. Coincidentally, The Power of Three is also penned by the writer of that particular inclusion, and while Amy came across as a brilliant feminine caricature of a certain Christopher Eccleston in Dinosaurs on a Spaceship, which also saw Rory from a new angle thanks to the introduction of his dad, Brian, writer Chris Chibnall absolutely excels in fiddling with the companionship's threads throughout his second contribution to the series. And what a contribution it is, as long as you can ignore some slightly beguiling errors on a few other fronts.

While Chris Chibnall's latest ultimately emphasises the relationship between Amy, Rory and The Doctor, it is mainly pushed along by a very interesting plot thread, involving one of the oddest Earth invasions that the last of the Time Lords has ever come across over the past near-fifty years. Quite literally overnight, countless identical small black cubes arrive seemingly out of nowhere, to the surprise and intrigue of the human race. And what is it that these perfectly formed, indestructible shapes do, you ask? Absolutely nothing, and they continue to do so for months throughout the episode. Following in the footsteps of 2010's The Lodger and its spiritual 2011 follow-up, Closing Time, this story sees The Doctor in wait, because that's all he can do. While it reflects the aforementioned stories of past series', this Chibnall-penned tale plays the waiting game pretty much perfectly, and it wholly engages the audience as well as the characters you see on screen, and most importantly it isn't boring thanks to the key aspect of the episode, the companionship. When the cubes eventually showed signs of activity in the story's final act (that's not a spoiler, by the way) I was on the edge of my seat waiting to see what exactly the cubes are for and who or what has been pulling the strings all this time. Heck, I almost spilled tea all over my crotch when this was supposedly about to be revealed. As for the pay-off to all this waiting... Well, allow me to hark back to that later.