LTTP: Call of Duty: World at War

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I had no interest in Call of Duty: World at War back in 2008. After the excellent Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, I did not feel the desire to go back to yet another World War II first person shooter. No offence to Treyarch, but this was before they found their footing with the Black Ops sub-franchise. I had little to no faith in their ability to deliver something that was comparable to Modern Warfare. And now, many years later, I finally played it and I was right.

I dusted off the PlayStation 3 Slim, grabbed our copy of Call of Duty: World at War and finished the campaign on Veteran difficulty for the very first time. It didn’t age well. The portrayal of the Japanese, the way the campaign was structured, and the over-reliance on numbers to build intensity made for a dated game. It felt older than Modern Warfare even though it debuted a year later. 

Kiefer Sutherland lent his voice Corporal Roebuck, a plot armor wearing grizzled soldier who didn’t even feel the need to wear a helmet. I found the American half the campaign ran out of steam very early. There’s only so many ways to say “The Japanese were fierce fighters who fought dirty”. I also had my fill of mowing down Japanese infantry as they charged at me while screaming “Bonzai!”. It got old. 

The Russian campaign against the Germans felt like it was most influenced by Infinity Ward’s Modern Warfare campaign. There were moments of intrigue, and tension built as Reznov lead me through the war torn streets of Stalingrad. There was even a named villain. Reznov kept things relatively interesting with his speeches imploring his fellow Russians to continue the fight against the Germans.

Call of Duty: World at War was a very ugly game. The relatively high framerate made it playable, but it’s just a very unpleasant game to look at with its grimy textures and sub-720p resolution. Treyarch’s decidedly more gruesome take on Call of Duty resulted in a lot more blood and gore than other Call of Duty titles before and after it. While the techniques used to convey the violence of war was primitive, I found it somewhat effective. The combination of  gross visuals, death screams, and the discordant soundtracks worked to successfully deliver an uneasy sensation towards war. 

There was not much “fun” to be had with Call of Duty: World at War. Playing it on Veteran difficulty may have forced me to suffer through some excruciating gameplay segments for longer than I cared to admit, but outside of the one “Vendetta” mission, I struggle to recall other moments that I would describe as “neat” or “interesting”. At least this game had some redeeming qualities compared to the otherwise stale rendition delivered by Call of Duty: WW2. While WW2 was more playable and more appealing to modern tastes, it failed to deliver on the brutality of the war experience on a moment to moment basis; it didn’t evoke dread like I felt while playing through World at War. I wouldn’t recommend either, but if I had to choose one, it would be this one. 

Verdict:
I didn’t like it

Ratings Guide

LTTP: SUPERHOT

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I knew I wanted to play the full SUPERHOT game after trying SUPERHOT TEAM’s prototype. It looked striking and played unlike anything I played before. It felt like an interactive puzzle shooter where lightning fast reflexes were cast aside in favor of methodical decision making. However, I don’t know why it took me so long to sit down and actually finish the game.

I was given a couple of free copies of the game (Prime Gaming and Epic Games Store) and even started the game a couple of times before I finally pushed through. My reluctance to commit to the game stemmed from the way it was presented. The terminal chats and Matrix-inspired story took a while to grab me and even when it did, it was a tenuous connection at best. I don’t know how to improve on the packaging, but it was far too easy for me to just walk away after each set of levels. 

It was quickly evident that SUPERHOT was a bit of a one trick pony. The scenarios and situations changed, but the mechanics didn’t evolve beyond the initial set of rules:

  1. Time moved when I moved.
  2. I can shoot and throw weapons.

New weapons were introduced, but it was fundamentally the same game that I was presented in the prototype. There weren’t any bad levels, but there were plenty of filler levels that didn’t change it up enough. Some of the more memorable levels were towards the final quarter of the game where they ratcheted up the challenge. 

I think SUPERHOT was at its best when I’m trying to figure out how to navigate a barrage of bullets and swarms of faceless baddies as they attack me from all angles. Dying and retrying until it finally all clicked was a rewarding loop. The kernel of the game was muddied by the set dressing and framing of its story, but it wasn’t terrible; it just got in the way. The idea behind SUPERHOT was truly unique and will continue to stick with me for years to come. However, I didn’t need to play the game to come to that conclusion; that prototype conveyed that same message without the fluff. 

Verdict:
It was okay

Ratings Guide

LTTP: Call of Duty: WW2 Campaign

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I liked Sledgehammer Games’ Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. It was a very good first outing that only raised my expectations for their 2017 title, Call of Duty: WW2. The return to World War II was not an automatic win for me as someone who played through the many World War II first person shooters of the early 2000’s. Return to Castle Wolfenstein, Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, the original Call of Duty and its subsequent sequels. I was skeptical. I didn’t have confidence that this game would bring anything that I haven’t seen before. As a result, I put it on the back burner. 

It turns out the only way to get me to play this game was to give it away via PlayStation Plus’ Instant Game Collection. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t find it very entertaining. It was trite.

Telling an original WW2 story isn’t easy. There have been countless stories from that tragic war spanning all sorts of mediums including books, TV shows, movies, and other video games. Call of Duty: WW2 opted to tell a Band of Brothers styled story that followed the a group of soldiers throughout the major events of the war on the Western front. All the hallmarks were there including the Normandy beach landing, the liberation of France, the brutal winters in the forests of Belgium, and then culminating with the horrible camps in Germany. 

The game unfolded like a soulless knock off. I see what they’re trying to do, but I wasn’t onboard with any of it. I played through four missions and wanted to bail out, but kept going in hopes of something redeeming. There were interesting missions such as the liberation of Paris, but everything else fell short.  

The sense of scale and bombast was something that I was especially disappointed with. I’m replaying Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 again and it’s surprising how off WW2 felt in this area. Call of Duty: WW2 felt claustrophobic and cramped compared to Infinity Ward’s 11 year old game. I recall having to drag a soldier to safety in the middle of a raging gunfight. I thought I was dragging them to cover, but it was actually a nearby triage area with medics. I could have spat and hit the Nazis from this triage area. It made more sense for me to clear off the enemy and have a medic walk over to save him. 

I reacted similarly throughout countless outdoor firefights. It felt like they were trying to portray epic moments without the appropriate scale. Imagine trying to portray Ronald Speirs epic run down the road in Band of Brothers, but instead of him running for three blocks, it was him just running across a two lane road. It just didn’t work.

I got to know the characters in Call of Duty: WW2 through their mechanical uses and not their stories. There was the ammo guy, the health pack guy, and grenades guy. I cannot tell you their names a week removed from finishing the game, but I remember their functions very well. The problem with tying mechanics to characters is that I never felt any of them were in any real danger. The existence of certain Trophies ensured some of them would be sticking around for the long haul. 

Medal of Honor: Allied Assault and Call of Duty came at a time where Saving Private Ryan served as the benchmark. Call of Duty: WW2 arrived where countless games, movies, and shows have already saturated the market. The crux of the game needed to be more than World War II story told through the lens of a brotherhood of soldiers. This story was told better elsewhere. What I felt they should have done was to update the approach those classic WWII shooters of the early 2000s did. Try to recreate the magnitude and scale of that horrific war for a new generation.

Verdict:
I don’t like it

Ratings Guide

LTTP: The Last of Us Remastered

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The Last of Us: Part II released weeks ago, but I’m not repeating the same “mistake” that I made back in 2013 with The Last of Us; I’m waiting for the PlayStation 5 and its inevitable enhanced version. To pass the time, I decided to revisit The Last of Us via its PlayStation 4 remaster and finally play the Left Behind expansion. 

7 years is a long time in games and despite the remastering effort and the PlayStation 4 Pro enhancements, this game shows its age. What was once a graphical powerhouse is now a dated, but respectable rendition on a PlayStation 3 classic. After consulting the experts at Digital Foundry, I played it with the 4K 60FPS mode. 

While I didn’t have complaints with the performance or picture quality, I did find one glaring distraction; the reflections. It wasn’t the textures or animations that stood out to me, it was the reflections in puddles and other reflective surfaces which I found to be pristine to the point of distraction. It’s a silly thing to get hung up on, but when we’re deep in the hype cycle of a new generation of consoles and its ray traced reflections, it’s hard to ignore.

It was also difficult to ignore the bugs. Fire effects went missing a couple of times and Joel’s character model inexplicably warped randomly during a few transitions from cinematic to game. I’ve always had good luck with Naughty Dog’s games; they were near flawless experiences for me. With that in mind and the fact that remasters tend not to falter, experiencing an imperfect walk through memory lane was a bit of a downer.

The opening of the game is still one of the more powerful openers in video games. It sets the tone so well and continued to resonate in 2020. Playing this game during a pandemic was a bit cathartic. Things could be a whole lot worse and desperate for us; human stupidity can quickly transition to human cruelty and the latter is not something I want to experience first hand.

I replayed the game at the hard difficulty. It took a bit of time to get used to the flow of the game again. I had to convince myself not to take out everything in sight via stealth because it just wasn’t fun that way. The instant-death Clicker grabs were especially annoying until I allowed myself the use of guns, Molotovs, and other weapons. Active foraging and exploration ensured I had the tools to solve the combat scenarios, I placed my trust in the game to not screw me over. As long as I wasn’t too liberal with my use of those tools, I made it through with plenty of resources at my disposal.

Revisiting The Last of Us was just as impactful as my initial play through — I would even say it was more impactful the second time around. I disagreed with Joel’s decision the first time, but I really developed a disdain for him leading up to that selfish act in the end. On the flip side, I grew to like Ellie more after playing the Left Behind DLC where I got to see how life was for a teenager who was born into life in the quarantine zone. 

Bugs and dated aspects aside, I found that The Last of Us Remastered held up in 2020. There have been refinements in game developments since its debut in 2013, but its core qualities still resonate today. I’m ready for The Last of Us: Part II. I’m ready to see what happens with Ellie and Joel. I’m curious if she discovers the truth and what she does with that knowledge. I’m ready for the inevitable departure of Joel and I’m ready to discover what the bottom pit of humanity looks like.

Verdict:
I liked it

Ratings Guide

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