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 didn’t like it

Ratings Guide

LTTP: Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice (X1)

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I admire Ninja Theory for their efforts in bringing awareness to mental illnesses like psychosis. I empathized with Senua; it would certainly be maddening to constantly hear differing voices doubting and prodding me constantly. I found the use of binaural audio to give players a sample of that experience effective. Watching someone struggle to maintain her reality wasn’t unique to Hellblade but it was one of the better uses of world bending imagery. I just wished they didn’t use live actors and full motion videos. They were jarring. 

Hellblade didn’t run well on my PC so I flipped over to the Xbox One X version and played it with “Enriched Visual Mode” which produced a good looking Unreal Engine 4.0 game. I wish I could have ran it at 4K and 60 FPS but there’s only so much this console can do. I eventually acclimatized to the performance but I never got used to the eerie uncanny valley. Senua’s eyes conveyed so much human emotion and was effective at highlighting her struggles without words. Unfortunately, her mouth and the way they rendered it was consistently distracting to me  — and there were a lot of close ups of her. I found her ghoulish from the beginning which may not have been Ninja Theory’s intention. Did they want me to view this warrior as a member of the undead army? 

What’s the answer to overcoming the uncanny valley? It’s not mixing live action and computer generated graphics, that’s for sure. Every live action clip that I saw conjured a chuckle out of me; they all looked silly. No matter how they tried to integrate it into the game, I found them goofy like the ones found in a Remedy Entertainment game. I don’t think that was their intention, was it? 

The Nordic mythology and over-the-shoulder third person camera bore unavoidable comparisons to God of War. They were unfair and unfavorable comparisons but I couldn’t help it. In every respect, Santa Monica Studio did it better.  

I enjoy “walking” simulators. I don’t have issue with slowly moving around in a space. But I do have issue with movement speed when there’s so little to see between points of interest. Senua walks incredibly slow and her run speed (which I recommend people bind as a toggle) is not drastically faster either. She can move faster in combat which makes it so frustrating to have her move at snail’s pace. I know what I need to do during these “puzzle” moments; they’re not difficult. They’re just time consuming because Senua cannot be bothered to move about the environment quickly.  

I wished I liked Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice more. I found its pacing add odds with my expectations and many of the developer’s intentions falling short of hitting the marks they sought. I wasn’t supposed to giggle at what were supposed to be emotional moments either but I did. When Hellbade works, it works well. But when it doesn’t? It can make you feel like an outsider. 

Verdict: 
I don’t like it

Ratings Guide

LTTP: Statik

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I bought Tarsier Studios’ Statik on the strength of its demo. I thought it was extremely clever how they transformed the DualShock 4 controller into a puzzle box for me to manipulate and figure out. I enjoyed the Portal inspired aesthetic as well. The demo set very high and positive expectations for which the full game did not live up to.  

While the demo showcased a brilliant use of the controller, it did omit one of the more annoying uses from the full game. Using the DualShock 4 controller as wand substitute was awkward and cumbersome. It’s not as accurate or as comfortable as it needs to be. Statik would have benefitted by not including those awful puzzle piece assembly intermissions.  

Portal comparisons ran rampant throughout my time with the game. It’s unfair to compare every game set in a sterile lab environment to Valve’s puzzle platformer but I am and Statik compared favorably. The inspiration was clear but it felt like they merely borrowed the Portal aesthetic as a vehicle to deliver their clever handheld puzzles.  

I genuinely enjoyed all the puzzles. The solutions were often felt out by fiddling with buttons and switches while observing the surrounding environment for clues. A few were tricky to piece together but overall, they were easier than the ones found in Valve’s Aperture Science centers.  

The motivation to finish the puzzles was to discover why I was stuck in this place trying to solve puzzles. I wasn’t expecting a tremendous pay off and I was right to do so.  

I was drawn to Statik for its puzzles and I ended up only enjoying it for its puzzles. On the plus side, it’s ¾ of what this game has to offer. The puzzles are engaging and rewarding to solve. The dressing and everything else surrounding it did not match the quality of said puzzles but it shouldn’t discourage those who enjoy a bit of puzzle solving in VR.  

Verdict: 
It was okay 

Ratings Guide

LTTP: Until Dawn

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My Until Dawn impressions as a whole align with my impressions of Rami Malek’s performance and of his character, Josh. It began a little awkwardly with hints of unsettling creepiness and then just devolves into unconvincing lunacy that provided a healthy amount of goofiness.

Horror themed games like Until Dawn and Amnesia: The Dark Descent were most effective when they hid away their monsters and left my imagination run rampant. The monsters were defanged as soon as they’re revealed. Akin to a fool wearing a poorly made Halloween costume, these sideshows hailed the beginning of a game’s rapid decline in scares.

I start to notice faults and the seams unravel. And before long, I stopped playing with mindfulness and welcomed risk with open arms.

Despite its inability to retain its horror hold over me, I found Until Dawn was one of the better branching path adventure games I’ve played. I enjoyed the fact that the decisions I made had a fairly large number of immediate outcomes. There were eight characters who can survive or perish because of my decisions. Little missteps during quick time events or just making the wrong choice, could result in a dead teen. Some decisions were obvious but many were a total mystery which made for a more exciting experience.

Not so exciting or flattering were the visuals which wobbled between looking great and unintentionally grotesque. The environments, objects, and essentially anything non-living looked as they should. Human characters appeared distracting features like Chiclet teeth or overly animated speech. A lot of the faces didn’t seem natural and excessive. Uncanny valley was in full force.

I played the game with the PlayStation 4 Pro and it’s Boost Mode but even then the performance was uneven. The dips in framerate did not get in the way of the life or death situations but they did make exploration feel sluggish. Couple with the plodding pace which the characters move, exploring the locales of Until Dawn felt like a chore.

It took me two Octobers to finish Until Dawn. Picking it back up was easy and the same could be said with putting it down. I never felt enough of a connection with the characters, story, or mystery to keep me coming back for more day after day. There were entertaining moments, a few scares, and moments of intrigue to string me towards the end of a chapter, but in the end, it was a forgettable popcorn horror flick.

Ratings Guide

Verdict:
It was okay

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