Monday, 15 November 2010

Charlie goes Adventuring in Thailand: Part 4 - Chiang Mai

Click here to watch:

The fourth installment of my travel logs is live on YouTube.  I'm quite happy with this one.  Its the longest video yet at 15 minutes 20 seconds, almost breaching my YouTube limit.  I'm particularly happy with my reference to 'Predator'.

As always follow the link to my video archives.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Medal of Honor: Leans towards a Tale of Two Engines...

Medal of Honor Single Player Screnshot 4
Real men have beards...

Medal of Honor (or Medal of Honour as it should be called) has a long history. Coming out of Dreamworks Interactive, the house that Spielberg built, I remember getting the first MoH on the original Playstation back in 1999. It had taken a while for a shooter in the vein of the N64’s Goldeneye to come to the PsOne; that is a shooter with an espionage slant, with various objectives, retrieving documents, blowing up objectives and an actual scoped sniper rifle. It was a very popular franchise that reached the apogee of genre trend setter with MoH: Allied Assault in 2002, the game that would spawn Infinity Ward and the Call of Duty franchise. Call of Duty went on to become what it is, a billion dollar franchise. It introduced iron sights and large scale warzones, where just a couple of bullets would take you down. It has led to the rise of Activision, and the household recognition of COD. In contrast the lineage of Medal of Honor has fallen by the wayside. I remember playing Medal of Honor: Rising Sun one Christmas when a friend introduced me to the first Call of Duty. There was no comparison. The last title was 2007s MoH: Airborne, which I liked very much, despite being innovative in its own way, perhaps the greatest WWII shooter of all time it also had the ability to lean...

In this regard, with the release of the new Medal of Honor, the franchise has come full circle with the inevitable reinvention. Once EA’s MoH was the trend setter, now it is the imitator, falling in line like a green recruit. Despite games such as Counterstrike or Rainbow Six, COD4 is the game that brought modern warfare to the masses. Lining up headshots through an ACOG scope, predator missiles and UAVs, robed AK wielding terrorists and gruff spec ops, this is also the imagery and substance of Medal of Honor 2010 or Moh: Modern Warfare if you will. Captain Price had a moustache in COD4, whilst Dusty MoH’s special forces badass, has a beard. The main thing that differentiates MoH boldly from COD or Battlefield: Bad Company 2 is its setting within the real life and ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, a subject matter it deals with, with a notable degree of maturity and respect. Refreshingly, there is little melodrama in this game. There are no pictures of the World Trade Centres falling to remind you of the reason as to why you are fighting this drawn out war, there are no burning Burger Towns instead it is a very tight and linear narrative that tells the story of the warriors who are on the front lines. Risking their lives, doing the jobs that the majority of other people cannot.

Just as previous Medal of Honors and CODs have skipped on the beats of Saving Private Ryan and other movies like it, Enemy at the Gates, The Thin Red Line and Black Hawk Down it would only be a matter of time before the sniper scene from The Hurt Locker would be implemented into an FPS. There are various sniper scenes in MoH. Armed with a high calibre sniper rifle, you lie in hiding with your spotter buddy a mile away from your unsuspecting targets. Although there was that one scene in COD4, when you took into account wind resistance as you took out a prominent terrorist personality, the MP of MW2 can kit out players with a 50. Calibre Barrat rifle allowing them to unleash barrages of slugs at enemies from close range. We have come along way since that first guard tower in the Dam level of Goldeneye... It is an interesting take on that genre cliché. Distant and silent, a strangely jarring experience akin to the AC130 scene in COD4. As you rein in swift and instant death upon your enemies.

At first, MoH feels like a carbon copy of COD, right down to the controls. There are notable improvements on the formula however. Whilst sprinting, a tap of the B button will slide you into cover. There is also the ability to lean, that fabled mechanic from the bygone golden age of the PC shooter. A double tap of the Y button will whip out your pistol. Which is perfect when you don’t have the time to reload your main weapon in the midst of a firefight. The only problem with the campaign is that, even on its hardest difficulty, it is too easy. In one particular dramatic segment in which your squad is pinned down at the bottom of a hill, the Taliban reducing your cover with RPGs. The narrative of the game has you believe that your squad is running out of ammo, yet the game’s mechanics simply allows you to replenish your ammo for your machine gun. You can never run out of ammo in this game, not when you are using the primary weapons and you have squad mates with you. I was able to complete MoH in a single sitting. I was also able to complete MW2 on veteran when it came out, but this was largely down to an 8hr red bull sugar binge, in which I think I suffered from an exhausted state of shellshock. Even for the more averagely skilled FPS player, MoH is a walk in the park.

That said, I found the campaign very satisfying from start to finish. Despite MoH being another one of these modern warfare shooters, it actually manages to keep all the firefights varied. In the first mission you fight through city streets at night. Taking out the lights and navigating through buildings with your nightvision goggles. In other missions you’ll be in straight up assault mode, providing cover fire on a machine gun nest, as your fellow NPCs gain ground. Other missions will have you raiding enemy outposts upon a mountain with sniper rifles. You’ll be painting targets with laser designators and controlling predator missiles on enemy armour positions. More than most FPSs, MoH puts you in the role of a subordinate soldier. You will always be given commands or advice from your supervisors and I suddenly was gaining a degree of respect for the other characters.

After finishing the campaign with an optimistic feeling of satisfaction, I decided to hit the multiplayer for a couple of rounds but to my surprise I was somewhat disappointed. I expected the MoH MP to be of the same engine behind the campaign, but what we have is a regurgitation of the battlefield engine. Make no mistake, the multiplayer is battlefield. The game proudly proclaims that the multiplayer was created by battlefield creators Dice on the back of its box. For anyone who played, or are still playing, Battlefield: Bad Company 2 released earlier this year, the multiplayer for MoH will be more than familiar. Sound effects have been directly ported, the way your gun waggles as you run, the compressed look of the graphics and the way the sound effects sound slightly distant. In every aspect it plays, sounds and looks like Battlefield. The only real change is that most of the maps are smaller allowing for more frenetic fire fights. Don’t get me wrong. I love battlefield. I still play Bad Company 2; I enjoy the experience far more than a couple of rounds of MW2. There is a sense of progression in the matches. Success depends on how well your team is co-ordinated, with all the different classes supporting one another. You feel the change in battle, when you are making ground, when you are stuck in a stalemate. The battle has a progressive atmosphere thanks largely to the frostbite engine, which deteriorates the battlefield around you from built up areas to smoking craters. There is always the emphasis that you and your team are fighting in something. In my opinion it is a far more satisfying team based shooter than the super charged one shot p0wnage culture of COD. I love what Dice do with Battlefield, but here is the thing, if I wanted to play Battlefield, I would play Battlefield. I expected the MoH multiplayer to have the same mechanics as the single player. The ability to lean or go prone for example, to slide into cover, this would introduce new and inventive mechanics to multiplayer shoot em ups. If the multiplayer had stuck to its own engine, MoH would stand up on its own two feet. Something that would potentially rival COD, rather than being written off as a desperate clone. It would be a title that I would think twice about trading in so that I could get Black Ops in its opening week for £7.99 at HMV... As it stands, despite a decent campaign MoH as a complete package falls slightly and annoyingly short. A compromise between Battlefield and COD, two games that stand up in their own right. You just get the feeling that EA needed another modern warfare shooter in its 2010 Q4, and rather than create a new multiplayer engine, it just brought in the tried and tested engine, which Dice frankly does better in its own franchise. EA really missed an opportunity. I mean imagine an MP console experience that allows you to lean from cover...

Thusly, Medal of Honor 2010 is a tale of two engines. The single player is a highly linear experience, devoid of any kind of shallow gameplay tangents such as intelligence collection; it is high on narrative and military realism. It lacks the Michael Bay approach that Modern Warfare seemed to adopt in its second act. It is far more sober and straight and is actually more of a moving tribute to those guys fighting on the frontlines for our freedom. The campaign should be played through at least once. However, I imagine the highly scripted nature of the story may hinder the games replayability. The Tier 1 mode you unlock after beating the single player tries to extend the single player experience with time trials, scoreboards and point scoring but it feels kind of contrived especially in contrast to the levels in Halo: Reach for example. The multiplayer is really what spoils the game as a package. A regurgitation of the battlefield engine. EA is supposed to be the rebel alliance to Activision’s evil empire, but the rebranded diet version of the battlefield engine is half arsed and disappointing. It may still hold relevance to those who find a thrill in levelling up and unlocking new weapons and perks, but Bad Company 2 is a superior MP experience. Had MoH used its own engine as a basis for MP it would have been a worthy alternative to the multiplayer market. But I guess I will probably end up buying the Battlefield: Vietnam DLC from EA later this season anyway, so who really is the idiot?