Games I’m Looking Forward To: “Call of Duty: Black Ops 3”

Call me the eternal optimist, but despite how disappointing the last iteration of the CoD series turned out to be, I’m still hopeful that the next one will be an improvement. Event if it isn’t, you gotta give Activision credit for putting together a cool commercial for it:

The wait is almost over. It’ll drop this Friday, November 6th.

SEB Reviews: Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare – PC
Published by: Activision
Developed by: Sledgehammer Games
Price: $59.99
Rating: 3 out of 5

November has arrived once more and with it comes another iteration of the Call of Duty first person shooter franchise. Given the disaster that was last year’s Call of Duty: Ghosts on the PC is there any reason to be optimistic about Advanced Warfare. As it turns out there indeed is. Activision has added a third development house to the effort in the form of Sledgehammer Games. The idea seems to be that the last few CoDs had issues because the developers (Infinity Ward and Treyarch) only had two years to develop their respective titles so by adding a third publisher they can now devote three years to development per studio and still put out a new CoD every year. In theory, having a third year should allow them to polish the game till it’s flaws are few and far between and Sledgehammer is the first studio to have three years to get it right. So do they?

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Games I’m Looking Forward To: Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

If you’ve been reading SEB for any length of time then you already know I’m a huge fan of the Call of Duty series from Activision even if I have been somewhat disappointed with a couple of the directions the series has taken with its multiplayer game. The fact that CoD tends to be one of the games I play the most in spite of whatever disappointments I may have with it says a lot about how much I love the series. The last iteration, Call of Duty: Ghosts, was from Infinity Ward and it showed that the company hasn’t completely recovered from the loss of its founders and the subsequent mass exodus of top talent that went with them (they started a new company called Respawn Entertainment and put out Titanfall). It’s also clear that having two companies develop a CoD game every two years (Infinity Ward and then Treyarch) wasn’t leaving either company with enough time to really polish the final product.

That’s why this year’s game is coming from Sledgehammer Games who will be the third company producing CoD games from now on giving each team three years to work on their title and ensuring Activision still has a CoD game to put out each fall. Activision just put out a  reveal trailer for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare showing a bit of the plot from Sledgehammer’s debut effort:

OK, they have my attention. Kevin Spacey appears to be playing (what I am guessing is) the villain for this next incarnation and the plot revolves around the growing using of Private Military Contractors (PMCs). Spacey’s speech alone has me wanting to play through the campaign. Activision also teamed up with the folks at Vice to put out a short video on PMCs and how they’ll be the focus of the next CoD:

While I am excited by the reveal, there’s still a lot of reasons to be hesitant about Advanced Warfare. The first is not knowing what engine they’re using to run the game. All CoD games run on variants of the same engine ever since the first one was released, but with Ghosts they tried to rewrite major chunks of it and ended up with something that only ran really well on a handful of hardware. When I first started playing Ghosts I was running it on a Radeon HD 7770 and the start of every level/multiplayer map had at least 10 to 30 seconds of lag because the video card was struggling to cram it all into the 1GB of video RAM it had. When I upgraded to a nVidia GeForce GTX 760 it started running smooth as silk. That’s in spite of the fact that people I knew with even better video cards were still having issues with the game. Much like the Call of Duty app from Beachhead Studios, if you don’t have a specific set of hardware then you couldn’t expect Ghosts to run all that well on your system.

The engine in this trailer looks a lot like the one used in Ghosts and being Sledgehammer’s debut CoD game it wouldn’t be surprising if they just made use of what was already on hand. After all, Treyarch’s World at War seemed to take the Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare engine and just re-skinned it for the WWII setting. Treyarch has since developed the engine quite a bit on their own and it actually feels different than how IW’s engines feel when you play their games (enough so that I know of CoD fans who won’t play Treyarch’s versions of the game). If AW is using Ghosts’ engine then I hope Sledgehammer has used the time they’ve saved in doing so to really polish the hell out of it so it’ll run well on a wider spectrum of hardware. The player count for Ghosts on the PC dropped quickly after launch and now, six months later, you’re lucky if there’s 2,000 players in-game during the weekdays. Hell, there are days that Black Ops II and even Modern Warfare 3 have more people playing them than Ghosts does and I think that’s largely due to how little hardware it runs well on.

Still, it’s hard for me not to get excited at the prospect of a new CoD game from a new publisher who will be bringing their own ideas to the series. The plot for AW is certainly intriguing and they’ve obviously attracted some big name talent to the voice cast. It’s also clear that it’s a good looking game based on the trailer. It’ll be interesting to see what they do with the multiplayer given how customizable loadouts in Ghosts became. I’m eagerly looking forward to the multiplayer reveal in the months to come.

Games I’m Looking Forward To: “Call of Duty: Black Ops II”

I’m a long-time CoD fan and I loved Treyarch’s previous Black Ops outing so it’s probably no surprise that the multiplayer reveal trailer that just came out today for  has me anticipating the followup:

Set in 2025 there will be all kinds of futuristic toys to play with like the quadrotor drones in the above video. We only get a small taste of what killstreaks and gadgets we can look forward to, but it’s enough to whet the appetite. The engine is looking pretty good considering its age and rumor has it they’re putting in place a proprietary anti-cheat system for the PC version. Not mentioned as of yet is whether or not dedicated servers will be the standard system for multiplayer, but I’m betting that it will be.

There’s still we a lot we don’t know about BO II multiplayer, but you can be sure we’ll get more details in the days to come. In the meantime that trailer looks hella nice in fullscreen HD.

Controversies and hacks can’t stop Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 from breaking records.

In it’s first day Activision and Infinity Ward’s latest iteration of the CoD franchise broke sales records and Activision isn’t about to not tell you about it:

Most Anticipated Game of the Year Becomes

Biggest Entertainment Launch in History

Santa Monica, CA – November 12, 2009 – Activision Publishing, Inc. (Nasdaq: ATVI) announced today that Infinity Ward’s much-anticipated Call of Duty®: Modern Warfare® 2 has become the biggest launch in history across all forms of entertainment with estimated sell-through sales of $310 million in North America and the United Kingdom alone in the first 24 hours, according to internal Activision estimates.

Modern Warfare 2 was released on Tuesday, November 10th, to worldwide fanfare across the globe, including over 10,000 retail outlets in the U.S. alone which held midnight openings to meet consumer demand.  In its first day, the blockbuster title sold through approximately 4.7 million copies in just North America and the United Kingdom, according to internal Activision estimates.

“The Call of Duty franchise has become a cultural phenomenon showing the power of video games as an entertainment medium,” said Mike Griffith, CEO, Activision Publishing, Inc.  “The shattering of these entertainment records is a testament to the compelling, cinematic and uniquely engaging experience that the Call of Duty brand delivers. Modern Warfare 2 has taken interactive experience to unprecedented heights setting a new standard for entertainment.”

There are developers out there who would kill to see 4.7 million copies sold in the entirety of a game’s shelf-life, let alone on day one. The vast majority of those sales are most likely the console versions. Not a bad start at all and breaking the previous first day sales record of Grand Theft Auto IV which had first day sales of 3.6 million copies. If you expand it to worldwide sales, well, Activision didn’t actually provide any numbers for that, but Analyst Ben Schachter estimates it sold seven million copies worldwide.

I have to admit that holding out until after Christmas is going to be tough.

Games I’m looking forward to: “Modern Warfare 2”

Anyone who’s hung out at SEB for any amount of time knows what a big fan I am of Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty franchise. The fourth iteration, subtitled Modern Warfare, had be a little worried by the move away from WWII, but it turned out to be an excellent game with highly enjoyable multiplayer that keeps me coming back. Now they’ve released the trailer for the sequel titled Modern Warfare 2. No word on if in the long run they will tack Call of Duty onto the front of that or not, but even without it the trailer looks fantastic:

Alas it comes out in November so I’ve got several months yet to spend with CoD4 and CoD:WaW.

“Activision Blizzard” is the new 900 lb gaming gorila.

Electronic Arts is no longer the biggest video game company as a new merger between Activision and Vivendi, parent company to Blizzard Entertainment, was announced yesterday in a press release on Business Wire:

Vivendi and Activision to Create Activision Blizzard – World’s Largest, Most Profitable Pure-Play Video Game Publisher

Combination Brings Activision’s Best-Selling Video Games, Including Guitar Hero®, Call of Duty®, and Tony Hawk, Together With Vivendi Games’ Portfolio of Leading Franchises, Including Crash BandicootTM and SpyroTM, and Blizzard Entertainment’s® StarCraft®, Diablo® and Global #1 Subscription-Based World Of Warcraft®

Vivendi to Contribute Vivendi Games Valued at $8.1 Billion, Plus $1.7 Billion in Cash in Exchange for Approximately 52% Stake in Activision Blizzard at Closing; Total Transaction Valued at $18.9 Billion

Activision Blizzard Will Commence Post-Closing Cash Tender Offer for Up to 146.5 Million of its Shares at $27.50 per Share, Representing 31% Premium for Activision Stockholders Based on 20-Trading Day Average

Transaction Will Unlock Value of Blizzard Entertainment’s Massively Multiplayer Online Games Business and Will Be Accretive to Stockholders of Activision and Vivendi

SANTA MONICA, Calif. & PARIS—(BUSINESS WIRE)—Activision, Inc. (NASDAQ: ATVI) and Vivendi (Euronext Paris: VIV) today announced that they have signed a definitive agreement to combine Vivendi Games, Vivendi’s interactive entertainment business—which includes Blizzard Entertainment’s® World of Warcraft®, the world’s #1 multi-player online role-playing game franchise—with Activision, creating the world’s largest pure-play online and console game publisher. The new company, Activision Blizzard, is expected to have approximately $3.8 billion in pro forma combined calendar 2007 revenues and the highest operating margins of any major third-party video game publisher. On closing of the transaction, Activision will be renamed Activision Blizzard and will continue to operate as a public company traded on NASDAQ under the ticker ATVI.

The deal still has to be approved by Activision’s stock holders, but if it goes through it’ll create a new giant publishing house. Benefits above and beyond simply being the biggest will include the developers of Guitar Hero gaining access to the huge library of Universal Music Group. Fans of Blizzard’s games were posting to the forums yesterday asking what kind of an impact this would have on Blizzard’s games and were reassured it wouldn’t change things at all. At least for the moment. The above is only a small part of the full press release so if you want to read the whole thing just click the link above.

SEB Review: “Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare”

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

So I recently found out that SEB has a few fans at Activision as I was contacted a few weeks back and asked if I would like to receive a review copy of Call of Duty 4 of my very own for the low, low cost of writing a review for it. Considering that I was likely to write a review at some point anyway I naturally jumped at the chance. Especially when taking into account that I wasn’t sure if it would be a must-buy or not. You see, I loved Call of Duty and Call of Duty 2 immensely, but I was more than a little nervous about Call of Duty 4 because of the move away from the World War II setting to modern day. Yeah I know a lot of people are sick to death of WWII as a game setting, but I’m not one of those people. To me there’s no end to the amount of joy blasting a few hundred Nazi’s away can bring after a long day at the office. Still, being a long time fan, I kept up with the previews on the game and watched all the amazing trailers and wondered if the game would live up not only to the hype, but the love I had for its predecessors. I’m happy to say that it does.

Single Player

As the subtitle in the name implies, the folks at Infinity Ward have moved the setting of the game up to the modern day with all the trappings that current warfare brings with it such as grenade launchers and night vision goggles. The single player story takes place in the middle east and parts of Russia with a hostile Arab leader staging a coup and threatening everyone else in the world with a bunch of stolen nukes he got from some Russian guy. Or something to that effect. I have to admit that I didn’t pay that much attention to the storyline because I was too busy trying to stay alive and gawking at the scenery. The upshot of it all is that some bad terrorist guy has taken over some middle eastern country with the help of some bad Russian guys which requires you to go and eliminate said bad guys to make the world safe for democracy. During the course of the game you’ll trade off between various characters in both the U.S. Marines and the British S.A.S. units as they engage in various missions to track down the newly self-appointed dictator. Unlike previous CoD games, the story line in this one is continuous from start to end with you jumping back and forth between the various characters to see it unfold from a number of different perspectives. The story itself isn’t anything particularly innovative or unique, as is probably apparent from the fact that I don’t remember most of the details, but it serves the purpose well and provides for a realistic setting for the game.

The game play itself, however, is awesome. Not much has really changed since CoD2 in terms of the mechanics, but the experience has been ramped up several fold over the previous titles. If you’ve played any of the previous games you should have little trouble jumping right into CoD4’s very intense single player experience.  Part of that intensity is thanks to the new graphics engine CoD4 sports which is full of detail, allows for tons of opponents and allies to be on screen at once, and looks absolutely gorgeous. Or at least as gorgeous as desert villages and decaying Russian cities can look. My current gaming rig is old enough that the game turned off most of the advanced options such as shadows and some of the lighting effects and ran the game at a lowly 800×600 resolution and even toned down as much as it was it still looked and played amazingly well. I can’t begin to imagine how drop dead gorgeous the game would be on a high-end gaming rig which I’ll get around to buying once I win the lotto or become famous on YouTube or something. The folks at Infinity Ward spent quite a bit of time on research to make for as accurate an experience as you can have without getting away from it being a game and it has paid off well. I’m no military expert, but there wasn’t anything in the way of actions on the part of the characters or the scenarios that didn’t seem authentic enough.

Not to say that there aren’t any changes to game mechanics as there are a few that are quite significant. For example, walls are no longer bullet sponges able to soak up an endless parade of lead with no noticeable effect and giving the enemy (and yourself for that matter) plenty of protection. Depending on the type of material the wall is made out of and the type of bullet hitting it it’s quite possible for bullets to penetrate them and do damage to whomever is standing behind them. The amount of damage is reduced according to the type of wall, but you can’t rely on ducking into a doorway to keep you safe from the hail of gunfire you’re running from any longer. Running is also a new addition as they’ve added a sprint ability allowing you to double time it for short periods. I don’t recall the previous games having that option so I believe it’s new. Also new to the mix are dogs that will chase your ass down and rip out your throat before you can say “Fido” if you’re not careful. These three things bring new complexity to the experience and make it that much more enjoyable.

The one thing about the single player that was surprising was how short it was. I managed to make my way through it all in just a couple of nights of moderate playing and I have to admit that that was a tad bit disappointing. It appears the folks at IW realized it was a bit short too as they’ve tossed in a couple of things to make replaying it a little more attractive. First there’s 30 collectible laptops spread throughout each level that you can collect to unlock some hidden feature. On my first run through I managed to find 15 of them so I don’t know yet what it unlocks, but it’ll get me to go back and play the single player again to find out. Then, once you’ve finished the single player once, it unlocks an Arcade and a Challenge mode. The former allows you to play through any single level you want to with a limited number of lives and a scoring system as though it were an actual arcade game and the latter times your run through the entire single player game so you can try to beat your best time through. These two options combined with the ability to play at harder difficulty levels should help to stretch out the single player experience to a small degree, but it’s still surprisingly short compared to the previous games.

Did I mention how good looking this game is? Because at times it can be creepy-realistic. Of particular note is the mission that takes place inside an attack helicopter at night that looks startlingly like real footage from the Iraq war. You provide air support to some ground troops moving into a village and can switch back and forth between several very large and very lethal guns as you try to take out the enemy while not hitting your own troops (whom are wearing IR strobes as their only identifier) and while avoiding damaging a church because that would be, well, wrong I suppose. Didn’t stop me from taking a few potshots at it, but all that did was end the mission instantly. The entire thing is presented in a black and white simulation of the infrared displays used in actual attack choppers and makes for some very believable moments. The same effect happens whenever you switch on your night vision goggles as the sudden reduction in detail emphasizes the motion capture of the characters making them seem even more real. The fact that you can see the lasers from everyone’s laser sights with the NV goggles helps to make it even more intense. Sound is also well done in this game with every gun making the appropriate noises as you’d expect, but also with the thud of bullets hitting dirt and wood and cement along with all the yelling that takes place in a real battle. The sound design alone is worthy of an award or two for giving you a few damn-near-pissed-myself moments. Again a particular stand out is the radio chatter that takes place during the attack helicopter sequence which sounds like it could’ve been taken right from a FOX News report.

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