The Game Jar Files: Should Call of Duty and Battlefield bother with single-player any longer?

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Originally published on The Game Jar November 19th 2013

Right now, first person shooter fans all over the world are basking in the warm glow of the latest releases from two of the biggest franchises in the genre. Whether its Call of Duty: Ghosts, or Battlefield 4, a significant portion of those players will have jumped in to the multi-player without having touched the single-player part of the game, so do developers need to bother with creating it in the first place? Years ago, the idea of a major FPS title not having a single-player mode would have been unthinkable, but has that tide turned?

In the interest of full disclosure, I should make it clear that I’ve not played either campaign yet. I’m one of those gamers buying a next-gen console, and as such I’m waiting for the new hardware before I buy any more games. What I have done is read and watched numerous reviews of both games, and none of them have particularly praised the single player portions of either. Granted, many reviews have made a point of telling us that Battlefield 4’s single-player campaign is better than the last game’s effort, but as that was utter garbage, I don’t think you can really see that as praise. So if both Call of Duty and Battlefield are doing the bare minimum when it comes to single-player, why bother at all? Just ditch the single-player, and stop wasting our time.

Releasing an FPS without a single-player mode wouldn’t work for every game, I grant you, a Halo game without single-player would be utter madness, and Bioshock would be… well it wouldn’t exist, but they’re on much longer development cycles to CoD and Battlefield, and arguably, have a completely different type of audience. Unlike those two games, nobody buys CoD or Battlefield expecting an epic and meaningful story, so perhaps the quality of that story is unimportant. If it is unimportant, surely that means it plays no meaningful part in convincing gamers to buy the game? If gamers know that the single-player part of the package is not worth playing, but still buy it anyway, I’d argue that taking it away would have little to no effect on the game’s sales.

With the single-player portions of these games unlikely to get the development time needed to produce a really great experience, why not separate the two, and release the multi-player separately from the single-player? Make all physical copies multi-player only, and offer a separate, downloadable campaign mode for those who want it. Activision or EA then have twice the amount of games to sell, and anyone not interested in the single-player doesn’t have to pay for something they don’t want. In addition, the multi-player could stick to its yearly development cycle, and remain just as profitable, without impacting the quality of the single-player content, which could have more development time.

To my mind, it’s only a matter of time before EA and Activision go down this road anyway. Both games are already being developed by multiple studios at the same time, so a separate release for each half of the game is the logical next step. The only stumbling block in my opinion, is the price. Publishers have long felt that the current price point of £40 is too low and doesn’t adequately reflect the rising cost of development, but have had a hard time convincing gamers of that fact. Given that, they’re simply not going to offer a multi-player only game at a reduced cost, and gamers might have a hard time accepting that. It may be ironic, but removal of a mode they never play may just be a step too far for some.

In the past, I would have had a problem with suggesting that games like CoD or Battlefield shouldn’t have a single-player mode, but not any longer. My view today is that if developers aren’t going to do a decent job of making a single-player mode, they probably shouldn’t bother at all. Just give us the multi-player, and farm the solo campaign out to a developer who’s willing to spend time doing a decent job of it. OK, you could argue that we’d end up paying the same amount of money for half the game, but if you never play half of it, or if that half isn’t worth playing, what’s the problem? Surely, not buying a poor campaign to begin with, is preferable to paying for one that’s terrible.

Sooner or later, gamers and publishers are going to have to sit down for some FPS group therapy. We gamers are eventually going to have to be honest, and admit we no longer care for campaign modes in first person shooters, and publishers are going to have to come clean by revealing that they’ve wanted to stop making them for a very long time now. Until we do sit down for together and hug it all out, we’ll be stuck where we are now; paying for a mode that most of us no longer play, whilst watching its quality decline year on year. Nobody wants that, so let’s do the decent thing, shall we?

The Game Jar Files: Game of the Generation

Originally published on The Game Jar.com – 02/10/2013

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In a few months time, a new generation of consoles will be with us. Our Xbox 360’s and our PS3’s will become the past, and we’ll be boldly marching on into the golden dawn of the next generation. But before we go, I wanted to take a look back over the games we’ve played this generation, in a rather foolhardy attempt to try to pick out one game above all others. It wasn’t easy. To make sure this piece wasn’t four times the length it is now, I had to be ultra picky. I genuinely feel guilty about not having a much larger short list, there were so many great games to consider. But to pick one, I had to be brutal. My choice is not the obvious one at first glance, but I believe my reasons for choosing it are sound. So here then, is my take on the game of the generation, and the two games that came close.

I’ll start my short-list with the newly released Grand Theft Auto V. What Rockstar have done with GTA V is nothing less than a minor technical miracle in my opinion. They’ve created an incredibly detailed, and vibrant open world that pushes the current generation of consoles to their absolute limit. They’ve refined the controls to the point that you no longer feel hampered by them during tense moments, and done away with the frustration of restarting a mission after failure. Simply put, it’s the best GTA game they’ve ever made, and the finest open world ever created on a console. Despite all the improvements though, GTA V doesn’t quite have enough to take the title. First of all, I rather suspect that Red Dead Redemption might be the better game overall, and secondly, it’s very much as expected. GTA V isn’t a game that surprises you with fresh gameplay, or shows you anything new.

The next game I had on my short-list is another recently released game, The Last of Us. At a time when the linear gameplay experience seems to be unfashionable, Naughty Dog steps up to show the world that linear game experiences can still be awesome, if it’s done right. The Last of Us is a masterpiece of storytelling. It sweeps you up, and engulfs you totally. So much so, that you simply don’t have time to stop and consider whether the game would be better if it you had more than one path through it. I honestly don’t believe that anyone can compete with Naughty Dog when it comes to story driven games, and yet The Last of Us isn’t my pick either, and for similar reasons to GTA V – it doesn’t feel like the start of something new. The Last of Us feels like the ultimate distillation of what Naughty Dog have been doing with the Uncharted series. It feels like the end of the process, not the beginning.

And so we come to the game I have chosen, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. To understand why I’ve chosen Call of Duty 4 as my game of the generation, you have to go back to the beginning. Way back in 2005, Call of Duty 2 made its début on Microsoft’s Xbox 360, and became the first ever Call of Duty game released on the current generation of consoles. Being a launch title, it wasn’t perfect, but it did go on to sell around two million copies on Xbox 360, and just under six million across all platforms. As is the norm for Call of Duty games, Treyarch were in the hotseat for the next game, and in 2006 Call of Duty 3 was released. Despite the fact it had to contend with gamers in-built prejudice regarding the developers perceived lesser abilities, it still sold a very well. Across all platforms, this time including PS3, Call of Duty 3 went on to sell just over seven million copies.

As you can see, sales figures for the franchise were slowly creeping upwards. At this point, Call of Duty is a popular game, but it’s not the Goliath we know and love. It wasn’t until 2007 when Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was released, that the franchise truly started it’s journey toward becoming the gaming juggernaut it is now. Game sales exploded, and Call of Duty 4 would go on to sell nearly sixteen million copies – more than double the previous game. But Call of Duty 4 didn’t just set a new sales benchmark for the series. The game also popularized many concepts now commonplace in other first person shooters, and it laid down the blueprint for all Call of Duty games going forward. Every Call of Duty game since Modern Warfare has been built on the foundation laid by this game; the customisable loadouts, the killstreaks, the perks. They all began with this game.

I’ll admit, if you select your game of the generation by any other criteria than commercial success, then Call of Duty 4 probably won’t be your winner. Other games have surpassed it technically on almost every single level now, but none of them, not a single one, has had the kind of impact upon the market that Modern Warfare has had. When a new title in the franchise is on the horizon, games move out of its launch window. When the weekly reports on the most played games over Live come around, Call of Duty dominates them. Call of Duty is a behemoth of an IP, and only giants such as Grand Theft Auto can hope to replicate its money-generating powers.

During the Call of Duty Ghosts reveal event in August, Activision CEO Eric Hirshberg reeled off a simply astounding array of statistics related to Call of Duty. Over one hundred million players have played Call of Duty. More than twenty-five billion hours have been played. More than ten million players per day, and in August when the event occurred, more than forty million players that month. Call of Duty is the biggest name in gaming right now, an in my opinion, that domination can be directly traced back to Modern Warfare. No other game this generation has been as single-handedly responsible for launching a global phenomena as Call of Duty 4: Modern warfare has, and that’s why it’s my game of the generation.

The Game Jar Files: Call of Duty Uprising DLC

Originally published on The Game Jar.com – 31/05/2013

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Treyarch have been quite vocal about their new Blacks Ops 2 downloadable content, Uprising. According to them, it’s the most fan-centric DLC yet, and also one of the most diverse, but does it live up to their hyperbole? In this review, I take a look at both halves of the DLC, to see just what 1200mspts buys you.

The Mob of the Dead

Treyarch’s zombies mode has mutated over the years, from a simple survival mode to a progressive campaign, moving around various maps. Tranzit, Black Ops 2 standard Zombies mode, does have some story attached to it, but it’s pretty vague, and in the end what your left with is little more than a survival mode that wanders from one location to another. Thankfully, Mob of the Dead does a much better job of introducing a story to the zombie slaughter, and keeping it all tied to together. The opening cut-scene introduces you to the four characters, and their plan to escape incarceration. Not everything goes according to plan however, and before you know it, you’re hip deep in zombies.

Apart from all the usual Zombies mode mechanics (buying better guns, repairing entry-points etc), Mob of the Dead also features environmental traps scattered around the prison, workbenches to build weaponry on, and an out-of-body ghost mechanic. At various points around the prison there are electrical junction boxes which allow you to electrocute yourself (yes, really) and enter a ghostly form. Once in ghost form, you can pass through special doorways to operate switches and the like, vital if you ever want to escape the iconic prison.

Mob of the dead may have been given a sprinkling of Hollywood glamour, but that doesn’t mean it’s shallow. Alcatraz provides a perfect backdrop to the undead carnage, the run down prison looks fantastic, and does a great job of adding to the sense of terror. Without giving too much away, there are other locations, but Alcatraz is definitely the star in my opinion. I’m not entirely convinced that Treyarch have done a thorough enough job of explaining what you’re supposed to do to progress through the story, but overall the Mob of the Dead is a great extension to the Zombies mode.

The maps

Magma is set in Japanese town somewhat unbelievably located right next to a volcano, and is the first Call of Duty map to feature lava as an environmental hazard. Despite the rather cheesy scenario, the map plays very well. The layout allows for both short and long range combat, and as a result I had a great deal of fun with my Overkill based class. Equip a shotgun or SMG with an assault rifle or Sniper rifle, and you’ll be able to exploit layout to it’s fullest.

Encore is an outdoor stage and arena themed map, set in a rather gloomy looking London. Slightly grey looks aside, the circular style map plays quite well. The central stage area has a nice wide view of the battlefield, and the outer ring backstage area provides much needed cover, and the odd building for close quarters. It may not be the prettiest of the four, but it’s well balanced, and fun to play whether the mode is straight up Deathmatch, or objective based.

Vertigo takes place at the top of a futuristic office block in India, and in my opinion, is the weakest map of the four. My main problem with it is that the quality of the games I’ve played on it have been quite hit and miss. There’s lots of right angles and short sight lines, so close quarters fighters will have a field day. Again, based purely on the games I’ve played so far, it seems to work far better for Free For All matches than Team Deathmatch as finding other players feels easier, but maybe I just need to play it more.

Studio is set in a film lot in Hollywood, and features several different themed film sets, all joined together to create one big playground. Judging by lobby voting trends, this map seems to be the most popular of the four, and it’s easy to understand why. The layout is well thought out, the design is vibrant and interesting, and the terrain is varied. Whether you’re a sniper, or a shotgun wielder, Studio is fantastic fun to play. Easily my favourite map of the four.

Summary – Whilst I find the cost of the DLC a little too high, I cannot deny that the actual content is really quite good. All of the maps, whilst not being instant classics, are worthy additions, and the Mob of the Dead part takes the Zombies mode in an interesting and fun direction.

Good Points – Adds some great maps to the game, The Mob of the Dead is well realised.

Bad Points – Perhaps a little too expensive,

Why an 8? Four solid maps, and a fresh take on the Zombies mode make this a DLC worth buying – despite the somewhat high price tag.

The Game Jar Files: My love/hate relationship with Call of Duty

Originally published on The Game Jar.com – 23/05/2013

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My relationship with Call of Duty began with the pre-launch hype for Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. I’d never played a CoD game before, and wanted to try a previous edition to get some sort of idea as to what the series was like. Interrogating my friends revealed that CoD 2 was preferred to 3, so I picked up a cheap second-hand copy, and dived in. They say your first love is the deepest, and I’m beginning to suspect it’s true, because I fell in love with the game immediately. Parts of that game are still indelibly etched upon my brain. Right from the start with the Normandy beach assault, Call of Duty 2 hits you with brutal set-piece after brutal set-piece, and I can still remember the joy I felt when I ticked off the last achievement. The passage of time would eventually reveal that Infinity Ward weren’t that happy with the game, but I loved it, so I ignored CoD 3 and waited for the next game.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare eventually arrived, and when it did, it transformed the first person shooter landscape. In my opinion, CoD 4 is one of the very best first person shooters ever made. Infinity Ward grabbed the genre by the balls, and forced it evolve to a higher level. IW introduced several features to Modern Warfare that are still influencing the way shooters are made today. And than there was the maps. I honestly don’t think any other Call of Duty has replicated the sheer quality of CoD 4’s maps. Overgrown, Vacant, Crash, Strike… the list goes on and on. I tried quite hard to pin down my favourite, but only ended up concluding that the only one I didn’t really like was Bloc.

Little did I know that my love affair with Call of Duty was about to come to a crashing halt. My friends were moving on to World at War, and cautiously I followed. As I’ve already mentioned, the general consensus amongst my friends was that Treyarch didn’t make good Call of Duty games, so I approached World at war with some caution. Looking back, coming off the high of CoD 4 maybe wasn’t the fairest lead up, because I didn’t take the return to world war II very well. I found WaW bland, generic, and unoriginal in the extreme. I tried to commit to the multi-player, but after one too many deaths to map glitchers, I snapped. The game disc came out of my Xbox, went back in the box, and never saw the light of day again.

If World at War was the stormy break-up, Modern warfare 2 was the ill-advised reconciliation. Burnt by my experience with the last game, I bought MW2 hoping that the return to Infinity Ward meant a corresponding return to CoD 4’s quality. Still fixated on the idea that Call of Duty games should have decent single player campaigns, I felt let down by MW2. The story was simply ridiculous, and I never really took to any of the multi-player maps. At this point, I had hatred in my heart for Call of Duty. To my mind, World at War and Modern warfare 2 were living off the glory of CoD 4, and offered nothing new to gamers, so I swore off the franchise completely. I ignored Black Ops completely, despite my friends recommendations, and poured scorn on Modern warfare 3. I had become a Call of Duty celibate.

And then one night, while my friends were all out with their new Black Ops 2 girlfriends, I got all jealous and lonely. I wanted to date Call of Duty again, so I warily picked up a copy. At first, I made the mistake of playing the campaign. My first impressions weren’t good. The story made very little sense to me first time around, and subsequent play through didn’t really improve things. Today, I’ve concluded that my confusion is a result of one of two things: I couldn’t be bothered to pay attention to it while playing, or that I was missing some crucial piece of story from the first Black Ops. Whatever the reason is, I stopped caring. The idea that Call of Duty wasn’t really about single player campaign any more was just starting form in my mind. I resolved to explore the multi-player before passing judgement, and I’m glad I did.

It’s hard to admit you’ve made a mistake sometimes, but deep down I knew I had. I’d come to realise that my problem with Call of Duty was that I was expecting too much from it. Somewhere, over the course of my journey with the franchise, I’d failed to notice that the game had changed focus. It had morphed into being a multi-player centred game, that also has a campaign mode attached. Once I stopped being angry about that, I remembered how good the multi-player really is. Everything just clicked. Call of Duty is the best at what it does, plain and simple, and you’ve only got to look at the influence its had upon other games to gauge the impact it’s had.

I know that in certain corners of the internet its fashionable to hate on Call of Duty’s for a variety of reasons, but after my conversion, I can’t help feeling that a lot of the haters are missing the point. Whilst I still have a problem with the business philosophy behind the game, I’ve stopped blaming the game itself for consistently remaining at the top of the pile. Almost every one of Call of Duty’s rivals has been content to ride it’s coat tails in the hope of getting a slice of its profits, and as a result innovation has suffered. Only when a serious challenger arrives will Call of Duty really start to flex its creative muscles again.

Do review scores matter any more?

Outside of Metacritic related bonuses, do they really matter any more?

Name whatever series you want, we’re all invested in one title or another. We all have an attachment to at least one game that’s so strong, review scores become irrelevant. For me it’s games like Mass Effect or Gears of War, for you it could be Battlefield. Whatever it is, chances are it’s a sequel of some kind. And that’s not a criticism, publishers are businesses and sequels are where the low risk sure-fire profits are at right now. Despite the fact that most of us like to think we want new IP, the sales figures say we want sequels. But that’s not all they say. If you listen carefully they also say that the whole practice of reviewing games and giving them a score is fast becoming a pointless exercise.

Let’s take Call of Duty Black Ops 2 as an example. Anybody involved in this hobby will be able to tell you this game will be the biggest launch of the year regardless of the reviews it gets. Call of Duty fans buy Call of Duty games, so what relevance does any score have? The same immunity to a 1/10 score also renders a 10/10 score meaningless. Why even bother reviewing the game at all if the very best score possible has no real impact on commercial success? You have the holy grail of video games here, a title so strong that it’s a guaranteed sales blockbuster, and at the same time impervious to negative write ups.

At this point you’re probably thinking that I’ve missed the point of reviews entirely, but it’s not the text I have a problem with, it’s the outdated mechanic of putting a number at the end. Even though the write-up is someone else’s subjective opinion, it still gives you a much better flavour of what the game is like than an arbitrary mark out of ten. So come on, isn’t time we ditch the review score and rely solely on the text of a review? I’d argue we’d all be better off if we did.

Would you pay £88 for Call of Duty? Chances are you already do…

I want to take a look at DLC with this post, or more specifically the very clever business model publishers have gotten us used to. Being an older gamer, I can remember a time when the whole game consisted of whatever was on the cartridge/floppy disc. If it was bugged in some way there was no downloadable patch, if it was a multiplayer game and you were bored of the maps/race tracks/whatever you couldn’t download news ones. In short, you gave the publishers one lot of money for the game.

In today’s market, DLC is the norm. On the whole, game prices haven’t really increased in the time I’ve been a gamer, at the time Street Fighter 2 Turbo on the SNES cost  me around £50 for example, so publishers haven’t managed to edge the price of games up for a very long time now. Only they have, very cleverly, with the drip feed of DLC.

For this example I’m going to use Call of Duty: Black Ops on the Xbox 360. This is not a comment on the quality of the game itself, and yes I know you could shop around for points etc… I’m trying to keep this simple. So with that in mind;

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops – Full game £44.99
  • Pack of 5000 Microsoft Points – £42.50
  • DLC Pack 1 – 1st Strike – 1200pts
  • DLC Pack 2 – Escalation – 1200pts
  • DLC Pack 3 – Annihilation – 1200pts
  • DLC Pack 4 – Rezurrection – 1200pts
  • Total Cost for Black Ops and all the DLC: £87.49

So if you bought Black Ops and all the DLC it would cost you just over £87. If I was being particularly awkward, I’d point out that on the Xbox you’re also paying a Live subscription too, so if Black Ops was the only thing you played that’s over £100!

So my question is this Call of Duty fans; If you went into your local game retailer to pick up the latest copy of the series and it had £89.99 on the box, would you still buy it? And for clarity it’s the plain vanilla version and there’s no DLC ever, anything that would have been DLC is already on the disc.

To be honest you could substitute Call of Duty for Dragon Age: Origins (which had a mountain of DLC after launch), or pretty much any other game, my point is none of us buy the latest title happy in the knowledge that it’s going to cost us double the sticker price in the long run. Nobody looks at the box and thinks “this is going to cost me £40 alone in DLC”. So if the latest version of your favourite game had a realistic prices tag on it from day one, if you knew the true cost, would you still buy the game?

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