Recently, a friend who had read my blog for the first time just the day before commented upon my reviewing style. The GOTM articles, in particular. Even more specifically, the most recent GOTM, where I deem Gears of War 2 to be my Game Of The Month.

Now, before I divulge too much, here's a little background on this person:
* He is a huge fan of both Gears of War and Halo, actually falling under the category of fanboy.
* He is not an idiot. He just has a huge ego.

The article to which he refers can be found here.

"I think in all honesty that you generalise when you should specify and specify when you should generalise."

This is a nice opening statement, and I don't even have to ask for an example.

"Like saying fable 2 is fable 1 with guns and a dog."

I replied that by the time I'd finished playing Fable 2, that is how I generally felt about it. This is the point where things started to get a little less than lovely.

"Well, I guess it depends what you're aiming for in a blog: a place to rant or a a place for actual assessment."

My GOTM are almost always written impromptu and are short little reviews that let me explain my opinions on recent titles that I've played, and people can take or ignore that advice. They are not intended to be rants. This post, however, can definitely be considered a rant. Because it's not a review, as such.

"[in] that statement against fable 2, you pretty much ignore that the game is open world as opposed to fable 1 in which you run along fenced off roads most of the time... and fable 2 is definitely less centralised around the story and more centralised in doing a whole lot of things within the world."

I'm sorry, I must've been playing a different game. Fallout 3 is open world. Far Cry 2 is open world. Fable 2 just has slightly wider "fenced off roads" than Fable 1.
Fable 2 IS definitely less centralised around the story, with focus put more towards other activities within the world. It's true. But as Ben Croshaw said here, the game is called FABLE. It should have to do with the story, especially given that Fable's story was of a decent standard. We don't hear stories about those medieval heroes who chopped wood for forty years to marry and live in a big house, do we?

"but then they can't differ too much from Fable 1, otherwise they'd pull a Far Cry 2 and only be using the name for the marketability."

Maybe so, but Far Cry 2 built upon the developing open world nature of Far Cry. But yes, Far Cry 2 was very different from the original. The big difference from Fable 2 is that it was (and to this point, still is) fun for me to play.

At this point, I'd decided I'd had enough of his fanboyesque talk of Fable 2, and mentioned,

"whatever works. It's my opinion on Fable 2, and there's no need to agree with it."

And this is where the bombshell drops, and brings me to my point (sort of).

"hmmm... sometimes, I think your opinion of things is influenced too much by your experience."

What I and all who I have mentioned it to take this to mean is that my opinion on a game is influenced "too much" by my experience with it.
I'm curious - does that mean I should rely on other people's experiences? I can tell you right now that I'm certainly not going to go asking any Halo fanboys for advice.
Or should I just act without bias, which means I can't experience the game in any way, shape or form, which means that I can't even know about it.

"Morgan's GOTM: *********

This game contains graphics and sound and is playable."

This person also mentioned that I couldn't have Gears 2 as my GOTM because I hadn't played the online matchmaking component of the game.
Sorry, I personally prefer to play with friends, rather than being matched with a random assortment of less-than-desirables.
Plus, if my experience with the other components of the game is enough to make me rate so well, why is he complaining?

And so, finally, we come to my question for you, the readers:

What is a reviewers obligation when reviewing a game, and where does that obligation end?

Untouched and Unloved

It occurred to me semi-recently that there are a lot of new releases around (shocking revelation, eh?).

What happens here is that with the larger amount of games all pushing for the gaming-season release (September onwards), we get a lot of products that could've benefited from a couple more months of development. We even get some that feel as though the developer never play-tested the game before shipping it. And so, we reach the point of this post.

Several games that I have had the "pleasure" of experiencing recently have struck me as unusual. The bugs and glitches render them almost intolerable, and in many cases the actual game just isn't (or doesn't stay) fun. Mercenaries 2 for the PC, Assassin's Creed, Red Alert 3, Spore and Fable 2 are all great examples. Perhaps I should clarify before I move on (if you know of these games, you may as well skip the list below):

Mercenaries 2 was a hugely flawed port to PC, with graphical problems, hindering controls and unchanged UI all contributing to the shit storm. It was so bad that Pandemic actually released a trailer advertising the first patch.
Assassin's Creed was amazingly good fun - until you had played for three hours and done everything unique in the game. Even when you finish the game and just wish to run around a city (one of the game's highest points, the parkour system is brilliant), there is a five minute unskippable cutscene followed by a five minute ride to the nearest city.
I was never a fan of any of the Red Alert or Command and Conquer games, having only owned C&C3. Having said that, I can spot that Red Alert 3 makes almost no change on Red Alert 2, other than to use the graphical "prowess" of C&C3. These graphics are outdated and don't look impressive either, especiall when two-year old titles such as Company of Heroes are leaps and bounds ahead.
Spore was one of those games that I'd been looking forward to for years, ever since a friend introduced me to a half-hour E3 demonstration of it in 2006. No game has ever disappointed me as much as Spore did. The entire game is a barely shrouded checklist that allows no deviation. Admittedly, the game was good for roughly four hours, until I got to the Space stage and decided to start a new creature.
Fable 2 is Fable 1 with a dog and guns added, and cool villains and weapons removed. The fact that Lionhead released a previous generation game without considering that perhaps times had changed is disturbing my faith in them. Oh and the ending is awful.

So we boil down to the real problem: did these developers actually play their games and decide that they were fit to release and sell for AU$100? Or did they try a game concept and assume it was fine? Perhaps the developer pushed them into releasing the game ASAP or maybe they just didn't care to play it.
All of these are fairly disturbing ideas, especially given that many of those titles listed were heavily marketed and seemed to be considered "big-time" releases.

I am curious as to what you think about all this, so post your thoughts.

Game of the Month - November 2008

Some of you may have noticed the blog has changed. If you haven't, I hope it's because you're a new reader and not suffering from long-term memory loss. Either way, welcome to the blog, which has recently suffered an aesthetic update.

As it's now the first of December 2008, I figure it's time for me to decide on my Game of the Month for November. If my memory serves me well, November has been a great month for my gaming pleasure.
I'd like to mention that I'm going to include a game or two that was released late October, as I didn't have a chance to play them properly in time for October's GOTM.

And so, the winner of October's GOTM is:

Gears of War 2

This is probably going to aggravate a lot of people, but let me explain myself.
Gears of War was a great console shooter, refreshing the clich
éd console shooter market. The cover system was one of the best ever seen and the gameplay was action packed and sustained. Multiplayer was entertaining, assuming you were playing with friends.
Gears of War 2 is one of the greatest sequels of all time, holding onto all the fine aspects of the first and building on them. The increased scale means that there is more to shoot at and more scenery to absorb.
The storyline, while not very original, actually felt like it developed the two main characters a little further, even if the new characters felt stilted. A particularily moving speech during the first act also sets the scene nicely, and gives the feeling that you're part of a bigger conflict.
The graphics are much the same as the first, but there are some stellar moments where we paused to observe. I won't say too much, but there's a particular lake with a particular fish in it. Very impressive.
Multiplayer has had a slight addition - Horde. It's a simple but enthralling gamemode where players work together to survive increasingly difficult waves of enemies.
This game gets a massive thumbs up. Actually, more like ten.

A special mention goes out to:

Left 4 Dead

A simple and awesome concept built on the Source engine - kill zombies, play with friends and play as zombies. Amazingly good fun, this game has very few flaws.
Its biggest problem is that there isn't much variety... you can play five minutes of each chapter and have experienced the environments, as well as the range of enemies and gameplay elements.
This is countered by the great co-operative play, and powered to infinity by the ability to play as the "super zombies".
Zombie killing. With friends. Make purchase now.

Fallout 3

This is one of those "I'm actually an October release" titles, but she's a beauty.
Bethesda's last game, Oblivion, is loathed by many. Said many also feared that Bethesda would tarnish Fallout with their strange ways.
Fortunately, it seems they haven't. The game still holds the feel that Oblivion did, the feel of a world not quite alive... the only thing is, it works this time around.
Regardless of what you thought of Oblivion, you should buy Fallout 3. Or borrow it off a friend - there's no copy protection on the PC version.

A resounding "eh" goes out to:

Call of Duty: World at War

I rushed to the shops eagerly on the day this was released, intent on savouring the gooey delights of another Call of Duty title. Perhaps I should've been a little more worried when all the advertising I saw for the game featured "built on the same engine as CALL OF DUTY 4: MODERN WARFARE" in the same size font as the game's title.
The campaign was interesting - I've never played a Pacific Theatre game before, so it was nice to experience something new. Although, as I said many times while playing, if the real life Japanese soldiers were as frustrating as their AI counterparts, I can fully understand why America resorted to nuclear weapons. The Russian campaign was hit and miss - a couple of missions that felt generic, as well as a few absolute masterpieces - the first Russian mission is a copy-paste of Enemy At The Gates, which is a good thing, and the last mission involves storming the Reichstag, ending in a very memorable cutscene.

Unfortunately, the fun ended there. My friends and I tried to play four player co-op LAN on the PC version, desperately wanting to attempt the unlockable mode at the end of the campaign (think Left 4 Dead and Gears 2 combined), but found that the game refused to connect all four computers. Sadly enough, we found a fix for this bug (which turned out to be a recurring problem throughout the PC community) on a website devoted to pirating games.

So, back to the store goes the broken game, whose entertainment value has passed.

A dishonourable mention goes to:

Fable 2

I'm sure I said nice things about it last month, but now that I got around to finishing it (that is a bad sign), I have something different to say.
In the first Fable, there were plenty of items of clothing to pick from, as well as a variety of weapons, many of which were still useful even when compared to the secret end-game weapon.
In Fable 2, there are less than ten different outfits, unless you count their counterparts for the opposite gender. The great range of customisation comes from the various dyes you can find and use on your clothing and hair. Unfortunately, many of the dyes look almost identical, and your hair will only change to natural hair colours. There are two weapons to BUY in the game, one ranged and one melee, which are more powerful in every facet than any other weapon. There is no uber-weapon at the end of the game.
Speaking of the ending, I have had failed relationships that have ended better than Fable 2 did.

Mirror's Edge

"Best Original Game Concept of E3 2008" is emblazened on the case. A bold claim, given that most of the games at E3 this year were sequels.
Mirror's Edge is a parkour (or free-running) game in which you play as some chick with a sister who jumps around a big white city delivering messages that never appear. All of a sudden, said sister gets framed for killing some important guy. To be honest, I didn't care enough to pay attention. By the time the story had kicked in, I was getting sick of the game.
Most games capture many players through their "'wow' factor", the intial wonder of the game's experience. Mirror's Edge attempts a different approach, immediately trying to aggravate you with a tutorial that loads to the beginning of the last portion every time you make the tiniest mistake (which is frequent, as some of the mechanics are unreliable). From there, the game proceeds to send you scrambling across incredibly linear rooftops, heading for an objective.
One great thing about this linearity is that when you do get killed/fall to your death, you can follow the exact same route as before, but with a prior knowledge of the path. Combined with linearity, this is Mirror's Edge's biggest downfall. It can be very difficult to figure out exactly where to go, as some items and obstacles pass in and out of interactability.

Remember Assassin's Creed? It had this simple yet effective parkour system that combined well with a third person view that let you see your awesome climbing skills and figure out a path before you were jumping over it for the third time?
Buy Assassin's Creed (or play it again if you still have it), choose a city, and run around the rooftops pretending to deliver packages to certain buildings in the game. It will be much cheaper and, more importantly, more fun.


P.S. Guitar Hero World Tour is fun with friends. Until the drum kit broke.

Game of the Month - October 2008

Well, it's been another month, and we all know what that means!

Pathetic menstrual humour aside, it has been a big month for gaming. We've seen the release of some big name titles, as well as demo releases for some exciting concepts that are set to release sometime soon.

Firstly, I'd like to talk about some of the demo releases.
In the past week, demos have been released for three titles that I care to mention, two of which I have been looking forward to. I am referring, of course, to the Mirror's Edge, Banjo-Kazooie Nuts & Bolts and Tom Clancy's EndWar demos.
Having only played the Nuts & Bolts preview so far, I'm not really in a position to comment on the other two. However, Nuts & Bolts looks like it should be great fun, given what I've already played. One of the best things is that it is a completely different game from the first two, rather than a modern attempt to recreate the 90's magic. In particular, the ability to build your own vehicles is a huge bonus, especially given the way the game implements each vehicle's unique design.

To be honest, I spent as much time building vehicles as playing the actual demo, so I won't say anything on the gameplay, but the creativity allowed really blows me away. It seems that this is the year of the user-generated content.
We have Spore, letting us breed the most unimaginable creatures; Far Cry 2 letting us construct beautifully realistic worlds in a breeze and now Nuts & Bolts is opening up the world of vehicular customisation.

Anyhow, onto the Game of the Month:

...And the winner is...

Far Cry 2
Just Cause and Mercenaries 2 taught us that open-world sandbox games do not work in flat, open worlds. Grand Theft Auto 4 taught us that cities are the best option for sandboxing. Far Cry 2 reverses this whole equation.
Sniping and stealth are the name of the game here - if you're playing it and aren't using a sniper rifle, go and get one now. Right now. We'll wait - go.
Right, now that he's gone, we can talk about the other good stuff. Everything feels very realistic, from the weapons jamming and degrading to the map while driving and the fire mechanics.
Far Cry 2 makes fire fun. Buy it and set fire to things. Then install the game and play it.

Suppose these guys deserve a mention too:

Fable 2
It's been a little while coming, but the wait was certainly worth it. A lot more freedom (especially in moving around the game world) than the original, as well as modified combat and magic.
Great British humour that everyone can enjoy and a pleasing art style (even if some of the geometry is last-gen) make this a great game.
My biggest complaint is having to tell people that it's not out on PC. Yet.

Dead Space
This got a lot of good reviews, citing great atmosphere and tense combat as the highlights. They also mention that most of the game's objectives are lightly veiled key hunting quests. Maybe if I hadn't read a single thing about the game before playing it, I could've coped.
It's 11.30pm. The lights are out. The headphones are clamped on my head. Dead Space is playing. The atmosphere is great. The combat (when it comes in tiny bursts) is great. Yet this cynical little voice inside my head is noting the objectives and becoming bored and whiny very quickly.
The prequel DVD (which I watched at a friend's place) lead me to believe the game would be much better than what I played was. So watch that and be scared and then go play the game. But don't pay full price for it.

The End! Post comments!

SPLastic's Game of the Month: September

Well, ladies and gentlemen, it's my time of the month. Stop looking at me like that; I mean the announcement of my Game of the Month.
Hopefully I can remember to keep this going and make it a monthly thing (that'd fit nicely with the name, wouldn't it). So, have a read and post your thoughts.

And, my Game of the Month is:

Sid Meier's Civilization IV: Colonization

This game builds on a classic game formula that has already been revamped with the last title in the series (Civilization IV itself), adding a much more hands-on feel to settlement (instead of city) management, as well as focusing on a under-played genre, the colonization of the New World.
A well rounded 4x romp that leaves me coming back for more. Even if I haven't finished a single match yet.

Runner up is:

Crysis Warhead

It's Crysis, but Crytek fixed everything that was wrong with it - the mediocre firefights that took place in very thick foliage, the haphazard death-trap vehicles and the system-melting requirements. I found the original Crysis got boring quickly, but I haven't grown tired of Warhead yet.
Crysis Warhead is awesome fun to play through, but I don't know how quickly I'll return to the title - and the multiplayer component, Crysis Wars, is MOHAA online with the Crysis suit powers. Not too much fun to be had there.

And a special mention goes out to:

Mercenaries 2: World in Flames

The idea of playing this game was sold to me by a friend who promised largely destructible environments. Having finished GTAIV, I was feeling pretty good about open-world games. Alas, how much one game can do to one's opinions.
Remember how GTA: San Andreas had a really large game world? Mercenaries 2 does the same thing. Remember how GTA: San Andreas had nothing to do in that game world? Well, funnily enough, Mercenaries 2 follows suit.
It annoys me to see open-world games on the market that don't seem to grasp that a small world full of things to do always beat a large, empty world. What makes this game even worse is that the gameplay feels like something that should've been released as a last-generation title. A launch title. That the console quickly pushes to one side and forgets about.
I played Just Cause about six months ago. It was awful for all the same reasons as this game. In fact, the only difference between the games is that you can blow up some pot plants in this one.

That is all! Post your thoughts.

Ignorantus, Ignoranta, Ignorantum!

As a gamer, I witness ignorance towards my hobby on an almost daily basis. Obviously, it's unrealistic to expect every man and his dog to know all the intricate details of the games industry; all that I, personally, would like is that those who feel the need to intrude show some rudimentary understanding of our hobby.

First of all, if you don't like video games and aren't going to take the half an hour it would take to research these games, please stop complaining. If you are in a position of authority (politicians, for example) and feel obliged to make comments, do some research first.

Finally and most prominent is the ignorance of the general public, specifically concerning gaming becoming “cool” as of late, as well as the uninformed opposition seen in so much of society.

On Septemer 4th 2008, a video game called Spore was released for the PC by Maxis Software, the company famous for developing The Sims. Spore allows players to create a creature; beginning as a small cell swimming in the primordial ooze, all the way to their species' exploration of the galaxy. The player has control over the appearance and abilities of their creature, sculpting and painting it as they see fit.

Spore has received criticism from many religious (I say religious, but it's really just Christian and Catholic) groups, who claim that the game is poisoning the minds of children by teaching them Darwin's Theory of Evolution (instead of Intelligent Design) and should be banned from sale. However, it would seem the opposite is true – the player (who we can assume falls under “intelligent”) designs a creature, with the ability to completely forgo the creature's surroundings (the species will not change of its own accord – all changes are player-generated).

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation's TV show, Q&A, recently aired an episode where a member of the audience asked the panel (which included a senator from the Independent, National and Labor parties, as well as the Chief Executive of the Australian Industry Group) about Australia's OFLC (Office of Film and Literature Classification) banning several upcoming game releases, including the highly anticipated Fallout 3. This game was banned for a combination of two reasons: our OFLC has no R18+ rating for video games, and Fallout 3's drug use was deemed inappropriate for an MA15+ rating. This drug use equated to a graphic of a needle piercing the character's skin, and the inclusion of morphine as a usable drug (these drugs have both positive and negative affects ingame).

Q&A's panel seemed to misunderstand the question, going off on a tangent about video games causing violence. I am not going to go indepth into the “video games make people violent” debate, as there is not enough data to prove or dismiss the case (although all published studies seem to point to “No”). One panel member, when talking about the highly controversial Grand Theft Auto series (which is famous for turning people into “car thieves”) mentioned that two of her children play “these types of games”, and she's glad they “haven't turned out like that”.

Now, I don't want to crucify her, but if she's so against these games, why does she let her children play them?

Q&A also states that Australia has no ratings system for video games. To me, this is the icing on their metaphorical cake of ignorance. Australia's OFLC has a very solid ratings system (even if it may occasionally be inaccurate – I'll come to that soon). The only thing missing is an R18+ rating, something that other forms of media classified have.

Any content contained within a game that the OFLC's board deems inappropriate for fifteen year olds must either be removed or the game will not be classified (and in most cases) not sold. Of course, if someone really wants to play a game, they will no doubt download the software if it isn't available commercially – which only serves to disadvantage developers.

In reality, the classification should exist as a guideline, allowing gamers and guardians to make informed choices about the product they are purchasing. Instead, with the omission of an R18+ rating, classification becomes censorship (quick, use google define to find the difference!).

Above, I mentioned that one of the guests on Q&A said that her children play violent video games, and asked why she let them if she is so opposed to such games. It strikes me as strange that those who are against violent video games continue to purchase them for their children. Surely they looked at the case before buying it? Didn't they notice the red sticker in the corner with the box next to it saying, “Strong Violence and Coarse Language”?

These people can no longer play the ignorance card about the content of the games their children play – either they bought the game for the child or they've seen it played by said child; either way, the guardian should have a good idea of the game's content. If they don't fulfill either of those criteria, then more attention needs to be paid to what their own children are doing.

As a teenager attending a public college, I am exposed to what we can consider the most malleable unit of society; which provides a full submersion in the latest fads - a constant idea of what is “cool”. As of late, it seems as though video games have become cool: please note that I didn't say “video gaming”.

All of a sudden, people are wearing shirts with Mario and Yoshio on them, Nintendo logos stare blankly at you from all manner of clothing and every second person you meet uses the terms “noob” and “lol”. Hell, every second person that I meet knows (and is often singing) “Still Alive” (also known as “The Portal Song”).

I have absolutely no problem with people playing games – there is one gaming console to every five Australians, so it's no longer a niche hobby. My problem lies in the blatant ignorance that this new breed of casual gamers possesses. Recently, a celebrity was quoted as saying they owned a “Sony Nintendo” - if you can't pick up what's wrong with those two words, kindly dip your hand in cool water, unplug the computer that you are using and stick your fingers in the power socket.

To reiterate, I have no problem with more people playing games; it's the pretenders that get to me. Once again, I'll use “Still Alive” as an example. Of all the people I spend time around at school, perhaps a total of five have completed Portal, with five more having played it and at the best, a grand total of 15 know what Portal actually is. Yet every single one of the people I associate with can sing at least one line from the song and tell me that it's from “that game...” (except in a few rare cases when people say “from the internet”).

It is good to see all this “attention” for gaming, but it does make my cynical mind think that it'll only be a matter of time until “cool” changes again and all that Nintendo clothing ends up in the bottom of closets lined with the fossils of past fads.

So please, I beg of you, if you are going to become involved in gaming, at least have some idea of what you're getting into. For those against video games, at least take a glance at Wikipedia. Hell, even play Mario Kart – it might just change your outlook. As for those who are doing it because it's “cool”, please actually play games – by not, you're doing everyone a disservice.


P.S.: Attention all teenie boppers – Singstar doesn't count.

"A 'video game', you say? Well, golly! Gee! You mighty space-men of the future will have to teach me how it works!"

-Fry ("A Bicyclops Built For Two", Futurama Season 2)

Driving Me Insane

Today, it occurred to me that most people cannot drive. Actually, this occurred to me roughly a day after I got my P plates. There are many threats on our roads, and being the kind-hearted and unmisanthropic person I am, a small public threat list seemed only appropriate. So, here goes:

Threat #1: Other drivers: Yes, it is a rather broad category, but the fact of the matter is this – everyone is stupid and everyone drives stupid. Perhaps they haven't quite mastered the art of breathing and thinking at the same time, or perhaps they're distracted. Either way, take caution around other cars.

Threat #2: Pimped cars: Nothing shrinks your penis like pimping your car out with a dicky (no pun intended) body kit and spoiler. It also causes brain failure in most diagnosed cases. If they're driving a pimped car, they're most likely a tosspot and need to be given room to ejaculatorily destroy themselves.

Threat #3: Provisional License Holders: Or, for the cruder of you, P platers. Yes, we've all heard the rumours. Indeed, many of them are true. P platers are young and horny; much too busy making out and having wild sex to concentrate on driving properly.
HOWEVER, many P platers are sensible and have a better knowledge of the road rules than any other threat level. All they lack is experience.

[Note: this is where things get tricky. I'd love to put both of these following two at #5, but one must go there, and so it shall. Read down.]

Threat #4: Old people: Once again, we've all heard the rumours. Old people may have the experience, but they lack the motor function, reflex time or empathy to drive safely. Most commonly, old-timers disease presents in slow driving and poor judgement due to poor eyesight. It's infuriating because they also happen to be going wherever you are, or sit in the wrong lane.
Today, I discovered a special case that needs a special mention. I was driving up the main street of my suburb when an elderly lady hunched over the steering wheel of a small, red hatchback came zooming past in the opposite direction. Now, we were in a 60kmh zone. This woman had to be doing at least 80kmh, probably more.
In short, beware the elderly. Their driving skills are failing faster than their livers.

*A short drum roll*

Threat #5: Tradesmen: Actually, this category expands to include any driver that you spot wearing a fluorescent safety vest. This is a mark of a very dangerous driver, people. It's not so much a case of their ignorance; rather, it seems they never learnt to drive in the first place.
I have nearly been run off the road several times by tradesmen. It's not that much fun. Tailgating, speeding, failure to indicate, sudden, unexpected turns and sharp braking all fall onto this category.
These people need a WIDE birth when driving. As in, if you were to take every item off the back of their vehicles and stack it end to end, it would give you HALF the distance you need to maintain.
If you see an elderly tradesman, you may as well run your car into the nearest tree.

Hopefully this will get a few less people killed.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go torture some small children – I'm starting to feel nice.


"Listen to that baby purr."
"There's a baby in there?"

- Fry & Bender ("The Lesser of Two Evils", Futurama Season 2)

Review - Call of Duty 4

Greetings again, here comes a review - it's a little old, but it's worth reading.

This week, we’re having a look at Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (or CoD4) for the Xbox 360.

Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty series has always managed to produce a brilliant first person shooter, despite its tired and stressed old setting of World War II. Finally, the developers have taken a step outside, noticed that people are getting bored of the Normandy Beach landings, and so replied with a new setting.

Set, as the name suggests, in modern times, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare upholds the tradition of all the previous games, but with some serious improvements.

First of all, stripping itself of the World War II restraints has allowed Infinity Ward to actually tell a story that no one’s heard before, and no one is quite sure how the game will end. As anyone who’s ever attended one high school history lesson will know, WWII always ends with Allied victory. No offense, but this is boring. There’s nothing more cliché than slowly watching the underdogs come back up to overthrow the evil bastards.

This is where CoD4 gets a little more interesting. While on the surface, it seems as though it’s just two superpowers bearing down on the Middle East, as you delve further into the game it becomes clear that no one seems to have control of the situation (although the enemy seems to be much closer to said control). There’s a feeling of desperation about the story that no previous CoD or Medal of Honor game has been able to pull off, only enhanced by tight and fierce combat.

While the game takes a mission or two to really get going, once you strike the real gunfights, Call of Duty’s most brilliant aspect shines through. Combat really is what makes or breaks a game - and Modern Warfare most definitely isn’t broken. Essentially, not a lot has changed, and this is a good thing.

The grenade indicator remains from previous titles and this adds another strength and weakness to your arsenal – able to see which direction a grenade landed in, but unable to see how far away. The grenades themselves still play a rather small role… flashbangs still only seem to really work well on the player, and fragmentation grenades seem to go off too late, no matter what. However, this keeps the focus on the guns, which are outstanding.

As always, you can carry two weapons, and they can be whatever. This allows you to keep a good mix of weaponry, assuming you swap out your pistol for a sniper rifle or AK-47. In multiplayer, weapons can have certain parts swapped out for alternatives with a different focus.

Overall, combat is well balanced, and when supported by your non-playable character (NPC) squad, there is rarely a frustratingly difficult fight.

Both ally and enemy AI proves to be very solid – you never see them doing stupid things (that might have to do with being busy keeping an eye on the bullets). In a firefight, everyone ducks into cover. While your allies can take a firefight by themselves, they don’t seem to like moving if there are enemies nearby, and they take their time attacking. This leaves you doing a fair bit of shooting, but not enough to make it feel like Halo, where you’re the only semi-competent human about.

In total, I only ever had two squabbles with the AI in Modern Warfare. Firstly, the NPCs can get in the way, which is frustrating in the closed-in environments. Secondly, during my favourite mission you end up under a Ferris wheel not too far from Chernobyl, and are swamped by enemies. It felt as though the entire Red Army was bearing down on me. It was almost enough to turn down the difficulty level… which would’ve ruined the whole experience.

Playing through the entire game on the second highest difficulty setting, there weren’t really any sections that felt as though they demanded a reduction (apart from aforementioned Ferris wheel). Truth be told, the only real difficulty complaint comes from online multiplayer.

The biggest problem with online multiplayer is that the entire system is kill based… and while this sounds stupid, let me elaborate a bit.

Anyone who’s played Halo 3 (shhh… it’s the only game that I can really draw a comparison too currently) knows about ranking. If you do well against people better than you, your rank goes up, and doing badly against people worse than your brings you down. CoD 4 runs on a kill-only basis. Get 20 kills total (as an example) and you go up a rank. People who sit around all day playing, getting one kill for every twenty deaths will still unlock all the powerful weapons. Of course, said people will never be good enough to utilise said weapons, but it doesn’t seem fair to the more skilled players.

On the other hand, local (on one console) multiplayer is an absolute blast with friends. The ranking system is removed – this is all about addictive, fast-paced, run and gun gameplay. Best of all, the system doesn’t struggle, even with four players lobbing explosives at each other; the visuals remain sharp and smooth.

Everyone knows that Infinity Ward goes to a lot of trouble to make its FPS games look absolutely stunning. As an Xbox 360 gamer, it seems like they’ve finally been able to bring out the true power of the console (By the time you read this, there’ll be another game out that’ll look better), with all that shiny and flashy stuff that everyone loves; enough bloom to look real, but thankfully not enough to rival Halo 3’s retina scarring powers.

Looking around the single player levels, you never have a problem spotting the enemies. The terrorists seem to pick awful colour schemes… who the hell wears nothing but black and dark brown in the middle of a tan and beige city?

The real problem with the graphics starts to become more apparent in multiplayer, but this is to be expected - humans are very good at breaking things. Everyone is wearing camouflage, and while they do stick out inside buildings, when in the outdoor environments, which are very ‘real’ (all dark colours) it can be nigh on impossible to spot an enemy until they’re soaking your corpse in lead.

On a lighter note, sound is very well tuned and sharp. Unlike Mass Effect, all the voices are well balanced, with all but one or two characters being fully believable. Guns crack, grenades crash and thud, flashbangs emit that ever-so-lovely white noise, and the ambient noise really adds to the mood… if you can notice it.

Overall, I came out the end of the game feeling incredibly satisfied, and well rewarded for the AU$100 that it cost.

Visually, the game is stunning, really shining out amongst many mediocre titles on the market, and only falls down a few times total.

Your ears will love you for this… assuming they have a war fetish. Yes, your ears will love you for CoD4.

Highly addictive gameplay; shooting people has never been so much fun.

To put it very, very simply: this game is great fun. Buy it.

Greetings and stalling methods.

Greetings humans, and welcome to the blog.

To be honest, I'm just posting this to make it look like something has happened since I started this thing up.

Farewell for now.