Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Guns of Anchorage

The ‘ol blog has been rather quite lately, owing in no small part to the loss of both my PC and my day job. At any rate, I’ve got a shiny new laptop now, and I’ve been brewing up a storm in a few stories I’ve been writing. Some are about everyone’s favourite Vindicator, Howard Gregg, and a few other ones as well, set in an established sci-fi setting.

In any case, here’s a review of the new Fallout 3 DLC, Operation: Anchorage, released today.

Seems like having a wrist mounted computer makes you a very special person. Of course, being able to pause time and target individual body parts is no small skill either, but that’s not what matters in Operation: Anchorage. The Brotherhood Outcasts (a rebel organization obsessed with old world technology) are having a bit of a problem, and only you, the intrepid Lone Wanderer can help them.

By downloading Operation: Anchorage for 800 Microsoft Space Bucks, you’ll be given access to a previously locked part of the game world. No clear indication is made as to where this is right away, but after waiting a few minutes, you’ll get a distress call on your Pip-Boy (the aforementioned wrist computer), pointed you towards the DC outskirts to assist the Outcasts in capturing a recently uncovered military base. Fighting your way through droves of Super Mutants with the Outcasts at your side opens up this content pack with a bang; charging through the streets blasting Super Mutants while power-armored soldiers move forward with you is always a thrill, something you experience only a few times during the regular story line.

Upon reaching the base, you’re greeted by a few Outcasts who, in their trademark surly manner, direct you down an elevator and into a recently uncovered vault. After a short introduction to the setting, you’re strapped into a simulator pod, and warped to Anchorage, Alaska during the time of the Chinese invasion. (For a little summary, the current year in Fallout 3 is 2277. The Operation: Anchorage content pack takes place during 2077, two hundred years in the past)

The missions contained within the pack a fairly straight-forward. Being a military simulation, your objectives have only one clear outcome: the complete destruction of Chinese bases and the troops contained within. That being said, it’s still enjoyable to take out Chinese forces; your objectives are always fun, and this being Fallout 3, combat is a blast, even if half your enemies are completely cloaked and armed with pretty nasty sniper rifles.

After completing your first mission, the destruction of some fairly gigantic artillery guns, you’re warped back to the US Army HQ, where stereotypical US General Constantine Chase gives you a briefing on the three tasks he wants completed.

Here’s where Operation: Anchorage tries to differ from the Fallout formula. In addition to choosing your weapon load outs, you can also command a small strike team. You get five token to spend on your team, and each team member has a different cost. If you want a big bulky robot, you’re going to have fewer chits to spend on the rest of your team, so choose wisely. Ideally, you want numbers on your side, but it’s up to you.

Once you’re thrust into the Alaskan wilderness, you realize how much this looks like the Capital Wasteland, only...Whiter. Bethesda tried to distinguish the Alaskan front line from the ruins of DC, but you can see certain similarities if you look hard enough. That being said, the environment is still beautiful in its starkness, and after so much brown, blinding white is a nice change of pace.

The DLC introduces a new weapon for you to use, the Gauss Rifle. It’s a very powerful weapon, but the ammo is in short supply, forcing you to use it wisely. Fortunately, ammo for regular weapons and health are in abundance, so you don’t have to worry about that.

Upon exiting the simulator, you get a few nice treats, along with a nasty surprise. If you managed to collect ten pieces of intelligence inside the simulator, you also gain a new Perk, Covert Ops, which adds +3 points to the Small Guns, Science and Lockpick skills. (Skills which you should already have maxed out, if you’re a savvy Wastelander, making this Perk rather superfluous.)

Clocking in a two hours, Operation: Anchorage may be a bit short for your tastes, especially if you’re the kind that likes to complain about the pricing for DLC; however, for the Fallout 3 fan, this is worth your time and money, if only to squeeze a few more hours out of an excellent game.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Blaze of Glory

As long as you are alive, Dimitri, the heart of this army will never be broken!

When Call of Duty 3 was released at the beginning of this generation, gamers everywhere cried out, feeling that the venerable series had already jumped the shark. Switching development houses from Infinity Ward to Treyarch, Call of Duty 3 seemed like more of the same, but weighed down with the sticky tar of bad game design. With Call of Duty 3 deemed as the nadir of the series, it fell back to Infinity Ward to do for CoD what Casino Royal did for the Bond franchise. CoD needed a reboot, and Infinity Ward delivered in spades.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare hit with a critical thunderstorm, taking the gaming world squarely by the short and curlys and holding on tight. Even today, Modern Warfare is still praised as one of the best shooters since Halo.

Now, a year later, the buck has passed to Treyarch to make the proverbial lightning strike again. Using the Call of Duty 4 engine, Treyarch put the clock back sixty years, dumping armchair soldiers back into the horrors of World War Two.

This time around, you're playing the role of a Marine in the war against Japan, and a Russian soldier taking the fight to Berlin. In the opening vignette, Call of Duty: World At War tries really hard to distinguish itself from it's predecessors...with a torture scene. After your buddy is gruesomely dispatched, your timely rescue arrives in the form of Jack Bauer himself, Mister Kiefer Sutherland.

After Jack busts you out of your prison, it's back into the tried and true Call of Duty style of gameplay. Advance forward until you get to your objective, slot a few bad guys, and move on the next hot zone. As in previous Call of Duties, enemies continuously respawn until you advance forward and turn off the triggers, meaning that if you're the cautious type, you might be stuck behind that barrel for a while.

Pressing forward to get to the next checkpoint is the meat of this game, and it's unfortunately where the game suffers it's most crippling problem. The main way to play this game could be called "trial and error" gameplay. If that suicidal rush didn't work, maybe the next one will. Running through a hail of bullets over and over again isn't fun, especially with the checkpoints as far apart as they are.

While the game is a frustrating slog through the corpses of slain enemies, the environments really make up for it. If you're not playing pincushion to a barrage of bullets, stop and take a minute to appreciate the scenery. Light streams through trees deep in the jungle, and a blood-red sun rise highlights the ruined buildings of Berlin as Katyusha rockets spiral downward leaving destruction in their wake. It's too bad that a game this beautiful has you pressing forward as fast as possible, some of the vistas really stand out amid the traditional war scenery.

Multiplayer has been improved this time around with the addition of co-op and the Nazi Zombie mode. Yes, you read that right, Nazi Zombies. Essentially a cross between Gears of War 2's Locust mode and Left 4 Dead, Nazi Zombies has you and up to three friends defending a ruined house in the middle of a fog-ridden forest. Killing zombies accumulates points, which can be spent on guns, opening other areas of the house, and repairing the barricades. If you have three friends to stick it out with, Nazi Zombies can add a bit of fun to your online experience; alone, it's a ridiculously impossible stand against the ravenous undead.

In terms of straight up player versus player action, World at War feels like a skin mod for Modern Warfare. You rank up, earn new guns and attachments, and some perks to go with it. Most of the perks and attachments are lifted straight out of CoD 4; only the vehicle perks are completely original.

That being said, it's still fun to hop online and spend a hour or two blasting away. The maps are designed to be more open, giving bigger fire-fights more attention than the choke-point centric strategies of CoD 4.

If you're a fan of the Call of Duty series, you can do much worse than World at War. A solid outing, but it lacks the intricately detailed polish of Modern Warfare. However, it is worth jumping back into the trenches, at least for this one last time.