Modern Borefare

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 is out very very soon. It'll no doubt sell well, there may be news stories about how many millions of pounds people shirking their day at work to play it will cost the economy. We however, could not care about one of gaming's biggest annual events.

Way back when, we were fans of Call of Duty, Brothers in Arms and Medal of Honour. The historical focus appealed to us. This was when FPS still worked off the Doom format. There was shooting to be done, "keycards" to be found, missions to be completed and if that wasn't enough the couch co-op wasn't too bad.

Things changed with this:

Showing its' age now, astonishing how much things have changed since 2002. I remember the first time I played through this, my mind was blown. It was unlike any experience I had in gaming before, incredibly exciting and powerful especially given the basis of this level on real events of the D-day landing. On a second and third playthrough however, it is obvious that this "chaotic" scene is actually a linear stage, awaiting your presence for the choreographed action to unfold. By the fourth and fifth playthroughs you can almost leisurely stroll up the beach knowing that the explosions and deaths are orchestrated for your benefit. The opening level of the next game, Medal of Honour Rising Sun, was even worse. Set on one of the ships in the ill-fated Pearl Harbour on the day of umm Pearl Harbour, you play as a soldier who frantically scrambles to the ships AA guns to shoot down a series of Japanese aircraft. A fixed series of Japanese aircraft that just go around and around in their predefined sequence until you shoot them all down, triggering the next cutscene. Alternatively, you can opt out of shooting the planes down and nothing really happens. America doesn't enter the war, Little Boy is not dropped on Hiroshima, Hitler is not defeated. The Japanese planes circle round and round for infinity. Smoke and mirrors can work wonders in video games to make you believe that what is unfolding on screen is more sophisticated or clever than it actually is. For us, when it doesn't quite work and you can see the sticky tape and toilet roll tubes at work behind the scenes it undermines the whole experience. I want to play a video game, I don't want to stroll through an interactive film set, flattered as I am that is has been put together for me.

With the improvement in the ease and reliability of online multiplayer, unfortunately (for us, not for them) the makers of CoD and MoH decided to take these series more in that direction. We don't have the time or the inclination to play online multiplayer FPSs although we understand many enjoy doing so. Our interest is in the story/campaign/single player mode. These days the single player game in the kinds of games is nothing more than a roller-coaster that barely needs any input from the player. Some people seem to enjoy being duped into believing they are playing a game. I'm not one of them. I don't want to be tricked by a cinematic experience, I want to have some agency in between shooting a couple of guys (or not even firing a gun once) and walking between cutscenes (Simon Parkin is a man after my own heart when it comes to Uncharted 3, sadly this wasn't good enough for Eurogamer as pointed out by Penny Arcade's Tycho). I have books to read and films to watch for linear experiences, video games are supposed to be interactive. I am willing to tolerate autoplay games if the story or setting have something unique or interesting to say or show but as these FPS games are now all set in fictional modern day settings, it's more cost effective to buy a Clancy novel with the benefit that the writing is better and that if you want to share the experience you don't get quite so many American teenagers calling you a fag.

What we always look forward to is how the games media will pander to gaming's biggest series. It looks like the embargo for MW3 reviews is going to run right up to launch day, not unusual in itself but perhaps cause for some eyebrow raising for the biggest release in anglophone gaming. Modern Warfare 2 got a ludicrous 94 on metacritic (a still ludicrous but less so 86 on PC despite these issues). Most of the biggest gaming sites and magazines gave it a perfect score; a flawless experience that it is impossible to better? A few critics I respect did bemoan MW2 for its shallowness but it was a much over-shouted minority. I don't want to get hung up on numbers too much as video games are a subjective medium but I think that Dead Rising as an interactive experience towers over Modern Borefare games and even Legend of Zelda. In the Good the Bad and the Multiplex, Mark Kermode berates movie producers and critics for rejecting intelligent movies and contempt for movie goers. I think the same is true of AAA game releases these days.

P.S. As if there wasn't enough for us to dislike about the series, GAME are running a preorder, where you get four hours of double experience in multiplayer.


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