Sep 012011

Now that September is here, the holiday game rush is upon us.  It’s also back to school season, back to serious work season and before you know it, the actual holidays themselves will be here, all resulting in limited gaming time.  Lots of games plus limited time equals important decisions to be made.   Let’s take a look at three of the more notable multiplayer shooters that will hit the PC over the next month or two and examine what will be worth your time and money.  Each one is a sequel and each has an appeal to a specific market segment.

Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad

The first of our 3 games we’re looking at today will hit the virtual shelves on September 13th.  RO2 is the underdog in this fight, coming from Tripwire Interactive, who got their start as a Make Something Unreal winner with the original Red Orchestra UT2k4 mod.  RO2 is the ambitious follow up to the retail version of RO, now using the latest version of the Unreal 3 engine.  RO’s focus is on realism (relative to other games in this genre) and provides a bit slower paced, more strategic experience than the BF and CoD series of games.  Another noteworthy aspect of RO2, is it is one of the few World War II games still around, after they were totally over-done in the past decade.  That means you won’t have any high-tech gadgets or laser guided nukes to kill your enemies with, which depending on your point of view may or may not be a good thing.

Price:  It will be the least expensive of the 3, with a MSRP of $40. Pre-ordering on Steam will knock off 10% or 20% if you own the original game.  Early beta access (right now) requires the “Digital Deluxe” edition for an extra $10.

DRM: Steamworks.  No matter where you buy this game, it will have to be activated and tied to your Steam account.  No additional layers of DRM should be present.

Summary:  RO2 will be a good choice if you’re tired of a lot of the “arcade-like” elements traditionally found in the CoD games and, to a lesser extent, BF games.  Classes and vehicles play a large role and allow you to play the game in a way that more fits your style, similar to the BF games.  Keep in mind the community for RO2 will be smaller than that of CoD and BF, so you may not have many friends playing this game, at least initially, although word of mouth could be strong.  Generally speaking, the community will be a little bit more mature than the other two games as it’s catering to a smaller, more realism based market.

Battlefield 3

BF3 is far and away the most hyped game of the three, especially on the PC side.  DICE has been touting the PC as the lead development platform and has promised key PC centric features like Direct X11 visuals and robust community and social features through their web interface dubbed “Battlelog.”  BF3 on the PC will allow for up to 64 player battles on huge maps and a few different game modes including conquest, rush and death match.  Since it’s set in a modern warfare setting, you’ll have lots of high-tech gadgets, along with lots of vehicles, including jets to play with.  While the BF series does rely heavily on team play, it does have its share of arcade-like elements and is probably best described as somewhere in between RO and CoD in terms of gameplay speed.  Lastly, BF3 will have a co-op mode that is separate from the single player story, allowing you to team up with a friend to complete missions like rescuing hostages and the like.

Price:  BF3 and CoD both retail at $60.  Pre-ordering gets you the “Strike at Karkand” DLC (basically a retro map pack) which will cost an undetermined amount of money post release.

DRM: BF3 will require you to register and associate the game to an EA Origin account.  Origin will be mandatory no matter where you purchase it from, and the game most certainly will not be on Steam.

Summary:  BF3 will have a large community and will likely be played for years to come (if it follows previous BF games).  Chances are you’ll have friends that will be playing it, and it promises to offer worthwhile single player and co-op game modes.  The upside of a long lasting game is that you could wait a bit, play one of the other games and pick it up deeply discounted at some point next year.  BF3 will be out October 25th.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 aka CoD 8

Admittedly, I’ve followed the progress of MW3 the least out of the 3.  After being an avid player of previous CoD games, the yearly iterations have resulted in a bit of a “CoD fatigue” for me.  Gameplay reports for MW3 seem to follow a similar CoD model with the usual assortment of kill streaks, perks and multiple game modes.  Also, single player will be back, continuing the saga of the previous two MW games.  Of course, your enjoyment of that mode will depend on how much time you invested in the earlier games.  Also new this year is the addition of social features for the CoD community, similar to BF3’s Battlelog.  Most parts of that will be free, although certain aspects will require a subscription fee.

Price: CoD MW3 has a MSRP of $60.   Expect regular releases of pay-for map packs post release.  Subscription fees for “premium” social features.

DRM: Steamworks.  Continuing the trend from MW2 and BLOPS, MW3 will use Steamworks, meaning no matter where you buy it, you’ll have to register and activate it through your Steam account.

Summary: CoD MW3 will most likely be the most popular of the 3 across all platforms.  Fast-paced shooting with minimal team-based elements.  MW3 won’t make you a CoD convert, at this point, you know whether you’re a CoD guy/gal or not.  Like BLOPS, it will support dedicated servers, so it’s not as PC-unfriendly as MW2 was, but still MW3’s bread and butter lies on the consoles.  Chances are you’ll have friends playing this game, but don’t expect this game to stay popular for more than a year, since CoD 9 will supplant it around this time next year.  CoD: MW3 will be released November 8th.

Jun 022011

Putting away our CoD Subscription snark for a moment, you may want to know that through Steam, a free to play, no strings attached weekend for Black Ops is available.  Simply go to this page here, install CoD Black Ops, and play your heart out until Sunday, 1PM PDT.  The multiplayer in Black Ops is entertaining for at least a weekend, so it’s not a bad idea if you want to check out the latest CoD.

While we’re chatting about CoD again, you can also sign up for free beta access subscription of CoD Elite here.  The good news for diehard CoD fans is the Elite subscription doesn’t take away anything you are used to getting for free (like multiplayer), it only adds new services, eventually for a price.  What I find interesting is that they took this long to tap into extra services for CoD, right around the time I’m hearing from many friends and gaming sources that people are starting to get tired of the recycled CoD formula year after year.  Had they unveiled Elite even one year ago, it probably would be a larger success than it could be now, as CoD seems to be approaching the downward side of its popularity arc.

May 312011

Ok, so my exclamation point in the title is totally sarcastic, I’m sorry.  It’s been rumored coming for a long time, and now it’s been unveiled.  The monthly subscription will give you access to extra content like map packs, as well as opening up social features, kind of like a CoD Facebook where you can post gameplay videos and track stats with your friends.  The WSJ oddly got the exclusive for the story which tells me that this is more about Activision showing off to investors than gamers.  WSJ is guessing that it’ll be somewhere around an $8 per month fee on top of the $60 price tag of each installment of CoD.

What worries me is the precedent this sets for other high profile games.  It was right around the time Modern Warfare 2 came out that we started seeing the $60 MSRP for PC versions of games (up $10 from the traditional $50), so is this the start of a “PlayStation Plus” type model coming to big budget titles or just a one off money grab by Activision, wringing every last dollar out of over-eager fans? Either way, the CoD series has been way over done for me, so I’ll be sitting out the next installments of the franchise along with any additional subscriptions.

Apr 142011

CoD Black Ops mod tools are reportedly coming in May, if Treyarch pc developer @pcdev is to be believed.    This will mark the first CoD game to have mod tools since CoD (5) World at War.  Better late than never?

What’s interesting is that CoDBlops has done more to try and restore faith in PC gamers than any other CoD game since arguably CoD4, but it still gets little to no respect from PC gamer elitists, myself included.  Is it rational?  Probably not.  Let’s recap what Treyarch has brought to the PC since the woeful, Infinity Ward developed, MW2.

  • Dedicated servers / Server browser — after the abomination that was IWnet, something so simple like dedicated servers is a huge bullet point for CoD Blops PC.
  • Steamworks integration — They could have tacked on GFWL or Gamespy, but they choose probably the best 3rd party PC “platform” that has generally accepted DRM and is most likely the least hated of the available options.
  • Always-on server side demo recordings — this is a really great feature, to play back some great in-game moments with easy editing and sharing options.  Sorely lacking from BC2, especially with the opportunity for great “battlefield moments.”  If BF3 doesn’t have a similar feature, shame on DICE.
  • Single player game — of course nothing great here, but if you like that sort of thing, it’s playable and probably a bit less cheesy than MW2 (ok, that’s not saying much).
  • Co-op zombie mode — Again, nothing earth shattering, but a decent diversion and on the PC from the get-go.  DICE never could bring their co-op mode to the PC BC2.
  • Top-down shooter “Dead Ops” — both available in single and co-op mode.  Another nice add-on, included in the box.
  • Yet another easter egg — a playable game of Zork.
  • Lots of post-release patches / enhancements based on player feedback.
  • Less “BS” perks/play-style than MW2
  • No added PC hurtles we’ve seen elsewhere like encrypted ini files, sparse graphic options, menus designed for controller input and slaps in the face like “Press start to begin.”
  • Mod tools — sure, 6 months after release, but still, it’s hard to complain about ongoing support.  DICE is already preparing the PC community to not to expect any mod tools for BF3, and had plenty of excuses why they’d never come to BC2.

Why do so many PC gamers hate CoDBlops again?  I’m starting to forget, refresh my memory.