CoDBlOps (the demo)   1 comment

Fish in a barrel.

I’m not much of one for corridor shooters. The only Call of Duty game I’ve ever played is Medal of Honour: Allied Assault, and that’s so old it’s not even called Call of Duty. In that game the sniper village and beach landings were awful, the rest merely not very good, and all of it while(true) {fight; (dead || went_poorly)?quickload:quicksave;} . Since then I’ve read reviews of the various CoD games, thought they sounded awful, and sighed when they were once again the fastest selling game ever.

Last night I discovered that my X-Box 360 has a demo downloading feature (I’m up to speed on this technology lark), and then that one of the demos was CoDBlOps. So, I figured, why not give it a go? That way I can explain why I loathe every fibre of its being from experience rather than from description. I believe in going into things with an open mind.

And, it turns out, I hated it far less than I expected. And it brought to mind an unexpected comparison.

As I only played the demo I’m lacking any context for the “plot”, and there was no tutorial or instructions so I had to figure out stuff as I went along. Also, I’m hopeless at controlling shooters with a joypad (you’d think they’d let you plug a mouse and keyboard in to play them properly). All these things will colour my impressions.

Anyway, after some laughable, over-enthusiastic, hyperbolic voice-acting of some bizarre drivel, the game sticks you in an SR71 Blackbird. You’re looking at a green-screen monitor with an aerial view of some friendly troops, apparently to control them. Gosh, this seems interesting, I think – the first thing they let me play is a strategy game, not a shooter. I didn’t see that coming. But after a few minutes it becomes apparent: This isn’t a strategy game, it’s a quicktime event. You scroll to exactly here and press this button that flashes on the screen. You then scroll there and press that button. Wait, you pressed the wrong button? Your squad is killed, and you go back a button-press or two with the message “you didn’t do x!”. So what I’m doing is pressing the button to make the film keep playing. So far, so Dragon’s Lair.

I was wondering when shooting would happen, and after a few button presses the game zooms in to the screen and you’re now controlling one of the guys on the ground. A cut-scene plays as your squadmates do something cooler than you can do, and then you have to shoot a few guys that come in from scripted locations. If you die you go back to the checkpoint and try exactly the same fight again. Once all the baddies are dead zoom out! And you’re in the Blackbird for another quicktime event.

This pattern repeats throughout the demo, alternating scripted fights and quicktime events or similar “figure out which buttons to press and if you get it wrong die and go back to the last checkpoint to try again” events, and it struck me: I know what game this is.

It’s Another World.

At first glance, a 2010 megabudget corridor-shooter and a 1991 cinematic platformer seem quite different beasts, but they both follow exactly the same pattern: press the right sequence of buttons to get through some event (and if you get it wrong you’re killed and sent back to the last checkpoint to have another go); shoot some dudes (again, back to the last checkpoint on death). The only notable difference is Another World always demanded you figure out exactly what you were supposed to do next by glorious trial and error, while CoDBlOps sometimes tells you what button you’re expected to press. In neither game do you really have any control over the unfolding of events, other than to make whatever happens next happen next by pressing the expected button.

And Another World had an interesting, unusual setting and visual style and a plot that made sense, as opposed to some vaguely realistic dudes with guns running around some vaguely realistic locales because look over there, Elvis!

So the fastest selling game ever is really just the contemporary version of a twenty-year-old artsy French platformer.

In the end, despite the baddies collapsing without fuss when shot (unlike many shooters, they’re not massive bags of hitpoints) I got the feeling that I was being dragged by the nose through the game. As if it were saying “look at this, this is cool! Now this! No, you did that wrong, go back and do it properly like we want you to!”. I felt less like a soldier and more like a guy fiddling with a recalcitrant video remote. And I was left with the disappointment that is this really all so many people demand from their more-or-less interactive entertainment? A poorly-written war movie with button presses? It’s quite sad.


One response to “CoDBlOps (the demo)

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  1. Pingback: Down the rabbit hole « Talking to yourself

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