Shooter

No More Room in Hell

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Team up with other survivors and outlast the zombie apocalypse.

PC Release: October 31, 2011

By Ian Coppock

When there’s no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the earth. That George Romero tagline is the byword of No More Room in Hell. Apparently Hell is already full (phew) but that means the zombies have arrived once more! No More Room in Hell is not the first or only video game to envision the zombie apocalypse, but it might be the only one that puts such a visceral emphasis on teamwork. When the dead rise, the living can only count on one another to beat back the zombie tide. Even more than that Dawn of the Dead quote, the teamwork of the living is No More Room in Hell‘s central motif.

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Created by the one-man band of Matt “Maxx” Kazan, No More Room in Hell is a co-op zombie survival game that draws heavy inspiration from Dawn of the Dead and Valve’s Left 4 Dead series. Like the other multiplayer games being reviewed here this month, No More Room in Hell is a Source mod that leverages gracefully aging visuals and Valve’s powerful programming to deliver its multiplayer experience. Unlike this month’s other multiplayer games, No More Room in Hell focuses less on players killing each other and more on them working together to survive against hordes of zombies.

That’s really all there is to this title’s gameplay. Grab some friends, sort the ones who are good with guns from the ones who are good with melee weapons, and get cracking on surviving the zombie apocalypse. There are only two game modes in No More Room in Hell, and they both revolve around teamwork. Objective mode forces players to work together to find an escape vehicle, while Survival consists simply of outlasting zombie waves. Both modes are fun, though it’s a shame No More Room in Hell only has two of them.

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We must stop this bank robbery and bring the zombies to justice!

No More Room in Hell‘s modes are not that remarkable. Anyone who’s touched a zombie game has probably run to the chopper or made a last stand against the horde before. No More Room in Hell prefers to make its mark not with game modes, but with the actual gameplay and an acute focus on realism. In this case, “realism” stands for no heads-up display, limited health, and short-term stamina. Maxx Kazan decided to go with the low-key survivor motif instead of the flashy action hero. Even if zombies have been overdone to death in this medium, games that attempts to bring realism to the scenario are rare.

As a survivor, players have no ammo counter on their firearms. Their character will occasionally yell out how many mags they have left, but that’s about it. Even though the player is flying blind on their ammo, No More Room in Hell makes a curious attempt at forcing teamwork by allowing a player’s teammates to see their ammo readout instead. That’s an interesting choice for a game with such a strong focus on realism, and though it doesn’t make much sense, it does encourage players to keep an eye on each other. Conversely, it also causes players to scream “DUDE BRUH HOW MUCH AMMO I GOT???” every two seconds, which is irritating.

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You started with two shells, now you have none. Do the math, Einstein.

Players also have no indication of where their health’s at, at least until they suddenly keel over and die. Indeed, No More Room in Hell‘s HUD might be one of the most minimalist such displays since 2005’s Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth. This approach forces players to not only be much more conservative with their resources, but also to mentally juggle how many bullets and pills they’re carrying.

The tricky thing about the abject lack of a HUD is that it’s not necessarily more realistic than having one. No one knows what “percentage” their health is at all the time, but that’s why doctors give the the “scale of 1-10” question—because most people can at least approximate how they’re feeling, and that’s what a health meter represents. Stripping the health meter out is the video game equivalent of suspecting pain but being unable to feel it. As a stylistic choice, there’s nothing objectively wrong with it; but it’s not realism, per se.

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Tap your knee? HOW ABOUT YOUR FACE!

All of this HUD business means that No More Room in Hell is quite difficult. Players looking for a cinematic Left 4 Dead-style arcade experience probably won’t get much out of No More Room in Hell, but survivalists and challenge seekers may enjoy it. For anything that can be said about No More Room in Hell‘s severe approach to heads-up displays, the game does a pretty good job of capturing the feel of an average person in the zombie apocalypse. With limited stamina, ammo, and health, the game feels much more like a harrowing escape challenge than a shooter.

Either way, No More Room in Hell could do with a few more tutorials. The game does provide a brief control scheme graphic while the map loads, but a few more pointers on how to, say, get out of a zombie choke-hold would be nice to see in-game. So would a warning that it only takes two swings of the shovel to leave the player character winded. Thankfully, No More Room in Hell‘s controls are conventional for a shooter, and the game leverages that awesome Source options menu to help players get the most out of the game on their machine.

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Keyyyyy bindinnnnnnggggsssssssss…

No More Room in Hell‘s level design is more open than that of most Source mods. Rather than the constricting hallways and multi-tiered elevation endemic to Day of Defeat and Fistful of FragsNo More Room in Hell favors large single-story buildings with lots of corners for zombies to hide behind. Good stuff, especially for a game whose modes demand hunting for an exit. Just remember to stick together; No More Room in Hell‘s maps have a way of getting players separated.

The visuals that fill these maps out are more of a mixed bag than the level design. No More Room in Hell looks aged compared to mods and games that came out years before it. Most of the textures are pretty muddy, and the in-game objects could stand some more rendering. Curiously enough, the game characters’ arms look pretty good, but otherwise the game looks rough. No More Room in Hell also suffers from excessively dark environments, as in “too dark to see the room” type of dark. This doesn’t stop the game’s atmosphere from being morbid, but it might stop players from spotting an item.

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Ooooh boy.

Co-op multiplayer games are best played with friends, but No More Room in Hell still has an active community for players feeling adventurous. Playing with randos is a mixed bag these days, but it’s a testament to No More Room in Hell‘s longevity that its community is still kicking six years after launch. Still, No More Room in Hell is best enjoyed with a cabal of zombie-killing friends, and the fact that the game is free means that everyone can at least give it a try (it’s fun to misinform friends of how much ammo they have left).

At the end of the day, No More Room in Hell‘s mission is not to create a small-screen zombie blockbuster, but to imagine how a team of normal people might work together to survive a zombie epidemic. Not much of what the game brings to the table is truly original, from shambling Romero-style zombies to getting to the chopper, but few games take to that subject matter with such acute attention to realism. Players need to work together to survive, just as the living might need to do against the dead. That experience is brought shambling to life like no other in No More Room in Hell.

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Must… get… out…

No More Room in Hell presents an interesting take on surviving the zombie apocalypse, but the game remains rough around the edges in much of its production. The visuals look muddled, the lighting is mediocre, and the soundtrack isn’t all that memorable. However, the game is free, its gameplay is decent enough with a few wiki consultations, and it comes with nearly two dozen maps. Even though No More Room in Hell doesn’t hit all its notes, Maxx Kazan is onto something with his pursuit of realism and is hopefully refining what the original game missed in the forthcoming No More Room in Hell 2. In the meantime, this title might be worth biting into for the discerning zombie survivalist.

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You can buy No More Room in Hell here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Fistful of Frags

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Defeat enemy gunslingers and prove yourself the fastest gun in the Wild West.

PC Release: May 9, 2014

By Ian Coppock

If games like Fistful of Frags have anything to teach, it’s that contemporary notions of the Wild West are heavily romanticized. Indeed, there’s probably no other period of history in America or anywhere else that’s looked back upon (by pop culture, at least) with so much affection and unrealistic exaltation as the U.S.’s westward expansion. The reality’s somewhat different, but that’s lost on a lot of people—even though the first hint is in the name “Wild West.” In truth, the West was a lawless place rife with profiteering, robbery, and murder. How much profiteering, robbery, and murder? Ask Fistful of Frags.

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Fistful of Frags is a multiplayer cowboy disagreement simulator created by (brace yourself) the Fistful of Frags Team. The game is a Source multiplayer mod built to use the same interface and in-depth options menu as a lot of Valve’s most popular multiplayer titles, but with a few tricks of its own. Rather than focusing on World War II or hunting terrorists, Fistful of Frags takes players back to the Wild West, pitting dozens of gunslingers against each other in beautiful maps. Just make sure the six shooter is full and the whiskey is topped off first.

Players start out each round by picking a primary weapon, a secondary weapon, and which hand their character uses for shooting. Primary weapons usually consist of revolvers and shotguns, but players can also pick more specialized killing tools like a Native American longbow. Secondary weapons comprise throwing knives and more compact guns (like a Derringer), but players can also use their secondary weapon slot to pick a combat perk. Boots, for example, make the player’s kicking attack score more damage.

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Negotiations are breaking down.

The most common game mode in Fistful of Frags is a good ol’ fashioned hoedown. And of course, in this context, “hoedown” means “every-man-for-himself deathmatch.” Battles in Fistful of Frags are 10-minute bouts of pure chaos, as players move up, down, and all around a diverse palette of maps shooting varmints and taking names. Being a good gunslinger in Fistful of Frags is all about accuracy; fast-moving players aren’t likely to hit much, so they have to slow down and carefully take aim while shooting. It takes a while to get used to, but a good rule of thumb is simply to move quickly while hunting foes and then slow down near cover when the enemy is within range.

The other combat modes in Fistful of Frags make for standard Source multiplayer fare; the game sports an Elimination mode, a Versus mode, and a Dino D-Day-style Objective mode in which players have to complete specific tasks. Fistful of Frags also features a homemade mode called Break Bad, where players start out as unarmed targets who can’t be shot at without incurring a penalty, but who can also gradually acquire weapons over time. It’s kind of like a Call of Duty Gun Game match where the acquisition of weapons is determined by time instead of kills. A bit clumsy, but not without entertainment value.

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DRAW!

Fistful of Frags has maps with diversity to match its game modes. The game’s grand total of maps at the moment is 13, which, while not a ton, is an alright middling number for a Source mod. Each map succeeds in looking distinct from its fellows; players can battle it out anywhere from an old lumber mill to a snowy mountain town. Desert depots, steamboats, and labyrinthine mines round out the game’s impressive environmental variety. By setting each map in a distinct location, Fistful of Frags insures good gameplay variety and avoids falling into the samey environment trap that snared Day of Defeat: Source.

To top all of that off, Fistful of Frags is a beautiful game. The FoF Team has put the Source engine to gorgeous use creating a gritty western world replete with bright colors and object detail. Though it does look a bit aged by contemporary standards, the textures are pretty sharp and the lighting is beautiful. Players can explore brightly lit copses of trees or try their luck in a saloon decked out with pianos and card tables. The attention to detail is excellent and helps catch the eye whenever players aren’t too busy attempting to catch Jesse James. The environmental sound design, from waterfalls to speeding trains, is similarly intricate.

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You can feel the desert heat.

Fistful of Frags also has some of the most varied level design of any Source mod available today. Each map has a lot of vertical space for players to explore; this means that it can be easy for players to get the jump on each other as they angle for the perfect shot. Each map in Fistful of Frags has at least three levels of elevation and some have even more than that. These typically range from constrictive, dimly lit cellars on up to saloon rooftops. Thus, running around these maps looking for enemies to murder is made even more chaotic… and fun.

This elevation is what binds Fistful of Frags‘ disparate group of maps together. Even though the maps may vary from a desert adobe town to a wooded village, players who master the rhythm of moving quickly between floors will find success in all of them. Like a lot of the Source mods out there, Fistful of Frags‘ maps also feature a lot of hidden alcoves and out-of-the-way rooms for players to catch a break. Just be careful when making sure someone’s not already hiding in there.

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MY mine cart!

Fistful of Frags tries to do a bit more than just be a shooter set in the Wild West, and it’s at this point that some of the game’s more questionable design choices come out to play. One particularly weird little quirk is that the respawn button changes every time the player dies. Sometimes it’s CTRL, other times it’s S, other times it’s something else. The funny thing is that this button gets a prompt on the screen, so it’s not a programming error. It’s an actual feature. Why it’s an actual feature is anyone’s guess, but it’s jarring to see such a thing when players are trying to quickly respawn and jump back into the action.

Additionally, the game has no tutorial or indicators for most of its other gameplay mechanics. Players can buy new weapons between deaths (kind of like CS:GO) but the game doesn’t indicate where the buy zone is for new guns except when telling the player that they’re not standing in the buy zone. The game also omits mentioning that drinking whiskey restores health, which is ironic considering that the game’s “Pass the Whiskey!” catchphrase is plastered all over the place. Drinking whiskey is a great way to restore players’ vitality, but it also causes characters to stumble around, so drink responsibly.

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Please direct my team and I to the nearest “watering hole.”

Apart from these small issues, Fistful of Frags has a lot going for it. Its community is thriving, so players can always expect to find a few matches going on at any given time. The FoF Team puts out near-daily tweaks and patches to address issues and is very proactive about interacting with the community and fielding questions and concerns.

The FoF Team is also currently working to add single-player tutorials and challenges to the game, including tutorials on how to use certain weapons and general gameplay guides. Though that part of the game remains unfinished, the team releases regular updates on their progress and the multiplayer core makes for a sturdy, fun experience. Plus, Fistful of Frags is currently free, so there’s literally no harm in downloading it and giving it a go.

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That’ll teach Cletus to steal mah bourbon, I tell ya what.

So, once again, what does Fistful of Frags have to teach us? Not just that contemporary notions of the Wild West are incorrect, but that a Source mod set in that time period makes for a lot of fun. It’s free, it runs well, and it has the Source multiplayer options menu so that anyone experiencing performance problems can quickly adjust them as needed. Pick up a copy today and jump into a visceral Wild West world of shootouts and whiskey. But mostly shootouts. And whiskey.

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You can buy Fistful of Frags here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Dino D-Day

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Hitler has created an army of Nazi dinosaurs… because of course he has.

PC Release: April 8, 2011

By Ian Coppock

Is there any supernatural or sci-fi entity that the Nazis haven‘t co-opted for World War II? Hitler bolstering the Third Reich with everything from an army of zombies to a base on the moon to robot spiders has become its own sub-genre in today’s media. Video games haven’t been far behind in appropriating Nazi doomsday plots, taking to that same campy ridiculousness with as much gusto as their film and television counterparts. Take Dino D-Day, for instance, a game that, well… just look at the title.

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Ever think about what would happen if Hitler brought back the dinosaurs and put them into his army? Dino D-Day does. That notion drives everything from the game’s visuals to its writing to its gameplay; it is described by developers 800 North and Digital Ranch as their take on “the overdone World War II FPS… that has become a running joke in the industry and the gaming press.” Funny, World War II being overdone is what we discussed in yesterday’s review of Day of Defeat: Source.

Dino D-Day is an entirely multiplayer title that takes team-based World War II shooting and turns it on its head with the introduction of Nazi dinosaurs. Players can join the Axis or Allied forces as a human or dinosaur soldier, but the Axis has way more dinos and is therefore way more fun to play. Honestly, who comes to a game called Dino D-Day intent on playing as a human character anyway? This might be the only context on earth where choosing the Axis over the Allies is the right thing to do.

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That guy should’ve held still.

After picking between the team that has dinosaurs and the team that doesn’t, players can choose one of several characters that each have their own firearms and abilities. All but one of the Allied troops is human, and they range from conventional frontline rifleman to more specialized support troops. By contrast, the Axis has a few human troops and a ton of dinosaurs. The game usually enters third-person when played as a dinosaur, so that players can see their gun-toting dino in all its prehistoric glory.

Now for the question that everyone’s asking: how do players become the T. rex? Certain maps will randomly allow Axis players to spawn as a tyrannosaurus, and it’s an absolute god upon the battlefield. In case being a giant eating machine isn’t enough, the Nazi T. rex comes standard with jaw-mounted gatling guns and a thirst for Allied blood. Stomping around the map eating everything in sight is a lot of fun, but anyone who kills the rex gets credit for three kills instead of one, so stomp with some caution.

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Put ’em up, Rexy!

Getting to play as a gun-toting tyrannosaurus is a lot of fun, but Dino D-Day has a hard time making other dinosaurs as exciting. Sure, the sight of a dinosaur with a machine gun strapped to its back provokes comic relief, but for all their scales and spikes, most dinosaurs are logistically similar to their human counterparts. This somewhat reduces the novelty of playing as a Cretaceous cannoneer. Most dinosaur weapons are a bit heavier, sure, but only 2-3 dinosaur classes have more novel gameplay. One dino shreds things with his claws, another is a tiny suicide bomber.

As can be expected, humans play similarly to their World War II counterparts in Day of Defeat: Source. Shoot the enemy until they die, repeat. Dino D-Day does change things up a little bit by making characters more durable and adding medkits, but that’s really all that’s done to shake up playing as a human character. As was previously stated, don’t come to Dino D-Day for the humans. Come for the dinos, stay for the dinos—and angle for a chance to play as the T. rex.

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Didn’t know Jeanette MacDonald fought in WWII.

Whether players pick human or dino, Dino D-Day‘s controls leave a lot to be desired. The game’s default movement, shooting and utility controls are clunky, but luckily the game allows rebinding. Moving as a dinosaur feels unwieldy, as even the smallest of them have awkward turning radii. Though it makes sense from a premise standpoint that the Axis has all of the dinosaurs, that also makes the gameplay feel somewhat lopsided. All of the specialized, weird dino classes are on one team, and the conventional shoot-em-up classes are on the other. Three guesses which side is more fun to be on.

Dino D-Day also only comes with four game modes, which isn’t a whole lot even by 2011 standards. Players can duke it out in a standard deathmatch mode or in King of the Hill, where checkpoints have to be captured. There’s also Objective mode, which is conspicuously similar to King of the Hill except players fight for control of certain objects or buildings instead of areas. Objective mode allows Axis players to take control of a Panzer-hefting styracosaurus, but for some reason this can only occur in one map. This curious inconsistency, among others, makes Dino D-Day feel unfinished. The most recent mode, Last Stand, sees players face off against waves of enemies for as long as possible.

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FOR ZE DINO REICH!

At least Dino D-Day avoids the samey setting trap that’s snared countless World War II games. Most of the maps are set in North Africa and Italy instead of the same dreary Belgian countryside seen over and over in other World War II titles, and that’s definitely a plus. Even so, Dino D-Day shipped with a mere five maps and only six more have been added to the game since (for an average of one map a year). That’s not a lot of content, even for a multiplayer game that came out in 2011. The Source visuals have helped prolong Dino D-Day‘s aging, but few maps means that there’s little aging to go around.

Still, just in case those Source textures are too much or the AA is too high, Dino D-Day comes with a Valve-sized options menu to ameliorate any potential problems. From multicore rendering to shader and effect details, few aspects of the game’s performance are beyond the reach of players. Modern machines should be able to run Dino D-Day with no performance issues whatsoever, since it’s a Source game that came out six years ago, but sometimes players never know what problems might hit their PC. Better to have an in-depth options menu even for a game this old.

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Worst. Deployment. Ever.

Dino D-Day‘s options are more limited when it comes to finding an actual game. Much like the age of the dinosaurs, this game’s community was roaring a while back but underwent a crippling extinction event. Today’s roster of servers is looking a little thin, and most of the few games that do happen are on a private server, leaving lone wolves and randos without playmates. Dino D-Day‘s community perks back up whenever an update is released, but those have been fewer and further between in recent years.

At this point, Dino D-Day has a few options to get itself off the museum shelf and back into the action. Going free-to-play might work, but then the studio would alienate inveterate players who paid for the title and DLC. The gameplay could also be retooled to make the dinosaurs feel more like, well… dinosaurs. Maybe add a dino that can smash into people like a tank or something, because right now, the dinosaurs are functionally similar to humans. This gameplay issue makes Dino D-Day feel more like a funny skin pack than, say, Primal Carnage or Natural Selection II.

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King of the dinosaurs, and of Italy.

As of writing, Dino D-Day is a no-go. The chance to play as a tyrannosaurus is more easily experienced in other games, and is not worth soldiering through hours of conventional shooting with mediocre key bindings to get to. If more dinosaurs were rebalanced to feel like terrifying creatures instead of a player skin, the game’s value proposition as a novel, funny World War II offshoot would increase tremendously. For now, though, Dino D-Day is a dying game that makes a humorous albeit shallow attempt at campy Nazi sci-fi. Only time will tell if future updates can give Dino D-Day the depth its concept deserves.

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You can buy Dino D-Day here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Day of Defeat: Source

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Beat back Axis or Allied forces in class-based multiplayer battles.

PC Release: September 25, 2005

By Ian Coppock

World War II used to be all the rage. Back in the 2000’s, for every one fantasy RPG or puzzle game the industry put out, there’d be five more re-telling the Battle of the Bulge or the fall of Berlin. After the release of 2008’s Call of Duty: World at War, publishers’ interest in World War II games died out, and the conflict has largely remained absent from big-name storefronts ever since. Though new games about World War II are much rarer than they used to be (at least until Call of Duty: WWII hits shelves this fall) the old guard of 2000’s World War II games produced a few famous titles. Day of Defeat: Source is one of them.

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The original Day of Defeat was a third-party multiplayer mod for 1998’s Half-Life, which is also how such big-name titles as Counter-Strike and Team Fortress got their starts. As with those two games, Valve decided to acquire the rights to Day of Defeat and took the mod’s creators on as developers. Following that acquisition, Valve developed a new version of DoD that was built in the studio’s legendary Source engine: Day of Defeat: Source, which hit shelves in 2005.

DoD: Source is a first-person, multiplayer-only shooter set in the western front of World War II. Players can pick from one of six different soldier classes and fight for either the U.S. Army or the German Wehrmacht, taking objectives and bombing out each others’ favorite Belgian cafes. It only takes a few shots to bring even the bravest soldier down, and only a few seconds for that soldier to respawn and rejoin the match. (For some reason that last detail is always left out of real accounts of World War II.)

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Achtung!

Day of Defeat: Source‘s gameplay is similar to Team Fortress 2‘s in many ways, as each of the six soldier classes can roughly be divided into assault, defense and support roles. Riflemen and rocket troopers make for great party crashers, while snipers and machine gunners can make short work of unwanted guests. In addition to their primary weapon, each soldier comes equipped with a backup killing implement (usually a pistol or grenades) and a trench shovel for when things need to get smacky.

Running around shooting people is not hard to understand, but Day of Defeat: Source having only two gameplay modes is much more of a head-scratcher. Even for a shooter that came out in ’05… two modes? That’s it? Not exactly a smorgasbord of choices there, Valve. The first mode is Territorial Control, which requires players to capture flagged areas scattered around the map and prevent enemy troops from doing the same. The other, Demolition, challenges one side to blow up vehicles and the other side to defend them.

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Now… where did those damn Yankees hide the eclairs?

Okay, so there are only two modes in the entire game. Not the end of the world when one considers DoD: Source‘s fast-paced gunplay. Surely these firefights must play out across the whole of Europe? Nope, not quite. It’s hard to believe, but when DoD: Source shipped 12 years ago, it did so with only four maps. Four. That amount is unimaginable by modern standards, and even back then it wasn’t much. Valve released a few more maps in the following years, for a grand total of 10. Still not a lot of maps, especially when compared to the likes of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.

One of the reasons World War II games got old in the late 2000’s is that they all had the same setting: a bombed-out European hamlet somewhere between here and Berlin. DoD: Source suffers this problem in the extreme. Remember those 10 maps mentioned earlier? Only one of those is not a bombed-out European hamlet. Yup, with the sole exception of a sandy bunker in Palermo, DoD: Source‘s maps are all war-torn French and Italian villages that no amount of different rubble placement helps diversify. The facade and time of year may change, but the arrangement of demolished cafes and dimly lit house basements does not.

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To France! No wait, to Belgium! No wait, to Italy! No wait, to… Belgium?

DoD: Source is hardly the sole offender in its near-exclusive focus on gutted baguette stands and ironically demolished churches, but it is one of the worst. The game’s relentless overuse of the western European setting is indicative of a larger problem, one that helped drive World War II’s power in video gaming down to embers: using the same setting over and over again. By focusing exclusively on the western front, World War II video games became mired in visual repetition, which helped interest in these titles die out by the end of the 2000’s.

Funny thing about a conflict called World War II… it took place all over the world. It’s refreshing when a developer takes advantage of that fact. Part of what makes 2015’s Sniper Elite III stand out is that it swapped out the samey European setting in favor of North Africa, which, despite being one of the most pivotal theaters of World War II, is rarely portrayed in games. If all it takes for a World War II game to stand out is showing something other than western Europe, that underscores the repetition problem the genre faced.

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Scanning for pasta…

If DoD: Source has to mire itself in a samey European visage, at least it looks alright. Source engine games tend to age well, and DoD: Source‘s character and in-game models still look good even though they’re 12 years old. Character animations are a bit wonky though, and DoD: Source‘s textures, like the sun, are really best off not looked at directly. It’s easy to tell a brick wall from a French wine advertisement at a distance, but up-close the pixelated surfaces look much more conspicuous. However, the game does come roaring out of the gate with loud, crisp sound design and period-inspired music.

Because DoD: Source is a Valve game, it comes packed with one of the best options menus around. Virtually no aspect of the game’s visual design can’t be poked and prodded, so players having trouble running the game can make short work of most issues. Players can also toggle dozens of additional in-game options, like taking a victory screenshot or showing a progress bar while planting a bomb. DoD: Source isn’t the only multiplayer game to pack this kind of versatility, but having it there is a great way for players to control every aspect of the experience.

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Press F to STERBEN! (die)

Even if players are willing to tolerate DoD: Source‘s relative lack of maps and each map being pretty much the same, the game may have already suffered its own day of defeat. Only a few matches are going in DoD: Source at any given time. That’s more than can be said for most 12-year-old multiplayer games on PC, but what few matches are alive and kicking are most likely on a private server and/or password protected. Shame, because that’s usually where any custom maps that break the base game’s mold are to be found.

Day of Defeat: Source‘s gameplay doesn’t reinvent the wheel and its small number of samey maps is unfortunate, but the game wasn’t bad in its heyday. These days, players yearning for a visceral World War II multiplayer experience are probably better off buying the recently released Day of Infamy. It never hurts to pay heed to a multiplayer classic though, one whose lessons in both tight, fun gameplay and repetitive maps are things that future World War II game devs would do well to heed.

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You can buy Day of Defeat: Source here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

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Eliminate foes and complete objectives in tense team-driven battles.

PC Release: August 21, 2012

By Ian Coppock

Reviewing a game as well-known as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive makes about as much sense as letting everyone know about this cool new thing called breathing, but hear me out: my editor-in-chief is on a mad power trip. She threatened to put me through Harry Potter Quiz Boot Camp if this essential title wasn’t covered in some amount of detail. Being faced with the possibility of being trapped in a dark room until I knew everything about House Elf culture has a funny way of enticing reviews of well-known games. So, in the interest of not losing my mind to the sound of a Mandrake, let’s take a look back at one of PC gaming’s most venerable shooters.

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Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is as endemic to the PC gaming scene as World of Warcraft or Team Fortress 2. Even PC gamers who’ve never touched it are at least familiar with its gist. A team of terrorists and a team of counter-terrorists spawn on a map and complete objectives, usually while trying to wipe out the entire enemy team in as brief a time as possible. The original Counter-Strike was a Half-Life mod that Valve bought and released to grand acclaim all the way back in 2000. Global Offensive is the fourth CS game in the series and hit digital shelves everywhere in 2012.

As one of the crown jewels in Valve’s multiplayer crown, CS:GO‘s impact on the world of video games is difficult to overstate. Since its debut half a decade ago, the title has attracted millions of PC gamers and remains one of the most popular multiplayer games on Steam. Ironic, considering that most multiplayer games released on that platform have a half-life of anywhere from a few months to a year. But then again, CS:GO isn’t most games. It’s a tense multiplayer experience, major eSport, and source of industry controversy all rolled into one.

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Freeze! Or we’ll start shooting your hostages! No, wait, hold on…

CS:GO players are divided into two teams: the terrorists and the counter-terrorists. Depending on the map, terrorists either have to arm explosives at specific points on the map or protect hostages. Counter-terrorists, meanwhile, have to either disarm those explosives if they get planted or escort hostages to safety. Players earn money for completing these objectives (as well as killing enemy players) which they can use to purchase new weapons at the start of the next round. Players who can kill lots of foes and complete objectives can rack up cash quickly, but be careful: teamkilling and other negative actions cause a penalty.

CS:GO colors this simple setup with five different game modes. Competitive mode is the playground for hardcore fans, and is not a kind place for players new to the scene. Casual mode is a relatively safe spot for newbs to get into the game or for veterans to warm up before a big match. Players can also participate in Arms Race and Demolition modes, which are CoD gun game-style mode that rewards kills with better weaponry. Finally, there’s Deathmatch, which is a good ol’ last-man-standing-style free-for-all. Though these modes are fun, most of them have been in Counter-Strike games for years, which risks making CS:GO feel like a mere graphical update to its predecessors.

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Lotsa ways to die, gentlemen.

One of the factors separating CS:GO from the hundreds of other multiplayer shooters out there is its tense gameplay setup. Rather than being able to endlessly respawn like in Call of Duty or Battlefield, players only get one life per round. That means that players only get one shot to complete their team’s objective, and if they die, they’re out for the rest of that round. This setup makes CS:GO‘s gameplay deliciously tense. Players can’t just charge into battle and respawn five seconds later if they die; instead, they have to play it safe. The only mode to which this setup doesn’t apply is Deathmatch.

Playing it safe and smart is the only way to succeed in CS:GO, which makes it a much more entertaining shooter than most of its contemporaries. It certainly results in more fidelity to actual hostage or bomb situations. Nothing beats the tension of creeping through a map, rifle up, ready to kill anyone who might be around the next corner. Players unconcerned with caution should remember that careless dying makes it that much harder for the team to win… and hell hath no fury like a CS:GO team that loses due to careless players.

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Oh boy, someone’s not checking their corners…

Another factor behind CS:GO‘s success is its excellent map design. Though the maps in CS:GO are small by, say, Battlefield standards, they’re laden with intricate paths and lots of opportunities to set up ambushes. Players have to take care not to get turned around in hallway networks or get caught out in the open for too long at a time. Each of CS:GO‘s maps features different terrain elevations and multiple paths to singular areas. They also feature different areas that objectives may pop up in, ensuring even more variety.

CS:GO‘s maps are quite pleasing visually as well. Games built in the Source engine age well, and CS:GO‘s visuals remain competitive even five years after the game’s release. Part of that can be attributed to Valve’s constant tweaks and fixes, but CS:GO‘s core visage is colorful, lively, and fun to explore. Each map, be it an Aztec ruin or a besieged office complex, is replete with strong colors and lots of extra objects for detail. CS:GO‘s map variety is also to be envied, with dozens of core maps compounded by player-created levels available for download via the Steam store. Valve adds new maps and other new content every so often through its perennial Operation events.

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The maps in this game are truly… global.

The world of CS:GO is further made engaging through rich sound design. Guns in this game sound and feel deliciously powerful; even as players can see a shotgun shell bowl an enemy over, the sound of the shot is loud and crisp. Same goes for everything from the rapid tempo of a machine gun to even running on different types of terrain. Sound design is key to making weapons feel as dangerous as their real-life counterparts, and Valve got that part of CS:GO‘s design down like a champ.

Speaking of guns, what type of armory can players new to CS:GO expect? Players who have a good round can spend hard-earned cash on most any type of weapon before the next match. Sniper rifles, SMGs, assault rifles, pistols, knives, shotguns… everything’s there and everything feels fun to use. Weapons are responsive and precise, which is key to a game in which reflexes can make the difference between victory and defeat. That different weapons can be bought between rounds allows players to test different loadouts to see what niche feels right in relatively short order.

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To the armory!

So what exactly is CS:GO‘s secret sauce? Why has it remained insanely popular while entire batches of other multiplayer shooters have come and gone? The key is the game’s simplicity. CS:GO, though difficult to master, is easy for shooter fans new and old to pick up and get into. The game’s casual mode provides a relatively safe space (for the Internet, at least) for newbs to get acquainted with the game’s ins and outs without getting grilled by vets. It runs well on systems new and old, it has a stellar options menu, and Valve continuously breathes new life into the title with fixes and content updates.

However, as with most popular multiplayer titles, there’s a dark side to CS:GO. The first and most obvious is that the game’s hardcore multiplayer community can be quite toxic. Because playing multiplayer games for extended periods of time apparently causes intermittent explosive disorder, vets are quick to tear into each other for the slightest perceived failure. This problem is hardly exclusive to CS:GO, but it runs pretty rampant in the game’s professional community. Casual mode is as much a place for learning CS:GO as it is a haven from explosively angry players.

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Dude, you’re sniping the wall. Calm down.

Though corrosive online communities are not exclusive to CS:GO, one problem the game seems to have in especially large spades is hackers. Valve Anti-Cheat is not the hack-proof software that Valve claims it is, at least if the sheer amount of cheater cheater pumpkin eaters in CS:GO‘s highest-tiered matches is any indication. There’s little to be done by railing against the evils of hacking, but it’s been a problem in the CS:GO community for years… one that players new to the scene should be aware of. Once again, Casual mode provides an inadvertent haven from a cancerous problem.

Even though Valve is less than effective at stopping hackers, the company’s good at matchmaking. CS:GO is pretty apt at matching players of a similar skill level, which helps minimize the aforementioned risk of a newb getting ravaged (verbally or in-game) by veterans. Valve runs dedicated servers for CS:GO but players can also try their hand at a private server, many of which have modes and maps not found in the core game. Some of these modes have nothing to do with running and gunning, challenging players to instead surf along walls or bunny hop between platforms.

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In this custom server, we just set our guns on fire and dance.

CS:GO‘s biggest woes stem less from a game design flaw and more from some truly unfortunate business decisions. In 2013 Valve introduced skins to the game, and players can purchase boxes of random gun customizations in a microtransaction. The value of these skins ranges immeasurably, with some being worth a few cents and others thousands of dollars. While there’s nothing wrong with this cosmetics market per se, Valve’s hands-off attitude toward this market has cast a slimy shadow over CS:GO.

What is that shadow? A slew of gambling websites that allow players to bet on the outcome of matches using gun skins as a currency. These sites almost always nix verifying players’ ages, meaning that CS:GO has become a hotbed of underage gambling. Sure, some might say that the underage gambling is the fault of parents for allowing their kids to play an M-rated game, but Valve’s stunning lack of oversight has resulted in two class-action lawsuits against the company for doing nothing to prevent it.

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Are there casino maps in this game?

Most of CS:GO‘s problems have less to do with game design flaws than they do Valve’s reluctance to regulate Steam. For the discerning gamer who says no to shady gambling and can find the relatively hacker-free matches, CS:GO has a lot to offer. The game’s tense matches prevent it from feeling repetitive, and its outstanding technical performance and easy-to-learn gameplay makes it accessible to gamers of all experience levels. Players will never hurt for finding a match in CS:GO, and probably won’t for many years to come. Failing that, the game’s momentous eSports tournaments always make for great entertainment. Pick up a copy of CS:GO but remember not to shoot the hostages.

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You can buy Counter-Strike: Global Offensive here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Call of Duty: Black Ops

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Prevent a sadistic Soviet general from destroying the United States.

PC Release: November 9, 2010

By Ian Coppock

This weekend’s back-to-back Call of Duty review series (much like the games themselves) continues its inexorable march toward a full-blown identity crisis. What have we learned thus far from reviewing these games? All Russians and brown people hate America, getting into a helicopter is a death sentence, and anyone who hates ‘Murica is objectively evil. Simple as that. Of course, this information was front and center in previous Call of Duty reviews, so why another one? Why a review of Call of Duty: Black Ops? Because it’s actually a pretty good game. In fact, it may be the best Call of Duty game ever made.

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Released in the fall of 2010, Call of Duty: Black Ops is a military first-person shooter set during the Cold War. The game was developed by Treyarch (the studio keeping Call of Duty alive these days) as an indirect follow-up to 2008’s Call of Duty: World at War. Though the two games are set in the same timeline and feature similar first-person gunplay, Black Ops trades out World at War‘s raging battlefields for furtive covert operations and a grittier, more personal storyline.

Black Ops‘ narrative is told in medias res and begins with a CIA operative named Alex Mason getting strapped into a chair and interrogated by two shadowy figures. Mason’s captors believe that he knows about an upcoming Soviet attack, and though he swears innocence, he agrees to retrace his steps with the interrogators. Mason’s flashbacks comprise the main story of Black Ops, and as players progress through the story, he’ll chime in with his thoughts and opinions on how things went down.

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Better dead than red!

Black Ops takes place during the 1960’s, a decade when the Cold War was really not all that cold. The game marks several significant changes from previous Call of Duty titles: it’s the only Call of Duty game to be set primarily during the Cold War, and it allows its protagonist to actually, y’know… talk. Like World at War, Black Ops features big-name celebrities in its voice cast, including Sam Worthington, Gary Oldman, Ed Harris, and Ice Cube. Black Ops is an otherwise familiar Call of Duty production, featuring all of the first-person shooting and chopper-getting-to that fans could want.

Anyway, Mason begins his recollection by admitting that he was part of a CIA op to assassinate Fidel Castro, but was captured and sold to a Soviet general named Nikita Dragovich. Dragovich takes Mason to a Soviet labor camp, wherein Mason befriends a disgraced Red Army captain named Viktor Reznov… the one and same Viktor Reznov from Call of Duty: World at War. Reznov, who has his own reasons for hating the Soviets, conspires with Mason to break out of the labor camp. After being thoroughly checked for communist cooties—or coomies (TM)—Mason is ordered by President Kennedy to assassinate Dragovich.

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In Soviet Russia, rail leans against YOU!

The rest of Black Ops documents Mason’s worldwide hunt for Dragovich, and the gradual revelation of the Soviet general’s plans for America. Mason serves as the protagonist for most missions, but players occasionally switch over to other operatives for specific or concurrent covert ops. Mason is accompanied in most missions by Frank Woods, another CIA operative who inhales America and defecates communism, and Joseph Bowman, a more reserved agent whom Ice Cube does a pretty good job bringing to life.

Even though the phrase “black ops” brings secrecy and furtive stealth missions to mind, Black Ops still packs all of the explosions and American overkill that Call of Duty built its brand on. Sure, Mason spends plenty of time sneaking around slitting throats, but one mission quite literally dumps the player into the middle of a Vietnam battlefield. Even the more low-key missions, like escorting a defector through the alleyways of Hong Kong, pack plenty of foes to gun down. Players shouldn’t expect Black Ops to change up the series’ emphasis on first-person shooting or gently patronizing them for stepping on a grenade.

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OH BOY I LOVE BEING SO SNEAKY AND QUIET AND SUBTLE!!!!!!!

The debate of which Call of Duty game marked the series’ descent into mediocrity is ever in flux, but there’s one Call of Duty trend that Black Ops originated without a doubt: gimmicks. Call of Duty games these days are well-known for giving the player a cool toy like a hang glider or robotic sniper rifle, but only for a little bit of playtime before it’s put away forever and it’s back to shooting. Black Ops is where this trend really took off, giving the player a newfangled spy gadget to use for five minutes before it magically disappears. Then it’s back to shooting the reds for another 10-15 minutes.

That mindset of scripted gadgetry is unfortunate, and it represents a missed opportunity to innovate Call of Duty‘s game design. It’d be much more interesting to have a level with organic, player-chosen opportunities for rappelling or hang-gliding or whatever, instead of a short, scripted sequence that serves mainly to break up the monotony of the shooting. The question of why this innovation never took place is rhetorical: it’d be a lot more work for the studio. But, that doesn’t stop the possibility from coming to mind. It certainly doesn’t stop players from wondering where that crossbow that shoots grenades just disappeared to.

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But I just got INTO this thing!

The gameplay in Black Ops‘ multiplayer mode is less scripted but largely dead. It should come as no surprise that a seven-year-old Call of Duty game has had its multiplayer undergo complete rigor mortis. A tiny ember of a community still burns from time to time, but there are much better, livelier multiplayer experiences to be had in other games. Call of Duty‘s multiplayer might be the talk of the town whenever it hits stores, but let’s be honest; between the mode’s tiny maps, non-dynamic environments and paltry selection of modes, players are better “multiplaying” it up in Battlefield.

It’s hard to believe, but the zombies mode that was in Call of Duty: World at War was almost cancelled. Now it’s considered an essential element to the series’ formula. Black Ops is where the zombies formula expanded from a fun little map into essentially its own campaign. The game’s defense map features an anti-zombie all-star squad comprising JFK, Fidel Castro, Robert McNamera, and Richard Nixon, who all fire off funny little quips just as often as bullets. There’s a story-lite campaign in the zombies mode, but most of it is available only as DLC. Womp womp.

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I call dibs on my zombie apocalypse name being Tallahassee.

Thus far, Black Ops doesn’t sound too terribly different from any other Call of Duty. Sure, it’s set during the Cold War, but the shooting and the scripted kill-toys are endemic to other CoDs set in other time periods, so what’s the big deal? Well, Black Ops innovates the Call of Duty series in the last place anyone would expect a Call of Duty game to innovate: the story.

Treyarch’s narrative gets a big boost with all the movie stars they brought in to voice the characters. Gary Oldman is in unmistakable form as Soviet defector Viktor Reznov, and aptly brings that character’s thirst for revenge to life. Ed Harris brings his steely-eyed demeanor to the fold as fellow operative Jason Hudson, who quietly becomes one of the best supporting characters in any Call of Duty game. The least impressive performance comes from leading man Sam Worthington—his delivery is emotional enough but he alternates between an American inflection and his native Australian accent with alarming carelessness.

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G’day, comrade!

Even if Treyarch hadn’t called in some big guns to bring Black Ops‘ characters to life, the narrative itself is a sorely underrated venture into the darkest depths of the Cold War. It helps the main story immeasurably that the protagonist can talk; in previous Call of Duty games, the player was meant to be a silent witness to the events rather than an active participant. Because Mason is fully voiced and the story is driven by his decisions, players can feel a much stronger connection to the plot than in Call of Duty games past. Mason’s character is further fleshed out in the cutscenes and dialogue between missions.

The focus on a singular character makes Black Ops‘ larger world flow together nicely. Even though the plot jumps back and forth a few times, it’s not as jarring to suddenly be dropped in a new locale, because Mason’s there to explain why. Black Ops‘ story even features a few elements of psychological horror, digging deep into Soviet-era sci fi to breathe fresh life into a premise as tired as the dastardly Soviet general. The story gives itself time to build colorful backstories (some of which are even more tragic than Mason’s), culminating in a shooter whose atmosphere is bleaker than a Siberian winter… and richer because of it.

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Quick! Before they morph into vodka-powered snowmen!

A nice little touch layered on top of all of this is that Black Ops finally de-glossed the IW engine. Yep, whereas even the most bombed-out objects in previous Call of Duty games looked polished and pretty, Black Ops finally mastered the art of making objects look dirty. One small step for game development, one massive step for Call of Duty. As with other, older Call of Duty games, Black Ops‘ visuals have aged remarkably well. The music isn’t the most memorable, but the sound design is great. Have those speakers taped down in case the tank fire rattles them off the desk.

In closing, Call of Duty: Black Ops is not the highest-rated CoD ever made, but it has far and away the best narrative of the series. The depth of storytelling Black Ops achieved was a breakthrough for the series in 2010, and no Call of Duty story penned in the seven years since is anywhere near as good. Even gamers who aren’t much for shooters should consider picking Black Ops up on a sale. Yes, that’s a serious recommendation to pick up a Call of Duty game for the single-player campaign.

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You can buy Call of Duty: Black Ops here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

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Find a terrorist who’s trying to start World War III.

PC Release: November 10, 2009

By Ian Coppock

Ah, Call of Duty. So many choppers to get to, so many Russians and brown people to shoot at, so little innovation to be had. When Call of Duty: WWII hits shelves this fall, this series will have churned out a new installment every year for the past decade. It’s hard to believe. Despite its ungainly reputation and Activision’s shameless money-grubbing, the Call of Duty series is one of gaming’s biggest tour de forces, and can’t not be a focal point when discussing where video games have come from and where they go from here. In that spirit, it’s time to go back to 2009, when Call of Duty had much more goodwill among fans, and when Modern Warfare 2 released.

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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is the sixth installment in the Call of Duty series and was developed by Infinity Ward, one of the three studios that produces CoD games under Activision’s all-seeing auspice. Modern Warfare 2 was the last Call of Duty game created with the involvement of Infinity Ward’s original founders, who were then fired by Activision in 2010 and went on to greener, more Titanfall-esque pastures. Before all of that went down, Infinity Ward set out to create a follow-up to 2007’s wildly popular Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and continue that game’s emphasis on contemporary combat.

Modern Warfare 2 is set in 2016, five years after the events of the first game. In an eerily accurate prediction of mid-2010’s geopolitics, Modern Warfare 2 envisions a world in which Russian-American relations have badly deteriorated and good old Mother Russia is being run by ruthless authoritarians. Meanwhile, America continues to be bogged down in hotbeds of terrorism around the globe while a shadow war of terrorists and covert operatives rages just below the surface. For a game that was released in 2009, Modern Warfare 2‘s idea of what 2016 was like is pretty spot-on.

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See any COMMIES?!

As in Modern Warfare, players see the action from the perspectives of a few silent protagonists, but the main player character is Gary “Roach” Sanderson, a British special ops soldier. Roach is under the command of John “Soap” MacTavish, the protagonist of Modern Warfare, who has since ranked up and appears in the game as an allied NPC. Players also spend a few levels playing as a U.S. Army Ranger fighting stateside and a CIA operative. Of course, for all the talking and character development that these dudes have, they’re functionally identical.

Even though Soap and his buddies stopped the big Russian baddie in Modern Warfare, that dude gets replaced by his most zealous disciple, who perpetrates a terrorist attack against his own country and pins it on America so that Russia declares war. The game includes a level in which players help that terrorist mass-murder civilians. Infinity Ward caught some flak for it, but it’s a good (if ham-fisted) way to make the player hate the bad guy. The rest of the game, like its predecessor, is a mix of covert ops behind enemy lines and voracious front-line combat.

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‘MURICA!

Does Call of Duty‘s gameplay really need to be explained at this point? It’s freaking Call of Duty. Pick up a gun and hold down the trigger until all the people pointing guns at the player have crumpled to the ground in bloody heaps. Throw a grenade or get stabby with a military knife to switch things up a bit. That’s pretty much all there is to success in Call of Duty; sure, the player might get to hop onto a turret or drive a vehicle every so often, but it’s by and large just grabbing a gun and mowing down every Russian between the mission’s beginning fade-in and its debrief screen.

Does the gameplay ever innovate beyond that premise? Not really. The game’s core of shooting bad guys from a first-person perspective is pretty solid, but Infinity Ward was content to remain within that comfort zone for Modern Warfare 2‘s entire production. If the player ever isn’t shooting Russians, they’re planting bombs or sitting on turrets that also effect the deaths of Russians. This setup is also true of the game’s multiplayer, of course. What else would one expect of Call of Duty? Some players might expect a zombies mode, but Modern Warfare 2 doesn’t have that.

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This game’s as CoD as CoD gets.

Modern Warfare 2 is a strictly linear game; the most open this game gets is letting the player rifle through the occasional side building. If Modern Warfare 2 isn’t hinting to players where to go with a conventionally car-choked street, it’s flat-out telling them with invisible walls. Go down this path, kill the neat arrangements of bad guys along the way, and don’t stop for too long to look around. Modern Warfare 2 does have little collectibles for discerning players to find, but all it takes to be discerning in Call of Duty is slowing down for five seconds to take a look around.

All of that said, Modern Warfare 2 does allow for a teensy bit more vertical space than Modern Warfare or World at War. Some levels expect players to leap across slum roofs or climb around castle walls. Even if there’s more space to jump around, though, the maps remain linear. It’s not surprising for a series as fixated on getting to the chopper as Call of Duty is, but it, as always, wastes an opportunity to do something different. Don’t go into this game expecting an open-ended firefight with lots of high ground or opportunities to use tactics. Just grind through the enemy lines.

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The only way past the enemy is through ’em. ‘MURICA.

For all the samey linear paths that Modern Warfare 2‘s levels provide, at least they look different. Like Modern WarfareModern Warfare 2 packs a world’s tour into its campaign, taking players to Afghanistan, Russia, Brazil, and the suburbs outside of Washington, D.C. Even if each level has basically the same design, players can expect to traverse desert, Arctic and urban terrain in the span of a few levels. This lightning-quick globetrotting risks making the campaign feel disjointed, but it also keeps Modern Warfare 2‘s world from becoming too stale.

While on the subject of Modern Warfare 2‘s world, the game’s visuals and sound design have aged surprisingly well. For anything that can be said about the IW engine, its visuals tend to age gracefully, and Modern Warfare 2 still looks remarkably snazzy 8 years after release. The textures have aged and some objects look a great deal more polygonal than intended, but Modern Warfare 2 still looks damn good for a game that hit store shelves in 2009. The engine does do that Call of Duty thing where everything looks really glossy, even the bombed-out houses, but the lighting and shadow effects do a good job of providing a wartime atmosphere where the glazed textures do not.

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If this series is to be believed, choppers are death traps.

Modern Warfare 2‘s world also benefits from solid system performance. Eight years on, this game can run on even the most basic systems and still maintain 60 frames per second. The options menu is quite nice, with lots of adjustments for texture resolution and shadow buffering to help spec the game however needed. The game’s multiplayer community is pretty much dead, but let’s be fair; this is an eight-year-old game from a series that churns out new installments on an annual basis. One or two matches might crop up occasionally, but that’s it. Hilariously, the DLC packs for this game are still full-priced. Oh Activision. You’re adorable.

Anyway, with Modern Warfare 2‘s multiplayer gone the way of the dodo, the biggest thing that Modern Warfare 2 has going for it is its campaign. The gameplay is pure Call of Duty, the set pieces are diverse, and the sound design ain’t bad eight years later. It’s a big, cinematic-looking thing of a campaign that does a pretty alright job of picking up where the first game left off and spinning a new story out of it. The question is—even if players come for the gameplay and stay purely for the gameplay, is the story that strings all that gameplay together worth any mention?

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Get to the… submarine?!

Anyone who has played a Call of Duty game knows that storytelling is not the series’ strong suit. Even the first Modern Warfare, for all its eloquent cutscenes and grounding concepts in reality, is not the magnum opus that ardent Call of Duty fans claim it is. The truth is that while Modern Warfare 2 picks up from where the first game left off, there’s not any character development or what some might call “raw” storytelling. Characters move toward a military objective, and the outcome of that mission serves as the pretext for the next one. So this setup goes until the game’s conclusion.

That sort of “storytelling” isn’t objectively bad. It’s certainly standard fare for the Call of Duty series. The issue is that the game’s idea of being “deep” is just fiery, abstract speeches about the merits of military service instead of something more organic like a character’s reaction to the idea of Russia invading the United States. After the speech rolls, it’s boots on the ground to shoot Russians or brown people until the next cutscene speech, with lots of big-budget cinematic effects in the background. It’s an uncomplicated, sequential setup that isn’t objectively flawed, but it still prevents the characters in the game from expanding beyond their niches.

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Everyone has their weapon, their grenades, and their pre-assigned personalities and talking points.

No matter the setup of Modern Warfare 2‘s storytelling, the game also struggles with a few concepts and plot points that raise more questions than they solve. Modern Warfare‘s story was decent because it was believable: America invades a Middle Eastern country and British special forces hunt down a Russian terrorist. Modern Warfare 2‘s notion of Russia invading the entire United States requires suspending a lot more disbelief. Love it or hate it, Russia doesn’t have the logistics and manpower to invade the United States. It just doesn’t. Invading a country because it might have perpetrated a relatively small terrorist attack also seems like an overblown response.

Modern Warfare 2‘s central plot twist is also an eyebrow-raiser. Basically, somebody gets angry that no one hates Russia enough, and wants to put the two countries into a war because… #Murica? Modern Warfare 2 fails to articulate that plot point clearly, and, like the idea of Russia conquering America in retaliation for a false flag attack, necessitates suspending all the disbelief. Funnily enough, one of the player’s squadmates claims that that dude was never trustworthy to begin with, which makes one wonder why he didn’t bring this up until after the twist happens. Moral of the story? Never underestimate the ability of clumsy writing to confound and confuse.

M29

Wait, what are we doing now?

Anyone thinking about picking up Modern Warfare 2 should do so for the gameplay, not the narrative. The first half or so of the story is pretty well done, but it almost completely collapses after that point. Modern Warfare 2 runs well, looks good and has lots of fast-moving gunplay, so players looking for those will get them in spades, but anyone hoping for the tight level-by-level thrills that Modern Warfare provided will come away a bit disappointed. Sure, Modern Warfare 2 provides a few cinematic action thrills, but unlike Modern Warfare, they raise questions rather than answer them.

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You can buy Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.