War Crimes In Video Games

violent video gamesIt’s no secret that violence in video games has been a source of concern to many for some time now.  In addition to media watchdogs, family values groups, and consumer advocates, there are those who would claim that the proliferation and realistic nature of gore and violence in gaming is partly to blame for things like the school shootings at Columbine High, Virginia Tech, and Sandy Hook Elementary. And yet, after years of polarized debate, there seems to be no solid evidence tying the two together.

And in a move which is sure to polarize it even further and annoy the hell out of some gamers, a recent report from two Swiss Human-Rights organizations has gone a step further in asking for an end to video game violence. According to the report, released by Trial and Pro Juventute, there are some video games that depict war and battle actions that in real life would violate international human rights laws. In short, it is possible to commit war crimes in video games, a fact which has both groups worried about the message this sends.

Doesn't inspire confidence, does it?
Doesn’t inspire confidence, does it?

For the sake of research, the two groups selected 20 games – including Call of Duty 4, Metal Gear Solid 4, Far Cry 2, and several others – and had “young gamers” play the games as three attorneys watched to find actions in games that in real life would violate rules and regulations that govern armed conflict. The study attempted to determine if the acts gamers engage in while they play violent titles would “lead to violations of rules of international law, in particular International Humanitarian Law (IHL), basic norms of International Human Rights Law (IHRL), or International Criminal Law (ICL).”

After evaluating the 20 games, the group found that in many cases, “shooter” games failed to take into consideration international humanitarian law. In a statement, they expressed their conclusions as follows:

“The practically complete absence of rules or sanctions is nevertheless astonishing: civilians or protected objects such as churches or mosques can be attacked with impunity, in scenes portraying interrogations it is possible to torture, degrade or treat the prisoner inhumanely without being sanctioned for it and extrajudicial executions are simulated. At least a few games punish the killing of civilians or reward strategies that aim to prevent excessive damage.”

violence-in-video-gamesIn particular, Call of Duty 4 was pretty hard hit for its violations of many rules which any army would consider standard ROE. For example, the game violates several human-rights laws by allowing gamers to:

“attack civilian buildings with no limits in order to get rid of all the enemies present in the town who are on roof tops, open areas of the town, squares featuring statues, etc. Under IHL, the fact that combatants/fighters are present in a town does not make the entire town a military objective.”

Similarly, they took issue with the scene in which the games villain, Al-Asad is beaten for information and then executed once you are finished with him:

“[the] beating of Al-Asad amounts to torture or at least inhuman treatment, which are prohibited in any context, under any circumstances, whether in peace time or during armed conflict situations. Killing him amounts to an extra-judicial, summary or arbitrary execution as it falls outside the context of any legal framework.”

Similar evaluations were given to other games the groups evaluated. Naturally, they were quick to say that their study was not intended to “prohibit the games, to make them less violent or to turn them into IHL or IHRL training tools.” Instead, they say they want to work with developers to ensure that in the future, their games observe real-life human-rights laws.

In keeping with this, they recommended that developers make it clear to gamers that in any circumstance, human-rights violations cannot be allowed, even in a game setting. It also requested that, going forward, developers adhere to international human rights laws when they depict war or battle in a game. Ultimately, they hoped that their study would act as a sort of wake-up call for game developers to consider the kind of message they are sending to young people:

“It is regrettable that game producers hardly ever use this possibility to creatively incorporate the rules of international law or even representatives of such rules as specific elements in the course of the game. Pro Juventute and Trial call upon the producers of computer and video games to use their strong creativity and innovation for this purpose. It would mean a wasted opportunity if the virtual space transmitted the illusion of impunity for unlimited violence in armed conflicts.”

Personally, I think it’s a good thing they steered away from COD: Modern Warfare 2 and 3, where far worse violations take place. In the immediate sequel to MW, players have the option of taking part in a mass shooting in the Moscow Airport, where you are required (as an undercover member of a terrorist squad) to gun your way through civilians and security guards in order to advance the story. Can you say sicko shit?! Seriously, Infinity Ward, what the hell were you thinking?!

But alas, the question is one we all need to ask ourselves. These human rights groups specifically chose video games instead of movies because of their interactive nature and the fact that gamers are not mere passive observers, but active participants in the simulated violence they are witnessing. So really, does it make a difference that in this context, a person is seeing the death and destruction and war crimes from a 1st person POV? Or is this simply a case of more gratuitous entertainment that no one sane human being would try to emulate?

Source: news.cnet.com

Wing Commander: Privateer A Review

Hello all and welcome to another installment in my video game review series! Today, I will be tackling an old (and I mean really old) favorite, a special installment in the Wing Commander series known as Privateer. Falling in between Wing Commander II, one of the best selling space combat simulators of all time, and WCIII, this game was a diversion for the series in that it dealt with the dark underside of the WC universe. Rather than delving into the Kilrathi War, which was central to the series, this game addressed the lifestyle of merchants, mercenaries and pirates.

And that’s what makes this game so cool. In fact, each game in the series had its own particular appeal, choosing to do things a little differently than the last. In the first, you flew missions and were promoted in rank and to new squadrons based on your performance. Over time, your success was mirrored in the course of the war and the theaters of operation you were sent to. In game two, much the same was true, except that you did not move in rank and the entire game was story-driven rather than based on your personal progress.

This time around, players were entirely independent, flying missions for private contractors or government payees, building up their savings, and using that money to buy new ships, new weapons, and new equipment. There was a story within the game, but you could either follow that or play entirely on your own. Naturally, the best approach was to combine both elements, playing freelance until you had a descent arsenal, and then taking on the storyline missions. And once it was all over, you had the feeling that a pretty damn good gaming experience had just occurred.

Plot Synopsis:
The game opens with the player’s character – Burrows, a privateer – being introduced aboard a mining station in the Achilles system. As you play your first missions and attempt to make your bones, rumors begin to spread that a mysterious ship is attacking shipping in the system. Eventually, you find your way to the New Detroit system, where a private contractor named Sandoval hires you to take an artifact off his hands. After running a mission for him and returning to the planet, you discover that the man is dead.

You are left with his artifact in your hands, and a lady named Tayla who offers answers, in exchange for a few missions. These take you to and from a Pirate base located out on the rim, where you run a series of missions hauling Brilliance (the designer drug of the day). Once complete, Tayla indicates that Sandoval was not the original owner, and sends you to the station of New Constantinople to meet Mr. Lynch, the notorious mob boss who will take you further.

wcprivateer_ndOnce again, you are contracted to fly a series of missions in exchange for information. After confirming that the artifact is of alien origin, he double-crosses you and sends his body guard Miggs to kill you. After beating him, you head for Oxford where the University and Archives are located to conduct research on the artifact yourself. Upon landing there, you work out an agreement with Masterson, the dean of the university. In exchange for running missions, he will allow you access.

Once you’re finished scanning the artifact, it concludes that it was uncovered by an archaeological dig in a far-flung system, led by a doctor named Monkhouse. Apparently, the doctor was investigating an ancient civilization known as the Steltek, a super-advanced species that is believed to have died out. Monkhouse was last seen in the Palan system at the edge of known space, so its off to Palan you go…

To find Monkhouse who is looking to get out of the system as soon as possible. There is a standoff between bounty hunters who have the world blockaded, and they must be defeated before he can be evacuated. After fighting with Lynn Murphy, the woman who is running a resistance against the bounty hunters, you are able to fly Monkhouse out of the system and learn that the artifact comes in two pieces, and he gives you the other half.

wcprivateer_derelictIt seems that the two form an ancient star map, and the coordinates they give indicate a system just beyond the fringes of charted space. To find the indicated system, you have to travel to the Rygannon system where you find Taryn Cross of Exploratory Services. She contracts you to investigate the rim and this eventually leads you to a Derelict at the edge of known space. Once you land, you find the ship is deserted and adrift, and an inoperative fighter with a weapon you are able to take.

wcprivateer_steltekAs soon as you leave though, the Steltek ship – the alien one that has been causing all the trouble – shows up and begins pursuing you. Once you find your way to a mining base (any mining base in the game), you are met by a woman named Sandra Goodin, the attache to Admiral Terrell, the supreme commander of all Confederation Forces in the sector. She tells you the Steltek ship has been on a path of destruction since it was woken up, and seems to have been following you all along.

wcprivateer_perryYou are persuaded to go to Perry Navy Base and meet with Terrell, who contracts you to lure the enemy ship into a trap. On your way there, you are met by another Steltek ship, an ambassador ship that explains to you that the vessel that’s been marauding the sector is an automated drone left over from the old days. It was designed to destroy advanced tech since it was this very thing that did the Steltek civilization in. They want to stop it, since it is a remnant of their old ways, and agree to help you.

wcprivateer_gemini_gold_14After getting your weapon supercharged, you meet with the Confed fleet and engage the Steltek ship. After a pitch battle, the ship is destroyed and you report back to Perry Naval Base to get your reward. Admiral Terrell offers you a position with the fleet, but you turn it down so you can continue to be what you always have – a Privateer!

Summary:
Pound for pound, this game is one of my oldest favorites. I loved the Wing Commander series ever since I got my hands on the first game, and this installment was especially cool in that it delved into the seemy underbelly of it all. What’s more, there were aspects of the universe which didn’t make it into the main series of games, not to mention some themes and motifs which seemed very much inspired.

For one, you have a number of locations located in the fictitious Gemini Sector, a place which is involved in the war but not featured in the other games. Here, you have such planets and installations as New Detroit*, Oxford, Perry, New Constantinople, mining installations, pirate bases, agricultural colonies, and pleasure bases. Each has its own character, feel, and these determine the nature of trading you can conduct.

Wing_Commander_privateer_01Then there are the factions featured in the game. In addition to the familiar warring parties – the Terran Confederation and the Kilrathi Empire – you also have a number of interesting parties that play their own role in the game. For example, there are the traders and mercs that are basically like you – privateers who are just doing there business and who’s guilds you can join.

And then there the perennially hostile parties such as the pirates, the ones engaged in illegal trade who will prey on you if you’re a merchant or merc, but can easily become friends, assuming you’re willing to embrace a life of crime. Then there are bounty hunters who just may be trying to fulfill a contract on your head. And then there are the Retros, a fanatic religious sect that is determined to force humanity to abandon its addiction to technology and embrace a simpler existence.

wcprivateer_shipupgradeAnd on top of that, there is the added benefit of being able to buy and upgrade your own ships. In other games, you fly increasingly advanced vessels as you increase in rank or move farther along with your missions. And by the third installment, you even get to customize your loadouts. But it is only in Privateer where you have total freedom to arm, equip, and outfit yourself. As long as you can afford it, you can make it happen.

And last, there was the storyline, which I really enjoyed the first time I played it. I was still in my teen years at the time, and this was one of the first franchises that introduced me to the concept of ancient aliens. And having been able to play it again years later, when my understanding of science fiction and classic motifs has matured considerably, I think they did a pretty good job of it.

wcprivateer_tarsusIn fact, the mission where you land aboard the derelict Steltek ship remains with me as a spine-tingling moment in gaming history! And the fact that the entire story is set against the backdrop of the war, an ongoing affair which really isn’t going so well for humanity, gives everything a dark and somewhat desperate feel. It’s like the universe is coming to an end, but you got your bills to pay and in the midst of all that, there’s an even more urgent menace making the rounds.

Gemini Gold Edition:
I should also mention that given the cult status of this game, a fan-made version was released in 2003 which boasted updated graphics and gameplay. In fact, it was one of several fan-made products released over the years by enthusiasts who were looking to introduce subsequent generations of gamers to its glory. Having played it, I can attest that it is certainly more fluid and visually impressive, but it just didn’t feel the same.

Yeah, we’ve all come to be pretty pampered with modern gaming, so much so that we think those DOS games that were once visually stunning are pretty laughable now. But if you want to appreciate a classic, appreciate it as is. As Billy Joel once sung, “Don’t go changing to try and please me!”

*I should also mention that the idea of this planet seemed so inspired to me that I felt obliged, years later, to borrow the name for my own science fiction series (titled Legacies). In fact, there were several details of this game and others in the franchise that crept into my consciousness and stayed with me through the years, forming the basis of my appreciation for science fiction and influencing my writing today.

Real Life Myst Book

Myst-library_and_shipRemember the graphic adventure game Myst from the early 90’s? Wasn’t that just an awesome gaming experience? Sure, there were no alien, no explosions, no guns and no gore; but hell, that was half the appeal wasn’t it? If we wanted Doom, we’d play Doom. In the meantime, when we wanted a game that made us think, perform logic games, and think strategically and mathematically, this game filled the void quite well.

From a gaming standpoint, Myst was a ground-breaking point-and-click adventure game that contained hundreds of beautifully rendered environments and animations. It was also a game so big that it needed a CD-ROM to play, back when many computers still didn’t have them. It spawned four sequels, along with novels, music, and even inspired a MMO experience that remains in operation to this day, thanks entirely to the support and donations of its fan community.

Well according to a recent article from Wired magazine online, a fan of this old game created their very own Living Book.Using a small display, a hard drive and a hollowed out book, creator Mike Ando was able to create a beautiful replica of the very book which is used to navigate from realm to realm (called Ages) in the game.

According to Ando: “Ever since I first played the game, I always wanted my own linking book. Of course, there was no way my old bulky 486 would fit within a book, but as time marched on technology advanced and computers became smaller. Eventually technology caught up and it was possible to shrink everything down to fit inside the book.”

Who knows? Given time and further miniaturization, not to mention flexible, paper thin displays, this might very well be the look of books in the future. Just don’t expect them to pull you into different worlds, a la the Myst game –  at least not real ones. No, that won’t happen until the technology becomes really advanced 😉

Aliens: Colonial Marines

As a big fan of the Alien franchise and someone who’s enjoyed just about every AVP game there is, I can honestly say that I am eagerly awaiting the release of this game! For years now, gamers have been getting a taste of combat with xenomorphs and hunters thanks to the AVP franchise, but this promises to be purer in nature.

In short, you’re a human being hunting the most dangerous creature in the universe, no fuss, no muss. And Pulse Guns, Smartguns, Flame Throwers and grenades are your weapons, hopefully with a little assistance from some M577 APC’s, a few UD-4L Cheyenne Dropships and maybe even some of them big power loaders!

Another aspect of the Aliens experience which this game appears to be improving on is the squad combat feature. Whereas in all the previous incarnations of AVP, you were forced to play solo for the vast majority of the game, this time around there appears to be better AIs and group play at work.

This is good seeing as how Colonial Marines are not meant to fight alone, and the explanations for how and why you kept finding yourself fighting solo in the games got pretty tiresome after awhile!

According to Steam, the game is set for release in February of 2013. Just a few months away, and in the meantime, enjoy the preview! I think you’ll agree, it’s pretty cinematic in nature.

Halo 4 Trailer!

A new series of trailers have been making the rounds lately, designed purely to get gamers salivating! After many years, it seems that Halo will be releasing a fourth installment in its ongoing series, one which promises some changes and new challenges. The first trailer premiered at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (aka. E3) back in June of this year and previewed the new game’s storyline. The second trailer, titled “Scanner” was released just this month and offers some additional clues as to what the game will be about.

Basically, it is four years since the Earth-Covenant War ended, and the UNSC has once again began colonizing new worlds. However, the maiden voyage of the “Infinity” is interrupted when some mysterious force teleports it to a distant world. Once again, the Master Sergeant is called in to investigate and kick some ass, but get’s captured along the way. The new enemy, some “Ancient Evil” as the trailer suggests, appears to be Forerunner in nature. They have awakened from several thousand years of sleep and are out to protect the Galaxy from the scourge that is humanity. Bummer…

Official release date is Nov. 6th, 2012, for those gamers who don’t already know. Enjoy the trailers!

*Sidenote: I also managed to find a third trailer over at the IGN website, but unfortanately, it won’t let me embed it here. However, some additional clues were provided there – particularly the identity of the new enemy – and I have included them here. You’re welcome 😉


Tetris Theme on Laser Harp

While on one of my many romps through the ether, I found this clip of man playing the theme to one of history’s most popular video games, and on a laser harp of all things! The display alone is impressive, with the harp’s lasers made visible thanks to some Infrared or UV lighting. The performance was made by an artist known as Theremin Hero, a Glasgow-based chiptune artist who uses a Gameboy, NES, and Laser Harp to do his thing! Check out his media library at: http://www.thereminhero.com/

Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri, Best Lines!

Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri, Best Lines!

Today, I thought I’d totally nerd out and share some additional cool stuff from one of my favorite games of all time: Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri! As you may have noticed, I already did a review of the game itself. But returning to this game to boast about it some more was something I just couldn’t resist! After over a decade, I’m still not bored with this turn-based strategy game. It’s just that good.

Anyhoo, today I thought I’d share something which I glossed over in my review. And that would be the games best one-liners. During every turn, whenever you build a special project, experience a research breakthrough, build a new type of facility, or develop a new type of unit, you get a line accompanied by some music and in the case of projects, even a little movie. Most are original creations, spoken by the faction leaders themselves, and give added depth to an already immersive gaming experience.

Here is the list of the ones I like best, broken down by faction. I also included some of the movies at the bottom. Enjoy!

Gaia’s Stepdaughters:
The Gaian’s are the natural ecologists and environmentalists of the game. As such, the majority of Lady Dierdre’s quotes (their leader) espouse cultivating an understanding of the planet’s ecology and the super-sentience that governs it. In many cases, these involve conversations between her and the planetary sentience itself, which are collected in the fictional tome named “Conversations with Planet”.

“Observe the Razorbeak as it tends so carefully to the fungal blooms; just the right bit from the yellow, then a swatch from the pink. Follow the Glow Mites as they gather and organize the fallen spores. What higher order guides their work? Mark my words: someone or something is managing the ecology of this planet.”

“Planet’s atmosphere, though a gasping death to humans and most animals, is paradise for Earth plants. The high nitrate content of the soil and the rich yellow sunlight bring an abundant harvest wherever adjustments can be made for the unusual soil conditions.”

“You are the children of a dead planet, earthdeirdre, and this death we do not comprehend. We shall take you in, but may we ask this question–will we too catch the planetdeath disease?”
-taken from “Conversations with Planet”, Dierdre’s dialogue with the planetary sentience

“No longer mere earthbeings and planetbeings are we, but bright children of the stars! And together we shall dance in and out of ten billion years, celebrating the gift of consciousness until the stars themselves grow cold and weary, and our thoughts turn again to the beginning.”
-“Conversation with Planet”, after you develop the “Ascent to Transcendance” where your faction merges with the planetary sentience

“Eternity lies ahead of us, and behind. Have you drunk your fill?”
-“Conversations with Planet”, during the game’s epilogue

Human Hive:
Led by Chairman Yang, the Hive is a totalitarian faction that is clearly inspired by Maoist China and the North Korea. The majority of his quotes have to do with the nature of his political beliefs, which occasionally digress into the spiritual, a combination of Taoism and ascetisim.

Einstein would turn in his grave. Not only does God play dice, the dice are loaded.”

“If our society seems more nihilistic than that of previous eras, perhaps this is simply a sign of our maturity as a sentient species. As our collective consciousness expands beyond a crucial point, we are at last ready to accept life’s fundamental truth: that life’s only purpose is life itself.”

“What do I care for your suffering? Pain, even agony, is no more than information before the senses, data fed to the computer of the mind. The lesson is simple: you have received the information, now act on it. Take control of the input and you shall become master of the output.”

“It is every citizen’s final duty to go into the tanks and become one with all the people.”
-upon building Recycling Tanks

“My gift to industry is the genetically engineered worker, or Genejack. Specially designed for labor, the Genejack’s muscles and nerves are ideal for his task, and the cerebral cortex has been atrophied so that he can desire nothing except to perform his duties. Tyranny, you say? How can you tyrannize someone who cannot feel pain?”
-upon building a Genejack Factory

Lords Believers:
The undisputed fundamentalist faction of the planet, led by Sister Miriam. As expected, the majority of what she has to say has to do with defending her traditional beliefs, calling into question the nature of technological progress, and condemning the majority of developments that take place late in the game.

“Some would ask, how could a perfect God create a universe filled with so much that is evil. They have missed a greater conundrum: why would a perfect God create a universe at all?”

“The righteous need not cower before the drumbeat of human progress. Though the song of yesterday fades into the challenge of tomorrow, God still watches and judges us. Evil lurks in the datalinks as it lurked in the streets of yesteryear. But it was never the streets that were evil.”

“Beware, you who seek first and final principles, for you are trampling the garden of an angry God and he awaits you just beyond the last theorem.”

“Men in their arrogance claim to understand the nature of creation, and devise elaborate theories to describe its behavior. But always they discover in the end that God was quite a bit more clever than they thought.”

“Will we next create false gods to rule over us? How proud we have become, and how blind.”
-after finishing the project The Self-Aware Colony

“And what of the immortal soul in such transactions? Can this machine transmit and reattach it as well? Or is it lost forever, leaving a soulless body to wander the world in despair?
-after creating the Bulk Matter Transmitter

“Already we have turned all of our critical industries, all of our material resources, over to these…things…these lumps of silver and paste we call nanorobots. And now we propose to teach them intelligence? What, pray tell, will we do when these little homunculi awaken one day announce that they have no further need for us?”

Morgan Industries:
CEO Morgan, leader of the Morganites, is an unquestioning believer in the art of laissez-faire economics and unadulterated capitalism. He has plenty to say on the subject of research and development, not to mention the continuance of monopolistic practices on the new planet. The environment and moderation be damned! Most of these are contained within his tomes “The Centauri Monopoly” and “The Ethics of Greed”.

“Human behavior is economic behavior. The particulars may vary but competition for limited resources remains a constant. Need as well as greed has followed us to the stars and the rewards of wealth still await those wise enough to recognize this deep thrumming of our common pulse.”

“Richard Baxton piloted his Recon Rover into a fungal vortex and held off four waves of mind worms, saving an entire colony. We immediately purchased his identity manifests and repackaged him into the Recon Rover Rick character with a multi-tiered media campaign: televids, touchbooks, holos, psi-tours– the works. People need heroes. They don’t need to know how he died clawing his eyes out, screaming for mercy. The real story would just hurt sales, and dampen the spirits of our customers.”

‘Abort, Retry, Fail?’ was the phrase some wormdog scrawled next to the door of the Edit Universe project room. And when the new dataspinners started working, fabricating their worlds on the huge organic comp systems, we’d remind them: if you see this message, always choose ‘Retry.’
-quote from one of Morgan’s software developers

“Resources exist to be consumed. And consumed they will be, if not by this generation then by some future. By what right does this forgotten future seek to deny us our birthright? None I say! Let us take what is ours, chew and eat our fill.”

“Fossils fuels in the last century reached their extreme prices because of their inherent utility: they pack a great deal of potential energy into an extremely efficient package. If we can but sidestep the 100 million year production process, we can corner this market once again.”

“Look at any photograph or work of art. If you could duplicate exactly the first tiny dot of color, and then the next and the next, you would end with a perfect copy of the whole, indistinguishable from the original in every way, including the so-called “moral value” of the art itself. Nothing can transcend its smallest elements.”

Peacekeeping Forces:
Led by Brother Lal, the Peacekeepers are perhaps the most balanced faction in this game. Dedicated to human rights, scientific research, democracy, freedom of information, and peace, they are quite to make enemies with many of the more extreme factions. And of course, the majority of quotes from this faction deal with inalienable rights of human beings, the importance of freedom, and the consequences of certain technologies.

“As the Americans learned so painfully in Earth’s final century, free flow of information is the only safeguard against tyranny. The once-chained people whose leaders at last lose their grip on information flow will soon burst with freedom and vitality, but the free nation gradually constricting its grip on public discourse has begun its rapid slide into despotism. Beware of he who would deny you access to information, for in his heart he dreams himself your master.”

“The Mind Worms are the natural defenses of the living Planet–the white blood cells, if you will. In a world in which unassimilated thought represents danger, the Mind Worm seeks out concentrations of sentient mental energy and destroys them, ruthlessly and efficiently.”

“The entire character of a base and its inhabitants can be absorbed in a quick trip to the Rec Commons. The sweaty arenas of Fort Legion, the glittering gambling halls of Morgan Bank, the sunny lovers’ trysts in Gaia’s High Garden, or the somber reading rooms of U.N. Headquarters. Even the feeding bay at the Hive gives stark insight into the sleeping demons of Yang’s communal utopia.”

“The Warrior’s bland acronym, MMI, obscures the true horror of this monstrosity. Its inventors promise a new era of genius, but meanwhile unscrupulous power brokers use its forcible installation to violate the sanctity of unwilling human minds. They are creating their own private army of demons.”

Spartan Federation:
The Spartans are aptly named, and represent the faction that believes that the right to bear arms in both inalienable and unquestionable. Led by Colonel Santiago, a total badass in her own right, the majority of what comes from them consists of philosophical tidbits taken from Sun Tzu’s Art of War, updated for the modern age, and some random bits of marching songs and barracks scuttlebutt.

“Information, the first principle of warfare, must form the foundation of all your efforts. Know, of course, thine enemy. But in knowing him do not forget above all to know thyself. The commander who embraces this totality of battle shall win even with inferior force.”

“I don’t know but I’ve been told, Deirdre’s got a Network Node. Likes to press the on-off switch, Dig that crazy Gaian witch!”
-Spartan marching song

“Industrial Grade Nano-Paste, one of Planet’s most valuable commodities, can also be one of its most dangerous. Simply pour out several canisters, slide in a programming transponder, and step well away while the stuff cooks. In under an hour the nano will use available materials to assemble a small factory, a hovertank, or enough rifles to equip a regiment.”
describing industrial nanomachines

“We shall take only the greatest minds, the finest soldiers, the most faithful servants. We shall multiply them a thousandfold and release them to usher in a new era of glory.”
-upon developing the Cloning Vats

The University:
Led by Academician Prokhor Zakharov, the University is Planet’s great espouser of technological progress and scientific research, unhampered by such things as spirituality and political controls. On the one hand, they call to mind the stereotype of the mad scientist. On the other, they are picture perfect representations of the empirical method and true believers in freedom. As such, they make good allies, but can turn into enemies rather easily as well. Consistent with their outlook, the majority of what their leader has to say concerns scientific ideas and a defense of their methods from what they see as small-mindedness or old world dogma.

“Man’s unfailing capacity to believe what he prefers to be true rather than what the evidence shows to be likely and possible has always astounded me. We long for a caring Universe which will save us from our childish mistakes, and in the face of mountains of evidence to the contrary we will pin all our hopes on the slimmest of doubts. God has not been proven not to exist, therefore he must exist.”

“A brave little theory, and actually quite coherent for a system of five or seven dimensions — if only we lived in one.”
-after researching String Theory

“What actually transpires beneath the veil of an event horizon… decent people shouldn’t think too much about that!”

“The first living thing to go through the device was a small white rat. I still have him, in fact. As you can see, the damage was not so great as they say.”
-after developing the technology for teleportation gates

“The popular stereotype of the researcher is that of a skeptic and a pessimist. Nothing could be further from the truth! Scientists must be optimists at heart, in order to block out the incessant chorus of those who say ‘It cannot be done.’

“We have reached an informational threshold which can only be crossed by harnessing the speed of light directly. The quickest computations require the fasted possible particles moving along the shortest paths. Since the capability now exists to take our information directly from photons traveling molecular paths, the final act of the information revolution will soon be upon us.”
-upon developing Optical Computers

Time travel in the classic sense has no place in rational theory, but temporal distortion does exist on the quantum level, and more importantly it can be controlled.

Other:
“A handsome young cyborg named Ace,
wooed women at every base
.
But once ladies glanced at
His special enhancement
They vanished with narry a trace!”
-Spartan Barracks Graffiti

“Mary had a little lamb, Little lamb little lamb, Mary had a little lamb, whose fleece was white as snow.”
-Assassins’ Redoubt Final Transmission, after you build the “Dream Twister”, a psionic weapon that drives people mad

“Please don’t go. The drones need you. They look up to you!”

I think that last one is my favorites. I queues up from time to time when you try to quit the game suddenly. Oh, and as promised, some movies from the gameplay. With the exception of the Intro segment, all play after you complete a Secret Project.

Intro:

The Human Genome Project:

The Hunter Seeker Algorithm:

The Cyborg Factory:

The Universal Translator:

The Self-Aware Colony:

The Dream Twister (My favorite!):

The Singularity Inductor:

The Voice of Planet:

The Ascent to Transcendence:

Modern Warfare 3

Hey gamers! Today, I will be wrapping things up in my Modern Warfare commentary with my review of the third and final game in the MW series. Having just purchased it a few weeks ago, and played it through for the second time, I can honestly say that I was pretty pleased with it.

As the climax to the series, it was chock full of action and expanded on many of the strengths from the first and second games. And of course, it took things a step further from the last, developing the multiplayer and special ops features even more. This consisted of larger, more detailed environments, more immersive game features, and plenty of new weapons and added features. But of course, all of that takes a bit of a backseat, at least in this reviewers mind, to the plot.

Naturally, it had its share of drawbacks too, most which were similarly consistent with the previous installments. There were plot holes, some over-the-top elements, and an unnecessary scene (which, like last time, pushed the boundaries of good taste). But overall, I’d say it was a fitting and very fun final installment. But like I said, the plot first…

Plot Synopsis:
The story picks up where MW2 left off, with a grand introduction that lets the player know that they are now in the midst of World War 3. In fact, that’s probably one of the coolest aspects of the intro, where after a montage of chaotic scenes from the first two games, we see WW3, and then the first letter flips to reveal the title MW3. Effective, and accurate since the actions of Makarov and Shepherd in the last game led to an open state of war between the Russian bloc and the US.

The intro then extends to a movie/flash-back scene where what is left of Task Force 141 is heading to a field hospital run by Russian Loyalists in northern India. Things in this scene take place from Soap’s POV as Nikolai and Price are hauling him off the chopper and rushing to get him inside. All the while, Soap experiences flash-backs of everything that brought them to this point, including Zakhaev’s death, Makarov’s terrorist acts, and Soap killing General Shepherd. Price’s voice provides narration, saying how the actions of one man can change the world, even bring it all to the precipice.

Once inside, they begin fighting to save Soap’s life. However, matters are complicated when Makarov’s forces arrive on the scene hoping to take out Soap and Price and anyone helping them. Here, you play as Yuri, one of Nikolai’s men, and are tasked with defeating the assault with the help of a remote-controlled drone. Together, the four of you (Soap, Price, Nikolai and Yuri) escape together, as the last of the now-disavowed Task Force 141.

Cut to New York City, where the Russian offensive against the Eastern Seaboard continues. Here, you change POV’s to a member of Delta Force Team Metal named Frost, which is being sent in to Manhattan to take out a Russian jamming device which is preventing US forces from achieving air superiority.

The fight takes you through the streets of downtown Manhattan and into the NYSE, which is itself being occupied by Russian troops. Once you reach the roof and destroy the device, US air forces move in and take out the remaining Russian choppers and Migs, and you get to fly around in a Blackbird and gun some down yourself!

Next, your team joins a bunch of SEALS as you head underwater to take on the Russian fleet that is still occupying the East River. This journey involves traveling through the Lincoln Tunnel, now underwater, and then into the river itself, avoiding Russian mines along the way. Once you reach the sub and force it surface with some charges, board the sub and take out its crew, you set the sub’s ordinance to target all remaining Russian ships in the harbor and make a daring escape on zodiacs.

With this latest victory, the Russian assault on the US which began in MW2 is now defeated. Afterward, Russian President Boris Vorshevsky announces plans to make peace with the United States at a summit in Hamburg. However, Makarov’s men hijack the president’s airfcraft, causing it to crash land while you (playing from the POV of one of his protective detail).

Once on the ground, you and the other survivors rush to find him and his daughter, but Makarov arrives, taking the President hostage and shooting you. In your last seconds, you hear Makarov demanding the launch codes to Russia’s nuclear stockpile, saying he will see Russia standing over Europe, even if it’s a pile of ash.

After recovering from his wounds, Soap and Task Force 141 proceed to Sierra Leone where they are told Makarov’s bomb maker is hiding. After fighting your way through the local villages, which are in the midst of being raided by local warlords, you find your way to the pick up point. Unfortunately, the shipment of chemical weapons is shipped out via helicopter seconds before you arrive. Price then calls up his contacts in the SAS, warning them that the targets are London, Paris and Berlin.

The POV once again shifts to an SAS unit in London which is tasked with raiding one of Makarov’s store houses along the Thames. After an intense chase, which takes you through the London Undergound and back up to Big Ben, the main attack (against Parliament) is thwarted. However, you soon learn that one of the other trucks made it to its destination nearby and is detonated, killing hundreds of people in the immediate vicinity. Similar detonations happen in Berlin and Paris, paving the way for a Russian invasion and World War III.

Team Metal is then sent to Hamburg to rescue the US Vice-President who is still there. The invasion scene calls to mind COD’s many awesome recreations of historic WWII battles, in particular D-Day. After landing on the riverfront and fighting your way up into the streets, you are to provide cover for the tanks as they make their ways down the boulevards to where the VP’s convoy got stranded. Also, you get to be a tank gunner in this mission (finally!), and take out enemy infantry while the M1A1 drives around and blasts the crap out of enemy vehicles.

Meanwhile, Task 141 heads to Somalia to track down a local warlord who was also involved in the shipment of the chemical weapons. After taking him prisoner, Price learns the name and location of Makarov’s bomb maker – a man named Volk who is currently in Paris.

Task Force 141 heads there and teams up with the French GIGN to capture Volk, which involves making your way through some chemical-infested areas. After taking him prisoner, you are then required to get out of Paris before Russian troops can overtake you. Ultimately, this ends in a desperate airlift off of a bridge as the Eiffel Tower is bombed and falls in the distance.

Volk gives up Makarov’s location, who he says will in Prague for a high-level meeting . The next mission involves infiltrating the occupied city with the help of an old friend – the Loyalist commander Kamarov (not to be confused with Makarov, damn anagrams!) As Yuri, you and Soap take up a sniping position in a church overlooking the hotel where the meeting is going down.

However, the op goes awry when Price gets inside and sees that Makorov has taken Kamarov (again, anagrams!) hostage and is onto them. He then sets off a series of bombs which kill Kamarov and blow up the bell tower, sending Soap and Yuri out the window and down onto a scaffolding.

Before the explosion, Makarov reveals that he knows Yuri, information which Soap gives to Price once the three make it to cover. Soap dies on a table from wounds sustained in the fall, and Price puts a gun to Yuri’s head and demands explanations.

Yuri then tells him that he used to be a soldier in Zakhaev’s army, whereupon he met Makarov. Through a series of flashbacks that show events from MW1 and 2, we see that Yuri was there with Makarov when Price shot his arm off outside of Pripyat in the early 90’s.

He was also there when Zakhaev detonated the nuke he gave to Al-Asad, destroying the capitol and killing thousands of American Marines and millions of civilians. Finally, he was there when Makarov and his men murdered hundreds of civilians in the Moscow International Airport. Yuri attempted to prevent the massacre, but was shot by Makarov beforehand, leaving him to die amongst his many other victims.

Having heard all this, Price decides to let Yuri live and begins planning an assault on Makarov’s fortress in the Czech Republic. As Yuri, you storm the old castle and learn that Makarov is holding Russian President Vorshevsky captive and is seeking to capture his daughter who is in Berlin. Rescuing her becomes a priority now, as the President continues to refuse to hand over the launch codes, but wis likely to reconsider if Makarov threatens to kill his daughter. Yuri and Price destroy the base and relay the information to Team Metal.

Switching back to Frost’s POV, you and your team are now responsible for fighting your way through Berlin, which is still contested, and finding the President’s daughter before Makarov’s men do. In the course of this mission, things go sideways, Frost is killed, and the President’s daughter is taken.

However, they are tracked to a Siberian diamond mine where Makarov’s men are also holding the President. A joint strike is planned to rescue both from the mine, which succeeds, even though Metal’s team leader (Sandman) is forced to stay behind and sacrifice himself.

With the Russian President and his daughter alive and well, he travels to D.C. where a truce is declared and all forces with withdrawn. WWIII is over, but PRice is still determined to find Makarov and make him pay for his crimes. In a final mission, he and Yuri travel to hotel in Dubai where they learn Makarov is staying. Now, as Price, you and Yuri break into the buidling wearing Juggernaut suits and fight your way to Makarov on the top floor.

In the ensuing chase, Yuri is impaled and he and Price lose your armor. Price then corners Makarov on the roof as he attempts to board a chopper and the two fight. Makarov gets the upper hand and nearly shoots Price, but Yuri manages to intervene and is shot dead by Makarov. Enraged at the loss of another comrade, Price grabs a hold of Makarov and beats the holy hell out of him.

Realizing that they are also lying on a glass roof that is about to break, he ties the chopper’s metal line around his neck and falls through the roof with him. Makarov is hung while Price falls to a landing below. With Makarov dead and his work done, he pulls himself up and lights a cigar. Mission accomplished!

Summary:
First off, let me just say that this game is stupid-fun! I mean, holy shit, the action and intensity! Boom! Boom! Explosions! Russians! Thugs and militiamen! Urban warfare and infiltration, predators and submarines! Yeah, it was pretty damn bad-ass. They essentially took what they started in MW2, which was to push the boundaries by putting war directly on American soil, and pushed it that extra mile. That was the aim of course, picking up where the last left off with World War III in the wings.

And they expanded on the warfare by adding new environments, most of which involved destroying landmarks and historic places! And there new twists on the available missions, involving underwater infiltration, working with local resistance, tank gunning and wearing a Juggernaut suit. And like last time, they threw in the AC-130 gunships and predators, giving you the ability to deal death from above. Always nice! On top of that, they really went the extra mile to mix up the action. Fighting aboard a jet airliner while it’s in a nose dive, effectively leading to a zero-g gunfight.

As for the multiplayer and special ops, things are similarity awesome. The multiplayer feature has been upgraded with new weapons, new game profiles, and more options, all taken to the extreme! Endless hours of entertainment are available here for those who have a fast machine and internet connection. As for the special ops, things are much the same, but with some noteworthy additions. For example, in the special ops section, there’s the added Survival option alongside the usual Mission feature. In the former, you fight in different environments against increasingly difficult enemies, each win allowing you to upgrade your weapons and options. In the latter, you’re doing much the same as in game two, fighting in different scenarios with different goals, unlocking new missions as you go

I also enjoyed the flashbacks, where material from the first and second installment was included. It was pretty seamless they way they did that. It even added some explanations and background which added a moment or two of plausibility to the plot. Providing Makarov with a dossier was something they neglected to do in the second game, which left a lot of questions of where he came from and why he was conducting terrorism against his own people, especially since the Ultranationalist are supposed to be in charge at that point.

But of course, there was some problems in and around all that. For one, the game shifts locations so often that you really begin to question how the main characters are able to move so much. Especially Task Force 141; how do they get from India to Sierra Leone to Somalia to Europe to Siberia with such ease? All this feels highly unrealistic, especially since this Task Force has been disavowed and don’t have access to government resources anymore. Is Nikolai flying them everywhere? How is he able to do this? What kinds of resources does this guy have?

And for that matter, there’s the issue of Makarov. In this game, his abilities and resources are even more staggering than in the last one. Isn’t this guy supposed to be a freelance terrorist? How then is he able to find an endless supply of men, guns, choppers and chemical weapons to fund his crusade against the west? In Zakhaev’s case, it was understandable. He was leader of a Russian Ultranationist faction in the middle of a civil war. He had almost half the resources of the Russian military at his disposal, including a nuke or two.

But as I recall, his movement went on to win power after he was killed. After that, Makarov took his place and continues the campaign, clearly not happy with the extent to which the Russian government has gone and wanting it to go further. Makes sense, and since General Shepherd was helping to create WWIII, some of what he pulled of in MW2 made sense. But this time around? The way he is able to always get away, take the Russian President hostage, allude the SAS and Task Force 141, and start WWIII is all kind of ridiculous. It’s like the Joker in The Dark Knight, where the villain has some massive master plan and is somehow prepared for everything.

And there was a small trace of the same controversial aspect that made MW2 a bit iffy. This time around, they avoided the scenes of big shoot ups in crowded airports. Most importantly, you aren’t the one doing it! I still don’t get that, that was messed up! However, there is the one scene where you watch one of the chemical bombs going off in the middle of a London street. It all takes place from the POV of a father who’s recording a video of his wife and little daughter as they walk along the sidewalk and point to Big Ben. Then boom! The truck blows up, and the little girl and mother are the first to die. It’s not gruesome or graphic, but what the hell? Was it really necessary to illustrate how bad the bad guys are? We already know they’re setting off bombs in civilian centers and shot up an airport. What else needs to be said?

In the end, the weaknesses smack of a plot where the creators are trying too hard. More action, more locations, more twists, more adventure. It all makes for a pretty skookum gaming experience, but it’s not what you’d call in-depth, and it’s definitely not what you call realistic. But of course, all that can be overlooked the moment you remember that it’s a first-person shooter! Be thankful you get a plot at all, fool! Now get back to shooting stuff and blowing shit up!

Happy Hunting!

COD: Modern Warfare 2

Welcome back to my ongoing series of video game reviews! Today, picking up from where I left off last time, is Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Having just completed the entire series, I felt it was time to pay tribute to this series and tackle all that was right and wrong with it.

With COD: Modern Warfare, Infinity Ward essentially established a new standard of online gaming and first person shooters. Combining the best in AI’s, graphics, and gaming platforms, this game also had the honor of being the most high-profile “modern” first-person shooter of all time.

Prior to this, all the big name FPSs were either set in WWII or in the future, being either based in historical recreations or science fiction. Hence what was so interesting about this game, it incorporated up-to-date weaponry, tactics, and a storyline that boasted a great deal of socio-political speculation.

And much like the last one, it had its high and low points, which I shall get into now…

Plot Summary:
modern-warfare-russThe game picks up 5 years after the event of the first game (roughly 2016). According to General Shepherd, one the game’s pivotal characters, Russia has fallen to the ultra-nationalists and Imran Zakhaev is now considered a national hero, despite the fact that he very nearly unleashed WWIII on the populace. Meanwhile, a terrorist by the name of Makarov continues to fight Zakhaev’s fight, hoping to trigger another major conflict which will make his nation to force to be reckoned with once more.

The game opens with a Ranger Battalion in Afghanistan, where you are part of an attack (led by General Shepherd) into a contested town controlled by insurgents. After fighting your way across a destroyed bridge, you are required to fight your way to the center of town and clear a school which the insurgents are using as their forwards base. Upon completion, Shepherd alerts your character (PFC Allen) that you are being transferred to the CIA to do an undercover mission.

MW2_afghanistanNote: As I’m sure I’ve mentioned at least twice before, this entire mission was inspired by Generation Kill, specifically the footage of the 1st Recon’s assault on Nasariya and their passage through the town of Muwafaqiyah where Fedayeen were using a school as a fire base.

At the same time, Capt. John “Soap” McTavish has been promoted and is now the leader of the new international anti-terrorism squad known as Task Force 141. No mention is given as to the whereabouts of Captain Price, and given what happened in the last game, it appears as though he might be dead.

MW2_siberiaYour character for this portion of the campaign is Garry “Roach” Sanderon, another FNG with a delightfully absurd call sign. While the Marines are in Afghanistan, you and Captain Price are busy breaking into a Russian airbase in Siberia hoping to obtain the Attack Characterization System (ACS) module from a downed American satellite. After retrieving it, you and McTavish are forced to beat a hasty retreat using snowmobiles.

What follows next is the part of the game that warrants the big advisory at the beginning and which gamers have the option of skipping if they so choose. This inolves part of Allen’s “undercover assignment” where he witnesses first-hand Makarov’s monstrosity as he leads an assault on Moscow’s International Airport, where he and his thugs murder countless civilians with US-made guns.

When that’s over, Makarov shoots Allen (aka. you) and leaves him there for dead, knowing that the thousands of spent shell casings and the body of an American will make it look like the US perpetrated the attack. My advice: skip this mission! It’s gratuitous and frankly creepy. For the life of my I can’t imagine who thought putting this borderline psycho shit in would be entertaining or fun.

Immediately afterwards, Task Force 141 is dispatched to Rio de Janeiro to hunt down the weapons dealer who supplied Makarov. This takes you and your team through the “favella”, Rio’s most notoriously violent neighborhoods, where you are shot at by the local “militia”. Once you have your man, he indicates that he doesn’t know where Makarov is, but that there is one man he hates and fears more than anyone, and who just happens to be languishing in a gulag on the Kamchatka peninsula.

Meanwhile, back in the US, Russian forces get the drop on the Northeastern Seaboard. Having cracked the ACS, they are able to pass into US airspace without Norad noticing, and begin landing paratroopers and armored forces in Virginia, New York, and Washington DC. The second major thread in the game now opens, where you play as Pvt. James Ramirez, an Army Ranger in West Virginia who’s unit is deployed to a suburb to thwart a Russian attack and protect a HVI (high-value individual) who’s chopper was shot down.

After fighting off several waves, your unit is redeployed to Arcadia where you are tasked with retrieving another HVI who turns out to have been killed by Russian special forces. With assaults happening all along the Seaboard, the Russians are getting the upper hand on US forces by capturing key personnel, locations and intelligence.

MW2_gulagOver in Kamchatka, you and Task Force 141 assault the gulag and fight your way through defenders and Soviet-era electrical systems to find prisoner 141, the man who Makarov apparently wants dead. When you arrive at his cell, it turns out to be Captain Price, who is alive after all. He and McTavish have a brief reunion which is cut short as the Navy begins bombarding the gulag early to cover your escape.

Back in the US, you and your Ranger unit are redeployed to Washington DC which has become a smoking ruin. Your mission is to fight your way through the federal buildings on Capitol Hill and retake them from the attacking Russians. The fight takes you from the trenches, through the White House, and finally into the air. After your chopper is shot down, you find yourself cornered and about to be overrun…At the same time, Price makes contact with General Shepherd and proposes a bold plan. With Price alongside, you and Task Force 141 assault a Russian sub base not far from the gulag and seize control of a Russian missile sub. Though the plan is not altogether clear, you and McTavish manage to provide cover for Price long enough for him to get aboard the Russian sub, where he promptly unleashes a nuke bound for Washington DC! The nuke flies into orbit above the city, where it is detonated, taking out the ISS and unleashing a massive EMP.

Inside the city, the EMP knocks every piece of electronic equipment in the area, crippling the Russian assault. You and your unit, which had been cornered seconds before, now must run and find cover as countless jets and choppers come crashing down around you.

Once you resupply, you are tasked with advancing on Whiskey Hotel (aka. WH, for White House) and retake it in one last, desperate assault. Once this is done, you are notified by radio that the USAF is conducting “Hammer Down”, an emergency air assault that will level all capitol buildings that are still in enemy hands. You are then forced to run to the roof and pop green smoke to indicate that the White House is in friendly hands.

MW2_estate2With Washington DC saved, Shepherd is hailed a hero for his foresight in predicting that a war was coming. He is given a “blank check” and declares that he is going to use every cent reigning Makarov in. With this in mind, Task Force 141 splits into two forces, with Price and McTavish checking an aircraft boneyard in Afghanistan while you and the rest are deployed to a safehouse in Kazakhstan.

After taking down the house and downloading Makarov’s computer files, you are intercepted by an air rescue, where General Shepherd himself comes out and shoots you! He then shoots Ghost and his men dispatch the rest of your squad, leaving your burning remains in a ditch as he takes the files and flies off.

MW2_safehouseOver in Afghanistan, Price and McTavish get the words that Shepherd has killed the others and realize he’s been playing them all along. With Makarov’s information now in his hands, he’s effectively cleaning house and making sure he doesn’t get caught so the war can proceed.

At the same time, Shepherd’s forces are descending on the boneyard, looking to kill you and Makarov at the same time. After fighting your way the edge, you are rescued by an old friend – McTavish’s Russian contact Nikolai. Price is also able to contact Makarov and obtain the location of Price’s base in Afghanistan.

As McTavish, you and Price now assault Shepherd’s base and take down its defenders. After a lengthy chase, you manage to corner Shepherd and fight it out; unfortunately he gets a hold of your knife and stabs you in the stomach with it. Producing his gun, he explains his motivations.

MW2_shepherd_baseApparently, he was in command of the Marine assault force that was supposed to take down Al-Asad and lost 30,000 men when Zakhaev’s forces detonated the nuke. His bitterness inspired him to start a war in the hopes of shocking America out of its complacency, which he feels he’s now done. As he puts it, “tomorrow there will be no shortage of volunteers, no shortage of patriots.”

Before he can shoot you though, Price tackles Shepherd and the two begin to fight it out. Shepherd eventually gets the upper hand on Price, and you are forced to pull the knife out of your chest and toss into Shepherd’s face, killing him instantly. Nikolai then shows up with a chopper, in defiance of Price’s order that this be a “one way trip”, and he and Price begin to carry you (McTavish) aboard. The game ends with Nikolai warning you that everyone is now out to get you, but that he knows a safe place to put down and get medical help.

Summary:
I don’t imagine I need to say that this installment in the series has some kick-ass gameplay, but screw it, I still want to! It has kick-ass gameplay! In fact, when it comes to shear badassery, this game has got the first one beat. In addition to more and better guns for yourself, there are also some very cool added features. These include more claymores and the use of Stinger Missiles, but also Sentry guns, laser guided heavy weapons fire from armored vehicles, and even Predator drone strikes. This last aspect is especially cool, as you get to do overwatch on a target and then fire Hellfire missiles at targets.

In terms of the weapons you have access to, there are the usual M4’s, SAWs and M16’s that are standard US Army issue, but also SCARs, sniper rifles with thermal sights, FAMAS’, USAS-12 shotguns, and Steyr AUG’s. But in addition, the Russians also boast some new and impressive gear which you can use too. Of these, my favorites are the Tavor assault rifle and the Striker shotgun. There’s nothing like automatic shotgun fire to make you feel like a bad ass mutha!

And of course, all these features extend into the multiplayer realm which is even bigger, badder, and more detailed than the last. But even if you’re not feeling the mulitplayer community, there is the new Special Ops feature where you get the best of both world, the ability to conduct missions and earn points, but still as a single player. And I can attest that most of these missions, though some are hard as hell, are also fun as hell. And in many ways, they preview things which comes up in the third installments (such as Juggernauts).

As for the downsides… Well, in that respect, this game was much like the first. The storyline seems a bit unrealistic, and is kind of confusing in terms of who’s doing what and for whom. For instance, you’ve got Makarov who represents a continuation of Zakhaev’s agenda, but seems to be operating outside the realm of normal politics. Didn’t they say that the Ultra-nationalists took power? Why then is this man killing his own people? Isn’t that what you do when your kind is NOT in power? Or is he really that desperate for a nuclear war to take place?

And second, Shepherd’s motivations seem a bit flaccid. I get that he’s pissed about the loss of so many Marines int he first game, though they seem to have padded the body count because by my reckoning, most of the Marines got out. They had plenty of warning, but your own chopper turns back to rescue a downed pilot, hence why you die. Still, even if the body count is 30 or 30,000, risking total war with Russia seems like a bad way to stoke the fires of patriotism. As anybody is well aware, Cold War or not, any large-scale confrontation between the US and Russia would still involve their nuclear arsenals, and nobody would be walking away from that fight in one piece!

And another thing, so was he working with Makarov all along or just taking advantage of the man’s actions? This is never made clear. On the one hand, it was Shepherd who assigned Allen to infiltrate their group, so Shepherd DID give them the American body that they left behind to implicate the US. But at the same time, he is openly trying to track the guy down and have him killed, but quietly so the world won’t know the entire war is based on a lie. So what is it then? A collaboration between enemies, or two equally malevolent forces that just had happened to collide?

I for one would prefer the latter interpretation because it would be a fitting commentary on the “War on Terror”. In fact, throughout the game you have quotes from Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, the ones which are notorious for being stupid or questionable, which flash across the screen when you die. In that war, we saw a neo-conservative agenda colliding with a Salafist agenda, where two mortal enemies were effectively feeding off each other to the point that some openly suggested collusion. Of course there was no real evidence to suggest such a thing, but it was interesting to note just how much George W and Osama Bin Laden benefited from each others presence.

Ah, but the biggest bone of contention with this game comes in the form of its controversy. In fact, this is such a big subtopic that it deserves its own heading…

Controversy:
For obvious reasons, the shoot-up scene involving the Moscow International Airport caused quite a stir in the gaming and consumer community. Why, many asked, was it necessary to include a scene where the player is forced to take part in what can only be described as Columbine-like behavior? I for one could not believe my eyes the first time I played this game and didn’t realize I could skip the whole thing. Who, I wondered, would actually want to play this mission? Was it really such a good idea to include it all, even if the option was there to skip it? Why not say that it happened between missions?

And would it be at all farfetched to think that some psycho person, who just happened to play the mission, might get the idea to shoot up a crowded public space? The scenes are far too visceral and real, which I found disturbing since the game makers would have had to do their homework on something like this, taking into account how crowded areas are death traps once armed men begin firing automatic weapons, how panicked crowds tend to bunch up, and how they become especially vulnerable when they all run into a bottleneck and become easy targets.

See what I mean? It’s disturbing! It’s the kind of sick freak stuff that made me seriously question the sanity of the game makers and the nature of the game itself. Some will naturally argue that it’s just a game and therefore harmless, bad taste notwithstanding. But I’d say that given the numerous mass shootings that have taken place, not just recently, but all over the US in the past decade, that this was in horrible taste and just plain risky!

Others also questioned the mentality of showing Washington DC burning, with its many monuments shown scorched and even the White House itself burning and full of holes. Personally, I didn’t see the big deal here. I mean, if we’re going to penalize this game for displaying this kind of disaster porn that we’ll have to round up Rupert Emmerich and every other movie producer who’s ever destroyed landmarks in their films. There’s a reason people like this stuff, and it’s not because they secretly fantasize about seeing them destroyed.

If anything, it lends some urgency and a sense of emotional involvement to the story by showing them how things they know and love, or at the very least are familiar with, are being overrun and must be saved. Now that’s just me and I could be wrong, but I found this aspect of the game very cool! How many games allow you to fight in realistically-rendered environments of actual places? This was something that they intensified with the third one and I appreciated it there as well!

So that’s Modern Warfare 2, in a nutshell. Great game-play, exciting and intense, but containing some questionable content. It was a good thing that they stayed away from that for the third game, at least for the most part. Granted there was plenty of violence and they still had to issue the content warning for anyone playing it for the first time, but at least there weren’t any mass shootings where you’re the bad guy and are supposed to be taking part in it! Seriously, Infinity Ward, what were you thinking? Bad software developer!

Video Game Review: The Modern Warfare Series

Morning all, or afternoon or evening as the case may be. Lousy time zones! Today, I thought I’d get back to my promise of reviewing video games by tackling a series I’ve been wanting to get into for some time. Like most geeks, and just about all guys, I am a fan of first person shooters. Not the violence for violence’s sake type that emerged en masse after the release of Doom, mind you, but the kind’s that used the platform creatively and intelligently.

Which is one thing I always liked about Call of Duty and similar franchises. During the early millennium, it was one of many WWII-era FPS games that sought to reenact history’s greatest war by giving players a first-person perspective on the whole thing. Over time, the depictions became more and more realistic, and embraced more theaters and battles that aren’t usually addressed in popular culture.

And after three incarnations of WWII, the makers naturally decided it was time to make a game that dealt with combat in the modern era, that took advantage of the all the recent developments in firearms, aerial drones, night vision, thermal vision, and other assorted high-tech devices. In short, they thought it would be cool to have players running around with the latest toys and shooting things up in an up-to-date simulation.

However, in this case, the designers also were required to come up with a modern storyline that would reflect the attitudes of today’s military planners and the situation we know find ourselves in. Unlike the other games, whatever story they came up with would be fictitious and speculative for the first time ever. And, in my humble opinion, this is where they were just the slightest bit weak. Sure, Modern Warfare 1, 2 and 3 do have some rather kick-ass gameplay and an intense storyline to them, but they aren’t exactly realistic.

To demonstrate why, let me get to the first game in the series…

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare:
Released in 2007, Modern Warfare was one of the critically acclaimed and well received games of all time. Whereas the Campaign Mode of the game (i.e. single player) was lauded for its intensity and immersive quality, it was the Multiplayer that really wowed critics and gamers alike. Unlike previous COD games, the additional features, such as the ability to call in air strikes and helicopters, as well as unlocking new weapons and types of camouflage, was entirely new.

In fact, GamePro magazine even compared the multiplayer aspect favorably to Halo 3, a franchise that was yet to be rivaled by anyone! And personally, I think gamers enjoyed the ability to play a game that features weapons and tactics they know to be current and real, and not lasers, BFG’s or antiquated weapons. But of course, there was far more to this game than just the gameplay, which I shall get into now…

Plot Synopsis:
The story is a familiar one, one which has been told many times over since the end of the Cold War. And for the sake of the game, it comes in two separate strands which invariably come together towards the end. In the first, Russia has fallen into a state of civil war with the rise of an ultra-nationalists front who are led by a former communists named Imran Zakhaev. He who wants to return Russia to its Soviet past,

In the second strand, a militant Salafist regime led by a man named Khaled Al-Asad has seized power in an unnamed Middle Eastern nation and is apparently being backed by the ultra-nationalist Russians who is sending them nukes. This is apparently a move on behalf of Imran Zakhaev to divert attention from his civil war, and its works!

Yes, this too is a familiar tale, the kind of thing that Israeli and US policymakers have nightmares about. But like I said, the identity of this nation is never specified. One minute things are taking place near Mecca, Saudi Arabia; the next, in Basra, Iraq. Yeah, not doing much to dispel the notion that all Arab nations are the same, dude!

And so the two threads unfold, with you playing as both the British SAS (Special Air Services), who are busy trying to stop the exchange of nukes. After a failed attempt to stop the shipment of one, you are sent to Russia to team up with with Loyalist forces and rescue a contact named Nikolai, a recurring figure in the MW series.

Things then switch over to the US perspective, where you are a Marine Lieutenant Vasquez who is part of the US invasion of the unnamed Middle Eastern nation. In the initial invasion, your Marine unit searches for Al-Asad in the capitol’s tv station, but is too late to retrieve him. As operations progress in the capitol, the warning comes in that Al-Asad has a nuke and is preparing to set it off. All units begin to evacuate, but your unit doesn’t make it out before the blast!

Back in Russia, the SAS manage to finally track down Al-Asad who appears to be hiding out in a safehouse in Azerbaijan. After working him over, he recieves a call from Zakhaev, and the SAS team leader, Captain Price, shoots Asad and explains who Zakhaev is. Apparently, he performed a “wetwork” mission against Zakhaev back in the early 90’s, shortly after the fall of Communism when Zakhaev was just another revisionist trying to get his hands on nuclear material in the abandoned town of Pripyat, Ukraine (outside of Chernobyl). In the course of the mission, Price managed to take down Zakhaev, but instead of delivering the fatal bullet, merely cost him an arm.

Now, years later, it is time to finish the job. With Al-Asad dead, Zakhaev and his forces have managed to seize a major Russian missile silo and are threatening to launch the nukes. When his son, whom the SAS try to seize in order to gain some leverage over him, commits suicide to avoid capture, he goes over the edge and orders the launch. At this stage in the game, you are now part of a joint operation between the US Marines and the SAS and your job is to storm the silo and input the countermand codes before the nukes reach the Eastern Seaboard.

Once that is done, you and your team begin to beat a hasty retreat and are pursued by Zakhaev’s men. The mission then ends with a tense final showdown where you are required to take out Zakhaev with a handgun while he and his men have you cornered and try to finish you off. The good ol’ Russian Loyalists then arrive on scene to medevac you and your friends to safety.

Good Points and Bad:
Like I said already, the gaming experience of this installment in the COD series is pretty badass. Picking up where COD: World at War left off, you have the ability to call in air strikes by “painting” targets with a designator, something that wasn’t available in the first three installments. Second, the use of modern weapons, from M4’s, SAW’s, M203s, RPG’s, AK’s, Flashbangs, Claymores, Suppressors, SPAS-12’s – the list goes on! – is quite cool. Not to mention the scene where you are able to take control of an AC-130 gunship, watching a theater of engagement from above through thermal scopes and be able to bombard targets with either a minigun, a bofors cannon, or a 105mm howitzer.

This idea, incorporating the latest in weapon’s technology, is something which every MW installment adds to in it’s own way, combining the speculative with the current and cutting edge. In this installment, they kind of kept it to the current and tried and true, but it was still fun. As a geek and guy, I was familiar with many of these pieces of kit already, thanks to years of reading up on them and watching TV programs about war. Being able to use them in a gaming environment was pretty sweet!

As for the weak stuff, well I’ve mentioned that already… For one, the story is a kind of predictable and tired one, one which the makers clearly knew the audience would buy into. For almost two decades now, fiction writers and amateur analysts have been saying that it’s only a matter of time before some Middle Eastern regime gets its hand on a thermonuclear device and tries to use it on Israel or US forces. And in every version of this scenario, it’s always Russia that gives it to them, mainly because it’s been theorized that the Russians are not in control of their stockpile of nukes or would be willing to sell them for cheap.

I’m bothered by the reiteration of this story for the simple reason that it’s both stupid and terribly cliched. It’s a well known fact that after the fall of the former USSR, Russia took great pains to make sure it got all its nukes back from its former allies and that those nukes are all accounted for and have been under lock and key for the past twenty years. What’s more, Russia is not run by total freaking morons. They know that if they tried to sell any nukes to a Middle Eastern country, or any regime for that matter, that they would be inviting sanctions, embargoes and even open war on themselves. In the wake of the Cold War economic collapse Russia went through and the rise of a privatized, investor-based economy, this is not something they can afford.

Also, with every spy agency in the world – the CIA, MI6, the Massad, and the KGB – and countless bodies like the UN, NATO,  and the Atomic Energy Commission watching them, no Russian general who might have access to the nuclear stockpile would ever be dumb enough to try and negotiate a private sale. No matter how much money was in it for them, they would know that to steal a Russian-made nuke would put them in the cross hairs of every “wetboy” (i.e. assassin-spy) on the planet! There would literally be no place in the world where they would be safe. What’s more, the idea that any Middle Eastern regime would become an instant threat if it got a nuke is also ridiculous.

Since 1992, Israel and the US have maintained the position that if Iran, Syria or any other Middle Eastern nation that has not signed a peace treaty with Israel got a nuke, they would attempt to use it. Just how stupid do they think Arab nations are? Israel maintains a stockpile of over 200 nukes and the US has one that numbers in the thousands. Once said Arab regime used this one nuke and took out a single city, they would be nuked several hundred times over, their country completely obliterated in the process. Does anyone really believe that any nation would be willing to watch all of its citizens die just for the sake of some measured revenge? I certainly hope not! The only reason why this notion is taken seriously at all is the fact that decades of inaccurate portrayals, propaganda and bigotry have led many people to believe that Arabs and Muslims are viscous, crazy, hateful people who’ll stop at nothing to kill Christians, Americans and Jews.

And yet, the fiction of this idea persists, mainly because it’s the only way writer’s like Tom Clancy can keep outputting spy novels in the post-Cold War era. His book Op Center was based on this very idea, of a Russian general who sells a nuke to some Middle Eastern terrorist for a small fortune. The plot of The Peacemaker was also built around this very same concept, and in the movie Broken Arrow it is openly said that anyone wanting nukes could just got to Russia, where they would “give you a half dozen for the price of a BMW”. Bullshit, man! If it’s such a plausible scenario, then why hasn’t it happened already? For the same reason that WWIII has not happened, and that is, once again, that no one is willing to risk total annihilation for the sake of politics or ideology.

But I can understand why they took this approach. Again, in the post-Cold War era, there aren’t really a lot of stories that provide the same interest and intensity as the potential for nuclear war. But it does demonstrate just how tired and unrealistic this plot device has become. And the only reason I labor the point is because it only gets more like this the longer the franchise goes. It capitalizes on the fact that the American public really doesn’t know that much about the world or its people, and are willing to believe various doomsday scenerarios because they’ve been so inundated with them by movies and fiction for so many years.

But how else are you going to create a fun and accessible WWIII scenario?  An in the end, it doesn’t take away from the awesome gaming experience that Modern Warfare truly is. Stay tuned, up next, the sequel!