Cult of Call Of Duty: A Franchise For The Unhinged?

N-Gage_Call_Of_Duty_logo_hi_psd_jpgcopyAs Activision start getting ready to dish out this year’s Sledgehammer Games flavoured Kool-Aid to their millions of quick scoping, rage quitting, energy drinking, stupid glasses wearing, jerky eating, modded controller wielding fundamentalists. It felt like a good time to have a deeper look at phenomenon that is Call of Duty and the lengths that the most ardent players will go to for the highest K/D ratio.

Call of Duty started life on PC back in 2003. Created by the now much diminished Infinity Ward, the original title and its expansion by Gray Matter Interactive; United Offensive, had a heart and soul that has been M.I.A since the first Modern Warfare. With most of the team coming from the once great Medal of Honor franchise, the first game, and the second numbered entry had a gravitas that can only be found by being based on the real world horrors of the Second World War.

1, 2 and 3 came over as an opus to the truly heroic and courageous men from all sides of the war…. Hell, even the Russians who are increasingly used as the go-to bad guys had a starring role. Sure, the chisel jawed American GI’s played a part as did the pithy Brits but they were not alone in their valorous endeavours. Polish, Canadian, French and Dutch all played a major part in the campaigns for the first 3 games, and the campaigns were all the better for it.

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I’m not going to go on about what has happened to the franchise since those heady days, the people that care will already know, and those who don’t wouldn’t be interested. Call of Duty, just think about those words and try to forget the games for a minute. The fact that they still use the name has become an insult to the games that came before and, more importantly the people and ideals the first few entries originally venerated. Team America saves the world really has been done to death now, the franchise if rife with cheese, plastic American cheese that comes in a squirty can, super-sized.

Much has been written about the declining stands of the games, and with each new instalment the complaints get louder, even from their dedicated fan-base. Believe me having played all of the games to date I truly understand these complaints. I hated COD Ghosts and, once I completed the campaign and had my fill of multiplayer after 10 or so hours, I haven’t touched it again. But the fans, oh the fans, instead of just not playing it and perhaps giving Activision pause for thought as the online numbers dwindle, they continue to play it! Sure, making constant YouTube videos about why it’s so bad for their 5 viewers, but they just can’t seem to kick the habit, if that’s not addiction I don’t know what is.

Whilst they might not be mugging grannies for their pension money just yet, being a follower of the Call of Duty fashion is becoming increasingly expensive. With the explosion of so called E-Sports and the Beetle mania that surrounds the “top” players, the faithful have to spend a pretty penny to emulate their generally foul mouthed, rather obnoxious idols. With modded controllers that give them an advantage over the everyday COD player like you and me, costing upwards of £100, that’s knocking on for £200 by the time you’ve got the game, the increasingly bizarre maps and expansions, not forgetting subscription fees for wherever you game. This is just the beginning of the craziness.

With pro-players being endorsed by just about everything from controllers, energy drinks, fancy sunglasses, headsets, snack bars and even beef jerky. Businesses are cropping up left right and centre to push unnecessary twaddle on the millions of players whose brains must surely be lacking some vital components to be taken in by such blatantly unnecessary cash consuming crap.

 

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Whilst the controllers might actually give the zealots some actual gaming advantage the same cannot be said for everything else. Nearly £100 for a set of glorified sunglasses that you can pick up from your local £1 shop is mind boggling. Supposedly used to reduce eye-strain, there is of course a free alternative, put your controller down and step into the real world for 15 minutes every hour, controversial I know but it really works!

Fruity caffeine laced drinks that cost £1 a pop, but don’t forget the special £10 drinks bottle so that the two people watching your Twitch stream know that you only drink the best! Hungry? How about one of the vilest culinary inventions ever known to man? It tastes like shit but all the cool kids eat Jerky. There is no limit to the way that clever businessmen will make money from simple minded fools.

From the Koresh like Kotick, leading his flock to rapture every November, to the other business men and women who peddle their wares to the unthinking masses rubbing their hands with glee. Call of Duty is undoubtedly a billion dollar franchise, but it’s everyone who is earning millions on the periphery who are laughing all the way to the bank. Year after year internet prophets predict the demise of Call of Duty, and yet like some vast behemoth, incapable of correcting its course it thunders on, sweeping up a new crop of weak minded noobs, fresh fodder for the capitalist kingpins who mastermind this great machine.

Call of Duty died a long time ago in my eyes, and for the first time since the series began I won’t be buying this year’s entry or any others in its undoubtable long future that lies ahead. It’s time to let it go, let it rest in peace. I’ll be re-watching Band of Brothers this November instead of playing a rehashed 8 hour campaign, and instead of stumping up cash for map packs I will only play for a few hours I’ll be donating to Help for Heroes.

 

Mario Kart 8 Review

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Publisher: Nintendo Developer: Nintendo

Platform: Wii U

Nintendo’s financial woes and marketing failure of the Wii U have been well documented, but at time of writing the console has received a 666% sales boost because of the release of Mario Kart 8! Some might say that Nintendo turned to the Devil for this turnaround, the same Devil that allows you get hit by three red shells just before you cross the finish line. Fortunately, this is the kind of jerky review that points out that 666 is not the original number of the Devil and it’s actually 616, so you can rest assured that the Wii U you bought (probably this week) is not evil. The point is; a lot more people have a Wii U now because of this game, and they would all feel pretty stupid if Mario Kart 8 had come out and sucked.

Well it’s a good thing it doesn’t suck then! For the initiated, it’s another Mario Kart, and that’s probably all you need to know. Only this time there’s mostly gimmicky but still exciting anti-gravity tracks in it that twist the tracks around and let you drive up walls and stuff. It also feels great, it runs at 60 frames per second in 1080p, the weapons have been rebalanced a bit, they brought back the coins system so the game can punish for getting hit without taking your weapon away which really sucked in Mario Kart Wii. The online matchmaking is a little thin, and you’ll probably end up watching another race for a few minutes before you actually get to play one, but when you actually get into a race it runs smooth and good times will follow. It also still has Moo Moo Meadows in it, yea I bet you love Moo Moo Meadows you sick freak.

MK8_201402_04So that’s you guys covered, if you already like Mario Kart and have a Wii U there’s nothing anyone can say to stop you buying Mario Kart 8 even if it did suck. You can close this tab right now and go play your videogame and have a gay ol’ time.

Are they gone? Alright, by now I should be left with the slightly less hardcore Nintendo fans who might actually be interested in what someone has to say about Mario Kart 8. If you’re still reading this I’d guess you own at least one book and probably go no longer than three months between haircuts. While we’re all here, let’s talk about the philosophy behind Mario Kart for a little bit.

Mario Kart is a game that punishes you for succeeding at it and rewards you for failing. Say what you will, but rocking a track on Mario Kart 8 in 1st place for the majority of the time will reward you with no action happening on the screen and item boxes will only give you bananas and coins and other boring stuff that makes you wish you had just got nothing at all. Meanwhile, at the back of the pack all the noobs will be crashing into each other, getting Bullet Bill pickups and Golden Mushrooms and other such goodies.

The nature of the items that you get while near the back of the pack have always intrigued me. Of course there’s the infamous Blue Shell, which will crash along the track and unavoidably explode the player in first place. And there’s the one that really gets me, the lightning cloud that shrinks and slows down every other racer on the track. The ideas behind this seem to be that if you suck at the game or aren’t doing well then the best way for the game to make up for this is to allow you the opportunity to screw over as many of the other players as possible. If this isn’t making you cringe yet, I’ll add that this is the exact sort of design philosophy that made them put tripping into Super Smash Bros. Brawl.

MK8_201402_01The theory seems to be that Mario Kart 8 always expects a specific amount of fun to be had, but this fun is constantly divided up and split between the players regardless of skill or how much they actually care. Trailing along at 10-12th place the entire time is no fun at all for a lot of people, so Nintendo’s solution is to build a game where the person in last place is always in a position where they can irritate the person in first place. What Nintendo want to happen is have a game where the entire pack of players are constantly changing position or “rubber-banding”, so most players will get the thrill of being in first place and being under pressure as well as experiencing the chase from the back of the pack. It’s not necessarily a terrible idea, but it undermines any sense of finesse or skill that could be applied to Mario Kart 8, and whenever you do that in a videogame it’s particularly guaranteed to lead to frustration every now and then.

Just in case you’re confused, I just wasted three paragraphs and potentially a couple of minutes of your life explaining that Mario Kart 8 is a party game and not a competitive one. Specifically the kind of party game that feels like it would be too much of a shame for anyone to be left out. Not that I want to start sounding like some socialism-fearing American right-winger, but when you start spreading the fun in this fashion you put a limit on the fun that one individual can have.

For example, when I’m running through the single player Grand Prix events to unlock stuff and learn the tracks, I can’t help but be annoyed that I have to perfect all the events on 50cc as well. Gosh darn it Nintendo, it’s Mario Kart 8, and you already suckered all the newbies in with motion controls on the Wii version, stop making everyone play on 50cc. I basically have to do it first because jumping straight to 100cc or 150cc first then ducking to the slower mode would feel so gross I’d probably puke all over my nice new gamepad screen. At least this would probably set off the touch screen horn so there would be a comedy sound effect to accompany it.

MK8_201402_02A lot of people will defend Mario Kart 8 for a lot of the things I’ve been talking about. They are after all, definitely deliberate choices on Nintendo’s part and not just bad (and absolutely not lazy) design. Mario Kart 8 is multiplayer focused, and getting screwed over by a red shell seconds before you win is great banter for a party situation with friends. But then again, it still happens when you’re playing the game stag and are being expected to get 1st place on every course for full completion…and in this context it’s just frustrating.

Don’t take this review as a dismissal of Mario Kart 8 or anything other than a recommendation. It’ll need more time to settle into my system, but in all honesty this could be my personal favourite Mario Kart yet; it is a perfectly polished piece of entertainment that knows its target audience and caters to it. I just can’t shake the feeling that I could be having more fun with it than I am, and so could a lot more of its hardcore followers. A lot of Nintendo products are being harmed by their pre-tense to create something that grandma and your little cousin who chews the wallpaper can play with you…when the vast majority of Mario Kart 8’s players just want to play a great racing game with their friends.

I wouldn’t worry about it though, it’s still got Moo Moo Meadows so every thing’s cool.

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