Today’s Play: Modern Overlord Warfare

Today I started a relatively old game that I’d still not played, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, and a new game that I don’t yet have, Overlord 2 (I played the demo).  Click through for details.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

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I’ve had CoD4 for a while now but not played it, I think in part because the game has become so heavily associated with its strong multiplayer component that I’d overlooked its potential as a single-player game.  With the Modern Warfare 2 developers apparently thinking the game can stand on its own and dropping the Call of Duty part of its name, as well as having an excellent trailer at the Microsoft E3 press conference, it seemed like a good time to give it a try.

Not long after starting the game’s training mission you’re introduced to the SAS’ Captain Price, voiced by veteran British actor Billy Murray, most notable in the UK for TV roles in The Bill and Eastenders.  Neither role is particularly heroic, but hopefully that isn’t an indicator of the direction his character will take in this game.

The training starts off with a weapons range, introducing you to basic gun commands and behaviour (like being able to shoot through thin walls).  The next is a typical target challenge, where you shimmy down a rope and proceed from room to room, taking out targets as you do and throwing flashbangs when prompted, with the time you take being used as a recommendation for the difficulty you should play on.

It’s very short and would probably take new players somewhere between thirty and forty seconds.  When you’re done though it tells you that Infinity Ward’s current best is 15.1 seconds and there’s an achievement for doing it within 20, which was too tempting for me to not retry it a little.  This quickly turned into retrying it a lot, as I was either fast but just not accurate enough to get the bonus that would put my time within 20, or accurate but not fast enough, often making one little mistake (missing a shot, getting stuck on a wall) that put me over. In the end I managed it in 19.5 seconds (thanks to a 1.2 accuracy bonus), which was more than enough for me.  Doing it within twenty seconds recommends you for Veteran difficulty, but considering the effort it took to succeed at that speed against wooden targets that can’t fight back I decided that I was happy sticking with regular.

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The first real level has you land on a big cargo ship in the ocean to retrieve something.  The level moves fast and feels like you’re having to keep up with the squad (in a good way) rather than go off on your own, though I don’t think many events actually trigger until you’re there.  After discovering a nuke onboard you’re ordered to grab the manifest, but as you start heading back out there’s an explosion and the ship begins to sink, leading to a race to escape in time.  It ends with a big first-person leap onto the chopper (I’m not sure the game ever strays from its chosen perspective), with Price pulling you up into the helicopter.  You fly off just as the ship disappears into the sea.

All in all I think it’s a great first level.  The squad keeps you moving at a good pace and are there to help out and stop you getting bogged down, it’s brief and ends dramatically.

The next level takes place far away from the cargo ship, beginning with a cutscene from the point of view of a hostage, stuffed in a car and driven away.  The drive through the city sets the scene, with people being gunned down or apprehended, helicopters in the sky, and somebody ranting over the radio about his rise to power.  It ends when the hostage is tied to a stake and publicly executed, with a subsequent reveal identifying him as the former ruler of the country.

Then the second mission begins as the SAS attempt to rescue an important informant with potentially vital info.  Continuing to keep things interesting, it starts with a brief sneaky infiltration (though it doesn’t force you to be stealthy or fail the mission), then has a sniping sequence.  Your first goal is to take out two machine-gunners in a nearby building who are proving troublesome for your allies.

I killed one easily but the other was out of sight behind a wall, with only the tip of his gun visible, and I started trying to figure out a way to get to a better vantage point.  I’ve apparently been fairly heavily programmed by years of other FPS games because I forgot that you can shoot through thin walls (despite it not even being a hour since I was told you can do so), and assumed that because he was behind a wall he was completely untouchable.  Price soon reminded me though.

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It was at this point that I made the mistake of looking at the achievements again.  Now, as you can probably see by my gamercard that’s on every page of this blog, I do have quite a bit of gamerscore (though not when compared to actual achievement chasers).  It’s not really from achievement chasing, because in general I prefer to just play through rather than construct my play around earning the maximum achievements, but I don’t consider achievements meaningless either.  If I know there are achievements for doing certain things (killing streaks, finding collectibles, using weapons in particular ways etc.) then I’ll usually try to do it.

With CoD4 I noticed a couple of achievements – specifically the ones for four head shots in a row, three knife kills in a row, and stabbing a crawling enemy – and decided to try and earn them.  I started with the knife one, which lead to me rushing at the enemy and unsurprisingly getting killed a lot.

After a few unnecessary deaths I decided that the open battlefield wasn’t a great level to be achievement chasing, and continued on with the mission instead.  That was almost the end of the level anyway, so the informant was swiftly rescued.  He immediately asks about the American assault on a city (the one from the level’s opening cutscene), which Price says hasn’t started yet.  The informant says that the US attack is doomed to fail and…

…the next level you’re the US, which should be interesting.

The second level was another good one, mixing things up again to introduce different tactics and hinting at the larger story.  It was at this point though that my download of the Overlord 2 demo finished, so I switched to that.

Overlord 2

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I enjoyed the first Overlord.  Apparently so did lots of people, because it sold well enough to get not just a sequel with Overlord 2 but also a slightly less mature Wii spin-off, Overlord: Dark Legend, and a DS puzzle game, Overlord: Minions, all releasing in June.  The first game wasn’t perfect, with the gameplay never really fulfilling its evil promise (the “heroes” you fought were all modelled after the seven deadly sins) and had a few issues with minions getting stuck on the environment, and the lack of a map made it difficult to navigate the world.

(Incidentally, from the very first loading screen the game let me know that at least one of those issues shouldn’t be a problem here.  The tip said: “Don’t worry about lost minions – they will automatically return to the spawning pit”.  Good to know.)

The demo starts with a similar intro to that of the original game.  The minions (led by the Overlord’s advisor, Gnarl) awaken a slumbering overlord in the hope that he can save the day for the evil folk.  Gnarl explains that the area is dominated by a glorious, good empire that has made life wonderful for its citizens and rough for its enemies (which includes anybody evil).  Gnarl says it’s time for evil to come back, and that even with its current difficulties, “Evil finds a way”.

I believe (and brief flashes in the demo’s trailer seem to support this) that in the full game you start as the young overlord – the “Overlad” – before growing into the traditional Overlord.  The demo seems to skip this part for a separate tutorial that does everything the Overlad tutorial likely would have done, so maybe I’m mistaken and the Overlad sequence is part of the Wii game.  Anyway, you start the demo as the fully-grown Overlord, who looks even brawnier than his counterpart in the first game, very broad of shoulder.

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The controls are roughly the same as the first game’s.  A key refinement is that the right stick can be used to rotate the camera now, whereas in the first game the right stick was exclusively used to move your group of minions (you used to have to hold LB to manipulate the camera).  In Overlord 2 moving the stick left or right turns the camera, while pushing forward enters the minion control mode.

Everything else is roughly the same.  The game still functions as a meld of Fable‘s third-person adventuring (and with the same gentle mocking of fantasy tropes), Dungeon Keeper’s “it’s good to be evil” attitude and Pikmin’s puzzle/strategy control system for large groups of followers.  There’s no map that you can access in the demo (at least that I could find), but there is a minimap with an objective marker pointing you in the right direction, which is a definite help.

The tutorial first has you beat up a cyclopian yeti, who doesn’t seem able to hurt your minions at this point.  He quickly runs off and pursuing him forms the framework of the tutorial, while introducing you to all the key concepts.  Soon you’re clubbing cute little seals for lifeforce (which gives you additional minions but probably loses you points with PETA), learning to control minions to access areas the Overlord can’t reach and destroying enemy spawn points.  The demo only has brown minions (the warriors), who can still equip items scavenged from enemies or containers.  They can also ride wolves in the demo, and before long the whole group should be mounted.

The first proper enemies you meet are dwarves speaking in traditionally thick Scottish accents, but towards the end of the demo you meet the elves.  They’re an exaggerated version of most fantasy elves, protesting your treatment of the cute seal cubs, waving their arms dramatically, speaking like hippies and seeming to leap and somersault randomly as they move (which reminded me of World of Warcraft).

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The demo ends with a battle with the yeti and the elves (who can’t stand to see you harming such a noble beast).  When you’re victorious the elves flee on their ship and tempt the yeti to join them.  I expected the yeti was going to prove too heavy or something and sink the boat, but it just sailed away, full of elves, seals and the yeti.  That’s where the demo ends.

In closing then, I enjoyed the demo.  It essentially plays like the first game but improved (which is admittedly the minimum you would expect from a sequel) and reminded me why I liked the original.  I’m looking forward to the game, and if the spin-offs review well then I could end up buying the game for the 360, Wii and DS (in fact the Wii version is already pre-ordered for my nephew’s birthday), but we’ll have to wait and see on that.

The main menu of the demo has a “Split Screen” section that rather intrigued me, but it’s only accessible in the full game.  It’s probably just the same as in the original game – some mini competitive and co-op modes – but it would be great to discover that it has a co-operative mode that I’ve somehow managed to avoid reading about.  I’m not hopeful though.

Image Sources:

CoD4 Stormy – Loot Ninja

CoD4 Nightvision – Everything Alamaba: TECHcetera

CoD4 Captain Price – Rock, Paper, Shotgun

O2 Wolf Riders – The “Break it Down” Blog

O2 Overlord – Press Start to Begin

O2 Yeti – Sudden Link

COD4 Beta Glitch Brings Microsoft Bannings

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