Battlefield 3(60)

The mediocre single player campaign in Battlefield 3 didn’t put off a number of gamers over the weekend who picked up a copy of the game. I’d imagine the reason for this was because very few of those early adopters give two hoots about solo play and were keen to kick some arse online. With marginally more robust service and arguably greater number of shooter fans, the Xbox 360 version dominated UK retail sales gobbling 53 per cent of the delicious money pie. But those players weren’t too pleased when the servers crapped out forcing them to experience the weakest part of Battlefield 3, the single player mode. That is if they felt like sticking with it at all. Not the best start for EA and their desperate (and a little one-sided) battle with Activision to be publisher of the greatest FPS. Still, the sales were positive and from what I hear, all is well when trying to get online so give it a few days and all will be forgotten. Though it does make the online pass packed with nearly all games seem a little ironic.

Interestingly enough, one of the biggest games this year may have sold the best on the Xbox 360 but it’s Sony that is selling more consoles in the European territory. So far, the PS3 has sold around 3.5 million units whereas both Xbox 360 and Wii are hovering at the 2 million mark. Does that mean these kinds of games are more profitable on the Xbox 360? The figures to suggest that’s where publishers should maybe focus their attention when doing timed exclusive DLC – a practice becoming more and more common. Microsoft were smart enough to snatch up all of the Call of Duty DLC packs first until 2012 but Sony are offering patrons the chance to download all the Battlefield 3 DLC a week earlier than the Xbox 360 and PC. In contrast, the fact that Battlefield 3 sold better on Microsoft’s format may also suggest gamers are getting tired of such exclusivity deals and will buy a game for whatever they feel most comfortable on.

Co-op effect

Mass Effect 3

So it’s finally official, Mass Effect 3 is to include a multiplayer mode. When the news first broke yesterday, no one quite knew what the details of this mode and naturally the fears of a compromised single player campaign floated to the top of the internet. After all, it has been said that ME3 will be the most accessible for newcomers or a wider gaming audience and tacking on a multiplayer mode would certainly help this. But before things got out of hand, BioWare forum aficionado Chris Priestly posted on the official site that the multiplayer component will actually be a co-operative mode, mostly separate from the campaign. I say mostly because, as Priestly stresses, the new addition is designed to compliment the campaign not withhold content to solo only players. The better you do in co-op, the higher Commander Shepard’s ‘galactic readiness’ stats go up but you can just as easily do this on your own in the campaign.

Good news then. If you want Mass Effect 3 to be a one player only game then you can have just that. And the development hasn’t been affected either. A new studio was formed in Montreal to take care of all things multiplayer while the folks at Edmonton got on with the main game. Remember that infamous job posting from June last year? This is the result.

The co-op mode will allow up to four players to, well, all that’s been said so far is fight in what’s being called the Galaxy at War System, influencing Shepard’s stats as they do so. Sounds like it could very well be a horde equivalent which would fit within the concept of Mass Effect. And if it is to be as minimally intrusive to single player as BioWare promises, a horde mode that doesn’t necessarily need much narrative feels right. What the co-op will also do is introduce a brand new set of characters to develop because Shepard is exclusive to the campaign and his story ends with Mass Effect 3. But the franchise will not. Bringing in new characters that players can directly interact with is a great way of bridging future Shepard-less titles. And why no deathmatch or usual multiplayer modes? Because that would be stupid.

More details will be coming soon but at least the will they won’t they saga of Mass Effect‘s multiplayer has come to an end that shouldn’t be offensive to anyone. Well, here’s hoping.

Battlefield, dull? You’re just not playing the right bits…

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I haven’t been one of the lucky few who have got their hands on an almost complete version of Battlefield 3 but have read a number of posts from those who have over the weekend. So how’s it looking as a usurper to the Call of Duty thrown? Well opinions will always be divided on which is the better game but B3 to me has lost foothold in their climb to the top by having what a lot of people are calling a dull single player campaign.

But how can this be when the multiplayer looks and plays so very promising? As did the gameplay videos EA have touted in various trade shows and conferences this year. Kotaku asked executive producer Patrick Bach the same thing and was told

“To be honest, a big part of what single-player in Battlefield is is a tutorial for multiplayer, quickly adding “It’s not a training mission, it’s not a shooting range—it’s an emotional roller-coaster at the same time as it shows you all the bits and pieces of the game. It’s a great introduction for the multiplayer. Because when you go into multiplayer for the first time, it’s very dry, it’s very ‘Here I am, with my gun, what do I do?’ While single-player brings you more on a journey.”

The Call of Duty franchise is equally guilty of this and despite the added narrative and Easter eggs in Black Ops, it felt the most like a free-flowing shooting gallery. However, according to the previews, so does Battlefield 3 only it sounds as if there’s even less personality to it. But does that even matter? The vast majority of gamers who will buy either of thins year’s big military shooters won’t touch the single player component and dive head first into multiplayer. They don’t need or want a tutorial for online play and will most probably find both games to be the most fun they’ve had since the previous title so a weak campaign isn’t really a big deal. Plus Battlefield has always been a multiplayer-focused game and it was the Bad Company series that introduced a grand storyline to follow. Personally I fall into the minority with shooters as I tend not to play a lot online preferring to fight on my own. So a good campaign is more important to me and it sounds as if, once again, I’m going to be a little disappointed.

That’s fine, these games aren’t made for me, they’re made for the millions of competitive multiplayer fans charging across Xbox Live, PSN and PCs every day. I had hoped that the direction which EA appeared to be taking the series in was to be an all-encompassing FPS, combining a Bad Company campaign with traditional Battlefield online battles but the latest buzz from The Guardian paper is that Bad Company may make a comeback after all. I also hoped that all the trash talking from Jeff Brown towards Activision would actually mean something and EA would release a game superior to Modern Warfare 3 in every way. I get the impression that in reality we’ll be getting something that fall short in all the same ways Call of Duty does.

EA’s mass tweaking

After the news that Mass Effect 3 will be delayed until next year and to coincide with the release, a handheld/mobile version is also in the works, EA boss John Riccitiello spoke to investors yesterday (via Eurogamer) about the franchise and his plans for the third game. Some may interpret it as dumbing down and others opening up Mass Effect 3 but either way, I’m not sure what to make of it: “One of the things that Ray Muzyuka and the team up in Edmonton have done is essentially step-by-step adjust the gameplay mechanics and some of the features that you’ll see at E3 to put this in a genre equivalent to shooter-meets-RPG and essentially address a much larger market opportunity than Mass Effect 1 and Mass Effect 2 began to approach.”

Considering Mass Effect 3 is supposed to end the trilogy for Shepard, trying to broaden the franchise to a larger audience seems a little odd. I guess a lot more people will potentially by the game regardless if there are anymore to come. Like Mass Effect 2 on the PS3, it’s said to come with a digital summary of the previous two games so you don’t necessarily need to play them to get the full story. But you’ll be greatly missing out if you don’t. It’s hard to imagine what else can be done in order to tweak it even more to the genre of RPG shooter since Mass Effect 2 tread the lines between the two blurring them as it went along.

One thought is that Mass Effect 3 will include a multiplayer component, often denied by BioWare but with EA hungry for the Call of Duty pie, anything is possible. Another idea could be the inclusion of motion controls by means of Kinect and PS Move but where would that leave PC gamers? Depending on how it could be implemented, they may not even want motion controls. EA has previously spoke of a desire to have some kind of connected experience in all future games with Frank Gibeau saying how the publisher’s job is to ‘inspire’ developers to “edit and tweak [their creative vision] so it’s a bigger commercial opportunity.” Sounds familiar huh? Who knows, maybe Facebook integration will be a part of Mass Effect 3 but without any more details, we’ll just have to wait until E3 when EA will reveal how they plan to extend (or insult) the franchise.

Randy’s solo campaign

Publishers are forcing developers to waste time on multiplayer modes just to plump up a game’s feature set believes Gearbox Software’s Randy Pitchford, who criticised the practise to Edge yesterday. He states how there’s an obsession within the industry to keep up with the blockbuster releases like Call of Duty instead of treating each game differently depending on their content.

“Let’s forget about what the actual promise of a game is and whether it’s suited to a narrative or competitive experience,” he said. “Take that off the table for a minute and just think about the concept-free feature list: campaign, co-op, how many players? How many guns? How long is the campaign? When you boil it down to that, you take the ability to make good decisions out of the picture. And the reason they do it is because they notice that the biggest blockbusters offer a little bit for every kind of consumer. You have people that want co-op and competitive, and players who want to immerse themselves in deep fiction. But the concept has to speak to that automatically; it can’t be forced. That’s the problem.”

Call of Duty, particularly Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops, may well be the driving force behind a lot of eager publishers nowadays but a forced multiplayer mode is something that’s affected game’s throughout this generation. In the early days of the Xbox 360, The Darkness was an FPS that featured a beloved single player campaign and awkward multiplayer due to this need for online action. Some critics even verbally shook their fists at BioShock because it neglected multiplayer functionality which no doubt brought about the inclusion of one to the second game.

But Pitchford does understand why publishers decide to learn on developers for multiplayer content, casting aside the artistic integrity. It’s because games are a business. Research data suggests adding more features to your game will boost sales and unfortunately review scores. I say unfortunately because to me, if you have a great single player campaign then anything in addition to that is a bonus not a necessity to get say a nine instead of an eight out of ten. A good example that Pitchford uses is the Dead Space series whose first game was purely a solo affair yet the sequel was not: ”It’s ceiling-limited; it’ll never do 20 million units. The best imaginable is a peak of four or five million units if everything works perfectly in your favour. So the bean counters go: ‘How do I get a higher ceiling?’ And they look at games that have multiplayer. They’re wrong, of course. What they should do instead is say that they’re comfortable with the ceiling, and get as close to the ceiling as possible. Put in whatever investment’s required to focus it on what the promise is all about.”

It’s interesting that Pitchford used EA’s Dead Space as it was the same title website Develop used when speaking to EA Games label president Frank Gibeau. He said the company are working towards making their game ‘better connected’ with things like co-op or multiplayer modes. Develop proposed that Dead Space had neither and worked fine with Gibeau and the PR manager clarifying how their studios won’t be forced to include these features but instead educated on how to do so. Like the possibility of Facebook or Twitter interactivity. However even those seemingly harmless additions would take up developers’ time and resources. It’s a debate which will continue for a while yet I’d imagine.

Short is the new long

One of the first reviews for THQ’s Homefront has come out revealing how its single player campaign clocks in at around five hours long. Before you could say “lets not chastise a game before we’ve personally had a chance to play it,” it seems some members of the internet have proclaimed this to be unforgivable. But PSM3 who wrote the review stated the relatively short length wasn’t something they were particularly fussed about and the annoyance was because they had such a good time with it, not because the reviewer felt Homefront was lacking in anyway or that it wasn’t long enough.

An acceptable game length is and always will be an often debated topic but shorter experiences shouldn’t always be thought of as such a bad thing. If you finish a game feeling like you had a fantastic time with every minute used to entertain, then five hours of said fun seems perfectly acceptable. I can’t personally speak about Homefront but everything I hear about the game suggests the single player is incredibly powerful with a deep and sometimes disturbing storyline. PSM3 said: Homefront is relentlessly brutal and constantly puts you in new, unusual and memorable scenarios, varying the pace to keep things interesting.” And that sounds pretty interesting to me.

The other option for developers who aren’t confident enough to release a game with a shorter campaign is to unnecessarily lengthen the scenarios, adding pointless turret and vehicular missions or even forcing players to back-track just so the experience feels more like eight to ten hours instead of five. I’ve played my fair share of these games and frankly don’t like them with too many never being completed. From the increasing evidence gained by publishers and developers, I’m not alone. Teams are revealing how only a certain percentage of people who buy their games actually finish them the most famous of these being Mass Effect 2. Only 50 per cent of players got to see the ending. Now while a plethora of reasons can be behind consumers not finishing games, length is undoubtably a factor. The longer it is, the harder it is to find time for it especially with all the new releases coming out every week.

I’m not advocating shorter experiences for every type of genre nor am I suggesting that people shouldn’t question just why they’re spending around £40 for less than a afternoon’s worth of gameplay but everything needs to be looked at in perspective and each game’s length is unique to the experience. Re-playability helps tremendously and in the case of Homefront, its multiplayer modes are getting just as much praise as the short but loved single player campaign.

Bulletstorm demo in Crysis on XBL

A couple of demos have showed up on Xbox Live, one of them expected, the other I had no idea about. So imagine the gleeful surprise when I checked Xbox.com a few minutes ago and found not only the Bulletstorm demo but an 360-exclusive Crysis 2 multiplayer beta. Expect to a bit of a wait and almost 3GB of space disappear off your HDD however but neither games run on engines that scrimp on graphics. But hey, I can live with that for gorgeous visuals. The write up for Crysis 2 states “The next big leap in multiplayer gives you nearly unlimited ways to approach the dynamic combat environment,” or in other words, “bye bye social life, hello frag-fest.”

For Bulletstorm, you’ll play through the Collapsed Building level in Echo mode, comparing your scores and skillshots to those on your friends list. In order to nab those all important rights to brag among friends, kill the enemy as creatively as you can. I’m up for that! Though it’ll sadly not be for a good few hours yet. The demo comes to the PlayStation 3 tomorrow.

Add the Bulletstorm demo to your download queue from here or the Crysis 2 beta here.