SEB Reviews: Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare – PC
Published by: Activision
Developed by: Sledgehammer Games
Price: $59.99
Rating: 3 out of 5

November has arrived once more and with it comes another iteration of the Call of Duty first person shooter franchise. Given the disaster that was last year’s Call of Duty: Ghosts on the PC is there any reason to be optimistic about Advanced Warfare. As it turns out there indeed is. Activision has added a third development house to the effort in the form of Sledgehammer Games. The idea seems to be that the last few CoDs had issues because the developers (Infinity Ward and Treyarch) only had two years to develop their respective titles so by adding a third publisher they can now devote three years to development per studio and still put out a new CoD every year. In theory, having a third year should allow them to polish the game till it’s flaws are few and far between and Sledgehammer is the first studio to have three years to get it right. So do they?

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SEB Review: “Shoot ‘Em Up”

It all starts so simply: “Smith” (Clive Owen) is one bad-ass dude who is sitting at a bus stop minding his own business and enjoying a fresh carrot when a very pregnant and tearfully distraught young woman goes running by soon to be followed by a man with a gun who is obviously intent on causing her harm. At first Smith tries to ignore what he’s just seen, but, being the reluctant, bad-ass, anti-hero in an over-the-top action movie that he is, it’s not long before he sets off to stop whatever is about to happen. The woman manages to break into an abandoned building before she’s caught up to by the obvious bad guy who pulls out a knife and sneeringly says he’s about to give her a C-section, but before he can Smith intervenes and demonstrates why a carrot isn’t always good for your health.

Alas the bad guy is just the first of many, many bad guys that are chasing this poor woman who ends going into labor just as the rest of the baddies show up resulting in the first of many over-the-top scenes where Smith, now armed with a gun from the woman’s purse, shoots a lot of bad men while simultaneously trying to deliver a baby and then make their escape. The leader of the bad guys is a man named Hertz (Paul Giamatti) who is every bit as much a bad ass as Smith is, though in a more calculating fashion, and he’s out to kill both mother and child. A feat he’s partially successful at as the woman takes a bullet to the head leaving Smith to deal with a newborn baby and the mystery of just what the hell is going on.

That’s the plot in a nutshell and a nutshell is about all you’d need to hold it because there’s not a whole lot to it, but then it’s not a deep plot kind of movie. It’s a balls-to-the-wall action movie that assumes what you came to see is Clive Owen racking up a body count of enormous proportions while engaging in outrageous gun fights and spouting classic one-liners about what he hates about over-the-top action movies, and that’s exactly what you get. I wouldn’t have picked Paul Giamatti as a bad-ass villain that’s the equal to Owen’s bad-ass anti-hero, but he manages to convincingly go toe-to-toe in exchanges of quips that’s just a treat to watch.

In addition to Owen and Giamatti we’re treated to Monica Bellucci as a lactating prostitute that Smith drafts to be the baby’s surrogate mother while he tries to figure out why someone wants the poor kid dead. I’m not sure the movie was intended to be a parody, but it works very well on that level and there were plenty of scenes I found myself laughing out loud at for the sheer ridiculousness of what was happening on-screen. The movie doesn’t take itself seriously and the stars are clearly enjoying the hell out of chewing up the scenery and it all somehow works in spite of how silly it is.

The fact that Giamatti is able to track down Owen and Bellucci no matter where they run is passingly explained away as Giamatti’s natural genius in knowing how people like Owen tend to think and that’s about as close to rationalizing anything that happens on the screen as the movie gets. This means that the bad guys are always showing up at the most inopportune times. Such as one uproarious scene where they start popping up while Owen and Bellucci are in the middle of their obligatory sex scene resulting in a sequence even more over-the-top than the one where he kills tons of baddies while delivering a baby. Every time you think they can’t possibly do something more ridiculous than the last gun fight they find a way to prove you wrong.

In the end you won’t believe a minute of it and you won’t care ’cause it’s just too much fun to ignore. It’s definitely not a movie for kids as there’s plenty of blood (some of it seemingly enhanced by CGI) and tons of people dieing in painful ways. If you’re looking for something you can switch off your mind and just enjoy then this is probably just what you’re looking for.

SEB Review: “Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare”

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

So I recently found out that SEB has a few fans at Activision as I was contacted a few weeks back and asked if I would like to receive a review copy of Call of Duty 4 of my very own for the low, low cost of writing a review for it. Considering that I was likely to write a review at some point anyway I naturally jumped at the chance. Especially when taking into account that I wasn’t sure if it would be a must-buy or not. You see, I loved Call of Duty and Call of Duty 2 immensely, but I was more than a little nervous about Call of Duty 4 because of the move away from the World War II setting to modern day. Yeah I know a lot of people are sick to death of WWII as a game setting, but I’m not one of those people. To me there’s no end to the amount of joy blasting a few hundred Nazi’s away can bring after a long day at the office. Still, being a long time fan, I kept up with the previews on the game and watched all the amazing trailers and wondered if the game would live up not only to the hype, but the love I had for its predecessors. I’m happy to say that it does.

Single Player

As the subtitle in the name implies, the folks at Infinity Ward have moved the setting of the game up to the modern day with all the trappings that current warfare brings with it such as grenade launchers and night vision goggles. The single player story takes place in the middle east and parts of Russia with a hostile Arab leader staging a coup and threatening everyone else in the world with a bunch of stolen nukes he got from some Russian guy. Or something to that effect. I have to admit that I didn’t pay that much attention to the storyline because I was too busy trying to stay alive and gawking at the scenery. The upshot of it all is that some bad terrorist guy has taken over some middle eastern country with the help of some bad Russian guys which requires you to go and eliminate said bad guys to make the world safe for democracy. During the course of the game you’ll trade off between various characters in both the U.S. Marines and the British S.A.S. units as they engage in various missions to track down the newly self-appointed dictator. Unlike previous CoD games, the story line in this one is continuous from start to end with you jumping back and forth between the various characters to see it unfold from a number of different perspectives. The story itself isn’t anything particularly innovative or unique, as is probably apparent from the fact that I don’t remember most of the details, but it serves the purpose well and provides for a realistic setting for the game.

The game play itself, however, is awesome. Not much has really changed since CoD2 in terms of the mechanics, but the experience has been ramped up several fold over the previous titles. If you’ve played any of the previous games you should have little trouble jumping right into CoD4’s very intense single player experience.  Part of that intensity is thanks to the new graphics engine CoD4 sports which is full of detail, allows for tons of opponents and allies to be on screen at once, and looks absolutely gorgeous. Or at least as gorgeous as desert villages and decaying Russian cities can look. My current gaming rig is old enough that the game turned off most of the advanced options such as shadows and some of the lighting effects and ran the game at a lowly 800×600 resolution and even toned down as much as it was it still looked and played amazingly well. I can’t begin to imagine how drop dead gorgeous the game would be on a high-end gaming rig which I’ll get around to buying once I win the lotto or become famous on YouTube or something. The folks at Infinity Ward spent quite a bit of time on research to make for as accurate an experience as you can have without getting away from it being a game and it has paid off well. I’m no military expert, but there wasn’t anything in the way of actions on the part of the characters or the scenarios that didn’t seem authentic enough.

Not to say that there aren’t any changes to game mechanics as there are a few that are quite significant. For example, walls are no longer bullet sponges able to soak up an endless parade of lead with no noticeable effect and giving the enemy (and yourself for that matter) plenty of protection. Depending on the type of material the wall is made out of and the type of bullet hitting it it’s quite possible for bullets to penetrate them and do damage to whomever is standing behind them. The amount of damage is reduced according to the type of wall, but you can’t rely on ducking into a doorway to keep you safe from the hail of gunfire you’re running from any longer. Running is also a new addition as they’ve added a sprint ability allowing you to double time it for short periods. I don’t recall the previous games having that option so I believe it’s new. Also new to the mix are dogs that will chase your ass down and rip out your throat before you can say “Fido” if you’re not careful. These three things bring new complexity to the experience and make it that much more enjoyable.

The one thing about the single player that was surprising was how short it was. I managed to make my way through it all in just a couple of nights of moderate playing and I have to admit that that was a tad bit disappointing. It appears the folks at IW realized it was a bit short too as they’ve tossed in a couple of things to make replaying it a little more attractive. First there’s 30 collectible laptops spread throughout each level that you can collect to unlock some hidden feature. On my first run through I managed to find 15 of them so I don’t know yet what it unlocks, but it’ll get me to go back and play the single player again to find out. Then, once you’ve finished the single player once, it unlocks an Arcade and a Challenge mode. The former allows you to play through any single level you want to with a limited number of lives and a scoring system as though it were an actual arcade game and the latter times your run through the entire single player game so you can try to beat your best time through. These two options combined with the ability to play at harder difficulty levels should help to stretch out the single player experience to a small degree, but it’s still surprisingly short compared to the previous games.

Did I mention how good looking this game is? Because at times it can be creepy-realistic. Of particular note is the mission that takes place inside an attack helicopter at night that looks startlingly like real footage from the Iraq war. You provide air support to some ground troops moving into a village and can switch back and forth between several very large and very lethal guns as you try to take out the enemy while not hitting your own troops (whom are wearing IR strobes as their only identifier) and while avoiding damaging a church because that would be, well, wrong I suppose. Didn’t stop me from taking a few potshots at it, but all that did was end the mission instantly. The entire thing is presented in a black and white simulation of the infrared displays used in actual attack choppers and makes for some very believable moments. The same effect happens whenever you switch on your night vision goggles as the sudden reduction in detail emphasizes the motion capture of the characters making them seem even more real. The fact that you can see the lasers from everyone’s laser sights with the NV goggles helps to make it even more intense. Sound is also well done in this game with every gun making the appropriate noises as you’d expect, but also with the thud of bullets hitting dirt and wood and cement along with all the yelling that takes place in a real battle. The sound design alone is worthy of an award or two for giving you a few damn-near-pissed-myself moments. Again a particular stand out is the radio chatter that takes place during the attack helicopter sequence which sounds like it could’ve been taken right from a FOX News report.

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SEB Review: “If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor”

If Chins Could Kill is the autobiography of one of my favorite actors, Bruce Campbell, who’s one of those actors who never seem to rise above having a cult following. Mention his name to most folks and you’re likely to get a perplexed look followed by, “Bruce who?”

“Campbell, dammit! Bruce Friggin’ Campbell! You know, Ash? From the Evil Dead movies? How about his stint as Brisco County Jr.? OK, how about Autolycus from Xena: Warrior Princess?? No?? WTF, dude??

That’s OK. Just means that those of us who do know of him and count ourselves as fans can enjoy him all to ourselves, you philistines!”

Anyway, this book, as I said, is his autobiography and it chronicles his rise to, well, cult-stardom from his humble beginnings right here in Michigan all the way up through his time touring around promoting If Chins Could Kill. How is that possible you ask? This is a second printing of the book and he added a bit on the end about the tour.

If you’re a fan, and especially if you’re only a casual fan, then you’ll want to pick up this book. Watching interviews with Bruce in the past I’ve always been struck with how he comes across as your pretty regular Joe who enjoys the fact that he’s never had to go out and get a “real” job, so to speak, and that same tone comes across in his autobiography. Bruce is the definition of the “working actor” in that he’s not so much interested in becoming a big box office name (much to the frustration of his agent) as much as making some pretty cool movies and TV shows. In addition to acting he’s taken turns as producer, director, and whatever-the-hell-needs-to-be-done guy.

As it turns out, this book will be worthwhile to fans of Sam Raimi, Ted Raimi, Rob Tapert, the Cohen Brothers, and any of a number of other people that Bruce made the trek out to Hollywood with because it’s really the story about how all of them got their careers underway. Bruce, Sam, Ted, and Rob have worked as a team on all manner of projects ever since the first Evil Dead film with Sam turning into a director with considerable clout after helming two record breaking film adaptations of Spider-Man. By and large they still work as a team even now that Sam’s a big shot director and there’s hardly a Sam Raimi film made that Bruce hasn’t done at least a cameo in. Ted Raimi also shows up in just about every project any of them have worked on. As a whole they brought a little bit of Michigan to Hollywood and they have a very Midwestern way of getting things done. Definitely a worthwhile read.