Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Portal - Swarth (review)

South of Heaven

I never knew that the down under was really down under. When the country of Australia who recently released a censored version of Left 4 Dead 2 with all the visceral visual elements mostly nonexistant, you would think they would be all goody two shoes on trying to censor more things like death metal. Luckily it hasn't happened and might never at all. It's appreciative that there are bands oceans apart from their big continent counterparts who love the craft. Portal being the most common recently with just providing a sound that feels like the fantasy iteration of Satan arrived on Earth and is fucking dirty and sludgy.

In a simplistic sense, it's death metal. Beyond the understanding of what they are trying to show the listener of what they want to do, it's what they actually do in Swarth which is the most intriguing. Someone who even just listens to Cannibal Corpse at the least will think of this as noise due to it's almost early Bolt Thrower sound that seems to be intentionally clouded to the max. If you listen to a minute of a song through a computer speaker and hate it, then there is a problem. Just get a good set of headphones and try to pay attention to how it's structured and the unity of the group's playstyle. It becomes easier at that point.

There is no clarity but there is subtlty to the songs. Guitars buzz with no signs of compression but excells in creating many fast and heavy grooves that can make the legends jealous. It feels like a constant wall of noise to where only the people who want to digest will appreciate it. The rhythm of both guitarists and the bassist's styles have no bounds and will devise any type of weird yet cool riff to create pure cacaphony. This is complimented by the drums which further make the evil sound more terryfying. Blast beats galore on the title track but it's unpredictable to which type of move will Ignis Fatuus will do next. The vocal delivery by The Curator completes the haunting circle with distanced growl of words that only himself can make sense of.

To be honest, this is my first record from Portal and was more or less a forced listen. It started to be an annoyance but would later become very likeable within more replays. I tried to describe as best as I could but the issue that there is so much content that it challenges the listener's orthodox approach to listening where it's about experiencing it than reading a review like this. It's a very difficult record to decipher yet if you want to dwell into a territory like this, Swarth is the excellent package. Portal solved the problem of that you don't need avant-garde sounding electronics or orchertra to create an apocalypse or Silent Hill.


Swarth is now available on Profound Lore records!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Gaza - He Is Never Coming Back (review)

Did He Move Or Something?

West or East, there are prominent bands within those scenes; hardcore, metal, whatever. But the central zones are of lesser prominence. But within this decade, bands like Colorado's Cephalic Carnage and Cobalt have created sounds that are characteristic from their seabourne conterparts. Another one from Salt Lake City, Utah has some popularity especially in playing at every Dudefest. Gaza brings influences from everywhere and create cacaphonous chaos brought about by their debut I Don't Care Where I Go When I Die. Now coming back with their sophomore, it's been anticipated (especially at the Deibel magazine forums) that He Is Never Coming Back would surpass the Coalesce death metal infused barrage of noise from their first.

The common trait of Gaza is inconsistency, putting whatever into the plate while still trying to make something enjoyable. This album brings forward some of the opposite and making an their established sound streamlined. "The Kicking Legs" has beats of progressive metal, sludge, and grindcore; the whole song though feels like it has structure of what it's trying to be. There is no obvious blatant "we wanna sound like that at this part" section as this second outing is more subtle in presentation. The full songs are supported by cleaner progressive interludes that help give breathing room for the listener who might have been blown by the insanity and the rants about Jesus.

The song dynamics and the craziness that fills the record is assisted by a unique simple production style. Like When I Die, Never Coming Back tries to defy modern extreme music production by making it feel flat yet gritty and dirty. This though follows the format to a larger extent but lacking any punch or clarity for this case can make the listener sleepy instead of engaged. But acknowledging that it's meant to be this sort of fashion, you can actually get used to it like no problem as it's all about the songs.

It's a possible annoyance that a new listener can have the feeling that it's enhanced white noise. This is their own set of chaos with what they want to perform, not what what others bands or people expect. We cannot never try to taint their objective or else we will destroy the individuality of what Gaza is trying to deliver.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

This Week of Gaming Madness 2009: The Future

Finally finished with my Modern Warfare 2 week blog about some interesting things related to the game. I have discussed so much about the story on Giant Bomb, posted my best time for The Pit (19 seconds!), and whatever that I can contribute to the game. After beating it, there will be a sequel; probably a trilogy based series with the next one being a sort of Return of the Jedi vibe. It will likely be so and that's good but when it comes out, will it just be same old?

To be honest, Modern Warfare 2 is similar to the first Modern Warfare. Tutorial in the second one feelt like I have done the same thing already just with no flashbangs. That and some other things like multiplayer feels much the same too; while still being great. The framework for the multiplayer is just the same. Deathmatch is still deathmatch and hardcore is still the same challenging playlist. No real defining perk additions besides the new kill streaks but they feel like helicopter but en masse. Titles and emblems are cool and all but does it really matter when people who just want to play the game? Very likely not. It's a pleasure but not a Christmas present that every kid on the street has or will get.

But being a Call of Duty game, what is there to expect? Nothing. Hopes to Inifnity Ward to blow our minds again with not just the same thing but with something special and spectacular.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Week of Gaming Madness 2009 Part Six: Spoilerific Chaos

I have completed the game a couple of days back probably by day two after release. When having a first playthrough on the hardest difficulty, it's very challenging to understand what really has happened because enemies are just bastards but reasonable bastards as opposed to the previous Call of Duty games. When before you had to be precise with what you would do, Modern Warfare gives more open air for the gamer to finish the situation because there is no grenade spam or respawing. Just you and probably a squad against a large force of Russians. But is it Makarov's Russian force or the actual country retaliating back?

Just like a high octane and big budget movie, there are plot holes being buried under the guns, killing, and total fucking destruction. An interesting thing was how people interpreted the storyline. It led to personal conspiracies of who is calling the shots. Most commonly was Giant Bomb doing a special podcast based on the single player campaign of Modern Warfare 2. They took it step by step of what happened but the confusion occurred especially in Vinny's case with the airport massacre. A regular player will get confused of what just happened and if they don't pay close attention to the loading screens and the in-game shock events, they are going to think it's dumb or something in particular. If trying to digest the story, the game wants the playerthrough think who is the real culprit of the airport scene and Washington D.C.. Is it really Makarov completely doing this? But after killing Shepard, it's pretty obvious that he done it. Makarov was part of Shepard's maniacal plan but Makarov's motives haven't really been revealed besides getting revenge on the people who killed Zakhaev from the first Modern Warfare.

Hope for the best that Makarov is a bastard to kill in the third chapter of the Modern Warfare series albeit the airport sequence wanted me to kill him at that moment. Although seemingly to be very prominent in the promotion, his screen time is very limited. He is the target that needs to be eliminated, but Shepard had to be stopped because he was initiating an unnecessary conflict for his own personal purposes. Probably due to losing his men from Al-Asad's attack in the first game and wanting to be a hero for invading Russia if America survives. In order to do so, he must recruit people; for that to happen in a world that can be relative to ours, the country needs to be attacked so people have the mindset to survive and protect their loved ones. It's crazy that someone of a prestige rank would want to deceive the U.S. by trying to encourage the U.S.. Just like the guys at Giant Bomb, it can be an allegory to our suspicion of our government.

These are dark time for Soap and Price. Now international fugitives after the death of Shepard. I can relate to the original Star Wars and Halo trilogies. The first feels triumphant, the second is the exposure of defeat and evil, and the third is the state of redemption and balance. How is Infinity Ward going to end the blast? One side can be more counter-terrorism or plain terrorism but for the benefit to make the world at peace again. Makarov, this time it's war.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 review

Yo Oscar Mike!

Two of the three words mentioned are one of the most said phrases in what is considered the most anticipated game of 2009 and probably in video gaming history so far; beating Halo 3 and Grand Theft Auto IV. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is the forth child by veterans of the modern first person shooter genre known as Infinity Ward. Originally following in the footsteps of Medal of Honor and the intensity of World War II, the new world decades away from the great war is specialized by the folks at IW. Unlike the historically written cases where events were already written, the Modern Warfare series gives the developers in making a more free form interpretation of what our future may be later on especially with countries like the United States of America in conflict within the Middle Eastern zone. Along with an interesting narrative in relation to our current situation outside our homes, the first game excelled in expanding the single player and multiplayer experience by making very fluid and engaging moments of action that is still rivaled by other shooters. When a sequel comes, everyone who has been a fan of Infinity Ward's work and/or the Call of Duty series expects a step up. Just like Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare before it with going into new territory, Modern Warfare 2 does the same and then some.

Taking place five years after the original Modern Warfare, Ultranationalist member and terrorist Imran Zakhaev is still dead but yet his spirit hasn't been forgotten when Russia ultimately becomes controlled by the said political party with Zakhaev being recognized as a hero and martyr. Peace exists on both sides of the Earth but one man who was a major associate of Zakhaev named Vladimir Makarov wants to end it by any means. It's then up to the multinational counter-terrorism unit Task Force 141 led by Call of Duty 4 protagonist Captain "Soap" MacTavish to stop Makarov from creating any catastrophe.

In Call of Duty tradition, the player follows multiple protagonists with Task Force 141 operative Sergeant Gary "Roach" Sanderson being the most prominent. Roach will assist Captain MacTavish to such missions including retrieving a lost module in an airbase located in the Russian mountains and saving hostages in an oil rig. Aside from 141's activities, the perspectives of both the character and the environment changes where the action hits home with such characters like Private Ramirez and the United States Army Rangers defending Washington D.C. from invaders.

The plot discusses issue of terrorism may not be destroyed by a gun shot to a leader's head which explains Makarov's intent of revenge. By playing through, it's a bit vague of what he is going after but his introduction in Modern Warfare 2 especially in the controversial airport massacre level, it's good indication that he is someone that should be despised. It also deals with the theme of escalation where it becomes very prominent by the second act. With that being dealt with, it's doesn't try to go very subtle on events as it tries to shock you every couple of missions. The game provides little to no breathing room. Sometimes it's excessive but for something that has a strong Jerry Bruckheimer vibe (as opposed to the more realistic narrative of Call of Duty 4), it's acceptable.

Being a Call of Duty game, it follows the tried and true format just like usual. In cases where successors sticks to its guns, it can feel feel boring but for Modern Warfare 2, it's constantly exciting. The content is dense when shooting at the enemies with from a moving helicopter or clearing a room full of baddies and even civilians. You will witness tanks assaulting hostile houses while your squad moves up and takes down the enemy. When an area of enemies is defeated, you know they are defeated as this sequel lacks one of the most common issues in single player; which is the infinite waves. When playing, the game can trick the player that there is no end to enemies but in execution, it is very likely a large force. It doesn't force the player to move up and find a checkpoint to end the battle but encourages to eliminate the opposing force with excellence

The lack there-of makes the very challenging veteran difficulty less annoying and more enjoyable; while nonetheless very challenging. The battlefield and the AI seem to be one with each other as they know how to flank and take the upper hand instead of just being cheap sharpshooters. The design is still linear while having open room for both sides to take part and conquer. Still being stuck into two weapons only with grenades, the player can use new gadgets to get the upper hand including the addictive UAV Predator missile which can exterminate numerous foes at once without consuming too much ammo.

Task Force 141 infiltrating

Similar to the first Modern Warfare, the sequel contains specific varied sequences where you might have to defend a building from an invading force or stealth-fully get from point A to point B. It also includes controllable vehicle scenes which includes Roach and Soap having to escape by means of snowmobiles. The sequences and how the enemies currently act keeps the pacing going at a constant rate. When comparing to the lengths of both Modern Warfare games, the second one goes on faster yet can be finished about the same time as the original. Never a bad thing though because it's short and sweet.

Though great and all, I can safely say that Modern Warfare 2 bears so much similarities to its predecessor. There is no actual blatant improvement as opposed to the changes from Call of Duty to Call of Duty 2 to Modern Warfare. But when the campaign being much larger in context, it's very minor.

One of the biggest reasons that the first Modern Warfare became really popular was its multiplayer which contained very fun playlists as well as a role playing game like leveling system where people are rewarded with weapons and perks that can change the tide of a match by doing special tasks and challenges; and as well as kill people. It gave people an initiative to keep on playing especially when taking part in the Prestige Mode where they build up their rank all over again and again and again. That never went away in Modern Warfare 2. The framework is still the same with such popular modes such as team deathmatch and headquarters with its regular and hardcore settings (although old-school is gone). New modes include a third person perspective creating a new and interesting way to play the game; it feels very odd to view your player model yet feels fluid and and reactive during action.

Most of the new maps feels varied and exciting to play through. Some range from the symmetrical (Highrise) and the very condensed (Scrapyard, Rust). Old favorite from both Call of Duty and Call of Duty 2, Brecourt (now titled Wasteland) has returned with a new face lift. Some of these maps fit for specific playlists where Rust is great for small term deathmatch while Terminal is euphoric for domination.

The leveling and rewards system has improved with subtle changes. No more always unfair active perks such as juggernaut and martyrdom, people must die constantly in order to get some of these boosters. With kill streaks, there are now death streaks which can help get a player who might be trailing to get back into the game. It can help new users to get comfortable with the already ready and hardened multiplayer community. The kill streak system has improved with providing more types of rewards including a supply drop that can contain ammo or a random kill streak or even commandeering a gunship for the player to take down enemies right from above. Another interesting kill streak reward is the tactical nuke which destroys everybody and ends the game with the winning team containing the person who used the reward. But at 25 kills, it will be very rare for anybody to witness it. That leads to the initiative for the player to wisely pick which streak will fit for their playstyle as the limit is to three.

Besides destroying the opposition itself, people can destroy the opposition's rewards. Similar to shooting rockets at the chopper in the first Modern Warfare, people can now destroy the opponents' gunships, planes, and even the UAV recon plane disabling any chance of the enemy to find you. In order for everyone to have a equal chance, they make the rewards penetrable to destroy. It causes the rocket launcher to be a necessary weapon as opposed to originally being a perk. The explosive launchers as well as machine pistols and shotguns are moved to the secondary weapon side while the usual rifles and machine guns are still primary. A new weapon in both single player and multiplayer called the riot shield provides a new way of how to play the game where the shield-man is creating a defensive line for people behind him. Being indestructible, it can benefit objective based games where teamwork is necessary.

Some new identity based additions also exist in multiplayer with now titles and emblems that can help characterize any player.

The snowmobile getaway

The newest mode to Modern Warfare 2 is the cooperative capable Special Ops mode which was influenced by the bonus Mile High Club from the original Modern Warfare. It's simply a challenge mode with different types of objective for the player(s) to complete. The mode uses assets from the main campaign and as well as the first Modern Warfare. It can be played alone or with a friend through split-screen or online. The differences with playing alone and with a buddy is key with some missions where communication is golden. Some of these include a mission influenced by the ghille suit mission in Call of Duty 4 where the goal is to get from point A to point B. The environment though is very dense with heavy foliage causing enemies including camouflaged ghillied enemies to blend in completely. Having a friend for a case like that can really help find the snipers. It's an exciting mode with so much tension and fun that it can encourage players to play it again and probably at a harder setting.

Despite being a sequel on the same generation of consoles as Call of Duty 4, it looks fantastic from the dark and torn Washington D.C. to the faces of character like Soap and ally Ghost. Running at 60 frames per second, it can add so much visual fidelity while still being consistently smooth. You will be amazed and speechless to what you will see. The sound is a big improvement as well with such things as the believable ambient-scapes and battle chatter from your teammates. The game recruits popular talent including sci-fi hero Lance Henricksen and video game voice veteran Keith David as prominent characters throughout the campaign. The voice of Soap (played by Kevin McKidd) is probably the strongest video game performance this year after never hearing a word from him while playing Call of Duty 4.

There were controversies before the launch of the game but it doesn't stop Modern Warfare 2 from being absolutely fantastic. There are some problems that plague the game but it's very little as opposed to the seemingly larger than life campaign, the fun Special Ops, and the still addicting multiplayer. Infinity Ward always knows how to make an exceptional product since day one and this game doesn't end the mark.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Week of Gaming Madness 2009 Part Four: WOLVERINES!

No review yet. I am working through my single player playthrough on veteran difficulty. It was the case with Call of Duty 4. I am a fan of the franchise from one to now yet as I played the first Modern Warfare, I picked veteran after ignorantly thinking that it's the easiest. What a dumb ass am I! Although with hardships trying to move forward to get to a checkpoint before a new wave of infinite soldiers, I succeeded with almost 1000 gamerscore with every mission done on the difficulty. I tried World At War but the issue is that it was too cheap with not just infinite enemy respawns but with the issue of grenades and just hoping for the best that I can get to the next checkpoint. I opted out.

With Modern Warfare 2, veteran is still balls to the wall hard but there are benefits to it (will keep brief). No grenade spam and no respawns! It keeps the game going for the determined yet gives them a time of their life.

Hopefully a review can be written tomorrow or else I might be distracted from multiplayer.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Week of Gaming Madness 2009 Part Three: Release Day

I got it, playing it, and loving it. Review tomorrow.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Week of Gaming Madness 2009 Part Two: Big Title or Small Title?

Tomorrow is the day. It will be the anniversary of the Marine Corps.' formation and most commonly, the release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Sometimes it's weird to say or type that whole phrase instead of just having Modern Warfare 2. Ever since it's announcement back at the Game Developers Conference in early 2009, people have been in debate if the game should be placed under Call of Duty or try to be separated from the main series as now part of the Modern Warfare. If you see something like Wikipedia, they were debating about the names and constantly moving to each one in between the announcement and now. Recently Activision finalized the public title on the regular edition of the game by adding the Call of Duty name to likely get customers who would buy Modern Warfare 2 if it had the franchise title.

I know the gaming industry just commonly says it Modern Warfare 2 and it's fine because I say so too but there's an interesting question lingering in my head... Would the game sold more copies with just Modern Warfare 2?

I guess people who might not be the most hardcore gaming fanatics in a local Wal-Mart would question Modern Warfare 2 when they seemingly never heard of Modern Warfare 1. If they added the Call of Duty name, it would have reminded them of the previous two games which were CoD 4: Modern Warfare and CoD: World At War. It would have likely gave them the initiative to buy it.

Just having Modern Warfare 2 doesn't equal bad sales but a majority of fans of the series will get it and will be strong nonetheless, although lesser than what you would compare now with having the largest quantity of pre-sales in retailer GameStop. Just like Call of Duty 4, the sales would increase by game reviews and word of mouth from a fan to one who is curious of what is up. But for the case of Activision, it's not enough for them to earn more money as opposed to just slapping Call of Duty and frolic in their pool of cash.

For the sake of success, having the name is necessary because gamers of different stages know what Call of Duty is and will get it but to get the sales from a crowd who are just playing whatever is popular or not very knowledgeable in gaming yet wanting to enjoy something. People though will still just call it Modern Warfare 2.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Week of Gaming Madness 2009 Part One: Release date?! Pfft!

Ah yes the most anticipated game of 2009 Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is coming real soon into our boxs of graphical intensity. After Infinity Ward's CoD 4: Modern Warfare was well received from fans of the series as well as people who play the game only because of its popularity, for sure the sequel will be much more popular and infamous than it's engaging predecessor. For a moment, the pre-release buzz of the sequel almost feels like 2004 all over again with Halo 2 with some interesting and controversial additions. It includes the abandonment of PC specific traits such as mods and dedicated servers, the playable airport massacre, and the F.A.G.S. debacle. One thing that stands out that just happened recently is the selling of Modern Warfare 2 before its November 10, 2009 street date.

According to news blogs such as Joystiq and Kotaku, GameStop who is promoting Modern Warfare 2 have stores in the east coast including New York already selling copies in advance to the public. Not to reviewers or whatever but to people who would have been waiting in line on Monday night to actually play the game. It was initially believed that Activision told specific Gamestop stores to sell the game according an employee of a Bowling, Ohio store. Activision later responded that no GameStop had any special permission to sell it in advance.

I feel that there is something missing from what just happened. Was the employee at GameStop lying about it and just selling it for the sake of so? Is Activision lying (and with what's up with Activision it doesn't seem that surprising, but I digress)?

Tens of thousands of people are already playing the game according to the leaderboards. I don't seem to understand why is that so when Activision is trying to follow the release date. Isn't there some sort of fashion of suspending or banning someone who tries to get online before the release date? It raises my suspicion...

For a couple of seconds, I thought of this situation as a leak of sorts but the problem is that it's really not. Leaks are more obvious in what has led to where this advance sale feels like a mystery. Leaks are not being sold to the public for oodles of cash they are just free but in a different context. There was a leak for Modern Warfare 2 and it was free to download but it came at a heavy price especially to the culprit but anyways...

I don't see the point of having a release date for the public to pay when you can just sell it days or probably weeks before. One problem with something like that is the lack of unity and respect for the product that was planned to be only coming out on that day. It might have worked for the Ohio store for probably short term economic reasons but that's stupid when the publisher seemed to want the game to be released on that day, not daty before. In the future we will have Blizzard release Diablo 3 suddenly into the digital distribution market as they finish the product. Another reason is that it's very anti-anticipation based where a majority of gamers who will wait will be jealous and then discouraged when they finally play it when other impatient gamers have already mastered the format.

I don't know what's happening with this hoopla and I am angry that it's very unfair but what can you do with a game that contains the largest pre-order sales at GameStop. What can we do? Nothing really. Still indeed horrible news.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Rise & Fall - Our Circle Is Vicious

Live The Storm
During the last years of World War II, the United States Army and the German Third Reich fought against each other in the cold woods of Bastogne, Belgium. It was a breaking point as it shown the last stand for the German army before their downfall months just after with their moustached chancellor commiting suicide in the country capital of Berlin. Besides Belgium holding what would become an important event in the European theater, the country contains a hardcore band that brings in the chaos to the rest of their world thanks to Jacob Bannon's Deathwish Inc. label. Rise & Fall's Our Circle Is Vicious has been in development for more than a year after their touring in 2008. Being in isolation in their rehersal house in the forest of Chimay to their full production in Kurt Ballou's Godcity Studio at Boston, Massachusettes, it would seem that they are trying to make it awesome as they can. Well it is so.

If you keep on hearing about Rise & Fall but never had the chance to listen to their previous work including Into Oblivion (2007), this new outing is the one you will hear. Being still based on their hardcore roots, they know how to execute their attack throughout no matter the tempo and the approach. Starting from chord strikes and chorus hooks on "Soul Slayer" and the almost chase scene like "Built On Graves" with higher string presence, it goes gutter sludgy with "Harm's Way" and "In Circles." The breakdown elements in the slower songs that help change tempo in the faster songs compliment the dynamics and the varied approaches Rise & Fall go. With the quick bursts on energy it's needed.

You deserve to listen to this because these cats are what will bring modern hardcore forward while still looking back at what made them build the beast. It will grow and grow.


Our Circle Is Vicious is available now on Deathwish Inc.!