Recommended Reading and Listening

It’s almost Christmas, and Dragon Age: Inquisition was my whole gaming life for a few weeks, so I think it’s time for some link love. I haven’t done this in a while. Here are some blogs, sites, and podcasts that I heartily recommend.

The Toast – One of the few non-gaming related sites on this list, The Toast is where I go when I need a laugh. Or a reason to have an evil smirk on my face (though I’m usually pretty good with coming up with my own reasons). The Toast does amazing things with classic works of literature and art, from dark rewrites of childhood favourites, to turning classic characters into dirtbags, to the fantastic Western Art History series. Also, amazingly for a larger site, it’s a place where it’s totally fine to read the comments.

Critical Distance aims to find all the great writing about games on the internet. Their This Week in Video Games feature is a great place to start if you want to find a good read and discover new blogs and writers.

A Game of Me is Carolyn Petit’s tumblr, where she writes a lot about video games and video games culture. Carolyn is a fantastic writer. Whether it’s a best of the year list, a quick piece of what games mean to her, or thoughts on the feminist agenda, I always find these posts worth reading.

Go Make Me a Sandwich focuses on sexist imagery used in geek spaces. Not just video games, but also tabletop, pen & paper, and comics. Some of my favourite posts involve criticism from an artist’s standpoint, and breaking down just how unrealistic and ridiculous the design of women’s bodies in games often are.

Podcasts

I only listen to a handful of podcasts, so I can recommend them all.

Justice Points is the podcast I’ve been listening to the longest. It’s a really great look at feminism and social justice in video games. Over the past year, Tzufit and Applecidermage have had some really amazing guests and have covered some topics that I don’t get to hear much about otherwise. Always worth a listen.

Cat Context features Liore, Arolaide, and Ellyndrial talking about the games they’re playing. They cover a wide variety of games and sometimes movies in a nice, short podcast. One thing I really enjoy is that the hosts don’t always agree, and the arguments are great to listen to. Aro in particular has a way of arguing that makes me feel like everything I once thought is wrong.

Isometric looks at video games from a different perspective, and these different perspectives are the highlight. Bri, Maddy, Georgia, and Steve all have wildly different tastes in games and it’s refreshing to hear about a game from many different sides at once. Occasionally too much time is spent on in-jokes, but it’s a very entertaining podcast and the hosts work really well together.

Less Than or Equal pursues equality in geekdom. Aleen Simms hosts a number of great guests who bring diversity to their chosen fields and hobbies. From the video game industry, to tabletop gaming, to books, Aleen and her guests bring something new to the table and give me things to think about.

Polygamer is a podcast I just recently discovered, that focuses on diversity and equality in video games. I’ve only listened to a couple episodes so far, but I think it’s going to be a mainstay in my podcast list. The conversations so far have been very frank and thought-inspiring.

I’d also recommend Contains Moderate Peril, though sadly they’ve just announced they’ll be ending the podcast soon. Still, if you’re not overly concerned about timely topics, the episodes are worth a listen.


 Do you have any recommendations for me?

More Tips for Dragon Age: Inquisition

I just recently finished Dragon Age: Inquisition, so I thought I could share a few more tips of things I learned along the way. Based on keyword activity there are a few things my last tips post didn’t answer.

These tips are as spoiler free as possible. I name quest names, but don’t give away any actual events.

Taming Dragons

  • You cannot go out and tame a dragon from the Hinterlands or anything. You can’t keep a dragon as a pet. I’m sorry.
  • There is one very specific scenario in which you can make a dragon friend, who will aid you in a fight at a specific part of the game. This is decided during the quest What Pride Had Wrought. If you want to “tame” a dragon, you (the Inquisitor) need to do the thing at the end of that quest. Don’t ask a companion to do it. Don’t refuse to let anyone do it. You need to do it yourself.

Shopping and Castle Decor

  • Val Royeaux is full of interesting shops that are really easy to forget about.
  • In the top level of VR (you need to fast travel to it), there’s someone selling a mystery item for 10,000 gold (or whatever the currency is). This will give you access to a war table quest, which will give you some exotic mounts.
  • You can buy customization items for Skyhold (like beds and windows) in a shop in the southern part of Val Royeaux.
  • You can also get some Skyhold upgrades (the throne upgrades you need for the Regal achievement) through the region resource gathering quests on the war table.
  • You can buy new mounts right outside of the stables (at Haven or Skyhold). New ones become available as you progress through the game.
  • If you’re getting near the end and are still missing a few mounts – they’re probably from the deluxe edition DLC, you’ll have to buy them.
  • You can buy your way to greater influence and more Inquisition points from the book vendor in Skyhold (near the stables)

When to progress the main quest

If you’re anything like me, you’re afraid of missing things in such a big expansive game like this, so here are some tips on when and in what order to do some things.

  • While you’re on The Threat Remains quest, don’t spend too much time in the Hinterlands before visiting Val Royeaux.
  • Recruit all missable companions  (Sera, Blackwall, Iron Bull, Vivienne) before you start In Your Heart Shall Burn.
  • It doesn’t matter if you do Wicked Eyes and Wicked Hearts or Here Lies the Abyss first.
  • Complete Cullen’s sidequest Before The Dawn before you begin What Pride Had Wrought.
  • The point of no return in the game is Doom Upon all the World. It warns you right in the war table text that this brings on the endgame.
  • Once you’ve completed the game, you are able to continue playing if you still have quests or collections to finish.

Achievements

There are only a couple achievements that I had to go out of my way to work towards.

  • Master Alchemist – Upgrade your potions, tonics, or grenades 30 times. Because this takes a lot of herbs, I suggest you don’t go crazy with the repeatable requisition quests that use up a lot of herbs too (unless you really like gathering). You can also take the Trainee Herbalists perk (under Secrets), which will give you 50 Elfroot, and some other common herbs, which will help with this a lot.
  • Botanist – Harvest 50 herbs from Skyhold’s garden. You can only grow 6 herbs at a time, so make sure you’re visiting your garden often between fieldtrips.
  • Regal – Completely upgrade one throne. Upgrades are obtained through the region resource collection quests on the war table. They get applied to the throne automatically.

Good luck, have fun!

Jurassic Park: The Game (Review)

So much for going through my Steam backlog alphabetically.

Jurassic Park: The Game was developed by Telltale and released in 2011. I’ve been slowly playing my way through it over a number of months. It’s not a long game but it’s well-suited to being played in small doses.

Jurassic Park: The Game intro screen

Dinosaurs.

First, I have to say, I love the movie Jurassic Park. I saw it in theaters 3 times when I was 10, I saw it when it was re-done in 3D (despite avoiding going out to movie theaters otherwise), I re-watch it at home at least once a year. It’s one of the rare things from childhood that isn’t solely enjoyed through a lens of nostalgia-tinted glasses. It’s still an exceptional experience for me now. So I might have a better opinion of the game than others who aren’t so taken with it.

Jurassic Park: The Game takes place within the timeline of the first movie, but with completely new characters. When Nedry doesn’t make it to the boat with the dino embryos, a mercenary is sent to retrieve them. Other major characters include the park veterinarian and his daughter and some more mercenaries, sent in by InGen to rescue the people remaining in the park. You play all of these characters – a total of 6 of them – at some point during the game, and the transitions between characters are seamless. Perhaps a little too seamless, as it was sometimes hard to tell when a switch had happened.

Jurassic Park: The Game Harding, Jessie, and Nima

Though the story isn’t anything exceptional, it’s true to the spirit of the movie. People being awestruck by dinosaurs and surviving attacks is pretty much the point. The writers are able to create a good amount of tension as each of the main characters have their own, often conflicting motivations. The dialogue sounds natural and the voice acting is competent. The environments are also well done, using replicas of the scenes from the movie, along with some new areas.

While this game adheres to Telltale’s general oeuvre, it’s also quite different from the more recent releases. The story isn’t as strong, so I didn’t grow attached to any of the characters as I did in The Walking Dead. As a result, JP isn’t soul-crushing like many of the later Telltale Games. It doesn’t make you love characters over the course of a game only to kill them in front of you and make you think it’s your fault for bad decision making. There are decisions to be made, but they aren’t difficult and rarely have the same weight or consequences as a decision in TWD.

Jurassic Park: The Game - Harding being eaten by a T-Rex

You might see death scenes like this a lot.

In terms of gameplay, I found JP to be a lot more fun than TWD or A Wolf Among Us. Now, I am someone who likes quick time events, so if you don’t you can take this with a grain of salt. JP felt more game-y than the recent Telltale games. There were many more places where you could fail, and more puzzles too. The QTEs could often be quite unforgiving, requiring some very fast twitch reactions, though not every failure resulted in death. There’s a medal system for each scenario. No mistakes gave you gold, while if you made many mistakes you could end up with a bronze or no medal at all. These medals didn’t seem to impact anything other than my pride though.  If you fail a critical event, your character dies, but not permanently, you just have to redo it until you succeed.

Though the story and characters aren’t particularly memorable, I enjoyed my time in Jurassic Park. The 4 chapters in the game took a total of about 7-8 hours to complete. I do recommend using a gamepad if you’re playing this on PC, it made the QTEs (with one notable exception) much easier.

Rating: 7/10 – A fun game that captures the spirit of Jurassic Park with a lot of dinosaurs and fast-paced action sequences. Unless you don’t like quick-time events, then you should skip this one.

Violence Against Video Game Characters

With the news that GTA V has been pulled from Target and Walmart in Australia because of how violence against female sex workers is portrayed, I’ve been hearing a very familiar cry on Twitter and in comment sections. “What about men?!” “Why is it okay to kill hundreds of men but as soon as you add a woman it’s a problem?”

First of all, people have complained about violence in video games in general. Many, many, many, times. Protests have been launched, petitions have been written. While Canada doesn’t tend to ban games, a number of games have been banned or refused classification in Australia because of violence. The majority of those were banned for general graphic violence, not specifically violence against women (50 Cent Bulletproof, Dark Sector, The Getaway, Manhunt, Postal 1/2, Reservoir Dogs, Soldier of Fortune). Australia has also banned games due to sexual content or depictions of drug use.

But let’s ignore the above and pretend that only games with violence against women are subject to criticism and bans. Why would this be?

In the latest Call of Duty, you’re at war and you mow down hundreds of enemy forces. It’s hard to tell for sure with full body armor on, but they’re most likely all men.

Tomb Raider - Lara killing a man who is on fire

In the reboot of the Tomb Raider series, Lara goes around an island killing hundreds of men. Only men. There are no women. If you paid attention to the game you’d know that there are no women on the island because they’ve all already been killed (by the men). But again, ignore that, not relevant to how terribly video games treat dudes.

In Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (excuse the somewhat dated reference, but it’s the only GTA I’ve played all the way through), Tommy murders hundreds, maybe thousands of people, mostly men, in his quest to become the crime boss of the city. Running over pedestrians (of either sex) and beating up hookers (always female) is not a requirement to taking over the city, but sometimes he enjoys doing it in his free time.

These poor men have it tough in video games. They’re always getting tortured, shot, run over, killed. Why is this okay, but as soon as you murder a woman in a video game, people start crying foul?

Take your average military shooter. You’re likely playing as a male, and you’re most likely shooting other men. If you’re not also shooting women, it’s because there aren’t any in the game. This makes me question why there aren’t any women. I can’t speak for everyone, but I’d have no problem with seeing women on the battlefield (maybe I could even play as one in the campaign sometimes?) and having to mow them down along with the men. Equal opportunity senseless killing, that’s all I ask.

In Tomb Raider, the reason Lara kills hundreds of men is because they’re trying to kill her. They’ve kidnapped her friends and if Lara doesn’t kill them, her and her friends will all die. This is how action games work – the player kills aggressors who are trying to kill them.

In GTA and other open world games, you can generally kill anyone you want. However the aggressors in the game, the ones you have to kill, do tend to be males. Would people be upset if the aggressors were females instead? I certainly wouldn’t. I was pleasantly surprised when I played Saint’s Row: The Third and found that the members of my rival gangs were made of both men and women. Women can be bad guys too. It’s okay. Even better, female antagonists can be created that are actual characters with motivations beyond ‘shoot the player’. Rival gang leaders, mercenaries, corrupt law enforcement officers – put a female in one of these roles and I have no problem with having to kill them to progress in the game. The joy I get from having women in these games outside of strip clubs and street corners greatly outweighs any other issues I’d have.

GTA V - sex workers on the corner

The problem with the portrayal of violence against women, and sex workers in particular, in video games is that these characters, scratch that they aren’t characters and that’s part of the problem. These women are not your enemy. They don’t stand in your way to progress, they are no threat to you. They exist, wear skimpy clothing, and flirt to stimulate the player. That’s their purpose. They don’t impact the story. The player has the option to use them and then kill them. They aren’t necessarily rewarded for this behavior, but they probably aren’t punished either. If in Tomb Raider Lara stumbled upon a man on the beach who was offering pony rides and shot him in the face then I’d have a problem. I’d question why the developers put this scenario in the game. Likewise, I’d have an issue if the next GTA portrayed male sex workers who were completely unrelated to the story that a player could use and then kill.

I’m not a proponent of censorship. While Australia banning video games constitutes actual censorship, retail chains in Australia choosing to pull GTAV off their shelves is not. They can choose to sell or not sell whatever they like. What I am an advocate of is developers and consumers being critical of the media they produce and consume. When female sex workers are added to a game to be ogled, groped, or fucked then thrown away, what is it adding to the game? Is it taking away more than it adds? Is it more trouble than it’s worth just to make your game seem gritty?

Many video games are violent, and that’s not ever going to change. While the gender of the people you shoot or fight in games shouldn’t be an issue, it is because males tend to be the aggressors where it’s a matter of kill or be killed, while females are generally not a threat to the player. They get killed to move the story or a quest forward, give a male character a reason to seek revenge, or just because the player feels like killing them. While a couple of the examples aren’t perfect, if you haven’t watched them yet I’d recommend Anita Sarkeesian’s videos on Women as Background directions (part 1, part 2), as they really show how prevalent this issue is in games, especially in AAA titles.

Analogue: A Hate Story

I used to be a gamer who was proud of having a small library of steam games that I actually played. Over the last year though, I’ve become one of those people, frivolously partaking in every sale and buying way more games than I have time to play them. As I’ve just reached 49% unplayed games in my library, I decided I needed to do something about it. Clearly the answer is to play more games. Inspired by Dahakha’s Steam Challenge, I’m going to try to work my way through the unplayed games in my library.

Steam library

I’ve also got about 30 games in a Finished category, and about a dozen in a Go Away category of games I’m not interested in. Does it drive anyone else crazy that you can’t delete DOTA from your library when you never wanted it in the first place?

Anyway, I thought I’d start at the top so the first game I played, when I could drag myself away from Dragon Age, was Analogue: A Hate Story. Analogue is a visual novel with a lot of choose-your-own-adventure aspects and a touch of dating sim, maybe. In the game, you are investigating a generation ship that disappeared 600 years ago and has just been found. You’re tasked with finding out what happened by reading through the ship’s logs. The ship has two AI which can help you with your mission, though they aren’t particularly reliable narrators.

Gameplay mainly consists of reading through the ship’s logs and asking the AI about them, who may then open up new logs for you. The main interface for accessing the logs is slick, attractive, and very easy to use. There is also a Linux console interface which you use to perform certain actions on the ship, such as enabling or disabling the AI, or downloading the log files. As someone who has never used Linux I found this interface a bit puzzling at first. It’s the first thing you see when the game starts and it took me a few minutes to figure out what it was expecting me to do.

The most exceptional part of the game is the writing. The logs, written as diary entries are enthralling. There are multiple authors and each one has a clear and distinct voice. They paint a picture of a spacefaring society that has somehow regressed into a medieval patriarchy. You don’t get access to all the entries though, and often get things out of order, so you need to piece together the story for yourself. Depending on which AI you have active, you may learn some parts of the story but not others. It’s quite well done.

Analogue: A Hate Story - conversation with Hyun-ae

As for the interaction with the AI though… ehh. One AI is a giggly, cosplay-loving schoolgirl. The other is a casually misogynist and homophobic security program.  If I had known nothing about the creator of this game, Christine Love, I likely would have written the game off as sexist drivel and quit before I got too far in. However, I assumed that there was probably going to be a bigger point or message to the game, so I continued.

Analogue made me feel a number of the same things that To the Moon did, though not as strongly. The overall story and writing is great, but the two characters that are around to comment on everything just bugged the hell out of me. I think that was part of the point, but I don’t really play games to be annoyed. Based on interests and gaming preferences, I don’t think I’m quite the target demographic for this game, so I’m not going to give it a score.

I haven’t played a ton of visual novels before, the most similar experience I’ve had to this was Long Live the Queen. An aspect of the genre I find hard to reconcile is that I want to see multiple endings, but the process of replaying and trying new things to get to those endings is exceedingly tedious. Careful use of saves can reduce the amount of repetition, but it’s hard to know exactly when the important branches take place and I find myself mindlessly clicking through things I’ve already read/seen way more than is enjoyable.

A Few Tips for Dragon Age: Inquisition

Dragon Age: Inquisition came out last week and I’ve been playing it. A lot. Pretty much every waking moment, except when I feel bad and temporarily relinquish the TV to my boyfriend so he can play NES. To be honest, the game didn’t quite capture me like Dragon Age Origins did at first, and a lot of that had to do with pacing. The thing is, the game is gigantic and very open world so the player dictates the pace. You could zoom through the story relatively quickly, or you could spend 15 hours exploring every inch of the starting area and wondering if perhaps there are more important things for an Inquisitor to do than pick every Elfroot in Ferelden. Dragon Age is full of pet peeves for me, and it did take some work to get past them and let the huge, detailed world and wonderfully written characters suck me in.

Dragon Age Inquisition box art

Here are some things I wish I had known before playing the game that would have made my starting experience much better. For more tips, see my second post.

Character Creation

  • Choose your class wisely, especially if you want to be able to experience all of the interactions between your companions. I’m playing as a rogue, which was a bad choice for this. In combat, you pretty much will always need a warrior to draw threat (even if they aren’t a shield tank) and a mage who can cast barriers (basically Power Word: Shield) in your party. There’s no healing in this game, besides limited use potions, so barriers are very important. A rogue you can honestly take or leave, and I’m finding being one myself really limits the possible party comps. I’d love to see the interactions between Sera, who’s quite daft, and Cole, the friendly ghost, but they’re both rogues as well, and having a party where 3 of 4 characters are rogues is very hard to work with.
  • That said, rogues have some super fun abilities like Smoke Bombs and Leaping Shot which lets you backflip out of danger, firing a hail of arrows in your wake.
  • When you play as a rogue or warrior you get 2 sub-class options (archer vs. stabby stab, sword & board vs. 2H), but these don’t lock you into anything, it just decides what weapon you start with.
  • I don’t particularly like the look of the character I created. She looked okay on the creation screen, but in-game I’m less impressed. Play through the intro and don’t be afraid to restart if you want to change appearance. Better to do it 15 minutes in than be like me and wish you had done things differently 40 hours in.

Story and characters

  • Leave the Hinterlands. Really. Do it. I wish I had read this article earlier. I probably spent a good 10 hours exploring, closing rifts, and picking up every herb/ore/item I could find. It got boring. It made me think DA:I was a bad game. Hinterlands has been one of the least engaging areas, as it has so much collection to do and pretty much every quest you get comes from a note on a dead body. If you’re like me, uncompleted objectives on your map are an anathema to you, but The Hinterlands isn’t going anywhere. Complete a few objectives, do the quests that will get you access to mounts, but as soon as the game is starting to feel like a slog, go progress the story forward. It’ll make the game much more enjoyable. Also, you’ll get some side quests that send you back to Hinterlands later.
  • Do the first quest in Val Royeaux before you start exploring The Hinterlands too thoroughly. In my game I found Redcliffe in the Northern Hinterlands before I went to Val Royeaux and it resulted in some very immersion-breaking story gaps. Someone in VR is supposed to send you to Redcliffe, and the game doesn’t recognize or adapt to you doing things in the wrong order.
  • Gather all possible companions early so you can get to know and love them, and have a variety of party comps to choose from. You can miss some of them if you wait too long. Here’s how to find each of the extra companions:
    • Sera – Friend of Red Jenny quest triggered when you go to Val Royeaux.
    • Vivienne – The Imperial Enchanter quest given by a mage in Val Royeaux.
    • Iron Bull – The Captain of the Chargers quest is given to you by a messenger outside the Haven chantry, and sends you to The Storm Coast.
    • Blackwall – The Lone Warden quest, given by Leliana which sends you to the Hinterlands.
    • Dorian – Will be found in Redcliffe when you meet with Fiona if you side with the Mages, or will appear automatically at another time if you side with the Templars.
    • Cole – Will be found in The Fade if you side with the Templars, or will appear automatically at another time if you side with the Mages.
  • These are the main quests, so you can pace out how the story will progress. Story quests will have a recommended level range listed when you see them in the War Room:
    • The Wrath of Heaven
    • The Threat Remains
    • Champions of the Just or In Hushed Whispers
    • In Your Heart Shall Burn
    • From the Ashes
    • Here Lies the Abyss
    • Wicked Eyes and Wicked Hearts
    • What Pride Had Wrought
    • The Final Piece
  • (Minor story spoiler) You can only do one of Champions of the Just or In Hushed Whispers. Do Champions if you want the Templars to join your cause, or Whispers if you want the mages. You can’t have both.
  • I suggest moving the story forward to From the Ashes fairly soon. It was at this point that the story really became interesting, and I began to care about my character and her cause. If you find yourself feeling unengaged while exploring and doing side-quests, doing the story quests up to this point should fix that.

Inventory and other stuff

  • In your inventory, Valuables are the equivalent to junk in the previous DA games. Not sure why they changed this. Put everything you want to sell in here so they can be sold all at once.
  • Another annoying thing about valuables is that the category is applied not just to actual junk, but also to research items that you should be turning in. So drop by the research table before you start selling en-masse. (Thank to @ArielleEJ for this tip)
  • The inventory system is not great, and you will get a ton of crappy gear drops. If you’re playing on normal (or easy) you don’t have to worry too much about gear, I definitely don’t recommend letting it consume too much of your time if it’s something you don’t enjoy. Junk (or ‘valuable’) all the white/common gear, and just focus on the better stuff. Every couple of hours I go back to my home base, see if anything new is an upgrade for anyone and sell everything else. I generally avoid crafting unless someone has weapons that are vastly inferior to the rest of the party.
  • Upgrades are generally worthwhile, but don’t spend too much time on them. Just slap on whatever will fit on your character’s gear. You can also remove upgrades (but not runes) from gear you will be selling.
  • The one piece of gear that does warrant more attention is Varric’s crossbow, Bianca. He’ll have this weapon all game, so you should buy or craft upgrades for it as you can.
  • Though I’m not into scrutinizing the stats on gear, the appearance of the gear is well worth paying attention to. Bioware did some killer work on armor this time around. Leliana’s armor is perfection, and most of the other character’s armor is also both beautiful and functional looking. It’s truly exciting to be a female rogue who does not have bare legs.
  • Inventory is limited, so I highly recommend taking the 2 Tailoring Inquisition perks when you can, which will give you an extra 30 slots. Especially if you’re like me and pick up everything in sight.
  • I think I’ve given myself a repetitive strain injury by constantly pushing L3 to search for hidden items. Unless you’re desperate to find every herb/ore, give your hand a break. Your companions will say something when there is an important hidden item around.
  • The addition of jumping in the game is nice for those who can’t keep still, but it also brings up a lot of Mako-reminiscent, cliff scaling frustrations. I don’t really have tips to avoid this, just a warning. Though mounts are a bit better at climbing things than you are on foot.

Good luck and happy Inquisiting!

Have any tips for me?

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (Review)

It’s 2054. You are Jack Mitchell, a stoic, well-muscled, permanently scruffy, United States Marine. Your advanced weaponry lets you jump over tall buildings in a double bound, paint enemies with threat grenades, and control remote operated drones. You are the manliest of men. You’re sent to Seoul to battle North Koreans along with your brother in arms, Will Irons. Will is a stoic, well-muscled, permanently scruffy, United States Marine. When you first met him you were a little jealous that he had an even better sounding all-American manly man name than you, but you got over it and now you’re best buds. The mission in Korea ends in tragedy and you are honorably discharged from your military duties because of injuries sustained. But your story is not over. The Illusive Man Kevin Spacey can rebuild you. He has the technology. Jonathan Irons is the CEO of Atlus, the most powerful private military force in the world, and there’s no way that can end badly. On your first mission you’re paired up with Gideon, a stoic, well-muscled, permanently scruffy…

Snark aside, I actually quite enjoyed the game. The fact that I’d never played any CoD game before likely increased my enjoyment. Advanced Warfare is the 12th Call of Duty game (14th if you count the ones released on handheld/mobile) released since 2003. The fact that increasingly shiny versions of the game are pumped out every single year never inspired a whole lot of confidence, and I’m sure that if I had been a fan of the series all along I’d be getting burnt out on the whole concept by now. But for a first time player, it was a lot of fun.

Call of Duty Advanced Warfare Kevin Spacey as Jonathon Irons

First of all, it looks absolutely gorgeous on my XBox One. Close-ups of people look almost photo-realistic. There are often dozens of enemies on-screen, along with allies, civilians, and vehicles. The environments look equally great and there is so much variation in the 15 mission campaign that nothing ever feels stale or reused. AW takes you from the high rises and neon lights of Seoul, to icy arctic crevasses, to blue skies and traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge.

Likewise, your combat specialization changes from mission to mission, giving you access to novel abilities so gameplay changes and evolves throughout as well. In some missions you can grapple up to rooftops, or climb walls. In others you can send out a remote-controlled drone to deal with enemies, and block incoming attacks with your exo shield. Some levels require stealth, so you’re given a cloaking ability and mute charges for silent kills. It says a lot that I found the stealth parts of the game very enjoyable, because I’m generally far too impatient for subtlety in action games. Gameplay is fast, fun, and the controls are responsive and smooth.

The highlights of the game are the action setpieces. One of the standouts had me running through traffic, then jumping on the tops of buses as they sped down the highway to get to an enemy vehicle. Another had me crossing the Golden Gate Bridge on foot, weaving through abandoned cars, taking out enemies with sonic pulses, and ended with a rather spectacular explosion.

However, the reliance on setpieces also brought about the game’s biggest weakness, as it made many levels feel very much on the rails. There was a definite feeling that I should just be going from point A to point B as fast as possible and, though the game does have collectible Intel that is slightly off the path, exploration was discouraged. I often saw a huge message “You are leaving the mission area” message displayed across my screen, which was jarring considering how clean and HUDless the UI was. Likewise, AI squadmates do everything they can to keep you moving forward quickly, which often involves repeating an order over and over if you don’t carry it out fast enough. “Mitchell, set the charge,” “Mitchell, take him out,” “Mitchell, open the door,” “Mitchell, change your socks.” That got annoying fast. This is where I really felt that CoD was catering to the lowest common denominator. As a player I couldn’t be trusted to pay attention to the mission details at the start and carry out the objectives on my own, or figure anything out myself. The game felt it needed to tell me to run here, duck, put up my shield, open the door, use the grappling hook, shoot, press X to pay respects.

Call of Duty Advanced Warfare Gideon shooter bro

The story and characters of AW are rather trite but, even as someone who has never played the series before, I knew this is not a game you play for the story. Twists can be seen a mile away. Characters are not memorable. At the beginning of the game I was dismayed that I couldn’t tell any of the characters, including my own, apart because all the white male soldiers (90% of the characters) have the exact same facial hair. Does military regulation enforce permanent 5 o’clock shadow? Eventually I realized that not knowing who anyone was didn’t really detract from the experience and I stopped worrying about it.

There is a dearth of women in the game. I went through a full 1/3 of the campaign before I saw a woman up close and talked to her. A very important scene that fleshed out Mitchell as a character was unfortunately deleted at this point, but here’s how it was supposed to go:

Mitchell tensed up as he saw Ilona. He didn’t know what to do. It had been six years since he’d seen a woman up close and that had been his mother. “Oh my god, a girl. Don’t fuck this up,” he said to himself as she approached. He tried complimenting her boots because had heard that chicks dig that. She looked at him sideways and told him they were standard issue. He made an excuse and ran back to his bunk as fast as he could without betraying his cool exterior. “Stupid, stupid Mitchell” he chastised, slapping himself on the forehead repeatedly. Maybe once he proved his prowess in battle she would learn to love him.
/scene

Call of Duty Advanced Warfare - Ilona, the lone woman soldier

Thankfully, Ilona does become an actual character and is with you for a number of missions but as far as female representation, she’s pretty much it. Considering 15% of military forces are female now, and AW takes place 40 years in the future, I hoped to see more than one woman (especially in Atlus which is presumably not beholden to US policy). Disappointing, but sadly not unexpected. You can play as a female in multiplayer. Apparently, CoD:Ghosts was the first entry in the series that had this option. Ghosts was released in 2013. Is this real life? Of course, since multiplayer is completely first-person, your gender doesn’t matter a whole lot as you can only tell the difference when you get shot and start breathing audibly. But it’s nice the option was added after 10 years.

I did play a few hours of multiplayer, and while I prefer the campaign, it’s quite fun too. I haven’t had a chance to try all the different modes, I mainly stick to team deathmatch or confirmed kill. The mode I really like is Survival. This is a co-op mode with up to 4 players and the goal is to survive waves of bots. There are also some objective based waves thrown in to mix things up a bit. As someone who does not have much experience playing FPSs online against other people, Survival mode offers a bit more leeway and I found it much easier to get into. It’s good practice before jumping into real matches where people who have been playing online CoD for the last 10 years will frag you repeatedly until you give up.

 Rating: 8/10 – Advanced Warfare is not a game you play for the story or to inspire deep thoughts, but it delivers what it promises – a slick, fast-paced, first-person shooter with outstanding setpieces. The amount of hand-holding the game gives starts getting tedious around 2/3 of the way through but the campaign ends at the right time, before this gets too annoying. Overall an enjoyable single-player experience, with good multiplayer content that will stretch out the game time as long as you want it to.