Call of Duty: Black Ops III Unveiled

Future. Weapons. Technology.

Treyarch seems to be taking the cyberpunk approach to their next entry in their Black Ops franchise. The gameplay trailer certainly has a lot of flash and fancy weapons and The Rolling Stones, but forgive me if my kneejerk reaction was feeling underwhelmed.

Call of Duty: Black Ops IIIIt’s probably because a game like Deus Ex exists, and is very good. Call of Duty, while destined to be a fine game as far as a shooter is concerned, does not possess the nuance to artfully dance around the social issues that classic cyberpunk presents. I love the setting, I love the progression of technology, I just think Call of Duty will end up being as subtle as if Michael Bay were to direct Blade Runner.

Aside from that, maybe an adrenaline technology augmented shooter is what’s missing from the Call of Duty franchise. Sledgehammer toyed with the idea using exo-suits and Private Military Contractors in Advanced Warfare, taking the next step in cybernetics by creating true technological super soldiers might be enough to allow Treyarch to separate them from Sledgehammer’s strong debut.

But how will the game play? Treyarch is currently positioned as the alpha in the house of CoD and with their assurance that their famed zombie mode will return, they’ve got a few tricks up their sleeves for Black Ops III.

  • Dedicated servers for multiplayer, zombies and single-player
  • Single-player will add online 4-player co-op
  • Campaign level design is more open, in an arena like fashion
  • Players are customizable and level up, across all modes
  • Single player campaign has load-outs
  • Maps are designed around enhanced movement system, ala Advanced Warfare
  • Zombies mode characters earn experience points

Call of Duty: Black Ops IIIIt sounds like Treyarch is creating an entirely integrated infrastructure for their players, regardless of what mode they call home. There are certainly merits to a lot of these ideas, which would be solid additions to an already taut shooter. If implemented correctly, things like the customizable load out in single player or progression on the zombie modes will keep players coming back for repeat playthroughs and keep that disc spinning until Infinity Ward is up to bat.

With a multiplayer beta test on the way and a release date of November 6, Treyarch has boldly put their stamp on the shooter space. It will be an interesting holiday to see if DICE can steal some thunder with Star Wars Battlefront, but Activision and Call of Duty seem to be dropping the hammer before they lose any momentum.

Forbes – Watch The First ‘Black Ops 3’ Gameplay Trailer, New Details Revealed

Activision and Harmonix Want Us to Rock Like It’s 2007 (And That’s Fine By Me)

Guitar Hero LiveWith the obvious recent announcements of Activision’s Guitar Hero Live and Harmonix’s Rock Band 4 it is safe to wonder about the once mega-popular gaming genre that had seemingly jumped the shark. Has it been long enough? Why has it taken this long? I don’t have nearly enough storage space for more plastic instruments!

One thing will always remain constant: people love music and want to immerse themselves in it. Many attend concerts, some form cover bands, others hang out at karaoke bars every weekend. Others strap on plastic instruments and hammer away to their favorite guitar riffs.

Guitar Hero III: Legends of RockEverybody remembers the story, Guitar Hero was the popular lightning in the bottle that Activision and Harmonix jointly created, it was  a success that was built on the understanding of music and note charting that Harmonix had and the incredible peripheral that Red Octane built. When the two went their separate ways and Harmonix made Rock Band with MTV Games and Electronic Arts, Activision saw to keep churning out Guitar Hero, making Red Octane build more guitars and bringing in Neversoft to design the game. While their skill at note charting was not to the same degree as their predecessor’s, Neversoft managed to create several zany iterations of Rock Band until 2010’s Warriors of Rock.

On the Harmonix front, Rock Band saw a gamut of success from music purists with three core iterations of Rock Band. With their multiple instrument approach, weekly expanding library and mastery over creating challenging, yet playable tracks, Harmonix had a formula that worked. Sadly for Rock Band 3, arguably the best in the series, nobody bought in to the additional keyboard or pro controllers and fans of the franchise were feeling burnt out and claustrophobic in their plastic instrument cluttered living rooms.

Rock Band 2So it’s been five years since Rock Band and Guitar Hero filled every corner of retail space, why is it the right time for them both to be making a comeback? Doesn’t the same problems of overlap and oversaturation remain? Of course they do.

But we missed this genre.

Nothing has brought friends together in a space to play a game like a solid multiplayer rhythm game. Not even the dancing games like Dance Central or Just Dance have had the mesmerizing effects of Rock Band and Guitar Hero. Shouting “Star Power!” at your bass player to get the bonus up in Guitar Hero, nailing those perfect drum solos on expert in Rock Band, battling with each other in Guitar Hero III. Rock Band and Guitar Hero were at the frontlines of gaming’s biggest foray into mass media popularity.

But what about the problem where they wore out each other’s welcome?

Certainly Activision has been guilty of beating franchises into the ground, and Guitar Hero was no exception to this story. Despite both franchises offering solid features in Warriors of Rock and Rock Band 3, nobody cared enough to drop down all that money into more plastic instruments for barely any new gameplay offerings. While Activision may have stressed the issue, Harmonix was sucked into the whirlpool and did not do enough to differentiate themselves.

Guitar Hero Live2015, I hope, is different. Harmonix is continuing down the path that they know best with Rock Band 4. Retaining their massive back catalog, focusing on the four player band experience (and ditching the key-tar) and bringing players back together. This is the experience that I missed and craved. In a sort of greatest hits move, Harmonix is firing on all cylinders, giving fans the experience they are known for and that they expect.

So it turns out that Activision and Guitar Hero are the wildcards. They have gone in a completely different direction with their next iteration, Guitar Hero Live. The focus is once again only on the guitar, no more copying Harmonix’s formula, Activision is dead set on creating the best guitar experience on consoles. Rocksmith’s strong performance is evident that people clearly want something in this vein, even if Rocksmith is grounded in reality.

Guitar Hero LiveAs for that reality that Rocksmith provides, Activision is watching that. With former DJ Hero developer FreeStyleGames taking over, gone are the cartoony, over sensationalized characters of the sixth and seventh generations and now we have scripted reactions, in FMV form, at simulated concert venues, complete with band mates, crowds and roadies. They react to your great play, they react to your poor play. It’s an interesting concept that seems like it belongs in the days of Sega CD and the 3DO, but it seems to work. So I’ll let the gameplay be the judge. Don’t want that live experience? Activision is amping up their DLC library with Guitar Hero TV which replaces the scripted reactionary video with downloaded music videos that you will play along with.

And lastly, the guitar.

Guitar Hero LiveActivision is changing the way the guitar frets work, to further differentiate themselves from Rock Band’s classic five-button configuration. Now it is three frets, each with two buttons, making a total of six buttons to play. Just the thought of quickly processing the change between top and bottom frets confuses my left hand. Making the challenge greater is that Guitar Hero Live will be using black and white note indicators, doing away with the colored combinations of yesteryear.

When companies compete, the consumer wins. Now that Activision and Harmonix are finally competing with individual products, instead of fighting for who has the best version of the same idea, we can finally enjoy the unique offerings each has.

The music rhythm genre was once on of the most popular genres available and oversaturation killed it. Hopefully a wiser, patient strategy will take place and if Activision is to be believed, no longer approached on an annual basis. This is the perfect time for a comeback tour. Let there be rock.

Treyarch Confirms Call of Duty: Black Ops III in Teaser Trailer

Call of Duty: Black Ops IIIToday, Activision and Treyarch unveiled a teaser trailer for 2015’s Call of Duty entry, Call of Duty: Black Ops III. This is following a series of viral marketing stunts, including placing SnapChat ads within 2012’s Black Ops II. A full reveal of Black Ops III was dated at the end of the trailer for April 26, 2015.

There’s just enough information to pick out of the Black Ops III teaser trailer to indicate that we’re going down the rabbit hole of sleeper agents and espionage again, staying in line with the storyline themes of the subfranchise. It will be interesting to see how Treyarch plans to approach their story after Black Ops II featured several branching paths which was a first for the Call of Duty franchise (short of saving Kiefer Sutherland’s Sgt. Roebuck in World at War, another Treyarch entry) at the time.

Also unannounced is whether Treyarch will further flesh out their Strike Force mode, which meshed elements of real time strategy with the frenetic action of Call of Duty’s first person shooting. The mode had potential but very much played better online than in single player.

Treyarch has come a long way from Activision’s perceived “B-team” and has since stepped out of the shadow cast by Infinity Ward. Black Ops was the best thing to happen to the studio and they also created the surprisingly addictive Zombies mode, which originally launched alongside World at War. While Sledgehammer Games has since come along to up the ante, thanks to last year’s stellar Advanced Warfare, there certainly is a fair bit of pressure to see how Treyarch reacts to the internal competition.

Advanced Warfare was a big step forward thanks to the speed and verticality the EXO-suits gave to players, greatly impacting multiplayer matches and strategy. I am curious to see if Treyarch is able to keep players interested in a more grounded Call of Duty experience, or if they choose to add some of Advanced Warfare’s mechanics into their game. It would certainly fit their technological timeline as Black Ops II was set in the near future, giving Black Ops III plenty of options chronologically.

From the Call of Duty Official Website:

Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 is the first title for next-gen hardware in the critically acclaimed Black Ops series. Developed by Treyarch, the award-winning creator of the two most-played games in Call of Duty history. Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 deploys players into a dark, twisted future where a new breed of Black Ops soldier emerges and the lines are blurred between our own humanity and the technology we created to stay ahead, in a world where cutting-edge military robotics define warfare. With three unique game modes: Campaign, Multiplayer and Zombies, providing fans with the deepest and most ambitious Call of Duty ever.

John Malkovich Presents Exo-Suited Zombies

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare - Havoc DLCCall of Duty is sure becoming synonymous with celebrity cameos. And zombies.

Fresh off their fantastically received, future-shooter Advanced Warfare, Sledgehammer Games is set to begin their DLC cycle for their first Call of Duty title, beginning with the Havoc DLC pack. The Havoc DLC pack will include four new multiplayer maps and the addition of the Exo Zombie mode with one mode exclusive map.

Call of Duty’s Zombies mode was first introduced and popularized by developer Treyarch as an add-on to 2008’s World at War. They have since refined and improved the formula, garnering it one of the most popular modes in their following Black Ops titles.

The new Exo Zombies mode provides a new twist to the classic survival and resource management style of the Zombies formula by giving Zombies access to the same Exo suit technology that Advanced Warfare has built its style of play from. The speed and verticality of the new Exo suits already made Advanced Warfare’s multiplayer component a unique experience from previous titles and it is only natural that an added survival mode contain enemies that can make use of those new strategy elements.

Exo Zombies also continues the trend of inserting celebrity facsimiles as playable characters in a pseudo-story ala Left 4 Dead. This time around John Malkovich leads a ragtag group of Atlas survivors including Rose McGowan, Bill Paxton and Jon Bernthal. Malkovich always manages to captivate, no matter what his performance medium and he seems to have taken an approach similar to his character, Cyrus “The Virus” from Con Air.

While possibly the highest profile group of celebrities to grace Call of Duty’s gameplay at one time, Call of Duty has already had the likenesses of Kevin Spacey, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Danny Trejo, George Romero and even JFK and Richard Nixon as characters in their universe. They certainly have been able to have a little fun with their modes, be it the serious roles that actors like Spacey play or the more off-beat Zombie modes that the ex-presidents and horror stars appear in.

The Havoc DLC pack for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare will launch tomorrow, January 27 on the Xbox One and Xbox 360 for $14.99. Season Passes that include the Havoc DLC and three future packs costs $50. Due to the timed exclusive deal with Microsoft, the DLC will appear on PlayStation consoles and PC at a later date, most likely a month afterwards.

Geometry Wars 3 is Almost Here

For those that know my gaming habits pretty well, I am known as a fairly well versed gamer. I put in as many hours in a yearly iteration of Madden as I do a JRPG, my selection of racing games is rivaled by my selection of shooters, I have obscure puzzlers, platformers and character action games in a library that I have lovingly accrued over my adult life. But ask me what game I would drop into the hands of a person new to gaming and also for those who love all games, the answer is almost always Geometry Wars. Its twin stick controls are as easy to pick up as a basic platformer. One stick to move, one to shoot, don’t die.

Tucked away as an Easter egg in Project Gotham Racing 2, Geometry Wars was accessible by walking through your virtual garage and finding an arcade cabinet tucked in the back. That game was the original Geometry Wars, a retro style shooter that was simple yet addicting. A game that you never truly won, you just lived a little longer each time. When the Xbox 360 launched, Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved came along with it as one of the marquee Xbox Live Arcade offerings. Gone were the black and white visuals of that little arcade game hidden in a hardcore racer. Instead, Retro Evolved featured bright explosive shapes and colors, launching fireworks at your eyes. If you had an HD display back then, the effect was incredible. Geometry Wars was a certified hit and was one of the simplest games to play, and the most intense to master.

When Activision purchased Bizarre Creations away from Microsoft, not only did Microsoft lose their Project Gotham Racing developer (and ultimately that franchise) but it also lost exclusivity to the Geometry Wars game. Unfortunately, Activision had no idea how to utilize Bizarre’s talent and squandered the team on a James Bond shooter and the poorly marketed (but criminally underrated) racer Blur. They did manage to push Geometry Wars: Galaxies out the door for the Wii and DS, but it was hardly the high definition eye-straining tear inducer that the two Retro Evolved games were.

When Activision resurrected the Sierra brand, the decided that not only would classic adventure games like Gabriel Knight come back, but a classic that would have an immediate impact would return as well. Oddly enough, Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions is a big deal to me and I can’t wait to peel my eyelids back and explore the new puzzles, 3D maps (almost like a mash up of Super Mario Galaxy) and make an attempt at those survival leaderboards.

Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions will release November 25 on Playstation 4, Playstation 3 and PC and November 26 on Xbox One and Xbox 360. The game is being developed by Lucid Games, a studio comprised of many ex-Bizarre Creations staff.

Sledgehammer Games is Third Studio Tapped for Call of Duty Development

Call of Duty Ghosts

It was bound to give eventually.

Activision’s seemingly annual trip to the bank, Call of Duty, is getting a little help on its quest to remain the most relevant shooter on a yearly basis. Sledgehammer Games will be releasing their first title in the Call of Duty franchise as lead development studio beginning with this fall’s as-yet-not-announced title to be launched most likely in October or November of 2014.

No stranger to working on a Call of Duty game, Sledgehammer Games had previously co-developed CoD: Modern Warfare 3 alongside Infinity Ward. In fact, Activision has constantly farmed out its in-house studios to assist in Call of Duty development, including the veteran teams at Raven Software and Neversoft. Although Sledgehammer Games has no marquee titles to their credit, the studio’s founders Glen Schofield and Michael Condrey are industry veterans formerly of Electronic Arts’ Visceral Studios where they led development on the first Dead Space.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

By adding a third development studio in Sledgehammer Games to the rotating former duo of Infinity Ward and Treyarch, Activision has increased the production time for Call of Duty titles from two years to three years. Sledgehammer’s upcoming fall release will be the first title made under the three year production cycle.

With the increased time to polish a product and a steady hand at Sledgehammer, I have surprisingly raised expectations for the next Call of Duty. Hopefully they will be able to tap into Schofield and Condrey’s experience with Dead Space in making tone and mood much more prominent in whatever Call of Duty comes to pass. Maybe even recall how much fun those Lord of the Rings and 007 games were back when Visceral was still EA Redwood.

Dead Space

Judging by the tepid response to Call of Duty: Ghosts, the teams at Treyarch and Infinity Ward have to be a bit burned out by now. Infinity Ward clearly has had it rough since the departure of Jason West and Vance Zampella. Modern Warfare 3 was good but not stellar and Ghosts was a regression in the series. Activision is fortunate that the Call of Duty formula is fairly bulletproof and that former second-string developer Treyarch has blossomed into the franchise’s star. Having Sledgehammer take some of the pressure off those two studios will be a good move in the long run, especially if they keep wringing the series for money.

Polygon – Call of Duty moving to 3-year, 3-studio dev cycle, Sledgehammer on 2014 game

Destiny Destined for September 9 Release

Destiny

Destiny, Bungie’s first game under new publisher Activision, will be launching September 9, 2014.

Originally slated for a spring release, pushing Destiny back into the fall gives Bungie a little more breathing room, especially with Respawn Entertainment’s Titanfall set to make some noise in March. With the later release date, Bungie is now targeting a summer multiplayer beta test that will be available first on the Sony PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 3.

Destiny

In an industry filled with ‘what have you done for me lately’ tenants, Destiny’s success is crucial to Activision and Bungie’s relationship together. Bungie has been largely quiet since Halo Reach, instead assisting 343 Industries in taking over developmental duties for the Halo franchise. While taking their time during development is something that Bungie has a reputation of, the delay to fall leaves many with new consoles salivating for something big to play.

To me, Destiny definitely has the polish and vintage sci-fi spark that Bungie cut its teeth on during its Halo days and the studio’s bold vision of an always-online MMO type shooter has certainly piqued my interest. Initial thoughts have been that Destiny certainly has Halo’s fingerprints all over its DNA, but that might not necessarily be a bad thing.

Bungie – Destiny Launch Date