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Monday, August 30, 2010

Firefight mode confirmed in Halo: Reach

We've just hot-footed it back from Microsoft's Play Day event at Gamescom - where among the many delights on offer, was a chance to grab a fresh hands on with Halo Reach's epic Firefight mode. New for Gamescom was a brand new map, Corvette, which takes place in a vast hanger aboard the titular Covenant spacecraft and with the countdown clock rapidly ticking down, we leapt in to join three fellow Spartans to repel the Covenant hordes.

You begin Corvette in a small room tucked away at the back of the level, chock full of handy gear and an ammo cache, but as soon as you exit this safe area, you're into the vast belly of the ship, with a big circular central area surrounded by a series of gently curving platforms. Two force fields seal the hanger at either end and these are the entrances through which the covenant troop transports glide, disgorging a fearsome array of Covenant beasties. Being a more skirmishing-scout type player we were a shoo-in for the Recon role and a pleasant surprise awaits in the hands all over the new Designated Marksman Rifle, a hard hitting scoped weapon which boasts fearsome stopping power and extreme headshot capability. Lurking around on the raised platforms provided plenty of opportunities for stealthy sniper skills, or close fire support for your team-mates below. When the Covenant push you hard, Recon's grenade and assault rifle backup means you've also got plenty of options for close quarters combat.

There's also a great deal of variety to the 'incoming'. Things start off relatively sedate with a few waves of low level Grunts and supporting Elites, but the challenge rapidly ramps up with marauding Hunters and shield-wielding Jackals providing a much sterner challenge. We also encountered the new Skirmisher Covenant, tough, agile opponents who hunt in packs, love to attack any exposed flank and slowly tighten the noose, if you hold position for too long. It's quite an achievement to survive a wave of these unscathed, however our biggest challenge on Corvette came when one of the drop ships dropped off a new heavily armoured version of the Wraith tank. This new Super Wraith creates absolute havoc on the field and only precise shots at its crew or extremely heavy firepower can make a dent. You'll do well to avoid its Grunt operated turret and much faster, lower trajectory electrical blast too.

While you can retreat to your safe area for a quick reload in between rounds, your survival will largely depend on scrounging fallen Covenant weapons and turning them against their former masters. We managed to grab a blast with the new plasma rifle and it's quick spread of shots and concentrated firepower make it a real step up from the plasma pistol. However unlike its handheld counterpart, if the rifle overheats, you can hold X to vent the plasma, cooling the weapon down, but leaving you vulnerable for several seconds. Not advisable in the middle of a frantic firefight. Then alas all too quickly our time was up, but if Corvette is anything to go by, Reach looks set extend and expand ODST's excellent Firefight mode with a horde of new weapons enemies and modes.

Corvette itself is a great looking, highly evocative level, balancing the wide open spaces and free-form carnage below with plenty of cover on the periphery and lots of sniping and overwatch positions above. All in all a near perfect arena for a few frantic, frenetic rounds of Firefight. September 14th can't come soon enough.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Black Ops campaign preview

If I could pick one word to describe what I was shown of the Call of Duty: Black Ops single-player campaign, it would be 'intense'. The action is intense, the atmosphere is intense, the violence is intense. Hell, even the weather is intense.

There's probably just enough space in the internet left for me to use a few more words than that, but it's a term Treyarch community manager Josh Olin used a fair few times as he guided me through two stages of what is undoubtedly one of this year's most anticipated releases.

Not that 2009's Call of Duty (COD) release Modern Warfare 2 lacked intensity, of course. But it was the glory, rather than the horrors of war that was the focus. The notable shift in tone is a clear attempt by the World at War developer to take the flagship FPS series and stamp their name all over it.

Given Infinity Ward's offering last year was often described as "the biggest entertainment launch ever" (well biggest since the launch of the cup and ball in sixteenth-century France at least) a new development team had some pretty big expectations to live up to. And, so far, it looks like they've more than risen to the challenge.

Black Ops' story mode focuses on the exploits of elite commando squads working behind enemy lines during the cold war. It's a setting that's been visited a few times in the gaming world, and the historical significance of the period, along with a new, unique arsenal of weapons to gets to grips with means its a great choice for a COD game.

For the first time for Treyarch, the single and multiplayer modes had individual, dedicated teams - while many gamers see the franchise as primarily an online experience, what's on offer here is by no means an afterthought.