Doctor Slimm gets shot (a lot) in PlayStation 3’s Call of Duty 4

Doctor Slimm attempts to diagnose small tweaks that would have improved the playing experience, sometimes imperceptibly. They are presented in no particular order. This is not a sequel wish list or a bug list but tweaks to what is already there.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007)

Single player: tackle terrorism in a contemporary battlefield as the world’s armed forces unite to remove a common enemy in a politically unstable country.

Multiplayer: employ all your guile, skill and persistence and work your way up from a lowly private with stock weapons by partaking in various wargames against other people from around the world.

10/10

As good as first person shooters get whose only minor fault is that it sometimes feels like the action happens with or without you. This is utterly spectacular, beautifully paced, gorgeous to look at and listen to and, critically, features pitch-perfect controls and instant all-enveloping atmosphere. And who knew that being able to shoot through certain materials would be so rewarding? Even when the game is over, the goodness doesn’t end with a wry rap stressing the fact that Call of Duty 3 isn’t an Infinity Ward game, a bonus level set on an airplane (“Don’t call me Shirley.”) and a never-ending and worthwhile multiplayer component.

This videogame contains a single sexual swear word, mild swear words and extended graphic war violence.

Classified 15 by BBFC. Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over.
Classified 16+ by PEGI. The game is only suitable for persons who have reached the age of 16 or over..
Classified Violence by PEGI. Game contains depictions of violence..
Classified Bad Language by PEGI. Game contains bad language..

Available on Xbox 360. Available on PC. Available on PS3. Available on Special Edition Xbox 360.

User-defined controls. In common with many console shooters, you cannot define your own controls in Call of Duty 4. You can choose one of the predefined control layouts which, impressively, include a few left-handed sets. However, the specific control I really wanted to change was Sprint which is assigned to L3 on all control schemes. I find it very difficult to sprint effectively in the game. Given the choice I would assign Sprint to Circle and Change Stance to L3. But I’m not given the choice.

Doctor Slimm found nothing else worth tweaking with the game. It’s that good.

Doctor Slimm pimps his ride in Xbox 360’s Forza Motorsport 2

Doctor Slimm attempts to diagnose small tweaks that would have improved the playing experience, sometimes imperceptibly. They are presented in no particular order. This is not a wish list for a sequel or a bug list but tweaks to what is already there.

Forza Motorsport 2 (2007)

Race online (requires Xbox Live Gold) or offline in any of over 300 cars on over 45 track variations in 12 locations. Customise your car with parts and paint jobs and race them and / or sell them in the Auction House (requires Xbox Live Gold).

9/10

With a driving experience that is, astonishingly, leagues ahead of the first Forza Motorsport (thanks to silky smooth graphics though they still haven’t delivered traction control, anti-lock brakes or, occasionally, low-speed rear-wheel drive that works) coupled with a huge amount of cars, superb online features and, Forza’s ace-in-the-hole, all-round car customisation mean that Forza Motorsport 2 really has set a decent target for Gran Turismo 5 next year. However, despite the wonderful tinkering, RPG and customisation aspects, the sum of its parts is somehow less than before with the team’s nagging lack of game ambition (car content is not gameplay) and the lack of actual racing (thanks to now-pansy and ill-disguised still-cheating AI) proving to be potentially significant weaknesses. Deduct a point if and for when you race with ABS, TCS, STM and Easy or Medium AI. Really. Deduct another point if you never paint your car or use the Auction House.

Available on Xbox 360. Available on Limited Edition Xbox 360.

A bonnet view that shows you the bonnet. Forza has the standard selection of driving views: near behind, far behind, bumper and bonnet. Except that with most of the cars in the game (a wonderful three-hundred or so), you cannot see the bonnet on the bonnet view.

Better spread of AI. Forza’s spread of seven AI opponents is not quite right. Presuming that you are in a fast enough car to win, there will, generally, only ever be one opponent in your race. By making at least the top two AI the same level and in equivalent cars, they can maintain some semblance of a race with each other. Grouping the AI into at least groups of two will see more lively looking racing. Seeing the AI ducking and diving contributes greatly to the thrilling feel of a racing game.

Stop AI following each other so closely without doing anything. If a real race driver was just a couple of feet behind the driver in front, he would consistently try overtaking everywhere he could. In Forza, the AI generally just follow each other without bunching up at corners and spreading out on straights. This is helps makes the race look so fake on replays. The cars are too close without moving about swapping lines and seriously attempting to overtake.

Be able to auction your current car. Forza has implemented a more expansive set of options when selecting one of your cars such as being able to get in it, sell it, view it’s history, and many more. With the wonderful Auction House (the only new feature in Forza 2 but a good ‘un), you can raise money by buying yourself a new car (cheap, one of the ones with 50% off), painting it and putting it to auction. The procedure goes thus:

  1. From the top Career menu go to Buy Cars and buy a car. Forza churns away for a while and returns you to the top Career menu.
  2. Paint the car. When finished you return to the top Career menu.
  3. Go to My Cars and select any other car. Forza churns away for a while and returns you to the top Career menu.
  4. Go to My Cars and find and select your newly acquired and painted car. Select Auction Car from the menu.

It would be handy if we could skip step 3 and directly auction the current car. Forza could automatically select another car. Either the first car on the list or the car with the nearest Performance Index or, probably the most favoured option, the last car you raced in.

At least one chap in your pit box. Forza has animated 3D people all over the place. Adding just one chap holding a lollipop in your pit box seems like a small thing to expect. On some tracks (Sunset Peninsula Speedway and Nurburgring, for example), there are mechanics in the pit lane but they just stand there checking their watch (!) and none of them are in your pit box or react to your presence.

Increase damage to AI. Not visual damage, actual damage. It takes almost nothing to damage your car. Sometimes, just the slightest knock will make something turn yellow on the damage indicator with a resulting loss of speed and, frequently, control. This generally requires a restart of the race. However, the same cannot be said of the AI. On the New York Circuit Reverse, the AI have terrible trouble with the last double right-hander and frequently drive into the inside wall. After eight laps of several AI doing this on several of the laps, I noted that only one of the AI had smoke coming out of his car and was travelling slower than normal. I did it once, by mistake, and my engine turned red and I crawled back to the pit lane at 50 mph. If you smash into the rear of a rear-engine AI car, your car becomes an almost instant write-off. The AI will usually continue as if nothing had happened. If an AI smashes into the rear of your rear-engine car, your car becomes an almost instant write-off. The AI will usually continue as if nothing happened. Nine times out of ten it will feel as if the AI car has not been damaged on a par with yours.

Don’t make the attract video graphics much much better than the game. This just makes the game graphics seem disappointing. Forza has a few attract videos. In all of them, the graphics used for the cars, the environment and the game presentation are far better than seen in the game. When we do get to the game, we should be enjoying the crisp, accurate and smooth HD graphics. Instead, there is an indefinable sense of flatness. This sense is subconsciously contributed to by the higher quality of the attract videos. As an aside, the videos also showcase slipstreaming which is, probably realistically, so subtle as to be non-existent in gameplay.

A couple of more interesting Achievements. The Achievements are currently well-balanced but it’s always nice to have a quirky one or two. A couple of suggestions:

  1. Not knocking off the cone on the inside of Turn 3 at Road Atlanta for 10 races.
  2. Knocking over every cone on every or each specific track while still winning the race.
  3. Win 20 career races with the same car.
  4. Win 5 races by crossing the finishing line backwards.
  5. Set successive fastest laps for every lap of a race.
  6. Win one race on every track variation without accruing any penalties. For further spice you could also set this to be done against a minimum of Easy, Medium and Hard AI.

Caching some button presses while navigating up and down menus. You have to wait for the new menu graphics to have loaded and faded in completely before a button press is recognised. This means you have to wait a short moment after the menu appears before you can start navigation. Sometimes, you just want to come all the way back out and return to the race you were just at or go to paint your car and apply a previous design. We are very good at remembering how many button presses it takes to get there but we have to wait for the menus. As an example of what I’m wittering on about see the menus on Colin McRae: Dirt where you can whiz through the menus and options before the menu animation completes.

Exhaust noise in bumper and bonnet views. A lot of the character of an engine’s singing voice is produced by the exhaust. In Forza, they supply the noise from your point of view. Which is fine. In the bumper and bonnet views, you can only really hear the engine. This tends to make most of the cars sound rather similar whereas the AI cars around you all have distinct and wonderful exhaust notes added to their repertoire. It would be a nice option to hear the full engine and exhaust sound in the onboard views. Even nicer would be the addition of the reflected noise that you get faked in the replays. Now, after I wrote this, I played a championship with the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII MR which does have audible exhaust sound coming out of the right rear surround. So it is in the game but you can’t hear it almost all the time.

Don’t change buttons for the replay. In common with a lot of racing games, Forza has a completely different set of hard-coded buttons active during replays. For instance, d-pad-up brings up telemetry during gameplay but X brings it up during replay. One control remains unchanged and that is the right-stick look around which still works when on a driving view (as opposed to the default replay view).

Replay cameras. Forza’s replays appear unchanged from the first game and, as such, focus on getting the best picture out of a standard definition display. This usually means extreme close-ups and onboard cameras. On HD displays the lack of visual information given to the viewer renders the replays virtually worthless as you usually can’t tell where on the racetrack you are and cannot feel the shape or story of the race. Some tweaks that would help this would be:

  1. Remove all onboard camera angles used by the pre-defined cameras replay. The user can select an onboard camera angle using the Y button if they want to see one.
  2. Pull most cameras zoom out a bit so you can clearly see more than one car at a time and a bit of track. The occasional car close-up is nice and shows off your paint job but too much of that loses the viewers ability to mentally grasp the geometry of the race.
  3. If the track is a real world location, always use the same camera positions as used by the real world television presentation. This was something employed to wonderful effect in ‘Sir’ Geoff Crammond’s masterly Grand Prix (aka World Circuit) series.

Re-use sky-boxes. Forza only seems to use one sky-box and lighting scheme per track variation. For example, Silverstone International always has sun shining through moody clouds. Even though Forza has no weather effects at all, it would add to the environmental variety a little if each track could use any of the sky-boxes and lighting schemes produced.

Semi-auto gears. Allow us to override the current gear in automatic mode. I have no idea why more racing games don’t allow you to do this. In Forza this means that most of the high performance and all of the race cars don’t have a gear change system that echoes reality and you cannot employ the basic driving mechanic of short-shifting.

More camera control when you hire a driver. Forza Motorsport 2 has a neat feature where you can hire an AI driver to compete in a race using your car. You then watch the race from predefined cameras that are the same as the default replay view. It would have been a nice option to be able to change the view and, like the replay, cycle through the driving views available.

Remove redundant messages. Occasionally Forza will show you an unnecessary message that requires you to press A to continue. An example would be the message that comes up after you’ve applied a design from the design catalogue in the Career / Paint Car menu. We know the design has been applied because we can see our car. No need to tell us as well. There’s one in the Auction House as well, if my notes are correct.

Look at results after selecting Continue after a race has finished. When the race is finished the results and fastest laps are displayed. You press Continue to keep the result and get your winnings. On more than one occasion I’ve not done too well in a race and I need to check my fastest lap to see whether I have the speed to win or need to purchase upgrades or adjust tactics or whatever. I have selected Continue almost automatically before checking my lap time. I would like to be able to press B to go back to the race results screen on these occasions.

Fiddle with the HDR sliders. High Dynamic Range lighting is supposed to mimic the expanding and retracting of the human iris when seeing brightness changes (for example, when you drive into a tunnel from daylight). In Forza, this means that white cars, indeed any colour car, can appear almost black from certain angles. This is wrong. When was the last time you stepped outdoors and thought “That’s a nice black car… Oh, it’s white”?

Allow you to press B when viewing event opponents or restrictions or A when changing race options. A is forward, continue, accept, select. B is back, cancel, don’t select. Forza sometimes forces you to use one where it isn’t entirely expected. When viewing opponents or restrictions for an event, you must press A to get rid of the pop-up message. B is the more natural button while either A or B could be accepted. When you change in-race options such as the HUD or pre-race options such as the difficulty you must press B to continue and accept your changes when A is the more natural button. Again, either A or B could be accepted.

Massively reduce the painting display when positioning layers. When you position a layer, the menu stays the same size even though it is only displaying, at most, two numbers. This is especially troublesome when painting the front or rear of the car and makes painting the rear wing near impossible. I suggest that the positioning menu could be the width of the largest option available through the left and right triggers (that’ll be Transparency) and placed on the left or right of the screen. There should still be enough room to show the current positioning page, indicate that more are available using the triggers and display the numbers required.

Don’t make AI skill level affect car performance. If you have a AI skill level 10 driver in the same car as a lesser skill level AI, the lower skilled AI will, noticeably, accelerate slower and have a lower top speed. This highlights Forza 2‘s AI code which already feels more sterile, rigid and less aware than Forza 1. AI skill level should not affect car performance and should be seen to improve car control and overtaking opportunism.

JPEG 90. I know it would take up a lot more space on forzamotorsport.net but the current quality of the photos that you upload is poor. Especially with the amount of effort that goes in to a lot of the paint jobs, it would be a nice touch to be able to show off your work in pin-sharp detail.

Doctor Slimm strokes PlayStation 3’s Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction

Doctor Slimm attempts to diagnose small tweaks that would have improved the playing experience, sometimes imperceptibly. They are presented in no particular order. This is not a sequel wish list or a bug list but tweaks to what is already there. 

Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction (2007)

Ratchet and Clank embark on another galaxy spanning adventure as they attempt to help the hapless half-wait Captain Qwark out of the clutches of diminutive but evil Emperor Tachyon. Making things harder is Tachyon’s utter abhorence of Lombaxes, of which Ratchet is the only one in existence, and Tachyon doesn’t care who or what gets in his destructive line of sight.

8/10

Lots of fun and lots of it in this easy-to-play, very easy-to-recommend and wonderful-looking action platforming romp. There’s a minute lack of atmosphere but this won’t nag at the young ‘uns and the ending is slightly mishandled (it’s downbeat instead “Let’s go!” to the next adventure) but there are so many things done right including the graphics, the voice-work, most of the Sixaxis stuff (didn’t like the Visicopter) and, bestest of all, ‘those wonderful toys’ at your disposal.

This videogame contains extended fantasy violence.

Classified 7+ by PEGI. The game is only suitable for persons who have reached the age of 7 or over.
Classified Violence by PEGI. Game contains depictions of violence..

Available on PS3.

Deadly liquid that looks like deadly liquid. Many of the planets in Ratchet and Clank Future feature rivers, lakes and seas that kill you if you fall in them. However, they are not graphically differentiated enough from the water you can swim in and so it usually strikes you as odd and annoying when you fall in and die. Also, the death animation is always the sinking in gelatonium animation from Planet Cobalia but on that planet you can jump out of the gelatonium if you are quick enough and, inside the factory, you actually just get piped through the system and emerge from a manhole. There needed to be two clearly different animations for deadly liquid you can and can’t escape from and the different liquids needed to be much more strongly defined visually.

Staying Alive. While the Groovitron is the game’s headline gadget and is insanely wonderful (it causes all enemies, even automated turrets and bosses, in the game to start boogieing), it really really aches for the finishing touch of The Bee Gee’s Staying Alive or some other disco anthem. The rights were presumably prohibitively expensive but it is a desperate shame that it isn’t there.

Don’t let the player fall to his doom without warning. It’s difficult to fathom why this still exists in 2007 videogames. Instead of simply letting Ratchet fall to his doom while walking along, he should always give some kind of visual feedback that he is in danger. In the majestic Ico, the hero would always grab onto the ledge instead of falling. Ratchet already has ledge-grappling animation and mechanics and so should not be falling to his doom unnecessarily. Additionally, God of War showed that there is absolutely no problem with removing the player’s ability to fall off most ledges.

Moral repercussions for killing consumer bots. Ratchet generally goes around deconstructing everything in sight because they are baddies out to kill him but there are a number of levels where there are entirely innocent robots just milling around. You still get the bolt reward for splatting them and, in fact, Skill Points are assigned for smashing all the innocent bots on Cobalia. It would have been better if Clank would repeatedly chastise Ratchet for unnecessary carnage of what are, after all, his brethren. “Oops” “Don’t do that, Ratchet” “That’s not nice” “What did that bot do?” eventually leading up to, perhaps, “I don’t like you when you do that” and “Are you going to smash me, too?”

User-defined controls. In common with many console games, you cannot define your own controls. You can choose one of the predefined control layouts. Now I was happy with both the control schemes but am not given the choice.

Make death hurt. Contemporary reviews bashed Ratchet and Clank for being too easy which, frankly, it isn’t. The difficulty is beautifully judged and you will die lots and lots of times while playing the game. However, there is no real penalty for dying and it doesn’t feel like you died or got whupped. Perhaps taking a percentage of your coins and raritanium when you die would make Ratchet’s death feel much less blasé and encourage the player to try and stay alive. Or, perhaps, similar to Challenge mode, an ongoing reward multiplier that is increased whenever you complete any objective without dying. Also, as an added detail, perhaps the makers could have made it so that Clank steps in and flies you back to the beginning of the planet instead of Ratchet actually dying. As it is, the player will just wade in to any situation and mash on the attack buttons until everything goes quiet or he wakes up at the beginning of the planet again.