Call of War of Honoured Duty: Battlefield Defeat Sixty Four

‘Real war’ style simulations in any gaming genre generally have about as much appeal to me as a candyfloss covered turd. They might sometimes look nice from a distance, but on closer inspection I can see that the flavour is so obviously going to be wrong I really don’t want to take a bite. The lack of appeal is because despite the fact I enjoy a good bit of aggression, gore and warlike competition in my games, I’d rather have a fantastical take on things when it comes to setting and flavour. Softy lefty hypocritical sensibilities they maybe, but I think that actual wars and actual guns and such are a horrible ugly side of humanity, that doesn’t really need glorifying or reproducing any further than actual history books and documentaries. Serious issues like these are best treated seriously, not in frivolous videogame titles. It’s also one reason I’ve never gotten into historical miniature wargaming. Not that interactive methods of explaining history have to be frivolous and certainly can work, it’s just a subject matter that needs to be handled very carefully in my book.

However in recent years the Call of Duty franchise has seen so much play on my XBL Friends List, that I’ve succumbed to giving it a try anyway. I’m also no stranger to the concept of the ‘magic circle‘ around a gaming activity, and why it can arguably be removed from any real-life experience. Also I love to have a game that I can play with as many of my real-life friends for social reasons, no matter how much I actually like it. In the past Halo 2 sufficed nicely, however on the 360 I’ve found that my original standby ‘social game’ Halo 3 was not cutting it! And potential replacements like Team Fortress 2 or Left 4 Dead haven’t really captured the zeitgeist with my less gaming literate buddies. In other words I still have way too many friends that only really play COD.

War.. HUUUH! What is it good for? Videogaming apparently.

I’d already picked up Call of Duty 3 as part of the ebay deal I got when buying a second NTSC XBox and I’ve currently rented out CoD4 Modern Warfare as well, through a specialist UK game rental site that I am trying out. To be honest my review of the single player campaign for both games would be pretty similar: Retarded friendly and enemy AI, scripted sequences filled with what can only be described in internet vernacular as “LOL-Fail”, stupid checkpointing and ‘trigger’ locations, tedious trial and error gameplay, laughably unrealistic portrayals of ‘realism’, ridiculous QTE-style sequences, complete gimmicks of ‘variety’ levels and too many poor design decisions to list. Despite being released so long ago, even the first Halo and Half Life 1 are many years ahead of where these games are today for story mode, and stuff like Gears of War is so advanced compared to them, I’m actually quite shocked that these campaign modes still exist in their current format. Back to the Past, rather than the Future then, Call of Duty campaign modes can offer the current player real ‘retro gaming’! Also somewhat amusingly many ‘fantasy’ games do a far better job of giving an impression of real war and combat (because obviously I have sooo much personal experience of that…! what I am actually talking about of course is a feeling of immersion & suspension of disbelief, and not the strong feeling that I am just ‘playing a game’ that COD games give me). Despite all of this however where both COD games do score quite well is in the challenge level they provide. Albiet you often only pass a section after numerous trial-and-errors to “find the softest route” and learning the scripted enemy “chain” sequence that is the drivel that passes for enemy AI in these games, but despite this ‘cheapness’ to the experience, there’s still that lovely kick of fiero once you finally get to the next checkpoint after dying ten times – and even on standard difficulty a new player can be expected to die far more frequently than in other contemporary FPS titles.

Some say this COD game is half-game, half-fish, others say it's more of a 60-40 split. Either way, it's one fishy bastard!

COD4 is clearly better than COD3 at least, by removing most of the ridiculous QTE-style moments and having a far more interesting storyline behind it, the current-day / near-future fantasy presumably allowing it much more scope. Also the remarkably actually good voice acting (rather than the atrocious stuff in COD3) helped carry it, and the ‘variety’ sections were also far improved. It also appears to offer far more replay value in terms of arcade mode and various Achievement-hunts on offer.

But I noticed via Achievement spying that some of the biggest COD players on my FL hadn’t even completed the campaign modes as far as I had in a single night of play on each, so these games can’t be judged overall on this mode of play. Like Street Fighter, these games are clearly built more for multiplayer, and arguably some of the failings of the campaign modes at least actually prepare you a little better for versus play – eg. constantly re-spawning enemies, or the ‘press on to the objective disregarding the hail of bullets like a lunatic’ game sections.  So far I’ve only scratched the surface of the multiplayer game with a few hours of COD4:MW and a couple of games on MW2, and I’ve observed play of a couple of my friends for a few more hours on Modern Warfare 2. My initial experiences are already far better than stuff like Gears of War Versus mode or really bad times like my first try on Team Fortress 2 on the 360. It was really easy to get into a decent relatively lag-free game and also a nice smooth interface to play on the same team as Navan, which meant we had at least a modicum of teamwork. Naturally the first thing I did was mock the distasteful real-world setting of the game by shouting at Navan in faux-redneck American “When can I kill some of them goddamn AY-Rabs?” “I hate them EYE-Rackies!” “What about Nazis, can I shoot some Nazis?”…

And why isn't this called COD6 anyway?

But despite having a friendly guidance on-hand it was still extremely daunting dropping into a multiplayer game without any clue of the maps, weapons, classes or even knowing the button config! I still cannot believe how badly most of these games treat a new player – at least Gears 2 offered some training missions against bots, Halo 3 offered a special match-made newbies area, and Left 4 Dead at least let you figure out the maps and mechanics as a co-op campaign from a survivors-view point, whereas both Modern Warfare titles seem hell-bent on doing everything the wrong way around. Whilst there appeared to be some kind of matchmaking engine resolving the team match ups at least (although it may have just been dumb luck, as it didn’t always seem to work), I soon discovered my character was equipped with a special ‘noob-gun’ and ‘noob character’ skills layout, and yet I was still being asked to fight against players that had grinded their way to “higher levels” in the online game, and so now had options and setups that I wasn’t even allowed to use! Now I’m sympathetic to the idea of unlocking stuff on games and have experienced the way it can give some titles added longevity. I don’t even mind having to unlock characters in a fighting game that much, it’s just that if you are going to do it there should always be an option to instantly unlock all the characters for those people who don’t care for such grindy stuff, and want to play straight-up in a fair competitive fight (& it’s also vital for tournaments but that’s a side issue). However doing it the Modern Warfare way is so much the antithesis of this that it can only be described as deliberately “anti-fair”! Can you imagine going into a Street Fighter match and being demolished by someone doing a hadouken in your face, and then trying to do one back yourself to even the odds, only to discover you had to win 50 fights before your “Noob Ryu” gained the ability to fireball? It’s unthinkable really, so I’m astounded that the competitive FPS community accepts this kind of thing. Now I’ve heard lots of arguments that “it’s not that bad” and “you’ll get all the important stuff within a few hours online” and all of that may well be true, but it still doesn’t change this fundamentally bad design aspect for a competitive MP game. The idea that “giving a new player all the options immediately would be overwhelming” is also something I can understand very well, however, I should not be matched in direct competition with those that do have all the options, and it’s even worse because some of these things are not just options, but flat-out advantages. What happened to matchmaking being about noob-vs-noob? If you’re going to have better guns (or better characters, or levels or whatever) available in a competitive game like this, they actually ought to given to the new players to help them out as a handicapping tool, not the experienced or good players.

Your starting character in Super Call of Fighters IV, before levelling up

Ken & Ryu having innocent heterosexual fun together as always

So what’s at work here? There’s no denying these kinds of design ideals are bad for actual fair competition in a game, but I believe they are popular with many players precisely because so many players are not really competitive at all. Most would rather grind for skills and advantages to win than have to actually beat their opponents fairly, and so many people are indoctrined by games like COD into this idea that many seem to think this is what videogames (or at least, competitive online games) are about. Unfortunately I think the “Juggernaught” gamer style is far more prevalent than many would admit to or believe – people want to “just win baby” and don’t care about it being any kind of legitimate experience of competition. Quite apart from the shadey world of exploits and lag switches and the like you can see this just as easily in the deeply ingrained concept of “NOOB PWNING” in video games. What a detestable attitude! Why on earth this kind of anti-sporting concept has become seen as something acceptable is beyond me. You don’t see this ideal espoused very often anywhere else. In sports a win over a lesser opponent is often seen as something not quite as good as a ‘real’ victory. In the Street Fighter 2 V anime series Ryu and Ken (the lovermen that they are) set out on their world voyage together in heart and body “to go to meet the mighty!” to become stronger fighters. They don’t go out with the goal to find the least challenging opponent possible and pummel them into the dust. Yet so many of today’s ‘gamers’ seem addicted to these kind of grinds for fake achievement (just take a look at the subscription figures for World of Warcrap), and then move onto their secondary or even ultimate goal of having their e-peen stroked by a good bit of online N00B PWNING.

As sad as I find it, in some ways it’s great to have games that appease such players’ needs, but it would be rather nice if these things could be detached from the true competitive games that other players might like to play, be they new or veterans, or of low skill or high skill in a given game.

Comments
14 Responses to “Call of War of Honoured Duty: Battlefield Defeat Sixty Four”
  1. JoeDaRipper says:

    Competitiv games are about growth and self improvment and as you go through the ups and downs of this continious way, compatitiv games are a test of self confidence and trust in your owen ability to develop more than anything thing else.
    A game that offers level up systems gives you the possibility to gain a better wining chance without any self development.
    This makes them very attractive for people with little trust in their owen abilitys.
    That the most people in our society arent confident in their abilitys is the reason why many people welcome these “not realy competitiv games” even though to become good at anything truly competitiv is much more satisfieng.
    You know about the concept of flow so just consider how big the impect of your selfconfidence is whene it comes to judging your owen skills and the challange you are facing and how much this determints your expirience while playing a compatitiv game or a game with level up mechanics.
    This is the reason why i think the concept of geting better winning chances just by spending time playing a game will find its way in even more games in the futer.
    So sorry for the lengthy of my comment and c u on sf hdr Remy!

  2. Remy77077 says:

    Thanks Joe, this is a very good way of explaining it too. I think you’re dead right about everything here, and I appreciate you taking the time to write the long comment. As I say, I don’t hate all aspects of the notion of levelling up characters in a game at all, I just wish it wouldn’t affect the competitive side of a game for those that want to purely play that. Doing cosmetic “level up” aspects I think is fantastic – eg. the way Halo 3 offers additional cosmetic outfits for those that reach high ranking levels on the game (which generally takes real skill, you can’t get there without improving). And SFIV Arcade did that with costume unlocks too. Or alternatively if a game uses matchmaking properly and only matches players of the same ‘levels’ (including character based upgrades) to play each other, then that would also be good design. In effect the game is then expanding to match your improvement &/or time spent, and I don’t have a problem with that, it’s actually a nice way to have a cut down “beginners” version of a game, as well as a fully expanded complex version for those that are experienced at it.

    I’d better point out this is not a meaningless whine of someone who’s great, or confident, at FPSs btw, I am pretty rubbish at COD and Halo! But I’d like to get better at my own skills rather than my character’s upgrades just making it easier to Noob PWN!

    Best wishes Joe :)

  3. McMond says:

    Oi, stop making me think about things… :( My head hurts.

    I was one of those deep thinking individuals who countered with “Yeah, but its not that bad!”. Election winning material that is.

    However I’m starting to agree with (some of) your opinions. As my skill level falls behind others (due to less time playing), and I have fewer “bonuses” I’m finding it more difficult to be competative when online. In my opinion this is mostly down to the matchmaking, as I now rarely come up against people at a similar ability to myself.

    But yes, this is also partly the reward systems fault, the bizzare beast that it is. I can totally understand rewarding skillful players, I don’t think I actually mind this.. but (and I believe this is why you refer to WoW?), it also rewards grinders! Which then puts people like myself, who don’t grind, at a disadvantage.

    So yeah, I agree on two things. Matchmaking in games needs improving and don’t reward grinders. :)

  4. Jeff says:

    I hate it when ‘professional’ reviewers (hell, people in general) praise games like Modern Warfare 2 for having ‘depth’ because of their unlockables and sheer amount of options (as opposed to the amount of viable ones). The game has 40-odd guns in it, but how many are actually viable? From what I can tell, it’s only a handful. Same with the attachments, and perks. Lots of them, but only a select few that are worth using. Volume of options gives the illusion of depth in addition to this fake achievement syndrome, i.e gaining reward through mindless grinding. Bioshock 2 sounded interesting but it sounded like it was going to have an experience/leveling system similar to MW2, so I immediately boycotted it.

    Matchmaking systems also seem to be less about matching players of equal skill and more about giving players an ego boost to keep playing. In Halo 3 I regularly destroyed people in the 40′s and I was in the 20′s or 30′s. Kids that have no lives or skill ‘play’ ranked matchmaking in games like Halo 3 and MW2 to grind up their level, and their self esteem along with it. My friend recently got Modern Warfare 2 and routinely destroys people that have probably played the game at least 10x as much as him (they were in prestige mode, which as far as I can tell just resets your rank so you can grind to make your numbers go up again!) and they cannot believe that he is a lowly level 20. They so strongly believe that their level is tied to their skill that they actually think my friend is playing on a new account, and was previously as ‘skilled’ as they were. I had a similar experience when playing Rainbow Six Vegas also.

    Sorry for the long comment, some of it wasn’t exactly on topic. Great article Remy.

  5. Remy77077 says:

    Thank you Jeff for the insightful comment. :) It’s great to hear about this from another point of view – this type of system doesn’t benefit good players especially either, it is purely a ‘grind’ as you say – it only benefits people with time.

    It really amazes me that people aren’t talking about this stuff! Or if you know of another site that does, do let me know.

    As for “professional” reviews, I find they are largely useless, I covered a bit of my thoughts on that back here:
    http://agoners.wordpress.com/2009/08/13/the-ironic-review-review/
    Insomnia also has a very harsh take on it all:
    http://insomnia.ac/commentary/the_videogame_news_racket/

    It’s very true that no-one wants a game critic, or even real games critique! That’s why I like to write about this stuff here though at least ;)
    What’s sad is that the only way anyone ever seems to say much worth hearing in games reviews is by using humour – like Zero Punctuation. It seems that’s the only way you can get away with an honest appraisal! However sadly he is clueless about any competitive game, the only thing he loves is stuff like Portal, so what can you do?

  6. Jeff says:

    Sirlin.net has a couple topics about it, but you’ve probably already seen them (I found out about this place through there).

    Yeah, I’ve long since stopped reading ‘professional’ reviews. I totally lost faith in them after Shadowrun (which is an excellent shooter, by the way. It wasn’t reviewed very well because it was multiplayer only, didn’t have a ranking system, and didn’t have a ladder climbing animation. I wish I was kidding on the last part.)

    Ah, I’m familiar with Insomnia. His take on gaming is quite serious, which turns off most but his insights are spot on.

    I’ll be honest, aside from his noob effect rant, I’m not a fan of Zero Punctuation. He seems to focus too much on things other than the actual game, like the story and graphics and such. He’s admitted he’s not a multiplayer gamer and I’m not the type of person his reviews are aimed at, so I’m not blaming him for it.

  7. Remy77077 says:

    Thanks for dropping by again Jeff. :) Yes, I really like to read Sirlin’s stuff. I used to argue a lot with him, but it turns out we actually agree on most things to do with gaming when various misconceptions or preconceptions are taken out of the picture. :)

    As mentioned in the other article I do still read “professional reviews” but only to find out factual stuff about a game, and to measure general ‘hype’ levels. If a game I suspect I won’t like gets average-ish reviews, I can probably write it off; if something’s getting really good reviews it may be worth a 2nd look, is the way I take it. But reviews rarely ever tell me what I want to know. You’re totally right about ZP but at least he gives his opinion, often actually compares to other similar titles, and when he does talk about game mechanics, his points are usually very solid. Shame he doesn’t do more of that and have a different taste in games in general – but he also reviews FAR too much stuff these days to give an in-depth look at anything. But I listed ZP on our links as “views” and other sites as “news” for a reason.

    I’ve been recommended Shadowrun before, but I’d forgotten about it, however since it’s so cheap, I’ve bought it now and I’ll give it a try later (360 version). I’ll probably find out it’s way better on PC now ;) I actually used to play the old p&d rpg Shadowrun a little bit, and I also loved the SNES Shadowrun – an ‘action crpg’.

  8. Jeff says:

    Heh, well, I don’t read professional reviews but I look on Sirlin.net and see if they’re talking about it. If I hear good things there I usually give the game a shot (that’s why I got Bayonetta. There was a 12 page discussion about it on there. And the demo rocked.) I admit that SOMETIMES I’ve looked at games if they get a high metacritic score, but I research it a lot more than that.

    http://www.thisisshadowrun.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=8 is a good guide to starting out at Shadowrun. It’s old, like two years old, but most of the info is solid. Also, don’t come into it expecting it to be too similar to the p&d game. Apparently it breaks two laws of magic from there: you can resurrect people and you can teleport (which are the two best powers in the game!).

    If you want, add my gamertag Effayyyyyyyyyyy (11 y’s) if you want me to help show you the ropes for SR. I’m American though so there might be connection problems. Historically I’ve had real laggy games playing against people across the Atlantic. Hell we could play some HDR too if the lag isn’t bad.

  9. Remy77077 says:

    I just found a fantastic guide & take on COD here:
    http://levelingdown.com/2009/11/13/a-newbie-guide-for-modern-warfare-2-multiplayer/
    I plan to give it another go someday now, armed with all this useful information.

  10. espion4ge says:

    hi Remy, I am the author of the MW2 guide that you discovered. I read through your interesting article and while i don’t feel the exact same way as you do about things, your analogy of the unlocks in mw2 comparing to not being able to throw a fireball in sf until you won 50 fights is a bit extreme.

    we have to keep in mind that the unlock system in mw2 does not allow give higher level players more abilities – just more choices. if you opt for something that gets unlocked at a higher level, you give up something you already have.

    a more accurate comparison to ssf4 would be if ssf4 allowed you to unlock an additional Ultra Combo to select from after you won 50 matches. note that you are not able to use both – you can only pick one, which rewards the player with more customization options, but not necessarily a major advantage since a level 1 player still had access to the original Ultra.

  11. Remy77077 says:

    Hey thanks for reading & commenting espion4ge. I’m still reading more of your site. :)

    Now this article was an “initial impressions” piece, so I’ve realised that yes, my analogy is too extreme – and yours is a more accurate one (although less amusing ;) ). However as you say, the better player is still rewarded with advantages over a newer player (above and beyond just being better and more experienced), something which I think is flat out bad design. Also, as I commented on your great article – “Aren’t the PRO versions of all perks strictly superior to the non-PRO one’s at the very least?”.

    I’ve also found that some of the options are not really that optional in MW2, but in fact, pretty important to the game. Same thing with your Ultra analogy, a large part of a character’s strategy might be knowing when to use that 2nd Ultra move. I’ve repeatedly been told to do things in MW2 and that I need to “set up my perks better” only to then find I don’t even have the perks unlocked that I am supposed to be using in a given situation. Again, this is an awful system to me. At least next time I try to play it your starting level perk setups should help though! Thanks again :)

  12. Remy77077 says:

    Wow, I’ve finally found someone else who wrote about the same thing I did :)

    http://fidgit.com/archives/2009/11/modern_warfare_2_game_diary_ca.php

  13. Remy77077 says:

    Also, a great article on the other track in this piece, the distastefulness of ‘real-war’ in games:

    http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2010-08-26-play-fighting-article

  14. Remy77077 says:

    I should add to this thought from long ago for reference, that if there is some “tutorial grind” it should always be skippable somehow and not enforced!

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