Games I’m Looking Forward To: “Call of Duty: Black Ops”

Long time readers already know I’m a huge fan of the Call of Duty series of first person shooters. So it should probably be no surprise that I’m looking forward to the next iteration in the series coming from developer Treyarch.

Actually it might be a surprise given the fact that I have a massive Love/Hate relationship with the last CoD title: Modern Warfare 2. In my review of that game I praised the improvements to the game over its predecessor while also bemoaning what I considered to be huge steps backwards in the decision to not support dedicated servers or allow for kick votes on troublesome players and cheaters. It didn’t help that it was only a matter of hours from the game’s release till there was a fully functional aimbot/wallhack cheat for it which would take weeks before the Valve Anti-Cheat system would get around to detecting let alone actually banning anyone for. This was such a huge problem for the PC version of the game that I did something unprecedented (for me) and wrote an entry prior to the review in which I ranted about how Infinity Ward had fucked over “Call of Duty” fans who play on the PC. I believe I titled that entry:

Infinity Ward has fucked over “Call of Duty” fans who play on the PC.

It goes without saying that I was a tad bit pissed off at the time that I wrote it. Rereading it now I have to say that I stand by almost everything I said in that entry and the review that followed it. MW2 is a great game as evidenced by the fact that, according to my Steam profile, I’ve racked up over 590.1 hours of play time in the game (compared to a mere 68.6 hours in Borderlands which is another great game). In that time I’ve discovered another reason why the lack of dedicated servers is a problem for the game.

The way multiplayer is handled is that the game tries to figure out who has the best PC/connection and makes them the host. Depending on how many games are in your general area of the Net this could mean you get stuck with a shitty connection between you and the host which will make the game pretty much unplayable. If you end up being made host you have a huge advantage over most of the other players as your machine is the one that has final say on where the bullets land. Both of these factors together results in a situation where some nights you’ll have a great gaming experience and many nights you won’t without lots of quitting and trying to find a better game to join. With dedicated servers you could see which ones offer the best pings for you and play with other people who are also getting good pings making for a more level playing field. Having said all of that, I will say that the amount of cheating seems to have decreased since the game was released. I”d like to say that is because of increased policing by IW and Valve, but the truth is other popular FPS games have come out and siphoned off some of the cheaters.

It would be very cynical of me to suggest that the real reason Infinity Ward decided not to support dedicated servers and, by extension, player modifications is because they had planned to sell Map Packs for $15 a pop after the game was released. It would be very cynical of me, but it would also probably be the truth. IW has released two such packs so far which total up to half the cost of the original game itself for a mere 10 additional maps of which several are ports from Call of Duty 4. As you can probably guess the price point is a matter of some contention among fans, but that hasn’t stopped IW from selling a shit load of map packs and raking in millions in the process. I got a review copy of the game, but I have purchased both map packs because I do play it quite a bit.

So why, you may be wondering after all of that exposition on all that is wrong with MW2, am I looking forward to the next CoD game? Haven’t I learned my lesson and sworn off the franchise in a fit of pique?

There are a number of reasons the biggest of them being that Treyarch are not Infinity Ward. The developer was brought in by Activision for Call of Duty 2: Big Red One which was the series’ first entry to be console-only. It was a sort of sequel/spin-off of the PC’s CoD2. They also developed Call of Duty 3 which was also only available on consoles. Neither game was particularly well received and word has it this resulted in some bitter feelings at Infinity Ward that a successful franchise they had started was being tarnished by a different company. Thus one of the great gaming rivalries was started and among fans Treyarch has often been considered the lesser of the two developers.

When Treyarch took on Call of Duty: World at War, which followed in the footsteps of the ridiculously successful Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, they ended up licensing the latter game’s engine from IW. Arguably a smart move as it allowed the multiplayer half of the game to offer a very similar experience to CoD4 only set back in World War II. CoD:WaW was pretty successful though most fans still seem to consider it the lesser game compared to CoD4. Personally I thought it was just as good as CoD4 in most respects and I played the living hell out of it just as I had CoD4. Whatever faults Treyarch’s earlier attempts at CoD may have had, World at War showed they were progressing as a developer. Of course having the CoD4 engine didn’t hurt.

The point I’m trying, and failing, to get to is this: Other than having licensed the CoD4 engine, the folks at Treyarch are their own team making their own decisions about their game. Infinity Ward wouldn’t have helped Treyarch if they’d been asked as they don’t exactly have the warm fuzzies for the company. That means that whatever stupid decisions Infinity Ward may have made won’t necessarily be made by the folks at Treyarch.

For example, they’ve already announced that Black Ops will see the return of the ability to lean around corners (not in MW2), the ability to mod the game, and — most importantly — dedicated servers. Additionally they’re expanding the “Create a Class” function from the previous games to include not only the ability to change your weapon load outs and options, but also make cosmetic changes such as decals and custom text on the weapons as well as modifying what the red dot in a sight looks like. There’s some question on how modifiable the game will be, but Treyarch has confirmed that some form of mod tools will be made available after release.

Then, of course, there is this:

Oh yeah, that looks pretty damned sweet! RC car that you can drive up behind the baddies and explode? I am SO THERE!

It also looks like Treyarch is really coming into their own as a CoD developer which is probably lucky for Activision considering that most of the top talent that produced the sales record breaking Modern Warfare 2 up and quit after Activision unceremoniously fired two of IW’s founders.  There’s still lots of people left at IW and the “official” word is that it’ll be business as usual and they plan to have their next CoD title break even more records, but that remains to be seen. Given that a part of Treyarch’s advancement is undoubtedly due to licensing Infinity Ward’s game engine it’ll be interesting to see if they’re able to step up and take the reigns if what’s left of IW falters. There’s the possibility that this could be the last great entry in the franchise. Or it could be the start of a whole new CoD empire.

Either way, I’m seriously looking forward to this game.

7 thoughts on “Games I’m Looking Forward To: “Call of Duty: Black Ops”

  1. I run an international community for Day of Defeat: Source and have despised the removal of dedicated servers in many new games. One of my largest qualms is the inability to play matches with my foreign comrades. Another is the lack of large matches (at least 32 players). Also annoying is the nonexistent communities around the games, not just the mod community but the player communities, similar to my own, and community tournaments, LAN or otherwise.

    I agree with you that Infinity Ward/Activision/Treyarch are running it to ring maximum cash out of people. To me, MW2 was pretty close to being the same app as CoD4 and WaW with new textures and skins. I bought it while it was on sale and never bothered with the expansions. I knew the map packs were bullshit when I first saw them announced. Previously, I’d only been exposed to the series on a multitude of friend’s console systems.

    Yesterday, I found the weekend deal for S.T.A.L.K.E.R. on Steam ($10 for the original and the newest of the series) and was told of a community effort to update and refine the series: http://www.moddb.com/mods/stalker-complete-2009
    Now there is some community dedication. Valve has the same amount of community around many of it’s games/engines which is one of the main reasons I purchase their games and use there community app.

    As far as CoD goes though I’ll probably never own another title. One was enough and there will be better FPS games out there this season fight over my wallet’s contents.

  2. Les, what’s the “size” of the multiplayer maps in the recent Call of Duty games? I’ve played Day of Defeat & Counterstrike which have really small maps, Battlefield2 with has large scale warfare maps, and Joint Ops & Delta Force which had medium to large maps.

    While the video looks impressive, the scale of the maps just seems relatively small, which with the exclusion of Day of Defeat is a big turn off for me.

  3. Chuck, I’d argue that MW2 was a significant step up from both CoD4 and WaW. Both in terms of features and graphics.

    Chief, the sizes of the maps vary with some that are very small (such as Rust) and some that are large enough to require quite a bit of running before catching up to enemies. Most are somewhere in the middle. There’s no vehicles in MW2 so the maps tend to be scaled to make it so you’re never TOO far away from each other. Treyarch’s versions of CoD have had vehicles on some maps and those tend to be rather large, but not as large as Battlefield’s maps. They’ve said that Black Ops will have vehicles in it, but haven’t detailed what kinds or how big the maps will be yet.

    I actually don’t care much for Battlefield because of the size of the maps and the emphasis on vehicles. It only took a couple of games where one guy in a tank managed to dominate the only spawn point killing everyone as soon as they spawned in the original Battlefield to turn me off to the series. I did buy Battlefield 2 when it came out to see if it had improved any and haven’t bought any others since then.

  4. I 100% agree with the annoyance that vehicles can bring to a game. While I like BF2, jet and helicopter whores can make it totally un-enjoyable.

    At this point I mostly get games (usually not FPSs, Borderlands being the exception) for my PS3. Only thing I’ll play on the PC is FPS and I haven’t bought ANY in over 4-5 years because I just don’t play much anymore, that and my hardware is older than that and likely couldn’t play anything modern on even the low settings.

  5. I divide my games between my PC and PS3 based on what type they are. The PC is the place for FPS, MMORPG, and Real Time Strategy games and the PS3 mostly for Third Person Action/Racing/Platformer type stuff. Of course whether or not it’s available on one platform or the other is another consideration.

    My PC is getting long in the tooth and I’m hoping to land a decent paying job soon so I can get around to upgrading the damned thing.

  6. My computer is so old I’m surprised components haven’t failed on me yet. I built it around my freshman year of college (2002) and I’ve been running on the same parts and install ever since (only had to reinstall windows once and that was only because I got a horrendous virus and upgraded the RAM and video card once).

    Your breakdown is the same as mine when it comes to what to play where, except I’ve never been a real fan of RTSes.

    At this point I don’t spend near as much time as I do playing games nor on the PC as I used to so it hasn’t made sense for me to build a new computer. In the end, I’ll probably break down and do it once this one finally kicks the bucket.

  7. Okay I’ll give ya that Les, it is prettier and they added more weaponry. The single player story was alright too. But is it really that much different/better a game and can the cost of the expansions for it be justified? I don’t think so and that leaves me in disgust of the publisher’s sales tactics.

    Yeah there are some very small – smaller than day of defeat – maps for MW2 but there are also decently medium-sized maps too. Having a max of 9v9 players limits the popularity larger maps would have anyway. Most of the really large-mapped FPS games like Darkest Hour or ARMA2 do include a bunch of vehicles which tend to split the game’s player community with some running around on vehicle-only servers and others playing infantry matches. Unless of course, you can’t host your own custom servers, then everyone complains. :/

    One multiplayer FPS which had some large infantry-only maps was America’s Army. I played it back when it was first released and into it’s second edition. I wonder if it’s still any good being AA3 now?

    I agree that different gaming styles work better on different platforms. For example, I don’t like racing games on PC because I think analog controls are a better interface than a mouse and keyboard. That said, I could just buy myself a control pad, joystick, steering wheel, etc. and usually get the desired controls for whatever PC game I’m playing. That variety can’t really be had with consoles. I, for example, can’t put my mouse and keyboard skills to use in my favorite console FPS.

    I’ve played on the Sony/Nintendo/Sega/Microsoft consoles of my childhood and beyond at various friends homes or via roommates more inclined to own them than myself. I however have only ever owned an Atari 2600, Sega Genesis, and Sega Saturn. After that I got into PC gaming and the larger communities around it and never justified a need to spend the cash on new consoles and games every few years. And now building a PC which can play a huge amount of popular games can be pretty cheap. Something affordable, like this NewEgg combo ($423), can handle a huge variety of games. Play some on medium settings for a bit, buy a video card down the road if needed. If you add a ATI HD5770 (~$160) to this system it will play anything out right now on high settings and will probably keep up for the next couple years. Also of note, the benefit of not having to repurchase games for system upgrades and in more cases now than ever, different operating systems too.

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