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.