Another year, another Call of Duty game. As much as I suspect I’ll hate myself for it, I’ll probably end up buying it. I’ve been a masochistic fan of the franchise from the beginning, and despite my disappointment increasing with each iteration, I find myself consistently engaging in virtual self-flagellation every year come November.
Will Kevin Spacey be enough to turn the series around? Probably not. But I remain optimistic, and I’ve put together five tricks I think the old dog could do with learning.
New Maps, New Modes
The bread and butter of the Call of Duty games is their multiplayer. Sure there’s a campaign, but it’s essentially just a cheap thrill, a Michael Bay-esque romp through various terrains with various things almost falling on you.
That multiplayer, sadly, has gotten stale. A few new perks, a couple of re-tooled guns and a new set of maps; the games are beginning to feel like annual DLC releases.
The maps in Ghosts look like they took some effort, but they’re essentially the same mix of cramped corridors, cluttered terrain and assorted camping havens. There’s nothing to really change the flow of battle, no key points to hold and no real strategy. It’s essentially just sprinting from cover to cover until you see something worth shooting.
It’s the same with the game modes. You can see where the developers have attempted some variation, but really they all just feel the same. The maps don’t change, the weapons don’t change, and the gameplay doesn’t much change either.
After Ghosts had been out a few weeks I couldn’t find players for anything that wasn’t Team Deathmatch anyway.
Speaking of stale gameplay – this is something I really felt when I picked up Titanfall. A lot of the game modes in Titanfall focus on objectives and points; you’re more motivated to try and win the game rather than simply rack up kills.
My experience in Call of Duty games has essentially been that every game mode basically devolves into shooting everything that moves and not worrying about much else. I don’t care if my team wins or loses, I care if I have the best score.
This is what Titanfall does so well – scoring objectives earns you a lot more credit than simply racking up kills. Capturing key points in Hardpoint Domination or returning your flag in Capture the Flag will have you finishing at the top of the scoreboard – simply mowing down other players won’t.
A deathmatch is fun, but sometimes you want the experience of working together with a team for a common goal, of fighting to keep control of something, to capture something. Call of Duty needs more of this.
Mix Things Up
Activision’s game development policy seems to follow the old adage of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. The modern technology, modern warfare gambit works, the perk system works, kill streaks work, the core gameplay works. But it’s tired.
The Call of Duty franchise doesn’t need to completely re-invent itself, but it can’t be afraid to shake things up a little bit. Ghosts saw the introduction of using accumulated squad points to unlock weapons as opposed to levelling up – this is not what I’m talking about. That’s not only painfully boring, it does very little to alter the gameplay whatsoever.
It’s a timid, spineless attempt at some kind of innovation; something to hide the complete lack of originality.
If you’ll suffer another Titanfall comparison, Respawn got rid of the perk system and introduced Burn Cards, one-time boosts which you can accumulate and load up before every match.
It’s not an earth-shattering, genre-defining change, but it does bring something original to the table, a nifty new feature which shows some actual evolution in the genre.
Keep the core formula that has made the franchise what it is, but have the balls to actually try some new things.
This is a small change with a big impact. In any multiplayer title, the respawn behaviour of the game can really dictate how the battle plays out. Ever since Call of Duty 4, the spawning system in the franchise has seemingly gotten progressively worse.
You’ll find a lot of complaints about this online, and for good reason. Enemies spawning a few steps behind you, respawning in the middle of a firefight and the ill-conceived “revenge spawning” can make for frustrating gameplay.
Back in CoD 4, the spawns were simple. Enemies would spawn far away from you, allies would spawn near other allies. Easy. It might sound insignificant, but it’s not.
With the old style of spawning, teams could hold and capture different points on the map. As your team penetrates and clears out an enemy stronghold, your teammates will hold the position by respawning there while your enemies end up on the other side. This created more interesting combat where the fight moves around the map and teamwork becomes a little more important.
And free-for-alls, well, those are still free-for-alls. Just less annoying.
Modding, Ranked Servers
I would say “dedicated servers”, but apparently that no longer means what it used to. See when Activision promises us “dedicated servers”, what they really mean is there’ll still be a matchmaking-only system and no way to set up your own, moderated servers. So ranked it is.
Modding and ranked servers really go hand in hand. By allowing people to set up their own servers, they can set up their own rules, run specific mods on those servers and essentially do whatever the hell they want.
The advantages are endless, really. Having specific local servers means finding specific game types at specific locations (latency) are much easier than trying your luck at the matchmaking system where you’re playing a game of chicken as to whether or not anyone else wants to play a less popular mode like Capture the Flag.
That’s what happened to me with Ghosts – you could only ever find players on Team Deathmatch, thus people would only ever search TDM, perpetuating the problem.
You can also set up clan/community servers or servers catering to a specific type of player experience. Not to mention the fact that hackers are an endangered species – it turns out a group of committed moderators are a lot better at keeping cheaters out of the game than overworked studio employees sifting through hundreds of thousands of e-mails.
As for modding and customisation, that adds both variety and longevity. I still play CoD 4 more than I play Ghosts – the servers are always full, and there are more gametypes and mods than I could ever want; ranging from the ultra-competitive to the utterly insane.
Seriously, why can’t we have these anymore?