Quick and irregular thoughts on videogames, creative writing, literature, etc.

In Defense of Call of Duty 4


Mike Diver wrote an excellent feature for Waypoint exploring the developmental vicissitudes of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. A great irony of Infinite Warfare's release is that the simultaneous launch of a remastered Modern Warfare, aka Call of Duty 4, seems to have generated much more excitement. Diver thinks this a shame: 

...going back to play Modern Warfare, as I have both in multiplayer and its campaign mode, feels regressive in a way that replaying, for example, BioShock and Red Dead Redemption haven't.
Military shooters have moved on ... Line them up, side-by-side, and even with MW's impressive visual makeover, the generational divide cannot be ignored.
Where 2007's game positively crawls along, all lengthy reloads and unintuitive map layouts, 2016's jet-powers itself into action: maps are streamlined, the gunplay slick, and respawning players are back in the thick of it within seconds. (Emphasis mine.)

Diver is correct that Call of Duty games have become quicker and more streamlined since COD4. But I don't think that's necessarily superior design. It's just different. For instance: COD4's long reloads force you to think more about managing ammo. And COD4's maps, though large and asymmetrical by today's standards, are at least logical in that you typically know the direction the opponent is going to come from. COD4's maps have clearly delineated "sides" and "lanes." In contrast, contemporary Call of Duty maps tend to have a compact, circular design, where anyone can come from any direction at any time. Diver correctly identifies that the new map design framework brings players "back in the thick of it within seconds," but while this maximizes combat time, it does not leave as much space for strategic thinking and pre-combat planning.

The thing about map design in the post-Modern Warfare era is that, when anyone can come from anywhere, and killing someone is as simple as clicking on them, combat increasingly becomes a coin flip, a game of "who-sees-who-first." This gives players of all levels a chance to snag a few kills, spreading enjoyment around instead of concentrating it in the hands of the best players on the server. If you're a beginner or a casual player, as most who purchase Call of Duty are, this makes the game more appealing. You will never get shut out completely, no matter how outmatched you are. (This, by the way, is the real reason we will never get another main-release Call of Duty game in the tradition of COD4: when it comes to blockbusters, accessibility is king.) But if you're a hardened FPS veteran, as I suspect many of those excited about the remastered COD4 are, the fact that no amount of practice can keep you from getting shot in the back all the time on Ghosts' or Black Ops' or presumably Infinite Warfare's cramped, multi-spoked maps is unspeakably frustrating. 

Now, that isn't to say that nostalgia doesn't play a role in the wild excitement that surrounds the Modern Warfare re-release. COD4 certainly has plenty of flaws. Certain perks, like Stopping Power, and certain weapons, like the AK-47, are strictly best-in-class, reducing strategic diversity. But there's an undeniable breath-of-fresh-air quality to a game that departs so starkly from the series' recent trajectory. The slower, less flashy, more cerebral gameplay of COD4 might feel regressive if your personal inclination is to dive into a multicolored bloodbath, but we've had five or six bloodbath-based Call of Duty games in a row. You can hardly blame COD4 fans for celebrating the return of their preferred archetype.