The Cycle of an Aging Giant

29 Jul

Welcome to the AG Search & Destroy server.  There are no tubes, there is no martyrdom, and there is absolutely no bitching allowed.  Like the other remaining servers it’s Hardcore.  There is no crosshair and a bullet or two will put you out of the round.

I’ve just moved and switched computers.  My level 55 profile is sitting inside of my old computer in a closet miles away.  It means I have only the default classes to choose from and no option to create a class yet.  It’s also a reminder of just how old Call of Duty 4 is now — accounts aren’t stored online or tied to a GUID, they’re just a config file in a folder.

I’m getting my ass kicked.  The match starts and I run out of the spawn.  I’m shot in the stomach by a  player shooting through a car window and a smoke screen — he was just hoping someone would move to that spot, knowing that any hit would be fatal.  He was right.

I use the underslung grenade launcher that comes with the default loadout I picked.  Thunk.  It explodes harmlessly.  “No tubes” one of the clan members says.  The next round I’m showered in “blind nades”; a tactic that harkens back to CoD 1: players throw grenades over buildings and into the enemy spawn at the start of a round.  They just know the right trajectory and are hoping the grenade lands true; hence it’s blind.  I complain “No tubes but blind nades are fine?”.  No response, I say it again.  They comment on the nice shot a player just made.  I’m ignored.

“Why doesn’t anyone play normal CoD4 any more?”

“We’re not pussies.”

I get fed up and turn on my console.  At least my 360 rank hasn’t been wiped, even if it is only level 25.  Maybe I’ll do better with at least some of the weapons available.  I join some vanilla matches, which can only be found on the 360 version of CoD4 now.  I do better with a crosshair and an M4 with a red dot site.  Eventually we move to a map called Wet Work.  Wet Work is the topside of a container ship and is a very narrow map.  Grenades explode everywhere and dark SAS figures run by firing bursts, and our team seems to be perpetually falling backwards in synchronized death animations.  Helicopters loop around the map and airstrikes fall on us as we spawn.

I turn the console off and just sit there.

Call of Duty 4 has problems that I didn’t bother looking at when it was my game of choice.  Now that I’m on the outside trying to get back in, I’m finding it’s impossible.

While the Battlefield series has been chastised for the long slog required to unlock all the weapons in the game, CoD4 hasn’t attracted any negative attention.  But it’s the same.  CoD4 seems aimed to work for players all starting at the same time, but a level one player has no chance.  It’s rare to see players under level 55 and even more rare to see players under level 40.  If I was a new player my reaction would be to turn around and leave.  Get the hell out of there.  It seems like that’s been the case.

Then there are the positive feedback loops.  Imagine if World of Warcraft rewarded a player kill with a better weapon and you have CoD4’s killstreak system.  I recall from my time playing near the game’s release that, done right, you could propel yourself to a near-perpetual killstreak.  If you get a helicopter in the air and call in an airstrike you can earn enough kills to garner another helicopter or airstrike.  That can go on for quite a while.  Rewarding good players with a cushion to sit on seems pretty strange — the players on top get a break for their efforts while the players having trouble are given a hard time.  A slippery slope.  Hell, that can be a cliff sometimes.

In Call of Duty 2 the name of the game was aiming a bolt action rifle at tiny dots moving around in a field with a bit of vital close quarters trench fighting.  It worked besides some imbalances created by faction-specific weapons (it was always better to have the German Kar98k or Mosin Nagant on large maps rather than the M1 Garand or the Lee Enfield.)  Call of Duty 4 shot itself in the foot by condensing maps and creating urban combat.  A red dot sight on an Uzi is a viable sniping weapon.  Grenade spam and blind nades are a bigger problem because of the closed nature of the maps.  Bad spawning positions are exacerbated by closer proximity to enemies.  Actual snipers are not too scary, because in a minute someone with an MP5 will have sprinted behind them.

It was always apparent that CoD was more Quake than Flashpoint, but CoD4 might actually be faster than Quake and more of a dated arena shooter because of it.

CoD4 is a great game, but that’s only the case because it exists in a vacuum.  There are no competing multiplatform shooters — CoD4 is the shooter in the spotlight.

I expect this is all intended though.  CoD4’s launch has been like a cannonball — it was shot out of the gate, sailed for a bit, and now it’s hit the dirt.  Nobody is going to pick it up; they’re just going to fire another one out of the cannon.  And it will be great, it’ll allow me to start with everyone else again.  But after a couple years the same thing will happen — new players will be pushed away and the players who stick with it will dig themselves deeper by exclusively playing niche modes like Hardcore.

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2 Responses to “The Cycle of an Aging Giant”

  1. Kevin Maloney July 29, 2009 at 6:45 am #

    Yeah the barrier to entry that goes up once online multi player get established can be brutal. I remember trying Red Alert and Mechwarrior 4 online and just getting owned. You need to have a working ladder system to get around all this. Nothing sucks then getting owned by the hardcore because you have other things to do in a day.

    Or just be TF2 speaking of which I am off to push the cart.

  2. SF4 is the most good game to happen to fighting video gamesin my opinion, without it I believe the genre might no longer exist…Not that I dont like other games, I just believe this 1 is most loved the people most of all.

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