Have you played every single game in your Steam library? No? Neither have I and that accomplishment is apparently just a small sand grain in the over 288 million games in Steam collections that have never felt a press of the Play button. That's a surprising figure from a new report by Ars Technica researching the most active and popular games on Steam straight from the recorded statistics of some of the platform's 75-million-strong community.
Ars' method for its number flood involves sampling registered games and their played hours via profiles and their unique Steam IDs. With the help of a server for computational muscle, Ars randomly polled more than 100,000 profiles daily for two months to pull together an idea of which games see the most time on everyone's monitors. In other words, your Backlog of Shame (don't deny it, everyone has one) probably took part in some SCIENCE at some point. Exciting.
Some caveats exist, though. The data Ars looked at for its research only extends back to 2009, when Steam brought in its "hours played" tracking system. Owned and played/unplayed games are thus slightly skewed to not account for older releases from the early noughties, and any length of time spent in offline mode wouldn't get picked up by Steam either. Still, Ars claims its results deliver a good picture of Steam gaming trends for the past five years albeit with some imperfections.
Predictably, Valve's personal products stack high on the list in terms of ownership and most played hours. Dota 2 takes the crown with an estimated 26 million players who ganked faces at some point in the MOBA, but free-to-play FPS Team Fortress 2 follows closely behind with a little over 20 million users. Counter-Strike: Source rounds out the top three with nearly 9 million players, but it's also collecting dust in over 3 million libraries.
As for non-Valve games, Skyrim wins in activity, barely edging out Counter-Strike: Global Offensive with 5.7 million estimated active owners. Civilization V kept 5.4 million players hooked for Just One More Turn, and Garry's Mod boasts 4.6 million budding physics artists.
Want to know what the most unplayed Steam game is? It's Half-Life 2: Lost Coast, the Source tech demo given free to pretty much everyone on Steam who bought or fired up Half-Life 2. It hasn't been touched by an approximate 10.7 million players. I guess that old fisherman is feeling pretty lonely right now.
My favorite stat is the total of played hours divided by game mode, more specifically the separate multiplayer clients of the Steam versions of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops. The single-player campaigns for each respective title sits modestly within the mid-20-hour range, but the multiplayer side balloons well into the hundreds of hours. It's a pretty obvious indicator of where the biggest chunk of popularity resides in FPS gaming, but it's not like you wouldn't get weird looks for claiming you play Call of Duty for the story anyway.
See more of Ars' results in both number and pretty orange graph form in its report.
The quiet rage of a man who can't remember which pocket his keys are in.
Call of Duty - what a monster. With clockwork precision a new edition pops up every year and sells millions without fail. It's doing perfectly well, but in spite of an audacious shift to a far future setting in Black Ops 2, it's becoming increasingly repetitive. It's become a slapstick dose of noisy annual nonsense with an arcade multiplayer mode attached. It's a game about gun-lovin' superheroes who are 90% bicep and 10% stubble shooting hundreds of enemies, shouting and occasionally getting into knife fights.
Activision have found a golden formula for mainstream success that has changed the genre. Call of Duty perfected iron sights aiming and ushered action movie set pieces into shooter environments, but those set pieces have gradually subsumed the challenge and tension of the series' rolling street battles. The series' ballooning love for noise and bombast masks a dearth of substance, and its ability to deliver those famed set-pieces is increasingly hindered by an engine that's starting to fall behind the pack.
Activision and their army of CoD developers are surely plotting a next-gen leap right now, so let's pip them to the post with a few ideas. Changing CoD is a monolithic endeavour, influential as it is, so perhaps it's better to think of this as a wish list for war games. What do we like? What do we hate? What would we love to see from gaming's glorious future? Death to the "follow" blob Follow! Fetch the ammo! Sit. Stay ... stay ... SHOOT THE MEN.
Let's consider the process of playing a game purely as a series of player decisions. In a good shooter you're making dozens, perhaps hundreds of decisions per minute. You're choosing targets, acquiring them, pulling the trigger, seeking cover, adapting to incoming fire, grenades and enemy movement. Decisions vary in quality depending on the challenge of the task and narrative context. If you're embroiled in a story and you're attached to a character, a decision that alters their fate can matter hugely.
When you're given an objective marker and told to follow it, you have made just one decision - to follow or turn off the game and go away. The longer you're following, the longer you're spending not making any decisions at all. You're no longer playing a game.
I went back to Half-Life 2 recently and rediscovered the simple pleasure of navigating an environment designed to coax rather than control. There is only one path, of course, but there's a sense of discovery to uncovering it that's more motivating than any quest arrow. CoD has done this before, it can do it again. An early mission in Call of Duty 2's Soviet campaign leads you into a block, and then gives you enemy emplacements to clear. You can advance on each position in any order, from an angle of your choose, using smoke grenades to mask your advance. There's no instruction beyond the objective markers on your map. The most satisfying form of progress is that which seems to flow from the will of the player, not the tug of a leash. Deadly bullets and guns that feel dangerous Call of Duty could use a dose of Red Orchestra's intensity.
Call of Duty is very fond of throwing in a pithy war quote every time you die, so why don't we add this one? "There seemed to be a loud bang and a blinding flash of light all around me, and I felt a tremendous shock - no pain, only a violent shock, such as you get from an electric terminal; with it a sense of utter weakness, a feeling of being stricken and shriveled up to nothing." That's George Orwell describing what it feels like to get shot in the neck by a sniper. Note, he did not write this: "There seemed to be loud bang and then there was JAM ON MY EYEBALLS SO I CRAWLED BEHIND A BOX UNTIL IT WENT AWAY." I have nothing against regenerating health as a concept. It's perfect for Halo's attritional, tactical exchanges, but if you're trying to capture the tension of a war scenario the threat of instant and terrible death is important. Red Orchestra did this very well (check out this video). Near misses make a terrifying "zzswhinng" noise. The physical force of the projectile is represented by momentary screen blur and when you're shot, you're down. Sometimes you're left bleeding and shouting for a medic. Sometimes you're done for. The threat of sudden death enhances the tension of every near miss.
It's easy to suggest that shooters are limited because a gun is your primary way of interacting with the world. In fact, the ability to fling 100 projectiles a minute at twice the speed of sound is a pretty meaningful way to influence an environment, it just doesn't always feel like it. The motion of bringing up sights and rattling off a few shots already feels snappy and satisfying in CoD, but it'd be good to incorporate some of the terrific sound design that DICE have worked into Battlefield 3. Good physics can really sell the impact of a bullet, whether it's tearing chunks out of masonry or throwing a foe into a convincing ragdoll tumble. Destructible environments also do a lot to create reactive combat zones that truly sell the destructive force of your weapons. Battlefield 3's Close Quarters maps show what an advanced physics system can do. Working battlefields
When I imagine the moment of Call of Duty's conception, I see Jason West and Vince Zampella sitting on a couch having a moment. Their beers stand untouched on the coffee table as they watch Saving Private Ryan for the first time. Halfway through the scene where Tom Hanks freaks out on Omaha beach they sit up suddenly, their eyes meet and they say in unison: "LET'S MAKE THIS: THE GAME."
They did, and it was good. Call of Duty has always worked hard to make its narrow battlefields feel as though they're part of a wider war. Somewhere along the way, it went wrong. Very wrong. Call of Duty started playing itself. Observe MrBungle as he plays through the Cuba mission in Black Ops without firing a shot, on the second-hardest difficulty setting. It's a sad moment for the series. The signature fury of those shuddering war scenarios were exposed as little more than a dismal facade.
Technology has come a long way. Why not drop the smoke and mirrors altogether? We have engines that can handle huge maps and PCs powerful enough to juggle many AI routines. Imagine participating in a working battlefield as one pawn among dozens and of troops, initiating and joining assaults on key targets in scenes that resemble the dramatic troop charges of former CoD games, but with a sense of purpose that reaches beyond the need to reach another objective marker. Smart enemies Enemies that work together? We can dream.
Good AI is hard to market. As soon as someone starts talking about neural nets, or a new algorithm NPCs can use to map their routes through a 3D environment most people switch off completely. It's easier to talk about polygons and texture resolution and lensflare because you can show it in a single screenshot, but AI is vitally important. It affects the decisions you're making from moment to moment. It's responsible for challenging the player in interesting ways. Good AI makes games better.
Call of Duty's AI is ... not good. At points it's nonexistent. You'll shoot a man behind a box. then an identical man will run out of a nearby door and take his place. Then you shoot him, and another one pops out. Sometimes they respawn endlessly until you've passed through the invisible trigger screen that'll initiate , at which point they'll stop so you can take new orders over the radio.
Imagine enemies that actively seek out new positions to get an angle on you. Imagine enemies that can switch weapons and adapt to your position, picking out sensible sniper spots or taking covered routes to close with a sub machinegun. How about enemies that breach and clear a building you're trying to hole up in? What if AI squads worked as fire teams, with individual roles within a well organised group? A pipe dream, perhaps. But consider how much more meaningful victory would be with foes like these.
Now how can we incorporate these points into a single idea. Hmmm, let's see...
Call of Duty: Rebooted "Stay back, Comrade - the enemy has deployed water bombs!"
Welcome to the dreamspace - a place to throw ideas into each other and perhaps imagine games that are better, faster, stronger than ever before. Here we deal only in the hypothetical, but thought experiments are fun, so let's try and sketch out a Call of Duty that stays true to the series strengths and jolts it out of the rut it's been entrenched in for the last few years. Introducing Call of Duty: Stalingrad.
You are a soldier in an open battlefield. You begin in command HQ - a reinforced ruin bristling with machine gun emplacements and AT weapons. Beyond, a battle line snakes through the city ruins where Soviet and German forces exchange fire. You're told to grab a gun, get to the line and make yourself useful. How? It's up to you. You can grab a sniper rifle, recruit a small squad and set up a sniper nest in best spot you can stealthily acquire. Grab a machine gun and join the line, assaulting buildings and moving between cover as your comrades advance. Or head into the sewers with a special forces team and harass supply teams behind enemy lines.
The enemy will launch assaults of their own. Occasionally, tanks will attack, bombing runs will come in, enemy snipers will turn town squares into death zones. Radio messages and distant flares alert you to hot spots. You can ignore them, or rush over to help. Your efforts will speed up the rate at which friendly troops push forward in each area until you're finally close enough to launch an all-out assault on the enemy bunker.
And then it all ends with a quick-time knife fight. Only joking.
Lukas picks the worst moment to have a sudden existential crisis.
The Red Army missions in Call of Duty and Call of Duty 2 took on Moscow and Stalingrad, of course. They were great. The movement of your comrades as they vaulted over walls and advanced the line created a feeling of growing momentum that would be especially powerful in a dynamic scenario. Broad battlefields offered variety, mixing exposed cover-to-cover sections and trench routes. Depending on your position, you'd juggle between your machine gun and a pleasingly accurate bolt-action rifle. It's also a fine example of one of the central tenants of Infinity Ward's Call of Duty games - you are a fragile cog in the war machine. Occasionally an important job will fall in your lap, but you're just another member of the soldiery, fighting for your life in chaotic scenarios.
To enhance that tension, death will be final. Bullets are deadly - one or two well placed sniper shots can take you down. If you die, it's over for that soldier, but you will return to command HQ in control of a fresh recruit. You'll find the name and cause of death of your former soldier on a list of the fallen in HQ's admin room. You'll hear officers reading his name from a list of the fallen in radio calls to Soviet High Command. His name will appear on a final list of all the soldiers you've played throughout the campaign. You'll still encounter lively characters as you move along Soviet lines, but you won't be treated with greater respect than any other trooper until you've earned it. Make it through a couple of battles and you'll get a reputation among COs and ground troops. You might even get a nickname. You'll earn an achievement if you can take one soldier through the entire war.
The idea would be to offer the variety of Call of Duty's best set-pieces in an environment that you can meaningfully influence. Setting up a sniper nest will feel channel Modern Warfare 4's terrific "All Ghillied Up" mission. You'll perform tank takedowns when repelling German assaults. Fighting on the line will be every bit as furious as CoD's most spectacular army assaults. Looking for a shot of one of CoD's maudlin moments? Snatch up some bandages and become a battlefield medic. Drag the wounded out of open streets, treat them, and get them back to the front line. The more men you save, the more guns the enemy has to face and the faster your line advances.
Hey, shouldn't you be be defending Hoth from the Empire?
The setting doesn't have to be Stalingrad, but it's a well documented example of close combat in an besieged modern urban environment. The scope of those building-to-basement battles make infantry actions essential for taking territory, which gives a player more power to affect the battle. You can transpose the structure anywhere - into a different modern conflict, or a post-apocalyptic scenario, if you wanted.
A multiplayer version of the same scenario? I would pitch that, but Red Orchestra 2 already exists. There's certainly room for a version of the above with a few free slots for co-op buddies though. Working together, you could launch co-ordinated assaults on enemy strongholds or set up a network of sniper positions that stop all enemy movement in wide areas of the map.
But those are just a few ideas, easier said than done, of course. But if you held the power of a god in the palm of your hand, and for some reason decided to use it to reboot Call of Duty, what would you do? Don't say "fire it into a black hole so hard it never existed," there's already enough hate on the internet, and you'll only become another tick on a Commenter Bingo card. Ideas at the ready. Aim. FIRE!
Releasing Black Ops 2's DLC in honking great map packs as opposed to Modern Warfare's one-map-per-month schedule is good for his designers, says Treyarch's design director, David Vonderhaar. It's good for finding themes and good for experimenting with the usual rules behind Black Ops' multiplayer maps, and while that's not to say that Revolution is a Battlefield 3-style “nothing but tanks!”, “nothing but close-quarters!” explosion of creativity, it's trying out new things with cover, corners and map interactivity to test whether the old Treyarch design rules are still valid.
The Treyarch rulebook (actually more of a rule-Powerpoint-presentation) governing engagement distances, first engagements, spawning, angles of attack, cover height and map structure tends to make modern Call of Duty maps feel similar but also makes it hard for any designer to build a bad map. They're rules with deep foundations, and they run almost entirely contrary to the name on the box this DLC doesn't come in: Revolution is about micro-updates rather than wholesale changes to COD's oh-so-delicate formula.
Hydro, Mirage, Grind and Downhill are all based on those same Treyarch design rules as described by online director Dan Bunting – three 'lanes' across the map with lots of space for flanking - making most maps into oval or circular paths around a central murderbox filled with claymores and madmen with shotguns. There have been some adjustments however: some cover heights prevent players from returning fire, one map uses curved corners to deny corner-strafing, and two have interactive elements to monkey with the workings of the murderbox. I played all four at Treyarch's studios where I also ate three slices of fruit bread and a chicken sandwich which, while delicious, in no way swayed my verdict on the DLC.
Hydro is a big grey concretey map set atop a dam with a central hub which regularly floods and kills anything standing in the map's lower channels. “I'm really into the Call of Duty competitive scene and Hydro is a super-competitive map,” says Vonderhaar. “It's almost symmetrical and it plays super, super, super-fast. It's also interesting because we've done one of the things we like to do at Treyarch – a big rush of water will eliminate the entire centre path, and it actually matters. You can use it to split the map and split the opponents.” Hydro plays best in Team Deathmatch or Kill Confirmed where the central channel becomes a meat grinder and limited sightlines keep sniper domination at a minimum.
A Spec Ops: The Line-style sand-blasted hotel in Dubai, Mirage's central hub is the hotel's lobby and the left and right channels couldn't be more different. On one side a crashed bus creates a narrow chokepoint while a large pool on the opposite side makes for a large, open and coverless space where sand banks allow quick access to first-floor windows and turn otherwise defensible elevated positions into deathtraps. It's the smallest of the new maps and plays a great game of Search and Destroy – bomb one goes near the largely indefensible pool, but bombing the pool first makes the second bomb at the sheltered bus crash chokepoint almost impossible even with your tastiest Scorestreaks dropping from the sky.
“Grind is based in Venice Beach California – the birthplace of skateboarding,” says Dan Bunting in a studio about twenty minutes from Venice Beach California – the birthplace of skateboarding. “Our lead level designer came up with the idea of making a map in a skatepark and I really didn't get it, but we trusted him and it's my personal favourite of the four maps.” Now, as a skatepark Grind is pump, but as a shooter map it's the best of the four, particularly in Domination and Hardpoint where every control point is made difficult to defend by the curved walls of the quarter pipes which surround the arena. The central hub includes what might be a skate shop with a claymore-friendly staircase, while one channel is a twisting series of quarter pipes opposite another channel built from full and half-pipes.
The first multiplayer map with a snowman, Downhill is set in the French Alps with a central hub made dangerous by cable cars which are both mobile cover and an instantly deadly man-squasher if you try crossing the ski lodge without observing the Green Cross Code. Of all the maps it's Downhill which feels the most familiar – channels littered with boulders for cover, lots of sniper vantage points, and a clear bias towards Capture The Flag where the map's sheer length and the difficulty of negotiating the cable car terminal at speed raises some interesting tactical questions and turns some of the more rocky parts of the map into circular Benny Hill chases while you wait for backup to arrive.
Die Rise is Revolution's new Zombies map filled set atop a skyscraper where narrow corridors and insta-kill drops make it the hardest Zombies map ever. Just finding a decent weapon without falling to your death is a challenge, and since most of the paths through the level are one-way only, it's easy to get split up from the rest of your team. It's far too easy to get mobbed and far too easy to get stranded and it's altogether a thoroughly unpleasant place to be, in the best possible sense.
Turned is billed as a competitive version of Zombies, but that's misrepresenting it entirely. Set on just one tiny map, Turned feels more like an obligation than a good idea; an answer to fans' demands to play as a zombie without ever considering why someone would want to be a zombie or how it might be fun. Left 4 Dead, for instance slots you into the regular co-op campaign as a more powerful creature in an asymmetrical deathmatch of sorts, but Turned is a five-player free-for-all game of high-speed Tag. Zombies can sprint but are unarmed, the sole human player is slow but armed to the teeth, killing a human lets you play as the human, and whoever accumulates the most time with meat on their bones wins. Except in practice, the bonus for being alive when the clock runs out is so massive, in our games it was the last man standing who won every time.
But wait, there's more!
Revolution is home to the first downloadable weapon in COD history, which has already scared the pants off everyone hoping the game stays balanced. Now, all Black Ops 2's weapons are balanced in the same way – designers have ten 'points' to spend on characteristics like range and power – but not all weapons are born equal and the Peacekeeper is an SMG with the range and stopping power of an assault rifle. It's every bit as scary as the pro players feared but while it's probably the easiest weapon for any newcomer to handle, anyone who's graduated to something more specialised will retain an advantage. Probably.
Revolution is available tomorrow on Xbox, which is how I played it, and in four weeks on PC because Heaven forbid Microsoft's DLC exclusivity deal should also include Windows. There's little new to Revolution's adversarial maps but that's the Call of Duty formula now – a not-at-all secret recipe of cover heights and engagement distances and eleven herbs and spices that are made all the more visible when Treyarch subverts them. It's a peek behind the curtain. Black Ops 2's first DLC is carefully designed and flawlessly executed but it's maths, not magic; method, not madness; an interesting convolution labelled a revolution.
If you splashed out on a Black Ops 2 season pass you'll get access to the zombified Nuketown map this Thursday. Zombie Nuketown has been knocking around Xbox 360 playlists for a short while, and serves as a taster for this year's season of Black Ops 2 DLC packs (which will kick off with the recently spilled Revolution pack.)
Zombie Nuketown is a haunted, skeletal doppelganger of one of Black Ops' most popular maps. It used to be a bright, breezy place where military sorts ran round shooting each other in the back for sport. Now it's grim, apocalyptic and full of crazed flesh-eaters and charcoal coloured mushroom clouds. Take a tour in the trailer below.
Martin's steed got stuck in quicksand and couldn't extract itself during our review of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. According to the latest patch notes posted on the CoD forums, spotted by Strategy Informer, the problem has been fixed. The update also boosts CoD's field of view allowance to 90 degrees, good news for anyone experiencing the strange tunnel vision queasiness that those tight FOV settings can cause.
Performance has also been smoothed out for those with four or more CPU cores, server matchmaking has been improved and "connection interrupted" multiplayer errors fixed. Patch notes below.
November 21, 2012 Update for Singleplayer, Multiplayer, and Zombies
Max FOV increased to 90 Fix: Horse falling through the world in Afghanistan when playing on some CPUs with 4 or more cores Fix: RC-XD and the AGR sinking into the map in MP when playing on some CPUs with 4 or more cores General performance improvements in SP, MP, and ZM for CPUs with 4 or more cores Fix: crash when a 7th player tries to join a 6 player league lobby Improved dedicated server matchmaking Fix: some cases of "Connection Interrupted" in MP while loading into a match
Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 is out. Evan, T.J., Tyler and Omri toss around their initial thoughts on its conspiracy-laden campaign alongside this week's news: the GTA5 trailer, Valve's new Source engine, next week's healthy lineup of releases, and more.
All that and a little more in... PC Gamer Podcast 337: The Blackest of Ops
Have a question, comment, complaint, or observation? Leave a voicemail: 1-877-404-1337 ext. 724 or email the MP3 to email@example.com.
It's inevitable, I know. Do bears tango in the woods? Is there a party like an S-Club party? Will Call of Duty make money this year? Yes, to all these things. A thousand times YES. $500 million is the day one worldwide sales figure Activision are bandying around today for Black Ops 2.
“With first day sales of over half a billion dollars worldwide, we believe Call of Duty is the biggest entertainment launch of the year for the fourth year in a row,” intoned Actiblizz robo-boss Bobby Kotick. “Life-to-date sales for the Call of Duty franchise have exceeded worldwide theatrical box office receipts for “Harry Potter” and “Star Wars,” the two most successful movie franchises of all time."
Not bad I'm sure, given that I can't fit $500 million into my head without most of it leaking out as a stream of awed vowels. This means that the Call of Duty series is showing no signs of slowing down. It'll be interesting to see how they fare across the next gen transition. By our reckoning, Black Ops 2 was a middling addition to the series with a few interesting sparks. Get the full verdict in our Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 review.
Although we'll soon pepper each other with bullets and trade drone-guided explosions in Black Ops 2's multiplayer later this evening, Treyarch still wants the chaos guided by a set of rules keeping abuse in check and ensuring friendly times all around. Eurogamer scoped into Treyarch's weekend post of its stiff-sounding security and enforcement policy, and among standard ban pitfalls surrounding piracy and hacking, players using the in-game live-streaming service with "unlicensed content" such as music risk a ban as well.
Treyarch's policies also hound boosters—players "colluding with another user to exploit the game for the purpose of gaining XP, prestige, game score, weapon level, or in-game unlock"—with equal fervor as hackers and glitch exploiters. In most cases, culprits receive temporary bans with increasing severity per case until suffering the almighty permanent ban which locks out online play, permanently blocks leaderboard appearances, and resets stats & emblems. It's sort of akin to a drumming out ceremony, except with less ripped shirts.
Treyarch's post has more details on the no-nos, so head over to Black Ops 2's forums if you want a look.
Tyler Wilde, Associate EditorThe first player-controlled action in Medal of Honor: Warfighter is to shoot a guard in the back of the head with a suppressed pistol. I can’t move the pistol away from his head. An icon indicates that I should press the left-mouse button to fire. I don't want to.
After a few missions, I don't want to keep playing Warfighter's campaign at all. It isn't fun. It isn't lonely, either: along with Battlefield 3 and the last couple Call of Dutys, I don't think I like military FPS campaigns anymore. They've changed, but my taste hasn't changed with them.
So I went back to a classic. Ten years ago I loved Medal of Honor: Allied Assault (MOHAA) so much that I saved both discs and the CD key for my future self to play. Thanks, past me! I still love it (no rose-tinted glasses), and comparing MOHAA's opening mission to Warfighter's opening vignettes convinces me that I'm not the one with the problem. Spielberg, the devs who went on to form Infinity Ward, and their old WWII shooter have some lessons for the modern crowd.
Missions vs. puppetry
I’m not squeamish about violence. I don’t want to shoot this guy in the back of the head because I don’t have a choice. My soldier is a puppet. I have one of the strings—I can pull the trigger—but Warfighter is gripping the rest and won’t let me move on until I give in. Forcing the player to commit violence can be used for an unsettling effect, but in Warfighter it’s just a tutorial. It callously teaches me that, yes, as in every other shooter, the left mouse button shoots people.
So, why am I shooting this guy again? Because he's there? Oh, OK.
True, Medal of Honor: Allied Assault doesn't let me choose not to shoot Nazis. That's what I signed up for. It can't be played nonviolently, but it doesn't force my hand. It says, “Here are your objectives, and there are going to be a bunch of Nazis who’d really rather you didn't complete them. You’re going to have to shoot them. Good luck.”
You've got to earn advancement in MOHAA. There’s player-directed work to be done before you’re rewarded with the next chapter. In Warfighter, the mission has been programmed into my soldier, and I’m just there to help him aim. When he needs to walk so that a set piece can crumble at the appropriate distance, he walks. When he doesn't feel like holding his gun anymore, he puts it away. Warfighter wrestles me for control because I can’t tell its story competently.
As soon as I'm off the truck, it's all up to me.
Max Payne 3 also steals control when it needs to transition into a cut scene, but it’s consistent. When I’m in control, I have full control and I’m responsible for finding the correct path and shooting the dudes in my way. If I slack off in Warfighter, the puppeteer will take care of the hard work for me, because the show must go on even if one of the marionettes isn't cooperating. I tried playing the first mission firing only when I absolutely had to. I fired twice, and the game took care of the rest.
The M1 Garand vs. the Heckler & Koch HK416
In MOHAA, it's shoot or be shot, but I have the advantage that it's completely unrealistic. No one could fire an M1 Garand as accurately as I am while standing still, never mind in mid-sprint. As I invade an occupied French village to rescue a captive SAS operative, I run, strafe, and fearlessly twirl around German riflemen, haunting them like a whimsical, armed specter.
I can still die, but I have time to line up good shots and each hit is a little victory. The pop of my gun and the sight of a Stahlhelm whizzing off a Nazi’s head are great feedback. Clearing an area is a bigger victory, and once I’m sure everyone’s on the ground I’m rewarded with a moment of calm to look around before I charge into the next section.
Realistic? Not at all, but it's fun.
Warfighter isn't realistic either, but its modern approach is all about crouching behind chunks of concrete and watching out for falling set pieces. Any time I take to aim is time that I'm exposed, and as long as I'm exposed, I'm on the verge of death. It's not realistic, but it's a little closer to reality. It's also not very fun.
I’m not suggesting that all shooters be WWII shooters, but MOHAA's M1 Garand is a lot more fun than Warflighter’s 850 rounds/min HK416. Spurting bullets in the direction of bad guys isn't as exhilarating as flipping a helmet with a single shot. And instead of natural feedback, Warfighter gives me a skull icon to let me know when I've scored a headshot, because I probably couldn't tell. It isn't nearly as satisfying.
Just like MOHAA, Warfighter features an early beach landing mission. Unlike MOHAA, it's boring.
Cover shooters aren't fundamentally bad. Red Orchestra 2, another WWII shooter, is more dedicated to realism than either MOHAA or Warfighter. It's a lot of creeping, crawling, and peeking, but at the end of all that, my perfect shot feels earned. Or I miss and it's a huge letdown, but I still feel something. I don't feel much in Warfighter. I just do what it tells me so I can advance to the next scene.
It seems that in an effort not to be called “unrealistic,” Warfighter fails to ask, “But is this any fun?”
Being realistic vs. being real
Warfighter's desire for authenticity goes further: it wants me to believe these are real wartime heroics. “This personal story was written by actual Tier 1 Operators while deployed overseas," reads the official description. "In it, players step into the boots of these warfighters and apply unique skill sets to track down a real global threat, in real international locations, sponsored by real enemies. It doesn't get any more authentic than Medal of Honor Warfighter, coming October 23, 2012.”
It's real, real, real, and authentic. It was written by actual Tier 1 Operators. I wasn't there, but I’m highly skeptical that Warfighter depicts real anything. Men planting explosives then dashing through collapsing shipping crates while picking off a shooting gallery of bad guys is not the truth. So what's Warfighter's dose of reality? In the beginning, at least, it's a story about a soldier’s strained relationship with his wife.
How Warfighter handles a gap in between missions.
War is a terrible emotional burden, but shooting a guy point blank in the back of the head is just a tutorial? It's dishonest, and when you make a game about a war we're currently invested in, well...maybe you shouldn't. If you do, it'd better be intellectually challenging, or it'll just come off as jingoistic tripe.
MOHAA has a strong advantage here. It can say "Allies good, Axis evil" and we're fine with it because it's the globally accepted version of the truth. In pop culture, Nazis are equivalent to zombies and murderous robots, so MOHAA can skip all the posturing and get to the mission briefing. But even controversial wars, like Vietnam, benefit from perspective and distance. Battlefield: Vietnam didn't try to prove anything about American heroism to players, it was just a war game set in Vietnam.
How MOHAA handles mission briefings.
I know it's not in the spirit of the series, but what the hell is wrong with fictional wars? Call of Duty and Battlefield get it. The Chinese! The Russians! I'm fine with xenophobic pretend land. People aren't dying in xenophobic pretend land. And who would a truly realistic Medal of Honor be for, anyway? It would probably look a lot more like Arma II, but without the fictional country, and it'd be much more grisly than Warfighter’s glossy action scenes. A Linkin Park song wouldn't quite capture the gravity.
So, what happened?
In an early Warfighter mission, I drive an RC bot through a crumbled building, shredding guys foolish enough to point their flashlights at me. It's a cool idea for a scene. It adds variety, swapping constant danger for lack of danger. But it's not fun. Was Ender's Game fun after Ender figured out the game?
I'm still not sure why I'm gunning these guys down...something about illegal munitions?
So why is it there? Is it there to make us say, "Ooh, how authentic"? Maybe I little, but I think it's mostly there because robots are cool. Campaigns have turned into Universal Studios theme park rides. They're only sustainable as entertainment for a few minutes, and they bombard the viewer with every spectacle they can--robots, explosions, whatever keeps them invested. The viewer is under the ride’s control, because no one can be allowed to wander away and miss an explosion.
When I reviewed the first Medal of Honor reboot in 2010, I liked it more than most. I don’t regret that—I was being honest when I said I had fun—but the spectacle doesn't impress present me as much as it did past me. Too much spectacle is the problem. Rather than give us objectives and put obstacles in our way, Warfighter gives us a series of obstacles, and the objective is to watch them blow up. It doesn't work, because we don't have to do the work. We're just along for the ride.
If Warfighter were more like MOHAA, it would be accused of having a dated design, but isn't that better than having a bad design? I'm happy to play one of them ten years after it released, and the other I probably won't finish, no matter how "authentic" it is.
The actor behind the most famous walking talking 'tache in gaming, Bill Murray (not that one), has made mention of a somewhat inevitable follow-up to Modern Warfare 3. "Yeah, on Monday I am off to meet Infinity Ward about the next game, Modern Warfare 4, I’m doing work on the sequel to Modern Warfare 3, it carries straight on and I only ever appear in the Modern Warfare games” he told This Is Xbox.
It looks like Treyarch and Infinity Ward will continue to share the Call of Duty series year on year. I quite like the idea that Modern Warfare will continue as an ongoing 24-esque action series while Black Ops becomes steadily more bonkers. By 2022 Captain Price will have come back from the dead eighty times and killed every single terrorist in the world and Black Ops will be set on Mars.