So I was recently playing a bit of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 again. Yes, that’s right, I was actually playing CoD. Plus, it’s not the latest Black Ops 2 or even Modern Warfare 3. Nope, MW2 for me. Why, you ask? Well, firstly, I was bored and I wanted a simple, straightforward shooting game that (brace for potential flame-war here) didn’t require a lot of hefty thinking. Hence, I went into my Steam games library and downloaded MW2. Of course, I wasn’t about to shell out any cash just because I was bored for a moment, so I went ahead and pulled out that old title and blew the dust off it.
It was intended to be nothing more than a mere one hour session. However, to my amazement, I continued playing well past three hours and, bizarrely, I wanted to play more. I was not expecting this at all. Mainly, because I hadn’t really enjoyed Call of Duty much after the first Modern Warfare instalment since I didn’t like the overall design and feel of the game. It always had something of the “console” feel to me and always felt inferior on the PC. Much in the same way the original Halo felt when I played it on my PC. The combination of low field of view, lack of any form of atmosphere and claustrophobic maps always made it feel like a casual player’s shooter to me. Strangely, that’s what made me like playing it in the first place.
See, while I was playing, I had this revelation. It finally became apparent to me what made this series so damn popular. It makes you feel good for playing it. Simple as that. Every time you get a kill, it flashes up a big sign on your screen to congratulate you on your amazing achievement. The more you kill, the more it would pat you on the back. Conversely, the more you died without scoring, the more it egged you on to keep trying. It even gave you a small boost, in the form of a death-streak bonus, to help you get back into it. Sure, some might argue that death-streaks actually reward bad playing. But I disagree, I believe that it pushes the player to fight back by stringing them along with this bonus. It’s not much to even speak of. You won’t become instantly God-like by getting a death-streak bonus. In fact, as I discovered, some of them don’t even appear to do much at all. For example, I was using the “Painkiller” death-streak, which is supposed to boost your health for a certain period of time. Logically, more health would mean that the enemy would require more hits to kill you. That should provide you with a significant advantage. However, I found that, on some occasions, I still died within the same amount of time regardless. Sure, it could be that I’m absolute crap at this after not playing for about a year and a half, but even so, it’s the psychological effect of having something that simply appears to give you an advantage. Like a placebo, if you will. Regardless of the actual intended effect, I found that all these bonuses simply made me more daring, which in turn, helped me take risks that sometimes led to brilliance. And yes, it felt good.
But what is it that truly kept me playing? Was it the graphics? No, they were good, but not great. Was it the level design? Gosh, no. Was it the aesthetics of the weapons? Nope, as far as I could tell, they weren’t all that different. What kept me playing was this ultimately compelling feeling of need to complete that next challenge, or get the next unlock, or rank, or whatever. Yes, it was that progression system. You know, a friend of mine in the past used to always rave about Call of Duty games. He used to always go on and on about getting to the next “Prestige” level or something or rather. And this is exactly what he was talking about. It’s this addiction that the game cleverly inputs into you. It dangles little morsels in front of you and praises you to high heaven for accomplishing rather simple tasks. For example, it asks you to get five headshots and win a weapon skin. Plus, it flashes your achievement right in front of your face with a resounding metal scream. All of this, to get that little bit of euphoria flowing and keep you going.
To be honest, it’s a very addictive feeling. Who doesn’t want to feel good? In that sense, Infinity Ward have made a great game. I don’t honestly believe that it is a good game to play, but it does make you feel good for playing it.
However, all is not rosy. Because of how Call of Duty is set up, it is a very accessible game. Hell, I didn’t play for more than a year and I went from zero kills to positive kill/death ratio with double-figure kills in about three to five rounds of play. It has become easy for just about anyone to pick up and play. Sure, you do need some level of frequency to actually do well in the game consistently but it isn’t difficult to start. Compare this with something like Planetside2 or any of the Battlefield games and you’ll see what I mean. Those are games that punish new players very hard. Call of Duty doesn’t. It picks up the new players and welcomes them with open arms. The problem with this is, Call of Duty is quite possibly the worst game to learn FPS gaming with. Once you enter the arenas of just about any other game, especially on the PC, you’d be in for a very serious culture shock. Call of Duty is almost unique in the way in handles and plays that no other game could possibly compare. In fact, it may even warp a player’s expectations to expect all shooters to play the same. Then, they’d be limited to games such as Halo, Gears of War and other similarly accessible shooters.
That’s not to say these games are bad. It does, however, limit the scope for developers. If the FPS community were majority CoD players (which given the popularity of consoles, it just might be), developers would then have to cater to the demands of that demographic. We wouldn’t be able to have complex FPS games at all, simply because nobody would want to buy it if wasn’t like Call of bloody Duty. Imagine a world where all FPS are CoD clones.
Now stop imagining, because it could actually already be happening. You see, not that long ago, a game existed named Counter-strike. Some of the mainstream CoD players may not have heard of this game, because the players were 90s kids or older. But anyway, the game was simple. Two teams, one objective. Pick your guns, stick with your team, and off you go. No levelling up, no weapon attachments, no progression, no killstreak rewards. What it had was, tactics, recoil patterns and good old fashioned shooting skill. Nowadays, shooters are leaning towards the way that CoD did things. Almost every FPS game now has a form of progression system. There’s also a points system and some form of reward for special actions in almost every FPS game. Also, what annoys me most, more and more games are ditching recoil patterns in favour of wide cone shaped spread.
Of course, there will be many that disagree with this opinion and that’s fine. It’s merely an opinion. And before I get carried away with this topic, I’m going to end this here. I just find that the direction that FPS in general started moving in since 2009 to now is highly disturbing. Ironically, it may end up being games like Battlefield 4 that start to shift things a bit further in the right direction. I’d just hate to see all FPS games go the way of the MOBAs and start copying each other.