Enemy Spotted: Call of Duty learning from Past Mistakes

I had a chance to play the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare beta and we have a lot of thoughts to share on the experience. Having played it over the week, It was surprising to see that a franchise was so rooted and known for a lack of innovation finally changing their formula. From a new engine, innovations in ray-traced audio, excellent sound design, and possibly some of the best gun animations I have seen in a very long time, this Call of Duty is pulling out all the stops to make sure that their 12-year-old formula is finally laid down to rest.

Playing the Beta on both Playstation 4 and PC, you can really get a grasp of the performance in Modern Warfare. The game is consistent in the PS4 version, even in the larger modes with multiple explosions. I was impressed with how well this new engine is scaling, with all the screen shake and huge variance of on-screen activity plus mode differences. With V-Sync turned off and playing the new “Groundwar” mode, I hardly saw any huge fluctuations of frame-rate. With each round ranging from dense firefights to long-distance showdowns with explosions all happening on a large battlefield, I was rather pleased to see the framerate didn’t dip much. This was also with all the graphics put on the highest setting at 1080p. It was nice to see them rework their lighting engine. Their attempts to mimic the player’s eyes adapting to light was both a fun touch for immersion and impact to my decision making, but there were also times where I was left unable to see anything in this military color schemed shooter.

32 vs 32 Groundwar Mode

You can really see the areas where Infinity Ward has decided to borrow from their previous games. Map design has definitely improved, with areas that are more dense with decent cover and spaces that incorporate traversal and versatility. The biggest change to me was the fact that these maps no longer stick to the “3-laned” and circular layouts that were in previous games. You can see that these inspirations came from balance surrounding other competitive shooters. The maps no longer incentivize running in circles, to flank and to avoid getting flanked.

Possibly the biggest and undeniable inspiration is Call of Duty’s longest term rival: Battlefield. Call of Duty has finally started to catch up with the graphics of their competition but they are also improving on the number of players. Their 32 vs 32 “Groundwar” takes the fun aspect of the classic Battlefield formula and cuts the fat. It remains faster pace and much more close-quarters, much to the strength of Modern Warfare’s new, extremely polished gunplay. While it does sacrifice the charm of Battlefield’s atmosphere, and playground like systems, Call of Duty has decided to condense the experience to replicate the Call of Duty gameplay within a much larger map. This does inevitably make things much more chaotic and exhausting to play, but the rounds go much faster than their competitors multi-campaigning battles.

Visuals and Weighty-ness are the true stars of this Beta

Now forget all that logistical stuff, because if there is anything to take from this Beta, it would be the new animations and sound design. I cannot believe they did it, but they finally got rid of the terrible, dated animations and models that have been plaguing this franchise for years. The return to World War 2 had this slight improvement where there was a surprising boost in visuals and a focus on atmosphere, but the step between generations was just too small. Their games were the equivalent of jingling keys, it served a very shallow yet acceptable service. This installment, however, has everything done anew. Every reload, every bullet fired, and every weapon animation is eye candy, and shockingly meaty. For a series that has you looking at your weapon for the entire game, it took them an embarrassingly long time to finally modernize, but at least now, they have knocked it out of the park.

Now all these things are great, but this still has its share of issues. Matchmaking is currently really bad, especially with some of the game modes having a really strong emphasis on teamwork on communication. It is almost unfair to see the matchmaking be this poor and thus your game gets turned from “skill-based” shooter to whether or not you get lucky. Crossplay feels poorly implemented as well. While I must commend them for taking a step forward to allow everybody play together, they sure have awkwardly balanced controller aiming. To compensate for the lack of precision of a keyboard and mouse, controllers receive an aim lock that some players, including pros, have been having issues playing against. I feel there is a huge disconnect with its enforcement of fast gameplay and the new strategic vibe they are trying to veil it as. While the game has been significantly slowed down from its predecessors, and the design has made it clear that slow and strategic is the most optimal way to play, not everyone will be playing that way. The guise of making the game more realistic and thus requiring more strategy is effective, just not convincing.

Shadows and Light Cascade Nicely over the crisp and detailed Geometry

A lot talk is thrown around whenever a new AAA shooter comes out, and every time developers say that the game will be “ready for eSports” or something along those lines. Well, I spent a good amount of time talking about what they have refocused on for making the experience more competitive, but do I think it is eSports ready? Not really.

This franchise has definitely figured out its identity crisis and finally realized that the whole gameplay loop of shooting people is fun. They did not need to pad it with extra bells and whistles instead of getting their main gameplay right. While they did address most of their past issues, and with the 2v2 mode it is painstakingly clear what direction they want this game to go, but it just lacks the general infrastructure. Poor matchmaking, hardly a Elo system, no match history or statistics, upgrades are tied to level, and so much more.

The netcode is still kinda wonky, and crossplay is awkward. Controller aim lock being overturned and broken, it can sometimes even lock onto and track opponents through cover if they are near the corner. The mini-map has its share of issues as well, with scaling awkwardness and poor representation of structures. Unless they are willing to pour in money for this game to launch, or will addressing these issues in the future, I just cannot see this going well, especially when most of the players play it non-competitively and just play it to have time to kill. If you are looking for a break from work and want to blow off steam? Call of Duty: Modern Warfare looking to be the perfect distraction, but if you are looking for a deeper, meta, and competitive game, this ain’t the one for you.

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