I've Missed Call Of Duty

I'd just come home from work, a three-hour train ride, and I'd spent half an hour having a quick Call of Duty scrim with some former Counter-Strike friends. We'd largely abandoned CS competitively by that stage, due to a combination of work, fatigue with the scene or changing lives, and played Call of Duty 4 for fun instead.

It was still organised, but without the divisive thirst for blood. And that environment inadvertently led my Dad to make a passing remark one evening, a comment at the dinner table that I've never forgotten to this day.

"You're laughing a lot more these days," he said.

Having striven to prove my worth - probably to myself, more than anything else - through various competitive games, Call of Duty has been the one that has stood out. Not because it's not a competitive game: Call of Duty has a legacy in this country longer and prouder than most of the biggest esports today, with the scene transitioning and reinventing itself too many times to count.

It's a personal relationship. It's what you sometimes hear referred to as a "side game", the secondary thing you play to unwind from your main game. The terminology might be alien, but the behaviour is fairly common. League of Legends players, for instance, have often dabbled in CS:GO as a "break" or to unwind from a rough patch in ranked. A crossover between Dota and CS:GO is quite common. A lot of Quake Champions players have enjoyed PUBG or Overwatch on the side; a skilled Quake player can often be a nightmarish Pharah main.

If you've ever dedicated time towards climbing the ranks in something, you'll this feeling. And for me, that way to unwind was Call of Duty.

Call of Duty started life as a much slower paced WW2 shooter. Campaigns were stories from the front lines, tales from war diaries. Power fantasies your grandfather or great grandfather might have lived through.

COD4 gave the franchise an injection of adrenaline. Sprinting never use to be a thing in Call of Duty. The maps had a lot more verticality than CS or other team-based shooters of the time. (Battlefield was a different story, but that was a completely different style of play, too.)

Perhaps most importantly, players were more vulnerable. Grenades had a huge radius and could annihilate players in an instant. They were so deadly that the start of competitive rounds were often a mini-waiting game: advance as far forward as you can, don't get blown up by the pre-nades, and then proceed from there. And then there was the wallbanging.

It was a hit at LANs too. Modded zombie servers, old ex-infantry blokes playing hardcore, TDM to get the day started and the occasional FFA when everyone's off having pizza. Every LAN in the country, you can bet COD 4 was there.

Australia loved Call of Duty 4. I think it still does.

The "modern" era of Call of Duty - COD4, the original Black Ops, Modern Warfare 2, Modern Warfare 3 - was like a sugar high. The pace of matches, the window between firefights, was perhaps the closest thing to Quake in the modern era.

Quake when it was super popular, anyway.

Call of Duty would become forever defined by that adrenaline rush. It would make missteps along the way. Ghosts trashed too many beloved modes and the maps too large for so similar a formula; Advanced Warfare suffered from some atrocious balancing; and Infinite Warfare had too many launch issues out of the gate, not to mention one of the more distasteful microtransaction systems for the series.

But that cornerstone of constant movement, the anxiety of knowing another engagement is only seconds away, never changed. And after dabbling with various ways to spice that up through movement, the series came back to earth a little.

Black Ops 4 reminds me of what COD games used to be like. Sliding remains, a legacy from Ghosts, but the jet packs, wallrunning, grappling hooks and other futuristic-powered elements have been turfed. The scorestreak list reads like a blast from the past. Health that doesn't automatically regenerate is a godsend, especially if you're chasing one of those arseholes that sprints around the map trying to knife everyone.

Body armour is a blessing for that too.

Manna from heaven for casual COD players: rolling stats, so you can constantly chase those numbers.

Another major reason why I've missed Call of Duty is because PC players, more or less, have largely been abandoned.

It was a trend that started with Modern Warfare 2. Switching to player-hosted lobbies over dedicated servers was a sensible concession for matchmaking and how consoles function. It was a gut punch to those who had grown up with Call of Duty as a PC-only game, those who had stuck with the series from day dot.

The Black Ops series offered some hope. After working on Call of Duty: World at War, Treyarch turned their hand to a more shadowy tale of mercenaries in the first Black Ops. It was ambitious, perhaps a little too much for its own good, but entertaining nonetheless.

It was the multiplayer where the game shined, though. The gunplay borrowed judiciously from how COD 4, particularly the movement speed and the recoil. Dedicated servers returned, a blessing for the competitive PC community back then. And there was an excellent selection of maps. Not as good as some of the classics from COD 2 or COD 4 (Carentan, Backlot, and Crash have stood the test of time for a reason). But they were loved enough for Jungle, Summit, Nuketown and Firing Range to make a return (with Nuketown being patched in soon).

Roaming around those maps again, tracking bodies as they spring around a corner, that's what Black Ops 4 reminds me of most. There's too many modern inclusions to hark back to the real classic Call of Duty games. But the different specialists also don't feel like a dominant factor in gameplay either.

Sure, I'd love to see the rifle-mounted grenade launcher launched into orbit. But Call of Duty wouldn't be Call of Duty if there wasn't one tosser running around, aiming at people's feet for 90% of the match. It's part of the game's spirit.

2018 is a very different landscape. Genres have changed, expectations have evolved. But the pace of a game is a quality that transcends general trends or mechanics.

It's really why so many have stuck with Call of Duty for so long. Everything else around it is more of a container to deliver that constant surge of energy, the thrill of battle. It gets tiring eventually - and there's a physical toll in constantly flinging your mouse around, covering corners and backtracking to keep apace with the spawns.

But it's a definite and absolute thrill. It's what keeps players coming back.

I'd left that out of my gaming life. Not by choice, but because over the last few years it didn't feel like Call of Duty serviced players like me anymore. It was partly the platform. It was partly the broken launches. And it was partly the passage of time.

Other games had caught up. Serviced PC players better. Offered more equitable progression systems.

But nothing quite replicated that pace, the memory of those days at LANs, the neverending firefight that leaves you with just enough time to reload before the next engagement. Other tried. Nothing stuck.

Black Ops 4 reminds me of what Call of Duty was like for me. The laughter, the deathmatch sessions, the shit talking at LANs, the relaxation through exhaustion.

I've missed it.


Comments

    BLOPS 4 is my first COD game in years. Super fun, especially Blackout. Glad I skipped over the last 4 - 5 entries. My only gripe is the textures on the MP Maps on PS4...ewwww. Please tell me they are going to patch them into a 2018 standard??

    Blackout mode is making me super-tempted to buy a CoD game for the first time ever, and I don't even actually like the other BR games out there.

      I'm in the same boat, I don't like Fortnight or PubG but honestly, Blackout is goddamn sweet. It feels like the natural progression for COD gameplay. My kid and I are hooked on it :) Zombies is probably the best iteration of the games mode too :D

    That was a nice article. I could feel the feels.

      Same. Never stop writing Alex, your articles and commentaries always draw the reader in with a personal flair that adds a relatable element to any topic. Even when folks may not agree with you, were never left wanting for a well presented point of view.

    Not a fan of the MP as I think the killstreaks and perks ruin the game, but I do enjoy the blackout and zombie modes. There does seem to be quite a bit of lag though atm.

    I also love the fact one of the characters is Australian.

      Lag that you're feeling probably has to do with the netcode; game runs at 10hz tickrate, for a comparison of similar titles:
      - PUBG runs at 60hz nowadays I think (from 10hz at launch)
      - Fortnite runs at 30Hz (8hz at launch)
      - Battlefield 4 runs at 60-120hz on certain servers (10hz at launch)
      - COD games usually ship with about 30hz at launch.

      It's morbidly low for a shooter (especially one with such a low TTK and lots of rapid-fire guns), and probably the main thing holding the experience back for me right now. The above titles eventually got patched improvements to their netcode which usually results in a huge difference in terms of how responsive the game feels, but it could take months.

      Awesome entry to the franchise though, just that it's multiplayer-only and kinda needs the stability to back that up still. Having fun with Blackout though, all the same!

    This article was perfectly timed for me. I downloaded Black Ops 4 at the start of this week after not touching the game since Modern Warfare 2 (I'm a PC player). I've jumped back in and it feels just as fun and exciting as it did back then.

    It's a second game to my main go Rocket League.

    Thanks for the article Alex.

    I have a love hate with CoD. I am loving playing this one, but I had way more fun playing WW2 last year. I guess I like that last year with orders and stuff I felt like there was always something else I am aiming towards every game. They challanged me, inspired me, and sometimes took me out of my comfort zone. Dont get me wrong I play it for fun, but without orders and that I just feel like a hamster on a wheel, just constantly moving, but really not sure why. Thats where CoD always leaves me feeling shallow, it is fun in the moment, but when you stop and think about it, it is just the 'just one more game' addiction, that drives me.

    But as much fun as i am having, the more I play, the more i just want to be playing Destiny. I think because its pace and dysfunction and artistic style is more where my head is at. That and scorestreaks in this make it so untenable sometimes. They make the good players even better, which makes the weak players even weaker. They make for some huge and terrible snowball type games. (sure that happens in Destiny but, for me, they dont feel as terrible)

      Everyone gets a chance to drop their Ult in a Crucible match, after all.

        Yeah and at least WW2 had requisitions. But of course the ‘good’ players had a problem with that. But at least it gave normal players a chance at fun. If only one a game, where as the good players would be using the same thing multiple times a game

    Tried to get my son to play Destiny 2 with me but he refused to play much else apart from Fortnite. I got this to play Blackout with him.

    I have been enjoying it. The MP is fast as hell for an old timer. You really need to level up for a few days to start being competitive. Everyone is level 50+ and I am level 10. WTF killer attack dogs!

    Zombies is incomprehensible for a newbie. I played one match and everyone else just ran off to leave me to die alone so I spent most later rounds spectating.

    Blackout is great and is just what I wanted in a BR but it feels like it lags a bit in the middle sector of the round. Though that is probably just my style of hiding in a building for most of the game until the herd is thinned out. I would prefer a tighter 20 minute round than the 30 minute at the moment.

    Still haven't played with my son yet. If he doesn't this weekend I am going to confiscate his PS4.

    It's not really the point of the article, but I do hope "advanced movement" doesn't completely die off.

    I firmly believe CoD never did jetpacks/double-jumps/wall-runs well while Titanfall comparatively nailed it.
    My fear is if CoD makes "advanced movement" a dirty word in the game industry because they screwed it up while other games did it fantastically. I'm kinda hoping Doom 2 and 2077 nail it to redeem it.

      Looks like DOOM 2 is on point with movement, added a lot more verticality with grappling hooks / quick dashes combined with maps that look like larger open arenas as opposed to DOOM 2016's industrial hallways.

      I miss Titanfall! Diamond in the rough for sure, though I was probably pretty shit at the whole wall-running thing it did feel satisfying.

      If nothing else, Dying Light made scrabbling up walls so much fun for me.

      Dropshotting, dolphin diving and jumping constantly needs to die off.

    I've had an on/off relationship with COD. Played COD4 in 2010 (it was 3 years old and still $45 new on 360!)

    Got over COD and moved onto Battlefield via Bad Company 2 but years later brother bought me CODBLOPS2 and I got hooked big time.

    I bought Advanced Warfare because they had a Pick 12 system based on Treyarch's pick 10 but the jet pack gameplay was a poor imitation of Titanfall. Black Ops 4 definitely has my attention. The Blackout beta was a lot of fun

    It was a trend that started with the original Modern Warfare. Switching to player-hosted lobbies over dedicated servers was a sensible concession for matchmaking and how consoles function. It was a gut punch to those who had grown up with Call of Duty as a PC-only game, those who had stuck with the series from day dot.

    i think you're confused on that, cod4 had dedicated servers and was the last good pc iteration of the franchise... altho that was largely due to promod and the competitive community

    This was a great article, so many nostalgic feels. Took me from my late 20s into my now 40s. Thanks for the trip Alex :)

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