Tuesday, January 13, 2009

My Slice of Shooter Pie: Call of Duty Multiplayer

If you play many shooters, you've probably noticed that they usually fall into one of two camps: Those those that strive for a certain degree of realism, which we sometimes refer to as "tactical" shooters (G.R.A.W., Rainbow Six, SOCOM, etc.), and those populated by characters whose ability to soak up bullets is matched only by their ability to strike heroic poses in three hundred pounds of futuristic armor (Halo, Gears of War, Quake, and so many more). I love both types of shooters to bits, both in single player and multiplayer modes. And though I'm generally as inept in one type of multiplayer as I am in the other, there is one game that mixes many of the ingredients I prefer in both genres and bakes them into one tasty shooter pie.

Infinity Ward's Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (and by association, its successor/cousin: Treyarch's Call of Duty: World at War) has been, by far, the best multiplayer shooter experience I've had. And while that statement may smack of fanboyishness, there are a few specific things about the experience I want to point out that keep me coming back for more; not matter how many hours I've already put in.

Balance is Key
I've already hinted at the balance between realism and over-the-top fun in Call of Duty, and there isn't much more to add on the subject except to say that however they did it, the boys and girls at Infinity Ward managed to build an experience with an extremely satisfying balance of skill, entertainment, progression, and risk/reward. I know that some would argue that certain game mechanics (namely the Air Strike/Chopper combo) offer a little too much reward for relatively little risk, and they wouldn't be wrong. I'm not saying the balance is perfect. I'm saying it's a satisfying balance to me, and too many others if recent counts of online players are correct.

A Perfect +10
I'm willing to bet that if you play Call of Duty that you heart skipped half a beat as you sawthat "+10" in the subtitle. There is something about those little yellow numbers that pop up every time you score a kill that is simply addictive. They are like these little endorphin bursts sprinkled throughout each match. It was wise for Treyarch to decided to keep them in the latest game, otherwise I may not have been as hopelessly attached to it as I am to Modern Warfare.

Achieving For the Achievementless
I'm not exactly what some might call an "achievement whore," but I do really enjoy adding to my Xbox gamerscore. This is why I am so befuddled to find myself getting so much enjoyment out of a shooter that offers zero gamerscore for online multiplayer. But what Call of Duty lacks in achievements, it more than makes up with rank progression and unlockables. Climbing the ranks and unlocking new weapons, accessories, and perks provides ample reward for online play. Honestly, I'm not sure if I ever would have played the multiplayer without achievements as a reward. That is, if it weren't for the Modern Warfare beta that got me hooked on the multiplayer long before I knew about its lack of achievements.

All in all, like any game series, the Call of Duty series has had it's up's and down's. There are even the high and low points of each individual game. The multiplayer for the last two installments of the series, however, is a rock solid experience that I will never tire of playing.

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