Replay: Call of Duty 4 Multiplayer

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With the Call of Duty 4 (COD4) remaster tantalisingly close to release I thought to myself “What better a time to revisit the original game and see if it still holds up”. Actually, that’s a complete lie; I was installing a Minecraft update for my daughter, noticed COD4 was still in the disc drive and fancied having a go. Whatever.

Anyway, COD4 is just around the corner and I’m pleased to confirm that, for those that haven’t played it in years, the multiplayer is as good as you probably remember it.

The first thing that struck me, before even getting into an actual game, was how concise everything is. It’s still a very comprehensive package, but without the bloat of later games. It actually seems to nail that sweet spot of providing depth and variety, but without getting bogged down in meaningless filler. For example, creating a custom class/loudout takes seconds, not minutes like in recent games. This might not sound like much, but from a gameplay point of view, it means the 30 second interval between rounds gives you ample time to tweak your classes and fits with the flow nicely. There’s none of this “backing out of the lobby to fiddle with your setup” nonsense.

Another aspect of this concise approach is that your choices have a bit more weight to them and there’s more of a noticeable trade off. Pick an assault rifle, you get an assault rifle, and if you want that grenade launch attachment, you’re gonna have to lose the red dot sight. There’s no crazy Swiss-army knife guns to be had here, with shotgun attachments, hybrid sights and FM radio.

That goes for the “perk” system as well; you pick your three perks from the predefined lists, they each perform a clear unique function and you get on with it. There’s no perk modifying perks, or any of the crap found in later games. If you want UAV jammer, you’re going to have to lose stopping power, and if you want steady aim, you’re going to have to give up deep impact. Simple profound choices.

Once the match begins the action kicks in almost straight away and rarely relents the entire game. There’s a constant rattle of machine gun fire as rounds zip past before slamming into walls and buildings. The sound of explosions from grenades and flashbangs are never far away. The key to this intense action seems to be largely down to the well designed maps. They are small enough to keep the action flowing, but not to the point that it ever feels cramped. The moving spawns react to the flow of the battle and, other than the occasional mishap, elevate the problem of spawn camping. The abundance of cover and flanking routes keeps everything moving along nicely.

The static kill-streak rewards (UAV > Airstrike > Chopper) keep things balanced and fair, with none of them being overly intrusive or overpowered. They’re a handy little bonus that work well in conjunction with the gunplay, but won’t preoccupy your mind as you play. It’s not like in later games where people desperately hold out for a match winning nuke, or get pulled out of the gameplay to remotely pilot a gunship.

Guns feel weighty and powerful, with satisfying hit markers letting you know when you’ve found your mark. It’s gunplay at its finest, even if the aim assist probably does make you feel a bit more awesome than you truly are. The only real gripe to be found is with the peer to peer hosting system. The game generally does a decent job at selecting the best host, but with such lightning fast gameplay, your performance can be impacted by your connection to that host. The split second difference in connection speed can often decide the outcome of a particular exchange, even if it’s not always noticeable. It’s far from game breaking, but is obviously frustrating if you do happen to notice it occurring. Luckily, finding a new game will generally fix the issue.

The XP, unlocks and challenges are all as addictive as ever. Most of the challenges don’t really impact on the way you play, they just encourage you to use different weapons and try different game modes – which is great; there’s nothing worse that witnessing your team mates doing dumb shit because they are blatantly just trying to complete a challenge. With each new level you reach, a new perk or gun gets unlocked –  this keeps things interesting and is a system that can really get its hooks into you. It’s not uncommon to have a few extra rounds simply because you notice you’re a few XP away from the next level.

Call of Duty 4’s multiplayer is still, in my opinion, peak Call of Duty. Though some will see it as basic by today’s standards, others will appreciate it for its more focused approach. Rather than showing its age, I think it shows what an unbeatable bench mark it set.

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WWE (Worst Wrestling Experience)

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Sentiments like “they don’t makes games like they used to” are often those of rose-tinted middle-aged gamers, who, like anyone reminiscing, are thinking back to a time that didn’t really exist. It’s a distorted version of events within ones mind, one where the bland has been lost to the shadows and only the shiny bits remain.

When I found myself uttering that same sentiment recently, I was however musing about more negative connotations; I was thinking about how games aren’t anywhere near as shitty as they used to be.

Like a spreading fire, such a statement is sure to trigger alarm bells on multiple levels. Firstly among those who are bound (obligated even) to protest that there are indeed plenty of shitty games out there today; that in fact anything that scored below a 9, or anything they don’t enjoy on a personal level is, undeniably, “shit”.

Then there will be those that have sensed an attack on their cherished childhood; that someone has dared to claim things weren’t magical and perfect “back in the day”. They may even be reeling off lists of classics games in their head. Ocarina of time, Final Fantasy VII, Lemmings…

To try and dowse the flames a little, or maybe fan them, let me elaborate on this. I’m neither claiming that games today are now perfect, nor that they ALL used to be shitty; it was a mere observation that I don’t recall, in recent memory, playing a game that was fundamentally bad.

Sure, the millionth iteration of Call of Duty may not exactly be the innovation in first person shooter that we’d all like – it’s probably more of the same stuff we’re bored of – but it’s not a bad game; it’s mechanically sound. And the same goes for everything I’ve played recently. Being a kid of the 80’s (and not denying the gems) I can remember a time when games – or should I say gaming – wasn’t so reliable. For every “Pong” there were multiple “ET’s”, most of which the names I can’t even remember. Things have since vastly improved, because that is simply how progress works. Developers have learnt from their mistakes, they’ve learnt what does and doesn’t work, and the quality benchmark is a lot higher now.

With that in mind, it was a bit ironic to then stumble across a game that laughed in the face of such sentiments. A game that proved bad idea’s are still alive and kicking. A game that has decided to fight for the survival of shit games as a concept.

Before I go any further, I feel I have to disclose that I am not a wrestling fan. I didn’t “get it” until it was too late. The idea of a fake sport just seemed…pointless, so I ignored its existence. It was only whilst watching it round a friends that I realised it isn’t a sport at all; it’s a soap opera for teenage boys, and that was the appeal. That said, I was a fan wrestling games, because beating the living shit out of people transcends subject matter boundaries; it’s a universal good.

T’was because of this (and because it was free) that I thought I’d give WWE 2K16 a go on Xbox One. I was harbouring fond memories of games like WWF Warzone and Wrestlemania 2000 on the N64, so thought it would be an enjoyable romp.

On firing the game up, I was pleasantly surprised (and confused) to see Stone Cold Steve Austin on the title screen! I kinda assumed things would have moved on in the last 20 years, but it was nice to see a familiar face from the N64 days and it got things off to a great start.

Moving through the menu’s and I was instantly taken in by the wealth of gameplay options, the oiled up men and thumping background music. I’d soon created a badass custom wrestler – who looked like a jacked up hillbilly – and started what appeared to be a fully fleshed career mode. This however, was when things started taking a turn for the worst.

Wrestling games of my era were fast, fluid, arcadey type affairs. They had all the necessary characters, moves and fanfare seen in the “sport” itself, but the gameplay was generally a button mashy system that anyone could play. WWE 2K16 seems to have moved much more towards the sim genre, which in itself wouldn’t be a bad thing, had it not been for a couple of critical issues.

Many key elements that make up the wrestling match are now carried out via mini-games. This could potentially of worked quite well had the choice and implementation of the games been better. For context, the submission mini-game has you control a coloured bar, chasing (or being chased by) your opponents coloured bar round in a circle. The transition from gameplay to this mini-game is jarring and far from intuitive. It doesn’t feel fun or fitting, it just feels weird and frustrating; but then at least it’s not as game breakingly bad as pinning, which is probably the single biggest problem in WWE 2K16.

Getting pinned in WWE 2K16 triggers a quick time event. Yes, you read that correctly: a quick time event. Although the difficulty of said QTE is linked to your health, it quickly becomes more luck than skill. A win/lose that is little more than a dice roll. That alone is a horrible, horrible idea but unfortunately it works hand in hand with some other issues that create the perfect storm of failure.

The AI is extremely proficient at kicking out of pins, even if you’ve completely dominated them. You can beat seven shades of shit out of them, perform a fucking finisher on them, and still have them merrily kick out like “it ain’t no thang”. This will draw the match out longer, eventually meaning you yourself will get pinned and have to face the horrific quick time event.

The third and final nail in the coffin is the control issues. There often seems to be a distinct disconnect between what you want to do and what actually happens on screen. This ranges from input lag and inputs not registering, to picky contextual manoeuvres like tagging in your partner. It compounds the other issues and raises frustration to controller-throwing levels of annoyance.

WWE 2K16 falls at the first hurdle, which is a real shame because there’s such a potential for greatness and at times it reminded how much fun wrestling games can be. Some may be able to play past the issues – which is great as there’s a wealth of content there – but for many I think the game will have them tapping out in submission.