Wednesday 9 January 2008

Review: Call of Dirty

I've got nowhere else to rant about it, but I'm currently playing through the dirty brown spray that is Call of Duty 4. I suspect deep down it's my play style, but I'm failing to see anything of the Game of the Year recommendations that seem to have sprung up mushroom-like from it's fertiliser-based medium.

This isn't a 'every game that's not a rogue-like sucks' rant. But the best moments of Call of Duty are when you don't get to control where you move. The rest of the time you're being yelled at to run somewhere, then stand between your AI colleagues and shot at targets. What I'm saying is that this game would be improved by being an on-rails shooter, one where you don't even get camera control.

I'm coming from the 'let you explore the combat arena then introduce enemies' school of combat that Valve espouses. So I'm forever running ahead of the AI, then shooting at enemies across the length of a dining table. Which is good in a way, because at any further than two or three metres, it's impossible to tell who you're targetting, so I've experienced plenty of 'Game over due to team killing' moments. It's even funnier when the enemies run straight past you and you just shoot them in the back, or get killed in your allies cross-fire. Or when you run back down a street you're supposed to have gone up, and have infinitely spawning allies and enemies standing next to each other, shooting at opponents that are slightly further away.

Other design problems: Grenades should be weapon selectable, giving you a chance to, say, aim them, not automatically thrown when you just want to think about using them. Particularly as they're a weapon that can horribly back fire.

The Javelin scene is just comical. Suddenly I go from a rooftop fire fight to shooting a whole lot of tanks and both my allies and enemies just stand there watching me scurry around looking for something I have no idea what or how to use.

Door opening - The whole point of a game is that the player should be the first one through the door. So why can't I open doors at all? I had one instance outside the TV studio where I lined up my squad of eight or nine at that point and had to wait around for the scripted open the door routine, on one of six identical doors. It was like waiting outside the toilets at a concert...

My recommendation: Buy Black, not brown. It at least has a sense of style.

[Edit: While I disagree with CoD being a great game, it does have a great message. Have a read through the last comment nominated here for a good view of what Call of Duty 4 does right. I think reviewers may have got confused a little and marked the message, not the game play].

1 comment:

Jonathan Stickles Fox said...

It does sound like it's mainly your play style. It's not "every game that's not a rogue-like sucks", but you do seem to be expecting a different kind of shooter, and finding it frustrating that the game doesn't work well when you try to play it as one of those. Both Half-Life and Black are much more run and gun style shooters than CoD4, which is more like an America's Army -- crouch behind cover, move up slowly, work with people around you, make sure what you're about to shoot is an enemy and not a stray friendly.

That doesn't make it a bad game, that just means if you're going to enjoy it, you need to get used to the different style of combat. If you do, I think the desire for it to be on-rails will fade. CoD4 does many things that wouldn't be possible if you didn't control your own movement, and its "message" also relies greatly on putting you deeply in-character. Even the initial sequence where you're the guy in the car is enhanced by the ability to turn your head, viscerally communicating that right now you are this person.

The one complaint you had that I really agree with is the Javelin scene being poorly executed. Yes, that could have been done much better. Other than that, I think most of your concerns derive from the way you're playing it. Enemies running past you, friendlies killing you and you killing friendlies, none of those will happen if you take the game a just little slower and more methodically. It's still supposed to be exciting, but you're not John Rambo or Gordon Freeman.

I think if you really get used to that idea and get into character as a supporting team member rather than the star, a lot of the drive to always charge and be the hero will be dulled, and it also won't feel so jarring that it isn't you that is the first into the door.

The problem with grenades is literally just an interface confusion, not something that's wrong with the game. You're used to requiring more input to throw a grenade -- equip grenade, aim, fire, equip gun. CoD4 simplifies it to just aim and throw grenade. It works fine, you just need to practice aiming before you press the grenade button, not after. Once you're used to it, I think you'll find CoD4 actually makes grenades easier to use than if you had to equip them.

Personally, I prefer the slower, more careful style of shooter that CoD4 and America's Army are built around than the faster, more frantic play that Half-Life and Black feature. But ultimately it's a combination of preference and being used to it. Any game, if you play it wrong, will end up being a lot less fun. Call of Duty 4 is a lot less fun (and its story is less effective, since it's harder to get in character during interactive parts) if you don't roll with on its own terms, and I think that's what's happening for you.