Wrapping up December – And 2013

Well we’ve reached the end of our journey through 2013, and I cannot wait to get through this week and hit 2014 in stride. Gaming-wise, I felt that 2013 was a bit of a slower year than the last two had been, but I think that’s mainly because so much time and effort was put into the console launches, which we will see the main payoff really start next year. Of course, that’s not to say that there weren’t stand-out games this year. I’ll hit my picks for this year’s best, but first I want to quickly talk about some crappy maps to round out my December project.

I’ll begin with the first map that jumps to my mind – Chiron TL-34 from Halo: Combat Evolved. Even now, over 10 years after I first played the game, I really don’t know the layout of the map. The fact that the main way to move about the level is through teleporters or grenade jumping results in confusing gameplay.

Chiron TL-34 Map

Next I want to hit pretty much the biggest shooter in the last ten years – Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. In general most of the maps work pretty well, but there are a few spots here and there, that, coupled with the way some of the perks function, turn the game into a nightmare. For me, that’s really evident on Derail – even in Domination, people are able to camp in the middle building. Combine that with One Man Army, Danger Close or Commando, pushing teams out of there can be a really tough course of action.

One more map I’m not really high on – Operation Metro from Battlefield 3. In and of itself, it’s not a terrible map, my big issue with it, is that it goes against the Battlefield format – no vehicles, close quarters, limited paths to take and doesn’t really work with the huge player number. That’s really why I think it’s not a great map – it’s fighting against the identity of the game it’s in. And with that, that wraps up my thoughts on Multiplayer maps in the most popular shooters today – it was a fun little project that I think fits with the season, since lots of people probably got one of these games for the Holidays.

Operation Metro Map

One last little bit of business for 2013 still though – the best of the year. This year was a lot easier for me to pick a winner out of the pack than last year was. Last year I was torn between Dishonored, Mass Effect 3 and Borderlands 2. This year, it’s a bit more cut and dry which games I am looking at – Grand Theft Auto V and BioShock Infinite. Personally it wasn’t that difficult though – for me, GTA just didn’t hold my attention as long as I would hope – the story is totally fine, the game itself looks amazing and plays great; GTA Online has a ton of potential to really elongate the lifespan, but still has some growing issues. Now, Infinite is a smaller scale game – no multiplayer, nothing really outside of the main campaign (Outside of DLC) – but that campaign is amazing. Easily the best story experience I had all year, in a setting that feels unique and alive and has tons of little details that breath life into the world and characters; and a story that had twists and turns a plenty. For me, it was going to be Infinite’s award to lose, and GTA just didn’t really do it for me this year.

BioShock Infinite

So there’s 2013 – a little bit of a pause after the craziness that 2011 and 2012 were, and a great table setter for a huge year next year. 2014 will be the first true “Next-Gen” year, where we’ll get to see games like Destiny, Titanfall, Elder Scrolls Online, Watch Dogs, and Dying Light push the boundaries of what we know games can be and do. I’m pumped to see what the industry has for us, and can’t wait to see what surprises lie in store. Here’s to 2014.

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Mapping Out December – Part Four: Answering the Call of Duty

I know that this blog has seemed to be pretty much focused exclusively on Call of Duty, but I swear that isn’t by design. This year’s fall season was more about the consoles released than any really big game, outside of Battlefield 4 and Call of Duty: Ghosts. I’ve already talked about how Call of Duty dominates sales right now, so really when I decided to do this series on the best multiplayer maps, I knew that I would have to talk more about it. But since I had talked a bunch already, that’s why I pushed it back this late. I should also say that I’m focusing this on the series since Call of Duty 4, since those are the games that have performed well, and that I’m most familiar with the multiplayer of.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare

With all that said, let’s flip back to 2007 and look at Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. At the time, it was a bit of a risk – moving away from the tested and true World War II setting to the slightly touchy setting of modern day conflict, as well as pushing hard on consoles. But it certainly paid off big for Activision. Let’s look at some of the better maps from that game. I’ve already talked a couple times about Crash, so I won’t beat that horse any more. Instead, let’s start with Backlot – one of the mid-sized maps, it’s got a solid map flow with good sight lines crisscrossing the maps. There’s a good variation in vertical lines as well, with multiple levels on a few different buildings. Domination games are always fast-paced, with a lot of fighting around B Dom. Sticking with good Domination maps, Ambush is another winner. It’s a bit bigger, with some really long sight lines that a good sniper can lock down, and a B Dom point that is wide open, and holding it for any real time can help solidify a win. Another big map that plays really well is Overgrown – great for a good sniper, even better for a good stealth class. It’s a map that can come down to the last few minutes to determine the winner, in any game mode. It’s so good they brought it back for Modern Warfare 2.

Modern Warfare 2

So with that, let’s look at Modern Warfare 2 – the game that really cemented Call of Duty as the leader of the pack. Even four years later, I still remember that the first match I played was on Karachi – so let’s start there. I loved running around the roofs with a SPAS-12, stopping snipers and running and gunning all around this map – it works well on pretty much any gametype, but TDM games are always fun on here. The other big memory I have of MW2 took place on Scrapyard. A smaller map, it’s a frantic pace for any game type, but it shines on Domination – well balanced, with great running and sight lines, any weapon can excel on it. It was a Domination game that me and my college buddies were in where we shut out the other team on this very map, 200-0. That could only happen on a map that had great running lanes that made defending points possible. I also always loved playing Highrise – good for any mode, but really great on CTF, this map has tons of little touches that make it really fun to play. This was the map that probably had the most little external spots that players can get into – either the crane, the roof, or the balcony all come to mind right away, along with lots of different paths to take.

Modern Warfare 3

I want to stick with the Modern Warfare series while I’m on it and go to Modern Warfare 3 next, then I’ll talk Black Ops and Ghosts. I always thought that with MW3, the initial maps were a bit of a step back. The DLC maps were good, but the initial offerings didn’t really have a fantastic stand-out. I think maps like Outpost, Lockdown, Resistance, Bakaara, Fallen, Seatown and Dome are all okay, but not exceptional. It’s full of maps that work, but almost all have one or two spots that are really easy to camp and hold. Outpost had the bunker, Lockdown has the long hallway, Resistance had the B-Dom building, Bakaara has the hill building, Fallen had the overwatch building, Dome has the B-Dom building. Seatown has a few buildings that tend to get held on to. Then there’s maps like Mission where the entire flow of the game hinges on holding the top-middle section of the map. I think Infinity Ward took a lot of the feedback to heart with the DLC maps, as well as the design for Ghosts.

Black Ops II

But before we head there, let’s talk about Treyarch’s games – Black Ops I and II. Compared to Modern Warfare 2‘s maps, I never really felt that Black Ops had nearly as good maps. I just never really was able to get into the multiplayer to the same extent. Not that there aren’t stand-outs: Nuketown and Radiation are both great maps; but for the most part, the maps are pretty average, and ultimately, forgettable. Cracked, WMD, Firing Range and Summit are all solid maps, but the rest of the mix were all just sort of “there.” I think Treyarch probably puts a big amount of time into the Zombies mode, which might explain the step down from MW2 maps, but that’s total speculation. Especially since Black Ops II had much better maps. Maps like Hijacked, Standoff, Yemen, Overflow, Raid, and Meltdown are all quite good maps. They all offer a way for any style of play to excel on them – a CQC runner can do well, snipers can find good lines, AR gunners can do some major damage, while LMGs can hold objectives really well. With the exception of Carrier and Aftermath, I actually was totally fine with the maps in this offering.

Call of Duty: Ghosts

Now, Ghosts is still going through some growing pains, since it’s still quite new, but I think some patterns of play have definitely developed and certain maps have emerged as winners. First off, the lack of a Ground War playlist makes maps like Siege, Stonehaven, Stormfront and, to some extent, Whiteout, suffer a little bit. These maps are just a little too big for just 6-on-6 games. But some of the other maps have shone as really strong maps – Strikezone, Octane, Sovereign, Flooded and Chasm all play pretty well this early on in the life of the game. Strikezone and Sovereign play super fast, with a great mix of close-quarters fighting, with a few longer lines here and there. Octane and Flooded are more mid-range maps, but have a couple really good sniping lines, and even a few good running lanes. Chasm is probably the best balance of the different types of combat so far – long lines for snipers are there, it’s got great mid-range lines for Assault rifles and DMR’s, but a run and gun class can do well too, with lots of different paths between points.

In general, I think what helps the Call of Duty maps out, are the different gameypes – Domination really helps show off a map’s defensible positions, while also showing off the different paths between points; Hardpoint takes that idea and rotates it around the map; CTF and Blitz offer classic style team based games; while the Demolition/Sabotage/Search and Destroy/Headquarters games all change the dynamics of the map.

That will wrap up my look at what I consider the best maps in multiplayer shooters, across time and platform. Next week, I think I might offer up a few of my picks of the worst maps I’ve ever played, as well as I will probably look back over 2013 with my picks of the year’s best.

Mapping Out December – Part Three: Earn Your Halo

December is flying by, we’re already to part three of my series on some of the best maps in multiplayer shooters. First we looked at a few older games, last week we took a trip to the Battlefield series of games. Today, it’s a series that is near and dear to my heart – the Halo franchise. It’s almost hard to believe that the series is over 10 years old, it really does seem really fresh in my memory all the times playing the first game at LAN parties back in high school. Hell, the first Halo game is the whole reason I bought my Original Xbox, so this should be a fun little look back on the series.

Halo 3

As always, let’s go back to the beginning – Halo: Combat Evolved. Right away, there’s the big map – Blood Gulch. Probably the most popular map across the whole series, for a couple reasons. First off, it’s perfect for CTF games – well balanced, with a good mix of ranges and styles of combat. Secondly, it has existed in just about every game in the series, so new and old fans get to play it. Thirdly, we can’t over look the impact of Red Vs. Blue on the map, never mind the level of connection that Rooster Teeth has with the Halo franchise in general. We’ll head from Blood Gulch, to the other big CTF map I remember playing a ton – Sidewinder. Again, balanced layout, good mix of vehicles and heavy weapons and intense games that can come down to whoever gets one capture. Great objective map for sure. I want to hit on two more maps, Chill Out and Hang ‘Em High. Both are good for either CTF or Slayer, but focus more of infantry combat – no vehicles needed. Hang ‘Em High is great for pistols, or rockets CTF games, while Chill Out is still the best Shotgun CTF map I think I’ve ever played. Looking back on the whole map list, there really are only a couple stinkers in the batch – Chiron TL-34 and Boarding Action. The rest of the maps are all really solid.

Blood Gulch

Let’s jump ahead to the sequel now – Halo 2. Admittedly, I think this is probably the black sheep of the series. The tweaks to the multiplayer “leveled” the playing field by putting in a generous aim assist, which turned every person on Live into a “pro no-scoper,” while also turning other weapons into paper weights. That said, there were actually a few stand out maps that still play well. First, easily the best example, Lockout. Great for SWAT games, good for CTF, great for slayer or one flag games as well, it also has some really unique ways to move around the map using the exterior of the geometry. Next, Ascension is a great small map for CTF, or even snipers/SWAT games. The design is also pretty unique, with lots of little touches that make it a great map. Lastly I want to touch on two more real quick – Zanzibar and Ivory Tower. I know a lot of people would mention Midship, but I always preferred Ivory Tower. It’s a great map with lots of different levels, good flanking routes, and it’s a great one flag map. Zanzibar, on the other hand, is one of the better mixed action maps in the game. Vehicles can do some real damage, but there are plenty of good other options to move around the map, and CTF games are reminiscent of Sidewinder games – intense matches that can end in a 1-0 score.

The Pit

Now on to Halo 3 – the first on the Xbox 360, and the first to feature the best feature in the series for multiplayer – Forge. Let’s start however, with The Pit. Probably the most balanced infantry only map (because let’s be honest, no one used the mongoose on that map) for CTF, SWAT, Slayer, King of the Hill… the list goes on. It’s a really well balanced map, with good weapons that keep the action flowing and really doesn’t allow for camping. We’ll go big with the next map, and talk Valhalla. It’s a spiritual successor to Blood Gulch, and features the same basic premise – simple design and map flow makes for really fun CTF matches. Weapon control and vehicle usage makes the difference, and can turn the tide of a game. Another winning CTF map would have to be Narrows. It’s a throwback to simple maps from the early days of shooters – it’s a bridge, with really only four ways to cross it. You’re always playing defense, while at the same time, trying to send a few guys to poke and prod and grab the flag. It’s another map that can either end up 1-0; or can end with a flurry of caps. Great map design, for sure. One last one from Halo 3, Guardian – similar to Lockout, it’s a great SWAT map, or even CTF. Small, cramped quarters, with lots of close combat makes for a fast paced game that always comes down to the last few minutes and is always close.

Let’s look real quick at Halo: Reach and Halo 4. In Reach I want to touch on Countdown, Boardwalk and Sword Base. All are smaller maps, without vehicles, but feature a great mix of combat – snipers can do well, especially on Boardwalk, shotgunners can dominate a hallway or room on any map, and a good DMR can lock down a path. Each plays a little different, but all demand precision and good teamwork for sure. When we talk Halo 4, I think we need to look at Haven, Exile and Solace. Haven is a great arena style map, it really works for any slayer variant, King of the Hill and Ricochet; and games can come down to the last few seconds. Exile is one of the better big maps, featuring all of what makes Halo unique – different weapons, vehicle combat and chaotic action for the duration of the game. As for Solace, it’s a unique set-up for CTF – seemingly symmetrical, but each base plays a little differently for the defenses. Great for objective games as well as King of the Hill.

I purposely left out two big parts of multiplayer games these days – DLC maps and Player-created maps. Forge changed the way Halo plays – player-created gametypes and maps that get vetted by the community, show off the things that the community really feels are the strengths of the game. Infected is a huge example, as is Grifball – another direct tie to Rooster Teeth and RvB. As for DLC, I left it out because I do think there are people who still don’t buy additional content for multiplayer, and honestly, that’s totally fine. I don’t recommend it, but hey, that’s cool.

Next week, we’ll wrap (ha!) up the best maps feature with Call of Duty, and then that last week of December, I think we’ll go to the opposite end of the spectrum and talk crappy maps. See you then.

Mapping Out December: Part Two – Hitting the Battlefield

I started looking at what I consider the best multiplayer maps in shooters. Last week, I looked at few older games, like Quake, Unreal Tournament and GoldenEye 007. Today, I’m bringing it a little more modern by looking over the best maps from the Battlefield series – primarily 1942, Vietnam, Battlefield 3 and Battlefield 4. Let’s get started with the very beginning of the series, Battlefield 1942.

Battlefield 1942

The true strength of the first game’s maps is the setting of the game – the Second World War was such an incredibly over the top period of time, it’s almost hard to believe that some of the battles actually happened. So let’s look at possibly the biggest battle of them all, the Normandy Invasion,  presented in the game as Omaha Beach. If you forgot your high school history, go brush up on Omaha Beach, because it’s seriously insane the amount of carnage and action that took place there. As for the map in game, it’s pretty simple and straightforward map, essentially a straight series of three command points. The Allies start the map out in the water on a ship, while the Germans spawn at the top of a cliff. The Germans can set up a number of sniper posts, artillery and really get dug in before the Allies even get to the beach head, which makes the push up the hill a real hard struggle, but if you can push all the way up, that will pretty much end the match.

One other really well built maps from the first game is Operation Market Garden, based around the real-life operation of the same name. The map is set around the village of Arnhem, and the real focus of the map is around two bridges. It’s a combined arms map, with paratroopers dropping in left and right, making for a fast paced and all around fun map.

Battlefield Vietnam

Jumping forward a game to the next entry, we have Battlefield Vietnam, somewhat of a dark-horse in the series. My favorite map was always Hue – 1968, the first of the two Hue maps. Set during the Tet Offensive, the map is set in the city of Hue, and features frantic combined arms combat the whole way through. There really isn’t anything like rounding a corner, putting a few C4 charges on a tank, ducking in a building and blowing it sky-high, and Hue is built for moments like that.

Battlefield 4

Now let’s look at the two current games in the series – Battlefield 3 and Battlefield 4. We’ll start with one of the smaller maps from the base game – Tehran Highway. It’s a night map, so flashlights and thermal scopes perform well. There’s no air combat to worry about, and limited ground vehicles, but they can really change the flow of the game. It plays well on conquest and rush, as well as the squad modes too. But that’s not really what makes Battlefield different – we need to go big to see that. So I would point to Kharg Island – it’s one of the biggest maps in the base game, and features all the different parts of combat the makes Battlefield unique – air combat, heavy tanks, APCs, transport vehicles and long range infantry combat, as well as close quarter combat in the oil refinery. I think this map really shines on conquest, showing off all the different parts of the map and the different forms of combat.

Jumping into Battlefield 4, I’ll admit I have real limited experience with the maps so far, but that said I think I can make a few picks. First off, Lancang Dam I think shows off a few of the new points of focus that DICE has with BF4. First off, the major change of destroying a large section of the dam, totally changing the flow and layout of the map. It’s a big map, with long sight lines to show off some major sniper skills as well. Finally, I would pick the Siege of Shanghai as another real strong map – the focus of being able to totally destroy the middle conquest point, changing not only the layout of the point, but also the sight lines for snipers and having the dust and debris totally affect vision for a new way to be stealthy really makes the map strong on all fronts.

Looking back on Battlefield as a series, there really have been way more strong maps than I pointed out here today. If you missed out on the original game, I believe that it’s available for free through Origin now, so there really is no reason to not pick it up. There are plenty of awesome maps in it, and you can really make some awesome moments happen. Next week, for part three of this little series, I will be heading to the Xbox and looking at a series I am very familiar with – Halo. See you then.

Mapping Out December: Part One – A Trip Down Memory Lane

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was thinking about doing a piece on the best multiplayer FPS maps. Well, I decided to go a little bit bigger than just that. Welcome to Mapping Out December – where for the next few weeks I’ll be talking about all sorts of the best and worst maps for FPS games. My thinking going into this was to celebrate all of the best maps in all sorts of games, not just the big three out now. So with that in mind, let’s rewind the clock a bit and take a look at some of the best maps from older shooters.

Q3DM17 The Longest Yard

We begin our journey with one of the first multiplayer games I ever played – Quake III. First up, one of the early maps in the game’s progression – Q3DM6, aka The Camping Grounds. It’s a relatively large map, but really can be divided into two major areas – the Quad Damage pit and and the towers around the map. Since this map has both the Rocket Launcher and the Rail Gun in it, the pace of the game goes real quick, meaning the players have to learn how to run the map, grab the health and armors and pick up the the weapons and always keep moving. Next up, the classic Q3DM17, aka The Longest Yard. One of the most popular maps, going all the way back to the Quake III demo, this map is simple, with a lot of open space and great movement lines. This is the map that turned me into a good shot online – in order to do well on this map, you need to be efficient with the Rail Gun, and real quick on your shots and movement. If you’re looking for a quick way to increase your fundamentals in online shooters, this would be the map to play for sure.

Facing Worlds

Switching gears to Quake III‘s main competitor back in the day, let’s look at Unreal Tournament‘s best maps. I always felt that what UT did better than Quake was the objective modes, in particular Capture the Flag. The addition of the Translocator, which lets you teleport around the maps really change up the way CTF gets played. Which brings us to one of the all around best CTF maps ever – Facing Worlds. There’s a reason this map has been in every UT game. It’s beauty is in the simplicity of the map – two identical bases, separated by wide open paths with no real cover to speak of. It’s a map that demands teamwork, and at least one good sniper. Good Translocator work can get you across the map safely, or even into the lower sniper perches or the Redeemer platform, but getting back really requires some real good sniper cover. It’s the kind of map that can end in a 1-0 score because it takes so long to get a cap.

Complex

Let’s finish up today with a quick look at the first really successful console shooter – GoldenEye 007 for the N64. It was one of the first experiences I had with playing multiplayer at the same time as my friends – in the same room. My play with Quake and UT was more against randoms, but this was with my friends, so the trash talk was an important part of the experience. The map we played the most was Complex, and it’s a map that I think still holds up. It’s hectic, with different distances, hidden doors and perches and paths; and would totally do well with a larger lobby size than just four. If you’re looking for a second map from GoldenEye to play, I would definitely pick Facility as a close second – lots of corners, a few long sight lines and small rooms make for a crazy match.

With that, we come to the end of the first leg of our journey through the best maps in multiplayer shooters. Next week, we’ll take a look at the best Battlefield maps over the course of the series. Stay Tuned!