Doom – A Game Out of Time in All the Right Ways

Doom 2016Last night I finished up all of the achievements for the base set in DOOM, wrapping up one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had with a game in quite a while. From top to bottom, I think this was the most fun I’ve had with a shooter in years – giving games like Destiny and Call of Duty a run. While it’s still fresh on my mind, I thought I’d put down a couple things that kept popping up as I was playing it.

Maybe more than anything else, I couldn’t help but think that this game is exactly what an FPS game would look like if the advances of the last 10 years or so hadn’t happened. This is what a classic FPS game should look and play like. It’s a direct line of progression from the classic id shooters – taking what has always worked and adding in a couple sprinkles of modernity to foster exploration and completion. I kept thinking that this was exactly what DOOM should be – not trying to shoehorn in a convoluted story, or contrived RPG elements; it’s fast, it’s brutal, it rewards execution and precision and has just enough bells and whistles to keep you looking in all the nooks and crannies. It’s a classic style FPS boiled down to the most important elements, and done so, so well.

That feeling that DOOM thrives on is possible because of how well the game plays. Maybe there were a handful of times I felt like the controls or mechanics didn’t work for me – the only one that jumps out at me is when the mantling didn’t take. You’re rarely in a position where those traversal elements actually factor into a fight though. Instead the combat is built around the foundation of all FPS games – circle-strafing and jumping. No aiming down sights, no thrust packs and sliding – just point, shoot, strafe repeat. The additions that 2016 brings – weapon mods/masteries, Praetor suit upgrades, Hell Runes and Glory Kills – all just add in a couple new layers of depth to the combat. And that combat is as brutal as brutal can get. DOOM certainly earns its M rating, but not through heady themes like drugs or sex – no, this is a pure, blood-caked, innards coated romp through Hell. The Glory Kills in particular are so over the top it’s incredible – there are a handful of animations I found myself chuckling at as my gruff Doomguy ripped and teared. It’s a game that is so self aware without showing it – some games like to give that little wink to the player, this one just knows exactly what it is and goes about its business. It’s challenging, it’s a love letter to the early days of the genre and at the end of the day, it’s a damn fun game. If you have yet to play it, and have any interest at all in FPS games – especially the foundation of the genre – this is the perfect game to get.

Late to the Party – Overwatch

Overwatch Tracer SplashLast week I finally bit the bullet and picked up Overwatch, a game I’ve been super interested in after watching a bunch of Funhaus videos. I played the beta, enjoyed it, but let it go by the wayside. Now that I’ve put a week or so into the game, I thought I’d talk a bit about my thoughts with the Xbox One version.

I want to start with my biggest complaint, and that is that the story for the game and characters is being told outside of the game. There’s a bunch of animated shorts and comics that flesh out the world, and also the Heroes that you play. Since I was away from the game from launch until now, I had no clue about anything – I had to go on to the wiki to find out anything about the characters and story. On one hand, I understand that this isn’t really a game that depends on the story to drive the content – just pick a Hero and go to town. But Blizzard is one of the better developers out there at fleshing out a world and making the characters feel real, so I would have really liked to see something in game explaining it all.

Beyond that though, Overwatch has very quickly become one of the most fun games I’ve played this year. Even playing it solo, I’m having a blast pretty much every game I play. The only one that I really got annoyed with was a match on Numbani where the Defense team posted outside our spawn and just kept sniping in our doors – it took nearly the whole first phase to get out to the point. It’s a game that I absolutely understand is more fun with friends in a party to coordinate with. Even with that though, the roles are all pretty clearly defined where solo players should easily be able to have good teamwork. Each game mode feels similarly enough where you don’t have to play a few games in that type to get it under your thumbs, while still shaking up what team comp you should bring in. An escort match requires different Heroes and play than a control or hybrid match. Going in at level one, I certainly felt a little overwhelmed because the rest of the lobby was a bit higher ranked than I was, but the game does a great job of teaching you as you play that it wasn’t a learning curve at all. That of course is dependent on which Hero you play.

Overwatch Reinhardt

Of the handful of Heroes I’ve played so far – Reinhardt, Roadhog, Widowmaker, McCree, Reaper, Zenyatta and Genji – I’ve enjoyed every one, for different reasons. There’s a lot to dig into with the Heroes, and that really is why I haven’t tried some like Symmetra or Torbjorn since I see their learning curve a bit more intense than others. For me though, the most fun Hero I’ve played has to be Reinhardt – I have loved every game with him. I don’t normally like a support style tank, I usually lean more toward a Roadhog style, able to dish out a bunch of damage, but for whatever reason, Reinhardt has just been exactly the character I needed to pull me in completely. I just wish he had a little bit less reliance on healers or health packs. I also know that I’m coming in to the game at a little weird spot with the meta – on the competitive side of things, Zenyatta and Lucio are pretty much the most important characters on any team – and I need to learn the balance a bit more still. It boils, to me at least, back down to what I mentioned earlier – the roles that each character fits into is where that character will perform the best. The ones that are able to break their mold, those are the ones that are a little too strong – when a support/healer character like Zenyatta can dish out more burst damage than a number of other characters, that’s a problem. Same can be said with D.Va – a tank Hero that can dish out more sustained damage than almost any other Hero, with limited weaknesses. I don’t know when the next patch is inbound – I would expect maybe with Gamescom this week we might find out; we know that a new short is coming soon based around Bastion which might mean patch too. If that’s the case, I really hope that Zenyatta and D. Va come back to the pack a bit. We’re getting closer and closer to the fall deluge of games, with a superb lineup on deck, but if you haven’t picked up Overwatch yet, I think now is a perfect time. It’s a damn fun game, especially if you like old-school style arena FPS.

No Lack of Faith Here – Star Wars Battlefront Beta Impressions

Star Wars Battlefront

Yesterday marked the console launch of the Open Beta for Star Wars: Battlefront. After a relatively long download – busy servers I’m guessing – I was able to play a few matches and get a pretty good feel for how I think it’s going to unfold.

The big thing that was on my mind going in was just how close this new Battlefront would feel compared with the old classics from 10 years ago. So far, it feels very similar – but I think that’s more due to the strength of the Star Wars licence. DICE did a good job of not making it just a reskin of Battlefield with lasers. I really like the infantry system in place for the secondary items. Instead of worrying about ammo and item count, you have two item “hand” cards to pick, along with a “top-card” item that requires charges. The hand cards recharge after using them – you don’t need to worry about grenade count or secondary ammo. Just keep your cooldowns in mind, and you’ll be at full power frequently. Ammo in general is a thing of the past here – your blaster has a meter to watch before it overheats, but there’s no reloading (which takes a little to get used to) and you don’t have much in the way of recoil to watch either.

I would offer up this one caution if you’re unsure about Star Wars: Battlefront. It isn’t a true hardcore shooter. If you go in expecting a set of game mechanics like Call of Duty or Battlefield, you will be disappointed. It’s still got a competitive feel to it, but it just seems a bit more about the overall experience to me. I don’t feel like I’m going to be worried about my K/D or overall win/loss with this game. I think I’m going to be more interested in the moments that happen in the games – especially in Walker Assault, or playing as the hero characters. That was how I always used to play the classic games too. There are plenty of other, more intense shooters in the market this fall if I want a more competitive game; Star Wars is all about the fact that Star Wars is just plain awesome.

Titanfall: One Year Later the Titans Still Work

TitanfallNow that we’re officially into March, it’s been one full year since the launch of Titanfall, the first game from Respawn Entertainment. It had a lot of hype going in – a new FPS IP from the creators of the Modern Call of Duty format. Add in that it was coming from EA – not Call of Duty‘s publisher Activision and the story was rich enough before the game even was released. There was extra pressure since it was also Exclusive to Microsoft – PC and Xbox only. And to tell the truth there was a lot riding on the success of the game for the Xbox One. It was the first FPS that really was built for the “Next-Gen” system’s abilities. Running on the Microsoft Cloud was supposed to keep lag at a minimum – and the game also had the ability for players to choose their server locations to help that further.

Titanfall Expedition

The question then is, one year later, did the game live up to the expectations? The short answer is yes, but there’s a lot more going on here. Sure, it sold well, and had a pretty solid player base for a while – although the numbers have really dropped. I played a couple games this week to refresh myself and the biggest player count was in Attrition with just about 6,000 worldwide players. But the impact really goes beyond the numbers with Titanfall. It gave the Xbox One some life early on in the console’s lifespan – which it really needed. The PS4 came in with a bit more receptive audience than the Xbox One, which you could argue is still the case, but with Titanfall the public began to look at the Xbox with a little more positive views. Having an exclusive, especially one that’s an FPS, was a huge plus for the early days of the Xbox One. Beyond that, Titanfall also helped illustrate a fundamental shift in the design of FPS games. We’ve seen it now with Advanced Warfare  and Destiny as well, and even in Halo 5. The days of waist high walls are seemingly past, and we now have games that are built around movement and speed. Each game has approached it in different ways, but I still think that Titanfall has done it best. The emphasis on wall running really helps keep the flow of pilot combat fast paced – it was rare to see much down time in a full lobby. Even the Titans had a lot more mobility than I think anyone really expected.

Titanfall Frontier's Edge

Titanfall I think will end up being one of those games that in a few years, we’ll look back at as one of the first true Next-Gen games. It was a completely fresh take on a genre that’s as old as any – and one that tends to get stagnant after a couple years. Regardless of how long this trend of mobility-focused shooters lasts, Titanfall will have been the first one out. There’s really no way, without talking with all the developers out there, to know exactly how much influence the game has had right now; but I do think if we look at what FPS games look like at E3 we might be able to start to see just how important it was. The post-launch DLC season was kind of short – only three packs with three maps in each; but the season pass was also cheaper than usual – it was $30 instead of the usual $50. But Respawn also had a bunch of free updates that were rolled in with patches that added in tons of content – the Black Market for Burn Cards, Private Matches, Titan Customization and the Co-op Frontier Defense all were free content add-ons. I would have liked to see the player-base hang on to the game for a bit longer, but we’ll see how it goes with the sequel. While it hasn’t been officially confirmed, I think it’s a given that EA and Respawn will have a second game out in a year or so.

What Makes a Perfect FPS Map?

I have returned, from the throws of a nasty cold and I have in mind for today a post spurned by watching a video on YouTube over the weekend. WatchMojo.com – a site that produces lots of Top 10 countdown videos on YouTube across all sorts of topics. Over last week they released one that intrigued me right away – the Top 10 FPS multiplayer maps. Normally I watch them for entertainment, but of course, this is my area of interest – I watched this one with a bit more intent. So, in the mind of fairness – here is their top 10 countdown:

Now instead of just offering up my top 10 and calling it a day, which would be rather simple, I thought I’d look more at a top level here. Rather, let’s look at what exactly goes into what we could consider a perfect FPS multiplayer map.

Blood Gulch

Let’s begin with our set-up. If you really break it down, the maps ultimately boil down to one of two set-ups: Symmetrical, or not. Generally, that focus helps determine if the map will perform well both as an objective map or as a free-for-all/deathmatch style one. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it has to define how the map will play – for example, Crash (from Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare) – it’s an asymmetrical map, but it still manages to work in any game mode. Same with Blood Gulch (from Halo) – it’s symmetrical, but yet still works well for slayer games too. So the top down, overall arrangement is the first step – but it’s also got to be fitting for the scale of your player count. A big symmetrical map in a game that based more around close range encounters doesn’t make any sense and in the end won’t be a good map. It’s the problem with a map like Wasteland (Modern Warfare 2) – it’s a fine map, assuming you play it in Ground War, anything else feels too sparsely populated. So the next major factor to look into is size – large maps work as long as you’re building a game that works for large player count. Look at Titanfall – all the maps are large to accommodate the Titans, and even though the player count is small (only 6) the population of A.I. helps make them still work. But if you remove the Titans, and the maps don’t work, same with if you had small maps with Titans.
Facing Worlds
So, if we look at the final major factor, we can really get a feel for what our map will be. That final factor is the flow – all the extra little details that you put into the maps to direct players around it. Staircases for vertical play, objects for cover in firefights and routing for multiple paths all help give our map personality. The actual setting for the map really doesn’t necessarily matter – as long as it fits in with the setting of your game, that’s fine. If you took, let’s say, Facing Worlds from Unreal Tournament, and used the same design philosophy, but designed it with Call of Duty aesthetics and it could work – as long as you make sure that the flow still works.
Modern Warfare Crash
It’s not an easy thing to do – look at all your favorite games and I’m sure that you’ll find a couple maps that you just don’t like. For me right now, it’s been BioLab in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare – I find the flow just doesn’t really work with the gameplay. Instead of having hotpoints to focus around, it just feels like the map is a constantly rotating set of hotpoints around the spawn zones. That’s really part of the issue across the whole Call of Duty series – so many maps across the games are great looking, well built maps that are saddled with the issue of spawning. But that’s the fun of games like this – one map that’s a miss can fuel the desire for the next game’s batch, and that could mean a classic one.

First Person Shooters: My Journey as a Virtual Soldier

Advanced Warfare CoverThis might be the best 6 months for the FPS genre I can ever remember seeing. Between Destiny in September, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Halo: Master Chief Collection in the next two weeks; followed by Far Cry 4 and Evolve in the Spring, and Battlefield Hardline next spring as well, the genre is stacked with incredible games. That’s discounting Titanfall from this past spring, which I think really provided a major boost to the genre. With all of these great games on the horizon, I got to thinking about my history with FPSes. I thought it would be pretty cool to put down my thoughts here.

I got started with shooters back in the glory days of PC shooters – the first one I ever played was Quake II. Gamers today think of CoD Vs Halo when they think of shooters, but really the first duality of games was Quake Vs Unreal. I was more of a Quake fan, preferring Quake II over the story-based Unreal games. When I started playing online I came on at the perfect time – Quake III and Unreal Tournament were just coming into their own. The style of shooter has really changed drastically over these last 20 or so years, arcade style shooters are essentially all but gone from the market. But the skills that I learned with those games are still incredibly important, even with all the new advancements. Playing the Crucible in Destiny has really helped bring those different aspects of my particular game into focus. From the old guard, movement was so important, with jumping in particular being a key part of the game. Which really boils down to the fact that the Rocket Launcher was king back in those days, and jumping helped to mitigate as much of the splash damage. That tactic has remained in my skill-set ever since.

Halo Master Chief Collection

Which brings me to the next major game in my journey – Halo. That game sold me on the Xbox, convincing me to go out and pick up Microsoft’s first console. But beyond that, Halo may be responsible for shaping how I approach online shooters more than any other game. Strafing was so incredibly important in the first game, especially against other good players armed with that awesome pistol, that if you played Halo in any competitive way, you were all but guaranteed to get great at it. For better or worse, my first instinct in games now in firefights is to start strafing, using the same basic ideas I did way back in 2001. I also reload after every single gunfight, thanks to Halo, where you needed as many shots as possible. That’s gotten me killed more than I’d like in recent games where it’s not quite as important – especially in Call of Duty, where you only need a couple shots to kill; but it’s been ingrained in my game since then. That said, the most important skill I took from Halo was map knowledge. It’s a complex skill that has a simple tag – when I say map knowledge, I don’t just mean knowing the layout of the maps, I intend a much deeper meaning. With Halo in particular, it was key to know when power weapons would be spawning, along with the power-ups, so you needed to keep timing in your head, along with their spawn locations. Now that weapon drops are basically a thing of the past, map knowledge really boils down to map flow. I pride myself on learning quickly how players go about approaching each map – especially off the initial spawn – and using that knowledge to help keep me higher up on the leaderboard.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare

Which is a great segue to start talking about Call of Duty. I’ve seen a few articles this week talking about the decline of the franchise’s sales, and that they might continue through this year. I’ll talk about that a bit more on Friday during the news recap, but I really think that’s totally overblown – the series is actually I think in a pretty good spot to be. But it is a series in flux – Titanfall really helped illustrate that gamers were open to a change. Destiny, for all it’s flaws, provides players with a real unique option for competitive play. Where Call of Duty really stands out is in Pro/MLG – Destiny and Titanfall really don’t function well as a truly MLG option. There’s such a close tie with CoD and Halo with MLG that I think both will have strong upcoming rotations. As for lessons that you can learn from the Call of Duty franchise, it’s a little hard to pinpoint them. The series is so diverse from game to game, but there are a few important things to keep in mind. Map knowledge continues to be incredibly important, but what I’ve found more so is communication. In the other games I’ve pointed out, it’s pretty easy to excel while being a lone wolf. While it’s still possible to do that in CoD, especially in Team Deathmatch – playing any objective game, it’s much more important to have at least a couple teammates that you can talk with. It gets you more kills, less deaths, and a much better chance to win the game’s objective.

One of the things that I’ve always liked about shooters is that they allow me to play exactly how I want. Over the course of the last 18 years or so, since I’ve really been playing them, I’ve been able to determine what exactly that playstyle is for me. What I’ve learned is that I am a fast-paced, close range, reckless guy online. I play the objective, I like being in the thick of things. And I like to think that I’ve learned a lot over the years playing these games. They’re fun games, that tend to dominate sales every year; but still get flak online for being “fluff.” Chill out and enjoy the firefights – it’s a really wonderful time to get into shooters after all.

Titanfall Beta Impressions Part 2!

I said last week that I had a lot of stuff about the Titanfall Beta that I wanted to talk about, and that I would finish up today. So let’s dive right in, shall we? If you missed last weeks post, where I talked about a bunch of specific things like weapons and the Titans, feel free to go check it out now. This week I’m going to look at the beta from a broad view, looking more at how the game played and my overall impressions with it.

Titanfall

So let’s start with the part I was most worried about going in to the beta – the balance between Pilots and Titans. Prior to actually sitting down and playing the game, I was worried that when the enemy team had Titans up, that would be all she wrote; that the players on foot wouldn’t have a chance at destroying the Titans. I think in general, Respawn did a really good job of giving the Pilots a real chance against Titans – there were only two anti-Titan weapons, but both worked really well at causing some damage, plus the rodeo feature makes every Pilot a threat in a fight. Now, going against three Titans on foot is a really bad idea without some Titan backup, but in general, a Pilot really has a good chance against a Titan. This balance is easily the most important part of the game – mess it up, and the game just wouldn’t work. So kudos to Respawn there for getting it right so far.

Check out my clip of me taking out a Titan in style – on foot.

Next I want to talk about what I think was the breakout star of the beta – the parkour system. Going in I think most fans were most anticipating hopping into Titans and crushing enemies that way. After a few rounds, I found myself delaying calling in my Titan, because playing on foot is just so much fun. And again, this was a really important part of the gameplay that Respawn had to nail, or it would kill the fun and mire down the action. One thing that struck me early on in the beta was the pace of the gameplay. Thanks to the parkour system, the pace is way faster than Call of Duty, Battlefield or Halo, by a fairly noticeable amount. It’s not quite Tribes, but it’s definitely closer to that series than any other shooter out there now. And the parkour system is so smooth – no extra button pushes, just fluidly run along walls and jump all over the environment.

I hate to use the phrase “game-changer” because I think it’s way to early to crown Titanfall one – this was just a week long beta after all, with a limited experience for sure. But I think that the seeds are sown for it – assuming that the full game builds on everything we saw in the beta I think it’s not a big leap of faith to say Titanfall could be this generation’s breakout shooter. We still have to wait and see what Destiny does, as well as the next entries in Call of Duty and Halo, but I think the trend is going to skew back towards high mobility like we saw in Titanfall. The past seven years have all been featuring shooters with strong cover systems – Gears of War, Call of Duty and Battlefield especially come to mind. I think the audience is ready for a change, and Titanfall is not only coming out at the right time, but also is doing it very well. So we’ll see in a few weeks if “game-changer” is appropriate, but based solely around the beta, I think we definitely have a great shooter on our hands here, one that I think we’ll be playing for years down the road.

Next week I plan on giving you guys my impressions on Thief, which comes out tomorrow, Feb. 25, as well probably talking a bit about something I’ve come to really enjoy over the last four years or so – Achievements.

Titanfall Beta Impressions Part 1

Over the last week, Respawn Entertainment has been holding a semi-closed beta for Titanfall on both the Xbox One and PC. I say semi-closed because it was totally closed on both platforms until this weekend when they opened it up for everyone on the Xbox One to try to stress the servers. I’ve spent about 5 hours or so online on the One playing, trying out everything that the beta has to offer, and I’ve got a pretty good amount of stuff I want to talk about. So this week and next I will go through my impressions from the beta and I’ll try to spin it forward to the full game. Today I want to hit some of the specific things – weapons, titans, maps, that sort of thing; next week I’ll go top level and look at the beta as a whole.

Titanfall

So first off, let’s look at the maps in the beta. There are two maps that we can play in the beta – Angel City and Fracture. Each one plays a little differently, giving players a nice sample of different ways to play the game. In general, Angel City is much more close range, with lots more Parkour and verticality to it, while Fracture is longer range, more wide open with a lot of room for Titan combat. Angel City was shown last year in the first gameplay trailer, so it’s the one I think most players were familiar with going into the beta, and I believe Fracture was teased a while ago via a piece of concept art that looks a lot like the loading screen for that map. I’ve played each map a bunch of times, on all three modes in the beta, and depending on the gamemode, your tactics will definitely shift a bit. Angel City is tailor made for high mobility, high firerate/close range weapons, while still allowing longer range fights to take place. The most important thing to remember is to get high, as fast as possible – using the parkour system is easily the most important tactic while you are on foot. It’s a big shift from Call of Duty/Battlefield bringing back vertical combat to arena size shooters. Most buildings in Angel City have at least three different levels, and multiple entrances that take advantage of the system.

Fracture is almost the polar opposite – it still has spots where the parkour system comes in really handy, but in general the map has a lot longer sight lines, and huge chunks of open ground. It’s the better map to try out the sniper rifle on – there are a couple really strong sniper perches that can be reached from either spawn really quickly. I also think that Fracture is where Titan combat really shines. In Angel City, because of the close quarters, Titan combat can be a little insane; but on Fracture, there’s enough space for you to try out a bunch of different tactics, using different weapons and abilities on your Titans. It’s not uncommon on Fracture to see a fight with multiple Titans engaging multiple Titans on the other team – which is both awesome to witness, and awesome to actually take part in.

So the maps each play to different strengths weapon-wise, so let’s talk about the weapons in the beta. There are five primary weapons and two sidearms available to use, unlocked over the course of the 14 levels in the beta. They hit the standard FPS fare, but the way that they implement them feels really natural in the context of the game. The assault rifle, the R-101c Carbine, is a good option for mid-long range combat, it works well on both maps, and with the silencer attachment it makes for some good surprise attacks. The EVA-8 shotgun is a really satisfying shotgun – short range, but really strong. The R-97 SMG is a nice SMG – great in close quarters on Angel City, and a great rushing weapon. The Longbow sniper is interesting – the way that sniping works in Titanfall will take a little getting used to for veterans of Call of Duty, quickscoping is all but impossible thank God. That said, the actual rifle performs really well once you get used to it. The last primary is the Smart Pistol MK5, which is a really cool weapon – while you are holding the weapon from the hip, it will lock on to enemies, then you just need to pull the trigger. It takes a bit longer to lock on to other players, as a balance, but it’s a great stealth weapon for sure. Both sidearms are really great pistols, one full auto, the other semiauto but strong and still can be fired quickly.

The other options for custom classes are your anti-Titan weapon, a tactical ability, grenades, and your kits, which are passive abilities. There are two anti-Titan weapons, the Archer and the Sidewinder; the Archer is a strong lock-on launcher, the Sidewinder is a rapidfire mini-missile launcher. The two tactical abilities are active abilities that are activated with Left Bumper; the Tactical Cloak and the Stim. The Cloak is really strong against Titans and the A.I. but less so against players; the Stim lets you run, jump and wallrun much faster – could get you out of trouble in a hurry. Again, there are two grenade types – a standard frag grenade and an electric grenade for hurting Titans. The Kits are a little more varied, and act as passive perks – like having extra grenades, or a shorter recharge on your ability.

Lastly I want to talk about the Titans a bit. They’re a huge part of each match, and I really think that going in I was worried that they would just overpower and unbalance the game, but thankfully that’s not at all the case. Each pilot starts a match with a countdown to their Titan being ready, which can be reduced by getting kills, hits, captures and burn cards. Playing as a Titan really is just an extension of playing on foot – just in a giant mech. There is only one chassis offered – the Atlas, which has the unique ability of Damage Core, which boosts your damage when you activate it. But there are three different weapons that your Titan can equip, as well as two off-hand weapons, and two active abilities, and a few passive ones as well. The weapons are a machine gun, a 40mm cannon and a quad rocket launcher – each plays a little differently, and each has attachments that can boost their effectiveness. Off-hand weapons are either a flurry of unguided rockets, or a set of locked on missiles – great options while reloading your primary weapon. The active abilities include the Vortex shield, which lets you grab rounds being shot at you and fling them back, or the Electric Smoke – a fantastic option if you’re outnumbered to get away, and also gets players off of your Titan. In general the passive abilities mainly affect what your Titan will do when it’s doomed, including a huge explosion that will do some serious damage to anyone nearby.

Titanfall is still a few weeks off, releasing on March 11, so this beta is a great little tease for players and a fantastic way for Respawn to test their end of things. Now that it’s open on the Xbox One, there really isn’t any excuse to not try it – it ends on Feb. 19 so get it quick though. I’ll talk more about it next week, looking more at how I see it fitting in in general with other FPS games, plus a bit more about my overall impressions from the beta.

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.

Why Call of Duty Dominates Multiplayer

I swear this isn’t a fanboy blog for Call of Duty – but I do have a few more thoughts on the franchise after last week. This time, I’m focusing solely on Multiplayer, and why the franchise has dominated it over the last five-to-six years. With Ghosts releasing tomorrow, expect everyone on your friends list to be playing, including yours truly. Let’s get started here shall we.

Call of Duty: Modern WarfareHalo 3

While I know there will be people loyal to other series arguing that Call of Duty isn’t the most popular online game out there, the numbers don’t support that. Which is a great place to start our talk. When we say Call of Duty these days, we really are talking about the franchise starting from 2007 when Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was released. Up until that game, the series had been much more successful on the PC, and consoles had largely been dominated by exclusives like Halo, or series that died out like Star Wars Battlefront (A third-person shooter, but still popular) or Timesplitters. Modern Warfare really gave Halo a run for its money on consoles, and the sales numbers show it. Looking just at the Xbox 360, Modern Warfare sold 8.92 Million copies, compared to Halo 3 selling 11.78 million, the high point for the series. Granted, Modern Warfare also sold 6.34 million on the PS3, but that would be comparing Apples to Oranges. Looking just at the Xbox numbers, it’s evident that in 2007, Halo was still the champ, but Call of Duty was just starting to really nail down the new Infinity Ward formula, which we would see in 2010 with Modern Warfare 2 vs. Halo: Reach. The numbers by this point were solidly in Call of Duty’s corner – MW2 sold 13.06 million on the X360 compared to 9.44 million for Halo: Reach – still incredible numbers, but the balance had shifted. Again, that’s just on the X360, if we want to find a true comparison for cross-platform, we have to look at EA’s titles, either Medal of Honor or Battlefield 3. Of course, looking at those numbers, it’s not even remotely a contest. The three direct competitors – Modern Warfare 3, Battlefield 3, and Medal of Honor: Warfighter aren’t even in the same ballpark. Battlefield 3 sold 13.51 million across both PS3 and Xbox 360, while Medal of Honor: Warfighter only sold 1.92 million, which even combining the two series doesn’t add up to Modern Warfare 3‘s 26.46 million on both platforms. What all this really means is that although the Internet might like to bitch and moan about Call of Duty being the same game every time and all that, it’s not going anywhere, and there really isn’t any incentive to really shake up the series. It’s winning, and honestly, it’s a lot of fun to play.

Fat Stacks

But that’s the end result – the sales numbers; what I’m more interested in is how the series continues to shine and innovate within the parameters it set up for itself. And for my money, the first place to look at for a multiplayer, competitive shooter is the map design. One thing I would like to do in the next couple weeks, once I get some time with Ghosts and Battlefield 4 is to make a list of the best maps in shooters, but I do have a preliminary list that I think fits with this topic. Going back a few more years, we have classics like Facing Worlds in Unreal Tournament or Q3DM17: The Longest Yard in Quake 3; moving on to consoles it’s standouts like Complex on GoldenEye 64, Training Ground from Timesplitter 2; then we start looking at the Halo vs. CoD maps. Map design is so important to keeping a game’s balance from ruining the experience, and the first Halo game had some really well put together maps – Blood Gulch, Sidewinder, Hang ’em High, Damnation and Chill Out, but also some really odd maps that just didn’t work like Chiron TL-34, Rat Race, and Boarding Action spring to mind. But again, comparing Apples to Apples, we need to look at Halo 3 and Modern Warfare. Again, solid maps in Halo 3 – Valhalla, Blackout, The Pit, Guardian, and Narrows would be the standouts, in my opinion; but there really are some iffy ones as well – Isolation, Rat’s Nest, Orbital and Foundry’s default variant each have a few parts that I think hurt the maps. Looking at Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, there are a lot of strong maps, including some big fan favorites – Crash, Crossfire, Bog, Wet Work, and not many bad maps – Pipeline, Shipment and Bloc all really push you into a particular style of play. I think looking back on it, the strength of Modern Warfare’s maps, along with the nature of the gameplay is really what has made it the Shooter of the Day.

Modern Warfare Crash

The next thing to take a look at is the actual way the game plays, and it’s here that looking at Halo vs. Call of Duty kind of breaks down. While they might be the two most popular shooters out there, they’re really two different styles of shooters. Halo is much closer to the classic “Arcade” style like Quake or Unreal, while Call of Duty is much closer to the “Tactical” style that really started with the original Call of Duty, Battlefield and Medal of Honor. Jumping, strafing and constant map control for weapon spawns are all integral parts of the Halo style; while accuracy, map knowledge for sightlines and team make-up all are more important to the Call of Duty style. So while we all like to compare the two series, really the actual gameplay styles are too different to directly compare.

With all that said, where does that leave us? Why does Call of Duty continue to dominate sales and play numbers? I think bottom line is that it just came around at the right time, with the right style of game to shake up the scene. Gamers were starting to get a little tired of the World War Two shooters, and Quake-style shooters were already long in the tooth. Gamers wanted a modern setting with a more “realistic” approach to the combat. That said, it’s time might be up with the next-gen – Titanfall and Destiny both look like fresh approaches to the FPS genre, and could be the shake up that naysayers are looking for. We’ll just have to wait and see.