What Call of Duty Can Learn from Battlefield's Better Multiplayer

Call of Duty: Black Ops

For every great rise to power there is an unavoidable and ultimate downfall. We have observed this cycle throughout human history, from the rise and fall of ancient civilizations, to the coming and going of great sports teams, to the passing of popular fads. The same is true for video games, and right now, Call of Duty is likely at the height of its power.

Having played every CoD title the franchise has to offer, I often find myself wondering when the next "Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare" will happen. You know, THE next Call of Duty game that changes everything — the one that becomes the gold standard for shooters, and influences an entire generation of online multiplayer. Will that next "big" game ever come, or will a new modern war FPS rise to take CoD’s crown?

At its current rate, CoD is being run into the ground. Let’s face it, we’ve been playing the same CoD since 2007. Sure, subsequent games have been set in different eras, with appropriate weaponry and technology, and have even alternated developers, but the game is the same at its core. Only once we got CoD 4: MW did the franchise really turn into the blockbuster that it is today, largely thanks to its innovative and addicting multiplayer. However, the franchise has done little to innovate and move forward since then, leaving many gamers, myself included, wondering if the CoD franchise has stagnated.

But there’s another modern war FPS on the rise, poised to take CoD’s place: the Battlefield franchise. Being the other high-profile modern war FPS on consoles (sorry Medal of Honor, but no), Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and CoD are often compared to each other.

Ever since Battlefield 1942 launched on the PC in 2002, PC gamers have enjoyed a war FPS that console gamers may not be familiar with. Focusing more on larger maps and vehicular warfare than traditional FPS games, the Battlefield games have found their way into the hearts of gamers thanks to their large-scale and chaotic battles.

A far cry from CoD’s smaller, arena-like maps, the openness of Battlefield allows players of any skill level to enjoy the game. Rather than be forced to fight on the front lines of every match, they can choose their own level of involvement in a battle by commandeering any of the various land, air, or sea vehicles, or by playing a specific role as any of the specialized soldier classes. It’s a war experience that no other multiplayer video game comes close to offering.

While there’s no question as to which game is more popular right now, the other features a far more balanced and fun multiplayer experience. Here’s what CoD could learn from DICE’s Battlefield games and their better multiplayer design:


There’s no "I" in team!

Ever notice how team games in CoD feel like free-for-alls where one half of the combatants don’t shoot at each other? Teamwork is hardly encouraged or required in CoD, and a skilled lone wolf can carry an entire team to victory. All someone needs are some advantageous perks and three devastating kill streak rewards to create a landslide victory.

Lone wolves can certainly succeed in BFBC2, but it is a lonesome endeavor, and they can never carry a team to victory. A coordinated squad (4 players) working together can decimate an opposing team, and are also encouraged to do so. Players are awarded double the normal amount of points for reviving downed squad members and supplying them with ammunition, health packs, and repairs, as opposed to helping teammates from another squad.

Players can also spawn to the location of their own squad during battle, which not only defeats the possibility of spawn campers, but adds another layer of strategy — as long as one man is left alive in a squad, he can basically act as a mobile tactical insertion point, making it easy for a squad to get behind enemy lines and catch the other team off guard. The amount of strategy and teamwork involved in BFBC2 is leaps and bounds ahead of anything present in CoD.


The sound of war

CoD games have always had respectable audio, particularly regarding the sounds of weapons, but they have never approached the level of realism present in BFBC2‘s weapons. The cathartic roar of assault rifles, the poignant snap of sniper rifles, the deafening thunder of tank shells, and the sheer brutality of a light machine gun are about as realistic as you can get without actually being on a battlefield. By recording sounds using High Dynamic Range Audio, the development team behind BFBC2 was able to record the sounds of battle in much higher detail than normal. The result is stunning. Gunfire creates an unnerving rattle from afar, and nearby explosions temporarily deafen you. People with good sound systems in their house can put it to excellent use with BFBC2.

In this interview with sound director Stefan Strandberg, he explains the challenges, techniques and benefits of recording audio the way they did for BCBF2. Or better yet, you can just hear the game for yourself:



Destruction 2.0

When was the last time you saw anything this exciting in a CoD game?

Oh right, never. BFBC2‘s dynamically changing environments mean that no battle ever plays out the same way. While it might sound cliché to say that, the amount of destructibility really adds another layer of realism and also plays a major roll in strategy. With improved "Destruction 2.0" physics added to the already impressive Frostbite engine created by DICE, players can bring entire buildings to the ground instead of just blowing holes in them. Destroying cover, such as buildings and trees, makes advancing tougher for the other team, and blowing a hole in the wall of a building for an emergency exit might be the difference between life or death. Destructibility would certainly add some variance to CoD‘s online multiplayer.


Less exploitation, more balance

The introduction of customizable perks and the kill streak system in CoD 4: MW led to rampant exploitation in future CoD games. MW2 was perhaps the worst, when more available perks coupled with a number of serious glitches in the game’s first few months led to one of the most unbalanced and borderline-broken multiplayer experiences.


Patches helped abate many of the issues, but the multiplayer is still vastly unbalanced. You’ll never see shenanigans like the ones in the video above in BFBC2.

And while there are a limited number of perks for you to choose in BFBC2, their effect is far less noticeable. For example, a few bullets from any weapon are enough to kill someone regardless of body armor, knives are rarely used, and grenade launchers are much less effective against human targets. There are also no kill streak rewards, so players won’t be calling in airstrike after airstrike, or a game-ending nuke.

Snipers also can’t dominate a match in BFBC2, which seems to be a frustrating problem in CoD. High-powered sniper rifles in BFBC2 are bolt-action rifles, meaning they must be reloaded after each shot, and players must take into account their target’s distance, because the bullet will arch downward if it travels far enough. The slow rate of fire and the precision required to effectively use these weapons assure that they can’t be used to completely humiliate and frustrate other players.

There just isn’t much room for exploitation in BFBC2. In CoD, for every player dominating a match there are probably around ten players who are unable to avoid being part of that one player’s personal meat grinder. For that one guy to succeed and rack up massive amounts of kills, he needs a large player base of "meat" for him to churn through to get his kill count up. These things just don’t happen in BFBC2, where the rock-paper-scissors nature of soldier classes, their perks, and vehicles means that for every advantage there is an equal disadvantage, just the way it should be.


Continuous developer support

To be fair, it’s tough for any of CoD’s developers to support their games for a long period of time knowing that there will be a new title on store shelves every year.

World at War received three map packs for $10 each, and MW2 received two map packs for $15 each, both of which contained three new multiplayer levels and two classics from CoD4. They all sold very well, and gave new life to already popular game. But support for these games soon came to an abrupt and inevitable end.

Since its release early in March of this year, BFBC2 has received a total of seven map packs (all free for those who bought a new copy of the game and entered their VIP code that came with it), additional uniforms and weapon camouflage, and a cooperative expansion called "Onslaught mode."

On Dec. 21, the multiplayer expansion Battlefield: Bad Company 2 Vietnam was released, containing all-new weapons, vehicles, and Achievements/Trophies.

The game hasn’t even been out for a year, yet DICE and Electronic Arts have continued to support the game with more than twice the amount of downloadable content than any CoD game. Ever.

Despite these better multiplayer design choices, CoD manages to outsell everything each year and shatter any previous sales records. Black Ops is already the seventh best selling game of all time, having already sold 8.4 million copies its first month on store shelves. But how much longer will this series continue to sell each year when the competition continues to improve or is already ahead of the curve?

My guess is there will still be a couple more CoD games before they start really tanking, similar to the Tony Hawk or Guitar Hero games. It’s not that they’re of bad quality, it’s just the same high-quality game each year with few changes. It’s possible that Black Ops may be the last big CoD game unless the next game does something vastly different. But as of now, there are only 11 months until the next one is released, and the likelihood of a new CoD experience seems slim.

I say these things because I am a fan of the CoD franchise. I don’t want to see it run into the ground with yearly releases that feature familiar mechanics and unchanged gameplay. Unfortunately, it seems that this will continue to happen as long as Activision wants to keep trying to make quick money off of it… and as long as players keep buying the games by the millions.

With the mysterious Battlefield 3 hopefully on track for a 2011 release, we will eventually see what the new Frostbite 2 engine holds in store for Battlefield fans, as DICE/EA have vowed to make a better game than Activision’s CoD, although in my opinion they already have. 


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Author: Tyler Cameron View all posts by

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