The Call of Duty (CoD) franchise has become a bit of a joke, associated with vulgar teenage boys and dudebros, yet it was one of my favourite games growing up. I have so many fond memories playing CoD1 over LAN with my friends and brothers, and even to this day my friends and I sometimes play it at LANs and have a great time doing so. As such, I wanted to attempt to explain why I think the original CoD multiplayer with the United Offensive expansion was such a masterpiece and why all the newer multiplayer iterations of the series have lost what made CoD so special to me.
I was excited about the newly released CoD WW2 as I thought its gameplay would be more reminiscent of the originals. While I have enjoyed playing it, as I have with many others, I was quite disappointed to see CoD WW2 was mostly the same as every other recent CoD game; its World War 2 setting is practically cosmetic and does not reflect its gameplay. Sound familiar? In CoD WW2, you can play as a black female commando in the German army with a reflex sight on your silenced-rapid fire-extended-mag MP40. Despite being comically ridiculous, all of this Call of Dutyness directly contradicts what made CoD1 so fun. Shooting people used to be harder, but it was also wacky and not as hyper-competitive.
CoD1, to me, is running down the streets of Carentan with a rifle at my side. I see an enemy as I turn a corner, panicking and firing a shot but missing off to the side. He returns the shot with his rifle and hits me in the arm, but it’s not enough to drop me. We both have bolt action rifles, ill-suited for this close quarters combat and unable to continue firing. I start trying to whack him with the but of my rifle, but there’s no lock on for melee, and I’m unsuccessful. He swaps to his pistol to finish me off but manages to miss all seven bullets in his magazine due to our frantic dashing and dodging. Down the street, someone with a Thompson starts firing at us, but at that range their submachine gun is ineffective, allowing us to run for cover. In the confusion, I manage to cock my rifle for another shot, but I miss again. The frenzy continues, dancing around evading each other’s melee attacks until one of us finally connects and lands the killing blow. Killing people was hard.
There’s a lot to unpack here. For starters, CoD1 had a prevalence of bolt action and semi-automatic rifles, which makes the combat so much more challenging compared to everyone running around with fully automatic weapons. But even using the same weapons feels very different between CoD1 and CoD WW2. The M1 Garand in CoD1 is hard to use; the iron sights obscure your vision, recoil is high, and only eight bullets in a magazine leave little room for error. In CoD WW2, all of these factors are negated due to attachments such as reflex scopes, reduced recoil, extended magazine capacity or whatever other attachments you use to make killing easier, such as quicker aim times or rapid fire. Add on the heat-seeking lock on melee turbo mode, the Bayonet Charge, and close quarters combat with rifles loses any sense of frenzy as it turns into who is quickest to press the melee button for an instant kill without having to aim or be next to the enemy.
In CoD1, submachine guns were great for room clearing or close quarters combat, but they were worthless at medium and long ranges. In newer CoD’s, submachine guns are far more accurate, even before factoring in all the attachments that turns a submachine gun into a precise, rapid firing powerhouse, capable of quickly dropping targets at even long ranges. Submachineguns, in particular, benefit from aiming down sights while jumping and become even more powerful due to the severe bullet punch (your aim recoils up when you get shot) which makes it challenging to return fire with a rifle where a precise aim is required. The hit identifiers also make fully automatic weaponry stronger, as players are given feedback when they hit enemies, so they know how many more shots are required to down their target. The lethality becomes so high and combat becomes so easy that deaths come down almost entirely to who gets the jump on the other person first. If someone starts shooting at you from the side, you don’t have the time to run to cover or return fire because you’ll be dead in a second. When there is a head-on fight, it’s often decided by weird cheesy stuff like jumping or diving since players can continue to aim down the sights while firing with full accuracy when making crazy manoeuvres.
There was a lot more player interaction in CoD1, the combat was harder, and the weapons were weaker so players would have the opportunity to run for cover and return fire. Exchanging fire was tenser because there wasn’t hit indicators letting you know how wounded your opponent was, there weren’t grenade indicators to tell how and when you need to dodge grenades, and melee attacks were hard to connect since they didn’t automatically lunge forward towards the enemy. There was also no frustrating cheese weaponry like shotguns, grenade launchers, rocket launchers and dual wielding, not to mention all the frustrating killstreaks that randomly instant kill you from the sky with no opportunity to respond. The underlying gameplay in CoD WW2 is fun, but it’s ruined by the killstreaks, attachments, perks and scopes that make weapons too powerful and easy to use, resulting in too high of a lethality which prevents extended engagements and counterplay. I feel like Sledgehammer missed a golden opportunity to appease fans of the originals by not releasing a classic mode that removes all the modern CoD shenaniganry.
Aside from full auto-spammy spam guns with negligible recoil, modern CoD games also bring to mind quick scoping. Snipers are very lethal, and they have to be else they wouldn’t be viable compared to automatic weaponry. CoD has designed itself into a corner with the lethality arms race; sniper rifles are one-shot kill, laser-precise, quick to scope in and have hold breath to remove sway. Snipers were much weaker in CoD1, specially the United Offensive expansion which made some changes to them. Scope sway was heavy and there was no hold breath, making landing shots quite challenging. Reloading sniper rifles was historically accurate, where reload speeds were much longer since scopes blocked the clip and forced single bullet loads. When scoping in, the scope would not appear in the centre of the player crosshair, it would instead scope in on a random offset from the centre. Players equipped with sniper rifles were forced to find vantage points and wait to engage distant targets, using snipers like real sharpshooters instead of running around the map quick scoping and using snipers as if they were any other type of weapon. The roles of each weapon type in CoD1 were distinct and well defined, whereas, in newer CoD games, most guns work in most situations since they’re all so lethal.
The maps also seem to follow a different design philosophy when comparing newer CoD’s to the originals. The maps in CoD1 were not small maps, yet they were action-packed even with only several players in a Free For All. These classic maps created contention due to having strong positions on the map that gave vantage points where players were well protected with cover and could engage enemies at multiple locations. Everyone wanted to be in the best spot so these prime locations were highly fought over, creating a main section where action always took place, despite it not being the middle of the map. These key positions took many forms, such as buildings that had several windows in each direction, bushes to hide in, a sandbag mounted heavy machine gun or a stack of crates providing cover to aim down the entire street.
What I’m describing is not finding the best place to camp, it’s more finding a great place to patrol. Camping was less effective in CoD1 due to how much weaker and more challenging the weaponry was, so getting the jump on someone did not guarantee a kill in the way it does now. Camping was especially weaker when factoring in that Free For All was the preferred game mode, where the goal is to score as many kills as soon as possible. In recent CoD games, Team Deathmatch has become the primary game mode, in which camping is rewarded since not dying is equally valuable to scoring a kill. The weapon lethality and incentive to camp in Team Deathmatch have, once again, forced CoD to design itself into a corner.
To make camping weaker with Team Deathmatch in mind, maps have been designed where camping is practically impossible. There’s little to no strong locations on the CoD WW2 maps. Every spot that offers a great vantage point is also exposed from several angles, on top of bullet penetration which often prevents ducking behind cover from saving you. When there’s a key house that overlooks several portions of the map, there’ll be more than one entrance to it making it indefensible. Combine the always exposed map design philosophy with the erratic and shifting spawns in Team Deathmatch, and you end up never knowing where enemies are coming from and most deaths are getting shot by someone out of view. Team Deathmatch in CoD WW2 breaks immersion through the tedious chore of being forced to stare at the minimap and constantly check where your teammates are not facing, and look for enemy icons when revealed by gunshots or recon.
Call of Duty 1 was such an exciting masterpiece because the combat was challenging while still being wacky. In their attempts to make the series more accessible, modern CoD games made all the weapons so powerful and effortless to kill with (due to all the attachments, perks, scopes, killstreaks, aiming down sights while jumping, and abundance of cheesy weaponry like shotguns and rocket launchers). This rise in lethality prevents extended engagements and interactions between players, which is where the frantic tense combat is generated. Most encounters in modern CoD games are decided by shooting someone in the back before they have any chance to respond, particularly because of how exposed the maps are and with erratic spawns. The underlying gameplay of modern Call of Duty games is solid, but short of them having a classic mode which strips back all the nonsense, I don’t see myself buying another Call of Duty game anytime soon. CoD WW2 was their chance to win back veteran players of the originals, but I’m left very unimpressed and will instead look forward to playing some more CoD1 LAN.