As I’m writing this (early May), Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is currently on a free weekend in Steam.
I’ve never played any Call of Duty game before. Traditionally, I’ve preferred so-called “arena shooters” like Quake and Unreal Tournament– fast-paced, twitchy games– as opposed to games which were slower, more conservative, and more realistic. In fact, for a long time, I refused to play any FPS where you had to reload.
Tastes change, though. Halo got me over the reloading issue, and Team Fortress 2 has gotten me past the anathema of the ‘realistic’ (cartoony, yes, but I still consider TF2 to be realistic, compared to the sci-fi FPSs I more commonly prefer).
And now with the free weekend for MW2, I’ve had my first taste of a Call of Duty game, and I like it. I’m not completely enamored with the gameplay. I don’t like how it often seems to come down to a hiding match where you try to spot them before they spot you, especially since the player models blend in to many of the environments so well (which, admittedly, is probably intentional).
I can get over those issues and enjoy the gameplay, but what really draws me in is the customization. You can create your own character class by selecting weapons, equipment, perks, and other things. There are also fun customizable elements like killstreak and deathstreak awards.
I dare say that if the price came down a bit, I’d love to buy the game… But I won’t, and that’s a damn shame. I won’t buy Modern Warfare 2 because it is the poster child of something I really, really dislike: the console-ization of PC games.
An article on Ars Technica explains the reasons well enough. In short, there are no dedicated servers, no custom content, no mods, no control. They’re trying to take the walled garden of consoles and enforce it on PCs.
Let me be clear: I think walled gardens are perfectly fine on certain devices. Specifically, anything which is designed for a narrow set of uses, such as consoles and traditional cell phones. Something which is designed for general computing, however, should absolutely not (and this is the main reason I dislike the iPhone and iPad, but that’s a rant for another day…).
There are some who might argue that the loss of those features in MW2 isn’t a big deal. That I’m enjoying the game just fine without them. To those people, I say feh. This is a legitimate concern.
As I mentioned, I really enjoy playing Team Fortress 2. TF2’s gameplay is a lot of fun, and that by itself would have been enough… for a while. But what keeps me coming back is everything that Modern Warfare 2 lacks.
Dedicated servers are important because that’s how you meet people. A dedicated server is like a bar. You find one you like, you hang out, you get to know the regulars and build bonds with them. Compare this to console-style matchmaking, where at best you might friend someone after playing a quick game with them, and then you can either force yourself to play more frequently with them or just forget about them and let them join the huge list of other one-night stands.
Dedicated servers are also important because you don’t have to wait to get your group of friends together. You can just hop on, and they can join in when they want.
Further, TF2 is expanded by a huge amount of community content. Everything from maps produced with professionalism rivaling and even exceeding the stock maps, to gimmicky maps where you push a Mario-shaped cart up a Donkey Kong-inspired stage or try to capture points in a Pac-man world while avoiding the homicidal ghosts.
When you’re feeling silly, Sourcemod lets you play around with the gameplay itself. Make people drop presents when they die, or roll dice for good and bad effects, mess with gravity, turn people into walking time bombs. More dedicated mods completely change the gameplay, such as the Starcraft mod which gives you access to many different “races” with RPG-style advancement.
And the best part is that all of this is actively supported by the developer, Valve. They release regular updates, adding brand new content of their own creation but also folding in the cream of the community crop into the stock game, expanding the game even for those who never venture outside their little sandbox.
Last, but certainly not least, is the amount of customization available. Swap out the Razorback for a koala bear, or the Eyelander for a chainsaw sword. Turn the Heavy into an anthropomorphic bear. Write scripts to complement your gameplay, such as combining jump and duck into a single weapon.
All of this is what PC gaming is all about. This is why PC gamers are PC gamers. Console gaming is fast and easy; PC gaming is customizable and rewarding. And this is why, much as I like it, I will never buy Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.