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Game Critics Ignore Their Call of Duty
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on January 04, 2006   |   Episode 87 (Show Archive)  

   

"Private, over there is a bunch of terrible lag, you don't want to go over there!!"
Despite my fatigue for games based on World War II, I have to admit that Call of Duty 2 on the Xbox 360 is one of the most exhilarating console experiences I had in 2005. Beyond the amazing graphics and sound, the frantic pace, and the diverse level designs, Call of Duty 2 manages to get everything right. Well ... almost everything.

Few are going to argue that the single-player portions of Call of Duty 2 are stunning, covering a number of campaigns that put you in the middle of the action like no other World War II game ever has. Regardless of whether you're storming the beaches of Normandy, driving tanks in Africa, or using bombed out Russian buildings to take cover, this

This guy doesn't care about Call of Duty's lag, he's a computer controlled player!
is one heck of a ride that just doesn't let up for anything. Out of all of the Xbox 360 launch titles, Call of Duty 2 is easily the most action-packed, and one that is worth playing if only for the amazing single-player campaign.

You would think that with such an amazing story mode we would get an online experience that was leaps and bounds over everything else. But sadly that is just not the case. With its simple interface, lack of room controls, and bizarre (non-existent) rating system, Call of Duty 2 has thousands of Xbox 360 owners scratching their heads. But unfortunately it's not just these problems that keep this World War II romp from being all it can be, it's the lag that pulls this product down into the land of the unplayable.

When it comes to video game quirks I am usually pretty understanding; after all there are bound to be some problems with first generation

If there wasn't so much lag in Call of Duty 2 maybe that guy in the doorway could have reacted faster!
products. But Call of Duty 2 is beyond having simple problems; these quirks are so bad that they will make you wonder why they included the online mode in the first place. The lag here is among the worst I have ever seen, it's the kind of lag you might expect from playing a game using a slow dial-up modem. It's bad enough that you can't control your own character, but the screen skips around so much that there is a good chance it will trigger an epileptic seizure.

You might think this is just me and my internet connection, but I assure you it is not. Talk to anybody online who owns the game and they will say the same thing. Heck, even IGN has acknowledged this problem. Several weeks ago Douglass C. Perry even went as far as to claim that "about 90% of my games suffered from lag. In most cases, it wasn't a little lag either. It was major crunching, uncontrollable, skipping all-over-the-place curse-your-mother-in-horribly-unspeakable-ways lag." This is a widespread problem that nobody is safe from, no matter what internet connection speed you have.


Call of Duty 2's online is smooth in the same kind of way Vanilla Ice was smooth!
These online problems are so common that they lead me to wonder why none of the major game publications were willing to mention it in their reviews. As I poured through all of the positive reviews I couldn't find anything about the game's terrible lag problems. Certainly this would be worth mentioning in a review, since the lag effectively makes one of Call of Duty 2's features unusable. We can debate whether or not this problem is enough to warrant a lower score, but this is the type of thing thousands of Xbox 360 owners would have liked to have known before spending the $60 on this product.

Not only are these reviewers not talking about the lag, but they seem to be saying the opposite of what just about everybody has experienced. Take GamePro's review as an example, they gave the game a perfect score and seemed to have nothing bad to say about it. "Multiplayer wise, Call of Duty 2 supports eight-player online play via Xbox Live, standard four-player split-screen, and the option to system link up to 16 players. The general FPS game types, including deathmatch, team deathmatch, and CTF, are all included, and it runs wonderfully smooth on Live."


Ever wonder how many times we're going to use this ultra-violent GamePro cover?
It runs smooth?? Well, that's news to just about everybody who has tried to play more than one or two games online. Did GamePro even have a chance to play this thing over Xbox Live, or are they (yet again) just assuming it's going to be smooth and pain free?

I'll give GamePro the benefit of the doubt, if only because just about every other review for Call of Duty 2 says about the same thing. Nobody else would go as far as to say it's "smooth", but there are plenty of write-ups about the game that neglect to talk about this glaring problem.

Some reviews do go as far as to talk about the game's other problems, which include a bad interface and eight-player support (compared to the 32 player Call of Duty 2 on the PC). GameSpot is a perfect example of this, they write: "What's unfortunate about the online multiplayer action is that it's limited to just eight players on Xbox Live. The maps are definitely more viable with eight players than with just four, but you'll still find, in a lot of cases, that there's a little too much room to roam around. The action can still be fun, and the network code is very smooth, but those who've played the PC version know that the maps and game modes really play out better with more than just eight players."


SOCOM 3 on the PS2 is up to 32 players without much lag, why can't Call of Duty 2 do 8 players?
There's that word again, "smooth". If you've attempted to play Call of Duty 2 online then you know it's far from a "smooth" experience. They get it right when it comes to how great the single-player campaign is, but they could not be more wrong about the online experience. I've seen sandpaper that is smoother than Call of Duty 2.

But at least GameSpot got the number of players right, this is something that other publications have had a little trouble with. Not only did Electronic Gaming Monthly fail to mention the game's awful lag problems, but they inaccurately claimed that Call of Duty 2 was playable with up to 16 players online.

Perhaps it's because of the EGM review that I'm not surprised that 1up.com also got this fact wrong. Not only did they give the game high marks, but they also had no problem with lag or the small number of players you can have in each room. "Multiplayer proves to be the ultimate validation of the controls. With up to 16 players at once, firefights get pretty intense and any weaknesses would be exposed. Instead, you'll just move right into playing on Live seamlessly. While it lacks the elaborate stat keeping interface of Halo, it will definitely keep you satisfied."

To 1up's credit they did go back and add a correction that stated that "Call of Duty 2 supports Xbox Live play for up to 8 players, not the previously stated 16. We regret the error." This is all well and good, but what about their statement that you'll move right into play on like "seamlessly"? I looked that word up in the dictionary and it's certainly one word I would not use to describe Call of Duty 2's online mode.


If 90% of the rooms in Halo 2 were as laggy as this everybody would have moved on to Far Cry or Unreal Championship 2!
Gaming Age decided to go a different route; they ended up writing the lag issue off as just an internet problem. In their review they conclude that "online play for any game can be hit or miss if the server has a crappy connection, but for the most part I didn't experience any network lag." This doesn't explain why nearly every other online shooter (most with twice as many people in a room) features smoother game play. And considering that everybody else is getting lag in Call of Duty 2 (including 90% of the rooms IGN played in) it seems odd that this review would say that "for the most part I didn't experience any network lag".

So what's going on here? How can all of these publications be so wrong? Did they not have a chance to test out the game's online modes? Or was this aspect of the game not broken when GamePro, GameSpot, and EGM went to review it? Is this something new that only people that bought the game are dealing with?

There's no doubt in my mind that developers Infinity Ward are hard at work trying to figure this problem out, but it doesn't answer the question of why none of the reviews managed to catch this problem and write about it. Considering Microsoft's push for online gaming it seems odd that their biggest selling launch title would also be the one with the most network problems. Perfect Dark Zero offers a 32-player online experience that is nearly lag free, yet Call of Duty 2 can't do 8 players without making you sea sick? Ladies and gentlemen, we have a problem and for whatever reason the trusted game reviewers decided not to mention it. Thanks for the heads up, guys.
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