Call of Duty is in an interesting place right now. With Black Ops 2, many expected Treyarch to take over flagship development studio duties from series creator Infinity Ward. But the new Black Ops wasn't quite the breakthrough act we hoped for, despite making dramatic changes to both single and multiplayer.
The ball's back in Infinity Ward's court, then, but just what should the studio do with it? Craig Owens has a few ideas...
1. Bigger maps
It might be those few extra Christmas pounds talking, but Call Of Duty's multiplayer maps are starting to feel a little, well, tight. Remember the original Modern Warfare's multiplayer offerings? Maps like Overgrown, Pipeline and Creek were sprawling epics, where snipers and medium range shooters could co-exist happily (so long, as you, know, they were on the same team). Even maps like Backlot and Crash seemed roomier than the middle-sized maps of today. We miss the scale of COD's old levels, where proper battle lines could be drawn and shifted across the length of a match, and where SMGs weren't everyone's weapon of choice.
2. Better spawns
If Infinity Ward ignores the sage advice above, and Modern Warfare's maps keep shrinking till they're basically the size of the OXM games room, then we pray that it at least fixes the spawns. Even roomier maps like MW3's Village start to feel like ultraviolent merry-go-rounds when enemy players you killed not ten seconds ago seem to spawn in your soldier's backpack, nipping at your heels like a pack of assault rifle carrying Chihuahuas. Having the enemy team immediately fill the space you've just vacated ruins the feeling that you've actually pushed them back. It's a good way to keep the battle moving, we admit, but it makes it feel less like a battle in the first place.
3. Better AI
Pity the Russian Ultranationalist army. Along with the game's heroic US and UK forces, it has access to some of the most sophisticated, hi-tech military gear the world has ever known. By the time of Modern Warfare 2, it's also managed to trounce the US so utterly that Treyarch felt compelled to rip the entire idea off in Black Ops 2. Yet like all Goliaths, the ultranationalist forces have a terrible, hidden weakness. No training. Shoot, duck behind cover, charge. Shoot, duck behind cover, charge. If these poor Russian conscripts are treated to flanking classes before the release of Modern Warfare 4, it could well spell doom for the western world.
4. Dedicated servers
No entry in Activision's series has been immune to the perils of peer-to-peer netcode, cue the arrival of "that's not the way I saw it!" alternate realities by killcam. Dedicated servers won't make lag disappear - that comes down to you and your opponent's connection speeds, after all - but they can at least remove host advantages, and minimise the horrific lag compensation used in Modern Warfare 3, which could often see players with the lesser connection gain the advantage. We'd explain further, and in more technical detail, but unfortunately we've just been shot in the head by bullets fired two weeks ago.