A View from Stanage Edge in the Peak District

The Problem with Call of Duty 6

(Published: 1 May 2010)


I own a PS3 and before the release of COD6, I spent a lot of my on-line time playing COD4. I played right through all the prestiges and managed to complete most of the challenges before moving onto to the COD6. Although COD4 was a brilliant game, it did have it’s problems and so I was looking forward to an improved experience with the sequel, Call of Duty 6: Modern Warfare 2 (I skipped COD5).


Flawed, But Brilliant

So, let me start by saying that Call of Duty 6: Modern Warfare 2 is also a brilliant game. It’s the only game I’ve played consistently for the last 6 months. The campaign mode was a little short and I didn’t care much for the ‘Airport’ sequence, but overall I found the experience very enjoyable. I found the transition to on-line play a little more difficult than in COD4 – in the new game, the maps are bigger, there are much more weapons and perks, plus additional features such as extended kill streaks. On paper, all these additions are a welcome improvement, but in reality, I’m less sure that more choice adds up to a better game experience.

I mainly play Mercenary Team Deathmatch. The other game types require a real team strategy and I’m more of a casual player than a die-hard clan member. Unfortunately, this does mean that the open lobbies are more often frequented by players who refuse to play by the rules. Their repeated attempts to spoil the game for the rest of us had been a constant source of annoyance for quite some time, but now my attitude has changed – they paid for the game (hopefully) just like everyone else and if they want to annoy the rest of us with their anti-social attitude, well that’s up to them.

So now I’ve changed my focus slightly to the players that seem oblivious to the antics of the trouble makers – it seems to me that many players just don’t realise what’s going on in a game and will play on against glitchers and boosters under the assumption that they’ve been beaten fair and square by better players.

In this short article, I’ve identified eight problem areas in the on-line game that are a source of constant frustration – four of them are down to the behaviour of players (Hacking, Boosting, Glitching, Opposition Buddies) and the other four are issues with how the game has been developed and maintained (MLC Runners, Hacked Leader Boards, Joining a Lost Cause, Bad Connections).

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In COD4, someone worked out how to enable the ‘God’ mode by editing a saved game file – it was called the ‘UFO’ hack and it allowed players to ‘fly’ around levels and land on top of buildings anywhere on the map. This obviously gave them an unfair advantage and generally annoyed the rest of us, especially as they were invincible while they were in the air. This hack also allowed them to fly under the level too and there were instances where players had managed to get inside some parts of the scenery and because the 3D models are only textured on the outside, they were able to see out but regular players were not able to see in.

This hack was publicised on youtube and before long thousands of people were doing it – the game was ruined. Eventually, Infinity Ward patched it, but in the mean time many players lost faith in the game and moved onto other things.

But, the problem now is this – the hackers have moved onto COD6, but have learned from the ‘UFO’ hack and are more likely to keep new hacks to themselves or within a tight group. So sometimes, when I’m playing COD6 on-line, strange things happen. I die, but there’s no kill-cam (this is on regular team deathmatch). I die for no apparent reason. I die and the kill-cam shows the player doing some bizarre acrobatics before the kill and they’re not even aiming at me. I die and the kill-cam shows a player shooting from a position that is not in the normal field of play.

So what is happening? Is this more hacking or glitches in the game? It’s difficult to be sure, so if I see something out of the ordinary now, I just leave the game and try another lobby.

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Two players from opposing sides meet at a certain place on the map and one allows the other to repeatedly kill them in order to build a big kill streak – sometimes reaching a tactical nuke strike and ending the game early.

They do this because they haven’t got the skill or patience to go through the ranks like regular players. There are even clans who will offer to boost you through the prestiges in a matter of days. I can’t see the point in playing the game if you aren’t prepared to play by the rules.

The problem with boosting is that the opposition team is constantly bombarded by the numerous missiles, air strikes and helicopters called in by the player that’s boosting and is much less likely to win as a result. If you suspect the opposition is boosting, you should check the scoreboard between re-spawns and see if any of your players have a score with a very low kill-death ratio like ’1 kill for 12 deaths’ – a regular player wouldn’t stay in game that they’re losing so badly (it badly affects the rest of the team), so you might be justified in suspecting foul play.

If there is a matchmaking algorithm in the lobbies (I’m undecided on this point) then it’s probably going to be distorted by players with boosted profiles. It might match boosted profiles against genuine top players who have earned their ranks – the boosted players would most likely be easily beaten as they haven’t bothered to learn the weapons and maps to get their ranks. Ironically, this would probably encourage them to continue to cheat in effort to win a game against top players.

I think boosting is generally bad for everyone – including the boosters.

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Something called the ‘elevator’ glitch allows players to get outside the map and snipe from buildings they wouldn’t normally get to. You can snipe back if you like, but I just leave the game and hope to find another game where there isn’t a glitcher.

Another glitch allowed players to lie down behind certain objects, yet shoot as though they were standing - very confusing for the victims who cannot see who shot them on the killcam.

Several levels had flaws in the geometry that allowed determined players to fall under the ground level and then hide inside the scenery - they could see you (and shoot you), but you couldn't see them.

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Opposition Buddy

I’ve seen players on opposite sides playing together – they meet at a certain point on the map and let each other know the positions of their own team players via skype or some other chat service. They camp in the same spot, letting each other know when their team mates are about to appear from around a nearby corner – they both rack-up easy kills. If you’re the type of player who sneaks around with ‘cold-blooded’ and ‘ninja pro’ and have watched a kill-cam and thought “how did he know I was there?”, well, most of the time you were just unlucky and were probably spotted by the opposition. Occasionally, a player on your own team is helping the other side.

Recently, I had a couple of matches where one of my own players just followed me around – he didn’t shoot a single bullet, just stood next to me and moved when I moved. I suspect he was letting someone on the other team know where we both were – two kills for the price of one. In other matches I’ve had a player from my own team follow me around and then deliberately block my way – if I’m sniping he would stand in front of me, if I moved he would get in my way. Just annoying.

It ruins the game for the rest of us – best option is to leave the game.

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MLC Runners

This isn’t cheating, but it is annoying.

Players using the 3 perks “Marathon”, “Light” and “Commando” are almost unstoppable. They can run right through claymores, dodge a hail of bullets and knife you from 10 feet away. The perks allow them to do this so quickly, that the game’s graphic engine cannot draw their position on screen quick enough, therefore making it almost impossible to defend against them at close quarters. If you’re lucky, you can stop them in their tracks with a pre-emptive shotgun blast, but most of the time you’re dead before you even see them.

I don’t blame players for using the combination – after all, there are challenges for all perks – but I do think the developers have made a mistake with the speed and the inability of the graphic engine to ‘keep up’ with the player.

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Broken Leader Boards

What is the point of the global leader boards when the developers have allowed hacked scores to appear from day one? The ‘top players’ have kill streaks in the thousands and kill-death ratios of ridiculous proportions. Many of the ‘unhacked’ scores are obviously a result of ‘boosting’.

I am a software developer and I know that the logic required to spot hacked scores is pretty straight-forward. They could implement an algorithm that assesses the boundaries of believable scores based on vast majority of players who don’t cheat. They could also reject profiles that have jumped from zero to hero in no time at all. But they choose not to.

Personally, I never expected to get anywhere near the top of any of the leaderboards, but for those that are prepared to put in the hours of practise, the incentive has gone.

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Joining a Lost Cause

This was a problem with COD4 and does not appear to have been improved with COD6.

If a game is going badly for one side, some of the players will leave. In order to keep the game ‘alive’ the lobby system will fill the empty spots with fresh players who then realise they’re on a losing side and also choose to leave (chalking up a loss on their stats) – and so the cycle continues.

Sometimes you get thrown into a match just a few seconds before the opposition gets the winning kill – again chalking up a loss on your stats.

I understand why the developers decided to do this – you need to keep the game going for those players who are currently on streaks – but why didn’t they give the player who is thrown in from the lobby, the option to turn off game ranking stats for the ‘half’ match that they now face? This would encourage players to stay in the game knowing that their stats would not be adversely affected for the remainder of the current match. They could then choose to leave at the next lobby or play the next map with the ranking stats back on.

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Poor Connections

If your connection status is less than three bars (red or yellow) then you’re going to be struggling to kill anyone due to lag. The game update will also occasionally become erratic. There is very little point staying in a game if your connection status has dropped below three bars.

When I first started playing COD4, I got into the habit of checking the connection status of all players during the match start countdown – it’s easy to do, just press SELECT during the countdown and wait a few seconds for the system to update the bar graphs for all players. It’s important to wait a few seconds because initially all connection bar graphs will be red until the game has checked them all, then they will all be updated at once.

The hosting player will always have a four-bar connection. If I had less then 3 bars, I left the game. If several players had less than 3 bars, I also left. Many times I’ve been thrown into a match and checked the connection status only to see everyone on red or yellow connection status and still playing. This leads me to wonder if everyone sees the same picture in respect of connection status – for example, if my connection is red, will everyone else have a red connection or just me? From their point of view, will they still have a green connection status with just me on red?

The flip-side of poor connections are good-but-laggy connections – some players are able to run around the level with a silenced pistol and are able to kill you with a couple of bullets versus half-a-clip from your light machine gun that appears to have no effect against them. This happened a lot in COD4 and still happens regularly but less often in COD6.

I used to think that if you’re hosting a match that you would have the best connection – but quite often, I’ve been host and have been unable to kill anyone. While we’re on hosting, I’m also disappointed to see that host migration isn’t as reliable as I would have hoped. I’m still finding myself having a good match, well in front of the opposition, only to be presented with a ‘host connection failure’ before crossing the finishing line. Is this deliberate interference from the host on the losing team or just a ‘feature’ of the peer-to-peer network connection?

The vagaries of the networking set-up in COD6 (and COD4) are still very much a mystery to me. In the end, I would prefer it if the game did not put me in a match where my connection is less than three bars. Better still, show the connection status of players while everyone is still in the lobby.

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I think I’d like to see some sort of ‘bad player’ flagging system – if you spot a player cheating, you could flag him as a cheater and that flag would be visible to other players. Of course, the idiots would just flag everyone as a cheater which is why a count should also be associated to each flag category. So, you could have a flag for ‘cheat’, ‘booster’, ‘glitcher’ etc and a count of the number of people who have flagged the player for each category. In the end, everyone will accumulate a few votes against each flag, but the real cheats would have very large counts against their profile. A useful addition would then be some sort of lobby filter that could be used to avoid players with a count above a certain threshold.

I’ve said that the game has been ‘ruined’ by the behaviour of some. I think that’s over-stating it, but it is how I sometimes feel when I’m having a good run on-line and then encounter the idiots who give me no option but to quit out. It is true that I’ve play COD6 much less than I played COD4. I’m not sure why that is, perhaps I’ve just played too much of the first-person-shooter genre and should look for something else now.

Richard Gunn - May 2010

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