Tech Comparison: Modern Warfare 2 PC • Page 2

Dedicated service.

Over and above this, the further I went into the game, the more "snarl-up" points I found where the game runs noticeably slower, to the point where I had to pause the game and lower video settings in order to get an acceptable frame-rate back. Again it was the Ramirez missions that disappointed - in this case the latter levels set in Washington DC not just dropping frames but actually slowing down. It's somewhat difficult to understand why this happens. It's difficult to avoid the conclusion that while this game is a technical masterpiece on console (especially so on Xbox 360), the PC version doesn't quite have the same level of optimisation. It was the same story with Call of Duty: World at War.

It's also a well-documented fact that the game has had several features removed from the Modern Warfare/World at War era. And I'm not talking about the ability to lean around corners.

Yup, it's time to address the issue of the multiplayer support. As expected, Modern Warfare 2's online gaming system is - in essence - a PC rendition of the console code where a peer-to-peer system has replaced the concept of setting up dedicated servers. Instead of choosing which server you want to play on, and against whom, a new system dubbed 'IWNET' takes over, assigning hosting duties to someone with a strong connection, and then matching up those with the lowest latencies to that particular player. There are no dedicated servers, there is no local LAN support.

Infinity Ward's apparent logic for setting up this system is in theory quite sound: the console community online is absolutely devoted to the game and it's not as if there are sustained moans from the userbase about the underlying tech - indeed Xbox Live users pay a premium for it. It is what it is, you make the most of it. It's easy to get into and, by and large, it works great. Another advantage for Infinity Ward is that by essentially setting up a system that mirrors PlayStation Network and Xbox Live, any new feature-sets it wants to roll-out can easily be mirrored across onto PC. And yes, that includes any plans to monetise the online side of things. Like it or not, it's clear that the future of online play involves subscriptions and/or micro-transactions. IWNET introduces an official vehicle for additional Modern Warfare 2 content, as well as making non-sanctioned, piracy-based servers much more difficult to set up and maintain.

Finally, the argument is that homogenising the multiplayer set-up can indeed make it more accessible. The hardcore online audience that are so incensed by the lack of dedicated servers are a niche of what is already a niche element of the overall Modern Warfare userbase, bearing in mind that it is now first and foremost a console game. Speaking from experience, trying to gain access as a newbie to what is essentially a very closed set-up in dedicated servers is a nightmare: insta-bans because you're not part of the club, or if your ping doesn't quite make the (arbitrary) standard is commonplace.

So on the face of it, Infinity Ward is trading the best possible performance for a more accessible experience. The problem is that it's difficult to understand how this is a good deal for the PC userbase when surely there are better solutions to the accessibility issue that don't piss off your core fanbase, and don't kill the performance benefits of playing on PC. Whichever way you slice it, freezing out dedicated servers is never going to result in a better, or even equivalent, level of online playability. P2P isn't the answer.

Dedicated servers operate on leased lines with phenomenal amounts of bandwidth both up and downstream, plus a better quality of service than a residential line. P2P simply can't compete with that. Playing via IWNET basically means that you'll never know how good or bad the connection will be, who is hosting the game or how well it is going to play.

There are also limits on the other amounts of players that can participate too: there's a six-versus-six cap on most playlists, with an upper end of nine-versus-nine: a far cry from the 32- and 64-player servers a dedicated box deals with as a matter of course. The hardcore PC audience has every right to be upset about this, because their existing communities simply can't transition onto the new game. While there is support for "private" games, the six-player team limit on many playlists won't accommodate a lot of clans in the first place.

More than that, Infinity Ward's arguments pre-launch about the basis of the change were unconvincing to start with, and have essentially collapsed within days of the game's launch. "The biggest benefit of using IWNET by far is the fact that you donít have to worry about joining a server full of aim-bots, wallhacks, or cheaters," wrote IW's Robert Bowling. "Or relying on the server admin of the server to constantly be monitoring, banning, and policing it."

With YouTube crammed full of videos showing exploits in the PC code being taken advantage of by cheaters, wall-hackers and aim-bots, the approach clearly isn't working. And like it or not, simply due to the way PC games work, an admin policing a dedicated server is always going to be the best way to keep it clean, even if this approach does inevitably lead to a less-than-inclusive online experience for newcomers. Finally, Bowling's claims of "smoother gameplay" simply have zero credibility up against the basic way latency works on the internet and this is borne out by the performance of the final game.

However, IWNET's approach is an interesting move by the Modern Warfare developers. Either it will draw in more newcomers, gain momentum and become a success, or it will be specifically targeted by hackers consistently looking to prove that the system doesn't work as appears to be the case now. At the same time I fully expect the same hackers will be ripping MW2 to shreds in an effort to restore the functionality Infinity Ward has removed from it and I suspect it's only a matter of time before pirate server/LAN-enabled versions appear.

In short, Infinity Ward is clearly marginalising the traditional way of playing on PC in favour of a performance-impeded rendition that encourages more players to get involved, while at the same time offering the developer a strong level of control over the audience. It's going to have its work cut out to make sure that its official offerings remain compelling in the wake of the vast amount of mods that will soon appear.

It seems that Infinity Ward is engaging in some modern warfare of its own against the most hardware elements of the PC community, and I'm not 100 per cent convinced it's a battle of attribution it can ultimately win. I'm sure that there must have been some kind of "third way" that could have kept all parties happy, but as the collapse of the MW2 "boycott" proved, it's Infinity Ward that holds all the aces here.

Overall there really is a sense of "you'll get what you're given" about this PC version of Modern Warfare 2, in terms of its occasional performance issues, and most especially the technically compromised multiplayer. However, it is clearly a game that is a cut above the majority of the console ports I take a look at on PC: sub-HD is gone by default, and there are clear graphical benefits in terms of the quality of the artwork. Plus of course it's difficult to ignore the enormous plus points of the default keyboard/mouse control combo.

So long as you have decent-enough hardware to run it, PC Modern Warfare 2 is the most accomplished version of the game available. It's just difficult to shake a profound sense of disappointment knowing that Infinity Ward has deliberately and presumably knowingly made it a lesser multiplayer experience compared to what could have been.

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