I’m playing Call of Duty 4 multiplayer. On PC. In 2018.

While playing on Bog, a dark, wide map filled with small gaps of cover and two small buildings ripe for camping, I noticed an enemy player’s been using the infamous “noob tube” – an M203 grenade launcher – to get easy kills. I decide to switch over to my sniper rifle build, with an R700 equipped, ready to pick off the offending noob tuber.

I then started sweeping around the map looking for enemies. I spotted enemies on the other side of the map and starting aiming down the scope and taking shots, occasionally moving to avoid being easily killed. I then spotted an enemy with a rifle and his grenade launcher prepped, and I nailed him in one shot. However, he had just shot a grenade before he died. A grenade that landed right on me. I couldn’t resist to type “good trade” in the chat.

The aftermath.

It’s 2018, and there’s people still playing Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare online 11 years later. I had picked up the PC version of COD4 as well as World at War on Steam for $10 each. I had hoped they would hit the $4.99 sweet spot, but Activision doesn’t believe in the concept of making their games that cheap.

Surprisingly holds up even graphically.

Honestly, I didn’t need to buy these versions again. I already had both of those games on a console – hell, Call of Duty 4 was the first game I ever got for my PlayStation 3 in 2008 – but the PC version had a fair share of advantages that I wanted to check out. Plus I couldn’t resist replaying the campaigns to some of the best games in the entire series. (Black Ops would probably be a close third.)

First, I also wanted to look into the mod scene. There was a Star Wars-themed mod for COD4 called Galactic Warfare that was making the rounds around 2009-2011, and it was kind of the reason I wanted to look into the PC version. Sadly, it seems the overall mod scene has died out, leaving me with just vanilla COD4 to play with. With Hardcore settings on, no less.

Hardcore makes it so there’s little HUD, and everybody’s a glass cannon. At least some of the weaker weapons prevail in this mode…

Second, since this was around the time before these games supported a client like Steam, the game has significant differences from the console releases. There’s no matchmaking here – that wasn’t on PC until Modern Warfare 2 – instead, there’s a server browser where one can filter and favorite servers with custom settings. Hell, even one can create a server if they’re so inclined.

Third, the variety map pack is available to all players rather than a separate $10 purchase. As a bonus, they also released a bonus map exclusive to the PC version called “Winter Crash,” a Christmas-themed level based on the multiplayer map of the same name. I’m a sucker for special themed maps, and I’m glad the PC team at Infinity Ward thought it would be a nice Christmas gift.

I couldn’t find any server running it, so this screenshot of me playing it alone just to show off how silly this looks. You missed out, console players!

There are some disadvantages to the PC COD4, though: There’s no Prestige Mode, so unless one wants to unlock all challenges, level 55 is the end. In a baffling development decision, the files for retaining one’s stats can also be modified outside of the game so one doesn’t have to go through the grind to get what they want. (World at War changed this in a way where it cannot be easily edited.) However, these may not be big issues as I’m making them out to be, the core gameplay is still intact, that’s all that matters.

Which brings me back to the beginning. Despite being 11 years old, with subsequent Call of Duty games each year – even an “HD remake” in Modern Warfare Remastered – there’s still people playing this one. Granted, it’s about a small crew of a few hundred people left at this point, but there’s at least one server that has players playing on maps like Showdown and Broadcast.

Getting a good image amidst the chaos was pretty tough, I’ll admit.

Though, COD4 was not perfectly balanced. Many of the servers I was on banned grenade launchers as well as two infamous perks: Last Stand and Martyrdom. Even the community is aware how ridiculously unbalanced these items get at times. It’s still fun despite the restrictions.

It’s pretty easy to get a massive amount of kills without even trying. Or maybe I just have the FPS skills, who knows.

There’s simplicity in Call of Duty 4’s multiplayer that’s oddly refreshing to play these days. I’ve played the multiplayer of several COD games afterward, from grabbing them on the cheap to checking out free weekends, and I wasn’t really enjoying myself as much. It felt like there’s excess bloat to the game’s multiplayer, and way too many choices for people like me to manage. Whereas in COD4 the limited options work to its benefit nowadays. One weapon, one attachment, a pistol, 3 perks – 2 if you equip a grip or grenade launcher – and I’m off to the races, ready to get ridiculous kill streaks. Or die a whole lot.

Boy, I’m glad the Tactical Nuke didn’t exist yet, I probably could’ve gotten one at some point during this match.

I don’t hate the newer Call of Duty titles, I stuck with the franchise until Black Ops II and I admit some of the more recent ones like Infinite Warfare and WWII have piqued my interest – hell, Black Ops 4’s take on Battle Royale looks more fun than competitors Fortnite and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds – but it feels refreshing to go back to the progenitor of all this, and still enjoy it just like I did 10 years ago.

I often switched between 3-4 active servers, some of which can fill up to about 24-32 players playing at once.

Though it seems the audience for Call of Duty is on console these days, not PC. In my experience, these games don’t have many players compared to playing these on the respective consoles. Even free-to-play games like Crytek’s Warface was beating COD: WWII in average player count during a free weekend of all things!

It’s probably why I tapped out: I still don’t have the current generation of video game consoles, and Activision stopped paying attention to the 360/PS3 crowd by the time we got to Black Ops III – which was multiplayer-only, with no single player campaign to be seen on those systems. A shame too, because I enjoy the single player campaigns as much as the multiplayer or zombies components.

Yet, I don’t want to play these games on PC. It feels like the PC version of a Call of Duty game just exists, identical to the console version in every way except maybe getting the chance to make it look slightly prettier. There’s no weird anomaly like me playing COD4 on PC with its server browser over playing it on PS3 with matchmaking.

Plus there’s no guarantee they’ll even work: I tried Infinite Warfare on a free weekend two years ago and kept getting crashes when loading maps that had no reliable fix online. None of these are big issues on a console version. It just feels like Call of Duty, alongside rivals Battlefield and Titanfall, are console shooters first, PC shooters second.

It’s not 50 player Shipment, but it was still pretty chaotic.

I kept playing Call of Duty 4 on PC with 27 other players on a server, fragging enemies on Crossfire like it was 2008 again. The killstreaks, the frequent surprise frags and humorous moments were still enjoyable despite the game’s age.

I could’ve easily played anything else – hell, I finally bought Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege recently and realizing how good that game is – but that simplicity, that quirkiness of the PC release of Call of Duty 4 made me want to come back and play it again.

In retrospect, it’s surprising how big Call of Duty 4 was in shaping the landscape of games during the 360/PS3 generation. While the single player campaign was still an action-filled romp like its predecessors, the multiplayer opted to do things not many games were doing at the time: Level progression, perks that could give a player an edge, proper attachments on weapons, even the killstreak system was fairly unheard of. While it wasn’t until 2009’s Modern Warfare 2 did the franchise really blow up, COD4 was where all this started.

It’s probably why I put Call of Duty 4 as one of my top ten games of all time. Despite the grousing from some gamers about the franchise infamously making “bloody screens” (so real) popular and the prominent jingoism throughout, it’s still a great game that was quite a game changer. It’s still worth playing today, on PC with a few hundred people playing.

Try not to stick with your teammates unless you wish to be easy fodder for airstrikes.

Just make sure you don’t have a grenade launcher and Martyrdom in your loadout.

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B.J. Brown

B.J. Brown is the creator and sole writer on You Found a Secret Area. Casually writing since 2010, Fascinated by dumb things like game shows, music, and of course, video games. Also on Twitter. You can support their work on Ko-Fi or Patreon.

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