27 December 2009

The Dad's Guide to Modern Warfare 2: Altitude

This is part of a series of strategy guides for players of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. If you haven't already done so, check out the first post in the series here. As always, keep in mind the audience for these guides is not hardcore gamers but rather the casual "dad" gamers trying to stay competitive.

In my original post describing the camp and go strategy, I listed four characteristics of good locations:
  • Higher in altitude than the surrounding terrain
  • Provides a clear field of view of a high traffic area of the map
  • Sufficient defensive cover
  • Defensible approaches
While I covered defensible approaches (and sufficient defense cover, to a point) in a previous post, I hadn't yet had the opportunity to cover either of the first two, altitude and a clear field of view of a high traffic area of the map. Fortunately for our sake, they more or less go together, as altitude is the key factor in giving us the view we're looking for (I play to cover traffic analysis in a later post).

While most people do a decent job of horizontal gameplay, that is, using the breadth of the map to their advantage on a 2D scale, I get the sense that many players just don't understand the concept of vertical gameplay. Or perhaps they do understand it, and they're just not playing with it as a strength. Playing vertically incorporates that crucial third dimension which, in my experience, tends to give a player that key advantage. Most of the maps incorporate a good deal of vertical gameplay, although some don't (With the exception of the trenches, Wasteland is almost entirely flat in a 2D sense).

It is not an overstatement to say that altitude has been one of the key factors in many of history's significant military battles. Let's take a short break from video games and insert just a few historical examples from both sides of the Civil War:
  • Walking the Sunken Road alongside Marye's Heights in Fredericksburg and gazing down in the direction of the Rappahanock, it is not difficult to imagine the futility of the North's assault. The altitude of Marye's Heights provided the South with a clear and unobstructed view of the North's assault, as well as providing them the opportunity to dig in defensively. Anyone with a common understanding of military tactics could guess the outcome without even reading the history (here, if you're interested).
  • At Gettysburg, Longstreet knew that Pickett's Charge (across open fields toward Cemetery Ridge) was destined to fail, yet Lee ordered it anyay (to the South's ultimate peril). While the change in altitude is less noticeable at Gettysburg, it is undeniable that one dug in along Cemetery Ridge is clearly in a better position then one assaulting across the open fields.
You shouldn't need a full historical treatise to get my point, but thank you for enduring my quick and dirty Civil War history lesson. Generally speaking, higher is better (it should be no surprise then that one of my more common accolades is High Command: Highest average altitude).

Most of the altitude changes on MW2 maps are on the order of 2-3 floors (in terms of buildings; although some maps like Estate have more change). This may not seem like a lot, but it really does make all the difference. While it is true that higher can be more exposed (especially on a map like Rust), I believe this is mitigated by the better view and less task saturation. Consider that to defend yourself on ground level you must be aware of players at that level and also above you. On the other hand, a player in a high altitude area is, with a few exceptions, free to concentrate on opponents below him.

One of my favorite examples of this type of location is on the roof of the Mosque on Karachi. It overlooks Main Street on one side and the long alley toward the Cafe on the other, and also provides easy access to the roof of the Apartments (again, down toward the Cafe; incidentally, this rooftop is great place for a Sentry Gun when aimed in the direction of the Hotel and Ground Zero). Probably two-thirds of my 59 kills/18 deaths on Karachi (since 12/21) are based on this single rooftop (yes, I'll admit it, on this level I am more camp and less go). Two large columns on the roof, and a claymore by the ladder, provide excellent defense. To be sure, this rooftop isn't even the highest point on the map; there is a rooftop on the Storeroom that goes a floor higher.

Of course, you cannot be too vigilant when occupying such a location, so the need to continue moving around as a defensive measure cannot be overstated. In a game yesterday I initially spawned on the Parking Lot side of the map and was making my way toward the Mosque when an opponent on the Mosque roof killed me at the archway between Main Street and the Shakar Mart. After re-spawning I made my way to the ladder on the Ground Zero side of the Apartments, came around the corner, and was pleasantly surprised to see that two opponents were on the Mosque roof, overlooking Main Street, and blissfully unaware that I was about to unload the grenade launcher on them (this also highlights a failure in communication in teamwork on their part; with two players on the roof one of them should have been guarding the Cafe alley/Apartment side).

Examples of other maps that offer excellent vertical gameplay are Quarry and Favela.

There certainly may be instances when higher is not better, but I think those circumstances can be dealt with on a case by case basis.
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