It's the best hand-held game ever, but not on the best hand-held
NewYork about GTA Chinatown Wars
Of all the games I’ve spent countless hours playing during this most recent of console generations, the Call of Duty games are by far and away top of the leader-board. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Call of Duty: World at War, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and more recently, Call of Duty: Black Ops have all eaten up days/weeks/months of my life. I could probably have even added Call of Duty 2 and 3 to that list if I’d discovered the franchise sooner.
But while I’ve had some of my most memorable moments in gaming playing the aforementioned, and while I could bore you to tears/regale you with tales of when I scored 30-0, took out 5 enemies with one single grenade or when I scored a double head-shot with one sniper rifle round, you know what? I’m not so sure I’m going to bother with this year’s game. Which given my past obsession with the series is quite a bold statement to make.
And so, what follows is 5 reasons to back up my new-found apathy.
1) What’s actually left of Infinity Ward?
Anyone that follows the development of the Call of Duty games closely will be aware of the brouhaha surrounding Infinity Ward and the firing of its two key founders: Jason West and Vince Zampella. Simply put, without those two guys there would be no Call of Duty. And so the fact that they, along with a huge key chunk of the team at Infinity Ward have moved on to pastures new, mainly West and Zampella’s new company, an EA partner lest we forget, Respawn Entertainment, means the people who built the franchise into the behemoth it now is are no longer in control or pulling the strings.
So where does that leave Infinity Ward? A hollow and threadbare husk of its former self? No longer the creative, dynamic and inspiring company it once was? Add to that the fact that there’s no doubt that Activision, in all it wisdom and might, will be palming off key parts of the project to outside studios in order to ensure the latest un-announced game hits its expected November release date. This insistence on quantity over quality is troublesome because the key strengths of the previous games were how finely balanced, tuned and polished they were. Particularly when Activision recently culled most of its other franchises. If it cocks Call of Duty up it's potentially damaging its own future revenues.
Sure, there's always been that rush to get each release out in time for Christmas, but there's also always been a very specific and deliberate plan with a firm schedule that allows each iteration to be in development for 2 years with a single settled team. With the turmoil at Infinity Ward and the mass influx of new staff there’s bound to be teething problems which does not bode well for the release. And disparately palming different chunks of the game off to other B-Team and even C-Team developers does not fill me with confidence.
2) Prestiging is pointless
One of the biggest innovations Call of Duty franchise has brought to gaming and the FPS genre is the ability to prestige up. The series is increasingly famous and popular for its RPG-like progression and once you reach the level limit, for the past few years you’ve been able to 'prestige up' and start the whole process again, but with the added bonus of a fancy emblem that highlights your gaming prowess.
Over the past few years the number of times you've been able to prestige up has increased considerably, with Black Ops ridiculously allowing you to reset and begin again 15 times. And when you consider that the level cap is 50 and takes 2/3 months per time, is quite a feat.
I play Call of Duty more than most, yet I’ve never managed to get anywhere close to prestiging the maximum number of times. In fact, with Black Ops, I haven’t even bothered prestiging up at all because there’s really no point to it this time around. At least with Modern Warfare 2 there were challenges that could only be completed once you’d prestiged up, so there was an added incentive. But Black Ops simply rewards you with an additional class slot and a new emblem. In addition to that, it was so difficult and time-consuming to unlock the Pro versions of the my favourite perks that I really don’t want to have to go through all that pain and heart-ache again.
All of which means that with the release of yet another new Call of Duty game, the past year’s progress will, yet again, be completely forgotten about, and any effort I’ve put into prestiging rendered absolutely pointless and meaningless.
3) I’m sick of ‘renting’ and then re-buying DLC
DLC and bonus map-packs have been an increasingly important part of Activision and Treyarch/Infinity Ward’s strategy when it comes to extending the lifespan Call of Duty. I’ve bought map-pack after map-pack and have even stupidly paid for maps I got free in previous games.
But enough is enough. From now on I want any content I buy for Call of Duty to carry over indefinitely. I don’t want to have to re-buy any more maps under the illusion that they’re somehow different because they’ve been re-lit or had an extra sentry-gun positioned in a corner of the map out of the way. I want my content to be as final as is realistically possible and 'renting’ them for one year is no longer acceptable.
4) Annual stat-resets should be a thing of the past
Serious Call of Duty players spend the entire year pouring over their statistics. How high is their kill to death ratio? How many assists do they have? How many headshots have they achieved? How many kills with a specific weapon or piece of equipment? And nowhere was this more important and significant than in Modern warfare 2 which rewarded your dedication and persistence with unique emblems that showed off your e-peen. Having to start all over again every year is becoming increasingly soul-destroying and I’m not sure I have the heart or motivation to begin this long process once again.
A couple of years ago Infinity Ward rather presciently ran its hilarious 'mapathy' spoof advertisement for the Modern Warfare 2 Stimulus map pack. The advert made light of the fact that hardcore Call of Duty players quickly discover every single little hiding place, decent sniping position and every choke point in all of the levels, and as a result, multiplayer games then de-generate in players systematically doing laps of each map trying to find the same spots over and over, killing people who rush the choke points and if you’re really good, spawn camping. Pretty much taking the fun and reflex spontaneity out of the whole experience.
When Call of Duty de-generates into this it’s far too easy to become bored and fatigued with the whole experience and I have on occasion recently just felt like I'm going through the motions. I have my strategies for each level and that's all I tend to do.
I'm also quite bored with the whole FPS genre as a whole. The brilliant Bulletstorm mixed things up a bit this year but the last few Call of Duty single player campaigns have increasingly felt like a bit of a slog. There's a distinct lack of innovation and variety which is no doubt a result of genre saturation.
The only way Activision and whichever team is now it's A-Team is going to win me back, is by making Call of Duty a persistent online multiplayer title. Hell, I'd even pay a subscription rather than a lump sum up front.
I want my stats to roll-over. I want my map-packs to remain playable for years to come, occasionally re-skinned, re-lit or re-modelled as the game-engine progresses. I want new game-modes to be introduced every few months. I want my emblems and titles back and for them to mean something. I want to be able to play every map from every previous game as well as use every weapon and every kill streak. I want multiple game types that cover all of the previous releases. And perhaps, most of all, I want all of the friends I used to play with that have also either gotten bored, gone off to have kids, got jobs and responsibilities or just plain fallen out of the love with the franchise to come back and re-live the old days.
I also want the moon on a stick.