IGN Opinion & Discussion: Call of Duty is Boring and Needs to Change
It's time to reboot the franchise that needs it most.
The Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare campaign was explosive, memorable, and remarkably fast-paced. Its online multiplayer achieved a refreshing newness typically reserved for Halo sequels. Modern Warfare transformed what we expected from first-person shooters, and in turn spawned one of the most successful entertainment properties in history.
This year marks the fifth anniversary of Call of Duty 4, a game whose foundation has remained largely unchanged in its four annual follow-ups and spinoffs. With rumors of Black Ops 2 swelling, Call of Duty's assaulting frequency is becoming difficult to stomach. The brand is a symptom of mutual complacency. Players systematically trade cash for another fix that does little to improve upon the last experience. Activision has become the industry equivalent of a crank dealer, and we've become junkies too strung out to do anything about our problem.
It's time for Call of Duty to change. Ignore that it will continue to make money hand over fist whether or not Activision actually decides to revitalize the slowing pulse. The series needs to step it up, expand its ambitions, and reinvigorate itself in exciting new ways, or it's going to run one of gaming's greatest into the ground. After all, this franchise changed the course of single- and multiplayer gaming. The only thing preventing Call of Duty from doing it again is itself, and this is what needs to change to make it happen.
Without cheating, try to guess which game this is.
Plane crashes, quick-time fist-fights, in-your-face explosions. Those big "wow moments" are pivotal to the Call of Duty experience. They've become such a common identifier, however, that the predictable events become tiresome. We know by now we're going to fall off a building, ferociously murder a man up close, or take a bullet to the face at the end of a chapter. Some players live for these impressive moments, while others reject such limited involvement during gameplay. Call of Duty no longer needs to use scripted scenery as a crutch. It's time Infinity Ward and Treyarch let go of the "cinematic experience." Gamers aren't stupid, and it's time to stop treating them like they are. We know when we've narrowly avoided death and when the creator's made death narrowly miss us. The former is far more exciting because the latter is played out. We've seen a lot -- enough -- of this, and are ready to move onto something beyond being thrown on our ¤¤¤ every 15 minutes.
Focus = coherency = caring
Call of Duty's story is tough to follow because there are so many actors onstage at the same time. Why not focus on one character for a change? Seeing through one set of eyes would help us identify with the character in a stronger way than we would by switching rapidly between perspectives. Much as we dig Price and Soap, we don't know anything about them as people because there's no time to reflect on them as characters. Because we don't know who these men are, it's hardly upsetting when Mysterious Man With a Sweet Mustache lies within an inch of his life, or when Mr. Stupid Ski Mask eats a bullet. We can't care about the consequence of characters when there are no relatable values.
More Call of Duty: Black Ops Videos
Call of Duty needs to reel it in, focus on its cast as humans rather than cogs in the war machine, and tell a coherent, character-driven story we can dedicate our emotions to and keep track of. Then when the Big Bad inevitably shoves a gun in our mouth we know there's a genuine danger that our story is truly at an end. As it stands, Call of Duty characters -- good, evil, or, in the case of No Russian, innocent and unaware -- are disposable dramatic tricks that don't do anything to further the narrative.
If the next Call of Duty were about the people then players would have something to hold on to. There would be a genuine reason to play through something more meaningful than the slaughter of evil foreigners aiming nukes at America. Or something.
Stop trivializing violence
Do we need to saw men's throats to understand the reality of violence? Eh, probably not.
Call of Duty has exactly two moments where killing someone means something. Throwing a knife into a man's eye resonated with many players because there was more to killing him than the exhilarating, slow-motion reaction. You stopped a tyrannical psycho from doing worse to others than he did to you. The final kill in Call of Duty 4 has a similar effect -- Imran Zakhaev is a terrible person who has it coming, and in the name of those he's harmed you serve up karmic justice. The rest of this series is callous and uncaring.
Slaughtering civilians in an airport, blowing up a little girl, and setting New York City under terrorist siege aren't the moving scenes their developers intended. This is emotionally exploitative junk that tries to disgust the audience into submission rather than make them consider consequences. The imagery is horrifying, but it doesn't carry actual value. This is meaningless shock without awe undermined by the assaulting, desensitizing violence of Call of Duty's campaign.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2's 'No Russian' Mission
Call of Duty conditions us only to care about violence inflicted against ourselves. The thrill in taking lives away by the second makes life meaningless, which implies the only violence that truly matters is that against the player. The consequence of player death is made light of as well, since failure is another opportunity to take away even more lives.
These games need to find a new way to make us consider violence without pandering to players' deepest, darkest murder fantasies or compromising Call of Duty's value as entertainment. This isn't to say we should reflect on the ripple effect of every bullet fired -- this is supposed to be an interactive action movie, after all, not a Peter Molyneux pipe-dream -- but it's time we stopped behaving the same way as the ¤¤¤¤¤¤¤s on the screen. We shouldn't be getting off on digging a knife into a throat, we should be uncomfortable having to do it. If we reflect on why we've killed thousands of evil terrorists in Call of Duty campaigns, the majority of us probably won't have a concrete reason beyond "they're the bad guys."
Wouldn't it be more interesting to observe a game toying with our real-world psyche? Imagine Call of Duty making certain deaths mean something different depending on ifwe pull the trigger. What would the mental repercussions be on our character? What damage would we cause in not killing someone? If Spec-Ops: The Line and Rainbow Six: Patriots can't achieve this as intended, Call of Duty could be the first military FPS to make us think about the implications of the actions we're enjoying -- rather than continue to reinforce them with reward.
The real reason a considerable percentage of the Call of Duty audience plays at all is for its fantastic and deep multiplayer. Remember your first Call of Duty 4 experience? It was incredible, and the enchantment hasn't ended for literally millions of people. So why change it?
Call of Duty Elite's Content Season
Each Call of Duty title's online adds or removes things here and there, but the difference from one game to the next is minuscule for the hardcore audience and undetectable to the casual player. If we're being blunt, the multiplayer experience is functionally identical today as it was before the last US Presidential election. New perk here, additional kill streak bonus there. Whatever. Numerous studios worked on Modern Warfare 3. Multiple companies. Let that sink in. Creative powerhouses composed of some of the industry's greatest talent put their heads together to make...the same thing. Now that everyone else has caught up, it's time for Call of Duty to do what it does best -- blow the lid off what we thought possible and reinvent the online landscape again. It's a tall order and an unfair demand, but hey, this is an ideal-world fantasy.
With Call of Duty Elite in place to give us more maps on a regular basis, there's no need to release a Modern Warfare 4 or a Black Ops 2 with recognizable multiplayer. If incremental improvements and new maps are the problem year over year, Elite and game updates are the solution. So dedicate future efforts to breaking new ground. Remind us why we fell in love in the first place -- it'll make us forget why we fell out of love in the process.
Get with the times
It's been said, but it's worth stressing: 2007 was quite some time ago. In the age of the internet, five years may as well have happened alongside the Cold War. It was that long ago. Things have changed, but Call of Duty doesn't seem to have noticed. Games like Bulletstorm, Battlefield, and BioShock have experimented with interesting new ideas and expanded on existing concepts to give players a new (or, at the very least, new-ish) experience. Call of Duty engineered what's inspired everyone else, but now it's falling behind. The only way it can keep up with the evolving genre is to break free from itself.
Spec Ops in Modern Warfare 3
The simplest things, like vehicles in multiplayer or a co-op capable campaign would do wonders to modernize the series' warfare. The Spec-Ops multiplayer mode is where Infinity Ward's talent shined brightest in Modern Warfares 2 and 3, so why not pool those resources into cooking up similarly unique team-based missions on a grander scale?
Go crazy. Realism isn't a factor now, these games are preposterous, so flex that a bit as well. Let us traverse maps in interesting new ways -- vehicles, climbing, sliding, whatever. Give us the ability to build advantageous assets -- Nazi Zombies is addictive because of its demanding resource management, not mindless brain-splattering. Make it a tactical, team-based affair where the classic Call of Duty play-style will turn your face into Swiss cheese. Add some terrain and structural destruction, exploration, airborne assaults, and give us single- and multiplayer goals that extend beyond blowing up everything. While we're at it, fix that damn spawning system. That we still spawn into fire, claymores, and grenades has to be developers trolling players, right? Unreal.
If you're sick of the same ol' junk in Call of Duty too, drop your brilliant suggestions to change the franchise in the comments below.