Call of Duty – What Have You Become?
I was a big Call of Duty fan; the first game in the franchise blew me away with its intense action and focus on set pieces. It had more soul and power to it compared to its then rival Medal of Honour – it also had a more enjoyable single player and multiplayer experience to offer. The expansion pack Untied Offensive is one of my most favored first person shooters, it built upon the foundations laid by Call of Duty and increased the action to a new level. The opening sequence placed players right in the middle of the Battle of the Bulge and was the perfect example of top notch action, fantastic presentation and audio and an odd sense of drama and panic. The multiplayer was improved upon with the addition of vehicles, deployable machine guns and large maps plus a rank system. It was an expansion pack that was full to the brim with improvements and additions and in my eyes is a true classic. Call of Duty 2 took the action from the previous titles and polished it up which resulted in a more intense and gritty experience with a bigger focus on set pieces. While the multiplayer was still solid and played slightly better the overall experience (at least in my opinion) was not as good as United Offensive nor did it feel as deep. Call of Duty 2 was the last great action first person shooter set in World War 2, sure Call of Duty 3 came after it but it tended to feel rather alien from the rest of the franchise, and thus the next logical step was modern day combat.
Often regarded as the last great Call of Duty title the 4th entry into the franchise was the pinnacle of the famed set pieces and action movie feel all wrapped up into a modern setting with a cheesy but entertaining plot. Call of Duty 4 was a true triumph in first person shooter action, the fire fights were extremely intense and felt both enjoyable to experience while holding onto a sense of threat. The visual finesse allowed for location to look both stunning and realistic while being host to some wonderful looking explosions. The single player was a joy to play through with various changes in the gameplay and some genuinely stunning moments; this pushed Call of Duty to the top of the first person shooter pile however it was the multiplayer that took it to the mean stream. Taking slight inspiration from Call of Duty: United Offensive the multiplayer in CoD 4 offered depth and countless hours of replay ability via its levelling and custom classes system.
The multiplayer had plenty to offer in terms of game modes, maps and play styles supported by the weapon choices and of course the kill streaks added a new element to the gameplay. While CoD4 wasn’t the most balanced multiplayer game it did a pretty good job of keeping players on a level playing field and the kill streaks were not overpowered to the point of running the game, however this trend would soon end. Call of Duty: World at War brought back a familiar setting with some new twists. The single player campaign wasn’t really worth talking about in detail but it did offer some nice sections and imagery but overall felt more like a modded version of Call of Duty 4 with a bit more swearing and gore thrown in. There wasn’t much added to the single player portion of the game but this was passable as the multiplayer added the now fan favourite zombie mode which was simple yet highly addictive and fun. World at War also played host to co-op through the campaign but this felt rather underdeveloped and almost an afterthought and would unfortunately not truly be built upon. The multiplayer was a mixed bag of good and bad. The kill streaks had become quite over powering with the likes of the dogs being almost unavoidable and extremely hard to kill. The dogs also had a tendency to sit around spawn points which would result in countless deaths seconds after spawning which is both primitive and highly frustrating. Other issues included most weapons being able to spray hundreds of bullets due to the drum clip which lead to countless cases of players holding fire and hoping to earn a kill. World at War wasn’t terrible but it wasn’t great but it did add a nice feature to the franchise in the shape of zombies.
Modern Warfare 2 is where things really went wrong. The single player was a mix of solid gunplay with decent action but way too many set pieces which didn’t carry the sense of cinematic scale as previous entries. There was of course some nice sections, anyone who says Modern Warfare 2 doesn’t have at least one or two impressive scenes is a liar, but unfortunately these sections were often trapped between the over use of slow motion and ‘shell shock’ like moments. The story of course was even cheesier than CoD 4’s but it was still bearable. Co-op made a slight return in the shape of spec ops which provided a sense of fun but felt rather limited and tacked on and didn’t take much effort to complete. But the main issue with Modern Warfare 2 was the multiplayer. The motto of most sequels is to make things bigger and more bad ass (thanks for that phrase Cliffy B) and it seems that Modern Warfare 2 had took this a little too far. Gun play was a hefty mix of spraying and quick scoping with the spamming of grenade launchers. Add to the mix awful early bugs involving the dual shotguns that had more range than a rifle and what was left was a frustrating mess of a game.
The worst thing by a mile was the kill streaks which had gone from balanced in CoD 4 to slightly over powered in World at War to full blown bat s**t crazy in Modern Warfare 2. Games could effectively be ruined within the first few minutes if a player managed to earn the kills to throw up one of the over powered such as the AC-130 and Chopper Gunner. While the kill streaks were fun to use there was no denying that they were over powered and detracted from the competitive nature of the multiplayer. With the better quality kill streaks requiring more kills players began to use the most hated of video game play styles ‘camping’. Modern Warfare 2 was the key turning point of its community becoming one of (if not the worse) online communities in video game history with players camping, modding, team fixing and of course relentless flaming. The game became such a mess of over powered kill streaks, buggy weapons and an awful player base that playing the game felt more like a chore than anything else. Of course the player progression was there and there was plenty of perks and weapons on offer and the stupid introduction of death streaks (such a stupid idea it’s not worth talking about) but this was all rendered useless when the maps tended to be quite average and the each game contained at least one or two players running everyone’s experience. Oh and Nukes were a stupid idea, there was a reason it had never been put in a multiplayer game before and it wasn’t because it was a cool idea.
While Modern Warfare 2 was the soulless and messy result of too much focus on making things bigger rather than better people were happy enough (for the most part) to play it. Modern Warfare 2 was in the main stream, it was bringing people that didn’t normally play games into the fold (arguably a reason why the games community was so bad) and thus the game began to get perfect scores thrown at it and claims of ‘One of the best games ever’ thrown at it. A follow up was assumed and we got that follow up (not in the same story line/ universe however) in the shape of Call of Duty: Black Ops. To be fair Black Op’s wasn’t that bad and the game embraced the franchises cheesy story lines and pulled off a strange almost science fiction like storyline which was quite entertaining. Zombies were indeed back and making people happy but the multiplayer was a different story. The multiplayer at first didn’t support quick scopers too well nor did it really support random spraying and people enjoyed this, well some people did. As people bitched and moaned about the lack of quick scoping a patch came and added it all back in much to the face palm and sadness of a certain group of players. Kill streaks were still overpowered and all of the issues from Modern warfare 2 remained and things began to feel way too familiar.
The problem with Call of Duty as a franchise is it started off fantastically well, improved and added with each installment until the later titles. Things began to drop in quality and the additions to the franchise seem very small and often lacking. While it may of become something so mainstream its now almost the poster boy for video games (taken over from Halo) that doesn’t mean the games quality has improved. If anything it feels like the developers of each modern Call of Duty title knows what sells so they keep pumping them out which leads to the lack of charisma and soul. My point of view won’t stop the games from selling millions and the franchise will most likely still rolling on adding little to no additions to the franchise. There is no doubt in my mind the series will continue to sell well for the foreseeable future, but at some point, whether it’s years from now, fans of the series will become bored of the same formula and seek a change. A change the developers are currently too afraid to chance. That’s why Call of Duty can be fun for bursts of multiplayer, but when stripped of that it seems a somewhat hollow shell that doesn’t have the power to draw emotion from you – whether it be a laugh or cry.
Call of Duty was the result of Medal of Honour becoming stale and repetitive and it’s quite sad yet ironic to see Call of Duty become what it set out to defeat. Then again Battlefield 3 is on its way with a cure to issues…that cure is a fresh brand of fun.