The king of FPS has confronted very stiff competitors this yr. Is it time to retreat or reboot?
“There’s a mainstream appeal to Call of Duty that makes it untouchable, with a praetorian guard of fans circling like rage-drunk vultures, ready to protect the series against attack.”
Call of Duty isn’t useless, however it is perhaps bleeding out. 2016 has been a massive year for first-person shooters that reinvigorate the style; Overwatch flashed its technicolour, hero-based panties, Titanfall 2 hit an exquisite free-running candy spot and Battlefield set its sights on bringing again old-school battle. And then there’s Call of Duty.
If Modern Warfare Remastered has taught us something (apart from the truth that Captain Price is, was and can all the time be a grade-A hero) it’s that the collection that modified and dominated the gaming panorama simply isn’t maintaining with its FPS counterparts.
Although no-one’s but in contrast the most recent instalment unfavourably to the blandly acquainted Ghosts, it’s no secret that Infinite Warfare hasn’t been welcomed into the COD fold, beginning with the cry of “WTF? We said no more future BS” and the next downvoting of the trailer on YouTube.
But it’s simply not sufficient to say “We hate future COD” because the tens of millions of gross sales present that’s simply not true. Infinite Warfare simply out-sold not simply its most important FPS rivals, however just about each different triple-A sport it confronted off towards. Dishonored 2, Watch Dogs 2… It left all of them for mud, beating the mixed gross sales of Battlefield 1 and Titanfall 2 and leeching to the chart’s primary spot for 3 weeks regardless of promoting 50 p.c fewer items than Black Ops III.
That’s as a result of Call of Duty is nearly distinctive as a sport, and definitely distinctive in its style. Like Pacman and Pong, it’s a cultural phenomenon that even your grandmother, who struggles to work an iPad, has heard of. And it ought to shock exactly no-one that Infinite Warfare battled for the highest spot towards FIFA 17. There’s a mainstream attraction to the video games that stretches nicely past the kind of clever and exquisite players who pore over articles assessing COD’s course and downfall. It’s untouchable, with a praetorian guard of followers circling like rage-drunk vultures, prepared to guard the collection towards assault.
Who’s even shopping for these video games? They shouldn’t be dismissed as sheep, and doubtless you’ll be able to siphon them off into three main teams. There’s the skilled hardcore, who purchase COD yearly and whose Okay/D ratios incite jealousy and anger. The far greater crowd is the informal gamer, who picks up the sport for a similar purpose they’ll purchase tickets to a sub-par Steven Spielberg film: It’s nonetheless a mark of high quality. Hell, even a weak Call of Duty is extra refined than 99 p.c of different shooters on the market.
And the remainder of us? Well, it’s like Stockholm Syndrome, it’s intuition, a nasty behavior we are able to’t break as a result of we hope, every year, that this time it’ll be totally different; this yr Call of Duty will hit the highs of the previous.
“It’s pretty difficult to picture a gaming landscape where Titanfall would exist without Call of Duty. But we’re living in a world where Call of Duty is now aping its opponent.”
Call of Duty did all the pieces proper to start with. Start out with a frantic but cerebral, multi-protagonist World War Two jaunt, earlier than bringing the motion bang updated. Modern Warfare was a literal game-changer that stole inspiration from MMOs and launched persistent XP to the realms of a refined shooter expertise that stored us enjoying over lengthy intervals of time; it additionally launched the phrase “just one more game…” (a unfastened English translation of the phrase “I’ll be here a while”) to an excellent wider viewers.
It was a no brainer that rivals have been going to take a seat up and see. Developer Infinity Ward had completely balanced gameplay between effort and reward, creating an addictive multiplayer that delivered in-game perks and an on-going purpose to play that, handily, raked in a mega-ton of .
Call of Duty discovered a print-money licence in 2007; they’re nonetheless utilizing it 11 years on. And that’s an issue.
FPS’s have come a good distance. Since Modern Warfare, we’ve had video games like Left four Dead 2, Halo four and Battlefield three every carry their very own concepts to the style’s desk. They’ve learnt nicely from the granddaddy, constructing on the yardsticks COD laid down to supply new experiences, whether or not it’s L4D2’s arcade aggressive co-op; Battlefield’s epic stage design; characters that make an influence in a narrative that resonates in Halo (title me one character from Advanced Warfare that isn’t Kevin Spacey, as a result of I positive as hell can’t keep in mind). Even Destiny owes a debt to Call of Duty. OK, shooter mechanics are just about the identical as since endlessly – left set off goal, proper set off shoot – however Bungie are killing it as a result of they developed the system.
It’s fairly troublesome to image a gaming panorama the place Titanfall would exist with out Call of Duty. But we’re residing in a world the place Call of Duty is now aping its opponent, desperately chucking jet-boosts and wall-running into the final three video games within the hopes that it could possibly re-energise the franchise whereas cleaving to the acquainted components (a misplaced trigger, since COD’s maps are nonetheless constructed for wonderful boots-on-the-ground gunning). Even Battlefield 1’s fundamental capacity to peek over partitions feels contemporary and thrilling and clean in comparison with Infinite Warfare’s rattling cussed refusal to permit something greater than to duck behind cowl.
In the FPS multiplayer world, what does Call of Duty stand for any extra? Christ, who’s it even for?
Battlefield 1 has parked its tanks on the lawns of these craving gritty, mature objective-based gaming – and so they nicked the pseudo-deep however lethal thrilling multi-protagonist solo mode narrative when Activision wasn’t trying, too. Destiny and Halo have gotten the long run sown up. Meanwhile Titanfall 2, the younger pretender created by former Infinity Warders, has made stab at capturing the quick and fluid market, regardless that solely 5 individuals really purchased and performed it. And main the shooters’ New World Order is the campy-as-hell Overwatch, a sport that defines ‘easy to play, hard to master’.
That leaves COD caught in the midst of nowhere. Clowns to the left of them, jokers to the precise. While different video games have developed their very own kinds constructed on strong foundations, Call of Duty feels sluggish and dated and fully misplaced as a collection.
But Call of Duty ain’t useless but.
“Russia and America are cosying up, Syria’s in flames, Europe’s burning from the inside-out and Middle Eastern tensions are… tense. And we’re not making a military shooter about it?”
Call of Duty did much more than toss us into the far-flung future. It trashed its historical past with a clear head-shot. The unique COD got here round a couple of years after Saving Private Ryan kickstarted popular culture’s most up-to-date affair with World War Two. So the sport was in place: WWII is an immediately recognisable, relatable interval. By the time Modern Warfare dropped, the scars of the Iraq War have been nonetheless contemporary, and just about continued to be for the sub-series’ period. Using relatable parallels to actual world wars gave COD an influence, to not touch upon society, however to replicate and interact with gleeful players (whereas nonetheless doing what Call of Duty excels at. i.e. entertaining the shit out of me). Hell, you realize you’re in bother when Infinity Ward’s lead idea artist Thomas Szakolczay says, “We still wanted it to feel like war was happening and it was almost like we wanted to have the grit of a World War II game” and Infinite Warfare’s what you get.
We reside in a time when Russia and America are cosying up, Syria’s in flames, Europe’s burning from the inside-out and Middle Eastern tensions are… tense. And we’re not making a navy shooter about it?
It’s telling that to seek out the best-selling COD sport, you’ve obtained to go proper again to Modern Warfare three. Gamers have been on-board with hyper-frantic, recognisable worlds at battle, from WWII to modern-day by way of Black Ops’ fine-tuned Vietnam expedition (one other cinematic cultural touchstone). And we even went together with the futuristic Black Ops II, as a result of hey, it was kinda novel to put Call of Duty’s silky clean gameplay in 2025. But ever because the Doc Browns at Activision whisked Call of Duty to the long run, an increasing number of players have logged off. I’m not saying there’s a transparent correlation between declining gross sales and giving bastards the flexibility to bunny jump over our heads and shoot us within the again, however…
With its rivals closing in, pincer formation, the collection is at a crossroads. If Call of Duty isn’t retreating, what path does it take now? Resident Evil, Metal Gear Solid V and Gears of War four show that delicate reboots, which develop on – quite than bury – the unique can work. So giving Call of Duty a reboot (learn: kick up the arse) would appear the preferred selection amongst followers, in the event that they don’t blindly churn out the identical outdated stuff. Wasn’t Infinite Warfare simply rush-job DLC for Black Ops three, knocked up on a lunch break? The collection has been at its greatest when it toys with its current components, quite than rewriting the principles (consider MW3’s minor tweak from killstreaks to scorestreaks, which reward gamers for extra than simply gorgeous shows of slaughter).
But if COD continues to trip the wave of present popular culture, a complete different course opens up. See, Call of Duty remains to be caught in its brooding Dark Knight section; it’s a humourless, self-absorbed world the place no-one ever smiles. Because troopers are critical, and troopers don’t smile, son. You salute and say extremely critical issues in a critical tone. Ooh-rah. But the remainder of the world has lightened up, Guardians of the Galaxy-style. You can see it with the lighter tone of Gears four, and video games which might be actively rebelling towards the shit-brown visuals of the final console era by bringing vigorous, comic-book color into the combination.
It’s simply potential that Activision will embrace the collection’ uber-macho super-seriousness, and play it for chuckles, putting an OTT tongue of their battle-weary cheek. Think of it because the bastard spawn of a grimy affair between Far Cry three Blood Dragon and Gears of War – they’re in Paris, they’ve one Martini too many, get up 9 months later with gaming’s equal of The Expendables. Call of Duty: Deadly Kill Snipe Assassins. This isn’t virgin territory right here. Infinite Warfare’s Zombies in Spaceland is awesomely tacky, self-aware and self-deprecating, even by the requirements of the wildly goofball mode.
Wherever we’re Warfare-ing subsequent yr, Call of Duty wants the braveness to play with the style. It’s arduous to not see parallels right here with the James Bond movies, one other iconic collection of popular culture that started off self-assuredly defining tendencies, earlier than retreating into the security of following them when it obtained too massive, too afraid to lose mega-bucks. When was the final Call of Duty was courageous sufficient to carry us moments like All Ghillied Up and No Russian? Now is the time to be heroes, troopers. Now is the time to confidently experience FPS creativity with out blowing up your core gameplay.
And rattling it, no matter you do, don’t point out the long run battle.