CODPLOPS: A Cynical History of COD
I've said it before of the Call of Duty franchise and I'll no doubt have to say it again in the future, but: M'eh
. The announcement of a new Black Ops 2 set in the future doesn't change me from that default ambivalence.
The reason why can be explained in what I call the Cynical History of COD, which starts in 2003 when Infinity Ward released the first Call of Duty. It became massively popular very quickly and Activision, keen to hold on to a good thing, released a second game which performed even better. Then another...and another...and again and again until finally so many people got bored of WW2 that even Activision couldn't ignore the yawns.
So, along came Modern Warfare - which remained the most moronic subtitle in gaming until Medal of Honor: Warfighter was announced. Modern Warfare introduced a new setting to liven things up and Infinity Ward presented its now infamous take on class-based multiplayer too. It was a rousing success and, buoyed by this change of scenery and systems, expectations were high that the next game would be just as interesting.
Instead, we got World at War, followed by Modern Warfare 2. Neither innovated in the slightest and, because Modern Warfare 2 was the eleventh
game in the series, fans were quick to spot that. Again, they cried out for change.
What they got next was Call of Duty: Black Ops, which basically copied Modern Warfare's approach of trying to seem new by changing the setting again
. It might have worked too if it had more than a seen-it-before Zombies mode to back it up and if it hadn't been followed by Modern Warfare 3, which lethargically fell back on previous norms.
Now the Cynical History of COD has caught up to present day: it's been five years since Modern Warfare and - hey, guess what? - there's a new Call of Duty in development! Apparently it will change the setting again
, moving the series to the future and introducing robots and tiny flying helicopters! That's sure to enliven the series a bit more, right? Just look at the mechs in that trailer!
What the trailer doesn't show though is anything beyond the sci-fi trappings which might distinguish CODBLOPS2 from any other entry in the untenably long-running series. We see fleeting glimpses of controllable drones and some canyon-limited horseback riding, but these don't really suggest anything different to the UAVs and tank levels of previous games. There is literally nothing to say that Black Ops 2 couldn't instead be subtitled as just 'More-Modern Warfare'.
For that matter, why is the trailer showing us the single player anyway? This is a series which, when faced with any criticism, usually falls back on the idea that it's the multiplayer that matters most, not the campaign. And if you've not had fun with the MP then you obviously just had some bad games. And if you didn't then you're probably not much of a 'real' gamer. I've heard all these excuses and more over the years.
"Bloody hell, Joe," I can hear you saying, "what is it you expect Treyarch to do exactly? Reinvent the entire FPS genre?"
Fact: There are more Call of Duty games than there Warcraft, Starcraft and Diablo games combined. Including expansions.
Yes, is my answer - or to try, at least. In just the time since the original Modern Warfare was released there's been amazing advances in both the technology used to create games and our understanding of what makes games good. We've seen the Frostbite Engine
and LA Noire's Natural Motion
. We've seen Kinect
and the iPad
and 3D Vision
and Deus Ex
And, for all that time, Call of Duty has puttered along fuelled by nothing but its own, tired ego. It hasn't introduced new ideas or expanded its features notably; even the newish co-op content in Spec Ops is pithy and tokenistic. COD hasn't introduced new technology nor fascinated the industry with creative solutions; the IW engine traces its heritage back to Quake III and produces only tiny, static levels which lack detail and interactivity. The structure of each game is the same as ever: closed-off corridors and flashing yellow spots where you need to attach the C4, punctuated every now and again by a turret level.
The only significant step COD has taken in the last five years has been with dedicated servers, which was a technological step backwards
This is normally the point in a balanced article where even a cynical commentator would say it's too early to damn a game and that we should at least wait and see a few more previews before we make our minds up. I'm too angry to say that though; I'm not only not excited, I'm physically repulsed
by what Call of Duty has done to gaming and feel shortchanged on the potential of the medium by this cynically produced, but best-selling drivel.
Black Ops 2 will have to be pretty amazing to even raise me to the point of neutrality - because just because Treyarch is setting Black Ops 2 in future, doesn't mean the series isn't still living in the past.