What's Wrong with Call of Duty?
Despite what you may have heard, the run up to Christmas does not start in August (!) when department stores roll out the baubles and advent calendars. It actually begins with the annual release of a new entry in one of the biggest and most divisive franchise in recent gaming history: Call of Duty. You can set your watch to this fixture of November, and before you know it you'll be quaffing sherry, tucking into mince pies, watching the Queen on telly and returning unwanted presents.
Two weeks away from launch, and you can already smell the testosterone in the air as high-fiving, obscenity spewing living-room-soldiers across the globe prepare for combat. After eleven months of doing just fine without it, I once again find myself looking forward to the release of the latest instalment, minus the high-fiving and musty aroma. This year is the turn of the newly restructured Infinity Ward to give us our third helping of Modern Warfare - the eighth true Call of Duty for those of you keeping count - and it could well be the most important entry since CoD4: MW redefined our expectations of the modern FPS.
I definitely have a soft spot for the series. I'm no super-fan and am more than aware of its shortcomings, but I'm happy to defend it in the face of what is often unfair criticism. I first discovered the series back in 2003, though I didn't return until 2008 when I first bought a PS3 and picked-up Modern Warfare. I have invested in a copy at or around launch for every instalment since. There have been low points - the grenade spamming of World at War was unbearable - but for the most part each game has delivered on its promise.
I greatly enjoy the controlled spectacle of the single player campaign and the huge set pieces succeed in making you forget that you are taking part in the most linear of experiences. It also excels at achieving a balance between realism and all-out arcade fun. You feel like a super soldier as you take on hordes of respawning badies, paying little attention to elementary concerns like cover and reloading, yet the handling of the guns and the use of real world conflicts, or at least situations that feel somewhat plausible in a dystopian world, keep it grounded in a semblance of reality. Some of the single most memorable gaming moments of the last four years belong to CoD single player campaigns, and I always find myself wanting to play through at least twice.
Black-op missions and zombie slaughter have helped to add value to the package, but it is the accessible multiplayer that attracts the most attention. With its deep RPG-like levelling, customization and continued map-pack support, it can provide months, if not years of entertainment despite the relative simplicity of the actual gameplay. Once I've had my fill of the single player, I’ll jump head first into the multiplayer which will enthral me for two weeks and then keep me mildly entertained for a couple more, before cashing-out at around level 40 as I lose interest and move onto something else.
In all my years I have never bought a CoD map-pack, as by the time they arrive I have long since put it back on the shelf. However, I think Activision does a good job of continuing to support the multiplayer community and I struggle to comprehend any good reason to rail on them for offering paid extras. The new Elite service and the inevitable map-packs are optional, and if you are still playing it by the time they arrive then I see no reason why you wouldn't consider picking them up. If, by paying an extra £30, you are able to extend the games shelf life for the best part of a year, then good for you.
As I mentioned earlier, MW3 could be the most important game of the series. Black Ops allowed us to move beyond the unfair categorization of Treyarch being an inferior developer, and now it is Infinity Ward who must prove themselves, following the departure of half their creative team earlier this year. Also, this will be the fifth consecutive annual release, and if reviewers and consumers are to become bored of the series now will be the time for apathy to rear its head. On top of all this, EA's Battlefield 3 looks to steal some of MW3's thunder, being released this week. However, thunder may be the only thing it steals, as outside of EA you'd probably struggle to find anyone in the know who truly believes that the two games will be in direct competition. That's not to take away from the quality of EA's shooter, as Battlefield 3 looks to be an excellent game, but it has its own market and enjoys success outside of Call of Duty’s shadow, albeit in a far more limited quantity than Activision’s juggernaut. The notion that the masses will abandon one in favour of the other is entirely misguided, and the comparisons that the press seem so keen on are mostly a waste of time.
I realise this post may sound a little defensive and Activision certainly aren't in need of my help, but I do feel that the brand has been unfairly appropriated as a rallying cry for gamers lamenting the commercialization of the industry. The series has shown the true, mainstream potential of video games and has sustained a level of success that any other developer/publisher would kill for, and Bobby Kotick has even learnt not to bait the audience he should be courting. What's not to like?!
Bobby's sound bytes aside, Activision remain brazen in their approach and I do find their brash advertising to be rather distasteful. Under no circumstances should you christen you own game "The most anticipated in history", as they did in the most recent TV commercial, and the F.A.G.S viral ad from MW2 was a fucking disgrace, one that they should never be allowed to forget. But as easy and as fun as it may be to hate CoD and Activision, it is difficult to argue with the quality and success of a series that has resonated with audiences like nothing before.
Ultimately, people will vote with their wallets and the month of November is shaping-up to be a rather profitable one for Activision. Like it or not, the series is here to stay, and I for one am looking forward to getting my yearly fix later next month. Besides, how else am I supposed to know that it’s nearly Christmas?