The Call of Duty series has set the benchmark for online gaming this generation, but is that truly a good thing? First of all, I have to say that every COD is a downright solid game…at least the ones made by Infinity Ward. Yes, there have been numerous additions made to the each new game that have left me angered and confused, but these additions are usually just bells and whistles – the brilliance of the core gameplay always remains the same.
While the first two games introduced many of the key mechanics – the first introduced authentic weapon damage while the second removed the health bar, for example – it wasn’t until Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare hit store shelves in late 07 that the series really took off. People were amazed at how great the graphics looked, they were amazed by the intensity and the moments of the SP campaign, and they were amazed at how smoothly it all played. But the feature that most captivated people was the game’s multiplayer; an MP experience that will go down with the all-time FPS greats, like Battlefield and Goldeneye 64.
The limited, regenerating health mechanic provided gamers with a frenetic, quick-and-the-dead playing field that felt more ‘real’ than other shooters; shooters that required a whole clip to be fired into the enemy so as to kill them. Counter Strike certainly had been doing this for years, and was definitely more realistic in the way the weapons handled, but COD4 also brought to the table accessibility unlike anything else that had come before. New players, with even a modest level of skill, were quickly rewarded with very high killcounts, multiple unlocks from their speedy levelling, and killstreaks that made them feel like the Wicked Witch of the West. Add in Perks, plenty of maps and modes, as well as the fact that modern weapons are ten times more shiny and lethal than WWII weapons, and you have yourself a tasty recipe.
So popular was all this that every COD since has been built around these identical features, and a COD game is released every year with a few updates – much like a sports title – to keep the ginormous fan-base the series has accumulated satisfied. But enough back-story. Unfortunately, the success of the COD franchise has had a detrimental effect on online shooters as a whole. Infinity Ward (and, to a much lesser extent, Treyarch) have unwittingly ruined the perspectives of gamers worldwide, and it’s all due to one word:
Yes, expectations are to blame. Call of Duty 4 was good – possibly even too good for its own good. While I’m certainly happy that it came out, I can’t help but notice a change in how gamers (myself included) approach new multiplayer titles that hit the marketplace, and it’s all to do with the expectations we now carry thanks to that little shooter with a name like a fish. There are many different areas one could focus on, but I’ve isolated the three which I think are most important to this sad tale. If you only play COD every now and then, or if you just dislike the game in general, then these points won’t really relate to you, but their consequences still effect every online gamer.
1. People expect all FPS’ to play similarly to COD
Not everyone wants it, but subconsciously we hope that similar features to COD are present in our shooters, partly because some people are reluctant to change and partly because these features just work. COD4 was a game changer and will be remembered for ushering in a new online era, more so on consoles than PC. Every gamer waits for that new ‘big thing’ to come along – that MP which is so entertaining and so fresh that it takes over most of the competitive gaming world, and I think it’s safe to say that no game like that has come out since November 5th, 2007.
Since no one has any idea what the new ‘big thing’ is or will be, all we can do currently is pray that new shooters are just as fun as (and hopefully better than) Call of Duty. This inevitably ends with us comparing new shooters to COD, which inevitably leads to us to realise that they’re not as fulfilling, which then, inevitably, sees us playing COD again a week or two later after the thrill of the new shooter wears thin. It’s a vicious cycle and one a lot of FPS’ nuts have struggled to escape from. If COD4 was the last game in the series to be released then maybe they would have grown tired of it and eventually moved on, but with yearly updates it makes it bloody hard to kick the habit.
Other shooters have been released in recent times that are just as polished and contain just as much content as COD, don’t get me wrong. They might even match COD’s popularity, at least for the first few weeks, but in the end they just cannot match its staying power (no, I did not misspell ‘stopping’), usually because they lack some of the features that have made COD so successful. As a result, some games that would have lasted for months before COD now only last a few weeks before their servers become devoid of much life. This, in turn, leads developers to think that gamers must want features like killstreaks and regenerating health in all their games, which is an absolute nightmare for those people who despise Call of Duty. Remember the changes between Resistance: Fall of Man and Resistance 2? Remember how those changes sucked? Yeah, well you have COD4 to blame for that.
In short, gamers have become more critical of new shooters than they were in the past. They are also less accepting of gameplay mechanics that don’t bring about the same gratification as COD, to the point that other shooters die out before they should and we see the same mechanics featured in a lot more games. I mean, even Halo adopted perks.
2. People expect to win at everything forever
The reason most people play Call of Duty is because it makes them feel good. Put another way, it’s a drug, but with drugs also comes addictions, and if COD and heroin were to swap places I can assure you that the lines at your local methadone clinic would be around the block. But why does it make gamers feel good; more so than other shooters out there? Well, there are all the positive facets of the game I’ve mentioned further up the page, but what it really boils down to is that COD makes you feel like an FPS-god more easily and more quickly than nearly any other shooter out there. Sure, you might not go great all the time, but even the shittiest player will have the odd game where they run around killing people with an ease and efficiency similar to if John Rambo was tasked with eliminating the occupants of an orphanage.
Unfortunately, a lot like other addictions, when you’re not on the good stuff you’re no where near as happy. Not long ago, having 15 kills and 9 deaths in a game was considered quite a worthy achievement. Nowadays, COD provides us with figures as blown-out as 63 kills for 5 deaths; regularly, too. Yes, it can be amazing to see your name next to a score like that, but the choc-chip cookie dough ice-cream they have at Baskin Robbins is also amazing, and if you have too much of that stuff you become a lazy fat fuck. That’s the issue: too much COD results in people becoming gluttons for easy high-scores. I wouldn’t say this affects all players of COD but it certainly affects the younger ones, with a large number of teenagers running around complaining about how they only have twice as many kills than deaths, or how they only managed to kill 30 people in that last game.
This mentality is then applied to other online games, which may start off strong at launch but always die out after a while, simply because they don’t possess the immediate ‘I’m so amazing’ factor that COD provides continuously. In these games – Killzone 2, for example – you usually have to work harder for less immediate reward which, in theory, should make you appreciate your achievements even more. Problem is there’s a large number of COD enthusiasts who are put off by the reality that, even after they’ve played a whopping ten matches on a new game, they still haven’t had a positive K/D ratio. Next thing you know they have a trade-in receipt in their hand and Modern Warfare 2 is back in their machine.
While people are always bemoaning the fact that games are becoming easier, perhaps this is just the result of the consumer growing soft. COD has certainly created a breed of gamers with high expectations of themselves, and if they fail to meet these expectations on a new game there’s usually two outcomes: they think they suck at the game and stop playing, or they think the game sucks and they stop playing. Either way, online suffers and developers are punished for not making their games ‘accessible’, otherwise known as ‘bloody easy’.
3. People expect COD to remain the same
Evolution, people. That’s how we got from being monkeys to monkeys being in zoos. Problem is Call of Duty is not a monkey. It’s a freakin’ Great White shark – the apex predator in an ocean of games. Its gameplay works on so many levels and, like the Great White, it has no competition to be worried about so it doesn’t need to evolve all that much bar a few new features every year. ‘But Great White sharks are awesome!’ I hear you say. ‘How is this a problem?’. Well, yes, sharks are cool, but if you really think about it they’re just 250 million year old fish. Monkeys might not stand a chance against sharks, but at least they turned into humans. We could nuke the entire ocean if we really wanted to.
Point is, Call of Duty just keeps doing the same stuff every single year. Most people find this sort of thing boring – I mean, Guitar Hero did the same thing over and over and now it’s very much dead, surely people are worried that COD will share the same fate, right? But the sad thing is only the minority appear genuinely concerned. Everyone else seems to expect the same stuff from Infinity Ward and Treyarch every single outing; I say this because every new COD game continually outsells the last one and the online MP is as popular as ever. This, however, results in the FPS genre stagnating, which is okay for those who still get kicks out of COD but not very okay for people who want the genre to evolve further.
I mentioned before how there are those who expect COD-like mechanics to be found in more of their online shooters, and how modern games that stray away from these mechanics don’t always fare too well (at least in regards to maintaining popularity). The simple solution here would be if COD – being the most popular online shooter – started adding radical changes to the way it plays. That way we would we finally have a new AND eternally popular shooter to play. Sounds easy, right? Unfortunately, the fanbase don’t seem worried about changing the basics; they’re more worried about new maps, weapons and killstreaks. As for Activision encouraging innovation…well, coming back to the shark thing, there sure are a few features you could add to a shark to make it more efficient. Knees, perhaps. Or hands. Thing is, it doesn’t need any of this stuff to do what it’s already doing, so if Activision were in charge of shark evolution they would most likely just give it the ability to ‘dolphin dive’.
Currently, though, we’re trapped in a state where gamers are growing tired of the same old COD, but there simply isn’t anything out there to move onto permanently (COME ON BATTLEFIELD 3). Call of Duty refuses to change, and other FPS’ are just becoming more like COD as well, which means it’s going to take something special to evolve the online shooter from a ‘shark’ into a ‘human’. Maybe even a human-shark, like Street Sharks. I would be okay with that.