A History of Call of Duty: Achievement, Progress, & Decline
Call of Duty is one of the more curious franchises in today’s videogame landscape. The series itself was the product of a stagnated and dried out series of games that left a number of developers frustrated and bored. When Call of Duty first hit the masses, its set pieces and intense action were met with praise and admiration. Even then it took heavy influences from popular TV and films, much like it continues to do now, but back then it was more than welcomed. But when did people become tired of the CoD staples? Did people really have enough of a good thing? Or are people just being too critical?
The first entry into the Call of Duty franchise was nothing short of brilliant. Its high production value and intense set pieces created some truly wonderful gaming experiences. There was nothing else on the market that matched Call of Duty‘s intensity and well-crafted singleplayer campaign. Infinity Ward raised the bar–and they expanded on it even further with the sublime expansion pack United Offensive. Vehicles, new redefined multiplayer, truly stunning set pieces, a fantastic singleplayer, a truly great expansion, which was also the last ever expansion that would come out for a Call of Duty title. With all that being said, however, there is still a problem: most of the modern Call of Duty fans never played the first game or the expansion due to it being a PC-only title.
Call of Duty‘s transitions to consoles was a bit of mixed bag with the likes of Finest Hour and Big Red One being rather average. The big step forward came in the shape of Call of Duty 2, a title that sold a number of people on the 360 when it launched alongside the system back in 2005. While it didn’t do anything new compared to the PC versions, it did deliver the first true Call of Duty experience on consoles. Its quality brought in a huge new audience to the franchise and signaled the beginning of Call of Duty‘s rise to power. Unfortunately, it was also the start of the yearly release rota.
The new yearly Call of Duty format led to the franchise being outsourced for the first time (excluding spin-offs) with Treyarch creating Call of Duty 3. The game was met with a positive reaction thanks to its solid singleplayer and decent multiplayer offerings. One of the more refreshing elements of the game, though, was the returns of vehicles and the addition of playing as the Polish and Canadian military. Things like this made sure there was a noticeable difference in how the game felt, but it was hardly a bad thing. Treyarch proved they could create a more than decent Call of Duty title, but remained in Infinity Ward’s shadow at the time.
The biggest entry, and arguably the best, was Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Departing from the World War 2 setting (which. by 2007, had become heavily overused), the game was set in the present day, along with the biggest enemy of said setting: terrorism. To put it simply, Call of Duty 4 redefined the FPS genre in ways that are still felt to this day. Its campaign was brilliant and even more cinematic than anything that came before it. Also, Modern Warfare‘s multiplayer became the jewel in Call of Duty‘s crown, setting the standard for all entries that would come after it. The class set-ups, the fast-paced nature of the gameplay, the perks, the kill streaks, all elements that have since become almost standard in the industry. Call of Duty 4 brought in the masses in a spectacular way and catapulted the franchise into becoming a pop culture icon. But it also proved to be the last big step forward the franchise, and also the last Call of Duty game to be loved by almost everyone.
World at War‘s release in 2008 was when things started to get a bit dicey in terms of people becoming sick of the franchise and its success in general. While the game was decent, it felt too similar to what had already been experienced in past series entries. The competitive multiplayer felt more like a mod rather than a new game due to it sticking a bit too close to the core values of Modern Warfare‘s multiplayer; vehicles did return but felt considerably more forced; and kill streaks started to creep outside of the lines of acceptable balance.
However, Treyarch managed to provide a fresh experience in the shape of Nazi zombies. A limited mode that was both small and well rounded in equal measure, it tasked players with holding up in a bunker against waves of zombies. The mode would become eventually Treyarch’s signature, and would be expanded on in great depth in their later works.
World of War may have had some critics, but for the most part, it entertained people and was seen as rather harmless. The next entry, Modern Warfare 2, however, hailed the start of Call of Duty becoming the poster boy for genericism.
Released back in 2010, Modern Warfare 2 heralded the start of the detractors started to grow in numbers and make their voices heard–and it was deserved. Its singleplayer may have been solid but its straight-laced, by-the-book nature began to wear heavy on people. Go here, blow this up, kill these guys, repeat. Things became extremely limited and uninspired. Also, the set pieces were overused and took away from any sense of awe or spectacle. In fact, its set pieces became something of a joke–a joke that would continue to run and run. And outside of the campaign, the multiplayer didn’t fare much better. It may have been popular but its sporadic and unbalanced nature turned off a lot of former fans. The Kill streaks became ridiculous, with a number of them supporting camping and various other annoying play styles. It felt like the multiplayer was crafted for those with short attention spans and not much else.
2011 then saw the release of Treyarch’s Call of Duty Black Ops. The supremely set piece-heavy singleplayer did nothing to suggest the franchise was heading towards any progression any time soon. It may have been decently made on a technical level, but at its core it was merely just another Call of Duty experience we had already become overly familiar with. Though the story was at least trying to depart from the generic modernity of the franchise, with Treyarch going for a flashback-heavy story that allowed Treyarch to explore various areas of the Cold War, albeit with slight science fiction undertones.
Multiplayer, on the other hand, was slightly more controlled compared to its predecessor but still suffered from too much emphasis on overpowered kill streaks. Black Ops‘ biggest positive, on the online side, was Zombies, a mode that continued to grow in depth and character as it went on, even beyond Black Ops.
And on that note, Black Ops 2 released in 2013 but did little to progress the storyline. It, again, was flashback-heavy with sci-fi tones, and the mulitplayer was pretty much the same. Zombies also continued to get bigger and bigger, though whether that was as good a thing as it may sound is open for debate. The game was, at its core, overly similar to Black Ops, and thus not entirely worth focusing on in detail.
And in the game of Ping Pong known as Call of Duty, we move back to Infinity Ward. Released back in 2011, Modern Warfare 3 is is often perceived to have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. It was the very essence of the typical Call of Duty experience: set pieces at every turn; levels that felt uninspired; little to no improvements; plenty of repawning enemies; and so much more. It was all there to hate. Modern Warfare 3 felt lazy, forced, and lacking any creativity whatsoever. In essence, it was just a full-price expansion pack.
As for the multiplayer, it had a few tweaks which ultimately did nothing to really improve or change the established formula. The series has always had decent sales figures, especially so at the time, so perhaps the term ”if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” was applied to almost every part of Modern Warfare 3. The general opinion of videogame fans was changed by Modern Warfare 3; people were becoming entirely fed up of same old, same old.
This brings us to the latest entry, Call of Duty: Ghosts. Its release last month was the first time a Call of Duty game was not met with such a hungry audience. The release was very low key compared to past entries. It was slightly hushed, with no appearances on any TV news shows (which happened with the release of MW2 and Black Ops); instead, there was a lot of internet advertising and short TV adverts. Ghosts just went by on its own, with the only real discussion of the game being found on CoD fan boards or people condemning the franchise across various forums. People just did not seem to care about Ghosts in the slightest.
As for the game itself, it’s still packed with the same overused set pieces, plot twists, and environments. It’s nothing new or even all that interesting. The production values are still high, but what does that matter when it’s the exact same game people have been playing since 2010? Ghosts produced low sales figures that would be respectable for other franchises but not for the behemoth of Call of Duty, which suggests that perhaps the age of the series is nearing its end. Perhaps it’s fitting that a game called Ghosts is the beginning of the end for the franchise.
The future of Call of Duty will heavily depend on how the games use the PS4/Xbox One/PC systems going forward. Can the next entries really afford to be exactly the same as past titles? Will the franchise ever experience another leap in progress like it did with Call of Duty 4? The next few years could be interesting for both Call of Duty fans and its detractors.