As far as pure entertainment value goes, for me, the Call of Duty franchise is right up there.
Here we are on the eve of another Call of Duty title with series progenitors, Infinity Ward, taking the reins of Infinite Warfare. Since the studio decided to step away from the WWII setting with the introduction of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare in 2007, the franchise has become an annual best-seller, shaping a new industry model in the process. It attracted a new demographic of gamers who found the simple controls, relentless action and Hollywood cinematics an irresistible combination; sons and fathers alike could bond over a game of CoD.
Although steadied by the success of the Black Ops series, Call of Duty has veered off course in fan opinion over the last five years, with Infinity Ward’s Ghosts and Sledgehammer’s near-future themed Advanced Warfare copping a blitzkrieg of criticism. When Black Ops III manifested with a future setting, too, CoD aficionados vehemently reinforced their disdain for the near sci-fi direction the series appeared to be taking. Then the Infinite Warfare announcement trailer launched in May, and the sh-t really hit the rotor blades.
In the wake of the success of EA’s Battlefield 1, retrospectively, it’s easy – almost predictable – to note that the Call of Duty series should’ve returned to its WWII ancestral roots for this year’s entry. But it wasn’t that long ago that the history shooter was retired with a near-fatal case of gamer fatigue.
It would be hard to think of a franchise that is more unequivocally criticised than Call of Duty. Most of it is harmless chatter, but in 2013, when Treyarch introduced a patch for Black Ops II that rebalanced weapons in the game, unbelievably, the developer actually received death threats.
Seemingly everybody I meet has utter contempt for the game, and yet annually, it continues to sell – and sell well. In all my years of gaming, I’ve never purchased (yes, we still have to buy some games) a game that I don’t like. So who’s buying CoD?
But here’s the thing: I actually thoroughly enjoy playing CoD. The release date marks the advent of warmer weather, of summer on the horizon. It’s become an annual ritual to pick up the game, set aside some time with no outside world interference and bang out the campaign – which, and I know I’m in the minority here, I predominately get the game for.
Admittedly, first-person shooters are the genre where I choose to spend most of my time, and outside of Destiny, there are few shooters on the market that offer a smoother control scheme than Call of Duty. A significant appeal also lies in the exceptional range of weaponry available, and I thoroughly enjoy deliberating over an appropriate load-out for the task at hand.
I get great enjoyment in shooting my way through waves and waves of enemy soldiers. And when I do die, I’m not waiting around, pondering whether I’ve got enough time to zip to the fridge for a beer while the load symbol spins incessantly like vinyl on a platter; no, I’m straight back in and up to my neck in lead before I’ve barely had time to draw breath.
Yes, the big set-pieces feel clichéd, but remember – this is the franchise that brought them front and centre in the first place. Whenever I revisit John Carpenter’s groundbreaking Halloween, I cringe at the all the scripted scares, but only because what was once innovative has since been rendered tired and trite by countless imitators.
I’m aware that when I insert the CoD disc into the console each year, I’m not getting a Half-Life. What I do know though – much the same way as I do when I sit down to a Bond or a Bourne – is that I’ll be thoroughly entertained for its duration. I’m not going to dissect the game’s story arc over a pint with friends; I barely even acknowledge the plot while I play – that’s not the reason I come to the franchise – I want my finger on the trigger button for seven hours straight, play a little bit of multiplayer and then move on, fulfilled that I have been entertained. And generally, that’s exactly what I get.
Call of Duty is what it says it will be on the box. The narrative depth may differ in complexity but how far can the format diverge? What more can it do? You have a gun and you need to cream the enemy. And you know what – I’m happy with that. With Black Ops III shifting close to 34 million units, it would appear plenty of others are too.