Gaming | Film | TV
Gaming | Film | TV

Call of Duty has to change the game to stay in it

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Just for once, let the player be the bad guy.

It hits you after about three minutes of playing a multiplayer round of Call of Duty. You joined the server, spawned, and the first thing you did was hit the sprint button. Why? Where are you going that you need to get there a couple of seconds sooner?

It being Call of Duty – it doesn’t matter which one any more – you’re not actually sprinting to anywhere, because each map is a tiny circular arena of despair from which there is no escape. If you could run in a straight line, away from the bunny-hoppers and dickheads with implausibly accurate grenade launchers, you’d never stop, which is probably why the designers don’t let you.

In the heyday of the franchise, a new Call of Duty reveal would have been met with delight from fans and misery from the commentators who predict society’s imminent collapse via the medium of video games. This time, not even an admittedly impressive trailer featuring Kevin Spacey in evil genius mode can lift Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare out of the dungeon of apathy to which this series appears to be confined for good.

No doubt, setting the game a little further into the future isn’t a bad idea if you want to inject a bit of life into a tired old format. There are fancy helicopters with two upper rotors, and I have to say I’ve always thought helicopters had too few rotors. There are also men strapping themselves into robotic suits, and special gloves to allow people to scale buildings parkour-style, and oh dear Activision you’ve been jacking up on the Titanfall a little heavily lately haven’t you?

While the trailer for the new game doesn’t give away many plot secrets, it seems to involve global manipulation by shadowy villains, perhaps aiming for the type of nefarious activity that has everyone intrigued by the imminent Watch Dogs. Certainly, if Advanced Warfare can pull off a great story it could help revitalise the series. The trouble is, who these days has any faith in the various studios behind these games coming up with something fresh and new?

Advanced Warfare

One fancy trailer cannot hide the fact that at no point since Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare has the series shown any sign of breaking new ground. Modern Warfare, released in 2007, was an astounding achievement that sent death and destruction into many more homes than ever before, introducing series legends Captain John Price and Sergeant John ‘Soap’ MacTavish to critical acclaim. It was a breath of fresh air following years of World War 2-based games, but each subsequent Call of Duty is yet another pull on the same ageing cow’s dried-up teat.

Each successive campaign has been more sterile than the last, the same old good vs. evil nonsense that once seemed bold and exciting now a constant rehash of guns and grenades, like an interactive Expendables. Given it’s tricky to change the core gameplay overmuch, perhaps what the series needs is a complete change of setting. Set it in a faithfully recreated London or Berlin maybe, or entirely underwater. Set it on Mars for Christ’s sake – anything but some war-torn country where a few special forces guys have to stop a warlord doing something bad to civilians for the love of power and wealth or whatever else they’re always after. Or maybe, just for once, let the player be the bad guy.

Beyond its campaigns, Call of Duty’s longevity has always lain in its multiplayer offering, but here also there’s been little innovation beyond the introduction of unrealistic gimmickry and farcical kill-streak rewards. Servers are crammed with kids shouting and typing horrific abuse, including gleeful homophobia and racism, while leaping around corners absurdly to jam a rocket launcher up your hole and call you a ‘looser’. All the grown-ups have headed off to play Battlefields 3 and 4, which have redefined the modern warfare genre once again, with enormous maps, superb vehicles and so much realism you could hear Activision’s screams of terror when BF3 landed in 2011.

Activision find themselves at a difficult crossroads, epitomised by the success of Titanfall’s new IP. Either they use the Call of Duty name to shift copies of Advanced Warfare, but lose those people who have abandoned the franchise’s same old crap year after year, or they release it as a standalone game, bringing in new fans but risking losing their millions of COD devotees.

And its yet more COD they’ve gone with. Needless to say millions will buy Advanced Warfare, out of habit. And then Ghosts 2, and Advanced Warfare 2, and then the next very slightly different saga they plop out lamely a few years from now. Kids will continue to leap and sprint for no logically sound reason, and call each other noobs and faggots and so on. These are the future leaders of the world, you know. I can think of no better reason to put the whole sorry series out of its misery.

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