Stall of Duty

I still remember the first time I was introduced to Call of Duty. I was round my friends house and he was playing it on his PC. Straight away, I could tell it was a game that had raised the bar. Prior to this, the go to WWII shooter had been Medal of Honour – a fine game – but Call of Duty simply blew it away. There was just so much more happening in Call of Duty. From bursts of triple A lighting up the sky as allied aircraft flew over, to fighting along side squad mates; Call of Duty felt more like a war was going on, like you were a small part of a bigger picture. Medal of Honour on the other hand still had the lone wolf hero feel about it, and also a sense of the ageing corridor shooter.

Call of Duty, raiser of bars

Call of Duty, raiser of bars

Since that first game I, like many, had become a massive Call of Duty fan. The series for me just went from strength to strength. In hindsight, COD4 was probably the pinnacle, but it took a while to realise the COD tidal wave was starting to lose it’s energy. I first became aware of this dissipation when the series stopped becoming a day one purchase for me. Now it seems, the wave has even finally begun to recede altogether. Not only do I not yet own the latest entry in the series, it’s barely even on my radar: a game that I used to count down the days for!

So where did it all go wrong and what, if anything, can be done to re-light my COD fire? The biggest issue here is that old cliché; it’s not you, it’s me. I don’t think COD suddenly became boring. They’ve not broken the mechanics. They aren’t releasing poor games. I’ve simply burnt out on the series. That’s not to say there aren’t areas where I think they could make meaningful improvements though.

It seems to me that with each new iteration, the COD philosophy for keeping things interesting is what I’d call the “add more balls” principle. Piling on the explosions and enemies, making it a frantic shooting gallery from start to finish. I’ve played levels where the main obstacle to overcome was waiting out that irritating 2 second reload animation. It was really getting in the way of my non-stop killing. Part of this is down to the modern weaponry now on offer. Pumping out rounds from your ARX-160, with it’s extended mag and recoil compensator, as you look down the thermal hybrid scope is a far cry from the 8 round, semi-automatic M1 Garand of WWII. I think the other part of it is, this is the only way they feel they can make new iterations stand out from the last. Bigger is better.

COD4 moved the series forward in more ways than time period

COD4 moved the series forward in more ways than time period

My suggestion would be to slow it all down again. To keep it real. Scrap the futuristic drone wars and super soldiers and replace it with one of the real world conflicts. My choice would probably be Vietnam. At one point there was a flurry of Nam games released, but none really did that conflict justice. COD would be that game. There are many great films that could be used as inspiration; Full Metal Jacket, We were soldiers, Platoon, Hamburger Hill, Apocalypse now – even Forest Gump!

As for slowing it down, I’d suggest that the non-stop shooting be dialled back. Make the encounters less frequent, add weight to each round fired and build the suspense. I think this would work well in a Vietnam setting, as you “search and destroy” through the dense undergrowth, with unseen, yet omnipresent dangers all around you. I also think you could use the slower pace to build the story, and by story I don’t mean some fantastical tale of betrayal or global conspiracy, I mean a story that really matters; the soldiers story. Try and capture a little bit of what it was like on the ground there; the fear, desperation and madness that is often spoken about in literature. The senselessness of it all.

My other suggestion would be to, in simple terms, play as the baddies. We like to boil these things down to black and white; the brave heroes fighting off the evil enemy. Conflict is never that simple however and in video game terms, I think it could be a deep experience to play it from the other side. Take on the role of the Nazi soldier, the Taliban terrorist, the perceived baddie and blur those lines. See their story, explain their motivations and flip the norm on its head. I can’t see that happening though – in fact I believe a recent Medal of Honor was forced by external pressures to even remove the Taliban as a playable side in multi-player. I understand that it’s probably not the most desirable or marketable approach to take, but I think it would make for an interesting game.

Is playing as histories enemy a gaming "no mans land"?

Is playing as histories enemy a gaming “no mans land”?

Alas, the sad truth is there are games like COD that I think are doomed to just become dead to me. They are trapped being a victim of their own success. The only way to make them interesting again is to fundamentally change them, and to fundamentally change them is to risk changing why people like them. The same is true with many other great games, Mario Kart for example. If you’ve played Mario Kart 8, you’ll be aware of how good it is, but ultimately, it’s just another Mario Kart game. Maybe the answer lies in the time between sequels. I may have played a shit ton of Rainbow six in the past, but as it approachers 8 years since the last game, I am more than eager to grab a silenced MP5, a handful of flash-bangs and repel down the side of a building. Yippee ki yay mother fucker.

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  1. I think you nailed it. COD has hit on an excellent formula but it’s one that needs to constantly outdo itself every year. I liked Black Ops and thought the setting was great but it whisked you from one set piece to the other so much that I just lost the thread.

    More Rainbow Six? Yes, please.

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