In light of the recent astounding revelation that Activision subsidiary Treyarch are well on their way to finalising the code for the yet another Call of Duty game, I felt the need to give my two cents on the evolution (or lack thereof) of this industry stalwart.
In recent years (particularly post- Modern Warfare 2) the Call of Duty franchise has been subject to many a vitriolic diatribe, with a primary focus on the apparent dearth of innovation displayed by each new sequel. I’ve largely ignored this vociferous contingent on the basis that I believed the series was tactfully adhering to the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ idiom; it is only recently that I have come to the realisation that subtle augmentations are no longer sufficient to satisfy a jaded minority.
Don’t get me wrong, Treyarch and Infinity Ward still do a stellar job of producing highly polished, comprehensive packages in a relatively meager gestation period (effectively 2 years as the studios alternate); it just seems as if the creative edge that once existed has dissipated over time.
The winning formula that was unearthed in the 4th iteration (disregarding the many spin-offs) and established the series as a pop-culture phenomenon has largely remained unadulterated. Sure, there have been various tweaks to the blueprint (most notably the recent addition of point streak packages), but on the main these have served to embellish rather than stimulate evolution.
The core backbone of the game needn’t be disassembled, but it would benefit greatly from an influx of fresh ideas to a reinvigorate a tired concept. In the same way that Halo 3 stayed faithful to its predecessor whilst introducing ingenious layers of user-interaction and design (forge, theatre mode, and custom games), the latest Call of Duty game has the potential to drive the medium forward whilst maintaining a close affinity to its series ‘ defining features.
This brings me neatly onto the discussion of possible improvements. One of the best features of Halo 3 was the extensive customisation options, with Forge Mode being chief among them. Providing gamers with the tools to sculpt their own landscapes was nothing revolutionary, but the implementation was so deftly handled that it provided an inexhaustible well of unique levels and game-types to trawl through. A similar addition to Treyarch’s project would be an obvious enhancement; it would also provide depth to the flagging split-screen options by introducing a platform for creativity that is sorely missing.
Secondly, I think the level design needs a real shake-up. One of the biggest flaws with Modern Warfare 3 was that in trying to shy away from sniper-centric, bottle-necked choke points of Modern Warfare 2, Infinity Ward overcompensated, and created a large majority of maps with no clear polarity and a convoluted maze structure – which lends itself to undesirable spawning to say the least. A return to the free-flowing maps of Call of Duty 4, with added verticality and functionality (maps with adaptable terrain or environmental conditions) would better this area of design.
Lastly, and most importantly, there needs to be clear focus on the encouragement of teamwork or squad-based play, to negate the inane absence of cooperation in the objective game-types. The inclusion of features such as team perks or a squad-based experience/reward system would go some way in promoting more cohesive, proactive strategies – an element that has largely disappeared (on the Xbox 360 at least) since the inclusion of party chat.
All this is dependent on whether either studio is willing to take a measured gamble; I’m just not too sure if the shackles of profit will temper the expression of artistic license, and we’ll be presented with another glorified map-pack come the turn of the month.