In a previous Gamer Monday article defending sports games, our pal David Wales asked a very pertinent question: “Is there any genre of game out there that gets more shit thrown its way than sports video games?” Probably not, but there’s certainly one franchise that draws more ire than the rest, and that’s Call of Duty.
A behemoth property like Call of Duty — which sets sales records on an annual basis — doesn’t need a whole lot of defending. Those who spend time online telling everyone else how much better they are for not liking the series are very clearly in a very vocal minority, and the franchise endures in spite of them.
There’s certainly no accounting for taste, and it’s perfectly fine if something doesn’t click for you the way it does for everyone else. But if people want to break down into different reasons for disliking it, can they at least — for the sake of all that is good on this wayward planet — come up with reasoning beyond that of a jealous suitor that wishes more people looked at their favorite series instead?
I mean, I get it. How great would it be if games that take greater creative risks could generate the same commercial success as Activision’s perennial powerhouse, or if more games could command the same kind of development and marketing budgets? It truly is a shame that this isn’t the case, but none of that invalidates Call of Duty’s success.
Call of Duty has become a safe bet for Activision, that much is certain, but that didn’t happen without enormous risks being taken along the way. The first game released in an increasingly crowded World War II landscape and managed to set itself apart. The series was turned on its head with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, both in setting and in how it handled multiplayer, and Black Ops II made interesting choices in how it handled its campaign.
The series has also garnered criticism for its long-running use of the same engine, while EA and DICE constantly make new tech for games like Battlefield. It’s great that EA goes that route for its game, but Activision hasn’t had need to — its tech is simply more reliable without constantly pouring money into building new engines. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, and most Call of Duty players are happy to buy into it every year.
And look, everyone knows that the campaigns are short Michael Bay-type experiences. Truly. But that’s fine, too, because they’re hardly the same thing every year. Between all of the different Call of Duty titles, several wildly different time periods are represented. I mean, come on, Kevin Spacey is the villain in this year’s game taking place in a much more distant future than ever — do you really want to live in a world where this isn’t a thing?
I tend to favor Call of Duty’s campaigns to putting dozens of hours into its multiplayer, and I’ve yet to feel that my money was ill-spent. Why? Because these games hold ridiculous resale value, so even if I don’t stick around to play online my investment is minimal. If the net cost to play a highly-polished single-player roller coaster is $20-30, and I spend some time afterwards dicking around in the multiplayer, that’s fine by me.
So no, Call of Duty isn’t always a bastion for creative game design, and it certainly doesn’t matter what anyone online writes about it either way. But if you’re going to puff up your chest to tell the internet that Call of Duty is the same game every year, maybe you should save your breath and just play what you like instead.