Never has there been a more ironic title. A game that we all should know is coming but one that is covered in ” Black Ink” and has everyone in the industry second guessing each other; Indeed this is very much a ” Black Op”.
Putting aside all the speculations and confirmations about possible release dates and platforms I think its safe to say that we will indeed see a Call of Duty game hit store shelves this November ( that much has been confirmed) and lets assume for the moment its going to be a Black Ops installment. What does Activision need to bring to the table to keep gamers around the world satisfied and can they even attempt to outdo themselves yet again when it comes to sales?
Before we get started let me say this. The Call of Duty franchise is in a terrible place. Once a franchise reaches the pinnacle of its success there is only so much time left before it falls from grace. The current state of the game has cultivated a community of players that expect a certain type of gameplay and certain type of mechanics . As with any game that has a rabid fan following any deviations from the status quo risks losing that core audience because as we all know; human beings do not like change.On the other hand there is a growing voice in the industry that is demanding change. In fact Modern Warfare 3 illuminated to the world what exactly happens every year when the rush out a new game with a 9-10 month development cycle…you get the same game with a new cover on the box.
Call of Duty is now faced with a tough decision of whether they innovate and alter some key ingredient in their money-making cake or if they just release the same cake as last year with a different color icing.
“Dammed if they do Dammed if they don’t.”
Lets look at some of the things that they need to do in order to save this game from plummeting to the depths of creative purgatory.
New Graphic Engine: Okay we get it; 60fps is cool and its your flagship graphical feature but I’m sorry Activision I have played better looking games running at 30fps and I didn’t stop and go ” wait a minute…this isnt 60fps”. The current Modern Warfare title that has recently become the best-selling video game of all time looks terrible! The graphics are muddy and animations are scripted ( canned death animations as opposed to rag doll physics) and assets are being recycled from previous Call of Duty games.
The guns look nice and that is a big thing because you spend most of the game staring down the sites of it but the environments that you are playing in are flat and may as well be cardboard cutouts ( bullet proof cut outs mind you) that are simply there to block line of sight and provide miniscule cover for you and your enemies. If there was one thing that would attract naysayers back to the franchise it would be to show them that you have invested some of the money you have gotten from them back into the product you are selling.
My thought here is that they actually cannot do it with the limited development time they have and the reason we get the same looking game every year is because they are not willing to take a break and develop a new game engine.
A story worth fighting for: The earliest beginnings of this franchise built its reputation on the story telling aspect of the game. The ability to throw you into a soldiers boots and make you feel immersed in the war and battles ahead. As sequels began to appear the story aspect started to strain and its a popular opinion that Call of Duties high note as far as campaign was Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Over the top set pieces and massive amounts of bullet spraying became the new default script for Call of Duty and every game since that title has given it to us in bucket loads!
Gamers are yearning for a strong narrative again and while we are going to spend most of our time playing the multi player component of the game Activision needs to realize that a campaign that amounts to corridors of shooting book ended by cut scenes with known hollywood actors is not going to cut it when it comes to story telling.
Black Ops needs an identity: Since Treyarch moved their Call of Duty development into the modern era they have sort of been living in Modern Warfare’s shadow. We know that the game doesn’t take place in a completely modern era because that’s the responsibility of Infinity Wards franchise; yet here we have a shooter that uses similar guns and modern-day environments. Black Ops is at risk of being the little baby brother to Modern Warfare. A sequel has an opportunity to go down its own path and setting a new standard as far as modern or near modern ( Who am I kidding…its all freaking Modern now!). The possibility exists that Modern Warfare 3 was the last time we see that franchise show up on a Call of Duty title ( Come on; the game’s premise was based on a global war that culminated with large-scale invasion of major cities…where do you go from there?) and if that’s the case Black Ops 2 can slide in and take over the job of letting us play in a contemporary setting.
Multiplayer that isn’t flawed: Yes you heard me say it…flawed (Def.1. An imperfection, often concealed, that impairs soundness).
As fun as Call of duty multiplayer is in its current form it has become a joke in the industry; sadly a joke that no one is getting. The current state of multi player in Call of duty is split between a very large group who play it casually with no real concern about how the game can improve itself or correct issues that ultimately rear its head after launch and the minority who actually care about the games systems and mechanics. Activision is catering to the majority of course and that is the casual player. Because of that we are now dealing with a game that rewards players with the ability to decimate an entire team via ” one hit death” in the form of killstreaks. Balance breaking Skills called ” PRO Perks” and weapon profficiencies that alter the reality of how guns work in the confines of a normal shooter.
The game does not require any skill of this genre and when a 6 year old kid can pick up a virtual gun and go on a shooting rampage and kill 20 other players ( the fact that a parent lets a 6 year old play Call of Duty is a whole different can of worms ) means that the game has become so watered down that gamer ability has taken a back seat to addicting a new generation of gamers via positive reinforcement ( the game rewards you for everything you do in-game).
The flawed aspect comes in the form of players who seek out exploits and game bugs that affect the experience for others in a negative way. Call of Duty has done a genius thing by creating a ranking system that will eventually reward you with the ” Prestige’ of being a dedicated and determined player. The only problem is that no one plays fair and everyone wants to achieve it no matter the cost. When a ranking system has been corrupted by hackers and cheaters the very foundation of the rank is shattered. Imagine if you just bought a brand new super expensive sports car that no one could afford. Then you pulled out of your garage one day and everyone on your block had one sitting in their driveway…your not so special anymore are you? ” Prestiging” is the new playground bragging right and every kid in school pounds his chest when he hits it ( most of the time the pounding increases every time the hit the next prestige level)
The next Black Ops needs to follow the ” less is more” mantra. Give us a game that has all the basics and the layer on some minor tweaks to flesh out its tactics. Do not water it down with so many guns and perks and killstreaks that we literally just have to walk out of spawn and hit a button that launches a swarm of drones and missiles that automatically seek out our opponents and kill them every time they spawn into the game ( the PRO version of that is the ability to kill your opponent while he is waiting to respawn into the game)
This is a tall list of things to tackle in a short amount of time and if history is an example we will probably get another title using the same game engine and even more variety of options than ever before. One cant help but wonder why a game developer would sit and look at a technical marvel like Battlefield 3 or Gears of War 3 ( whether you like the games or not they have achieved the pinnacle of what a triple A title should look like) and not feel a little inadequate with a game that looks like the one they just made . Let’s hope that this feeling galvanise Treyarch into creating an amazingly beautiful and incredibly tuned game in the form of a sequel; whatever the name of it is. If it doesnt it will have plenty of competition that is ready to scoop up some new players for its community.