There’s never been a game that gets as much hate as Call of Duty. In fact, we’re hard-pushed to think of a game that’s been so vilified for so many reasons by so many. Whether it’s folks bitching about how it’s the same game re-skinned, those (rightly) angry about campers in the corner, or the fact that it’s moved so far from its roots as to be unrecognisable, there are plenty of ways to take a pot-shot at the military shooter that defined the genre. Now plenty of us are starting to think/hope/wish that the franchise is bleeding out on the ground, and – after Ghosts – this time it’s for keeps.
So is Call of Duty really dying out at an agonizingly slow pace? Or are reports of its death greatly exaggerated by a vocal minority of hate-swingers and neg-fuckers? You’d certainly think so, judging by the amount of hate the Youtube trailer for the upcoming Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare received. And that’s a bit…tantrum-atic (is a word; don’t look it up). But it also sends a clear message – that what Infinite Warfare isn’t what the fans want. That’s why Battlefield is returning to the true military shooter – you know, like how real armies faff about collecting three or so key areas on a map just by hiding in the corner and not getting shot.
The Call of Duty Sales Statistics
If you’re in any real doubt about how – if you look past the coy marketing that no longer says ‘Best selling COD game ever’, and now opts for weasel words like ‘Fastest selling’ instead – then check out this look at how the Call of Duty sales, the only thing that matters to the publishers, really stack up.
See where Advanced Warfare and Black Ops III really sit? Don’t get us wrong, we’d kill to sell a combined total of 45.6 million of anything, but compared to the series’ peak, that’s a bad miss. There’s more than one reason why they’re lingering in the middle section though – and that alone doesn’t mean it’s game over for COD.
Firstly, both of those games came after the overwhelmingly poor reception to Ghosts. We never quite got the hate for that game – besides the fact that it really was more of the same. So people felt burnt, cautious to return, even if Kevin Spacey is one of the most charming bastards we’ve ever laid eyes on; even if you can wall-run like it’s Titanfall; even if the newer games feature an actual colour palette not consisting solely of brown and grey. It was always going to be an uphill struggle, because the games’ predecessor was so reviled.
Secondly, no game has ever quite matched the sheer brilliance of what we consider the best COD – Black Ops, which refined everything the series had achieved up to that point, from maps to gameplay. The moment the studios started rehashing old maps and flogging them as part of the DLC package, alarm bells were ringing (has anyone honestly ever said, ‘I wish this game featured a remake of the Banzai map’?).
And thirdly, the heart of the matter – future wars are boring. Look, we said it. We’re sorry. For games like Mass Effect it works; that’s its whole purpose and that’s kinda why we play it, we know what we’re signing up for before we go in. But Call of Duty was never about that, and the more it tries to become a Halo-style shooter, the less relatable it becomes. The game has strayed so far from its roots that it’s begun to alienate the hardcore. And once that happens, you’re on thin fucking ice, my friend. They’ll still play it, because COD is more addictive than codeine-laced Calpol, but in fewer and fewer numbers as word of mouth gets out and they stick to their personal favourites in the series.
Oh, and the fourth reason. It’s… it’s us. All of us.
Is Call of Duty Dead (and Did We Kill It)?
Gamers are a morbid bunch. Seriously, we are. And not just because we slaughter thousands of pixelated people and call it entertainment. We constantly chat – rightly or wrongly – about whether beloved franchises are over the hill; we read articles with hyperbolic titles like ‘Is Call of Duty Really Dying Out?’. Recently Battleborn and The Division have both been ribbed by sections of the gaming community for dying out quicker than a shaky alcoholic with a gun to his head and his finger on his trigger. We’ve seen those pray for the demise of the Xbox One after Don Mattrick accidentally wrote an obituary for it on the day of its E3 reveal (don’t you hate it when that happens?).
Battlefield 4’s borked release was seen, by some, as the nail in the coffin – now it’s one of the defining military multiplayers in the FPS genre. The death knell for Destiny was chiming long after the game’s release – in some circles, that bell’s still tolling – but thanks to a dedicated team, Bungie managed to turn it around and make it the game it always should’ve been from Day One (kinda, sorta).
But gamers, we’re more than just morbid and fatalistic. We’re downright obsessive about it. We magnify every fault, praise every merit that the game has to offer. Part of this is probably down to the fact that so many others see games as a BS way for kids to waste time when they’re not stabbing up little old ladies or hanging around bus-stops drinking knock-off White Lightning. What others don’t understand is that we love this industry, and whether it’s a hobby, an esport or just a way to get some sick kicks, we take it seriously.
The Future of Call of Duty
All right, where were we? Oh yes, Call of Duty – is the series dead? Has the biggest game series in the world (even bigger than the once-omnipresent Pong) been headshot by a 12-year-old sniper on the other side of the map? Well… Let’s be fair to Activision, Treyarch and series creator Infinity Ward. They did try to listen. They realized the games were being churned, and were burning out, which is why they all operate on a three-year development cycle now, allowing more time and more care to go into each game. A sound idea on paper, but it has its faults. Namely…
Thanks to those three-year cycles, by the time Advanced Warfare had been labelled a futuristic yawn-fest and Black Ops III slated for being more of the same, Infinite Warfare was well on its way into development. Developer Infinity Ward must’ve known it had on its hands precisely the game their fans didn’t want. Ouch, etc. But that didn’t stop them going full-throttle with the future angle – at best, a bullish move and at worst arrogant.
But they must’ve known how it’d go down. As if to drive the point home, they went and quietly changed the front cover of Infinite Warfare from super-spacey to…not-so-super-spacey.
…Yep. Just your everyday military shooter.
Sure, all trends are cyclical – we bounced from gritty to goofy and back again – and we’ll almost certainly swing back to the future after a few years’ jaunt in the past or present, but while double-jump jetpacks are dandy, it took the failure of Ghosts to consider tweaking COD’s core gameplay.
That’s a major issue, and one Activision and its babies should take into account. Call of Duty’s biggest problem is that it finds something that works – and then proceeds to kick the ass out of it. Standard military shooters worked well for them, until they didn’t. Futuristic shooters worked well for them, until they didn’t. And at no point before sales drop and the backlash starts, does someone, anyone, say, ‘How about we try a new direction? Why not get creative?’
Call of Duty isn’t going anywhere any time soon. It’s like the Mario of the modern age – even your mother has heard of it. It’s the one of the few games that you can count on casual gamers buying for Christmas, in the same way FIFA is bought largely by those who play little else. More than that, though, the gameplay overall is always well-presented, with its generally fluid action and simple, intuitive, even mindless arcade-like controls.
It’s become shorthand for the video games industry as a whole, and there’s just way too much money in it for the companies involved, even if it sells a pitiful 22 million units. So even if the series is dying, it’ll be a prolonged death – one that’s played out on every gaming website ever like watching the same kill-cam over and over and over and over again (with optional DLC, probably).
Ultimately, there are two defining factors we’ll need to watch out for to see if Call of Duty is on its last, battle-weary legs: The reception of Battlefield 1, and the Call of Duty game that follows Infinite Warfare.
This time next year is where we’ll all have a clear idea about where the series is headed, and we’ll either be gearing up our annual doom-mongering all over again, or jumping on the hype-train for the best game in the series so far – if anyone’s still playing it by then.