The Call of Duty franchise has dominated game sales since 2007 with the release of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, a game that dramatically raised the bar for first person shooters and set a precedent for gameplay and multiplayer systems that still exists today. With the recent release of the trailer for Call of Duty: Ghosts, we have to wonder if the series is finally ready to stray from its comfort zone, and if this is even the correct decision.
Five years on however and the games have started to stagnate a bit in the eyes of fans, not that sales would be any indicator. The most recent instalment in the franchise, Call of Duty: Black Ops II, sold over 7.5 million copies on its opening day – a staggering figure by all accounts. However many players have started to notice and complain about the formulaic nature of the series now. Infinity Ward and Treyarch capitalized on the success and positive response to Call of Duty 4’s deep multiplayer system with its levelling and perks system, and have continued to follow it almost to a tee with each instalment. The system has now become the standard for multiplayer modes across all action games and its success is a large part of the reason that games that typically wouldn’t have a multiplayer mode, such as Spec Ops: The Line, had one shoe-horned in – A solid multiplayer mode sells copies.
In a sense Call of Duty 4 did it almost too well, because if you look at multiplayer in Black Ops II, a game released a full five years later, you’d struggle to find many differences. Sure, the perks and weapons are different and they’ve made tweaks to how many you can have and how the system is constructed, but the framework is identical and has been for every Call of Duty game since. Incremental changes like the removal of the Stopping Power and Juggernaut perks, or the addition of zombies and customizable kill streak bonuses have been enough to sate the fans up to this point but how long before the series goes past the point of diminishing returns?
This is where the new trailer comes in. It’s important to note that this live-action teaser offers little to know knowledge about the game but does seem to imply a focal shift towards a story as opposed to a multiplayer game that “also has a campaign mode if you’re into that sort of thing.” The teaser talks about the idea of a “mask” and what it means to wear one, all the while building up to the reveal of an all too familiar piece of facial gear – Ghost’s mask. As a word of warning, spoilers lie ahead for those of you that never played Modern Warfare 2, though if you haven’t completed the campaign by now it’s likely that you don’t care.
For those of you who don’t know, Ghost was a member of the team in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and in Modern Warfare 2, until he reached an untimely end in the game’s climax. Ghost was largely characterless, as were many of the NPCs in Modern Warfare, but he seemed to resonate with players for some reason. Perhaps his masked face and anonymity allowed players to project themselves onto him, or maybe people just thought his accent was cool. Whatever the case may be, many Call of Duty players have a special place in their hearts for Ghost and as such are very excited at the prospect that Call of Duty: Ghosts is a prequel detailing his past before the games.
The nature of the title however, being plural, seems to indicate that Ghost is part of some sort of squad , perhaps having to do with his past experience in the military before the events of Call of Duty 4. We know that Ghost joined the army following the September 11th attacks and served for two years, but almost nothing is known about his time there – a handy chunk of plot for the next game to fill in perhaps. A shift towards a character-driven single player game would be exactly the refreshing boost that the franchise needs, but seems awfully unlikely. If their multiplayer mode is selling them 7.5 million copies on day one, why should they change? They have absolutely no reason to and we can’t blame them.
People often have this sort of mentality – that a company is forced to tailor a product specifically towards their needs and that doing otherwise is foolish. Sure, I would love to have a Call of Duty game based on a specific character with a proper story arc, a dramatic question and suitable three act structure, but literally millions of other people don’t want that. They want a game that they can play online with their buddies that has marginal improvements, or rather marginal differences, to the last one so that there is some semblance of freshness. Who’s to say that they’re wrong? They’re opinion, and more importantly their money, is just as valid as mine. A company doesn’t care if its dollars come from reviewers or from morons; they’re still dollars at the end of the day, and indeed they shouldn’t care. We as a consumer base set unrealistic expectations in that we think that game companies should strive to make the best game possible. Perhaps they should, but many will strive to make the game that sells the best. So if another samey Call of Duty comes out at the end of this year, will I be disappointed? Of course. Will I blame Activision? No way.