Treyarch vs Infinity Ward: End of a Generation

I swore to myself that I wouldn’t even touch Call of Duty Black Ops II when it came out later this year – I think I already have enough Call of Duty. Leave it to Treyarch though to actually switch things up just enough to get me at least interested enough to take a look at the latest game. To me this is starting to encourage another look at the differences between them and Infinity Ward.

From the Gamescom reveal of Black Ops II’s multiplayer, it seems like Treyarch is trying to institute the biggest changes to COD’s multiplayer since the first Modern Warfare introduced the whole unlock system. This piles on top of some stark differences between what Treyarch did for the first Black Ops and what IW has held steadfast to for Modern Warfare.

For a long time Treyarch was seen as “Team B” because they played catch-up with IW, but they’re very much creating their own analog of the franchise now. With Black Ops it became clear that they were willing to try things and even accommodate fans in ways IW wasn’t.

Black Ops was the first Call of Duty to have splitscreen-online, the first entry to include video and replay modes, and still the only COD game with bots. Treyarch has also been willing to maintain ranked dedicated servers as well as 360 controller support in their PC ports, both of which IW has insisted on omitting.

Now we’ve got Treyarch making an honest attempt to accommodate eSports with Black Ops II. Never mind how they’re introducing live streaming, I think one of the most important parts about this development is league divisions. I’ve always felt like one of the biggest problems with online gaming is how all skill levels are thrown into the same pool, and divisions feels like an honest attempt to let newcomers just play with newcomers. I also like how they’re also trying to de-emphasize kills and play up objectives in scoring points in multiplayer. I’m still not entirely ready to call Treyarch’s games definitively better than IW’s though, for a small number of core reasons.

For starters I’m one of the few people who still spend a lot of time on COD’s singleplayer campaigns, and IW’s are still better. Treyarch was willing to tell a different kind of story with Black Ops but I personally think it turned away from the franchise’s original narrative strengths (MW3 kinda did too). They’re willing to try some new narrative mechanics with Black Ops II, but that doesn’t really attack my core problem with the first game.

Narrative-wise COD is at its best when it’s telling stories of ordinary (I use that term loosely) soldiers just trying to survive a war. That’s what the WWII games were all about. Since moving away from that and creating their own scenarios though both Treyarch and IW have made COD about Gi-Joe guys saving the world from clearly-defined villains, which feels less plausible and less relatable. The best parts about the first two Modern Warfare games were the Marines and Army Rangers levels about grunts simply trying to fight the war and live to tell about it. Black Ops pretty much completely discarded that element.

The other area in which Treyarch still needs to catch up with IW in my opinion is level design. The level layouts of the Modern Warfare games somehow just make much more interesting than in Treyarch’s games. In MW I’m always thinking about where I am and I almost always feel like something new is going on. World at War and Black Ops too often allowed me to realize I was just shooting guys with guns. I couldn’t bring myself to play through Black Ops more than once, but I’ve played MW3’s campaign multiple times.

Oh, and there is also the matter of ports. IW has been hailed as one of the best studios in terms of making Modern Warfare run well across all three main platforms. The first Modern Warfare was pointed out as one of the first truly “equal” PS3 ports in a time when they were almost always clearly inferior to their 360 counterparts. The PC versions of the Modern Warfare games all run smooth as butter even on low-end gaming PCs. Black Ops on the other hand was criticized for its PS3 port and was inexplicably sluggish even on recent PC graphics cards. A good sign for the PC version of Black Ops II is that it will support DirectX 11 which means Treyarch is devoting some extra attention to it, but we don’t know any other details than that.

On the subject of platforms it should be noted that this is looking like the last current generation Call of Duty, or at least the last one before the next Xbox launches. IW jobs listings already indicate a next generation version of the next COD – the tenth mainline game in the series. It’ll be interesting to see how IW brings the franchise into its first real generational leap.


  • So people are actually praising the storyline in Sleeping Dogs. If I had more time I’d definitely at least give it a rental, if not a Steam sale purchase later this year. Would anyone whose played it compare the game to Infernal Affairs?
  • They actually found an interesting way to put multiplayer into Hitman:
  • Team Fortress 2 horde mode – just the thing to possibly tear me away from Gears 3: I know people don’t like trends making their way from game to game, but I haven’t seen a game yet that DIDN’T benefit from horde.
  • Some more custom box arts for Darksiders, Darksiders II, and Zelda Skyward Sword:
  • So, basically, Amnesia the Dark Descent in space:
  • One kickstarter that already has impressive gameplay footage:
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