The announcement of Call of Duty: Black Ops III has me thinking about how or when I would ever get back into the series. It probably seems somewhat common today or even trendy to shun something as popular and bombastic as COD, but to tell you the truth I feel like there’s still some good game design to be found in it. Treyarch’s return after three years resurrects a dilemma I’ve seen with the series. People like the studio now, but I’m still the most skeptical about its COD games in particular.
The core game design behind COD seems to be one its aspects that is discussed in the least fine detail which I find ironic because those fine elements are a big part of what made it popular in the first place. Okay, maybe it was mostly the experience-based multiplayer forming a unique carrot-on-a-stick system, but let’s accept that most of the COD games play quite well compared to most shooters.
I feel like a lot of the good will towards the series has shifted to Treyarch of the three existing teams. Part of it is definitely because much of the Infinity Ward staff that started COD left after Modern Warfare 2. Part of it however is how differently Treyarch has approached its games, and we’re already seeing it in Black Ops III’s advertised features.
In general, Treyarch just seems more willing to experiment with COD. It was willing to make Black Ops the first COD game with modes like bots while completely retooling its own version of the multiplayer progression system. Treyarch’s Zombies mode has become an attraction all its own. In Black Ops II it retooled the multiplayer even further, being more willing to break away from the mold IW had set. Black Ops III is taking things further with a Titanfall-style movement system, a customizable protagonist, and other things. Treyarch just seems more in-tune with what the players want from an up-front standpoint.
In practice however, that studio’s games are probably my least favorite COD titles. I guess what it comes down to is their core design isn’t quite as exciting for me. Treyach knows what it wants to do to satisfy players, but I haven’t been convinced it has the same talent to do so that Infinity Ward had.
My last COD game was Modern Warfare 3, and it actually has my favorite campaign in the series since that of Call of Duty 4. The reasons are simple: it has great controls and great level design. Level design is the crucial difference people miss between IW’s games and pretty much every shooter that tries to copy the COD mold. All three Modern Warfare games know how to script events to make them interesting while still keeping things interactive enough.
Kotaku has an excellent analysis of the famous “All Ghillied Up” mission that reveals it to be more cleverly designed and even open-ended than most people realize. Most people think that mission is almost an interactive cut scene, and many shooters designed afterwards feel like that, but COD4 is in fact surprisingly accommodating to the player’s actions. You know that part where you have to stealthily crawl past a marching platoon of soldiers and under some tanks? It’s possible to fight that whole group up-front and even destroy those tanks.
Just check out the story of the guy who designed the level. That’s the kind of talent I feel shone through in IW’s games. Another example is how instead of just dropping bots into MW3, IW created a survival mode that serves the same purpose while working as a game type all its own. Spec Ops Survival became my favorite part of MW3 after the campaign, which I completed several times. I know most of the original IW didn’t work on MW3, but I still felt like MW3 had that same spark. One section which stood out for me was the submarine segment of the first mission where you switch from wide city streets to having to navigate a maze of claustrophobic hallways.
I haven’t played Black Ops in a while, but its level design just didn’t feel as inspired the last time I tried. The gimmicks it tried to pull with the story were unusual for a COD game, but the actual maps themselves simply don’t feel as interesting. The best way I can describe it is by saying they allowed me to realize I was just running around shooting guys with guns. The MW games always had something new going on in the environment, or at least interesting enough new layouts, to keep things relatively fresh. This difference is why I skipped Black Ops II.
I guess I just didn’t have the money to spare during holiday season when Ghosts and Advanced Warfare came along. If I ever get back into the series though it’ll probably be to try out the campaigns of those games. If MW3 is any indication, Sledgehammer and what’s left of IW still employ talented game designers. I actually don’t know a lot about how Ghosts turned out but I heard AW’s campaign does some interesting things. I just need to wait until there are good enough deals on the physical PC versions of each game (each one is like a 40GB download). I’l probably be skipping Black Ops III this year unless I hear some really surprising stuff from the people I tend to agree with on COD. Treyarch means well and is genuinely trying to do good things for the series. It’s just the studio’s execution hasn’t won me over yet.
Multiplayer? I’m done with PvP COD. I might mess with Extinction and Exo Survival though.
- New Underworld Ascendant update. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/othersidegames/underworld-ascendant/posts/1217866
- Sky Rogue Alpha 24 is out. http://nihilocrat.tumblr.com/post/117873800318/skyroguegame-alpha-24-hammerhead-released-get
- If this new NASA engine turns out to be the real deal, it could be big. Like, really big, for space travel. http://io9.com/new-test-suggests-nasas-impossible-em-drive-will-work-1701188933
- RPS reviewed Environmental Station Alpha. http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2015/05/01/environmental-station-alpha-review/
- Good article on advice for a mid-range PC graphics card. http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2015/04/30/which-250-graphics-card/
- New Time Magazine cover. http://time.com/3841077/baltimore-protests-riot-freddie-gray-devin-allen/
- Take a look at Konami’s moves in the game industry over the last five years. http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2015-04-30-what-is-happening-at-konami
- Hmm… http://www.usgamer.net/articles/why-do-we-love-fighting-the-power-in-fantasy
- What original DS games look like in high resolution. http://kotaku.com/what-nintendo-ds-games-look-like-in-high-res-1701086917