Every time we bring up (or make fun of) the Call of Duty franchise, people insist the games get a bad rap. And this is true, to some degree; the games themselves aren’t actually bad. But this year, especially, underlines that gaming is leaving Call of Duty behind.
Part of the problem is that all the games, including this year’s Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare are somewhat misclassified. In truth, the series’ single-player campaigns are less FPSes and more very slick rail shooters that takes advantage of FPS-type mechanics. And that’s certainly no bad thing, at least in the abstract. But the problem is that in the end, it’s just like playing Revolution X or Area 51 or any of a host of quarter-munching arcade games from the ’90s: There’s a profound lack of depth and even the dumbest, silliest games are leaving the series behind.
For example, I’ve played through a fair chunk of the single-player campaign, and I couldn’t tell you the difference between guns, beyond the fact that they have a different scope. The game introduces an Exosuit, an arm-mounted grappling hook, and jetpacks, offering a whole suite of fascinating ideas… and then refuses to do anything with them, especially in the level design. Most of the time, you can just run in, gun down, and move to the next checkpoint.
It’s a bit surprising just how much this game throws in so many mechanics without actually implementing them. You want collectibles? Ummm, OK, here are 45 laptops to find, somewhere. You want to level up? Er, OK, here’s a system where you can boost some basic attributes, depending entirely on how many enemies you kill in a level and how you kill them.
You’ve got tools, and you can use them if you want, but there’s no reward to do so and the game stubbornly refuses to make you try them out beyond the tutorials. It’s an annoying contrast when you look at the multiplayer maps, where you pretty much have to use these tools constantly just to get around and not die. It also has, you know, actual loot, and strategy, and stuff like that, that you can get out of literally almost any other single-player game these days.
And really, I’d be OK with it if the game told a good story. Spec Ops: The Line, for example, is a great example of a good story salvaging a fairly standard game. But bringing in Kevin Spacey just manages to underline how generic the whole enterprise is; the man is a consummate professional, and he delivers the usual terrible script with a skilled touch, but the rest of the cast can’t keep up.
Is there anything wrong with turning your brain off and pumping bullets into digital puppets for a few hours? None whatsoever. And if that’s all you want, or you just care about the multiplayer, the Call of Duty series is rock solid, and its latest entry is particularly good at delivering a fast-paced roller coaster. That said, though, it’s a little worrying when the best-selling series in modern gaming lacks the depth and complexity of a game aimed squarely at children. The series is taking an “if it sells, don’t push it” philosophy, and in truth, that may ensure it stops selling.