My problem with Modern Warfare 3
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 released today to what will likely be an ungodly amount of sales. There’s a lot of hate riding in this writer’s mind about the franchise, and maybe some of you out there won’t understand it. Why hate on a video game series, one that is so popular and obviously has struggled to reach the lofty heights that it now sits on? Hit the jump for my explaination (rant).
Well to be honest, Call of Duty used to be my premiere game series. At one time I could point at it as everything that was right about video games. It was a series that was unafraid to put the gameplay first and back it up with huge production values, even when the series was in it infancy (see Call of Duty’s Stalingrad mission below). Multiplayer was always a deep focus of the series and not only did it feel balanced, but also very satisfying. Kills in this game struck the right balance between their ease and their skill.
For me the high point was Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Its crazy these days to think that this game was at the time a huge gamble for Infinity Ward’s venerable World War 2 franchise. Activision never wanted to do it and thought that the real money would stay in WW2 games. Somehow they allowed Infinity Ward to push through with their vision and the result was setting a new bar for all games of the genre. World War 2 games were done, modern combat was where it was at. Competitive multiplayer was no longer an afterthought, but main feature. Most striking was how every multiplayer game after CoD4 began using experience and unlockable weapons, a trend that continues to this day.
I don’t remember a ton of advertising for it, or really remember a lot of us talking about it up to its release, but when Modern Warfare 2 rolled up and the midnight release lines were stacked we all sort of looked around and realized how big this game really was. From its humble Quake 3 engine origins it has turned into a colossal giant of gaming, one that I cherished greatly and played countless nights of.
It all took a turn for the worse months later. First of all things didn’t quite feel right. The game had been out for some time without word of a map pack and the fixes to the game’s many glitches were very far between. It all fell into place when we heard of Activision’s decision to fire co-founders Jason West and Vince Zampella. Activision did not appreciate the creative integrity that West and Zampella wanted to maintain for the franchise. For Activision the ground had been well constructed and it was time to begin milking this cash cow for all it was worth. With these two much of the creative force left Inifinity Ward, leaving it a shallow husk of its former self.
Suddenly Call of Duty didn’t stand for innovative and riveting game design. It did a complete 180 and stood for everything that I find wrong with video games: Finding a formula that works for the public and pushing out as many games as humanly possible with little to no improvement between iterations. Its a sad tragedy, but one I have a hard time shaking from my perception whenever I see the franchise these days. Last year’s Black Ops showed me that without the creative direction of Infinity Ward the game no longer had the satisfying feel it once had in its heyday.
However, I’ve always considered myself a fair individual. Just because one developer is out of the picture doesn’t mean there can’t be another to pick up the ball. I’ve been impressed with Treyarch’s tenacity and their willingness to keep moving forward, but their games have always played second fiddle to the greatness that IW used to bring to the table. This latest chapter in the CoD franchise pulls in three teams – Raven Software (an industry veteran with a mixed track record), newly-formed Sledgehammer Games (founded by some of the guys of Visceral Games, aka the guys who made Dead Space), and a revived Infinity Ward. I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt to these people, after all they are artisans of the medium just as the original IW was, but this time I’ve decided to wait it out. If the critical reaction is still high, as pretty much all of the past games have been, I will look into a purchase, but I look out with deep skepticism.