I’ll admit it: I’ve enjoyed what I’ve played of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 so far. Okay, I’ve only played the multiplayer but shut up, I’ve still enjoyed it. When I played it at the Eurogamer Expo, I came away disappointed; my favourite guns felt like they had been drastically downgraded in terms of stopping power, and the gunplay in general felt so rehashed that trying to find any enjoyable aspect of it was truly a struggle. It didn’t help that Modern Warfare 3‘s staleness had left a bad aftertaste as well. I wasn’t that interested in getting Black Ops 2 before Eurogamer; it had become a certainty by the time I left.
However, the truth is, two whole multiplayer matches wasn’t enough of a basis upon which to judge my enjoyment of the game. To cut a long story short, I was persuaded to get Black Ops 2 because of the promise of “awesome bants” that I’d miss out on if I didn’t get it, and it helped that the reviews were pretty positive as well. Later on having spent a much longer amount of time with it was when I was properly reminded of just how much I loved it – due in no small part to the ‘Pick 10’ class system. The enjoyment of being able to create a custom class from any combination of ten equipment items, perks and wildcards really took me by surprise and offered enough gameplay malleability to get me hooked again. I think I might have spent as much time tinkering with classes as I have using them, such is the enjoyment the ‘Pick 10’ system brings.
Regardless of that though, I can’t shake the feeling that the series is starting to show its age – the wrinkles first appeared in Modern Warfare 3‘s turgid campaign. Only in two points in the game did I actually care about what was happening on my screen, and one of them also happens in Team America: World Police. The fact that such a comparison can even be drawn smacks of irony, and drinks the set-piece in question dry of its emotional weight. The multiplayer was a little bit of a mess as well: gameplay could be hectic to the point of frustration with over-the-top pointstreaks being called in every ten seconds, and very little in the way of gameplay structure had changed since Modern Warfare 2. Its only redeeming feature was the AA12 automatic shotgun because everybody hated it (except me!).
Joking aside, the Call of Duty franchise is in need of a substantial overhaul. It’s a feeling that’s starting to spread, albeit quite glacially – even Laura, a diehard Call of Duty fan, recently scoffed at the idea of a Modern Warfare 4. The problem isn’t that Infinity Ward and Treyarch have become devoid of any creative ability, it’s that they’ve really become victims of their own success: if they make a Call of Duty that’s too unlike what people expect from Call of Duty, it won’t sell. Or at the very least, it might not sell, and that’s enough to stop them from taking any sizeable creative risk. I don’t judge either developer for doing so, but they’ve certainly backed themselves into a corner. I wouldn’t say that all is lost for them though, because one only need look to Angry Birds for a solution.
As you may well know, somewhere down the long line of Angry Birds games someone thought it would be a good idea to start making spin-offs and tie-ins – thus Angry Birds Rio, Green Day meets Angry Birds and Angry Birds Star Wars were born. While the actual resultant output is rather hit and miss, it’s the idea that I wanted to draw your attention to; it’s this idea that I think could save Call of Duty. What if they started making Call of Duty spin-offs?
Think about it. Take a Call of Duty game and set it in something like the Star Wars universe and, not only would the name alone probably be enough to have it flying off the shelves, it would provide the developer with an environment in which they could get a bit more creative. In addition, it would be a game that is familiar to fans of Call of Duty and Star Wars, and doubly familiar to fans of both – that’s quite a strong fanbase to tap into. I’m not suggesting a crossover tactic should be reserved for Star Wars titles, but it’s certainly a good starting point.
There’s a tremendous amount of scope for Call of Duty spin-offs. That probably doesn’t include such things as a Green Day spin-off, but there are still plenty of other intellectual properties to turn to. Pretty much any franchise that in some way involves guns is a perfect fit; how about Starship Troopers, Firefly or Judge Dredd? These are all franchises to which spin-offs would lend themselves very well, should a move similar to Angry Birds be made. Call of Duty‘s popularity isn’t set in stone – if they don’t start finding ways to freshen things up, people will get bored eventually. Even the most immovable boulders can be eroded.