I have a confession to make: I’m a lapsed Call of Duty fan. While I was once a frothing devotee of the first-person shooter series, I haven’t played it in months. When the next instalment, the upcoming Call of Duty: Ghosts, was announced back in May, I kind of shrugged. I’m officially a recovering Dudebro.
I recently trekked down to a Ghosts preview session in New York, half-hoping that the developers at Infinity Ward would show and tell me things that might win me back. I may have drifted, but part of me misses those all night online multiplayer frag-fests. Truth be told, I’m looking for a reason to go back.
Let me explain the depths of my former junkie-ness: There was a time when I’d count the days until the release of the latest multiplayer map pack; or when I’d find my mind drifting during work onto matters of weapon load-outs and perks (was there an optimal combination I hadn’t thought of?); every winter, without fail, I’d need massage therapy to relieve the painful tightness in my shoulders, brought on solely by marathon sessions of Call of Duty.
I’d spend all of my leisure time and sometimes more, to the chagrin of my work and my loved ones, playing online with the legions of other Dudebro addicts. We’re called Dudebros because we’re mainly dudes and bros, and we frequently let each other know that. “Dude, that was an awesome head shot!” “Bro, you’re a total camper!”
But things changed. I initially dove into the latest release, last year’s Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, as usual, dumping dozens upon dozens of hours into it. But after a month or so, my attention waned. Rather than staying up till 4 a.m. trying to hit that next prestige level, I’d either play something else or – gasp! – actually go to bed at a reasonable hour.
I told myself it was because the Black Ops 2 was unbalanced. A four-letter word in the realm of first-person shooters, it’s where arming oneself with a specific set of weapons or skills provides a distinct advantage over others. Call of Duty has always prided itself on balance, or how the pluses of one weapon or skill inevitably come with some equal disadvantage, so if what I suspected were indeed the case, it was a fatal game flaw.
As time went by and I recovered from the effects of my addiction, I realized it was something else: I’d simply grown weary of the franchise. I still loved first-person shooters, but there were other games that were doing more interesting things with the genre. Battlefield 3, for one, had massively epic multiplayer battles involving helicopters, tanks and other vehicles. Far Cry 3, meanwhile, had a huge open world and a single-player storyline with multiple endings, which gave players the ability to make choices that actually mattered.
On the other hand, every Call of Duty game so far has been the same thing: infantry-versus-infantry multiplayer (except for the brief addition of tanks a few years ago in CoD: World at War ) and a single-player campaign that’s so linear it has been compared to a roller coaster, which is something that runs on rails. The phrase “on rails” is another deadly indictment for game makers.
So here I am at the Ghosts event. Call of Duty is still the pre-eminent FPS on the market, with Black Ops 2 having sold at least 23 million copies. The game also has tens of thousands of players online at any given time, marking a high point for the franchise. If anything, it’s as popular as ever.
I sat down with Tina Palacios, Infinity Ward’s community manager, and Yale Miller, Call of Duty’s senior producer at publisher Activision, to have a look at the upcoming game and to talk about my lapsed interest. Given the franchise’s continued success, I’m wondering if it’s just me.
It turns out everyone involved with the game is very conscious about the need to keep things fresh, given how the franchise sees annual, rotating releases from Infinity Ward one year and fellow developer Treyarch the next.