Sad Reflections.

5 May

This was a post from the tail end of 2009 on the old blog. I’m still going through the entries that didn’t import well, and I’m posting one or two of them a day just to have them up. I should mention that I’ve been debating getting back into Call of Duty since I still do have the occasional hankering to dole out some ass kicking. I should, and most likely will, just pick Left 4 Dead 2 (or Left 5 Dead, as my girlfriend calls it) back up again. That series is amazing, and I should be playing it more often. Anyways, with that caveat out of the way, enjoy.

It’s 5am, and as I sit here, fresh off a couple of hours attempting to subjugate my people in Tropico 3, I happened to come across this post by Michael Abbott over at Brainy Gamer. It’s worth a read. But, sadly, it made me think about what the Call of Duty franchise has ultimately become: a five-second thrill rehashed ad-nauseum. My first confession should be that I’m not nearly as big a multiplayer competitor as I used to be. Turn back the clock just a couple of years and you’d be likely to find me playing a lot more Halo 3. But nowadays, I simply can’t do it. The experience of standard multiplayer has become so stale and uninteresting to me that the thought of entering a match doesn’t usually cross my mind at all. I need something more out of games at this point, and a game like Modern Warfare 2 just doesn’t cut it.

You can call me ignorant, out of touch, pretentious, or any number of other things; one thing you can’t accuse me of, however, is having a knee-jerk reaction or hypocritically enjoying the game while unabashedly, well, bashing it. My tastes have slowly evolved to where they are now, and I no longer see any value in what the Call of Duty franchise has to offer. In the Brainy gamer post, Abbott gives reactions he’s heard, mostly decrying the single-player campaign as an add-on to the real meat of the game: the multiplayer. Curiously, one person said that he would play the campaign “at some point”, but directly after said it would be cheap of them not to include it. But if he doesn’t really care about it, then why is it cheap? His only care is obviously the multiplayer, so what’s the deal? I muddled my point a bit there, but what I’m getting at is that the whole attitude about the campaign being a throwaway for the player to eventually sift through is incredibly disheartening to me.

I remember playing both Call of Duty 2 and the original Modern Warfare and being thoroughly engrossed by both. Sure, they were all about pushing the player from set-piece to set-piece, but I never felt as though I was being talked down to by the developer. I never once felt like they knew I would buy their game no matter what. If they wanted my $60.00, they had to earn it. And earn it, they did. Their stories were powerful not just because of their intensity, but because of the worlds they were grounded in. Things made sense; cause and effect seemed real; I was engrossed in what was unfolding before me, and I couldn’t have been happier. Fast forward to Modern Warfare 2, and it’s been turned on its head. No longer do I believe what I’m seeing – not in the least bit. No longer do I care – at all – about characters dying. I’m not moved when something supposedly shocking occurs, because I expect something ludicrous to come out of left field.

Why do I expect it? For one, in the industry’s current climate, the double-edged sword of great success demands that sequels be bigger and more bad-ass. Take, for instance, the scene in Modern Warfare where your character is slowly clawing his way out of the flaming wreckage of his chopper, only to look up and see a nuclear holocaust whisking its way straight for him. That scene had impact; it meant something. Compare it with the airport scene in Modern Warfare 2, and I think you catch my drift. Again, your character gets killed, but the impact is greatly retarded by the lack of context. Sure, you know you’re a sleeper agent of some sort, but who are you? You don’t get to find out before the back of your skull meets the pavement. It’s just no good. With the narrative style Infinity Ward employs, that very context is integral to leaving a lasting impression on the player. Without it, the meaning behind the action deflates to nothing more than a cheap trick. Anyone can do a cheap trick; it takes real artists to create something worth discussing.

I don’t want to give the wrong impression; Call of Duty has never been the pinnacle of storytelling. Far from it. Still, the older games’ presentations coupled with how the stories unfolded made for really great experiences. It just seems like Infinity Ward’s priorities have changed now. They’re not as dead-set in crafting a believable world anymore, and for people like me, that’s a sad thing. Good thing there are plenty of other games that at least attempt it.

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