Nov 19th, 2012
First of all, I would like to clarify that I am not in fact saying Call of Duty is a bad game. Its sales figures and community following are a clear indication that this is not the case. However this blog post does intend to highlight why I as an individual do not like the direction in which the series has gone. It is worth noting that this is an opinion piece and thus not intended to defame the series or denigrate its fanbase.
When the original Call of Duty hit the shelves in 2003, players were greeted with a product that truly raised the bar in shooter design. Unusual in that the player took control of three soldiers from three different nations, Call of Duty's single player campaign presented a gritty, striking representation of some of the most fierce battles and unfathomable achievements of World War II. Echoed in the title, Call of Duty screamed 'This is what people did, ordinary young men like you'. It portrayed the war as it was, hell. Playing through the campaign was almost educational and gave context to the great 'Soldiers Poem', immortalised in 'Medal of Honour: Frontline' just a year before.
To Saint Peter he will tell;
One more Marine reporting, sir.
I've served my time in Hell!"
--PFC. James A. Donahue, USMC. 1st Marine Division, H Company, 2nd. Battalion, 1st. Regiment
Now we come to the contemporary Call of Duty games, Modern Warfare and Black Ops. As I said earlier these are not bad games, but do they live up to their predecessors? I think not. Call of Duty has moved on from a gritty, realistic portrayal of the every-mans hell that was the world wars. Instead we are presented with what I can only describe as less of a struggle for survival against overwhelming odds, but a 'Michael Bay' glorification of modern warfare. Gone are the set pieces like the grim reconstruction of the Battle of Stalingrad, and in with chasing a London Underground Train down a tunnel until it inevitably explodes. As a game that promotes itself as a realistic shooter, I cannot help but wonder what the design team consider to be realistic. A truly realistic representation of modern warfare would put the players in control of a young man or women as they drive slowly down a baked desert highway, aware of the ever present threat of ambush, or one of the true horrors of the middle east theatre, the Improvised Explosive Device.
The 'horror' aspect has been watered down, in the original Call of Duty the player can ascertain the reasons behind things like post-traumatic stress disorder, learn that war isn't about gung-ho speeding through a city, taking out terrorists with a 12.7mm mounted machine gun or causing everything that could conceivably explode to do so. War is about killing people and destroying lives. Was isn't fun, war is hell. Call of Duty glorifies war, something I don't mind in games that are designed to be silly and facetious – see Serious Sam or Duke Nukem – but even less 'realistic' shooters like Resistance and Gears of War show us that war is about survival and struggle. Call of Duty has its moments – slowly dying after a nuclear detonation comes to mind, more of that please! - but ultimately lacks that realistic edge. In essence, Call of Duty is not the 'realistic shooter' it promotes itself to be any more. Realistic weapons fire, bullet spread and environmental reaction are one thing, but until you get the psychological aspects right, you do not have a realistic game.
Daniel Tonks, MSc. November 19th, 2012.
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