Image from PCGamesN and owned by Activision and Treyarch
As I attempt to refinish Mass Effect 2 and 3 for this blog in honor of its franchise’s tenth anniversary, I felt that I should continue my dormant “Sunday Ramble” series. The topic this week is one that feels quasi-personal to me, since I used to be a regular player of the Call of Duty franchise. From the original game in 2003 to 2012’s Black Ops II, I have played every entry up till that point and generally enjoyed all of them, though I wouldn’t start playing the multiplayer until Black Ops 1.
2013’s Ghosts was the first entry in the series I can remember genuinely feeling disinterested or turned off by and the lukewarm reception it got vindicated my feelings. I returned to playing with Advanced Warfare the following year, initially skipped Black Ops III the following year, actually tried out the detested Infinite Warfare both out of curiosity and yes because of the Modern Warfare 1 remaster forcibly included to string more dollars out of me the year after that. I haven’t nor plan on playing last year’s WW2, which brought the series back to its roots with mixed results from what I’ve heard. Now we reach Black Ops IIII, which excluding spin off titles, is the fifteenth entry in the series. Including the first game’s expansion, United Offensive, there’s been a Call of Duty game every year since I was nine.
My first impressions before I learned about the Scrooge- levels of greed involved in this year’s installment were not kind. Aesthetically, the game looks very similar to the look and style of its predecessor which for the first time since 2011’s Modern Warfare 3, did look like a rehash rather than an actual sequel. Yes, there are differences which are noticeable. The advanced movement system of thruster boosting, wall-running and dashing introduced in Advanced Warfare is gone and the series is back to “boots on the ground” as the fans wanted it. It seems to take place setting wise in-between the events of Black Ops II and III, a middle ground which still has enough of a futuristic tone to use more out there weapons like a giant pile-driver to seismically smash opponents or the ability to spread fire around an area. The “Specialists” of the last Black Ops are back and as my friend Angel pointed out, it has more of an “Overwatch” feel than ever with certain characters having abilities that can be unleashed after a certain amount of time has passed in the match or through your performance in-game. Black Ops III actually beat Overwatch to the punch by half a year but its safe to say that the latter’s execution and popularity has given people a forgivable amnesia of what came first.
BO4 has been criticized for finally eschewing the singleplayer or story campaign that was available every year since the beginning in favor of small “tutorial” missions where you get to understand the specialists abilities tied to a pinch of backstory. The exact same thing occurred with Ubisoft’s Rainbow Six: Siege and overtime the risks for that title paid off as Siege is now a popular and enduring multiplayer experience nowadays. It doesn’t hurt that Rainbow Six isn’t annualized and thus new worthwhile content is released after launch for years rather than a year as is Call of Duty’s practice.
Another reason for the singleplayer’s removal aside from the understandable lack of people who don’t actually play or finish singleplayer, as was definitely the case with BO3’s polarizing co-op format, is the Battle Royale mode. Titled “Blackout“, it is viewed by very many as following a trend rather than creating one of its own, which 2007’s Modern Warfare 1 definitely did for the multiplayer formula. With the explosion of popularity for games like Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite, the former though dwindling in success thanks to the latter, it seems as if people are already growing weary of “Battle Royale” as a genre. What is the genre about? Like the Japanese cult classic film of the same name from 2000 as well as The Hunger Games’ novels and movies, a large group of people, often a hundred, enter a match where the goal is to kill each other any way they can until only one remains. Sounds grim but pretty cool, right? Not if familiarity breeds contempt. That concept clearly hasn’t bothered a series like Call of Duty too much considering a decade and a half life span at this point. So, a mode people feel sketchy about, in a series of games which aren’t really geared towards that style of gameplay. It doesn’t help that competing military shooter game Battlefield V will also have a BR mode, and that series is seemingly much better suited, with its much larger maps, possible tactics and so forth.
There’s also the Zombies mode, which instead of one or two maps of survival content, there’s three perhaps to make up for the singleplayer absence as well. Perhaps people would still not be that hard on the latest COD if it wasn’t for the awful, awful manner in which Publisher Activision is promoting the game. In order to get any of the zombie and multiplayer content post launch, you have to buy the Black Ops 4 pass, which is the only way possible to access a seriously large amount of content which should be available anyway to start with. Getting the pass or the “deluxe” edition of the game can cost up to $100 dollars. For an annualized series, that’s grossly inexcusable.
Perhaps if I was a committed Call of Duty player, I would feel much worse about this, but I’m not. I have other interactive ways to pass my time this Fall season when the game is released. For one, there’s Battlefield V, whose biggest hurdle is not so much with the gameplay or how it’s being sold, as it actually looks pretty watertight, especially coming from publisher EA and their debacle with last year’s bitterly despised Star Wars: Battlefront II. It’s the questionable tone and historical accuracy, particularly of females fighting in a WW2 scenario. Wouldn’t be an actual problem if they showed French, Russian or maybe Chinese female soldiers. They do show in the story mode Norwegian female resistance fighters that existed, but they have predominantly shown British female soldiers that did not and thus the outrage, however actually important it really is. Would still prefer that to BO4.
There was a special promotion at this year’s E3, in which if you preorder Black Ops 4, you can access a set of “new” maps for Black Ops 3. It’s a set of multiplayer maps from earlier Black Ops titles that are fan favorites that have been rebuilt in the third game’s engine. However this preorder promotion is only for PlayStation 4 users like myself and to sweeten the deal, for a short time only with the service PlayStation Plus, Black Ops III can be downloaded for free. I did so, not because I wanted to preorder Black Ops IIII, but because of the three Call of Duty games I had never played, BO3 was the one I was most curious to try out. What harm can come from trying out a free game, whatever it may be?
If you can ignore the “Black Market” service, then Black Ops III is a fun, not really that remarkable but decent entry in the series. The Black Market is where the much despised “microtransactions/loot box ” system comes into play. You can spend real dollars to get COD points, which you can then spend on purchasing loot boxes which have a randomized selection of unlockable mostly cosmetic items. In other words, gambling. I haven’t spent a penny on this service, unlike with Overwatch. I got Black Ops III for free and I won’t part with any of my earned money especially at my place and age in life for a company whose eyes have become too green for their own good.
In other words, even being generous as possible, Black Ops 4 and by extension Call of Duty are stuck in a nasty mess of it own making. It’s something to boycott a game or in my case simply decline to want to buy something for ethical concerns. Adding pragmatic reasons to the fold is what ultimately wins the day. Perhaps Activision suits will stop snorting cocaine to realize the long tarnished goodwill they’ve created and will attempt, however disingenuously like perhaps EA, to get it back. But odds are they won’t. Shame.