War never changes. Or who knows, maybe it does. Anyway, you couldn’t figure that out by seeing the most recent Call of Duty, cursed at while at the same time bought by millions of people, groups that probably overlap, at least partially. The CoD series is a pretty interesting contradiction: although it’s notorious for its undying loyalty towards the formula it proposes since the fourth title onwards, it sells more copies than a celebrity sex tape. Perhaps for the same reasons.
What’s certain is that I reached the third game revolving around contemporary warfare, trapped in a time capsule from the first US – Russian conflict to date. The recurring heroes Price and Soap are joined by Yuri, Frost, Burns and Harkov in the same cinematic combat, frequently paused by explosions, twists and slow-motion events that are as natural in a CoD game as traffic jams on a boulevard.
NPCs brought to life by known actors come to their aid, such as Idris Elba, Timothy Olyphant or William Fichtner, crammed in the four hour campaign, already a standard for Infinity Ward. Its cast can’t surprise anyone considering the game’s budget, mirrored not only in the production value, but also in the promotional materials (such as the suggestively-titled trailer: The Vet and the n00b).
Which brings me to the juiciest part in CoD: the multiplayer. Despite its narrative qualities, the attention to the aesthetics or the various geographical areas through which the single-player campaign takes us, the game’s heart is still in its multiplayer. That’s because once we begin the…
… we wake up under the same conditions that took their toll on us in Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops. The protagonist alternates (a narrative device that was fairly ingenious at some point, but by now it’s become old and overused, not to mention we don’t get enough time in a character’s mind for it to actually matter) and the missions don’t seem to have other purposes than to bomb you with waves of tension that only a systematic destruction of the entire game environment by scripted events can cause.
The annoying linearity can call CoD its bible – the space that can be explored is terribly small and the activity itself is sabotaged by the lack of motivation or tactical advantages an alternate route may sometimes offer. The only reason you would even turn your field of view every now and then are the collectibles, but to be absolutely clear, it’s not really a strong motivation.
Then there’s the combat – fixed points in which waves upon waves of soldiers attack you, having a really annoying respawn rate (particularly on the Veteran difficulty) and completely lacking in creativity. Most of them are solved with the same point-and-click technique that revolves around a Red Dot Sigh meant to ensure you won’t miss as long as you line up your red dot to the poor bastard’s helmet.
The complexity and the intellectual demands the campaign has are nonexistent, which is also emphasized through the game’s motto (“There’s a soldier in all of us”). Infinity Ward definitely meant to make a title that’s accessible to everyone, and by that I mean they think we have the intellect of single-cell organisms. As a direct result, the moments when we’re not completely surrounded by allies or aren’t following an NPC’s plan to the letter are few and far between.
Which is precisely why the single-player shouldn’t be seen as a game at all. It’s a terrible game and an insult to anyone who has the neurons required to write their own name. The single-player mode is actually a blockbuster, a semi-interactive blockbuster with the same properties that single-player blockbusters had throughout CoD: it’s short, spectacular and willing to kill off the main cast like it’s nobody’s business.
What makes it interesting here and there is not the controllable aspect of the action, but the succession of events described on screen. In one of the first missions, an SAS team swims alongside a submarine, which they then proceed to light up like a Christmas tree. And then there’s another submarine and a race in a speedboat, dodging missiles, explosions and metal in all shapes and sizes crashing down dangerously close to Burns, the SAS agent you’re controlling. Again, the very concept of being in something that can blow up at any given time, that the plane you need to cross can go through turbulences or that things will go bonkers no matter how well you’re doing are just business as usual.
What’s a lot more interesting is the…
… that brings us Survival or Special Ops missions, a few episodes that are tangential to the main story here and there. Their approach is often fun and innovative, such as a mission in which one of the players controls security turrets, and the other one “moves” him from one defense array to the next, having at the same time the first player’s cover against terrorists coming in droves, as well as attack choppers.
Or another one, in which you have to collect neurotoxin samples in special armors that offer an enormous health pool against the hundreds of enemies that need to be eliminated. And there are missions in droves – they also have the role of getting you more achievements: a leveling system similar to the one in the more traditional multiplayer is also present, one in which you evolve and unlock weapons and tools for Survival maps.
Maps where the players need to defeat more and more waves of increasingly stronger enemies, being rewarded with experience and cash for doing so. The money you use to acquire armor, weapons, grenades, mines, perks and other tools useful to resume your endless war on Terror. Once they’re down, players can be assisted by their allies in a similar fashion to Left 4 Dead, and teamwork is mandatory if you want to get up in the ladder.
Still, the somewhat slow nature of the mode as well as the limited map selection (basically the same ones from competitive modes) don’t make the Survival mode a good option in the long run. And if you ask me, the Special Ops missions are always better if you have a knack for co-op play.
Thus, the cream of the crop is still in the…