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12-gauge: can Modern Warfare 4 save CoD’s decline?

Monday, 16th April 2012 08:43 GMT By Patrick Garratt

Modern Warfare 3 didn’t progress Activision’s beloved action format and we’re seeing clear signs of a peak. The Call of Duty dial’s been stuck at 11 for years: is this just the publisher’s latest strip-mine victim?

Everything’s blown up. We’ve had a World War. That’s a thing with a capital “W” on both words. When both your words are capped up, how do you increase the intensity? Have a WORLD WAR? Go galactic?

I was recently explaining to a first-time Modern Warfare player why he felt let down by the MW3 campaign. His normal FPS style is to hang back and pick off enemies until it’s safe to move forwards. Claustrophobia and endless respawning was leaving him grumpy. Don’t think about it too much, I said. Run forward, shoot everyone and watch everything blow up.

Is this really what Call of Duty is? I’ve only just got round to playing Modern Warfare 3, and it seems obvious to me that the formula has been taken to the logical conclusion. It’s still the epitome of excitement in the action genre, but I’ve played this game before. At this point it’s easy to argue that Call of Duty has run into a dead-end.

If indications are accurate, franchise sales have peaked. Modern Warfare 3 is now lagging behind Black Ops’ success, and has only recorded about half its predecessor’s figures in its corresponding March. What happened? Is this the disaster many speculated when Guitar Hero went pop? Or is there a way back?

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

Single-player Modern Warfare 3 is the spectacle FPS defined. Its barrage of set-pieces is deconstructable if you look even a few inches passed the façade of explosions and bullets, but there’s a lunatic thrill to be had if you leave your brain at the door and rush forward at full-auto. No game does blowing things up better than Modern Warfare, and MW3 is probably the pinnacle of that.

As you should know by now, MW3 is about a third World War, in which a lot of stuff explodes, the Russians go globally hostile and all the president’s men from all countries get kidnapped and are only savable by you and your “mates”. You shoot terrorists from speeding tube trains and every helicopter spirals in flames. There are parts where you really don’t do much apart from push up.

If we’re asking what’s happened to spoil Call of Duty’s growth chart, there’s a horribly obvious answer: it ran out of ideas. You can change the textures on the buildings and topple yet another landmark, but there’s no significant progression from MW2. On an aesthetic level, it’s not clear where Modern Warfare goes from here. I doubt it’s accidental that Rob Bowling, probably the most Modern Warfare-iest person on earth, has chosen this year to leave Infinity Ward. Modern Warfare 3′s done, and the DLC’s fully in motion. That he should decide he’s had enough now, as development on the next game starts proper, could be telling.

Everything’s blown up. We’ve had a World War. That’s a thing with a capital “W” on both words. When both your words are capped up, how do you increase the intensity? Have a WORLD WAR? Go galactic?

Even Spinal Tap understood the concept of
going “one louder”. And their amps didn’t go
to 12.

Modern Warfare 2 was a more private game. Yes, we had Russia invading the US, but it was essentially about special forces on covert operations, about people behind the scenes of normality averting complete disaster. The plot structure is easily reminiscent of Tom Clancy’s The Sum of All Fears, in which you have a catastrophe on US soil (a nuke at a football game in that instance) but total global war is averted. MW3 plays out in public, on the streets of the world’s capitals, with tanks rolling, civilians screaming and armies invading entire continents. The game takes every layer of society and shreds it. It’s 11. It’s difficult to see how the dial can go any higher.

“You’re on ten on your guitar”

Multiplayer, too, appears to have reached a feature-peak. I’ve never seriously got into CoD’s online side, but it’s clear from the amount of debate in the community that it’s hit a creative level. Modern Warfare 3′s multiplayer is not better than what’s come before. There’s no consensus. It’s just another take on a trusted formula rather than a revolution.

We have complaints about drop-shotting, lazy camp points, imbalance in the weapon set, rushed map designs, spawn conflicts, frame-locking, borked hit detection, quick-scoping and all the rest of it. I looked in on the PC version last week and less than 1,000 people were playing a bunch of the public modes. In the latest Call of Duty game? Really?

And while the general experience from a community aspect is very welcoming, all the name-calling is still there. I’ve been called a “noob” and a “fag” a few times because I stayed in one place for 20 seconds and shot some people. That means I’m a camper, apparently. The incidents are isolated, though, and most rounds just end up with a list of “gg” and some smileys. It’s all you can hope for. But “fag”? Isn’t that, like, illegal? And isn’t it plain old?

Modern Warfare 3′s multiplayer is not better than what’s come before. There’s no consensus. It’s just another take on a trusted formula rather than a revolution.

I did have one guy playing techno and screaming, “We’re drunk,” until everyone called him a “retard,” at which point he turned his music up and started whooping. Everyone just laughed. Most people, in the PC version at least, are there for a good time. If anyone gets angry there’s usually someone telling them to not take it so seriously. Open play isn’t an especially vicious environment.

But it’s the same as it ever was. I asked VG247 readers for their opinions on MW3 multiplay as I don’t have an amazing frame of reference, and there was no decisive verdict on which of the recent games is “best”. There’s no one saying, “They’ve really moved it on and fixed everything this time.” Put “Modern Warfare 3 sucks” into YouTube to see what I mean.

Spec Ops is brilliant fun in co-op, and when you add up the entire package MW3′s an essential buy if you’re an action fan, but would you feel the same if you’ve just spent hundreds of hours playing something incrementally different?

Evidence suggests you will, but only to a point. Whether or not this really is it for CoD is highly debatable. It’s important to remember that Modern Warfare 3 was being put together as Infinity Ward imploded in 2010, so perhaps we shouldn’t be too shocked that the concept wasn’t moved forward significantly. Innovation could be found again.

And it’s not as if Activision’s releasing Modern Warfare games every year. The publisher has perfected its staggered development approach to Call of Duty, meaning we’re going to get Black Ops 2 at the end of this year and Infinity Ward’s follow-up shipping at the end of 2013. The next Modern Warfare will have enough of a break to generate excitement again.

But the creative formula does need to change before it burns out. It’s at 11, and it’s been there since CoD4 in 2007. The expected timing for both the next Xbox and PlayStation is Christmas next year, and it may be that new hardware is the number 12 on Modern Warfare’s dial. It needs something: sooner or later everyone gets bored of the same level, no matter how thrilling or polished.

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37 Comments

  1. KAP

    The day CoD falls off is the day you’ll hear clanging of ball an chains everywhere coming undone for all those…….. gamers.

    #1 3 years ago
  2. Maximum Payne

    I was genuinely surprise with Black Ops.Only thing that I didn’t love is zombie mode which get old to fast for me.SP and MP, were amazing ,some maps in MP could have been better ,but I think they are still better then those in MW3.I really think Black Ops 2 is going to push CoD to the max.
    Just remember how much vehicles there where in SP(more then all modern warfare combine.)

    #2 3 years ago
  3. Goffee

    Put it on the Vita, that’d be a bit special…

    #3 3 years ago
  4. polygem

    @1,2,3: 100% agree

    #4 3 years ago
  5. noherczeg

    COD4 saved the franchise when AIW was shut down, it did the same when people realised that MW3 isn’t “the thing”.

    It seems to me that that people who are into call of duty can always fall back to the 4th part, because well, they say it not me: it’s the best(?)

    #5 3 years ago
  6. Karooo

    @3 I don’t think the Vita version will be anything special.

    #6 3 years ago
  7. KAP

    What do they expect if the franchise dies, that’s what happens when you over saturate the market with the same game but with a different number at the end of a title every. Single. Year.

    FFS, not rocket science is it.

    #7 3 years ago
  8. polygem

    4 is the best but it starts to show it´s age

    #8 3 years ago
  9. endgame

    I don’t think any of you realizes that nothing of what you say or think and nothing of what the developers do matters anymore. There is only one man who decides the fate of this game and he already made his choice.

    #9 3 years ago
  10. polygem

    yes sure…but it´s nice to have a discussion about it anyway

    #10 3 years ago
  11. reask

    I reckon the age group they went for didn,t help tbh.
    Kids have a very short attention span for the most part and tend to move on to the next cool thing very quickly.

    A good example is my own kid who played the nuts out of 2 and then just moved on as did all her friends as well.
    She insisted I got 3 day 1, played it for a few hours and that was that.

    To go to the other end of the spectrum for the older gamer like myself then.
    I loved the sp in the cod games cod1 was brilliant and cod2 on the 360 played on veteran was a real challenge but very enjoyable as the gun you were using did make a difference to your progress.

    I played mw2 on vet first time out and had very few problems with it.
    Got in to the mp and really enjoyed it for a while then bit by bit got kinda bored of the same old spawn die spawn kill get your killstreaks and its over.

    Played 3 and decided to just run and gun with sub machine guns like the p90 and did as well as I did in 2 without any real skill involved.

    In a nutshell I just got bored of the formula tbh and walked away.
    If the sp had been any good I would buy the next one but the truth is it was pure rubbish and more concerned with been set pieces rather than been a good challenging game.

    I am certain the next few will do well but not as well as mw2 ever did.

    #11 3 years ago
  12. Patman

    Completely agree with the writer.

    #12 3 years ago
  13. drewbles82

    If they mixed bits from all of them, they could make a great game.

    I hated infinite re-spawn, which to me, there is zero skill esp since if your quick enough you could just run to each checkpoint. Even if you worked your ass off, ducking, dodging shots and you cleared the entire room, and have barely any ammo left, bam, all re-spawned.

    Loved MW2 SP as it had more variety of missions that i didnt mind going back to. MP was good for me as well the maps were my favs, though would have been nice to have a few from COD4 as we never had any night time maps.

    Blackops SP was boring, no skill cuz of the re-spawn. MP some of the maps were good just didnt like the layout of everything. Combat training was a great idea but completely ruined by only being able to use it online and with a gold membership. They said it was to get people who don’t play online into MP, i think it would have better offline then so it could get all those who dont have the net, dont have gold to see what MP could be like, therefore probably increasing gold memberships.

    Zombies never really interested me, I would have preferred the difficulty to change if your doing it on your own or 2 player.

    Biggest turn off for me though is kids online. I’m 30 and to hear kids as young as 12 screaming, shouting, some even crying when they cant win.

    #13 3 years ago
  14. Erthazus

    CoD 4 is not the best.

    Call Of duty 1 is the best. CoD 4 is OK.

    #14 3 years ago
  15. G1GAHURTZ

    It’s not that bad, Pat.

    Sales are down across the board, as you well know.

    On top of that, you also have to take into consideration that Black Ops is still one of the most played games around today.

    Acti are still supporting it through Elite, and it still has a huge community who love CoD, but don’t see the need to move on to MW3.

    The demand for the brand is still as strong as ever, but if anything, it’s just spread slightly more thinly over a number of titles.

    For example, one of my original CoD4 clan mates, has racked up well over 26 days (over 600 hours) playing time on Black Ops, but he hates MW3.

    It’s not because he’s bored of CoD, He just prefers BO’s style to MW3′s.

    I’m the other way around. I can’t really play BO since I’ve had MW3, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t like CoD any more, either.

    The real issue here is basically this: You non-CoD types just don’t understand the game.

    When you talk about ‘new ideas’, you’re asking for something that you yourselves can’t even imagine.

    You’re all like: “Entertain me! I don’t know how, just do some new stuff… Make it good! Make it different than before! I need different!”

    The problem is, the vast majority of you have probably never played CoD for more than 10 hours anyway, so you’re not qualified to know what new ideas are in the MP or not.

    And reading other people’s complaints on forums isn’t really a worthwhile exercise either, because, as we all should know by now, whingers make the most noise. The satisfied customers are busy playing the game.

    You don’t have to look at forums, or read into long and short tails in periods of economic decline to hypothesise on the fall of CoD.

    You’ll know when it happens, because the most played CoD version at the time will drop below 2nd place in the 360 charts.

    The second that happens, we know that people are beginning to lose interest.

    As for people insulting you, well sorry Pat, but that doesn’t really have anything to do with the game.

    People (including myself) have been hating campers since the days of the very first FPS.

    It’s another issue entirely.

    #15 3 years ago
  16. bpcgos

    It’s all have been predicted. Everything went down after the 1st modern warfare, and gladly thats the last COD I’ve been bought.

    #16 3 years ago
  17. Patrick Garratt

    @15 – I’m not saying it’s really bad. It’s still massive, and it’s going to be for some time. I do think it needs to change in some way, though, or people simply aren’t going to keep buying it year-in-year-out.

    I’ve played every Call of Duty to completion in SP, apart from CoD III, for some reason. Like, I really like it and always have done, and I certainly do “understand” it. But we’ve seen time and again that if you annualise games they suffer franchise burn. I’m personally at the point where I just can’t justify it any more. I mean, I’ll do it from a professional perspective because it’s Call of Duty and I have to, but if was “just” a punter I would have run out of steam with it now. The games will always be on my list because they’re awesome, but I’m pretty sure I’ve seen things blowing up now. I was shocked at how samey MW3 was.

    There definitely is a problem in that they’re fracturing the multiplayer community with too many games. There are only a finite amount of people that want to play it, and it’s showing. People are sticking with the instalments they like and numbers for the latest game are down compared to previous ones. That means excitement for the next one and the next one and the next one is diminished, and that really isn’t good for them.

    I’m just waiting for the release that isn’t backed up with the press release that says it’s the biggest entertainment launch of all time. Is it BO2? MW4? I think those sales figures are very telling, personally. I get the feeling they’ve pushed it too hard.

    Thanks for playing in our matches against EG, btw. I have a feeling you won it for us :-D

    #17 3 years ago
  18. drewbles82

    One big thing that puts me off is the map packs as well.

    I’m not someone who plays everyday or even every week so I’m less likely to buy map packs at the full price esp since you get them and 6-9months later the new COD is out and you start playing that more.

    My suggestion is that they treat the maps more like rock band tracks (not releasing every wk) but the export feature so when a new COD comes, you can export those maps to the next game, even if you have to pay an export key, a lot of people would still do that.

    #18 3 years ago
  19. Sam Clay

    I would LOVE a remake of Call of Duty 2.

    #19 3 years ago
  20. Gekidami

    I understand what Pats saying about the SP, we’ve pretty much seen it all now, we’ve seen a global conflict, whats left to see? How can you top that?

    To quote Harry S Plinket:

    “In the new [Star Trek] we see two whole planets blowing up -almost three- we see super novas, black holes, black holes sucking up super novas. So what can be blown up next?; The Galaxy? The Universe?! The first film kicked off the franchise really well, but if you keep trying to top the previous film, then its in danger of burning itself out too quickly when you go too far, Star Trek will just need another reboot in five years like everything else.”

    CoD seems to have done everything it can do, so really, whats left for it? The franchise is burned out at this point, its shined so bright it caught fire.

    #20 3 years ago
  21. G1GAHURTZ

    @ Pat:

    LOL!

    I only managed to play two games, right at the end of the session. I think JC’s skills had more of an impact than mine… Hehe…

    As far the future goes though, the way I see it, Black Ops 2 will surely be the last current-gen (only) CoD. A 2013 release for the next-gen consoles will surely mean that ‘MW4′ will launch on at least one of them. And to be blunt, I don’t see MS changing from it’s policy of hitting Acti up for some sort of exclusivity deal.

    I think that getting a CoD game for a next-gen launch is going to re-define the term ‘killer-app’.

    So it may turn out that the next-gen console power is the shot in the arm that so many people are looking for.

    #21 3 years ago
  22. G1GAHURTZ

    @19:

    Why?

    Surely we’ve had enough WW2 games?

    #22 3 years ago
  23. StolenGlory

    @22

    Indeed, and that wouldn’t be the first comment i’ve seen wishing that the series returns to it’s WWII roots either.

    It’s quite telling when all Joe Punter can think of to reinvigorate the series is to take it back to the setting that everybody four years ago was totally and utterly sick of.

    CoD just *works* for many folks – hence it’s mammoth success. It’s accessible, playable and satisfying. Outside of some spit, polish and sheen; I don’t hold any hope for a next-gen CoD shaking up the status quo too much.

    #23 3 years ago
  24. Sam Clay

    @22 I have fond memories of hours played on Call of Duty 2. In my eyes I see that as one of the best multiplayer games, up there with MOHAA.

    #24 3 years ago
  25. OlderGamer

    The OG take?

    A large bulk of this gen was built on the backs of competitive Online Multieplayer Shooters. The market is over run with them. And if you look around you see people talking about being burnt out with the gen.

    So in my mind it stands to reason that when people say that it comes down to more then just hardware, its also the games they play. More so it is the experience those games provide. Shooters, prolly more then almost any other game I can think of, offer the same tied and worn out repeatitive gameplay. Doesn’t matter if it is Frontline, BF, MoH, or CoD. It is esentialy the same thing.

    There was a freshness that was there for CoD4 that simply isn’t there anymore for most fans. That doesn’t make it a bad experience, but it does make it hard to hook the same players over and over for the same experience. Fan base growth and sales growth can’t be infinite.

    I think it just boils down to over exposure.

    So many gamers are so ready to put the omp FPS boom behind us.

    Bring on the fresh, new, and exciting games.

    #25 3 years ago
  26. G1GAHURTZ

    I’m not sure if tens of millions of people can suddenly get bored of an entire genre, OG.

    Don’t forget that before CoD, there were the likes of Counter Strike and Halo. Both of which still have significantly large communities today.

    #26 3 years ago
  27. OlderGamer

    Oh don’t get me wrong G1GA, I think Online FPS games will be a staple for many many years. I just don’t think they will remain king. I think they will decline somewhat. Kind of like in the 8/16bit days we were over run with platformers/2D shooters/fighters. Those games are still big, but there is a lot more focus on other generes too.

    I think the next big console boom could be MMOs if things stay in a traditional console model. If things go streaming/heavy digital I think many of the big boys will struggle to find the same space and market share in a crowded sea of indie and smaller games(think app stores/Steam, where small time indies can do very well and the name on the game means less then the experience to be had).

    I still play Rockband/GH but they aren’t the monster draws that they were a few years ago. I figure same type of thing for FPS games. There is alot of parrelel there. Like with RB/GH regaurdles of the song, your gameplay is the samething. Reagurdless of the game/map in a fps, your gameplay is the same. It just isn’t sustainable at such high numbers for so long. I think anyways.

    Such is the life cycle of a video game. Once everyone wanted a ‘Me too” mario game. Now EA(and others) would just about sacrifice their first born to make themself a better selling version of CoD.

    #27 3 years ago
  28. G1GAHURTZ

    It’s true that you’re on the same maps in an FPS, over and over again, but the action changes.

    Acti or IW (can’t remember which) were suggesting it, and I agree, that CoD is more like a sports franchise than a traditional set of game sequels.

    Just think about PES/FIFA. People have been playing on the same grass pitch since 1992, but it’s the sporting gameplay that keeps people buying each new version, year after year.

    #28 3 years ago
  29. OlderGamer

    Thats a good parrelel G1GA.

    Its really not the game, instead more of the competition that makes the experience.

    #29 3 years ago
  30. The_Red

    I really think this article is off.

    Speaking as a Singleplayer gamer, I found MW3 as step back from Black Ops. If anything, it’s Black Ops 2 that CAN save COD’s decline. MW3′s story and singleplayer campaign was laughable even by Micheal Bay / COD2 standards.
    Also, the gameplay wasn’t as polished as MW2. At least Black Ops tried to hide the lack of perfect gameplay from MW2 with lots of blood and gore. I know, not a sophisticated solution but if it is used, I won’t complain.

    #30 3 years ago
  31. Lounds

    Best SP COD – COD4
    Best MP COD – MW2

    That is all.

    #31 3 years ago
  32. laxan96

    @2 Couldn´t have said it any better my self.

    For me Th best call of duty yet is black ops because of wager match all the new game modes, the new unlock system, the good spawn system, Zombies and Almost all the maps are amazing. Treyarch really knows how to make games especially FPS-maps, Sledgehammer don´t know how to make a good MP-game and the broken infinity ward these days can´t even make a proper SP anymore. The SP in MW3 really blew, the only good mission was the last one the others were shit.

    #32 3 years ago
  33. OrbitMonkey

    I hope they don’t take it all sci-fi, with laser rifles and aliens :-(

    #33 3 years ago
  34. DSB

    The king is dead, long live the king.

    I understand why people are pulling the trigger on headlines like that, but in my opinion it has everything to do with the quality of the games, and less with the actual idea itself.

    For me MW3 was a significant step back, following Black Ops which was a minor step back. It’s not so much the fact that they’ve dialed it up to 11 and stayed there – I think you can quite easily sustain that. It’s been huge on adrenaline since the first game, and like Pat points out, you can show many sides of a war depending on what you want to do. There’s no reason why you couldn’t end that war, replace the enemies, and do a more covert oriented game for that matter.

    The sense I get is that the developers have gotten too self-conscious following MW2 and the Activision foul-up. Suddenly it’s all about toning things down and letting internet chatter decide where to take things. That’s just not the way to go in my opinion. You need spine if you’re going to thrill people, instead of serving them exactly what they might expect.

    Modern Warfare didn’t become a monster by toning things down, it became a monster for turning them way the fuck up. Going the other way makes this sort of decline pretty logical to me.

    Zampella and West could well turn out to be the tipping point. I have no idea how they ran their operation, but MW3 to me is a lesser game in every respect but interface and engineering. The attention to detail just isn’t there anymore, and maybe that’s because the visionaries have left the building.

    I definitely don’t think the problem is the fact that you have a longrunning shooter series, or the fact that it hasn’t changed much. As long as you deliver every time, I don’t see how that would be a problem. Even if the tech has to improve at some point.

    #34 3 years ago
  35. Krono

    I’m coming from the MP perspective as I’ve only played a few of the campaigns (only 4, WAW fully through).

    I can’t speak for everyone obviously, but I am willing to bet that most do not care what the story is in the game; they are more focused on fixing online issues- weapon balance, perks, map designs, etc.

    Now I understand that you need a story for the game, albeit they’ve had hackneyed ideas for the last few years, but what do the majority of the people buying the game do? Play the campaign? Spec Ops? Zombies maybe, but the majority (and definitely the most replay value) goes into the MP experience.

    With each game that comes out, it seems they always manage to (hopefully) eliminate a few of the previous problems, yet always create more, making a rather bad cycle. I’ve played all of them from 4 to MW3, and I can’t stand playing MW3 because of the numerous problems it has.

    And I personally believe that we’ve seen enough facets from the CoD’s collectively put out to date that they COULD make a great MP experience without anything revolutionary to add, though I know they’ll get the media going with some new sensational crap-that-sounds-cool-yet-is-horrid, and the MP experience will be ruined, again.

    Btw, I’ve been recently playing BO as MW3 is just trash.

    #35 3 years ago
  36. Fnoros

    @13 – you can play with bots offline in versus mode in black ops, just check match settings. The downside is that you start out with everything unlocked, so you may have less incentive to progress and play.

    I like black ops the best simply because you can sometimes climb head-high walls. I HATE being a refrigerator box with a gun, and in black ops, I’m at least a refrigerator with arms. I want to be able to complete a military obstacle course in a military shooter.

    #36 3 years ago
  37. CPC_RedDawn

    COD2 was the best, for competitive gaming back in the this was king (next to CSS of course).

    But COD4 Promod is where its at for competitive.

    MW2 was ok for the first two days then it got boring and the dramatic unbalanced issues started to show.

    W@W was just COD2 was a lick of paint, although zombies was fun.

    Black Ops, is still by far the best COD game since COD4. They actually tried to add new stuff. Face paints, custom emblems (yea sure there were a lot of dick pics), interactive maps that changed people play style, awesome guns (best ak47 ever, ak74u, gaili, aug, famas, etc), sniping that actually takes skill and feels like a sniper not a laser beam.

    MW3 by far the worst COD game ever. Sniping is a piece of piss and anyone whos anyone can quickscope now. Dual FMG’s are STILL overpowered even post patch. There are more things that are for noobs in MW3 than any other COD game. Support Killstreaks, so people who die all the time can still get jug, or stealth bomber… WTF is that shit!!???? They also have more plantable explosives than any other COD, claymores, c4, i.m.s, Bouncing Betty. The game was made for noobs.

    The main thing COD needs is a new engine, they still insist on using this dated piece of shit modded quake 3 engine.

    #37 3 years ago

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