‘Call of Duty’ Needs to Step Back

Courtesy of Treyarch
Courtesy of Treyarch

I remember the excitement I felt playing “Call of Duty” after a busy week — the competitiveness and laughs with friends made it a good alternative to sports for a kid with bad eyesight. But in recent years, I have found myself void of that strong desire to play the game.

Sledgehammer Games is developing the upcoming “Call of Duty,” set to release November 2017. The game is rumored to be set in Vietnam, a sign Activision listened to its fans’ concerns about futuristic warfare, after almost four years of hyper-futurism, and is moving to a simpler time period.

However, in order for their upcoming game to succeed, Sledgehammer Games will need to pay close attention to the “Call of Duty” community’s suggestions and focus on quality over quantity in addition to ditching the exo-suit movements, that allow players to soar into the air and wall-run.

The exo-suit movements introduced in “Advanced Warfare” (2014) caused the series to lose its magical feeling. Exo-abilities, which include jumping 20 feet in the air and zipping over buildings, made multiplayer gameplay exhausting and aggravating. You could, for example, sneak right behind an enemy soldier while on a killstreak, only to have them exo-jump into the air and blast you from some unknown area in the sky. Exo-abilities took away any flow that boots-on-the-ground games like “Black Ops” (2010) had.

“Call of Duty” is a twitch shooter — a large part of online gameplay is based on quick reactions and good aim. Any amount of lag, which results from poor internet connection, depletes multiplayer enjoyment by causing a delay between the moment you press a button and the moment the game accounts for it. Exo-abilities amplify this effect. It is hard to hit a laggy player on the ground, much less one pixelating through the air.

Treyarch, the developer of “Call of Duty 3” (2006) “World at War” (2008) and all three “Black Ops” games, made the best of what they were given. Influenced by Activision and other futuristic games to create another exo-suit-based game, Treyarch developed more fluid movements in “Black Ops 3” (2015) as opposed to the bouncier ones in “Advanced Warfare.” Jumping was smoother and wall-running better allowed for flanks and comebacks.

But that wasn’t enough to convince gamers that exo-suit combat is the series’ best course of action. Players’ concerns about exo-abilities and an overbearing amount of features are clearly reflected in “Call of Duty” sales: disc-based copies of “Infinite Warfare” (2016) are down nearly 50 percent from 2015’s “Black Ops 3.” So how can they bounce back?

Part of the reason “Call of Duty” has been going downhill both in terms of sales and enjoyment is developers’ tendency to keep adding features to the game — more scorestreaks, weapons, weapon customizations, maps, player customizations and special abilities — without paying attention to quality.

Developers need to take a look at past games. In many cases, simpler is better — a lower quantity of weapons, maps, customizations, etc. means that the developer can focus on making each aspect of the game as good as it can be. The best “Call of Duty” games, such as “Black Ops,” are grounded in simplicity, set in the past or near-future. The uncomplicated settings gave developers less material to work with, which made each aspect more well thought-out and balanced.

Take a look at another recent game: “Battlefield 1,” developed by DICE. It’s set in World War I, a time of much simpler military technology, yet the game is graphic, intense and all-around fun. Dodging mustard gas and jumping off blimps are only the beginning. With the 2016 game, DICE made the most out of a little rather than adding redundancies to an already-saturated game.

That isn’t to say first-person shooters can only be good if their settings only go as far as the near-future. “Halo,” though futuristic, doesn’t contain an overbearing number of weapons or abilities and the gameplay is skill-based and strategic — knowing sight-lines and how to use weapons is a must.

“Black Ops 2,” (2012) constructed by Treyarch,  was the most balanced and fun “Call of Duty” game. Though set in 2025, weapons are fair, maps flow well and developers created patches to diminish players’ qualms about the game.

If Sledgehammer Games prioritizes balance, intensity, skill-based gameplay and consistent developer support in their upcoming game, the simple Vietnam War setting — which will hopefully be void of exo-abilities — could allow for a revival of the “Call of Duty” we once knew and loved.

With E3 coming out in May, we can only hope “Call of Duty” moves in the right direction.