Stop your eye-rolling, it’s better than you expect
Everyone loves to roll their eyes a t the thought of a “new” Call of Duty game; after all, we’ve played games from this franchise a half-dozen times now, and the bloom is off the rose. But don’t be so quick to judge, because the newest installment of Call of Duty is the freshest version of an old favorite that we’ve played since Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. In addition to a majorly revamped main campaign with several welcome surprises, it also sports a reasonably improved multiplayer mode and an all-new zombie mode that is a bit cliché at this point, but still a lot of fun.
Note: This review originally appeared in the February 2013 issue of the magazine.
While giant corporations are prone to making some impressively boneheaded mistakes, they're not as dumb as you think they are. For instance, many “in-the-know” gamers see Activision as a sinking ship that simply hasn't quite found its iceberg, but – at the very least – the Godzilla-combined-with-King-Kong of videogame publishing has taken notice. And so, with Guitar Hero having played its swan song earlier this year, Activision's now forced to face the elephant in the room: Is Call of Duty next?
Let's see, an Activision Blizzard game starring a former side-character called “Ghost”? Hoo boy, we've been down this road before, and it doesn't end well. Ok, cancellation fears concerning a possibly non-existent game aside, a site called thisisxbox.com fired up the old rumor mill, and it hacked up some dust, cobwebs, and a big hint about Infinity Ward's next entry in the Modern Warfare series.
Apparently, it won't be Modern Warfare 3, as originally suspected. Instead, a “source within the industry” told the site that the new game will star everybody's favorite “Gee, I wish I was playing as that guy” Modern Warfare 2 character, Ghost. The story will follow the conspicuously style-conscious soldier up to the events of Modern Warfare and then into his Task Force 141 days as detailed by an already released comic book series. According to the source, areas from both Modern Warfare 1 and 2 will also be revisited, but from different perspectives.
Infinity Ward refused to confirm or deny the rumor, which – in gaming industry speak – often translates to “well, we're not saying 'no'....” But even if you hate the idea with every fiber of your being, Activision's at least making sure you've got approximately marketsaturationfinity optionsto choose from.
It's pitch black, and your teeth are chattering so loudly that you barely even notice the three simultaneous heart attacks you're having as you creep through the tall grasses of an open field. Suddenly, the bushes behind you rustle. You jerk your head so quickly that your body nearly doesn't get the chance to follow, as the hulking, foreboding figure of a baby bunny hops out from the bush. Phew. Heart attack number four averted. For now. You wipe the sweat from your brow – which, at this particular moment, is the world's most accurate model of what would happen if the polar ice caps actually melted – and continue onwards.
For about two feet. That's when you see it. Yep, there it is – right in front of you. Oh sweet mother of mercy. No, no – not the sprinting, groaning gray guy who's licking his unhinged chops and eying your neck. I'm talking about the thing behind him. That's right: a thermos full of coffee! Finally! Awesome! Sorry Mr. terrifying zombie man; just a second. You see, I need that coffee for an achievement.
The game in question? Alan Wake, a game quite capable of keeping you on the edge of your seat right up until the moment it spills hot coffee all over your lap. And it's certainly not alone. For the longest time, triple-A games polished their graphics and tweaked their ambient bunny-in-a-bush sounds in pursuit of a holy grail known simply as “immersion.” Gamers wanted it; game developers wanted it – for everything around the player to just melt away. To be utterly, hopelessly, and completely lost in the game world, without even the thinnest bread crumb trail back to reality. These days, though, immersion is about as prized as an airplane seat surrounded by screaming babies with no nearby emergency exit to fling yourself from. Or at least, it certainly seems that way.
There are very few things we're absolutely certain of in this world, but here's one of them: Activision likes money. If it gets you to whip out your wallet in a hurry, it's in. If not, it's out faster than you can say, “Isn't it just a teensy bit odd that none of Activision's big-name titles feature female leads?” According to sources within Activision, it's no mere coincidence, either. Case in point: True Crime: Hong Kong. Or, as it was once known, Black Lotus.
"Black Lotus was a great project internally," an unnamed source told Gamasutra. "We were all very proud of what we were trying to make and the team was excited. We made great progress."
Apparently, the game was originally an over-the-top love letter to Hong Kong action-cinema starring a heroine based on actress Lucy Liu. But then 2007 happened. After watching games like Halo 3, Madden, Modern Warfare, and Assassin's Creed climb to the top of the charts powered by a tasty cocktail of testosterone, Mountain Dew, and live grenades, Activision decided that “guy stuff” sold.
"We were all on board, and then Activision killed it, said they don't do female characters because they don't sell," the source continued.
"Activision gave us specific direction to lose the chick," said another source.
Black Lotus was then handed off to a United Front Games, where – after a few nips and a couple tucks here and there – its main character re-emerged as a gruff, tough manly man. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Since 2005, Activision's only female leads have been locked into their roles by preexisting licenses. You know, Barbie, Dora the Explorer – that kind of thing. Apparently, Activision's empire is one where the latest trends are king, and games are frequently re-worked mid-development to appease the whims of allegedly sketchy focus tests.
When reached for comment, Activision denied the whole shebang, noting that it “does not have a policy of telling its studios what game content they can develop, nor has the company told any of its studios that they cannot develop games with female lead characters."
Somewhat hilariously, this scuttlebutt emerges from the woodwork mere days after Activision lost a sexual harassment case to the tune of at least $1 million. Oh universe, you and your love of comedic timing.
Well, we suppose it was inevitable. After being handed their walking papers earlier this week, former Infinity Ward bosses Jason West and Vince Zampella have rallied their lawyers for what promises to be the court equivalent of a train wreck colliding with the last two Matrix movies and the remnants of M. Night Shyamalan’s movie career.
“We were shocked by Activision’s decision to terminate our contract,” said West. “We poured our heart and soul into that company, building not only a world class development studio, but assembling a team we’ve been proud to work with for nearly a decade. We think the work we’ve done speaks for itself.”
“After all we have given to Activision, we shouldn’t have to sue to get paid,” Zampella added.
And boy, are they trying to get paid. The duo hopes to come away from the suit with “at least $36 million” in addition to full rights to the Modern Warfare brand.
Activision, meanwhile, has dismissed the lawsuit as “meritless.”
“Activision is disappointed that Mr. Zampella and Mr. West have chosen to file a lawsuit, and believes their claims are meritless. Over eight years, Activision shareholders provided these executives with the capital they needed to start Infinity Ward, as well as the financial support, resources and creative independence that helped them flourish and achieve enormous professional success and personal wealth,” said a statement from the publisher.
Modern Warfare 3 who? Looks like World War 3’s going to be waged in a courtroom. Grab some popcorn, folks. It’s time for fireworks.
Activision’s about to declare war on gamers’ wallets with Modern Warfare 2, and we imagine Bobby Kotick and co. couldn’t be happier. However, according to Call of Duty creator Infinity Ward, Activision wasn’t always so gung-ho about pulling the series out of World War II.
“With Call of Duty 2, we were dead set against it being World War 2," Infinity Ward boss Vince Zampella said, "but Activision really wanted it, the compromise sort of being that we'd get some dev kits for consoles in exchange for doing a World War 2 game.”
"And something I'll add to that, Activision also did not want Modern Warfare. They thought working on a modern game was risky and [thought], 'oh my god you can't do that, it's crazy!' They were doing market research to show us we were wrong the whole time," he explained.
As of last count, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare sold over 14 million copies.
Bobby, if we were in your shoes, we’d hire Infinity Ward not only as a consultant for Activision as a whole, but as our own personal life counselor. We’d also donate a few million dollars to Future’s Maximum PC publication, with the stipulation that 40% of it is to land in the pockets of a blogger named “Nathan Grayson.”