Keeping a franchise fresh is no cakewalk, even with a following and brand recognition as strong as Call of Duty (CoD). Since its move into the information age with 2007’s Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, the series has shambled from ‘best modern military FPS’ to something approaching a gun-toting version of EA’s yearly sports releases. But hope does remain. Alternative game modes like “Zombies” and the hide-and-seek-style “Prop Hunt” have gained considerable popularity in recent years, injecting new life into the old CoD formula — and there are at least a few reasons why innovations like these should be franchise staples going forward.
It’s Good for Growing the Playerbase
We all love a good spot of Hollywood-style ultraviolence and high-octane bullet-fests.
Gamers are, after all, a diverse bunch; you can’t swing a rolled-up copy of an extinct video game magazine without hitting at least a few who’d rather cook meals than grenades. Casual, wholesome party games, like Overcooked and the Mario Kart titles — designed for short spurts of enjoyment in social settings, preferably with snacks and booze — are an evergreen niche that CoD can, and should, tap into.
Never underestimate the power of fun with friends. A good time punking each other in “Prop Hunt” could very well tear down those barriers to entry for those hesitant to play the game and act as a first step towards exploring CoD’s core multiplayer. The franchise owes it to its future to help non-FPS gamers get their feet in CoD’s proverbial door, any way it can.
It Gives Fish a Shot at Climbing Trees
Multiplayer FPS is competitive. It’s a sport. Sports require skill and, participation trophies notwithstanding, they have winners and losers.
Twitch (reflex, not the streaming platform) gameplay isn’t for everyone, and losing all the time isn’t much fun either. But no one expects a slam-dunk champion to own the hockey rink. Alternative game modes help to even the field between players of different skill levels and fortes, giving the less reflexively talented a chance to shine — or, you know, chuck a few “git guds” of their own.
This is hardly a new concept: Unreal Tournament, one of competitive FPS’s oldest and most influential titles, had mods or ‘mutators’ to make multiplayer matches more than just runnin’ n’ gunnin’. There was a permanent invisibility mutator that favored the patient and keen-eyed, a chainsaw-only mutator to remove the advantages of gunplay, and many more.
For CoD, this brand of delightful wackiness has benefits beyond being fun for players, as well.
It Helps the Franchise’s Image
With microtransaction culture on the rise, and series entries like Call of Duty: WWII and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered (a reissue of a decade-old game) jumping on the bandwagon, “tired and repetitive” is far from the worst criticism thrown at CoD in recent years.
Handle the truth: gating any sort of in-game advantage or progress behind real money is not popular with gamers. Though not yet at the dreaded level of Asian gacha games, CoD’s dalliance in this area has definitely put a dent in its reputation. Reinvesting some of that profit in small doses of fun for the playerbase can only foster goodwill and give future buyers more confidence in picking up a CoD title.
Of course, CoD isn’t an MMO — it doesn’t live or die by regular content updates. But all the same, everybody likes to feel game developers are delivering their money’s worth. And in the nickel-and-dime era of entertainment, that’s never been more worthy of attention.
It’s Just a Shame Not to, Really
Similarly, in an age of reinvented gaming wheels, standing out from the competition isn’t exactly getting easier with each passing year. One solution? Take more risks. Run more experiments.
And what better test bed for these than a AAA-grade platform with a large audience?
Sure, CoD players want gorgeous visuals, even bigger and better toys, and the visceral exhilaration of hard-won matches. All the things that make AAA shooters great.
But why stop there?
The CoD engine and playerbase are a big, sprawling opportunity to tinker and go wild and to try out new multiplayer innovations on the side without affecting core gameplay. Gabe only knows what can come of this mad science — and, in all honesty, this is not just for CoD. Raising the bar for multiplayer FPS innovation can only be progressive for the genre at large.
War never changes, but war games should. The CoD franchise has languished too long in the comfortable old formula of players racking up kill-counts on each other; it’s time it tightened its grip on the attempts it’s made at innovation and cranked those up to 11. It has a lot to gain — and a spotty reputation with players to lose.
A pheasant masquerading as a human being who writes, games and dreams. Extinct in the wild. Best served roasted.