So, I took a little time to try my hand at Call of Duty, Black Ops IIII. And I am left to assume that it’s just one of those things that I simply have a fundamental incompatibility with…either that, or it’s clear that Activision ultimately has no idea how to learn some of the lessons from the games that came before this one.
Now, I’m sure I’m not entirely qualified to speak on the game authoritatively; I own Modern Warfare and the original Black Ops, games whose single player campaigns I’ve started twice and never completed.
I knew going into it that the single player mode was essentially just a tutorial; there were no shortage of pieces written about the fact that the game had no real single player campaign at all. I was also well aware that the game had loot boxes and in-app purchases as integral components of its design.
Jim Sterling has had a number of videos on the topic of lootboxes and microtransactions which I generally agree with, so I won’t go into detail on that front. The bigger issue I have is with the lack of a single player campaign is that adding one is trivial. The first Black Ops game had a story. It was a fairly outlandish one, but CoD has never really had its popularity due to its storytelling. Not having a story-based single player campaign is regrettable, but Unreal Tournament 2004 solved that problem over a decade ago with a simple progression ladder, where multiplayer matches vs. bots were won to advance to the next challenger, and so forth. Its use of the exact same maps and character models as the multiplayer game meant that development time was minimal, it provided players desiring a single player experience a means of doing so, and everyone had a way to get good enough to play multiplayer.
Now, Ben ‘Yahtzee’ Croshaw describes Destiny 2 as a game where the sum total of the objectives is “go to the place and shoot the lads”, with a paper thin story regarding *why* you’re going to the place and shooting the lads. Some readers might say, “but, don’t you like Unreal Tournament, where there’s not only a lack of reason for shooting the lads, but since the lads you’re shooting are in the same arena as you, you’re not even getting the satisfaction of going to the place to shoot them?” Well, yes…but I think there are a few reasons why I hold UT to a different standard than CoD.
First, UT doesn’t have the pretense of realism. For example, the earlier CoD titles that put the franchise on the map had their weapons closely modeled after real firearms, albeit not always military issue. Newer installments have moved away from that attention to detail, but it was a part of the early design. Early CoD games were set in actual historical theaters of war, the first two Modern Warfare installments take place in areas of conflict that are at least somewhat believable, and while Black Ops went for the ridiculous in the back half of the game, it at least began its setting in a historical conflict where one really could see a Black Ops mission taking place. Part of the fun was the fact that players could participate in historical events, and while for many it was likely an excuse to go to the place and shoot lads in uniforms laden with swastikas, there were literally hundreds of first person shooters released before Call of Duty, including iconic titles like Doom and Halo.
Unreal Tournament never did any of this any was always completely fictitious and fantastical in every way, from its remote planets to its impossibly proportioned character models to its brigher colors to its weapon loadout clearly focused on game mechanics, the title was always intended to be taken at face value. Asking why we’re capturing a flag in UT is like asking why we’re stacking boxes in Tetris or eating dots in Pac-Man.
One may well argue that CoD has been moving away from realism for some time, and the lack of a single player campaign simply reflects that sort of shift in focus, with reasoning anywhere from the pragmatic “players were spending 99% of their time in multiplayer anyway”, to the cynnical “A single player campaign, even a simple progression ladder, would conflict with Activision’s primary objective: sell lootboxes/DLC maps/live services”. Moreover, there are probably some who would say that my relative inexperience in playing CoD is a part of the problem. That too is a distinct possibility. Raycevick, who has played them, discusses this in greater detail. However, I submit that if Black Ops IIII is the natural progression of the title, it starts looking more and more like an arena shooter. Making this transition would put it into a subgenre where the things that made CoD stand out in its earlier iterations start to become a liability…especially when this installment has a $60 sticker price – a selling price so high, I could not find an arena shooter for even half of it. I could, however, find several of them for free – from the open source OpenArena and Alien Swarm to Goldeneye Source, Quake Champions, Unreal Tournament, and the 800-pound gorilla: Fortnite.