A campaign to send the latest Call Of Duty into record-breaking “dislike” territory on YouTube has many questioning the marketability of the franchise, but Infinite Warfare has more going for it than some would like to admit.
It’s a campaign that’s been raging for years. Between corporate mudslinging and consumer backlashes, Activision’s Call Of Duty franchise is the juggernaut that keeps on kickin’, having defined the model of annualisation that almost killed Assassin’s Creed and sent Guitar Hero into a five-year hiatus. Its relevance has hardly waned: it seemed like 2013’s Ghosts and 2014’s Advanced Warfare had heralded in the beginning of the end of Call Of Duty, but Treyarch’s Black Ops III last year went on to sell almost 20 million copies. It’s a far cry from the 27 million copies of Modern Warfare 3 across PS3 and Xbox 360, but the reality is that Call of Duty still has a place, and no amount of dislikes is going to stop it: even when consumers have knocked it down, it’s managed to bounce straight back up into relevance.
The Dislike Campaign
The hype train went into overdrive early last week when a promotional poster teasing Call Of Duty: Infinite Warfare and Modern Warfare Remastered was leaked. The latter title — undoubtedly the best Call Of Duty entry and a game that has aged spectacularly despite having been released almost a decade ago — certainly helped drive a lot of that intrigue, and Infinity Ward played into the hype with its own cryptic teasing with fans on social media. Surprisingly, it seemed as though Call Of Duty was “cool” again: Activision appeared to have won back a lot of its critics that for so long had been tiring of the series’ annual campaign to “innovate” and “exhilarate” gamers.
Then the reveal happened. The trailer was released, and we had the details. Call Of Duty: Infinite Warfare was a real thing, and Modern Warfare Remastered was being bundled along with it, albeit exclusively with the game’s pricier Legacy Edition.
Suddenly and unexpectedly, the “community” turned. Looking back over every “reveal” trailer on the official Call Of Duty YouTube channel, it’s clear that there is a campaign to mass-downvote the trailer into record-breaking territory. Not even Ghosts, the lowest-rated console Call Of Duty game in the franchise’s history, comes close to the negative response that Infinite Warfare has received.
“I hated this trailer so much I made another youtube account so I could dislike it again,” said one user. “Keep the dislikes coming, boys,” said another. You get the picture. A bit like snowballing in a MOBA, dislikes on YouTube tend to gather momentum the more people encourage others to dislike: a neutral viewer without any genuine interest in whatever the video is about, might be more inclined to hit “dislike”. It’s the online equivalent of a looting riot.
That’s not to say there aren’t any genuinely frustrated Call Of Duty fans. I’m certainly one of them, and it’s why I think Modern Warfare Remastered is the best thing to happen to the franchise in a while. Yet there needs to be some middle ground on the expectations we thrust at the Call Of Duty studio “trifecta”, because it’s tough trying to convince the already-converted haters that your game is worth playing.
It must be hard being a Call Of Duty developer. When World of War was released back in 2008, it had the unfortunate task of trying to out-perform Modern Warfare, which had set the industry ablaze the year before. Treyarch did an admirable job, and some might even argue that WaW is a more rounded, balanced multiplayer game. The main criticisms, however, were centered on its World War 2 setting. After three Call Of Duty entries set during the era, Modern Warfare was a breath of fresh air when it came along in 2007, and so returning to the War a year latter gave WaW a stale, unattractive feel. Infinity Ward, however, was up and about: it had refined the boots-on-the-ground gameplay that the series was known for, with a multiplayer experience that would be hard to top. In 2009, Modern Warfare 2 offered a lot of what made its predecessor so great and then some, and Black Ops was a nice little retreat to a historical setting beyond the World War II era, which Treyarch was all-too familiar with. Both developers were taking risks and fans were embracing that.
Then came Modern Warfare 3. The Xbox 360 version is the highest-selling Call Of Duty game ever, but despite its critical and commercial acclaim, it was the beginning of the hate campaign. Three entries in the same setting with little innovation and an intimidating range of weapons, classes and perks. Call Of Duty had officially lost its mojo … or so its critics argued. “Where’s the innovation!?” they would cry. “Another Modern Warfare?”
Black Ops 2 felt like the natural next step. A blend of past, present and future, incorporating flexible game design and a familiar yet refreshing twist on storytelling and multiplayer. Ghosts was, as we all know, uninspiring, but Advanced Warfare looked to take advantage of the Titanfall hype with a jetpack-boosting, wall-jumping, fast-paced futuristic shooter that did it all better than EA’s innovative outing. This was the innovation and evolution Call Of Duty fans had been waiting for.
The downside, however, was that it didn’t “feel” like Call Of Duty. It felt like its own game, “inspired by” the franchise we’d come to appreciate after a decade. But it’s what we wanted, right? There’s really nowhere else you can go beyond the sky, and gravity-defying gameplay is the natural evolution of the “boring” boots-on-the-ground nitty-grittiness of the series proper. Black Ops 3 takes it a step further, with a chain-movement system not all that unlike Titanfall‘s movement system. In fact it’s more Titanfall than Advanced Warfare was, that’s for sure.
There seems to be a general consensus in regards to Infinite Warfare, at least among those that aren’t impressed by the trailer. That is that the fast-paced movement of AW and Black Ops 3 is growing tiring, and fans want a return to the “nitty gritty” gameplay that defined the series. Except that’s what they were tired of four years ago, and it’s why we’re here now with Infinite Warfare.
Let’s try and discuss this constructively. After the fluid, smooth, advanced movement of AW and Black Ops 3, a complete shift and return to the grounded gameplay of older Call Of Duty games would feel strange, particularly in an era where a divided audience demands “innovation” and “change” on a yearly basis. The addition of Modern Warfare Remastered is something we can “go back” to, and its inclusion will be a fantastic reminder of where it all started. I played it recently and it still holds up rather well, but I do think younger generations are going to find it lacks the flexibility and smoothness of more recent entries. Let’s not kid ourselves: Modern Warfare Remastered is as much a cash grab as it is an ode to a classic, one that has been given a fresh coat of paint to remind us that, yeah, Call Of Duty is a big deal, and that it’s done a lot for the genre and industry more broadly.
There are two quotes from Activision that really stand out for me.
“On one hand, this game is the kind of gritty, boots on the ground, visceral war story that Call of Duty is known for. On the other, its future setting takes players on a journey of epic scale and proportions, providing incredible gameplay innovations and new experiences for our fans. This is a grand scale, old-school, all-out war in an epic new-school setting. And it’s going to be a hell of a lot of fun.” – Dave Stohl, Studio Head of Infinity Ward
“The entire campaign – from boots-on-ground combat to piloting high speed space-fighters – occurs as a near seamless experience with few visible loading times, and delivers the hallmark, blockbuster franchise moments that fans love.”
Now this is PR fluff. It’s also at odds with pre-order promotional material, which says Infinite Warfare “..will incorporate the popular chain-based movement system players know and love”. Black Ops 3 arguably did it better than Advanced Warfare, tightening the screws and keeping players closer to the ground and buildings — it felt like less of an aerial battle — but this is where Activision and its Call Of Duty developers will continue to struggle in terms of servicing those that are actually engaged with the brand.
It could be that the YouTube like-to-dislike ratio is a legitimate metric of determining the community’s impression of Infinite Warfare, but it’s hard to take that at face value when you have trolls actively working to get the dislike total up. Let’s give Infinity Ward some flak: the hatred directed at the chain-movement system started after the release of Advanced Warfare, a time when Infinite Warfare would have already been in development. Much like how we reached an end-point for the “modern warfare” era with Modern Warfare 3, we’re reaching that point now, but with three studios working on their own Call Of Duty entries, it’s a method of favouritism to establish which futuristic interpretation we like best.
With Modern Warfare Remastered there to feed into our nostalgic cravings, that appeal to invest in Infinite Warfare puts even more pressure on Infinity Ward to deliver. And really, if any studio deserves a chance to show us their own interpretation of the future, it’s Infinity Ward. They are the ones that set us down this path, after all.
What are your thoughts on Infinite Warfare? Share your thoughts in the comments below!