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Ever wonder why Call of Duty fans always say that the last iteration of the series is always better than the current one? If you scour through message boards long enough, you’ll notice that reoccurring pattern. Some call it “rose-colored glasses syndrome.” Once upon a time, the popular thing to do was bash Call of Duty: Black Ops with a snooty “Infinity Ward would never do that” attitude. All the while, we painted a beautiful picture in our heads of what come from the inevitable release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. Screw your RC cars, attack dogs and currency system and give me my Modern Warfare, right? Every brave new idea or refinement in Treyarch’s vision for Call of Duty was frowned upon at first glance, and November 8th, 2011 couldn’t get here fast enough. Fast forward to today. In the three weeks since Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 released, emotions have ran the gambit. First there was elation, then annoyances, followed by hair-pulling frustration and resentment. Then the pattern goes full circle – Call of Duty fans start clamoring over last year’s game; citing a newfound appreciation for what that particular game did right that the latest game didn’t.
While Treyarch seems to be the bigger punching bag out of the two and a half teams behind Call of Duty, this trend occurs with nearly every game in the series, post Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. But one has to wonder: is this really rose-colored glasses syndrome or a sign of the series’ decline? One of the most popularized statements about the Call of Duty series is that they hold their value, since each game’s community remains surprisingly strong despite their age. But why is that the case? Why are people still glued to Modern Warfare, Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops? What’s the catalyst for this? It could be the degradation of the series. Each of these games lost a little something as time went on; by adding, subtracting, cluttering or tampering with the essence of the series. Where the last game succeeds, the new one fails. There are certainly some shades of grey there, and some Call of Duty games are more privy to these effects than others, but there’s something to be said about this dynamic. I don’t quite know what that something is; and honestly, that isn’t for me to figure out. That’s an issue best suited for Treyarch, Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer to piece together.
My best guess is that it’s a difference of intended perception versus actual perception. These teams want you to perceive Modern Warfare 3 as the follow-up to Modern Warfare 2, and Black Ops as the sequel to World at War. In theory, this makes sense. However, in the minds of the gaming community, the perception is much more literal. Modern Warfare 3 is the sequel to Black Ops. With that in mind, all of those aforementioned subtractions, additions and re-workings that Modern Warfare 3 brought to the table appear far more jarring as opposed to comparing each pseudo-series as separate entities. Like it or not, but Black Ops is the game that sits freshest on our minds, and it’s not as if the Call of Duty community ignored Black Ops’ existence or anything – just look at the numbers, Mason. We played it... a lot of us played it. So, it’s silly for Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer to think that we weren’t going to hold Modern Warfare 3 up to Black Ops’ standards, for better or worse. Yes, MW3 does do a few things better than Black Ops, and vice versa; but it’s hard for many fans to understand why a new feature or improvement from last year’s game didn’t make the cut in Modern Warfare 3. It’s perplexing, and understandably so. Some people will shoo off this argument by saying “ah, well you’re just looking at it wrong;” but in actuality, it’s a very plausible explanation.
No matter how you want to cut it, there’s an ever growing crowd of people reverting back to Call of Duty: Black Ops. Personally speaking, I can’t say I’m against that notion. I couldn’t help but think back to all of the things Black Ops did right and miss it. Personally, my biggest reason is the map design. Modern Warfare 3’s maps aren’t the kind of thing you can fix with a patch – they are what they are. They’re way too small and claustrophobic, and cause an abandonment of player strategy, rampant spawning issues and they render certain weapon types useless (see: sniper rifles). With its tight corridors and close quarters, you are forced to run around like a mad man to make a splash in the game, which is a sharp contrast to Black Ops’ allowance of varied styles of play. Objective-based modes are as fun as ever; however, the tiny maps end up making just about every matchtype feel like team deathmatch since you end up running into a swarm of enemies a few seconds after you respawn. Although Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer plan on tweaking MW3’s spawn placement, I fail to see how any forthcoming patch can truly fix the issue when the maps are the real problem.
If I had spent that extra $49.99 on Elite to have all the upcoming downloadable content, perhaps I would have been a little more patient so I’d get some use out of the money spent; but I didn’t. That decision was by design -- I wanted to wait and see what kind of product Modern Warfare 3 would be before investing in what’s to come. After three weeks of highs and lows, I’m glad I held out. The big question to ask is if Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer is listening. Are they hearing our cries or are they going to pump out more content that mirrors what we were given out of the box? I don’t know, and I don’t want to pay to find out. What’s more, I don’t know if I’ll still own Modern Warfare 3 by that time. The more I look back at Black Ops, the more I wish I was still playing it. Black Ops had its fair share of issues, but at least it had the basics down pat. The maps were solid, the action was far more structured and subdued compared to other Call of Duty titles and most of all, Treyarch sought out and fixed the same connectivity issues that plague Modern Warfare 3 today. If we want to widen the view and look at campaigns and co-op modes, Black Ops proved to be the better value. The Zombies mode in Black Ops decimates the solid, yet thoughtless co-op mode in Modern Warfare 3; and the campaign was far more imaginative and unique to the series, thanks to a story that actually mattered – a first for Call of Duty.
I’m not retracting everything I said in my review for Modern Warfare 3, but I have learned that understanding each new Call of Duty takes time – be it weeks, months or sometimes all the way up until the newest game releases. I believed that I had a good grasp on what Modern Warfare 3 was, but discredited the monster it could become once the community discovers its loopholes and capitalizes on it. When the community was still in that green little discovery phase, it was fun. It felt like we were in it together. We experimented around, tinkered with all of the new toys and had a blast. Today, Modern Warfare 3 is littered with people who’ve learned spawn points and when they swap sides throughout a match. It’s caked with people who use the same exact killstreaks and the same weapons – Type 95 and PP90. Maybe it’s the community that takes the fun out of the community, but the foul is on the developers who facilitate it. Black Ops is no angel either, but sometimes you don’t know what’cha got ‘till it’s gone. I miss numbers.