I was originally reticent to pick up Call of Duty 4. I felt giving the cinematic shooter a modern setting would be pushing it squarely into the realm of glorification of war. But as the reviews started pouring in, I couldn’t help myself. Yeah, it’s another game that contributes to the fantasy that wars are exciting events that pit Americans against the forces of evil in the world; but at the same time, it was a pulse-pouding, no-holds-barred cinematographic experience, and quite possibly the best game I played last year.
Call of Duty 4 did the extraordinary thing that previously only Resident Evil 4 had managed: offer a new installment in the series which managed to both stay incredibly true to its roots, and yet offer something completely unique and riveting. Truth be told, we attempted that in Splinter Cell Double Agent, but ultimately did not pull it off. CoD 4, along with RE4, should be held in high esteem by any team wishing to inject a new dose of excitement in a long-running franchise.
That being said, I’m puzzled by the decision of Activision to go back to World War Two with the next installment in the series, Call of Duty: World at War. They had originally hinted at a new theater of war, but it turns out we’ll be going back to the Second World War, going to such exotic and original locales as Nazi Germany Berlin, and the Pacific. Wow, how compelling.
It sounds totally illogical to take such a step backward when you consider CoD 4 sold a whopping 10 million copies so far. Yet it all becomes clear when you notice who is helming this installment in the series: this is not Infinity Ward’s baby, people; rather, it’s Treyarch’s.
It’s no secret that Activision is alternating between Treyarch and Infinity Ward when it comes to pumping out CoD titles. Heck, that’s how I got to work on Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow and Splinter Cell Double Agent, when these episodes were sent to Shanghai while Montreal spent their time on the odd-numbered titles. What sucks here, however, is that clearly, when Treyarch began their work on the fifth installment of Call of Duty, someone out there didn’t believe in Infinity Ward. There’s no reason to go back to World War Two if it isn’t to minimize the damage of a botched Call of Duty 4. If the fans had rejected en masse the modern setting, they would be confident that the fifth installment would be bringing them back to the wonderful world of Nazis and kamikazes.
In other words, Call of Duty: World at War is quite possibly the result of Activision heding their bets with the modern setting, and placing a bit of their money against Infinity Ward. I bet an executive producer somewhere must have shit his pants the day he saw CoD 4 pass the 10 million units sold mark, though.
As for CoD: World at War, I can’t find much in it that excites me. Darker, more survival horror approach to war? Meh. Integrating the innovations of CoD 4‘s multiplayer into the single player? Not sure how that’s innovative considering CoD 4 brilliantly took them from single player RPGs to begin with… Not to say World at War won’t be a good game; I’ll just wait to learn what’s next on Infinity Ward’s plate before I get worked up about the series again.
And Activision, for betting against your star studio when establishing the setting of the new CoD: bad publisher, bad!