Call of Duty is a unique franchise, for twice in one decade did its revolutionary game-play redefine a genre and set the new standards for other games to follow. One has to appreciate the first time when it broke with the “lone wolf” concept while pushing the Quake III-engine to its limits.
The second time; Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare took what made the franchise successful and introduced a fast-paced action game-play set in a visually detailed environment while making the game itself user friendly. This was the final push that made video games a respectable media and a major part of mainstream culture.
However it became less about making an actual game and more about making a game that tries to be an action movie (an issue pointed out by Luke McKinny in 6 Video Games That Just Didn’t Get It). Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was great the first play through but over time it loses the fun and it feels like you have no say in the action except for “kill or be killed”.
Unfortunately because of Call of Duty’s popularity; FPS (first person shooter) franchises have attempted to imitate its success. A few have done it successfully by borrowing some of its desired elements while many have just done a “copy & paste” the content into their games.
Medal of Honor, Crysis 2 and Killzone 3 are good examples to look at for games that have borrowed elements of Call of Duty successfully. Both used what they felt was needed to enhance the game-play without having to compromise the aspects that made it a unique game.
On the other side of the spectrum you have games like Homefront, Battlefield 3, and Goldeneye 007 that took the “copy & paste” approach. Homefront was over hyped as a new style of shooter created by John Milus only to be nothing more but a watered down Call of Duty. Battlefield 3’s single player campaign was heavily panned for being too much like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 at a slower pace. It was the Call of Duty-aspects in the Goldeneye 007-remake that robbed gamers of what made the original so unique.
Like with the sand-box / crime trend that was started with Grand Theft Auto III; developers are taking a style that is popular and imitating it in the laziest way possible. Also like Grand Theft Auto III; for every original work that was released the market was flooded with five clones.
The harsh point is that, just like Grand Theft Auto, the game-play aspects that have made Call of Duty a success only works with Call of Duty.
Sadly one could not expect for this trend to fade away soon due to the volume of success and cost effective production. For example: 24 hours after its release;Call of Duty: Black Ops sold 5 million units while earning $360 million, that isdouble the success of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt.1 on its opening weekend. Meanwhile: Grand Theft Auto IV made $500 million during its release week but was produced on a budget of $100 million (making it one of the most expensive games developed). Call of Duty: Black Ops had an estimated budget of $10 million.
With this volatile market; the gaming industry is taking a cue from Hollywood and playing it safe. So while Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 may not have added anything new for the FPS-genre; it has made Activision a lot of money at a small production cost. Unfortunately too many developers will very poorly try to imitate Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 in 2012 thinking it will produce the same results