If you’ve been playing Call of Duty games all your life, you’ve pretty much been playing the same game over and over again. You’re an army guy (which army? Doesn’t matter) and you point your gun, shoot the bad guy, blow up a building, maybe commit a few war crimes, and the day is saved. This is the boiled-down plot of just about every entry in the franchise.
But in another more granular way, you’ve been playing radically different games. While the basic premise of every Call of Duty game is pretty much the same, they don’t all feel like each other. Their guns, movement, and visual styles vary from entry to entry, and for someone who likes one developer’s style but isn’t a fan of another’s, the changes can be jarring. Ask anyone who played 2019’s Modern Warfare and then tried out Black Ops Cold War and they’ll tell you just as much.
It doesn’t seem like that’s going to be a problem anymore though. An important, although minute, detail revealed in today’s Modern Warfare 2 and Warzone 2 news blast is that Activision has opted to ditch that way of doing things. Instead, every Call of Duty game going forward is going to look and feel similar, like siblings instead of cousins. For the franchise, which has stagnated with its past two releases, it’s a decision that will only help players going forward.
With yearly releases, anyone can point to two entries in the Call of Duty franchise and say they’re the same thing. For the most part, they’d be right. Both structurally and thematically, this isn’t a very diverse franchise. It has, and always will be, a set-piece-oriented shooter, where explosions are meant to be livelier than the people causing them. But no two Call of Duty games feel the same.
Different weapons, perks, and maps all lend to the feeling of something new, but what really makes that difference is foundational. Call of Duty games, year by year, hardly ever use the same exact engine. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, for instance, uses a heavily modified version of the Black Ops 3 engine, which itself is a similarly modified version of the Black Ops 2 engine. 2019’s Modern Warfare uses a revamped version of the Infinity Ward, or IW, engine. The same has been employed in Warzone and Vanguard. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, which was released between Modern Warfare and Vanguard, went back to using a modified version of the Black Ops 3 engine.
Every year, players would get a game with a different engine than last year’s game. It meant that everything felt just a bit different. Running was faster or slower, players could jump higher, guns felt heavier or lighter. In some cases, entire features would be removed as well. Black Ops Cold War didn’t have Modern Warfare‘s tactical sprint or mantling, two features that had become fan favorites and were present in Warzone.
Call of Duty’s yearly changes made for an inconsistent experience. It’s a franchise where, regardless of how long it’s been since you played one of the games, you know what you’re getting. But that familiarity needs to be more than skin deep. Past being a surface-level first-person shooter, Call of Duty games need to feel the same.
With picking a single engine to run Call of Duty games going forward though, Activision is taking a bit of a risk. That engine needs to be solid, not something that splits the fanbase. If half of Call of Duty’s players don’t like the engine that’s going to power the franchise’s next two games, how likely are they to actually pick it up?
I have a feeling that the company won’t have to worry about that though, having chosen the right studio to put together that engine: Infinity Ward. The developer has been behind most of the iconic entries in the franchise, including Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Likewise, it’s the one responsible for the IW 8.0 engine, which is used in 2019’s Modern Warfare and Call of Duty: Warzone.
For the upcoming Modern Warfare sequel, which I’ve taken to calling Modern Warfare 2-2, Infinity Ward is developing yet another engine, one that Activision claims the studio has been “working on for years.”
Considering Infinity Ward’s track record, it’s safe to hope that players will find that the next Call of Duty game feels good to play. For Activision’s sake, it really has to. Otherwise, the company will be stuck with an engine players hate in one of its most popular franchises for years to come.
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