Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, or I’ve Seen Your Face Before, My Friend

6 05 2014

A few days ago, the internet convulsed with the release of the teaser trailer for the next Call of Duty game. Seriously – the whole ‘net. When I finally decided to watch the thing, it was not served up by GameTrailers, or GameSpot, or Kotaku, or even YouTube – it came from the Wall Street Journal. Clearly, this is a big, big deal. Adding to the bigness was the trailer’s narrator, a CG version of Kevin Spacey, who seems to be playing the antagonist of this outing. His short monologue doesn’t reveal much, but it does seem to paint him as a grasping, power-hungry and amoral politician – quite a reach for the guy earning widespread praise for his portrayal of House of Cards‘ Frank Underwood – a grasping, power-hungry and amoral politician.

There’s been a thread running through many of the Call of Duty games, one of homage bordering on plagiarism. The idea probably came from Medal of Honor, which was originally produced in cooperation with Steven Spielberg. When MoH lifted dialogue and situations from a Spielberg movie, it seemed reasonable. Where MoH wore its Saving Private Ryan roots on its sleeve, the early Call of Duty titles gladly (and obviously) cribbed from Band of Brothers and Enemy at the Gates. With the jump to the present day, the winking tips of the pen continued with pulls from Generation Kill (with the apparent homophobia of one bit of copied dialogue even creating a bit of bad press for Infinity Ward). Spacey’s appearance as Not Frank, We Swear! seems to keep this tradition alive. It comes at a bad time, though, as Call of Duty desperately needs to convince us the series can do things we haven’t seen before.

On that front, things aren’t looking good. Beyond Spacey’s less than innovative character, the plot is all about warfare in the near future, using weapons and equipment based on current DARPA projects – a lot like Black Ops II. The player can use special gear to run along walls and can pilot hulking powered armor – a lot like Titanfall. It’s got high-jumping active camo suits, a lot like Crysis. It’s got hoverbikes, like… okay, the hoverbikes are kind of new (though I could say “a lot like Battletoads” if I wanted to be a jerk about it). I just don’t know that hoverbikes are going to be enough to defeat the distinct sense that we’ve seen all of this before.

Call of Duty is a series that desperately needs to find some newness. Its greatest successes came from taking a creaky, worn premise and finding a new spin on it. It’s entirely possible that Advanced Warfare will do exactly that, but its trailer certainly doesn’t make that seem likely.

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