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Call of Duty: Black Ops III preview: More Call of Duty, less Black Ops

Hayden Dingman | June 24, 2015
I'm going to start this Black Ops III preview by saying something maybe a tad unconventional: I'm the guy who cares about Call of Duty's singleplayer campaigns. It's me. I'm the one. Activision builds out these six-hour blockbuster action circuses for me and me alone. And probably like, a few thousand other people.

If I tolerated the 2025 portion of Black Ops II, it was because it was tied so well into the overarching story of Alex Mason, the protagonist of the original game (and the star of the second game's 1980s section). Flashing forward to 2025 allowed Treyarch to imbue your actions in the past with some sort of future repercussions. And that was good!

Black Ops III...Let's put it this way: If there's no time-hopping section revealed later, I can't help but feel the series has lost something. It doesn't feel unique anymore.

Taking turns

Call of Duty was the first series (as far as I can remember) to stagger its development cycles so it could be "yearly" without requiring a single studio to actually put out a title every year. In the old days this meant two studios traded off releases--Infinity Ward one year, then Treyarch playing second fiddle. Nowadays it's three studios, but the idea is the same.

This setup isn't perfect. The most notable example was when Infinity Ward put out the first Modern Warfare and then Treyarch followed up the next year with World at War which--while a respectable game--came off as a throwback to the series' earlier World War II days when all people really wanted was more Modern Warfare.

But the odd two/three-studio development cycle also resulted in something I found kind of fascinating about Call of Duty: Each studio made something different--at least on the singleplayer side.

So you had Infinity Ward pumping out Modern Warfare while Treyarch tossed out the Black Ops titles, and it was great. People who like to rag on Call of Duty for putting out the same product every year might disagree with me, but certainly for fans there was nuance between Modern Warfare and Black Ops--especially in the campaigns. The much-touted multiplayer side of things felt largely the same year-to-year, but the campaigns and their explored themes were very different.

What I worry about now is the increasing similarity between all three of Call of Duty's singleplayer products. Moreover, I wonder how the hell it happened. Did each studio decide to make near-future games at once? Did Activision decide "This is what the market wants?" Two years ago we got Ghosts with its alt-timeline look at near-future 2017. Then last year we got Advanced Warfare, which went off to the 2050s. And now Black Ops III, in 2065.

Here, we see something more akin to Assassin's Creed, where there are multiple studios involved in the series but they're all oriented towards cranking out the next entry in the same product line. Assassin's Creed Unity follows the events of Black Flag followed the events of III, et cetera.


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