Back when Call Of Duty was the hottest property on the planet, the Modern Warfare games within the series were rightly lauded as the magnificent titles that they were, and still are. Of course, they boasted the superb multiplayer experience that everyone enjoys, and which has become the main reason people buy Call Of Duty games, but that wasn't the be all and end all of them.
Once upon a time people had discussions about the single player campaigns of those games. It may sounds like a ludicrous thing to say, but it did happen. Such was the impact of Modern Warfare's single player that, for a while, every game's campaign was compared to it. Including the first Black Ops, perhaps in the blind hope that it could capture some of the magic of those Modern Warfare titles.
Think back to 'All Ghillied Up' - a sensational mission that asks you to crawl on your belly through Chernobyl, and even the following level "One Shot, One Kill", where you have to snipe a bad guy and then escape the enemy's retaliation. These are still held in high regard as some of the finest Call Of Duty missions ever, and crucially, these are the still the most memorable in a long line of forgettable solo experiences. Forgettable, save for bad memories, like kicking red barrels and someone shouting gibberish about the "numbers".
In modern Call Of Duty almost every mission has a similar set-up and simple, rote gameplay, slapping a "follow" icon above the head of an ally you have to creep behind. That doesn't sound like too big a deal (All Ghillied Up was a mission about following after all) but the problem is that we've all played so much Call Of Duty that invariably we're almost always miles ahead of the AI. When you run ahead to an objective, but you can't activate a button because the guy you were following hasn't caught up with you yet, that is only frustrating. Nothing happens, because the scripting isn't ready for you yet.
It's ridiculous, and no quality first person game commits such a sin. No genuinely world class first person game assumes that its audience has never played a game like it before, and even if it does, it's through a short tutorial that is often to familiarise you with new mechanics, not the simple moving and shooting that we all know so well.
Call Of Duty has stopped respecting its audience, and as the budget has increased, the quality of the single player experience has diminished considerably.
Last year's Advanced Warfare has a decent, if equally forgettable campaign that was marketed on the back of Kevin Spacey. He does an admirable job, appearing to bring his A-game, but aside from the performance itself and the astonishing facial capture visuals, it's just the same Call Of Duty campaign, repackaged.
Mission after mission requires you to follow someone whose name you can't even remember. The actual quality of Advanced Warfare comes in the way Sledgehammer gives you new, exciting tools each level, which helps create a variation in gameplay we haven't seen since those early Modern Warfare days. But what is the point of giving you all those fun tools if you're stuck behind stupid AI that does nothing but block your shot?
It's not hard, but Activision's army of developers need to do that one, simple thing: understand the audience. Most people will just jump directly into the multiplayer, where there's no tutorial and a shared knowledge, with a level of pre-existing gameplay experience being required and accepted. So why on Earth does the single player campaign act as a tutorial in this way? Why the hell does it hold your hand as if you've never played the game before?
There's only so many times you can be told how to throw a grenade before you wonder what the hell the developers are thinking. How many Call Of Duty games have there been now? You don't see heavy-handed tutorials in FIFA every year, because it's assumed that audience buys every new iteration, year on year.
If Call Of Duty is to continue to have a solo campaign then it needs to evolve. Bombast can stay, of course it should, but there also needs to be moments of subtlety or reflection, dialling things back. Such moments respect the player's intelligence, while accepting that sometimes you just want to blow stuff up. That daft "Press F to pay respects" part in Advanced Warfare could be seen as an attempt at this, but was just plain bad.
Being the brand leader in the first-person genre means you should lead, but it doesn't mean the gamer should be forced to follow - all the time, in every mission. Call Of Duty is still the game to beat when it comes to online play, but the single player campaign still has some way to go. Here's hoping that Black Ops III does just that.