I’ve always said that trying to be like something else is the one way you guarantee that you’ll be nothing like it. You might copy the way it looks, the way it’s structured, and the way it presents itself — but you’ll lack the heart, the character and — more importantly — the success of whatever you’re trying to imitate.
I wish somebody would tell that to Electronic Arts.
Call of Duty is the most dominant franchise in the world of gaming today. Every release is a major blockbuster event, with hardcore gamers and their casual counterparts alike flocking to each fresh sequel. Activision has a cash cow on its hands that’s likely ripe for many more years of milking, and it would seem that Electronic Arts is jealous. In fact, EA has all but admitted as such, having made regular claims in the past that it is specifically gunning for Call of Duty’s position. EA CEO John Riccitiello has said before that he wants Medal of Honor and Battlefield to reclaim the first-person-shooter crown, and on one level, you can hardly blame a publisher for wanting to be the best in the business.
You can, however, blame a publisher for going about it the wrong way, and looking utterly desperate in the process.
It seems that every new first-person-shooter EA publishes has to be compared to Call of Duty in some way, both by the press and by EA itself. It really kicked off with the latest Medal of Honor, a game that couldn’t have been mirroring Modern Warfare more if it tried. Oh wait … it did try, and the straining, grasping effort was so plainly obvious to everybody who played it that the game looked rather pathetic in the process. Medal of Honor tried to copy Modern Warfare’s contemporary setting, memorable setpieces, and fast-paced multiplayer, but failed on all counts. It instead came across as a rather shallow, vapid, soulless mockery of the Modern Warfare games, and I personally believe that most of it was due entirely to the fact that the developers were trying so hard to be somebody else that they forgot to be themselves. Modern Warfare is a good game because Infinity Ward has a personal love of its series, with a very individual stamp that it puts on its games. Medal of Honor was a creative failure because Danger Close didn’t have that personal touch. It was trying to be something else, which only led Medal of Honor to become a pale reflection of a superior game.
Crysis 2 releases a little later this month, and I fear it’s falling into the same trap. EA and Crytek are making a massive deal of the game’s multiplayer, even releasing a multiplayer demo on Xbox Live, PC and PSN. Even an idiot could tell you that releasing a multiplayer demo on Xbox Live that isn’t Halo or Call of Duty is a bad idea. However, you look at what Crytek is offering and we see the Call of Duty copypasta initiative at work again — a focus on XP, perks and attachments, in a game that, when you play it, feels like a Call of Duty game with invisibility and super-jumps casually tossed into the mix. Now, I’m not against appropriating things from other games that work — but given EA’s stated mission to beat Call of Duty, and the shameless way in which Crytek is promoting its CoD-like multiplayer experience, I can’t help but wonder how much of the design was influenced by EA’s overwhelming desire to beat Call of Duty by producing sub-standard imitations.
I have a lot of hope for Crysis 2, although I really want to play the single-player. That EA’s marketing has sidestepped the campaign in favor of the multiplayer worries me a little. With each new multiplayer trailer that gets released — and a lot of them have — it seems that Crysis 2 is looking more and more like a sci-fi CoD game rather than its own unique thing, and you’re never going to beat Call of Duty if you try to be Call of Duty. Not even your stereotypical CoD fan is that stupid.
It doesn’t look like EA’s modus operandi is going to change anytime soon. Battlefield 3 is currently turning heads, but already the comparisons to Call of Duty are circulating around the Internet. It seems the cycle that we saw with Medal of Honor is happening once again, with EA claiming that this is the year it will become a major force in the first-person-shooter genre, and that Battlefield 3 will lead the charge. I have every hope that Battlefield 3 will be a good title, but if EA insists that DICE do the same thing Danger Close did, and make a concerted, conscious effort to beat Call of Duty at its own game, then I don’t predict we’ll have a great product on our hands. I’d rather see Battlefield 3 stand out on its own merits and not attempt to ape another franchise. I want to see the game strive to be different, and have that unique, personal touch that helped Call of Duty become the major player it is today. You don’t become top dog in this industry by blatantly copying something else — just ask the PlayStation Move how that works out.
EA has some great original titles. The Dead Space series has become a successful example, a game that wasn’t trying to “beat” anything and thus stood on its own without trying to ride on somebody else’s coattails. EA is better than that, and it’s pretty embarrassing to see the publisher gunning for Activision in such a way that it looks almost obsessive. I’m sure the only thing it’s achieved is to give Bobby Kotick an even bigger ego.
I urge EA, for its own good, to drop the grudge against Call of Duty and focus not on victory, but on creativity. Stop trying to be Call of Duty, because you’ll never beat it that way.
Just make some good fucking videogames.
Excited for Crysis 2 despite its nut-getting-on-ness? Feast your eyes on our full game guide.
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