cat ops

CAT OPS: “LOL. This hasn’t changed since MW1.”

I’ve enjoyed a four-year hiatus from the Call of Duty series. Ever since I shot Fidel Castro in his bedroom I figured I’ve probably seen about as much as this series can throw at me. Then I had an offer of Advance Warfare on the next generation. With promises of a 3-year development cycle (which is EXACTLY as long as the First Schleswig War lasted between Denmark and Germany – surely no coincidence?) and new generational hardware, I figured I could best the deep ennui that beset me and raise enough muster to complete what surely would be a longer and more developed campaign…

I couldn’t and it wasn’t, is the appropriately brief answer.

COD may look a little shinier; the shouting may be a bit louder and there are more angry people with accents and balaclavas to shoot on screen than ever before, but scratch the surface and you’ll see the exact same mechanics in play. For starters, you’re shouted at by so many people at once that your best bet is to ignore your teammates’ commands and just leg it for the yellow glowing circles, pressing the ‘Do Stuff’ button (Square on PS4) as you go. If you don’t do this, you’re likely to go crazy waiting for an item to start flashing yellow as your teammates start treating you like you’ve just barged into their house and crapped on their sofa.

‘Open the door, Mitchell. Mitchell, OPEN THE DOOR!’

‘Use your MAGNET GLOVES!’

‘That’ll stain. CLEAN IT UP, MITCHELL!’

When you volunteer yourself to a COD game you’re basically a recruit, surrendering your right to make your own decisions and whatever naive intentions you have of enjoying the game on your own terms. Your length of service typically lasts around 8 hours and during that time you will be abused, humiliated and ordered to perform a number of menial tasks – from opening doors to submerging a boat to avoid a missile attack(!). Towards the end it got to the point where I was just rushing towards closed doors to avoid the abuse, and because I knew my team of mercenaries were too lazy to open them themselves. Not that it helped: I still had to wait for the game to allow me to press Square and still got treated like I’d pissed on their parents.

But if the player has it bad (in relative terms!), surrendering a few hours to intense servitude then just imagine how bad the people who have to churn these games out have got it. They’re basically enslaved by the COD machine, and cursed with the mutually exclusive aims of moving the series forward but not changing a winning formula. So what they’ve done in the amusingly mis-titled Advanced Warfare is release pretty much the same game as we’ve played before, with all the hallmarks: a crap villain with zero motivation, masking a twist you can see a mile away, scenes of barely interactive brutality (quick, this guard’s asleep – grab a pillow and shoot him 5 times in the face), nuclear reactors exploding at the hands of terrorists and the usual ‘whack-a-mole’ mechanics to dispose of hundreds of heavily armed foreigners.

While I understand the developers are pretty much screwed, they still don’t do themselves any favours when it comes to introducing new aspects. For example, one level sees you journeying through a derelict city on a hover-bike. During this sequence you only have to press up on the Left stick – a task so simple I managed to persuade my cat to do it for me. Then, later on, you have to continue your hover-bike adventures in a more pressing scenario. Again, I figured you only had to press forward as the game played itself, so I nestled the controller under my cat’s paw (at this point even he was rolling his eyes in boredom) only to see my character perform a barrel roll and get stuck in a bush – before getting shouted at for messing it up. It turned out that in this moment you can actually control the bike with both sticks. And since I only have one cat – who by now was deeply bored of Advanced Warfare – I had to sigh, put my soup down and do it for myself – but not before jumping over more moving trains than an abandoned city probably should have and outrunning an exploding helicopter.

Other switch-up scenarios included a sequence where I have to identify a terrorist in a crowd. To do this, I’m told to press L2 to scan then R2 to identify. You would think that perhaps someone might have briefed this before the very important mission to find the man who would lead us to the ‘main’ terrorist (remember the twist!). It seems a little lax to assume I’d just pick it up on the job. On a base level this creates a huge disparity between the player and the avatar they’re kind of controllling, but, let’s face it, at this point no-one really gives the barest of shits. The same game gets released each year, millions of people keep buying it, so they release another the next year. Rinse and repeat. I’m not even sure what possessed me to chip in with this, since I’d leveled the same valid criticisms of Black Ops a few years ago.

I suppose as I get older, and discover more hairs sprouting on weird areas of my body, that I just want better for us as a species. We deserve more than to spend our leisure time pressing Square to open virtual doors for non-existent people who don’t care for us. We can do so much better than giving companies millions of dollars so we can endure a dead-eyed Kevin Spacey reading a script that seems to have been hastily assembled by a jingoistic chimpanzee after being exposed to 24, Lone Survivor and Guns and Ammo magazine. We need to aim higher, so much higher – if only for the sake of my cat.

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