The upcoming Call of Duty title, Call of Duty: Black Ops, was developed by Santa Monica-based studio Treyarch. The studio did not create Call of Duty. Has it done anything for the franchise?
Back in 2003, the Call of Duty franchise was developed and created by Infinity Ward for the PC. Treyarch was brought on board for Call of Duty 2: Big Red One, which, unlike Infinity Ward's Call of Duty 2, focuses on a singular group of soldiers — here, the Big Red One division. The game features narration from Mark Hamill, who starred in Samuel Fuller's war epic The Big Red One, and stock World War II footage.
While Infinity Ward focused on what would become Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Treyarch developed Call of Duty 3. The nuts and bolts of the game were largely similar to Call of Duty 2, with noticeable differences in how campaigns played out in the single player campaign. One new gameplay feature was the addition of hand-to-hand combat. Another was having players drive more vehicles. Online play was reworked as well. Call of Duty 3, however, simply did not have the polish that Infinity Ward's Call of Duty 2 did. That isn't to say Call of Duty 3 is a bad game, because it's not. It's just not Call of Duty 2. Hence the problem.
While Infinity Ward moved on to modern combat for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Treyarch stayed in World War II for Call of Duty: World at War. The game was more violent and grotesque than the previously Call of Duty games. It seemed exploitative, even. Hey, war is really violent and horrible, did you know that? Granted, the Pacific theatre of the war had been largely unexplored, so the setting was, for WWII, a good choice at the time.
And the addition of cooperative play was welcomed, and the Nazi Zombies mode, while gimmicky, was enjoyed by players. The rub is that Treyarch didn't exactly push the series forward like Infinity Ward did. Treyarch, instead, seemed content to tinker and tweak, but left the overhauls, like no more endlessly respawning enemies, to Infinity Ward.
Of course, it is entirely possible that Treyarch was never really given the chance to shine and was told to labour in the shadows of Infinity Ward. But now with Infinity Ward a shell of its former self, Treyarch now finds itself in the driver's seat with the Call of Duty games. Treyarch is now the lead studio for the series, having the most experience developing COD games. That isn't to say that Activision won't farm out other Call of Duty sequels to other developers, but rather, that Treyarch does now have the most know-how for making these games.
The studio's previous efforts were admirable and fun — but often seemed to rely on gimmicks than truly compelling gameplay. They just felt slightly "off". That isn't to say all hope is lost — not by a damn sight! The debut trailer for Call of Duty: Black Ops is a rapid cut of images, but what it seems to hint out seems fantastic. This is the type of game we should have gotten for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, but did not.
Treyarch's most important contributions to Call of Duty could very well be still yet to come.