The Call of Duty series has gone from the Second World War to the present day and now, with Black Ops, back to the Cold War. That's seventy years of warfare covered across seven main Call of Duty games.
The fact Black Ops spans multiple decades and multiple conflicts shows that for a series born on basing itself on a historical conflict (the Second World War), the historical inspiration for future Call of Duty games seems to be running dry. World War 2 is a dead horse, Vietnam has never been a happy hunting ground for video games and no other wars of the post-1945 era were big enough or dare I say exciting enough to base an entire game on. Which is why I think Treyarch have made the right decision to compile a "highlight" reel of the Cold War, rather than simply settle for "Call of Duty: Vietnam".
And the Modern Warfare series? While free of the burdens of historical accuracy, with its fantastical tales of nuclear explosions and Russian invasions, it's a series that is now tied to a single plotline, one that irked many fans in the second game with its ridiculous story. When that story comes to an end - or as seems more likely wears out its welcome - it would bring Modern Warfare as we know it to an end with it.
So it makes you wonder: where can the series go next? While its multiplayer modes will no doubt continue to be refined and will be great successes regardless of the era or setting they're dropped in, they still (for the immediate future, at least) need a singleplayer game to ship attached to, and to dictate its maps and weapon loads.
There are two things to consider when compiling either a wishlist or prediction sheet, then: where the concept of a first-person shooter can go, and where commercial necessities will allow it to.
I'd love to see a game take place during the era of muskets and bayonets, like the Napoleonic Wars or the US Civil War. But Call of Duty has always, regardless of the setting, been a game about fast-paced combat through linear stages with modern firearms. Stepping back to that time of open battlefields (or any other earlier period in history) would require a total overhaul of the game's pace and mechanics, and if that happened it wouldn't be Call of Duty, would it? I don't think Ice-T would be so keen on Call of Duty: Pistols at Ten Paces.
Conversely, you may think a game set during the Suez Crisis of 1956-57 would make for an interesting experiment, and in many cases it would. It's "modern" warfare and there are multiple factions to play through the conflict as. But British, Israeli and French soldiers fighting the Egyptians over a canal isn't sexy. It won't sell, especially to Americans.
So what's left? If the historical material is running dry and Modern Warfare has been done (not to mention the latter series has also been decapitated by the departure of many of its key personnel), where can Activision possibly take the series if it hopes to release at least one Call of Duty game a year?
While the obvious answer would be to simply "reboot" Modern Warfare with a new cast of characters, and continue to release more Black Ops games, I'd like to see Activision and its studios like Treyarch and Sledgehammer be a little braver.
Provided Black Ops is a good game, a few more of those would be fine. But after that, a "near future" conflict is one example for future material, a la the Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter series. Another is to create elaborate, fictional conflicts in which to set a game. Not just a few battles or events like in Modern Warfare 2: entire wars. A NATO vs Warsaw Pact clash during the mid-1980s would be my pick, for example. 99 Red Balloons, Sony Walkmans, nuclear fallout, the works. Or a China vs USA struggle over Taiwan in the 1990s. Or something in Brazil in the 1950s. With Nazis in the jungle.
Or they could be even braver, and make the game Call of Duty's creators were only ever rumoured to be working on: a science-fiction title. Something to beat Halo or Resistance at their own game. Maintain all the hallmarks of a Call of Duty game - incremental multiplayer upgrades, non-stop cinematic interruptions and cleverly-placed enemy spawn points - only, now you get to use laser weapons instead of rifles.
Whichever route Activision and its various Call of Duty developers choose to take, then, let's hope (at least for the sake of its millions of fans) that given this crucial time in the franchise's history, a decision is made to roll the dice and breathe a little life into Call of Duty. After all, the best thing that ever happened to the series was a bold decision in 2007 to break from tradition and try a setting that was unexpected for a Call of Duty game.