For the second time in his career, video game developer Vince Zampella walks an unfavorable path potentially leading him to the figurative death of some of his most accomplished work – the death of Call of Duty.
Now head of Respawn Entertainment, Zampella finds himself in a unique position that not many developers, if any at all, have ever had the slight misfortune of finding themselves in.
As we all know, both Zampella and partner Jason West left Medal of Honor: Allied Assault developer 2015, Inc. and publisher Electronic Arts to form their very own studio under rival publisher Activision back in 2002. That studio was Infinity Ward, which went on to kick off the highly popular first-person shooter franchise that would directly compete with their earlier project and would eventually crush it. That MOH-killer is what we all know and love (or hate) today as Call of Duty.
Jason West (left) and Vince Zampella (right)
Over a decade later, after a severe bout of turbulence with publisher Activision, Zampella and West parted ways in the midst of Call of Duty’s booming success to head up newly formed studio Respawn Entertainment, once again under the wing and financial support of Electronic Arts. Following West’s eventual departure, Zamepella and gang now march towards the launch of their debut project only hours away, a sci-fi shooter called Titanfall.
While the intent to commit the bloody murder of Call of Duty, now in the hands of Activision-owned studios Treyarch, Sledgehammer Games, and Infinity Ward (or what’s left of it), is likely not on the minds of the ex-Call of Duty creators, it’s clear that the first-person shooter community sees things a tad differently. With the Titanfall hype train at full speed, the question on everyone’s mind is, ‘will Titanfall kill Call of Duty?’
Call of Duty has been around for a while now, and, as is the case with any excessively popular fad or fashion style, there are more than a few onlookers who want to see it go away for one reason or another. Many looked to EA and DICE’s epic-scale warfare shooter, Battlefield 4, to crush its competition. But as recent history goes, despite pushing the boundaries of what a first-person shooter is, both EA and DICE did nothing more than prove that a rushed product is not a good product. So, on the eve of Titanfall’s launch, can Zampella, with the help of his team, plant the seed once more that would grow into the old oak that overshadows the rest the forest’s envious trees?
Speaking strictly in terms of sales numbers and units sold, Titanfall will barely scratch the surface of Call of Duty’s current monopoly. Launching on only three platforms, the most important of which is currently being outperformed by Sony’s PlayStation 4 in sales, Titanfall statistically doesn’t have the foundation to ‘kill Call of Duty’. That said, Respawn’s shooter will undoubtedly hijack a significant chunk of Call of Duty: Ghosts’ already thin Xbox One audience. Hovering anywhere between 15,000 to 50,000 Xbox One users online throughout any given day, chances are Activision doesn’t want to give up any more of those already unimpressive numbers, and Titanfall is bound to be one of the console’s strongest launches yet.
But what about gameplay? Will Titanfall prove that Call of Duty’s formula is outdated? The answer to that is a bit more complicated.
After hours of playtime in the Alpha, Beta, and at press events, I have zero doubts that Titanfall will be the most fun-filled first-person shooter you will play all year, if not in the last few years. Jet packs, wall runs, double jumps, giant mechs, space guns – Titanfall has everything it needs to become that addicting substance that stimulates your eyes, ears, and other senses night after night. In that sense, I think Titanfall will blow Call of Duty out of the water. As they say, having fun is what playing video games is all about, and Titanfall appears to have it in spades. However, it’s through Respawn’s more casual and accessible approach that I think Call of Duty will maintain the upper hand in a few areas.
As it stands, Titanfall has yet to convince me that it carries the sort of competitive spirit that appeals to the more hardcore shooter audience. I’m mainly speaking to Titanfall’s introduction of AI grunts in player vs. player battles. Respawn has shown that its inclusion results in more action-heavy games that keep the pace constantly rolling. But direct competition between strictly human players is, in itself, a key ingredient in what’s fun for a lot of FPS enthusiasts. That, my friends, is impossible to emulate through anything computer or cloud-controlled.
Take one of the most beloved FPS games of all time: Counter-Strike. What makes it so addicting and so fun for so many? A wide selection of maps? Thousands of weapon choices? Pretty graphics? No. In fact, some of the most dedicated of CS players boot up match after match on only one map, settle on only one or two favorite weapons, and play with all graphics settings turned low. So what drives them when such little variation is involved in a shooter that boasts only some of the most basic principles of game design? I think it’s pretty simple: the primal instinct to prove yourself better others. And the less complicated the medium through which that sort of competition lies, the better. Perks, killstreaks, and weapon attachments aside, when it comes down to it, Call of Duty is all about one nerd using his or her chosen input device to outsmart, outplay, or outgun another nerd – and they love it.
While Titanfall will be busy making tens of thousands of thumb stick and keyboard warriors feel like a totally badass space mech pilot shooting down or stomping on grunt after grunt, Call of Duty will always be there to remind you how bad you suck at shooters, constantly – hopefully – driving you to improve. In the end, it really comes down to what your definitition of fun is.
So, will Titanfall ‘kill Call of Duty’? I think, for some, the answer is clear on an individual basis. For every one gamer that will be more than happy to throw Call of Duty out the window and never look back, another simply won’t see what a game like Titanfall has to offer. I think most will come to realize that both are here to stay. As the new kid on the block, Titanfall has a lot to prove while, at the same time, it’s clear Mr. Zampella and his colleagues know how to make a good game. Call of Duty, on the other hand, still has some fight left and a lengthy future ahead of it.
It will surely be interesting to revisit this topic in few years, however, on the eve of Call of Duty 2016 and Titanfall 2.
What are your thoughts? Can Titanfall and Call of Duty co-exist peacefully?
Be sure to read up on my Titanfall preview and stay tuned to MP1st for incoming Titanfall coverage.