The Call of Duty: Modern Warfare series was one of the most critically acclaimed, high selling and well regarded sets of games in recent memory. It never go the popular culture icon status of Halo or even something as dumb as Tomb Raider, but everyone who knew anything about video games knew what an unbridled success the Modern Warfare series became. With Halo taking large breaks between each entry in its series and games like Killzone not exactly living up to the hype, we were pretty much just left with Call of Duty to become the titan of the first person shooter industry, which it did. And great things were expected when Black Ops came out recently. Did it live up? No not exactly. Should this have been anything of a surprise to someone with half a brain? Not at all.
The Modern Warfare games were both developed by Infinity Ward, the main developer of the series. They made the original as well as classics like Call of Duty 2 that helped launch the Xbox 360 with its at the time stunning visuals and immersing gameplay. You never fought the Nazis quite like that. They had a lot to live up to with the Modern Warfare series and did as well as they possibly could. They transported Call of Duty into the future and away from the hackneyed World War II by adding futuristic weapons and a brand new story taking place in the recent future. By doing this, they gave themselves more artistic license and could construct the story any way they wanted based on whatever thoughts popped into their minds. Not everything had to be based around taking down Hitler.
Fans completely loved this new take on the already heralded series. Its multiplayer was a huge hit and the style of gameplay was more realistic than the slightly more cartoony Halo series. It was just a different way of doing things in a genre of games that had taken after the most successful and only console selling one there was. Modern Warfare differentiated itself and essentially created a whole new market for itself and added another titan to the list, transforming a well respected series into possibly the best on the market.
So what to make of Black Ops. The first thing you have to know is it was developed by Treyarch. This should have thrown up red flags the size of Texas to anyone who thought this game was going to be anything close to what the Modern Warfare games were. Who the developer is often is downplayed by the media simply because the video game media isn't made of good reporters. Those guys report real news, not electronics marketed to your nephew Stevie. They always seem to gloss over this fact completely and say hey it's another Call of Duty! Of course it'll be awesome!
Has Treyarch ever made a good game? No. They've made decent games that would've been called okay by the gaming community if they weren't competing with possibly the best developer in the business. Not exactly who you would want to follow. The only thing they're notable for creating in the gaming business is the addition of Nazi Zombies to Call of Duty: World at War. Did anyone think this game was that great? No but Modern Warfare was just one great game at that point and hadn't completely taken off as a lynchpin of the shooter industry.
After Modern Warfare 2 came out last year, it took the gaming world by storm. Everybody had to have a copy. It was clearly the have to have game of last year. Following that, Infinity Ward took the next year off as they tend not to put out titles in consecutive years, handing it off to their understudies at Treyarch in essentially a cashgrab for the publisher. And no cashcow was going to be milked like this one. Black Ops didn't really bear that much of a resemblance to Modern Warfare and people responded almost surprisingly that it wasn't that good. Anyone who has paid any attention to video games at all should have known this. There's a reason Treyarch is the understudy.
The same thing happened with Bioware and Obsidian a few years back with the Knights of the Old Republic series. The first KOTOR won countless game of the year awards and was regarded as possibly the greatest RPG of all time, and clearly is number one on my list. I hate science fiction, or as nerds would call it "fantasy," but this game's story and great plot twist at the end really sucked me in. Obsidian got the second one since Bioware is not a fan of sequels and just bastardized it with a ludicrous story, too much fighting which was never the strongsuit of the turn based style, and an old lady who wasn't interesting at all but was the main antagonist. Needless to say, everyone thought this game was mediocre compared to the first one. On its own it would've been a decent game, but the understudy couldn't handle it. And now anyone who sees Obsidian as a developer should at least be wary. But they're not.
I don't know if video game journalists are afraid of losing access to games they could drop a few bucks on themselves, but they refuse to warn gamers about these understudy developers and that these games will be nothing compared to the well known developers'. This happens many times throughout gaming and yet the mistakes still aren't corrected. Sure there's the occasional outlier like Arkham Asylum that was a hit made by Eidos of all people but lesser known publishers and repeat offending developers should be taken to task.
Treyarch wasn't going to make anything as good as Modern Warfare. I knew that. I don't know why anyone else didn't know that. It was blatantly obvious to someone who's barely played Call of Duty yet I've heard enough from my brother and others to know that it wasn't going to be good. If run of the mill people with no access to these companies can pretty much predict whether a game can be good based on understudy developers, why can't anyone with any kind of audience. Don't be afraid and speak your mind. Worst case you get a few less bad games to review. Big loss.