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Commentary: Activision: Push reset on ‘Call of Duty’

Modern Warfare 3' was released Nov. 8, 2011, for Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii and PC.

Something about me wants to buy “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3,” but I just can’t.

It’s no secret that the developers behind the smash franchise don’t change up their formula much on a game-to-game basis. From a financial perspective, there’s really no reason to. The games are guaranteed to make boatloads of cash.

In fact, “Call of Duty: Black Ops,” which was released in November 2010, raked in $310 million in sales in its first 24 hours on sale, becoming the largest entertainment launch in history, according to the game’s publisher, Activision.

Considering “Modern Warfare 3” is the third chapter of a story tied to an already huge franchise, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect the title to rake in just as much cash. Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Morgan Securities, said he expects “Modern Warfare 3” to top $1.1 billion in sales after six weeks of release.

That said, money is the problem here. It’s capitalism trumping creativity.

There’s no real incentive for the suits at Activision to switch things up with this franchise. After all, the old saying is, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Financially, there ain’t nothin’ broke. Creatively, however, “Call of Duty” needs a makeover.

There’s no discernible difference in “Modern Warfare 3’s” multiplayer mode — the reason why millions of people buy the game — and the multiplayer modes of its predecessors. Not only is it aesthetically similar — it’s almost an exact replica of “Modern Warfare 2” in that regard — but the game also runs on an update of the same engine which has powered “Call of Duty” games as far back as “Call of Duty 2” in 2005.

Apart from some changes to the game’s killstreaks, one of the game’s biggest “new” hooks is Survival Mode. However, it really isn’t anything all that different, as it’s essentially the zombie mode from “Black Ops” and “Call of Duty: World at War,” but with humans.

If you’re rich or draw so much entertainment value out of “Call of Duty” that $60 is truly worthwhile for a game that’s effectively been released multiple times already, fine, go ahead and splurge. I don’t have any room to tell you not to buy something you truly love playing. But for someone like me who doesn’t find first-person shooters to be my forte, there’s really no incentive to buy.

Why pay significant money for a rehash when you could buy legitimately great sequels like “Batman: Arkham City,” “Uncharted 3” or “Battlefield 3,” three recent releases lauded by critics? And, if you haven’t already, splurge on “Portal 2,” which is quite possibly the most fun I’ve ever had gaming (though the game was released in April). It’s a sequel which is a massive upgrade in story and scale — and the original, though shorter, was darn good as is.

I admit that I dropped $60 on my first “Call of Duty” game last year. I quite enjoyed “Black Ops,” which was my first venture into the franchise.

Soon after, I got the chance to play “Modern Warfare 2,” the predecessor to “Black Ops,” and I enjoyed that one as well, mostly for the sheer scale and Michael Bay-ness of the campaign and how fun the Spec Ops mode was.

But, after playing those two, what incentive is there to dump $60 on a game I’ve essentially played twice already?

There is none, and the more vocal gamers seem to agree.

Review aggregator Metacritic.com currently ranks the Xbox 360 version of “Modern Warfare 3” as an 89 (out of 100) based on reviews from professional critics. However, users of the website aren’t so friendly, giving at an average of 2.8 (out of 10), based on more than 1,600 user reviews.

What’s worse, users gave the PlayStation 3 version a 2.2 (compared to an 88 from critics) and the PC version a 1.5 (compared to an 83 from critics).

So, Activision, build a new engine for your franchise. After all, it’s not like you can’t afford it. Build an engine with graphics that rival “Battlefield” and “Crysis.” And, most of all, change things up. Give me a different experience — not radically different, as I’m sure that will alienate fans — but something much more tangible than just the tiny modicum of change presented in “Modern Warfare 3.”

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