What’s Old is Old Again (Premium)

The nostalgia racket isn’t new to videogames---witness the Atari hits packages of the 1990s---but it’s starting to get out of control. Are there any new ideas anymore?

I mean, of course there are: Just witness the incredible indie games market on Xbox, in particular. But when it comes to big titles from big studios, the videogame industry---like Hollywood---is all about recycling ideas again, and again, and again.

As a lifelong videogame player---I’m part of the first generation of folks to grow up with dedicated videogame consoles and the first personal computers---there is a part of me that welcomes this trend. But as someone who likewise struggles to find new music that I like, I find the current push to recycle old ideas and re-release old gaming titles a bit troubling.

Call of Duty is, perhaps, the ugliest and most obvious example.

This game series just keeps repeating the past over and over again, reprising the only three franchises---World War II, Modern Warfare, and Black Ops---that have resonated with gamers. And of the three, World War II is the most threadbare, with six of the 18 major (mostly) annual releases---OG Call of Duty, Call of Duty 2, Call of Duty 3, Call of Duty: World at War, Call of Duty: WWII, and now Call of Duty: Vanguard---focused on this same scenario. There have also been four Modern Warfare games and five Black Ops titles, plus three would-be franchise starters---Ghosts, Advanced Warfare, and Infinite Warfare---that went absolutely nowhere.

But here we are again, 4 years after COD: WWII, and Activision is going back to the well again with yet another WWII COD title called Call of Duty: Vanguard. Part of me is OK with this. I am a fan of history, after all, and I’ve read so many World War II books, and watched so many documentaries, that my wife routinely mocks me with, “do you think it’s going to have a different ending this time?”

But from a gaming perspective, COD: WWII was a great game, and I finished the single-player campaign and have returned again and again to the multiplayer experience. Plus, I absolutely loathed COD: Modern Warfare (the 2019 reimagining), at least its multiplayer component, and I likewise gave up on COD: Black Ops Cold War for the same reason a year later: the multiplayer sucks in both cases. It just doesn’t feel right.

For this otherwise dedicated COD gamer, that one-two punch of terribleness has left me reeling. I was happy to revisit the fantastic remasters of the OG Modern Warfare 1 and Modern Warfare 2, in turn, but I’ve mostly stuck to 2018’s COD: Black Ops 4 in the wake of COD: WWII. That’s a long time to be stuck playing the same game.

But what’s the difference? No matter which COD title you do choose, you’re still playing the same game. The last three titles, in sequence, have all been new takes on older franchise hits. And it’s a sad statement that the most interesting thing about these games is when Activision’s three s...

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