Yup, I went there. I’m not taking refuge in nuances. Unlike many critics, I’m not weaseling out of making a tough call by saying that they are both great games.
Of course they are both great games, but no one can honestly reply, “I don’t care” when asked if you should pull into Burger King or McDonald’s. (Other suitable analogies: Toscanini versus von Karajan, Red Sox versus Yankees, Ginger versus Mary Ann.)
When it comes to these global mass-market products, everyone has a favorite. And when it comes to the latest generation of hard-core first-person combat shooters, I find Bad Company 2, released recently by Electronic Arts for Windows PCs, the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3, more sophisticated, more immersive, a boatload funnier and simply more interesting than Modern Warfare 2.
I think that phone ringing is Bobby Kotick, chief executive of Activision Blizzard, publisher of the Call of Duty series, calling to tell me that he’s going to eat my heart for breakfast tomorrow while he enjoys his world-class art collection. O.K., I’m just joking about the threatened ventricle roasting. But those are the sorts of passions involved in the fight between E.A. and Activision for the loyalty (and money) of the serious shooter fans who collectively spend millions of hours every day playing these games.
The Call of Duty franchise, after all, has sold more than 55 million copies and generated around $3 billion in retail sales over the past seven years. The most recent game in the series, Modern Warfare 2, was the biggest commercial hit of 2009 and has already become one of the best-selling games of all time.
John Riccitiello, the chief executive at Electronic Arts, had only one hope of cracking Modern Warfare 2’s stranglehold on today’s shooter fan: the Stockholm game studio E.A. acquired in 2006 that is known as DICE.
As recently as five years ago the Swedish company’s Battlefield series was riding high. If you were a serious online PC shooter fan in the middle of the last decade, you were certainly playing Battlefield games. But then Activision swiped the market. Moving the Call of Duty games from World War II to the modern day made the games more exciting for many players.
The Call of Duty games included a robust offline component, allowing players to progress through a scripted story surrounded by computer-controlled opponents and comrades, while the most popular Battlefield games were essentially built to be played only online against other people. And players of Call of Duty were able to build a persistent online identity, so their virtual soldier would become more capable and deadly over time; earlier Battlefield warriors would almost always begin with the same abilities.
With Bad Company 2, the Battlefield series has now matched or exceeded the Call of Duty series in each of these areas.