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Yes, ‘Call of Duty”s Single-Player Campaign Will Be Missed

It's always premature to declare the death of a videogame series. The creative seas of the big-budget games industry ride unending tides of stagnation and reinvention, a cycle of death and renewed life that wrings millions of dollars out of consumers every year. If you miss something, just be patient; it'll come back, eventually. This is videogames, after all. Death is always temporary.

Even so, it's hard for me not to feel a pang of sadness over the confirmation that Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, developer Treyarch's newest installment in Activision's mammoth first-person shooter franchise, will be without a traditional singleplayer campaign when it ships this fall.

According to Treyarch, this is a daring move, built around offering a more complex, most involved multiplayer suite than any that's ever existed in a Call of Duty title. And maybe it is; news that BO4 will include a true battle royale mode is certainly intriguing, and there's always a chance that Treyach—routinely the most innovative of Activision's stable of rotating Call of Duty developers—could pull off something truly remarkable. What I played at the game's reveal event yesterday was certainly fun. Daring, though? it's too soon to say.

What I can say is that Treyarch made the best Call of Duty campaigns in the past decade, and its contribution to the strange saga of singleplayer Call of Duty is going to be sorely missed.

I've been frustrated with the most recent Call of Duty campaigns, but the core potential of the series' singleplayer narrative remains. Whether at their best or worst, Call of Duty campaigns are massive, expensive, well-researched spectacles, drawing together reams of actual military expertise and fantastical military fiction into a shooting-gallery slurry, each bit suffused with ideas about America's complicated and often ugly relationship with its armed forces.

And Treyarch told these stories the best. The Black Ops series refines the formula to the point of paranoia, pushing it as far as it can possibly go before breaking. From Cold War hallucinations to futures ruined by climate change and overtaken by sentient military AI, Call of Duty: Black Ops has always provided players with absurd and fascinating sites of cultural exploration. The subseries has been smartly designed, wildly written, and blisteringly entertaining to play. The writing is not always good, in a traditional sense, and the design is sometimes too esoteric for its own good. But more than anything else in the entire two-decade Call of Duty ouevre, Black Ops has always offered something to talk and think about—even if you hate it.

But with no traditional singleplayer to speak of, Treyarch is electing not to offer that sort of singular experience this year. From a financial standpoint, that may be a wise decision. It's certainly a money saver. But it's still a loss, and even if the Call of Duty campaign will one day live again, I'm here to pay my respects for its loss here and now.

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