The Call Of Duty videogame series is, as gamers will attest, a juggernaut. It attracts revenues akin to those of blockbuster movies, cost about as much to make, and every year, queues of people turn up for a midnight opening to get their hands on the new release. Not bad for a franchise that started in 2003, and has now become one of the very biggest videogaming – and entertainment – series on the planet.
In that 14 years, though, it’s a game series that’s had its fair share of bumps, and the release of CODumentary – essentially a fan-made, unofficial exploration of the franchise – is a welcome one. It’s from writer-director Jonathan Beales, and his film has the aim of exploring just how the game went from modest beginnings to the cashcow it now is.
At its very best, CODumentary does just that, its unofficial status allowing it to address moments in the series’ history that a varnished, officially-approached take on the story would surely gloss over. The flipside of that is, without official input, too often the story that Beales is trying to tell is one-sided. It’s stuff we already know from a fan perspective, without enough of the added insight you’d hope for from a documentary feature.
Take, for instance, the infamous airport terrorism sequence in Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. This caused such a rumpus that it ended up being discussed in the House of Commons, thanks to a question posted by Keith Vaz MP. Vaz was a vocal critic of the game’s violence and in particular, the accessibility of the game to children.
Whatever you think of Vaz, his argument is not unique, but here, it’s dealt with by playing a question posed in the House Of Commons, and a screen or two of text to explain that his complaint was effectively rejected. But to properly interrogate an important chapter in Call Of Duty’s history, I think he – or someone with a similar viewpoint – needed to be on screen to state their case on their terms.
It’s not the only hole. The abrupt firing of the heads of Infinity Ward, the studio that originated Call Of Duty and gave it arguably its highest moment with Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare, is discussed and acknowledged. But not much more than that. It’s crucial, because it’s the moment when, as the franchise brought in awards and bucketloads of cash, Activision got rid of Infinity Ward chiefs Vince Zampella and Jason West, generating headlines in large fonts across gaming publications worldwide. I’d have happily watched a whole film exploring just what happened there, but here, more time is spent following eSports teams, and someone who queued for the best part of a week to buy Black Ops II first. These are interesting segues, certainly, but I never got the sense that they’re the main thrust of the story.
Beales, to his credit, has cast his net wide to give as full an overview of Call Of Duty as 90 minutes and limited access affords him. He finds some interesting stories, too, not least the inherent sexism in the esports community. At one stage, Ron Atkinson’s grandson pops up to talk about running an esports team too.
But I can’t help but feel that by doing a lot, Beales has given too short shrift to some key moments in the series. Certainly, the removal of two key developers, who subsequently launched against Call Of Duty, has the makings of a fascinating drama in itself.
Treated as a primer for Call Of Duty history, this is solid enough, though, and Beales’ film – treated as a Call Of Duty 101 – is fine, and enjoyable to watch. But I do wonder, and hope, that he’ll be tempted to home in on one or two specific stories in the Call Of Duty history should he be tempted to make a follow-up. This one may give him the springboard he’s earned to do just that.
CODumentary is available now on Amazon Video and Steam.