Are yearly updates really worth it?


Call of Duty

CoD is probably the biggest series in modern gaming. It's now well into a cycle of yearly updates, thanks to its two separate development teams, Infinity Ward and Treyarch, working on staggered iterations of the brand.

As a result, the gestation period is twice as long as most yearly updates, as each team effectively gets two years to work on their next offering. The quality level should be sky high, and in both of Modern Warfare's cases, it is.

So should you buy the next one, coming from Treyarch? We obviously can't comment on a game's quality when we don't even know its name, let alone have first-hand experience of playing it. But take a look at the Metacritic scores up there. Treyarch's CoD3 and World at War scored, on average, noticeably lower in review than Infinity Ward's entries. There's nothing wrong with the quality of the games, but perhaps it's the World War II setting that's getting old. 

Even if the next game does finally ditch the World War II setting, there's surely only so many Call of Duty games we can take before we start to tire of the same thing over and over again - you only have to look at Halo and its multitude of pseudo-sequels to see that. Familiarity breeds contempt, after all.

Above: Oh wait, we just got it - that's why they added zombies mode!

Biggest changes over last year: Modern Warfare 2 vs World at War

- Spec Ops missions with co-op play
- Better scenario and scripting

Perhaps the biggest problem here is that CoD4 was a masterpiece. So great, in fact, it's hard to tinker with the formula without changing it for the worse. And that's why every subsequent game is going to struggle. Modern Warfare 2 is still ace and wholly deserving of our coveted 10/10 score, but its impact will not be as strongly felt as CoD4.

Which begs the question: Where do we go from here? Call of Duty 8: Futuristic Warfare? To us, it seems most logical that the single-player game should be given the most attention. The multiplayer was already awesome in CoD4, so changing it now will just be for change's sake.

What we want to see is a deeper single-player with even more emphasis on the characters within it. World at War was criticised quite heavily for its forgettable cast, whereas Modern Warfare had players poring over footage, even editing cameras to see whether Captain Price survived at the end of the first game. That kind of emotional connection is where this sort of game can still be improved.  

Worth the upgrade? From World at War? Yes. From CoD4... well, let's look at this with genuine progress in mind. If you want to continue the story with your favourite characters, then yes, it's an absolute blast and an essential purchase. As for the online mode... CoD4's is still arguably the strongest in the series. So anything past this point has to be revolutionary to truly improve the formula.


Need For Speed

This one's another that's been going for donkey's years, originally appearing in 1994. But, like Madonna, it's kept itself relevant by frequently changing its style to match whatever fad is in at the time. Sadly, again like Madonna, it's not been doing that quite as convincingly of late. Check out the scores in the Metacritic averages there on the right and you'll see what we mean.

Except! The most recent iteration, Need for Speed SHIFT was actually pretty decent. Probably because it lifted the finer points of Codemaster's awesome Race Driver GRID wheel for wheel (not that we're complaining).

EA's jack-of-all-trades approach to racing means the series can't really be judged in terms of progression like Madden or FIFA. But we can look at the series' direction and judge its potential quality using something no-one can argue with - a line graph. Yes, we're bringing out the big guns now.

The release dates are in order, so you can clearly see that older games on the left were better-received than the newer games on the right, with the striking exception of SHIFT which seems to have righted several wrongs in one fell swoop.

So there are two ways to look at it. Firstly, we're on a quality spike, so the next game is likely to be well worth a look. But conversely, the series may well change tack again completely and give us Need for Speed: Mopeds. But only if mopeds come into fashion in the next five minutes. You can never tell.

Is it worth the upgrade? This year? Most certainly. But usually, no. We've got high hopes for the next main edition, though. It's being made by Criterion, who make Burnout.

Can. Not. Wait.


  • Eenieboy - January 12, 2010 5:15 p.m.

    I'd say you should only get buy a game each year if you REALLY do enjoy them quite vigorously and play them a lot. My opinion is now over
  • Bossco - January 12, 2010 5:58 p.m.

    I wish develpoers would spend more time coming up with original game ideas rather than churning out endless updates.
  • OmNomRomRearghNergh - January 12, 2010 6:07 p.m.

    The DLC instead of sequels would work so lovely. Valve has proved that. But of course, money > logic.
  • breener96 - January 12, 2010 6:08 p.m.

    And this is why I stopped buying FIFA/PES and Wrestling games every year! I just don't see it as worth it.
  • teke367 - January 12, 2010 7:03 p.m.

    Games like COD aren't that big of a problem, assuming the story (single player) progresses or is new altogether, but if you're really only getting updated online action, then it's a waste. I remember years ago, seeing a PC football game that professed to not need to be re-released every year. I don't think it was DLC (too early for that), but that each year there would be a $5 upgrade available (I'm guessing at the price). I thought that was a great idea, considering that only the rosters changed. Not sure if because it wasn't on a console, orif it wasn't Madden, but obviously that didn't take.
  • revrock - January 12, 2010 7:25 p.m.

    I thought Madden 10 actually lost a lot this year (no hot route selection on the fly, you can't highlight a new "main receiver' before the snap, no option to do the "blocking mini-game" on a run play, and I actually liked the player icons they were using until this year). But what about NHL 10???? Wasn't EA bragging about it being the "Orange Box" of sports games before it's release? It is hardly discernible from NHL 09. but the best and worst offender has to be the MLB "The Show" franchise... don't get me wrong, I love the graphical and gameplay upgrades (EA could learn much from this) but they did away with the King of the Diamond mode and most importantly the free hat for purchasing the game!
  • crumbdunky - January 12, 2010 9:07 p.m.

    Here's an idea for Acti and treyarch making next years (oh, well this years then) COD worth getting and easily improving the online by changing just one simple thing:Pkill the P2P nonsense and give us ALL dedicted servers and while at it allow console gamers to cook and bring over PC mods like we can with UT3. And while you're at it get Valve and MS to ensure the same so L4D on 360 iss finally something like as good as it cheaper(how?why?oh the humanity)PC brother. This is why I know better than kotick and IW put together:I care about the amount of online issues you all get! And I don't like being limited to 9V9 and hammered by the lad fairies when games like Warhawk allowed me to rid myself of more lag by having dedicateds on PS3 in 2007-and, fyi, that one isn't the worlds best selling shooter ever(TM)now is it? Not that I'm not a fan of Warhawk(I am -it's great)but, y'know, MW2 really needed them to move ahead of COD4 in any meaningful way but the penny pinchrs that IW have become don't care how crappy your online experience is as long as those evil PC gamers don't ge the chance to, gasp, play their game for longer by tweaking it in imaginative ways thereby meaning even more would play for longer providing a market for your own DLC maps and modes. I've long said that Maddens and fifa and PES should only remake the game proper every two years(by law!) and on the off year just sell a DLC(or even on disc )patch to update the little changes and team rosters. This would be cheaper for the gamer and mean EA/Konami would have longer to work on the next proper game and could feel a lot better about not ripping us all off so badly in the process of the yearly BS. Everyone wins.
  • Yeager1122 - January 12, 2010 9:30 p.m.

    ^LONGGGGGGGGGG but anyway i agree to a point that they shouldnt come out once a year it really depends on how long the franchise has been out.
  • NinjaJamez - January 12, 2010 9:32 p.m.

    one every 2 years would be acceptable.... with some dlc obviously
  • CARLINNIT - January 12, 2010 10:47 p.m.

    The good thing about FIFA recently is it's actually improved in terms of gameplay. It's not just team updates and new kits etc... it's a brand new game!
  • JackSkellingtonsSkin - January 12, 2010 11:13 p.m.

    If anyone played Ratchet & Clank this year they'll know that the game did nothing more than move the story forward. You'd think that Insomniac might improve the gameplay a bit, invest in an original idea, make the game a bit longer and realise that no one wants to play the game without Clank (additionaly no one really likes to play as Clank, although it did work in the first game.)
  • nik41507 - January 13, 2010 12:22 a.m.

    The devs should take time on their games think about it our favorite developing studios are the ones who take time, and want to make a good game over profit And for anyone who played the original C&C games, I'm talking about Westwood
  • Lurkero - January 13, 2010 12:48 a.m.

    The least amount of time between sequels should be 2 years. At that point I have confidence that there will be significant quality and features put into the newer game. Anything more and I experience franchise fatigue.
  • Defguru7777 - January 13, 2010 1:15 a.m.

    What do you mean Halo's sequels are "pseudo-ish." It's only had two outside the main series, with one in development. And ODST was (despite your opinions on the price) an expansion pack. You have to wonder how much of the problem is the developers and how much responsibility lies on the publishers. I'm looking at you Activision (Call of Duty and Guitar Hero).
  • Silvermech - January 13, 2010 2:07 a.m.

    Not enought people are hetting their ideas through. We need developers to have an open script week. Anybody with ideas, i recommend copywriting, can come and try to get them published.
  • GrotesqueBurlesque - January 13, 2010 3:39 a.m.

    While the constant stream of new yearly updates being pushed out, we as a consumer have to remember that products such as those listed amongst many other will CONTINUE to be pushed out as long as we keep buying into them. So, the simple resolution, quit buying subpar sequels and developers will catch on.
  • mentalityljs - January 13, 2010 4:28 a.m.

    With the constant and rapid advances in technology, i could understand how devs would want to push out games and sequels annually just to be on top of everything, graphically. Cuz let's face it, part of the reason we buy certain games is based off the way they look, and they know that. And unless there's a demo, or an unbiased website or mag that can cut past all the bullshit and give an honest review of the game, we'll never know how shitty it is until we buy it. With that said, i feel that if a particular game sells well (ie CoD4, MW2, L4D, HL2) and makes a hefty profit, then it should be the developers AND publishers duty to work together and agree that, instead of spending millions of dollars on new projects that could potentially flop, to work on more DLC, therfor keeping their customer base happy, THERfor ensuring future profits. But they MUST listen to the readers, they MUST listen to the reviews, or they'll end up like 3D Reals!
  • mentalityljs - January 13, 2010 4:35 a.m.

    Oh, and to answer the question in my opinion, no, yearly updates are DEFINATELY not worth it!
  • Cwf2008 - January 13, 2010 5:02 a.m.

    @crumbdunky: No. And are yearly updates worth it? Well in the case of every game on this list, no. Not even MW2. Why? BECAUSE SPEC OPS SUCKED. If it had Nazi Zombies it would be a definite buy. As of now all those damn glitches are making it unbearable to play. But i do love running around with an RPG and noobtube so i play it...and its fun still
  • Seabread - January 13, 2010 9:45 a.m.

    I've taken a stand in recent years and stopped buying annual iterations based (mostly) on the same 'facts' you've laid out here - FIFA being the main culprit. ok, EA have added some nice new things this year but i'd much rather have just had a live season update to keep my squads up to date. and even if this is available i couldn't use it properly 'cos they've shut down servers and i can't seem to play any of my friends online anymore. i'd even go as far as to update the squads myself (which i have done on more than one occasion) but it messes up the game eg. a suspended player in be-a-pro mode won't be available for selection again until the NEXT season. what gives?

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