Whenever I bring up gaming nights with friends, a few games generally make the list. Fighting games used to be a number one back when I lived in a neighborhood where it was easier to get everyone together at a single spot and, admittedly, when none of us had much to worry about aside from school, but that's gradually expanded over time with a change of tastes. RTS titles hold our attention every once and a while. We treat MMOs a grain of salt, leaving Shooter titles at the top of our list. We've jumped to a lot of different games, from Battlefield to Team Fortress, Gears of War and MAG, a pretty unhealthy amount of my life has been used up capturing imaginary objectives, securing resources, and killing other players. Yet, despite all these games that I've logged a phenomenal amount of time into, only one of them stands out as a series above the rest. Call of Duty has taken up more time than any other game that I play amongst friends and, strangely enough, upon reflection, it isn't even one with the fondest memories.
Explaining why I dislike the series so much is pretty easy and, no, it's not because I'm bad at it, you jerks. There is just very little reward in it for me. As a gamer who values being able to use strategy and teamwork to overcome obstacles, Call of Duty really doesn't do much to impress; in fact, the entire game is built around the platform that no matter what mode you're in, one soldier can effectively hold off an entire army of enemies. It's not the fault of either Treyarch or Infinity Ward, or whatever dev Activision puts on the project either, that's the sort of gameplay that they were shooting for. It's easily accessible to just about any gamer and that's exactly why we end up going back to it time and time again.
While other titles take risks, offer various multiplayer experiences, or will generally put us in modes with different gameplay mechanics, there has never been a time where I've jumped into a game of Call of Duty and said "woah, what's going on here?" It's always the same. To some, this is why they avoid the series, but I genuinely enjoy having a common ground with which to sit down and engage with my friends. To some, that common ground would be an off-season baseball game, others may find themselves particularly engaged in a B-list movie, but in the gaming industry I find it's the most bland and generic titles that have the most to offer to a gamer that simply just wants to relax. Call of Duty is precisely that, a casual experience. It can be taken quite seriously by some, and like most gaming titles you'll find those who would zealously defend the franchise fueled purely by their passionate love of killstreaks and the combat knife, but those are a limited few. Everyone else is just taking it for what it is: an FPS Neutral Ground.
It's not exactly like the CoD series hasn't evolved over time either, Black Ops probably has more features in it than most other FPS titles. Expensive maps and limited hardcore game-types aside, the series lets you record and review prior matches, check out 'hot spots' on the map where you (or others) have died/killed, or even just compare your stats across all weapons with others. The series continues to ship out with more features often times demanded by fans; so one can hardly accuse Activision of pushing out a title that doesn't evolve over time, to a certain degree at least. These additions don't necessarily sell me on future iterations of the series, but they are a nice bonus. Stick around for the gameplay, but stay for the neat little features, I would be lying if there weren't some evenings I put off playing other titles just to get in a round of Arcade Zombies. There's no real commitment to it, so I don't feel bad loading up a game when I know I don't have too much time as a whole. It's about playing casually, and it's ok to have a casual game to look forward to every once and a while.
Perhaps it would be easier for CoD haters to understand if they looked at it as the FPS equivalent of Angry Birds. Very few must sit around and play the iPhone game with competitive vigor, but a lot just like to have the app to engage in every once and a while. Black Ops is something that a lot of people play to wind down with, for some it's just a completely social activity while for others the fun lies in just stringing together a few killstreaks and looking good for a single match. Most of the gamers that I know don't consider it a 'great game' by any means, but it accomplishes its goal with dead-on accuracy. When it's time to use teamwork, showcase some skill, and really challenge ourselves, we'll pick up a different game. When it's time to just hang out, discuss how our day went and make plans for tomorrow (while shooting a few people), we play Call of Duty.