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Please, can Call of Duty leave awful Netflix-style menus behind

Call of Duty games used to be streamlined experiences, but I fear COD 2024’s UI will be another nightmarish clutter of streaming tabs.

Call of Duty Black Ops Gulf War menus: An image of Adler in Black Ops Cold War and the Netflix logo.

There used to be a time when Call of Duty games were straightforward, no-nonsense experiences. No matter which studio was handling the annual task of delivering the next entry, I could rely on an ‘all killer, no filler’ approach to one vital aspect: the game’s menus. Now, we’re stuck in a perpetual nightmare of Netflix-style tabs, throwing you into an endless pit of options before any gameplay takes place. With any luck, Treyarch’s rumored Black Ops Gulf War will rectify these issues.

Since Treyarch’s first Black Ops entry in 2010, one of the best FPS games in the series, there’s been a consistent evolution regarding how Call of Duty menus are portrayed. Black Ops managed to walk the line between immersion and ergonomic design, merging an interactive 3D environment with easy-to-navigate options. Press the option for ‘Zombies’ and you’re met with Kevin Sherwood’s iconic piano-led Damned, as TV screens depict undead outbreaks around the world. However, this time you couldn’t free yourself from the chair, helplessly watching as a zombie pounds away the room’s glass divider.

It’s a masterwork of user interface design, taking into account the game’s dour aesthetics, while also guiding you from point A to point B with ease. The same simplicity is applied to the game’s standard multiplayer game modes, displayed as an approachable list of enticing playlists. Black Ops effortless ties together the direct bliss of its predecessors, whether that is the original Modern Warfare or World at War, with an added layer of sheen.

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Black Ops 2 would abandon 3D menu aspects for the most part, with Black Ops 3 resurrecting them – while retaining an overall friendly experience for the eyes. Advanced Warfare and Infinite Warfare are equally linear. The problem, however, begins with the 2019 Modern Warfare reboot and the addition of its battle royale game spin-off, Warzone.

Operators would now walk toward the player as if they were ready to leap off the screen at any given moment. Backdrops would reflect the current seasonal theme, subtly weaving in the Modern Warfare universe’s ever-evolving lore. Unsurprisingly, Treyarch would deliver yet another uncomplicated method of navigation expanding on these ideas in its 2020 entry, Black Ops Cold War – the last properly brilliant game in the entire franchise. Between its superb COD Zombies refresh and great seasonal content, I don’t think we really acknowledged just how good we had it, both gameplay and menu-wise.

Modern Warfare 2 and Modern Warfare 3 are the real culprits, though. Each game is littered with a laundry list of boxes, attempting to replicate the experience of flicking through your favorite streaming services. What Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer Games seem to forget, is that most streaming platforms have heinous UI. Trying to weave through the old Prime Video menus still makes my blood run cold, and don’t even get me started on British applications like ITVX – I sincerely hope you never have to use it.

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These days, Modern Warfare 3 isn’t nearly as bad, but it could be better. Upon launch, Sledgehammer’s take on UI forcibly made me watch near-endless unskippable videos, only for these videos to reiterate what portion of the game I decided to play. I know, I’m trying to play MW3 Zombies, so just let me do it.

As Black Ops Gulf War leaks begin to speculate what weaponry changes are coming and a possible transition to an open world game format, I’m just hopeful that it’s all wrapped up in Treyarch’s usual flair.

Recent rival shooters like the heavily COD Zombies influenced Sker Ritual understand that manageable, painless pathways into gameplay are essential to get the ball rolling. If Call of Duty can regress on this aspect, I’m confident it’ll be the progress you never know you needed to see.

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