I wasn’t sure what to expect when I switched on CODumentary, the Call of Duty documentary, which is good, means I’m not going to let my views get clouded by preconceptions. Was I about to watch a documentary about the rise and sprawl of Call of Duty fandom, the nextgen cousin of King of Kong , or a look at the developer’s journey, a triple A Indie Game: The Movie ? It was none of these things. Turns out that CODumentary is a 90s business conference presentation masquerading as a documentary.

After a title card informs us that this is in no way connected to Activision, the film drops us off at Utah Beach with a brief history lesson of how the D-Day landings will one day have the honour of being the backdrop to the first Call of Duty game. It then settles into the standard documentary rhythm of covering key events with interviews from insiders. The documentary goes on to tell how CoD was created by developers Infinity Ward, whose team  had previously worked together on Medal of Honour: Allied Assault. In fairness to CODumentary, it gives a somewhat grounded overview, just not an interesting one. After that it’s a whistle-stop tour of the development of Morden Warfare, CoD’s courting of controversy, the rabid fandom, all before settling into the last half hour and becoming a documentary on E-sports. E-sports being considered a sport in the same way Pro-Wrestling can be considered choreographed dancing.

Production values appear to be an issue; the whole thing is cheaply made and produced, using whatever was on hand to record it, which I’ve have an inkling included an early gen smartphone. And, having used a voiceover to link the events of the franchise’s history, it abruptly pulls out a series of title cards to try to give a section a level of sombre pause which comes off as little more than a cheap gimmick. While minor gripes, these add to the horrible production I’ve been watching so far. I’ve seen some low-budget documentaries, and some guerrilla-made ones, that despite technical difficulties and a limited budget have worked through proper pacing, thorough editing, and a tighter investigation of the subject matter. CODumentary has none of these things.

Some are no doubt thinking that I might have enjoyed it more if it was about something I found interesting, but CODumentary doesn’t even have that cop-out argument going for it. It tries to ramp up the excitement by attempting to portray MP Keith Vaz’s objections to the violence in Modern Warfare 2 as a call to ban the game. For those of you who somehow completely missed the hullabaloo when it came out, one level had you take part in a gun massacre in a Russian Airport that, while optional, was still part of the game. And yes, Vaz has strongly criticised games in the past, including Modern Warfare 2, but he didn’t call for an outright ban or censorship, just an age rating for purchasing. CODumentary attempts to play this as the artist against the government, which is weaker than the defence Infinity Ward gives for including the level at all.

I’ve got to raise my hands here, I used to play and enjoy CoD back in the day. They were fun FPS’s with historical settings that did something new with gameplay and graphics; you could look down the iron sights, you were limited to what weapons you could carry, there was environment effects damage. Gamers are numbed to this now but back then this was something fresh and new. And this could have been the whole of the documentary; how this new dev team came 0. and shook things up in the gaming world by trying something different. Instead they jump straight into the Modern Warfare craze and multiplayer, which was when I got out originally, as I have no time for American gunwank games and I refuse point blank to play online multiplayer or any game were I can’t reach over and smack the other player upside of the head when they’re being an arse.

I could go on, into the E-Sports, the marketing campaign and the fandom shown but what’s the point? The film handles its production and content so ham-fistedly that it’s pointless and dreary to watch. Yes CoD has a rock-and-roll buzz to it with loyal fans but when watching the progress meter tick off the seconds becomes the most interesting part of the film then you’ve got to accept that this has failed as a documentary. A poorly made, tedious, obnoxiously smug, and quite possibly unfinished film about a game franchise that you either love or hate. There are better docs about the gaming scene out there, do yourself a favour and watch those.

Dir: Jonathan Beales

Scr: Jonathan Beales

Cast: Craig Wilde, Pete Blumel, Chace Glasco, Josh Olin

Prd: Jonathan Beales

Music: Matthew Rees

Country: USA

Year: 2017

Runtime: 93 minutes


By Pat Fox