Call of Duty is the perfect example of a modern day success story, rising from relative obscurity to become the most popular game series of all time. From its roots in the World War II era to its contemporary ultra-modern, bleeding edge design, the franchise has thrilled and excited millions of gamers for the best part of a decade.
In celebration of the recent release of Modern Warfare 2’s Stimulus map pack, we here at Gamebrit thought it was time we charted the meteoric rise of the franchise. Shall we begin?
Call of Duty
While not the first shooter setting itself in the harsh battlefields of the Second World War, the original Call of Duty, developed by Infinity Ward and released in 2003 did do a number of things differently from its contemporaries. Unlike Medal of Honor and Wolfenstein before, the first instalment of the series saw the player fighting alongside different numbers of allies over the course of its missions, from small squadrons of British soldiers to entire regiments of Soviet tanks. The end result instantly felt more realistic than the usual one American soldier singlehandedly ending the war, making the action more grounded and the player feeling more connected to the action as a result. The fact that its gameplay was tight and responsive as well meant it garnered high review scores, something the franchise still does today.
The title also pioneered the use of the ‘shellshock’ system, where if the player is in close proximity to an explosion, they’ll become disoriented due to a combination of simulated tinnitus, muffling of audio, blurred vision, slower movement and drainage of colour. It was an effective way of telling players when they needed to get to cover and has stuck with the series ever since. It was also the first title to feature Captain Price, a name that anyone who has played one of the Infinity Ward titles will recognise.
Call of Duty 2
Released in October of 2005, Call of Duty 2 returned to the battlegrounds of the Second World War, making the player fight behind enemy lines as a Soviet, an American and two Brits. The satisfying shooting action was retained, only this time placed in campaigns that may have been unfamiliar to many gamers, such far flung El Alamein in the scorching African desert, the freezing cold Russian capital of Stalingrad, and the harrowing D-Day landings of Normandy. Captain Price also popped up, making evident the battle-hardened character’s experience of war.
Once again receiving rave reviews, the second instalment set the trend for the series to be highly received both critically and commercially. It was also the first title to be released on consoles, opening the franchise up to a whole new demographic, with the multiplayer facility being hugely popular on both Xbox 360 and PC. It was the release of this title that foreshadowed the success and popularity the series would eventually experience.
Call of Duty 3
The first of the series to be developed by Treyarch as opposed to Infinity Ward, Call of Duty 3 was once again focused on the deadliest conflict in human history, following the campaigns of American, British, Canadian and Polish forces. The majority of the story was told from the usual first-person perspective, but the Polish offensive broke convention by giving you third-person control of a tank capable of serious amounts of devastation. While different, these section were little ropey and by far the worst elements of the game.
While the fundamental gameplay still held up, Call of Duty 3 arrived amidst a glut of WWII-based shooters in what had become a tired and stale genre. While it looked nice and played well, its story was lacklustre and the multiplayer was something to be desired, marking the first time that Treyarch’s efforts have been eclipsed by Infinity Ward. Either way, they needed to pull something seriously special out of their hat to rejuvenate the flagging series…
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
…Which is exactly what Infinity Ward delivered with their next creation. Smartly updating the series to the modern day, everything that made the series brilliant (the gameplay, the story and, of course, the weapons) was revamped and revitalised and all the better for it. In the previous games, everyone knew that, no matter who died and who survived, the Allies would always reign triumphant. The new timeline and modern setting meant that Infinity Ward were no longer restricted in their storytelling, allowing them to come up with any scenario they wanted, with the eventual victor never being clear.
Putting the player in the shoes of ‘Soap’ MacTavish from the S.A.S. (alongside a seemingly immortal Captain Price) and Sergeant Paul Jackson of the United States Marine Corps, Infinity Ward weaved a story filled with intrique, suspense and some genuinely shocking moments. Alongside the new story came brand new weaponry, a slew of new equipment and a completely revamped multiplayer. Gamers were no longer constrained to restrictive ‘class’ specifications: they could use whatever selection of weapons they wanted to (assuming they’d unlocked them, that is). Add to this an experience system that made unlocks tantalisingly near, but never frustratingly far away, along with perks that radically changed each unique loadout, and it’s not surprising that COD 4’s multiplayer elements has appeared perennially in most played 360 titles lists the world over since its release.
Call of Duty: World at War
In what seemed like a bizarre move considering the success of its predecessor, Treyarch decided to return to the setting of World War II for its next title, World at War. This time, the action followed a group of gruff American G.I.s and two Soviets bent on avenging their butchered comrades, taking place in the Pacific theatre of war and once again in Stalingrad.
Despite the new locales and voice acting from Keifer ‘Jack Bauer’ Sutherland and a heavily-disguised Gary Oldman, not a lot here was new. In fact, World at War felt like what 4 would have been if it had remained in its 20th century roots, with even the multiplayer borrowing its structure from its forerunner (although it did add some unbalanced maps of its own). While not necessarily a bad thing, the ineffective storytelling and long slog involved in ranking up online didn’t work in its favour. Not even deadly new weapons (including the all-devouring flamethrower), an unfamiliar foe and gratuitous deaths could justify keeping the game in its original time period for another instalment.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
For some, the wait for Modern Warfare 2, the most eagerly anticipated videogame of all time, was practically unbearable and possibly even agonising, but the game generated a massive storm of controversy before it was even released. The announcement that there would be no party chat function in online games or no online servers for PC gamers, as well as that airport mission, lead to a huge fracas over whether it should even be released or not.
But released it was, becoming the fastest- and biggest-selling videogame of all time. The wait was worth it, with everything from the first game returning but much bigger and much better. The single player offering is a thrilling, hi-octane fuel ride from start to finish, punctuated by some truly memorable plot twists-and-turns (although the inclusion and worthiness of the ‘No Russian’ mission can still be debated), while the multiplayer stuck to the same template adding more weapons, bigger levels and better killstreak awards. Add to that the co-operative Special Operations and you’ve got a title with one hell of a lot of longevity. Infinity Ward and Activision’s recent treatment of their loyal fans has been questionable, but you can’t deny them the fact they know how to make a damn good game.
In fact, we’re off for a game or two now. See you online!