With Infinity Ward's upcoming Modern Warfare 2
(or Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
if you wanna argue semantics) coming out on November 10, I decided to go through the six-year history that is the Call of Duty
series. From its humble PC beginnings to the modern successes of COD4
and World at War
, to even the console spinoffs you might have played; I intend to play them all and write about them before MW2
's forthcoming release. For the record, I intend to play all the major installments, (COD
, World at War
) the PC expansion, (United Offensive
) and the three console-exclusive offshoots (Finest Hour
, Big Red One
and World at War: Final Fronts
). That's nine games. I don't have the PSP Roads to Victory
game or either of the Nintendo DS COD
games, so I can't talk about those, sadly.
Now, some of these games I haven't played in months, or even years. Others, like Finest Hour
, will be my first time through them. However, I suffered an initial snag in this idea: I couldn't play the original Call of Duty
or the expansion United Offensive
in Windows Vista. For some reason the A.I. would screw up, causing many times where I'd see models in the "T pose" or have the game forget key scripts. Basically the game runs and plays without causing my computer to explode, but the problem is that it doesn't play correctly. And before anybody comments about possible "fixes:" I've tried putting the game in compatibility mode and my copy is the Game of the Year edition, which is already patched to the most recent version, v1.5. So I had to play the original game and expansion on a XP-enabled laptop. Ah well, better than not playing them at all, eh? So let's get started right from the beginning.
The origin of Call of Duty
is an interesting story. The developer, Infinity Ward, consisted of several former employees from 2015, a company who made Medal of Honor: Allied Assault
for EA in 2001. They came to publisher Activision around 2002 with a modern-day era first-person shooter with semi-tactical elements and whatnot. Yep, that's right: They already had the modern-era idea seen in Call of Duty 4
and the forthcoming Modern Warfare 2
set way back in 2002-03. Except there was a problem: Activision already had its token "modern-day FPS:" Raven Software's Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix
had just come out. Realizing the popularity of Medal of Honor
(as well as the developer's previous experience thanks to MOH:AA
), they suggested to take it to World War II instead. Thus, Call of Duty
was born. As for 2015, they made one more game after MOH:AA
, and that was Men of Valor
in 2003. I assume the developer is now defunct, as they haven't announced a new project in almost six years. But who knows these days?
I remember when I first downloaded the demo of Call of Duty
way back in 2003. The demo was the second stage in the game, where one has to charge through Burnville. The stage starts with you having to run past mortar strikes. And I got nailed by one immediately. That disgusted me so much that I quit out of the demo, and promptly uninstalled it thereafter. It annoyed me that much, for some reason. I gave the game a second chance after playing, amusingly, the demo to United Offensive
. Despite that sour first impression, I started to seriously love Call of Duty
when I first played it on Christmas Day, 2004. I knew I loved it because I kept playing it for a while, taking a break, and then jumping back in a few hours later. Usually if I do that, it means that I really
like the game. So I felt like a fool after that demo incident. I gave the game a proper playthrough, and eventually beat it.
Right, for those who started out with Call of Duty 2
, or even the most recent installments of Call of Duty 4
or World at War
, The first Call of Duty
plays much differently than the later games. Here's a quick list of differences:
- You have a health bar and you must find medkits, small metal tins or large bags to regain health. There's no COD2/Halo-esque regenerative health system here. As a result, the game can be brutally difficult at times, especially if you're barely holding on with a sliver of health left and constantly reloading the same checkpoint area.
- You could hold two primary weapons (such as a Karabiner 98k and an MP40), a sidearm (usually a Luger or 1911), and 10 grenades. Later games shrunk this down to two weapons total and four grenades.
- Grenades have no separate key, you have to select them (default key: "4") and throw them manually. In addition, you cannot cook grenades, that wasn't introduced until United Offensive, but oddly removed in COD2, and later reinstated in Big Red One.
- Some weapons have selectable fire-rates. Usually they were a simple switch between semi automatic or full auto, but sometimes weapons like the BAR have a faster-firing full-auto and a slower-firing full-auto for better accuracy.
- No smoke grenades. This made some parts more difficult since you'd likely get mowed down by machine gun fire if you went the wrong way.
- There are many "minefield" areas in several stages. This is so the game doesn't feel like a "corridor shooter," and that the player doesn't venture too far off the beaten path. This is a more visible version of the "waist-high platforms I can't jump over" issue later COD games had.
- You can't sprint. Although that wasn't really introduced until United Offensive
, for some reason it was completely absent until COD4
reinstated it years later.
Other than that, most of the COD
staples are still here, including frenetic battles, multiple perspectives of the war, and the famous "aiming down the iron sights" that's become very common in many modern first-person shooters.
At times, the original COD
plays much more like a spiritual successor to the Medal of Honor
games. Most of the American campaign involves the player having to sneak into enemy lines, confiscate documents, rescue two British soldiers, and so forth. The British campaign features one stage where you and Captain Price (who may remember a similarly named character in other COD
games) infiltrate the "Tirpitz" boat while disguised as the enemy.
However, the action-packed portions of COD
are very prominent in the Russian campaign. The first stage, set in Stalingrad, references the film Enemy at the Gates
. During the course of the Russian campaign, the Russians clearly show themselves as cold-hearted bastards who kill their allies, similar to how it was back in Soviet-era Russia. This sort of darkness in a WWII shooter would not be revisited until World at War
five years later, which really surprised me.
The following stage, which you charge through Red Square is one of the best damn moments in the entire series. Running with a large group of Russians to Michael Giacchino's music
was one of the reasons I loved the first game way back when. Speaking of the game's music, I must comment on how dissonant Giacchino's score is for the game. It's as if it sounds out of tune and very brash, and only a few tracks in the game are enjoyable. One of those enjoyable tracks is the music that plays through the Red Square stage, and that's something he didn't even write! (It's an arrangement of an old Christian hymn called "Ebenezer,"
if you're wondering.) Hell, even during a British campaign stage, I heard zero music until the end, where it started playing the soft rendition of the theme. Yeah, that fits perfectly while Germans are plinking down at my health, game! Now I'm not bashing Giacchino, he's a really good composer, and I loved his stuff in Medal of Honor
and in other games
, but his sole contribution to the series ends up sounding obnoxious, even when there's little action on screen.
Now that I've babbled on about singleplayer a lot (I'm a SP kind of guy, what do you expect?), I might as well go on about multiplayer. Most of the COD staples like Free-for-all, Team Deathmatch, and Search & Destroy appear here, as well as a slightly different version of Headquarters, and two exclusive-to-this-game modes: "Retrieval," a 1-flag-CTF mode; and "Behind Enemy Lines," where Allied players gain points by surviving and killing Axis players. Sadly I can't tell you if these modes are any good these days, everybody pretty much plays TDM and S&D now. But it's the same fast and frenetic action you would expect from Call of Duty
, it just doesn't have things like grenade launchers and Martyrdom to gnash your teeth while playing.
Before I finish, I want to give two interesting factoids: The last stage in COD
has you play as the Russians as you rush through Berlin and storm the Reichstag. Sound familiar? The last two Russian stages in the most recent World at War
have you storm the Reichstag. An homage? Coincidence? Treyarch sticking it to Infinity Ward? Who knows, really. Also, one stage in COD
has you in the back of a truck fighting off German infantry. This particular concept would be revisited in COD4
has aged pretty well. I bet if it was given the treatment of the later games and given a next-gen polish, it could probably hold well with the other installments in the series. It's dirt cheap these days, I highly recommend looking into it if you're even remotely a fan of the series.
Next up, I'll be writing about Gray Matter's sole contribution and the only expansion pack to the series, Call of Duty: United Offensive
, which adds more elements familiar to COD
veterans. Hope you enjoyed reading this retrospective.