You may or may not have heard, but there was some recent commotion over at a small indie studio that made a few niche games that I hear a few people play.
All dumb jokes aside, this is quite the transitional period for the folks at Infinity Ward … those that are left, anyway. While I don’t want to be “that guy” that writes off IW – after all, a lot of people still remain – they’re now without people that were crucial to their past success. So while we can only speculate on what the future holds for Infinity Ward – and Respawn Entertainment, for that matter – we can definitely take a look back on the things we love about the IW-developed Call of Duty games.
Call of Duty
The original game in the series was pretty much a PC exclusive up until the release of Modern Warfare 2 this past November. Sure, CoD: Finest Hour snuck in a year after the PC release, it had a completely different story from the original game and was developed by Spark Unlimited. Another way to put it would be “meh”.
There are several reasons why Call of Duty 1 was a landmark release, most obvious being that this was Infinity Ward’s first release. After several successful projects in the Medal of Honor series under their belts, Jason West and Vince Zampella immediately surpassed EA’s behemoth with a World War II experience unlike any other. The most exciting part of the story was that you played from the perspective of not just one soldier as in MoH, but three — American, British, and Soviet.
The most exciting of those three was the Soviet campaign, which dropped the player smack-dab into the Battle of Stalingrad. The situation for the player is dire, with the Germans overwhelming the city. For those who didn’t pay much attention during history class, this was a major turning point in the war, with as much as 90% of the city under Nazi control. Add the fact that the total body count for this was well over 2 million and you see there’s plenty of drama to work with. While the entire game certainly kept players on their toes, it was the final act that brought the entire production to a white-knuckle crescendo.
Call of Duty 2
As a lauch title for the Xbox 360, the Call of Duty frachise was right there to usher in the next generation of video games. Obviously, this was a year before the PS3 hit the market, but that’s besides the point. While there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the original game, CoD2’s release made it seem dated immediately. The jump graphically between the two titles was staggering – what was once an epic battleground in one game simply became a mess of brown and slightly darker browns in comparison to the more detailed and varied environments in the other.
To me, that’s what sticks – just the enormous leap that kicked you in the teeth and announced that next-gen had arrived. Sure, Medal of Honor: Allied Assault had already put you on Omaha Beach, but it looked like a kindergarten sandbox when Call of Duty 2 burst on the scene. While it wasn’t quite Saving Private Ryan, it’s still as close as video games have ever come to replicating the chaos and downright fear surrounding that moment in time. From a fellow soldier in your company throwing up in your landing craft to the shellshock your character experiences upon setting foot on the beach, CoD2 took every opportunity to remind you that war truly is hell.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
As if crushing the World War II genre wasn’t good enough, Infinity Ward went ahead and redefined what a first-person shooter could be, both in the single-player campaign and even more so in the multiplayer. The biggest and most obvious change was the modern setting, which was a refreshing change from what was quickly becoming an overly saturated WWII market.
In classic CoD fashion, the single-player campaign had the player experience multiple perspectives, a couple with less-than-happy endings. The game begins with you, as president of an unnamed Middle Eastern country, being executed on live national TV. Somehow, the game manages to ramp up from there, at one point killing your USMC character in a nuclear blast. The highlight for many is playing as everyone’s favorite facial hair, Captain Price, before he was a captain in the SAS. The mission charges you with slowly drudging through Prypiat after the Chernobyl disaster in a ghillie suit, making for the tensest level in the game. All of this culminates into one of this generation’s premiere balls-to-the-wall action experiences.
That’s without even getting into the multiplayer. As addictive and enjoyable as it was in the previous Call of Duty games, CoD4’s multiplayer was unlike any other. With RPG-like leveling, challenges, and loadouts, Modern Warfare was THE game to play. The online structure proved to be so popular that it’s not only permeated other shooters, but even other genres. The upcoming arcade racing game Blur uses this system exactly; the leveling, challenges, and loadouts are all present, only replacing XP with Fans. When you create something so transcendent, you can say that you’ve done well.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
This is perhaps where the series took a turn south. The core gameplay remained largely unchanged, which either turned people off or kept them coming back for more. What is certain is that the story makes absolutely NO sense whatsoever. As a pure action game, it certainly served its purpose by giving you one crazy set piece after another. Even though it never seemed to click, it was far from the most controversial part of the game.
While the multiplayer wasn’t too different from CoD4, it introduced a ton of different perks and attachments that many thought disrupted the balance that had brought them so much joy in the previous game. Because of this, tons of people still play the original Modern Warfare. If you don’t believe me, just check out Major Nelson’s weekly Xbox Live activity report; while MW2 is still on top, CoD4 is never far behind. While Sony doesn’t publish anything similar for public record, I would bet anything that the situation isn’t much different.
Despite what your opinion regarding MW2 is, one thing is certain: Call of Duty is a force to be reckoned with. Tons of games originally slated for release in November of 2009 were delayed simply because they didn’t want to be caught in its wake. As it turns out, it was a wise decision. In the UK, MW2 was the top-selling entertainment release, which includes movies and music. For those saying “Duh, a game costs way more”, I’m not talking about revenue brought in – I’m talking about units sold. Wrap your head around that for a second. Love it or hate it, Modern Warfare 2 established video games as a part of the entertainment industry worth keeping an eye on, no matter what certain outspoken movie critics think.
So while Infinity Ward has brought so much to the games industry, it’s easy to be nervous about what the future holds for them. While I certainly don’t wish them any ill will, I wonder if they can still produce a first person experience of the highest caliber. Until then, why don’t you share some of your favorite Call of Duty moments in the comments below?