Call of Duty: 10 year review (Part 1)

It’s hard to believe that Call of Duty is about to celebrate its 10th birthday this year, but here we are. Since 2003, the CoD franchise has sold approximately 150 million games over the 9-game series; created a line of action figures; inspired a trading card game and a comic book miniseries; two short films based on the storylines (one of them actually endorsed by Activision) and started a charity for US war veterans. They must have been doing something right with these games to make so much happen in 10 years, so to help them celebrate I’ve decided to review each Call of Duty and explore the journey the game, its creators and its fans have made.

Call of Duty 1
Where better to start the celebrations than with the first instalment of the franchise, which was released in 2003. The first CoD became pretty popular and undeniably progressed the world of FPS games; making a name for itself through the World War II setting, the tripod campaign and the use of AI. It’s pretty important to remember what these games were before the ‘Modern Warfare’ strand was created, and Call of Duty 1 was one of the first most successful WWII FPS games and definitely improved upon certain aspects of similar games around at the same time. One noticeable feature is the use of AI who actually assisted you on campaign missions instead of just repeatedly getting their heads blown off. Call of Duty really shone on first release because it had really fun multiplayer than ran parallel to a really gripping and enjoyable single-player. The campaigns aren’t long but they’re of good quality; keeping it short but sweet. The first instalment of the series won Game of the Year in 03 and there isn’t much bad criticism to be found of it. 8/10

Call of Duty 2
Two years later, Infinity Ward released the first sequel and this time they decided to step out into the world of console gaming. The campaign in Call of Duty 2 remains strong; introducing some new settings like North Africa and missions that are becoming more varied, testing new skills that console gaming can achieve that is perhaps something that was lacking from CoD 1. This was a huge release for the Xbox 360, which I never got to play the game on; being limited to a PC again, the console version looks more enjoyable and Call of Duty really helped console gaming come into its own. Call of Duty 2 introduced regenerating health, something we probably take for granted in modern FPS games as things become less tactical and more involved with running around like a headless Soviet chicken. It was a huge relief to have regenerating health, but if you play the first game now it seems a hundred times harder, suggesting that maybe games are getting easier. The graphics and sound quality of the second CoD game improved drastically and soldiers began to look more like soldiers instead of plastic army men. 9/10

Call of Duty 3
Even though so many Call of Duty games have been released, each of the early ones marks a clear stage in the development of the franchise. In 2006 the series was handed over to Treyarch who developed the game in 8 months. This possibly marks the beginning of the decline in quality of the Call of Duty games. Just to put that development time into perspective: Fallout 3 was in development for 4 years. Anyway, Treyarch expanded the campaign to try and draw more blood from the very hard stone that is WWII plotlines, adding now French and Polish campaigns. The French settings were getting pretty predictable by this point but it was a good move to give a view-point on Poland because it provides more historical realism and depth. But there’s only so much you can do with the WWII setting. Treyarch pushed console gaming even further and Call of Duty 3 wasn’t even released for PC and it was one of the first FPS games to be developed and released for the Wii, which clearly took off so well. As you can probably tell from my tone, my interest in Call of Duty was beginning to drop, and I wasn’t the only gamer who was left feeling a bit bored. Popularity for the games began to decline slightly with the release of the 3rd game, but that didn’t stop the majority of the fans loving it, and it didn’t stop the franchise from expanding to the point it’s at now. 6/10

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Thankfully Infinity Ward took back over development and decided to begin the ‘Modern Warfare’ series that took a much needed step away from the World War 2 setting. It’s always difficult and dangerous in choosing “modern” wars because it’s very easy to offend certain nationalities by creating fictional or dystopian wars. At least with World War 2 games Germans can’t throw protests and rage that their fascist government was portrayed unfairly (we’d hope). The action takes place in 2011, a not-so-distant future in 2007 when CoD 4 was released, and the plot centres around both a neo-Soviet revolution in Russia which sparks a Civil War (totally fictional and totally different to the Soviet revolution and Civil War of 1917) and a Middle-Eastern extremist group taking charge of a small, helpless country for oil (again, totally fictional and original story writing.) The campaign for Modern Warfare 1 switches between various characters and the story has much less development than the WWII games, and it kind of felt like Infinity Ward rushed out a couple of plots before going on to focus on what they thought would bring the most players: online multiplayer. They weren’t wrong: with a brand new shiny engine that enhanced realism and the introduction of the killstreak system, Modern Warfare became the most popular Call of Duty title. The music for Call of Duty really stepped up a notch in the 4th instalment with composers Harry Gregson-Williams and Stephen Barton composing dramatic, orchestral music that has a distinctive modern edge. While the multiplayer is admittedly fun, the music is my favourite part of CoD 4. 7/10

Call of Duty: World at War
So it turns out Treyarch weren’t finished with the WWII setting. In the campaign for World at War we get to play in Japan the part of an escapee prisoner of war for a good half of the campaign, before returning to Eastern Europe for the rest of the gameplay. Treyarch utilised Infinity Ward’s engine from Modern Warfare and I was surprised to find I actually enjoyed most of World at War despite the worn out setting and storylines. Perhaps the engine improved upon the fundamental ideas that the franchise introduced in the original games that made them really enjoyable and high quality. And definitely an improvement on CoD 3 as the development cycle was 2 years long; making it a more legitimate addition to the series. One thing we have to thank World at War for is the introduction of destructible terrain and characters, which meant you could go out on a flamethrower rampage and actually witness your infinite destruction! I mean, if that appeals to anyone else but me. The 5th instalment in the series was also the first to have the co-operative mode that I don’t really think was a necessary addition to the game, but would definitely be used in the future to pad out the weaker games. 8/10

All in all, with a couple of hiccups along the way, the first five years of the Call of Duty franchise were unimaginably successful and there is something enjoyable about every one of the first five games as they established the foundations for FPS games being made today.

Look out for part 2 of this 10 year anniversary review to continue the celebrations.

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