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The Evolution of Call of Duty

The Evolution of Call of Duty

I want you to stop, take a moment and tell me what you were doing ten years ago. How old were you? What grade were you in? What console did you own? What was your new favorite video game? Chances are, you’re not going to respond with “Call of Duty.” But, believe it or not, it’s been over ten years since Activision released the first installment of what has grown to be one of the most successful franchises in the history of gaming.

When you put together all the time spent by every player playing Call of Duty back to back, you get over 2.85 million years of playtime. That’s longer than humans have existed on Earth! In fact, if you were to go back in time 2.85 million years, we would still be indistinguishable from other great apes. Yes, Call of Duty has managed to out-pace evolution. And yet, the franchise has evolved immensely over the years and continues to do so. As an avid supporter of the franchise, and considering the amount of shots that have been fired at it’s success, I think we should take a look back to commemorate it’s rise to glory.


Lets start at the beginning with the release of the first installment aptly named Call of Duty. Currently, there is no shortage of World War II-themed first-person shooters available, and in that regards, things weren’t too different ten plus years ago when the game was released in 2003. It’s also no secret that a number of them, including Medal of Honor: Allied Assault and Battlefield 1942, were extremely good games. But, it didn’t take long for gamers everywhere to add Call of Duty to that list. As the first game by Infinity Ward, a studio composed of some of the same team that worked on Allied Assault, the game presented outstanding action all around and was at least as good as, and in several ways, simply better than, any similar game. Though both its single-player and multiplayer modes were familiar to those keeping up with the WWII-themed shooters, most anyone who played games was impressed with Call of Duty’s authentic presentation, well designed and often very intense single-player missions, and fast-paced, entertaining multiplayer modes.


Call of Duty 2, released in 2005, let players experience four individual soldier stories as they overcame insurmountable odds in multiple campaigns. Infinity Ward also expanded the scope of combat to deliver a truly realistic battlefield experience. Call of Duty 2’s new engine and A.I. technology set the stage for authentic squad combat and astonishing action. It was in this game that many of the features that we know so commonly and have come to rely on today, were first introduced to the gaming community. Features like health regeneration. One of the most raved-about features of Call of Duty 2 was as you got wounded, the screen would begin to turn blurry and red around the edges as a means to warn you that you were under fire. Also introduced in this installment was the Off-Hand Grenade. Now, rather than having to switch your weapon, a simple press of a button (or the ‘g’ key on the PC) allowed you to quickly toss out a frag and continue on your way.


Call of Duty 3 was released in 2006 and was the first game of the franchise to make its appearance on the then-next-gen consoles the PS3 and the Xbox 360. Infinity Ward and Activision handed over development to a second developer, Treyarch. The results were excellent – when referring to the multiplayer aspect of the game. Sadly, the single-player mode was a bit of a disaster. The game was showcased in 720p HD resolution and delivered the intensity of being closer than ever to the fury of combat during the battle for the Liberation of Paris. Through a seamless narrative, Call of Duty 3 delivered the rush of unrelenting battle and breathtaking action of the Allied offensive that changed the fate of the world.  For the first time, the online multiplayer option catered for up to 24 gamers and allowed each to choose from a number varying infantry classes from medic to heavy assault.


Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (CoD 4), released in 2007, was the fourth installment of the popular series, and the first chapter set in the modern age. Diverse missions, lush environments, a variety of weapons, challenging goals, solid multiplayer mode and a well-paced story, made this not only one of the best shooters of the year, but one of the best of all time. Call of duty 4: Modern Warfare took everything that was great about the CoD experience – the carefully staged action, the big cinematic set-pieces, the intelligent squad AI, the awesome sound and graphics – and made it all work for a different age and a different mode of combat. At times it was an amazingly frenetic experience as it was the fastest-paced shooter to date. There was a thrilling selection of long-range and high-powered weaponry, while techno toys like night vision, anti-personnel mines and guided missile launchers gave the game a meaty modern edge. It was the first time in the franchise that bullets could penetrate walls, enemies could employ grenades and there was new arsenal paired with great maps, class sets and killstreak rewards that increased the game’s difficulty and set the stage for modern combat games.


The fifth installment Call of Duty: World at War (COD: WaW) was released in 2008 and was the second game of the series to be developed by Treyarch.  The game ran on the same server as COD4 and possessed the same core gameplay and shooting formula as it’s predecessor. However, the story took us back to the WWII era and, although it was a stellar play with weaponry and action that can only be described as ‘brutal’, it just felt like a step backwards and wasn’t as well received as the series’ previous installment. However, Treyarch came prepared and took a well-known, over played story in a completely different direction and gave it new light. It also introduced Co-Op multiplayer modes. And you can’t forget the infamous Nacht der Untoten mode that introduced us to the addiction that is killing wave after wave of endless, flesh eating zombies.


In 2009 the sixth installment and sequel to COD 4, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (MW2) was released. Considering the success of it’s prequel, MW2 was under a microscope by the critics. But, after all was said and done, it was nothing short of a triumph.  MW2 was a breath of fresh air just when we thought we had seen the best that multiplayer had to offer. It took the concept of action-packed first-person combat, plopped a live grenade at its feet, and mowed down its friends with an incendiary minigun. If you had time to breathe, it was because you were being flanked. Every reload was a tense few seconds of unwelcome defenselessness. New ideas arose like third-person play and death streaks, but nothing substantially affected the core gameplay. However, the tweaks which included weapon-specific unlocks, cosmetic titles and callsigns, and upgraded “pro” perks proved to be uniformly welcomed. It was in MW2 that Spec Ops Missions were introduced to the franchise.


For the seventh installment of the franchise, we looked back to Treyarch in 2010 for the release of Call of Duty: Black Ops which took place during the Cold War in the 1960’s and had you jetting around to typical Cold War hotspots like Cuba, Russia, Vietnam, and more. The campaign was definitely not rated over those of the Modern warfare series, but it was still very good. It possessed the same award-winning multiplayer that we had grown to expect from the franchise, yet still had new features to introduce. Features like the currency concept that made you spend points you earned in order to actually acquire and add new perks and weapons to your loadout. Another welcomed addition was Combat Training which allowed you and your friends to play multiplayer matches with bots instead of foul-mouthed jerks. It also included the classic text-based adventure PC game, Zork. And of course, the return of zombies with new maps and new characters was widely acclaimed.


The narrative around the eighth installment Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (MW3) at the time of it’s 2011 release was competing for attention with the game’s content itself. This is the title that Infinity Ward was working on when the famous split between Activision and studio heads Vince Zampella and Jason West went down. The game was subsequently developed by not one but three different studios from then on (and according to the game’s credits, Neversoft and Treyarch helped out as well, which makes this practically an all-hands-on-deck effort for Activision). Despite all of that, the game proved to be the most successful of the franchise. MW3 made 775 million dollars in its first five days. That’s far more than Avatar, the current highest grossing movie, did. Call of Duty is actually worth more than most of the top movies in Hollywood. If you put together the life-long sales of Avatar, Titanic, and The Avengers, the three highest grossing movies of all time, they still don’t quite make the 6 billion dollars that Call of Duty had made by the time MW3 came out. The campaign picked up right where MW2 left us and was action packed from the get-go. It was that we were introduced to Call of Duty Elite which changed the process of creating and maintain a clan, and ultimately the multiplayer experience altogether. The multiplayer component was the pumped through with carefully administered adrenaline. The new weapons upgrade concept – which allowed you to add proficiencies to your most-used guns, boosting range or stability, or reducing recoil – brought an extra layer of depth and control to the customization process. There were more than 40 weapons (all tweaked and re-balanced) with proficiencies and attachments creating what must have been thousands of combinations. MW3 brought on the realization that the franchise was less focused on providing historically accurate or realistic gameplay and more geared towards producing a a rampaging shooter with a moral compass so bent out of shape, your head spins at the madness of it all. Regardless, I think we can all admit that MW3 was a guilty pleasure for us all.


In 2012, Treyarch gave us the ninth installment Call of Duty: Black Ops II and moved the franchise to a near future in 2025. Which allowed for a whole range of sci-fi gizmos and some refreshing new environments to familiarise yourself with before jumping into the series’ staple multiplayer modes. This proved to be the reason for the games success, as there seemed to be a distinct lack of interest in the Single Player campaign. Black Ops II made three, largely-successful changes to the well-worn formula which made it feel refreshingly different to series veterans. The first was a shake-up of the signature support options, changing killstreaks to scorestreaks. Rewards such as recon drones and airstrikes were earned by performing pretty much any action in a multiplayer game – killing opponents, assisting kills, capturing flags or tags etc. It offered intriguing, powerful new streak rewards and even beefed up familiar options, like the sentry gun, which was much stronger. Black Ops II also initiated the Pick Ten system which was hugely flexible and allowed for thousands of loadout combinations. There were also new multiplayer modes like League Play and it even had a Boot Camp feature to accompany Combat Training. It did require a few patches to level out the playing field (SMGs had a severe advantage at the game’s launch) and it did seem to fall into just another typical Call of Duty genre. However, the game was successful.


Finally, in 2013 the latest installment Call of Duty: Ghosts was released, and Honestly, it’s about time that Call of Duty learned to embrace it’s innate silliness. This game made bold claims of authenticity, before asking you to shoot terrorist astronauts, avoid shark attacks while infiltrating an underground shipwreck before being saved by a submarine and even witness a dog taking down a helicopter. It’s incredibly ridiculous at times, but magnificently so: here is a campaign that’s quality is directly proportionate to it’s absurdity. Ghosts brought us Squads, a welcomed addition to multiplayer that is a customizable mode (somewhat comparable to Combat Training in Black Ops II that pits players against teams of computer-controlled enemies). It’s also worth mentioning that the bots in Squads are smart, REALLY smart. Many were disappointed with the multiplayer spawns and killstreak rewards, however one thing cannot be denied, the motion of the game is the smoothest in any Call of Duty game to date. It brought us five new game modes and introduced Extinction mode, in which you battle waves of aliens in an attempt to destroy their hives. It appeals to those who avidly played zombies in the Teyarch developed installments but still provides a refreshing spin in the sense that you can escape in time with your life instead of simply battling wave after wave for hours on end. You can express your disappointment in the game, and point out any flaws that you’d like, but no game is perfect. And you can’t say it’s exactly like every other Call of Duty considering all of the changes and new game modes and weapons that were introduced.

After ten years, you’ve gotta give Activision and the developers some credit here. Not only do they continue to produce chart-topping games with head spinning single player stories, they also build on a popular and somewhat dying game play style while consistently giving us something new with every installment year after year. Call of Duty forever changed and progressed online FPS’s for the better and shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. The next installment is currently in production, being developed by Sledgehammer Games, and is rumored to be released in Q4 (most likely November) later this year.

So, what’s your opinion?  Do you feel like we’ve already seen the best the franchise has to offer? What was your favorite Call of Duty game? Comment and let us know!


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