A Brief History of the Call Of Duty Franchise
We look at how the Call of Duty franchise progressed from a well received FPS to the sales-reaping giant we all know, all written in small, bite-sized paragraphs.
Call of Duty
The first of the Call of Duty video games was released in 2003, developed by Infinity Ward and published by Activision. The game was only brought to the PC platform and the first expansion pack, United Offensive, was released a year later in 2004. The expansion’s development was undertaken by Gray Matter Interactive, who also released a version for the handheld N-Gage systems.
Though it can hardly be called innovative, featuring many of the same elements in the popular Medal Of Honor (which Infinity Ward helped develop), the first COD was action-packed and was instantly successful. Scripted events, cinematic sequences and ambience conveyed the essence of the Second Great War. It was always action-packed without dwelling on sentimentality, and it marked the beginnings of a long-line of successes by Activision.
Call of Duty 2
COD 2 was released in 2005 and was again developed by Infinity Ward. Though in-keeping with the general cinematic experience in the first game, the sequel featured some overhauls in the way AI reacted and squad tactics. The game was still action-packed, though this time enemies and comrades reacted to grenades, the combat situation and the battlefield, adding something to the immersive aspect and believability of the game.
Another addition was the replacement of the health bar for the blurred-vision system, in this case a retraction rather than addition, which allowed auto-healing as long as you stood still (a.k.a. shoot ‘n hide method). This eliminated the need for health packs, much like in Halo 2, the later released Killzone 2 and some others.
COD 2 shifted two million units and was received much more favourably than the first title.
Call of Duty 3
For the third instalment of the Call of Duty video games, Activision decided to assemble a new team of developers and integrate them into their acquired Treyarch studio, in order to bring the series exclusively to the new console-generation. As a result COD 3 was developed by Treyarch and released in 2006, without a version for PC. The company had already developed Call of Duty: Big Red One, released for the Xbox and PS2 consoles, and this time Activision felt they could bring freshness and a new direction to their franchise.
The game sold well and reviews were favourable, but it did not turn out as Activision expected. Nothing was really overhauled or as fresh or head-turning as the second instalment, though the addition of a bigger multiplayer campaign which allows the selection of classes raised a few eyebrows. In multiplayer one could choose to be a rifleman, anti-tank squad, scout or other classes.
The original developers were not happy: though they admitted being fine with Treyarch working on side projects in the franchise, the original game was their brain-child.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
The development of COD: MW took place straight after the release of COD 2, and it was a largely secretive affair by Infinity Ward, a secret even kept from the publishers Activision. To the original developers, this felt like the only true successor to COD 2, since they did not consider COD 3 as the direction they wanted the series to take.
Call of Duty 4 abandons the World War 2 war-theatre to make way for a more modern war environment, with all new weapons like the MP5, Mini Uzi’s, RFD precision rifles and the Soviet RPG-7 anti-tank grenade launcher. The game also generally departed from historical accuracy, seeing the falling interest in WW2 scenarios, and created fictional scenarios, though it was still as dramatic and action-packed as the previous games.
COD 4 was pivotal to moving the series forward and making it an assured success. Graphically it was next-gen, with new collision effects, texture streaming, particle effects (enhanced with the blood decals and blood particles HD add-on) and generally more realistic environment. Many fans of the original two games abandoned the series, since many of the original elements were discarded, but despite that it proved a huge success with over 13 million copies sold. The Modern Warfare series stands on its own, with Modern Warfare 2 and 3 both developed by Infinity, 3 being the upcoming title.
Call of Duty: World at War
Again Treyarch were called into action by Activision to develop what was originally to be COD 5, though instantly changed to COD: WaW as soon as the previously-seen Infinity Ward bitterness set in. The series returns to World War 2, though this time it features the previously unseen Pacific Theatre and Eastern Front campaigns.
The game somewhat sees a return to the original COD concept, with World War 2 weapons and lesser weight on the historical nature of the missions, though it adds more current-gen physics and graphics. It does not feature any particularly innovative elements, though it still broke records with its 11 million copies sold.
Perhaps the best thing about WaW was the addition of a Zombie-mode in Co-op, something which is probably considered a must in any FPS since L4D, whether free-to-play or not. The addition of modded content ensures longevity in a series that has been running for little less than a decade.
Call of Duty: Black Ops
The last COD game saw Activision and Infinity Ward falling out completely over intellectual property rights, culminating in a court-case and complicated legal proceedings. The fact is that Infinity will not be working on the future of the COD franchise, which has been handed over to Treyarch for the time being.
Black Ops was released in 2010 and features various scenarios from 60’s warfare, including Fidel Castro, Cuba, disruption of the Soviet Space program and, of course, Zombies in multiplayer mode. Black Ops’s main success was in the multiplayer mode, which makes use of points for purchasing weapons and includes a Zombie-mode. The inclusion of wager matches also makes the online mode more interesting than the single-player campaign.
The game is undoubtedly successful but it is hard to say what will happen to the franchise now that Infinity is out of the picture. With MW3 looming over the horizon, we’ll probably get a better picture of the new direction the series of Call of Duty video games aim to take.