It’s easy to forget where a game came from, especially a huge series like Call of Duty. Despite its recent foray into cliche campaigns and abusive multiplayer Call of Duty had a very interesting inception. Right before Call of Duty was created the FPS genre was still working with the lone wolf archetype of the hero. World War 2 was beginning to explored and Medal of Honor: Allied Assault was a huge hit. There were some people who thought that an FPS could be more though. Infinity Ward was created by just 22 members, all of them having worked on Medal of Honor. Their idea was that wars were fought by groups of people, not a lone super solider. Wars were also fought by more than just American soldiers. Call of Duty was born with the intent to bring a more realistic idea of war, from multiple perspectives, to the FPS genre.
This focus on realism introduced new mechanics and brought less popular mechanics into the mainstream. While Iron Sights had been used in some lesser known titles Call of Duty was the first that I can remember using them. It was also one of the first titles to implement the dizzying visuals and muffled audio that accompanies having an explosive go off near you. Most importantly, though, it was one of the first single player experiences that really nailed down friendly AI. Your squadmates actually helped in combat. They provided cover fire, killed enemies, and shouted updates about their locations and what they saw. They were extremely useful. Just for perspective, 3 years prior to Call of Duty’s release Daikatana came out and had horrendous friendly AI that was useless. The difference of 3 years is tremendous.
Call of Duty did an amazing job at being a fresh take on genre when it was released and it still holds up today. The visuals are dated but the Quake 3 TA engine ages quite well. The gameplay hasn’t changed at all and any modern CoD player should feel at home with CoD1. It is an extremely short, linear corridor shooter that always tells you what you are supposed to be doing. It doesn’t hold your hand as tightly as the post-Modern Warfare games but every objective is laid out for you as too not encourage any exploration. One feature that will seem foreign to modern gamers is a health bar. Instead of regenerating health, med kits must be found to heal. This is the only CoD game to utilize this as every game afterwards shifted to the regenerating health mechanic.
Something that caught my attention is how much more interested I was in the story opposed to the modern timeline CoD games. It could just be that real life is better written, or that the writing in the fictitious games is just lazy plot pushing, but Call of Duty just seemed more real to me. There weren’t any set pieces or QTE’s or someone shouting at me to do every single little action. I felt like I was part of a squad and that what we were doing really mattered. There were also a few missions that ended with your squad in a precarious position, forced to bunker down and defend a position. These missions are extremely tense and serve to remind the gamer that not all battles are victories. The only games I have seen that have even come close to introducing failure into the story like this are Medal of Honor(2010) and Killzone 3.
One note I have to make is about the Russian campaign. While the other campaigns are well designed and seemingly accurate the Russian one just stands out to me. Every bit of it is expertly created. The atmosphere is completely different from the American and European fronts and the mission flow is some of the best I have ever experienced. Even the simple aspects like being gunned down by friendly generals for retreating adds a nice touch that differentiates it(Stalin passed down a telegram stating that all traitors/cowards are to be killed on site). The Russian front hits on some of the most historical fights as well. The Battle at Stalingrad, the defense of Pavlov’s House, and the capturing of the Reichstag building are all found in the Russian campaign. The only downside is that the campaign feels shorter than the other two due to 2 tank missions.
Even though it was nominated for Game of the Year a decade ago some things haven’t aged well. The enemy AI is pretty stupid leading enemies to blindly pop around corners and stand still while firing. At longer distances they do take cover but never exercise any intention to flank. The majority of the campaign feels like the same stuff we have been doing for the last 10 installments of CoD. Kill a bunch of guys and plant C4, kill more guys and find the captured soldier, finally kill lots of enemies while you backtrack to your vehicle in order to rescue the captured soldier. The game is also very short at just under 6 hours.
Call of Duty was a revolutionary game that still holds up well save for CoD-fatigue. The biggest issue is that CoD hasn’t changed much but that is more of an issue with the current titles than the first. While this write up mainly pertains to the PC version released in 2003, there is an HD remake available for PS3 and Xbox 360. I’m not sure how the port holds up to the original but if that is all you can play it on I highly suggest it, if nothing else than for the Russian campaign.