The Call of Duty that time forgot

Of all the lost and forgotten games in history, Call of Duty 3 has got to be the most high-profile one of the lot. By the time it was released, the series was slowly establishing itself as one of the best military shooters around, and was generally regarded as a worthy follow-up to the incredible CoD2. Yet when most look back on it now, it’s seen as the runt of the litter, the hand grenade in a stockpile of nuclear bombs, the game that marked Treyarch as the B-team to Infinity Ward’s varsity.

For those who discovered the series after Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (or are just hearing about it now with Black Ops 3), it’s just another ‘old Call of Duty’, along with the original two games. Unlike those games, however, long-time fans have often scorned it, claiming it doesn’t reach the lofty heights of its forbears or its immediate successor. That’s probably true, but in my eyes CoD3 easily surpasses many of the later games in the series.

It all starts with the best opening mission in the entire Call of Duty series. After a brief tutorial, you’re forced onto a cramped truck with a bunch of other plucky recruits and given one simple rule from the sergeant: “You’re no good to me dead.” To the point and realistic, it’s hard not to like this man and his husky tones. The next set of orders, from the squad commander, is just as scant on details.

“Today we’re on a secret mission to get coffee and doughnuts,” he says. “Problem is, the Germans drank all the coffee and ate all the doughnuts.” Which hardly seems fair, so it’s time to take it to the treat-stealing Nazis. Many of the establishing missions in later Call of Duty games provide subtle, tactile experiences. The opening Saint-Lô mission in CoD3 is just about balls-out action. Artillery strikes, destroying tanks, riding tanks, secret tunnels and an incomprehensible number of dead Nazis all combine to create a huge opener that excellently sets the tone for the rest of the campaign.

What’s interesting about that campaign is the tight focus. While the first two games in the series hopped back and forth between different parts of the war, this is content to follow the breakout from Normandy. In classic Call of Duty style this was portrayed through the eyes of characters from varying nations, including a Canadian trooper and a Polish tank driver, providing an all-encompassing view of the battle.

That keen focus on one small, albeit very important, part of the war makes Call of Duty 3 a unique entry in the series. Despite this, the influence on later iterations is clear to see. While the Modern Warfare games took up the globe-trotting mantra again, the associated stories told a focused tale akin to that found in CoD3. The character-weaving plot that formed in the background of that game became a key element of success in the various Modern Warfare games.

It’s an incredibly underrated campaign that simply arrived at the wrong time – after the point at which WW2 fatigue began to take hold and before the Modern Warfare revolution arrived. The multiplayer suffered a similar fate, with some excellent systems that were too quickly eclipsed by Infinity Ward’s move to a modern-day setting.

Contrary to the fast pace of its predecessors, the Call of Duty 3 multiplayer requires precision and patience. The team-based class mechanics and excellent vehicular warfare make it more like Battlefield than any modern CoD release. The win often goes to the team that operates best as a collective, and matches take place in a beautiful selection of French towns and countryside locations. It’s worth trying, even now.

Call of Duty 3 will always be remembered as the game before it all went large. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare launched just one year later and almost expelled the game from the history books. That’s an injustice, as it was a fitting end to the series’ ‘dark days’, and likely a better game than anything you’re going to see from the franchise moving forward. I’d like to see modern genero-terrorists try to drink all the coffee and eat all the doughnuts.

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OXM Staff

The official source for everything Xbox One, Xbox 360, and Xbox Series X. We're also a magazine, covering all things Xbox in the UK and the US. Originally established in 2001, the magazine was discontinued in April 2020.