Deep and hard
Call of Duty has become a phenomenon. For better or for worse it is instantly recognisable, endlessly mimicked and rarely bettered; shooting people in the vital organs has never been enjoyed by so many, and what keeps the punters coming back title after title, year on year? Not the bombastic campaign modes, not the high production costs, not even the super shocking OH-MY-GOD-THEY-BLEW-UP-THE-EIFFEL-TOWER moments. No, its the multiplayer. Pure as a noob tube and as addictive as breathing, but how has the (at one time) take it or leave it addition become the must-have feature gamers rack up weeks of play and forget to sleep/eat/move for?
With Call of Duty: Ghosts almost upon us, offering a whole new approach to CoD multiplayer gaming, I thought it prudent to have a sneaky peaky at the past nine iterations of the game to see how this fundamental element has progressed and, ultimately, whether it has improved, deteriorated or just, gone up and down a bit. Hold on to your Hummer, grab your nine bangers and follow the Honey Badger into the heart of the fight. Oorah!
Call of Duty (2003)
Where it all began. Few could have believed the juggernaut that this simple Second World War game would turn into. Similar to the Medal of Honor franchise (remember when that was king?) but infinitely more intense, Call of Duty was originally released on the PC only. Consoles like Xbox and PS2 had spin-off games, but this original entry was exclusive to PC (until the XBL and PSN re-release).
This PC version, however, features 16 maps, six modes and a whole host of blasty fun. Simplicity is probably the overarching memory most of us have of the original Call of Duty, but it was clear from the early stages that there was great potential for the title. The game moves at a fair lick running on the Quake 3 engine and back in 2003 it introduced us to the wonder that is the Killcam, making hunting down your aggressor much easier. While simple the original Call of Duty is a marvel, and represented a great start for the franchise.
Call of Duty 2 (2005)
Two years later infinity Ward had another crack at COD. Call of Duty II was an Xbox 360 launch game, an important factor for the series as it slowly became entrenched (sorry) in 360 gamers opinion as THE go to game for online warfare alongside Halo.
Call of Duty II is seen as a highpoint in the series for some. Its tight, balanced gameplay, and variety of modes made it one of the most popular online games on console, but limiting games to a paltry 8 players on Xbox 360 (despite the PC version having 64) failed to reflect the grand, intense theatres of war seen in the single player campaign. For those who like it simple, however, Call of Duty II was a visual and structural step up from its predecessor, and it was only a taste of things to come.
Call of Duty 3 (2006)
The purists choice; Call of Duty IIIs multiplayer was absolute madness. The second title developed by Treyarch, following 2005s not-overwhelmingly-great current-gen game Call of Duty II: Big Red One, COD III built on the series trademark pandemonium and threw in a whole host of vehicles for us to prat around in. Everyone who played Call of Duty III remembers the first time they clipped someone off a motorbike to see their flailing, burning carcass spiral through the air and smear itself on the ground.
Criminally, Call of Duty III was console only, making it unfavourable with those that have been with the series since the start (and you wouldnt like them when theyre angry), but for those who played the game on the freshly released consoles it was a revelation. A class system, weapon balancing, broader maps, grenade cooking and sprinting all made for a more rounded experience that many treasure as one of the turning-points of the genre just not PC owners.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007)
Here it is: the one that so many bought, so many played, and so many threw their pads at the TV in disgust with. Call of Duty 4 is the franchises Dark Side of the Moon, its Empire Strikes Back, its Uncharted 2: Among Thieves; it brought into play a number of features that are now industry standards, and gamers have spent more time playing it than they have sleeping.
The modern setting breathed new life into the series and the rapid firing weaponry made skirmishes intense and brutal. More than anything, Call of Duty 4 was densely populated, meaning floating from one game to another was fluid and easy, making the weeks pass like microseconds. The introduction of killstreaks, a levelling up system, perks and weapon customisation brought variety to the game, but at the same time Infinity Ward managed to keep the whole thing balanced. Map design was also improved, meaning that there was no safe place to camp and choke points kept the action moving. Put simply, Call of Duty 4 is not only the best multiplayer game in the series, its one of the best of the entire genre. Still.
Call of Duty: World At War (2008)
For better or for worse, Treyarch returned to the paddy fields and smouldering ruins of the Second World War. Following the excitement of Modern Warfare, and despite being one of the better games set in the period, the whole affair felt a little stale.
The multiplayer was a mish-mash of old and new, with the perk and progression system of Modern Warfare lifted straight in. If most of us looked into our heart of hearts (wherever that is), we would admit to sticking with Modern Warfare for the time being, and only dabbling with World at War. What Treyarch did do well, however, was develop a mode that few games had attempted before zombie Nazis! Forgetting the moral dilemma brought on by seeing the corpses of German soldiers come back to life as shambling wrecks, popping them in the chops with fully automatic weapons with a pal was awesome.
COD: Modern Warfare 2 (2009)
When announcing Modern Warfare 2s multiplayer, Activision promised gamers more options than they could possibly contend with. By customising weapons, loadouts and killstreaks players could produce a soldier that suited their play style down to a tee.
Of course, with all these additions came issues of balancing. I found my favourite weapons and perks had been made almost redundant but, at the same time, new gamers found their feet with unusual tactics and bizarre behaviour. Following the success of Nazi Zombies, Infinity Ward introduced its version of co-operative play, with Spec Ops mode. While not as fun as pretending to be Shaun of the Dead, Spec Ops gave players the opportunity to fine tune their skills albeit against an AI opponent. Modern Warfare 2 was a step up in terms of content, but lacked a sense of focus. Unfortunately the servers on CoD4 were jammed up with bugs, hackers and modders--so we were stuck with this.
Call of Duty: Black Ops (2010)
Black Ops is set in the 1960s, the decade of the freedom expression and sexual release, which is instilled beautifully--and superfluously--in Black Ops multiplayer mode except for the sexual release. Treyarch allowed gamers the chance to customise their guns paint job, logo and reticule. You could even scratch a word on the side of it, which resulted in a number of bright pink assault rifles with rude words scrawled on the side.
This aside, Black Ops added various things to its experience, such as new kill streaks, wager matches and combat training, but the bulk of the fun came from what was already implemented. What Black Ops did well was create exciting and well-structured maps, slightly reminiscent of those in earlier games. The step up in intensity (thanks in part to all the crazy automatic weapons kicking around in the 60s) ramped up the aggression more than any other Treyarch game, but aside from writing WANG in giant letters on your sniper rifle, other additions were limited. Honourable mention goes to the guy who decided to include Richard Nixon in Zombies mode, it was it was just so perfect.
COD: Modern Warfare 3 (2011)
Modern Warfare 3 was about excess. By this point the team at Infinity Ward knew that to really pull gamers in, its next iteration needed to have more in it than any Call of Duty in the past. Personally, I had been playing the franchise for almost a decade and was beginning to tire of it and, like many others, a thousand extra modes and a million and one extra options wasnt going to disguise the fact that it still involved running around shooting people.
Modern Warfare 3 felt cluttered. There was so much to unlock and so much to do that it began to feel more like a check list of accomplishments as opposed to a visceral, taught online competition. One of the main additions of the game was the strike package feature, which made good players seem almost invincible and everyone else look like bumbling idiots. If the original Modern Warfare was Dark Side of the Moon, Modern Warfare 3 is The Wall; protracted, dense and not great for entry level players/listeners. If you didnt get that analogy its the difference between punk and opera. If you didnt get that analogy go listen to some music.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 (2012)
Black Ops II addressed some of the balancing issues that had began to creep in over the past few iterations making some rifles and shotguns feel more levelled out. By this point, eSports had become impossible to ignore and Treyarch had included a league play mode, to get teams fighting together more competitively. It was important for the team to ensure that the overwhelming amount of content available didnt swamp new players, and the introduction of the Pick 10 system was the result. Some people loved it. Some people hated it. Most were very vocal on internet forums about it (well, this is Call of Duty after all).
Black Ops II felt like a bit of a reboot for the series (much like the original Modern Warfare). Its futuristic setting gave access to new hardware that added a much needed freshness and vitality to the franchise. Its maps were well constructed and the new game modes encouraged team play, a feature usually missing from most death match lone-wolf-fests. Although it sounds odd, Treyarch had focused on the simple purity of shooting other people as close to the brain as possible and, ultimately, thats why I play Call of Duty in the first place.
You look like you've seen a Ghost
Call of Dutys multiplayer has evolved almost beyond recognition in the past decade and, despite the occasional blip and misstep, the games developers have built upon the success of what came before them. Youre likely to have your favourite (CoD4 or GTFO) but the most important thing is that future iterations keep pushing forward and focus on what made the game brilliant in the first place. Bring on Ghosts.
*Don't panic. We're trolling you. Or are we? Yeah, we are. But are we really?