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Black Ops: A History of Call of Duty

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Posted November 8, 2010 - By Kevin Kelly






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Black Ops: A History of Call of Duty

Call of Duty: Black Ops launches tomorrow, which is roughly the fifteenth branded game with Call of Duty in the title, depending on how you slice things. That's a lot of Duty that's been Called. Where did you jump on board? For me, it was Call of Duty 2, which was the only title I bought when the 360 came out. Since then, it's become one of the largest brands in the video game universe, and has broken sales records around the world. Needless to say, this next edition is highly anticipated.

But what about the past games? There's quite a lot of history, both virtual and real, associated with this series. Today, so that'll you'll be fully informed and itching to play by tomorrow (or tonight at midnight), we'll be giving you a brief history of Call of Duty. What each game was, what it brought to the series, who the developers were, and why you'll want to check it out.

Black Ops: A History of Call of Duty

Call of Duty

The original Call of Duty was developed by Infinity Ward and released on October 29, 2003. The fledgling company was founded by some former colleagues at 2015, Inc., who had worked together on Medal of Honor: Allied Assault the year before. Namely, Jason West and Vince Zampella who became the co-founders of the new company. This was a PC title that put you in the boots of American, British, and Russian soliders during WWII. Rather than seeing the war from one soldier's point of view, Call of Duty gave you multiple looks at the war from different sides.

The company wanted to hammer home the point that you weren't just a lone wolf in a massive war, but rather that you were a cog in the machine, and part of a band (yes, of brothers) that relied on each other and fought together. Occasionally you would fight with A.I. teammates through your campaign, and at other times you would be alone. The game introduced many of the CoD standards, like the onscreen compass showing your objectives and the ability to use iron sights, but interestingly it also had several features that would get removed from the game, like being able to carry two primary weapons and a sidearm, and the health points and medikit system.

Infinity Ward built the game on the Quake III: Team Arena / id Tech 3 engine, and it supported up to 32 players online in multiplayer through 12 maps and five different game modes. The game was later ported to XBLA and PSN, with download codes being distributed in the Hardened and Prestige editions of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, and was later made available for purchase. Of note is the fact that this Call of Duty: Classic only supports eight players online.

Black Ops: A History of Call of Duty

Call of Duty: United Offensive

This first Call of Duty expansion pack added a lot of now standard abilities to the game: you can sprint (and not fire while sprinting), "cook grenades," and of course, Capture the Flag. Two other new game modes and 11 new maps (that were much larger in size) rounded out the mutiplayer additions to the game. The Campaign got new single player missions that took place in the American, British, and Russian arenas in Europe, and this was the first title that deviated from normal missions and put you behind the trigger of a machine gun in a B-17 Flying Fortress shooting down Luftwaffe fighters.

Also new to this title were driveable vehicles like tanks and jeeps, something that would soon vanish from the series, unfortunately. The game was developed by Gray Matter Interactive (who had developed Return to Castle Wolfenstein and the PC version of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2) with help from Pi Studios. In 2005, Gray Matter was merged into Treyarch. 

Black Ops: A History of Call of Duty

Call of Duty: Finest Hour

The first console entry for Call of Duty came out in 2004 for the GameCube, PlayStation 2, and the original Xbox. Developed by Spark Unlimited, the game was an expansion to the original Call of Duty, with players taking the reins and driving through single player campaigns in American, British, and Soviet missions. The game supported up to 16 players on the PlayStation 2, and 32 (via System Link on online) for the Xbox. The GameCube didn't support online multiplayer. 

Scoring the lowest of all of the Call of Duty games, other than some of the handheld releases, Call of Duty: Finest Hour disappointed with its graphics, especially when compared to the PC version. But hey, they had Brian Johnson from AC/DC as the voice of Sergeant Starkey. 

Black Ops: A History of Call of Duty

Call of Duty 2

Infinity Ward returned to the game with Call of Duty 2 in 2005, and the game told the story of WWII through the eyes of four different soldiers, one American, one Russian, and two British. It was the first Call of Duty title to feature regenerating health, meaning if you took cover while under fire, you would slowly regain full health, as long as you weren't taking fire. The game featured up to 64 players in the PC version, while the Xbox 360 version only allowed eight. Online featured five different game modes, ported over from Call of Duty and United Offensive. 13 maps rounded out the multiplayer, with players serving on the Axis or Allies side.

The title was an enormous hit, selling over 250,000 copies in its first week, and it became one of the must-have launch titles for the 360. It also featured amazing surround sound, something that would become a staple in the series, and probably a selling point for speakers as well. It's really amazing to hear soldiers yelling behind you in German on the left, while you can hear empty shells dropping to the ground on your right.

 Black Ops: A History of Call of Duty

Call of Duty 2: Big Red One

Developed by Treyarch (as its first Call of Duty title) with members of the now-incorporated Gray Matter contributing, Call of Duty 2: Big Red One appeared in 2005 as well for the GameCube, PlayStation 2, and the Xbox. Big Red One split from the multi-faceted approach to war and only focused on one Allied formation during WWII. This time, things are solely focused on the Army's 1st Infantry Division from Africa to Normandy to Germany as you play as one of two American soldiers.

The game scored much more favorably than Finest Hour, and featured online multiplayer for the Xbox and PlayStation 2 versions, complete with driveable tanks. Oh, and it has plenty of  Mark Hamill, who was also in the WWII war film The Big Red One

Black Ops: A History of Call of Duty

Call of Duty 3

Call of Duty 3 marked the first time that Infinity Ward wasn't involved in the development of one of the main games in the series. Instead, Treyarch developed the title for the PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii for the first time, along with the PlayStation 2, the Xbox 360, and the Xbox. Note: this was the first major Call of Duty title not to also appear on the PC. Appearing in 2006, the game was the first in the series to feature multiple missions all as part of one enormous campaign, with players taking control of British, French, Canadian, Polish, and American soldiers. 

Online featured up to 24 players on the Xbox 360 and the PS3, while the PS2 and Xbox had 16 in six differentmultiplayer modes across eight different maps. Later, a free bonus map "Champs" would be released, along with the Valor and Bravo map packs with five new maps each, with Bravo containing two maps ported from United Offensive. This was the first Call of Duty title to offer German driveable vehicles, and also assigned players into "classes" in multiplayer for the first time.

Black Ops: A History of Call of Duty

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

Infinity Ward returned to the series they spawned and shook things up in a very big way by bringing the game into the modern age. No longer was the game focused on WWII, instead it made the story current with you controlling British and American special forces, as well as famously including a mission where you serve as a gunner on an AC-130 gunship. While people initially decried the abandoning of historial WWII as the arena for the game, it became an extremely popular game, selling over 13 million copies as of last year.

Multiplayer changed immensely as well, with a new "Perk" system being added to the game that lets you customize your soldier with three different tiers of customization through powerups (for lack of a better term) that can help you run further, shoot through walls, or be invisible to radar. The game also saw the additional of a Killstreak system, which provides you with a specific bonus if you manage to get a certain amount of kills without dying. These could be things unmanned recon drones, air strikes, or even attack choppers.

New gameplay modes and the ever-popular Prestige mode added even more appeal to the multiplayer experience. Only one piece of DLC was created, the Variety Map Pack, but it sold more than one million copies in its first nine days which was very impressive. CoD 4: Modern Warfare was built using Infinity Ward's proprietary engine, the IW Engine, which was built on the source code for id Tech 3. Two years later a Wii version called Call of Duty: Modern Warfare: Reflex, developed by Treyarch, was released and is actually not that bad.

Black Ops: A History of Call of Duty

Call of Duty: World at War

Treyarch moved back into the driver's seat in 2008 and used that same engine to take the game back to WWII, but this time in the Pacific theater. The single player campaign has the player controlling two American and one Russian soldier, with commanding officers voiced by Keifer Sutherland and Gary Oldman. Gameplay was noted as being visceral and controversial (Japanese groups voiced opposition to the portrayal of the Japanese soldiers in the game).

Multiplayer was much like Modern Warfare, with the same perks and experience system, and familiar gameplay modes. World at War upped the ante, however, by providing a Zombie mode that proved to be extremely popular, with players fighting off wave after wave of Zombie Nazis trying to break into the small area you're defending. The game had the most DLC for a Call of Duty game to date as well, with three different Map Packs offering new maps, new mechanics, and even new weapons.

Interestingly, Treyarch hired Rebellion Studios to produce Call of Duty: World at War: Final Fronts for the PlayStation 2, which had single player missions that differed from the main game. It had no online or co-op play, and was generally not as well received.

Black Ops: A History of Call of Duty

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

Infinity Ward again returned to the development table with Modern Warfare 2 in 2009, revamping their own engine into what they said was a generation above and beyond what was used in Modern Warfare. Building on the same formula that made their last game a success, this title would go on to sell more than 20 million copies, and remains a popular title online. Additions were minimal, with new weapons and a Spec Ops co-op mode being added, along with new Killstreak rewards, including a Tactical Nuke.

Controversy erupted when it was revealed that the game contains a level where, while undercover as a Russian, you have to kill civilians in a crowded airport. The game gave you the option to skip the scene, but mainstream media jumped on it as an example of violence in video games. More controversy happened when Infinity Ward announced that the game would not have dedicated PC servers, which didn't sit well with PC gamers. PC matches, while traditionally large, were also capped at only 18 players. 

Two DLC packs have been released for the game, Stimulus and Resurgence, which added new maps, the first of which broke records again when it was released. More controversy swirled around this game earlier this year when Infinity Ward co-founders Vince Zampella and Jason West were fired from Infinity Ward for what Activision claims was insubordination. They've since formed their own company Respawn Entertainment and partnered with EA. 

Besides these main titles, their have been a host of handheld games, even including iPhone and Blackberry editions. Call of Duty: Roads to Victory for the PSP, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare: Mobilized for the DS, and the Call of Duty: World at War: Zombies 1 and 2 games for the iPhone all put the CoD experience in your pocket, or attempted to. It's tough to cram a visceral killing experience onto a tiny screen, but that doesn't stop people from trying.

The game has also been made into a comic book, seen a line of action figures, and even been turned into a card game. With Call of Duty: Black Ops releasing tomorrow, and the remains of Infinity Ward working on Modern Warfare 3, it won't be stopping anytime soon. Luckily, as of yet, we don't want it to. Do we?

Black Ops: A History of Call of Duty
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