In Love and War with Call of Duty

Just to get it out of the way and to avoid any emotionally fueled debates, the best shooter of all time is 2019’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Still, The Zombie Star has had a rocky relationship with the gaming giant ever since the release of 2007’s Call of Duty 4 Modern Warfare. The purpose of this piece is to look back and explore what we love about the famed franchise, as well as discuss the many things that drove us absolutely insane! Despite leaving the franchise for several years, we want to study what it is about the game that brought us back and how it leaves all other shooters behind. 

In 2001, Microsoft and Bungie released Halo Combat Evolved and the way we play shooters was changed forever. While GoldenEye 007 embodied a time where the couch was the hub for social gaming, Halo and Xbox Live streamlined online gaming directly into everyone’s living room. Still molding a “next-generation” through cutting edge consoles such as the Xbox 360 and PS3 systems, the landscape was wide open for software developers to stake their claim in the genere of online shooters. The Halo franchise easily dominated the landscape leaving contenders like Haze and Resistance Fall of Man in its shadow. The Rainbow Six, Socom and Battlefield franchises all held their own in this tumultuous time, but never garnered the same kind of hysteria the Halo franchise owned. Although; all this changed in 2007 when E3 introduced the first trailer for Call of Duty 4 Modern Warfare.

When Infinity Ward premiered the trailer for Call of Duty 4 Modern Warfare at E3, we were shown a pulse-pounding cinematic introduction into a realistic and chaotic world of terrorism. The game’s developers were unapologetic in the delivery of their harsh and hellish realization of global terrorism, and the lengths brave soilders will commit  to combat it. In a time where blockbuster giants like Halo were taking us into space battles and plasma shoot-outs, COD4MW enticed us with life-like combat, military-based mechanics, and jaw-dropping visuals that catapulted the title into unprecedented territory.

Known for setting its games in the WWII era, Infinity Ward reformed their focus and set COD4MW in modern times which meant moderinzed weapons and gameplay. Along with impressive visuals, gameplay was extremely responsive and demanded a unique approach when building your play-style. With aggressive and intelligent enemies, the game’s campaign was a relentless challenge that didn’t “hold your hand”, and it demanded precise tactics in order to advance. Enemies constantly utilized impressive flanking, suppression, and organized attack techniques that forced players to be diverse in both defense and offense. Weapon modifications made accuracy, weapon maneuverability, and damage a strong factor in the success of the leveled missions. One such level is as unforgettable as it was brutal in putting players in one of the most heart-pounding shoot-outs in gaming history. 

“All Ghillied Up” was a flashback sequence where our infamous Cap. Price takes part in a, seemingly, get in and get out mission to take out the game’s antagonist. The mission takes a turn for the worst as players quickly find themselves in a cat and mouse chase for their lives. We recall the sheer panic and chaos upon realizing an army at our heels as characters Price and Macmillan desperately race for an extraction point. At this point, weapon accuracy and player patience mattered little as the extraction point itself became a trap we were surrounded in. A few carefully placed mines, player prone under a ferris wheel, and a prayer is all that stood between mission success or complete failure. As the mines began detonating, we quickly realized how desperate the situation was with bullets zipping past from all angles, enemies pouring in, and evac still a ways out! We could not tell you how many times we became overrun and killed in this segment. In our play through, The Dragunov sniper rifle, AK-47, mines, grenades, and flash bangs finally saw us through. Sweaty-palmed, we took great pride in the achievement and completion of such an impossible sequence. Since then, the piece has been acknowledged as one the most difficult segments for first-person shooters and games in general. Still, with all this excitement from the game’s ground-breaking campaign, Call of Duty 4 Modern Warfare changed the landscape of online gaming with it’s multiplayer counterpart.

Like many other shooters before it, Call of Duty 4 Modern Warfare offered a platform where players could test their skills against one another. While other shooters resonated with specific groups and play types, COD4MW introduced a formula for competitive play that balanced technical play with accessible mechanics that any player could pick up. The game allowed beginners to discover themselves with 3 specific loadouts, each catering to different play-types. With players choosing and honing their skills with various loadouts, the playing field quickly became a diverse and intense arena for competitive gameplay. The game offered an extremely rewarding progression system unlike any other, where players earned weapon modifications that made meaningful improvements to your personal play style. The muliplayer’s perk system allowed players to incorporate significant advantages that complemented their individual skill sets. These intuitive and in-depth systems easily made Call of Duty 4 Modern Warfare a top-tier title, and the “go to” game for competitive shooters. Still, a game can live and die by the maps and modes offered to players to spend their time showing off and improving their skills.

In this regard, COD4MW broke ground as it offered stimulating maps that catered to almost every play style. Players also found their preferences in the various forms of competitive play. Whether you found your skill set best utilized in Search and Destroy, Headquarters, or in Team Deathmatch the game kept its content fresh and addicting. Personally, we enjoyed regular Team Deathmatch games where the rules were simple, rack up more kills than the other team! Standout maps like Overgrown, Vacant, and Shipment allowed us to face-off against various play styles creating some of the most exciting but unpredictable experiences. For two years, we learned and grew as skilled players in the industries’ best online shooter. The game’s DLC packs provided for more diverse gameplay, and maintained a powerful following in the community. Like any other developer with a runaway hit, the only thing left to do is to make a sequel. In 2009, the heavily anticipated Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 released and gamers couldn’t wait to see where the franchise would take them next. Unfortunately, we saw a place with little change and a game that quickly began to struggle with its own success.

It's not you. It's Me

It did not take us long to realize that CODMW2 heavily relied on its predecessor’s accomplishments to continue the success of the franchise. The game’s campaign brought back memorable characters we still love to this day, but offered little in a stimulating narrative or thrilling sequences. The game’s introduction had us participate in a gruesome act of terrorism, but  we can’t recall much about what occurs after. While the game’s visuals were polished, the mechanics remained similar with little for the player to feel renewed with. While we agree with the notion of “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it”, we couldn’t ignore the lack of innovation that went into the development of the sequel to,  what is considered, the best shooter of all time!

Since the sequel’s pieces could not replicate segments like “Ghillied up”, or introduce intriguing characters like Cap. Price, it was difficult to relate to the new characters and redundant missions. It was apparent that Infinity Ward concentrated their talents on the more profitable part of the game – its competitive multiplayer.

After completing the lackluster campaign, my team and I sank hours of gameplay in CODMW2’s multiplayer. After establishing a decent kill/death ratio, we couldn’t help notice the fatigue that quickly set in after all the weapons had been unlocked and modified to our content. The game’s maps were similar and lacked innovation making camping and gunrunning commonplace. Developers quickly became too comfortable with delivering rehashed maps and identical weapons as long as players logged in – and that they did. Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 broke records again as gamers flocked and cleared out store shelves, and with a craze of this magnitude it can be easy to miss the obvious. Call of Duty fans had been sold a clone of the original, and we could no longer be a part of the facade. 2011 saw the release of Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3, and what began was the most tense, divided, and complex revolution of a franchise in gaming history.

As the sales kept rising and Call of Duty defended its title as king, the inner-workings of the gaming giant began to stir and become unhinged. As lead developers and co-founders of Infinity Ward, Jason West and Vince Zampella were removed from their positions and a tense legal battle began. The pair claimed to be victims of wrongful termination and owed in millions, while the gaming behemoth Activision countered with claims of being deceived and taken advantage of. This brutal divorce took a great toll on the franchise, as we saw our former co-founders separate and begin working with Activition’s greatest threat – Electronic Arts. As West and Zampella set up shop under their newly formed Respawn Entertainment, we watched Infinity Ward splinter  double-down on the success of the franchise’ first two titles.

With Treyarch and Infinity Ward  now releasing separate titles on a yearly cycle, the market became a strange place for consumers. While our relationship with the troubled franchise had been over for some time, the reviews and community responses for the yearly titles were mixed. From taking the franchise to a futuristic setting, releasing and re-releasing content from previous titles, and even including Zombies, Activision attempted all it could to keep content fresh. As power-houses like Grand Theft Auto 5, Destiny, and The Last of Us rolled out, we watched from a distance as the Call of Duty franchise saturated the community with clones that could never replicate what we experienced in 2007. Wall running, complicated perk systems and gadgets, and celebrity cameos couldn’t save this title from the ever evolving and demanding market. Today, we look back and think about all the ways we tried to get back what was lost many years ago. Picking up games like Apex Legends and Red Dead Redemption Online were feeble and short-lived attempts. As the years passed and we managed to rank up our ESO character to level 600 (678 as of this writing), Call of Duty seemed to be a distant memory. Then in 2019, Infinity Ward released Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.

We answered the call

Initially, the investment we put into this game was purely for social measures. Game after game, we were unable to get our team back together and took a chance on an old friend.  We took comfort in the Infinity Ward label, and we  were curious to see where the game was after all this time. Aesthetically, our interests peaked as our beloved Capt. Price graced the cover bringing back some good-old memories. Skeptical, we loaded-up and headed once more into the frey. Instantly, the campaign’s visuals, attention to detail,  and voice acting were impressive. Once again, we were thrown into a grim and unsettling world of global terrorism. Signature in the Call of Duty franchise, we take part in a segmented narrative where we engage the enemy from different perspectives. The early sequence in Piccadilly reminded us of how brutal the developer’s depiction of terrorism can be. As a bomb is detonated in the thick of London traffic, you find yourself in a desperate chase to catch those responsible while dodging bullets and suicide bombers. Yes! In the game’s second mission you have to head-shot suicide bombers that are trying to kill you and as many other civilians as possible. Hold tight, because the game does not loosen the tension as you progress. While short, the campaign was a pulse-pounding and exhausting trek into the chaotic world of modern warfare. Sincere in art imitating life, Infinity Ward portrayed the depraved and ruthless art of modern combat in dramatic and realistic fashion. We appreciate the team for removing the over-the-top gun mechanics and perks, grandiose cameos, and silly side modes that were fun but ultimately diluted the game’s realism. 2007’s Call of Duty 4 Modern Warfare still stands among the most realistic depictions of warfare in a video game. In Infinity Ward’s latest installment, we were reminded why Call of Duty 4 Modern Warfare will stand as the best shooter ever created – until now.

Even though the game’s campaign stood out as a great experience for military-based shooters, Call Of Duty Modern Warfare reclaimed the online title as the most immersive and rewarding experience currently available. As my squad geared up for some multiplayer, we noticed the menu and modification systems were in depth without being intimidating. With 10 years worth of rust in our fingers, we managed to navigate the array of weapons, modifications, perks, and even field upgrades to customize our load-out with. As we set out on our virtual battlefield, we stayed within our comfort zone of classic team deathmatch. The well-rounded and faithful M4A1 immediately became our guide back into Call of Duty’s unpredictable world of competitive multiplayer. Maps like Gunrunner, Rammaza, and Hackney Yard once again perfected the spacing needed to cater short, medium, and long-range shooters. Designed to encourage movement, these maps offer diverse high to low-ground advantages and vantage points for intelligent players to use tactfully. Learning from previous errors, Call of Duty Modern Warfare designed larger more complex maps appropriate for other play styles. What impressed us the most was the ease in transitioning our skills in team deathmatch into other play modes. Never before had we enjoyed games like Headquarters, Hardpoint, Domination, or Kill Confirmed like we did now. Maps like St. Petrograd, Piccadilly, and Azir Cave complemented these play modes perfectly with their unique layouts. The game allowed for us to recreate classic and simplified  load-outs without the chore of familiarizing ourselves with them.

In 2007’s COD4MW, I became confident with a lightly modified AK-47. Even with stabilizers, I managed the weapons recoil and was able to fight in short to long-range exchanges. I acclimated to the rifle so well, I recall dispatching snipers on Overgrown from one end of the map to the other using my AK-47. If I needed the element of surprise, I attached a suppressor and was just as effective. 10 years later, I am able to create the same loadout and feel like I’m picking up where I left off. Upon unlocking the rifle,  I attached a basic red-dot optic and as many modifications to manage recoil without compromising aim down the sight speed. With stopping power as my field upgrade, a flashbang, and frag grenade, I felt like I am back where I belong. After 10 years of innovation, the game still recognized my dated loadout and play style as I racked an impressive K/D ratio. Since its release, my squad and I have evolved in applying our skills to various weapons, executing effective kill streaks, and diverse tactics dependent on map design. I have grown from utilizing low cost UAV, cruise missile, and sentry gun killstreaks to precision air strike, VTOL Jet, and Gunship. Along with E.O.D., Killchain, and Tune Up as perks, I have been allowed to integrate and advance in an updated and complex combat system. The reason we state Call of Duty Modern Warfare is the best shooter of all time is not because of what it is currently doing, but of what it has accomplished in its ongoing lifetime.

It is because of the franchise’s turbulent and inconsistent history that makes it so great and apart from other first-person shooters. Call of Duty is an evolving franchise that has existed over a decade, yet still manages to draw intrigue from old and new gamers alike. Infinity Ward’s latest installment is the result of 17 years of development, and it is a testament in the time, talent, and sacrifice needed to create the perfect gaming experience.


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