It’s hard to believe that the famed Call of Duty franchise got its start all the way back in 2003 but it did. Emerging at a time when the Medal of Honor series held the title of best World War II-themed shooter and Unreal Tournament dominated multiplayer for first-person shooters, CoD’s origins are much more humble than meets the eye.
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Now a dominant franchise in the FPS genre and a mainstay of eSports, Call of Duty is far removed from 2003’s Medal of Honor clone but it still holds some of its storied traditions established way back then. We’re not going to delve into those; instead, we’ll tell you about what made the first Call of Duty unique compared to its rivals and how the first game is so different from today’s blockbuster series.
When Medal of Honor came out, it was basically touted as the video game realization of Steven Spielberg’s World War II epic film, Saving Private Ryan. It also combined tropes from film noir and spy novels in what many considered at the time to be one of the best representations of the conflict in video game format. Obviously much more realistic than things like Castle Wolfenstein, Medal of Honor was also overwhelmingly told from one perspective.
Call of Duty changed that.
Seeking to implement a realistic system for combat as well as tell the story of the war from multiple perspectives, Call of Duty borrowed the cinematic style but left the myopic vision of EA’s franchise behind.
None of this is that shocking when you consider that Infinity Ward, makers of Call of Duty, was largely comprised of people who developed EA’s blockbuster Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. What differentiated Call of Duty from MoH from a gameplay standpoint was the emphasis on squad-based action instead of single-player, man-against-the-world stage pieces.
To cater to this, the artificial intelligence for the game is centered around countering your squad’s advances and flanking them, among other things.
Players can interact immersively with obstacles, climbing over them and ducking behind them, and the enemy can do the same with a level of situational awareness that was sophisticated for its time.
Whereas many games relied upon scripted sequences for their largely set-piece-driven action sequences, Call of Duty wanted its AI to make everything feel unique and organic in order to give players a new experience each and every time they played.
Of course, you can’t talk about Call of Duty without mentioning multiplayer. And, yes, even the first installment of the game had this feature as it was considered a requirement for FPS games even then. But the major difference between CoD’s multiplayer and what we now know of the franchise is that the first game welcome modding and an independent community.
Compared with the gated garden of CoD multiplayer now, this is quite intriguing but it also points to the largely open-ended nature of FPS gaming during this era from a modding standpoint. Though it would provide for a poor experience today given the number of ways someone could exploit such a system to cheat, it was novel at the time for allowing gamers to experience new gameplay types.