Updated Oct. 13, 2010: At a glance, Call of Duty is much like every other game out there; almost extraordinarily ordinary. To the uninitiated, it looks like another "me too" tale of heroic army men, told from a first-person perspective. But it's Call of Duty's ability to rise above the competition – and without the need for attention-grabbing gimmicks – that makes it so exceptional, even with six proper games in as many years, and just as many spin-offs. Call of Duty snatched the annual World War II franchise crown from the industry's largest publisher, and helped pave the way for Activision's world conquest. With Modern Warfare 2 just around the corner, it shows no signs of slowing down.
The EA Empire
One of the true ironies of Infinity Ward is that they helped to build the very brand name they would spend subsequent years competing with. Electronic Arts had a surprise hit with Medal of Honor on PlayStation, a game that delivered an immersive, credible first-person shooter experience on a system that had long struggled with the genre. A successful sequel followed, but for the third game in the series, EA wanted to take on the big guns with a Medal of Honor game that would appear exclusively on computers.
Not fond of internal PC development at the time, EA employed the computer-savvy 2015 Inc. to develop their game. EA was preparing Medal of Honor: Frontline for a console launch not long after, freeing 2015 to be as PC-centric as they wanted. That meant no auto-aim, no compromises for the limited RAM of the PS2, and a robust online mode. Allied Assault was a new beginning for the now famous series of World War II shooters. Allied Assault set the tone for the series' future. The earlier games featured lone protagonists on unlikely infiltration missions, Allied Assault portrayed a believable snapshot of a war, based on historic battles rather than spy fiction.
That isn't to say it was ever truly realistic. Part of the brilliance of the Call of Duty series and its Medal of Honor precursor was their ability to convey a believable reality through a cinematic filter. Scripted events made it so players would experience a dramatic view of the action every time. The game was still largely linear, but it was able to fool players into feeling like they were a part of a war with large outdoor environments, lots of soldiers, and incredible production values.
They were hardly the only World War II game in town. Medal of Honor: Allied Assault found itself on shelves beside the recently released Return to Castle Wolfenstein, and a few months ahead of EA's own Battlefield 1942. Literally dozens of WWII games shipped that year, including Deadly Dozen and Hidden & Dangerous. Luckily, the Medal of Honor name carried some clout, and the impressive review scores confirmed that Allied Assault was something special.
The developers at 2015 knew they were onto something, but they also knew it would never truly be theirs. The Allied Assault team packed up and left, not because they wanted to escape the work they were contracted to do, but because they wanted to continue it. Even better, they would continue it on their own terms.
Turnabout is Fair Play
Infinity Ward was founded in 2002 by 22 members of the team behind Medal of Honor: Allied Assault – nearly the entire crew. They knew their game was good, and they were confident they could do even better. But they had already created a monster. Medal of Honor was making the transition from a small, esteemed series to a full-blown franchise that would be invading as many platforms as possible at least once a year.
Yet it was precisely this desire to take on the Goliath that paved the way for their opportunity. The rest of the industry had noticed the success EA was having with their history-themed shooters, and all wanted a piece. The chance to strike back with the very team that helped to build one of their competition's defining moments was too much to pass up. Activision shared Infinity Ward's desire to take on Medal of Honor, and in the spring of 2003, they announced Call of Duty
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