Now that it’s possible to play the remastered version of one of the best first person shooters on Xbox One or PlayStation 4, I think it’s also time to reminisce what made Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare such a great game.
It was the beginning of holiday season 2007 and it was time for publisher Activision to release a game that would make a difference. Make a huge difference. The sort of difference that still matters after 9 years. Game that was developer Infinity Ward’s third title after Call of Duty and Call of Duty 2. That game was Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and it pretty much changed everything people expect about first person shooters. After the release of Call of Duty 4, increasing number of first person shooters were set to modern day with modern weapons and gadgets. World War era was gone and forgotten in a second. It was time to give players what they wanted – fighting in modern day conflicts.
It is easily ignored that Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare did much more than just changed the setting. It delivered stunningly well written single player campaign that put many of the narratives found in games to shame. It introduced characters that players could easily relate to. It also took full advantage of a death of a player controlled character, as a part of the story. As a concept, that is something that haven’t seen much on this scale. The scene with sergeant Paul Jackson was – and still is – breathtaking. The pacing of the story was spot on. There were fighting in large scale, sneaking behind enemy lines and even giving fire support from an airplane. The game seamlessly changed the character, of which player controlled, and somehow everything made sense. It was the way story unfolded from multiple angles giving the player more perspective of the conflict and the catastrophe the protagonists were trying to stop.
Multiplayer wasn’t any different when it came to revolutionize the genre. The old way of giving a player a bunch of predefined classes to choose from was over. Call of Duty 4 gave players free hands to select weapons and gadgets of their liking to be used. There were countless ways to construct the best character to suit the play style. In addition to that, weapons and items needed to be unlocked by gaining levels and doing specific tasks. This combined with fantastically balanced gameplay, great maps and silky smooth 60 frames per second delivery kept players coming back to the game for years to come.
After the Call of Duty 4 success, there were lot of games that wanted a piece of that cake. Many tried, only a few succeeded. Of course Call of Duty franchise kept pushing the modern warfare concept on every game since (excluding Call of Duty: World at War) and those games have been huge successes, everyone selling little more than the last.
Battlefield series also left the WW2 setting even a year or two earlier than Call of Duty with the games like Battlefield 2 (2005) and Battlefield 2142 (2006). Those games were only available on PC, and that really hindered the sales compared to Call of Duty 4. Battlefield developer Dice saw the writing on the wall and year after Call of Duty 4, they released Battlefield: Bad Company. It was first of the two Bad Company games featuring brand new Frostbite game engine. It featured modern day warfare and most importantly, it was released on consoles (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3). After that, all the major Battlefield games have been released on consoles in addition to PC.
Medal of Honor took the modern warfare route in 2010 with the reboot of the series. New game was simply titled Medal of Honor. It featured basically the same setting that Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare introduced three years earlier: tactical team fighting in modern day conflict. Sequel followed two years later as the first one was somewhat commercial success. Gearbox Software still relied on WW2 era in 2008 released Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway and after that the series went from PC and consoles to mobile platforms. Maybe the game wasn’t huge success despite positive reviews. Operation Flashpoint also leaped from mid 80’s setting to modern day in the Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising released in 2009. It featured more simulation like gameplay, but still the setting with modern day weapons and gadgets was ever present.
Even if other big FPS titles changed from World War to modern day they missed the most important part of the Call of Duty 4. Of course the game was (and still is) the sum of its parts and that made it great, but it was the 60 frames per second presentation that dip the scales on Call of Duty’s favor. Yes, the story was great. Yes, multiplayer had new innovations with customizable classes and RPG like level progression. But all came down to the game running exceptionally smooth. Other titles like Battlefield and Medal of Honor couldn’t match that, and after players were used to 60 frames per second, any lower framerate felt like game wasn’t running like it should be. This was particularly a problem with consoles as high end PCs could run the games with better framerate.
Finally after 9 years, modern warfare setting starts to show signs of fatigue. The latest Call of Duty sold much less than the previous one. At the same time Dice took a leap of fate with Battlefield 1 to take the series back to the era of World War after a long time. It paid off as Battlefield 1 has been a huge success. Maybe the generation of gamers have changed over the last years and are now missing a new scenery to shoot enemies. Maybe enough is enough. There have been a new Call of Duty game every year for the last decade. Maybe it’s time to take break from modern warfare and get back to the basics. Either way, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare did something significant. It introduced us the way multiplayer FPS games should be played. It deepened the narrative of the genre’s games and it did all of that more smoothly than anyone could have imagined. There is no denying that Call of Duty 4 made the FPS genre better.