So it’s official – Call of Duty: WWII is a thing, and this Wednesday, we’ll get our very first look at Sledgehammer Games’ take on the era, complete with possible gameplay reveals. It’s news that fans of the series have certainly been excited for, bringing the series effectively back to its roots and away from all the futuristic mayhem we’ve come to expect from the likes of Black Ops III and Infinite Warfare.
It’s an interesting return to form, and one that has us looking back at some of the older games in the series, just to see where Sledgehammer’s inspiration could be coming from. After all, some of the earlier entries in the Call of Duty saga are still amongst the best, as players are still enjoying the likes of Call of Duty 2, Call of Duty 3 and Call of Duty: World At War – mainly because they’re playable through backward compatibility on the Xbox One.
So join us as we take a look back at the older games in the Call of Duty series, which could show us just what kind of direction Call of Duty: WWII could take. We could be in for a few surprises as well, but Sledgehammer could learn quite a bit from these earlier entries in the franchise…
Call of Duty (2003)
The series got its start in 2003, with the originally PC-only release of Call of Duty, developed by Infinity Ward – a company that would remain with the franchise for years to come. (Infinite Warfare, last year’s release, was developed by the team.) The game takes place in 1944 (right around when World War II began) and was divided up amongst several campaigns to tell various sides of the story, including American (Private Martin), British (Sergeant Jack Evans) and Soviet (Corporal Alexei Ivanovich Voronin), with each one following authentic events from the era. Fans recognized most with Martin’s part of the story, not only because of playing his part in the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, but also because he takes part in the Battle of the Bulge. (That said, the Soviet campaign is excellent, too, as you get to storm the Reichstag in 1945.)
An expansion called United Offensive would release for the game just a year later, a major add-on that would expand upon each of the campaigns, and introducing new soldiers into the fold. It would also be the first game to introduce standard features to Call of Duty, including the ability to “cook” grenades (holding them longer for a more explosive effect) and being able to sprint.
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The game did a splendid job solidifying the series (with 4.5 million units sold), and Activision, seeing its success on the PC front, opted to spit it off to consoles with Call of Duty: Finest Hour, which came out just a year later. However, Infinity Ward didn’t develop that particular game – instead, it was produced by Spark Unlimited, founded by former developers that worked on the Medal of Honor franchise for Electronic Arts. Their expertise in war-based development made them an ideal team for bringing Call of Duty to consoles for the first time.
Fun fact: the soundtrack was put together by Michael Giacchino, who worked on such films as Star Trek: Beyond, Jurassic World and various Pixar films, including the forthcoming The Incredibles 2. Also, if you listen carefully, you’ll hear AC/DC singer Brian Johnson voicing the role of Sergeant Starkley.
Call of Duty 2 (2005)
With the sequel that followed just two years later, Activision made a more solid plan with Call of Duty 2. Rather than producing spin-offs that would tie in with the main game, it instead had Infinity Ward work on a console version alongside the PC edition. As a result, the sequel would become one of the big hit titles for the launch of the Xbox 360, complete with multiplayer options and unreal visuals that would show the true power of the system.
Like the original game, Call of Duty 2 featured several different campaigns, including American, British and Soviet, telling different sides of the story. A number of new missions would be introduced to the game to introduce startling, realistic portrayals of what happened in the war, including the Invasion of Normandy and the Battle of Stalingrad. Other battles, like the Second Battle of El Alamein (a turning point for the British Eighth Army and the Allies), would be included as well.
The game would also solidify the role of Captain Price, a staple that would remain with the series for years to come through its Modern Warfare saga. He serves as a commanding officer within the game as you portray Sergeant John Davis, pushing forward to do your part in the war.
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Call of Duty 2 would also serve as a debut for Treyarch with the franchise, as it produced the console spin-off Call of Duty 2: Big Red One for other systems. Its work on the series would impress Activision so much that it would be asked to produce the next big chapter, while Infinity Ward began work on a more modern entry in Call of Duty history – something that would become Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, one of the franchise’s biggest sellers. (And a game that would live on with a re-release of Modern Warfare Remastered for Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC, as part of the Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare Legacy Edition.)
Fun fact: The game sold 250,000 units in its first week with Xbox 360, nearly a 1:1 ratio with the system, and 5.9 million copies by November 2013, marking a selling turning point for the saga. And its re-release on Xbox One (through the backward compatibility program) would boost its popularity, having a similar effect to Call of Duty: Black Ops with its debut in the same program.
Call of Duty 3 (2006)
Striking “while the iron was hot”, so to speak, Treyarch handled development for the next entry in the Call of Duty series just a year after Call of Duty 2’s release with Call of Duty 3. As before, the team would stay within the confines of the World War II era, while working on its own engine to bring its original vision of history to life.
The game follows up on the events from Call of Duty 2, following the Allies after their big push on the Invasion of Normandy on D-Day, with a campaign spread across four different groups – the US Army, the British SAS, the Canadian Army and the Polish Armour Division – with specific characters performing in battle across 14 different stages. The game was the first to introduce quick-time event-style sequences, ones in which you needed to hit a button with split-second timing to avoid a melee ambush, or to activate a bomb for explosion. (Fortunately, they weren’t frequent enough to get in the way of the action.)
Multiplayer expanded in a huge way with Call of Duty 3, with up to 24 players supported with the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 editions of the game, while only 16 for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox editions. (Sadly, the Wii version didn’t support multiplayer at the time, instead thriving with its motion-based controls.) A “Normalized” mode was introduced, which enabled players to get used to the smaller “kill box” features introduced in previous Call of Duty games. Meanwhile, the more advanced Xbox 360 and PS3 versions would get Player and Ranked matches, for those looking for a real challenge in multiplayer.
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Once again, the game would set a huge sales mark, selling 1.1 million units in the U.S. following its debut, and eventually reaching 7.2 million copies sold worldwide – no small feat for a game in the hands of a new developer. That would help Treyarch remain a staple on the Call of Duty franchise, with its last game, Black Ops III, scoring rave reviews and huge sales. Treyarch will be back up to bat next year, with its turn in the yearly franchise.
Fun fact: Despite the popularity of the first two Call of Duty games on the platform, Call of Duty 3 never got a release on the PC front. Instead, for this particular entry, Activision focused more on giving console versions their respective due. But the publisher would make up for this the following year, with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare being released for the format (through Windows), alongside other systems.
Call of Duty: World At War (2008)
Following the release of Modern Warfare in 2007, Treyarch was put into a particular situation with its next original Call of Duty title – but it made the most of it, not only returning to a familiar era, but putting events in place for what would be its own take on the ongoing series, Black Ops.
World At War released in 2008, and was the first real entry in the series to introduce some heavy star power. Kiefer Sutherland (of 24 and The Lost Boys fame) portrays Corporal Roebuck, a character that helps out your soldier over the course of the battle. (He also narrates the sequences that play out before most of the stages within the game.) Also, Gary Oldman (of The Fifth Element and The Dark Knight fame) would also be cast as Sergeant Viktor Reznov, a rugged old soldier who would soon play a huge part in the first Black Ops game (alongside Private Dmitri Petrenko).
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The game splits up between the Pacific Theater and Eastern Front, between American and Soviet campaigns, following both sides of the battle. In the U.S. campaign, you portray Private Miller, a newcomer to the scene who takes part in the Battle of Peleliu and works alongside Roebuck to complete missions. As for the Soviet side of things, you portray Petrenko, working alongside Reznov as he serves as sort of a mentor.
Running on Infinity Ward’s latest engine, World At War would thrive with fantastic, gritty visuals (in the opening scene, a soldier is tortured with a cigarette in his eye before being killed), and classic gameplay that players would expect from the World War II side of the series. The multiplayer would also receive a great push, with “killstreak rewards” and various modes getting some focus. But the game would also introduce a fantastic co-op mode, either with two-player split-screen or four-player online, that would be a huge draw as well.
But if there’s one feature that truly stands out with World At War, it’s the debut of Zombies. Initially introduced as an Easter egg, the mode would become official in Treyarch’s latest, packed with its own story (thanks to the addition of Map Pack 3) and memorable maps, including Der Riese. Even though some players felt it took away from the realism of the war, it would continue on with new additions for years to come, including Black Ops III’s noteworthy Shadows of Evil (featuring Jeff Goldblum and Ron Perlman) and the 80’s inspired Zombies In Spaceland for Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.
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The game has sold 15.7 million copies to date, and its popularity remains strong today, with the game being available for play through backwards compatibility on Xbox One. But, obviously, it would be overshadowed by one of the developer’s biggest releases, Call of Duty: Black Ops II, in 2012 – which is also backwards compatible.
Fun fact: Call of Duty: World At War saw various spin-offs for other systems and devices. A PlayStation 2 version called World At War – Final Fronts would come out in 2008, even with the system fading from the market; and World At War Zombies would play a huge part during the huge mobile push for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad during their release. There was also a Windows Mobile phone version, but it was made more along the lines as an arcade shooter.
Call of Duty: WWII will be released later this year for Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC.