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Before Black Ops: Remembering Call of Duties Past

'twas the night before Black Ops, and all through the house...

Well, OK. I won't go there. But at midnight tonight, I'll be joining people from around the country in lining up in front of a Best Buy, or whatever, for the chance to get an early look at the next Call of Duty game, Call of Duty: Black Ops. I'm actually kind of excited about it.

I've been playing first person shooters since, well, there have been first person shooters. Return to Castle Wolfenstein. DOOM, of course. Duke Nukem 3D. Quake. Unreal Tournament. Many more, and all of the variants of all of these games. But there is something special about the Call of Duty series. Part of it's the history, though that's fallen by the wayside in recent titles. But a big part is that Call of Duty made console shooters viable in ways that weren't possible in the past (with Call of Duty 2, an Xbox 360 launch title).

The first Call of Duty game, oddly, wasn't even a Call of Duty game. It was Medal of Honor, a 1999 title that was made, in part, with the cooperation of Steven Spielberg as a companion piece to his movie Saving Private Ryan. Most of the team that made Call of Duty eventually left to form their own studio, Infinity Ward. And those guys went on to make, you guessed it, the first Call of Duty.

Call of Duty (2003)

Call of Duty was a PC title, but it was recently ported to the Xbox 360 as Call of Duty Classic. It's a bit long in the tooth now, but still a great game. There was also an expansion pack, called United Offensive, though that's never been ported.

For me, the fun bit about Call of Duty is the Carentan multiplayer level, above, which later made its way to Call of Duty 2 and then Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (as "Chinatown"). If you watch the mini-series Band of Brothers, you'll see the Carentan in the show looks almost exactly like this level (and vice versa).

Call of Duty 2 (2005)

Call of Duty 2 was my favorite Xbox 360 launch title by far. Like the original, COD2 offered a split single player campaign, with US, British, and Russian sequences set during World War II. The big enhancements? HD resolutions, no more health packs, and incredible, immersive sequences.

What really put COD2 over the top, however, was the multiplayer, which was augmented over time by downloadable map packs. It was the gift that kept on giving.

Call of Duty 3 (2006)

A year later, Activision published Call of Duty 3, which retained the WWII setting but was designed by Treyarch instead of Infinity Ward. This was the first time Treyarch was handed the reigns to the COD empire, sort of: The company had previously worked on a COD side game, Call of Duty 2: Big Red One, which was designed for non-HD consoles that couldn't handle the full COD2 game.

COD3 was a pretty game, but it suffered from some overly lengthy checkpoints and some outright bugs, many of which were never fixed. It did, however, provide some important improvements over previous games, including rideable vehicles in multiplayer and grenade throwbacks.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007)

Infinity Ward returned with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare a year later. And this time, much was different: WWII was ditched for a fiction storyline based on the present time, with modern weapons and situations.

The biggest changes, however, were to multiplayer, and what IW did here kicked off repercussions we're still dealing with today. It introduced the concept of kill assists, experience and ranking, perks, and more. In fact, if anything, COD4 multiplayer was complicated, so much so that it's sort of unapproachable to newcomers. (It also lacked multiplayer achievements, a big mistake in my opinion.)

Call of Duty: World at War (2008)

Call of Duty: World at War could have been a disaster. First, Treyarch was back, and the glitches in COD3 were still making people a bit nervous. Second, the storyline jumped right back to WWII, though this time with a major Japanese segment, something that had never worked well in previous, non-COD games. And third, it wasn't Modern Warfare: What if they screwed up all the goodness from COD4's multiplayer? There was no need to worry: If anything WaW was even better than COD4, actually, and it even offered some niceties that Infinity Ward ignored, including cooperative play modes, a far more colorful multiplayer color palette, and some important improvements to kill assists.

And where COD4 only saw a single map pack, WaW was bolstered by three full map packs and a handful of free multiplayer maps. These guys really treated their customers right.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (2009)

Infinity Ward's eagerly-awaited sequel, Modern Warfare 2, was a phenomenon, setting sales records around the world. More important, it's a great game, with a stunning and controversial single player campaign, a new Special Ops mode, and of course the best multiplayer shooter experience in video game history. There are so many challenges, perks, kill streaks, and more, that you could literally spend an entire year exploring them all. Which is of course exactly what I did.

MW2 fans were able to purchase two map packs, a slight improvement over the stingy 1 from COD4, but a far cry from the plethora of add-ons we got from WaW. No matter. I was literally playing this game today, on the eve of Black Ops' launch. It's that good.

Call of Duty: Black Ops (2010)

Tomorrow, Activision will deliver Call of Duty: Black Ops, the seventh major COD title and sixth for the Xbox 360. That it was made by Treyarch is no longer a problem, indeed, gamers are eagerly awaiting the game based both on the excellence of Call of Duty: World at War and the excellent promo videos that are all over the web and, more recently, on TV.

My review will have to wait, of course. But what we know so far is encouraging. Cool, new kill streaks. Wager matches. Multiplayer split-screen support. Diverse and interesting environments. A custom game editor. Emblems. Regional matchmaking. Even a cool soundtrack.

I can't wait. And yet I have to.

Tomorrow is going to be a very tiring day. :)

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