It’s hard to imagine a world without Call of Duty. The massively popular multiplayer, the iconic zombies, the blockbuster campaigns—they’ve all become integral parts of gaming’s annual release schedule. 2018 marks the end of an era, however, with this year’s game Black Ops 4 being the first in the series to not include a single-player campaign, opting instead for a Battle Royale mode. The classic multiplayer will still be present, as will the popular zombies mode, but the campaign is sadly absent.
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That annual rollercoaster ride of explosions, actions, and endless gunfire has always been a staple of the series. It’s what put the shooter franchise on the map. When the first Call of Duty launched in 2003, its big budget and highly cinematic campaign was unlike anything that had been seen before. Of course, I would be remiss not to mention Halo, Bungie’s sci-fi shooter series that was also pushing the boundaries of cinematic storytelling in games in a big way.
At the time, though, only Halo: Combat Evolved had been released and it wasn’t quite as effective at nailing that cinematic feel. Call of Duty actually felt like a film. It looked, sounded and felt like you were playing through Saving Private Ryan, Enemy At The Gates, or any of the other WW2 films that were all the rage at the time. It even had scenes that were directly inspired by such films. The chaotic yet scripted action was fast and exciting. The set pieces were on the scale of cinema. Call of Duty was truly something fresh, and cinematic storytelling had never been done this well before.
Although the formula of “follow your AI teammates, let them go ahead and watch them slowly open doors for you” eventually became a tired concept, it was novel and authentic at the time. One of the biggest differences between Call of Duty and other shooters at the time was the way it incorporated more active AI companions into the action. Traditionally, first-person shooter campaigns had a “lone wolf” approach to the combat, where the player would essentially be the only one fighting. This was the first time that AI companions in a shooter actually helped you out in combat. They also reacted dynamically to situations as they were unfolding.
Throw a grenade at an ally and they’ll dive for cover. Shoot them and the mission will end (this would actually prove to be more annoying than anything else, but still.) It may not sound like much, but the way that your fellow soldiers actually react to things going on around them gives the action a sense of realism. It made you feel like you were charging into battle with a set of real characters, rather than just wandering around an empty level shooting everyone on sight.
Moreover, the structure of the campaign further added to the game's cinematic feeling. The story had you jumping from the perspective of American, British, and Russian soldiers as they were engaging in their own conflicts. The varied and global cast helped to cement the feeling that you were engaging in an international conflict rather than a lone gunman taking on a series of random missions. This would later become the norm for the series' campaigns, but at the time it was very novel.
This tradition of stellar campaigns that continued to push the boundaries of cinematic storytelling in first-person shooters would continue for years to come. Future titles like Modern Warfare, Black Ops, Modern Warfare 2, and more featured excellent campaigns that provided a great counterpart to the more long-lasting appeal of the multiplayer. In some cases, these campaigns would end up being just as good, if not better, than the hugely popular multiplayer. It’s a shame that this tradition has come to an end. All good things must come to an end, I suppose, but here’s hoping that we’ll see more single-player campaigns in Call of Duty’s future.
Will you miss the campaign in this year’s game, or do you think the day of single-player campaigns in multiplayer-heavy games has come to an end? Let us know in the comments below!