With Modern Warfare 2 sales topping over a billion dollars, Call of Duty is undeniably a gaming phenomenon but for many the roots of the series remain unexplored. I am one of the many. For some reason or other I never played the original Call of Duty, probably because I was busy playing Electronic Arts World War II themed shooter series Medal of Honor. In any case I never played the original Call of Duty and the release of Call of Duty Classic on the XBOX Live Arcade (as well as the Playstation Network) gave gamers like myself a chance to see how the series has evolved over time.
Call of Duty Classic is pretty much a direct port of the original PC game from 2003. While this is a great way to see how the Call of Duty franchise began it also shows how far the genre has come in the last six years. As a newcomer to the game it was a bit rough getting into and I actually had given up on playing the game nearly a month ago. With a new year also brings second chances and I decided to give one to Call of Duty Classic and surprisingly I was able to power through the game and actually ended up enjoying it a little bit.
Call of Duty Classic has some graphical touch-ups but overall the game looks like it is a game that came out over half a decade ago. Textures are muddy, character models are blocky and the animations make non-player characters look like marionettes. If anything positive can be said about the graphical fidelity of the game it is that the color palette is nice but even that is stretching the bounds to give the game some credit.
Fortunately little stretching needs to be done to give the game credit on the sound front. Call of Duty Classic has some terrific sound design that puts some of today’s big budget retail games to shame. Shots fired sound appropriate and are directional in nature, something that is quite impressive for an early millennium game. Where the game really shines though is in the soundtrack, delivering an utterly fantastic soundtrack with rousing themes that build to stunning crescendos at just the right times.
Regardless of its technological successes or shortcomings the game needs to survive on its gameplay and Call of Duty Classic is a mixed bag. Gamers who have played a recent Call of Duty game know that one of the hallmarks of the series is that the player perspective is shifted over a few different people during the course of the game, allowing players to see different theaters of war while still adhering to a cinematic storytelling model. Call of Duty Classic is where this all started and gamers will have a chance to play as the United States Army, British Army, and the Red Army (Russia). The game offers up an engaging story that ties all three units together to form a cohesive narrative.
But for those like me coming off of Modern Warfare 2, or any modern shooter for that matter, the controls in Call of Duty Classic are going to take some getting used to as things are very much old school. Features that have been present in modern shooters for the last few years are noticeably and annoyingly not present and the inability to run made the game feel like everything is moving in slow motion, not necessarily the feeling you want while trying to flank a German fortification.
It does not help that the early levels of the game are generic at their best and poorly designed and cheap at their worst but if you can push through the rough early levels and can get a wrangle the controls enough to make them serviceable gamers will experience some fantastic levels later in the game. The British campaign in particular stands out quite a bit and has some of the most fun missions in the game and they are also a clear example of the direction the series would eventually take.
The game does ship with a multiplayer mode and if you are looking for a generic and boring multiplayer experience I suppose Call of Duty Classic is your game. The maps are sized for 32 players because that is what the PC game supported but this version only supports up to eight players and as such the maps feel extremely expansive and even if you are lucky enough to find a full game most of the match will be spent trying to find the other team, and possibly even your own teammates.
Recommending Call of Duty Classic is a rough proposition for me. On one hand I think the game is ugly, controls terribly, and just feels dated but on the other hand I think it still has some excellent examples of terrific game design. Such a mixed bag. In the end if you are a hardcore Call of Duty fan, you have have not already played the game then maybe give Call of Duty Classic a shot, otherwise just stick with Modern Warfare 2.
3 out of 5