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World War II has been a setting in First Person Shooters since the dawn of the modern FPS, with Wolfenstein 3D proving as the blueprint for numerous titles to come. The setting provided easily recognizable weapons, an entire world of potential locales, and a nearly universally-hated foe in the Nazis. However it would take the involvement of director Steven Spielberg, who had an interest in the WWII era and was witnessing firsthand the influence of GoldenEye 007 on his son, Max, to truly get things going. In November 1997, while still working on the film Saving Private Ryan, Spielberg approached the staff of DreamWorks Interactive with an idea for a console FPS based on the second World War. That game would become Medal of Honor, and the heyday of the WWII FPS subgenre was born.
In the years that followed, numerous new games would come along. Wolfenstein 3D was followed by Return to Castle Wolfenstein. Titles like Battlefield 1942 and Hidden & Dangerous would ride a wave of popularity alongside mods like Day of Defeat for Half-Life or The Third Reich for Unreal Tournament. Medal of Honor would develop into a series and spawn classics like Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. Other games would burst onto the scene, some reaching new heights of popularity while others would simply wallow in obscurity in the following years.
Enter Call of Duty in October 2003. Developed by Infinity Ward, which was composed entirely of developers who had previously worked on Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, the game received numerous Game of the Year awards and nominations and is now listed as the #5 best game of 2003 on Metacritic. Met with near universal acclaim for its enemy AI as well as cinematic qualities, Call of Duty would go on to become one of the dominant WWII FPS franchises and then shift gears to modern and futuristic combat once the market was so heavily saturated that fans found it unbearable. It built upon the cinematic qualities of its forebears, introduced new ideas and views into the American perspective dominating the subgenre, and also created its own long-running franchise, but the glut of titles that followed in its wake would inevitably lead to collapse. While WWII FPS would continue to be released in the coming years, they eventually waned in the late 2000s and now are considerably less common than they used to be, having given way to the modern and near future battlefields of many of today’s FPS.
Together, Medal of Honor and Call of Duty form a perfect snapshot of their time, representing a major setting of FPS, showcasing highly praised single and multiplayer experiences, and standing on the edge of evolving FPS designs and styles. The two are both highlights of an era now gone but not forgotten, and we have chosen to play them together for this month’s Together Retro.
Both Medal of Honor and Call of Duty offer first person shooting across the various battlefields of World War II’s European theater though often with different emphases.
Medal of Honor focuses on fictional lieutenant Jimmy Patterson, a C-47 pilot who is recruited into the Office of Strategic Services, predecessor to the Central Intelligence Agency. Levels involve completing preset objectives and occasionally incorporate stealth and undercover elements, all set to an orchestral score. Weaponry is varied but all adheres to what was actually used during World War II. Splitscreen multiplayer is also available for 2 players, and there are a variety of cheats and unlockable playable characters. To ensure authenticity, the project was advised by retired USMC Captain Dale Dye, who also advised Spielberg on Saving Private Ryan and numerous other projects.
Call of Duty features different character perspectives, with the player taking control of American, British, and Russian soldiers at various points and using the weaponry they would have taken into war. The game focuses on major battles ranging from Operation Overlord to the Battle for Stalingrad, of which the player is often represented as only a small piece. Not only do you storm beaches and buildings, but you do it alongside squads, platoons, or occasionally hordes of AI soldiers. CoD also features a limited weapon inventory that only allows two primary firearms to be carried at a time, the use of iron sights to improve accuracy, and a “shellshock” condition to simulate the effects of being too close to an explosion. The franchise did eventually turn to regenerating health, but the original utilizes health points and requires the player find first aid kits for healing.
Medal of Honor was originally released for the PlayStation console in 1999 in the United States, Europe, and Australia. Proving hugely successful, it was rereleased under the PlayStation Greatest Hits title in the US and PlayStation Platinum title in Europe. In June 2009 Medal of Honor was released on the PlayStation Network in the United States and Canada as a PSOne Classic for PlayStation 3 and PSP. The sequel, Medal of Honor: Underground, saw a similar PSOne Classic release a week later.
Call of Duty saw an expansion in United Offensive. It also provided significant changes to multiplayer, including introducing a ranking system that would become the norm for Call of Duty titles. CoD was originally released for Windows PCs in 2003 but was also ported to the Mac OS X in 2004. A handheld version was also released for the Nokia N-Gage in 2004. An HD version of CoD was released on PlayStation Network for PlayStation 3 and Xbox Live for Xbox 360 in 2009.
Both Medal of Honor and Call of Duty serve as the beginning for two long-running series.
Medal of Honor helped kickstart the rise of the World War II FPS genre and proved a significant success for console FPS in an era dominated by GoldenEye 007 on the Nintendo 64. Official UK PlayStation Magazine labeled it the 8th best PlayStation game in its final issue, while IGN has declared it in the top 25 PlayStation games of all time. Electronic Gaming Monthly named it in the top 200 games ever made in 2006. Unfortunately its depictions of graphic violence against the Nazis also secured its place on the German BPjS index, making the game illegal to sell or advertise to minors in Germany. It was followed a year later by Medal of Honor: Underground and then Medal of Honor: Allied Assault two years after that. By 2007, there were 14 entries(including two expansions to Allied Assault) in the MoH series across multiple consoles, handhelds, and PC. After 2007 and Call of Duty’s successful transition away from World War II, the Medal of Honor franchise also transitioned to a modern setting for two more games. The last of these, Medal of Honor: Warfighter, proved a commercial failure, and Electronic Arts put the series onto indefinite hold to focus solely on the Battlefield franchise. There have been no Medal of Honor games released since.
Call of Duty proved to have a lasting impact on the market and began the basis for an even longer series of First Person Shooters. The first CoD received numerous accolades and was included in PC Gamer’s 50 best games of all time list in 2005 as well as the book 1001 Games You Must Play Before You Die. By the time the game transitioned to a modern warfare setting with the 2007 release Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, there were already six different CoD releases for PC, consoles, and portables. These games incorporated the leveling systems and regenerating health that would make the series famous, while the first Modern Warfare served as the progenitor for a new line of Call of Duty releases. As of 2016, there are 23 games in the series, including mobile titles, one massive multiplayer online game, and console or portable variants or spin-offs of other titles. A remastered version of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is currently in development for release in November, 2016, to be released alongside the next game, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. Outside of games, there has been a comic book, action figures, a trading card game, and several fan films based on the Call of Duty universe. Activision Blizzard Studios is currently developing a feature length film to possibly start a series by the end of this decade. Activision Blizzard has also begun the Call of Duty Endowment(CODE) to help find employment for US military veterans, donate funds to veterans organizations, and donate games to soldiers for morale purposes. As of 2015, CODE is estimated to have helped find employment for 14,700 veterans.
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