I laughed the first time I saw this. This is impossible, I muttered silently to myself. Out of all of the games of the last seven years, are we really going to hand the title of Game of the Generation over to Call of Duty? Something must have gone wrong. My maths has been going steadily downhill for years, I must have simply gone awry with the voting tallies.
It seems ludicrous that Call of Duty should come anywhere near the top of this list. But there it is -- the only game to have received a nomination from everyone here at Dealspwn.
Of course, the incredulity stems from familiarity. Call of Duty is a biggest IP in the business. Along comes another game every twelve months with a bunch of marginal tweaks and changes -- surgery performed to justify annualisation, contravening the old adage that begins "if it ain't broke..." because, well, money. Call of Duty has become synonymous with stagnancy.
But it wasn't always this way. Whatever you might think of the franchise today, Call of Duty once stood for innovation and excellence thanks to one game in particular that rewrote the book on post-millennial first-person shooters. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare didn't just blow up and redefine a genre, it set the bar for multiplayer shooters going forward (a bar that still exists, undisturbed, to this day), it turned a day in November each following year into the biggest event in entertainment media, and it brought storytelling in our industry to our own front doors, rejecting the safety of fantastical lands, sci-fi imaginings and historical settings.
The singleplayer campaign of Modern Warfare is still a strikingly powerful experience, and All Ghillied Up will go down in gaming history for providing one of the most memorable levels ever to grace the industry. It's a perfect marriage of form and function -- the black and white aesthetic giving way to full colour as you step into the boots of a younger Price, fifteen years previous to the game's main events, and get to discover firsthand what makes him the badass that he is. The stealthy gameplay is top notch, crawling through the fields of Pripyat, and the way the level then segues into One Shot, One Kill with its astounding finale at the ferris wheel is a masterful. The atmosphere is positively soaked in tension. It's one of the most thrilling chunks of gameplay we've ever had the pleasure of playing through.
Modern Warfare achieves more in one level than many whole games do across their entire span. (Of course, we're going to gloss over the bit where Call of Duty never reaches these heights again, we'll get to that in a bit.)
After redefining the WWII shooter scene, and by getting out just as Medal of Honor was desperately trying to run it into the ground, Call of Duty brought war to our doorsteps. Modern Warfare did more than just jump forwards in time, it dealt with conflict in a post-9/11 world, and it did so without resorting to jingoism or gratuitous brutality. Here were familiar conflicts in a world we could see out of our windows, being dealt with in mature fashion. Modern Warfare presented two sides, yes, but there were few heroes to be found here. Between the callous brutality of the SAS and the obnoxious frattery of the US Marines, there were no "good" guys, just a nuclear disaster to try and prevent.
See, look at that. That's how good Modern Warfare was: I can spend time talking about how fantastic the singleplayer part of the game is, and no-one bats an eyelid!
Of course, what was once gold has turned to... well... not gold. Endless repetition has birthed stagnation in a series that now feels the need to constantly reach higher and higher in to the realms of ridiculous pantomime. We have to look elsewhere now for the narrative thrills Modern Warfare once gave us -- Spec Ops: The Line being a prime example.
But on top of tall of that expertly-paced drama, Infinity Ward also provided The Best Multiplayer Game We Have Ever Seen. Arguably. If imitation is the highest form of flattery, then this really is probably the greatest game of all time. Even Halo, a series also built to redefine what it means to be an FPS game, has moved to tread in Call of Duty's footsteps with Halo 4. EA made the mistake two years ago with Battlefield 3, desperately trying to cram in more COD-esque elements, when what they really needed to do was develop the DNA that had made their series great.
We finally had a multiplayer shooter that really allowed us to tailor the experience to suit our style of play. The Perks system allowed us to customise our skills; extensive Loadout options allowed us to build an affinity with the tools we favoured most; the XP system kept us coming back for more and more rewards, building that sense of progression and fuelling our addiction. We scoff at shoehorning RPG mechanics into games of different genres, but this was no cosmetic dalliance with incremental unlocks: this changed the landscape for all subsequent wannabe big-hitters in the FPS genre and beyond.
It was phenomenally balanced, too, something that carried over from the singleplayer component of the game -- a perfect equilibrium that found the sweet spot between the accuracy afforded to PC players using a mouse and keyboard, and the familiar accessibility of analogue controllers. It is not an easy thing to do, creating a fundamentally, wholly-satisfying multiplayer shooter for a console market given the disadvantages in direct control that come into play by swapping one control input for another, but Infinity Ward cracked it.
Its quality is there for all to see, and its impact is still being felt. Call of Duty is the biggest IP in all of entertainment media, and Modern Warfare is the benchmark by which it, and every other FPS pretender, is still judged. Few games, if any, have proven so utterly complete, so impressively capable, so mechanically sound, steeped in depth and yet invitingly accessible, and so extraordinarily game-changing. What Activision have made of Modern Warfare's legacy is another matter. The implacable machine of business and industry has arguably stripped Call of Duty of what once made it special, transforming the trope-twisting take on immediate conflicts into something more bombastic and gaudy.
But that's not the fault of Modern Warfare. It can't be held responsible for the mistakes and mediocrity that came afterwards. After all, how do you go about bettering something that's already pretty damn perfect to begin with?