By Jared Cornelius
So on March 11th EA Games is releasing what is set to be one of the biggest games of the year. It's a game that's been so talked about, many wonder if it can live up to expectations and make no mistake, it has high expectations from many gamers. Titanfall is a first person shooter being released by Respawn Entertainment and EA Games, but maybe you've never heard of Respawn Entertainment, so what's the big deal about another first person shooter? Let's take a trip in time and go all the way back to the year 2003.
2003 was famous for many things, the human genome was mapped, Madonna and Britney Spears kissed at the VMA's, and the original Call of Duty was released on PC's to critical acclaim. A World War II first person shooter developed by Infinity Ward, Call of Duty was louted for its multi-player, graphics, and "Intense single player campaign". The games success was no accident and publisher Activision promptly bought Infinity Ward the day after release. Studio founders Vince Zampella, Grant Collier, and Jason West were no doubt delighted by the prospect and soon moved on to their next project both rich and successful. Infinity Ward then went on to develop Call of Duty 2, which also released to a positive reception.
The success of Call of Duty led Activision to publish console versions by house developer Treyarch on Xbox, PlayStation 2, and Gamecube but none were as well received as the Infinity Ward developed titles. Call of Duty had become a bona fide franchise leading Activision to put the sequel's and spin offs in the hands of Treyarch, leaving Infinity Ward to develop their opus.
The year is 2007, the rickroll has just been invented, Spider-Man 3 is the number one box office movie, and a little game called Call of Duty 4 Modern Warfare is about to change the landscape of gaming. In 2007 the tent pole shooting franchise on home consoles was Halo, while Call of Duty was regarded by many on home consoles as a lower tier shooter after complaints of World War II shooter fatigue set in.
Modern Warfare, as it came to be known, was released to huge critical success scoring an amazing 94 on Metacritic, with two perfect scores. Seven years after its release it sits at a respectable 12 on Metacritic's all time highest scoring 360 games. Gamers were taken by the enhanced graphics, modern setting, addictive multiplayer, but most of all its engrossing story. Although Modern Warfare's multi-player would become the series main draw for fans, it's really not hyperbole to say the title was a huge jump for storytelling in games. Critics sang it praises sighting several of the games brutal death scenes as mature and realistic.
Twitter wasn't around in 2007 but had it been, everyone would've been talking about the mature story and graphic depictions of death and violence. Modern Warfare leads off with "The Coup" featuring a deposed dictator being dragged through the streets and executed in first person. While violence is a constant in many games, I can't remember any games where a gun was pointed at the player and you were completely and utterly unable to stop the act of violence from happening to you. In the "Death From Above" chapter players are tasked with eliminating targets in an AC-130 gunship using thermal imaging. With the rise of real life modern warfare, this chapter is shockingly realistic. As an exercise, look up Death From Above, then search gunship thermal imaging. The difference between game and real life is scant and could blur lines between the two.
Modern Warfare continues with "Shock and Awe" where-in you ultimately attempt to escape from a nuclear blast. Followed by "Aftermath" where in the wake of the blast your character survives, then crawls away. While sounding rather unimpressive, your character is struggling to breath, barely standing, in the presence of a crippled and burning city, dying of radiation poisoning. Not dying from gun fire from a computer controlled character, but dying slowly and painfully of radiation.
Modern Warfare cemented itself as a game of the year contender and was heralded as a true piece of gaming art. This was no small task as the original Bioshock, Super Mario Galaxy, and Valve's The Orange Box had been released that year. Not only was Modern Warfare a critical hit, but was a huge money maker for Activision selling 13 million copies between its November 2007 release and an investor meeting in May 2009.
Modern Warfare's incredible success perked up the ears of every other developer in the games business. Suddenly modern military shooters were flooding the market. Games like Homefront and Medal of Honor were becoming the standard in the seventh generation of consoles. Games journalists called it the time of grey and brown military shooters and even sci-fi games like Gears of War and Killzone were taking cues from Infinity Ward's hit game. Developers started tacking on multi-player in traditionally single player titles like Bioshock 2 and Mass Effect 3, hoping the Call of Duty lightning would strike their franchise. The Call of Duty name became so profitable that Activision began an almost assembly line construction of Call of Duty games with Infinity Ward and Treyarch alternating years so they would have a title to release every year. No matter how you feel about what Activision has done with the series since Modern Warfare's legacy is a lasting one.
Infinity Ward would later go on to make Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2. Modern Warfare 2 would also go on to receive critical and commercial success, but it would mark a huge turning point for the developer. March 1st 2010 studio founders Zampella and West were escorted out of their studio by building security. No one except Zampella, West, and Activision know the whole story, but the short version is that Activision believed Zampella and West had been meeting with rival companies attempting to pitch a new game that Activision wouldn't control the rights to. The rumor having been that Infinity Ward had spun gold for Activision but the publisher hadn't shared the wealth with the studio, reportedly denying bonus money and incentives owed to the Infinity Ward team.
Zampella and West were fired under grounds of breach of contract and insubordination and filed suit against Activision for not only the money they believed they were owed, but the rights to the Call of Duty franchise. Activision counter sued on the grounds of breach of contract. While a group of 38 employees also sued Activision for unpaid bonuses that they believed were being kept from them so they would not leave and join Zampella and West at their new studio. In a rather banal end to this particular piece of gaming history all parties settled out of court. The Infinity Ward employees were cut a check for 42 million dollars, while the settlement terms of the suit brought by Zampella and West were never disclosed. In 2010 Zampella and West's new company Respawn Entertainment formally had its coming out, announcing among other things a deal with EA Games to publish through their EA Partners program including their first game, later revealed as Titanfall.
Now in 2014 we're upon the release of Titanfall created by the founders of Call of Duty. Why should you pay attention to Titanfall? Because these are people who changed gaming. No matter what you think of the Call of Duty franchise now, Modern Warfare's cultural influence on an entire generations worth of video games is unmistakable. Whether the military shooting ascetic, the huge shift to multi-player gaming on home consoles, shock value scenes, or simple mechanics like perk systems, gaming owes credit to Infinity Ward. Infinity Ward changed the way companies do business and changed the way many people play games at home, if that's not reason enough to pay attention to Titanfall, I don't know what is. Oh and Titanfall has giant mechs and parkour: that's pretty cool too.
Jared Cornelius is some guy from New Jersey's coast that thinks giant robots are kick ass! If you'd like form Voltron you can contact him on Twitter @John_Laryngitis