Up until the release of the first Modern Warfare, Call of Duty's sights were set firmly on WWII.
Games 1,2 and 3 were all set during the Second World War, with Call of Duty 2 being the pick of the bunch. The intense set-piece heavy formula perfected during these formative years has since gone on to dominate the FPS genre. Call of Duty is most definitely king.
The most important chapter in the story of COD's rise to prominence was the release of Modern Warfare. It was a revelation, and generated a devoted and widespread following that has since snowballed, making the series the most popular entertainment franchise on the planet, ever.
There are two reasons why Modern Warfare was able to rise to the top of the pile, and those reasons are simple; a sublime campaign and a rock-solid multiplayer experience.
Multiplayer is the obvious place to start. Here the foundations were laid, foundations that would go on to support the most popular multiplayer experience ever. There are plenty of pretenders to the crown, but none of them can attract the same amount of attention as Modern Warfare.
Overnight it set the standard for shooters with a modern day setting. It was the tight game mechanics, the satisfying combat, and the balanced maps that catapulted COD: MW to the top of everyones to-play list. The quality of the experience offered was, at the time, second to none.
Having said all that, it is another part of the game that I wish to focus on; a moment that has gone on to define the series.
The campaign is an incredible experience, and it's one that can still hold its own against anything currently being released. For my money it is the definitive chapter of the series. From start to finish it is an exhilarating thrill ride, packed full of explosive action, sublime set-pieces and prompting a constant stream of heroic acts of bravery.
There were a few moments in the game that, when played for the first time, had the power to coax the hairs on the back of your neck to stand on end. That encounter with a nuke was one such moment. Just as you started to form an emotional connection with the Sergeant Paul Jackson, Infinity Ward had the audacity to mercilessly kill him off in what has to be considered one of modern gaming's most defining moments.
It started with an explosion that conquered the skyline. The instinctive reaction was awe. Then terror kicked in as the chopper spun out of control and smashed into the ground. Crawling out of the helicopter crash-site, and dying in the aftermath of the nuclear explosion is one of the most enduring memories I have of playing computer games, and it's one that will likely stay with me forever.
It is a moment that developers Infinity Ward and Treyarch have been trying desperately to recapture in subsequent titles, but to no avail. In Modern Warfare they struck gold, in later games, with the airport massacre, and then when watching a young family die on the streets of London, we were treated to something far more calculated, and it was less powerful as a result.
Recent Modern Warfare titles (and arguably Black Ops too) have carefully followed the blueprint laid out for them in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, each time adding more features, more explosions and more controversy to the mix. So much so that recent entries now only bear a passing resemblance to the original, and not always in a good way. Where Modern Warfare was a sleek and nimble fighting machine, MW3 is hulking beefcake of a game. Sure it's got bigger muscles, but is it a better experience for it? I don't think I'm alone in thinking it's not.