Call of Duty: Then and Now

We take a visual tour through four of the most recent Call of Duty games.

by

Like clockwork, Activision pushes out a new Call of Duty game every year, even going so far as to pretty much claim the first half of November as its launch window. The company has been releasing new versions of the game by shifting settings, evolving plotlines, and making new characters, all while keeping its much-beloved multiplayer mode. Earlier iterations of the game focused on World War II, while the last few games have wandered between modern-day conflicts, WWII, and the 1960s.

We went through the PC versions of Modern Warfare, World at War, Modern Warfare 2, and Black Ops to see how the graphics have evolved. For the most part, the developers have kept the changes to a minimum--and with good reason. It would be difficult to heavily modify the game's engine while sticking to a yearly release schedule and popping out versions that work well on every modern console, as well as the PC.

Exteriors

The locales change drastically within any given Call of Duty game, and they change even more so when we pop from title to title. This makes any sort of direct comparison impossible. Overall, we noticed that the lighting and shadowing system for buildings is still static. This stems from the use of either fixed lighting or prerendered shadows. The result generates effective visuals without the need for lots of GPU power.

Black Ops Modern Warfare 2 World at War Modern Warfare
Black Ops Modern Warfare 2 World at War Modern Warfare

Faces

The Call of Duty series focuses a great deal on character faces. When we look at people when they speak, everything else becomes secondary. With all your attention focused on the head, shortcomings of less-detailed clothing become irrelevant. Black Ops has highly detailed facial animation, although the series is still plagued by the occasional flickering facial shadow, which certainly doesn't help maintain realism.

Black Ops Modern Warfare 2 World at War Modern Warfare
Black Ops Modern Warfare 2 World at War Modern Warfare

Interiors

While we certainly didn't get to examine every room in all the games, it seems like Black Ops increases the amount of detail that can be stuffed inside of four walls.

Black Ops Modern Warfare 2 World at War Modern Warfare
Black Ops Modern Warfare 2 World at War Modern Warfare

Foliage

Given Treyarch and Infinity Ward's penchant for speed, we didn't expect much to change when it came to the grass, bushes, and trees. Increasing the quality of foliage becomes more taxing than it's worth in a series like Call of Duty.

Black Ops Modern Warfare 2 World at War Modern Warfare
Black Ops Modern Warfare 2 World at War Modern Warfare

Settings

The settings page for the PC versions of these games gets simpler and simpler with each new version. A few years back, you might have needed to turn off depth of field or specular maps, but newer GPUs don't bat an eye at those settings within Call of Duty.

Black Ops Modern Warfare 2 World at War Modern Warfare

Sky

While all these sky-related screenshots look different, they share one common thread: they're all static. Look upward in any of these games, and you'll notice that the sky isn't animated. Many games use day-and-night cycles paired with active weather systems to give a more realistic look. Treyarch and Infinity Ward opted to save precious computational horsepower in order to keep frame rates high. The result may not have moving clouds, but it's still quite nice to look at.

Black Ops Modern Warfare 2 World at War Modern Warfare

AK47

Compared to the Modern Warfare gun model, the two recent versions of the game have more in the way of minor details like serial numbers, scuff marks, and the like.

Black Ops Modern Warfare 2 Modern Warfare

Hallways and Walls

Many of the walls and hallways feature gritty, bumpy bricks, splashes of blood, and location-appropriate signage. The overall detail and the use of physical objects seem to have been fairly static over the years.

Black Ops Modern Warfare 2 World at War Modern Warfare
Black Ops Modern Warfare 2 World at War Modern Warfare

The Call of Duty series keeps moving the bar higher on the graphical front, but the developers are clearly focused on maintaining speed at the expense of graphics, and with just cause. In areas like facial animation and facial texturing, the entire series holds up well and leaps forward with each iteration. But when you look at random objects, textures, clothing, lighting, and shadows, the developers have to make tradeoffs. Perhaps when the next generation of consoles comes about, we'll see the series flex its graphical muscle a bit more.

Discussion

674 comments
joshluis33
joshluis33

blackops: failXD proceed to the next rooof and JUMP

SupahShnipa
SupahShnipa

Call of Duty: United Offensive > All four of these games.

falkriz
falkriz

Gameplay: BO:N/A MW2:N/A WaW:N/A MW:10/10

strayfies
strayfies

This isn't really worth comparison, I thought the article would at least go back to the original CoD. mad Somnambulist pretty much said the rest; this article is kind of pointless.

MBOmnis
MBOmnis

@JohnF111 Chernov and Roebuck are only seen once or twice? Guess I played a different WaW than you did. Mildly interesting article. Mostly agree with madSomnambulist..the differences are only there if you pay close attention, and it's not like Modern Warfare(or any of the older CoDs, for that matter) isn't as good as more recent games just because they look a little bit dated.

madSomnambulist
madSomnambulist

Article: "For the most part, the developers have kept the changes to a minimum--and with good reason." ...So why is it worth staff time to compare this stuff? If the knowledge in advance is that they're making no notable changes, why the hell would we expect any changes? The games look great. Did, and still do. If something isn't broken, don't fix it. Don't screw with a great formula. Run a comparison article if/when things look sub-par to figure out "where things went wrong", otherwise this mostly looks like an excuse for the staff to bust out some older CoD titles to play one afternoon.

siamo
siamo

@JohnF111 Agreed, would have been nice a lineup of main characters and then one of random NPCs instead of this mismatched grouping of character models.

JohnF111
JohnF111

Wow... for the WaW images they put faces that are only seen once or twice and so are fairly low quality compared to others...

biokrysty
biokrysty

they did an excelent job with all call of duty games but I think Treyarch will evolve much more than the others!!!!!!!!!!

DarpSyX
DarpSyX

MW2 is my fav so far

pmamba45
pmamba45

@Cutepotatoes You're talking sense :) A.i in COD 1 was nicely randomized to keep challenging gameplay amidst a duck and shoot addictive campaign.

danial75
danial75

i think it was the best of all call of duty series!

bacetomc
bacetomc

the game is good. so stop crying everyone! and the engine is still the same , but they have improved the looks of the game a little bit, and i also can say that it really looks great (on a decent pc an monitor of course)!!! so stop the crap, and if you dont like it , then play the oldones, no one is stopping you!

sambo2011
sambo2011

rather decent graphics throughout, maybe add a few earlier versions of call of duty, to really show the advancement through different generations of consoles

eddli
eddli

On these images, BO looks decent, but if you actually go in game and play it on a big monitor, some single player levels looks like crap, literally. BO multiplayer maps also looks extremely outdated.

ferna1234
ferna1234

Prettry nice graphic enhancement, but cod gameplay its mostly the same as always u.u

SPBoss
SPBoss

COD4>MW2> Doesn't matter at this point

Explosiv12
Explosiv12

They should give a visual update to the first CoD games.

speed-12
speed-12

COD4&COD7(black ops)was the best of another series of COD.

engraphos
engraphos

cod2 and cod4 are the best for me...i still play those games

Cutepotatoes
Cutepotatoes

Call of Duty 1 and 2 are still the best in the franchise. Miss those two games so much, now its all arcadey crap and cheaters everywhere.

3991nawk
3991nawk

If Gamespot were to make a comparison with the first 3 Call of Duty's (expansions if necessary), then they will just shoot them down. "It's just not as good" they will say, no matter how much we beg to differ.

colosso1979
colosso1979

get a retail version or i won t never more buy steam COD

OilySuperWillie
OilySuperWillie

very miniscule improvement each game doesn't really matter, I still play COD4 as opposed to the newer ones

KTfreak4Jesus2
KTfreak4Jesus2

The MW series has the upper hand. Tryarch is too stuck with COD 3(my favorite). Black ops and WaW look like call of duty 3 graphics.

Hellspawn_1581
Hellspawn_1581

@big-boss-91 Si its only fair to compare games that have the same graphics engine? it doesnt justify why the first three games are not here. In that case the title of the feature would be NOW and NOW

JohnFord01
JohnFord01

Unfair comparisons, some show better lighting etc. so earlier games look better.

coldheart32767
coldheart32767

They must put the other earlier Call of Duty games here too

colosso1979
colosso1979

i Said steam on it no cash treyarch!

colosso1979
colosso1979

Leave steam or loose money i don care if it is a 10 it has steam i won t buy it !!!!!!

CaptainIcy
CaptainIcy

Black Ops does have the most realistic graphics, then. :)

big-boss-91
big-boss-91

@Hellspawn_1581 the first three is not included because it was for a previous game generation such as PS2, the graphics engine is completely different

Joesocwork
Joesocwork

I love the franchise, but in terms of comparisons it's still the same formula: get from point A to point B without dying and while blowing away the enemy along the way. The game, regardless of the iteration, just simply does it VERY well!!!

pasannadeera
pasannadeera

they must make a game called Funereal of COD

jbeans
jbeans

Nothing to see here, move along.

jim_uk
jim_uk

If Black Ops were any more scripted it would play itself, COD games have never had much freedom but this one feels like one of those on rails lightgun games.

runarjenssen
runarjenssen

This whole comparison-feature sucks! If you wanna compare it "then and now", how about finding something more comparable? For instance, Cpt. Price is in both MW1 and MW2, how about comparing those? And not Price-and-some-random-dude? And maybe try comparing a fridge to another fridge, not a-fridge-and-a-gate? And maybe use weapons that look somewhat alike? In one picture, the MW1-version has an M4 and the MW2-version has a FAL. Why not just use the M4 there too? It's at times impossible to see much difference at all in this feature. Oh well. nice try.

tamer0
tamer0

They are all great in my opinion but if only the next call of duty have black ops's character details and facial animation, world at war's gore effects and plant physics, and modern warfare's ragdoll physics then it will be a perfect call of duty

assasinaaron
assasinaaron

This is no comparison. This is only the modern ones, what about COD 1,2,3? Gamespot, fix this. I want a real comparison.

Shai182
Shai182

all this games are great :) nothing much to say.

Gilgolfamis
Gilgolfamis

Then why are you wasting your time commenting here, go play battlefield.

Pieleanu65
Pieleanu65

viva battlefield 2&co ...cod sucks bad STATIC STUPID GAME NOTHING NEW ...OLD GRAPHICS...MEAN!!!! FOR THIS STUPID GAME WE ARE PAYNG ...IM NOT... BATTLEFIELD IS THE REVOLUTION INGAME

bcardamone
bcardamone

All looks the same to me. Great.