CoDumentary looks at the history of Call of Duty (3 stars)


Jonathan Beales' documentary skims over some of the series' most controversial moments

As well as being one of the most recognisable gaming brands in the world, Call of Duty has endured a fascinating and turbulent history. Back in 2002, Medal of Honor: Allied Assault was released to unanimous critical acclaim. Keen to keep a firm hold of their talent, publisher EA tried to forcibly take over its developer, 2015 Inc, a tactic that pushed co-founders Vince Zampella and Jason West to set up a new company, Infinity Ward, with which they defected to EA's arch-rival Activision. In 2003 they released their first title, Call of Duty, in direct competition to their former project, and it became a modest hit on PC. As the series expanded to consoles its sales grew exponentially until, with the release of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare it became an all-consuming title, dominating the sales charts each November and leaving Medal of Honor in the dust (Medal of Honor: Warfighter was the most recent release, almost five years ago and the Battlefield series is now its only competition).

With such an interesting history behind it, it's a shame that Jonathan Beales' CoDumentary skims over the details of many of the most interesting events. The film, the first such documentary to be released by indie developer Devolver Digital (Hotline Miami, The Talos Principal), has no affiliation with Call of Duty or Activision but, rather than presenting the lurid exposé the story deserves, it comes across as a slightly rough-around-the-edges hagiography.

The film features contributions from some of the key players involved, including CoD developers, a number of eSports competitors, industry heavyweight Randy Pitchford and a selection of fans. Since West and Zampella left Infinity Ward in 2010 under the most acrimonious of circumstances (they were fired for insubordination and later sued Activision before creating another company, Respawn Entertainment, which went on to make Titanfall – another seismic event that's rather glossed over here), it's perhaps understandable that they don't feature as talking heads. Nevertheless, there are so many interesting aspects to CoD's history (such as the controversial involvement of Activision CEO Bobby Kotick, the resignation of Creative Strategist Robert Bowling) that it's frustrating to spend so much time listening to a fan talk at length about how he once camped outside HMV Oxford Street all night awaiting the release of Black Ops II (released five years ago).

Beales does go into some depth over the infamous 'No Russian' level from Modern Warfare 2 (which prompted Keith Vaz MP to attempt to kick up a fuss in parliament, something he repeated for the release of its follow-up) and there are some nice insights for fans of the series, such as how the experience system was directly based on levelling in World of Warcraft. There are interesting contributions from disabled gamer Ajay Yadav talking about how much he values the escapism the series offers, and eSports team Riot Gaming talk candidly about how they had to form an all-female group just because none of the regular teams would accept a female gamer. And anyone who thinks that all CoD players are angry teenagers prone to shouting expletive-filled tantrums will find the terrifying footage of a critical eSports match between teams Impact and compLexity pretty much confirms all their fears.

For the many fans of the series, this is an enjoyable journey featuring some interesting stories from some of the people involved, and there's fascinating insight into the design decisions made at the series' inception. But with so much scandal from which to draw, it's a little too light on the gossip.

CoDumentary is out now on Blu-ray, DVD and download.

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  • 3 stars
  • UK
  • 1h 33min
  • 12
  • Directed by: Jonathan Beales
  • UK release: 19 September 2017

The story of the video game Call of Duty and how it grew to be a major entertainment franchise.