The Game That Started the Battlefield Series

The first Battlefield game, Battlefield 1942, was released in 2002. Nearly ten years ago! Yet while it was the first game to bear the branding that lives on to this day with Battlefield 3, depending on how you look at it, it's not really the first game in the series.

That honour goes to a PC game called Codename Eagle, in many ways the spiritual predecessor to the Battlefield franchise.

Codename Eagle was developed by a studio called Refraction Games, and was first released in 1999. For fans of alternate history, it's got a pretty cool setting, based on the assumption that the Great War never actually took place. With no Germans on the march and nobody wondering how far away Tipperary was, the Tsar's Russia instead goes on the offensive, with the rest of Europe banding together to try and stop them.

Like more recent Battlefield games, CE had a proper singleplayer campaign attached to it, in which the player had to sneak and/or fight their way through levels taking place on often large maps, with multiple ways to complete each mission. You could also take control of any vehicles you found lying around the game world.

Sounded good, but with awful AI it was all a bit shit, and is not what CE is remembered for. It's remembered for its multiplayer.

Refraction Games were onto something with Codename Eagle's multiplayer. Unlike the small, largely corridor-based multiplayer shooters of the time, CE featured expansive maps that placed a great emphasis on the control of vehicles, both on the ground and in the air.

Available game modes included capture the flag and deathmatch, but it was team deathmatch where most of the fun was to be had, as players went crazy over the large maps in tanks and aircraft.

Sounds a lot like Battlefield, right? That's because in many ways it was. While Codename Eagle was neither a critical nor commercial success, there was great potential in the game's multiplayer component, which Swedish developers (and Battlefield creators) DICE saw and liked enough to buy the company not long after Eagle's release.

This brought not only the designers behind Codename Eagle's multiplayer onboard, but also the game's engine, the Refractor Engine. While the original iteration was only used for Codename Eagle, the Refractor Engine 2 is what Battlefield 1942 was built on, and saw service through Battlefield 2 and right through to 2006's Battlefield 2142.

It even lives on today, powering the franchise's browser-based titles like Battlefield Heroes and Battlefield Play4Free.

With Battlefield 3 on everyone's minds this week, if you're curious to see where in many ways it all began, Codename Eagle still has an online following where you can get a game going. If it's a little too old for your tastes, fans built Codename Eagle mods for both Battlefield 1942 and Battlefield 2, which you can check out here.

Total Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.

You can contact Luke Plunkett, the author of this post, at plunkett@kotaku.com. You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook, and lurking around our #tips page.