So as I fire up Call of Duty 2 to “get in the mood” for this review, I'm a little tired. This fact becomes much more obvious as I load up the first mission in the Russian campaign and immediately realize that I've got to wake up in order to stay alive for longer than a few seconds. I'm about to fight for every inch of ground against smart enemies and steep odds through trenches and across fields. This isn't going to be easy or quiet. It's tough, loud, frantic, bloody and so much fun I smile the entire time. This is Call of Duty 2 doing what it does best, dropping you smack dab in the middle of the action, explosions, bodies, smoke and all of the rest--and this is only the first mission.
When the minds behind the original Medal Of Honor series broke off and started Infinity Ward, the original Call of Duty was born in October of '03. With it came a whole new style of WWII FPS, a genre that was rapidly developing as a “big money” seller. The action was frenetic and checkpoint based. The idea was you fought your butt off from one checkpoint to the next using whatever you could find at your disposal in order to do so. Scoop up an enemy gun and use all of the ammo that you can before killing another and repeating the whole process over again. What they failed to do with AI in Call of Duty they did with numbers, throwing wave after wave of German troops at you often after backing you into a corner or some other equally unbalanced situation. Call of Duty 2 uses a revamped AI that seems much more suited to FPS fighting. They throw their own grenades at you, flush you out or pin you down as they see fit and will lob any ‘nades that you manage to get off back into your lap if you give them half a chance.
The story in Call of Duty 2 is similar to that of the first installation. You play three separate campaigns as either the British, American or Russian forces. (In all three cases you've got the Germans in your sights. When will gaming companies grow some stones and let us play as the Germans, fighting for the fatherland? I smell an editorial somewhere…) The main difference in the campaign missions of Call of Duty 2 from its predecessor is that once you accomplish the first mission in each campaign another campaign opens up for you. This new addition allows you to play all three campaigns traditionally from start to finish or mix-and-match and hop around between campaigns to keep it interesting. For me, I had my hands full enough just playing through each campaign separately, much less in a jumbled order. I may have done more jumping around if they offered some kind of breather in the campaigns or a point where you can say, “whew, time for something different.” However, as was the case in the first game, and possibly more so in this one, there's a constant sense of being “on edge,” and each fight seems to blend seamlessly with the previous one.
As I've previously stated, many of the mechanics from Call of Duty carry over into Call of Duty 2 and rightly so. The AI is improved and sharpened, and your squad members will actually help out and fight rather than wait for you to clear a path for them. Sure, there are plenty of parts where they're waiting for you to accomplish something they can't (such as blowing something up or clearing a house,) but in large-scale battles your buddies will fight hard and fast. Don't get too attached to any of them however, because they die and are recycled with startling frequency. While the fact that you seem to have endless reinforcements may take away from the realism a tad, it helps to balance the equation between you and the enemy.
|One feature, the grenade indicator, was something I wasn't sure about at first but grew to love towards the end. A small flashing directional arrow will appear on screen if you're too close to a live ‘nade, yours or the enemy's. While this certainly removes whatever realism there may have been in that situation, without it I would've had to reload many, many more times. Those Germans will be heaving grenades at you, and you will have to avoid them. During the heat of a fight, you often don't see someone chucking one at your feet, so it's nice to have a little warning before you meet your (digital) maker.|
"...it's nice to have a little warning before you meet your (digital) maker."
In Call of Duty 2 the creative teams behind the title seem to have upped the immersive atmosphere the first Call of Duty capitalized on. You no longer have to scrounge for health and so long as you can find some cover, your health will regenerate itself rather than rely on your ability to hunt down health packs. While some people initially complained about this feature in the demo, I found it allowed me to stay in a fight much longer than previously, as I didn't have to take breaks to backtrack and find those health/weapon caches. Another immersion factor, load times, seem to have received some attention. For the amount of action and carnage of each mission, load times were very reasonable. Certainly not long enough to jump up and grab a Coke, meaning that you remain seated and fixated the duration of your experience.
Call of Duty was a game that had more than a few “wow” moments as far as graphics are concerned. I specifically remember reloading missions just to watch the smoke and the flak guns in all of their glory. While this title certainly is no graphic slouch, it doesn't have the same eye-popping moments that the first had. Perhaps this is a testament to companies like Valve that are continually upping the ante and raising the bar, or more a statement of how jaded that I've become towards new graphics. Either way Call of Duty 2 is no F.E.A.R. yet it isn't a complete letdown graphically either. Lighting and color saturation are both very well-done and executed, for example. They still can't do fire realistically, but then again I've yet to see fire “done right.”
One graphical addition I particularly enjoyed was the addition of smoke grenades. When using volumetric smoke on the battlefield to cover your movements, you get a real sense of claustrophobia in the middle of the mess trying to figure out which direction to go and who to shoot through the haze. Not only that, but some of the most tense moments in the game occur when the enemy uses smoke to cover an advance and out of the fog angry Germans begin to materialize mere meters from your previously secure hiding spot.
"...you get a real sense of claustrophobia in the middle of the mess trying to figure out which direction to go and who to shoot in the haze."
The sound in the first Call of Duty was phenomenal and this addition to the catalogue is no different. With the team spending days out in the American deserts of the southwest recording and firing actual WWII era weapons under all possible conditions, the cacophony of battle sounds particularly convincing, and each weapon has a satisfying report when pulling the trigger.
|The new addition of “battle chatter” also is a neat way to up the frantic feel of the fighting in this game. Men on both sides of the lines will yell, scream and shout both help and pain to each other as they fight. They'll call out enemy positions, give advice on how to attack, notify you when they're out of ammo and scream in agony when wounded. Hearing this shouting, both in English and German while the sounds of munitions and explosions surround you has a particularly realistic feel to it and is something I hope we see more of in the future.|
The strength of this game's sound is in the fact that it all meshes to give a greater sense of the desperate situations you find yourself in. You won't here a girl giggle the next room over like you may in F.E.A.R. but then again, who needs to hear a giggle when you're busy mowing down the entire German army?
While I've never been one for the Call of Duty multiplay experience, it's gone on to become a very popular part of this series and something to be taken seriously. The perennial favorite maps are back, including St. Mere. Eglise. The “killcam” also returns, allowing you to watch your last few moments of action from the point of view of the death-dealer that knocked you out. This function, I've found, allows for there to be a pretty steep learning curve for this game. If you don't learn from your mistakes soon, you'll die quickly, and often.
The Search and Destroy, Headquarters, Team Deathmatch, and Capture the Flag modes also make a reappearance in Call of Duty 2 . Missing is the Domination mode and vehicles on the multiplay maps. Hopefully both will be added in the near future.
VII. Replay Value
While the original Call of Duty was generally very linear, Call of Duty 2 moves away from that format, not completely, but in small steps. Often you are plopped down on a map and given several objectives to accomplish simultaneously. The order in which you complete them is usually up to you, but occasionally decided for you by well placed corridors or the infamous “mine fields” that kept you on track the first time around.
Opening up the gameplay like this not only leads to greater variety in how the game can be played but adds a HUGE replay value. You can play through several missions more than once and have a different experience each time. Further, if you're stuck on a certain part of the game, you can simply abandon that objective temporarily and try and attack it from a different angle.
"You can play through several missions more than once and have a different experience each time."
"You can play through several missions more than once and have a different experience each time."
Call of Duty 2 is a title that many may feel is redundant in a genre quickly becoming clogged with WWII-style shooters. However, the additions that it makes to the genre are substantial. Smoke, and using it effectively, as well as an open-mission style seem to be extremely positive and hopefully will show up in future titles. While not a “must have” for all gamers alike, if you enjoyed the last Call of Duty you're going to want to play through this one as well. It's a worthwhile and well done sequel and as such can stand on it's own as one of the great games to be released this year.
[Editor's aside: I'd give this one an 8.6 on our scale. Not a “must have” unless you've played the first installment.]