Call of Duty 2 – Game Review (PC)
Advanced Recon: This game is beautifully crafted to place the player into larger battles throughout the European Theatre of World War II , all the while making the journey very personal and often downright tense. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself with mouth agape as you look around at the beauty of the virtual world, forgetting you have a job to do!
As I lay on top of the grain silo in a war-torn crossroads town somewhere in Normandy, I can easily survey the entire countryside in all directions. Having just been given a sniper rifle, I am tasked with preventing German mortar crews from setting up and shelling my comrades in the town below. Immediately after settling into my perch, the assault begins…with German squads approaching from several directions simultaneously. The next few minutes are a blur of sighting, shooting, relocating, and shooting again. I am able to stop the mortar teams, but several of the enemy managed to infiltrate the town, and a few end up directly below my position. Leaning over, I pick my target far below… I steady my breathing to keep from swaying… and shoot his helmet clean off his head! Still alive, and quite lucky, he grabs some cover – leaving me to curse the fates and wonder how long it would take them to flush me out.
This small illustration of the detail and frantic fun found in Call of Duty 2 (Infinity Ward) is part of what sold me on this game. Rather than simply walking through many meaningless levels, blazing away at targets like some sort of amusement park ride, this game places you in the boots of various allied soldiers as they fight the Axis troops across Europe. There are no bosses, no uber-weapons, no hokey stories to suffer through. Just good clean history. What a relief!
Following up on the very successful original, Call of Duty 2 (COD2) returns to World War II Europe with new missions, new weapons, new vehicles, and of course new locations. Each mission is preceded by an interesting movie (courtesy of the Military Channel) describing the battle as it really happened, lending each an air of authenticity, and serving to immerse you into that era. Players are assigned dangerous missions in North Africa, Stalingrad, Moscow, Normandy and Germany. There are many untapped stories of this conflict, and thankfully some new ones are explored in COD2. With great anticipation, we head back into that maelstrom…
For those familiar with First Person Shooter (FPS) games in general, or the original COD in particular, you will feel right at home with COD2. But, just to be sure everyone is on board before getting thrown to the wolves, the first “mission” of the game is actually a well-crafted training exercise designed to get new fans quickly up to speed on how to aim, throw grenades, switch weapons, reload, etc. Even veterans should appreciate how well this is built into the story, and shows how easy it is to mesh a good story with good gameplay.
|Back in Stalingrad – one of the bloodiest battles in World War II.||From the snows of Russia to the deserts of North Africa – what a change!|
Technically speaking, this game just has a good “feel” in its layout, responsiveness, and presentation. The characters move well, they feel realistic in walking, turning, jumping, ducking, etc. On the whole, it is not much different than the original game (which is a great thing!). One of the biggest changes for COD2 is the damage model, which now includes a “critically injured” indicator (bright red blood splotches on the screen). When you are seriously injured you must get yourself out of the fighting for a few seconds until your health returns (this is often compared to Halo). While I was a little turned off by this at first (since at face value it is less than realistic), I soon realized that it actually kept me in the battle and thus in the action for more of the game. You still have to be careful to not get hit again while in this critical state or you will perish (this still happened quite often for me!). This is much better than walking around like Pac Man gobbling up health packs…or spending a good portion of your time getting patched up by a medic. In that sense, realism is set aside for enjoyment – a decision I came to appreciate.
You are only allowed to carry two primary weapons, rather than a whole arsenal. This is seldom a problem however, as you can usually find one submachine gun for close encounters and one semi-automatic rifle for medium and long range engagements. As always, there are plenty of weapons lying about after you capture enemy positions. A few new weapons have been added to the mix, such as the semi-automatic German Gewehr [rifle] 43 which was a personal favorite of mine (10 round clip, great accuracy and semi-auto fire made it a prize when fighting down long streets). You are also given smoke grenades, which are used to great effect to give cover to advancing troops (but boy do they make a mess in multiplayer!). The sniper rifle now has a “steady breathing” mode, allowing you much greater accuracy for a very short period of time. Imagine holding your breath to get perfect aim. A nice touch.
|This Panzer II (left) is no match for the British Crusaders…one chink in the armor of this game.||The Normandy cut-scene looks like something out of Saving Private Ryan.|
I found the tanks to be a bit of a disappointment. You only get to drive a tank once during the game, and while the tank battle was pretty fun, it got an F for realism. The military advisors for COD2 dropped the ball on this particular aspect, and should have known that the tiny Panzerkampfwagen II shown in several missions of the game was obsolete even before the war began (it essentially was armed with a large 20mm rifle, quite incapable of penetrating armor). To consider them as primary battle tanks was a major gaffe. The mission featuring the tank battle between the Crusader tanks of the allies and the Panzer II’s of the Germans would have seen the Germans completely slaughtered. A better selection would have been the Panzerkampfwagen IV which was much larger, more versatile, and was one of the mainstays of the German forces in all theatres of the European conflict throughout most of the war. A much more interesting fight would have been a group of 10-15 Allied Sherman tanks facing off against just ONE German Tiger tank (Panzerkampfwagen VI) since this actually happened in one engagement during the fighting in Normandy (can you believe the Tiger was the victor?). Tanks were such a major aspect of World War II, it is a mystery how they were done so poorly in an otherwise fantastic game.
Speaking of history, there were some other minor faults I ran across while playing this game. I mention these as extra information, and not to be overly critical of the game itself. Some of them were just a bit surprising, although I realize that design considerations probably superseded historical fact in many cases. First, the initial Moscow mission features a member of the 13th Guards Rifle Division (famous for its action in Stalingrad); the mission takes place in 1941, before the division even existed. In the D-Day mission, a Sherman tank is incorrectly called a “DD” which refers to the floating tanks used by the allies during the invasion; the real DD tanks would look like they have skirts surrounding them to make them float. The Sherman tank shown in the D-Day mission also has a “plow” on the front which was used to cut through the hedgerows of Normandy. However, these “Rhino” tank conversions weren’t created until a month AFTER D-Day, when the fighting moved inland from the beaches. Finally, the sound guys took one of their catch phrases directly from Saving Private Ryan, from the scene where they surprise the Germans in the town, enter a standoff, and then kill them from above and below. The phrases “clear up” and “clear down” were shouted by the two American units, meaning neither team could see any opposition from the top or the bottom. In the game, we only hear “clear down” over and over. Saying a simple “all clear” would make more sense in most situations.
|The smoke effects are absolutely incredible in this game.||Tiger hunting is a dangerous sport – but a necessary one.|
Despite these few faults, the historical gameplay is really pretty good. The squad moves to support you, although there are no tactics per se which you can control. They generally hold when you hold, and advance when you advance. Very rarely they will do strange things like walk out a door into a furious crossfire, but normally they will use cover quite well to pick off the “Jerries” and provide cover fire for you. In that regard, the game could be considered “squad tactics lite” since you really focus more on keeping your own head down rather than helping your mates along. On the other side, the Germans behave in similar ways, with squads often seen running into battle, using the same run, duck and shoot tactics as your men use. When the firefights heat up, the action really gets intense – and I was glad I only had to worry about myself instead of a whole gaggle of AI players. With the swirl of smoke, the concussion of grenades, and the realism of this engine, there were several times I felt like I was actually IN Saving Private Ryan. That is high praise for gameplay realism.
Rather than depend on the venerable Quake III engine used in Call of Duty, Infinity Ward created their own graphics package for this game – and the result suggests they made the proper call. My Radeon 9800 Pro was taxed pretty hard, even at minimal settings, but the smoke, snow, rain and dust effects were all still fantastic. I could go sit in a quiet corner of Stalingrad and marvel at the quiet tranquility of the snow falling around me (at least until my squad leader came to chew me a new one!). The texturing of buildings and interiors were so well done I always felt like I was in the world, rather than sitting outside looking at a poorly drawn simulation.
The sounds were quite good overall. The voice acting was good, as were the individual orders and cries of the soldiers during battle. Using a new context-sensitive positioning system, your squad mates would often call out locations of the enemy soldiers (“sniper, second story, red farm house”) giving you clues where to shoot. I had mixed feelings about this feature because often it was just too much information. Every 10 seconds I’d hear about new enemy soldiers and where I could find them. Often I would just have to ignore them. At the same time, soldiers on both sides would repeat the same one-liners over and over – allies proclaiming they were sending the Krauts to hell, Germans screaming that the Tommy’s were coming, or my squad mates constantly telling me to cover them while they reloaded. On the one hand it made the battles seem more realistic and chaotic, but on the other it made me wonder why they couldn’t have done more voice acting to add in 40 or 50 different battle cries for both sides. A minor gripe perhaps, but one worth mentioning because it was one of the few things that pulled me out of the virtual world.
Otherwise, the sounds of battle are very similar to what you heard in the first game.
|The Battle for Hill 400. An exciting mission – and a real event.||Pardon me friend, but might I ask you not to jump out in front of my gun barrel?|
I finished the single player campaign game on a Friday night. The very next day I was watching the History Channel, and on popped a program about the Battle for Hill 400 – one of the battles featured in COD2! They explained events almost exactly as I had just experienced them the night before, adding a further layer of credibility and authenticity to this title. Most of my criticisms here are superficial and related specifically to historical accuracy (thus I knocked a few points off the gameplay score) – which will probably only be noticed by a few pedantics such as myself. They mostly got this one right, especially where it counted – in exciting gameplay. I found the missions interesting and creative and I was hoping the fighting would never end… Luckily I can continue the war in the excellent multiplayer, which duplicates and builds upon the success of the previous game.
Finally, here is one game which delivers on creating a realistic, interactive environment which also comes with a believable story, interesting characters, and dynamic and colorful locations. I’m not sure I could summon higher praise for a game from this genre. More of an evolution than a revolution, Call of Duty 2 is immensely fun to play while also providing some historical depth, rather than a dumbed down shooting gallery. In my opinion you can’t go wrong picking up this title from amongst the crowded holiday releases this year. I will definitely be playing this one throughout the cold Russian winter.
Armchair General Score: 92%
35/40 — Gameplay
14/15 — Graphics
08/10 — Sound
15/15 — Interface
05/05 — Installation and Technical
05/05 — Documentation
10/10 — General’s Rating
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