Call of Duty 2
Sitting In The back of a truck as part of a convoy rolling into a North African seaside town, I'm mentally cataloguing the reasons I enjoyed the original Call Of Duty so much. To be honest, I'm struggling. Not because it wasn't a fundamentally amazing game, but because it isn't really like other games where you wistfully recall neat set-pieces and snatches of dialogue. Call of Duty boiled down to raw emotions: fear, adrenaline, tension, catharsis. It's hard to conjure these feelings up when you're peacefully rolling through the desert.
Two minutes later, I'm cowering behind an upended cart, gunfire perforating my eardrums, and watching my comrades being cut into pieces all around me. And there I stay, I simply don't want to move -despite my superiors screaming, "Flank! Flank! and ever escalating chaos. When I do move I'm killed without ceremony, and without compassion. So I sit back in my chair, and slowly mouth the words "Oh. Oh yeah. And it all comes flooding back.
One of the many triumphs of Call Of Duty (silly traipsing around manor houses and dams aside) was that everything felt real. Call of Duty 2 kicks this up more than a few notches. A farmhouse feels like a farmhouse, a beach feels like a beach, a battle raging through a town feels like a true 360-degree panorama of hell. Any other game would have a gaggle of Nazis mooching around at the end of a corridor -but here you can never tell where the boundaries of a map begin or end - you may as well be standing in real smouldering ruins in real locations. More than ever COD2 sees Infinity Ward throwing the veil of faux-non-linearity over their levels - with different pathways, realistic street networks and gameplay that refuses to be relentlessly forwardpushing - often backtracking or having you pinned down in specific areas. It works wonderfully, and when I played through the fiendishly hard Pointe Du Hoc beach landing and cliff climbing level, I must have careered over it at least five times in markedly different ways before finally made it across - taking detours through bunkers, collapsing tunnels, gun emplacements, bomb holes, trenches and around ragdoll Germans doing backflips. Not daring to stick my ahead above ground level once, this game is merciless, and far more so than the last offering.
Adding to the increased feeling of realism is the Al. And don't worry, this time I'm not going to launch into another F.E.A.R. and Far Cry "and then they flanked me and I was all like 1111! This game ROxxors!" tirade. Although, then again, there was a moment in the Russian campaign in which four Nazis did push forward down the opposite side of the street while I was otherwise occupied, unhurriedly chucking a grenade as they did so, at which point that was exactly what I said.
Keep It Up Lads
The Al of COD2 propels it above and beyond its predecessor since it brings a real feeling of organic battle - the activity of friend and foe alike don't need to be scripted anymore. Away from the scampering down side-streets and the more intuitive ways that Allies use cover, this means that there are far fewer moments in which everyone stands around waiting for you to cross an invisible marker and even, miracle of miracles, enemies that get shot by a hand other than your own. Many a time I found myself standing in the open without hope or cover, in front of a German with a raised gun - only to be saved at the last second by a blast from a friend hiding behind a nearby barrel. This, however, works both ways. The move away from having your British/Yank/Ruskie soldiers performing progress-requiring scripted manoeuvres means that whereas many were oddly invulnerable before, only getting shot in the head when level flow demanded it, now they're prime fodder for the Nazi guns. With more and more comrades tumbling around you the longer you leave a machine-gun post on the opposite side of a Libyan marketplace manned by the enemy, the more Call Of Duty intensity goes through the roof. When you tot in the restrained, yet still spectacular, ragdolls - even more so.
While we're on the Al though, I ought to highlight a slight concern that may hinder what I consider to be COD2's unstoppable rise to greatness - the much vaunted battle chatter system. In its more mundane parts, it works and works well -if a little over-reliant in the North African chapters on having Cockneys shouting stuff like "Die you dirty Jerry-rotter!". A f**k or two would have been nice.
But I digress. While fighting through a Russian city mission, itself a work of wonder, and attempting to reassemble a broken communications cable, my comrades were getting extremely twitchy. "Over there!" they cried - although I was cowering beneath an exposed desk and couldn't see them pointing. "By that broken wall!" they shouted - even though we were in a ruined city and all the walls were broken. "They're coming from the East!" they screamed - even though I wouldn't know which way East was if I was standing on a beach in Eastbourne. Perhaps when playing through completed code I'll start to learn the way the chatter relates to gameplay a bit more - maybe then it'll convince me. But until then the jury is sitting in another room and eating sandwiches, paid for by you, the tax-payer.
But let's have a poke around this Russian level I'm outlining, as it's pretty special. The helpless feeling of being ill-equipped and, indeed, unarmed that COD nailed so hard in the opening Russian chapters certainly wasn't on show in the level that I played -if anything, the game encourages you to swap between friendly and enemy weapons far more than either its progenitor or its pro-progenitor Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. Then again, there's more chaos and thereby more bullets needed to deal with it - at least in the chunk of warfare 1 played.
At the start you're doing stuff like creeping into what in pre-war would have been the basement of a gutted house, and looking up at three outcrops of what were once floors, each packed with Nazis. It becomes clear that Infinity Ward has taken its established melding of war-torn images and iconography with level design on a few more paces than its last tour of duty. Moving on though, despite suffering heavy losses, myself being the culprit of an accidental friendly kill on more than one occasion, we pushed the enemy back far enough to restore the communications line - and the word was given to take sticky bombs and return to the scene of my earlier hiding-under-a-desk escapade, to deal with patrolling tanks that had cut in behind our advance.
Crouching behind scenery, running, ducking and throwing smoke grenades to mask my progress, I made it back. Sneaking up behind a big metal thing (I'm not going to pretend I know what kind of tank it was - it was German and had guns on it), I attached my explosives to its tracks. And this is where it was hammered home to me, even more than my initial North African scrambles of shit-pantery, why I'm set to adore COD2. Other games would lie content to say, "Wow. There goes the tank in a big explosion. Level over. Have a banana. And a medal. But that's not enough for Infinity Ward. No, the tank is still just as dangerous as it ever was. Its tracks blown off, it still nigh-on pulverised me as I scampered from the scene, and while it was merrily spraying the desolate block of flats I took cover behind, it was only when I nudged myself very slightly around a comer that I saw two Allies sprinting up to it, leaping on top, wrenching open its lid (Will, tanks don't have lids - Ed) and chucking a grenade in - the ensuing explosion killing one of the poor Ruskies as he ran away. Scripted yes, genius also.
Behind The Grime
It's not just this, though. The levels of C0D2 that I played were permeated by wonderful little touches of profound texture that lie far deeper than its predecessor - women fighting for the Russian resistance, German commandants letting off feeble blasts with a pistol in their dying breaths, propaganda leeching out of Nazi loudspeakers. Most notably, though, in the earlier stages of the D-Day level, I noticed that a victim of one of my grenades was a little pudgy around the edges - fat even. Why was this Nazi overweight? Why did he have a beard? Because the year is 1944, and the Nazis - experiencing heavy, heavy losses on the Eastern front - are conscripting anyone regardless of shape, experience or ability. As I crouched there, the reality of the situation danced across my thoughts - asking myself exactly why an overweight and unwilling conscript was positioned so near the front-line, and thinking about the processes that had led this middle-aged butcher/baker/ Qindlestick maker from some unspecified small town in Germany to meet an undignified end in a muddy trench in Normandy. And then I stood up, was hit by mortar fire fired from a faraway place, and collapsed in a pile next to him. And that's pretty much why I love Call Of Duty 2.
Download Call of Duty 2
If The Size of a press junket is any indication of a publisher's commitment to a game, then Activision must have high hopes indeed for Call Of Duty 2. The publisher recently took PC ZONE on a three-day escapade in northern Poland, a no-expense-spared war-themed extravaganza that took in a bi-plane flight, jeep convoy, Nazi ambush in a forest and a stay at Eva Braun's mansion in the Polish lake district.
COD2 promises fierce infantry warfare, pitched battles in muddy European towns, fields littered with dead cows and the finest war-based action available on the planet With each MOH or COD title, the intensity of the battles has increased, creeping ever closer to the benchmark set in the opening minutes of Saving Private Ryan. Call Of Duty 2 is no exception, ramping up the chaos with more smoke, more shouting, and bigger, somewhat free-roaming levels. But alongside these improvements, COD2 introduces some other fundamental changes to the game mechanics.
For a start, there's the new health system. Gone are health gauges, medi-packs and magical water bottles, replaced with an unusual new recuperation concept. Basically, if you take a bullet or two you get some warning signals, such as a pounding heartbeat and red-tinged vision, letting you know you're close to death. Take another shot and you'll likely cark it, but back off and your health will be restored.
Grant Collier, president of Infinity Ward, explains. "We wanted to stop people backtracking through levels looking for health kits. Now, you just pull back, catch your breath, yank some of those woodchips out of your face and get back into the action." In practice, it plays out very much like Halo, with its recharging power-shield, although there's no rational explanation for your miraculous powers of recovery.
Less controversial is the scrapping of the solo missions. Previously, the British levels were based around Special Forces infiltrations to blow up dams and so on; now they're full-on pitched battles like any other. On top of this, the Al has been completely rewritten to meet the demands of the free-roaming level design. Enemies and friends alike will now redeploy as a group, fall back if pressed, use cover intelligently and flank defended positions. They'll even try to flush you out of a hiding place with grenades, and have people waiting to shoot you as you leave - all very impressive stuff.
Above all, however, it's still Call of Duty. Whatever tinkering has been done, it feels exactly as it should - like a bigger, meaner, more exciting version of the original. Don't miss the exclusive review and demo next issue.
Three Hours Into Call Of Duty 2 and the guns have fallen silent Smoke is billowing around me, I can barely see the muzzle of my own gun and I'm attempting to have a rest Crouching behind the shell of a Russian car, I've just chucked one of Call Of Duty's new-found smoke grenades, with the sole intention of grabbing a few valuable seconds of inaction. My eyes hurt, I'm too engrossed to tap the escape key and brew myself a cup of tea, yet somehow the war is going to have to wait. If I play any more then I'll be more overwhelmed than is mentally healthy. Unfortunately, however, a less publicised fault of the Nazi regime proves to be impatience -and I soon find myself beaten into the car's door panelling for my inability to keep up. As expected, Call Of Duty 2 is relentless. And really rather good.
Is it starting off with a bit of a handicap though? Has the saturation of our cherished gaming media with the pastel shades of the early 1940s numbed us somewhat to whatever Russian, British and American goodness lies in Call Of Duty 2?
Y'see, we're still not a million miles away from where we were last time round: beach landings, gun emplacements, helmets that fly off, Nazis firing off a few pistol rounds with their dying breaths, guns that go ping... But how different do we really want it to be? We've still got a powerful mix of breathless action, dynamic scripting and the whole A-Z gamut of human emotion: hope, fear, exhilaration and everything that lies in between. The faces may be more craggy, the lighting may be more impressive, the smoke may be thicker and more billowy - blit in terms of that eternal COD feeling of hiding behind something solid and not really wanting to come out, we've barely moved on at all. And thank Christ for that.
But of course, a lot has changed - some for the better and some for the worse. However, in order to examine just how far we've come (and how in a few cases we've taken a few steps back), we'll have to take off our rose-tinted spectacles for just a few minutes. I know it hurts. Call Of Duty may have brought the Allied Assault template forward an infinite number of clicks, but it remained linear, scripted and packed with Allies who could only die at the whims of a level. Despite how great it all was, the essential ebbs and flows of real battle were missing - it was largely push, push, push, and the main surprises were provided by script rather than foe. It also had some solo missions in chateaus and dams that were complete turd.
We Don't Like Turd
So let's take a look at a typical level that redresses this balance, the prestigious D-Day landing and the start of an American campaign that (typically, my grandad would say) kicks off quite a substantial way into the game proper.
It starts, as you'd imagine, with familiar Saving Private Ryan territory -the worried faces, the vomit, the slow-motion bloodshed and incessant first-person, cinematic bombast. So far, so Call Of Duty. Having reached the top of the cliff, however, things turn a bit different. Your way across the battlefield isn't sign-posted; different routes each with different likelihoods of death spread out from your position with their individual trenches, bunkers, smoke, mortar explosions and soldiers doing ragdoll backflips. After a death and a load, and a few more deaths and subsequent loads, the battle is developing and you genuinely start to feel that the Bosch are retreating: through a farmstead, up to a crossroads and up to the massive gun emplacements you've been searching for.
This is where the last game would end the level, but now you're sent back as the threat of counter-offence begins to brew - heading back to mop up opposition holed up in bunkers on the mortar-pocked battlefield. Then the (thousand-year) Empire strikes back: pushing you backwards and then further backwards, until you're practically on the lip of the cliff and praying for salvation. This is how real battle works: the front moving back and forth, points being captured and recaptured. Similarly, when clearing a town or a trainyard, you're now presented with objectives you can clear in the order of your choice, which you often do the most obvious way anyway, but it's a nice gesture. Yes, the game remains a linear experience, but Infinity Ward has tossed a smoke grenade into affairs to keep you on your toes.
The best innovations of the game stem from this, specifically the new-found freedom and Al bestowed upon enemies and Allies as they interact with the large-scale environment and large-scale opposition. Now we're not talking F.E.A.R. levels of cleverness here - they don't have a particularly almighty sense of self-preservation - but when you take a step back and watch your friendly Al working through cover, it's really quite impressive.
Going Great Guns
As, indeed, is the way that forces of the Reich will respond to your encroachment - either hunkering down or retreating through cover (some just legging it outliers taking potshots at you). Or indeed, making your boys do the same. What brings even more chaos to the battlefield, meanwhile, is that friend and foe alike can dynamically shoot each other, without adhering strictly to the diktat of intricate game scripting.
This means there'll be many, many occasions where you'll be staring down the muzzle of an angry German's gun (making comedy gulping noises if you so wish), only to be saved at the last second by a neat headshot from a member of your band of brothers in arms.
Don't underestimate the visceral dazzlement that'll come from having so many peeps on-screen either. If I stood here waving my arms and reeling out all the best moments of COD2, then my hyperbole would probably outlast the game itself (which is slightly longer than the last one by the way, but not by much). However, there's an absolute humdinger in the North-African British campaign.
You and your plucky Brit mates (what ho, etc) have to defend a small outpost from all angles from the Krauts, racing from north to south to east to north again in an attempt to stem their flow - but what a flow. Coming from an impressive distance, and eventually accompanied by tanks, they swarm over the dunes with such intensity that hoodlums could break into your house while you're playing, sneak up behind you and steal valuable computer peripherals from beneath your feet without you noticing.
There's absolutely no argument that the Call Of Duty phenomenon of having setpieces that cause you to sit bolt upright and murmur stuff like, "F*** me. I mean really, f*** me. God lie's got a rocket thing... F*** me! remains true. Plus, it occurs with far more regularity in C0D2, especially once you hit the US missions. Infinity Ward has created a game that can perfectly synchronise with the pumping of adrenalin around your body (best experienced in the tour-de-force penultimate mission on Hill 400), where Al and script meld nigh-on perfectly and cause many calm scenes to be meditated upon in vague attempts at mental recovery.
Nothing in this life, however, is perfect -these past few paragraphs may have seen me loved up by Call Of Duty 2, but unfortunately there's more than one ominous Jerry Springer-style empty chair sitting next to us. Over to you Jerry...
"So, let's all welcome spawning! An FPS feature that Will hates, but who's been sleeping with COD for the past six months!" Cue chairs flying.
Well, maybe not flying. I realise that the spawning of enemies (and friendlies) is entirely necessary to complete the illusion that warfare is constant and raging all around you. Now this isn't something that plays out in the whole game, only when the flow of the game desires it, but I can't help but feel that the Nazi pop-up rate is a little too speedy for my liking.
A more universal call of complaint, meanwhile, will be the perennial Call Of Duty factor of character and story - of which the games boast none. It's not COD's style to come up with a moving scene that involves childhood sweethearts or Mom's apple pie - it would much rather provide a brilliant set-piece where a plane does a strafing run down the street you're on that makes you shout: "Shit!" Now, this is fine. I agree COD games don't need a spoon-fed story. But, having slotted in a few somewhat persistent characters (particularly in the British campaign, with a grumpy working-class Scot and spiffy stiff-upper-lipped toff), a nugget of main character progression, or indeed death, would have paid dividends. I may love the way in which campaigns unlock themselves as you work through the game, meaning that if you want a change of scenery then you can swap between Stalingrad and North Africa should you so choose, but COD2 remains all beginning and middle, with no apparent end. If you thought that the finale to Allied Assault was bobbins (some soldiers in a train carriage followed by a screen saying 'The End') then just wait until you see what's on offer here. Or rather, what isn't.
Third chair in my loose and not particularly good Jerry Springer analogy, meanwhile, is an old familiar - a chestnut, if you will. Yes, it's a slight dose of consoles. But wait! Don't run off and tell everyone that Will told you that COD2 is consoley, that's not true. I'm just saying that there are a few features in here that have probably been developed with the dual release on the Xbox 360 in mind. Namely, some tank missions that see you rumbling around the desert, that may not be awful but certainly aren't needed by the game proper. They also stretch credibility a bit too far for those entrenclied within the minutiae of PC gaming. I mean, shooting several thousand Nazis without dying I can understand, but tanks with shells that reload in less than eight seconds? That's just barking. The health system is similarly controversial. Essentially, you no longer gain health in the time-honoured way of collection health packs or getting a magic jab from a passing medic - you Gin do it all on your own, by cowering behind street furniture and waiting until the increasingly bloody tinge of your monitor lias gone and your heavy breathing has subsided.
This improves the flow of the game no end - there's no more rooting around in the bathtubs of rural villages - but it comes at a price in the lower difficulty settings. You swiftly come to realize that you can be shot a few times without having to worry, which means a fair chunk of intensity is lost This said, in multiplayer, the magical regeneration works perfectly.
Blimey. What a lot of moans about an excellent game. And I haven't even said anything about the eventually grating Brit habit of screaming "Bloody wanker!" and "Jerry rotter! nor the game's fixation with calling stick grenades "potato masliers".
A Lot Of Love
Don't get me wrong, this is a superb game - it's just that when put in the context of such gaming brilliance, then flaws become all the more obvious. This is a game where tanks rumble over the trenches you're cowering in, where you stand quaking in a stranded x outpost waiting that terrifying extra second before Nazis charge through the billowing smoke, and a game where the art of the ragdoll lias been perfected through a wonderful blend of physics and animation.
It's a game with more loving incidental detail than I have ever seen, from the neardead Nazi crawling for his gun (or indeed those staggering, running or dead), to the marvellous Russian mission in which the you're sneaking through is peppered with bullets and daylight streams through the erforations. It's a fundamentally colossal achievement that anyone with a taste for action should sample.
Put simply, other shooters like to put you in control: you're the one controlling gravity, you're the one in the shadows with the lethal take-down, or you're the one with the silky skills and the ability to slow down time. Infinity Ward wants none of that muck: it wants screaming, smoke, flying lies, chaos and you running around with goggle-eyes, jaw-hanging and tonguelolling, wondering where the next hail of bullets is going to come from. It doesn't want to make you feel cool, it wants to pulverise you. And with linearity now fairly disguised, ramped-up Al and tremendous visual bombast, it does so repeatedly. Are we feel up with WWII? We're certainly getting there. Are we fed up with Call Of Duty? Not for a good while yet.
Undeniably, the sequel to Call of Duty has culminated in perhaps one of the most satisfying WW2 game experiences I've had in a very long time. Essentially a PC port to the 360, Call of Duty 2 definitely has a home on the Xbox 360, as this game not only looks gorgeous, but features one interesting difference from the PC version that makes it truly great for the Xbox 360 version. Essentially what I'd call a flagship title,Call of Duty 2 has a few flaws, but nothing that holds it back from being a truly good game.
The first part of this game that I've got to praise is the difficulty system. CoD2 uses a damage system where a few hits will make you 'vulnerable'. Your screen flashes red, and another hit will kill you. Avoid taking damage long enough, and you'll recover. This feature, combined with the level of difficult you choose to play at can satisfy a more casual, less intense gamer, or the one hit one kill satisfaction that many players will look for from a non-fiction FPS. Sadly, there's no way to really command the troops around you, such as in Brothers in Arms, but CoD2 also features some really stunningly good AI, on both sides, mitigating this factor. Finally, in the Xbox 360 version, there's a very limited target feature. If you tap the 'aim by sights' button while you're pointed in the direction of an enemy that's relatively close to you, you'll automatically aim straight at them. It doesn't seem like much, but battles in this game can be hectic, and this is a real lifesaver.
Although I can't say for certain, I suspect that CoD2 doesn't take full advantage of the Xbox 360, but it still manages to look great. There's a difference between graphics that look really great because they're well detailed and sharp and a game that just looks technically brilliant. From the amazing particle effects (try popping a smoke grenade), to the really great level design, this game looks great. If your ears are looking for some entertainment, they too won't be disappointed. There's an impressive battle chatter system in the game. Remember that stunning AI? Well, it knows how to observe the stage, and if you listen you'll be able to hear your fellow soldiers bark out enemy positions, warnings, and more.
Finally, I wasn't entirely satisfied with the multiplayer in CoD2. The games are incredibly fun, I mean, how could they not be? But you can't browse through open games, and it makes use of the same players/ranked match system that Quake 4 uses. It doesn't feel friendly, and I didn't like having to wait to gather players for a game. It might be a really fine line to draw, but it's a big feeling once you're actually looking for a game. Even still, without multiplayer, this game is great. With multiplayer, it's amazingly fun. Definitely worth getting.
WWII games have been saturating the market lately so standing out is becoming increasingly difficult. I mean, how many times can storm the beaches at Normandy or hold the line at Stalingrad? Well, at least one more time as Call of Duty 2 captures that realistic edge that brought success to its predecessor. Although it doesn't have the edge that Brothers in Arms had with the raw language and more graphic war scenes, but you will get a strong sense of how it must have been.
To give a quick overview, Call of Duty 2 is broken up into three different battles, Normandy where you storm the beach as Americans, Stalingrad where the Russians hold their city, and North Africa where the British fight across the desert. Where many other WWII games often miss the mark is capturing the accuracy of these battles. Often you can end up firing at men who just stand and shoot or walk at you firing. Having a reasonably intelligent enemy makes a huge difference especially in a FPS and you've definitely got that here. They'll hide behind cover and fire when appropriate, swarm when they have the advantage, and throw grenades to flush you out and push you back.
Keep in mind however that this is still your basic FPS game. Don't expect must different in gameplay then the original but I wouldn't expect many to take issue with it. It still works well and the control system is effective. Probably my one big complaint is the lack of a health indication. Basically you can tell when you getting hit and when you near death but not much else. Part of this may be due to the way you are healed which happens quickly and automatically. So you're in a fight for instance, take a few hits and move on. Probably by the time you run into the next enemy, you'll be mostly healed, especially if you catch you breath for a few seconds. That may sound like the game is too easy and in some ways it can be, but have to fear, you'll find yourself restarting from the last checkpoint many times.
As you can imagine, since Call of Duty 2 is coming out on the Xbox 360 as well, the graphics are impressive. Although you won't witness them in their glory without a high end video card, there aren't any corners cut here. Detailed textures, weather effects, realistic explosions all put together a solid performance. The only issue I had was some slow down issues when too much was going on. In addition, the audio was spot-on with realistic war effects from gun fire to soldier chatter.
Call of Duty 2 continues with the quality and polish we got from the original. My only caution is on the PC requirements. There are plenty of options to adjust for your specific hardware.