Call of Duty: United Offensive
We didn't think it was possible, but the greatest WWII shooter ever could soon be eclipsed - by its own expansion pack! We spent an hour looking at United Offensive and talking to Gray Matter's creative lead Richard Farrelly, who took us through an entire Russian level, Kursk, in which all of the visceral, gut-twisting realities of war were every bit as evident as in the original game.
"You get to play through an American, British and Russian campaign. Each has a separate story based around a central character," explains Richard. The Kursk level saw Russian troops under aerial bombardment as massed German ranks stormed their trenches. Machine-gun fire chattered unceasingly as mortars and bombs sent men spiralling skywards while rain hammered down in the opposite direction, showing off l/O's impressive new particle effects system. Later on, German troops set fire to groups of our comrades with sickeningly realistic flamethrowers - one of 14 new weapons on show, including deployable light machine guns.
Richard was reluctant to talk in detail about the promised vehicular multiplayer games, saying only: We're currently trying to get the balance right so that it's possible for infantry and tanks to support each other. Also, the levels in multiplayer will probably be bigger than in the single-player campaign.
We also saw a B52 bombing mission where you man the turrets and manually drop the payload at the end. It's already clear that United Offensive is going to be one hell of a ride. And if it fulfils its early promise, it could well be the first great FPS add-on since Half-Life: Opposing Force.
Download Call of Duty: United Offensive
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Make No Mistake, Call of Duty was the most visceral, realistic and evocative war simulation ever created. Winning countless awards, developer Infinity Ward's sensitive yet gut-twisting portrayal of WWII conflict was applauded by critics, consumers and even WWII veterans for enabling a whole new generation to experience, and more importantly, never forget the horrors or war. Who said FPS games were bad for you?
Of course, having enjoyed such widespread acclaim, it was only a matter of time till an expansion pack crawled out of the trenches. And wouldn't you know it, one has: Call Of Duty: United Offensive. What's more. Gray Matter (of Return to Castle Wolfenstein fame) is responsible for the coding, so we decided to take a trip to its LA office to see what's in store...
United Offensive is about that big, Hollywood blockbuster, cinematic, large-scale battle feel that makes you believe you're in the middle of a war," begins Robb Alvey - senior producer on United Offensive - just after taking us through a demonstration of the ear-splitting Battle Of The Bulge mission. This snow-covered level is from the game's US campaign, which sees the 101 st Airborne division capturing the Belgian town of Noville.
Watching it, you see a breathtaking recreation of the horrors of war. Chillingly realistic yet brilliantly cinematic, this gargantuan mission dwarfs anything we've seen in Call Of Duty, with the level sprawling almost endlessly into the horizon. Droves of American soldiers advance towards incessantly chattering German machine guns, while mortar fire splashes down all around, sending shell-shocked soldiers skywards as they ride plumes of dust kicked up by the propelled explosives. The all-new particle physics system works overtime to render dust and snow as they fall from the sky, limiting our field of vision and making sniper rifles obsolete. This is face-to-face combat at its most sickening, the Americans eventually winning a bloody, house-by-house battle to recapture the town.
After recovering our breath, we ask Robb whether there's going to be any movie tie-ins in I/O, as there were in Call Of Duty? The generation that we're trying to aim the game at have mainly experienced WWII via Band Of Brothers and WWII movies," says Robb. We want to keep connections across multiple media, just like CoD did with its Enemy At The Gates level, because it pulls in a lot more people. Some levels in I/O have a pretty direct connection with these, while others have none.
Just like Call Of Duty, United Offensive is set to feature three unique campaigns - American, British and Russian - with ten missions in total. Now, we know what you're thinking -this doesn't sound like very many. But having seen the scope of some of these levels, we're pretty confident that United Offensive won't be too much shorter than the original, which, let's face it, is a pretty damn good length for an expansion pack.
"We really wanted to focus on creating much bigger maps and creating as much new content as possible. You find yourself playing in huge areas," explains Mike Denny, one of the game's designers. When we got the tools, we sat down and worked out what we could do with them in the short amount of time we'd been given," adds Robb. We developed a technique which allowed us to have multiple people working on a map at the same time. This meant we could build much bigger maps than the ones in CoD." Judging by this first mission, the team's succeeded in this goal admirably.
So onto mission two of our visit, a novel B17 bomber mission. Part of the British campaign, you play the role of a B17 gunner, repelling countless enemy fighters as they attempt to mince your behemoth plane into shrapnel.
After a sedate start, the action soon kicks off for real. Spotting enemy fighters in the distance, our escort Spitfires break off from their defensive formation to engage the enemy. The sky lights up like a Christmas tree as lines of machine-gun fire snake from Bomber turrets in search of enemy targets. All around us is a maelstrom of bullets, fire and smoke as planes buzz below and above like flies around a corpse. An enemy fighter, tail shot off. spirals towards the ground, its fall interrupted by a B17, sliced in half by the impact. The two flying beasts burst into flames, their crews screaming their last desperate wails over the radio.
Throughout the mission, we're forced to change our gunner positions as more and more of our crew members fall under the aerial onslaught. The level ends with our turret being hit and a fall towards earth behind enemy lines, surely an intriguing setup for the following missions.
However, despite the novelty value and intensity of the bomber mission, it does feel somewhat repetitive after a while, limited by the plane's claustrophobic dimensions that penned us into a narrow metal tube. We ask Robb how Gray Matter came up with the idea for this mission. One of the most important things for us was to bring something new to Call Of Duty. We all decided that having you in a B17 would be really unique and something the player hadn't seen before, he explains.
And so onto the final mission of our United Offensive tour of duty, the Battle Of Kursk, from the Russian campaign. Gray Matter has saved the best till last. Imagine the Stalingrad mission from Call Of Duty, only even more bloody and bone-shaking, and you have an idea of what this mission has in store.
Kursk is a titanic map that oozes the horror of battlefield combat like a weeping wound. Tired, hungry, out-manned and outgunned Russian conscripts race through trenches teeming with Germans, towards lines of enemy tanks. The adversary, using sickeningly realistic flamethrowers (a Gray Matter trademark), cuts down lines of our comrades, engulfing them in sheets of flames and sending them into a manic dance of death as they flail in an attempt to save themselves. After the flamethrowers come the machine-gun nests, ripping up flesh with merciless bursts of lead. Finally, the remaining handful of our battered men place explosives on German tanks and watch as they light up the gloom like some grotesque fireworks display. It's been an awesome, physically and psychologically exhausting mission.
"We really tried to stick to the CoD ethos: in war, no-one fights alone. We already had great Al to work with and we've just improved on that, in the way your squad works and moves together, how they run through trenches, how they tackle each map and help out the player," explains Robb as the level finishes. He's not wrong.
"We've added extra Al features such as more personality settings and the ability for them to deploy mounted machine guns. There are more character profiles too, so that individual soldiers have their own unique characteristics such as different sight ranges that change their inner activity," adds Mike.
Still not convinced? Well, don't just take our word on how realistic United Offensive is. Ask John Hillen, military adviser on the game, Desert Storm veteran and regular ABC News and BBC military analyst, who we caught up with later that day.
There are times when you feel like you're playing in multiplayer mode," says John. Squads move to mutually support each other, certain weapons systems are engaging at different times as they would in a real battle and men set themselves up in the right kind of firing positions. It really does capture all the moving elements on a battlefield." Believe us now?
We're not ashamed to admit it, but before we saw United Offensive for the first time, we were expecting the worst. After the disappointment of almost every FPS expansion pack we've seen in recent years, it's hardly surprising.
However, United Offensive is clearly shaping up to be one of the most ambitious, entertaining and well-designed shooter add-ons ever, one which could even surpass the staggering levels of intensity and action of its predecessor. It's true that war may be hell, but from the looks of it, United Offensive is set to be anything but.
Call of Duty has long been the bane of my family life, sucking up more and more of my 'free time'? until I had to delete the game from my computer or fall completely under its control. So imagine my delight when I received a copy of the Call of Duty expansion pack, United Offensive. This add-on takes an already superb game and somehow manages to pack in more realism, better graphics, and more fun.
The expansion pack has enough additional features crammed into it to warrant two packs. The add-ons come in two flavors. The first thing you'll notice is all of the new single player features, which includes 13 new missions spanning three campaigns. The missions lets you take on the role of a soldier in the American, Russian and British armies as you take part in such historic battles as the Battle of the Bulge, the Invasion of Sicily and the Battle of Kursk. The missions do a good job of mixing up intense first-person shooter action with a myriad of unique rail-shooter modes. You'll be the gunner in a bomber, ride in tanks and jeeps and of course avoid artillery strikes on front lines thick with action. One of the most striking things about these new single player missions is how intense they are, blending a myriad of foot soldiers with armored vehicles, aircraft, explosions and tracer rounds to truly recreate world war era battles with a flare for the cinematic. The single player missions are a fun but short ride, fortunately they are just the enterece to the truly fantastic multiplayer additions to the game.
Call of Duty: United Offensive adds three new game modes, controllable vehicles, new weapons and types of attacks, and 11 new enormous maps. The most noticeable addition is the addition of controllable vehicles. You can now hop into jeeps and tanks, maneuvering them against other vehicles as you vie to take out the other side. Most of the vehicles can also transport one or two other players. For instance in many of the tanks, a buddy can control the machine gun while you drive the tank and fire the big gun. It's truly a blast. Some of the new maps have obviously been designed with tanks and jeeps in mind, offering up narrow streets, hidey holes for anti-tank equipped soldiers and plenty of places to snipe from.
Call of Duty: United Offensive also adds three much needed new modes of play. Domination and capture the flags are fun but obvious additions to the modes of play, but base assault is a new twist on a worn theme. In base assault you have to be the first to destroy all of the enemy's bases. This has to be done in two stages, first you have to destroy the outer base installation and then you have to plant a bomb to detonate it. It makes for a lot of strategy and fast-paced fun as you try to both defend your bases and destroy the other guys'.
A new battlefield promotion system rewards players for team playing, as you go up through the ranks in a match you get some cool benefits like extra grenades, satchel charges or the ability to call in artillery strikes. Multiplay is fast and furious, with the tanks typically making for a much more robust game. I say typically, because I found that death matches with tanks were very boring, turning into monotonous slugfests with everyone riding around in a tank. That's the one exception to the game's otherwise sleek new look and feel. I say sleek new look, because it appears that the graphics have also undergone a slight upgrade, offering up more visuals and fine tuning the existing ones. My favorite addition is the inclusion of tracer rounds in night maps. The effect is chilling in mammoth battles.
Call of Duty: United Offensive could have, maybe even should have, been marketed as its own game. With a plethora of additions, oodles of tweaks and plenty of game balancing, this is a must have expansion packs and likely one of the best to come along in years.