Call of Duty 2 Review
Call of Duty 2 Review
Infinity Ward returns to the streets of Stalingrad, Normandy and North Africa in this epic World War 2 shooter.
I'll nail my colours to the mast right now; I'm a huge fan of the original Call of Duty game by Infinity Ward. While in gameplay terms it wasn't exactly innovative, it was the finest example of the scripted WW2 first-person shooter. The frenetic gameplay felt convincing, it felt as though you were in a gunfight rather than a shoot'em up and the historical settings were tastefully recalled in an emotive and sensitive manner.
So here we return to the similar themes with Call of Duty 2. Once again we get to play as the Soviets, British and Americans in various theatres of WW2. Each campaign is split into missions, with each mission further split into sections. As you complete each mission, more are unlocked, giving you a choice on the order of progression.
The game begins with the defence of Moscow and then moves swiftly on to the streets of Stalingrad. It's familiar territory here, with narrow destroyed ruins giving way to the occasional open space. Much of the British campaign takes place in North Africa during the battle against Rommel's Afrika Corps, though there is also a Normandy mission for the Desert Foxes too. Finally the American troops get to re-enact a D-Day beach landing and battle with German troops in Normandy.
The feel of many of the missions is different to the original game. There's more of an ebb and flow about them than merely just killing the enemy and taking positions. Often you'll capture a building or location and then have to fight off an enemy counter-attack, before going on the offensive once again. Once particular US mission has you defending the whole time and falling back to different defensive positions.
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
Another new element to play is the importance of smoke grenades; these can be used to great effect to block the view of the enemy, enabling you to move past particularly nasty MG42 nests and other infantry chewing choke points. I found myself using more regular grenades than in the first game too, often running up to buildings and throwing a couple in before storming in to take out survivors. There's a handy grenade indicator that appears on screen to warn you of nearby danger.
Talking of displays, the HUD in Call of Duty 2 takes a welcome minimalist approach. Much of the time you won't see any information when moving. Other times there's little on show other than a radar/situation awareness indicator showing objectives and friendly/enemy troops and an ammo indicator. There's no health indicator at all.
Which brings me on to the changes in the health system, which I'm rather fond of. There isn't a health bar, health pickups or lives in this game. Instead a dangerous hit to your character will make the edge of the screen bruise red and your heart-rate to become audible. If you take more hits in this condition then you're a goner and are swiftly taken back to the last auto-checkpoint. If you take cover and avoid being hit again for a few seconds you'll recover back to full health.
This system works remarkably well, meaning you don't need to worry about saving and loading. Returning to the previous checkpoint occurs smoothly and without much delay. The checkpoints themselves are well spaced, meaning you never have to repeat too much if you are killed. There are a few sections though where you'll have some particularly tough opposition and you might find yourself repeating the same part of the level a few times before you find the right strategy to proceed.
Afraid to Shoot Strangers
It seems though that this more forgiving health system has led Infinity Ward to ramp up the level of action in each level and it's not quite a success. In fact it leads to my biggest criticism of the game. All too often you reach points in the game that feel more like playing Serious Sam than Call of Duty. The wonderful careful shootout, hide, run, cover, shoot gameplay of the original seems to have been replaced by total adrenaline pumping madness at times. It's exciting, it gets the heart beating, but ultimately I found it less rewarding than the original game's more subtle gameplay.
I also got fed up of having to empty half a clip into an enemy soldier to make him stay down. I know it's not an ultra-real game, we'll leave that to the mod makers, but it's a bit galling to put two bursts into the stomach of a German paratrooper only to have him get back up. Fine, he's not quite dead yet, I understand some folks will survive being blasted like that, but leave the poor bugger on the deck - I doubt he'd want to get up and fight some more.
There are also a few silly moments that make the game seem like Operation Wolf. Most of the time the game feels authentic, the squad-based action being some of the most fun you can have on PC at the moment. But there are times such as when you're on a truck that is destroyed by a bazooka every time you turn a certain corner.
So you find yourself trying to line up the sight pixel-perfect on this one corner of a building ten or fifteen times until you get passed it, only to find the same problem at the next corner. Or there's the moment in the British campaign where you have to take control of an anti-aircraft gun in what seems a very silly minute or two.
Technically it's not the most impressive game engine around at the moment. If you want to wave your noodley appendage around based on the impressiveness of your rig you're better off with something like F.E.A.R. But that's not to say Call of Duty 2 isn't pretty. Infinity Ward shows here that there's more to a great looking game than mere engine horsepower.
The design and artistic direction of the game is peerless, and with the higher texture settings the game looks wonderful. It's pretty scaleable too, meaning most gamers will be able to join in the fun and make it look good too. Neat touches such as the smoke grenades, lighting and explosions add to the graphical splendour and are coupled with some of the best sound effects you'll hear.
But I don't want to be too harsh here. When Call of Duty 2 works, which most of the time it does, it's more fun than most shooters you'll find. The atmosphere is electric thanks to a stirring orchestral score, the ebb and flow of the battles, the chatter of your AI squad-mates, the crashing sound effects and the fast-paced action.