In the beginning...
I've never been a big fan of World War II First Person Shooters simply because I've grown tired of them. If I had a dime for every WWII game or MOD that I've played over my years of gaming, heh well, I'd actually be able to afford my Xbox 360. But I decided to give Call of Duty 2 a chance, partly because it was bundled with my 360 and partly because the 1080i High Definition booths set up in Futureshop were simply fetching. Needless to say, I'm glad I picked it up.
Like the other games in the series, COD2 throws you into the war from three different perspectives: Russian, British, and American. The good ol' Allied Forces. The game starts off with a short tutorial in the ruins of Moscow where under the command of Commissar Letlev, where you will learn the basics of the game before being thrust into your first battle. The controls are very intuitive -- and thanks to the well-designed 360 controller -- will be mastered by even the most novice FPS gamer after a few trial strafes with the Mosin-Nagant rifle.
After making your way through snowy Stalingrad in -15+ degree Celsius temperatures in the Russian campaign, you head south to the searing North African deserts in the British campaign to do battle against Rommel's Afrika Korps. You'll get to pilot a few tanks in the following missions and your "running and gunning" skills will be put to the test as you'll have to get in close to combat the long-range German Panzers. It tests your nerves too, as you can see the Panzers firing at you in the distance and your squad leaders are yelling at you to hold your fire and wait until you're in range... "A little closer boys!", "Just a little farther!" Unfortunately, you only get to pilot the Crusader tanks for a few short missions throughout the entire game, which is really a shame as I absolutely had a blast blowing up the German infantry with high caliber explosives, heh.
Finally, after suppressing the Afrika Korps, you're off to the beaches of Normandy in the American campaign where you'll have to fight your way off the landing crafts and scale a cliff, known as Point-du-Hoc, to make it into town. Of all the missions in the game, these D-Day missions (and the ensuing Rhine River mission) were the most challenging and featured some of the most intense battles that I have ever been in. When you first land on the beach of Du Hoc, you are ordered to take cover as artillery barrages rain down from overhead. In a wonderfully scripted cinematic sequence, an artillery shell explodes near you and knocks you off your feet. As you're lying there on the beach, your vision fades in and out, but the only thing you can see are your teammates dying all around you. Suddenly, you are picked up off your feet and carried to safety (as you stare helplessly as another soldier gets mowed down right behind you).
When you play COD2, you get a great deal of satisfaction at the end of each and every mission because of the amazing job that Infinity Ward has done of immersing the player in the gameplay. I remember when I was climbing the ropes up the cliff at Du Hoc, teammates were getting killed and their bodies would come crashing down from above me, while the squad leader would order more soldiers to take their place. And when you finally get the top of the cliff, there's no cover -- only a myriad of Germans behind artillery guns and fully automatic MG42's pointed straight at you as you dive for the nearest trench or blast hole. Intense.
Not only does she have a personality, she's got a pretty face too!
If you've heard that saying, "The Xbox 360 is ushering in the HD era..." then, unlike the National Enquirer, you've got some credible sources. The visuals in COD2, especially when hooked up to 1080i HD, are just breath taking. If you stand close enough to your teammate (or God forbid, your enemy), you can see pores, facial hair, battle scars, and even moles. What's more, each character model has a variety of individual facial expressions that match the mood at hand. The maps are equally as detailed too, from the flies buzzing around the corpse of a dead cow, to the broken dishes in the sink of a bombed-out house or the lone porcelain doll sitting on a child's bed.
Although there are maps that are fought in more open areas such as the desert and grassy knolls, much of the action in COD2 takes place in towns, where quite often you'll have to go house to house clearing out several floors of Nazis. This is where the immense attention to detail that Infinity Ward has put into designing the maps comes out. Each house that you visit, and even each room, is a little different. You really get the feeling that a family used to live in the house before the Germans arrived.
Character animations are exceptionally well done. There are no elastic rag doll physics where bodies flop around unnaturally after being blown up; instead, your enemies fall to the ground ordinarily after being shot. At the end of the game, there's a cool cinematic where the Allied Forces are retreating to safer ground and one of your teammates picks up an enemy corpse and tosses it out of an [almost] defunct armoured vehicle. The effect was very convincing. And throughout the game, your teammates (and enemies) bound over small walls, duck behind crates, and dive into fox holes. All of which are done in a very fluid, realistic manner.
And she can think for herself, too!
As with any single player experience, it is only as good as the artificial intelligence you're fighting against. Too hard and it becomes an annoyance to play (especially when save games are few and far between). Too easy and it's over before it started. I'm pleased to say that the AI in COD2 is remarkable. Your teammates bark orders to you, "Cover me while I reload!", "Jerry's to the East behind those supply crates!" while the enemy will seek cover at the sound of your rifle. They'll duck behind whatever's around them -- trees, buildings, windows, crates -- then cautiously peer out to begin their assault. Furthermore, they'll also run when grenades are thrown and warn their teammates when they spot you.
And on that note, the enemy's use of grenades in the game can only be described as skilled [or annoying]. Not only will they use grenades to blow you up, but they will also use them to lure you out into the open, or simply to get you out of your hiding spot. Another neat, and very useful, feature in COD2 is its grenade indicator icon that flashes on your screen, alerting you to the position of enemy grenades that land in your vicinity. When you see that icon flash on your screen, you'd better get out of there, and fast!
But how does she sound?
Now if the grenade indicator and arrow didn't alert you the position of the enemy grenade, the 'ping' sound of it ricocheting off the wall beside you, will. The positional and environmental audio in COD2 is definitely some of the best that I have seen in any game. You can hear artillery shells exploding in the distance, or rounds from an MG42 splintering the wood above your head of the crate that you just ducked behind. Footsteps can be heard clunking on hardwood floors, alerting you to enemies or friendlies coming up from behind you.
Sound effects are extremely well done, too. Each weapon in the game has its own distinct sound -- you can actually hear the shells being expelled from the clip and hitting the ground beneath your feet. Even the musical score in COD2, which usually starts up for intense battles or at the end of missions, is easily on par with any WWII flick that I've seen. And while I've certainly heard better, there's nothing wrong with the voice acting in game. In one mission in a desert town of El Alamein, enemies flank your squad's position, so you are forced into an armoured vehicle -- which won't start. So you're sitting there on the turret (which gradually heats up), happily mowing down Germans left, right, and center as your Scottish and British driver and passenger argue back and forth to get the vehicle moving. I love British wit.
How does she play with others?
Along with the usual deathmatch, team deathmatch, and capture the flag game types, COD2 features several objective-based variants that are definitely its saving grace. Game types like Search and Destroy, and Headquarters reward teams for acting like a team (imagine that) and completing the set objectives -- not just fragging the most opponents. Search and Destroy is akin to Halo 2's Team Ball, where you have to bring your team's bomb to your opponent's base and arm it to win the game. What's neat is that you actually have to disarm your opponent's bomb (or kill all enemies) to win.
Another controversial feature (for me) is the Kill Cam, a replay of the last five seconds of your life before you were killed. What I really like about this feature is that you can see who killed you, how they killed you, and from where. The camera is in the perspective of your killer, as if you were him (versus an aerial shot or something similar). While not really new, you don't see it implemented on too many games and I think that's a shame. What's controversial about it for me is that because of this feature, it is impossible to hide in a level because as soon as you kill someone, that person will see exactly where you were. This promotes a constant "on the move" practice while in game, which I suppose, is a good thing. I'm just still undecided on it, as I tend to play more of the sniper role in games. To each his own, though.
There are few things that I can nitpick about COD2, but there are a few things. The first of which is the lack of guest support when playing online. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Halo 2 is a template for online console gaming that other developers should follow. I remember the sleepless night that I came home with the 360 and invited my friends over to check it out. The first thing we wanted to do was to jump online in COD2, set up a team, and start fraggin' Nazis. The only problem was... we couldn't. Sure, you can set up your own server and invite people to join you, but this is a tedious and time consuming process that rarely works as intended, and one that I personally, have no patience for.
No party support. Want to jump game to game with a friend or even join a game with your friend? You've got about eight seconds to do it. Eight seconds to open up your Friends List, select your Friend, send a game invite, have them accept and join the game before the server fills up with eight players. It's been done, but it ain't pretty (or easy) to do. Com'on Infinity Ward, take a hint from Bungie and the most popular Xbox Live game (still).
The lag, oh God, the lag! It's gotten better since launch day, but when you experience lag in COD2, you have to leave the game. I'm talking 999 pings and game stutters that would make you think Porky the Pig is Antonio Banderas in Desperado. But like I said, the lag has subsided a lot since launch and things are running a little more smoothly now; however, at least once in a gaming session, I'll run into a game where the lag is so horrific, I have to leave.
Lastly, occasionally in single player, my teammates would do such a good job of sticking with me and backing me up, that they'd actually get in my way. For instance, I'd run upstairs in a house to lay covering fire for an advancing squad, and on my way back down the stairs, I'd get stuck because there'd be a friendly soldier watching my back (while simultaneously blocking my exit). Other times, I'd be peering around a corner to peg off an enemy sniper, and a grenade would be thrown at my feet. Instinctively, I turn around and try to get the hell outta there, but quite often my legs get blown off because there's a teammate standing right beside me. Now, this doesn't happen often, but when it does, it's really annoying.
In the end, the single player experience is what won me over. Multi player a lot of fun, don't get me wrong, and in fact , I spend countless hours on Live happily fragging away, but it's been a while since I've sat down to a really good single player game. And the fact that COD2 took a tired, drawn out WWII setting, introduced it into HD, and made it this
good? Hands down, great job, Infinity Ward. Now if you could just do something about that online feature support...
Have you played Call of Duty 2? What'you think? Like the review? Please let us know!
Images courtesy of ign.com