Call of Duty 2 (PC)
Excellent presentation; Aggressive enemy AI; Makes you really feel like a small part of a bigger war; Varied campaign; Fun multiplayer;
Performance can chug at times;
If you liked the original Call of Duty, then you're sure to enjoy the sequel, which stays true to the strengths of its predecessor.
When the original Call of Duty was released a few years ago, it made an impact both on critics and on consumers, even in the already-crowded WWII shooter genre. Call of Duty's visceral action struck a chord with PC shooter fans, thanks to a well-designed campaign, enjoyable multiplayer, and outstanding sound effects. If you liked those aspects of the original, then you're sure to enjoy the sequel, which stays true to the strengths of its predecessor, while enhancing the sense that you're just one soldier in the midst of a massive war machine. It doesn't really break any new ground, but the game nails the core aspects of first-person-shooter gameplay so well that it doesn't need to.
As in the first game, Call of Duty 2's campaign will put you in the shoes of a few different soldiers fighting for different Allied factions. You start off as a private in the Russian army, visciously fighting off the invading Germans in Moscow and Stalingrad. The British campaign is unlocked after beating the first Russian mission. For most of these missions you'll be fighting in the sand-swept deserts of North Africa alongside the Desert Rats against Field Marshal Rommel's troops. The final mission in the British campaign sends you to the bombed-out houses and hedgerows of Caen, France. After you're done with that, you'll play as an American corporal in Europe. Yes, you will be doing a D-Day landing, but not on Omaha Beach or Utah Beach, which you've probably played several times before. Instead, you'll be scaling the sheer cliffs of Pointe du Hoc as artillery with the Army Rangers. If you already thought rock climbing was an "extreme" sport, try doing it with artillery and machine-gun fire raining down on you.
Each of the game's 10 missions is broken up into a few different stages. If you play the game on regular difficulty, you could blow through it in about 10 hours. Ratcheting up the difficulty a notch makes the game much harder and more tactical (this is probably the experience the designers intended). Since you'll be creeping and peeking more carefully through all the encounters, you'll lengthen the campaign significantly, and enjoy it more.
Breaking up the campaign into several different narrative vignettes arguably weakens the impact of the plot as a whole, although that was never the strength of Call of Duty in the first place. What this does is allow the designers to put you in a lot of different, interesting situations. One memorable moment in the Russian campaign has you crawling through a raised pipeline to sneak behind German lines and into a fortified factory building. As you make your way through the pipeline, you'll spot and snipe small pockets of German infantry through holes in the pipe. When they fire back up at you, you'll notice bullets tearing through the rusted pipe, ripping open holes for shafts of light to poke through. It's a thrilling effect. You'll also get quite a rush from both participating in and defending against all-out infantry charges across open city squares in Stalingrad. But just as the novelty of these wears off, you're shunted over to the British campaign in North Africa, where you'll do things like participate in night raids of small Tunisian towns, climb up to the top of spires to call in artillery on enemy tanks, and even drive a tank yourself. The American campaign has its own memorable moments, like scaling the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc, or sniping at German mortar crews from the top of a grain silo. The game paces itself so that you're always on your toes, and you'll find yourself switching back and forth almost constantly from an offensive position to making a defensive stand against counterattacks on the objective you've just captured. Yes, at the end of the day you're still just shooting a lot of Nazis, but the constantly varying contexts of how and why you're doing it keep the game compelling from start to finish.
You won't be participating in these forays alone; far from it. In every setting you'll be surrounded by what seems like dozens of soldiers, both friends and foes, who move and act in a realistic fashion. Lots of your artificially intelligent mates will die by your side, along with the dozens of enemy soldiers you kill, but more will come in from the rear echelons to take their place. The designers often do a good job of reminding you that the war isn't just the infantry skirmish in which you're fighting. From time to time you'll see planes engaged in dogfights flying overhead, or when you complete an objective of capturing a German harbor, you'll call in a naval strike and see enemy merchant ships being sunk at the docks.
In each confrontation, you'll find yourself setting up at logical stopping points to exchange fire with German resistance. You can snipe dozens of enemies out of the windows and from the trenches in front of a house, for example, but reinforcements replace them. It never feels as though the game is cheaply spawning in more fodder for you; it just does a great job of making you feel like there are a realistic number of soldiers holed up in a building. You need to get a feel for the flow of each pitched battle, and this can be done by advancing your line when the enemy ranks look thin enough, and then breaking into the house or bunker. Your allies will follow you in and help you clear out the objective. Of course, if you're too meek at attacking and pressing your advantage, the enemy AI is wily and aggressive enough to take charge. They're not afraid to pour fire on your position and toss tons of grenades at you. Thankfully, a handy grenade danger indicator lets you know when and where you have to scurry away from an impending blast. When you do die, the game reloads very quickly, and you're even treated to a quote about war from various historical figures. One that sticks out in our minds is an ironic one from Solomon Short: "The only winner in the War of 1812 was Tchaikovsky."
By Bob Colayco
Posted Oct 25, 2005 6:24 pm PT