One might first boot Call of Duty 2 with something less than adrenaline-pumping excitement. It’s another World War II shooter…yay. Another attack on Pearl Harbor. Another storming of the beach at Normandy. It’s yet another attempt for us 21st-century gamers to get our Saving Private Ryan on. In a world where FPSs like Half-Life 2, Halo 2 and Quake 4 dare others to test the waters, is yet another WW2 shooter worth it?
Call of Duty 2 demands a little room, and justifiably so.
The game kicks off with a cleverly veiled tutorial as the player (a Russian private conscripted into the service) learns a little about the rifle, grenades, cover and tactical movement before he’s dropped right into the thick of a Nazi attack. The player jumps theatres (and characters) into the British campaign in Africa, and wraps up with the Americans invading Pointe du Hac on D-Day (yes, there’s an invasion of Normandy…it’s just so cool!).
The first thing that hit me about Call of Duty 2 is how it represents war. I’ve never seen actual combat, and I sure as hell hope I never will, but this is the most accurate representation I’ve seen in a game. You’ll never get the feeling it’s you-against-the-world; there are always AI allies about. They fight with you, not near you. You’ll hear them call out enemies, warn you about grenades, even provide suppressive fire when you break from the safety of cover. Your fellow soldiers are smart; they keep to cover, they take smart shots and they use grenades intelligently. The bad guys are just as sharp, keeping to cover, flanking when possible and taking advantage of superior numbers, firepower and position.
Call of Duty 2 forces you to fight smart. Even the average difficulty level will cut down the gung-ho, Rambo-style gunner. Intelligent, judicious use of grenades, conservation of ammunition and working with your AI allies is the only way to carry the day. It’s the first game where I actually used smoke grenades for something other than making more inventory room for anti-personnel grenades. I find myself physically and mentally drained after an intense battle, which is a new experience for a guy who usually jumps right from level to level. All in all, it makes for a very challenging and rewarding experience.
The game is very nicely rendered, with the environment reacting to grenades, gunfire, and blood splatter—but that’s really window dressing to what this game really provides. What Call of Duty 2 does so beautifully is create the atmosphere of “real” war. Your soldier will often catch long, gorgeous glances of Axis and Allied fighters dogfighting it out for aerial supremacy while you slug it out on the ground. Campaigns near the ocean are backdropped with the sights and sounds of ships of war trading fire.
Sound is top-notch, as it should be. The voice acting is great; from the Allied brass down to that chap sharing your foxhole, there’s panic, fear, determination and courage in the voice of every man you fight with (and against, for that matter). The crack of a rifle and the staccato bursts of a submachine gun are spot on, to say nothing of the roar of a Panzer cannon or the sublime explosion of a large bundle of TNT. Little things, like the crunch of snow underfoot, or the ominous rumble of tank tread from a distance, paint an auditory picture that’s beautiful to behold.
The game isn’t easy at first, especially for those of us raised on Halo or Quake, where you can successfully trade fire with a hostile and usually come out on top. Even though the controls are standard issue for a console FPS, the mental aspect of fighting a war rather than playing the lone wolf takes a little adjustment. It’s worth the learning curve, and the game offers frequent checkpoints to keep frustration to a minimum.
The single-player game is a little short, and a flexible, talented gamer could probably put it away inside of 15 hours. It’s the prodigious amounts of multiplayer options that will really keep this disc hot. Aside from the standard split-screen, there are variations of every standard multiplayer FPS game (capture the flag, team deathmatch, etc.), as well as an Axis vs. Allies combat simulator that plays more like a Battlefield title than a standard FPS.
I have a hard time finding a whole lot wrong with Call of Duty 2. It’s certainly one of the finest FPSs I’ve played, and can proudly sit on the shelf next to Halo 2 and Half-Life. Even if you don’t give a rat’s ass about Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation”, Call of Duty 2 is worth it.
[Note: The Novelty score is important. We’ve all played too many shooters with hellspawn of all flavor and we’ve all blazed through the streets of New York or L.A. or Tokyo in underground street races. Either as cops or thugs, we’ve stolen (or commandeered) cars and beaten people senseless while driving about in the pursuit of urban mayhem in game after game after game. And, in truth, we’ve all played any number of World War II first-person shooters.
Call of Duty 2 transcends novelty. The experience the game provides is so good it’s more than a World War II FPS; it’s a World War II simulation savored from a first-person perspective. This game is worthy of a 9, even though there is no way to justify a novelty score of better than 7. Novelty is part of the formula we use to score the games we review, but I ask you to overlook the somewhat ordinary backdrop and see the truly fantastic game within.]