Review: Next on the docket of long titles: Call of Duty 3: Big Red One 2: Operation Zero
World War II is used as a videogame setting almost as often as a Galaxy Far, Far Away
. Even more common is that a WWII game is a first person shooter. What does a title do to differentiate itself from the uninspired and unplayable? Activision's Call of Duty 2: Big Red One
does this by providing an unrivaled battlefield experience. Whatever it may lack it makes up for in atmosphere. It actually manages to make you feel like you are a part of the First Division of the United States Army, the Big Red One.
What Call of Duty 2: Big Red One does best, and I'd argue to say better than any other game in the genre on this generation of consoles, is create a war zone that actually feels alive. By combining topnotch visuals with a full palette of ambient sounds, Big Red One draws you into the second World War. What you get when you combine this with a wide variety of accurately modeled weapons and vehicles is, arguably, one of the most authentic feeling WWII titles that has ever been published. This feeling is further fostered through the use of classic newsreel footage of the war, shown between the different legs of the campaign. The feeling goes even deeper with the subtle touches, like each weapon's aiming sight being unique and the actual First Division arm patch on the arms of your teammates.
Call of Duty 2: Big Red One's war zones make for a very compelling game setting. Sure, we've been killing virtual Nazis, in one form or another, since the days of Wolfenstein 3D. As a matter of fact, for anyone that has ever played a Medal of Honor, Brother in Arms, or Wolfenstein game on a console will feel right at home with the gameplay. Everything about CoD2's control scheme is instantly familiar and staring down the barrel of your M1 Garand is very satisfying. And you can't forget the feeling of watching enemy soldiers take flight (literally) when your grenade goes off at their feet. Unfortunately, the action itself feels almost mechanical. Sure, the controls are tight but as you make your way from objective to objective there is no real sense of urgency, everything feels almost routine. You get to a defensible position and shoot the enemy as they approach. You hop into a turret and shoot the enemy as they approach. You find the enemy defending a building and you shoot them as you approach. You take out your binoculars and call in an air strike (a unique idea that is flawed in its simplicity). Don't get me wrong, the combat is very enjoyable. I'm playing through the first half of the game for a second time already, partly because of a corrupted save file, partly because the game is good. Maybe the queer feeling comes from the fact that the arcade style action doesn't fit well with the simulation style presentation.
On the upside, Big Red One's balance means that you will not make it through the game playing as if you were a lone wolf. In fact, you meet success by staying with your squad and working together. Part of this is because one of your teammates kick down closed doors while you can't open them, period. More importantly, your teammates help cover your back. As your small band of soldiers take a defensive position you need to watch their placement and pick cover that will compliment their formation. The action focuses more on using cover than being a super-soldier.
As solid as it may seem, there are a few technical issues with Call of Duty 2: Big Red One that take away from the whole experience. Perhaps the most glaring one is the lack of artificial intelligence. Every once in a while, you see enemy soldiers walking into a wall instead of up the staircase that is next to it. More of an issue is that the enemy movement patterns take away from the feel that the graphics and sound create. As an example, enemy soldiers will watch you snipe their comrade and immediately run to their position, only to be sniped themselves. When you are in a position where the enemy is advancing on you this can happen three or four times. Another smaller, but equally deal breaking item is the fact that beating an enemy soldier with a melee attack has nothing to it. No sound. No feel. Nothing. You have the animation of you swinging your gun but it never gives you the impression that you make contact. Neither of these issues are deal breakers but each one is a bruise on the arm of a good WWII action game.
When it comes to comparing the multiple versions of Call of Duty 2: Big Red One, the GameCube version loses out to the online component on the Xbox and PS2 versions. The Xbox supports 2-16 players via system link or Xbox Live and the PS2 supports team-based combat using the broadband connector.