Review: My vote for Game of the Year.
This review is a hefty 2700 words long but can be summed up in only four: Buy this game. Now.
Simply put, Call of Duty 2 is one of the most exciting, thrilling and intense games I've played in years. When you ask most gamers to name a FPS developer, the two top dogs id Software and Valve usually pop to mind. Well, now you can add Infinity Ward to that elite list of premier shooter giants. Amazingly, they have managed to top the original Call of Duty ? not an easy task as many people consider it one of the best shooters ever ? and blow every other FPS out of the water in the process. Oh yes, folks, it's good ? very good.
(Before I continue, I should let you know that I'm going to be using the word ?intense? a lot because it best sums up this incredible gaming experience. Remember, you've been warned!)
This game is intense (see? I told you) ? really intense. In fact, it's almost too
intense; just when you think Infinity Ward can't jack things up any more, they lay it on thicker and heavier than ever. It is so intense and so action-packed, I was physically and emotionally exhausted after every level. Wow.
Oh, and if you're worried that you won't be able to enjoy this outstanding game because your PC is too old, take heart: the developers are fully aware that only a fraction of gamers can afford the latest and greatest, so they made sure the game will run smoothly on lower end PCs (within reason, of course) and trust me, it works as advertised. I played it on a three-year old AMD Athlon 2400+ with a GeForce4 Ti 4200 at 1024x768 and it looked and ran beautifully.
It's not only fun, but educational as well!
The first thing that strikes you about CoD 2 is the amazing graphics, courtesy of a brand new proprietary engine developed in-house. CoD 2 is gorgeous
with stunning particle, smoke and explosion effects, highly detailed normal mapped characters, and weapon models so authentic that you can actually read the manufacturer's stampings and serial numbers in the pitted steel. Character animation is extremely smooth and realistic, from the way your squadmates crouch behind cover, peek around doorways, or go flying into the air (courtesy of a grenade) with ragdoll physics that are inspired by Hollywood but are not comically exaggerated as in most other games.
One really cool thing you might overlook thanks to the frantic non-stop action is that every Allied NPC looks different. Instead of seeing the same two or three character models replicated over and over, each individual character is an actual individual
; heck, even the Nazis look different from each other. I've never seen this before and damn if it doesn't look impressive.
The whole idea of the game is to pull you into what is essentially one big action movie and it succeeds undeniably. Not only does it look like a summer blockbuster but sounds like one as well; the incredibly loud sound effects will blow your eardrums out and Graeme Revell's sweeping cinematic score sucks you even deeper into the experience. The big thing, however, is the exceptional voice acting headlined by seven actors from the acclaimed Band of Brothers
miniseries, including Michael Cudlitz, Rick Gomez, Frank John Hughes, James Madio, Ross McCall, Rene L. Moreno and Richard Speight Jr. Their frantic shouts of ?Cover me! I'm reloading!?, ?MG42!?, ?Potato-masher! Look out!? and occasionally witty dialogue really add to the intensity and authenticity of the game. You will also hear surprisingly detailed warnings like, ?Enemy infantry on the second floor to the south!? and ?Jerries behind that broken wall to the east!? Unlike most games where NPCs only spout generic lines, your squadmates in CoD 2 will verbalize very specific warnings of enemy locations just like in real combat. Very cool!
But what is really impressive is the meticulous attention to historical accuracy throughout the game. From uniform designs to map layouts to even the weather and time of day, Infinity Ward went to great lengths to immerse you into the most realistic recreation of World War II ever. So when you're battling through the streets of Moscow and Caen, remember that you're actually in
the streets of Moscow and Caen, not some fictional rendering. The maps were recreated from WWII photographs and physical site visits; in fact, the developers are so passionate about realistic attention to detail that they apparently tossed entire levels in France because the actual locations were different than what they designed. Now that's dedication to your craft. As well, to accent the whole package, actual WWII film footage and rebroadcasts of famous speeches are provided by the Military Channel.
The battles and fighting tactics were also recreated with the help of four historical and military advisors. This leads to some mind-boggling moments where you will mutter, ?This is insane!? For example, during the one brief tank mission (vehicle combat is very limited in this game; about 90% of it is spent feet on the ground), the British 7th Armoured Division had to take on Rommel's formidable Panzers in North Africa but there was a problem; the Panzers could shoot much further than the British tanks. This forced the British to adopt an unusual and dangerous strategy; use their tanks' superior speed to drive as fast as they could directly at the Panzers and engage them when they were in range. Needless to say, this tactic wasn't met with much enthusiasm among the tank crews and many lives were lost, but as we all know now, it miraculously worked. Even within the safety of a video game setting, driving headlong at top speed into a column of Panzers is still a frightening and yet thrilling experience.
The signature level is, not surprisingly, D-Day. Only this time, the game focuses on the unbelievable assault on Point du Hoc (which begins with General Eisenhower's famous pre-invasion speech to the troops) where the Americans had to storm the beach and take out six massive 155mm guns capable of hitting both Utah and Omaha beaches. And if that wasn't difficult enough, making it even worse was the fact that the troops had to scale a 100-foot cliff while the Nazis rained down machinegun fire and grenades.
The level starts off in classic Saving Private Ryan style, where you hit the shore in a rocky landing boat. Once the ramp opens and you step on the beach, an enemy mortar explodes near you. Time slows down and all sound is muffled as you watch your squadmates get cut down by brutal machinegun fire. Your sergeant drags you to safety where you regain your senses and make your dangerous climb up the cliff. A squadmate above you is shot and falls, knocking another soldier off the rope. They barely miss you. When you finally reach the top ? which is infested with concrete bunkers and trenches ? you discover to your horror that the guns aren't on the cliff; the Nazis pulled a fast one and moved them somewhere, and you have to find them ? quickly. Needless to say, this level is extremely intense and challenging, and you get a very pleasant reward after completing it. And if you think things can't get any more intense after this level, well, you're in for a surprise ? many surprises, actually. Wow.
Single player sweetness
The incredible single player campaign is split into ten missions, each representing one year in the lives of four different soldiers in the Russian, British and American armies. Each mission is itself divided up into several levels, all based on real battles. The new vignette system was created to allow you to jump between the various campaigns rather than follow a linear story path, but it really doesn't give you much choice. You start in 1941 Moscow playing as Vasili Koslov, a green recruit who hasn't even touched a gun before. After defending Moscow, you unlock the beginning of the British Campaign starting in 1942; but to unlock the American Campaign, you have to finish 75% of the British missions, and you can't go beyond the first American mission since the game forces you to complete the final British mission. Rather than fiddle with the vignette system, the easiest thing to do is continue along the set story path.
Anyway, back to Vasili. After a brief training session, you are thrown into the thick of battle against the mighty Nazi war machine. You can pick up and use any weapon, though are limited to carrying two. You can also throw grenades, man mounted machine guns, crouch, go prone, lean out from cover, mantle over obstacles like fences and window sills, and most importantly, aim down your gun sights which gives you a slight zooming affect and pinpoint accuracy.
The newest and most controversial feature is a Halo-like health ?recharging? system, which replaces the need for health packs. When you are wounded ? indicated by an alarming red blurring at the edges of your vision, labored breathing and rapid heartbeat ?just duck out of the line of fire for a few seconds and your health is quickly returned to normal. For a franchise that places such a heavy emphasis on realism, gamers were quite surprised to learn that the developers adopted this arcade health system ? but to be fair, picking up health packs isn't exactly the epitome of realism either. I admit that I didn't like it at first because it didn't feel ?real?, but soon grew to love it because it kept me in the action at all times, rather than having to stop and backtrack looking for a stupid health pack. Also, it eliminates those annoying times when you have to suffer repeated and futile check point reloads with only a tiny sliver of life. The downside is that it made me more reckless; running out into the open to take out three Nazis in a machinegun nest at point blank range isn't something I would otherwise normally do. However, the positives far outweigh the negatives and I feel this system should become standard for all shooters.
A very positive result of the new health system is that battles have become much fiercer and more chaotic. A thousand things are all happening at once and it never lets up: NPCs on both sides are frantically yelling, you're surrounded by loud gunfire and grenade explosions, there are dogfights in the air, tanks rumble through the streets, the ground shakes with artillery barrages, and of course you are constantly being shot at by waves of Nazis. In the crumbling buildings of war-torn Russia and the narrow streets of France, it can be very difficult to see where enemy fire is coming from and you will often be ducking blindly behind cover while desperately searching for a target to return fire. The stress and tension you feel is very real even though you're sitting safely behind a keyboard, but it works in giving you a small peek of what these brave soldiers went through. Oh, and here's a hint: in the Russian missions, you can spot hidden enemies by the little puffs of fog their breath creates in the cold weather.
The AI on both sides is excellent. NPCs will run for cover, practice ?pop and shoot? techniques, effectively use suppression and flanking tactics, warn each other about enemy locations (yes, the Nazis do that too ? at least, I think they do. My German is a little rusty), man mounted machineguns, toss grenades, and even toss back thrown enemy grenades. Cool! Your squadmates are actually useful fighting by your side and will save your life many times; for example, I've entered several dark buildings only to have a squadmate take down an unseen enemy lurking behind me in the shadows. Wounded enemies will try to crawl away to safety or pull out their pistols to shoot back in a final act of defiance. NPCs will react realistically to the environment, such as going prone behind low cover, climbing over broken walls and hopping through windows rather than search for the door. There are moments where NPCs on both sides will stand out in the open but generally the AI acts with reasonable realism. The one big exception is when you use smoke grenades to supposedly provide cover, yet somehow the enemy still seems to be able to see you clearly.
The only downside to the single player campaign is that it is quite short, clocking in at around 10 hours. Even so, it will be the most thrilling and intense 10 hours you will have in front of a PC. And once you finish it, you can sit back and enjoy a very cool ending cinematic. It's nice to finally see a developer properly reward their customers for finishing their product, which is sadly something that can't be said for most games (don't get me started on Halo 2).
So you've finished the single player campaign. Whew! So what do you do if you want to continue that insanely high level of action? You hop online, of course, and spend countless hours having the time of your life fragging friends and strangers alike. The game supports upwards of 64 players (assuming the host server has a nice fat pipe, that is) though having that many may be a bit much. The 13 maps vary nicely in size, supporting small eight player matches to big 32-plus player battles. As you might expect, the maps are recreated from locations in the single player campaign, including Moscow, Leningrad, Caen, Carentan, El Alamein and Toujane. Overall, the maps are very well designed with many little nooks and crannies for snipers and machine gunners to hide, with ample environmental features to allow for flanking and fire-and-maneuver tactics.
Game modes include the old standards Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag, as well as two new ones. Headquarters is similar to the Battlefield franchise's Conquest mode where one side has to capture key locations on the map while the other side defends. Search and Destroy is pretty self explanatory; you have to find and destroy enemy objectives while your opposition defends. All game modes are incredibly fun, but I tend to enjoy the objective types myself, since these tend to promote team play as opposed to the typical run and gun mayhem (which is pretty darn fun too). In fact, this game brings back many fond memories of fragging my coworkers in ridiculously fun Medal of Honor: Allied Assault deathmatches that stretched way too long into the night.
Depending on the map, you can choose from Russian, British or American weapons on the Allied side while the Axis has the same selection throughout. Multiplayer also lets you use two new weapons not available in single player, the Grease Gun and the M1897 Trench Gun shotgun.
Naturally, the goal in multiplayer is to kill more than you die, but you may want to set yourself up as a target to enjoy the new Killcam feature. When you die, the Killcam replays the last few seconds before your death but in a unique twist, it is shown through the eyes of your killer. It is both creepy and cool to see yourself get killed, but it is also a handy teaching tool since it shows the mistakes you made to get yourself planted in the first place. It also shows you where your killer was last standing, which means sweet revenge against anyone foolish enough to camp in one spot for too long.
So is there a downside to multiplayer? Hell, yeah ? the many hours of sleep you will lose engaging in intense (there's that word again) WWII battles.