Review: Huxley still owes me $5.
The Call of Duty franchise continues its launch day assault on PS3 following its successful day one deployment of Call of Duty 2 alongside Xbox 360 a year earlier. There's more storming of bombed-out builds and sniping of Nazi enemies throughout an artfully recreated war-torn France in Call of Duty 3. But, while CoD2 was the best title immediately available for Microsoft's next-generation console, CoD3 falls just short of epic on either Xbox 360 or Sony's $600 machine. What's more is even at that steep price, the PS3 version is inferior to its Xbox 360 counterpart. Fans of this WWII first-person shooter should still enjoy the longer gameplay time. However, Xbox 360 owners should stick to that side of the system wars for this game and any system owner who has tired of the WWII game onslaught should sit this one out.
Call of Duty 3's campaign is constructed differently by its new developer, Treyarch. Instead of stringing together separate campaign stories and characters from each of ?The Big Three,? this game includes four Allied nations in a single plot. It centers on the 1944 fight for the Falaise Gap, nicknamed ?Normandy Breakout? in the game, which occurs two months after D-Day in an effort to surround the German troops occupying France. Unfortunately, the heroic sacrifices by American, British, Polish and Canadian forces there aren't translated into a deeply compelling story. Likewise, the gameplay that follows in each of the missions isn't as riveting as CoD2. Reasons for these two setbacks stem the last game's missions highlighting the most epic events throughout the entire war. CoD3 has interesting segues between the different troops working together and a fantastic introduction, but its focus on one Allied victory leads to the game's greatest defeat.
Normandy Breakout lasted less than a month, but Call of Duty 3 spans a full fourteen chapters at a good ten hours total. Improvements can also be found in the gameplay of this iteration, like in its variety of uses for the SixAxis motion control. Most of the motion sensing moves are as basic as spinning the SixAxis to turn the crank on a bomb or tilting the controller to the right and left to steer a jeep. More complex and innovative moves involve shaking the controller to wrestle a gun away from a Nazi and thrusting it forward to perform a melee gun attack that feels like second nature. While jeep steering a little more cumbersome than using the standard analog stick, the rest of the motion control moves have a very original, yet natural feel.
In addition to the overall positive SixAxis controls, Call of Duty 3 debuts a grenade throw back mechanic so that players don't always have to run from enemy grenades. Pressing the square button in close proximity to a German hand grenade allows you to pick it up in order to send it back in the direction of your enemies. Don't hold on to it for too long, of course. The R2 button needs to be pressed almost immediately before the bomb explodes in your soldier's hands and causes instant death. Although you can't throw smoke grenades in this game, being able to pick up and launch a live enemy hand grenade back into their own trench is a welcome addition.
Explosions that result from returning an enemy grenade are not only more satisfying to see because of this new throw back feature, but because the spectacular graphics bring WWII to life like never before on a high-definition setup. This is especially true whenever there is scripted hellish combat. The first level, for example, is a full-scale Allied assault on a German-held Saint Lo graveyard that begins as soon as your character is hoisted over the cemetery wall. Constant shelling sends your comrades' bodies flying through the air, bullets begin whizzing by your head, machine guns echo through a church bell tower and headstones steadily crumble into airborne ruble. Even though this orchestrated action occurs the same way each time the level is restarted, since it happens all at once, you can be mesmerized by something new each time. It's just a shame that there aren't more of these scripted moments to convey the hell of war.
The hell of a launch game is fully conveyed on PS3, however. The graphics are not as polished on the new system and contain several aggravating and unacceptable bugs. Occasionally, dead Germans slump in midair instead of lifelessly leaning against their cover. The same midair bug was repeated when a scripted explosion flipped a truck in the air in order to block my straightforward path. In addition to not resting on the ground, one of the four hanging wheels was unsure of whether or not it wanted to land, so it kept touching the ground and glitching back into the air in a loop. More frustrating are glitches that disrupt the flow of the gameplay. I became stuck on a number of corners and low-level objects that were out of sight or behind me, many more times than in Call of Duty 2. Soldiers in my squad also blocked my movement, which is especially annoying when they had ducked down and weren't at eye level. Worse was when I became trapped in between two soldiers standing in a door frame. They took the brunt of the bullets and some accidental friendly fire from me. But it's not their fault. A rushed product is likely the source of the glitches, seeing how the previous was noticeably smoother than this good-looking but flawed sequel.
There's less emphasis on sweeping through buildings in this game, whereas CoD2 was full of strafing around corners, popping some rounds in Nazis and neutralizing the occupied rooms and tunnels. Instead, CoD3 stresses more open field combat and adds interesting mortar and driving levels to mix up the gameplay. The far away field combat is okay, but nothing leaves you more on edge than when you are in a confined area and have an up close and personal encounter with a Nazi and his prepared gun in your face. There's just less of that this time around.
The campaign mode losses a little in reducing the amount of indoor combat, but the multiplayer mode gains much more in its feature set. The 16-player online matches resemble Battlefield games more than previous Call of Duty titles with the inclusion of seven unique classes. Players can chose from Rifleman, Light Assault, Heavy Assault, Medic, Scout, Support and Anti-Armor to make up a diverse team under the flag of an Allied or Axis nation. These new classes appear in typical modes of battle, team battle, war, capture the flag, single capture the flag and headquarters. The structure of the multiplayer modes is much more involved thanks to the class system, making it a worthwhile mode to check out after the 10-hour campaign since it's more than picking countries and weapons.
The easily-skipped, but fantastic video interviews are an extra that WWII enthusiasts will want to check out. Three veterans, an American, Polish and British solider, retell their Falaise Gap experiences in great detail in front of the camera. Their recounting of these events doesn't feature an explosively-charged presentation, but gives you a lot of appreciation for the era in which video games like this didn't exist in high-tech home theatres, but a real-life theatre of war.