Double-ya-Double-ya-Two: the image that comes to mind anytime you think of war. Recently, gamers have been buried with the subject, and yet somehow I’ve managed to avoid it for the most part, with my last WW2 jaunt being Medal of Honor on the PSOne. So after playing through hour after intense hour of Call of Duty 2: Big Red One, the question I was trying to answer wasn’t about how this game stacks up to the many other WW2 titles out there, but how it stands on its own. The answer: pretty damn well.
As previously mentioned, COD 2:BRO is intense. There are but a few brief moments of silence throughout the entire experience. The rest of the game is filled with shells and artillery exploding around you, massive clouds of smoke billowing through the air, and gunfire, constant gunfire. With a loud enough entertainment system, you’ll find yourself crouching down trying to avoid the bullets. Inevitably, comparisons will be made to the opening scene of the movie Saving Private Ryan, which would not be a wholly inaccurate analogy.
COD 2:BRO is essentially a scripted first-person shooter. Unlike games such as Halo where you’ve got a fair amount of freedom to explore a level at will, COD 2:BRO holds your hand on a crash-course through each level. You’ll typically find yourself following your teammates to each objective, which are easily identified by the on-screen radar. Your teammates will provide cover, occasionally taking out a few enemies, but for the most part, you’ll get sick of waiting for them to clear the way and you’ll step up to do the dirty work yourself. They sometimes get in the way, but most of the time, they’re a useful distraction.
The game takes place in African and European theatres, following the actual progress of the real Big Red One. Each level is basically several intense moments woven into a path that you really can’t stray from. Each of these routes is fairly well covered by the enemy and it’s your job to blast through.
From time to time, you’ll move into open ground, into bunkers and hangars, and through towns which give you a little more freedom, but you won’t find yourself able to stray too far away from the action. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s good in the sense that you’ve always got an idea about where to go and how to advance the story. That being said, it’s bad in the sense that there are some levels where you feel like you should be able to hop that short fence and flank the enemy, but you can’t.
In several missions, you’ll get the opportunity to be a gunner on a tank, boat or bomber. This is a nice change of pace, and usually leads right into more of the standard action. At several points in each level, you’ll hit checkpoints where you can restart if you die. Unfortunately you can’t save at these checkpoints, and a few levels seem to go on forever, meaning you’ll probably want to leave your PS2 on instead of shutting it down.
Due to the scripted nature of the levels, rarely will the same enemy ever surprise you twice, but when they do get you, they’ll surprise the crap out of you. A personal favorite moment found me keying in on a soldier, only to see him pull out a bazooka and watch the shell come flying at my head while I was in “deer-headlights” mode. Classic. The AI isn’t spectacular, but it’s not dumbed down either. They enemy grunts are smart enough to toss your grenades back at you if you toss them too early. What’s more, they’ll hide and wait for the right moment, and they’ll try to pin you down to take advantage of whatever firepower they have. Running straight into the enemy will get you mowed down time and time again. They sometimes do stupid things, and occasionally you can pick a guy off by shooting his sleeve with your Springfield, but it’s nothing major. Since you can only hold two weapons at a time, you’ll need to make sure you’re smart with your ammo and have the right guns at the right time. Outside of the Springfield and the bazookas, there’s not a lot of difference between the remaining weapons.
The presentation of the game is solid and for the most part feels very true to life. The in-game cut-scenes manage to keep the game brisk while giving you that much-needed fifteen seconds of breathing time before tossing you right back into the action. Some levels even feature excellent film footage detailing the background of the war and the men behind the real-life Big Red One. The Collector’s Edition also contains some very professional video footage about the historical significance of the Big Red One and how the game was created.
The controls seem pretty much spot on in terms of what you expect from a FPS. Once in a while, I would accidentally throw a grenade, but I usually had enough time to get out of the way of my explosive mistake. The graphics are extremely nice, especially considering I was playing the PS2 version, which usually gets the short end of the stick. Sure, there are some jaggies, but most of the time I was checking out the beautiful smoke and explosion effects. In a few rare circumstances, these effects suddenly became pixilated, but it happens so rarely as to be considered a real problem. There’s no progressive scan support, but they did provide 16:9 support, which runs nicely.
Multiplayer was powered by Gamespy and proved fairly easy to jump into. Because I was used to the Xbox Live style of play, actual silence and people not screaming at me was actually kind of pleasant. The games were easy to jump into and were very competitive. The graphics, and the textures in particular, looked like they weren’t as detailed in multiplayer as they were in the single player mode, though this was likely a case of sacrificing beauty for speed. I wasn’t overwhelmed by the competition and had a fun go of it. There are standard deathmatch and capture the flag modes, but that’s really about it. The obvious focus of this game was the single-player mode, but the multiplayer mode, even though simplified compared to other FPSes, seems like a fun addition to keep you playing after you’ve beaten the game.
On its own, Call of Duty 2: Big Red One is a very good title. Its strengths really lie in the presentation and environment of the game, combined with a nice single-player campaign, and a simple, yet fun multiplayer mode. Chances are if you’re big into WWII shooters, this one is already on your list. If you’ve never taken the plunge, however, you definitely won’t have any complaints with the Big Red One.