The World War II well seemed to have been running dry for some time. Countless first-person shooters, real-time and turn-based strategies, combat flight titles, and even stealth games have filled the market with such ferocity the past few years that itís an even bigger wonder that Call of Duty 2 manages to be so memorable and enjoyable. Even the franchise itself had some rough patches, with the initial console release of the series being mediocre and the United Offensive expansion failing the universal praise of its predecessor. While I cannot say that Iím itching to play more titles based on the second Great War, I can say that Iím more than ready for another go in what has proven to be one of the most intense, difficult and spellbinding titles to date.
Similar to the previous Call of Duty titles, the main campaign is broken up into three major parts consisting of Russian, English and American missions. Some of the missions overlap this time around, with the English campaign skipping to the American effort and then back and so on. The flow is based on dates, representing a less strict approach from its predecessors. There are a few more changes as well. Gone (unfortunately) is the sprint feature from United Offensive, but new is the lack of a health bar. Instead of looking for first aid kits, damage is slowly recovered over time and damage is conveyed by a beating heart and red that surrounds the screen. This has several benefits: one, it cleans the HUD up somewhat, providing extra real estate to let you see whatís around; two, it manages to keep the game going at a quicker pace since there is no searching for aid; and three, it forces you to use the environment and teammates, providing a more compelling experience. There are no peek features to take true advantage of terrain and objects for cover, but the crouch and prone positions suffice for most engagements. Another addition that adds to the experience is the well-implemented and downright pretty smoke grenade.
Smoke grenades are unique in that they show off the AI of both allied and enemy NPCs. If a machine gunner is holding up progress in a city street, throwing a smoke grenade will cause them to cease fire. You quickly stop questioning why they donít lay down a blanket of fire once youíre in the middle of the twirling, ethereal smoke, wondering what direction youíre facing as everyone rushes into the middle for some of the most frantic melee and close-combat gunfights that Iíve experienced in quite some time. Even a city street feels like a small room when a rush is halted out of sheer confusion as to whether or not the black form a few feet away is friend or foe.
The smoke is just a part of the spectacle of it all. Perfect Dark Zero is a good example of a game that uses its bells and whistles to hide poor game design behind shiny objects while Call of Duty 2 is the opposite in that itís a title that uses the incredible graphics and sound to draw you in and complement the great level design, firing mechanics, and insanity. The game has so many Ďoh Ö that was coolí moments that itís hard to say just which portion of the game is the most memorable. And so much is done in such a nonchalant way that it keeps you feeling that this is about providing an epic experience for you, and not to show off what neat things can be done with the hardware. Yeah, there are moments that nudge you in the direction of something cool, but itís when you notice that the moment is just one of many that are all around you is when a true appreciation of the game comes through. There was one gun that impressed me with the modeling and bullet animation being so well done and smooth, and yet it was only used once. The detail creates a fantastic sense of consistency that ramps up with the action in the beginning and never stops.
The campaign is a solid fifteen or so hours on Hardened Ė most accomplishments are acquired by playing on Veteran Ė even with the shorter Russian campaign. The missions are a similar mix of on-foot and in-vehicle, with each providing solid experiences. The amount of interaction between soldiers is increasing in the subgenre, with Brothers in Arms going all out, and Call of Duty 2 is no exception. There is online as well, which also includes some items not used in single player. When it comes to PC, Iím a Day of Defeat kind of person, but those 360 owners lucky enough to sustain a decent connection will have a great time online. None of the weapons feel like throwaways, with even the smallest conveying such an impact that you simply want to use them, providing the longevity gamers have come to expect in a Live world.
Call of Duty 2 has some faults, and your tolerance for even more WWII might be much lower than mine, but itís such a wild and intense adventure that I can't help but recommend it anyway. This is the best first-person shooter on the 360 by far, and a fine title all around. Infinity Ward delivers in every area, and they do so with such intensity that I donít see how it can be matched by their contemporaries.