“Call of Duty 2 is better” was my reccurring thought during my time with Call of Duty 3. Infinity Ward, having moved on to other Call of Duty business, left the developers of confusing last-but-somewhat-current-generation-not-real-sequel-sequel Call of Duty 2: Big Red One, Treyarch, in charge of bringing the franchise into this new generation of consoles. I miss Infinity Ward.
Immediately noticeable upon booting up is that Call of Duty 3 is a pretty game. In fact, it’s not just a pretty game: it’s a very pretty game. It’s one of those games that actually looks better in action than the typically too-good-looking-to-be-authentic screenshots and TV spots. It’s almost too glossy, with a war-torn Europe looking like someone went through and polished up the rubble. Still, it’s damn pretty and will give HDTV owners yet another title to show off.
Shortly after admiring the glossy shine, you’ll also note that the game starts off just right: with a bang. Immediately after learning the basics, you’re tossed in a transport truck and right into the thick of things. At this point, I thought that I was in for possibly – just possibly – an even better experience than its fantastic predecessor had offered. It didn’t take long for me to realize that it wasn’t meant to be.
At first, though, things go great. You’re rushing around with your fellow Allied soldiers, cooking and tossing back grenades, smacking Axis troops with the butt of your gun, and generally just trying to find your way around the loud explosions, muzzle flashes, dirt and concrete and bodies flying around you; just the sort of mayhem that you would expect. You even get to experience one of the new cinematic activities new to the series: a German soldier jumps out at you as you walk through a doorway, grabbing your gun, initiating a quick time event-esque activity – you have to tap the corresponding on-screen buttons for your gun, and your life. These events aren’t hard, and after a few clicks of the shoulder buttons and a face button or two, you introduce the soldier to the less formal end of your rifle – even checking out the damage his face did on the gun. Yeah, things are going really well at this point.
It’s a few minutes after that when you start to realize that something isn’t quite right. The battlefield has become significantly smaller, forcing you and your comrades into tight situations that have been prepped and primed by the enemy. The game quickly no longer becomes a challenge so much as an exercise in frustration. Instead of being able to maneuver, the wiggle room of part two is absent, making a majority of the game feel as if you’re one of those moving wooden ducks in a shooting gallery. This is prevalent throughout the game, with very few instances where you can take a little bit of initiative with the freedom of movement to actually get something done other than die a lot. There is a very strong ‘push’ feeling throughout, as though the developers have these set-pieces they created and liked so much that they want to force you to play through regardless of how congestive or aggravating it feels.
The lack of maneuverability is a problem as-is, but it becomes a fairly big problem once you realize that Nazi Germany has found a way to clone troops in houses (the great clown car effect) and also make their men impervious to bullets. Granted, I played through the game on a harder difficulty, but a hard difficulty is no excuse to have your bullets completely miss an enemy that is two feet away; oddly enough, you can be devastatingly accurate by shooting from the hip, knocking enemies off rooftops and towers, and completely miss them when zoomed up and carefully aiming. There were times when I unloaded full clips into enemy troops, only to have them turn around and dispense death upon me with a few rounds. Then there are the moments when you get to watch dozens of troops run out of a single house, or some just magically appear in a blocked-off room. The AI took a noticeable dip as well, with enemies not taking the kind of cover they should and sometimes being fairly lackadaisical with their returning fire. Instead of being smart, the enemies were just given more men, fantastic aim, and the benefit of the doubt.
This is also the first entry into the main series where the game isn’t broken up into significant portions. Instead of playing as, say, America, Britain, and then Russia, you jump from American troops, to Canadian Highlanders, to Polish Tankers, to British commandos (always commandos). There is a loose story here that ties all of the units together through assisting each other or through being in the same areas, but it jumps around so much that it’s disjointed, making it more jarring than anything else. I am glad to see Poland and Canada getting into the action though – a nice change of pace.
Some elements from previous titles have also been tweaked. There are still portions that involve manning a stationary turret, and while there are no bombers this time, now get to drive the jeep instead of just manning the gun on it. The driving portions can be somewhat confusing, since the layouts of the towns are maze-like and the objectives on the map have a hard time compensating for that, but it’s a nice addition to help break up the series. The driving portions aren’t too exciting, but they aren’t used so much that they wear out their welcome, either. There are other cinematic portions as well, to further the theatrical feel and style of its predecessors, which include more quick time events for planting bombs and working equipment. These often provide brief moments of reprieve since the damage inflicted during this time doesn’t kill. Trying to increase the theatrics wasn’t necessarily a bad call, but after a while it felt more like a chore than anything else.
One annoyance I had was with the unskippable cutscenes. Having to sit through the same story sequence once or twice might not be a problem, but considering how often I died (and you will die often), sitting through the same one for the eleventh or twelfth time significantly changes things. The cutscenes are often set a little back from the checkpoint, so you get to sit through an unexciting story sequence and then hoof it back to where you were. Needless to say, there were a lot of “C’mooooooooooooooon!” moments.
The single-player campaign isn’t terrible - it’s still better than what you would find in the Medal of Honor series. The problem is that it’s just such a step down from Call of Duty 2 that disappointment with the series’ progression is inevitable. There are a handful of levels that are done well, providing the kind of excitement that its predecessor offered throughout, but to say it’s on par with Call of Duty 2, an absolutely solid foundation to build upon, would be a mistake.
The multiplayer portion has been revamped and provides a significantly different experience. Now a class-based system, troops have kits, providing special abilities and equipment. There are riflemen, light and heavy assault troops, medics, support, anti-tank, and scouts. For example, the rifleman no longer has the standard grenades, but ones that launches from their guns as well. There are also landmines, the ability to drop ammo, and two significant additions: the ability to run (absent and missed in single-player) and copious amounts of vehicles (tanks, transport trucks, motorcycles, etc.) to drive. The objectives are standard – deathmatches and flags, flags and deathmatches – but the action is fast and the connections smooth. I did have a problem connecting to Player Ranked games via a quick connection, with the result being me lonely and going to custom game and searching from there. This is definitely an area that’s a step above its 360 predecessor.
In many respects, Call of Duty 3 is a good game, possibly even a pretty good game. However, as an entry into the Call of Duty franchise, specifically as a sequel to the phenomenal second release, it is a marked downturn. When Infinity Ward and Activision stepped on the scene and took the rug out from EA’s Medal of Honor, they really took the ball and ran with it. Some of the ports weren’t great, but the core series has been more of an experience than just a game. A few of the complaints I have against three are problems present in two, but a sequel is supposed to fix, refine, and uplift the series, not leave problems and confine a war to a very narrow on-screen path.
It’s easy to be taken in by the pretty bells and fantastic-sounding whistles, but the superior grandeur of Call of Duty 3 can’t surpass the superior experience of Call of Duty 2. Then again, if you’ve had your fix of part two and are hankering for another go, give three a rent – hey, multiplayer is fun, but sixty bucks is sixty bucks.