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Call of Duty Review

By Jeff Buckland, 10/29/2003

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We've seen plenty of World War 2 games recently, and the rush of them seems to only be getting more intense. One of the first WW2 games that really caught people's attention was Medal of Honor: Allied Assault - this was mainly because of its highly cinematic style, intense action, and (mostly) realistic wartime atmosphere.

A bunch of the guys from 2015, developer for the Medal of Honor games, have since left to create their own company: Infinity Ward. Call of Duty is their first game, but these guys are no novices, and they know the material. CoD is a WW2 first person shooter done in a mostly similar style to their previous work, but this game includes more of the good and less of the bad. We get separate campaigns from American, British, and Russian perspectives, a larger focus on squad-oriented action, and a ton of explosions everywhere. It's been almost two years since MOH:AA was released, though, and a ton of other games with the same theme have come and gone; does Call of Duty contain enough to be worth your time and cash?

Infinity Ward took the Quake 3 engine and basically gutted it - they've rewritten the AI, graphics code, scripting system, and lots of other bits and pieces in order to make Call of Duty. The most obvious visual enhancement is the pixel shaded water, but otherwise it still does seem to look a lot like the Q3 engine. At least the frame rates and visuals here are much better than what we saw in the last Q3 engine game, Star Wars: Jedi Academy.

Call of Duty didn't crash a single time while I was playing it, but then again, I really didn't play it for that long (more on that later). The multiplayer setup was technically sound, and the frame rates on those maps were really good. The system requirements are overall surprisingly lenient, and while the game looks downright ugly at the lowest possible settings, it's nice to see support for systems that are three years old or more.

Of course, if you have a newer computer, low system requirements are not exactly a priority. You can get a very nice game by jacking up the detail on a more powerful video card, as the game supplies some nice, high quality textures for the world and the characters. FSAA looks great here, as well as anisotropic filtering - if your video card can handle these features at an acceptable speed, then I suggest you give them a shot.

IW has made some efforts to simplify the shooter experience a bit - like Halo, you can only carry two main weapons at any time. You can always have a pistol and some grenades as well, but you'll find yourself sticking with primary weapons quite a bit. The game includes plenty of help on how to do some of the things that FPS veterans have probably known for years now, but I still like full interactive tutorials and tips that pop up. Both of them show up here, and they're pretty effective in helping you understand the game mechanics. The game also changes its tips based on what keys you assign to certain things - this may seem rather unimportant, but it's one of those small things I like to see. It's disappointing how many games nowadays still tell me to "Press Space to Jump" when I had already rebound the spacebar to something completely different.

The actual feel of the mouse in Call of Duty is spot on; it feels like a shooter in the Q3 engine, which feels just right in my opinion. Unlike the recent Halo issue with mouse acceleration being forced on, the mouse controls are sharp and accurate here.

Infinity Ward has done a great job fitting modern visuals into an aging engine without crippling the frame rate or stability. The textures look great, and the larger open spaces are nice even compared to the best game engines out there. The pixel shaded water is beautiful to see, and the explosions are well done.

The character models generally look very nice, and a full range of animations are here - including lots of animations for characters ducking behind cover. There's no fancy ragdoll physics here, though, as all animations are made by hand. The weapons feel very authentic and are fun to use, and it's a bit scary being on the receiving side of this stuff. When you see a German MG42 machine gun open up, you will run for cover.

The wartime atmosphere is intense in Call of Duty, especially on the morning of D-Day. Once the planes start flying over and the flak guns start firing, it seems much more like what we saw in Saving Private Ryan or other WW2 movies than a game. It's an accomplishment that might not directly affect gameplay, but the story does tie in somewhat and the atmosphere is one of the better selling points of a good WW2 game.

The action and pacing in Call of Duty is done just right, with plenty of big shootouts, a few sneaky missions, a very satisfying stint in a tank crew, and some on-rails-style shooting levels. The story follows right along, with you playing as three different soldiers, one from each of the US, British, and Russian sides. The fourth campaign is all about the taking of Berlin, and you get to reprise your role as all three soldiers where each does their own thing during the fighting.

Most people seem to find two major problems with MOH:AA - the game ended very abruptly in basically the middle of the war, and the sniper level was a huge tedium of save, die, load, and repeat. Both of these issues have been addressed in Call of Duty, although there is one annoying sniper sequence here. It's in the Russian campaign and it has you trying to take out seven snipers in a single building (which was a bit strange right there) while one of the guys in your squad runs around as bait. The problem is that the snipers never seemed to shoot at him anyway; if I popped my head up for a second, I'd get hit, and it would only take a couple of hits to kill me. That was almost as annoying as the sniper level in MOH:AA, but at least this one is quite a bit shorter.

Call of Duty is not a very long game, sadly - I beat it in about six and a half hours on Normal difficulty. I wasn't trying to rush, and I did have to reload my game quite a few times. At the very least, this game is very satisfying by the time you get to the end. It definitely serves up a better picture of how the war went than MOH:AA, and actually ends with the taking of Berlin.

It turns out that Call of Duty has quite a bit more in the multiplayer area than I expected, so that could be a possible explanation for the somewhat short single player game. And to compare, even though Max Payne 2 was also a short game, I was much more motivated to go back through through that one another couple of times.

All that said, Call of Duty does deliver an exhilarating experience. Several of the missions degrade into utter chaos where you are literally surrounded by enemies, constantly shooting, running, grabbing ammo, and just trying to simply survive. Even FPS veterans are going to feel totally overrun in a few instances in this game, and that's actually a really cool feeling once you figure out how to get through these situations.

Call of Duty's AI has to be mentioned specifically, because it's just plain great. While some enemies will refuse to budge from their spots, many times they will move around to trick you, attempt a flank, or to get a better angle to hit you. They work in squads, just like your buddies do. Of course, they still have terrible aim compared to you and your squadmates, as you'll decimate dozens of groups of guys with far inferior numbers. While it's certainly possible for your buddies to die, it's fairly common that someone will sneak in and replace fallen comrades shortly afterwards.

The game does lapse back into Rambo mode for the odd mission where you are forced to fight alone. There are several levels where you will kill something like a hundred enemy soldiers who, for the most part, will stupidly run right through a doorway - directly into the barrel of your gun. While these levels may serve as a break from the usual gameplay, I rather would have done them with my buddies and with some better enemy AI.

Call of Duty does wind up being more emotional than most WW2 shooters, especially during the Russian campaign. With low morale and little training or equipment, the Russian soldiers get slaughtered by the German forces. You and a couple of other guys find some unique ways to break the German front, allowing for the rest of the troops to roll through. This, as well as the absolutely chaotic British level that has you defending a critical bridge, serve as the high points of the game for me. These alone were worth it in my opinion, although they may not be for many players.

The question really comes down to whether you still enjoy WW2 shooters after all this time. If you think you can stomach another one, Call of Duty is very unlikely to disappoint. But if you can't bear to see another game like this, then the single player mode is just not going to grab you. While the multiplayer might be another story, the solo campaign probably won't impress those who are already very tired of WW2 shooters.

Call of Duty includes a surprisingly good multiplayer game, with plenty of maps (most of which are loosely based on single player levels), excellent gunplay, and some unique game modes. Some of the modes are reminiscent of the round-based, mission oriented gameplay seen in Counter-Strike, while standard, DM, team DM, and round-based team DM are all available too. Then there are the more unique modes, like Behind Enemy Lines, where most players are on the Axis team; when they kill an Ally, they then trade places with that person and will respawn as an Ally themselves. The point of the game is to survive and kill enemies as an Ally, and it's a pretty cool mode, although the randomized spawn points made it a bit chaotic.

The mission-based modes, Search & Destroy and Retrieval, were both unique and fun to play. Retrieval's twist is that the team who is on offense must get back to their spawn point with the item. The one level I played this on was a bit weird, as the offense could actually grab the item before defense could even get there. I'm sure that if this becomes a real problem in public games, IW can release a patch to balance it out.

Pretty much all the weapons from the single player game are available in the multiplayer modes, although I found that most of the teamplay modes degenerated into grenade parties regularly - it's a bit amusing to see five grenades fly over a wall, and then another five or six go in the other direction over the same wall. Basically, they need to make it so that only specific weapon choices allow you more than one grenade, much like the Day of Defeat mod for Half-Life.

Speaking of Day of Defeat: unlike DoD, there are no specific classes in Call of Duty. All you do is pick a single primary weapon during multiplayer modes. You can drop weapons and grab others in mid-fight, but since you spawn with a ton of ammo, you will probably only switch weapons if you come across an enemy gun you prefer over the ones available to your side.

The multiplayer maps themselves are themed from the game's campaigns, so each map will have a specific Allied nation against the Germans (no Pacific theater here). On top of this, some missions will put the soldiers in different uniforms, so it might take you a while to get used to which guys are friendlies and which aren't.

Call of Duty does include an in-game server browser with pretty much all the features you've seen in Quake 3 or Return to Castle Wolfenstein. Sure, I guess the interface could be a little more slick (I've always wanted to see more games do the Tribes 2-style community interface with an in-game section for announcements, email, and message boards), but it does just fine for the purpose of getting online and shooting people.

Infinity Wars has pledged support for mod authors, and they intend on releasing a full SDK with scripting examples and more. I'm not really sure how far this will go, as Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory is a free game with some decent mod tools and a ton of players - even it has very few mods available. The modmaking crowd is very choosy when it comes to picking games to make mods for, but let's hope that Call of Duty turns out to be one of the lucky ones.

The Medal of Honor games always had great sound, and the tradition is continued here with great ambience, tons of speech, and very satisfying effects. The music only comes up rarely, but it is always very well timed and really adds to the emotion in the game. I can't imagine it being better any other way.

Infinity Ward & Activision also hired on some Hollywood voice talent for Call of Duty. You might remember Jason Statham as Turkish from the movie Snatch, or from The Transporter - he supplies some good voice work as Sergeant Waters during the British campaign. Giovanni Ribisi (Boiler Room, Saving Private Ryan) also contributes the voice of Private Elder in the US campaign, but honestly I don't ever remember him saying much.

Call of Duty bests Medal of Honor in just about every way, and while it may not win over those who are tired of the World War 2 first person shooter, it's a damn fine game. The short but sweet single player campaign is a bit disappointing, but the robust multiplayer makes up for much of that. Either way, it's an excellent game and easily the best World War 2 shooter yet.

Overall: 90%



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