Call of Duty 3 Preview
Activision has found large success in Call of Duty, the World War II shooter franchise spawned by the developers at Infinity Ward. Building on their experience working on the early Medal of Honor games, IW puts together an incredible, cinematic atmosphere with one of the most realistic depictions of war around. And now, after the success of Call of Duty 2 on the Xbox 360, Infinity Ward and Activision are handing off the third game in the series to Treyarch.
The guys at Treyarch are no strangers to the Call of Duty franchise. They developed the United Offensive expansion pack for the original PC game, and also put together CoD: Big Red One last year for Xbox and PS2. Now they're moving up to next gen, and they've added new special effects and even more chaos to the war front here in Call of Duty 3.
The story this time around will focus on one specific country in the war: France. It takes place after D-Day all the way through the liberation of Paris, and in classic Call of Duty form, you'll be playing from the perspective of multiple Allied nations. This time you'll switch out between American and British soldiers, Canadian mechanized infantry, and a Polish tank commander. And now, you'll get fewer breaks in the action, as the game can dynamically load up the next level while keeping you in the game - this is usually hidden behind a cutscene where your commanding officer will give you instructions on completing the next few objectives. For those who played Tony Hawk's American Wasteland, this game does a much better job of "covering up" loading times than just making you run through drab, empty corridors.
Multiplayer modes will be a bigger focus here in Call of Duty 3; sure, the second game's online play was great, but it still had fairly small maps and a mere eight players in one game at once. Now, up to 24 players will be able to play together at once online, and with new vehicles (including tanks, jeeps, and the hilarious motorcycle-sidecar combo) in there with larger maps, Call of Duty 3 will feel less like a plain old deathmatch game and more like real, open warfare. We'll even get to see player classes in online play, which will determine your soldier's abilities far beyond just selecting the weapon you spawn with.
Some new features became apparent pretty quickly in this demo, like a depth-of-field filter which blurs things that your eyes aren't focusing on in zoomed or iron sights modes. Lighting is much improved this time around, and ragdoll physics has been added for soldier's bodies - this makes grenade kills much more satisfying. But grenades also are more useful this time around, as you can "cook" them to make sure that enemy soldiers don't have time to pick them up and throw them back at you. One downside so far is that the player still can't actually throw back grenades himself yet, and I really hope Treyarch considers putting this in. Still, the new physics code will also allow you to blow apart some of the cover your enemies are behind, but be careful, as the enemies can do this to you as well.
One thing I want to mention is that this is not just another episode of the game in the same old CoD2 engine. The whole game looks much sharper now overall, and individual blades of grass can be seen and trampled in some of the fields. There's more stuff going on, too, usually in the form of explosions happening all around you. And yet, the game is still capable of running at well over 50 frames per second, just like its predecessor, and Treyarch intends to keep it that way on the next-gen systems. It's the same engine, but it's been tweaked and improved in many ways.
The demo I got to see at Quakecon this year consisted only of single player maps, but what I did get to see was great. The first map showed an attack on St. Lo, a small French town that the Germans have entrenched in since the British futilely bombed the hell out of it. Now you'll have to go in and root them out one by one, and the utter chaos of war really shows.
The second map I got to see was in a large field where artillery was smashing down all around and the Germans had tons of machine guns trained on Allied forces. It's easy to die in this level if you're not using the tank you're advancing with as cover, but the overall feel of this level was very frantic and desperate. And adding to the desperation of some fights is the new close quarters battles you must do when an enemy soldier gets too close and decides to tackle you. It throws you into a mini-game battle where you're fighting while holding your rifle out in front of you - if you perform the button pushes correctly (much like boss battles in Sony's excellent God of War for the PS2) you'll push your opponent away and eventually onto the ground where you can finish him. The best part is that you can see the guy's face up close, and even see the look on his face change - he becomes more aggressive or more worried when you start losing or winning the close-quarters fight.
Call of Duty 2 is still very successful and is being played more than any other online 360 game, and Treyarch and Activision look to be giving fans exactly what they want out of the third game. With an expanded multiplayer mode and a single player campaign that's even more intense than in previous games, Call of Duty 3 looks to be another huge success. We'll find out soon when it's released in November on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Trimmed down (graphically, that is) versions of the game will also be released on the Nintendo Wii (with unique controls!), PS2, and Xbox.