Call of Duty 2 Review
World War II action games are still going strong, years after some have said that the genre would die out. This is mainly because the guys at Infinity Ward and Activision have continued to ensure high quality in their Call of Duty games. While Call of Duty 2 has been out on the PC for a couple of months now, one needed a pretty powerful computer to really enjoy it in all of its glory. But if you can operate a first person shooter with a console controller, then I can heartily recommend you look at CoD2 on the Xbox 360 - it's got all the gameplay, incredible visuals, and it runs smoother here than on all but the fastest of gaming PCs.
Call of Duty 2 follows the paths that several soldiers in World War II take. The missions you will take place in have been carefully chosen so that you've probably never seen these battles in other action games before. The high points of these are probably the first mission in the defense of Moscow, a couple of the levels in the British pursuit of Erwin Rommel through North Africa, and finally the American assault of the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc on D-Day. There's more than just this, of course, but these are probably my favorite missions.
The biggest change one will see in CoD2's gameplay over previous WW2 games is that you will never see a health kit. Instead, the game takes on an almost-Halo system where you can recover your health by getting back behind cover and waiting. It seems unrealistic, and it seems like it might make the game very easy, but if you play the game on Veteran difficulty, you'll find it's not even remotely easy. This is because the number of soldiers you'll face in CoD2 is pretty high; your squad of usually three to six or seven guys might have to take out a few dozen soldiers in a particular encounter.
Luckily you won't be facing your enemy alone, although you will find that as the difficulty level goes up, your own squadmates' incompetence becomes more apparent and you'll have to do most of the fighting yourself. Your squad will gladly fire out the windows of a building at the rushing German troops, but they don't care when the enemy gets into the building - not until the Jerries are already behind them and killing them will they even think about turning around. On the easier difficulty levels this is not a problem, but for those who want to gain the Xbox Live! Achievement points for beating the highest difficulty, it most certainly will be an issue.
The game includes a nice complement of weapons covering much of what was actually used in WW2. You'll only be able to carry two guns at a time, and while there are pistols, they use one of your two slots no matter what - so there's little reason to actually want to carry a pistol at any time. The nice part is that you will also carry both smoke and fragmentation grenades. Yes, smoke! Here's one area where CoD2 is unique. Smoke is great cover for when you need to move and a German MG42 (mounted machine gun) emplacement is tearing up anything that goes past. The smoke looks great and is truly effective at making enemy troops either stop firing or just spray wildly trying to hit anything. The game rarely forces you to use it, but once you get the hang of using smoke, you'll find it very handy as you go along.
The campaigns you'll do span American, Russian, and British experiences during the war, and while you'll start out as a Russian defending Germany's assault this time, you'll pop over to the British campaign in North America and then switch off between American and British missions during the Allies' main invasion of Europe. Most of these missions are fun, and while your troops' aim leaves much to be desired, their tactics on assault are generally pretty good. If you go for the frontal attack, your guys will back you up and give you cover fire. Go for a flank, and they'll leave a couple guys behind and send a couple with you. Your enemy will figure things out quickly, though, so you've got to make your move fast if you want to get behind them.
Another new feature in CoD2 is the grenade indicator. Simply put, if a grenade lands close to you, a little icon will pop up near your crosshair telling you about it. Again, this might seem like it makes the game too easy, but it's balanced out by enemy soldiers' much more liberal uses of grenades. Now, enemies won't just throw them as some kind of scripted encounter - instead, they use them when the AI decides you need to be flushed out of a hiding spot. The whole system actually winds up working nicely with only one major drawback in that you can't pick up enemy grenades and throw them back. The odd part is that your own squadmates can do it, but you won't be able to.
When it comes to realism, Call of Duty 2 doesn't rank terribly high up there. Your squad will lose men, but they'll get magically replaced as you move on throughout the mission. Your own guys will yell out locations of the enemy and even talk a bit of trash, but none of them are really memorable. You'll see many, many more Axis troops fall compared to Allies, and you can realistically (in some cases) charge in Rambo-style and gun down a dozen men.
The game doesn't make any excuses for this lack of realism, and instead makes sure that you need to think this stuff through before going ahead. You can't charge every time, and the game will make you charge right in in other situations. But when it comes to overall fun in a WW2 game, I think CoD2 ranks right up there with the very best. You won't constantly have to worry about how much health you have, your squad generally employs decent tactics (even if their aim just plain sucks), and the grenade game is more pronounced than in past WW2 shooters.
From a graphics perspective, Call of Duty 2 is pretty much the cream of the crop for WW2 games. The textures are all very high quality, the animations for almost any action one can take look great, and there are even some modern special effects (usually used in more subtle ways) to add to the eye candy. But the best part is that unlike most console FPS titles, CoD2 strives for a very smooth 60 frames per second rather than 30. It was only during multiplayer matches and a few situations in the campaign did the frame rates drop significantly, and even then it didn't hinder gameplay.
The audio experience in CoD2 is one that I found particularly good. The ambient sound effects make it seem like war, while both your squad and your enemies will shout out when they see eachother. There's more chatter on the battlefield overall, and the weapon sounds are very crisp and satisfying as well. Music will well up during the big moments of the game, and while there's quite a bit more music here than in the first Call of Duty, it's still used only at the right times; it's never overdone.
Multiplayer matches in Call of Duty 2 are impressive, but they could have been better. There's a four-player split screen mode (which is actually a desirable thing when done on an HDTV, as each little window still has a pretty decent view of the action), system link play, and of course Xbox Live!. Live! play uses the headsets nicely and allows you to create custom matches or joined Ranked matches if you want to improve your worldwide rank for the game. The game modes are mostly familiar, with deathmatch, team deathmatch, and capture the flag modes being the most common. There's also a Headquarters mode which is pretty interesting, although players over Live! don't seem to much care for it, so finding games isn't terribly easy.
The only major issue I have with this game's multiplayer has to do with the rather crippling eight-player limit in online games. Considering that many past and present Live! games have supported 16 and even 32 players, this one just feels like a big step backwards. While the online play is stable and fun, the maps are generally pretty small (since they only have to support a small number of players) and it feels much less like war than the single player campaign does.
Call of Duty 2 is a great launch title for the Xbox 360 and is generally satisfying and fun all the way through. Even if you're getting a little sick of the WW2 shooter genre, I'd suggest you give it a shot, as its gameplay is the right mix of fun and realism and the multiplayer modes are plenty of fun. There are several first person games that have launched with the Xbox 360, and if I had to pick one that the most people would enjoy the most, it would be Call of Duty 2.