Call of Duty (PC) review
"What would videogames be without international conflict? World peace is undeniably a noble goal, but a game about dancing in a circle with your brother man wouldn't be quite as entertaining as one about, say, fighting the Nazi menace through World War 2 Europe. Previously the Medal of Honor series has been the leader in this particular field, but now Activision and Infinity Ward have landed on the genre's metaphorical beach with Call of Duty. "
What would videogames be without international conflict? World peace is undeniably a noble goal, but a game about dancing in a circle with your brother man wouldn't be quite as entertaining as one about, say, fighting the Nazi menace through World War 2 Europe. Previously the Medal of Honor series has been the leader in this particular field, but now Activision and Infinity Ward have landed on the genre's metaphorical beach with Call of Duty.
Following the MOH example, Call o' Duty is a WW2 FPS filled with Saving-Private-Ryan-style dramatics and intensely realistic combat scenarios. Where COD excels, however, is in the manner in which it expresses it's own 'war is horrible yet heroic' motif - it's a great deal more genuine and mature than that of MOH. Perhaps this is because COD isn't under EA's family publishing umbrella, under which war is horrible, but not so horrible that men bleed. COD also beats out MOH in the intensity of it's battle scenes, but more on that later.
The game is played from the perspectives of three different soldiers - a Brit, an American, and a Russian. There's no specific gameplay differences between the characters or their missions, but it's interesting way to vary the settings and scenarios being played, and does a good job of conveying the message that the war was won by the many rather than the few.
The missions and objectives themselves are fairly standard FPS stuff, but the quality of their execution and the game's design make them far more entertaining than average. The controls are pleasingly responsive, with an intuitive stand-crouch-prone cover setup. The weaponry is nicely varied (the different guns for different armies theme is a great touch) and satisfying to use, while their effect on the enemies is well-communicated with realistic death animations and blood effects. These elements combine to create a very easy-to-handle and addictive shoot-em-up mechanic.
Your Nazi enemies are convincingly intelligent; they use the standard hide-and-shoot tactics, with the occasional moment of cunning, such as chucking your grenades back at you. Your teammates are also pleasingly adept, avoiding the usual leap-into-your-line-of-fire pitfall. It's nice to be able to actually trust a videogame ally to cover your back in a firefight.
It isn't the AI where the game truly shines though - it's in the scale and atmosphere of the battles. The game features some immense conflict scenarios, sometimes featuring hundreds of soldiers. The sheer scale of the Stalingrad missions alone, combined with the fantastic scripted narrative moments (officers spouting doublethink propaganda while your allies are killed, flinging you into the fray unarmed, shooting anyone that tries to retreat) create an experience that's far more vehement than anything in MOH.
The effect that this has on the gameplay is that it reduces your control over the situation. As the player, in most games you have a certain omniscience - you almost always know exactly where enemies are coming from, how much health and ammo you have, the layout of the area, etc. The chaotic nature of COD's battles means that it's often impossible to keep tabs on the whole situation, essentially leading to some fantastic, adrenaline-pumping gameplay. Like most games the quicksave function defeats the tension somewhat, but it's still marvelously intense, and an experience quite unlike most other FPS games.
Partly responsible for these atmospheric engagements are the game's graphics. The use of the Quake 3 engine results in areas that are both epic and detailed - an early level set in a French town is particularly impressive, as you battle through ruined homes and yards, while paratroopers drop in the distance and the sky is lit up by artillery fire. The character models are nicely detailed and varied, with some superb expressions; note the terrified faces of your Russian buddies on the boat to Stalingrad, or the determination of your American officers. Good stuff. Despite the graphical excellence, the game runs reasonably on lower-spec systems, although they'll chug along somewhat during the more crowded areas.
It's the audio that's truly responsible for creating that big battle atmosphere, though. Eschewing constant music for more environmental effects, the game's gunfire and artillery sounds are realistically intimidating - in the bigger fights, the constant ear-pounding gunfire always keeps the adrenaline going. Voice acting is convincing, despite the necessary evil of the Russians speaking English. The music, where used, is pleasingly evocative. Overall, the game uses audio to superb dramatic and atmospheric effect, especially in the conflict situations.
Splitting up the massive army battle type levels are a few action-movie style set-pieces (car chase, tank driving, etc) which are very exciting, and a nice break from the bigger fights. There's also a few areas that turn into generic one-man-army trudges through linear levels full of enemies. This is one of the game's few flaws - these levels don't sit well next to the more dynamic scenarios, and they seem like little more than filler. Fortunately, there's only a few of them.
Even with the padding that these tiresome levels bring, the game is very short. Other games can excuse a short singleplayer campaign with a decent story, but COD is mostly devoid of narrative, aside from the obvious 'progress through Europe' thing. On the plus side, there is replay value in the different difficulty settings and most of the levels are non-linear enough to justify multiple playthroughs.
These are tiny flaws; overall the game is absolutely stunning, with some heart-poundingly-exciting gameplay. If Medal of Honor is the celebrated WW2 hero, getting the ribbon and shaking the President's hand, then Call o' Duty is it's bitter, heroin-addicted Vietnam veteran of a son - dirtier and less sentimental, but all the more likable for it.
Community review by autorock (July 15, 2004)
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