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Call of Duty 3 (PlayStation 2) artwork

Call of Duty 3 (PlayStation 2) review

"Whether it be the Americans, Canadians, British or Polish, there will be arguments and in-fighting as the troops are faced with imminent death while pushing into occupied territory. Well, maybe not the Poles, as their main purpose seems to be to provide Treyarch an excuse to toss a touch of tank combat into the mix."

It can be interesting to play games that are part of a long-running series in reverse order just to see how they've evolved from a different perspective. First, learn what the designers are doing now…and then jump back in time to see what the foundation for their current work was like in comparison.

With the Call of Duty series, I've experienced both Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops during the past couple of years. As the poster child for our current generation's first-person shooter, Call of Duty delivers a plethora of online options to keep gamers busy for months gunning each other down in various ways, as well as a single-player campaign that will entertain for a few hours or so. Well, that might be a bit harsh, as the stellar graphics and presentation likely will drag players back for a few repeat visits, but it is obvious that the campaign is just one part of the equation, as opposed to being the dominant aspect of the game.

According to the instruction book, Call of Duty 3 has online options, but I'd have to guess there's not much activity for this game nowadays, so by default, the campaign is the heart and soul of things now! On the positive side, it delivers a series of levels that generally are longer and more difficult than anything in the more recent games. It actually feels like the campaign could have been the major selling point for this game! Detracting from that potential bliss is how playing this PlayStation 2 disc really illustrated for me just how much the slick presentation of today's shooters adds to the finished product.

Call of Duty 3 is from the "every shooter must be set in World War II" era of games, where you'll alternate between four nationalities of soldier as they fight the Germans. Whether it be the Americans, Canadians, British or Polish, there will be arguments and in-fighting as the troops are faced with imminent death while pushing into occupied territory. Well, maybe not the Poles, as their main purpose seems to be to provide Treyarch an excuse to toss a touch of tank combat into the mix. In a nutshell, you're going through towns, forests and random bits of countryside to kill Nazis. The end. And that's about it for plot. Honestly, with as frequently as the game switched between groups and how uninteresting their "stories" were, I found myself just focusing on running and gunning and mentally tuning everything else out.

That's primarily because playing this game really pounded into my head exactly why the Medal of Honor series gradually altered its mechanics before completely reinventing itself into Modern Warfare Jr. To be brief, Call of Duty made classic Medal of Honor obsolete. In those games, you controlled a lone wolf super-soldier who single-handedly could win wars for the good ol' U.S.A. Of course, winning wars tended to be easy when the opposition is kind enough to only come at you two or three at a time in predictable patterns.

Call of Duty 3, like other games I've played in the series, delights in testing a player's ability to make sense out of chaos. Odds are the very first level will prove challenging to many players for the sole reason that they'll simply be trying to get their bearings and figure out what the hell is going on around them. After the obligatory brief tutorial, you'll find yourself having to pick your way through a town while bullets are flying all over. There will be a number of soldiers on your side and a lot of Germans waiting to become bullet cushions. It can be hard to differentiate between friend and foe and if the latter group gets sight of you, you better find cover soon.

The Call of Duty games went away from the tried and true "find health packs laying on ground" way of healing. As you take damage, the screen gets more and more red. Avoid bullets and grenades and things go back to normal. Keep getting shot, you die. It doesn't take much for that to happen. Put a German next to a machine gun and the difference between life and death will be a mere matter of seconds, forcing you to move quick while staying close to cover at all times. And death can be more than a light slap on the wrist in this game, as checkpoints aren't given out constantly. You'll have to regularly cover large amounts of terrain before seeing the little icon denoting the game autosaving appear. One little momentary screw-up can easily mean you'll have to clear the entirety of a large building all over again.

That is the strength of this game: the sheer number of times you'll feel like a big-shot hero simply because you rose to the occasion and survived one of those Nazi deathtraps. Maybe you finally broke into a heavily-defended farmhouse after taking out the machine-gunners in the windows and guys spilling out the front door to well-covered positions in the yard. Or defended your position in a crumbling building from a surge of German troops assaulting it from all angles. Or perhaps you simply crossed a road. That was quite a challenge in one of the game's later missions, as your Americans had to cross a road and advance through a forest to a German bunker. There's only one problem -- the road is wide open space and a bunch of German were in trenches on the other side just waiting for someone dumb enough to show their faces. You have to toss a couple smoke grenades just to get across the road and then pick your way through the forest one dead German at a time until you've clawed your way to the bunker.

That's where Call of Duty 3 is at its best. When its at its worst is when the fast-paced and involving action gets replaced for periods of time by activities that range from tedious tasks to mission sections that are blatantly on rails. For the latter, just look at one particular level where you're controlling the Canadians as they secure and defend a factory. Af first, you're taking out groups of Germans at each of the four corners. And then the rest of the level is little more than you running from one point to another in defense of your newly-acquired territory. It was chaotic, but not in a good way as I felt I was just being dragged from place to place at the whim of the computer where my only real objective was to run in the direction indicated by the compass. Still, that was better than the Polish tank level, which was little more than a short interlude allowing me to easily destroy a handful of tanks around a village.

That was dull, which was how I'd also describe the game's occasional foray into random button-pushing. After about the dozenth time I found myself manually hitting buttons and rotating joysticks to set charges on various things, I was fondly remembering how Medal of Honor just had you click on what was supposed to go "BOOM" and the bomb placing would be done automatically. And nothing disrupts the flow of a good bit of Nazi shooting than suddenly engaging in hand-to-hand combat where success is determined by quickly alternating between pounding two buttons.

And, as I said, the presentation really isn't all that great. Four anonymous groups of soldiers somewhat working together to chase the Nazis out of a certain region. The old Medal of Honor games opened each mission with a briefing which used old war footage to make everything seem epic and important. Here, you'll just get a bit of banter followed by a bunch of shooting followed by the vague feeling that you accomplished something of some sort to help the war effort…or at least killed a bunch of people. While Call of Duty 3 ramps up the intensity, how immersive it is will be determined by how into the action you are, since the game doesn't do much to set the stage.

Which, in effect, makes Call of Duty 3 a quality game that's a bit more than a relic, if not much more. The action was fun and challenging --even to the point I felt a bit of frustration from time to time; with the campaign lasting for 14 (often lengthy) stages. But something was lacking to keep this game from being an essential shooter or even an essential Call of Duty game. In the end, it felt like a collection of loosely-connected vignettes from World War II than anything else. It was fun to dally with, but not something that captured my imagination and demanded I play through it again and again.


overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (September 09, 2011)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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SamildanachEmrys posted September 10, 2011:

Nicely done. I enjoyed the way you put this game in the context of the later installments, since that's going to be important to most people who play it for the first time now. I also liked your choice to describe the feeling of playing at various points. For me, how it feels to play is often more important than the technicalities.
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overdrive posted September 14, 2011:

Thanks for the kind words. That was what I set out to do with this one, as I thought it would be more effective to look at this one from the perspective of both the modern CoD games, as well as the MoH ones. So I'm glad it worked!

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