Call of Duty 3 (Xbox 360) review
"Unlike its predecessor, I can’t remember many dramatic, pivotal battles from Call of Duty 3. This time, instead of dipping in and out of the war, you take part in the Normandy Breakout. CoD 3 attempts to involve you in this extended conflict by using lengthy cut-scenes to push forward its story. I still don’t care about the names, though! I would’ve rather listened to a History Channel interlude on the state of the battle than a Scottish SAS man insult a French resistant fighter. Save the heroes and villains for Spielberg, Treyarch. "
I can’t remember any of the soldiers that appeared in Call of Duty 2. Names weren’t important –- it was the bloody, noisy battles in abandoned villages and muddy trenches that were etched into my memory by the hellish Veteran campaign. I can recall in vivid detail the snowy, desolate streets of Stalingrad, the storm-lashed quagmire of Pointe du Hoc, and The Battle for Hill 400.
Unlike its predecessor, I can’t remember many dramatic, pivotal battles from Call of Duty 3. This time, instead of dipping in and out of the war, you take part in the Normandy Breakout. Call of Duty 3 attempts to involve you in this extended conflict by using lengthy cut-scenes to push forward its story. I still don’t care about the names, though! I would’ve rather listened to a History Channel report on the state of the battle than a Scottish SAS man throw insults at a French resistant fighter. Save the heroes and villains for Spielberg, Treyarch.
These scenes can’t be avoided, so every time you start a level (even if you saved at a checkpoint) you have to watch them in their entirety. Call of Duty 3 jumps from nation to nation, too – one minute you’re Canadian, then the next you’re Polish, or British, or American. You never stay with one army for much longer than a mission, which is jarring because the theatrical cut-scenes confuse the overall picture. When you’ve been shell-shocked by another torturous mission, it’s hard to pay attention to an unoriginal, tacked-on plot. Soon you’ll be lost in France.
The battle to close the Falaise Gap may be short on any truly memorable events, but struggling through rural France is an experience in itself. The terrain is far more open and exposed than in Call of Duty 2, where empty houses and nice thick walls were never far away. As you hurry across fields under heavy storm clouds and wade through a deep, murky river-valley with no cover from the rain or (more worryingly) German rifles, the consequences of this become all too clear. On Veteran (is there any other way to play Call of Duty?) there are precious few hiding places and an awful lot of enemy respawn points. How safe are you behind a crumbling wall at the bottom of an Axis artillery point?
Before you can scramble to sturdier cover, or retreat, you hear the dreaded clink clink... GRENADE! In Call of Duty 3 backing away does not save your life, not when the grenade demolishes what was left of the wall.
As early as the second level you’re faced with a hopeless situation. Just how do you stay alive when the only cover you have is an Allied tank, and German infantry, supported by unrelenting artillery fire, are surging forward? No matter how watchful you are, nothing can protect you from a bullet in the back of the head. But it gets worse! Imagine this: your regiment heads down a path in the country with steep banks and overgrown bushes obscuring your view on either side. You look ahead – there’s an opening to the right. Before you reach the end of the road a truck comes hurtling into sight, tipping over and exploding just as the guns commence firing. The instant you emerge from behind the leaves you’re in the sights of the Germany army. With no cover.
Call of Duty 2 on Veteran was hardly easy, yet you could be fairly sure that you were safe when tucked up behind a wall. From here you could launch an offensive when you felt ready to move. When Germans are destroying walls and pinning you down behind hay bales (HAY BALES!), measured advance is impossible. Before you can worry about taking out artillery guns or planting explosive charges, you need to move. Fast! The only way to survive in such a treacherous environment is to advance (somehow) and drive the enemy back.
This is what Call of Duty is all about, though: making incisions in the brutal, oppressive Axis defence through calculated risk. The sense of achievement when you successfully clear out German positions is immense, as is the feeling of relief when you see “checkpoint reached” flash up on screen. This isn’t a sight you’ll see too often, though. Checkpoints are spread too far out, so you’ll be reduced to a quivering wreck as you advance further and the punishment for death becomes greater. To make matters worse, there are several small yet irritating glitches that hinder your progress now and again, such as getting stuck in debris, shot through walls and lining up the perfect shot only to watch the German turn and gun you down without even flinching.
Call of Duty 3 is not as impressive or refined as its predecessor -– sure, its persistent, grim atmosphere is a constant reminder of the desperate conditions in which this campaign was waged and the noise is deafening. However, the structure of this episode is much less inspiring than Call of Duty 2’s three-act set-up. Victory came more regularly with three different campaigns and the change in scenery kept the adventure fresh. When you become bogged down in the muddy French countryside, stuck on the same frustrating section, it’s harder to find the strength to persevere. The only incentive you have to carry on is more French countryside.
And yet, despite all the niggling faults, it’s still Call of Duty.
The intense gameplay that underpins this tremendous series is still mostly intact: nervously peaking out from cover, charging forward while soldiers collapse dead alongside you, squeezing the left trigger to lock onto Germans and killing them with one rifle bullet... Grenades can even been thrown back now, which causes even more panic!
No other game does war quite as vividly as this. It’s linear to a fault, but there’s freedom in how you approach the missions, especially when the environments are as open as they are in Call of Duty 3. Everything and anything provides makeshift cover as you struggle forward, deeper into hostile territory. This ever-present vulnerability pushes the series even closer to real-life because you never feel secure. I can’t remember the names of the characters and I can’t remember any outstanding battles, but what I will remember is this pervading mood –- the torrential rain, muddy fields and forlorn ruins of this devastated country.
I can only play in short bursts before my enthusiasm for this harsh and unchanging realism wanes, but Call of Duty 3 is not a failure. Flawed maybe, but underneath any design errors lies a nervy, manic and hugely atmospheric recreation of World War II that is bettered only by one game.
Staff review by Freelance Writer (November 24, 2006)
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