Call of Duty 2
To say that I anticipated Call of Duty 2 is a bit of an understatement. I absolutely loved the original Call of Duty, so I had incredibly high hopes for the sequel and as soon as the first screenshots came out for it, I instantly proclaimed that the game was going to be incredibly awesome and told everyone about it. Some of my best quotes were “it looks like Activision has succeeded in making a better sequel” and “the smoke effects are beyond words.” Yeah, I was enthusiastic, to say the least, but now the sequel has finally been released and I’ve had a few days to plow my way through swarms of Nazi soldiers. You’re probably wondering if the game lived up to my expectations.
The short answer: mostly. The long answer: read on.
Once again assume the roles of a Russian, British, and American soldier as they fight to defeat the Third Reich. The game opens in Russia, late in the German campaign and takes you through the battered streets of Stalingrad, then moves on to Africa, where the British are fighting to push Rommel and his tank divisions out of the desert. The game closes with the American campaign, beginning on D-Day and continuing on as the American soldiers plow through a series of towns until the game ends 6 to 8 hours later.
Yep, like the first Call of Duty, the sequel is still a little too short for my liking. In fact, Call of Duty 2 doesn’t stray much from the original formula at all, really. You could even go so far as calling this Call of Duty 1.5, especially if you’re running the game on a computer that can’t handle the major graphical changes, because it even looks exactly the same if you don’t turn on all the fancy effects. With the exception of the newly included smoke grenades and some vehicle sequences, you’re going to be hard pressed to find any huge changes to the gameplay. If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it, as they say, but when they don’t fix it, it’s hard to come up with something new to say about it.
The gameplay “breaks” down typically for this type of game: you’re given your objective, completing it reveals another problem that needs to be addressed, the problem is addressed, and then the Germans try to take back whatever you took while you’re left with your squad to defend it (it typically being a bunker or a hill or a house). It feels less rigidly scripted (occasionally, you can complete a series of objectives in any order), but at the same time, the game felt a lot more linear than I remember Call of Duty feeling. The scripting works well at creating a combat atmosphere, but I came across a broken script in the game that required me to completely restart the level to progress. There seem to be more artificial barriers in your way this time around, which is possibly because they tried to make the game feel more wide-open than in Infinity Ward’s last outing.
As for the tweaks, the most major one is probably the new health system, which takes a style similar to Halo. Essentially, if you get shot at, you just need to run away, hide from your enemies for a few seconds (somewhere around fifteen) and then you’re good as new. There’s no health bar; the screen just gets red and you start to breathe a little heavier. What happens to all those bullets, I’m not sure, but I hope our heroes have good health plans that cover lead poisoning. I found that while this system allowed for some more heroic attempts (like running into the middle of a field filled with Germans and take out as many as you can and then hiding), it didn’t convey any sense of realism. There’s no real penalty for not rushing at any moment.
The second substantial addition is the previously mentioned smoke grenades, the ones I praised so heavily in some of my early commentary on the game. These work surprisingly well. Laying down a series of smoke grenades as you approach an enemy bunker is an effective way to avoid their fire while trying to take it head-on. Finally, to wrap up this list, the inclusion of an incredible tank segment where you tear up the desert with your treads while plowing through Rommel’s Afrika Korps was quite awesome. I would have liked to have spent a little longer behind the wheel of another vehicle, but alas, all good things must come to an end (in this case, an abrupt one).
Even if these additions seem plentiful on paper, they really aren’t in the game. It’s not per say a bad thing; it’s just a little disappointing. I would have liked to have seen some more substantial new ideas, rather than just a few gameplay tweaks. Here are three things they could have included: levels set around Japan, levels set in Italy and levels where you play as the Germans. I’m not even a game developer and those seem like obvious inclusions that would have set this apart from its predecessor. It’s still a great, entertaining game, but it just doesn’t feel like a sequel.
Of course, there are still a lot of great moments. In one level, I had to defend the top of Hill 400 from an attack from all sides by the Germans. It was incredibly intense. The enemy was firing artillery at me and my men from off in the distance while their tanks and half-tracks were tearing my boys to shreds. I couldn’t stand in one spot for too long without getting destroyed; I quickly ran out of ammo for my guns and had to scrounge up any weapon dropped near me to fend them off. It was a pretty intense level, to say the least. The intensity level is also upped by some smart AI that will attempt to flank you and will brutally beat you back with the butt of their gun if you get too close.
As I mentioned earlier, a new graphics engine is packed along with the six discs you’re going to be spending twenty minutes installing. Provided your computer is capable (mine really isn’t), you can have some of the best graphics I’ve ever seen in a World War II shooter. The textures are incredible, the detail, the smoke effects, everything at near perfection. Smoke billows out of smoke grenades slowly and swirls around, gradually filling an area with an intense cloud. If a Nazi soldier were a foot away from you, you wouldn’t be able to see him.
If you’re in my position with a less-than-perfect computer, you’re in luck: the game will run with what is essentially the graphics engine from the first game. Everything still looks good, just not nearly as glossy. The same orchestrated tunes from nearly every World War II movie have once again been brought back and are turned on whenever the developers feel the need to make you feel like you’re awesome, like right after defending a fort from a massive German onslaught from all sides. It works, as do the sound effects for the weapons and the voices of your brothers in arms.
Call of Duty 2 is by no means a bad game, at all. It’s a great game, actually, and if you’ve never played the first one and you move straight into this one, you’ll probably want to give it a “ten out of ten” yourself. For me, I was a little disappointed. Maybe I was a victim of my own expectations, but I really think it comes down to the fact that this game is essentially Call of Duty with a few bells-and-whistles. While I certainly can’t criticize that game, I find it hard to swallow a sequel that does little in terms of improving the core gameplay, is still too short, and costs fifty dollars. If you loved Call of Duty, it’s not like you aren’t going to like the game. You just might be a little disappointed.