Call of Duty: United Offensive
Last year, we followed Infinity Ward as they stormed the dugouts of the WWII shooter genre with Call of Duty and promptly put a bullet through Medal of Honor‘s head. They moved quickly and with force, with little resistance at all coming from the EA camp. No backup came, no-one dared to challenge their position. When we took a glance over the earthworks, it was a little surprising to see that everyone else had just bolted it and run away to the jungles of Vietnam and the deserts of The Gulf. Having secured their position and begun work on a new weapon, Infinity Ward have sent their fellow soldiers Gray Matter over the top to retrieve some more ammunition before the next assault eventually comes. Call of Duty: United Offensive is what they’ve brought back and it’s more than enough to keep us busy until reinforcements arrive. Fall in private and we’ll tell you all about it.
Essentially, United Offensive builds on the strengths of Call of Duty and the first department to receive a boost is the singleplayer mode. 13 missions have been added here, subdivided into miniature campaigns. The Americans face the German assault at the Battle of the Bulge, the British attack Sicily and the Russians fight the greatest armoured battle of the war at Kursk. As you’d expect, some scenarios are obviously influenced by Spielberg, Hanks and co., while others seem to be completely original.
The original Call of Duty added on-rail vehicle-based missions in which you shot out of a moving car and commanded a tank to the the first-person-shooter staple that it so effectively supplied. United Offensive develops this idea, including a particularly impressive bombing run mission in which you act as a gunner in a B-17 bomber over Europe and a ship combat leg in a Sicily mission. Like the original, this ensures that you’re given some variety in what you play. Of course, the main aspect of the gameplay is again played on foot and this is where it thrives.
As before, the campaign levels are again highly scripted and linear, based on countless set pieces. When you move into an area, an event will be triggered and then once it’s done, nothing will happen until you move on to the next section of the level. It sounds very restrictive and obvious, but the way in which the whole game pulls together to create an intense, action-rich atmosphere is superb. Again the boundaries are blurred and every effort is made to give the illusion that you’re part of something bigger and less controlled. “In war, no one fights alone” is Call of Duty‘s returning tagline, highlighting the squad based nature of missions. In every level you’re accompanied by fellow soldiers and even though you have no control over them, they prove to be a valuable aid. Apart from lending a hand in firefights, they indicate where you should move next and give a sense of camaraderie to events.
United Offensive also makes a few basic additions to the gameplay as you’d expect. Some machine guns are now portable and you can deploy them wherever you need. Flamethrowers are also included, as is the new ability to sprint. Although these aid in making the singleplayer experience that little bit different from the last outing, it remains shamefully short and can be finished in a matter of days. Thankfully, plenty of effort has been put into the multiplayer side of the game and this is where the bulk of the replay value lies.
11 new levels have been added, outsizing the previous ones by quite a way in order to make space for the new vehicular combat. Tanks and jeeps can now be driven around the maps, which adds another dimension to the multiplayer and moves it another step towards the hugely popular dynamics of Battlefield 1942. Tanks now counter the threat of snipers, yet can be taken out by the adequate anti-tank weapons which populate the battlefields. A rewards system has also been put in place, with skillful players earning more grenades when they start and ultimately the right to use binoculars to direct artillery strikes onto your opposition.
On top of this, three new multiplayer modes have been included; Domination, Capture the Flag and Base Assault. The former is very similar to the conquest mode in Battlefield 1942, where your objectives are to take and hold certain points on the map. It doesn’t seem to be as fun to play as in Battlefield though, whose more rounded gameplay suits it better. Base Assault and Capture the Flag are fairly self explanatory and should quickly become popular with fans of the original.
The graphics and audio are essentially unchanged from the original game, with both combining well to provide a well polished Hollywood-esque experience. The visuals have stood the test of time well and although the likes of Far Cry are with us, they doesn’t look that dated at all. Simple graphical effects are used well to enhance the bulk of the visuals and the number of characters on screen is often impressive. The excellent voice acting and sound effects also return adding that extra layer of authenticity to an already cinematic game. Call of Duty still looks and feels the same, but that’s nevertheless a very good thing.
United Offensive expands on what made Call of Duty so popular with fans of the genre. Gray Matter have used the opportunity to try out some new ideas, some of which – the bombing raid for example – work very well, while retaining the overall feel of the original game. It re-establishes the game’s hold on the WWII shooter sub-genre and although it may not be worth a purchase for the singleplayer alone, the multiplayer makes it a worthy addition to any collection.