Call of Duty Review
Developer: Infinity Ward
Reviewed on PC
Windows System Requirements: Pentium III 700 MHz, 128 MB RAM, 32 MB 3D video card, 2 GB HD space, 8x CD-ROM
"In war, no one fights alone." Call of Duty follows soldiers attacking Nazi Germany's Eastern and Western fronts, giving gamers control of individual soldiers – but as part of the massive forces that ultimately won the war. Participate in individual missions that run the gamut from moments before the D-Day invasion to sinking a German battleship to joining the Soviet infantry rushing machine gun nests in the Battle for Stalingrad.
Infinity Ward, the developer of Call of Duty, was formed by twenty-two members of the team that created Medal of Honor: Allied Assault (MoH:AA). MoH:AA advanced the art of storytelling in games, plunging gamers deep into the role of U.S. Ranger Lt. Mike Powell in Operation Overlord. Now the team has started a new franchise with Activision that continues telling tales of World War II. But this time, the team strives to pull the focus away from the heroics of individual soldiers, and to demonstrate that victory is a team effort. The player controls American and British paratroopers as well as a Soviet foot soldier, all battling as part of units (or even as part of the entire Soviet front).
Call of Duty is a worthy successor and refinement of MoH:AA – exactly what you would expect from the same team a year and a half after MoH:AA's release. The best thing about Call of Duty is the narrative. Infinity Ward has created a string of tales that move at the blinding pace of combat, engulfing the player in raging battles between small groups of soldiers, facing the perils of armored vehicles and entrenched defenses. As a U.S. paratrooper, you drop behind enemy lines to prepare for the D-Day invasion that is only hours away. As part of the Soviet infantry, you are hurried into combat in Stalingrad with commissars holding guns at your back to ensure that no soldier takes even one step back. As inauspicious as it may be to be rushed into the meat grinder of machine gun fire in Stalingrad both poorly armed and under-prepared, you ultimately and triumphantly raise the Soviet flag over the Reichstag in Berlin.
The game keeps the pace frenetic by offering heavily scripted missions and objectives that sweep you along, punctuated by artillery and mortar fire that keeps you moving should you pause too long. In all cases, there is a linear path from the start to the finish of each mission, but each is carefully crafted. The levels are populated with allies and foes that send you rushing forward and herd you along, making the required path seem like a logical and necessary progression. Enemies will pick up hurled grenades to toss them back at you, but the drama and difficulty relies on the clever placement and scripting of your foes rather than brilliant artificial intelligence. The only thing that interrupts the pace and drama of the game is the occasional need to restore a previous checkpoint in the game if you are killed. This can break the tension a bit during moments like the Battle for Stalingrad, especially as you try to learn the safe path to make it through scathing machine gun fire.
Typically, your comrades in arms and the Nazi foe will pin each other down, taking potshots from behind cover, or just taking shelter from waves of machine gun fire. While the battle will eventually progress with or without you, you can turn the tide by sniping a machine-gun team or flanking the enemy and giving your comrades the edge in numbers. The more of your allies you can keep alive, the easier the missions will be (especially at higher difficulty levels). Again, the emphasis is that you are but a part of a massive force, performing discrete (but important) tasks. Infinity Ward still wants to focus on heroism, but the heroism of every individual soldier as he contributes to the war effort.
Call of Duty is designed to give you plenty of opportunities for individual heroism. Partial cover is everywhere, and is vital to your survival. You need to creep from cover to cover until you reach a strategic point from which to strike at the enemy. Cover can be creative – in addition to the usual rocks, trenches and demolished walls, there are cows killed by recent artillery fire. In a testament to the exceptional sound of Call of Duty, you can snipe while prone from behind the cover of a fallen cow while a spray of bullets from a machine gun nest rapidly percuss the carcass with a drum roll of meaty thuds. All of that is accompanied by a soundtrack that turns triumphant when you finally clear the nest of Nazis. Taking careful advantage of cover while continuing to move can help you play the key roles that will enable your squad to complete its objectives, and ultimately help the allies win the war.
The game explores a few conventions to keep the action streamlined and moving. Taking a cue from titles such as Halo, in addition to your pistol and grenades, you can only carry two large weapons at a time. You are, however, able to switch either of those for scavenged weapons at any time. This requires a little strategic thinking to make sure you are well prepared for upcoming encounters. An interesting decision was the choice to not allow players to open doors. It seems odd, at first, but ultimately speeds play. If a door needs to be opened, it will be sprung upon you by angry Nazis, or kicked open by your squad-mates. This device ultimately saves players from checking every door in sight, meaning that the buildings have realistic designs without forcing players to figure out which door leads to an objective.
As in MoH:AA, missions beyond running and gunning introduce variety. At regular intervals, you'll end up manning large, stationary guns, riding shotgun (or Thompson submachine gun) in a French car, or even hopping into the back of a truck with a copious supply of Panzerfaust anti-tank weapons. Late in the game you'll take command of a Soviet tank, cruising along while coping with German Panzers. The tanks will even knock down trees with a ponderous creak if you swing your tracks too close.
Just as MoH:AA presented a brilliant single-player campaign and adequate multiplayer, Call of Duty's multiplayer plays second fiddle to the rich narrative of the single-player game. The multiplayer game is competently executed, but fails to surpass the truly exceptional alternatives available. There are a variety of game options available, but players have a choice of four weapons (availability depends on nationality) rather than diverse team roles. Also, everyone fights on foot. The game types are Deathmatch (the standard free-for-all); Team Deathmatch (the same, but with two sides); Search & Destroy (one side must destroy objectives that the other side defends); Retrieval (capture the flag); and Behind Enemy Lines (in which a small number of Allied troops are pitted against hordes of Axis players).
Overall, the various play modes (particularly the last three) are entertaining, but don't have the longevity of multiplayer games such as Battlefield 1942. The major problem with multiplayer as it currently stands is that weapons are extremely lethal (like their real-world counterparts). Because of this, many multiplayer matches devolve into sniper vs. sniper matches where death is always instant, and strategy is limited to how far forward you can run before you have to go prone with your rifle. The one particularly nice touch in multiplayer is that when you die, you are treated to a brief replay of the action from the perspective of your killer. This can help you learn the locations of snipers or discover previously unseen approaches.
Ultimately, the only disappointment with the single-player campaign is its brevity. The whole single-player game can be completed in a day. A well-plotted and carefully constructed but short game is infinitely preferable to a long, sloppy title. At the same time, we all would have appreciated a few more missions in the single player campaign. That said, the single-player campaign alone is worth the purchase price, making the multiplayer just a bonus.