Reviewed: November 1, 2005
Released: October 25, 2005
Call of Duty has just celebrated its second birthday and what better way to celebrate than with a fantastic new sequel. Cleverly titled, Call of Duty 2, Infinity Ward is once again taking us back to the front lines with an all-new engine, non-linear gameplay, improved AI, realistic battle chatter, and some of the best multiplayer warfare you can experience on the PC.
Call of Duty 2 now gives soldiers the freedom to play through missions and complete objectives with much more flexibility giving the entire experience a much less linear feel while maintaining that all-important intensity and cinematic experience. You can play the missions in chronological order, thus recreating the events as they transpired, or opt for certain character-specific adventures in the four campaigns.
Your three campaigns will take you to Stalingrad as a Russian soldier, North Africa as a British infantryman, and Normandy as both a British and a U.S. soldier, but not before you dive into an all-new and totally intense Russian boot camp for some on-the-job training.
The core gameplay hasn’t changed and continues to features some robust keyboard/mouse input that is fully customizable including the now-standard aim-down-the-barrel viewpoint. What has changed is the A.I., both for your squad and the enemy, which now offers a much greater challenge than ever before, so choose your difficulty setting wisely.
The biggest change in A.I. is the “squad awareness” which is communicated through the new “battle chatter” system. More than 25,000 lines of recorded dialogue (taking up as much HD space as the original COD game) will give you continuous and accurate information about your surroundings and the status of your men and that of the enemy. Once the first shot is fired this game turns into total realistic warfare unlike anything you have ever experience, at least in game form.
Missions come in a variety of flavors including assault, which is often followed by lengthy defensive missions where you have to hold the real estate you just captured. The levels are much more wide open now but this is somewhat of a deception. Most alternate paths are merely that, different routes to get to the same place, that gold star on your compass.
Some paths might be safer than others like going through a building rather than down the enemy infested street, and other times you can take stairs to the rooftops for some sniping action. Some of the missions take place on huge battlefields with crumbling walls or the occasional tree for cover, and others like the African deserts are totally exposed and require the use of a tank for cover.
Health is now handled with a system that doesn’t rely on you picking up first-aid kits or finding a medic. You can take one or two good hits before the screen turns red indicating that further hits will likely kill you. Just duck behind cover and catch your breath and you are ready for action. This is a great system that doesn’t have you on a perpetual fetch quest for the next health pack.
The save system is equally intuitive, so intuitive you don’t even have to think about it. The game auto-saves after every major objective, but even more importantly, it auto-saves at other times where the game “thinks” you got a raw deal. There was one place where I got ambushed and the game restarted me right there even though I was far from a checkpoint, and another time I accidentally shot my own man (a game ending offense) and it restarted me just a few seconds before the offending shot.
Call of Duty 2 is surprisingly intense, so much I often found myself sweating and even gripping my mouse so tightly my hand started to hurt. There is so much going on at all times with men running around and guns firing, and the battle chatter system truly creates an overwhelming sense of being in the middle of a war.
The various campaigns not only change up the character you are playing but also the environments and even the weapon set, so gameplay continues to get refreshed about every 8-10 missions. You’ll also get thrown into the seat of a couple of tanks, the turret on a halftrack, and ride shotgun on a few jeep convoys for some of those classically intense on-rail shooters. Not all of the vehicles are on rails and there is a lengthy and challenging tank mission about halfway through the game that you will want to replay just for the fun of it.
The presentation is flawless with all of the historic flavor of the first game and then some thanks to authentic footage provided by the Military Channel. There are also recorded speeches and each splash screen has some sort of war-related quote from an historic figure. These range from inspiring to something you might find in a fortune cookie.
Missions are prefaced with an open diary that tells you where and when you are fighting and even the weather conditions, and of course a bit of back story for the character and upcoming mission. This is a clever way to hide the load screens, but even more surprising was that the game often loaded before I could even finish the first page. Thankfully, the game requires a mouse click to advance through these pages.
Visually, I can’t think of a better PC war game out there. This game is simply stunning, both in the detail and the gritty realism. The screen is almost always coated in a dusty layer of dirt and smoke, which realistically affects your visibility. When you get a group of tanks rolling across the desert you won’t be able to see more than 100-feet in any direction.
New to the sequel is the smoke grenade, once a user-created mod, now fully integrated into the game with some of the best visual smoke I have ever seen in a game…EVER! The volumetric properties of this smoke is totally realistic allowing you to get nose to nose with an enemy before you can even see them. Concealment adds a whole new level of strategy to the gameplay.
There are multiple instances within the game where you are required to use smoke. Sometimes you need to conceal your flanking maneuver as you circle your target or sometimes you need to sprint across a courtyard without getting hammered by that MG42 in the tower.
The graphics just don’t stop at the smoke though. There is fully rendered weather effects along with night and day missions, all with realistic lighting, and dynamic shadows. The snowfall in the Russian levels was totally realistic. And the lighting…there was one sequence where you are creeping through a large pipeline and the soldiers below start shooting at you. Bullet holes tear through the metal creating laser-like beams of light that crisscross through the pipe. I was speechless.
Shadows play a very important role. I was sneaking through a narrow alley and approaching a blind corner when I sported the shadow of an enemy soldier being cast on the wall to my left. I was able to pop out around the right corner and totally get the drop on him.
Textures are rich and realistic and pop off the screen with bump mapping. Call of Duty 2 is as close to photo-realistic as I have seen with any game to date. Character models have been greatly improved, not only their ultra-realistic uniforms and weapons, but also the faces, expressions, and somewhat accurate lip-synching. Vehicles are back and realistically modeled and handle with appropriate physics.
Call of Duty was the first 7.1 surround sound game I owned and the reason I have a better sound system on my PC than my 5.1 home theater. That epic sound is back, and with an Audigy sound card and a good set of surround speakers you won’t believe your ears.
The acting is all professionally done, featuring several actors from the Band of Brothers movie as well as authentic German and Russian actors to deliver their portions of the battle chatter experience. If it were any more real it would be educational.
The battle chatter system not only immerses you in the battle, but if you keep your ears open you can often get valuable clues. Sure, you’ll hear a lot of “I’m reloading…cover me”, but you’ll also hear, “sniper in the red building – second story window” or “MG42 on the roof”. It’s these calls that, much like intelligent play-by-play in a sports game, really add to the overall experience.
The three campaigns span 27 lengthy missions, each with numerous objectives, many of which you can approach in the order of your choosing. This all combines to provide the typical gamer 15-25 hours of solid gameplay, but we cannot forget the multiplayer component, perhaps the single biggest reason thousands of people are still playing this game today.
Call of Duty 2 features a wealth of multiplayer games modes including all the traditional team and versus modes, CTF, search and destroy, headquarters, and others. There is already a very strong online community for this sequel and I got a chance to play some serious online matches and test all of the game modes.
I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but the sequel is even more fun than the original. They even kept the “kill cam” so you can relive the moments leading up to your death through the eyes of your killer.
With more campaigns and the larger and non-linear missions and objective structure, Call of Duty 2 is easily much more than the original. It is a finely tuned work of art with so much research and attention to detail incorporated into it that action gamers will become totally immersed in the unrelenting experience of brutal combat.
I’ve walked away from a few lengthy sessions a bit glazed over and even slightly numb. The game just grabs you and sucks you into the battle and doesn’t let you go until it’s over or you simply just can’t take it anymore.
War might be hell but Call of Duty 2 is pure heaven to play. If you loved the first one then get ready to reenlist for another tour of duty. And for hardcore historians or those who just want something special, check out the deluxe edition with exclusive interviews and behind-the-scenes footage of the game's development.