Reviewed: November 7, 2005
Released: November 1, 2005
Call of Duty 2: Big Red One continues in the long line of WW2 shooters, from the grandparent Wolfenstien (and the subsequent Return.), to the more recent Medal of Honor series, where some of the Call of Duty developers cut their teeth. Even more recently, Ubisoftís Brothers in Arms added a new layer of strategy and squad-management to the mix.
But, what sets Call of Duty apart from these previous games, besides the enhanced graphics/sound, is the impeccable scripting that places you firmly in the boots of a regular G.I. And in this installment, youíre enlisted with the famed 1st Infantry Division, aka ďThe Big Red One.Ē The movie, under the same name, stars Mark Hamil, and the classic Lee Marvin, as ďThe SergeantĒ, does decent job of depicting their long journey over the course of the war.
Why you ask was it given such an interesting name? Well, to put it bluntly, they lost over twenty thousand men, but also earned 16 Medals of Honor and thousands of other awards. It is one of the most decorated, respected and honored groups in American history.
Well, the only real obvious knock on Big Red One is that we have all been here before. While that doesnít mean the action isnít strong enough to fend off the boredom, the lack of originality is starting to wear a bit thin for me personally. If I have to storm another beach, take out another set of artillery, or blow up a secret German installation, well, I think Iíll commit myself. That rambling aside, the gameplay is still worthy of praise.
The mission design is varied and full of off the wall events, that are seamlessly integrated into the fighting. They are brought together by another excellent storyline, complete with little segments linking the battles. You will battle through Sicily, Central Europe and the exotic locals of North Africa, to name just a few war-torn hot spots. You have to be flexible in your play style though.
Treyarch mixes it up, from assaulting bunkers, to manning machine gun nests, you will be all over the field making widows. You really canít be Rambo here though; you have to move with your group, use cover, corner shots, and precise aiming to win the day. Your friendly A.I., and the A.I. in general, is a bit thickheaded at times, running through clear lines of fire, toss grenades on themselves and just plain missing the broadside of a barn. So, while I did say you donít have to toe it alone, it like Doom or something, you still have to kill your fair share of enemies.
Besides your fellow soldiers watching your back, you can also wield some pretty deadly weapons. You have your assortment of rifles, the M1 Garand, Kar 98, Springfield scoped, as well as the close range Thompson and MP-40 sub guns. Nothing can clear a room, like a fully loaded Tommy, chewing .45 caliber holes through people, and furniture, alike. Rounding these out are some new rocket launchers, heavy machine guns and even tanks, which you can use to blow large chunks out of, well anything that stands in your way.
This isnít Quake or anything; you need to be patient and use your iron sights, not just bunny hop your way through an open door, splashing rocket damage all over. Thatís just a recipe for disaster here. I preferred to soften up the areas with a few grenades, and then bust in with some sub-machine gun bursts in all corners, sweeping left and right until everything ceases to move. You have to be especially crafty versus the enemy tanks, working up to their weak spots with your Bazookaís and whatnot.
Control wise, you have similar controls like most FPS shooters these days, with a few exceptions. The right face buttons correspond to crouching, going prone, chucking a grenade, or thwomping someone in the face with your melee attack. The d-pad is reserved for switching weapons, and leaning around corners, something oh so important when faced with a plethora of entrenched baddies.
I recall a time when the lean thing was so innovative, now I canít imagine playing a game without it. I mean honestlyÖ. who in the natural world jumps out from behind a corner, fully exposed, and sprays down lead? You stick even your pinky out there, and it's shot to bits. Of course you can tweak them to your hearts content, but the basic load out works pretty dang good from the start.
Graphically, this is still a great looking game on an older engine. The character models are some of the best around, with all the various kits, tools, weapons and whatnot, extremely detailed and historically accurate. They even throw in little touches like smears of dirt, rips or personal names on rucksacks. Vehicle models share this attention to detail too, from specific markings for tanks and aircraft, to the sheen of metal, itís all here, and glorious at that.
The explosion and weapons effects are also top-notch, literally erupting your entire screen in shrapnel, smoke and the infamous head shake/ears ringing concussive effect. The PS2 can still pump out the particle effects pretty steadily, some of these scenes rage on and on, combing armored vehicles, planes and tons of footsloggers.
The environments are also again solid-as usual. They can range from the arid deserts of North Africa, to the urban sprawls of Germany, as you march towards the Rhine, and eventually, Berlin. Most are pretty linear, something attributed more to the scripting than anything else, but they still donít seem overly restrictive. You wonít find too many artificial boundaries or anythingÖbut GTA this is not.
Awesome. Stunning. Remarkable. Overwhelming. I donít have enough adjectives to describe how amazing (ok one more) the sound is for Call of Duty 2. The weapons and other ambient effects will floor you, guns resoundingly crack, tanks rumble, and airplanes thunder overhead. Even the subtler sounds, like running through broken glass or rubble, or pulling the pin on a grenade, will totally immerse you into the savage, but oddly beautiful, world of combat.
The voice work is again realistic and fitting, itís never overdone or overly cheesy either. It adds some depth to your squad mates, as you fight house to house, valley to valley and so on. Lastly, the soundtrack is Oscar worthy. Robust, full-bodied rising orchestral pieces, sweep your body and soul into the drama.
Call of Duty 2 will keep you busy for a day or two of steady play, but you donít really feel the need to replay the missions over again. This is mainly due to the heavy scripting involved; itís a wild ride the first time, just not so great thereafter, once the key surprise factor is gone.
Thankfully, there is a fully supported online mode, from Team Deathmatch, regular Deathmatch (free for all) and Capture the Flag. With the dynamics of live opponents, the action is intensified tenfold, as you and up to 15 others duke it out. There are some minor lag issues, and bugs in multiplayer, nothing new to online games, although I think some of the more virgin console gamers may be taken aback.
Call of Duty 2: Big Red One is another strong showing for the extensive WW2 shooter genre, and coupled with the equally diverse WW2 strategy games, adds to itís overall legacy to provide an outstanding backdrop for titles. The graphics are solid, the sound is off the charts, and the gameplay is absorbing, but this still does feel like more of the same.
Hopefully the Call of Duty series will either find a new era of warfare to address or simply retire gracefully from here, and fade away like most great warriors do.