Call of Duty: United Offensive is a two-headed beast. On the one hand, it’s simply more Call of Duty – with those movie-like battles that only let up on the action to set you up, show off some special effects or reward you with a victory speech. On the other hand, it completely changes multiplayer. I haven’t ever seen another expansion change the multiplayer game so much from the original formula – unless we’re counted stand-alone expansions like Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic.
It’s remarkable how closely Gray Matter Studios was able to follow Infinity Ward’s lead for producing the single player experience. As with the core title, the player is put into three campaigns as an American, British and Russian soldier. The game throws you into various historically-based settings, such as fighting on the outskirts of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge, or going after hapless German Elefant tank-destroyers during the Battle of Kursk.
Although it’s a stretch to call the gameplay realistic – you do face hordes
of enemies in multiple waves, it does feel very authentic. It’s really all about the dozens of small touches that have been implemented. Many of these are about mere frosting, like helmets plopping off after headshots, having to aim down the sight of a gun, and the authentic uniforms and very realistic sound effects. The sound effects have been left alone, but Gray Matter has introduced a great smoke system with United Offensive. In fact, this may be the best smoke ever.
However, much of United Offensive’s “authenticity” about how the levels are structured and even the objectives themselves. Perhaps it’s merely my personal bias, since I did enjoy this very thing in FreeSpace 2 very much, but the game is enjoyable precisely because you’re a nobody. Oh sure, in Call of Duty the characters have names, but the player is never put in the role of officer or responsible for saving the world. The actions he takes lead to significant tactical contributions and sometimes the missions have strategic consequences, but these are all objectives that could have – and often were – accomplished historically.
The amount of enemies the player mows through is huge but not to the point of ridiculousness – it’s not something that throws itself into your face other than in the B-17 mission where there’s even a score card. The presence of the squad is really vital in maintaining the illusion of believability, as is the mission structure. Every objective the player goes after has a concrete plan – some might call it a railroad path – to victory. On the one hand, this can be annoying if you want more freedom, but overall the effect is of a much tighter and focused experience. Furthermore, the plans and events are made to be very believable, like the objectives are. Squads are sent down the left, right and center of a village, clearing it out house by house. Your commando team approaches a bunker as quietly as possible in order to get within grenade range without alerting the guards and their machine gunner. All in all, it’s a very convincing experience and highly enjoyable.
Unfortunately, it feels like development was rushed just a little bit. There are a few scripting bugs we found, but it happened with enough consistency to decide that United Offensive is just a little less polished than its gleaming white predecessor. Typically your team leader refuses to kick open a door or gate as he’s supposed to, enemies pop in from areas they shouldn’t be in, or ignore and are ignored by your squad mates, waiting only for you. It doesn’t happen very often, but like a small dirt stain on an otherwise perfectly white shirt, it stands out.