Summary: Call of Duty is the big hit from Activision and Infinity Ward (pretty cool company name, dontcha think?) Jakub, not only did he play Deus Ex 2 while we just got to look at 15 measly screenshots, also got to review Call of Duty. How generous of him, to provide 70 screens of a game we already have! Well, actually, yeah, that is pretty generous...
But what would we do without Nazis? Weíd be stuck fighting mere terrorists, or worse, zombies, pirates and ninjas. There have been so many first-person shooters based on World War II released and so many more planned, that itís a little difficult to get excited about Call of Duty, isnít it?
Killing Nazis on all three sides
Call of Duty pits the player against, of course, Nazi forces. Unlike Medal of Honor, however, you rarely end up going it alone, and get to fight as an American, Brit and Russian soldier. Youíll fight in Operation Overlord, the Battle of the Bulge, Stalingrad and seize the Reichstag (the German Parliament building) to complete victory.
Other innovations that OF and VC introduced also make their way into Call of Duty. Although a reticle is available and the player can shoot from the hip, the aim is atrocious (especially during movement). Rather, most shots at any distance are taken by aiming through the real gun sights on the barrel, so-called ďiron sightsĒ. Itís difficult to overestimate the profound effect this small change has on realism. Youíre not looking through an artificial cursor at an artificial target, youíre looking down the barrel of a very realistic gun. That lends the target much more realism, especially when he drops to the ground in a realistic fashion, struggles to get up before being shot dead with a second blast.
SIDEBAR: How real is too real?
This is the last hurrah of the Quake III: Arena engine, and boy, does it look good. Itís really hard to believe that Q3A is four years old this December, especially when modified as greatly as in Call of Duty. Although itís clearly no Doom III or even a Half-Life 2, CoD is definitely one of the most impressive games this year. Anyone who doesnít find himself holding his breath on their first approach to Stalingrad should have their eyes checked.
Everything is lavishly detailed, the overall effect is so grandiose itís almost baroque. The guns, uniforms, objects, vehicles and explosions are pushing the engine to its limits. One quick look at the Call of Duty benchmarks gives you an idea of how much more punishment CoD puts on a video card and especially CPU than Quake III does. And all that performance is used to create the details that populate the world. Trees, bushes, grass, your fellows and enemies (be they AI or human) are all exquisitely rendered.
There could certainly be improvements; the game could take advantage of pixel shaders more, but weíre hard-pressed to really find any complaints at all regarding Call of Dutyís visuals. One major error that we noticed, which has terrible consequences for multiplayer, is that the clipping isnít quite right. There are too many times that someoneís body or weapon pokes through a wall, and not only can it be seen, it can be shot!
The maps are huge, staggeringly large in comparison with what most games offer. Burnville starts the player with his squad outside of a burning, and you can see anti-aircraft fire streaking into the air, flak shells exploding Ė all from real platforms and targets present on that same map!
The speech is easily the best of any first-person shooter to date. Activision even spent the extra moola to get some big names to lend their voices to the game. Careful listeners can spot Jason Statham (Snatch, The Transporter) and Giovanni Ribisi (Saving Private Ryan, Gone in 60 Seconds). Other voice actors donít have the same name but are quite talented, like the ubiquitous Steve Blum who most notably did Spike Siegelís voice in the US dub of Cowboy Bebop. Unfortunately, some of the accents are quite clearly fake, especially those of the Russian soldiers.
Weapon effects are simply awe-inspiring, the sheer quantity of effects on the Burnville alone is enough to inspire shell-shock. From the buzzsaw MG42s cutting the night air with their hot lead to the multitude of grenade and flak shell explosions, thereís nary a moment of silence.
Music is the best of any shooter Iíve played. MOHAA always struck me as being generic, while Call of Duty has a certain pizzazz to it. Although, itís too bad that Activision and Infinity Ward missed the opportunity to play the Soviet national anthem during one of the Russian missions.
SIDEBAR: Current tune in Winamp is Summertime in the Void by I Mother Earth.
Call of Duty has the most crisp and precise movement and shooting of any game weíve played. Whereas you might describe Quake and UT as smooth, and Enemy Territory would fit in between, Call of Duty has a great feeling of precision. Indeed, the whole combat aspect is very tactile; itís possible to get a real feel for your guns. Counter-Strike started the trend, but compared to Call of Duty, the feel and control of the guns is quite sloppy. A Kar98 in Call of Duty feels solid, you know youíre going to knock someone on their back with a round from it. A BAR fires slower but more powerful rounds than a MP44 (Sturmgewehr), and the MP40 is more accurate than a Thompson. These arenít things you have to look at stats to realize. With experience and practice, it becomes easy to tell.
And this is the kind of control and combat that Call of Duty brings to the table. The player is still a hitpoint-heavy tank relative to his enemies, but the balance is much closer to being realistic than with Medal of Honor. The addition of allies as alternate targets makes the bullets spread around rather than focus on the lone player, improving the survivability of the player even with less health and deadlier guns.
Such missions to use this incredible combat system on! Call of Duty has the best mission design of any World War II shooter, any realistic shooter ever. If thereís a map that can beat the approach to Stalingrad for sheer impression factor, we havenít found it yet. On Stalingrad youíll turn your eyes to the sky to watch a Stuka come down on a strafing pass against your boat, then finally see the real, 3D ruins of bombed and burnt-out buildings of the city. Rushing up the embankments without a weapon, youíll distract an enemy machine gunner for a sniper, before he shoots the commissar and you both escape to a safer part of town.
There are missions where youíre part of a British commando team, defending a bridge against an Axis assault on both sides, and have to man the lethal 88mm flak gun to destroy oncoming tanks. Youíll get to command a Russian T-34/85 tank, driving it like the BF1942 tanks, against several platoons of Pz IVs. Of course, the best missions are like Brecourt, where youíre running around an open field in search of cover and a vantage point from which to fire your Garand, before diving into the trenches, busting out with the Thompson and clearing out some rooms.
A few weaker missions pop in here and there, but itís nothing that detracts from the overall value of the game.
SIDEBAR: Iím really pleased to see the eastern front being given the serious recognition it deserves. More Russians died during World War II than any other nationality, and they, more than anyone else, beat the Nazis into submission.
Multiplayer is primarily ďsearch and destroyĒ, though retrieval and team deathmatch see a decent amount of servers. Search and Destroy is best thought of as Counter-Strike, where every Allied player has a bomb, every Axis has a defuse kit, bombs have a 60 second counter and the Allies have a very short timeframe in which to plant or clear the Axis troops. So, in a way, SD is rather stale because itís been done billions of times before by Counter-Strike players, though itís much faster than CS. Players are less likely to camp since they all have bombs or defuse kits, and the timer is shorter by default anyhow. The only problem is that if a bomb gets defused, the Allies lose automatically even though all their other players still have dynamite. However, this probably saves balance, since multiple plants could make the game impossible for Axis to win.
Everyone has MUCH less health than they would in singleplayer, the damage output of each gun becomes very realistic. One or two shots at most by a rifle will kill an enemy, and five or six from an SMG will accomplish the same thing. This makes balance tricky, but interesting. Bolt-action rifles that fire one shot every two or three seconds are obviously much weaker than the semi-automatic Garand, but rifles in general hold up well against SMGs and assault rifles like the MP44 or BAR, except in close quarters. The BAR is the gun with the most balance issues, since it inflicts almost as much damage as a Garand or Kar98, but holds 20 rounds, can go fully automatic and has a great sight. The MP44 is noticeably weaker, though its full auto and rate of fire are superior. Sniper rifles are quite powerful, though theyíre not present on many maps that they could be abusive on, such as Brecourt.
Thereís also a great killcam feature, which shows you the last 5-10 seconds of your life, through the point of view of your killer. This has an undeniable cool factor of course, but also has the added benefit of helping players spot cheaters.
Call of Duty has more cheats in the short time since its release than most games have in their lifetime. Hacking is commonplace and obvious, the killcam makes it very clear when someone is tracking you through a wall or puts his gun there at the last moment because heís expecting you.
As we mentioned earlier, there are some bugs that can ruin the multiplayer experience. The worst we personally came in contact with is a clipping bug, where parts of the body would extend through a wall and leave the player visible and open to shots even though he thought he was hidden. Lag control isnít as good as we thought it may be, given Call of Dutyís excellent Quake heritage. Hitting a running character at short-medium range can be surprisingly difficult, as there is more warping than one might expect.
Overall though, Call of Duty feels like a nicer-looking, crisper Counter-StrikeÖ right down to the plague of cheats. Letís hope Activision stops discussing and starts doing soon.
SIDEBAR: Iím awesome with the Kar98.
The similarities to CS, unfortunately, also extend to the domain of the cheaters.
SIDEBAR: The more time I spend with multiplayer, the more I like itÖ despite the cheats.
Even the multiplayer, flawed as it is by a lack of cheat protection, is addicting. Sure, itís all been done before, but Call of Duty really does add that definitive crisp feeling, that sureness about your weaponís capabilities. The game is also on the shorter side, but itís not as atrociously crippled as Max Payne 2, and the quality of the play more than makes up for the brevity.
Whoah, Jakubís definitely lightened up! A few weeks ago, heíd have turn Call of Duty apart for being a clone WW2 shooter game with 10 hours of gameplay and cheat-infested multiplayer. Do we miss the Negative Jakub? Mr. Fire Ďn Brimstone? Or is he right to take it easy on CoD? Is it that great a game? Lemme know, Sound Off! in the news comments.
SIDEBAR: Song of the moment is Down by PitchShifter.
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