Summary: Call of Duty's expansion pack is coming this fall and we've got a hot sneak peek at it. Jakub tested out the singleplayer on Wednesday and last night engaged in some hot sexy multiplayer action. Check out all the details on the new weapons, new tanks and new multiplayer game modes inside!
This isn't your grandpappy's Call of Duty
Expansion packs have generally been confused offerings. Usually they give nothing but an extension to the original game design. On those rare occasions that the additions are meaningful, the expansion often ends up being a stand-alone version, as with Homeworld: Cataclysm. In other words, you're actually buying a new game.
Call of Duty: United Offensive is an actual expansion pack in that it requires the original, but it also offers all the goodies you'd expect from a stand-alone expansion. Grey Matter Interactive, the developers, aren't changing the setting and are even bringing back some characters, but the additions and improvements will take quite a while to cover in this article.
Let's start first with what hasn't changed. United Offensive retains all the cinematic Hollywood action movie feel of the original. Your various identities will take on swarms of German troops on several maps, including an exciting aerial battle. The B-17 gunner level adds great variety to the experience and still has us wondering just what the developers did to pull it off with what is essentially a highly modified Quake III Arena engine.
Other modifications to the engine include a brand new particle system. This is best epitomized by the new flamethrower (and yes, it did make it into multiplayer!) However, the particle system looks most spectacular with the new explosion effects. The old yellow marijuana plant explosion was a little cheesy and we're rather glad to see it's been improved upon. Smaller, subtler uses of the particle system include ricochets of rifle and other infantry rounds off tanks and other heavy metal. These produce an impressive shower of sparks.
Smoke has also undergone a huge improvement. It's quite difficult to believe how nice it looks and yet how little effect it had on game performance. The smoke is used liberally throughout the singleplayer campaign and appears constantly in multiplayer. Any time a vehicle gets blown up, the smoke will come billowing out from the ruins - but that's not all. Infantry now carry a handy smoke grenade which serves nicely to help cover movement or even draw the attention of sniper or tanker who likes to shoot from range.
In addition, the US, Soviet and German forces get deployable light machine guns. The Browning .30cal is of course the American weapon, Germany enjoys the legendary MG34 and the Soviets have the DP28. The deployable LMGs work by hitting the right mouse button (or whatever works as "aim down sight" in your config) to deploy, and then the machine gun can be fired. All three have very limited traverse but insane rates of fire and very high accuracy for automatic weapons. It's unlikely they'll see their full potential unless used by a dedicated clan, but they are quite devastating.
Finally, there are new weapon pickups, the satchel charge and two new anti-tank weapons. Satchels are super-grenades. They're great at clearing out buildings, do a whack of damage to tanks, but should be conserved rather than spammed out like grenades. Their utility and the fact that they're a pickup item makes their use more discriminate.
All grenades, including smoke grenades, as well as the satchel can now be cooked off. Simply select, hold down the left mouse button and hit the right mouse button to start cooking. Then release when you're ready. The cook-off time for satchels is a bit longer, while grenades take approximately as long to fire off as in Counter-Strike, perhaps a touch longer. With skill, it's almost too easy to clear out a room, and if you've got someone chasing you around tight corner just drop a nade with 2 seconds left on the timer to give him a nasty surprise.
The last of the new infantry weapons are the Panzerschreck and Bazooka. They appear to have the same damage as the Panzerfaust but with better accuracy. Like the Panzerfaust, they are pickup items and also best used from crouching or prone positions. So now we've got all these anti-tank weapons, but what tanks are in the game?
Of course, there are also the tanks. Five make their appearance. To be more precise, there are three tanks and two heavy tank-destroyers. America has its venerable Sherman with the 75mm gun, Germany has the Pz IVH and Russia has its T-34 with the 85mm gun and corresponding turret. However, despite the historical differences between the tanks, for purposes of game balance they've been made identical. They fire the same shot which has probably the same power as the Panzerfaust, though it flies much faster and straighter. They have perfectly similar armor and speed. Thus, the differences are merely cosmetic. The three tanks can have a second crew member who mans the top heavy machine gun, and as additional defense against infantry they have light machine guns installed in the turret. This gun is activated by hitting the melee attack key.
Besides the three main tanks, there are two heavy tank destroyers. The Soviets are armed with the SU-152, technically an assault gun, but in the game it does serve as a tank destroyer. This huge lumbering beast, like its German counterpart the Elefant, has no turret but a devastatingly powerful gun, unmatched armor and is incredibly slow. Infantry armed with anti-tank weapons are the worst nightmare of these two titans since they have almost no defense against them, as they have no turret to turn quickly and machinegun down the infantry - though they do have a forward-facing machine gun, nor do they have the option of a top machine gunner.
The tanks are steered much as in Battlefield 1942, but in a 3rd person view. The aim-down-sight key, usually the right mouse button, switches to a view down the main barrel. This does away with the option of steering the tank independently of the main turret, narrows the view but does improve zoom.
United Offensive's tanks use a hitpoint system, not physics, to determine damage. No amount of rifle, machine gun or SMG rounds will hurt a tank, but on the other hand, even a glancing hit by a T-34 on a SU-152's frontal armor is guaranteed to do damage. While this may tick off the grognards, it does make for easy and fair game balance. As is standard practice, tanks take the least amount of damage on their frontal areas, more on the side and they're guaranteed to brew up with one hit in the rear. The Elefant and SU-152 are of course more resistant to the lighter tanks' attacks.
Enemy tanks can be hijacked as long as they're not being controlled by an enemy player. Hijacking does take quite a bit of time and makes a racket as the hijacker-to-be grinds away with the engine. The only other way to tell that a tank's being hijacked is to approach and try to enter, only to be denied access.
One last thing: you'll never, ever run out of tanks. There are so many tanks that even with 30 players on the server, if we lacked anything it was infantry. On top of that, all vehicles respawn quickly. Controlling an enemy tank spawning ground is quite difficult then, as you can imagine.
Last but not least is the new rank system. Based on a player's accomplishments, he'll gain ranks and with that extra ammo, binoculars and other goodies like being able to call in artillery support. Fortunately the high rank requirement for artillery support will severely limit its tool as a grief weapon. The early ranks get very, very little ammo, a spare clip or two, so it's quite important to rank up as soon as possible.
Server admins have unprecedented power and control over the maps. They can not only disable tanks or 88mm gun emplacements, they can choose to disable whatever kind of tank or infantry weapon. Want to force one side to rely exclusively on tanks and the other on infantry? You can do that by disabling T-34s for the Russians but taking away all the infantry-held weapons for the Germans. Even the artillery support or pistols can be disabled in the server settings.
Oh, did I mention how huge the maps are? While there's nothing on the scale of Guadalcanal from Battlefield 1942, United Offensive's maps are massive relative to Call of Duty's. A conservative estimate would put them at least twice as long and twice as wide, increasing the surface area by four times.
Judging by the stability and performance of our preview build, we're pretty sure that Activision will be able to meet its release target of Fall this year.
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