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PS2/Xbox Preview - 'Call of Duty 2: The Big Red One'

by Paul Reith on Oct. 27, 2005 @ 12:52 a.m. PDT

In Call of Duty 2: Big Red One, players experience the adrenaline rush and harsh realities of war as never before. As a part of America’s most decorated and heroic fighting unit, The Big Red One, players work together with their squad to accomplish a variety of land, see and air combat missions spanning North Africa, Italy and Nazi-occupied Western Europe.

Genre: FPS
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Treyarch/Grey Matter
Release Date November 11, 2005

Today, a preview about Call of Duty 2: Big Red One could end up very much like a recap of skiing the hills of Lower Michigan when you just came back from skiing in the Rockies last week. After all, the hype about Call of Duty 2 has been huge, and we also got to play it on both the PC and Xbox 360 last week. So, with that in mind, maybe there just wouldn’t be much to be impressed about this week when we got to sit down and get into the world of Call of Duty 2: Big Red One.

After all, with the huge lineup of game titles Activision is bringing to market in the coming months, there must be a sub-par game hiding in there somewhere, right? Inquiring minds want to know, so it was time to look for some clues in the preview build and see.

If it’s there, Call of Duty 2: Big Red One isn’t the terrible game hiding in the Activision bunker. From the moment we sat down at the Xbox and got started shooting at the Axis forces, a thought started to form. Gameplay continued – smooth, precise, and well-designed – but that odd thought was still gaining shape. There was something about Call of Duty 2: Big Red One that felt really special, but what was it? As we headed in and through the city, with well-rendered buildings and debris down the streets and alleys as far as the eye could see, something so obvious just wasn’t coming to mind. Then, wheeling around to kill Axis troops on a dime, using a console controller and still feeling in control, eliminating the threat without needing to worry about orientation while spinning in all directions to neutralize multiple assailants, it suddenly became apparent. Call of Duty 2: Big Red One was really fun to play, even after playing the PC and Xbox 360 versions of the sister title. In fact, the game looked and played well enough to say that it was symbolic of software finally maturing on our current generation of consoles.

That’s a bit of a snide comment to make, but when the three platforms you can play Call of Duty 2: Big Red One on came to market, everyone thought we would see many games of this potential caliber years ago. Yes, years ago. Instead, we’ve managed our expectations and let everyone make do with what they had, without too much criticism to the whole dynamic of making a console system that’s intentionally difficult to optimize or copy.

Without too much critical digression, it boils down to this: Call of Duty 2: Big Red One (COD2: BRO) feels optimized for the Xbox console. (We aren’t too worried about the PS2 either, but we have yet to play COD2: BRO on the GameCube.) Everything works, it’s smooth, it doesn’t take long to become a precise shooter, and the environment is created very well, for the most part. In the parts of the game we were privy to, it only seemed to be lacking a little more destructibility of the environment, which could easily be in the coding plans between the build we played and release.

In the gameplay department, we should touch on the mechanics of the actual shooting. While the game is very much the same as prior offerings in this respect, it is now extremely well balanced. While at first it feels like the old iron sights of the game are a bit too accurate, keep in mind that most of the 1st Infantry Division never had the privilege of the scopes we take for granted today. If you’ve ever hunted big game with iron sights, you know first hand that marksmen can be very accurate using a bolt-action rifle topped with a peep-hole sight. This is where you get a little help from the game, where it assists a bit to mimic the instinctual improvement looking through a little hole will do for your accuracy.

Next, there’s the AI of your team and the enemy. OK, sometimes your guys still die like you are wearing the t-shirt that says I’m with stupid, but more times than not they efficiently and effectively find cover. The enemy also doesn’t just have one or two soldiers that are a real pain to eliminate, there are plenty of them. There might still be too many that you catch completely by surprise, but this isn’t a simulator – easy kills are fun, and keep the game moving.

It’s also kind of exciting to storm in and finally kill some of those fascist Italians! Not so much because they were the enemy, but it’s fun to get our hands on a Beretta. Of course, there are other Italian weapons, but everyone can drool a little bit over the classic Beretta. Back to the AI; coding in the levels we played had reasonably minimized illogical moves. However, there were a few places where the enemy had sufficient cover, yet ran brazenly into the fray in disregard for their lives. Since we weren’t fighting Russians being forced into combat at Stalingrad, we weren’t sure if this was present for historical accuracy or if they were mistakenly coded to be the suicide kings.

The storyline of Call of Duty 2: Big Red One isn’t chronological, and thankfully someone was intelligent to make it so. It’s not like every moment of the war was exciting for the 1st Infantry Division, and in sequence, it might not have been as gripping as it could be. In its current state, Call of Duty 2: Big Red One is a collection of some very exciting moments to be a part of the 1st Infantry Division, or to be in combat with them. Amphibious landings and close-quarters combat are all expected, but to be part of an airborne unit – bombardier and air-air gunner – might just make it a privilege to serve. That’s right, you get to take part in dropping ordinance which never discriminates between friend and foe, military or civilian. You can’t help but recognize what a terrible job the bombardier had, deciding what to destroy, and wondering who of the countless thousands they became personally responsible for.

The air-to-air combat looks to be a bit more exciting, challenging, and gratifying. As a gunner, you have one mission: destroy the enemy aircraft trying to destroy you. Sounds like a simple enough task, but if you’ve ever read about the strength and daring of German pilots in the European theatre, you wouldn’t be looking forward to the duty of a gunner in real life. It was a tough, stressful job, the entire crew’s lives were in your hands every moment you were in the air. If you let just one fighter get close to the bomber unopposed, everyone could – and would – be dead in mere moments. This time around, step into your grandfather’s shoes. Sit in that little turret exposed to the world, and see what kind of a gunner you are. One thing we can guarantee is that it won’t be too easy to finish off this mission.

Finally, we got a little multiplayer action in Call of Duty 2: Big Red One. This is definitely not one of those games you want to play against a developer. We were in a fairly large city map that looked like Italy. I was turned into sausage about 12 times before I started to step up. It wasn’t pretty, and I’m real glad you weren’t there to laugh at me. There is a lot to be learned about multiplayer, even if it is similar to past offerings, so take some time to play it before your friends make a mockery of you.

This was another reason we were skeptical about how COD2: BRO was going to look in reality until we got to see it. We were not really sure how DemonWare’s State Engine would handle the net code, and if it would cause limitations in the multiplayer experience. So far, what we saw testifies to their abilities and lack of infringement, but we can’t wait to hammer away, PS2 Vs. Xbox on the final code to see if we can break it.

Call of Duty 2: Big Red One definitely shows potential. If as much time is spent on the rest of the game as was spent on the levels we played, it will surely be satisfying for most any Call of Duty fan. What about the rest of the world? How well the levels fit in sequence, along with how well the hailed cinematics are integrated will help define the quality of Call of Duty 2: Big Red One, but the real crux will be the inter-console and online multiplayer action. The base is there, and excellently done thus far, it’s just a question of how well Gray Matter and Treyarch can finish if off. This is war, so no promises made can be trusted until the end. Regardless, Call of Duty 2: Big Red One will be out in just a few weeks, and then the fate of the Allies will lie in your hands, soldier!

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