Developer: Infinity Ward
Release Date: October 25, 2005
When Infinity Ward first released Call of Duty in 2003, it was just another entry in the rapidly saturating market of World War II first-person shooters. Its masterful use of cinematic scripting and level design made it the best of the best in extremely short time, propelling it to many "Game of the Year" lists. Borrowing heavily from films such as Saving Private Ryan, Enemy at the Gates, and the HBO series Band of Brothers, Call of Duty was more than just another rehash of the genre. How does one top such a fantastic opening salvo? In the case of Call of Duty 2, this is done by making almost the exact same game, but better in virtually every way.
Call of Duty 2 does nothing radically different from its predecessor. You still play out mission packs with Russian, British, and American troops; it’s still a squad-based 3D shooter; and it's still primarily set in the European theater of war. However, it takes everything and just metaphorically turns it up several notches. It looks better, it plays faster and harder, the maps are longer, the scripting is tighter, and the level design is arguably better than the first. A single marathon session of Call of Duty 2 can be exhausting, simply due to the continual sense of immersive tension the developers were aiming for.
The game has you playing three different characters: Private Vasili Ivanovich Koslov of the Russian Red Army, Sergeant John Davis of the British Royal Armed Forces, and Corporal Bill Taylor of the U.S. Rangers. You will take these increasingly iconic avatars through campaign objectives such as the Allied push to clear out Rommel and his forces from Africa, rappelling up the cliffs of the Pointe Du Hoc to neutralize 155mm guns that have fire enfilade over Utah Beach, capturing and holding Hill 400 in the Hurtgen forest in Germany, and even the final push over the Rhine to break the back of the German advance. In between each set of missions, Call of Duty 2 sports historical footage and narration courtesy of the History Channel, providing two different perspectives to the events in the game: the soldiers and the observers.
Somewhat noticeably, there is less focus on the Russians this time. Only once do we find ourselves fending off the Nazi war machine on the streets of Stalingrad. Instead of sniping, you’re just fighting in as savage a fashion as possible. Of course, it's not all just meat-hook tactics; you do still employ some creative ways to overcome the numerical superiority of the Wehrmacht. For example, industrial piping suspended above a strategically important train yard becomes a convenient mode of transportation. The armored combat isn’t part of the Russian campaigns this time through either, instead you get to lead tanks across the deserts of Africa while flushing out the Desert Fox. Crusader class British tanks need to get dangerously close to Nazi Panzers to be effective, so you’re part of a reverse-Blitzkrieg for this portion of Call of Duty 2. Charging across the sands almost feels like a racing game, at least until the first German tank explodes just a few feet away.
Graphically, Call of Duty 2 sets new standards in photorealistic gameplay. Of course, a few years from now, I’ll look back on that statement and scornfully mock myself for saying it, but for now, it’s absolutely true; this is visually as close to the real deal as you can get. The models and textures are detailed in the extreme, right down to fine wrinkles lining your battle-weary NCOs. The animations are equally adroit in their application, with none of the joint-jerkiness that plagues other 3D shooters.
The lighting is flawless and ultra-realistic, helping establish the immersive mood perfectly. This comes sharply into focus with the first night-mission you’re sent on. The moonlight gleaming off the notched gunmetal of your M1-Garand is just one of a million sublime details that grace your eyes.
Then there is the smoke. Hands down, this is the best-looking smoke ever put to code in a game. Even though you can’t see anything while running through it, you’ll look forward to hurling a smokescreen grenade just to admire the gentle billowy softness. In case it isn’t quite clear enough yet, I personally feel the graphics in Call of Duty 2 are about as close to perfect as you can get in this genre. They’re very smooth too, with a consistent framerate even in the heat of battle. If you leave the number of fallen bodies displayed at the "large" setting, you may notice some minor stuttering, but not enough to be too distracting. Turning the setting down a notch or two eliminates this effect too.
As a 3D shooter, Call of Duty 2 has the luxury of a well-established protocol so far as controls are concerned – WASD keyboard controls, mouse-look point of view, and only a few other commands to master, like going prone or swinging your weapon to rifle-whip opponents in melee range. Personally, I find the more complex the controls of a FPS title are, the less I can enjoy it overall. So hats off to Infinity Ward for keeping this part of the game basic, but covering all bases. If you like to leap in and truly feel like you’re in a movie, by all means use the “easy” setting. You can take nearly a full clip at point-blank and still keep on running, and the AI has atrocious aim on that setting as well. There are four settings overall though (easy, regular, hardened, and veteran), so if the kid gloves don’t do it for you, then step up a notch or two and be prepared to reset a great deal. The amount of damage you take goes up, and so too do the accuracy of the enemy and their reaction times. If you want a thoroughly realistic one-shot-one-kill, go for the veteran setting. Infinity Ward has done a good job of balancing this scale for a wide audience, so Call of Duty 2 is enjoyable regardless of experience with first-person shooters.
While the sound effects are admirably realistic, I was let down a tiny bit by the lack of punch in the default levels. The company behind the sound design (Ear Bash Audio) certainly knows how to bang together Foley effects, and each separate sound is clear and distinct. However, I found I had to crank my speakers to get the most immersive effect possible. In other words, I didn’t play without headphones when my wife was around. Perhaps I’m just getting hard of hearing in my old age? The voiceover work is simply stunning, with an amazing degree of variety and passion to the phrases screamed out in the heat of combat. Over 20,000 lines were recorded in multiple languages and accents. Call of Duty 2 sets an entirely new standard in vocal acting and content. A-list development houses can throw money at some great frills. In this case, someone at Infinity Ward came up with the inspired decision to use some of their budget shekels to hire old-school-industrial-performance-artist-turned-Hollywood-film-composer Graeme Revell (Sin City, Pitch Black, The Crow, etc.) to do the score. The end result is nothing short of brilliant; Call of Duty 2 is augmented by a dramatic series of songs that contrast the emotions of a battlefield flawlessly, ranging from powerful and tense to weary melancholy.
There is very little indeed that I am genuinely unhappy with in this game. The full single-player campaign is somewhat too short, an issue that plagued Call of Duty and its expansion, United Offensive, as well. Unlike its predecessor, however, Call of Duty 2 has a much less concise story arc. The ending caught me completely off-guard; I just didn’t see it coming. I guess the fact that this game doesn’t end with a charge on the Reichstag in Berlin drew me off the scent. When all is said and done, these are fairly semantic points to hold against a title that does so much so well. There is also extremely robust multiplayer available out of the box to offset any withdrawal symptoms you might develop once you’ve cleared the ending. To be totally honest, Call of Duty 2 continually kept me on the edge of my seat. Non-stop adrenaline stretched across a surface tension that’s unmatched in any other first-person shooter. Lest we forget.
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