Release Date: November 1, 2005
World War II has been portrayed to us through video games in a multitude of ways, and some would say that we have been exposed to this certain war too much. I would be inclined to agree, except for the offerings that fall under the name Call of Duty, especially the one for PC. Call of Duty 2: Big Red One is the sequel to the console game Call of Duty: Finest Hour, and it is not to be mistaken with the PC and Xbox 360 game Call of Duty 2.
Taking yet another tour of duty head-on, CoD2:BRO sits you firmly in the middle of the action as part of the legendary first army division. The action is spread out across Africa and parts of central Europe, including Italy. You will be sent on a diversity of missions, and at times will get to do other things besides hoofing it with your trusty Thompson. Tank missions and air-shooter missions break up the times of purely foot-driven action, but it also break up the story sometimes, that is, if you can find it in the first place.
On foot, your arsenal is the same it has been in many other WWII games. You have the likes of the M1 Garand, the Springfield sniper, and of course, my personal favorite, the BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle). The shooting system is tight and works well with the GCN controller, and throwing grenades was made especially easier since a small circle comes up when you hold down the throw button and depletes itself to show when the grenade will go off. The mechanics during the missions that take you off your feet are equally good, and being able to zoom in every weapon at least a bit helps pick off the worrisome enemies.
The graphics are passable, but when compared to the likes of Resident Evil 4, they simply pale in comparison. The chaotic nature of battle is, however, shown in all of its glory, with explosions going off all around and planes flying through the air creating a huge fireball to finally slam into the ground with a grisly crescendo of fire and metal. The character models are decently detailed, though yet again, they are unimpressive compared to other titles on the market.
The sounds in CoD2:BRO, from the squeal of tank tracks to the gory rip of the MG42 cutting down your allies, are hugely satisfying. I suppose the best thing I can say about the sounds are that they never took my attention away from the game unless they were supposed to (such as an ally informing me that there is a burning airplane heading my way). The dialogue is also first-rate, with certain actors from HBO's "Band of Brothers" series lending their voice talents to game characters.
Perhaps the best/worst thing about CoD2:BRO is that your options and choices about how to go about any given situation are severely limited. Aside from what weapon you want to use (and sometimes you can't even pick that), in most cases the action is all scripted and planned out. This is a bit refreshing for action junkies, as you simply run through killing hordes of Axis troops and follow orders or suggestions yelled at you in the heat of combat. Of course, on the flip side, not being able to have any input toward the actions of your character seriously takes me out of any game, especially a FPS. This highly scripted approach does lead to some awesome moments though, such as when the huge fiery airplane came screeching from the sky (bet ya thought I couldn't make another reference to that huh?), but overall, I'll take my open-ended gameplay, thank you.
The infantry portion of the game is well-designed, but it could have been even better with a bit more development time. The house-to-house fighting was especially fun and brutal, if you can overlook the sometimes ridiculous actions of your allies and enemies, like them missing from six feet away.
Another complaint of mine is that the story of CoD2:BRO is given to you almost offhandedly just to throw you into combat. Much of the time, I knew what I was taking out and could logically figure out why having an artillery gun pointed at our airplanes was a bad thing, but I was never given a reason why I was at this certain place fighting. A large map keeps track of where you are before every mission, and abrupt transitions from foot map to airplane level had me raising my eyebrow a few times. I just like a little sense of continuity in my games. Also in many levels, at times the game would force me to put my back to the wall and shoot at targets, even when I was in a tank.
Cover is important in all levels and rightly so, but sometimes, I really was just standing in the open against my enemies. A sound strategy in real life? Maybe, maybe not, but come on, I'm a one-man Nazi killing machine here. It just doesn't gel well with the action-movie feel when I am forced to take a break and pick off enemy tiger tanks (in the open no less, what kind of sound defense is that? Just let 'em keep coming we might be able to take all of 'em!).
I would love to fill you in on the multiplayer capabilities of the game, but, since the GameCube does not support online play and there is no splitscreen mode, there is nothing to talk about.
Another problem I saw with CoD2:BRO was the save points, which only come at the very end of a mission, which can be inconvenient. There are checkpoints throughout any given mission, but turn off the console to come back to that point later, and you will be sorely disappointed at having to start from the very beginning of that mission. Additionally, it suffers from what I like to call "GTA syndrome," which is to say that some levels are monotonously easy and some are downright ridiculous runs of trial-error or luck. This is not helped by the fact that A.I. is generally bad for both sides, and your Allies are little more than scenery in a fight. However, this means that your opponents are equally easy to defeat, but this puts the burden of battle on your shoulders, with your combat prowess determining the outcome of battles, in most cases.
Overall, Call of Duty 2: Big Red One is a fun FPS that had a lot of potential. The diversity of missions provide a nice break from most embattled hiking trips that other shooters offer. Compared to the previous console installment of the Call of Duty series, it is definitely a large improvement, but it must improve dramatically to come even close to the quality of its bigger brothers on the PC or Xbox 360. The campaign was short, the turret and tank missions felt tacked on, there was no multiplayer mode, the save points were very sporadic, varying difficulty levels were present, and the A.I. was abhorrent. Otherwise, CoD2:BRO is an enjoyable killfest, if you want a very linear, playable movie.
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