Developer: Infinity Ward
Release Date: November 16, 2005
As the launch of the Xbox 360 approached, many people expected Rare's long-developed Perfect Dark Zero to be the new Halo of the launch titles, but Call of Duty 2 has stepped to the forefront as being the total package when it comes to first-person shooters on the new console.
As its name implies, Call of Duty 2 is the sequel to the number-one PC game of 2003. The game itself features three campaigns that are fitted together into one larger campaign that allows you to see the war from the sides of the Russians, British and Americans. Each of these three factions tells its own story of what it did and went through in WWII, and upon completing the game, you get to see the big picture of how each of these Allies worked together to stop the German war machine. As you work your way through the missions of each of the allies, you start to recognize key members of your unit by name and appearance. You will also start to pick up on their personalities and tendencies, which helps you work with them better as a team. You never take control of your unit and directly control any of the other members, but you are almost always working alongside them.
To do this effectively in a game, you need to have good AI, and thankfully, COD2 not only has great AI, but some of the best AI yet seen. Your computer-controlled teammates are fully aware of their environment and know exactly how to use it. When in battles, your teammates will use just about anything they come across as cover. While you and your squad move across the environments, the AI controlled characters will realistically go from object to object using it as cover and staying low at all times. You never once have to worry about what your teammates are doing or where they are going. They look and act like real humans in an uncanny way and some of the things you see them do on their own is nothing short of amazing.
One of these instances occurred a few members of my unit and I were pinned down in a house and the enemy tossed a grenade through an open window. I saw it and started to take off and run for cover, as did quite a few of the other members of the unit, but one of the guys calmly walked up to the 'nade, picked it up, and, while cursing at the Germans, he tossed it right back out the window at them. The grenade then went off, killing a few of the guys who'd tossed it at us. This is just one example of many where the AI did something totally unexpected on its own and saved my life. Many times as you battle it out in gunfights, your AI teammates will take out an enemy who was sneaking up behind you or trying to flank you from a blind spot. This kind of support and interaction with your squadmates really makes you feel like you're part of a much larger force and not like other war games, where you feel like it's just you on your own, even though you're surrounded by teammates.
Similar to your AI squadmates, the enemies' AI is just as good. They also make full use of their environments and will take up better strategic positions based directly on what you and your unit are doing. That is what really makes this game play so great – the dynamic, adaptive AI. While it is possible to fool the enemies outright, oftentimes, they will see what you're doing and adapt accordingly. This really makes for some great, hard-fought battles that require you to really use your head to succeed. What makes this all the more impressive and thrilling is the sheer number of people on the screen at one time. You will find yourself in many massive battles that can have up to 30+ enemies on the screen at once, which can make for some incredibly intense and frantic gunfights.
No game I have ever played has recreated the intense pace and chaos of war better than Call of Duty 2. This is simply the most realistic war game out there on any platform, PC included. Some battles will have you and your unit moving at lighting-fast speeds across the land to capture enemy positions, while others will see you advancing at a snail's pace and having to really fight for every few feet you gain. No matter what the pace of the battle itself, everything happens very fast, and you must rely on quick decision-making to get through it. The decisions you make often are the difference between life and death not only for you, but for your squadmates as well. This all blends together to help create one hell of a realistic atmosphere that lasts throughout the course of the single-player campaign. This is one of those games that grabs you as soon as you pick up the controller and never slows down until you turn it off. Once you start playing COD2, you will often find yourself spending hours per session with the game. When I took breaks, it wasn't because I got tired of playing, but I physically needed to stop playing and recover due to how intense this game can get on a emotional level.
Making the whole experience even more realistic is COD2's stunning graphics engine, a great example of the processing power of the X360. While COD2 does take advantage of the X360 hardware more than other launch titles, by no means was it developed with that particular console in mind. The X360 version actually outdoes the PC version in quite a few areas, even when the PC is running on the latest high-end graphics card. The most noticeable visual difference is the framerate: The X360 runs at a steady 60 fps in 720p and a steady 30 fps in 1080i, while all but the latest PC graphics cards struggle to get past 30 fps at those resolutions, with most not even coming close.
The game itself features some of the most stunning and realistic-looking environments. Almost everything from the textures on the buildings to the character models themselves are covered with great-looking normal maps. Unlike other games (coughcoughPDZcough) that also use normal mapping heavily, the textures in COD2 don't have that wet plastic look that is often a result of normal mapping. All of the special effects such as the explosions, gunfire, and smoke look incredible, with the best being the extremely realistically modeled smoke that actually moves and expands in the air. It is, hands down, the most convincing smoke I have ever seen in a game.
Making all of this seem even more impressive is the massive scale on which it is all done. Most of the levels are simply gigantic, spanning as far as the eye can see and filled with all sorts of buildings, trees, plants, roads and other complex objects. Toss in around 30+ people on the screen at once, with full gunfire blazing from them all, grenades going off at random, and shells from artillery guns crashing down all over the place, and you just start to get a feel of how impressive COD2 looks. Wrapping things up are the great animations of the characters; everything from the facial animations to the way they move and interact with the environments is very well done. You'd be hard-pressed to ever see any jerky animations no matter what is going on, and the physics applied to a body when hit with a grenade are quite impressive to see.
As good as all of this is, however, there is one downfall in Call of Duty 2: the multiplayer mode. While the single-player game is a well-crafted work of art, the multiplayer appears to be slapped together very quickly and tossed in as an unfinished product. COD2 features five modes of online play which cover all of your now-standard online game types, and you have the option to play any of these as "ranked" or "unranked" games. In the interest of fairness, you can't invite your friends to join you in ranked games, there is no option, special screen or any other way to ever see what your rank is,either in the game itself or online on the game's official web site. Despite the status of "ranked," the only difference between that and unranked games is the ability to invite your friends into a game.
Things get worse when you go to start an online muliplayer game. Unlike most titles of this nature that use a true "client/server" network code, COD2 uses a mostly Peer 2 Peer network interface. When you go to find a game, you won't see a list of different servers being hosted by people, as in most first-person shooters. Instead, you select the type of online game you want to play, and it tosses you into a random lobby as you wait for up to seven other players to join, and then the game launches. You have no control over any settings for the game, such as time limit or map; everything is preset by the game itself and can never be changed. Once in the game, most of the matches with over four people get very laggy due to the networking protocol of choice use.
Since it's Peer 2 Peer, all clients are responsible for uploading up to 8 data packets and downloading 8 data packets at the same time. Downloading the 8 packets is not an issue, but a lot of ISPs limit your upload speeds to pretty low values. With this type of setup, a multiplayer game is only as fast as your slowest player, and unfortunately, there are people in almost every game who just can't keep up with the uploads and end up lagging everyone else. What happens most of the time is these people quit and are followed by a few more, at which point the lag goes away and the game becomes fully playable for the remaining players.
While these problems sound bad enough, there are still quite a few more issues that need to be addressed. There is no team auto-balance, so the team-based games can be, and often are, very one-sided. Once you finish a multiplayer game, you get kicked back to the main multiplayer screen. There is no post-game lobby where you can stay with the same group of players and launch another game; you have to do everything all over again. This also makes playing games with your friends almost impossible. You have to really work hard to get your friend in the same game you are in, as there are no true "hosts" or lobbies, and once the game is over you both have to do it all again and try to make it into another game. It's almost more trouble than it's worth to even attempt to play with any of your friends in COD2. Hopefully, Infinity Ward will release a patch that will address and fix these issues, but so far, neither they nor publisher Activison have made any comments on this matter, despite numerous complaints from gamers.
Even though the multiplayer has some major issues, Call of Duty 2 is, overall, an outstanding title. The single-player experience is worth the price of admission alone and must be seen to be believed. The multiplayer, despite its problems, is actually quite fun when it works. This makes COD2's problems all the more unfortunate, but if you have the patience, you can still have a good time with it. If you are one of the new Xbox 360 owners out there, Call of Duty 2 is one of the must-have titles for the system.
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