The World War II genre would have to be one of, if not the most used era in all of gaming. Whether it be a Real-Time Strategy or a First Person Shooter, gamers can't seem to get enough of World War II. In a world of 'bigger and better' things dominating, it might be hard for some people to comprehend why such a dated style of combat is popular in the virtual world, and with the guided missiles and Fighter Jets of today's military world, that is understandable. So what is it about the era of WWII that takes the fancy of so many PC gamers out there? Is it the history? The brutality? The plain green camo? Who knows, all I know is for some reason, the good game developers have also been bitten by the WWII bug, and if the end result is something like Call of Duty, this can only be a good thing.
Call of Duty bases itself on the two basic game modes any good First Person Shooter would feature - single player and multi player. Both are entirely different experiences, but both share one common entity - that is, they are both bucket loads of uncontrollable fun.
Without spoiling the storyline, does anyone remember the beach landing level in MOHAA? Most FPS gamers should. Now, put that atmosphere, that excitement and that ruthless bloodshed into the spectrum of "x 2", and you have the setting for what is the Russian Stalingrad landing. Simply put, this is the best PC FPS experience I can recall, there is so much fighting in this one level, with air attacks, artillery and gun stands constantly firing away, chances are you will not live through your first few attempts to rush the German forces. If there was one computer game level that could possibly emulate the sheer hell the real World War II warriors must have went through, even remotely, then this is certainly it.
Before playing COD online I was reasonably involved with Enemy Territory, which is a mod for Return to Castle Wolfenstein, another Quake 3 based WWII game. This meant going from ET to COD Multiplayer was a reasonably effortless experience, besides the obvious control differences and what not, the online experience was very similar, that is, COD online was very fun indeed. Included are 12 maps, but I suspect more could be downloaded online, perhaps by independent map designers. Also note COD welcomes the additions of mods, and it will be very interesting to see what comes out in the form of COD mods, because I really can't imagine the gameplay being any better online.
Back on the topic of singleplayer - while the in game A.I is generally very strong, some minor quirks tend to surface. For example, the enemy A.I tends to feature uncanny accuracy, even on easier difficulty settings. Now my reaction times may not be the best, but I can safely say almost every gamer will have trouble peeking around corners without being shot a few times. It seems as soon as your head emerges from the corner, the enemy has you lined up and shot, making health management a very difficult task indeed. I feel a good realism based FPS should allow the gamer to take hardly any health loss should they be skilled enough, however Call of Duty tends to force medic packs into the core of the gameplay, an aspect which certainly doesn't help the realism.
What makes this worse, however, is the fact the enemy shooting seems to drop from "machine like good" to "boy scout good" when they focus on your fellow teammates rather than you. Although I can agree that having the NPC's too skilled would leave you with little to do, it is a little funny to sit back and watch a gun fight between the computer controlled teammates and enemies unfold, because nothing really happens. Shots tend to be horribly inaccurate with minutes going by without a casualty, and no end in sight. It is not until you start spraying some lead the enemies start shooting accurately - at you that is.
Despite these minor AI quirks, there is no doubting COD has the best WWII FPS action you'll find anywhere on the PC, the combination of the realism and atmosphere is simply unmatched. For example, unlike most FPS games your health meter is not measured by a three figure digit, rather, one nicely timed grenade or a series of deadly bullets will kill you, and the same goes for enemies. This is one of the first action based games I can recall that made your health loss similar to that of enemies, and it really works very well in creating an equal playing field. You have to expect to be killed a few times in this game.
Whilst I did mention before that enemies and teammates taking cover tend to miss each other a lot when shooting, I find the actual fact they do find cover to be quite impressive, and this isn't your basic "run behind an object and wait for the player to kill everyone before moving" type cover, they do atleast try to fire and NPC deaths will occur now and again. No matter what environment is available, the A.I will find a suitable spot, and take cover behind it, which is not only great to witness, but it is also challenging to defend, as the enemies do the exact same thing on their end of the battlefield.
One problem I have with many FPS games is the lackluster navigation system. Often I find myself not knowing where the next objective is and how to get there. Despite the fact COD has levels which don't really have multiple paths anyway, the included navigation system is a winner. Located at the bottom left hand corner of your screen, what it does is label your next objective with a star, and obviously the closer you get to the star the closer your objective is. On top of this, it has an arrow above the star if the objective is up another floor/level, and an arrow pointing down if it is located downstairs/underground etc. With these navigation measures in place, you will not get lost in COD.
Finally, COD is one of the first FPS games in recent memory that manages to keep you glued to the screen throughout the entire single player campaign, and it isn't just the incredibly enjoyable gameplay that does this, it is the fact missions are not the same things over and over again. For instance, most of your objectives are performed on foot with a gun of some sort, however every once and a while you will be required to undergo an entirely different task, such as shooting down air craft, or controlling a tank. It is the variation of tasks that makes COD fresh from the start to end, which is an incredibly valuable quality of a computer game, but it is also something that tends to be forgotten. If you haven't finished COD, you haven't experienced what true FPS single player gameplay is all about.
Who would have thought that the Quake 3 engine would still be producing quality titles well into 2003. Actually, it's not too crazy when you think about it - it is by far the best balanced engine for image quality vs system performance to date, and it is one of the few engines that will actually run dead smooth on modest systems. With that said, COD obviously won't win any visual quality awards with the likes of Unreal2 and Halo on the market, however that is not to say the graphics are lacking, as far as Quake 3 based games go it is probably the best. Most models feature very nice detail, and while the textures are not overly defined, they are good enough for the type of game COD is - that is, a game where you probably won't notice too much about the visuals as the action is simply too intense. Overall, the visuals in COD don't necessarily excel, but I doubt you'll find too many quirks, as they are certainly solid.
COD features the same basic controls found in most FPS games, and since there is no teamcontrol and/or commands to worry about, there is really very little to learn. Despite this fact, COD will introduce you to the controls via a mandatory basic training before you begin the single player campaign mode, which covers everything in nice detail. If I could pin point one issue I had with the controls, it is that the stance functions, that is the buttons which change your stance, are not incremental, which means you do not have two buttons which toggle your stance, rather you have 3 buttons representing prone, crouch and stand. Although it is handy to be able to go from prone to full stance with one button, it can initially be a little confusing trying to remember which button does what especially considering they are not directly next to each other on the keyboard - if you needed to duck down really quick you may be caught off guard, but as they say, practice makes perfect.
While I believe Call of Duty is not quite perfect, there is no doubting that it offers the best WWII era action on the PC to date in single player, and perhaps multiplayer up there with the likes of BF1942 (you'll have to judge that for yourself). Despite the fact the entire game is based on an engine years past its prime, Call of Duty manages to excel beyond all expectations, offering an excellent storyline, great graphics and all-round fantastic gameplay. This is what happens when you don't hype a game 2 years before its release, it practically comes out of nowhere, and leaves a lasting impression. Quite simply, Call of Duty will not be forgotten anytime soon, as every level headed PC gamer should have a copy.
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