While there has been absolutely no shortage of quality World War II shooters on the PC in recent years, few can claim the success Call of Duty can. For its time, it was about as sound an FPS as you could ask for, but with changing times comes changing expectations, specifically, increasing expectations. Can Call of Duty 2 offer a worthy sequel to what many regarded as PC Game of the Year 2003? While the extremely healthy 2005 FPS genre may prevent as much GOTY worthy accolades for COD2, it is every bit as worthy as its original.
COD2 puts the gamer in the shoes of a solider from the Russian, British and US armies. All three of the storylines offer unique gameplay to some extent - for instance, the Russian campaign is played out in cold, snow ridden environments, dominated by close quarter combat. The British campaign mostly plays out in the wide open North African desert and introduces vehicle (i.e. Tank) control to the single player experience for the first time. The US campaign is played out in the D-Day era of World War II, combining open spaces and door to door fighting, including a beach landing. Added together, these three campaigns produce loads and loads of gameplay that varies nicely throughout the entire experience. While the fundamental aim remains - eliminate the Nazi forces - the changing environments do wonders for the game's play-ability.
Like its original, COD2 is structured in a way that every so often you will experience a "large scale battle", however these don't seem to be as central to the gameplay as they were to the original - in a sense, COD2 has a lot of action spread out over the entire game, and not as many sections with significantly more action. There will be times where larger than usual battles commence, which by the way are stunning to say the least, but with so much action on offer here at almost every second of the game bar the loading screens, sometimes you don't realise how big the battle you just fought was until it's over, as you scour the battlefield for ammo or new weapons, taking in the smoldering, battle hardened land your fallen enemies lay face down in.
The weaponry system in COD2 allows you to carry two weapons at any one time. This can be two rifles or machine guns, not necessarily one smaller and one larger weapon. The selection on hand is as you'd expect from the era, so there's nothing really new here. Aside from guns, you can also attack using grenades and various gun stands installed throughout the levels, or if you've run out of ammo and you can sneak up to a baddy quick enough, you can smack the base of your gun in his face. One other means of attack is the smoke grenade - which works very well in COD2. It isn't a weapon it itself, but once deployed, the smoke grenade lets you move about without threat, making for some life saving situations where you are heavily out gunned. One thing to note however is the game seems to "auto generate" your grenade and smoke grenade supply. As you approach a new section of enemies you are usually granted four grenades automatically which is a somewhat odd feature but, nonetheless, it sure allows the game to show of its explosion effects as you fire off your semi-unlimited supply of grenades every which way.
One of the great things about COD2's gameplay is, while the game is indeed an FPS, the feel you get is that you're not the only soldier fighting on your side. Often war games set themselves up for great gameplay but fail to immerse you in the experience. COD2 is not one of these war games. While a lot of the times you will, naturally, be chosen by a superior out of your squad to perform tasks, there is never really a point in the game where you feel like a one man army. Your teammates will shoot at enemies successfully, warn of grenades and sometimes even pick them up and throw them back, inform you of enemy positions, and storm enemies at their own will. Most of the time they will also take point when storming enemies - a small yet commonly abused aspect of warfare in single player gaming that usually leaves the gamer as the sucker who has to jump out at the enemy first. In COD2, you feel as if you're just another solider in the world's largest war, which does wonders for its authenticity.
What doesn't necessarily help the authenticity however is the fact, if a squad member dies, he will usually be replaced by another guy who just happens to be in the area. Another quirk is, if you sat back during a gun fight without physically progressing forward at all, none of your guys will either, so they still do rely on you showing the way in a lot of situations even if you're not meant to be leading. When you do make your way forward, your squad members usually race ahead of you and take cover, which is almost always perfectly laid out. It's almost as if, once this occurs, a trigger is set in the game and the next influx of enemies are spawned ahead, repeating the process over and over again until the level is over - in fact, in a way this makes every gun fight seem like a level of its own, just without any loading screen. This does, at times, produce a degree of repetition and can make the game feel quite scripted, however the game does at least have varying situations and environments that require you to be on the ball at all times. So while the process may seem repetitive, the difficulty of the enemies and the dynamic environments makes sure the game doesn't become tedious. You probably won't finish COD2 in one sitting because of the repetition, but it isn't so bad it overshadows the game's addictive gameplay, so you will be back for more soon enough.
One of the areas WWII shooters have never really captured is the presence of fully destructible environments. While COD2 hasn't exactly "fully" adopted such technology, there will be instances where it exists - for example, in one of the Soviet missions, you will be required to take out a tank using sticky explosives. It has basically pinned you down in a confined area which used to feature a large warehouse style building, but all that stands now are various remains of foundations and vague outlining of battered walls. As the tank makes its way around the building trying to take you and your comrades out, it won't hesitate to blast a shell into a wall, obliterating it in the process. This creates a new depth to the gameplay which would typically feature reliable cover, but now features a dynamic environment where cover can gradually fall down. It is nice to see this area being explored because COD2 has a very strong presence of close range, door to door combat, so there is plenty of environment to destruct.
Like the original COD, COD2 does feature the occasional AI quirk. Sometimes you will see enemies stand dumb founded by your presence without unrealistic delayed responses. Other times, they have uncanny reflections. Unfortunately, COD2 suffers from a phenomena I like to call "robotic AI" - enemies know exactly where you are even if it would have been impossible to see, and they have reaction times in the milliseconds (and often multiple enemies react at *exactly* the same time). Sometimes even from insane distances with sub machine guns they will be deadly accurate. On the other hand though, some areas of the game's AI is quite good - for instance, when you deploy a smoke grenade, as said above, it will actually conceal your movement without fire which makes for some strategic gameplay in places, so while at times the AI can be a little inconsistent, it isn't hugely detrimental to the game, it just isn't its strong point.
Rather than let you save whenever you want, COD2 requires you to use its checkpoint system. I personally don't like checkpoint systems, often I think they cause more frustration and repetition than the game needed, but not in COD2's case. The autosaves happen after just about every important stage of every level, so even if you do die and are forced to reload from the last checkpoint, it usually isn't too far away. I still think a user save system would have worked better, but the checkpoint system in COD2 is probably one of the least frustrating and repetition inducing implementations I've seen. You do wonder though if this was used in preparation for their port to the XB360.
Once you get the lengthy single player experience out of the way, you may want to try some multiplayer. COD2 offers CFT, DeathMatch, Team DeathMatch, Headquarters and Search and Destroy modes. Headquarters is very similar to Battlefield where you can capture and defend neutral areas and are given points for doing so. S&D is where each side is tasked with destroying enemy targets with explosives, and the first side to a certain point total wins. The rest are standard MP modes seen in most online FPS games. The variety here is nice for some seriously intense online action, however due to the sheer amount of competition in the online FPS market, COD2 Online probably won't be as big of a hit as it should be. Still, you should be able to find ample competition online as even on Australian servers, which tend to be far less populated in general, we found plenty of action.
COD2 probably won't win best looking game of 2005, but the graphics are still sensational. The texturing for characters and the environment are of particular excellence, and then you have the special effects such as explosions and gun fire, which has always been a strong point of COD's visuals. What's even better though is this game isn't as system demanding as many FPS's seeing recent release. On a moderate system, you will be able to play with nice visuals at ample speed. I guess this is because smaller details such as textures and polygon count are not as evident in quality compared to the overall splendor of the environments, whether it be their design or detail. While the game confines you in a pretty linear path throughout the levels, the immersive value of this game's environments is through the roof - and you'd expect nothing less after the original COD.
What a year this has been for the PC FPS gamer - with so many quality FPS titles available in recent times, some gamers may already be content with their collection so far but it can't be denied that Call of Duty 2 is up there with the best of 2005. While some areas could have used more polish, particularly the AI which is a tad disappointing, the experience the game has to offer is unmatched. If you still have enough interest left to play one more World War II FPS game, make sure it's Call of Duty 2, because you owe it to yourself to play the best one ever made.