Monday, 6 September 2004

Archive Review: Call of Duty

(PC review)

Late to the front.

In case you were wondering this is one late review! Call of Duty, Activision's World War Two FPS game, was published in late 2003, it just took me a while to get round to playing it! I had always wanted to get it since I had enjoyed the demo's I'd played but just never quite got round to getting hold of it. But now that I finally have I can, finally, review it. I tried my very best here not to be taken into the trap of being brainwashed into thinking this was an amazing game just from reading virtually all of the reviews I have ever seen for it. This game has been likened to Jesus - Holy, profound, divine and supernal. I have never been a religious man, opting more for the spiritual side of things. An open mind serves you well.

Unfortunately the fact I have taken so long to get around to reviewing this game does not mean that in that long period of time I play tested it to an insane level of depth, analysing every aspect and finding the smallest of weaknesses... I just played it through to completion like any typical gamer. I also gave multiplayer a quick spin but although it was fun, it wasn't my scene (nor was Medal of Honor: Allied Assault online). So here goes, my thoughts and wisdom, my five sense. CoD is a fantastic achievement. It is easily superior to any Medal of Honor game. But it has all the same flaws.

First and foremost CoD is another example of a very linear single player campaign. This is not your Battlefield 1942 style action, it's cinematic and scripted all the way, like a film in the way that every scene you see, everyone saw who played it. It was meant to be. In the old days I really had no time for this style of thing. I really disliked it and considered it gaming on the cheap. In many ways my thoughts still remain on this note. The difference with CoD is that it does it well, very well. Its the allied powers versus the hun! You play as an American, A Brit, and a Russian, and Tommy Atkins is back - with a larger moustache, yet no pipe?

From the first level you quickly realise that this is no Medal of Honor with silly and wholly unlikely situations thrown at you in what the publisher described as authentic action. In CoD you are mostly with large groups of fellow troops which really adds to the games feel. You cannot control these allies or tell them what to do or give any order. This makes sense since you are only a mere private on most levels. The A.I for your teams is impressive. They seek cover, throw grenades, flank the enemy, hide, you name it. They also talk and yell commands or speech that simply adds to the atmosphere and makes it all feel like something out of Band of Brothers or Saving Private Ryan. My gripe is that there are often not enough fellow troops, sometimes one or two! And on some missions the "rambo", one man army, is the way of things. On a good note unlike Medal of Honor your allies will never die off within 3 minutes. If they die more will appear, popping up over convenient walls and joining you in the fray.

The missions are straight out of the movies too. You have the daylight assault on German 88's set up in a field trench from Band of Brothers (episode 3), you get the classic Pegasus Bridge assault and defense that seemed inspired by Attenborough's classic, A Bridge Too Far, and other more obscure references to scenes from films like The Thin Red Line with a medic trying to run across machine gun fire to reach an injured boy. The truth is that all these maps are great fun to play, even more than once, but they will play the same almost every time you play them. This is because any significant event is scripted. In other words, nothing will happen until "you", the player, do something like blow up the German Tiger Tank that has stopped down the street. Unlike games like the classic Operation Flashpoint there is nothing random or spontaneous to this game. It's entertainment, clear cut and with a set path.

I always remember a classic forum post a good few years back now when Medal of Honor: Allied Assault had come out for the PC. Somebody posted that the game had amazing A.I since he had seen them playing a game of cards! The truth is scripted scenes do not equate to artificial intelligence. It's like knocking somebody unconscious, dragging them into a truck and driving them to France and then announcing that the knocked out body had managed to reach the land of onions and cheese.

The A.I in CoD is quite different to Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. Not including the scripted scenes the A.I is very impressive here. It probably rivals Halo in terms of the intelligence offered by your enemy. They will flank you, run away, throw grenades down staircases they know your coming up, and even attack you with their rifle but and try to beat you senseless. For the task the A.I does the job but all I would say is that it's hardly being tested in this game. Think of Operation Flashpoint. The A.I here was easily the best I've ever seen yet many will tell you the A.I sucked. Why? Because that enemy just ran by them and didn't shoot even though they were blatantly in view. But people forget that that very same A.I is commanding squads, piloting aircraft, driving all sorts of land vehicles, calling in backup, sending medics to heal injured enemy troops, even deciding what formation to get into and entirely dedicated in hunting you down. There's more to A.I than just firing a gun and hiding under a wall. CoD's does the job great, but the job is no biggie.

The graphics are fantastic as is the sound. This is another game that benefits from having a 5.1 or 6.1 surround set up. It basically sounds like a movie, which is a good thing. My main concerns with CoD are based on the fact that it really does little to add to the premise that it's a linear FPS. I would have liked something extra, a bonus game where you are up against random spawns of enemies for example. Like Raven Shield I would have liked CoD to offer more after a mission was completed, how about something nice and simple like an offline team deathmatch? Now that would test the A.I.

I got annoyed with the way that one level was really realistic and then you'd be placed slap bang back into Medal of Honor territory. I almost cringed when I heard my briefing for one of the missions; something on the lines of go into Germany and blow up a large dam facility rambo style. It was you versus hordes of enemies and it was quite crap in my opinion, after playing the earlier levels on the bridge and in the French villages. In every mission you can never open closed doors which is actually a good thing. Remember what it was like in Medal of Honor games? Constantly checking the locks on every door only to find the right one eventually. Players begun to develop psychic powers, knowing which door it was without having to do this... gamers intuition they call it.

Multiplayer is stable and now, roughly a year on from release, has a large player base. I just found it too arcade-ish. There was little in the way of tactics, it was all just rushing and grenade spamming. Everyone to their own I guess.

This is basically a really good arcade style shooter. If you want realism don't expect it in CoD. It's a heavily improved Medal of Honor but just as linear. In some ways I was annoyed with the way that some levels, mostly the Pegasus Bridge ones, were so damn good that they simply deserved to be in a more ambitious game. It was like the Battle of Hoth from Empire Strikes Back, amazing scene, but Return of the Jedi... wtf!


+ Intense action

+ Great production values

+ Pretty flawless A.I

+ All with superb sound and graphics

- But it's all pretty linear

- Some weak missions


In a Linear world CoD is king

by The Critical Alien
© 2004

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