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Call of Duty Review

publisher: Activision
developer: Infinity Ward
genre: Shooters

PIII 700, 128MB RAM, 32MB Video Card, 1.4GB HD
ESRB rating: T

release date: Oct 30, 03
» All About Call of Duty on ActionTrip

November 03, 2003

There's an undeniable trend in game development these days. The fact is that there are more WWII games nowadays than "genuine" Rolexes at a Chinese flea market. Maybe that isn't the happiest comparison I've ever made, but I didn't make it to score any literary points. WWII is easily the most exploited conflict in gaming's recent history. The reasoning is obvious. Firstly, WWII was the most brutal conflict in human history. Because of the technology used, it was also the most global conflict of all times. That being said, the weapons of war that were used in it are the progenitors to the arms of today. Finally, never in the course of human history has there been a power as clearly evil as the Nazi movement. Educated people know that history is never black and white. There are very few innocent sides amongst those who fought the war, but if ever there was a truly epic struggle against evil in human history, then this would be it. Nazism and Fascism were evil because they sprung from a twisted ideology of sick pseudo intellectuals that thought they could shape the world by enforcing those ideologies on the common man - Germans and victim nations alike. For those reasons many consider WWII to be the most epic conflict of all times.

Consequently, we have so many WWII themed video games out there. Very few of them, however, ever truly managed to do any justice to the sheer tragedy that struck the world in those years. Very few games managed to transport us there to that blood-splattered battlefield and show us just how massive and brutal WWII really was. Amongst those few games that succeeded in this was certainly 2015's Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. The boys at 2015 gave us but a taste of that heartbreaking grandness when we stormed the Omaha beach in Normandy. Now, nearly two years later, Infinity Ward (ex 2015 leads) lets us see and experience it all like we've never been able to before. They've created a game that for the first time does justice and, in a way, pays homage to the war and its many victims.

Keeping in mind that WWII was such a global affair it is only right that Call of Duty be divided into three separate campaigns. In the game, you get a chance to step in the boots of three common soldiers fighting on the side of the Americans, British and Soviets. Allied Assault largely paid tribute to the American efforts during the Second World War. This time around, however, Infinity Ward has decided to also recognize the huge sacrifice of the other two Allied powers - the USSR and British. In that aspect, I almost got the feeling that the USSR campaign plays the starring role. The ideology of the old Soviet Union was flawed, but the incomprehensible loss of the Soviet people (and especially the Russians) in their efforts to defend their homes was nothing short of awe-inspiring. It is so nice to see that Infinity Ward has honored this by recreating the horrific conditions under which Soviet soldiers had to fight the German army.

Call of Duty is a story about privates that made it through the bloody conflict and those who didn't. There isn't an actual plot in the game - not in that conventional sense anyway. The events you take part in are the ones shaping the plot. Sporadic, often witty dialogue is masterfully used to bring just the right touch of drama to the dealings and put things in perspective. Call of Duty is not a movie-like experience; it's far too interactive to be called that. It's a gaming experience in which you feel like you're part of the game world, taking place in the events that will shape the fate of our planet. It is an awesome feeling. The movie elements are evident in the exemplary use of music during crucial action scenes, and in in-game sequences that recreate the more memorable movie moments like the Stalingrad assault from "Enemy at the Gates." These movie elements are clearly subordinate, however, to the in-game action, which is by far the most impressive segment of this game.

But before I get into the specifics of the gameplay I have to reflect on the technology that powers it. As most of you know, Call of Duty uses a modified version of the Quake III engine. Saying this game is powered by the Quake III engine, however, would be simply irresponsible. Infinity Ward has done so many things to the original code it barely resembles its "ancestor." The renderer has been completely rewritten, the animation system is brand-new, and the same goes for the locational damage model. The way that the soldiers move and lurch when they're hit is so believable it's almost scary. I've gone through all of this in my hands-on preview of the game, but it doesn't really hurt to recognize the inspiring work Infinity Ward programmers have done on the models. The particle effects system witnessed in Call of Duty puts Medal of Honor: Allied Assault to shame. This is most evident when seeing huge explosions and the subsequent piles of dirt or splashes of water going up in the air. The water is now rendered with some heavy use of pixel shaders. You can see the nice shiny reflections and ripples. Granted I've seen better looking water in games, but considering the code IW used they've done themselves proud. The physics model has also been greatly improved. This is best manifested in the way Nazi soldiers fall off of balconies when shot, the way their bodies react to bullet impact, etc. Again, the physics model in Call of Duty ain't exactly Havok material, but it's more than good enough to serve its purpose. The only area where I feel the visuals are somewhat lacking are the dated looking interiors and some rather low resolution texturing. These are some of the drawbacks, unfortunately, that come with using the venerable Quake III code. I wouldn't account this to the lack of talent on the part of artists or programmers. It definitely has more to do with the limitations of the technology.

On the other hand, it seems that there were absolutely no limitations on the quality of the sound engine. For Call of Duty Infinity Ward has written a whole new sound engine, and boy does this ever have a major impact on the game - quite literally! Call of Duty creates a precedent in the gaming industry by making the sound at least as equally important as the visuals. To recreate the full brunt of a massive World War II battle IW had to make sure that the sounds are so loud and booming that they induce a feeling a frantic anxiety in the player. One that leaves you with that glazed look in your eyes and a feeling of empty silence when you stop playing. I've had the fortune of playing the game on a brand-new 7.1 surround system. When configured properly (turn the game's master volume all the way up, and your speaker volume down, it's in the manual) the sound engine produces some desk-rattling explosions and crisp yet powerful sounds of weapons and human cries. The effect I found most impressive was the way you regain your hearing after a nearby explosion has made you go temporarily def. It's the audio equivalent of getting your sight back in focus. Amazing stuff! The voice acting is very professional and expressive, and it makes those few dialogues in the game dramatic and memorable. But, nothing adds as much magnitude to the game as the original musical soundtrack. There is this one particular sequence during the assault on the Red Square that is truly transformed and taken to another level by the excellent use of music. You and your comrades are supposed to attack a heavily fortified German position. You are unarmed, however, and have with you just one round of ammunition. Your instinct tells you to turn back and run, but if you do that you'll be shot by your own officers. Scared as you and your comrades are you still charge the Germans with a mighty "HOORAH" and run to meet your doom. There is something very romantic about this scene and so very, very Russian. Russians, as a people, are very melodramatic, theatrical and masochistic, and therefore perfect for performing such heroic deeds. It is no coincidence that the battle of Stalingrad turned out the way it did. It is no accident either that the Germans just didn't know what to do "with those crazy Russians" on the Easter Front. They're like that, the Russians, very strange people. To get back to what I was saying though, that particular musical soundtrack during the Red Square assault managed to evoke all these feelings in me. It somehow helped to portray the nature of the Soviet campaign.

The AI represents the final piece of the puzzle that generates the action in Call of Duty. In many ways, any single-player experience is made or broken by the quality of its AI code. To create a completely immersive single-player experience you have to make sure that the computer-controlled characters are intelligent enough not to shatter the illusion of a living and breathing game world. Luckily for us Call of Duty passes this test with flying colors. Again, I will have to refer you to my hands-on preview if you want to get the skinny on how the AI actually operates. For this review I will just say that, aside from a single glitch during one of the British missions that takes place inside a German battleship, I haven't noticed a single AI incident that hampered the experience for me. Simply put, Call of Duty features by far the best enemy and team AI routines I've ever witnessed in a video game. But even with such an impressive technology, dialogue, music, and voice talent behind the game the overall game design still could've been botched up with some silly mistakes. Mistakes most evident in the design of the two Medal of Honor: Allied Assault expansion packs. It could've been, but it wasn't. Thank God.

Although the game is very linear and the player's movements are mostly restricted to a small choice of predefined paths, the scripted sequences and firefights are done in such a way that you'll never have time to stop and think about it twice, let alone explore your surroundings. The idea of this game is to make you feel like you're in mortal danger every damn step of the way. Call of Duty doesn't let you take a single breather. Its larger-than-life conflicts humble you and get your adrenaline flowing. The core gameplay can be broken down into three key segments - you're assaulting, holding position or sabotaging. Even though I've simplified it a bit, it pretty much boils down to that. The key thing here is that just when I thought some of the missions started getting slightly repetitive the developers surprised me with a Soviet level that provided a good variation to the car chases from the American and British campaigns. Overall the game unfolded at a very good pace for me. I never lost interest, not for one second, and I was in awe of the action most of the way. No one can design a perfect game, and we're all quite aware of this, but whenever the action would lose a fraction of its steam the developers would come back with another epic battle scene that would make me go nuts over Call of Duty all over again. The pacing of this game is good enough to hide its obvious linearity, so I cannot take this as a drawback. Furthermore, waging war on two different fronts and with three very different armies ensures that you'll rarely see any examples of repetitive level design. One other great thing about being able to play three distinct campaigns is that you'll get to shoot from guns that vary greatly in their accuracy, kick, rate of fire, reloading mechanisms, etc. Let me give you an example. The Russian sub-machine gun is much more inaccurate than the German MP-40, especially over mid-range distances. When involved in a mid-range fire fight you'll be much better off with the MP40. However, the Russian SMG's superior rate of fire makes it absolutely ideal for close quarters combat. The Russians have a more accurate and faster reloading sniper rifle, but the American M1 is a much more versatile weapon with good accuracy and fast rate of fire. What I also liked about the weapons - and this also has an impact on the gameplay dynamics - is how the designers have introduced the melee attack into the game. In a few missions Germans will swarm your position from all sides and you simply won't have enough ammo to shoot them all. Often your squad will face seemingly insurmountable odds. The game brings to life this, the grittiest form of warfare, by making melee combat an essential part of the battle. In a way, this sheds light on another side of the conflict that's often been neglected in other WWII games.

I've been a gamer for a long time and I don't remember ever playing a more intense and immersive game. On top of making the conflict so bloody tangible (pun intended), Infinity Ward managed to make sense of it all by incorporating a humane and meaningful message in the end. They've made sure that the final scene is symbolic and significant enough to present a climax to the deeds that preceded it. Quite unlike the amateurish finale we've seen in MoH: AA. You'll never really play the lead hero, not even in that final scene, but it somehow feels much more gratifying than going with that worn out "one man army" clich'. On the other hand, designers will often put you in positions where you'll be required to think fast under pressure. Managing to stay alive in one such hairy situation (and doing so without having to reload the game) will be reward enough to satisfy our egos as game players.

Is this game worth your money? Hell yeah, man, it's my game of the year favorite! Will you complain about the length of the single-player? I think you might. It took me about a day and a half of playing to finish the single-player campaign. Nonetheless, the game comes with a multiplayer segment, so you'll have plenty of reasons to come back to it, especially if you and your friends can recreate some of the massive battles from the single-player mode. On the surface, the multiplayer mode doesn't appear to be any different from the one in MoH: AA. I can't say I've played it enough to pass my final judgment however. All I know is I will certainly play this game again on the hard level. I also know that Infinity Ward has restored my faith in gaming by producing a very mature, complete and meaningful project. Call of Duty is action at its finest, but told well enough not to offend those of us looking for a little more meaning and substance in our gaming.


9.3   Excellent

Call of Duty restored my faith in PC gaming, my GOTY favorite;

Single-player relatively short, a few dated looking interiors and low res. textures.



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