World War II themed first-person shooters appear to diverge in their style and approach. One camp opts to use the free-flowing structure, relying on the use of artificial intelligence to dynamically create epic battlegrounds. The most well known amongst this camp is perhaps Battlefield 1942. On the other hand, we have those other titles that are cinematic. Their experiences revolve around one protagonist and the storyline for such games are scripted right down to the very actions the individual soldiers take on screen. For these, we often to turn to titles like Medal of Honor.
Call of Duty is one of the latter camp and undoubtedly, there will be comparisons between Activision's new entrant and the aforementioned EA franchise. A recently released demo has you crawling around the French countryside amongst the scattered sticks of the 101st Airborne - Baker Company 506 to be exact. It's during the pitch blackness of night where you will partake in a mission to silence the anti-air flak cannons distributed throughout the town and then defend the position while reinforcements make their way from the landings in Normandy and elsewhere in the Allied offensive.
Veterans of Medal of Honor will have no trouble approaching this game. There is always the presence of the correct path to take during the course of any mission. There is always the presence of the brute force path, which will eat away at your health and ammunition to encourage you not to try it again. Sometimes, the game will drop a hint on which position you should take. In a shootout across a narrow countryside street, the protagonist, a Private Martin, is asked to take left flank to help alleviate the standoff. In other cases, you'll have to figure it out yourself. Blindly shooting away won't help as the enemy soldiers, Germans in this case, tend to dodge and move about strategically to avoid attracting too much suppressing fire in one location.
All the while, Call of Duty features a compass with a map of where all your friendly cohorts are (as unrealistic as this sounds, it actually works quite well). Recklessly moving ahead of the group will get you stuck in some nasty crossfire situations making those randomly named Americans you fight alongside all the more important. Don't get me wrong, though, the events, like any good movie, still revolve around the protagonist. So be prepared to take on the toughest tasks; planting explosives, destroying tanks, etc.
The animations for Call of Duty are done very well. Soldiers will stack up convincingly before doorways. And they'll snake up stairs slowly to eliminate the chance of ambush. A lot of the environment is destructible. The developers often use some of these to script events to heighten the drama. Lighting is also heavily used to enhance the dramatic effect. On the approach of the 101st Airborne to enemy anti air positions, flak guns and explosions will light up the night sky. Furthermore, proximity to concussions will cause deafened ringing ears and vision problems; a page lifted from the likes of hardcore titles like Ghost Recon.
Action junkies shouldn't be dismayed. Call of Duty is still very much an action game at heart. Your movement speed and the rate of fire for weapons are held at a quick pace. You can fully empty out a Thompson clip in a few seconds. But like Halo, it maintains a maximum weapon count so you can't become a one-man wrecking crew like Arnold Schwarzenegger or something.
What sets Call of Duty apart from its competitors is the encapsulation of different battle theaters. You aren't stuck portraying the likes of a single protagonist, which was the case in Return to Wolfenstein and the Medal of Honor series. Instead, you will be able to participate in other battles, such as the Russian breakout in Stalingrad from the side of the Russians. You'll also be able to join with one of the principal participants in the war as the British. It remains to be seen whether authentic language will be used, but the change of scenario and sides is interesting. It should help to woo those who have grown weary of the American versus German front that is so predominant in titles revolving around World War II. I'm positive if Call of Duty is successful, we'll see ourselves wading in the Pacific with an expansion pack. Now if only one day developers would be daring enough to produce a title that took on the role of partisans or a sympathetic Axis point of view.
Once upon a time, any first-person shooter with the World War II theme would have netted itself lots of attention by virtue of its existence alone, especially after the critical year of 1998 when World War II suddenly became in vogue again in the arts and media. The short time I spent with Call of Duty appears to suggest on all levels, presentation, gameplay, features and polish, it is a game that any war enthusiast should look forward to. It may be stacked up against stiff competition and it may also use the same cinematic formula, but it has some features that haven't been seen before, going forward to prove that that other "honorable" series is not necessarily the de facto benchmark to be measured against, ex cathedra.
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