Not only did Call of Duty 2 help kickoff the Xbox 360 in November of 2005, it was hands-down the system's best launch title. Here we are a year later and Call of Duty 3 is already hitting store shelves. With developer Infinity Ward on leave until the next Call of Duty title, Activision enlisted Treyarch to handle this latest installment in the WWII shooter franchise. Treyarch isn't exactly a new recruit, having previously worked on Call of Duty: Big Red One, but with such a quick turnaround, is Call of Duty 3 any different than Call of Duty 2? The answer might surprise you.
Call of Duty 2 let you experience World War II from several Allied perspectives, with distinct Russian, British and American campaigns. Call of Duty 3, on the other hand, focuses on one campaign: the Normandy Breakout. You'll still get to experience the all-out assault to liberate Paris from numerous Allied perspectives, assuming the roles of American, British, Canadian and Polish soldiers, but the campaign itself will take place entirely in the French countryside. The environments aren't quite as diverse as Call of Duty 2, which featured missions in the scorching deserts of North Africa and the frozen tundra of the U.S.S.R., alongside the historical D-Day invasion. That's the first difference you'll notice between the two titles, and as opposed to Call of Duty 2, which let you flip flop between its three campaigns, the mission set in Call of Duty 3 is straightforward.
Treyarch has implemented a few new gameplay features in Call of Duty 3, most noticeably with respect to grenades. Now, when you hold down the right bumper, you can ‘cook' a frag grenade. A bar will appear in the center of the screen counting down how much time you have left to throw the grenade before it explodes. It's basically a timing mechanism that allows your grenade to explode mid-air. In Call of Duty 2, Infinity Ward introduced the grenade indicator, an icon that popped up when an enemy grenade landed near you, affording you time to run away from the explosion. The grenade indicator makes a return appearance in Call of Duty 3 but instead of running away, you can choose to pick up live grenades and throw them back at the enemy. Just make sure you act quickly.
New to the Call of Duty franchise is a battle action mechanic that allows players to fight hand-to-hand, apply explosive devices and execute other battlefield objectives. The hand-to-hand combat sounds better than it actually is. During the game you'll run into a few choice encounters with an enemy that will result in a melee, but these are little more than button-mashing sequences as you pull the right and left triggers in an attempt to gain the upper hand on your opponent. The battle action mechanic plays a much better roll when it comes to setting explosive devices. As opposed to simply pushing a button to apply a charge, you'll have to press a button to attach the device, rotate the right trigger to arm it, and then press another button to remove the pin. The entire process takes time, adding tension to the moment as you race to complete the job before any enemies approach. The same type of mechanic is used in some of the game's other objectives. For example, rather than simply pressing a button to turn a valve, you'll have to rotate the right trigger in a motion that resembles the action your character is performing onscreen.
While the grenade and battle action mechanics are subtle yet important additions, the biggest difference I found between Call of Duty 2 and Call of Duty 3 was the pace of the game. Call of Duty 2 was a lot more calculating in its battles whereas Call of Duty 3 is all about non-stop action. With Call of Duty 2, Infinity Ward did a tremendous job creating memorable moments, opening with the Battle of Pointe Du Hoc during the D-Day invasion and culminating with the Battle for Hill 400, easily the most intense firefight in the game. Oddly enough, I can't recall any memorable sequences in Call of Duty 3. No one battle stood out to me and that's largely due to the fact that Call of Duty 3 always has its foot on the gas. It never lets up on the action. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but the final stand at Chambois should have been for Call of Duty 3 what the Battle for Hill 400 was in Call of Duty 2, the defining moment of the game. Instead, it was no more intense or memorable than the many other large-scale battles throughout the campaign. Perhaps that's just the way the Normandy Breakout went down, but at the same time I can't help but feel the developers slipped up when they chose to create scenarios where the German soldiers had unlimited respawns. For example:
In one of the game's missions I was told to use a mortar to blow up a German barricade so that our troops could advance down the river. I didn't fully understand how to use the mortar at first so I chose instead to kill the German soldiers advancing on our position to alleviate some of the pressure. That didn't seem to work, their numbers weren't decreasing, so I went back to the mortar and finally launched a few shells towards the barricade. I thought I had finished the job so I went back to shooting more German soldiers. You should have seen the body count, on both sides. In the trench I was standing in the bodies were literally piling up, and there were even more casualties down the hill, yet to my surprise the Germans kept coming. It was then that I realized the German soldiers were respawning in the bushes at the bottom of the hill and until I completed the objective of destroying the barricade, which apparently I had not done, the Germans were forever going to attack. There are a few other instances in the game where German soldiers respawn in unlimited numbers until you complete a certain objective and I just don't understand that gameplay decision. How authentic to World War II is unlimited enemy respawns?
That little gripe aside, one of the elements I love about the Call of Duty series is how the battles aren't necessarily dependent on the player's actions. Sure, Allied troops won't advance past a particular section until you complete an objective or reach a trigger point, but once you engage the enemy in a firefight, your squad will act on their own. You could literally just sit back and watch the show if you wanted, and in that regard the AI has always been one of the series' strong points. Both friendly and enemy AI know when to take cover, when to flank, when to throw grenades and when to advance. There are some instances when a friendly will walk directly into your line of sight or block the path to a great battlefield vantage point, but overall they're very smart and that makes the experience all the more challenging and rewarding.
Call of Duty 3 is a visually stunning game, just like its predecessor. Treyarch has upped the ante with a new environmental physics engine. As a result, there are two kinds of cover in the game, soft and hard. Crates, for example, are considered soft cover. Soft cover can be destroyed by cumulative fire or a well-tossed grenade so you have to be careful if you find yourself hiding behind soft cover, as well as take advantage of the situation when an enemy chooses to do the same. The audio equally matches the quality of the graphics. Just like Call of Duty 2, you'll hear constant chatter on the battlefield once the first shot is fired, as your squadmates call out enemy sniper positions, flanking opportunities and from where enemy armored vehicles are approaching. Add to that an epic war-themed soundtrack and you've got one of the better all-around presentations in an Xbox 360 title.
One of the areas I was disappointed in Call of Duty 2 was multiplayer. The Xbox 360 version was capped at 8 players. Call of Duty 3 is not, however, with support for up to 24 players online. New to multiplayer is the ability to choose a character class for competitive play from the likes of Rifleman, Light Assault, Heavy Assault, Medic, Scout, Support and Anti-Armor. Each class has unique weapons and abilities. For example, the Scout is equipped with a sniper rifle for long-range attacks and can call in air strikes with their binoculars, while the Anti-Armor starts with an Anti-tank gun and can drop ammo packs to help teammates. Air strikes, Anti-tank gun...you guessed it, you can now also occupy vehicles in multiplayer action. There are six multiplayer modes in total, including old staples Capture the Flag, Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch. The one new mode, War, sees Allied and Axis teams battle for strategic locations. The only thing Call of Duty 3 doesn't include is co-operative play. Hopefully this will be addressed in future installments, after all, it only seems logical considering you're never out there on the battlefield alone.
In the end, I still feel as though Call of Duty 2 offered a superior singleplayer experience to Call of Duty 3. The later relies too much on the numbers game, particularly with the use of German respawns, and while the result is a more action-packed experience, the battles simply aren't as memorable. That's not to say the singleplayer campaign isn't exciting, it is, and with the new enhancements and a more fleshed out multiplayer component, you could argue that Call of Duty 3 is a more complete game than Call of Duty 2 was. Debates aside, one thing is clear, Call of Duty 3 is a WWII shooter well worth enlisting in.