"War is delightful to those who have no experience of it." -Erasmus
It would seem that Desiderius Erasmus was more than just insightful; he was prophetic. It is ironic that Infinity Ward would include that quote in their game. Today you can hardly go five minutes without discovering another war game. Next to racing games, there has to be more war games than any other type. For that reason I was a little dismissive of Call of Duty 2 before the 360 launched. The fact is, while the genre holds little interest for me, CoD 2 is one of the best made games in a long time and perhaps the premier launch title for the X-box 360.
Call of Duty 2 has an epic quality that is on a level not reached by many video games. It presents an engrossing experience that entranced not just I the gamer, but spectators as well. So well made is CoD 2 that if it weren't for the interruption of my constant dying a group of us could sit and watch it like a movie.
Before lying, literarily, prostrate at the feet of Call of Duty, I'll give you my two problems with the game.
The glaring exception to Call of Duty's perfection is the lack of a cooperative mode, local or online. CoD 2 does so well at sweeping you up into this War time experience my first instinct is to want to share it. Most Veterans would tell you about the comaraderie that is developed during war. This is an element that should have been implemented into CoD 2. I don't need to talk about this too much. Putting out a first-person shooter that doesn't have a co-op mode at this point is just silly.
My other problem comes from playing in Veteran mode, the hardest difficulty level. I expect Veteran mode to be hard. I expect it to be maddeningly, frustratingly hard. But I expect it to be fair. I expect the enemies to be dead-eye perfect shots. I expect to occasionally die from a single shot. This is war on the highest difficulty. But I do not expect them to anticipate the exact split second I pop my head out. As fast as a bullet is, a shooter would still have to pull the trigger before I even got out of hiding in order to make the kinds of shots that they routinely make in CoD 2. At one point in the game I was charged with the task of placing an explosive on a tank. This a common goal. This particular tank was uncommonly skittish. It seemed to fear me, as if it knew that I would be it's demise. If all tanks ran from all soldiers the way this one ran from me, wars would be comical ballets of tanks scattering like cats from an excited toddler. So, the only way to approach this tank was to either run at it full speed or sneak up out of view.
I tried the full speed technique first. The tank would move away from me and I was blown away brutally. I tried it a couple more times with similar results. It was when I tried the sneak approach that I discovered that German tank operators were omniscient. As I lay on my virtual belly in the snow behind a wall, very much out of the tank's view, I would watch the tank on my radar. I would crawl a little to the left and the tank would move a little to the right, I move right, the tank left. You get the gist. It was impossible for me to sneak up on the tank. Impossible. So I had to resign myself to the first approach and just keep getting blown away until I got lucky. That was the last level I played on veteran. The extra achievement points weren't worth the strain on my heart the frustration was causing me.
The rest of the game is genius. For my two cents, I believe that Call of Duty 2 is the prettiest game on the 360. No other game shows off what the machine can do the way that CoD 2 does. Graphics have taken over the industry, often getting more attention than gameplay. Call of Duty 2 has some of the prettiest graphics around. Instead of using them as packaging, or eye candy, CoD 2 uses them like any other tool to enhance the game. It is because it looks so realistic that developers Infinity Ward were able to make visuals that not only look good but affect how you play. I was amazed how much of the way I played depended on a cloud of smoke from an explosion or a puff of breath in the cold air. If they hadn't been rendered so well the developers couldn't have used them in such integral ways through out the game. Of course the graphics are a huge part of mood that is so important to CoD 2. You really feel the cold of 1940's Russia. I have played a lot of snowy levels in twenty plus years of gaming and never actually thought about the cold. One time I caught myself stopped in the middle of a fire fight staring down at a fallen comrade and thinking, "How many of these games have made you think about anything more than your next goal?" I'd guess not many, probably none. This moment would never have happened if the visuals weren't so meticulously rendered.
Just for punctuation: Call of Duty 2 looks absolutely amazing.
With so much attention paid to next-gen graphics you hear much less about the leap in audio. 5.1 surround has been around in gaming for awhile but never has it been as good as the 360. Like Need For Speed: Most Wanted, CoD 2 exemplifies this. You can take everything I said about the graphics and apply it to the audio. I relied upon the surround sound to make it through the game. The tink tink of grenades or the crunch of enemy footsteps were often my first indicators that I was no longer safe. The music is sweeping and is exactly what the game needed to complete the epic feel.
Call of Duty 2, also, sounds absolutely amazing.
As great as all of CoD2's aesthetics are, they would not be nearly as effective if not for the fantastic AI. Both sides of the war are populated by incredibly intelligent soldiers. When you replay a section of the game it is never the same. Some times it will be similar and sometimes it will play out vastly different. Sometimes you will get lucky and the Germans will do poorly and your soldiers will be especially adept. Other times you will find yourself all alone, your friends all dead around you, dozens of enemy soldiers waiting just over the hill. The broad strokes are always there but how it plays out is always changing. This is possibly the most important way that Call of Duty 2 creates it's intensity. No matter how many times you play a certain segment of the game you never know where the next bullet is coming from.
There are ten levels, broken down into smaller segments, further broken down into multiple objectives. Then there are the online and local multiplayer modes. You really get a lot of game for your money. The objectives are more or less just variations on capturing positions and holding positions. Sometimes once you get to a spot you have to plant an explosive or radio for help, but that just means holding the X button. Getting there is the real challenge.
The multiplayer modes include the ever present deathmatch and team deathmatch. There is my favorite mode, capture the flag. Also there are two objective based modes: head quarters and search and destroy. Search and destroy is self explanatory. Head quarters is a new one for me, but an interesting addition. Each team must try to establish a base. Once done the other team cannot respawn until they destroy that base. It is almost like a combination of capture the flag and dodge ball, in a WWII setting. All right, that probably just made it more confusing. The maps, which there are 13 of, are huge and most of them have buildings and what not to hide in. The multiplayer portion of the game is just as well done as the single player game.
The WWII FPS genre is starting to wear thin. At this point, only the best of the best become worthy of our attention. Call of Duty 2 is one of those games. It is an example of perfection of craft. The folks behind Call of Duty 2 should be proud of themselves. Intense barely begins to describe the experience. If you have a 360 and don't own this game then you are missing the keystone of the X-box's fledgling library.