Call of Duty
Made of the Reich stuff.
It’s as if the first-person shooter has found its one-size-fits-all pair of boots with World War II, being a staple motif for such action games as Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, Return to Castle Wolfenstein and Mortyr, but also several multiplayer-only titles like Battlefield 1942 and World War II Online. Just when you thought the genre has hit an insurmountable stalemate you stumble upon something as wildly entertaining as Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty.
The game is structured around three individual campaigns, each letting you wage war as a different character across several infamous fronts, including Normandy, sweeps of Eastern Europe, the Soviet motherland and eventually Berlin on the concluding days of the War. The first campaign follows American paratroopers in the pre-dawn hours of D-Day and in the days immediately after. Following a hard drop into a hot landing zone, you reassemble with your unit and launch an assault on a village crossroads. Starting mildly enough, the situation quickly turns brutal once the German occupants start organizing defensively.
A few minutes into the game and you’re facing down artillery barrages and the buzzing roar of MG-42 mounted machinegun nests, with nothing but impact craters, broken walls and dead cows for cover. The next day heralds a fierce counter-attack by the Germans, and subsequent missions involve taking down entrenched artillery crews, a breakout from a P.O.W. camp and an entertaining car ride through enemy territory.
Blazing Through The War
These battles set the tone for the game to follow, and when the Ryan-esque battles set against machinegun fire and artillery kick in you almost get a palpable sense of panic and concern for your fellow brother-in-arms. Where Call of Duty sets itself apart from Medal of Honor and its ilk is the sense that you’re fighting as part of a collective effort and not as a one-man wrecking crew. It’s an effective artificial construct – you go against heavily defended positions that continually spawn reinforcements, both on their end and yours, and it’s always up to you to brake the stalemate and advance through no man’s land so your team can follow up and clear an area. A few missions shift this formula by placing you in a defensive strongpoint, holding back ever increasing enemy forces for a set amount of time. It gets predictable, but it’s nonetheless extremely fun.
The British campaign is centered around the surgical operations of UK commandos. Here, Call of Duty veers away from the scale of the American campaign and instead tasks you with sneakier missions, like planting explosives onboard an imposing Nazi battleship, sabotaging the Eder dam or seizing a village in a midnight raid. These missions are typically where Call of Duty is at its weakest, probably because they resemble Medal of Honor. You may be surprised that they don’t actually involve any real stealth – for instance one simply has to follow your commanding officer when sneaking onboard the battleship, which typically becomes boring, but a few riveting British missions later on – like defending a bridgehead against an onslaught of German forces and an exciting endgame truck ride – more than make up for these slow portions.
“Not One Step Back, Comrades!”
Thankfully, the action quickly picks up again in the Russian campaign, the longest and most intense of the trilogy, with more than a subtle influence of Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Enemy at the Gates (2001) driving it forward. Starting across the Volga river as a helpless Soviet conscript, you enter the meat grinder that is Stalingrad under a torrent of German fire and officers barking propaganda while shooting those who attempt to flee. Naturaly there’s not enough weapons and ammo to go around, so you’re handed a five-bullet cartridge and instructed to follow the soldier in front of you and grab his rifle if he dies.
The city itself is a charnel house, a hell of whizzing machinegun fire and exploding artillery shells. Later you take part in a T-34 tank platoon bulldozing through Eastern Europe and eliminating German Panzers. The Russian campaign finally ends in Berlin, culminating in your raising the hammer-and-sickle flag from the top of the Reichstag.
Scripted events scattered left and right convey the chaotic feel of the battlefield. When ricochets ping and soldiers cry out, buildings collapse from tank-shell blasts and planes crash just on the horizon, you know you’re in the thick of it. Call of Duty throws this at you mission after mission, offering some intense action that’s more cinematic than Medal of Honor and more viciously fun than Return to Castle Wolfenstein. It’s a great shooter, pure and simple, just slightly brought down by the rare commando mission on the British side, which tend to get boring. On all other fronts it’s a winner, and one that you should definitely try if you have any sort of appreciation for the undying World War II shooter.
System Requirements: Pentium III 700 Mhz, 128 MB RAM, 16 MB Video, Win 98/ME/2K/XP