There is no shortage of World War II-themed first-person shooters available, and it’s no secret that a number of them, including Medal of Honor: Allied Assault and Battlefield 1942, are extremely good. Now you can add Call of Duty to that list. The first game by Infinity Ward, a studio composed of some of the same team that worked on Allied Assault, Call of Duty presents outstanding action all around and is at least as good as, and in several ways is simply better than, any similar game. Though both its single-player and multiplayer modes will be familiar to those who’ve been keeping up with the WWII-themed shooters of the past several years, most anyone who plays games would more than likely be very impressed with Call of Duty’s authentic presentation, well designed and often very intense single-player missions, and fast-paced, entertaining multiplayer modes.
Call of Duty’s distinguishing features, by and large, can’t be considered innovations–that’s too strong of a word. However, this is a game that pulls together many of the best aspects of other, similar games, and also includes all
sorts of little “wish-list items” that may have crossed your mind while playing those other games. The result seems, above all, very well designed. The action in Call of Duty, ultimately, is arcadelike–much like in Allied Assault or Battlefield 1942. You can’t survive a shot to the head, but you can take a few bullets anywhere else and can keep going just fine. There’s also a clear onscreen indication of the direction from which you’re taking fire (and, as you’re getting hit, the screen shudders to make it look like it hurts). Luckily, first aid kits, conveniently placed in the levels or occasionally dropped by killed enemies, instantly restore large portions of your health. You hardly ever need to activate a “use” key in this game. When you do, you’ll use it to instantly set explosives or grab documents, but you won’t use it for opening doors.
Actually, that’s because you won’t be opening any doors. One gameplay contrivance that’s presented in the first few seconds of the first mission is that any time you see a closed door in Call of Duty, it’s supposed to stay closed. This seems like a minor point, but how many shooters have you played in which you fumbled for every doorknob, trying to find the one door that would actually open? That’s simply not an issue in Call of Duty. Despite the highly authentic atmosphere created for the levels in the game, there tends to be an intuitive, clear path from the beginning of the level to the end. The levels can be challenging, at least at the higher two of the game’s four difficulty settings, but they’re not frustrating. If you die, you can restart at your most recent save almost instantly. You don’t need to worry about hitting the quick-save key all the time, either, since the game automatically and seamlessly saves your progress not just at the beginning of a level but at several points throughout the level. The game’s brief tutorial at the beginning of the single-player mode will be second nature for experienced players of first-person shooters. However, since it’s in the context of a military boot camp, it will also provide, for new and experienced players alike, some valuable advice on (and practice with) the nuances of Call of Duty’s gameplay.
Call of Duty does an excellent job of modeling American, British, Russian, and German weapons of the era. You can shoot your weapon from the hip, aim down its sights, use it as a bludgeon, or change its firing mode, in some cases.
You cannot sprint in Call of Duty, nor can you tiptoe. While standing, you move at a constant pace that’s not too slow and not too fast but is just right. You’ll have no trouble quickly getting from point A to point B. However, when you’re running from cover to cover in an area that’s under fire, you’ll be painfully aware of how vulnerable you are. You should probably keep your head down, and Call of Duty lets you easily switch between standing, crouching, and prone stances. You move slower while crouching–not too slowly though–which makes this the best way to get around when in the thick of battle. Movement, as well as turning, is understandably much slower while prone. Sometimes, however, this is the perfect option for staging an ambush or staying out of harm’s way. As in many shooters, you can also lean around corners in Call of Duty, which can be a real lifesaver during some of the game’s deadly firefights when you need all the cover you can get.
Call of Duty features a wide arsenal of authentic American, British, Russian, and German WWII weapons, including various rifles, submachine guns, side arms, and grenades. You can carry only two larger weapons at a time (as well as a pistol and some grenades), so, typically, you’ll want to have a rifle for out-in-the-open engagements and a submachine gun for tight-quarter combat. While armed with any of these, you may shoot from the hip, raise the weapon to eye level and aim down the sight (for more accuracy at the expense of movement speed), or use the butt of the weapon to try and club an enemy to death. Manually reloading your weapon tends to be faster than letting the clip run out, and some weapons let you switch firing modes, like going from full-auto to single shot (though, since you can squeeze off single rounds in full-auto mode, this isn’t very useful). Your crosshairs expand when you’re moving and contract when you’re steady, pointing out how much more inaccurate you’ll be if you try to run-and-gun. The weapons themselves are modeled very convincingly, thanks in no small part to the tactile sense you get from being able to look through their sights or use them as bludgeons, and most every one will earn your respect since, in the right situations, they can all be deadly effective.
Call of Duty’s single-player missions let you experience some incredible battles from the perspective of an American soldier, a British commando, and a Russian conscript, who isn’t even given a gun. Additionally, multiplayer Call of Duty features the very clever “kill cam,” which lets a player who’s been killed relive the last five seconds of his life from his killer’s perspective. The implications of the kill cam are pretty significant: If anyone isn’t playing fair in a multiplayer match, the kill cam ought to make this quite clear, and then players can vote to have the offending player kicked. When playing a deathmatch-style multiplayer mode, you can easily skip the kill-cam sequence and get back into the action, but if you’re playing one of the multiplayer modes in which you can’t instantly respawn, it can make for an entertaining five-second consolation prize.
One of Call of Duty’s most distinguishing features in the single-player mode is how many humans, both friend and foe, it manages to cram into an environment. With the exception of a small handful of corridor-crawl-style commando missions (which, while pretty good, are probably the least interesting parts of the game), you’ll never be fighting alone, and you’ll always have allied soldiers fighting–and dying–by your side. These allies are mostly for the sake of ambience; they mostly look realistic as they fight from behind cover and draw some of the enemy fire. They even sometimes charge the enemy, as you’d expect them to under the circumstances. However, they won’t do your job for you and can’t be depended upon to take out the bad guys.
Call of Duty’s graphics, somewhere down the line, are powered by the Quake III engine, but the game looks great–not dated. Occasionally, some of the character animation doesn’t look quite right. For instance, the animation for when killed soldiers fall from banisters or balconies looks particularly weak. Additionally, there are a few clipping issues here and there. Also, some of the scenery, particularly small shrubs and such, looks blocky and ugly if you get right up to it. We also experienced some graphical issues running the game with an ATI Radeon 9800 graphics card, which didn’t properly handle the game’s occasional motion-blur effect. Other than these specific issues, the overall look of the action is excellent. Realistic weather effects, explosions, and muzzle flashes help make the game’s environments come alive, and the character models for friends and foes are surprisingly detailed given how many of them can be onscreen. Additionally, the game runs very smoothly in comparison to other recent shooters. If you get a good frame rate out of other PC action games, this one will be silky smooth. Call of Duty, like Allied Assault, squeaked by with a “T” rating from the ESRB despite the extremely violent subject matter it portrays. Unlike Allied Assault, it even shows a little blood in the form of a red mistlike spurt that’s seen when a bullet hits its mark. For better or worse, there’s no graphic violence here, but the animations are realistic, and action is visceral.
The audio in Call of Duty is even better than the look. You’ll learn to tell most every weapon apart by its own loud and clear roar. In those rare instances when shooting isn’t occurring all around you, you’ll still tend to hear shooting off in the distance–an ambient effect that reinforces the sensation that you’re in the middle of a war. Some of the more action-packed single-player missions are practically deafening, what with all that’s going on with the bullets practically grazing your head, shells flying, aircraft making strafing runs, and more. In a great touch, if an artillery shell detonates near you, you’ll be shell-shocked, rendering you temporarily deaf and substantially disoriented. In fact, you’ll struggle to get back on your feet as the sound of battle eventually rushes back to your senses. The game’s sporadic use of voice acting is good, though it’s a bit of a shame that much of the Russian soldiers’ voice-over (and some of the Germans’) is in accented English rather than in the native language. For a game that attempts to appear as authentic as possible, this seems a little incongruous. Amidst all the cacophony of Call of Duty, it can be hard to hear the game’s orchestral musical score, but it kicks in on particular occasions and adds even more drama and cinematic flair to the proceedings.
Call of Duty is an all-around excellent game that confidently challenges, head-on, all the other WWII-themed shooters out there and comes out on top. When a game is outstanding, like this one is, some people invariably expect it to be something completely different from what’s already available. That’s not true of Call of Duty, which is directly comparable to Medal of Honor: Allied Assault and other such games. Yet, on its own merits, this game is executed extraordinarily well, and, therefore, can be wholeheartedly recommended not just to fans of other WWII-themed shooters but to anyone looking for a first-rate action game.
Call of Duty is a thoroughly impressive game.