24 Dec, 2005

Call of Duty 2: Big Red One Review

Xbox Review | Because it's not like the Normandy beach landing has been done to death or anything.
When Call of Duty arrived on PC back in 2003, it quickly established itself as one of the best first-person shooters on the market, thanks to it’s highly intense scripted battles – the addictive multiplayer didn’t hurt, either. However, when the series headed towards the console, it seemed to lose something – the fact it was a new game developed by another company probably had a bit to do with it. For the next console entry in the series, development duties were passed Treyarch and Gray Matter, and they have come up with Call of Duty 2: Big Red One. Note that this is NOT the same game as Call of Duty 2 on the PC and Xbox 360, but an entirely different game.

The game revolves around the American 1st infantry division – otherwise known as The Big Red One, hence the subtitle. Players take control of a rookie soldier, a member of a tough infantry platoon under the control of Sgt. Hawkins, and must guide him through a series of World War II battles – which usually involve killing soldiers of various Axis armies. Big Red One puts a lot of emphasis on its characters – other members of your squad will be completely broken up by deaths in-game – but, strangely, the game makes no effort to introduce these characters during the game, barring a few exceptions. The vast majority are just a mass of anonymous nobodies, making it tough to care when they cop a bullet to the face. The only real time you will see their name is when you aim the crosshair at them, but that’s hardly sufficient. Given that there is no back story to each of the missions, you’d think that some sort of attempt to make you care about the characters would be made – perhaps some longer cut scenes where they give some background, but alas, no.

Fancy a spot of fishing?

Fancy a spot of fishing?
What makes the Call of Duty series stand out from other World War II shooters is its reliance on scripted events – for example, large explosions the second your character steps around a corner, members of your squad dying at certain points in the level, and so on. It all adds up to create an intense combat atmosphere, helping immerse the player in the game. While the atmosphere here is quite strong, it isn’t as good as what has been seen with the PC games – the effects, the score and the events themselves just aren’t quite as impressive on the weaker console. That said, it certainly is a huge step up from Finest Hour.

Because of the reliance on scripting, Big Red One is extremely linear. The game simply gives you an objective, plants its location on a compass, and you follow it. There is no option to complete objectives in any order, explore the surroundings or do your own thing. This will be enough to put many people off the game, especially those who like their games open ended. But, for this game, it works. Big Red One is all about action, and plenty of ‘holy ****’ moments – not explore the wide open countryside. You take your gun and with your squad, clear each level of enemy troops, then progress and do the exact same thing again until the level is finished.

The developers have realized that this would quickly stagnate, and have included an extremely healthy array of different missions to break things up, such as firing anti-aircraft weaponry at, erm, enemy aircraft, using artillery, and even driving a tank across the African desert. And, in a piece of absolute inspiration, a mission that takes place solely on one aircraft, and has you doing everything from bombing targets below and fending off enemy fighters. Absolutely terrific. Very few first-person shooters go to such lengths to break up the action, and it’s fantastic to see it here. The best thing is, it works – you never get sick of the standard gameplay, and the other missions never tedious or annoying. Great stuff.

Just a typical shot of Big Red One in action

Just a typical shot of Big Red One in action
After taking a few moments to get used to the button placement, Big Red One becomes extremely easy to play. The usual dual analog sticks are in place, as is the dedicated grenade button. Pulling a trigger will bring up the iron sight, and reduce recoil as well as improve accuracy – but also slow your character down, forcing a nice little element of strategy into the mix. The now common ability to only carry two weapons is also in place – but they generally fall into two categories. Rifles, or sub-machine guns, with the occasional bazooka or rocket launcher. All the weapons generally handle the same unfortunately, with slight adjustments to recoil and reloading time the only real significant difficulties. Expect to find your usual World War II weaponry in the game – the Garand, B.A.R, Thompson, etc.

While the artificial intelligence – for friend and foe – isn’t terrible, it’s not up there with the likes of Halo, either. Enemies take a long time to aim, and when they seek cover, they usually do it poorly, with either an arm or a head sticking out and providing a nice target for your crosshair. Their tactics generally are non-existent, aside from hiding behind whatever piece of scenery is nearby. Your squad is much better, though. They are actually quite aggressive, and can hold their own against the enemy. They’re also indestructible unless the script tells them to die, too – it doesn’t help the game in the realism stakes, but it’s understandable. They do act injured and retreat when hit, though. But, occasionally you will catch them doing something stupid though, like firing into a trench wall – for long periods of time if you don’t try and advance, too.

The environments in Big Red One are extremely well mixed up. Africa is extremely distinctive, thanks to its vast deserts. Italy’s beachhead is also much different than the one in France, making the two beach landings in the game quite different. On land, locations range from tight trenches, towns and wipe open areas. And, every one of the levels looks brilliant, too, thanks to some great detail and textures. Characters also look quite good for the old Xbox, and move quite convincingly, whether they be diving for cover, or just jogging through a trench. Unfortunately, the sound doesn’t quite match up. The voice acting is quite good – a number of actors from the Band of Brothers[i] mini series put in strong performances – but the score doesn’t seem to be as strong or epic as you would expect from a [i]Call of Duty game. In fact, it is barely noticeable throughout the game, which is a bit of a shame.

Proof spontaneous combustion exists.

Proof spontaneous combustion exists.
Big Red One is great fun while it lasts – it just isn’t quite long enough. Most players should be able to roll the game within ten hours on normal difficulty. The ‘unlockable content’ consists of pictures of characters and guns in the game, so that’s not of much help. Various difficulty levels are also available, although a ranking system would have been nice. LAN and online multiplayer are supported, with servers capable of hosting up to 16 players. It’s pretty much a stock standard multiplayer, with no surprises. Unfortunately, there is no split screen multiplay option.

Call of Duty 2: Big Red One is pretty damn good game. Is it as good as Call of Duty 2 on the 360 or PC? No – but don’t let that stop you from checking it out. It’s a great action packed thrill ride, with plenty of violence – and variety to keep you interested. The multiplayer is also worth a look, even if it is nothing at all out of the ordinary. While some split screen multiplayer and a stronger narrative would have been nice, all in all, Big Red One is still a top game – one of the best of the holiday season, in fact. If you’re after a shooter, give this a look.
The Score
Call of Duty 2: Big Red One is a top-notch FPS, and a huge improvement from Finest Hour. While it’s not quite long enough, or as good as its PC brethren, it is still worthy of your dollar. 8
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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