A few days ago, much to my delight, a postman dropped a beta copy of Call of Duty 2 into my eager hands. Several minutes and nearly four gigabytes later, I prepared to pla—er, analyze the sequel to the esteemed Call of Duty in order to unofficially determine whether or not this title is simply another case of sequel-itis, an improvement, or something completely different than the game that still stands head and shoulders above the sea of WWII-themed shooters out there. While previews tend to be excellent PR opportunities for game developers and nothing more, I will endeavor to describe my limited experience with Call of Duty 2 and include some slight criticisms as well. However, this is only a beta, and as I can tell you from my own personal experience, software can change greatly between the beta and a gold master. Here are my findings.
Many SimilaritiesCall of Duty 2 is similar to the original Call of Duty in a vast number of ways. Considering the extremely high regard that gamers hold for the original, this isn't surprising in the slightest. Like the original, Call of Duty 2 is split into three campaigns where you have the opportunity to fight as a rank-and-file soldier in the Russian, British, and American armies as they battle in various locations ranging from the snow and ice of Russia to the sweltering deserts of Africa. Missions during the estimated 15 hours of gameplay range from ordinary house-to-house fighting to some truly interesting adventures that in one case had me frantically crawling through a tiny sewer pipe while bullets punched holes in it, leaving behind brilliant streaks of light. Fans of Call of Duty's tank missions should be pleased to know that they will have an opportunity to pilot a British Crusader main battle tank against the armor of Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps. While you can proceed through the three campaigns in strict order, players now have the option of switching between the campaigns (mostly) at will. While this flexibility is a nice improvement, considering the fact that World War II was fought simultaneously on multiple fronts, it seems to have been added at the cost of a tight storyline (even if you don't opt to juggle campaigns and stick to the prescribed path). I definitely felt like I was being shuffled about Europe and Africa a bit much for my tastes, but this style of dropping you into a battle is still enormously entertaining, especially after watching those excellent Military Channel introductions that are featured at the start of each campaign.
Another slight discrepancy that I noticed between Call of Duty and Call of Duty 2 was the absence of the static squad-mates (unlike the cannon-fodder that comprised the bulk of the friendly forces) that shared your adventures during Call of Duty's campaigns. While few people will name this characteristic as a contributing factor to the excellent gameplay that made Call of Duty a must-have game, your immediate squad-mates always assisted in propelling the storyline forward by offering some of the best voice acting that I've ever heard. While Call of Duty 2's expendable denizens manage to be even more chatty and informative than their outdated counterparts by calling out enemy locations and incoming grenades in great detail, the game lacks that core of static characters that complained, gave orders, cracked jokes, and almost making the player feel as if he were really part of the squad.
Consult the Book of Armaments, and Forget the Medic!Another part of Call of Duty 2 that is essentially unchanged from the original title is the weapon system. The general spot-on weight and feel of the various armaments in Call of Duty 2 remain indistinguishable from the original—you can still right-click to sight down the barrel, and they sound splendidly deadly. Thanks in part to the Xbox 360's multiple triggers, grenades have become infinitely more useful since the game provides dedicated controls that allow players to lob frag and smoke grenades. Speaking of which, smoke grenades are as useful and as fun to watch as reported in the previous Call of Duty 2 first look preview. Toss one in front of a German machine gun nest, and after a muffled pop and a few seconds delay, you're free to covertly sneak by the enemy emplacement. However, smoke can also be extremely dangerous, especially since the enemy has smoke grenades as well. If you're not careful, you can run headlong into a group of German soldiers in the midst of the murky fog and be savagely beaten down before you know it. Excellent!