If you’re not a gamer then this probably won’t interest you too much so I’m sticking it in the extended entry. If you are a gamer then click below to see what I thought of this new first person shooter from the folks at Infinity Ward.
I’m not sure why, but I have an affection for first person shooters set in World War II. Not that there are a ton of them out there, but I think it all started with the Day of Defeat mod for Half-Life. For the longest time my game of choice was Counter-Strike, despite it not being set in WWII, because of its team-oriented play style. When Medal of Honor: Allied Assault came out I finally had a FPS that would knock my addiction to playing CS onto its ass. In case you’ve not figured it out, I’m big on FPS games that have team play modes in its multiplayer. I’ve never been big on the unrestrained chaos of traditional straight death match that games like Quake and Unreal Tournament are largely known for and the fact that many of the maps from CS and MOH had objectives other than simply eliminating everyone on the opposing team made them that much more appealing. In short, I like a little thinkin’ with my shootin’.
I had high hopes for Battlefield 1942 because it was being designed specifically for online multiplayer and added vehicles to the mix, but I ended up being under-whelmed by it. In some ways the addition of vehicles, while cool in some respects, ended up detracting from the experience. Especially after playing on a server where one skilled player in a tank managed to camp our team’s only spawn point repeatedly blowing away everyone who spawned before they had a chance to fight back until time ran out and his side won. Effective? Yes, but not much fun for those of us on the losing side. I also enjoyed the single player half of Return to Castle Wolfenstein, but never got into it’s multiplayer like I thought I would. As a result much of my online fragging for the last year or two has been done in Medal of Honor and its various expansion packs. It didn’t hurt that the single player half of the game had sequences worth replaying on occasion for the sheer intensity they offered (the Omaha Beach landing for example). When I heard that the folks who created MOH for EA were working on a new WWII shooter called Call of Duty that promised to out-do MOH I was drooling in anticipation. My wife being the wonderful person she is made certain that Santa was clued in on my desire for a copy of CoD (among other games) and come Christmas morning I was one happy gamer. I’ve managed to finish the single player game since then and have been playing the multiplayer half quite a bit before sitting down to write up this review.
So has CoD become my new current favorite first person shooter? Well, kinda.
The single player half of the game is, almost literally, stunning and worthy of the price of admission in its own right. The Omaha Beach landing in MOH is generally considered one of the great gaming moments for providing a small glimpse into why we should all appreciate what the men who did it for real went through. Few games have managed to match the sense of absolute fear and excitement that this sequence generates the first time you play it. Call of Duty’s single player game has a lot of these sorts of moments in it. The most intense of which is probably the first mission in the Russian part of the campaign about a third of the way through that parallels MOH’s Omaha Beach sequence in that it’s a beach landing where you have to make it up the shore in one piece with one key difference: you don’t get a gun. You are handed a clip with five bullets, but short of walking up to the Nazi’s and trying to pound them in with a rock they’re not a whole lot of use to you. I was so surprised when I was handed bullets and no gun that I tried to get back into line to get one. Sorry Comrade, it wasn’t happening. I recall thinking something along the lines of, “You have got to be shitting me!” They aren’t and not taking to the beach isn’t an option as retreat is considered treason punishable by being shot by your own army. Historically speaking this sort of thing did actually happen as the Russians were some of the most ill-equipped soldiers on the battlefield and their primary strategy was to send wave after wave of people rushing into battle in the hopes that superior numbers would win the day. All three of the campaigns (American, British and Russian) have many moments like this and you may find you have a need to take a break from playing the game from time to time to catch your breath. One of the big differences between MOH and CoD is in your computer controlled squad mates. In MOH they were in the way more often than not and usually ended up being killed in an ambush which is just as well considering how ineffective they were. In CoD you’re surrounded by squad mates almost constantly (indeed, your survival in some Russian missions depends on it) and they have good enough AI that they make a difference and are actually helpful. You care quite a bit more when they get cut down because the Nazi’s also have a much improved AI over their MOH counterparts. I absolutely love the single player half of Call of Duty as it’s an exhilarating experience.
The multiplayer half of the game hasn’t impressed me as much as the single player, but a lot of that could be due to my personal biases from playing MOH multiplayer for so long. First up are the bad things about it. Sniper rifles seem like they are always one shot kills regardless of where they hit you and are amazingly accurate. In MOH it was possible after quite a bit of practice with the sniper rifles to get headshots on people who only had a bit of their helmet sticking up over an object, but it took skill and patience and if it was a foot or an arm you were shooting it wasn’t a one-shot kill if they were at full health. In CoD it doesn’t matter what you hit and it only takes a tiny bit of exposure for someone on the other side of the map to take you out as the distance you can see in CoD is considerably further than MOH. Machine guns seem a lot more deadly in CoD and pretty much make the non-scoped rifle useless versus people who take the spray and pray approach to game play whereas in MOH rifles took practice to use against machine guns, but paid off for it by being a lot more deadly when you hit. Grenades seem to take an awful long time to explode meaning most of the deaths from grenades come from not noticing one has landed nearby then from any skill on the grenadier’s part. There are only four weapons to choose from on either side consisting of rifle, submachine gun, machine gun, and scoped-rifle whereas MOH had a much larger variety. One of the things I think is cool about MOH is that you can choose what skin your player used and the assortment of weapons changed depending on whether the skin was American, British, German or Italian. In CoD the map determines which of the three Allies the Germans will face and the skins for all players on a side are identical so only the Allies get any variety in weapons depending on the map. The Russian submachine gun is a favorite of mine, for example, and it would be cool to use it on any of the maps. Probably the single worst problem I have with multiplayer in CoD, however, is the dreaded return of “Bunny Hopping.” A problem that Medal of Honor managed to avoid entirely.
Now for some of the things that I consider a mixed blessing. One of the things you can do in CoD that you can’t in MOH is go prone on the ground. Combined with the fact that bodies for fallen players stick around as opposed to disappearing this makes it tricky to tell who’s dead and who’s just prone until the prone character moves a little. There are no doors that need to be opened on any of the maps. On the plus side this eliminates the likelihood of some idiot standing around trying to open the same door for ten minutes because he doesn’t understand that if you could open it then you would have on the first try. On the negative, this lack of doors eliminates one of the strategies common in MOH, namely listening for doors to tell where someone is or if they’re coming up behind you. This becomes more of an issue when you consider that you can move while crouching and are effectively silent when doing so making sneaking up behind someone easy. Some might argue this discourages camping, which is true as it doesn’t pay to stay in one spot for too long, but then when you’re supposed to be guarding a bomb target it could be argued that camping should be somewhat expected.
And now for the good things. Maps with buildings tend to have very few buildings you can’t enter making it feel more like a real setting. A lot of maps in MOH feel more like movie sets than cities due to the large number of buildings you can’t go into. Foliage plays a bigger role in this game as there are shrubs you can go prone under that can help make you a harder target. I love the KillCam as one of the more frustrating things that can happen in a FPS is to be killed by someone you never even saw which prompts more than a little whining if it was a sniper doing it. The KillCam plays back the last few seconds of your life from the perspective of your attacker with a big honkin’ arrow over your head that says YOU on it allowing you to see how you died. While this won’t eliminate all occurrences of people accusing you of cheating it should help to reduce it. The pace of multiplayer is a lot slower than in MOH due in part to the ease in which snipers can take you out and the need to check out your surroundings more thoroughly.
Overall it’s clear I have more complaints about the multiplayer than I do compliments, but this may lessen as I play it more and it’s purely my preferences. If you hated the multiplayer in MOH then you may find this to be much more enjoyable. I had hoped that CoD would replace MOH as my game of choice for multiplayer, but instead it just makes for a nice change of pace. This is only a problem in that a lot of the servers that used to run MOH have been taken offline so they could run CoD which makes finding a good server a bit more difficult.
Graphically the game in both forms is amazing. The character models aren’t particularly realistic, but just about everything else is. Explosions from grenades look as good as anything you’d see in a movie and the lighting effects from muzzle flash are impressive. Audio is also superlative in recreating the feel of being there. On top of the sounds of gunfire itself, hearing bullets whiz past your head and splinter the wood of the wall next to you is recreated in frightening clarity. Ambient sounds aren’t as prevalent as in MOH, but serve the job well for the most part. One of the more impressive graphic and audio effects occurs when you’re too close to an artillery shell when it explodes. The “shell shock” effect goes a long way to inducing you to hustle your ass to safety. So far I’ve yet to see this effect come into play in multiplayer which is a shame as it would add a new element to the game play. Ultimately I love this game and the single player is something that shouldn’t be missed. While the multiplayer didn’t knock my socks off like I had hoped it still offers a good time and a nice change of pace. With any luck expansions and patched to CoD will address some of the issues I have with the multiplayer, but even with those issues it’s well worth picking up.