This Infinity Ward follow-up to 2003's critically acclaimed Call of Duty pushes farther across the European Theatre of World War II, with missions spanning the desert fighting in North Africa to the tank assaults on the Russian front. The sequel boasts graphical enhancements and significant improvements to artificial intelligence. Computer-controlled teammates act and react individually, and the game's contextual "battle chatter" system lets players know exactly what's on their minds. Enemy squads are likely to have learned a few new tricks as well. The game's single-player campaign is designed to allow individual players to progress through the missions in the order they prefer. Multiplayer warfare is supported for Internet-connected soldiers.
Call of Duty 2, without really deviating from the formula that made the first game a hit, manages to remain immensely exciting and entertaining from its first shot to the last. With one sprawling, chaotic battle after another, it's filled with set pieces that play out like a WWII movie and yet has enough openness and variety to stand repeated playthroughs. Add in some satisfying multiplayer gameplay that builds on the success of the original, and you have what's arguably the best pure PC action game of 2005.
Not one to mess with success, Call of Duty 2 sticks to the basic structure laid out in the first game. There are separate campaigns for Russian, British and American troops where you fill the combat boots of various grunts. Each of these soldiers has a name and a small bit of backstory, but it's mostly irrelevant; it's really about fighting as part of a larger squad. Occasionally it's you and a squadmate or two; more often, you're part of a massive fighting force trying to take a larger area or repel a gigantic onslaught.
The missions, at least in terms of objectives, echo those of the original Call of Duty. You and your fellow soldiers clear buildings and bunkers, hold positions until reinforcements can arrive, destroy cannons, disable enemy communications and the like. There are a few missions where you get to drive tanks around, destroying enemy steel, and a mission where you get to call in mortar strikes via the use of binoculars. And, of course, there's the requisite car chase where you're riding shotgun, providing a break from running around hedgerows.
What's most different about the missions in CoD2 is the level design. From one perspective, it's still mostly a linear progression, going A-to-B-to-C-to-D and killing everything in between. But now, instead of narrow pathways and city streets, that stretch from A to B is just as likely to be a huge town square with enemies crawling all over it, demanding you dart back and forth from cover to cover, looking for a way to get the perfect angle on that MG42 nest in the distance. Towns in North Africa are filled with side streets, and buildings in the Russian campaign let you pick the best spot to snipe from. It's encouraging to see games like Call of Duty 2 and F.E.A.R., which prove that even in the context of a linear, cinematic experience, the combat can still be dynamic and turn out different every time you play it.
Of course, it wouldn't be Call of Duty without big movie-like set pieces, and while CoD2 may not outdo the original in this regard, it at least matches it. The conclusion to the very first Russian mission is a jaw-dropper, one of the most memorable scenes in any game I've played this year. Pointe Du Hoc is yet another D-Day mission, but instead of storming the beach, you find yourself climbing a rope up the side of a cliff as bullets fly around you.
One small change is that CoD2 allows some freedom in choosing which of its campaigns you'd like to play at any given moment. After completing the first full Russian mission, the British campaign opens up, and you're free to jump between the two at will. The American campaign, however, doesn't open up until much later in the game, so your choices are minimal at best.
The weapons and basic combat model in Call of Duty 2 are as solid as ever, with a few interesting tweaks. Firing on the run is almost pointless with most weapons; you'll want to aim down your iron sights most of the time, preferably crouched and behind a bit of cover. Grenades allow you to flush enemies out of foxholes, and enemies are just as likely to do the same to you: when you see the "nearby grenade" indicator on the screen, it's time to get moving in the other direction. Fast.
One interesting tweak is the new health system. In a trend that's been gathering steam lately, there are no health packs or armor kits in CoD2. There isn't even a health bar. In fact, there isn't any on-screen display at all when you're not firing a weapon. Instead, there's a transparent system that gives you visual clues to how much damage you're taking, or how much danger you're in. You can survive a few nicks, and then you're back to full health. Get caught in a hail of gunfire, and the screen will tint red, as if splattered with blood, and your character will start to breathe heavily -- this means you need to retreat and recover, or else another shot or two might end you.
I've seen complaints that this is unrealistic and makes the game too easy, but I disagree: picking up health packs is no more realistic, and the rejuvenating health keeps the pace up, providing a natural ebb and flow to the combat the same way Halo did, where you fight, retreat to recover, and step out to fight again. After all, there are always harder skill levels, which make things even more intense, and this system also eliminates tedious reloading or backtracking when you're down to 3 health and can't find a magical medkit.
The last key ingredient in the action is the friendly AI that fights by your side, and there's a delicate balance achieved where they'll help you kill enemies without doing all the work for you. This is where the game's scripted nature becomes the most obvious: friendlies can do some pretty complex things, but also take a massive beating, and even when several of them get blown up in front of your eyes, your team never seems to shrink. These moments tend to break the illusion and remind you you're just the star of an elaborate play, but the action's so much fun that it's hard to complain about.
For Call of Duty 2, Infinity Ward ditched the Quake 3 technology used for CoD and built its own new graphics engine. New tech often leads to bugs and high system requirements, but Call of Duty 2 pulls through pretty well. It's not the most amazing looking game out today, and certainly doesn't have the dramatic dynamic lighting and shadows of F.E.A.R. or Quake 4, nor does it need to. What it has are large outdoor environments, great model animations that bring both your squadmates and enemies to life, as well as great smoke effects that have both graphical and tactical purpose. The "shellshock" effect is also back, putting everything in slow motion when you take a nasty blast, and weather effects provide some extra flair, especially as snow falls during the Russian missions. On a machine with enough horsepower, CoD2's sprawling battles are a sight to behold.
Like its predecessor, the sound in Call of Duty 2 is stellar. Whether you're playing on a 5.1 surround system or using a pair of headphones, the sound of gunfire constantly rattles through you, while explosions provide extra oomph. The only downside is that the new "battle chatter" system doesn't seem to have as much variety as we'd hoped; your Russian comrades may have had thousands of lines recorded for them, but it seemed someone was always yelling about "the fascists!" every ten seconds. The soundtrack, as in the original, consists of a majestic but sparingly used orchestral score, most commonly swelling at the end of missions.
The multiplayer in the original Call of Duty wasn't particularly groundbreaking, but became a hit due to the combination of its solid combat and elements borrowed from other popular teamplay shooters. The "Search and Destroy" mode was basically a WWII riff on Counter-Strike, while the vehicle-laden Domination mode from the United Offensive expansion was a scaled-down, more chaotic version of Battlefield 1942.
For Call of Duty 2, that formula remains pretty much the same. With the exception of free-for-all deathmatch, everything here is team-based: team DM, Capture the Flag, Search and Destroy, and "Headquarters," a reprise of an official mod where each team tries to take control of a radio that spawns in one of several points on the map and maintain control for as long as possible. In fact, several classic CoD maps have been remade and imported to Call of Duty 2, echoing the "don't mess with success" tactic of the single-player campaign.
This may not sound particularly exciting ("oh boy, the same modes as before!"), but if you were one of the many people who enjoyed the multiplayer before, well, it's still great. Capture the Flag games usually involve trying to smoke out snipers with crosshairs perpetually planted on the flag, and Search and Destroy matches are tense affairs where you hope you can plant the bomb and keep it covered until it detonates. Team deathmatch takes on new life when you play on a server with 32-64 people -- it's every bit as chaotic as the epic single-player missions, like a full-scale war come to life. And of course, the Killcam returns, the nifty server option that replays your last few seconds of life from your killer's point of view, so you can see exactly how that dirty cheating bastid shot you.
All of this is managed through an in-game browser that's fairly functional, with some basic filters so you don't have to sort through empty servers. Lag hasn't been much of an issue, and there are already over 1000 thousand servers up and running, meaning it shouldn't be too hard to find a game you can get a good connection to. It's a shame Domination wasn't included, but there's enough multiplayer action in Call of Duty 2 to keep you more than busy until the inevitable expansion pack comes out.
The Final Word
Call of Duty 2 doesn't break much new ground, throwing you into one large-scale battle after another just as the first game did. But somehow, instead of feeling like a stale retread or losing steam halfway through, it manages to be a blast from start to finish. In terms of length, it doesn't feel much longer than the original, but once again, there's no filler content here, and the missions have enough replayability to make up for any complaints anyone might have over the game's length. A little more meat to the multiplayer would have been nice, but overall, Infinity Ward has crafted a sequel that's every ounce as fun as its predecessor -- which makes Call of Duty 2 a game just about everyone should check out.
People who downloaded Call of Duty 2 have also downloaded:
Call of Duty, Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault, Battlefield 2, Battlefield 1942, Halo: Combat Evolved, Call of Juarez, Battlefield Vietnam
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