The original Call of Duty, which Aspyr Media released in 2004, was a breakthrough game from the team that had created the Medal of Honor series (also available from Aspyr). While World War II had been used as the setting of many previous first-person shooters, Call of Duty strived to break the mold in various ways, from its use of next-generation graphics to the way it put players in the boots of American, Russian and British soldiers, rather than sticking to a strictly U.S. point-of-view.
Here we are two years later, and Call of Duty 2 is on the cusp of release for the Mac. (The Windows version has been available since last October.) I played the Beta on a 20-inch 2GHz Intel Core Duo iMac that had been upgraded with 1GB of RAM and the 256MB version of the ATI Radeon X1600 video card. The game will be a Universal Binary out of the box, so playing it went off without a hitch. I never experienced a slowdown, even when the action became intense and the screen was cluttered with soldiers, tanks, explosions and other elements of warfare.
Gameplay is very similar to its predecessors, complete with the quotes displayed when you die or when you finish a level (i.e., "A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer."--Ralph Waldo Emerson). Many of them have a distinct anti-war flavor to them, as in the original, which made me wonder if I was supposed to pause and reflect on the horror of war, even though I had just spent the past fifteen minutes slaughtering more German troops than a typical Allied soldier likely killed during his entire time on the European front. I hope anyone playing this game realizes that it doesnit reflect the reality of World War II any more so than Star Wars conveys the reality of space travel.
That said, Call of Duty 2 certainly does a better job than similar games of showing you how easily death can come on the battlefield. Charge into the fray, even on the easiest difficulty level, and youill die quickly. A shot to the head or a grenade exploding in close proximity means instant death (a new grenade indictor alerts you to such danger), and if youire gravely wounded, the screen displays a blood-splattered border and the action around you literally slows down. Itis a pretty neat effect. You can even hear your characteris pulse quicken and his breathing come in short gasps as he struggles to remain conscious.
Of course, if you can find cover and hide out for several seconds, your health will return and youill be able to resume fighting. Like I said, this isnit a realistic simulation. Thereis no health bar, so youill have to pay attention to visual and audio cues to figure out how hurt you are. I suppose thatis as close to realistic as you can get without real bullets actually flying out of the screen.
The Mission is the Man
As in the original Call of Duty, the sequel takes you through three campaigns as seen through the eyes of American, British, and Russian soldiers. Unsurprisingly, it revisits many of the most well-known battles from World War II, such as the German invasions of Moscow and Stalingrad and the struggle against Rommel in North Africa.
The game scores points for creativity, though, by putting you at the Pointe du Hoc cliffs for the Normandy invasion, rather than the overplayed Omaha and Utah beaches. You must scale the cliffs while gunfire rains down on your head. I canit imagine how those guys really did that over 60 years ago.
Otherwise, the gameplay is pretty much along the lines of what youid expect: levels spent clearing out bunkers, levels spent sniping enemy soldiers, levels spent firing at Germans while riding in vehicles, levels spent obtaining documents, and so forth. While it may seem like a derivative experience, itis still worthwhile because of the immersive quality of the graphics and sound. The first game was no slouch in that department, and the sequel improves on that, making the action even more intense.
Better AI and Multiplayer
The development team at Infinity Ward also put work into the AI, enabling all of the computer-controlled soldiers to act in a more realistic manner. While your fellow troops donit seem to act any more intelligently than they did before, the enemy comes across as much more vicious, even on the easiest difficulty setting. Theyill press the advantage if they have one, moving to swarm over your position. An enemy soldier who gets close enough will even start pummeling you with his weapon.
Multiplayer mode is pretty standard, with your usual deathmatch, team deathmatch and capture-the-flag modes. The search-and-destroy mode from the original is back, and the game adds a new type called headquarters. That one offers two areas on each map that either team can capture and set up as a headquarters, which earns them points. Once a headquarters is created, the other team must overrun it to stop the points from hitting the predetermined winning amount. Like any multiplayer mode that requires teamwork, your enjoyment will depend on the quality of people playing on your server. Personally, I like just firing up a good old-fashioned deathmatch and having fun.
Infinity Ward doesnit use GameSpy for the multiplayer side, preferring instead to use its own technology, so youill be able to play against other gamers all over the world. You wonit be limited to direct IP, LAN or GameRanger-only action, as you are with Star Wars Battlefront and other titles that use GameSpy on the PC side. The company unfortunately jacked up the licensing fees it charges Mac publishers, forcing them to drop the technology for most of their releases.
If youire expecting something truly revolutionary when Call of Duty 2 ships, youill be disappointed. If youire a fan of the original -- or even a fan of World War II games in general -- and youire looking forward to an incrementally better experience, youill be thrilled. This sequel is better than its predecessor in every department.