Call of Duty 2: Big Red One
Bringing a celebrated first person shooter for PC to consoles can prove succesful (Far Cry Instincts) or can turn into a major disappointment (Call of Duty: Finest Hour). After seeing its first attempt nailed down by the critics, Activision ordered a new team to establish a beachhead on console ground. Did this new attempt turn into a second Normandy or rather a second Pearl Harbour?
Basically, Call of Duty 2: Big Red One does what you’d expect from a Call of Duty game. It lets you gun down hoardes of Germans, while giving you the feeling you’re really in the second World War. Friendy and enemy planes come flying over, occasionally bombing some German cannon or Allied halftrack to smithereens, mortar fire comes pouring down, tanks fire their shells at enemies and fire lits the sky. You guessed it: Big Red One nails that feeling of intensity just right. Because there’s just so much going on around you, you really feel like you’re part of a bigger plan.
In the game, you assume the role of a rookie private, taken straight out of base camp to fight in the 1st Infantry Division, nicknamed the Big Red One for their trademark shoulderpads. Unlike previous CoD titles, you won’t play as a Russion or British soldier this time around. The 13-mission campaign will take you to a number of different locations. You’ll start out in North-Africa, right after the landings of Operation Torch, liberate Italian-held Sicily, assist in the Normandy invasion of June 6th, 1944 and finally battle your way over the Siegfried Line into Germany.
The feeling of variety not only stems from the different environments, but also from the gameplay. You’ll experience the war from the infantry perspective, but you’ll also drive tanks, commandeer an anti-aircraft gun, ride shotgun in the various shooter-on-rails sequences, defend a B-24 Liberator from incoming fighters while sitting in a gun turret and even bomb a German factory to the ground, using the same bomber. While none of this is actually ‘new’ to the franchise, the clean execution of the different levels more than makes up for it. Not even the heavy scripting was bothersome.
Unfortunately, the fun doesn’t last too long. With about 8 hours of gameplay, the game is relatively short -a common problem with today’s games-. It’s entirely possible to finish the game in a weekend. To lengthen the experience, there are some unlockables (such as interesting background info about the different weapons and vehicles), but more importantly, there is an online multiplayer component for up to 16 players that features the common Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag and Domination modes. It’s fun for a while, but it’s nothing out of the ordinary really. Nevertheless, it’s still a good thing multiplayer was included in the package. As with many other online FPS games on the PlayStation 2 console, the gameplay can occasionally get laggy, although in general, the action is rather smooth. The Xbox version reportedly doesn’t have this issue, but that’s something I couldn’t confirm myself.
Though the visuals aren’t great, the game still looks pretty ok. The particle effects, such as fire and especially the explosions look good, though. The levels don’t look great, but what they lack in detail, they make up in size, design and atmosphere. One mission can literally last you 45 minutes, which should give you a good impression of how big the levels really are. But while the game’s graphics are kind of a mixed case, we can’t say the same of the downright fantastic audio. Yank up the volume on your TV or surround set and you’ll instantly be amazed by the impressive explosions, the crystal-clear speech and the well-composed orchestral score. Just like the PC games, Big Red One ranks amongst the best sounding games available, period.
The biggest downside of the game is its changing difficulty level. Both the enemy’s and your squad’s A.I. never impresses (they basically just run and gun, sometimes they head for cover) and I’ve seen them do things that can only be described as moronic. Germans ignoring you, even when you’re standing right in front of them, teammates shooting through and at walls, soldiers throwing grenades at their own buddies, stuff like that. But what the enemy lacks in intelligence, they make up in numbers. In some parts you’ll find yourself outnumbered 50 to 5 (you always have a team with you) and in those cases, it can prove quite a hassle to survive. Another annoying thing is the unbalanced checkpoint save system. In the first few levels (which you can just blaze through anyway), the game pretty much saves around every corner, but in the later levels (the Siegfried Line for example), the checkpoints are too far between, which results in replaying long stretches. No need to tell you that’s frustrating.
Call of Duty 2: Big Red One does a lot of things right, but it has several flaws that prevent a higher score. Without a doubt, it’s the most intense WWII shooter on consoles, which isn’t a small accomplishment from Treyarch considering the competition. If it weren’t for the dubious A.I. and short duration of the singleplayer campaign, I’d say this is a buyer, but as it is, it’s probably better to rent it first and then decide.