If you didn't already know then this may be a surprise to you. World War 2 finished over 60 years ago. What with Medal of Honour, Brothers in Arms, and Call of Duty, anyone would of thought it only ended last week. I'm sure there are loads of Wars that are interesting, but WW2 is the only one that really makes a great game. With all the WW2 games I've played I'm sure I could walk from the Beaches of Normandy right through to Stalingrad – blindfolded. The battlefield's of WW2 are crowded with gamers, so how do you avoid repeating what every other WW2 game has already done? Easy, you throw in King Kong. Whoops. Wrong game. Erm. Call of Duty 2. Right. OK. Yes. I've got it now. You throw in amazing graphics that are frighteningly realistic and a sound system that makes you weep with joy every time you hear it. Phew. I don't think they noticed the King Kong mistake.
So, with an introduction worthy of a promotion lets get on with the review. Infinity Ward's latest game promises to once again throw you into the devastatingly ugly World War 2 battle-scene, but you aren't shown to your seat wearing a suit. No. You're picked up by your throat, turned upside down, and hurled head first into the High Definition TV.
First off let me say this game is hard. There are four difficulty levels to choose from and they're all challenging. Like the original Call of Duty, COD2 covers 3 interwoven campaigns from the Russian, English and the Americans. You fight in Stalingrad, Africa and France. You couldn't get a more diverse range of campaigns if you tried. The Juxtaposition of the freezing snow of Russia to the burning heat of Africa balances the game perfectly. The ability to jump from campaigns and time periods opens up a more diverse path to play. While I was playing this game I had to keep picking my jaw off the floor, there's so much fighting, grenades and chatter from both sides in the game you forget you're being led through a linear mission. It's like you decide where the mission is leading too - Infinity Ward's design of the levels is spot on.
Be prepared to lose hours of your life while playing this game. It's impossible to spend a couple of minutes on COD2, you're tied down by the gameplay that grips you at every turn. The levels are predominantly about clearing the area inch by inch. You're never held up in one spot for long, I found myself constantly on the move completing objectives as I went. The positioning of the enemy AI is surprisingly complex. They will sometimes flank you and try and take you down. If you throw a grenade near them they will try their best to escape – sometimes successfully. The grenades they throw at you are too close for comfort most of the time, sometimes they throw them purposefully to one side of you to get you into the open so they can take you down. The AI however aren't perfect and sometimes it feels good to watch them pour into a dead end spot knowing you can throw a grenade in there and let loose with your rifle.
When you first play this game you may find the lack of Health Kits disturbing. Fear not young squaddie because the health system has changed. It's more of a Halo-esque system where if your shot, a red film of blood covers the screen and you need to get to safety and cover to regenerate yourself. In my opinion this seems to be a step back from the original game, but the rest of the game strides miles ahead of the original Call of Duty.
The controls are really easy to pick up and in a few minutes you'll be aiming your sights down a German's throat and then: Bang! One Jerry down, only a couple of million to go. Once you've shot the “Bastard” (The English nickname for the Germans. Bless) don't expect him to just die, no, he'll carry on until the last second of life. Don't stare in amazement as a fallen soldier grabs his pistol and tries to take you down. Kill him quick or he'll kill you.
I'll be honest with you. A couple of the games I've played for the Xbox 360 don't use the full power of the machine. Thankfully, COD2 is almost the pinnacle of what's achievable on this system. If you've got a High Definition TV then you're in for a treat. I expected the game to drop the frame rates to a pretty screensaver at such high resolutions, but it gets better the higher the resolution. I was in gaming heaven at 1080 and 720dp. Don't do what I did though, remember this is a game not a film and if you're not careful that amazingly detailed German with a beautifully crafted gun and a...Damn...I'm dead. If you stare for too long you'll be restarting the level!
Run in the desert and your feet kick up dust, run in Russia and you just marvel at the snow falling gracefully. Detail is everything in a game with so much riding on it and it doesn't disappoint. The bullet holes in the walls of French buildings are never repeated, walls crumble in front of your face when a bullet misses you and punches into the building behind you.
The old saying “where there's smoke there's fire” should be re-written for this game. It should be “Where there's smoke grenades there's a hell of a lot of fun to be had!”. The games most dazzling effect has to be the smoke grenades. They may take a while to take effect but once they get going you are frozen in amazement as the smoke looks so real. The Germans have smoke grenades as well and if you get stuck inside one of those then your sense of direction is gone. It feels like you're trapped in a smoke prison. With the Germans being so friendly they'll try and help you out by firing like crazy at you while you're running around trying to find something, anything that will lead you to cover and safety.
360Monster Top Tip coming up here: Whatever you do don't accidentally let off a smoke grenade when you're inside a building because the chance of death doubles when you're surrounded by a ploom of smoke.
When the smoke finally seeps away you're left staring (once again) at the amount of detail that's gone into the environments, the buildings, the characters, even the weapons look great. Even with dozens of soldiers flooding your screen the framerate never drops.
I've touched lightly on sound but not in as much detail as it deserves. If you haven't got a 5.1 set up for the 360 I recommend (demand?) that you get one. When tanks are knocking around be prepared to feel the force of ShellShock, everything is blanked out for a few seconds as your sense go crazy. When you're in a gun fight with dozens of Jerry's, the sound is deafeningly thick, with the enemy hurling Nazi abuse and you're squaddies shouting at you to hide or cover coupled with the inevitable screams of people dying. The commands your team shout out must be listened to if you're going to live. Don't ignore your team, remember you're not Rambo, this isn't a one man show. The sound track of this game is like something straight out of a multi-million pound WW2 Film. The orchestral sounds come in just as victory is near, or when the heat is turned up. It really does finish the game off perfectly.
Multiplayer mayhem is provided by Xbox Live. Before the game was released everyone expected 16 players to be able to thrash it out on Live, but Infinity Ward has brought this down to 8. Multiplayer action is supplied with two new weapons to play with, the PPS42 and the M1897 Trench Gun, the latter of these is great for up close action, but is pathetic in medium to long-range fighting. Four player split screen action is great fun and shows off the power of the 360. The gameplay modes are Headquarters, Search and Destroy, Capture The Flag, Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch and all of them work perfectly on Live. All are pretty self explanatory really. The Team Deathmatch is the most fun to play in my opinion over Live, but it would have been even better with 16 players on the screen instead of the 8. The maps aren't linear in Multiplayer mode, so you can really be creative in the way you kill.
If you're a fan of system link then Call of Duty 2 will be your only choice, 16 players can hook up and wipe each other out.
Frankly, nothing competes with this game. Everything is spot on, from the graphics to the gameplay. The Audio is simply stunning and deserves some serious credit from Infinity Ward. Even the Multiplayer experience is better than I was expecting. This is one of the best games out for the Xbox 360. Period.