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Call of Duty 2

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I downloaded the demo, and it's just gorgeous on my current gaming rig.  They used a daylight level, in a North African desert town, so the bright colors really pop out.  Also, my baby brother said that he was going to get it.  So I used a gift card and grabbed a copy.

One of the first gameplay elements that stood out even in the demo was the auto-savepoints.  Unlike Far Cry, you can also save on anywhere you want.  Also, the savepoints are spaced much closer together, so that you rarely have to repeat the same solved task twenty times in order to get to the bit that did you in.  This thing is constantly saving as you go along.  I stopped paying close attention, but I think the triggers are just after each tough battle, and also just before an encounter.

The character models are also very good.  The skin tone isn't quite right.  They do have good fidgets and scripted mannerisms.  Sometimes they have dirt or scrapes on their faces  It's really cool to see a guy standing or crouching behind cover and craning around to look around it.  So the sense that they're people is very strong.

They have a lot of little touches.  Like, when looking through binoculars, there's dirt on the lenses.  When you have a scoped rifle, there are reflections on the eyepiece.  The foliage is varied.  I don't recall seeing any repeating trees.  And just plain high quality models and textures all around.

One thing that was fairly obvious even in the demo was how linear most of the levels are.  Things like, you can see enemy troops beyond the wrecked vehicle and other debris, but you can't get there.  You have to go around some buildings to your left.   That snakes through an alley and past another nest or two of enemy troops.   Usually at least one ambush.  And then you can finally flank the original guys that you saw.

Somehow, that "look ahead" that I like so much in Half Life doesn't come across that way in this game.  I think because the map is still too constrained.  Yeah, you're seeing the same area from two vantage points.  But they're only fifty yards apart.  And the side trip was just too obvious.

The linear levels weren't horrible.  But they were often quite noticable.

There were a few levels where you were given multiple objectives that you could solve in any order.  But even those, the most efficient sequence was usually pretty obvious.  Trying to take them out of order would end up putting you into a lethal cross-fire.  So even those levels didn't provide any real feeling of choice.

To present the tasks to you, they usually have an in-game character telling you what to do.  And, as most modern FPS games do, they give you a way to check what your outstanding tasks are.

Like most WW II games, this one has a magic compass to help the player along.  It shows things like your objective(s).  Your comrades location, including their facing.  If enemies are firing nearby, it'll put a red dot for them.  Vehicles.  I think that's about it.

I have mixed feeling about the magic compass.  On the one hand, it is obviously huge cheat.  On the other hand, since the player can't scout everything out ahead of time, and since you don't have the real-life cues when someone says, "We need to get to that (points) building!" the magic compass ends up being necessary for the majority of situations in a PC game.  Otherwise, the player would be floudering most of the time.  I suspect the designers have spent a lot of time trying to come up with alternatives, but this is the best we have so far.

Similarly, when you need to manipulate something in order to finish an objective, they highlight it for you.  Like, broken pieces of a cable you need to repair.  Or, where to place a sticky bomb on a tank.  Again, I can see the gameplay reason to do that.  And somehow it doesn't stand out quite as much as I remember it did in Medal of Honor.  But I still kind of wish there was another way to handle it.

The game starts you out as a Russian.  Then you play an American, with the obligatory Omaha Beach level.  And you finish up as a Brit.  That gives a wide variety of locations and weapons to play with.  The final level of each is particularly tough.  Most levels result in a very reasonable number of deaths.   But these final levels require some pretty precise timing in order to defeat forces coming in from multiple directions.  I got pretty frustrated at each of those levels when I got to them.  Part of the distraction is that they change your role in the middle of the firefight.

For example, in the Russian level, you start out as a sniper.  You're picking off the enemy machine gun emplacement across the plaza.  Then later, there are APCs rolling in that are dealt with best with an RPG.  So you have to run across the room, switch weapons, (you're only allowed to carry two weapons, plus a few grenades, at any one time) and then expose yourself in the window to try to make the shot.  Not long after that you need to switch to a machine gun to deal with the enemy who have come up the stairs and are now entering the room from behind you.  That one frustrated me for a while.  Obviously, I eventually solved it.  But it was a tough one.

They do have a fairly good variety of tasks to perform.  For example, in one level they put you at the top of a water tower as a sniper's nest.  In another, you're on top of a building calling in artillery against enemy tanks and incoming waves of soldiers.   Plus the communications cable and sticky bombs I mentioned earlier.

They also have one level where you "drive a tank."  I put that in quotes, because it's very arcadish compared to the rest of the game.  Keyboard to move, mouse for the turret.  It's way too responsive.  Shooting the enemy tanks is very forgiving and easy.  They're spaced out just right to make them very easy to pick off one at a time.  It was kinda fun, but not very satisfying, to me.

Another arcade level has you using an anti-aircraft machine gun against incoming enemy aircraft.  They're coming straight for you, so no leading necessary.  You end up having to shoot down fifteen or twenty of them.  It's essentially like an old 2D arcade game.  Again, kinda fun.  But so outrageously unrealistic that it stands out compared to the rest of the game.

One interesting thing they did was steal some ideas from movies.  In particular, they have you crawling through pipes in Stalingrad, taken from the execrable movie Enemy at the Gates.  One cool bit from that is that when the enemy sees you through a gap they shoot up into the pipe.  The holes appearing along with shafts of light showing through was a pretty neat effect.

I've played the multiplayer in a half-dozen sessions.  A few times with my Baby Brother.  We were talking over the phone.  Mostly CTF, but also a few Search and Destroy (essentially, the same as Counterstrike, with one side setting a bomb and the other trying to prevent/defuse it.)  Generally fun.  They have some interesting server options, and of course some popular mods.

One server option I really like is the KillCam.  They show you the last five secs before your death from the point of view of the person who killed you.

When the nationality icons are turned off (the vast majority of servers) then it's very hard to tell uniforms apart.  I'm often killed while trying to decide what color the uniform is.  (My very old monitor may be part of the problem.  The colors may be washed out.)

Three weeks elapsed time.  7 sessions.  15 1/2 hours.  91 deaths.

On my brother's Game Total Value Scale, Heavy Threat of Sleep Loss.  Very pretty.  Mostly good maps.  A few puzzlish bits.

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Last modified: April 01, 2006
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