Call of Duty 2: Big Red One Hands-On Preview (PS2, Xbox)
By Ben Serviss

Amid the crowded FPS market, World War II shooters are easily the most numerous. Pale imitators crowd the scene, but a select group of triple-A titles like Medal of Honor, Brothers in Arms and the original Call of Duty still blaze their way through the hackneyed spin-offs and generic clones.

With Call of Duty: Big Red One, Treyarch and Gray Matter set out to accomplish something different. The console-exclusive title focuses on one combat unit, the 1st Infantry Division (a.k.a. the Big Red One), instead of placing players within various allied forces across the world. The 1st Infantry Division, or the “Fighting First”, was named well—it was the first American unit in North Africa, Sicily, England, and many other theatres of WWII combat.

As Big Red One focuses on a select group of individuals, you’ll fight alongside them over the course of three years, watching as the effects of non-stop battle alters their personalities and battle attitudes. Yet, though your teammates are destined to psychologically change across the levels, actual gameplay during the on-foot demo stages failed to waver much from a straight line between scripted encounters with enemies. Big Red One in no way promises to be a strategic squad-based shooter, but all through our hands-on play test barricades and waist-high obstacles impeded progress with irritating regularity.

This quibble aside, the action of Call of Duty seems to have made the second trip to consoles with success. Battles are intense, with revamped A.I. on both sides of the fighting fence, although your allies may occasionally take center stage if you fall behind. Control comes across better on the Xbox than the PS2, with one significant issue—players alternate their weapons by pressing up on the d-pad, causing you to stop dead while whipping out a secondary rifle and necessitating the use of cover while changing guns.

Gameplay in Big Red One should arrive as varied, with several vehicle-based levels shown during the preview demo. In one stage, the player acts as the gunner on a halftrack, ferociously shooting down Stuka dive-bombers. In another level, entitled “The Liberators”, the player mans guns in an airborne bomber—alternating between side-turret and ball-turret on the base of the plane with 360 degrees of movement—and also as the bombardier. You’ll actually need to move from station to station inside the plane, in the closest representation of Catch-22: The Game yet produced. More vehicular mayhem is on offer, with a few vehicles that still remain tightly under wraps.

New vehicles are also incoming for the game’s multiplayer component, although the only one available in the demo’s multiplayer was a stock standard tank. So far, the announced multiplayer modes number but a few, with Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and Destruction all present and correct. The action in the system-link games proved fierce, with a few sniper rifles and one-shot panzerschrecks thrown in among the wide assortment of rifles to heighten the tension.

In graphic terms, visuals were typically solid on the Xbox version, yet showed hardware age on the PS2. Still, the standout effect on both consoles was the blacker-than-night smoke rising up after blasting some poor sap to a crater. The game exhibited a few animation irregularities, especially with transitions between states, but shouldn’t affect the overall action. The Xbox would seem to be the platform of choice, with loading times nearly twice as fast as those on the PS2, as well as the improved visuals. All three available console versions of Big Red One will sport the same campaign missions and content when it ships this November—except for the GameCube, which still gets no multiplayer love.