When the original Call of Duty was released way back in October of 2003, it brought a level of immersion that is rarely found in many games. The atmosphere drew you in like a moth to a flame, and you could not help the fact that the experience was nothing less than rewarding. The game play in itself wasn't really revolutionary, you just run around on a linear map, shooting bad guys along the way, completing objectives as they came. This type of game play, especially in the WWII era, sometimes feels as if it has been run to death. The difference with Call Of Duty was the atmosphere, and I stress it because it really set this game apart from the pack. Call of Duty: United Offensive has to live up to that high standard. I have the privileged of telling you that this expansion lives up to that standard and gives a little bit extra.
The first thing I want to hit on is the campaign. While it is definitely not as long as the original Call of Duty, it follows the same basic format. You have 3 sides of the war you get to play as: the Americans, the British, and the Russians. These three viewpoints are not played in any particular order, but each is done with enough polish and style that you really won't care. The Americans square off at the Battle of the Bulge, which was an intense and critical point in the western front. The Russians center on the battle of Kursk, which was a major tank battle of the Eastern front. The British campaign first has you as a gunner in a B-17, trying to defend the bomber against enemy fighter planes. Afterwards, you'll participate in two covert missions, to sabotage the Nazi war effort in Holland and to pave the way for Allied troops in the invasion of Sicily. The American and Russian campaigns are where the game picks up considerable speed, and it's here where you can really see the game shine. There you are, fighting among allies, beating back the Nazis, and trying to retake to square or just hold them off until re-enforcements arrive. The British campaign is more of the dull spot, while you still fight among allies; you don't really feel as if you are fighting for the "bigger picture". It is much smaller in scale. It's not to say that it's bad, it's just that out of the three campaigns, it is the slowest one.
During these campaigns however, the Germans are not going to let you just stroll through their lines like you own the place. Most of the game revolves around you taking territory, so expect many fortified locations with many, many heavy automatics lighting up your men. With the addition of a mobile heavy machine gun that you have to mount to use, the enemy can relocate it's fire suppression at will, keeping you and your men pinned from multiple angles. The enemy, given the opportunity, will flank you, blindside you, and butt stroke you when you are not looking more than once. It will take you about 6-8 hours to complete the single player on normal difficulty, which is the norm for most expansion packs in this genre.
There are only two points during the single player that the atmosphere was broken, and reminded you that yes, you are playing a heavily scripted game based in WWII. The major of the two is the respawning of enemies. Now, I know that the original Call of Duty had respawning enemies during many of its frequent and intense engagements, but at least it hid that fact very well. Enemies came in from the other side of a hill, from inside a house, something where you didn't see where they spawn. In more than one instance, I would kill an enemy, and before that body finished its death animation, an exact copy would respawn right they’re out of thin air and start shooting at me. The worst scenario is during a British raid on a farm. The main building is bunkered down tight, and I flanked the building, entered and cleared, and ended up in a room on the second story, with the only exit to the room behind me. Shortly after the cleansing, a Nazi from outside shoots a panzerfoust and blows up a portion of the wall. I look behind me, to the entrance of the room, expecting Nazis. Being on the second floor, with nobody in the room but me, and me blocking the only entrance to the room, I felt pretty secure. Low and behold, a nazi spawned behind me and promptly beat me to death with the butt of his rifle. That is very, very aggravating.
The second point isn't as much of a major issue as the first one, mainly because it is depended on you. What I am talking about is your squad mates AI. Yes, they will engage targets and will cover your back, and at this, they excel. I can't recall the amount of times a flanking nazi was so close to killing me if not for a prompt bullet to the gut from a friend. However, your squad mates will not advance unless you reach certain points in the level, kind of like playing leapfrog. The problem with this is that you have to advance against an enemy with no end. If you kill an enemy machine gunner, in a few seconds, he will be replaced by some look-alike. You cannot sit back, engage at range, then close in and finish the enemy off. Your squad mates however, will do just that. You must reach certain spots in the level to have them move up, putting you in everyone's crosshairs. This game of leapfrog sometimes breaks the atmosphere since it ramps up the difficulty considerably.
Now to move onto the next portion of this game, and that's the multiplayer part. The original’s was good, but nothing revolutionary and didn't really stand out from the crowd in my opinion. It certainly didn't match Battlefield 1942 in scope and Enemy Territory in just sheer fun. This has been upgraded however, with new game types, new maps, and the introduction to vehicles. This adds to the replay value to this expansion by a good bit.
First off, all of the modes, old and new, have vehicles. These range from tanks to jeeps. All of these vehicles handle nicely and are a breeze to control. The new maps fit these vehicles very nicely, and also have many alternate routes to get where you need to go. When playing in an objective oriented map, say Search and Destroy, there are different ways to approach the target area. You can ride in a vehicle, blasting your way through. You can try to find a snipers nest and pick off any enemies that hinder your team. If the vehicles and snipers are bothering you, there is usually a route that is off of the beaten path that allows you to get up close to those pesky snipers or blast a tank from the rear with a panzerfoust. The multiplayer games are still not to the scope of Battlefield 1942, but they are not meant to be. They focus on tight, intense action, and it has this in spades.
Out of these new multiplayer options, I would like to say Assault is my favorite. Assault is where each team has a base it needs to defend, and simultaneously has to go out and destroy the enemy's base. This mode, along with Search and Destroy, is where I got my money's worth out of multiplayer. Combined with a decent team who knows what they’re doing (as with any multiplayer game), it can be like poetry in motion. Tanks and heavy assault spearhead the base, maybe some quick riflemen or a sniper flank to get another angle, and a few snipers with a heavy machine gunner in the rear can work surprisingly well if everyone played out their roles. This however, almost never happens. Most of the time, both teams headed to a certain point in the map and slug it out, trying to force their way to the opponent’s base. Though this wasn't as rewarding as a game revolved around a little bit of tactics, intense firefights are hard to ever turn down.
Now I am getting close to the end, so just bear with me. The graphics engine that this expansion uses is the Quake III engine, just very heavily modified. It's getting a little long in the tooth, but for what it does, it does well. You’re not looking at anything that will trump Doom 3, but it really won't matter. The smoke, the tracers, decals, the overall detail is so well done that you really won't realize it's an engine that a relic by today’s standards.
The audio on the other hand, is beautiful in every way. If you do not have a surround system, you are really missing out on a very impressive performance. The voices all sound good, with proper accents for the appropriate side. The voice acting doesn't stop there though; it also conveys the emotion that the speaker is supposed to be feeling especially in the Russian campaigns. You can feel the sincerity from your comrades and your commander congratulating you in taking back a town after a very intense tank battle. This is combined with top-notch sound effects for everything you encounter, from your footsteps to the explosions to hearing the stuka bombers coming in for you. To top it all off, you will have some background music that conveys the mood during that particular moment, and combined with the sound effects the audio just oozes atmosphere right through your speakers
To put it simply, Call of Duty: United Offensive carries the torch from the original and doesn't skip a beat. The single player is tight and well done overall, the multiplayer adds tremendous life to the game with vehicles and some extremely well designed maps, and all for a $30 price tag. You really can't get too many games out there that draw you in like this can. Even with the occasional hiccups in the single player campaign, you cannot go wrong with Call of Duty: United Offensive if you are a fan of the original.