WWII first-person shooters are two-a-penny in todayâ€™s marketplace, and with genre saturation comes the cloying blanket of stagnancy. In recent times, some games have attempted to deviate from established and stilted formulasâ€”the most notable of these perhaps being Ubisoftâ€™s Brothers in Armsâ€”but, in so doing, they themselves become targets for emulation and a return to bland expectancy.
Call of Duty 2: Big Red One retains its recognizable framework of scripted player events and fragmented mission objectives, yet it leans inexorably toward Brothers in Arms in terms of presentationâ€”as did EAâ€™s recent Medal of Honor: European Assault. Admittedly, Brothers in Arms is itself an homage to HBOâ€™s epic miniseries Band of Brothers, but it was the first of its kind in the world of videogames, and itâ€™s clear to see the industryâ€™s intention of milking the evolutionary cow.
Thatâ€™s not to say that Big Red One isnâ€™t a vast improvement over the original Call of Duty, because it clearly is. Yet the simple fact remains that while replicating a sense of Ubisoftâ€™s classy aesthetic is beneficial to the gameâ€™s atmosphere and immersion, it doesnâ€™t redefine the inescapable flatness of the core gameplay.
Players are tasked with becoming an integral cog in the US war machine alongside fellow members of the famous â€˜fighting firstâ€™ as they sweep bravely through the WWII theatre. Itâ€™s standard one-man-army stuff, although a small squad of NPC troops often provide accompaniment in the guise of willing and uncontrollable brethren. While Big Red One opts to withhold squad commandsâ€”whereas Medal of Honor: European Assault sought series evolution by its implementationâ€”your ever-faithful compatriots bark warnings, relay orders, and engage in general chit-chat. Unfortunately, it all ends up feeling incredibly derivative and lacking originality simply because these interactions fail to improve upon whatâ€™s already been done.
Big Red One does admirably attempt to redefine its own established parameters by concocting vehicle-based missions that deviate from the general first-person blueprintâ€”but, more often than not, they feel like shallow, linear â€˜aim-and-shootâ€™ distractions. Perhaps the only plus point among these minor subtractions is the claustrophobic bombing mission where the player must move about the planeâ€™s interior, manning various positions. Indeed, swiveling frantically in a belly-bound ball turret while peppering German ME-109s with hot lead is certainly invigorating, as is hurriedly adopting the injured bombardierâ€™s position and setting the plane in line with its ground-based targets. However, these are scant reward in an otherwise deflated package.
Itâ€™s fair to say that Big Red One is impressive visually, as well as aurally. Both elements of presentation are greatly improved over the original game, and certainly help draw the player deeper into the action. But regardless of authentic graphics and shatteringly thick sound, the core gameplay component repeatedly fails to inspire genuine concern for the welfare of Allied squad members, or even the gameâ€™s central protagonist. Sadly, this is not an absolute indication of poor performance, but more a sign that the first-person shooter genre has evolved in terms of personalization through the introduction of interactive squad tactics and progressive relationships. The feeling of tangible loss experienced when seeing a comrade fall in Brothers in Armsâ€”or even Pandemicâ€™s disappointing Full Spectrum Warriorâ€”is never in evidence with Big Red One. Itâ€™s a two-dimensional ego shooter from start to finish, and subsequently suffers through its ignorance concerning a genre it once strived to lead.
Ultimately, Call of Duty 2: Big Red One is a thoroughly competent first-person shooter that arrived two years too late. Its graphical and aural strengths are obvious from the outset, its scripted events are slick, easy to follow, and filled with everything youâ€™d expect. But, conversely, the gameâ€™s inadequacies are all equally apparent. The lack of emotive content is conspicuous by its absence, as is the inability to wander from the gameâ€™s restrictively linear path, as well as the option to accomplish mission objectives from multiple perspectives. Itâ€™s an established fact in the world of videogames that polished visuals do not a great game makeâ€”gameplay is king, and transcends all other elements. Call of Duty 2: Big Red One is a (another) prime example of wasted opportunity, flagging awareness, and style over substance.