CALL OF DUTY 3 (Treyarch/Activision, ESRB rating: T); Xbox 360, PS3
I don't know how my dad survived World War 2. Well, I do know, actually. He had a desk job, writing dispatches and reports from a captured German estate during the final few months of the conflict. Had he been in a firefight like that which opens Treyarch's CALL OF DUTY 3, I doubt I'd be here today. Running for cover, inching my way across the chaotic battlefield, with bullets kicking up dust around my feet, I marveled at the realism of the scene and wondered again how anyone survived battles such as this one.
Developer Treyarch has taken over the CALL OF DUTY franchise--wildly popular on the PC and consoles--and created a game that is instantly familiar to veterans, accessible to neophytes, and appealing to just about every shooter fan, provided they aren't tired of the World War 2 setting. With a couple small exceptions, CALL OF DUTY 3 sees no fundamental changes to the gameplay that characterized the first two iterations, which is fine by me--CALL OF DUTY 2 was one of my favorite shooters and my hands-down multiplayer choice--and the perfect balance of realism and action is still the core of the game. The promise of playing CALL OF DUTY 3 was one of the reasons I finally bought an xBox 360, even though I know that sooner or later, the game will be ported to the PC. So yeah, I'm a fan.
CALL OF DUTY 3 concerns itself with the campaign to liberate France (the Normandy Breakout) following the D-Day invasion--in a sense, it is sort of a first-person cousin to THQ's COMPANY OF HEROES, which covers some of the same geography. Like previous installments, you play sections of the game from differing viewpoints and nationalities--American, English, Canadian, and Polish. Although the narrative thread is stronger in some other WW2 shooters, such as BROTHERS IN ARMS, there is still a strong sense of connection and a sense of participation in a larger campaign.
GAMEPLAY, CONTROL and MISSIONS
Like CALL OF DUTY 2, there are a variety of mission types in this third installment--run-and-gun battles, sniping, demolitions, driving, armored vehicle control, escort, and stealth--so even though the game is not particularly long (8-10 hours on the default setting), there is always something interesting to do. No one would argue that these are anything more than variations on themes we've already experienced in earlier games, but the environments and detail make them relatively engaging and exciting.
Although there are many scripted events and triggers, the player has at least some minor control over tactics and the order in which objectives are completed, at least within the context of a battle. AI is generally good--though you've got to wonder (for example) why an enemy soldier, seeing mortally wounded comrades piling up in a doorway, would elect to use that exit.
This time around, there are a couple of small twists--there is a highly-touted new close quarters fighting move (which isn't used all that often), and a bit more complexity in arming demolitions. The innovative health system--first introduced in CALL OF DUTY 2, and now common in shooters--where there are no health packs, but simply staying out of harm's way will allow the player to recover health--is back. Of course, this is still much less realistic than one-bullet-and-you're-dead system of some games such as World War 2 Online. Additionally, playing the game on the harder settings amps up the damage.
Using appropriate cover is critical in many missions, although there is no "find cover" mechanic as in GEARS OF WAR. Generally, controls are well-mapped, simple and intuitive to use, and fluid. In fact, although I will never like playing shooters with the gamepad, I find this one far less annoying and easier to control. Save/checkpoints are well implemented (of course, I would prefer a save anywhere system).
GRAPHICS AND SOUND
I've been playing this game simultaneously with GEARS OF WAR, and it does not suffer by comparison. They're really nothing alike, of course. While GEARS features incredible effects and detailed environments, and a specific, sci-fi artistic style, COD3 boasts beautifully rendered real-world weapons, authentic, meticulously created and realistic outdoor settings and interiors, fluidly animated soldiers (uniform textures are scans of actual WW2 uniforms), and impressive explosions and weapon effects. Some of the cut scenes and pre-mission story animations are simply incredible...until characters speak. Like GEARS, lip syncing is off just enough to be a bit distracting. Actually, this is one area in which most, otherwise graphically excellent games seem to falter. HALF LIFE 2 and its first expansion do pretty well in this department; COD3...not so much.
Bottom line: until the advent of Direct X10 effects and the next generation of videocards for the PC, CALL OF DUTY and GEARS are arguably the best-looking shooters around, at least for now.
Sound in CALL OF DUTY is phenomenal, especially when playing in 5.1 surround. Battles are nearly aurally overwhelming--the cacophony of voices, weapons, explosions, and subtle but effective musical score is not just loud but minutely detailed and spatially appropriate. Voice acting is good and the dialogue is often unexpectedly witty and appropriately ironic.
CALL OF DUTY 2 was, for many months, my hands-down favorite multiplayer shooter on the PC, thanks to some superbly designed maps and excellent weapon balance. The familiar modes are back (deathmatch, team deathmatch, CTF, etc) and the seven weapon loadouts include a couple of new kits-the medic and the support soldier (who delivers ammo). The nine maps this time around might be even generally better than before, with more promised via download. My only, niggling, complaint is that a couple of the outdoor maps are very spread out and lack strong character or a clear focus.
Drivable vehicles have been added for this installment, making those anti-tank weapons actually useful for something other than ridiculously overpowered sniping.
If you are tired of the World War 2 settings and story--and, frankly, many people are--or are looking for a lot of innovation, CALL OF DUTY 3 might disappoint you. If you are a fan of the original and its sequel, however, or just love good shooters, CALL OF DUTY 3 might become a new favorite. Like COMPANY OF HEROES demonstrated on the PC, the second wold war milieu is still viable and interesting. Incredible visuals, super sound design and music, varied missions, and engaging multiplayer make this game a definite buy.