Longtime Spider-Man developer Treyarch has taken the reins of the Call of Duty franchise on current consoles with Call of Duty 2: Big Red One, which casts you in the role of a soldier fighting with the storied First Infantry throughout the biggest battles of World War II. Activision has shown off the game several times in the last few months, and we finally got a chance to try it for ourselves. We played through a couple of heated missions set in various parts of Sicily.
The first mission we tried was entitled "Farewell to Friends," set in Troina, Sicily. It tasked us with some intense house-to-house fighting throughout the ruined city, and we encountered enemy resistance at one checkpoint after another. After engaging Axis forces in various houses and courtyards, we had to infiltrate a church, which housed a large artillery emplacement, and plant explosives to destroy it. We quickly learned during this mission that Big Red One isn't going to gloss over the brutal realities of war--our unnamed compatriots were shot down almost as often as we were able to take out our enemies. Since you'll play the role of one soldier throughout the entire game, Treyarch has been able to emphasize the personal nature of the war more heavily than in past Call of Duty games, and this point was driven home later in the mission when a story character named Vic was brutally cut down while trying to breach a building occupied by enemy forces.
In basic gameplay terms, Treyarch isn't trying to reinvent the wheel here--which isn't a bad thing, considering the Call of Duty formula worked pretty well to begin with. During the frenzy of combat, the game will make increased use of contextual instructions from your squad to direct you, rather than arbitrarily popping up mission objectives all the time. You'll still have a compass showing you generally which direction to go, but we noticed a number of instances where we were informed of our next objective (such as flanking an enemy machine gun nest) verbally by our commanding officer.
Another interesting thing we noted was that a number of new Italian weapons were available in our demo that haven't been seen in previous series installments. These included the Carcano M1938 rifle and the Breda M1930 machine gun, both of which were available from fallen enemies. But then, there's no substitute for the good old M1 Garand, so you'll have plenty of satisfying options for bringing the fight to the Axis.
The second mission, "Piano Lupo," was also set in Sicily and tasked us with heading to the town of the same name to reinforce the 82nd Airborne, who had been holed up all night defending against enemy attacks. At the outset, a number of Stuka bombers came soaring in to give our detachment a hard time, and we had to jump into a mounted .50 caliber machine gun to blast them out of the sky. Once the aerial threat was eliminated, we proceeded with our comrades across some wide-open terrain and fought the enemy across several quaint little farms.
Later in the mission, we stumbled upon an enemy convoy idling just over a ridge, and we had to use a pair of binoculars to sight targets for an artillery strike, which destroyed the entire convoy with explosive aplomb. Interestingly, the Piano Lupo mission was actually set before the first mission we tried, so we got to see our buddy Vic delivering some dialogue during a couple of cutscenes, endowing him with some additional characterization and consequently giving us the impression you'll become fairly attached to your comrades before you see them cruelly removed from action.
We also got a chance to bust some heads in Big Red One's deathmatch mode, which will be one of four modes available in the final game's multiplayer (the others being team deathmatch, domination, and capture the flag). This multiplayer component will feature a mixture of maps taken from the single-player campaign and some created specifically for competitive play. When we spawned, we had a number of primary weapons to choose from, including the BAR, M1 Garand, and the Thompson submachine gun. There was also a tank available on the map that made it exceedingly easy to obliterate the competition, for obvious reasons. The tank controlled much like the warthog in Halo, and we drove it from a third-person perspective. Those pesky foot soldiers were able to strike back with a Panzerfaust that was stashed in a nearby guard tower, however.
Based on our first stab at the game, Big Red One appears to be coming along nicely, with all the hardcore World War II action you'd expect from the Call of Duty franchise, and some nice changes to the narrative presentation that should make for a more cohesive storyline over the course of the game. Call of Duty 2: Big Red One is due out at the beginning of November, and we'll bring you more soon, including a full review at that time.