Call of Duty 2 Impressions - First Look, North Africa, Urban Combat

We get up close and personal with the sequel to Infinity Ward's World War II shooter.

Don't look now, but publisher Activision and developer Infinity Ward are marching back to war with Call of Duty 2, the sequel to the acclaimed shooter from 2003. Like the original game, the sequel will take place during World War II from the perspective of American, British, and Russian soldiers at various points in the war. Interestingly, the single-player campaigns are being divided into "vignettes" that you'll be able to unlock as you go. So rather than being forced to play through the game's missions in order, you'll be able to unlock another nation's missions halfway through your current campaign. So, while the single-player game begins in 1941 with the Russian soldiers' vignette and plays through various engagements on into 1942, you may open up other campaigns with a completely different look and feel. As for the multiplayer...we'll have to wait a while longer before any more details become available, but we have impressions of the single-player game for you here.

Return to duty later this year with the sequel to Infinity Ward's award-winning World War II shooter.

And like the first game, the sequel will also attempt to tell a story of the war from the perspective of a soldier in a squad, not a lone hero carrying a huge arsenal. But even though Call of Duty 2, like the first game, will go after a cinematic, motion-picture-style look and feel, it won't be about heavily scripted sequences that hold your hand from one area to the next. Instead, the single-player game will have many more open-ended levels that will let you tackle them from multiple angles--and these levels will be anywhere from 50 to 200 percent larger than those of the original game. The sequel will also put you up against much smarter enemies that know how to avoid grenades, take cover, and even how to flank you by pinning you with suppressive fire. They'll also work around the concealment provided by smoke grenades and big explosions.

Fortunately, your teammates will have the same training, and they, like your enemies, will shout out lots of "battle chatter"--call-outs that will quickly apprise you of your situation and your enemies' positions. Says chief creative officer Vince Zampella, the original Call of Duty "was just too quiet." Since you simply won't be able to see everything going on around you in the heat of battle, Infinity Ward intends for battle chatter to be a crucial part of the game, which is why the studio recorded some 20,000 lines of context-sensitive dialogue for it. In addition to the huge amount of spoken dialogue, the developer is making every effort to add authenticity to the sequel. Aside from hiring military consultants to design the tactics around concealment in battle and fire-and-move strategies, the developers headed right back out to the firing range to wield and discharge each of the game's weapons personally to get a better sense of how they handle. Apparently, the game's Western Front missions were all completely scrapped in mid-development after Infinity Ward designers took a trip to the French countryside and declared that the existing missions were too unrealistic.

We were able to see a demonstration of a single-player mission in Toujane, a desert city in Tunisia, during a joint British and American campaign to decisively defeat the forces of the infamous Desert Fox, General Rommel. The mission began in true Call of Duty fashion, with an in-game cinematic sequence in which your character rides the side of tank in the 7th Armored Division while your buddies exchange casual conversation before all hell breaks loose. The streets of Toujane are lined with large, dusty stonework buildings that get blasted to bits when your squad is ambushed by enemy armor. From then on, you leap into action alongside your teammates, who detach into multiple squads as they try to reach one of their primary objectives--a German machine gun nest parked right in the main road of the town that has been tearing Allied forces to shreds.

Your teammates will be as important as ever in the sequel.

We watched an attempt to go straight down the middle, a tough route even with heavy use of concealment from smoke grenades and covering fire from your teammates, though the street had deposits of rubble and a few damaged cars to provide cover. We then watched a few alternate attempts to take side streets, but found that Rommel's forces had infiltrated many nearby buildings, making an already challenging engagement much more complicated. We saw how valuable battle chatter can be, especially in the case of traversing the side streets of Toujane. Carefully listening to teammate chatter can alert you to the presence of enemies hiding behind corners as well as to approaching enemy charges. Teammates will even shout when there's a live grenade on the field. But Call of Duty 2 will also have a context-sensitive heads-up display that will place a small grenade icon on your crosshairs if you're near an explosive. (You'll receive a similar cue if you're near a short ledge that you can mantle over.)

The engagements we watched were tense and vicious, thanks in no small part to the game's enhanced graphics engine, which has much more support for particle effects, like swirling dust clouds and blinding clouds of black smoke kicked up by artillery fire. Surprisingly, the game will actually be powered by all-new technology developed in-house at Infinity Ward. The new engine has been designed to support every major DirectX 9 feature, like normal mapping, specular lighting, and even subtler effects like heat shimmer. Even though the game won't ship until later this year, Call of Duty 2 has been in development for some time and looks extremely promising. Expect to see more updates on GameSpot soon.

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