Call of Duty 3 Hands-On - Deeper Into Europe

Activision shows off a number of levels from all three next-gen versions of its WWII sequel, and we grabbed the controls to compare them all.

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Activision released one of the most successful Xbox 360 games to date last year with Call of Duty 2, and now it's back with the third game in the popular World War II shooter series. As we've reported in our previous coverage, the game's development has been taken over by Treyarch from series creator Infinity Ward, and this time the action will focus on the Normandy Breakout campaign, which pushed from the Allied landing on D-day all the way to the liberation of Paris some weeks later. Call of Duty 3 is due on all the next-gen platforms--Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii--but until a recent Activision press event, we hadn't had the chance to see all three versions up and running simultaneously.

Having played all three games, we've gotten a feel for their relative merits, as well as the feel of Call of Duty 3 in general. Activision showed off different levels in each version, so we got to experience a broad cross-section of the sort of action the game will offer. In short, if you've played the previous Call of Duty games, you won't be terribly surprised by anything here, since the core conventions remain the same. Running from cover to cover, experiencing dramatic scripted events, using your iron sights to gun down Axis soldiers from afar--the gameplay here has remained basically the same from one installment to the next, which isn't really bad considering this series has consistently been among the most visceral and satisfying first-person shooters on the market.

Rather than reinvent the wheel, Treyarch has chosen to intensify the action elements that were already in place in past games. The team has promised a larger scope for the combat, and from what we saw during our time with the game, it seems to be delivering on those promises. In the Xbox 360 version, we played a mission in which we had to advance on an enemy position amidst a raging thunderstorm, trudging through a field filled with tall grass. It's not easy to make progress with the Germans raining fire down on you from up the hill, but luckily we had a tank on our side, and we had to keep close behind the tank and use it for cover as we moved along. On either side of us, we had allies scrambling through the cross fire, ducking behind cattle carcasses and diving among the individually modeled blades of grass in an effort to stay low.

Four Allied nationalities--American, British, Canadian, and Polish--are represented in Call of Duty 3's depiction of the Normandy Breakout campaign.

Later in the level, we met up with a larger squad of troops and moved through a path the tank had created toward our objective, which was a fortified Nazi position atop a small hill. But before we could move out into the clearing, a truck came roaring through the grass and exploded in front of us, kicking the firefight off with a bang. Once we got into the clearing, we found it extremely broad, with fortified machine gun positions along the top ridge. This area was large enough that when we died repeatedly trying to reach the top of the hill, we were able to attempt flanking either side of the enemy and using different routes to try out different strategies, before we finally found one that let us avoid enough of the cross fire to make it to the top and help take control of the hill. After cresting the hill, we were thrown to the ground and shell shocked by an incoming artillery blast, which initiated a first-person cutscene in which our allies had to drag us out, cursing our character's sorry butt all the way.

We spent the most time with the Xbox 360 demo and felt that it showcased Call of Duty 3's wider and busier levels most prominently. The PS3 demo level, the Forest, showed off a different sort of action. This one was a bit more linear, sending us down a heavily wooded corridor with Nazi soldiers hiding behind trees all along the way. We were fortunately armed with a scoped Springfield rifle, so we could pick off foes from a distance here, but the underbrush was so thick that going prone to steady our aim proved more trouble than it was worth. After intense tree-to-tree fighting, we finally reached the end of the level, where the Germans had dug trenches to establish a base and then populated it with far more soldiers than we thought we had a chance of realistically taking down.

You'll see nary a loading progress bar, as loading is covered up with a video mission briefing.

Some ballyhoo has been made of Call of Duty 3's seamless presentation of the Normandy Breakout campaign, which will have you playing as officers of the American, British, Canadian, and Polish forces in turn. The way this works is that you'll simply see a full-motion video briefing in place of the loading screen. In other words, as soon as one level is over, you'll move to a video showing maps and old footage that detail the particulars of your next mission, all while the data for that mission is streaming off the disc. So you won't actually be playing the game nonstop from start to finish, but you won't glimpse a loading bar, either, which will hopefully make the game feel more streamlined as you progress.

It's worth noting that the 360 and PS3 versions are identical in terms of content; the only difference we noticed is that you can thrust with the sixaxis controller on the PS3 to make your character do his melee attack (though you can still use the button if you want). The games looked quite similar, too, from what we could tell. The level of detail in the maps and characters has been noticeably ramped up from Call of Duty 2, such as with the aforementioned individual grass blades and rays of light filtering through the trees. The characters' facial expressions, clothing, and animations are also appreciably more realistic than in the past. You'd be hard pressed to say which version looks better, especially since they're both running in 720p resolution, but neither one is a slouch in the visual department.

The Wii version, as it turns out, is content-identical to the 360 and PS3 versions, for the most part. It's reasonable to expect that the relatively weaker system will have fewer enemies and simplified geometry in some parts, but in terms of storyline, basic level design, and so on, you're getting the same game across all three platforms. The Wii version naturally doesn't feature the extreme detail of the other versions, but it does play much like we're coming to expect first-person shooters to play on this unique new platform. Like Metroid Prime 3 and Red Steel, COD3 has you using the remote for fine aiming, and moving the cursor to the edges of the screen will make you turn. The analog stick on the nunchuk makes you move, and the various other buttons of the Wii's controllers let you perform other actions like ducking, jumping, and going to iron sights.

The Wii version will have scaled-down visuals but more realistic, motion-based controls to make up for it.

There are a few more motion controls available on the Wii. Thrusting the remote outward will perform your melee attack, while twisting it to the sides will make you lean. Finally, you can switch weapons by flicking the nunchuk to the side or throw a grenade by moving it in a tossing motion. The Wii level we played was Crossroads, which featured more-typical house-to-house fighting through a ruined, bombed-out village. When we entered one doorway, we engaged in one of Call of Duty 3's scripted hand-to-hand combat sequences, which have you struggling with an enemy soldier in a cinematic fashion. When we last saw one of these minigames on the Xbox 360, we had to merely hit the right buttons at the right time to succeed, but on the Wii, you'll actually have to hold the controllers out in front of you in a facsimile of the onscreen action and struggle as instructed by the game to save your skin and take down the bad guy.

Aside from this difference, the game played like you'd expect. All the core mechanics are the same here as in the PS3 and 360 versions--the difference is merely in how you interface with the game. Luckily, horizontal and vertical sensitivity adjustments were available in the build we played, so we could fine-tune the aiming to our liking, and afterward, we found the actual shooting gameplay to be more satisfying and skill-based than when played with a standard analog thumb stick. With the more flexible aiming, it became more realistic to switch to iron sights and squeeze off a quick headshot to take out that soldier just barely peeking over the barrier. We're looking forward to getting more time with this and other Wii games to get a better feel for this sort of unique FPS gameplay, which seems to approximate the feel of mouse aiming on the PC.

Online play was one of Call of Duty 2's most enduring strengths, and we got to try a few rounds of the third game's improved multiplayer mode on the Xbox 360 to see just how improved it is. This consisted of deathmatch on a typical village map and then a couple of rounds of capture the flag on a map called Eder Dam, which (as you'd expect) places each team's base at opposite ends of a large dam. You can run across the top of the dam or inside it, but the catch is, the middle section has taken artillery fire and there's a gaping hole you'll have to get around by jumping and inching along girders each time you cross.

The big news with COD3's multiplayer is that it's now class-based and features vehicles, Battlefield style. There are a number of classes available, from light and heavy infantry to sniper, antitank, and medic. This merely affects your initial weapons loadout, since you can pick up other players' weapons when they die to change it up. Each class has some special abilities, as well. As the sniper, we were able to sight in the enemy's flag base with our binoculars to call in an artillery strike--and then we died laughing when the kill list lit up with the name of nearly every member of the other team.

The class-based, vehicular multiplayer feels more robust than in past Call of Duty games.

The vehicles also add a madcap element to the multiplayer, such as the tank on the village map that let us savagely mow down infantry with impunity. That only lasted until one antitank player found a good vantage point from which to destroy us, though. On Eder Dam, a jeep with a mounted machine gun and a motorcycle with a sidecar were both available, which let us circumvent the dam entirely and get to the other side more quickly. They also made for some comical moments, especially since the hole in the top of the dam has a ramp on either side of it. At one point, we killed the driver of a motorcycle while he was on the opposite side of the dam, but even though the driver was dead, that didn't stop the momentum of the bike. It hit the ramp and came flying at us anyway, and it was all we could do to scramble out of the way before the runaway machine plowed over us.

With such an established franchise as Call of Duty, you don't want to make too many big changes to the core formula or you risk alienating the series' fan base. Thus Treyarch seems to have incrementally improved on all of the previous game's strong points, creating a sequel with the same flavor as the original but with enough new gameplay and increased realism that fans should find an incentive to enlist yet again. Call of Duty 3 is due out in early November on the Xbox 360, with the Wii and PlayStation 3 versions to follow thereafter.

Discussion

90 comments
Edgemaster666
Edgemaster666

Hate to break it to some of you, but a lot of the images for the Call of Duty series are pre-rendered.. They said so themselves a while back I think. But still, COD2 looked pretty impressive, if improperly optimised in some places, so there's no real arguement that its going to look better than COD2, so I'll be happy. Lately I've been replaying COD2 on 'Intense' difficulty, and its fun. Can't wait for COD3, i just hope they bring it out for PC down the track.

stat30fbliss
stat30fbliss

I give em credit for continually finding new ways to bring out the same old war. The game looks great though. Im excited to try it.

Tungsten88
Tungsten88

PS3 and Wii suck. Xbox version all the way.

not-e-n-e
not-e-n-e

I cant wait to be playing this game on my ps3

george6545
george6545

I think vehicles will spoil the multiplayer

kokaiinum
kokaiinum

I have mixed feelings about this one i must admit, i loved Call Of Duty 2 for my 360, ut seriousley it kind of looks the same, they eaven say the gameplay mechanics are still the same, it just dosent seem worth the hype i must admit.

Kiddfather
Kiddfather

Is it just me or is the guy playing the demo ah moron

mice16
mice16

Delude yourself if you wish. Gamespot has reviewed both and find them pretty much identical.

ninja929
ninja929

Just preordered it. I hope it's as good as COD2 or better.

Supaza
Supaza

That does look very impressive. I'm glad they are showing the dark, gritty side to the war, not some lame easy shoot'em up. I'm still not sure about 1st person driving. Its never as good as 3rd person driving, thats for sure. Farcry Instincts proved that it works, but not better than 3rd person.

Evinco_DX
Evinco_DX

Getting it for the 360, I gotta have that rumble feature. To bad the PS3 version wont have it.

reject09
reject09

This game sounds so crazy. I did't get the first one but this one sounds way too good to pass up. The vehicle combat sounds really cool and it sounds like they bettered the graphics to. It's gonna be great.

UltimatePhoenix
UltimatePhoenix

Are There going to be any tournaments after the game is released? If so, how soon and where?

UMCP
UMCP

Hmmm... it was only a year ago when they released call of duty 2. How much they could have possibly made in 1 year? Skeptical....

FuzzyPanda321
FuzzyPanda321

i'm going to the mall and reserving it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! heck yeah

august_king
august_king

Looks good too bad there's no co op mode!

Grubzic
Grubzic

Must get Call of Duty 3!

devxwill
devxwill

This game is going to rock!

williamwu1985
williamwu1985

all i have to say is ps3 is just a new console, they developer can only run its 50% graphic , and 360 always run the best it can. we will look forward see which one better

rbop
rbop

The vehicle addition sounds wicked kool.

PuhJesus
PuhJesus

Hopefully we have an option as to turn both vehicles and or specific weapons off...

kuledude
kuledude

i loved all the call of duty games except for Big red One-it was missing a good storyline. This is probably gonna be the best cause finnaly you will play as Canadian and Polish forces. Im hoping they add bots if you just want to play instants battle for fun

RandX
RandX

Will the PS3 be broadband only Online ?? What does the Mic look like for the PS3 ?? - does it plug into a usb port or the standerd imput like the 360 Mic. Is the Kill Cam in this game ?? Which was Cod3 mastered on ?? ( then ported to which systems ) /or was ths game made for the systems at the same time, which seems unliky... What RPM does the PS3 HD run at ??/ and RPM for the 360 HD If you know any of that info please respond here. HERE IS A TECH TREAT PS3 http://www-128.ibm.com/developerworks/power/library/pa-fpfxbox/ http://www.spectrum.ieee.org/aug06/4256 XBOX360 http://hardware.teamxbox.com/articles/xbox/1144/The-Xbox-360-System-Specifications/p1 http://interviews.teamxbox.com/xbox/1190/Xbox-360-Interview-Todd-Holmdahl/p1/ The CoD3 offical Xbox360 game forums are up http://forums.xbox.com/558/ShowForum.aspx

_Sam_
_Sam_

I really liked the previous games

Ocharlesincharg
Ocharlesincharg

pretty much i just want new maps...skrew a whole new game just give more map pakcs or allow some MODDERS ON XBOX MICROSOFT!...thasts all i want ...hire some or something just to get some community things out there...that is what makes online gaming online gaming

PolishPunisher
PolishPunisher

Sweet, I get to play a fellow Polack in this game.

cboz_34
cboz_34

looks amazing!!!!!!!

IIRubenII
IIRubenII

I really don't care what the differences between the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3 are. If they both look identical, I'm getting it on the Playstation 3. I already have a library of games for the 360. I feel sorry for you Wii Wii's. Although I still would get the Nintendo "Revolution" for the re-hashes. Plus $249.99 isn't bad.

-HCMF-
-HCMF-

Must.... Play..... Now.....

notTheOracle
notTheOracle

I just hope this is going to be more like the "real" Call of Duty games, since the developer behind this one (Treyarch) only did the Big Red One game which was not nearly as great as Cod or Cod 2.

Jaiden114
Jaiden114

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

Jaiden114
Jaiden114

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

Cerick
Cerick

What i want to know is are you going to be able to turn off weapons or vehicles? like the **** snipers. also i like cod cause there were no vehicles. face it car campers suck. im not saying i wont like the new stuff, but if i wanted to play modern combat i would. cod rules

remaGloohcSdlO
remaGloohcSdlO

I've played COD2 the most of any game in recent memory... I haven't played in a while, but I've logged many MP hours. I can't wait for this one.

lolapotpop
lolapotpop

Sweet. Cant wait. Ive been lookin forward to this.

mike_mgoblue
mike_mgoblue

Call of Duty 3 for the Xbox 360 is going to be the BEST!!! I can't wait to get Call of Duty 3 as a birthday present for the Xbox 360!!!

buzzguy
buzzguy

Really looking forward to playing online as some different nations for a change. Loved United Offensive online, and this game looks to be going in the same direction.