World War II is one of the most popular settings for new games these days, thanks in no small part to the popularity of motion pictures such as Saving Private Ryan and Enemy at the Gates. One of the most obvious examples of this influence was last year's excellent first-person shooter Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, a game that combined fast-paced gameplay with polished, cinematic sequences that helped bring some of the tersest and most exciting moments of the war to life for its many fans. Since then, several of Allied Assault's developers have moved on to create a new studio, Infinity Ward, which is hard at work polishing up its new first-person shooter, Call of Duty. We were recently fortunate enough to get an up-close look at the latest version of the game, as well as to discuss it with Infinity Ward's Vince Zampella.
Call of Duty will emphasize team tactics, both in its single-player campaign and in its multiplayer modes, though the exact details of the multiplayer component are still being kept secret. According to Zampella, the game will make clear the fact that "no one man won the war." In other words, you won't be able to carry an impossibly huge arsenal and destroy the combined forces of the Axis powers single-handedly. In all three of the different single-player campaigns (American, Russian, and British), you'll be accompanied by teammates in many of your missions, and you'll need to rely on their help just as often as you'll need to keep them out of trouble.
According to Zampella, the developer is also attempting to reproduce the historical character of the different theaters of war. For instance, several missions in the British campaign will require you to go up against tough odds--specifically, Axis outfits much larger than your own--but you'll have the benefit of far better intelligence than your enemies, so you'll be able to better plan surgical strikes. And in the Russian campaign, though you won't have the benefit of either exceptionally good intelligence or especially advanced weapons, you'll often have the benefit of greater numbers.
Each of the game's single-player campaigns will open with what Zampella describes as a "key moment," a dramatic in-engine sequence that re-creates a crucial event from the war. But like the cinematics in Allied Assault, these sequences will take place in real time, and when they come to an end, you'll be thrown into the action immediately. We watched the opening of the Russian campaign, which begins with the Russian army crossing the Volga River in an attempt to retake Stalingrad. The mission begins with a landing on the banks of the besieged city, during which you and your huddled comrades are being sternly lectured by your commanding officer, who demands that the lot of you march forward bravely on behalf of Mother Russia--and warns you that any man who takes so much as a single step backward will be branded a traitor and shot.
The Great Crusade
The opening sequence of Call of Duty's Stalingrad mission itself recalls the opening scene of Medal of Honor: Allied Assault (the landing on Omaha Beach), but it looks considerably better, especially since the landing party is already taking fire from enemy artillery, which creates huge, fiery explosions in the nearby shallows that cause your comrades to cringe fearfully. The game will include many sequences in which other characters will act independently of you, so that you don't feel like the only active participant in the war effort. As we saw, one of your Russian comrades has second thoughts about the Stalingrad operation and leaps over the side of the boat, only to be shot dead by the enraged commander, who puts down his megaphone just long enough to scream epithets at the deserter, draw a pistol, and fire wildly at him. Eventually, you'll leap out of the boat and be handed a rifle as you make your way up the beach with some 300 comrades, though you may notice the unfortunate flag carrier (bearing a bright red Russian flag, which marks him as an obvious target for enemy gunners) running a bit more hastily than the others.
As you might expect from a game by the creators of Allied Assault, Call of Duty will feature plenty of over-the-top cinematic effects that will directly and indirectly affect the gameplay. As we saw in the Stalingrad level, enemy fighter planes will be shot down and come screaming past you, smashing into nearby scenery with spectacular explosions. Some of these events are merely in the game to provide ambience, but others, such as mortar explosions, can actually cause you to be briefly stunned, a condition that Zampella refers to as "shell shock." If you're too close to an explosion, your onscreen vision will blur and the sounds around you will be muffled by a high-pitched whine (to simulate the ringing in your ears). According to Zampella, these effects simply wear off over time, but if you're severely injured, you may suffer from them for much longer than usual.
Like in Allied Assault, your missions in Call of Duty will require you to accomplish a number of challenging objectives, but you won't have to keep flipping back and forth to a menu screen to refresh your memory. The game will often provide your mission objectives with obvious audio cues, whether you receive them from a radio transmission, or from the frenzied shouts of a nearby teammate, such as the Russian soldier in Stalingrad who urges you to take out a machine gun nest while he provides covering fire for you from behind a ruined wall.
And like the developer's previous game, Call of Duty will offer a good variety of mission types and venues. For instance, one of the later missions in the American campaign will take place in the trenches on the western front. Instead of worrying about getting shelled by artillery in the open, you instead need to carefully and quickly navigate your way through the trenches to your goal, taking down any enemy soldiers who may be hiding behind corners and disabling stationary guns along the way. Until you do, at several points in the level the air will continuously be buzzing with machine gun fire from both enemy soldiers and your own teammates, who are providing backup.
Call of Duty is currently in an alpha test phase--all the game's levels are now complete, and the game is currently being tested and tweaked. This promising World War II shooter is scheduled for release this fall. For now, watch our exclusive video interview with Infinity Ward's Vince Zampella.