COD offers a "you are there" virtual experience of some of the crucial engagements of WWII.
COD was first released in October 2003 about a year and a half after its rival Medal of Honor Allied Assault. These two games, both classics, take very different looks at WWII. COD focusses on the team, usually your AI squad, in major battles whereas MOHAA focusess on the individual behind enemy lines, with some participation in bigger military operations like the Omaha Beach landings. The subsequent games in both Warchest compilations follow those principles. The historical reliability and immersiveness of the missions in COD, for me, far outweighs that offered by MOHAA; whereas MOHAA certainly delivers on the feel of being alone, behind enemy lines. Two different perspectives, two different experiences.
COD kicks off with an excellent mission, dropping you into the thick of the scattered US paratroop landings the night before D-Day. Once you have regrouped you fight alongside your team through the night and the next day. Your mission and its context are well outlined through briefings and diary entries. The combat is remorseless and challenging, while maintaining the "you are there" and fun aspects. The swings of battle as you fight to take and hold and retake your assigned village provides a good "feel" for what must have happened in similar battles during WWII. While the events in each mission are no doubt scripted the maps are fairly open and how you deal with a situation, for example with an enemy strongpoint, is largely up to you. COD overall is not so tightly scripted as to be "on the rails" except for those missions few when you are a passenger in or on a vehicle.
The AI, friendly and enemy, in COD is vastly improved to that in the earlier MOHAA. Friendly AI behaves realistically, taking cover, advancing and engaging the enemy, usually following you as point man. Enemy AI is far superior to that in MOHAA, which at times behaved less like troops following a logical tactical pathway than targets in a game of whack a mole. All this adds to the immersive nature of the COD game. While COD is not a tactical shooter (as you only control your single character) you do feel as you are part of a team. Your team mates are personalised by name and you try to make the right tactical decisions in order to ensure that they survive as well as you (albeit no doubt randomness and scripting takes place as well). Certainly making both the friendly and enemy units behave "normally" is a big plus for COD and thankfully this formula was retained and perfected in later releases.
COD has three major story arcs or campaigns. Each story has a central character and its unique set of missions. Each mission, its purpose, and objectives are well explained by pre- and in-mission briefings. As you progress through the 26 missions you may notice that they progressively become more difficult with more intense and sustained firefights and challenging objectives. As you play the missions you may get a sense of deja vu as scenes within certain missions are heavily influenced by popular WWII war movies, which in turn were inflenced by real life events. Certainly you may well feel like Jude Law's stunt double in the more recent "Enemy at the Gates" during the Stalingrad missions. These popular culture references again enhance your immersion in the game. The final three missions wrap up the three campaigns, each ending on a triumphant note.
US airborne campaign - Pvt Joey Martin:
o Training Camp - basic movement and weapons handling
o Pathfinder - advance to location to set up signal for paradrops
o Burnville - clear buildings, advance through graveyard, destroy AA guns and secure town centre
o Dawnville - defend town against infantry and armour counterattack, clear mortar emplacements
o Car Ride - fast paced action packed ride through enemy held countryside to HQ
o Brecourt Manor - eliminate multiple flak positions among network of trenches, clear manor, seize docs, repel counter attack, make like Lt Winters in "Band of Brothers"
o Chateau - night assault on buildings, room clearing, seize docs, destroy secret radio installation, rescue Capt Price
o POW Camp - time-limited rescue Major Ingram from POW camp
British airborne campaign - Sgt Jack Evans:
o Pegasus Night - night glider landing, capture the bridge just like Richard Todd in real life and later in "The Longest Day"
o Pegasus Day - repel enemy counter attacks, "hold until relieved", man 88mm vs tanks
o Eder Dam Assault - infiltrate, destroy AA defences, descend and battle through tunnels to plant charges on generators, escape
o Truck Ride - on the rails truck ride, panzerfaust and Bren vs pursuing vehicles, sniper cover for bridge demolition
o Airfield Escape - barrel into complex on truck, battle infantry, man AA vs Stukas, escape by plane
o Tirpitz - infiltrate and sabotage this famous battleship, corridor and deck battles, escape
Russian infantry campaign - Cpl Alexei Voronin
o Stalingrad - relive the opening scenes of "Enemy at the Gates", scramble unarmed up the Volga river bank to cover
o Red Square - advance unarmed, retreive rifle and ammo, outflank, battle through ruined buildings, snipe
o Train Station - building assault, advance across open terrain, sniping enemy officers, battle through rail station
o Sewer - battle through network of sewers, sniping vs German snipers
o Pavlov's House - site of numerous battles in the struggle for Stalingrad, first phase is to capture the building, difficult second phase defending building
o Tank Factory - assault, battle through and clear German tank factory in Poland
o Railyard - battle through railyard adjacent to tank factory and back into factory
o Tank Drive Country - snow, man T34 in tank vs tank duels near the Oder River
o Tank Drive Town - enter enemy held town, destroy tanks and AA guns
o Festung Recogne - clear enemy emplacements at tail end of Bulge battles, recover documents, destroy tanks
o V2 Rocket Site - assault and infiltrate enemy base, battle through tunnels, plant demo charges on V2 rockets
o Berlin - sniping amidst ruins, advance to and clear Reichstag building, flag raising on the rooftop ... final victory
The intensity of urban combat is excellently depicted particularly in the Soviet (non-tank) missions and the final battle for the Reichstag. The final two allied missions are reminiscent of, and perhaps a nod to, the wintery battles for Fort Schmerzen in MOHAA with its network of bunkers linked by tunnels. A pleasant change from MOHAA is that there is both a British and Soviet campaign which is entirely fought by their armies and not a US operative seconded to those units as in MOHAA. It was good to see the airborne landings behind the Normandy beaches as MOHAA did an excellent job of portraying Omaha Beach and recreating that would have been redundant. It was great to finally enter the cauldron of the Eastern Front, scene of the most intense no holds barred battles in Europe.
Gameplay in COD is similar to MOHAA in terms of player character controls, but adds prone and leaning. Realism, despite the early appearance of the STG-44 assault rifle, is enhanced by limiting the number and types of weapons your character can carry. You can pick up alternate weapons (rather than generic rifle or SMG ammo in MOHAA) from dead enemies. There are four difficulty settings in COD: Greenhorn, Regular, Hardened and Veteran. Even though I played on Hardened difficulty there was none of the frustration experienced on the recently played MOHAA Breakthrough. The most difficult mission segment in the whole game for me was the time limited defence of multi-level Pavlov's House. Health pack availability is reasonably generous and thankfully, unlike MOHAA, not always next to an enemy ambush. COD seems to strike a better balance between difficulty and enjoyment.
Graphically COD gives a much better feel for the grittyness of battle then MOHAA. The realistic look of the character skins and environments, be it the weapons, buildings, trees or sky, coupled with the soundtrack will draw you in. Its not that MOHAA is bad in this regard, its just not as good as COD. Explosions and other environmental effects are well executed. The immersion is enhanced by the ambient sounds of gunfire and troops talking or taunting.
At times you really get that "you are there" feel when playing COD. Voice acting for the key characters, usually your squad commander, is very well executed with convincing accents. The excellent music soundtrack underscores the mood appropriate to the setting, whether tense, solemn or uplifting.
As noted above AI is vastly improved with both friendly and enemy character behaving far more normally and logically than in MOHAA, especially in the battles occuring out doors. Friendlies take cover, provide covering fire and advance with you. Enemies take cover and manuever to try and target you and your friends. While the enemy respawns if you are slow to advance they do so in logical locations, usually in or advancing to cover, rather than just appear from literally nowhere. So while a game can never be truly realistic COD comes closer to its depiction, through AI, of troops under fire than the games in the MOHAA series were able to.
The only disappointments, though not critical to the enjoyment of the game, were the lack of satisfying cut scenes to signify success at the end of certain missions like Eder Dam and Tirpitz. A satisfying explosion (although not historical) at the end of each would have been the icing on the cake. The final US mission, Fetsung Recogne, also felt a bit flat when compared to the finale of both the British and Soviet campaigns. At the end of the final Soviet mission in Berlin there is a real sense of completion and celebration.
OVERALL: COD provides a solid WWII FPS experience that has stood the passage of time since its release and remains one of the best games in its genre. If you buy no other WWII FPS game get COD, preferably in its Warchest compilation, you will NOT be disappointed. (For a similar WWII historical feel I heartily recommend the more recent and equally immersive and intense COD World at War and MOH Pacific Assault FPS games.)