There is no shortage of World War II-themed first-person shooters available, and it's no secret that a number of them, including Medal of Honor: Allied Assault and Battlefield 1942, are extremely good. Now you can add Call of Duty to that list. The first game by Infinity Ward, a studio composed of some of the same team that worked on Allied Assault, Call of Duty presents outstanding action all around and is at least as good as, and in several ways is simply better than, any similar game. Though both its single-player and multiplayer modes will be familiar to those who've been keeping up with the WWII-themed shooters of the past several years, most anyone who plays games would more than likely be very impressed with Call of Duty's authentic presentation, well designed and often very intense single-player missions, and fast-paced, entertaining multiplayer modes.
Call of Duty's distinguishing features, by and large, can't be considered innovations--that's too strong of a word. However, this is a game that pulls together many of the best aspects of other, similar games, and also includes all sorts of little "wish-list items" that may have crossed your mind while playing those other games. The result seems, above all, very well designed. The action in Call of Duty, ultimately, is arcadelike--much like in Allied Assault or Battlefield 1942. You can't survive a shot to the head, but you can take a few bullets anywhere else and can keep going just fine. There's also a clear onscreen indication of the direction from which you're taking fire (and, as you're getting hit, the screen shudders to make it look like it hurts). Luckily, first aid kits, conveniently placed in the levels or occasionally dropped by killed enemies, instantly restore large portions of your health. You hardly ever need to activate a "use" key in this game. When you do, you'll use it to instantly set explosives or grab documents, but you won't use it for opening doors.
Actually, that's because you won't be opening any doors. One gameplay contrivance that's presented in the first few seconds of the first mission is that any time you see a closed door in Call of Duty, it's supposed to stay closed. This seems like a minor point, but how many shooters have you played in which you fumbled for every doorknob, trying to find the one door that would actually open? That's simply not an issue in Call of Duty. Despite the highly authentic atmosphere created for the levels in the game, there tends to be an intuitive, clear path from the beginning of the level to the end. The levels can be challenging, at least at the higher two of the game's four difficulty settings, but they're not frustrating. If you die, you can restart at your most recent save almost instantly. You don't need to worry about hitting the quick-save key all the time, either, since the game automatically and seamlessly saves your progress not just at the beginning of a level but at several points throughout the level. The game's brief tutorial at the beginning of the single-player mode will be second nature for experienced players of first-person shooters. However, since it's in the context of a military boot camp, it will also provide, for new and experienced players alike, some valuable advice on (and practice with) the nuances of Call of Duty's gameplay.
You cannot sprint in Call of Duty, nor can you tiptoe. While standing, you move at a constant pace that's not too slow and not too fast but is just right. You'll have no trouble quickly getting from point A to point B. However, when you're running from cover to cover in an area that's under fire, you'll be painfully aware of how vulnerable you are. You should probably keep your head down, and Call of Duty lets you easily switch between standing, crouching, and prone stances. You move slower while crouching--not too slowly though--which makes this the best way to get around when in the thick of battle. Movement, as well as turning, is understandably much slower while prone. Sometimes, however, this is the perfect option for staging an ambush or staying out of harm's way. As in many shooters, you can also lean around corners in Call of Duty, which can be a real lifesaver during some of the game's deadly firefights when you need all the cover you can get.
Call of Duty features a wide arsenal of authentic American, British, Russian, and German WWII weapons, including various rifles, submachine guns, side arms, and grenades. You can carry only two larger weapons at a time (as well as a pistol and some grenades), so, typically, you'll want to have a rifle for out-in-the-open engagements and a submachine gun for tight-quarter combat. While armed with any of these, you may shoot from the hip, raise the weapon to eye level and aim down the sight (for more accuracy at the expense of movement speed), or use the butt of the weapon to try and club an enemy to death. Manually reloading your weapon tends to be faster than letting the clip run out, and some weapons let you switch firing modes, like going from full-auto to single shot (though, since you can squeeze off single rounds in full-auto mode, this isn't very useful). Your crosshairs expand when you're moving and contract when you're steady, pointing out how much more inaccurate you'll be if you try to run-and-gun. The weapons themselves are modeled very convincingly, thanks in no small part to the tactile sense you get from being able to look through their sights or use them as bludgeons, and most every one will earn your respect since, in the right situations, they can all be deadly effective.
Sniper rifle-type weapons tend to be extremely powerful in first-person shooters, and you'd think that players' inabilities to run at the equivalent of 60mph in this game would make them particularly easy targets during multiplayer matches. Call of Duty has some good solutions here as well. For one thing, when looking through the scope of a rifle, your view will be severely restricted, and your peripheral vision will be virtually eliminated. This makes the scope work properly as a means of lining up a long-ranged shot but not so useful for just scanning the horizon and spotting enemies from farther than the eye could see.
Additionally, multiplayer Call of Duty features the very clever "kill cam," which lets a player who's been killed relive the last five seconds of his life from his killer's perspective. The implications of the kill cam are pretty significant: If anyone isn't playing fair in a multiplayer match, the kill cam ought to make this quite clear, and then players can vote to have the offending player kicked. When playing a deathmatch-style multiplayer mode, you can easily skip the kill-cam sequence and get back into the action, but if you're playing one of the multiplayer modes in which you can't instantly respawn, it can make for an entertaining five-second consolation prize.
Call of Duty bills itself as having three distinct single-player campaigns--one for the Americans, one for the British, and one for the Russians--but this isn't exactly the case. You do get to play a number of exciting missions from the perspectives of each of these allied forces, and each one takes place in a different part of Europe. However, you play through all of the game's missions in a linear order, and there's no clear transition from one "campaign" to the next. There's no epilogue when you finish a series of missions, so all you get is a different-looking between-mission loading screen to clue you in that you've moved on to the next chunk of the game. Overall, the single-player portion of Call of Duty is of approximately average length, meaning it should take you some 10 hours, give or take, from beginning to end. None of it is filler.
Much like Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, Call of Duty really doesn't tell much of a story. You'll get to survive through some harrowing experiences and help accomplish some significant victories, but don't expect to become best friends with many of the game's characters (and don't choke back any tears when some of them get gunned down or blown up), and don't expect to get a sense of the different main characters' unique personas. All there is to distinguish the game's three main characters from one another are their names; they never speak, and the game never gives you a look at them, since you see everything from their perspectives. And, no, there aren't any mirrors lying around on the battlefield.
Also much like in Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, the absence of a conventional narrative in Call of Duty is a trade-off that gave the game's designers the creative license to put you, the player, in a number of different situations. These situations are very intense in their own rights, but, collectively, they would never have been experienced by one man. In fact, Call of Duty is a step in the right direction from Allied Assault in this regard, since that game suggested that the same one character was responsible for all the heroics that took place. In Call of Duty, you're no hero but just a soldier in the war (three different soldiers, one at a time) presented with incredible circumstances. You just happen to be in the right place at the right time and have the opportunity to make a real difference, or, at least, you can die trying. The single-player levels, like those of Allied Assault, are sort of an interactive roller-coaster ride. The scenarios are heavily scripted. Battles, fortunately, don't unfold in precisely the same way each time you attempt a level, but, basically, you need to follow a set path through each level to end up experiencing it in just the fashion that the designers probably intended. If you keep dying, you're probably just doing something "wrong" and should try a slightly different approach. Levels obviously aren't walled-in or anything and look realistic, so things like barbed-wire fences and minefields (as well as a handy onscreen compass pointing to your next objective) will keep you from straying off course.
One of Call of Duty's most distinguishing features in the single-player mode is how many humans, both friend and foe, it manages to cram into an environment. With the exception of a small handful of corridor-crawl-style commando missions (which, while pretty good, are probably the least interesting parts of the game), you'll never be fighting alone, and you'll always have allied soldiers fighting--and dying--by your side. These allies are mostly for the sake of ambience; they mostly look realistic as they fight from behind cover and draw some of the enemy fire. They even sometimes charge the enemy, as you'd expect them to under the circumstances. However, they won't do your job for you and can't be depended upon to take out the bad guys.
In fact, in some cases, the presence of all these allied soldiers unfortunately works against your suspension of disbelief. The occasional mission-critical character might get shot, only to get back on his feet because the mission couldn't go on without him. (The designers apparently didn't want to punish you for not looking out for your own.) You'll also sometimes see soldiers fail to react properly to an enemy standing nearby. Still, far more often, the effect of being in the middle of a pitched battle with seemingly dozens of soldiers on each side is quite convincing and dramatic. This is especially true in the Stalingrad mission of the Russian campaign, in which legions of conscripts, some bearing standards instead of arms, can be seen charging the entrenched enemy and getting mowed down. You're just like the rest of them, only you manage to find a sideways route instead of rushing at certain death head-on.
The Russian missions are perhaps the most memorable in Call of Duty, particularly because this is a perspective of the war that hasn't been portrayed as frequently in the Western world--and understandably so. Nevertheless, if you've read the history books or seen films like Enemy at the Gates (whose opening sequence clearly inspired the first of the Russian missions in Call of Duty), then you'll have a sense of the particularly dreadful circumstances that Russian soldiers faced in a conflict that left tens of millions of Russians dead. The American and British missions have some incredible moments as well. Many first-person shooters now feature "turret" missions, in which you're working the guns but not actually driving the vehicle from which you're shooting. Call of Duty has a couple of excellent such levels from the American and British perspectives, which are some of the finest such interactive chase/shooting sequences to date. As the British, there's also a terrific battle where you and your fellow soldiers are pinned down and are under attack from German reinforcements who are coming from all angles. Your objective is to merely hold out for several very long minutes until help arrives. Throughout the missions, your German foes will pose a significant threat. They're good shots, and they'll smack you with their rifles if you get too close. They'll even toss their grenades at you, and sometimes they'll even throw your grenades back at you.
The single-player component of Call of Duty is thrilling for as long as it lasts. The multiplayer component of Call of Duty is what will likely keep you entertained for much longer. The game features five different multiplayer modes--deathmatch, team deathmatch, a keep-away-style mode called "behind enemy lines" where the allies are heavily outnumbered, and two Counter-Strike-style objective-based modes (one called "retrieval," where one team tries to recover important documents from under the other team's nose, and another, called "search and destroy," where one team attempts to blow up an objective that is being defended by the other team). All that's missing is a character-class-based mode, though by choosing your primary weapon you're essentially committing to a particular role in battle. There are a dozen multiplayer maps in all, and each is available for use with four of the five modes, though there are only four maps designed for use with the search-and-destroy mode.
Because the core gameplay and weapon balancing in Call of Duty is very well done, and the 3D engine and netcode capably handle situations where a ton of action is going on all at once, all the multiplayer modes are inherently enjoyable. The aforementioned kill cam is another nice touch, and the same sort of excellent level design found in the single-player portion of the game can be found in the multiplayer maps. These are each quite large and easily accommodating of 32-player games, and they offer plenty of cover and plenty of places to set up ambushes. Each of the main types of primary weapons has real value, and real weaknesses, on these maps. A server browser lets you easily get in on a multiplayer match so you can have at it. The game also readily invites user-made mods.
Call of Duty's graphics, somewhere down the line, are powered by the Quake III engine, but the game looks great--not dated. Occasionally, some of the character animation doesn't look quite right. For instance, the animation for when killed soldiers fall from banisters or balconies looks particularly weak. Additionally, there are a few clipping issues here and there. Also, some of the scenery, particularly small shrubs and such, looks blocky and ugly if you get right up to it. We also experienced some graphical issues running the game with an ATI Radeon 9800 graphics card, which didn't properly handle the game's occasional motion-blur effect. Other than these specific issues, the overall look of the action is excellent. Realistic weather effects, explosions, and muzzle flashes help make the game's environments come alive, and the character models for friends and foes are surprisingly detailed given how many of them can be onscreen. Additionally, the game runs very smoothly in comparison to other recent shooters. If you get a good frame rate out of other PC action games, this one will be silky smooth. Call of Duty, like Allied Assault, squeaked by with a "T" rating from the ESRB despite the extremely violent subject matter it portrays. Unlike Allied Assault, it even shows a little blood in the form of a red mistlike spurt that's seen when a bullet hits its mark. For better or worse, there's no graphic violence here, but the animations are realistic, and action is visceral.
The audio in Call of Duty is even better than the look. You'll learn to tell most every weapon apart by its own loud and clear roar. In those rare instances when shooting isn't occurring all around you, you'll still tend to hear shooting off in the distance--an ambient effect that reinforces the sensation that you're in the middle of a war. Some of the more action-packed single-player missions are practically deafening, what with all that's going on with the bullets practically grazing your head, shells flying, aircraft making strafing runs, and more. In a great touch, if an artillery shell detonates near you, you'll be shell-shocked, rendering you temporarily deaf and substantially disoriented. In fact, you'll struggle to get back on your feet as the sound of battle eventually rushes back to your senses. The game's sporadic use of voice acting is good, though it's a bit of a shame that much of the Russian soldiers' voice-over (and some of the Germans') is in accented English rather than in the native language. For a game that attempts to appear as authentic as possible, this seems a little incongruous. Amidst all the cacophony of Call of Duty, it can be hard to hear the game's orchestral musical score, but it kicks in on particular occasions and adds even more drama and cinematic flair to the proceedings.
Call of Duty is an all-around excellent game that confidently challenges, head-on, all the other WWII-themed shooters out there and comes out on top. When a game is outstanding, like this one is, some people invariably expect it to be something completely different from what's already available. That's not true of Call of Duty, which is directly comparable to Medal of Honor: Allied Assault and other such games. Yet, on its own merits, this game is executed extraordinarily well, and, therefore, can be wholeheartedly recommended not just to fans of other WWII-themed shooters but to anyone looking for a first-rate action game.