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All reviews - Games (111)

Call of Duty: Black Ops II review

Posted : 5 years, 1 month ago on 16 April 2013 05:02 (A review of Call of Duty: Black Ops II)

A sinister villain, some tough choices, and a new kind of multiplayer arena invigorate the reliably intense action in Call of Duty: Black Ops II.

The Good

Great campaign scripting
Story choices are often tough and encourage replay
League play offers a new stage for the familiar multiplayer combat.

The Bad

Zombies mode is stagnant
New codcasting tool is hamstrung
Technical limitations hamper live streaming feature.

Jetpacks with rigid wings. Gloves that can adhere to any surface and support your body weight. Advertisements that feature your face when you walk by. The campaign in Call of Duty: Black Ops II has some interesting ideas about the future of technology, but what about the future of this massively popular shooter series? On the one hand, Black Ops II introduces new mission types and dramatic decision points that liven up the campaign, as well as a league play option that represents a fundamental shift in the franchise's hallowed multiplayer mode. On the other hand, the campaign hits the same satisfying rhythms, the multiplayer captures the same frenetic intensity, and the cooperative zombies mode delivers the same stale undead-massacring action. Caught between striving for the future and remaining rooted in the past, Black Ops II finds solid footing, providing another great ride on the Call of Duty rollercoaster.

The ride starts off a bit rough as Black Ops II makes good on its pre-campaign warning of graphic content. Two early scenes linger on people burning alive, and while one ends up contributing to character development, the other is just gratuitous. Later cutscenes don't flinch from depicting gory violence, though of all the unpleasant sights you see throughout the story, the playful (and not at all gory) post-credits video might be the most appalling.

Fortunately, the campaign boasts an engaging story and a lot of entertaining action. It features the lead characters from the original Call of Duty: Black Ops, and though it references events from the past, a clear narrative thread emerges that is easy to follow. You jump between two time periods: the present, which is the year 2025, and the past, which spans about a decade during the Cold War. The narrative reflections of the elderly Frank Woods (a protagonist from Black Ops) weave these two timelines together, but the character that truly drives the story is the villain, Raul Menendez. During the Cold War missions, you follow Menendez's origin story and rise to power. In the 2025 missions, you desperately try to avert his catastrophic master plan. This parallel character development is deftly handled, infusing your missions with undercurrents of curiosity and urgency.

Things get even more intense when you are asked to make a choice. Press one button to kill a target, the other to let him live. The conditions of each choice vary and there are only a few of them, but even when you aren't responding to a prompt, you might be making a choice in a dramatic moment that will have consequences later. The main course of the campaign remains constant, but these decisions do affect the fate of some key characters. A few of these moments are sure to give you pause, adding some welcome weight to the proceedings. Once you've seen the story through, there's a handy rewind feature that lets you play earlier levels in order to see how different paths play out. There are also mission-specific challenges that give you ancillary goals to complete while you do so, further increasing the replay incentive.

You can also see some variance in the available strike missions, which are a new type of campaign level. These stages put you in a squad of soldiers and drones, and then let you choose which asset to control at any given time. Defending installations against enemy assault, escorting a convoy, and rescuing a hostage are some of the endeavors you might undertake. Though you can set targets for the team under your command, strike missions are still all about you gunning down foes. Your AI allies are only good at slightly hindering your enemies, so you end up doing the heavy lifting yourself, often while tracking activity on multiple fronts and hopping around to deal with advancing enemies. Having to consider the bigger picture is a nice change of pace for a series that has mostly involved just shooting what's in front of you, and these missions are a welcome shot in the arm for the familiar campaign pacing.

Of course, familiar as it may be, that pacing is still great. The campaign ebbs and flows as you move through a variety of diverse, detailed environments using an array of powerful weaponry to dispatch your foes, occasionally hopping into a jet or on to a horse for a short jaunt, or manning a missile turret to tame a swarm of hostile drones. A few neat gadgets and surprising gameplay moments satisfy the novelty quotient, but you still get the lingering feeling that you've done this all before. The new strike missions, dramatic decision points, and memorable villain help keep this concern at bay, however, and this fiesty, enjoyable romp is more enticing to replay than other recent Call of Duty campaigns.

Black Ops II's competitive multiplayer has seen some changes as well, notably in the way you equip yourself before going into battle. The COD points system from Black Ops has been ditched in favor of a new token system that still affords you some control over the order in which you unlock new weapons and gear. The more interesting change is the new loadout system, which gives you ten points to play with and assigns a single point to every element of your loadout (guns, attachments, perks, lethal and tactical items). It offers a bit of flexibility if, say, you don't use a sidearm much but could really use an extra perk, and the new wild cards allow some limited creativity. Put one of these in your loadout, and you can go into battle with two well-equipped primary weapons, or you can load up on perks and bring just a knife and your wits.

These are two extreme examples, but tweaking your loadouts with the gear you've chosen to unlock still confers a sense of getting more powerful and better equipped for combat. These are still the fast and deadly battlefields that have drawn millions of players for years. Positioning and reflexes are king, firefights are over in the blink of an eye, and success is rewarded with deadly equipment and satisfying experience gains. New gear, new weapons, and new score streak rewards are sprinkled throughout, offering new martial capabilities and strategic wrinkles. Traditional gametypes and a few rule-bending party games all offer familiar frenetic fun, but one new mode of play holds the potential to really shake things up.

When you first enter league play, you must play a few rounds so that Black Ops II can calculate your skill level. Then, you are placed in a division, and your subsequent league play games pit you against players who are roughly your skill level (your numbered rank is not displayed). You can rise and fall in the league standings, and at certain intervals, leagues will be recalculated to allow players to move up to the bigs or get busted down to the minors. Whether you relish running with the wolves or are tired of getting trampled, the quality of play increases when players are better matched.

League play also represents a significant change in competitive play because everything is unlocked from the start. This kind of freedom was previously relegated to the small ponds of custom games, but now there's an ocean of players who have all chosen from the same available options when they enter a match. This levels the playing field and lets you leverage the full power of the Black Ops II arsenal right from the start, which is great news for players tired of having their options restricted. However, this also means that you don't gain experience in the way you may be used to; the only XP you get from league play is a nominal reward at the end of a match. Without the ever-present possibility of completing challenges, unlocking new gear, and leveling up, league play feels detached from modern Call of Duty tradition. It's a strange sensation, but it feels liberating, allowing you to focus on the action at hand without the temptation to play in certain ways to target certain rewards. League play has the potential to shift the way that people play the game they've been enjoying for years, and that's an exciting prospect.

There are also some new sharing tools aimed at making the multiplayer experience more social and more extroverted. You can link your PC to your YouTube account and live stream your league play matches without having to purchase extra streaming software or capture equipment. This accessibility is appealing, but there are substantial barriers that limit this feature. The first is audience; you must have at least 10 viewers on your stream before it will go live. The game gives you a link to share and leaves you to recruit a crowd. The second barrier is technical. Call of Duty has long boasted high frame rates that make the action slick and speedy, but the games we streamed and viewed ran at slower, chunkier frame rates, as well as low resolutions. Watching a pale shadow of Black Ops II is hardly appealing, so your best sharing bet is still theater mode. There, you can watch your previous matches, edit highlight clips (or let the game take a shot at it for you), grab screenshots, and upload media to share with those on your friends list and the community at large.

Another new feature, so-called "codcasting," aims to introduce a new player type to the Call of Duty scene. By queuing up a game film and selecting this feature, you can watch the match with a suite of tools that let you highlight the action. You can track different players, watch certain areas with a free-roaming camera, and even use a picture-in-picture mode to see the standings and the action side by side. Though this has the potential to allow players to generate some dynamic, entertaining play-by-play videos, its current manifestation is very limited. You can only codcast saved films of games you have played in, and unless you can provide your own streaming solution, your only potential audience is the five other players you could invite in to your lobby. Future updates to this feature could make it more useful, but as of now it just feels like a shell of what it could be.

Black Ops II also heralds the return of zombies mode. Now in its third incarnation, this cooperative survival mode is still frantic, challenging, and home to some weird humor. But though some of the new missions play with the formula by adding a bus to catch or a competing team to watch out for, the core action has grown stale. Shooting the bullet-sponge zombies lacks the satisfying immediacy that Call of Duty thrives on, and dealing with their lurching, single-minded attacks grows dull even as they get faster and more numerous. The new maps feature veins of fire that flare up when you cross them and obscure your vision, adding more visual sludge to the already murky environments. Perhaps the fire is intended as some kind of platforming challenge--jumping frequently seems to be the best way to avoid it--but hopping around doesn't make the environments any less ugly or the enemies any less boring.

Though zombies mode is stagnating, the rest of Black Ops II is lively, and it's great to see some shifting in the familiar structure. Developer Treyarch's storytelling prowess has once again resulted in an engaging, exciting campaign, and the addition of league play to the online multiplayer arena is an intriguing change that could reinvigorate the formula that has endured for so long. By reaching forward while remaining rooted in the things it does so well, Black Ops II offers a great shooter experience.

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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 review

Posted : 5 years, 1 month ago on 16 April 2013 04:53 (A review of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3)

Modern Warfare 3 sticks to its competitive, cooperative, and single-player guns and reminds you why the series is one of the best in the business.

The Good

Climactic campaign
Lots of varied and challenging Spec Ops action
Exciting and entertaining competitive multiplayer
Spec Ops profile spreads the satisfaction of leveling up.

The Bad

Multiplayer sticks closely to familiar formula.

When the Modern Warfare scion of the venerable Call of Duty franchise branched out four years ago, the electrifying campaign and addictive multiplayer cast a new mold for first-person shooters. In the years since, this formula has been consistently refined, shamelessly imitated, and widely adored, making it one of the defining franchises of this generation. Modern Warfare 3 stays the course, delivering an explosive campaign, breakneck competitive action, and challenging cooperative play. This is an exciting and rewarding game, but the series' signature thrills have lost some of their luster. Modern Warfare 3 iterates rather than innovates, so the fun you have is familiar. Fortunately, it's also utterly engrossing and immensely satisfying, giving fans another reason to rejoice in this busy shooter season.

The campaign picks up where Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 left off. Our heroes, Soap and Price, are in bad shape, and the villain, Makarov, is still at large. It doesn't take the pair long to get back in the hunt, and soon you're hopping the globe in pursuit of your quarry. You make a few forays into backwater outposts, but the most striking situations are when you take up arms in conflicts that consume entire cities. From New York City to London to Paris, no bastion of Western civilization is safe, and the destruction that has been visited on these iconic locations is visually stunning. As expected, PC players get the better end of the deal, with sharpness and clarity that outshine the console versions. The impressive scenery makes the action more impactful, and the campaign shuffles you around to different fronts within each city to make sure you can experience the battle from many different angles. Remote air support control, on-foot firefights, and tense vehicle sequences keep the campaign moving at a great clip in these urban environments, capturing the expert pacing that has made past Call of Duty campaigns so exhilarating.

As with its predecessors, the Modern Warfare 3 campaign has a few tricks up its sleeve aimed to shake you up or make you cry out with excitement. The latter are more successful than the former. A jet flight gone wrong and a chase through Parisian streets are highlights, using environmental upheaval to make you feel like you are struggling for control in an out-of-control situation. These sections are definitely exciting, but because Call of Duty has trained you to expect the unexpected, they lack the extra spark of surprise that kicks exciting up to thrilling. Modern Warfare 3 also takes a startlingly out-of-place shot at wrenching your heartstrings, but the outcome is so obvious from the moment the scene starts that you're left to watch dispassionately as the characters set up and fall victim to tragedy (opting to not see disturbing content at the outset of the campaign will likely spare you this unpleasantness). The game is more resonant when you encounter scenes of tragedy in the natural course of the campaign, but this is not an emotionally fraught campaign. It is, however, an engaging and superbly paced roller-coaster ride that brings the Modern Warfare story to a very satisfying conclusion.

If the five-hour campaign doesn't satisfy your thirst for AI blood, then the Special Ops mode almost certainly will. Returning after its debut in Modern Warfare 2, Spec Ops offers 16 one-off missions that complement the events of the campaign, letting you experience new facets of the global conflict in which you are embroiled. From stealthily escorting resistance fighters to slugging through a large enemy force in a Juggernaut suit, there's a lot of variety here. Though even the longest missions can be completed in under 10 minutes, the variable difficulty levels help Spec Ops missions provide hours' worth of challenging combat. Furthermore, you can now tackle almost every mission solo and make a bid for leaderboard glory. Depending on the quality of your connection, however, load times for online cooperative matches can stretch to over a minute long. It's a bummer when you have to wait so long to get into the action, but once things are under way, slowdown is infrequent.

Spec Ops also includes the new Survival mode, which offers even more opportunity for cooperative or solo slaughter. Survival pits you against wave after wave of increasingly difficult AI enemies on the same maps you encounter in competitive multiplayer. Playing either Survival mode or Spec Ops missions levels up your Spec Ops profile, which in turn channels that familiar satisfaction by unlocking guns, attachments, and equipment. These unlocks come into play solely during Survival games. As you progress through waves and earn money for killing enemies, you gain access to hotspots where you can purchase items from your unlocked arsenal. While you can always pick up the guns your enemies drop in a pinch, the weapons you purchase are likely to be the ones that give you staying power. Refilling grenades and ammo regularly is a necessity, and as the waves get tougher, so is making use of the more powerful assets in your repertoire. A sentry gun can help you stay safely entrenched in one corner of the map, while a squad of AI allies can help cover you when things get hairy. With good gun choices and savvy equipment use, you can make solid progress, but there's always another wave waiting to outflank and overwhelm you.

Spec Ops is a great destination for those seeking a stiff, surmountable challenge (missions) or the thrill of seeing how far sharpshooting and smarts can get you (survival). But the most fiendish challenge comes when you take your skills into the realm of online competitive multiplayer. The action will be instantly familiar to anyone who has braved a Call of Duty battlefield in the past four years. The speedy action and rewarding experience point system are just as thrilling and addictive as ever, and some welcome refinements make it even easier to enjoy. Interface improvements make it easier to customize your loadout and view relevant challenges, which offer hefty XP bonuses. Those thirsty for more information about their weapons and statistics can use the free Call of Duty Elite application, which you can access through a Web browser. In addition to providing extensive stat breakdowns and a variety of premium features that you must pay more to access, Elite offers some useful weapon tips that can help you tweak your battlefield strategy. The Combat Training mode in Call of Duty: Black Ops that simulated a multiplayer environment with AI opponents does not appear here, so newcomers are left to fend for themselves in the online wilds (though Survival mode at least affords you the opportunity to familiarize yourself with the maps).

The 16 maps provide an excellent array of arenas for the action to play out. Bomb planting, flag grabbing, territory controlling, and straightforward killing form the backbone of most matches, with the notable new addition of Kill Confirmed. This mode mixes things up by requiring you to collect tags from dead bodies in order to actually register your kills. Confirming a kill or denying an enemy kill by collecting a downed ally's tags is as important as making sure your bullets hit the target, giving this mode an enjoyable new tactical dimension. Adjustments to weapon upgrades and killstreaks also require some tactical shifting, because you now unlock attachments, camouflage, and stat-boosting proficiencies by leveling up individual weapons through use. Killstreak rewards have been reissued in strike packages that offer some new assets to play with, like a remote recon drone and a ballistic ground-based booby trap. The Assault strike package works in the familiar way, rewarding you for killing successive enemies in a single life, but the Support strike package doesn't care if your streak spans multiple respawns, and the Specialist strike package rewards you with extra perks instead of traditional killstreak rewards.

These tweaks alter the flow of rewards into your arsenal and onto the battlefield, but Modern Warfare 3 doesn't take any chances with the tried-and-true formula. At launch, even the matchmaking playlists feature standard fare, but the robust Private Match customization options let you tweak the standards to your liking (even offering some of Black Ops' more interesting modes) and hold the possibility of odd permutations to come. Whatever diversions or innovations may lie in Modern Warfare 3's future, the competitive multiplayer still offers the same sweet satisfaction you've come to expect from the series. There are still some lingering technical issues that can result in laggy matches or frozen screens, but these problems are relatively rare. This is some of the best online shooter action around, and with the daunting challenges of Spec Ops and the exciting, globe-trotting campaign, Modern Warfare 3 stands tall as another great descendant of the game that changed a generation.

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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 review

Posted : 5 years, 1 month ago on 16 April 2013 04:49 (A review of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2)

Modern Warfare 2 boasts an exhilarating campaign, engaging cooperative play, and addictive multiplayer, but the high price and limited multiplayer features may tarnish its appeal.

The Good

Intense, action-packed campaign
Engaging cooperative missions
Richer, deeper, more rewarding competitive multiplayer progression.

The Bad

Costs more, has fewer multiplayer features than other PC shooters
Campaign is short
Plot is muddled and inelegant.

As one of the most critically acclaimed shooters of all time, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is a prime example of a tough act to follow. Yet, amidst a raging storm of anticipation and expectation, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 has done it. The new campaign is chock-full of intense action and dramatic moments, and though it is more muddled than its predecessor (in more ways than one), it's still an absolute blast. The new Special Ops mode allows you to experience some campaign-inspired thrills with a friend and it's an engaging challenge to coordinate your maneuvers and tackle the varied objectives. Last but not least, the competitive multiplayer that took the online shooter community by storm two years ago is back. Though the addictive action remains the same at its core, there are a host of new elements that make matches more accessible, more strategic, and more rewarding. Unfortunately, these improvements are marred by limited online flexibility that may leave the PC shooter community out in the cold.

If you compare Modern Warfare 2 on the PC to its console counterparts, the game is every bit as awesome and enjoyable. Yet when compared to other online shooters on the PC, the multiplayer component is decidedly limited. Players cannot set up dedicated servers to host their own custom-tuned matches, and the player count for each match has been capped at 18 as opposed to the possible 64-player matches of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Furthermore, there is no support for user-created content, so rather than enjoying free mods and community maps, PC users will have to pay for downloadable content. And the money issues don't stop there: Modern Warfare 2 costs $10 more than most full-price PC games. Paying more and getting less is abhorrent to consumers, and this deterrent, along with the online restrictions, make Modern Warfare 2 much less appealing from a multiplayer perspective. Yet despite this disappointment, there is still a lot to love about the online multiplayer, and the other elements of the game remain unblemished.

The campaign picks up where its predecessor left off, and there's a new violent ultranationalist terrorist on the scene. Once again, you play as a few different soldiers who are part of the effort to make the world a safer place. Your missions take you around the world to a number of exotic locations and engage you in a variety of different conflicts, ranging from stealthy and silenced to crowded and cacophonous. The action is smooth and exhilarating, thanks to sharp shooting and movement mechanics that allow you to be as quick and deadly as your skills permit. Environments are well designed and detailed, though many textures don't look particularly good upon close inspection. Modern Warfare 2 isn't a beautiful game, but it looks great in action. The diverse levels not only provide varied sights, but they are also cleverly designed to allow the action to flow at an exciting pace. Opportunities for cover and flanking present themselves naturally, allowing you to move through the battlefield in a variety of fluid ways. The aggressive enemy AI will keep you on your toes, and achieving your hard-earned success is satisfying.

Modern Warfare 2's campaign, like that of its predecessor, is quite short, and you'll likely finish it in about five hours. Though it is disappointing that there isn't more of it, what you do get is a relentless barrage of tight combat and thrilling set pieces. In one early level, you man the turret of a Humvee patrolling the claustrophobic streets of a Middle Eastern city. Enemies seem to be around every corner, but you are ordered not to fire until fired upon. The tension builds, and once you are engaged by the enemy, all hell breaks loose. After a hectic (and unsuccessful) flight from danger, you end up fighting door-to-door in the streets and ruined buildings. This frantic combat ratchets up when you head to the slums of Rio de Janeiro and reaches a whole new level when you find yourself engaged in similarly intense firefights on the grassy lawns and paved driveways of suburban America. The fight on the home front has some very cool moments, but it doesn't mean you're done adventuring abroad. A dramatic prison rescue, a marine infiltration, and a snowmobile chase are just some of the other exhilarating moments that make this campaign so enjoyable.

Though completing the campaign is an intensely satisfying and exciting endeavor, you may not feel very triumphant when all is said and done. Modern Warfare 2 features some dark plot turns, and your missions sometimes have drastic unintended consequences. In one mission in particular, you infiltrate a terrorist cell and are called upon to do the kind of things that terrorists do. What follows is a neutered attempt at portraying the grim reality of terrorism, and concessions are put in place to keep the plot from getting too dark. Despite these limits, the scene in question is undeniably disturbing and undermines your sense of remaining on high moral ground. The game gives you the option to skip this particular level entirely, but the shocking consequences of this grim mission ripple throughout the game, making it difficult to feel like a hero. Subsequent developments further muddle your overall objective, and it doesn't help that many of the subtleties and connecting threads are mumbled during voice-overs between missions. The plot ends up being a bit disorienting, and you may get the feeling that, rather than being the tip of the spear, you are just along for the ride.

If you're looking for some campaign-style action that is unburdened by any sort of plot, then Special Ops is the place to go. The timed missions are campaign excerpts from Modern Warfare 2 and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare that you can play solo or online with a friend. The missions cover a variety of objectives, which include surviving waves of enemies, moving from point A to point B stealthily (or not), eliminating a certain number of enemies, and racing snowmobiles. You earn a rating based on your completion time or difficulty level and unlock new missions as you progress. Though the missions will adjust to allow you to play solo, Special Ops missions are made to be played cooperatively. Two guns are better than one when clearing out a crowded slum full of enemy combatants, and coordinating a simultaneous sniper attack is much more fun when you are counting down with a buddy. There are also a few missions in which one player uses an airborne vehicle-mounted gun to clear the path for the other player on the ground, and these are frantic and explosively awesome. There is no matchmaking, however, so if you don't have any friends online and need a teammate, you'll have to go fishing in the multiplayer lobbies. As is the nature of cooperative play, missions can fall flat if teammates don't communicate or go off on their own. It can be tough to find a communicative teammate who is willing to let one player take point, but it is certainly worth the effort. When you have a strong team assembled, cooperative play is uniquely fun, and Special Ops provides a great variety of engaging missions.

Of course, you could completely ignore both the campaign and cooperative modes and be very happy with Modern Warfare 2, despite the aforementioned online limitations. The insanely addictive, intensely exciting multiplayer formula pioneered by Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is in full effect here. The action is even faster and deadlier than the campaign, and killing enemies, accomplishing objectives, and completing challenges earn you experience points. These points increase your level and unlock new guns, new equipment, and new skill-boosting perks. You can design different classes to highlight different skills and then switch between them to adjust for the ebb and flow of battle. The core action remains largely the same, so folks who didn't enjoy it the first time around aren't likely to have a change of heart. And players who thrive on the diversity of dedicated servers and the creativity of mods and community maps will feel a keen sting of disappointment. Yet despite these omissions, Modern Warfare 2's multiplayer action is so expertly balanced and riotously fun that it's hard not to have a great time with it. And a number of new tweaks and additions make the action more engaging than its predecessor.

First off, weapon loadouts have been restructured. Guns you may have previously equipped as primary are now only available as secondary, so you can equip both an assault rifle and a shotgun if you so desire. This restructuring creates an intriguing array of gun combinations, and one of the new options isn't even a gun. The bullet-resistant riot shield can be equipped in your primary slot and used to assault heavily contested positions. Having multiple-shielded teammates can change the battlefield significantly, and new equipment items deepen the strategic possibilities. The blast shield can protect you against grenade-happy opponents, while the tactical insertion flare (allows you to designate your next spawn point) can be a powerful asset in objective-based modes like Demolition and Domination.

The perk system has also received an overhaul. Perks can now be upgraded through use and will eventually grant a secondary ability. These bonus abilities are often just as potent as the primary perk, though they aren't a linear extension of the primary ability. Upgrading the perk that grants increased melee distance, for example, will cause you to take no fall damage (allowing you to perfect your drop-and-stab maneuver). The new death streak perks may seem familiar to those acquainted with the infamous martyrdom perk from COD4, but they also provide some welcome (and cleverly implemented) aid for new players. These perks kick in after you die a few times in a row without getting a kill. Painkiller grants you increased health for a short time upon respawning and makes it easier to resist getting spawn killed. Copycat allows you to mimic the class of the last person that killed you, potentially granting you the guns, equipment, and perks of a much higher ranked opponent. Nothing mitigates the frustration of getting killed by a weapon you can't access like getting your hands on that weapon and doing some killing of your own.

Customizable kill streak rewards are the other significant addition. In COD4, kill streaks of a certain length would earn you rewards like air strikes and attack helicopters. In Modern Warfare 2, there are a host of new rewards that you can unlock and then equip as you see fit. The rewards themselves range from tactical aids like unmanned aerial vehicles that reveal enemies on the radar (or counter UAVs that block the enemy's radar) to powerful assaults like gunships, air strikes, and the exceedingly fun laptop-guided predator missile. Each kill streak requires a certain amount of kills to activate, and you can only equip three at a time, so there's a risk/reward mechanic at play. The chopper gunner reward is superpowerful, but if you aren't confident you can score the required 11 kill streak, you'll essentially be wasting a reward slot. Even if you can't string together 11 kills, you can still use some of the more powerful rewards courtesy of care packages. This reward drops a crate onto the battlefield that either contains an ammo resupply or a kill streak reward, such as a precision air strike. Not only do these rewards add an engaging strategic dimension, but they also do so in a way that allows all players to enjoy them.

The result of all these multiplayer tweaks is a richer, more strategically nuanced experience and a busier battlefield. Fortunately, the action generally remains on the good side of hectic, and the stream of rewards is as satisfying as ever. Two new elements, title and emblem, are little graphics and titles that you earn through your match performance, ranging from serious to totally goofy. While not exactly in keeping with the serious tone of the campaign, they add an amusing way to further customize your online presence. Though it features a robust variety of playlists in which to ply your deadly trade, Modern Warfare 2's competitive multiplayer is still limited compared to modern standards and will likely disappoint many hardcore shooter fans. The high price point sharpens the sting of these restrictions, but the core multiplayer action is still very addictive and very rewarding. The inelegant campaign plot may make you feel like you're just along for the ride, but it is such an intense, roaringly great ride that you will be glad just to have played it. And the cooperative missions provide a uniquely fun angle on the action that rounds out the package superbly, making Modern Warfare 2 thoroughly entertaining and thoroughly rewarding.

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Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare review

Posted : 5 years, 1 month ago on 16 April 2013 04:47 (A review of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare)

The single-player campaign is over in a flash, but the high quality of that campaign and its terrific multiplayer options make Call of Duty 4 a fantastic package.

The Good

High-quality story mode packs in a lot of thrilling and unexpected moments
Well-designed multiplayer progression gives you something to shoot for online
Terrific audiovisual presentation.

The Bad

Campaign mode is much shorter than those of the average shooter.

It took awhile, but Infinity Ward finally got the message that World War II is played out. With modern times and international affairs becoming more and more, shall we say, interesting in recent years, the 1940s just don't carry as much weight as they used to. Perhaps that's why Call of Duty 4 has a new subtitle, Modern Warfare. By bringing things into a fictionalized story that still seems fairly plausible, the developer has made a much heavier game. But COD 4 is more than just an updated setting. It's also an amazing multiplayer first-person shooter and a great but brief single-player campaign with the visual chops to make it a standout shooter in an era filled with seemingly dozens of standout shooters.

The only real catch is that the single-player is almost shockingly short. If you've been keeping up with this style of game, you'll probably shoot your way to the credits in under five hours. While you can raise the difficulty to give yourself more of a challenge, the main thing this does is make the enemies frustratingly deadly, which sort of detracts from the fun.

While it may have a lack of single-player quantity, it makes up for most of it with its quality. The game tells its story from multiple perspectives, and you'll play as a new British SAS operative as well as a US Marine. The campaign takes you from a rainy night out at sea on a boat that's in the process of sinking to a missile silo where it's on you to save millions from an unsavory nuclear-powered death. Along the way, there are plenty of jaw-dropping moments where you'll look around the room for someone to whom you can say, "I can't believe that just happened." In a world filled with war games in which the good guys come out unscathed and the world is left at total peace, Call of Duty 4 will wake you up like a face full of ice water.

The action in the campaign is usually very straightforward. You have a compass at the bottom of your screen, and the direction of your current objective is very plainly marked. But getting from point A to point B is never as simple as running in a straight line, as you'll be conducting full-scale assaults in Middle Eastern countries by moving from house to house, taking out what seems like a never-ending stream of enemy troops along the way. You'll also get an opportunity to raid Russian farmhouses in search of terrorist leaders, disguise yourself as the enemy, and, in one sequence, don a brushlike ghillie suit and crawl through the brush as enemy troops and tanks roll right past you. It's a breathtaking moment in a campaign filled with breathtaking moments. Unfortunately, it's about half as long as the average shooter, and there are plenty of sequences where you wish there were just one or two more hills to take.

Of course, if you're looking for longevity, that's where the multiplayer comes in. Up to 18 players can get online and get into a match on one of 16 different maps. Many of the levels are taken from portions of the single-player and they offer a healthy mix of wide-open, sniper-friendly areas and tight, almost cramped spaces where grenades and shotguns are the order of the day. There are six game modes to choose from. The old standby is team deathmatch, though you can also play in a free-for-all deathmatch, which isn't as much fun as the team modes. The other modes are more objective-oriented, and a couple of those have you lugging bombs across the map to blow up enemy equipment, or preventing the enemy from blowing up your base. Others have you capturing control points. Lastly, you can change up the game rules a bit with a hardcore setting that makes weapons more realistically damaging or an old-school mode that puts weapons on the ground as pickups and generally moves away from the simulation side of things.

In addition to just firing your weapon or tossing grenades, you earn some more interesting tactical moves for skilled play. If you can shoot three opponents without dying, you're able to call in a UAV drone, which basically is an upgraded radar that makes enemy positions show up on your onscreen map for 30 seconds at any time. Normally, enemies blip up onto the map only if they fire their weapon to make their location known. If you can go on a five-kill streak, you can call in an air strike, which brings up a shot of the entire level map and lets you place the air strike wherever you like. When combined with a UAV sweep, this can be really devastating. If you can make it all the way to seven kills--which is actually easier than it sounds--you can call in a helicopter for support. It'll buzz around the map and automatically open fire on enemies, though enemies can shoot it down, too. These additions to the normal first-person shooter gameplay really open up the game a lot and make it superexciting to play.

You'll also always have something to work toward, regardless of mode, because in standard, public matches, you earn experience points for just about everything you do. Capturing control points, getting kills, calling in support, all of these things give you points that go toward your rank. Ranking up unlocks most of the game's multiplayer content.

The class system in Call of Duty 4 is also very interesting. Each class has a different weapon loadout and different traits, called perks. As you rank up, you eventually unlock all five of the preset classes and the ability to create your own class. This lets you pick your own main weapon, your sidearm, attachments for both weapons, what sort of special grenades you want to carry, and three perks. The perks are broken up into three groups to help keep things balanced, and as you continue to level, you'll unlock additional perks. These class traits are one of the game's neatest tricks and, again, really helps to set COD 4 apart from the pack.

Perks in the Perk 1 group are more focused on explosives, letting you get more flashbangs if you like, or letting you lug around a rocket launcher, which is great for taking out enemy choppers. The other two perk groups have traits like juggernaut, which increases your health. There's also last stand, which activates when you are killed by dropping you to the ground and switching you to a pistol, giving you a moment to kill the guy who took you out before he realizes you're still squirming around and finishes the job. Our current favorite is martyrdom, which causes you to drop a live grenade when killed. It adds a healthy dose of mayhem to the proceedings. The perks and other unlockables feel nicely balanced, too, so you probably won't run into situations where one class is just better than the other. As it should be, your ability to point the red dot at the head of your enemy and squeeze the trigger before he does the same is still the deciding factor.

While there are a ton of compelling gameplay reasons to play Call of Duty 4, it also has top-notch presentation. The graphics are fantastic throughout, and they do a great job of rendering wide-open fields, tight buildings or houses, smoke-belching silos, and lots more. Some of the multiplayer maps look like they've already seen a lot of action, with blast craters, destroyed tanks, and other things that you can hide in or behind. It also has terrific lighting, so everything looks as it should. Everything sounds right, too. When you hear a battle raging in the distance, it sounds appropriately muffled, and up close, the crack of an M16 or the full-auto barrage from an AK-47 are appropriately loud and angry sounding. There is also quite a bit of voice work throughout the game, and it's all nicely done. The music, for the most part, is the typical sort of action-movie music you've come to expect from a first-person shooter, except for a rap over the end credits that seems to simultaneously detail the game's story while also acting as a subliminal diss record with some slick talk about how this is the third chapter by Infinity Ward, perhaps lightly inferring that you should ignore Treyarch's contribution to the series, Call of Duty 3. It's great.

COD 4 is available on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC, and each version holds up admirably. The differences between the two console versions feel mostly negligible. Both systems deliver good frame rates and have good, easy-to-use multiplayer setups that most closely resemble Halo 2 and 3's party system and matchmaking playlists. The PC version of the game uses a more traditional server browser to get you into games. Both systems work just fine on their respective platforms. The PC version has the ability to run in a higher resolution, if you're equipped with a PC that can handle it, but it seems to scale quite well. You can also create servers that allow up to 32 players to play at once on the PC, as opposed to a limit of 18 in the console versions, but given the size of the multiplayer maps, putting 32 players in them makes things a little too crowded. Despite listing 1080p support on the back of the box, COD 4 appears to prefer 720p on the PlayStation 3. The only way to get it to run in 1080p is to tell your PS3 that your TV doesn't support 720p or 1080i, but the difference seems minor. Either way, you'd be hard-pressed to tell it apart from its Xbox 360 counterpart. And all versions control just fine, making the decision over which version to buy totally dependent on which controller you like the most.

It's a shame that the single-player is so brief, but you should only skip out on Call of Duty 4 if you're the sort of person who doesn't appreciate great first-person shooter multiplayer. The quality of the content in the campaign is totally top-shelf, and the multiplayer is some of the best around, making this a truly superb package.

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Call of Duty: World at War - Final Fronts review

Posted : 5 years, 1 month ago on 16 April 2013 04:42 (A review of Call of Duty: World at War - Final Fronts)

Rebellion takes on the CoD franchise with surprising results... though not exactly in the way we'd hoped.

Following in the footsteps of a game that's sold 10 million copies single-handedly is no small feat, but with Activision's tireless march of yearly releases, someone had to step up and tackle things while Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare developer Infinity Ward worked on the next proper sequel in the franchise. Following the success of a game that took place in modern times by pulling the series back to the World War II setting is even more daunting, given the general malaise that's come over most first-person shooter fans -- but that's precisely what developer Treyarch is doing with the current-gen systems and Call of Duty: World at War.

On the PS2, however, things are a little different. Instead of having the folks at Treyarch work on yet another SKU or making them port things down to the PS2, development tasks were handed off to UK-based developer Rebellion. The 2000AD publisher is certainly skilled enough to handle the task, having cut its teeth on the brilliantly creepy Aliens vs. Predator and having crafted its own in-house Asura Engine that pumped some impressive visuals out of both the PS2 (with games like Rogue Trooper) and the PSP (with Miami Vice and GUN: Showdown).

Clearly the boys and girls at Rebellion know how to make a good looking, fun, and nicely varied little game -- Rogue Trooper in particular was fantastic -- but in making a new Call of Duty game that runs in parallel with the regular World at Wars, at some point the decision came down to just crank out a paint-by-numbers Call of Duty. Mounted turrets? Check. Constantly spawning enemies that magically disappear once you've pushed past a certain point? Bingo. Taking out a tank with a rocket launcher? Oh yes, of course. Planting explosives to blow up AA cannons? Yep. I was amazed that there wasn't an on-rails shooting section within the first five minutes of firing the game up.

Even still, all these things are part of Call of Duty for a reason: they were quite fun when they were first introduced, but the emphasis is on were. One of the reasons people bemoaned the return to World War II was the over-familiarity with the weapons, setting and mechanics. The setting may have changed, and Rebellion was all too eager to put that fancy-pants new flamethrower front and center right from the start, but the rest of the game is rote COD (right down to the intro tutorial that walks you through doing stuff like firing a gun, changing stance, using grenades, running, jumping and melee attacks) with little in the way of attempts to push things forward from a gameplay standpoint.

In fact, one would be hard-pressed to tell the difference between this game and any of Treyarch's PS2 COD titles. It's such a cookie cutter effort that rather than feeling like a sequel, it feels more like an expansion of the other games. The PS2 is obviously not the beast it used to be, but that doesn't mean gameplay innovations have to take a back seat to the tried-and-true stuff seen in the other games. As a result, an overwhelming sense of déjà vu and a feeling of just going through the same motions as before permeates every part of the game's rather short little run -- and without any form of online multiplayer, there's nothing to distract you from the sense of sameness.

One of the biggest issues that crops up right from the start (beyond the game's rather painful visuals) is the absolutely brain-dead AI for both enemies and squadmates alike. Enemies can often be found just standing around waiting to get shot -- some even facing the opposite direction of the full squad assault pouring in through the only entrance to their dug-in position. Squadmates, on the other hand, are constantly running into your line of fire, and since you can't actually shoot once they've crossed directly into your sight line, it makes hitting enemies a pain. To make things worse, at times they'll actually push you out of the way while blindly running to their next waypoint, shoving you out of cover and into enemy fire.

It's a little weird, too, because the rest of the game is weirdly easy, going as far as offering a quick-snap function when pulling up iron sights that usually will lock onto an enemy near their head. Some weapons have a ridiculous amount of ammo despite weapons being dropped everywhere in the level (150+ shotgun -- sorry, trenchgun -- shells? Really?). Most enemies don't offer much in the way of resistance, and it's usually an errant grenade or the aforementioned dumb strength of your squadmates that push you into the open that leads to the game's most common deaths. That's not to say you won't be killed by enemy fire, and since the game doesn't do a great job of indicating how much damage you've taken, you can sometimes wade through a fight in the open and walk through it unscathed while other times you'll be dropped to the dirt after popping up out of cover for a second.

I mentioned it before, but Rebellion's Asura Engine is actually quite adept at pumping out some slick visuals on the PS2. I hate to keep bringing up Rogue Trooper, but that was actually a rather impressive looking game. Final Fronts, however, is not; it hitches when loading up the next section of a level, the framerate chugs during explosions or particularly populated areas, character models are fairly low-res, and their hands are a meat fist with an index finger sticking out (so it can wrap around triggers and pull them, assumedly).

The game can look nice enough in some of the daytime outdoor environments, and the pre-level intros with their slick little flybys and footage from WWII are fantastic, but by and large the visuals are rather drab. Destruction is kept to a minimum, the scripted events don't have the kind of impact and bombast of the earlier PS2 CODs (and can't hold a candle to the current-gen ones, though that's not Rebellion's fault). There are also plenty of odd animation bugs, and little annoyances that pull you out of things even more, stuff like clipping (hands through guns, AI troops running right through enemies in the throes of their death animation), flickering lighting and stiff, popping animations all drag things down further. I'm not expecting a PS3-level experience here, but the PS2 and indeed Rebellion can do far better than this.

The audio, too -- one of the core parts of the COD games' immersion -- feels limp. The weapons don't have any oomph to them, orders barked by your commanders almost sound cartoonish, explosions don't pop like they used to... If nothing else, though, at least the music stands out. It's not quite as stirring as previous games' soundtracks, but nonetheless manages to evoke the odd bit off bravado and motivation from time to time.
The Verdict

The Call of Duty games have moved beyond the stuff established in the PS2 era, both in terms of setting and in how they're presented. A lack of online multiplayer or co-op and an overpowering sense that you've done all this before -- multiple times, in fact -- dilutes any of the impact that Final Fronts could have had. There are moments where it's fun, sure, but does it come close to the advancements to the series in recent years? Hardly, and thus it's really not worth your time.

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Call of Duty: World at War review

Posted : 5 years, 1 month ago on 16 April 2013 04:38 (A review of Call of Duty: World at War)

World at War brings proven Call of Duty mechanics back to WWII with great success.

The Good

Gritty, exciting story
Same excellent multiplayer system
Four-player cooperative campaign
Bayonets and flamethrowers
Nazi Zombies.

The Bad

Familiar setting
Familiar game mechanics
Familiar guns.

Call of Duty: World at War is a lot like its predecessor, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. In most respects, this is a good thing. The guns are tightly tuned, the tone is gritty and mature, and the action is exciting and fast-paced. It boasts the same addictive multiplayer system as Modern Warfare, and even expands the multiplayer possibilities by allowing four players to play through the campaign cooperatively. Like every game in the series before Modern Warfare, this Call of Duty takes place during World War II. World at War does an admirable job of spicing things up, but between the well-worn source material and déjà vu game mechanics, there is a pervasive familiarity to the game. Still, though World at War lacks the freshness that made Modern Warfare such a hit, it nevertheless provides a hearty, filling meal--one that shooter fans are sure to savor.

The most salient difference between World at War and Modern Warfare is the WWII setting. In the campaign, you split time between two soldiers in two offensive theaters: the Russian push out of their homeland and into the heart of Germany, and the American struggle to wrest Pacific islands from the Japanese. Though you'll alternate between them every few levels, the campaign feels like one solid progression, thanks to the adept pacing.

Each soldier's journey begins at a low point. Weaponless and surrounded by the enemy, you get a taste of the despair many soldiers are never rescued from. Though the emotional tone eventually rises toward triumph, you never quite forget the fate you nearly met. The first few levels are a hard scrabble as you and your fellow soldiers try to gain a foothold for your country, while later levels are suffused with a sense of hard-won momentum as you fight bigger battles and push closer to your enemies' capitals. Throughout each level you are accompanied by a superior officer who sets the emotional tone through well-acted dialogue. The vengeful, spitfire Russian pumps up your adrenaline to intoxicating levels, while the grim, determined American provides a sobering influence. This grim sobriety is further enforced by the actual WWII videos, photos, and statistics presented in stylish interchapter cutscenes. The message is, by nature, a conflicted one: Though you may feel like an action hero, you are actually participating in the most horrid of human endeavors. How you ultimately feel about this message will depend on your personal disposition, but suffice to say that the elevated emotional timbre makes for an exciting campaign.

Also exciting? Bayonets and flamethrowers, the two standout new weapons in World at War. You wield both in the American campaign, using them to enthusiastically dispatch enemies in trenches and fend off the aggressive banzai raiders. These raiders snipe from the treetops, or pop out of holes and charge you with merciless determination; this aggression makes the American campaign feel uniquely tense. The Russian campaign is slightly more predictable, but it remains vigorous throughout and ends in a spectacularly satisfying way. Explosions and gunfire will cause enemies to lose limbs and copious amounts of blood, making World at War a sight more violent than Modern Warfare. Still, in between the burning, stabbing, and gibbing, there is a lot of crouching behind cover and picking off enemies with your trusty rifle. This kind of action, and most of the other weapons, will feel familiar to anyone who has played a World War II shooter before. It's a well-tuned and exciting familiarity, but it doesn't make any notable leaps.

World at War does make a leap for the Call of Duty series by offering two-player split-screen and four-player online cooperative campaign play. It's the same campaign as the single-player experience, though the number of enemies increases for every player that joins you. You can turn competitive scoring on and see who can earn the most points by killing enemies or reviving teammates, and this adds a bit of fun to the campaign and lightens to mood (it's hard to feel grim when there are point values popping up all the time). There are also special items called death cards in each level, and collecting these will allow you to enable a cheat for cooperative play (for instance, enemies die by headshots only or headshots cause enemies to explode). These add a little more spice to the pot, but the only tangible incentives are challenges. Completing these tasks (such as kill 100 enemies with pistols or take first 20 times in competitive co-op) will earn you experience points that go toward your multiplayer rank (co-op is not similarly ranked). Cooperative play is fun in its own right, but linking it to the addictive multiplayer ranking system makes it relevant in a whole different way.

In case you missed it last year, the multiplayer system introduced in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is fantastic, and World at War has updated it to fit its WWII setting. The hook is experience points, which you gain by winning matches or completing one of the aforementioned challenges. As you earn these points, you'll rank up and earn access to new weapons, new accessories (like sights and suppressors), and new perks. Perks are special abilities that grant you a wide variety of bonuses, but you can only choose four (one of which is vehicle-specific). This introduces an engaging element of customization: Will you choose to toughen up by increasing your health and bullet damage, or will you go the stealth route and increase your sprint speed while becoming invisible to enemy recon planes? Perks are well balanced, and you have multiple save slots, which enable you to easily switch between your various pretweaked loadouts. This allows you to take full advantage of this deep, engaging system that is just as great this year as it was last year, albeit slightly less novel.

There are, of course, new maps, and the bonuses you earn for kill streaks have been updated (notably, the attack helicopter you earned after seven kills in Modern Warfare is now a pack of nasty attack dogs). There are also a few maps that support tanks, powerful additions that mix things up without being too dominant. Most of the modes remain the same, though some have received slight tweaks and Capture the Flag has returned after a hiatus from Modern Warfare. The most striking new mode is actually a cooperative game called Nazi Zombies, playable when you beat the campaign (or play with someone who has). This absurd game puts up to four players in a house that is being assaulted by the undead. Killing the fiends and repairing the barricades earns you points that you then spend to replenish ammunition, buy new guns, and unlock new areas of the house. Each subsequent wave brings tougher, faster, more numerous enemies, and the game inevitably ends in grisly death. Though the random weapon box, assorted power-ups, and skills of your teammates add some variation, each play-through is similar to the last. Still, it makes for some intense, frantic fun and provides a welcome, if slightly bizarre, change of pace.

By staying largely true to the formula that made Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare so successful, Call of Duty: World at War has ensured a proven level of technical quality, particularly in the multiplayer arena. On the other hand, one of Modern Warfare's strengths was its fresh approach, and by embracing a familiar setting and familiar mechanics, World at War achieves greatness but falls short of excellence. This is only a bad thing if you are expecting this game to top its benchmark predecessor. If, however, you are hoping for an exciting campaign, fun cooperative play, and engaging multiplayer action, then you'll find a lot to be happy about in World at War.

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Call of Duty 3 review

Posted : 5 years, 1 month ago on 16 April 2013 04:34 (A review of Call of Duty 3)

Call of Duty 3 isn't just another first-person shooter that takes place during World War II. It's a fantastic game with great online play and top-notch sound

The Good

Campaign is intense and makes you feel like you're a small part of a huge war
awesome sound and music
online multiplayer is lots of fun.

The Bad

Single-player campaign doesn't play much differently than last year
story isn't particularly engaging
PS2 online is pretty choppy.

World War II may have ended in 1945, but that hasn't stopped the axis and allies from waging war against one another on the video game front. While Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 owners worried about Treyarch taking over the reins for Call of Duty 3, PlayStation 2 and Xbox owners already had a good idea of what to expect since the developer was behind the enjoyable Call of Duty 2: Big Red One for the PS2 and Xbox. It did not disappoint. Thanks to an intense single-player campaign, great sound, and deep online options, Call of Duty 3 plays better than its predecessor and is an all-around great first-person shooter.

Call of Duty 3 takes place in 1944 during the Normandy Breakout. After landing successfully on the beaches of France, the allied focus was on getting the Germans out of France and liberating Paris, which was under Nazi control at the time. As was the case in the last game, you're placed in the role of several different soldiers and you'll participate in campaigns for America, Britain, Canada, and Poland. Each country's campaign has a unique storyline that is supposed to get you emotionally involved with the characters, but the stories aren't very interesting; there's a soldier with a strong distaste for the French, an overbearing sergeant, and a young radio operator who has been labeled a coward. Though the stories aren't particularly engaging, fighting for four different armies works because it gives you a sense of not only how much effort it took to wrestle control of France from the Germans, but also that it wasn't just the United States that lost men and women in World War II.

The game opens with a brief training mission where you'll learn how to fire weapons and throw grenades, as well as how to move around. The controls are easy to learn, yet they allow for many different actions. You can fire your weapon with a quick pull of the right trigger or R1, but this doesn't allow for much accuracy. For precision aiming, you'll want to pull the left trigger or L1, which raises your gun to eye level and lets you use the weapon's sight. You can also perform a melee attack with your weapon if you find yourself out of ammo or simply don't have time to aim. Clicking the left analog stick brings up your binoculars--an unfortunate button-mapping choice because it's far too easy to accidentally push the stick down when you're scrambling for your life. You can toss smoke grenades to create cover and frag grenades to clear large groups of Wehrmacht. Call of Duty 3 also lets you scoop up grenades thrown by the enemy and toss them back. To prevent your grenades from being returned to sender, you can "cook" a grenade, which lets it get closer to detonating, before you throw it. This is an important technique to master--not only because it's useful, but also because screwing it up results in a grenade exploding in your hands. Because there's no health bar in the game, you'll need to watch the screen when you're getting hit. As you get shot, the edges of the screen turn crimson and close in around you the more you get hit. Should you fall victim to a grenade or a bullet and not die, all you have to do is seek shelter to recover your health.

After your training is complete, you hop in the back of a truck and ride into battle. When you get out of the truck, or rather are blown out of the truck by an explosion, you're boosted over the cemetery wall. Here, you'll find yourself in the midst of one of the most impressive firefights in any first-person shooter to date. Everywhere you look, there's carnage. Bullets and grenades whiz through the air while bombs explode all around, leaving soldiers to scramble for whatever cover they can find--be it a bombed-out mausoleum or a grave stone. The bodies of your fallen comrades are strewn about the battlefield--a stark reminder that unless you want to join them, you need to keep moving. A later level sees you making your way across a pasture using a tank (and even the carcasses of dead cows) as cover to shield yourself from the Nazi soldiers who surround the field. Most of the rest of the game's 14 missions aren't quite as intense as these two examples, but there's rarely a dull moment to be found.

Call of Duty 3 isn't a run-and-gun FPS, but it's not as slow-paced as a tactical shooter, either. You'll fight alongside CPU-controlled soldiers, and you'll generally need to stay behind cover, pick off as many soldiers as you can, and then advance to the next safe location. Since you spend so much time behind cover, it would have been nice to have the ability to lean, but you can do pretty well without it. Because the game's artificial intelligence appears "smarter" than a typical FPS, it can be frustrating to be unable to clear a particular section because of cheap tricks like how new enemies will spawn to replace fallen soldiers in outdoor levels (they don't do this indoors). But once you come to grips with the fact that you can't kill them all, it shouldn't bother you much. You still need to be careful not to shoot fellow soldiers, but the game is forgiving and the level doesn't instantly end when you fire that first bullet into your comrade's chest. Call of Duty 3 isn't a terribly difficult game on the default setting, nor is it particularly lengthy, clocking in at 8 to 10 hours from start to finish. On the default difficulty, enemy soldiers aren't very aggressive and they'll follow the same patterns over and over, so it's easy to sit back and wait for them to show themselves. Series veterans looking for more of a challenge will want to bump up the difficulty to hard or veteran, as doing so results in a vastly different and more intense experience. Enemies are much more aggressive, they're better shots, and your health disappears much quicker.

Mission objectives are varied but don't stray far from what you'd expect from the type of first-person shooter that takes place in World War II. Sometimes you'll simply need to get from point A to point B, while other times you'll need to defend an area from attack, rescue hostages, or plant explosives. You'll also have to use your binoculars to mark targets for air strikes, man stationary guns, and even ride in the back of a jeep and pick off bad guys with the jeep's machine gun. Rather than a single path to success, there are multiple ways to approach missions. Sometimes the game presents you with clear-cut options, while other times you'll have to find them on your own. Each objective is shown as a star on your radar, making them easy to find even in the heat of battle.

A few new twists have been added to the gameplay, but they don't necessarily make the game better, nor do they make it worse. Rather than just hitting a button to plant a bomb and then running away, you'll need to hit a button, rotate the analog stick a few times to insert the fuse, and then hit a button to arm the bomb. There's also a new close-quarters battle mechanic that takes place when you're surprised by an enemy. These scripted events have you rapidly alternating pressing the left and right triggers (or L1 and R1) to fight off your attacker and then pressing a face button to finish them off. Some of the scenes look pretty cool, but the mechanics are boring and there are less than 10 of these situations in the entire game, so they're rather worthless. Not all of the game's action takes place with you on foot. There are a few missions that place you in the driver's seat of a jeep, and it's your job to follow the checkpoints and avoid enemy fire while escaping from an area or rescuing hostages. A couple of other scenarios have you behind the controls of a tank and you'll need to eliminate enemy tanks and armored vehicles. The driving missions aren't particularly exciting, but the controls are forgiving enough to make them sort of fun, and if nothing else, they do mix up the gameplay a bit. The tanks are unwieldy at first, but once you get the hang of them, it's a blast driving around and blowing stuff up.

Call of Duty 2 had an impressive multiplayer component and was quite popular online. Call of Duty 3 is poised to be just as popular. Call of Duty 3 for the old consoles doesn't match the 24 players that are able to play at one time on the Xbox 360, but both the PS2 and Xbox versions can accommodate 16 players at once, and the Xbox supports system link play, too. There are eight different multiplayer maps in the Xbox version and seven on the PlayStation 2. Six different match types are available for play, including team battles, capture the flag, headquarters, and more. If you're looking to play as something other than a basic soldier, there are seven different kits to choose from, including a medic who can revive players and a support soldier that delivers ammo. And you won't have to hoof it all the time, either. There are vehicles in a few of the levels, adding even more depth to an already deep multiplayer experience. The Xbox version ran smoothly online, though there were a few instances of lag here and there. The PlayStation 2 didn't fare quite so well. The frame rate was slow and choppy, but it was still quite playable. The biggest problem with the PS2 version is that there's no network adapter utility included, so if you have to make any changes to your network settings and don't have the original disc that came with the adapter, you're out of luck.

It's worth noting that we encountered a handful of bugs in the single-player campaign. None of these prevented the game from being completed, but they did force us to restart levels from previously saved checkpoints. In a couple of instances our soldier got stuck in place when trying to walk over debris. Later in the game we were supposed to meet up with our squad, but were unable to do so because the event wouldn't trigger and we couldn't open the door. Other nuisances included guns that we needed getting stuck in walls and we got temporarily stuck a few times because a computer-controlled soldier had stopped in front of us, while another stopped right behind us.

Call of Duty 3's visuals are mostly good, though you'll have a hard time appreciating them if you've seen the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 versions. Whether it's a farm in the French countryside or a war-torn village, each level is nicely detailed and looks good. The outdoor environments are impressive, and though you'll run into an invisible wall should you stray too far, smart level design makes them feel larger than they really are. There are plenty of lush bushes, thick grass, and large trees to use as cover, too, and there are lots of great effects to enjoy. Throwing a smoke grenade results in a thick cloud of smoke so dense and so realistic that you'll sometimes find yourself squinting in an effort to see better, and explosions from grenades, rockets, and bombs are similarly impressive.

There are a couple of visual issues that mar the otherwise great graphics. The levels are full of blurry textures, and they're not helped by the game's bland color palette. Everything's brown and gray. This is particularly a problem when you're trying to discern an enemy soldier from a tree or some other fuzzy object from afar. The frame rate, while not bad on the Xbox, struggles to keep up at times on the PlayStation 2. Another area that's lacking is the animation. Both your squadmates and your enemies jump from one action to the next and often warp from one place to another. Soldiers both alive and dead will occasionally get stuck in walls and even float in midair. It's also possible to see the sparks from weapons fire through solid walls.

Call of Duty 3 sounds great, even if you're listening to it through your TV's built-in speakers. But if you've got your system hooked up to a surround-sound setup, the game sounds phenomenal. You'll hear bullets coming from all directions and explosions will rattle your (and your neighbor's) walls. The chatter from both your fellow soldiers and your enemies not only adds to the atmosphere, but also provides helpful clues as to what you need to do next. Your squadmates will direct you to the next checkpoint or cover, and listening to Nazi soldiers will let you know their tactics as well as if your presence has been detected. Joel Goldsmith (Star Trek: First Contact, Stargate SG-1) has written a gorgeous orchestral soundtrack that elevates the presentation to another level. Performed by the Slovak Symphony Orchestra, the majestic score is on par with that of any major motion picture. It's a shame there's no option to just listen to the music from the game--it's that good.

Call of Duty 3's action is fast-paced, and the sound effects and music are some of the best in any game this year. Treyarch did a fine job of bringing all of the great action of the PS3 and 360 versions onto the significantly less powerful Xbox and PS2. Thanks to slightly better graphics and smoother online play, the Xbox version is preferable over the PlayStation 2 version, but even with some technical issues, the game is still great on the PS2. If the Call of Duty series hasn't won you over previously, Call of Duty 3 isn't going to do much to change your mind. But for anyone else, Call of Duty 3 is a must-own.

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Call of Duty 2: Big Red One review

Posted : 5 years, 1 month ago on 16 April 2013 04:30 (A review of Call of Duty 2: Big Red One)

While it offers an interesting and varied campaign, Big Red One doesn't quite nail down the intense feel of World War II infantry combat.

The Good

Interesting missions
Wide variety of weapons.

The Bad

Brief campaign
Lackluster multiplayer
No split-screen.

Though Call of Duty 2: Big Red One shares its name with another game released on the PC--and soon to be released on the Xbox 360--you shouldn't confuse the two. Big Red One for the Xbox, PlayStation 2, and GameCube is an entirely different game from the PC and Xbox 360 versions. While it's a definite improvement on Activision's last Call of Duty game for consoles, Big Red One still doesn't do quite enough to distinguish itself from numerous other World War II first-person shooters.

The subtitle, Big Red One, refers to the United States' Army's 1st Infantry Division, whose exploits are chronicled in the game's 13-mission campaign. The unit became known as one of America's fiercest and most courageous fighting units in World War II, serving tours of duty in North Africa, sweeping up through Italy, landing on Normandy, and pushing across the European continent into Germany. Big Red One's campaign follows this chronological path, putting you in the shoes of a fresh-faced private in Fox company. Over the course of the campaign, you'll participate in a number of different missions, such as capturing airfields, clearing out villages, and assisting other units in battle.

The game mixes things up a lot, having you at various times driving tanks, manning the mounted guns of marine landing craft, shooting down aircraft from antiaircraft guns, and even operating the turret guns and bomb bay doors of a B-24 Liberator. You'll also use binoculars to help spot for artillery or navy ships so you can rain the hurt down on tanks and other hard targets. Yes, the pathways are linear and scripted, as in all the other Call of Duty games, but the variation in the mission types helps keep the game fresh and interesting, instead of just having you on foot shooting guys with a rifle the whole time. The fun doesn't last long, however, as most people should be able to blow through the campaign in seven or eight hours.

Despite the brevity of the single-player campaign, Big Red One seems to have all the elements of a great shooter. It's got varied mission types that take you across several different settings, from the deserts of North Africa, to house-to-house fighting in the deep snows of Germany in early 1945. You'll use weapons from a wide variety of different national arsenals--including American, of course, German, Italian, and even French ones (as you fight against Vichy France's forces in North Africa). The game even manages to remind you of the grander scale of the war from time to time, as you'll see numerous other craft making the marine landings with you at Sicily and Normandy, in addition to dogfighting aircraft in the sky and other infantry running about. Where Big Red One seems to let you down is just in the basic nuts and bolts of the feel and interface. For one thing, the weapon handling just seems off. It's possible, for example, to snipe from long distance with submachine guns, as the first bullet is always dead-on. If not for the fact that rifles have slightly more power, there would really be no reason to use them because of how abnormally accurate the submachine guns are. More importantly, though, is that the game just seems to lack the visceral intensity that made Call of Duty so popular on the PC.

A lot of that could stem from the fact that the sound effects in Big Red One aren't all that special. You don't get a real sense of power from any of the handheld weapons you fire, whether it's a BAR assault rifle, a Thompson, or even an MP44 Sturmgewehr that you pick up off a German soldier later in the game. Aside from mounted machine guns or tank cannons, none of the weapons in the game feels or sounds particularly fearsome. The enemies also act oddly feathery and light when you shoot them. Bodies don't seem to fall with any real sense of weight, which is most obvious when you hit them with a grenade or other explosive weapon. It's a very subtle thing, and it's maybe not one you'll notice if you don't play a whole lot of shooters, but the look and feel of infantry combat in Big Red One just doesn't feel all that intense.

The lack of intensity is exacerbated by the artificial intelligence in the game, which is rather unremarkable on both sides. There will be times when you're clearing out houses or bunkers when you'll watch your squadmates, who are standing fewer than six feet from the enemy, fire and miss badly...all while the enemy also manages to miss. These John Woo-esque Mexican standoffs can seem to go on for way too long, unless you go ahead and end them yourself. Vehicles and mounted weapons, on the other hand, mostly look and sound good, particularly when you hear Stukas doing their signature death wail on dive attacks or when you fire a tank cannon on a Stuart or Sherman. Planes come apart in a variety of ways, while vehicles can also die in spectacularly fiery and smoky explosions. Despite all that, Big Red One has its moments, and the game certainly gets more interesting and fun the farther along you get in the campaign. It's too bad it all seems to end too quickly.

Once you're done with the single-player, the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions of the game offer 16-player online multiplayer. A few standard game types are available, including deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag, and domination, the latter of which involves capturing and holding specific points on the map. None of the versions, unfortunately, offers any split-screen support which means that GameCube owners are left with no multiplayer options at all. Meanwhile, the Xbox and PS2 versions don't seem to offer any sort of stat-tracking for their online multiplayer modes. There are 11 different maps available, but most of them seem to be derived from the single-player campaign maps. The gameplay was pretty smooth and playable on both platforms, but the actual experience still left a lot to be desired because of the weak infantry combat. You can drive tanks around in several of the maps but when you're on foot and shooting at other infantry, you're not given any feedback on whether or not you're hitting your target. Even the maps that do have tanks in them don't seem to get much out of having them there, as many of them are cityscapes with narrow streets that offer little ability for the tanks to maneuver. While they're powerful, tanks easily fall prey to infantry hiding inside of buildings with anti-tank weapons because of the lack of space.

While Big Red One doesn't do much to distinguish itself with sound effects or music, the game still looks pretty good across all platforms. The vehicles and character models exhibit a good amount of detail, while the effects of explosions and smoke are also impressive. There's just something really satisfying about seeing a tank spout fire from the hatch after you nail it with a panzerschreck, or seeing a Stuka's wing get sawed off by fire from your 20mm AA gun. It's also interesting that any nearby explosions not only shake your vision and cause a ringing in your ears, but also immediately throw you to the ground (like going prone) so that you need to stand up. There aren't any cutscenes, but the beginning and end of each chapter offers some in-game movie sequences that involve some genial banter between you and your squadmates. It's a little hackneyed if you've seen any recent WWII movie or miniseries. You've got your cool, no-nonsense squad leader, a clown, and the-guy-with-a-Bronx-accent. You never get too attached to anyone, but the scenes at least give some context to everything.

Overall, Call of Duty 2: Big Red One is still a worthwhile first-person shooter. The game has made noticeable strides over the previous Call of Duty game on consoles with an interesting, but short, campaign. While the game has its moments, particularly with the turret shooting and vehicle portions, Big Red One still falls short of the standard the series set for itself on the PC because of pedestrian sound effects, poor AI, and a lack of intensity in the infantry combat. The multiplayer action on the Xbox and PS2 is also only serviceable, so it's worth a bullet point on the back of the box...and not much more. Unless you're a hardcore WWII game fanatic, Big Red One's probably only worth a rent.

Editor's note 11/08/05: Our original review incorrectly stated that vehicles were unavailable in the online portions of the multiplayer-enabled versions of the game. GameSpot regrets the error.

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Call of Duty 2 review

Posted : 5 years, 1 month ago on 16 April 2013 04:27 (A review of Call of Duty 2)

If you liked the original Call of Duty, then you're sure to enjoy the sequel, which stays true to the strengths of its predecessor.

The Good

Excellent presentation
Aggressive enemy AI
Makes you really feel like a small part of a bigger war
Varied campaign
Fun multiplayer.

The Bad

Performance can chug at times.

When the original Call of Duty was released a few years ago, it made an impact both on critics and on consumers, even in the already-crowded WWII shooter genre. Call of Duty's visceral action struck a chord with PC shooter fans, thanks to a well-designed campaign, enjoyable multiplayer, and outstanding sound effects. If you liked those aspects of the original, then you're sure to enjoy the sequel, which stays true to the strengths of its predecessor, while enhancing the sense that you're just one soldier in the midst of a massive war machine. It doesn't really break any new ground, but the game nails the core aspects of first-person-shooter gameplay so well that it doesn't need to.

As in the first game, Call of Duty 2's campaign will put you in the shoes of a few different soldiers fighting for different Allied factions. You start off as a private in the Russian army, visciously fighting off the invading Germans in Moscow and Stalingrad. The British campaign is unlocked after beating the first Russian mission. For most of these missions you'll be fighting in the sand-swept deserts of North Africa alongside the Desert Rats against Field Marshal Rommel's troops. The final mission in the British campaign sends you to the bombed-out houses and hedgerows of Caen, France. After you're done with that, you'll play as an American corporal in Europe. Yes, you will be doing a D-Day landing, but not on Omaha Beach or Utah Beach, which you've probably played several times before. Instead, you'll be scaling the sheer cliffs of Pointe du Hoc as artillery with the Army Rangers. If you already thought rock climbing was an "extreme" sport, try doing it with artillery and machine-gun fire raining down on you.

Each of the game's 10 missions is broken up into a few different stages. If you play the game on regular difficulty, you could blow through it in about 10 hours. Ratcheting up the difficulty a notch makes the game much harder and more tactical (this is probably the experience the designers intended). Since you'll be creeping and peeking more carefully through all the encounters, you'll lengthen the campaign significantly, and enjoy it more.

Breaking up the campaign into several different narrative vignettes arguably weakens the impact of the plot as a whole, although that was never the strength of Call of Duty in the first place. What this does is allow the designers to put you in a lot of different, interesting situations. One memorable moment in the Russian campaign has you crawling through a raised pipeline to sneak behind German lines and into a fortified factory building. As you make your way through the pipeline, you'll spot and snipe small pockets of German infantry through holes in the pipe. When they fire back up at you, you'll notice bullets tearing through the rusted pipe, ripping open holes for shafts of light to poke through. It's a thrilling effect. You'll also get quite a rush from both participating in and defending against all-out infantry charges across open city squares in Stalingrad. But just as the novelty of these wears off, you're shunted over to the British campaign in North Africa, where you'll do things like participate in night raids of small Tunisian towns, climb up to the top of spires to call in artillery on enemy tanks, and even drive a tank yourself. The American campaign has its own memorable moments, like scaling the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc, or sniping at German mortar crews from the top of a grain silo. The game paces itself so that you're always on your toes, and you'll find yourself switching back and forth almost constantly from an offensive position to making a defensive stand against counterattacks on the objective you've just captured. Yes, at the end of the day you're still just shooting a lot of Nazis, but the constantly varying contexts of how and why you're doing it keep the game compelling from start to finish.

You won't be participating in these forays alone; far from it. In every setting you'll be surrounded by what seems like dozens of soldiers, both friends and foes, who move and act in a realistic fashion. Lots of your artificially intelligent mates will die by your side, along with the dozens of enemy soldiers you kill, but more will come in from the rear echelons to take their place. The designers often do a good job of reminding you that the war isn't just the infantry skirmish in which you're fighting. From time to time you'll see planes engaged in dogfights flying overhead, or when you complete an objective of capturing a German harbor, you'll call in a naval strike and see enemy merchant ships being sunk at the docks.

In each confrontation, you'll find yourself setting up at logical stopping points to exchange fire with German resistance. You can snipe dozens of enemies out of the windows and from the trenches in front of a house, for example, but reinforcements replace them. It never feels as though the game is cheaply spawning in more fodder for you; it just does a great job of making you feel like there are a realistic number of soldiers holed up in a building. You need to get a feel for the flow of each pitched battle, and this can be done by advancing your line when the enemy ranks look thin enough, and then breaking into the house or bunker. Your allies will follow you in and help you clear out the objective. Of course, if you're too meek at attacking and pressing your advantage, the enemy AI is wily and aggressive enough to take charge. They're not afraid to pour fire on your position and toss tons of grenades at you. Thankfully, a handy grenade danger indicator lets you know when and where you have to scurry away from an impending blast. When you do die, the game reloads very quickly, and you're even treated to a quote about war from various historical figures. One that sticks out in our minds is an ironic one from Solomon Short: "The only winner in the War of 1812 was Tchaikovsky."

One aspect of gameplay that has changed since the first Call of Duty is that you no longer have a health bar. As you get shot, you'll see the screen growing more and more red along the borders and your character will start to grunt and pant. If you continue to take damage in a short span of time, you die. So as you get shot that first or second time, you need to get yourself back to cover and hide for a couple of seconds to recover. Once your vision clears, you're good to go again. Some people may be put off by this Halo-like gameplay conceit, but it actually works very well here, and it really is no more contrived than hunting down and hoarding health packs. In the context of Call of Duty 2, we'd go so far as to say that it's an improvement over the traditional health system, as you never find yourself at a tough checkpoint (the game autosaves quite a lot) without enough health or medikits. Ammo's never an issue either, as there's never a shortage of dead bodies to loot for guns, bullets, and grenades. The focus stays squarely on the fight.

Speaking of grenades, the other major new gameplay conceit is the use of smoke grenades. You can pop these in front of machine-gun nests or to obscure the view of enemy snipers, making infantry charges a more viable option. The smoke effect looks outstanding and comes in handy in both the single- and multiplayer aspects to neutralize the effectiveness of fixed machine-gun nests and snipers. There's also nothing quite as exciting as running through a dense smoke cloud and finding yourself face-to-face with the enemy (the view from the opposite side is pretty cool as well).

Multiplayer Call of Duty 2 picks up right where the original left off, offering standard deathmatch, team deathmatch, and capture-the-flag modes, along with the search-and-destroy mode from the original game, where one team has to plant a bomb and destroy one of two objectives while the other team defends. A mode called "headquarters" is also available, and it's probably the most enjoyable mode of the five available in COD2. In this mode, two different areas on a map are designated as capture points for either of the two teams. To score points, a team must control and set up a headquarters on one of the two areas. Once that's set up, points begin increasing for the controlling team. The other team must attempt to overrun the position to try to stop the points from ticking up. During the time a headquarters is set up, the defending team members can't respawn (if they're killed) until their headquarters is overrun or the HQ expires. Once one of those two things happens, capture points are changed to different locations and the teams begin anew to try to set up a base. The nature of capturing, defending, and a constantly shifting HQ location makes this mode fun, because teams must adapt to different roles quickly and on the fly. As far as weapon balance goes, there's a predictable relationship between bolt-action rifles, semiautomatic rifles, assault rifles, and submachine guns. The smoke grenades can also change battlefield dynamics greatly, as snipers can sometimes find their favorite killing fields obscured. The shotguns are also extremely powerful in close-quarters situations, and they're fun to use.

The presentation in Call of Duty 2 is also topflight. Each mission is introduced with video footage from the Military Channel, as well as documentary-style narration that helps set the historical setting for what you're about to do. The game's graphics are also great, particularly the smoke effects from smoke grenades and explosions, as well as the fantastic amount of detail put into both the indoor and outdoor environments across a wide variety of landscapes. Textures can sometimes be a little less sharp when looking at vehicles or character models up close. But since most of the game is so fast and chaotic anyway, you don't notice much. The unfortunate thing is that the game can chug very badly in some key spots, reducing frame rate to 15 or less. For the most part, it ran well on our primary test system, a Pentium 4 2.4GHz with 1GB of RAM and a GeForce 6800 OC with 128MB. But in certain spots, like some massed infantry charges, or the armored-car getaway sequence, our rig really struggled to keep up, even using the game's chosen "optimal" graphics setup, which seemed somewhat modest. Sound is where Call of Duty 2 excels like no other. Between the stirring score that kicks up during key moments, to the top-notch gun and explosion effects, the game sounds fantastic. The speech is also pretty good, particularly the yelling that your squadmates and enemies do during battle, which plays right into your excitement and tension as you fight.

Call of Duty 2 is just about everything you would hope for and expect from the sequel to one of the most successful World War II shooters of all time. Its varied campaign, excellent sound and gameplay design, and generally good AI make it a worthy successor to the original. At the same time, though, it's still a World War II shooter, and if you've grown weary of them, then Call of Duty 2's lack of new material might turn you away. It can also be murderous on your computer if you have modest hardware. What Call of Duty 2 does do well is nail down just about all aspects that define an ideal first-person shooter. If you liked the original and have been thirsting for more, Call of Duty 2 will definitely deliver that.

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Call Of Duty: Finest Hour review

Posted : 5 years, 1 month ago on 16 April 2013 04:25 (A review of Call Of Duty: Finest Hour)

While Call of Duty: Finest Hour is a competent shooter on most counts, a few important things have been lost in the franchise's transition between platforms.

The Good

Varied settings to fight in
Online play is smooth.

The Bad

By-the-numbers campaign
Slowdown during intense moments
Yet another WWII shooter
No split-screen.

The original Call of Duty, released on the PC late last year, distinguished itself as a great first-person shooter, despite the glut of other World War II-themed shooters already on the market at the time. Its intense, well-paced single-player campaign was a great complement to its excellent multiplayer modes. A year later, the franchise finds itself on all three major consoles in an entirely new game called Call of Duty: Finest Hour. While Finest Hour is a competent shooter on most counts, a few important things have been lost in the franchise's transition between platforms.

Like the original PC game, Finest Hour's single-player component actually consists of three small campaigns told from the perspective of the Russian, British, and American armies. While some may find this type of campaign disjointed from a story perspective, it allows for a good variety of settings. As the Russians, you'll begin by crossing the Volga River in an attempt to push the German army out of the besieged city of Stalingrad. The British campaign is set in the deserts of North Africa, while the American missions have you starting the push into Western Germany with the capture of Aachen. Throughout the game, you'll be accompanied by AI-controlled comrades who will fight by your side and help you advance through the missions. These teammates can and will die, but they're often replaced by more fodder as you proceed through the missions.

Experienced shooter fans will find several familiar mission types in Finest Hour. There are a couple of tank-driving missions, a turret-style mission on the back of a jeep, and a shooting-gallery sequence with a sniper rifle. You'll also participate in some house-to-house fighting, kicking down doors and ferreting out entrenched Germans. Unfortunately, the memorable moments in Finest Hour are separated by lengthy sequences of filler. In spite of this, the 10-hour campaign might still have been a good overall experience if not for some fundamental problems in the gameplay.

One issue is the lack of checkpoints. The difficulty of the game ratchets up noticeably between the Russian campaign and the British one, yet for some reason there's usually only one checkpoint in each mission, even the lengthier, multipart ones. Inexperienced players may become frustrated at having to repeat long sequences of gameplay over and over again because of the lack of checkpoints in each level. Ironically, the original PC game, which allowed for quicksaves, still included several checkpoints in each of its levels.

One of the other big problems in Call of Duty: Finest Hour is the feel of the weaponry. You do have an array of real-life weapons at your disposal, such as Thompson and PPSH submachine guns, and Kar98 rifles. And like in the original Call of Duty, you can aim down the iron sight of your weapons for additional accuracy and a partial zoom. You're allowed to carry two weapons at any given time, along with grenades and other types of explosives. The problem is that it's often difficult to tell how much damage you're doing to an enemy, and when your target is actually dead. Dying enemies often go through lengthy (and overacted) death animations, which leads you to wonder if they're still alive or actually dead. This causes confusion, as enemies who are getting peppered with fire often go through reactionary animations that look similar to death animations. The developers have attempted to alleviate this problem by including a visual indicator in the crosshair that tells you when you're hitting an enemy, but you'll find yourself expending too much precious ammunition anyway just to make sure your targets go down.

The grenade tosses in Finest Hour are also implemented very poorly. Many first-person shooters allow you to vary the distance of your grenade tosses, and even cook grenades before tossing them, but Finest Hour allows you absolutely no control over your grenades. You press the button, sit through a lengthy grenade-prep animation, and then watch as the toss is made with the exact same force every time. The bounces that the grenades take off the walls and ground are also difficult to predict, as the grenades themselves don't appear to have any weight, or be constrained by physics. The lack of fine control over grenades can be very frustrating in the house-to-house sequences--clearing out rooms full of enemies is more difficult than it has to be, as misthrows are a commonplace occurrence.

There are other strange inconsistencies. While firing the tank cannon, for example, there's absolutely no need to account for arc. Place the crosshairs on the target, and no matter how far away it is, you will hit that target. Presumably that design decision was made to simplify aiming, yet for some reason, using a panzerschreck rocket launcher as an infantryman requires you to adjust your aim for the arc of the shot.

As far as presentation goes, Finest Hour's graphics engine is adequate to the task, offering detailed weapon and vehicle models. The texturing, however, lacks detail and is disappointingly blotchy, even in the Xbox version of the game. Finest Hour also has some noticeable slowdown during intense firefights, and especially when a nearby explosion kicks up a lot of dust and smoke. On the audio front, Finest Hour's sound effects are decent, but nothing special. In contrast to many other World War II-based shooters, Finest Hour's weapon sounds feel muted and much less sharp. You'll also hear a limited amount of voice work during in-engine cutscenes, but none of it is particularly noteworthy. Actor Dennis Haysbert (24, Heat) does part of the narration, setting the historical context for each campaign, but his contribution doesn't really add much to the overall package.

While there are no split-screen multiplayer options on any of the three platforms, the Xbox and PS2 versions of the game offer online multiplayer for up to 16 players. There are eight maps and four game modes. Standard deathmatch, team deathmatch, and capture the flag modes are included, as well as "search and destroy," which is a team-based mode in which one team attempts to set a time bomb on a target, while the other team tries to thwart the bombing. This mode turned out to be very popular in the PC version of the game, probably because it's fairly similar to Counter-Strike. For some reason, though, Finest Hour's interpretation of search and destroy is not round-based. Instead, members of each team can spawn continually, like in capture the flag, making it all but impossible for the offensive team to successfully plant and detonate a bomb. On the plus side, online play is fairly smooth on both the PS2 and Xbox Live, even on servers with 12 or more players.

Overall, Call of Duty: Finest Hour is still a competent shooter, and those who enjoy World War II-based games will still have a good time with it. Had the feel of the weapons been a little better, and had the campaign been more consistently intense, Finest Hour could have been a much better game. As it is, though, it enters a market that becomes more and more competitive with each passing month. Judged against the standards of so many other quality first-person shooters, Finest Hour is difficult to wholeheartedly recommend.

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