One of the main reasons to buy an Xbox 360 at launch last year, was Activision’s amazing WWII shooter Call of Duty 2. With gorgeous visuals, tons of detailed environments to wage war upon, and an online component that remains one of Xbox Live’s most played titles. The game was an easy choice for gamers picking up Microsoft’s new console. Exactly one year after the fact, Activision returns to the well with a new developer, improved visuals, and an even better online game that makes CoD 3 more than worthy of your holiday dough.
The core game here is still the same as last year, but new developer Treyarch (also responsible for the excellent Call of Duty: Big Red One) has added a few new features that spice up the combat just enough to make it fresh. The first is the ability to lob grenades back at foes by simply tapping the X button to pick it up and pulling the trigger to toss it back. When executed properly, this can be extremely satisfying. However, if you fail to toss it back quickly enough you will no doubt find yourself being shipped home in multiple pieces.
Also gone are simple tasks, such as, pressing a button to arm charges and the like. Instead, you now have to complete a series of timed button presses to complete these actions. One example of this is some of the scripted hand-to-hand combat scenarios where enemy soldiers will have you pinned to the ground and you have to get the sequence just right in order to overthrow your adversary. While none of these are going to really impact gameplay, they are a nice diversion from the traditional go here and press a button actions from the previous games.
The AI for both your squad and the enemy are pretty much identical to last year’s entry. They will still find cover, flank enemies, and occasionally take out a German or two, but for the most part they serve as nice decoys for you to advance. Your foes will still try to find the best cover possible and even toss grenades back at you from time to time. My biggest gripe is that ally soldiers still suffer from walking into my line of fire, and of course, charging blindly into enemy fire in an almost suicidal fashion at times.
The main course of the game is of course the campaign, which can be run through rather quickly on normal difficulty. Thankfully, the infamous Veteran mode has returned and will test even the best CoD players. The achievements have also been upgraded for this iteration and offer some interesting ways to try and finish the levels. For instance, one of them has you trying to complete an entire mission using only melee attacks, while another requires you to be extremely precise with your assault rifle. While these don’t necessarily change the gameplay, they are nice diversion to strive for and one of the best uses of the system since it’s inception.
One of the biggest improvements Treyarch has made to the core game though is, the visuals. While CoD 2 was gorgeous in every aspect, they have taken that main template and added all the subtle nuances such as improved lighting, minor details like individual blades of grass, and even better smoke and explosion effects. Playing this game on an HDTV really shows off just how gorgeous it is; you will see trees and bushes swaying in the wind and the water, oh my, the water effects are simply gorgeous. Graphics may not make the game, but they certainly make it more fun to watch.
Another great effect in the visuals department are the destructible environments. On many occasions I found myself bunkered down in an old abandoned building just to have a tank come by and blow a giant hole in the side exposing my position. While this doesn’t apply to every single building and object in the game, when it does happen it truly is a sight to behold. It’s the little details like these that really draw the gamer into the world of CoD 3 and make them feel as if they are really there in the midst of a huge war; great stuff.
All of these touches are fine and dandy but everyone knows if you want to have a successful, long-lasting game you have to have a solid multi-player component and CoD 3 has one of the best I have seen in a long time. You have the standard four-player splitscreen and even system link thrown in for good measure, but the main attraction is certainly the 24 player online experience.
On Xbox Live you have access to several different modes including the traditional deathmatch, team deathmatch, and capture the flag. Also returning is the famous headquarters mode and a brand new mode called War, in which, each side is designated an area of the map and you have to defend it for as long as possible. New to this year’s iteration is character classes, you can choose from seven different occupations and even switch when you die. Having a medic on the field can change the tide of battle and when you get into a game where people are playing the roles as they are designed to be the game can be the most enjoyable experience you have ever had.
The online maps are almost as gorgeous as the single-player ones sporting massive landscapes and incredible detail. The lag is minimal and once a match is over you can remain in the lobby with the same guys until a new match is started, which keeps the online game fluid and fun. All of your stats are tracked, but there isn’t any kind of leveling up system which keeps all players balanced for the most part, overall this is one of the most polished online experiences I have had for the Xbox 360 since launch.
With the many shooters and war games that you can find on the Xbox 360, it is hard to stand out in the crowd. Treyarch has done an amazing job with this game and has quite possibly constructed on of the best online experiences currently available anywhere. If you are a fan of the series, there is no reason to pass this game up, but if you are still wary of the genre this game can easily change your mind. Definitely worth picking up this holiday season for anyone who enjoys great shooters or simply online games in general.