Private Vasily Stephanovich cautiously lifts his stick-mounted helmet over the broken wall you're cowering behind. You've seen Enemy at the Gates; if you were a sniper, you'd have shot through the wall by now. But the enemy's never seen the film; he pings a round through Vasily's raised helmet, and you spot the gun flash. "Fourth floor, grey building on the right," shouts the sergeant, peering through the slats of a boarded-up window. You poke your head out and see the sniper drawing a bead on you... then you're hit. It's only a glancing blow, but you stay flat, catch your breath, then start hurling smoke grenades like confetti. Sneaking through the fog to the second floor, you raise your rifle, hold your breath and prepare to return the favour...
This is how Call of Duty 2 makes you feel. Totally immersed, totally there, totally terrified but steeled to perform your wartime duty. It's a welcome return to form that recaptures the Medal of Honortrouncing glory of the original Call of Duty for PC after the disappointment of the lacklustre, on-rails Xbox version.
THE BRITISH ARE COMING!
Like last time, you're playing as many individuals. This time it's the usual triumvirate of US, USSR and UK, with an extra Brit for good measure. It's a pity no one's taken the part of the other protagonists in the war; the collapsing Italians, the sandwiched Poles, the besieged Finns, or even the Nazis themselves. Even the Russian campaign doesn't show the Soviet switching of sides halfway through the war. Anyway, the game follows the historical progression of events, so you'll start playing with the Russians and unlock the British, then the US campaigns as they enter the war. This means more rapid switching towards the end, and a real feeling of everything coming to a climax.
Each campaign takes you through a progression pushing the Hun back on fronts stretching from Toujane to Stalingrad, to occupied France, and Germany itself. There are several stand-out missions in each campaign: the beach-landing, cliff-scaling, back-and-forth struggle of Pointe Du Hoc; the US Rangers' against-the-odds assault and last stand on Hill 400; the mad attack on the Stalingrad railroad where Germans machine-gun you as you sneak through overhead pipes; and the tank battles in the desert, where the British guns were too weak to penetrate the Panzers' armour. These missions vary through single- path shooting galleries to ranging multiple route, multiple-objective arenas, to huge locations like the trainyard. If anything, the conclusion, where one of your avatars gets a promotion after crossing the Rhine, feels vapid compared to what's gone before.
The weaponry is balanced too; everything has its own optimum range and situation, from the up-close-and-personal Sten and Thompson to the distant sloth of the Lee Enfield, to the mowing-men-down-likethey're- wheat action offered by the BAR and Bren. You can only carry two at once, so your choice is vital; we found the Luger to be a fun, reliable second to our Bren, but your choice is limited in most missions (by what you start with and who's died recently).
Most impressive are the controls, especially the use of the pad's new shoulder buttons; Left throws smoke grenades, Right throws frag, while the Left trigger aims your gun and the Right fires it. It's much more intuitive than COD: Finest Hour was on Xbox and means you don't have to change weapons to throw a grenade. Similarly, depressing the Right thumbstick performs your melee attacks; crucial considering how fast and deadly melee combat is. Holding your breath for sniping (depressing the Left thumbstick) and the crouch/lie-down/stand button come less naturally, but you get used to anything pretty quickly when rabid Nazis are screaming glottal stops in your lugholes.