Call of Duty 3
11th Dec 2006 | 16:10
Same war, new dev team, old approach. After Infinity Ward pulled off one of the most successful ports in videogaming history by establishing CoD2 as one of the must-have games on the 360, it was something of a surprise that its sequel was returned to sister development studio Treyarch, the team behind the previous, less classy, console versions of the franchise.
CALL OF CARNAGE
Incredibly, they've delivered an even more intense, breathless, exhilarating and exhausting game. Hundreds of perfectly scripted moments recreate theatres of war that are unpredictable, thrilling and, most of all, very definitely blammo in your face.
Opening up with its finest hour, Call of Duty 3 shovels you into a refreshingly brief tutorial before loading you onto a truck heading for the frontlines before blowing you away. Here Treyarch sets its stall out - this could be called Call of Duty: Carnage. As you vault into a cemetery your senses are assaulted with an awful symphony - the sound of men screaming as bullets fizz through the air and bodies are tossed about like rag dolls by well-placed hand grenades.
You battle through the cemetery, poking your head around cover to make sure you're shooting at the right green uniform, legging it between headstones, trying to stay out of trouble while inching towards enemy lines. Meanwhile the awful droning of fighter-planes adds to the cacophony of sound before one suddenly bursts into flames and smashes into a bell tower - in a unique piece of light-heartedness during the game, the bell actually sends a resounding 'donnnggg' across the battlefield as the plane hits it.
Next you've joined up with a tank crushing its way through the destroyed beauty of a French town, using your binoculars to spot enemy gun positions and panzers slaughtering US troops as they inch their way through rubble-filled streets. A bottleneck forces you to abandon what turns out to be the relative safety of the tank and you'll have to hold your position over a courtyard against squad after squad of gun-toting fascists relentlessly pouring from side-streets. Typically, a Panzer turns up to join in the 'fun' and blows entire holes out of the building you're covering/cowering in. A few smoke grenades help keep the heavier guns off you and you have to keep on the move to stop the Nazis swarming up the stairs. Hold you line and your squad leader mocks the Germans' cowardice... but the relief and satisfaction you feel defies this. And then, finally, the opening credits roll.
BEST. OPENING LEVEL. EVER
This time around Call of Duty 3 follows a single campaign - the Normandy breakout which eventually liberated Paris. You still hop from one soldier to the other - a Pole, a Brit, a Yank and a Canadian. However, despite its attempt to give you a range of perspectives, this approach suffers twofold. First, you don't get the range of environments offered in its predecessor, where both the Russian snow and the Tunisian desert provided a much needed contrast with Normandy's greens, greys and browns. And the story is never tied up properly - you never get a sense of being part of the bigger picture, of how the push is unfolding as you play through its fourteen chapters. The result is a feeling of a series of disjointed mini-stories that focus on clichéd personal experiences without any feeling of the overall picture of a devastating war.
Truth is, Call of Duty 3 may not exactly be much of a history lesson, but it is a belter of a game. Core gameplay is conventional as you like and barely inches the model along - it's the same slick, tight controls but an even more intense and graphically superior experience (although some interiors seem a little flat compared to the excellent outdoor sections).
Sadly, Treyarch has brought a different overall tone to the game. You can't escape the feeling that the chaps have put 'cinematic experience' above 'great shooter' on the design whiteboard, and the result is a great game that's punctuated with well-intentioned but irritating sections that instantly take you out of the zone, while its levels are far more linear and restrictive than in CoD 2. For instance, there are the pointless on-rails jeep sections where you fire from the back... and things don't improve when you actually get behind the wheel. The vehicles' arcade handling makes it feel like World War Mario Kart and you never feel in any danger whether you're firing from a gun position or behind the wheel. The fact of the matter is that you're not really playing these sections - you're just watching them. Poor.
Fortunately, then, the tank sections are improved, with tighter controls, and you're encouraged to fight in formation to dish out the pain effectively. Plus they've got big guns (which is obviously always good). But, even here, there's still an uncomfortable feeling of indestructibility about the whole thing.
But the real rock-bottom lows in a game that provides so many seamless highs are the context-sensitive 'action' moments. Before, if you had to lay a charge, you'd just hold down x. Now you have to go through an absurdly tedious mini-game where you simply press the right button at the right time, twiddle a stick, hit x, twiddle right thumb and WHAT THE HELL'S GOING ON?
You'll be fighting for your life one second, then you're serenely plodding through the button-stabbing motions the next, laying charges, rowing boats, melee-fighting and opening the odd door. It's a tedious, entirely unnecessary way of breaking up play and it has to be canned.
The point is, Treyarch has unwisely tried to deliver too broad a slice of the second great war in an attempt to provide us with an all-out cinematic rollercoaster of a ride, and as a result everything but the shooting and the tanks has something of a half-baked feel to it - too often you'll find yourself alienated from the action and under whelmed by the vehicles.
Which is a shame, because, despite not really pushing back many boundaries and there being a lack of variety in terms of location and (what we're going to call) 'feel', the pure amount of carnage that's going on onscreen and some great (if linear) level design has made this the most intense war shooter ever, book-ended by two amazing missions - the final level is every bit as jaw-dropping as the first. Nonetheless, too many irritations prevent Call of Duty 3 from reaching the truly essential status we'd hoped it would achieve.