Call of Duty
War is hell. I should know - I've lost count of how many World War II battles I have fought, both alone and with online help. Since Medal of Honor first shipped I've been occasionally dipping into the living war movie that is WWII gaming. Call of Duty is the latest and possibly greatest WWII game for the Mac but unlike the others, it isn't for the squeamish.
As with Medal of Honor, theres a lot of shooting either sniping or strafing with machine-gun fire and the bad guys do a lot of dying. Its bloody, or perhaps authentic is a better word. Getting a headshot while sniping will produce a red halo of blood as the German soldier drops. The variety of death throws is wide: sometimes the bad guys fall from a balcony; sometimes they try to get up again before dropping. While Im a grown-up and find it all quite amusing, if I had a kid that spent as much time blowing peoples brains out online I would probably be worried. So perhaps this is a game best left to grown-up kids like me.
The style of the game play is very much standard for the first-person shooter. There are some minor tweaks that improve slightly on the gameplay. Crouching is supported, but for long-distance sniping the prone position is preferred. Theres no running, walking or creeping you are simply slowed down when crouching, and very slow when in the prone position. This is a good way to handle it: theres one less thing to think about. If you want to sneak about Bond-style, it makes sense to crouch no need to press a creep-about button, too.
One thing I havent seen in other similar games is the concept of shell shock. If some ordinance hits close to you, but not close enough to kill you, you will be temporarily deafened and your movements will be slowed for a few seconds. Your vision is also blurred while in this state, which is quite distressing.
I was impressed with the games performance graphically. It played very smoothly at the standard settings on my G4. Medal of Honor: Spearhead plays quite poorly on the same machine. It doesnt appear to be the level of complexity thats causing the difference: Call of Duty uses huge maps that are no less detailed than Spearhead. My guess it is that Call of Duty just optimized better.
The storyline follows three different and apparently unrelated soldiers in the US, British and Russian armies. The first real mission after the de rigueur training level finds you parachuting behind enemy lines while the rest of your compatriots are storming Utah beach.
This is pretty much the same as the beginning of Medal of Honor: Spearhead. That isnt really a problem the levels pan out in different ways but it does highlight something of a problem. When you are making a game based on authentic-ish WWII battles, very few of the big ones havent been covered by numerous movies, books or documentaries. Consequently, games like this are going to include a parachute drop or beach landing, and various adventures disabling V2 rocket launchers, taking out German tank regiments or defending/attacking strategic bridges and dams. Im not complaining, just alerting you to the impending d?j? vu.
One thing thats unusual for a game like this is the sheer number of other soldiers in the battle with you. Although theres little interaction with them (unless you shoot them), seeing your comrades by your side adds to the ambiance of the game. There are also hoards of enemy soldiers, so in some of the busier scenes such as the retaking of Stalingrad there might be over a hundred soldiers fighting. The AI works well, but not so well as to make life too difficult. Its like fighting people online but people that arent that good.
As with most shooters now, the single-player version is only half the game. Add a broadband connection and you can be shooting real Germans in Germany with online play. Once again, the whole scenario is similar to Medal of Honor, but with various improvements. There are many maps where the scale means you may have to do some cross-country running to find somebody to shoot. There are sniper missions with tons of excellent hiding places and sneaky vantage points. Performance is good playing online, where even lower ping-rates play smoothly. This is in stark contrast to Halo, where ping rates need to be fantastic to avoid terrible lag.
There will be some people that simply don't have the stomach for war, and I can't really blame them. There's enough real conflict in the world without the sounds of WWII to fray your nerves. But if like me you find hiding in bushes and picking off Nazis with high-powered rifles as relaxing as a day fishing, then you are in for a treat. For once, I would recommend not playing at the easiest level, because it becomes a bit of a duck shoot. Give your self a bit of a challenge or youll be ill-prepared for the online game. While it isnt wildly different from any other first-person shooter, it's a very enjoyable blast with good all-round gameplay.